Category Archives: 2004 Movie reviews

Dawn of the Dead-2004

Dawn of the Dead-2004

Director-Zack Snyder

Starring-Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames

Scott’s Review #956

Reviewed November 8, 2019

Grade: C+

Dawn of the Dead (2004) is a remake of the original horror-comedy-satire film by legendary George Romero. What the original provided in intrigue and concept is lacking in the much bloodier remake- the freshness is not there. The film was made pre-television phenomenon The Walking Dead but watching it now with the zombie obsession at a steady decline, the film, while entertaining, feels tired and dated. The film feels patterned after the successful and fresh 28 Days Later (2002).

Now set in Wisconsin (the original was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), Ana (Sarah Polley), returns from a shift at the local hospital, where she works as a nurse. She soon learns that massive bulletins alert sudden zombie plague, where former human beings have turned into cannibalistic corpses. Her husband a victim, Ana joins a small group of survivors at the local shopping mall and attempts to stay alive while being encircled by the creatures, and other not so nice people.

The main group includes a grizzled police sergeant, Kenneth (Ving Rhames), electronics salesman Michael, petty criminal Andre and his pregnant wife, Luda, and three guards, C.J., Bart, and Terry.  They are later joined by others who arrive via delivery truck. The large group befriends another survivor, Andy, who is stranded in his gun store across the zombie-infested parking lot. The rest of the film offs the characters one by one in traditional horror style, while the remaining few try to figure out an escape route.

The main problem with Dawn of the Dead is that the characters are not written well, making them either one note or not particularly interesting, and quite stereotypical. Examples of this are the angry and defiant guards, who make trouble for the rest of the group for no other reason than as a weak plot device to create drama other than from the zombies. Kenneth is an angry cop, a lone wolf type of character, who frequently postures and preaches. Again, there is no interesting reason behind his personality. Finally, Steve is an oversexed playboy who keeps recordings of his sexual shenanigans for repeated viewings.

The character meant to root for is Ana. We sympathize with her for her husband’s gruesome death and her struggle to stay alive, so she is the films hero. Her character is likable and Polley is a worthy actress, but I wonder if a name star would have been better in this circumstance. Polley did not last very long in the Hollywood world and this only makes the film feel more dated than it already does. Many viewers will not know who the actress is.

Another irritant is the decision to make the zombies move faster. Part of the beauty of the zombies is that they are slow and brooding, unable to think, just existing in a mummy-like haze. Suddenly, they are fast, making them tougher to flee from. This attempt at a modern approach by changing things up too much does not work at all.

Dawn of the Dead is not all dour. Props must be given to the mall setting, updated for 2004 shopping inclusiveness. Trendy and timely stores are added, and it feels like a mall of its time. This is one aspect of the film that works and feels interesting. Eagle-eyed viewers may spot some of their favorite stores from this decade.

The strongest part of an otherwise mediocre film is the brilliant incorporation of the heavy-metal band Disturbed’s aggressive song “Down with the Sickness” from 1999. The song is incorporated over the stylistic end credits and a summary of what happens to the survivors is provided over the lyrically brutal song. Unfortunately, it is the very ending of the film where it finally hits a home run.

Since this is a remake it is impossible not to compare it to the 1978 version in many ways. The characters in the original had more salt and a romance added a bit of complexity. The original also felt fun whereas the 2004 version seems hardened and angry. The originality that made the original fresh is lacking in this retread, which limits the unique social context and thought provocation that the original contained.

With little reason to watch Dawn of the Dead (2004) unless it was still 2004, the original 1978 Romero version is far superior. A fun tip might be to watch them in sequence (I did!) to notice differences in style and pacing and for general comparison sake. The final musical score is a win, but much of the rest is dull and dated.

The Polar Express-2004

The Polar Express-2004

Director-Robert Zemeckis

Starring-Tom Hanks

Scott’s Review #800

Reviewed August 8, 2018

Grade: B+

The Polar Express (2004) is a modern entry into the annals of holiday film history. Along with treasures like Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch, and all the other standards, this film has become a popular one to watch throughout the season. The film is not exactly like the others, since it is the first of its kind to incorporate live human characters animated using live action motion capture animation. The mood of the film is mysterious, edgy, and with a dark tint, so jolly it isn’t, but compelling it is, and visually is a marvel.

The story is as follows- on a snowy (naturally!) Christmas Eve, a young boy living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is doubtful of the existence of Santa Claus. When a steam locomotive suddenly appears outside of his house, he curiously boards the train to find a mysterious conductor (Tom Hanks) manning the train. As the train rolls away the boy meets two other children on board and stops for another one, also reluctant to get on. They begin a dazzling, frozen adventure to the North Pole with the promise of receiving the first gift of Christmas from Santa Claus himself.

