Category Archives: 2005 Movies
Edward Camby (Christian Slater) is a paranormal investigator trying to rediscover what happened in his past. He was apart of 20 orphans taken by Fischer (Frank C. Turner), your basic mad scientist type. Camby was the only child to escape Fischer’s poking and prodding. The other orphans have become sleeper agents/zombies to assist him in opening a dimensional gate to another world, a world with bloodthirsty creatures that live in darkness. This world and its creatures were first discovered by an ancient Native American tribe who mysteriously vanished. But before doing so, they thoughtfully broke the dimensional key and hid the pieces all over North America. Aline Cedrac (Tara Reid) is a scientist/archeologist that specializes in this Native American tribe and its artifacts. She teams up with her old flame, Camby, to help stop the mad doctor. Monitoring the whole situation is Commander Burke (Stephen Dorff), the man in charge of the United States government’s bureau of the paranormal. He leads his no-nonsense super troopers to the location of the dimensional gateway, which just happens to be underneath Camby’s childhood orphanage.
Alone in the Dark is a good film for people that felt House of the Dead was too intellectual. It should be obvious after reading the plot synopsis, but Alone in the Dark is a movie of unparalleled stupidity. What was the point of making orphans sleeper agents/zombies? They’re very easily disposed of and not very effective. I don’t know whether or not this is because they didn’t have a mom and dad growing up. What does this mad doctor hope to achieve by opening the door to creepy crawly monsters? I guess he thinks the monsters will be grateful and give him some kind of bureaucratic job, instead of, you know, gutting him and drinking his blood. I’ll never understand why villains align themselves with creatures whose only purpose is killing. How does Camby end up having a childhood flashback from a perspective that isn’t his own? The plot of Alone in the Dark is a gigantic mess. What other film in recent memory fits together ancient Native American tribes, monsters from an alternate dimension, government agencies, orphanages, zombies, and Tara Reid? You know you’re in bad hands when they open the film with a ten paragraph scrawl to explain what the film, by itself, cannot. And then they add narration because they don’t trust their audience to read.
The film is called Alone in the Dark and tells us that killer creatures lurk where we cannot see them. This is a fine platform to engineer some good scares; really stir the audience into fearing what they cannot see. As always, nothing will be scarier than a person’s mind at work. Boll doesn’t agree. He doesn’t even toy with the idea of hiding his creatures and building tension gradually. Boll prefers to show you his monsters immediately and often, therefore eliminating any attempts at suspense. Now the characters aren’t running away from what they can’t see; they’re running away from lame CGI rat/alligator creatures. The monsters look laughable and should have stayed in the shadows for as long as possible. It’s hard to spook an audience once they see what they’re supposed to be afraid of. Boll’s impatience for suspense and his love of cheesy special effects cripple Alone in the Dark.
Alone in the Dark has no pulse when it comes to action. Boll stages his action sequences like different stations on a gameshow. Characters (contestants) run from station to station, picking up weapons and shooting at whatever, and then advancing to another stage with a different weapon. Much of the action just comes out of nowhere and ends in its own confused way. Boll likes to season his poorly choreographed action sequences by cranking up loud rock music and mixing in excessive, gimmicky special effects. For no reason, Camby and Aline and the soldiers will be shooting and Boll just all of sudden decides this scene should be in a strobe light. Or he’ll shove in a cheap slow-mo follow-the-bullet effect. Boll likes testing out different effects that serve little purpose other than to call attention to itself. Boll has confused this with style.
Speaking of action coming out of nowhere, Boll manages to squeeze in an out-of-the-blue sex scene. Aline visits Camby in the morning, sees him sleeping, and decides on the spot to crawl into bed and have sex with him. Reid and Slater have no chemistry whatsoever. It’s like watching water buffalos go at it. Then the sex is never referred to again. This is just another pristine example of how carelessly Uwe Boll handles plot and characters. Rarely does Boll even bother with a transition scene to explain how a character got from Point A to Point B.
Boll’s direction is lazy and derivative. There are scenes that openly ape superior movies, like Alien, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Starship Troopers, and even Boll’s own House of the Dead for crissakes. The plot is a cut-and-paste job of the series finale of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Both deal with an army of creatures living under an everyday school building and involve a special key to unlock the gateway. And like in Buffy, some noble individual sacrifices himself to destroy the gateway’s underground entrance. No, scratch that. The plot itself is virtually a copy of Super Mario Brothers, the first video game based movie. Both films involve some magical key needed to unlock two alternate dimensions of creatures. No, scratch that. This is one big rip-off of Darkness Falls, since both involve crazy creatures that can only attack from the dark. Whatever it is, Alone in the Dark is Boll’s opportunity to showcase his un-originality. That is, if you can pry him away from inserting more pointless slow-mo bullet effects.
