Category Archives: 2001 Movies

Training Day (2001)

Denzel Washington won an Oscar for this? Instead of Malcolm X? For THIS?! Yes he gets to huff and puff as he plays against type as a dirty cop, but is this reason alone to give an Academy Award to such a forgettable and collectively implausible film? Ethan Hawk, his co-star, is actually better in the film. All I can say is right actor, wrong movie. It’s like rewarding Kevin Spacey for Pay It Forward over the other screamingly better movies. It doesn’t make sense. There are plenty of hip-hop stars making cameos or small roles (Dr. Dre, Snoop, Macy Gray) but most of the time Training Day feels like tired and dead air especially as the contrivances begin to pile onto one another the longer this day goes. And Denzel is huffing and puffing but the house still stands. Man, the voters must really have not wanted Russell Crowe to win.

Nate’s Grade: C-

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Vanilla Sky (2001)

Talk about a film’s back story. Tom Cruise signed on to do a remake of the 1997 Spanish film Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) which was directed by Alejandro Amenabar. During the filming the romance between Cruise and Penelope Cruz (no relation) got a little hotter than expected onscreen and broke up his long-standing marriage to the luscious Nicole Kidman. At the time she was finishing filming The Others which is the second film by Amenabar. This, by the way, is much more interesting than Vanilla Sky unfortunately.

Cameron Crowe’s remake starts off promising enough with Tom Cruise running around an empty Times Square like a Twilight Zone episode. Afterwards the film begins to create a story that collapses under its own weight. David (Cruise) is a rich boy in control of a publishing empire inherited through his dear old deceased dad. He has the time to throw huge parties where even Spielberg hugs him, and even have crazy sex with crazy Cameron Diaz, whom he tells his best friend (Jason Lee) is his “f*** buddy.” David begins to see a softer side of life with the entrance of bouncy and lively Sophia (Cruz) and contemplates that he might be really falling in love for the first time. But this happiness doesn’t last long as jealous Diaz picks up David in her car then speeds it off a bridge killing her. Then things get sticky including David’s disfiguration, his attempts to regain that one night of budding love and a supposed murder that he committed.

Crowe is in over his head with this territory. His knack for wonderful exchanges of dialogue and the perfect song to place over a scene are intact, but cannot help him with this mess. Vanilla Sky is an awkward mish-mash of science fiction. The film’s protagonist is standoffish for an audience and many of the story’s so-called resolutions toward the end are more perfunctory than functional. The ending as a whole is dissatisfying and unimaginative. By the time the wonderful Tilda Swinton shows up you’ll likely either be asleep or ready to press the eject button yelling “cop out!”

Seeing Vanilla Sky has made me want to hunt for Amenabar’s Abre Los Ojos and see what all the hype was about, because if it is anything like its glossy American counterpart then I have no idea why world audiences went wild for it. I mean, it’s not like you can’t see a nude Cruz in other movies. She’s like the Spanish Kate Winslet.

Nate’s Grade: C

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

If you don’t know about Harry Potter at this point you must be living under a stone, perhaps a Sorcerer’s stone. The little tyke with glasses and a lightning scar has become a sensation across the seas and of course a big budget movie was merely just a matter of time. The imagination of author J.K. Rowling is bustling with a complex world that has given her acclaim from children and parents all over, not to mention made her filthy rich. The movie is a meticulously faithful adaptation but this is both its strength and its weakness.

The story of Harry Potter is a long and complicated one, full of numerous funny names as well. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is an orphan living with his nasty aunt (Fiona Shaw) and uncle (Riachard Griffiths) who force Harry to live under the stairs. Harry is informed one night by a gigantic and bearded figure named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) that both Harry’s parents were magically inclined and he is to gather his own education at Hogwarts School of Magic. On his way there, after picking up supplies in a special place I have forgotten totally the name of, Harry meets and befriends the aloof Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and the Type-A studious Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). Once there Harry picks up a rival in Draco Malfoy, a cold glare from Professor Snape (Alan Rickman), a good scare from a poor CGI three headed guard dog, and a mastery in the art of broomstick flying. The school sessions are a barrage of characters and minute plot points that readers will just be grinning that have been included.Through later revelations it is divulged that Harry’s parents were killed by the powerful wizard Lord Voldermort. It seems that old Voldy for whatever reason decided not to kill Harry. Thus because of this Harry has worldwide fame as the boy who lived against Voldermort. It seems as well that this evil wizard is trying to achieve immortality by using the advantages of the hidden Sorcerer’s stone. It’s up to Harry and his friends to stop this from happening.

Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire) wrestled this franchise away from such directorial heavyweights like Spielberg, and it’s clear to see why he was selected. Rowling ordered the movie adaptation to be completely faithful to her book, and Columbus is a director with no remarkable visual flair or distinct vision. Everything that is occurring is so faithful to the book that it has no individual flavor or distance. It’s directing with your hands tied, which is fine for most people. With this project he seems like he is basically a go-between with Rowling and the studio suits. Basically it should be Rowling’s name for the director’s credit because she’s the one with the vision being translated.

Large portions of this film need to carried by the acting of several of its young stars and it’s quite a 120 million dollar weight. For the most part the child actors in Harry Potter deliver. Emma Watson is the standout as Hermione, with her extra energy and enthusiasm in every step and every smile simply winning over the audience in spades. The only real detraction acting wise in the entire film is, unfortunately, the star. Daniel Radcliffe plays Harry in a very stiff manor and spends most of the film looking overly subdued. After you experience more time with the other characters in the film one realizes how frightfully dull the character of Harry Potter really is. Any of the characters would be more exciting to watch than Harry. As characters go, he’s about as interesting or entertaining as stereo instructions.

Harry Potter contains an all-star all British cast for the fanciful faculty of Hogwarts. Everyone seems so meticulously cast that they were born to play these roles. Richard Harris becomes a gentle grandfatherly figure as the headmaster. Robbie Coltrane is a large and lovable figure that the audience can rely on again and again. Richard Griffiths is so over-the-top in a very entertaining light. Alan Rickman owns every scene he is in with such a snarling and full-of-life presence. He is perfect, as is most of the adult casting.

The most exciting moment of the film occurs during a match of Quidditch, which is basically like rugby in the sky. Two teams on broomsticks whiz and zoom around one another in a fierce aerial competition. At this moment Columbus can declare himself the true director. The entire sequence is done that it perks the viewer’s imagination and also provides great moments of excitement. Seeing the scene itself was a testament to the wizardry of special effects.

The length of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone clocks in around two hours and thirty minutes, which might seem like an eternity to small children if they weren’t so overly obsessed with the book series. The film is structured more like a novel than a screenplay (again with the induced restrictions), so instead of a usual three-act system it has moments that drag and moments that seem to go on endlessly (like the final near obstacle course the three kids must go through). The entire first hour or more is set-up explaining all of the characters and the world they inhabit, then they just sneak in a mention to the Sorcerer’s stone toward the end and introduce our titular story line. Hopefully, with the set-up out of the way now, the next movie will be a tad shorter.

Harry Potter is a worldwide phenomenon that is already breaking box-office records and parents’ bank accounts. The first four books have been optioned by Warner Bros. so expect to see an armada of kids dressed up in Halloween costumes around Thanksgiving for the next few years. Harry Potter is a fairly light-hearted but entertaining venture that I wouldn’t mind revisiting and reacquainting every now and then like an old friend.

Nate’s Grade: B

Monster’s Inc. (2001)

Pixar are the animation titans who have been delivering first-rate pictures under the Disney banner for the last five/six years. The placement of their name is like a seal of quality, unlike the placement of the Disney name. Monsters Inc. is the latest and it’s crammed full of humorous jokes and lively imagination that can propel it forward despite the bad score by Randy Newman.

Monsters Inc. is a corporation in a monster universe that trains its workers to enter the bedrooms of sleeping children and derive scares for resources. Their monster world is powered by the screams of children and it seems times are getting tougher. Children are becoming harder to scare (blame CNN) and it seems an energy crisis is looming. The pressure is on for the big blue bear that is James P. “Sully” Sullivan (John Goodman). Sully is close to achieving the all-time scare record with the aid of his assistant Mike (Billy Crystal), a small one-eyed green guy. But their scare colleague Randall (Steve Buscemi), a bad tempered purple reptile, is nipping at Sully’s heels.

