After the Fact 2001

Capsule reviews for movies released in 2001 viewed after 2001.

Audition (Released in U.S. in 2001)
Director: Takashi Miike
Rating: 9/10
OUCH!!! Japanese horror movie starts out like a harmless romantic comedy, then sneaks up on you with some of the most squirm-inducing scenes ever filmed! No movie before this one literally made me quake. When it's over, its message about the insidious oppressiveness of seemingly innocent male chivalry has been delivered with extreme effectiveness. Great movie, but hard to recommend to anyone outside of those with stomachs of steel.

Bridget Jones's Diary
Director: Sharon Maguire
Rating: 5/10
What audiences found so endearing about this movie escapes me. The protagonist (Renée Zellweger) does little to initiate much of the action in her life, of which finding love seems to be the most important element. Little did I know that the secret for a woman to find Mr. Right was for her to sit around and embarrass herself while Mr. Right, without any kind of encouragement, thinks about her, deciding first that he hates her and then changing his mind to say that he loves her. The movie has some genuinely funny moments and Hugh Grant is watchable as a cad, but, outside of that, this woe-is-me-fest presents little to enjoy.

Don't Say a Word
Director: Gary Fleder
Rating: 6/10
Generic thriller about a New York psychiatrist (Michael Douglas) whose daughter is kidnapped. It can be surprisingly diverting on a mundane weeknight. The girl is being held in order to force Douglas's character to extract a secret number from one of his patients (Brittany Murphy). Naturally, the patient is cuckoo and stubborn, so getting that number is unreasonably challenging. The finale is fun if only because you get to watch Douglas and bad guy Sean Bean try to out-scowl each other.

From Hell
Director: Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes
Rating: 5/10
This Jack the Ripper mystery from the Hughes Brothers is loaded with appealing gothic style and dread-laden atmosphere, but the story is incredibly dull. Johnny Depp plays a detective with clairvoyant powers, and you might think those powers would come in handy when looking for Jack the Ripper, but you'd be wrong. Heather Graham is gratingly out of place as a prostitute -- her colleagues all look like hags while she looks like a model. Also, her British accent keeps dropping in and out. Together, Depp and Graham form a couple that's hard to become concerned about; too bad, because their story wastes a good visual production.

The Gleaners and I (2000; released in U.S. in 2001)
Director: Agnès Varda
Rating: 8/10
An objective description of The Gleaners and I might read: a French documentary about the resourceful people who pick up and make use of crop leftovers and/or garbage in general, literally depicting how one man's trash is another man's treasure. However, this would do little to convey the spirit of the piece, decidedly delivered by the woman some have called the grandmother of the French New Wave: Agnès Varda. It is completely disarming to watch Varda equip herself with a new handheld digital camera and embrace the freedom of being able to wander around and shoot anything she feels like shooting. When she's not interviewing people for her chosen subject, she's fascinated with her aging hand, or she shoots the adornments of her home; she even playfully films semi-trailer trucks and enacts a kids' game of pretending to "catch" them with her hand. Who knew great directors could be so cute? Varda ensures her activities fit in with the given theme at hand. As other people glean from rejected fruits and vegatables at a harvest, or assorted knicknacks to make art, or even thrown-out expired food simply to be able to eat within one's means, she gleans images, showing us how even accidental footage of her camera's own dangling lens cap can be edited to create amusement. The Gleaners and I becomes a tribute to all the people who think outside the box, while observing with a humane eye those who understand that "waste" is only a relative term and value is where you find it. (added 3/24/2010; edited version featured at ReelTalk Movie Reviews)

Ichi the Killer
Director: Takashi Miike
Rating: 6/10
Watching Ichi the Killer should be a form of initiation akin to hazing. It's over two hours of sharp objects slicing, stabbing, and dismembering people, an orgy of violence that's at once over-the-top, blatantly graphic, and blackly humorous. One can't take it seriously, but one can't help reacting viscerally to it either. Yet, despite the grinding of a machinery for what is clearly a hip exploitation film, one can also detect a smirking critique of humanity hovering over the gore -- it's an acknowledgment of the male impulse that equates violent and sexual tendencies, a dirty admission that watching others experience pain (or even experiencing it one's self) can get some people off. The main characters juxtapose two extreme sides of this -- the villain is an outward sicko, a sadomasochist who tortures others as he would fantasize torturing himself, and the "protagonist," if he can be called that, is a simpering crybaby whose guilt in being aroused by rape scenarios can cause him to lash out murderously, only to regret the consequences (there's a funny visual joke, though, in how "Ichi," which is Japanese for "one," wears a costume with a phallic "1" on its back). People like these are forced to live marginally in civilization, and whether or not Takashi Miike is trying to take this idea anywhere gets lost in the perverse glee with which the blood-spraying scenes are presented. It practically becomes numbing due to overkill; Miike totally ignores the rule of "less is more" here, deadening the movie's impact as it progresses. It could have been more deeply disturbing; instead, it's just shocking, shaping its spot in cinematic history as a sideshow curiosity rather than a main attraction. (added 8/25/2005)

