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Shrek Forever After (2010)
As happily ever after's go, this one ain't half bad.
The final chapter in the SHREK series recalls that familiar term "Be careful what you with for". I too was careful at what I wished SHREK FOREVER AFTER would be. After the disappointing SHREK THE THIRD, the bar isn't set high for this supposedly final chapter. It's never going to compare with the superior first two, but if Dreamworks Animation really wanted to conclude their beloved property with this, they might as well give it all that it has. SHREK FOREVER AFTER, while certainly more elaborate than its immediate predecessor, is not the most original of the series, but if this is really a happily ever after for Shrek, at least he went out on a good note rather than a disappointing one.
The story is basically IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE with Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) trading places with George Bailey. Shrek's life couldn't be better: he has his loving wife Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz) and three kids, best buddies Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss (Antonio Banderas) are current visitors, he's got his swamp back, and above all his days as the flesh-eating ogre are way behind him. But everyday of the same day-to-day rituals can get too routine for our big green ogre. If only he could wish he could be that flesh-eating ogre again! His wish is granted when he meets the crafty Rumpelstiltskin (voiced by Walt Dohrn), but it at a terrible catch. Before you can say "Happily Ever After no more!", Shrek is trapped in a depressing alternate universe where he was never born and none of his pals know who he is.
The real treat of the premise of FOREVER AFTER is that it gives us a chance to warm up with these characters again and recall why we loved them in the first place, and then find out a few new reasons to like them all over again. We already know these characters and we have met them before, and this might just serve as a reunion after the occasional slog of the previous follow-up. Unlike its immediate predecessor as well, this one actual has a storyline instead of the simple premise to be used to hang pop culture reference and in-jokes. It's not a great storyline and certainly not anything original, but it's a step on the right direction. Director Mike Mitchell has at least put Shrek right back on track, and not a moment too soon. If this is really the series' finale, the creators have at least done a credible job at reminding us of the appeal that these characters. In a way, SHREK FOREVER AFTER is a satisfying conclusion, if not a grand one.
Rating: ***1/2 out of 5.
License to Wed (2007)
Oh come on, this was just bad!
Robin Williams has been doing a lot of cinematic turd for a paycheck for some time, and LICENSE TO WED may just be the worst so far (considering myself lucky, I haven't seen his latest debacle OLD DOGS). Painfully unfunny, it just gets worse every minute. It's as if they want thew movie to get worse than you already thought it was. LICENSE TO WED commits that terrible crime a comedy can commit by not being funny at all, but it also commits an even bigger sin by being utterly boring.
The premise sounds bad enough as it is: Hopelessly in-love couple Ben (John Krasinski) and Sadie (Mandy Moore) want to get married. But before tying the knot, they'd have to go through a grueling marriage preparation course with the abominable Reverend Frank (Williams). Forget that the story is also dumb (driving lessons with blindfolds? Seriously who wrote this? How could that not be any more unfunny?), it's also offensive. Are the writers so convinced that we could easily buy Williams' Rev. Frank as a priest, even though he seems more appropriate behind bars (or in an asylum!)? And do these people really want us to understand that the reason Frank is such a completely annoying jerk is that he's building a stronger marriage for the couple? And what the hell is an annoying kid doing in this movie? There is just not enough hate for this movie. Mandy Moore just keeps starring in terrible movies as long as she thinks she's the only thing appealing about it, John Krasinski's career as a TV star won't be too ruined since he really hasn't much to do in this movie. As for the worst, Williams gives his most unfunny and downright insulting performance ever. There was a time where Williams was a comic genius, or at least a comedian who knows how to make as laugh in all the right places. That was, of course, before scripts like LICENSE TO WED landed on his hands. A real bust!
Rating: 1/2 out of 5.
Meet the Spartans (2008)
It's impossible to write a review of this movie!
I mean, it's impossible to review this movie without making the review sound just as bad as the movie itself. But why am I stating the obvious? Of course it's bad. Anyone whose aware of the collective works of the notoriously untalented Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer know this is bad. Anyone who doesn't know need not apply. I can't believe I'm saying this but there are more substantial train wrecks than this horrible, disgusting, unfunny, idiotic, pathetic, shameless, inconsistent, insulting, asinine, foolish, oafish, and insignificant (I need to look up more words in the dictionary to describe this movie) waste of time and money (but since I mercifully saw it on TV, at least I'm not guilty at wasting any cash).
It's probably much more fun to write a review about this piece of crap by imagining how Friedberg and Seltzer came up with this incredible idea.
Friedberg: "Hey! I just saw 300 man! It was awesome! But you know what's more awesome? Why don't we make a comedy about it? I mean come on! These guys are wearing like, what are those, skirts? Are they gay or something? Why don't we make a movie where these Spartan dudes are gay! People will dig that right? I mean they dig anything 300 these days!"
Seltzer: "Yeah man, that will be, like, awesome too! I mean I was thinking of like doing a spoof on pop culture icons like the guys in American Idol or Ryan Seacrest or Britney or Paris Hilton or even those guys in Stomp the Yard and Step Up. And then maybe we can riff on TV commercials as well. But I guess we'll go with your idea. After all, my ideas suck! I didn't even like it!"
Friedberg: "Are you f#&@ing kidding? That's brilliant! Tell you what, we'll combine our ideas together to make a masterpiece. Yeah! This will be big! I'm having an epiphany right know! Wait a minute... Epipihany, what does that mean anyway? Never mind, so here it is: We set this in the same time as 300. That was like, before the first World War, right? So these 300 dudes are like gay right? So we'll just remake the whole story of 300 only make it funny. Yeah, and we'll put in those pop culture references of yours and that will just be a gas! I mean, that Leonidas guy pushes Britney, the judges of Idol, Ryan Seacrest down the Pit of Doom! And then there would be, like, a hip-hop showdown between Spartans and Persians. Yeah, people will laugh so wild that this might just be a classic like AIRPLANE! Yeah, this is gonna be big!"
Seltzer: "Nice one man! I mean your like f#&@ing Spielberg man! Only Spielberg never thought of having that guy from Borat playing Xerxes or have Rocky, Ghost Rider, that dancing penguin from Happy Feet, and Carmen Electra in one movie! By the way, Spielberg did this movie with this guy Bay about Transformers. I was thinking, why not put in a giant robot? People will laugh like crazy, man! I mean, we don't have the budget, but hey, we made that classic EPIC MOVIE without having to spend lots of cash. And while were at it, there's got to be like product placements here so people will know we threw in everything on this movie. Nothing is safe from our riffing. Man I love working with you!
Friedberg: "Yeah man! Me too man! I mean, we're like that guy Hitchcock and that guy Jim Stewart. Or that guy Spielberg and Lucas. We make one hell of a team. I mean, who needs the critics? I don't even read their reviews! I don't even read! Now, let's make this baby a reality!"
Setlzer: "Way ahead of you man! Nicole Parker's already on board and some guy Sean Maguire too. Wait, 'some guy Sean Macguire'? Hey that rhymes! So anyway, lets do this! People are, like, waiting for our next movie! This is like freakin' STAR WARS EPISODE I all over again! Maybe this time, we'll have guys camping in front of the theaters just to be first in line to get tickets! Man, I love Hollywood!"
