2005: Movies Sorted By Tier
Submitted by jim on Mon, 04/04/2005 - 02:27
- King Kong ... Let me make a rare unilateral statement: anybody that shrugs off what Andy Serkis does as something less than acting is a fool. Marvelous, a big huge action movie with a big huge heart. What a rare beast. The hour-long setup gave me a few misgivings, but with that hour behind you it's time to hop on the two-hour-long rollercoaster. I'm so happy I got to see this on the big screen, as the effects are more than worthy of the real estate, and it's damn near impossible for me to pick a favorite action scene. I guess I'll go with the bugs, as it also allows Jackson to let his horror chops shine. The Empire State Building finale is so well done it gave me vertigo, and there's something inherently fun about watching a giant ape rampage through all that art deco. I wonder how much of my slight ambivalence towards the first hour can be laid at Jack Black's feet? I've finally pinpointed why he underwhelms me time and again: he just drips insincerity onscreen. By the end of the movie this becomes strangely appropriate (except his godawful closing line), but as all his performances have this quality I think that was accidental. Naomi Watts is fantastic. I can't believe she and Serkis pulled the romance off. The other romance works pretty well too. Such a sad tale, and I love how Jackson doesn't hammer us (like by having Ann deliver some whispered realization) with the significance of all the oversized ape bones at Kong's lofty perch.
- Kiss Kiss Bang Bang ... Cripes, how'd this one sneak under the radar?! If I were to keep a "most quotable movies" list this would almost certainly find a place on it. I mean, just look at the sheer volume of Memorable Quotes on IMDb. On second hand, don't. On the page I think some of it might seem forced, but the cast really makes it soar. I couldn't stop laughing. Remember all those forgettable movies Pulp Fiction spawned? Here, finally, is a great one. We only had to wait 12 years for it. Maybe the Tarantino comparison is a bit of a stretch. And maybe this is just a case of the right movie catching me on the right night, but it sure did catch me.
- Pride & Prejudice ... Fantastic! This will be a very unusual rave though, as I'll mostly focus on how it's inferior to the exemplary BBC production: it suffers from the compression of the story, most notably in the Wickham shrinkage. He relationship to Darcy and Elizabeth is key, and here, if you weren't familiar with it already, it wouldn't feel like the lynchpin that it is. Matthew Macfadyen is no Colin Firth, but who is? A bit too much anger, not quite enough nuance, but he still provides plenty to enjoy. I also have to give Jennifer Ehle the nod over Keira Knightley, although the race is closer. The rest of the cast stacks up very well, and it was a treat to see so many different interpretations of the familiar roles. I didn't really mind that the women were anachronistically skinny, but it was a bit odd to see Darcy walk out of the mist with his shirt unbuttoned practically to his waist. Today it'd be akin to appearing for your big scene in your boxers. Quibble, quibble. None of this takes away from my being enthralled from beginning to end. What a treat to have two great performances of a most excellent story. Now if you'll excuse me, after lambasting the trailer, I have some crow to choke down.
- Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit ... Another completely charming outing from the good folks at Aardman. How do they make the puns so damn funny? It's a volume business, it appears. In an age when big stars are tapped for voice work so they can essentially play themselves, it was a treat to hear Helena Bonham-Carter and Ralph Fiennes actually give voice to the characters rather than themselves. Fun from beginning to end, even if it none of its action scenes quite live up to the dazzlers in Chicken Run, A Close Shave, and The Wrong Trousers. You never know though, this'll probably grow on me upon a rewatch or three. Those others did. Update: Can't believe I forgot to share this: my eight-year-old went to see this in theaters with her grandparents, and she hated it. She was quite distraught by . She kept telling us she "never wanted to see that movie again!" I assumed her mood would soften, as she never passes up a chance to watch movies. So yesterday it came from Netflix and we all sat down to catch it. Except you-know-who. Strong feelings for that one! She did stay in the room the whole time, and watched large chunks of it, but turned 180-degrees away during the transformation scenes, buried her face in the couch, and clamped her hands hard over her ears. Who would have thought?! We all have our weaknesses. Hey, come to think of it, I was traumatized by a bunny movie when I was eight as well. Of course, it was Watership Down...Spoiler: Highlight to viewWallace turning into a big, ravenous (for vegetables) rabbit
- The Aura ... A striking heist movie, both in concept (an epileptic taxidermist who fantasizes about executing the perfect score half-stumbles his way into trying it for real) and execution (the direction and performances are stellar). Director Fabi?Bielinsky and lead Ricardo Dar?also brought us Nine Queens, and this one proves that one was no fluke. Dar?s quiet, intense performance was a particular pleasure, and it's such a shame Bielinsky died of a heart attack in 2006. He was on a roll.
- Batman Begins ... The best Batman. Some may suggest that's not saying much, but I liked the Tim Burton outings quite a bit. The action scenes are as muddled as everyone says, but that's really the only significant negative. Katie Holmes is the weak link, but not as bad as I'd been led to believe, even if I did find her lopsided smile very distracting. Tons of setup, and in fact the whole movie feels like a giant first act. Here's hoping that means the sequel will blow the doors off, much like Singer did with X-Men. This begs to be watched as a double-feature with The Machinist, just to marvel at Christain Bale's transformation.
- Brick ... Lucas Haas? How'd that adorable Amish kid with the huge eyes become a goth drug dealer with a limp? These problems start in the home. Speaking of which, where oh where are the parents during all this?! I kid. Really liked it, although it took me about half-an-hour to get used to the old-school, hard-bitten noir dialogue/modern high school mashup. Once it clicked, I was golden. If you never have that moment though, you're gonna hate it.
