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Planet of the Apes
I hope you remember the original Planet of the Apes starring Charlton Heston. I also hope you rent it this weekend instead of wasting your time with the new remake, Planet of the Apes. While the original is a classic, director Tim Burton's remake is a damned, dirty, stinking movie. Damn Tim Burton to hell!
Mark Wahlberg stars as Captain Leo Davidson - a US Air Force space pilot in 2029. He is assigned to an experimental space station near Saturn that trains chimpanzees to interact with humans and pilot spaceships. One day, an electrical storm puts the station and one of the chimp pilots in danger. Against orders, Leo jumps into a ship to save his chimp friend, but the storm throws him off course and he crashes on a strange planet where apes are the rulers and humans are slaves.
Soon, Leo discovers how bad things are on this planet. The leader of the ape military, General Thade (Tim Roth) fears that humans, who outnumber apes 4 to 1, could rise up and defeat them. While Thade actively campaigns to eliminate the human infestation by killing them all, the respected Senator Sandar and his human rights crusading, liberal daughter Ari (Helena Bonham Carter) stand in his way. That is until Leo and a group of humans break free and make their way to a sacred, restricted area that holds a secret that could set the planet on its ear.
What is this deep, dark secret? Why and how did the apes evolve in this fashion?
FOX rushed the production of Planet of the Apes so it could have a huge summer blockbuster that would cash in on the summer box office moolah instead of releasing the film in November or December, when it would face competition from potential Oscar contenders. It was even reported that Burton was not finished editing the movie until last week and, even then, only finished its production at the very last minute. Unfortunately, in all this rushing around, he forgot to insert a plot and character development.
Planet of the Apes, like most summer blockbusters, rushes into the action without any time spent on explaining the world, developing backgrounds for the characters or setting up a traditional protagonist vs. antagonist rivalry that is established in a believable way. The script from William Broyles, Jr., Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal lacks depth and doesn't take advantage of the films most interesting characters - Karubi (a rebellious older human played by Kris Kristofferson), Attar (Thade's right hand man played by Michael Clarke Duncan) and Krull (Attar's former teacher who had an unexplained, but possibly fascinating, falling out with the pupil).
The characters don't take a hard look at the treatment of humans or discuss the ethics of that enslavement. The characters don't even explore the humans hate for apes. Instead, the writers and Burton seem content to amaze the audience with makeup, special effects and interesting interpretations of the ape characteristics instead of striving to tell a good story. They waste the potential for a hard-hitting dramatic movie and stray too far into campiness.
The acting performances are just as uneven as the rest of the film. Wahlberg doesn't get much to do other than run around and fight. Carter has some good moments where her character is allowed to express her sympathy and love for the humans, but the performance suffers when she is unable to convincingly portray the fear her character faces in many situations. Estella Warren, a former model who portrays a young woman (possibly Leo's romantic interest, but it's so poorly written that we just have to assume it) has very few lines, doesn't deliver them well and appears to have been hired for her ability to wear a sexy outfit rather than bringing a character to life. Finally, Paul Giamatti, the worst actor still working in Hollywood, puts in a campy, stupid, unnecessary performance as a slave trader. All of his lines are thrown in for comedic effect, but comedy is unnecessary in Planet of the Apes.
The film also suffers from cheap sets and a very dark look. Most of the movie takes place in a soundstage filled with plastic foliage (maybe the same one used in Jurassic Park III) . All of the close ups and simplistic, quickly cut action shots are dizzying instead of thrilling. Also, it is hard to see most of the movie and the characters' faces because it is too dark. More daylight shots would have contrasted well with the night scenes, but Burton didn't go this way.
While Duncan, Roth and Charlton Heston (who appears in one of the greatest cameos in movie history) all come through with awesome performances and the ending is a surprise, the rest of the movie is a mess. Grade: D
The Princess Diaries
Since Director Garry Marshall was the same man who made Julia Roberts a star, it should come as no surprise that his latest offering, The Princess Diaries, is a Pretty Woman knock off for the kiddie set. Unfortunately, I'm a 29-year old single, childless man (and lovably huggable, just in case you single gals were wondering), so I didn't enjoy it as much as the other 200 kids in the theater. Of course, this movie wasn't made for me.
Anne Hathaway stars as Mia - a klutzy, ugly duckling from the poor side of the tracks in San Francisco. Of course, she is a social misfit and outcaste who is teased by the cool girls like Lana (Mandy Moore). And, of course, Mia pines away for the best looking boy in class, while her best friend Lily's (Heather Matarazzo) geeky music loving brother wishes Mia would pine away for him (can you smell the plot twist cooking?).
One fateful day, just a few months before her sixteenth birthday, Mia has the chance to meet her grandmother for the first time. It turns out that Mia's father, who is now deceased, was a real life prince and the grandmother is Queen Clarisse Renaldi of Genovia (Julie Andrews).
The Queen has come to America because Mia, upon her sixteenth birthday, must decide if she is going to take the throne and rule Genovia. She wants some time to think about it, meanwhile Mia must learn how to be transformed from an ugly duckling into a graceful, beautiful princess (and trust me, she is going to be a babe. In five years, I predict Hathaway is going to pose for one of those T&A filled, testosterone fueled "men's" magazines posing as essential male reading material like Maxim or Stuff. I'll probably pick up a copy. To read the articles).
Like I said earlier, this movie is not made for me. It is very simple and childish, with a predictable plot and an over-reliance on physical, slapstick humor. However, kids will love it and the parents will find enough laughs among the sweet moments in the film to keep them from falling asleep. Hathaway is quite charming when playing both the ugly duckling and the swan she eventually becomes. Without much substance to work with in the script, she is able to win over the audience and creates a character most of us can sympathize with. Julie Andrews is properly prim and gets a chance to engage in some amusing humor based on her fish-out-of-water status. Also, Hector Elizondo is very funny as Joe, the head of security who gives Mia some fatherly advice when needed.
One of the things I like most about Garry Marshall's films is his constant use of Elizondo. I counted at least 8 movies where they worked together, and this is not by accident. I remember reading in Garry Marshall's autobiography, Wake Me When It's Funny (a fun, fascinating read for anyone who loves a good, Hollywood story and even a few that are just good life lessons), that he always finds a role for Elizondo, no matter how small. Marshall feels Elizondo provides an adult presence on the set and mentors the younger, less experienced actors. They have become good friends, and it always helps to have a friend at work.
If you have kids under the age of 18 and want to spend some quality time together, The Princess Diaries is the movie for you. It's G-rated, so no nudity, no violence and no foul language. I almost forgot I was at the movies! Grade: C
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Why are we so obsessed with blondes? Sure, they are good looking. Sure, they have more fun (we all saw what happened in the episode of Three's Company when Janet wore the blonde wig and got everything she ever wanted). They might even be airheads. Frankly, America's obsession with blondes is only surpassed by its obsession with sex and chocolate (And the desire to combine all three obsessions into one wild night!). In Legally Blonde, we see the good, the bad, and the ugly side of being blonde.
Reese Witherspoon stars as Elle Woods - the blonde sorority chick who fits all stereotypes. She's been president of her sorority, named homecoming queen, and dates a hunka-hunka rich boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis). She's the girl that drives men batty, and drives plain women into a rage.
With the school year coming to an end, Elle is convinced that Warner is going to propose to her and they will live happily ever after. Of course, we wouldn't have a movie if he did. Instead, Warner decides that he must dump Elle, head off to Harvard Law School and marry a more refined, classy woman who will be the perfect Senator's wife, because he thinks he is going to be elected by the time he is 30. Warner views Elle as the girl he enjoyed fooling around with in college, and it's time to toss her aside. Elle decides to rebound from this horrible setback, get into Harvard Law School, show that she is a perfect Senator's wife and win back her man. Along the way, she learns a little something about herself.
Will Elle get into Harvard Law? Can she win back the man of her dreams? Is he all that dreamy?
