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.