Mystery Men


Skull bowling has never really taken off as a recreational sport.

Skull bowling has never really taken off as a recreational sport.

(1999) Superhero (Universal) Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, Geoffrey Rush, Hank Azaria, Janeane Garofalo, Paul Reubens, Kel Mitchell, Greg Kinnear, Wes Studi, Lena Olin, Eddie Izzard, Artie Lange, Prakazrel Michel, Claire Forlani, Tom Waits, Emmy Laybourne . Directed by Kinka Usher

If you have had enough of brooding Dark Knights, angsty-but-noble Spider-Men or of Too-Good-To-Be-True Men of Steel, here are the other guys, the kinds of heroes that would probably show up to save OUR day.

Mr. Furious (Stiller), known for his legendary rages, leads a trio of what local cops contemptuously call wannabes, rounded out by the Shoveller (Macy), the straight man who says modestly “we just fight crime…call it what you will” and the obtuse Blue Raja (Azaria), who speaks in a phony British accent and has not a speck of the color blue in his costume. He throws silverware with uncanny accuracy, although he has trouble flinging knives which is one the things that makes Mr. Furious so hopped-up mad.

When this trio of do-gooders attempt to save an old-folks home from robbery, they wind up having the crap kicked out of them only to be rescued by Captain Amazing (Kinnear), Champion City’s legitimate superhero. It seems Amazing has done his work too well, and there are no real battles left for him to fight. So when his arch-nemesis Casanova Frankenstein (Rush) is released from the asylum, Amazing hopes for the kind of apocalyptic battle that will bring the Captain’s sinking stock back to the fore. So when Amazing is captured by his mortal enemy, there’s nobody left to save the day except…you guessed it.

Realizing they are woefully overmatched, they try to recruit some additional firepower (which leads to the Superhero Audition, one of the best scenes in the movie). They wind up with the Spleen (Reubens), whose incapacitating gasses are best left undescribed, the Invisible Kid (Kel Mitchell) who can only turn invisible when nobody’s watching, the Sphinx (Studi) who utters semi-mystical phrases of meaningless babble (sample; “If you do not master your rage, your rage will master you”) and the Bowler (Garofalo), who keeps her father’s skull in her bowling ball and carries on conversations with her departed dad that blur the line between neurotic and psychotic but settle into a kind of Jewish angst.

The odds are against them as they find themselves some weapons (which mainly don’t work) and get themselves some snazzy new costumes which do. However, with their backs to the wall they still refuse to walk away, knowing that this fight could very well be their last.

Usher tries way too hard to turn this into a roller coaster ride of comedy and action, winding up with something that tain’t one thing nor t’other. There are car chases and fight scenes, but mostly played with a wink. The set design is memorable, sort of a cross between Gotham City and the overlooked sci-fi flick Dark City. There are a lot of terrific running jokes; only Mr. Furious seems to notice the remarkable resemblance between Captain Amazing and his alter ego, for example. Note the corporate sponsorships on the uniform of Captain Amazing, for another – sort of like a European soccer uniform or a NASCAR suit.

This is definite eye candy, highly entertaining eye candy at that. The action sequences aren’t half bad although they are played with a definite wink.  The cast is formidable, with some of the most underrated talents in Hollywood. Superhero parodies have not traditionally sold well in the comic book store, and this one certain didn’t bust down the box office bank. Still, if you want to get away from the usual suspects of Marvel and DC superheroes, here is the kind of movie that will keep the parents entertained without having their kids squirming in their seats.

WHY RENT THIS: Magnificent eye candy. An alternative from the usual superhero fare. Some fine performances, particularly from Macy, Stiller, Kinnear, Studi and Garofalo.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Comedy and action sequences sometimes clash. A little neurotic in places.

FAMILY MATTERS: Some rather crude jokes and a bit of comic book violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The comic book from which this originated was began as a spin-off from the Flaming Carrot comic books but only Mr. Furious, the Spleen and the Shoveller made it from the book to the film (the Bowler, Invisible Kid and Blue Raja are all new characters developed for the film). The Sphynx is a Golden Age character in the public domain and Captain Amazing is a substitute for the Flaming Carrot whom producers thought was too bizarre a character for a mainstream Hollywood film.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There’s a featurette on the origin of the comic book series and a couple of music videos.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $33.5M on a $68M production budget; the movie was an unqualified flop.

STATION WAGON LOVERS: The Shoveller’s car is an early AMC Rebel.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: This is 40

House on Haunted Hill (1999)


House on Haunted Hill

All sorts of photo ops in the House on Haunted Hill.

(1999) Supernatural Horror (Warner Brothers) Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Peter Gallagher, Chris Kattan, Ali Larter, Bridgette Wilson, Max Perlich, Jeffrey Combes, Dick Beebe, Lisa Loeb, James Marsters, Peter Graves. Directed by William Malone

 

When done correctly, the haunted-house movie can be nearly ideal entertainment; claustrophobic, scary and sometimes spectacular, depending on the visual bent of the director.

