Mini Reviews (November 2003)
Anatomy 2, Love Actually, Gothika, Dead or Alive, The Haunted Mansion
Anatomy 2 (November 4/03)
The first Anatomy was a sporadically effective slasher flick that really didn't require a sequel, but we got one anyway. Like the original, Anatomy 2 follows a medical student as he becomes involved with an anti-Hippocratic society (meaning they're not worried about silly things like ethics and the like when it comes to medical experiments). Though the film is stylishly directed, the storyline is just too ludicrous to ever be taken seriously. All these anti-Hippocratic folks are implanting fake muscles into themselves - which is fairly absurd by itself - but even more laughable is the fact that the muscles can be controlled by computer. This leads to sequences in which bad guys force hapless victims to jump off buildings and slash themselves with pointy objects; it's pure lunacy, it really is. It might have been possible to overlook that ridiculous aspect of the film had there been even a single compelling character, but there isn't. Franka Potente, who played the hero of the first film, returns in a cameo role as a detective - though it's pretty obvious she's only there to receive billing on the poster.
Love Actually (November 7/03)
Love Actually is eight romantic comedies rolled into one, which is certainly why the film is so entertaining - but also contributes to the feeling that some characters have gotten the short shrift. The film follows the escapades of over a dozen characters as they pursue love in various forms, with actors like Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson appearing in different stories. It's Short Cuts for the Lifetime crowd. The film probably would have been more effective if writer/director Richard Curtis had settled on three or four couples and just focused on them. There aren't any bad subplots here, but there are a few that could've been excised completely - which would have allowed Curtis to spend more time with, say, Colin Firth's storyline (which involves his potential relationship with a Portuguese maid). As for storylines that could've been removed, the most obvious standouts are those involving Laura Linney and Keira Knightley (separately, not together). Both actresses are quite good, but their respective scenarios don't really add anything to the overall picture - and, in fact, wind up taking away from folks whose company we'd rather be in (Bill Nighy, for example, is hilarious as a has-been old singer, but he doesn't receive nearly enough screentime). Still, Love Actually is tremendously entertaining and with all these charismatic actors running around, there's bound to be one or two that'll appeal to you.
A young girl with long hair died under mysterious circumstances, and has taken to haunting a determined professional until the truth is revealed. Sound familiar? Though the film is competently directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, Gothika never feels like anything more than a tired rehash of The Ring. The storyline - psychiatrist Miranda Gray (Halle Berry) is accused of killing her husband, though she suspects she was possessed at the time - might hold some interest for ghost story aficionados, but this is really just second-rate material masquerading as a creepy and atmospheric horror flick. Even if you put aside all comparisons to The Ring, which is pretty much impossible at this point, Gothika is still rife with ridiculous plot developments and inexplicable behavior among the characters. Kassovitz tries his darndest to inject some life into the derivative screenplay - the moment in which Miranda figures out what happened occurs backwards, and is easily the highlight of the film - but the whole thing just feels like a sleazy attempt to cash in on The Ring's success.
Dead or Alive (November 24/03)
It's not the inexplicably strange occurrences or the graphic violence in Dead or Alive I object to. When sitting down to watch a Takashi Miike flick, those things are expected. No, the reason Dead or Alive fails (and fails miserably) is the painfully slow pace and complete lack of interesting characters. The film's storyline - which has something to do with a dedicated cop and a nasty crimelord - just isn't dense enough to support 105 minutes worth of screentime; scenes go on and on, usually without a resolution, and characters spout the most banal dialogue you can imagine. Miike thankfully inserts random acts of action and weirdness throughout, including a battle inside a restaurant which almost makes the whole thing worth watching, but they're too short-lived to have any kind of lasting effect on the film. Even worse, the movie starts off with a hyper-kinetic sequence featuring unbelievable acts of violence and unusual behavior - which is, admittedly, quite entertaining - but in no way representative of the rest of the film (which is more dull than even the most self-indulgent Merchant/Ivory production). Finally, there's a conclusion that has to be seen to be believed, as the two central characters square off against each other. It's at that point that Dead or Alive becomes a cartoon, which certainly isn't a bad thing (if only the rest of the movie had been like the last ten minutes) but it's almost impossible to care by that point.
The Haunted Mansion (November 26/03)
After stellar so-called "kiddie flicks" like Elf and Finding Nemo - movies designed to appeal to the whole family - comes The Haunted Mansion, a terminally lame comedy based on a Disneyland ride. Eddie Murphy stars as Jim Evers, a hard-working family man that often puts business before his wife and two kids. Jim promises to go on a vacation, but can't resist the chance to meet with potential clients at a huge mansion. He drags his family to said mansion en route to a weekend getaway, but soon regrets that decision (the house is haunted!) Filled with impressive special effects and larger-than-life set design, The Haunted Mansion certainly doesn't disappoint on a visual level. But screenwriter David Berenbaum (who also wrote Elf; go figure) doesn't bother to give us a single character worth caring about. As expected, Murphy coasts on his ample charisma, while co-stars like Terence Stamp and Wallace Shawn receive too little screentime to make any kind of impact. After pummeling us with computer generated images for close to 90 minutes, the film presents us with a conclusion that's meant to be heart-warming (it's not; we're just glad the movie's finally going to end).