Category Archives: 2002 Movies

Blackwoods (2002)

Blackwoods is Uwe Boll’s second English-speaking film. The video’s box advertises the film as a modern Most Dangerous Game with the befuddled Patrick Muldoon as the prey. This got me thinking about what it would be like if society allowed the recreational hunting of untalented actors. I think it could be a big moneymaker. I’ve already started talking with some investors and things look very promising.

Matt (Muldoon) is a smooth playboy from the big city. He’s off to travel with his girlfriend, Dawn (Keegan Conner Tracy), to meet her parents. Dawn grew up in a very small town well off the beaten path. This requires a trip through the Blackwoods, what she calls the hard-to-see forested area when night hits. The lovebirds get a good talking to about excessive speeds by the town’s sheriff (Michael Paré), who finds Matt curiously familiar. They shack up at a seedy motel run by a seedy owner (Clint Howard). After some vigorous time between the sheets, Dawn goes off to the bathroom to freshen up. Matt is tormented by visions he cannot quite place but they involve something to do with a car accident. He wakes up to find Dawn has disappeared. On top of all this, a man with an axe breaks into the room. Matt fends him off and goes looking for what happened to his sweetheart. No one seems to believe him. Then he finds a decrepit house out in the woods. He gets knocked out and locked in the basement. Inside, Matt is put on trial for murder by a local family, who plan to become hillbilly judge and jury. And when they badger the witness, they really badger the witness.

Blackwoods almost stumbles accidentally into being an interesting film. The premise of hillbilly justice on the big city folk would make for a good horror movie, no question. I mean, for decades horror movies have been preaching the dangers of small rural towns and their inhabitants. Boll has found himself a fitting premise for a horror movie. But Boll and co-writer Robert Dean Klein aren’t interested in making a horror movie; they want to make Blackwoods into a psychological thriller. They want something more. It’s these pathetic gasps for cleverness that doom Blackwoods. The eleventh hour twists Boll and Klein pack feel contrived and uninspired (the very end shamelessly rips off Final Destination). The ending twist, designed to tie everything together, raises far more questions than answers. You’ll probably be able to see it coming a mile away. Sometimes simpler is the way to go, fellas.

It’s hard to feel for Matt when he’s such an arrogant dope. There are two standout moments that reflect how stupid Matt is. The first is after Dawn goes missing in his motel room. Matt is baffled and tries to work it all out in a bathroom, as most men do. His room is then broken into by an axe-wielding intruder. Matt manages to hide and avoid him. Minutes later, the axe-wielding intruder returns and the two get into a brawl. Matt wins and the intruder runs away again. After this ruckus, Matt lays down on the motel bed and goes to sleep. He dozes off in a room that has been broken into twice by a man with an axe! The second incident happens late in the film as two hillbilly brothers chase Matt through the Blackwoods. One of the brothers has a gun and the other more sporting brother has a bow and arrow. Matt kills the brother with the gun and takes his weapon. Suddenly an arrow zips over his head and sticks in the tree. Behind him is the other brother, and even though this brother is currently unarmed and at a distance, he convinces Matt to drop his pistol. The ending twist only adds more fresh accounts of Matt’s idiocy.

Boll uses a heavy amount of blur-technique for very long stretches of time. Very long. An entire sex scene is blurrified into submission. Boll tries juicing up action sequences by adding the blur effect, which only infuriates an audience already sick of it. The effect is arbitrary and unwelcome. Boll has confused shaking the camera with artistry. Shaking the camera does not equal art, no matter how many notes you take while watching The Blair Witch Project. The stylistic choices Boll makes as a director seem so self-consciously motivated to goose up a limp story.

Blackwoods falls apart because it’s clueless when it comes to plot structure and mood. Boll isn’t one for trusting an audience to pick up his clues. Oh no, he’ll aggressively make sure you get every hint that something is important. When Matt grabs a knife we get an extra special close-up of it followed by a crescendo of music. Boll is shouting the importance of this item. And the funny thing is the knife isn’t even important. The same crescendo happens when a waitress gives Matt the stink-eye, and when Dawn takes a post-coital walk to the motel bathroom. We should pay attention to these things, Boll screams in our ears. Later, Matt assures Drew that “thing’s will be fine.” Cut to blurry image! Matt says, “My mom never let me do things on my own.” Cut to blurry image! Someone says, “You’re paranoid about something, though I don’t know what.” Cut to more blurry images! Because of the back and forth structure, Boll serves up a witless Cliff Notes of important plot points he wants to underline. Blackwoods kills any surprise it could have generated because of these superfluous cuts meant to engender a sense of foreboding. There’s a difference between feeling something will happen and knowing, and Boll’s ham-fisted plot structure and direction drain the film of any involvement. You can’t be mysterious and clever while spoonfeeding an audience and hitting them over the head.

