Monday, January 3, 2005

Popcorn Kernals 2004

So...where were we?

Oh, yeah. Bitching endlessly about...well, everything.

Even though I stopped updating this Web site back in April (and thank you, by the way, to all of you who had nice things to say about this bloggity and its author, and who asked/demanded that I start posting here again), I didn't stop doing creatively stimulating things, like taking pictures or writing. You'll see that as this year goes on.

I also didn't stop going to the movies. Okay, I saw four fewer movies than I did in 2003. But I saw four more movies at my neighborhood theater, the Davis, than I did in the previous year (support you'r local independent movie houses, y'all--you never know when they'll be swallowed up by one megaplex or another), and I saw more movies with friends than I had the previous year, when I saw more movies by myself than I ever had before (or ever want to again).

I never got around to reviewing most of this year's movies and probably never will, so here are my comments, brief though they may be, on the new movies I saw on the big screen in 2004:

Dogville Lars von Trier employed an amazing cast (Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Lauren Bacall, Chloe Sevigny, Ben Gazzara, Patricia Clarkson, Philip Baker Hall, etc.) and minimalist sets (often only suggested via gestures by the cast) to make effective criticism of the mistrust and abuse of outsiders by Americans (even though von Trier has never visited America and, reportedly, never wants to). But once he makes his point, he makes it again. And again. And again. At one point, Sailor J asked to look at my watch. I held it up close enough for both of us to see the face of the silver Timex: we'd been in the theater for an hour and a half. "Holy fuck," she said with no small amount of despair in her voice, "we have an hour and a half to go." We both groaned.

Dawn of the Dead Yeah. I know. I reviewed this one already. But if one good thing came out of this reasonably entertaining but thoroughly unnecessary remake of George Romero's '70s classic, it's this: Due to the renewed popularity of zombie movies, Romero is now shooting Land of the Dead, his fourth zombie flick, with actors you've actually heard of before (Dennis Hopper, John Leguizamo, Asia Argento). As long as it's better than Romero's last undead epic, Day of the Dead, it's all good. Also, the Dawn remake was the last movie I saw at the historic Biograph Theatre, which closed this fall and will be rebuilt as a live-theatre venue. Fare thee well, Biograph: Your seats always made my ass ache, but I'll miss you anyway.

Hellboy Do I give a shit about one CGI-animated beastie dicksmacking another CGI-animated beastie? Not really.

Van Helsing It's never a good sign when a movie actually becomes less interesting and exciting when the title character shows up, but that's exactly what happens in Van Helsing, which starts off with a neat black-and-white tribute to the classic Universal horror films of the '30s (which also effectively hides the abundant CGI effects employed), then spends the next 90 minutes or so pissing all over the memory of said classics. And Kate Beckinsale? Some of us love pale women with flat chests and thin upper lips. We really do. The plastic surgeon is not always your friend.

Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban I've yet to read even one of J.K. Rowling's best-sellers, yet I continue to be entertained by the movies made from them--maybe because the writers and directors and actors can be bothered to, y'know, tell stories and develop characters we give half a shit about, instead of letting the special effects tell the "story" for them.

Spider-Man 2 I liked Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) better in this sequel than I did the Green Goblin in the first movie (he looked way too much like a Power Rangers villain). But Kirsten Dunst? Put a bra on, girl. Those babies'll be hitting your knees soon, and you're way too young for that.

De-Lovely While it's nice to have a biopic that puts Porter's songs back in the foreground with popular stars performing them (Robbie Williams, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Sheryl Crow, etc.) and deals (albeit opaquely) with Porter's sexuality, the whole framing device of the play about Porter's life being viewed by its subject essentially from the afterlife bugged. (I understand that Kevin Spacey's Beyond the Sea employs essentially the same device to tell the story of Bobby Darrin. I'm sure it'll bug me there, too.) And Ashley Judd can't sing very well, but it's great to see her in a movie without a serial killer in sight.

The Village It would be interesting to see a movie directed by M. Night Shymalan in which he didn't devote so much time and energy to skull-fucking his audience--he's obviously got the talent to do much more. As it is, though, he tries to spring a surprise ending on his audience yet again, and that act is getting very old very quickly, especially if you can figure out the twist long before it gets there (and I did).