Director: Richard Eyre
Rating: 6/10
Iris strikes me as a movie with a flawed concept. It makes its focus the contrast between the vitality of a young woman and her degeneration, decades later, upon the onset of Alzheimer's disease. That woman happens to be British author Dame Iris Murdoch, played at youth by Kate Winslet and at seniority by Judi Dench. The movie is decidedly not a biopic, since we learn very little specific to Murdoch nor her suitor/husband John Bayley (Hugh Bonneville/Jim Broadbent) -- the middle section of their lives is cut out completely, and the 90-minute movie is simply too short to elaborate on the parts that it does contain. We therefore get the portrait of Murdoch as a sexually explosive woman who becomes a renowned writer, and Bayley as her stuttering, doddering, and frustrated partner. The emphasis, then, is on lamenting the cruelty of Alzheimer's by showing us not only a woman, famous for her intelligence, being destroyed by it, but also the effect it has on her husband, deferential to her all his life and then suddenly finding out he must now actively take care of her. Admittedly, it's hard not to be affected even by this simplified method of showing the "before" constantly intercut with the "after"; there's really no getting away from how undeniably heartbreaking Alzheimer's disease is, and this particular depiction is lent greater weight by a quartet of solid lead performances. Iris is mainly guilty, then, of taking two real people and presenting simplified versions of them in its attempt to be an efficient depiction of the horrors of Alzheimer's. (added 4/9/2010)

Joy Ride
Director: John Dahl
Rating: 5/10
Pretty much a mildly effective thriller exercise. It's a scare machine strictly adhering to its premise -- two brothers on a cross-country road trip are hounded by an unseen truck driver hell-bent on teaching them a lesson after they pull a cb-radio prank on him. Paul Walker is a sympathetic hero, but Steve Zahn's character seems to be illustrating a case of "stupid people get what they deserve." In the end, the movie's nothing special -- it just devotedly does its job to give the audience a string of suspense scenarios.

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham...
Director: Karan Johar
Rating: 8/10
Among Bollywood afficianados, this was reportedly one of the most anticipated and subsequently successful releases of 2001, and perhaps this is because of how it plays up a very traditional storyline with some old-fashioned star power. In all ways, it neither disappoints nor particularly impresses -- it just gives 'em what they want with gusto. It features B'wood veterans and real-life married couple Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan as the head of wealthy family whose eldest son (Shahrukh Khan) falls for a lower-class girl (Kajol), thus greatly disappointing the proud and stern dad and causing a rift in the family that the younger son (Hrithik Roshan) sets out to repair. The movie is nicely divided into two distinct halves, with the first wringing in some melodrama with the love story, and the second featuring more laughs as the younger son is able to work some mischief thanks to an amazing case of mistaken identity. Overall, you get the expected mix of earnest drama, comedic tonal shifts, corny turns of events, and, of course, lots of boppin' musical numbers. This is a well-packed concoction that sets out to entertain, and does. (added 7/22/2005)

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Rating: 8/10
Lives up to its billing as the first big Bollywood breakthrough movie for western audiences by offering the most accessible of cliche storylines -- the sports drama. For a three-hour-and-forty-minute musical, though, using a simple plot may just be the best strategy. The sport in question is cricket, the European precursor to baseball; the featured game is between British colonists and Indian villagers for, effectively, the economic control of a section of Indian territory. Naturally, we root for the plucky Indian misfit underdogs. Yes, it's corny, but this movie is light on its feet, with easily identifiable situations and characters, including a strong lead in Aamir Khan. Plus, the event details and the length onscreen of the climactic big game itself is worth checking out on its own. The film's got a big scope and a big heart, even taking time to decry class, social, and racial discrimination, seamlessly fitting it all in with a love story, musical numbers, and jeer-worthy villains. (added 7/22/2004)

