New Year's Day 2004 • Cold Mountain • Showcase Woburn|
A brutal and passionate portrait of the wounds war inflicts on both the soldiers and the citizens. I didn't really buy the Jude Law-Nicole Kidman romance, however: I didn't believe that Jude Law would hike halfway across America to return to this woman he barely knew. Perhaps she was supposed to be symbolic of something: beauty unspoiled by war, lost innocence, sex...whatever it was, I didn't buy it.
January 14, 2004 • The Producers • Brattle Theater, Cambridge
We saw the hilarious Producers on an incredibly cold night in Cambridge. The movie is still funny, even if the story is lacking a third act. Mel Brooks won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for 1968, beating Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke, and John Cassavettes, among others.
January 16, 2004 • Big Fish • Loews Boston Common
Tim Burton's most human and heartwarming film yet. A moving, gorgeous film. I was wearing flannel-lined pants and winter boots- my poor legs & feet were roasting!
My 32nd Birthday • Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King • Loews Boston Common
Still fabulous. If PJ and Sean Astin are not recognized at the Oscars, I'll be very upset.
January 19, 2004 • The Barefoot Contessa • Brattle Theater, Cambridge
Last night was not the night for a 128 minute melodrama. I almost fell asleep during several prolonged monologue scenes. Would have been better on TV whilst curled up on sofa.
January 24, 2004 • Something's Gotta Give • AMC Fenway
Wayyyy too long for a comedy. The whole subplot of young Amanda Peet coming of age romantically after dating Jack slows the whole third act down. Better to combine her character with Frances McDormand's and streamline the supporting roles.
New Year's Day at the Movies • When does a habit become a tradition? When I finally notice how often I go to the movies on New Year's Day! Coincidentally, two of these films were directed by Steven Spielberg, and two were directed by Anthony Mingella.
February 13, 2004 • The Cooler • Kendall Square Cinema, Cambridge|
I was expecting a "Get Shorty"-style Vegas comedy, but I got a "Leaving Las Vegas"-style downer instead. I found the movie needlessly brutal. The script was very film-noir retro. A loveable loser (William H Macy) and a cocktail waitress with a heart of gold (Maria Bello) fall in love, while forces beyond their control (Alec Baldwin) force them apart. Don't forget the loser son (Shawn Hatosy) who is making all the same mistakes the father did.
St. Valentine's Day 2004 • Casablanca • Brattle Theater, Cambridge
This year, I really noticed how everybody is smoking in every scene. Em noticed how everyone is always buying drinks which no one ever consumes. I picture Sasha the bartender taking all the full glasses and pouring them into a jug labeled "House Wine" a la Moe on The Simpsons.
February 21, 2004 • Monster • Kendall Square Cinema, Cambridge
A pretty good movie, especially for a novice director, with a fantastic, career-catapulting performance by heretofore pretty-face Charlize Theron, who can now play with the big kids. Let's hope she says "no" to The Italian Job 2 and plays more roles like this (complex, flawed human beings).
Biopics I've Seen In The Theater
2004 is shaping up to be they Year of the Biopic: I have seen five good-to-great biographical movies this year. Here's my all-time listing:
February 26, 2004 • The Station Agent • Somerville Theater|
A wonderful, plot-free character study, with silly music and endearing performances. A nice 88 minute slice of summer. It made me long for sitting around outside reading and doin' nothing...
March 14, 2004 • Starsky & Hutch • Loews Fresh Pond
Exactly what I hoped for. Funny, silly, with an authentic 70s-era cop-show plotline. I never watched S&H as a kid- I was seven when it was canceled. I was a devoted fan of Dukes Of Hazzard and CHiPs. Talk about born in the wrong decade- Ben Stiller as Dave Starsky is much more handsome than Ben Stiller as himself. That permed-out curly hair he wears in the movie is much more flattering than his regular look. All the action in the Ford Grand Turino was like a love letter to Rear Wheel Drive...
