January 3, 2005 • Ray | West Newton Cinema
Pretty traditional biopic. Jamie Foxx is as good as anyone could ever be playing an icon. The musical sequences are fantastic. It turns out Ray Charles is a major ass- he openly carries on love affairs with his backup singers while leaving his wife and kids at home, his music is more important than any friendship in his life, he fires a longtime friend to save money, and he abuses heroin for twenty years. Despite all this, this movie is inevitable Oscar bait for three reasons: Charles has a physical disability, he's a drug addict, and he accomplishes great things anyways. I quote Get Shorty: "His best role was the crippled gay guy who climbed Mount Whitney." I also quote Bowfinger: "That's what I need, I need to play a retarded slave, then I'll get the Oscar!"
January 7, 2005 • Beyond The Sea • West Newton Cinema
This film could not have been made without Kevin Spacey, yet at the same time it is doomed to failure because of Kevin Spacey. Kevin Spacey's devotion to Bobby Darin's life story, and his talent for performing Darin's songs, make for a fascinating movie with great musical performances. The movie Ray included great musical sequences with Jamie Foxx lip-synching to Ray Charles recordings, but nothing beats a live performance by the actor himself. The problem is, Spacey has been too old to play the part for at least 15 years. Spacey turned 45 in 2004. It is ridiculous to watch Spacey play a 25-year old Darin romancing a 17-year old Sandra Dee, played by age-appropriate Kate Bosworth. Spacey (who directed and co-wrote the movie) opens his film with a lame, paranoid device showing the middle-aged Darin filming his own autobiography, as if we can suspend our disbelief as the 45-year old Spacey, jowls and all, romances a teenager? It simply doesn't hold together.
January 8, 2005 • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou • Landmark Embassy Cinema Waltham
Overly long and self-indulgent, the quirks of Wes Anderson have worn me down to the nub. I am beginning to find director Wes Anderson's fetish for retro set dressing annoying. We all have a nostalgia for our youths, but Anderson seems to care more about David Bowie songs, Adidas apparel and footwear, and neato pens which write in any one of four colors, than about plot, characterization, and drama.
January 9, 2005 • Ocean's Twelve • AMC Fenway
The first two-thirds of Ocean's Twelve is better than Ocean's Eleven. However, in the last third of the film, the resolution of the heist slows to a glacial crawl, Soderbergh lapses into terminal smug self-indulgence, and Emily has to explain the denoument three times before I understand what happened. No doubt Ocean's Twelve rewards a second viewing, but the viewer has to enjoy it the first time in order to entice a repeat.
January 15, 2005 • In Good Company • AMC Fenway
Em and I saw In Good Company on Saturday afternoon, and thoroughly enjoyed it, refuting each bizarre criticism of the Globe's Ty Burr: the lighting was artifical and harsh [hello, it takes place in an office], the actors were caked with makeup [duh!], the soundtrack was insistent and distracting [only if you're a grumpy old man]. It's a corporate satire with a light touch, and the excellent casting is what pulls it together. Topher Grace carried the movie as a sweet but needy go-getter searching for some purpose in life. I expect he'll get some juicy parts out of this. Thanks to Em for her review- I couldn't have said it better myself!
Valentine's Day, 2005 • Casablanca • Brattle Theater
Em and I had dinner beforehand, and arrived at the packed theater 10 minutes before showtime. We grabbed two seats in the back row of the balcony. The movie (and the company) was wonderful as usual, but the theater was punishingly hot, and the crowd was an unfortunate blend of goofy Harvard students, whose only emotional response is to giggle at every scene.
Schadenfreude Achievement Awards
As I mentioned in my review of Ray, above, Academy members tend to reward roles which involve some kind of handicap or illness. Oscar voters especially favor roles where the character achieves some kind of triumphant healing or trancending achievement. Emily calls these the Schadenfreude Achievement Awards. The following table chronicles most of these nominations from the last two decades. Academy Award winners are listed in golden boxes.
March 6, 2005 • Being Julia • West Newton Cinema|
I was easily the youngest person in the theater on this Sunday afternoon. The film was long and boring, until the inventive and entertaining third act. Annette Bening was wonderful, if not Academy Award-worthy.
March 9, 2005 • Be Cool • AMC Fenway
It's hard to believe almost ten years have passed since I saw the original adventures of Chili Palmer. After 30 minutes in this theater, I wanted to run home and watch Get Shorty instead of Be Cool. The plot is basically the same, but F. Gary Gray, the more-than competent director of The Italian Job remake, is in over his head with this top-heavy star-overburdened cast. It seemed like the primadonna needs of all the star power squeezed all the comedic life out of the film. Plus, at 118 minutes, you could have cut 20 minutes out of the movie and made it much better. Cedric the Entertainer and Andre Benjamin try hard to inject some life into their scenes, but Travolta and Uma are lost in this one. As much as I looooooove Uma Thurman, at age 34 she is 10 years too young for the part of Edie Athens. She reminisces about touring with Aerosmith as their laundry girl, but Uma wasn't even 17 until Aerosmith's comeback album Permanent Vacation came out in 1987. And have you noticed Travolta's track record in the last 10 years? Are you strong enough to read this list of John Travolta films since Pulp Fiction, 2005-1994?
Be Cool, Ladder 49, A Love Song for Bobby Long, The Punisher, Basic, Domestic Disturbance, Swordfish, Lucky Numbers, Battlefield Earth, The General's Daughter, A Civil Action, The Thin Red Line, Primary Colors, Mad City, Face/Off, She's So Lovely, Michael, Phenomenon, Broken Arrow, Get Shorty, and White Man's Burden.Travolta seems to make one worthwhile film for every three 'paycheck' films.