- Cinderella Man ... I've always liked Ron Howard's apple pie, but this may be his best one yet. It's also hard to screw up any true story that you couldn't plausibly write as fiction. A few heavy-handed misses (did he really have to frame the Jesus portrait in the background like that, even if he did leave it blurry?), but he lands a bunch, and who knew he could make action scenes with foregone conclusions so riveting? Loved the scene where Braddock is thinking of his kids' empty beds. Probably too much for some, but I ate it up.
- Coach Carter ... It has taken me quite awhile to fully appreciate what a weakness I have for sports movies. Why is that? Is it because I've been a participant in one sport or another for most of my life? Perhaps, but my self-image is more cerebral than athletic. Are these types of movies somehow easier to make, and if so, why? Sport is drama, but with nothing tangible at stake, so why do so many of us get so wrapped up in it, either as participants or spectators? For me, competition is very often either agony or ecstasy, with very little in the middle (how healthy can this be?), so that is probably what makes it so easy for me to get wrapped up in movie sports. So don't listen to me, since I like all these damn movies, but I thought this one was particularly good, even if a bit heavy-handed. What a difference a good coach can make. It was good enough to remind me that I really should rent Hoosiers again.
- Dark Water ... Few scares, this one's all about the atmosphere. And Jennifer Connelly. Comparisons to The Shining aren't too far out of line, even the relative weight of the directors involved will raise a few eyebrows. Underrated.
- The Descent ... Really good horror that plays on our (my) fear of the dark much like The Blair Witch Project did, adding in elements of claustrophobia as well. My only real gripe is with a few too many Rambo moments. Not that I don't want our heroines to fight back, but it diffused some of the terror during those moments when they go all badass. I was also bothered by the Sarah/Juno resolution, but it's easier to swallow if . Of course, that would be unsatisfying in its own way. Nonetheless, a very effective nightmare, and one I could easily see making my nonexistant top 10 horror movies list. Definitely some gore, and compound fractures make me feel all spongy inside.Spoiler: Highlight to viewyou think of the whole thing as taking place in Sarah's mind, perhaps as she tries to fight her way out of the car crash coma (or depression (or madness))
- The Greatest Game Ever Played ... Bill Paxton goes two-for-two, proving Frailty wasn't a fluke. The guy really can direct. I realize, liking as a I do almost all sports movies, that my recommendation won't carry much weight, but this is really one of the better representatives of the genre. I particularly liked the way the film puts heroes and villains on both sides of the pond. While one of the lesser themes of the movie is nationalistic pride, the movie itself thankfully eschews that. No weaknesses, as near as I can tell.
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ... Albus Dumbledore would never flinch. And he—the greatest wizard of his age—would certainly never flinch away from the pyrotechnics of some student's grand entrance. He also wouldn't flinch away from the Goblet of Fire like he was half-expecting it to explode in his face. Sheesh. I'm not a big fan of DVD revisionist history, but if they want to CGI out all of his flinching and trembling that would be fine with me. To be fair, perhaps I'm still bitter that they didn't cast James Cromwell. Go ahead, watch L.A. Confidential and tell me he wouldn't have provided the perfect combination of intelligence, authority, gleam of mischief, and touch of danger, all hanging off his commanding 6'7" frame. All you'd have to do is slap a beard and maybe a few extra wrinkles on him. Damn all-Brit casting policy. But I quibble. This is another excellent Harry Potter outing. After the first two I wouldn't have guessed this would be a franchise to celebrate, but Prisoner of Azkaban and now Goblet of Fire have shown these to be movies worth anticipating. Nice teen angst, matches the darkness of the book, Mad Eye Moody is perfect, and I hereby award Daniel Radcliff the coveted Most Improved Player award.
- Kingdom of Heaven ... How is it that a little whisp of a fellow like Orlando Bloom gets cast in every major blacksmith role of the last three years? I think they dressed him in lots of layers here to fill him out a bit. He pulls his weight, although Mel Gibson and Kenneth Branagh still have a mortal lock on best battle speeches. The backdrop overshadows the characters, and I had a devil of a time putting our queen's stunning lapse in judgement behind me, but it was still a fine tale. Y'know who I'm appreciating more and more? David Thewlis.
- Lord of War ... The Goodfellas of gun-runner movies. It really looks like this should be a Bruckheimer action movie, but it's very not. The movie is fascinating for its ability to look all shiny and sexy, and has all the trappings of a film that would make us forget Nicolas Cage's job and root for him, and yet we never do. Or rather, we root for him to get out of his job. The twist, if you can call the revelation that's he's one, is a swift kick in the gut. I had no idea I was watching a movie with a larger message, and holding it back for so long was quite effective. What a world.Spoiler: Highlight to viewan incredibly small fish compared to the five permanent members of the UN Security Coucil
- Match Point ... I have to wonder how much of the first hour I would have found interesting if not for the promise of a conclusion "as chilling as it is surprising." It really picks it up in the second half though, and Allen sets himself up with several excellent endings that he passes on before getting to the real ending. I thought for sure . Excellent performances.Spoiler: Highlight to viewhe was going to end it with the wedding ring bouncing off the railing, without us knowing which way it was going to go
- Murderball ... Every now and then I think ill of sports, viewing them as either divisive, primitive, frivilous, or some combination thereof. Here's a movie that captures all that, but also shows you how they are wonderful, and even essential. Kudos to the directors for not glorifying these guys.
- Nanny McPhee ... Mary Poppins for a new generation, and a very worthy successor. Great cast. Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, and the kids are fantastic. I was a bit bummed that Kelly Macdonald suppressed the glorious accent she sported in Gosford Park, but I'll get over it.
