What I'm watching + ratings

What's in my DVD player this week? (Or what I'm watching at the theater.)

Ratings key:
  • * - One star: Poor
  • * * * * - Four stars: Excellent


  • The Aviator - * * * * - Mini-review: This is one of the best, if not the best, movies of the year. Beautifully shot, entertaining, and heartbreaking, "The Aviator" takes us into the genius and madness of Howard Hughes―pilot, engineer, filmmaker, businessman. Though most of the film takes place before Hughes' decline, the film foreshadows the coming storm of his obsessive-compulsive disorder. Leonardo DiCaprio deserves an Oscar for his unflinching portrayal of Hughes. I also predict Martin Scorsese will finally get his Oscar.


  • Flight of the Phoenix - * *
  • Before Sunset - * * *1/2


  • Master of Disguise - * *
  • 13 Going on 30 - * * *


  • Oceans Twelve - * * * 1/2 (theater) - Mini-review: I'd heard some good things about the new Ocean's movie, and I got a chance to go see it with my work today. I wasn't disappointed. Soderbergh's camera work is always interesting, but never too distracting. The characters are interesting to watch, although some aren't quite as interesting as they were in "Ocean's Eleven." And Catherine Zeta-Jones is one of those rare actresses that dominates any scene she's in.

Then there's the sequence in the movie that suddenly breaks into the realm of metafiction (e.g. showing the audience they're watching a movie and calling attention to it). The way it's handled is very tricky, but it works. By the time they're done with this sequence, you feel like you've walked into a house of mirrors. I'd never seen a movie do what Ocean's Twelve did with this sequence, and for me it was worth the price of admission.


  • Executive Decision - * * *
  • Vanilla Sky - * * * 1/2
  • Catch Me If You Can - * * * *


  • The Terminal - * *  - Mini-review: I was pretty disappointed by this movie. It all seemed so unbelievable. Sure, it was amusing, but I expect a lot more out of Spielberg. It's almost as if he let someone else direct it and put his name on it. This movie proves the dictum that you can never make a good movie out of a bad script (even if you have one of the best directors). This might have made a good short film, but the high concept idea of a guy living in an airport because the United States doesn't recognize his country seems a bit ludicrous. 
  • The American President - * * *


  • National Treasure - * * * (Theater) I went into National Treasure thinking it would be one of those awful Jerry Bruckheimer-produced films (Con-Air comes to mind). But it was actually a smart, engaging mystery that reminded me of the book "The Da Vinci Code." Another thing that helped with the positive vibe was that I saw this film in a full house on the biggest screen at Mountlake 9. There's an obvious fascination with a secret history (also one of the main reasons "The Da Vinci Code" has been so popular). What was really interesting was the audience of this film: I saw kids, teenagers, and people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. I think this film will be one of those unexpected hits. It ain't art; but it is a good story.
  • Election - * * * *


  • The Abyss (Director's Cut) - * * *  Thoughts: James Cameron thinks big. His movie Titanic showed the world how a three-hour movie can not only be engaging, but can also rake in $1.8 billion (worldwide) . But before Titanic, there was The Abyss―an uneven, imaginative story that came from Cameron's childhood. I've always been a big fan of this movie. The characters are all interesting; the conflicts are great (although the conflicts seem to pile up a little too much with the Russians). The Cameron love theme is here, as it is in every other movie of his. But the ending just doesn't work. Even with all the restored footage. There's something about the NTIs coming to the surface with Deep Core that just seems cheesy.


  • Innerspace - * *1/2


  • The Polar Express - * * * (Theater) - Mini-review: The story of The Polar Express is based on Chris Van Allsberg's magical book (a favorite in my house). The good news is the movie keeps the magic of the book while expanding it in interesting ways. And while it is a treat to have Tom Hanks' likeness and voice in this movie, at time it's distracting (he plays nearly every male adult character, including Santa). What I really liked about this movie was the gorgeous, detailed look of the animation.

    Technical note: The Polar Express uses "motion capture" to create the animation of the characters (see Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within for one of the first movies to do this). Basically, the actors wear reflective dots on their face that are then captured and interpreted by a computer. The result produces lifelike, animated characters; but we're still not quite there with photorealistic cinthespians that move and look like real people. I predict in 2-4 years we'll see an animated film come out that looks like a live-action film.
  • From the Earth to the Moon - Part 12: La Voyage Dans La Lune - * * *
  • From the Earth to the Moon - Part 11: The Original Wives Club - * * * *


  • Live: Videos - ***


  • The Incredibles - * * * 1/2 (Theater) - Mini-review: Pixar has done it again with this movie. They've finally created realistic people, instead of bugs, monsters, and toys. The textures and movements are perfect. There's also a great deal of imagination behind this one, from the sawblade ships that come after the kids to the superhero powers (check out Frozone). This is an amazing piece of work.
  • From the Earth to the Moon - Part 9: For Miles and Miles - * * * *
  • From the Earth to the Moon - Part 10: Galileo was Right - * * * *