After starting out as an entertaining Carole Lombard-ish, Marylin Monroe-like farce, Legally Blonde loses its way when the movie tries to become a serious statement against Blondism. Witherspoon is hilarious as the Valley girl breaking into the nerd sanctities and sparring with those who want to make her fail. However, the movie takes a horrible turn when she joins a law firm (yes, she gets into Harvard) and works on a murder case that is about as predictable and cliched as you can imagine.
When Director Robert Luketic focuses on Elle's battle to get into Harvard, the ridicule she faces from the nerds and her attempts to win back her man, Legally Blonde is an entertaining farce that doesn't take itself too seriously. Writers Karen McCullah Lutz and Kristin Smith should have stuck to that plot line instead of the silly murder case.
For half of a good movie, Legally Blonde is the one for you, but I wouldn't spend the full 8 bucks to see it. Check out a matinee, discount 2nd run theater or rent the video. Grade: C-
Is this a match made in heaven? The Score teams three of the greatest actors to ever grace the silver screen, and I was ready for some major fireworks. This had the chance top be the guy movie to end all guy movies. However, while the film is good, it doesn't live up to its potential for greatness.
Robert DeNiro (one third of the Holy Trinity of Italian Actors, send me an e-mail at email@example.com if you want to get the full list) stars as Nick - a big time jewel thief and jazz club owner who is looking to get out of the business and marry the woman of his dreams, Diane (Angela Bassett). Just as he is getting ready for retirement, his long time fence, Max (Marlon Brando), is making him an offer he can't refuse.
Max has joined forces with a young, aggressive thief, Jackie (Edward Norton), and they are planing to steal a very valuable French royal scepter from the Canadian government. To do so, they need Nick - the best safe cracker in the world. Max promises Nick enough money to pay off his mortgage and live a very comfortable life, but he has to work with Jackie and violate many of his tried and true policies.
Can Nick trust Jackie? Can they both trust Max? Can Nick pull off the complicated, dangerous job?
Brando is AWESOME! Norton is AWESOME! DeNiro is pretty good. No, he's AWESOME! The acting is great, but what else would you expect? It one comes off as a tough guy with swagger and attitude. I was particularly surprised by Brando.
I know it sounds funny to have low expectations about a legend's acting ability, but Brando has not given us much reason to think that he is at top form lately (Dr. Moreau's Island anybody?). In The Score, he brings a great vitality and comic relief to Max without making him silly or irrelevant. Brando makes Max very flamboyant and entertaining, but serious when needed. Brando's acting is the most natural of the three, but his co-stars do very well.
Norton will amaze you with his transformation into Brian - his covert alter ego used to fool anyone who can break up the plot. He shows the most fire and volatility, two ingredients lacking in most of the film. DeNiro, while subdued throughout most of the film, puts in his best performance at the end, when the flick streaks to one of the best endings I have seen in a while. Even the guy who plays Steven, a computer programmer who helps Nick, is fantastic in his few scenes. He strikes a perfect tone that brings great comic relief just when it is needed.
My big gripe is the lack of interplay between our great actors. Writers Kario Salem, Lem Dobbs, and Scott Marshall have the chance to create scenes between DeNiro and Brando that most movie fans have clamored for over the years. Even the dreams of scenes between DeNiro and Norton or Norton and Brando have most fans drooling. However, their interactions seem short and staccato instead of long and flowing, which would allow each actor to "play" with the other. Sure, we get one great scene between DeNiro and Brando, but three or four strong, long, well written scenes would have made my day and satisfied most filmgoers. Even DeNiro and Norton, who share the screen together through most of the film, could have had better, more involved scenes together.
In addition to putting in a great performance, Brando stirred the pot of controversy, if you believe the gossip. I read on MrShowbiz.com, which drew from a Time magazine report, that the legend refused to take any direction from director Frank Oz - former master behind The Muppets and voice of Yoda from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. According to the story, Brando would mock him with calls of piggy, piggy (a reference to the Miss Piggy character he created) and De Niro was forced to direct Brando's scenes. Another story that keeps circulating is one regarding Brando's vanity.
According to the gossip mill, Marlon Brando supposedly would show up on set without his pants. This would force the director to avoid any and all shots of Brando's full girth, which embarrasses him. In the film, we do see him wearing pants, so I can't confirm this tall tale.
The Score is a good movie, with a fantastic ending, that fails to be great, but it's worth your time and money this weekend. Grade: B+
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Scary Movie 2
In addition to talking animals, movie parodies are a staple of comedy writing. Movies like Airplane, Hot Shots and The Naked Gun are very popular because movie-maniacs (someone who sees over 25 movies in a year) enjoy the challenge of identifying the targets of the parodies, and regular moviegoers tend to get their jollies from the risqué comedy that these films usually rely on. However, Scary Movie 2 is more risqué and more randy than anything you have probably seen before.
Scary Movie 2 plumbs the depths of lowbrow comedy. No bodily function goes unfunctioned. No sex joke is crude enough. No dirty joke is smutty enough. Sadly, I laughed and I feel guilty. I should take a shower to wash away the sin.
Like the first movie, writers/stars Marlon and Shawn Wayans lead an ensemble cast of young twentysomethings who face the type of grave danger that only occurs to folks in the movies. Ray (Shawn Wayans), Cindy (Anna Farris), Shorty (Marlon Wayans), Alex (Tori Spelling), Jamie (Kathleen Robertson), Brenda (Regina Hall) and Buddy (Christopher Masterson) are seven college students who think they are going on a field trip to study insomnia. Instead, their evil professor (Tim Curry) plans on using them as bait to prove that there is life after death by drawing out the spirits who haunt Hell House.
Will the gang survive? Will there be another sequel?
The Wayans brothers stick to the same formula that made their first movie, Scary Movie, such a huge surprise hit last summer - parody plenty of movies that were released sometime after 1995 (because the teen crowd doesn't know about any movie released before the Clinton administration); add stupid, profane, dirty, inappropriate humor at rapid fire pace; see what sticks; and watch the money roll in from teenagers who don't know any better (have you noticed this recurring theme in my reviews lately?). The Wayans, like most comics today, think humor comes from acting loudly, outrageous and stupid. Subtlety and wit are skills that haven't been learned, and, unfortunately, aren't needed when a blow to the crotch will suffice (OK, I'll even admit that is funny at the right time). If you don't like toilet humor, you are going to be horrified by this film.
Yet, proving that talking animals are funny, Scary Movie 2 has some redeeming qualities. I was amused by a talking parrot who spews profanity laced invectives at every person who tries to address him, and some of the slapstick moments are funny. Also, James Woods, when he is not subjected to bodily function humor, is hilarious as the Exorcist-parody priest who was originally supposed to be played by Marlon Brando (until he caught pneumonia). I'll even go out on a limb and say that Anna Farris is funny as the wide-eyed innocent and dim-bulbed heroine who displays some decent comedic ability and (unless she really is this dumb) can play a dumb person fairly well. Heck, I'll even tell you that Shawn Wayans is very good as Ray - the sex crazed friend who is willing to do anything at anytime. However, Scary Movie 2 faces a great generational divide.
Older audiences will worry that civilization is coming to an end if this is what the kids think is great comedy, and the kids will think the older folks are tightly wound, stuffy elitists who need to "chill out" and "keep it real". Decide which category you fit in, and that will tell you whether or not you will enjoy this movie. Grade: C-
Cats and Dogs
We all wonder what our dog or cat is really thinking and what kind of secret life they might be leading when we go to work. Luckily, this is fertile territory for Hollywood screenwriters. Why? Because talking animals are funny! For Cats and Dogs, this is a gimmick that saves us from an otherwise formulaic, childish, silly film.
Jeff Goldblum stars as Dr. Brody - a nutty, flighty, clumsy professor who is very close to formulating a vaccine that will eliminate human allergies to dogs. What he and the rest of us don't know is that dogs and cats have been waging a centuries old war, complete with secret agents, armies and the latest computer technology. Cats, realizing that dogs will gain a major tactical advantage due to the new vaccine (man's best friend will be the pet of choice) are trying to steal Dr. Brody's formula and dogs want to stop them.
Who will win the battle?