- Rock School ... If I had it to do over again I would have skipped School of Rock and watched this one twice. I imagine Paul Green's teaching style will be a turnoff for some, but I can see where some (many?) kids would respond to it, and its hard to argue with the results. Even if you aren't impressed by the music, it's great to see how focussed the kids are. The twins are a riot.
- Serenity ... It strikes me as unusual that my favorite character is the teenager. Not that that's good or bad, I just don't think it usually happens that way for me. Lots of cool stuff. The opening sequence (everything pre-credits) is an attention-getter, and the closing scene is very funny. Some of the stuff in the middle ain't too shabby either, and I loved all three "I am a leaf on the wind" scenes. I thought the third time was too many, but I was wrong. I doesn't really feel like it transcends the TV show though, which is a completely unfair thing to say, given I've never seen Firefly, but it still has that TV feel about it. I found the slang ineffective and distracting, and it took me like half the movie to figure out why: no accents. Maybe. I dunno. A Clockwork Orange has future-slang that works, so I know it's possible. A fun evening, nonetheless. Great outtakes too. "Go dig up the kid taking a dirt nap with..."
- Sky High ... Not really a teen movie, I don't think, as I imagine bona fide teenagers scoffing at this one. I thing 10-years-old is probably roughly the sweet spot, but the beauty of it is that we screened it for ages 4, 4.5, 9, 9.5 and three so-called grown-ups, and we all really liked it. Light-hearted, goofy superhero fun, and it has Bruce Campbell in it. Also, the teens largely do a good job, particularly Danielle Panabaker and Steven Strait (who starts off looking like he's going to be all glowers, but really does well in his Chinese restaurant scenes and a few others). Anyway, a very good time was had by all; what more can you ask for?
- Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith ... Let's get the bad stuff out of the way: "Younglings?" "Younglings?!" C'mon, couldn't anybody have told George that would curdle what were otherwise moving scenes? The first two scenes between Anakin and Padme are bad enough they undermine all subsequent scenes between the two, which really isn't fair, as the rest of the scenes are at least serviceable. Compu-Yoda looks better here, but I still prefer Muppet-Yoda (and tiresome, his grammar had become, as after the last outing, I already mentioned). And there are some slow spots, to be sure. But hooray, the story works! The fall of Anakin is very well done and surprisingly subtle, due in no small part to a fantastic showing by Ian McDiarmid (and his big scene with Samuel L. Jackson is the highlight of the movie, I thought). It is remarkable that really nobody on either side lies to Anakin, supporting the whole "truth from a certain point of view" theme nicely. For awhile I thought I was only mildly interested in the movie, but then the betrayal of the Jedi happens, and I was surprised to find myself moved. Ewan McGregor turns in his best Obi-Wan to date, and Lucas ties the prequel trilogy to the original trilogy tightly enough that you can believe he really did have it all planned out in detail back in the seventies. All that said, I have to wonder how I'd feel about this movie if episodes four, five, and six hadn't been made yet, and thus it couldn't draw emotional power from them?
- Thank You for Smoking ... Quite funny, even though it barely holds onto the rails as things get wacky around the one-hour mark. I can't believe they had me rooting for a tobacco lobbyist. Gotta give Aaron Eckhart much of the credit for that, and I loved the scene where he's helping his son with his homework. "Our endless appeals system." Ha! He and Sean Bean should be in more movies. Heck, they should be in the same movie.
- Tsotsi ... A young South African thug (that's even the translation of his name) steals a car from a woman, shooting her in the process. Later he realizes there's an infant in the back seat. He takes the infant home. We don't know why. He doesn't know why. The unfolding of "why" is slow and sad, and (fortunately) never made overly explicit. Really the only thing that didn't work for me was Boston's (the Jiminy Cricket role) dialog.
- V for Vendetta ... An uphill battle making a movie with terrorist-as-hero overtones. Not to mention the fact that it's an action movie that's kinda skimpy on the action. There's the alley, the TV station, the finale, and that's all, I believe. So how'd they manage? One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, of course, and they walk the line with V beautifully. He's sympathetic, but with a grim edge. And somehow the movie creates a sense of action without really having that much of it. The cast is very good, and it couldn't have been easy for Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman to establish any kind of connection with that mask between them, but somehow they manage.
- Walk the Line ... Excellent biopic, the cast nails it. One of those movies that I should watch, avoid, and am glad when I finally get around to it. The opening Folson scene with Cash contemplating the shop tool is tied beautifully to the flashback, and I loved the proposal scene on the bus. Phoenix rightly got lots of attention, but Witherspoon was just as good, if not better.
- The World's Fastest Indian ... True story (some events compressed) of New Zealander Burt Munro, who set land speed records on his beloved 1920s Indian motorcycle, heavily and creatively modified over 40+ years to eek as much speed out of it as possible. He set his records in the sixties, while he was in his sixties, and some (one?) still stand today (for that class of motorcycle). The whole movie is delightfully understated, including Anthony Hopkins' excellent performance (watch the short film of Munro to see how well Hopkins captures him). I loved how Americans are depicted in this movie: a broad mix of gems and jerks. And how's this for cool: Munro's son participates in the IMDb boards and answers questions about the accuracy of the movie.
Glad I Saw
- The Aristocrats ... I'm torn; I laughed quite a bit, but the whole oneupmanship over who can tell the grossest, most fluid-filled, orifice plugging, sexually deviant tale leading up to the punchline left me cold. Still, can't discount the laughter, and it's always interesting to peek behind the curtain.
- Assault on Precinct 13 ... For some reason I had grouped this and Flight of the Phoenix in my mind ("big dumb action movies that are supposed to suck but I want to see anyway", I guess). Where Phoenix was worse than I was expecting, Precinct was better. Not great, underlit with muddy action, and predictable in the broader sense, but still fun, and with a higher red-shirt bodycount than I was expecting. Have fun betting on who lives and dies.
