Chris’s Films of 2004: “The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly”
by Chris Wood
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Can you hear the theme music in the spaghetti western, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, starring Clint Eastwood, the man with no name? Wa, wa, waaaaa! Well, can ya, punk! Okay, I’m over myself now. So the movie-metaphor-title for the best and worst of 2004 was pretty obvious and I’m sure you’d rather take Oboe lessons than listen to me rant on about nothing, so without further adieu here are my choices and thoughts on the movies of 2004:
“Ocean’s 12”—This one ended up being like eating a spoonful of Drano—Sure it cleans you out, but it left me all hollow inside. Soderbergh had great shots with a gritty look (very Traffic-like wide shots that tightened up really fast) but as our fearless editor, Del Harvey, queried: “Where’s the story?” Danny and company were there, but the plot was not. In the beginning, Danny was musing on how he was missing life as a thief, but instead of constructing a great heist with a payoff, they go through this elaborately pointless scheme to get Zeta-Jones’ character back with her Dad—a la Brad Pitt’s character. How about just writing a letter?
And when they show that scene where the Night Fox (French master thief guy) impromptu dances his way past the laser sensors that readjust, have no attainable pattern and are notably impossible for “Ocean’s 12” to conceive a way to get past, I had to yell, “earmuffs,” before I cursed up a storm. I really didn’t want to dislike this one since the director and majority of the cast have noteworthy bodies of work, yet despite my efforts I did…
“Welcome to Mooseport”—This was a difficult one to put on the “Bad” list. Not because it was a good movie, but because Gene Hackman is awesome. Not is this movie, but in general… This is the one where the former President of the U.S. (Hackman) moves to his summer home in Mooseport, M.E., and then he and handyman Ray Romano both contend for Mayor and for the love of Sally Mannis, played by Maura Tierney (formerly of TV’s Talk Radio). This type of movie has been done many times before and if one really wants a small town slice of good hearted American cinema, rent Mr. Smith goes to Washington or Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.
“Garden State”—A great movie and not just a good indie flick. Twenty-nine year old (at the time) Zack Braff (Scrubs, NBC) wrote, directed and starred in this well told story of a twenty-something actor who flies home from L.A. to Edison, NJ to attend his mom’s funeral.
The scene where he’s at his friend’s party while he is sitting on the couch in slow-mo and everyone else is moving about ten times as fast is fantastic. The soundtrack is perfect—like pieces fitting into a jigsaw puzzle. Example: Toward the end, Andrew “Large” Largeman (Braff) Natalie Portman’s character and another friend are standing on atop a piece of heavy machinery, overlooking a huge crater at a landfill in Newark, screaming into the hole while Paul Simon’s “Only Living Boy In New York,” is playing. It was the tension release moment in the movie and the song fit perfectly. This movie is a melting pot of drama and humor brought to a perfect boil by good writing, directing and acting. Kudos Braff and co.
“Sideways”—Or as I like to call it, “The little movie that could.” Truly, this indie found a following, or maybe it is vice-versa. Maybe the following found this movie. This Rex Pickett novel turned movie takes moviegoers on a hilarious and heartfelt journey of two early forties friends on a week long bachelor party in California’s wine country. Thomas Haden Church’s (Tombstone) character, Jack, is that friend we all have who never grows up, living like Peter Pan—except he will score with Wendy! His college buddy, Miles (Paul Giamatti, American Splendor, Cinderella Man) is a high school English teacher who can’t get over his divorce. Miles is also a wine coinsure and a struggling writer. All Miles wants is a little golf and a lot of wine, but Jack has other plans, seeing this week as his “royal oats sowing” adventure. The week is anything but ordinary for these two and they both grow and learn, so a character arc is established though not forced. Alexander Payne (About Schmidt, Election) directed and co-wrote this movie which was all the buzz at the Golden Globes and hopes to have a little luck with Oscar too. It’s mostly great because anyone can relate. The characters are not worldly, but flawed and uncertain. They’re nervous, scared, overly bold, liars and perfectly human. Watch and enjoy.