The main reason to recommend The Polar Express is simply for the gorgeous visual treats offered. In 2004 the film was a unique experience and I fondly recall sitting in a dark movie theater observing the film for the first time. There was a magical element to the surroundings, combining intrigue and fantasy that still holds up well. For adults I do not think the film is at all scary, but I have heard some reviewers complain that the moody ingredients are a bit frightening for children so there is that concern. 

A major component is the mixture of human beings and animated tools. The familiar actor who everybody knows is Tom Hanks as the conductor. Therefore, to sit back and observe the character is a wonderful thing- is it really Tom Hanks or is it an animation? Certainly it is ultimately both, but the fun is in the observation and wondering how the film makers created this experience. And listen for Hanks in other voice performances throughout the film. 

The story (or fable) itself is warm and fairly predictable in nature. But, of course, being largely made with kids in mind, this is to be expected. There is never a doubt that the boy (interestingly never given a name) will ultimately believe in Santa after all and live happily ever after. The magic is in the details, though- the boy’s journey to this realization is peppered with fun and creative richness- the little girl’s floating ticket and an ornament falling off a Christmas tree are good particulars. 

Director, Robert Zemeckis, and Hanks worked closely together in Forrest Gump (1994) so the pair are familiar with each other, creatively speaking. Hanks undoubtedly had much input into the decision making and it shows. 

I do not personally rank The Polar Express (2004) among the best of the best of holiday film offerings, but I support an occasional dusting off of this work for viewing pleasure. Perhaps over time the animations may become dated or seem less dazzling, but the film is still to be appreciated for its creative elements. The story is nothing spectacular (in a way Scrooge for kids), but makes for a pleasant family viewing experience. 

Million Dollar Baby-2004

Million Dollar Baby-2004

Director-Clint Eastwood

Starring-Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank

Scott’s Review #798

Reviewed August 2, 2018

Grade: A

Million Dollar Baby (2004) is arguably Clint Eastwood’s best directed film of his career. Rivaling Mystic River (2003) by a hair, the film has a raw emotional appeal, empathetic and richly carved characters, and mainstream sensibility. These combined elements resulted in huge box office success and Oscar wins for Picture, Director, Actress, and Supporting Actor in the year of its release.

Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) is a hardened boxing coach who owns a run-down Los Angeles gym. He works with his best friend and assistant, Eddie (Morgan Freeman). When aspiring female boxer, Maggie (Hilary Swank), arrives and begs Frankie to train her, he initially declines, but at Eddie’s urging, eventually relents and leads her to great success as a top female boxer. Frankie and Maggie forge a close-knit, father/daughter relationship, a substitute for the damaged one he has with his own daughter.

The final portion of Million Dollar Baby takes a very dark turn, as Maggie is illegally punched during a bout by a fellow boxer, causing her to become a quadriplegic. These events are what changes the tone of the film from a very good sports drama to a great tale in morality. Many emotions and debates transpired after this film was released and the common question of, “What would you have done?” engulfed viewers for months, all through awards season. The heartbreaking effects of the story events raises the film head and shoulders above most typical sports films.

Too often Eastwood creates films that are palpable, but in a way generic, and very Hollywood. Grand Torino (2008) and Invictus (2009) are good examples of this- especially Invictus given the sports drama element.  Some assumed that Million Dollar Baby was to be a female Rocky (1976) and the film was indeed marketed as such. For this reason some felt robbed or duped, but I celebrate this film as leaning a firm left of center with a refreshing, progressive approach.

The performances are amazing all around, even by Eastwood- never known for his acting talent. The characters are written as character driven, but not caricatures. Wounded, grizzled, and flawed, in his senior years Frankie is seeing his life having passed him by, having achieved nothing. Never has Eastwood portrayed a character as complex and reserved as Frankie.

Swank deserved her second Oscar (1999’s Boys Don’t Cry was her first) for simply becoming a boxer- her pre-filming prep schedule reportedly was insane. More than the muscle and toning she achieved, is the raw acting talent and wounded emotions she possesses. The character is written as pained and vulnerable, but also very strong. She has achieved little in her life- working as a waitress in Missouri and stealing scraps of leftovers to survive. Her family is trash through and through, only wanting her eventual riches for themselves. The character is inevitably championed as we empathize with her plight in an emotional way.

