Sunday, June 29, 2008


I go from one wonderful animated movie to another equally wonderful one. WALL*E is hands down the best movie of the year so far. I don't know if this is Pixar's best movie to date, but it is certainly in the running. This is saying a lot when talking about a company with as high caliber films as they create.

I figure first I'll talk about the short that preceded the film. Pixar packages each of their films with a short- often used to try out a new technique, or give up and comers a chance to take the reins. This short, Presto, is a pretty clear throwback to classic Warner Brothers animations. It was by far Pixar's most cartoony film to date. It's interesting that they coupled it with quite possibly their most subtle feature. Presto tells a simple story of a magician, his hungry rabbit, and a teleporting hat. This sets up a genuinely hilarious set of visual gags with various objects going in and out of the hat at (much the consternation of the magician) the most inopportune times. Despite nothing going right, these pratfalls lead to one wonderfully choreographed and downright impressive magic show.

As for WALL*E itself, it's a lovely, poignant love story. An animated movie with very little dialog about a love between two robots (who have only the bare minimum of facial expressions) seemed to be a fairly progressive gamble. By director Andrew Stanton's own testimony, however, the idea of subtly was the driving force from when the idea was first kicked around during Pixar's legendary brain storming session a decade ago. This is the last movie to come out of that session, and I'm kind of glad they waited on it. I think a movie like this wouldn't have done as well without the power and reputation of a company like Pixar behind it.

The main character, WALL*E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter- Earth-Class) is essentially a trash compactor with tank treads. Him and his brethren were left on Earth to clean up after the human race trashed the planet and escaped into space. 700 years later he is (presumably) the last robot on Earth, and continues to go about his duties day in and day out. Over the millennia, however, he developed a very un-robotic characteristic: a personality. A very endearing personality at that. Life goes on as normal until one day a space ship lands, depositing another robot. EVE, a robot sent to investigate if there is any life left on Earth, becomes the immediate object of WALL*E's affection. The two form the most unlikely love, and WALL*E follows her back into space after she is picked up. The two of them become the key to humans re-inhabiting the planet.

Okay, the story isn't terribly new. Lovers from essentially different classes having to overcome obstacles to be together. The originality comes in the robots. These two (WALL*E especially) are among the most emotive characters I've ever seen. It was troubling to see a robot with more heart than I have. It's not often that you see a robot and genuinely feel for the characters. I've never been to an animated movie where the audience was literally silent in emotional expectation. That is a true testament to the animators at Pixar.

The only issues came in with some of the human characters. When humans come into play in the second act, they were fairly stylized- in the same vein as The Incredibles. This was in kind of jarring contrast to the realism of the scenes on Earth. I can see where this would be intentional in comparing the grittiness of the world they left behind to the sterility of the space station. It's just that the characters themselves didn't seem to fit in the same world as WALL*E. This wouldn't have been so bad, except for the few live action shots included. WALL*E passes the time on Earth by watching a VHS of Hello Dolly. That live action is fine, but they also include footage of Earth's president, played by Fred Willard. There's something a little unsettling when the human animated characters are watching this live action footage. Something just doesn't jive between the two.

This is only a very minor complaint. All of this takes a back seat to the characters anyway. I was a little concerned that dialog consisting primarily of robot deeps and whistles would get annoying. Somehow this really managed to work. It seems that their gamble really payed off. This week it was deservedly at #1, and I expect it to stick around for quite a while.


Thursday, June 26, 2008


I have been waiting to see this movie since I missed it at the Savannah Film Fest last October. Fortunately, this Oscar nominated animated film came out on DVD yesterday. Persepolis is based on the graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, who also co-wrote and directed the movie. I strongly recommend reading the book as well, but consider seeing the movie first. I loved the book so much that the movie could not possibly have met my expectations. Despite this, it was still a triumph in all aspects.

