Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Rocketeer

Starring Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin, Timothy Dalton, Paul Sorvino and Terry O'Quinn as Howard Hughes

Directed by Joe Johnston

Animated Segment directed by Mark Dindal

Release Date: June 21st, 1991

Created by Howard Hughes and coveted by the Third Reich: the ability to fly without an airplane! Soon, this amazing device is in the hands of Cliff Secord and Peevy Peabody, a stunt pilot and mechanic who see the device as an opportunity! The duo create a new mystery man: THE ROCKETEER! They think that no one will come after their strange new device. That is, until mobster Eddie Valentine and Hollywoodland movie star Neville Sinclair are hot on their trail! Can the Rocketeer save the day? Will Cliff save his best gal, background actress Jenny?

If you read a lot of my reviews, you'll see I have a fondness for comic-book based movies, such as The Dark Knight trilogy, DC Animated movies, and The Avengers. So, it should come as no surprise I'd be interested in The Rocketeer, which is based on Dave Stevens' comic of the same name.  In regards to the comic, I've read occasional issues of the IDW 2011 volume, but have not yet read any of Stevens' original work; when I do, I'll type up a review later. In the meantime, let's discuss the film.

If the name Joe Johnston sounds familiar, he's the director of Captain America: The First Avenger, Honey, I shrunk the Kids, and Jumanji. Johnston is a great director (in my opinion) due to his great sense of style, great use of action sequences, and making great family friendly films. So, I think he was a great choice to direct this film. He makes the film such a joy to watch. Sure, the special effects haven't aged that gracefully, but Johnston gives the magic of seeing the Rocketeer such a joyful feeling, it's hard not to smile while viewing.

In terms of performances, they're good but cheesy. You'd think that would be a bad thing, but this is a movie about a man with a jetpack fighting mobsters; it's okay to be a little over the top here. Billy Campbell does a good job as Cliff; he makes the character confident, cocky and a likable protagonist. Jennifer Connelly is a good leading lady, making Jenny more than just a damsel in distress, and actually has a fun character arc involving her acting skills. My favorite character, however, has to be Timothy Dalton's Neville Sinclair. If you were to mix an arrogant actor with a spy, you'd get Sinclair.

Final Thoughts: I LOVE this movie. It's cheesy, but so much fun. The Rocketeer gets my full recommendation. However, I'm disappointed the 20th Anniversary Blu-ray has nothing to offer in terms of documentaries or retrospectives. Let's hope that gets corrected one day.

Rating: 5 out of 5 

The Bourne Legacy

Starring Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz

Based on the character Jason Bourne by Robert Ludlum

Directed by Tony Gillory

Release Date: July 30th, 2012

Jason Bourne was only the beginning....

How do you talk about a movie like The Bourne Legacy? There's no Jason Bourne in this movie, so it's not a sequel; but for a spin-off, it relies heavily on seeing the last three Bourne movies. It's a quandary, if I can be  honest. So, I'll break it down as best I can. Is it a bad film? No. Is it a great film? No. However, it's a good start for an Aaron Cross series.

So, if you've never seen a Jason Bourne movie, here's the gist : Jason Bourne (played by Matt Damon) was a spy who once lost his memories and slowly regained his personality after being trained by the government. (That's the broad strokes of the premise). Now, a similar program to the program that trained Bourne, has decided to eliminate Operation Outcome, its scientists, and the operatives which includes Aaron Cross, as played by Jeremy Renner. Outcome differs from Treadstone as these operatives are given treatments of pills that increase physical and mental abilities. Cross, as an Outcome operative, must routinely take his green and blue pills or he will suffer fatal problems. As Outcome is now being systemically taken apart, Cross must find out how to cure himself of his medicinal need and outrace his handlers now trying to eliminate him.

This movie....requires an immediate prior viewing of the previous Bourne films. At times, I couldn't remember why certain events were important and felt this distracted from the story the film was telling. It was as if two screenwriters were working on two different stories: one dealing with a Jason Bourne story, and the other trying to set up a new character in that universe. Don't get me wrong, Aaron Cross is a really interesting character. But for the first 30 minutes it felt like he wasn't the main character.  Also, the ending is abrupt and disappointing. Still, the film has a lot of impressive performances from the cast and some great stunt sequences. If they can make a sequel that ties up all loose ends about Bourne and sticks with Aaron Cross from now on, I'll be satisfied.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Stuff

Starring Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Scott Bloom, Danny Aiello, and Paul Sorvino

Directed by Larry Cohen

Release Date: June 14th, 1985

What is The Stuff? That's the rub, nobody knows. It's Zero percent fat, highly addictive, and a complete mystery to the buying public. However, there's a dark side to such a fun treat. Are you eating it...or is it eating you?

This is a weird movie. I mean, there's been some questionable horror movies out there, but how do you top the absurdity of flesh eating pudding? Still, for what it is, The Stuff is an enjoyable 1980s horror movie. First, I have to give props to Cecil from for highlighting this film on his show; he does a lot of cheesy but enjoyable films on his show and this was one of them.

The Stuff does a lot of cool things, such as utilizing elements of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and zombie fiction, which works really well and has some great prosthetic work in the film. The film also explores the themes of greed, addiction, and manipulated advertising. In fact, the best part of the movie is how it explores The Stuff and its popularity with the public in a non-traditional way. The cast does a great job, particularly Michael Morarity as "Mo", who's a sly manipulator and does a great job with the part. However, the one flaw with the film is the terrible green screen technology; it may have been impressive in 1985, but it looks really bad now.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 

Mystery Team

Starring Donald Glover, DC Pierson, Dominic Dierkes, and Aubrey Plaza

Directed by Dan Eckman

Release date(s):

Sundance Film Festival........January 17th, 2009

United States......................August 28th, 2009

Once Jason, Duncan, and Charlie were the town heroes known as the Mystery team; as children, they were adored by adults and known for solving little mysteries such as who theater "hops" and who's skipping school. Ten years later, they're high school-aged teens with little emotional development and even lower respect from their peers. However, the trio have now taken the case for their first "adult" mystery: the murder of Kelly Peter's parents. Can these town weirdos solve the case?

For those who don't know, Donald Glover is on the cult hit TV show "Community" as Troy Barnes. Glover brings his quick-witted sense of humor to the show and has quickly become a favorite with audiences and critics alike. He's also a well-known stand-up comedian who's a member of Derick Comedy, an online comedy group who created Mystery Team.

If you're a fan of The Venture Brothers, Mystery Team will be right up your alley, satirizing the mystery genre and the "super kid" archetype. These three goofs (Jason, Duncan, and Charlie) are very much like Dr. Thadeous "Rusty" Venture from TVB: they all cling to their pasts, believe that they're the best in their fields, and are lovable losers. I liked little touches such as Jason and Duncan having bedroom attire you'd see them have at age 7, their "hay day" of Mystery Team, or Charlie trying to do "superhuman strength" actions that will obviously fail. It's obvious that the writers/actors knew how to develop their characters into interesting oddballs.

However, be warned this movie isn't for everyone. There's A LOT of sexual/offensive dialogue and the humor won't appeal to everyone. That said, I really enjoyed Mystery Team for its great use of improvization and absurdist comedy.

Final Thoughts: If you want to see a black comedy take on mysteries, check out Mystery Team. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Tomorrow Never Dies

Starring Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher, Joe Don Baker, Samantha Bond and Judi Dench as M

Directed by Roger Spottiswoode

Release Date: December 12th, 1997 (United Kingdom)

James Bond takes on Media Mogul. Seriously.

If someone had to ask me who's the best James Bond, I'd have to say I have 3 choices: Daniel Craig, Timothy Dalton, and Sean Connery. Each of them has a unique quality I like about how they play the character. However, I'd say that Pierce Brosnan would have to be my least favorite. He relies too much on one liners and gadgets, and he was just not as good as other actors in the part, but that's just my opinion.

The, this was a chore to get through. While there are some good parts, a lot of it is just dull.

What works: Michelle Yeoh. I liked her character; I read on IMDB that producers were considering making a spin-off film with her character, but it never happened. I think this is unfortunate, because Yeoh has good chemistry with Brosnan and her fight scenes are energetic and fun. Johnathan Pryce, who I loved in Brazil, has a lot fun playing Elliot Carver. It's pretty obvious he's modeling his performance off real-life media mogul Rupert Murdoch, but turning up his mannerisms to "11".

What Fails: There's too much reliance on gadgetry. Every time Bond is in a tight situation, he uses a gadget he conveniently got from Q in Act One. It's not the most notorious film that has this problem, but I was annoyed by it. Also, the plot is really dull. Sure, the premise of politics being manipulated by the media is intriguing, but I never thought the story lived up to that potential.