The clever twist of Monsters Inc. is that these frightful creatures, some with spikes and some as many eyes as Elizabeth Taylor ex-husbands, are as afraid of children as they are of them. Reportedly their touch is toxic and possibly fatal. A single sock getting stuck to one unfortunate monster on his return causes an entire decontamination unit to spring forward. The joke is both alarmingly timely but also a great visual gag as all the different shaped monsters fit into their suits.

One night Sully accidentally lets a small toddler enter their world. He fears what the ramifications of this outbreak might be and struggles to keep her presence under wraps with the help of Mike, but Boo (as Sully dubs her later) is more than an adorable handful. The pair get into a mess of trouble and constantly trying to keep Boo clear of contact.

John Goodman provides a great performance as the sweet and cuddly Sully. His demeanor is one that warms him to the audience. Crystal provides some good laughs and walks a very fine line of going overboard into his usual borsch belt humor. Buscemi has the menacing voice that gives Randall life. The real star is Boo, whose actual voice was provided by one of the animator’s own kids. Every coo, every laugh, every word she says is full of such glee that it’s uncontrollably cute. She’s almost an overpowering force of cuteness.

Late into the story it tries to go for something below the surface by having Sully see the consequences of his profession. His attachment to Boo is a bit far-fetched in the great speed it occurs and the groan-worthy happy ending is a miscue that could have been ripe with possibilities.

The animation of Monsters Inc. is nothing short of flawless. Something Pixar does better than any studio is fluidity of movement. At times during Shrek the characters are a tad stiff or blocky in their movements, but with ‘Monsters Inc.’ every gesture, every wavering hair on Sully, it’s all wonderfully fluid. Pixar are marvels at what they can do with computers and Monsters Inc. is another impressive chink on their already impressive belt.

The film lacks the heart of a Toy Story but doesn’t lack in imagination. The whole concept is very inventive and reconfirming of the suspicion we all had as kids. A sequence late into the film where Randall chases Sully and Mike through a vast area with thousands of doors on rails is the true highlight. This scene is awe inspiring and a head rush by the majestic care put into it and the comic payoffs it has. It’s a chase scene that’s worth following.

Monsters Inc. is funny enough and creative enough to be well worth a viewing. It lacks the subtext and human emotion of the two Toy Storys, but is still entertaining in its own right. My grandma described it as the movie “with the talking M&M.”

Nate’s Grade: B+

The Deep End (2001)

In the vast wasteland the summer has become of mediocrity and sub-mediocrity, go to your local art house. There you may very well see The Deep End, a dramatic thriller that burrows itself into the audience’s mind. The film is an absolute breath of fresh air in the stagnant summer finally winding down.

Tilda Swinton plays a normal mother living on the banks of Lake Tahoe. Her days usually consist of trying to ship her kids to school on time and handle the duties of the home in the long stretches her Naval officer husband is gone. She’s juggling responsibilities and chores when her first strike of maternal protection occurs. Her 17 year-old son is, to her great surprise, in a relationship with a sleazy man in his 30s. She discovered this when her son got into a serious car accident while this paramour was traveling with. The scene of the crash is replayed in flashbacks for Swinton as a motivational jump-start for her protection and love.

She tells the man she doesn’t want him seeing her son any longer, but of course he refuses to desist… unless the price is right. This revelation sends her son to a late night confrontation at home that ends in the accidental death of the sleaze. Mom sees her son rush back into the house in the middle of the night and decides to go out and investigate. On her stroll to her horror she finds the dead body of her son’s lover. From that moment on something in her clicks and she clumsily tries to hide the body and any evidence that could incriminate her own brood.

Just when she believes her headaches are over a dark and handsome stranger (Goran Visnjic) visits her one day. He has within his possession a videotape of her son having explicit sex with the dead lover. He threatens to turn the tape into the police and thus destroy the peace Swinton has created. The video can be hers, but she must pay him and his unseen partner the sum of $50,000.