Boll uses inappropriate songs at key moments and it wrecks the mood. The sex scene is bad as is because of the blurring and strange editing. What makes the scene drop-dead awful is the song choice that plays over. It’s some odd pop song with odd arrangements that cripples any intended drama. It’ll really take the tingle out of your dingle. Moviemakers of the world take note, if you want your scene to have some power or importance, do not attach a song that will elicit titters from an audience. Nowhere in Saving Private Ryan could you find the song, “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.”

At the end of Blackwoods I counted the number of artist’s songs used in the film; there are five songs by I Saw Elvis, four Songs by April Daze, and three songs by Charlemane. It seems Boll is more interested in using songs he can get his grubby opportunistic Germanic hands on.

Blackwoods has a score that is overly anxious. There are your standard high-pitched jump moments, but the score also wedges itself into scenes to a comical degree. Take a scene where Matt is being interrogated by the sheriff. The sheriff dictates what he has been told of Matt’s motel room attacker, and ends by noting, “Guy dressed all in black.” The music dramatically swells. We’re meant to distrust the sheriff. Matt says cautiously, “Did I say that?” Sheriff: “Yeah.” Matt: “Oh. Okay.” And the music immediately ends. I kid you not; during Matt’s chase scene in the woods there are tuba sounds on the score. Not a tuba apart of an orchestration, just a tuba. It’s like they recorded this score during take your child to work day.

The acting in Blackwoods could be rivaled by lousy high school theatrical productions. Most of the actors are quite stiff and give terrible line deliveries. Boll truly has no idea what to do with his actors and it shows. Actors will punctuate the dialogue in peculiar places and frequently overact like no one’s watching. Muldoon (Starship Troopers) is a pretty actor without much else going for him. His acting range goes from indignant to quiet anxiety, neither of which is convincing. I think his eyebrows out-acted him. Paré (Eddie and the Cruisers, TV’s Greatest American Hero) looks and acts drowsy the whole movie, like any second he’s in danger of keeling over into dream land. Tracy (40 Days and 40 Nights, White Noise) plays the most challenging part and has some fun with it. Her moments of petulant anger are a welcome sight amongst this acting dead zone.

Boll could have had an effective, loosely entertaining horror movie with Blackwoods. Instead, he and his co-writer attempt to grasp at something smarter and fall flat on their faces. Blackwoods is dull, inane, cluelessly structured, poorly acted, and devoid of any nuance. Boll’s tortured direction relies on a lot of arbitrary and annoying stylistic choices. This creaky psychological thriller thinks it’s clever by playing with flash forwards and contrived Big Twists, but Blackwoods is nowhere near as smart as it thinks it is. Maybe Boll’s penchant for blurring the film was the right move; in a few days that’s all this forgettable movie will become.

Nate’s Grade: D

Spellbound (2002)

The field of super spellers heading to Washington D.C. is more varied than you could possibly imagine. What is truly amazing, and equally heart-rending, are the scenes showing working-class families encourage their children to excellence. Angela’s parents fled Mexico to give a better life for their family in Texas. Her father has been a rancher for 30 years and does not speak a word of English. It’s incredible to see the amount of pride her parents have when they see her compete. She says she’’s doing it for them. Ashley lives in the projects outside of Washington D.C. She exudes confidence as she makes long treks from school to the cramp apartment her family lives in. Her mother had never expected her child, from her background, to compete for spelling contests but becomes her biggest and most vocal cheerleader.

Spellbound also shows the fanatical level of commitment some of these kids have. Neil’s father pushes his son to the extremes and the two go over 4,000-8,000 words a day. Neil’s parents even hire a spelling coach and he gets instruction from his school’s foreign language teachers on the history and spelling of foreign words. The commitment most of these kids show is jaw-dropping and obsessive. Ted is the exact opposite. He’s so nonchalant about the spelling bees that it almost seems like he’s battling complacency in his small town. His younger brother has the film’s best line: “It was so exciting. If I had blood pressure it’ would be through the roof!”

My favorite speller is April. She and her parents live in a dying town. Her father worked in a asbestos factory until it was shut down. He now operates a tavern across from the decaying factory. The family struggles to get by but has so much visible love for their daughter, so much undying support for April. I saw April’’s parents as the type you might be embarrassed to say something weird to your friends (“Mom, you are so out of it, geez.”) but the same type that you secretly thank everyday you have. April declares herself a pessimist and doubts the distance she’’ll go in the national bee. This is the kind of instantly likeable and compelling character Hollywood has forgotten how to create.