Final Thoughts: Not a bad James Bond movie, just fairly average.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Campaign

Starring Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Dylan McDermott, Jason Sudeikis, Brian Cox, John Lithgow, and Dan Aykroyd

Directed by Jay Roach

Release Date: August 10th, 2012

Cam Brady has run unopposed for Congress four times in North Carolina's 14th district. Brady's public image is a morally upright, faithful Christian man who the voters love. However, his high popularity takes a nose-dive when Brady exposes himself to an affair with a supporter. Then, Brady has an opponent, town "weirdo" Marty Huggins. Now, it's a battle to see who will go to D.C.

Some people don't like Ferrell or Galifianakis. Maybe it's their comedic style, their raunchy jokes....or the fact that many of  the roles they play blend together. Yeah, I'm gonna go with door number 3. Too often, these two comedians get into a groove and just never try to do better. Still, does that make them bad comedians? I'm gonna say that while they're two very funny actors, Ferrell and Galifianakis can do so much more.

As a comedy, The Campaign is very funny. There are a ton of really funny jokes and scenes involving the two leads. One of my favorites has to do with Ferrell's Brady being involved with a snake-handling church and being bitten by snakes. That, and the funniest character is Tim Whatley, played by Dylan McDermott. Whatley is a mysterious and foul-mouthed campaign manager with a habit of vanishing a la Batman. Also, how awesome is it to see Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow in a movie again? Sure, they're just playing supporting parts, but they're great comedic actors and I'm glad to see them on the big screen again.

However, as a film, The Campaign is very mediocre. It's fairly predictable and the plot is fairly standard. Also, they waste Jason Sudeikis as a straight man to Ferrell. He really gets nothing to do and that's a shame. I had a thought about how the movie could have been better. Perhaps instead of a traditional three-act story, the filmmakers could have used a "mockumentary" style that follows the candidates during the campaign. I feel that would have been more interesting than just "keep the town from being bought by shady businessmen". I feel that while the scenes involving mocking politics are the strongest, the ones involving the story are the weakest.

Final Thoughts: A funny movie, but nothing memorable.

Rating: 3. 5 out of 5

The Cabin in the Woods

Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, and Bradley Whitford

Screenplay written by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon

Release Date: April 13, 2012

Because of the nature of this film, I'll avoid the plot details of The Cabin in the Woods. Therefore, I'll breakdown my review by WHAT WORKS and WHAT FAILS.

WHAT WORKS: When one hears the words "Joss Whedon" attached to a television show or movie, you can expect well-written dialogue and an intriguing premise. If you've never heard of Whedon before, he's the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse. More recently, Whedon directed THE AVENGERS, which has made nearly $1.5 Billion and he's already signed on to direct the sequel. Whedon is known for his quirky dialogue, strong characters, and as a director, he's done great work with action sequences.

Therefore, Whedon's pop culture dialogue comes out of pothead Marty, played by Dollhouse alum Fran Kranz. Marty had to be one of my favorite characters due to his snarky sense of humor making light of the situation he and his friends are in.

However, what truly made the film for me had to be the scenes with Sitterson and Hadley. When people talk about this film, it will most likely be about these two. Their day-to-day attitudes, their unusual conversations...I found these two to be interesting characters. If anything, there needed to be more of these two.

What Fails: When I saw trailers for this film, the ad campaigns were heavily focused on the horror aspect. Sure, there are horror elements to the story, no denying that. But when you get to what's stalking our group of teens....I just didn't flinch. Maybe I've seen too many horror films myself, but I didn't find the monster at all frightening. Just to clarify, there are some frightening parts, but nothing terrifying.

Final Thoughts: The Cabin in the Woods has a lot of great ideas, I'm not denying that. However, part of the film has to do with HORROR, which never truly works for me. Still, there's some great dark humor and a dizzying plot twist. I'd recommend it if you're a fan of Joss Whedon.

Rating: 4 out of 5 

Your Highness

Starring Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, and Zooey Deschanel

Directed by David Gordon Green

Release Date: April 8th, 2011

Once upon a time there was a kingdom with two princes: Prince Thadeous and Fabious. Where as Fabious is dashing and heroic, Thadeous is crude, selfish and obnoxious. Soon, Fabious is getting married to the lovely Belladonna, whom he freed from a tower. However, the happy day is soon ruined by the dastardly wizard Leezar, who kidnaps Belladonna so he can use her to summon forth a powerful dragon. Now, the mismatched siblings are joined by Thadeous's servant Courtney and the vengeful warrior Isabel.

Danny Mcbride is an up-and-coming actor. He's been in  the background of comedies such as Tropic Thunder and The Pineapple Express: he's also the star of the successful HBO comedy Eastbound & Down. Mcbride's style of humor can come across as vulgar and disgusting, but I find his absurd sense of humor to be highly infectious and I hope to see him headlining more comedies in the future.

However, I found Your Highness to be a mixed bag. On one side, I was intrigued to see a farcical take on the fantasy genre. I liked the idea of comedians mocking the sword and sorcery brand of fiction, such as the scene as the Wise Wizard's home or the fight with a hydra monster. However, the trailers kept highlighting the film's biggest weakness: too much reliance on modern day slang. Look, I get the appeal: Danny McBride using modern foul language while wearing chain mail. The problem is, the screenwriters (which includes McBride) don't try anything clever with it. It becomes a crutch to get out of a slow conversation between characters or how to end a scene. It's just disappointing. Also, the villain isn't very interesting.

Final Thoughts: Not a bad comedy, but nothing memorable.

Rating: 3 out of 5. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway,  Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman, and Marion Cotillard

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Release Date: July 20th, 2012

A champion returns. Evil plagues a city. Who will fall, and who will rise?

Eight years after the death of Harvey Dent,  Gotham City has experienced a lull in criminal activity. The people feel safe, and The Batman has been banished to whispers and speculation. Bruce Wayne (Bale), still reeling from all his loss, cannot move on now that Gotham no longer needs the Batman. Still, there are those like Officer John Blake (Gordon-Levitt), who still believe in the Batman. But there is a dark shadow looming in Gotham's path, a shadow known only as BANE (Hardy). Bane, a terrorist known for his unusual mask, is looking to take Gotham to its' knees. Will the Batman return? Can he?

I'm honestly sad this is the finale.  I have truly enjoyed Nolan's series and will miss his sense of direction in the Batman film series. Still, he has given us a fitting finale to the trilogy. He had brought a flagging franchise back into success and turned out stellar set pieces and striking character studies with Batman, The Joker, and Ra's Al Ghul (to name a few). His name has become a titan of visual storytelling similar to directors like Hitchcock, Spielberg, and Scorsese.  Now, onto the movie...

 Let's just get it over with quickly. I've already said how good Bale and Caine are in their roles. Despite the "Growl", Bale does a  great job at juggling both Bruce Wayne and Batman. As seen in the last movie, more focus is displayed on Batman's detective and tactician skills. So props to Bale. Also, Caine has less of a supporting role this time around, but still does a commendable job as Wayne's oldest ally who wants him to save Gotham as Bruce Wayne, not Batman. Also, there's Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman as Commissioner Gordon and Lucius Fox. Both are good, commendable actors, but nothing they haven't done in the last two movies; not bad, just nothing new to add. Therefore, it's time to discuss the newest additions to the cast: Tom Hardy as BANE,  Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, and Joesph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake. 

After a command performance of Heath Ledger's The Joker, how do you follow it up? Do you imitate and pattern it into another character? Do you run in a completely different direction? Nolan said, "Let's do it with more discipline". Bane is NOT JOKER. He's a ruthless terrorist with an agenda and a goal. Hardy makes Bane into a monster who is just as intelligent as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Hardy's Bane is nothing like Bane from Batman and Robin; this Bane is a leader of men whose goal is to destroy and terrorize Gotham City. While he isn't as charismatic as Ledger's Joker, I found myself captivated by Bane's dry sense of humor, or his cold, emotionless voice as he looms over someone. His fight scenes are tough, loud, and brutal. When Bane hits someone, YOU feel it. 