Tilda Swinton is best known as the gender-swapping title figure in Orlando based upon Virginia’s Woolfe’s story. The Scottish actress has a wonderfully pallid face and soulful eyes that express every moment the determination and fear she wrestles with. Swinton gives a remarkable performance of pure emotion. She is a mother determined to protect her son and family at every cost, no matter the means. She is constantly in over her head but refuses to relent. Swinton’s portrayal is a woman running on maternal instinct and she herself is the very gravity that makes The Deep End as great as it is.

Goran Visnjic currently plays a Croatian doc on E.R. but has a provocative presence in this flick. He’s got the smoldering good looks and his character opens up more and more as the tale progresses to strip away pretensions layer by layer.

The Deep End is directed, written, and produced by David Siegel and Scott McGehee, with only one other film to their credit all the way back in 1993. They inject their story with great moments of character and suspense but also have a terrific visual eye to create mood. The cinematography is lush and hypnotic with certain moments of exquisite beauty. Even the music adds to the feeling of the film unlike so many other accompanying scores. Every component of ‘The Deep End’ is just clicking.

The Deep End is a luminously tight thriller with remarkable performances. They story has a few implausible moments but outweighs them with heapings of great dramatic depth. Swinton better be one of the first choice on everyone’s lips when the name of Oscar rolls about, because I doubt I’ll see a performance more elegant and wonderful as hers this year.

Nate’s Grade: A

Mulholland Drive (2001)

Mulholland Dr. has had a long and winding path to get to the state it is presented today. In the beginning it was 120 minutes of a pilot for ABC, though it was skimmed to 90 for the insertion of commercials. But ABC just didn’t seem to get it and declined to pick up David Lynch’s bizarre pilot. Contacted by the French producers of Lynch’s last film, The Straight Story, it was then financed to be a feature film. Lynch went about regathering his cast and filming an additional twenty minutes of material to be added to the 120-minute pilot. And now Mulholland Dr. has gone on to win the Best Director award at Cannes and Best Picture by the New York Film Critics Association.

Laura Harring plays a woman who survives a car crash one night. It appears just before a speeding car full of reckless teens collided into her limo she was intended to be bumped off. She stumbles across the dark streets of Hollywood and finds shelter in an empty apartment where she rests. Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) is a young girl that just got off the bus to sunny California with aspirations of being a big time movie star. She enters her aunt’s apartment to find a nude woman (Harring) in the shower. She tells Betty her name is Rita after glancing at a hanging poster of Rita Hayworth. Rita is suffering from amnesia and has no idea who she is, or for that fact, why her purse is full of thousands of dollars. Betty eagerly wants to help Rita discover who she is and they set off trying to unravel this mystery.

Across town, young hotshot director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) is getting ready to go into production for his new film. He angers his mob producers by refusing to cast their chosen girl for his movie. After some harassment, threats, and a visit by an eyebrow-less cowboy assassin (God bless you David Lynch), he relents.

In the meanwhile, people are tracking the streets looking for Rita. Betty and Rita do some detective work and begin amassing clues to her true identify. As they plunge further into their investigation the two also plunge into the roles of lovers. Rita discovers a mysterious blue box and key in her possession. After a night out with Betty she decides to open it, and just when she does and the audience thinks it has a hold on the film, the camera zooms into the abyss of the box and our whole world is turned upside down.

David Lynch has made an inspiring meditation on dreams, for that is at the heart of Mulholland Dr. His direction is swift and careful and his writing is just as precise. The noir archetypes are doing battle with noir expectations. The lesbian love scenes could have been handled to look like late night Cinemax fluff, but instead Lynch’s finesse pays off in creating some truly erotic moments. Despite the population of espresso despising mobsters, wheelchair bound dwarfs, and role-reversal lesbians, the audience knows that it is in hands that they can trust. It’s Lynch back to his glorious incomprehensible roots.

Watts is the true breakthrough of Lynch’s casting and she will surely be seen in more films. Watts has to play many facets of possibly the same character, from star-eyed perky Nancy Drew to a forceful and embittered lesbian lover, all the while maintaining a sexual resonance of noir.

One scene stands out as a perfect example of the talent Watts possesses. Betty has just been shuffled off to an audition for a film and rehearsing with Rita all morning. She’s introduced to her leathery co-star and the directors await her to play out the audition scene of two kids and their forbidden love. As soon as the scene begins Betty vanishes and is totally inhabited by the spirit of her character. She speaks her lines in a breathy, yet whisper-like, voice that sounds like it is running over with sensuality but also elements of power. In this moment the characters know, as the audience does, that Betty and Naomi Watts are born movie stars.