With Spellbound we get to know our hopefuls so well that we’re saddened before the national bee even begin because, at best, only one of them will win. And, as corny as it sounds, they are all exemplary examples of winners.

Spellbound is the most thrilling movie I’’ve seen in ages, totally walloping the heady pretensions of certain action movies. This film will make your palms sweat and then some. Your heart races wildly when it isn’’t in your throat. Several films like The Sweet Hereafter or American History X have brought me to tears through their adept expressions of sadness; Spellbound may be the first film that’s ever brought me to tears (about five times) just for pure vicarious happiness and joy. To see these kids achieve will, and I know this is so cheesy and blurb-y, but it will make your spirit soar and want to cheer. I’ve since watched the film several times on DVD, and I must report how surprised I am that I end up crying every time, though at different spots. This is a joyous movie, pure and simple.

Spellbound is an uplifting movie for everyone that is guaranteed to have some lasting, triumphant resonance. If you can’t feel for these kids I suggest you check if your heart is defective. This is a great example of what film can do, what the American dream can mean for people, and the great diversity an academic competition can inspire. Spellbound is thrilling, heartwarming, and sunnily satisfying. You’ll fall in love with these kids and their hopes and dreams.

E-X-C-E-L-L-E-N-T. Excellent.

Nate’s Grade: A

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

The premise is undeniably amusing: game show host and creator Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell) in between escorting Dating Game couples and introducing Gong Show losers, was a hired killer for the CIA. The directorial debut by George Clooney is impressive on a technical level. Clooney is inventive with scene changes, camera angles, lighting, editing, color palettes … I don’’t know whether to champion him or credit his excellent cinematographer, but hat’s off to whomever designed the look of this movie. Rockwell is great and carries the film well, though I think he lacks the proper ability for self-loathing that the character needs. The brilliant weirdness of the story is tempered by famed scribe Charlie Kaufman’’s astute sense of the intricately bizarre. Kaufman is a master of the offbeat, but he does more with his story structures and the ability to keep surprising than any other screenwriter. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a cheeky diversion into the “unauthorized autobiography” written by Barris himself. The movie itself is one big joke and Clooney tells it like a pro.

Nate’s Grade: B+

Better Luck Tomorrow (2002)

This film shows a fascinating side to the underbelly to suburban malaise. The story centers on a group of Asian-American friends that are social delinquents and petty criminals that can get away with it because they’re star students. It’s an interesting dichotomy in Justin Lin’’s directorial debut. The cast is strong and the pacing is brisk. The opening five minutes yanks you into this world and places you in the hands of a confidant voice. Familiar elements abound like unrequited love, jealousy, crashing lows, but Better Luck Tomorrow gives them a mildly fresh spin. The film’s familiar territory gets the better of it in a languid final act, but the ride is still an enjoyable and entertaining one at that.

Nate’s Grade: B

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

January at the theaters is a tale of two kinds of films. One type are the studio bombs (take Just Married and Darkness Falls, please take them far away). The other type are the prestige pictures expanding their releases in hopes of garnering some of that Oscar magic. A lot of prestige films were released around the holidays and though not every one could be a winner, they were all better than Kangaroo Jack. Well, except for The Hours.

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Premise: Successful true-life con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leo DiCaprio) zips across the world posing as a pilot, doctor and lawyer – all before the age of 18. A mousy Tom Hanks provides the chasing.

Results: Breezy and light-hearted, Catch is an entertaining and fun romp that works with a charming Leo (unlike in Gangs), a jazzy score and a skillful recreation of the 1960s life and mood. Spielberg hasn’’t made a film under two hours since 1989, so Catch is a tad long.

Nate’s Grade: B

Chicago (2002)

January at the theaters is a tale of two kinds of films. One type are the studio bombs (take Just Married and Darkness Falls, please take them far away). The other type are the prestige pictures expanding their releases in hopes of garnering some of that Oscar magic. A lot of prestige films were released around the holidays and though not every one could be a winner, they were all better than Kangaroo Jack. Well, except for The Hours.

Chicago (2002)

Premise: Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger), hungry for fame, finally grasps it when she kills her lover and is put on trial. Silver-tongue lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) stirs up the media in her defense, as well as for another starlet killer, Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones).

Results: A song-and-dance picture that’s quite toe-tappin’ with imaginative numbers, even if I can only remember like two songs. A surprisingly steady Zeta-Jones really shines and Gere can cut a rug. Chicago is just lively fun. Blink and you’ll miss Lucy Liu in it.

