2013, Spike Lee
Just as good as any other Spike Lee joint.
2005, Francis Lawrence
Well, giving this a chance was a mistake. Did this movie have any idea what story it was trying to tell? I couldn’t understand anything that was going on, and for something that’s supposed to just be an amusing time it’s really not the best sign when the narrative itself is so over-loaded and muddled that none of it makes sense. Add into that Keanu Reeves at his most wooden, Rachel Weisz slumming it and the drastically underutilized Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare (whose castings as Gabriel and Satan, respectively, were the only potentially interesting things in this clusterfuck) and this was just a trying experience from start to finish. Akiva Goldsman produced it and I’m really starting to toy with the idea of just turning my life into nothing but a fierce quest to destroy Akiva Goldsman.
2004, Richard Loncraine
Judging myself very hard for how much I liked this movie. I’ve got a weak spot for rom-coms when they’re done well and the trick comes primarily from the chemistry between the two leading actors. Thankfully, Wimbledon's got Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst who are so wonderfully charming that I was rooting for them from the very start. You know how these things always end but the fun is in the journey to get them there, and in those early scenes where they're falling for each other I found a palpable sense of dread in knowing that very soon there would be the thing that pulls them apart before they get back together in the end.
Bettany is a fantastic actor whose career has taken a sour turn lately (not that he was ever really in the peak position he deserves to be in), but this movie shows the kind of range that he possesses and how someone not conventional for this type of role can bring more charm and likability to it than the large majority of actors who are given these parts on a regular basis. The movie has also got smaller appearances from James McAvoy as Bettany’s brother and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as his best friend, so it was really just a winner for me all around. Wasn’t expecting that.
2004, D.J. Caruso
Angelina Jolie was sex on legs in this movie. Maybe the best she’s ever looked, which is saying a lot. That’s pretty much all that’s notable here though, aside from an opening scene where Paul Dano pushes Justin Chatwin in front of a speeding car that’s amusing to watch now thanks to their boosted profiles since the release of this movie ten years ago. Otherwise it’s a pretty generic, grisly thriller with adequate performances from the cast (Gena Rowlands steals it and Kiefer Sutherland is underused) and a big twist that you can see coming from a thousand miles away. Maybe one of the most eye-rollingly predictable twists I’ve ever seen. I’ve always been a D.J. Caruso fan and this lands somewhere in the middle of his work to date; not particularly good but certainly not bad either.
2011, Guillem Morales
Back in 2007, Juan Antonio Bayona made his directorial debut with the excellent Spanish horror film The Orphanage. Starring Belen Rueda and produced by Guillermo del Toro, the film did a superb job of blending intense old-fashioned scares with a story that had an unexpected amount of heart and character development. It relied on building tension rather than cheap jump scares and an overuse of gore the way that we often see in American horror. Julia’s Eyes doesn’t feature Bayona’s deft hand behind the camera (instead it’s directed by Guillem Morales) but once again Rueda stars and del Toro produces and it’s hard not to see the many similarities in the two pictures.
Telling the story of a woman (Rueda) slowly losing her eyesight who begins investigating the mysterious death of her twin sister, we are once again given a Spanish horror film that ratchets up the scares with a consistently high level that English-language horror very rarely comes near these days and yet at the same time there’s an emotional core that beats in this one thanks to the writing and Rueda’s tremendous performance. These elements combine to make it as powerful from a character perspective as it is a visceral physical experience. The final act could have had more punch to it and the very final scene gets far too sentimental for my taste, but overall Julia’s Eyes is an intense ride that contains plenty beneath the surface as well.
Oscar Faura’s cinematography (he was also the cinematographer on The Orphanage) wisely uses jarring shifts in focus and distorted lenses to put us into the headspace of Julia and keeps us in that fear of her perspective which makes the gripping sequences even more of an adrenaline-pumping experience. Since Guillermo del Toro’s profile received a major boost after the success of Pan’s Labyrinth his name has been used heavily to market several horror movies he’s produced and it seems like the pattern is that the English-language ones suck and the Spanish ones are great. Julia’s Eyes is more evidence of that; a heart-racing experience which also highlights more universal themes like what a terrifying experience it would be to be losing your eyesight and the beauty of the senses.
