Summer 2004 movie reviews

Ted Pigeon

The Bourne Supremacy – Matt Damon reprises his role as Jason Bourne and is just as compelling in this well-made and engaging sequel to the 2002 original. Paul Grengrass takes over the helm from Doug Liman, yet the difference hardly shows since this films remains consistent with the tone of the “Bourne Identity.” The film functions very well as pure kinetic entertainment, with good action by Damon as well as the supporting cast and a couple of inspired action sequences, especially the spectacular car chase at the end of the film.

Collateral – Director Michael Mann has always been known for his distinct visual style, but he has often been accused of allowing the style to overpower story and character. Such is not the case with his latest directorial effort, which is a riveting character study as well as an entrancing mood piece. Mann allows his characters to exist and develop in the darkly colorful world of late night L.A. he creates with the camera. This is essentially a character drama in which Foxx and Cruise fully inhabit their characters and give dimension to them with their sublime acting. Mann’s poetic visual style enhances the mood of the film and reflects the dark nature of the story. The last half hour drifts into the familiar territory of conventional thrills, but it doesn’t diminish the overall impact of the film. This is the perfect anti-summer movie and one of the year’s best so far.

The Day After Tomorrow – One would think that Roland Emmerich, director of the famous alien invasion flick, “Independence Day,” would be the perfect choice for a movie like this. And based on the previews, it was lining up to be one of the most anticipated blockbusters of the summer. But after the first half hour of the movie, mother nature has already wreaked her havoc on the human race in a series of impressive effects sequences, but after that the film has absolutely nothing to offer. The story is just an excuse to showcase special effects and is filled with all the dumb characterizations and cliches that often populate these kinds of movies. What could have easily been a good popcorn film is nothing of the sort, dull and boring, and the cheap environmental message is so pompous that it’s almost impossible to hold back the laughs during the film’s obligatory hopeful ending.

Fahrenheit 9/11 – Michael Moore walks a fine line between documentary filmmaking and liberal propaganda with his latest film, a two-hour assault on the Bush administration. Although it is often times very sharp and funny, this overlong movie is the filmmaker’s most disappointing work to date. It wanders from issue to issue without any kind of focus and, as a result, it isn’t nearly as compelling as it should be. What’s equally disappointing is that it fails to present any new information or arguments regarding the subject matter. This movie isn’t so much a serious documentary raising questions about the Bush administration as it is a series of cheap shots at the President. Whether or he deserves them is besides the point; it doesn’t make for a very engaging movie.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – When looking back on all the films of the summer, large and small, this third installment in the “Harry Potter” saga stands alone as the season’s best film. Director Alfonso Cuaron takes over the helm from Chris Columbus, whose first two films were very good, but lacked the bold vision these stories require. Cuaron not only captures the sweeping majesty and magical atmosphere of the story, but he provides the film with a subtle beauty that one would not expect from a big budget Hollywood production. As the complexities of the dark story unfold, Cuaron focuses on character and is able to evoke real feeling from the rich performances. This is a film of real beauty that combines all the glory of a big scale epic with the sublimity of a character drama. Don’t be fooled by what’s associated with the story’s popularity – this is a great film.

The Manchurian Candidate – This is the model movie that sums up why remaking classic films, even if they’re well done, will always be inconsequential. There is nothing particular wrong with this update of the 1962 classic starring Frank Sinatra, yet this film doesn’t resonate on the same level the original did; in fact, it’s not even close. Jonathan Demme’s direction is competent and the ensemble led by Denzel Washington does a fine job, and it’s easy to sit back and get wrapped up in the story, but the film simply doesn’t satisfy in hindsight. Outside it’s lackluster ending, there isn’t much here to complain about. But it doesn’t strike the same chord that the original film does because this film simply goes through the standard motions of political drama, which the original film invented.

