2004 Movie Review (the hard way)

Tax season unavoidably casts its wicked light into the darkened corners of my fiscal world, stirring a strange feral hatred of paperwork and an even stranger desire to sit in the living room surrounded by mounds of folders, picking through the remains of the past year, trying to assess my successes and failures. Pasting up a year’s worth of receipts, feature film petty cash style, is a daunting task. Actually figuring out what some of those receipts are is even harder.

I doubt there’s a person alive in the Western world who hasn’t picked through their receipts wondering why some stores print their receipts on disappearing ink. Buddy, that just has to be some kind of scam. Convenience store receipts are bad, but there’s someplace that I visit occasionally who should simply peel off a strip of white paper straight off the roll; I mean, why bother threading it through the machine and going through the act of keying it in?

What I’m trying to say here (and the idea with which I began this article) is that I am currently being reminded of a lot of things that I did in 2004, namely (to finish this damned sentence and to bridge to the next paragraph): the movies of 2004.

Counting my ticket stubs it seems that I saw around 20 movies last year. Here they are, with brief comments, in no particular order:

Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek. It took me this long to figure out that Salma Hayek is indeed a Very Hot Woman. An enjoyable B-Grade catburglar escapism story. Did I mention that Salma Hayek is extremely HOT? I did? Okay, good. Because I wanted to get that in there.

HARRY POTTER 3 : THE (something) OF (something)
No, I didn’t read Harry Potter on the grounds that the first movie came out around the same time that the first Lord of the Rings movie debuted, nevermind that they’re actually nothing alike. So I got over that and rented the other two movies before I saw this one. It was interesting to watch, but near the end it utterly fell apart for me because I had nary a clue as to who was who and what was what. I mean, come on guys, I’ve already seen Back to the Future and it didn’t need to be remade with British accents or griffins. And just who was the mouse again? And the wolfman? Gaaaaah. Alls I’m saying is that when Harry went all Marty McFly on us I just decided to enjoy the fact that I was at the movies instead of standing in the middle of a field at 4am handing a football to Denzel. Hey, when the kid who plays Harry is, like, 28 years old and trying to act like he’s 16 is anyone going to say anything? Oh Hollywood, you silly old town… you had me at Shazam. Or whatever it is they say that makes the brooms fly.

Dhurka Dhurka but this movie had me laughing from beginning to end. Marionettes trampling (with mincing marionette tromps) all over our current social mores was such a treat. Cinema that gloriously lampoons mainstream celebrities with wild abandon hit a real nerve with We The People. It was like we said in unison: “Shut up meat puppets, keep your political chocolate out of our entertainment peanut butter!” This movie was spiritually kin to that silly old Bugs Bunny cartoon that sent up old-time Hollywood and will be just as topically opaque to viewers fifty years from now. But who cares, for now we see Sean Penn and Janeane Garofalo being ripped to metaphorical (and yes, physical) shreds by the guys who put the South in South Park. The marionette sex, the marionette intrigue, the marionette kick-ass action was all jaw-droppingly hysterical. The fact that they were able to get us to watch 98 minutes of marionette-on-marionette action says a lot about the state of cinema today… I just don’t know what that is. You should see this movie even if you do object to seeing Michael Moore explode himself in a secret bunker. And really, what’s so bad about that?

This movie was a great… well no, it was interesting…. wait, no, um, okay. It sucked. BUT, it was such a bad concept that I fell for the dream that it might be fun in spite of itself. But it wasn’t. Now, I would like it if somebody could just make me a DVD with the funny parts. Like the part where Rip Torn says “If you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a ball”. Or some of Stephen Root doing his dumb nerd character. Or who could forget Steve the Pirate? The best part of this movie are the small skit-like moments, the worst part is the fact that the director allowed Ben Stiller to bring a character straight out of Zoolander up against Vince Vaughn’s Old School character. It was the comedic equivalent of a warm front meeting a cold front: a comedy tornado, and not the good kind. By the time this thing was over there were people climbing out from under their seats looking for their car keys. Looking at Ben’s last handful of movies I have one word of advice for Mr. Stiller: stop doing movies that have colons in their titles. Dodgeball? I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. [Edit: Hi, this is Drew from the year 2008 here, reading this review and trying to figure out what changed because I really, really *like* this movie now. I was surprised at how much I didn’t like the movie in 2004… maybe it was a bad year? Or maybe my values have slipped since then?]

