2004 Movies (cont.)


Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees HHH

Presented in eye popping, vertigo-inducing Omnimax, this is a rough sketch of the work of zoologist Jane Goodall. From the early 60's to the present, this is a gorgeously shot movie by James Neihouse and Reed Smoot. David Lickley directs. Most notably is the shot of a tree illustrating the hierarchy of the monkeys, (just in case you missed that lesson from "The Planet of the Apes"). Don't forget to bring some Dramamine for the scenic flyovers.


Monster  HHH

Actress/Producer Charlize Theron turns in an Oscar-worthy performance as serial killer Aileen Carol Wuornos, as does Christina Ricci and Bruce Dern (not to mention makeup artist Toni G), Unfortunately; the surface of this real-life tragedy, in this rewritten account, is barely scratched. One questions writer/director Patty Jenkins' motivations for bringing such a project to the big screen. The actual mental illness of Aileen is never explored, as was the bizarreness of the trial. Is this the ultimate "woman-as-victim" film or just another showcase for Hollywood talent agents?  Rock group Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" will stick in your head days afterward.


My Architect: A Son's Journey HHH

When architect Louis Kahn died suddenly in a men's room at New York's Penn Station on March 17, 1974, he left a lot of unfinished business. This is his illegitimate son, Nathaniel's search to know more about his father. While creating some monumental works of architecture, he also kept three separate women. Along the way he meets fellow architects Phillip Johnson, I.M.Pei, and Robert A.M. Stern. Most memorable are Ed Bacon (still holding a grudge after 30 some years) and a tearful reunion with Robert Boudreau aboard a musical ship. It ends with a building in Budapest that Louis never saw completed. While the journey is fascinating, some editing is needed to keep things in perspective.


The Hunting of the President HHH

When former first lady Hillary Rodham-Clinton mentioned a vast right-winged conspiracy, she wasn’t kidding. This documentary by Nickolas Perry and Harry Thomason outlines the techniques and behind the scenes shenanigans used by some Neo-conservatives that prevailed for 10 years prior to and during the Clinton administration. Chilling is Susan McDougal’s story and her never ending wavering of telling the truth, despite a high cost to her marriage and freedom. Based on the book by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, this is one not to be missed.


Mona Lisa Smile HHH

I was more than surprised that this film received such savagery from the film critics.

A bohemian art history teacher (Julia Roberts) blows the 1950's conventions at Wellesley College. Granted that the scope of the characters is boiled down to a few stereotypes. I liked the fact that none of the usual Hollywood turn of events took place. Marsha Gay Harden delivers a memorable role as a woman trapped in the June Cleaver mode. Also featuring Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Dominic West, and Ginnifer Goodwin.


The Ladykillers HHH

The Coen Brothers (Ethan and Joel) share equal writer/directorship in their usual offbeat raconteuring. This time an old Baptist (Irma P. Hall) is invaded by a sweet-talking professor (Tom Hanks) who uses her home to practice classical music. His quartet includes a foul-mouthed janitor (Marlon Wayons), a mustached explosives expert (J.K. Simmons), suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a cunning Asiatic tunnel aficionado (Tzi Ma), and a complete massive buffoon (Ryan Hurst). It’s not music that’s their passion, but the riverboat casino they plan to rob via an underground tunnel. Don’t expect things to go as planned. A quirky story with some rather gratuitous foul language. See if you can spot Eddie Murphy.


Garden State HHH

This film tries too hard in each scene to be a little offbeat. When a young bi-polar disordered man (Zach Braff) returns home to his mother’s funeral, he confronts some of life’s lessons. Along the way he meets a young woman (Natalie Portman plying her stock in trade) and comes to term with his relationship with his father (Ian Holm). Despite it's over-the-top quirkiness (along with a gratuitous sex scene) it somehow works. Also starring Rob Leibman. Braff also wrote and directed this. I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future.


Windows HHH

Writer/director Peter Greenaway's 1975 4-minute short reads like a comedic actuary table. Views of beautiful windows are displayed whilst terrible misfortunes are read of those that have fallen out of windows accidentally.


The Polar Express HHH

Writer/director Robert Zemickis transforms Chris Van Allsburgís beautiful children's book into a hyperkinetic roller coaster ride. Using state-of-the-art "live capture", this is a strange amalgam of live action and computer animation. While there are plenty of references to "Forrest Gump", "Hello Dolly', "The Triplets of Belleville", "It's A Wonderful Life", and "Ice Age", this somehow is still eerie. A young boy boards a train going to the North Pole and befriends a girl, a lone kid looking like Haley Joel Osment, and a know-it-all, reminiscent of Corey Feldman. Tom Hanks provides the voices and body movements of five characters, while his former bosom buddy Peter Scolari gets in on the act. Despite defying physics and hypothermia, this is an amusing ride.


Bon Voyage HHH

This offbeat trip is a World War II comedy thatís quite stylish. A man is killed in the bedroom of a movie star diva (Isabelle Adjani). With the help of a friend (Yvan Attal) she tries to cover up the evidence. The plan go awry and he is caught red-handed. There's also a plot to smuggle heavy water out of Germany before the Nazis find it. This is a throwback to those comedies of the 1940's with enough levity to go around. Also starring Gerard Dépardieu, Peter Coyote, Virginie Ledoven, and Jean-Marc  Stehlé. Jean-Paul Rappeneau directed this quirky piece.


