Movie Weekend 7/6/03

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fourth Season
Daddy Day Care
The Four Feathers
Finding Nemo
Two Weeks Notice
Miller's Crossing

Toby Baldwin's Film Review Home


All reviews copyright 2003 by Toby Baldwin.
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Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (7 out of 10)


Last weekend I attended a screening of Sinbad with my wife and two girls (2 and 4 yrs old). This is the second time a DreamWorks film has had a free screening on the Air Force base where we live.

As for the movie, all I can say is thank God for DreamWorks' animation department. It's great to have one such top-notch studio around in the wake of Disney's traditional animation demise. So many things were right about this movie. It looked great. It achieved a nice balance of action, humor and even moral without seeming heavy-handed. It had a great, large-sounding score and no musical numbers. The visuals were of a similar quality as those in Prince of Egypt, the film that put DreamWorks instantly in strong competition in the field of animated films. I would say Sinbad looked even better.

The cast does a great job voicing the characters, including Brad Pitt as Sinbad, Joseph Fiennes as his best friend, Catherine Zeta-Jones as the femme fatale, and Michelle Pfieffer as the villainess. Also of note is Dennis Haysbert (seen lately in Far From Heaven) as Sinbad's first mate. His gravelly voice gives Vin Diesel's a run for its money.

Of course, although the story is a classic, the modern telling is probably not, but it is also not a disaster. It is fun, and even touching at times. There are several adult-level jokes that will cruise right past the kids. Other than that, most of the attempts at humor came in the form of a non-funny slobbering dog; I found that to be the least successful element of the film. All told, though, the movie is light, fun and highly entertaining without seeming forced.

This is exactly the type of movie that could have righted the ship for Disney at any time in the last few years. Thanks to DreamWorks for the screening and for the great movie; I'm saving it a place on our DVD shelf next to the Pixar films. It seems to be tanking at the box office, which is sad. Is traditional animation truly dead?

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fourth Season (8 out of 10)


Buffy is the story of a blonde girl with the silliest-sounding name the creator could think of who is the only one with the power to stop the demons and vampires that issue from the Hellmouth--which happens to be located under Sunnydale, CA, where she lives. It was designed to be a feminist-oriented twist on the horror genre, with generous amounts of comedy, coming-of-age, drama, etc. blended in.

I finished this DVD set on the 4th of July weekend, but watched it over the course of several weeks—it contains 22 episodes clocking at around 44 minutes each, plus special features. For those unfamiliar with this late great television series, you can catch my thoughts on the first season here. At some point I will have to rewatch seasons two and three and review them when they are fresh in my mind. The short version: I rented the DVDs of season one never having watched the show on television. I went in not expecting to like the show, but found it to be consistently superior to most television fare, and often achieving greatness, mostly due to a cool blend of genres, original ideas, and usually-brilliant scriptwriting. Just a really fun show. And seasons two and three are much better.

The second and third seasons had really great overall storylines (or ‘story arcs,’ as many internet Buffy fanatics prefer to say), occasionally interrupted by brutally silly stand-alone episodes. These stand-alones, or ‘Monster of the Week’ episodes, were fun and witty in their own right, but were frustrating in that they interrupted the flow of the bigger story. I occasionally found myself wanting to skip these episodes, except for the small portions that carried forward the real stories.

Starting with the fourth season, however, although the characters, humor and creativity level were clearly in full force, an interesting switch took place for me. I found myself disliking many aspects of the overall story arc, including the ‘Big Bad’ (most seasons have one main bad guy). Granted, the Initiative/Adam arc ended with a bang, but the journey there was somewhat uneven. I actually preferred most of the stand-alone or two-part episodes this time. The most highly touted is the Emmy-nominated “Hush,” the majority of which contains no dialogue due to some demons called the Gentlemen who have stolen the voices of all Sunnydale residents. It definitely lives up to the hype; it seems like one of those ‘wouldn’t it be cool…?’ ideas that actually came to fruition.

Other standouts are the Jonathan-centered episode “Superstar.” A knowledge of previous Buffy seasons, especially season three’s “Earshot,” is vital to understanding this funny, well-done reality bender of an episode. "This Year's Girl"/"Who Are You?" is a brilliant two-part story, and contains some truly impressive acting by Sarah Michelle Gellar. Dream-centered episodes were a particular highlight of the show throughout its run, and the season finale, "Restless," is above the best.

The season contains many episodes with deal with ‘college issues,’ now that the core characters have moved on to the post-high school phase. I’ll let you draw your own conclusion about the direction in which Willow grows. I don’t exactly mind the journey they took her character on, except that it ended up in places that didn’t seem to suit the character (seasons six and seven, in which Willow doesn’t even seem like Willow anymore, and the characters often seemed to take backseat to the plot). Xander, Anya, and Spike provide decent storylines and plenty of humor. So does Giles, and I love the fact that his musical talent shows up (too briefly—he is really good) this time around.

The Buffy character’s struggles are often interesting, but the romantic interest of the season never quite gets there for me.

The show seemed determined to push a lot of steam Buffy/Riley scenes in, but the romance element (and the mixed-feelings aspect that made the Angel/Buffy thing work as well as it did) seems absent. He seems like an all right guy. Maybe it’s appropriate to have the college relationship seem anticlimactic after the high school one. I haven’t seen much of season five (will when the DVD comes out), but I’m not surprised this relationship ended there. It felt doomed for the entire second half of season four.