I’m glad that I saw the movie and that I know the story within a greater context. I suppose my biggest hesitation about this film is that people (Christians and non-Christians) might remain hung up on the events from Gethsemane to Golgotha, forgetting or never learning about Jesus’ journey up to that point and why those last few cruel hours were so incredibly important beyond the physical suffering of the man known as Jesus. This movie should be run after a screening of ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’. Don’t take your eyes off the ball kids; see the movie, but read the book first. And remember all you Christians, Jim Caviezel is just a man. I worked on a movie where the Christian community was tapped for cash because Jim was starring in it. Very shady doings there my friends.

No. I never saw an Alien movie in the theater. Or a Predator movie for that matter. I was too skeered to see ’em back when they came out. But not any more. Anyone who haunts comicbook stores knew about the Aliens vs Predator crossover series when it came out many moons ago. The fans of that crossover series are legion. They are also quite scary. So it was with some surprise that I found myself excited to go see this movie. It was exactly what I expected, which was fine. Fans of the Cthulu mythos were probably thinking the same thing I was when they first revealed that pyramid under the ice. Good no-brainer rental for fans of the original series.

What’s to say? Tell me where to be for Spider-Man 3. See the movie, it’s almost as good as the first one – which is saying a lot. There’s nothing that quite matches ‘The Kiss’ from the first movie but that’s okay. Character development is hard to do… .it’s not all kisses and pink, wet shirts. Too bad eh?

Speaking as someone who would most certainly fail a lie detector test if asked about prior dealings with the Knights Templar, it was certainly interesting to see how far this Jerry Bruckheimer action adventure could pierce the veil of an order made extinct through political treachery centuries ago. The Knights, if they still existed, would have little to fear for their Order’s continued secrecy after seeing this movie. It was fun; a great big yarn with treasures beyond reckoning always just one tantalizing clue away. This film is a worthy to sit on the shelf just below the King of the Archaeology/Adventure genre that sold a million Fedoras to a million fat balding men. While this movie doesn’t have the classic hallmarks of an Indiana Jones movie it gets by fairly well on its own. It’s good to see that Nicholas Cage hasn’t entirely abandoned his action career to fight Nazis with mandolins and violas.

The original movie for gosh sakes! It went on and on and on and the effects were actually much worse than I expected… I mean, no CGI at all, and where the heck was Raymond Burr?? ;P Anyway, I drifted off to sleep sometime before it ended. Afterward (on account of the fact that I knew the theater’s assistant manager) I was invited to the technical screening of:

This was the second M. Night Shyamalan movie I’ve seen (‘The Sixth Sense’ being the other). The thing I enjoyed most about it was that there was no discernible, formulaic pace to the movie. It seemed as if anything could happen. The setting for the movie and the culture of those living there was so alien that this had all the hallmarks of a good science fiction story; destroying preconceptions and introducing you to a new world with new cultural physics. I sensed the now-expected Shyamalan twist coming, but the brick stayed fairly well-wrapped in the velvet until just before it hit us right between the eyes. The best part about this movie was seeing that Ron Howard has a pretty, talented daughter who shows absolutely no signs of losing her hair. Yet. Anyway, the problem with a Shyamalan movie is that once you know the trick you can never see it the same way again. DVD sales of these movies probably suck.

It’s hard to call this movie cutting edge since the ideas first set out by Isaac Asimov have been stolen and used over and over in about fifty billion movies since 1950. Seeing literary classics “reimagined” as pure adrenaline action movies is sad, but there’s no way that this movie could have hit the silver screen without a razzle-dazzle Star stuck in the lead human role. Great special effects mix with tired, unnecessary John Woo guns-a-blazing style shots. I had mixed feelings about seeing Will Smith in the lead role. On the one hand he’s still ‘our’ (sci-fi nerds) summertime adventure movie guy. On the other hand he’s our summertime adventure movie guy. It would be nice to have seen the role portrayed by someone whose celebrity isn’t bigger than the part he’s playing. Still, I hope that Will keeps his finger in the sci-fi pie.

I believe that I wrote a review of this movie on my messageboard while I was in the process of creating this new site. It all boiled down to this: all the other Pixar movies brought a lump to my throat. The Incredibles never got inside my heart. Sure it was fun to watch, and I’m still cheering for Pixar so don’t write to me saying that I just didn’t “get it”. In fact, don’t write to me at all. Just send money. Maybe I’ll change my mind.