The acting is wildly all over the map. I wonder if Boll will ever be able to direct actors. The line delivery is terrible all around. Slater is subdued and permanently cranky. Maybe somewhere inside that Jack Nicholson grin he’s realized he’s slumming it. Reid acts like an irritable child. Dorff seems to be the only actor having any fun, though I don’t know how intimidating this diminutive actor comes across as a military man. The actors of Alone in the Dark confuse loud with emotional.
Let’s take some time out to spotlight Reid and her character. The way Alone in the Dark convinces us that Reid is a scientist is by giving her some black rimmed glasses and putting her hair in a pony tail. It’s just that easy, folks. Apparently being a scientist didn’t help Reid with her geography; she pronounces Newfoundland “New-FOUND-land” (the correct pronunciation is “New-fin-lan”).
The dialogue reeks of poorly concealed exposition. A chatty security guard serves as the writer’s sloppy conduit to establish back story: “You don’t know about the Indians? Let me explain,” “You don’t know who Aline Cedrac is? Let me explain,” “How’s your boooooyfriend, Aline Cedrac?” Alone in the Dark relies on gobs of thick exposition to cover up its insurmountable plot holes. The movie thinks it’s like a cool detective noir. It’s not. You never heard Sam Spade say, “Fear is what protects you from the things you don’t believe in.” Huh? Does that make any sense?
Alone in the Dark is symptomatic of all of Boll’s directorial flaws. He has no feel for tone, he has no control over actors, he makes bad stylistic decisions that detract from the film, and he has no time for subtlety. Boll spoils all of his surprise by showing the monsters up and front instead of letting the human mind fill in the blanks for terror. This is a brain-dead action film that doesn’t even trust its audience to read. Alone in the Dark is a film so incompetent, so ridiculous, so convoluted, and so moronic that it must bend the laws of space and time simply to exist. This makes House of the Dead look well thought out. If this is indicative of what Boll has in store for his video game adaptations, then you can expect many duds yet to come on Boll’s path to eventual audience oblivion. If anyone dared venture to a theater to see this movie, they’d find themselves alone in the dark all right. And shamed. Deeply, deeply shamed.
Nate’s Grade: F
Einar (Robert Redford) is a gruff rancher living with his long-time friend and ranch hand, Mitch (Morgan Freeman), who has been recovering from a bear mauling. Jean (Jennifer Lopez) and her young daughter (Becca Gardner) have run away from her abusive boyfriend and seeking temporary refuge with Einar. There’s still a lot of tension and unspoken anger between the two. Einar blames Jean for the death of his son from a car accident. As their stay continues each member imparts wisdom to the other, hard exteriors get warmed, and lessons about forgiveness are learned.
This is melodrama with a capital M. An Unfinished Life is clunky, the movie hasn’t the foggiest idea when it comes to subtlety, the characters all shout out their feelings all the time, and worse yet, it’s also incredibly transparent. A scene where Lopez breaks a dish and Redford goes nuts is just too much. Of course they’re talking about his dead son but the moment is played to the hilt that I half expected every line to end in a wink (“It’s just a dish” wink “Maybe it’s more than a dish to me!” wink “Maybe that was my favorite dish!” wink). Honestly, it was at this point that the film lost me. The metaphors are another symptom of the film’s overly ramped-up obviousness; Redford might as well be pointing at the bear to pantomime that it?s supposed to represent his pain and anger. And Freeman’s eventual forgiveness of his attacker is meant to encroach upon Redford to do likewise to the source of his pain, and many other moviegoers, Jennifer Lopez. I cannot find a movie emotionally involving when it doesn’t even bother to mask its grand statements.
Seriously, this movie is brimming with sprawling earnestness meant to cover the narrative shortcomings. This is a simple tale that could have suckered the audience in with its framework to showcase complex characters and their personal interactions, like a Million Dollar Baby, but even though An Unfinished Life is simplistic it still manages to beat you over the head. Every line of significance is underlined so you get it. It’s like director Lasse Hallstrom was making a seething parody of these overarching, small-town, large cast, homesy feel-good flicks he’s specialized in for a decade.