The story is Satrapi's autobiography of growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution of the late seventies and the subsequent war with Iraq. There is a little bit of history, but nothing substantial. The main focus is looking at these major events through the eyes and memories of a little girl. A little who is enamored with Western culture and inspired by the rebellious history of her family (her uncle and grandfather had both been political prisoners at various times). The story also follows her as she travels to Europe to escape the oppression.

Despite all the serious political conflict, the main drive behind the movie is Marjane's struggle to find herself, and not forget where she came from. She is constantly at odds with those in power, whether in Iran or Europe, yet frequently finds herself denying her heritage. Neither Education, travel, or even relationships seem to bring her peace. It's a very interesting story of one woman's struggle to deal with her roots.

This is a unique movie in that it is almost entirely 2D. There are some 3D parts, but they are masked very well and are not even noticeable. In fact, some of the more abstract dream sequences go so far as to resemble cutouts. This sort of style would not be found in any American Hollywood production these days. There very idea that the movie returns to more traditional techniques in hopes of emulating the graphic novel feel makes it seem new and refreshing.

Mixed with the serious nature of the movie there are some genuinely funny and charming moments. And many of the characters (especially those in Europe) provide an interesting contrast to the seriousness of the revolution. While in Marjane's homeland people are fighting a war, these European students are trying to pose as nihilistic anarchists (but really only succeed in following fashion trends). At other times, the exaggerated animation keeps this firmly rooted as being a cartoon.

The movie is absolutely wonderful. The only thing that disappointed me was that some things from the book were glossed over. In the process, they kept it at a very palatable hour and a half. So none of this would have bothered me had I not read the book first. This is easily one of the best movies I've seen in a long time.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Grace is Gone

This is one of the saddest movies I've seen in a long time. I'll be the first to admit that it's also one of the sappiest and cheesiest. It came and went under the radar in late 2007. I had been excited about it (as it was on my top 20 for the rest of the year entry last September). I forgot about it, however, due to poor marketing, and its extremely limited release of 7 theaters. The movie deals with the difficult situation military families are put in. As opposed to the other recent Iraqi War movie, Stop Loss, which presented a gritty soldier's point of view, Grace is Gone focused entirely on those left behind.

The movie revolves around Stanley Phillips (John Cusack), who's wife, Grace is fighting in Iraq. Near the beginning of the movie, the inevitable knock on his front door comes, notifying him that Grace has been killed. He not only has to cope with this news, he also has to break it to his two young daughters Heidi (Shélan O'Keefe) and Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk), who appeared to be 13 and 8 respectively. The problem is only compounded by his inability to communicate with them (seriously, what father knows what to say to a pre-teen girl?) Stanley handles this issue the only way he knows, by not telling them. Instead, he takes them on a road-trip to an amusement park, while he tries to sot through his own emotions before telling the girls.

John Cusack is one of my favorites. Last year alone he wowed in the one-man thriller 1408, and was one the only saving graces in Martian Child. This time, however, he wasn't dragged down by his child co-stars. Both O'Keefe and Bednarczyk were wonderful. Heidi's muted enthusiasm, and guarded emotions reflect a young teenager going through those changes. Her character is every bit as complex as Stanley. She struggles with trusting her emotionally distant father, while knowing that something is wrong. Dawn, on the other hand, displays the unrestrained emotions common with a young girl.

There's nothing surprising about this movie. It turns up the emotion from the support group opening all the way to the silent musical ending. Stanley is a character that you will most certainly not agree with. His brother (Alessandro Nivola) sums it up concisely in one scene when he says "You're going to screw up those girls," when he hears about Stanley's amusement park plan. As much as we may not like him for keeping this from his daughters throughout the movie, we can at least appreciate the difficulty he's going through.

Some of the best scenes are Stanley alone, talking to his answering machine just to hear Grace's voice. These are when he finally lets his guard down and is at his most vulnerable. What is nice about this movie is that it doesn't have the obvious anti-war undertones that could so easily pushed. Stanley is never angry about what happened, possibly because of the almost too convenient fact that he was a former soldier himself.