Shrek 2 – Even though this sequel wasn’t entirely necessary, the huge success of the brilliant 2001 original made it inevitable. Having said that, this film had a lot to live up to, and the returning director Andrew Adamson and his filmmaking team have pulled it off. Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz once again lend their voices to reprise their characters, as Shrek and Fiona travel to Far Far Away, where they meet Fiona’s parents. The story isn’t as involving as the first film’s, but the filmmakers compensate with amazing creativity, attention to the details, and of course their undeniable sense of humor. This movie isn’t as good as “Shrek,” but it’s a worthy follow-up and one of the most enjoyable movies of the year so far.

Spiderman 2 – Judging by the box office numbers of “Spiderman,” a sequel was inevitable. While the first film provided decent entertainment, it was on the whole underwhelming, with flimsy characters, a boring villain and cartoonish effects. But returning director Sam Raimi got it right this time by improving on all of the first film’s flaws.

With this film, he seems more confident in the story and characters because it is altogether more involving than its predecessor, with a deeply conflicted Peter Parker and a much better villain in Doc Ock, played by the outstanding Alfred Molina. Those elements combined with some terrific action sequences, a solid script, and a soaring score by Danny Elfman make for one of the best comic book inspired films in a good while.

The Terminal – Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks team up once again in this feel-good tale about an Eastern European man who isn’t allowed to enter the United States due to a military coup that breaks out in his country while he is in the air. He is therefore forced to remain within the confines of JFK International Airport, where he is a lonely and lost man trying to make sense of the foreign world around him.

Hanks is once again terrific and Spielberg’s storytelling abilities are seemingly effortless. The film is essentially a fairy tale that works on several levels and is genuinely heartwarming, despite trying a little too hard sometimes. Aside from the direction and Hanks’ performance, one of the film’s great strengths is its production, with excellent cinematography by Janucz Kaminski, detailed set design by Alex McDowell and a subtle, yet magical music score by John Williams

Troy – While watching this movie, it’s hard not to marvel at the glorious shots of Greek ships filling the seas or two great armies at battle outside the city of Troy. But its often difficult to fully appreciate the ambition of the filmmakers in those shots when just about every other aspect of the film is so glaringly flawed.

Director Wolfgang Peterson wants to show us so many different characters, and while some are interesting, he focuses on all the wrong things about the classic story and singles out Achilles (Brad Pitt), who is as paper-thin and cliche as epic movie characters come, and is given no more dimension by the lifeless and horribly miscast Pitt.

The scenes of battle are sometimes breathtaking, but they start to get boring when we begin to realize that most of the characters involved aren’t worth caring about. On top of that, the film goes on for far too long and makes a leap at Greek tragedy at the end that feels incredibly out of place. While “Troy” isn’t the worst movie to emerge from the summer of 2004, it is definitely one of the biggest disappointments.

Van Helsing – After butchering the story of “The Mummy,” Hollywood hack artist Stephen Sommers must have had an epiphany and realized that with his next movie, he could bastardize not just one famous monster story or character, but several.

Alas, this train wreck of a movie has a lot in common with his “Mummy” films – it’s long, noisy and interminably bad. The script is terribly structured and written, and it features some of the worst dialogue ever uttered in a movie. The action is even more embarrassing – redundant and with no sense of tension … just noise, lots and lots of noise.

Someone needs to stop this man from making movies, or perhaps people just need to stop seeing them. While this was no record-breaker at the box-office (thankfully), it made over a hundred million, which makes me to wonder which legend of storytelling Stephen Sommers will try to ruin next.

The Village – Every director has misfires, but not many directors with as much talent as M. Night Shyamalan miss the mark as he does with his latest effort as writer/director. Shyamalan is a rare young director who values silence and low-key acting, but such things only work when the material is worth investing in, and that’s where he goes wrong with this film. The experience of watching this movie verges on tedium, and the longer it goes on, the worse it gets. The last half hour of the film plunges into inexplicable absurdity with twists at every corner, the kind of twists that inform us that we’ve been had. And yet Shyamalan still expects us to take him and his political allegory seriously. This is no “Van Helsing,” but we’ve come to expect garbage from Stephen Sommers… M. Night Shyamalan is better than this.