Starting with its James Bond/Mission Impossible-style opening, Cats and Dogs is a twisted movie that is fun for kids and adults. While the human acting is one-dimensional (Goldblum doing his usual, tired, quirky shtick. Elizabeth Perkins as the Mom trying to bring the family together, and Alexander Pollack as the kid who longs to spend more time with his workaholic Dad) and the plot isn't any big surprise, the movie is saved by the CGI graphics and voice talent that bring the animal characters to life with zeal.
Alec Baldwin is wonderful as Butch, the hardened operative who must train Lou the Puppy (voice of Tobey Maguire) - a Beagle pup who has mistakenly gotten the job of protecting the Brody home from cat invasion. Baldwin's over-the-top scenery chewing is usually out of place and unrealistic (check out Pearl Harbor for an example), but it fits perfectly with the silliness of this movie. Another actor who lets go of all pretense is Michael Clarke Duncan, who provides the voice of Sam - the overzealous sheepdog who thinks he is stealthy. He makes Sam into an endearing, lovable, yet misguided cartoon character that all the kids will want to take home. Also, kudos to Susan Sarandon as Butch's old flame who tries to teach Lou that there is more to life than the job. She is the movie's soul to offset the lunacy.
Writers John Requa and Glenn Ficarra provide plenty of sight gags and funny one-liners. I especially appreciated the differences between the dogs' and cats' lives as pets vs. their lives as warriors. Always under-estimated, pets like Mr. Tinkles (voice of Sean Hayes) are the evil masterminds behind nefarious schemes, yet they are subjected to wearing wimpy outfits to entertain their owners or need to pretend to be drinking toilet water to hide the real reason they stick their head in there. These types of juxtapositions play out throughout the film and provide the most hilarious moments.
Cats and Dogs is not going to be an Oscar winner, and it has some toilet humor, but it provides an enjoyable summer moviegoing experience that will tickle your funny bone. Grade: B
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A.I. : Artificial Intelligence
For 2 hours, A.I.: Artificial Intelligenceis one of the greatest movies I have ever seen. However, writer/director Steven Spielberg gives us the wrong ending and an additional, unnecessary 20 minutes. While I disagree with the choice he made, I still think everyone should see this masterpiece.
In development for over 20 years by the late, great Stanley Kubrick (and finished by Steven Spielberg who collaborated with Kubrick in his final days), the movie is set years in the future, when the polar icecaps have melted (more tree hugging environmental hippie stuff, but it's not a major plot point), major world cities have been flooded, resources are scarce and robots perform many tasks for humans. Robots are toys, pleasure providers (if you know what I mean ) and workers. However, inventor Professor Hobby (William Hurt) wants to take robot technology to a new level. Gipetto, err, I mean Hobby, creates David (Haley Joel Osment) - the first robot with emotions.
Eager to test his new creation, Hobby lets co-worker Henry (Sam Robards, son of Lauren Bacall and Jason Robards) and Monica (Frances O'Connor, daughter of two people who weren't in the entertainment business) take David home because their son is in a five-year long coma after a horrible accident. At first, Monica resists accepting David as a son, but soon, the lovable, charming robot draws out her motherly instincts. However, David is soon judged to be a danger to the family, shunned, and realizes that the only way he will ever be accepted and happy is to become a real boy.
Will David become a real boy?
I wish I could tell you all of the amazing scenes, characters and plot twists that make A.I.: Artificial Intelligence such a great movie. There are moments of true greatness on the screen, but to reveal them would only ruin the experience for you. What I can tell you is that Spielberg has put together an amazing cast, brilliant special effects and a wonderful story that makes A.I.: Artificial Intelligence the must see movie of the year.
Haley Joel Osment, the little boy who scared the bejeezus out of us in The Sixth Sense, is the perfect Pinocchio. While I had been using that term derisively before seeing the film, I use it with respect in this review. Osment is able to develop David from robot to a fully realized almost-human being. This kid can act! From early scenes where David is stiff and awkward, like the robot he is, to later climactic and emotionally charged scenes that define this movie, Osment hits every mark. I can't remember a child actor with more soul and better ability to bring grown men and women to tears.
Frances O'Conner, who won raves for her starring role in Mansfield Park, is wonderful as Monica. While some of her portrayal as the tortured mother pining away for her comatose son is a little overdone (it has been 5 years!), the interplay between her and Osment is a treat to watch. O'Connor slowly makes Monica warm up to David, but not so much that the plot twist that follows is unbelievable. Jude Law is great as Gigolo Joe - a pleasure bot (basically, a hooker robot), that meets up with David during the movie's great adventure of the future world's seedy side (to say more ruins the film).
What can I say about Spielberg? First, he creates an eerie, unsettling tone that keeps the audience on the edge of its seat. It's a perfect mood because he takes us into an unknown world (amazingly created on the screen. Trust me, you haven't seen something like this in years) and witness things that are surreal. This tone makes every plot twist and eccentric character plausible.
Second, while Spielberg has not penned a script by himself since Close Encounters of the Third Kind (although some may argue that he co-wrote this with Stanley Kubrick), he creates a story that is emotionally moving and intellectually stimulating. While many of the movie's parts will seem familiar (robots as toys like in The Sixth Day, or the Pinocchio plot of a toy wanting to become a real boy), Spielberg gives them a dark and contemplative feel that makes A.I.: Artificial Intelligence a serious study of what could happen in the future. You think a robot with emotions is just a science fiction tale with no possibility of reality? Then, think about cloning.
Maybe this connection is not intended, however, I could not stop thinking about the possibility of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence being a warning about human cloning. In the film, robots are mere toys meant for the pleasure of humans. Whether they are working, playing, or "entertaining", robots are a secondary tool for humans to use as they wish. When emotions are added into the mix, David becomes a neglected, emotionally bruised almost-human being. David worries about living forever while his loved ones are mortal. He wants the love of a mother, even though the mother is just as likely to put him in a closet as she is to read him a bed time story. In short, David is viewed as a convenience instead of being a son. He is driven to dangerous lengths when he cannot experience and receive the same type of love that he wants to give. David is a lonely being, and it puts the robot experience in a whole new light.
Since we can already clone sheep, how long until we can clone humans? How will we treat human clones? As tools? As pets? They will have real emotions, and cognitive reasoning that will lead to conflict if treated as anything less than independent humans, won't they? Spielberg with A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, intended or not, leads us down that path and the disaster that occurs when man tries to play God and doesn't fully consider how to treat an almost-human being. If you can stimulate that kind of discussion with a movie, it is a great movie.
While I think the movie should have ended at the 2 hour mark (send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org after you see the movie to argue why I am right or wrong), instead of forcing an ending which feels calculated to evoke a specific emotional reaction, I still think A.I.: Artificial Intelligence is a fantastic movie that everyone should see. Grade: A
If you are a teenager, you will probably love this movie and think, "Those parents just don't understand their children's need to be in love and free. Or, "the parents should stop hassling them and let them live their own lives!" If you are over 19, you are only going to see crazy/beautiful because you think Kirsten Dunst is a hottie. Shame on you, you dirty old man!
Jay Hernandez (from NBC's teen hit, Hang Time) stars as Carlos - a good, hard working high school student. He rides a bus 2 hours each morning from East LA, so he can attend a ritzy suburban school in Pacific Palisades. Carlos studies hard, is a star on the football team and dreams of going to the Naval Academy. Unfortunately, he falls for a flighty, troubled gal who likes to show off her navel.
Nicole (Kirsten Dunst) is the polar opposite of Carlos. While he is poor, she is the rich daughter of a Congressman. While he works hard, she doesn't take school seriously. While he has a plan for his life, she doesn't plan anything, but a party. Worst of all, she is constantly drinking and getting into trouble. Of course, in Hollywood world, this means they will fall madly in love. And, of course, everyone is going to tell Carlos that Nicole is nothing but trouble and he should dump her.
Will Nicole ruin Carlos's chance to get into the Naval Academy? Can their love conquer all? Is it love?
