Monthly Archives: May 2001

Pearl Harbor (2001)

It turns out we went to war in 1941 not because of Japanese aggression, Hitler’s dominance in Europe, or the protection of freedom and democracy. Sorry kids. The real reason we went to war was to complicate and then clear up Kate Beckinsale’s love life. At least that’s what director Michael Bay and screenwriter Randall Wallace would tell you with their indulgent epic Pearl Harbor.

We open in Tennessee in the 20s with two boys who dream of being pilots. Rafe (Ben Affleck) and Danny (Josh Hartnett) grow into strapping young lads who flash their hot dog flyin’ skills at basic training, which brings them chagrin from superiors but admiration from peers. Rafe falls in love with a young nurse named Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale), who goes against ARMY rule and passes Rafe in his eye exam portion when he has a slight case of dyslexia. But he’s just so cuuuute. The romance builds but Rafe feels like he’s grounded when all he wants to do is fly, and volunteers to fight in the RAF over in Europe. He promises he’ll be back to see his lovely Evelyn. Of course he gets into an accident and everyone assumes that poor dyslexic Rafe is fertilizing a lawn somewhere with his remains. Hence Danny slowly but surely develops something for Evelyn in their periods of mourning, and the two consummate their puppy love with a tango in parachute sheets.

All seems well until Rafe returns back from the dead throwing a wrench into Evelyn’s second date parachute plans. Thus the Hollywood favorite of the love triangle endures until the end when the two fly boys enlist in the Doolittle attack against Japan, months after the ferocious attack on Pearl Harbor. The real purpose of the Doolittle attack was not militarily, but merely for morale. The real purpose it serves in the movie is to shave off an end on our love triangle.

Pearl Harbor allows us to follow a group of youthful and innocent starry-eyed kids from training to combat. Each seems pretty much exactly the same to each other. It’s near impossible to distinguish which character is which. It’s like the screenwriter didn’t even have the gall to resort to cliche supporting character roles, and he just made one character and duplicated it. The only one who was noticeable for me was the character of Red (Ewen Bremner, julien donkey boy himself), but that was simply because the man had a speech impediment. We also have our handful of young nurses alongside Beckinsale, and I had an easier time distinguishing between them; everyone had different hair colors.

]If you look in the pic, or the credits, you’ll see that two of the nurses would turn out to be Jennifer Garner (Alias) and Sara Rue (Less than Perfect), both stars of ABC shows, and ABC is owned by, yep, Disney. Coincidence? Probably. When they ran this on TV they actually advertised Jennifer Garner above Kate Beckinsale. That reminded me of when Seven ran on TV shortly after Kevin Spacey had won his well-deserved 1999 Best Actor Oscar for American Beauty, and they gave him second-billing in the advertisement over Morgan Freeman, the movie’s true main character.

Affleck has a hayseed Southern twang, but seems to mysteriously disappear for long stretches. Hartnett seems to talk with a deep creak, like a door desperately trying to be pushed open. Beckinsale manages to do okay with her material, but more magnificently manages to never smear a drop of that lipstick of hers during the entire war. We could learn a lot from her smear-defying efforts. Gooding Jr. is pretty much given nothing to work with. I’m just eternally grateful he didn’t go into a usual Cuba frenzy when he shot down a Zero.

Michael Bay has brought us the ADD screenings that are the past, loud hits of The Rock and Armageddon. Teamed up with his overactive man-child producer Jerry Bruckheimer once more, Pearl Harbor is less Bay restrained to work on narrative film as it is Bay free-wheeling. His camera is loose and zig-zagging once more to a thousand edits and explosions. Bay is a child at heart that just loves to see things explode. When he should show patience and restraint he decides to just go for the gusto and make everything as pretty or explosive as possible. This is not a mature filmmaker.

Despite the sledge hammer of bad reviews, Pearl Harbor is not as bad as it has been made out to be. The love story is inept and the acting is sleep-inducing, unless when it’s just funny. It doesn’t start off too badly, but twenty minutes in the movie begins sinking. The centerpiece of the film is the actual Pearl Harbor bombing that clocks in after ninety minutes of the movie. The forty-minute attack sequence is something to behold. The pacing is good and the action is exciting with some fantastic special effects. The movie is bloated with a running time a small bit over three hours total. Maybe, if they left the first twenty minutes in, then gave us the forty minute attack sequence, followed by a subsequent five minute ending to clear up our love triangle’s loose ends… why we’d have an 80 minute blockbuster!

Pearl Harbor doesn’t demonize the Japanese, but it feels rather false with their open-minded attempts to show both sides as fair minded. It gets to the point where they keep pushing the Japanese further into less of a bad light that it feels incredibly manipulative and just insulting. It seems like the producers really didn’t want to offend any potential Pacific ticket buyers so the picture bends backwards to not be insulting. The only people who could be offended by Pearl Harbor are those who enjoy good stories. Oh yeah, and war veterans too.

