Moriarty's End Of Summer Round-Up! ANACONDAS! AvsP! I ROBOT! And More!
Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
Well, shit. Summer’s over. On the one hand, I’m looking forward to the fall movie season. The few films I’ve already seen seem to indicate that we’re in for a pretty interesting run of pictures between now and 2005.
On the other hand, I love the summer. Maybe it’s a holdover from being a kid and thinking of this as time off. True, I’ve been busy rewriting two scripts all summer, but in a lot of ways, I checked out sometime around May and just let myself enjoy as much free time as possible. When I realized summer was coming to a close, my friends and I decided to plan one last summer moviegoing event where we could all get together, a bookend to our HARRY POTTER trip earlier in the year. And what better place for that than the drive-in?
My buddy Jack helped put this together as well as our friend Tim, both of them thankfully busting ass to organize things, and the result was a great evening out. There’s only one drive-in still open in the immediate area, and we’ve been down there before a few summers ago for EIGHT-LEGGED FREAKS. I figure if you’re going to go to the drive-in, you don’t go for introspective character dramas. No... you go for cheesy giant monster movies, films you and your friends can enjoy as a group and razz when they get lousy. That’s why a group of about 55 cars assembled last Saturday night at The Vineland Drive-In for a showing of ANACONDAS: THE HUNT FOR THE BLOOD ORCHID.
The Vineland is east of Los Angeles, a straight shot out the 10 freeway, and the weather couldn’t have been any nicer when we all arrived around 7:00 on Saturday night. This is an old-fashioned drive-in, complete with a snack bar that will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a time-warp. One of the great draws in going to a drive-in is the nostalgia factor, and the Vineland will satisfy that urge in spades. We staked out a section of the parking lot in front of the screen, and then everyone got out of their cars and started to socialize. As we watched everyone else arrive and saw families setting up lawn chairs or opening up the backs of station wagons so kids in pajamas could bundle up comfortably and watch, it was obvious that this is a social experience in a way that regular moviegoing can’t be. Sound and projection at a drive-in can’t possibly compare to something like the Arclight on a technical level, but then again, you can’t bring a cooler full of beer and milanesa sandwiches to the Arclight, can you?
ANACONDAS is, as expected, fairly rotten, but it’s a harmless sort of bad movie, totally free of pretension. The biggest complaint I had was that there just isn’t enough giant snake. If I go see a film called ANACONDAS, I’m not interested in corporate intrigue or the race to create new pharmaceuticals. I want giant snakes eating people, and plenty of them. I’ll give director Dwight Little bonus points for his use of the monkey... you can’t go too wrong with a monkey co-starring... but it’s obvious that he was limited by his budget to just a few money shots. The ensemble cast is eminently forgettable with the possible exception of cute-as-a-button Georgia peach Kaydee Strickland. Overall, it was perfect for the evening, and we had exactly the kind of fun we hoped we would have.
The second feature for the evening was another horror film, LITTLE BLACK BOOK, but I don’t think any of it paid it much attention. Instead, we chose to stand around and chat. One of the subjects of conversation was the rest of the summer movie season, sparked by the films we could see playing on the other screens at the Vineland. Looking back at it, 2004 feels like one of the most anemic summers in recent memory with a few big exceptions. There were numerous films I never got around to seeing like TROY or KING ARTHUR or THUNDERBIRDS, titles I’ll probably catch up with on DVD. That means for now, I can’t say how I feel about EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING or MEAN GIRLS or AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS. I’ve seen 73 new releases so far this year, well over one a week, and many of them have been smaller arthouse titles. Even so, I missed films I was interested in like HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD or A DOOR IN THE FLOOR or NAPOLEON DYNAMITE.
