Movie Diary 2001 previous • next

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Top Five of the year: LOTR:FOTR, Monsters Inc., Ocean's Eleven, The Royal Tenembaums, and Shrek. Enjoy my diary!

January 5, 2001 • Cast Away
Maybe I need to give this movie another try, but I didn't enjoy it the first time. As my father (who loves to poke holes in movies) pointed out, there are no islands in the Pacific Ocean which are capable of supporting a person which don't already have people on them. At the end of the movie, Helen Hunt points on a map and says:
"Here's the charted island you were on the whole time but no one looked there."
Have you ever seen a premise deflated in its own movie before?

January 20, 2001 • Chocolat • Showcase Cinemas Randolph
A chick flick made for the sole purpose of generating awards. I can just imagine the Weinstein brothers making this movie simply because it caters to Academy members worst tendencies.

January 20th & February 24th, 2001 • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon • Showcase Cinemas Randolph
Transcendent. Believe it or not, my parents didn't like it!

January 22, 2001 • Snatch • Showcase Cinemas Randolph
Wished I could have rented it for the subtitles.

January 24, 2001 • The House Of Mirth • Kendall Square Cinema
Could this movie be more depressing? I think not.

January 25, 2001 • The Gift • Showcase Cinemas Randolph
Cate Blanchett once again submerges herself into character in this by-the-numbers Southern Gothic thriller.
With a cast as talented as this, you'd hope for great performances and clever, inventive direction to match, but The Gift delivers on the first point only. Quality performances are subverted by a paper-thin script, hackneyed characters, and cheap thrills among the soggy South Carolina swamps. Blanchett stars as unemployed widow and mother of three with a 'gift' for precognition. A rich, fast, and loose uptown girl (Katie Holmes) goes missing, and Cate becomes entangled in the case- At face value, the crime is solved in fairly short order, but alas, nothing is at it seems. Fairly early on, it becomes clear why co-screenwriter (and Academy Award winner) Billy Bob Thornton chose not to direct this: the story is replete with cardboard cutout characters and clichéd scenarios. The battered wife (Hilary Swank) who refuses to leave her abusive husband (Keanu Reeves); the local-yokel cops who care more about the last éclair in the donut box than their work; the D.A. (Gary Cole) with a personal agenda and a secret to hide. At one point Blanchett says "If you don't find a way to re-open this case, I will!" and Blanchett just manages to avoid rolling her eyes. Ultimately, be disappointed that the film could not live up to the quality of the cast. Only A-list talent keeps this film out of C-list territory.

February 3, 2001 • Shadow Of The Vampire • Kendall Square Cinema
Darkly satiric satire of the Hollywood system. Great ending.

February 11, 2001 • Hannibal • AMC Fenway
The most realistically shockingly gruesome film I've ever seen. Left the theater with jaw agape. With Dan S, Kevin E, and Rob.

March 11, 2001 • Traffic • Showcase Cinemas Randolph
Gritty, intelligent, and bleak examination of the drug trade, as told from every level of the business.

April 14, 2001 • You Can Count On Me • Somerville Theater
Thoughtful, caring story of family. Afterwards, while walking out of the Somerville Theater, I saw Natalie Portman walk by.

April 20, 2001 • Enemy At The Gates • Showcase Cinemas Randolph
Great actors save an ordinary script.

May 4, 2001 • The Mummy Returns • Showcase Cinemas Randolph
Awful. On the DVD commentary of the first film, the director reveals himself to be a hack.

May 11, 2001 • Bridget Jones's Diary • Showcase Cinemas Randolph
V.v.v. funny. When I first heard that Renee Zellweger had landed the role of Miss Jones, I (like everyone else) assumed this was the worst casting mistake of all time. Surprisingly, Zellweger turned out to have all sorts of untapped acting chops, and a spot-on English accent. Of course, Zellweger was nominated for an Academy Award for this comedic role, followed by nominations for her work in a musical (Chicago) and a straight drama (Cold Mountain).

