Mr. T’s Movie Club Archive
 

MOVIE REVIEWS...

2014


A NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM;  SECRET OF THE TOMB ***

THE THIRD (AND IT LOOKS LIKE LAST) INSTALLMENT OF THIS MOVIE FRANCHISE IS JUST AS FUN, FULL OF LAUGHS, AND FAMILY-SAFE AS THE TWO PREVIOUS OUTINGS. LARRY DALEY (BEN STILLER) AND A BUNCH OF HIS PALS FROM THE PAST AT NEW YORK’S MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY SHIP OFF TO LONDON TO REUNITE  YOUNG PHARAOH AKEMENRAH WITH HIS PARENTS THERE AND FIND OUT WHY THE MYSTERIOUS GOLDEN TABLET THAT MAKES EVERYONE COME ALIVE AT NIGHT IS CORRODING AND NO LONGER WORKING VERY WELL.  DESTRUCTION OF THE TABLET WOULD OF COURSE MEAN THAT ALL THE MUSEUM MOB WOULD BECOME NOTHING MORE THAN, WELL, MUSEUM PIECES.  ALL IS EVENTUALLY SET TO RIGHTS, WITH THE HELP LARRY’S NOW-TEENAGE SON NICK, TEDDY ROOSEVELT (ROBIN WILLIAMS--RIP...), MINIATURES JEDEDIAH AND OCTAVIUS (OWEN WILSON AND STEVE COOGAN), A LONDON MUSEUM GUARD PLAYED HYSTERICALLY BY REBEL WILSON, AND EVEN THE SERIES’S ORIGINAL VILLAINS, THE NOW VERY ELDERLY DICK VAN DYKE, MICKEY ROONEY (ALSO DIED EARLIER THIS YEAR), AND REGINALD (BILL COBBS).  LIKE I SAID, IT HAS THE FEEL OF A WRAP-UP.  AND THAT WOULDN’T NECESSARILY BE A BAD THING.  IT’S NICE TO KNOW THAT MAYBE AT LEAST SOMEONE IN HOLLYWOOD KNOWS WHEN ENOUGH IS ENOUGH AND DECIDES TO BRING A FRANCHISE TO A SATISFYING END RATHER THAN JUST DREAM UP ENDLESS (AND INCREASINGLY IDIOTIC) SEQUELS FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF MAKING  ANOTHER BOATLOAD OF MONEY WHILE USING AS LITTLE CREATIVITY AS POSSIBLE. THAT’S JUST ONE MORE REASON TO LIKE THIS MOVIE, WHICH IS ALREADY VERY LIKABLE.  IF YOU MISSED IT OVER THE HOLIDAYS, IT’S STILL PLAYING IN MANY THEATERS, SO GET TO ONE AND ENJOY!


ANNIE ****

WHEN I FIRST HEARD THAT THIS MOVIE, BASED ON THE HIT BROADWAY MUSICAL ABOUT COMIC STRIP CHARACTER “LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE,” WAS GOING TO BE RE-MADE, I WAS VERY SKEPTICAL.  WHY MESS WITH SOMETHING THAT WAS SO AMAZING ALREADY--OTHER THAN TO MAKE A BUNCH OF MONEY FOR SOME STUDIO (IN THIS CASE, SONY PICTURES. ENTERTAINMENT..)?  THE ENDLESSLY-RUNNING TRAILERS IN MOVIE THEATERS LOOKED GOOD, THOUGH, AND THE FINISHED MOVIE IS NOTHING SHORT OF MAGNIFICENT.  THIS IS REALLY THE EXACT SORT OF MOVIES THAT FAMILIES CAN REALLY REVEL IN AROUND THE HOLIDAYS, WITH SOMETHING FOR JUST ABOUT EVERYONE, A LIGHT TOUCH THAT ALSO BRINGS SOME HEART-TUGGING WEIGHT, AND SENDS EVERYONE HOME SINGING.  IN THIS UPDATED VERSION, ANNIE IS A FOSTER KID (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH AN ORPHAN...) AND PLAYED BY CHILD ACADEMY AWARD NOMINEE QUVENZHANE WALLIS, AND “DADDY WARBUCKS” HAS BEEN REPLACED BY POLITICAL HUCKSTER AND NEW YORK GAZILLIONAIRE WILL STACKS (JAMIE FOXX--YUP, SAME GUY AS WAS “DJANGO” A COUPLE CHRISTMASES AGO, IN A VERY DIFFERENT ROLE).  MISS HANNIGAN IS BACK AND GETS A NEW TWIST WITH CAMERON DIAZ, AND ROSE BYRNE IS A PLEASANT SURPRISE AS STACKS’S PERSONAL ASSISTANT GRACE.  THE MUSICAL SCORE GIVES US LOTS OF THE OLD FAVORITES (“HARD KNOCK LIFE,” “TOMORROW,” “MAYBE,” ETC.) AS WELL AS SOME SPARKLING NEW MATERIAL (THE SOBERING “WHO AM I” IS PARTICULARLY POIGNANT), AND EVERYONE IN THE CAST SINGS THEIR OWN STUFF.  WHILE WALLIS MAY NOT HAVE THE BLARING PIPES OF FAMOUS PREDECESSOR AILEEN QUINN, SHE’S CERTAINLY ADEQUATE, AND JAMIE FOXX IS A REAL REVELATION, PERHAPS THE MOST DEFT SINGER IN THE WHOLE CAST.  ON A SIDE NOTE, IT WAS A BIT DISTURBING FOR ME TO READ THAT, WHILE THIS MOVIE WAS BEING ENTHUSIASTICALLY LOOKED FORWARD TO BY AFRICAN-AMERICAN MOVIE GOERS--OVER 80% SAYING THEY DEFINITELY WANTED TO SEE THE SHOW (WALLIS AND FOXX, OF COURSE, ARE BLACK...), IT WAS BEING GIVEN A RATHER STUNNING COLD SHOULDER BY WHITE MOVIE-GOERS; ONLY 24% SAYING THEY WOULD DEFINITELY SEE IT.  SAD THAT EVEN IN TODAY’S SOCIETY, RACIAL PREJUDICES SHOULD CREEP INTO  THE SUCCESS (OR LACK THEREOF) OF SUCH A WONDERFUL PIECE OF PURE ENTERTAINMENT.  FORGET IT!  FORGET ALL OF IT!  THIS IS AMAZING ENTERTAINMENT!  DON’T MISS IT, AND IF YOU THINK YOU DID OVER THE HOLIDAYS, CHECK YOUR LOCAL MULTI-PLEX--IT’S PROBABLY STILL THERE! 


INTO THE WOODS **1/2

FAR FROM THE “FAMILY MUSICAL” THAT DISNEY AND ITS PRODUCERS ARE HOPING YOU’LL THINK IT IS, THIS IS MUCH MORE WHAT BROADWAY COMPOSER STEPHEN SONDHEIM AND BOOK-WRITER JAMES LAPINE ORIGINALLY INTENDED IT TO BE WHEN THEY WROTE IT FOR THE STAGE, A PLATFORM FOR STARS TO HAVE FUN PORTRAYING  REVISIONIST VERSIONS OF FAIRY TALE CHARACTERS IN A MUCH “GRIMMER” STORY COBBLED TOGETHER  BY MASHING UP THEIR RESPECTIVE STORIES.  AND ALL THIS  WHILE SINGING MOST OF THEIR LINES IN CATCHY “SONGS” THAT FEEL MORE LIKE OPERA-SPEAK THAN ANYTHING MEMORABLE OR SINGABLE.  BUT WHILE THE SONGS MIGHT NOT BE ANYTHING YOU’LL GO OUT OF THE THEATER SINGING (LIKE YOU STILL ARE AFTER SEEING  “FROZEN” A WHOLE YEAR AGO”) AND THE STORY MIGHT BE DARK, CONVOLUTED, AND ONLY OCCASIONALLY PROFOUND, IT IS FUN WATCHING SUCH A GREAT CAST HAVING SUCH A MARVELOUS ROMP IN SONDHEIM’S CREEPY FAIRY-TALE FOREST.  I MEAN, HOW OFTEN DO WE EVER GET TO SEE A CROP OF AWARD-WINNERS AND A-LISTERS LIKE MERYL STREEP (THE PIVOTAL WITCH), JOHNNY DEPP (A DELICIOUSLY BAD BIG BAD WOLF), ANNA KENDRICK (A CONFLICTED CINDERELLA), CHRIS PINE (DOING A CHEEKY PARODY OF FAIRY-TALE PRINCES), AND EMILY BLUNT (A DESPERATE BUT DETERMINED BAKER’S WIFE) EVEN IN THE SAME MOVIE, MUCH LESS SINGING IN THE SAME MOVIE (AND THEIR ALL VERY GOOD, BTW, WITH SPECIAL KUDOS TO BLUNT, WHOSE TERRIFIC VOICE IS A DELIGHTFUL SURPRISE).  THROW IN LESSER-KNOWN BUT PERFECTLY CAST JAMES CORDEN AS BLUNT’S DISARMING HUSBAND, AND LUMINOUS CHILD-ACTORS LILLA CRAWFORD AND DANIEL HUDDLESTONE (LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD AND JACK--HE OF THE BEANSTALK), AND YOU HAVE A FEAST OF ACTORS WHO ARE ALLOWED FREE REIN BY DIRECTOR ROB MARSHALL (“CHICAGO”) TO MAXIMIZE THEIR CONSIDERABLE GIFTS.  THUS THE STORY’S ODD SONGS AND SOMETIMES OFF STORY ARE MADE MORE THAN  PALATABLE AND AT TIMES MUCH MORE MOVING THAN THE MATERIAL ACTUALLY IS.  THIS MAKES FOR WORTHWHILE ENTERTAINMENT FOR ADULTS AND OLDER KIDS, BUT MOSTLY A BORE FOR THE UNDER-13 SET UNLESS THEY’RE UNUSUALLY MUSICALLY AND/OR THEATRICALLY-INCLINED, AS PROFUSELY DEMONSTRATED BY THE TYKES SITTING NEAR ME, WHO MUST HAVE TROOPED IN AND OUT AT LEAST THREE TIMES DURING THE SHOW, CARELESSLY MASHING MY FOOT ON ONE SUCH ESCAPADE.  AH WELL..   THOUGH I HAVEN’T SEEN THE STAGE SHOW, I’M TOLD THIS IS A QUITE FAITHFUL SCREEN TREATMENT, SO FANS AND ADULTS WHO ENJOY STAR-STUDDED SHOWS SHOULD FIND THIS AN ENJOYABLE EXPERIENCE.  BUT BEST TO LEAVE IT FOR A DATE OR SOMETHING TO ENJOY WITH YOUR OLDERS, AND LEAVE THE YOUNGERS AT HOME.


THE HOBBIT; THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES **1/2

THERE ARE REASONS WHY 300-SOME PAGE BOOKS ARE TURNED INTO 100-SOME PAGE MOVIE SCRIPTS, THE BIGGEST BEING THAT SO MUCH OF THE DESCRIPTION AND DIALOGUE IN THOSE 300+ PAGE BOOKS, WHILE FASCINATING TO READ, ARE NOT VISUAL OR CINEMATIC AND TAKE PLACE MOSTLY IN THE MINDS OF THE BOOK CHARACTERS; AKA, THEY’RE BORING TO WATCH.  THUS SKILLFUL SCREENWRITERS FILTER MANY OF THOSE PASSAGES OUT (OR FIND A WAY TO MAKE THEM CINEMATIC) AND COME UP WITH A STORY THAT’S AS COMPELLING VISUALLY AS ITS STORY IS EMOTIONALLY WITHOUT BORING THE AUDIENCE.  THE PROBLEM FROM THE VERY FIRST MOMENTS OF PETER JACKSON’S TRILOGY OF FILMS BASED ON THE 300-SOME PAGE BOOK “THE HOBBIT” IS THAT HE AND HIS WRITERS HAVE SOUGHT TO PORTRAY ALL 300-SOME PAGES OF THE BOOK ON THE SCREEN BY NEEDLESSLY (BUT VERY PROFITABLY, I’M SURE) TURNING THE MOVIE VERSION OF THE BOOK INTO A THREE-FILM TRILOGY.  AND THOUGH THE SECOND EPISODE, “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” WAS LIVELY AND FULFILLING RIGHT UP TO ITS HORRID ENDING, THE FIRST ONE (“AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY), AND NOW THIS FINAL INSTALLMENT, ARE CHARACTERIZED FAR TOO OFTEN BY THAT WORD I’VE MENTIONED TOO MUCH ALREADY--BORING!  THOUGH ACTIONY ENOUGH AT THE BEGINNING (THE FILM TAKES UP RIGHT WHERE “SMAUG” LEFT OFF, DEPICTING THE CLIMAX WE WERE ALL ROBBED OF IN THAT PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT), AND THEN BUILDS TO WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN A RIP-ROARING, CLIMACTIC BATTLE ROYALE ALA “THE RETURN OF THE KING’S” SEIGE OF MINAS TIRITH, THE STORY INCREDIBLY STUMBLES AT ITS VERY APEX, MINIMIZING THE GREAT BATTLE BY FEATURING INSTEAD THE FAR MORE BLAH-SA INDIVIDUAL STRUGGLES OF ITS VARIOUS HEROES AND VILLAINS WHICH OCCUR ASIDE OF THE MAIN EVENT.  LONG, DRAWN OUT INDIVIDUAL SLUGFESTS INTERSPERSED WITH TYPICALLY BOMBASTIC SPEECH-MAKING AND SUPER SLO-MO DEATH SCENES TAKE CENTER STAGE AND CUT AWAY FAR TOO LONG FROM THE MAIN ACTION.  THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES BECOMES ALMOST AN AFTER-THOUGHT AS THE BATTLE OF A HALF-DOZEN CHARACTERS COMES TO THE FORE AND EVERY GRUNT AND EPITAT IS METICULOUSLY RENDERED, SLOWING THE MOVIE’S MOMENTUM AND LEAVING ME LONGING FOR A RETURN TO THE REAL ACTION ALMOST LIKE HAVING TO ENDURE COMMERCIALS IN THE MIDST OF A RIVETING SPORTS EVENT.  AND EVEN WHERE ACTION IS PURPOSELY INSERTED TO GIVE LIFE TO THE SHOW’S PONDEROUS MID-SECTION--A BATTLE INVOLVING “LORD OF THE RINGS” PRINCIPALS SAURUMON AND ELFIN KING ELROND AND A BUNCH OF CGI PHANTOMS--IT SEEMS ODDLY CONTRIVED, OUT OF PLACE, AND INSERTED SIMPLY AS FODDER FOR THE MISTAKEN IDEA THAT “THE HOBBIT” WAS WRITTEN AS A PREQUEL TO “THE LORD OF THE RINGS,” WHICH IT WAS NOT.  THOUGH THIS IS A WORTHWHILE FANTASY ACTION/ADVENTURE FOR WHAT ACTION AND ADVENTURE IT DOES HAVE AND PROBABLY A MUST-SEE FOR FANS OF THE MIDDLE-EARTH SAGA, I FOUND IT UNFORTUNATELY ANTI-CLIMACTIC.   


EXODUS - GODS AND KINGS **1/2

THIS IS CERTAINLY NOT A “FAMILY” OR “4-QUADRANT” MOVIE, YET IT STILL MIGHT INTEREST BOTH THE PARENTS AND HIGH SCHOOLERS IN THE HOUSEHOLD BECAUSE OF ITS HISTORICAL ACTION AND BIBLICALLY BASED STORY.  THUS I INCLUDE A SHORT REVIEW OF IT IN THIS COLUMN.  I GUESS I COULD SUM UP THIS MOVIE BEST BY SAYING THAT IT HAS A LITTLE BIT OF JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING A BIBLICAL EPIC MIGHT BE EXPECTED TO INCLUDE THESE DAYS, AND UNFORTUNATELY, THAT’S NOT ALWAYS A GOOD THING IN THIS FILM.  DIRECTOR RIDLEY SCOTT AND FOUR SCREENWRITERS HAVE INCLUDED WHAT I THOUGHT WAS A WONDERFUL DASH OF HISTORICAL FACT TO START THINGS OFF; A BREATH-TAKING RECOUNTING OF THE FAMOUS BATTLE OF KADESH WHICH BROUGHT ANCIENT EGYPT TO WORLD-POWER STATUS AND CATAPULTED PHARAOH RAMESES II TO GOD-LIKE STATUS AMONG HIS PEOPLE.  THERE’S ALSO A CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT OF MATERIAL FROM THE BIBLICAL ACCOUNT OF THE EXODUS WRITTEN IN, BUT A NUMBER OF THE MIRACULOUS EVENTS  AND  PLAGUES ATTRIBUTED TO THE HAND OF GOD ARE HERE GIVEN A MORE SECULAR TREATMENT, FEATURING DEPICTIONS OF HOW MODERN SCIENCE HAS SINCE ATTEMPTED TO EXPLAIN SUCH “MIRACLES” AS THE PARTING OF THE RED SEA, THE NILE RIVER TURNING TO BLOOD, ETC.   THERE’S STORY ELEMENTS FROM CECIL B. DEMILLE’S 1960’S ERA “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” THAT BROUGHT STAR CHARLTON HESTON TO GOD-LIKE STATUS IN HOLLYWOOD, AND EVEN A LITTLE DARREN ARONOFSKY-STYLE WIERDNESS THROWN IN FOR GOOD MEASURE--GOD IS DEPICTED AS A RATHER PETULANT CHILD.  THOSE OF A PURELY SECULAR WAY OF THINKING AS WELL AS MORE OPEN-MINDED CHRISTIANS WILL PERHAPS FIND THESE THINGS INTERESTING AND AT LEAST PARTS OF THE OVERLY-LONG FILM ENTERTAINING BUT ANYONE LOOKING FOR A LITERAL, BIBLICAL RECREATION OF THIS STORY WILL NO DOUBT BE SORELY DISAPPOINTED.  WITH THOSE CAVEATS IN MIND, ENJOY AT YOUR OWN RISK :)!


THE HUNGER GAMES - MOCKINGJAY PART 1 ***

AS WITH THE BOOKS, THIS THIRD INSTALLMENT OF “THE HUNGER GAMES” TRILOGY BY SUZANNE COLLINS TAKES A TURN FOR THE MORE SERIOUS AND POLITICAL, WHICH MAY MAKE THIS EVEN MORE ENTERTAINING FOR SOME.  HOWEVER, FOR THOSE LOOKING FOR ANOTHER HEART-STOPPING ACTIONER CENTERED AROUND KILL-OR-BE-KILLED GLADIATORIAL GAMES, IT COULD FEEL MINORLY DISAPPOINTING.  NOT THAT THERE’S NO ACTION HERE, BUT THE GAMES ARE DEFINITELY OFF, AND THE LIFE-AND-DEATH STRUGGLE IS NOW BETWEEN PANEM’S CAPITAL LED BY THE PERNICIOUS PRESIDENT SNOW AND A WELL-SUPPLIED AND ORGANIZED CITIZEN’S REBELLION LED BY DISTRICT 13 PRESIDENT COIN (JULIANNE MOORE), WHO USES “MOCKINGJAY” KATNISS EVERDEEN AS A MORALE-BOOSTING CHEERLEADER FOR THE REVOLUTION’S CAUSE.  HOLDOVER STARS JENNIFER LAWRENCE, LIAM HEMSWORTH, WOODY HARRELSON, ELIZABETH BANKS, PHILLIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN (R.I.P...), JOSH HUTCHERSON, AND DONALD SUTHERLAND (EVEN MORE DEVILISH AS PRESIDENT SNOW) ARE ALL BACK AND IN FINE FORM, BUT THE DECISION TO SPLIT “MOCKINGJAY” INTO TWO PARTS HAS TAKEN A BIT OF THE SHEEN OFF THIS OTHERWISE BRIGHT FRANCHISE.  IT NOT ONLY FORCES THE SCREENWRITERS TO INCLUDE A LOT MORE SLOWER CONTENT TO SERVE MERELY AS FILLER, BUT ALSO LEAVES THE AUDIENCE WITH A VERY CLUNKY, INCONCLUSIVE ENDING THAT I DIDN’T FIND SATISFYING AT ALL.  STILL A WONDERFUL SHOW FOR EVERYONE FROM AGE 12 OR SO AND UP, JUST NOT AS WONDERFUL AS THE FIRST TWO.


BIG HERO 6 ***

WHILE THE PLOT AND THEME OF THIS NEW ANIMATED FEATURE FROM DISNEY ANIMATION STUDIOS (BASED LOOSELY ON A LITTLE-KNOWN MARVEL PROPERTY) IS ALL TOO FAMILIAR AND SOMETIMES MAKE ME WONDER IF THERE’S EVER ANYTHING ELSE TO SAY TO KIDS THROUGH A STORY BESIDES “BE YOURSELF” AND “YOU CAN DO ANYTHING IF YOU BELIEVE” AND “THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A WEIRDO,”THIS MOVIE GETS CONSIDERABLE PUNCH FROM ITS PUNCHABLE (AND LOVABLE) MAIN CHARACTER, A BIG BLOW-UP PERSONAL HEALTH CARE ASSISTANT NAMED BAYMAX.  SO UNIQUE IS THIS  BOUNCING BUNDLE OF INNOCENT GOODNESS THAT HE TOTALLY DOMINATES EVERY SCENE THAT HE’S IN AND WE QUICKLY FORGET THE MORE MUNDANE ASPECTS OF THE STORY AND ITS OTHER RATHER STOCK CHARACTERS.  CUTE (IF NOT ALSO CUDDLY), ENDEARING, AND UNENDINGLY RESOURCEFUL, BAYMAX IS A “GUY” YOU AND THE FAM REALLY SHOULD MAKE IT A POINT TO MEET THIS HOLIDAY SEASON.  FAMILY-SAFE IN ALMOST EVERY WAY, DON’T MISS IT.



INTERSTELLAR ***1/2

CHRISTOPHER NOLAN’S NEWEST SCI-FI ADVENTURE IS EPIC IN EVERY WAY (INCLUDING ITS RUNNING TIME; 2 HOURS, 49 MINUTES--BE PREPARED) YET ALSO HIGHLY PERSONAL, CHOCKED FULL OF RIVETING ACTION, RAW EMOTION, EDGE-OF-YOUR-SEAT SUSPENSE, IT ALSO FEATURES A HIGHLY CHALLENGING PREMISE AND DEEP THEMES.  AMAZINGLY, I NEVER FOUND MYSELF BORED (FOR SUCH A LONG-RUNNING SHOW) AS A GROUP OF ASTRONAUTS ARE LAUNCHED OUT OF OUR SOLAR SYSTEM TO ANOTHER GALAXY, WHERE SEVERAL SCOUTS HAVE GONE BEFORE TO DETERMINE WHERE IS THE BEST PLACE TO TRANSPLANT EARTH’S HUMAN POPULATION AS THE VENERABLE OLD PLANET FINALLY REACHES ITS BREAKING POINT.  WHAT THE EXPLORERS FIND, BOTH ON THE VARIOUS PLANETS AND ABOUT THE TRUE NATURE OF THEIR MISSION, IS SHOCKING, SUSPENSEFUL, MIND-BOGGLING, AND KEEPS YOU GUESSING THROUGHOUT AS NOLAN CONTINUALLY RATCHETS UP THE STAKES THAT HIS EXPLORERS MUST FIND WAYS TO DEAL WITH.  STARS MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY, ANNE HATHAWAY, JESSICA CHASTAIN, MICHAEL CAINE, AND CHILD ACTOR MACKENZIE FOY ALL TURN IN WELL, “STELLAR” PERFORMANCES, BUT THOSE ARE JUST THE ONES YOU KNOW ABOUT IN THIS CAST OF A-LISTERS THAT SEEMS TO GO ON FOREVER.  I’LL LET YOU HAVE FUN GUESSING WHICH OTHER ONES ARE THERE AND WHO THEY PLAY WHEN YOU GO SEE THIS, FOR SEE IT YOU CERTAINLY SHOULD.  WHILE MAINLY GEARED FOR ADULTS, THERE’S A LOT OF HIGH-SCHOOLERS, YOUNG ADULTS, AND MAYBE EVEN A SHARP JR. HIGH KID OR TWO WHO WOULD REALLY ENJOY THIS LOOONG RIDE INTO AN AMAZINGLY-DEPICTED SCI-FI FUTURE.    


THE BOOK OF LIFE ***1/2

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER WITH THIS REVIEW AS THIS WONDERFULLY ENTERTAINING FILM CONTINUES TO RESIDE IN THE BOX OFFICE TOP TEN TWO WEEKS AFTER ITS RELEASE, AND PROBABLY FOR A LOT LONGER..  AND DESERVEDLY SO, FOR IT’S CERTAINLY THE MOST UNIQUE AND COLORFUL ANIMATED FILM I’VE SEEN IN A LONG TIME.  CENTERED AROUND THE MOSTLY-MEXICAN HOLIDAY CALLED “THE DAY OF THE DEAD,” IT BEGINS WITH A GROUP OF RELUCTANT STUDENTS ARRIVING AT A MUSEUM FOR WHAT THEY ASSUME WILL BE A BORING TOUR FEATURING OLD DEAD THINGS.  MUCH TO THEIR SURPRISE, HOWEVER, THEIR SPUNKY TOUR GUIDE (CHRISTINA APPLEGATE) PULLS OUT AN OLD BOOK AND BEGINS TO SPIN A FASCINATING TALE ABOUT TWO BOYS AND A GIRL (MANOLO, JOAQUIN, AND MARIA, VOICED BY DIEGO LUNA, CHANNING TATUM, AND ZOE SALDANA), FRIENDS (AND RIVALS) FROM CHILDHOOD INTO ADULTHOOD, AND THE TWO GODS WHO DECIDE TO PLACE BETS ON THEIR DESTINIES.  AND OF COUSRE, THE URGE TO USE GODLY POWERS TO SWAY THE HUMANS IS A BIT TOO MUCH TO RESIST, SO MAGICAL THINGS OCCUR, CAUSING MARIA TO DIE, LOVESICK MANOLO TO GO ON A QUEST THROUGH TWO LANDS OF THE DEAD TO FIND HER, AND JOAQUIN TO MAKE A NAME FOR HIMSELF AS A HERO WHILE HIS GOLDEN-VOICED RIVAL WANDERS IN THE UNDERWORLD.  EACH MEETS HELPERS AND HINDERANCES IN THEIR JOURNEYS UNTIL THEIR DESTINIES COLLIDE AT THE END IN A HILARIOUS, ACTION-PACKED, AND TOUCHING CLIMAX.  A STOCK “LOVE TRIANGLE” MYTH IN MANY WAYS, BUT EXTREMELY WELL-TOLD THANKS TO THE DEFT SCREENPLAY BY WRITER/DIRECTOR JORGE R. GUITIERREZ.  THE SATISFYING STORY IS ONLY PART OF THE FUN HERE, THOUGH.  A MUSICAL OF SORTS, THE SOUNDTRACK IS CHOCKED FULL OF BOTH NOSTALGIC RENDITIONS OF OLDIE CLASSICS AND SOME WONDERFUL NEW MATERIAL AS WELL.  LUNA AND SALDANA DO THEIR OWN VOICE WORK AND SHARE A COUPLE OF IRRESISTIBLE BALLADS.  THE REAL FUN, THOUGH, MUCH AS IN THE “SHREK” OR “DESPICABLE ME” MOVIES, IS THE UNIQUE ANIMATION STYLE AND THE HYSTERICAL SITE GAGS CONSTANTLY GOING ON UNDERNEATH THE MAIN ACTION AND DIALOGUE.  WILD, VIVID COLOR SIMPLY BURSTS FORTH FROM EVERY SCENE, AND THE SORT OF FAUX LEGO LOOK OF THE VARIOUS CHARACTERS AND ANIMALS IS BOTH FASCINATING AND FUNNY.  YOUR EYES SIMPLY CAN’T TAKE IN ALL THE VISUAL GOOFINESS THAT PEPPERS NEARLY EVERY MINUTE OF THE STORY.  ALL GOOD REASONS TO NOT ONLY SEE THIS IN THE THEATER (WHERE, I UNDERSTAND, THE VISUAL EFFECTS ARE PARTICULARLY EYE-POPPING IN 3D IF YOU’VE GOT THE BUCKS...), BUT BUY IT ON VIDEO ONCE IT COMES OUT SOMETIME NEXT YEAR.  SEEING IT AGAIN WILL BE LIKE SEEING IT FOR THE FIRST TIME.  AND HOPEFULLY THAT FIRST TIME WILL BE NOW.  DON’T LET THIS AMAZING, “FAMILY-SAFE ALL THE WAY DOWN TO THE TINY ONES” ENTERTAINMENT EXPERIENCE ESCAPE YOU AND THE FAM.  ASIDE FROM THE NOTABLE “BIG HERO 6” IN EARLY NOVEMBER, THERE’S NOTHING BUT BLOCKBUSTERS AND “AWARDS MOVIES” COMING OUT UNTIL CHRISTMAS (WHEN “PADDINGTON” AND “ANNIE” FINALLY SHOW UP). 


THE MAZE RUNNER ***

BASED ON THE FIRST OF A SERIES OF YA NOVELS BY JAMES DASHNER, HERE WE GET AN INTRIGUING, TERRIFYING, AND ACTION-PACKED TALE OF A SORT OF “LORD OF THE FLIES” GROUP OF TEENAGE BOYS WHOSE MEMORIES  HAVE BEEN ERASED, THEN INEXPLICABLY BEEN HAULED UP A SERVICE ELEVATOR INTO A BIZARRE NOWHERE WORLD DOMINATED BY A CALM, PEACEFUL GLADE (WHERE THE BOYS GROW FOOD, LIVE OFF MONTHLY DELIVERIES OF SUPPLIES FROM “SOMEBODY,” AND MAKE THEIR OWN RULES), AND A TERRIFYING MAZE OF MOVING WALLS AND PASSAGES GUARDED BY ALIEN-LIKE CYBORGS CALLED GRIEVERS THAT TRAPS THE BOYS IN THE GLADE.  TRY AS THEY MIGHT (AND THE FASTEST OF THEM--THE RUNNERS--HAVE TRIED FOR YEARS), THE BOYS CAN FIND NO WAY OUT OF THE MAZE, WHICH INVITES THEM IN EVERY DAY TO HAVE ANOTHER GO AT IT.  SO IT’S NOT SURPRISING THAT WHEN THOMAS, A NEWCOMER TO THE GLADE, DARES TO BRAVE THE MAZE AND BRINGS OUT TWO INJURED RUNNERS WHO SHOULD HAVE DIED HORRIBLE DEATHS, THAT AT LEAST SOME OF THE BOYS TAKE HOPE OF AT LAST FINDING THEIR WAY OUT.  THE APPEARANCE OF A GIRL IN THE GLADE ALSO SHAKES THINGS UP AND SEEMS TO PORTEND GOOD THINGS.  BUT THERE ARE ALSO THOSE WHO, INCREDIBLY, ARE SO ATTUNED TO THE MAZE THAT THEY CAN’T IMAGINE ANY OTHER EXISTENCE, AND FIGHT AGAINST THOMAS AND HIS RUNNERS.  BUT WITH GRIEVERS NOW DESTROYING THE GLADE AS WELL AS HAUNTING THE MAZE, THOMAS DECIDES THAT IT’S TIME FOR EVERYONE TO LEAVE.  AND SO THE WILD CHASE IS ON TO ESCAPE, ALL THE WHILE DODGING THE GHOULISH GRIEVERS AND CRASHING WALLS.  IT’S ONLY THEN THAT THIS FILM DISHES OUT ITS BIG DISAPPOINTMENT (AT LEAST FOR ME), AND IT COULDN’T HAVE COME AT A WORSE TIME--THE END.  I WON’T GO INTO DETAIL, BUT LET’S JUST SAY THAT THIS BOOK SERIES (AND ITS ACCOMPANYING FILM) TURNS OUT TO BE FAR LESS ORIGINAL IN THE VASTLY OVER-DONE YA DYSTOPIAN FANTASY GENRE THAN IT LEADS US TO BELIEVE EARLY ON.  THIS IS A BREATH-TAKING, HEART-POUNDING ADVENTURE ESPECIALLY GEARED TO BOYS (PROBABLY AGE 9 AND UP IS APPROPRIATE) THAT, UNFORTUNATELY, CLANKS RATHER THAN SINGS AT THE END. 


DOLPHIN TALE 2 ***1/2

BACK AT THIS TIME IN 2011, I CALLED “DOLPHIN TALE” A 2-HOUR TRANSFUSION OF HOPE AND INSPIRATION, AND URGED YOU NOT TO MISS YOUR APPOINTMENT.  HAPPILY, I CAN SAY THE SAME FOR THIS NEW MOVIE, WHICH COMES OUT EXACTLY 3 YEARS AFTER THE ORIGINAL.  NOT SO MUCH AN UNDERDOG TALE THIS TIME (AFTER ALL, PROSTHETICALLY-TALED DOLPHIN WINTER IS NOW A MARINE AQUARIUM ROCK STAR AND THE FORMERLY DYING CLEARWATER MARINE AQUARIUM IS NOW A HUGE TOURIST DESTINATION), THIS NEW STORY TAKES ITS STAR PLAYERS INTO WHAT NATURALLY SEEMS THE NEXT STEP OF THEIR LIVES.  FORMER PRE-TEENS SAWYER (NATHAN GAMBLE) AND HAZEL (COZI ZUEHLSDORF) ARE NOW WELL INTO THEIR TEENS AND DEALING WITH ISSUES THAT TUG THEM INTO A LARGER WORLD.  SAWYER IS OFFERED A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY, BUT ONE THAT WILL TAKE HIM AWAY FROM THE CMA FOR MONTHS, HAZEL FACES LOSSES THAT SHE BOTH DOES AND DOESN’T WANT TO ADMIT TO, AND WINTER, THE MARINE MAMMAL STAR, HAS JUST LOST HER FEMALE BUDDY PANAMA, WHO’S FINALLY SUCCUMBED TO OLD AGE.  THIS PUTS HAZEL’S DAD CLAY (HARRY CONNICK JR.), THE OPERATOR OF THE PARK, IN A BIND BECAUSE IT’S CONSIDERED INHUMANE AND THEREFORE ILLEGAL TO KEEP A DOLPHIN COMAPNIONLESS WHILE IN CAPTIVITY, SOMETHING THAT A USDA INSPECTOR (PLAYED UNCREDITED BY DIRECTOR CHARLES MARTIN SMITH) WON’T LET HIM FORGET.  WITH TIME RUNNING OUT BEFORE WINTER IS TO BE TRANSFERRED TO A MARINE PARK IN TEXAS (THUS TRASHING THE CMA’S BIGGEST TOURIST DRAW, SENDING ITS BOARD OF DIRECTORS INTO A PANIC), HOPE COMES IN THE FORM OF A RESCUED JUVENILE DOLPHIN THAT HAZEL APTLY NAMES “HOPE,” BUT THERE’S NO GUARANTEES THAT WINTER WILL BOND WITH THE NEW ARRIVAL.  ONCE AGAIN, NICE PEOPLE THROWN INTO GUT-WRENCHINGLY EMOTIONAL SITUATIONS PROVIDE PLENTY OF SAFE, CLEAN FAMILY DRAMA, SPRINKLED LIBERALLY WITH COMIC RELIEF COURTESY OF MORGAN FREEMAN, KRIS KRISTOFFERSON, AND THE CMA’S CANTANKEROUS OLD PELICAN RUFUS.  IT’S SAD IN A WAY THAT CRITICS HAVE PANNED THIS FILM AS AN UNNECESSARY AND POSSIBLY EVEN MERCENARY ADD-ON TO THE ORIGINAL, WHICH APPEARED TO BE A ONE-OFF, STAND-ALONE FILM (AS IF ALL THOSE OTHER SEQUELS OF JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING ELSE HOLLYWOOD MAKES ARE SOMEHOW SO MUCH MORE “NEEDED” OR NOT PURELY MERCENARY).  I’M SURE THERE DIDN’T “NEED” TO BE A SEQUEL TO “DOLPHIN TALE” ANY MORE THAN ANY OTHER FILM, BUT AT LEAST THIS ONE’S CLEAN, FUN, DRAMATIC, FEATURES ALL THE ORIGINAL PRINCIPLES, AND HAS A POINT.  LISTEN TO THE “A” CINEMASCORE GIVEN TO THIS BY ACTUAL MOVIE-GOERS, NOT THE CRITICS.  DON’T ALLOW YOUR FAMILY TO MISS YOUR APPOINTMENT FOR ANOTHER TRANSFUSION OF INSPIRATION AND “HOPE.”.  


IF I STAY ***1/2

I HAVE NOT SEEN THIS FILM PERSONALLY (YET), BUT SINCE A COUPLE OF VERY TRUSTED “CRITIC” FRIENDS OF MINE (ESPECIALLY IN THIS PARTICULAR GENRE--NOW BECOMING LOOSELY KNOWN AS THE “YA WEEPER” FILM) DID ATTEND, AND SINCE I FELT IT IMPORTANT TO GET SOMETHING UP HERE ABOUT IT IN LIGHT OF NOT-SO-FLATTERING REVIEWS BY PROFESSIONAL CRITICS, I’VE CHOSEN TO REVIEW IT ANYWAY, BASED ON THEIR IMPRESSIONS.  SO HERE’S WHAT WE CAN SAY ABOUT THE SUMMER’S SECOND “YA WEEPER.”  FIRST OF ALL, IT HAS A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW, AS THE FIRST SUCH FILM OF THE SUMMER, “THE FAULT IN OUR STARS” HAS ONLY RECENTLY VACATED THEATERS. AND EVEN THOUGH THE BOOK ITS BASED ON IS A RUNAWAY BEST-SELLER, “FAULT’S” JOHN GREEN IS THE MUCH MORE WIDELY READ AUTHOR, THUS HIS TARGET AUDIENCE IS BIGGER.  THAT SAID, THOUGH, THE SECOND THING WE CAN SAY IS THAT IT SURE TRIES HARD--AND WAS HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL BY MOST ANY MEASURE (ASIDE FROM BOX OFFICE NUMBERS).  THE PLOT FOLLOWS A HIGH SCHOOL CELLIST (CHLOE GRACE MORETZ) WHO IS LIVING AN ENVIABLE LIFE AS A JULLIARD-BOUND PRODIGY IN A ENVIABLE, MUSICAL FAMILY AND HAS FALLEN IN LOVE WITH ENVIABLE  MUSICIAN DREAM GUY ADAM (JAMIE BLACKLEY). SUDDENLY, THOUGH, IT ALL GOES TRAGICALLY WRONG WHEN A CAR ACCIDENT LEAVES HER AND HER ENTIRE FAMILY COMATOSE.  HER SPIRIT, FREE TO ROAM BETWEEN FLASHBACKS OF HER AMAZING FAMILY LIFE, EQUALLY AMAZING LOVE LIFE, AND WHAT’S HAPPENING CURRENTLY WITH BOTH ADAM AND HER FAMILY IN ICU, MUST THEN ULTIMATELY DECIDE IF SHE’LL FIGHT TO “STAY” AND COME BACK TO A REAL LIFE WITH ADAM OR LET GO AND BE IN ETERNITY WITH HER FAMILY.  THIS, OF COURSE, PRODUCES MUCH GENUINE HEART-RENDING EMOTION (AND, YES, WEEPING), AND IS EVEN AT TIMES A BETTER RENDERING OF THE BOOK’S STORY THAN WHAT’S IN THE BOOK ITSELF (A RARE AND HIGH COMPLIMENT).  AND IT’S ALL ROUNDED OUT WITH AN APPARENTLY SATISFYING ENDING.  MORETZ IN PARTICULAR GETS HIGH MARKS FROM MY FRIENDS FOR HER PERFORMANCE; A SHARP “NORMAL” TURN FOR HER FROM EARLIER ROLES THAT HAVE RANGED EVERYWHERE FROM A FOUL-MOUTHED 10 YEAR-OLD ASSASSIN (“KICKASS”) TO A LONELY VAMPIRE (“LET ME IN”) TO A VENGEFUL PSYCHOPATH (“CARRIE”).  COUPLE ALL THESE IMPRESSIONS WITH AN “A-” CINEMA SCORE FROM AUDIENCES IN GENERAL (WHICH WERE OVERWHELMINGLY FEMALE) AND THERE’S OBVIOUSLY A LOT TO LIKE IN THIS SHOW, ESPECIALLY IF YOU’RE A FAN OF THE GENRE.  ANOTHER IMPORTANT POINT, FROM A PURELY HOLLYWOOD POINT OF VIEW--IT WAS MADE FOR ONLY $11 MILLION DOLLARS, SO DESPITE ITS LESS-THAN-ANTICIPATED BOX OFFICE NUMBERS, IT’S ALREADY MAKING A TIDY PROFIT FOR WARNER BROTHERS.  SO, GIRLS AND MOMS (AND GUYS TOO IF YOU’RE INTO IT), FORGET SO-SO REVIEWS AND GET TO THE THEATER.  “IF YOU STAY,” YOU’LL MOST LIKELY ENJOY A TISSUE-SOAKING, MAKE-UP MELTING GOOD TIME.


WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL ***1/2

A TEAR-JERKER FOR A DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT SET (THE INSPIRATIONAL, BASED-ON-TRUE-EVENTS SPORTS CROWD), THIS NEW FILM FOLLOWS THE TRIUMPHS AND (MOSTLY) TRIALS OF ONE OF THE MOST STORIED PROGRAMS IN AMERICAN FOOTBALL HISTORY; THAT OF THE DE LA SALLE HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL TEAM OF CONCORD, CALIFORNIA.  BETWEEN THE LATE 1990’S AND 2004, DE LA SALLE PUT TOGETHER THE LONGEST WINNING STREAK OF ANY FOOTBALL TEAM AT ANY LEVEL IN THE U.S.; 151 WINS WITHOUT LOSS.  NO OTHER WINNING STREAK EVEN COMES WITHIN 100 GAMES OF THIS.  BUT, AS WISE COACHES KNOW AND MOST PLAYERS AND PARENTS CHOOSE TO IGNORE, ANY SUCH STREAK WILL EVENTUALLY COME TO AN END, AND THIS MOVIE IS ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS TO THE DE LA SALLE PROGRAM WHEN “THE STREAK” COMES TO ITS SHATTERING DEMISE.  FORTUNATELY FOR THE STUNNED, INDEED LOST HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT ATHLETES, THEIR HEAD COACH, BOB LADOUCEUR (JIM CAVIEZEL) AND IS ASSISTANT (MICHAEL CHIKLIS) NEVER FELT LIKE THEIR PROGRAM WAS ABOUT “THE STREAK” IN THE FIRST PLACE, AND THEY PLUNGE STOICALLY ONWARD IN AN INEXORABLE DRIVE TO RESTORE THE SHATTERED TEAM’S CORE VALUES AND RIGHT THEIR WOBBLING SHIP.  IT’S A STORY OF GUT-CHECKING EMOTION AND IRON-WILLED IMPLACABILITY IN THE FACE OF AT TIMES OVERWHELMING ODDS THAT WILL HAVE ANYONE WHO UNDERSTANDS WHAT SPORTS ARE  REALLY ALL ABOUT CHOKING ON THEIR HEARTS THAT ARE SUDDENLY IN THEIR THROATS.  CAVIEZEL IN PARTICULAR SHINES HERE; SHOWING A NEVER-WAVERING STEADFASTNESS TO HIS VOLATILE CHARGES ON THE OUTSIDE WHILE INWARDLY QUESTIONING IF HE AND HIS VALUES ARE EVEN RELEVANT ANYMORE IN SUCH A NUMBERS-DRIVEN, “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR ME IN THE LAST DAY OR TWO” WORLD THAT IS NOW THE AMERICAN SPORTS SCENE, EVEN AT THE HIGH SCHOOL LEVEL. THIS IS A SPORTS ACTION-PACKED, DRAMA-FILLED, AND EMOTIONALLY DRAINING MOVIE EXPERIENCE THAT JUST ABOUT ANYONE IN THE FAMILY WILL FIND SOMETHING TO ENJOY DURING--AND PONDER AFTER--THE SHOW.  PLEASE DON’T MISS IT, ESPECIALLY IF YOU’RE INVOLVED IN SPORTS, OR KNOW PEOPLE WHO ARE.


THE GIVER ***

BACK IN THE EARLY 90’S, WHEN THE INTERNET WAS STILL NEW AND VIDEO GAMES HADN’T PROGRESSED MUCH PAST PAC-MAN, DONKEY KONG, AND A FEW CRUDE SIMULATION GAMES LIKE “OREGON TRAIL” AND THE ORIGINAL “SIM CITY,” MIDDLE GRADERS STILL HAD THE ATTENTION SPAN TO STICK WITH A THE QUIET, INTENSE DRAMA OF A BOOK BASED ON A REVOLUTIONARY PREMISE YET NOT FILLED ON EVERY OTHER PAGE WITH RIP-ROARING ACTION, MONSTROUS CREATURES, OR GORY GRAPHIC NOVEL PICTURES.  ONE SUCH BOOK WAS “THE GIVER,” BY LOIS LOWRY, WHO IN IT IMAGINED A “PERFECT” WORLD WHERE THERE WAS NO CRIME, VERY LITTLE PUNISHMENT, NO VIOLENCE, NO WEAPONS, NO SICKNESS, NO LYING OR DECEPTION, NO FIGHTING, KILLING, OR WAR AND EVERYBODY GOT ALONG JUST SWIMMINGLY--BECAUSE “SAMENESS” HAD TAKEN VIRTUALLY ALL DIFFERENCES AWAY.  CHILDREN WERE RAISED IN CARING “FAMILY UNITS,” EDUCATED AND EXPOSED TO VARIOUS VOCATIONS, AND AT AGE 11, IN A GRAND CEREMONY, WERE GIVEN THEIR JOB, WHICH THEY WOULD TRAIN AT FOR A YEAR, THEN BECOME A FULL-FLEDGED WORKER IN THE COMMUNITY.  BUT OF COURSE THERE WAS A DARK SIDE TO ALL THAT.  “SAMENESS” CAME WITH A STEEP PRICE; THE DAILY DOSE OF MEDICATION THAT MADE SURE THAT NO ONE FELT ANY GENUINE EMOTION AND NO ONE REMEMBERED THE PAST, AS IN THE TIME “BACK AND BACK AND BACK.”  VIOLATORS OF RULES, THE VERY OLD, THE INFIRM, THOSE UNABLE TO ADJUST PROPERLY, WERE “RELEASED” TO “ELSEWHERE,” PORTRAYED TO THEM AS A SORT OF ELYSIUM FROM GREEK MYTHOLOGY.  BUT IT WAS REALLY SOMETHING FAR DARKER.  AND THE ONLY ONE WHO KNEW THESE “DARKER” THINGS WAS ONE ELDER SEPARATED FROM ALL THE REST, THE “RECEIVER OF MEMORIES.”  AND OF COURSE, HIS PROTEGE, THE ONE WHO WOULD ONE DAY REPLACE HIM, IN THIS CASE, A BOY NAMED JONAS.  AS THE RECEIVER BECOMES “THE GIVER” TO THE NEW RECEIVER, JONAS’S LIFE BECOMES ONE TERRIFYING REVELATION AFTER ANOTHER, AND HE AND THE GIVER ULTIMATELY DECIDE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT “SAMENESS.”  NOT EXACTLY WHAT THE ESTABLISHED ELDERS ARE WILLING TO PUT UP WITH, THOUGH.  AND IF ANY OF THIS SOUNDS FAMILIAR, LIKE THE BASIC PREMISE BEHIND JUST ABOUT EVERY YA DYSTOPIAN BOOK SERIES THAT’S CARRIED AWAY THE MOVIE BOX OFFICE OVER THE PAST FOUR YEARS, YOU’RE EXACTLY RIGHT, FOR MOST IN CHILDREN’S LITERARY CIRCLES AGREE THAT “THE GIVER” WAS THE VERY FIRST OF WHAT WOULD BECOME THE YA DYSTOPIAN GENRE.  BUT POOR LOIS LOWRY’S BOOK WAS SO FAR AHEAD OF ITS TIME “BACK AND BACK AND BACK” IN THE 90’S WHEN IT SHOULD HAVE BECOME A MOVIE THAT IT WAS IGNORED, DESPITE THE EFFORTS OF UP-AND-COMING ACTOR JEFF BRIDGES, WHO ENVISIONED HIS FATHER (THE LEGENDARY LLOYD BRIDGES) IN THE TITLE ROLE.  FAST FORWARD TO NOW, WHEN BRIDGES‘S AND LOWRY’S EFFORTS HAVE FINALLY PAID OFF.  “THE GIVER” IS AT LAST A MOVIE, WITH JEFF’S FATHER LONG DEAD AND HE HIMSELF IN THE TITLE ROLE.  AND, SADLY NOW, SO BEHIND THE TIMES THAT, INSTEAD OF BEING HONORED BY AUDIENCES AND CRITICS AS THE SEED THAT EVENTUALLY GREW INTO MASSIVE MOVIE FRANCHISES LIKE “THE HUNGER GAMES” AND “DIVERGENT” AND LITERALLY COUNTLESS OTHER BOOK SERIES ON BOOKSTORE SHELVES AND FILLING AMAZON’S KINDLE STORE, IT’S PANNED AS SLOW AND BORING.  ONE WELL-KNOWN CRITIC EVEN CALLED IT  “DERIVATIVE” OF “THE HUNGER GAMES.”  OBVIOUSLY THIS PERSON WAS UNWITTINGLY EXPOSING HIS APPALLING IGNORANCE OF YA LITERATURE.  DON’T FALL FOR HIS, OR ANYONE ELSE’S SIMILARLY NAIVE ASSESSMENT.  IT’S NOT TRUE.  THIS IS A MARVELOUS AND FAITHFUL RENDITION OF A TRULY GAME-CHANGING BOOK IN LITERATURE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE.  IF YOU CAN’T ENJOY THE FILM FOR ITS STORY AND CAST (EVEN MERYL STREEP IS IN IT), YOU CAN AT LEAST WATCH IT AND LOOK FOR ALL THE ELEMENTS THAT “THE HUNGER GAMES,” DIVERGENT,” AND ALL THOSE COUNTLESS “TEEN/YA DYSTOPIAN” SERIES DERIVED THEIR STORIES FROM.  TREAT YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY TO A REAL, GENUINE ORIGINAL--EVEN IF IT IS 20 YEARS LATE IN COMING.      



TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES *** (for 13 year-old  boys and under and maybe their dads that remember the 1990 version), *1/2 (for the rest of us)

YOU’VE JUST WALKED OUT OF THIS MOVIE.  IF YOU’RE IN THE FIRST CATEGORY ABOVE, YOU’RE ALREADY ON YOUR CELL PHONE TEXTING YOUR BEST BUDS ABOUT HOW “COOL” IT WAS.  IF YOU’RE IN THE SECOND CATEGORY, YOU’RE EITHER HUSTLING EVERYONE TO THE CAR SO YOU CAN GET AWAY FROM THE THEATER AS FAST AS POSSIBLE, OR YOU’RE GROANING, WONDERING HOW MANY TIMES YOU’VE “BEEN THERE” AND “SEEN THAT,” AND MAYBE EVEN KICKING YOURSELF FOR SPENDING $9.50 A HEAD TO SEE THE 3D VERSION OF SUCH A TOTAL WASTE OF TIME..  AND YET I DO STILL REMEMBER THE DAYS WHEN I WAS IN THAT FIRST CATEGORY... 


GIVEN THE ABOVE PROLOGUE, I BET SOMEWHERE IN YOU’RE MIND YOU’RE THINKING THAT MICHAEL BAY (HE OF “TRANSFORMERS” FAME) MAYBE HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH THIS.  BINGO!  HE PRODUCED IT (THOUGH DIDN’T DIRECT IT).  AND AS YOU CAN PROBABLY GUESS, IT HAS ALL OF HIS HALLMARKS LINED UP LIKE CARTOON CHARACTERS IN A ROW; A MOVIE BASED ON, WELL, CARTOON CHARACTERS, A PLOT FILLED WITH, AGAIN, CARTOON CHARACTERS (YES, THE HUMANS TOO), ACTION THAT LOOKS LIKE IT--ONCE AGAIN--IS OUT OF A CARTOON, EXCEPT OF COURSE IT IS DONE WITH LIVE ACTION AND CGI SO IT LOOKS REAL AND COSTS OVER A HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS.  THERE’S EYE CANDY FOR THE OLDER MALES (POOR MEGAN FOX...), AN INDESTRUCTIBLE, EVIL, METALLIC MANIAC THAT SOMEHOW, FOR NO APPARENT REASON, BECOMES DESTRUCTIBLE JUST IN THE NICK OF TIME, WISE-CRACKING DUDES THAT CAN’T TAKE ANYTHING SERIOUSLY, TOKEN APPEARANCES BY REAL STARS (WILL ARNETT AND WHOOPIE GOLDBERG--I THINK SHE GOT ABOUT 2 MINUTES OF SCREEN TIME) TO GIVE ADULTS A REASON NOT TO START SNOOZING BEFORE THE OPENING CREDITS, A TISSUE-PAPER THIN PLOT WITH MORE HOLES THAN SWISS CHEESE, “DIALOGUE” THAT CONSISTS OF LONG STRINGS OF HIP TEEN CATCH PHRASES, AND ACTION, ACTION, ACTION, AND DID I MENTION, ACTION?  AND THAT’S ABOUT ALL THERE IS TO SAY ABOUT THIS MOVIE.  NO WONDER IT’S DOING SO WELL AT THE WORLD-WIDE BOX OFFICE! (WHAT THAT SAYS ABOUT THE EMOTIONAL STATE OF BOYS AND MEN IN GENERAL AROUND THE WORLD IS THE SUBJECT FOR ANOTHER DEBATE).  THE GOOD NEWS IS THAT IF YOU DO TAKE THE FAM TO SEE THIS, NO WORRIES--NO ONE WILL BE TRAUMATIZED BY ANYTHING--EXCEPT POSSIBLY YOU.


INTO THE STORM ***

IN 1996, BEFORE SOME OF RECENT HISTORY’S MOST INFAMOUS TORNADO DISASTERS, WARNER BROTHERS MOVIE “TWISTER”, STARRING VETERAN ACTORS BILL PAXTON AND CARY ELWES, ALONG WITH TV SUPERSTAR HELEN HUNT, AND A PUDGY GUY NAMED PHILLIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN DOING A THRILL-CRAZY COMIC RELIEF ROLE, WAS A GIGANTIC HIT, SEEMING TO HAVE JUST THE RIGHT MIX OF STAR-POWER AND UNIMAGINABLY OVER-THE-TOP METEOROLOGICAL MAYHEM.  NOW, NEARLY 20 YEARS LATER, COMES THIS FILM, ALSO FROM WARNERS, NOT EXACTLY A RE-MAKE (THE CHARACTERS ARE ALL DIFFERENT, THOUGH THE STORYLINE IS SIMILAR), DEFINITELY NOT A REBOOT (“TWISTER” WAS A ONE-OFF ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY, NOT A FRANCHISE), BUT THE EFFECT IS MUCH MORE SOBERING, EVEN TERRIFYING.  AS FOLKS IN MOORE, OKLAHOMA, JOPLIN, MISSOURI, GREENSBURG, KANSAS, AND OTHER UNFORTUNATES CAN ATTEST, WHAT SEEMED RIDICULOUSLY OUTLANDISH IN “TWISTER”; A MILE-WIDE BEHEMOTH TORNADO WITH WINDS OVER 200 MPH THAT COULD WIPE A SMALL TOWN OFF THE MAP, IS NOW TERRIFYING FACT, AND EVEN A FICTITIOUS PORTRAYAL LIKE THIS, WITH ITS DISTURBINGLY REAL STORM EFFECTS, MUST SEND SHIVERS UP A LOT OF SPINES. ESPECIALLY IN TORNADO ALLEY.  AS A FORMER RESIDENT OF THE AREA, IT SURE DID ME.  COUPLE THAT WITH A PLOT THAT MAKES THE CHAOS EXTREMELY PERSONAL AND OFTEN HEART-TUGGING, AND YOU’VE GOT QUITE A INTENSE DISASTER-MOVIE EXPERIENCE. IT’S UNFORTUNATE THAT THE CAST IS NOT AS RECOGNIZABLE AS “TWISTER’S” WAS (EVEN ITS LONE KNOWN STAR, RICHARD “THORIN OAKENSHIELD” ARMITAGE, PLAYED HIS LAST BIG ROLE AS A DWARF KING HALF HIS TRUE SIZE AND COVERED IN HAIR AND ANIMAL HIDES--AND THUS NOT “RECOGNIZABLE” AT ALL), BUT EVERYONE, INCLUDING A FINE CADRE OF UP-AND-COMING “NEW ADULT” ACTORS, DOES A FINE JOB WITH THEIR VARIOUS ROLES, RANGING FROM A GRIM STORM CHASER AND HIS CREW TO A COUPLE OF BOOZED OUT THRILL-SEEKERS FOR WHOM BEING BLOWN AROUND IN A VORTEX IS JUST ANOTHER WAY TO HAVE FUN.  SO THIS IS CERTAINLY A WORTHWHILE FILM TO SEE, AND WOULD BE ENJOYED BY MANY IN THE FAM.  BUT REMEMBER TOO, THE TORNADIC ACTION SCENES ARE VERY REAL, THEY’RE SHOT LIKE REAL FOOTAGE YOU CAN FIND ON YOUTUBE OF REAL EVENTS, AND REAL PEOPLE HAVE HAD THEIR LIVES DESTROYED BY REAL TORNADOES THAT HAVE BEEN JUST AS GASP-INDUCINGLY HUGE AS THOSE DEPICTED HERE.  SO BE MINDFUL OF THAT AS YOU WATCH, AND PLEASE, LEAVE THE UNDER-8 ONES AT HOME...  


GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY ***1/2

FROM THE TRAILERS I SAW, THIS MOVIE LOOKED TO BE ONE OF THE MORE RIDICULOUS FILMS I WOULD SEE IN YEARS IN MY CONTINUING QUEST TO KEEP READERS APPRISED OF WHAT SOMEONE WHO JUST PLAIN ENJOYS MOVIES THINKS OF WHAT’S OUT THERE FOR THE FOUR-QUADRANT/FAMILY AUDIENCE.


BOY, WAS I WRONG! 


INSTEAD, MY FRIEND AND I ENJOYED ONE OF THE MOST SURPRISINGLY, GLORIOUSLY ENTERTAINING MOVIES WE’VE SEEN SINCE THE ORIGINAL “STAR WARS” (NOW CALLED “STAR WARS; A NEW HOPE”) HIT THEATERS BACK IN 1977!  WHAT A BREATH OF FRESH AIR!  WHAT A PLEASING MIX OF ACTION, DRAMA, AND LAUGH-OUT-LOUD COMEDY! IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT A TOTALLY, AMAZINGLY, WONDERFULLY ENTERTAINING EXPERIENCE!  I FOUND MYSELF SAYING, JUST AS I HAD AFTER SEEING “STAR WARS,” “NOW THAT’S WHAT I GO TO MOVIES FOR!”  AND WHAT A SURPRISE!  BASED ON A 1969 COMIC BOOK SERIES THAT MARVEL HAD EVENTUALLY CANCELED, THEN ALLOWED WRITERS DAN ABNET AND ANDY LANNING TO REVIVE IN 2008, IT WAS VIRTUALLY UNKNOWN TO ANYONE BUT THE TRULY HARDCORE COMIC BOOK FAN--SO MUCH SO THAT MARVEL AND DISNEY MARKETED THE MOVIE AS AN “ORIGINAL” FILM--AND FOR MOST OF US, IT TRULY WAS!  LIKE SO MANY AUDIENCE FAVORITE FILMS, IT FEATURES A SIMPLE STORY; ONE THAT’S BEEN DONE MANY TIMES OVER, BUT PUTS IN ITS OWN UNIQUE SETTING, CHARACTERS, AND TWISTS TO MAKE US DELIGHT IN IT ALL OVER AGAIN.  THE STORY HERE IS THE CLASSIC “EVERYMAN” DOES SOMETHING EXTRAORDINARY WITH THE HELP OF A BUNCH OF MISFIT COMPATRIOTS”--IN THIS CASE, SAVE THE GALAXY FROM BEING DESTROYED BY A POWERFUL WEAPON COVETED BY A DANGEROUS DEMAGOGUE.  THE HEROES ARE FLAWED BUT GOOD, THE BAD GUYS ARE VERY BAD, THERE’S LAUGHS AND ADVENTURE AND ACTION, AND A GREAT ENDING, AND WE ALL GO HOME HAPPY.  THE UNIQUENESS COMES IN ITS SETTING  (HERETOFORE UNKNOWN PARTS OF THE GALAXY) AND THE CHARACTERS, A MOTLEY CREW OF RATHER OBVIOUS THROWBACKS TO  CHARACTERS FROM FILMS GONE BY (HAN SOLO, INDIANA JONES, TREEBEARD, THE HULK, PRINCESS LEIA, ETC.) BUT WITH JUST ENOUGH UNIQUENESS TO MAKE THEM FEEL FRESH.  HERE’S A SPACE OPERA THAT’S FUN AND “ORIGINAL,” YET ALSO ALMOST AN HOMAGE TO ITS GROUND-BREAKING PREDECESSOR.  THOUGH NOT FOR YOUR TINIEST, LOAD UP THE REST OF THE FAM AND HAVE A BLAST AT THIS BIG, BRIGHT STAR IN WHAT’S BEEN A MOSTLY DREARY SUMMER AT THE MOVIES.



