Click here to see my favourite films of the year: Matt's Films of 2004
Recent reviews - click to read:
House of Flying Daggers
Without a Paddle
Lemony Snickets a Series of Unfortunate Events
Below are reviews from earlier in 2004... Keep scrolling!!
These originally ran in a number of regional newspapers including the award winning Herald & Post. (combined circulations approx 200,000 copies a week)
The Forgotten (12a)
What if everything you've experienced, everything you've known, never actually happened? And to make matters worse, everyone is trying to convince you that you just ‘made it all up’ so you should forget about it and move on. After all, there are worse things than forgetting… One of them is err, remembering I guess – remembering a duff film like this can be particularly nasty, especially because it starts out very promisingly.
In The Forgotten, Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore) is a still-grieving mother who lost her young son to a plane crash over a year ago. Or did she? Before you can say, “no she’s just a nut who’s made up the existence of this ‘son’”, the people around her – husband (Anthony Edwards), psychiatrist (Gary Sinise), and even next door neighbour (Dominic West) – are telling her that “she’s just a nut who made up the whole ‘having a son’ thing.” Or to put it another way - she has a bizarre psychological disorder in which she has developed a secret life where little Sam was her son even though he never really existed.
But she’s convinced that Sam was real and sets out to prove it on a quest that sees her crossing paths with a shady but extremely incompetent government agency, another grieving parent who lost a child on the same flight and of course a bunch of intergalactic space creatures who are studying our planet in some kind of cosmic experiment – no, really!!!
As the plot disappears down the toilet, you’d be forgiven for thinking ‘perhaps I’m not really watching this dull psuedo X-File wannabe – maybe I’m making it all up?’ You wish…
Julianne Moore is a talented actress and struggles to keep her dignity whilst the rest of the cast look only too happy to take their pay cheques and run. And running is something that Moore has to do tons of here – marvel as she out runs from her husband, her psychiatrist, the cops, the National Security service, some aliens etc. What lets the film down most for me though is that when she gets caught – the baddies don’t really know what to do with her, sort of like when you used to play kiss chase in the playground but then didn’t really want to / know how to kiss the girl if you caught her.
Anyway, there are a couple of effective ‘jump’ moments on offer but overall this is highly forgettable stuff.
The Incredibles (u)
It happens to lots of blokes I’m told… Without warning you hit a midlife crisis, before you know it you’re selfishly embracing an illicit form of entertainment – something that makes you feel good – something that makes you feel like a man… Your family are put to one side, your wife maybe left to try and keep it all going… And it appears that even Superheroes aren’t immune from this. Step up Bob Parr, also known as Mr Incredible, tempted back into world saving duty by a mysterious blonde, after 15 years of government enforced ‘pretending to be normal’. Bob knows in his heart that it is his destiny to be taking down super villains and death ray robots – the thing is, Bob’s family are equally blessed with super powers and if they could just work as a team… They’d be Incredible!!
Yes, Pixar have delivered a film of super fun, super action and super domestic problems – it is the film every superhero fan has dreamt would one day be made. Nothing is impossible in this CG animation and the creators throw scenes at the screen that would bankrupt any live action super film. Super strength (Mr Incredible), elastic power (Elastigirl), super speed (Dash), force fields and invisibility (Violet) are the order of the day – this is 120 minutes of superhero gorgeousness (and I don’t just mean Elastigirl who is disturbingly attractive for a cartoon character!).
Fans of Brian Michael Bendis’s amazing and award-winning comic ‘Powers’ or any comic book actually will be right at home here. Brad ‘Iron Giant’ Bird directs and he delivers in the last act a megaton thrill endorphin explosion that I’m still grinning thinking about. It may start slow and it is the longest animated film to date, but once The Incredibles comes alive, it does so with an invigorating compelling vengeance that you’ll never forget!