May 18th and June 2nd, 2001 • Shrek • Showcase Cinemas Randolph
I remember watching the opening sequence, where Shrek nararrates from a fairy tale, then rips a page out, and (presumably) wipes his butt with it. Then the opening titles begin, set to a Sugar Ray pop song. I thought to myself, this is so unlike DIsney, it's wonderful. It made the House of Mouse look like a bunch of musty old farts.

May 22, 2001 • The Golden Bowl • Loews Church St, Harvard Sq.
Dull. I actually left early because I was so bored, and I never do that! Don't worry- I stuck around long enough to see Uma's sex scene.

May 25, 2001 • Pearl Harbor • Showcase Cinemas Randolph
I want my three hours back! The scene where Ben Affleck catches a train from NYC to London was hilarious.

June 1, 2001 • Moulin Rouge! • AMC Fenway
It's joyous to watch characters use the entire breadth of popular music to express themselves.

June 7, 2001 • The Tailor Of Panama
Not bad, but not wonderful either: Pierce Brosnan does the flipside of James Bond, to comedic effect, and Jamie Lee Curtis looks great.

June 15, 2001 • Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Like an Indiana Jones film, but takes itself too seriously.

June 23, 2001 • Monty Python & The Holy Grail • Kendall Square Cinema
Much funnier in the theater than on video. Watching it with a crowd makes a big difference.

June 30, 2001 • A.I. Artificial Intelligence • Showcase Cinemas Randolph
Last 30 minutes ruins the whole film. My opinion of this movie is too complex to express in this small space!

July 2, 2001 • The Anniversary Party • Kendall Square Cinema
Too heavy--it gets pretty dark in the third act. It is kinda surreal to see Kevin Kline & Phoebe Cates & their kids play fictional versions of themselves.

July 8, 2001 • Sexy Beast • Loews Church St, Harvard Square
Fabulous performance by Ben Kingsley. However, I missed half the dialog in the heavy English accents.

July 16, 2001 • It Happened One Night and Sullivan's Travels Double Feature  • Brattle Theater
It Happened One Night is a timeless comedy. Thank God they haven't remade it!
I am not a big fan of "wrongly imprisoned" stories, so Sullivan's rubbed me the wrong way.

August 1, 2001 • Jurassic Park 3 • Showcase Cinemas Randolph
Watch a bunch of talented actors who should know better cash in.

August 3, 2001 • America's Sweethearts • Loews Boston Common
With the talent involved, it should have been much funnier.

August 10? 11? 12? 2001 • The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai: Across The 8th Dimension • Brattle Theater
A favorite from my childhood. Impossible to describe its appeal to someone who did not grow up with this one, but here goes: A "Who's Who" of classic character actors (John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd, Dan Hedaya, Vincent Schiavelli), a comic-book character (Scientist/Rock Star/Brain Surgeon/Adventurer Buckaroo Banzai) which Peter Weller takes completely seriously, delightful 1980s fashions, and Jeff Goldblum in chaps. Who could ask for anything more?

August 13, 2001 • The Others
Creepy. Once again, a scary movie with no special effects needed. I thought I had the "twist" ending figured out, but I was fooled after all. I love when that happens!

August 19, 2001 • Apocalypse Now Redux • Loews Boston Common
An amazing movie. I was never a big fan, but it is still impressive. With Kevin at Boston Common.

September 8, 2001 • Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back • Showcase Cinemas Randolph
The biggest in-joke movie since Mars Attacks. No one seems to care if most moviegoers won't get it. I always found it puzzling that Kevin Smith, whose greatest talent is writing great dialog, always casts himself as a man who does not have any dialog, and performs opposite Jason Mewes, who cannot act, and gets stupid dialog anyway?

October 6, 2001 • Serendipity
Cusack's most forced romantic comedy. Kate Beckinsale is awfully thin!

October 21 or 22, 2001 • The Odd Couple • Brattle Theater
Still as fresh as the playing cards (after Felix cleans them).

November 3, 2001 • K-Pax • Showcase Cinemas Lawrence
So-so. Kevin Spacey has gone downhill since the one-two punch of L.A. Confidential and The Usual Suspects. With Dan and Beth...

