Category Archives: 2004

Movies released in 2004.

Review: Million Dollar Baby

Director: Clint Eastwood
Year: 2004
Score: 7/10

Seems like a pretty silly idea to label this so transparently... surely the Brits would raid it?

Seems like a pretty silly idea to label this so transparently… surely the Brits would raid it?

Generally speaking I’ve not been a huge fan of the movies Clint Eastwood has directed; I tend to appreciate the craft of them but find them heavy-handed or dramatically unsatisfying. For the first 90 minutes of this one I thought it was turning out to be a rare exception, but then the final half hour happened and I must now add it to the pile. Hilary Swank and Eastwood himself are excellent, Morgan Freeman slightly less so (though it may be that I’m simply tired of over-used and oft-ridiculed Freeman narration). It’s so difficult to talk about (and in my case criticise) that final half hour without spoiling anything, but here goes: to the extent that it told us anything about the relationship between Maggie and Frankie, it was unnecessary since by that point we already knew that he cared about her deeply, thought of her as a surrogate daughter, and would always stick by her, and that she had nothing in her life but boxing and him. And to be honest, I was enjoying the story a lot more before the Thing I Shan’t Spoil happened. There is some of that trademark Eastwood heavy-handedness too, such as Maggie’s story about her father having to put a dog down, and some themes expressed far too unsubtly in narration. Side note: horrible though the characters are, it’s great to see Riki Lindhome and the great Margo Martindale as Maggie’s sister and mother.

Advertisements

Review: Ray

Director: Taylor Hackford
Year: 2004
Score: 7/10

Surely the only movie I've seen that features both Bunk and Willow.

Surely the only movie I’ve seen that features both Bunk and Willow.

There are three drawcards here: Jamie Foxx’s powerhouse performance as Ray Charles; lots of great Charles music used well throughout, including some pivotal musical moments; and the story of his rise, compelling despite flaws in the telling. Foxx is truly excellent and fully deserving of the Oscar he won. He basically does a spot-on impression of Charles, but his commitment and the emotional depth he conveys elevate the performance well beyond mere imitation. It’s a real shame the movie is let down by its lack of subtlety and its simplistic approach to the ‘conflicts’ in Charles’ life selected to be the points of drama: his drug addiction, his womanising, and his guilt over a childhood tragedy. In particular, making the drug story so central and tying it to that tragedy – and then wrapping it all up with the most unsubtle flashback sequence of the whole film – doesn’t really work. There’s also a disappointing old-fashionedness to director Taylor Hackford’s approach, perhaps best exemplified by the use of newspaper headlines and neon signs floating across the screen to indicate media coverage and concert venues; surely we’re done with that technique by now? Nonetheless, the aforementioned drawcards are easily enough to make it worth watching.

Review: The Motorcycle Diaries

Director: Walter Salles
Year: 2004
Score: 7/10

Seriously? Two straight hours of a guy writing a diary? Boooooring!

Seriously? Two straight hours of a guy writing a diary? Boooooring!

This engaging drama is part coming-of-age story, part road movie and part character study. It tells the true story of Che Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado motorcycling through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela as young men. Its three biggest strengths are the beautiful cinematography (capturing beautiful scenery), the winning performances from Gael García Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna, and the sense that we’re getting to visit all the places that Guevara and Granado really saw and glimpsing real life in these fascinating South American communities. To be honest, though, I had heard such good things about it that I was a little disappointed; lacking dramatic force and emotional power, it’s merely good, not great. Perhaps I needed the germination of Guevara’s political views to be more explicit.

Review: Finding Neverland

Director: Marc Forster
Year: 2004
Score: 7.5/10

This is by no means perfect but I enjoyed it and found it very emotionally engaging. Johnny Depp does well in the lead role; he’s not too showy (as he often is) and brings a warmth and a quiet charm to his J. M. Barrie. Kate Winslet is solid as usual. The kids are very good too, and they’re the source of much of the emotion, particularly Freddie Highmore’s Peter. Sure, using kids in this way can be emotionally manipulative, but if the manipulation is this successful, who’s complaining? A couple of criticisms: the pacing was uneven and I could have done without the marital strife angle. Still, overall a success.