When members of the audience started leaving 20 minutes into the movie, I wanted to join them. Kirsten Dunst is horrible as she tries to convince the audience that she is a bad girl and nothing but trouble. Her act comes off as silly. I think you have to be drunk sometime in your life to convincingly act drunk, and, good for Kirsten, I don't think this kid has ever tied one on (Once again, kudos to Kirsten. Young people shouldn't be drinking and no one should drink with the intent of getting drunk). Instead of being menacing or a tragic figure, she makes Nicole into a weak, poorly executed character. It is the worst performance of her young career.
Her counterpart doesn't do much to help matters. Hernandez doesn't have much depth or ability to show emotion, so Carlos comes off as a wet sponge. I think he was hired for his brooding eyes and rock hard pecks instead of any alleged talent he may be rumored to have. I hope he signed up for a few movies before any sees this work.
There are some redeeming moments as writers Phillip Hay and Matt Manfredi give Carlos and Nicole a chance to drop their respective cliched roles and express some true emotions for each other. However, they lead us down a typical, predictable path with a plot that we have been tortured with for years. Unfortunately, this stuff sells to a group of kids who don't have an appreciation for (or experience with) great movies, so there will be more of this trash in the next few years. While teenagers (the movie's target audience) will see crazy/beautiful as some sort of immature affirmation of their struggles with parents, school and all forms of authority, anyone old enough to buy beer will see it for what it is - an adolescent fantasy and a waste of money. It is this generation's Dirty Dancing. God help us all. Grade: D
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The Fast and the Furious
Part West Side Story + Part Donnie Brasco + Part American Graffiti = a whole lotta stinkola.
The Fast and the Furious is a pitiful movie that desperately tries to package elements of great films and present them to a teen audience that doesn't know any better. Sadly, many may be duped into spending their parents' hard-earned money to see this piece of glossy trash. Hopefully, we can stop them before they see yet another bad movie.
The blue-eyed, blonde-haired heartthrob-in-training Paul Walker plays Brian - an undercover cop trying to crack a big time criminal gang that is knocking over semis full of high tech gadgets like DVD players and stereos (Don't send me hate e-mail for revealing this. It happens early and stuff like suspense and plot are unimportant to the film). His superiors have ordered him to investigate Dom (Vin Diesel) - a drag racing legend in a subculture full of gang members who race illegally on the streets of Los Angeles - as a possible suspect. Brian wins Dom's trust, and gets to be part of his racing "team", but risks it all when he falls in love with Dom's sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), then finds himself attracted to suspect's nobility and loyalty to family. Now, Brian doesn't believe that Dom is behind all the thefts because he's just not that kind of guy.
Who is stealing all of these DVD players? Will Brian be able to hide his true identity?
The Fast and the Furious is full of every thriller/car movie cliché ever filmed. Dom is the tough guy with a heart who isn't going back to prison at any cost. Brian is torn between his new respect for Dom, his sworn duty and his love for Mia. She is the little sister who has lived in her big brother's shadow and wants to break free. And, of course, Dom's jealous best friend (Matt Schultze) doesn't trust the new guy. It all ends up being one big formulaic flick that starts with the requisite big, expensive, rock n' roll driven, loud action sequence and ends with a big, expensive, rock n' roll driven, loud action sequence. And what do you have in between? Yep, big, expensive, rock n' roll driven, loud action sequences. What makes it all silly is that the audience is supposed to believe that these tough guys all race around in suped up Volkswagen Cabrioles and Dodge Neons that can outrun the cops and easily slide under semi-trucks (I told you they relied on every cliché known to man). Couldn't they find a few GTO's? Well, they found one, but it wasn't enough.
I feel sorry for Vin Diesel. He has a commanding screen presence and doesn't go overboard with his character. Diesel is smart enough to create a tough guy who doesn't need to scream his lines at the top of his lungs to get your attention. He has a smoldering and intense presence that captivates the audience with his eyes. It is a quality that the rest of his castmates lack.
Jordana Brewster doesn't get much to do other than wear tight, low riding blue jeans and Walker is about as tough as a feather. He must have gotten the role based on those blue eyes, because his acting leaves much to be desired. I never believe that Brian cares for Mia, respects Dom, is tough enough to work as an undercover cop or knows his spark plugs from a fuel pump. Michelle Rodriguez is another disappointment. After her stunning role in the indie film, Girlfight, she settles for being Dom's "just-around-for-the-big-love-scene" and "just-around-for-a-crucial-emotional-moment" girlfriend.
Although director Rob Cohen and writers Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist
and David Ayer want to connect to America's inner city youth by portraying
this supposedly real subculture on screen, they actually do it a disservice
by giving The Fast and The Furious a typical overblown Hollywood treatment.
This isn't a serious look at our inner cities; it's just a bad car chase
movie that we have seen before.
Dr. Dolittle 2
How can a remake have a sequel when the original didn't? Oh, yeah; the remake made a boatload of money for the studio and everyone from the top execs to the stars want to cash in. Big time.
Eddie Murphy returns as Dr. Dolittle - a man who can speak with the animals. Now famous, he is being run into the ground due to great demands on his time. Humans want his services, animals think he is the best guy who can relate to them, and television is enamored with him. Of course, this is putting a strain on his marriage and putting distance between him and his kids.
Finally, he decides to take a vacation, but duty calls. An evil logging company is preparing to flatten a nearby forest, and the animals come to him looking for help. Dr. Dolittle and his wife discover that the forest can be saved if they can declare it the habitat of an endangered species of bear. A single female Pacific northwest bear lives in the forest, Ava (voice of Lisa Kudrow), but the law requires that the species can reproduce, so Dr. Dolittle tracks down a mate, Archie (voice of Steve Zahn). Unfortunately, Archie has been raised in captivity, so, in addition to playing cupid, Dr. Dolittle has to teach Archie how to be a macho bear that will attract Ava's affections.
Will Archie get Ava to fall for him? Will the evil loggers ruin Dr. Dolittle's efforts?
Dr. Dolittle 2 is a fantastic and entertaining comedy. Eddie Murphy anchors a fabulous ensemble of talented actors who make the animals the stars of the film. Steve Zahn is hilarious as the wimpy, cheesy, domesticated "Wayne Newton" of bears, Archie, who would rather be singing and dancing on stage instead of fishing in the lake. He adds a touching naivete and adolescence to the character that makes him lovable and a kookiness that will have you rolling in the aisles. Murphy knows how to play straight man when needed, but picks his moments to seize the comedic stage with his legendary zeal. He provides a refreshing take on the typical flustered father and man-in-over-his-head. Also, Isaac Hayes (as an opossum), Michael Rappaport (as a raccoon) and Joe Bologna (as the "godfather" beaver) form a fantastic animal Mafia that gives the Godfather a run for their money. Plus, listen for some very surprising voices who pop up throughout the flick.
When it focuses on the animals and the plot between Ava and Archie, Dr. Dolittle is a great comedy. Unfortunately, writer Larry Levin and director Steve Carr didn't mine all of the laughs they could out of this material, so we are stuck with a lame subplot about Dr. Dolittle's rebellious teen daughter (Raven Symone from The Cosby Show, she used to be so cute, now she is a raging teenager) and the tree hugging hippie environmentalist plot about the evil loggers. Both subplots are trite, cliched and don't add anything to the film. The loggers, played by Kevin Pollack and Jeffrey Jones, are stereotypical and disappointing characatures that are easy targets for the liberals in Hollywood. Maybe instead of constructing an easy strawman to knock down and spit on, Levin should have figured out a way to make the last 20 minutes as entertaining as the first hour.
Other than that, Dr. Dolittle 2 shows some restraint when it comes to potty humor (some, but not a lot) and entertains adults as well as children. Check it out this weekend. Grade: B+
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They don't make 'em like they used to. Animation has taken great strides to advance beyond the traditional 2-D cell drawings like Bambi and Snow White. A movie like Shrek or Toy Story leaps off the screen with lifelike computer generated images. However, in the face of this animation revolution, Disney has decided to release Atlantis - a traditional animated feature that feels like a throwback to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
Michael J. Fox provides the voice of our hero, Milo Thatch. He's a nerdy, awkward cartographer and linguist trying to complete his grandfather's lifelong mission - to find the lost city of Atlantis. Milo discovers the legendary Shepherd's Journal, a document kept by an ancient sentry that details how to reach the hidden city of Atlantis. Although it might not be authentic, Thatch thinks that it is and he believes that it holds the key to fulfilling his dream. When his university won't support Milo's journey to find the lost city, one of his grandfather's friends, Preston Whitmore (John Mahoney), hires the best crew around and gives Milo a chance to become the greatest explorer in history.