Finally, Freeman deserves recognition for being the ultimate supporting actor. As Eddie Dupris, a former fighter blind in one eye, he is the center point of the story and frequently narrates the actions of others, oftentimes offering a glimpse into the psyche of individuals. The voice of reason, he is observant and analytical, almost knowing Freddie better than Freddie knows himself. They quarrel and disagree, but are forever friends and loyal to a fault. Freeman possesses quite reserve as the audience becomes curious of his past life.

In my opinion Million Dollar Baby (2004) is Eastwood’s best film- Mystic River comes a close second, however. A seemingly formulaic story and genre are weaved into a web of humanism, emotions, and power. The film is about the characters, which makes it succeed. Eastwood has not been able to quite surpass this beautiful story, but thankfully received dripping praise and accolades for a film not soon forgotten.

Vanity Fair-2004

Vanity Fair-2004

Director-Mira Nair

Starring-Reese Witherspoon, James Purefoy

Scott’s Review #772

Reviewed June 12, 2018

Grade: B

An adaptation of the classic 1848 novel written by William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair (2004) softens the traditionally unlikable and roguish character of Becky Thatcher quite a bit. This proves not to be the smartest move as the character, now more of a heroine, is watered down and forever changed, as is this film adaptation. Reese Witherspoon (Becky) drew harsh criticism for her starring turn, but I personally do not think she is so bad; and the costumes and set designs are wonderful and quite the highlight of the resulting period piece.

In 1802 England, we meet Becky Sharp, a young woman who has just graduated from a School for Girls and been sent to work as a governess. Because her father, a talented painter, is impoverished, Becky is cast aside as lower class and deemed undesirable to anybody upper class- the men she is most interested in. Despite her reputation as a tart, Becky aspires to marry rich and frequently gets into trouble with her shenanigans and smart tongue while romance blooms with the handsome Rawdon Crawley (Purefoy).

The story is supposed to encompass Becky’s life from approximately age eighteen through her mid-thirties (though Witherspoon never appears to age), and displays her trials and tribulations, her loves and losses through the years. We follow her from rural England to London and to Belgium, eventually residing in Germany, reduced to working in a casino, where the film concludes. In this way the film is a treat as the various countries as they appeared in the nineteenth century, and the wars and battles occurring during this time period are featured making for an interesting history lesson.

The main appeal should be Becky Thatcher since the film revolves around her, and numerous criticisms were thrown around accusing the film for casting Reese Witherspoon in the important and demanding role based on her star power at the time.  In 2004 Witherspoon was experiencing enormous film success after 2001’s Legally Blonde and 2002’s Sweet Home Alabama- admittedly fluff films- but securing her box office power nonetheless. These films undoubtedly led to her being cast in the pivotal role, but I thought the star was perfectly adequate and gave Becky appropriate humor and zest.

Based on Witherspoon’s “girl next door” persona and the fact that she just looks like a good character- perplexing is the decision to cast her if film makers wanted to be true to the character.  Admittedly though, Witherspoon was delicious in 1999’s Election as villainous Tracy Flick, a role of a lifetime. But that is the exception and not the standard. But I digress- the bottom line is that while she is a capable actress, she does not give the gritty performance that many were expecting to be true to the character in the novel.

The rest of Vanity Fair is really just mediocre as far as story goes. While the antics of Becky are both humorous and dramatic, her rooting value in the romance department does not come across in the 2004 film offering- not enough chemistry exists between the leads to warrant much support. Rumors abound that other incarnations of Vanity Fair are far more superior and compelling than this film is, but I have yet to have seen any.

Compliments must be reaped on the costume department and the art direction- both are superior. Such a treat are the lavish and colorful costumes and gowns that mark the time period. From the classic style hats and highfalutin dresses featured in ball after ball, this aspect is nearly enough to recommend a watch over the dull story and immeasurably the highlight of the entire film.

Apparently, Vanity Fair (2004) is considered a messy travesty to those well-read enough to have turned the pages of the classic novel. Since I have not yet read the book, perhaps I enjoyed the film slightly more than I should have, but alas, I did not find the casting of Witherspoon as Becky nor the overall product to be drivel as many did. I recommend the film for the gorgeous visual treats if nothing else.

White Chicks-2004

White Chicks-2004

Director-Keenen Ivory Wayans

Starring-Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans

Scott’s Review #647

Reviewed May 29, 2017

Grade: D

Anything but high art, though at the time of release (2004), seeming like a clever, yet silly, slapstick farce, White Chicks was a film that I found rather enjoyable. Watching the film in 2017, some thirteen years later, however, the film feels dated beyond belief and as dumb as can be. The film also contains Paris Hilton gimmick characters and racial overtones that were lost on me when I first saw the film.