It’s not too difficult for a viewer to figure out what portions of the film are from the pilot and what were shot afterwards. I truly doubt if ABC’s standards and practices allows for lesbian sex. The pilot parts seem to have more sheen to them and simpler camera moves, nothing too fancy. The additional footage seems completely opposite and to great effect. Mulholland Dr. has many plot threads that go nowhere or are never touched upon again, most likely parts that were going to be reincorporated with the series.

The truly weirdest part of Mulholland Drive is that the film seems to be working best when it actually is still the pilot. The story is very intriguing and one that earns every drop of suspense, mystery, and humor that oozes from this noir heavy dreamscape. The additional twenty minutes of story could be successfully argued one of two ways. It could be said it’s there just to confound an audience and self-indulgent to the good story it abandons. It could also be argued that the ending is meticulously thought out and accentuates the 120 minutes before it with more thought and understanding. The best compliment you can say is that it’s the fastest 146 minutes of your life.

Mulholland Dr. is a tale that would have made an excellent ongoing television series complete with ripe characters and drama. However, as a movie it still exceeds in entertainment, but seems more promising in a different venue.

Nate’s Grade: B

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

John Cameron Mitchell directed, adapted from his stage play and stars as the sexually confused rock mega-star Hedwig. Hedwig was a boy trying to escape from the constraints of soviet occupied East Germany. His lucky ticket came in with a GI who agreed to marry Hedwig and take him out of the country with him, but Hedwig had to go under the knife and become a proper lady before their escape was to ensue. When the sex change operation is botched it leaves Hedwig with a single nub-like inch left causing gender confusion (“Six inches forward, five inches back”). Dumped by his GI Hedwig turns to song and befriends a lonely and confused boy Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt). Their courtship seems to be going fine until Gnosis steals all of Hedwig’s songs and uses them for his own superstardom on MTV. Hedwig’s defense is to pack up a traveling band and to perform at various salad bars and trucker diners in the same town Gnosis travels to. It’s during these performances that Hedwig dishes about her unusual life.

Unlike most plays turned into films, Hedwig has been adapted for the medium of cinema. Animations, clever camera tricks and sing-alongs follow our story, making it an exhilarating film going experience. Hedwig is excitingly original and spilling over with passionate energy that can’t help but transfer to the audience. Mitchell proves himself a born filmmaker, but also a rock star. Many of the songs of Hedwig are quite listenable and could be found on some music channels. Hedwig is a trans hero for all of us and Mitchell delivers a fresh and resoundingly funny, sad, and technical achievement of a movie.

Nate’s Grade: A

Serendipity (2001)

There’s a universe somewhere populated entirely with down-on-their-luck lovable sweethearts and good-hearted friendly buffoons operated under the physics of romantic comedies. In this universe there is no such thing as chance, even if one leaves it up to it, and in this place what would seem like frustratingly idiotic behavior seems romantic. So is Serendipity revolving in this universe. Kate Beckinsale is a gal that leaves everything to fate, possibly even her taxes, and John Cusack is the smitten man running all over the place trying to find this mad woman. In our world Beckinsale would seem foolish or even mean-spirited, but because the two will definitely end up in each other’s arms before the credits roll we allow her to continue her ridiculous behavior. She puts Cusack in a seemingly cruel obstacle course of chance to win her heart. These people operate outside of our known world. Eugene Levy has a brief and funny part in the movie but otherwise Serendipity takes itself as being much cuter and smarter than it is.

Nate’s Grade: C

Glitter (2001)

It must be seen to be believed. A new college crap-fest drinking game has begun. Begin the Glitter midnight shows! A new age is upon us! Here are a few handful of Glitter‘s bon-mots it serves up to its audience:

-Mariah Carrey is shown leaving her real mom at age 8 with her kitten. Somewhere through Glitter she has a fight with her boyfriend and takes her cat (yes the very same immortal cat that must have been pushing 20) and leaves.
-She has a fight with said boyfriend and they both try and write a love song to show their remorse. Except they BOTH come up with the EXACT same song word for word, note for note, and NO ONE thinks this is the creepiest thing ever.
-The movie freakin’ ends with Carrey’s boyfriend getting shot and killed. Yes, this is truly how the thing ends. Oh, like any of you cared about plot spoilers anyway.
-Da Brat is in it for “comic relief.”
-The movie is inexplicably set in the 1980s for no reason.