March 12, 2005 • Raging Bull • Brattle Theater
Raging Bull was just released on DVD for its 25th anniversary, and the Brattle screened a new restored 35mm print, billed as a tribute to Martin Scorsese, the most-respected director to never win an Academy Award. The Academy much prefers to give awards to beloved directors. In addition, Academy voters refuse to take movies out of the context of history. For example, the Academy was biased towards Ordinary People in 1980 and Dances With Wolves in 1990 because they are directorial debuts by beloved actors. The Academy was biased towards Million Dollar Baby in 2004 because they love Clint Eastwood, and besides, The Aviator isn't Scorsese's best movie. To sum up, in order for Scorsese to win a Best Director Oscar, he will have to direct a movie better than Raging Bull and Goodfellas, which is impossible.
March 29, 30, and 31, 2005
Criss Cross, Point Blank, and Collateral
"L.A. Noir" film series at The Brattle Theater
I have already seen series entries The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and Chinatown, so my first screening was Criss Cross, about 'the sucker of all time' Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster). Steve has never gotten over his ex-wife Anna (Yvonne DeCarlo). He allows himself to be drawn into an armored-car heist scheme by Anna and her shady husband Slim (Dan Duryea). Is Anna playing Steve for Slim, is Anna playing Slim for Steve, or is fate playing a hand? Either way, Steve is a real dope and the voice-over narration is laughably bad.
Point Blank: I was expecting a gritty, hard-boiled revenge thriller. What I got instead was an extremely low-key revenge thriller, filtered through the then-trendy French psychedelic surrealism of the Summer of Love. Lee Marvin doesn't embarrass himself, but he sure looks out of place in his dark suits and cold fish demeanor amongst all the druggies of L.A. circa 1967.
Collateral: guest review by EKD • Nat and I rounded out his week o' noir at the Brattle with Collateral, Michael Mann's shiny, satisfying thriller of a hapless cabbie and sociopathic hitman rolling through a misty Los Angeles night. Mann's films are always delicious to look at, and here he makes digital video an art form instead of the usual pixellated lo-fi cop-out. Jamie Foxx is well-cast as the dreamy, timid Max; can't say the same for Mark Ruffalo, who looks like a kid in a Donnie Brasco Halloween costume, ugh. Tom Cruise is a bit of a cipher here: his usual clipped, focused, tightly-wound thing comes across more dangerous and menacing because his character is such a heartless psycho, who seductively charms and ruthlessly manipulates everyone around him by turns. On paper, this seems like a clone of his Vampire Lestat, but that character had an interior vulnerability, a needy streak -- here, Vincent is a soulless shark, unrepentant to the end. Of course, he does get a few chances to do the Patented Tom Cruise Run. The last 20 minutes start to drag like a bad TV movie, and there are a few moments of stale 80's machismo, but overall it's a thoughtfully gripping example of the genre. (A-)
April 2, 2005 • Steamboy • Kendall Square Cinema
From Katsuhiro Otomo, the director of Akira, comes this apocalyptic, evils-of-technology fable set in the Steam Age: Victorian London, 1863. Otomo rages against the danger of science perverted to serve capitalistic, warmongering influences, yet at the same time he fetishistically showcases fantastic steam-powered technology. Besides the preachy moralizing, Otomo shows a disappointing misogynist streak- there are barely three speaking parts for women in the movie: The protagonist's mother gets a few lines early on, the Queen of England has one line, and the "comedy" relief is a ugly, spoiled, elitist preteen heiress who beats her Chihuahua and calls everyone 'stupid' when she hasn't a clue. She isn't funny, but that must be why she's included in the film because there's no other purpose for her character?
Guys Movie Nights • Ladies Movie Night is a wildly successful monthly event produced by my Emily. Almost all of the movies Emily & Co. would see on Ladies Movie Night were films I had little/no interest in seeing. As a result, at the end of the year, Emily saw more movies in the theater than I did. This could not stand, of course. As a result, I founded Guys Movie Night in 2005:
April 8, 2005 • SIN CITY • AMC Burlington|
Our third selection for Guys Movie Night is a vast improvement on Be Cool. To call Sin City a "gritty" film noir is like calling Mount Rushmore a pile of rocks. SIn CIty is uber-gritty. Three intertwined crime thrillers with no mercy. Heavy doses of love, revenge, murder, madness, cannibalism, sex, slicing, punching, ripping, tearing, shooting, decapitating, all in a stunning blend of high-contrast black and white. A honest and faithful recreation of graphic novelist Frank Miller's vision.
April 16, 2005 • Fever Pitch • Showcase Cinemas Woburn
A good-natured and funny rom-com set against the backdrop of the Red Sox 2004 season. The movie did not screw up the Boston-ian parts of the movie. Jimmy Fallon was surprisingly subtle and charming, despite limited talent. Fallon and Barrymore were well-suited for each other. I have barely seen Jimmy Fallon (Saturday Night Live: 1998-2004), before, and I didn't think much of him... before this movie. Drew Barrymore is usually the best thing in all her rom-coms (50 First Dates, Never Been Kissed, Home Fries, The Wedding Singer), and America's love for her makes up for the safe, easy movies she makes.
April 27, 2005 • The Pink Panther • Brattle Theater Cambridge
The intention was to start a franchise for David Niven as suave ladies' man/cat burglar Sir Charles Litton. However, Peter Sellers, a little-known British comic, was a late addition to the cast after Peter Ustinov dropped out. Sellers proceeded to steal the movie in the role of Inspector Clouseau, the French detective who cannot catch the notorious thief who's sleeping with his wife right next door. Inspector Clouseau would become the franchise, and nine Clouseau films would follow between 1964 and 2005. All of the following were directed by Blake Edwards, except numbers 3 and 10:
PINK PANTHER Filmography
April 30 and June 26, 2005 • The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy • AMC Fenway, Somerville Theater|
After twenty years (and a half-dozen adaptations into every other entertainment format known to man), a big-screen Hollywood adaptation of the first Hitchhiker's story has arrived. My siblings Jon and Kate and I all grew up reading the "increasingly innacurate" trilogy of Douglas Adams novels (Hitchhikers, The Restuarant at the End of the Universe, Life, The Universe, and Everything, So Long and Thanks for all The Fish, Mostly Harmless) so it seemed fitting that we see the movie together. The movie is silly, intermittently funny, with a deadly dull patch in the middle. It's hard to keep up the momentum when you destroy the planet Earth in the first 20 minutes. Only after seeing the movie did we realize how slim the story is in Volume 1. Rather than stick to the novel (and release a 75-minute movie) or combine Hitchhiker's with Restuarant (and release a 150 minute movie), Douglas Adams included a original subplot to beef up the story. In the subplot, religious leader Humma Kavula [John Malkovich] blackmails Zaphod into retrieving a "point of view" gun from Magrathea. In the process of escaping the Vogons, Trillian is arrested and must be rescued from execution by the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal. This subplot is only tolerable because I know/suspect that Douglas Adams wrote it himself. The casting is pretty spot-on: Martin Freeman is perfect as Arthur Dent. The romantic subplot between Arthur and Trillian (Zooey Deschanel) undercuts Trillian's brainy aloofness. I don't think there could be a "definitive" Ford Prefect or Zaphod Beeblebrox, but Mos Def's interpretation is worthwhile, and Sam Rockwell crosses Michael Keaton's Beetlejuice with George W. Bush to create a shag-rockin', cowboy-booted President who "doesn't have time for reading".