There were several films I saw this summer that I never quite got around to reviewing for one reason or another, so while we’re saying goodbye to the season, I thought I’d finally weigh in on a few of them. Maybe the most discussed title that I never reviewed was Michael Moore’s FAHRENHEIT 9/11. After seeing how ugly every conversation about the movie got in our TalkBacks, I just didn’t want to add to the divisive mood of the moment. Now a little time’s passed, and I wanted to weigh in on the film without getting into the politics, if that’s even possible. I’ve gone on record before about my problems with Moore as a filmmaker, and they were amplified by his sudden anointment as Liberal Dragonslayer Supreme. I think his faults as a filmmaker, and his strengths, seemed more obvious than ever with this film. Maybe it was the telescoped production schedule or the fact that, more than any high-profile documentary in recent memory, this was a film that set out with a specific agenda, process be damned. The best way to judge the success of the film is seeing how well it accomplishes its goals and how skilled Moore is at making his arguments.
On that level, I think the film’s about half successful. The first half of the film, the direct character attack on George W. Bush, hits just as many targets as it misses, and it plays sloppy overall. I’ve read most of the same sources he seems to have drawn on in constructing his portrait of cowardice and corruption, and most of it managed to make the same points better. Overall, Moore makes tenuous connections that he never quite manages to support, and he makes the cardinal mistke of getting emotional about the subject matter when he should be dealing in cold hard fact. Oddly, that’s why the second half of the film works better. Moore personalizes the war in Iraq through the story of Lila Lipscomb, a long-time conservative supporter of war and the military who has her belief system rocked when she loses her son. There’s some real power to this material, and Moore wisely dedicates a fair amount of screen time to her. In the end, though, I’m betting this film just won’t have much of a shelf life. It very much feels like a movie designed for a particular moment, and in the future, its primary value will be as a record of just how angry and betrayed a section of our culture felt in the wake of one of our darkest national moments.
And, no, I don’t mean ALIEN VS. PREDATOR.
What mystifies me most about the complete and utter failure of Paul W.S. Anderson’s seprequel is just how easy the film should have been. For anyone. I’m not going to lambast the guy personally or pick on him to belabor the point. Why bother? He managed to take two of the greatest SF franchises of all time and produce a film that doesn’t introduce a single fresh idea or add anything to the mythology around either iconic character. Even the weakest of the previous ALIEN movies managed to twist the series in new directions, and PREDATOR 2 may not be great, but it certainly wasn’t a simple rehash of the original. Even more incredibly, AVP actually manages to contradict what we already know about these movie monsters with an almost geelful disregard. Everything about the movie feels lowball, from the casting to the production design to the visual effects to Lance Henriksen’s “I have a mortgage payment” cameo. There’s one shot in the whole film that I thought was genuinely thrilling and inventive, but it was pointed out to me as we were leaving the theater that it is a direct lift from JURASSIC PARK, the exact same composition as the T-Rex chasing the Jeep. I’ve never been convinced that this head-to-head team-up was anything more than a desperate cash grab, a way of squeezing a little more cash out of each series, but I never expected to be so completely and utterly bored by the results.
Lowered expectations may have actually enhanced my experience with Fox’s other big SF summer film. I heard months of horror stories about I, ROBOT. I heard rumors about Alex Proyas being locked out of the editing room. I heard that the script ignored the work of Isaac Asimov. So when I walked into the theater having heard all of that and having seen the disappointing trailers, I hardly expected anything. I was surprised, then, to enjoy the picture as a decent SF thriller/mystery with a sharp visual style. I have no idea if Proyas lost control of this film during post-production or not, but he certainly left his signature on the movie. He’s inventive and smart and manages to gloss over the goofiest moments in the serviceable script by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman with remarkable aplomb.
In the meantime, what can you say about the problem that is Will Smith? Somewhere along the way, he made the choice that he is more comfortable as a movie star than as an actor. When he chooses to immerse himself in character work, as in ALI, he’s impressive, no question about it. But for the most part, he coasts on one-note performances, letting his Big Willie persona do all the work. He doesn’t stink in I, ROBOT, but he also doesn’t distinguish himself in any way. It’s just more of the same. That’s also true of Bruce Greenwood, a damn fine character actor who can be boring as shit when playing generic bad guy roles. Ultimately, there’s only one truly interesting performance in the film. Alan Tudyk, who gave one of the year’s most painfully miscalculated performances as the pirate guy in DODGEBALL, does wonderful work here as Sonny, the main robot character in the film. Production designer Patrick Tatopoulos may have seen Bjork’s “All Is Full Of Love” video a few too many times, but Weta Digital and Digital Domain brought Sonny to life, giving completely convincing form to the work by Tudyk. Like with Gollum, this is a major step forward in terms of motion-capture performing, and the combination of actor and artists managed to give this ROBOT a soul.