Unfortunately, it’s very rarely done well, despite many attempts; my favorite remains The Legend of Hell House, which scores regular appearances on late-night television and is readily available on home video.. The House on Haunted Hill is a remake of a William Castle B-movie classic, updated for the ’90s with a stellar cast and crackerjack effects.

It begins at an insane asylum as the demented inmates riot against a sadistic staff, leading to a tragedy that kills all but five. Flash forward to the present, when theme park maven Stephen Price (Rush) – a sly tribute to the original movie’s star Vincent Price – has just finished debuting his newest roller coaster (actually the Incredible Hulk coaster at Orlando’s very own Islands of Adventure theme park, an experience I highly recommend if you haven’t already been) and is preparing to throw a birthday party for his less-than-loving wife (Janssen). He plans an unforgettable shindig.

However, the guest list is mysteriously altered, leaving only five complete strangers to try Price’s challenge; he’s put up a million dollars per guest (that’s five million dollars total) to be awarded to anyone who spends an entire night without leaving the notorious property known as the most haunted place in Los Angeles. This is, if you haven’t already guessed, the former asylum. Of course, you have to survive in order to collect. Who will it be – the mild mannered physician (Gallagher), the heroic leading man (Diggs), the plucky comic relief (Kattan) or the beautiful, sexy and intrepid woman (Larter)?

As is the case with many haunted house flicks, the house itself proves to have its own lethal intelligence. What was a mean-spirited prank turns into a fight for survival among stereotypes…err, I mean, characters. The writers throw in a misleading and totally unnecessary subplot involving Price’s marital woes and attempts by both parties to frame the other for murder, but it doesn’t wash for a moment.

The cast is led by Rush as Price, a showman along the lines of P.T. Barnum — or even, gulp, William Castle, the B-movie impresario who once wired theaters playing one of his movies to deliver mild electric shocks to patrons during key moments of the film. Rush is always outstanding and he manages to rise above the material here.

Taye Diggs makes for an excellent hero; he has a future as a widescreen leading man. Kattan provides comic relief as a caretaker who knows all too well what the house is capable of and proves to be one of the bright spots of the movie, something I never thought I’d say about the guy.

The effects are dazzling at times; the appearances of various ghosts and ghouls are genuinely creepy. The specter of Dr. Vannecutt (Jeffrey Combs) is particularly disturbing; it still weirds me out whenever I’m reminded of his appearance on a surveillance camera. The climactic portion of the movie revealing the monster at the heart of the haunting is a computer-generated Lovecraftian nightmare, but takes up far too much screen time; it would have made for better scares to show us less of the thing and more of the actors reactions to it.

In fact, as good as the effects are, they occasionally overpower what could have been a better movie if the filmmakers had focused more on genuine suspense and atmosphere instead of overpowering the senses. This got some notoriety as being the first film to be released from Dark Castle, the production company headed by Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis, Gil Adler and Terry Castle, the daughter of the legendary producer. While they have since branched out from remakes of classic Castle films, they remain one of the finest regular producers of horror films in Hollywood.

“Less is More” is a truism that Hollywood moviemakers espouse onscreen but rarely follow behind the camera. House on Haunted Hill could have benefited from a budget slashed even more effectively than the designated female victim (see if you can guess who she’ll be at the beginning of the movie) who goes brainlessly and inevitably to her fate, wandering around in a dangerous house with a video camera – by herself. Kinda sums up the whole movie if you ask me.

WHY RENT THIS: Nice eye candy. Rush and Kattan give nice performances. Larter and Janssen are easy on the eyes.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overreliance on special effects. Would have done better creating more atmosphere and showing the monster less.

FAMILY MATTERS: Graphic horror violence, gore, some sexual images and lots of bad language; not for the squeamish.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The first person to get killed in the movie, a male nurse, is played by the writer of the screenplay Dick Beebe.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There are trailers for both the 1999 and 1959 versions of the film, as well as a 20-minute feature comparing the two.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $40.9M (North American box office figures only) on a $37M production budget; factor in worldwide box office and chances are this made money.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: The Tempest

Finding Nemo


Finding Nemo

Dude! Have you seen Nemo?

(2003) Animated Feature (Disney) Starring the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney, Austin Pendleton, Stephen Root, Vicki Lewis, Joe Ranft, Geoffrey Rush, Elizabeth Perkins, Eric Bana, John Ratzenberger. Directed by Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich

 

You might think that being a clownfish is all fun and games, but it’s a dangerous ocean out there. Just ask Marlin (Brooks). He had it all — a beautiful home with a view, a loving wife, and a brood of kids on the way.

However, a chance predator takes out nearly everything, leaving Marlin with just one son, Nemo (Gould), and Marlin swears that nothing will happen to Nemo as long as daddy is around.

Time passes, and it’s time for little Nemo to head out to school. However, his overprotective dad has Nemo seeing red, and so the little fish with the half-formed fin ventures out farther than he should — and is caught by a dentist looking for a new addition to his tropical fish collection.