  • Touching the Void - * * *1/2


  • Shall We Dance (2004) (Theater) - * * *
  • From the Earth to the Moon - Part 5: Spider - * * * *
  • From the Earth to the Moon - Part 6: Mare Tranquilitatis - * * * *


  • Team America - **1/2
  • From the Earth to the Moon - Part 4: 1968 - **


  • Angels in America - Disc 1 - * * * *
  • Angels in America - Disc 2 - * * * *
  • The Day After Tomorrow - * * 1/2


  • The Hunting of the President - ***1/2
  • S.W.A.T. - ***
  • Best in Show - ***1/2
  • Star Trek: Voyager - Season 1, Disc 2 -  "Eye of the Needle"- **** and "The Cloud" ***


  • Ladder 49 - * * * * (Theater) Mini-review: My next door neighbor is an ex-fireman, and he said this is the most realistic firefighter movie ever made. But it was the story that really grabbed me―not just the danger of being a firefighter, although there's plenty of that, but the human story. What's it like to lose close friends? What's it like to have the worry of your wife hanging over you? I'm going to go out on a limb and say this has Oscar possibilities.
  • Chasing Liberty - **1/2


  • Star Trek: Voyager - Season 1, Disc 2 "Phage"- ***
  • Shark Tale - **1/2 (Theater)
  • Battle of the X-planes - **** (Documentary - Nova Special)


  • THX 1138 (Director's Cut) - ***


  • Star Trek: Voyager - Season 1, Disc 1 "Parallax"- ***
  • All the Real Girls - ***
  • Along Came Polly - **
  • Babe - ****


  • The Forgotten (theater) - ***1/2 - Great thriller/Sci-Fi following in the footsteps of the best X-Files episodes. Julianne Moore never lets this one drift away from its core emotion, loss.
  • Old School - **


  • Van Halen - Live Without a Net - ***


  • Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back - New DVD - ****
  • Star Wars - The Return of the Jedi - New DVD - ***1/2


  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (theater) - **** - From a visual and special effects point of view, this is a ground-breaking movie.


  • 50 First Dates - ***



  • Hellboy - ***1/2 - One of the better comic book movies I've seen.


  • Star Trek: Voyager - Season 1, Disc 1 - ***


  • The Girl Next Door - * - Mini review: A sad excuse for a teen movie in the tradition of American Pie. The writers and director desperately wanted to remake Risky Business with this film and failed completely. The prostitutes of Risky Business have been replaced by porn stars; Guido "the killer pimp" has been replaced by Kelly "the porn star manager" (actually the best thing about the film is Timothy Olyphant's over-the-top performance). Stay away from this one, kids.


  • Dave - ****
  • Independence Day - **1/2 - Notes: Never has a film had so many blatant references to other films. Here are just some of the ones I came up with: Star Wars (the battle at the end), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (when Goldblum and Smith go inside the alien ship), The Empire Strikes Back (when Smith is dogfighting with the alien ships in the canyon), Close Encounters (the helicopter with the "light" panels), 2001: A Space Odyssey (Goldblum's computer saying, "Good Morning, Dave," like HAL 2000), and the list goes on and on. For more, see the IMDB Trivia Page
  • Spider-Man - ***


  • Raiders of the Lost Ark - **** (This is #2 on my all time list)
  • The Last Samurai - *** - Mini review: In the end, the sweeping battle scenes and the performance by Ken Watanabe make this a good film. The cinematography is pretty good, too. However, Tom Cruise brings too much baggage as an actor to play a part like this; I never stopped thinking about him as Tom Cruise. Interestingly, I didn't have this issue with Cruise in Collateral.
  • Saturday Night Live - The Best of Christopher Walken - ***
  • Band of Brothers - Episode 8 - ****


  • The Passion of the Christ - *** Mini review: Do not see this movie if you don't like blood. 


  • Collateral - *** (theater) Mini review: In short, without the last act of the movie, Collateral would be pushing three-and-a-half to four stars. Put another way, the first three-quarters of the film is brilliant. Gone is the slow pace of "Heat," Michael Mann's other LA crime drama starring Al Pacino and Bobby De Niro. The exchanges between Cruise and Foxx are superb. Some of it is actually quite funny, although you wonder why you're laughing at a serial killer. This is probably Cruise's best role since Jerry Maguire; it's nice to see him playing against type.


  • The Bourne Supremacy - *** (theater) Mini review: Matt Damon kicks ass as Jason Bourne again. I thought this was almost as good as the original, but the directing style was too jerky, too stylized. I'm of the opinion that you shouldn't be aware of the camera while you're watching a film. Damon is great as the glowering Bourne.