The acting is all fine. Redford is fun to watch and get his Jeremiah Johnson back on. Lopez makes you forget how much you hate her in other movies. Freeman is settling into a weird groove as a disfigured narrator. The acting of the ensemble really isn’t the issue with An Unfinished Life.
Despite all its earnest intentions and lush scenery, An Unfinished Life is too much melodrama squeezed into such a small space. It’s an old fashioned tale that feels too convenient, too simplistic, too perfunctory, and too unhappy with being any of those things. This feels like a Hallmark card turned into a movie by someone who has no grasp for human emotion. Everything is shouted when it needs to be a whisper and explained when it needs to just be experienced. And yet there will be an audience for this slow burn small-town tale of forgiveness and accountability. It may please people immensely, but I prefer a little subtlety to my drama. I won’t say the film is bad but I’ll never say An Unfinished Life is particularly good, even as melodrama.
Nate’s Grade: C
This is a movie that piles on the mystery and clues but once the finish does arrive I was left saying, “That’s all there is?” There’s so little to this film that, in retrospect, it’s simply blowing off the dust on An Occurrence at Owl Creek (I may have said too much). The trickery Stay throws at you is slightly intriguing but mostly confounding and, once the reveal tidies everything up, wholly unsatisfying. Part of the problem is that I didn’t care about any of the characters, so I didn’t really care about their plight. Yes I get it that there is a reason for how shallow they are, but the only thing Stay had to keep me going was my waning interest in what the hell is going on with everything. I’m not the biggest fan of Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) as a director, and he serves Stay to good and harmful effect. Forster gooses the film with all sorts of visual trickery like jump cuts, using twins and triplets as extras in backgrounds, repeating scenes, playing around with blocking, and lots and lots of spiral staircases (hello, Vertigo). And you do realize that most of these disorienting stylistic decisions have a seemingly coherent reason in retrospect, but it also effectively pushes the audience away from the story, aided by the fact that no one can get into the characters. The entire affair seems pointless and empty but it is pretty to look at. I’m sure I’d garner more from a second look, but I really just don’t want to see Stay again.
Nate’s Grade: C+
The flick is wonderfully imaginative, as to be expected from Miyazaki. The Pixar people really do an excellent job of bringing these films to an American audience and treat the English dubs with reverence. I’m not someone who’ll bemoan an English dub when it comes to anime but it’s nice to see effort and respect. The story is a bit similar to Princess Mononoke with the warring factions, the mystic and the industrial, and Miyazaki’s refusal to paint in black and white. There are so many delightful touches here from the fire demon to the door portal to one segment that just involves two old ladies ascending stairs for three minutes. And yet it’s the spirit Miyazaki infuses and the attention to story and character that sets his films apart. There’s a genuine sense of magic while watching his films and Howl is no different. The only bit of contention I had with the movie is how abrupt the ending is. Howl’s Moving Castle is a bit soaked with confusion and some narrative cop-outs (“Surprise! I’m the prince responsible for the war!”). I would have loved another 30 minutes in this world as well as a better opportunity for Miyazaki to bring his story down with a smoother landing. Still, saying this is a slightly lesser Miyazaki film is like saying a million dollars is less awesome than 2 million dollars. Howl’s Moving Castle is another sterling addition to a master storyteller.
Nate’s Grade: A-
This is an excellent return to form for Woody Allen and his best film since 1987’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. The first half is deliberately slow, yes, but it is justified by the second half which more than makes up for it. The first half needed to be as slow as it is to set up the incredible minutia of this rich, elite world that former tennis pro Chris (Jonathon Rhys-Myers) has been adopted into. We need to see how comfortable this life is to understand why he doesn’t want to give it up and why he goes through the machinations he does in the second half. The characters and dialogue are spot-on and Allen has transported his world of the upper crust New York elite so well over to London, and the change of scenery has reawakened his writing. Allen knows the privileged world very well and their disconnected view point. However, he rightly centers his film not on the neurotic upper crust but on his social climbers Chris and Nola (Scarlett Johansson), a beauty engaged to Chris’ prospective brother-in-law. It is the second half of Match Point that makes it great. Allen tightens the screws on his social climbers and the tension is superbly taut. The dark turns and in the final act are greatly entertaining, as Allen delves further into his look at a universe built around chance and disorder. The returning imagery of the ball hitting the tennis net elicited gasps from my audience, and I was one of them. I love that Allen lets his story continue to unfold after the dark twists. The film’s biggest flaw is anchoring the entire point of view on Rhys-Myers, a somewhat limited actor that reminded me of Jude Law’s character in Closer. Johansson is an excellent noir femme fatale, her husky voice perfectly suited. Frankly, if ever there was a Scarlett Johansson nude scene, this movie was crying out for it. She has her tawdry affair with Chris and there’s even a sequence where we see her laying on her stomach nude while he applies baby oil to her. Their sex is supposed to be so impassioned and carnal, in contrast to his boring but stable relationship with Chloe (Emily Mortimer). And yet no nudity? Woody Allen, you’ve let me down. Your film, on the other hand, is intelligent, sharp, dark, taut, and wonderfully entertaining.