I wasn’t alone in watching in disbelief as my 3 year son James ran a full lap of the cinema auditorium shouting “Look at me, I’m Dash, I’m Dash, I’m Dash!!!” immediately after the film (but I was probably the only one with a proud tear in my eye)…
So, if you’ve ever even briefly wondered how cool it would be wear a costume, perform unimaginable feats of daring ‘do’ and save the world into the bargain, prepare to completely ‘geek out’ because this is the ultimate superhero film Barr none… It’s absolutely Incredible(s)!!
Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason (15)
Reviewed by Matt (and indeed this time mostly by Gail)
GAIL: Dear Diary, ecstatically happy… My lovely husband Matt (whose still ‘does it’ for me after 10 years, 4 months and several days of faithful marriedness) took me to see the new Bridget Jones film. Yes, yes it is his job to go and review the new films but I just couldn’t entrust this whole review to him as Bridget is a film made for and mostly loved by women the world over.
Ah where to begin, Bridget it seems has found her Mr Right – Mark ‘nice but dull’ Darcy (the still admirably yummy Colin Firth) but things aren’t turning out to be ‘happy ever after’ and it’s only been 8 weeks! Just when she least needs it, who should saunter back into her life but the lovable rogue Daniel ‘dashing but naughty’ Cleaver (Hugh Grant in sexy cad mode – as opposed to his other acting style of archetypal English fop). Gone this time is Sharon Maguire who directed the first Bridget Jones film, replaced by TV movie specialist Beeban Kidron and maybe this coupled with a script that is happy to replay many of the same jokes from the first film takes a little of the shine off the Edge Of Reason? Not a major problem – because Renee Zellweger is excellent and has truly made the part of Bridget her own (no one else is ever going to be able to fill those big knickers with such conviction).
MATT: Um, Gail, Sweetheart, don’t want to be a bore but, could I possibly squeeze a couple of thoughts into this review? Thanks. Right, for a start, Bridget Jones has put on far too much weight for this sequel… I know she got paid $16million for the part but it looks like Zellweger has spent most of it on cakes!! And whist it might be accurate to a point, Bridget still swings between being blissfully emotionally and sexually content one minute, to acting like an insanely jealous sociopath the next, in other words, she’s every man’s worst nightmare… Yes, OK, I enjoyed the film, especially the repeat fight between the two male leads, but if you’re not taking your wife / partner to see this; men you might want to think long and hard before going for another spin with Bridget.
GAIL: Men eh? They obviously just don’t get it! Bridget Jones is essential lightweight fun ‘female friendly’ viewing – take your bloke, or don’t bother and just go and enjoy it yourself!
The Grudge (15)
When a person dies in the midst of a powerful rage, that force lingers within a place and, if you’re the next person to enter… it will get you too!! It never forgives, it never forgets, just in case you were wondering…
This is the thinking behind the spooky new, ‘jump out your seat a-thon’ starring my lovely pal - Sarah Michelle Gellar (see interview).
But is The Grudge scary? Absolutely!! I don’t think I’ve ever seen an audience yelp quite so much as when the spooks on offer here ramp up their freaky revenges – and the fact that this is a remake of an originally Japanese film (bit like The Ring but scarier) really adds to the oddness.
The Grudge doesn’t hold back on the scares either, this really is a sustained beating of your nerves and certainly the best horror film I’ve seen this year. What’s it all about though?
Well, exchange student Karen Walker (Gellar) is an aspiring social worker in Japan who agrees to cover for a fellow student when she doesn’t arrive for work. It’s the home of fellow American Emma (Grace Zabriskie of ‘Twin Peaks’ fame), and you’ve probably guessed it but she lives in the haunted house where the Grudge abides… Cue all manner of freaky things that go bump in the night – this is the sort of film that makes you think twice before going up into your attic alone (just in case there’s a psychotic dark haired female ghost up there)…
Under the deft handling and care of original creator Takashi Shimizu, this is one of the least-American horror thrillers to come out of a major studio in quite some time. Production values are no doubt boosted by Sam ‘Spiderman’ Raimi who produces here – actually this is the first release from his new Ghost House pictures, next up is called ‘Boogeyman’ so watch out for that too if you’re a horror fan. OK, so the acting is weak, and as sexy as she is, Sarah Michelle Gellar spends far too much time doing her ‘confused and constipated toddler’s face’ – which you’ll recognise if you’ve seen either of the 2 Scooby Doo movies. That doesn’t ruin the film however because it is significantly scary and clever too - bending time and looping in on itself like a giant puzzle box so be sure to pay attention.