  • Thirteen - ***1/2


  • Band of Brothers, episodes 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 - **** (each)
  • Secret Window - *1/2
  • The Cooler - ***1/2


  • The Manchurian Candidate (2004) (theater) - **** Mini review: I've seen the original "Manchurian Candidate" a few times and always found it kind of creepy, even though there were so many corny moments (the Frank Sinatra Karate chop comes to mind). The idea of people being "activated" to do things against their will is chilling. Jonathan Demme has created quite a ride with three fine principal actors. Denzel Washington turns out an amazing performance; his agony is palpable throughout the entire film. Meryl Streep also creates an interesting character full of power and wanting more. It can't be a coincidence that this film was released during an election year. I found myself analyzing our current events through the Manchurian lens. Definitely one of the best films of 2004. 
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban  (theater)- *** Notes: Definitely the most artistic of the Harry Potter films from a directing point of view.
  • Starsky and Hutch (2004) - **1/2


  • Top Gun - ***
  • Singin' in the Rain - ****   


  • War of the Worlds - **1/2 (Interesting to watch this movie after so many years. It definitely evokes the terror of an alien invasion, although I found the acting and the effects to be very dated. The first half of the movie is definitely better than the second. I'm surprised someone hasn't made a remake [although, "Independence Day" was technically the same story.])


  • Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country - **
  • Band of Brothers, episodes 1 and 2 - **** (each)


  • Paycheck - *** (The reviews, if I remember, were terrible on this movie. But I found it to be quite entertaining and unique. John Woo always does interesting things with the camera.)


  • Thunderbirds - ** (theater)
  • Monster - **** (After watching this, I agree that Charlize Theron deserved the Oscar for playing female serial killer Aileen Wuornos.)
  • Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer - ***

7/29/04 (12:00 a.m.)

  • Elephant - ***

Mini Review: Gus van Sant's film about a fictional Columbine is both perplexing and haunting. This is probably the most unsatisfying film you'll ever see, as the camera is a fly on the wall throughout. It offers no answers, only observations. It's good to see van Sant doing experimental cinema again.

7/25/04 (11:30 p.m.)

  • Scared Straight! - ***
  • Freaky Friday - **
  • Live - Birds of Pray Bonus DVD - Pink Pop Fest - ***
  • Drummer's Collective 25th Anniversary Concert - (Dave Weckl segment) ****

7/25/04 (1:00 a.m.)

  • I, Robot - **1/2 (theater)

Mini Review: This is a basic summer popcorn movie. I liked the special effects. I liked Will Smith's performance. But the story seemed paint by numbers at times. I recommend this movie only if you love Science Fiction films and enjoy decent special effects. Too many clichés.


  • Fahrenheit 9/11 - **** (theater)

    Review: As I watched this documentary, I thought, "What a devastating piece of filmmaking." How right the jury was Cannes to award this film the Palme D'Or. As I left the theater, I was really upset and disturbed. The film had touched a nerve.

    I'd read Michael Moore's book, "Dude, where's my country" which has a lot of the same information as this film. But there's something about seeing a mother crying over the death of her child. There's something about seeing President Bush shaking hands with Saudi friends and making pathetic political comments to his "base." There's something about seeing dead Iraqi babies being thrown into pickup trucks. There's something about seeing American forces break into an Iraqi house in the middle of the night, scaring the hell out of old women.

    And then there are the revelations: That Bush's first cousin, John Ellis, a Fox News consultant, called the 2000 Presidential Election for Bush after all the other networks had called it for Gore. That the Saudis have $860 billion invested in the U.S. economy (the GDP of Spain). That American companies like Halliburton and The Carlyle Group profited greatly from the Iraqi war. That Bush authorized flights for the Bin Laden family back to Saudi Arabia when all commercial air transportation was shut down. The list goes on and on.

    "Fahrenheit 9/11" takes a complicated subject and strips away the layers of complexity: All these wars, all these connections with Bin Laden and the Saudis, all this deception, it's really all about money. And as this epiphany washed over me, I was reminded of "Network," the most prescient film ever made (it predicted reality TV). There's a scene in the movie where the CEO of the network, Jensen, proselytizes to the Howard Beale character, "There are no nations! There are no peoples! ... There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars... It is the international system of currency that determines the totality of life on this planet! That is the natural order of things today!... There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT and T and Dupont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today."

    I hope everyone in America goes to see this film. There are a lot of people who are still asleep, who need to wake up to the reality of what this administration has done with its power―to the world and to the people in America.

    One of my neighbors recently came over and said that "Fahrenheit 9-11" looked interesting, but that he thought Moore didn't know what he's talking about. I handed over my copy of "Dude, where's my country," and showed him the footnotes throughout the first chapter. He asked if he could borrow the book. Now I'm going to recommend that he go see this film.