Doggedly, Marlin sets out to bring his boy home. He is aided by Dory (DeGeneres), a loopy bluefish with short-term memory loss that occasionally jeopardizes Marlin’s mission. But the plucky Dory sticks with him, and turns out to be a valuable ally, even with her problems remembering what happened just a few minutes before.

Meanwhile, Nemo is attempting an escape of his own, aided by several denizens of the fish tank, notably the only one among them who had actually lived out in the open ocean, Gill (Willem Dafoe). Marlin must navigate through the ocean’s natural dangers, ranging from a minefield of beautiful (but deadly) jellyfish, to a trio of sharks undergoing a twelve-step program to become, well, friendlier to fish.

The environment created by Pixar is even more enchanting than the undersea world of Disney’s other waterlogged animations, The Little Mermaid and Atlantis, mainly because it seems more real. The sequence with the current-surfing turtles is one of the best Pixar has ever come up with. In many ways, this is the most Disney-esque of the animated features Pixar has done, which, considering that director Andrew Stanton was responsible for A Bug’s Life – quite frankly the weakest Pixar movie to date – is not surprising.

Although Finding Nemo has gotten universally excellent reviews (including from my spouse Da Queen, who quite firmly stated that this is an Animation classic), I found it to be less engaging than the great majority of their films. While I can understand the popularity of the movie (and like DeGeneres, wonder when the inevitable sequel is coming), I just didn’t connect with it.

Albert Brooks has always struck me as kind of a poor man’s Woody Allen (making him, I suppose, a rich man’s Richard Lewis), somewhat neurotic and pessimistic, which suits Marlin well enough, but can get on the nerves over the course of 101 minutes. Dory is the best-drawn (excuse the pun) of the characters here; she is certainly handicapped by her memory problems, but never allows it to get her down. She turns out to be a loyal friend, something Marlin desperately needs.

Don’t get me wrong; the kids are going to love this, and adults will find some of it spectacular at times. Like nearly every Pixar movie, this one has enough subtext (particularly in the humor) to keep the attention of the big kids, and enough eye candy to keep the attention of the smaller kids. It was one of the big winners in the 2003 box office derby, and a big shot-in-the-arm for Disney’s flagging animated feature fortunes (particularly after the dismal performance of Treasure Planet). Pixar next released The Incredibles which even now is my favorite Pixar film ever, superhero geek that I am. You have every reason to see this movie, but be warned that at least for my part, I had a difficult time loving this as much as I have other Pixar movies. Perhaps therein lies my own problem – my expectations. You may want to go into this without any. You may enjoy it more than I did.

If you have kids, expect this to be a staple in your video library – if it isn’t now, there’s a good chance it will be at some point. No kids? You’ll still want to see some of the spectacular underwater scenes anyway and you’ll appreciate DeGeneres’ kooky performance.

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous backgrounds and authentic undersea settings. DeGeneres makes Dory one of Pixar’s most memorable characters. Crush and the turtles make one of the most breathtaking segments Pixar’s ever done.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Marlin is a bit too neurotic to be an enjoyable lead. Is less compelling than other Pixar classics.

FAMILY MATTERS: Are you kidding? This is Disney…of course it’s perfectly suitable for the entire family!

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The waiting room in the dentist’s office was modeled after one near the Pixar studios in Emeryville, California.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: The special edition DVD, like most Disney home video, is loaded with special features including the animated short Knick Knack which played in the theaters alongside Finding Nemo. There’s also an interactive game, a studio tour of Pixar Studios and a hilarious featurette called “Exploring the Reef” hosted by Jean-Michel Cousteau which purports to be a serious feature about the Great Barrier Reef but Cousteau constantly gets interrupted by characters from the movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $867.9M on a $94M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster in every sense of the word.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: We Bought a Zoo

Green Lantern


Green Lantern

Peter Sarsgaard discovers that a major supporting role in a franchise film can lead to a big head.

(2011) Superhero (Warner Brothers) Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Michael Clark Duncan, Geoffrey Rush, Tim Robbins, Angela Bassett, Jay O. Sanders, Temeura Morrison, Jon Tenney, Taika Waititi, Clancy Brown, Salome Jens, Warren Burton. Directed by Martin Campbell

The obvious and cheap line is that it isn’t easy being green. The Green Lantern is one of the most powerful figures in the DC comic book universe but never gets the respect or love of the heaviest hitters for the brand. In fact, none of the DC heroes other than Batman and Superman have found much success on the big screen, and this movie looked to finally get the DC brand on the same track that the Marvel brand has been on for more than a decade. Did it succeed?

Hal Jordan (Reynolds) is a cocky test pilot for Ferris Aviation. He has had an on-again, off-again (at the moment, off-again) romance with Carol Ferris (Lively), the daughter of CEO Carl Ferris (Sanders) and Not a Bad Pilot Herself. Jordan is a bit of a screw-up, one who has alienated his brothers (but not his nephew who idolizes him) and has just messed up a potentially lucrative government contract that has been ushered through by Senator Hammond (Robbins) by defeating some robotic drone aircraft that were thought to be unbeatable by violating the rules of engagement, a real no-no.