The cast of Pearl Harbor almost reads like another Hollywood 40s war movie where all the big stars had small roles throughout, kind of like The Longest Day for the Pepsi generation. Alec Baldwin plays General Doolittle and is given the worst lines in the film to say. Tom Sizemore shows up as a sergeant ready to train the men entering Pearl Harbor. He has five minutes of screen time but does manage to kill people in that short window. Dan Akroyd is in this for some reason or other, likely because Blues Brothers 3000 has yet to be green lighted. John Voight is easily the most entertaining actor to watch in the entire film. He gives a very authentic portrayal of President Roosevelt. I still find trouble believing it was Voight under the makeup.

The blueprint for Pearl Harbor is so transparent. They took the Titanic formula of setting a fictional romance against a disaster, with the first half establishing characters and our love story, and then relegating the second half to dealing with the aftermath of the disaster. It worked in Titanic (yes, I liked the film for the most part), but it doesn’t work here. Pearl Harbor is a passable film, but the mediocre acting, inept romance, square writing, and slack pacing stop it from being anything more. Fans of war epics might find more to enjoy, especially if they don’t regularly have quibbles over things like “characters” and “plot.” To paraphrase that know-it-all Shakespeare: “Pearl Harbor is a tale told by an idiot. It is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Nate’s Grade: C

Reviewed 20 years later as part of the “Reviews Re-View: 2001” article.

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Director Baz Luhrmann’s last project was the MTV-friendly William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (like someone else has a Romeo and Juliet) which was adored by the under 15 set that now buy N*SYNC merchandise. Luhrmann waited a long time for his follow up with Moulin Rogue, a manic musical that seems like candy for the eyes. It may have been a long time but it was well worth the wait.

The sparkling world of Moulin Rogue is around turn of the century France. Christian (Ewan McGregor), an aspiring writer, has traveled to this place against his father’s wishes. Christian believes in the beauty of love and the pull of the heart. Within minutes of setting foot in France he gets wrapped up into a production by a dwarf (John Leguizamo) and his cadre of assistants. Christian is sent to the most provocative club in town, the Moulin Rogue. Here he attempts to persuade the most famous showgirl Satine (Nicole Kidman) to help push for their musical to get financial backing. Satine inadvertently confuses Christian for the man she is supposed to seduce for a large some of money, the Duke (Richard Roxburgh). And thus the merry band of misfits get their play the backing while Christian blossoms a love for Satine. But their love must remain hidden for the Duke is led to believe that Satine is his and his alone.

Kidman owns this movie, plain and simple. From her first shattering entrance being lowered from the ceiling to the last scene, she is absolutely magnificent. McGregor gives a nice performance as the dough-eyed lover. Jim Broadbent plays the Moulin Rogue’s owner, Zidler with howling delight in all his manic expressions. Even Roxburgh gives an underwritten antagonist the right amount of weasely twitch.

One of the more surprising features is how well the two leads can actually sing. Kidman gives a soft and sexy take on “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” and McGregor can belt out a tune with some admirably throaty pipes. As these two veer in and out of songs it’s a pleasure to watch and hear.

Luhrmann has crafted a musical with ADD, but I say this as a compliment. Moulin Rogue‘s pace is fast and pounding. People twirl above the sky, the camera zooms wildly through town streets, and dump trucks worth of confetti fly through the air. Moulin Rouge is exploding with glitz and never lets up. The editing and visual artistry is stirring. By about ten minutes into the proceedings when a green fairy starts singing a seductive version of “The Hills are Alive” you know you are in for something else. And what a something else the film delivers. There was not a moment I didn’t have a smile glued to my stupid face.

Moulin Rogue could be described as a musical for people who dislike traditional musicals. In traditional musicals people go along stuffy formula, then break out into great choreography song-and-dance. With Lurhmann’s musical is a breakneck of pomp where the characters zip around to exaggerated Hanna-Barbara sound effects and start chiming away with 70s and 80s pop songs that we all know. After the initial shock/humor of hearing characters belt out renditions of “Roxanne” and “Like A Virgin,” a familiarity sets in and it blends in to produce a surprising artistic addition.

The story of the movie is nothing new or extraordinary; it’s well worn territory. But where Moulin Rouge breaks apart and shines are with its style and exposure. The visuals are astoundingly lush and lively, the music is game and pumping, and the movie is just screaming to be seen. This was a true work of love.

The movie is bursting to the seams with life. I loved every single second, every single frame, every single moment of Moulin Rouge. I can’t wait to go see it again.

Nate’s Grade: A

Reviewed 20 years later as part of the “Reviews Re-View: 2001” article.