HERCULES ***

HERE’S A BETTER-THAN-AVERAGE TALE BASED ON CLASSIC STORIES OF HERCULES, (“THE WORLD’S FIRST SUPERHERO” ACCORDING TO SOME) THAT I FOUND FUN AND ENJOYABLE FOR ITS ACTION, ITS HEART, ITS THEME, AND OF COURSE FOR ITS MYTHOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL UNDERPINNINGS.  IT WAS SMARTLY AND WELL-DONE, AND DWAYNE “THE ROCK” JOHNSON IS A GREAT GUY TO PLAY HERCULES.  YOU’D THINK IT WOULD BE DOING GREAT BOX OFFICE NUMBERS BECAUSE OF ALL THAT, BUT SADLY, THIS GENRE HAS APPARENTLY FALLEN FLAT IN RECENT YEARS WITH THE FICKLE YOUNG, MALE, VIDEO-GAME ADDICTED AUDIENCE, AND SO IT’S NOT DOING AS WELL AS HOPED--AT LEAST NOT IN THIS COUNTRY.  STILL, FOR THOSE OF YOU INTO GREAT “SWORD AND SANDAL” ACTION AND ANCIENT MYTHOLOGICAL TALES, THIS IS DEFINITELY NOT ONE TO MISS.  DON’T EXPECT THE CLASSIC HERCULES TALE, THOUGH.  THAT’S ALL GLOSSED OVER IN A BRIEF PROLOGUE, AND THEN WE GET INTO THE REAL STORY, ONE BASED ON A RADICAL COMICS REIMAGINING WHERE OUR DEMIGOD (WHO IS DEFINITELY NOT SO CERTAIN ABOUT HIS DEMIGOD-NESS) LEADS A MERCENARY BAND OF LESSER HEROES OF MYTHOLOGY (INCLUDING IOLAUS AND ATALANTA) WHO HIRE THEMSELVES OUT TO RID CITIES OF THEIR VARIOUS NEMESES.  THUS THEY COME TO THRACE, WHERE ITS KING (A PERFECTLY POMPOUS JOHN HURT) HAS LOST HIS ARMY TO THE RAVAGES OF A POWERFUL WARLORD WHO NOW THREATENS HIS DEFENSELESS CITY.  HERCULES AND CREW SET ABOUT TRAINING A NEW ARMY OF THRACIANS TO TRACK DOWN THE BADDIE, BUT COMPLICATIONS ARISE, AND BIG HERC HAS TO DECIDE JUST WHAT HE’S REALLY FIGHTING FOR.  IT’S A FUN TAKE ON THE ORIGINAL, AND HAS LOTS OF FINE MOMENTS, BUT DEFINITELY NOT FOR THE YOUNG AND IMPRESSIONABLE.  THE ONLY THING THAT SPARED THIS AN R-RATING WAS NOT SHOWING THE BLOOD SPLATTER (TOO MUCH) OR THE LIMBS GET SLICED OFF.  SO, IF YOU’RE A FAN, IT’S WELL WORTH CHECKING OUT.  IF NOT, IT MIGHT BE WELL WORTH SEEING IF YOU’RE CONSIDERING BECOMING  ONE :).  IF SO MOVED, GO. YOU WON’T BE DISAPPOINTED.


DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES ****

THERE ARE VERY FEW “SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER” MOVIES THAT EVEN HIT ALL THE RIGHT NOTES TO BE CALLED A “GOOD” MOVIE, MUCH LESS TRANSCEND THEIR OWN STORIES TO MAKE A SERIOUS POINT ABOUT HUMAN NATURE, THE GREATER WORLD, OR THE STATE OF THE HUMAN CONDITION. AND THUS BE CONSIDERED “GREAT.”


THIS IS ONE OF THE “GREAT” ONES.


DIRECTOR MATTHEW REEVES AND WRITER MARK BOMBACK HAVE TAKEN THE VERY THOUGHTFUL, PERSONAL TALE  OF CAESAR, THE SUPER-INTELLIGENT CHIMP WHO LED AN APE UPRISING IN “RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES” BACK IN 2011, AND EXTRAPOLATED IT INTO ONE OF THE MOST COMPELLING SCREEN STORIES THAT I’VE SEEN IN YEARS. SET SOME 20 YEARS DOWN THE ROAD FROM CAESAR’S INITIAL REBELLION, HE AND HIS APE COMMUNITY HAVE GROWN AND THRIVED IN THE REDWOOD FORESTS NORTH OF SAN FRANCISCO WHILE HUMANITY HAS DESCENDED INTO NEAR-EXTINCTION BY THEIR OWN HAND: A VIRULENT VIRUS HATCHED IN A LAB HAD NO EFFECT ON THE APES IT WAS TESTED ON, BUT RAN RAMPANT IN HUMANS.  CARRYING THE UNFORTUNATE MONIKER “SIMIAN VIRUS,” IT TOOK OUT SEVERAL BILLION HUMANS, AND THE REMNANTS NOW LIVE PIONEER-STYLE LIVES IN ISOLATED ENCLAVES AROUND THE WORLD.  ONE SUCH GROUP IS IN SAN FRANCISCO, HEADED BY A FORMER COP NAMED DREYFUS (GARY OLDMAN), WHO DREAMS OF BRINGING ELECTRICITY BACK TO HIS PEOPLE VIA AN OLD HYDRO-ELECTRIC PLANT AT A DAM IN (YOU GUESSED IT...) THE REDWOOD FORESTS NORTH OF THE CITY.  MALCOM, A FORMER ARCHITECT (JASON CLARKE) AND A CREW OF ENGINEERS HEAD INTO THE RAINY GLOOM AND AN ASTONISHING CONFRONTATION TAKES PLACE.  THE HUMANS GET THEIR FIRST TASTE OF INTELLIGENT APES AND THE APES DISCOVER THAT THERE ARE STILL HUMANS LEFT IN THE WORLD.  ASTONISHMENT LEADS TO FEAR, A SHOT IS FIRED, AND FROM THE REACTIONS OF HOTHEADS ON BOTH SIDES, YOU PRETTY MUCH KNOW WHERE THINGS ARE HEADED, THOUGH NOT WITHOUT THE TANTALIZINGLY HOPEFUL HEART-WARMING (AND ULTIMATELY HEART-RENDING)  EFFORTS OF CAESAR AND HIS FAMILY AND MALCOM AND HIS (PLAYED BY KERI RUSSEL AND KODI SMIT-MCPHEE) TO KEEP A SANE LID ON THE EVER MORE BUBBLING CALDRON OF CONFRONTATION.  THERE HAS SELDOM BEEN A MORE GRAPHIC OR GUT-WRENCHING DEPICTION OF THE CAUSES OF CATASTROPHIC CONFLICT.  THIS, AND THE ASTOUNDING PERFORMANCE OF ANDY SERKIS AS CAESAR, SHOULD NOT BE FORGOTTEN (OR SWEPT UNDER THE RUG BECAUSE THIS IS NOT AN “AWARDS MOVIE”) AT OSCAR TIME.  HERE’S A FILM WITH ALL THE WOWZY ACTION AND COOL SCI-FI STUFF OF A SUMMER POPCORN ACTIONER, YET ALSO THE DEEP EMOTION AND MORAL CHALLENGE OF THE BEST OF THE SO-CALLED “AWARDS FILMS” THAT ALMOST NO ONE EVER SEES.  AND IT’S EVEN “SAFE” FOR YOUR TWEEN-AGERS!  THAT’S ABOUT AS EXCELLENT AS A FOUR-QUADRANT FILM GETS.  BE SURE NOT TO MISS IT. 


EARTH TO ECHO **1/2

THE WRITERS AND PRODUCERS OF THIS FILM, WHICH WAS MADE ORIGINALLY FOR DISNEY, THEN SOLD OFF TO RELATIVITY MEDIA, WERE A LOT TOO OBVIOUSLY TRYING TO INTRODUCE MILLENNIAL KIDS TO THE MAGIC OF A CERTAIN STEVEN SPIELBERG MOVIE FROM BACK IN THE 80’S ABOUT A LITTLE LOST ALIEN THAT JUST WANTED TO GO HOME (THAT WOULD BE “E.T., THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL” FOR ANY WHO AREN’T AWARE).  AND THE UPDATED SCRIPT HITS ALL THE RIGHT NOTES WHEN IT COMES TO THE MYRIAD GIZMOS AND DEVICES THAT KIDS THESE DAYS USE AND A BIT OF THE EMPTINESS THAT A LIFE FILLED WITH THEM PRODUCES.  UNFORTUNATELY, THOUGH, IT’S CONSTANTLY A BIT OFF-KEY WHEN IT COMES TO STORY ESSENTIALS LIKE CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, PLOT CONSISTENCY, PLAUSIBILITY, AND REAL EMOTIONAL DEPTH, AND THUS THE END RESULT IS A MAGIC-LESS HODGE-PODGE THAT PLAYS MORE LIKE IT’S BEING PERFORMED BY THE JUNIOR HIGH BAND THAN THE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA.  CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT STOPS ALMOST COMPLETELY AFTER THE FIRST TEN MINUTES, PLOT HOLES THE SIZE OF MOON CRATERS BEGIN TO OPEN SHORTLY THEREAFTER, THE “FOUND FOOTAGE” STYLE IS HARD TO WATCH AND AT TIMES DOESN’T SERVE THE STORY WELL, THE GIRL COMES INTO THE FILM WAY TOO LATE (BUT CERTAINLY BETTER LATE THAN NEVER), AND THE BAD GUY MIGHT AS WELL BE STANDING ON A STREET CORNER CAVORTING WITH A SIGN THAT SAYS “BAD GUY” AND POINTS AT HIM.  ALL THAT SAID, THERE STILL ARE A FEW STARS SHINING THROUGH THE MURK HERE, AND THOSE WOULD BE THE PREVIOUSLY UNHERALDED LEAD CAST MEMBERS, ALL IN THEIR MID-TEENS.  YES, BRIAN “ASTRO” BRADLEY WAS A SENSATION ON THE X-FACTOR A FEW YEARS AGO, TEO HALM PLAYED A NEANDERTHAL BOY ON AN EPISODE OF “NOVA” ABOUT CAVE PEOPLE, ELLA WAHLESTEDT PLAYED SOMEONE’S DAUGHTER FOR 10 EPISODES OF “ARMY WIVES” ON LIFETIME, AND REESE HARTWIG WILL STAR ALONGSIDE STEVE CARELL AND JENNIFER GARNER LATER THIS YEAR IN “ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY”, BUT AS FOR FEATURE FILMS, THIS IS THE DEBUT FOR ALL FOUR, AND EACH GIVES A, WELL, “STELLAR” EFFORT FOR AS MUCH AS THE SO-SO SCRIPT ALLOWS.  ALL THESE KIDS WILL BEAR WATCHING IN YEARS TO COME, AND IT WAS FUN FOR ME TO KNOW I SAW THEM FIRST COME TO LIGHT IN THIS MOVIE.  SO, IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A GREAT MOVIE ABOUT A LOST ALIEN, SKIP THIS AND FIND A WAY TO WATCH “E.T.”  IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A PASSABLE AFTERNOON OF SAFE ENTERTAINMENT OUT WITH THE FAM, THIS WON’T HURT, AND THE BRIGHTNESS OF ITS STARS JUST MIGHT MAKE IT WORTH YOUR BUCKS.


TRANSFORMERS 4; AGE OF EXTINCTION *1/2

ONCE AGAIN, WE WERE ALL TEASED BY TRAILERS THAT THIS FILM, AGAINST ALL ODDS, JUST MIGHT HAVE AN INTRIGUING PLOT THAT INVOLVED ACTUAL CHARACTERS RATHER THAN JUST HUMANS RUNNING AROUND SPOUTING EXPLETIVES AND SCREAMS AS GIANT ROBOTS RIP UP SOME LANDMARK CITY.  AND ONCE AGAIN, WE WERE LIED TO.  I COULD TELL WITHIN THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES, AS NEW STARS MARK WAHLBERG ,AS ROBOT-CRAZY MECHANIC CADE YEAGER,AND HIS HOTTIE DAUGHTER TESSA (PLAYED BY NICOLA PELTZ) STARTED ARGUING WITH EACH OTHER IN THEIR NORTHEASTERN BROUGH (BOTH ARE FROM NEW ENGLAND) EVEN THOUGH THEIR CHARACTERS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE “BORN AND BRED” TEXANS!  SO MUCH FOR CHARACTER AUTHENTICITY OR NUANCE.  AND WITHIN 15 MORE MINUTES OF THAT, SO MUCH FOR INTERESTING, UNIQUE PLOT, AS THE FILM QUICKLY DISSOLVES INTO WHAT EACH OF THE LAST TWO TRANSFORMER FILMS HAVE BECOME; LAME EXCUSES TO SHOW OFF DAZZLING SPECIAL EFFECTS AS INDESTRUCTIBLE MACHINES FIGHT OTHER INDESTRUCTIBLE MACHINES WHILE ANY HUMANS CAUGHT INBETWEEN SCREAM AND RUN FOR THEIR LIVES (ESPECIALLY THE WOMEN--WITH HUNKY MEN ALWAYS SHOWING UP IN THE NICK OF TIME TO RESCUE THEM).  THAT’S REALLY ABOUT ALL THERE IS TO SAY HERE.  THE PLOT IS PAPER-THIN, THE SCRIPT’S ATTEMPTS AT ADDING SINCERITY, GENUINE EMOTION, OR SENSE TO THE ACTION IS PITIFULLY FUTILE, AND IT’S SO LONG THAT EVEN THE DIE-HARD FANS THAT WERE IN THE AUDIENCE I SAW THIS WITH DISAPPEARED LIKE ICE ON HOT PAVEMENT AS SOON AS THE CREDITS BEGAN TO ROLL.  A NONSENSICAL CLANK-FEST THAT WILL DELIGHT TWEEN-AGE BOYS (AND MALES OF THAT MENTALITY), AND BORE EVERYONE ELSE.  SPARE YOURSELF THE TIME AND BUCKS. 


HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 **1/2

THIS FOLLOW-UP TO DREAMWORKS ANIMATION’S ENORMOUSLY ORIGINAL, SWEET, AND SUCCESSFUL “HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON” IS A LOT LONGER IN EYE-POPPING, 3-D WOWING SPECIAL EFFECTS SEQUENCES (THE FILM RUNS 1 HOUR 45 MINUTES...) AND A BIT SHORTER ON STORY AND SWEETNESS THIS TIME AROUND, BUT STILL SOMETHING THAT WILL GIVE YOU AND THE FAMILY A GREAT AFTERNOON OF ENTERTAINMENT.  HICCUP IS NOW FACING HIS FATHER’S DECISION TO RETIRE AND MAKE HIM KING, BUT HE AND DRAGON BUDDY TOOTHLESS ARE MORE INTERESTED IN DISCOVERING NEW WORLDS AND FINDING THEIR TRUE SELVES.  INTERESTINGLY (AND MAYBE A LITTLE WEIRDLY) BOTH DO BY THE END OF THE SHOW.  A “COMING OF AGE” STORY DRESSED UP IN A FANCY ANIMATED FAMILY FILM COSTUME, THIS IS A VISUAL DELIGHT, BUT THE STORY SEEMS TO REACH A LITTLE TOO FAR WITHOUT ENOUGH ROPE FROM THE SCRIPT.  AH WELL...  STILL WORTH YOUR PRICE OF ADMISSION, AND DESPITE SOME MATURE THEMES, STILL SAFE FOR ALL BUT THE TINIEST OF YOUR TOTS.  ENJOY!


MALEFICENT ***

THE NEXT IN DISNEY’S NEW, LIVE-ACTION LOOKS AT ITS OLD ANIMATED CLASSICS (AFTER TIM BURTON’S “ALICE IN WONDERLAND,”), THIS NEW FILM UPDATES “THE SLEEPING BEAUTY” WITH SIMILAR VIM AND VIGOR, BUT IN HIGHLY CONTRARIAN FASHION.  WE SEE THIS REVISIONIST VERSION OF THE CLASSIC FAIRY TALE  MOVIE THROUGH THE EYES OF ITS DRAGON-LADY ANTAGONIST, AND OF COURSE, SEE A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT SIDE OF MOST EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS IN THE ORIGINAL.  ANGELINA JOLIE, IN ONE OF THOSE “BORN TO PLAY” ROLES THAT ACTORS OCCASIONALLY RUN ACROSS IN THEIR CAREERS, DELIVERS MIGHTILY IN A DAZZLING ROLE THAT REQUIRES HER TO BE BOTH “GOOD GUY,” THEN “BAD GUY,” AND THEN GOOD AGAIN BEFORE IT’S ALL OVER.  IT’S AN INTERESTING, NUANCED PART WRITTEN WITH SUTLTY AND SKILL BY LINDA WOOLVERTON (WHO ALSO WROTE THE AFORE-MENTIONED “ALICE” RETAKE), AND JOLIE REVELS IN EVERY MINUTE OF IT.   UNFORTUNATELY, MOST OF THE REST OF THE CAST IS GIVEN FAR MORE GENERIC ROLES TO PLAY, AND THEY END UP MOSTLY STANDING AROUND TRYING TO BE NOTICED AS JOLIE AND HER LOYAL ASSISTANT DIAVAL (PLAYED WITH UNUSUAL HEART BY SAM RILEY) STEAL THE SHOW.  ELLE FANNING IS SWEET AND BEAUTIFUL BUT LARGELY WASTED AS PRINCESS AURORA, SHARLTO COPLEY’S RANGE IS NEVER EXTENDED IN HIS GRUMPY ROLE AS KING STEPHAN, AND IMELDA STAUNTON, LESLIE MANVILLE, AND JUNO TEMPLE ARE SIMPLY ANNOYING AS THE RED, BLUE, AND GREEN FAIRIES.  BUT IN THE CASE OF THIS MOVIE, THAT’S ALL BESIDE THE POINT.  THIS IS ANGIE JOLIE’S SHOW, AND SHE AND THE OVERALL STORY ARE SO ENJOYABLE, THE REST DOESN’T REALLY MATTER.  YOU’LL STILL HAVE A GREAT TIME HERE.  ONE CAUTION’ THERE’S SOME VERY SIGNIFICANT “FANTASY VIOLENCE” AND MATURE MATERIAL HERE, SO PROBABLY LEAVE THE UNDER-8 SET AT HOME. 


X-MEN; DAYS OF FUTURE PAST ***

THIS IS THE NEXT IN THE NEW “X-MEN” SERIES THAT MARVEL STUDIOS IS PUTTING OUT, FOLLOWING UP ON “X-MEN; FIRST CLASS” WHICH CAME OUT SEVERAL YEARS AGO.  IT’S UNIQUE IN THAT IT COMBINES THE CASTS OF BOTH THE OLDER “X-MEN” TRILOGY (PATRICK STEWART, IAN MCCELLAN, HALLE BERRY, HUGH JACKMAN, ETC.”) WITH THOSE OF THE MORE RECENT REBOOT (JAMES MCVOY, MICHAEL FASSBINDER, JENNIFER LAWRENCE, ET AL) INTO A TIME-BENDING ADVENTURE THAT’S APPROACHED WITH BOTH HUMOR AND SENSITIVITY, WITH JACKMAN AND LAWRENCE GETTING THE “LEAD CHARACTER” NODS (FROM ME AT LEAST) IN THE BRILLIANT ENSEMBLE.  AS FUN AND ACTION PACKED AS THIS IS, I FOUND ITS STORY TO BE OVER-COMPLEX AND AT TIMES BEWILDERING, AND DIRECTOR BRYAN SINGER, AS IN SOME OF THE PREVIOUS FILMS IN THE SERIES, SLIPS INTO EFFECTS-DRIVEN OVERDRIVE AT SOME POINTS AND STAGES SCENES THAT GO SO FAR INTO THE IMPOSSIBLE THAT THEY’RE JUST PLAIN RIDICULOUS (UPROOTING RFK STADIUM--INTACT--SERIOUSLY???).  A FUN COMIC-BOOK FILM THAT’S SIGNIFICANT FLAWS IN STORY AND DIRECTING ARE COVERED BY THE MARVELOUS PERFORMANCES OF ITS AMAZING CAST.



MILLION DOLLAR ARM ***1/2 

THIS IS ONE OF THOSE TRUE INSPIRATIONAL SPORTS DRAMAS THAT WALT DISNEY PICTURES HAS MADE ITSELF FAMOUS FOR OVER THE YEARS (“SECRETARIAT”, “THE ROOKIE,” ETC.).  AND IT PACKS EVERY BIT THE EMOTIONAL PUNCH AND MAYBE EVEN MORE.  UNFORTUNATELY, IT WAS HOPELESSLY RELEASED BY DISNEY ON THE SAME PLAYDATE AS THE MUCH-ANTICIPATED REBOOT OF MONSTER CLASSIC “GODZILLA,” AND ALSO HAD TO COMPETE WITH “THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2,” WHICH PREMIERED TWO WEEKS BEFORE AND R-RATED COMEDY “NEIGHBORS,” WHICH CAME OUT THE WEEK AFTER THAT.  AND THINGS WOULDN’T GET BETTER EITHER, AS THE NEXT WEEKS FEATURED OPENINGS OF FILMS LIKE THE NEW “X-MEN” FILM AND “MALEFICENT,” ALSO FROM DISNEY.  SO THE FACT THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE SEEN THIS, OR MAYBE EVEN HEARD OF IT, CAN BE FORGIVEN.  WHAT CANNOT BE IS THAT YOU DON’T FIND SOME TIME WITH SOME OTHER MEDIA (STREAMING VIDEO, VOD, DVD, ETC.) TO CHECK THIS OUT.  JON HAMM (STAR OF TV’S “MAD MEN”) PLAYS A DOWN AND OUT SPORTS AGENT WHOSE CAREER IS ABOUT TO TANK.  ONE NIGHT WHILE MINDLESSLY WATCHING ONE OF A GAZILLION SPORTS CHANNELS, HE FINDS HIMSELF IN FRONT OF A CRICKET MATCH (A NATIONAL PASS-TIME IN PLACES LIKE INDIA, PAKISTAN, AND ENGLAND) AND GETS THE UNUSUAL (AND PROBABLY INSANE) IDEA OF HAVING A SPORTS TALENT CONTEST TO FIND UNDISCOVERED FOREIGN TALENT FOR MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL IN THE ARMS OF INDIAN CRICKET PLAYERS (AND, AS IT TURNS OUT, FIELD HOCKEY PLAYERS AND JAVELIN THROWERS AS WELL).  NOTHING LIKE A BILLION MORE VIEWERS OF MAJOR LEAGUE GAMES TO SWEETEN MLB TV DEALS, AND HIS OWN BANK ACCOUNT.  SURAJ SHARMA (“LIFE OF PI”) AND MADHUR MITTAL (“SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE”) STAR AS THE TWO “LUCKY” INDIANS WHO WIN THE FIRST COMPETITION AND GET TO LEAVE EVERYTHING (AND EVERYONE) THAT THEY’VE KNOWN, TRAVEL TO AMERICA, AND GET A CRASH COURSE IN AMERICAN BASEBALL, AFTER WHICH OF COURSE THEY’LL BECOME INSTANT STARS (NOT!).  I SUPPOSE IT HELPS IF YOU’RE A SPORTS FAN TO MAKE SENSE OF THE STORY’S PLOT, BUT NO PRIOR EXPERIENCE IS REQUIRED TO FEEL ITS HEART.  DRAMATIC, GUT-WRENCHING, HEART-THROBBING, TEAR-JERKING, LAUGH-INDUCING, AND ULTIMATELY TRIUMPHANT, YOU’LL FIND YOUR EMOTIONS SATISFYINGLY WRUNG OUT BY THE END OF THIS STELLAR FILM.  FOR ADULTS, BUT INSPIRATIONAL TO KIDS AS WELL (ESPECIALLY THOSE WHO PLAY BASEBALL), HERE’S FAMILY SPORTS STORY-TELLING AT ITS VERY BEST.


GODZILLA **1/2

AFTER SEEING TRAILERS FOR THIS FOR ABOUT THE LAST MONTH, I WAS EAGERLY AWAITING ITS ARRIVAL IN THEATERS, IF FOR NO OTHER REASON THAN TO EXPERIENCE THE SHEER SIZE THAT STATE-OF-THE-ART CGI SPECIAL EFFECTS CAN GIVE TO THE ICONIC MONSTER.  IT ALSO LOOKED AS IF IT JUST MIGHT HAVE AN ACTUAL PLOT THAT MIGHT INVOLVE MORE THAN TINY PEOPLE RUNNING HYSTERICALLY FROM A GARGANTUAN LIZARD.  NOW THAT I’VE SEEN IT, I GUESS I’VE GOTTEN SOME OF BOTH, BUT NOT ENOUGH ON THE PLOT SIDE TO TRULY MAKE THIS MEMORABLE.  WHAT THERE IS OF THE STORY GETS OFF TO AN INTERESTING START AS BRIAN CRANSTON PLAYS AN EMBITTERED SCIENTIST WHO, AFTER BEING DISMISSED AS A QUACK BY EVERYONE FOR EXPOSING THE TRUE REASON FOR THE NUCLEAR TESTING DONE BY THE USA ON PACIFIC ATOLLS DURING THE 50’S (WHICH, OF COURSE, THE U.S. GOVERNMENT DENIES), DISAPPEARS FROM HIS SON’ FORD’S LIFE.  SO, IT’S NOT WITH KIND THOUGHTS THAT FORD (AARON TAYLOR-JOHNSON) RECONNECTS WITH DAD, WHO IS STILL OBSESSED WITH THAT SAME “TRUE REASON” AS HE WAS DECADES AGO--THAT HYDROGEN BOMBS WERE FIRST USED NOT IN TESTS, BUT ACTUALLY TO DESTROY A GIANT SEA MONSTER KNOWN TO THE JAPANESE AS GODZILLA.  AND OF COURSE DAD TURNS OUT TO BE RIGHT, AND PROMPTLY EXITS THE FILM, LEAVING NEWBIE TAYLOR-JOHNSON (KICK-ASS) AND ELIZABETH OLSEN TO HANDLE THE MAJOR ACTING CHORES AFTER THAT, WHICH THEY’RE JUST NOT REALLY EQUIPPED TO DO, EITHER BY THE SCRIPT OR IN LEAD-ROLE EXPERIENCE. KEN WATANABE, AS A JAPANESE SCIENTIST WHO TAKES UP CRANSTON’S CAUSE (HIS WHISPERED “GODZILLA” AT EACH OF THE FILM’S KEY TURNING POINTS BECOMES PART OF THE FUN HERE) AND DAVID STRATHAIRN AS A BULL-HEADED ADMIRAL DO GIVE SOME GRAVITAS, BUT FOR THE MOST PART, AFTER THE FIRST ACT, THE FILM IS TURNED OVER TO ITS REAL STAR, THE CGI BEAST HIMSELF (AND HIS SUPPORTING CAST), AND THAT’S NOT NECESSARILY A BAD THING  WHAT’S FUN IS HOW THE STORY, AFTER A COUPLE OF CLUMSY SUMMERSAULTS, TURNS INTO A FAIRLY INTERESTING NEW VERSION OF SOME OF THOSE OLD JAPANESE “MONSTER V MONSTER” MOVIES (“GODZILLA VS. THE THING,” “GODZILLA VS MEGALON” ETC.) AND WE ACTUALLY GET TO CHEER FOR THE BIG GUY AS HE AND HIS “FRIENDS” LAY WASTE TO SAN FRANCISCO.  IN FACT, WITHOUT THIS TWIST, THERE REALLY ISN’T MUCH MORE HERE THAN THERE WAS IN THE FAILED MATTHEW BRODERICK “GODZILLA” (1998) WHERE IT’S NEW YORK THAT GETS PLOWED UNDER. BUT THEN AGAIN, WHO HONESTLY GOES TO A GODZILLA MOVIE TO SEE HUMANS DO MUCH OF ANYTHING OTHER THAN RUN AWAY FROM MONSTERS AND FALLING DEBRIS?  SO ENJOY “GODZILLA” FOR WHAT IT IS--A MONSTER MOVIE--AND DON’T LET THE HUMAN ANTS FRITTERING AROUND UNDERFOOT DISTRACT YOU TOO MUCH.  ONE LAST THING; LEAVE THE LITTLE ONES AT HOME FOR THIS ONE--IT’S STRICTLY FOR THE 9 AND OLDERS, OR EVEN HIGHER IF THEY’RE THE SENSITIVE TYPE.     


RIO 2 *** (for kids), ** (for everyone else)

PERHAPS THE MOST LITTLE KID-SAFE OF ALL THE ANIMATED MOVIES THAT HAVE COME OUT SO FAR THIS YEAR, “RIO 2” IS, LIKE ITS ORIGINAL, A DAZZLING SPLASH OF WILD COLORS AND EVEN WILDER LOCATIONS, SETTINGS, AND ANIMALS AS RARE MACAWS BLU (JESSE EISENBERG) AND JEWEL (ANNE HATHAWAY), NOW WITH THREE LITTLE ONES, FLY OFF WITH VARIOUS OF THEIR OTHER COMPANIONS FROM THE BUSY BEACHES AND FAVELAS OF RIO DE JANEIRO TO THE WILDS OF THE AMAZON TO MEET UP WITH THEIR HUMAN PROTECTORS, HOPELESS ZOO-GEEKS LINDA AND TULIO.  IT’S A FUN AND SIMPLE STORY OF FAMILY TOGETHERNESS THAT LITTLE ONES CAN EASILY FOLLOW WHILE BEING MESMERIZED BY BLUE SKY STUDIO’S AWE-INSPIRING ANIMATION, WHICH CAPTURES MANY OF THE WONDERS OF BRAZIL, BOTH NATURAL AND MAN-MADE, IN EYE-POPPING MAJESTY AND DETAIL.  THIS IS ALSO ONE OF THE FEW THINGS THAT ADULTS AND OLDER KIDS MIGHT FIND FASCINATING WHILE THE LITTLE ONES GAWK AND GIGGLE.  THE SHEER VASTNESS OF THE AMAZON RAIN FOREST, BOTH IN SIZE AND VARIETY OF LIFE, IS PRESENTED IN ALL ITS MIND-BOGGLING ENORMITY.  AND THEN THERE’S ALSO KRISTIN CHENOWETH, WHO VOICES GABI, A POISONOUS PURPLE TREE FROG WHO’S INFATUATED WITH NIGEL (JERMAINE CLEMENT), THE EVIL COCKATOO FROM THE ORIGINAL.  HER HILARIOUS PERFORMANCE, INCLUDING A HYSTERICAL FAUX OPERA-STYLE ARIA, IS A COMPLETE HOOT (IF NOT ALSO A BIT GRATING ON THE EARS--PURPOSELY SO).  BRAZILIAN DIRECTOR CARLOS SALDANHA CAREFULLY STEERS CLEAR OF THE NOT-SO-POPULAR BRAZILIAN PROBLEMS LIKE ABJECT POVERTY AND BOTH RACIAL AND GENDER INEQUALITY, BUT SHINES A GLARING LIGHT ON ITS MORE KID-FRIENDLY ISSUE, THAT OF THE WANTON DESTRUCTION OF THE AMAZON RAINFOREST, TO GIVE THIS, HIS SECOND PORTRAIT OF BRAZIL FOR THE WORLD’S KIDS AND FAMILIES, A BIT MORE BALANCE. WITH NOTHING OF AN OBJECTIONABLE NATURE EVEN TO BE FOUND IN THE DEPTHS OF THE JUNGLE, HERE THIS IS A FILM THAT ESPECIALLY PARENTS WITH VERY YOUNG CHILDREN CAN FEEL SAFE ABOUT TAKING THEIR LITTLE ONES TO.  THE KIDS WILL BE DAZZLED BY THE COLORS, THE CUTENESS, AND MIGHT EVEN BE ABLE TO FOLLOW THE STORY, WHILE PARENTS CAN HAVE AT LEAST A LITTLE FUN TOO WITH GABI, NIGEL, AND THE AWESOME VISTAS.


AND SPEAKING OF ADULTS, A LITTLE TREAT FOR YOU IN THIS COLUMN TODAY; A WORD OR TWO ABOUT...

DRAFT DAY ***1/2

A SHOW THAT I’M SURE MANY THOUGHT (AS IN THE CASE OF BRAD PITT’S “MONEYBALL” A COUPLE YEARS AGO) WOULD BE A FOOTBALL JUNKIE’S FEAST WITH SEATS RESERVED FOR GUYS ONLY (AND A FEW WOMEN WHO DARE DIG THIS DEEP INTO THE AMERICAN FOOTBALL SCENE) TURNS OUT TO BE A MUCH MORE ALL-GENDER FRIENDLY EXPERIENCE AND MUCH RICHER IN CHARACTER AND STORY (AGAIN, LIKE “MONEYBALL”) THAN PROBABLY ANYONE WOULD EXPECT.  NOT SURPRISING WHEN ONE REALIZES THAT ITS DIRECTOR IS IVAN REITMAN, HE WHO MADE ARNOLD SCHWARZANNEGER INTO AN ACTUAL ACTOR IN HEART-WARMING FILMS LIKE “TWINS,” “JUNIOR,” AND “KINDERGARTEN COP.”  KEVIN COSTNER GIVES ONE OF HIS BEST PERFORMANCES IN YEARS AS THE HARRIED GENERAL MANAGER OF THE CLEVELAND BROWNS, WHO IN ONE FRANTIC DAY NOT ONLY MUST MAKE NAIL-BITING DECISIONS THAT WILL DECIDE THE FUTURE OF HIS FOOTBALL TEAM (AND HIS JOB), BUT ALSO DEAL WITH HIS CANTANKEROUS MOTHER, A ROOKIE OFFICE ASSISTANT, A FRENETIC COACH, HIS MEDDLING OWNER, HIS EX-WIFE, AND THE RECENT NEWS THAT HIS COLLEAGUE AND GIRLFRIEND (JENNIFER GARNER) IS PREGNANT.  THE PRESSURE IS GRAVITY-BENDING HOT AS THE HOURS TICK DOWN TO WHEN ULTIMATE DECISIONS MUST BE MADE ON ALL FRONTS.  LIKE A THRILLER WHOSE CHASES, KILLS, AND TWISTS ARE ALL IN THE MINDS OF MEN WHO MAKE OR BREAK PRO FOOTBALL TEAMS (AND THE HEARTS OF THEIR FANS), THIS IS A WILD, YET TOUCHING RIDE THROUGH A WORLD SELDOM SEEN, AND EVEN LESS UNDERSTOOD, YET ANYONE WHO WATCHES FOOTBALL--OR FACES HEART-POUNDING PRESSURES IN LIFE--CAN RELATE; FOOTBALL JUNKIE OR NO.  THIS IS ONE SERIOUS ADULT-LEVEL FILM WITH ADULT LEVEL SUSPENSE AND HEART THAT REALLY SHOULDN’T BE MISSED.   


CAPTAIN AMERICA; THE WINTER SOLDIER *** 1/2

THE ORIGINAL “CAPTAIN AMERICA; THE FIRST AVENGER” WAS, IN MY OPINION, VIRTUALLY THE PERFECT SUPERHERO MOVIE, SO THIS NEW ADVENTURE ADMITTEDLY HAD A LOT TO LIVE UP TO IN MY BOOK.  AND IN MOST AREAS, IT WAS ADMIRABLY UP TO THE TASK.  “WINTER SOLDIER” PICKS UP A COUPLE YEARS AFTER THAT CLUNKER OF AN ENDING TO THE ORIGINAL (THE SOLE BAD THING ABOUT “THE FIRST AVENGER,”) WHERE WE GET SOME INTERESTING INSIGHTS INTO HOW WORLD WAR II HERO STEVE ROGERS (AKA CAPTAIN AMERICA) IS DEALING WITH HIS SUDDEN THRUST INTO THE 21ST CENTURY AFTER 70 OF CRYOGENIC HIBERNATION.  WHILE HE’S ASSIMILATING MORE OR LESS SUCCESSFULLY INTO “TODAY’S ARMY,” IT’S ALSO EVIDENT THERE’S A BOTHERSOME DISCONNECT BETWEEN THIS “GREATEST GENERATION” SOLDIER AND TODAY’S MORE BROODING TYPE, WHO MIGHT EVEN BE SUFFERING PSYCHOLOGICALLY BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT CLEAR ON JUST WHAT THEY’RE FIGHTING FOR.  TO ROGERS, THAT’S LIKE NOT BEING CLEAR ON WHY YOU PUT ON CLOTHES EACH DAY.  IT’S AN INTERESTING THEME THAT RUNS THROUGHOUT THE MOVIE, ESPECIALLY WHEN ROGERS AND FELLOW S.H.I.E.L.D AGENT NATASHA ROMANOV (AKA BLACK WIDOW) DISCOVER THAT THE BAD GUYS JUST MIGHT BE DISGUISED AS GOOD GUYS, THAT THE SECRET NAZI SUPERFORCE HYDRA THAT ROGERS THOUGHT HE’D DESTROYED BACK IN WWII IS STILL ALIVE AND KICKING, AND THEY’RE USING A SHADOWY SUPERMAN WITH A METAL ARM CALLED THE WINTER SOLDIER TO DO THEIR DIRTY WORK,  AND EVEN HE MAY NOT BE THE MINDLESS MECHANICAL DESTROYER THAT HE APPEARS TO BE. IT’S A RUDE AWAKENING FOR OUR “GOOD V EVIL” HERO, WHO SUDDENLY, JUST LIKE TODAY’S MODERN SOLDIERS, HAS TO FIGURE OUT, SOMETIMES IN AN INSTANT, WHO’S A “GOOD GUY” AND WHO’S NOT, WITH LIVES HANGING IN THE BALANCE.  JUST LIKE IN “THE FIRST AVENGER”, THIS THEMATIC MEAT PROVIDES UNUSUAL DEPTH WHICH LIFTS “WINTER SOLDIER” UP AND OVER OTHER SUPERHERO TENTPOLES IN QUALITY AND ENTERTAINMENT VALUE.  AND THOUGH THE END OF THIS STILL (TYPICALLY) DISSOLVES INTO A SPECIAL-EFFECTS LADENED CIRCUS OF CGI ACTION, IT’S NICE THAT SO MUCH OF THE OTHER ACTION IN A MOVIE ABSOLUTELY LATHERED IN ACTION SEQUENCES IS MORE OLD-SCHOOL, STUNTMAN WORK THAN WHIZZ-BANG SPECIAL EFFECTS, ALL DONE AT A DIZZYING PACE. CHRIS EVANS AND SCARLETT JOHANSSON ARE BACK AGAIN AND IN STELLAR FORM AS ROGERS AND ROMANOV, AND GET NICE ASSISTS FROM ANTHONY MACKIE AS “THE FALCON,” AN EX-PARATROOPER NOW OUTFITTED WITH A PAIR OF ICRARUS-LIKE WINGS, SEBASTION STAN AS THE OMINOUS WINTER SOLDIER, AND SAMUEL L. JACKSON AS S.H.I.E.L.D. DIRECTOR NICK FURY.  AND ROBERT REDFORD, AS A WORLD SECURITY COUNCIL HEAD HONCHO, IS A STUNNING ADDITION, DOMINATING EVERY SCENE THAT HE’S IN ALMOST  THE SAME WAY THAT SIR ALEC GUINNESS STOLE EVERY SCENE THAT OBI-WAN KENOBI WAS IN IN “STAR WARS.”  THIS IS AN SUPERHERO FILM FOR THOSE OF US WHO LIKE THEM TO BE MORE THAN JUST SUPERHERO FILMS.  YET KIDS AND TEENAGERS WON’T BE EITHER BORED OR CONFUSED BY THE ADDITIONAL MEAT ON THE TABLE.  GO HAVE YOURSELF A FEAST!


NOAH ***

DARREN ARONOFSKY, THE DIRECTOR OF THIS NEW BIBLICAL EPIC, HAS HERETOFORE BEEN KNOWN STRICTLY FOR HIS ARTHOUSE, INDIE-FILM FARE.  I SAW ONE OF THEM (“THE FOUNTAIN” - 2006) AND FOUND IT SO APPALLINGLY CONFUSING AND BORING THAT I’VE NEVER BEEN BACK TO ANY OF HIS FILMS, NOT EVEN 2010’S HIGHLY PRAISED “BLACK SWAN,” WHICH WAS HIS FIRST BONAFIDE BOX-OFFICE HIT.  SO IT WAS WITH MUCH TREPIDATION THAT I WENT TO THIS, EVEN THOUGH I KNEW THAT A LOT OF THE READERS OF THESE REVIEWS ENJOY BIBLE-BASED MOVIES AND WOULD WANT TO HEAR MY TAKE ON IT.  HAPPILY, FOR AT LEAST TWO-THIRDS OF ITS LENGTH, NOAH IS A REASONABLY (IF NOT ENVIRONMENTALLY SLANTED) ACCURATE RETELLING OF THE BIBLE’S STORY OF NOAH AND THE FLOOD, COMPLETE WITH “THE CREATOR” BEING DISGUSTED WITH HIS CREATION, FINDING ONE GOOD MAN AND HIS FAMILY WORTHY OF SAVING, PUTTING THEM IN CHARGE OF BUILDING A BOAT TO SAVE INNOCENT ANIMAL LIFE (EVEN TWO OF EACH!--THOUGH THE TREEBEARD-LIKE, ROCK-ENCRUSTED BUILDING CREW IS AN INTERESTING TWIST), AND OFFING THE REST OF VILE HUMANITY IN AN AWESOMELY STAGED FLOOD WHERE, CONTRARY TO MANY FILMED ACCOUNTS, “THE WATERS FROM BELOW” MOST DRAMATICALLY MERGE WITH THE WATER FROM ABOVE TO INUNDATE THE ENTIRE EARTH.  IT’S EXCITING, TENSE, AND ACTION-PACKED DRAMA WORTHY OF ANY OF THE OTHER GREAT BIBLICAL EPICS.  BUT ARONOFSKY IS WHO HE IS, AND HIS UNIQUE TAKE ON WHAT HAPPENS ONCE THE BOAT’S AFLOAT IS BOUND TO BE UPSETTING TO A LOT OF PEOPLE, IF NOT AT LEAST SOMEWHAT UNDERSTANDABLE.  AFTER ALL, FORTY DAYS AND FORTY NIGHTS ON A BOATLOAD OF TRANQUILIZED ANIMALS KNOWING THAT YOU’RE THE ONLY LIVING BEINGS ON THE ENTIRE PLANET IS BOUND TO DRIVE AT LEAST A FEW PEOPLE OFF THE RAILS, VAUNTED PATRIARCH OR NO. SO BE PREPARED.  AN ALL-STAR CAST OF SORTS COMES THROUGH VERY WELL, WITH ACADEMY-AWARD WINNERS RUSSELL CROWE, JENNIFER CONNNELLY, AND ANTHONY HOPKINS MIXING WELL WITH EMMA “HERMOINE GRANGER” WATSON AND LOGAN “PERCY JACKSON” LERMAN, TWO TOP YOUNG STARS AND RAY WINSTONE, ONE OF THE BEST BAD GUYS IN MOVIES THESE DAYS. WELL-MADE, AWESOMELY FILMED, AND, IN THE END, EPICALLY TWISTED, THIS IS AN INTERESTING MIX OF BIG-BUDGET DISASTER EPIC AND ARTHOUSE, INDIE CHARACTER DRAMA.  ENJOY, BUT BE PREPARED, AND SPARE THE KIDS.  IT’S CERTAINLY NOT YOUR SUNDAY-SCHOOL NOAH STORY, AND THERE’S NO NEED TO UPSET THAT APPLECART SO EARLY IN A YOUNG PERSON’S LIFE.  


DIVERGENT ***1/2

THIS IS THE 6TH ATTEMPT BY HOLLYWOOD JUST IN THE PAST YEAR TO LAUNCH (OR RE-LAUNCH) A NEW MOVIE FRANCHISE BASED ON A BEST-SELLING YOUNG ADULT BOOK SERIES, AND THIS TIME, FINALLY IT LOOKS LIKE THEY’VE GOTTEN IT RIGHT (EVERYONE IN HOLLYWOOD EXHALES--AS DO COUNTLESS AUTHORS OF YA BOOK SERIES THAT HAVE BEEN OPTIONED IN THIS FEEDING FRENZY).  “DIVERGENT” LOOKS TO BE THE REAL DEAL, AND DON’T LET THE SNOOTY, IVORY TOWER-BASED MOVIE CRITCS WHO BAD-MOUTH IT (ONE HOLLYWOOD TRADE MAG CALLED IT “THE TWI-VERGENT GAMES”--UGH) FOOL YOU.  BEINGS THAT THIS IS BASED ON A DYSTOPIAN BOOK SERIES, IT IS SET IN A DYSTOPIAN FUTURE AMERICA (CHICAGO TO BE SPECIFIC) WHERE THE POPULATION HAS DIVIDED ITSELF INTO FACTIONS BASED ROUGHLY ON A PERSON’S PERSONALITY, AS DETERMINED BY A TEST GIVEN TO EVERYBODY WHEN THEY’RE 16.  THEN, IN A CHOOSING CEREMONY, TEENS MAKE THEIR LIFETIME COMMITMENT USUALLY TO THE FACTION THEIR TEST INDICATES THEY’D BEST FIT INTO.  BUT THEY’RE FREE TO CHOOSE ANY OF THE FACTIONS, PROVIDED THEY’RE OKAY WITH NEVER SEEING THEIR FAMILY AGAIN.   SHAILENE WOODLEY (AN OSCAR NOMINEE A COUPLE YEARS AGO) STARS AS TRIS, WHO’S GROWN UP IN THE QUAKER-LIKE ABNEGATION FACTION.  WHEN TESTED, THOUGH, SHE FINDS THAT SHE HAS APTITUDE FOR THREE DIFFERENT FACTIONS, MEANING THAT SHE’S “DIVERGENT” SOMETHING THAT’S NOT A GOOD THING IN A SOCIETY BASED ON SAMENESS AND ORDER.  WARNED TO TELL NO ONE OF HER TEST RESULTS, TRIS FOLLOWS HER WILD-CHILD DREAM AND JOINS THE DAUNTLESS FACTION, TRAINED FIGHTERS WHO DEFEND THE SOCIETY, AND ALSO LIVE A DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSITE LIFESTYLE FROM WHAT SHE IS USED TO.  SO TRIS ENDURES AND EVENTUALLY BLOSSOMS IN THIS NEW LIFE, ASSISTED BY HER GROUP’S MENTOR, THE STOIC, YET KIND (AND ALSO DIVERGENT) FOUR (THEO JAMES).  THINGS GET WEIRD FOR BOTH, THOUGH, WHEN ANOTHER FACTION CHALLENGES THE CURRENT SYSTEM, AND IN ORDER FOR THEIR REVOLT TO WORK, ALL DIVERGENTS MUST BE DETECTED AND KILLED.  AN ALREADY TENSE, LAYERED STORY  BECOMES DEADLY SERIOUS AS TRIS, FOUR, TRIS’S FAMILY, AND OTHERS MUST MAKE DECISIONS AND DO THINGS THEY NEVER ENVISIONED THEY’D HAVE TO--AND PROBABLY DIE IN THE PROCESS.  CREATED BY SUMMIT ENTERTAINMENT (THEY THAT STARTED THE YA BOOK SERIES FRANCHISE CRAZE WITH “TWILIGHT”), IT’S NO SURPRISE THAT THEY’D BE THE FIRST SINCE LIONSGATE (THEIR PARENT COMPANY NOW) CREATED THE MEGA-FRANCHISE “THE HUNGER GAMES” TO HAVE SUCCESS IN THIS FICKLE FIELD.  THEIR MANTRA WITH “TWILIGHT” WAS TO TELL THE STORY OF THE BOOK (AS OPPOSED TO “RE-IMAGINING” IT) USING THE BEST TALENT THEY COULD FIND, AND KEEP A TIGHT REIN ON THE BUDGET, AND THEY DIDN’T CHANGE A THING HERE.  THE FAITHFUL RENDERING OF THE BOOK BY ITS SCREENWRITERS AND STELLAR PERFORMANCES OF ITS TALENTED CAST (BESIDES WOODLEY AND JAMES, THERE’S KATE WINSLET, ASHLEY JUDD, AND ZOE KRAVITZ -- YUP, SHE’S THE DAUGHTER OF SINGER/ACTOR LENNY KRAVITZ AND LISA BONET--REMEMBER THE COSBY SHOW???) MAKE THIS A WONDERFUL PIECE OF 4-QUADRANT ENTERTAINMENT. SO CALL THE BABYSITTER FOR THE LITTLE ONES, THEN PACK UP EVERYBODY ELSE, “DIVURGE” FROM THE CRITCS, AND MAKE IT TO THIS MOVIE!  YOU WON’T BE DISAPPOINTED!


MR. PEABODY AND SHERMAN *** (for younger viewers), **1/2 (for the rest of us...)

WE GET A BIT OF A JUMP-START ON THE UPCOMING FOUR-QUADRANT/FAMILY MOVIE BLIZZARD THAT’S ABOUT TO ARRIVE (“DIVERGENT” AND “MUPPETS MOST WANTED” ON MARCH 21, “CAPTAIN AMERICA; THE WINTER SOLDIER” ON APRIL 4, AND WE’RE OFF AND RUNNING FROM THERE...) WITH THIS OFFERING FROM DREAMWORKS ANIMATION (“SHREK,””HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON,” ETC.) BASED ON THE LITTLE-KNOWN BUT FUN SHORTS THAT USED TO BE PART OF THE CLASSIC “ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE” ANIMATED VARIETY SHOW OF THE 1960S.  THE PREMISE WAS (AND STILL IS) AN INTERESTING PLAY ON THE OLD “BOY AND HIS DOG” STORY.  HERE, IT’S THE DOG, A HYPER-GENIUS TALKING DOG NAMED MR. PEABODY (VOICED BY TY BURRELL OF “MODERN FAMILY”) AND HIS LEGALLY ADOPTED BOY, FUN-LOVING BUT BASICALLY CLUELESS SHERMAN (MAX CHARLES).  PEABODY’S INVENTED A TIME-TRAVEL MACHINE CALLED THE WABAC WHICH HE USES AS AN INTERESTING WAY TO SUPPLEMENT SHERMAN’S EDUCATION,  WANNA LEARN SOME HISTORY?  JUMP IN THE WABAC, HEAD FOR WHATEVER TIME PERIOD SUITS YOUR FANCY, AND TALK TO THE PRIMARY SOURCES YOURSELF, LIKE DAVINCI, ROBESPIERRE, LEADER OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, HONEST ABE, OR GEORGE WASHINGTON (WHO DEFINITELY DIDN’T CHOP DOWN A CHERRY TREE).  HOWEVER, WHEN BULLYISH PENNY PETERSON (ARIEL WINTER, ALSO FROM “MODERN FAMILY”) GOADS SHERMAN INTO BITING HER IN SCHOOL, AND FURTHER SNOOKERS HIM INTO REVEALING THE EXISTENCE OF THE WABAC WHEN PEABODY HAS HER FAMILY OVER FOR DINNER TO MAKE PEACE, SHERMAN AND PENNY ARE OFF FOR ANCIENT EGYPT, AND THE HISTORICAL HI-JINKS BEGINS.  THE SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM IS DISRUPTED (OF COURSE) AND FIGURES FROM EVERY HISTORICAL NOOK AND CRANNY COME POURING INTO THE 21ST CENTURY.  BUT NO WORRIES, EVERYTHING’S SOLVED HEROICALLY AT THE END BY OUR HEROES, IN A FASHION THAT MAYBE TRIES A BIT TOO HARD TO ADD SOME HEART TO WHAT’S BASICALLY A LARK OF A STORY.  IT’S UNFORTUNATE THAT MOST OF THE HISTORY HERE, WHILE MANGLED (AND WE EXPECT THAT), ALSO GOES RIGHT OVER THE HEAD OF VIRTUALLY ALL THE KIDS AND (EVEN WORSE) THE ADULTS IN THE AUDIENCE.  SUCH IS THE STATE OF A SOCIETY SO SELF-ABSORBED IN THE PRESENT THAT THEY FIND NO VALUE IN THE LESSONS OF THE PAST, GIVE ONLY LIP-SERVICE TO STUDYING IT--OR EVEN TEACHING IT--AND THUS OF COURSE, REPEAT THE SAME MISTAKES--CHECK OUT ALMOST ANY MAJOR NEWS STORY THESE DAYS...  BUT THE FUN CHARACTERS AND SNAPPY ONE-LINERS DID MANAGE TO ENTERTAIN IN A SAFE AND MOSTLY SATISFYING WAY.  THIS FILM SERVES A NICE ALTERNATIVE FOR THE FAMILY WHO’S SEEN “FROZEN” AND “THE LEGO MOVIE”  AT LEAST FOUR TIMES EACH BY NOW AND STILL HAS TO WAIT TWO WEEKS FOR “THE MUPPETS” TO COME OUT.  ENJOY--OR MAYBE JUST SAVE YOUR BUCKS FOR LATER.


THE LEGO MOVIE ***1/2

HOLLYWOOD IS FAMOUS FOR COPY-CATING SUCCESSFUL TRENDS (USUALLY TO NAUSEATING PROPORTIONS) AND THIS YEAR’S FIRST COPY-CAT TREND GETS INTO EVEN BIGGER SWING WITH THIS NEW RELEASE FROM THE ANIMATION ARM OF WARNER BROTHERS, WHO’S CHOSEN TO ALSO RELEASE A HIGH-POWERED ANIMATED FEATURE THAT MIGHT NORMALLY HAVE BEEN SAVED FOR THE SUMMER IN MID-WINTER INSTEAD.  THIS COMES JUST TWO WEEKS AFTER NEWCOMER TOONBOX ANIMATION OF CANADA RELEASED THEIR FIRST EFFORT, “THE NUT JOB,” IN HOPES OF GRABBING THE FAMILY AUDIENCE THAT’S USUALLY BORED TO TEARS DURING THESE MONTHS WITH THE WIDE RELEASE OF “AWARDS MOVIES” (READ “BORING TO JUST ABOUT ANYONE WHO ACTUALLY GOES TO THE MOVIES TO BE ENTERTAINED”)  AND BAD ACTION AND HORROR FLICKS.  THIS YEAR, THOUGH WE NOT ONLY GET THIS FILM AND THE AFORE-MENTIONED “NUT JOB,” WE ALSO GET, IN THE NEXT FEW WEEKS, DREAMWORKS ANIMATION’S “PEABODY AND SHERMAN.”  AND OF COURSE, “FROZEN” IS STILL HANGING AROUND IN THE BOX-OFFICE TOP TEN.  SO REJOICE, FAMILY FILM FANS, AND ESPECIALLY REJOICE IN THIS FILM, A NUTTY, GOOFY ADVENTURE FEATURING THE VARIOUS WORLDS OF THE LEGOS CONSTRUCTION TOYS, ONE OF THE REALLY COOL THINGS TO COME OUT OF DENMARK BESIDES FAIRY TALES FOR DISNEY TO BASE HOT ANIMATED MUSICALS ON.  AT THE CENTER OF THIS TALE IS A NOBODY NAMED EMMET (CHRIS PRATT) WHO (OF COURSE) DISCOVERS THAT HE’S “SPECIAL,” A PROPHESIED “CHOSEN ONE,” WHEN HE ENDS UP WITH THE SACRED “PIECE OF RESISTANCE” STUCK TO HIS BACK AFTER THE BUILDING HE’S WORKING ON COLLAPSES.  WHISKED AWAY FROM THE EVIL MINIONS OF THE SINISTER GOOD COP/ BAD COP (A HILARIOUS LIAM NEESON) BY A KICK-ASS CHICK NAMED WYLDSTYLE (ELIZABETH BANKS), HE’S TAKEN TO THE SECRET REFUGE OF THE WORLD’S “MASTER BUILDERS” IN THE “CLOUDS OF CUCKOO” WHERE A BLIND PROPHET (AN EQUALLY HILARIOUS MORGAN FREEMAN) INFORMS EMMET THAT HE’S THE KEY TO RESTORING CREATIVITY TO THE WORLD, WHICH IS ABOUT TO BE FOREVER TRAPPED INTO THE LOCKSTEP BLANDNESS OF ITS PRESIDENT, “LORD” BUSINESS (WILL FERRELL), A VADER-LIKE DICTATOR WHO’S THE EVIL MANIPULATOR OF BAD COP’S LEGO POLICE FORCE.  AND IF ALL THIS SOUNDS A BIT LOONY, WELL, THAT’S BY DESIGN, AS ALONG THE WAY JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING IMAGINABLE IN THE REAL WORLD IS LAMPOONED IN HYSTERICAL ONE-LINERS AND SITE-GAGS BY WRITERS PHIL LORD AND CHRISTOPHER MILLER.  INDEED, IT’S THE ADULTS IN MY AUDIENCE WHO WERE NON-STOP GUFFAWING THROUGH THIS LAUGH-FEST EVEN AS THEIR KIDS WERE GAWKING AT THE VARIOUS LEGO WORLDS THAT WERE DAZZLINGLY BROUGHT TO LIFE BY AUSTRALIAN ANIMATION COMPANY ANIMAL LOGIC, WHO LAST GAVE US “WALKING WITH DINOSAURS IN 3D” AND “THE LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS, THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE.”  THIS IS REALLY KOOKY FAMILY FUN THAT’S BOTH VISUALLY FASCINATING (IF YOU’RE A KID) AND ENORMOUSLY FUNNY (IF YOU’RE AN ADULT), WHICH MAKES IT A PERFECT ALL-AGES AFTERNOON OR EVENING OF ENTERTAINMENT.  NOT TO BE MISSED (AND YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE A MESS TO CLEAN UP AFTER IT’S OVER!)!


FROZEN ***

HERE’S A TREAT THAT WAS JUST RIGHT FOR AN AFTER-THANKSGIVING DINNER SNACK FOR MYSELF AND MY COMPANIONS THAT, DESPITE THE TITLE, SHOULD WARM YOU UP WHEREVER YOU’RE AT THIS HOLIDAY SEASON.  WALT DISNEY ANIMATION STUDIOS (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH PIXAR, THOUGH THEY’RE BOTH OWNED BY DISNEY), IN THE SPIRIT OF “TANGLED” THREE YEARS AGO, SERVES UP ANOTHER “DISNEY PRINCESS” FAIRY-TALE ADAPTATION THAT‘ DITCHES THE TRADITIONAL “DAMSEL IN DISTRESS WAITING FOR HER PRINCE” FORMULA IN FAVOR OF A MUCH MORE MODERN (AND VASTLY MORE INTERESTING) TALE WITH MODERN GIRL TOUCHES THAT ENCOURAGE EMPOWERMENT AND POSITIVE SELF-ESTEEM OVER HANGING AROUND WAITING TO BE RESCUED.  THE STORY, OH-SO-LOOSELY BASED ON HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN’S “THE SNOW QUEEN,” CHARTS THE INTRICATE TALE OF TWO SISTERS SEPARATED FROM EACH OTHER IN THE SAME CASTLE BECAUSE ONE, ELSA, IS UNABLE TO CONTROL HER MAGICAL POWER TO TURN MOST ANYTHING TO ICE, AND IS NOT ALLOWED TO TELL LITTLE SIS ANNA ABOUT IT.  AND SO THE TWO BECOME ESTRANGED UNTIL IT’S TIME FOR ELSA TO BECOME QUEEN, WHERE THEY ARE ONCE AGAIN THRUST INTO THE WORLD TOGETHER AT THE GALA CORONATION CEREMONY.  UNDERSTANDABLY, NEITHER IS VERY ADEPT AT GRACEFUL SOCIAL BEHAVIOR, ANNA DECIDING TO MARRY THE FIRST HANDSOME PRINCE THAT SWEEPS HER ONTO THE DANCE FLOOR, AND ELSA THROWING A FIT OVER IT, WITH DISASTROUS RESULTS.  HORRIFIED BY WHAT SHE’S DONE, ELSA EXILES HERSELF IN THE MOUNTAINS IN HER OWN ICE CASTLE, AND ANNA DECIDES TO GO TO HER, BOTH OUT OF LOVE FOR ELSA AS WELL AS THE KINGDOM, WHICH IS NOW FROZEN IN A PERPETUAL WINTER  ASSISTED BY KRISTOFF, A MUSCLED--AND OF COURSE HANDSOME--ICE MERCHANT AND THE USUAL DISNEY FILM CADRE OF CUTE, CLUTZY CHARACTERS BOTH HUMAN AND OTHERWISE (HERE IT’S KRISTOFF’S REINDEER AND AN ABOMINABLY ADORABLE SNOWMAN NAMED OLAF), ANNA FINALLY FINDS ELSA AND SETS UP AN ACTION-PACKED, MOVING, AND EMOTIONAL CLIMAX.  WINNING VOICE ACTING PERFORMANCES, ESPECIALLY BY KRISTEN BELL AS ANNA AND ALAN TUDYK AS OLAF, ADD EXTRA SHINE TO THE STORY. AND YES, THIS IS A MUSICAL TOO (“FROZEN ON ICE”, ANYONE?), THOUGH UNFORTUNATELY IT DOESN’T QUITE MEASURE UP HERE, AT LEAST AT FIRST BLUSH.  A COUPLE SONGS SEEM ODD AND/OR OUT OF PLACE, AND THE MOVING BALLAD THAT I ALWAYS LOOK FOR IN THESE FILMS, WELL, I GUESS IT WASN’T VERY MOVING TO ME (WILL DISNEY EVER FIND A NEW COMPOSER TO REPLACE ALAN MENKEN??).  BUT DESPITE THAT, THIS WAS A HIGHLY ENJOYABLE AFTERNOON AT THE MOVIES THAT BOTH KIDS AND ADULTS SHOULD FIND SOMETHING IN THAT THAWS THE HEART AND TICKLES THE FUNNY BONE WAY MORE THAN ONCE OR TWICE.  RATED PG (A FEW MILDLY SCARY SCENES AND THEMATIC ELEMENTS HELP IT TO AVOID THE DREADED “G” RATING) BUT STILL SAFE EVEN FOR THE SMALL ONES, GET OUT OF THE COLD SOMETIME IN THE NEXT FEW WEEKS AND INTO THE THEATER WHERE YOU AND THE FAM CAN WARM YOURSELF UP WITH “FROZEN.”   