Anyone would have to be crazy thinking Glitter ever remotely resembled art. It’s so bad it’s awesome to watch. Bring some friends over, open up some alcohol, and let the fun times begin.

Nate’s Grade: F, like it matters though

Don’t Say a Word (2001)

I don’t know about the marketers but something strange is taking place with the public recognition of Don’t Say a Word. At school, church, and home I hear it referred to often as the “I’ll never tell” movie. Which could be great for public awareness, what sinking that ending sing-songy whisper of Brittany Murphy into the populace’s mind, but what good is awareness if they think it’s a different movie?

Michael Douglas is the best child psychiatrist we have, but not only that, why he’s a loving dad as well. He gets called in to inspect a new patient Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy) who appears to be one loony nut to crack. But of course Douglas can because he’s the best. A team of foiled bank robbers kidnap Douglas’ child and order him to somehow dislodge a key sequence of six numbers stuck in the tortured head of Elisabeth. Can Douglas rescue his daughter and topple the bad bank robbers in the process and protect his disabled wife (Famke Janssen) in the process? Well of course. He’s the best damn child psychiatrist we have.

Don’t Say a Word is the type of film that leaves nothing to chance for the audience. It’s a film that paints with broad strokes, forgetting its massive plot holes and frequent missteps with logic, and spells everything out for the audience – but still fowls this up. Word is so by-the-numbers and predictable that it hardly ever muscles up enough of a fight to keep an audience’s attention. A female detective (Jennifer Esposito) is on the case and following the clues to find Elisabeth. We simply know that her only purpose is to come from nowhere and save Douglas in a tense exchange. The bad guys aren’t all bad; some make peanut butter and marmalade sandwiches. In the beginning robbery we know that it’s the past, why? They talk about football and U2 plays over the robbery! Surely this must be the early 90s!

Douglas spends most of the film either scowling at people or trying to look sincere, which comes off looking like an impatient child that has to go the bathroom. This is essentially a Michael Douglas film and I guess Michael Douglas plays the role of Michael Douglas with ease. Too bad the rest of the movie is full of people that look like they don’t know what they’re doing in this mess.

Janssen is confined for the entire movie to her bed. The movie could have expertly veered into her paranoia and feelings of helplessness stuck in her house while her daughter has been taken from her. Instead she’s merely pretty window dressing. The only purpose she has with a broken leg and confined to a bed is that we know that some bad guy will come down and she’ll have to hide and fight for herself.

Bean makes an adequate bad guy (as he did in Golden Eye) but he doesn’t have much to do except mug on a cell phone or in a speeding car. The rest of his posse is basically a central casting call for gang members, from the motor mouth black guy to the biker to the computer whiz. And all of these people are fighting, killing, and destroying mass amount of public property for a ruby the size of a fingernail? And where did they get all this money to pull off a scheme like the one they perpetrate on Douglas’ family? It’s like the team took a trip to Circuit City and bought the store.

Don’t Say a Word is really a thriller that doesn’t thrill, and one that causes you to smack yourself in the head at several eye-rolling moments. Douglas escorts his hospitalized and supposedly dangerous patient out of a hospital with nary a glance or tinge of trouble all because he pulled a fire alarm. Are we back in junior high or something? As well as the moment Douglas first spots Murphy he calls her out by dropping her arm but she supposedly had fooled a legion of trained medical professionals before? Word is a series of contrivances and mounting questions that never get answered.

Don’t Say a Word is so run-of-the-mill that its often times dull and void of life. The audience of Don’t Say a Word might come off thinking they have the power of Miss Cleo with all the predictions they’ll get right. It’s basically a recycling of everything you’ve seen many times before in better thrillers. Murphy’s performance lifts the bar occasionally but this is a dog that is in desperate need of being shot.

Nate’s Grade: C

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