Clearly influenced by the drag comedy (and classic) from 1959, Some Like It Hot, the premise sounds interesting and comical. Kevin and Marcus Copeland (played by the comical Wayans brothers) are a pair of black,  masculine, F.B.I. agents who bungle an undercover investigation and are given one last chance to redeem themselves before being booted from the bureau for good. They are assigned the task of protecting the mega-rich cruse-line heiresses Brittany and Tiffany Wilson, who are in town (at the Hamptons) from a planned kidnapping plot over Labor day weekend. Kevin and Marcus don blonde wigs, freakish makeup, and awkwardly pose as the Wilson sisters in order to save their jobs.

As the story goes on, Kevin and Marcus (as Brittany and Tiffany) develop relationships with various characters including millionaire Latrell Spencer (Terry Crews), who takes an interest in Marcus (thinking he is Tiffany, and white). Other antics occur as the “girls” try their best to formulate friendships with the heiresses snotty friends as they attempt to foil the kidnapping plot.

Similarities to the classic Wilder hit, Some Like It Hot, are tough not to notice, and director, Keenen Ivory Wayans, is smart to borrow from a film considered one of the greatest comedies of all time. Just as Joe and Jerry (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) go on the lam to escape mafia figures out of desperation, Kevin and Marcus are desperate to keep their jobs, causing both sets of “impersonators”, to suffer from dire circumstances. Also worth mentioning are similar conclusions in both films as love interest Osgood Fielding III, also a millionaire, as is Spencer in White Chicks, each are not phased by the “big reveal” as the men are de-masked as actually being males.

Clever in 2004, the incorporation of celebrity Paris Hilton, in 2017 now all but faded, seems dated and of the past. In real life being a hotel heiress, characters Brittany and Tiffany (cruise line heiresses) clearly mirror Hilton as spoiled, self centered, and oblivious to everyone around her. The aspect was a good idea at the time of the films release, but now is irrelevant, not even as a nostalgia gag- perhaps in the year 2037 White Chicks might be appreciated more, but I would not hold my breathe.

The overall tone of White Chicks is also fraught with silliness and with one gag after another. Rather than being believable as females, the Wayans brothers look downright frightening and robotic as Brittany and Tiffany. Certainly in comedies suspension of disbelief is required, but the producers should have done a bit more to feminize the characters instead of playing them as goofs.

The ending of the film is no frills and formulaic with no real twist or surprise ending to speak of. The ridiculous misunderstandings with Kevin and Marcus’s real significant others, foolishly believing the men are having affairs with other women seem forced and amateurish. Predictably, when the men profess their love for the girls in earnest fashion, they fall for it hook, line, and sinker and the film wraps in disappointing, standard fashion.

Cute and fresh feeling at the time, White Chicks now feels stale and tired with racial overtones, deemed amusing back in the day, but now seeming mean-spirited and unnecessary. The film is an attempt at recreating a classic comedy for a younger audience, but I would recommend seeing the original Some Like It Hot instead- it is much more enjoyable.

Closer-2004

Closer-2004

Director-Mike Nichols

Starring-Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman

Scott’s Review #605

Reviewed January 11, 2017

Grade: B+

Closer is a very odd, offbeat sort of film, yet it is strangely fascinating and reels you in as the story unfolds and more is revealed. One will become engrossed in the characters as the film is rich in nuanced character development. Closer is very adult and certainly not for everyone, but if you enjoy character driven films this one is worth checking out.

Based on a play of the same name and featuring a star studded cast to go along with several Oscar nominations, Closer tells the story of companionship, isolation, and betrayal. It centers on four characters, (Anna-Julia Roberts, Dan-Jude Law, Alice-Natalie Portman, and Larry-Clive Owen), each of whom spends the film either bedding, scheming, or jealous of each of the others. Purely a character study, we see many different emotions from each, which is the films strength.

To the films credit, it is shot much like a play, however, is just a tad on the slow moving side. However, I adored the London locales, and the films successful attempt at makes the viewer uncomfortable and just a tinge disturbed.

The Bridesmaid-2004

The Bridesmaid-2004

Director-Claude Chabrol

Starring-Benoit Magimel, Laura Smet

Scott’s Review #548

Reviewed December 14, 2016

Grade: B+

A more modern offering by Claude Chabrol, (many of his films were made in the 1960’s and 1970’s), his 2004 film entitled, The Bridesmaid, continues the tradition of compelling, macabre, story-telling immersing the viewer in strange behavior by the central characters, as they obsess over each other in one way or another. The film is in the French language.