Director: Henry Selick
Rating: 3/10
Monkeybone feels like a movie that had potential written all over it, and then somehow it all went horribly wrong. Primed to be dark, twisted, and playful -- all exhibited traits of the works of the director, animator Henry Selick -- it is instead juvenile, amateurish, and sloppy. It could've been an homage to or satire of bad taste cartoons, which gained a good measure of popularity during the '90's, but it doesn't impart any insight about the genre's creative impulses or deep-reaching appeal. Cases in point: Brendan Fraser plays the cartoonist, but the glimpses at his supposed past disturbed psyche amount to lip service, and he otherwise has the personality of a straight-laced puppy dog; meanwhile, his creation, the animated simian "Monkeybone," is simply annoying, displaying humor more childishly rude than what we might qualify as sick or bawdy, which is what the film implies he ought to be. Having squandered this thematic avenue, the movie devolves into fantasy worlds that never stop looking like movie sets with weirdly costumed extras, inconsistent performances, and eventually Fraser doing a bad impersonation of Monkeybone. Oddly, only Chris Kattan brightens things up as a reanimated corpse, yet his funny physical performance just adds to the film's pile of incongruent parts. Selick apparently had great ideas for the movie's look, but could not achieve an appropriate feel with his live actors and sets; I can only be glad that he eventually found himself back in form, eight years later, with Coraline. (added 11/16/2009)

Not Another Teen Movie
Director: Joel Gallen
Rating: 4/10
A premise with decent potential is executed with the touch of a meat tenderizer. Uses the unwelcome Scary Movie method of spoof comedy, in which timing is ignored and jokes are prolonged and beaten to the point where they're just obvious, not funny; failing that, the movie resorts to extreme gross-outs, crude sex gags, and nonsensical violence. Its juxtaposition of John Hughes references and parodies of the current crop of teenage movies is clumsy and forced at best. It has its moments, but far too many of them elicit their laughs from just the references themselves (many of which are dead-on) -- we stop laughing once the movie tries to work those references into tiresome, belaboured gags.

Session 9
Director: Brad Anderson
Rating: 4/10
Horror movie that lets its location do all the work. It takes place in an old, abandoned asylum and wants you to be scared of all of its dark empty rooms and the medieval-style torture devices they contain. The victims of this race to see who freaks out last are a dislikeable hazmat crew with lots of personal issues. An attempt to shoehorn a supernatural mystery into the movie doesn't cover for the characters' lack of substantive fear or despair. Features an over-the-top David Caruso performance that's entertaining for all the wrong reasons.

Shallow Hal
Director: Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly
Rating: 7/10
For a Farrelly Brothers' movie, Shallow Hal is surprisingly tame. Its premise -- about a man (Jack Black) who only cares about women's looks until a curse causes him to see inner beauty as outer beauty -- has potential for a lot of cheap jokes, especially since the girl (Gwyneth Paltrow) he consequently falls for has her obesity maximized for all kinds of fat gags. But Paltrow earns buckets of audience sympathy with her performance, and the movie comes off more as sweet than crudely funny. In delivering their message, the Farrelly Brothers seem to have compromised their nothing-is-sacred comedy spirit, but at least their hearts are in the right place.

Spy Kids
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Rating: 7/10
Reviews of this movie convinced me I missed out on something great. Actually, the movie isn't especially impressive, but it is lively and high-spirited. The kids (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) are entirely engaging -- a good thing, because it balances out the freaky weirdness of the bad guys and their lair, which is occupied by walking blobs and thumbs. That the family of heroic spies is of Spanish origin is an added bonus -- what better place is there for positive ethnic diversity than in a fun kids' movie?

Tortilla Soup
Director: María Ripoll
Rating: 6/10
English-language Mexican-family version of Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman doesn't duplicate the subtleties of the original, which was about the inevitability and unpredictability of the winds of change. Tortilla Soup is about as deep as a tv-movie -- three daughters (Elizabeth Peña, Jacqueline Obradors, Tamara Mello) and their single father (Hector Elizondo) have a passionate, if not always agreeable, family dynamic, and the movie is only concerned about how each of these characters turn out in their search for a few happy endings. The film shares one thing in common with Lee's film -- they both make you hungry with their sumptuous displays of food.

©Jeffrey Chen, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2009

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