Meanwhile, out in the universe, the Guardians of Oa, a blue-skinned Yoda-like race, have created the Green Lantern Corps, a sort of cosmic Interpol. Each Green Lantern derives his power from the green light of willpower, which is channeled through their ring and allows them to convert thought to matter. They are given a sector of the universe to patrol.

One of their greatest warriors, Abin Sur (Morrison) once captured a being called ‘Parallax (Brown) who operates on the yellow power of fear. When Parallax is accidentally set free, he annihilates entire worlds in order to get at Abin Sur. The two battle and Abin Sur, mortally wounded, heads to the nearest planet – you guessed it, Earth – to pass on his ring to a worthy successor. Can you guess who the ring finds?

Jordan is summoned to Oa to train with Tomar-Re (Rush), a bird-like alien and Kilowog (Duncan) a hulking creature that looks like it eats Bigfoot for breakfast. However Sinestro (Strong) doesn’t hold out much hope that the human can overcome his own shortcomings to defeat Parallax who is on his way to wipe out Earth.

The reason Parallax – now kind of an octopus made up of brown smoke with a skull for a head – is making a bee-line for our world is that scientist Hector Hammond (Sarsgaard) has been infected with some of Parallax’s residual fear energy and has become something of a big-skulled big-brained villain who has the hots for Carol Ferris and a big time jealous rage over Hal.  

Hal on the other hand doesn’t think he’s up to the task. A Green Lantern should be fearless and Hal has a lot of fear, quite frankly – mostly of failure. As a child, he watched his dad die in a plane crash before his eyes. Ever since, he’s been trying to live up to the legacy of a father who knew no fear and was the epitome of a hero. Hal is going to have to channel that kind of inner hero if he is to save the Earth.

Director Campbell has plenty of experience with big budget franchise movies, having helmed two movies each of the James Bond and Zorro series. His job here is to introduce non-fans to the Green Lantern universe while at the same time not alienating the existing fan base of the hero.

He doesn’t quite succeed on either count. The backstory of the Green Lantern mythos is complex and doesn’t lend itself to easy summation. While he departs from comic book canon somewhat during the course of the film, it isn’t enough where he should be alienating the fans of the series much. The place where they have been kicking up a fuss is over the uniform of the Green Lantern, which is computer generated and to be quite honest, doesn’t look very realistic. This was a bit of a misfire.

Another was the casting of Reynolds, who is a very good actor with a flippant side. However, the elements that make Reynolds the near-perfect choice for Deadpool (a Marvel superhero who is due a movie of his own and appeared in X-Men Origins: Wolverine) are the same reasons that make him wrong for Jordan, who was more of an archetypical hero in the comics – nearly fearless and somewhat more straightlaced. Most of the best stories about Jordan are the ones that put him in extreme emotional duress, such as the “Emerald Twilight” storyline. Here, he comes off as a reject from Top Gun and it feels like the wrong fit here.  

Lively can be an arresting actress but here she isn’t given much to do but be Goose to Reynolds’ Maverick. She is one of the more interesting characters in the Green Lantern universe and she’s certainly given short shrift here. If there are to be any sequels, hopefully her strength will take a front seat. Waititi, as techie Tom Kalmaku (also a character from the comics) at least makes an impression.

The planet Oa is impressively rendered, although it is terribly underlit which makes the 3D effects darker still and the movie look like it was filmed during a brown-out. Apparently it’s always the middle of the night on Oa.

This movie had insane potential and it really makes me sad to say that it doesn’t live up to it. However, don’t mistake that for a warning to stay away at all costs. Many of the mainstream reviewers who took a crack at the movie seemed to have a hard time with the backstory, deriding it as preposterous and juvenile. First of all, this is based on a comic book – not Shakespeare. There’s supposed to be an element of wonder to it. At times, Green Lantern achieves that. Unfortunately, not as much as it should have.

REASONS TO GO: It’s great to see a DC hero onscreen that isn’t Superman or Batman.

REASONS TO STAY: Reynolds is miscast. Some of the Oa sequences are too underlit, making the 3D additionally annoying.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some fairly intense scenes of action and violence in a sci-fi medium.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film’s plot is based on the comic book stories “Emerald Dawn” and “Secret Origins.” The song Hal and Carol dance to, the Fleetwoods’ “Come Softly to Me,” was released in 1959, the same year the comic book Jordan made his debut.

HOME OR THEATER: The outer space vistas of Oa need to be seen on a big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Just Wright

New Releases for the Week of June 17, 2011


June 17, 2011

GREEN LANTERN

(Warner Brothers) Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Clarke Duncan. Directed by Martin Campbell

A cocky test pilot (is there any other kind?) is drawn into a galactic conflict after an alien hands him a ring that has the power to convert thought into reality. He becomes a member of a corps of heroes who protect the universe from evil, but they are facing a threat more powerful than any they’ve ever seen before. Not only is the earth in peril from this enemy but there are enemies at home that are compounding the threat.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Superhero

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence)