Exorcist: The Beginning (15)
Here’s a sorry tale of 3 directors (one died, one was fired and the last got hospitalised whilst filming), one horrifically cheesy idea to do a ‘Phantom Menace’ style prequel and some of the weakest special effects ever witnessed. Yes, Exorcist: The Beginning suffers from an unholy amount of bad luck, crippling studio interference and generally complicit shortcomings. In a word it’s ‘scary’, and not in a roller coaster, thrill ride way either.
One of my favourite books is C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, at one point, the junior demon is advised that humans should not be made aware of the existence of the devil. Thinking like this (echoed in The Usual Suspects as the immortal line “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist,”) makes you wonder how the powers of darkness will have viewed Exorcist: The Beginning. I’d imagine that there’d be hell to pay in Hades because this film is basically one long, nasty, shoddy bio-pic that could have been titled “Satan Does Africa”…
I can almost see the devil now, torturing his agent for getting him such a bad acting gig.
Anyway, the original Exorcist released back in 1973, based on William Peter Blatty's 1971 novel, had real power and effectiveness. It was truly creepy and horrific, and that came from its central innovation of presenting the material as ‘real’. Exorcist: The Beginning however is nothing more than a cheap attempt to cash in on the franchise, it replaces the original’s genuine psychological dread with lame ‘jump’ moments such as bats flying out of a dark corner… The version showing in cinemas is the second time the film has been filmed (original one was binned for not being gory or scary enough). What we are left with is more like a demented adult version of Scooby Doo, than anything resembling a well-written study in the clash of good versus evil. The plot is basically that Father Merrin (played with weary conviction by Stellan Skarsgård) had actually met and fought the devil once before, when an ancient church is uncovered in Africa (funny how he showed absolutely no recollection of this in the original which is set years after this one). Assorted unpleasant images are wheeled out to ‘scare’ the viewer, unfortunately they work only to disgust rather than chill.
In the end, I really don’t know what ‘possessed’ them to make this sorry effort!!
AVP: Alien Vs. Predator (15)
Ladies and Gentlemen: Here we have possibly the greatest and most accomplished sci fi film ever made.
There is nothing on the planet to touch AVP for its sheer inventiveness, Oscar award winning acting or pure cinematic excellence…
Alien Vs. Predator has surely rewritten the benchmark by which all future sci fi films will be judged… Now I can die happy after witnessing such pure film perfection for my 200th film review.
Err, none of the above is actually true (except this is my 200th review), but what exactly did you expect from a film entitled Alien Vs. Predator? This film delivers exactly what the title promises – Aliens (those vicious but lovable shiny headed, chest bursting, jaw extending xenomorphs) step into the ring with the Predators (dreadlocked space hunters with a nifty line in infra-red vision and shoulder mounted laser cannons). “Whoever wins… we lose”, goes the strap line, but maybe it should have continued “unless you just want to put your brain in neutral and lap up some mindless intergalactic smack-down”. Anyway, come on in, this is pure dumb fun of the highest order.AVP doesn’t score any points for plot – humans get caught in between the angry extraterrestrials and soon end up as lunch / prey in an ancient predator training pyramid under the Antarctic. The acting is defiantly ropey, new heroine Sanaa Lathan is no Sigourney Weaver and Lance Henriksen looks a bit old and frail to convince as the human embodiment of the Bishop / Bishop II androids from Alien and Alien3. In fact there’s not much on offer that we haven’t already seen – aliens dripping acid blood, predators still keen on marking ‘honourable warriors’ but that’s also part of the attraction.
What writer-director Paul WS Anderson has made here is a dim witted but beautiful half cousin to both movie franchises. The camera makes love to the beasties on display; the aliens in particular have never looked quite so good, whilst the predators are still very ugly mothers under their helmets.