Nate’s Grade: A
This is an adequate movie that doesn’t really resonate because at its heart it feels like a lot of interesting ideas and characters that are languished with a sitcom plot. I never thought Pierce Brosnan’s performance as the aging hit man was as funny as the film thought it was. The Matador is actually a more interesting movie than funny or amusing. The movie doesn’t go deep enough; the story isn’t as refined as it could be, and there are so few set pieces that this flick could have worked as a play. The end feels a bit too tidy and asks Greg Kinnear’s ordinary husband character to act out of character. There?s an extended talk in The Matador between Kinnear and his wife and Brosnan upon his unexpected visit, and it feels like a sitcom like the wacky neighbor next door has come over and hatched a hilarious scheme. I enjoyed the characters but they really just sit and stew in a really weak story. The characters are richly drawn but have nowhere to go.
Nate’s Grade: B-
The brilliance of this Oscar-nominated documentary is how distills a complicated, math-heavy scandal and makes it so easily digestible. The Enron tale really is a story calling out for the medium of film, relying on sound bytes, testimonials, public statements, interviews, video clips, and director Alex Gibny masterfully orchestrates the telling. The film is insightful, informative, and incredibly entertaining. It’s a real pleasure to watch, and you’ll be left scratching your head at how certain economic laws are even possible. If you are confused by the Enron scandal or know little to nothing about the biggest corporate scandal of our times (Enron was the seventh biggest corp. at one point), spend two hours of your life and watch this excellent film.
Nate’s Grade: A
This movie feels like someone is projecting straight from the bountiful imagination of a child. It’s wildly whimsical and fantastical; it’s a fantasy film and a family film that never falters into treacle. Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) of all people has crafted a masterful living fantasy with great emotional heft. I was left very teary by the end and have remained so with repeat viewings. Millions has great visuals, great acting, and is a great movie.
Nate’s Grade: A
A searing look at race relations and a powerful human drama at that. This flick has some of the sharpest memories I’ve had from any movie all year, particularly the relationship between a Hispanic locksmith (Michael Pena) and his daughter and a special invisible cloak. Their first scene, where he talks her out of hiding under her bed, is one of the most beautifully written short scenes I have ever witnessed. A late scene involving the two of them knocked the wind out of me completely and is the most vivid moviegoing moment of all 2005 for me. Every character has at least one great moment, though time is not spaced equally amongst this large ensemble. Crash has the intriguing practice of introducing near every character spouting some kind of racist diatribe, and then the movie spend the rest of its running time opening you up to these characters and getting to like them. Writer/director Paul Haggis has such a natural ear for terse, realistic dialogue that can really define characters with such brevity. A fine movie, despite the overarching coincidences.
Nate’s Grade: B+
This movie is going to affect people very differently. Writer/director Miranda July, a note performance artist, has created a world of people fumbling for human connection. It’s deeply arty, meaning that meaning will be considerably different per viewer. For whatever reason, I was able to ride July’s artistic wavelength and enjoyed the series of oddball characters and weird vignettes, like a chain of cars keeping a goldfish alive atop one of their roofs. The film deals frankly with sexuality and involves teens experimenting, but the film exists in a world where sexuality still had its curiosities and detached humor, truly like a kid’s point of view. This movie has two of the most profoundly romantic moments of any film I’ve seen all year, but they are just moments. Me, and You, and Everyone We Know is a movie built around moments. There are enough of them for me and I appreciated July’s unique voice.
Nate’s Grade: B+