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The Movie Report
Archive
October 2004

#442 - 444
October 1, 2004 - October 29, 2004


all movies are graded out of four stars (****)

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#444 October 29, 2004

M O V I E S
In Brief

Birth one-sheet Birth (R) **
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Enduring Love one-sheet Enduring Love (R) ** 1/2
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The Grudge one-sheet The Grudge (PG-13) **
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The Machinist one-sheet The Machinist (R) ***
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p.s. one-sheet p.s. (R) ***
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Primer one-sheet Primer (PG-13) ***
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Ray one-sheet Ray (PG-13) ***
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Saw one-sheet Saw (R) *
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Sideways one-sheet Sideways (R) *** 1/2
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Surviving Christmas one-sheet Surviving Christmas (PG-13) **
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Undertow one-sheet Undertow (R) ** 1/2
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#443 October 15, 2004

M O V I E S
In Brief

Around the Bend one-sheet Around the Bend (R) *
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There are three key lessons to be learned from Jordan Roberts's indie drama. First, not every fact-based story is worth making into a film, such as this dull tale of a son (Josh Lucas) and his estranged father (Christopher Walken) healing during a long road trip. Second, not even the combined acting might of Walken and Michael Caine (as Walken's father) can save a creaky script, also by Roberts). Third, above all else, when traveling the American Southwest, there are bound to be many KFC locations around the bend to feed you along the way--and the fast food chain appears so frequently that it goes beyond mere product placement and makes Colonel Sanders a third character on the ever-tiresome voyage.


Being Julia one-sheet Vera Drake one-sheet Being Julia (R) ** 1/2
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Vera Drake (R) ** 1/2
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Eulogy one-sheet Eulogy (R) *
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The Final Cut one-sheet The Final Cut (PG-13) ** 1/2
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Friday Night Lights one-sheet Friday Night Lights (PG-13) *** 1/2
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Hair Show one-sheet Hair Show (PG-13) **
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Raise Your Voice one-sheet Raise Your Voice (PG) no stars
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Shall We Dance one-sheet Shall We Dance (PG-13) ** 1/2
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To its credit, Peter Chelsom's American remake of the beloved arthouse hit from Japan is far from the disaster that the original's fans--including myself--had feared. That said, something is lost in translating this story of a bored businessman (Richard Gere) who shakes himself out of his ennui by taking up ballroom dancing. After all, someone taking dancing lessons is hardly unusual nor shocking in western culture; in fact, it would probably be seen as kind of cool. Without the embedded social commentary, this is just another story of an uptight guy trying to cut loose, wasting Gere's touching chemistry with Susan Sarandon as his wife, which makes one wish they were starring in a more straightforward love story. Jennifer Lopez has the moves but not the acting range to pull off the role of the bitter former competitive dancer-turned-instructor; similar touches to make "hip" what should be an unabashedly square story--such as the casting of Nick Cannon in a supporting role and an out-of-nowhere cameo by Ja Rule--more jar than gel.


Taxi one-sheet Taxi (PG-13) **
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Team America: World Police one-sheet Team America: World Police (R) *** 1/2
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Woman Thou Art Loosed one-sheet Woman Thou Art Loosed (R) ***
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#442 October 1, 2004

M O V I E S
In Brief

A Dirty Shame one-sheet A Dirty Shame (NC-17) **
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Once upon a time, the combination of John Waters and an NC-17 (or whatever "no one under 17 admitted" equivalent) meant something outrageous, daring and quite possibly offensive. With an adults-only rating, a promising premise, and a tantalizing title, A Dirty Shame would appear to be a return to fucked-up form for Waters. But while the film goes through the surface motions of naughtiness, it all comes off rather quaint in the end. Have increasingly progressive (or regressive, depending on one's perspective) times finally caught up with Waters, or has he lost his creative edge? Signs point to both, but ultimately mostly the latter. A wild, go-for-broke Tracey Ullman is an uptight wife and mother who, after suffering a concussion, becomes a "W-H-O-R-E" (as it "subliminally" reads in flashing block letters across the screen) with the guidance of a Christ-like sex addict guru (Johnny Knoxville). Sounds like fertile bad taste breeding ground for Waters, and indeed he does serve up a few good one-liners and stages a couple of amusingly out-there gags (a "Hokey Pokey" dance sequence is particularly noteworthy). But all the bluntly deadpan sex talk and juvenile physical gags wear thin within a half-hour, and one waits for some sort of point to develop from the mélange of mammaries and masturbation. That one never does is perhaps not surprising; what is, however, is not so much the unfunniness but downright dullness of the picture's "provocative" payoff punchlines.