Review: Before Sunset

Director: Richard Linklater
Year: 2004
Score: 8/10

In this excellent sequel we revisit Jesse and Celine nine years later, this time in Paris. I admire that Richard Linklater and the two stars (who co-wrote this time) didn’t take the easy path of simply recreating the original movie; on its surface this follows the same formula, but there’s a slightly darker edge to it, a maturity perhaps, that aptly reflects the characters’ circumstances and ages and experiences. The highlights this time are a scene in a hire car and the final fifteen minutes (especially Celine’s song).

Review: In My Father’s Den

Director: Brad McGann
Year: 2004
Score: 8.5/10

A sobering message to furniture: when you die, Matthew McFadyen decides whether you end up in heaven or hell.

A sobering message to furniture: when you die, Matthew McFadyen decides whether you end up in heaven or hell.

Thoughtful, sad, moving New Zealand drama starring Matthew McFadyen (who I’ll always love for the first two seasons of Spooks, i.e. the good seasons) and impressive newcomer Emily Barclay. It reminded me a little of Jeff Nichols’ excellent Mud. The story unfolds slowly, allowing us to gradually come to know more and more about these characters and the dark events decades beforehand that led them to this point. The sense of place – of this insular rural town surrounded by natural beauty but harbouring secrets and unwilling to extend trust to the returning prodigal son – is palpable. My only criticism is that toward the end it exhibited some of the traits I so dislike about formulaic television crime procedurals; thankfully, most of the way through it managed to elevate itself beyond that genre. After watching this, I immediately wanted to know what writer/director Brad McGann had gone on to make, but was saddened to learn that he died of bowel cancer in 2007; this was his only feature film.

Review: Metallica: Some Kind of Monster

Directors: Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky
Year: 2004
Score: 7.5/10

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster

Ulrich defiantly eats a burger in the face of Hetfield’s obstinacy, directly leading to Metallica’s downfall.

Long but compelling chronicle of Metallica’s drawn-out implosion and eventual recovery over two years from 2001 to 2003. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, better known for the Paradise Lost trilogy, were given incredible access – presumably before the band realised exactly what would end up being captured by their cameras. I’m not a huge Metallica fan (I like about ten of their songs but have never listened to an album in its entirety), but I was engrossed throughout, perhaps because Berlinger and Sinofsky seem to have fortuitously documented the most interesting period in the band’s history and manage to be there to record all of the key moments over that turbulent period. There’s a slight sense that the documentary functions as a promotion for the St. Anger album, but it didn’t compel me to go out and listen to it, so the subliminal messaging mustn’t have been entirely successful.

Review: The Sea Inside

Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Year: 2004
Score: 7.5/10

Thoughtful and consistently engaging true story of Ramón Sampedro, a quadriplegic who campaigned for his right to be euthanised. At its centre is a remarkable performance from Javier Bardem, whose work is subtle but utterly compelling. Comparisons with The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (which I gave 8.5/10) are inevitable; The Sea Inside doesn’t quite reach its level of power, but it’s still very good. The plot occasionally takes unexpected turns, which is refreshing since the ending is somewhat inevitable. The supporting characters are also quite well-drawn.

Review: Crash

Director: Paul Haggis
Year: 2004
Score: 6.5/10

Arnold Schwarzenegger is somewhat flat in his cameo appearance.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is somewhat flat in his cameo appearance.

The performances are fine from the huge ensemble cast, and there are moments of undeniable power, but it’s all in service of an exploration of racial tensions so crude and unsubtle that at the end of most scenes I half-expected someone to turn toward the camera and solemnly say “racism”. The initial invisible cloak scene is quite nice, and the payoff is one of those moments. Given how much I dislike both Sandra Bullock and her character, far and away my favourite bit is her hilarious tumble. How this could have won Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain, not to mention The New World and Syriana (neither of which were even nominated), is beyond my comprehension.

Review: Sideways

Director: Alexander Payne
Year: 2004
Score: 7/10

This was not what I was expecting; for some reason, in my mind I had pictured this as a movie about Paul Giamatti as an alcoholic loner confined to his house (the bottle on the poster, perhaps?). Instead it’s a rich comedy-drama about a mismatched pair of friends who spend a week visiting wine country, where – gosh, wouldn’t you know it? – they each meet a woman and learn something about themselves. It features great performances from Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church and Virginia Madsen, lovely scenery, and much more information about wine than I needed. I’m not convinced that it deserves quite the level of critical acclaim it received, but it’s a solid piece of filmmaking and cements my regard for Giamatti and Alexander Payne.