2014, Akiva Goldsman
So this happened. Honestly, for a while I didn’t mind Winter’s Tale as much as most people seem to. Maybe the trailer and the atrocious reviews had my expectations so low and I was so ready for something just absurd to the point of hilarity so I was caught off guard by a movie that was kind of sweet in its own way, but for the first hour or so I was at least having a decent time with it. That’s not to say there weren’t some ridiculous parts in the first half of the movie. No, not by a long way.
There’s the already infamous cameo from Will Smith as Lucifer which is terrible for so many reasons, not the least of them being the fact that a movie like this has no place for an A-list cameo framed like it’s a giant reveal which actually had people in the theater laughing. There’s also the bizarre circumstances of the illness of Jessica Brown Findlay’s character Beverly Penn, a 21-year old girl with consumption who apparently is so hot (as in temperature) that she melts the snow she steps on, has to sleep in a tent outside in the freezing cold and can’t dance or do anything because it will make her heart beat too fast and she’ll burn up and die? Okay. Very weird, but not in the fun kind of way that the scene featuring Russell Crowe’s demon (yes, demon) Pearly Soames cutting a waiter’s throat (in PG-13) and playing with his blood on the table cloth like a kid at Denny’s is.
If I wanted to there are plenty of ways that I could have torn this movie apart from the very beginning and really the whole angels and demons mixing in with a love story for the ages doesn’t mesh well at all, but I found myself falling for the romantic side of Winter’s Tale in a very unexpected way. Findlay has great chemistry with Colin Farrell, who takes the lead as Peter Lake, and even with such eye-rolling scenes like their first encounter that starts with him robbing her house and ends with her making him tea and him implying that his greatest thievery will be when he steals her heart I somehow found myself rooting for these two little star-crossed (this is such a great pun when you see the movie) lovers to survive even though they obviously won’t because SHE MELTS SNOW WHEN SHE STEPS ON IT. I don’t know, this movie is so stupid but the love story was kind of elegant in its framing and Farrell is such a charmer he can win me over in just about anything but eventually everything gets thrown to the wind and boy does it happen in grand fashion.
Pearly catches up to Lake in the 1910s where the narrative kicks off, headbutts him like six times from different directions (why?) and tosses him in a river, thinking that it would kill him even though the shore is like ten feet away and the headbutts clearly did no damage. By the way, there’s been a flying horse this whole time that just kind of does what it wants and for some reason cares about Peter even though I still have no idea why Peter was so important because at the end of the day he didn’t have much impact on anything. The movie stages this grand love story amidst a battle between heaven and hell (I think?) but really it’s just Pearly being a dick who just happens to be a demon and has some weird vendetta against Peter for some reason.
Anyway, Peter doesn’t die and also doesn’t age (just go with it), which takes us into the present day. Here we are told that Peter has no memory of who he is or anything he’s ever done (Why? He was just headbutted and thrown in a river. That causes amnesia?) and has apparently been living in a fog for the past one hundred years just like that. We’re shown that he’s done nothing other than sulk around New York drawing the same picture on the sidewalk over and over again and he’s sad because he has scruffy facial hair and long flowing locks but not too unkempt as to be unattractive or believably distraught.
Jennifer Connelly (poor girl) finds him and this is where things get really ridiculous, as Eva Marie Saint shows up as Beverly’s sister who was somewhere between six and ten when we first met her but is still alive and supposedly aged like a normal human being. Which makes no sense because if this were 2014 there is no way that she was any less than 106 years old and she’s still walking around like a normal old person and not on her deathbed or anything. Winter’s Tale was adapted from a book that was written in the ’80s, but apparently in writing the screenplay Akiva Goldsman figured that since it was set in the present day of the time when it was written he could just erase and pencil in 2014 over that and be totally fine. It’s not totally fine, this movie makes no sense.