Friedberg: "Oh by the way man, one last thing. What if the movie sucked?"
Rating: 0 out of 5.
I've seen 96 minutes into the future and, boy does it suck!
Sporting that awful mullet Tom Hanks had in THE DA VINCI CODE, Nicolas Cage sleepwalks his role in this boring, by-the-numbers sci-fi thriller. I don't know what's worse, seeing Nic Cage not just in a mullet but giving his worst career performance ever or the movie that throws every "cool CGI" trick in the book right at us (slow-mo bullets, exploding cars, CGI fight scenes, etc). But the worst thing about NEXT is how much it butchers an otherwise intriguing premise (based on a Philip K. Dick story) to turn it into this years hackneyed, CGI-laden sci-fi blockbuster. With a big star, a sexy female co-star, and the director of XXX on board, the producers insist that everything from logic to coherence is entirely superfluous.
Cage plays Chris Johnson, a man who has the ability to see two seconds (read it again: Two seconds!) into the future, enabling him to dodge car accidents, do magic tricks, and eventually escape an FBI agent (Julianne Moore) who happens to be tracking him. See, they need him to find a nuclear device and disarm it just in time. Simple logic can be applied here, and you don't need to be a rocket scientist to know exactly what's wrong here. How exactly can Johnson be of good use if he can only see two seconds into the future? Did the FBI also need the assistance of The Flash to find the bomb and disarm it within two seconds? Why not? Lots of really silly things are already happening in this movie anyway! Although the movie never really treats itself as a serious sci-fi movie, neither does the movie seem aware of just how preposterous it is. Apply the simplest of logic and you'll be surprised at just how head-scratching it is!
But above all, the real problem is that, despite the abundance of special effects and chase sequences, it never comes off as exciting or even remotely interesting. Seeing Nicolas Cage dodging a bullet just in the nick of time was supposed to be cool, but it comes of as superfluous and just lousy. Director Lee Tamahori has a history in some bloated, overblown CGI fest, but this has to be his worst. Never has CGI-induced action felt quite as boring as in this film. The performances are nothing special at best, just plain bad at worst (Nic Cage and his mullet both deserve Razzies). The worst thing about it is that it could have at least been good as a wholly disposable but enjoyable action yarn. NEXT aims low, but misses immensely.
Rating: * out of 5.
One the best James Bond movies ever.
Is it possible to talk about James Bond movies without having to bring up GOLDFINGER? I guess not. This is probably the most popular entry in the series, and arguably one of the best of James Bond. It's not art for sure, but it's a great film and great fun. It gets everything right. The characters are iconic (can anyone forget about Mr. Goldfinger? Or what about Oddjob and his now iconic bowler hat? Do we not still wonder if we're dreaming whenever Pussy Galore introduces herself to Bond?), the gadgets are absolutely memorable and a pattern for all the other Bond movie gadgets in future installments, and above all its carried by Sean Connery's suave portrayal of Bond; could anyone be cooler than Connery when reciting lines as "Bond... James Bond"? The plot is relatively more simple than the later template for James Bond movie plots. Like FROM Russia WITH LOVE, this was much closer to the Ian Fleming portrayals. Bond is sent to investigate on the mysterious billionaire Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) whose business as a gold dealer may have something to do with the stockpiling of gold bullion in the Bank of England. His investigation leads him to the discovery of Operation: Grandslam, Goldfinger's ultimate plan to gain control of the world's economy.
Like all classics, those who already saw GOLDFINGER will probably be aware of its influences to, not just the series, but similar films in the genre altogether. Just as well, those who haven't seen it will be pleasantly surprised that a lot of notable elements are probably derived from this film. It's so iconic in many ways. Still, there are moments of camp and age here and there, especially in some of the rear-projection work, but that's too little reason to dent the film (as a matter of fact, who cares if its a little dated? it's as if they had the technology we had when they made this film!). Overall, GOLDFINGER ranks high with the best of the Bonds, and probably one of the best in spy adventure movies ever.
Rating: ***** out of 5.
Never Say Never Again (1983)
A second look: NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN.
I actually loved NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN when I saw it for the first time. It is after all Sean Connery's real final take on the James Bond role (but is usually exempted since NSNA was never really part of the EON Productions package). He has aged a lot since the public last saw him as Bond... James Bond, and it clearly shows. The movie itself establishes this fact by having Bond attend a health spa early in the movie so that he be back in tip-top shape to save the world again when two nuclear warheads are stolen by the ever-present organization of terror SPECTRE. Anyway, it's really a remake of THUNDERBALL (it's even made by the people who did the original), only modified a little to fit the subplot involving Bond coming out of retirement.
Seeing it many times before, I've always learned to suspend my disbelief when the older Connery does stunts that his younger self used to do. After all, I was able to buy an elderly Roger Moore in OCTOPUSSY and A VIEW TO A KILL. But seeing it again recently, it was clear that the real flaw wasn't Connery's aging. The movie itself hasn't entirely aged well. While I still kinda like it, and I enjoyed it more than his inferior DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, but like that one, Connery is one of the chief reasons to see it. There are a number of other good things to say about it, beginning with Klaus Maria Brandauer's performance as Largo. While THUNDERBALL was superior in anyway, the Largo in that one paled in comparison to this one which was much more intriguing and menacing.. and he doesn't even need an eye patch to hint at his malice.
Unfortunately, not everything was nearly as good as I used to think. The Bond girls are surprisingly weak, even if one of them happens to be Kim Basinger. Basinger doesn't do much as Domino, other than being completely gorgeous (the Tango scene was the best moment of her in the entire film). On the other hand, bad Bond girl played by Barbara Carrera hams it ups just too much that it almost becomes irritating. Not to mention those things she wears! It certainly hasn't aged well. Another quibble would be the requisite change of talents. It's a little off-putting to see a number of familiar faces (M, Q, Moneypenny) being played by unfamiliar faces and even in alternate names (here, Q is referred to as "Algy", and that's not even his real name). The music was OK at best, cheesy at worst; I prefer Barry's works.
NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN is a pretty mediocre entry in the series, it even goes on too long (by the time it reaches the third act, I felt that the film has lost much of its gas), but it wasn't bad. Actually, it was much better than some of the mediocre entries in the official franchise. Worth watching, mostly for Connery's final performance as Bond (MR. BEAN fans will also want to check out Rowan Atkinson's first ever role).
Rating: *** out of 5.
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Hitchcock's favorite... and one of his best.
Little Charlie (Theresa Wright) is excited when she hears the news that her great uncle (and namesake) Uncle Charles (Joseph Cotten) is visiting in their town of Santa Rosa. Little does Charlie know who her uncle really is, and his purpose for visiting. Soon, their seemingly perfect relationship is shattered by a shadow of a doubt: Good ol' Uncle CHalrie may be the wanted Merry Widow Murderer.