Will Milo and the crew find Atlantis?
Atlantis is a movie that could have been better. It eschews Disney's traditional musical format, and tries to be a serious thriller. However, the moments of great drama are lost in a sea of inappropriate comedy that ruins the serious tone in an effort to pander to young kids. The audience is subject to silly characters like The Mole (Corey Burton), an annoying Frenchman who likes to dig holes and Bertha (Florence Stanley), the ship's communications director who speaks in constant, smart alecky one-liners. It's as if directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale wanted to take a big risk by creating a serious animated thriller, but had to throw in the kid-friendly content to insure box office results and make kids want to buy the action figures at McDonald's. I think the daring could have paid off, but we will never know.
Atlantis is not a horrible movie. Michael J. Fox is game as Milo and creates a character that most kids will relate to and like. Phil Morris is slick as the sympathetic ship's doctor who becomes Milo's confidant and James Garner, after a slow start, grows into a fabulous, commanding captain of the ship. His experienced tone gives the character the gravitas it needs for the film. The rest of the cast is a bunch of stereotypes - the explosives expert (Don "Father Guido Sarducci" Novello) with a soft side, the tough tomboy (Jacqueline Obrodors) who is a good mechanic, and that annoying french guy.
The movie tries too hard to be magical and becomes somewhat confusing as it moves to resolution, so you may need to watch closely so you can explain it to your kids. None of the action is too intense, so it's OK for the kids, but adults will be left unsatisfied. Grade: C-
Surprisingly enough, Tomb Raider and Atlantis have very similar plots, characters and themes, with one major exception - Atlantis is made for kids, while Tomb Raider is made for horny teenage boys (and lonely, single guys who like movies). Atlantis, with its overuse of comedy and broadly drawn characters, appeals to children and parents looking for safe, innocent entertainment. While Tomb Raider, with its emphasis on action, drama and Jolie's physical ability (in more ways than one, va va va voom!) is for teenagers hoping and praying that Angelina Jolie will get naked.
Jolie stars as Laura Croft - a tough, butt-kicking grrrrrrl. Like her father, she is an explorer who faces grave danger at every turn, and likes it. One night, she is drawn to a hidden room at her mansion. Inside, she discovers a mysterious, ancient clock that is counting down to some unknown event. What could it be?
At the same time Laura finds the clock, a secret council, The Illuminati, is preparing for a rare alignment of the planets. It turns out that the Illuminati are descendents of a once great civilization that discovered a powerful triangle sent from space that gave them the ability to travel across time. Unfortunately, their ancestors misused the power and their civilization was destroyed. They broke the triangle in two (why just two pieces? If it ruins your civilization, wouldn't you bust it into a million pieces and destroy some of them so it could never be pieced together?) and hid the pieces at opposite ends of the earth. Now, this new generation of Illuminati wants to find the two pieces of the triangle, unite them and use the power to return to greatness. Of course, to do so, they need Laura Croft's clock.
Will Laura discover and disrupt their evil plans? Can she find the triangle first?
I think women get a bum wrap in Hollywood. When you think of leading roles for women, most of them tend to be characters who are emotional wrecks, man chasing girlie girls, non-descript love interests or damsels in distress. Finally, we get a strong female character that can be admired by men and women everywhere.
Angelina Jolie brings lots of sexiness, intelligence and toughness to the character. Although Croft is a video game creation, Jolie brings her to life without becoming silly or cartoonish. Croft's traits, look, and motivation all are amazing, believable and admirable. The only problem I had with her character was Croft's total weakness when it comes to her father. Without giving too much away, I was upset that Croft, normally in control at all times, turns into silly putty at the mention of her father. After living without parents for over 16 years, and developing into a strong woman, I think her weakness is over the top. Even
then, Jolie delivers a great performance. Although Elizabeth Hurley, Sandra Bullock and others were supposedly considered for the role, only Jolie, who seems to be a video game creation in real life, can make it work on the screen. I just hope she doesn't create a negative buzz due to recent revelations that she tried to hire a hit man to kill herself, or any of the other wild, crazy stories that she is tied to. Great actress, crazy woman.
Outside of Jolie, the rest of the film suffers from an emphasis on action and a lack of character development. The supporting characters are just one-dimensional stereotypes along for the ride. Bryce (Noah Taylor) is the nerdy computer expert and comic relief who never justifies his role in Jolie's gang. Alex (Daniel Craig) is the boyfriendish rival without a backstory. Manfred Powell (Ian Glen) is the typical evil mastermind working for the Illuminati, who never gets to escape from his scene chewing bravado. Unfortunately, we don't get to learn much about them or the infamous Illuminati.
The secret council's background should have been better explained and their motivation should have been more complex. While we understand that they are seeking this amazing power, we are left to wonder how they plan to use it. I know this sounds silly, but I would have appreciated a James Bond type scene where the head of the council reveals the plan in some speech or address to the rest of the council. Instead, their desire to return to greatness must be inferred and blindly trusted.
Tomb Raider is not the best movie out there, especially when director Simon West tacks on one last gratuitous fight scene, but an entertaining evening when you want some mindless fun. Grade: C+
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I saw an interview with John Travolta a few weeks ago. I'm a big fan, but, lately, he seemed to be in a career spiral. When you mention the name "John Travolta", most people would automatically link him with Scientology and the stinker Battlefield Earth instead of his great work in Saturday Night Fever, Get Shorty, Pulp Fiction and others. In addition to taking bad movie roles, he always seemed spacey in interviews, like he was trying to be mystical or intellectual. Also, well, he had put on a few pounds. Then, I saw him on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Travolta was back! He slimmed down. He was clear headed, witty, charming and funny! Was this another comeback? Would Swordfish be his career savior? He is good, but the rest of the movie is not.
Hugh Jackman stars as Stan - a top-notch computer hacker just out of prison after being sentenced to two years for sabotaging a major FBI project. In addition to being ordered to stay away from computers, Stan is not allowed to see his 10-year old daughter. Then, one fateful "only in the movies" day, a stunning, sexy, amazing (wow, did I mention stunning?), mysterious woman, Ginger (Halle Berry), makes him an offer he can't refuse. She'll give him $100,000 to meet with her boss. Stan realizes he could use the money to get his kid back, so he falls for it.
It turns out that Ginger's boss is Gabriel (John Travolta with a soul patch) - an underworld crime lord with a plan. He wants to steal $9.5 billion of secret Drug Enforcement Agency money that has been collecting interest in hidden bank accounts since the mid-80's. If he helps, Stan will get $10 million and custody of his daughter.
Will Stan take the offer? What is Gabriel's ultimate goal? What's the deal with Halle Berry? Is she going to get naked like I read about in all the movie gossip magazines (supposedly for a $500,000 bonus? Heck, give me 50 bucks and a Big Mac and I'll strip right now)?
Swordfish stumbles on the same problem that hurts many modern thrillers about computers (think about The Net). It isn't exciting for the audience to watch a bunch of folks typing quickly on keyboards while unintelligible graphics fly by on the screen. If I want to see fingers flying on the keyboard, I'll go down to my local high school's typing class. I want action!
Sure, Swordfish has the necessary big explosions, guns blaring and car chases through the big city, but it fails to be a classic thriller. First, the movie has a huge gap towards the end that raises many questions. How did Stan get to the point we are shown at the beginning of the movie (most of the movie is a flashback)? Why does Gabriel make the speech he makes at the beginning of the movie? You have to see it for yourself to understand, but trust me, it is a huge gap that feels like a horrible editing mistake.