March 27, 2004 • The Ladykillers • Landmark Embassy Cinema, Waltham
Not as wacky as I would have hoped from the creators of Raising Arizona. Some very fine moments, and it's good to see Tom Hanks in a comedy again (I'm still waiting for The Money Pit 2 to go into production). J.K. Simmons is one of my favorite character actors. I am quick to give Messrs. Coen & Coen extra credit considering they've released four films in less than four years: Their last movie, Intolerable Cruelty, debuted less than six months before this film.
April 2, 2004 • Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind • West Newton Cinema
Both hopeful an depressing, I was genuinely moved by this story. Joel (Carrey) can't stand the pain of his failed relationship with Clementine (Winslet) so he has his memories of her erased. The problem is, he can't stand to lose the good memories along with the bad. We are all the sum of our life's experiences.
April 3, 2004 • The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg • Brattle Theater, Cambridge
A light, inconsequential French melodrama. Did I mention it's all-singing? Not my type of drama, but interesting. I'm glad I broadened my scope a little. Thanks Em!
April 25, 2004 • Kill Bill, Volume 2 • Showcase Cinemas Woburn
A very different film from Volume 2. If you thought Bill and the DiVAs put The Bride through the wringer in Volume 1, she is raked over the coals in all-new ways in Volume 2. I think I would enjoy QT's movies more if I didn't loathe him as a personality already. At least he didn't act in either Kill Bill installment!
May 5, 2004 • The Philadelphia Story • Brattle Theater, Cambridge
A bit draggy in parts, but funny and stocked with wonderful talent. Hepburn's part is tailored for her, Grant has some fine moments, and Stewart is delightful, especially in his drunken scenes. Roland Young is suitably boring, and precocious Virginia Weidler steals her scenes.
May 15, 2004 • Troy • Showcase Cinemas Woburn
The performances were good (Eric Bana stands out), but the screenplay, direction, and cinematography all were subpar, especially compared to Braveheart, Gladiator, and The Lord of The Rings. Those five movies really set the bar very high, and Troy is not at that standard. Brad Pitt never really pins down his character. Bryan Cox chews scenery. The story has the potential to be written as a tragic Shakespearean opera, but the screenplay doesn't come close.
May 22, 2004 • Shrek 2 • Showcase Cinemas Woburn
Funny in spots, but dull bumps kill any comedy momentum they could have had. It picks up steam in the second half, but the first half is dull and slow. There's nothing for Donkey to do, and other characters (the Queen, Prince Charming) are flat. (I may have been influenced by a slightly blurry picture and no surround sound.)
June 5, 2004 • The Triplets Of Belleville • Somerville Theater
Delightful, oddball, dialog-free, French, and animated. A fun and inconsequential movie. Makes me want to never ride a bicycle again!
June 6, 2004 • Harry Potter & The Prisoner Of Azkaban • Framingham Premium Cinema
This movie was better than the first two Potter/Columbus films even before the main title appeared. Fast-paced, smart, scary, action-packed, and better plotted than the book.
June 16, 2004 • Godzilla (50th Anniversary Uncut Japanese Version) • Brattle Theater Cambridge
It was fun to see the genesis of the biggest monster icon of all time. Great music, some lovingly rendered special effects, and not as campy as it could have been.
June 20, 2004 • Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story • Showcase Cinemas Woburn
Ben Stiller once again takes a 3 minute skit from his decade-old Ben Stiller Show and extends it into a 92 minute comedy. His character, the fascist fitness instructor White Goodman, is funny for the first 15 minutes, but then Stiller is reduced to weak homoerotic gags and more of the 'dumb non-witty retorts' he did so well in Zoolander. The good news is, Vince Vaughn and the rest of the cast all have fun, and everybody loves watching people get hit in the head with stuff!