Regarded by the Master himself as his personal favorite among his works, SHADOW OF A DOUBT is one of Hitchcock's best works. With his emphasis on suspense rather than surprise, the story is not really about Charlie finding out who her uncle really is. In fact, if it won't take you halfway throughout the movie without knowing who Charles really is. But Hitch doesn't aim for surprise; to shock us with a twist ending that might come of as implausible if not obvious. Instead, he focuses on his characters and the tension brimming between them. If Charlie knew of her uncle's identity, what would she feel? And how far will Charles go to keep his identity hidden? Will he risk killing his favorite niece (not to mention the daughter of his only sister)? There's so much tension going on that in fact, it's the ending (not the climax) that comes of as the weakest point (Once again, Hitch leaves a number of things open for debate and curiosity that comes off a little frustrating).
But despite just that little quibble (after all, it's a pretty common Hitch trait that I've learned to live with), SHADOW OF A DOUBT is an expertly-crafted and intriguing thriller, held together by strong performances and Hitch's touches of suspense and dark humor. Not his best ever, but up there in his Top 10.
Rating: ***** out of 5.
Typical Hitchcock, but in top form.
SABOTEUR looks like a prototype of Alfred Hitchcock's later film NORTH BY NORTHWEST (it's also similar to his earlier classic THE 39 STEPS). Everything from the man framed for a crime he didn't commit, the lovely young woman who helps him out, and the climactic final confrontation in some famous landmark. Substitute Cary Grant's Roger Thornhill to Robert Cummings' Barry Kane, Eva Marie Saint's Eve Kendall to Priscilla Lane's Pat Martin and the finale take place atop the Statue of Liberty instead of Mt. Rushmore and you have SABOTEUR.
Still, although it isn't the best movie the Master of Suspense has created, it's nonetheless watchable and rather entertaining. The pace moves rather fast early on where factory worker Barry Kane (Cummings) is framed for setting the factory on fire. Kane knows who really did it and hopes to clear his name. As usual, he narrowly escapes the law and several occasions in hopes that he find the real saboteur before he strikes again. But since this is way before Hitchcock's bigger budget productions, SABOTEUR is a little tamer than his later works. The cast is OK at best, with Cummings coming of as a decent man-on-the-run but a rather wooden actor. Lane's performance fares a little better, but she's not the best of the later perennial blond heroines. Only Otto Kruger's and Norman Lloyd's suitable intriguing antagonists that remain the best.
The pace slows down midway (involving a scene inside a train with a bunch of circus freaks feels a bit out of place in a Hitchcock movie), but picks up later on, especially before the climax atop the Statue of Liberty (which, sad to say, is rather anti-climatic). Overall, not one of Hitchcock's best movies and far outdone by later attempts at the "man-on-the-run" formula, but a must-see for Hitchcock's fans.
Rating: ***1/2 out of 5.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
What a summer blockbuster sequel should be!
Big expectations from the original are hard to live up to, which just seems unfair to this reasonably enjoyable and exciting sequel. Going over that age-old Hollywood mantra that "bigger is better", this sequel throws in bigger set-pieces, better special effects and a superb cast. But unlike most sequels to successful hits, IRON MAN 2 is not only big in terms of special effects and action set-pieces, it also has stronger characters (perhaps the only real problem with that is that they're too many of them) and an even stronger plot.
As with the other people who enjoyed the first IRON MAN movie, my hopes were high for the sequel. As in other superb comic-book movie sequels like SPIDER-MAN 2 and THE DARK KNIGHT, the storyline frees itself from the exposition settled in the first movie and are now able to take the story into a different direction for the sequel. Following the end of the first movie, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has already admitted his identity as Iron Man and, as he puts it, "successfully privatized world peace". Arrogant as he is, he gets the job done, but saving the world is only half the battle. Stark also has a demanding Senator Stern (Gary Shandling) on his back who wants his Iron Man technology surrendered to the military, a similarly egotistic rival (Sam Rockwell) who wants Stark and his crowning achievement be reduced to yesterday's news, and of course there's vengeful Russian physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) bent on killing Stark to avenge his father. Only to make matters worse, the arc reactor that's keeping Stark alive is slowly poisoning his blood, and would kill him if he doesn't find a substitute to the reactor's Palladium content.
There are enough characters here that could have made this as an early reunion for The Avengers, with a powerhouse of a cast to boot. In addition to the return of Downey's egotistic Stark and Gwyneth Paltrow's delightful portrayal as long-suffering assistant-turned-CEO Pepper Potts, there's also Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johnasson in a black leather suit and sporting red hair! 'Nuff said), Samuel L. Jackson's return as Nick Fury (after a very brief cameo in the first), Don Cheadle replacing Terence Howard as Lt. Col. "Rhodey" Rhodes (who finally gets his "next time" opportunity as he dons the suit as the battle-ready War Machine), and even Favreau's Happy Hogan (nothing more than an extended cameo in the first film) gets more screen time. On the bag guy side is Rourke's disgruntled Vanko, Rockwell playing another character we would love to hate, and Shandling's hilarious portrayal of a greedy politician. Too many of these characters could have repeated the misstep that SPIDER-MAN 3 had done; too many characters with too many subplots that ruin the flow of the story. But director Jon Favreau and writer Justin Theroux avoid this pitfall by just giving our characters enough screen time that they deserve and only throwing in subplots that actually move the story along.
IRON MAN 2 is what a summer blockbuster sequel should be; it throws in everything we expect from its superb predecessor and giving is a little more without being something akin to an overstuffed, overcooked turkey. The action sequences are great in the first movie, and they're even bigger here. It even has a better, more thrilling climax than the one in he first, and more interesting and even outrageous villains than in the original. As usual, Downey Jr. is still one of the chief delights with his portrayal of a different kind of comic-book hero. Throw in a cast that looks absolutely perfect and every thrilling action set-piece in place and you have a sequel that's actually worth the wait.
Rating: **** out of 5.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
A second look: DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER.
Sadly, time has not been kind to 1971's DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. I know I was rather enthusiastic with this entry before, and I actually remember loving it the first time I saw it. But this final entry for Sean Connery has aged poorly over the years of not seeing it. While there are still a number of things I liked about it, there are moments that made me cringe this time around. Connery, who accepted the role only because he was getting paid big-time, is actually the best thing about this entry. As usual, he IS James Bond, with all the charms we know and love from him. And another, Blofeld's (This time, played by Charles Gray) ridiculous plot of using theft diamonds to power a laser is typical Bond movie hokum - another over-the-top plot for world domination and extortion. Good action and chase sequences at least prevent it from being boring. The title song was pretty good too (sung by the one and only Shirley Bassey).
But sadly, there are all too silly and mostly dull moments in DAF. Bond girl Tiffany Case (Jill St. John) remains one of the most annoying of the Bond girls (Lana Wood also appears as an even more thankless Plenty O'Toole). Elements such as Bond pitted against two sexy acrobatic women named Bambi and Thumper (!); an obligatory nod to a sillier and more comedic tone; and those two homosexual assassins (Putter Smith as Mr. Kidd and Bruce Glover as his sidekick Mr. Wint) are all dated now. But perhaps the biggest disappointment I had was Blofeld. Excellently portrayed in the first two movies he was in (though I should also note that he was so much more sinister in the earlier entries when his face is yet to be revealed), is reduced to an even more campy villain (he even disguises himself as a woman in one scene!). And by the way, what the heck happened to Bond's vendetta against Blofeld for the death of his wife? We were left dangling in the end of ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE only to get Blofeld back as that same old baddie who plots to destroy the world's deadliest weapons if his demands are not met.