November 4th and December 1st, 2001 • Monsters, Inc. • Showcase Cinemas Randolph
Put That Thing Back Where It Came From, Or So Help Me!

November 11, 2001 • Heist • Showcase Cinemas Randolph
Too dark and violent to be enjoyable.
Plus, the "bomb on the passenger jet" hoax turned the entire crowd off, two months after 9/11...

November 18, 2001 • Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone • Showcase Cinemas Lawrence
A punishingly literal and faithful staging of the entire contents of the first Harry Potter novel. Dan talked me into seeing this movie with him and Beth, although I had not read the book. We then spent our post-movie dinner arguing over how boring I found the movie.

December 9, 2001 • Ocean's Eleven • Framingham Premium Cinema
With Dan, Beth, and Mike. Mike announced LL was expecting twins!
It's all too rare that a film packed with big stars is any fun. When major studios put A-List, $20 million talent onscreen together, they don't want to take any chances on the movie- there’s so much money at stake, the final product is boring, but safe. The good news about Ocean's Eleven is that a studio did not put these stars onscreen together- Steven Soderbergh did. Since making a big splash with his debut Sex, Lies, and Videotape in 1989, Soderbergh has earned the respect of actors with smart, classy, and sophisticated projects like Out Of Sight and The Limey. With the one-two punch of Erin Brockovich and Traffic in 2000, major studios are now willing to trust him with big budgets. However, the studio’s bankroll didn’t get all these names on the marquee- Soderbergh did, and he did it at a bargain.

Soderbergh set out to make a fun, popcorn flick involving a casino heist, in the spirit of the Frank Sinatra/Rat Pack movie of 1960. The new Ocean's Eleven stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Brad Pitt, and Julia Roberts. Clooney, with Pitt, scheme to steal $160 million from Andy Garcia's casino. They enlist nine con men and hustlers to make it happen. The Eleven of the title pull off the heist, Mission: Impossible style- no guns, no violence. Hardly anyone even gets their hair mussed. There are plenty of kinks in the plan as we go along- but are they kinks or a part of the plan we're unaware of?

The great casting continues below the title, with Carl Reiner and Elliott Gould as old-school Vegas cronies looking for one last hand; Don Cheadle as the bomb expert, Bernie Mac as the inside man at the casino; plus Casey Affleck and Scott Caan as the bratty, feuding footsoldiers of the gang. Everyone took pay cuts to join in the fun, and it shows; the set must have felt like a class reunion as it seems everyone has worked together before. Soderbergh has directed Clooney, Roberts, and Cheadle before; Clooney worked with Cheadle in Out Of Sight; Affleck and Damon were in Good Will Hunting, and Gould was on Friends with Brad Pitt's then-wife.

You'd think with a big cast and a fast-moving story, that there wouldn’t be enough screen time for all the principals. With such a long list of stars, you might expect some bruised egos as some of the cast could get short shrift. However, Soderbergh does a nice job of giving everyone at least one scene to shine. For example, Cheadle (Traffic, Boogie Nights), in some ways, is barely in the movie. But he gets a few brief moments to be noticed which count for a lot. A few of the great moments: Pitt's first and last scenes begin with his character eating junk food. We just watch him eating nachos for 5-10 seconds. How he can look so cool and yet funny while eating nachos is beyond me. Clooney has a scene where he plays with his wedding band. His character is not aware he's doing it, but he fiddles with his ring finger while talking to his estranged wife, and it says more about his feelings that any dialogue can.

I had some problems with the Roberts/Clooney relationship. Clooney played a similar role as a thief in Out Of Sight and squeezed out sexy sparks opposite Jennifer Lopez, including a pivotal scene at a secluded table in a dark restaurant. In Ocean’s Eleven, Clooney and Roberts’ big scenes take place in a similar setting, and suffer by comparison. Without giving too much away, suffice it to say her character is supposed to harbor a grudge against Clooney. She does unleash some sharp jabs in their snappy dialogue. However, we need more romantic magnetism underneath to develop her character arc.