Second, the movie takes a bad plot twist that reduces a very cool bad guy, Gabriel, into a silly, raving idiot. Director Dominic Sena and writer Skip Woods might be trying to give the audience a reason to like Gabriel, but they ruin the character. He wants to steal the money, but not for the reasons you might think. Unfortunately, the expected reason is much better than the manufactured foolishness the audience is supposed to believe. Finally, after starting an interesting relationship between Stan and Ginger, Sena drops it instead of developing it for our benefit. After Berry takes her clothes off, Sena seems to think her character has accomplished her mission instead of giving her an interesting plotline.
Travolta gets to play his best nemesis since Broken Arrow, but, after establishing an ultra-hip, cool bad guy, he is forced to make the character into something less appealing. Also, look for the always-wonderful Don Cheadle as a tough as nails FBI agent trying to foil the whole plot.
After a great beginning, Swordfish takes a nosedive. Grade: D+
I thought David Duchovny wanted to leave aliens behind as he sought out stardom on the silver screen, but I guess the flop Return To Me made him realize he needed to return to his roots to pay the bills. Instead of seeking out a romantic comedy or even a traditional action flick, Duchovny ended up in this comedy X-Files knockoff made for thirteen year old boys (or those with their mentality), Evolution.
David Duchovny stars as Professor Ira Kane - a biologist at a small, Arizona community college. Kane and his colleague, Dr. Harry Block (Orlando Jones), end up investigating a mysterious meteor that has crashed in the middle of the dessert. After some scientific study, Kane and Block realize that the meteor contains alien bacteria that are evolving rapidly. Whereas humans took millions of years to evolve, the bacteria have evolved into other organisms in a matter of days. Unless they are stopped, aliens will take over the earth in a matter of weeks.
Will they be able to stop the aliens?
There's nothing evolutionary or revolutionary about the comedy in this flick. The writers and director Ivan Reitman rely on cheap jokes about bodily functions and outright grossness to keep the audience laughing. Unfortunately, the only people laughing (aside from the studio executives making a ton of money off this flop) are the 13-year old boys who think that this stuff is hilarious. If farts, boogers and anal probes make you laugh, this is the movie for you.
While Evolution uses amazing computer graphics to create the aliens, not much else is very impressive about this one. If Reitman created a B movie that took itself seriously in the face of its own silliness, like The Naked Gun or Hot Shots, I might have enjoyed it more. Some of the situations are hilarious, and, yes, I did laugh at some of the crude humor, but I felt bad for the cast.
Duchovny is a trooper trying to make something memorable out of his role, but it feels too much like Agent Mulder is fighting the government all over again. As a matter of fact, Duchovny's character ends up fighting a powerful military leader who seems to have his own agenda. We have the requisite dark secret that Kane is hiding from his friends and, of course, the chance for redemption, but Duchovny can't make much out of the material. His delivery is fine, but there's only so much he can do.
Julianne Moore plays Allison Reed - a CDC investigator and Duchovny's love interest. Her character's only task seems to be engaging in ridiculous klutziness to make us laugh, but she doesn't seem to have the talent to make it work. Jones doesn't get a chance to show any ability beyond his reliable, familiar funny faces and attitude driven delivery, while the rest of the cast is full of one-joke ponies. Overall, this one should be avoided. Grade: C-
P.S. - If you have read my review of Swordfish, you know that I tipped off the guys about Halle Berry's nude scene. So, in the interest of fairness, I will help out the female fans of WaffleMovies.com. Evolution includes a shot of David Duchovny's naked backside. Enjoy.
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This may be the biggest disappointment of the summer.
Most films suffer from a weak third act, where they have a great premise and opening, but the resolution does not live up to the first half (think Castaway). Unfortunately, Moulin Rouge gets it backwards. The film is a very bad episode of Three's Company with a fantastic, Oscar award winning drama tacked on to the end. If Director Baz Luhrman had made the opening act as serious and moving as the second half of the film, Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor would be looking at Oscar nominations. Instead, they are left to dream about what could have been.
Kidman stars as Satine - a high priced courtesan (hooker) in a posh turn of the century Parisian nightclub. Satine is one of the most beautiful women to ever grace this earth, and she can be had for the right price if you have the cash. While she has gotten by selling her beauty, Satine wants to be a serious actress.
Christian (Ewan McGregor) is a poor writer living among the bohemians and artists who occupy the slums around the Moulin Rouge. He is inspired to help a ragtag group, led by the eccentric Toulouse Letrec (John Leguzamo), finish their masterpiece - a celebration of truth, beauty, freedom and love. The bohemians feel this play with inspire a revolution that will squash those who view materialism as the end all and be all of life.
The group wants Satine to finance the play, but she has been ordered by her boss, Zidler (Jim Broadbent), to romance a rich Duke (Richard Roxburgh) so he will become the chief financial backer of a legitimate theater production at the Moulin Rouge. This legitimate production will give Satine the chance to prove she is a serious actor and allow her to leave the courtesan life. Of course, there is a mix up and Satine mistakes Christian for the rich Duke. They fall in love, but Satine must continue to use her womanly wiles on the Duke, so he will keep the production afloat, while continuing her secret love affair with Christian (and Chrissy thinks Jack is fooling around with Janet, but Mr. Roper thinks Janet is making a play for him. Will those crazy kids be able to pay the rent at the end of the month?).
Will Satine and Christian find true love, or will the Duke discover their illicit affair and end the play?
Baz Luhrman should be run out of Hollywood for blowing this once-in-a-lifetime-chance to make a memorable, wonderful movie. The first 40 minutes feel like a bad music video with hyper-fast cuts, loud music, and wildly over-produced dance numbers. Also, he decides to use popular songs from the 70's, 80's and 90's to advance the story instead of sticking to tunes that better describe the action. All of this adds up to silliness.
I was shocked as scenes started to show promise only to be destroyed by the use of Madonna's Like A Virgin or Elton John's Your Song. The music destroys the mood instead of enhancing it. You may think I am a hypocrite for praising the same type of use of 70's music in A Knight's Tale. However, A Knight's Tale was a much less serious movie and director Brian Helgeland didn't use the songs at inappropriate times. He let the movie stand on its own at dramatic moments. Luhrman interrupts the flow of the action just to pander to the audience. This underestimation of our intelligence is insulting. The original tunes that are used later in the film are fantastic and fit the tone much better than the familiar tunes that cause the audience to laugh when it should be emotionally moved.
For as much as I hate Luhrman's decisions in the first 40 minutes, I have to praise him for saving the film in the last two acts. Moulin Rouge finally becomes the tragic, amazing, dramatic story that is promised to us in the trailers and commercials. Kidman is fantastic as the woman torn between love and money. She is able to capture Satine's underlying desperation and need for love, then contrasts it with her conniving side. Kidman isn't the greatest singer to grace the screen, but her acting is superb. She makes the audience feel compassion for her charcater, even though she is unsavory. Satine becomes a tragic figure.
Ewan McGregor is another member of the cast who deserves praise. Best known for his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars:The Phantom Menace, McGregor embodies every person's belief in love. He transforms the character from a naïve, idealistic writer into a man in love into a bitter, lonely soul. Obi-Wan can even sing! McGregor's tunes are moving and captivating due to his talent and ability to flesh out the character's feelings. Together with Kidman, the couple shares a spark that captivates the audience.
The sets' colors explode, the costumes are fantastic, the supporting cast shines in the dramatic moments, and the story is well written. If you get rid of the first 40 minutes, Moulin Rouge could have been a contender. Grade: C
What's The Worst That Could Happen?
This is the second disappointment of the summer, but not because of the movie's quality. What's The Worst That Could Happen is a funny movie. I am disappointed because I can't use my line. Yeah, that's right. I had a funny opening quip to entertain you that is ruined because I like the movie. "What's the worst that could happen? You could pay eight bucks to see this movie!" Oh, that's hilarious. It's that kind of comedy that keeps you coming back week after week. My sides are splitting right now. Oh, stop. Alas, I can't take the cheap shot to entertain you, but you could go see the film and be very entertained.
Martin Lawrence stars as Kevin - a professional thief in love. While out searching for his next big score, he meets the beautiful Amber (Carmen Ejogo), who gives him a cherished family heirloom - a ring from her father. Kevin, to show his love, is supposed to wear the ring at all times, and considers it his good luck charm, possibly the moment when his life became complete.