The Art of Getting By

(Fox Searchlight) Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Blair Underwood, Rita Wilson. A spoiled teen who has managed to reach his senior year of high school without doing a day’s work, faces the onset of the real world. He meets a young woman who sees past his facade and takes a liking to him, although she has issues of her own. Together they try to weather the storms of adolescence and learn the difficult art of getting by.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including sexual content, language, teen drinking and partying)

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

(20th Century Fox) Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Philip Baker Hall, Clark Gregg. A man who has become so career-driven that he has lost sight of why he is working in the first place inherits six penguins from his arctic explorer Uncle. Ready to send them to the zoo at first, he discovers that the penguins are helping him re-discover what’s important. Now if he can only keep them out of the hands of the zookeeper…

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Family

Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor and language)

The Tree of Life

(Fox Searchlight) Brat Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Joanna Going. A man has to resolve his complex and often difficult relationship with his father. Adrift in the modern world, seeking answers involving faith, science and man’s place in the universe, he finds himself on the cusp of wonders, discoveries that will change everything – but not his past. This is the most recent from respected director Terrence Malick; it recently won the coveted Palm D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and has been as controversial as it has been acclaimed.

See the trailer and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic material)

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides


Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Queen Anne's Revenge is apparently moths in the sails.

(2011) Adventure (Disney) Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush, Kevin R. McNally, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Stephen Graham, Keith Richards, Richard Griffiths, Greg Ellis, Damian O’Hare, Oscar Jaenada, Roger Allam, Judi Dench. Directed by Rob Marshall

The trouble with living is that we all have to die. Sooner or later, we have to give up our space on planet Earth. However, legend has it that there is a place that we can get at least a temporary extension.

 Joshamee Gibbs (McNally) has been mistaken for infamous pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) and has been taken to London for trial and eventual hanging as a pirate. However, Jack has a daring plan to rescue his shipmate. Unfortunately, like most of Jack’s daring plans, it ends in disaster with a bunch of guns being pointed in his general direction.

Jack is hauled in front of the corpulent King George III (Griffiths) and his obsequious prime minister (Allam) to be offered a proposition. Jack reputedly knows the location of the Fountain of Youth. It turns out that the Spanish have discovered the location and have sent a humorless grandee (Jaenada) to go there. Rumor has it that Jack is putting together a crew for such a venture but this is the first the good Captain has heard of it. However, the crown has a ship and a captain and if Jack joins them, they might have a chance at catching up to the Spanish expedition. When Jack discovers that the captain of the British expedition is none other than his former first mate and nemesis, a dandified Barbarosa (Rush) – who has not only lost a leg but also Jack’s beloved Black Pearl, Jack says no thanks and makes good his escape.

While fleeing the redcoats he is aided by his father (Richards) who warns him against making the trip to the Fountain of Youth. Jack seems more interested in finding out who is impersonating him – which turns out to be Angelica (Cruz), a former lover of his. To make matters even more complicated, she turns out to be the daughter of Blackbeard (McShane), the pirate whom all other pirates fear. One of her crew knocks out Jack with a blow dart and he wakes up on the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s notorious ship which has a bunch of zombies for officers (zombies are much more pliable, according to Angelica).

Blackbeard has very particular motives for reaching the Fountain – it is prophesized that he will be killed by a one-legged man within a fortnight. He wants the waters of the Fountain as an insurance policy.

Blackbeard and Jack know that two additional items are needed for the waters to work – the chalices of Ponce de Leon, which they need to get, and the tears of a mermaid, which they also need to get. As it turns out, mermaids are extremely capricious creatures who can be as deadly as any monster. They are able, however, with the aid of a noble missionary named Phillip (Claflin) they manage to snare a beautiful mermaid named Syrena (Berges-Frisbey).

So it’s a race to the fountain with three interested parties converging on the Fountain and the wreck of de Leon’s ship; which one will be granted eternal life? And will they have chosen…wisely?

After the last Pirates movie, there had been some talk that the franchise was finished despite the massive box office numbers it had done. The director of the first three films, Gore Verbinski was involved with this new film initially but eventually chose to bow out, allowing Marshall in. Marshall, who has among other films the Oscar-winning Chicago to his credit, was an intriguing choice to direct as he had never attempted a summer blockbuster before, being better known for Broadway musical adaptations. He stages some pretty nice sequences here, action-wise – none as silly as the water wheel sequence from the second film – particularly an early swordfight between Jack and Angelica, as well as the mutiny sequence. Some of the sequences fall flat however, including the climactic battle.

Depp has made this role his own which is good and bad, mostly bad. Despite the presence of a bit of backstory, he adds nothing new to the role. I wouldn’t say that the performance is phoned in because he certainly puts enough effort into it, but there is nothing in it that really calls for me to recommend you see it nor make me super enthusiastic for the next film in the series, for which this is said to be the first in a proposed new trilogy.

Cruz makes a nice foil for Depp. Fiery and temperamental but with a good heart buried under her bravado, she is much more of a presence than Keira Knightley was in the first three films. An Easter egg scene following the credits sets up the next film and implies that Cruz will be a major component in it. That wouldn’t be a bad thing in my opinion.