    You should see it, too.

    Note - If you're unsure of the facts of this movie, check out this link: "Fahrenheit 9/11 Facts"


  • In America - ***


  • Best in Show - ***1/2


  • The Bear - ***
  • Dave Matthews - The Gorge - ***


  • Dodgeball - **1/2 (theater)
  • Toronto Rocks - ***
  • Spider-man 2 - **** (theater)


  • Secondhand Lions - ***
  • Catch That Kid - **1/2
  • Planet of the Apes (2001) - **1/2


  • The Day the Earth Stood Still - ***


  • Kill Bill Volume 2 - **** (theater)
  • Shattered Glass - ***1/2
  • Big Fish - ***1/2
  • The Fog of War - ****


Review: What happens when a band starts to fall apart? "Some Kind of Monster," the new documentary about a few years in the life of Metallica, answers the question. When we catch up with the band, they're minus one member (Jason) and working with a therapist to try to patch up their problems. They move into a warehouse at the Presidio in San Francisco and start writing their new album. They don't even bother getting a bass player, so their long-time producer, Bob Rock, jams with them.

We see the arguments, the passive-aggressive tactics, and more therapy. We see James Hetfield rolling down the road in a West Coast Chopper contraption to get away from it all. We see Lars hanging out with his disapproving father. We see Kirk Hammet riding horses at his ranch and talking about an egoless, Zen-like state.

And then it all falls apart. Shortly after a bear hunting trip in Russia, where he misses his child's first birthday, Hetfield checks into rehab. By the time we catch up with the band again, it's been three months since Lars or Kirk have talked to him. When Hetfield finally returns, many months later, he is a different person. But slowly we see the magic come back to the band as they produce their album, "St. Anger."

It's hard to believe that Metallica sanctioned this documentary, as it's a warts-and-all account of the "monster" that is one of the foremost metal bands in the world. I wondered if this was some kind of PR attempt to rectify the Napster mess (the band sued fans for downloading their music on Napster). But the lens is too sharp, the portrait too unflattering. At one point during the showing, I thought this movie could have been called "Spinal Tap 2." There are moments just as funny and sad.

For me, the film is a true look into the fury of the creative process, a place that's easy to get lost. But in the end, we see how bands like Metallica weather the storm: Through their relationships and perseverance. It's a fascinating trip. 


  • Pirates of the Caribbean - ***


  • Seabiscuit - ***1/2


  • Kill Bill Volume 1 - ****


  • Ghost World - ****

Mini review: This movie has it all: husky-voiced Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi (in one of his best roles), and an amazing performance by Thora Birch as Enid. I also enjoyed the dude in the parking lot, whipping the nunchucks around: "Rock 'n Roll - freedom of speech, baby!" This is one of those rare films that captures a feeling―in this case post-high school angst.


  • Galaxy Quest - ***1/2
  • Love Actually - ***


  • 21 Grams - ****
  • The School of Rock - ***


  • Battlestar Galactica - Pilot - **1/2
  • Battlestar Galactica - The Lost Warrior - **1/2
  • Battlestar Galactica - The Long Patrol - ***
  • Battlestar Galactica - Gun on Ice Planet Zero - ***
  • Master and Commander - ***1/2


  • A Bug's Life ****


  • View from the Top - *1/2


  • Apollo 13 - ****
  • Foo Fighters - Everywhere But Home (concert) - **
  • Blue Man Group - The Complex Rock Tour Live - ***1/2
  • Airplane! - ****


  • Image of an Assassination - A new look at the Zapruder Film - **1/2
  • Hidalgo (theater) ***
  • Underworld **1/2

Netflix Queue (starting 4/2/04)

Last 30 Days  
    The Ring, 2002 ***  
    Requiem for a Dream, 2000 ****  
    Cinemania, 2002 **  
    Mulholland Drive, 2001 ****  
    Swimming Pool, 2003 **1/2  
    The Secret Lives of Dentists, 2003 ***  
  Last 31-90 Days  
    Radio, 2003 **    
    Lost in La Mancha, 2002 **    
    Capturing the Friedmans, 2003 ****    
    Le Divorce, 2003 **1/2    
    American Splendor, 2003 ****    
    Once Upon a Time in Mexico, 2003 **    
    Open Range, 2003 ***1/2    
    Spellbound, 2002 ***    
    Smallville: Season 1: Disc 1, 2001 ***    
    Michael Moore's The Awful Truth: Season 2: Disc 2, 2001 **    
    Standing in the Shadows of Motown, 2002 ***    
    Michael Moore's The Awful Truth: Season 2: Disc 1, 2001 ***    
    The Hours, 2002 ****