When I was a kid, one of my favorite movies was Batman Returns which co-starred Michelle Pfiffer as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. While many have reviled Pfiffer's performance as too weird or not faithful to the comics, I enjoyed her performance and thought it was the best live action Catwoman (the less said about Halle Berry, the better). Still, when photos surfaced of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, many were unsure she could be the feline thief. What do I think? Since my younger days, I have gotten into the wonderful Catwoman Series during 2002-2007 that featured the likes of Darwyn Cooke, Ed Brubaker, and Adam Hughes. The series is a crime noir that makes great use of the title character and explores more of her character outside of her relationship with The Dark Knight. (If you're interested, the latest printing of Volume 1 is titled "Trial of the Catwoman"). What does this have to do with Hathaway? It's fairly obvious that Nolan (or his brother Jonathan) had been reading the more recent Catwoman as it makes her a more competent fighter and gives her the seductive personality that really works in her scenes with Bale. I just wish they gave her the whip. Meh. It's still a good part and Hathaway did a good with it.

Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake? In the words of River Song "Sorry, spoilers".

What doesn't work (as well)? Honestly, the film is a little slow at first. Then, there's the problem of secondary characters. While I may know that the young woman Selina Kyle pals around with is Holly Robinson (sidekick to Selina Kyle and one-time Catwoman herself), others may not know of her or other comic characters in the film. This is the same problem I had with The Amazing Spider-Man, where characters show up and no one says who they are. They're tertiary characters, but that doesn't mean I have to guess who their names. 

Final Thoughts:  Despite a slow build-up, The Dark Knight Rises is a rousing action film that makes for a thrill ride adventure. While admittedly the darkest of the three "Dark Knight" films, it's still really good. 

Rating: 5 out 5. GO NOW! SEE IT NOW! 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Puss In Boots

Starring the voice talents of Antonio Banderas, Zach Galifanakis, Salma Hayek, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris, and Guillermo Del Toro

Directed by Chris Miller

Release Date: October 28th, 2011

A daring rouge with with orange fur, the outlaw known as Puss roams the country side searching for two things: money and redemption. But soon, his no good foster brother Humpty "Alexander" Dumpty (Galifanakis) has returned into his life with the score of a lifetime: magic beans. Puss wants nothing to do with Humpty, until he's convinced by the wily Kitty Softpaws (Hayek) with the trio now tracking down the infamous beans in the clutches of outlaws Jack and Jill (Thornton and Sedaris).

Puss in Boots is a spin-off of the Shrek franchise, as the character originally appeared in Shrek 2 then continued to appear in the third and fourth installments. However, I'm a little unclear how this applies to the spinoff as SPOILERS Puss is not an ogre-slayer in this movie and shows little sign of becoming an assassin. I'm not entirely sure if there will be a sequel to this film, otherwise I'm sure this was just to capitalize on the character's more positive characteristics for family audiences; none the less, that's how I see it.

What Works: Returning to play the title character, Antonio Banderas brings a lot of charm and humor to his performance. He really makes the character his own, and I never had a doubt that Banderas could carry a spin-off on his own. In addition to Banderas, we have Salma Hayek as Kitty Softpaws, Zach Galifanakis as Humpty Dumpty, Billy Bob Thornton as Jack and Amy Sedaris as Jill. For the most part, the other actors are very enjoyable in their performances and work well together. I thought Humpty Dumpty was an interesting character and I liked Kitty Softpaws.

To set this apart from the Shrek films, the filmmakers decided to invoke an 18th Century Hispanic/Spanish atmosphere into the film, from how the towns look to using Latin music on the soundtrack.  I think this actually works really well, as it makes the film create its own look and feel without relying too heavily on the Shrek films. Plus, the soundtrack brings a lot of energy and excitement to the action sequences.

What Fails: Like 99% of all Dreamworks films, Puss in Boots ends with a dance number. Can we stop this? Please come up with something new, Dreamworks; it's getting old when all the characters dance at the end. Perhaps what they should have done was add a scene to tie toward a sequel, or the Shrek films, or something. Just no more dancing.

Final Thoughts: An enjoyable action adventure film

Rating: 4 out of  5

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

Starring Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand,  Jason Schwartzman and Tilda Swinton/
Introducing Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward

Directed by Wes Anderson

Release Date(s):

May 16, 2012....France
May 25, 2012.......U.S.

On a small New England island, there is a search party looking for two runaway children. One, a loner "Khaki Scout" (Gilman) and the other is a young girl lost in a world of young adult fantasy novels. These mismatched misfits soon embark on an adventure without adults or rules. However, there is a massive hurricane coming to strike the little island....

Wes Anderson thrives in his own world of dead-pan witty characters, muted colors, and French New Wave music. He is the filmmaker behind such indie classics as The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Darjeeling Limited. His unique perspective and quirky humor have made him a critical darling and a name among directors. Personally, I have liked most of his movies and find The Royal Tenenbaums to be the best of his filmography. So, what do I think of Moonrise Kingdom?

What Works: Once again, Anderson makes great use of his cast. On the whole, the cast does a great job with their characters. I liked Edward Norton as Scout Master Randy and Frances McDormand gets in a few funny lines as Suzy's Mother. However, my favorite has to be Jason Schwartzman as Cousin Ben, the fast-talking middle man who, while not marrying them, can approve their union as a Khaki Scout.  Finally, there is the young couple, Sam and Suzy, played by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, respectively. I found that each of these actors did a convincing job with their performance, particularly Hayward being the easy to anger Suzy.

Wes Anderson is well known for the lay-out of his camera work, and Moonrise Kingdom doesn't disappoint. Anderson makes the tiny New England island into a strange hodgepodge of forest, beach, small-town neighborhood, and camp site. For example, there's an amusing scene of Sam paddling across a river in a painted canoe while "Kaw-Liga" by Hank Williams plays on the soundtrack. The scene is both funny and strangely serious, making Sam envision himself as a brave Frontiersman.

What fails: The story, while charming, is scatterbrained at times and the conclusion leaves too many unanswered questions. I'd go into further detail, but I would be going into spoiler territory. The other problem stems from the "villains", such as the motorbike Khaki Scout or "Social Services". Why are these two the villains? They are certainly antagonists, a force opposing the protagonist, but what makes them oppose Sam and Suzy? I feel that a tad more character development with both characters would have helped.

Final Thoughts: If you've never heard of Wes Anderson before, rent some of his earlier films before seeing this. If you're an Anderson fan, I'd just skip this. It's not a bad movie, just not a terribly good one.

Rating:  3 out of 5

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Sally Field, Campbell Scott, and Martin Sheen

Directed by Marc Webb

Release Date: July 3rd, 2012

Teenager Peter Parker (Garfield) lives a quiet life with his Aunt May (Field) and Uncle Ben (Sheen). At school, he tries to muster the courage to talk to Gwen Stacy (Stone) to no avail. Soon, he makes a discovery about his deceased father and his partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Ifans). Going to Connors' lab at OsCorp, Peter gets into a restricted area where he's bitten by a radioactive spider............

I liked the original Spider-Man films by Sam Raimi. Sure, Spider-Man 3 was flawed (if I can be kind), but I feel that overall Raimi did a good job of adapting the web-head and felt a lot of love and passion from the crew and most of the cast (I'm looking at you, Kristen Dunst). So, I wasn't really sure why we needed a reboot only a decade after Spider-Man came out. None the less, here we are.

What works: Overall, I like the cast. Andrew Garfield makes a convincing performance as Parker/Spider-Man. When I originally saw the trailer, I wasn't a fan of his overly mopey appearance, his hangdog attitude, and once again, I was proven wrong. I thought about it, and it makes sense that in 2012, Peter Parker would  be more of a "hoodie" wearing nerd rather than a 1960s nerd that I read in the comics, so skateboards are in and polo shirts are out. Then, once he becomes Spider-Man, Peter gradually gains more confidence rather than just completely change his character. I thought that Garfield and the screenwriters did a good job of making Peter's character growth not only believable, but very honest.

Next, I really enjoyed the performances by Emma Stone and Rhys Ifans as Gwen Stacey and Curt Connors/The Lizard. Now, while many people know Mary Jane Watson from the films, comic book fans will be more familiar with Gwen Stacey, one of Peter's earliest loves and a very integral part of the Spider-Man saga. Here, Stone uses her comedic timing and charming personality to make Gwen not only a lovely person, but someone just as smart as Peter, and willing to be just as brave as him. Seriously, if Stone isn't back in the sequel, I'll be disappointed. Ifans makes a good performance as Connors/The Lizard, using a very slow and gradual buildup from trusted mentor to psychotic lizard-person. I really understood his motivation and it does vary from the traditional "take over the world" plan villains usually have.

Then, there's something that Raimi forgot from his Spider-Man movies: make Spidey funny. I think in 3 Spider-Man movies, he only makes 3 or 4 quips. That's insulting. In the comics, one of Spider-Mans's greatest traits is his banter with a villain. I then heard the "small knives!" joke in the trailer, and I knew Webb knew how to make the character more faithful to the comics, which includes using his mechanical web-shooters rather than use organic webbing.