With Orlando Bloom also absent, more is given for the always-reliable McNally to do. He does well with the expanded role although again he does pretty well with the material and screen time he is given. Graham also adds a bit of luster as comic relief.

McShane has developed into an actor who always delivers an excellent performance regardless of the quality of the material. He makes a perfectly vile pirate who is willing to sacrifice anything and anyone for his own purposes. Of all the pirates we’ve seen in the series thus far, he is by far the nastiest, worse than Davy Jones himself. He also lends a bit of gravitas.

I will admit that this is better than the last two movies in the series. It’s nowhere near as good as the first. It’s decent summer entertainment but just decent; you’ll watch it once, forget it quickly and move on. That’s not much of a recommendation but that’s all I’ve got; McShane is worth seeing anyway.

REASONS TO GO: Some really nifty action sequences and a nice ambience.  McShane makes a worthy Blackbeard. 

REASONS TO STAY: It’s possible Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow has worn out his welcome.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images, a bit of fantasy violence and a little bit of innuendo.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Penelope Cruz was pregnant throughout the shoot and it was only in several sequences at the end of filming where her sister was used as a body double in order to hide her pregnancy.

HOME OR THEATER: Big action sequences, big fantasy, big performances – big screen.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Kings of the Evening

New Releases for the Week of May 20, 2011


May 20, 2011

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES

(Disney) Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Kevin R. McNally, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Geoffrey Rush, Sam Claflin, Stephen Graham, Keith Richards, Richard Griffiths, Roger Allam, Judi Dench. Directed by Rob Marshall

Cap’n Jack Sparrow returns after a five year absence and this time he’s going for the biggest prize of them all – the fabled Fountain of Youth. Many have sought this elusive goal but none have ever succeeded; then again, none of them are Captain Jack Sparrow! He’ll have to traverse treacherous waters to find his treasure this time – waters filled with mermaids, monsters, the British navy and the deadliest pirate of them all – Blackbeard!

See the trailer, clips, interviews and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard. 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Adventure

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo)

The Beaver

(Summit) Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence. A family man spirals into a deep depression, forcing his wife to kick him out. Despondent, alone, his life seemingly at rock bottom, he finds a hand puppet in a dumpster – a beaver. Somehow, this puppet allows him to begin to communicate and soon, allows him to become functional again. However as he comes back to life, the question becomes how much the man controls the puppet – or the puppet controls the man.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material, some disturbing content, sexuality and language including a drug reference)

Incendies

(Sony Classics) Lubna Azabal, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette, Remy Girard. When their mother dies, the contents of her will send a pair of twins on a journey into the past of the woman they thought they knew. Each step of the way changes their perception of her – and of their own place in the world. This French-Canadian co-production was an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for some strong violence and language)

The King’s Speech


The King's Speech

It's not always great to be the king.

(2010) Historical Drama (Weinstein) Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Jennifer Ehle, Derek Jacobi, Claire Bloom, Timothy Spall, Eve West, Roger Parrott, Anthony Andrews, Patrick Ryecart. Directed by Tom Hooper

Uneasy lies the head where rests the crown. So said Shakespeare, and so it is in reality. Even those close to the crown may rest uneasy.

It is 1925 at Wembley Stadium and the British Empire is at its zenith. Fully one quarter of the world’s population lives within its borders and King George V (Gambon) rules it serenely. Radio has become a fact of life, and even the monarchy must learn to adjust to it. At the closing ceremonies of the Empire Exhibition, Prince Albert (Firth), second in line to the throne, must give a speech that will be broadcast on the BBC. Unfortunately, Albert is a terrible stammerer and any sort of public speaking is the equivalent for him of undergoing the tender mercies of The Rack. Even though his sensible and supportive wife Elizabeth (Carter) is there for moral support, the speech goes horribly.

Years go by and Elizabeth and Albert try to get some sort of speech therapy, anything to cure his condition. The cures range from marbles in the mouth, Demosthenes-style to excessive smoking which is said to relax the muscles in the throat.

Nothing works. Albert’s father realizes that his younger son is a good man who would make a better king than his older brother David (Pearce) who is “carrying on” with a twice-divorced married American woman named Wallis Simpson (West). He seems a decent enough sort but he has little backbone and with Hitler making all sorts of noise in Europe, a strong King is needed.

But England is going to get something different. King George passes away, leaving David in charge, under the name of Edward VIII. However, he is unwilling to give up on Mrs. Simpson, who now has the King of England pouring her drinks for her.

Realizing that there was a more than decent chance that he may have to give more public speeches than at first was thought, Elizabeth finds an Australian named Lionel Logue (Rush), a failed actor who comes highly recommended. His methods are indeed unorthodox, as they involve getting to know his clients personally. That involves calling the Prince by his nickname Bertie, which is mortifying at first.

Soon, the prince learns little by little to trust his new elocutionist. Grudgingly, slowly, he begins to open up to the Aussie. As he does, his stammer begins to disappear, although not completely. There is some hope that he may yet be able to fulfill his public functions more gracefully.

