23 June 2004

Wow, where the hell have I been?

Spider-Man 2: 3.5 Stars.

Shrek 2: 3.5 Stars.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: 3.25 Stars.

Man on Fire: 2.75 Stars. I'm out of steam...only stars from now on...

Along Came Polly: 2.5 Stars. To be honest, this was a better film than I thought it'd be. Most of that is because of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who's probably the best actor working today. He plays an all-growed up child actor from a Breakfast Club-type blockbuster, and works the angle to perfection. The rest of the film is your standard Ben Stiller catastrophe-ridden love story, which, come to think of it, is still better than most of the dreck in our theatres today. Special kudos to Hank Azaria, who makes all his money doing voice work, but still has a physique that'd put Brad Pitt to shame. He's also very funny.

Calendar Girls: 3 Stars. This is a cute little British farce, in the vein of Full Monty, and it roughly imitates the same charming formula, right down to the nakedness. My only complaint is that it was a little short. I'd've liked to see a bit more fleshed-out characters (no pun intended) rather than just focusing on the three or four main women and their varying quality of husband.

Starsky and Hutch: 2.5 Stars. This movie gets better in retrospect, but it's still more a bunch of funny, strung-together bits than a comedic tour-de-force. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are their lovable selves, but Vince Vaughn steals the film as a very Jewish drug dealer. Nice to see Jason Bateman getting some work, though. It makes me wonder when we're going to get another Stripes- or Ghostbusters-class comedy again. Do it.

The Big Bounce: 0 Stars. If there's a worse, more incoherent, more inexplicable waste of talent this year, I'll eat this computer.

20 April 2004

Some quality on a Tuesday afternoon...

Caught a couple flicks during my hiatus between jobs. I'll get to them in a moment, but first, I forgot about

Hidalgo: 3.5 Stars. It was nice of Disney to bring back a seemingly forgotten genre: the classic epic adventure. A rundown former long distance horseracer (Viggo Mortenson) and his horse, Hidalgo, sign up for one last shot at glory, a 3000-mile race across the Arabian desert. It's a pretty straight, no-chaser plot with the typical obstacles and such, but it's in the execution that this film shines. There's no attempt to create a post-modern anti-hero. There are no sunny, politically correct moments. There's no woman who is as badass as Aragorn himself. This is just an adventure tale, plain and uncomplicated, and a good one at that. A man and his horse, with the world against him, defy the odds and reign (rein?) victorious. Not to spoil the end, but it wasn't exactly a surprise. Go and see it. Take the kids.

And back to today:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: 3.75 Stars. Easily the best film of the year so far, writer Charlie Kaufman ponders a technology which allows us to simply erase, from our minds, all trace of loved ones who have left or died. Jim Carrey and the ever-succulent Kate Winslet (the #1 hottie in film, for my money) play Joel and Clementine. They meet. They fall in love. They fight. They break up. Kate erases Joel. Joel erases Kate. Life goes on. If only it were so simple. You get that much from the trailer; the movie itself is a sight to behold. Everyone in this film is just awesome: Carrey, Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, and David Cross all deserve kudos for their work, and they all leave us wondering why more movies can't be as novel and thought-provoking as this one.

The Punisher: 3 Stars. I'll admit it, when I heard they cast Thomas Jane as Frank Castle, a.k.a. The Punisher, I was wondering what the people at Lion's Gate were smoking. Sure, he'd been in a few good violent flicks, like Thursday, but he would have to ratchet up the bad-assedness several levels to be believable as the uber-vigilante Castle. And, to my surprise, he managed to do just that. The film was loosely based on one of my favorite graphic novels of recent years, Punisher, by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. I highly recommend it if you like ultra-violent revenge fantasies. Anyway, the villianous Ma Gnucchi has been replaced, unfortunately, by car salesman cum money launderer, Howard Saint, played by John Travolta. Saint's son is killed during a sting by FBI Agent Castle. Saint wants revenge, so he kills Castle's whole family, conveniently during a family reunion so pretty much everyone gets offed. Castle, left for dead, comes back and opens up a giant drum of whoopass. Kudos to John Pinette, the funniest fatman in the business, and to whomever thought of the third-to-last death scene.

