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The Best of 2003
The Last Samurai
28 Days Later
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Bringing Down the House
School of Rock
The Hebrew Hammer
Since this is the only film on my Best of 2003 list that hasn’t already been lauded to the heavens, I should give at least a little info about it. It’s a clever send-up of Shaft and the other blaxploitation films of the 1970s. Adam Goldberg stars as Mordechai Jefferson Carver, a streetwise mensch who is called upon to stop Santa’s evil son (Andy Dick) from destroying Hanukkah. He’s helped in his quest by love interest Esther Bloomenbergansteinthal (Judy Greer) and the Kwanzaa-defending Mohammed (Mario Van Peebles, in his best work in years). The humor is varied enough to keep you engaged, whether you count yourself among His chosen people or not. When I watched it, the gentiles in the group were laughing hard, and our lone Jew was practically wetting her pants with glee.
The Worst of 2003
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
This was a tough call, and I’m sure its inclusion on my Worst of 2003 list will cause many of my fellow FMers to question my sanity…or my taste in films, at least. You have to judge each film, not only against a relatively objective backdrop of taste and quality, but also against a much more subjective watermark…that which the film itself has promised to deliver. It’s in this second category that Return of the King betrayed me so deeply. Nine hours later, I really felt that it hadn’t done any favors to the franchise, to say nothing of the fans who had anticipated these films (and especially this film, as the end of the trilogy) with such fervor. Looking back, The Fellowship of the Ring was the best of the bunch. The battle at Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers was of a large enough scale to render the uber-fight in Return of the King redundant. Also, I can’t help but feel that Peter Jackson sees nothing wrong with making moviegoers spit up additional funds to see the full film in his extended release DVDs, and this pisses me off. Shouldn’t paying whatever the movie theater charges be enough? I don’t feel like I have to join the “members only” club to not have Frodo’s seemingly sudden acquisition (or recollection, at least) of Galadriel’s phial seem like a big ol’ dose of deus ex machina.
The Matrix: Revolutions
Again, the trilogy-ender fell flat for me. Leave it to the mother of all deus ex machina to save the day and render all the human’s contributions trite and meaningless by comparison. Trinity’s death was anti-climactic, the final battle between Neo and Smith was anti-climactic, Persephone and the Merolvingian were wasted, the subway station bit was superfluous, and the conclusion was light-years away from satisfying. I read a comparison somebody made through a Star Wars filter: It was as if the Empire and the Rebels had brokered an agreement whereby the Rebels could control Tatooine and the Empire still ruled the rest of the galaxy. Wow, what a satisfying ending to the trilogy that would have been. I’m not saying I needed the humans to win in The Matrix: Revolutions, but I needed somebody to be the victor. Oh, the machines will live in harmony with Zion? Just ‘cause their motherboards raised them right, huh? Bullshit. The characters went through all that just to delay the inevitable massacre. I enjoyed The Matrix: Reloaded greatly, but this film just felt tired.
Raised Catholic as I was, I’m a sucker for these religious thriller films. However, that doesn’t mean I’m willing to not hold them to some degree of accountability. I’ll be the first to admit liking The Prophecy…but I’ll also be the first to admit that people should lose their SAG cards over the likes of its two straight-to-video sequels. As did Lost Souls. As did End of Days. As does The Order. The idea of a sin-eater…a person (immortal in this telling of it) who can devour another’s sins and offer them absolution…is intriguing, but this movie needed more than high concept to succeed. The sin-eater (who looks too much like Jaime Kennedy) seems like a nice enough guy, and his job seems noble enough, if not officially sanctioned. What’s the big deal? Unless you’re Mel Gibson, the idea of absolution and entrance into heaven as delivered by rogue elements doesn’t really keep you up at night, or set up a character as a sufficiently weighty antagonist. A boring, tepid film, this one.
I could tell you here why it’s terrible, but I’ve already wasted enough of my life on this movie. My FM review pretty much sums up the problems: http://www.filmmonthly.com/Video/Articles/Underworld/Underworld.html
House of the Dead
If the movie industry were cattle ranching, House of the Dead would be the film that is ground up to feed to the others, and subsequently gives them mad cow disease. House of the Dead is a pretty enjoyable video game, but flops as a movie. The production value is low (they did cast Clint Howard, after all), and the scenes are intercut with footage from the actual game, for crying out loud. Unfortunately, they left themselves wide open for a sequel.
With a main cast of Benecio Del Toro, Connie Nielsen and Tommy Lee Jones, I thought I’d be in for a treat. How wrong I was. Del Toro seemed bored, and Nielsen didn’t care enough to try and convincingly mask her Danish accent. Jones was the movie’s only saving grace, the only one of its cast members who actually seemed to give even half a damn. The Johnny Cash song during the closing credits (When the Man Comes Around) was memorable, but not worth the wait.
Jeepers Creepers 2
The first Jeepers Creepers was a good enough movie for the first third or first half. Once those hitherto unseen wings popped out, though, it was all over. Jeepers Creepers 2 doesn’t even had the distinction of being partially good; it sucked from beginning to end. The unkillable Creeper disables a bus full of stupid young people in the middle of nowhere, kills the adults in short order, and starts popping the jocks and cheerleaders like sardines from a can. We get just enough of the adults to figure that they might prove to be interesting, but alas, they’re killed. We’re left with pretty young actors and actresses who scream much better than they run or think. One girl has visions regarding the Creeper, but keeps her mouth inexplicably shut. The jocks are too busy holding a racial tension pissing match to put their heads together (admittedly, a meager consolidation) and figure out a way to all stay alive. Oh, and I can’t forget the big-ass harpoon gun a local bereaved father builds and mounts on the back of his truck, looking to skewer the Creeper in mid-air for his younger son’s murder. Dreck, dreck, dreck.
This wasn’t one of Crichton’s best books, and so it’s not surprising that it turned out to be a horrible film. I knew I was in trouble when I found out that Paul Walker was the lead. I left about halfway through, knowing it was too late for the theater to grant me a refund, but needing my freedom more than I needed to get my seven dollars’ worth. I’ve seen more interesting medieval adventures aboard the Holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
I had to walk out of this one about 20 minutes in, it was so awful. If only somebody had told Rowan Atkinson that the whole spy movie send-up had already been done three times in very recent memory by Mike Myers. He must have been living in a cave since 1997 to think that this was a genre that hadn’t been thoroughly exploited already. According to IMDB.com, Atkinson was so depressed after Johnny English flopped that he checked himself into a $6,000-a-week clinic in Arizona for five weeks. Not that I can blame him; Johnny English left me wanting to toss down thirty grand on therapy, too.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
This was just a gory, pointless, nihilistic remake with nothing to offer. Ebert said it best when he described The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in his review as “a contemptible film: Vile, ugly and brutal. There is not a shred of a reason to see it.” He went on to say that “there is no worthy or defensible purpose in sight here: The filmmakers want to cause disgust and hopelessness in the audience,” and that the movie “wants to tramp crap through our imaginations and wipe its feet on our dreams.” I had to walk out about halfway through because I just couldn’t take it. It wasn’t so much a conscious choice as a visceral reaction. I was relieved to run into a friend of mine in the parking lot, who had also walked out, equally aghast.
D. Patrick Seitz is a teacher and a freelance writer living in Los Angeles.
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