The Edward and Mrs. Simpson scandal at last comes to a head and Edward abdicates, leaving the throne of England for the now thrice-divorced American. Now Albert is king, George VI and the monarch of the United Kingdom, a country on the brink of war, a war in which he must lead with a voice both authoritative and regal. It will be up to Lionel to provide him with that voice.

First, this is one of the best movies of the year, so let’s get that right out of the way. What makes it so good starts off with the casting. Every role has the right person in it, from Spall as the Bulldog-like Churchill to Bloom as the dowager Queen Mary. Everyone assumes their role perfectly, not performing so much as they are inhabiting.

Before I get to the top-billed players, I wanted to mention a few other performances. Derek Jacobi does a fine job (as always) as the Archbishop of Canterbury, playing him as both manipulative and somewhat stymied by the stammering King whom he underestimates. Jennifer Ehle, as Logue’s long-suffering wife, has some excellent scenes with Helena Bonham Carter; it turns out that she is a fine comic actress as well as a dramatic one, even if her fansite chided me for not listing her in the fall preview. I stand corrected, my friends.

Helena Bonham Carter has been getting some notice for her portrayal of Bellatrix LeStrange in the Harry Potter movies, a deliciously evil role that Carter has sunk her teeth into; however, here she plays a much less flamboyant role and carries it off very nicely. It’s not acting that gets noticed as much as it perhaps should be, but it adds a certain flavor to the overall dish. Guy Pearce is one of those actors who seems incapable of a bad performance, and when he’s in a good movie given a well-defined role, he gives performances that are as good as anyone, and better than most. He may well join Rush in a Best Supporting Actor nomination in February.

The relationship between Bertie and Lionel is the heart of the movie and Hooper did well to cast two of the best actors working in them in Firth and Rush. Rather than vying for their screen time, they complement each other nicely and this works best for the movie overall.

Each performance is different and special. Firth imbues the King with courage and dignity, something that we common folk don’t usually regard the royal class as having. He becomes instantly relatable, overcoming his own personal difficulty and in doing so, becoming greater than the sum of his parts. Firth’s performance captures the frustration the man felt over his impediment, the fear he felt at taking on an enormous responsibility, one that was never intended for him and the genuine caring he felt for his subjects and his family. His interaction with his daughters Elizabeth and Margaret, the former being the present Queen of England, is part of the movie’s basic charm.

This is a movie in which class distinctions become blurred as the King learns to trust his subject and the commoner learns that the King is just a man. They find common ground and become friends, a friendship which apparently lasted for the rest of their lives. Some have criticized it for being too much of a feel-good movie, but what’s wrong with feeling good, especially in these times?  

At the end of the day, we all must find our voice in one fashion or another and watching King George VI find his is fascinating viewing. The marvelous performances of Firth, Rush, Pearce and Carter are certain to be accorded Oscar consideration, as Hooper, writer David Seidler and the motion picture itself will be as well. For my personal awards show, The King’s Speech is hands down this year’s Best Picture and Firth it’s Best Actor. They can thank the Academy of Me later.

REASONS TO GO: One of the best movies of the year. Colin Firth gives another Oscar-worthy performance while nearly his entire supporting cast does the same.

REASONS TO STAY: Those who aren’t big on British period dramas should probably give this a wide berth.

FAMILY VALUES: The King utters a few naughty words. There is also a good deal of smoking which apparently relaxes the diaphragm.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The studio appealed its “R” rating which was given it due to the repeated use of the f bomb which the studio contended was used for speech therapy purposes; unfortunately, the MPAA turned down the appeal.

HOME OR THEATER: Although this is essentially set in enclosed places for the most part, I do recommend seeing this as one of the best movies of the year, although it will probably work just as well at home.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: Astro Boy

New Releases for the Week of December 24, 2010


December 24, 2010

The thorough emasculation of Robert De Niro continues.

LITTLE FOCKERS

(Universal) Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Blythe Danner, Jessica Alba, Teri Polo, Barbra Streisand, Harvey Keitel, Laura Dern. Directed by Paul Weitz

Greg Focker and Jack Burns return to torment one another in the third installment of the comedy series. Now married ten years and with two children, it seems that Greg has finally earned his place in the circle of trust. However, cash problems lead to Greg taking a second job for a drug company, leading to misunderstandings with his father-in-law who uncharacteristically goes overboard. With Pam’s ex-flame still in the picture, can the Focker family withstand the machinations of the parents?

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for mature sexual humor throughout, language and some drug content)

Gulliver’s Travels

(20th Century Fox) Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, Amanda Peet. The Jonathan Swift classic is given a Black attack as the comic actor takes on the title role in this modernized version. A mail room clerk with tons of ambition and zero conscience gets swept away in the Bermuda triangle to a strange land of people no bigger than his finger. He becomes the national hero although he is just kind of skating through. Eventually he has to stand up for those smaller than himself, learning in the process that the hero inside is often bigger than the person outside. For those who love the Ice Age movies, there will be a Scrat short accompanying this film.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Comic Fantasy

Rating: PG (for brief rude humor, mild language and action)

I Love You, Phillip Morris

(Roadside Attractions) Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro. A successful Texas businessman and pillar of his community has an epiphany; he’s gay, and he intends to live the rest of his life to the fullest. In order to support an extravagant lifestyle, he turns to crime – con games, as a matter of fact. While in prison for one of his attempts he meets the love of his life, a soft-spoken man named Phillip Morris. He determines to free his new-found companion and organizes brilliant cons and escape plans to do it. Ah, ain’t love grand?

