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2004 Mini Reviews

2004 Mini-Reviews

50 First Dates
Against the Ropes

Bon Voyage
Broken Wings
Day After Tomorrow, The
Girl Next Door, The
I'm Not Scared
Ladykillers, The
Twilight Samurai, The

50 First Dates
Directed by Peter Segal
Starring: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Rob Schneider, Sean Astin
Running time: 99 minutes

So, you have a cute premise that translates into a charming movie. The question is, how do you end it? I'm sure that same question plagued the screenwriter of 50 First Dates, and it shows. The first hour of the film is genuinely charming, occasionally quite funny, with an overabundance of cute. It falls flat, however, when it tries to resolve itself. The ending itself isn't too bad (if a little predictable), but it is too drawn out, with some unnecessary conflict that appears transparent, even to an undiscerning audience.

Sandler and Barrymore are fine, even if they do play variations of the same character they always play. They do have good chemistry, which is where the film's charm derives. The supporting characters, on the other hand, are disastrous. The worst are the characters played by Rob Schneider and Sean Astin. Both are supposed to bring comic relief to the picture, but they have the least funniest bits. A shorter film without these losers would have been much more enjoyable.

Score: 5/10

Against the Ropes
Directed by Charles Dutton
Starring: Meg Ryan, Omar Epps, Tony Shalhoub
Running time: 111 minutes

This is the story of Jackie Kallen, a girl who grows up surrounded by boxing. She learns the sport and loves the sport, but nobody takes her seriously as an authority. After spending most of her adult life "in her place", she decides to finally take the man's sport on. She does this by discovering Luther Shaw, a street kid with plenty of potential, but no direction or discipline.

This movie was better than I expected, thanks to a good, believable performance by Omar Epps, and some strong supporting work from Tony Shalhoub, who plays the perfect boxing as*hole. The boxing scenes were also well-done.

The problem was Meg Ryan, who wasn't horrible, but she just didn't fit the role. I usually enjoy seeing daring performances against type. Ryan is not a bad actress and has the range, just not the composure. She can't be convincing as a tough girl.

Score: 4/10

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Bon Voyage
Directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau
Starring: Isabelle Adjani, Gerard Depardieu, Virginie Ledoyen, Gregori Derangere, Peter Coyote

Bon Voyage is a farcical period comedy set during the onset of World War II, during the German occupation of France. The production is impressive, with plenty of attention paid to details of the period, with some breathtaking shots. They also recreate the chaos of the situation effectively, most notably they highlight the French artistocratic response. The acting is superb, specifically Isabelle Adjani, a beautiful aging film starlet, who uses the most obvious manipulative methods to great comic effect, and often to the detriment of those she manipulates.

Bon Voyage is very critical of French society, very similar to Jean Renoir's Rules of the Game. Renoir's masterpiece was set and created just a few years prior to the period of Bon Voyage, but had a similar theme and subject matter. Renoir criticized French aristocratic society for remaining preoccupied with their own irrelevant affairs, and paid no attention to what was happening outside their little bubble.

Score: 8/10 

 

Broken Wings
Directed by Nir Bergman
Starring Orly Banai, Maya Maron
Running Time: 87 minutes

Fundamentally, this film was very well done. The direction, the editing, the cinematography, the acting, the writing - all very impressive. It is a family ensemble piece and the camera doesn't focus on one specific character (although the eldest daughter seems to drive the narrative), but on the lives of all four children and the single mother.

The film was very moving at times, which I think is more of a testament to some solid performances. The one that stands out is Maya Maron as the eldest daughter. There were two of her scenes during the final act that were heart dropping, and reminded me of some of the scenes from last year's Whale Rider, although I think Broken Wings as a whole is inferior to Whale Rider in terms of emotional intensity.

I respected the film a little more than I liked it. I had some problems with the ending, and with some of the characters (the doctor, the youngest doctor, and the eldest son's girlfriend). I also think it was a little too heavy on the melodrama, and short on individual character development for such an ensemble film. But these are just minor criticisms, which I could dismiss on subsequent viewings.