THE NUT JOB ***

AS USUAL IN JANUARY, IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME SINCE WE’VE SEEN ANYTHING IN THEATERS EVEN APPROACHING A FAMILY-SAFE MOVIE (CHRISTMAS) AND AN EVEN LONGER TIME SINCE WE’VE SEEN ANYTHING NEW THAT WAS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY (INCLUDING THE LITTLE ONES (THANKSGIVING).  THUS “FROZEN” HAS RACKED UP WORLDWIDE BOX OFFICE NUMBERS AS GARGANTUAN AS THOSE OF MAJOR FRANCHISE HITS LIKE “CATCHING FIRE” AND “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG,” AND NOW, SOME SHARP GUYS AT A BRAND NEW ANIMATION STUDIO HEADQUARTERED IN CANADA, TOONBOX, AND AT OPEN ROAD STUDIOS, OBVIOUSLY HOPING TO BECOME THE NEXT LIONSGATE/SUMMIT-STYLE UPSTART DISTRIBUTORS, ARE PROFITING AS WELL WITH THIS NEW ANIMATED FILM THAT CAME OUT A COUPLE WEEKS AGO (JANUARY 17TH).  AND THOUGH “THE NUT JOB” MIGHT NOT BE AN OUT-OF-THE-PARK GRAND SLAM LIKE “FROZEN,” IT’S DEFINITELY A GOOD SOLID DOUBLE AND PORTENDS GOOD THINGS IN THE FUTURE FOR BOTH TOONBOX AND OPEN ROAD.  USING INDEPENDENT FINANCING MOSTLY FROM KOREA, TOONBOX HAS CREATED A SURPRISINGLY INTERESTING STORY ABOUT AN ARROGANT LONER SQUIRREL NAMED SURLY AND HIS LACKEY RAT FRIEND BUDDY WHO END UP BEING THE RELUCTANT HEROES OF THE ANIMAL DWELLERS OF A BIG-CITY PARK WHEN THEY, ALONG WITH A FEW INTREPID PARK DWELLERS LED BY FAUX-HERO SQUIRREL GRAYSON AND TRULY HEROIC SQUIRREL ANDIE, PULL OFF A HEIST OF A BASEMENT-FULL OF NUTS THAT SAVES THE PARK DWELLERS FROM STARVATION IN SPITE OF SOME BUMBLING BANK ROBBERS WHO TRY TO USE THE SAME NUTS TO PULL OFF THEIR OWN HEIST OF THE MONEY IN THE BANK ACROSS THE STREET.  A TIGHT LITTLE GROUP OF A-LIST VOICE ACTORS (WILL ARNETT, BRENDAN FRASER, KATHERINE HEIGL RESPECTIVELY AS SURLY, GRAYSON, AND ANDIE, AND LIAM NEESON AS THE RACCOON LEADER OF THE PARK ANIMALS) ALONG WITH A VERY CAPABLE SUPPORTING CAST OF MOSTLY NO-NAMES BRINGS THE ANIMALS WINNINGLY TO LIFE AND SOME FINE AND AT TIMES EYE-POPPING ANIMATION FILLS THE STORY WITH AWESOME VISTAS, WITHERING ACTION SEQUENCES, AND NEVER-ENDING “ROAD-RUNNER” STYLE SIGHT GAGS AND HUMOR.  WHILE THE CUTE FACTOR AND THE NON-STOP GOOFINESS HELD THE LITTLE ONES SPELLBOUND IN THE AUDIENCE I SAW THIS WITH, THE PLEASANTLY INTRICATE STORY, SNAPPY HUMOR, AND MORE THEMATIC MOMENTS KEPT MY PARTNER AND I THOROUGHLY ENTERTAINED AS WELL.  IF YOU HAVEN’T MADE IT TO THIS YET, DON’T WORRY ABOUT PEOPLE WHO MIGHT THINK YOU MIGHT BE A NUT JOB!  IT’S MORE THAN WORTH YOUR TIME AND BUCKS TO GET THE FAM TOGETHER AND HEAD OUT TO ENJOY THIS BEFORE BIGGER, MORE EXPENSIVELY MADE ANIMATED FLICKS (“THE LEGO MOVIE,” “SHERMAN AND PEABODY,” ETC.) SHOW UP TO DRIVE IT OUT OF THE METROPLEXES IN THE NEXT FEW WEEKS.  YOU AND YOUR FAMILY WILL DEFINITELY HAVE THE LAST LAUGH :)!.


2013    



THE HUNGER GAMES; CATCHING FIRE ****

THIS FILM, BASED ON THE SECOND OF THREE BOOKS IN SUZANNE COLLINS’S DYSTOPIAN YA BOOK SERIES, STEPPED INTO THE RARE AIR OF ONE OF THE TOP TEN-GROSSING FILMS OF ALL TIME IN ITS OPENING WEEKEND.  NO SURPRISE THERE, BUT WHAT IS A SURPRISE IS THAT IT ALSO STEPPED INTO EVEN MORE RARIFIED AIR BY JOINING AN EXTREMELY SELECT FEW SEQUELS WHICH ARE ACTUALLY AS GOOD OR BETTER THAN THEIR ORIGINALS.  “SUPERMAN II,” “HARRY POTTER 3, 4, AND 7,” “LOTR THE RETURN OF THE KING,” “FAST AND FURIOUS 5 AND 6,” “TWILIGHT; BREAKING DAWN PART 2...”  I RUN OUT THERE.  TO FIND MORE (IF THERE ARE ANY), I’D HAVE TO DO A LOT OF RESEARCH. BUT NOW INTO THAT MOST EXCLUSIVE CLUB COMES “CATCHING FIRE,” A FILM WITH SO MUCH ACTION, EXCITEMENT, AND GUT-WRENCHING EMOTION THAT IT MIGHT ACTUALLY BE AN IMPROVEMENT ON THE BOOK, NOT TO MENTION ON THE ORIGINAL “THE HUNGER GAMES” FILM., WHICH WAS A WONDERFUL MOVIE INOF ITSELF.  AS WITH ALL WELL-DONE SEQUELS, VIRTUALLY EVERYBODY, FROM THE PRODUCERS TO THE CAST TO ITS DISTRIBUTOR, LIONSGATE/SUMMIT, IS THE SAME AS IN THE ORIGINAL, JOINED BY SOME NOTABLE ADDITIONS.  CHIEF AMONG THESE IS DIRECTOR FRANCIS LAWRENCE (NO RELATION TO THE FILM’S LEAD ACTRESS) WHO SOMEHOW MANAGES TO WRING EVEN MORE EMOTION OUT OF HIS STELLAR RETURNING CAST (JENNIFER LAWRENCE, JOSH HUTCHERSON, LIAM HEMSWORTH, ELIZABETH BANKS, LENNY KRAVITZ, STANLEY TUCCI, DONALD SUTHERLAND, ET AL) AND STELLAR ADDITIONS PHILLIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN AS NEW GAME-MASTER PLUTARCH HEAVENSBEE, AND JENA MALONE AND SAM CLAFLIN AS TWO OTHER OF THE 24 FORMER HUNGER GAMES CHAMPIONS WHO  MUST GO INTO THE FRAY ONCE MORE BY ORDER OF THE CONNIVING PRESIDENT SNOW (SUTHERLAND), WHO IS ACTUALLY USING THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE HUNGER GAMES AS A WAY OF ELIMINATING KATNISS EVERDEEN AND PEETA MELLARK (LAWRENCE AND HUTCHERSON), WHO HAVE BECOME RELUCTANT FIGURES OF HOPE AND/OR INSPIRERS OF REBELLION TO THE OPPRESSED MASSES OF PANEM AFTER THEIR JOINT VICTORY IN THE 74TH HUNGER GAMES.  ALONG WITH A CAMPAIGN OF RUTHLESS SUPPRESSION, SNOW HOPES THAT, BY BRINGING KATNISS AND PEETA BACK INTO THE ARENA, THEY’LL BE SLAIN, AND ANY HOPE OF REBELLION SNUFFED OUT WITH THEM.  ALSO NOTABLY NEW WRITERS SIMON BEAUFOY AND MICHAEL DUBRYN WEAVE A ROLLER-COASTER TRACK OF EMOTION AND ACTION THROUGH COLLINS’ SECOND BOOK AND SEND US SAILING RELENTLESSLY ALONG IT WITH SCARCELY A MOMENT TO CATCH OUR BREATHE. AT LITERALLY EVERY LEVEL, IN EVERY PHASE, THIS IS FOUR-QUADRANT TENTPOLE FILM-MAKING AT IT’S ABSOLUTE BEST.  YOU SIMPLY MUSTN’T MISS IT, THOUGH, AS WITH THE ORIGINAL, THIS IS NOT SOMETHING FOR THE REALLY SMALL ONES.  HIRE THEM A BABY-SITTER, AND GIVE YOURSELF AND THE REST OF THE FAM AN UNFORGETTABLE MOVIE TREAT ALONG WITH YOUR HOLIDAY FEASTS.


THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY ***

THIS QUIRKY, UNDERSTATED, MODERNIZED RETELLING OF A JAMES THURBER SHORT STORY FROM 1939 ABOUT A “REAL NOWHERE MAN” (TO QUOTE THE BEATLES) WHOSE LIFE OF ADVENTURE AND ROMANCE WAS LITERALLY ALL IN HIS HEAD, IS NOT NECESSARILY A FAMILY FILM, BUT ITS BENIGN PG RATING AND ITS SUBTLE, YET HEART-WARMING STORY COULD MAKE FOR A FINE BIT OF FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT FOR THOSE SEEKING A FEEL-GOOD FILM THAT’S GOT A LITTLE SOMETHING FOR EVERYBODY.  BEN STILLER BOTH DIRECTS THE FILM AND STARS AS THE TITLE CHARACTER, A RETICENT NEGATIVE DEVELOPER AT “LIFE” MAGAZINE WHO LIVES THE ULTIMATE BORING LIFE, YET “ZONES OUT” ON OCCASION, IMAGINING HIMSELF JUMPING INTO BURNING BUILDINGS AND MAKING SNARKY COMMENTS TO THE NEW BOSSES TAKING OVER “LIFE” (AND ELIMINATING DOZENS OF JOBS), ALL IN THE PRESENCE OF CHERYL, THE WOMAN WHO WORKS DOWN THE HALL THAT HE CAN’T GET THE GUMPTION UP TO TALK TO.  HE’S EVEN TRIED “WINKING” AT HER ON EHARMONY, THE MATCH-MAKING WEBSITE, BUT CAN’T EVEN GET THAT TO WORK.  IN A CHANCE MEETING WITH CHERYL AND HER 9 YEAR-OLD SON IN CENTRAL PARK, WE DISCOVER WALTER’S ONE CLAIM TO FAME--HE SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN QUITE THE SKATEBOARDER IN HIS YOUTH, AND HE’S ABLE TO IMPRESS THE YOUNG LAD WITH SOME COOL MOVES.  BUT THAT’S IT.  WALTER CAN’T EVEN FILL IN HIS EHARMONY PROFILE WITH PLACES HE’S GONE OR THINGS HE’S DONE--BECAUSE THERE ARE NONE.  WALTER GETS KICKED OUT OF HIS DREAM LIFE AND INTO A REAL-LIFE ADVENTURE, THOUGH, WHEN “LIFE’S” RECLUSIVE PHOTOJOURNALIST SEAN O’CONNELL (SEAN PENN) SENDS IN HIS LAST ROLL OF FILM, BUT THE NEGATIVE HE’S DESIGNATED AS THE LAST COVER OF “LIFE’S” PRINT MAG IS MISSING.  CHERYL HELPS WALTER RUN DOWN SOME LEADS ON WHERE THE ELUSIVE O’CONNELL MIGHT BE, AND WALTER IS OFF, TO GREENLAND, A SHIP AT SEA IN A STORM, LONG-RUN SKATEBOARDING IN ICELAND IN THE MIDST OF A VOLCANIC ERUPTION, AND EVEN THE HIMALAYAS, ALL IN HOPES OF FINDING O’CONNEL AND RETRIEVING THE MISSING NEGATIVE BEFORE “LIFE’S” FINAL ISSUE DEADLINE.  THROUGHOUT WALTER’S IMPROBABLE ADVENTURES, THE MOVIE’S THEME OF REALLY LIVING LIFE RATHER THAN JUST DREAMING ABOUT IT IS GENTLY BUT EMPHATICALLY POUNDED HOME.  FINE, NUANCED PERFORMANCES BY STILLER, KRISTIN WIIG AS CHERYL, PENN, AND SOME FUN OVER-THE-TOP WORK BY ADAM SCOTT AS INSUFFERABLE NEW BOSS “BEARD MAN” AND PATTON OSWALT AS A HILARIOUS EHARMONY CUSTOMER SERVICE OPERATOR, AS WELL AS STUNNING CINEMATOGRAPHY AND AN INTERESTING SOUNDTRACK REALLY ROUND OUT THIS PLEASANTLY ENTERTAINING AND PERSONALLY CHALLENGING PIECE OF FILMMAKING.  SO SPEND A COUPLE HOURS SEEING “WALTER MITTY” THIS HOLIDAY SEASON, THEN GO HOME AND CHALLENGE YOURSELF TO ACTUALLY DO SOME OF THOSE NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS THAT YOU ALWAYS MAKE.


SAVING MR. BANKS ***1/2

IN AN INTERESTING TWIST, HERE’S A DISNEYFIED VERSION OF HOW ONE OF DISNEY’S MOST ICONIC MUSICALS, “MARY POPPINS,” CAME TO BE MADE.  I SAY “DISNEYFIED” BECAUSE, FROM ALL THE RESEARCH I’VE DONE, WALT DISNEY’S 20-YEAR PURSUIT OF PAMELA “P.L.” TRAVERS TO GET HER TO SIGN OVER THE FILM RIGHTS TO HER “MARY POPPINS” BOOKS SO HE COULD MAKE THE ACADEMY AWARD-WINNING MUSICAL THAT STARRED JULIE ANDREWS AND DICK VAN DYKE WAS ANYTHING BUT THE STUFF OF YOUR TYPICAL DISNEY MOVIE, PARTICULARLY THE END, WHERE IT IS WELL-KNOWN THAT THE ECCENTRIC TRAVERS WAS ANYTHING BUT PLEASED WITH THE FINAL RESULT.  AND OF COURSE THE CHARACTER OF WALT DISNEY, PORTRAYED HERE IN THE SURE HANDS OF TOM HANKS, IS DISCREETLY PRESENTED AS THE NICE, DOWN-HOME GUY THAT WE ALL LOVED FROM HIS VIGNETTES ON THE SUNDAY NIGHT TV SHOW “WALT DISNEY PRESENTS”, WITH ONLY HINTS TO HIS DRINKING, SMOKING, AND IRON-FISTED RUNNING OF HIS FILM STUDIO ELUDED TO NOW AND THEN.  BUT THEN, MAKING MOVIES ABOUT REAL-LIFE EVENTS IS JUST  AS MUCH ABOUT TELLING AN ENTERTAINING STORY AS IS MAKING A MOVIE ABOUT ANY OTHER STORY, BE IT FANTASY, COMEDY, OR DRAMA, AND WE GET A GOOD DOSE OF ALL OF THESE IN WHAT PROVES A WINNING FORMULA THAT MAY NOT GET THE FACTS ALL RIGHT, BUT CERTAINLY MAINTAINS THE SPIRIT OF THE STORY AND KEEPS US MARVELOUSLY ENTERTAINED.  EMMA THOMPSON, PERHAPS THE MOST VERSATILE ACTRESS AROUND THESE DAYS NEXT TO MERYL STREEP, PLAYS THE PRICKLY PAMELA WITH BOTH HILARIOUS ECCENTRICITY AND EXCRUCIATING EMOTION AS SHE IS BROUGHT TO L.A. FROM ENGLAND TO ASSIST IN THE MAKING OF DISNEY’S MOVIE, EVEN THOUGH SHE DETESTS IT BEING A MUSICAL, THINKS DICK VAN DYKE IS A HORRIBLE CASTING DECISION, AND IS UTTERLY CONTEMPTUOUS OF ANIMATION AND WON’T HEAR OF IT IN THE FILM (“MARY POPPINS” ACTUALLY WON AN ACADEMY AWARD FOR ITS GROUND-BREAKING USE OF ANIMATION IN A LIVE-ACTION MOVIE).  HER VERBAL JOUSTS WITH DISNEY, HIS DIRECTOR, AND HIS SONGWRITERS ARE SOME OF THE FILM’S FUNNIEST MOMENTS.  MOST POIGNANT ARE THE CONSTANT FLASHBACK SCENES OF TRAVERS’S CHILDHOOD, GROWING UP IN AUSTRALIA IN THE HOME OF A DELIGHTFUL, FUN-LOVING, CAREFREE, YET ALCOHOLIC FATHER WHO PREFERRED CHARMING HER WITH WIT AND IMAGINATION TO ATTENDING TO HIS JOB, WHERE HE MANAGED BANKS UNTIL HIS DRINKING DESTROYED HIS CAREER.  TRAVERS’S PRESENT LIFE HAS BECOME THE ANTITHESIS OF WHAT IT ONCE WAS WITH HER FATHER, AND DISNEY’S MOVIE SCRIPT, ONE OF THE FILM’S MOST JOYOUS SONGS, AND WALT’S GENTLE, UNDERSTANDING HAND GUIDE HER BACK TO HER HAPPIER SIDE IN AN EMOTIONAL AND MOVING WAY.  AS I SAID, “DISNEYFIED” NO DOUBT, BUT IN THE END, WHO CARES? THIS IS DEEP, FUNNY, AND ULTIMATELY INSPIRING ENTERTAINMENT, SUPERBLY PRESENTED, THAT YOU SHOULDN’T MISS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON, ESPECIALLY IF YOU’RE A FAN OF THE “MARY POPPINS” MOVIE.    


THE HOBBIT; THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG ***

ANOTHER “HOBBIT” MOVIE, BASED ON THE WORKS OF FANTASY WRITER J.R.R. TOLKIEN, HELMED BY PETER JACKSON AND HIS NEW ZEALAND CREW OF FILMMAKERS, USUALLY MEANS ANOTHER EYE-POPPING FANTASY ADVENTURE FOR US FANS OF FOUR-QUADRANT, FAMILY-SAFE MOVIES, AND APPROPRIATELY, ANOTHER BILLION-DOLLAR PAYDAY FOR JACKSON, WARNER BROTHERS STUDIOS, AND THEIR SUBSIDIARIES NEW LINE CINEMA AND MGM.  I HAVE LITTLE DOUBT THAT THIS NEW ADDITION TO THE NOW FIVE-FILM SAGA (PRECEDED BY THE THREE “LORD OF THE RINGS” FILMS AND 2012’S “THE HOBBIT; AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY”) WILL YEILD A SIMILAR RESULT.  HOWEVER, THERE MIGHT BE A SMALL CHINK IN THIS PREVIOUSLY BULLET-PROOF FRANCHISE THIS TIME, WHICH JUST MIGHT PUT A SLIGHT DAMPER ON THE RUNAWAY SUCCESS THAT ALL OF THE PREVIOUS FILMS HAVE ENJOYED.  BUT BEFORE WE GET TO THAT, LET’S SAY THAT, IN MOST EVERY DEPARTMENT, THIS IS A SUPERIOR FILM ADVENTURE, AND IN PARTICULAR, INFINITELY MORE INTERESTING, ACTION-PACKED, AND FUN THAN LAST YEARS “UNEXPECTED JOURNEY,” WHOSE WIDELY-PANNED SNOOZER OF AN OPENING NEARLY PUT THE AUDIENCE TO SLEEP BEFORE WE GOT TO THE GOOD PARTS.  HERE, FROM THE OPENING CONVERSATION BETWEEN THE WIZARD GANDALF (IAN MCKELLAN) AND DWARF KING THORIN (RICHARD ARMITAGE) WHERE GANDALF PUTS A BUR IN THE LANGUISHING THORIN’S SADDLE TO GET HIS BUTT GOING ON HIS QUEST TO RECLAIM THE DWARFISH KINGDOM OF ELEDOR THAT HAD BEEN LOST (ALONG WITH ITS LIMITLESS TREASURE) TO THE DRAGON SMAUG, THE ACTION, BOTH LIGHT-HEARTED AND DEADLY, RESUMES AND VIRTUALLY NEVER STOPS.  THORIN REASSEMBLES HIS TROOP OF 13 DWARVES AND THEIR HOBBIT “BURGLAR” COMPANION BILBO BAGGINS (MARTIN FREEMAN), AND THEIR OFF, ACROSS OPEN PLAINS ON PONIES, THROUGH THE MIRKINESS OF THE FOREST MIRKWOOD, WHERE THEY ENCOUNTER GIANT SPIDERS AND ARE IMPRISONED BY WOOD-ELVES, AND FINALLY TO THE HUMAN TOWN OF LAKETOWN, AT THE FOOT OF THEIR MOUNTAIN DESTINATION, WHERE THEY ARE SMUGGLED IN AND THEN OUT AGAIN BY A MYSTERIOUS BOATMAN NAMED BARD (LUKE EVANS) AND  EMBARK ON THEIR CLIMACTIC CONFRONTATION WITH SMAUG.  AND OF COURSE, THROUGH IT ALL, THEY’RE CHASED BY THE VENGEFUL ORC AND GOBLIN GHOULS WHO HAVE BEEN SUMMONED BY AN EVIL NECROMANCER TO STOP THEM.  NOTABLE SEQUENCES INCLUDE BILBO AIDING IN THE DWARVES ESCAPE FROM THE SPIDERS USING HIS MYSTERIOUS RING THAT HE STOLE FROM THE CREATURE GOLLUM IN THE LAST FILM, AND AGAIN AIDING THEM TO ESCAPE THE WOOD ELVES AND ORCS IN A WILD RIDE DOWN A RIVER IN BARRELS THAT SIMPLY BEGS GO BE MADE INTO A THEME-PARK RIDE SOMEWHERE.  AND WONDERFULLY REFRESHING IS THE ADDITION OF TWO NEW CHARACTERS (WHO WERE NOT IN THE ORIGINAL BOOK), LEGOLAS, THE DASHING RENEGADE ELF SO PROMINENT IN “LOTR” MOVIES (ORLANDO BLOOM HASN’T LOST A STEP IN THE TEN YEARS SINCE THE LAST OF THOSE FILMS CAME OUT), AND TAURIEL, HIS ELVISH LOVE INTEREST, WHO’S EVERY BIT AS GOOD WITH THE BOW AND SHORT SWORDS AS HE IS. PLAYED BY EVANGELINE LILLY (“KATE” FROM “LOST” LIKE YOU’VE NEVER SEEN HER BEFORE), SHE’S NOT ONLY A WONDERFUL NEW CHARACTER, BUT ALSO EYE-CANDY FOR THE GUYS IN THE AUDIENCE EVERY BIT AS MUCH AS BLOOM HAS BEEN FOR LEGIONS OF FEMALE FANS OF THE FILMS.  THANK YOU, MR. JACKSON!  THINGS ROLL ALONG SWIMMINGLY RIGHT UP TO THE VERY END, AND THEN, “IT HAPPENS.”  WITHOUT BEING TOO MUCH OF A SPOILER, LET’S JUST SAY THAT JACKSON BORROWS WAY TOO MUCH FROM SERIALIZED TV SERIES ENDINGS HERE, AND IT LEFT ME FAR TOO FLAT AND FRUSTRATED THAN ONE SHOULD FEEL AT THE END OF A FEATURE FILM, EVEN IF ONE KNOWS THAT ANOTHER SEQUEL WILL BE OUT “SAME TIME, SAME STATION” NEXT YEAR.  IT’S THIS DAMPER, AND IT’S A BIG ONE, THAT LOSES A STAR FROM THIS OTHERWISE SUPERB FAMILY FANTASY ADVENTURE.  DON’T MISS IT, BUT THEN AGAIN, BE PREPARED AS WELL...


THOR; THE DARK WORLD **1/2

IN THE ORIGINAL “THOR” FILM OF A COUPLE YEARS AGO, I REMEMBER HOW THE FILM, BRIMMING WITH “FISH OUT OF WATER” POSSIBILITIES AS THOR WAS CAST DOWN TO EARTH AS PUNISHMENT FOR HIS PRIDE, BARELY MADE USE OF THEM AND INSTEAD BORED US WITH ALL SORTS OF WEIRD NORSE MYTHOLOGY AND A CLIMAX SET IN ASGARD WHERE, TYPICALLY, INDESTRUCTABLES POUNDED ON ONE ANOTHER UNTIL THOR FINALLY PREVAILED.  DISAPPOINTINGLY, THE SAME MISTAKES ARE MADE HERE, WHERE THE ESSENCE OF WHAT WOULD MAKE THIS FRANCHISE SING--SEEING THOR ON EARTH--IS ONCE AGAIN GIVEN SHORT SHRIFT TO AN OLD NORSE LEGEND, THIS ONE ABOUT CREATURES CALLED THE DARK ELVES WHO ARE AWAKENED IN SOME CONVOLUTED WAY AND BEGIN A RAMPAGE THROUGH THE NINE WORLDS (OF NORSE MYTHOLOGY) TO GET REVENGE AGAINST THE ASGARDIANS.  AND OF COUSRE THOR, WITH THE HELP OF THE CONNIVING LOKI, DEFEATS THEM.  THANKFULLY THIS CLIMAX TAKES PLACE IN LONDON THOUGH, NOT ASGARD, SO THE SUPPORTING CAST OF EARTHLINGS (LOVE INTEREST NATALIE PORTMAN AND HER GOOFY SCIENCE-NERD PALS) CAN BE A PART OF THE BIG SHOWDOWN.  IT’S JUST TOO BAD THAT THE REST OF THE SHOW IS SO MIRED IN INCOMPREHENSIBLE MYTHOLOGICAL MUCK THAT IT (LITERALLY) PUT ME TO SLEEP.  ONCE AGAIN, CHRIS HEMSWORTH IS A FINE ENOUGH THOR AND A FEAST FOR THE EYES OF THE FEMALES IN THE AUDIENCE, ANTHONY HOPKINS PUTS IN HIS YOEMAN’S WORK AS ODIN, THOR’S DAD, PORTMAN AND CREW PROVIDE SOME BEAUTY AND COMIC RELIEF IF NOTHING ELSE, AND TIM HIDDLESTON AS LOKI STEALS THE SHOW.  AND THERE’S PLENTY OF ACTION AND ALL THAT.  I JUST WISH THERE WAS MORE HEART AND STORY TO GO WITH IT.  ONCE AGAIN, A FILM THAT MISSES WHAT SHOULD BE ITS ESSENCE AND FILLS ITSELF WITH MUNDANE MYTHOLOGICAL MUSINGS INSTEAD.


ENDER’S GAME **1/2

IN HOLLYWOOD’S SEEMINGLY UNENDING SEARCH FOR THE NEXT BIG YOUNG ADULT NOVEL-BASED FRANCHISE MOVIE (ALA “TWILIGHT” OR “THE HUNGER GAMES”), IT HAS MADE MANY OF THE CLASSIC BLUNDERS OF BOOK-TO-MOVIE-MAKING; RADICALLY CHANGING SOMETHING ABOUT THE CHARACTERS (“PERCY JACKSON”), CHOOSING THE WRONG BOOK (“THE HOST”), BEING TOO LATE TO THE GAME WITH TOO LITTLE OF A MOVIE (“THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS; CITY OF BONES), AND DEVIATING TOO FAR FROM THE PLOT AND SPIRIT OF THE BOOK (“BEAUTIFUL CREATURES”).  INCREDIBLY, THE PRODUCERS OF “ENDER’S GAME” HAVE FOUND YET ANOTHER WAY TO BOTCH THINGS,  IRONICALLY, IT INVOLVES BEING TOO FAITHFUL TO THE BOOK!  THAT’S NOT TO SAY THAT THERE ISN’T A LOT TO LIKE ABOUT THIS FILM, WHERE PRE-TEENS AND TEENS ARE TRAINED AS SOLDIERS WHO WILL ENSURE THAT EARTH IS NEVER AGAIN THREATENED BY A RACE OF INSECT-LIKE GIANTS CALLED FORMICS, WHO NEARLY DESTROYED THE EARTH DECADES AGO.  KIDS ARE USED BECAUSE THEY ARE LESS INHIBITED BY MORAL QUESTIONS OF RIGHT AND WRONG AND CAN STILL SEE WAR AS A GAME, NOT AS A BRUTAL SLAUGHTER OF BEINGS WHO ARE AS REAL AS THEY ARE.  TRAINING IS RIGOROUS FOR TIME IS SHORT.  A VERY REAL FLEET HAS BEEN LAUNCHED YEARS BEFORE TO ENGAGE THE FORMICS IN THEIR OWN BACK YARD, AND THE GAMES THESE GIFTED CHILDREN PLAY WILL SOON BE FOR KEEPS AS THAT FLEET’S MONTHS-LONG JOURNEY ENDS.  OUT OF THE LATEST GROUP OF “LAUNCHIES” EMERGES ENDER WIGGIN, A PRODIGY WITH A TROUBLED PAST WHO SEEMS TO BE THE “CHOSEN ONE” SO TO SPEAK.  WITH DAZZLING SPECIAL EFFECTS AND DEVASTATING PERFORMANCES BY  YOUNG ACTORS LIKE ASA BUTTERFIELD (“HUGO”), HAILEE STEINFIELD (“TRUE GRIT”), ABIGAIL BRESLIN (NIM’S ISLAND) AND OTHERS, AND THEIR OLDER MENTORS HARRISON FORD, BEN KINGSLEY, AND VIOLA DAVIS, ALL OF WHOM DEFTLY INFUSE WIT AND WRY HUMOR SEAMLESSLY INTO THEIR OTHERWISE GRIM ROLES, THE FILM BUILDS TO ITS THUNDEROUS CLIMAX.  BUT AT A CRUCIAL JUNCTURE WHERE IMAGINATION NEEDS TO TRUMP A LITERAL RENDERING OF THE BOOK, WRITER/DIRECTOR GAVIN HOOD OPTS FOR THE LATTER, AND, SADLY, I FEAR HIS DECISION WILL ADD “ENDER’S GAME” TO THE LONG LIST OF YA NOVEL ALSO-RANS INSTEAD OF PUT IT IN THE EXCLUSIVE GOLD CIRCLE WHERE THE WORKS OF ROWLING, COLLINS, AND MEYERS NOW RESIDE.  ANOTHER YA NOVEL ADAPTATION THAT I, UNFORTUNATELY, LIKED, BUT DIDN’T QUITE LOVE.  CHECK IT OUT AND SEE WHAT YOU THINK.  IT’S WORTH AT LEAST THE PRICE OF A MATINEE.


CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 **

WHILE THE FIRST “CLOUDY” BACK SEVERAL YEARS AGO WAS OH SO LOOSELY BASED ON THE POPULAR CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOK OF THE SAME NAME BY JUDI AND RON BARRETT AND MANAGED TO PUT ACROSS A STORY WITH SOME DEPTH ALONG WITH ALL THE WOWZING VISUALS OF FOOD FALLING FROM THE SKY, THIS EDITION GOES COMPLETELY AWAY FROM ANYTHING EVEN RESEMBLING THE BOOK (IN OTHER WORDS, DON’T LOOK FOR SOMETHING BASED ON THE BARRETT’S SEQUEL “PICKLES TO PITTSBURGH”) AND UNFORTUNATELY BECOMES MOLDY VERY QUICKLY.  WHILE SEEMINGLY EVERY FOOD IMAGINABLE COMES TO LIFE HERE AS A “FOODIMAL” (YOU KNOW, TACODILES, WATERMELOPHANTS, SHRIMPANZEES, YOU GET IT...) AND MAKES FOR A CONTINUAL FEAST OF VISUAL WONDERS, THE STORY, SUCH AS IT IS, ABOUT FLINT LOCKWOOD’S OLD FOOD-MAKING MACHINE SOMEHOW COMING BACK TO LIFE, CHANGING FOOD INTO LIVING ANIMALS, AND A SMARMY SCIENTIST’S ATTEMPTS TO SHOVE OFF FLINT AND FRIENDS TO HIS NERD-PARADISE ISLAND WHILE HE GETS CONTROL OF IT, IS THINNER THAN THAT ULTRA-CHEAP TOILET PAPER THAT YOU MAY HAVE USED IN THE THEATER’S RESTROOM BEFORE SETTLING IN WITH YOUR POPCORN AND GINORMOUS SODA.  SO, WHILE THE LITTLE ONES (AND I DO MEAN LITTLE ONES--WE’RE TALKING THE 8 AND UNDER SET HERE) GET A KICK OUT OF ALL THE QUIRKY FOODIMALS AND THE ENDLESS STREAM OF LAME ONE-LINERS, YOU’LL MOST LIKELY JUST BE BORED.  THE SAME VOICE CAST IS BACK FROM LAST TIME (BILL HADER, ANNA FARRIS, JAMES CAAN, ANDY SAMBERG, NEIL PATRICK HARRIS, ETC.), AND DOES A WONDERFUL JOB, BUT THE KIDS WON’T CARE AND NEITHER WILL YOU.  THEY’LL BE OFF IN SWALLOW FALLS GAWKING AT FOODIMALS, AND YOU’LL BE OFF IN DREAMLAND HOPING THAT YOU DON’T SNORE WHILE YOU SNOOZE.  THIS IS A SCRUMPTIOUS VISUAL MEATBALL HELD TOGETHER WITH ONE OF THE BLANDEST, STALEST STORIES I’VE SEEN THIS YEAR.  TRY NOT TO CHOKE.


  1. -WHILE I MAY NOT HAVE BEEN REVIEWING FILMS MUCH LATELY, IT’S NOT BECAUSE I HAVEN’T BEEN IN THE THEATER!  JUST NOT MUCH OVER THE PAST COUPLE MONTHS FOR THE FAMILY AUDIENCE.  HOWEVER, I HAVE BEEN TO A NUMBER OF MORE ADULT-ORIENTATED FILMS THESE PAST WEEKS, AND HERE’S A TINY BLURB ABOUT A FEW OF THEM.

  2. -RUSH ***1/2 - A RIVETING, FASCINATING LOOK AT TWO OF THE WORLD’S GREATEST FORMULA 1 RACE CAR DRIVERS OF THE 1970’S, THEIR DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED PERSONALITIES, AND THEIR BITTER RIVALRY WHICH LED EACH TO BECOME WORLD CHAMPION NOT IN SPITE OF, BUT BECAUSE OF, ONE ANOTHER.  DIRECTED BY RON HOWARD.

  3. -PRISONERS *** - THOUGH MARVELOUSLY ACTED BY A STELLAR CAST (HUGH JACKMAN, TERRANCE HOWARD, MARIA BELLO, JAKE GYLLENHALL, MELISSA LEO, AND OTHERS) THIS STORY ABOUT TWO FAMILIES ENDURING THE EXCRUCIATING EXPERIENCE OF HAVING THEIR CHILDREN KIDNAPPED IS ONE OF THE CREEPIEST, MOST DISTURBING FILMS I’VE SEEN IN A LONG TIME.  BE PREPARED...

  4. - RIDDICK *1/2 - THIS BORING THIRD PART TO THE “RIDDICK” SCI-FI SAGA THAT WAS BEGUN YEARS AGO WITH “PITCH BLACK” AND CONTINUED A COUPLE YEARS AGO WITH “THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK” IS ONE OF THE BIGGER WASTES OF TIME THAT I’VE ENDURED AT THE THEATER THIS YEAR.  SULLEN, JOYLESS, BRUTAL, AND WITH NOT A SINGLE REDEEMING CHARACTER IN ITS POINTLESS STORY, I COULDN’T CARE LESS ALMOST FROM THE OPENING CREDITS.

  5. -THE BUTLER ***1/2 - THIS IS A “FORREST GUMP” LIKE TALE (AND THAT’S NOT A BAD THING) ABOUT A BLACK SOUTHERN SHARE-CROPPER’S SON WHO GROWS UP TO BE A WHITE HOUSE BUTLER SPANNING OVER 30 YEARS AND FIVE PRESIDENTS’ TERMS IN OFFICE.  THIS IS A HISTORY LESSON AND A POIGNANT PERSONAL TALE ALL IN ONE.  FOREST WHITAKER AS THE BUTLER AND OPRAH WINFREY AS HIS LONG-SUFFERING WIFE GIVE MARVELOUS PERFORMANCES, AND ROBIN WILLIAMS, JAMES MARSDEN, LIEV SCHRIBER, JOHN CUSACK, AND ALAN RICKMAN’S CAMEOS OF PRESIDENTS EISENHOWER, KENNEDY, JOHNSON, NIXON, AND REAGAN RESPECTIVELY ARE A SURPRISINGLY ENTERTAINING SIDE-LIGHT.


THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS; CITY OF BONES **1/2 (*** for book fans)

THIS FAITHFUL ADAPTATION OF THE FIRST VOLUME OF CASSANDRA CLARE’S “MORTAL INSTRUMENTS” SERIES OF YA BOOKS IS WELL-CONCEIVED, WELL-CAST, HAS ACTION, SUSPENSE, COMPLEX CHARACTERS, ENGAGING PERFORMANCES, AND AN INTERESTING STORY ABOUT A PARALLEL UNIVERSE OF ANGELS, DEMONS, VAMPIRES, WEREWOLVES, WITCHES AND MORE WHERE THE FATE OF THE VISIBLE WORLD JUST MIGHT REST.  SO WHAT’S THE RUB??  UNFORTUNATELY, “CITY OF BONES” IS ABOUT 2-3 YEARS LATE TO THE PARTY, AND THUS LOOKS TO MANY LIKE A RATHER PATHETIC KNOCK-OFF OF PREVIOUS BLOCKBUSTERS LIKE “TWILIGHT” AND “HARRY POTTER.”  IN FACT, IN RESEARCHING THE HISTORY OF CLARE’S BOOK SERIES, I EVEN CAME ACROSS ONE WEBZINE ARTICLE THAT CONTENDED THAT HER “MORTAL INSTRUMENTS” SERIES GOT ITS START AS HARRY POTTER FAN-FICTION THAT SHE WROTE BACK IN THE MID-2000’S!  YIKES!  WHILE THAT TIDBIT OF INFO IS PROBABLY ABOUT AS RELIABLE AS SOME OF THE “FACTS” PRINTED IN VARIOUS WIKIPEDIA ARTICLES, IT IS A FACT THAT, EVEN BY DEFINITION, STORIES IN THE SAME GENRES WILL HAVE VARIOUS THINGS IN COMMON, AND WITH “TWILIGHT” BEING PUBLISHED IN 2005 (TWO YEARS BEFORE “BONES”), “THE LORD OF THE RINGS” FINISHING ITS RUN JUST A FEW MONTHS EARLIER, AND THE POTTER SERIES INTO ITS FIFTH MOVIE (NOT TO MENTION THE BOOKS) BY 2007, BOOKSTORES AT THE TIME CLARE’S “CITY OF BONES” CAME OUT WERE OVERFLOWING WITH VAMPIRE BOOKS, WITCHCRAFT BOOKS, FANTASY BOOKS, AND EVERY OTHER SORT OF OFF-SHOOT OF THOSE THREE  MEGA-HITS THAT ONE COULD IMAGINE. SIMILAR, EVEN DERIVATIVE ELEMENTS, WERE BOUND TO OCCUR.  THERE’S ONLY SO MANY WAYS TO KILL A VAMP OR HUNT DOWN DEMONS.  IT’S JUST TOO BAD THAT IT TAKES HOLLYWOOD SO LONG TO MAKE UP ITS MIND WHAT TO MAKE INTO A MOVIE, AND THEN TO ACTUALLY MAKE THE THING.  IT TOOK SIX YEARS IN THE CASE OF CLARE’S NOVELS, AND BY NOW WE’VE ALREADY SEEN ADAPTATIONS OF RICK RIORDAN’S “PERCY JACKSON” SERIES, “I AM NUMBER FOUR,”“BEAUTIFUL CREATURES,” “THE HOST,” AND ALL SORTS OF TV SHOWS OF SIMILAR ILK (“VAMPIRE DIARIES,” “TRUE BLOOD,” “THE WALKING DEAD,” “DR. WHO,” AND ON AND ON...), AND I THINK THE AUDIENCE (WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE BOOKS‘ DIE-HARD FANS) IS GETTING A BIT OVERLOADED.  THE BAR IN THIS SUPERNATURAL, PARANORMAL, MAGICAL YA ADAPTATION CATEGORY HAS ALREADY BEEN SET IMPOSSIBLY HIGH, AND ANYTHING THAT CAN’T MEASURE UP (AND SERIOUSLY, WHAT CAN?) OR IS NOT OUTRAGEOUSLY ORIGINAL IN SOME WAY (THIS YEAR’S “WARM BODIES” IS THE ONLY THING I’VE SEEN THAT EVEN COMES CLOSE), IS GOING TO GET SLAMMED.  THAT DOESN’T MAKE “CITY OF BONES” A BAD MOVIE.  IT JUST MAKES IT ONE WHERE SO MANY IN THE AUDIENCE ARE SINGING “HO-HUM” AS SOON AS THE OPENING SET-UP IS OVER AND WE REALIZE THAT IT’S “JUST ANOTHER VAMPIRE MOVIE” OR WHATEVER. HAD THEY BEEN ABLE TO GET THIS TO THE SCREEN A FEW YEARS EARLIER, IT MIGHT HAVE STOOD A BETTER CHANCE OF ACCEPTANCE.  BUT SIX YEARS IS A LONG TIME IN THE ENTERTAINMENT BIZ, AND AUDIENCES ARE MOVING ON, AS EVIDENCED BY THE ABYSMAL BOX OFFICE NUMBERS OF ALL THE AFORE-MENTIONED YA BOOK ADAPTATIONS.  TOO BAD, BECAUSE THERE’S A LOT TO LIKE ABOUT “CITY OF BONES.”  WE’VE JUST SEEN IT A FEW TOO MANY TIMES...    


PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS; SEA OF MONSTERS **1/2

AS I WATCHED THIS MOVIE, THE SECOND OF THE PERCY JACKSON “FRANCHISE” (I USE THAT TERM VERY LOOSELY HERE...) AND SAW WHAT A REMARKABLE IMPROVEMENT IT WAS OVER THE FIRST INSTALLMENT, “PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS; THE LIGHTNING THIEF,” WHICH WAS A SECOND-RATE MOVIE AT BEST AND AN UNMITIGATED CATASTROPHE TO ANY FAN OF RICK RIORDAN’S GREEK MYTHOLOGY-BASED YA BOOK SERIES, I COULDN’T STOP THINKING ABOUT WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN--BUT ALMOST CERTAINLY NEVER WILL BE.  SO MUCH MORE HEART IN THIS MOVIE, SO MUCH MORE FAITHFUL TO THE SPIRIT OF THE NOVELS, AND EVEN TO SOME OF THE LETTER OF THEM, SO MUCH BETTER SCRIPTED AND DIRECTED.  IT WAS ACTUALLY A PRETTY GOOD MOVIE (THOUGH IT ONCE AGAIN DISSOLVED INTO A RATHER TRITE SPECIAL-EFFECTS EXTRAVAGANZA AT THE END--UGH).  BUT OH, WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN...  RICK RIORDAN, THOUGH ROUNDLY CRITICIZED IN SOME CIRCLES FOR TRYING TO WRITE “THE AMERICAN HARRY POTTER” SERIES, HAD CONSTRUCTED A BOOK SERIES THAT, DESPITE ITS OBVIOUS SIMILARITIES TO THE POTTER BOOKS, WAS FUN, EXCITING, POIGNANT, AND MADE LOTS OF GOOD COMING-OF-AGE POINTS AS HIS THREE HEROES; PERCY JACKSON, ANABETH CHASE, AND SATYR GROVER UNDERWOOD WOUND THEIR WAY THROUGH THEIR TEEN-AGE YEARS WHILE DODGING MYTHOLOGICAL MONSTERS AND STRUGGLING WITH SUPERNATURAL PARENTS AT MOST EVERY TURN.  HAD THE BOOKS BEEN FAITHFULLY ADAPTED, THEY COULD INDEED HAVE BECOME “THE AMERICAN HARRY POTTER” SERIES, AND JUST WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN SO BAD ABOUT THAT?  UNFORTUNATELY, THE FIRST FILM WAS KILLED A YEAR BEFORE IT EVEN HIT THE SCREEN AS RIORDAN’S PRE-TEENS WERE CAST BY DIRECTOR CHRIS COLUMBUS AS YOUNG ADULTS (17, 23, AND 25 IN REAL LIFE), THE BOOK WAS THROWN OUT THE WINDOW, AND IT WAS ALL DOWNHILL FROM THERE.  THIS ATTEMPT BY THE SAME CAST BUT WITH A DIFFERENT DIRECTOR AND WRITER TO RIGHT THE “PERCY JACKSON” SHIP AS THE THREE HEAD OUT INTO THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE TO RETRIEVE MYTHOLOGY’S GOLDEN FLEECE AND SAVE A FRIEND, IS AS BRAVE AS THE ON-SCREEN HEROES AND A WORTHY PIECE OF MOVIE-MAKING IN MOST AREAS.  BUT IT’S DOUBTFUL THAT IT WILL GARNER ENOUGH BOX OFFICE INCOME TO WARRANT A THIRD INSTALLMENT (IT BARELY GOT A GREENLIGHT THIS TIME--A FULL 3 YEARS AFTER THE FIRST) .  AND I SUPPOSE THAT WILL BE MERCIFUL, FOR THE THREE STARS OF THE MOVIE “PERCY JACKSON” SERIES WILL BE CLOSE TO 30 BY THE TIME THAT WOULD BE MADE, AND EVEN LOGAN LERMAN CAN’T LOOK LIKE AN 18 YEAR-OLD FOR THAT LONG.  ENJOY THE STORY, THE ACTION, THE HEART, AND THE FUN, BUT ESPECIALLY FOR US BOOK FANS, IT WILL ALWAYS BE TAKEN IN WITH A DISTINCT BITTER AFTER-TASTE. 


PACIFIC RIM ***

SO JUST HOW MANY MEGA-ACTION “SAVE THE WORLD” TENTPOLE FILMS CAN THE AUDIENCE STAND THIS SUMMER?  FROM THE EARLY BOX-OFFICE NUMBERS FOR THIS NEW FILM FROM NOTED DIRECTOR GUILLERMO DEL TORO (HE OF THE BRILLIANT--AND MANY WOULD SAY CREEPY--”PAN’S LABYRINTH”), ONE WOULD THINK THESE FILMS ARE BEGINNING TO WEAR THIN, AS “PACIFIC RIM” DEBUTED TO RATHER MUNDANE NUMBERS HERE IN NORTH AMERICA.  I MEAN, WE’VE ALREADY HAD “IRON MAN 3,” “STAR TREK, INTO DARKNESS,” “MAN OF STEEL,” “WORLD WAR Z,” AND “WHITE HOUSE DOWN.”  IS IT ANY WONDER THAT WE’RE ALL SUFFERING A BIT FROM APOCALYPSE OVERLOAD?  IF SO, IT’S TOO BAD, BECAUSE THIS NEW FILM IS ON PAR WITH THE BEST OF THE AFORE-MENTIONED FILMS (“WHITE HOUSE DOWN” AND “STAR TREK”) AND SUPERIOR TO THE REST,  USING A SORT OF “GODZILLA MEETS THE TRANSFORMERS” PREMISE, DEL TORO AND WRITER TRAVIS BEACHAM HAVE CONSTRUCTED A COMPLETELY ORIGINAL FUTURE-WORLD (NO COMIC BOOKS OR “PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED MATERIAL” HERE--THIS IS RIGHT OUT OF BEACHAM’S HEAD) WHERE ALIEN MONSTERS THE SIZE OF SKYSCRAPERS (OR BIGGER) CALLED KAIJU HAVE INVADED EARTH FROM THE SEA, RAVAGING COASTAL CITIES ALONG THE PACIFIC OCEAN (THUS THE NAME).  TO COMBAT THEM, THE WEE EARTHLINGS HAVE CREATED THEIR OWN MONSTERS.  CALLED JAEGERS, THEY’RE GIANT ROBOTS PILOTED BY HUMAN CREWS OF TWO, AND FOR A WHILE, MANKIND IS SAVED AND THE PILOTS ARE THE ROCK STARS OF THEIR ERA.  BUT THE KAIJU KEEP GETTING BIGGER, THE ROBOT ARMY IS DEVASTATED, AND MOST OF THE WORLD RESORTS TO BUILDING GIANT WALLS TO KEEP THE MONSTERS OUT--WHICH THE MONSTERS QUICKLY ANNIHILATE.  THE JAEGER COMMAND, NOW WITH JUST FOUR ROBOTS LEFT AND OPERATING ON A SKELETON BUDGET, ARE ALL THAT’S LEFT BETWEEN THE KAIJU AND MANKIND’S EXTINCTION.  AND YOU CAN GUESS WHAT HAPPENS FROM THERE.  PREDICTABLE?  YES, BUT STILL FRESH AND ORIGINAL.  AND THERE’S SO MUCH MORE TO LIKE ABOUT THE MOVIE.  FOREMOST IS THE CAST.  NO DOUBT SEEKING TO KEEP HIS MONSTER BUDGET AT LEAST SOMEWHAT IN CHECK, DEL TORO HASN’T INCLUDED AN A-LISTER AMONG THEM.  YET HE HAS SCAVENGED THE RANKS OF TV SERIES, BOTH FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC ,TO PUT TOGETHER A TEAM OF FRESH NEW WINNERS.  FROM THE STEVE MCQUEEN-LIKE CHARLES HUNNAM (SONS OF ANARCHY) AND JAPANESE STAR RINKO KIKUCHI IN THE LEAD ROLES TO QUIRKY SUPPORTING CHARACTERS LIKE CHARLIE DAY (IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA) AND BURN GORMAN (TORCHWOOD, GAME OF THRONES), THIS BUNCH IS NOT ONLY REALLY GOOD, BUT VERY LIKABLE AND PLAY CHARACTERS WE REALLY WANT TO ROOT FOR.  THE ONLY RECOGNIZABLE NAMES FROM MOVIES, IDRIS ELBA (THOR, PROMETHEUS) AS THE JAEGER COMMANDER AND RON PERLMAN (HELLBOY)  AS A SMARMY ALIEN BODY-PARTS DEALER, ALSO ARE A LOT OF FUN AND FIT IN WELL WITH THIS CAST OF LESSER-KNOWNS. AND THE ROBOT-ON-MONSTER FIGHT SCENES ARE SOME OF THE BEST SUCH ACTION SCENES ON FILM, AND, UNLIKE “MAN OF STEEL’S” BATTLE OF INDESTRUCTIBLES AND “TRANSFORMERS” MACHINE-ON-MACHINE BORE-FESTS, THERE’S A REAL HUMAN ELEMENT INVOLVED IN THIS MAYHEM.  THOSE GIANT ROBOTS AREN’T ALL JUST CLANKING METAL MACHINES THAT TALK.  THEY HAVE HUMAN PILOTS WHO ARE SO CLOSELY CONNECTED THAT THEY’RE LITERALLY OF ONE MIND (THROUGH A COOL SCI-FI MIND-MELD CALLED “THE DRIFT”).  THE MONSTERS ARE CLEVER AND SHIFTY.  THEY ATTACK IN PACKS AND HAVE A PLAN (AND EVEN BABIES!).  YOU REALLY DON’T KNOW WHO’S GOING TO WIN--AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, YOU ACTUALLY CARE.  THIS REALLY IS A GOOD MOVIE, NOT JUST ANOTHER EAR-NUMBING SLAM-FEST.  LIKE “WHITE HOUSE DOWN,” THIS FILM MAY BE A BIT LATE TO THE SUMMER POPCORN SMASH-UP, BUT IT’S WELL WORTH YOUR TIME AND MONEY TO SEE.  ELBA’S CHARACTER GIVES A ROUSING SPEECH LATE IN THIS SHOW ABOUT CANCELING THE APOCALYPSE.  AS TIRED AS YOU MIGHT BE OF THIS GENRE, I URGE YOU NOT TO CANCEL YOUR APOCALYPSE MOVIE-GOING QUITE YET.  HEAD OUT AND SEE THIS MOVIE FIRST! 


THE LONE RANGER **1/2

ONE OF MY FAVORITE HEROES OF CHILDHOOD RIDES AGAIN, THIS TIME ACROSS THE BIG SCREEN, BUT THE MASKED AVENGER OF THE OLD WEST, HIS WHITE HORSE SILVER, AND HIS INDIAN BUDDY TONTO STUMBLE BADLY SOMEWHERE ALONG THE WAY AND LAND WITH A NOT-VERY-HEARTY “HO-OH, SILVER” IN A MASH-UP OF TAUT WESTERN ADVENTURE, WILD, OVER-THE-TOP ACTION, AND CORNY COMEDY THAT JUST NEVER SEEMED TO QUITE WORK FOR ME.  BY WAY OF BACKGROUND, “THE LONE RANGER” WAS ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR RADIO PLAYS OF THE 1940’S AND 50’S, AND LATER BECAME AN AFTER-SCHOOL TV SHOW THAT KIDS LIKE ME NEVER MISSED.  CLAYTON MOORE STARRED AS THE EX-TEXAS RANGER-TURNED MASKED AVENGER WHO WAS RESURRECTED FROM DEATH IN AN AMBUSH BY OUTLAWS BY TONTO, A ROVING INDIAN PLAYED BY JAY SILVERHEELS IN ONE OF THE FIRST NATIVE AMERICAN ROLES ACTUALLY PLAYED BY A REAL NATIVE AMERICAN.  TOGETHER, THE TWO WOULD FOIL BANK ROBBERIES AND RESCUE KIDNAPPED DAMSELS IN DISTRESS, BUT WITHOUT KILLING A SOUL.  THAT’S BECAUSE THE RANGER ALWAYS SHOT THE GUN OUT OF THE BAD GUYS‘ HANDS WITH HIS TRADEMARK SILVER BULLETS.    THIS FILM RATHER GRUESOMELY RECOUNTS THIS TALE, AND A SUBSEQUENT STORY INVOLVING A CROOKED RAILROAD MAGNATE, HIS HEINOUS HENCHMAN, AND A BAND OF REALLY MAD (AND VERY UNFORTUNATE) COMMANCHE INDIANS.  LAWMEN ARE MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED (IN SLO-MO, NO LESS), ONE GETS HIS HEART CUT OUT (LITERALLY), WOMEN AND CHILDREN ARE SLAPPED AROUND, AND AN ENTIRE WAR PARTY OF COMMANCHES IS MOWED DOWN BY THE GATLING GUNS OF A TROOP OF CAVALRY LED BY A CAPTAIN YELLING ABOUT THE VENGEANCE OF THE LORD AND OTHER SUCH PHRASOLOGY.  INCONGRUOUSLY INTERSPERSED THROUGH IT ALL, THOUGH, ARE STAND-UP  COMEDY SCHTICKS BETWEEN THE RANGER (ARMIE HAMMER) AND TONTO (JOHNNY DEPP, IN YET ANOTHER QUIRKY ROLE AND BIZARRE GET-UP), AND EVEN SILVER, THE HORSE, AND IT ALL ENDS WITH ONE OF THE MOST COMICALLY CHOREOGRAPHED (AND SPECTACULARLY SHOT) ACTION SEQUENCES I’VE EVER SEEN.  THE PROBLEM IS THAT IT’S A BIT HARD TO BE YEE-HAWING THROUGH THIS MADCAP SILLINESS WHEN JUST TEN MINUTES AGO YOU’VE SEEN DOZENS OF NATIVES SO WANTONLY SLAUGHTERED BY THE CAVALRY.  OR AN INNOCENT BUSINESSMAN HEARTLESSLY GUNNED DOWN IN THE BACK.  OR A CHILD GET ROUNDLY SMACKED IN THE FACE.  THIS UNEVENNESS OF TONE PERMEATED THE WHOLE FILM, AND THE RESULTING EMOTIONAL CONFUSION BOTHERED ME ENOUGH TO EFFECTIVELY SPOIL MY EXPERIENCE.  I REALLY WANTED TO LIKE THIS MOVIE, IF I COULD JUST FIGURE OUT WHAT KIND OF MOVIE IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE.  STILL, THE SETTINGS ARE BREATH-TAKING, DEPP’S REVISIONIST TONTO IS A HOOT, AND THE ACTION, AS I SAID, WAS MIND-BOGGLING.  THERE ARE THINGS TO LIKE IN “THE LONE RANGER.”  UNFORTUNATELY, THOUGH, IT’S HARD TO REALLY ENJOY THEM.


DESPICABLE ME 2 ***1/2

THIS FILM IS ONE OF THE VERY, VERY FEW SEQUELS THAT I ACTUALLY HOPED WOULD BE MADE AND COULDN’T WAIT FOR IT TO COME OUT.  AND THANKFULLY, THE PEOPLE AT ILLUMINATION ANIMATION (THE ANIMATION ARM OF UNIVERSAL STUDIOS) TOOK THEIR TIME, KEPT THEIR TEAM TOGETHER, AND DIDN’T MESS IT UP, PRODUCING AS FINE A SEQUEL AS YOU’LL EVER SEE, EVERY BIT ON PAR WITH THE ORIGINAL.  THIS TIME, EX-VILLAIN AND NEW DAD GRU  (STEVE CARRELL) HAS SETTLED INTO LIFE AS THE SINGLE PARENT OF HIS THREE ADOPTED DAUGHTERS, MARGO, EDITH, AND AGNES  (MIRANDA COSGROVE, DANA GAIER, AND ELISE FISHER ).  PREDICTABLY, HE FRETS OVER MARGO BECOMING INTERESTED IN BOYS, TELLS AGNES TO NEVER GET OLDER, AND ALSO LONGS FOR SOME OF THE ADVENTURE OF HIS OLD LIFE.  AND THE KIDS ARE OUT TO FIND HIM A WIFE AND THEM A MOMMY.  OPPORTUNITY FOR BOTH COMES IN THE FORM OF LUCY WILDE (KRISTEN WIIG, WHO VOICED HATTIE OF MS. HATTIE’S ORPHANAGE WHERE THE GIRLS WERE INCARCERATED IN THE LAST MOVIE), WHO ZAPS GRU OFF TO HER BOSSES, THE ANTI-VILLAIN LEAGUE, WHOSE SWORN DUTY IS TO PUT VILLAINS OUT OF BUSINESS.  GRU IS BROUGHT IN AS A SORT OF EXPERT CONSULTANT, AND GIVEN A CHANCE TO GO OUT WITH LUCY INTO THE FIELD TO TRACK DOWN A MYSTERIOUS VILLAIN WHO USES AN ENORMOUS ELECTROMAGNET TO STEAL THINGS.  GRU HAPPILY ACCEPTS, AND HE AND LUCY GET CLOSE TO EACH OTHER AS THEY CLOSE IN ON THE BAD GUY, MUCH TO THE DELIGHT OF THE KIDS, PARTICULARLY AGNES.  ONCE AGAIN, CARRELL IS BRILLIANT, EFFORTLESSLY SPOUTING OFF HYSTERICAL IMPROV LINES AT ONE MOMENT, THEN THE NEXT TUGGING YOUR HEART WITH THE OPEN, HONEST GOODNESS THAT HE’S ALWAYS EMBUED GRU WITH.  DISAPPOINTINGLY, THE THREE KIDS HAVE LESS TO DO HERE (ESPECIALLY “MIDDLE CHILD” EDITH, WHO, LIKE LOTS OF REAL MIDDLE CHILDREN, SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN FORGOTTEN HERE), BUT STILL COME THROUGH WITH FIESTY SWEETNESS.  WIIG HAS LOTS OF FUN WITH THE FLIRTATIOUS LUCY, BENJAMIN BRATT IS A GASTON-LIKE BAD GUY CALLED “EL MACHO,” AND GRU’S EVER-PRESENT MINIONS ONCE AGAIN FILL THE BACKGROUND (AND SOMETIMES THE FOREGROUND) WITH HILARIOUS HIJINKS THAT’S LIKE A NEVER-ENDING STRING OF THREE STOOGES ROUTINES.  YOU’D HAVE TO GO TO THE SHOW AT LEAST TWICE JUST TO GET ALL THE GAGS. IT ALL WINDS UP WITH ANOTHER ODE TO OLDIES MUSIC AND A COMIC ROUTINE BY THE MINIONS OVER THE CLOSING CREDITS THAT MAKES YOU FEEL LIKE (FOR ONCE) YOUR 3D GLASSES WERE ACTUALLY WORTH THE EXTRA MONEY YOU PAID FOR THEM. JUST LIKE BEFORE, HERE’S ONE OF THOSE RARE FILMS THAT WILL SEND EVERYONE IN THE FAMILY OUT THE DOOR WITH A SMILE AND FEELING LIKE THEY’VE JUST SEEN THE MOST FUN FILM THEY’VE SEEN IN YEARS.  DON’T, DON’T MISS IT!! 


