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

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Shrek 2

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

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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

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Mean Girls

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

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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

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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

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Happy Hour

I saw this one at the Newport Beach Film Festival, which was great fun for me and my wife. This movie, like so many independent films, featured excellent performances, but somewhat mediocre filmcraft. Many of the scenes were poorly lit and some of the editing seemed a bit amateurish. Still, the performances made up for it. Anthony LaPaglia's portrayal of an alcholic writer's downward spiral was tragic but compelling, and Eric Stoltz as his dry-witted sidekick was just right. My complaint about the film is that, even though LaPaglia's character goes through hell, I still feel that a story about a lone genius alcoholic can't help but glamorize alcoholism just a bit. But my wife quite vehemently disagreed with me, so what do I know?

Viewed: 4/16/2004 | Released: 4/9/2003 | Score: B

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Kill Bill: Vol. 2

If the first Kill Bill movie played like a Japanese anime, this installment is more like a Hong Kong kung fu movie. It worked splendidly. Less violent and more character-driven, this film wraps up all of the loose ends of the first one and does so in a characteristically Tarantino way. Say what you want about him, the man is a master of manipulating an audience; parts of the movie had me holding my breath. If the movie has a flaw, I'd have to say it was Uma Thurman. I know other people disagree with me, especially with respect to these films, but I've never seen Thurman forget that she was acting. Even so, the movie is good enough to get around Thurman's performance.

Viewed: 4/15/2004 | Released: 4/15/2004 | Score: A

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The Girl Next Door

The first question I have about this movie is: who did the filmmakers intend to see it? I mean, the plot is a reasonably typical teen story, but the R rating guarantees that it will not bring in many from that age group. The producers had better hope that there will be enough twenty-somethings interested. In any case, despite the fact that the story had some pretty glaring structural flaws and there were details about the movie that bothered me, it still managed to pull out some moments that I really found touching. I think that Emile Hirsch (also of The Emperor's Club) may be one to keep an eye on in the future. All in all, not a great movie, but it made for an entertaining evening.

Viewed: 4/8/2004 | Released: 2/17/2004 | Score: C

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The Ladykillers

I have a feeling that the original version of this film, starring Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers, was absolute fun to watch. This one really wasn't. The Coen brothers are responsible for some great movies, among them one of my all-time favorites (The Big Lebowski), but this one just kind of fell flat. The quirkiness that appears in so many of their films usually works very well, but in this one it just made the movie feel very incongruous with itself. Tom Hanks' character seemed like a bad parody of a 1950's Southern gentleman, while Marlon Wayans' performance was straight out of Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. While there were several parts of the movie that made me laugh out loud, on the whole it just didn't click for me.

Viewed: 3/27/2004 | Released: 3/25/2004 | Score: C

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