Will Smith’s ALI co-star and director, as well as his real-life wife, gave us the summer’s most soulful big-studio picture, and perhaps that’s because it feels more like an indie, a personal picture that just happens to feature the biggest movie star on the planet. I read an early draft by Stuart Beattie of COLLATERAL a few years ago, and at that point, it seemed like a perfectly acceptable little thriller with a great hook. A hired killer forces a cab driver to accompany him on his rounds one evening. Easy enough. What director Michael Mann and uncredited script doctor Frank Darabont brought to the picture is a beating heart, a real sense of life. Jamie Foxx is flat-out great in the lead, and one of my favorite scenes in the film is the quiet cab ride at the beginning. I don’t think I’ve ever liked Jada-Pinkett Smith so much in any film, but she and Foxx get their flirt on in such a real, adult, honest way that it left me completely invested for the rest of the film. Tom Cruise also seemed energized here, connected to the rest of the cast, fully invested in his role as the ruthless hit man. It’s a simple propulsive premise, and Michael Mann wrings every bit of potential suspense out of the set-up.
What makes COLLATERAL important, and more than just another summer thriller, is the spectacular cinematography, most of which is digital instead of film. Ten years from now, when studio pictures are routinely shot in hi-def, this is going to be the landmark people point at, the moment where it became possible. Both credited directors of photography were instrumental in pulling it off, but there’s no mistaking the work of Michael Mann here. He pushed this particular envelope with his short-lived network series ROBBERY HOMICIDE DIVISION, also shot in hi-def. It’s obviously a preoccupation of his. The way he’s captured Los Angeles is incredible. Finally, here’s a film that eschews all the clichÃ©s about wet streets and palm trees in favor of the peculiar hypnotic beauty you see when you’re really here. The film’s next-to-last set piece, the gunfight in the darkened office, would be impossible to realize on film. It’s the kind of imagery that you might not even realize is revolutionary when you’re looking at it. But it is. COLLATERAL may not be the best film of the year, but it’s on the short list for most significant.
OPEN WATER, on the other hand, is exactly what most people are still afraid of when they hear that a film’s been shot using video. The first ten minutes of the movie look like it could erupt into a porno at any time. It’s not particularly well-written or well-crafted by writer/director Chris Kentis, but it was well-cast. Blanchard Ryan, in particular, deserves to move on to bigger and better things. Essentially, this is a two-person picture, and her co-star Daniel Travis does solid work as well. As with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, your tolerance for this film will largely depend on how interested you are in these characters as they deal with their horrible situation, and since they weren’t written very deep, it’s up to the actors to make them as likeable as possible. Once Susan and Daniel are stranded in the middle of the ocean, there’s a certain amount of repetition that sets in. There are some moments of undeniable tension that work on a primal level, and any nightmare you’ve ever had about what might be lurking below the waves will be tapped into by certain scenes. I’ll give the film credit for staying bleak right up to its jet-black final joke. I just wish the film was more than a collection of occasionally effective bits and pieces.
By contrast, GARDEN STATE is an episodic film that somehow adds up to a cohesive and satisfying whole. I’m not sure why I waited as long as I did to see Zach Braff’s debut as a writer/director. I liked the trailers, thought they were striking. I guess I just expected a vanity piece.