July 3, 2004 • Spider-Man 2 • AMC Fenway
Better than the first film. This sequel succeeds at making a superhero and his alter ego equally interesting. The first half of the film takes a long time to develop characters, at the expense of pacing. The action sequences, when they do arrive, are top-notch, and the CGI Spidey sequences are far superior to the 2002 effects. Tobey Maguire is letter-perfect as Peter Parker, Kirsten Dunst is reliable, and James Franco is steadily improving. It's good to see a superhero movie that's about something, with, ya know, themes and stuff. The Hulk (which I saw on the adjacent screen at Fenway a year ago) tried to be meaningful but bored everyone instead.
July 9, 2004 • Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy • Showcase Cinemas Woburn
I laughed harder during this film than I have at the movies in a long time. Will Ferrell and the rest of the cast work very hard to make us laugh. They throw everything at us, including boorish sexism, a capella quartets, death by impaling, a grown man weeping over his dead dog, and, of course, jazz flute.
July 10, 2004 • The Magnificent Ambersons and Citizen Kane • Brattle Theater Cambridge
Ambersons was quite good despite it's truncated third act. George acts so megalomaniacal, I felt a more appropriate title would be Confessions Of A Teenage Drama Queen. Emily pointed out that George was so bad at interacting with other people, we decided another title could be The Magnificent Aspergers.
July 18, 2004 • Fahrenheit 9/11 • West Newton Cinema
Our current administration is ruthlessly attacked in this highly biased anti-Bush propaganda film. That's not a bad thing: Since the American press corps won't do it, filmmaker Michael Moore is forced to ask the hard questions and point out the lies, corruption, and fearmongering of Bush The Younger.
July 30, 2004 • The Village • Landmark Embassy Cinema, Waltham
Most summer films excite, scare, and thrill you every moment you're in the theater, blowing your mind with eye-exploding special effects (and dropping your jaw with the money spent on them). But it's all so meaningless, you forget what you saw by the time you get to the car. The Village has no special effects, no stunts, no sex, and no car chases, yet it's the most exciting and scary movie of the year. Would you prefer a Hollywood equivalent of a log flume ride, or a scary, thoughtful, gorgeous movie which you'll be talking about for weeks to come?
August 3, 2004 • The Muppets Take Manhattan & The Blues Brothers (1980s Musicals Double Feature) • Brattle Theater
An odd choice for a double feature! The Muppets Take Manhattan is probably fourth on my list of Muppet movies, after The Great Muppet Caper, The Muppet Movie, and The Muppet Christmas Carol. I have seen The Blues Brothers waaaaaayyyy too many times!
August 7, 2004 • The Manchurian Candidate • AMC Fenway
A dark and creepy thriller, with quality performances from top to bottom, a good script and intense direction from Jonathan Demme. Em predicts this will win Best Sound Editing at the Oscars- she was right about Master & Commander last year, after all...
Director's Cuts I've Seen In The Theater
September 8, 2004 • Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut • Brattle Theater, Cambridge|
I first saw DD on DVD maybe a year ago. This Director's Cut re-integrates the Deleted Scenes I saw on the DVD Special Features, so there were no surprises, just a more fleshed-out film. I still find Donnie's sleepwalking encounters with Frank very scary, but the whole movie felt more pretentious this time around.
It's funny- DD was not a success in theaters, but has gained a cult following on DVD. That means more people have seen the DVD (and have had the opportunity to see the Deleted Scenes) than only saw the original theatrical run. Usually people who watch a Director's Cut are seeing some footage for the first time, but I'm guessing the majority of viewers at the Brattle had already seen the extra scenes on the DVD. Way back in the early nineties, when Blade Runner was released as a Director's Cut, it had been released on laserdisc but I don't think the Director's Cut was released on VHS? I'm not sure.
September 18, 2004 • Hero • West Newton Cinema
The theme of the film is 'Why We Fight'. One story is told three times, each time told with the same actions but different motivations: Love, Revenge, Honor, and so on. There are some beautiful moments and some Crouching Tiger-quality action sequences. Jet Li's character is a bit of a 2-dimensional enigma, however. The upper-middle-class, middle-aged, higher-education audience talked in spots throughout the film. The super-entitled crowd had to be shushed several times by your e'er vigilant moviegoer. Do these people think they are at home on the sofa, or do they think the whole world revolves around them?
