Thinking as a Hobby
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2005-01-03 11:19 AM
2004 in Film
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I saw 23 new releases this year. Here are my assessments. Conveniently, they break down nicely into 10 liked, 10 disliked, and 3 utterly reviled. Each category is ordered by release date. Warning: some spoilers ahead.
Here you go:
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I had never been a big fan of Charlie Kaufman's stuff. Thought Being John Malkovich was self-referential, masturbatory cuteness. Same for Adaptation. But here he actually tells a story. A melancholy and beautiful one.
Thoroughly enjoyed Mike Mignola's comics, and thought they'd screw this up. I'm also not a big fan of Ron Perlman. But damned if they didn't do a fine job capturing both the look and feel, but spirit of Mignola's work.
Kill Bill Vol. 2
Gritty and goofy ass-kicking fun. Wondered how Tarantino was going to write Uma out of being buried alive. Why, she'll punch through the wood and dig her way out the grave, of course. Great stuff.
The only real documentary I saw this year, and it was a good one. A fair (shall I even say "balanced"?) look at al Jazeera. Most of their staff openly express a desire for the US to fail in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the key moment in the film is when one of their top people looks into the camera and says he'd take a job with Fox in heartbeat, "because I'd like for my kids to grow up in the United States, and go to good schools".
Silly and broad in many ways, but perfectly captured the comic book feel, the over-the-top energy and action. Not much logic and lots of stereotyped human behavior, but also lots of great action, humor, and some real pathos.
The stuff between his dad and him didn't really work for me, but everything else did. Sad and funny, a great little movie.
The characters were contemptible, and the ending was strained and unbelievable (I can see these characters ending in divorce in, oh, two more years). But the movie was still pretty damned funny.
Team America: World Police
Misfires on many levels, as I wrote before...especially when it comes to lampooning liberalism. But it hits enough to be funny at times, enough to recommend it. I wrote about it here.
No doubts here, though. This one fired on all cylinders. Great movie. My one reservation is about the cavalier treatment of death in the film, but that's a minor quibble compared to its virtues. More here.
Not great, but solid. Makes you think, not just about sex, but about objectivity and responsibility. I think the biopic is an inherently flawed format, but there's enough in here to recommend. More here.
Indie film with 4 short stories about robots, sort of. The stories ranged from the silly to, well, the sillier. Amateurish and boorish.
Actually a lot better than I thought it would be, but still a stinker. I thought the direction, filming on a stage with drawn-in props, was actually pretty interesting and compelling. I wrote more about it here.
David Mamet has written some brilliant stuff, and some stuff that utterly falls flat. This one is oddly compelling, despite some just bizarre dialog scattered throughout. But it falls apart by the end.
Man on Fire
Stylized Death Wish-style movie from Tony Scott. I think this movie might have actually worked if they had edited about 45 minutes out of it.
Coffee and Cigarettes
Ponderous string of pointless vignettes. Would have been okay if taken individually they were even interesting. Not very, though.
Better than I thought it would be, but I had very low expectations. Still not a good movie. Will Smith's character is a silly cop-who-doesn't-play-by-the-rules character, and another one of those sci-fi heroes who pines for antiquated technology. But the big flaw is the plot, a horrible, over-complicated mess. More here.
I'm a big fan of Michael Mann, from Miami Vice to Thief (soundtrack by Tangerine Dream!) to Manhunter to Heat. This one was, alas, a disappointment. As some critics have pointed out, it's a great first half of a movie. Mesmerizing Mann at his best. He gets cool. He captures cities at night better than anybody in film history. The scene in the jazz bar is great. Then in the third act it devolves into cliched crap. And we're supposed to believe that a taxi driver can go toe-to-toe with Cruise's badass uber-assassin. Um, no.
Never read the book, but the movie was an excruciating mess. Avoid.
Just saw this one. Most critics liked it, but it was too incoherent for me. Hughes comes off as a complete enigma, despite the film's best efforts to simplify and compartmentalize his life. I just don't think people's lives fit on a screen...pick a significant event or two and go with it. Film's that try to cover 20 or more years of a person's life inevitably feel forced and artificial. And Hughes' life was so seemingly outlandish to begin with that it seems even more artificial on the screen. Cate Blanchett doing Katherine Hepburn was distracting, and their chemistry was just plain awful. The film intermittantly treats Hughes as some sort of visionary crusader and a flat-out wiggy nutjob, but the movie's failing is that he never seems real.
So this one not too long ago as well. What a mess. I was actually thinking it wasn't half bad until the whole Julia Roberts playing a character who looks like Julia Roberts who pretends to be her to...oh fuck it.
The Fuggin' Ugly
The Passion of the Christ
The word "gratuitous" just doesn't do it justice. More here.
I've already spilled too much ink on this piece of disingenous bile. Here was the last post on it.
I've written a lot on this one too. Here's my first post on it.
There were some very good films this year, and of course, some very awful ones. The worst of the worst were the three most polemical, which I guess shouldn't be a surprise. No doubt many of you will disagree with me (wouldn't be any fun if you didn't, right?).
Anyway, if you haven't seen any of these films, start with the good ones, then the ugly (at least they're interesting). Avoid the bad, except for perhaps Dogville, which is bad in pretty interesting ways.
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