May 25 and 30, 2005 • Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith • Showcase Cinemas Randolph, AMC Framingham
The last Star Wars movie we'll ever see, Episode III almost delivers everything fans had been hoping for. Lucas has a gift for operatic storytelling, but his plotting, motivation, and dialogue desparately need some help from a real screenwriter. (NOTE: Lucas was the sole writer for Episodes 1, 3, and 4: He had a co-screenwriter for Episode 2, and only only wrote the stories (not the screenplays) for Episodes 5 and 6.)
SPOILERS AHEAD: The scene where Anakin is flailing on the rocks, sans limbs, and Obi-Wan is despairing the loss of his 'brother', is incredibly moving. It's so near to true Shakespearean tragedy, it reminded me of how easy it would have been to make Episodes 1, 2, 3 follow closer to classic tragedy, instead of a messy mismash of romance, tragedy, and political thriller.
Too many people judge Episodes 1, 2 and 3 by their standard for Episodes 4, 5, and 6: they want Episodes 1, 2, and 3 to affect them the same way that 4, 5, and 6 did when they were young, and it's just isn't possible. I firmly believe that our generation's opinion of Episodes 4, 5, 6 is artifically boosted by 50% on pure nostalgia. There are lots of movies I saw when I was 10 which I love for nostalgia value which are really shitty. The Star Wars movies are not shitty, but Episodes 4, 5, and 6 are not as good as we remember.
Having said all that, I think a lot of fans are disappointed because the shadow of Darth Vader, easily the most interesting character in Episodes 4, 5, and 6, hangs over Episodes 1, 2, and 3. And once Vader finally appears in Episode 3, he gets two lines of dialogue and that's it. A Lucasfilm staffer went on record predicting that fans would want to see "Episode 3.5", meaning, the adventures of Darth Vader after he dons the helmet. I will go on record as saying that Episode 1 was a total waste of time- the adventures of nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker should have been recounted in one or two scenes, or simply outlined in the opening crawl.
Simply Disarming: Limbs (Original and Robotic) Removed in the Star Wars Movies
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (two arms)
June 10 & 12, 2005 • The Interpreter and Cinderella Man • West Newton Cinema, AMC Fenway|
This past weekend Em and I escaped the brutal heat and humidity for the refuge of two dark and air-conditioned movie theaters: The Interpreter on Friday and Cinderella Man on Sunday. Both movies are major Hollywood productions. Both were directed by Academy-Award winning Best Directors (Sydney Pollack won for Out Of Africa, Ron Howard won for A Beautiful Mind). Both movies' leads are both Academy-Award winning actors (Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, Russell Crowe and Renée Zellweger).
|With such a pedigree, The Interpreter sounds like a very safe bet- After all, Pollack directed one of the best white-collar thrillers of the 1990s, The Firm. All he would have to do is repeat that success and I would walk away satisfied. However, The Interpreter did not remind me of The Firm but another John Grisham adaptation- The Pelican Brief. In both films, the leading lady (Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts) is thrust into a deadly conspiracy with mysterious bad guys and multiple unknown motives. In both films, the woman is forced into a uncomfortable alliance with a stranger (Sean Penn, Denzel Washington). In both films, the woman whispers all her dialogue and acts scared for two-plus hours. In both films, the woman narrowly avoids getting blown up in a car (or bus) bombing. The Interpreter had all the elements in place to be as good as The Firm, or better than The Pelican Brief. Unfortunately, Pollack's pacing was ponderous, the musical score was ineffective, and the performances bloodless. On the other hand, the location shooting inside the United Nations building was very effective!|
|Cinderella Man is a vast improvement on Ron Howard's last biopic starring Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind), and a vast improvement on his last "Irish immigrants struggling to make a life for themselves in America" movie, Far and Away. It would be easy to call Cinderella Man "Seabiscuit Boxing": An underdog beats the odds to win in glory against a bigger and more powerful foe, while inspiring the American spirit during the Great Depression. I found the story moving, if a bit sacchraine and manipulative for my taste. Howard's direction of the boxing scenes is strong and evocative. He did a superlative job of conveying to viewers unfamiliar to boxing (besides Rocky movies) how boxing matches are won and lost- strategy, points scored, tactics, endurance. Crowe is right on target once again, Zellweger is strong in a underwritten role, and Paul Giamatti (as Braddock's trainer) is stellar. I have loved his work in two movies already (American Splendor and Sideways). Giamatti did not get nominated for Best Actor for Sideways because Clint Eastwood (in Million Dollar Baby) is beloved by the Academy. This part is custom-crafted to win him a Best Supporting Actor award. Let's hope that the Academy doesn't forget about this June movie six months from now- dark period movies like this and Road To Perdition (released in July 2002) don't usually fare well (with ticket buyers and critics) in the summer months.|
June 24, 2005 • Batman Begins • AMC Burlington
The latest installment of Guys Movie Night turned co-ed when most of the guys couldn't make it to the show. The outdoor marquee displayed the titles showing like this: BATMAN BEWITCHED, which would make a pretty sad crossover.