- Because of Winn-Dixie ... Cute, whole family liked it.
- The Brothers Grimm ... It's just a summer blockbuster, but it's a Terry Gilliam summer blockbuster! Not really sure what brought out all the derision for this movie. Disappointment it was such a commercial release (not that you'd know it from the box office)? A bit of a sprawling mess, but all the ingredients are rather tasty. Well, except for Peter Stormare's character, who didn't really do it for me as evil, comic relief, redemptive, etc. Too long in the middle, perhaps? I dunno, I thought it was imaginative and entertaining, and I can't ask for much more than that. Go ahead, pile on...
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ... Better kids than the original. Worse (much worse) Oompa Loompas. As for Wonka himself, Gene Wilder vs. Johnny Depp, apples and oranges, but if pressed I'll go with Wilder. Having recently seen A Series of Unfortunately Events, I had an odd thought: what if we could have given Depp the role of Count Olaf and used Jim Carrey as Wonka? I think it would have improved both movies.
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe ... Tilda Swinton is absolutely, brilliantly, jaw-droppingly, drop-dead perfect as The White Witch. What a casting coup that was. I don't think I've ever been so impressed by a casting decision/character realization in my life. The CGI Aslan is a mixed bag though. On the one hand, it's so good I can't believe it's entirely CGI. On the other hand, paradoxically, somewhere in the part of your brain that really matters, it's entirely unconvincing. Credit Liam Neeson and the girls with making his big sacrifice so heartbreaking. I think the Aslan problem represents my problem with the whole thing in miniature: while much of the story works, the world itself is impressive, but not immersive. I never felt like I was entering another reality. The big battle felt like more of a football game than a war, and Peter was a bit bland, I thought. Oh, one last thing: my daughter, who's eight and only just beginning to pay attention to such things, singled out Tilda Swinton and Jim Broadbent as being "really good". That's my girl.
- Capote ... Philip Seymour Hoffman turns in a helluva performance, particularly in how he captured Capote's torment as the process dragged on and on and on - exasperation combined with profound guilt. That couldn't have been easy to portray.
- Corpse Bride ... The stop-motion animation is drop-dead gorgeous (ha ha) and the voices assembled are killer (somebody stop me). Particularly Joanna Lumley, Albert Finney, Richard E. Grant, and Christopher Lee. But really everyone is so good I feel bad singling out those folks for special attention. The gags and the tunes didn't do much for me (except for the piano scenes, which appear to be the only basis for all romance in the movie), but I was curious to see how this oddest of love triangles played out.
- Duma ... Beautifully shot, and perhaps the best representative of the "Huck Finn mixed with wild animals" genre.
- Elizabethtown ... As much as I'd like to think of myself as some kind of critical maverick, it's not often I find myself terribly out of step with the critical concensus. And when I do, it's usually because I've failed to appreciate some masterpiece. So what the heck is up with the critics and Cameron Crowe? Going by the Rotten Tomatoes "Cream of the Crop", he now has two downright dogs to his name. Vanilla Sky only scored 22%, and Elizabethtown couldn't even crack the twenties, scoring an abysmal 18%. Sure, it's a mess, but I guess it's my kind of mess. It took me a bit before I warmed to the characters, and more than one scene is off-putting in its oddness (the scene where Orlando Bloom's character is seen off at the airport by his mom and sister is particularly, undefinably grating), and much of the dialog seems to grasp but not reach, but it worked often enough for me. In all, I'd have to say I'm quite pleased with Crowe's last two outings (even combined they only score 40%!).
- Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room ... Outrageous. How can some people be so blind to right and wrong? Funny how I hope there's a hell more than I hope there's a heaven. Bastards. Here's hoping for convictions, big sentences, and a painful death for Lou Pai, who's gonna get away with it otherwise (unless that whole "hell" thing pans out).
- Everything is Illuminated ... Quite watchable, impressive directorial turn for Liev Schreiber. I can't go so far as to say it was moving, but it was certainly engaging. It's interesting that Elijah Wood has the least compelling character arc. I wonder how I'd feel on a rewatch, knowing that now.
- Goal! ... Enjoyable sports movie, our hero is plenty likeable. Distinguished by the extra helping of adversity he has to deal with, and the "overbearing father" clich?s actually handled pretty well (several excellent scenes spring to mind).
- Good Night, and Good Luck ... Nice to see David Strathairn get some love. He's very good, and I had hoped this would lead to some bigger projects for him, but apparently not (still, he's been busy, just not in big stuff). You know who was great, though? Ray Wise, who plays Don Hollenbeck. The scene where he insists the review be read and his obvious pain afterwards is just awesome. As for the film, I did not get the sense of urgency or anxiety I had hoped for given the situation and the times, but it was still well done.
- Grizzly Man ... Lots of fine lines in this movie. Treadwell wants to cross the line from human to bear, and at the same time toes the line between sane and crazy. And as a viewer, I was put in the interesting position of straddling the line between pity and jealously. Pity for Treadwell's questionable sanity and his apparent inability to find his niche in human society (not to mention grisly end), but jealously over his love and dedication to his life's work. His highs seem higher, and his lows seems lower. Oh, and I liked the foxes.