As I've tried to make clear, the movie was rather cheesy, and fairly obvious- but somehow that really worked. They didn't try to be anything deeper than a simple emotional journey of a grieving husband. I would compare it to Love Story. It's a movie that oozes sap, but I challenge you to watch it without getting teared up.


Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin

George Carlin

One of the most influential and offensive comedians of all time.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Incredible Hulk

Let me preface this by saying that I'm not a huge fan of The Hulk. Never read the comics, never liked the show aside from the campy value, and absolutely hated Ang Lee's version. With all that in mind, this movie wasn't as bad as it could have been. Unlike the home-runs of Iron Man and what Dark Knight promises to deliver, The Incredible Hulk can be looked at as anything more than a simple action movie.

The movie starts out with a little background on how Bruce Banner (Ed Norton) became the Hulk: a gamma ray explosion caused by a self-induced experiment gone awry. We find Banner six months later hiding from the government in South America. In my favorite scene he's working in a bottling factory. They poke fun at the Hulk tradition as his infamous "Don't make me angry, you wouldn't like me when I'm angry." Unfortunately, he's speaking Spanish and replaces "angry" with "hungry"- much to the confusion of the person he's sparring with.

The government manages to track him down, and General Ross (William Hurt) and Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) are on his trail. Banner begins corresponding with a scientist, Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson), in hopes of finding a cure. This results in the army tracking him down, coming to a head in a series of showdowns. Culminating when Blonsky himself takes a serum to become a sort of Hulk- an Abomination. This leads to the epic battle so prevalently featured in the trailers.

The action scenes were orchestrated great, but they were so overdone- especially the last one. I understand that this is part of the point, but it reminds me of one of those cheesy Power Rangers battles. The Hulk in this movie looked much grittier and more menacing than in the previous one, and he didn't suffer from extreme variations in size the plagued Lee's version.
Even so, it still felt a bit cartoony.

The acting wasn't great. Ed Norton, as always delivers, but Roth, Hurt, and Liv Tyler (playing Betty Ross- Banner's love interest and General Ross' daughter) seemed bored through the whole thing. There was virtually no chemistry between Norton and Tyler. The only character that has any sort of depth anyway is Banner. He has to wrestle to keep his anger under control, yet utilize the Hulk's power. In this version it's simply having his heart rate jump above a certain speed that will result in a transformation. This includes a humorous sex(ish) scene.

The saving grace to this movie is the light-hearted approach it takes to the franchise- including characteristics from its history, and current. I have a feeling Marvel is massing something huge. With Samuel L Jackson appearing as Nick Fury at the end of Iron Man, and now Robert Downy Jr. making an appearance as Tony Stark, and S.H.E.I.L.D playing a major role in the tracking of the Hulk. This movie wasn't great unto itself, but I hope it's a precursor of major things to come.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs

This is the second feature length Futurama movie. The follow-up to Bender's Big Score had its moments, but it wasn't nearly as funny as the first one, and far inferior to the show. The biggest problem seems to be that the plot of this one just didn't warrant a full length movie. To make this easier, I'm reviewing the movie on the assumption that you're familiar with the TV show. Though that's not necessary for the movie, it certainly makes it easier since there's very little character exposition.

This time a mysterious rip in time and space has appeared (supposedly a result of Bender's time traveling in the first movie). This opens a porthole into an alternate universe. In a quest to mind a meaningful relationship, the creature of this universe, Yivo (voiced by David Cross), tries to marry himself with each and every member of our universe. Contrary to any sort of conventional wisdom, Fry (voiced by Billy West) becomes the vessel for Yivo. This comes after a rejection from his polygamous girlfriend, Colleen (Brittany Murphy). Meanwhile, Bender (John Di Maggio) continues his long time disillusionment with the second class treatment of robots. In a fairly tacked on side plot he gets initiated into the "League of Robots," who contribute only the bare minimum to the progress of the movie.