This restart of the corrupted, ruined franchise (last seen in 1997) is the best movie Batman yet. In order to make this movie feel like a comic book, director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) does not use "comic book-y" costumes, camera angles, or production design. Instead, the theme of this "origin story" goes to the heart of every superhero story: why Bruce Wayne wants to fight crime, how he discovers what kind of crime-fighter he wants to be, and how a world-famous billionaire with no superpowers can become an anonymous crimefighter without anyone discovering his secret.
Unlike previous Batman movies, where the Batman was always on the side of the audience, Batman often creeps up on us as much as his foes. In one memorable sequence, Batman stalks machine-gun-toting thugs among storage containers on the Gotham docks. We don't stalk the thugs with Batman- we view the whole sequence from the thugs' perspective, reminding me of Alien. Undercutting this other wise effective technique: the fight sequences are shot so close to the action, it's hard to see who's punching who.
Nolan has an A+list cast to work with: Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Rutger Hauer, Morgan Freeman, Tom Wilkinson, and Cillian Murphy. The only disastrous casting choice: Katie Holmes as an Assistant District Attorney-slash-love interest. Bruce Wayne is 30 years old, but Holmes looks way too young to be a lawyer, even though she's twenty-six.
NOTE: Of the four previous Batman feature films since 1989, I saw Batman on July 18 1989, Batman Returns on July 19 1992, and Batman Forever on June 21 1995. I thankfully avoided seeing Batman and Robin in the theater.
July 6, 2005 • The War of the Worlds • Weirs Beach Drive-In, Weirs Beach, NH|
Steven Spielberg's sloppy attempt to make an unredeemed B-level alien invasion movie takes itself too seriously to be fun. I have no problem with Spielberg making a movie with no redeeming value whatsoever. However, the premise of the movie is presented in an utterly preposterous manner, yet the whole movie is staged with the utter seriousness of Saving Private Ryan's Omaha Beach sequence. Imagine Mars Attacks! without a sense of humor, and that's what we're stuck with here. Tom Cruise, meanwhile, takes the part way too seriously. We've seen all the tricks in the Tom Cruise Acting Portfolio too many times to be abosrbed by him anymore.
It was widely reported that Spielberg fast-tracked this production when his star, Tom Cruise, became available due to a unexpected break in his schedule. The movie feels rushed, like Spielberg didn't give himself the creative time and effort to inspire new ideas. He's relying on pure talent to carry him through, and if this weren't a Spielberg movie, we wouldn't hold WotW to such a high standard. One of the principal suspense sequences, a cat and mouse hunt, is a sad pale imitation of the kitchen sequence of Jurassic Park, and ripoff of The Abyss too. The Boston Globe review described Dakota Fanning as a creepy mini Bette Davis, and they're not too far off. The ending is as tacked-on and sentimental as any Spielberg movie. Spielberg cannot bear to kill off any character we're supposed to care about, and WotW is no exception.
July 22, 2005 • Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971) • Free Friday Flicks at the Hatch Shell, Boston MA
Emily and I came out to see the first film adaptation of Roald Dahl's book before seeing the new movie this weekend. This original adaptation of the Roald Dahl book holds a lot of sentimental value for me, but isn't as good as my memories of it from childhood. The songs are horribly dated, the tone is stickliy sentimental. The Oompa Loompas are completely different from the characters in the book (why the midgets have orange skin, green hair, and white eyebrows is a mystery to me!). In order to pad out the length of the book into a feature-length movie, the world's mad hunt for the five Golden Tickets is illustrated with a series of slight vignettes (a computer is developed to calculate the location of the Tickets; a man is kidnapped for a chocolate ransom; Bucket's math-deficient teacher is obsessed with Wonkabars). As a result, it feels like a majority of the movie takes place away from Charlie and Willy's stories. There's also an added subplot where Wonka tests Charlie's loyalty by kicking Charlie out on a technicality sans candy. I found this to be a needlessly cruel trick at the end of the movie- Instead of betraying Wonka to his rival Slugworth, Charlie proves his worth, Wonka says "just kidding!", and Wonka gives him the whole factory.
As CBS4 is the main sponsor of this series, weatherman Ed Carroll introduced the movie. He assured us that there were no thunderstorm cells in the area. He said there were storms in the Berkshires, and north of the city, but they should be able to squeeze in the movie. After making this inaccurate prediction, I'm sure Ed Carroll hopped in his car and sped away, leaving us to weather the consequences. During the movie, we were treated to quite a light show. The thunderhead-filled skies behind the Hatch shell were constantly illuminated by lightning. We could not hear the thunder, so I assumed the system was too far off. However, right as the Oompa-Loompas say farewell to Veruca Salt, the wind picked up and a few big fat drops of rain began to fall on us. Emily thought I was over-reacting, until she looked up and got one in the eye! We immediately packed up and headed towards Charles Street. We were soaked by the time we got there. After weeks and weeks of stifling hot and rain-free weather, I really didn't care that I was soaked!
July 24, 2005 • Charlie & The Chocolate Factory (2005) • AMC Fenway
Tim Burton's adaptation isn't sacchrine and cuddly like the 1971 film: Johnny Depp's Wonka is a sheltered misanthrope. Burton is more faithful to the book than the 1971 film, at least in ways that really matter: The Chocolate Room is better (the river looks like chocolate and not brown water), the riverboat fits Dahl's description, the Oompa Loompas (played by Indian Deep Roy) look like jungle people. Veruca Salt is dispatched by the nut-sorting squirrels (instead of a mechanical scale). Burton includes flashbacks to several other Wonka adventures (included in the book): the construction of a chocolate palace for Prince Pondicherry, and Wonka's discovery of the Oompa Loompas in Loompaland.
Burton's major addition to the Dahl story is a backstory for Willy Wonka. Why did Willy Wonka turn out this way? Why does he live all alone with his candy? Freddie Highmore is excellent as Charlie Bucket, but he doesn't have a lot to do as Wonka takes his Ticket-holders on the grand tour. The four songs the Oompa Loompas sing (lyrics by Roald Dahl, music and vocals by Danny Elfman) are fantastic, even if the words are hard to interpret. On the whole, a satisfying ride.