What fails: There's a character who's meant to be a mysterious and menacing figure at OsCorp.......but you'll never hear his name in the movie and he disappears halfway through the movie! Who was this character? Why does he speak for Norman Osborn? For that matter, Where is Norman? We are told he's dying, but we never see it. Look, I get it: they want a big name to play the character in another movie, but that's just lazy. Either use the character, or omit him from the script.  Also, I didn't like the casting of Sally Field as Aunt May. I know it's a small part, but Field doesn't fit the character for me and I hope they recast Aunt May in the sequel.

Final Thoughts: A good movie, with a few minor nitpicks.

Rating: 4.2 out of 5


Starring the voice talents of Kelly MacDonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Craig Ferguson, and John Ratzenburger

Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman

Release Date: June 22nd, 2012

Princess Merida: Expert Marksman, adventurous, running free in the wild...betrothed to whom?! The young princess of Clan DunBroch wants to defy a local custom where the first born of each clan ( Macintosh, Dingwall, and MacGuffin) compete to win her hand in marriage. Merida's parents, King Fergus and Queen Elinor, only want what is best for their daughter but Elinor and Merida continue to butt heads over everything. Soon, Merida runs off into the forest, meeting a strange old woman who claims she can change Merida's fate. Will this encounter be for the best?

Pixar's thirteen feature film is the first to feature a female protagonist and the first period piece for the power house animation studio. Personally, I love Pixar and they do amazing work (for the record, I haven't seen Cars 2 and I probably won't after how dull Cars was) that delight children and adults like parent company Walt Disney Studios have done for years. So, I was really looking forward to Brave once I saw the trailers, heard about the premise, etc. How is the film?

On a technical/visual note, Brave is absolutely stunning. The environments of the story are breath taking and I really took note of how intricate the detail was in the castle interiors; top notch work from the animators. Also, I have to note how great the clothing and hair styles look. Just take note of how seamless (no pun intended) the clothing look, or how life-like Merida's hair gets, from how it blows in the wind to how wild and uncontrollable it can get. For kids, they'll just see the pretty colors and notice how good the film looks. As an adult, I am marveled at how stunning the CGI can become and I am floored at what Pixar can do.

The characters are a lot of fun, particularly Merida's family. Billy Connolly gets a lot of funny lines as King Fergus and I really understood how confused he can be when his wife and daughter are having a problem and he's just dumbstruck. Connolly also does a great job of making Fergus into a goofy man who'd rather sing, drink, and hunt rather than act like a proper king. Then there's Merida's triplet brothers, who are unvoiced. The triplets are really funny; they act like little troublemakers, but they obviously love their sister and parents, and they act like real kids. Finally, there's the relationship between Merida and Elinore, her mother. This was really stunning, as the characters are forced to work together and better understand each other due to a misunderstanding. Yes, I know it's formulaic, two mismatched people work together for a common goal, but the characters work really well together and it pays off very well in the finale.

Rating: 4 out 5 

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Starring Nicolas Cage, Ciaran Hinds, Johnny Whitworth, Idris Elba, and Christopher Lambert

Directed by Neveldine/Taylor

Release Date: February 17th, 2012

The Rider is Back! Years after running away from his deal with The Devil (Hinds), stuntman Johnny Blaze (Cage) is trying to escape his fate intertwined with the spirit of vengeance, the Ghost Rider. He is soon met by Moreau (Elba) a French priest who claims that is Blaze helps him save a young boy, the curse of 'the Rider' will be lifted and Johnny can be a free man. However, the Devil has agents of his own to use against Johnny.

Similar to The Incredible Hulk and Punisher: War Zone, Spirit of Vengeance cuts ties with its' predecessor to make its own identity to stray from the less-than-stellar 2007 Ghost Rider. The only cast member form that film is star Nicolas Cage who returns as Blaze/Ghost Rider, and makes the character more  bleak and dark than previously seen; there's no scenes of Blaze eating jelly beans out of martini glasses. Here, Blaze is a tortured and slightly on edge man, someone who fears the darkness in him and he realizes the Rider is no hero, but a madman made of flame.

The film is directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the duo behind Crank and Crank 2, the high-octane action movies that used hyper-kinetic film editing and unusual camera shots to great use. Here, they make the film into a 1970s style with a dark anti-hero who may be against the villain, but he can also turn on Danny and his mother Nadiya. I like that Neveldine and Taylor use a lot of bleak and muddy colors in the film, as it shows that this is a harsh and cruel environment the story is set. Also, when showing Ghost Rider, they use a lot of neat visual cues, such as smoke when Ghost Rider is attacked or that his leather jacket is melting when turned into the Rider.

Does the film has short comings? Sure, the plot is occasionally sidetracked by exposition and I would've loved more of Carrigan/Blackout using his rot powers in a comedic way, but the movie still works in a action movie fashion.

Final Thoughts: If you needed a proper Ghost Rider movie, check this out. If you're a die hard Nicolas Cage fan, this is a MUST SEE.

Rating: 4 out of 5 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Reviews Coming Soon for ...

Happy  4th Of July!

I'm taking a little time off, but in the meantime, here's what's  on the docket for Critical View:



-Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

-Superman Vs The Elite

-Breaking Bad Season 1

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

Starring the voice talents of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Cedric the Entertainer, Sasha Baron Cohen, Andy Richter, Bryan Cranston, Jessica Chastain, Martin Short, and Frances McDormand

Directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, and Conrad Vernon

Release Date(s)

Cannes Film Festival....May 18th, 2012

World Premiere............June 8th, 2012

The Animals are back...under the big tent. This installment, Alex the Lion, Gloria the Hippo, Melman the giraffe, and Marty the zebra are on the loose in Europe and must hide out against the notorious Animal Control officer Captain Chantel DuBois. To do this, they work with a struggling circus on its way through Europe on their way to New York, the foursome's home and zoo. Are they back on their way to their old glory days? Could Alex be a trophy on Dubois's wall?

I've always liked the Madagascar films. I thought the first was decent (at best) and the sequel had its moments, but wasn't truly memorable. The best thing about those films were the interactions between the main cast and the Penguin characters. So, when the trailer for movie three came out, I was mildly amused, but not very interested. Therefore, I got invited to a screening and was certainly changed my tune. The film is very funny, and could be the best of the series. Not only does the film have an impressive cast of new voice actors and characters, it boasts several impressive sequences that are visual treats. In the beginning of the first act, there's an exhilarating car chase that zooms through Monte Carlo, making great use of 3D visuals, and having some great jokes along the way. But what's a great film without a good story? In Madagascar 3, the main plot revolves around the four animals trying to get back to their old lives in New York, they meet Vitaly the tiger, a circus animal who lives in the past due to his struggles with the present. It's a good story that works well with a family audience that can entertain both kids and adults. Then, there's the crowning moment of awesome: The day-glow majesty of the FUR POWER circus. One minute there's trapeze tumbling, then there's dancing and music; it's a great treat and definitely makes the film memorable.

The only con? At times, the film uses a few jokes that don't make sense, but that's a minor complaint.

Final Thought: Madagascar 3 is a fun movie for families.

Rating: 4 out of  5

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Justice League: Doom

Starring the voice talents of Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, Susan Eisenberg, Nathan Fillion, Michael Rosenbaum, and Carl Lumbry

Based on "JLA: Tower of Babel" by Mark Waid and Howard Porter

Screenplay by Dwayne McDuffie

Directed by Lauren Montgommery

Release Date: February 28th, 2012 (Straight to DVD/Blu-ray)

Martian Manhunter coated in Magnesium. Wonder Woman fighting copies of Cheetah. Green Lantern paralyzed with fear. Superman shot with a kryptonite bullet. Who's to blame for these deadly traps? Batman, their ally in the Justice League.

Adapted from "JLA: Tower of Babel", JL: Doom takes the heavy hitters of the DC universe and tasks them with their deadliest enemies using their physical and psychological weaknesses. Who is the one leading the assault? The immortal Vandal Savage, who wants the Justice League out of the way so he can take over the world (yes, it sounds incredibly generic, but you'll see how it unfolds).

Sadly, this is the last DC film written by Dwayne McDuffie, who passed away February 21st, 2011. McDuffie was the creator of Static Shock (the original comic and its 2000-2004 cartoon), a writer for Teen Titans, Justice League Unlimited, and the screenwriter for All-Star Superman and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. He was a celebrated writer for both television and comics and I am sadden by his passing.  McDuffie's talents will never be matched again.

