Monthly Archives: November 2004

The Incredibles

Ah, forget it. I was going to write about the quality of the animation, how the story cleverly draws on and extends themes from the superhero genre, the sharpness of the script, the utterly masterful direction, and voice work that probably deserves an Oscar all of its own… but it’s just too much. There are few films this year that can touch The Incredibles for its blockbuster combination of energy, emotion, action, and sheer fun. And diving beneath the surface splendour, it shows the kind of filmmaking skill, depth, and maturity that few films ever attain. It’s simply a great film.


Alfred Kinsey is the man who almost single-handedly revolutionised sexual research in the late 1940s and early 50s. With his exhaustive studies of human sexual behaviour, not only did he bring some hard data to a field previously dominated by anecdote and prudish superstition, but his reports also became mainstream bestsellers, and are given credit for kick-starting the sexual openness and freedom of the latter half of the 20th century.

Kinsey is a look at the life of this unusual, shy, and highly driven man. Liam Neeson takes the title role, with Laura Linney playing his wife Clara. Their relationship, and Kinsey’s research form the core of the story, with Kinsey’s close friend and research associate Clyde Martin (Peter Sarsgaard) weaving the two threads tightly together. The screenplay takes great delight in juxtaposing sweet romantic innocence and 1940s attitudes with unflinching sexual frankness, to both humorous and sympathetic effect. It’s a warm, informative, and above all joyful film.

Dan Fesperman – The Small Boat Of Great Sorrows

Former Bosnian police detective Vlado Petric lives an unsatisfying but peaceful life in Berlin, where he and his family have sought asylum. When Calvin Pine, a prosecutor from the International War Crimes Tribunal, comes to ask for his help in catching a war criminal from the Second World War, Vlado is excited about returning to his own country, but afraid of what he will find there. His fears are justified. Not only does the sting operation go horribly wrong, but he and Pine get caught up in a fifty-year-old web of espionage and deception, involving Vlado’s dead father, and striking right to the heart of his own identity.

Aside from the intricately crafted plot, Dan Fesperman writes beautifully and movingly about the devastation and human cost of war. The characters he has created here are deep and engaging, and leave a lasting impact. The climax may have a little too much of the crime caper to it, but it does at least seal an otherwise rather dark story with an emotionally satisfying (and uplifting) cap. Highly recommended.


Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) is a reverse engineer. He takes pieces of intricate technology, figures out how they work, and rebuilds them from the ground up. Companies pay him highly for this skill, but they also require him to erase his memory of the time he was working for them. For his latest job, he commits to a three-year contract in return for a paycheck that would make him rich. But when he comes out of the contract, he finds that his reward consists of an nothing more than envelope full of cheap trinkets that he apparently mailed to himself a few weeks earlier–a time he no longer remembers. And the FBI are hunting him on suspicion of treason…

A worthy Philip K. Dick movie should be both playful and paranoid. Paycheck uses traditional Dickian themes of memory and identity to weave an exciting story about Jennings’ race to figure out why he sent himself that envelope, and what the objects inside mean. The overall plot may be predictable, but it is tremendous fun to watch all the little details slide neatly into place.


I’ve struggled to decide whether to give Collateral five stars or just four and a half. On the one hand, it’s a nearly flawless thriller. On the other hand, would I really describe it as an all-time great? Michael Mann is clearly at the top of his game, directing the action with cool grace when the mood requires it, and with clinical precision in the action sequences. Some of the intense close-up camera work brings new new meaning to the term “in your face”, while other scenes act as a moving poetic tribute to loneliness in the heart of the City. Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx both shine in their roles, and none of the supporting cast put a foot wrong. It’s one of the very best films I’ve seen this year…but I think it stops just short of being seminal–the kind of film that will stand out as a landmark in years to come. So, four and a half it is.

Man On Fire (2004)

Former counter-terrorist agent John Creasey (Denzel Washington) finds a job in Mexico City as the bodyguard of a wealthy industrialist’s daughter (Pita, played by Dakota Fanning). Creasey is a heavy drinker, trying to escape the ghosts of his past, but he gradually finds solace and redemption in his friendship with the little girl. This introductory story, which plays out over the first hour, could almost stand as a film on its own. It’s intense and touching, and it paints a warm picture of Creasey and Pita as two lonely souls who have a lot to learn from each other. But then she is kidnapped, and when the ransom drop goes sour, killed.

Creasey was shot and almost killed when Pita was taken. With her gone, his lifeline is cut, and his sole purpose becomes finding out who kidnapped her, and killing them. It’s a brutal rampage, and director Tony Scott runs riot with his characteristic visual flair to turn this bloodbath into a stylistic masterpiece. But just as Scott cranks up the colour, Creasey turns emotionally monotone. The latter half of the film is not about anger and thrills and car chases, it’s about black depression and cold determination.

Denzel Washington puts in a stunning performance, making Creasey’s revenge feel realistically barren, but the amount of cinematographic energy being lavished on it feels out of place. The ending, which I won’t spoil here, is both emotionally jarring and disappointingly anti-climactic. It’s a difficult film to watch, but still a worthwhile one. Just don’t be expecting a summer action blockbuster–it’s much, much darker than that.

Anger Management

In a cruel parody of paranoid justice, excessively mild-mannered Dave Buznik (Adam Sandler) is branded a violent felon, and sentenced to undergo anger management therapy at the hands of the unorthodox psychiatrist Buddy Rydell (Jack Nicholson).

Most of the film’s humour comes from Buddy placing Dave in situations specifically designed to frustrate him, and to taunt him into dealing with his repressed anger. This is also the film’s main drawback: the succession of annoyances itself quickly becomes annoying. When the final payoff comes, it turns out to be a bait-and-switch that undermines the sense of natural justice you’re supposed to feel at Dave eventually winning through. It’s a comedy that made me feel tense. Grrr.

The Royal Tenenbaums

Amusing and intricate comedy about the extremely dysfunctional Tenenbaum family. Displaced patriarch Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) is broke and about to be thrown out of his hotel. At first he tries to wheedle his way back into his family’s good graces by pretending that he is dying of cancer. By the time this deception falls apart, he realises how much he has genuinely missed them, and he makes a genuine attempt to amend his ways, and become the father he never was.

I say “amusing”, because most of the humour is a touch too off-beat and deliberately intellectual to be genuinely “funny.” Also, although the second half of the film draws all of the storylines together, the first half really is a bit of an unfocused mess. And without having some idea of where the story was going, I found it hard to properly appreciate what it was trying to say. The resolution is satisfyingly sympathetic, though.

Along Came Polly

Light, easygoing comedy romance about uptight insurance risk assessor Reuben Feffer (Ben Stiller), who starts going out with flaky free spirit Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston) after his wife leaves him for their scuba instructor on their honeymoon. Ben Stiller is good as usual, and Philip Seymour Hoffman runs an amusing (though mostly irrelevant) sub-plot as Reuben’s failed actor friend. Watch out for some nice touches by Hank Azaria as the scuba guy, and Bryan Brown as the extreme sports nutter Reuben is trying to insure. It’s simple but funny, and the perfect antidote to a cold and dark winter evening.

Mystic River

Three childhood friends whose lives have taken very different directions are forced to confront each other, and the ghosts of their past, when one of their daughters is murdered. It’s a tough story with some uncomfortable moral questions (typical of Dennis Lehane, on whose novel the film is based). Eastwood’s directorial touch is restrained, allowing strong performances from the whole cast to shine through.