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Movie Reviews 2007

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My Movie Reviews

5 Stars= It's Simply the Best

4 Stars= Totally Rocks

3 Stars= Rad

2 Stars= Bad

1 Star= Terrible 

Zero= Totally Sucks

1408

Check into 1408 ****

“1408” creates its own strange and extraordinary world within the confinements of a single hotel room. This is a rare and entirely unique thriller that I consider myself utterly fortunate for seeing. The film is one of the few horror pictures that from beginning to end enthralled me with incredible ecstasy. It’s a movie of such well direction, ingenious screenwriting, and stellar performances, that it results in one of the best phonological thrillers of the past decade. No film this entire year will enthrall you with more passionate feelings of intensity then this rollercoaster extravaganza of a first-rate thriller.

This is an adaptation of the short story by horror writer mastermind, Steven King. Like all of King’s adaptations, “1408” is a weird, edgy, and mystifying film. Unlike some of Kings previous adaptation such as “Dreamcatcher,” this is an intriguing, tense, and eerie picture of fright and inner demons. At times the film might be completely convoluted and inexplicable to some. If you don’t read too much into it however, the film is a riveting and even intelligent blast.

The film stars John Cusack as Mike Enslin, a horror novelist who has made a profession out of visiting supposedly haunted mansions. When Enslin receives word of a haunted hotel room in New York, he is of course compelled to check in. The hotel manager, played by Samuel L. Jackson, however, attempts to convince Mike to not venture into the evil room. The determined Mike eventually backs the manager into a corner, forcing him to give Mike the keys to the room. From his experiences, Mike has come to the conclusion that ghost are inexistent within our world. His observations are proven wrong however, when he opens the door to room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel.

I for one would like to give hats off to Cusack’s stunning performance in the film. Cusack is trapped within this hotel room for a great fraction of the movie and yet he’s able to keep the film occupied for an hour and a half. The role is somewhat similar to Camilla Belle’s character in “When a Stranger Calls,” a film I was not exactly a fan of. Unlike the Belle character, Cusack is allowed something to do in this picture. Perhaps an even better example would be the Jimmy Stewart character in the Alfred Hitchcock film, “Rear Window.” Stewart was confined in a wheelchair in his bedroom throughout the entire film and still managed to sell every moment. Cusack does the same with “1408.”

So many filmmakers in this day and age seem to believe that the only way to scare the audience is with the technique of ghastly gore. Films such as “The Hills Have Eyes,” “Saw II,” and “Hostel: Part II,” were more exercises in blood then they were actual horror movies. “1408” however, is a frightening piece of work due to its use of suspense and intelligence. The best kinds of thrillers are the ones that generate thrills through psychology and not just scene after scene of over-the-top bloodshed. “1408” deals with inner struggles such as the loss of a child and a failed marriage. The film is genuinely scary and left me jumping out of my seat more then once.

An especially difficult task to do in the making of horror pictures is finding the right ending. Some thrillers fall completely flat because of their clichéd and unresolved conclusions. “1408” however, ends on just the right note with one of the best conclusions since “The Sixth Sense.” Even when you think that the film might take the easy way out with a lackluster ending, you’ll be astonished by one of the year’s best films.

28 Weeks Later

Smell ya 28 Weeks Later ***1/2

I’ve personally never found zombie’s to be a very compelling collection of villains. It appears that all zombies are capable of doing is drooling, moaning, limping, and biting into people like retards. Let’s face it, zombies are totally lame characters. Perhaps that’s the reason why zombie pictures such as “Undead” and “House of the Dead” were bombs both financially and critically. The “Resident Evil” movies have astonishingly been a successful franchise in terms of currency, most likely due to the popularity of the renowned video game. Occasionally a zombie movie, such as “Dawn of the Dead” or “Shaun of the Dead,” would manage to win over both audiences and critics alike. Perhaps the best example of a good zombie picture would be the 2003 zombie fest, “28 Days Later.”

I was one of the few that never found the time to watch “28 Days Later.” As you can imagine, I sat down to watch the next installment, “28 Weeks Later,” completely oblivious. However, enthusiast of the previous film informed me that, like “Jackass: Number Two,” viewing the original film is not required. None of the members of the original cast return for this sequel. As for the plot, it wasn’t complex for me to figure out that the land had been plagued by a zombie infesting virus.

“28 Weeks Later” follows the typical formula of other zombie pictures of its kind. An outbreak of an abnormal disease arises within a murky city. The virus spreads throughout the terrain like locus. The entire city soon finds itself overpopulated by flesh eating zombies. The movie follows the story of the minority of survivors who spend a majority of their time dodging certain death.

So many horror movies in this day and age often come off as either dorky, such as “The Wicker Man,” or just repulsive, like “The Hills Have Eyes.” “28 Weeks Later” however, is a generally scary and thrilling romp. For the first time in a while, suspense really crept up on me in a movie theater. The fierce, blood eyed zombies are especially menacing. This enormously entertaining rollercoaster kept me at the edge of my seat all the way through.

I must also mention that “28 Weeks Later” does not skip on the bloodshed. The film earns its R-rating for extreme violence and gore. One might question, “How could I discard “The Hills Have Eyes” and recommend this film?” My explanation is because “28 Weeks Later” is a very well made movie. The movie features a unique style and never resorts to just being gross or mean spirited. The movie works to achieve the status of an engaging zombie bloodbath.

300

300 triumphs in victor ****

If you sit down to watch “300” with the intention of getting a history lesson, you might be a tad disappointed. I sincerely doubt that “300” is one hundred percent historically accurate to the events that took place at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. While the film is not completely true to the real life events, it is true to Frank Miller’s original graphic novel, from which the film is based. This film version of “300” has perfectly depicted Frank Miller’s original vision with epic battle sequences, first-rate visuals, and an utterly unique style.

“300” tells the story of a group of 300 Spartans that engaged in an epic battle against the army of Persia. The film avoids all the clichés of other ancient epics, such as “Alexander” and “Troy.” The film is short on unbelievable cheesy dialog and does not cast a hunky, Hollywood star in the lead role. I am happy to say that neither Brad Pitt nor Colin Farrell are in site of this movie. The casting director has selected a lesser known actor, named Gerard Butler, to take on the role of the historic leader, King Leonidas. Butler delivers one of the finest medieval performances since Russell Crowe in “Gladiator.”

Frank Miller is the Jesus among comic book enthusiasts. In 2005, Miller teamed up with director Robert Rodriguez to bring us the screen version of the landmark masterpiece, “Sin City.” Now for the second time, one of his graphic novels has been converted to a movie screen. Like Sin City before it, “300” is brought to life threw the magic of the green screen. Almost the entire film was filmed in front of a green screen. The final result is a revolutionary charisma that is like something out of a dream.

Director Zack Snyder has broken free from the traditional, strait forward method of storytelling. Snyder has brought a comic book movie to life with a genuine comic book presence. The battle sequences are unlike anything the audience has every seen. “300” features some of the most extraordinary shots ever to be put on film. The film is an ecstasy purely to look at. As I gazed at the movie screen, I was entranced with the same sense of imagination that felt when I saw the hugely underrated “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.”

“300” is movie of its own kind. It creates a world that is “Gladiator” meets “The Matrix” with a dash of “Sin City.” The violence and nudity are exceptionally handled. unlike the grisly film “Bloodrayne.” Above all, the extreme, over the top battle sequences simply rock! Only the word “Awesome” can be used to describe this groundbreaking epic.

3:10 to Yuma

Catch the 3:10 showing to Yuma ****1/2

During the sluggish season of September in which the movie studios unleash such undistinguished material, “3:10 to Yuma” is one of the must see pictures of the fall. This is a film that has been smacked down between the fast paced season of summer and the marvelous period of Academy Awards. “3:10 to Yuma” is the rare motion picture that works on both the levels of outstanding summer entertainment and a serious Oscar contender. Given its release date, the film will most likely be forgotten come Award season. I however, believe this is a western that can be considered in the same league of the Oscar winning “Unforgiving.”

This is a grizzly, gripping, and all around superbly excellent remake of the 1957 original western of the same name. Christian Bale stars as a deprived rancher by the name of Dan Evans. In desperate need of currency to provide for his family, the poverty stricken Dan agrees to transport a lethal criminal named Ben Wade, played by Russell Crowe, to the prison of Yuma. Accompanying Ben and Dan in their travels are local railroad representative Grayson Butterfield, the wisecracking Doc Potter, and old man Tucker. Also attending the entourage is Dan’s rebellious son, William, who tags along despite his father’s wishes.

With his exceptional work in “Gladiator,” “A Beautiful Mind,” and “Cinderella Man,” I believe that Russell Crowe is one of our most promising working actors. In “3:10 to Yuma” Crowe creates a menacing villain with a human quality. His creation of Ben Wade is surely one of his most preeminent performances to date. Just as impressive as Crowe is Christian Bale as Dan Evans. The fiercely underrated Bale has been delivering extraordinarily underappreciated performances for years in films such as “Batman Begins” and “Rescue Dawn.” In “3:10 to Yuma” both Bale and Crowe create possibly the greatest acting duo of the year.

As far as movie genres go, the old westerns have never been my particular favorite. “3:10 to Yuma” however, manages to capture the heart wrenching tension of some of the great westerns. The movie is overflowing with note perfect performances and action sequences that are just as engaging as big budget blockbusters such as “Spider-Man 3” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End.” Whether you’re an admirer of the western genre or not, I guarantee that “3:10 to Yuma” will leave you hanging from the edge of your seat.

Especially creditable is the slick director from James Mangold, who previously brought us the acclaimed “Walk the Line.” In “3:10 to Yuma” Mangold aptly creates a presence that virtually sets the audience back in the old west. Mangold has fundamentally concocted a powerful story of family, fatherhood, and brotherhood. I imply that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revisit this film come Oscar Season.

Across the Universe

All you need is a little more love **1/2

“Across the Universe” is an occasionally, and only occasionally, gorgeous experience of music and cinematic art. This is a movie musical that certainly achieves the status of one of the year’s best looking movies. There’s much to admire in this picture for its use of technical design and imaginative vision. Yet, despite the pretty colors and intriguing images, the movie never quite comes together as a whole. The film shares much in common with the theatrical adaptation of “The Phantom of the Opera” which was an enchanting experience to look at without a voice to encourage it. 

The story is admirably told through the wonderful music of Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and John Lennon aka The Beatles. The film is set in the late 1960’s as America finds itself struggling through the Vietnam War. The movie centers on the lives of a young American girl named Lucy, played by Evan Rachel Wood, and a British bloke named Jude, played by newcomer Jim Sturgess. Every character in this picture is named after one of the Beatles songs. Both Lucy and Jude fall madly in love although they’re romance is challenged by the cruel and changing world that surrounds them. In the end however, the two ultimately learn that all you need is love. The characters, settings, and premise of “Across the Universe” somewhat reminded me of the musical “Rent.”

The visual look of “Across the Universe” is often a site to behold. However, I found the overall spirit of the film to be more depressing when it should have been uplifting. The story is practically murky and becomes far too preachy when the Vietnam War comes into play. Not a single character proves him or herself to be compelling as they protest the war by getting high. I swear that the entire cast spends half of the film tripped out on pot.  

“Across the Universe” is really a hit and miss effort as a collaboration of the Beatles greatest hits. There are some truly dazzlingly sequences of beauty in the picture while others were trippy to the point that I was left me cringing in my seat. This is one of those films that I enjoyed in certain fractions but not as an entire whole. As much as I hate to decline any film that embraces the music of the Beatles, I cannot quite give “Across the Universe” a pass. 

While I’m not quite recommending it, “Across the Universe” is by no means a bad film. I had much affection for this films message of love, the memorable soundtrack, and the slick direction from Julie Taymor. As a Cirque Du Soleil or Broadway production I believe that the film could achieve the rank of something extraordinary. As a feature length film however, “Across the Universe” is only amusing at best.

“Across the Universe” is not an easy film to judge. The movie has already developed an immense cult following of admires. I’m confident that the popularity of the film will only increase as it expands into wider release. While the film didn’t entirely affect me enough to recommend it, perhaps some will enjoy it based on its superior qualities. 

Across the Universe: Revisited

Perhaps love is all you need ***

If any movie was split down the middle in terms of film criticism last year, it was “Across the Universe.” It was either you cherished or despised this movie for its ambition and audacity. I personally neither loved nor hated “Across the Universe.” I admired much of the picture’s enchanting visual look and soundtrack. However, I felt the film was utterly lacking in terms of a compelling story or characters. As I wrote my original review, I felt like an undecided voter being torn by the Republican and Democratic parties. I sided with a marginal, yet sympathetic, negative review despite what I loved regarding the film.

 

“Across the Universe” was not a financial success during its theatrical run. Since then however, the film has developed a massive fanbase of devote followers on DVD. The music seems to have revived the spirit of the Beatles, who inspired the soundtrack. The film even managed to conger itself up a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture Musical or Comedy. Nearly ten years ago, numerous individuals found themselves addicted to the Broadway production of “Rent,” giving birth to the “Renthead.” “Across the Universe” has had a similar affect on audiences. If you can’t help but hum the lyrics of “Strawberry Field” to yourself, you must be suffering from ATU, Across the Univitis.

 

Of course I found myself compelled to allow the movie another chance by revisiting it on DVD. While I stand by some of my original objections regarding the film, I have developed a new found affection for “Across the Universe.” There are sheer moments of beauty in this film to which I have grown to understand and appreciate with a second go-around. While there are a few musical numbers that call too much attention to themselves, Director Julie Taymor’s vision is often enchanting. “Across The Universe” is undeniably trippy and at times even mystifying. But what’s the purpose of criticizing a movie for being ambitious when it’s mood is intended to be ambitious?

 

I do wish that a more gripping plot and ensemble of characters could have been added to the equation of spectacular sets and costumes. For me, this prevented the film from attaining that status of a masterpiece, to which many have described it as. At the end of the day however, people love this film for it’s outstanding visuals and soundtrack. If I too admire the film for those superior traits, why should I decline the picture? I have decided to join the apposing team and grant “Across the Universe” a marginal recommendation.

 

I’m not saying I made a mistake in my original review of “Across the Universe.” The truth is that film criticism isn’t always black and white. There are some movies that you enjoy modestly but can’t bring yourself to quite recommend. Then there are movies that you know are greatly flawed yet recommend for their minor redeeming qualities. As time goes by, one can lighten up to a movie or regret ever recommending a movie. I still beat myself up for recommending “Poseidon” and “Fantastic Four.” In this particular case, I am getting off the sidelines and joining the other team. All you need is love and “Across the Universe” has a lot to offer. 

American Gangster

Hey Gangstas, what’s up? ***1/2

With award season just around the corner, many are perceiving Ridley Scott’s latest crime drama, “American Gangster,” as a potential frontrunner for Best Picture of the year. After thoroughly watching the film all the way through, I can conquer that “American Gangster” is not entirely Best Picture material. The movie surely falls short in comparison to films such as “Goodfellas” and certainly last years Oscar winning “The Departed.” Then again, I am comparing “American Gangster” to some of the finest crime dramas of the past twenty years. This is a superbly well made accomplishment with slick direction and an impressive ensemble of actors that ultimately succeeds.

This is the sterling true story of the African American kingpin, Frank Lucas, played by the always sensational Denzel Washington. Like Will Smith’s character in “The Pursuit of Happyness,” Lucas managed to make the extraordinary transformation from rags to riches in ways nobody could have possibly imagined. The gangster made millions by smuggling pure heroin into the United States with the use of Vietnam aircrafts. Parallel to Lucas is Detective Richie Roberts, played by Russell Crowe. Roberts is one of the only non-dirty cops in the city who desires nothing more than to clean up the streets. The good cop vows to clean up his town by convicting this mysterious drug lord who has risen into power as if from nowhere.

“American Gangster” is an all around intriguing glimpse into the world of a mob boss. The film never skips on the intense violence and is honest to the true nature of gangsters. I admired much of this movie for its powerful boldness. As much as I appreciated “American Gangster” however, I must admit that it’s not cutting edge given some of the movies I mentioned above. While the film is certainly worth recommending, it’s not quite at the level that Martin Scorsese has set for the mean street genre. At the end of the day, the film kind of comes off as a “The Departed” wannabe.

Perhaps the key reason to see “American Gangster” is Denzel Washington’s brilliant performance as Frank Lucas. Washington perfectly depicts this ruthless, yet at times caring, heroin lord. While the movie itself isn’t Oscar caliber, Denzel’s portrayal certainly is. Russell Crowe, who typically delivers the core performance however, isn’t quite up to his exceeding standards as Richie Roberts. Crowe delivers a genuinely good performance although it’s clearly not in the league of some of his most exceptional work. That’s how I felt about much of “American Gangster,” not outstanding just pretty good.

While the film meanders and drags on at a running time of nearly three hours, “American Gangster” did not bore me. This is a well shot and well written feature that ultimately succeeds to entertain and at times make you think. It all leads up to an exceptional sequence towards in the end in which both Washington and Crowe at last meet face to face. Although it’s not Best Picture quality, “American Gangster” is first-rate B-Movie entertainment.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters

Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Assemble! ***1/2

I honestly believed that the film, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” would have the most long winded movie title I would ever see. However, with the release of “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters,” perhaps I spoke too soon. If you’re an admirer the Aqua Teen Hunger Force animated series, from which this movie version is based, you’d expect the film to live up the idiocy of its title. I am content to announce to all loyal followers of the cartoon that the movie does indeed live up the standards of stupidity it has set for itself. “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters” is by far the most ludicrous, dim-witted, and most amazingly bizarre animated feature I have ever seen. In the end however, I kind of admired it for that.


For all those who are not familiar with Aqua Teen Hunger Force, allow me to bring you up to date. The series follows the misadventures of three talking fast food items in their quest to battle aliens and robots. The trio includes Master Shake, a clueless, conceded milkshake, Flylock, an intelligent, floating carton of fries, and Meatwad, a retarded meatball.

There is an even more outlandish group of recurring characters who make appearances throughout the film. The supporting cast comprises of Carl, the Aqua Teen’s obese next door neighbor, Err and Ignignokt, two mooninites with the appearance of characters from a 1980’s R-Cade game, Oglethorpe and Emory, two space aliens without a brain in the world, and the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past, a robot with the habit of engaging in ridiculous ramblings.

An episode of “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” generally lasts up to a maximum of ten minutes. Yet somehow, the creators managed to stretch the storyline out to 86 minutes. The plot involves the Aqua Teens unlocking the mystery behind a mysterious piece of exercise equipment known as the Insanoflex. Along the way, the Aqua Teens learn the origins of their past and purpose.

Come Oscar season, I sincerely doubt that the film will achieve the same heights of “Beauty and the Beast” to become the second animated feature to receive a Best Picture nomination. However, in its own bizarre way, the film works to an extent. I couldn’t help but laugh my head off at the films unconventional wit. Speaking a behalf of other fans of series, the film should have the same effect on them.

Creators of the show, Mathew Maiellaro and Dave Willis, have primarily concocted a film intended for fans of the cult cartoon. If you have familiarized yourself with the Aqua Teens and their random sense of humor, this is just the movie for you. If you walk into the theater completely oblivious to the cartoon however, you may desire to put a bullet in your head. As a fellow enthusiast of the cartoon however, I felt at home.

Are We Done Yet?


Is it done yet? *

Like last years “Failure to Launch,” “Are We Done Yet?” is a movie where the title speaks for itself. Throughout this entire claptrap of a motion picture, I kept asking myself, “Are we done yet? Is it over yet?” Then when the ending credits finally rolled up on the screen, I still felt as if I had spent an eternity in the theater. Even at a running time of only an hour and thirty-two minutes, “Are We Done Yet?” seems to drag on with no end in site. This is one of the few comedies where I can confirm that I laughed not once in an overall depressing excuse for family entertainment.