The movie wasn't great, but like any television series, not all episodes are the best. This has a more clean division of acts making it easier to split up into episodes than Bender's Big Score, but when put together at once, it comes across as a little choppy. The final act as a whole just wasn't needed. There were some funny moments with perennial favorites like Dr. Zoidberg, and a well planned out continuing conflict between Dr. Farnsworth and his rival Wernstrom. Unfortunately it also featured a lengthy story involving Kiff (Maruice La Marche), an annoying, green alien.

This movie seems like it would be better suited for a TV episode or two- not a full length movie. The limited plot was stretched beyond its breaking point, and lost its entertainment value about half way through. To compensate it included side plots that just didn't mesh with the primary one. Many of the jokes were random and kind of gross- more so than the show. Some of these seemed weird just for the sake of being weird, and were carried on a bit too far. It did feature some rather funny jokes, but it wasn't enough.


Kung Fu Panda

I definitely think DreamWorks animation is getting better with each successive movie. The Shrek franchise seemed to fizzle after the first one, but now that those movies are behind us (except for 2010's Shrek Goes Fourth) the company can focus on more original movies. Over The Hedge, Bee Movie, and now Kung Fu Panda are hopefully the direction DreamWorks is heading. Though Kung Fu Panda isn't as good as the other two, it still had its unique charm.

Jack Black stars as the portly hero named Po. He's stuck in a job working for his father a noodle stand, but wants nothing more than to learn Kung Fu. High above the valley in which he lives resides the Kung Fu masters Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), and Snake (Lucy Liu). They are led by Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and Oogway (Randall Duk Kim). This group is in place to protect the valley, and receive the complete adoration of Po. One fateful day, Oogway decides it is time to name the "Dragon Warrior" (a ultimate warrior of sorts). After an amusing series of mishaps, and to the other Kung Fu masters' chagrin, he bestows this honor on Po. The others try to break him, but of course, Po ends up having to be the savior of the entire valley. He is the only one who is able to fight Tai Lung (Ian McShane) one of Sifu's former students turned evil.

Most importantly, the movie was entertaining. Jack Black is funny in almost everything that he does. And I've heard the term "skadoosh" many places since the movie. His best moments I felt came at the beginning of the movie- where he's at his most dreamy, and most inept. The movie is more violent than I would have expected for a children's movie- but I guess these are different times. The action and fight sequences are pretty stunning, though. There are a lot of them, yet each one is unique, exciting, and downright creative. It's clear they had an actual martial artist choreograph these scenes.

It was an all-star, but confusing cast. The movie so well captured the look of Asian cinema. The lush backgrounds looked like Kabuki paintings, but the cast didn't match it at all. I'm not sure what the reasoning was for including a distinctly American cast (except for Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan). Now Jack Black was forgivable, because his style of clowning was the cornerstone of the whole movie, but Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogan, and David Cross? I couldn't get past the fact that it was those actors.

The other aspect that bothered me was the inconsistent character development. Over the course of a day Po manges to transform himself from an obese, bumbling, dummy into an obese, bumbling, dummy that is a master at Kung Fu. I realize this was intentional, but I still think it should have been more of an actual transformation instead of a spontaneous change as it was. Likewise, Tai Lung starts out as the ultimate Kung Fu master, yet when he faces Po, he makes what appears to be a continuous series of mistakes. And he seems to be, well, not so tough.

The deep Kung Fu philosophical moments left me scratching my head. "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present," as spoken by Oogway seemed contrived even more a movie like this. Clearly they still don't have the more mature market cornered yet, but they're getting closer.

These inconsistencies don't pose much of a problem though. The dialog is mostly funny, and the animation is on par with the likes of Pixar. They still don't quite have the same level of story telling, or as wide an audience appeal. DreamWorks seems stuck in the straight forward comedic childlike appeal, with fairly obvious and cheesy messages. Despite all this, the movie looked really good, and was a lot of fun.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Stan Winston Article

Here's a really neat article about him that found with memories from a whole slew of directors that worked with him.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Stan Winston


One of the greatest VFX artists of all time

The Happening

I like M. Night Shyamalan. He may not be the next Hitchcock or Spielberg people were claiming after the sixth sense, but he does craft some interesting stories. I'd put him on par with the likes of John Carpenter (which I intend as a compliment). They both have created some poor movies, but also some very thrilling ones. Shyamalan seems to bounce back, humbled by the failure of the abysmal Lady in the Water. The Happening is a much more subdued thriller, and he's finally avoided twists for the sake of having a twist.