The Bridesmaid actually contains two plots- one explored fully, the other not explored as much as might have been hoped- the latter being the more interesting of the two. Philippe is the only son of his mother, Christine, and the only male in the household- his two other sisters live there as well. Christine is divorced and works as a hairdresser. The family is a rather typical one save for a creepy incestuous bond between Philippe and Christine-very romantic in their conversations with each other, and Philippe’s penchant for carrying around a head statue carved to resemble his mother. He regularly sleeps with the statue and kisses it on the lips.

As the youngest daughter is to be married, Philippe meets and bonds with one of the bridesmaids- Senta. The two embark on a torrid love affair and become inseparable. As their love flourishes, Senta become obsessive in her undying love for Philippe and asks him to kill a stranger as a way of proving his love for her. This leads to confusion as Senta kills another character, thinking this is what Philippe wants. Philippe becomes both afraid and titillated by the young girl.

The main plot is very reminiscent of the Hitchcock classic, Strangers on a Train, as one party is bloodthirsty and the other a more innocent victim of the plot, yet in Chabrol’s film, the other party suffers from issues of their own in the emotional sense. Senta is unbalanced, and a mysterious figure from her past- Rita- described as her stepmother, appears a few times, as she dances with her much younger partner.

A local girl mysteriously disappears early on in the film, which may be a red herring to the stories, or perhaps related to all the events of the film.

Personally, I was more intrigued by the mommy/son angle, but perhaps that is Chabrol’s way of confusing the audience. Oddly, the duo has simmering chemistry, yet each character never fesses up to being obsessed with the other- it is merely implied. Philippe dislikes Christine’s beau, who figures prominently in the main story of Senta’s machinations, but I wanted more of Christine and Philippe.

Stylistically, The Bridesmaid is dreamy and builds at a slow momentum, similar to Chabrol’s earlier films- we are aware that the story will play out in strange, interesting fashion, but we do not always know just what road Chabrol might take, nor what plot points may or may not be revealed.

Perhaps less developed as some of his fantastic earlier efforts, but certainly a recommended watch for someone in the mood for a morbid, left of center, story to sink one’s teeth into.  Claude Chabrol is a director I admire greatly for his use of fascinating elements that keep the audience guessing as to what is coming next, and this is a joy in itself.

Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Volume 2-2003/2004

Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Volume 2- 2003/2004

Director-Quentin Tarantino

Starring-Uma Thurman, David Carradine

Top 100 Films-#58

Scott’s Review #322

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Reviewed January 3, 2016

Grade: A

Despite being released as separate films (Fall of 2003 and Spring of 2004), Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Kill Bill: Volume 2 are really one grand, sprawling feature. In fact, the films were shot as one, but at a running time of over four hours, it was impossible to release them as one, so director Quentin Tarantino decided to release his masterpiece martial arts film as two sequential films. I have decided to simply review them as one since Volume 2 is a clear continuation of Volume 1.

From a story perspective, Kill Bill is a basic revenge thriller. The plot is not complex nor ingenious and is rather ordinary containing B-movie components- think the really bad Kung-Fu films of long ago. What makes Kill Bill an extraordinary masterpiece, however, is the style that exudes from the film, thanks to the direction and creation of Tarantino. The film is brimming with good flavor and crackling dialogue of an intelligent sort. Characters have long conversations with each other-not for redundancy sake- in between the endless martial arts and bloody sequences.

We meet our heroine, The Bride (Uma Thurman), in a chapel in El Paso, Texas. About to be married to her groom, the entire wedding party is suddenly assassinated in bloody fashion by the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. Their leader, Bill (David Carradine), shoots The Bride after she reveals to him that she is carrying his baby. The film flashes forward four years later- The Bride has survived the massacre, but has been comatose ever since. When she is raped by a hospital worker, she escapes and vows revenge on each and every one of her attackers- the revenge culminating with Bill. Her path of destruction leads her to Japan. Similar to most of Tarantino’s films, Kill Bill is divided by chapters and often goes back and forth from the past to present times.

The brilliance of Kill Bill is its pizazz. We know The Bride will get her revenge on the assassins, we just do not know in what way or how bloody the slaughters will be. The film contains copious amounts of blood and swords and machetes are everywhere to be found. The slow drawl dialogue as The Bride has conversations with her prey before she kills them, oftentimes ends in a big fight scene. Her first revenge, against Vernita (Vivica A. Fox) is unique in that it takes place in Vernita’s kitchen as her young daughter is happily eating her breakfast cereal. The entire battle ensues in the kitchen and we are left watching blood and cereal.

It is Tarantino’s unique style of film making and story-telling, adding violence, and long character conversations, that gives Kill Bill, and all of his other classic films, his own unique brand and stamp of approval. I dearly hope he continues to make films that challenge the norm, for years to come.