It’s rare when all the pieces come together for a fun and exciting film these days. Hollywood seems to have forgotten that movies can be thrilling without gunplay, explosions, and car chases. We can only hope that the rest of Hollywood follows Soderbergh’s example. This film is not genius, it's just first-class entertainment.

Rated PG-13 for language, and one brief scene with a strip show in the background (no nudity). Hardly any violence (a few punches are thrown); no gun violence. Hardly any smoking. Hardly sounds like a Vegas movie, does it?

November 24, 2001 • Spy Game • Showcase Cinemas Randolph
Well scripted, but empty spy thriller.

December 16, 2001 • Vanilla Sky • Loews Boston Common
Vanilla Sky is a bold, experimental journey into man’s dreams and desires. But has Cameron Crowe has taken a radical departure from his typical style, or a departure from his senses?

Vanilla Sky is based on the Spanish film Abre Los Ojos, co-written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar (The Others). Tom Cruise plays David Aames, a millionaire playboy whose wild, womanizing ways have led him into a disastrous affair and a crippling accident with his lover, Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz). The same night of the accident, he meets another woman: the enigmatic, adorable Sofia (Penélope Cruz, who played this role in the original). After the accident, David’s life comes falling apart. His face resembling the Frankenstein monster and limping like Igor, he falls into a deep depression. His best friend (Jason Lee) appears to be stealing away Sofia, and control of his family business is slipping away at the hands of his board of directors. While we are supposed to believe that his mental crisis is abetted by the symptoms of his injuries, it’s hard not to believe that David’s depressed because, frankly, he’s gone from looking like Tom Cruise to the Elephant Man.

The events described above are told to us from prison. A police shrink (Kurt Russell) is evaluating David while he awaits a trial for murder. We know early on that he is supposed to have murdered someone, but for the first two thirds of the film, we are not sure exactly who. Until we learn more about this murder, it is fairly easy to take the narrative at face value. But when the shrink starts dragging more memories out of the reluctant David, we discover that not all of what we have seen makes sense.

The last third of the film completely falls apart. We are shown more and more about what led David to be charged with murder, but there is no logical way to piece together the narrative. When the story started winding around itself like a boa constrictor, I held out hope that we were supposed to puzzle out the solution to the contradictions. We hope to get inside David’s head before the shrink does, but it’s not that simple. In fact, there’s no way to solve the puzzle. I am not going to reveal the film’s explanation for the contrarian nature of the plot. Audiences love to solve mysteries and draw their own conclusions, but in this film, the solution is given to you in the last half hour and the choice to interpret the events is yanked away.

Filmmakers love it when people walk out of the theater discussing their perspectives on the story, but after this film, you have nothing to do but scratch your head. We are forcibly pushed out of the film; when you don’t know who is real and what really happened, how are you supposed to care about the fate of the characters? While Cruise is effective as the former playboy tortured by the hand of fate, he plays at a strong disadvantage. For about a third of his screen time, he wears an amazing, award-worthy prosthetic face that transforms his million-dollar mug into a hideous, lopsided pile of skin and bone. For another third of the film, he wears a skin-tone therapeutic mask, which transforms him into a short, limping, well-dressed mannequin. The problem is, we only get to see any of his face for the scenes when he is untroubled and content- when he really gets to sink his teeth into meaty material, we can’t see it.

Penélope Cruz is the Hype of the Year. All she has to do here is talk sweet nothings with a Spanish accent, bat her fifty-yard eyelashes at Cruise, and her freckles are supposed to win me over? There’s nothing happening there. Cameron Diaz, however, is fabulous as the jilted lover on the verge of mental collapse. Diaz plays the quiet desperation and ragged edge of sanity with subtlety and aplomb. Given the chance to shine in a brief but complex role, it’s nice to see her rise to the occasion.

Something about the original 1997 Spanish film Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) clearly drew Crowe and Cruise to this project. You have to respect them for attempting such an experiment. But that doesn’t mean you have to enjoy watching it.