This follow-up to 2005’s surprise success, “Are We There Yet?,” is yet another addition to the escalating list of redundant sequels. Ice Cube reprises his role as Nick Persons, the man who seems to encounter utter misfortune with every step he takes. Nick has now married his girlfriend, Suzanne, and adopted her two obnoxiously irritating children. When Suzanne makes the unanticipated announcement that she’s pregnant with twins, Nick decides to move the family out to the country. There they purchase a ramshackle house from a real-estate agent played by John C. McGinley. Nick endures casualty after casualty as he desperately attempts to repair his dream home.

The movie commences with the opening credits brutally attacking a cartoon version of the Ice Cube character. What I found abnormal was that the live action portion of the film didn’t prove much different than this short animated sequence. When somebody plummets off a roof or is viciously attacked by bats in real life, that person will either become seriously injured or even dead. “Are We Done Yet?” exists in a looney cartoon universe where there are absolutely no consequences or boundaries.

What the screenwriters didn’t realize is that what’s funny in animation isn’t always funny in real life. Didn’t anybody associated with this project notice that to have every joke revolve around Ice Cube getting seriously injured simply wasn’t funny? I couldn’t help but feel anything but remorse for this miserable and suffering character.

Perhaps the most unbearable aspect of the movie is just the site of this man’s malevolent step-children. His step-son, Kevin, is nothing short of a brat and his step-daughter, Lindsey, is basically a thirteen-year old slut. As the Ice Cube character faces severe grievances, these nasty kids just sit back and cackle hysterically. What individual with a shred of a conscious or soul would laugh at this? These are completely unsympathetic children who I absolutely despised.

I’m confident that parents will disregard any negative reviews for this picture and give into their children’s desire to see it. I beg of you though, do not subject your kids to this tripe. It’s garbage such as this that only gives children the impression that watching people get injured is intended to be funny. The movie offers none of the morals or values your kids should be getting. If you want to watch a wonderfully family movie, take your children to see “Bridge to Terabithia.” Better yet, why not take them to see the R-rated double feature, “Grindhouse.” At least then they’ll be allowed to witness an example of brilliant filmmaking.

Atonement

Pride and punishment ***1/2

“Atonement” is a period picture with the appearance of a surefire Oscar favorite. This is indeed an exceedingly well-made, well-acted accomplishment with much credit to Joe Wright in his second outing as a director. As imposing as the film may be however, “Atonement” is not entirely the masterpiece it is being marketed as. In terms of storytelling, the movie falls short in comparison to other award-nominated period pieces. The picture shares much in common with 2003’s “Cold Mountain” as a descent effort although not wholly Oscar deserving.

The first twenty minutes of “Atonement” is like something out of Masterpiece Theater. The story quickly dives into a storyline however, that could have just as easily been tailored for a sitcom. James McAvoy plays Robbie Turner, a young man living in 1930’s Britain with the aspirations to marry the wealthy Cecilia Tallis, played by Keria Knightly. Robbie writes several letters declaring his love for Cecilia until he finally gets it right. By mistake, Robbie sends Cecilia a sloppy copy letter in which he speaks of his yearning to partake on her *****. These scenes are actually quite refreshingly humorous in what could have been an overly dramatic tearjerker.

I’ve always found Keria Knightly to be somewhat of an underrated actress. In “Atonement,” Knightly delivers another mighty performance in a surprisingly diminutive amount of screen time. James McAvoy gives a genuinely good performance as well, although he is not the young Leonardo DiCaprio Hollywood appears to be marketing him as. His character, along with all other male characters in the picture, comes off as somewhat of a whip. Why do the female characters in these period pictures always have to be the lively, rebellious ones while the males are required to be balless sissies? I would have loved nothing more than for John McClain from “Die Hard” or Seth from “Superbad” to drop in to spice matters up.

Another area that “Atonement” falls short is in the romance between Cecilia and Robbie. Although there are some extremely passionate scenes between the two, their relationship never entirely blossoms. In period pictures such as “Titanic” and “The Notebook,” I found myself caring whether or not the two leads overcame all obstacles. In “Atonement,” the chemistry at times seems absent.

The main character of “Atonement” is truly Celia’s younger sister, Briony, played by a fiercely talented child actress named Saoirse Ronan. Among the entire cast, the character of Briony is really the only one who is developed throughout the movie. The story is basically told through Briony’s eyes who stumbles upon Robbie’s letter and falsely accuses him of being a sex-hungry rapist. Performance wise, Ronan is stimulating and even haunting here in quite possibly the most sophisticated child performances since Patty McCormack in “The Bad Seed.”

Criticisms aside, I still believe that there is a relatively good movie within “Atonement.” The gorgeous art direction and costume design are dead on. There is especially much to admire in the exceptional cinematography from Jane Gibson. The performances from Knightly, McAvoy, and Ronan particularly make the picture worth your ticket of admission. When it comes time for the Academy to mark their Oscar ballots however, I hope they will take superior pictures, such as “No Country for Old Men,” into consideration over “Atonement.”

Beowulf

I AM BEOWULF and I am an alcoholic ****

When one considers their favorite director, the household names of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas instantly come to mind. These are undoubtedly two fiercely talented moviemakers and the kingpins of the imaginative film industry. My personal favorite filmmaker however, is none other than the whimsy dream maker of Robert Zemeckis. It’s difficult to say that Zemeckis is an underrated director, seeing how he won an Oscar back in 1994 for “Forrest Gump.” In comparison to Spielberg and Lucas though, Zemeckis always seems to fall short. Nevertheless, I find Zemeckis to be an enchanting storyteller of ingenious visual style with a genuine sense of humor. In his latest accomplishment, “Beowulf,” Zemeckis manages to do what he did for “The Polar Express” back in 2004 by taking a classic story and telling it through the wonder of motion capture animation.

This ancient tale takes place is a grand, old kingdom ruled over by the sluggish King Hrothgar, played by Anthony Hopkins, and the longsuffering Queen Wealthow, played by Robin Wright Penn. All is well in the drunken land until one night when the fearsome monster named Grendel viciously attacks the town. Grendel is an utterly intriguing creation of motion capture animation who looks a lot like a crossbreed between Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings” and Mr. Nebbercracker from “Monster House.” Called upon to defeat the ferocious beast is none other than the renowned hero of Beowulf. Ray Winstone takes on the role of the legendary warrior Beowulf, who looks and sounds a lot like King Leonidas from “300.” Beowulf manages to vanquish the fiend in a glorious battle. Matters become even graver however, when Grendel’s monster mother seeks revenge on her deceased son.

Angelina Jolie plays Grendel’s mother, the most luminous beast since Charlize Theron in “Monster.” Beowulf attempts to slay the mysterious creature although he is taken aback by her severe beauty. Who could blame him? Jolie’s character is quite possibly the sexiest animated creation since Jessica Rabbit from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?,” another film produced by Zemeckis. The only question is how somebody as glamorous as Jolie could birth such a hideous creature like Grendel. Maybe Jolie simply adopted him.

The visual look of “Beowulf” is a breathtaking sight to behold. I was enthralled by the film’s incredible attention to detail as I was with “The Polar Express” before it. The animation has an astonishing resemblance to the graphics of an X-Box 360 video game. The epic battle scenes involving mammoth sea monsters and fire breathing dragons are especially exhilarating beyond your wildest dreams. I don’t understand how one could possibly grow board with the movie.

If there’s one territory that “Beowulf” falls short in, it’s the romance between Beowulf and the timid Queen Wealthow. It’s evident from Beowulf and Wealthow’s first encounter that they have chemistry. However, the screenplay never really allows them a moment to let their relationship blossom. It seemed as if a majority of their love scenes took place off screen. I would have enjoyed a little more heart and emotional balance in the endless string of enormous battles.

While the ending does leave matters a tad unresolved, “Beowulf” is an often enchanting romp of technical achievements. The battle scenes greatly embody the fortitude of epics such as “The Lord of the Rings” and “300.” There is especially much to admire in the film’s first-rate cinematography. Whether you see the feature in IMAX 3-D or in regular format, it will knock your socks off. You can tell that a film is good whenever I use a term like “knock your socks off.”

Blades of Glory

How Glorious ***

“Blades of Glory” is one of those comedies that I sat down to watch with every intention of enjoying and wanting to enjoy. The film brings together two of the cinema’s most endearing comic minds to create an ingenious onscreen duo. The film stars Will Ferrell and Jon Heder as a same sex figure skating pair. The concept of Ferrell and Heder skating around in ridiculous costumes appeared to be a hilarious concept for a comedy. I will admit that “Blades of Glory” does provide us with many moments of laughter. However, to my slight disappointment, the film never quite left me laughing my head off.

The film tells the story of Chazz Michael Michaels, an absurdly named figure skater, played by Ferrell. His arch nemesis is the pretty boy skater, Jimmy MacElroy. Jimmy is played by Jon Heder, who up until recently was only known as the Napoleon Dynamite guy. In the middle of an awards ceremony, Michaels and MacElroy get into a fight in which a mascot is set on fire. The two are then suspended from competing in male figure skating. Three and a half years later, the two are reunited and receive news that they can compete in figure skating as long as they compete as a pair.

Two of the films funniest performances come from real life husband and wife, Will Arnett, from “Arrested Development,” and Amy Poehler, from “Saturday Night Live.” The two star as a brother and sister skating pair that become determined to prevent Chazz and Jimmy from stealing their thunder. They force their tormented younger sister, Katie, to spy on the two. Jenna Fischer, who is better known as Pam from “The Office,” delivers a sweat performance as Katie.

As much as I might have desired to, I did not laugh as much as I had anticipated during “Blades of Glory.” I’m not sure whether or not by laugh meter is broken, but the laughs never really pounded me. This is one of those movies that featured all the necessary ingredients to make a hysterical comedy. And while the movie does have a good percentage of laughs, it doesn’t quite live up to exceptions.

Will Ferrell is, in my opinion, the most humorous man in the business. His clueless, ridiculous attitude was especially hilarious in films such as “Anchorman,” “Old School,” and “Elf.” Ferrell demonstrated a mildly dramatic side in “Stranger than Fiction.” Here Ferrell is obviously going for the wacky approach that he took in last summers, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” While Ferrell is indeed very funny here, his brand of humor is growing a bit tired.

Even as I write this review, I ask myself whether or not “Blades of Glory” is funny enough to recommend. As a mildly light slapstick comedy, I do believe that the film is worth checking out. While it doesn’t achieve the same status of films like “Wedding Crashers” or “Borat,” there are very humorous moments throughout the film. The film especially redeems itself in the second half with some laugh-out-loud skating sequences. Like “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story,” the film manages to take a less than inspiriting sport and make a comical motion picture revolve around it. While “Blades of Glory” doesn’t quite take the gold, it does receive itself a silver medal.

The Bourne Ultimatum

Bourne to be wild ***1/2

Various moviegoers anticipated this summer to be a mind-blowing, three month long extravaganza with one major blockbuster being released with each passing week. To their consternation however, it has been a tedious and to some extent disappointing summer of movie threequels. Some of these threequels attempted far too hard to outdo their predecessors, such as “Spider-Man 3,” while some threequels didn’t try nearly hard enough to meet expectations, like “Shrek the Third.” The price of originality has certainly gone up in American cinema with the escalating population of threequels. “The Bourne Ultimatum” however, is an exceptional follow-up that manages to maintain the fast paced fortitude of the original two films.

Matt Damon’s mysterious character of Jason Bourne returns in order to put together the final pieces of his puzzling past. This time around Bourne is being hunted down by CIA Deputy Director Noah Vosen, played by David Strathairn. Assisting Noah in his quest for the notorious government assassin is Pamela Landy, who is effectively played once again by Joan Allen. Bourne travels around the globe, facing off with lethal assassins and enduring numerous car chases. It’s amazing that this man never manages to seriously injure himself after surviving a string of death defying stunts.

“The Bourne Ultimatum” is comparatively equivalent to it’s processors with one familiar chase sequence after the other. While the film becomes somewhat mind-numbing by the third act, “The Bourne Ultimatum is certainly never a dull picture. It’s an especially well made thriller in the hands of “United 93” director, Paul Greengrass. The movie has an intriguing stile and some memorable moments of dialog between the characters. The movie will hook you in from the opening scene and keep you entertained all the way through.

I found many of this years summer threequels, such as “Spider-Man 3” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” to be overly long with one too many subplots. “The Bourne Ultimatum” on the other hand, makes the plot simple enough to follow and never really slows down in terms of action. Although, I do wish that the movie had taken more than ten minutes to develop Bourne’s personality. Unlike Daniel Craig’s renewal of James Bond in last year’s “Casino Royale,” Matt Damon is allowed only so many moments to fully embrace this character. I also would have enjoyed more scenes between Jason Bourne and Nicky Parsons, played by Julia Stiles, who have more chemistry together than they let on.

Nevertheless, “The Bourne Ultimatum” is a highly enthralling two hours of extreme action. Matt Damon manages to fabricate Jason Bourne into a fascinating character with the screen time he is given. The film has a dry sense of humor with a witty use of dialog that often left the audience cheering. After a summer of only mildly entertaining blockbusters, “The Bourne Ultimatum” is proof that it is possible to formulate a high-quality summer threequel.

Bratz

Slut, bitch, whore, brat Zero Stars

Given the “Care Bears” and “Pokemon” movies, popular lines of toys are rarely inspirational source material for motion pictures. It was proven that a toy adaptation could be done well earlier this year however, with the release of “Transformers.” The film was a visually impressive, often hilarious, well-acted accomplishment of great summer entertainment. I can certainly understand the appeal of “Transformers” which lead to the live-action, feature-length movie. However, I can honestly not comprehend what there is to admire in the line of dolls known as “Bratz.” I’ve always found the “Bratz” to be grotesque-looking, bug-eyed, anorexic, and above all creepy creatures. Why so many little girls cherish the dolls is beyond me. The “Bratz” first live-action movie is about as entertaining as a home movie of your eight-year-old daughter playing with her Barbie dolls.

This is an utterly embarrassing and anguishing excuse for entertainment that not only should have been sent strait to video, but buried fifty feet underground in the middle of nowhere never to be endured by a living soul. The film tells the story of four best girlfriends who live for fashion, cell phones, MTV, and ****.com The BBF’s as they call themselves, soon find themselves drifting away from each other though, as they enter the malicious world of high school. They go their separate ways when one becomes a cheerleader, the other becomes a science nerd, the other becomes a soccer player, and the other becomes nothing.

The movie’s plot is completely ripped off from “High School Musical.” The villainess of the film, Meredith Berkman, is yet another over-the-top blonde who is determined to bring the Bratz down. Her character has obviously been modeled after Sharpay Evans from the golden hair to painted toenails. The movie all leads up to the Bratz performing in a talent show in which they teach they’re fellow classmates that it doesn’t matter what group you belong to, we’re all in this together. “High School Musical” told the same exact story but was sincere and meaningful in its cornball message where “Bratz” is uninspired and unwatchable.

“Bratz” demonstrates absolutely no honesty or realism of the nature of high school. When the Bratz revive their friendship, they’re classmates treat them as if they have violated the code of the schoolyard by deciding to have friends outside their social class. The film exists in some bizarre universe in which all students are required to conform to one group and one group only. If you want to see a movie that accurately and hilariously depicts the lives of high school students, I’d highly recommend that you rent “Mean Girls.”

There are no original characters in this movie, just a collection of cookie cutter ethnic stereotypes. The Bratz are made up of a brainy, over achieving Asian, a jive-talking black girl, a white trash blonde, and a Spanish girl who prances around singing “La cucaracha” just to establish her heritage. These ladies are about as unique as the Power Puffs Girls and intelligent as Charlie’s Angles. Especially wasted in this movie is Oscar-winner Jon Voight, who recently stared in “Transformers.”

“Bratz” makes itself out to be a meaningful story regarding the importance of friendship and family. Really the only thing the film teaches kids how to be stupid, spoiled, slutty, and not special. I find it appalling that a lot of young girls will go to see this movie and get the impression that ladies should behave in this manner. Shouldn’t Hollywood be making movies about independent girls with the aspirations to become doctors or lawyers? “Bratz” only succeeds to teach girls how to misspell the word “Brats.”

Bridge to Terabithia

Cross the bridge to Terabithia ****

I thought I had “Bridge to Terabithia” all figured out when I first saw the preview. The film appeared to be nothing more than a mere children’s fantasy, plagued with uninspiring effects and a lackluster story. I expected the film to make “Eragon” look like “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” and to make “The Chronicles of Narnia” look like “The Lord of the Rings.” However, as I sat down to watch the film I was elated to discover an astonishingly pleasant family picture. It is an enchanting, charming, stirring, and sometimes even touching film that can be cherished by both children and adults alike.


The film tells the elevating story of a grade school boy named Jess, played by Josh Hutcherson. Jess feels neglected at home and unwanted at school. The isolated boy manages to befriend a new classmate named Leslie, played with much magnetism from AnnaSophia Robb. The fantasy-loving Leslie and Jess together create the imaginary realm of Terabithia. Everyday after school, the two drop their backpacks and venture into the woods. There they have numerous quests in their magic kingdom.

The first half of “Bridge to Terabithia” is principally a movie intended for youngsters. It’s an amiable film that explores the importance of friendship. The two child leads both have a lot of fun with their performances. As I watched the film, the children in the audience also appeared to have fun with the film. For that reason, their parents seemed to enjoy themselves as well.

I thought I had finally figured out “Bridge to Terabithia” by the end of the first half of the movie. In the second half however, the film astonished me to venture into certain territories I never would have expected. A death transpires in the film that is bound to devastate all ages. I was reminded much of the heartbreaking comedy, “My Girl.” The tragic events that occur in both films are beyond overwhelming and might be too heavy for the youngest children to handle. I myself was almost moved to tears by “Bridge to Terabithia.” It is rare for a movie, especially a children’s movie, to have that kind of effect on me.

Hollywood has barfed up various pitiable excuses for family movies in recent years. As I recall, the Razzie awards invented an entirely new category entitled, “Worst Excuse for Family Entertainment.” The category featured films such as “Deck the Halls,” “Garfield 2: A Tail of Two Kitties,” “RV,” “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause,” and “The Shaggy Dog.” “Bridge to Terabithia” however, is deprived of all the problems the plagued those films. It’s a charming, poignant, and devastating film with morals that both kids and adults should take to heart. Even without all the mystical creatures and magic, the film works as outstanding family entertainment. I strongly advise you and your children to cross the bridge to the enchanting kingdom of Terabithia.

The Brothers Solomon

You can keep these brothers *1/2

Maybe, just maybe, I could see a concept such as “The Brothers Solomon” working as a recurring Saturday Night Live sketch. How somebody managed to turn the idea into a feature length film I find incomprehensible. “The Brothers Solomon” is a movie that appears to have been written by a twelve-year-old, directed by a twelve-year-old, and acted by a class of twelve-year-olds. So as you can imagine, I believe that any twelve-year-old will enjoy this movie immensely. As for me, I would have much sooner endured a home video of myself being born than watch this painfully unfunny excuse for comedy again.


The film stars Will Arnett and Will Forte as the Solomon brothers, two intolerable retards with about as much social skills as a stray dog. When their father, played by Lee Majors, falls into a deathly coma, the Solomons become determined to procreate their dear dad a grandchild. Doing so would seem impossible however, seeing how clueless and perverted the brothers are when it comes to attracting women. The two decide to implant their sperm into a woman named Janine, played by Kristen Wiig, to give them the child they always wanted.

Will Arnett has proven to be extremely hilarious in some of his previous work. It’s a great injustice that his character of Gob had been silenced through the cancellation of his show, “Arrested Development.” The problem here is that the entire movie seems to render on whether or not you like Arnett’s character of John Solomon. The dilemma is that Arnett is simply not a lovable hero. Rather, he’s the devious villain with the sinister smile that you hate to love.