As a big fan of both series of films I found the moment that an adult alien warrior goes ‘one on one’ with a young predator made me just grin with joy. I have read nothing but negative reviews of this film up until now but I’m happy to buck the ‘critic crowd’ and suggest if you just want to be entertained – go AVP!
Shark Tale (u)
This little fishy went to market, this little fishy stayed at home, this little fishy had roast beef?, this little fishy had none, but THIS little fishy went wee wee wee all the way to the top of the box office because it was a really fun film.
Sorry about that, but Shark Tale is for my money just much more fun that the over rated Finding Nemo – cue mobs of angry Nemo lovers marching on my secret film reviewing lair baying for blood...
Anyway, I took my children to this and got their feedback – James who’s 3 still thought Nemo was the best “because he’s cuter”, Luke aged 7 however went for Shark Tale “it was cooler and funnier” were his words… I say that they’re both worth seeing but only one has Lola – the fish version of Angelina Jolie (basically a swimming sexy pout)!
Actually they are very different films – Shark Tale is the story of a jive talking ‘bad boy’ little fish named Oscar (spot on voicing from Will Smith). He gains fame and fortune as a ‘Shark Slayer’ by accidentally being in the right place at the right time (Sharkslayer was the original title but it was deemed to be not ‘family friendly’ enough). So, Oscar’s new status brings him into the path of Godfather king pin shark Don Lino (Robert De Niro) and his cohorts. Other notable characters include a superb turn by Martin Scorsese as a puffer fish, Jack Black as sensitive vegetarian shark Lenny and Renée ‘Bridget Jones’ Zellweger as Oscar’s true love.
Shrek Tale, sorry, Shark Tale (both made by DreamWorks) is blessed with a multitude of film references, clever visual jokes and over the top moral storylines. What it does well though is put a smile on the faces of adults as well as kids, for example: Oscar has just prised his way out of a shark's jaw and is striking a macho pose for the crowds… He says in a passable Russell Crowe impression “Are you not entertained?” the crowd cheers, then “You Can't Handle The Truth!” the crowd cheers again and finally “You had me at hello!” the crowd and those in the audience who’ve seen Jerry Maguire cheer…
Animation fans, Shark Tale will definitely ‘tide’ you over until Pixar’s mighty ‘The Incredibles’ burst into cinemas next month – and if Nemo vs Shark Tale doesn’t float your boat, next week I’ll be reviewing Alien vs Predator!!
Layer Cake (15)
I live my life by some very strict rules… The most important is Rule one: Have a plan and stick to it. And Layer Cake is a film I’d urge you to and see. Don’t give me any of that ‘I saw Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and didn’t like it rubbish’ – this is a whole lot better. If you saw the amusing and original ‘cake ingredients’ trailer for Layer Cake and like me thought ‘that looks good’… I’m here to tell you that you’d be right; Layer Cake fully deserves a viewing if you haven’t already had the pleasure.
Guy ‘Lock, Stock and Snatch’ Ritchie's producer Matthew Vaughn takes his chance at directing another vicious-but-witty British crime thriller, but in a real turn up for the books he blows his old boss away with this stunning little slice of Brit gangster fun and games. From the very classy opening sequence, I could tell this was going to be a bit special and then ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ by The Cult struck up on the soundtrack, I was hooked.
Throw in Sienna Miller's brief appearance which is one that will burn itself into the memories of red blooded males the world over, and add the always good Michael Gambon (the new Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter 3) as the cherry on the layer cake. This might be Vaughn's first film as director but once you’ve seen the chase in the warehouse scene – you’ll know for sure that a hot new talent has been unleashed.