Alien vs. Predator After the relative success of 2003's Freddy vs. Jason, this movie tried to turn the same trick--reviving two all-but-dead movie franchises. It doesn't succeed. It's dull and dark (literally) and not nearly as much fun as you'd expect. Then again, it's directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who helmed the humorless and boring Resident Evil, so what did I expect? Something better than I got, that's all.

Little Black Book What the hell was I doing watching a romantic comedy after all my recent conflagrations? Hell if I know. But as manufactured and unreal as the plot is and how little effort is made to establish the central romantic relationship, at least Brittany Murphy is cute and charming and would probably be fun to watch in a better movie. I'll say this much, though: The twist ending did indeed come as a complete surprise and almost won me over to liking the movie as a whole. Almost.

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid Was anybody asking for this "sequel," which doesn't feature even a single carryover character from the original? Even KaDee Strickland fans? Really?

Exorcist: The Beginning Paul Schrader wrote and directed his version of this prequel to William Peter Blatty's original story and turned it in to the studio, which hated it so much that they hired Renny Harlin to direct a completely different version. And that story is much more interesting and entertaining than anything in Harlin's version, which consistently confuses "grossout" with "frightening." I hope we get to see Schrader's version someday--it can't be as bad as what was actually released...can it?

Resident Evil: Apocalypse Okay, I have to be honest: I expected to hate this movie as much as I hated the original. But you know what? I actually kind of enjoyed it--at least a good deal more than I expected to--mostly because this film is intentionally funny, while the first film was almost entirely devoid of humor. The editing of the fight scenes is dreadful, though--you barely make out who's fighting or why. And Milla Jovovich plus Naked equals Ed's Ass in a Theatre Seat.

Hero Unspeakably pretty. Unbelievably graceful in the movement of its fight scenes. Excruciatingly slow in the development of many of its dramatic scenes, all of which go on two or three beats longer than they need to. But who gives a fuck when it all looks so damn good? I do.

Shaun of the Dead It's been way too long since we had an effective, funny, disgusting zombie comedy. So here it is--on the surface, an homage to George Romero movies, but with its own social commentary to make. It's always a good sign when the movie ends and you're sorry that it has.

Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow One of the most brilliantly art directed movies in the history of the medium, to be sure. But art direction doesn't take the place of storytelling, and Sky Captain has very little story to tell, and what it does have is lifted from earlier, better movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Rocketeer. Angelina Jolie, despite having her famous, fabulous lips featured prominently in the advertising, has little more than a slightly extended cameo. And wasn't there a living actor available to play the villain, instead of dragging Laurence Olivier's corpse back via digital hokus-pokus, or did director Kerry Conrab do it just because he bloody well could?

The Incredibles It wasn't as, well, incredible as any of Pixar's earlier efforts, like Finding Nemo or either of the Toy Story movies, but The Incredibles is still pretty damn fun, even if it's basically The Fantastic Four with slightly switched-around powers. (Guess than Fantastic Four film due for release this year is just about redundant now.)

The Grudge Once you figure out what The Grudge is about--anybody who has spent even, say, five seconds in this haunted house is gonna diediedie--things get pretty dull, even if there is something popping up--a spectral child, hair snaking across the ceiling, KaDee Strickland (yes, I'm crushing on her right now--your point?)--to keep the viewer awake.

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events If, by "Unfortunate," you mean "a movie starring Jim Carrey," you're correct. His mugging, prancing and preening yanked me out of every scene he was in as Count Olaf by the scruff of my neck. And while I get that he's playing a ham actor (Carrey plays three parts and is much easier to take when playing someone other than Count Olaf) who enjoys murdering people, especially if it makes him insanely wealthy, couldn't somebody--the director, maybe?--have handed Jim a script and made him stick to it? I have to say, though, that the animated end credits are amazing--I could have gone for a whole movie that looked exactly like that, especially as that would have meant 300 percent less Jim Carrey.

Now, I realize how harsh some of my assessments above sound. And I enjoyed some of the movies above more than you'd think, truly. But I must confess that I'm tired of movies in which technology takes the place of storytelling, movies that exist just because the movie before it did well or because they might sell okay on DVD, movies that do nothing but suck nine dollars or so out of my wallet without giving me anything in return but a ringing headache.

Here's to hoping that 2005 is a better year--in oh, so many ways.