Monthly Archives: August 2004

Battle Royale

Being outside of my context, some of the social commentary obviously passed me by. What’s left is a stark, violent film about the violence and anger teenagers inflict upon each other–taken to extremes. Plus a lot of flirtation, crushes, and romantic angst under deadly pressure. Interesting, but not as good as it had been made out to me.

Matchstick Men

Funny, clever, twisty, and touching story about a con man (“con artist“) who is reunited with a teenage daughter he has never met. Nicolas Cage’s tics and quirks skirt dangerously close to being annoying, but they turn out to be integral to the plot, and their presence (and absence) also act as background barometer for tension levels throughout the film. Sam Rockwell is amusingly glib, and Alison Lohman balances vulnerability and sullen edginess for a believable and lovable teenager. Snappy script, and some lovely cinematography, too. I apreciated this as a con film, but also as parent/child relationship movie. (I think I’m developing a weak spot for those. Must watch out for soppy tendencies.)

The Bourne Supremacy

High-octane shakycam spy action. It doesn’t measure up to the studied intensity of the first film, mainly because Bourne has settled into his new-found identity, and the enemy he is battling is known (to an extent) and external, rather than the unknown internal demons he fought in the first film. Matt Damon is still highly watchable, and entirely lacking in Bond suaveness. The fight scenes are close-in, gritty, fast, and dirty. This is my idea of a spy film. (Now if only someone would take up the Quiller franchise…)

Home On The Range

Surprisingly entertaining little animation. It’s a simple story, done well: three cows go off to hunt down a cattle rustler for the bounty money that will save their farm from foreclosure. Good characterisation, fun musical numbers, and animation that is a pleasing fusion of modern blockiness and trademark Disney fluidity. In nutritional terms, it’s a snack between mealtimes. But it’s a good snack.

I, Robot

Leaving aside the similarities (or lack thereof) with Asimov’s Robot stories, this is an unbalanced film. The plot turns on an intellectual premise, but relies on Will Smith as a wise-cracking, muscular, lone action hero. Without Smith, this could have gone down as a clever piece of science fiction, but it wouldn’t have been a blockbuster, and it might not have got made in the first place. With Smith, it feels simultaneously watered down and pumped up, an awkward fit for an otherwise interesting script. Good fun, but not without its failings.

25th Hour

Thoughtful, emotional look at a man’s last day of freedom before he goes to jail. Ed Norton generates sympathy without overplaying the issue; Philip Seymour Hoffman reins in the creepy lecherousness of his teacher character; and Barry Pepper is very strong as the emotionally walled-off Wall Street asshole. (The world needs more Barry Pepper.) The closing sequence is particularly poignnant, containing the seeds of both hope and doubt, and leaving the final choice to the viewer.

Mad Dog And Glory

I’m left with the overwhelming impression that some studio executive had this great idea for a film title, and commissioned a script based on it. Enterprising screenwriter (Richard Price) has an interesting little script at the ready about a police photographer who saves the life of a mobster. Screenwriter figures that he can make a fast buck if he gives the main character the nickname “Mad Dog” (he’s an overweight, mild-mannered guy with the soul of an artist, but hey, it’s ironic!), and changes the name of the cocktail waitress to “Glory”. Ka-ching!

Goodness knows that the quality of a title is no indicator of the film it belongs to, but this one just bothers me. It’s such a good title, that the sheer indifference of the film sticks in my throat. De Niro and Murray are both flat, and Uma Thurman is plain annoying as the pitiful innocent who has fallen in with a bad crowd. There’s a subtle twist right at the end that casts the plot and Murray’s character in a new light, but it’s so underplayed that you could blink and miss it. This ought to have been so much better.


There seems to be a simple Hollywood rule that if you’re doing an action film for kids, then the heroes have to be kids, too. If you’re doing comedy, you can get away with having adult protagonists (e.g. Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Scooby-Doo 2), and if you’re doing animation you can get away with almost anything; but if it’s adventure you’re shooting for, then Thou Shalt Cast Kids. Hence the side-lining of real Thunderbirds action in favour of a pretty weak kid-brother-saves-the-day story. Yawn.

(This might have been cool if it had been handled in a post-modern, Gen-X ironic fashion, but that wouldn’t have pulled in the core audience (kids). As it stands, the studio went for box office bucks over credibility with a niche nostalgia market. Tough choice….)

Spider-Man 2

I’m a big fan of superhero stories, so I’m pretty biased, but Spider-Man 2 just rocks. It has great action scenes that show off Spidey’s powers to their fullest, and great close-in personal scenes to show the hero at his most human. Even at their most flashy, the CGI effects remain believable and slot into the story, rather than being showpieces in their own right. Simply glorious.