The quandary with the “Brother’s Solomon” isn’t so much Arnett than it is Will Forte, who not only stars in the film but is responsible for writing the screenplay. Nobody could right more lamebrain jokes than this. Forte basically plays the same loud, smiling idiot he’s portrayed in every SNL skit he’s ever done. Here he proves that he is not capable of carrying a comedy. Tina Fey can carry a comedy, Will Farrell can carry a comedy, even Andy Samberg can carry a comedy. In the coming years, Forte will be reduced to an occasional cameo on “30 Rock” at best.

Quite frankly, I simply don’t see the humor in the Solomon brothers raising a child. Really these are two of the most unfit parents in the history of movies. Brittney Spears, Joan Crawford, a serial pedophile, or a bottle of Drano would make a more suitable guardian than the Brothers Solomon. Why is it that the Solomons both had to be complete idiots? When you have a character so over-the-top and dim-witted, you need to have strait man to play off of.

Following the screening of “The Brothers Solomon,” I would rewatch “Knocked Up,” another film regarding pregnancy coincidently co-staring Kristen Wiig. Now there was a comedy that managed to tell a hysterical story about real people. Judd Apatow is a director who knows how to write jokes with believable and likeable characters. “Knocked Up” told a story about becoming a parent and growing up. The makers of this movie should do the same.

Daddy Day Camp

Less fun than a Refugee Camp Zero stars

Here I was under the impression that “Are We Done Yet” would be the single worst slapstick comedy I’d endure this entire year. Amazingly enough however, I have now witnessed a worse film. Out of all the juvenile, toilet humored vomittoriums I’ve had to sit through in recent years, from “Little Man” to “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo,” “Daddy Day Camp” is by far the most insufferable. This is one of the most painstakingly unfunny comedies I’ve seen in all of my years as a film critic. I attempt to never walk out of a movie theater with the optimism that the picture will improve. From the opening scene of “Daddy Day Camp” though, I had every confidence that the film would be dead all the way through. When the film finally came to its conclusion, I had proven myself correct.

This is the fiercely unnecessary follow-up to the 2003 hit, “Daddy Day Care.” Eddie Murphy decides to sit this catastrophe out and hands the torch over to Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr. to play Charlie Hinton. Charlie and his buddy Phil, this time played by John Goodman, have now been running their daycare center for several years. They come up with the genius idea to expand their branch by buying their beloved childhood summer camp. Unfortunately, the two soon realize that running a day camp is much more complex that anticipated. Charlie and Phil soon find themselves suffering one calamity after another as they get covered with vomit, poop, urine, and other icky substances.

There are numerous talented child actors currently working in the movie industry from Dakota Fanning to Abigail Breslin to Freddie Highmore. It’s obvious that they all had the taste and agents to advise them against staring in this film. Not a single child in the movie gives an actual performance. A movie like “The School of Rock” worked so well because the kid actors managed to deliver authentic performances and had a genuine relationship with their adult mentor. In “Daddy Day Camp,” the kid actors basically run around screaming like sugar high brats.

Speaking of child actors, the director of “Daddy Day Camp” just so happens to be former child star, Fred Savage. It’s evident that Savage has not outgrown his immature youth, seeing how ever joke in his first feature length film centers on bodily functions. The endless potty humor would be alright if only the jokes were funny. Even children of the youngest ages won’t be amused by the films gross out humor. Come Oscar time, I sincerely doubt that Savage will go the Ron Howard rout and win the Academy Award for Best Director.

John Goodman seems especially distressed in this picture. He appears to be frowning throughout the entire film as if he doesn’t desire to be there. There’s one scene in which a porter potty explodes with Goodman inside. As he emerges from the rubble, covered in smoke and crap, Goodman manages to make the announcement, “We’re going to need more toilet paper.” When a man finds himself in such a disastrous situation, I doubt that he would be at all concerned with the lack of toilet paper!

Even more embarrassing than either Cuba Gooding Jr. or John Goodman is Lochlyn Munro as a rival camp councilor by the name of Lance Warner. Munro’s character is an overly competitive jerk who hates children. Lance Warner is such an exaggerated character that the audience simply does not enjoy his presence on screen. At the end of the day, he never even appears human. Then again, there is not a character in the movie who expresses a shred of humanity.

The one positive aspect of “Daddy Day Camp” is the absence of the comic mastermind of Eddie Murphy. After a decade of staring in third-rate comedies like “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” and “Dr. Dolittle,” it appears that Murphy has finally developed the ability to reject a script. Maybe this means he’ll continue to star in great films like “Dreamgirls.” Hopefully Cuba Gooding Jr. will do the same when he wins this year’s Razzie for worst actor.

Dan in Real Life

Dan’s the real deal ***1/2

Up until only a couple of years ago, funnyman Steve Carell was merely recognized as the gibberish-talking news Anchor from “Bruce Almighty.” His fame soon escalated however as he stole the whole show in the hilarious “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.” In 2005, Carell at long last achieved the rank of a known comedic genius with his surprise blockbuster, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” along with his Emmy award winning television series, “The Office.” Just when it appeared that Carell’s career couldn’t become any more impressive, he landed a role in the incredibly lovable, Oscar-winning comedy, “Little Miss Sunshine.” Earlier this year however, Carell reprised his role as the gibberish-talking news Anchor in the big budget bombshell, “Evan Almighty.” By selling himself out on this overly expensive so-called comedy, Steve found himself back to square one.

In “Dan in Real Life,” Carell manages to renew his endearing charm with a sincere performance and an engaging screenplay on behalf of writer/director, Peter Hedges. This is a quirky and at times even sweat romantic comedy with an overflowing heart. Carell stars as Dan Burns, a widowed father of three daughters. In his uncertain and practically empty life, Dan meets a woman in a book store named Marie, wonderfully played Juliette Binoche. Dan discovers a lost comfort in this mystifying and sentimental woman. By rotten luck and sheer coincidence however, Marie just so happens to be the girlfriend of Dan’s younger brother, Mitch, played by Dane Cook.

There are times in “Dan in Real Life” that seem to have been taken directly out of a family sitcom. The audience gets numerous scenes of Dan spying on his middle daughter, Cara, who claims she’s in love with a high school boy named Marty. Like all teenage girls, Cara labels her father as a “Murderer of Love” and demands that he distances himself from her. This material, while certainly funny, is all essentially familiar. Yet, the movie manages to make up for it’s shortcomings with some truly heartfelt and laugh-out-loud moments. I dare you not to crack a smile at a great percentage of the movie’s gags.

Perhaps the most admirable aspect of the film is the acting ensemble itself. Steve Carell ultimately proves that not only is he a hysterical comic but also a wonderful actor. After staring in the horrifically raunchy “Good, Luck, Chuck” earlier this year, comedian Dane Cook also establishes that he is a likable presence on screen. There is some especially strong supporting work from Dan’s three loving daughters played by Alison Pill, Brittany Robertson, and Marlene Lawston. With addition of the charming work of Juliette Binoche and a supporting role from Emily Blunt, there’s not a performance that takes a wrong step in this picture.

“Dan in Real Life” isn’t quite as wise as it thinks it is which prevents it from being in the same league of a film like “Little Miss Sunshine.” Had the movie attempted to be a little bolder, I believe it could have been even better. Nevertheless, I found it extremely difficult not to be won over by this winner of sentimental comedy.

Disturbia

Disturbingly creepy ***1/2

 One could easily perceive a movie such as “Disturbia” and argue its resemblance to the 1954 classic, “Rear Window.” The two films share a great deal in common with a young boy snooping outside his bedroom window at a potential serial killer with a pair of binoculars. Some moviegoer snobs might quarrel that “Disturbia” is not so much a remake of “Rear Window” than it is a rip-off. However, I found the film to be an intriguing physiological thriller with some first-rate scares and a stellar use of cinematography. At the end of the day, “Disturbia” works as a modern day tribute to the work of Alfred Hitchcock.


Shia LaBeouf takes yet another step forward in his career to star as the movie’s hero, Kale. Ever since he accidentally involved his late father in a horrific car accident, young Kale has evolved into a standard juvenile delinquent. After assaulting his high school Spanish teacher, the troubled Kale is sentenced to three months of house arrest. Banished to the confinements of his home for the entire summer, Kale makes a hobby of spying on his neighbors. He particularly becomes accustomed to peeping on the foxy girl next door, played by Sarah Roemer. Kale becomes utterly distressed however, when he witnesses one of his fellow neighbors commit a murder.


So many ghastly thrillers instantly dive into the blood and gore factor in this day and age. “Disturbia” however, is a much more compelling and smarter film than that. The movie allows the time for the audience to grow accustomed the characters and their surroundings. Like some of the greatest work from Alfred Hitchcock, “Disturbia” really builds up and studies its characters before the suspense arrives. If you haven’t seen the trailer or any of the ads for the film, you might be surprised halfway through to realize that you’re in a horror picture.


I also must take a moment to give hats off to Shia LaBeouf and his gripping performance. While a majority of teens in slasher flicks keep making unbelievably dimwitted mistakes, LaBeouf manages to create a true and intelligent character here. LaBeouf’s character behaves as if any intellectual person under these circumstances would by informing the police of these murders. With other projects such as “Transformers” and “Indiana Jones 4,” I have a feeling that LaBeouf is going to be a titanic movie star.


Rather than just becoming a run-of-the-mill slasher picture in the last half hour, “Disturbia” unleashes some of the best thrills of the decade in its final act. While the film won’t go onto to be considered in the same league of “Rear Window,” it still works as an effectively well made movie. It’s an unparallel popcorn flick that manages to maintain its thrills all the way through. For all those reasons and more, the film rightfully merits a worthy recommendation.

Enchanted

I’ve been dreaming ****1/2

Earlier this year in my review of “Meet the Robinsons,” I requested that Disney Studios return to the magic of animated musicals such as “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid.” “Enchanted” is a Disney feature that revisits good old fashion fairytales in a way I had never anticipated. The film includes all of the key elements of a typical Disney animation such as a perky heroine princess, a handsome prince, a wicked stepmother, the villain’s idiotic sidekick, and an ensemble of wisecracking woodland critters. The twist in the plot of “Enchanted” however, is that it takes place in modern day New York.

The film opens in a delightfully hand-drawn animated sequence in the storybook world of Andalasia. In this kingdom lives the plucky Giselle, who has obviously been modeled after Ariel from “The Little Mermaid.” Like all female protagonists in these stories, Giselle desires nothing more than to uncover her one true love and live happily ever after. Giselle finds her true love when she is rescued by the heroic Prince Edward from a troll, who shares a great resemblance to Shrek. The meeting is love at first site and without even going on a first date, Giselle and Edward become engaged.

The union of Giselle and her prince of course doesn’t sit well with Edward’s stepmother, Queen Narissa. The witch concocts a sinister scheme by pushing Giselle into a magic well, transporting her from the animated world the to the live-action city of New York. While there the misplaced Giselle meets a man named Robert, played by Patrick Dempsey, and his fantasy loving daughter, Morgan. Robert goes against his better judgment and decides to take this outlandish woman in. Together they learn how romance in the real world differs greatly to the world of fairytales. I must admit that I was not excepting much from this premise of a fairytale princess who makes a leap from her storybook kingdom to our reality. By the time the movie ended however, I was astonished by just how enchanted I truly was.

Much of the enchantment of the movie lies in the hands of Amy Adams, who wonderfully brings the character of Giselle to life. Adams delivers a pitch perfect comedic performance that reminded me much of Tom Hanks’s role in “Big.” In “Big" I honestly believed that Hanks was a little boy trapped inside the body of a thirty-year-old man. In “Enchanted” I even more so believed that Amy Adams was a cartoon princess trapped in a real girl’s body. She flawlessly captures this character through voice, facial expression, and body language. Adams completely wins the audience over as she did with her Oscar-nominated performance in the low budget film, “Junebug.”

In 2003, the Academy Awards honored Johnny Depp with a Best Actor nomination for his comically witty role in the Disney blockbuster, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl.” This year, I pray that the Academy will recognize Adams’s performance with a Best Actress nomination. Also worth mentioning is James Marsden, who at times steals the show as the hilariously clueless Prince Edward. Especially creditable is Susan Sarandon who has a lot of fun as the wicked Narissa. I personally think that Narissa is in the same league of even some of the greatest Disney villainesses.

So many modern day fairytales are generally plagued by crudely lip synced music by pop princesses. “Enchanted” however, features several more than memorable songs from Academy Award winning composers Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. Menken, along with the late Howard Ashman, of course brought us the magnificent soundtrack of “Beauty and the Beast” while Schwartz has been regarded for his work in “Pocahontas” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Here the two are reunited to breath life back into the fairytale genre with a dazzling collection of songs. They pay great tribute to the animated classic, “Cinderella,” in one number entitled “Happy Working Song.” Perhaps the films greatest musical sequence is the performance of “How Does She Know,” which shares much resemblance to the show stopping number of “Under the Sea.”

The send-up of a Disney princess making her way in the real world is all good and fun. “Enchanted” strikes an emotional and touching chord though which prevents it from being a just run-of-the-mill satire. Somewhere down the line the movie tells a genuine love story about real people. Will Giselle return to her fairytale kingdom with her prince or remain in New York with the human she has grown accustomed to? This is the most engaging romance to come out of Disney since “Beauty and the Beast” in 1991. I was deeply captivated and at times even moved.

“Enchanted” revises the wonder of a Disney fairytale with the humor of something out of “Shrek.” In 2009, Disney plans to resurrect the hand-drawn fairytale genre with the full-length animated feature, “The Princess and the Frog.” The film will comprise of the talents of John Musker and Ron Clements, who directed “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin.” In an age where digital animation has conquered the movies, I hope that the film can completely revise Disney’s classic 2D Animation. As for now, “Enchanted” is an absolutely delightful family film that succeeds to bring the magic back.

Evan Almighty

Ark hits an iceberg **

Anyone should know that to make a non-Jim Carrey sequel is bound to result in sheer and utter disaster. The two previous attempts to follow-up a Jim Carrey film without the original star, “Dumb and Dumberer” and “Son of the Mask,” went onto become two of the worst films in cinematic history. Apparently Hollywood still hasn’t learned its lesson with the release of “Evan Almighty,” the sequel to the uproarious blockbuster, “Bruce Almighty.” I sat down to watch the film with higher expectations than I had for the previous non-Jim Carrey sequels. Instead of casting a third-rate star such as Jamie Kennedy or Eric Christian Olsen, the hilarious Steve Carrel takes over as the films hero. Carrel’s previous credits include comedies such as “The 40-year-old Virgin” and “Little Miss Sunshine,” two of the funniest films of the decade. While I’ll admit that “Evan Almighty” is indeed superior to the previous non-Jim Carrey sequels, it’s still hardly worth seeing.

As you might recall, Carrel had a brief, yet memorable performance in the original “Bruce Almighty” as Evan Baxter. In this follow-up, Evan is elected congressman and him and his family move to Washington D.C. Shortly after they arrive however, Evan is paid a visit from God, once again played by Morgan Freeman. God commands Evan to construct an ark for a catastrophic flood to soon occur. Evan is of course at first reluctant to believing that God is communicated with him. However, when his beard begins to grow at a rapid rate and two of every animal begin to show up on his doorstep, Evan is converted to believe. He decides to build the ark in this modern day story of Noah.

I couldn’t help but notice that a majority of the jokes in “Evan Almighty” revolve around poop. I’ve made it clear in the past that I’m not too sophisticated to reject a good poop gag. However, in “Evan Almighty” we seem to get scene after scene of birds shiting on expensive suits. I believe that even the most juvenile child might grow restless of the films ongoing feces jokes.

“Evan Almighty” features some of the most oblivious people in the history of movies. Everybody mocks and ridicules Evan as if he were a maniac. In twenty-first century America though, I suppose that not everyone would believe that God commanded an everyday man to build an ark. However, when fields of exotic animals arrive in Washington D.C. and colossal arks are single-handedly constructed, nobody seems to care. Wouldn’t somebody eventually recognize the extraordinary miracles that surround them?

The film cost roughly 175 million dollars to making, becoming the most expensive comedy of all-time. In terms of visuals, the money is put to great use. There is an astonishing sequence in which the flood does arise and Evan’s ark rides through Washington. As the filmmakers threw money at the film though, they forgot to make it funny. There is a comedy currently playing entitled, “Knocked Up.” The film features no special effects whatsoever and it ranges as one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen. An even better example would be last years Oscar nominated comedy, “Little Miss Sunshine.” The film cost next to nothing to make and yet it was so brilliantly done. A comedy should depend on dialog and not visuals.

The original “Bruce Almighty” was a side-splittingly funny and even insightful film. “Evan Almighty” does feature some laughs involving Wanda Sykes delivering an occasional one-liner. At the end of the day however, it just isn’t worth your ten dollars. Not even Steve Carrel could save this comedy. Perhaps only Jesus himself could have done so.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

A fantastic bore **

I like to consider myself to be a compassionate and openhearted film critic. I desire to go see every movie with an open mind and the intention of recommending it. Perhaps it was my wretched generosity that allowed me to recommend the original “Fantastic Four” from 2005. Recommending the movie is a decision that I have long since regret making. As I look back on the film, I question what could have possibly possessed me to take pleasure in it. I suppose the release of “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” is karma’s way of punishing me. However, the release of this “Fantastic Four” sequel is my opportunity to redeem myself by stating that the film is a giant piece of crap.

The entire gang is reunited for yet another less than inspiring adventure. Ioan Gruffudd reprises his role as the elastic Mr. Fantastic. Jessica Alba is also back on board as the sexy Invisible Woman. Chris Evans once again stars as the pesky, showboating ball of fire, The Human Torch. Last but not least, Michael Chiklis suits up once again as the rock-strewn creature, The Thing. This incredibly bland team of super heroes set out to uncover the mysteries of The Silver Surfer, a Martian from outer space who is determined to obliterate planet earth.

In the film’s defense, “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” does have some descent humor. There is an especially humorous instance in which Johnny Storm questions how The Thing is able to have sexual intercourse with his girlfriend, played by Kerry Washington. While the film does have its laugh out load moments, the humor seemed completely out of place. At the end of the day, the movie plays out like a crappy sitcom or after school special.

There is one sequence in which Mr. Fantastic engages in an outrageously embarrassing dance. The scene is somewhat similar to Peter Parker’s dance sequence in “Spider-Man 3.” This is the second time this year where a super hero has broken out into a boogie. I wonder if Bruce Wayne will do the chicken dance in the upcoming sequel to “Batman Begins.”

In the fast paced season of summer, audiences will go to the movies demanding extreme action. Blockbusters such as “Spider-Man 3” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” managed to deliver in terms of action. “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Suffer” on the other hand, provides some of the most uninspiring and lackluster action sequences of the year. The visual effects in particular are some of the worst I’ve seen in a while. I guarantee that any moviegoer with half a brain will be board by this not so fantastic feature.

While the film’s four heroes are beyond dull, the villains are even less fascinating, The Silver Surfer is a character who is never really developed. He’s basically just another crappy CGI creation like The Hulk before him. Even more embarrassing of a villain is Victor Von Doom, played by Doug Jones. Dr. Doom returns to settle the score with the Fantastic Four. However, he is once again defeated far too easily and never comes off as very menacing.

“Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Suffer” has been branded a “PG” rating. The filmmakers have basically made a film intended for youngsters only. However, I believe that kids in this day and age prefer super heroes with inner demons, such as Spider-Man and Batman. The Fantastic Four are basically a dull ensemble of super heroes that suffer from no internal struggles. Although I’ll admit that the film isn’t terrible, this Fantastic Four sequel is bar far the dopiest movie experience I’ve had to endure all year.