WHITE HOUSE DOWN ****

IT’S A SHAME THAT THIS NEW FILM FROM “MASTER OF DISASTER” DIRECTOR ROLAND EMMERICH (“2012,” “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW,” “INDEPENDENCE DAY,” ETC.) IS COMING OUT SO SOON AFTER THE SIMILARLY-PLOTTED “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” THAT CAME OUT JUST 3 MONTHS BEFORE, BECAUSE IF THE FILMS HAD BEEN SWITCHED AROUND, THERE’S NO QUESTION THAT OLYMPUS WOULD DEFINITELY HAVE FALLEN--FLAT AS A PANCAKE AT THE BOX OFFICE, THAT IS.  AS MUCH AS I LIKED “OLYMPUS,” EMMERICH’S MOVIE HAS MORE FUN, MORE TENSENESS, IS MORE FAMILY-FRIENDLY, HAS MORE BIG ACTION (IT IS, AFTER ALL, A ROLAND EMMMERICH FILM), AND GOBS MORE HEART THAN THE PREDECESSOR THANKS TO A BRILLIANT STROKE OF WRITING AND CASTING GENIUS BY EMMERICH AND WRITER JAMES VANDERBILT.  YES, THERE IS CHANNING TATUM, A HUNKY ACTION STAR DOING HIS BEST JOHN McCLANE (“DIE HARD”) AS LANCE CALE, A JILTED DC POLICEMAN WHO CAN’T GET A GIG AS A SECRET SERVICE AGENT YET ENDS UP SAVING THE DAY.  YES, THERE’S JAMIE FOXX, FRESH OFF HIS STELLAR PERFORMANCE IN “DJANGO UNCHAINED,” AS PRESIDENT JAMES SAWYER, A MORE-THAN-OBAMA-LIKE PRESIDENT WHO, IN TRUE HARRISON FORD-LIKE STYLE (AIR FORCE ONE) CLUMSILY BUT BRAVELY ASSUMES THE MANTLE OF LOYAL SOLDIER TO HELP TATUM BRING DOWN THE BADDIES.  AND THOSE BADDIES ARE VERY BAD, OF COURSE, A BUNCH OF MERCENARIES LED BY A COUPLE OF GOVERNMENT WACK JOBS (JAMES WOODS, IN HIS BEST WACK JOB FORM, AS ONE) WHO TAKE OVER THE WHITE HOUSE AFTER PULLING OFF A SMALL DIVERSION--BLOWING UP THE U.S. CAPITOL (AH, DONT YOU LOVE EMMERICH!).  ALL OF THIS WOULD HAVE MADE FOR A GOOD, YET NOT REMARKABLE, ACTION TENTPOLE FILM.  BUT THEN THERE’S THAT STROKE OF WRITING AND CASTING GENIUS, AND THIS FILM IS INSTANTLY CATAPULTED INTO A WHOLE OTHER UNIVERSE.  THAT WOULD BE THE INSERTION OF 13 YEAR-OLD CHILD ACTOR JOEY KING (LAST SEEN IN STARRING ROLES IN THE SHORT-LIVED NBC TV SERIES “BENT” AND AS RAMONA HELPING SELENA GOMEZ BREAK INTO MOVIES IN “RAMONA AND BEEZUS”) AS CALE’S 11 YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER EMILY, A FIESTY PRESIDENT SAWYER GROUPIE WHO  GETS TRAPPED INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE WITH DAD WHEN THEIR TOUR, LED BY FLAMBOYANT TOUR-GUIDE DONNIE ( A HILARIOUS NICHOLAS WRIGHT), IS INTERRUPTED BY THE TERRORISTS.  OFF TO THE RESTROOM WHEN IT ALL GOES DOWN, EMILY’S GUT-WRENCHING COURAGE, AND HER DAD’S INDEFATIGABLE EFFORTS TO SAVE HER, GIVE THIS STORY A HEART-STOPPING URGENCY THAT IS RARELY FOUND IN STRAIGHT ACTION FILMS.  NOT SINCE 2010’S “KICK-ASS” HAS A CHILD BEEN GIVEN SUCH A PIVOTAL ROLE IN AN ACTION FILM (CHLOE MORETZ AS HIT-GIRL), AND, LIKE MORETZ, KING HERE STEALS EVERY SCENE THAT SHE’S IN AND NEARLY STEALS THE SHOW.  IF NOTHING ELSE, HER PERFORMANCE GIVES THIS FILM SOMETHING ONLY THE VERY BEST ACTION FILMS HAVE--A HEART WHERE WE CARE ABOUT THE CHARACTERS SO MUCH THAT WE DON’T CARE ABOUT ANY SO-CALLED FLAWS THAT THE MOVIE MIGHT HAVE.  HEART-STRINGS HAVEN’T BEEN TUGGED LIKE THIS BY EMMERICH SINCE “INDEPENDENCE DAY.‘  SO FORGET ALL THE TALK ABOUT “WHITE HOUSE DOWN” JUST BEING ANOTHER “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” THAT IS ESSENTIALLY “DIE HARD” IN THE WHITE HOUSE.  SURE IT IS (AND WHY WOULDN’T YOU WANT TO IMITATE “DIE HARD” ANYWAY--IT WAS ONLY ONE OF THE BEST ACTION FILMS EVER MADE...), BUT IT’S SO, SOOOO MUCH MORE, PARTICULARLY FOR THE FAMILY AUDIENCE WITH KING’S AMAZING ROLE AND THE TONED-DOWN LANGUAGE AND VIOLENCE (A HIGH BODY COUNT FOR SURE, BUT NOTHING GRAPHIC, AND NO TORRENTS OF F-WORDS).  IGNORE THE OBVIOUS COMPARISONS, GET YOURSELF TO A THEATER ANYWAY, AND ENJOY ONE OF THE FINEST ACTION FILMS I’VE SEEN IN YEARS--AND MAYBE EVER!  


MONSTERS UNIVERSITY ***

PIXAR, ALWAYS THE LEADER IN INNOVATIVE ANIMATED FILMMAKING THAT SOMEHOW COMBINES KID-FRIENDLY CUTENESS AND CORNINESS WITH VERY MATURE THEMES AND INTRICATE STORIES THAT FASCINATE ADULTS AS WELL, HAS RATHER DISAPPOINTINGLY GIVEN IN TO THE CURRENT CRAZE OF CREATING SEQUELS, PREQUELS, AND PART “YOU NAME THE NUMBER” OF SOME MOVIE “FRANCHISE,” SO FAR TO ITS DETRIMENT.  UNTIL 2011, PIXAR HAD NEVER MADE A SECOND MOVIE OF ANY ONE OF ITS DOZEN HITS SAVE “TOY STORY,” AND THAT FRANCHISE GOT BETTER AND BETTER RATHER THAN WORSE.  WITH “CARS 2” THOUGH, THAT CHANGED; A TYPICAL SEQUEL THAT WAS SUB-PAR TO THE ORIGINAL.  THE DISAPPOINTINGLY MUNDANE “BRAVE” FOLLOWED, AND, DESPITE ITS ACADEMY AWARD (DOES THE ACADEMY EVER NOT VOTE FOR PIXAR??) WAS NOT UP TO SNUFF.  THIS NEW EFFORT, A PREQUEL THAT CAME 12 YEARS AFTER THE ORIGINAL (WERE WE REALLY CRYING FOR THAT--MOST OF THE TARGET AUDIENCE WASN’T EVEN BORN THEN), SPENDS A LOT OF TIME BEING JUST ANOTHER CUTE FUN ANIMATED FILM MADE BY STUDIO X, Y, OR Z, WITH THE CLASSIC ZERO-TO-HERO STORY THAT FEATURES TWO POLAR OPPOSITES (COLLEGE-AGE VERSIONS OF “MONSTERS INC.’S” MIKE WAZOWSKI AND JOHN P. “SULLY” SULLIVAN--THANKFULLY VOICED BY THE ORIGINAL ACTORS BILLY CRYSTAL AND JOHN GOODMAN) COMING TOGETHER WITH A BUNCH OF MISFITS TO WIN THE BIG GAME (IN THIS CASE, THE U’S FRATERNITY SCARING CONTEST), AND EVERYBODY GOES HOME HAPPY AND LEARNS SOMETHING ABOUT COOPERATION AND NEVER GIVING UP.  BUT IT DOESN’T END THERE, AND IN A STELLAR, INSPIRED LAST 20 MINUTES, IT FINALLY BECOMES A TRULY PIXAR FILM, WITH A SURPRISE ENDING PACKED WITH ACTION, FUN, AND HEART THAT PUTS A GIANT EXCLAMATION POINT ONTO AN OTHERWISE QUITE ORDINARY MOVIE.  I’M NOT SURE IF THIS IS GOOD ENOUGH TO FULLY RECLAIM FOR PIXAR ITS SPOT AT THE TOP OF THE HEAP OF ANIMATED FILMMAKING, BUT IT’S CERTAINLY GOOD ENOUGH TO PILE IN THE LITTLE ONES AND HEAD TO THE THEATER TO SEE.  MAKE SURE YOU GET TO IT--AND SOON!! AT LEAST THREE MORE HIGHLY ANTICIPATED ANIMATED FILMS ARE WAITING IN THE WINGS TO MAKE THEIR DEBUTS THIS SUMMER.  IT WOULD BE A SHAME IF “MONSTERS UNIVERSITY” WAS CHASED OUT BEFORE YOU GOT A CHANCE TO ENJOY.


WORLD WAR Z **1/2

IT’S ALWAYS A BAD SIGN WHEN I SPEND THE ENTIRE TRIP HOME FROM THE THEATER TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHETHER I LIKED A MOVIE OR NOT.  UNFORTUNATELY, THAT WAS THE CASE FOR THIS FILM, NOT A FAMILY FILM RO BE SURE, BUT ONE THAT COULD ATTRACT ITS SHARE OF THE TEEN/YOUNG ADULT AUDIENCE TO SEE ZOMBIES EVISCERATING TERRIFIED VICTIMS EN MASSE AND GARGANTUAN SET PIECES DEPICTING THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE ON A GRAND AND GLOBAL SCALE (INSTEAD OF SOME SMALL-SCALE DEPICTION LIKE IN “28 DAYS” AND OTHER FILMS).  THE BEST OF BOTH SUCH SCENES COME EARLY IN THIS STORY ABOUT A RETIRED U.N. INVESTIGATOR (BRAD PITT) STRUGGLING TO FIRST SAVE HIS FAMILY AND THEN THE WORLD WHEN A BAFFLING PLAGUE THAT TURNS HUMANS INTO RAVAGING, UNDEAD MONSTERS SUDDENLY OVERRUNS THE PLANET.  A TAUT AND TERRIFYING SCENE OF PHILADELPHIA’S DEMISE (AS PITT AND FAM DODGE EXPLOSIONS, AIRBORNE CARS, AND THE OCCASIONAL UNDEAD) IS FOLLOWED BY AN EVEN MORE TAUT SEQUENCE WHERE THEY ARE IN AN APARTMENT BUILDING AWAITING A RESCUE HELICOPTER WHEN ZOMBIES COME CALLING.  IT’S ALL DOWNHILL FROM THERE, THOUGH.  DESPITE A SET PIECE FOR THE AGES AS HORDES OF GHOULS SWARM OVER THE WALLS OF JERUSALEM, MUCH OF THE LIFE OF THE FILM IS SUCKED OUT (EVEN AS ZOMBIES ARE SUCKED OUT OF BRAD PITT’S AIRLINER) AS WE MEET A STEADY PARADE OF CHARACTERS THAT WE DON’T SEE ENOUGH OF TO CARE ABOUT, ENCOUNTER FAR TOO MANY PUZZLING “LOOSE END” STORY ELEMENTS, AND IN THE END COME TO A “CLIMAX” IN A WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION LAB WHERE THE ZOMBIES LOOK SO COMICAL THAT THEY ELICIT MORE GIGGLES FROM THE AUDIENCE THAN TERROR.  AND OF COURSE THERE’S ALSO THE FACT THAT THE ENTIRE FILM IS SUCH A RADICAL DEPARTURE FROM THE BOOK IT’S SUPPOSEDLY BASED ON THAT BOOK FANS (OF WHICH I AM ONE--AND A BIG ONE TO BOOT) ARE IN A CONTINUAL STATE OF ASKING “WHY” AND “WHY NOT” REMEMBERING HOW MANY GARGANTUAN SET PIECES AND SPINE-TINGLING SITUATIONS WERE COMPLETELY IGNORED IN FAVOR OF  SCENES AND INDEED AN ENTIRE STORY THAT IS GROSSLY INFERIOR.  THUS MY CONFUSION, MY HO-HUM RATING, AND MY ULTIMATE DISAPPOINTMENT IN A FILM THAT I’D BEEN LOOKING FORWARD TO FOR MONTHS. THOUGH MY COMPANION, FEARING THE MOVIE WOULD BE AN APOCALYPSE IN ITSELF, WAS THRILLED TO FIND PLENTY OF EXCITEMENT HERE, I FELT THAT, IN THE END , IT CAME ACROSS AS HOLLOW AND FELT FLAT.  


MAN OF STEEL *1/2

IN A MATCH-UP OF THREE OF TODAY’S BEST MOVIE STORY-TELLERS (ZACK SNYDER, DAVID S. GOYER, AND CHRISTOPHER NOLAN) AND THREE OF  THE LAST GENERATION’S BEST (RICHARD DONNER, HIS WIFE LAUREN SCHULER-DONNER, AND PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING WRITER MARIO PUZO--HE WROTE A LITTLE NOVEL CALLED “THE GODFATHER...”), THE OLDSTERS KNOCK THE “RE-IMAGINERS” OF TODAY OUT OF THE PARK AS THEIR “SUPERMAN” AND “SUPERMAN II” (1978-1980) MAKE THIS YEAR’S BLOCKBUSTER REBOOT OF THE SUPERMAN ORIGIN STORY LOOK LIKE EXACTLY WHAT IT IS; AN OVER-PRICED, OVER-THOUGHT, OVERLY-DARK, OVERLY RELIANT ON SPECIAL EFFECTS, AND ULTIMATELY OVERLY BORING DUD. “MAN OF STEEL” COMES OUT OF THE GATE STUMBLING WITH AN OVERLY LONG (AND BORING) SET-UP ON THE PLANET KRYPTON THAT INSTANTLY MAKES YOU NOT GIVE A HOOT ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS TO ANYONE (EXCEPT, IRONICALLY, MAYBE GENERAL ZOD, THE MOVIE’S BAD GUY, WHO’S GIVEN A SEMI-RIGHTEOUS REASON FOR HIS REVOLT) AND NEVER RECOVERS ITS BALANCE AS WE NEXT SEE CLARK KENT/KAL-EL/SUPERMAN IN HIDING IN ALASKA MYSTERIOUSLY DOING MIRACULOUS DEEDS EVERY SO OFTEN WHILE RECALLING HIS TROUBLED CHILDHOOD, WHERE HE WAS RAISED BY “DAD” JONATHAN KENT (KEVIN COSTNER) TO BLEND IN AT ALL COSTS (HUH??).  WHEN HE FINALLY MEETS THE SPIRIT OF HIS REAL FATHER JOR-EL (RUSSELL CROWE) AND DISCOVERS WHO HE REALLY IS, A POSSIBLE LEADER AND SAVIOR OF EARTH, HE SPENDS THE REST OF THE MOVIE BROODING OVER JUST WHO TO BE, FINALLY PROMPTED TOWARD THE SIDE OF GOOD WHEN ZOD SHOWS UP ON EARTH AND HE AND HIS MINIONS PROCEED ON A MINDLESS RAMPAGE OF DESTRUCTION, APPARENTLY BECAUSE THAT’S ALL THEY’VE BEEN GENETICALLY PROGRAMED TO DO.  THROUGHOUT THIS MISERABLE DILEMMA, THE VARIOUS ICONIC “SUPERMAN” CHARACTERS MAKE THEIR OBLIGATORY APPEARANCES; LOIS LANE (AMY ADAMS), WITH BARELY A WHISPER OF THE ZIP AND STING OF MARGOT KIDDER’S FIRECRACKER REPORTER; PERRY WHITE (LAURENCE FISHBURNE), WHO FLOPS AROUND LIKE A DEAD FISH COMPARED TO JACKIE COOPER OF OLD, AND A BUNCH OF ARMY GENERALS WHO SUB IN FOR THE PRESIDENT, WHO, INSTEAD OF BEGGING SUPERMAN TO HELP RID THE WORLD OF ZOD, SCRUTINIZE HIM THROUGH SNIDE, SMUG LOOKS TRYING TO DECIDE WHO’S SIDE HE’S ON.  THIS ALL LEADS TO THAT CLIMACTIC BATTLE OF INDESTRUCTIBLES IN NYC THAT GOES ON FOR SOMETHING LIKE 45 MINUTES AND GIVES US A CHANCE TO SEE JUST ABOUT EVERY KIND OF BUILDING IMAGINABLE GET TRASHED, BUT CURIOUSLY NONE OF THE CITY’S LANDMARKS GET TOUCHED, AND APPARENTLY NEITHER DO ITS PEOPLE EITHER.  FOR ME, AT LEAST, THERE’S ONLY SO LONG I CAN WATCH THIS BEFORE I BECOME COMATOSE, AND IT WAS CURIOUS TO BE AWAKENED BY SCATTERED APPLAUSE FROM THE AUDIENCE I WAS IN AFTER IT WAS (MERCIFULLY) ALL OVER.  APPARENTLY THERE IS AN APPETITE FOR ENDLESS CGI SCENES OF MINDLESS, WANTON DESTRUCTION THESE DAYS. TOO BAD THERE’S NOT MORE APPETITE FOR AN ENGAGING STORY WITH INTERESTING, LIVELY CHARACTERS.  REGRETTABLY, THIS “SUPERMAN” PLAYS LIKE A LEADEN, ELONGATED GERMAN OPERA EVEN WITHOUT COMPARISON TO THE ORIGINAL, AND, WHEN THAT COMPARISON IS MADE, IT’S AN ABSOLUTE FUNERAL DIRGE.  A BORING, BLASSE DISAPPOINTMENT...


EPIC ***

HERE IS A NICE SURPRISE; AN ANIMATED FILM WITH WIT, CHARM, HUMOR, AN INTERESTING PLOT, ENGAGING CHARACTERS, ACTION AND SUSPENSE, AND A WONDERFUL ENDING THAT IS NOT BASED ON A CLASSIC FAIRY TALE, FILLED WITH SNAPPY AND SWEEPING ALAN MENKEN SONGS, AND PRODUCED BY DISNEY ANIMATION OR PIXAR.  INSTEAD, IT’S THE FOLKS AT FOX ANIMATION (MORE PROPERLY KNOWN AS BLUE SKY STUDIOS) WHO GIVE US THIS EXCITING TALE BASED ON A LITTLE KNOWN BOOK BY WILLIAM JOYCE WITH THE UNLIKELY TITLE OF  “THE LEAF MEN AND THE BRAVE, GOOD BUGS.”  IN IT, TEENAGER MARY KATHERINE (“M.K.”) IS DUMPED BY HER MOTHER AT THE HOME OF HER ESTRANGED FATHER BOMBA, A WACK JOB WHO SPENDS HIS TIME TRYING TO PROVE THAT THE FOREST AROUND HIS HOME IS POPULATED WITH MINIATURE MEN AND EVIL CREATURES THAT ARE IN CONSTANT CONFLICT WITH EACH OTHER.  BORED TO TEARS AND CERTAIN OF HER DAD’S DIM-WITTEDNESS, MK ONE DAY EXAMINES A CURIOUS SPECIMEN THAT BOMBA’S MYRIAD OF HIDDEN VIDEO CAMERAS HAS PICKED UP IN THE FOREST, AND SUDDENLY FINDS HERSELF MINIATURIZED AND IN THE COMPANY OF SOLDIERS CALLED LEAF MEN WHO PROTECT THE HEALTH OF THE FOREST FROM THE EVIL BOGGANS, CREATURES WHO KILL OFF THE FOREST AND THRIVE ON DECAY.  SHE MUST CONVEY A LEAF POD BEARING THE ONLY OFFSPRING OF THE LEAF QUEEN TARA, WHO DIES DEFENDING IT, TO SAFETY, AND OF COURSE, WITH THE HELP OF A MOTLEY CREW OF OTHER “BUGGY” AND “LEAFY” CHARACTERS, ULTIMATELY PREVAILS, AND ALSO BECOMES A BELIEVER LIKE HER FATHER, PATCHING THINGS UP WITH HIM AS WELL.  WITH A WINNING VOICE CAST THAT INCLUDES AMANDA SEYFRIED, JOSH HUTCHERSON, JASON SUDEIKIS, CHRISTOPH WALTZ, BEYONCE KNOWLES, AND STEVEN TYLER, (AMONG OTHERS)  AND A STORY THAT’S HERE-TO-FORE LITTLE KNOWN BUT BOTH EXCITING, ENGAGING, AND HAS MULTIPLE LAYERS OF THEME, THIS IS LIKE A BREATH OF FRESH AIR, BOTH FOR AN ANIMATED FILM AS WELL AS FOR MOVIES IN GENERAL.  MAYBE A MOVIE CAN BE FUN, EXCITING, SATISFYING, AND EVEN PROFITABLE, AND YET NOT BE BASED ON SOME WELL-KNOWN FAIRY TALE, BEST-SELLING NOVEL, OR THE PREQUEL, SEQUEL, OR PART 7 OF SOME MOVIE “FRANCHISE?”  DON’T MISS THIS GEM IF YOU CAN STILL FIND IT IN THEATERS--GREAT STUFF FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY.


FURIOUS 6 ***1/2

THE ADVENTURE COMES FAST AND THE ACTION COMES FURIOUSLY IN THIS 6TH INSTALLMENT OF A FRANCHISE THAT STARTED OUT OVER TEN YEARS AGO AS A STORY ABOUT STREET CAR RACING BUT HAS NOW EVOLVED INTO A FULL-BLOWN FRANCHISE BONANZA THAT INVOLVES EXOTIC LOCATIONS ALL OVER THE WORLD AND SOME OF THE MOST AMAZING CAR CHASE SCENES EVERY PUT ON FILM.  ONCE AGAIN, THE FAST FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN DOMINICK TORRETO (VIN DIESEL) AND EX-COP BRIAN O’CONNOR (PAUL WALKER--DOES HE MAKE ANY OTHER FILMS???) IS PUT TO A FURIOUS TEST AS FRANCHISE NEWCOMER FBI AGENT COBB (DWAYNE JOHNSON), WHO TEAMED WITH THE TWO AND THEIR CREW OF CAR CRAZIES IN SPITE OF HIMSELF TO BRING DOWN A COMMON ENEMY IN FAST 5 ONCE AGAIN SEEKS THEIR HELP, THIS TIME TO BRING IN A NOTORIOUS INTERNATIONAL THIEF WHO’S TRYING TO GET HIS HANDS ON A COMPUTER CHIP THAT WILL GIVE HIM CONTROL OVER JUST ABOUT ANY WEAPON SYSTEM IN THE WORLD.  SPICING THE STEW FOR THE GANG IS THAT ONE OF THEIR OWN, LETTIE (MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ), WHO EVERYONE THOUGHT WAS DEAD, JUST MIGHT BE ALIVE AND RUNNING WITH THIS NEW BUNCH OF VEHICULAR VILLAINS.  FROM KEEPING TOGETHER THE SAME CAST TO ADDING A GREAT NEW GUY YOU LOVE TO HATE TO LOCALES LIKE LONDON, SPAIN, AND MOSCOW, LOTS OF INSIDE JOKES AND HUMOR, AND EVEN A TENDER MOMENT NOW AND THEN (NOT TO MENTION A WHOLE NEW ROUND OF OMG!! CAR CHASES AND STUNTS), THIS HAS EVERYTHING THAT ANYONE COULD ASK FOR IN AN ACTION FRANCHISE SEQUEL, PLUS A WHOLE LOT MORE.  IT’S AN ACTION FAN’S “DIED AND GONE TO HEAVEN” MOMENT THAT’S NOT TO BE MISSED.


STAR TREK; INTO DARKNESS ****

CONTINUING WITH WHAT WILL BE A RECURRING THEME THROUGHOUT THE SUMMER, ANOTHER FRANCHISE GETS A NEW INSTALLMENT, THIS THE SECOND OF JJ ABRAMS’ REBOOT OF THE STAR TREK MOVIES BASED ON THE CULT FAVORITE, GROUND-BREAKING SCI-FI TV SHOW OF THE LATE 1960’S.  AS YOU MAY RECALL, ABRAMS’ FILMS ARE MEANT TO BE PREQUELS TO BOTH THE TV SERIES AND SUBSEQUENT MOVIE FRANCHISE, WHERE WE GET TO KNOW JUST HOW OUR HEROES (CAPT. KIRK, SCIENCE OFFICER SPOCK, LT. UHURA, DR. MCCOY, ENSIGN CHECKOV, SULU, CHIEF ENGINEER SCOTT, ETC.) CAME TO BE AND GOT TO KNOW ONE ANOTHER.  IN ABRAMS’ LAST FILM, EVERYONE GOT INTRODUCED TO EACH OTHER.  THIS TIME OUT, THEY GO ON THEIR FIRST MISSIONS TOGETHER, AND WE SEE THEIR FRIENDSHIPS PUT THROUGH THE CRUCIBLE OF CONFLICT AS THE STILL-RECKLESS KIRK (CHRIS PINE), THE OVERLY METHODICAL SPOCK (ZACHARY QUINTO), THE OVERLY IN LOVE UHURA (ZOE SALDANA), THE OVERLY COOL SULU (JOHN CHO), THE OVERLY VERBOSE MCCOY (KARL URBAN), AND THE OVERLY EXCITABLE CHEKOV AND SCOTT (ANTON YELCHIN AND SIMON PEGG) GO AFTER AN INTERGALACTIC TERRORIST WHO NEARLY MANAGES TO DECAPITATE STARFLEET IN A BREATH-TAKING ONE-MAN RAID ON ITS HEADQUARTERS, THEN HEADS FOR SANCTUARY IN KLINGON SPACE, MAKING GOING AFTER HIM A POTENTIAL ACT OF INTERGALACTIC WAR.  AS KIRK AND CREW GO ON A STEALTH MISSION TO EXTRACT THE PERP AND ALL NEARLY DIE IN THE PROCESS, WE CAN SEE HOW THE BOND THAT HELD THIS BUNCH TOGETHER THROUGH SO MANY HARROWING ADVENTURES TO COME WAS FORGED, AND THAT IN ITSELF IS REASON ENOUGH TO SEE THIS IF YOU’RE A FAN.  YOU’LL ALSO SEE AND HEAR COUNTLESS REFERENCES TO SOME OF THE FAVORITE GIGS OF BOTH THE TV SHOWS AND MOVIES, AS WELL AS DISCOVER THE ORIGIN OF ONE OF THEIR MOST NOTORIOUS VILLAINS.  BUT EVEN IF YOU’VE NEVER HEARD ANYTHING ABOUT STAR TREK, IF YOU’RE A SCI-FI ADVENTURE FAN, YOU’LL REVEL IN THIS IMMERSION INTO AWESOME VISTAS, COOL GADGETS, WIZ-BANG WEAPONS, AMAZING SPECIAL EFFECTS, AND EDGE-OF-YOUR-SEAT SUSPENSE. “ INTO DARKNESS” GIVES FRANCHISE FANS WHAT THEY CRAVE BY THE STARSHIP-FULL, AND FOR THE UNINITIATED, THERE’S NO BETTER WAY TO GET YOUR FEET WET--OR MAYBE I SHOULD SAY DROWN--IN THIS TIME-HONORED SCI-FI SAGA.  SEE IT FOR SURE!


IRON MAN 3 ***

WHILE NOT AS GOOD AS THE FIRST, THIS 3RD INSTALLMENT OF THE IRON MAN FRANCHISE IS A ROLLICKING GOOD TIME AND OODLES BETTER THAN THE PONDEROUS EPISODE 2.  HERE, WE HAVE ROBERT DOWNEY JR. ONCE AGAIN STARRING AS THE QUICK-AS-A-WHIP QUIPPER TONY STARK/IRON MAN, THIS TIME AN EVEN MORE MANIC INSOMNIAC WHO CAN’T GET HIS MIND OFF THE ALMOST-SUCCESSFUL ALIEN INVASION FROM LAST YEARS AVENGERS MOVIE, IN WHICH HE HAD A PROMINENT ROLE.  SO HE BUSIES HIMSELF MAKING EVER MORE AND REFINED IRON MAN SUPER-SUITS AND FUMING OVER THE HORRIFIC TERRORIST ACTS OF A OSAMA-LIKE MASS MURDERER CALLED THE MANDARIN, (BEN KINGSLEY) A TERRORIST DRESSED UP LIKE A CHINAMAN BUT WITH AN AMERICAN ACCENT.  THE MANDARIN’S HEINOUS ESCAPADES FINALLY GOAD STARK INTO AN ILL-ADVISED “BRING IT ON” MOMENT, WHICH RESULTS IN THE TOTAL (AND SPECTACULARLY FILMED) DESTRUCTION OF HIS MALIBU HOME, WITH HE AND EVER-FAITHFUL (BUT CONTINUALLY POUTY) GIRLFRIEND PEPPER POTTS (GWYNETH PALTROW) BARELY ESCAPING WITH THEIR LIVES.  THROWN INTO THE MIX AS BOTH SEARCH DOWN SEPARATE PATHS FOR THE ELUSIVE TERRORIST ARE AN OLD GIRLFRIEND OF TONY’S WHO’S CREATED A “HOT” NEW CONCOCTION CALLED EXTREMIS, (REBECCA HALL) A MAD SCIENTIST WHO’S FOUND A WAY TO EXPLOIT IT NAMED ALDRIDGE KILLIAN (GUY PEARCE), A CUTE KID WITH AN IRON MAN OBSESSION (TY SIMPKINS), AND TONY’S BUDDY COLONEL RHODES (DON CHEADLE), WHO’S NOW THE PRESIDENT’S OWN PERSONAL IRON MAN CALLED WAR MACHINE.  SURPRISES, SNAPPY ONE-LINERS, AND WILD TURNS BETWEEN SERIOUS, SILLY, HARROWING ,AND HILARIOUS SCENES AND DIALOGUE MIGHT GIVE SOME THE FEELING THAT THIS IS ONE OF THOSE SHOWS THAT CAN’T FIGURE OUT ITS TONE, BUT DOWNEY AND THE REST OF THE CAST, ESPECIALLY KINGSLEY, CARRY IT ALL OFF SO WELL THAT YOU REALLY DON’T CARE IN THE END.  THIS IS A COMIC BOOK MOVIE, AFTER ALL.  YOU JUST SIT BACK AND ENJOY THE LAUGHS, HANG ON EDGE WITH SUSPENSE, AND LET YOUR JAW DROP AT THE SPECIAL EFFECTS, SOMETIMES ALL WITHIN THE SAME MINUTE.  IN SOME WAYS, IT’S A THROW-BACK TO 80’S-90’S ERA ACTION FLICKS LIKE LETHAL WEAPON AND BEVERLEY HILLS COP, ET AL, AND THAT’S NO WONDER SINCE “LETHAL WEAPON” WRITER SHANE BLACK IS SITTING IN THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR FOR THIS ONE (FOR THE FIRST TIME IN YEARS) WHILE USUAL “IRONMAN” DIRECTOR JON FAVREAU STEPS IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA AND HAS A LOT OF FUN IN A PROMINENT SUPPORTING ROLE.  THIS IS POPCORN ENTERTAINMENT TO BE SURE, BUT ALSO DONE AT ITS VERY BEST.  HEAD TO THE THEATER AND HAVE A BLAST.


THE SAPPHIRES ***1/2

THIS I’M WRITING UP AS A DEFINITE “SEE WHEN IT COMES OUT ON VIDEO” BECAUSE YOU PROBABLY HAVE ALREADY MISSED IT IN THEATERS (IF IT EVER MADE IT TO YOUR TOWN AT ALL).  ONE OF THOSE PLEASANT SURPRISES FROM DOWN UNDER IN THE TRADITION OF MOVIES LIKE MURIEL’S WEDDING AND STRICTLY BALLROOM, ETC., THIS IS THE “INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS” STORY OF A GROUP OF ABORIGINAL AUSSIE GIRLS WHO FORM A COUNTRY SINGING GROUP, BUT ARE THEN TRANSFORMED INTO A ROCK-THE-HOUSE SOUL-SINGING ACT BY A HAS-BEEN MUSIC PROMOTER (CHRIS O’DOWD) TO ENTERTAIN AMERICAN TROOPS IN VIETNAM DURING THE HEIGHT OF THAT WAR.  THE JOURNEY, BOTH LITERAL AND EMOTIONAL, IS ONE OF JOY, PAIN, PREJUDICE, ECSTATIC HIGHS AND THE LOWEST OF LOWS THAT ULTIMATELY SENDS YOU AWAY SINGING ALONG WITH THE CREDITS, WHICH FEATURE WHAT THE REAL-LIFE SAPPHIRES SUBSEQUENTLY DID AFTER THEIR MOMENT IN THE LIME-LIGHT.  THIS A MOVIE FOR SUCKERS FOR MUSIC MOVIES (LIKE ME) AS WELL AS ANYONE ELSE WHO ENJOYS A UNIQUE, EMOTIONAL, AND INSPIRING STORY WITH FINE PERFORMANCES ALL AROUND AND A WINNING MIX OF COMEDY, DRAMA, A DASH OF ACTION, AND ESPECIALLY AWESOME GIRL-GROUP SINGING.  HOWEVER YOU WATCH “VIDEO,” DON’T MISS THIS WHEN IT “COMES OUT.”


G.I. JOE RETALIATION *1/2

DIRECTED SQUARELY AT THE 11-15 YEAR-OLD BOY AUDIENCE (AND OLDER PEOPLE WHO ARE STILL INTO GRATUITOUS SHOOT’EM-UP STUFF), THIS SEQUEL TO G.I. JOE; RISE OF THE COBRA IS EVEN WORSE THAN ITS PREDECESSOR, WHICH I, AT THE TIME, LABELED A “LIVE ACTION SATURDAY MORNING CARTOON.”  AND WITH CHARACTERS NAMED DUKE, ROADBLOCK, FLINT, STORM SHADOW, AND LADY JAYE STARING AT CLOSETS FULL OF EXOTIC WEAPONS LIKE THEY WERE NEW VIDEO GAME ACCESSORIES AND BLASTING AWAY WITH MOUNTED 50 CALIBER MACHINE GUNS HELD LIKE SAWED-OFF SHOTGUNS, HOW CAN YOU NOT FEEL THE SAME ABOUT THIS--ONLY MORE?  WHAT PASSES FOR A PLOT DOESN’T WORK EITHER, AS SOMETHING ABOUT A JAPANESE NINJA CULT  SOMEHOW GETS MIXED IN WITH THE RISEN COBRA’S PLANS TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD.  THE FACT THAT EVERYONE IN THE MOVIE TAKES ALL THIS SO SERIOUSLY MAKES THE WHOLE THING EVEN MORE SILLY.  DISBELIEF ISN’T SUSPENDED FOR A NANOSECOND, EVEN AS NANOBOT MAKEUP ENABLES A COBRA OPERATIVE TO MASQUERADE PERFECTLY AS A COPY OF THE PRESIDENT AND EXPLOSIVE FIREFLIES ARE SENT TO DO DIRTY WORK BY A BIG, BRUISING THUG NAMED--WAIT FOR IT--FIREFLY!  KIND OF LIKE NICK-NAMING KING KONG TINKER BELL.  BUT SUCH FOOLISHNESS IS SO COMMON IN THIS THAT IT GOES BEYOND LAUGHABLE.  THE FILM’S ONLY SAVING GRACES ARE A FEW OF ITS STARS; DWAYNE JOHNSON, CHANNING TATUM, BRUCE WILLIS DOING A NICE TURN AS GENERAL JOE COLTON, THE ORIGINAL G.I. JOE, AND ADRIANNE PALICKI, WHO JUST MIGHT HAVE THE RIGHT COMBINATION OF SMASH-MOUTH AND SEX APPEAL TO GIVE MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ A RUN FOR BEST ACTRESS FOR A FEMALE CHARACTER IN A TESTOSTERONE-DRIVEN ACTION-JUNKIE MOVIE.  BUT EVEN GOOD ACTORS END UP LOOKING STUPID WHEN SPOUTING STUPID LINES IN A STUPID MOVIE.  SO, WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION OF THOSE IN THE “TARGET AUDIENCE” MENTIONED ABOVE, SKIP THIS ONE AND YOUR WALLET WON’T RETALIATE AGAINST YOU WHEN YOU’RE WANTING TO SPEND BUCKS ON MIUCH BETTER MOVIES TO COME.


THE HOST **1/2 (***1/2 for book fans)

THE REALLY GREAT NEWS ABOUT THIS NEW MOVIE BASED ON AUTHOR STEPHENIE MEYER’S FIRST NON-TWILIGHT RELATED BOOK IS THAT IT IS AN EXTREMELY FAITHFUL RENDERING OF BOTH THE SPIRIT AND THE PLOT OF MEYER’S BOOK, OR AT LEAST AS MUCH AS CAN BE EXPECTED WHEN CRAMMING A 600+ PAGE BOOK INTO A TWO-HOUR FILM  AND THAT’S NEWS COMING FROM A COUPLE OF AVID “HOST” BOOK FANS THAT I SAW THIS MOVIE WITH.  IT DOESN’T HAPPEN TOO OFTEN THAT HOLLYWOOD GETS BOOK ADAPTATIONS RIGHT ENOUGH TO ELICIT SUCH KIND REMARKS FROM THE FAITHFUL, AND FOR THAT REASON ALONE, THIS FILM SHOULD DO DECENT ENOUGH AT THE BOX OFFICE TO AT LEAST BREAK EVEN FOR ITS PRODUCERS.  AMONG THOSE PRODUCERS IS MEYER HERSELF AND HER FICKLE FISH PRODUCTIONS.  SHE’S WISELY TAKEN A PORTION OF HER VAST EARNINGS FROM THE “TWILIGHT” FRANCHISE TO FORM HER OWN PRODUCTION COMPANY AND PUT HERSELF IN CONTROL.  IT’S A GOOD THING TOO, BECAUSE IT’S DOUBTFUL THAT THIS FILM WOULD EVER HAVE BEEN MADE (OR AT LEAST MADE WITH ANY RESEMBLANCE TO THE PLOT OF THE BOOK), UNLESS MEYER MADE IT HERSELF,


AND THIS IS WHERE THE REST OF US--THOSE WHO HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK,--COME INTO THE PICTURE.  FILM IS A VISUAL, ACTION-ORIENTATED MEDIUM FOR STORY-TELLING, AND YET VIRTUALLY ALL THE “ACTION” IN THE HOST GOES ON IN MAIN CHARACTER MELANIE’S MIND; A CONSTANT VERBAL WRESTLING MATCH BETWEEN MELANIE AND THE RATHER BEGNIN ALIEN THAT HER BODY “HOSTS,” EACH STRUGGLING TO MAKE THE OTHER DISAPPEAR SO THEY CAN BECOME IN FULL CONTROL.  ONCE IMPLANTED, THE JOB OF MELANIE’S HOST, CALLED “WANDERER” IS TO INFILTRATE A GROUP OF REBELS TO THE ALIEN TAKEOVER THAT HAS QUITE LITERALLY PACIFIED THE WORLD SO THAT THE REBELS CAN BE ERADICATED AND PEACE AND HARMONY CAN CONTINUE ETERNALLY ON THE EARTH.  BUT MELANIE, WHO JUMPED OUT A WINDOW IN A SUICIDAL ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE CAPTURE, ISN’T QUITE DEAD, AND SO THE STRUGGLE FOR INTERNAL CONTROL BEGINS, AS WELL AS A BIZARRE LOVE QUADRANGLE WHERE “WANDERER” (OR WANDA FOR SHORT), NOT ONLY ENJOYS GETTING TO KNOW THE REBELS, BUT FALLS IN LOVE WITH ONE--AND USES MELANIE’S BODY TO CARRY OUT HER FEELINGS, WHILE MEANWHILE MELANIE PINES HELPLESSLY FOR HER FORMER BEAU, WHO NOW THINKS SHE’S “ONE OF THEM” AND CALLS HER “IT.”  AND OF COURSE NONE OF THIS SITS RIGHT WITH WANDERER’S “SEEKER,” WHO FINALLY DECIDES THAT WANDERER (AND MELANIE’S BODY) MUST BE KILLED BEFORE SHE BETRAYS STATE SECRETS TO THE REBELS.  YEAH, THAT’S QUITE A MOUTHFUL TO DIGEST, ESPECIALLY WHEN, TRY AS THEY MIGHT, MEYERS AND THE DIRECTOR SIMPLY CAN’T FIND ENOUGH EXTERNAL TALK AND PHYSICAL ACTION IN THEIR SCRIPT TO MAKE THE STORY TRULY ENGAGING FOR A LARGER AUDIENCE. 


NOW DON’T GET ME WRONG.  THE HOST IS NOT A BAD FILM, IT’S CHIEF STRENGTH IS ITS CADRE OF YOUNG, UP AND COMING ACTORS LIKE JAKE ABEL, MAX IRONS (YES, HIS DAD IS JEREMY IRONS), AND ESPECIALLY SAIORSE RONAN, SHE OF THE ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATION WHEN SHE WAS BUT A PRETEEN FOR HER ROLE IN ATONEMENT AND JUST ABOUT THE ONLY REASON TO WATCH THE ABYSMAL FILM ADAPTATION OF THE YA BEST-SELLER CITY OF EMBER, AS MELANIE/WANDERER.  VETERANS DIANE KRUGER AND WILLIAM HURT WORK IN NICELY AS “SEEKER” AND THE REBEL LEADER, RESPECTFULLY. THESE ACTORS’ PERFORMANCES GIVE SIGNIFICANT LIFE TO WHAT COULD EASILY HAVE BEEN A NEARLY LIFELESS FILM.  BUT THOUGH I DIDN’T FIND THIS MOVIE BAD, I ALSO DIDN’T FIND IT A PARTICULARLY GOOD FILM EITHER BECAUSE THERE WAS SO LITTLE GOING ON FOR SO MUCH OF THE SCREEN TIME--UNLESS YOU WERE IN MELANIE’S HEAD, WHICH IS WHERE MANY BOOK FANS WILL BE FROM THE GET-GO, AND, UNFORTUNATELY, MANY OF THE REST OF US WILL NEVER REALLY BE AT ALL. SO IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THIS BOOK, GIVE YOURSELF PAUSE BEFORE PLUNKING DOWN YOUR MONEY.  THIS WILL BE A CHALLENGING (OR EVEN BORING) COUPLE OF HOURS.  BUT IF YOU’RE A BOOK FAN, DON’T MISS IT!   


THE CROODS ****

WHAT A PLEASANT SURPRISE TO GO TO A FILM THAT HAD LOOKED LIKE JUST ANOTHER ANIMATED FEATURE IN TRAILERS AND DISCOVER A REAL GEM OF FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT INSTEAD.  THAT WAS THE EXPERIENCE OF THE ENTIRE BROOD THAT I  WAS WITH (KIDS AGES 14-23 PLUS TWO ADULTS) WHEN WE WENT TO THIS NEW FILM FROM THE STRUGGLING DREAMWORKS ANIMATION, WHOSE DISASTROUS RISE OF THE GUARDIANS LED TO OVER 300 LAYOFFS AT THE STUDIO.  FABULOUS WORD-OF-MOUTH SHOULD MAKE THIS FILM AN OVER-PERFORMER WHICH WILL HOPEFULLY REPAIR SOME OF THE DAMAGE.  THE STORY OF A FAMILY OF CAVE PEOPLE WHO HAVE SURVIVED UP UNTIL THE MOVIE’S OPENING BY FATHER GRUG’S MOTTOS OF “STAY IN THE CAVE” AND “NEVER BE NOT AFRAID” WHILE OTHER FAMILIES IN THE AREA HAVE PERISHED GETS OFF TO A ROUSING START AS THE ENTIRE BUNCH, FROM A FEROCIOUS FERAL BABY (“RELEASE THE BABY!”) TO A CANTANKEROUS OLD MOTHER-IN-LAW GO ON A HARROWING EXCURSION TO OBTAIN BREAKFAST, A SINGLE EGG, WHILE BEING PURSUED BY THE EGG’S MOTHER AND VARIOUS OTHER NASTIES.  WE DISCOVER AT THIS POINT THAT TEEN-AGE DAUGHTER EEP IS SICK OF CAVE LIFE AND CAUSING A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF FAMILY STRIFE, ESPECIALLY SINCE DAD IS DEAD SET AGAINST TRYING ANYTHING NEW.  BUT WHEN EEP GOES OUT ONE NIGHT AND “FOLLOWS THE LIGHT” AND DISCOVERS COOL DUDE “GUY” AND HIS “INVENTION” CALLED FIRE, SHE ALSO LEARNS THAT THE WORLD ABOUT THEM IS CHANGING RAPIDLY, AND THAT NO ONE WILL BE SAFE IN A CAVE ANYMORE.  AND SO OFF THEY GO ON A ROAD TRIP TO CLIMB ABOVE THE COMING CARNAGE, DAD GRADUALLY LEARNING THAT CHANGE IS NOT ONLY NOT SO BAD, BUT NECESSARY, AND EEP DISCOVERING THAT HER FATHER ISN’T THE OGRE-ISH LUG THAT SHE’S MADE HIM INTO.  AND AS THEIR WORLD FINALLY CRUMBLES AWAY, GET READY FOR SOME SURPRISINGLY EMOTIONAL MOMENTS THAT REALLY SET THIS MOVIE ON A HIGHER LEVEL.  I COULD GO ON AND ON ABOUT THE GOOD THINGS IN THIS SHOW, BUT HERE I’LL JUST HIGHLIGHT A FEW.  THE VOICEWORK IS WONDERFUL, PARTICULARLY NICOLAS CAGE AND EMMA STONE AS THE FATHER AND DAUGHTER AND RYAN REYNOLDS AS THE IDEA-MAN GUY.  CLORIS LEACHMAN IS ALSO A NICE SURPRISE AS THE CRUSTY OLD GRANNY.  THE WORLD THAT WRITER/DIRECTOR CHRIS SANDERS HAS CREATED IS A CONTINUAL DELIGHT.  NOT PENNING HIMSELF INTO A CONVENTIONAL PREHISTORIC WORLD, HE’S LEFT NO HOLDS BARRED IN CREATING A MENAGERIE OF FANCIFUL VARIATIONS ON MAMMOTHS AND SABER-TOOTH TIGERS AS WELL AS INVENTED ENTIRELY NEW SPECIES THAT PLEASANTLY SURPRISE THROUGHOUT.  IT WAS REFRESHING TO HAVE A FAIR AMOUNT OF TYPICAL FAMILY CONFLICT GOING ON, BUT NO REAL “BAD GUYS” IN THE STORY.  CERTAINLY THERE WAS NO NEED FOR ONE, AND AGAIN, SANDERS DID NOT FEEL COMPELLED TO STICK TO THE HOLLYWOOD STANDARD AND CREATE ONE JUST FOR THE SAKE OF HAVING ONE.  YOU’LL BE ROOTING FOR EVERYONE HERE.  THE COLLAPSING EARTH IS BAD-GUY ENOUGH.  AND ALSO SIGNIFICANT WAS THE REFRESHING LACK OF SNARKY, ANACHRONISTIC ONE-LINERS THAT SO OFTEN TURN INTO GROANERS IN THESE TYPES OF FILMS.  WHAT ONES THERE ARE ARE FEW AND FAR BETWEEN, AND HONESTLY FUNNY (THE CROODS METHOD OF TAKING A FAMILY PORTRAIT IS A REAL “SMASH”).  THIS IS AN ANIMATED ACTION/COMEDY THAT WILL HAVE THE WHOLE FAMILY BOTH IN STITCHES AND MAYBE EVEN REACHING FOR THE TISSUE BOX NEAR THE END.  DREAMWORKS HASN’T BEEN THIS GOOD SINCE HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON THREE YEARS AGO.  YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS THIS!


OZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL *** (***1/2 for families)

“OZ, THE WEAK AND WIMPY” WAS HOW ONE OBVIOUSLY JADED REVIEWER OPENED HIS SCATHING DIS-ASSEMBLING OF THIS NEW MOVIE FROM DISNEY.


WELL, YES, AND NO...


IN THIS ORIGIN STORY FOR THE 1939 CLASSIC THE WIZARD OF OZ,  A DREAM-COME-TRUE OPPORTUNITY FOR WRITER MICHAEL KAPNER, THE MAIN CHARACTER, OSCAR “OZ” DIGGS (JAMES FRANCO), IS ACTUALLY SUPPOSED TO BE WEAK AND WIMPY FOR MUCH OF THE MOVIE.  IT’S WHO HE IS; A WEAK, WIMPY FLIM-FLAM MAN MASQUERADING AS AN ALL-POWERFUL MAGICIAN IN A TRAVELING CIRCUS.  HE DOESN’T EVEN HAVE THE GUTS TO TELL A LITTLE GIRL BEGGING HIM TO HEAL HER THAT HE’S A FAKE.  AND WHEN THE CIRCUS STRONGMAN FINDS OUT THAT HE’S BEEN SCAMMED TOO, OZ BEATS A RETREAT WORTHY OF THE COWARDLY LION TO THE CIRCUS’S HOT AIR BALLOON, AND FLIES OFF LAUGHING AT HIS VICTIMS, ONLY TO BE SWEPT AWAY IN A TWISTER TO  A COLOR-WASHED LAND THAT HE THINKS IS HEAVEN, COMPLETE WITH AN ANGEL.  NO SUCH LUCK.  IT’S ACTUALLY THE LAND OF OZ, AND THE “ANGEL” IS THEODORA (MILA KUNIS), ONE OF THREE WITCHES IN THE LAND, WHO TELLS HIM THAT HE MUST BE THE ALL-POWERFUL WIZARD WHO HAS BEEN PROPHESIED TO COME AND RID OZ OF THE WICKED WITCH, AND THEN MARRY HER.  AND ONCE AGAIN, OSCAR IS TOO WIMPY TO ADMIT THAT HE’S NO WIZARD, AND THAT HE CERTAINLY HAS NO INTENTIONS OF MARRYING HER.  YET, IN TRUE HUCKSTER FASHION, HE FAKES THINGS ENOUGH TO FIND OUT JUST WHAT MIGHT BE IN IT FOR HIM.  WHEN HE FINDS THAT A ROOM FULL OF GOLD COMES WITH THE PACKAGE, HE’S ALL IN, AGAIN STRINGING SWEET AND TRUSTING PEOPLE (INCLUDING THEODORA) ALONG IN HIS WAKE.  BUT WHEN HE FINDS THAT THE “WICKED WITCH” IS REALLY GLINDA THE GOOD (MICHELLE WILLIAMS) WHO HAS BEEN DEPOSED BY EVANORA (RACHEL WEISZ), THE REAL WICKED WITCH AND THEODORA’S SCHEMING SISTER, AND THAT LEGIONS OF FARMERS, INVENTORS, AND MUNCHKINS ARE COUNTING ON HIM TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT HER, HE MUST DECIDE IF HE’LL CONTINUE TO BE “THE WEAK AND WIMPY” OR STRIVE FOR THE HIGHER CALLING OF HIS PERSONAL HEROES HOUDINI AND EDISON AND REALLY BECOME THE “GREAT AND POWERFUL” PERSON THAT THESE PEOPLE EXPECT HIM TO BE.  THIS IS SOMETHING THAT, IN THE END, HE DOES WITH DAZZLING AND AWESOME FLAIR, BUT NOT BEFORE THE CONSEQUENCES OF HIS OWN DUPLICITOUS WAYS BRING A BITTER CURSE ON THE LAND COURTESY OF THE BETRAYED THEODORA.


AS NOTED, THIS IS A FILM THAT, IF LOOKED AT IN A CERTAIN WAY, COULD BE PICKED APART IN ALL SORTS OF WAYS; BEING DERIVATIVE (OF THE ORIGINAL), UNDER-ACTED (ESPECIALLY BY FRANCO), AND EVEN BORING (AS WE STARE AT WONDROUS CGI LANDSCAPES OF OZ FOR SEEMINGLY ENDLESS AMOUNTS OF SCREEN TIME).  BUT THE SUPPOSEDLY DERIVATIVE PARTS ARE PURPOSEFULLY (AND RIGHTLY) INCLUDED AS HOMAGES TO THE ORIGINAL, AND SERVE UP HEARTY CHUCKLES AT ALMOST EVERY TURN, PARTICULARLY FOR THE ADULTS IN THE AUDIENCE.  AND YES, EITHER OF THE OTHER LEADS ORIGINALLY OFFERED THE PART OF OZ (JOHNNY DEPP, ROBERT DOWNEY JR, AND DOUBLE ACADEMY-AWARD WINNER CHRISTOPH WALTZ)  PROBABLY WOULD HAVE MADE FOR A MUCH MORE DYNAMIC AND “POWERFUL” OZ, BUT EACH TURNED IT DOWN BECAUSE OF OTHER MAJOR COMMITMENTS, AND FRANCO’S NO SLOUCH (AN ACADEMY-AWARD NOMINEE HIMSELF).  AND THOSE CGI SCENES, EVEN IF WE LINGER MAYBE A MINUTE OR TWO TOO LONG, REALLY ARE AWESOME TO BEHOLD, ESPECIALLY IN 3-D.  SO LET THE STUFFY CYNICS PRATTLE.  THERE’S WAY MORE TO LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM THAN TO DISLIKE, AND YOUR KIDS WILL SIMPLY EAT IT UP (CAREFUL WITH THE REAL SMALL ONES, THOUGH.  WHEN THE “GREEN ONE” FINALLY APPEARS AND WE GET SOME GOOD CLOSE-UPS OF HER FLYING “BABOONS,” THE IMAGES CAN BE TERRIFYING).  ANY AMOUNT OF MONEY YOU’LL SPEND GOING ON THIS JOURNEY OVER THE RAINBOW WITH WILL IN THE END PROVE TO BE VERY MUCH WORTH IT.   


WARM BODIES ****

IN THIS MOST BIZARRE OF MOVIE YEARS THAT IS 2013 SO FAR, WE GO FROM HAVING TO WRITE ABOUT AN R-RATED ACTION COMEDY WHOSE TITLE MIGHT ATTRACT EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE AUDIENCE THAN IT WAS MADE FOR TO THE BEST CONCEIVED, BEST WRITTEN, AND MOST EMOTIONALLY SATISFYING MOVIE I’VE SEEN IN  YEARS THAT MANY WHO WOULD LOVE IT MAY NOT SEE SIMPLY BECAUSE OF ITS TITLE AND SUBJECT MATTER.  WHODATHUNKIT, HUH? AFTER ALL, ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE FILMS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE TERRIFYING AND DISGUSTING AND FILLED WITH VIOLENCE AND HORRIFIC IMAGES, RIGHT?  NOT SO IN THIS ONE!  WELL, AT LEAST NOT IN ANY OVERWHELMING SENSE.  IN FACT, JONATHAN LEVINE, ITS WRITER AND DIRECTOR, HAS DONE SOMETHING THAT EITHER MAKES US WRITERS INSANELY ENVIOUS OR IMMENSELY INSPIRED (OR MAYBE SOME OF BOTH) BY HITTING A CURRENTLY ‘IN-THING” SUB-GENRE (THE ZOMBIE FILM) AT THE HEIGHT OF ITS POPULARITY, BUT GIVING IT SUCH A FRESH TWIST THAT IT BECOMES IRRESISTIBLE, EVEN TO GUYS LIKE ME WHO TEND TO DETEST THE WHOLE ZOMBIE FAD.  SO HOW ABOUT A ZOMBIE ROMANTIC COMEDY LOOSELY BASED ON ROMEO AND JULIET, WITH CURRENT HOTTIE NICHOLAS HOULT (X-MEN FIRST CLASS, SKINS, ETC.) STARRING AS R.,(ROMEO?) A ZOMBIE WHO CAN’T REMEMBER HIS FORMER  NAME, BUT FOR SOME REASON LONGS FOR LOVE AND MEANING, FALLING FOR JULIE (JULIET?), A HUMAN WHO R SAVES FROM BECOMING ZOMBIE FOOD AFTER HE AND SOME FELLOW UNDEAD ATTACK HER SCOUT TEAM AND HE DE-BRAINS HER FORMER BOYFRIEND.  AND SHE, OF COURSE, IS THE DAUGHTER OF GRIGIO (JOHN MALKOVICH), THE LEADER OF THE LAST SURVIVING HUMAN COLONY IN THE AREA, WHO GIVES ZOMBIES A BULLET TO THE HEAD FIRST AND ASKS QUESTIONS LATER.  LOVE BLOOMS FROM THIS UNLIKELY SEED THAT ULTIMATELY CAUSES CHANGES THAT TURN EVERYONE’S WORLD UPSIDE DOWN AS BOTH HUMANS AND EX-HUMANS  MUST COME TOGETHER TO DEFEAT A COMMON ENEMY.  AND THANKFULLY, UNLIKE SHAKESPEARE’S PLAY, THE STAGE ISN’T LITTERED WITH THE BODIES OF TOO MANY OF THE  PROTAGONISTS AT THE END.  HOULT AND TERESA PALMER (THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE, I AM NUMBER FOUR) AS JULIE HAVE A SWEET, EASY CHEMISTRY THAT LEADS THEM SEAMLESSLY FROM BEING ANTAGONISTS TO LOVERS, YET ALSO ALLOWS THEM FLASHES OF SURPRISING STRENGTH AND RESOLVE AS THEIR CHARACTERS TENACIOUSLY GUARD THEIR FLEDGLING RELATIONSHIP FROM PREJUDICES ON ALL SIDES.  AND LEVINE’S SCRIPT, BASED ON A NOVEL BY ISAAC MARION, MOSTLY THROUGH SIDE CHARACTERS AND R’S NUMEROUS VOICE-OVERS, PROVIDES FREQUENT CHUCKLES, EXPLOITING EVERY OPPORTUNITY IT CAN TO POKE TEASING FUN AT THE WHOLE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE PREMISE.  THIS IS MOVIE ENTERTAINMENT AT ITS VERY BEST, A FILM THAT, FAR FROM BEING SCARED OF, YOU SHOULD RUSH TO AS SOON AS YOU CAN AND BASK FOR A COUPLE HOURS IN GLORIOUS, MOVIE-GOING SUNSHINE AFTER SUCH A DANK AND GLOOMY START TO 2013.  FOR TEENAGERS ON UP, THIS DEFINITELY FALLS IN THE “MUST SEE” CATEGORY.       


HANSEL AND GRETEL; WITCH-HUNTERS **1/2

INTERESTING HOW, AFTER THE STELLAR MOVIE YEAR THAT WAS 2012, I LEAD OFF 2013 BY REVIEWING HERE A MOVIE WHICH IS ENTIRELY INAPPROPRIATE FOR A FAMILY AUDIENCE.  YUP, THAT’S HOW BAD THE YEAR’S STARTED OFF FOR FAMILY-FRIENDLY/FOUR-QUADRANT FILMS.  WHAT’S EVEN WORSE IS THAT IT’S THE LAST WEEKEND OF JANUARY AND THE OUTLOOK FOR FEBRUARY DOESN’T LOOK ANY BETTER.  THE NEXT THREE “BIG” FILMS TO COME OUT OVER THE NEXT COUPLE WEEKS ARE A SYLVESTER STALLONE ACTION FILM (BULLET TO THE HEAD), BRUCE WILLIS’S NEW DIE HARD FILM, AND A CREEPY VERSION OF YA NOVEL BEAUTIFUL CREATURES.  HOLLYWOOD NORMALLY GOES OSCAR-CRAZY AT THIS TIME OF YEAR WITH THEATERS SHOWING ALMOST NOTHING SAVE ACADEMY AWARD HOPEFULS AND THE USUAL FARE OF ADULT, R-RATED ACTION COMEDIES AND THRILLERS, BUT THIS YEAR, SEEMS ESPECIALLY BAD .  AH WELL... INTERESTINGLY, THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT THIS MOVIE IS--A VERY ADULT ACTION-COMEDY ABOUT A COUPLE OF RENAISSANCE-ERA WITCH-HUNTERS OUT TO FIND THE STOLEN CHILDREN OF A VILLAGE WHOSE MAYOR BELIEVES THAT THE KIDNAPPINGS ARE THE WORK OF WITCHES.  AND LIKE MOST ACTION-COMEDIES, IT’S VIOLENT, EXCEEDINGLY BLOODY, IS FILLED WITH TERRIFYING IMAGES, AND EVEN A NUMBER OF F-BOMBS.  SO WHY DO I REVIEW IT IN THIS COLUMN??  WELL, THE TITLE OF COURSE; HANSEL AND GRETEL.  ISN’T THAT A CHILDREN’S FAIRY TALE ABOUT A COUPLE OF KIDS LOST IN THE FOREST WHO FIND A HOUSE OF CANDY AND KILL AN EVIL WITCH THAT WANTS TO EAT THEM?  UM, YEAH, BUT...  THAT’S ACTUALLY WHERE THIS STORY STARTS, AND THE CANDY HOUSE IS SO RICH IT  GIVES HANSEL A LIFETIME OF BLOOD-SUGAR PROBLEMS, BUT LET’S BE LOUD AND CLEAR HERE: DESPITE THE TITLE, THIS IS NO FAMILY FILM!!!!  THOUGH ADULTS AND OLDER TEENS WILL MOST LIKELY GET A KICK OUT OF THE ADULT HANSEL AND GRETEL SLASHING, BASHING, AND BLASTING HORRIFIC-LOOKING WITCHES WITH WEAPONS RANGING FROM A SOUPED-UP VERSION OF THE GOOD OLD SAWED-OFF SHOTGUN TO MECHANICALLY ENHANCED CROSSBOWS AND A MACHINE GUN,, THE BLOOD-SPLATTERING AND HEAD-SQUASHING (NOT TO MENTION THE LANGUAGE), IS LIABLE TO BE WAY TOO MUCH FOR MOST ANYONE YOUNGER.  TOO BAD THE PARENTS OF THE EIGHT PRE-TEENS (INCLUDING SEVERAL KIDS THAT WERE PRE-SCHOOL) THAT WERE IN MY AUDIENCE DIDN’T KNOW THAT (OR CHOSE TO IGNORE THE R-RATING).  IT MIGHT HAVE SPARED THEM THE EXPENSE, AS IT SEEMS MOST LEFT BEFORE THE SHOW WAS OVER (OR AT LEAST WE HOPE THEY DID).  SPARKLED UP WITH FUN PERFORMANCES BY A COUPLE TOP-OF-THE-LINE ACTORS (JEREMY RENNER,MY HOMETOWN BOY FROM MODESTO, AND GEMMA ARTERTON FROM CLASH OF THE TITANS), THIS GAVE MY FRIEND AND I A LOT OF LAUGHS AND A LOT OF “EEWWS”, AS IT DID FOR MANY IN THE AUDIENCE AROUND US, BUT WE’RE ADULTS.  WILL FERRELL IS ONE OF THE PRODUCERS, FOR PETE’S SAKE.  PLEASE, DON’T BE FOOLED BY THE TITLE.  HIDE THE BABIES AND CHILDREN, THEN GO ENJOY A FUN PIECE OF ACTION FILM-MAKING IF THAT’S YOUR THING.


ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH *1/2

THIS SNOOZER OF AN ANIMATED FILM ABOUT SUPERHERO SCORCH FROM THE PLANET BAAB AND HIS NERDY BROTHER WHO TRAVEL TO EARTH TO RESCUE CAPTURED ALIENS FROM A NEFARIOUS HUMAN GENERAL HAS THE MOST UNINTERESTING CHARACTERS, THE MOST UNINSPIRING PLOT, AND THE MOST HACKED JOKEY LINES I’VE SEEN OR HEARD IN YEARS.  YES, THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SOMETHING DONE BY PIXAR OR DREAMWORKS AND SOMETHING DONE BY A COUPLE COMPANIES CALLED GRF PRODUCTIONS AND RAINMAKER ENTERTAINMENT AND DISTRIBUTED BY INDIE SPECIALISTS THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY. ONE MIGHT BE THAT THIS SHOW’S SCRIPT WAS REPORTEDLY REVISED OVER 17 TIMES DURING FILMING, THE DIRECTOR WAS REPLACED MID-STREAM, AND THE ORIGINAL CREATORS JUST SETTLED A LAWSUIT WITH THE WEINSTEINS FOR HOW BADLY THE FILM WAS BOTCHED--AND AT WHAT EXPENSE THAT WAS DONE.  BUT STILL, THERE’S ENOUGH CUTENESS TO CAPTIVATE YOUNG KIDDIES AND ENOUGH YUCK-YUCK ONE-LINERS FOR ADULTS THAT IT COULD BRING SOME ENJOYMENT TO A LESS-DISCRIMINATING FAMILY AUDIENCE.  AND WITH NOTHING ELSE IN THEATERS RIGHT NOW THAT EVEN APPROACHES A FAMILY-SAFE MOVIE, IT’S EVEN MAKING A BIT OF MONEY.  BUT DON’T BE FOOLED BY THAT.  OR THE FINE VOICE CAST THAT MIGHT BE ADVERTISED (INCLUDING BRENDAN FRASER, ROB CORDDRY, SARAH JESSICA PARKER, JESSICA ALBA, RICKY GERVAIS, JANE LYNCH, AND EVEN WILLIAM SHATNER IN AN UNFORTUNATELY SUBDUED ROLE AS THE GENERAL).  SAVE YOUR BUCKS FOR MORE PROMISING UPCOMING FARE LIKE JACK, THE GIANT SLAYER OR OZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL AND SPEND A NIGHT AT HOME WITH SOMETHING LIKE THE INCREDIBLES IF YOU’RE INTO ALIEN SUPERPOWER STUFF.  DON’T WASTE IT ON THIS WASTE OF $40 MILLION DOLLARS (ESTIMATED COST OF PRODUCTION).


BEAUTIFUL CREATURES **

WHEN A SEQUEL TO ALICE IN WONDERLAND WAS MARVELOUSLY PRODUCED BY TIM BURTON AND DISNEY AND GROSSED OVER A BILLION DOLLARS IN TICKET SALES, HOLLYWOOD IMMEDIATELY BEGAN SNAPPING UP DARKER, REVISIONIST TAKES ON EVERY FAIRY TALE FROM SNOW WHITE TO JACK AND THE BEANSTALK HOPING TO STRIKE SIMILAR GOLD.  THIS HAS, OF COURSE, LED TO WHAT IS NOW A SLOUGH OF FAIRY-TALE REMAKES THAT HAVE QUICKLY BORED AUDIENCES WITH THEIR LACK OF ORIGINALITY AND BLAND STORIES (E.G. MIRROR, MIRROR, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, BEASTLY, RED RIDING HOOD, HANSEL AND GRETEL; WITCH-HUNTERS, ETC.). NONE COULD BE CONSIDERED ANYTHING MORE THAN A MODEST HIT, AND OF THIS YEAR’S CROP, ONLY OZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (AGAIN DONE BY DISNEY) SEEMS TO HAVE ANY SHOT AT BIG BOX OFFICE NUMBERS.  SIMILARLY, WHEN TWILIGHT AND THE HUNGER GAMES BECAME HUGE HITS, HOLLYWOOD BEGAN A FEEDING FRENZY OVER YOUNG ADULT NOVEL SERIES, HOPING TO FIND AMONGST THIS BEWILDERING MYRIAD OF STORIES ANOTHER TICKET TO BOX OFFICE RICHES.  WE ARE NOW SEEING THE FIRST OF THESE ADAPTATIONS HIT THE SCREEN WITH THIS FILM, AND THE RESULTS, I FEAR, ARE JUST AS BORING AND BLAND AS THE FAIRY TALE IMITATIONS.  BEAUTIFUL CREATURES IS ESSENTIALLY TWILIGHT TURNED UPSIDE DOWN, WITH A NERDY, NOWHERE HIGH SCHOOL BOY, ETHAN, FALLING HEAD-OVER-HEALS IN LOVE WITH A QUIET, BEAUTIFUL GIRL, LENA, WHO FOR SOME REASON HAS THE POWER TO BLOW OUT ALL THE WINDOWS IN HER ENGLISH CLASS WHEN SHE GETS HACKED OFF.  WE’RE THEN TAKEN INTO THE MYSTERIOUS AND IMPOSSIBLY CONVOLUTED WORLD OF THE CASTOR FAMILY, HEADED BY PATRIARCH MACON, WHERE EVERYBODY HAS SUPERNATURAL POWERS, SOME ENDOWED BY THE “LIGHT” AND OTHERS, FOR REASONS TOO WEIRD TO EVEN TRY TO COMPREHEND, GIFTED BY THE “DARK.” LENA’S PARANOID OF DISCOVERING ON HER 16TH BIRTHDAY THAT HER GIFTS WILL COME FROM THE DARK SIDE (OF THE FORCE??) AND ETHAN ATTEMPTS TO RESCUE HER FROM THIS THROUGH THE POWER OF HIS FAITH IN HER GOODNESS. LA-DEE-DA...  THE MOVIE’S MYTHOLOGY IS SO WEIRD AND ITS CHARACTERS SO BIZARRE THAT NOT EVEN SUPPORTING ACTORS LIKE JEREMY IRONS AND EMMA THOMPSON  CAN SALVAGE MUCH FLARE FROM THIS FLICKERING FLAME OF A FILM. WHEN MY 14 YEAR-OLD COMPANION TOLD ME AFTERWARDS THAT THE STORY WAS “ABOUT 85% DIFFERENT FROM THE BOOK” I GOT SOME INKLING AS TO WHY THINGS SEEMED SO OFF, AND IT MAKES ME FEAR FOR THE FUTURE.  FOR HOLLYWOOD’S YA NOVEL FRENZY IS JUST GETTING STARTED, WITH EACH BOOK SERIES RIFE WITH VIOLENT, PROFANE, AND SEXUAL EDGINESS ALL WRAPPED UP AROUND SOME WEIRD MYTHOLOGY EITHER FROM FANTASY WORLDS, SI-FI WORLDS, THE “UNDEAD” GENRE, THE SUPERNATURAL, THE PARANORMAL, OR A POST-APOCALYPTIC NIGHTMARE  THAT MAY OR MAY NOT BE TRANSLATED COMPREHENSIBLY INTO A MOVIE.  THE PRODUCERS OF TWILIGHT AND THE HUNGER GAMES WERE SUCCESSFUL BECAUSE THEIR STORIES REMAINED FAITHFUL TO THE SOURCE MATERIAL AND STELLAR CASTS MADE THE BOOKS’ CHARACTERS COME ALIVE IN WAYS THAT FASCINATED ITS FANS.  THE PRODUCERS OF BEAUTIFUL CREATURES TOOK THE “IMPROVE ON” OR “REIMAGINE” THE BOOK APPROACH, AND THUS DOOMED THEIR FILM IN SPITE OF ITS FINE CAST.  REIMAGINING FAIRY TALES IS GENERALLY NOT WORKING FOR HOLLYWOOD (ESPECIALLY COMPARED TO THE ENORMOUS COSTS OF THE FILMS), AND RE-IMAGINING YOUNG ADULT NOVELS WON’T WORK EITHER IF THEY CAN’T BE DONE WITH MORE SKILL AND FAITHFULNESS TO THE SOURCE MATERIAL (AND THE CORE AUDIENCE OF READERS) THAN BEAUTIFUL CREATURES. IF YOU MUST KNOW THIS STORY, SPEND YOUR MONEY ON THE BOOK, NOT ON THE MOVIE.


2012


PARENTAL GUIDANCE ***

SAD TO SAY, BUT THIS WAS THE ONLY FAMILY-ORIENTATED FILM TO COME OUT AROUND CHRISTMAS (SAVE A 3-D REHASH OF PIXAR’S MONSTERS, INC.).  STILL, THOUGH, IT WAS A WORTHY EFFORT, AND HOPEFULLY DIDN’T GET TOO LOST IN THE HUBUB OF R-RATED AWARDS SHOWS AND MORE ADULT-ISH BLOCKBUSTERS LIKE LES MISERABLES AND THE HOBBIT.  IN THIS FILM, BILLY CRYSTAL AND BETTE MIDLER COME BACK TO THE BIG SCREEN (AFTER LONG ABSENCES FOR EACH) TO PLAY “THE OTHER GRANDPARENTS” WHO GET TO TAKE CARE OF DAUGHTER MARISA TOMEI’S THREE KIDS WHILE SHE AND HER HUBBY GET SOME RARE TIME TO GET AWAY ON THEIR OWN.  PLENTY OF TROUBLE (AND LAUGHS) ENSUE WHEN THE GRANDPARENTS‘ MORE TRADITIONAL AND DISCIPLINED WAYS OF DEALING WITH CHILDREN RUN AFOUL OF THEIR DAUGHTER’S NEW-FANGLED, BY-THE-LATEST-BOOK-ON-PARENTING PRACTICES.  NOT SURPRISINGLY, AND FREQUENTLY HILARIOUSLY, THE MOVIE TAKES RAPIER-LIKE JABS AT MODERN-DAY HELICOPTER PARENTING, WITH CRYSTAL ESPECIALLY SPICING UP A FAIRLY PREDICTABLE SCRIPT WITH ZINGING ONE-LINERS AND MIDLER GOING BEYOND THE CALL AS WELL.  A WINNING CAST OF KIDS, LED BY 13 YEAR-OLD BAILEE MADISON, WHO WAS JUST SO GOOD IN LAST YEAR’S HOLIDAY FAMILY MOVIE JUST GO WITH IT WITH ADAM SANDLER,, DO A TERRIFIC JOB, MAKING SOMETHING SPECIAL OUT OF WHAT OTHERWISE IS A PRETTY TYPICAL PREMISE AND PLOT.  HERE’S AN AFTERNOON’S ENTERTAINMENT THAT WILL HAVE BOTH THE KIDS AND THE PARENTS CHUCKLING THROUGHOUT--IF YOU CAN STILL FIND IT IN A THEATER (IT’S STILL IN A COUPLE IN MY AREA). 


THE HOBBIT ***1/2 AND LES MISERABLES ***

THESE TWO FILMS AREN’T NECESSARILY FAMILY FARE, BUT I SAW PLENTY OF KIDS GOING TO EACH AND SO I WANTED TO ADD A FEW COMMENTS ON THEM FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO MAY NOT HAVE SEEN THEM AND MIGHT BE CONSIDERING TAKING THE FAMILY.  FIRST OF ALL, BOTH ARE SUPERB FILMS.  I GIVE A BIT MORE OF A NOD TO THE HOBBIT BECAUSE ITS STORY IS MORE FANCIFUL AND ATTRACTIVE TO ALL AGES THAN LE MIZ WITH MUCH MORE ACTION, JAW-DROPPING SPECIAL EFFECTS, AND GORGEOUSLY CAPTURED SCENIC VISTAS THAT JUST NEVER SEEM TO LEAVE THE SCREEN.  A PREQUEL TO THE MONUMENTAL LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY, IT FEATURES SOME OF THE SAME CHARACTERS, AND UNFORTUNATELY PARALLELS THE PLOT A BIT TOO MUCH AS WELL.  BUT IF YOU CAN LOOK BEYOND THIS MINOR WEAKNESS, THIS IS A MASTERFULLY DONE FILM AND ONE THAT MANY IN THE FAMILY WILL ENJOY, EVEN SOME SHARP, WELL-READ 8-10 YEAR-OLDS.  LE MIZ, WHILE BILLED AS A MUSICAL, IS ACTUALLY AN ELABORATE OPERA WHERE THERE IS VIRTUALLY NO TALKING AT ALL.  EVERYTHING IS SUNG, AND IN MANY CASES SUNG EXTREMELY WELL.  BASED ON THE SMASH BROADWAY MUSICAL THAT’S FIRST HIT THEATERS IN 1985 AND HAS SINCE BEEN SEEN BY OVER 60 MILLION PEOPLE LIVE ON-STAGE, IT’S A FORMIDABLE VERSION THAT GETS SOME GREAT PERFORMANCES BY STARS LIKE HUGH JACKMAN,SAMANTHA BARKS, AND ESPECIALLY ANNE HATHAWAY AND IS VERY EMOTIONALLY MOVING AND SWEEPINGLY FILMED.  THE STORY, HOWEVER, IS SUCH A DISMAL SERIES OF TRAGEDIES AND HEARTBREAKS WITH BARELY A HINT OF WHIMSY (THOUGH SASHA BARON COHEN AND HELENA BONHAM CARTER TRY HARD AS A COUPLE OF CROOKED INNKEEPERS) THAT IT’S JUST TOO MUCH OF A DOWNER FOR ME TO REALLY RECOMMEND AS A FOUR-QUADRANT FILM.  CERTAINLY THEATER BUFFS OF ALL AGES AND FANS OF THE LIVE SHOW WILL RUSH TO IT IN DROVES AND BE MOVED ONCE AGAIN AND DEBATE ITS DEVIATIONS FROM THE PLAY AND THE CASTING (RUSSELL CROWE AS THE VILLAINOUS JAVERT AND AMANDA SEYFRIED AS COSETTE HAVE PARTICULARLY SPARKED CONTROVERSY AMONG FANS), BUT FOR THE REST OF US, ALL THE HEAVY STUFF, ALL THE SINGING, AND ITS OVER TWO AND A HALF HOUR LENGTH CAN BECOME A BIT MIUCH. USE SOME DISCRETION WHEN TAKING SMALLER CHILDREN OR KIDS THAT CAN’T GET INTO SOME PRETTY ADULT-LEVEL DRAMA.     


RED DAWN **1/2

BEFORE CHRIS HEMSWORTH WAS THOR IN THOR AND THE AVENGERS, AND BEFORE JOSH HUTCHERSON WAS PEETA IN THE HUNGER GAMES, THEY BOTH STARRED IN THIS YOUNG ADULT ACTION PIC THAT WAS A REMAKE OF AN 80’S-ERA MOVIE OF THE SAME NAME ABOUT A RUSSIAN INVASION OF THE UNITED STATES.  IN THE REMAKE, THE RUSSIANS BECAME THE CHINESE, AND THEN, WHEN THE USA BECAME SO DEPENDENT ON CHINESE LABOR FOR VIRTUALLY EVERYTHING WE BUY AND HOLLYWOOD BEGAN SALIVATING OVER THE POTENTIAL OF SHOWING ITS FILMS TO CHINA’S MASSIVE AUDIENCE OF OVER 1.3 BILLION PEOPLE, THE CHINESE BECAME THE NORTH KOREANS. THAT WAS BACK IN 2009.  THEN THE MOVIE’S DISTRIBUTOR, MGM, WENT BANKRUPT, AND ARMIES OF HOLLYWOOD LAWYERS WENT TO WORK DECIDING WHAT TO DO WITH MGM PROPERTIES THAT WERE ALREADY “IN THE CAN” AS THEY SAY.  SO NOW, FINALLY, WE GET THE REMAKE OF RED DAWN OUT INTO THEATERS.  THOUGH NOT PARTICULARLY COMPELLING OR OUTSTANDING AND BASED ON AN ANTIQUATED AND ALMOST LUDICROUS PREMISE (NORTH KOREA INVADING THE USA, EVEN WITH RUSSIAN HELP, AS INSINUATED HERE, SIMPLY ISN’T PLAUSIBLE), IT DOES WORK WELL FOR FANS OF ACTION FILMS OR OF ITS STARS, (WHICH ALSO INCLUDE JOSH PECK AND SEVERAL OTHER NOW WELL-ESTABLISHED YA STARS)  AND IT’S  INFINITELY MORE SATISFYING THAN THE ORIGINAL, WHICH STARRED PATRICK SWAYZE, C.THOMAS HOWELL, AND OTHERS. DESPITE THE JITTERY, HAND-HELD CAMERA FILMING THAT MADE SOME SCENES VIRTUALLY INCOMPREHENSIBLE, MY FRIEND AND I FOUND THIS A LOT OF FUN AND A BIT NOSTALGIC AS WELL..  VIOLENT, YET NOT OVER-THE-TOP OR GRUESOME, THIS IS A COOL ACTION FILM THAT SHOULD PROVIDE A DECENT AFTERNOON’S ENTERTAINMENT IF YOU’RE A FAN OF THE GENRE, OR EVEN THE ORIGINAL MOVIE.. 


RISE OF THE GUARDIANS **1/2

WHEN I FIRST SAW TRAILERS FOR THIS FILM BACK IN SEPTEMBER (PLEASE NOTE THE DATE...), I COULDN’T WAIT TO SEE IT.  BUT BY THE TIME I’D SEEN THE SAME TRAILERS OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN FOR THE NEXT TWO MONTHS, I’M AFRAID I WAS ALREADY TIRING OF IT.  THAT MAY BE ONE OF THE REASONS WHY THIS FILM JUST DIDN’T SATISFY ME LIKE I WANTED IT TO.  OR MAYBE IT WAS HOW SERIOUS IT SEEMED TO TAKE ITSELF, WITH SEVERAL OF ITS CHILDHOOD HEROES SUFFERING FROM ADULT-LIKE NEUROSES AND FEELINGS OF INADEQUACY.  OR MAYBE HOW DERIVATIVE IT WAS WITH SANTA’S ELVES BEHAVING UNCANNILY LIKE GRU’S MINIONS IN DESPICABLE ME.OR MAYBE IT WAS BECAUSE I JUST DIDN’T FIND ITS HERO, JACK FROST, TO BE VERY LIKABLE.  BUT THE FACT REMAINS THAT, DESPITE AWESOME ANIMATION, AMAZING VISUALS, DELIGHTFUL MUSIC, AND A VOICE CAST TO DIE FOR (CHRIS PINE, ALEC BALDWIN, HUGH JACKMAN, AND JUDE LAW, AMONG OTHERS(, RISE OF THE GUARDIANS LEFT ME FLAT IN THE END.  THERE DIDN’T SEEM TO BE MUCH ENTHUSIASM IN THE AUDIENCE I SAW IT WITH EITHER, NOR IN THE AUDIENCE AS A WHOLE, AS IT UNDERPERFORMED BOX OFFICE EXPECTATIONS BADLY OVER ITS OPENING WEEKEND AND EVEN CAUSED DREAMWORKS ANIMATION STOCK TO TANK AS A RESULT.  VARIOUS MOVIE MASTERS HAVE SAID THAT “IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THE STORY,” AND THIS ONE, BASED ON A BOOK SERIES BY WILLIAM JOYCE, ABOUT AN ALLIANCE OF CHILDREN’S MYTHOLOGICAL CREATURES, INCLUDING SANTA, THE EASTER BUNNY, THE TOOTH FAIRY, THE SANDMAN, AND A WAYWARD JACK FROST, WHO MUST STOP THE EVIL PITCH (AS IN PITCH BLACK) FROM FILLING THE HEADS OF THE WORLD’S CHILDREN WITH NIGHTMARES, JUST NEVER SEEMS TO GET OFF THE GROUND.  THE FUNNY MOMENTS AREN’T THAT FUNNY, THE SERIOUS ONES TOO SERIOUS, THE SCARY ONES NOT THAT SCARY, AND THE MOVIE’S CLIMAX NOT THAT CLIMACTIC.  BEING THE ONLY HOLIDAY MOVIE FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY IN THEATERS THROUGH THE CHRISTMAS SEASON, I’M SURE THIS WILL DO PLENTY OF BUSINESS.  I JUST HOPE THAT OTHERS WHO SEE IT COME AWAY WITH MORE THAN I DID.  A WELL-INTENTIONED, WELL-MADE FANTASY THAT IN THE END JUST DIDN’T SEEM WELL-TOLD ENOUGH TO MOVE ME LIKE I’D HOPED.


TWILIGHT; BREAKING DAWN, PART 2 ***1/2

THE BEST IS SAVED FOR LAST IN THIS, THE FINAL CHAPTER IN THE FIVE-FILM TWILIGHT SAGA BASED ON THE GAZILLION-SELLING YOUNG ADULT BOOK SERIES ABOUT BROODING WEREWOLVES, SPARKLY VAMPIRES, AND THE PLAIN-JANE TEENAGER WHO BEFRIENDS ONE AND FALLS IN LOVE WITH ANOTHER. IN THIS LAST INSTALLMENT, BELLA SWAN (KRISTEN STEWART) IS A PLAIN JANE NO MORE, BUT NOW A POWERFUL, NEWBORN VAMPIRE, CHANGED BY HER CHIVALROUS VAMP HUSBAND EDWARD CULLEN (ROBERT PATTINSON).  THEY ALSO HAVE A CHILD, RENESMEE, AND HEREIN IS THE PROBLEM, FOR THE VOLTARI, THE WORLD RULING COUNCIL OF VAMPIRES, ASSUMES THE CHILD IS A CHANGED (AND THEREFORE IMMORTAL) CHILD WHICH CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO LIVE BECAUSE OF THE WANTON DESTRUCTION THAT SUCH A CREATURE WREAKS UPON THE WORLD, USING ITS AWESOME VAMPIRE POWERS WITH CHILD-LIKE FRIVOLITY AND PRECOCIOUSNESS.  WHEN THE CULLEN CLAN CANNOT CONVINCE ARO, THE HEAD OF THE VOLTARI, THAT THEIR CHILD IS NATURALLY BORN AND THEREFORE NOT IMMORTAL, A FINAL BATTLE ROYALE IS INEVITABLE.  THE MASTERFULLY-WRITTEN SCRIPT BY MELISSA ROSENBERG (WHO WROTE ALL THE PRECEDING SCRIPTS IN THE SERIES AS WELL) DELIVERS ON ALL LEVELS AS SHE ONCE AGAIN SKILLFULLY PARALLELS MEYER’S BOOK. THE TENSION BUILDS TO THE CLIMACTIC BATTLE AND THEN, SHOCKINGLY, SHE USES ONE OF THE MOST HATED TECHNIQUES IN STORY-TELLING WITH DEVASTATING EFFECTIVENESS TO PRODUCE A LITERALLY JAW-DROPPING CLIMAX. I HAVEN’T HEARD SO MUCH SPONTANEOUS CHEERING, JEERING, AND GASPING FROM AN AUDIENCE SINCE PROBABLY THE LAST TIME I SAW A ROCKY MOVIE IN THE THEATER.  AND ROCK IS WHAT THIS FILM DOES.  THOUGH THERE’S NOTHING PARTICULARLY COMPELLING OR OUTSTANDING IN ITS EXECUTION (ASIDE FROM THE AFORE-MENTIONED WRITING), IT IS A ROUSING CROWD-PLEASER THAT’S A FITTING END TO ONE OF THE MOST GROUND-BREAKING AND PROFITABLE MOVIE FRANCHISES OF ALL TIME.  IF YOU’VE NEVER SEEN A TWILIGHT MOVIE, THIS IS THE ONE TO GET YOUR FEET WET WITH, AND IF YOU’RE A FAN, YOU SIMPLY CAN’T MISS IT! 


WRECK-IT RALPH ***1/2

THIS FILM, A PLEASANTLY-SURPRISING EFFORT FROM DISNEY ANIMATION, ENTERTAINS KIDS WITH IT’S CUTE LITTLE STORY ABOUT A BAD GUY WHO WANTS TO BE A “GOOD GUY” HERO AND ITS WACKY WORLD OF CUTE AND KOOKY CHARACTERS WHILE IT ENTERTAINS ADULTS WITH ITS QUAINTLY NOSTALGIC LOOK BACK INTO THE WORLD OF ARCADE (NO, I DIDN’T SAY “ARCANE”) VIDEO GAMES.  FOR THOSE READERS TOO YOUNG TO REMEMBER, THERE WAS A TIME WHEN YOU COULDN’T PLAY VIDEO GAMES ON YOUR HOME COMPUTER OR WITH A TOUCH OF YOUR WII REMOTE.HAVE IT SPLAYED ALL OVER YOUR 50-INCH FLATSCREEN.  VIDEO GAMES COST MONEY AND HAD TO BE PLAYED IN AN ARCADE, AND DIDN’T INVOLVE ALL THE ELABORATE VIRTUAL REALITY SEATING, HEADGEAR, ETC., THAT ARE COMMON IN TODAY’S ARCADES.  THEY WERE SIMPLY GOOFY LITTLE GAMES POPULATED BY CUTE LITTLE PIXELATED CHARACTERS, AND DOING WELL INVOLVED A LOT MORE LUCK THAN IT DID SKILL.  EACH HAD A GOOD GUY TRYING TO OVERCOME SOMEHOW ONE OR MORE BAD GUYS AND SCORE TONS OF POINTS IN THE PROCESS.  IT’S INTO THIS WORLD THAT WE ARE LITERALLY PLUNGED IN THIS FILM. WRECK-IT RALPH IS THE BAD GUY WHO SHOWERS AN APARTMENT BUILDING WITH BRICKS WHILE THE GAME’S HERO, FIX-IT FELIX JR., GOES AROUND REPAIRING ALL THE DAMAGE RALPH CAUSES WHILE DODGING CASCADING BRICKS.  RALPH, SICK OF BEING A BAD GUY AND LONGING FOR THE ADULATION THAT COME WITH BEING A HERO, FINALLY GETS FED UP AND JUMPS GAMES, EARNS A MEDAL FOR HEROISM IN A MILITARY GAME, THEN LOSES IT WHEN HE STUMBLES INTO A SILLY LITTLE KIDS GAME CALLED SUGAR RUSH WHICH FEATURES LITTLE GIRLS RACING CARS THROUGH A LAND MADE ENTIRELY OF CANDY AND RULED BY AN OZ-LIKE OLD GEEK NAMED KING CANDY.  AS RALPH ALLIES HIMSELF WITH PESKY SUGAR RUSH “GLITCH” VENNELOPE TO GET HIS MEDAL BACK, THE REST OF THE ARCADE WORLD IS APOPLECTIC AT THE IDEA OF SOMEONE STEPPING OUT OF HIS PLACE AND WANTING MORE, AND HIS OLD GAME FACES BEING SHUT DOWN NOW THAT IT HAS NO VILLAIN..  AND THUS THE MOVIE’S THEME BECOMES APPARENT, ITS PLOT PROCEEDS INEVITABLY TOWARD RALPH AND VENNELOPE’S SUCCESS, BUT NEVER LACKS FOR SURPRISES AND FUN LITTLE SIDE-TRIPS ALONG THE WAY, EITHER.  JOHN C. REILLY, WHO’S PLAYED THE CORN-PONE SIMPLETON TO THE TEE IN MANY A PREVIOUS FILM (SEVERAL OF WIL FERRELL’S FILMS, FOR EXAMPLE) IS VOICE-CAST PERFECTLY AS RALPH, AS IS SARAH SILVERMAN, THE COMEDIENNE OF A THOUSAND TALENTS (AND VOICES) WHO DOES VENNELOPE, JACK MACBRYER AS FELIX, “GLEE’S” TERRORIZING CHEER COACH JANE LYNCH AS THE TOUGH-GIRL SQUAD LEADER IN THE MILITARY GAME, AND ALAN TUDYK AS THE BABBLING KING CANDY. FULL OF FUN, LAUGHS, AND SWEETNESS, YET ALSO CARRYING A COMEDIC EDGE THAT NEVER QUITE CROSSES OVER INTO “OFF-COLOR” TERRITORY, THIS IS LITERALLY A PERFECT FAMILY FILM; SAFE AND ENJOYABLE FOR THE LITTLE ONES, HAS SOMETHING FOR BOTH THE GIRLS AND THE GUYS, AND WILL BE A NON-STOP HOOT FOR PARENTS WHO REMEMBER THE ARCADES OF THEIR YOUTH. SO DON’T BE AFRAID TO SPEND SOME BUCKS AND HAUL THE FAM TO THE THEATER.  WRECK-IT RALPH WON’T WRECK YOUR AFTERNOON, AND MAY ACTUALLY MAKE YOU FEEL GLAD YOU SPENT ALL THOSE BUCKS ON TICKETS AND REFRESHMENTS.  ENJOY!!    


FUN SIZE **

THIS NEW FILM FROM NICKELODEON MOVIES, NAMED FOR THOSE CUTE LITTLE “FUN-SIZE” CANDY BARS YOU GIVE OUT ON HALLOWEEN, HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH CANDY BARS AND, UNFORTUNATELY, VERY LITTLE TO DO WITH FUN EITHER.  IN A SORT OF WEIRD UPDATE OF THE MUCH MORE ENTERTAINING CLASSIC ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING, THIS STARS NICK TEEN IDOL VICTORIA JUSTICE IN HER FILM DEBUT AS NERDY TEEN  WREN WHOSE HALLOWEEN PLANS TO ATTEND THE PARTY OF A HIGH-SCHOOL HEART-THROB FIRST GO SOUTH WHEN SHE’S FORCED TO TAKE HER LUDICROUSLY MISCHIEVOUS LITTLE BROTHER ALBERT TRICK-OR-TREATING, AND THEN EVERY WHICH-WAY BUT A WAY THAT MAKES GOOD STORY SENSE WHEN HE TAKES OFF ON HER.  INBETWEEN THIS IMPROBABLE OPENING AND A MILDLY TOUCHING ENDING, WE GET ALBERT HANGING OUT WITH EVERYONE FROM A GEEKY CONVENIENCE STORE CLERK (THOMAS MIDDLEDITCH) WHO TAKES HIM ON A REVENGE MISSION ,TO A CUTE TEEN-AGE GIRL WHO’S DRESSED LIKE HIS FAVORITE SUPERHERO, TO A BIKER DUDE WHO KIDNAPS HIM, WREN FRANTICALLY CHASING ALL OVER TOWN TO FIND HIM WITH TWO GEEK FRIENDS (THOMAS MANN, OSRIC CHAU) WHO GET THEIR VOLVO DESTROYED BY A MECHANICAL CHICKEN, AND WREN’S GRIEVING MOM (CHELSEA HANDLER) HANGING OUT AT A PARTY FOR 20-SOMETHING SLOBS AND GETTING THERAPY FROM HER “BOYFRIEND’S” PARENTS.  IF ALL THIS SOUNDS TOTALLY WEIRD, DISJOINTED, AND NOT THE LEAST BIT COHESIVE, YOU’RE RIGHT, BECAUSE IT IS (AND ISN’T).  FOR MOST OF THE FILM, MY FRIENDS AND THE MINISCULE AUDIENCE WE SAW THIS WITH (WORD MUST HAVE GOTTEN AROUND) FOUND OURSELVES SHAKING OUR HEADS AT THE STUPIDITY OF IT ALL, THOUGH A FEW OF THE GAGS DID ELICIT SOME GOOD LAUGHS (CHAUS DUEL WITH A CHICKEN-PACKING BULLY WAS A HOWLER) AND JUSTICE MANAGED TO BE IMPRESSIVE DESPITE THE IDIOTIC SCRIPT.  TOO BAD THAT SUCH AN OBVIOUSLY TALENTED TEEN, NURTURED IN NICK’S SITCOM VICTORIOUS COULDN’T HAVE PICKED A BETTER VEHICLE TO MAKE THE JUMP TO FEATURE FILMS.  THIS IS NOT ONLY A BAD MOVIE, BUT WAY TOO RISQUE FOR HER LEGIONS OF TWEEN FANS TO EVEN UNDERSTAND, MUCH LESS APPRECIATE.  UNLESS YOU’RE AN ABSOLUTELY RABID FAN OF VICTORIA JUSTICE (AND AT LEAST 13) AND/OR INTO UTTER NONSENSE WHEN YOU GO TO THE MOVIES, SKIP THIS ONE AND SAVE YOUR DOUGH FOR THE MUCH BETTER FARE COMING OUT DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON.  FUN SIZE IS REALLY NO FUN AT ALL.


HERE COMES THE BOOM ***

ROCKY, AS IN “DOWN AND OUT FIGHTER MAKES A GREAT AND INSPIRATIONAL COMEBACK , ETC. ETC.” HAS BEEN MADE OVER AND OVER SO MANY TIMES THAT YOU’D THINK WE’D ALL BE PUKING HALF-WAY THROUGH (REAL STEEL COMES TO MIND AS A RECENT INCARNATION).  AND YET THE STORY OF A WASHED-UP, DISILLUSIONED HERO FINALLY FINDING HIM (OR HER) TRUE SELF AND COMING BACK FOR ONE LAST SHOT AT GLORY HAS A RESONANCE WITH AUDIENCES (INCLUDING THIS REVIEWER), THAT, LIKE CHOCOLATE AND ICE CREAM, WE JUST CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF IT.  AND SO HOLLYWOOD KEEPS CHURNING THEM OUT, AND WE KEEP SHOWING UP AND GETTING ALL CHOKED UP AT THE END, AND THIS NEW FILM FROM KEVIN JAMES AND ADAM SANDLER (PRODUCED BY THEIR RESPECTIVE COMPANIES) IS YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE.  THE SCENARIO IN THIS INCARNATION IS A FORMER NCAA WRESTLING CHAMP (JAMES), NOW A BURNED-OUT SCIENCE TEACHER, WHO FINDS HIS CAUSE WHEN HIS BUDDY THE SCHOOL MUSIC TEACHER (HENRY WINKLER IN A REAL FUN TURN) GETS A DOUBLE-WHAMMY; HIS WIFE GETS UNEXPECTEDLY PREGNANT AND HIS SCHOOL, FACING BUDGET CUTS, AXES THE MUSIC PROGRAM HE DIRECTS.  INFURIATED, JAMES’S CHARACTER, SCOTT VOSS, DETERMINES TO RAISE THE $50,000 NEEDED TO KEEP HIS FRIEND EMPLOYED AND CONTINUE TO SERVE THE SCHOOL’S MUSIC STUDENTS, MANY OF WHOM WOULD BE LOST WITHOUT IT.  WHEN HE DISCOVERS THAT EVEN LOSERS IN BIG-TIME PROFESSIONAL MMA (MIXED MARTIAL ARTS) FIGHTS GET $10,000 JUST TO GET THEIR BUTTS KICKED, YOU KNOW WHAT THE REST OF THE STORY’S GOING TO BE.  THE GOOD PARTS OF THIS RE-TELLING ARE THE CAST; JAMES, WINKLER, SALMA HAYEK, CHARICE (FROM GLEE),  AND A NUMBER OF MMA’S UFA LEAGUE PERSONALITIES, WHO BOTH HAVE A LOT OF FUN AND PUT A LOT OF HEART INTO THEIR PERFORMANCES, AND THE CLIMAX, WHICH IS AS MOVING AND INSPIRATIONAL AS ANY OF THE PREVIOUS VERSIONS OF THIS PREMISE.  THE NOT-SO-GOOD IS A HERKY-JERKY SCRIPT THAT AT TIMES SPUTTERS LIKE AN OLD MODEL T AND WAS OBVIOUSLY EDITED TO PIECES BY THE DIRECTOR.  THE CAGE FIGHTS ARE NASTY AND BLOODY (AS THEY ACTUALLY ARE),, AND JAMES THROWS IN A BIT TOO MANY AD-LIB LAUGHERS IN CLUNKY PLACES, BUT ULTIMATELY, THIS FILM INSPIRES AND SENDS YOU AWAY READY TO TAKE ON YOUR OWN UNBEATABLE FOES WITH RENEWED VIGOR.  AND ISN’T THAT REALLY WHY WE KEEP GOING TO SEE THIS SAME OLD MOVIE OVER AND OVER AGAIN ANYWAY?  WHILE THE FIGHTS, THE LANGUAGE, AND SOME OF THE JOKES AREN’T FOR THE LITTLE ONES, THIS IS A FRESH NEW TRIP THROUGH VERY FAMILIAR TERRITORY THAT IS AS FORMULAIC AS THEY COME, BUT STILL FILLED WITH LOTS OF FUN AND HEART.  GO AND GET INSPIRED (ONCE AGAIN).



FRANKENWEENIE ****

YOU KNOW YOU’RE EXPERIENCING SOMETHING UNIQUELY SPECIAL WHEN, AT THE SADDEST MOMENT IN A MOVIE, OUT FROM A HUSHED THEATER AUDIENCE COMES THE VOICE OF A SINGLE SMALL CHILD WAILING AT THE SCREEN “NO, NOT AGAIN!.”  YET THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED IN THE SHOWING THAT MY FRIENDS AND I WENT TO OF THIS UNIQUELY SPECIAL FILM, A WONDERFULLY QUIRKY STOP-ACTION ANIMATED HOMAGE BY DIRECTOR TIM BURTON TO CLASSIC GOTHIC HORROR MOVIES OF THE PAST, YET WITH A LIGHT, FAMILY-FRIENDLY TOUCH.  VERY LOOSELY BASED ON MARY SHELLEY’S GOTHIC HORROR CLASSIC FRANKENSTEIN AND ITS 1931 FILM ADAPTATION THAT STARRED BORIS KARLOFF, WE HAVE HERE THE STORY OF VICTOR, A YOUNG BOY FASCINATED WITH SCIENCE IN A TOWN STEEPED IN IGNORANCE, WHOSE DELIGHTFUL DOG SPARKY IS KILLED IN A TRAGIC ACCIDENT.  INSPIRED BY THE ELECTRICAL DEMONSTRATIONS OF HIS CREEPY, YET ENLIGHTENED TEACHER, VICTOR HEADS TO THE PET CEMETERY, DIGS UP HIS DOG, AND, IN A SCENE STRAIGHT OUT OF THE 1930’S FILM, ZAPS SPARKY BACK TO LIFE.  THINGS GO AWRY, THOUGH, WHEN SPARKY CAN’T KEEP HIS OWN SECRET AND THE TOWNSPEOPLE, INCLUDING VICTOR’S BULLY-ISH CLASSMATES, DISCOVER THE SHOCKING TRUTH.  DRAMATIC AS WELL AS FUNNY, RIB-TICKLING AND GUT-WRENCHING ALL AT THE SAME TIME, IT’S A BURTON FILM THAT HASN’T MOVED ME AS MUCH SINCE I FIRST SAW EDWARD SCISSORHANDS BACK IN 1990.  BUT THE STORY’S ONLY HALF THE EXPERIENCE HERE.  THE OTHER IS HOW, THROUGHOUT THE FILM, BURTON HAS WEAVED AN UNENDING STREAM OF SCENES THAT HARKEN BACK TO BOTH THE BEST AND MOST BIZARRE OF THE OLD MONSTER CLASSICS OF THE PAST.  FROM THE GHOULY BLACK-AND-WHITE FORMAT AND A FOUR-TOOTHED, HUNCHBACKED KID NAMED EDGAR E’GORE UTTERING “IT’S ALIVE!” TO A GIGANTIC, MUTATED TURTLE STOMPING THROUGH TOWN ALA GODZILLA ALL THE WAY UP TO A HOARD OF LITTLE NASTIES REMINISCENT OF THE GREMLINS AND A FREAKED OUT, NERDY JERK RUNNING INTO AN OUTHOUSE TO ESCAPE A MONSTER (WITH PREDICTABLE RESULTS--REMEMBER “JURASSIC PARK?”), BURTON GIVES US A LOVE-FEAST OF KOOKY, CREEPY, AND HEART-FELT TRIBUTES THAT FLOW OUT LIKE THE TIDE AS THE FILM ROLLS ALONG..  PERHAPS THE ONLY DISAPPOINTMENT HERE (AND IT’S A MINOR ONE)  IS THAT, WHILE MOST OF BURTON’S NORMAL BEHIND-THE-SCENES COLLABORATORS ARE HERE (WRITER JOHN AUGUST, MUSIC-MEISTER DANNY ELFMAN, ETC.) AND EVEN A COUPLE OF HIS BEFORE-THE-CAMERA REGULARS ARE FEATURED IN THE VOICE CAST (WINONA RYDER AND MARTIN LANDAU), HIS TWO MOST NOTABLE COHORTS, JOHNNY DEPP AND PARTNER HELENA BONHAM CARTER ARE NO WHERE TO BE FOUND.  IT’S BURTON’S FIRST DIRECTED MOVIE SINCE 2003 THAT HASN’T FEATURED DEPP IN THE CAST, AND SINCE ALL THE WAY BACK TO 1999’S SLEEPY HOLLOW THAT HASN’T FEATURED BONHAM-CARTER. SAD THAT SUCH STERLING ACTORS AND FAITHFUL FRIENDS COULDN’T BE PART OF THIS, ONE OF BURTON’S VERY BEST FILMS.  LIKE LAST YEAR’S HUGO,THIS IS A FAMILY FILM WITH UNUSUAL DEPTH AND CHARACTER.  LOAD EVERYONE UP AND DON’T MISS IT.   


HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA ***1/2

WELL, IT’S ABOUT TIME!  AFTER AN ENTIRE MONTH OF NOTHING IN THEATERS EVEN APPROACHING A FAMILY FILM, WE FINALLY GET THIS MONSTER MASH-UP ROMP FROM ADAM SANDLER, AND IT FEELS LIKE A PURE OXYGEN BOTTLE OF FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT FRESH AIR.  FORGET THE LOUSY REVIEWS YOU MIGHT HAVE READ FROM STUFFY MOVIE CRITICS WHO’VE FORGOTTEN THAT AUDIENCES GO TO MOVIES TO BE ENTERTAINED AND WHO AUTOMATICALLY WRITE OFF ANYTHING WITH SANDLER ATTACHED TO IT AS A JUVENILE GROSS-OUT FEST.  HOW SOON THEY FORGET THAT FOR EVERY STUPID BOMB LIKE THAT’S MY BOY AND EIGHT CRAZY NIGHTS,THERE IS ALSO FUN FAMILY FLICKS LIKE BEDTIME STORIES AND CLICK, CHARMING ROMANTIC COMEDIES LIKE JUST GO WITH IT, 50 FIRST DATES, AND MR. DEEDS, AND EVEN A FINE DRAMEDY IN SPANGLISH. THIS NEWEST IS IN THE BEST OF THE SANDLER FAMILY MOVIE TRADITION, WITH A SWEET, SIMPLE STORY ABOUT AN OVER-PROTECTIVE MONSTER (DRACULA--WHICH SANDLER MARVELOUSLY VOICES) WHOSE BUILT A SAFE HAVEN FOR OTHER MONSTERS, BUT NOW MUST TAME HIS COMING-OF-AGE DAUGHTER MAVIS AND SAVE HER FROM THE “HORRIBLE” HUMAN THAT STUMBLES INTO HER 118TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION.  COUPLE THIS WITH A STERLING VOICE CAST (SELENA GOMEZ, KEVIN JAMES, ANDY SAMBERG, FRAN DRESCHER, STEVE BUSCEMI, DAVID SPADE, EVEN “THE VOICE” JUDGE CEELO GREEN) AND HYSTERICAL SIGHT GAGS AND ONE LINERS THAT POUR FROM THE SCREEN LIKE NOAH’S FLOOD, AND YOU HAVE A LAUGH-EVERY-30-SECONDS HOWLER THAT WILL KEEP THE WHOLE FAMILY IN STITCHES THROUGHOUT.  THE “ZING” IN “HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA” IS NOT IN NASTY, OFF-COLOR BOMBS THAT SO MANY FEAR FROM AN ADAM SANDLER FILM, BUT IN THE DELIGHTED, HEART-WARMING, TOE-TAPPING FEELING THAT EVERYONE WILL GO OUT WITH WHEN THEY LEAVE THE THEATER.  THIS IS TRUE FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT THAT IS NOT TO BE MISSED!


THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER ***

THOUGH CERTAINLY NOT A FAMILY FILM IN REALLY ANY SENSE OF THE WORD, THIS SERIOUS DRAMA ABOUT THE TRIALS OF A GEEKY FRESHMAN’S FIRST YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL COULD HAVE A LOT OF APPEAL TO SOME OF YOU HIGH SCHOOL AND YOUNG ADULT READERS OF THIS COLUMN WHO ENJOY MORE “INDIE-STYLE,” SERIOUS ENTERTAINMENT AND ESPECIALLY FANS OF THE POPULAR BOOK OF THE SAME NAME THAT THE FILM IS BASED ON..  VIBRANT AND JOYFUL AT TIMES, MOROSE AND TEAR-JERKING AT OTHERS, IT EXPLORES TEEN ANGST THROUGH THE EYES OF FRESHMAN CHARLIE AS HIS “WALLFLOWER” EXISTENCE IS REFLECTED OFF THE EFFERVESCENT LIVELINESS OF PATRICK AND SAM, TWO SENIORS WHO TAKE HIM UNDER THEIR WING.  WHILE LOGAN “PERCY JACKSON” LERMAN DOES A FINE JOB AS CHARLIE, IT’S THROUGH EZRA MILLER AND EMMA “HERMOINE GRANGER” WATSON (IN ONE OF HER BEST POST-”HARRY POTTER” ROLES) AS PATRICK AND SAM THAT THIS STORY REALLY COMES TO LIFE.  AND FOR YOU BOOK FANS,  I WAS ASSURED BY MY TEEN FRIEND WHO I SAW THIS WITH (WHO IS ALSO A FRESHMAN AND A RABID FAN OF THE BOOK), THAT, WHILE NOT AN ENTIRELY REALISTIC PORTRAYAL OF ACTUAL HIGH SCHOOL LIFE, THIS IS A QUITE FAITHFUL, IF NOT SOMEWHAT JUMBLED, REPRESENTATION OF THE BOOK.  I GUESS IT HAD BETTER BE, AS ITS WRITER AND DIRECTOR WERE BOTH STEPHEN  CHBOSKY, THE AUTHOR.  HERE’S A FINE PIECE OF SERIOUS, SAD, AND ULTIMATELY TRIUMPHANT ENTERTAINMENT FOR YOU GUYS GETTING INTO HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE WHO APPRECIATE THE MORE SERIOUS, CHARACTER-DRIVEN SIDE OF STORY-TELLING.


THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN ***1/2

ONE OF THE SWEETEST, KINDEST, AND MOST FUN MOVIES I’VE SEEN IN A LONG TIME, THIS NEW MOVIE FROM DISNEY ABOUT A CHILDLESS COUPLE THAT LITERALLY GROWS THE SON OF THEIR DREAMS WHEN THEY BURY A CIGAR BOX OF HIS HOPED-FOR CHARACTER TRAITS IN THE GARDEN. IS UNFORTUNATELY PROBABLY TOO SWEET TO GET MUCH OF AN AUDIENCE IN THE EDGY WORLD OF TODAY’S HIT MOVIES.  BUT FOR THE KIDS AND PARENTS INSIGHTFUL ENOUGH TO CHECK THIS OUT (AND YOU’D BETTER DO IT QUICK, BECAUSE IT LIKELY WON’T BE AROUND FOR LONG), YOU’RE IN FOR A REAL TREAT. CJ ADAMS, WHOSE ONLY PREVIOUS FILM WAS BEING THE KID IN AN ADULT COMEDY CALLED “DAN IN REAL LIFE,” EFFECTIVELY PLAYS THE NEAR-PERFECT SON, WHO SPRINGS FROM THE GARDEN AND HAS LEAVES GROWING ON HIS ANKLES.  JENNIFER GARNER AND JOEL EDGERTON PLAY THE AGHAST PARENTS, WHO, NOW BLESSED WITH TIMOTHY, STRIVE TO BE NEAR-PERFECT PARENTS, AND OF COURSE COME NOWHERE NEAR THEIR LOFTY EXPECTATIONS FOR THEMSELVES.  AND EVEN FROM THE STORY’S OUTSET, YOU CAN SENSE THAT THIS WON’T HAVE AN ENTIRELY HAPPY ENDING.  AND YET, ITS THEMES OF HOW LOVE AND SACRIFICE WIN OUT BOTH IN THE PARENTING WORLD AND THE KID WORLD, DESPITE EVERYONE’S IMPERFECTIONS, RINGS CLEAR AS A BELL WITHOUT BEING HEAVY-HANDED OR PREACHY.  A FASCINATING MODERN FAIRY TALE TOLD WITH FINESSE AND PUNCTUATED WITH DELIGHTFUL MOMENTS OF HUMOR, THIS IS A MARVELOUS MOVIE EXPERIENCE THAT LEFT BOTH MY FRIEND AND I AS WELL AS THE AUDIENCE FEELING PEACEFUL AND HAPPY AS WE WALKED OUT.  ODDLY ENOUGH, THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN IS AN EXPERIENCE OF UNCOMMON INSPIRATION DESPITE ITS LACK OF SPECIAL EFFECTS, SUPERHEROES, OR SNARKY, OFF-COLOR HUMOR.


PARANORMAN **1/2

AND SPEAKING OF SNARKY, OFF-COLOR HUMOR, FANS OF TV SHOWS LIKE FAMILY GUY AND THE SIMPSONS WILL HAVE A NON-STOP LAUGH-FEST IN THIS NEW STOP-MOTION ANIMATED FILM FROM LAIKA STUDIOS, THE MAKERS OF CORALINE.  NORMAN IS A KID WHO SEES DEAD PEOPLE--GHOSTS, THAT IS--BUT OF COURSE HE CAN’T GET ANYONE TO BELIEVE THAT HE REALLY HAS THIS ABILITY, AND SO HE’S THE CAN THAT GETS KICKED AROUND BY EVERY BULLY AT SCHOOL AND THE SOURCE OF CONTINUAL CONSTERNATION AND EMBARRASSMENT TO HIS CYNICAL PARENTS AND OLDER SISTER.  BUT NORMAN HAS A MISSION TO DO, CONVEYED TO HIM BY HIS BUM OF AN UNCKLE, THAT REQUIRES HIS SPECIAL TALENTS, AND HE AND HIS CHUBBY FRIEND SET OUT TO LIFT AN AGES-OLD CURSE FROM HIS TOWN OF BLITHE HOLLOW, A PLACE WHERE SOMETHING SIMILAR TO THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS APPARENTLY WENT ON HUNDREDS OF YEARS BEFORE.  WHILE THERE’S SOME REAL MEAT TO THIS STORY IN ITS FIRST HALF ABOUT BULLYING AND BEING “DIFFERENT,” IT ULTIMATELY DISSOLVES INTO A MINDLESS HUMANS VS. ZOMBIES FIASCO AND A VERY PREACHY CLIMAX THAT DOESN’T FLY GIVEN THE MONSTROUSLY CYNICAL HUMOR THAT PUNCTUATES NEARLY EVERY PREVIOUS SCENE.  WHILE THE CONTINUAL “NYERT” STYLE HUMOR GAVE MY FRIENDS AND I A LOT TO LAUGH ABOUT, THIS MOVIE ULTIMATELY LEFT ME DISAPPOINTED AND ALSO A BIT DISTURBED THAT IT’S BEING MARKETED AS A FAMILY FILM, GIVEN THAT IT’S FILLED WITH SO MANY OFF-COLOR GAGS AND TRULY SCARY IMAGES.  IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR LAUGHS OF THE CYNICAL VARIETY, THIS MAKES FOR A DECENT AFTERNOON OF SNICKERING, SPOOKY ENTERTAINMENT, BUT PLEASE, PLEASE, LEAVE THE UNDER 10’S AND OTHER MORE SENSITIVE KIDS AT HOME.  “ANIMATION” IN THIS INSTANCE, DOES NOT MEAN “FAMILY FILM.” 


DIARY OF A WIMPY KID 3 **

I’M BASING MY RATING HERE ON OTHERS REVIEWS, AS I SIMPLY REFUSE TO SEE THESE FILMS.  I SAW THE FIRST ONE AND FOUND THE MAIN CHARACTER, GREG HEFFLY (ZACHARY GORDON) TO BE SO REPREHENSIBLE AND EVERYONE ELSE AROUND HIM (SAVE FRIEND RAWLEY AND A FEW OTHERS)TO BE SUCH IDIOTS (ESPECIALLY THE ADULTS) THAT I JUST COULDN’T STAND IT.  AND THE SECOND ONE WAS REVIEWED AS WAY WORSE THAN THE FIRST!  THIS ONE IS APPARENTLY BETTER THAN THE SECOND ONE, BUT WHERE’S THE COMPLIMENT IN THAT??  I GUESS GREG IS A BIT LESS HORRID, AND MIGHT ACTUALLY LEARN SOMETHING FROM HIS TOTALLY SELF-ABSORBED ACTIONS.  HIS PARENTS AND OTHERS, THOUGH, ARE STILL SIMPLY MORONIC CARICATURES, AND GREG STILL ENOUGH OF A SOULLESS JERK TO KEEP ME AWAY.  I SUPPOSE IF YOU’RE A PRETEEN BOY AND A PARENT WHO DOESN’T MIND HIM BEING NEGATIVELY INFLUENCED AT THE MOVIE THEATER, HAVE AT.  THE REST OF YOU, STAY AWAY ALONG WITH ME. 


THE DARK KNIGHT RISES ****

THIS IS THE LAST OF DIRECTOR CHRISTOPHER NOLAN’S BATMAN TRILOGY, WHICH BEGAN SEVERAL YEARS AGO WITH BATMAN BEGINS, THEN RESUMED TWO YEARS AGO WITH THE DARK KNIGHT, A SHOW THAT WAS STOLEN BY THE LATE HEATH LEDGER AND HIS PORTRAYAL OF THE JOKER, WHICH WON HIM A POSTHUMOUS ACADEMY AWARD.  IN LIGHT OF THAT, I WAS VERY MUCH LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS LAST INSTALLMENT, HOPING THAT BATMAN/BRUCE WAYNE WOULD ACTUALLY BE IT’S STAR.  I WAS NOT DISAPPOINTED, ON THAT OR ON ANY OTHER ACCOUNT.  “THE BATMAN” IS DEFINITELY “THE MAN.”  THIS IS A SUPERBLY CRAFTED, ACTION-PACKED, AND THEMATICALLY RICH PIECE OF FILMMAKING, BRILLIANTLY EXECUTED BY EVERYONE INVOLVED, ESPECIALLY THE CAST, INCLUDING TOM HARDY AS THE DIABOLICAL BANE, JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT AS A NEW YORK CITY COP WHO IS A LIFELONG FAN OF “THE BATMAN,” MORGAN FREEMAN, GARY OLDMAN, AND MICHAEL CAINE REPRISING ROLES FROM THE EARLIER FILMS, ANN HATHAWAY AS THE CATWOMAN, MARION COTILLARD AS A DUPLICITOUS OFFICER OF THE BRUCE WAYNE FOUNDATION, AND OF COURSE CHRISTIAN BALE AS “THE BATMAN” HIMSELF.  DIRECTOR NOLAN FILLS THIS FINAL EPISODE WITH HEART-THUMPING ACTION, THEMATIC MEAT, AND SOME INTERESTING SURPRISES, TYING UP A NUMBER OF LOOSE ENDS THAT GO ALL THE WAY BACK TO THE ORIGINAL FILM, AND NEVER LETS WE IN THE AUDIENCE REST OR CATCH OUR BREATH.  THIS IS A NON-STOP PIECE OF WONDERFUL ACTION FILM-MAKING THAT IS NOT TO BE MISSED BY ANYONE WHO ENJOYS THE ACTION/ADVENTURE GENRE.  IT’S TOO INTENSE FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN, SO LEAVE THEM WITH THE GRANDPARENTS, BUT OTHERWISE, GRAB THE FAM AND ENJOY ONE OF THE REALLY RARE TREATS OF THIS YEAR AT THE CINEMA.


ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT **1/2

IF THERE IS SUCH A THING AS A “TYPICAL” ANIMATED FAMILY MOVIE, THAT WOULD BE THIS ONE, THE FOURTH IN THE OUTRAGEOUSLY SUCCESSFUL ICE AGE FRANCHISE SPAWNED YEARS AGO BY BLUE SKY STUDIOS AND FOX ANIMATION.  TO DATE, THE FOUR FILMS HAVE GROSSED OVER $2.2 BILLION WORLDWIDE, WITH THE VAST MAJORITY OF THAT COMING FROM OVERSEAS SHOWINGS.  QUITE A FEAT FOR A GROUP OF FILMS THAT ARE, AS A WHOLE, QUITE UNREMARKABLE.  THE ONLY ONE THAT I’VE REALLY THOUGHT WAS OUTSTANDING WAS THE LAST ONE, ICE AGE; DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS.  IT MADE BOX OFFICE HISTORY OF SORTS WHEN IT MADE NEARLY $900 MILLION WORLDWIDE.  THIS NEW FILM LOOKS LIKE IT COULD DO NEARLY AS WELL, HAVING ALREADY RUNG UP OVER $200 MILLION OVERSEAS DOLLARS BEFORE IT EVEN OPENED THIS WEEKEND IN NORTH AMERICA.  SADLY, IT’S NOT NEAR AS GOOD A FILM.  BUT, IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A NICE BIT OF FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT THAT YOU CAN TAKE THE WHOLE CREW TO (INCLUDING THE TINY TOTS) AND EVERYONE WILL ENJOY AT SOME LEVEL, THIS CERTAINLY FITS THE BILL.  AND LET’S FACE IT, HOW MANY MOVIES IN THE THEATER THESE DAYS CAN YOU SAY THAT ABOUT (HINT TO HOLLYWOOD--TRUE FAMILY MOVIES VIRTUALLY ALWAYS MAKE A SHIPLOAD OF MONEY--EVEN IF THEY’RE NOT VERY GOOD--FOR EXACTLY THE ABOVE-STATED REASON).  HERE WE HAVE ALL THE REQUISITE ELEMENTS OF YOUR “TYPICAL” ANIMATED FAMILY FILM.  FIRST, A SIMPLE PLOT--REBELLIOUS MAMMOTH DAUGHTER PEACHES TAKES OFF WITH A HERD OF HOOLIGAN MAMMOTHS AND GETS LOST IN A MASS EXODUS OF ANIMALS FLEEING THE BREAKING UP OF THEIR LAND MASS.  DAD AND MOM AND FRIENDS FRET AND FUSS, THINGS HAPPEN, EVERYONE LEARNS VALUABLE LESSONS, ETC. ETC.  NEXT, CUTE ANIMAL CHARACTERS VOICED BY WELL-KNOWN CELEBRITIES WHO SPOUT HILARIOUS ONE-LINERS IN VIRTUALLY EVERY SCENE.  THERE’S NOT AN UGLY ANIMAL ON THE SCREEN (NOT EVEN THE BIG, BAD BABOON BAD GUY), AND THE VOICE CAST INCLUDES TOP TALENT FROM BOTH TV (RAY ROMANO, DENIS LEARY), MUSIC (DRAKE, NICKI MINAJ), AND MOVIES (JOHN LEGUIZAMO, QUEEN LATIFAH, KEKE PALMER) AS WELL AS HEAVY-HITTER NEWCOMERS WANDA SYKES (AS A CORN-PONE GRANNY SLOTH) AND PETER DINKLAGE (AS THAT BAD GUY BABOON), WHO WON AN EMMY LAST YEAR FOR HIS ROLE IN HBO’S GAME OF THRONES. NEXT, I’D PUT GREAT SONGS, BUT THIS ISN’T A DISNEY MOVIE, SO I WON’T.  AND FINALLY, AN IRRESISTIBLE “X-FACTOR.”  IN THIS CASE (AS IN ALL THE OTHER FILMS), THAT IS SCRAT, THE WOE-BE-GONE RAT WHO POPS IN AND OUT OF THE STORY CHASING AFTER HIS HALLOWED ACORN, ONLY TO SUFFER WILE. E. COYOTE-STYLE DISASTER AT EVERY TURN, AND IN THE PROCESS, STEALS THE SHOW.  CONTINENTAL DRIFT IS NO MASTERPIECE, BUT ALL THE ELEMENTS ARE IN PLACE FOR AN ENJOYABLE AFTERNOON OF FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT.  IF THIS FITS YOUR BILL, GO FOR IT!  


THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN ****

THERE ARE A LOT OF AMAZING THINGS ABOUT THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN.  THE PLOT, FOR INSTANCE; A WONDERFUL COMBINATION OF A YOUNG LOVE STORY, A TEEN ANGST/REBELLION STORY AS A BROODING YOUNG MAN SEARCHES FOR HIS SOUL, AND A ROLLICKING CGI-FILLED SUPERHERO ACTION/ADVENTURE STORY ALL SEAMLESSLY WOVEN TOGETHER BY DIRECTOR MARC WEBB INTO ONE IRRESISTIBLE EPIC.  THE CAST IS ANOTHER EXAMPLE; ANDREW GARFIELD (MARK ZUCKERBERG’S FACEBOOK-FOUNDING COHORT IN THE SOCIAL NETWORK) AND EMMA STONE (EASY A) AS PETER PARKER AND GWEN STACEY, AND VETERANS MARTIN SHEEN, DENIS LEARY, RHYS IFANS, AND SALLY FIELD ALL GIVING UNIFORMLY WONDERFUL PERFORMANCES. BUT PERHAPS THE MOST AMAZING THING ABOUT THIS FILM IS THAT, AFTER ALL THE SQUABBLE SURROUNDING ITS MAKING, IT WAS EVEN MADE AT ALL!  SEVERAL YEARS AGO, AFTER ENDLESS DISAGREEMENTS AND ARGUMENTS BETWEEN THE PRINCIPLES OF THE FIRST THREE SPIDEY MOVIES (DIRECTOR SAM RAIMI, STARS TOBEY MAGUIRE AND KIRSTEN DUNST, CREATOR STAN  LEE, AND A GAGGLE OF A-LIST SCREENWRITERS), SONY, IN A JAW-DROPPING MOVE, SCRAPPED THE WHOLE SERIES AND DECIDED TO REBOOT IT WITH AN ALL-NEW ORIGIN STORY, CAST, AND DIRECTOR.  EYES ROLLED IN BOTH HOLLYWOOD AND THE AUDIENCE AS MOST FIGURED HERE WAS YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF HOLLYWOOD’S UNWILLINGNESS TO VENTURE INTO MORE ORIGINAL TERRITORY (IS THERE REALLY A NEED TO “REBOOT” A FRANCHISE THAT ISN’T EVEN TEN YEARS OLD YET???) AND FINDING YET ANOTHER WAY TO SHOOT ITSELF IN THE FOOT.  I WAS AMONG THE MOST SKEPTICAL OF THE SKEPTICS. THOUGH I STILL DESPISE THE IDEA OF REBOOTING A FRANCHISE THAT MOST IN THE AUDIENCE (EVEN THE KIDS) STILL HAVE FRESH IN THEIR MEMORIES, I’M A SKEPTIC NO LONGER.  THIS MORE PERSONAL, MORE THEMATIC, AND EVEN MORE FUN AND ACTION-PACKED “SPIDERMAN” IS SIMPLY A MORE WELL-DONE SUPERHERO MOVIE THAN I’VE SEEN IN AGES. IT EVEN STANDS HEAD AND SHOULDERS ABOVE LAST YEAR’S CAPTAIN AMERICA THANKS TO AN ENDING THAT IS SO ARTISTICALLY DONE THAT IT’S NEAR GENIUS.  AND DIRECTOR WEBB IS EXQUISITELY DEFT IN HIS INSERTIONS OF LAUGH-OUT-LOUD FUNNY MOMENTS THAT CUSHION THE  OTHERWISE SERIOUS IMPORT OF THE SHOW, SOMETHING OTHER “GOOD” SUPERHERO MOVIES OF LATE (I.E. THE AVENGERS) HAVE LACKED.  IT REMINDED ME VERY MUCH OF THE FIRST TWO SUPERMAN MOVIES FROM BACK IN THE 70’S, WHICH, DESPITE THE NOW-CHEESY SPECIAL EFFECTS, STILL HOLD UP WELL 35 YEARS LATER BECAUSE THEY ARE SUCH WELL-TOLD STORIES.  THIS FILM FITS RIGHT IN.  ONE OF THE FEW MOVIES SO FAR THIS YEAR THAT IS ABSOLUTELY NOT TO BE MISSED!