Also there’s a little kid with cancer, some terrible CGI of cars falling into ice and Colin Farrell literally fucks a girl to death. When I got home from seeing this my dad asked me what the movie was about and I legitimately had no idea how to respond to that question so I just said, “Will Smith is the devil and Colin Farrell rides a flying white horse. Also there’s cancer.” Akiva Goldsman called in a bunch of favors from actors he’s worked with before to get them on board his directorial debut and the result is a bunch of talent coming together for something that makes very poor use of all of them and furthers the career downward slope that most of them have been on as of late. I think Russell Crowe knew how terrible this was the entire time; nothing else could really explain his performance here.
2007, Bruce A. Evans
Best parts of this movie:
01. Dane Cook pissing himself.
02. Demi Moore getting thrown out the back of a van and into another car’s windshield.
03. Dane Cook getting his throat cut wide open by a shovel.
04. William Hurt sitting in the backseat and cackling the entire time as he talks about how stupid everyone is and how much he wants to kill everyone.
05. Remembering that brief moment where Dane Cook tried to happen in the movies only to have his hopes spectacularly crash and burn.
2013, Peter Berg
As the story goes, Peter Berg made Battleship for Universal so that they would in turn let him make Lone Survivor, a passion project he had been trying to get to the screen for some time. With both of them now being released, I can honestly say that we’d probably have been better off without either. Lone Survivor isn’t necessarily a bad movie so much as it is an entirely indistinguishable one and ultimately not nearly the kind of thing that would warrant the inclusion of Battleship into the universe. For something described as a passion project it just feels so plain and unmemorable. That’s not to say that these men who died don’t deserve to have their story told, but Berg presents it as nothing more than an ordinary soldier movie that just happens to be based on real guys. This could have been fiction and it would have felt exactly the same, so the added weight that should maybe come from this being a true story doesn’t factor in at all.
Lone Survivor features all of the typical problems that you’d expect in the way that it portrays the Taliban as nameless, faceless black-and-white devil villains but I do slightly admire the movie for focusing more on the brotherhood of these men rather than the ra-ra patriotism I was expecting going in. The violence is graphic without being gratuitous, as Berg holds nothing back from presenting how hard these guys fought to stay alive and keep fighting, though strangely all of their enemies take one shot and go down for good. There are two big scenes where the men are forced to jump down these hills and seeing them crushing their bones and being tossed like rag dolls is pretty brutal to watch, though I have to admit the impact was slightly diminished thanks to the scene in Hot Rod that parodies moments like that in these movies which kept coming into my head.
Everyone knows going in that the man Mark Wahlberg portrays is the only one to make it out alive and just in case you didn’t the movie opens with us seeing him being rescued and no one else, so it’s a shame that they made his character the least interesting one of the group. Whether it was the writing or the performance or a combination, the final portion of the movie becomes a bit of a chore as we’re stuck with only him since the more interesting, far better acted roles are taken out. Ben Foster is tremendous for his part — no surprise given that he’s almost always the best thing in any film he’s in — and his final scenes are pretty heartbreaking to watch. Emile Hirsch also stands out with quite an impressive performance, likewise taking his final moments and making them stick for the remainder of the picture.
I would have much rather spent more time with either of those guys than having to sit through the last half hour with Wahlberg, especially when this stretch includes a very weird and inappropriate slice of comedy thanks to a recurring confusion between a knife and a duck with the young son of the man who rescues Wahlberg’s character. There’s an interesting angle that’s lightly tapped on with the natives in the area who fight back against the Taliban, but sadly this is mostly relegated to a brief text card at the very end. Ultimately that was probably the most interesting thing in Lone Survivor, but instead we spend two hours with some unconvincing bonds of brotherhood and relatively generic if slightly more hard-hitting action sequences. Berg’s passion project is just about exactly what you would expect going into it and ultimately doesn’t feel like there was a whole lot of passion involved from anyone.
2005, Cameron Crowe
The only good thing to come out of Elizabethtown was having the knowledge that if Orlando Bloom can star in movies directed by Cameron Crowe and Ridley Scott in the same year then that means surely one day I can too.