Nate’s Grade: B

About Schmidt (2002)

January at the theaters is a tale of two kinds of films. One type are the studio bombs (take Just Married and Darkness Falls, please take them far away). The other type are the prestige pictures expanding their releases in hopes of garnering some of that Oscar magic. A lot of prestige films were released around the holidays and though not every one could be a winner, they were all better than Kangaroo Jack. Well, except for The Hours.

About Schmidt (2002)

Premise: Retired and recently widowed, Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) must learn to live his own life for the first time. Warren travels across the country to rediscover himself and stop his resentful daughter from marrying a man-child with a mullet.

Results: Nicholson downplays his usual shark grin to deliver one of his best performances in a funny, tragic, savage yet warm-hearted film. About Schmidt, from the creators of Election and Citizen Ruth, is one of the best films of 2002.

Nate’s Grade: A

The Hours (2002)

Okay, after watching the Golden Globes award show and seeing ‘The Hours’ crowned with the highest prize, and hearing incessantly about Nicole Kidman’’s fake prosthetic nose in the movie, it was time to venture into that darkened theater and see how good the awards-friendly ‘The Hours’ was. Little did I fully realize what I was getting myself into.

Nicole Kidman plays Virginia Woolf, who is in the midst of writing her novel Mrs. Dalloway, where she proposes to display a woman’s entire life through the events of a single day. Julianne Moore plays Laura Brown, a housewife in 1951 having difficulty adjusting to a domestic life that she feels ill equipped for. Meryl Streep plays Clarissa Vaughan, a gay copy-editor in 2001 planning a party for a poet and former lover (an emaciated Ed Harris), who is suffering from the late stages of AIDS. These three storylines will be juggled as the film progresses, with each woman’s life deeply changing before the end of the day.

The Hours’ is a meandering mess where the jigsaw pieces can be easily identified. The attempt at a resolution for an ending, tying the three storylines together, is handled very clumsily. The film spins on and on that you start to believe the title may be more appropriate than intended. What this movie needed was a rappin’ kangaroo, post haste! The film is wrought with victimization and screams “”Give me an award already!”” Before you know it you’re being bludgeoned to death with what is profoundly the most over serious Lifetime network movie ever assembled. And there’’s nothing fundamentally wrong with Lifetime movies but ‘The Hours’ does not share the sensibilities of its TV” brethren.

Kidman, nose and all, gives a strong performance displaying the torture and frailty of a writer trapped within her own mind but too often relies on wistful staring or icy glares. Moore is effectively demoralized but cannot resonate with such a shallow character. Streep is the least effective of the three and fizzles among an over-stuffed assembly of characters.

The supporting cast is unjustly left for dead. The characters are seen as parody (Toni Collette as Moore’’s un-liberated homemaker neighbor), extraneous (Claire Danes as Streep’’s daughter, Allison Janney as Streep’’s lover, Jeff Daniels as Harris’ ex-lover, you know what, almost anyone in the Streep storyline), one-note (the workmanlike John C. Reilly who plays yet another doting and demystified husband) or merely obnoxious (Moore’’s brat child that refuses to separate from her). It appears ‘The Hours’ is the three lead actress’ game, and everyone else is not invited to play along.

Stephen Daldry’’s direction shows surprising stability and instinct after his art-house pandering ‘Billy Elliot’ showed little. The technical aspects of ‘The Hours’ are quite competent, especially the sharp editing and musical score, which just points out further how slickly hollow and manufactured the film is.

The Hours’ is an over-glossed, morose film that is too self-important for its own good. It sucks the life out of everything. And for all its doom and gloom and tsunami of tears, the only insightful thing ‘The Hours’ is trying to pass off onto the public is that women are more depressed than you think.

Nate’s Grade: C

Narc (2002)

Stop me if you’’ve heard this before. A hard-nosed and diligent cop (Jason Patrick) gets taken off the force after in accident while serving in the field. The bureau brings him back in the help of solving a case collecting cobwebs, the death of an officer undercover. This cop gets teamed up with a hothead (Ray Liotta) who doesn’’t “play by all the rules” who becomes increasingly more suspicious that said hothead breaks more rules than enforces. Oh, and diligent cop’s neglected wife and child incessantly worry over his well being as he becomes consumed by the work. What’s that, you want me to stop? Well okay then.

So what do we get with ‘Narc’? Well, Ray Liotta yells. A lot. He’’ll huff and puff until smoke blows out his ears and veins jump from his neck. Liotta eats scenery uncontrollably like Marlon Brando left alone at the Cheesecake Factory.