One day, Kevin's partner in crime, Burger (John Leguzamo), finds the perfect score. He proposes that they rob the home of billionaire businessman Max (Danny DeVito), who is claiming bankruptcy and must abandon the home (don't worry, he has others) due to a court order. It seems like the perfect crime. Lots of loot and a guaranteed empty house. However, if it were perfect, would we have a movie?
Kevin and Burger break in, only to find the married Max in the midst of a rendezvous with his girlfriend, Miss September (money talks, even when you're fat, bald, and foul-tempered). Max calls the cops, gets Kevin arrested, and, for good measure, claims that Kevin's cherished ring is his property. Of course the cops believe Max and he revels in his brilliance at robbing a thief right under the cops' noses. Kevin, however, vows to get the ring back.
Will Kevin steal the ring back from Max?
What's The Worst That Could Happen is a traditional farce that keeps you laughing at the silly, outrageous behavior of the two leads, DeVito and Lawrence, as well as the hilarious supporting cast. Left to star in his own movie, Lawrence has a tendency to go for the cheap laughs with constant potty humor or humor based on attitude instead of the situation. However, like the Tim Robbins/Martin Lawrence film Nothing to Lose, his reliable antics are teamed with a decent script and fabulous co-star to make the movie much more enjoyable.
Both comedians bring out the best in each other as their characters engage in a battle of wits and wills. Each character is willing to let the competition cloud their judgement, which causes them to risk losing what they truly hold dear, and DeVito and Lawrence capture that madness. Matthew Chapman's script is full of great one-liners, funny supporting characters, and some outrageous situations. He takes every character and every situaion way over the top, which is hilarious.
It isn't Some Like It Hot, but What's The Worst That Could Happen is an enjoyable diversion, with some profanity (OK, alot of profanity). Grade: B+
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Big budget summer blockbusters tend to have one moment, one key scene that will make or break the film. I remember reading an interview with Steven Spielberg, where he spoke openly about the making of Jaws. He recounted the first screening. Spielberg stayed in the back and waited. Then, the music started.
Da-dum. Da-dum. This was the moment. After a shooting schedule that went much too long and a budget that had grown too big, the film hinged on this one moment. It was time for the audience to see the shark. To paraphrase Spielberg, either the audience would laugh and he would be ruined, or they would be scared out of their minds and he would be a genius. Luckily, the shark scared us.
Pearl Harbor has a similar scene - the attack. We know the history, but never has the baby boomer generation and those who followed it truly been able to grasp the destruction the Japanese attack rendered on America's military and the people's psyche. This summer, you should go to the theater to see it for yourself.
Ben Affleck stars a Rafe - a cocky, dyslexic flyboy who smooth talks his way into becoming an Army pilot. It's 1940, war is raging across Europe, and America has chosen to remain withdrawn from the conflict. Primarily an isolationist country, the United States does not want to become entangled in another world war even though President Roosevelt (Jon Voight) is trying to do everything he can to aide our allies in their battle with Germany and Japan. Young men like Rafe and his longtime friend, Danny (Josh Hartnett), are joining the armed forces and living it up before America goes to war.
Along the way, Rafe falls in love with a young Army nurse, Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale). Just when they start to realize how deep their love goes, Rafe is sent to help the British air corps. He is brave and talented, but he is shot down and presumed dead. Left without her love and his best friend, Evelyn and Danny fall for each other, while stationed at Pearl Harbor.
Then, Pearl Harbor is attacked (Ok, the film doesn't exactly flow. It's love story for an hour, intense battle scene for an hour and resolution for an hour).
Who will live? Who will die? What will happen to Danny, Evelyn and their friends?
Although it clocks in at almost 3 hours, Pearl Harbor moves at a quick pace and keeps the audience engaged. Yes, Michael Bay tries to use the Titanic formula - surround a historical event with a love story in an effort to make it more personal. After starting out as a comedy, then moving to a love story that is melodramatic and a little silly at times, this movie is about the attack and the effect it had on all involved. When the movie focuses on that event, it soars.
Most of the acting performances are passable. Affleck, Hartnett and Beckinsale all do a decent job with the soap opera story line. They don't shock or disappoint us. We can believe that these three kids are moving along life's path, trying to hold off fate. We aren't too moved by the characters' plights. It is the realization that our grandfathers and grandmothers really did face this horror that puts the audience in tears. If any actor will be remembered for his performance, it will be Jon Voight as President Roosevelt.
I think Voight will get an Oscar nomination. His portrayal of Roosevelt as a staid, controlled figure whose heart burns with the fire of righteousness sets the right tone for a President who is often considered to be a hero. From the quiet, private meetings where Voight brings out Roosevelt's humanity to the recreation of the greatest speeches of all time, he doesn't miss a step. With the fantastic makeup that hides his identity, Voight brings Roosevelt back to life.
Another actress who deserves kudos is James King (a name much too manly for this beautiful woman) as Betty, a young nurse who embodies all of America's naivete and innocence. Like most Americans, she doesn't see what is coming, she just wants to enjoy the life she is living. Betty and others provide a wonderful contrast to the dark, dogged preparation by the Japanese. While Bay succeeds with this contrast, the rest of his decisions leave something to be desired.
My biggest gripe with the film is Bay's shooting style. While this ER/NYPD Blue style of shaky camera work is al the rage, it is horribly annoying on the big screen. Many times, Bay's decision to shoot a close up of the characters during key action scenes leads to a distorted picture, which is dizzying and blurred (maybe that's the point, but it takes away from my enjoyment). It is too hard to follow the action. Also, at one key emotional moment, he uses a technique of clouding the screen to make the scene appear to be a surreal-like dream. A slow motion shot would have been just as effective and leaves this memory-type view to be superfluous.
Another gripe I have is Bay's limited use of Cuba Gooding, Jr. He plays Dorrie Miller - a real life hero of Pearl Harbor. He was a mess hall worker who went to the deck of the USS West Virginia and started firing at Japanese fighter planes when many of his crewmembers were injured or dead. Gooding puts in a great performance that touches upon Miller's experience as an African American trying to gain acceptance in the military and the character's bravery under fire. However, we don't learn much about his life, his family or anything personal about him. It is an undeveloped character that could have been so much more.
Overall, Pearl Harbor is a better than average film with flaws and moments of brilliance. Take your older kids (it's not too graphic, and it's a good history lesson) and enjoy a moving film. Grade: B-
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Jeffrey Katzenberg was the heart and soul of Disney during the late 80's and early 90's. He was in charge of the animation division's renaissance, which yielded megahits like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. However, Katzenberg has used his talents to make his new company, DreamWorks, a new leader in animation. The company's summer offering, Shrek, is a great example of the innovation being achieved by DreamWorks.
Shrek, voiced by Mike Myers, is the Greta Garbo of the fairy tale world. This not-so-jolly green ogre just wants to be alone. Shrek lives by himself in a shack in the middle of a swamp and that suits him just fine. However, his solitude is disrupted when the evil, 3 foot tall Lord Farquaad (voice of John Lithgow), attempts to run all the fairy tale characters out of his kingdom, Dulac. Snow White, the Seven Dwarfs, the Three Blind Mice, and more are forcibly relocated to Shrek's swamp and turn his world upside down. Maddened by this invasion on his land, Shrek teams with a fast talking donkey (voice of Eddie Murphy) to show Lord Farquaad what for.
Shrek and Donkey soon learn that Lord Farquaad is trying to build the perfect kingdom, but he lacks one important ingredient. To become a king, he must marry a princess. The most available gals all require a brave rescue, which the diminutive Farquaad is not capable of achieving. So, he convinces Shrek to save the beautiful princess Fiona (voice of Cameron Diaz) from her castle prison. In return, Farquaad promises to give Shrek his swamp back without all the fairy tale characters.
Can Shrek defeat the dragon and save Princess Fiona? Will Fiona want to marry Farquaad?