While I still did enjoy DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, chiefly to see one of Connery's final performances as 007, I now think it's one of the lesser entries in the long-running series. Though it's far from the worst (because at least, unlike MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, it's not boring), it's easily one of the Bonds that haven't aged well throughout the years. Watchable, but hardly Bond's finest hour.
Rating: **1/2 out of 5.
A second look: ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE.
I wasn't too keen with ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE the first time I saw it, mainly because of George Lazenby's rather wooden performance as Bond. Yet when I saw it again yesterday after not seeing it for a very long time, I'm surprised how much OHMSS has aged well. The plot is credible enough (even with the usually tendencies of Bond movie plots to go a little over-the-top), but it's the central story of Bond genuinely falling in love make this one of the more emotionally involving 007 movies, even if it's not the best in the series (although, this remains the most praised in Ian Fleming's James Bond stories). Had Connery accepted to play his role here rather than the dated DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, OHMSS might have been the best of the Bonds.
Still, the storyline here is pretty strong, and I feel sorry for not seeing that during my initial viewing. Despite Lazenby's lackluster performance (I was actually bored in some of the scenes he's in), the story actually stays intriguing and involving, with its share of a few great stunts and action. There's a long ski chase and a raid on Blofeld's secret base in the Alps, but it's not the action that made this a personal favorite amongst Bond fans. In fact some of the stunts here are average at best, but are done better in other entries in the series. What makes this one of the stronger entries is the love story in the middle. Although Lazenby is usually wooden, he actually makes a rather convincing lighthearted Bond when he is with his scenes with his on screen love Tracy, played superbly by Diana Rigg. In fact, Ms. Rigg outdoes our own 007 in terms of acting, making her perhaps one of the best Bond girls. Their scenes together are the most heartfelt in the series, making the now well-known heartbreaking ending one of the most personal moments in the long-running series.
ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE may not be free from its flaws (an enormous plot hole throughout the film might bother some people), but it's a very satisfying adaptation of one of Ian Fleming's best stories and with a number of great action sequences, it's a pretty good entry in the series and definitely one not to be missed.
Rating: ***1/2 out of 5.
Clash of the Titans (2010)
Lower your expectations... and see it on 2-D instead.
With the right expectations, CLASH OF THE TITANS is a pretty enjoyable update of the 1981 minor fantasy classic if you can forgive some of the absurdities of the script. I loved the original CLASH OF THE TITANS but I don't see anything wrong about remaking it, and when I saw the trailers I knew what to expect: A bone-headed, old school adventure movie with lots of action despite only having half a plot. I went in with little expectations and got out just fine, and provided that you don't expect anything else, you will too. And oh yeah, take everyone's advice and see it on 2-D. I took the advice to not see it on 3-D and seeing that the movie is not as bad as everyone has said it was, I think you should to.
Turns out director Louis Leterrier and writers Travis Beacham, Phil May, and Matt Manfredi have done more than update Ray Harryhausen's vintage claymation monsters. Other than amping up the action, they have also added and changed several elements in the script. But despite a few decent additions, none of them really add much. The whole plot about mortals doing war with the gods might have been intriguing, but it's all played rather silly here. How do the brave warriors of Argos plan to fight the gods with only swords and spears? These, along with a few other inconsistencies just make the story a little confusing. And typical to any modern action/adventure movie, our hero Perseus (played by Sam Worthington) has to have a tragic background so he can hate the gods throughout the whole movie and get the job done the dirtiest way possibly. Does every action hero today have no other motive than a vendetta? Despite their best efforts, none of the performances really connected with me (Gemma Atherton's Io came close, but whatever she had with Perseus wasn't deeply ventured and therefore utterly forgettable). However, I enjoyed big-time actors like Liam Neeson (who performs his now-famous 3-word line immortally) and Ralph Fiennes (who does another sneering Lord Voldemort impression) who had a ball as some of the immortals.
But other than these several alternations, the movie is fairly faithful to the original, only 10 times bigger. You thought a fight with giant scorpions was cool? How about one with giant scorpions 10 times bigger? You think the Kraken is huge? This one makes the one in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 2 look camera-shy. But this gives and takes from the experience. The action sequences are quite exciting, even without the use of distracting 3-D. But on the other hand, it's as if Leterrier wants every moment of the movie to be loud and amped-up. Even the encounter with the Stygian Witches (who looked like they came out from PAN'S LABYRINTH) isn't devoid of a shaky action sequence. Nevertheless, the many special effects are pretty good and some of the action sequences they're in are some of the film's highlights. The aforementioned scorpion duel has to stand as my favorite, but there's also the battle in Medusa's lair (surprisingly enjoyable, but lacking the suspense from the one in the original) and the final stand-off with the Kraken.
It won't be another fantasy film favorite like the original, but if you don't expect nothing more than a popcorn-movie that does what it's supposed to do, CLASH OF THE TITANS ain't have bad. Perhaps just for Neeson's delivery of his immortal "Release the Kraken!" in all its glory, this movie is worth seeing.
Rating: ***1/2 out of 5.
The International (2009)
Not as exciting as I thought, but at least it isn't dumb.
Released at the time America suffered from the economic recession, THE INTERNATIONAL, with its intriguing premise about the possibility that the bank is doing some dirty business with illegal arms dealings, is a pretty relevant thriller released at just the right time. It's also well-crafted and handsomely-shot with a standout shootout sequence in the Guggenheim Museum that would have earned the late Alfred Hitchcock's approval. However this otherwise well-crafted thriller suffers from uneven pacing, especially during the plodding midsection punctuated only by the said shootout sequence.
Clive Owen plays Louis Salinger, a Interpol agent who has been part of an on-going investigation of IBBC (International Bank of Business and Credit), an anagram of CBBI (Bank of Credit and Commerce International, real subtle!) which suffered a real-life banking scandal during the late 80's. They suspect that the successful banking institution may be part of illegal weapons trading, murder, and involvements with international terrorism. Salinger is partner with Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), who is there and doing her best but never put to much good use. Most of the time, she's even out of the picture when the action starts or in scene that advance the plot.
The plot develops in such a way that Hitchcock would have loved: The investigation moves from Berlin to Milan, from New York to Istanbul, each with some standout moments and intriguing twists that heighten the suspense without having to be too dumb or preposterous. The Guggenheim sequence alone would have earned my approval, with it's superb editing and brilliant photography. Had it been shot in VistaVision as a Hitchcock movie would have, it would have been complete. But director Tom Twyker also manages to make even the smaller moments of the film matter, like when Salinger reevaluates an assassination attempt or even a suspenseful moment when a shooter waits for a precise moment to take a shot. It's a small moment, but Twyker had my pulse-pumping.