Score: 7/10

 

Day After Tomorrow, The
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Starring Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emily Rossum, Ian Holm
Running Time: 124 minutes

About what can be expected when looking at the production budget and the director byline. The characters, subplots and hungry packs of wolves are obstructions rather than assets to this visual feast. Ultimately, they could be done without, especially when considering the track record of the man in charge. Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal and especially Ian Holm have proven their acting ability several times in the past, so blame can only be focused on Emmerich for such laughable character situations.

The theme that politicians should listen to scientists is far too overt. They could have at least attempted to disguise Dick Cheney's part.

The fact that this film is so flawed really is disappointing, because it contains some of the greatest images I've yet seen on cinema. Yet, there is no way I can watch Dennis Quaid's speech about his committment towards his son, at least not while keeping a straight face.

Score: 4/10

 

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Girl Next Door, The
Directed by Luke Greenfield
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Elisha Cuthbert, Timothy Olyphant
Running Time: 110 Minutes

It really bothers me how positive the early reviews have been for this film. As I write this, it has an 88% tomatometer score over at Rotten Tomatoes. I wonder whether such positivity will hold up once the print and televised critics weigh in. The Girl Next Door is not even close to a good film. It fails on so many levels that it would become monotonous to list them all. The most significant failing of the film is the writing. It baffles me how three people could write such a film, and appalls me that they received some sort of payment for doing so. Yet, in a way, you can tell that it had three hands involved, because the film is so messy and misdirected, especially during the final act.

The film would be somewhat redeemable had many of the jokes worked. A couple do, but most are so asinine and cheap, devoid of any creativity, that they become more insulting than entertaining. The greatest crime of the film is that it attempts to be some sort of moral authority, but strays so far from its target. The skewed wisdom is more humourous than the rest of the film.

Score: 2/10

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I'm Not Scared
Directed by Gabriele Salvatores
Starring Giuseppe Cristiano, Dino Abbrescia
Running Time: 108 minutes

First of all, this film is being marketed as something it's not. I'm Not Scared is an artistic thriller, but more on the artistic side. Unlike most American thrillers, the film is shot in bright, sunlit locations with clear blue skies. The studios are promoting it as a suspenseful, horrifying thriller, which it clearly is not, although the film on a few occasions uses elements from all of those genres.

There is a lot to like about this film, but the most alluring aspect is the phenomenal camerawork. It is shot entirely on location among wheat fields, which gives the film a very bright, yellowish feel. There are plenty of beautiful landscape shots, and some very nice camera work in general. One thing that is especially interesting about the film is that it is photographed from the children's perspective, low to the ground, so that the camera is always looking up on the adults.

The lead performance by Giuseppe Cristiano was one of the better child performances in recent memory (and there have been some good ones). His performance makes this a powerful coming of age story, which reminded me often of Stand by Me. Michele (Cristiano) has plenty of crucial moral decisions to make during the film. I can't go into too much detail without spoiling the film, but in some cases doing the "right thing" might hurt others, including himself.

Score: 8/10

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Ladykillers, The
Directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Starring: Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans
Running Time: 104 minutes

Haven't seen the original.

I'm a nut for Coen Bros films, and I really enjoyed this film, although I consider it their weakest of films. Again, they did a great job of working music into the film, reminiscent to the superior O' Brother. As I expected, the acting, characters and especially the dialog were superb. I felt the film unraveled some near the end, which I suspect the original doesn't. Deakins again provided some exemplary camera work.

Score: 7/10


Twilight Samurai, The
Directed by Yoji Yamada
Starring: Hiroyuki Sanada, Rie Miyazawa, Nenji Kobayashi
Running Time: 129 minutes

Instead of a sweeping epic with momentous battles, this is a character-driven film set during the beginning of the Meiji Restoration. It's a little melodramatic, obvious, and a bit tugging, but I found it to be a wonderful tale about complicated people living during a period of transition.

Some brief thoughts:

The film was technically beautiful. It didn't have the budget of a Last Samurai or anything, but the direction was much more focused and less sensationalized. The director did a great job at framing certain shots by using walls and other architecture.

The lighting really contributed to the "twilight" theme. Most of the scenes appeared to be during that time of day, so resultingly the film is darker, which also fits well with some of the events in the film.

I really liked how the film mixed up different cultures and classes. For instance, all the samurais were well-versed in the Confucian classics, which contributed to the personality of the main character. There is plenty more about the relations between different classes, even among the samurai themselves, and this provided a great deal of character depth.

Score: 8/10

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