- The Interpreter ... A bit of a rollercoaster, but not quite the right kind. I had my doubts at the beginning, as the setup and the character development took awhile to grab me, but by the middle I had high hopes: the bus ride was genuinely thrilling, and Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman really deliver in the scene where he gives her some bad news. But the ending... Lawd, what crap! . I thought the guy might actually cry. As much as I thought the ending sucked, at least they didn't go with the alternate ending, whereSpoiler: Highlight to viewShe makes the genocidal dictator see the error of his ways?!As long as we're talking special features, it was fun to watch the one where Sydney Pollack specifically addresses the "Widescreen vs. Yokelvision" question, and why this was his first widescreen movie in over 20 years (although looking at the specs for the movies in the intervening years, his definition of not-widescreen looks to be 1.85:1, not 4:3). Anyway, in the final analysis, I enjoyed a lot of it, but it could have been so much better.Spoiler: Highlight to viewour dictator is allowed to resume his speech, and chooses to read aloud the names of the people he's killed, with our intrepid interpreter, recently disarmed by the secret service, standing on the podium behind him!
- A History of Violence ... Very watchable with some excellent performances. I heard a lot about how quick, brutal, realistic, shocking—and therefore masterful—the violence is in this movie. I've also heard the way this plays out in our heros' marriage/love/sex/etc. is also genius. Then there's the questions of identity, appropriateness of violence, and what have you. Ultimately, I bought little of it. Here's a good example: the opening scene is an attention-getter for sure (it's actually the high point of the movie, vaunted-violence-wise, as the action gets progressively more Mel Gibsonish over the course of the movie), but then in the very next scene the little girl has a nightmare, and the whole family comes to comfort her, including the teenage brother? Sorry, but is this scene of domestic bliss by Cronenberg or Hallmark? In my house, you get one family member to respond, and a bleary-eyed, incoherent one at that. Like this scene, much of the movie feels just a bit out of step, like it's striving for real and surreal at the same time. The bully, as directed, was ridiculous. Actually, I wasn't a big fan of any of the kids, which doesn't help when "impact on the family" is one of the themes. A fairly gripping thriller, but still an overrated one. Maybe I just don't get Cronenberg though. Looking at his filmography, the last movie of his I liked as much as everyone told me I would like was The Fly, and I hated Spider. Clearly he's operating on a different level from me. I just can't decide if it is above or below. William Hurt was fantastic though.
- Hustle & Flow ... Wow, neat trick, somehow making me root for our hero. I still don't know how they did it. Was it all Terrence Howard, perhaps? He was awesome. I think the cast carried the day on this one.
- Jarhead ... Wants to be Full Metal Jacket but Kubrick wins out. A good effort though.
- Lady Vengeance ... The oddest of Park Chan-wook's vengeance trilogy. A disturbing failure if we are supposed to cheer along with the avengers, but the fact that I am unsure that's the intent makes it quite thought-provoking. Still odd though. I never know what to take literally. And what the hell was the cop doing there?
- Mad Hot Ballroom ... I was worried that I liked Spellbound so much because the kids were so endearing, but after watching this movie it's clear it had more going for it than just the kids. Not that this movie isn't enjoyable, but the kids can only elevate it so far. For the most part, we don't really get to know any of them well enough, and the ones I personally felt I knew the best get eliminated earlier than the others. This made for a nice moment of heartbreak, but left me rather deflated for the semifinals and beyond. Actually, I think the teachers were at times more interesting than the kids. I won't often point to the teeming IMDb boards, but it is very interesting how polarizing Ms. Reynoso is, and when another teacher bursts into tears while contemplating her kids transforming before her eyes, it's exceptionally moving. Everyone should have teachers who care so much. Oh, a funny aside: one of the kids is named "Cyrus". If he's not a super-villain in the making, nobody is. Which kid asked a judge to clarify his stance? You guessed it. Sure, he looked all cute and befuddled, but at the same time he fidgeting with a rolled up paper in a very super-villainy way. I bet he was wishing it were a baseball bat instead.
- March of the Penguins ... A wonderful little educational movie for the little ones, especially if it's DEATH you want them to learn all about. Crikey, next time I'll just kidnap a penguin from the zoo, run it through, and roast it on a spit while my girls watch on, mouths agape. It's probably about the only penguin demise they haven't witnessed. A good doc, but even Morgan Freeman can't quite make the anthropomorphizing script fly (or swim, I should say). The weather doesn't look so bad until the wind kicks up, and then, oh my.
- The Matador ... Undone yet again by a deceptive Weinstein trailer! A comedy, but not really a ha-ha comedy. The cast is marvelous, with special kudos to Mr. Brosnan for magically making a repugnant guy sympathetic, but the movie didn't really come alive for me until he meets Hope Davis, who really makes all the scenes she's in sparkle.
- Me and You and Everyone We Know ... I can't really decide if this movie was undone for me by its own quirkiness, or our heroine, as I never really warmed to her. There were quite a few situations that I loved conceptually right up until she opened her mouth (e.g. the fish on the roof of the car). Nonetheless, I thought the cast was largely excellent, and the movie is often funny, but almost always in either awkward, painful, or discomfiting ways, and that ain't easy.
- Mrs. Henderson Presents ... Worth watching just to watch Judi Densch and Bob Hoskins light it up. Gets a bit tiresome in the final third, culminating with a hokey ending that somehow worked for me (hokey endings do that to me with alarming frequency).
- Munich ... I was really predisposed against this movie from the start. I almost turned it off any number of times in the first hour. 90 minutes, even. I don't know why. Just the state of my brain as influenced by the state of the world. It won me over eventually, which probably means it's a great movie, given the hurdles it had to overcome to get me as far along as it did. Great cast.
- The Proposition ... I'm not sure how I felt about this one, honestly. I'm actually glad I saw this one because of my mixed feelings rather than in spite of them. Slow, grim, bleak Austrialian western. Ray Winstone's captain was excellent, particular in portraying his tender relationship with his wife. The outlaws were interesting too, but somehow lacking in depth. More forces of nature than people, except maybe Guy Pearce, but we don't really feel his turmoil.
- Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles ... Leisurely paced, kinda low-key Zhang Yimou entry. He does a nice job with this intimate quest movies. A few scenes really leapt out: the video plea for the official's help, cell service on the roof, and that huge village meal. Not my favorite of his, but a solid entry nonetheless.
- The Skeleton Key ... Surprisingly enjoyable thriller. Kate Hudson does a very nice job, and I dug the ending. Worthy of the popcorn.
- Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story ... Quite funny and clever, but it was really worth the price of admission for the hot-chestnut-down-the-pants scene, which just goes to show how much "clever" really matters to me.
- Unleashed ... Certainly one of Jet Li's better performances. He, Morgan Freeman, and Victoria Condon make the lengthy sentimental second act of this four-act film (frying pan, out of frying pan, fire, climax) warm and wonderful, and we root for a happy ending. Unfortunately the pit fighter stuff is a bit too silly, and the action scenes not really emotionally engaging enough to lend the movie the necessary weight. It's a treat to watch a Jet Li movie that doesn't join so many other movies in the basement of his bottom-heavy career, but this could have been one of his rare great ones, and it's sad it fell short.
- The Upside of Anger ... I stand by my liking Kevin Costner. He and Joan Allen are terrific. While Joan Allen pulled off the tight knot of fury the script demanded, it was a bit much for me. I kept thinking of David Lynch's angriest dog: "The dog is so angry he cannot move. He cannot eat. He cannot sleep. He can just barely growl ...Bound so tightly with tension and anger, he approaches the state of rigor mortis."
- Wedding Crashers ... I have to wonder if this would even be watchable if not for Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, but they make it good through humor and chemistry alone. I thought the first act was very strong, but it loses steam in the middle act and almost ends up panting by the side of the road at times. The selfishness of Wilson's character gets harder to take as the movie progresses, and the big wedding scene doesn't make things any easier. But hey, our leads pulled it off! Love those guys.
- Constantine ... Miles better than Van Helsing, and enjoyably dark (but still too silly to take seriously). For all its CGIishness, I thought hell looked genuinely hellish.
- Flightplan ... I actually enjoyed goodly chunks of this, and Jodie Foster and Sean Bean are very good, as expected (when are they not?). There's also some good social dynamics going on, particularly in how the young flight attendant's uncertainty is portrayed, and in how uncaring a crowd of strangers can be (not to mention cranky when travelling). The bit with the arabs and the Mike Ditka-looking guy felt like what it is though: a post-9/11 contrivance. The big gaps are in the logic: does a propulsion engineer really know the location of every hatch, every wire? And that's the least of it: Also, some of the background voices get really annoying,Spoiler: Highlight to viewthe villian's plan actually seemed surprisingly sound to me on first glance. Then I considered that it relied upon the daughter not saying anything to anyone prior to being abducted, and Foster not calling the "single coffin problem" to anyone's attention.being the most egregious. Finally, it ends rather flatly.Spoiler: Highlight to view"she never gave up"
- Hitch ... Producers: "Hmm, Will Smith is a charming, endearing fellow, let's make a movie where he plays a guy who is paid to be charming and endearing." Cute, with some good laughs, especially from Kevin James, whom Smith graciously allows to steal pretty much every scene they appear in together. The inevitable conflict/resolution is a bit weak, but really, I can deal with it given that's how so many of these movies utterly collapse.
- Hostage ... The opening is quite an attention getter, and the bulk of the movie is worth mentioning in the same breath as 24 or Panic Room, both for the good points, bad points, and various implausibilities. The movie is surprisingly dark and at times bloody, which sometimes works, sometimes doesn't. It mostly doesn't in the big penultimate climax (yes, the movie has more than one), the overblownedness of which accounts for most of the guilt that comes with me liking it.
- Mr. and Mrs. Smith ... There's a nice chain of action sequences (the fight in the house, escaping the house, the subsequent car chase) and some amusing moments arising from the situation and Vince Vaughn, largely. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie do what they do, and it so happens that I usually enjoy what they do, so that works for me. Ridiculous, of course, and it's definitely hampered by some pacing problems (not to mention that the rest of the action scenes, including the finale, pale in comparison to the aforementioned ones) but it amused me just often enough to make it a worthwhile rental.
- Red Eye ... Wes Craven's baby steps away from horror land him in this thriller, and clearly the skills he has acquired over the years transfer well. Credit him, Rachel McAdams, and Cillian Murphy for making an hour-long conversation on a plane tense and exciting. The transition to action movie is not quite so smooth. I understand and appreciate the need to make McAdams' character strong, but did he really need to go so far as to put Murphy in an ascot, of all things? That, among other things, make it a little hard to find him as physically threatening in the third act as he is psychologically menacing in the first two.
- Sahara ... Wow, I can't believe I liked this as much as I did, and am now admitting it. Utterly preposterous, but the cast is irresistable. Matthew McConaughey always seems to have such a good ol' boy ball, and Steve Zahn never fails to make me laugh. William H. Macy keeps popping up in improbable movies, and elevating his 10 or 15 minutes of screen time in Judi Deschian fashion. I seem to remember Penelope Cruz catching flak for her acting, but somehow I've never noticed any problems myself (gee, I wonder why that is?). Of course, if you don't like the cast as much as I do you should probably steer a wide berth around this one. At least I have Roger Ebert on my side (fairly spoiler-laden review, if it's possible to spoil such a movie).