BRAVE **1/2

I DON’T KNOW HOW LONG IT’S BEEN (OR IF IT’S HAPPENED AT ALL) THAT I HAVEN’T RATED A PIXAR ANIMATION FILM AS ONE OF THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY FILMS OF WHATEVER YEAR IT CAME OUT IN.  ALAS, THOUGH, THIS NEW MOVIE, SO HIGHLY ANTICIPATED BECAUSE, WELL, BECAUSE IT’S A PIXAR FILM, AND PIXAR NEVER FAILS, PLUS THE FACT THAT IT WAS PIXAR’S FIRST FILM FEATURING A FEMALE HERO, FALLS SHORT OF THE MARK OF THOSE THAT HAVE COME BEFORE.  THIS REVIEWER WOULD EVEN SAY FAR SHORT OF THE MARK. THE STORY OF MERIDA, A FLAMING-HAIRED TEEN STRUGGLING TO FIND HER OWN DESTINY AS OPPOSED TO THAT CHOSEN FOR HER BY HER CLAN-LEADER PARENTS (CAN YOU SAY MULAN?), STARTS OUT TYPICALLY ENOUGH FOR THIS SORT OF STORY, AND CERTAINLY SEEMS TO BRIM WITH POSSIBILITY.  HOWEVER, IT QUICKLY DISSOLVES INTO A RATHER PLAIN PLOT THAT INVOLVES MERIDA INADVERTENTLY CHANGING HER MOTHER INTO A BEAR, THEN HAVING TO FIND A WAY TO CHANGE HER BACK, AND MOST CURIOUSLY, LITTLE IF ANY OF WHAT MOST OF US WOULD CALL BRAVERY.  THE STAKES SIMPLY AREN’T HIGH ENOUGH.  NO KINGDOM IS AT STAKE--THE FEUDING CLANSMEN GIVE ALL THE IMPRESSION OF SERIOUS REVOLT THAT THE 3 STOOGES WOULD--THERE IS NO PRINCE TO BE SAVED, NO WORLD TO BE TRANSFORMED, NO HEROIC QUEST TO BE UNDERTAKEN.  JUST MERIDA DESPERATELY TRYING TO FIND THE MAGIC FORMULA THAT WILL CHANGE HER MOTHER (AND PESKY LITTLE BROTHERS) BACK INTO PEOPLE BEFORE THEY’RE HUNTED DOWN BY CLANSMEN SEEKING A REAL MONSTER BEAR AND KNOCKED OFF BY MISTAKE.  THAT’S IT...  AND YOU THOUGHT THE FIRST CARS MOVIE WAS SHALLOW!  I SUPPOSE THERE’S SOME MORAL LESSON HERE SOMEWHERE, BUT A MOVIE CALLED BRAVE SHOULD FEATURE REAL EPIC-STYLE BRAVERY, NOT JUST SOME FIGURATIVE SORT OF EXAMPLE OF THE TRAIT THAT MOST OF US STRUGGLE TO GRASP. ONE MIGHT EVEN CYNICALLY INFER THAT PIXAR IS SAYING THAT A FEMALE HERO’S BRAVERY CAN ONLY EXTEND SO FAR--IN THIS CASE NOT PAST THE IMMEDIATE FAMILY SITUATION--AND BIGGER ADVENTURES SHOULD BE RESERVED FOR THE GUYS. IT’S FAR TOO SOON TO MAKE PREDICTIONS, AND BRAVE DID A FINE JOB AT THE OPENING WEEKEND BOX OFFICE (MOST LIKELY ON THE STRENGTH OF MERELY THE PIXAR NAME--AND THE AUDIENCE’S YEARNING FOR A GREAT FAMILY FILM). BUT STILL, IT WAS ONLY PIXAR’S 5TH RATED OPENING WEEKEND, AND WITHOUT A STRONG SHOWING OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL WEEKS, THIS COULD BE PIXAR’S FIRST RATHER ORDINARY FILM, WHICH FOR MOST WOULD BE A RAGING SUCCESS, BUT FOR PIXAR WOULD BE CONSIDERED A FLOP.  BREATH-TAKING ANIMATION AND UNIQUE CHARACTERS AND SETTING ASIDE, PEOPLE COME TO PIXAR FILMS TO SEE ORDINARY CHARACTERS DO AMAZING AND EXTRAORDINARY THINGS--THINGS THAT REQUIRE OUTSTANDING COURAGE AND BRAVERY.  STRANGE HOW THE ONE PIXAR FILM WHOSE VERY TITLE IS “BRAVE” HAS SO LITTLE TO SAY OR EVEN SHOW ABOUT SUCH CHARACTERISTICS.  SAFE AND FUN (AT TIMES) FOR ALL AGES, THIS FILM WAS NONETHELESS A HUGE DISAPPOINTMENT FOR MY FRIEND AND I, AND POSSIBLY EVEN FOR THE PACKED-OUT AUDIENCE THAT WE SAW IT WITH, WHO DIDN’T SEEM TO REACT WITH THE SAME ENTHUSIASM AS ONE MIGHT EXPECT IN A PIXAR FILM.  A BEAUTIFULLY EXECUTED BLAH-BLAH STORY.  



MADAGASCAR 3; EUROPE’S MOST WANTED ***

HAVING JUST BEEN ASKED BY  MY NEW FRIEND (WHO IS MOST DEFINITELY NOT A CHILD) WHAT I THOUGHT OF THIS LATEST INSTALLMENT IN DREAMWORKS ANIMATION’S MOST RECENT CHILDREN’S MOVIE FRANCHISE, I CAME UP WITH THE FOLLOWING DESCRIPTION.  IT’S FUN, IT’S FUNNY, IT’S CUTE, IT HAS SOME GREAT ACTION, SOME WONDERFUL VOICE ACTING.  IN FACT, IT’S JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING YOU’D WANT IN A CHILDREN’S ANIMATED FEATURE, AND BESIDES ALL THAT, IT’S HARMLESS, EVEN FOR THE SMALLEST OF THE FAM TO SEE.  THOUGH THERE’S NOTHING THAT I’D CALL EXTRAORDINARY ABOUT IT (A PROFOUND THEME, AN AMAZINGLY EMOTIONAL STORY, AN INCREDIBLY EFFECTIVE VOICE ACTING PERFORMANCE, ETC.), IT’ CERTAINLY IS WHAT MOST FAMILIES ARE LOOKING FOR IN AN ANIMATED FEATURE; A GREAT BIT OF ENTERTAINMENT TO ENJOY SOME AFTERNOON WHEN THE FAM HAS SOME TIME TO BLOW AND PARENTS ARE LOOKING FOR SOMETHING THAT EVERYONE COULD ENJOY.  AND SPEAKING OF “BLOWING” SOMETHING, THIS DOESN’T HAVE TO SET YOU BACK ANY MORE THAN ANY OTHER MOVIE MIGHT; I SAW THE 2D VERSION THAT PLAYS ALONGSIDE THE 3D VERSION AT MOST THEATERS, AND I DOUBT IF I MISSED MUCH OF ANYTHING, SO LOOK FOR THAT 2D VERSION AND SAVE THE EXTRA BUCKS FOR THE SNACKS. AS TO THE PLOT, SUCH AS IT IS, THIS IS A TRUE SEQUEL IN THAT IT TAKES UP LITERALLY RIGHT WHERE THE LAST FILM LEFT OFF--IN THE AFRICAN DESERT WITH OUR CENTRAL PARK ZOO FRIENDS MAKING THE BEST OF THEIR BAD SITUATION WHERE THEIR CHIMP-POWERED, PENGUIN-COMMANDED PLANE CRASHED.  IT FOLLOWS THE GROUP FROM THERE TO THEIR EVENTUAL REUNION WITH THE CHIMP/PENGUIN BUNCH, WHO YOU MIGHT REMEMBER ENDED UP IN MONTE CARLO LIVING THE HIGH LIFE, AND THEN TO THEIR COMBINED EFFORTS TO GET BACK HOME TO NEW YORK, ASSISTED BY A TROUPE OF TRAVELING CIRCUS ANIMALS.  BEN STILLER, CHRIS ROCK, JADA PINKETT SMITH, ET AL, DO THEIR USUAL YOEMAN’S WORK IN THE VOICE ACTING DEPARTMENT AND KEEP THE ADULTS HAPPY WITH LOTS OF ZIPPY ONE-LINERS WHILE THE KIDS ENJOY THE ACTION AND GET INTO THE CUTENESS.  OF NOTE ALSO IS A NEW CHARACTER, THE OVER-ACHIEVING AND SLIGHTLY MANIACAL FRENCH ANIMAL CONTROL OFFICER DUBOIS, VOICED BY A STOICALLY EVIL FRANCES MCDORMAND.  SHE, ALONG WITH SASHA BARON COHEN’S JULIEN CHARACTER FALLING IN LOVE WITH A MACY’S DAY PARADE BALLOON-SIZED CIRCUS BEAR, PROVIDE HIGHLIGHTS THAT MIGHT PUT THIS A BIT ABOVE THE OTHER INSTALLMENTS OF THIS SERIES.  OVERALL, MY CONCLUSION TO MY FRIEND WAS THAT THIS WAS EXACTLY WHAT IT WAS MEANT TO BE, A WONDERFUL BIT OF FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT TO SPICE UP SOME LONG AND OTHERWISE BORING SUMMER WEEKEND.  LOAD UP THE MINI-VAN AND TAKE ADVANTAGE WHILE IT’S STILL AROUND.


ABRAHAM LINCOLN; VAMPIRE KILLER ***

FOR THOSE OF YOU SICK OF WHAT MY ASTUTE YOUNG MOVIE COMPANION SNICKERINGLY CALLS “SPARKLY VAMPIRES,” (REFERRING OF COURSE TO THOSE MOONING. LOVE-SICK VAMPS OF 21ST CENTURY YOUNG ADULT NOVELS), PERHAPS YOU NOW HAVE REASON TO REJOICE.  IN THE GRAND TRADITION OF SOME OF HIS CREEPIER FILMS (THINK SLEEPY HOLLOW, ET AL), PRODUCER TIM BURTON ONCE AGAIN GIVES US A TERRIFYING AND SIMULTANEOUSLY HUMEROUS MIX OF REVISIONIST HISTORY AND OLD-SCHOOL HORROR IN THIS, HIS NEWEST THRILLER.  AND LET THERE BE NO DOUBT; THERE’S NOTHING LOVE-SICK, MOONING, OR IN ANY WAY “SPARKLY” ABOUT HIS VAMPIRES.  THEY’RE UGLY, CREEPY, OVERWHELMINGLY EVIL, AND JUMP-OUT-OF-YOUR-SKIN SCARY; THE VAMPS OF YOUR NIGHTMARES, NOT YOUR DREAMS OF TEEN-AGE LOVE.  AS TO THE PLOT, INSTEAD OF ICONIC LITERARY FIGURE ICHABOD CRANE, WE HERE HAVE ICONIC HISTORICAL FIGURE ABRAHAM LINCOLN, ONE OF AMERICA’S MOST REVERED PRESIDENTS.  HAVING WITNESSED THE HORRIFIC DEATH OF HIS MOTHER AT THE HANDS OF A VAMPIRE IN EARLY CHILDHOOD, YOUNG “HONEST ABE” BECOMES INDOCTRINATED INTO A LEAGUE OF VAMPIRE KILLERS HEADED BY A MAN NAMED HENRY AND BEGINS A SECRET LIFE AS A VAMPIRE KILLER SEEKING REVENGE FOR  HIS MOTHER.  BUT THAT’S ONLY SCRATCHING THE SURFACE OF LATER TROUBLES, AS LINCOLN SEEKS TO DO GOOD IN THE WORLD BY CHAMPIONING THE FIGHT AGAINST SLAVERY AND OTHER EVILS, AND A CONSORTIUM OF VAMPIRES DECIDES TO ALLY THEMSELVES WITH THE CONFEDERATE SOUTH IN ORDER TO STOP HIM.  FOLLOWING CLOSELY SOME OF THE REAL-LIFE PERSONAL TRAGEDIES THAT THE HISTORICAL LINCOLN WAS FORCED TO ENDURE ALONG WITH THE PRESSURES OF THE CIVIL WAR, WE GET THE “REAL” STORY OF HOW AND WHY THINGS HAPPENED AS THEY DID FROM LINCOLN’S SECRET JOURNAL WHICH HE LEFT TO HENRY JUST BEFORE HEADING TO FORD’S THEATER ON THAT FATEFUL NIGHT IN APRIL OF 1865.  NOT ONLY IS THIS FILM FILLED WITH FASCINATING FANTASIES  ABOUT LINCOLN’S PERSONAL LIFE AND THOSE OF MANY THAT WERE SO CLOSE TO HIM, BUT IT’S ALSO LOADED WITH SOME OF BURTON’S MOST GENUINELY SCARY AND BREATH-TAKING ACTION SEQUENCES.  FROM LEERING VAMPIRES HISSING IN YOUR FACE TO A MESMERIZING CHASE SCENE INVOLVING AN AX-WIELDING LINCOLN, HIS ARCH-NEMESIS VAMPIRE,  AND A HERD OF STAMPEDING HORSES, THIS IS AN INCREDIBLY WILD AND CRAZY RIDE,   KUDOS TO THE CGI ARTISTS.  BURTON HAS ALSO FILLED HIS CAST WITH SECOND-TIER ACTORS AND OTHER NO-NAMES,, I’M SURE CONSIDERABLE MONEY WAS SAVED NOT HIRING EVEN ONE A-LIST ACTOR, THUS ENSURING A GOOD SIZED PROFIT FOR THE FILM EVEN IF BOX-OFFICE RETURNS ARE NOT SPECTACULAR..  IT MAY BE ONE OF THE MORE “GUILTY” OF MY GUILTY PLEASURE MOVIES FOR 2012, BUT IT’S A PLEASANT SURPRISE NONETHELESS TO FIND A QUIRKY, SCARY, PERIOD-PIECE HORROR FILM STEIP UP, DO WHAT IT’S TOLD, AND TURN INTO ONE OF THE FINEST SUSPENSE THRILLERS I’VE SEEN SO FAR THIS YEAR.  BRAVISSIMO!, MR. BURTON--YOU’VE DONE IT AGAIN.  WATCHABLE  BY JUST ABOUT ANYONE JUNIOR HIGH AGE AND ABOVE (LOTS OF ROUGH STUFF IN HERE...), THIS SHOULD PROVIDE AN INTERESTING , ACTION-PACKED COUPLE HOURS OF ESCAPE FOR ANYONE YEARNING FOR HORROR/THRILLERS WITH A TWIST (OR VAMPIRES THAT HUNT HUMANS INSTEAD OF ANIMALS).  AFTER SEEING THE UNFORTUNATELY PREDICTABLE AND TYPICAL PROMETHEUS, THIS WAS LIKE A BREATH OF FRESH FIRE AND BRIMSTONE.


SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN **

THIS VERY HEAVY, OVERLY-SERIOUS, AND AT TIMES EVEN GROTESQUE NEW TAKE ON THE SNOW WHITE FAIRY TALE TRIES HARD TO MAKE THE STORY INTO A HEROIC EPIC IN THE SPIRIT OF FILMS LIKE THE LORD OF THE RINGS OR BRAVEHEART, BUT MOSTLY JUST MANAGES TO SOUND LIKE A TIRED IMITATION OF SUCH SUPERIOR FARE, WITH A COUPLE OF NOTABLE EXCEPTIONS.  ONE IS CHRIS HEMSWORTH, WHO PLAYS THE HUNTSMAN HIRED BY AN EVIL QUEEN TO HUNT DOWN AND KILL SHOW WHITE, THE ONLY REMAINING THREAT TO  HER REIGN OF TERROR LASTING QUITE LITERALLY FOREVER.  HIS CHARACTER’S CONFLICTING EMOTIONS AND HEROIC HEART MAKE HIM THE MOST INTERESTING AND SYMPATHETIC OF ALL THE FILM’S PRINCIPALS, AND GIVES US SOMEONE TO TRULY ROOT FOR THROUGHOUT THE DISMAL AND OFTEN SHOCKING TALE.  AND WHERE DOES THAT SHOCK COME FROM?  THAT WOULD BE FROM CHARLIZE THERON, THE ACADEMY-AWARD-WINING ACTRESS WHO POSITIVELY REVELS IN THE ROLE OF THE QUEEN, PUNCTUATING HER WITH A MANIACAL SENSE OF JOY AS SHE COMMITS ONE HORRENDOUS ACT OF CRUELTY AFTER ANOTHER.  AS ONE OF THE SICKEST SCREEN CHARACTERS TO HIT MAINSTREAM MOVIES SINCE HEATH LEDGER’S JOKER IN THE DARK KNIGHT, SHE PRACTICALLY STEALS THE SHOW WERE IT OT FOR HEMSWORTH.  NOTABLY NOT NOTED HERE IS KRISTEN STEWART, WHO PLAYS THE TITLE CHARACTER OF SNOW WHITE.  WHILE SHE HANDLES HER MANY ACTION SEQUENCES DEFTLY AND WITH RIGHTEOUS ENERGY, SHE (AS IN THE TWILIGHT FILMS), SEEMS INCAPABLE OF BRINGING REAL EMOTION AND SYMPATHY TO HER CHARACTER.  MY ASTUTE COMPANION/FELLOW CRITIC POINTED OUT HOW SHE’S JUST AS UNABLE TO GENUINELY SMILE IN THE ROLE OF SNOW WHITE AS SHE IS AS BELLA SWAN.  SAD THAT SOMEONE WHO IS SUPPOSED TO BE AN INSPIRATION TO SO MANY COMES ACROSS AS NOTHING MORE THAN A CARICATURE OF SOMEONE SUCH AS ARAGORN (VIGGO MORTENSON) IN THE RETURN OF THE KING.  WHILE THERE’S GOOD ACTION HERE AND A UNIQUE STORY LINE, THERE’S NOT ENOUGH EMOTION TO REALLY ENGAGE AN AUDIENCE AND SWEEP THEM INTO THIS STORY.  TWO NOTABLE PERFORMANCES, NO MATTER HOW GOOD, CAN’T OVERCOME AN OVERALL FLAT, DULL FILM.  AND BTW, LEAVE THE 10 AND UNDERS HOME FOR THIS; THE DISGUSTING NATURE OF THE QUEEN’S EVIL DEEDS IS, AS NOTED, SHOCKING, AND THE IMAGES ARE AT TIMES TRULY SICKENING.



MEN IN BLACK 3 ***

IT’S BEEN TEN YEARS SINCE WE’VE SEEN A “MEN IN BLACK” MOVIE, AND MOST OF US ARE THANKFUL BECAUSE THE SECOND ONE WAS SO AWFUL IT MADE US FORGET HOW FUN THE FIRST ONE WAS.  BUT FANS, TAKE HEART!  HERE’S ONE OF THE FEW “3-QUELS” THAT OUTDOES BOTH ITS PREDECESSORS AND RESULTS IN A MOST ENTERTAINING (AND ULTIMATELY TOUCHING) COUPLE HOURS AT THE MOVIE THEATER.  ONCE AGAIN WE HAVE AGENTS J AND K (WILL SMITH AND TOMMY LEE JONES, RESPECTIVELY) COMBATING NEFARIOUS ALIENS THROUGH THE SUPER-SECRET MIB ORGANIZATION, BUT THIS TIME, THERE’S A TWIST.  “BORIS THE ANIMAL” HAS ESCAPED FROM HIS LUNAR PRISON AND IS HEADED BACK--IN TIME, THAT IS--TO OFF A YOUNG AGENT K IN REVENGE FOR K BLOWING HIS ARM OFF YEARS BEFORE.  SINCE IT’S NOT GOOD FOR A PERSON TO MEET THEIR PAST SELF, IT’S UP TO AGENT J TO GO BACK IN TIME TO STOP BORIS.  ASSISTED BY GRIFFIN, AN ORACLE THAT CAN SEE ALL POSSIBLE CHRONO-CONFLICTS WHEN TINKERING WITH TIME, AGENT J AND A YOUNG AGENT K GET THEIR MAN (ER, ALIEN), AND WE ALSO GET SOME HEART-TUGGING INSIGHT INTO THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN J AND K.  WITH A PLETHORA OF POKES AT 60’S POP CULTURE TO SPICE UP THE ALIEN ESPIONAGE HUMOR, THIS FILM ADDS ANOTHER DIMENSION OF LAUGHS THAT OLDER AUDIENCES IN PARTICULAR WILL APPRECIATE.  IT ALSO GETS A STELLAR PERFORMANCE FROM JOSH BROLIN AS THE YOUNG AGENT K.  A DEAD-RINGER FOR A YOUNGER TOMMY LEE JONES, AND WITH ALL THE DEADPAN WISE CRACKS AND MANNERISMS DOWN PAT, BROLIN ALMOST STEALS THE WHOLE SHOW.  BUT ULTIMATELY, THIS IS ABOUT THE RETURN OF WILL SMITH TO THE SCREEN IN ONE OF HIS SIGNATURE ROLES, AND GOSH, IS IT EVER GREAT TO SEE HIM AGAIN!!  AFTER YEARS PRODUCING FILMS FOR HIS KIDS, WILL IS BACK,AND THE ENTIRE MOVIE WORLD SHOULD BE REJOICING. SHARE THE EXCITEMENT AT A LOCAL THEATER.  MIB 3 IS A GREAT WAY TO CELEBRATE!


BATTLESHIP **1/2

I SUPPOSE IT’S NOT REALLY A GOOD SIGN FOR A MOVIE WHEN HALF THE FUN OF GOING TO IT IS CACKLING THROUGH ITS CLICHES AND MAKING GUESSES (MOST OF THEM CORRECT) ABOUT WHAT’S COMING NEXT, AS I AND MY “ALIEN INVASION” SAVVY DATE WERE DOING THROUGH THE ENTIRETY OF THIS NEW FILM, LOOSELY BASED (AND WE’RE TALKING “LOOSELY” HERE IN THE SAME SENSE AS THE WINNER OF “THE BIGGEST LOSER” WOULD TALK ABOUT HOW THEIR OLD CLOTHES NOW FIT) ON THE CLASSIC HASBROS BOARD GAME ABOUT THE NOW ANTIQUATED WAR ART OF SHIPS FIGHTING EACH OTHER AT SEA.  SHE EVEN PREDICTED THE REQUISITE “SURPRISE” AT THE END A FULL TEN MINUTES BEFORE THE EXACT SAME THING HAPPENED ON-SCREEN.  NO, THIS IS NOT A FILM FOR ANYONE LOOKING FOR ORIGINALITY OR A UNIQUE PLOT OR A NEW TWIST OR DYNAMIC, WELL-CONCEIVED CHARACTERS, OR ANY OF THOSE OTHER THINGS THAT WE USUALLY USE TO DISTINGUISH GOOD FROM BAD MOVIES.  IT NOT ONLY HAS NONE OF THEM, BUT IT IS A VIRTUAL CLONE OF A WHOLE SLEW OF GRAND SCALE ALIEN INVASION/DISASTER MOVIES, FROM THE WAR OF THE WORLDS TO INDEPENDENCE DAY TO THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW AND 2012, THIS FILM DOESN’T MISS A BEAT.  BUT, LIKE MANY OF THE AFORE-MENTIONED MOVIES, IT ALSO DOESN’T FAIL TO ENTERTAIN, WITH SOME HUMAN DRAMA WELL-BALANCED WITH BROADSIDE AFTER BROADSIDE OF SAVING-THE-WORLD STYLE ACTION AND SPECIAL EFECTS.THAT REALLY ARE A LOT OF FUN TO WATCH.  THROW IN SOME REAL COMBAT VETS WHO SERVED ON THE U.S’S ONLY REAL STILL-COMMISSIONED BATTLESHIP TAKING HER FOR ONE LAST CHARGE INTO THE FRAY, AND PREDICTING THE PREDICTABLE PLOT AND GETTING IT RIGHT MOST OF THE TIME, (WHICH REALLY WAS A LOT OF FUN ALSO), AND YOU HAVE A SURPRISINGLY ENJOYABLE AFTERNOON OF ENTERTAINMENT.  SO IF YOU DO HAPPEN TO SET SAIL FOR THIS SHOW (ACCORDING TO BOX OFFICE NUMBERS, FEW ARE...), LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS, SETTLE IN WITH YOUR POPCORN AND YOUR FRIEND, AND REMEMBER THAT THIS IS ONE OF THOSE SHOWS THAT YOU DIDN’T COME TO TO BE INTELLECTUALLY CHALLENGED OR SEE SOMETHING PROFOUND.  YOU CAME TO HAVE FUN AND BE ENTERTAINED.  IF YOU KEEP THAT ATTITUDE, I PROMISE YOU THAT YOU WILL BE.         


DARK SHADOWS *** (for us Tim Burton/Johnny Depp fans), ** (for the rest)

IN RETROSPECT, THE UNEVEN TONE OF THIS NEWEST IN ONE OF MODERN FILMMAKING’S MOST STORIED DIRECTOR/ACTOR COLLABORATIONS SHOULD NOT HAVE THROWN ME OFF.  IT TOOK THE KEEN INSIGHT OF MY 13 YEAR-OLD VIEWING COMPANION TO POINT ME BACK TO ONE OF THE MOST ENDEARING QUALITIES OF TIM BURTON’S FILMS, PARTICULARLY THOSE WHICH FEATURE HIS FAVORITE LEADING MAN, JOHNNY DEPP (EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, SLEEPY HOLLOW, ETC.); UNPREDICTABILITY, UNEVENNESS,  ORIGINALITY, QUIRKINESS, AND A SENSE THAT YOU REALLY DO HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S COMING NEXT.  YOU CERTAINLY COULDN’T ASCRIBE ANY OF THOSE ATTRIBUTES TO THAT OTHER MUCH MORE LAUDED BLOCKBUSTER CURRENTLY IN THEATERS, THE AVENGERS.  IT’S ALSO WHY THIS FILM, BURTON’S HOMAGE TO THE EDGY OLD SOAP OPERA THAT AIRED FROM 1966-71 AND HAD A RAVENOUS FOLLOWING OF VAMP-LOVING TWEENS AND TEENS DECADES BEFORE ANYONE EVER DREAMED OF TWILIGHT, TRUE BLOOD, OR THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, PROBABLY WON’T MAKE EVEN A SMIDGEON OF THE BUCKS THAT THAT “OTHER” MOVIE IS RAKING IN, BUT WHO CARES ABOUT THAT?  FOR FANS OF BURTON/DEPP, IT WON’T MATTER, NOR WILL IT TO TEENS WHO LOVE CAMPINESS AND ORIGINALITY OR ADULTS LIKE ME WHO REMEMBER BOTH THE TV SHOW AND THE TIME PERIOD AND WILL HOWL THROUGH ITS NON-STOP SPOOFING OF BOTH.  AS ALWAYS, JOHNNY DEPP IS SPECTACULAR IN YET ANOTHER ODD-BALL ROLE, THIS TIME AS BARNABAS COLLINS, ANTI-HERO OF THE TV SERIES, THE MYSTERIOUS HEAD OF A CREEPY FAMILY OF FISHING MAGNATES IN COLLINSPORT, MAINE, WHICH HERE GIVES FORKS, WASHINGTON A RUN FOR ITS MONEY ON WHICH IS THE MOST APPROPRIATELY EERIE PLACE TO SET A VAMPIRE STORY.  WHAT ONLY A FEW KNOW, INCLUDING THE FAMILY’S MATRIARCH AND AN EVIL FAMILY RIVAL NAMED ANGELIQUE, IS THAT THE FINE, UPSTANDING BARNABAS IS REALLY A FEROCIOUS BLOOD-SUCKER!  HE CAN BE GRACIOUSLY OFFERING SHIP CAPTAINS GENEROUS BARGAINS FOR THEIR HAULS BY DAY, AND YET BY NIGHT BE DRAINING AN ENTIRE CONSTRUCTION CREW OF THEIR BODILY FLUIDS.  BARNABAS TAKES IT UPON HIMSELF TO RESTORE THE FAMILY’S GOOD NAME WHEN HE IS AWAKENED TWO CENTURIES INTO THE FUTURE (1972--NOTE THE YEAR--JUST AFTER THE SERIES WAS CANCELED....) AND FINDS IT TRASHED LARGELY DUE TO THE FAMILY CURSE THAT MADE HIM WHAT HE IS.  BUT 1972 ISN’T THE 1760’S, AND BARNABAS HAS SOME CATCHING UP TO DO.  THIS HE HYSTERICALLY DOES, WITH THE HELP OF SOME OF HIS ADDAMS FAMILY-LIKE RELATIVES, MOST NOTABLY ANGST-RIDDEN TEENAGER CAROLYN, WHO IT TURNS OUT SUFFERS FROM A LITTLE MORE LEGITIMATE MALAISE THAN MOST OTHER TEENAGE DRAMA QUEENS. AN OUTLANDISHLY OVER-THE-TOP ENDING STRAIGHT OUT OF DEATH BECOMES HER PUNCTUATES THE OFF-KILTER DELIGHT OF THE FILM WITH A GIANT, FIERY EXCLAMATION POINT. DIRECTOR BURTON HAS ASSEMBLED A WONDERFUL SUPPORTING CAST INCLUDING MICHELLE PFIEFFER, HELENA BONHAM CARTER, EVA GREEN, BELLA HEATHCOATE (IN A BREAKOUT ROLE AS BARNABAS’S LOVE INTEREST), AND CHLOE GRACE MORETZ, THE AMAZING TEEN ACTRESS WHO ONCE AGAIN SHINES PARTICULARLY BRIGHT (AND CREEPY) AS CAROLYN. A DELIGHT FOR FANS OF BURTON, DEPP, AND JUST WEIRD MOVIES IN GENERAL, A CIRCLE OF CONFUSION FOR MOST OTHERS, THIS IS A SHOW THAT THE ONLY THING YOU’LL BE CERTAIN OF ONCE YOU’VE SEEN IT IS THAT YOU’RE NOT CERTAIN WHAT YOU JUST SAW.  ENJOY...IF YOU DARE :) !.      


THE AVENGERS ***

RIDING A TIDE OF WELL OVER $200 MILLION IN FOREIGN BOX OFFICE RETURNS ALREADY AND A HOST OF GLOWING REVIEWS, THIS FIRST OF THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER COMIC BOOK MOVIES OF 2012 ROARED INTO AMERICAN THEATERS THIS WEEKEND AND TURNS OUT TO BE ALL THAT WAS ADVERTISED; A NON-STOP ACTION/SPECIAL EFFECTS EXTRAVAGANZA FEATURING AN ALL-STAR ENSEMBLE OF MARVEL SUPERHEROES, EACH OF WHOM STARRED IN OTHER BLOCKBUSTER MOVIES DATING BACK ALL THE WAY TO 2008’S ORIGINAL IRON MAN.  ALL THE ELEMENTS FOR A WONDERFUL COMIC BOOK HERO MOVIE ARE HERE.  WE HAVE WONDERFUL, BUT FLAWED, GOOD GUYS (IN THIS CASE SEVERAL, INCLUDING IRON MAN (ROBERT DOWNEY JR.), THOR (CHRIS HEMSWORTH), CAPTAIN AMERICA (CHRIS EVANS), THE HULK (MARK RUFFALOE), TWO LESSER KNOWNS BLACK WIDOW (SCARLETT  JOHANSSON) AND HAWKEYE (JEREMY RENNER), AND THEIR MORE HUMAN HANDLERS NICK FURY (SAMUEL L. JACKSON) AND AGENT COULSON (CLARK GREGG).  THEY FIGHT A REALLY, REALLY BAD GUY; LOKI, THOR’S BROTHER (TOM HIDDLESTON) AND THE MINIONS HE CAN SUMMON BY USING THE ULTIMATE WEAPON IN THE UNIVERSE (WHICH HE CONTROLS) CALLED THE TESSERACT (NO RELATION TO THE TESSERACT OF HARD SCI-FI NOVELS LIKE “A WRINKLE IN TIME”), WHO OF COURSE WILL RULE THE WORLD IF NOT STOPPED BY OUR HEROES.  LAYERED IN WITH THE REQUISITE NON-STOP ACTION IS A GENEROUS DOSE OF DRY HUMOR AND LAUGH-OUT-LOUD ONE-LINERS AS WELL AS A TINY SPICING OF THEME AND HERE AND THERE SOME PERSONAL ANGST.  THESE ARE ALL MIXED WELL BY DIRECTOR JOSS WHEDON, WHOSE ONLY PREVIOUS FEATURE WAS THE SCI-FI ADVENTURE SERENITY, A SPINOFF OF FIREFLY, ONE HIS LESSER-KNOWN TV SHOWS, WHICH INCLUDE BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.  IN A LOT OF WAYS, IT’S A PERFECT COMIC BOOK SUPERHERO FILM, AND RICHLY DESERVES THE MONSTROUS AMOUNT OF MONEY THAT IT’S MAKING FOR DISNEY, WHOSE FIRST WORLD-WIDE RELEASE OF A MARVEL STUDIOS MOVIE SINCE BUYING THEM OUT IN 2009 COMES JUST IN TIME TO RESCUE IT FROM THE JOHN CARTER BOX OFFICE DISASTER EARLIER THIS YEAR. HOWEVER, I WAS MISSING A COUPLE THINGS THAT WOULD HAVE MADE THIS A TRULY GREAT FILM.  FOR INSTANCE, NOWHERE HERE COULD THERE BE FOUND A COMPELLING, PERSONAL STORY THAT SET MOVIES LIKE THE ORIGINAL SPIDERMAN OR 2009’S THE INCREDIBLE HULK A CUT ABOVE THE OTHERS, OR THE THEMATIC MEAT OF THE ORIGINAL X-MEN, OR THE HEART-RENDING LOVE STORY OF LAST YEAR’S CAPTAIN AMERICA; THE FIRST AVENGER. THEN AGAIN, WITH THE ENSEMBLE CAST AND THE VAST SCOPE OF THIS FILM, I GUESS THAT’S TO BE EXPECTED.  AND TO HIS CREDIT, DIRECTOR WHEDON BRINGS ALL THE FILM’S VARIOUS ELEMENTS TO THE BRINK, BUT NEVER ALLOWS THEM TO GO TOO OVER-THE-TOP, PARTICULARLY THE ACTION SEQUENCES.  THIS MUST HAVE BEEN A HUGE TEMPTATION FOR WHEDON, BUT HE WISELY RESISTS, AND THUS SPARES HIS FILM THE IGNOMINY OF SUCH OUT-SIZED CLUNKERS AS THE GREEN LANTERN AND ALL OF THE TRANSFORMERS MOVIES AND KEEPS IT A LEAN, FAST-PACED, AND ENORMOUSLY ENJOYABLE BIT OF ENTERTAINMENT.  AS ONE FACEBOOK FAN OF MINE PUT IT, “A VERY, VERY GOOD MOVIE THAT’S REALLY FUNNY TOO.”  TREAT YOURSELF SOON IF YOU WEREN’T AMONG THE MASSES WHO THRONGED TO ITS RECORD OPENING WEEKEND, BUT MAKE SURE YOU SEE THE AVENGERS. 


THE HUNGER GAMES ****

DEEPLY PERSONAL, MOVING, BRUTAL, REPULSIVE, WHITE-KNUCKLE SUSPENSE, AND TRIUMPHANT HEROISM WERE ALL EMOTIONS THAT KEPT ME FLIPPING PAGES BACK IN 2009 WHEN I READ SUZANNE COLLINS’S BOOK THE HUNGER GAMES JUST BECAUSE IT WAS THE LATEST YA SERIES OUT THAT LOOKED INTERESTING AND WASN’T ABOUT VAMPIRES.  ALL THOSE EMOTIONS FLOODED BACK IN A TIDAL WAVE YESTERDAY AS I AND MY TRANSFIXED FRIENDS (ALSO BIG BOOK FANS) WATCHED WITH A SPELLBOUND AUDIENCE THE MOVIE VERSION OF THE COLLINS BOOK, ONE OF THE MOST EAGERLY ANTICIPATED FILMS OF THE ENTIRE 2012 HOLLYWOOD SLATE.  HAPPY TO REPORT THAT IT NOT ONLY DIDN’T DISAPPOINT, IT EVEN EXCEEDED MY LOFTY EXPECTATIONS.  THERE WERE KATNISS AND GALE, TEENS HELPING THEIR FAMILIES SURVIVE IN ONE OF THE MOST “HAVE-NOT” OF THE OTHER HAVE-NOT DISTRICTS IN A WARPED AMERICAN FUTURE WORLD WHERE THE “HAVES” OF THE CAPITAL REGIONS SUPPRESS ALL OTHER AREAS WITH BRUTAL ECONOMIC TYRANNY AND THE REQUIREMENT THAT EACH SEND TWO OF THEIR YOUTH TO A BARBARIC ANNUAL REALITY TV CONTEST WHERE THE RANDOMLY CHOSEN “TRIBUTES” FIGHT TO THE DEATH IN AN ELABORATE MEGA-ARENA TO THE DELIGHT OF CAPITAL FANS AND THE GRIM SUSPENSE OF FRIENDS AND FAMILIES IN HOME DISTRICTS.  THERE WAS KATNISS, RUSHING IN WITHOUT THINKING TO DO THE UNHEARD-OF; VOLUNTEER FOR THE CONTEST WHEN HER LITTLE SISTER WAS RANDOMLY CHOSEN, TAKING HER PLACE, TO ONLY LATER REALIZE THE UNSPEAKABLE ENORMITY OF WHAT SHE’D DONE.  THERE WAS PEETA, THE BAKER’S BOY WITH THE CRUSH ON KATNISS, LED AWAY TO THE SAME FATE.  THERE WAS THE CAPITAL, A COMBINATION OF ANCIENT ROME, HOLLYWOOD, AND THE EMERALD CITY, FILLED WITH ITS MATERIALISTICALLY OBSESSED MASSES, THE TRIBUTES FROM ALL THE DISTRICTS, THE RICHER OF WHOM WERE ACTUALLY BRED AND TRAINED FOR THE GAMES, THE TRAINING AND PREPARATION, AND FINALLY, THE BRUTAL CONTEST ITSELF.  ALL AS FAITHFULLY BROUGHT TO LIFE ON THE GIANT IMAX SCREEN AS NEARLY AS A 2 HOUR AND 20 MINUTE MOVIE COULD HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH.  FLAWLESS CASTING (FEATURING JENNIFER LAWRENCE, JOSH HUTCHERSON, WOODY HARRELSON, AND OTHERS), A SCRIPT HONED IN COLLABORATION WITH THE AUTHOR’S VISION (RATHER THAN IGNORING IT AS SO MANY BOOK ADAPTATIONS DO), BREATHTAKING CINEMATOGRAPHY, AND SCENE AFTER SCENE FILLED WITH BOTH HEART-PUMPING AND HEART-RENDING EMOTION REALLY SET THIS HEAD AND SHOULDERS ABOVE ANYTHING I’VE SEEN SO FAR THIS YEAR.  THE MOVIE’S THEMATIC MEAT IS A THICK-AS-MOLASSES UNDERTONE THAT ADULTS SHOULD SERIOUSLY PONDER IN  REFERENCE TO OUR OWN SOCIETY, AND ITS ACTION AND THE STARS AND THE STARK AND POWERFUL EMOTIONS THROUGHOUT MESMERIZED VIEWERS YOUNG AND OLD.  AND WHILE THERE IS MUCH CONTROVERSY ABOUT ALLOWING PRETEENS TO SEE THIS FILM (PERSONALLY, I’D LEAVE THE UNDER-10’S HOME), THE FILMMAKERS HAVE DONE A VERY GOOD JOB OF KEEPING THE GRAPHIC VIOLENCE OF THE BOOK IN CHECK ON-SCREEN, YET NOT SKIRT IT EITHER. THIS IS THE FIRST SERIOUSLY GREAT MOVIE OF 2012, AND IT CERTAINLY DESERVES THE RECORD BOX-OFFICE NUMBERS THAT ITS OPENING WEEKEND AUDIENCES ARE PILING UP.  BOOK FAN OR NO, THIS ONE IS NOT TO BE MISSED.              



THE PIRATES; BAND OF MISFITS *

IN THE OFF-CHANCE THAT THERE WAS SOME PROFOUND STATEMENT MADE OR SCENE PRESENTED THAT I MISSED AS I SNORED THROUGH THE MIDDLE OF THIS SNOOZER, I HAVE GIVEN IT ONE STAR JUST TO COVER MY BASES.  OTHERWISE, THERE WOULD BE NONE AT ALL FOR THIS FIRST TRULY BAD FILM OF 2012; A RIDICULOUS ANIMATED FARCE FROM AARDMAN ANIMATION, THE BRITISH BUNCH BEHIND FILMS LIKE CHICKEN RUN AND WALLACE AND GROMMIT WHO MOST RECENTLY BROUGHT US THE SOMEWHAT OBTUSE BUT STILL LIKABLE ARTHUR CHRISTMAS.  PIRATES ONCE AGAIN IS A FILM LOADED WITH THAT UNIQUE BRIT HUMOR THAT HAS A CULT FOLLOWING IN FANS OF BBC TV SHOWS LIKE FALTY TOWERS AND MONTY PYTHON, WHICH UNFORTUNATELY (FOR THE MOVIE) MEANS THAT MOST OF US HERE IN THE U.S. JUST DON’T GET IT.  IN THAT VEIN, THIS FILM GETS OFF ON THE WRONG FOOT FROM THE GET-GO, SETTING ITSELF IN THE WORLD OF ENGLAND AT THE TIME OF YOUNG QUEEN VICTORIA WHEN THE ENGLISH DOMINATED THE SEAS OF THE WORLD EXCEPT FOR THE NASTY LITTLE EXCEPTION OF THE CARIBBEAN, WHERE VARIOUS PIRATE BANDS STILL MADE LIFE MISERABLE FOR MERCHANT SHIPPING ON OCCASION, THOUGH HISTORICALLY SPEAKING, THE HEYDAY OF PIRACY HAD LONG PASSED.  WHAT FOLLOWS AFTER THIS IS A PARODY OF EVERY PIRATE CLICHE BURIED IN DAVY JONES‘ LOCKER AS “PIRATE CAPTAIN” (HUGH GRANT) AND HIS “BAND OF MISFITS” COMPETE FOR THE “PIRATE OF THE YEAR” AWARD AND END UP BEING SIDE-TRACKED INTO A BIZARRE KIDNAPPING--OF PIRATE CAPTAIN’S RARE DODO BIRD (WHICH HE THINKS IS A “BIG-BONED” PARROT) BY CHARLES DARWIN, WHO SEEKS IT TO IMPRESS THE QUEEN HERSELF, FEARFUL THAT SHE’S HIS LAST, BEST HOPE FOR A GIRLFRIEND (I TOLD YOU THIS WAS “OUT THERE...”)..  THE ONLY THING SILLIER THAN THE AFORE-STATED PREMISE HERE ARE ALL THE JOKES AND SO-CALLED HUMOR, WHICH ARE SUCH GROANERS THAT I WAS BORED INSIDE OF FIVE MINUTES.  NO WONDER I WAS SNORING THROUGH THE MIDDLE  A REAL WASTE OF TIME, I’M AFRAID, FOR JUST ABOUT EVERYONE.  THE KIDS MIGHT ENJOY THE FUNNY IMAGES, BUT WON’T GET ANY OF THE JOKES, WHILE THE ADULTS WILL BE YAWNING THROUGH THE “HUMOR” AND WONDERING WHY IN THE WORLD THEY CAME IN THE FIRST PLACE.  UNLESS YOU’RE A FANATICAL FAN OF MONTY PYTHON, THERE’S NOT MUCH HERE FOR YOU.  AND SINCE IT ALSO CARRIES WITH IT THE DREADED 3D PRICE TAG, THIS IS ONE TO SKIP ALTOGETHER AND SAVE YOUR BUCKS FOR THE MUCH MORE WORTHWHILE SHOWS TO COME IN MAY AS THE SUMMER KICKS OFF IN A BIG WAY WITH THE AVENGERS. SPARE YOURSELF THE TIME AND MONEY, UNLESS, THAT IS, YOU’RE WANTING A LITTLE NAP.     


THE 3 STOOGES **1/2

IN HOLLYWOOD’S LONG HISTORY OF REMAKING AND “REINTRODUCING” OLD STORIES AND CONCEPTS TO A NEW GENERATION, THIS OLD AFTERNOON TV SERIES ABOUT THREE DUPES WHO SOMEHOW MANAGE TO POKE, BONK, BOING, AND SLAP THEIR WAY TO EVENTUALLY ACCOMPLISHING SOMETHING WORTHWHILE RANKS AMONG THE MOST DATED OF THE GENRE AND PROBABLY ONE OF THE LEAST “NEEDED TO BE REVIVED.”  AND YET THE FARRELLY BROTHERS, THE COMEDIC MASTERMINDS BEHIND THE GAME-CHANGER THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, (AS WELL AS NOT SUCH BRILLIANT FARE SUCH AS DUMB AND DUMBER AND SHALLOW HAL) PRESENT A SURPRISINGLY FAITHFUL REBOOT HERE THAT HAS A GOOD HEART ALONG WITH THE STEADY STRING OF SIGHT-GAGS AND SLAPSTICK THAT HAS YOU IN STITCHES DESPITE THEIR STUPIDITY. MOST NOTABLE IS HOW PRECISELY THEY AND ACTORS CHRIS DIAMANTOPOULOS, WILL SASSO, AND SEAN HAYES HAVE REPRODUCED THE ICONIC MOE, CURLY, AND LARRY, PLAYED ORIGINALLY BY REAL-LIFE BROTHERS MOE AND JERRY HOWARD AND LARRY FINE BACK IN THE 1930’S.  ABOUT THE ONLY WAY YOU CAN DISTINGUISH THESE NEW GUYS FROM THE ORIGINALS IS THE FACT THAT THEY’RE SHOT IN COLOR.  FROM THE MAKE-UP TO EVERY NUANCED EXPRESSION, SLAP, EYE-POKE, AND MANNERISM, THESE GUYS ARE THE THREE STOOGES THAT BABY-BOOMERS AND THEIR PARENTS LOVED TO WATCH ON AFTERNOON TV.  AND THE STORY THAT THE FARRELLYS USE, ABOUT THE MODERN-DAY ORPHANAGE THAT’’LL SOON HAVE TO CLOSE AS ITS THREE MOST DIM-WITTED RESIDENTS UNWITTINGLY DRIVE IT INTO BANKRUPTCY, GETS ADDED COMEDIC PUNCH WHEN THEY UNDAUNTEDLY HEAD OUT INTO THE REAL WORLD OF 2012 TO RAISE MONEY TO SAVE IT, USING THEIR UNIQUE FORM OF 1940-STYLE NAIVETY AND “CHARM.” ONE’S REMINDED OF THE ORIGINAL BRADY BUNCH MOVIE WHERE THE 1970’S BRADYS SALLIED FORTH INTO THE 90’S, COMPLETE WITH SACK RACES AND MARSHA INVITING AN AGED DAVY JONES TO SING AT THE HIGH SCHOOL PROM.  HERE, THE STOOGES GET TO MEET RAPPERS, SAGGERS AND BAGGERS, AND EVEN THE CAST OF JERSEY SHORE TO HYSTERICAL CONSEQUENCE.  YOEMAN-LIKE SUPPORT COMES FROM A FINE CAST INCLUDING JANE LYNCH (OF GLEE), STEPHEN COLLINS, JENNIFER HUDSON AS A SINGING NUN, AND LARRY DAVID IN DRAG AS THE PROVERBIAL NUN FROM HELL (APTLY NAMED SISTER MARY-MENGELE, FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO REMEMBER YOUR NAZI TRIVIA).  DESPITE THE BLATANT DUMBNESS OF THE ENTIRE MOVIE, THE INNOCENT KOOKINESS AND NON-STOP STUPIDITY OF THE FILM’S THREE “EPISODES” HAD KIDS AND ADULTS ALIKE GIGGLING AND GUFFAWING THROUGH THE DURATION.  WHILE NOT GREAT FILMMAKING BY ANY STRETCH OF A PRIEST’S SMOCK OVER HIS HEAD, THIS IS A HEART-WARMING AND ENTERTAINING LAUGHER THAT WILL LEAVE EVEN THE MOST CYNICAL SCROOGE CHUCKLING WITH GUILTY PLEASURE ON THE WAY OUT.  AND FOR THOSE WHO FEAR THAT THEIR KIDS MIGHT HEAD HOME TRYING TO POKE EACH OTHER’S EYES OUT OR RUMMAGE THROUGH THE TOOL CHEST TO FIND SOMETHING TO BASH EACH OTHER WITH, THE FARRELLYS DO ADD A CUTE LITTLE PS AT THE END SHOWING HOW EVERYTHING IN THE SHOW WAS FAKE; A SORT OF “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME” ADDENDUM THAT SHOULD GIVE COMFORT TO PARENTS. AN UTTERLY RIDICULOUS, BUT WELL-DONE BIT OF AFTERNOON FUN FOR THE ENTIRE FAMILY SAVE POSSIBLY THE 6 AND UNDERS.


TITANIC 3D ****

HERE’S ANOTHER 3D REINCARNATION OF AN OLDER CLASSIC FILM, THIS TIME DONE BY 3D MASTER JAMES CAMERON ON HIS OWN MASTERPIECE TO CELEBRATE THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE SEMINAL DISASTER THAT SERVES AS THE BACKDROP FOR ONE OF HOLLYWOOD’S CLASSIC ROMANCES (I WRITE THIS PIECE ON THE VERY DATE OF THE CATACLYSMIC SINKING--APRIL 15TH).  HERE’S THE NOT-SO-SURPRISING NEWS.  THE 1997 CLASSIC, WHICH MADE OVER $1.3 BILLION AT THE BOX OFFICE AND TIES BEN-HUR AND LOTR; THE RETURN OF THE KING WITH THE MOST-EVER WON ACADEMY AWARDS (11) DOESN’T NEED ONE OUNCE OF ITS 3D MAKEOVER TO COMPLETELY ENTHRALL A 2012 AUDIENCE JUST LIKE IT DID BACK AT CHRISTMAS OF THE YEAR IT WAS FIRST RELEASED.  EVERYTHING HOLDS UP MARVELOUSLY, FROM THE DISARMINGLY SIMPLE AND GUT-WRENCHING FICTIONAL LOVE STORY OF JACK AND ROSE (BREAK-OUT ROLES FOR BOTH LEONARDO DICAPRIO AND KATE WINSLET) TO THE METICULOUSLY AND AWESOMELY RE-ENACTED NON-FICTIONAL STORY OF THE ICONIC SHIP’S SINKING IN 1912.  EVEN THE SPECIAL EFFECTS, WHICH I’M SURE COULD HAVE BEEN ENHANCED SOMEHOW USING TODAY’S TECHNOLOGY, NEED NO SUCH ENHANCEMENT, AND WERE SMARTLY LEFT ALONE BY CAMERON IN THIS VERSION.  THE JAWS OF THE AUDIENCE STILL DROP WITH THE AWESOME SPECTACLES, THE HEARTS STILL POUND WITH THE DESPERATION OF SURVIVAL AT ANY COST, AND BREAK WITH SORROW AT THE UNFATHOMABLE LOSS.  WHO CARES ABOUT THE 3D?  MAYBE YOU’LL CATCH SOMETHING THAT LOOKS A BIT MORE REAL OR A TAD “COOLER” THAN BEFORE, BUT  I BARELY NOTICED.  I JUST LOVED EXPERIENCING ONE OF THE BEST  “BIG” FILMS OF ALL TIME ONCE AGAIN ON THE BIG SCREEN, AND SO WILL YOU!


MIRROR, MIRROR *** (or maybe **1/2?)

ANOTHER PLEASANT SURPRISE COMES OUR WAY THIS SPRING MOVIE SEASON IN THIS FIRST OF TWO RETELLINGS OF THE SNOW WHITE FAIRY TALE THAT HOLLYWOOD WILL SERVE UP FOR US OVER THE NEXT FEW MONTHS.  ONCE AGAIN, I WAS EXPECTING LITTLE AFTER READING ABYSMAL REVIEWS, AND FOR MUCH OF THIS FILM, I UNFORTUNATELY GOT WHAT I EXPECTED; AN ODD MISH-MASH OF ROMANCE, ACTION, DRAMA, AND SNARKY COMEDY THAT WAS TRYING VERY HARD TO COME ACROSS AS THE NEXT PRINCESS BRIDE, BUT TO LITTLE AVAIL.  AFTER A LONG NARRATION TO SET THE SCENE, WE HAVE JULIA ROBERTS AS THE EVIL QUEEN WHO ORDERS HER STEP-DAUGHTER SNOW WHITE (LILLY COLLINS) KILLED AFTER THE CLOISTERED SNOW, HEARING HOW THE PEOPLE OF THE KINGDOM ARE NO LONGER TREATED KINDLY LIKE THEY WERE IN THE DAYS OF HER NOW-DECEASED FATHER, GOES OUT TO SEE FOR HERSELF AND THREATENS REBELLION WHEN SHE FINDS IT’S TRUE.  BUT THE QUEEN’S CHAMBERLAIN (NATHAN LANE) LOVES SNOW AND CAN’T GO THROUGH WITH THE KILLING SO, HE ABANDONS HER IN THE FOREST WHERE SHE’S TAKEN IN BY A ROBIN HOOD-LIKE GROUP OF DWARVES WHO MASQUERADE AS GIANTS BY GETTING ABOUT ON WEIRD, STILT-LIKE SPRINGS.  MEANWHILE, A HANDSOME PRINCE (ARMIE HAMMER) COMES TO THE KINGDOM, IS MAGICALLY WOOED BY THE QUEEN, BUT IS CAPTIVATED BY SNOW BEFORE HER “DEATH” AND GOES LOOKING FOR HER UPON HEARING THAT SHE’S NOW A BANDIT.  YES, IT ALL IS A BIT CONFUSING, AND WHEN THE QUEEN WALKS THROUGH HER MAGIC “MIRROR, MIRROR” ON THE WALL AND ENDS UP IN SOME TIKI-LIKE HUT AND SHE USES PUPPY-LOVE POTION TO ENTRANCE THE PRINCE, WELL, IT GETS WEIRDER STILL.  BUT THROUGHOUT, SNOW AND THE DWARVES NOT ONLY SAVE A LOT OF THE PEOPLE’S GOLD FROM GETTING RIPPED OFF, BUT SAVE THE MOVIE FROM SINKING INTO STUPIDITY BY GIVING IT HEART AND SOME GENUINE HUMOR.  FINALLY, IN LITERALLY THE FILM’S LAST TEN MINUTES, A COUPLE OF WONDERFUL SURPRISES IN THE MIDST OF AN ACTION-PACKED CLIMAX GIVE THE STORY THE SOUL IT SHOULD HAVE HAD ALL ALONG, AND EVEN DREW A NICE ROUND OF APPLAUSE FROM THE WELL-PACKED AUDIENCE THAT I SAW THIS WITH.  WHILE JULIA ROBERTS AND ARMIE HAMMER ARE HAMSTRUNG BY THEIR BIZARRELY ODD ROLES, ALL THE DWARF ACTORS ARE WONDERFUL, AND LILLY COLLINS (FIRST SEEN AS COLLINS IN THE BLIND SIDE, THEN AS TAYLOR LAUTNER’S FELLOW RUNAWAY IN ABDUCTION), IS A REAL REVELATION IN HER FIRST LEADING ROLE.  ACTIONY YET DISARMINGLY INNOCENT IN THIS ROLE, SHE SHINES A TRUE LIGHT IN THIS MAZE OF INCONSISTENCY, AND WHEN SHE GETS TOGETHER WITH SEAN BEAN IN A SURPRISE APPEARANCE NEAR THE END, THE TWO LITERALLY SAVE THE FILM.  AND LET THERE BE NO DOUBT EITHER THAT THE ONLY CHILD OF ROCKER PHIL COLLINS AND HIS SECOND WIFE HAS DEFINITELY GOT THE FAMILY PIPES, AS SHE SINGS THROUGH AN END-CREDITS BOLLYWOOD-STYLE DANCE NUMBER THAT’S A TOTAL HOOT.  NO WORD ON IF SHE’S ALSO A DRUMMER :).  OVERALL, SHE, THE DWARVES, AND THE QUIRKY HUMOR CARRY YOU THROUGH THE WEIRDNESS TO A MARVELOUS ENDING IN ONE OF THE FEW SHOWS OUT NOW (SAVE “THE LORAX”) THAT’S A SAFE BET FOR THE YOUNGER ONES IN THE FAM AS WELL AS THE TWEENS AND TEENS.  WINCE, GRIMACE, BUT ULTIMATELY SMILE THROUGH THIS ODDLY INTERESTING FANTASY.


JOHN CARTER ***

AS MY YOUNG ATHLETE EMILY WILL TESTIFY TO, I LOVE PLEASANT SURPRISES, AND BOY DID THE AUDIENCE AND I GET ONE WITH THIS NEW LIVE-ACTION MOVIE FROM ONE OF DISNEY’S TOP PIXAR ANIMATION DIRECTORS, ANDREW STANTON. (FINDING NEMO, WALL-E).  WITH ALL THE SO-SO TRACKING NUMBERS SAYING THAT THIS MOVIE COULD BE THE FLOP OF THE DECADE FOR DISNEY, I CERTAINLY DIDN’T COME INTO THE THEATER EXPECTING TOO MUCH, AND WITH A CONFUSING WILD-WEST BEGINNING FOR THE SHOW’S FIRST TEN MINUTES, I WAS ABOUT TO WRITE THIS OFF LIKE IT SEEMS MANY OTHERS HAD.  BUT THEN, JOHN CARTER, CONFEDERATE CAVALRY OFFICE IN SEARCH OF GOLD BECAME JOHN “VIRGINIA” CARTER, FISH-OUT-OF-WATER INSTANT SUPERHERO (BECAUSE OF HIS HIGHER MOLECULAR DENSITY AND LOWER LEVEL OF GRAVITY) ON MARS, THRUST INTO A CONFLICT BETWEEN THREE CIVILIZATIONS (TWO HUMANOID, AND ONE SORT OF A CROSS BETWEEN JAMES CAMERON’S BLUE PEOPLE IN “AVATAR” AND GEORGE LUCAS’S JAR-JAR BINKS RACE IN “PHANTOM MENACE.”).  AND IN THE MIDST OF THAT, A GORGEOUS, KICK-BUTT PRINCESS WITH A HEART OF GOLD TRYING TO ESCAPE AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE THAT SHE KNOWS WILL DESTROY HER CIVILIZATION AND A BUNCH OF WEIRD SHAPE-SHIFTERS WHO MANIPULATE THE WHOLE SITUATION FOR THEIR OWN SELFISH PURPOSES.  ACTION, INTRIGUE, AND ROMANCE ENSUE AS CARTER FIRST RESISTS, THEN FINALLY EMBRACES HIS ROLE AS RESIDENT SUPERHERO WITH THE POWER TO CHANGE THINGS FOR GOOD IN A WORLD THAT’S TEARING ITSELF APART.  A HEART-TUGGING AND ULTIMATELY WONDERFUL ENDING TOP OFF THIS WILD ADVENTURE.  I SUPPOSE ONE COULD CYNICALLY SIT BACK AND SAY SOMETHING LIKE “WE’VE SEEN THAT BEFORE IN AVATAR” OR “THAT’S A SCENE RIGHT OUT OF STAR WARS 2; ATTACK OF THE CLONES.”  HOWEVER, THE DIFFERENCE IS THAT THIS MOVIE IS BASED ON THE EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS NOVELS WRITTEN IN THE EARLY 1900’S (HE’S ACTUALLY A CHARACTER IN THIS FILM, CLEVERLY WOVEN INTO THE PLOT) THAT BOTH JAMES CAMERON AND GEORGE LUCAS WERE IN PART BORROWING FROM IN THEIR EPICS.  THERE’S NO BORROWING HERE!  THIS IS THE ORIGINAL SOURCE MATERIAL, AND THE “FAMILIAR” SCENES, ESPECIALLY THOSE FROM THE EARLY CHAPTERS OF THE STAR WARS MOVIES, ARE DONE WITH SO MUCH MORE HEART AND FLAIR!  IT’S LIKE WHAT THOSE FLAT, HEARTLESS SCENES IN “PHANTOM MENACE” AND “ATTACK OF THE CLONES” SHOULD HAVE BEEN, BUT SADLY WEREN’T.  PERHAPS JOHN CARTER ISN’T A GREAT MOVIE, BUT IT’S CERTAINLY A WONDERFULLY FUN AND EXCITING SPACE OPERA DONE WITH STYLE AND PANACHE THAT IS ENORMOUSLY ENTERTAINING FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY, AS ATTESTED TO BY ONE SUCH FAMILY FROM MY SCHOOL THAT CAUGHT ME ON THE WAY OUT.  EVERYONE, FROM THE PARENTS TO THEIR 6TH GRADER TO THEIR 3RD GRADE DAUGHTERS WERE SMILING AWAY AND HAD A GREAT TIME.  GO FIND SOME ENJOYMENT FOR YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY ON THIS ACTIONY FLIGHT TO “BARSOON”--ER, MARS, THAT IS!