Ha! A documentary about people obsessed with playing Scrabble. I caught this one at the Atlanta Film Festival with leggy Atlanta indie writer/producer Lynn Lamousin, winner of the 20004 Southeastern Media Award. It was her idea and I’m glad that I followed her lead because the characters in the movie were better than anyone could have written because they were real! I can’t really tell you to run out and rent this one because indies are nigh-on impossible to find on retail. Google it up and see what you get.

This was a big movie in France, about the Nazis invading France and about spies and intelligence officers and the way that the powerful fight to keep a hierarchical system in place even during the occupation of their own country. Or maybe it was a love story, that was in there too. Or mostly it was a war movie. Okay, it’s French, who knows? Not bad, catch it if it’s on your television. Your FRENCH television~

Plenty scary, and I know that I saw the “happy ending” version that they first put out to American audiences because we pay good money to see happiness and by darned I want to know that by the end of the movie that people have stopped nibbling off each others’ faces. Probably the highest box office for a zombie movie in, like, ever.

I hate liking Quentin’s movies but there’s no way I could deny not enjoying the second half of the Kill Bill epic. Strong women, great Japanese pulp-stories, Kung Fu classic characters and wildly improbable events keep you glued to your chair. The sticky crap on the floor doesn’t hurt either.

I really enjoyed this story of a young African man who travels to Jerusalem to see the holy land, only to be detained as an illegal immigrant and secretly slipped into an illegal workforce run by a small-time businessman. Seeing James pass out of his innocence is sad to see, but his ebullience is not entirely forgotten either, even when he forgets himself. The theme song from this movie is catchy. Check the site at www.james-journey.com if you’ve time.

Here I was, taking potshots at the French earlier when in reality I appreciate a vast array of things French, even this French-Canadian movie, eh? Unless you live in a small town with dirt roads, you probably heard the theme song from this movie on television. For all I know there was a music video that they ran on cable for those of you who have cable. By the way, if MTV isn’t running videos these days who is? The Weather Channel? Is that why you all watch that channel? The Triplets of Bellville is well-drawn (it’s animated you see) and you’re forever smiling as you realize what’s happening on screen. Rent this one, NetFlix it, download it.

Errol Morris directs this movie using a strangely removed interview method that results in a gripping, personal, dialogue with former United States Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. In his eighties, McNamara is as razor sharp, politically savvy and ready-to-rule as I will never be. The intelligence, the secrets and the regrets in McNamara’s soul are drawn near enough to the surface that I was captivated from beginning to end. I should have done my history before seeing the movie, which is exactly what I’m recommending that you do before you see this documentary/interview.

Louis Kahn had an illegitimate son who he hardly knew. That son shot this documentary as he followed his father’s path and learned about a man he hardly knew. Architecture school grads (like me) will find it interesting to know a little more about the man behind the design. I honestly don’t remember a lot about the movie now – go check the messageboard to see if I wrote more about it. The only sense I have of it now is that I’m not especially inclined to see it again.

BUS 174
Another documentary, Bus 174 is like a long 60 Minutes piece on a hostage standoff that happened in Brazil several years ago. Lots of archival footage, historical information on the gunman and interviews flesh out the story of a boy who was destined to make a country take a long hard look at itself.

Yes, it was on when I was a kid. No, I never got to ride in the neighborhood car that was painted just like it (which incidentally stunted my ability to jump and slide across the hood of a car with any accuracy). Going camp with an established character/genre isn’t really something I’m fond of doing after seeing what they did to Batman back in the 1960’s. Still, the combination of Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller was working. Too bad that Ben Stiller can’t find a spot that’s just a notch below the cartoonish style from Zoolander or What About Mary. I really can’t recommend the movie all that much, but you don’t listen to me anyway. You never listen.

If anyone can show me what this second installment did for the Shrek franchise I’d like to see it. In small unmarked bills waiting in a stretch Lamborghini outside my house. Yes, they sold out and I don’t blame them at all. Financially that is… this series could have just as easily moved on as a weekly cartoon show on cable somewhere. Fun cultural asides, but they get old and trite after awhile. Like my movie reviews.

Okay, that’s it. I think that’s all the movies I saw last year and more reviews than you wanted to read.

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