Georgia Rule

Georgia does not rule *1/2

The ad campaign for “Georgia Rule” appears to be marketing the film as a feel good comedy aimed at mothers and daughters. As you can imagine, I was especially surprised when the film was branded with an “R” rating. What really astounded me though was what a bleak, murky, and often unsettling picture “Georgia Rule” turned out to be. This is a movie not intended for mothers or daughters or anybody else for that matter. Director Gary Marshall has been regarded for making lighthearted, romantic comedies, such as “Pretty Woman” and “The Princess Diaries.” Marshall’s talent as a filmmaker appears to have been completely misplaced here however, in this all-in-all misfiring bombshell.

The film brings together quite possibly the most wasted acting ensemble of the year with three generations of fiercely talented actresses. Oscar-winner Jane Fonda selected a horrendous screenplay to make her big comeback in 2005’s “Monster-in-Law.” In “Georgia Rule,” Fonda adds to her recent record of wretched work. Also among the cast is Desperate Housewives’ Felicity Huffman, fresh off of her Oscar nomination for “Transamerica.” The cast even includes teen idol Lindsay Lohan who’s other credits include “Freaky Friday” and “Mean Girls.” Why any of these three particularly gifted actresses would want to squander their talent on this movie is beyond me.

Lohan stars as a rebellious teenage girl named Rachel who consumes her life with sex, partying, and drinking. Now that I think about it, I suppose Lohan’s character isn’t much of a stretch from her real life self. Rachel’s mother, played by Felicity Huffman, and her stepfather come to the decision to take a much needed break from their rebellious daughter. She is sent to live with her grandma Georgia, played by Jane Fonda, in Idaho for the summer. Rachel arrives in this redneck town in a low-cut dress while every other young girl is a goodytoshoes who dresses like Sandra Dee from “Grease.”

The opening scenes of “Georgia Rule” are full of potential with some fine performances and well written dialog. The film meanders however, when the audience learns of Rachel’s history of sexual abuse inflicted by her stepfather. In real life, childhood molestation is a serious issue. In “Georgia Rule,” the matter is handled in a demented sitcom fashion. The final result of the film is basically an uneven mess.

Lindsay Lohan has been receiving some substantial bad press for her boisterous social life. Tabloids aside, I still believe that Lohan is indeed a talented young actress. While she does deliver a decent performance in “Georgia Rule,” Lohan is unable to create a sympathetic character here. The character of Rachel is basically nothing more than an under aged whore. At one point in the movie, a girl in a drive by car yells out “SLUT” to Rachel. The audience simply doesn’t feel any remorse for Rachel though. Rather, we feel as if this random girl has characterized her perfectly.

There is also a needless and convoluted love triangle between Rachel and two local men. A nothing relationship sparks between Rachel and a religious fanatic virgin named Harlan, played by Garrett Hedlund. Rachel also has a bizarre attraction to a widowed husband and father named Simon, played by Dermot Mulroney. Rachel has zero chemistry with either man in these two unnecessary relationships.

People are going to venture into this picture anticipating a potential heart warmer tale of mothers and daughters. The misleading trailer will stun many however, when they witness what a downright disaster the movie truly is. “Georgia Rule” has got to be the most mean-spirited and unpleasant apparent chick flicks I’ve endured since “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.”

The Golden Compass

Cold gold ***1/2 

It appears that every fantasy epic of recent years has suffered from the dilemma of having to follow in the footsteps of “The Lord of the Rings.” It’s a difficult task for these fables to live up to the extraordinary standards that the masterful trilogy has set for the fantasy genre. Some movies have been more than up to the task like the entirely original and enchanting “Pan’s Labyrinth” or the astonishing film adaptations of the “Harry Potter” franchise. Other fables, such as “Eargon,” have fallen short to be no more than uninspiring retreads. “The Golden Compass” is a unique and often exciting flight of the imagination. While it isn’t quite in “Lord of the Rings” territory, the movie is just as good as “The Chronicles of Narnia,” which is pretty impressive by my standards.

Like the films I mentioned above, “The Golden Compass” makes an entirely inventive world of its own. Rather, it creates a world parallel to our own in an alternate universe. The land is inhabited by humans who are accompanied at all times by their daemon, morphing animals that represent ones inner soul. In this realm of witches, air pirates, and polar bears, lives the plucky 12-year-old heroine of Lyra, played by newcomer Dakota Blue Richards. Like numerous other protagonists of the fantasy genre, Lyra is orphaned and adventurous, desiring more out of her diminutive life. Lyra is granted the opportunity to embark on a journey of a lifetime when she becomes in possession of a mystifying golden compass. Determined to acquire the device is the evil corporation known as the Gobblers, lead by the menacingly wicked Marisa Coulter, played by Nicole Kidman. The fate of the entire universe lies within Lyra to reach the north with the golden compass by her side.

The visual look of “The Golden Compass” is an extraordinary site to cherish. The art direction creates an ingenious world just as imaginative as the universe of “Star Wars,” the futuristic city of “Blade Runner,” or the amazing jungle of Peter Jackson’s “King Kong.” The CGI effects are especially groundbreaking, incorporating transforming animals into every scene. Come Oscar season, the movie should give “Spider-Man 3” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” a run for there money in the technical categories.

If there’s one territory that the movie falls short, it’s in its screenplay. “The Lord of the Rings,” “Harry Potter,” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” were such technical achievements, that sometimes people forget just how well written and meaningful their stories were. “The Golden Compass” is a tad rushed in its tale, lacking in feeling and character development. At a running time of merely and hour and fifty-four minutes, the script should have allowed another hour to settle in and establish mood.

Lyra is a perfectly likeable protagonist and well played by Dakota Blue Richards. Except her character comes off as underdeveloped and we get a little too much of her. In the “Harry Potter” movies, I couldn’t get enough of that little boy who expressed true inner struggles. In “The Golden Compass,” I wanted to see more of the exceptional supporting cast. The acting ensemble is outstanding with Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel, Nicole Kidman’s ice queen Marisa Coulter, and Sam Elliott’s western space cowboy Lee Scoresby.

The story of “The Golden Compass” can at times be competently convoluted for those who haven’t read the book. The complication of the film didn’t bother me. What drove me crazy however, were the people sitting next me, constantly asking what was going on. You wouldn’t believe how many times I heard, “What’s a Daemon? What’s the Magisterium?” If you don’t entirely understand a movie, don’t ruin the experience for the rest of the audience. Keep your mouth shut and figure it out for yourself.

“The Golden Compass,” while flawed in its screenplay, is an exceedingly well-crafted and well-acted accomplishment. The ending leaves off in a cliffhanger, entitling us to a sequel. Then again, “Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events” and “Eragon” left the audience hanging. We have yet to see any follow-ups to those films. Although I truly hope that audiences will recognize “The Golden Compass.” With some improvement, I believe the next chapter, “The Subtle Knife,” could potentially be a fist-rate fantasy.

 

Gone Baby Gone

Go baby go ****1/2

When I heard that Ben Affleck would be stepping into the director’s chair with a feature length film, I was anticipating the project about as much as a drama staring Rob Schneider. However, I had not taken into consideration Affleck’s talent as a storyteller which he demonstrated with his screenplay for “Good Will Hunting.” Affleck’s first outing as a director, “Gone Baby Gone,” is a provocative and tense thriller with brilliance around ever corner. With movies such as “Gigli” and “Surviving Christmas” to his credit, Affleck’s acting career appears to have escalated into the pits of hell. In a surprising turn of events however, Affleck has made a comeback with a potentially promising career as a director.

In the spirit of “Good Will Hunting” before it, Affleck sets “Gone Baby Gone” in the mean streets of Boston. Casey Affleck stars as Patrick Kenzie, a private detective and proud resident of Boston. Along with his partner both professionally and romantically, Angie Gennaro, played by Michelle Monaghan, Patrick is called upon to uncover a missing little girl named Amanda. They team up with cop named Remy, played by Ed Harris, and an honest officer named Jack, played by the great Morgan Freeman, to find the lost baby.

Casey Affleck has been delivering note-worthy supporting performances for years, most well known for his work in the Danny Ocean films. The under the radar actor is only just breaking out into stardom however, for his prestigious work in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” In “Gone Baby Gone,” Affleck goes all out to convey another poignant and complex performance. Uniformly great performances occupy the screen from Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris.

The real surprise of “Gone Baby Gone” comes from Amy Ryan in a terrific supporting performance as Amanda’s pain stricken mother, Helene. Helene is a confused, irresponsible coke sniffing who at first appears to be a monster incapable of raising a child. As the story develops however, Helene proves to be more than a one-dimensional character who loves her child. This is a career defining role in which Ryan dominates the screen. If there’s one supporting performance I wanted to see more of this year, it’s from Amy Ryan.

I was expecting nothing more than a routine crime drama out of “Gone Baby Gone.” However, Ben Affleck adds a lot more to the story and characters than meets the eye. Unlike so many other thrillers, the movie doesn’t turn its characters into heroes or villains. It simply tells a story about people who are all motivated to do the right thing, although the right thing isn’t always clear to them.

What I love regarding “Gone Baby Gone” is its broad and bold intensity. The audience truly gets the sense that Ben Affleck rejoices his home town of Boston. This adds to the story to create an atmosphere that a Martin Scorsese picture would occupy. This is just about the most impressive directorial debut of the year in one of the best films of the year.

Good Luck Chuck

Go Chuck yourself *

 As I watched “Good Luck Chuck” I realized that it is a fairly simple task for a comedy to achieve the “R” rating. Making a quality and charming “R-rated” comedy however, is perplexing for any filmmaker to do. To fabricate a great comedic work like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” or “Wedding Crashers,” the movie should have sentimentality, the movie should have appealing characters, and if anything the movie should at least be funny. “Good Luck Chuck” fails miserably to accomplish any of the above in a comedy that is about as humorous as lung cancer, which isn’t very funny at all. You know that your movie’s in trouble when any adolescent seventh-grader in the audience could have just as easily wrote the screenplay. 

The film stars the popular comic Dane Cook as Charlie Logan or Chuck. Charlie is a swigging bachelor who was cursed by a Goth chick as a child so now any woman he sleeps with will marry the next man she dates. This presents a problem when Charlie finds his true love in a girl named Cam, played by Jessica Alba, who would be a catch if only if she wasn’t a klutz. Charlie goes to extreme lengths to prevent loosing Cam by sending a garden of flowers and a barbershop quartet to where she works, basically behaving like a deranged stalker. What sane individual would react in this manner? One who is desperate to make the audience laugh, that’s who.

Anybody who has seen Dane Cook’s standup act can declare that he is a funny and attractive star. So why is it that he wasn’t able to read this script and notice that it simply wasn’t funny. I honestly cannot believe that Dane Cook, whose standup act is selling out around the country, could not find a better movie project to take on than this. I’ll admit that Cook is a much more likable and charming comic than Tom Green, Pauly Shore, or Andrew Dice Clay, whose fame lasted a mere fifteen minutes. I do believe that in the hands of a director like Judd Apatow or Woody Allen or Kevin Smith, Dane Cook could have a promising career as an actor. If he’s counting on films like “Good Luck Chuck” to pilot his film career however, he’s going to be the next Chevy Chase.  

Also wasted in this film is Jessica Alba as the klutzy girlfriend of Cam. Alba has demonstrated essence of acting talent in movies such as “Sin City.” With “Good Luck Chuck” though, Alba is only adding to her ego that she’s a pretty face and nothing more. If Jessica Alba doesn’t want to her career to end by the time she’s thirty-five, than she needs to deliver a performance and character worthy of standing the test of time.

In romantic comedies such as these the main character is required to have a wisecracking best friend. “Good Luck Chuck” features one of the most repulsive and unlikable best friend in the history of movies. The character’s name is Stu, played by Dan Fogler, a slimy pervert who specializes in breast implants. Stu is such a vile and offensive individual that I cannot imagine that anybody would willingly be his friend. He brought every scene in the movie to a halt, leaving me feeling disgusted and unclean. 

There is an especially distasteful sequence in which the Dane Cook character has sex with an overweight, grotesque, and mean-spirited lady. Shouldn’t Hollywood be making movies that reveal the inner beauty of people like “Hairspray” or the ABC comedy “Ugly Betty?” Did the man who wrote this screenplay honestly believe that the audience would laugh at the misfortunes of the morbidly obese? Didn’t we get enough of that earlier this year in “Norbit?”

I have a theory that in order for a comedy to work the film needs to have respect for its characters. If the film can’t respect its characters, how can the audience have respect for the characters? If the audience can’t have respect for it’s characters, why should we even care? I could have not have cared less about a single character in the slime of a motion picture that is “Good Luck Chuck.”

 

 

Grindhouse

Gritty Grindhouse work of genius ****1/2

Directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez are an audacious pair of filmmakers who never seize to amaze me. While so many filmmakers tend to play it safe and follow the traditional form of storytelling, Tarantino and Rodriguez are never afraid to try something knew. Tarantino achieved an utterly unique structure of storytelling with the release of his breakthrough masterpiece, “Pulp Fiction,” in 1994. At an instant rate, the director exploded to become one of cinema’s most renowned filmmakers. Sine then, Tarantino and longtime friend, Robert Rodriguez, have worked together on numerous projects. In 2005, the two teamed up to bring the graphic novel “Sin City” to life in a way unlike any other. Now they have come together once more to collaborate on an incredible movie watching experience known as “Grindhouse.”

“Grindhouse” is a movie for any movie loving geek. If you’ve been waiting the last couple of decades for Hollywood to bring back the concept of double features, you are in luck. Tarantino and Rodriguez return to the genre of inadequate, zombie, horror, action pictures that inspired them to become filmmakers. Each directed a separate movie, both ranging at about an hour and a half long, and merged them into a single movie extravaganza. The final result is an implausible burlesque in a tremendous tribute to bad movies.

Up first is Robert Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror,” an accolade to the ludicrous zombie movie genre. A zombie infesting virus plagues the diminutive town of Austin, Texas and a group of survivors fight them off in a gloriously glory bloodbath. The tribe of survivors is lead by Wray, a renegade gun nut. Wray is played by Freddy Rodriguez, Robert Rodriguez’s son in real life. Also among the survivors is Cherry Darling, a one-legged erotic dancer who has her leg replaced with a machine gun. Cherry is played by Rose McGowan and I must say that she creates the single greatest one-legged dancer in cinematic history.

The film is basically just a blast. Nobody concocts over-the-top, friendly gore violence better than Rodriguez does. In “Sin City,” he pushed the envelope to create a virtually Looney Toon-like violence. Here he overflows “Planet Terror” with mountains of guts and repulsion. The film ultimately praises to the notion of crappy horror movies to become the king of zombie pictures. The final result is a glorious, gross out, gut bursting, good time.

Following “Planet Terror” is a series of fake movie trailers that erupt in pop culture hilarity. Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright, and Eli Roth contributed three of the trailers. Each segment is a compliment to terrible movie trailers. The greatest segment of all is “Machete,” a ludicrous action picture featuring Danny Trejo. I can literally not wait for that to come out. I insist that you do not use the bathroom during this period.

The second feature of the evening is Quentin Tarantino’s, “Death Proof.” Here Tarantino delivers one of his greatest characters by the name of Stunt Man Mike. Kurt Russell stars as Stunt Man Mike, a death defying driver who takes pleasure in preying on young women. However, he makes a costly mistake when he decides to play with three foxy mammas played by Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, and Jordan Ladd.


Tarantino is undoubtedly a master of dialog. In “Pulp Fiction” he managed to captivate the audience in the most insignificant small talk involving a Royal with Cheese. Here Tarantino delivers some exceptional dialog and references, such as when the restaurant, Big Kahuna Burger, is mentioned. However, there are times in “Death Proof” when the mindless chitchat falls flat, which in due course slows the film down. Tarantino does eventually kick into high gear however, with some exhilarating car chases. The film manages to redeem itself with its insane violence and kick ass ending.

In the end, “Grindhouse” is an inconceivable movie experiment. The scratchy cinematography creates a real Grindhouse sense. The audience feels as if they have actually traveled back in time to the age of the Grindhouse. Ultimately, it is Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s unique brand of laugh out loud brutality that manages to make the film work so damn well. You owe it too yourself to check out this double feature movie extravaganza.

Hairspray

You can't stop the beat *****

In a summer of action-packed, visual effects extravaganzas, you won’t find a more exhilaratingly thrilling piece of entertainment than the triumph that is “Hairspray.” It appears that every major Broadway production has been converted into a feature length film this past decade. Many films, such as “Rent” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” have failed to maintain the fortitude of a Broadway show on a movie screen. “Hairspray” however, is a unique and utterly charming treasure that in everyway embraces the joy of the movie musical. It’s a musical of such enchantment and spirit that it even outshines Oscar contending musicals such as “Chicago” and “Dreamgirls.”

The heroine in “Hairspray” is Tracy Turnblad, played with much charm from newcomer Nicole Blonsky. Tracy is a chubby teenage chick with a heart of gold. Think “Ugly Betty” set to music. Tracy’s one dream in the whole world is to perform on the Corny Collins Show, the hippest television program in town. A majority of Tracy’s time is spent watching Corny Collins and pining over her high school hotty crush, Link, played by Zac Efron from “High School Musical.” Tracy becomes determined to audition after gaining support from her best friend Penny, played by Amanda Bynes, her father, played by Christopher Walken, and her mother, played by John Travolta. That’s right, John Travolta.

Tracy is at first turned away by a deliciously malevolent television executive, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. She is offered a second chance however. And Tracy soon finds herself as the newest cast member of the Corny Collins Show. Tracy chooses to use her new found fame to support an African American by the name of Seaweed, played by Elijah Kelley, and her other Negro friends to achieve equal rights as dancers.

If you haven’t already realized it, the acting ensemble is simply marvelous in this picture. Everybody from Queen Latifah to Michelle Pferiffer is completely show-stopping. Perhaps the most exceptional performance comes from the newly discovered talent of Nicole Blonsky. Blonsky truly creates a character of heart and sympathy in one of the best breakthrough performances in recent years.

I’m sure many have questioned the odd casting of John Travolta as Eda Turnblad. I myself found it to be some of the most anomalous casting since Daniel Craig was given the role of James Bond. Like Craig in a surprising turn however, Travolta really masters this role to make it his own. It hasn’t been since Eddie Murphy’s performance in “The Nutty Professor” movies that I’ve enjoyed a man in drag so much. Come Academy Award season, Travolta could even conger himself up a Best Actor nomination.

As for the soundtrack of the film, you won’t find a more beloved collection of songs this entire year. From the opening number of “Good Morning Baltimore” to the enthralling finale of “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” you’ll find yourself dancing in your seat. The songs even have the rare effect of sticking in your head days after you’ve left the theater. If you don’t find a spot in your heart for this soundtrack, it’s clear you’re unequipped with any shred of a soul.

Director Adam Shankman has sufficiently concocted a wonderful picture of singing and dancing. After directing crummy pictures such as “The Wedding Planner” and “Cheaper by the Dozen 2,” Shankman reveals his true talents as a filmmaker here. “Hairspray” is a film overflowing with such charm, laughter, and flat-out fun that it ranges as one of the most inspiring movie musicals ever made.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Enchanting piece of dark magic ****

The Harry Potter series was once labeled as a beloved series of children’s books. In this day and age however, people look upon the novels as some of the darkest, murkiest, most sinister stories of all time. As Harry matures, so does his surrounds and circumstances. In “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” the series travels into areas almost as menacing as the fantasy fable, “Pan’s Labyrinth.” This chapter in the Harry Potter adaptations is a genuinely frightening piece of dark magic. Perhaps the film might even be a tad too dark for children of younger ages.

For all those who haven’t read the beloved series of books, allow me to set up the premise of the latest movie. The previous Potter film, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” concluded with the cliff hanger of Lord Voldemort’s second coming. In “Order of the Phoenix,” the Ministry of Magic refuses to believe Harry’s accusations that the dark lord has returned. Harry must confront of the challenges of being branded a liar, finding himself distant from his loved ones, and a treacherous defense against the dark arts teacher by the name of Dolores Umbridge.