July 27, 2005 • Fantastic Four • Loews Boston Common
A half-hearted superhero movie, FF gets the B-list treatment compared to A-list projects like Batman Begins and the Spider-Man movies. The B-level budget is evident not so much in what we see but what we don't. Some of the special effects are very good, but there's not enough of them- it feels like they scaled back the scope of the movie. For example, we only see Mr. Fantastic stretch (up close) twice, and we don't see Ben Grimm becoming The Thing.
The movie is an origin story: Act One- The FF plus Doom get soaked in cosmic rays, become superpowered. Act Two-- The FF learn how to use their powers, while Doom starts losing his grip. Act Three-- The FF fight Dr Doom for a few minutes, and the movie is over. What's the point in wasting our time with an origin story if there are no adventures to follow it? Batman Begins, Spider-Man, and The Hulk are also origin stories, they're all 15-35 minutes longer, and do not feel as abbreviated. Plus, those three movies were good enough to merit sequels, whereas FF felt like the studio crippled it with a small budget.
The cast is talented but not star material: Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower) is capable as the earnest, boring egghead Reed Richards. Jessica Alba (age 24) was much better in Sin City. In order placate comic book fanboys, they remake the olive-skinned brunette Alba into a blonde-haired, green eyed Susan Storm, to ill effect. As a result, I found myself distracted from her acting (and her hotness) by her pasty complexion and miscolored irises. Boston native Chris Evans (Not Another Teen Movie) almost saves the movie with his 'I'm not taking this too seriously' attitude. Boston native Michael Chiklis (The Shield) is surprisingly good as The Thing- the orange latex suit he wears is surprisingly convicing- much better than it looks in the commercials. Julian McMahon (Nip/Tuck) never transcends TV-quality menace as Dr. Doom- his unearthly dark black eyebrows are a distraction in every scene. Boston native and Emerson College grad Maria Menounos has an extended cameo as Sexy Nurse.
My Ten Favorite R-Rated Comedies, 1984-2005
The release of Wedding Crashers prompted Entertainment Weekly to publish an article lamenting the demise of the R-rated comedy. In the eternal quest for wider audiences, many comedies which could or should be R-rated are toned down to PG-13 levels to hopefully draw in more ticketbuyers. But what's the point in earning a PG-13 if the quality of the movie is hurt as a result? One recent movie which should have been R-rated is Dude, Where's My Car? I found it very funny, but the sex and drug jokes were obviously toned down into PG-13 territory after shooting was completed, and it shows. When I saw Mother, Juggs, and Speed on DVD, it was obvious that all the foul language had been removed in "looping" in order to earn a PG rating.
Here then, in tribute to the R-rated comedy, is a list of my favorite R-rated comedies. To earn a spot on this list, not only does the movie have to be one of my favorite R-rated comedies, but it has to put that R certificate to good use:
July 29 and August 14, 2005 • Wedding Crashers • Loews Boston Common & Showcase Woburn|
The latest Guys Movie Night feature is the funniest movie I have seen since the last Wilson/Vaughn/Ferrell movie, Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy. Wedding Crashers is easily the funniest Vince Vaughn performance to date. Vaughn and Wilson play slightly aging bachelors who have transformed wedding crashing into an art. Vaughn is obsessed with quality appetizers and exotic sexual encounters, while Wilson starts wondering if their all sex, no substance lifestyle is meaningless. When they crash the wedding of a Cabinet member's daughter, they both get much more than they bargained for. Neck deep in WASP dysfunction, Vaughn and Wilson fall for two of the bride's sisters: Vaughn's redhead target (Isla FIsher) turns out to be even more crazy than he is, and Wilson becomes smitten with Claire (Rachel McAdams), who's stuck in an engagement with a cruel, brutish snob (Bradley Cooper). In previous Vince Vaughn comedies, his screen time (and laugh potential) is diluted by an ensemble cast (Old School, Dodgeball). In Wedding Crashers, his machine-gun delivery of brutally frank sex strategizing is undiluted and overpowering. Owen Wilson is a better counterpart for Vaughn than his brother Luke was in Old School.
The sex jokes come hard and fast, with only a few totally juvenile missteps. The caricatured "crazy mean grandma" and "black sheep/gay/torutred artist son" aren't as funny as the rest of the movie. Christopher Walken, as the father of the bride and bridesmaids, strikes just the right tone without going over the top. In a piece of casting-against-type genius, Jane Seymour plays the drunken matriarch, who lures Wilson into a too-close dance, forces him to try out her newly-lifted breasts, and confesses that she has been faithful to her husband for 3 of their 30 years of marriage.
By the way, Owen Wilson, at age 37, looks a little old for the stoner-surfer shag haircut? The lines under his eyes are getting more noticeable these days...
August 3, 2005 • The Island • Loews Boston Common
Michael Bay (Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and Bad Boys II) doesn't deserve his success as a big-popcorn movie director. I quite enjoy action movies with big explosions, chases, and fistfights. You Constant Browsers out there can find many examples in this diary. Michael Bay, however, directs action movies with the subtlety of a wrench to the face, the grace of a nail gun through the palm of your hand, and the needless violence of a meathook in the back. All three of these acts occur in The Island, directed without flair, intelligence, or accomplishment.
The concept is an unremarkable mishmash (melange is too sophisticated for Bay) of Logan's Run, Blade Runner, and 1984. The clones are kept docile, content, but ignorant, in a giant brutalist-designed colony (it looks like a giant mall parking lot without the flair). They're cloned duplicates, kept in stock as spare parts for their owners in the real world. When their "sponsor" needs some new skin, organs, or a surrogate mother, the "insurance policy" (clone) is used and what's leftover is disposed of. The clones' complete ignorance of sex, crime, and sin in general makes them as innocent and curious as 12-year-olds, and that's what inspires Ewan McGregor to escape, and bring Scarlett Johannson with him. McGregor's clone doesn't know what sex is, but his subconscious knows a bodacious babe when he sees one. There could have been a metaphor for Adam and Eve if Bay could find time for it amongst all the helicopters and bone saws. McGregor and Johansson, both talented actors, spend a few minutes acting and the rest running and getting brutalized by fight sequences and crashes.
