December 2003 Archives

Since seeing the charming, sweet, and smart Pieces of April a few days ago, I’ve been trying to figure out why it brought to mind the sadly underrated and under-seen Stuart Saves His Family.

Every element of Cold Mountain — from plot points to names to lines of dialogue — shows the heavy hand of the writer. The plot doesn’t unfold naturally and from the characters; for the story to turn out the way it does, for it to achieve any sort of resonance, everything in the movie has to happen exactly as it happens, and most of the developments are matters of dumb luck.

For the past two years, I’ve puzzled over the critical and commercial failure of The Mothman Prophecies. The $42-million movie, directed by Mark Pellington and written by Richard Hatem, came out in January 2002, got mixed reviews, and grossed an anemic $35 million. Yet it remains one of my favorite movies of last year, still tremendously creepy, unnerving, and satisfying.

In Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, director Peter Weir establishes his tremendous skill almost immediately. The audience is dropped on board the Surprise as a mysterious vessel is lurking in the fog, perhaps nothing but maybe an enemy. When the phantom ship attacks, the audience is thrust into battle without the exposition that is de rigueur in Hollywood fare. You might not be able to follow the specifics of what’s happening, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Surprise is getting the shit pounded out of her.

To put it glibly, About Schmidt has three problems: its star, its director, and its screenplay. To be more generous, all have a lot going for them, but they tend to give the audience too much, to extend a gag or a look or a shot beyond utility, destroying a moment or a mood. Alexander Payne directed and co-wrote the film, and Jack Nicholson stars, and they’re largely to blame.

The Silent Eye

The 2002 Chinese horror film The Eye is unfortunately familiar — “unfortunately” because the writing-directing Pang brothers are expert at creating scenes of skin-chilling creepiness but, in this film at least, don’t give the audience anything more.