THE LORAX ***

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS NEW ANIMATION ARM, ILLUMINATION ANIMATION, LOOKS LIKE THEY’VE COME UP WITH ANOTHER BIG WINNER (THEY ALSO DID DESPICABLE ME AND HOP) IN THIS DR. SEUSS-BASED DELIGHT THAT ALSO CARRIES A LOT OF “POKE IN THE RIBS” JIBES ABOUT MODERN SOCIETY AND A VERY BLUNT MESSAGE ABOUT RAMPANT ABUSE OF NATURAL RESOURCES.  AND TO BE FAIR TO UNIVERSAL AS WELL AS FEND OFF THE INEVITABLE ASSAULT FROM FOX NEWS COMMENTATORS ON ANOTHER ATTEMPT BY HOLLYWOOD TO BRAINWASH CHILDREN TOWARD’S SO-CALLED “LEFTIST THINKING” (I MEAN, THEY SAID THAT ABOUT THE MUPPET MOVIE WHEN SUCH AN INTENTION WAS TOTALLY NON-EXISTENT), IT WAS THEODORE GIESEL, AKA DR. SEUSS, WHO WROTE THIS ENVIRONMENTAL DIATRIBE BACK IN 1971, SO DON’T GO AFTER “LEFTIST HOLLYWOOD” ON THIS.  THEY’RE JUST BEING FAITHFUL TO GIESEL’S VISION (DAUGHTER AUDREY GIESEL WAS AN EXECUTIVE PRODUCER).  THE STORY BEGINS WITH TED, A KID WHO’S GOT HIS EYES ON THAT WILLOWY, GREEN-EYED RED-HEAD DOWN THE STREET, AUDREY, AND DISCOVERS THAT SHE’S A WONDERFUL ARTIST AND HAS PAINTED A BEAUTIFUL MURAL OF SOMETHING THAT NEITHER TED NOR ANYONE ELSE IN THEIR CLOISTERED TOWN OF THNEEDVILLE HAVE EVER SEEN, A REAL, LIVE TRUFFULA TREE.  IN FACT, THE PEOPLE OF THNEEDVILLE HAVE NEVER SEEN ANY KIND OF LIVING PLANT OR ANIMAL LIFE.  THEIR ENTIRE TOWN IS 100% MANUFACTURED, THANKS TO THE AVARICIOUS MR. O’HARE, WHOSE PLANTS PUMP OUT THE GOODS WHILE POLLUTING THE AIR TO DRIVE SALES OF THEIR MAIN PRODUCT--AIR!  HIS MARKETING PEOPLE HAVE EVEN FIGURED OUT THAT FOLKS WILL BUY MORE AIR IF IT’S PACKAGED IN CLEAR PLASTIC BOTTLES (ONE OF THOSE POKES IN THE RIBS THERE...).  SO TED, DETERMINED TO WIN AUDREY BY BRINGING HER A TREE, VENTURES OUTSIDE THE WALLS OF HIS TOWN AND DISCOVERS A BARREN WORLD WHOSE ONLY INHABITANT SEEMS TO BE AN OLD GUY CALLED THE ONCE-LER.  THIS PATHETIC OLD MAN TELLS TED THE SAD STORY OF HOW HE CAME TO THE TRUFFULA VALLEY AND DISCOVERED THAT THE SECRET TO HIS ENTREPRENEURIAL DREAM WAS IN THE WHISPY TOPS OF THE TRUFFULA TREES.  AND SO, TO MAKE MORE AND MORE MONEY, HE HAD TO CUT DOWN MORE AND MORE TREES UNTIL HE EVENTUALLY CUT THEM ALL DOWN, DESPITE THE WARNINGS OF THE CANTANKEROUS LORAX, DEFENDER OF THE FOREST, AND A HOST OF WAY-TOO-CUTE FOREST CREATURES. BROKE AND DESTITUTE, HE NOW ONLY HAS ONE TRUFFULA SEED LEFT.  WHAT HE AND TED DO WITH IT LEADS TO A ROUSING CONFRONTATION WITH O’HARE AND AN INSPIRATIONAL ENDING.  WHILE THE STORY HERE WAS A BIT FLAT AND PREDICTABLE, IT WAS VERY WELL TOLD, ZAC EFRON AS TED, ED HELMS AS THE ONCE-LER, TAYLOR SWIFT AS AUDREY, AND DANNY DEVITO AS THE LORAX, AS WELL AS OTHERS DO A WONDERFUL VOICE-ACTING JOB WITH THEIR CHARACTERS, AND THERE’S ALSO SEVERAL DAZZLING MUSICAL NUMBERS WHERE THE ANIMATION IS MIND-BOGGLING.  AND THOSE FOREST CREATURES HAD MY AUDIENCE, WHICH WAS PACKED TO THE GUNWALES WITH PRIMARY-AGE KIDS, GIGGLING AND “AWWW”-ING WITH EACH NEW EXPRESSION OF A FLUFFY LITTLE BEAR OR FIESTY FISH..  REGARDLESS OF YOUR POLITICS, THE LORAX BRINGS A SERIOUS MESSAGE TO HUMANS THAT BEARS HEEDING IN AN ALMOST IRRESISTIBLY CUTE AND CUDDLY WRAPPING.  SAFE FOR EVEN THE TINIEST OF TOTS, THIS IS A FILM THAT ADULTS CAN COME AWAY WITH SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT EVEN AS THE KIDS ARE GOO-GOOING THE CUTE STUFF.   SERIOUSLY FUN ENTERTAINMENT.


THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETY ***1/2

IT’S APPARENTLY BEEN A LONG TIME COMING (THIS FILM WAS FIRST RELEASED OVERSEAS IN 2010), BUT IT’S DEFINITELY BEEN WELL WORTH THE WAIT.  JAPAN’S ANIME MOVIE STUDIO GHIBLI (PONYO, HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, SPIRITED AWAY,AND THE MUCH EDGIER PRINCESS MONONKE) NOW BRINGS US THIS QUIETLY SUSPENSEFUL TALE OF LITTLE PEOPLE IN PERIL BASED ON MARY NORTON’S KIDS’ CLASSIC NOVEL THE BORROWERS.  IN FACT, WHY IT’S NOT TITLED “THE BORROWERS”, AT LEAST HERE IN THE USA, IS RATHER A MYSTERY AS IT WOULD BE INSTANTLY RECOGNIZABLE TO BOTH KIDS AND ADULTS.  WEIRD TITLE ASIDE, THIS IS NOT THE INNOCENT LITTLE CHILDREN’S MOVIE THAT IT’S QUIET NEO-FOLK MUSIC (WRITTEN AND PERFORMED BY CECILIE CORBEL) AND TRADITIONALLY DRAWN ANIMATION WITH LANDSCAPES RIGHT OUT OF A MONET PAINTING WOULD LULL YOU INTO THINKING.  JUST SPEND A MINUTE PICTURING YOURSELF AS A 4-INCH TALL HUMAN TRYING TO SURVIVE IN TODAY’S WORLD AND YOU’LL SEE WHAT I MEAN.  LIFE FOR 14 YEAR-OLD “BORROWER” ARRIETY AND HER PARENTS IS AN EVERYDAY STRUGGLE THAT CARRIES WITH IT MORTAL DANGER AT MOST EVERY TURN.  EVEN THE INSECTS CAN BE LETHAL, NOT TO MENTION CREATURES LIKE CATS OR CROWS.  THESE UNIQUE HUMANS GET THEIR NAME “BORROWERS” FROM THE NECESSITY THEY HAVE TO “BORROW” TINY AMOUNTS OF THINGS USED BY NORMAL HUMANS IN ORDER TO SURVIVE; SCRAPS OF FOOD, SWEETS, SPICES, PINS, A KLEENEX TISSUE NOW AND THEN, ETC.  ABOVE ALL, BORROWERS MUST AVOID DETECTION BY NORMAL HUMANS, FOR HUMAN CURIOSITY INVARIABLY LEADS TO CAPTURE AND/OR DEATH.  AND SO WHEN ARRIETY IS CARELESSLY PLAYING AROUND IN THE GARDEN OF THE HOUSE THAT HER FAMILY LIVES UNDER AND IS SPOTTED BY SICKLY TEENAGER SHAWN, IT’S A DEADLY SERIOUS MATTER.  BUT SHAWN’S NOT YOUR AVERAGE TEEN.  FACING HEART SURGERY AND IN NEED OF BED REST, HE’S SCARED AND DESPERATELY LONELY, HIS ONLY COMPANION BEING HIS CANTANKEROUS CARETAKER HARA.  AND HE ALSO KNOWS THAT HIS GRANDPARENTS THOUGHT THAT “LITTLE PEOPLE” LIVED UNDER THE HOUSE.  THEY’D EVEN PAINSTAKINGLY BUILT THEM A BEAUTIFUL DOLLHOUSE FOR THEM TO LIVE IN, BUT THE PEOPLE HAD NEVER COME OUT TO USE IT.  HIS AND ARRIETY’S ATTEMPTS AT FRIENDSHIP ARE BOTH HEARTWARMING AND FRAUGHT WITH DANGER, ULTIMATELY LEADING TO A HARROWING CLIMAX.  DISNEY, THE FILM’S USA DISTRIBUTOR, HAS DIPPED INTO ITS OCEAN’S DEEP WELL OF YOUNG TALENT AND PULLED OUT BRIDGIT MENDLER (GOOD LUCK, CHARLEY) AND DENNIS HENRIE (WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE) TO HANDLE THE VOICE WORK FOR ARRIETY AND SHAWN, TAPPED AMY POEHLER AS ARRIETY’S UBER-PARANOID MOTHER, WILL ARNETT AS HER STOIC, STEADY FATHER AND CAROL BURNETT  DOES A HYSTERICAL TURN AS THE GRUMPY HARA.  I FOUND MYSELF (AND LIKEWISE THE AUDIENCE I WAS WITH) AMUSED, INTRIGUED, GLAD, SAD, ON-THE-EDGE-OF-MY-SEAT FRANTIC, AND ULTIMATELY MOVED BY THIS SEDUCTIVELY MASTERFUL STORY THAT NOT EVEN A SLIGHTLY OFF ENDING COULD DAMPEN; ONE THAT CARRIES WITH IT BOTH UNUSUAL EXCITEMENT AND SURPRISING DEPTH.  DON’T LET THE ULTRA CUTESY LOOK AND SUGARY SWEETNESS OF THE TRAILERS FOOL YOU. THIS IS AN “ALL AGES” FAMILY ACTION/DRAMA THAT SHOULDN’T BE MISSED BY ANYONE!!  


JOURNEY 2; THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND **1/2

ANOTHER OF PIONEERING SCI-FI AUTHOR JULES VERNE’S BOOKS IS UPDATED AND BROUGHT TO THE BIG SCREEN BY WARNER BROS. IN THIS ADAPTATION OF HIS BOOK “THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND.”  IT’S CALLED “JOURNEY 2” BECAUSE THE SERIES ORIGINATED IN 2008 WITH WALDEN MEDIA’S UPDATE OF VERNE’S BETTER-KNOWN CLASSIC A JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, WHICH STARRED BRENDAN FRASER AND 12 YEAR-OLD JOSH HUTCHERSON AS DESCENDANTS OF THE BOOK’S ANDERSON FAMILY WHO TREK TO ICELAND AND CLIMB INTO THE BOWELS OF A VOLCANO AND DISCOVER ONE OF VERNE’S MOST CELEBRATED FANTASY WORLDS.  THAT FILM WAS ALSO ONE OF THE FIRST OF THE 3D REVOLUTION FILMS THAT WOULD EXPLODE THE NEXT YEAR WITH THE ADVENT OF AVATAR.  INTERESTINGLY ENOUGH, THE KID, HUTCHERSON AS NOW 17 YEAR-OLD SEAN ANDERSON, IS THE ONLY HOLDOVER IN THIS “SEQUEL,” WHICH ALSO STARS DWAYNE “THE ROCK” JOHNSON AS SEAN’S STEPDAD HANK, WHO HELPS SEAN DECODE A MESSAGE FROM SEAN’S LONG-LOST GRANDFATHER (MICHAEL CAINE) THAT “THE ISLAND IS REAL.”  STRIVING TO BOND WITH HIS NEW STEPSON, HANK TAKES SEAN TO THE SOUTH PACIFIC ISLAND OF PALAU, WHERE THEY MEET A BRAINLESS TOUR GUIDE (LUIS GUZMAN) AND HIS GORGEOUS DAUGHTER KAILANI (VANESSA HUDGENS), AND TOGETHER THE FOURSOME CRASH ONTO THE UNCHARTED “MYSTERIOUS ISLAND” WHICH TURNS OUT TO BE A WEIRD COMBINATION OF ALL SORTS OF “MYSTERIOUS ISLANDS” OF CLASSIC LITERATURE INCLUDING SWIFT’S LILIPUT, STEVENSON’S TREASURE ISLAND, PLATO’S ATLANTIS, AND VERNE’S OWN HAVEN FOR HIS “NAUTILUS” SUBMARINE.  UNFORTUNATELY, IT’S ABOUT TO SINK ONCE AGAIN INTO THE SEA (AS IT’S APPARENTLY DONE THROUGHOUT TIME) AND SEAN, HANK, AND THEIR MOTLEY CREW HAVE NO WAY TO GET OFF.  MOST OF THIS IS STANDARD, IF NOT OCCASIONALLY FUNNY AND ORIGINAL, FAMILY ACTION FILM FARE; THE IMPOSSIBLE SITCH, THE TEEN LOVE THING, THE PARENT-CHILD BONDING, EYE-WOWING ACTION SEQUENCES FILLED WITH BIG CGI SPECIAL EFFECTS, ETC. ETC.  HUTCHERSON, ABOUT TO BURST INTO MOVIE SUPER-STARDOM AS PEETA MELARK IN NEXT MONTH’S HUNGER GAMES, GIVES US A NICE PREVIEW OF WHAT TO EXPECT AS HE’S ONE OF THE FEW THAT SEEMS TO TAKE HIS ACTING SERIOUSLY IN THIS.  DWAYNE JOHNSON SHOWS A NEW SIDE OF HIMSELF AS WELL AS HILARIOUSLY EXPLOITS THE SIDE HE’S MORE FAMOUS FOR, AND UNFORTUNATELY, THE TALENTED HUDGENS IS THERE MOSTLY FOR EYE-CANDY AND THE PRE-EMINENT CAINE IS WASTED AS LARGELY A CARICATURE.  BUT STILL, MOST FANS, INCLUDING THE PACKED HOUSE THAT I SAW THIS WITH, WILL FIND LOTS TO LAUGH AND CHEER ABOUT.  SO TAKE THE KIDS AND ENJOY!  OH, AND DON’T WORRY ABOUT PAYING THE EXTRA FOR 3D IF YOU DON’T HAVE TO.  I SAW THE REGULAR 2D VERSION AND DOUBT THAT THE 3D WOULD HAVE BEEN WORTH THE EXTRA TWO OR THREE BUCKS.  PASSABLE AND FUN FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT.


CHRONICLE ***

SO WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU SUDDENLY HAD SUPER-POWERS?  WHILE SPIDERMAN AND SUPERMAN EXPLORE THE MORE HEROIC ASPECTS OF THIS QUESTION, THIS MOVIE EXPLORES IT IN AN ULTRA-REALISTIC FASHION THAT IS MORE FRIVOLOUS, GRITTY, AND ULTIMATELY DARK THAN WE’VE EVER SEEN BEFORE.  DONE MOSTLY FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF DISTURBED LONER TEEN ANDREW’S NEW VIDEO CAM, WHICH HE BUYS SO HE CAN “FILM EVERYTHING,” WE SEE HE, HIS COUSIN MATT, AND POPULAR JOCK STEVE GO INTO A DEEP HOLE ONE NIGHT, DISCOVER SOME KIND OF CRYSTALLINE STRUCTURE, AND COME OUT WITH SUPERPOWERS, MOSTLY BASED ON TELEKINETICS; THE ABILITY TO MANIPULATE OBJECTS WITH ONE’S MIND.  LATER WE ADD FLYING AND SCARIER THINGS TO THE MIX.  THE BOYS ARE ALTERNATELY FUNNY AND JUST PLAIN MEAN AS THEY GET TO KNOW THEIR NEW ABILITIES, AND MATT TRIES TO ESTABLISH A CODE OF RULES FOR USE WHEN IT BECOMES APPARENT THAT CARELESS USE CAN HAVE ALARMING CONSEQUENCES.  BUT ANDREW WILL HAVE NONE OF THAT AS HIS ANGER OVER HIS DYING MOTHER AND HORRIFICALLY ABUSIVE FATHER FINALLY BOILS OVER, LEADING TO A NIGHTMARISH CLIMAX.  WHILE WONDERFULLY TOLD THROUGH THE SHAKY CAMERA STYLE COMMON TO THIS GENRE AND FILLED WITH EXCEPTIONAL SPECIAL EFFECTS AND EXCEPTIONAL PERFORMANCES BY THE YOUNG CAST (MOST OF THE KIDS ARE FROM TV SHOWS, INCLUDING IN TREATMENT AND FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS), SOMETHING THAT I FEEL IS VITAL IS MISSING.  NONE OF THE THREE GUYS EVER CONTEMPLATES, LIKE PETER PARKER OR CLARK KENT, USING THEIR EXTRAORDINARY ABILITY FOR ANYTHING EVEN REMOTELY GOOD OR ALTRUISTIC.  THIS GIVES A VERY ONE-SIDED AND WARPED VIEW OF TEENS TODAY, MAKING THEM ALL LOOK LIKE SELF-ABSORBED PARTIERS AND THRILL-SEEKERS VOID OF ANY NOBLE THOUGHTS AND BARELY EVEN COGNIZANT OF THE ADDED RESPONSIBILITY THAT INSANELY-AWESOME POWER BRINGS WITH IT.  IT’S TOO BAD.  TEENS COME OFF GETTING SHORT SHRIFT HERE.  I DON’T THINK ALL TEEN BOYS WOULD CHOOSE TO USE THEIR SUPERPOWERS SIMPLY TO SCARE LITTLE KIDS IN TOY STORES, MOVE LADIES‘ CARS IN PARKING LOTS SO THEY CAN’T FIND THEM WHEN THEY RETURN, GET REVENGE ON BULLIES, OR SHAMELESSLY SHOW OFF.  THERE ARE TEENS (EVEN BOYS) WITH CONSCIENCES AND NOBLE INTENTIONS, BUT UNFORTUNATELY NONE IN THIS MOVIE.  STILL, THOUGH, THIS IS A FASCINATING AND UNIQUELY REALISTIC LOOK AT A SUBJECT NORMALLY RELEGATED TO THE SURREAL WORLD OF COMIC BOOKS.     


BEAUTY AND THE BEAST 3D ****

GENERALLY CONSIDERED AMONG THE BEST MOVIES EVER MADE (NOT JUST ANIMATED MOVIES--IT’S THE ONLY SUCH MOVIE TO BE NOMINATED FOR A “BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR” ACADEMY AWARD, AFTER ALL), THE “TALE AS OLD AS TIME” WITH THE “SONGS AS OLD AS RHYME” CERTAINLY DIDN’T NEED 3D ENHANCEMENT TO MAKE IT ANY MORE IMPRESSIVE.  THE MATCHLESS ADAPTATION OF THE CLASSIC FAIRY TALE BY LINDA WOOLVERTON (ALICE IN WONDERLAND) STILL HAS THE SAME POWER TO MOVE US FROM LAUGHING OUT LOUD TO GENUINE FEAR TO TEAR-JERKING SADNESS, AND THE ACADEMY AWARD-WINNING MUSIC BY ALAN MENKEN AND THE LATE HOWARD ASHMAN (THE LITTLE MERMAID) IS STILL AS FUN, MAJESTIC, SILLY, AND SOARING AS EVER.  THOUGH THE 3D DOES GIVE SOME ADDED DEPTH TO THE FILM’S SWEEPING VISTAS AND ACTION SEQUENCES THAT WAS NOT POSSIBLE TO ACHIEVE THROUGH THE TRADITIONAL ANIMATION PROCESSES OF THE EARLY 90’S, THIS IS BEST VIEWED AS A “SEE IT AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME” EXPERIENCE FOR ADULTS AND A WAY FOR KIDS TO SEE WHAT THEY’VE UNDOUBTEDLY SEEN ON HOME VIDEO OR THE DISNEY CHANNEL IN THE BIG SCREEN/BIG SOUND FORMAT THAT IT WAS ALWAYS INTENDED TO BE VIEWED IN.  SO GRAB THE KIDS AND GO SEE IT AGAIN FOR YOUR FIRST TIME IF IT’S STILL AT AN AREA THEATER.  NO ONE WILL BE DISAPPOINTED.  


BIG MIRACLE ***1/2

IN THE NEXT OF WHAT IS SURELY A LONG LINE OF “INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS” STORIES THAT HOLLYWOOD IS SCRAMBLING TO MAKE AFTER THE “SURPRISE SUCCESS” OF FILMS LIKE THE BLIND SIDE AND SECRETARIAT, THIS FILM ABOUT THE FAMILY OF GRAY WHALES TRAPPED IN ICE OFF OF PT. BARROW, ALASKA IN 1988 THAT BECAME AN INTERNATIONAL PHENOMENON (I REMEMBER IT WELL...) IS ANOTHER FIME EXAMPLE OF INSPIRATIONAL STORY-TELLING (LIKE DOLPHIN TALE AND WE BOUGHT A ZOO) WITH AN INTERESTING TWIST THAT GETS IT AN EXTRA HALF-STAR FROM ME.  WHILE IT HAS ALL THE ELEMENTS NECESSARY FOR A “GOOD” MOVIE IN THIS GENRE; ADORABLE ANIMALS (AND OR CHILDREN) IN PERIL, A KID OR TWO THAT ARE CUTE AND FIESTY, ADULTS LEARNING AND GROWING THROUGH TOUGH DECISIONS, A ROMANCE OF SOME KIND, ETC., THIS HAS SOMETHING MORE; BRUTAL HONESTY.  OVER AND OVER, THE SCREENWRITERS REMIND US, SOMETIMES WITH A WINK, AND SOMETIMES WITH HARD-NOSED CONFRONTATION, THAT VIRTUALLY NO ONE IS OUT THERE ON THE BEAUFORT SEA ICE TO ACTUALLY SAVE WHALES.  THE ESKIMOS, WHO “HARVEST” WHALES LIKE WE KILL CATTLE, DON’T BECAUSE THEY’LL END UP LOOKING LIKE BUTCHERS.  INSTEAD, THEY DECIDE TO AID THE EFFORT--AND TURN PT. BARROW INTO A TOURIST TRAP, COMPLETE WITH $500 HOTEL ROOMS AND CARDBOARD TO STAND ON (INSULATES YOUR FEET FROM THE ICE) SELLING FOR $20 A FLATTENED BOX--UNLESS YOUI’RE ALREADY OUT ON THE ICE, WHERE THE PRICE DOUBLES.  GREENPEACE WANTS TO SAVE WHALES THEIR WAY; BY MAKING EVERYONE ELSE LOOK LIKE VILLAINS.  REPORTERS WANT TO REPORT THE STORY, NOT BECAUSE IT’S IMPORTANT, BUT TO ENHANCE THEIR POSITION IN THE NETWORK PECKING ORDER.  AND ON AND ON IT GOES.  NO ONE IS SPARED, NOT EVEN THE TWO DUDES FROM MINNESOTA WITH THEIR CORNY DE-ICING MACHINE.  YET EVERYONE GIVES A LITTLE OF THEIR SELFISH INTEREST, AND SOMETHING AMAZING HAPPENS.  THIS IS AN EDGE SELDOM SEEN IN THESE KINDS OF MOVIES THAT WILL KEEP ADULTS SMIRKING AND CHUCKLING (AND WISHING SUCH COOPERATION EXISTED TODAY AMONG LEADERS) WHILE THEIR KIDS COO OVER THE WHALES.  UNIFORMLY FINE PERFORMANCES BY THE ENTIRE CAST, WHICH INCLUDES DREW BARRYMORE, JOHN KRASINSKI, TED DANSON (A TOTAL HOOT), KRISTEN BELL, DERMOT MULRONEY, VINESSA SHAW, AND SOME WONDERFUL NATIVE ALASKANS REALLY ADD SPARKLE, THE WHALE EFFECTS ARE ULTRA-REAL, AND PARENTS CAN HAVE A BALL EXPLAINING 1980’S REALISMS LIKE SONY WALKMEN, CASSETTE TAPES, GIANT HEADPHONES, HIGH-WAIST PANTS, AND TV’S THAT DON’T HAVE REMOTES SHOWING THE REAL REPORTS OF GUYS LIKE PETER JENNINGS AND TOM BROKAW ON THE WAY HOME.  BIG MIRACLE GETS THE 2012 FAMILY FILM YEAR OFF TO A WHOPPING GREAT START!  DON’T MISS IT!!


RED TAILS ***

LET’S BE CLEAR RIGHT UP FRONT ABOUT THIS, THE FIRST NEW MOVIE IN AGES FROM EXECUTIVE PRODUCER GEORGE LUCAS (“STAR WARS”); IT IS A WORLD WAR II “TOP GUN” STYLE ACTION MOVIE FIRST AND FOREMOST.  THAT’S WHY I’M REVIEWING IT IN THIS COLUMN.  THE FACT THAT THOSE “TOP GUN” PILOTS HAPPEN TO BE BLACK AMERICANS STRUGGLING TO FIND RESPECT AND IDENTITY IN A  PREJUDICED US ARMY AIR CORP IS AN IMPORTANT BACKDROP TO ITS STORY, BUT NOT ITS MAJOR FOCUS, AND WAS NEVER INTENDED TO BE THAT ACCORDING TO LUCAS HIMSELF.  THIS BRINGS ATTENTION AND HONOR TO THESE LARGELY FORGOTTEN BLACK HEROES BY SHOWING THEM FOR WHO THEY WERE; REGULAR GUYS WITH REGULAR PROBLEMS WHO JUST HAPPENED TO GO OUT EACH DAY INTO THE SKY AND RISK THEIR LIVES FOR EACH OTHER AND THE BOMBER PILOTS THEY WERE CHARGED TO PROTECT, NOT BY MAKING A BIG SHOW OF THEIR UPHILL BATTLE WITH SEGREGATION AND A CULTURE THAT CONSIDERED BLACKS AS SECOND-CLASS HUMANS.  AND IN THAT SENSE, RED TAILS SUCCEEDS ADMIRABLY, DRAWING THE AUDIENCE INTO THE LIVES OF SIX MEMBERS OF A FIGHTER SQUADRON, WHETHER IT BE THEIR HIGH-FLYING, ACTION-PACKED EXPLOITS IN THE AIR, OR THEIR DEEPLY PERSONAL, EMOTIONAL BATTLES ON THE GROUND.  DESPITE A SCRIPT THAT AT TIMES FEELS DISJOINTED AND LACKING DEPTH, YOU BECOME FANS OF THESE GUYS AND THUS ALL THE ACTION AND AIR-BORNE DRAMA HAS YOU ON THE EDGE OF YOUR SEAT FOR ALL THE RIGHT REASONS; YOU CARE ABOUT THE CHARACTERS.  TOLD WITH A REASONABLE AMOUNT OF HISTORICAL ACCURACY AND FILLED WITH SOME OF THE BEST IN DOG-FIGHTING SPECIAL EFFECTS (IT’S A LUCAS FILM, AFTER ALL), THIS SHOULD PLEASE FIGHTER-PILOT FAN KIDS AS WELL AS ADULTS WHO ENJOY HISTORY WITH THEIR ACTION.  FLY TO THE THEATER AND ENJOY THIS HIGH-FLYING AND EMOTION-PACKED THRILL RIDE.


JOYFUL NOISE *** (for musical movie fans like me), ** (for the rest of you)

TWO THINGS HAPPEN IN THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES OF THIS STORY ABOUT A GOSPEL CHOIR’S QUEST TO WIN A NATIONAL COMPETITION THAT SET THE TONE FOR THE EITIRE REST OF THE FILM.  KEKE PALMER, TEEN MOVIE, TV, AND SINGING STAR (A NICKELODEON PRODUCT), SINGS AN IRRESISTIBLE LEAD IN A ROUSING MUSICAL NUMBER (INDICATIVE OF THE DAZZLING MUSIC THAT GRACES THIS FILM THROUGHOUT), AND THE CHOIR DIRECTOR DIES OF A HEART ATTACK (INDICATIVE OF THE “SOMETHING’S OFF” PLOT TWISTS THAT “GRACE” THIS FILM THROUGHOUT).  QUEEN LATIFAH AND DOLLY PARTON STAR AS RIVAL SUCCESSORS TO THE DECEASED LEADER’S POSITION, LATIFAH’S VI ROSE HILL CHAMPIONED BY THE CHURCH PASTOR (COURTNEY B. VANCE) FOR HER RELIANCE ON TRADITION, AND PARTON’S GG SPARROW MORE TO THE LIKING OF YOUNGER CHOIR MEMBERS, PARTICULARLY WHEN SHE AND RABBLE-ROUSING GRANDSON RANDY (JEREMY JORDAN) ATTEMPT TO SHAKE THINGS UP IN THE CHOIR WITH A NEW, HIPPER STYLE.  THE CONFLICT INTENSIFIES WHEN RANDY TAKES A SHINE TO PALMER’S CHARACTER OLIVIA, VI ROSE’S RIDICULOUSLY OVER-PROTECTED DAUGHTER, AND GETS EVEN WORSE WHEN RANDY BEGINS TO BRING OUT THE JOY IN WALTER, VI ROSE’S ASPERGER’S-AFFLICTED SON.  THIS ALL BRINGS OUT THE BIGGEST FLAW IN THIS FILM; THE CHARACTER OF VI ROSE HERSELF.  SHE’S SO OBNOXIOUSLY SELF-RIGHTEOUS AND STUCK UP THROUGHOUT THE SHOW, DESPITE THE BEST EFFORTS OF EVERYONE TO BE FLEXIBLE WITH HER, THAT SHE MOST TIMES COMES ACROSS AS JUST PLAIN MEAN.  WHO CAN BLAME HER HUSBAND FOR RE-UPPING FOR HIS STINT IN THE ARMY RESERVE??  IT WOULD TAKE MORE THAN A SAINT TO WANT TO LIVE WITH THIS BLATHERER, WHO ROUTINELY CRUSHES THE SPIRITS OF NOT ONLY THE CHOIR, BUT HER OWN CHILDREN AS WELL.  AT LEAST WHEN GG TRIES TO TALK SENSE INTO HER, IT ERUPTS INTO A HYSTERICAL FOOD-FIGHT IN A RESTAURANT THAT WE GET SOME GOOD BELLY LAUGHS FROM.  BUT MORE THAN ANYTHING, WE JUST HURT, HURT, HURT AS THIS EMOTIONAL WRECKING BALL GOES CRASHING THROUGH EVERYTHING GOOD IN THE REST OF THE MOVIE.  ITS SAVING GRACE, OF COURSE, IS THE MUSIC, WHICH IS SIMPLY STELLAR.  PALMER, A PROVEN POP STAR, AND JORDAN, A BROADWAY SENSATION, LEAD THE WAY WITH NUMEROUS WONDERFUL NUMBERS, AND WHAT A JOY IT IS TO SEE DOLLY PARTON BACK SINGING AND ACTING AGAIN!  THOUGH SHOWING SOME AGE, SHE’S AS SPRY AS EVER AND SINGING FINE, HAVING WRITTEN SEVERAL OF THE SCORE’S MANY HITS.  LATIFAH ALSO HAS A NUMBER OR TWO, AND THERE’S GREAT BACK-UP FROM THE UNIFORMLY EXCELLENT CHOIR MEMBERS, AS WELL AS THEIR RIVALS, ONE BEING A SENSATIONAL PRE-TEEN CHOIR.  SO FOR THOSE OF US WHO LOVE MUSICAL MOVIES, THE MUSIC CARRIES AWAY THE PLOT AND CHARACTER GAFFS AND MAKES THINGS ALL WORTHWHILE, AND (LIKE ALL MUSICALS SHOULD) SENDS US OUT SINGING.  FOR NON-MUSICAL MOVIE-GOERS, THOUGH, THERE’S SOME QUIRKY COMEDY AND A DECENTLY DONE TEEN DRAMEDY, BUT VI ROSE UNFORTUNATELY STINKS UP JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING SHE TOUCHES.  MUSICAL INSPIRATION DESPITE DRAMATIC FAUX PAXS.


2011


THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO ****

JUST A SHORT PLUG HERE, BECAUSE IT IS SOOOOO OUTSTANDING, FOR THIS VERY ADULT FILM ABOUT A DISGRACED INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST WHO SOLICITS THE HELP OF A RECLUSIVE, ABUSED YOUNG GENIUS TO HELP HIM SOLVE A DECADES-OLD FAMILY MYSTERY, SAVE HIS MAGAZINE, AND CLEAR HIS NAME.  TO SAY THIS IS BOTH A BRILLIANTLY MADE AND RIVETINGLY ENTERTAINING THRILLER IS A HUGE UNDERSTATEMENT.  MOVING PERFORMANCES BY DANIEL “JAMES BOND” CRAIG AS JOURNALIST MIKIAL BLOOMKISST AND ESPECIALLY ROONEY MARA AS RAZOR-SHARP YET LOVINGLY HEROIC INVESTIGATOR LISBETH SALANDER PUNCTUATE EVERY SECOND OF THIS DARK, AT TIMES UPLIFTING, YET ULTIMATELY HEART-RENDING DRAMA.  RATED R FOR ITS DISTURBING SUBJECT MATTER AS WELL AS LITERALLY EVERYTHING ELSE THAT A FILM MIGHT BE RATED R FOR, THIS IS NOT FOR ANYONE UNDER 17 UNLESS THEY COME WITH THE FOLKS AND ARE OF UNUSUAL MATURITY.  BUT FOR YOU ADULTS AND OLDER TEENS THAT READ THIS COLUMN AND ENJOY A GOOD THRILLER, THIS IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST-SEE.  


WAR HORSE ***1/2

“WAR HORSE” IS A DIFFERENT KIND OF FAMILY FILM; ONE THAT STRIKES A UNIQUE BALANCE BETWEEN THE MORE TRADITIONAL “BOY (AND GIRL TOO, IN THIS CASE) AND HIS HORSE” STORY, WITH THE HUMOR, DRAMA, AND ELEMENTAL BONDING THAT GO WITH SUCH TALES, AND THE TENSENESS AND HORROR OF A WAR FILM FEATURING ONE OF HISTORY’S MOST BRUTAL CONFLICTS, WORLD WAR I.  THIS COMBINATION NOT ONLY PROVIDES SOMETHING FOR LITERALLY EVERYONE IN THE FAMILY, FROM THE PREPUBESCENT ANIMAL-LOVER TO THE ACTION FAN TO THE PARENT TO THE HISTORY BUFF, BUT LEADS ITS AUDIENCE THROUGH A RANGE OF DEEP EMOTION THAT FEW EPICS HAVE EVER MANAGED.  THERE’S NO QUESTION THAT THE STAR OF THIS SHOW IS THE HORSE, JOEY (IS THERE AN OSCAR FOR BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ANIMAL IN A LEAD ROLE??), AND THE HUMAN ACTORS, ASIDE FROM POSSIBLY NEWCOMER JEREMY IRVINE AS ALBERT, THE TEENAGER WHO RAISES JOEY, PLAY NOTHING BUT SUPPORTING ROLES, THOUGH WITH UNIFORM EXCELLENCE.  THE STORY FOLLOWS JOEY, A THOROUGHBRED STALLION ILL-SUITED FOR WORK ON AN ENGLISH FARM, FROM BEING TRAINED AS SUCH NONETHELESS BY ALBERT, THEN SOLD TO AN ENGLISH CAVALRY OFFICER BOUND FOR THE INFAMOUS WESTERN FRONT IN FRANCE, WHERE THE OFFICER IS KILLED IN ONE OF HISTORY’S LAST GREAT CAVALRY CHARGES (MASSED HORSE DOESN’T DO WELL AGAINST MACHINE GUNS...) AND JOEY FALLS INTO THE HANDS OF VARIOUS HANDLERS, INCLUDING AN OLD FRENCHMAN AND HIS GRANDDAUGHTER, AND HEROICALLY SURVIVES TO 1918 WHERE HE MAKES A MAD DASH INTO “NO MAN’S LAND” FOR THE FILM’S ULTIMATE CLIMAX.  MOVING IN SOME WAY AT EVERY TURN, YOUR HEART WILL BE IN YOUR THROAT MORE THAN ONCE AND YOUR EYES WILL NEVER LEAVE THE SCREEN.  SPEILBERG HAS TONED DOWN THE WAR SCENES CONSIDERABLY FROM PREVIOUS FILMS LIKE “SAVING PRIVATE RYAN” AND “SCHINDLER’S LIST” TO MAKE THEM WATCHABLE BY A FAMILY AUDIENCE, YET THEY STILL DELIVER A POWERFUL PUNCH.  SOME RATHER CLICHE VISUAL HOMAGES TO OLD EPICS LIKE “GONE WITH THE WIND” CAN BE FORGIVEN IN WHAT IS OVERALL ONE OF THE MOST EMOTIONALLY POWERFUL AND SATISFYING FAMILY FILMS I’VE SEEN IN YEARS.  SADDLE UP, AND GO ALONG FOR THE RIDE!


HUGO ***1/2

HUGO IS NOT YOUR AVERAGE FAMILY MOVIE.  IT’S FAR, FAR SUPERIOR TO YOUR AVERAGE FAMILY MOVIE, WHICH MANY (INCLUDING ME) WILL FIND  WONDERFULLY REFRESHING AND AMAZING.  YES, IT’S STORY FEATURES CHILDREN DOING HIGHLY ADVENTUROUS (EVEN DANGEROUS) THINGS, AND YES THERE’S A REQUISITE CADRE OF NAME-BRAND ADULT ACTORS IN ALL MANNER OF QUIRKY ROLES, AND YES, IT HAS A HEART-WARMING, HAPPY ENDING.  AND YES, IT’S EVEN IN 3D.  BUT IN EACH OF THESE ELEMENTS OF THE “TYPICAL” FAMILY FILM, THERE ARE DIFFERENCES BOTH SUBTLE AND STARK THAT SET HUGO ON A MUCH HIGHER PLANE THAN ANY FAMILY FILM I’VE SEEN IN A LONG TIME.  TAKE THAT STORY, FOR EXAMPLE, THAT FEATURES CHILDREN DOING HIGHLY ADVENTUROUS, EVEN DANGEROUS THINGS.  BUT THOSE THINGS TAKE PLACE IN AND AROUND A CLOCK TOWER IN A TRAIN STATION IN PARIS (OF ALL PLACES), AND ALL REVOLVE AROUND, OF ALL PEOPLE, ONE OF THE GREATEST MOVIE-MAKERS OF ALL TIME, THE VERY ORIGINATOR OF THE SCI-FI FILM, WHO DID HIS WORK JUST AFTER THE TURN OF THE CENTURY--THE 20TH CENTURY THAT IS.  AND THOSE CHILD STARS?  THE CREAM OF THE CROP; ASA BUTTERFIELD, ONE OF THOSE AMAZING KIDS IN LAST YEAR’S NANNY MACPHEE RETURNS (SEE REVIEW IN THE ARCHIVES) AND WHO WAS LITERALLY THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS, AND CHLOE GRACE MORETZ, WHO’S NOW MOVED FROM ONE OF THE MOST SHOCKING AND DAZZLING CHILD-ACTOR ROLES EVER CREATED (HIT GIRL IN KICK-ASS) TO THE QUIRKY DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH OF AN “AVERAGE  FAMILY FILM” ( GREG’S FRIEND ANGIE IN  DIARY OF A WIMPY KID) TO A TWEEN-AGE INDIE-FILM VAMPIRE IN LET ME IN TO NOW AN EFFERVESCENT, ADVENTUROUS ORPHAN IN AN ACADEMY-AWARD WORTHY MOVIE WITH ALL THE “GRACE” OF A PRIMA BALLERINA.  THOSE NAME-BRAND ADULT ACTORS?  HOW ABOUT ACADEMY AWARD-WINNER BEN KINGSLEY, PROFESSOR OF GOOFY SACHA BARON COHEN, IN A WONDERFULLY (BUT BARELY) RESTRAINED ROLE HERE, RICHARD “MR. DURSLEY” (HARRY POTTER FILMS) GRIFFITHS, JUDE LAW, AND CHRISTOPHER LEE.  FOR ALL THESE EXTRAORDINARY DIFFERENCES WE CAN THANK (ODDLY ENOUGH) DIRECTOR MARTIN SCORSESE; YUP, THE KING OF THE R-RATED MOB MOVIES, AND PRODUCER JOHNNY DEPP, WHOSE INFUSED THE STYLE OF HIS OLD BUDDY TIM BURTON INTO EVERYTHING FROM THE ODDITIES OF THE TRAIN STATION TO HUGO’S AUTOMATONIC INVENTION, WHICH IS ALL SOOO EDWARD SCISSORHANDS.  SO HUGO IS NOT YOUR AVERAGE FAMILY FILM.  IT’S A WAY BETTER-THAN-AVERAGE FAMILY FILM; FOR BOYS WHO LOVE TO TINKER AND GIRLS WHO LOVE READING AND KIDS WHO LOVE SNEAKING AROUND AND MYSTERIOUS PLACES AND PARENTS WHO LIKE HISTORY AND ANYONE WHO LIKES MAKING MOVIES WITH THEIR PHONE OR FLIP CAMERA OR HAVING THIER HEART WARMED OVER BY GREAT ENTERTAINMENT.  EVEN FANS OF “WHERE’S WALDO” AND “SLUG BUG” COULD PLAY A FUN LITTLE GAME WHILE WATCHING; WHERE’S JOHNNY DEPP,WHERE YOU SLUG THE PERSON NEXT TO YOU EVERY TIME YOU SPOT JOHNNY DEPP AS AN EXTRA IN THE TRAIN STATION.  THOUGH NOT FOR THE UNDER 9’S OR THOSE WHO ONLY CAN APPRECIATE THE “AVERAGE FAMILY FILM”, THIS IS A RICH HOLIDAY-SEASON TREAT THAT THE WHOLE FAM OUGHT TO UNWRAP FOR THEMSELVES SOMETIME SOON..


SHERLOCK HOLMES; A GAME OF SHADOWS **1/2

THOUGH THERE’S ALMOST NOTHING IN THIS FILM FOR KIDS PER SE, OTHER THAN THE OVER-13 CROWD, WHO MAY ENJOY THE ACTION OR FIND THE STEAM PUNK SORT OF SETTING TO BE APPEALING, I DECIDED TO PUT THIS BRIEF REVIEW UP FOR THEIR SAKES AND PARENTS WHO MIGHT WONDER HOW THIS ONE GOES.  IN THIS NEW ADVENTURE, ROBERT DOWNEY JR. AND JUDE LAW RETURN AS THE ACTIONY, WISE-CRACKING, CRIME-SOLVING DUO (SHERLOCK HOLMES AND DR. WATSON) ORIGINALLY CREATED BY SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE OVER A CENTURY AGO.  THIS TIME, THEIR ADVERSARY IS NONE OTHER THAN HOLMES’S MOST INFAMOUS FOE, THE DIABOLICAL PROFESSOR MORIARITY, WHO, IN THIS SCENARIO, IS BENT ON HASTENING THE START OF WORLD WAR I BY SETTING OFF BOMBS ALL OVER EUROPE THAT KILL OFF VARIOUS RIVAL WORLD LEADERS.  HOLMES AND WATSON DISCOVER THAT MORIARITY HAS HEAVILY INVESTED HIMSELF IN ARMS FACTORIES HOPING TO PROFIT FROM THE COMING CARNAGE.  FROM HONEYMOON TRAINS IN ENGLAND TO THE PARIS OPERA TO A VERTIGO-INDUCING CASTLE ON A MOUNTAIN PRECIPICE IN SWITZERLAND, HOLMES AND WATSON, WITH THE HELP OF A BAND OF GYPSIES, PURSUE THE ILLUSIVE MORIARITY, FINALLY CORNERING HIM IN THE AFORE-MENTIONED CASTLE FOR A TENSELY FRANTIC CLIMAX.  WHILE SOME MAY REVEL IN THE ACTION AND THE INTELLECTUAL “GAME OF SHADOWS” THAT GOES ON THROUGHOUT, I HAD A HARD TIME REALLY GETTING INTO IT.  AS IN THE PREVIOUS FILM, I FOUND ALL THE MAIN CHARACTERS (WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION OF LAW’S WATSON) TO BE FRUSTRATINGLY SHALLOW AND THE ABSENCE OF REAL EMOTION FROM ANY OF THEM FLATTENED THIS ONE OUT FOR ME.  IN MANY WAYS, THIS IS LIKE A PERIOD VERSION OF THE OLD JAMES BOND FILMS, WHERE WE’RE SHAKEN A LOT WITH ACTION AND CLEVER VERBAL SPARRING, BUT RARELY STIRRED EMOTIONALLY PAST A COUPLE OF YAWNS.  FUN AND FILLED WITH ADVENTURE, BUT UNFORTUNATELY, A LARGELY HOLLOW ENTERTAINMENT EXPERIENCE.


THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN; SECRET OF THE UNICORN **

IMAGINE SITTING ON THE CRAZIEST, WACKIEST, SCARIEST RIDE AT YOUR FAVORITE THEME PARK.  LOTS OF FUN, RIGHT?  NOW IMAGINE DOING IT FOR TWO HOURS NON-STOP.  LOTS OF BORING, RIGHT?  AFTER THE FIRST FEW TIMES, IT’S KIND OF LIKE “WHAT’S THE POINT?” OR “HAVEN’T WE SEEN THIS ALL BEFORE” OR WHATEVER.  UNFORTUNATELY, THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT IT’S LIKE SITING THROUGH THIS NEW MOVIE FROM STEVEN SPIELBERG; AN ENDLESS, BUT UTTERLY POINTLESS, THRILL RIDE.  THE STORY, WHICH FEATURES A BELGIAN COMIC BOOK CHARACTER THAT HAS A EUROPEAN FOLLOWING AKIN TO THAT OF BATMAN OR SPIDERMAN HERE IN THE U.S., IS SIMPLE AND STRAIGHTFORWARD; A JOURNALIST BOY (JAMIE BELL AS TIN-TIN) AND HIS DOG AND AN IMPOSSIBLY IDIOTIC AND CONSTANTLY INEBRIATED SIDEKICK (ANDY SERKIS) TRAVEL THE WORLD IN SEARCH OF LOST TREASURE, CONSTANTLY PURSUED BY THE BAD GUYS, WHO WANT THE SAME THING.  THAT’S IT.  WHAT’S SADLY MISSING IS ANY PARTICULAR REASON WHY ANYONE WANTS THIS TREASURE (OTHER THAN SHEER GREED OR SIMPLE CURIOSITY), AND WHAT MIGHT BE AT STAKE IF IT WASN’T FOUND, AND BECAUSE OF THAT HUGE HOLE IN THE STORY’S PLOTLINE, THE ENTIRE MOVIE, DESPITE IT’S CONSTANT, EYE-POPPING ACTION, IS ULTIMATELY BORING AND COMPLETELY VOID OF EMOTION.  I DIDN’T CARE ANY MORE ABOUT THE CHARACTERS IN THIS FILM THAN I WOULD ABOUT AN ARRANGEMENT OF CHESS PIECES, AND THERE’S MORE THEME TO BE FOUND IN CHIPWRECKED.  AND SERKIS, AFTER SUCH STELLAR PERFORMANCES AS GOLLUM (LOTR) AND THE CHIMP CAESAR (RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES), IS PARTICULARLY DISAPPOINTING AS THE MOST MORONIC, ANNOYINGLY STUPID CHARACTER THAT I’VE SEEN ON-SCREEN SINCE JAR-JAR BINKS, ALL VOICED IN HIS BEST GERARD BUTLER IMITATION.  WHILE THE SWEEPING ACTION SEQUENCES AND JAW-DROPPING 3D SPECIAL EFFECTS IN THIS CAN’T BE IGNORED HERE, NEITHER CAN THE NAGGING FEELING INSIDE THAT KEEPS SAYING “WHO CARES??”  WHILE THE UNDER 12 GAME ENTHUSIASTS IN THE FAMILY MIGHT LOVE THE THRILL, THE REST, I’M AFRAID, WILL FIND THEMSELVES WHISTLING “HO-HUM” BEFORE THIS MOVIE’S HALF OVER.  A GIANT DISAPPOINTMENT FOR ME.


WE BOUGHT A ZOO ***

THE LATEST IN WHAT’S BECOMING THE “BASED ON A TRUE STORY, FEEL-GOOD FAMILY” GENRE IN HOLLYWOOD, THIS MOVIE FROM DIRECTOR CAMERON CROWE (ADULTS KNOW HIM FROM MOVIES LIKE JERRY MAGUIRE AND ALMOST FAMOUS) DOESN’T QUITE MEASURE UP TO THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT OF THE BLIND SIDE, SOUL SURFER, OR, MOST RECENTLY DOLPHIN TALE, BUT IT STILL MANAGES TO GET MOST THINGS RIGHT AND LEAVE US HAPPILY MOVED IN THE END.  BASED ON THE STORY OF BRITISH JOURNALIST BENJAMIN MEE, WHO BOUGHT A RUN-DOWN ZOO IN ENGLAND AS FAMILY THERAPY WHILE HIS WIFE WAS BEING TREATED FOR A BRAIN TUMOR, THE SETTING HERE IS SWITCHED TO AMERICA, WHERE MATT DAMON PLAYS MEE, A GRIEVING HUSBAND AND FATHER WHOSE FAMILY IS COMING UNGLUED SIX MONTHS AFTER THE UNTIMELY DEATH OF HIS WIFE.  PARTICULARLY AFFECTED IS HIS 14 YEAR-OLD SON DYLAN (COLIN FORD), WHO DRAWS IMAGES OF DECAPITATED GHOSTS ON SCHOOL MURALS AND GETS HIMSELF EXPELLED FOR FIGHTING.  DESPERATE TO FIND A FRESH START, MEE QUITS HIS LA JOURNALIST’S JOB AND SPENDS HIS SHARE OF A FAMILY INHERITANCE TO BUY A DEFUNCT ZOO OUTSIDE OF SAN DIEGO (NINE MILES FROM THE NEAREST TARGET STORE), DETERMINED TO RESTORE IT, ASSISTED BY THE ZOO’S COLORFUL AND EVER-LOYAL (TO THE ANIMALS) STAFF, LED BY THE STUDIOUS AND IRON-WILLED ZOOKEEPER KELLY (SCARLETT JOHANSSEN).  THE PLOT THEN FOLLOWS THE ENDLESS STRING OF OBSTACLES FACED BY MEE AND HIS UNLIKELY ZOO CREW AS THEY STRIVE TO GET THE ZOO UP TO INSPECTION STANDARDS BY A PLANNED SUMMER OPENING.  BUT WHAT REALLY DRIVES THIS STORY AND KEEPS YOU ROOTING IS THE EVOLVING RELATIONSHIPS OF THE CHARACTERS; MEE AND HIS REALIST BROTHER DUNCAN (THOMAS HAYDEN CHURCH), LITTLE SIS ROSIE (ADORABLY PLAYED BY MAGGIE ELIZABETH JONES) AND THE ANIMALS, THE EFFERVESCENT 12 YEAR-OLD LILY (SUPER 8’S ELLE FANNING) AND HER CRUSH ON DYLAN, THE UNDERSTATED HINT OF ROMANCE BETWEEN MEE AND KELLY (BRILLIANTLY CARRIED OFF BY JOHANSSEN), AND THE CONSTANT SPARKS AND OCCASIONAL EXPLOSIONS THAT ARISE BETWEEN MEE AND DYLAN AS EACH SEEKS TO FIND SOLACE FOR THE HEART-HOLES LEFT BY THE UNTIMELY DEATH OF THEIR WIFE/MOTHER.  MATT DAMON, AN UNCOMMONLY NORMAL HUSBAND AND FAMILY GUY IN REAL LIFE FOR ONE OF SUCH CELEBRITY, PULLS OFF THIS STRUGGLING EVERYMAN PERFORMANCE AS BRILLIANTLY AS HE DOES THE ACTIONY JASON BOURNE, AND, LIKE HIS CHARACTER IN THE FILM, BRINGS OUT THE BEST OF THIS WONDERFUL CAST.  THE REQUISITE HEART-TUGGING  CLICHES OF THESE KINDS OF FILMS ARE BECOMING ALL TOO FAMILIAR, BUT WHEN THE STRINGS ARE PULLED WITH SUCH SKILL, WHO CARES!  HERE’S A QUIETLY MOVING FILM WHICH WILL GENTLY BUT POWERFULLY ENTERTAIN THE WHOLE FAM WITH EVERYTHING FROM “ISN’T THAT CUTE” ANIMAL MOMENTS TO OUTRAGEOUS HUMOR TO TENSE PERSONAL DRAMA.  A REAL FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT WINNER!     


ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS; CHIPWRECKED **

“WRECKED” IS A GOOD DESCRIPTION FOR THIS ONCE PROMISING FAMILY FRANCHISE THAT REVIVED SOME OF THE MOST BELOVED CARTOON CHARACTERS OF THE 1960’S.  BUT SINCE THE HILARIOUS AND GENUINELY CHARMING ORIGINAL IN 2007, WE’VE BEEN ON THE SLIPPERY SLOPE DOWNHILL EVER SINCE (THE “SQUEAKQUEL” IN 2009 WAS DUMB, BUT AT LEAST WE GOT THE CHIPETTES) AND THIS ONE QUITE POSSIBLY BLOWS THE WHOLE THING UP ALONG WITH THE ISLAND THAT ALVIN’S ANTICS LAND HE AND HIS BUNCH ON WHILE PARA-SAILING OFF A CARNIVAL CRUISE SHIP.  NOT SURPRISINGLY, THEIR “DAD” DAVE (JASON LEE) AND HIS NEMESIS IAN (DAVID CROSS, WHO SPENDS THE ENTIRE MOVIE DRESSED AS A PELICAN, NO LESS), MANAGE TO DUMP THEMSELVES OVERBOARD AND FLOUNDER TO THE SAME ISLAND, WHICH TURNS OUT TO BE INHABITED BY ZOE (JENNY SLATE), A STRANDED TREASURE-HUNTER WHO COMES ACROSS AS A CRAZED COMBINATION OF TOM HANKS’ CHARACTER IN “CASTAWAY” AND BEN GUNN FROM “TREASURE ISLAND.”  THE SCREENWRITERS’ ATTEMPT TO INSERT SOMETHING BEYOND THE RIDICULOUS HAS ALVIN (TO HIS HORROR) BECOMING THE MOST RESPONSIBLE OF HIS CREW (“JUST LIKE DAVE!”) AND BRITTANY, THE SHALLOWEST OF THE CHIPETTES, BECOMING THE MOST RESOURCEFUL, BUT ALL THIS GETS SWALLOWED UP IN A WATERFALL OF FOOLISHNESS THAT NOT EVEN A NUMBER OF CUTE CHIPMUNK VERSIONS OF SONGS BY ARTISTS LIKE LADY GAGA AND KATY PERRY CAN RESCUE IT FROM.  WHILE THE UNDER-10 SET WILL STILL LOVE THE CUTENESS AND SILLINESS AND COME AWAY HAPPY, THEIR FOLKS SHOULD BE PREPARED FOR A NEVER-ENDING STREAM OF GROANERS AND “PERFORMANCES” BY THE HUMAN STARS THAT REEK SO BAD THAT YOU CAN ONLY CONCLUDE THAT THEY ARE AS BORED WITH THIS MOVIE AS ITS ADULT AUDIENCE WILL BE.  THIS ONE’S STRICTLY FOR THE KIDS, AND THE MORE BEFORE 4TH GRADE THEY ARE, THE BETTER.


THE MUPPETS ***

APPARENTLY, IT’S BEEN THE DREAM OF THE HEAD OF DISNEY TO BRING BACK THE MUPPETS, THOSE ADORABLE, OVER-SIZED PUPPETS ORIGINALLY CREATED BY JIM HENSON FOR PBS’S “SESAME STREET”, FOR A NEW GENERATION OF KIDS.  IT’S ALSO BEEN THE DREAM OF R-RATED COMEDY STAR JASON SEGAL, WHO WROTE AND STARS IN THIS NEW FILM, A WACKY, TONGUE-IN-CHEEK RE-INTRODUCTION OF SUCH LUMINARIES AS KERMIT THE FROG, FOZIE BEAR, AND MISS PIGGY, HELPED ALONG BY SEGAL, AMY ADAMS, AND CHRIS COOPER. SEEMS THE OLD MUPPET STUDIOS, NOW A MUCH PASSED-OVER STOP ON THE HOLLYWOOD STUDIO TOUR JUNKET, IS ABOUT TO BE RAZED BY THE EVIL TEX (COOPER), FOR ITS OIL RESOURCES UNDERNEATH (HMMM, OIL UNDERNEATH HOLLYWOOD BLVD???), AND WHEN GARY AND MARY (SEGAL AND ADAMS) AND GARY’S MUPPET “BROTHER” WALTER DISCOVER THIS, WALTER AND GARY (WITH UNHAPPY TAG-A-LONG MARY) DECIDE TO GET THE MUPPET GANG BACK TOGETHER FOR A TELETHON TO SAVE THE VENERABLE OLD PLACE.  THE MOVIE’S OVER-SENTIMENTALITY,  CONSTANT SNARKY WINKING AT ITSELF, AND PATHETIC HUMAN CHARACTERS HAD ME FEELING NEARLY AS PENT UP WITH FRUSTRATION AS ADAM’S MARY (AN EMOTION THAT SHE MUST HAVE ACTUALLY FELT HAVING TO PLAY SUCH AN INSIPID SECOND-FIDDLE THROUGHOUT), BUT ONCE THE TELETHON FINALLY GOES ON , COMPLETE WITH A HYSTERICAL JACK BLACK AS HOST AND CELEBRITY PHONE BANKERS LIKE SELENA GOMEZ AND NEIL PATRICK HARRIS, THE “PRARIE HOME COMPANION”-LIKE VARIETY SHOW REALLY KICKS BUTT, TUGS ALL THE RIGHT HEARTSTRINGS, AND SENDS US OUT ONTO HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD FOR A ROUSING FINALE THAT NOT ONLY SAVES THE MUPPET STUDIO, BUT THE MOVIE AS WELL.  THIS ONE’S FAR FROM BEING PERFECT, BUT IT’S GOT GREAT FUN MOMENTS FOR EVERYONE FROM THE GRANDPARENTS TO THE TODDLERS AND SENDS EVERYONE AWAY LAUGHING AND SINGING.  IN FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT, THAT’S HITTING THE BULLSEYE, AND MISSION ACCOMPLISHED FOR DISNEY.


ARTHUR CHRISTMAS **1/2

AHHH...  FINALLY A CHRISTMAS SEASON MOVIE THAT’S ACTUALLY ABOUT SANTA!  HMMM, I THINK IT’S BEEN SINCE THE LAST “SANTA CLAUSE” INSTALLMENT SINCE WE’VE SEEN ONE OF THESE (SORRY, BAD SANTA AND FRED CLAUS SIMPLY DON’T COUNT), AND I, FOR ONE, WAS REALLY LOOKING FORWARD TO IT.  NOW THAT I’VE SEEN IT, THAT ENTHUSIASM HAS BEEN DAMPENED SOMEWHAT, BUT THERE’S STILL SOME STUFF TO LIKE ABOUT THIS NEW ANIMATED FILM FROM ENGLAND’S AARDMAN ANIMATION, PRODUCERS OF MOVIES LIKE WALLACE AND GROMIT AND CHICKEN RUN.  IN THIS SPIN ON THE CLASSIC TALE, THE SANTA OF LEGEND HAS NOW BEEN REPLACED BY A SPACESHIP-LIKE “SLEIGH” CALLED S-1 WHICH SWOOSHES GAJILLIONS OF DELTA-FORCE STYLE ELVES ALL OVER THE WORLD STEALTHILY POPPING IN AND OUT OF HOMES USING THE LATEST IN PRESENT-DELIVERING GADGETRY LIKE A MILLION JAMES BONDS.  THIS IS ALL CARRIED OFF WITH MILITARY PRECISION BY STEVE, SANTA’S ELDEST, WHILE SANTA HIMSELF MAKES A FEW REQUISITE APPEARANCES HERE AND THERE, BUT BASICALLY IS NOW NO MORE THAN A FIGUREHEAD (A LITTLE POKE IN THE ENGLISH ROYALTY’S RIBS THERE).  YOUNGER SON ARTHUR, A KLUTZY DREAMER, HAS BEEN RELEGATED TO THE LETTER-ANSWERING DEPARTMENT, WHILE GRUMPY GRANDSANTA SULKS IN THE BOWELS OF THE NORTH POLE, WISHING THINGS WERE THE WAY THEY USED TO BE.  WHEN ARTHUR DISCOVERS THAT STEVE’S INFALLIBLE SYSTEM HAS SOMEHOW FAILED TO DELIVER ONE BIKE TO A CHILD IN ENGLAND AND STEVE FEELS IT DOESN’T MATTER (AFTER ALL, IT’S JUST ONE CHILD), THE MORTIFIED ARTHUR GOES TO GRANDSANTA, WHO SEES ONE MORE CHANCE FOR GLORY, AND TOGETHER THEY SET OUT ON THEIR BIKE-DELIVERING MISSION THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY; WITH SLEIGH AND MAGIC-POWERED REINDEER, ACCOMPANIED BY A PLUCKY LITTLE IRISH GIFT-WRAPPING ELF NAMED BRYONY.  IT’S HERE THAT THIS ADVENTURE, BOTH LITERALLY AND FROM A STORY STANDPOINT, GOES OFF THE RAILS AS GRANDSANTA (MORE THAN A LITTLE OFF THE RAILS HIMSELF) LEADS THE IMPOSSIBLY NAIVE (SOME WOULD SAY STUPID) ARTHUR ON A CIRCUITOUS ROMP AROUND THE WORLD THAT GETS MORE OUTLANDISH BY THE SECOND AND FARTHER AND FARTHER AWAY FROM ITS ULTIMATE DESTINATION, MUCH TO THE CONSTERNATION OF BRYONY, WHO’S SEEMINGLY THE ONLY ONE WITH A BRAIN IN THE BUNCH, IF SHE COULD JUST GET IT OFF GIFT-WRAPPING FOR JUST ONE SECOND.  OF COURSE ALL THIS LEADS TO GOOD THINGS IN THE END, BUT NOT BEFORE SOME PRETTY CRASS STUFF, INCLUDING A SCENE FEATURING THREE GENERATIONS OF SANTAS FIGHTING OVER WHO’LL GET THE HONOR OF DELIVERING THE LAST TOY ON CHRISTMAS.  WHILE THE JOKES AND THE GAGS ARE FUNNY AT TIMES, THE RIDICULOUSNESS OF SO MUCH OF THIS TURNS MUCH OF THEM INTO GROANERS, THAT IS, IF YOU CAN FOLLOW THEM IN ALL THE THICK ACCENTS AND BRITISH-ISMS, AND THE RAPID-FIRE VISUALS, THOUGH SUPERB, WILL HAVE THE HEADS OF MANY CONSTANTLY SPINNING.  THOUGH CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED FOR ITS HUMOR AND ARTISTRY, THIS PROBABLY ISN’T GOING TO BE SOMETHING KIDS WILL BE ENTHRALLED WITH, MUCH LESS THE ADULTS.  ARTHUR’S GOOD HEART AND BRYONY’S PLUCKY SPUNK, I’M AFRAID, ARE A BIT TOO OVERWHELMED BY THE VISUAL BLIZZARD AND A SCRIPT FILLED WITH SILLINESS AND CYNICISM.  TOO BAD...