Overheard At The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy Marathon
  • "I know they're lonely and a long way from home, but should Sam and Frodo be spooning?"
  • "If the cave troll and the Incredible Hulk had a fight, who would win?"
  • "When do the Hobbits play Quidditch? Did I miss it?"
  • "I think I see Peter Jackson."
  • "You know, once you've made it with an elf, you never go back."
  • "Would it kill them to "accidentally" leave a few reels out?"
  • "If Frodo and Sam would just drive to Mount Doom, this film would be a lot shorter."
  • "I will not rest until there's a black elf in Hobbiton."
  • "You know what this film needs? More dancing."
  • "I think I sprained my imagination!"
  • "Gee, there are a lot of furry feet in this movie."
  • "I can't feel my ass- will you carry me to the bathroom?"
  • "I just stepped out to watch Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star next door. Did I miss anything?"
  • "Seven hours of trailers for "Return of the King," what were they thinking?"
  • "I think I just saw a Hobbit with Birkenstocks?"
  • "Frodo dies!" (shouted by interloper at theater door; riot ensues)
  • "Wow, these extra scenes add so much nuance to the zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz..."

Christmas Day 2001, and December 30, 2001 • Lord Of The Rings: Fellowship Of The Ring
Better than I hoped for. Would have watched LOTR:TTT in succession if I could have. The second time I saw it was outside Salt Lake City, UT with Laurie and Joel.

Boxing Day, 2001 • A Beautiful Mind • AMC Framingham, wth my friend Lyza.

The trailers and commercials hyped A Beautiful Mind as a code breaking spy thriller only if it were...

Russell Crowe stars in the story (based on real events) of John Forbes Nash Jr, a mathematics genius. In the first third of the film, we learn that Nash is brilliant, intolerant of lazy thinking, and introverted to a fault. "I don’t like other people, and they don’t like me" he remarks. His whole mind is tied to creating a 'truly original idea'. Director Ron Howard (Apollo 13, Ransom) goes to great lengths to show us how revolutionary and cool Nash’s ideas are. Thankfully, Nash only explains himself once, and then at a suitably earthy level that everyone can understand.

The first half of the film feels like Good Will Hunting crossed with North By Northwest. A math genius plunged into cloak-and-dagger intrigue. Only at the midway point do we learn that there’s more in Nash’s (and Howard’s) Mind than we thought.

Howard is the king of the safe, dependable movie you can safely take your parents to see. Nothing challenging, nothing revolutionary, just quality, mainstream entertainment. There’s nothing remarkable here, except for another (sigh) revelatory performance from Russell Crowe. There are no great lines, no great scenes, but to watch Crowe react to the outside stimulus to his interior world. Howard draws out Nash’s overactive mind through a labyrinth of mathematical notation, but we can see Nash’s wheels turning in the eyes of Crowe.

Jennifer Connelly (Pollock, Requiem for a Dream), in her highest profile role of her career, is splendid as Nash’s wife and only connection to the real world. She is an intelligent, educated woman who loves Nash’s heart over his mind. Her character is well-formed on the page, and she plays the conflicts between the heart and mind, the real world and the metaphysical, with grace.

Ed Harris is Ed Harris. Always superb (Pollock, Apollo 13), he does a fine job as a G-man doggedly pursuing Nash’s genius for the good of the country. In his 1940’s spook suit, he looks tough and mean enough to beat up Humphrey Bogart.

The movie has the potential to be 'excellent', but steps back into 'very good' territory in the last third. When making a biopic of a real person (Nash is alive and well) you must choose whether to tell THE story OF a man’s life, or A story IN a man’s life. Howard tries for both and the movie suffers for it. Once Nash conquers his struggles, the film continues for (what feels like) twenty minutes, covering the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and Nineties. This incredibly boring section is necessary to get us to a 1994 Nobel Prize ceremony scene, and a completely fictional accepance speech. The story IN his life was over decades earlier. If Nash were a fictional character, these 20 minutes would never have made the final cut. Howard felt the need (out of respect) to conclude the movie on the best, happiest, and least ambiguous note possible. No doubt can be left in the viewer’s mind that everything turned out okay.

Crowe shines in this otherwise solid, workmanlike biography. You can always count on Howard for quality product, but it wouldn’t hurt the film to trim a little.

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