Bay employs slow motion without any purpose- it seemed like half the movie was shot in slow motion? I also don't understand the product placement blanketing the sets. I have no problem with the use of product placement in the scenes on the streets of Los Angeles- brand names exist in the real world, after all. I did find it kind of weird that half the vehicles were conspicuously branded (Cadillac, Mack truck) while all the Dodge police cars had their grille logos removed. I found it distincly odd that all the consumer items within the clone colony were paid placements- Puma sneakers, Aquafina water, XBox video games? Why would these clones, who are complete drones of the company, who have no concept of money, who will never see the outside world, merit brand-name anything? Why everyone would get brand name sneakers and bottled water is beyond me.
I think Bay is a successful movie director because he can helm giant-scale movie productions, which people will buy tickets for, if the studio spends enough money promoting them. The actual movies Bay directs are not as important as the presentation of the idea of the movie to the public. If you can sell the idea to moviegoers, and then deafen them with explosions and blind them with kinetic energy, they'll tell their friends how "good" the movie was. A combination of no big-name stars + less than astronomical promotion kept this movie from recouping its certainly astronomical budget.
August 16, 2005 • Mad Hot Ballroom • Arlington Capitol Theater
Review ghostwritten by EKD | New York City public school kids taking a ballroom dancing class for phys ed: the premise doesn't convey the wonderfully poised, gawky, funny, honest moments the movie catches on the faces and feet of these middle schoolers. Far less heartwrenching than Hoop Dreams, and much more upbeat than Spellbound, which seems like a festival of schadenfreude by comparison.
Doc, Rock, or Mock: 1988 - 2005
Here's a list of documentaries, rockmunentaries, and mockmumentaries I have seen in the theater over the last 17 years...
August 27 and September 10, 2005 • The Forty-Year-Old Virgin • AMC Fenway|
The highest compliment I can offer to a movie called "The Forty-Year-Old Virgin" is that it is intelligently assembled and thoughtfully rendered. Steve Carell and director Judd Apatow could have made a very simple, crass, and rude sex comedy. Instead, they've invented a interesting, complex, human protagonist whom the crowd roots for, even if he is a giant super-nerd.
Andy (Carell) is a painfully shy sci-fi nerd who has carved out a tidy little niche for himself: his apartment is fully equipped with videogames, home theater, and action figures, every week he watches "Survivor" with the nice retired couple upstairs, and he works at a Circuit City-style electronics store where he doesn't have to interact with anyone, especially women. In his teens, he missed his chance to have sex for the first time. At age forty, how do you explain to a woman that you don' t know how to have sex? "I respect women so much I stay completely away from them!" he explains, so it will take several misguided social-science experiments by his three horndog coworkers (Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen, and Romany Malco) to get him some action. The male relationships are so lovingly rendered, this is truly the Summer of the Chuck Flick.
September 16, 2005 • The Constant Gardener • West Newton Cinema
The 11th novel by John Le Carré to be adapted for the screen, The Constant Gardener is about secrets between spouses- why you keep secrets, how secrets are discovered, and how you define yourself when you learn your late wife is not who you thought she was. Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) is a British diplomat in the Nairobi office, married to Tessa (Rachel Weisz), an outspoken activist. Tessa discovers a deadly conspiracy between the British government and Big Pharma, but she deliberately keeps her investigation a secret from Justin, in order to protect him and his career. Justin is too willing to remain ignorant, and when Tessa is murdered, Justin must investigate the woman he was married to while redefining himself and his relationship to his wife. After her death, he becomes the kind of husband she needed in life, and that's as close to redemption as they get. The direction is solid, with colorful and exciting cinematography. The pacing is kind of slow in the last third. The screenplay is excellent. Rachel Weisz stands out in her supporting role as Tessa. She is revealing all sorts of new talents in every role I see her in (The two Mummy movies, Beautiful Creatures, Enemy At The Gates, About A Boy, Confidence, Runaway Jury).
October 1, 2005 • A History Of Violence • Church Street, Harvard Square
They say one of the three basic stories is the "stranger comes to town story". A History Of Violence is one of those stories, but told with a fresh layer of uncertainty and creepiness by David Cronenberg: what if The Stranger who comes to town is the local you know best? This protagonist is Tom Stall, an ordinary, average, Middle-American dad, with an ordinary wife and two kids, performed with heaps of plain-faced honesty and goodwill by Viggo Mortensen. The most excitement in his life is when his wife gets rid of the kids for the evening for a night of hanky-panky.
When Ed Harris (in the same diehard bastard mode as A Beautiful Mind) shows up in town, we start to wonder: Who is the Stranger In Town? Harris, or Mortensen? It is so refreshing to watch a movie where you really don't know what to expect around every corner. This film could have been so ordinary with another director and lead actor, but Cronenberg and Mortensen keep the audience off-balance for the duration. The violence in Violence is not gratuitous, but unflinching in a classically Cronenberg manner.
October 8, 2005 • Good Night, and Good Luck. • Church Street, Harvard Square
A small but important movie about a singular moment in American broadcast journalism, George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck acts as a wake-up call to journalists across America. David Strathairn is captivating as Edward R. Murrow- he is given powerful speeches to deliver and he does so with authority. Emily especially enjoyed Frank Langella as William S. Paley, and let's not forget the Best Collarbones in Show Business, Ms. Patricia Clarkson.
October 9, 2005 • Serenity • AMC Burlington
Smart, adventurous, witty, and moving, the continuing voyages of the smuggling ship Serenity (the big-screen follow-up to the short-lived Firefly TV show) remind me of the continuing adventures of Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, in the Star Wars novels of the mid 1980s. Unlike the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises, Serenity's story of galactic intrigue is not painted across an entire Empire or Federation, but just one ship. The total absence of rubber-faced and CGI alien races adds to the verisimilitude.