Instead, Braff’s created something that manages to be hyperstylized and honest in equal measures, quirky yet emotionally direct. Braff plays Andrew Largeman, an actor in Los Angeles who’s had a couple of minor successes, but who now finds himself working as a waiter at a Vietnamese-themed restaurant. He spends most of his time comfortably numb thanks to dozens of mood-controlling drugs prescribed by his father (Ian Holm). His routine is disrupted when he gets a call to come home to New Jersey. His mother has died. Andrew’s time at home becomes more about reconnecting with himself than with his emotionally distant father. He stops taking his drugs, hoping for some catharsis about his mother. What ultimately opens his heart, though, is his chance meeting with an adorable eccentric named Sam, played by Natalie Portman. If you’ve ever wanted proof about the fickle nature of her talent, this would be it. When she seems passionate about a film, she is able to summon all the charm and vitality that her early work promised. Peter Sarsgaard continues his winning streak as one of Andrew’s small-town friends, now employed as a gravedigger. Is Braff deeply in love with THE GRADUATE and HAROLD & MAUDE? Obviously. Is that a bad thing? Not at all. He’s got his own original comic sensibility that feels fresh and unforced, and when the sentiment finally comes, it feels earned. Also, anyone who can put together a soundtrack this effortlessly dreamy gets bonus points. I walked straight out of the Arclight and into Amoeba Records, and the CD stayed in my car’s player for a week straight. If you’re looking for something to hold you over until the serious fall season gets underway, a trip to GARDEN STATE might be exactly what you need.
So that’s it. Goodbye, Summer 2004. Based on how well our trip went last week, I may actually look into organizing some official AICN events at the Vineland Drive-In. It would be a great way to enjoy an evening with local readers. For now, it’s time to start thinking about what’s coming out for the rest of the year. Look for reports soon about KINSEY, THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES, ALFIE, and a quartet of micro-budget marvels. Until then...
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Sept. 7, 2004, 5:02 a.m. CST
by Peter Venkman
I was underwhelmed by this. I felt it was trying too hard to be quirky and that worked against it, when the story and the main characters were great. The guy who played the millionaire friend was a terrible actor and ruined every scene he was in. The overlong trip to the Ark was pointless and dragged along. Natalie Portman, contrary to Moriarty, wasn't charming as much as she was annoying. As bizzare as this sounds, as hot as she is, she has not one ounce of sexual charisma. Maybe I'm being too hard, becuase there is a lot to like in this movie-the visuals, the music and a few truly great moments. But I still think too many scenes were "overdoing" it. i.e. the party scene.
Sept. 7, 2004, 5:46 a.m. CST
That may be the best segue evah on this site
Sept. 7, 2004, 6:58 a.m. CST
was better than i was expecting it to be. actually i wasn't expecting anything because i watched it on a plane and didn't know tina fey from fay wong. i thought tina fey was some hot half asian chick. only later did i find out she was a comedian on SNL. and Lindsay Lohan had better make the most of her career now cause in about 4years she is gonna be one mighty big lass! highlights: the school principal cracked me up and the darker moments eased the pain of sitting on a plane for 12hours.
Sept. 7, 2004, 7:41 a.m. CST
Hey, I'll admit Hero is more original, it's better filmed, and for all its pedestrian dialogue, it's probably better written too, but the story is hollow, dull, and couldn't back up its fantastic visuals, not to mention it features one of the lamest fucking attempts I've ever seen at making a villain seem symathetic. The emperor kills hundreds upon hundreds of people, but it's all for the greater good of the land, so the end justifies the means? And the namesless guy actually BELIEVES him!? And they say AVP insults the audience's intelligence! For all its flaws, AVP looked fantastic and kept my attention for the full 100 minutes and more than gave me my money's worth. So much fun I saw it twice. Paid both times. You wonder how Paul W.S. Anderson could possibly screw up something as simple as Alien Vs. Predator? My answer: he didn't. Bite me, haters.
Sept. 7, 2004, 9:12 a.m. CST
on a couple things which scares me. My take on Michael Moore is he is a man with his heart in the right place, but he pushes the truth envelope too much. Also Open Water was a letdown. It was cool that they did it with actual sharks, but it was just kind of flat.
Sept. 7, 2004, 12:48 p.m. CST
...just wait until late February 2006 when Fox presents: "Aliens vs Predator vs Robocop"! From an original screenplay by Alan Smithee! Starring David Boreanaz! Lance Henrikson in a five second flashback! Some chick that was in FHM! The finest, cheapest CGI money can buy! And a guy with a jawline vaguely similar to Peter Weller's as... Robocop! There won't be a dry seat in the house when the fanboy's catch a glimpse of Robert Patrick's surprise cameo which perfectly sets up the series for a third franchise crossover! But will it be "Terminator," "X-Files"... or "Double Dragon"?!?! sk
Sept. 7, 2004, 12:49 p.m. CST
by I Like Batman
Moriarty, are you still planning on reviewing the Fantastic Four script you mentioned a while ago? I need my fears assuaged! That whole "Victor van Damme" thing really shook my confidence in the project.