In terms of performances, you won’t find a better acting ensemble this summer than from the entire cast of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint have all mastered their roles as the trademark characters, Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley. I’ve grown accustomed to these actors and hope they return in forthcoming installments to the series. Many of the supporting characters who played minor roles in the previous films, such as the timid Neville Longbottom, are also developed more in this chapter of the series. There is some especially exceptional work from newcomer Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood and Imelda Staunton as the haunting villain of Dolores Umbridge. The best performance of all comes from Helena Bonham Carter, giving a shocking performance as the wicked Bellatrix Lestrange.

The reason that the Harry Potter movies have achieved such an esteem status is due to their ability to stay true to J.K. Rowling’s renowned novels. As somebody who has read all six Harry Potter books, I can safely announce that this addition remains faithful to the original story. Some die hard fans might argue that not every diminutive side story is included in the film. If they attempted to do so however, the movie could have very well dragged on for five and a half hours.

Among the five movies and six books, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” doesn’t quite range with other installments. As much as I love both the film and novel, this addition to the series lacks a certain sense of wonder. The film features a few too many scenes of Harry being incredibly pissed off as misfortune terrorizes him. When all is said and done, the story seems a tad uneventful.

After a somewhat tedious middle act however, the film redeems itself with an extraordinary climax. The action sequences, visuals, and set design have amazingly brought J.K. Rowling’s vision to life. Initially, the Harry Potter series is a tale of approaching adulthood and tackling death. The film tells a human story of inner demons and genuine emotions. I look forward to the upcoming movies and the final Harry Potter book to be released later this month.

High School Musical 2

Those summer nights ***

It’s remarkable that what began as a run-of-the-mill Disney Channel Original Movie has erupted as a cultural phenomenon of glorious song and dance. “High School Musical” was the rare musical treasure that has found a place in the hearts of grade-schoolers and teenagers alike. I myself cherished the film enough to include it on my list of the year’s best films. The movie went onto become the number one soundtrack of 2006 and a best selling DVD as well. Made for television or not, “High School Musical” is one of the best musicals of recent years despite what some heartless skeptics might say. “High School Musical 2” is a movie of such anticipation that it’s been just as awaited as theatrical blockbusters like “Spider-Man 3” and “Transformers.” 

Even as our summer comes to an end, the summer is just beginning for the students of East High. Troy Bolton, played by Zack Efron, and his wildcat friends are back for their final summer before graduation. The teens become determined to achieve high-paying summer jobs with college on the way. Troy and his best girl Gabriella, played by Vanessa Anne Hudgens, attempt to stick together over the holiday by landing jobs at a local country club. The snobby Sharpay Evans however, has plans of her own to grasp Troy into her clutches. Troy soon finds himself drifting away from his friends as he falls into Sharpay’s crowd.  

The “High School Musical” craze has made superstars out of both Zack Efron and Vanessa Anne Hudgens. However, the standout performance of this sequel comes from Ashley Tisdale’s character of Sharpay. This high school queen bee is a classic blonde who plasters all of her possessions in pink. If it wasn’t for the fact that this is a Disney movie, she’d be a regular Paris Hilton. Tisdale’s performance steals the whole show as this hilariously show stopping villainess.

The one aspect of this sequel that does disappoint is the music itself. There was not a song in the original “High School Musical” that was forgettable. The soundtrack had a terrific diversity of music from rap, to salsa, to rock. In “High School Musical 2” it feels as if you’re hearing the same song over and over again. There’s not a number in this movie that can contend with the catchy melody of “Get Your Head in the Game” or the touching song of “Breaking Free.” With exception to a few catchy tunes, “High School Musical 2” fails to compare with a feature such as “Hairspray.” 

While the music somewhat lets down, what I found most engaging about “High School Musical 2” was the relationships between the characters. These are teenagers of such joyous spirit, that you can’t help but grow to appreciate their presence on screen. I genuinely cared about the relationship between Troy and Gabriella. I enjoyed the development of Sharpay’s sidekick brother Ryan, played by Lucas Grabeel. One thing that this series has managed to maintain is its authentic, sincere heart.

While it’s not in the same league of the 2006 hit, I fiercely enjoyed this second installment to “High School Musical.” Director Kenny Ortega, who has primarily worked as a choreographer, has really made a name for himself as a filmmaker here. I look forward to seeing what direction Ortega and the rest of the cast will take this series as the characters reach graduation in “High School Musical 3.”

 

Hostel: Part II

Like watching the first one wasn't hostel enough! *1/2

In the opening scene of “Hostel: Part II,” Paxton, the only survivor from the previous “Hostel” picture, is tracked down by the same butchers that imprisoned and terrorized him. The butchers knife Paxton down the stomach in a bloody massacre. Paxton than awakens in his bed, revealing the previous sequence to have been merely a dream. Is it just me, or am I the only moviegoer who is exhausted of this dream technique directors incessantly use in horror pictures. “Hostel: Part II” is a film overpopulated with these sort of cliché’s in an overall unoriginal splatter fest.

In case you were wondering, Paxton does not return as the protagonist in this “Hostel” sequel. Shortly after his horrific nightmare, Paxton is beheaded by the very people that held him captive in the former “Hostel.” “Hostel: Part II” follows the tale of four foxy ladies on a trip to Europe. They are lured to the Slovakian Hotel, where they soon find themselves being torchered by bloodthirsty maniacs.

I must admit that “Hostel: Part Two” ranges as one of the most gruesomely gory films of the decade, which says a lot. I will also confess that I did take sick pleasure in some of the films exaggerated violence. There is one pleasingly gory scene in particular that I enjoyed. The sequence involves Heather Matarazzo, whose character in the film is fairly similar to an “American Pie” band geek. Let’s just say that the scene is literally a glorious bloodbath.

In comparison to the overly sadistic horror pictures of recent years, such as “The Hill Have Eyes” and the “Saw sequels, “Hostel: Part Two” is to some extent a decent movie. Director Eli Roth has overall made a film with tremendous style and intriguing violence. At the end of the day however, the movie simply doesn’t accomplish anything new. The film never comes off as scary, thrilling, or engaging. “Hostel Part II” is basically just another exercise in graphic violence. If you were an enthusiast of last year’s original “Hostel,” this follow-up will more than likely meet your demands. For me however, the film wasn’t worth ten my dollars.

Although I am not recommending the movie, I do believe that Eli Roth is a talented director. I especially admired his short segment of “Grindhouse” entitled, “Thanksgiving.” Roth has obviously been inspired by the work of Quentin Tarantino, who produced both “Hostel” movies. Roth has established Tarantino’s same brand of insane, over-the-top violence. However, he has yet to discover the interesting stories or dialog of a Tarantino picture. Rather then making “Hostel: Part III,” Roth should move onto more creative projects.

Hot Fuzz

Hot for Fuzz ****

I myself have never quite understood the British’s suggestion of comedy. I’ve found a great deal of their humor to be infuriatingly random rather than uproariously hilarious. An example of this intolerable oddball British humor was featured in 2005’s laughless comedy, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” With exception to the geniuses behind the comical masterwork of Monty Python, the British seem completely oblivious to the notion of comedy. The British cast and crew behind “Hot Fuzz” however, are an intelligent and witty group of filmmakers that manages to concoct a memorable comedy that both the English and Americans can relate to.

“Hot Fuzz” comes from the same people that brought us the zombie satire, “Shaun of the Dead.” This time around, director Edgar Wright distributes a parody of cop movies which glamorizes action pictures such as “Bad Boys II” and “Point Break.” Simon Pegg stars as Nicholas Angel, a sufficient cop who is transferred to the petite town of Sandford. Shortly after he arrives, a series of inexplicable deaths begin to arise in the town. The police department is so clueless that they believe these homicides to be mere accidents. It is clear to Angel however, that these deaths are linked together in a mass murder. Angel and his bumbling partner Danny, played by Nick Frost, set out to track down the identity of this anonymous serial killer.

The major blunder with many satires, such as “Date Movie” and “Epic Movie,” is the fact that the characters seem to be fully aware that they are in a spoof. For that reason, the actors habitually fail to create real characters. The end result for many satires is an MTV Movie Award spoof that drags on for far too long. What I enjoy about “Hot Fuzz” is that the characters fail to realize that they are in a satire of the very genre they are mocking. Simon Pegg especially manages to create an authentic character with a true performance.

“Hot Fuzz” both falls short and succeeds in the very regions as “Shaun of the Dead” before it. I vastly enjoyed the first two acts of both films with their sly sense of humors. Somewhere down the line however, both “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” almost completely disregard that they are intended to be satires. By the last half hour, both movies basically evolve into routine versions of the very genres they poke fun at. I would have preferred it if “Hot Fuzz” had managed to sustain its zany wit from beginning all the way through.

Nevertheless, “Hot Fuzz” rightfully merits a recommendation due to its ability to conger up laughs. Unlike so many America comedies that fail to even grant the audience a single smile, there are more than enough laugh-out-loud moments here. It all leads up to one of the most amazingly bizarre climatic moments I have ever witnessed on film. As far as British comedies go, “Hot Fuzz” really goes out with a bang.

I Know Who Killed Me

Who killed Lindsay Lohan’s career? Zero Stars

If you’re looking for a movie that accurately defines the term “splatter porn,” “I Know Who Killed Me” is just the movie for you. Personally, I was left cringing in distress and repugnance from the opening scene all the way through. This is a movie that honestly expects the audience to interpret the anguish and torment of innocent women as entertainment. The film only succeeds to do the impossible by making the “Saw” pictures appear as feel good romps. What a vulgar, grotesque, and all-in-all unpleasant experience this movie is. Now perhaps that last statement isn’t entirely fair because I don’t understand how this even classifies as an actual movie. “I Know Who Killed Me” plays out more like a music video meets a pornographic movie meets utter repulsion.

In this nauseating apparent movie, the notorious Lindsay Lohan plays Aubrey Fleming, a young high school girl with a passion for writing. On night, Aubrey is abducted by an infamous serial killer. The anonymous madman keeps the girl hostage and in one instance amputates both her right hand and leg. I didn’t look away once during the showing of “Hostel: Part II” although I found it extremely difficult not to divert my eyes during this sequence. Aubrey’s body is discovered a couple of weeks later and is rushed to the hospital. When the crippled Aubrey is confronted by her doctors and parents, she claims to be Dakota Moss, a nightclub pole dancer. Aubrey/Dakota becomes determined to uncover the secrets of her past and the mystery of who held her captive.

Is Aubrey delusional or is Dakota’s resemblance to her really just a giant coincidence? I couldn’t have cared less to learn the answer of this question. At no point did I find myself interested by this movie’s ridiculously ludicrous plot. The explanation for everything is especially convoluted and beyond improbable. I’d hate to think that the screenwriters put any thought into the story at all.

After showing great strengths in movies such as “Freaky Friday” and “Mean Girls,” I once believed that Lindsay Lohan had a promising film career ahead of her. But after “Herbie: Fully Loaded,” “Georgia Rule,” and now this catastrophe, Lohan has dug herself into a hole that she cannot get out of. This is the first time Lohan has given a genuinely terrible performance that guarantees her a nomination at this year’s Razzie Awards. This is a trashy and degrading role in which Lohan appears drunk or high during every scene. Take my advice Lindsay, get your act together, change your hair color back to red, and do something about your dried-out salamander skin!

“I Know Who Killed Me” is a horrifically directed, poorly written, and inadequately acted failure. When I watch movies like this, I ask myself, “Didn’t anybody associated with this project realize that they were making a terrible movie? Did the filmmakers honestly believe that audiences would be entertained by this material? Why didn’t somebody step up and stop this film from reaching its final cut? How did a movie like this ever get made?” My questions could continue with no end in sight just like this movie did.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry

I now pronounce that you don’t see this movie *1/2

One should know that I have no bicker with Adam Sandler. Unlike so many other uncompassionate critics, I’ve found myself to enjoy a majority of his wacky, lowbrow comedies. I’ve admired some of Sandler’s previous work from “Happy Gilmore” to “The Waterboy” to “The Longest Yard” to “Click.” That’s right; I was one of viewers that actually got chocked up during “Click.” Unfortunately, I’m afraid that I have to get on the negative review band wagon for Sandler’s latest comedy, “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.” This is a film that ranges at the bottom of Sandler’s barrel with “Little Nicky” and “Mr. Deeds” to achieve a diminutive amount of laugh-out-load moments.

The film of course stars Sandler as Chuck, a conceded, womanizing jerk. Chuck is paired up with Kevin James’s Larry, a chubby father mourning the loss of his late wife. These two best buds take pride in their jobs as New York City fire fighters. However, the widowed Larry is faced with a predicament when he is unable to change his pension from his deceased wife to his two children. Larry soon discovers that all his problems can be solved with a domestic partnership. Chuck comes to Larry’s rescue to become his loftily wedded husband. Everything seems to be working out for the newlyweds until the state becomes suspicious of their partnership. Chuck and Larry’s foxy lawyer, played by Jessica Biel, informs the two that if found guilty they could be facing serious jail time. Chuck and Larry are forced to parade around town together in order to prove their supposed love for each other.

“I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” is a film that takes a fairly humorous concept, casts two hugely likable stars in the lead rolls, and doesn’t really do much from there. Instead of using the movie’s comical premise to its full potential, the filmmakers basically decided to tell a bunch of clichéd and obvious gay jokes. The movie does indeed score some laughs here and there. Although, I took notice that the audience seemed to moan in disgust in response to all the gross out gags instead of cheering uproariously. I think there might have been more laughs in this summer’s action blockbuster, “Transformers.”

Another significant error that I noted in the film was its running time of an hour and fifty minutes. To me this seemed like the kind of story that could have been told in twenty minutes. I was reminded of an episode of “Seinfeld” in which Jerry and his pal George were wrongfully accused of being homosexuals. In that thirty minute period, the sitcom managed to pack in more laughs than “Chuck & Larry” does in a course of nearly two hours.

As for the controversial gay factor of the film, “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” is actually quite gay friendly. The movie’s moral of respecting the gay community is obvious. However, at the same time the film manages to make fun of and stereotype the gay culture as well. It seems like every gay person in this movie is required to flaunt around in a butterfly suit while singing a jolly melody. The movie is obviously not attempting to achieve the status of an Oscar-nominated picture such as “Brokeback Mountain.” However, it doesn’t attain the standing of a lightweight, goofball comedy either.

Juno

Va-J-Juno *****

“Juno” is one of the rare treasures of the cinema that could only be brought to the screen by a brilliant under the radar filmmaker. This is a comedy to be considered in the same league of “Little Miss Sunshine” as an independent gem that completely wins you over. The film tells a simple and lighthearted tale which will move you like no other movie going experience this year. So many movies attempt to win the audience’s affection through stories of war and travesty. “Juno” on the other hand, manages to accomplish what so many other pictures have forgotten how to do, make the audience feel good.

This under the radar masterwork is lead by the exceptional under the radar actress, Ellen Page. Page plays Juno MacGuff, who is your average American teenage girl with exception of her unusual name. Shortly after loosing her virginity to her best bud, Paulie Bleeker, played by Michael Cera, Juno discovers that she has been knocked up. Juno decides to keep the baby and give it to a couple played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman. The movie follows Juno’s nine month journey as she caries this child and essentially becomes an adult.

Ellen Page is nothing short of pitch perfect in this role. Page owns the screen as one of the great female protagonists of movies. She creates a true and sincere character who any high school girl could relate to. Come Oscar time, the Academy will most likely honor Julie Christie for her performance in “Away from Her” or Marion Cotillard for “La Vie En Rose.” At the age of only twenty, I believe that Ellen Page manages to deliver a performance just as impressive as these two prestigious actresses. In this breakout role, Page should be treated as a serious candidate to win the Academy Award for Best Actress.

The only thing I’m afraid “Juno” might suffer from is the fact that it’s being released the same year as another comedy regarding unplanned pregnancy. Earlier this summer, the critically acclaimed, R-rated “Knocked Up” uproariously enthralled audiences with laughter like no other comedy this year. Both films rank as comedic gold. “Juno” however, has the advantage of winning the audience over with utter charm and heart. I earnestly hope that audiences will recognize both films despite their similar premises.

“Juno” is one of the few movies of the cinema that takes absolutely no wrong steps. The film accurately and hilariously depicts the world of high school through the first-rate screenplay from Diablo Cody. The dialog is note-perfect as it creates characters of honesty and sympathy. This is the ultimate coming of age story and one of the sweetest and most profound romances in a while. Whether Ellen Page rightfully wins the Oscar or not, Juno is character destined to stand the test of time.

Knocked Up

A knock out ****

After nearly a decade of comedies that were only so bold to achieve “PG-13” ratings, the variety of “R” rated comedies are finally making a comeback. In the past ten years, films such as “American Pie,” “Wedding Crashers,” “Borat,” and “There’s Something About Mary” have attained comedic gold for their fearless and raunchy sense of humors. These are all films that pay great tribute to the classic “R” comedies such as “Animal House” and “Porky’s.” Perhaps the greatest “R” rated comedy of the twenty-first century was the 2005 surprise hit, “The 40-Year Old Virgin.” The film worked so well not only because it was hilarious, but was also sweet, full of heart, and featured characters you cared about. Director Judd Apatow uses the same technique with his latest comic masterwork, “Knocked Up.”

In “Knocked Up,” Seth Rogen steps up from being the chubby supporting character to develop into the chunky leading role. Here he stars as Ben Stone, an unemployed stoner in his early twenties. Ben meets a woman named Alison, played by Katherine Heigl from “Grey’s Anatomy.” Alison is a professional chick with a promising career ahead of her. One drunken evening though, she gives into temptation and has sex with the flabby Ben. The next morning, the two realize that they are completely incompatible. So they decide to call the relationship quits. Eight weeks later however, Alison discovers a bun in her oven. Ben and Alison must find a way to deal with their unanticipated baby on the way.

Both Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl are two hugely likable stars. Rogen simply cracked me up with every passing scene of the movie. Heigl delivers an especially strong performance as a struggling woman bombarded by a plate of unexpected obstacles. Put them both together and they have tremendous chemistry. The film also features some great work from Leslie Mann as Alison’s medaling older sister, Debbie. Especially hysterical is Paul Rudd as Debbie’s longsuffering husband, Pete.

Perhaps the reason that “Knocked Up” works so well is because of its genuine atmosphere. The film is about real people who tackle real life issues. “Knocked Up” confronts valid topics that people are forced to face such as abortion, marriage, and unexpected pregnancy. In the process, the movie provides more laughs than any other film so far this year.

My one dismay with “Knocked Up” is its running time of nearly 130 minutes. Like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” the movie runs on for far too long. As funny as the film is, I did grow somewhat restless. That is only a mere flaw with this enormously hilarious and witty comedy however.

In the wrong hands this kind of material could fall completely flat. If the Wayans brothers were to make a movie about unplanned parenthood, we’d basically just get a sequel to “Little Man.” However, director Judd Apatow handles “Knocked Up” with a true and sincere touch. He respects his characters and the intense situations that surround them. Although this is only his second feature film, Apatow is already revealing strong legs as an insightful filmmaker.

License to Wed

License to make halfway decent movies **

In the opening scene of “License to Wed,” we find Robin Williams situated before the audience as holily deranged Reverend Frank. Williams engages in a monologue of the shortcomings of marriage. To quote the words of Williams, “Marriage is like licking a frozen flagpole. You see your friends do it and decide to give it a shot. Then before you know it, you’re tugging to free yourself.” This is a well written sequence of attention-grabbing dialog. Perhaps if the movie had featured more interesting arguments such as this, I’d be more willing to give “License to Web” a higher rating. Unfortunately, I simply cannot bring myself to do so.

The film follows the romance of Sadie Jones, played by Mandy Moore, and Ben Murphy, played by John Krasinski. The two meet under apathetic circumstances, fall in love, and eventually become engaged. Sadie is insistent that her and Ben tie the not in her childhood house of god, St. Augustine's. The church is run by Reverend Frank, played by the great Robin Williams. Before Sadie and Ben can be wed however, Reverend Frank stipulates that they pass his marriage preparation course. The fiancés soon find themselves confronted by a series of tests and obstacles to establish their potential as a married couple.