The best scenes, unfortunately, are in the trailer and right at the beginning of the movie. They set up a confused human race facing a force that we cannot begin to understand. People being killing themselves en mass for no apparent reason. People suspect terrorism, then nuclear leaks, then toxins sent off by defense mechanisms in plants. People begin to flee cities in the North East and become isolated as smaller and smaller bands of people begin to be affected.

Mark Wahlberg stars as a science teacher trying to figure out what's happening. He travels with his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), brother Julian (John Leguizamo) and his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez). Wahlberg was the weakest link here. A combination of wooden acting, and poor dialog made me feel bad not for the character, but for the actor. Leguizamo was fine, though he had a fairly small role. Same with Sanchez. Deschanel I thought was actually very good. All of this tragedy made her question everything in her life. While Elliot (Wahlberg) simply went into survival mode, she wrestled with much deeper emotions.

This could really almost be a follow-up to Signs, in that it explores the same themes of isolation and claustrophobia. It also hammers it's theme of environmentalism the same way Signs drove in its themes of faith. Both were completely overt and even a little preachy in these ideas. When it comes to underlying text, Shyamalan throws subtlety to the side. I'd prefer it is the environmentalist message was left for us to figure out, not told to us by a news anchor that bares a striking resemblance to Creed Bratton.

These was actually considerable depth to this movie. Aside from the obvious environmental themes, the concept of needing isolation to survive is an interesting idea. In a time when all you want is companionship- that's the very thing that could kill you. Leguizamo also posed some hidden questions of the exponential impact we have on the environment under the guise of his status as a math teacher.

The movie isn't a jump out of your seat thriller, and in only a couple of (possibly unnecessary) scenes is it cringe worthy. It's the type of thriller that leaves a rock in your stomach, and you're not even exactly sure why. There have been many complaints that the movie is just boring, but the slow pace of it allows you to fully contemplate the subtext. It's a great idea, but unfortunately the actual script itself just isn't up to par.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Son of Rambow

This is director Garth Jennings' follow-up to the gluttonous and charmless Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This time he wisely chose a nuanced, British, coming of age story. The movie is charming and a rare glimpse of what it really feels like being a child.

At its core, the movie is about a forbidden friendship. Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is the eldest son in a fatherless, yet very religious family. He has lived a sheltered childhood devoid of television, movies, and just about anything secular. The extent of this is demonstrated in a early scene where he has to excuse himself from the showing of a documentary in class. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with Lee Carter (Will Poulter), who can only be described as the bad boy of the school. Lee opens Will's eyes by showing him a bootlegged copy of First Blood- the first Rambo movie. What started as a tentative friendship based on intimidation blossoms into genuine comradery. Unfortunately they are forced to keep their friendship a secret, which strains both of their relationship.

The common ground that two of them initially find is their love of the movie. Initially Will agrees to be Lee's stunt-man in his own version of Rambo. There is nothing more fun than kids with a video camera. It's like Be Kind Rewind- except with actual kids, instead of Jack Black just acting like one. My friends and I used to do this thing, and I can relate to just how much fun it really is. As the movie progresses the stunts get more and more elaborate and dangerous. They're fun because you know nothing is really going to happen, even when Will is nose diving out of trees.

Despite all the fun dare devil scenes, it manages to delve into the importance of childhood friendships and growing up. Even though this time is nothing more than a footnote in your life, at the time, you can't imagine anything more important or serious. Son of Rambow really captures his mentality while still remaining utterly charming. Both Milner and Poulter are wonderful. Granted, it's probably not much of stretch for them as these weren't the most intense childrens' roles I've seen recently.