- Sin City ... Wow, how beautiful and revolting! As much as I enjoyed this at times, I can't think of a single person of my acquaintence to whom I'd recommend it without severe reservations. Rodriguez does an inconceivably good job of capturing the look of the comics, but it turns out what works on the page doesn't always work on the screen. The stylized nudes of Miller's drawing here are just so much T&A. The hard-boiled dialogue of the comic can sound hard as chewing nails in your minds eye, but rolling off the actor's tongues it too often induces giggles where none are intended. If you liked Ann Savage in Detour (I did not), then this may very well be the movie for you, as it's loaded (admittedly intentionally) with Savagesque performances. I think perhaps Clive Owen handles the material best, although Bruce Willis and Jessica Alba worked pretty well too. It's possible Mickey Rourke was also excellent, and I was just still adjusting in the first third, but somehow the Marv story didn't work for me as well as the others, even though it is perhaps my favorite from the books (maybe that's the problem). On the drive home, I had to question if I just wasn't into the material anymore. So I pulled one of the books off the shelf when I got home, and was happy to get lost in the comic the way I couldn't in the movie. Oddly enough, I admire Rodriguez all the more for this effort. Oh, and I loved the elocution thugs.
Really Guilty Pleasures
- The Pacifier ... Inescapably bad, especially the first two-thirds, but not without heart. The kids loved it.
- Transporter 2 ... Insanely stupid. Flouts physics to an almost unprecedented degree. So bad I liked it, and the action in this one (at least the scenes that didn't make my eyes roll completely back into my head) certainly tops the first. I gotta say though—and I don't know how many guys would—but the movie would have been better if they'd put some clothes on that girl.
Could Have Missed
- Beauty Shop ... Proof that I like Queen Latifah in just about anything. Has a few moments, most of them owned by Kevin Bacon (like his pronunciation of "Jaguar").
- Bewitched ... Probably my favorite Will Ferrell vehicle so far, not that I've seen that many. Cute.
- Broken Flowers ... Between this and Ghost Dog Jim Jarmusch really likes the shot of the CD going into the car stereo. I wonder if it was hard for him not to surgicially implant a car stereo into Johnny Depp's horse in Dead Man? Jarmusch is skilled in the fundamentals, so I was surprised to see him commit the classic rookie "not enough Tilda Swinton" error. I believe the movie almost succeeded in its intent, which is a journey of self-discovery in which all self-discoveries are kept secret—but not quite—by the charaters. And the little windows we get into each character are allllmost cracked wide enough for this to work. We do feel Frances Conroy's pain, and Murray is so close to perfect. But with such a small target, missing by an inch may as well be missing by a mile. We can almost see into his heart well enough to be crushed by what we find there, but not quite.
- Chicken Little ... This "Could Have Missed" tier is becoming kid movie purgatory. This one was better than its cohorts, Kicking & Screaming, Madagascar, Robots, and maaaaybe Zathura, but just a shade short of good enough to write home about. Still, better than I thought it would be, and look at the voice talent lineup: Zach Braff, Garry Marshall, Don Knotts, Patrick Stewart, Amy Sedaris, Steve Zahn, Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard, Catherine O'Hara, Patrick Warburton, and Adam West.
- The Call of Cthulhu ... Low budget and lovingly made, but merely watchable if you (or at least me) have only a peripheral awareness of the mythos.
- Fantastic Four Not nearly as bad as I thought it would be, even if it pales in comparison to the better superhero movies (and certainly The Incredibles crushes it). The cast is pretty enjoyable, actually, even if some of the bickering wears awfully thin. Forgettable, but not entirely unenjoyable. Oh, Ben Grimm's wife (fiancee?) has to be one of the worst movie wives ever.
- Four Brothers Almost managed to up the ante enough during the excellent attack on the house, but not quite. Has its moments, both good and cringe-inducing. A few too many of the latter.
- Land of the Dead ... It's not really fair, but I think Romero had his return to the genre watered down for him by all the other recent zombie movies that beat him to the punch. Third-best-zombie-movie-of-the-decade certainly sounds like empty priase, but I did kinda like it, even if I preferred Shaun of the Dead and the Dawn of the Dead remake by significant margins.
- Kicking & Screaming ... Cute enough, and Will Ferrell managed to make me laugh a couple times, which was not a given.
- Madagascar ... Madagadequate.
- Robots ... Family movie night. Better than I expected. With Ice Age, Chris Wedge is two-for-two in that regard. In Robots he crafts a more imaginative world, Ice Age gets the nod for having a standout scene (the cave painting scene). Each gets points for having a small, dialogueless, scene-stealing ancillary character.
- Thumbsucker ... Teen angst. Good performances, I think, although can I say that if I didn't really care about anybody?
- Zathura ... If you had to pick an architectural style to be launched into space in, you could do much worse than Arts & Crafts. The house holds up admirably under trying circumstances. My favorite blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment is pure Favreau: "Grandma!" Our whole family enjoyed it, all to varying degrees more than Jumanji. Be forewarned though that as a family we generally liked (slightly lukewarmishly) Jumanji, which I understand puts us in a minority position.
Should Have Missed
- The 40 Year Old Virgin ... I came for the humor but only stayed for the heart. Much too little (to my taste) of the former, and not enough of the latter to make up the deficit. I liked it best when Catherine Keener and Seth Rogen were on screen.
- The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D ... The kids loved it. My seven-year-old in particular was so taken with it I just can't bring myself to tell her why I didn't care for it (really cheap CGI and bad acting). Can't really fault Rodriguez though: if I were in a position to make a movie out of my kids' imaginings, I'd jump at the chance. Oh yes, the 3-D effects are everything I remembered from my youth: totally sucky. Thank goodness for the 2-D option on the DVD.