Nevertheless, THE INTERNATIONAL is not free from its flaws. Although the movie is never truly boring or uninteresting, it's neither as exciting or pulse-pounding. The middle act leading to an okay climax (a chase on the rooftops in Istanbul; not bad but Hitchcock has done better) is marred by some heavy exposition that bogs down the excitement. As much as I find nothing wrong with a dialogue-driven thriller, trying to explain every detail of what's going on loses much of thrill. Other than that, I'd say THE INTERNATIONAL is well worth watching. In a time where a thriller can just be an endless barrage of shootouts and implausible twists, this is an intriguing thriller, even if it's superb individual moments standout in an uneven whole.
Rating: ***1/2 out of 5.
Bad Boys II (2003)
"Oh hell no!"
Michael Bay can blow almost anything up and still make it look good on camera, and this he insists for almost 3 hours in BAD BOYS II. I've purposely avoided this overstuffed, overlong sequel to Bay's first film BAD BOYS. I don't hate Michael Bay nor his approach of mindless and over-amped blockbusters, but I wouldn't want to waste my time on the 2 and a half hours of empty-headed drivel that BAD BOYS II had to offer. But when it was on TV, and with time to spare, I thought it couldn't be all that bad. I mean, I'm probably one of the few people who like a Bay's Armageddon or PEARL HARBOR.
And yet, despite a few enjoyable moments, it really was THAT bad. The action is brisk and exciting at first, but then it goes on and on and on until Bay has nothing more to blow up. The filler of a story (I tried my best not to refer to it as a "plot") concerns our Narcotic agent heroes Marcus (Will Smith) and Mike (Martin Lawrence) going after a drug kingpin (Jordi Molla). But it's really just an empty barrage of action scene after action scene, each one bigger than the last. Worse, Bay can't help thinking of himself as an auteur by shooting the action sequences in either slow-mo (a trick he over uses here) or with fast cuts that make it almost impossible to know what's happening.
BAD BOYS II is so loud and obnoxious that Bay couldn't even keep it down a notch during the "talking" scenes (in Bay's world, everyone talks trash). Plus the idea of humor in the movie is beyond tasteless. Smith and Lawrence's banter are occasionally amusing, but a chase sequence where Smith and Lawrence run over a couple of corpses dropping from a truck or a scene where they see two rats having sex in a graphic manner are just too much (and painfully, there are more). I find no problem with a big, loud, and dumb blockbuster, but BAD BOYS II insists that it can bigger, louder, and dumber than usual. It represents the most aimless attempt any blockbuster could commit: aim low and miss desperately. This is Bay's worst movie until his recent TRANSFORMERS sequel.
Rating: *1/2 out of 5.
Diary of the Dead (2007)
Not Romero's finest hour, but still pretty effective.
The latest chapter in George A. Romero's epic 'Dead' series doesn't replace either NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAWN OF THE DEAD as the best in the series, and it's easily comparable even to the lesser entries like the much-maligned DAY OF THE DEAD. And yet despite the bad rap it's been getting amongst fans, DIARY OF THE DEAD wasn't all that bad. Sure, the pacing was slow despite a trim 95 minute-running time, and none of the (living) characters are particularly interesting or likable. But for the effort, DIARY OF THE DEAD does get the job done.
Using the the same style employed by THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and CLOVERFIELD, the hand-held camera approach does add to what might not amount to much more than another "dead walk the earth" story. In giving us a "you were there" feeling, Romero manages to make this familiar story work. The opening news footage is surprisingly scary and there are a number of creepy moments. And since the film only focuses on the point-of-view of one or two cameras, sometimes there are a number of jump-in-your-seat moments that don't have to make use of some loud music or slick editing as most bad horror movies these days do. Throw in some bits of dark humor, some bloody violence, and the satirical bite of the previous entries and you've got a film worthy of Romero's series.
However, this 5th chapter is not free from it's flaws. It's distinct lack of any likable characters keeps us from focusing on anyone particularly involving. The narrations provided by its main character just slows down the story. The acting is nothing special either. Another is that while the movie is rather gripping and scary during the first act, it begins to feel padded out on the second. It runs on a sufficient 95 minutes, yet it still feels like it's longer than it is supposed to.
DIARY OF THE DEAD is a passable but rather uneven chapter in Romero's reigning series. Whatever promise the opening shots hold is not completely delivered throughout the movie. Nevertheless, it's nice to see an old-fashioned zombie movie and how it still works in capable hands. Just for proving himself that he can still make them like they used to, DIARY OF THE DEAD is worth watching.
Rating: ***1/2 out of 5.
Race to Witch Mountain (2009)
Slick but hollow remake.
My Take: Fast-paced and action-packed, but is neither exciting nor imaginative.
Perhaps the sincerest recommendation I can give RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN is that it wasn't as bad as it should have been. Loaded with action and chases, this amped-up remake of the Disney minor classic moves at a rapid pace, with maybe a few jokes thrown in by its star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, but it is, at best, a well-crafted but uneven experience.
The original ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN wasn't exactly an immortal all-time classic that's being revered in the same way as STAR WARS, but there's very little reason to remake it other than to amp up the action level and provide a suitable vehicle for The Rock (who, after GAME PLAN, proved that he can be a bankable Disney lead). In a way, director Andy Fickman delivers a passable attempt to revive the 1975 original with The Rock playing Jack Bruno, a ex-con turned taxi driver who gets caught up with a pair of extraterrestrial siblings Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig) who, like in the original, wish to head back to their spaceship while X-FILES-type government agents are in hot pursuit.
But instead of just another race atop the titular mountain, this remake also throws in a mostly-unseen assassin with more than a few similarities to PREDATOR. To give the race a little urgency, these two alien siblings have to get to their ship or else Earth will be invaded. These few, along with several chase sequences by beat-up cab or Winnebago, are among the few added frills in this admittedly stylish do-over. However, despite being a busy fast-paced adventure, RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN never really comes off as exciting. Fickman is no action director, but he keeps the film alive with tons of chases and pyrotechnics as if it were a toned-down Michael Bay movie, but its more busy than thrilling. And with maybe a few elements borrowed from other sci-fi adventure movies, neither is it original or imaginative.
Regardless, RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN might make a decent distraction for 98 minutes. The action is brisk and The Rock is appealing. Maybe someday Dwayne Johnson will be able to find a better material to showcase his superstar appeal.
Rating: **1/2 out of 5.
Up in the Air (2009)
One of the year's best!
My Take: An intelligent, down-to-earth dramedy with strong lovable performances and an intelligent script. One of the year's Best movies.
Although it was his screenwriter Diablo Cody who got all the praise (and the eventual backlash) for his hit JUNO, director Jason Reitman deserves just as much praise for bringing that lovable quirky hit to life. Following the success of JUNO and THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, his latest film UP IN THE AIR is yet another likable and clever story with a perfect balance of quirky humor and some relevant issues and real down-to-earth humanity. It's also one of the year's very best films and probably the year's wittiest comedy.
I love a little mindless escapism as much as the next guy, but sometimes I just want to see a movie where a couple of down-to-earth human beings sit around ad talk to each other in the wittiest ways possible. George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, whose job is to travel around the United States of America to fire people. Since his boss (Jason Bateman) and the company he works for is, as he described it, too cowardly to do it themselves. He enjoys the life on the open road anyway, and he's already used to living his life on his suitcase (he gives speeches regarding the subject). But just when he is about to reach 10 billion Frequent Flyer miles, his life takes a turn. He meets a woman (Vera Farmiga) he might possibly like intimately and his company finds a possible way to fire people via internet and therefore grounding him on Omaha for good.
