Best and worst of 2004
Most boring: “Open Water” I thought I’d drown in a sea of boredom while waiting for something to happen in “Open Water.” The dialogue is about as inspired as those first-grade readers where Dick and Jane learn to swim. And the plot is nearly as compelling. (“See Jane swim. Don’t swim, Jane. Don’t swim. Dick says it attracts sharks. Watch Jane bob. Bob, Jane. Bob.”)Worst acting: “The Day After Tomorrow” opens with awe-inspiring cinematography of glaciers but soon turns catastrophic -not only in plot, but also in acting.Director Roland Emmerich spent $200,000 out of his own pocket to offset all carbon dioxide emitted during the production of the movie by plant-ing trees and investing in renewable energy – an honorable commitment. So why he didn’t spend more energy on directing actors, I’m not sure.The film involves too many actors feigning sustained stares of disbelief and taking little or no action as impending doom threatens to strike. Most pleasant surprise: “I, Robot” and “Van Helsing”I reluctantly went to “I, Robot,” thinking my programming for being fascinated with all things robotic crashed, oh, around third grade.Reluctance disabled. “I, Robot” entertained me.The producers intelligently present the story of killer robots by focusing on the main human character, Detective Spooner (Will Smith), and sprinkling his dialogue with wit.The film revolves around the idea of robots trapped with logical contradictions of the three laws, which basically state they can’t harm humans.The filmmakers drive home the conflict through Sonny, a “unique” robot who feels human emotion. His human qualities caused me to think about him long after the movie ended.I expected “Van Helsing” to be another movie that caused me to sneer at Richard, my former “he said,” for suggesting we review it.But I really liked it.And I’m still in shock.
The scenes, complete with vintage medical equipment purchased on eBay, brought back memories of watching old monster movies as a kid. It eased me into the whole monster bash without overwhelming me with special effects and gore (that came later).”Van Helsing” throws myriad influences into the mix, which usually turns out disastrous in movies, but somehow it worked here.First of all, Dracula and all of his brides, henchmen and offspring, as well as Frankenstein, Mr. Hyde, werewolves and Igor haunt the movie.Not only do monsters coexist in this film, but different genres, styles and philosophies coexist.”Van Helsing” throws in romance, mystery, horror, gore, comedy and B-movie styles.Best animated film: “Team America: World Police”While “Shark Tale” wins for best animation that entertains both kids and adults, “Team America: World Police” falls into the category of movies I’m not sure I want to admit I liked. I went from loving the kiddie-flick “Shark Tale” two weeks prior to flashing back to cutting-edge puppet porn in my head.After destroying other countries’ cultural gems, Team America discovers it missed the mark: North Korean leader Kim Jong II. But by then, emotional personal problems ensnare each team member – part of Parker and Stone’s brilliant commentary on Americans’ egotism.The movie soars with satire, wit and hysterical songs.Heaviest, most depressing:It’s a toss up between “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “The Corporation” and “Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion.”Through precise editing, Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11″ manipulates audiences to sit through an emotional roller coaster ride ranging from disbelief and outrage to upset and disillusionment.He films a child in Baghdad gliding down a slide but interrupts the scene with war explosions. He records a pumped up American soldier saying war is the ultimate adrenaline rush. Then he shows a child in Baghdad with a blown-up arm. People may contend it’s necessary to take sides or at least decipher the validity of Moore’s assertions. But I think the emotional truth he presents is just as important – maybe even more so – than the details.”The Corporation” is the sort of documentary that puts a big, polluted damper on shopping sprees.The documentary compares corporations to people, arguing the 14th amendment should protect human beings rather than big business.
