Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
So far, Dodgeball is the funniest movie I've seen this year. Vince Vaughan's low-key, cool vibe worked very well in this movie, and I think Stephen Root and Alan Tudyk are two of the best comedic character actors in the business. What really made the movie, though, was the writing. There were just so many jokes, and so many of them worked. At times it was hard to catch a breath between laughs. Indeed, Dodgeball was one of the few movies I've seen recently that managed to be consistently funny all the way through.
Viewed: 6/18/2004 | Released: 6/17/2004 | Score: B
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
I think this may be the best Harry Potter film so far. The only reason I say "may" is because despite the fact that I loved it, I have to wonder whether a person who hasn't read the book would be able to follow it. At 142 minutes, Prisoner of Azkaban is a long movie, but it doesn't feel like it when you're watching it. On the contrary, there is so much to cover that the film feels rushed. With Goblet of Fire weighing in at over 700 pages (as compared to about 430 pages for the third book and 340 for the second) I have to wonder how they're going to maintain the plotline and still keep the movie to a reasonable length. But back to the film at hand. As I'm sure most people know, this installment of the series featured a different director, Alfonso Cuarón. Cuarón is a much more artistic director than Chris Columbus was, and I think that really helped this film, especially given the darker nature of the story. As far as the acting goes, Gary Oldman was, as usual, great, but the ones I find myself really thinking about are the three leads: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint. They really are perfect for the roles, and they seem to have more than ample skill for portraying their maturing characters.
Viewed: 6/3/2004 | Released: 6/3/2004 | Score: A
I wasn't expecting much from this movie, but there turned out to be a lot more to it than the previews led you to believe. Yes, it is about a woman having to re-evaluate her priorities and rise to the challenges of motherhood. But it's also about how loss affects a family, how it changes or exposes the relationships between family members. There was nothing spectacular about Raising Helen, no amazing performances or stunning scenes, but it was still an interesting story that was pretty well told.
Viewed: 5/30/2004 | Released: 4/30/2004 | Score: B
The Day After Tomorrow
Disaster movies all have the same problem: they focus on the disaster. This one is no different, but going in I had such high hopes that it would tell a more interesting story: what happens after the disaster. Alas, it was not to be. The Day After Tomorrow has lots of neat special effects, but basically no plot and no real character development. A lot of the action sequences, meant to be suspenseful, were completely unnecessary and contrived. The subject matter was pedantic and alarmist. What's more, it made me re-evaluate what I think of Jake Gyllenhaal. Previously I had thought he was a very good actor, but now I think he just chose some good parts. He needs to mature a bit, get past the angsty teen roles. The only reason this movie gets any stars at all is because of Ian Holm and the characters around him. Holm is a weather researcher at a remote monitoring station in Scotland, and his subplot is wonderfully poignant. Overall, though, this film just kept making me think of how much more interesting it could have been if it had tried to tell a story instead of send a message.
Viewed: 5/27/2004 | Released: 5/27/2004 | Score: D
It's not Homer's Iliad, but I find myself surprisingly unbothered by the changes made to this story. The problem with the real story, as written thousands of years ago, is that it reflects the culture that existed thousands of years ago. We just don't see things in the same way that the ancient Greeks did. To them, the Mycenaean armies that destroyed Troy were heroic; to us, they seem barbaric. So the fact that the makers of this film changed some of the characters and events in the story doesn't offend me in the way that Peter Jackson's changes to the Lord of the Rings did. To make this story work for a modern audience, I think the changes were necessary and inevitable. I knew Brad Pitt would do a good job in this movie, and he did. I also knew that I would have a hard time with his performance, and I did. The thing is that no matter how otherwise good a performance is, if the accent sounds fake, it reminds you that the actor is acting, that he is not who he claims to be. And that ruins it for me. Orlando Bloom has all the acting talent of a bag of rocks, but I already knew that, so it was no disappointment. The real genius of this film was Peter O'Toole. He gave us a Priam that was so dignified, so regal, that it literally took my breath away. Sean Bean and Eric Bana also did well in their roles. Overall I think I can recommend this one. Just don't expect that your classics professor won't notice that you watched it instead of doing your reading assignments.
Viewed: 5/22/2004 | Released: 5/13/2004 | Score: B
Shrek 2 was good, but it wasn't as good as the first one. It was fun and funny, but it just didn't feel fresh. The original one had several scenes that referenced other popular films but much of the humor was still original. This one relied a little too heavily on parody. The problem with parody is that it only retains its humor as long as the film being referenced remains popular, or at least recognizable. In that respect it's a rather weak form of comic writing, which makes Shrek 2 a weaker film. It did make me smile, though, and even laugh in spots, so it gets a third star.
Viewed: 5/22/2004 | Released: 5/18/2004 | Score: B
Connie and Carla
As with Mean Girls, I did not want to see this movie and thought it looked stupid. The difference is that with this one I was completely right. Everyone remembers Nia Vardalos from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, so I'm sure some people were expecting her new film to be just as good. The problem is that where her writing and acting styles work very well when she's depicting something as real and familiar as her own life, she's just too much of a ham when it comes to other milieux. Vardalos said in an interview that she wrote Connie and Carla because she wanted to be in a movie where she sang. Unfortunately, that's all this was. The plot was nearly non-existant, and while the drag performances were kind of fun (and Vardalos and co-star Toni Collette have surprisingly good voices), they were too frequent and too long. I can't say that I'm at all surprised that most of the theaters in my area dropped this movie after only two weeks.
Viewed: 5/7/2004 | Released: 4/12/2004 | Score: D
My wife had been talking about this one ever since she heard Ellen Degeneris say how great it was. And you know what? It was surprisingly good. Lindsay Lohan isn't much of an actress, but that didn't matter so much because the film was pretty well written. I don't think I completely agree with Ellen's assessment, but the movie was far from the total disaster I was expecting. If you're into teen comedies, you'll probably like this one.
Viewed: 5/6/2004 | Released: 4/18/2004 | Score: C
Man on Fire
I still haven't seen Training Day yet, but I was hoping that seeing Man on Fire would show me some of the same amazing acting that I've heard so much about since Denzel's Best Actor win. To be honest, I found Denzel to be good, perhaps even excellent, but I wasn't blown away by his performance. The person who continues to really impress me is Dakota Fanning. She is one of the best child actors I have ever seen, and this film demonstrated that she has range as well; her character in Man on Fire was not the arrogant brat that she has played in other movies. The beginning of the film, which developed the relationship between Fanning's and Washington's characters, was very good. But the two halves of the film were very different. After Fanning is kidnapped, we follow Washington's brutal campaign for revenge. I found the second half interesting, although it made me uncomfortable, but my wife got bored. And, honestly, I was less interested in that part because of the distinct lack of Dakota Fanning. But I would still say the movie as a whole worked pretty well as a study of Washington's character. And if you like explosions, there are plenty of them.
Viewed: 5/1/2004 | Released: 4/20/2004 | Score: B
13 Going On 30
My wife dragged me to this on a Sunday night, and even though I know there are a lot of people out there who will like this movie, I can't bring myself to give it more than two stars. Much of the humor in the movie is the sort that I just can't watch. In fact, for long portions of the film I was physically uncomfortable. But I do think that Jennifer Garner did a good job, as did Mark Ruffalo. The comparison to Big is obvious, but apt nonetheless. I think that Big was a better movie, but the focuses of the two films are different; in Big you want Tom Hanks' character to go back to being a kid, where in 13 Going On 30 what you really want is for Jennifer Garner to fix the things that she did wrong in her past.
Viewed: 4/24/2004 | Released: 4/13/2004 | Score: C