Reverend Frank forbids Sadie and Ben from having any sexual relations before the wedding. To prove their trust for one another, Reverend Frank forces Ben to guide Sadie as she drives an automobile blindfolded. There is a particularly funny sequence in which Reverend Frank has the couple adopt a pair of demented-looking, robotic babies. If you haven’t figured it out yet, the character of Reverend Frank is completely insane. Of course I wouldn’t expect any different from a character twisted by the mind of Williams.

Given some of the prior romantic comedies of recent years, “License to Wed” ranks as a descent effort as a date movie. Compared to movies such as “Failure to Launch,” “You, Me, and Dupree,” and “Bewitched,” “License to Wed” could be considered in the same league of “Pretty Woman.” I’d be lying if I said that the film is completely without moments of hilarity. Williams especially scores some laughs as his typically over-the-top character. I would laugh here and there. Unlike a romantic comedy such as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Wedding Crashers” however,” the movie doesn’t manage to sustain its merriment all the way through.

The film basically follows the same formula of every other romantic comedy ever made. The movie eventually leads up to the couple disputing over a misunderstanding, causing them to call off the wedding. After taking some time to think, the two both eventually come to terms with their differences. In the end, Ben rushes to Sadie’s balcony, declaring his love for her. The two then kiss, make up, get married, and live happily ever after. Is it just me, or am I the only one who is sick of this method of story telling?

Aside from a couple of nicely written sequences, “License to Wed,” simply doesn’t have enough going for it for me to recommend it. There is a film currently playing at your local Cineplex entitled, “Knocked Up.” The film is a not only a sidesplitting hysterical romantic comedy, but a realistic and even insightful picture. Unlike some date movies, the film is not only appealing to women but men as well. “License to Wed” lacks the wits and joviality of a great romantic comedy. In the end, the film simply achieves the status of mediocre.

Live Free or Die Hard

Die Hard lives again ****

For so long it appeared that Hollywood had completely run out of ideas. That’s probably why they found it necessary to revive so many movie franchises ten years after they lost all momentum. When I heard rumors of newly developed additions to the “Batman,” “Rocky,” and “Superman” franchises, I laughed hysterically. I believed the final products for all three films would result in nothing less than absolute catastrophe. To my delighted surprise however, all three films managed to pay great respect to their classic predecessors. “Batman Begins,” “Rocky Balboa,” and “Superman Returns” ultimately succeeded to breath life back into the tired franchises. I am blissful to announced that the much awaited forth installment to the “Die Hard” franchise is no exception. “Live Free or Die Hard” is an exceptional action picture that in everyway stays true to the tremendous spirit of the original series.

Was there ever a more certified badass than John McClane? When one thinks of a great action hero, of course Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Terminator” and Sylvester Stallone’s “Rambo” come to mind. However, Bruce Willis’s unforgettable creation of John McClane outdoes them all as the definition of a great movie badass. The audience could always count on McClane to pump us with countless moments of recklessly over-the-top violence. In “Live Free or Die Hard,” Bruce Willis reprises his career-defining role as everybody’s favorite dick.

The movie revolves around a plot centered on an internet terrorist union with the intentions of shutting down the United States. After over a decade of taking it easy as a steady senor detective, McClane is back in action to save America. This time around he teams up with a nerdy computer hacker, played by Justin Long. You might remember Long from his award-worthy performances in the Mac and PC commercials. McClane does what he can to bring down the terrorists by basically blowing-up and killing every enemy in sight. Matters become personal however, when the terrorist leader, Thomas Gabriel, kidnaps McClane daughter, Lucy.

Of course we all know that audiences could care less about the movie’s plot. People will be lining up for this picture with the intentions of seeing scene after scene of incredible action sequences. In terms of action, “Live Free or Die Hard” delivers in every possible way imaginable. I loved every minute of the film’s insane, utterly ludicrous technique of violence. The film is an exhilarating extravaganza to watch and works as one of the most enthralling movie experience of the year.

In a summer of action pictures, no other film outdoes “Live Free or Die Hard.” As enjoyable as films such as “Spider-Man 3” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” were, they could have been better. While both films were extraordinarily entertaining when they desired to be, they concentrated far too much on the characters and lackluster stories. “Live Free or Die Hard” however, delivers exactly what it promises. In the fast paced season of summer, “Live Free or Die Hard” distributes exactly what the audience wants: A movie of insane action violence with a compelling hero and memorable one-liners. There’s nothing more to say except, “Yippy Ky-Ay Mother fucker!”

The Lookout

Lookout for this one****

Numerous blockbusters in American cinema appear to glamorize the big bad heist genre. In movies such as “Oceans Eleven,” “The Italian Job,” and “Inside Man,” the heroes concoct an absurdly elaborate scene to raid a bank, casino, or museum. In the end, they always manage to escape with a mountain of cash and live luxurious lives free of work on a tropical island. What I admired about “The Lookout” was its ability to not embellish the heist genre. Rather, this is an intelligent character drama which is just as invigorating as the three films I mentioned above. It’s a thought-provoking picture that rings truthful to life and results to be about more than just a bank robbery in the end.

Under the radar star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, stars are the movie’s protagonist, Chris Pratt. Chris suffers from short term memory loss due to a horrific car accident he was involved in four years back. Although he’s handicapped with a short term memory, Chris isn’t nearly as cheerful as Dory, the forgetful blue tang from “Finding Nemo.” One night at a bar, Chris makes friends with a thug named Gary Spargo, played by Matthew Goode. Gary persuades Chris to assist him in a robbery at the bank where he is employed as a night janitor. Chris agrees to help his new acquaintance by acting as the lookout. The situation soon spirals out of control however, as the bank heist goes terribly wrong.

I witness a young Leonardo Dicaprio persona in Joseph Gordon-Levitt. After years of playing supporting roles in more lightweight material, such as “10 Things I Hate About You,” Gordon-Levitt reveals great strengths as a serious actor here. He is particularly effective as this movie’s compelling lead role. Especially creditable is Isla Fisher, from “Wedding Crashers,” in a terrific performance as Chris’s girlfriend, Luvlee Lemons.

Perhaps the most creditable performance in the film comes from Jeff Daniels as Chris’s blind roommate, Lewis. Daniels has been delivering fiercely underappreciated performances in resent years, from his hilarious work in “Dumb and Dumber” to a more touching turn in “Pleasantville.” In “The Lookout,” Daniels sells every moment in a pitch perfect performance as this blind mentor.

In a number of ways, “The Lookout” shares much in common to the independent hit, “Fargo.” The fundamental principle of both films revolves around the decisions we make and how they escalade out of control. In the end, karma plays a great hand in offering these people their comeuppances as their apparent foolproof plan shatters into pieces. This is an incredibly well written accomplishment, from writer/director Scott Frank, which builds up to one of the best climatic moments of the year.

Meet the Robinsons

Should you meet the Robinsons? **1/2

So many movies appear to convey the audience to such bleak and destructive futures. In last year’s cult science fiction drama, “Children of Men,” the audience found itself in a future of barren women, incapable of reproducing mankind. In the “Terminator” films, people were brought to a future of war hungry, relentless machines. The world of “Blade Runner” in particular was one of the darkest glimpses into the future ever to be imagined on film. The new animated feature from Walt Disney Pictures, “Meet the Robinsons,” is a refreshingly cheerful vision of the future that is to come.

The movie revolves around the story Lewis, a twelve-year-old boy inventor. As an infant, Lewis was abandoned by his mother at the doorstop of an orphanage. With his thirteenth birthday approaching, the possibility of Lewis getting adopted becomes more and more unlikely. The boy genius becomes determined to construct a machine to retrieve the memory of his anonymous mother. Before Lewis can finish the final touches on his invention however, he is visited by a boy from the future named Wilbur Robinson. Lewis travels forward in time to meet the wacko family of the Robinsons.

The Robinson family is kind of like a cross bread between the Adams family and the Animaniacs. The family is made up of Uncle Fritz, a disturbed, middle-aged man who is married to a puppet, Uncle Art, a superhero pizza deliverer man, Grandpa Bud, who for some reason wears all of his clothes backwards, and Franny, a mother who conducts a band of singing frogs. The family is utterly looney and over-the-top with a colorful attitude. And yet, every character tries a little too hard to win the audience over. The only character I really related to was the Bowler Hat Guy, whose appearance is quite similar to Snidely Whiplash, the mustached villain from those old Dudley Do-Right cartoons. The Bowler Hat Guy is bent on destroying Lewis and his ingenious invention.

Visually, “Meet the Robinsons” is one of the most stunning animations in a long time. The film has primarily been marketed for its technique of 3D animation. The vocals, sound, and music are especially excellent. I have every confidence that younger children will be amused by the film’s use of sound and colors. There just seemed to be something missing for those of older ages though. While the kid in me admired the film for its zany personality, the adult in me cried out for something more.

Many will most likely compare the film to the accomplishments of the animation studio of Pixar. The people at Pixar have developed a technique of moviemaking that is appealing to both children and adults alike. Disney’s creation of “Meet the Robinsons” is an often charming and whimsical piece of entertainment. However, I can’t really recommend the film for anybody who doesn’t have a child under the age of twelve. This is one of those films that I truly wanted to recommend but can’t quite bring myself to do so.

Quite frankly, I miss the good old days of classic Disney musicals. Whatever happened to quality 2D animations, such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “The Lion King?” Even with all of the breakthroughs in digital animation, those four films still remain as some of the greatest animated features of all time. Rather than continuing to copy the techniques of Pixar, Disney should return to what it once did best.

Michael Clayton

Clayton’s Thirteen ****

I endure so many dimwitted movies every year such as “Premonition” and “I Know Who Killed Me” that sometimes I question whether or not Hollywood is even attempting to make quality pictures anymore. “Michael Clayton” is a movie that restores my confidence in the film industries ability to produce “A” material. This is a conspirator thriller equipped with what so many other dramas appear to be lacking in: A brain. I am content to announce that intellect does indeed exist within American cinema. “Michael Clayton” is the kind of film that captures you from the opening scene through an exceedingly well-written screenplay and sharp direction with credit to Tony Gilroy.

Oscar-winner George Clooney is exceptional as the film’s title character of Michael Clayton. Michael lives an empty life as a fixer for a superlative law firm. When a major company is faced with a million-dollar class action lawsuit, Clayton’s firm takes on the case. The proceedings become in even greater jeopardy however, when the assigned attorney, Arthur Edens, superbly played by Tom Wilkinson, suffers from a public mental breakdown. When all hell breaks loose, it’s Michael Clayton to the rescue to clean up yet another mess.

In such an exceptional acting ensemble, George Clooney will most likely steal all the credit with such immense star power. Clooney rightfully deserves reorganization for one his most preeminent performances to date. As exceptional as Clooney’s portrayal is, I sincerely hope that he will not completely outshine the unsurpassed supporting cast. Tilda Swinton, who was so menacing as the White Witch in “The Chronicles of Narnia,” is poignant as the distressed Karen Crowder. Perhaps the most mesmerizing performance of all comes from Tom Wilkinson, stealing the whole show as Arthur Edens.

In terms of story structure, “Michael Clayton” is a much like “Syriana,” another prestigious picture staring Clooney. Both films are tremendously well acted and well crafted although a tad slow and puzzling to follow at times. This is the kind of film that one might have to watch two or three times in order to fully comprehend. I hope that the perplexity plot will turn off audiences because the film is serious an intriguing piece of work.

Tony Gilroy has all around fashioned an exciting and completely interesting accomplishment. Here is a movie that has been ingeniously thought through with wit and intellect. The final scene of the film is especially note perfect. The performances from Clooney, Wilkinson, and Swinton add to the screenplay to tell a nail-biting thriller. It just goes to show that when a filmmaker asserts effort and brains into his work, a great picture can be established.

No Country for Old Men

My Country, 'Tis of Thee ****1/2

Nearly ten years after “Fargo,” Joel and Ethan Coen have yet to produce a film that manages to recapture the intensity or audacity of their Oscar-winning work of genius. In recent years, the Coen Brother’s credibility has escalated down hill with some embarrassingly forgettable work like “Intolerable Cruelty” and “The Ladykillers.” “No Country for Old Men” is the exceptional comeback of the Coen’s I’ve been waiting for. This is a movie of heart-wrenching strength and poetry that utterly reminded me why I love motion pictures. The Coen Brothers have once again fashioned a great American masterpiece of the cinema.

Like “Fargo” before it, this is a stimulating and graphically violent dramatic thriller of a hunt for money that spirals completely out of control. The film sets itself in West Texas where a man named Llewlyn Moss, played by Josh Brolin, uncovers a suitcase filled with two million dollars in cash. Rather than contacting the legal authorities of this matter, Llewlyn decides to keep the money for himself and his wife, played by Kelly MacDonald. The money turns out to belong to a serial madman named Anton Chigurh, brilliantly portrayed by Javier Bardem, who decides to hunt Llewlyn down for what’s his. Chasing both Llewlyn and Anton is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, played by Tommy Lee Jones, who resembles Marge Gunderson as one of the few genuinely good people in the movie. This is a simple yet captivating tale of mouse VS cat VS dog.

In this sensational ensemble of characters, I believe that Javier Bardem delivers the one certified Oscar-bound performance in the movie. Anton Chigurh is an invigoratingly ingenious villain who of all weapons preys on his victims with a helium pump. This is a lethal psychopath who deserves to be considered in the same league of Norman Bates and Dr. Hannibal Lector as a great American lunatic, and I’m not just saying that. Bardem manages to create a real character of sophistication and intellect unlike the Jigsaw murderer from the “Saw” movies whose only desire is push the envelope with one ghastly death after the other.

There is genius within every shot of “No Country for Old Men.” Not a moment of dull dialog goes by in this masterfully written screenplay. There are scenes in this movie in which one might not have any idea what the characters are talking about and yet they’ll find themselves entranced with captivation. The silenced moments of the movie are even more enthralling, filling the audience with bone-chilling curiosity of what these characters will do next in this unpredictable extravaganza. The Conen brothers demonstrate brilliance within every minor detail of the movie from a ring stain on a wooden dresser to a diverse handful of change.

I’m confident that some will dispute over the movies conclusion, which leaves some matters unresolved. But who the hell ever declared that a movie had to wrap up every subplot I ask you? I for one prefer it when a film challenges the audience and leaves you thinking. “No Country for Old Men” allows you to choose its ending through symbolic details with hidden meanings. This is a bloody and even lyrical entertainment to be considered in the same league of “Pulp Fiction” and “Fargo” as a masterwork of American motion pictures.

Norbit

Nasty Norbit *

Although some of his most recent work has been beyond catastrophic, Eddie Murphy remains as one of the great comedic minds of this generation. No comedian has had a more successful film career than Murphy. Throughout his career, Murphy has grossed more money at the box office than either Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler have. Last year, Murphy demonstrated great dramatic and singing talent with his show-stopping performance in �Dreamgirls.� Murphy achieved both a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award for his role. Why Eddie Murphy would want to ruin his winning streak with the trash of a film that is �Norbit� is beyond me.

As he did with �The Nutty Professor� and �Coming to America,� Murphy plays multiple roles in this rubbish of a comedy. Of course Murphy plays the movie�s hero, Norbit, who sounds a lot like a black version of Adam Sandler�s Waterboy character. As an infant, the simpleminded Norbit is abandoned by his unloving parents. He is discovered by Mr. Wong, an Asian who runs an orphanage/restaurant. As an adult, the longsuffering Norbit finds himself married to the obese and homicidal beast, Rasputia. Rasputia is a grotesque and malicious being who makes poor Norbit suffer throughout the movie. Murphy takes credit in playing both Rasputia and Mr. Wong in the film.

In case you were wondering, Murphy does not play every character in �Norbit.� Thandie Newton stars as Norbit�s incredibly sympathetic yet dim childhood friend, Kate. When Norbit and Kate are at long last reunited, a relationship sparks between the two. However, their love becomes jeopardized when Kate�s jerky fianc�, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., enters the picture. At the end of the movie however, who do you think Kate is going to end up with? There really isn�t anything unique or genuine to the romance of �Norbit.�

Every joke in �Norbit� seems to revolve around the fact that the Rasputia character is overweight. The first couple of fat jokes in the movie are actually quite humorous. After the tenth fat joke however, the film becomes utterly tedious. By the ninetieth fat joke, I had completely lost my apatite for the movie.

Eddie Murphy�s �The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps� achieved the status of comedic gold. The film worked because the Klump family was a chubby, lovable bunch of characters. In �Norbit� however, Rasputia is a large, heartless, and basically cruel creature. At one point in the movie, Rasputia intentionally runs over a defenseless puppy with her car. Are we actually supposed to laugh at or like this character for her actions?

I will admit that the one aspect that I did admire about �Norbit� is the exceptional makeup effects. Murphy is completely transformed in this picture and he gives it his all. However, we�ve seen Murphy do this routine numerous times in the past and better. I suppose I could see �Norbit� working as a five minute Saturday Night Live skit. As a feature length film however, �Norbit� is an incredibly unfunny and mean-spirited waste of Murphy�s talent.

Ocean's Thirteen

Thirteenth time’s a charm ***1/2

The 2001 remake of “Ocean’s Eleven” achieved marvelous praise from both critics and audiences alike to become a dominate success. I was one of the few that did not eulogize the film when I first saw it. I originally found the movie to be somewhat tedious and far too lengthy in time. As I look back at the movie however, I realize its exceptional features. The film was a well directed, well short extravaganza with a stellar cast of all-stars. “Ocean’s Twelve” though, was a film that all in all disappointed many. However, the latest installment to the series, “Ocean’s Thirteen,” is an improvement to the previous film. I am content to announce that the movie is an overall hoot that succeeds to recapture the aspects that made the original film so enjoyable.

In “Ocean’s Thirteen,” Reuben Tishoff, played by Elliott Gould, suffers a fatal heart-attack. Reuben’s medical condition is brought about when Willie Bank, played by Al Pacino, cheats Reuben out of billion dollar contract. George Clooney’s charismatic character of Danny Ocean and his gang return once again. This time they set out to seek revenge on the wounded Reuben by robbing Willie Bank’s new casino in Las Vegas.

A majority of the original cast returns for yet another round. Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, and Andy Garcia are all back on board for a third heist. Julia Roberts on the other hand, decided to sit this “Ocean” sequel out. Roberts, who seemed to generate such box office in the early nineties, appears to have become reluctant to staring in anymore movies. I suppose she attained all her goals as an actress when she won her Oscar for “Erin Brockovich.” Aside from the absence of Roberts, I’ve grown to appreciate these characters and enjoyed seeing them again.

Director Steven Soderbergh has generated a tremendous blockbuster. Soderbergh’s cinematography achieves to provide the film with an intriguing style. This is the fastest and funniest of the “Ocean” pictures, fabricating excellent summer movie fun. Unlike other summer threequels, such as “Spider-Man 3” and “Shrek the Third,” “Ocean’s Thirteen” does not disappoint. The film succeeds to completely accomplish what it sets out to do.