The Forgotten one-sheet The Forgotten (PG-13) * 1/2
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For a little while, Joseph Ruben's thriller appears well on its way to delivering on its promise of smart, psychological suspense. Ruben hits the ground running, driven by Julianne Moore's expectedly committed performance as Telly, a woman continually haunted by the loss of her young son in a mysterious plane accident. Her world goes further haywire when one day everyone around her, including her husband (Anthony Edwards), forgets the very existence of her son--or could it be that Telly herself is the one who is insane, and that her son was nothing more than one big delusion?

Despite the fine shadings Moore brings to the character, Ruben and writer Gerald DiPego never give the audience more than a second to doubt Telly's sanity, as literally within minutes she convinces another parent (Dominic West) of a "forgotten" child that there is something shady afoot. Once viewers start to get an idea of what exactly is going on, however, they may very well with the conspiracy remained in the shadows, for all the effective jolt scares in the world cannot disguise how utterly preposterous the film becomes. The turn for the worse begins when the psychological drama goes out the window in favor of a repetitive series of chase sequences, and the transformation from intriguing thriller to silly schlock is complete when the film goes from figuratively to literally sucking as characters mysteriously go flying into the sky. Some have likened The Forgotten to an episode of The X-Files, and the comparison is apt, given James Horner's Mark Snow-aping score and the redheaded heroine; however, the distinction should be made that this is not so much like a Mulder and Scully episode than a Doggett and Reyes one--which, right there, says it all.


I Heart Huckabees one-sheet I Heart Huckabees (R) *** 1/2
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Ladder 49 one-sheet Ladder 49 (PG-13) **
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Although its script was reportedly written prior to 9/11, it's difficult to imagine Ladder 49 coming to filmed fruition had the tragedy not taken place--or, at the very least, in its current, saccharine, syrupy form. As he is trapped in a burning building and his colleagues--or, should I say, in keeping with director Jay Russell's heavy hand, brothers--try desperately to rescue him, firefighter Joaquin Phoenix reflects on his career as one of Baltimore's bravest. For about half of its running time, director Jay Russell and writer Lewis Colick meander through flashbacks with no apparent rhyme or reason, and their glimpses of downtime between the firefighters resembles not so much true life insight into their world than some bizarre, subtextually homoerotic fantasy. Much like how it's said that men envision women's time alone together as an endless cycle of painting each other's nails and engaging in tickle fights, according to this film, firemen spend their off hours pouring water on each other engaging in frat boy prankster antics like stuffing geese into lockers and forcing rookies into mock Catholic confessionals (don't ask). As Phoenix's girlfriend and, ultimately, wife (Jacinda Barrett, whose natural Aussie accent occasionally peeks through) comes into greater prominence a greater point does start to gel, but it's the same banal idea about unsung, everyday bravery and heroism that has been incessantly drilled into the collective consciousness since 9/11. There's no questioning the sweetness of the sentiment, particularly given the solid work turned in by Phoenix and John Travolta (as his captain), but it comes wrapped up in an overly manufactured, all-too-familiar would-be tearjerking package that will surely give less savvy moviegoers the illusion that they've watched an Important and Meaningful Film.


The Motorcycle Diaries one-sheet The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de Motocicleta) (R) ***
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Mr. 3000 one-sheet Mr. 3000 (PG-13) ***
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Director Charles Stone III has carved out a nice career as a reliable craftsman of Hollywood programmers that fulfill their lowball formula requirements while at the same time display a level of craft and performance that is far from predictable and by-the-numbers. First came his exceptionally acted drug/crime drama Paid in Full, then the rousing collegiate marching band yarn Drumline, and now Mr. 3000, which flouts expectations even further. Given star Bernie Mac's status as an Emmy-nominated sitcom star and a reigning King of Comedy, it's no surprise that the film is being marketed as a baseball laffer--and, indeed, Mac is given ample opportunity to showcase his comic sensibility, both physical and verbal, in scenes and situations far more effective than the rather tepid ones highlighted in the commercials.

But that's not the big surprise about the film: this story of an arrogant, over-the-hill slugger (Mac) who comes out of retirement to chalk up his 3000th hit is more of a serious sports film than a knee-slapping comedy, and Mac gets a rare opportunity to showcase his true dramatic range as an actor. He is innately likable enough to make gloryhound Stan Ross's vain quest to preserve his legacy involving, but at the same time he also never downplays nor pretties up the character's harsher edges; in Mac's hands, Stan's evolution and transformation is subtle and all the more effective for it. It also helps that Stone has surrounded Mac with an ace supporting cast, which includes Angela Bassett (a bit underutilized as Stan's reporter ex-flame), Michael Rispoli (as Stan's best friend) and charismatic up-and-comer Brian White (as an arrogant upstart player).


Shark Tale one-sheet Shark Tale (PG) **
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Shaun of the Dead one-sheet Shaun of the Dead (R) *** 1/2
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