Yeah, yeah, Brit gangster films can be very hit and miss affairs and I’ll grant that until now there have been few to challenge the classics like Get Carter or The Long Good Friday. So it is all the more pleasant to be able to recommend Layer Cake as an all round excellent slice of entertainment. It’s got possibly the best movie website I’ve seen this year too at: http://www.sonypictures.co.uk/movies/layercake/ - read the first chapter of the novel the film is based upon, play an amusing driving game where you have to escape from the cops and access lots of quality clips, photos and sounds including potentially the best ever conversation with a hit man you’ll ever hear. Of course for those of a more disturbed disposition you could check out the very freaky SAW or if happy dancing Bollywood style Jane Austen takes your fancy there is Bride & Prejudice. I’ll stick to the Layer Cake for now.
Man On Fire (18)
“A man, can be an artist in anything. In food, whatever... it depends on how good he is at it. Creasey's art is death... and he's about to paint his masterpiece...” So says Christopher Walken about Denzel Washington’s character ‘Creasy’ in Man On Fire and it pretty much sums up the plot.
Man On Fire is a pulse pounding, nitro injected, ultra violent revenge thriller directed by an ‘on fire’ Tony Scott. It is a story of two halves; in the first you get a wonderful relationship study as the broken and dispirited Creasy is slowly won over and taught how to feel again by the little girl named ’Pita’ who he is paid to protect. Needless to say that things do not go to plan and this sets up the second half, which is where Creasy dishes out some seriously heavy-duty retribution on the scumbags who abduct his new friend.
Pita (played by superstar in the making Dakota Fanning) is a cute pixie who would melt any washed up ex marine’s heart and when she is abducted you are right there with Creasy urging him on as he makes those who hurt her suffer. And it does get very grim at points – it’s not an 18 certificate for nothing – Creasy cuts off the fingers, shoots, stabs and blows up most of the criminal underworld of Mexico in his one man quest for revenge. But he does it with style and although much of it is undeniably gratuitous – it also feels ‘right’ thanks to Denzel’s authority and unswerving commitment to his task.
Both Washington and Fanning really sparkle here – you feel that she is the daughter he never had and that chemistry is an absolute joy to watch. Denzel delivers possibly his best ever performance and could well bag another Oscar to go with his one from Training Day. Fanning also deserves serious praise (she’s already an accomplished actress and she’s only 10) – I predict big things for her so look out for her next year in Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds!
Man On Fire is a very classy film, I’d say it’s a ‘must see’ (providing you have a strong stomach) – but even if the thought of violent retribution leaves you cold I recommend going to watch the first half!!
As Creasy says of his enemies: “Forgiveness is between them and God. It's just my job to arrange the meeting.”
This is officially the most expensive Chinese ‘takeaway’ ever – costing over $30million to make. But rather than a blowout on crispy aromatic duck and chilli-shredded beef – here we have a story of assassins told against some of the most wonderful scenery ever to grace the big screen.
Hero, or ‘Ying xiong’ to give it it’s original title, takes us back to ancient times when China was divided into seven kingdoms. Qin, the king of the northern province, is under permanent threat of assassination and will not allow anyone within 100 paces of him. The assassins the king fears most are the warriors "Broken Sword", "Flying Snow" and "Sky". One day however, a lowly magistrate enters the palace, claiming that he has defeated all three of the emperor's adversaries single-handed… His name is, err, “nameless”… Obviously his parents didn’t like him much.
Anyway if you’ve seen the trailer and thought ‘Oh yes, tasty non-stop samurai action here I come!” you will be disappointed. Hero is a beautiful, heartbreaking and thoughtful film which happens to have some high flying swordplay but it is in no way an ‘action’ film. The screen is filled with breath-taking images and it’s subtitled so you get to soak up the original culture of the language (rather like in The Passion of the Christ) instead of your dubbed ‘lip not synch’ kung fu efforts.
The plot is told almost entirely through flashbacks and each are distinguished by the predominant colour in the scene and the characters' costumes. They go through a sequence: red (passion), blue (love), green (youth), white (truth), and black (death) and I guarantee that you’ll have never witnessed such a visual assault on the senses. For me the standout colour specific scene is where two female warriors (dressed in red) fight in an orchard where millions of golden leaves fill the entire screen with a glorious glow. I might not have loved the film overall but that scene I will never forget.