Sept. 7, 2004, 1 p.m. CST
Sept. 7, 2004, 1:43 p.m. CST
You must go watch the Door in the Floor followed by Napoleon Dynomite forth with! These are probably the two best movies I've seen this year. Far superior to tripe like A vs P and such. Go now...hurry!
Sept. 7, 2004, 1:43 p.m. CST
by Don Lockwood
Collateral may end up being an important movie visually, but it just doesn't hold up at all storywise. When you first see it and you're in that moment, it seems to be a really good film but afterwards, on reflection, it just falls completely apart from the premise on. I have to say, though, Jamie Foxx was great and I'm really looking forward to seeing Ray. From the trailers I've seen, he's gonna be Oscar nominated come February.
Sept. 7, 2004, 2:04 p.m. CST
This is one of those films, while clearly a teenaged chick flick, that I went to see with my girlfriend and an open mind. I mean, not every film has to be my exact taste for it to be good, right? But I found myself just hating the moral of the story.... Mean girls are mean, and if everyone was jut nice to each other it wouldn't be a problem.... What? Um, no. Nice thought maybe, but it will never happen. Maybe mean girls (and boys) are just a fact of the world, and maybe you should get thicker skin! Yeah, I know "wanhh wanhh, my poor childhood!", but did you ever stop to consider that it might have made you a better person? Also, one of the hooks of the movie was that it was sincere and honest, but when the school erupted into an unlikely girls brawl over pages scattered from a hate book, I completely zoned out.... It was totally unrealistic.
Sept. 7, 2004, 2:26 p.m. CST
I'm disappointed "Open Water" didn't erupt into a porno, too, Drew.
Sept. 7, 2004, 3:06 p.m. CST
Although, I will give you this, when we first meet Portman's character I couldn't help but think "Well, I was hoping for more, but this is the best she's been in awhile". That all changed out at the pet graveyard. The second the camera goes back to her after she hears that Andrew's mother has died, just the look on her face made me exhale. There's Mathilde. There is that impossibly controlled emotive little girl that we all couldn't wait to see where she would go. No one, and i'm not making a generalization, i'm saying flat out NO ONE is better than she is at emoting. She makes Uma Thurman in "Kill Bill" look like a damn soap star. I'll grant you something else. She isn't God-I-want-to-bend-her-over-the-couch-and-make-her-beg-for-more sexy. But she is laying-in-bed-with-someone-late-in-the-morning sexy. There are a few films i'll defend to my last breath, "Garden State" is now of them.
Sept. 7, 2004, 3:25 p.m. CST
Yeah. As far as that goes, I'm a little puzzled too. I was under the impression that a script review was forthcoming, but now it seems to have dropped off of Mori's agenda; either that, or he feels it doesn't bear repeating. It's not a big deal if you don't, Mori (although I must confess I got excited when I heard the news), just wondering what the dilly-o.
Sept. 7, 2004, 3:34 p.m. CST
Let's hope the Wayans brothers fresh, satirical, cutting edge take on Forbidden Planet fares much better.
Sept. 7, 2004, 3:49 p.m. CST
thats about it. I can't believe I just lumped Alien vs. Predator and Farenheight 9/11 into the same subject, but what the hell. For my money, my top 3 movies of the summer were - Spider-Man 2, SuperSize Me & Harry Potter
Sept. 7, 2004, 4:39 p.m. CST
by Cash Bailey
And judging by the trailer it doesn't look to me like it was shot hi-def, it looks like it was shot on my Canon XL1S. Maybe the 35mm blow-up adds a heap of grain.
Sept. 7, 2004, 5:22 p.m. CST
... about Will Smith being in I Am Legend. Please? And Mori hasn't seen Napolean Dynamite? I thought that was a firing offence at AICN?