Now, onto the review of the film.

Doom is yet another 75-minute animated film produced by DC comics. For the most part, I've enjoyed these films (the only ones I didn't enjoy were Batman: Gotham Knights and Green Lantern: First Flight). To get this out of the way, it does deviate from the original comic:

A) Aquaman and Plastic Man aren't in the story
B) Green Lantern Kyle Rayner is replaced by Hal Jordan
C) The Mastermind behind the scheme is Vandal Savage in the film and Ra's al Ghul in the comic
D) Wally West in the comic is replaced by Barry Allen
E) Cyborg is not in the original comic
F) The League of Doom is not involved in the original comic
G) some of the traps against the Justice League differ from the comic

Pros: The film has a lot of great action beats and the overall plot is in tact and works very well. I liked that they recast most of the original actors from the Justice League cartoon, such as Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tim Daly as Superman, Carl Lumbly as Martian Manhunter, Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman and Michael Rosenberg as The Flash (he played Wally West in Justice League whereas he plays Barry Allen in JL: Doom). Also, they cast the BEST POSSIBLE voice actor as Hal Jordan: Nathan Fillion a.k.a. Captain Hammer, Capt. Malcolm Reynolds, and Richard Castle. Fillion does a great job with the part and I hope to see him cast as GL in more DC films and TV shows.

Cons: Some of the traps are dumb. Superman is shot. Really? That's how you stop the Man of Steel? In the comic, he was given a new type of red kryptonite that overloaded his powers and nearly killed him. The Flash has a bomb strapped to his wrist that makes him keep moving. Perhaps someone could have retooled these into more creative approach to these situations.

Final Thoughts: JL: Doom is an energetic and exciting adventure with a few flaws, but does have a lot of talent and creativity thanks to the great Dwayne McDuffie.

Rating: 4 out of 5


Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green,  Guy Pearce, Idris Elba and Charlize Theron

Directed by Ridley Scott

Release Date(s)

Belgium, France & Switzerland....May 30, 2012

United Kingdom.......................... June 1st, 2012

United States................................. June 8th, 2012

Fleshing out the Alien universe, Ridley Scott returns to tell a new story with another group sent by the Weyland Corportation.


In 2089, archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Marshall-Green) have discovered that mankind is not alone.

4 Years later, they are on the ship Prometheus to track the star map that Shaw and Holloway connected through several unrelated cultures. The pair are aided by android David (Fassbender), Weyland Corporation Employee Meredith Vickers (Theron) and Captain Janek (Elba). What they hope to find is answer to life: where did we came from? If there is life on other planets. Soon, they discover LV-223, the moon where their map points to. The intrepid scientists may be in for more than they bargain for..........

A lot of people will debate whether this is a spin-off or prequel to Alien. Some will claim that it is a prequel due to taking place before the events of the "Nostromo" landing on LV-426 while others will claim it a spin-off due to the loose connection to the events of the first film. In my opinion, this is a prequel. My reasons are that A) it ties into where the "Space Jockey" from Alien came from B) it features the Weyland Corporation, a staple of the franchise and C)....... I won't spoil.  Take it or leave it, but I view Prometheus as a prequel to Alien.

As for the film itself, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Ridley Scott is a marvelous visual director and brings his attentive eye for detail so that the wide pan shots of LV-223 are alien, haunting and yet gorgeous, and the intricate details of the ship are in full view. In terms of the story, the film does a great job not only tying into the Alien series but also raises a lot of interesting questions about the creation of life, the fulfillment of purpose, the parent/child dynamic, and the power/purpose of faith. However, that doesn't mean the crew spend all their time bogged down in philosophy; the film has a lot of haunting moments and tons of gory images and  creepy scenery (the alien craft has splashes of art work created by original designer H.R. Geiger).

The cast does a great job, particularly Rapace, Elba, and Fassbender. Rapace does a stellar job as Elizabeth Shaw, a scientist who is determined to find the "engineer" and discover why humans were created. I liked Rapace as she gave Shaw an every-woman vibe that made her a proxy for the audience. Idris Elba played Captain Janek, the easygoing captain of Prometheus. In terms of who you will remember most, I have to give my recommendation to Michael Fassbender as David. David is such a unique and energetic character; one minute, he appears like a child learning from his elders while a little later he has a cold and detached look that gives you chills.

Final Thoughts: Prometheus won't please everyone. But for me, this is one of my favorite movies of 2012. Full Recommendation for Ridley Scott and Alien fans.

Rating: 5 out of 5 

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro

Based on The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn

Directed by  Neil Burger

Release Date: March 18th, 2011

Eddie Morra is not living up to his full potential. Currently, he's a writer with Writer's Block, his girlfriend just dumped him, and he's going to be evicted out of his apartment soon. What should happen next is that he runs into his ex-wife's brother Vernon, a drug dealer with the opportunity of a lifetime.  Vernon offers him the drug NZT, a chemical that unlocks his brain to "100 %" usage. Soon, Eddie's using brainpower like never before, sweet talking his landlord's wife, breezing past his novel, and mastering several languages in no time at all. However, his new found skills also come with blackouts, and those land him in a world of trouble.......

This needs to be said; In the film, the "100%" they talk about, it's an urban legend. The film claims that NZT "stimulates receptors" and makes the brain work faster (Just wanted to get that out of the way).

A lot of people remarked that this is a "roller coaster of action" and "Bradley Cooper gives a command performance", then "De Niro's back in form". Well, some of these things happened, and some did not. Yes, while agree that Bradley Cooper does a great job in the film, De good, at best. While many remember De Niro from Raging Bull or Taxi Driver, he's been slumming it far too long with the Meet the ..... films. So no, I wouldn't praise De Niro for going back to giving an effort in a performance.

Also, I never felt that the film truly takes off to a full effort. Too often, it just feels like wish fulfillment: be the smartest guy,  be a millionaire, etc. Honestly, the best parts of the film are when Eddie has to use his new abilities to outwit opponents.

Final Thoughts: Limitless is a decent thriller. If the trailer interests you, I'd give it a rent.

Rating: 3 out of 5 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Big Fan

Starring Patton Oswalt, Kevin Corrigan, and Michael Rappaport

Directed by Robert D. Siegel

Release Date: August 28th, 2009

Paul Aufiero is a die-hard New York Giants fan. He lives, breathes, and bleeds for his football team. Paul is even a regular caller to an AM radio show where he religiously defends his Giants with statements he prepares ahead of time. Soon, Paul sees his favorite player Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm) in Staten Island and follows him to a club in Manhattan. Once Paul mistakenly says he saw Quantrell and followed him, the football player savagely beats him. Now, Paul has medical bills to pay and the police are asking Paul for his statements regarding the incident. Will he sell out his favorite team? Sue Bishop for money? It's time for this 'fan' to show his true colors...

We've all been involved one way or another with competition in the field of sports. Such as when your favorite baseball team makes it to the World Series or jeering the rivals of your college football team. Therefore, it makes sense that a movie about the ultimate super-fan, the do-or-die people that stand by their teams, was a brilliant idea. The concept of where your loyalties ultimately lie is a great one. However, the film is not without its flaws. First, the main plot is stretched too far at times. Though I like the initial premise, I feel that there should be more to the film than just "Paul's a loser" or "Paul's a die-hard fan". Couldn't we see how the police feel about the incident? or maybe the Giants? I feel that by limiting the perspective on just Paul, it isolates the impact of the story. Second, at times I feel that Patton Oswalt is the only person putting in any effort. The rest of the cast is fine, but Oswalt is running the gambit between Paul in his happy haze of fandom and the spiraling lows of pressure, opposition, and fear. Oswalt is a strong actor and I hope he gets more opportunities like this to flex his dramatic muscles. Therefore, don't expect a lot from the supporting cast as they are merely that, supporting the lead.

Big Fan is a precautionary tale, where one's obsession can lead to dark and terrible places. It's a grim and bleak story where you don't root for Paul, you feel sorry for him.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Grey

Starring Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, and James Badge Dale

Based on the short story Ghost Walker by Ian MacKenzie Jeffers

Directed by Joe Carnahan

Release Date: January 27th, 2012

After crashing in the Alaskan wilderness, the survivors of the plane crash band together to not only brave the elements, but a wolf pack out to kill them.  It will be harsh, cruel, and treacherous…..

Action junkies, I need to get this out of the way: yes, Liam Neeson fights wolves. But that doesn’t mean it will be the action-exploitation of his other films like Unknown or Taken. This is a more gritty and thematic film that explores the concepts of faith, man versus nature, and life and death, not “NEESON FIGHTS WOLVES!”