See the trailer and a news clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content including strong dialogue and language)

The King’s Speech

(Weinstein) Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce. Although most people are familiar with the current English monarch, not many Americans know much about her father who ruled before her. Even fewer know that he was afflicted with a terrible stammer. Desperate to conquer this impediment, he seeks out an Australian speech therapist with unusual methods. The two race against time to give the King of England a voice as the country is swept into World War II. This is considered one of the odds-on favorites at Oscar time.

See the trailer, interviews, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: R (for some language)

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

(Oscilloscope Laboratories) Tommi Korpela, Per Christian Ellefsen, Jorma Tomilla, Jonathan Hutchings. A Finnish archaeological team digs up Santa Claus – the real one…and he’s nothing like any of the legends say. As the local children begin to turn up missing, an enterprising reindeer hunter and his son bag Santa and try to sell him back to the CEO of the multinational corporation sponsoring the dig. However, nobody thought of the elves who will stop at nothing to get jolly St. Nick back. This is what I call holiday entertainment.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Fantasy/Comedy/Horror

Rating: R (for some nudity and language)

Tees Maar Khan

(Hari Om) Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Sanjay Dutt (voice), Anil Kapoor. The greatest criminal in all of India – indeed, in all of the world – is given an impossible job; to steal a load of priceless antiquities from a moving train. It will take all his skills, the unwilling help of his actress girlfriend and the participation of a vain but stupid Bollywood star to help Khan and his crew pull this one off.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Heist Comedy

Rating: NR

True Grit

(Paramount) Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Hailee Steinfeld. The Coen Brothers take on not so much the 1969 Oscar-winning John Wayne movie but the Charles Portis novel that inspired it. 14-year-old Mattie Ross seeks to bring to justice Tom Chaney, the man who shot her father down in cold blood. To that end she recruits Rooster Cogburn, a mean drunken U.S. Marshall who shoots first and then forgets to ask the questions later. They are joined by a vain Texas Ranger who has his own agenda.

See the trailer, promos and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Western

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of Western violence including disturbing images)

New Releases for the Week of December 3, 2010


December 3, 2010

If you see this guy with this backdrop behind him, that's your clue to turn and run!

 

THE WARRIORS WAY

(Relativity) Dong-gun Jang, Geoffrey Rush, Kate Bosworth, Danny Huston, Tony Cox, Lung Ti, Analin Rudd, Markus Hamilton, Rod Lousich. Directed by Sngmoo Lee

Asian filmmakers have gotten a reputation for fearlessly mashing up genres into sometimes confusing but occasionally delectable new brews and so it is here. An assassin from the East is forced to hide out in a small town in the American badlands of the Old West. As usually happens when taciturn strangers hiding out in small towns in the Old West, his troubles find him there and all Hell literally breaks loose.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Martial Arts Action Western Fantasy Mash-Up

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence)

Cool It

 (Roadside Attractions) Bjorn Lomborg, Freeman Dyson, Richard Lindzen, Paul Reiter. The author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” controversial economist Bjorn Lomborg, is profiled here as he takes on the issue of global warming. Taking the point of view of a realist, he comes up with some different ideas on solutions to the problem while earning the wrath of liberals and what he views to be alarmists everywhere.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG (for thematic elements)

Howl

(Oscilloscope Laboratories) James Franco, Mary-Louise Parker, Jon Hamm, Jeff Daniels. Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s epic poem “Howl” ignited a firestorm of controversy and led to an obscenity trial that would eventually define the American literary landscape for the years that followed. Franco, who has been receiving Oscar buzz for 127 Hours, is having himself quite a year.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: NR

Salvation Poem (Poema de salvacion) 

(CanZion) Gonzalo Senestrari, Irina Alonso, Fernando Ronsarolli, Gian Franco. A young Argentinean is raised by a distant father who was always working and a mother whose devotion to her faith overrides all. When she rejects his dreams of becoming a heavy metal musician, a rift develops between the two that lead to a whole lot of bad life choices. This story, based on actual events in the life of heavy metal musician Pablo Olivares of the acclaimed group Halogen, is about the healing of that rift and the battle for a young man’s soul.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic material and violent content)

Welcome to the Rileys

 

(Goldwyn) James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo, Kristen Stewart, Ally Sheedy. A happily married couple has seen their marriage slowly begin to spiral into disintegration after the loss of their daughter eight years previously. The mother has become an agoraphobic while the father has become so numb to the world he doesn’t seem to care about anything or anyone. While on a business trip to New Orleans, he meets a teenage runaway and forms a platonic bond with her. What could have been the straw that breaks the camel’s back could turn into the inspiration to save their relationship.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, brief drug use and pervasive language involving a teenager)