I had only heard of Firefly secondhand from my brother and sister, both devoted Buffy fans (I have never seen an episode of Buffy). My brother gave me the box set for a present, so I gave it a shot and liked it right away. Serenity, the movie, pays off the unresolved story arcs from Firefly, the TV series: What is River evolving into? Where did the Reavers come from? Will Kaylee and Simon ever have sex? All this and more is addressed in the movie.
October 15, 2005 • Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit • AMC Fenway
A perfect feature-length Wallace & Gromit adventure, and the funniest movie I have seen all year. As usual, one of Wallace's inventions has gone wrong, and it's up to Gromit to save the day. The voice talent (Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes) are spot-on, although I found their plasticine charaters a little cluttered and, well, cartoony, compared with the elegant simplicity of Wallace and Gromit's personas. I also found the rabbit design a little crude. The noses on the rabbits looked a little big.
Top Ten Only On Home Video: 1995-2004
This movie diary is a tribute to all the movies, good and bad, I have seen in a theater. These pages give me the opportunity to praise movies I love, but this document only tells part of the story. While I have visited movie theaters more than forty times per year for over a decade, some gems still slip through my fingers. After exhausting research, I have compiled a list of the Top Ten Best Movies, which I missed in theaters. I had to set a cut-off point to keep the list from growing too large (no one wants to read my Top 50!) so I restricted the list to movies I love which I missed in theaters since 1995. In Alphabetical Order:
November 3, 2005 • Shopgirl • Kendall Square Cinema, Cambridge
A worthwhile if occasionally clumsy romance, Shopgirl examines what a male infatuation is like for the object of male desire: Mirabelle (Claire Danes), a kind, sweethearted artist who escaped the frozen wastes of Vermont for a lonely existence in the tangles of Los Angeles. Two men fall for her on first sight: kindly but emotionally detached millionaire Ray (Steve Martin) and sweet but aimless Justin (Jason Schwartzman). Martin and Schwartzman play their roles with care and affection, but they are drawn as ridiculously polar opposites. Steve Martin the screenwriter seems to be drawn to this feeling-versus-thinking, brains-or-body dynamic: His original screenplays L.A. Story and Roxanne both cover this same idea. In L.A. Story, Harris K. Telemacher struggles to choose between sexy free-spirit SanDeE* and eccentric and plain Englishwoman Victoria Tennant. Steve Martin plays brainy, witty, nose-y C.D. Bales, versus sexy, brain-free Chris (Rick Rossovich) in Roxanne.
Besides the ham-handed symbolism (yeah, we get it, Justin's poor and unrefined, and Martin is rich and polite!) the overbearing, overloud musical score made the movie feel twice as long as it should. The repeating theme sounded like Bernard Hermann's Vertigo- it made me dizzy and logy.
Director Anand Tucker (Hilary & Jackie) apparently has never been to Los Angeles before, and has never seen a movie set there either- the recurring helicopter shots of the clogged freeways are terribly cliched and stock, as if there was no other way to illustrate the locale of the movie. The establishing shot of Saks Fifth Avenue's exterior was exactly the same in each instance: How about a different angle, or different time of day?
I am hardly a follower of the Claire Danes oevure. Danes's films I have seen (on the big screen or TV) include Little Women, How To Make an American Quilt, Home for the Holidays, Romeo + Juliet, and Les Miserables. However, I was very taken with her performance: At the age of 26, Danes begins this movie a shopgirl and ends it a woman.
November 4, 2005 • Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang • West Newton Cinema
Shane Black has returned to the genre he reinvented in the 1980s -- the buddy action comedy -- with this funny, violent, densely-packed directing debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Hapless crook Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.), accidentally immersed into the Hollywood machine, is plunged into a classic Chandler-style murder mystery, involving his hometown crush-turned-aspiring actress Harmony (a breakout performance from Michelle Monaghan) and a gay private detective (Val Kilmer, in his first comedy since Real Genius). The dialog is rapid-fire, the mystery tortuous and satisfying, and the violence is slightly gratuitous but creative, in other words, a typical Shane Black screenplay (see Lethal Weapon 1 and 2, The Last Boy Scout, The Last Action Hero, and The Long Kiss Goodnight) .
This movie is good enough to be a big hit, even if it is lacking all the ingredients to be a big box office success: it doesn't have the kind of box office stars which make the youth of America come to the theater (which is ridiculous), and it's rated R (which is supposed to keep kids away from the language, violence and sexuality/nudity). The nearest comparison would be the success of Pulp Fiction, although Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is unlikely to be a Oscar-winner and cultural icon.
November 19, 2005 • Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire • AMC Fenway
Director Mike Newell (Four Weddings & A Funeral, Donnie Brasco, Pushing Tin) deserves to be knighted by the Queen for the heroic effort in making a watchable movie out of an insanely dense and long novel. I didn't realize exactly the scope of the challenge until we saw the movie Saturday night. Besides ruthlessly cutting out plots and subplots (house elves, Quiddich, Rita Skeeter, the Dursleys, Mrs. Weasley, all either cut out or barely present), Newell valiantly struggles to keep this intensely episodic story moving. The previous installment, Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban, was delightfully organic and lyrical. This film, by contrast, was choppy and full of rough tone changes, but the whole story gets told in an entertaining manner, and that's all we could ask for.
The three kids are still very accomplished in their roles, Michael Gambon has made me forget the late Richard Harris as Dumbledore, David Tennant is intensely crazy in his few scenes as Barty Crouch Jr., and Ralph Fiennes is spot on as Voldemort. Brendan Gleeson delightfully chews up the scenery as the ex-Auror, paranoid veteran Alastor 'Mad–Eye' Moody.
November 20, 2005 • Walk The Line • AMC Burlington
Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon no longer have anything to prove- they both turn in masterful performances in this above-average biography with quality acting and breathtaking musical performances. The story is too reminiscent of Ray (see above review) to offer any surprises, but Phoenix draws on a deep well of emotion over his own brother River Phoenix's death to inhabit this role: a man who always belived that his late brother was a better person that he, so Cash never tries to make something of himself when he belives he can never equal what he lost in his brother. Witherspoon has the luxury of a well-drawn role of her own: the good girl from a religious family who can't live down her failures in marriage, and is hanuted by dashed expectations.