Now, on to the review….

The Grey is a minimalist drama that explores just how awful and harsh it can be to brave the elements with the odds against you. The first thing of note is that there is no B-plot, no side-story where the oil company sends a rescue team, or flashbacks to what Liam Neeson does in his spare time. The only plot is the survivors of the plane crash determining a) what their next step is b) how to survive and c) if they WILL survive the night.  However, this does work against the film due to the fact that we know very little about the other survivors and even Neeson himself. During the film, certain relationships do come to light, but it does feel disappointing that the majority of the survivors come across as little more than “Red Shirts” a la Star Trek.

On the positive side, the film does contain a great use of atmosphere, dread, and chilling isolation. Much of the film is without a score, showcasing instead the chilling winds, snarling wolves, or just the soul-crushing silence of the wildness. When music is used, it is to highlight the tension either when the wolves attack, or when of the men is in mortal danger. In terms of direction, Joe Carnahan does an excellent job of showing how vast and dangerous the woods can be, while on the flipside he uses the same location in a beautiful scene that makes the same chilly forest into a marvelous final reward. Some may complain about Carnahan using CGI wolves (there are also animatronics and wolf carcasses in some instances), but I feel that the CGI wolves can be used well; since the men are fighting against inhuman creatures, I feel that the liberal use of CGI can make the wolves into unrelenting monsters with no remorse rather than train a live animal than audiences could relate to. The cast is good, despite the lack of character development for many of them, and Neeson makes a stellar performance as Ottway.

Final Thoughts: The Grey is a dark and violent drama situation with hard choices and punishing opposition.  While I would have liked to know more about Diaz, Hendrick and Flannery, the film is still an engaging and energetic story with a chilling visual style and great moments of tension.
Rating: 4 out of 5. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Castle in the Sky

Original Title Tenkū no Shiro Rapyut:  (Laputa: Castle in the Sky)

Starring the voice talents of James Van Der Beek, Anna Paquin, Mark Hamill, Cloris Leachman, Jim Cummings, and Mandy Patinkin

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Release Date(s):

Japan.....August 2nd, 1986
US.......... 1998 (Disney)

One day, a young man named Pazu sees a young girl fall out of the sky. Soon, he gets to know Sheeta, and the two of them discover they are connected to a legendary kingdom known as Laputa, a grand location many doubt truly exists. Pazu and Sheeta find that they are not the only ones looking for Laputa; others such as Captain Dola and her unruly songs, ruthless government agent Colonel Muska and the army are after the secrets hidden in the sky. What awaits our young heroes: fame, glory, or danger?

If you are a fan of animation, the names of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki should be very familiar to you. If this is your first exposure to those names, you may have picked one of the best films in Ghibli's libraries for new audiences. Castle in the Sky is a rousing action adventure film that has likable protagonists, sweeping visuals, and a fairly standard plot. You may be asking yourself: "Why would an average plot be a good thing?" Well, because normally Studio Ghibli films have plots that, while adhering to traditional storytelling devices, don't normally have such solid stances on where each characters' loyalties lie. Sure, Dola starts out as an antagonist chasing after Pazu and Sheeta in act one, but you never truly doubt that she's a crusty motherly figure with a good heart, or that Muska is a deceitful bad guy who's after more than he says. Still, this allows for the audiences to root for the good guys and not worry about more than "we're after a floating castle" in terms of the plot.

That said, there are a lot of great pros for the film, such as the great action sequences, the goofy humor, and the English voice cast. First, I have to say that many of the action set pieces in the film are fluid, fun and very memorable. As the majority of the film takes place in the air (Miyazaki is a huge fan of aviation), there are a couple of great moments with flight such as the DOLA gang fighting the military in insect-like air-bikes or Sheeta and Pazu in a struggling whirlwind in tiny glider. Next, the humor is great for children and adults; for instance, there's a memorable sequence shared between Pazu's boss and one of Dola's sons on who is manlier which involves exploding their shirts by FLEXING THEIR MUSCLES. Last, the Disney English dub is pretty good, with a few exceptions. I liked James Van Der Beek as Pazu (he gives the character a likability while also expressing a need to prove himself), Mark Hamill as Colonel Muska (come on, it's Mark Hamill as a villian....he's just awesome) and Cloris Leachman as Dola (she's cranky,  feisty, but can also be fierce, confident, and a dependable person). The only voice actors that don't work for me are Anna Paquin as Sheeta and Andy Dick as Henri, another of Dola's sons. Paquin is fine for the most part, but she keeps slipping between using an normal speaking voice and a strange European accent at times; it's just off-putting and does take you out of  the movie at times. Andy Dick.....he's just dull. He's playing himself and doesn't really do anything to make the character his own.

Final Thoughts: A great animated film by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki. FULL RECOMMENDATION.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Secret World of Arrietty

Starring the voice talents of:

Saoirse Ronan................. Arrietty
Tom Holland....................Shō
Olivia Colman....................Homily
Phyllida Law..................... Sadako Maki 
Luke Allen-Gale................ Spiller
Mark Strong...................... Pod 
Geraldine McEwan............. Haru 

(US Version)
Bridgit Mendler.................Arrietty
David Henrie        .............Shō
Amy Poehler   .................. Homily
Gracie Poletti     ............... Sadako Maki 
Moises Arias     ................ Spiller
Will Arnett      .................. Pod 
Carol Burnett        ............ Haru

Directed by  Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Release Dates:

Japan                              July 17, 2010
United Kingdom              July 29, 2011
United States                   February 17, 2012

Note: I saw the UK version, which has Mark Strong, Saoirse Ronan and Tom Holland in the voice cast.

Adapted from Mary Norton's Novel "The Borrowers" from the illustrious Hayao Miyazaki, The Secret World of Arrietty looks at a fantastically microscopic view beneath our very feet.

In the country, Shō is a young boy awaiting heart surgery at her mother's childhood home.  Shō  has always been very weak, never having friends to play with due to his poor health. But one day, he spies something out of the corner of his eye: a little girl no bigger than a doll. Her name is Arrietty.

As is standard with Studio Ghibli films, the animation is absolutely stunning. There are many gorgeous details put into the flora and fauna in the yard, such as when Shō sits in the field in the afternoon or seen in the immaculate detail of water droplets during a rainy day. also, since much of the film takes place from the point of view of a 'borrower', there is a great deal of scale when looking at objects both big and small. One of my favorite moments is when looking at the objects in Arrietty's home, such as how her family uses stamps for pictures or how her father uses double sided tape to walk up a dresser. So yes, from a visual standpoint the film is absolutely stunning.

Unfortunately, the film does suffer from two major problems: a slow pace and character development. First, the film does have a slow pace which may detract many but will also bore children due to their being many scenes of pretty visuals like the dollhouse but nothing visually exciting like other Ghibli films. Second, due to this pacing and emphasis of visuals, there is little attention to character interaction. That is to say, you want to see more of the characters interacting, growing, doing more than is seen on the screen. For example, there is a fourth borrower introduced in the second act; his name is Spiller and is more of an outdoor borrower, someone who lives in the yard and is seen as a hunter. Then....he disappears until the last 10 minutes.

Final thoughts: The Secret World of Arrietty is a visually enjoyable movie with good characters and first-time director Hiromasa Yonebayashi does a good job with this movie. Still, the movie is a bit slow and doesn't offer as much character development as one would hope. Still, for fans of Studio Ghibli and animation, it gets a full recommendation.

Rating: 3.5 of 5

Sunday, May 6, 2012


The Avengers

Release Date: May 4, 2012 (US)

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Clark Gregg, and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury

Co-Written and Directed by Joss Whedon

This was a huge gamble. In 2008, Marvel Comics created their own in-house movie studio so that they could have different characters show up in another’s movie, such as Tony Stark appearing in The Incredible Hulk or Hawkeye making a cameo in Thor. What was the purpose of these appearances? To eventually get to a team-based movie, where Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Thor: God of Thunder, Clint “Hawkeye” Barton, and Natasha “Black Widow” Romanov come together to form THE AVENGERS.

If you’re wondering, I will review the other Marvel Studios films next; but in the mean-time, let’s talk about The Avengers.

When I first saw the post-credits scene in Iron Man where Nick Fury (Jackson) mentions the “Avengers Initiative”, I was both excited and nervous.   I was excited because as a comic fan, I knew that it would be a huge action movie with several of my favorite characters that may happen one day. I was nervous because having a team-based movie doesn’t always mean each character will get “their moment of glory”: then came Joss Whedon.