Shrek is best described as two movies in one. The first half is more childlike and filled with potty humor. Shrek's personal habits are likely to make the 10-year olds giggle with glee as he passes gas in various forms, brushes his teeth with slime and showers with mud. However, the second half of the movie becomes a magical fairy tale that makes it worth the price of admission. In the end, Shrek is the tale of an ogre who is uncomfortable with his appearance and the movie is a personal journey towards self-acceptance and a better self-image.
Luckily, DreamWorks has assembled some amazing talents to voice the characters. Eddie Murphy is hilarious as the wisecracking, smart alecky Donkey who just wants a friend. From his first moment on the screen, Donkey steals the show. In a great show of restraint, directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson know not to overuse him, so you won't be sick of the act by the time the movie ends. Lithgow uses his pompous, faux Shakespearean tenor for fantastic comedic effect. While Farquaad is only 3 feet tall, he has the voice of 7 footer. Even Cameron Diaz shows great talent as the princess whose fantasy isn't coming true. She gives the character an interesting edgy, bitter feeling that you don't find in a regular fairy tale.
While you can hear great talent bring the characters to life, the animation team makes them look and feel real. You might think that is a strange statement about animated characters, but you will be amazed at the visual effects. All the characters, created with CGI (computer graphic imaging), have a 3-D look to them.
To make the characters look more lifelike, the animators form the skulls of the characters in a computer, then, create computerized facial muscles. After that, skin in put on top of it. That layer is programmed to respond just like a human head would. This works wonderfully for our bigger than life hero, and makes the human characters look better than anything you have seen before.
Best of all, the script if full of clever, intelligent jokes and sight gags that will keep the adults entertained. The audience is treated to a plethora of Disney jabs (although not as many as I expected), twists on beloved fairy tale characters and a delicious exchange between Lord Farquaad and the Gingerbread Man. Like all great animation, the movie appeals to all ages with a little something for everyone.
I was turned off by the potty humor, but the rest of the film stands out as a tour de force. Grade: A-
Jennifer Lopez is a throwback to the old fashioned, multi-talented megastar. Classic entertainment icons such as Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland were known for their ability to do it all. They would act, sing and dance. It was a sign of talent and a tradition that stretched back to the days of Vaudeville. However, a performer's desire to attempt all of these skills has been scoffed at for the last 20 years or so.
Crossover attempts by Jon Bon Jovi, Don Johnson, Eddie Murphy, Prince and Madonna were ridiculed (in some cases, rightfully so) for attempting to have music careers and acting careers at the same time. Even teenybopper pop stars Brittany Spears and 'N Sync face ridicule because they want to act. However, Lopez has been very successful at both. She put in two great performances in Selena and Out of Sight, while also topping the charts with dance/pop hits Love Don't Cost a Thing and If You Had My Love. While she might be a modern day Sammy Davis, Jr., Angel Eyes will not be one of those films that she will point to as a highlight of her career.
J Lo stars as Officer Sharon Pogue - a tough, but lonely, Chicago cop with deep family troubles. One day, she and her fellow officers are attacked in a drive-by shooting. One of the few who wasn't hit, Sharon chases after the perps (ooh, I am so NYPD Blue), but she is overtaken by one of them. Her life in danger, Sharon is saved by a mysterious stranger, Catch (Jim Caviezel). They start to talk and fall for each other, but he seems to be hiding a deep, dark secret.
What is the Catch? (OK, that's a little too cute) What is Catch's big secret? Who the heck is this dude?
A good movie follows a typical, time-honored structure. A writer introduces and establishes the characters, builds to the climax, then resolves the action in the denouement. Angel Eyes, however, doesn't see a need for any of this. After teasing the audience with months of trailers and advertising that alluded to a big plot twist similar to The Sixth Sense, writer Gerald Di Pego and director Luis Mendoki give it all away in the first 10 minutes. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to discover who Catch is and how important he is to Sharon's life. After blowing it, the audience is left with an unbelievable love story and a meaningless subplot about Sharon's family that all adds up to an unsatisfying film-going experience.
Ladies, if a guy refused to tell you where he worked, where he lived and what his name was, would you invite him up to your bedroom on the first night you met him? Apparently, Di Pego and Medoki think women are this stupid. Then, Sharon continues to pursue her mysterious lover even though he engages in acts that are best described as stalking and violent. If this isn't enough to make the love story ridiculous, Caviezel doesn't help.
While Lopez and Caviezel do the best they can with a poor script, they can't salvage this dog. Caviezel plays Catch in a way that makes him creepy. His vacant stare, childish nervousness and explosive outbursts don't qualify this character as a charm school graduate. Last I knew, this isn't what women want in a guy. Lopez is good as the tough as nails cop with a broken heart, but her character is forced to do stupid, unbelievable things.
The love story feels awkward and creepy. The big secret is revealed too early and the audience is left wondering why they wasted an hour and forty-five minutes of their lives. This one isn't going into the Waffle Hall Of Fame. Grade: D
New in Theaters for the Weekend of
A Knight's Tale
I always worry that my mood will effect my opinion of a movie. Being a film critic can be stressful. You have to go to the movies for free all the time. The PR folks make sure you get the best seats. Then, sometimes you get fed. Oh wait, that does sound pretty cool. Well, trust me, there's some stress in there somewhere.
However, the question still lingered in my mind. Was I turned off by Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles because traffic was bad that day and I almost missed the screening? Did I like Bridget Jones Diary because a pretty lady spoke to me before the movie? Did I hate Freddie Got Fingered because I was disappointed in the theater's nachos? (No, it was Tom Green swinging a baby around by its umbilical cord. I told you it was gross and horrible). Finally, this week, I was able to prove to myself that I am able to put on my game face and review a film without regard to my own mood. I wasn't having a good day when I went to see A Knight's Tale, but I enjoyed it immensely.
Heath Ledger stars as William Thatcher - a young, peasant lad who assists a knight and dreams of being a nobleman someday. His boss, Sir Hector, is an aging fighter, but he still participates in jousting competitions all across Europe. That is, until he dies right before a big match.
According to the jousting competition rules, only noblemen are allowed to fight, but William and his co-workers, Roland (Mark Addy) and Wat (Adam Tudyk), need the prize money. William, seeing an opportunity to joust in competition for the first time, decides to take Sir Hector's place. When he wins, Roland and Wat area ready to split the prize money and say goodbye. However, William has his own plan.
What if he continued to joust? Will the jousting officials discover that William is a mere peasant competing illegally? Will he win the heart of the beautiful woman he meets along the way?
Women swooned last July 4th when Heath Ledger graced the silver screen in Mel Gibson's hit, The Patriot (he was Gibson's too-eager-to-fight son). It looked like a new Aussie heartthrob was about to be unleashed on the moviegoing public. However, some wondered if he could hold a movie on his own. If his future movies are as well written as A Knight's Tale, he has a shot.
A Knight's Tale is an amusing, thrilling and romantic two hours. Although it is set in medieval times, writer/director Brian Helgeland throws in several anachronisms that get your funny bone working, while not making the movie too silly. Fans at the jousts do the wave. Announcers sounds like they are straight from a Vegas prizefight or a WWF smackdown. The people dance to David Bowie. These references to modern day culture make the movie more accessible to the typical audience member. You don't have to know your serf from your knight in this one. Helgeland cuts through that to create characters and situations that keep the audience engaged.
After starting off with a light tone, the film fittingly gets more dramatic as William gets deeper and deeper into the lie. Helgeland introduces a strong, evil foe who challenges William's ability and wants to take the hand of Jocelyn, a beautiful aristocratic woman who steals William's heart. He puts our hero in greater peril, which draws the audience in even more. Finally, we get a resolution that is believable.
Special kudos also go out to the cast. Ledger is fine, but not spectacular as the lead, but the supporting cast shines. Mark Addy as Roland and Paul Bettany as a down-on-his-luck Geoffrey Chaucer (Yes, the writer. Chaucer has several unaccounted for years in his life and Helgeland thought it would be funny if this was the explanation.) provide comic relief and key dramatic performances when needed. Rufus Sewell is properly evil as Count Adhemar the man who hates the challenge he is facing from William.
Do yourself a favor this weekend and check out A Knight's Tale. Grade: A- (minor points deduction for an unnecessary plot involving William's father).
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