The movie may be a little slow for some. Not a whole lot happens aside from the trials associated with their friendship. It's billed as a comedy, but there's not much in the way of actual laughs. It's just a touching little story about two boys just trying to survive childhood as best they can.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

You Don't Mess With the Zohan

I really want Adam Sandler to do another Punch Drunk Love. He was just so good in that. In the mean time I guess we'll just have to settle for The Zohan. The movie, surprisingly, was not terrible. It was funnier than I was anticipating. I'm not talking about just a chuckle- I actually laughed out loud a few times. The Zohan also has the distinction of possibly being the best movie Rob Schneider has had a major role in (though I realize this isn't saying much).

As is apparent from the trailers, Sandler plays Zohan, an Israeli counter-terrorist. He grows tired of this life and moves to New York to become a hair-stylist. His smooth talking sexy charm brings in hoards of women to the establishment and help spark a romantic relationship with the salon's Palestinian proprietor, Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Sadly, the romantic story line lacks any sort of sparkle, and Dalia never seems more than bored with Zohan's antics. Several other conflicts are included. Zohan is recognized for who he really is, and runs into issues with is enemy- Phantom (John Turturro) who is aided by cab driving Salim (Schneider). Half way through another conflict is introduced. Real Estate mogul Walbridge (Michael Buffer) wants to force out Dalia's salon, and will use any means to accomplish this- including, ironically, terrorism.

This is an interesting movie because it features intentionally overt racism. Nearly every character embodies some sort of Middle Eastern stereotype. From the cab drivers and electronic store owners, to sexual deviants (which I didn't even know was a stereotype). This didn't work as well as is something like Harold and Kumar because the intent here was to laugh at the characters instead of raising questions about the stereotypes. Zohan doesn't raise the social commentary that it could have.

But there are indeed some funny moments, at least to me. And these were the most intentionally racist parts. The Israelis and Palestinians discussing "politics" and Hezbollah help line which states "We will be back operating as soon as the current peace talks break down," were funny and did explore genuine commentary. Other parts such as the ultra flexible feet featured in the trailers and a Rocky styled workout montage belonged more in the parody movie franchises than in a story like this.

I really am of two minds on this movie. As a story, it was sloppy and pretty worthless. But, it did have some pretty funny moments. If you don't like even some of Sandler's better movies (Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison) then you'll probably hate this. If you don't care how poor the story is, and just want to watch him do what he does best- talk in funny accents- then give it a shot.


The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

This review will actually be a composite of my own opinions and those of the people I saw it with. After we watched it, we engaged in a fairly lengthy critique- so you're getting the best of both worlds here. After deliberation we were in agreement about the movie's mediocrity. It had some good moments, but on a whole much left to be desired character and plot wise.

This time out we find Narnia hundreds of years older than we left it, while only a year has passed in our world. Humans have driven the native Narnians deep into the woods and on the brink of extinction. The titular Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) the heir to the human throne is being threatened by his ambitious uncle, Miraz (Sergio Castellitto). Caspian flees into the woods only to be captured and taken in by the few remaining Narnians. Upon blowing a horn, our heroes from the first installment return. Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skander Keynes), and Lucy (Georgie Henley) are once again needed to reunite Narnia, and defeat the forces of evil by returning Prince Caspian to the throne.

The plot seemed to work okay. There was nothing really inspired about it, but for a typical epic mythical movie, it fit the mold. The biggest problem came with the characters- specifically that of Prince Caspian. I'm going to try to not give anything away, suffice it to say that he did not earn his return to power. He is supposed to go through some profound change and rise to be a hero. Unfortunately, this never really happened. This left the character tasting very bad to me, and I never actually wanted him to be returned the throne.