Narc’ attempts to tell a gritty police drama in the same manner of ‘The French Connection’ but, instead, turns into every other “gritty” cop movie. The twists (I use this word lightly because every turn is easily telegraphed) do nothing to liven up this rote rogue copper flick. Let’’s face it, every cop drama is plot driven, even the classics like ‘L.A. Confidential’ and ‘The French Connection’. So if you don’’t have a good story then there’s no gas in this car. And ‘Narc’ barely runs on fumes.

Writer/director Joe Carnahan tries to play window dressing with some superfluous camera tricks in an attempt to jazz up the proceedings. The opening handheld chase scene could give the makers of ‘The Blair Witch Project’ motion sickness. The editing can at times simulate an annoying fly buzzing around your ear. The result of these tricks is like covering a turd with chocolate and selling it to the masses.

Narc’ won’’t quicken any pulses or knock any socks out of their vicinity. So what will you get? Well Ray Liotta yelling at you, which, surprisingly, could lead to audience narc-olepsy. Even that horrible pun is better than watching the film. I think that says it all.

Nate’s Grade: C

Gangs of New York (2002)

Watching Martin Scorsese’’s long-in-the-making ‘Gangs of New York’ is like watching a 12-round bout between two weary and staggering prize fighters. You witness the onslaught of blows, see the momentum change several times, and in the end can’t really tell which fighter is victorious. This is the experience of watching ‘Gangs of New York’, and the two fighters are called “Ambitions” and “Flaws.”

The film begins in the Five Points district of 1840s New York among a vivid gang war over turf. Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) witnesses the slaying of his father, Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson), at the blade of William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his “Native” Americans gang. So what does this son of a dead preacher-man do? Well he grows up, plots revenge by making a name under the wing of the Butcher becoming like a surrogate son. But will vengeance consume him?

Watch Leo DiCaprio assemble toughs, rake heels, and ne’’er do wells to his Irish gang of rapscallions with facial hair that looks to be tweezed! Witness a one-dimensional Leo suck the life out of the film like a black hole! See Leo become the least frightening gangster since Fredo. Watch the horribly miscast Cameron Diaz play pin-the-tail-on-an-accent! Witness as she tries to play a pickpocket with a heart of gold that falls hopelessly and illogically in love with Leo! Marvel how someone looking like Diaz would exist in a mangy slum! See the brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis upstage our stupid hero and steal every scene he inhabits! Witness one of the greatest villains in the last decade of movies! Watch Day-Lewis almost single-handedly compensate for the film’s flaws with his virtuoso performance! Admire his stove-top hat and handlebar mustache!

Witness a wonderful supporting cast including John C. Reilly, Jim Broadbent and Brendan Gleeson! Wish that they had more screen time to work with! Wonder to yourself why in all good graces this film took nearly two years of delays to get out! Speculate away!

‘Gangs’ has the sharp aroma of a film heavily interfered with by its producers. The whole exercise feels like Scorsese being compromised. ‘Gangs’ is a meticulous recreation of 1860s New York that often evokes an epic sense of awe. The story has more resonance when it flashes to small yet tasty historical asides, like the dueling fire houses and the Draft Riots. But all of these interesting tidbits get pushed aside for our pedantic revenge storyline with Leo front and center. You know the producers wanted a more commercial storyline, which probably explains why Diaz has anything to do with this.

The script is credited to longtime Scorsese collaborator Jay Cocks, Steven Zallian (Academy Award winner for ‘Schindler’’s List’) and Kenneth Lonergan (Academy award nominee for ‘You Can Count on Me’). So with all these writing credentials, don’t you think one of them would realize all of the dumb things going on with the story? The ending is also very anticlimactic and ham-fisted. Just watch as we segue from a graveyard to present day New York, all thanks to the Irish rockers of U2!

I know this much, Day-Lewis needs to stop cobbling shoes and act more often. ‘Gangs’ is his first visit to the big screen since 1997’’s ‘The Boxer’. He spent part of this hiatus in Italy actually making shoes. I don’’t know about everyone else but this man has too much talent to only be acting once every five years. Somebody buy his shoes and get him a script, post haste!

Scorsese’’s ‘Gangs of New York’ is at times sprawling with entertainment in its historic vision and at other times is infuriating, always dragging behind it a ball and chain called “stupid revenge story/love story.” I’’m sure the film will get plenty of awards and Oscar nods in prominent categories, and this seems like the Academy’’s familiar plan: ignore a brilliant artist for the majority of their career and then finally reward them late for one of their lesser films. So here’’s hoping Scorsese wins the Oscar he deserved for ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Goodfellas’.

Nate’s Grade: C+

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