September 20, 2004 • Raiders Of The Lost Ark & The Raiders Adaptation • Coolidge Corner Cinema
A once-in-a-lifetime double-feature: Raiders Of The Lost Ark, followed by the Raiders Adaptation, the ultimate fan tribute! Three kids in Mississippi, with nothing to do, recreated Raiders shot by shot, armed with nothing more than a camcorder and a obsessive ambition. With a little help from their friends, they cobbled together the entire film, with scrawny teenagers playing all the parts, with a loving eye for detail. Every line is delivered straight, with no snickering or looking at the camera. The full house at Coolidge Corner cheered every step of the way, admiring how these kids loved every detail of the movie we ourselves loved. Here's more on the making of the movie from Peter and Emily:
Eric Zala (who played Belloq) having a plaster cast of his face made for the final "exploding Nazi head" sequence. They used the wrong kind of plaster, the kind with a heating agent mixed in, so his face was burning, and then they couldn't get it off because his eyebrows and eyelashes (!) were caught in the plaster! They tried a hacksaw and a hammer and chisel (!!!!) before finally calling 911 and going to the hospital -- oh, and letting Mom know what was up. Unreal! This same kid also played the Ratty Nepalese, the guy whose back is on fire in the Nepal pub scene, and he got singed in that, and the production nearly got shut down completely due to lack of fire safety! Also, Nat asked about how they got all the dialogue so correct, and get this -- when they started out there was no VHS or laserdisc available, so they wrote it all out from memory! In the car on the way home, we were most amazed at how these kids stuck with this project for so long, and with such (relatively) high-quality results...everybody might have played "Indiana Jones" back then in the yard, but only for a day or two, not 7 years!
The submarine, by the way, was used by the kids after Chris (Indiana Jones) spent 3 years talking to the guy who owned a WWII submarine moored in Mobile Bay in Alabama and convinced him to allow them to shoot there, much to the bemusement of the local tourists.
October 17, 2004 • I (Heart) Huckabees • West Newton Cinema|
An existential screwball comedy. Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Naomi Watts, and Mark Wahlberg all face existential crises while being stirred together by 'existential detectives' Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin. The film's core of essential desparation is diluted by madcap improvisation and more carnival music by Jon Brion. Huckabees may bear too close a resemblance to Magnolia specifically, and the films of P.T. Anderson in general, mainly thanks to the music of Brion and the "we're all connected? there are no coincidences? midlife crises" theme of the film.
October 21, 2004 • Team America: World Police • Loews Harvard Square
Tremendously silly, sophomoric spoof of Jerry Bruckheimer films (Top Gun and Pearl Harbor especially) which also slings a few barbs at overinflated Hollywood liberals. The central conceit of the movie is that puppets on strings act just as well as the casts of bad Hollywood action movies. On the political front, it's easy to be distracted from the political 'satire' by all the sex, poop, and vomit jokes.
November 5, 2004 • The Incredibles • Landmark Embassy Cinema, Waltham|
A wonderfully funny, exciting, and inventive film. Great for parents and kids too. A classic superhero/James Bond action movie with fun for everyone. Why Disney is incapable of making movies like this is beyond me.
November 7, 2004 • Sky Captain & The World Of Tomorrow • Somerville Theater
A perfectly crafted tribute to Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon serials, but Sky Captain does not work as its own movie. The characters are too two dimensional and the dialog is too wooden. The plot stumbles to a conclusion.
November 19, 2004 • Kinsey • West Newton Cinema
A well-crafted biopic, with solid performances from Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, and Peter Sarsgaard. It's a pleasure to watch a movie based on real people who hold such radical opinions about sex at such a repressed time in American history. The story avoids all the boring pitfalls of biographic movies. Reminded me of all I disliked about another biopic about a scientific genius, A Beautiful Mind.