The four Pevensies, on the other hand, were as good as I remember from the first one. They each embodied their unique character traits that made them truly individuals. Peter was the natural leader, but still had to struggle with the corrupting temptations of power. Susan- perhaps the most straight laced honorable of the batch dealt with her obvious yet unexplained romantic interest with Caspian. Edmund spent the movie trying to live up to his brother's shadow. And Lucy has the innocent and unyielding faith in Aslan the lion. These four characters are great, and unlike Caspian, their actions make sense and seem motivated.

The other aspect of the movie that bothered us was the lack of exposition. The Narnians go from wanting to kill Caspian to pledging their lives to him all within a minute of screen time. Or where and what Aslan has been doing for the past several hundred years, and why he insisted on returning the way her did (I won't give away anything). Honestly, that part made me angry at him. Finally, as minor as this sounds, the song they put at the end almost ruined the conclusion of the movie for me. The Golden Compass did this as well. I abhor it when movies have pop songs at the end of a wonderful score- especially in movies like this. When will they learn that it just doesn't work?

I was a fan of the first movie, and this was just a letdown. Something I didn't talk about before was how it looked. The animal animation and the visual effects were done very well. The battle sequences were exciting and entertaining. None of this really matters, though, if the story and character development just isn't there.


Friday, June 6, 2008


I was actually going to let this one go without a review, because I figured it didn't have much mass appeal associated with it. But then Empire Online listed it as one of the must see movies of the summer. Given this glowing recommendation, I felt I had to weigh in. I like the dark, weird, twisted movies, and this one had some promise. Unfortunately, it just ended up being weird without the interesting narrative to back it up.

Jess Weixler stars as Dawn, a woman coming of age with a unique trait. To put it bluntly, her vagina is lined with teeth. And from judging what she does with these, very sharp teeth. It does have an interesting theme of female sexual empowerment, but this is simultaneously overbearing and lost. As blatant as it is represented by her "biting" off male aggressors' privates, the sheer dumb horror of the movie dulls the message. It's empowerment, but not to be taken seriously. In short, the horror aspect subverts the message.

It's billed as a horror comedy, so I may be looking at it a little too seriously. The sound effects and some rather graphic scenes will make you both cringe and giggle (but mostly cringe). The part of the movie I did appreciate was that Dawn is an advocate of abstinence. This is clearly in place to explain why she's never been told that you're not supposed to have teeth down there, but it also takes a comical shot at all those chastity rallies that are so popular in schools. These were my favorite scenes.

Another (maybe unintentionally funny) scene features her first trip to a gynecologist. Believing him to be overly aggressive, he feels the wrath of her special endowment. This sends him out of the room screaming "Vagina Dentata!"- evidently the name of said affliction. I hope this was supposed to be absurd and funny.

This was actually a movie I watched, and then just forgot about. Didn't really think it was worth a mention until I caught that list. It's not like the movie was terrible- I mean it wasn't supposed to be great in the first place. If you do see it, don't take it too seriously, that was my mistake. Just laugh it off, and be prepared to cover your eyes at a few uncomfortable scenes.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

I may get some flack for this review, but I'm prepared to back up everything I say. First, I must make a few things clear. I am a tremendous Indiana Jones fan. Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade are two of my favorite movies. I'll even watch Temple of Doom from time to time- and enjoy it. Crystal Skull was better then Temple. but it was still a pretty severe disappointment. Now you will find people both loving this movie, and hating it. I didn't quite hate it, but it was indeed a major let-down.

This time out, an aged Indiana Jones faces a Soviet plot to obtain a new mysterious artifact- South American crystal skulls. Joining him is a greaser with ties to one of Indy's colleagues. The aptly named Mutt Williams is played by rising leading man Shia LaBeouf. I don't want to reveal any more of the plot than this, because it is filled with a series of twists that do indeed keep you entertained.

I'm going to start with what I liked about the movie- because there were things I did like. It was fun. The scene featured prominently in the trailers with Indy fighting off the Communists in a warehouse was enjoyable. Even the absurd jungle surfing on duck boats was fun (for a while at least). Also, Harrison Ford is good as ever. Clearly he wasn't able to do the stunts so much anymore, but he still has the attitude. And I appreciated that they didn't try to conceal his aging. They showed him old, but that he could still kick ass. I'm a big fan of Shia LaBeouf, and even though his character does fall into the annoying side-kick at times, it's not nearly as bad as Shorty in Temple of Doom.