Sept. 7, 2004, 5:34 p.m. CST
by Ted Striker
Very nice piece, Drew. But, when a movie critic says in his review "you can
Sept. 7, 2004, 5:44 p.m. CST
by Ted Striker
I'm going to stand on my soap box so that maybe Spielberg will hear me (with Roger Ebert's help): Digital Video is going to RUIN film-making! Yes, I understand the upsides of Digital, but the DOWNSIDE is picture quality. The image quality is TERRIBLE compared to Film, and I'm not even a videophile. Collateral would look great on DVD, but as it stands from a theatrical 'big screen' perspective, it looks all washed out and grainy in a lot of scenes. That's video for ya. Come on Spielberg, I know you said you'd never stop shooting movies in film -- would you and Dreamworks PLEASE shoot a movie in MaxiVision48, as this technology is the only thing that will save film right now -- 48 frames per second of glorious HighResolution Film will be stunning next to any Digital Image ever made... But you must act FAST Spielberg, the Trade Federation has already blocked off trade routes to Naboo!
Sept. 7, 2004, 6:12 p.m. CST
Sept. 7, 2004, 6:15 p.m. CST
Tab, stupid, not return. Sorry bout that. Anyway, I didn't think a flight from Houston, TX to Anchorage, AK could get any longer. Boy was I wrong. The other bright spot besides the principle, was the mother of the head plastic
Sept. 7, 2004, 6:50 p.m. CST
by user id indeed!
That, Eternal Sunshine, Garden State, and Kill Bill v.2. DAMNIT, I loved Collateral. Vincent is the best movie hitman ever, second only to Leon. Jamie Foxx was amazing. The soundtrack is a new favorite of mine. The video was great. Jason Statham's role will be studied in film schools for centuries to come for his touching sincerity and breathtaking emoting. The club scene was a fucking punch in the solar plexus, and I loved it.
Sept. 7, 2004, 7:45 p.m. CST
i must concur with the opinions expressing collateral's brilliance. michael mann has a phenomenal knack for filming LA, both in this latest film and the under-rated heat. however, the weakest part of the film has got to be the digital filming. the blacks definitely were not as deep and warm as they would have been had traditional film been used. (since most of the movie takes place at night, this was especially noticeable.) and as someone else pointed out, the colors were also a bit washed out. still a four star film, though.
Sept. 7, 2004, 11:49 p.m. CST
To hell with all this Sturm undt Drang...when are they gonna remake "Crack in the World"!!! Now that was cinema. 7-11 slurpee straws are so wide now that you can snort your own farts! Whose as sick of superhero christ figures as I am? Okay, so it kinda worked in Spiderman 2 cause the big web spiner's such a nice guy y'know? Who here can say that they don't want to pound away on a big hairy spider? I wish they'ld finally turn FightClub into a Cartoon Network animation. What the fuck is wrong with those faggots?
Sept. 7, 2004, 11:53 p.m. CST
God I'm Drunk.
Sept. 8, 2004, 8:53 a.m. CST
Sept. 8, 2004, 11:14 a.m. CST
...avoid Thunderbirds at all costs. EVERYTHING that made the original cool has been abandonded in favor of making Spy Kids 4, albeit with cooler gadgets. Save your time for something more worthy. If fact, if you want a proper Thunderbirds movie, watch the dvd of "Thunderbirds Are Go" the 1966 theatrical movie. I'll let the final word on this go to a quote from my eight year old daughter who went with me to see it, thus proving that they miss the boat even with the target audience ....."they were cooler when they had strings".
Sept. 8, 2004, 5:44 p.m. CST
by andrew coleman
Also the debate is over there was one cool scene in AVP which was where the Alien stabbed the Predator and then brought it up face to face. That ruled, everything else blew. Napoleon Dynamite also sucked I think it's just one of those trendy movies like Blair Witch that everyone loves at first but then realize later they were wrong and the movie did suck. Garden State had its moments and I thought Hero was kick ass, even though I find it hilarious that hard core liberals like that movie because... Well whatever, DV looks crappy on the big screen, worked for Open Water and was cool in Collateral for like five minutes
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