Category Archives: 2003

Movies released in 2003.

Review: American Splendor

Directors: Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini
Year: 2003
Score: 8/10

The kid does a spot-on Paul Giamatti and Paul Giamatti does a spot-on Harvey Pekar. Or perhaps, if the kid's even better than I give him credit for, he does a spot-on Paul Giamatti-as-Harvey Pekar.

The kid does a spot-on Paul Giamatti and Paul Giamatti does a spot-on Harvey Pekar. Or perhaps, if the kid’s even better than I give him credit for, he does a spot-on Paul Giamatti-as-Harvey Pekar.

Unusual movie about an unusual man. Paul Giamatti gives another sterling performance as our decidedly unheroic hero Harvey Pekar, perhaps improved by regular glimpses of the real Pekar as a point of comparison; in fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role (other than Pekar himself!). The writer/director team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini play with the form in some really interesting ways, forcing the audience to ponder how much of what we’re seeing is real and how much is just another layer of fiction. The more innovative sequences, and the sequences that use art from Pekar’s comic books, mostly succeed and blend in well with the rest of the movie. The story as a whole doesn’t have quite as much drama as I would have liked, but to be fair, it’s all based on fact, and I wouldn’t want them to have manufactured drama that didn’t really happen. By the end, as much as I enjoyed the movie, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would have worked better as a straight documentary, given that the use of real-life people and archival footage somewhat undercuts the sense that we’re watching a work of fiction. Or maybe that’s a moot point and I should just appreciate that it offers a new (though largely unreplicatable) way of telling a true story? I also have a confession to make about Judah Friedlander’s scene-stealing performance as Toby Radloff: I saw his name in the opening credits, completely failed to recognise him throughout the movie, and then had a sheepish ‘ohhh yeah!’ moment when I saw his name again (listed with the character name) in the end credits.

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Review: Thirteen

Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Year: 2003
Score: 8/10

I don't want to live in a world in which the only two movie options at a fictional cinema are a Jack Black vehicle called The Misadventures of Ezekial Balls and a John Cusack vehicle called Operation Kandahar.

I don’t want to live in a world in which the only two movie options at a fictional cinema are a Jack Black vehicle called The Misadventures of Ezekial Balls and a John Cusack vehicle called Operation Kandahar.

Frightening drama about teenage girls getting up to mischief. The sense of realism is heightened by Catherine Hardwicke’s directorial style and the knowledge that co-writer/co-star Nikki Reed based much of the script on her own then-recent experiences. Great performances all around, particularly from Evan Rachel Wood and Holly Hunter. Some of the music is jarringly late-’90s sounding. It serves as a fitting companion piece to Larry Clark’s Kids, though it’s not quite as good. The scariest part is that Hunter’s character really is doing her best, but it isn’t nearly enough to stop her daughter from spiralling out of control. I’m suddenly very glad I don’t have any daughters of my own.

Review: The Cooler

Director: Wayne Kramer
Year: 2003
Score: 7/10

Pretty strange choice of contact lens, if you ask me.

Pretty strange choice of contact lens, if you ask me.

Moody drama about an unlucky man and his unlikely romance with a world-weary cocktail waitress within the seedy world of a not-yet-Disneyfied Vegas casino. The romance is sweet, especially in light of the general unpleasantness elsewhere. The film has an effective noir feel helped by the spot-on soundtrack and dark visuals. William H. Macy is perfectly suited to the role of the downtrodden loser rediscovering the possibilities of life. Maria Bello and Alec Baldwin are both solid in support. It won’t change the world but it’s a pretty good movie and a good showcase for these actors.

Review: Big Fish

Director: Tim Burton
Year: 2003
Score: 5.5/10

There are some nice ideas in this movie, and its heart is in the right place, but I found it difficult to connect with the characters and it lost me by jumping from vignette to vignette without providing any dramatic satisfaction. The ending is somewhat sweet and carries some level of dramatic resolution, but it’s too little too late by that point. This is yet another nail in the Tim Burton coffin for me: once again, he shows imagination, but fails at story and character. Naturally I’m partial to the Pearl Jam song (Man of the Hour, written for this movie) in the end credits.

Review: 21 Grams

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Year: 2003
Score: 7.5/10

A powerful story told in a non-linear way that’s initially disorienting but eventually quite interesting. I’m not usually a fan of Naomi Watts but she’s not bad here; in particular, she nails the scene in which she receives some very bad news (to the extent that a robot such as myself could be moved to tears). Sean Penn is one of my favourite actors and he’s solid here as always. One criticism: a key moment toward the end is presented in an unhelpfully unclear way.

Review: Oldboy (2003)

Director: Park Chan-wook
Year: 2003
Score: 4/10

Having heard such great things about this Korean movie for so long, I suppose my disappointment was somewhat inevitable; but not only did it not live up to the hype, I actually thought it was pretty bad. There’s a nugget of a good premise (a man is held captive for fifteen years but is never told why, and is then suddenly released), and a couple of neat action scenes, but it’s overdone and quite silly, particularly the second half. I found it very difficult to suspend my disbelief enough to fully buy into what happens and why it happens. I intend to watch the US remake (directed by Spike Lee and starring Josh Brolin) to see if the premise can be executed more effectively.

Review: Good Bye Lenin!

Director: Wolfgang Becker
Year: 2003
Score: 6.5/10

Nice German film about a young man who goes to extraordinary lengths, motivated by love of his mother, to convince her that the Berlin Wall hasn’t fallen despite the changes sweeping the country in the turbulent time between the fall of the Wall and German reunification a year later. Through this story, the movie explores what life was like in East Germany and how East Germans adjusted to life after the Wall fell. Its aspirations don’t extend too far beyond entertainment, and thus it mostly succeeds, but I think I would have preferred something meatier.