It's clear that I did not hate the movie, but there were several things that prevented me from really liking it. Perhaps the most troubling was the use of CG. In an interview Spielberg said that he was trying to capture the spirit of a less mature director- himself in the 80's when he directed the original films. I think he accomplishes this very well in the look of the movie- except for the heavy use of CG. The gophers were awful and unnecessary (if you see it, you'll know exactly what I mean). As were the atomic blast and the swinging through the jungle. Even the waterfalls were a little much (but forgivable). It's as if he tried to re-invigorate a more raw filming style, but overloaded it with computer graphics. The climax of the movie is the perfect example of this.

The movie had another negative side effect for me. When I was analyzing Crystal Skull I was saying to myself that the movie was just absurd. But then when I thought back objectively on the original trilogy, I realized that those were every bit as absurd. I'd always just loved them without really questioning them. Crystal Skull had the negative influence of causing me to look back at the originals with a more critical eye. T

he thing that keeps my faith in at least two of the originals, is that the artifacts being hunted were legitimately of profound interest. The Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail are fascinating archaeological artifacts of Religious orientation. The Crystal Skulls, on the other hand, though real, are fairly obscure artifacts that have been widely dismissed as having a modern origin. This may seem like a small difference, but I think the historical interest of the actual artifacts plays a tremendous role in the interest of the movie.

The movie wasn't terribly, and most people will probably enjoy it to at least some degree. I did. It's just that I've been watching Indiana Jones my whole life and was expecting something powerful here. Instead, I was met with a fairly disengaging story riddled with too much CG. It's fun, but it was also a let-down.


Monday, June 2, 2008

What Happens In Vegas

What happens when you take a commercial tag-line and make a movie out of it? You get What Happens in Vegas. I really wish what happened at the brainstorming sessions for this movie had stayed in those brainstorming sessions. Instead, they unleashed this newest Ashton Kutcher abomination on the world.

Okay, maybe that introduction was a bit harsh. I'll let you judge for yourself. Kutcher plays Jack Fuller, a loser who after being fired by his dad, takes a trip to Vegas. He stars opposite Cameron Diaz who plays Joy McNally, the victim of a recent breakup who also goes to Vegas to drown her sorrows. In a night of drunken passion, the two get married. Okay, no problem, they'll get it annulled. A wrench is thrown into that machinery, however, in the form of a winning slot machine pull, and 3 million dollars. The two go to court to get this worked out. I'm not sure which was more unrealistic- the fact that Dennis Miller played the judge, or that he sentenced them to six months of marriage, during which the 3 million would be frozen. Is this really how our judicial system works?

The two move in together, and begin the war to drive the other one out. This had some amusing moments: Jack urinating in the sink when Joy hogged the bathroom, or a party thrown by Joy to tempt Jack into infidelity, but there were only a few of these. Of course, as the movie progresses, the two begin to fall for each other, and (I'm sorry for giving anything away) they work it out. Big surprise there.

Looking back on the career of Ashton Kutcher to this point, over half of his roles are in movies like this. In fact, the only real risky part he's taken was in Butterfly Effect. And despite that movie being a spectacular flop, I appreciated it. I guess we was just made for these non-comedic and non-romantic, romantic comedies.

Often in a movie like this the supporting cast can bring a bit of redemption. Not so much in this case. Dennis Miller was just absurd in his small role. Jack's friend, played by Rob Corddry was simply annoying. Queen Latifah played her role as a marriage councilor rather straight, seeming more as a prop than a character. Even the zany Zach Galifianakis played a fairly boring character.

What Happens in Vegas was very underwhelming. Despite a few funny scenes, there was nothing original about this movie. I'm trying to come up with something to redeem it, but there is not much.