Back in Business

Seems like I only watch movies in bunches these days...but on with the show:

Kill Bill: Vol. 2: 3 Stars. First, to put it in perspective, let's review my review of KBV1:

Kill Bill, Vol. 1: ?.? Stars. Wow. From the opening quote (which got the biggest laughs of the entire film), I knew this wasn't going to be like any film I'd seen before, and it wasn't. Mostly a hyperviolent kung-fu flick, director Quentin Tarantino weaves his own version of the genre. I'm not going to give this film a rating until I've seen all of it, but it was certainly a promising opening. It was nice to see kung fu legend Sonny Chiba given a decently dramatic role (in which he performs admirably). Frankly, everyone else was great too. I've got nothing whatsoever negative to say about this flick, except that I wish I'd seen both parts.

Now with Volume 2 on the screen, I can definitively say that I enjoyed Volume 1 more. I can also say that I'd like to see the whole thing in one sitting to truly judge the entire film. That said, KBV2 was the touchy-feely half of this movie. It delved into the reasons behind the original massacre of The Bride's (Uma Thurman) friends and family as well as the interpersonal relations within the assassination squad (although reading that, it sounds awful silly). I guess at the heart of it, I wanted to see more fighting and less talking. The best part of the film was the battle between Uma and Elle (Daryl Hannah), and the movie never reached that crescendo of excitement before or after. Special kudos to both Hannah and David Carradine, who both manage to dominate the screen whenever they're in the scene. To the overall film, I give 3.5 Stars.

The Ladykillers: 2.5 Stars. I left this movie humming some serious gospel music, and that's pretty much all I took away from the film. It's basically a black comedy masquerading as a caper film, but the comedy wasn't that funny, and the caper wasn't that exciting. The movie also seems to want to wrap it up really quickly once the caper is done. Tom Hanks's mannerisms were more annoying than funny, and they had me wishing more for his stoic character in Road to Perdition than anything else. There's one really big laugh in this movie (you'll know it when you see it), and not much else.

Duplex: 2 Stars. Caught this on a plane. Can't believe they got such talent to do such dreck. Bleah.

Something's Gotta Give: 3.5 stars. Caught this on the same plane, and the folks at American should be ashamed to be showing such a fine film in a double feature with Duplex. Even Keanu Reeves is good in this movie. Let me repeat that. EVEN KEANU REEVES IS GOOD IN THIS MOVIE. Everyone's good. Amanda Peet is good. Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson are so at the top of their game that I want to give them both Oscars for managing to pull it off. I'd also like to see them paired up again. The story isn't anything that earthshaking...confirmed bachelor meets successful divorcee, first they hate each other, then they fall in love, etc. But it's done just so darned well. I only wish they'd shown the nude scene on the plane.

19 February 2004

Now that's-a what I'm-a talkin' about!

Some Oscar contenders for my consideration...

Lost in Translation: 3.5 Stars. It's pretty safe to say that Scarlett Johannsen has earned the title of best teen actress working these days. Not that she has too much competition, with the Hillary Duffs and Lindsay Lohans of the world doing the dreck they're doing, but it's still an enviable position to hold. Lost is a slice-of-life film...a few days spent between two lonely souls in Tokyo. Bill Murray is at the top of his serious-acting game in this flick, as he plays an American movie star in town to shoot a commercial. Johannsen is the left-alone wife of a workaholic photographer. Their insomnia leads to repeated meetings, and eventually to a tenuous friendship between kindred spirits just trying to get through a miserable few days abroad. Basically what we get to watch a great collection of shared experiences, but not forced or ridiculous like in, say, Before Sunrise. The movie just lets their relationship develop at a nice, easy pace, and it shines as a result. Special kudos to the lovely and talented Anna Faris for her perfect portrayal as a vapid starlet.