Shrek (2001)

Shrek is Dreamworks’ kick in the pants to fairy tales and some of the staple creations of the Mouse house. There’s nothing a bug eating green ogre named Shrek likes more than his peaceful privacy. But this is brought to an immediate halt when all sorts of fairy tale creatures invade his swampy domain. To regain his privacy Shrek takes it up with Lord Farquad (say the name fast) who agrees to relocate the fairy tale creatures he outlawed to Shrek’s swamp in the first place if he travels to a castle and rescue a princess. Shrek agrees and along the way gets a buddy for the trip with a talking donkey, named appropriately enough, Donkey.

Shrek is amazing world of computer artistry. The characters move so life like and the detail is so magnified that it is a living and breathing world all its own. Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy are the comic duo of Shrek and Donkey and provide a good portion of laughs on their journey. With Mulan and now Shrek, Murphy seems like a natural when it comes to animation voicing. He gives it his all. Cameron Diaz is also a nice contributor as the voice of Princess Fiona, which kinda’ looks like her too creepily enough. Rounding out the cast is the always over-the-top John Lithgow as the stilted Farquad.

The humor of Shrek is enough to please kids with the fart and burp jokes, but lends its aim for more adult humor as well. There are a few jabs at the Disney Empire that are more than hilarious and the story keeps them coming. Shrek turns out to be a delightful tale of an ogre who’s a green softy at heart.

Nate’s Grade: A

The Mummy Returns (2001)

Does this mean the following sequels will be called The Mummy Forever and The Mummy and Robin? Our tale takes place ten years after the first. Our archeological heroes in Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz are now married and the proud parents of a blonde English boy (Freddie Boath) – who of course, gets into as much trouble as his parents do. Supposedly there’s this buried army of dog warriors from an Egyptian God. The trick is, you have to defeat their leader The Scorpion King to gain control over their ranks. So our good guys stumble upon setting things in motion accidentally, while our bad guys raise Imhotep (our mummy from the first one) with plans of him toppling The Insect Marvel.

The story of Mummy redux deals a lot with past lives and destinies. It seems miraculously everyone in our story is related to one another be it past or present (and we ain’t talking inbreeding). They fulfill their destinies – or whatever, mainly just fight with pointy things.

Many of the same characters return from the first one, almost like an ongoing serial. There’s the cowardly bumbling brother-in-law (John Hannah), the Arabic prince sworn to protect society form the evils of mummy-ness (Oded Fehr), and hell, even the damn mummy himself (Arnold Vosloo). We even get more of Vosloo’s dead girlfriend from the first picture. She has the honor of sharing a grotesque screen lip-lock with the decaying mummy. Talk about commitment.

Somehow pro wrestler The Rock (Is he in the phone book as “Rock, The”?) got into this film. His role is The Scorpion King, a cursed uber warrior of ancient Egypt. As you would expect from someone so elegantly named after a large, un-moving, mineral – The Rock’s acting is largely un-moving. He has one line in a different language, poorly delivered as well, then has five minutes of screen time battling people two feet smaller than him with the pearliest whites this side of the Nile. He shows up again later as a scorpion/human hybrid but is replaced with (say it with me class) CGI.

The acting is pure cornball, but to some degrees pleasantly so. We can’t have people taking themselves too seriously while being chased by little dead pygmy babies. Fraser seems to be leading the way for the next generation of action stars. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje appears in a small role as one of the big bad’s henchmen. After watching him for years on Oz it was a personal pleasure to see him on screen. Boath is the real surprise. If he were grating (like some lil’ Star Wars kid) I’d root for any undead creature to suck his nine year-old bones dry. He is fun to watch and acts like a kid, not a child actor acting like a kid.

The Mummy Returns will enchant you if you were enchanted by the first one. My stance on the mummy’s predecessor was that it was a tongue-in-cheek dose of cheese and adventure. It was nothing to write home about but it was a fun popcorn flick. However, The Mummy Returns throws the gauntlet down with the “bigger is better” rule of thumb almost tripling everything the first tried. It practically throws everything at you in its onslaught including a CGI kitchen sink. You’ll get computer everything. It’s almost like the producers are having a mummy wholesale – “everything must go!” As in reference to there is so much computer generated images in this film that it could be classified as the first living cartoon.

The action in The Mummy Returns is relentless. The pacing is fast and must be the bane to all those people who must squirm in their chair afraid they will miss something – you will. Most movies move through plot points, like from A to B. With The Mummy Returns, on the other hand, everything just bleeds together in a linear mess. It’s rather exhausting to watch.

The Mummy Returns continues to have its tongue firmly planted in cheek. Except with its onslaught it almost resembles a scene from Species with said tongue going in cheek then outside of brain cavity. If you’re hungry for an all-you-can-eat version of a movie, then The Mummy Returns might whet your appetite.

Nate’s Grade: C+

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