For those who aren’t familiar with Joss Whedon, he is the creator of the hit cult TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse. He is also responsible for directing Serenity and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Whedon is also a comic book writer who has written Astonishing X-Men, Runaways, Buffy: Season 8, and Serenity. Whedon is well known for his snappy dialogue, quirky humor, and great use of both action and comedy to form great stories. For example, many of his shows revolve around multiple characters who all have a unique voice and do not overshadow one another.  In short, he was the right man to write and direct a movie where several big name comic characters come together for one team.

The Cast: Returning from their own individual movies, we have Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor Odiinson, and Tom Hiddleston as the villainous Loki. There were also several supporting characters who showed up in those films, now seen as SHIELD agents willing to back up our heroes: Jeremy Renner as Clint “Hawkeye” Barton, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha “Black Widow” Romanov, Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Head of Shield. Finally, we have a cast change: Dr. Bruce Banner, who was first played by Edward Norton in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, is now played by Mark Ruffalo.  So, what do I think of their portrayals as seen in The Avengers?

Not only did Whedon know how to balance each character, but made sure that every character was developed and worked well as a team. I also think that Whedon knew how to use his trademark snarky humor in small doses, such as when Iron Man calls Thor “Point Break” or when Bruce Banner dryly jokes how badly an idea it is to put him in an enclosed area in the sky. The cast works great together, particularly Downey and Ruffalo; the two of them bounce well off each other and have a lot of good jokes about Banners’ “other guy”. So yes, I like Mark Ruffalo's portrayal as Bruce Banner; it fits well in this movie, and does have a really sweet development in his relationship with the Hulk. Then, Hiddleston is slimy and cruel as Loki, making him into a better villain than  he was in Thor.

A lot of people will say ‘oh, this was my favorite scene’, but I won’t do that in fear of spoilers. I will say, however, that this film is MADE of great moments, such as epic fight scenes and character developing moments, and exposition from previous films that never feels forced or clunky.  The fights in this movie are glorious; Whedon knows how to make these characters look like Titans battling to the death, making each and fight look momentous, even before the final battle in New York.

The only thing I didn’t like: Captain America’s new battle outfit.  If you didn’t see Captain America: The First Avenger, go watch that and look and how amazing Cap’s wartime outfit looks. In that movie, the red-and-blues look like combat fatigues fit for a soldier on the battlefield.  In The Avengers, it looks too thin, too cheesy looking. If you wanted a more “comic accurate” Captain America costume, I suppose you get what you wanted. But for me, I was hoping for the WWII costume to return.

When I walked out of the movie, I truly believed this was one of the best blockbuster movies I’ve seen in the last 5 years. Simply amazing.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars 

Iron Man
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Captain America: The First Avenger

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hunger Games (The Film)

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Wes Bentley, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Lenny Kravitz, and Donald Sutherland

Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins

Directed by Gary Ross

Release Date: March 23, 2012

America is gone; now a new nation known as Panem is divided into 12 districts and a Capitol that controls them. Each year, the Capitol requires that each District have a lottery to send off one boy and girl to compete to the death in a competition known as THE HUNGER GAMES. In District 12, Katniss Everdeen has volunteered to take her sister's place in the games. May the odds be ever in her favor.......

Adapted from the popular novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is both praised by fans and seen as plagiarizing other authors, such as Stephen King and
Koushun Takami (author of Battle Royale). I, howver, only see a great dystopian story with similar themes and concepts. When I read the novel, I was fascinated with a world built upon send children not only to fight one another, but "dance" for the amusement of the rich and powerful of the Capitol. So, with a novel that is both popular with both children and adults, a big budget adaptation was inevitable. 

Before I continue reviewing the film, please be aware I will be comparing it to the novel and THERE MAY BE SPOILERS. 

Since the movie is PG-13 in America, the violence seen during The Games was toned down or done off-screen, only to show the horror of what was happening by Katniss's reaction. Sure, The Hunger Games movie won't be as visually bloody as Battle Royale, but it's not really meant to be. The violence is only used to showcase the brutality and shock of children fighting to the death, and I believe the screenwriters and director did a successful job of getting their action without overly disgusting the audience.  A

As the novel was originally written in a first person narrative with Katniss relaying the story from her POV and her thoughts, the film obviously had to adapt so that Katniss is more of an active character. The movie eliminates some small moments and one-or two characters, but the overall plot remains in tact, In fact, one of my favorite additions is using the Game Room to showcase what Seneca Crane (played by Wes Bentley) and the Gamemaker's do to record the games and influence the action to challenge the Tributes, but to entertain the audiences of Panem. In a way, it reminded me of the Moon Room of The Truman Show, another great movie about "reality television". 

There are only two minor problems I had with the movie. The first is the casting of Donald Sutherland as President Snow; in a word, he's not terrifying. In the novels, Snow is meant to be seen as a dictator, someone who is bright and happy in front of the world, but deadly and threatening to his enemies. However, Sutherland just can't showcase Snow as nothing more as a minor nuisance. His character made me chuckle more than fear for Katniss's life. The second are the terror dogs. They're CGI, and not particularly good computer graphics. 

For Hunger Games fans, you'll love this movie. Everyone else, this is a great commentary on reality television, the deception and control of media, and a great science-fiction film.

Rating:* * * * of 5 stars

Thursday, March 22, 2012

All-In: The Poker Movie

Written and Directed by Douglas Tirola

Release Date(s): March 24th, 2012

Are you ready to deal?

Writer/Director Douglas Tirola brings us into the electric and dazzling world of poker, from Oxford Stud to Texas Hold 'Em. He explores the theories behind the origins of the game, how it rose to popularity and even its grasp on popular culture.

Initially, I knew very little about the game; you play with four people and bet money on who has the best hand of cards. Sure, I saw the movie Rounders but had no knowledge of the people or the culture seen as Matt Damon played the tables. In All-In, you get to meet that movie's screenwriters, but some of the players who were at the poker house set in New York. After learning about this culture, I feel more intrigued about poker.

Tirola brings in many of the most famous names in the poker community, sports journalists, and even celebrities like Matt Damon and Kenny Rogers to discuss their interests and thoughts on the game of poker. Throughout the documentary, the subjects of fame and celebrity are brought up several times, such as when poker was celebrated with famous players like Chris Moneymaker and Stu Unger, to when virtual poker web-sites were shut down due to controversy. 

In fact, the game itself is seen in both an underground and over-saturated light; the narrative looks into the high times of the 1970s and the "old-timer" stereotype of the game during the 1980s. For example, one of my favorite parts of the documentary is when the interviewees discuss the phenomena of on-line poker. I feel that this is a topic both fans and non-fans will enjoy. In these interviews, the players get protective of their right to protect their livelihood and the right to play, whether it is in person or online. 

This is a very entertaining documentary and I recommend it to both poker players and those unfamiliar with the game. 

Rating:4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, March 16, 2012

21 Jump Street (2012)

Starring Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Ice Cube and Rob Riggle

Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Release Date: March 16th, 2012

Based on the 1987-1991 drama starring Johnny Depp, this reboot comedy takes a humorous take not only on the original series, but on cop "action" shows, high school dynamics, and youth culture. No, seriously.

 Schmidt and Jenko (Hill and Tatum, respectively) were once high school students with little in common; one an unpopular geek while the other is a meat-headed jock. Soon, these mismatched pair become police officers looking to stop bad guys while not adhering to basic rules, like reading a suspect the Miranda Rights correctly. Once they fail to stop a drug bust, they become the latest officers in an undercover squad designed to infiltrate crimes committed in the local high schools. Their first assignment: find the maker and supplier of a new drug with fatal results. Schmidt and Jenko may not be the best cops, but they'll do the job their way.

To be completely honest, I had low expectations of this movie. The trailers were lack luster and I had never seen the original series. However, I am a fan of farcical cop shows like Reno 911 and I did see that Hill was credited as a screenwriter and had faith due to his talents as a comedian. So, what did I think about 21 Jump Street?