UP IN THE AIR is not just a another quirky comedy with a Capra-esquire premise and where the lead character is some guy whose been missing out on what's important in life, the characters here are real and relatable, and it's also a movie that is made at the right time where the issues and current events are still relevant. Released at the time America plummeted into economic recession, the issues in UP IN THE AIR are still hot and topical and the movie deals with it realistically instead of giving it the typical Hollywood dumbing-down. Reitman didn't just make a great film, he's made a great film on the right time.
After being the first Oscar favorite upon release, I wonder why it couldn't have won at least one of the six Oscars it was nominated for. A win for Best Adapted Screenplay would have been deserving. Reitman's script (co-written by Sheldon Turner; based on the novel by Walter Kirn) is loaded with wit as well as serious drama and some situations that feel like a reality slap. His movies, UP IN THE AIR among others, aren't just quirky comedies; they have this reality in them. Clooney gives one of his best performances (as is the talented Vera Farmiga, here at her spunkiest and most refreshing) while Anna Kendrick gives a career-making one as the newly-hired Natalie Keener. She's not in a lot of movies these days (she was in TWILIGHT), but after UP IN THE AIR, she's should expect a lot of them lining up. If JUNO acknowledged his presence in the movie-going public, his later films like UP IN THE AIR might just put his name on the map. Funny, quirky, but grounded in reality, UP IN THE AIR is another future minor classic alongside Reitman's successful "little" movie. By all means do not miss one of 2009 very best and smartest movies.
Rating: ***** out of 5.
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
An 'Alice' for a new generation. Another Burton classic comes to life.
My Take: In Burton's version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND, there is never the lack of imagination, wit, and a few dark touches of his previous works.
It's a bumpy ride down the rabbit hole and through the Looking Glass, but with Tim Burton as our guide, I wouldn't mind how far he would take me. Instead of adding to the multitude of screen adaptations of the beloved Lewis Carroll stories, Burton takes his own spin on the classic story, a decision that will no doubt anger some purists. But I take this move as a good thing. Other than being pure eye-candy, what Burton adds in his 'Alice'- something the original stories actually lacked- is direction. Unlike the previous versions, Burton's ALICE IN WONDERLAND is not just a series of odd characters strung together by a series odd situations, it's a full-blown adventure story. And filmed in gorgeous 3-D, taking a look through the Looking Glass will not be the same again.
Alice is not what you remember her to be. Wonderland (now Underland) is not what she remembers it to be either. Now 19 (and played by newcomer Mia Wasikowska), Alice is stubborn and headstrong, yet unable to fit in with the Victorian-age lifestyle of the society she grew up in. After rejecting the marriage proposal of her arrogant suitor (Leo Bill), she follows a familiar white rabbit down the rabbit hole and is thrown back into a world she has a vague recollection of, where she is welcomed as sort of a hero. See, Alice is destined to rid the land from the evil rule of the ill-tempered Red Queen (Helena Bonham-Carter, with a huge head) by slaying her pet Jabberwocky (voiced, briefly, by Christopher Lee). But the thing is, old acquaintances like the White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen), The Chesire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry), and Absolem the Caterpillar (voiced by Alan Rickman) aren't quite sure is she's the "real" Alice.
Working with a script by Linda Woolverton (who wrote Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST), Burton's 'Alice' is rooted in the world Carroll has imagined, but it has NARNIA and LORD OF THE RINGS in its blood. A warrior Alice may not be what Carroll had in mind with the character, but for Burton's darker and more mature 'Alice', it's an adequate coming-of-age for the character; everything that the story calls for. In other words, Alice in converted into another typical Burton figure; extraordinary yet misunderstood. Familiar characters from the original text are given much more light here, not to mention the much-anticipated performance by Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. It could have been a one-note, crazy performance by a gifted actor, but both Burton and Depp have done more. Scenes like the Hatter in deep depression when he tells Alice of what happened to Underland, adds gravity to the often hysterical character from the original stories. With her strong-willed spirit and her classy accent, newcomer Wasikowska is a perfect fit for Alice. But when it comes to the scene-stealing performance, Helena Bonham-Carter's over-the-top Red Queen wins every scene she's in. Supporting performances by Anne Hathaway (White Queen) and Crispin Glover (Knave of Hearts) are welcome touches. The film looks good on 3-D (more so on IMAX), and not because of the several "in-your-face" sequences, but because it enhances the experience; it immerses us into the (pardon the term) wonderful world Burton has created. The music and production design are all spot-on.
This a different and even darker ALICE than you remember. Do see ALICE IN WONDERLAND not as a straight retelling but as a stand-alone effort. Here Burton proves time and time again that the worlds he create are just as vast as his own imagination.
Rating: ***** out of 5.
The Love Guru (2008)
Myers has lost his mojo. Or does he call it his 'karma' now?
My Take: Too much shock humor but not any real laughs; there's very little show of Myers talents here.
Although we all know him by name, we really got to know Mike Myers not from his name but from the name of the characters he plays. In fact, if his name wasn't so prominent in the credits, we would get to know him as the guy who played Austin Powers, Dr. Evil, Wayne, as well as the voice of Shrek. Bu recently, the characters he plays are like retreads of his old acts. First there's THE CAT IN THE HAT, which didn't really go so well. And now here's THE LOVE GURU. Well, Myers is still the best thing about THE LOVE GURU, but he can't save it. Not only is his act unoriginal, Myers tries to throw in every single sex joke or gross-out humor and see which one sticks.
Myers plays his most forgettable character yet as Guru Pitka aka Maurice, who plays every single joke in the Mike Myers' book. From the witty word play and the funny accents, there's not much more original in this act that all he does is paint-by-numbers. I give credit, however, to Myers for doing whatever he can with the character and does score maybe a few puns. Now ask yourself how good those puns are compared to those that don't work? Guys hitting each other with mops covered in pee? Ben Kingsley being awful as Maurice's cross-eyed guru? An elephant sex scene? I'm beginning to wonder if I was watching a comedy or a test of endurance. It's as if the movie already wants you to leave by the 15-minute mark, and this movie is supposed to be mercifully short with an 87-minute running time.
Everyone else in the supporting cast is embarrassing; funny thing is they seem to enjoy doing so. Jessica Alba, who seems to like appearing in every bad film her agent gets her into, is your typical love interest. Justin Timberlake gives an awful performance in an awful excuse of a comical character. And the list goes on, with some truly unnecessary cameos by Stephen Colbert, Val Kilmer, Jessica Simpson, and Kanye West. Besides perhaps a few witty word puns and some shtick about a moving remote control pillow (hey, there's got to be one scene I laughed in, but I just can't recall), THE LOVE GURU is quite an unfunny disaster, but I don't want to bring down Myers' spirit. Mike Myers, you're still funny, just stop making these movies.
Rating: * out of 5.