Hero is a difficult film to get into, maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I found however amazing the visuals and clever the fight techniques, I felt that it passed me by without making me care about the characters.
If you loved ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ then Hero is certainly worth a look, otherwise you might just find Hero is more ‘vegetable chow mein’ than ‘kung po king prawn’.
“Guns don’t kill people, rappers do,” actually I’m more inclined to agree with Tom Cruise in Collateral when he states that it’s “the bullets and the fall” that actually kills people, - he just shoots them…
And when you’re shot by Vincent the hit man, you go down hard with 2 in the chest and one in the head… He’s a stone cold professional killer and this is the tale of one night when he has 5 people around LA to ‘take out’. What makes it compelling is that he hijacks a cab driven by average guy Max (James Foxx) and the interplay between these two is absolutely mesmerising. When Max realises what Vincent’s plan for the night is he says, “I can't drive you around while you're killing folks. It ain't my job!” Vincent looks him in the eye and replies “Tonight it is.”
We get ringside seats thanks to director Michael ‘Heat’ Mann – and if you’re looking for some tense, beautifully shot action you’ve come to the right place. Collateral is a good looking film, no, I don’t just mean Cruise with ‘silver fox’ hairdo, a lot of the scenes were shot on digital video to better capture the night aspects of the film, and it works a treat. LA shimmers with menace as the hours tick by and the bodies pile up. Mann even manages to make watching a cab driving down a street a thing of beauty by often shooting from high up above, it’s almost like the city itself is a character here.
Collateral is potentially the coolest film this year – the battle of wits between the two main characters is excellently written and the ruthless killer role brings out an impressive ‘dark’ side in Cruise. Foxx also shines as the decent man forced into an impossible situation and the action scenes – especially a breathless shootout in a packed nightclub – will satisfy action lovers everywhere.
I found Cruise worked really well playing a baddie for the first time in his career, it does mean though that you might find yourself empathising with him a little too much. Some people in the screening I saw this at were clapping and cheering as he blew people away, which I don’t think was meant to happen. Anyway, Collateral is first class entertainment and I strongly recommend it.
Open Water (15)
This week there’s a dream holiday for couples available at your local Cinema.
A truly amazing ocean view.
Plenty of time to talk with your partner, with nothing to do but ‘chill out’.
And a remarkable opportunity to get really up close and personal with a variety of exotic sea creatures.
Yes Open water is the happy tale of Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis), an almost happily married couple, hoping to have a memorable vacation somewhere exotic. Unfortunately for them, their relaxing holiday soon ends when they are left in the middle of the ocean by their careless diving boat crew. As the reality of total isolation sets in, they turn to one another for support but – as I venture might happen to many couples, they begin to panic and are soon bickering over who’s fault it is that the seem to got themselves onto the potential menu of the circling sharks…
Frighteningly, Open Water was inspired by the 1998 real life disappearance of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who were left behind by their diving boat off the coast of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. I tell you, if you’re the sort of person who worries about bad things happening to them – this film will kill off any thoughts you might have had about ever going diving!!
Made for just over $130,000 – Open Water has already grossed over $30million worldwide which makes it a nice little earner for director Chris Kentis. He’s obviously got a sense of humour – little details like the surnames of Daniel and Susan, which you get to read from their ID cards, are both characters from the ‘daddy’ of all shark films – Jaws. I particularly liked the dialogue that cleverly mixes the anguish with amusing snatches such as when Susan (after seeing a large shark swim right in front of her) says: “What kind of sharks are those?” Daniel (without missing a beat) replies: “Big ones.”
Apparently the sharks used in this film were real grey reef and bull sharks. The cast had to wear chain mesh under their diving suits for protection and though none of them were reported to have been bitten by the sharks, a barracuda did nibble Ryan (can’t say I blame it though – she does look tasty).
So OK, I lied about Open Water being a happy tale – it’s more of a merciless nerve-snapping nightmare – but it is certainly a film you won’t forget in a hurry. Just not for the faint of heart.