Ray Charles & Johnny Cash • Their life stories, as told in the movies, follow similar courses. Let's see how...
December 2, 2005 • Aeon Flux • Guys Movie NIght at AMC Fenway|
The Aeon Flux movie takes what is, by all accounts, a pretty bizarre, surreal, and totally cool early-nineties animated character (from short films on MTV), brings her to flesh-and-blood life in the Academy-Award-winning body of Charlize Theron, and then removes all the bizarre, surreal, and coolness. Set in the far future, in the last city on earth, Aeon Flux is an assassin for an underground movement, attempting to topple the Orwellian regime of Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas, The Bourne Supremacy). The movie is filled with quality talent all around: the movie also stars Jonny Lee Miller (Sick Boy from Trainspotting), Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda), and Frances McDormand (Theron's co-star in North Country), in an extended cameo.
However, great source material and a solid cast isn't enough. The characters are completely flat and passionless- Flux is supposed to be a cool-as-ice assassin, yet also on a vengeance trip at the same time. How to reconcile these two ideas? Director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) doesn't figure it out. The secret history of the last city on Earth is a cool premise which offers limitless possibilities for a cerebral sci-fi examination of self and the human condition, but this potential is squandered on lots and lots of gunfire.
Bregna, the last city on Earth, is depicted as endless Brutalist poured concrete and modern gardens (my friend Marc asked 'was this shot at Government Center? Jack replied 'I think I saw Mayor Menino in one scene!'). The climactic gun battle takes place in a grove of cherry trees. I kept thinking 'Bregna's arborist is gonna be pissed that you're shooting at all these nice trees! In the end, this Aeon Flux is a boring shade of Logan's Run, Blade Runner, Dark City, and Minority Report.
December 11, 2005 • Syriana • Loews Boston Common
A disturbingly vivid look under the covers of oil and global politics. Directed by Stephen Gaghan, whose screenplay for Traffic explored the same themes within the drug trade. Syriana exposes us to the destroyed lives, toppled governments, and CIA assassinations which keep the SUVs of America running and the lawyers of the world impossibly wealthy. Syriana will make you want to abandon your gas-fueled car by the side of the road and move to a yurt on a hilltop somewhere. After the screening, I went home and popped Die Hard in the DVD player for a little Christmas-themed escapism.
December 16, 2005 • King Kong • Showcase Cinemas Randolph
An overload of the senses, Peter Jackson's loving remake of the (still-powerful) 1933 monkey movie is overstuffed and overexcited, but the excessive creeps, thrills, and scares don't distract from the powerful, authentic romance at the center of the film. Kong himself is a masterpiece. Just as director Jackson and actor Andy Serkis trancended special effects in creating Gollum, the CGI Kong is seamlessly rendered on the big screen. I never spotted any sign that Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) was not actually interacting with Kong. I believed every second of it. Kong is imbued with personality, feelings, and a whole character. None of the characters talk about Kong: there is no pointless speculation about his history, his life on the island, his enemies, his food supply, his relationship with the natives: In a wonderful example of "show, don't tell", we discover a rich tapestry of the ape's life through the graceful storytelling (or 'story-showing') of Peter Jackson.
Yes, the movie is three hours long. The movie starts pretty briskly: Renegade filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) escapes New York on the SS Venture with his cast, crew, and screenwriter (Adrien Brody) before his studio can pull the plug on his production. Once on the boat headed for the South Pacific, we are stuck with subplot seasickness: Jackson introduces a completely unnecessary (and easily excised) coming-of-age subplot with a stowaway-turned-cabin boy (Jamie Bell, aka Billy Eliot at age 19) and the first officer (Evan Parke) who tries to teach him to become a man. WHO CARES! Did Peter Jackson find this cliche on the cutting-room floor of the 1933 film and decide to intergrate it into the new movie? All I know for sure is that the movie could have spared its omission.
The movie's violence and creepiness inch towards R-rated territory in two areas: The ruthless savage natives of Skull Island are truly spine-chilling and bile-raising, and in my opinion, cross the line between entertainment and unwatchable terror. Speaking of unwatchable, the bug sequence, where the expedition is trapped in a pit of giant locusts, maggots, spiders, and scorpions, was unwatchably disgusting. If I see this movie again, I will step out for some gummy worms from the concession before I have to watch men eaten by giant maggots (shudder).
By the time Kong has been lured into a chloroform-soaked trap, you truly understand why Ann Darrow is drawn to Kong, and begs the men to leave him alone: he may be 25 feet tall, but this gorilla cares more for this tiny blonde than any human ever could.
December 29, 2005 • Fun with Dick & Jane • AMC Fenway
Another spotty comedy in the same mold as two of Jim Carrey's most consistent comedies, Liar Liar and Bruce Almighty. Dick and Jane are financially wiped out when Dick's company Globodyne implodes. Jim Carrey is doing the same wacky shtick, which is still funny, if totally unchanged over the last decade. Instead of being wacky because of his son's birthday wish (Liar Liar) or because of God (Bruce Almighty), he's wacky because he's been driven to a life of crime by the total discorporation of his life. Their increasingly competent escapades in robbery are amusing, until the only-in-Hollywood elaborate and nonsensical scheme to steal millions from the Globodyne CEO (Alec Baldwin, channeling George W Bush) who bilked the employees for fun. The ending feels like the last, best compromise which test audiences didn't hate, which is no way to make a movie. Like Liar Liar and Bruce Almighty, and director Dean Parisot's previous comedic success, Galaxy Quest, Fun with Dick & Jane feels like the product of focus group reshoots and ruthless editing. Angie Harmon plays Dick & Jane's neighbor, and you can tell her more-substantial role was cut down to only two remaining lines, and her character's husband is only there long enough to set up one joke. I think I saw Laurie Metcalf as Jane's travel-agency boss, but her part was cut out until only one or two lines remain.