November 25, 2004 • Finding Neverland • Jersey Gardens, Elizabeth, NJ
This year's Thanksgiving movie in Jersey was a delightful movie about family, imagination, and inspiration. J.M. Barrie (Depp) finds the inspiration for his masterpiece Peter Pan by immersing himself in the imaginations of four brothers and their widowed mother (Kate Winslet). Finding Neverland also restores the respectable reputation of Barrie's play from the juvenile clutches of Walt Disney's slapstick cartoon. After the debut performance of Peter Pan, an elderly patron points out to Barrie that the crocodile with the alarm clock is a symbol of time chasing each of us, i.e., mortality. This is the kind of mature, adult symbolism that Walt ignored in favor of a silly chase sequence.
Family Filmgoing at Thanksgiving
Here's a look back at movies I have seen with my family and friends on Thanksgiving weekends:
November 28, 2004 • Sideways • Landmark Embassy Cinema, Waltham|
Alexander Payne's most mature film yet. Payne perfectly balances madcap, screwball silliness with real human interaction. Paul Giamatti plays Miles, a depressed struggling writer who takes his old college buddy Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a weeklong wine country trip the week before Jack's wedding. Jack is a conscience-free zone, and he plans to get his knob polished well and often before tying the knot. Jack recognizes that a little hokey-pokey would help Miles at lot more than Zanax, but is Miles too deep in his own tailspin to get laid?
November 29, 2004 • Murder By Death • Brattle Theater
A thoroughly ridiculous and silly meta-murder mystery by Neil Simon. The five greatest fictional detectives are spoofed by an all-star cast. A very satisfying movie for people who find Agatha Christie and Dashiell Hammett mysteries frustrating. I quote Lionel Twain: "You've tricked and fooled your readers for years. You've tortured us all with surprise endings that made no sense. You've introduced characters in the last five pages that were never in the book before. You've withheld clues and information that made it impossible for us to guess who did it. But now, the tables are turned. Millions of angry mystery readers are now getting their revenge. When the world learns I've outsmarted you, they'll be selling your $1.95 books for twelve cents."
December 2, 2004 • The Life & Death Of Peter Sellers (Free Preview Screening) • Brattle Theater
Peter Seller's life and (lack of) personality or character is very interesting. The performances are fantastic, led by a spot-on Geoffrey Rush. The director tried to be avant-garde, but only succeeded on occasion.
December 3, 2004 • The Big Red One: The Restoration • Brattle Theater
Overly long and episodic, but soaked in the realism that only a real WWII veteran-turned-filmmaker (Samuel Fuller) can provide. A small budget goes a long way. Mark Hamill still can't act, but Lee Marvin is perfect, and Robert Carradine (Revenge Of The Nerds) is believable.
New Year's Eve 2004-05 • The Aviator • Loews Church Street, Harvard Square
Well told story of a tragic life. Hughes's mental illnesses drove him to overachieve. At the same time, he was barely socially high-functioning. All this guy needed was a doctor and some Paxil, in an age where obsessive/compusive, borderline schizophenia is called "eccentric". Scorsese makes us feel as paranoid and trapped as Hughes did. Really good performances from DiCaprio and Blanchett, fantastic cinematography, editing, hair, ,makeup, and incidental music.
This was the first in a series of movies I would see this winter which features MGM head honcho Louis B. Mayer. In The Aviator, he's potrayed by Stanley DeSantis. In early 2005, I saw two other Louis B. Mayer portrayals, both on HBO: Howard Da Silva as Mayer in Mommie Dearest, and David Suchet as Mayer in RKO 281. Other actors to portray Mayer onscreen include Martin Balsam, Allen Garfield, Harold Gould, Al Waxman, and Emerson College alumnus Richard Dysart.
Besides Mayer, Dysart has played several other American icons, including Harry S Truman, J. Edgar Hoover, Secretary Of State Henry L. Stimson, and Dwight D. Eisenhower (twice)!