De-Lovely HH

Don’t confuse this with the 1946 film “Night and Day”. This updated biography reveals the hidden life and music of songwriter Cole Porter (Kevin Klein) and his wife Lucy (Ashley Judd). While the music is simply delightful and there are some fantastic shots, the flashbacks and ìAll that Jazzî type nuances with Jonathan Pryce disrupt the flow, there is plenty of fun to go around despite the clichéd interruptions. Lots of Porter songs sung by Robbie Williams, Elvis Costello, Natalie Cole, Cheryl Crow, and Diana Krall. Irwin Winkler directed this and should have cut a couple of numbers.


The Cooler HH

In this violent black comedy, William H. Macy portrays a gambler's bad luck charm in this feature directed by Wayne Kramer. He's under the servitude of a tyrannical casino owner (Alec Baldwin). Meanwhile, he falls in love with a cocktail waitress (Maria Bello). All goes well until his son (Shawn Hatsoy) and his wife (Estella Warren) pull a scam, then all hell breaks loose. The fast paced editing keeps one on edge, but the story never quite hits the jackpot.  Superb acting, but ya pays your money and takes your chances in seeing this. A jazzy score by Mark Isham is a winner.


Cold Mountain HH

Sadly, this adaptation of Charles Frazier's novel left me cold. From what I've seen so far, director Anthony Minghella's idea of romantic love is that first you have to leave the woman you love and then go through hell and high water to return, as in the 1996 Oscar winner "The English Patient". This time the setting is the US Civil War, as a roof builder (Jude Law) has a glass of cider with a North Carolina Belle named Ada (Nicole Kidman) and then marches off to fight those damn Yankees. After receiving a letter, he leaves the battlefield, to reconnect with his infatuation. As if fighting the North isn't bad enough, there are Southern deserter bounty hunters (Ray Walston and Charlie Hunnam) to contend with. Added to the mix are scenes of torture, rape, stabbings, and severe head wounds. Meanwhile back on the farm, Renée Zellweger (looking like former porn star Traci Lords) teaches Ada the farming ways. Unfortunately, the climax is revealed early on and by the time it occurs, you'll be ready to jump off this mountain. Also featuring Donald Sutherland, Natalie Portman, and Eileen Atkins (in the only believable role as an old mountain woman) in this overblown potboiler.


Something's Gotta Give HH

Unfortunately, it's the complete credibility of the plot. This movie appears to have been cast first, then written, as the leads become a parody of themselves. Here's the gist, a playboy (Jack Nicholson) is dating the daughter (Amanda Peet) of author (Diane Keaton). The playboy suffers a heart attack and is attended to by a physician (Keanu Reeves) who falls in love with the author. Director Nancy Meyer's saccarine screenplay would even make Frank Capra vomit. Sadly Frances McDormand is wasted.


Dogville H

Episode one of director/writer Lars von Trier's trilogy entitled “America-Land of Opportunities” is one of the most depressing and disturbing films ever. Imagine filming a stage play of “Our Town” and renaming it “Our Town from Hell”. A young woman (Nicole Kidman) seeks a safe haven after fleeing a gangster (James Caan). She is soon befriended by a young man (Paul Bettany) and accepted into the community. She is later exploited and betrayed by the entire townsfolk. With a star-studded cast including Lauren Bacall, Ben Gazzara, Philip Baker Hall (Mr. Bookman from "Seinfeld"), Udo Kier, Patricia Clarkson, Blair Brown, Cleo King, Zeljko Ivanek, Jeremy Davies, Chloë Sevigny, and Stellan Skarsgård; you'd expect some fine performances. Maybe so, but the stilted story narrated by an irritating John Hurt (who seems to enjoy saying Gooze-berries) is fairly flat in character development. If you do punish yourself by seeing this dog's breakfast, bring along an extra large cup of coffee to keep you awake for the first 2 hours of this 177-minute Grand Guignol. The only good out of this, is hearing Vivaldi's haunting “Cum dederit”.


Playtime H

I certainly didn’t get this 1967 re-release of writer/director/actor Jacques Tati’s magnum opus, restored in 70 mm with 4-track DTS (Digital Theater Systems) sound.  His famed character Monsieur Hulot (Tati) bumbles his way through a Mies Van Der Rohe hell grappling with modern technology. It all winds up in an upscale restaurant where the only gag that works is when Tati shatters the main glass door. Despite the stunning cinematography by Jean Badal and Andréas Winding, the art direction by Eugéne Roman and the jazzy score by Francis Lemarque, this is an absolute desolate mess! Perhaps LSD was required prior to viewing.


Bright Young Things H

Dull young things is more like it. If it weren't for the jazzy opening at a costume party, this pretentious work, by writer/director Stephen Fry, is one of most boring pieces ever to hit the cinema. This follows a group of young socialites and they go from one party to the next. When one of the characters sticks his head in the oven, you'll wish they all had so you could get home to do your laundry. Sure to cure insomnia. Stephen Campbell Moore, Emily Mortimer, James McAvoy, Michael Sheen and Fenella Woolgar make up this shallow lot.


Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy M

This satire on a 1970’s news team is an unmitigated nightmare. Writer/comedian Will Farrell’s idea of comedy is smarmy erections, sexist jokes, and one of the cruelest scenes I’ve ever witnessed; in which is a small dog is kicked off a bridge. Director Adam McKay co-wrote this garbage. Catchy 70’s pop tunes are thrown in to mask the horror on the screen.  How they roped Tim Robbins and Fred Willard into this, and got legendary Bill Curtis to narrate is beyond me. Christina Applegate co-stars as the love interest (I think).


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© 2004 David Burnham


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