Eagle Eye (2008)
Big Brother's sister is watching.
My Take: Fast-paced and gimmicky, but also by-the-numbers and a bit too far-fetched.
You've seen this before; the killer is only different every time. Set aside its message of our modern society succumbing to superior technology, EAGLE EYE is your standard action chase thriller. You have the guy whose framed, the woman who accompanies him, the reckless cop/agent who pursues him ruthlessly yet in the end, realizes his mistake and helps him instead) and of course the culprit, who in this movie you probably know from the advance press. But even with a few surprises at hand, EAGLE EYE is routine and by-the-numbers. Impressive visually, but routine nonetheless. Oh yeah, did I mention it's also ridiculous?
We've seen nonsense in movies before; a lot of times actually. And we also realize that nonsense could be fun as long as you can suspend your disbelief. But it's gonna take more suspension of disbelief to have me follow this plot. The movie is supposed to tap into our inner fears that one day, our own technology might turn against us. The story follows everyman Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) framed for the possession of illegal arms. To stay alive and ahead of the law, he must obey an unknown voice from his cellphone. He must also join a single mother (Michelle Monahan) who is fighting to keep his son alive, while a no-nonsense FBI agent (Billy Bob Thornton) as hot on their heels. You've seen these kind of stories before; long enough to know that, if done well and involving enough, they can be sort of entertaining. Whilst occasionally entertaining thanks to some well-done chase sequences and explosions (which, might I mention, weren't exactly original as well), EAGLE EYE just gets too ludicrous for a movie that takes itself rather seriously. Some sequences just get too improbable that once you see one implausible twist, you know what's coming to you. There's just too many deux ex machina that it pervades any further surprises. And for a film that wants us to be aware of how we use our superior technology, the film is not scary. So that's two strikes against the film.
Steven Spielberg is at hand (recent info claims he came up with the film's idea), but he's mostly there to sign checks, and to look after two of his discovery talents: director D.J. Caruso and star LaBeouf, who also teamed up in DISTURBIA. LaBeouf, who is actually growing up into a fine actor, maybe growing up too fast in his role here. Not that a serious role will be bad for Shia; it's just not the time yet to buy him in his role here. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast does give okay performances for a chase thriller and kudos for Caruso for giving the film a certain boost of energy. But not even its fast-pace can hide the far-fetched and often incoherent story at its base.
Rating: **1/2 out of 5.
The Pink Panther 2 (2009)
My Take: Despite a popular name cast, this sequel to the 2006 remake is nothing more of a rehash with more slapstick and bathroom humor.
PINK PANTHER 2 is not at all different from its 2006 predecessor. Suffice to say if you like the first one, you'll like this one. If you thought that 2006 remake/reboot was an insult to your memory of the Peter Sellers originals, chances are you'll hate this one even more. With its over emphasis on slapstick than any actual laughs, PINK PANTHER 2 is a pale shadow to its superior source featuring, as well, a pale shadow of that brilliant comic Steve Martin. What was once a gifted comedian who can make even an extended cameo in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS a role to remember is now nothing more than a party clown with a hat-of-tricks that's slowly running empty.
But in fairness to Martin, PINK PANTHER 2 also has an all-star supporting cast to waste, including Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina, John Cleese (taking over for the embarrassing role of Insp. Dreyfus from Kevin Kline), Ashwariya Rai, Jean Reno, Emily Mortimer, Lily Tomlin and even a cameo by Jeremy Irons. Although their presence does offer a sense of quality to the proceedings, they're really just their for show as more screen time is given to the embarrassing Martin. This time out, his version of Insp. Clouseau (I refuse to believe this is an updating of the character originally played by Sellers) joins the "Dream Team" of detectives to sort out the theft of several priceless artifacts; the Pink Panther included.
Some of the original PINK PANTHER movies, as much as I liked them, don't really have strength in its plotting, which is sometimes the same story rehashed for another (RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER also has the eponymous diamond robbed, as in the original). But what it lacks in plot, it makes up for in some precise comic timing and creative physical humor. Although slapstick gags are at an abundance in PINK PANTHER 2, they rarely are creative; less said funny. You get Clouseau dressing up as the Pope, an unfunny rendition of the famous Karate sequences from the original movies and several other slapstick accidents that mistakes messy as amusing. Martin, a smart and talented comedian, is just lost in this role, just as he was in the 2006 version. He just doesn't understand the character beyond his clumsy incompetence. Nonetheless kids, who will simply buy any clown who can make falling down or being tripped funny, will once again find this amusing, which might guarantee more PINK PANTHER's to come. Do I hear Peter Sellers rolling in his grave?
Rating: ** out of 5.
10,000 BC (2008)
APOCALYPTO with cavemen and a huge slice of mammoth cheese.
My Take: Despite some enjoyable special effects, this is a rather unspectacular adventure that takes itself too seriously.
I've seen 10,000 B.C. several times on TV, but not because I thought it was a great brainless yet enjoyable adventure, but because I usually fell asleep during the midsection and wanted to catch up on what I missed, and for a movie that gambles with a premise that might not work (a "caveman epic" doesn't really spell big bucks in the B.O.) that's not a good sign. Writer/director Roland Emmerich doesn't exactly have a talent for writing convincing characters or directing good actors, but he redeems himself by making some ludicrously enjoyable set pieces and excitement, which sadly what his 2008 caveman epic lacks.
Emmerich, who directed INDEPENDENCE DAY and THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, has created arguably his most disappointing effort since 1998's GODZILLA, committing almost exactly the same mistake. Once you get past the guilty pleasure of seeing a herd of stampeding Mammoths or chases with giant man-eating ostriches (more on that later), 10,000 B.C. lacks the very crucial ingredient: thrills. Instead of a ludicrously enjoyable ride with some tongue-in-cheek moments and campy self-awareness, 10,000 B.C. takes itself too seriously with its story of the "first hero" D'Leh (Steven Strait), who braves the odds to rescue his beloved Evolet (Camilla Belle), who is probably the most beautiful of her kind since she has discovered eye-liner(!), from the "four-legged demons" who have abducted her, along with other members of his tribe. The odds being a flock of deadly giant "terror birds", stampeding mammoths, a saber-toothed tiger (which, sadly, isn't put to good use here) and quite possibly the lamest villains in history. With a cheesy narration offered by Omar Shariff, this movie just calls for some good old-fashioned kitsch!
Admittedly, Emmerich can still spin some enjoyable guilty pleasure along the way, including the aforementioned "terror birds" sequence which, despite being a bit goofy, is actually rather enjoyable. But so many other parts fall flat since they play it all with a straight face. A little humor would have been good. For a film that could have been a good afternoon spent of brainless fun, it's mostly just a bone-headed epic-wannabe with some long plodding scenes that slow down the movie and prevents it from become exciting. Plus, the heroes and the villains of the story are just plain boring! How can the story of "the first hero" be so important if it just ain't thrilling? Considering that my expectations were pretty low for 10,000 B.C. (due to some really bad reviews), it did often go beyond my expectations thanks to some good special effects (no matter how hokey that sabertooth was, they were pretty good). But expecting an occasionally entertaining no-brainer, it's a quite a letdown. Ugh!