If I had to pick an entire season to show someone to explain why I liked the show so much, this would not be the one. However, if I had to make a compilation of best-of-Buffy episodes instead, I would choose several from this season. When this show was at its strongest, it was the best all-around TV show I’ve seen.

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Daddy Day Care (5 out of 10)


This latest offering from Eddie Murphy, the tale of two currently unemployed fathers who end up starting a day care (complicated premise, isn't it?), may not change your life, but it goes down easily enough. He has plenty enough charisma to carry such lightweight, family-friendly fare as this. I chuckled often and really laughed a time or two. None of the characters deepened beyond two dimensions, and nothing in the script nor the direction really surprised me. But who cares? It was fun. My wife and I enjoyed it. My kids were there with us; there was potty humor in it, but pretty innocuous. We paid $2.00 for the tickets. Not a bad way to pass a summer evening on the cheap.

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The Four Feathers (7 out of 10)


This epic period piece about a young British officer who resigns just before his unit is sent to the Sudan, and the fallout of that decision, didn't do well for Miramax, but after seeing it I'm not sure why. The cinematography was exquisite. The story was involving, the music good, and I liked most of the actors in their roles.

Of the three non-English people playing English people, Australian Heath Ledger and American Wes Bentley fared the best. Kate Hudson just didn't work for me; I've liked her quite well playing an American, but she didn't hack it as a Brit. Some American actresses have pulled the feat off extremely well (Gwyneth Paltrow in half her movies or Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones), some admirably well (Lindsay Lohan in the modern The Parent Trap), and some abominably, on par with Costner/Robin Hood (Drew Barrymore with her attempt at a British accent in Ever After, trying to keep up with all the other fake British accents, despite the fact that the movie was set in France--?!?!?). Hudson's accent here is not so bad it's Barrymoresque, but though I tried not to, I kept remembering she was faking her accent. That doesn't happen with Gwyneth Paltrow. And Kate Hudson may have done well apart from that, but I was too distracted to tell.

Although, as you might have guessed, for me the romance element was a lost cause to start with, the meat of the story is Ledger's long, gruesome path to redemption. And yes, the story definitely had enough redemptive power that for me it overcame any shortcomings. I really like Djimon Hounsou, and didn't even mind that his character was almost identical to the one he played in Gladiator. The scenes between him and Ledger were touching.

There are plenty of 'epic battle scenes,' but not overdone like so many recent Saving Private Ryan wannabes. Still, somewhat rough.

All told, this was a well-done movie, and I think it deserved more favorable attention than it got.

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Finding Nemo (8 out of 10)


The first time I saw this computer-generated cartoon about of clownfish looking for his son was on a special day out with just my four-year-old daughter, and the second time we took our two-year-old as well. Coming from Pixar, I knew this would be good, and it is. I place it just below the two Toy Stories and somewhere in the neighborhood of Monsters Inc. in quality, just above A Bug’s Life (which initially did not overwhelm me, but improved on DVD viewing).

As with the studio’s prior gems, the visuals are near-perfect, the voice cast turns in uniformly enjoyable performances, and the script eclipses anything else out there in the G-rated world. Even the music was good; a ‘real movie score’ replaced the perennial crooning of Randy Newman (to some people’s chagrin), but the score was top-caliber and suited to the drama of the story.

And yes, the story is touching. Is Pixar the only branch of Disney that can make a point (a “moral) without beating the audience over the freakin’ head with it? And how is it that computer-generated characters are so much more lifelike and have so much more depth, certainly than most cartoon characters, but even than many live actors? I can’t say. But I will with the exception the most cynical of viewers or perhaps people who just don’t like movies, nearly everyone will like this one.

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Two Weeks Notice (5 out of 10)


This is more middle-of-the-road romantic comedy fare from Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant, with a premise that bears some similarities to Nora Ephron's You've Got Mail (girl gets to know guy who represents everything she opposes in life, figure it out). Grant had some enjoyable one-liners. The script generated several funny situations. It’s very hard for me to know how to rate this one. As far as romantic comedies go, it is not on the same level as films like Notting Hill or While You Were Sleeping. On the other hand, compared to tripe such as the incoherent Someone Like You, the putrid Down to You, and the lifeless Maid in Manhattan, it’s a classic. For guys like me who watch many more of these movies with their wives (etc.) than they would have on their own, I’d say go into this one expecting to be moderately entertained and you will be okay. My wife also thought it was good, but I don’t think she intends to buy the DVD, if that tells you anything.

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Miller's Crossing (6 out of 10)


I expected to have a lot to say about this 1990 film from the Coen Brothers (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, etc.), but I really don’t. It is an extremely violent ganster flick set in the 30's. The cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld has the Coen signature, as do the distinct characterizations and strong use of music (the music itself seemed to belong in a more pleasant movie). Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, and Marcia Gay Harden excel in their roles. John Turturro does his usual thing; the rest of the cast is strong. Steve Buscemi gets a sadly small role. The story itself doesn’t do much new or exciting; I found it easier to respect this movie than like it, despite the Coens’ evident skill and creativity. They applied these talents to more interesting stories later, and to much better effect, I thought. Still, this is a lush-looking, well-directed movie.

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Copyright 2003 by Toby Baldwin

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