Big Fish: 3.75 Stars. I'd heard mixed reviews coming into this film. Dan loved it. Stephanie hated it. Barbara wasn't terrifically thrilled to be seeing it. But oh, was it worth it. There's one word to describe this gem of a picture: Masterpiece. This is the film Tim Burton was born to make, and it's practically an epic poem to his abilities as a visionary director. Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney are simply spot-on as the title character, Edward Bloom, a charming Southern tale-spinner whose life bridges the gap between fact and fantasy. The story centers (if there really is a center) around Bloom's straight-laced son (Billy Crudup), Will. Will spends the film watching his aged father on his death bed and trying desperately to decipher what was real and what was fiction about his father's life. This being a Tim Burton film, however, we know we're not going to get any straight answers, and, frankly, I was fine with that. This was a truly beautiful film. The effects were seamless; the cinematography was amazing, and the pure whimsy that suffused the entire movie was a joy to behold. And that's on top of great acting and a fantastic script. The only negative was the length, or more accurately the pacing. I found myself looking at my watch a few times, and that's always a no-no.

Mystic River: 3.5 Stars. Another damned fine film by Clint Eastwood, Mystic River focuses on two tragedies separated by 30 years. The movie is really a whodunit, but one dealing heavily with the psychology of its principal characters. Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Kevin Bacon are all top-notch as the three boyhood friends linked to both tragedies. They were all scarred (to varying degrees) by the first, and now they, as adults, are forced to deal with the second, and, to some degree, they must all examine the choices they have made in the intervening years which led to their reunification. To tell more would be to ruin the film, but it suffices to say that Eastwood has given us a mesmerizing movie experience. Special kudos to Laura Linney for one simply awesome scene towards the end.

Cold Mountain: 3.5 Stars. This movie surprised me. I figured this civil war epic by Anthony Minghella would pale beside his last great film, the English Patient, but it held up pretty well considering the downgrade in charisma from Juliette Binoche to Nicole Kidman. Jude Law was awesome as the lovelorn soldier just trying to get home to his love, and Renée Zellweger was great as the low-class country girl. Exciting, sad, funny, and heartbreaking at times, this is truly the stuff of epics. Two cameos are worth noting because of their quality. Philip Seymour Hoffman, as a disgraced preacher, showed once again why he's the most talented actor in the business, and Natalie Portman was surprisingly able as a Civil War widow. Basically, a heckuva film.

The Butterfly Effect: 3 Stars. Part two of the Ethan Supplee double feature, Butterfly was...well, it's actually good! I know, it almost pains me to say it, but Ashton Kutcher now has two good movies on his resume (Dude, Where's My Car being the other). The basic plot is that Kutcher, having suffered through repeated blackouts as a child, is now able to go back in time to relive those blackouts and, in doing so, try to fix the his life and the life of his friends and girlfriend, Amy Smart (who, for the record, was in the same high school class as Barbara). As with all time-travel films, there are holes you could drive a truck through (if you change something that happened when you were five, will an event that happened when you were ten necessarily happen?), the movie manages to make them overlookable by focusing on the consequences of his actions, not all of which are immediately evident. The film lags a bit in the middle, but it finishes up so strongly that it earned its 3 stars.

03 February 2004

After three months kidnapped by aliens...

Man, it doesn't seem like it's been that long since I've commented here...mostly it's the disturbing lack of movies I've seen in the last few months, but I'll try to get back in the saddle. First, I'll cover the movies I've seen since Alien...

Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King: 4 Stars. Hands down best movie of the year. Loved pretty much everything about it...the acting, the effects, the script...everything! Wept manly tears a few times as well. Despite omitting the scouring of the shire from the books, director Peter Jackson remained remarkably true to them, especially in the (some would say overlong) denouement. The recreation of the city of Minas Tirith has to be a hallmark in movie making...I still don't know how they managed to so seemlessly merge sets and CGI together. Special kudos to Peter Jackson for leaving in the last spoken like of the book.

Miracle: 3.5 Stars. It's funny, but after watching this excellent film about the 1980 US Olympic hockey team, I'm struck by how inappropriate the title is. Sure, it's a good title, but the USA didn't win the gold by some miracle. As the movie shows in sometimes breathtaking detail, the US won by working harder than everyone else, including the Soviets. Working Hard isn't exactly going to have people lining up, though, so what are ya gonna do? Anyway, this tale of coach Herb Brooks and his 20 talented collegiate hockey players is powerful, inspiring, exciting, and -- impressively -- not sappy. Go see it with a sports fan you love.

Yup. That's it. More today, though....no power at work.