I’ve grown accustomed to Danny Ocean and the settings that surround him. For that reason, I found a great comfort in “Ocean’s Thirteen.” I’ve also grown to appreciate the 2001 version of “Ocean’s Eleven” a little more. Will this trilogy become an everlasting franchise with “Ocean’s Fourteen” and “Ocean’s Fifteen?” I certainly wouldn’t mind another couple additions to the series.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

A pirate's life for me ***

Who would of ever have guessed that a theme park ride would go on to inspire a militia million dollar movie franchise. Director Gore Verbinski, along with his visual effects crew and cast of actors, have aptly fashioned the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise into a memorable film series. Despite the uninspiring source material, everybody involved bestowed all their effort into each of these pirate pictures. The visual effects crew have fashioned an utterly unique world of ingenious art direction, effects, and action. The actors as well have brought to life one of the most memorable cast of characters in cinematic history. Particularly creditable is the creation of Johnny Depp’s unforgettable character, Captain Jack Sparrow.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl” staggered many audiences to be one of the most enjoyable epics in movie history. Last years top grossing blockbuster, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” achieved to rank as a pleasurable follow-up to the series. The dazzling special effects and action sequences were the perfect equation for enormous entertainment. While the film didn’t achieve much critical love, audiences and I found it to be a tremendous thrill ride. The latest installment, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” is an amusing technical achievement. However, like “Spider-Man 3” and “Shrek the Third,” this sequel doesn’t quite range with its exceptional predecessors.

The film picks up where we last left our heroes after the previous film. Towards the end of “Dead Man’s Chest,” Jack Sparrow was cursed to Davy Jones locker for all eternity. In the commencement of “At World’s End,” Will Turner, Elizabeth Swan, and the recently resurrected Captain Barbossa, set out to reclaim Jack. It’s all fairly similar to the beginning of “Return of the Jedi,” in which Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia embarked to rescue Han Solo from Jaba the Hut’s palace.

As for the remainder of the story, I often found myself lost in the elongated string of dull dialog. Many have ridiculed the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series for the convoluted storyline. I’ve personally never had any dismays with the preposterous, complex plot. After all, did great epics such as “Raider’s of the Lost Ark” or the original “Matrix” make any sense? However, at a running time of nearly two and a half hours, the film delivers far too much of the ludicrous storyline and not nearly enough amazing action sequences.

After a choppy second act though, “At World’s End” manages to redeem itself with a truly enthralling climax. The visuals are as impressive as ever. When the film desires to be, it can be very entertaining. Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush all do admirable jobs at reprising their roles as the characters we have come to know and love. There is also an exceptional performance from Chow Yun-Fat as Captain Sao Feng. Plus there’s a brief cameo from Keith Richards, who Depp based his Jack Sparrow character on. For those reasons, this swashbuckler movie achieves the most mild of recommendations.

In the past month, numerous sequels have been released, one after the other. The “Spider-Man,” “Shrek,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” have stood out as some of the most memorable franchises of this generation. However, I honestly believe that forth installments to any of these film would be necessary. As much as I hate to say this, these franchises have waited out their welcome. Perhaps it’s about time that Hollywood came up with the next generation of movie franchises.

Premonition

Premonition you’ll regret watching this movie *1/2

Every once in a while I’m lucky enough to see a first-rate supernatural physiological thriller. It’s only once in a blue moon that I have the privilege to witness a film of such rich ideas and suspense that manages to keep me guessing until the very end. This endearing form of storytelling worked for me in films such as “The Sixth Sense,” “Flightplan,” and even “The Forgotten.” Unfortunately, I cannot consider “Premonition” to be in the same league as any of those movies. This is a film of such convolution and disastrous storytelling that it doesn’t even deserve to be played in the same theater as the films I mentioned above.

“Premonition” features one of the most complex plots in the history of cinema. However, I’ll do my best to explain the storyline to you the reader. The movie stars Sandra Bullock as Linda Hanson, a married mother of two. Linda is devastated one day to be informed that her husband, Jim, has died in a car accident. When Linda wakes up the next morning however, she is relieved to discover that Jim is still alive. She assumes that the previous day was nothing more than a horrific nightmare. Or was it? When Linda awakens the next morning, she is shocked to find Jim dead once again. Linda soon realizes that she is having a run-of-the-mill premonition.

This is one of those movies that takes a potentially interesting premise and manages to accomplish so little with it. “Premonition” is often dull rather than thrilling or even interesting. At a running time of only an hour and forty minutes, the film seems to meander for far too long. By the thirty minute mark, any audience member with a brain can figure out almost every twist and turn of the movie. Perhaps if the film had revolved around a story of Linda traveling back in time to prevent her husband’s death, the plot might have been a little more interesting.

As for Sandra Bullock, she is a charming actress with a decent track record. She has always managed to shine on the screen, whether it be in an Oscar-winning picture such as “Crash” or a crappy comedy like “Ms. Congeniality 2.” In “Premonition” however, Bullock is really given nothing more to do than look depressingly droopy on the screen. There is not a single smile in this entire movie.

The film features some impressive production values, a couple of interesting ideas, and a few intriguing plot points. At the end of the day however, there is really nothing special here at all. The ending in particular is completely uneventful and monotonous. “Premonition” is a movie that can be instantly forgotten the minute that you walk out of the theater. I myself am having a premonition that anybody who doesn’t take my wise advice to heart will regret enduring this mess of a motion picture.

Ratatouille

Ratatouille serves up an exquisite dish *****

In a span of nearly twelve years, the computer geniuses at the animation studio of Pixar have developed some of the finest movies in cinematic history, animated or not. The wonderful imaginations of trademark Pixar directors, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Brad Bird have engrossed these films through their ingenious methods of storytelling. I can’t think of another animation crew that could envision a story of toys and the struggle they must face when their owners reach adulthood. Who else could devise the enchanting tale of a daddy clown fish on a mission to rescue his son from a fish tank? In their latest animated feature, “Ratatouille,” Pixar tells yet another unbelievably astonishing fantasy fable.   

After centering their stories on toys, bugs, monsters, superheroes, and cars, Pixar explores the extraordinary world of rats. While I’ll admit that rats might not be the most compelling or appealing group of protagonists, Pixar manages to make vermin lovable. The movie tells the story of Remy, a young rat with the aspirations to become a great chef. However Remy’s dreams appear to be a lost cause. Nobody in their right mind would willingly eat food prepared by a rodent.

After separating himself from his rat clan, Remy finds himself in the city of Paris. There he ventures into a five-star restaurant where he is discovered by Linguini, an awkward garbage boy. Linguini is in desperate need of better employment and Remy desires to show off his cooking abilities. Together, the two team up to become the greatest chef in all of Paris.

“Ratatouille” is beautifully animated with its gorgeous landscapes of Paris. This is quite possibly the most technically achieving of the Pixar films. Director Brad Bird has brought films such as “The Incredibles” and “The Iron Giant” to life through his mesmerizing use of action. Here Bird enthralls the animation with his ingenious technique of animated action. 

Animation aside, the look of a film can be completely disregarded without a gripping story. The reason that “Ratatouille” works so well is because of it’s boldness to envision the most inspiring and impossible dream. The film’s tale of a picky-eating rat with a passion to cook exquisite food astonished me. I was completely captivated by the innovation of the film with its original and utterly unique story. The film ranges in the league of even some of the great animations.   

The people at Pixar seem to be incapable of making a bad film. While many found last years “Cars” to be somewhat of a disappointment, the film still achieved the status of a delightful animation. “Ratatouille” however, completely meats the standards that Pixar has set for itself. Given the other animations released this year, “Ratatouille” is by far the most exceptional. The film is funnier than “Shrek the Third,” more charming than “Meet the Robinson’s,” and more action packed than “TMNT.”  Come Oscar time, “Ratatouille” will surely be a frontrunner for “Best Animated Feature.”

Also worth mentioning is the short animation, “Lifted.” I can’t recall the last time I laughed out load so hysterically than in this uproarious animated short. This five minute segment will be presented in the commencement of “Ratatouille.”  

 

Rush Hour 3

Should you rush out to the theater? **1/2

Imagine if the Eddie Murphy character from “Beverly Hills Cop” accidentally stumbled into a “Karate Kid” picture. That was the basic result of the original “Rush Hour” from 1998. As odd of a crossover as it might have appeared, the movie had a decent balance of kun-fu action and humor. I’ve fiercely enjoyed the previous installments to the “Rush Hour” franchise for the purposes of senseless entertainment. The third installment in the “Rush Hour” series follows the same exact appealing formula. Yet, this franchise seems to have grown old as the movie studio squeezes the remaining juice out of yet another exhausted series.

“Rush Hour 3”of course reunites Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan to play the title roles of Detective James Carter and Chief Inspector Lee. The plot, if there is any, involves an assassination attempt against the Chinese Ambassador. The Ambassador’s shooter just so happens to be Lee’s long lost brother, Kenji, who ended up on the other side of the law. Lee and Carter track the crime syndicates down to the city of Paris. There objective is to bring down a ruthless crime ring known as the Shy Shen.

Chris Tucker’s rapid-talking, stereotypical routine of black dialog has proven to be extremely funny in the past. I’ve observed Tucker in all three “Rush Hour” pictures and on talk shows however. Unlike a multi-talented, African American comedian such as Eddie Murphy, I’ve come to the conclusion that Tucker is basically just playing himself rather than creating a real character here. Tucker needs to expand his horizon or else his usual routine will soon wear old.

Director Brett Ratner has made some fun action pictures in the past. I especially enjoyed his take on the X-Men series in last summers, “X-Men: The Last Stand.” However, Ratner’s technique of action seems somewhat recycled here. There’s one particular sequence in which Carter and Lee are chased through the streets of Paris by the crime gang. They encounter a baby carriage in the middle of the road and swerve out of the way just in time to avoid it. How many times in the past have we seen a runaway baby carriage get in the way of a car chase sequence in these kinds of action movies?

I liked a lot of “Rush Hour 3” with its high speed energy and sharp wit. My criticism with the movie however, is that it fails to accomplish anything new. I feel as if I’ve seen this film for the third time now and it’s simply become drained of all its spirit. The chemistry between Tucker and Chan seems especially forced this time around. Tucker in particular appears to be observing this project as nothing more than a paycheck. The only fresh aspect of the movie I really enjoyed was a French taxi driver, played by Yvan Attal, who desires to learn the thrills of a diehard American cop.

Due to the lack of innovation on behalf of the filmmakers, I cannot quite recommend “Rush Hour 3.” While the film is certainly amusing enough to achieve the status of a DVD rental, I am unable to suggest that you rush out to theater to see it. Then again, maybe some moviegoers simply aren’t as cenacle as I am. Maybe they’ll enjoy the picture anyways purely as mindless entertainment.

Shrek the Third

It's not easy being green **1/2

With the summer movie season descending upon us, theaters will soon find themselves overpopulated by sequels. In the months to come, audiences will be granted third installments of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Rush Hour,” and “The Born Identity.” Earlier this month, “Spider-Man 3,” swung into theaters to break numerous box office records. Now here comes the third installment to the revered animated series, “Shrek.” Like “Spider-Man 3,” the film sadly does not at all compare to its predecessors.

I still remember when I first saw the original “Shrek” back in 2001. The movie practically gave birth to a fresh generation of animation with its pop culture jokes and references. Children, teenagers, and adults alike were overcome with laughter by the movies clever wit. And behind all the pop culture jokes, the film had a big heart to offer. Then there was “Shrek 2,” a more than worthy follow-up that dominated the box office charts, becoming the highest grossing animated feature of all time.

In “Shrek the Third,” Mike Myers returns as the lovable, green ogre. Of course Shrek is once again aided by his endearing allies, Donkey, voiced by Eddie Murphy, Puss n Boots, voiced by Antonio Banderas, and Princess Fiona, voiced by Cameron Diaz. In this installment of the Shrek franchise, Fiona’s frog king father meets his demise and the Kingdom of Far, Far Away is in need of a new sovereign. Shrek, reluctant to stepping up as ruler, sets out to uncover the true king. Next in line to except the throne is the nerdy Artie, voiced by Justin Timberlake. Shrek is also confronted with the obstacle of becoming a father, learning that Fiona has become pregnant.

I must declare that this by far the most hardcore addition to the Shrek series. The film is crowded with slight references to sex, drugs, and bloody violence. Personally I loved the film for its mean street boldness. I found myself laughing frantically several times throughout this film. Aside from the out of place adult humor, there is also plenty of material for children of younger ages. Unlike some Saturday morning cartoons, the physical comedy is also especially humorous.

As I mentioned before, “Shrek the Third” does not compare to previous installments. One of my dismays with the film includes the lack of a compelling villain. This time around, Prince Charming, along with a cast of other fairytale villains, sets out to reclaim the kingdom. In my opinion, Prince Charming simply isn’t a very fascinating head villain. He’s basically just a dull pretty boy that never really appears as a threat to our protagonist.

Dissatisfaction also comes from the lack of support from the supporting cast. I’ll never forget the scene in the original “Shrek” in which the chatterbox Donkey first introduces himself to the ogre. In “Shrek 2,” the even more lovable Pus n Boots stole the whole show. In “Shrek the Third,” neither Donkey nor Pus are allowed enough screen time. All they are granted is an occasional one-liner.

The original “Shrek” is a timeless masterpiece with a unique humor, superlative action sequences, and a genuine message. Despite the flaws of its most recent follow-up, “Shrek the Third” isn't a total waste. The animation is breathtaking, the vocals are excellent, and there are a few moments of comic genius. There are some especially humorous instances involving Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Cheri Oteri, and Amy Sedaris as the trademark fairytale princesses. A couple bright spots just can't make up for the overall green turd "Shrek the Third" ultimately is, however.

The Simpsons Movie

Excellent *****

After eighteen years and over four hundred episodes, America’s favorite non-prehistoric cartoon family finally hits the big screen. Was there ever a primetime animated program more memorable than The Simpsons? When I consider the great cartoons of recent years, of course programs such as “Family Guy,” “King of the Hill,” and “South Park” come to mind. However, I do not believe that any animated program could possibly prove more superior than the yellow-faced, funny fivesome of the Simpson family. Animation aside, The Simpsons is one of the greatest shows in the history of television. The long awaited “Simpsons Movie” is a feature of such hilarity and wit that it outranks “The Spongebob SquarePants Movie” and “South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut” to become the “Citizen Kane” of cartoon adapted motion pictures.

The Simpson family consists of Homer, the enraged, yet lovable, chubby father, Marge, Homer’s blue-haired, long suffering wife, Bart, the rebellious ten-year-old son, Lisa, the intelligent, nature activist daughter, and Maggie, the pacifier-sucking baby. Disaster hits the town of Springfield when Homer foolishly dumps a silo of pig crap into the town’s water supply. The land becomes so polluted that it is decided by the head of the EPA, played by Albert Brooks, to seal Springfield in a massive dome. It is up to Homer and the family to save their beloved town of Springfield from complete destruction.

You won’t find a movie this entire year that will produce more laughs per second than “The Simpsons Movie.” The film is overflowing with laugh-out-moments and site gags that some will have to look closely to recognize. Simpsons creator Matt Groening, along with his team of writers and animators, has wholly produced a masterful animation that can appeal to both kids and adults alike. There is some questionable humor for some of the youngest children however, such as a hilarious skateboard sequence in which Bart flashes his penis. There is another scene in which Homer flips the entire town off, although he is only equipped with four fingers. The Simpsons are such a rich collection of characters of charm and cleverness that you can’t help but be completely won over by them.

One might study a character such as Homer Simpson and question how somebody so dim-witted and fat could be married to a woman as beautiful as Marge. Even as he chokes his son and disappoints his wife however, Homer Simpson is truly a genuine and authentic character. While he’s basically a stubborn, selfish oaf, Homer loves his family and would travel to worlds end to prove his affection for them. At the end of the day, “The Simpsons Movie” is film with a true and indisputable heart. The movie even proves itself a little touching at times without becoming too heartfelt or preachy like the family comedy, “Full House.”

Many Simpsons enthusiast, along with myself, have considered the television show to be a bit of a hit and miss in recent years. “The Simpsons Movie” however, manages to maintain the uproarious spirit of earlier episodes. It’s obvious that the screenwriters gave it their all to make the greatest Simpsons movie possible. The film will undoubtedly appeal to anyone who considers him or herself to be a loyal follower this cartoon series. Even if you’re not necessarily the biggest fan of the Simpsons, I still can’t imagine that anyone would not take pleasure in this animated work of genius.

Spider-Man 3

Spider-Man does whatever a spider can **1/2

The original “Spider-Man” from 2002 was an exceptional commencement to the series. The film ultimately succeeded in introducing the major characters and concocting a terrific summer action picture. “Spider-Man 2” was a rare sequel that in everyway managed to outdo its processor. The action and visuals were significantly superior to the original film. However, the film managed to accomplish so much more than just pumping the audience with action sequences. “Spider-Man 2” was a film that revealed the true struggle and sacrifice of being a superhero. It told a real, genuine story with an engaging romance and protagonist.

Now here comes “Spider-Man 3,” the third addition to the web-crawling chronicle. Unfortunately, as much as I might desire to, I cannot say that the film quite ranges with the original two movies. While the movie delivers more action than one could possibly crave, there isn’t nearly as much deep, emotional impact that the second film offered. However, “Spider-Men 3” is still an occasionally entertaining romp with some breathtaking action and amazing special effects.

Tobey Maguire is back, reprising his role as Spider-Man’s alter ego, Peter Parker. Life appears to have improved for Spidey since the last time we saw him. The city of New York contentedly rejoices him as the town hero. He’s managed to maintain exceptional grades at school. Best of all, he has won the heart of Mary Jane Watson, played by Kirsten Dunst. Peter finally plans to pop the question to Mary Jane. However, tremendous obstacles lie before him.

Spider-Man soon finds himself bombarded by an elite cluster of super villains. Harry Osborn, James Franco, suits up as the new Green Goblin in order to seek revenge on Spider-Man for the murder of his father. Thomas Haden Church stars as Sandman, who is revealed to be the actual murderer of Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben. I guess the police just forgot to inform the Parkers. Also among the band of baddies is Venom, played by Topher Grace from “The 70’s Show.” The problem with “Spider-Man 3” is that there is one too many villains to keep track of. The film is so overpopulated with villains that we never really get to the center of them like we did with the original Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus.

There is also an amazingly bizarre subplot in which the Spider-Man suit is overtaken by a strange black substance from outer space. The new black suit causes Peter Parker to unleash his inner demons and dark side. The major error is that the dark Spider-Man never really comes off as menacing. Basically it causes Peter Parker to dress and comb her hair like an Emo. In the end, he just kind of comes off as a total dork. Oh, there's also a dance sequence. Don't ask.

While “Spider-Man 3” does suffer in some territories, it does achieve on some other levels. Director Sam Raimi distributes some mind-blowing action sequences and manages to wrap up the story in a pleasant fashion. Despite a lack of effort from the screenwriters, the movie is at least mindlessly amusing. All in all though, "Spider-Man 3" isn't worthy enough to recommend.

I’m sure that this is not the last that we will be seeing of Spider-Man. I have no doubt that this film will earn the movie studio another three hundred million, guaranteeing a fourth installment to the series. Then again, perhaps the smarter thing to do would be to wait another twenty years and do a reboot ala “Batman Begins” and “Superman Returns.”

Stardust

Lust for Stardust ****

If there’s one undeniable movie to be rejoiced and cherished by everybody, it is “The Princess Bride.” I can not imagine an individual declining this film nor do I ever hope to meat one. Since “The Princess Bride” became a cult favorite on home video, numerous other films have attempted to recapture it’s winning combination of sword slashing adventure, comical wit, and one of the great cinematic romances. “Stardust” is a fantasy satire not quite in the same league of “The Princess Bride.” Then again, how many films are? “Stardust” is less cutie than “Ella Enchanted,” less hostel than “The Brother’s Grimm,” and overall terrific entertainment.

The film takes place in an imaginary English village, seeing how all of these stories take place in England, known as Wall. Of course the film would not be without a young whippersnapper who rises out of his diminutive life to become a hero and perhaps even king. In this case the movie’s hero is Tristan, played by newcomer Charlie Cox. Tristan desires nothing more than to win the hand of the lovely matron, Victoria. When a glorious falling star plummets from the heavens, Tristan becomes determined to capture the star in order to prove his affections towards his love. In place of the star, Tristan uncovers a woman named Yvaine, played by Claire Danes.