- The Bad News Bears ... A 90-minute movie stretched out to almost two hours. Couldn't really follow Billy Bob's mood swings in the big game. Go all the way and rent Bad Santa instead. Really, who is the target audience for this movie? Too young for adults and teenagers, too old for the youngsters, and not snappy enough for anybody. 12-year-old Little Leaguers, I guess? It's pretty damn hard to make an underdog sports movie that I won't dig, but Linklater (surprisingly) found a way.
- The Legend of Zorro ... Watch the first one again instead. Zorro for kiddies, but my kiddies were bored. The swordfighting feels ridiculously anachronistic, and I just have to tell you about this one scene: the townspeople are having this big ceremony on the train tracks, when they notice a runaway train way off in the distance hurtling towards them. Instead of everybody not on the tracks holding still, and everybody on the tracks taking one or two steps to the site, pandemonium ensues. Pandemonium persists for like a week, with everybody screaming and running around like headless chickens (well, just the running around part was like headless chickens, not the screaming). We are on the edge of our seats (I tend to slouch) wondering if Son of Zorro will divert the train in time. Note that if successful he would divert the train onto a track only a few feet away from the original track, so with all the panicky scurrying it should be unclear which course would result in fewer squashed extras. One of the silliest examples of manufactured peril I can recall.
- The Producers ... I felt iffy about the original so I don't know why I thought this would be any better. This is just the play on film (I assume, not having seen the play). I can see where it would be great on stage. In fact, it probably should have been a play all along. I bet if my first exposure to the material were on Broadway instead of the original movie I would have loved it. Even though I didn't care for the movie, Nathan Lane is very good, and this is probably Will Ferrell's best role.
- Rebound ... The kids liked it. It had a moment or two.
El Sucko Grande
- The Island ... I like Djimon Hounsou; what follows is no reflection on him... But he plays this elite special forces guy, and upon hearing that his quarry has been on the run for four-and-a-half hours declares that a person can go 1.2 miles per hour on foot, and that they should set up a 5-mile perimeter. 1.2 miles an hour?! Crikey, America really is a obese nation. Nonetheless, I'm grateful for the inclusion of this howler, as it provided long and lasting heckling fodder throughout the movie ("damn English measurements!" among plenty of others). On a slightly more serious note, it's a shame they didn't start his character off in the dark, as it would have made his character arc far more interesting (interesting villains make interesting heroes). Enough of the actual criticism, back to the yuks: I don't really believe you should water your clones. I mean, they are either still incubating, in which case the water just bounces off their incubators, or they are exposed to the apparently-constant spray of water, making them mildew and get all pruney. Regardless, it's bad for worker morale to be wet all the damn time, especially for no real purpose. Finally, As if my incredulity weren't strained enough. Oh, one more thing: our heros fall off an actual skyscraper and live. So implausible is their survival that an extra comments on it. I'm afraid this one doesn't deliver on either the sci-fi bioethics (rent Gattaca), the incubators (rent The Matrix), or the action (rent The Matrix again). Bad enough to be fun, but only if you forget that a great cast is being squandered by a crap script and a hack director (okay, I liked The Rock, but that's it, really!).Spoiler: Highlight to viewso Ewan McGregor ends up developing his "sponsor's" memories (groan). His sponsor has a disease apparently brought on by way too much sex. So Ewan remembers how to be an architect, ride a jet-motorcycle, etc., but takes forever in getting around to remembering sex, despite almost constant exposure to Scarlett Johansson.
- The Longest Yard ... I have seen the bulk of Adam Sandler's filmography. It just kinda happened. There's this sliver of his career where that's respectable, but it's a bit skimpy. This is not in that sliver, and therefore you get either a guilty pleasure or nothing. I got nuthin'.
- War of the Worlds ... Probably technically better than Sharkboy and Lavagirl, but expectations were so much higher I had to demote it. There were few thrills to be had, and my wife suspects she may have dozed off during one of the more ostensibly tense scenes (the camera-tentacle in the basement). Bertie might be tempted to blame the small screen, but I've experienced plenty of thrills and scares on our crappy little TV; it's just that none of them were in this particular movie. As for the cast, I have to admit I was rooting for the aliens. I normally enjoy Tom Cruise quite a bit, but his unconvincing histrionics here make me worried he's not only losing touch with his fans, he's losing touch with his job. He's not quite as bad as the guy that plays his teenaged son (not going to look him up), but is a bit worse that Dakota Fanning (who I loved in Man on Fire). I was a bit worried some of the bad press had pre-ruined the movie for me, but I don't think so. I had already come to terms with those ludicrous elements of the plot I'd heard in advance, and I really liked both A.I. and Minority Report, so had shrugged off negative reviews here as more of the same from the naysayers of those two movies. I was also very careful not to heckle, as my wife had heard only good things and I didn't want to color her reaction in any way. Turns out she thought it sucked too, and howled at Broog's review when I showed it to her afterwards (make sure you read past the opening two-paragraph-digression, as that's when he really gets rolling).
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy ... I fell asleep 45 minutes in. Even though it was a two-day rental, I returned it the next morning. I can't technically tell you a movie disappoints without seeing it all the way through, but it sure looked like it had all the makings of a truly epic squandering of a great cast.
- Hoodwinked ... The animation is distractingly bad. It's like the Veggie Tales team was moonlighting and knocked this out over the course of a few late nights. And I fell asleep for about 20 minutes of the middle act. There were some decent gags though, and Patrick Warburton is the voice of the wolf. Might have to give it another shot, if the kids ask to see it again. I think the best that can be hoped for on a rewatch is "mildly amusing", but I can't be positive.
- Syriana ... Really good, but I'll have to watch it again to do it justice. I particularly enjoyed the dynamic between Matt Damon and Alexander Siddig (Prince Nasir).