Rating: ** out of 5.
Nim's Island (2008)
It was good clean fun when it lasted.
My Take: A family-friendly adventure that starts to falter midway and on.
NIM'S ISLAND started out so well; I really thought I was in for a real treat. In the midst of family movies that try to hard to throw in a lot of potty humor and slapsticks, here's a family movie that will enthrall the kids and constantly remind adults of that sense of adventure. Here's a story of a little girl (Abigail Breslin, a long way from the "Little Miss Sunshine" pageant) who lives with her dad on an uncharted island, makes friends with its inhabitant animals, and go into all sorts of adventure with her caring yet similarly adventurous father (and for the ladies, her father happens to be Gerard Butler).
NIM'S ISLAND is like a hybrid of SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON, KITT KITTREDGE (because of Breslin's spunk) and HOME ALONE. Breslin's Nim also loves to read adventure novels, namely those starring her favorite hero Alex Rover (his Indy Jones-like imaginary representation also played by Butler). But when her father goes away and is left alone in the island to defend it from nosy tourists who want to make it a resort. Desperate for help, Nim seeks help from Alex Rover, thinking her dashing hero would arrive and turn her life around and save the island. But actually, her Alex Rover is actually Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster), a writer from San Francisco who's even afraid to go outside her own house. But when HOME ALONE half of the story takes over, with Nim saving the island from tourist by catapulting lizards and faking a volcano eruption, the magic sadly isn't there anymore. In place of it are some of the usual: silly slapsticks and some tacky special effects.
What was promised in the first half of NIM'S ISLAND was really something; a family movie that could have been a real treat for everyone. There should be more scenes with Nim's father. There should be more scenes where Nim discovers that her Alex Rover, the adventurer, is actually Alexandra, a writer lacking every spunk of the adventurer she writes about. Instead, most of that is pushed to the end to accommodate more scenes of Foster having some trouble with the locals (it starts out curiously funny, but slowly tired and one-note). The HOME ALONE-like slapsticks were gratuitous and whatever creativity was set up during the first act is just gone. Although the first half has its charms, Breslin gives an appealing and spunky performance and the island itself is gorgeous; at least the titular island itself is worth visiting numerous times. Rent it or wait for it on TV; it might make a lasting baby-sitter for the younger set.
Rating: **1/2 out of 5.
Head Over Heels (2001)
Not just bad. It's frustrating!
My Take: A real mess with quite possibly one of the dumbest screenplays written in recent memory. Total poppycock!
HEAD OVER HEELS boasts, quite possibly, one of the dumbest screenplays ever written. There are a lot of badly-written screenplays out there, but this is probably one of the worst in recent memory. It starts out with a good girl liking a good guy. Then the good girl thinks he may not actually be "Mr. Perfect" after all. Then she suspects him to have committed murder and everything goes downhill. Had it been a script for a thriller, it might have been good for brainless fun, but as a romantic comedy, with a pointless gags and bathroom humor, it's just lethal. A total train-wreck from the moment that Great Dane leaped on Monica Potter.
Potter plays Amanda, your typical nice girl who restores Renaissance paintings for a living. She then moves to a flat where she shares a room with four partying models which she gets along with finely. But then there's the good-looking Jim Winston (Freddie Prinze Jr.), who may be the perfect guy. But when she sees him seemingly striking a woman and disposing hr body, she's about to change her mind. And the story only gets sillier and dumber (even by comedy standards) as it goes. As if that wasn't bad enough, director Mark Waters throws in some gross out bathroom humor with horribly unwatchable results. It even rips off bits from REAR WINDOW and the knife-throwing from the silly HER ALIBI in the process.
Sure, it adds up and it might have kept you guessing, but this film is just borderline unwatchable. The comedy isn't funny, the script is dumb and there's not a good actor in sight. What might have been a light disposable affair, HEAD OVER HEELS is an insulting and ridiculous mess, and probably the worst of its kind in a long time as well.
Rating: 0 out of 5.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
One of the most poignantly-told ghost stories of all time.
My Take: Nuanced and subtly creepy, and oftentimes heartbreaking and sad. A perfect showcase of M. Night Shymalan's unique storytelling talents.
Haters call M. Night Shymalan the "one-hit wonder" so aggressively that they seem to forget just how effective that "one-hit" was. His first real big hit (but not his first film), THE SIXTH SENSE is a perfect introduction to the unique and rarely seen (in Hollywood)) storytelling talents of M. Night Shymalan, something that wasn't appreciated for too long. But I doubt anyone will disagree that THE SIXTH SENSE is a triumph of storytelling; a ghost story told in a most original and subtle way and achieves to sustain our interest without much use of heavy effects. But it's actually more than just another well-crafted ghost story, It's also actually an interesting drama grounded in semi-supernatural elements.
Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is a gifted psychologist; his friends and his wife (Olivia Williams) thinks his talents is a gift, but he on the other hand considers it a curse due to a failure to cure a kid in the past that since has haunted him. Meanwhile, Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment, a career-making performance) is a quiet, problematic boy. He gets picked on by his bully classmates and his mom (Toni Collette) isn't exactly comfortable when he isn't telling her what's wrong. And you thought seeing dead people was tough! The film says ghost see only what they want to see. So that doesn't make them any less different from the living. Here, Cole sees his ability to see and communicate with folks from the other side as a curse; something he wished he never had. But when he discovers how to wrest control of it, he starts to see what it really is: A gift in disguise. This plays a very strong part with the film's still shocking ending (a gimmick Shymalan would use in his later films), but actually plays (among with other issues) throughout the films. THE SIXTH SENSE is more than just a well-crafted genre picture; Shymalan uses it as means to tell a story dealing with some personal issues.
Most will remember THE SIXTH SENSE as for its shocker of an ending, a great example of a true and shocking payoff that provides the perfect closure to a perfect film. But the pleasures of THE SIXTH SENSE doesn't begin and end there. The relevant issues tackled throughout the film (more prominently, family issues like divorce, mid-life crises and rejection) is unnerving just as some of the film's "jump-from-your-seat" moments are subtly creepy. But among the things that truly grabbed me about THE SIXTH SENSE is it's true emotions. Haters can call Shyamalan whatever they want, but he knows a thing or two about emotions. The scene where Cole talks to his mom about how he gets frequent "visits" from grandma starts out creepy, but really is sad and heartfelt, and Shymalan doesn't make use of any faux emotions whatsoever; just the simplicity of the staging of the scene. Then there's the ending (which I will not reveal for the sake of the small number of people who have not seen it or don't remember it), which was intended to shock the audience. But come to look at it, I realized just how sad and heartbreaking it really is.
The setup for his later films would be similar to THE SIXTH SENSE, from the nuanced slow-burn setup paid off by a shocker ending. But like THE SIXTH SENSE, Shymalan's later films have an interesting story told in a most unique way not seen in most typical Hollywood movies. There's always something to look forward to in his films. Ever since his success with THE SIXTH SENSE, we are introduced to an unqualified talented storyteller; often hated but nevertheless one of the most underrated minds in Hollywood today.
Rating: ***** out of 5.