Then it delves into psychiatric diagnosis, asking, “What kind of person is the corporation?” It sounds compelling, but in practice it’s as disturbing as Pfizer trying to push its latest happy pill. According to the quasi-psychiatric filmmakers, corporations should be institutionalized because they’re psychopaths.”The Corporation” towers with too much information, like most recent documentaries designed to spur Americans to fight injustice, but certain segments weigh heavily.”Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion” is one of those films that isn’t necessarily pleasant to watch, but it is necessary to watch.The mostly one-sided, 100-minute documentary persuades viewers that the plight of Tibetans under communist Chinese rule should end.Blending footage of remote rituals and amazing Himalayan peaks with scenes of Chinese military crushing monks and scenes of brothels and slums that dot the holy city of Lhasa, the film shows the decline of an ancient civilization.The documentary seems disjointed, jumping from one time period and person to another without explanation. But the parts of it are compelling, and the whole of it is completely disturbing.It’s a film you walk away from feeling a sense of impending doom. Best use of colors that don’t make sense: “Hero”Throughout “Hero,” Nameless (Jet Li) explains, in a foreign language, to the king of Qin (Chen Daoming) how he used psychology to outwit assassins. But it would have been nice if the subtitles translated not only his words but also his colorful – and symbolic – flashbacks.I racked my brain to make meaning of the obvious color schemes – I reviewed the chakra system and feng shui principles, I stretched to recall tidbits I picked up from my acupuncturist, I tried to write an ad hoc syllabus for the intro to Asian art class I never took.But I had as good of a chance figuring out what the colors represented during the fights as I did translating “Kono kuni wa mada …”Movies always rate higher if they leave me with something to think about, but in this case, I had to research the color scheme to inspire deep thoughts.A cheat sheet would have enriched my viewing experience. But without knowing the “ancient Chinese secret” of color, I slumped in my seat, ultimately bored with martial arts scenes that soared with wind and flying warriors. Best movie to watch several times: “Garden State”While “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is weird enough to watch again and again, “Garden State” wins this category.”Garden State” is as profound, strange and funny as “American Beauty,” only it portrays the quarter-life crisis that can happen around age 25.
Andrew Largeman (Zack Braff) has been on lithium and antidepressants since he was 10. And since then, he hasn’t felt much of anything.When he returns home to New Jersey after a nine-year absence to attend his mother’s funeral, he begins to rediscover his true self – especially when he meets Sam (Natalie Portman), a spunky girl who spontaneously lies, then tells the truth out of guilt.”Garden State” not only addresses living life on life’s terms without numbing out on a daily basis, but also shows the imperfections of love.It’s not your typical multiplex movie; it’s deep, intricate and at times, just plain weird. It’s also a film you can watch several times and still discover something new about the characters – and yourself.Best movie to watch to support a resolution to lose weight: “Super Size Me”As I watched Morgan Spurlock’s month-long McBinge, I thought I’d never eat fast food again.The documentary features super-sized butts filling the screen, knappy-haired McDonald’s sundaes and Spurlock vomiting after a Double Quarter Pounder pummels his digestion.Spurlock infuses his documentary with shocking predictions (if Americans continue eating poorly and not exercising, one out of four children born in 2000 will develop diabetes) and personal observations about how he feels nauseous and gets headaches after eating three meals a day at McDonald’s.His vegetarian girlfriend candidly admits Hamburgler stole their sex life.Meanwhile, doctors urge Spurlock to turn in his happy meals before his heart or liver demonstrate exactly how very unhappy they are.Best biography: “Ray”Some musicians live life so large, you can’t quite get enough.That’s the case with Ray Charles. At two and a half hours, “Ray,” a movie portraying the musician’s approximately first 34 years, runs long, but I’d buy a ticket to watch the next 40 years of his life in a heartbeat.Though Charles’ problems are nothing new in the music business – drugs, extramarital affairs, shifty business deals – his presence captivates audiences.Flashbacks of Charles’ childhood uncover deeper aspects of Charles’ personality, building a rhythm of tension and release as the story progresses.The music infuses the film with soul, and even if you’re not a Charles fan, chances are the story and the sound will hook you.
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