If any star has had a comeback year, it’s Michelle Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer was magnificently show-stopping this year as Velma Von Tussle in “Hairspray.” In “Stardust” she gives another winning performance as the villainous witch, Lamia. Lamia, along with her two haggy sisters, set out to cut open Yvaine’s heart in order to reclaim their own youth. This entire subplot reminded me much of the premise of “Hocus Pocus.”

We’ve all had our suspicions about Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee from “The Lord of the Rings” of being homosexual lovers. “Stardust” however, is the first fantasy adventure to have an out in the open gay man. In this case the gay man is a cross-dressing air pirate by the name of Captain Shakespeare who of all people is played by Robert De Niro. Who would have guessed that Jake LaMotta, Travis Bickle, and Vito Corleone could have all been fruitcakes behind their tough guy attitudes. De Niro is often hilarious here as this gay pirate who might have just saved “I Now Pronounce you Chuck and Larry.”

“Stardust” is at times a tad jumbled in its ideas and takes a while to take off in its first act. When the film finally takes off however, it soars like a commit. This is a wonderfully imaginative and completely original piece of genius. There is especially much to admire in the love story between Tristan and Yvaine who have a charming romance together. There is one immensely well written sequence in which Yvaine declare her love for Tristan which amazingly does not come off as cornball in the slightest. In a year where audiences seem drawn to only uninspired retreads, I hope that people will take a risk on something completely unique and intensive.

Superbad

McLovin’ it *****

In a year of so many mediocre comedies such as “License to Wed” and “Wild Hogs,” it’s comforting to finally see a movie like “Superbad.” So many comedies of recent years only manage to produce an occasional laugh-out-loud moment at best. “Superbad” on the other hand, is one of those movies in which you’ll find yourself laughing uproariously with every passing second. While so many comedies play it safe to achieve no higher than the rank of a “PG-13” rating, “Superbad” is a movie that breaks all the rules with the “f” bomb incorporated into every sentence. The final result is a hilariously raunchy Laughapalooza with a sidesplitting wit and authentic spirit.

The movie centers on lives of two high school outcasts. Michael Cera from “Arrested Development” stars as Evan and Jonah Hill plays his chubby best friend, Seth. With graduation just around the corner, the two decide to make up for a lifetime of missed opportunities. They get invited to party, where they yearn to loose their virginities to their high school crushes. The story takes place in the course of one night as these two frantically attempt to obtain alcohol for the graduation bash. The plot works as “American Pie” meets “American Graffiti.”

It seems like every year a new character is introduced who overnight becomes an icon in our popular culture. A few years back every moviegoer found him or herself quoting the words of “Napoleon Dynamite.” Last year the comic creation of “Borat” took our nation by storm. In “Superbad,” newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse creates the unforgettable character of Fogell aka McLovin.’ In a cast of such hilarious individuals, the awkwardly prepubescent creation of McLovin’ triumphs to steals the entire movie. The question is whether or not McLovin’ will become such a mass icon that audiences will not be able to except Christopher Mintz-Plasse in any other role.

What I enjoyed most about “Superbad” was its accuracy to the persona of young teenagers. The movie perfectly depicts the minds of horny teenage boys as they scavenger for women to mate with. The dialog between the characters of Seth and Evan revolves around sex as if it were a foreign language to them. What’s especially hysterical is the factually portrayal of high school boys as they blurt “fuck” and “pussy” with every passing minute. Finally we get a teenage comedy about teenagers that today’s teenagers can relate to.

In some bizarre way, there is a twisted genuineness to “Superbad.” Evan, Seth, and McLovin’ apply all of their energy into thinking about sex with beautiful women. At the same time however, these boys truly respect their female peers. Women are not objects of lust to them but individuals they actually care about.

The movie is based off of a screenplay written by Seth Rogan, who co-stars in the film, and Evan Goldberg. What’s remarkable is that the script was written when the two were only thirteen-years-old. It’s apparent that what was funny to these two as kids is still utterly hilarious in this day and age. I guarantee that you’ll found yourself laughing so much that to catch all of the jokes you’ll find it necessary to view “Superbad” a second time.

Sweeney Todd

Sweeney’s a sweaty ****1/2

Numerous moviegoers tend to label full-length movie musicals as lavished, festive, and all around gay romps. “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” however, is not a musical to be confused with “Singin’ in the Rain,” “The Sound of Music,” or “Hairspray,” as a cheerful, feel-good festivity. This is quite possibly the murkiest, most amazingly bizarre Broadway adaptation ever to be transferred onto film. Abnormality aside, “Sweeney Todd” is also an extraordinarily realized piece of art that defines masterpiece. This is a movie musical with the aberration of “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” the beauty of “Moulin Rouge,” and the travesty of “Westside Story.”

Based upon the Tony-award-winning Broadway production, “Sweeney Todd” tells the story of Benjamin Barker, a specialist barber. The always charismatic Johnny Depp plays the barber who is wrongfully imprisoned by the evil Judge Turpin, played by Alan Rickman. Years later, Barker returns to his home town on London as Sweeny Todd, a razor-wielding madman with a vengeance. A local pie maker named Mrs. Lovett, played by Helena Bonham Carter, informs the tormented barber that his loving wife has committed suicide and his daughter, Joana, has been taken under care of the menacing judge.

“Sweeney Todd” is a marvelously crafted film with much praise to the enchanting art direction. The film’s vision of London is just as impressive as Peter Jackson’s vision of New York City in “King Kong.” The fact that “Sweeney Todd” is a technically achieving picture is no surprise, with credit of visionary director Tim Burton. Unlike some of his earlier work such as “Beetlejuice” and the original “Batman” however, Burton manages to blend his art with a real story here. This is one of his best accomplishments to be considered in the same league of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Ed Wood.”

This is certainly Burton’s darkest feature since “Sleepy Hallow.” Blood plays a great factor in this extremely violent musical. Unlike the “Saw” and “Hostel” films however, “Sweeny Todd” manages to add class to its gore. Even with all the throat-slitting that takes place in the film, “Sweeney Todd” has an ingenious Sin City-like sense of humor to it. The characters commit numerous sadistic deeds as if their actions could be completely disregarded.

Although Johnny Depp might not have a golden Broadway voice, this is one of his best performances. Depp is ominous as this demon barber who greatly resembles Edward Scissorhands. Also creditable is Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, and Sacha Baron Coen as a ludicris Italian barber. Burton has masterfully brought Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical to life in one hell of a motion picture.

There Will Be Blood

Oil doesn’t spoil ****

There are some movies that can run on at roughly three hours and still appear too short. Most notably would be the Oscar-winning “Schindler’s List,” “Titanic,” “Dances with Wolves,” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. “There Will Be Blood” on the other hand, is an example of a good film that runs on for far too long. At the hour and a half mark, I believed that I had stumbled upon one of the best films of the year. At two hours and a half hours, “There Will Be Blood” meanders with no end in sight as it looses much of its credibility. While I recommend the film for its outstanding traits, the films dull longevity seems to prevent it from attaining greatness.


This is the at times captivating tale of Daniel Plainview, played by one of our generation’s most remarkable character actors, Daniel Day-Lewis. Plainview is a complicated oil tycoon who adopts an orphaned baby as his son and partner, naming him H.W. Plainview and H.W. finally hit the mother load when they learn of a mountain of oil on a ranch out West. Inhabiting the ranch is a young preacher by the name of Eli, played by Paul Dano in a strong supporting performance. The pump erupts in a volcano of oil with H.W. in the crossfire, leaving him interminably deaf. Plainview must deal with the struggle of raising a deaf child as he gradually falls into insanity.

If there’s one purpose to see there “There Will Be Blood,” despite its endless running time, it’s the brilliant performance from Daniel Day-Lewis. This is an immortal role that both mystified and haunted me. Day-Lewis embodies this character with fortitude, not just simply acting on screen. To see Day-Lewis staring in a movie is the equivalent of witnessing Halley’s Comet. It’s a rare occasion and quite a spectacle when it arises. I find it admirable that while even some of our greatest actors take on mindless action pictures and lightweight romantic comedies, Day-Lewis limits his work to give one great performance after another.

Technically, “There Will Be Blood” is a spectacle of note-perfect art-direction and costumes. This is one of director Paul Thomas Anderson’s most well crafted accomplishments, occupying every scene with fascination. The unbelievable cinematography will particularly blow your mind. The lingering score, which unfortunately won’t be eligible for Oscar consideration, is especially captivating.

“There Will Be Blood” is a fiercely well made picture with credit to a talented director and one exceptional performance. What this film is lacking in is any shred of a heart. I was dazed by much of the film in its convoluted plot and message. I feel as if a lot of people are going to walk out of this movie inquisitive to what it was suppose to be about and what it was trying to say. While fascinating in a majority of parts, the bottom line is that “There Will Be Blood” is relentlessly boring at times. For those superior qualities however, how can I possibly decline the film?

TMNT

I did not love being a turtle **1/2

It has been over a decade since the last Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie and I have no complaints about that. I will admit that I did actually enjoy the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie released in 1990. The film was far from being a perennial cinematic masterpiece. It was a silly, bizarre, campy samurai picture lead by an outlandish, yet likeable group of heroes. The first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie was a well made, entertaining attainment, which was enough for me to recommend it. I unfortunately cannot say the same for the latest addition to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles saga.

I will say that this update of “TMNT” is true to the spirit of the original series. The entire gang returns for yet another mediocre adventure. Of coarse the four teenage mutant ninja turtles, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello, are back in action. The turtle’s Obi-Wan Kenobi-like instructor, Splinter, also returns to aid them in their quest. Their homosapien friends, April O’Neil and Casey Jones, are also back to kick some ass. They all team up once again to combat their arch adversaries, the Foot Clan.

Unlike the three previous installments, this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is not filmed in live-action. Rather, this chapter is an animated adventure, allowing the film more freedom to venture into certain territories. “TMNT” is most certainly a great-looking movie. The animated action sequences really spring to life as if the audience were viewing a 3D extravaganza.

What the film achieves technically, it utterly lacks in terms of storytelling. Digital animated features have been renowned for bringing the audience to creative, unique worlds with original, innovative stories. In “TMNT,” the story revolves around an immortal warrior king who desires to undue his immortality, after being alive for so many centuries. He assembles a collection of warriors, who have been incarcerated in stone, to capture thirteen monsters. Only if these thirteen beasts are returned to their rightful world can the king once again become mortal. Compared to other digital animated adventures such as “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” and “The Incredibles,” “TMNT” seems a tad monotonous. The ludicrous plot might have worked as a videogame, but not as a feature length picture.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have an immense fan base of children. This would probably explain why so many kids suffer from ADD. I am confident that any youngster who is a fan of the turtles will take pleasure in the film. Not considering myself to be a loyal follower of the series, I cannot recommend the film for any else. While the movie will keep kids occupied for an hour and a half, adults will spend a majority of the time looking at their watches.

“TMNT” really would have worked more as a strait to DVD release or an after school special instead of a theatrical release. The film is being marketed as a family feature. If you desire to see a family picture that will appeal to the entire family go see “Bride to Terabithia.”

Transformers

More than meets the eye ***

When it was announced that a live-action “Transformers” movie would be released, it seemed like every fanboy’s fairytale. Nerds around the nation rejoiced the idea of seeing Optimus Prime and his band of Autobots up on the big screen. Then it was announced that Michael Bay had signed on as director and their dreams were crushed. Bay’s previous credits include a series of mindlessly uninspiring action blockbusters, such as “Pearl Harbor” and “Bad Boys II.” Many believed that Bay’s clunky technique of direction would surely butcher the beloved series of “Transformers.” However, to my delight, this “Transformers” feature turned out to be an often glorious summer picture that will unquestionably appeal to every fanboy in America.

Shia LaBeouf has recently been maturing from a goofy child star to an abundant actor in movies such as “Disturbia.” In “Transformers,” LaBeouf takes on the role of the movies hero, Sam Witwicky. Sam is your typical awkward teenage boy who desires a fancy car and pines over his high school crush, Mikaela, played by Megan Fox. In his quest to obtain an automobile, Sam purchases a yellow Camaro. Sam eventually realizes unique qualities in his car however, when it becomes fully functional without a driver. It’s kind of like something out of “Herbie: Fully Loaded,” only funnier and more badass!

The Camaro transformers into a massive robot named “Bumblebee,” who is sworn to protect Sam from certain doom. Sam and his robot buddy are soon accompanied by a series of other advanced machines known as “The Autobots.” These machines are capable of transforming into just about any technological device, from trucks to an X-Box 360. Their leader, Optimus Prime, informs the mortal Sam that there is a war raging between the Autobots and the malevolence Decepticons. Their only hope is to uncover a mysterious cube object that crashed landed on earth many years ago. Sam just so happens to be in possession of a pair of glasses that contains a map to the location of this cube.

Unlike some movies that don’t have the courtesy to recognize their true dorkiness, like “TMNT” and “Eragon,” “Transformers” seems to be aware of its campy value. The film is fully conscious of its dopy premise and is never too afraid to make fun of itself. The first half of the movie features some laugh-out-load satire involving these robots. There is an especially humorous sequence in which the Autobots are forced to hideout in Sam’s backyard without disturbing his parents. The film’s uproarious wit achieves just as many laughs as the comedy, “Evan Almighty,” released earlier this summer.

In the second half of “Transformers,” the film kicks it up into high gear with an extended action sequence involving a mass war between the Autobots and Decepticons. As engaging as the last hour of the movie might be, the film seemed to slow down in its final act. Action can be a delicate thing in summer blockbusters. The action sequences in other summer movies, like “Live Free or Die Hard” and “The Pirates of the Caribbean films,” are not only gloriously entertaining, but funny and wonderfully over-the-top. In “Transformers,” every surrounding seems to just mindlessly blow up.

We live in a day and age where outstanding visuals can be greatly witnessed in movies. The special effects team of “Transformers” manages to do a tremendous job at bringing these Hasbro toys to life. Director Michael Bay’s use of cinematography however, is a tad too jerky for my taste. Bay needs to learn to allow the camera to settle for a change. This also might sound like an odd complaint for a summer blockbuster, but the film is far too loud. At times the earsplitting explosions of the movie gave me a worse headache than the crying baby sitting in front of me.

Despite the flaws of the film, “Transformers” easily merits a recommendation based on its sufficient qualities. You won’t find a summer blockbuster with more laughs this entire year. The action, while sometimes tedious, can be extraordinarily entertaining. Plus there’s some nice work from Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox as the two leads. Will the film meet the expectations of the millions of “Transformer” enthusiasts? I believe so. As somebody that was never a fan of the cartoon show, I can’t be entirely certain. As a movie lover however, I can state with confidence that the film will keep any moviegoer amused.

Waitress

Hello, my name is waitress I’ll be your Jenna today ****

I haven’t been particularly curious to where Kerri Russell has been since the cancellation of her show, “Felicity.” Since “Felicity,” Russell has done some perfectly decent work in movies such as “Mission Impossible III.” It wasn’t until I saw “Waitress” however, that I had any desire to start tracking Russell’s career. Breaking out of her teenage drama faze, Russell finally manages to establish that she is fully capable of carrying a film. I am happy to announce that “Honey I Blew up the Kid” is no longer Russell’s best performance.

In this wholesomely delightful romantic comedy, Kerri stars as a pie-baking wiz named Jenna. The lonely waitress desires nothing more in the world than to one day win a $25,000 pie contest and leave her deadbeat husband, Earl. The possibility of escaping from Earl’s clutches becomes even more unlikely however, when Jenna makes the unanticipated and unwanted discovery that she’s pregnant. Distressed at home, Jenna can only find confident in her restaurant with her fellow waitresses Becky, played by Cheryl Hines, and Dawn, played by Adrienne Shelly. Perplexed by her unsure life and future, Jenna falls into the arms of her gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter.

The romance between Jenna and Dr. Pomatter is sincerely charming. Unlike so many other romantic comedies in which I could care less about the relationship, I profoundly felt for these characters. By the movies halfway point I was surprised by just how much I actually cared about these people.

As touching as “Waitress” can be, I must note a slight flaw in the movie’s story structure. It’s perfectly understandable why Jenna would cheat on her husband, who has the nerve to order his wife not to love her baby more than him. What doesn’t entirely work is the relationship between Dr. Pomatter and his wife. The existence of the doctor’s wife is only vaguely mentioned throughout the movie. It’s not until a scene towards the very end that she makes a brief appearance, where she come off as nothing but pleasant. So why would this man cheat on his apparently loving wife? Since the relationship is only told from Jenna’s point of view, the romance isn’t quite as gripping as the affair in “Little Children.”

There’s really only one major downer regarding “Waitress.” The movie’s writer, director, and costar, Adrienne Shelly, was murdered several months before the movie’s premiere. Shelly revealed a promising future here with a witty screenplay and sharp direction. It’s a travesty that this magnificent rising filmmaker’s life had to be taken in such a tragic manner while Uwe Boll, director of “Alone in the Dark” and “Bloodrayne,” gets to continue making movies. Adrienne Shelly was a wonderful and unique talent who was only just starting to blossom as a filmmaker. I believe that she could have even gone the Sofia Coppola rout to be one of the few female directors to be nominated for an Academy Award.

Given some of the loud, obnoxious comedies I’ve seen this year like “Georgia Rule,” it was pleasant to see a quiet and calm movie for a change. “Waitress” is one of those films of such charm that you can’t help but be completely won over by it. Much of the credit goes to Keri Russell’s winning performance along with fine supporting work from Cheryl Hines and Andy Griffin as a senile, wealthy, old loon. Adrienne Shelly has made a completely enjoyable feature that is sweater than pie, no pun intended.

Wild Hogs

Hogs run out of gas **

If you see the trailer for “Wild Hogs,” you would evidently recognize that it is not the latest picture from Woody Allen. This is one of those lowbrow comedies that does not have the brains or wits of elegant comedies such as “Little Miss Sunshine” or “Sideways.” However, if you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you’d know that I’m not one to discriminate against simpleminded comedies. Just last year I recommended “Jackass: Number Two” and “Scary Movie 4.” I like to give every movie I see the benefit of the doubt and recommend it based on what the film attempts to do.

I sat down to watch “Wild Hogs” with an open mind. I will admit that I did find myself laughing out loud several times within the first thirty minutes of the movie. Within this time period, I believed that perhaps I had stumbled upon a pleasurably funny, slapstick comedy. As time passed however, the laughter gradually began to decrease. I soon became board of the movie’s hollow plot and obvious gags. By the time the ending credits rolled up, I found myself somewhat unsatisfied.

The movie tells the tale of four middle-aged men, distressed by a midlife crisis. The leader of the pack is Woody Stevens, played by John Travolta, a lawyer who finds himself divorced and bankrupt. Then there’s Doug Madsen, played by Tim Allen, a dentist having trouble connecting to his distant son. Also among the gang is Bobby Davis, played by Martin Lawrence, a husband and father who has no balls in his marriage. The final member of the group is Dudley Frank, played by William H. Macy, an awkward computer geek. In order to reclaim their youth, the four decide to take a cross-country road trip.

This is one of those movies that attempts to make up for its lackluster script with an exceptional acting ensemble. John Travolta is a multitalented, charismatic actor, dating back from “Saturday Night Fever” to “Pulp Fiction.” William H. Macy has always managed to shine in whatever project he takes on. While I have not loved some Tim Allen’s or Martin Lawrence’s previous work, their both likeable stars with a fair share of successes. All four leading stars, along with Ray Liotta and Marisa Tomei, are simply wasted here.

I suppose my dismay with “Wild Hogs” is that it sets itself up for every single joke. Anybody could easily see each gag coming from a mile away. As much as I hate to be the snob that steps on a lightweight comedy, I can’t quite recommend “Wild Hogs.” The movie reminded me much of the other road trip comedy, “Road Trip.” While both films featured a likable cast of characters and some moments of hilarity, neither ever really came together as a whole. Although I did enjoy the first half hour or so, “Wild Hogs” hastily ran out of gas for me.