21 Jump Street  surprised me, in that I enjoyed its crude and yet hilarious sense of humor. Instead of making the movie into a humorless, straight adaptation of the TV series, the film acknowledges its roots but still pokes jabs at the source material in a harmless way. In addition, the film does a lot of great scenes that showcase the mindset of what high school was for those out of it and what high school is like now. For example, Schmidt and Jenko start identifying the different cliques in the high school parking lot, but are soon dumbstruck when trying to label a group of hipsters. Then, we see our bumbling heroes try to relieve or outdo their own high school experiences. Obviously, it's not a major factor of why audiences will like the movie, but I enjoyed these moments in the plot. In terms of funniest moments, one of the best for me is when Schmidt and Jenko first try HFS, the new drug.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Starring Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Theroux, Malin Akerman, Joe Lo Truglio, and Alan Alda

Directed by David Wain

Release Date: February 24th, 2012

George and Linda are a Manhattan with a few problems: George lost his job, Linda is directionless, and they now have to sell their home. Driving to stay with George's obnoxious brother, the couple stay on a commune called Elysium. Soon, they meet such unique people like nudist wine-make Wayne (Lo Truglio), perfectionist Seth (Theroux) and memory-deprived Carvin (Alda).  The couple are embraced by the free-wheelin' style of the hippies and soon become entranced to stay and "live each life to the fullest". Will this new lifestyle bring the couple closer, or drive them apart?

When I first saw the trailer for Wanderlust, I wasn't really sure if I would like it. Yes, it's directed by David Wain, member of the comedy trio STELLA and previously directed Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models; still, I wasn't sure about the film itself. I like Paul Rudd, as his likable every-man charm works wonders, but Jennifer Aniston has been hit or miss with her film career after TV's Friends left the air. That said, I'm glad I went because Wanderlust is a good comedy with a talented cast of comedians.

Wanderlust is an interesting portrayal of finding your own way by experimenting with different ways of life. You can see that in scenes that showcase the differences between life at Elysium and Rick (George's brother)'s home: the multiple Televisions vs little to no technology, the ownership vs communal sharing, and so forth. Many of the jokes are actually funny, having the actors improvise their lines to showcase the quirks of their characters. For instance, Rudd and Theroux have a hilarious scene where they "shout out their problems" where Rudd complains about little problems, Theroux berates him while he makes 'larger complaints'. Rudd also has a hilarious set of scenes where he tries to psyche himself up by repeating one line in several strange voices: you'll have to see it to believe it.

Rating: 4 out of  5 stars .

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Starring Dane DeHaan,  Alex Russell, Michael Kelly, and Michael B. Jordan

Directed by Josh Trank

Release Date: February 3rd, 2012

Andrew (DeHaan) is an introverted high school senior with an alcoholic dad, a mom sick with cancer, and only his cousin Matt (Russell) to be his friend. Soon, Andrew brings his new camera to a party, to document his life if only to have something to do. His decision makes him part of a discovery team: Matt and popular quarterback and student body president Steve (Jordan) have found something in a cavernous pit, and need Andrew to document their find. Whatever it may be, Andrew and his friends will be changed forever, for better or worse.....

In 1998, the found footage sub-genre took off with the release of The Blair Witch Project, setting a string of similar projects and imitators, relying more and more heavily on deceiving the audience. Here, there are no delusions that this movie was "found": it has a credit sequence at the end, production company logos at the start, and the actors are listed by name. Chronicle uses not only the POV from Andrew's camera, but C.C. TV video, footage from security cameras, the camera of another character, and Smart-Phone video.

The performances from the three leads, DeHaan, Russell, and Jordan, are dynamic and play well off each other. Since we are following DeHaan's Andrew in the beginning, we get to know him the best. Andrew is a very lonely person; his dad demeans him, he's picked on at school, and rarely stands up for himself. The filmmakers do a good job of making Andrew into a dynamic character, who becomes more open with his new friends and decides to make some improvements in his life. Russell and Jordan are good side characters, as Matt and Steve, respectively. Jordan's Steve is the party animal who likes to have fun and Matt is the intellectual who wants to do the right thing with an interest in philosophy.

The one downside? The C.G.I can be a little low grade at times. When the boys discover new found abilities, they showoff such strengths as moving Legos and baseballs to eventually learning how to push cars and fly with their minds. Since this is a minor budget, the graphics are not as well-polished as big blockbusters, but they do the job.

This may be one of my favorite films of 2012.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 

Gulliver's Travels

Starring Jack Black, Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Catherine Tate and Billy Connolly

Directed by Rob Letterman

Release Date: December 25th, 2010

UGH..........where do I begin? Gulliver's Travels is a novel originally written by Johnathan swift and has been adapted several times with varying degrees of faithfulness to the original text. This 2010 adaptation, where Gulliver is a portly Jack Black, may be the most foul, offensive, and moronic adaptation one may ever see to insult the intelligence of children.

Usually, I like Jack Black; he's a talented actor with a lot of manic energy who also sings and performs as part of the musical duo Tenacious D. Black has been in such great movies as High Fidelity, King Kong, School of Rock, and Tropic Thunder. The point being, he can be a very fun and charismatic actor with a slightly goofy charm. However, in this critical failure, he's a liar and very, very annoying. He brays every line, never giving a genuine reason to like him other than he's the main character and we have to like him.

But the biggest offenders are the unnecessary pop culture references and the sophomoric humor. Look, I get that the film was intended for families with young children, but does that mean it's okay to have a PG rating with Black pulling down his pants, and urinating to put out a fire? Then there are the product placements/pop culture, such as Gulliver's life is Star Wars or that he uses an iPhone and drinks Coca-Cola; seriously? Did I need an Avatar references in Gulliver's Travels?

On the positive side, the supporting cast are good, such as Billy Connolly and Catherine Tate as the King and Queen of Liliput, Jason Segel as Horatio, and Chris O'Dowd as General Edward, but they are not worth sitting through this turkey.

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars .

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Starring the voice talents of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway,, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santorio, and Jermaine Clement

Directed by Carlos Saldanha

Release Date: March 22, 2011 (World Premiere)

Blu (Eisenber) is a blue macaw living in Minnesota with his owner Linda (Mann). He wants nothing more out of life than to hang out in Linda's bookstore, drink cocoa, and ride his skateboard; Blu has never even learned how to fly! Then, one fateful winter, a Brazilian ornithologist wants to bring the pair to Rio so that Blu can meet with a female macaw named Jewel (Hathaway) to possibly save the macaws from extinction. Will the pair hit it off? Will Linda lose her childhood friend?

In my opinion, Blue Sky animation had previously made one good film, an adaptation of Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who; I think the Ice Age trilogy is hit-or-miss and Robots was really bland. However, I can honestly say that Rio is a fun, colorful adventure that families will certainly enjoy.

First, let's talk about the good parts of the film: the visuals, the music, and the antagonist played by Jermaine Clement. Since the film is mostly set in Rio de Janiero (during the festival known as Carnival), the visuals pop and shine so that the film has a loving care put into every color, even the muted ones. I love how much energy comes from the scenes set during the Carnival parade, as elaborate floats are set against a crazy chase during the third act. The music is mostly samba, obviously, but I also was enjoying the original songs written for the film. Then, there's Nigel, the evil cockatoo played by Jermaine Clement. The character is so over-the-top, an ego-maniacal actor that you can tell Clement was enjoying this role in the studio booth.

Now, we have to discuss the film's flaws: cliched characters and an all-too familiar plot. As much as I enjoyed Nigel, many of the other main characters are archetypes we've seen before: the bohemian love interest, the orphan who wants a home, etc. There's a character, Tulio, who I really enjoyed for his goofy behavior while helping Linda look for Blu. Sadly, he's stuck in the b-plot which means we only get to see him once in a while. Also, the plot is all too familiar: mismatched pair who initially don't like each other but must work together (see The Emperor's New Groove). Sure, this is bound to happen in animated movies aimed for kids, but why is it that Pixar is the only company who wants to take risks with their stories? It's just disappointing that the writer's couldn't take a risk, because they do write a lot of humorous dialogue.

Rio is a good family film that, while offering few surprises, is still a visual treat with goofy humor.

Rating: * * * 1/2 of 5

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Drive Angry

Starring Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichtner, and Billy Burke

Directed by Patrick Lussier

Release Date: February 25th, 2011

A man who broke out of hell to rescue his granddaughter from Satanists. If you aren't interested by now, just stop reading.

This is a high action, slightly cheesy action movie about Nicolas Cage fighting Southern satanists and a supernatural man known as "The Accountant". If you're a fan of the TV series Supernatural  you will notice several similar styles and a familiar weapon seen in the show's early seasons. The cast is really great, particularly Fichnter as The Accountant. The character steals every scene he's in as a stranger in a strange land who plays by his own rules with a dry sense of humor. Finally, I've got to mention this movie has what may be perhaps Nicolas Cage's worst hairpiece in his career. I'm not sure if it was his idea or the costumer's: it's a bad wig and it looks goofy on him.

Drive Angry is a fun exploitation film with thrilling action, interesting characters, and a lot of goofy charm.

Rating; * * * * of 5