“Kill Bill: Vol. 2”—Indeed, Quinton Tarantino’s second installment of this female, flaming-mad-revenge story does give the ending where a viewer is left satisfied—as if we needed this payback closure as bad as Black Mamba (Uma Thurman). I kind of felt that it would have been even better if they did it in all in Japanese and used English subtitles. It just had that texture to it, but that’s just me…
QT (as I call him) is really an enthusiast with the martial arts cinema—even to go so far as to say an expert on it, so the shots in this (as in volume one) had the authenticity needed for such a film. Now all QT has to do is get the ADD under raps (kidding). Make a day out of it and get both on DVD watching them back-to-back.
“50 First Dates”—Maybe it was his performance in “Punch Drunk Love” that made me believe there’s more to this NYC funnyman than, “shamma-lamma Red Hooded Sweat Shirts.” Anyway, I did enjoy this film.
Drew Barrymore’s character has her short term memory stuck on pause, so she relives the same day over and over again since being involved in a car accident. The freewheeling character played by the “Sandman” falls for her and tries to find a way to cure her so they can live happily ever after—but he finds that the most difficult part is to get this girl to fall in love with him at the start of each day. However, the ending is a bit different in that it is not the “ride into the sunset” love story. The ending is more of “making lemonade out of lemons” ending, which was a nice change of pace.
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”—This is very much a “be careful what you wish” type of movie…For you may regret it. Charlie Kaufman (screen writer: Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) with some aid, weaves this webby tale of Jim Carey’s character finding out that his girlfriend (Kate Winslet, Titanic) just had a procedure to erase any memory of him. Upset, he decides to get even and do the same.
So, the bulk of the story takes place inside the mind of Carey’s character. However, once inside his cranium, he decides he doesn’t want to loose these memories and starts figuring how he can hold onto them before they are destroyed. Original and moving this (now Best Picture nominee by the Academy) movie takes one on a very bizarre but relatable trip through the brain via love story. Because not everything is right on the surface, this is a great pick to watch in repetition to discover details missed on the first go through.
“Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius”—Sports and biography pictures are the most risky to make because if the moviegoer doesn’t like the sport or the person, then why spend ten bucks on the movie? Well, they get made anyway and this picture deserves mention as one of the “good” in 2004. Jim Caviezel (Last Temptation of Christ) cast as golf great Bobby Jones, was more than just par in the role following the only golfer (still a current record) to win all four golf tournaments in one season. Also, he did it as an amateur. In case you’re not jealous yet, he played less golf than most professionals and still won, got his master’s degree at Harvard Law School and passed the bar, was a husband and father, and invented … Okay, I made up the last one, but he was a pretty amazing and interesting guy and the story is worthy of note as well. Check it out!
“Collateral”—When is TC (Tom Cruise) going to get some credit from the Academy? He plays a bad guy very well. Granted he’s not as creepy evil as Diro’s Max Cady in Scorsese’s retake of 1962’s Cape Fear, but he was cold and calculating as hit-man, Vincent.
Jamie Fox was great in this too, but really, I thought he was the main character, not supporting. He was nominated as supporting (Golden Globes), but was in every scene of the movie? Not sure about that, but the movie was great. Another Michael Mann romp through the jungle of L.A. after dark.
“Havana Nights: Dirty Dancing 2”—I mean, c’mon, honestly, what were they thinking? Luckily, I didn’t see this one and I am unfamiliar with the first (unless you hook me up to a lie detector test, upon which I will say, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!”) so there is no real critique here, just advice to stay away from it. Just pretend this movie is the plague.
“You Got Served”—That is correct. We did get served…a giant pile of something that is not a movie! Again, I didn’t actually see this movie, but my eyes started burning whenever the trailer for it was playing on television, so I thought it best to stay away. To try and be objective, here is how the plot outline reads: “In order to achieve their dream of opening a recording studio, two friends must first win their city’s dance contest—a fierce competition that pits them against a group of tough street dancers.” If that’s your thing, go for it.
Chris Wood is a freelance writer and graduate student for fine arts in creative fiction and non-fiction writing.
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