TWILIGHT - BREAKING DAWN 1 ***

PLEASANTLY SURPRISED WAS I AT THIS, THE FOURTH OF THE TEEN VAMPIRE SAGA CREATED FROM STEPHANIE MEYER’S WILDLY POPULAR NOVEL SERIES.  IT COULD HAVE BEEN BECAUSE I, FOR THE FIRST TIME, HADN’T READ THE BOOK FIRST, SO DIDN’T KNOW EXACTLY WHAT TO EXPECT.  BUT I THINK IT WAS MORE THAT, WHILE THIS WAS ONCE AGAIN A BUNCH OF ELABORATELY STAGED, OVER-ELONGATED SCENES OF TEEN ROMANTIC DRAMA STRUNG TOGETHER WITH A VERY ACTIONY CLIMAX, I DID FIND A REAL HERO HERE.  AND THAT WAS IN THE UNLIKELY PERSON OF TAYLOR LAUTNER’S JACOB, WHO IN ALL THE MOVIES BEFORE HAD SPENT MOST OF HIS TIME WHINING AND FUSSING ABOUT BEING THE ODD-MAN OUT OF THE STORY’S LOVE TRIANGLE (KRISTEN STEWART’S BELLA AND ROB PATTINSON’S VAMP EDWARD BEING THE OTHERS).  HERE, HE STARTS OUT IN ONE OF HIS TYPICAL FITS AS HE GETS AN INVITE TO BELLA AND EDWARD’S WEDDING, BUT MANS UP ENOUGH TO RETURN FOR THE SAKE OF HIS AND BELLA’S FRIENDSHIP, THEN MAKES TRULY HEROIC CHOICES WHEN LATER ON BELLA INCREDIBLY ENDS UP PREGNANT AND HIS WEREWOLF CLAN VOWS TO DESTROY WHATEVER THE OFFSPRING MIGHT BE.  NON-TWILIGHTERS NOT FAMILIAR WITH THE BOOKS OR MOVIES PROBABLY SHOULD COME WITH A WELL-VERSED GUIDE TO THIS TO AVOID COMPLETE CONFUSION, BUT EVEN CASUAL FANS WITH ANY KNOWLEDGE OF THE STORIES SHOULD FIND THIS ANOTHER FAITHFULLY RENDERED (I’M ASSUMING) AND SATISFYING SWOONER.              


PUSS IN BOOTS ***

THIS OFF-SHOOT OF THE SHREK FILMS IS NOT ONLY JUST AS WONDERFULLY TOLD AS THOSE VENERABLE ANIMATED FILMS, BUT TURNS OUT TO BE MUCH MORE FAMILY-FRIENDLY AS WELL.  THE WRITERS HAVE TONED DOWN  TO SOME EXTENT THE SNARKY HUMOR THAT CHARACTERIZED THE SHREK SERIES, GIVING PARENTS A BREAK FROM HAVING TO EXPLAIN INNOCENT QUESTIONS ABOUT SOME OF THE ADULT JOKES AND SIGHT GAGS THAT WERE FOREVER POPPING UP IN THOSE FILMS.  AS IS THE HALLMARK OF THIS FRANCHISE, THE STORY, ABOUT HOW PUSS, AN OUTLAW KITTY (ONCE AGAIN VOICED MEMORABLY BY ANTONIO BANDARAS), AND HIS OUTLAW KITTY ACCOMPLICE KITTY SOFTPAWS (SALMA HAYEK) REDEEM THEMSELVES IN THE EYES OF THEIR VILLAGE BY THWARTING THE VENGEFUL PLANS OF THE NEFARIOUS HUMPTY DUMPTY (ZACK GALIFIANAKIS) AND CO-CONSPIRATORS JACK AND JILL TO DESTROY IT, IS SUPERBLY CRAFTED AND THE CHARACTERS GIVEN THE KIND OF DEPTH AND MOTIVATIONS THAT YOU’D FIND IN MOST ANY LIVE-ACTION MOVIE (INDEED MORE THAN IN MOST).  THE MUSIC AND CHOREOGRAPHY IS WONDERFUL (YES, CHOREOGRAPHY), AND THERE’S PLENTY OF ACTION AS WELL AS LOTS OF THOSE “ISN’T HE CUTE” MOMENTS THAT MADE PUSS A FAVORITE IN THE SHREK UNIVERSE.  SAFE FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT ALL THE WAY DOWN TO THE LITTLE ONES, WITH LOTS OF FUN FOR THE OLDERS AS WELL.  OH, AND THE 3D VERSION OF THIS, USUALLY JUST A THINLY VEILED MONEY GRAB, IS ACTUALLY WELL WORTH THE EXTRA COST, WITH EYE-POPPING STUFF THROUGHOUT THAT REALLY ENHANCES THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE.


FOOTLOOSE ****

“LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE BOY!!”  IN WHAT IS PERHAPS THE CLOSEST THING EVER TO A PERFECT REMAKE OF A CLASSIC OLDER MOVIE, THIS FILM INTRODUCES A WHOLE NEW BUNCH OF UP-AND-COMING YOUNG STARS (JULIANNA HOUGH, KENNY WORMALD, MILES TELLER, ZISH COLON, AND OTHERS) JUST LIKE IT DID KEVIN BACON, LORI SINGER, AND SARAH JESSICA PARKER BACK IN 1984, AND GIVES US IN THE 2011’S A SHINY NEW DUST-OFF OF ONE OF THE MOST INTELLIGENT, THOUGHT-PROVOKING, AND YET OUTRIGHT FUN MOVIES EVER MADE FOR THE YOUNG AUDIENCE.  IN A GENIUS MOVE, PARAMOUNT BROUGHT BACK THE SCREENWRITER/SONGWRITER AND PRODUCER OF THE ORIGINAL “FOOTLOOSE” TO HELP MAKE THIS UPDATED VERSION.  THUS, NOT ONLY IS THE STORY LEFT ALMOST UNTOUCHED, WITH ALL ITS CRAZINESS, ROMANCE, ANGST, AND GENERATION-GAP DRAMA, BUT IT HAS THE SAME HEART AND FUN-LOVING SPIRIT AS WELL,  ALL WITH COOL NEW UPDATES TO OLD SCENES AND A FRESH, COUNTRY FEEL THAT MAKE IT SHINE LIKE A NEW PENNY.  SO NOT ONLY DO KIDS GET TO SEE A WONDERFULLY ENTERTAINING NEW MUSICAL DANCE-FEST, BUT THEIR FOLKS GET TO SEE MODERN RE-DOS OF UNFORGETTABLE SCENES THEY OOGLED AS TEENAGERS, IN MANY CASES EVEN WITH THE ORIGINAL MUSICAL BACK-UP (YUP, DENIECE WILLIAMS, BONNIE TYLER, JOHN MELLENCAMP, QUIET RIOT, MIKE RENO AND ANN WILSON, AND OF COURSE KENNY LOGGINS LEADING THINGS OFF--THEY’RE ALL THERE).  THE HEAVY-DUTY “ADULT RULES VS TEEN REBELLION” SUBJECT MATTER IN THIS STORY ABOUT A BOSTON BOY WHO HELPS THE TEENS OF A SMALL SOUTHERN TOWN WIN THE RIGHT TO HOLD PUBLIC DANCES MAKES THIS A BIT MUCH FOR THE UNDER-12 CROWD, BUT FOR OLDER KIDS AND THEIR FOLKS, THIS IS SERIOUSLY FUN AND FIERY ENTERTAINMENT THAT REALLY IS “ALMOST PARADISE!”  DON’T MISS IT!!


REAL STEEL ***

THIS IS ONE OF THOSE MOVIES THAT STUFFY MOVIE CRITICS LOVE TO PAN BECAUSE ITS BASIC PREMISE AND STORY HAVE BEEN DONE SO MANY TIMES BEFORE THAT ANOTHER TAKE ON IT MAKES THEM NAUSEOUS.  WHAT THEY FAIL TO GET, THOUGH, IS THAT AUDIENCES LOVE UNDERDOG SPORTS STORIES, AND THE ONE I WAS IN WAS NO EXCEPTION WHEN I SAW THIS NEW FILM STARRING HUGH JACKMAN (X-MEN, WOLVERINE, ETC.).  WHAT’S SO COOL IS THE TWIST THAT HAS BEEN PUT ON THE CLASSIC ROCKY-STYLE BOXING STORY.  HERE, WE HAVE BOXING ROBOTS, MASSIVE MACHINES THAT SMASH AND CRUSH EACH OTHER ON THE ORDERS OF THEIR HUMAN CONTROLLERS; KIND OF LIKE WII BOXING WITH MONSTER MACHINES.  SO THE FIGHT SCENES ARE KIND OF LIKE A MASH-UP OF SCENES FROM THE BEST BOXING MOVIES, GLADIATOR, AND TRANSFORMERS.  YEAH, PRETTY COOL!  BUT THERE’S ALSO A STORY WITH REAL HEART HERE ABOUT A WASHED-UP SCUMBAG (JACKMAN) WHOSE LIFE IS TRANSFORMED BY THE SON HE NEVER WANTED (PLAYED WONDERFULLY BY DAKOTA GOYO) AND THE UNDERSIZED SPARRING “BOT” ATOM THAT HE DIGS UP OUT OF A DUMP.  NOTHING VERY ORIGINAL ABOUT THAT, BUT WHO CARES?!  IT’S A STORY THAT WE LOVE TO SEE OVER AND OVER, FROM THE ROCKY FILMS AND THE ROOKIE TO REMEMBER THE TITANS, SOUL SURFER, AND THE BLINDSIDE.  YOU’LL GET THE SAME KIND OF UPLIFTING THRILLS AND BE CHEERING AT THE END HERE TOO, JUST WITH A LOT MORE NOISE AND CLANKING GOING ON. REAL STEEL IS SOME REAL COOL FAMILY FUN.


THE THREE MUSKETEERS ***

ALL FOR ONE AND I’M ONE FOR THIS!  THE LATEST OF THE UMPTEEN FILM VERSIONS OF THE CLASSIC ALEXANDER DUMAS SWASHBUCKLER ABOUT THREE DEFENDERS OF FRANCE’S FOPPISH KING LOUIS THE 13TH AND HOW THEY AND THEIR BRASH NEW COMPANION D’ARTAGNAN (PLAYED BY LOGAN LERMAN, GIRLS; BETCHA DIDN’T KNOW) FOIL AN EVIL PLOT HATCHED BY THE NEFARIOUS CARDINAL RICHLIEU IS MUCH LIKE THE 1993 DISNEY VERSION BOTH IN STORY AND (SURPRISINGLY) IN ITS FUN, BUT IT’S ALSO WAY COOLER, WITH HISTORICAL ANACHRONISMS THAT GIVE IT A FRESH, STEAMPUNK KIND OF FEEL.  I SAY SURPRISINGLY FUN BECAUSE THE UBIQUITOUS TRAILERS FOR THE FILM MADE THIS OUT TO BE A VERY SERIOUS TAKE ON THE OLD STORY, AND SO IT WAS QUITE A WHILE BEFORE EITHER I OR ANYONE ELSE IN THE AUDIENCE FELT LIKE WE COULD  CRACK A SMILE OR LET OUT A CHUCKLE.  BY THE ENDING SCENE, I WAS FREELY IN STITCHES.  BUT WASN’T THIS SUPPOSED TO BE A “SERIOUS” MOVIE???  TURNS OUT NO--IT’S REALLY QUITE LIGHT-HEARTED (AGAIN, MUCH LIKE THE DISNEY PREDECESSOR), WITH SMIRK-PRODUCING SCENES THROUGHOUT (THE RUNNING GAG ON THE FASHION PHOBIAS OF THE SUPER-RICH; BOTH IN THE 17TH CENTURY AND THE 21ST, IS A HOOT).  AND SEEING HEART-THROB ORLANDO BLOOM SASHAYING AROUND IN A POMPADOUR THAT WOULD HAVE EVEN AN ELVIS IMPERSONATOR HOWLING IS HYSTERICAL.  THE SWORD-SLASHING ACTION IS HAIR-RAISING AND EYE-POPPINGLY ACROBATIC, YET NO BLOODIER THAN ANYTHING SEEN IN “STAR WARS.” AND THE INFUSION OF DA VINCI-INSPIRED AIRSHIPS EQUIPPED WITH FLAME-THROWERS AND MACHINE GUN-LIKE CANNONS AS WELL AS MUSKETEERS USING MULTI-ARROW SHOOTING CROSSBOWS AND DIVING EQUIPMENT JUST ADDS TO THE COOLNESS OF THE VISUAL SPECTACLE.  SO DON’T BE FOOLED.  THIS IS ONE OF OUR KIND OF FILMS!  SO PILE ALL THE FAM INTO THE ONE MINI-VAN  (WELL, MAYBE LEAVE THE UNDER 8‘S WITH A BABYSITTER), AND ENJOY THIS ROLLICKING ADVENTURE--AND DON’T BE AFRAID TO HAVE FUN!     


DOLPHIN TALE ****

THAT’S RIGHT, THERE’S FOUR BIG STARS UP THERE FOR THE FIRST FAMILY MOVIE TO HIT THEATERS SINCE SPY KIDS 4 WAY BACK IN AUGUST SOMETIME.  AND NO, THOSE STARS AREN’T JUST BECAUSE IT’S THE FIRST NON-DEPRESSING, NON-ADULT FILM I’VE SEEN IN WEEKS.  HERE’S A STORY THAT’S SO FILLED WITH HEART AND HOPE AND INSPIRATION THAT YOU’D HAVE TO BE AMONG THE MOST CYNICAL OGRES ON THE PLANET (MOVIE CRITICS ARE SUCH A BREED, BTW, SO DON’T LISTEN TO THOSE OF THEM WHO PAN THIS AS TOO GOOEY OR CLICHE OR SCHMALTZY OR WHATEVER...) NOT TO FIND SOMETHING TO LIKE HERE, AND MOST OF US WILL BE LIKE MY AUDIENCE, LAUGHING, CHEERING, CRYING, AND WALKING OUT FEELING LIKE WE CAN FACE THE COLD, DARK WORLD WITH A BIT MORE HOPE AND ENCOURAGEMENT THAN WHEN WE WENT IN.  YES, I KNOW THIS IS MERELY “INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY,” MEANING THAT MOST OF IT IS FICTION (THOUGH THE DOLPHIN WINTER AND HER PROSTHETIC TALE, THE HEART OF THE SHOW, ARE FOR REAL), BUT WHO CARES!  WHEN THE FICTION IS AS HEART-WARMING AND INSPIRING AS THIS, IT DOESN’T MATTER.  HARRY CONNICK JR., ASHLEY JUDD, AND MORGAN FREEMAN SUPPLY THE REQUISITE ADULT STARPOWER, BUT GRACIOUSLY UNDERSTATE THEIR ROLES SO THAT THE REAL STARS, VETERAN CHILD-ACTOR NATHAN GAMBLE, 13, (HE WAS IN DARK KNIGHT, MARLEY AND ME, AND A TON OF TV SHOWS) AND NEWCOMER COZI ZUEHLSDORFF, 12, AND THE DOLPHIN WINTER, CAN SHARE CENTER STAGE, WHICH EACH DO WITH TERRIFIC, HEARTFELT PERFORMANCES THROUGHOUT.  SEEING DOLPHIN TALE IS LIKE SITTING DOWN AND BEING HOOKED UP TO A TWO-HOUR LONG INSPIRATION TRANSFUSION.  DON’T MISS YOUR APPOINTMENT!


ABDUCTION **1/2

TAYLOR LAUTNER, HEARTTHROB JACOB FROM THE TWILIGHT SERIES, BREAKS INTO “BEYOND TWILIGHT” TERRITORY HERE WITH THIS THRILLER ABOUT NATHAN, A TROUBLED HIGH SCHOOL KID WHO FINDS OUT THAT HE’S NOT WHO HE THINKS HE IS (AND NEITHER ARE HIS PARENTS) WHEN HE FINDS HIMSELF ON A MISSING-PERSON’S WEBSITE WHILE DOING A SCHOOL PROJECT.  HE AND GIRL-ACROSS-THE-STREET KAREN (LILLY COLLINS, COLLINS FROM THE BLIND SIDE) SUDDENLY FIND THEMSELVES BEING HUNTED BY SERBIAN ASSASSINS AND CIA AGENTS OF QUESTIONABLE REPUTE AND BRIEFLY RESCUED BY NATHAN’S SHRINK (SIGOURNEY WEAVER FROM AVATAR), WHO TRIES TO GIVE THE TWO KIDS SOME INFO ABOUT NATHAN’S TRUE IDENTITY BEFORE DUMPING THEM FROM HER CAR AND SEEMINGLY SACRIFICING HERSELF TO SAVE THEM.  ON THEIR OWN, NATHAN AND KAREN BECOME INVOLVED IN AN INCREASINGLY BIZARRE PLOT THAT ENDS UP BEING MORE FILLED WITH HOLES THAN SWISS CHEESE BEFORE A DECENTLY FULFILLING CLIMAX THAT WAS FILMED AT PNC PARK DURING AN ACTUAL PITTSBURGH PIRATES BASEBALL GAME LAST SEASON.  DESPITE THE OVERALL DUMBNESS OF THE STORY, LAUTNER AND COLLINS, ALONG WITH WEAVER, MARIA BELLO, AND JASON “LUCIUS MALFOY” ISAACS AS NATHAN’S PARENTS BRING SOME REAL HEART TO AN OTHERWISE BLAND ADVENTURE.  YOU REALLY WANT THESE KIDS TO WIN, EVEN THOUGH THE MOVIE ITSELF IS PRETTY MUCH A CONFUSING LOSER.


THE LION KING 3D **

WELL, SHOOT ME IF YOU LIKE, BUT I DIDN’T LIKE THE LION KING THIS TIME AROUND ANY BETTER THAN I DID 17 YEARS AGO WHEN IT FIRST CAME OUT.  OVERALL, IT STILL PALES IN COMPARISON TO OTHER DISNEY ANIMATION CLASSICS OF THE ERA (THE LITTLE MERMAID, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, ALADDIN, ETC.), ELTON JOHN MUSIC STILL SOUNDS JUST LIKE ELTON JOHN MUSIC HAS ALWAYS SOUNDED, JEREMY IRONS VOICE PERFORMANCE AS SCAR (THE BAD LION) IS STILL THE ONLY REALLY INTERESTING ONE OF THE FILM, AND THOUGH THE HAND-DRAWN ANIMATION IS STILL IMPRESSIVE, IT DEFINITELY LOOKS FLAT COMPARED TO TODAY’S CGI, AND 3D DOES LITTLE TO ENHANCE ANY OF IT.  BUT WITH NOSTALGIC PARENTS DRAGGING THEIR TODDLERS AND PRIMARY GRADERS TO SEE THIS “DISNEY CLASSIC” ON THE BIG SCREEN IN A NEVER-ENDING HORDE IN THE ABSENCE OF ANYTHING EVEN APPROACHING A FAMILY MOVIE IN THE THEATERS, THIS FILM IS EXPERIENCING A REMARKABLE, IF NOT ENTIRELY DESERVED, REVIVAL.  LOOK FOR IMITATIONS TO FOLLOW AS HOLLYWOOD TYPES TYPICALLY WILL MISINTERPRET THIS SINGULAR MOMENT AS A NEW MONEY-MAKING TREND AND BOMBARD US IN YEARS TO COME WITH MORE “3D REVIVALS” OF OLD “CLASSICS.”  UGH!     


RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES ***

HERE WE HAVE YET ANOTHER IN THE SEEMINGLY ENDLESS STRING OF “ORIGIN” PREQUELS THIS SUMMER, AND JUST LIKE THOSE PREQUELS (X-MEN FIRST CLASS, CAPTAIN AMERICA, THOR, ETC.), THERE’S A LOT TO LIKE ABOUT THIS TALE THAT GIVES US A PLAUSIBLE EXPLANATION OF HOW APES COULD ONE DAY RULE THE WORLD AS HAS HAPPENED IN THE OTHER “PLANET OF THE APES” MOVIES.  BUT ALSO, AS IN THOSE OTHER ORIGIN MYTHS, THE TONE IS OMINOUS, PARTICULARLY AT THE END, AND LEAVES YOU JOYLESS AS YOU WALK OUT.  THE DIFFERENCE HERE IS THAT YOUR HEART ISN’T QUITE SO EGREGIOUSLY RIPPED OUT; YOU CAN SEE IT COMING FOR THE ENTIRE LAST HOUR OF THE FILM.  STARRING JAMES FRANCO AS A VISIONARY SCIENTIST WHO THINKS HE’S FOUND A CURE FOR ALZHEIMER’S, HE TAKES IN A BABY CHIMP WHO’S SPARED FROM SLAUGHTER WHEN FRANCO’S SERUM IS MISTAKENLY BLAMED FOR THE RAMPAGE OF THE BABY’S MOTHER, AND SO HE RAISES THE CHIMP (AND WORKS ON THE SERUM) SECRETLY AT HOME.  IT DEVELOPS AMAZING MENTAL AND PHYSICAL POWERS, AND THE EFFECT IN HUMANS OF THE SAME SERUM SEEMS TO CURE FRANCO’S FATHER (JOHN LITHGOW) OF HIS  ALZHEIMER’S AS WELL.  BUT THINGS GO WRONG WHEN CAESAR, THE CHIMP (PLAYED BY THE MASTERFUL ANDY SERKIS) DEFENDS A RELAPSING DAD, WHOSE BODY GENERATES A DANGEROUS VIRUS TO FIGHT THE SERUM THAT ACTUALLY KILLS HUMANS.  SO WHILE AN INCURABLE VIRUS SLOWLY BEGINS TO SPREAD IN HUMANS, CAESAR, HELD IN AN ABUSIVE CHIMP PADDOCK OF THE SAN FRANCISCO ZOO, FINDS A WAY TO INOCULATE HIS FELLOW APES WITH SERUM AND LEAD THEM IN REVOLT.  THIS IS A DARK CAUTIONARY TALE WELL-TOLD, WITH FINE PERFORMANCES BY FRANCO, LITHGOW, AND ESPECIALLY SERKIS, THE FIRST APPEARANCE OF ONE OF THE HARRY POTTER CAST POST-POTTER (TOM “DRACO MALFOY” FELTON PLAYING ESSENTIALLY THE SAME CHARACTER HERE SANS THE FANCY TOGS AND BRITISH ACCENT), BUT ALSO THE COMPLETE WASTE OF FREIDA PINTO (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE), WHO’S RELEGATED TO “TOKEN WOMAN” STATUS THROUGHOUT.   


SPY KIDS 4; ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD IN 4D **

HOW SAD TO SEE ONE OF THE MOST FUN KID FRANCHISES OF THE PAST DECADE SLIP THIS LOW!  AND YET FAMILIES, DESPERATE FOR ANYTHING THAT’S SAFE FOR THE LITTLE ONES TO SEE IN THE THEATER, WILL UNDOUBTEDLY TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS LATEST FROM ‘TROUBLEMAKER” DIRECTOR ROBERT RODRIGUEZ, WHO EVERY COUPLE YEARS AROUND THIS TIME COMES OUT WITH CHEESY, GOOFY FILMS WITH KIDS IN THE LEAD ROLES, NAME ADULT ACTORS “ACTING” CORNY, AND RIDICULOUS PLOTS INSPIRED BY THE IMAGINATIONS OF 4TH GRADERS.  AND SO HERE, JESSICA ALBA, JEREMY PIVEN, AND JOEL MCHALE FILL THE TOKEN ADULT ROLES (WITH ALBA THE ONLY ONE WHO ACTUALLY PUTS EFFORT INTO IT), WHILE THE REAL STARS, CHILD-ACTORS ROWAN BLANCHARD AND MASON COOK, TAKE CENTER STAGE ALONG WITH A MECHANICAL SPY-DOG (VOICED HILARIOUSLY BY RICKY GERVAIS) AND GET TO HAVE ALL THE FUN. THEY FIRST DISCOVER THAT THEIR NEW STEPMOM MARISSA (ALBA) IS A SPY WITH OSS, THEN GO AFTER THE BAD GUY (PIVEN), A MASKED MAN CALLED THE TIME-KEEPER WHO CAN SPEED UP TIME TO ARMAGEDDON.  THOUGH EVERYTHING HERE, FROM THE PLOT TO THE PRANKS AND POOP JOKES, IS RIDICULOUS TO THE POINT OF ABSURD AND CHEESY AS A LARGE THREE-CHEESE PIZZA (THE “4D” SCRATCH N‘ SNIFF CARD IS SOOOOO DUMB), THERE’S STILL FUN TO BE HAD HERE FOR THE KIDS AND EVEN A MOMENT OR TWO WHEN THEMATIC TRUISMS ABOUT THE WISE USE OF TIME POP UNEXPECTEDLY OUT OF THE SCRIPT AND GIVE ADULTS BRIEF PAUSE FOR REFLECTION..  AND THERE’S NO DOUBT THAT RODRIGUEZ WHOSE SIMILARLY GOONY FILMS HAVE LAUNCHED THE CAREERS OF CHILD ACTORS FROM ALEXA VEGA AND DARYL SABARA (WHO BOTH HAVE CAMEOS IN THIS) TO EMILY OSMENT, TAYLOR LAUTNER, AND JIMMY BENNET, HAS ONCE AGAIN FOUND A COUPLE NEW CHILD STARS IN BLANCHARD AND COOK THAT WE CAN LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING IN FUTURE FLICKS FEATURING KIDS.


COWBOYS AND ALIENS ***

A WESTERN MASH-UP WITH AN ALIEN INVASION MOVIE; WHAT COULD BE MORE FUN, RIGHT?  ESPECIALLY WITH A STELLAR CAST (DANIEL “MY NAME IS BOND” CRAIG, HARRISON FORD, OLIVIA WILDE, EVEN NOAH RINGER FROM LAST YEAR’S “THE LAST AIRBENDER” AND A CAST OF PRODUCERS AND WRITERS THAT READS LIKE A WHO’S WHO OF BLOCKBUSTER MOVIE-MAKERS.  HOW COULD ONE GO WRONG?  AND THIS ONE DOESN’T FOR MOST OF ITS DURATION; A SOLID, GRITTY WESTERN SUDDENLY INTERRUPTED BY A TRANSFORMERS-LIKE ALIEN INVASION THAT CAUSES ALL THE VARIOUS HUMAN ANTAGONISTS TO PULL TOGETHER TO DEFEAT THEM.  ONLY AT THE END DOES THIS ONE STUMBLE--BADLY--ELIMINATING ITS MOST HEROIC AND SYMPATHETIC CHARACTER IN A SUICIDE-BOMBER IMAGE THAT I FOUND MORE THAN A LITTLE DISTURBING.  THE SOUR TASTE THAT IT LEAVES, THOUGH FRUSTRATING, IS STILL WORTH THE ACTION AND THE FUN THAT HAPPENS BEFORE.  BARELY, BUT IT IS.  HAVE FUN WITH THIS TWIST ON BOTH THE WESTERN AND THE ALIEN INVASION GENRES.


THE SMURFS ***

THIS NOSTALGIC, SILLY ROMP THAT BRINGS THE 80’S CARTOON RAGE ABOUT CUTE LITTLE BLUE CREATURES WHOSE IDYLLIC LIFE IS PUT IN CONSTANT JEOPARDY BY BUMBLING EVIL WIZARD GARGAMEL INTO THE MODERN WORLD OF PEOPLE IS SO FULL OF FUN, CUTENESS, SILLINESS, AND SWEETNESS THAT IT’S NEARLY AS IRRESISTIBLE TO ADULTS STARVED FOR SOMETHING WITH A HAPPY ENDING AS IT IS FOR THEIR LITTLE ONES, WHO ACTUALLY HAVE A “SAFE” MOVIE TO GO TO THAT ALSO CRACKS THEM UP.  THE GLEEFUL GIGGLES THAT FREQUENTLY REVERBERATED THROUGH THE AUDIENCE I SAW THIS WITH WEREN’T COMING JUST FROM THE KIDS AS SIX OF THE SMURFS GET SWEPT INTO MODERN-DAY NEW YORK AND ARE TAKEN IN BY “SWEETEST COUPLE IN RECENT MOVIE HISTORY” CANDIDATES NEIL PATRICK HARRIS AND JAYMA MAYS, ALL THE WHILE CHASED BY THE HYSTERICALLY OVER-THE-TOP HANK AZARIA AS GARGAMEL WITH HIS SNARKY CGI CAT AZRIEL.  THIS IS CRAZY, STUPID FUN THAT HAS ALREADY SHOCKED THE HOLLYWOOD PEOPLE WITH ITS BIG BOX OFFICE NUMBERS AND WILL CONTINUE TO DO SO AS AUDIENCES WILL SEEK A KOOKY, HARMLESS HAVEN FROM THE EMOTIONAL MAYHEM HAPPENING ON ALL THE OTHER SCREENS IN THE MULTIPLEX.  THE PERFECT YOUNG FAMILY OUTING--AND THE GRANDPARENTS, AUNTS, UNCLES, AND COUSINS WON’T MIND IT EITHER.


CAPTAIN AMERICA; THE FIRST AVENGER ***

WHAT WAS PERHAPS ONE OF THE MOST PERFECT SUPERHERO MOVIES TO COME ALONG SINCE THE ORIGINAL SUPERMAN FLIES GLORIOUSLY ACROSS THE SCREEN FOR TWO HOURS AND ONE MINUTE, BUT, UNFORTUNATELY, THIS SHOW IS TWO HOURS AND TWO MINUTES LONG, AND THEREIN IS THE PROBLEM.  FOR IN THAT LAST MINUTE, A CONTRIVED, OUT-OF-THE-BLUE ENDING TACKED ON MERELY TO SET UP NEXT YEARS “MUCH ANTICIPATED” MARVEL MOVIE “THE AVENGERS” GUTS THE HEART FROM THE SHOW AND LEFT ME (AND MUCH OF THE AUDIENCE I WAS WITH) GAPING IN DISBELIEF AND FRUSTRATION RATHER THAN SINGING A WONDERFUL MOVIE’S PRAISES AS WE WALKED OUT.  SO PROFOUND WAS THE DISAPPOINTMENT THAT IT WAS ALMOST HARD TO REMEMBER THE PERFECT CASTING, THE WONDERFUL, INTERESTING CHARACTERS, THE MASTERFULLY CONCEIVED AND PACED STORY, THE PERFECT BALANCE OF DRAMA AND HUMOR, AND THE GRITTY, GLORIOUS ACTION SEQUENCES THAT HAD DELIGHTED US THOROUGHLY FROM MOMENT ONE OF WHAT’S ESSENTIALLY A PERIOD ACTION PIECE ABOUT STEVE ROGERS (CHRIS EVEANS), A 90-POUND WEAKLING WITH A TEN-TON HEART WHO’S TURNED INTO A SUPER SOLDIER THROUGH A GENETIC EXPERIMENT AND, WITH THE CONSIDERABLE HELP OF PLUCKY BRITISH SECRET AGENT PEGGY CARTER (HALEY ATWELL) IS FINALLY ALLOWED TO TAKE OUT A NAZI MAD SCIENTIST NAMED HYDRA (HUGO WEAVING) AND HIS MANUFACTURED HOARD OF SUPER-GHOULS.  SADLY, THIS WILL BECOME MORE KNOWN AS A CAUTIONARY TALE FOR GREEDY FILMMAKERS WHO WOULD SELL OUT A WONDERFUL MOVIE AT ITS MOST VITAL POINT (THE END) WITH A SHAMELESS SEGUE TO A PROMO FOR FUTURE PROFITS AT THE EXPENSE OF A SATISFYING ENDING FOR ITS CURRENT AUDIENCE.  WORD GETS AROUND, AND THE WORD’S OBVIOUSLY NOT GOOD AS THIS ONE DROPPED A WHOPPING 65% AT THE BOX OFFICE FROM ITS SO-SO NUMBERS DURING OPENING WEEKEND.  STILL A GREAT SHOW; JUST BRACE YOURSELF FOR THE FINAL MINUTE, OR MAYBE JUST WALK OUT AND IMAGINE ANY NUMBER OF BETTER ENDINGS AS YOU DO.


HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PT. 2 ***1/2

THE FINAL CHAPTER OF THE INCREDIBLE HARRY POTTER SERIES BRINGS THINGS TO A FITTINGLY TENSE, DRAMATIC, AND EMOTIONAL CONCLUSION AS J,K. ROWLING’S BRILLIANTLY CONVOLUTED TALE EXPOSES ONCE AND FOR ALL THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY OF THE SERIES’ PRINCIPAL ADULTS, AND HARRY AND HIS HOGWARTS FRIENDS (THE ONLY TRULY GOOD GUYS) AND LORD VOLDOMORT AND HIS MINIONS (THE ONLY TRULY BAD GUYS) HAVE THEIR FINAL, CLIMACTIC SHOWDOWN.  AS ANYONE WHO’S READ THE BOOKS KNOWS, THE ACTION AND DRAMA HERE IS NO LONGER THE WHIMSICAL STUFF OF THE FIRST FEW FILMS AND NOT FOR THE VERY YOUNG OR UNINITIATED, BUT FOR THE GAGILLIONS OF FANS, AND THOSE MATURE ENOUGH AND CURIOUS ENOUGH TO HAVE A GO FOR THE FIRST TIME, THIS IS DRAMATIC, DARK FANTASY AT IT’S VERY BEST.  AND THE FACT THAT IT INVOLVES STARS AND EVEN SUPPORTING CHARACTERS WHO ARE STILL VERY YOUNG MAKES ITS EMOTIONAL IMPORT ALL THAT MUCH MORE, EVEN SURPASSING THAT OF OTHER FANTASY CLASSICS LIKE “THE LORD OF THE RINGS” TRILOGY. OR MOST ESPECIALLY THE “TWILIGHT” FILMS, WHOSE THEMES, IRONICALLY, SEEM CHILDISH AND PETTY COMPARED TO WHAT GOES ON HERE.  GREAT ACTION WITH  DEEP, DEEP, EMOTIONAL DEPTH , AND TOPPED OFF NICELY WITH A TOUCHING AND NOSTALGIC EPILOGUE THAT MIGHT EVEN BRING A TEAR OR TWO.  SO GRAB YOUR BROOMSTICK AND FLY TO THE THEATER FOR ONE LAST MAGICAL RIDE WITH THE BOX OFFICE’S MOST BELOVED MOVIE CHARACTERS OF ALL TIME.


THE ZOOKEEPER **1/2

KEVIN JAMES (PAUL BLART, THE DIMBO MALL COP) SHIFTS HIS SCHTICK TO THE ZOO, WHERE HE PLAYS ESSENTIALLY THE SAME CHARACTER EXCEPT THIS TIME HE’S SURROUNDED BY TALKING ANIMALS TRYING TO HELP HIM MAKE IT WITH THE RIGHT GIRL AND SAVE A GORILLA FROM AN ABUSIVE HANDLER.  IN SOME WAYS, IT’S A BIT LIKE “A NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM” BUT IN THE ZOO, AS THE ANIMALS AT FIRST “STICK TO THE CODE” OF NEVER TALKING TO HUMANS, BUT THEN CAN’T HELP THEMSELVES WHEN THEIR BELOVED BUT BUMBLING ZOOKEEPER (JAMES) BLOWS EVERY CHANCE THAT HE GETS TO IMPRESS THE GIRL OF HIS DREAMS, AND THUS THEY “OPEN UP” AND INSTRUCT HIM IN THE FINE ARTS OF ATTRACTING A MATE; ANIMAL STYLE.  LIKE BOTH PAUL BLART AND “MUSEUM,” THIS IS SILLY, FLUFFY FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT WITH LOTS OF LAUGHS AND ENOUGH HEART TO AT LEAST SORT OF ENGAGE THE ADULTS. 


MONTE CARLO **

SELENA GOMEZ, THE TEEN HEART-THROB FROM DISNEY’S “THE WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE,” TAKES A BABY STEP INTO MORE ADULT ROLES HERE AS SHE PLAYS PLAIN OLE TEXAS GIRL GRACE WHO TAKES HER FLIGHTY BEST FRIEND EMMA (KATIE CASSIDY) AND DISGRUNTLED OLDER STEP-SISTER MEG (LEIGHTON MEESTER) ON A GRADUATION-PRESENT TRIP TO PARIS THAT SHE’S BEEN SAVING UP FOR FOR YEARS.  THE TRIP TURNS INTO ONE OF THOSE COOKIE-CUTTER TOURS THAT’S ABOUT AS ROMANTIC AS A DASH THROUGH A GROCERY STORE, AND EVERYTHING SEEMS ON THE ROCKS UNTIL THE THREE LOSE THE TOUR AND STUMBLE INTO A SWANKY HOTEL WHERE GRACE IS MISTAKEN FOR THE VERY UN-PLAIN HEIRESS CORDELIA WINTHROP-SCOTT, A SASSY, STUCK-UP BLUE-BLOOD BRIT WHOSE HEADED FOR A CHARITY AUCTION IN MONTE CARLO.  THE GIRLS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE MISTAKEN IDENTITY SITCH AND HEAD FOR MONACO IN THE STYLE OF THEIR DREAMS, AND ALSO MEET THE LOVES OF THEIR DREAMS, WITH VARYING DEGREES OF HAPPINESS RESULTING IN THE END WHEN, OF COURSE, THE REAL CORDELIA SHOWS UP AND THE DECEPTION COMES COLLAPSING DOWN.  IN ONE WAY, I APPLAUD SELENA GOMEZ AND HER HANDLERS (CHIEFLY HER MOTHER I’M SURE) FOR FINDING A VEHICLE FOR HER TO DO A MORE ADULT MOVIE THAT’S CLEAN, FUN, AND ALMOST TOO “SAFE” IN SOME WAYS, IN THAT SHE CAN’T REALLY SHOW OFF WHAT I THINK IS CONSIDERABLE ACTING SKILL.  ON THE OTHER HAND, THIS IS PRETTY GROWN-UP STUFF FOR SELENA’S LEGION OF PRE-TEEN FANS, YET WAY TOO BLAND TO ATTRACT AN OLDER, BROADER AUDIENCE.  SWEET AND SUGARY TO THE POINT OF CAUSING TOOTH DECAY, THIS IS FUN AND LEAVES YOU FEELING GOOD, BUT ALSO SO FLUFFY AND TRITE THAT IT BARELY EVEN SCRATCHES THE EMOTIONS, MUCH LESS ENGAGES THEM.    


TRANSFORMERS; DARK OF THE MOON ** (*** if you’re into nothing but nonsensical action and violence)

THIS EDITION OF THE HIT FRANCHISE BASED ON HASBRO’S 1980’S TOYS AND CARTOONS GETS OFF TO A FASCINATING START WITH AN INTERESTING REVISION OF THE 1960’S “SPACE RACE” TO THE MOON.  IT’S ALSO INTERESTING TO CATCH UP WITH MAIN CHARACTER SAM (SHIA LEBEOUF), HIS PARENTS A COUPLE OF THE OTHER HUMANS FROM PART TWO, MEET SAM’S NEW LOVE INTEREST (SADLY MEGAN FOX IS GONE), HER BOSS (PATRICK DEMPSEY DOING A NICE EVIL TURN) AND OF COURSE FIND OUT WHAT OPTMUS PRIME AND THE AUTOBOTS ARE UP TO.  WE ALSO MEET A TOUGH NEW CIA DIRECTOR AND A NEW “PRIME, “ SENTINEL” WHO WAS HEAD OF THE AUTOBOTS ON THEIR HOME PLANET, ESCAPED, AND CRASHED ON THE MOON DECADES AGO.  ONCE THINGS ARE ALL CAUGHT UP AND THE STAGE SET, THOUGH, THIS QUICKLY DEGENERATES INTO ANOTHER SPECIAL-EFFECTS-LADENED BATTLE ROYALE BETWEEN GOOD AND BAD MACHINES WITH GOOD AND BAD HUMANS RUNNING AROUND IN THE MIDST TRYING NOT TO GET CRUSHED OR FALL OUT OF BENT-IN-HALF SKYSCRAPERS.  SINCE THERE’S SO LITTLE SINCERITY BETWEEN ANYONE, YOU REALLY DON’T CARE MUCH WHO WINS OR LOSES.  DIRECTOR MICHAEL BAY GOES SO OVER-THE-TOP WITH THE ACTION THAT IT’S SIMPLY  RIDICULOUS.  WATCHING IT IS ACTUALLY PAINFUL.  IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO TAKE SERIOUSLY, YET THE MOVIE’S TONE IS ONE OF LIFE-OR-DEATH.  SAM’S GIRLFRIEND, PLAYED BY  FASHION MODEL ROSIE HUNGINGTON-WHITELEY’, APPEARS IN EVERY SCENE LIKE SHE’S JUST WALKED OFF THE RUNWAY, DASHING THROUGH RUBBLE AND BROKEN GLASS IN 6-INCH STILETTO HEELS. AND SKINNY JEANS.  AND WHEN SENTINEL, VOICED BY LEONARD “MR. SPOCK” NIMOY, TELLS OPTIMUS THAT HE MUST LEARN “THAT THE NEEDS OF THE MANY OUTWEIGH THE NEEDS OF THE FEW” (A DIRECT QUOTE FROM ONE OF THE STAR TREK MOVIES)...WELL, YOU GET THE PICTURE.  I WASN’T JUST BORED, I WAS ALMOST OFFENDED.  BUT, IF ALL YOU CARE ABOUT SEEING IN MOVIES IS MINDLESS ACTION, NONE OF THIS WILL MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE, SO HAVE A BALL.


CARS 2 ***

THIS WAS A FUN RIDE AS THE MECHANICAL BUNCH FROM 2008’S “CARS” RETURNS FOR AN INTERNATIONAL RACE TO SUPPOSEDLY PROMOTE A NEW, ENVIRONMENTALLY SAFE FUEL.  STOCK CAR LIGHTNING MCQUEEN AND HIS FAITHFUL TOW TRUCK MATER JOIN OPEN-WHEEL RACERS AND LEMANS-STYLE ROADSTERS IN EXOTIC WORLD LOCALES, BUT MATER BECOMES UNWITTINGLY SWEPT UP IN ESPIONAGE AS HE’S MISTAKEN FOR AN AMERICAN SPY BY A COUPLE OF UNDERCOVER BRITISH CARS WHO’VE DISCOVERED THAT THE RACE IS ACTUALLY A COVER-UP FOR SOMETHING FAR MORE SINISTER.  MCQEEN STEPS INTO THE BACKGROUND THIS TIME AS LARRY THE CABLE GUY’S MATER GETS MOST OF THE LAUGHS BUMBLING THROUGH HARROWING CHASES AND GENERALLY MANAGING TO MAKE A MESS OF ALL HE TOUCHES.  AS USUAL, PIXAR’S ANIMATION IS AWESOME, AND THE RACING SCENES ARE AS GOOD OR BETTER THAN WHAT YOU SEE IN THE REAL THING.  HERE’S ACTION THAT RANGES FROM JAMES BOND-INSPIRED SPY STUFF TO WHITE-KNUCKLE RACING SPICED WITH LOADS OF LAUGHS AND A TON OF HEART.  LIKE THE FIRST, IT’S NOT IN THE “WALL-E” OR “TOY STORY” CLASS OF GREATNESS, BUT STILL, THIS IS A FINE, FINE AFTERNOON OF FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT.


MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS **1/2

THIS STORY OF A HARD-CHARGING NEW YORK BUSINESSMAN WHO CAN’T FIND A CONNECTION WITH HIS ESTRANGED CHILDREN UNTIL 6 PENGUINS THAT HE’S INHERITED FROM HIS DECEASED, GLOBE-TROTTING FATHER INVADE HIS POSH MANHATTAN APARTMENT, STARS VAUNTED COMEDIAN JIM CARREY IN THE TITLE ROLE, BUT ACTUALLY GETS MOST OF IT’S HEART AND LAUGHS FROM THE INVADING BIRDS AND THE TWO KIDS (MADELINE CARROLL AND MATTHEW PERRY COTTON).  BOTH ARE ALREADY VETERAN ACTORS AT 15 AND 11 RESPECTIVELY (SHE IN FEATURES LIKE “FLIPPED,”  “THE SPY NEXT DOOR” WITH JACKIE CHAN, AND “ASTROBOY” AND HE IN OVER 80 EPISODES OF TV’S “BROTHERS AND SISTERS”, AND THEY SHOW THEIR EXPERIENCE IN STEALING SCENES FROM A MORE SUBDUED CARREY, WHO SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN DIRECTED TO TONE DOWN HIS USUAL MADCAP SCHTICK FOR THIS ONE.  BUT THE PENGUINS (A COMBINATION OF REAL AND CGI BIRDS) REALLY “CARRY” THINGS AWAY AS THEY ALL BOND WITH MR. POPPER, THEN MUST BE RESCUED BY HIM AND THE KIDS WHEN THEY’RE STOLEN BY AN EVIL ZOOKEEPER.  CARLA GUGINO, OPHELIA LOVIGOOD (AS POPPER’S EX-WIFE AND PERSONAL ASSISTANT) AND ANGELA LANDSBURY (AS AN ECCENTRIC BUSINESSWOMAN) ALSO DO NICE TURNS IN THIS KOOKY FANTASY THAT MAY NOT EXACTLY BE REMARKABLE, BUT CERTAINLY IS A FUN AND AT TIMES HYSTERICAL ROMP THAT ALSO TUGS THE HEART.  FLUFFY FAMILY ENJOYMENT.


GREEN LANTERN *1/2

ANOTHER OF THE SEEMINGLY ENDLESS PARADE OF COMIC BOOK-BASED MOVIES TO COME OUT THIS YEAR, THIS ONE STUMBLES WORSE THAN MOST OF THEM (SO FAR, ONLY “X-MEN, FIRST CLASS” HASN’T).  IN A TYPICALLY INTERESTING BEGINNING WE MEEET DAREDEVIL TEST PILOT HAL JORDAN (RYAN REYNOLDS) AND HIS MORE SUBDUED WING-PERSON CAROL FERRIS (BLAKE LIVELY),  SHE DOESN’T LIKE THE CHANCES HE TAKES WITH THEIR LIVES, BUT YOU CAN TELL SHE’S GOT A THING FOR HIM.  MEANWHILE, AN ALIEN NAMED TAIKI WAITITI, LEGENDARY VETERAN OF AN INTERGALACTIC POLICE FORCE KNOW AS THE GREEN LANTERNS, CRASHES ON EARTH IN AN ATTEMPT TO FIND HIS SUCCESSOR, WHO WILL HELP THE OTHER LANTERNS DEFEAT A GOOPY, SLIMY, PLANET-DEVOURING MENACE.  IT’S HERE WHERE ANYTHING INTERESTING STOPS, AND THE MOVIE SLIPS INTO BEING JUST ANOTHER COMIC-BOOK FARCE, SORT OF A PALE IMITATION OF THE ORIGINAL “SUPERMAN” MOVIE, WITH INFINITELY BETTER SPECIAL EFFECTS, BUT NONE OF THE HEART, SINCERITY, OR COMEDY THAT MADE THAT FILM A CLASSIC AND MAKES THIS ONE A DUD.  I WAS NEARLY ASLEEP BY THE SO-CALLED CLIMAX, A LUDICROUS SPECIAL-EFFECTS EXTRAVAGANZA THAT JUST MADE ME WANT TO GROAN.  A COMPLETE WASTE OF WELL OVER 200 MILLION DOLARS, AND MOVIE-GOERS APPARENTLY AGREE SINCE “LANTERN’S” OPENING WEEKEND DIDN’T EVEN MAKE 20% OF THAT BACK FOR  ITS  PRODUCERS, AND ITS SECOND WEEKEND WAS 66% LESS THAN THAT.  BUT OF COURSE, AS IS SO TYPICAL OF THE CURRENT HOLLYWOOD GROUP-THINK, A SEQUEL IS ALREADY IN DEVELOPMENT.  AAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!   


SUPER 8 ***1/2

THERE WERE TIMES IN THIS FILM THAT MADE ME WANT TO RUN HOME, GET OUT EVERY ONE OF MY MOVIE SCRIPTS, AND COMB THROUGH THEM FOR MOMENTS WHERE I COULD REVISE THEM IN SOME SMALL WAY JUST TO BEGIN TO CAPTURE THE RANGE AND INTENSITY OF EMOTION THAT I FELT RAGING THROUGH ME AS I WATCHED THIS SUPERB NEW FILM BY JJ ABRAMS AND STEVEN SPEILBERG.  WHAT A RIDE!  FROM AN OPENING THAT’S AS WILD AND TERRIFYING AS ANYTHING I’VE SEEN ON FILM TO INTENSE PERSONAL SCENES OF HEART-WRENCHING CONFUSION AND LOSS TO GOOFY KID ANTICS THAT CRACK YOU UP TO MOMENTS OF SUSPENSE THAT RIVAL THOSE IN JAWS OR INDIANA JONES, YOU WIND UP SO WRUNG OUT THAT THE HEART-WARMING ENDING ACTUALLY FEELS A LITTLE BLAND (PERHAPS THE MOVIE’S ONLY FLAW).  MIXING ELEMENTS OF THE BEST OF THE SPEILBERG CLASSICS OF OLD (E.T., JAWS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, EVEN JURASSIC PARK) WITH A PERIOD STORY OF KIDS IN FLAWED FAMILIES UNCOVERING A GOVERNMENT CONSPIRACY ABOUT A TERRIFYING CREATURE, THERE’S BARRELS OF ENJOYMENT HERE FOR EVERYONE IN THE FAM EXCEPT THE REAL LITTLE ONES, FOR WHICH SOME SCENES WOULD SIMPLY BE WAY TOO INTENSE.  ROUND EVERYONE UP AND HEAD TO THE THEATER!  AND YES, YOU CAN AFFORD IT--IT’S NOT IN 3D!  AND DON’T FORGET TO HANG AROUND FOR THE CREDITS--REAL SPECIAL STUFF TO GO ALONG WITH THOSE.  


KUNG FU PANDA 2 ***

IN THIS NEW INSTALLMENT OF THE JACK BLACK-VOICED TALE OF THE PORTLY PANDA WHO BECOMES A KUNG FU MASTER, PO AND FRIENDS HAVE TO SAVE CHINA AND KUNG FU ITSELF FROM A PRICKLY PEACOCK THAT GIVES THE PHRASE “PROUD AS A PEACOCK” A WHOLE NEW MEANING.  WHILE THE ACTION IS FUN AND THE COMEDY IS STELLAR (WHEN ISN’T IT WITH BLACK), THE DIFFERENCE HERE IS THE HEART OF THE STORY, ABOUT PO DISCOVERING MUCH MORE ABOUT WHO HE IS, HOW HE ENDED UP CALLING A DORKY CHINESE NOODLE-MAKER “DAD” AND WHAT HIS ULTIMATE DESTINY MIGHT BE.  THIS DEPTH PUTS THE SEQUEL A LITTLE HIGHER UP THE LADDER THAN THE ORIGINAL; A RARITY THESE DAYS, AND GIVES US IN THE AUDIENCE A MUCH RICHER EXPERIENCE.  LOTS OF FUN AND SOME THEME TO CHEW ON AS WELL.  YES, IT IS A 3D FILM, BUT AT LEAST THE EXTRA BUCKS WON’T BE WASTED.  THE VISUALS ARE AS GOOD AS THE REST OF THE FILM. 


PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN; ON STRANGER TIDES **

AS I FEARED, FOR MOST OF THIS FILM I FOUND MYSELF HUMMING “HO-HUM, HO-HUM” RATHER THAN “YO-HO, YO-HO” AS THIS LATEST “PIRATES” SEQUEL SLOGGED THROUGH BORING SCENES OF CONVOLUTED BACKSTORIES AND OLD PIRATE TALES, SILLY EPISODES OF SELF-PARODY ALA PIRATES 2, AND THE REQUISITE ACTION SEQUENCES THAT WE’D SEEN TOO MANY TIMES BEFORE.  ONLY WHEN THE ADVENTURE, WHICH FEATURES CAPTAIN JACK SPARROW AND HIS MISFITS RACING A SPANISH FLEET AND HIS OLD NEMESIS CAPTAIN BARBOSSA (NOW AN ENGLISH PRIVATEER) TO THE SIGHT OF THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH, GETS TO THE ACTUAL ISLAND OF THE PRIZE, WHICH IS GUARDED BY A PLATOON OF MAN-EATING MERMAIDS, DOES THERE DEVELOP ANYTHING ORIGINAL IN THE PLOT OR ANY HINT OF SINCERITY IN THE CHARACTERS, WHO SUFFER FROM CHRONIC CASES OF CYNICISM SAVE THE TWO YOUNG LOVERS THAT COME TO THE FORE NEAR THE END.  ONLY THEN DID I FIND ANYTHING OR ANYONE THAT I TRULY CARED ABOUT IN THIS OTHERWISE CALLOUS AND ONLY OCCASIONALLY FUNNY SWASHBUCKLER.  AND I EVEN SAW IT TWICE!  AND TO MAKE IT EVEN WORSE, THE 3D IS VIRTUALLY USELESS, ONLY SUCCEEDING IN MAKING THE MOVIE APPEAR DARKER THAN IT SHOULD BE.  THIS FRANCHISE IN ITSELF IS STRONG ENOUGH IN INTERNATIONAL STARS TO MAKE IT A HIT EARNING HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OVERSEAS, BUT HERE IN THE US, IT’S UNDER-PERFORMING, FOR ALL THE AFORE-MENTIONED REASONS.  SAVE YOUR BUCKS FOR SOMETHING BETTER


THOR **1/2

IT’S NO SECRET THAT SUMMER’S HERE (AT LEAST ON THE MOVIE CALENDAR) AND NORMALLY I’M ECSTATIC; IT’S 4Q/TENTPOLE FILM SEASON, AND THAT’S WHAT I LIVE FOR.  INCREASINGLY, THOUGH, IT’S BEEN MORE A SEASON OF BLANDNESS (AT THE LACK OF ORIGINALITY) AND DREAD (OF HOW BADLY THEY WILL MASSACRE THE LATEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL ON-SCREEN).  I’M AFRAID THOR FITS INTO THE FORMER CATEGORY OF “UGH!”  AFTER A PROMISING OPENING TWO MINUTES, THIS STORY OF THE “GOD OF THUNDER” BEING CAST OUT OF ASGARD (NORDIC HEAVEN) DOWN TO EARTH FOR HIS ARROGANCE BOGS DOWN IN ENDLESS BACKSTORY AND BLAH-BLAH TO CATCH US UP ON JUST WHO THOR IS, ETC., AND THEN JUST AS IT PICKS UP WITH THOR, THE “GOD OUT OF WATER” TRYING TO MAKE IT ON EARTH AS A NORMAL HUMAN, WE CUT BACK TO THE ASGARDIAN BLAH-BLAH AGAIN.  AND OF COURSE THERE’S THE SIGNATURE “GOD V GOD” FIGHT AT THE END THAT’S ABOUT AS UNIQUE AS ICE IS IN ANTARCTICA.  SO MUCH POSSIBILITY, YET SO MUCH OF THE SAME OLD SAMO.  THOR FLIES HIGH IN THE END, BUT HE SHOULD HAVE SPENT A LOT MORE TIME ON THE GROUND, WHERE NATALIE PORTMAN AND KAT DENNINGS OFTEN HILARIOUSLY GUIDE THE DEFROCKED GOD THROUGH HIS HIMAN ROLE AND DIRECTOR KENNETH BRANAGH’S “HAMMER IN THE STONE” RECURRING GAG BROUGHT CONTINUAL HOOTS.  ULTIMATELY, A DISAPPOINTMENT.


FAST FIVE ***

NOT BEING A FAN OF THIS FRANCHISE, I WAS DELIGHTFULLY SURPRISED TO FIND IT AS VARIED AND ORIGINAL AS IT WAS, AND CONSEQUENTLY HOW MUCH BETTER THAN THE ORIGINAL IT WAS (THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS), WHICH I’D CAUGHT ON SATELLITE THE NIGHT BEFORE.  DOM AND CREW ARE THIS TIME IN BRAZIL (UNIQUE SETTING) HIDING OUT FROM THE DEA WITH BRIAN AND MIA EXPECTING THEIR FIRST CHILD (INTERESTING TWIST).  THEY JUST WANT PEACE AND QUIET (AND A FEW RACES NOW AND THEN), BUT A RELENTLESS DEA AGENT AND A BRAZILIAN DRUG LORD( PLAYED DELICIOUSLY BY DWAYNE “THE ROCK” JOHNSON AND JOAQUIN DE ALMEIDA--WONDERFUL BAD GUY ACTORS) HAVE OTHER IDEAS.  CAP IT OFF WITH A CLIMACTIC ROAD CHASE THAT’S THE MOST INSANE I’VE SEEN SINCE SCHWARZANNAGER AND COMPANY DESTROYED SEVERAL STREETS IN AN LA WAREHOUSE DISTRICT IN “TERMINATOR 3, RISE OF THE MACHINES,” AND YOU HAVE ALMOST THE PERFECT SEQUEL.  I GENERALLY HATE CAR MOVIES, BUT IF THEY KEEP MAKING THEM AS GOOD AS THIS, I’LL “FAST” BEGIN TO LIKE THEM.     


HANNA ** (add 1/2 for thriller fans)

THIS THRILLER ABOUT THE YOUNG DAUGHTER OF AN ASSASSIN RAISED IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE (FINLAND) WHO MUST GO ON THE RUN ONCE SHE OPTS TO JOIN NORMAL SOCIETY IS FAST-PACED AND RIFE WITH WONDERFUL MOMENTS BOTH OF TOUCHING SWEETNESS AS HANNA DISCOVERS WHAT SHE’S BEEN SHELTERED FROM ALL HER LIFE AND OF BLUNT, CRUEL VIOLENCE AS SHE AND HER FATHER DEAL WITH THE RUTHLESS NEMESIS WHO COMES AFTER THEM, BUT SADLY TOSSES OUT ANY OPPORTUNITIES TO BE GENUINELY EMOTIONALLY MOVING.  SAOIRSE RONAN, WHO DAZZLED CRITCS AT AGE 11 IN THE ADULT FILM “ATONEMENT” AND THEN DAZZLED FAMILIES AS THE ONE BRIGHT SPOT IN THE ABYSMAL “CITY OF EMBER,” IS EXACTLY THE RIGHT CHOICE FOR THE CONFUSED, CONFLICTED, YET COLD-HEARTED HANNA, BUT IS ALLOWED VERY LITTLE OPPORTUNITY TO SHOW ANY OF THIS RANGE.  HER CHARACTER, FOR ALL THAT SHE GOES THROUGH, IS BASICALLY THE SAME PERSON AT THE END THAT SHE WAS AT THE BEGINNING (EVEN SPOUTING THE SAME CHILLING LINES), AND SO WE’RE LEFT WITH A PRETTY HOLLOW FEELING, AND ALSO WONDERING ABOUT SOME CRUCIAL LOOSE ENDS THAT WERE NEVER TIED UP.  SO SAD THAT A DIRECTOR WHO HAD SUCH A RICH STORY TO WORK WITH OPTED SIMPLY TO MAKE ANOTHER HO-HUM ACTION THRILLER (WITH EMPHASIS ON ACTION).  YET ANOTHER DISAPPOINTMENT IN THIS GENERALLY DISAPPOINTING SPRING SEASON.   


RIO **1/2

THIS NEW ANIMATED FILM ABOUT AN OVER-PROTECTED BLUE MACAW FROM THE SNOWS OF MINNESOTA (WHERE HE’D NOT EVEN LEARNED HOW TO FLY) FINDING HIS ROOTS, HIS WINGS, AND HIS MATE IN BRAZIL’S STORIED PARTY CITY IS A DECENT ENOUGH HOUR AND A HALF OF FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT, BUT NOT WHAT YOU’D CALL INSPIRING EITHER.  JESSE EISENBERG (SOUNDING WAY TOO MUCH LIKE HE’S STILL PLAYING MARK ZUCKERBERG IN “THE SOCIAL NETWORK”) AND ANNE HATHAWAY (SOUNDING AS VIBRANT AS EVER) VOICE THE TWO BLUE BIRDS WELL, AND THERE’S SOME NICE VISUALS OF THE RIO AREA AND SOME CATCHY MUSIC THROWN IN BY DIRECTOR CARLOS SALDANHA, WHO’S ORIGINALLY FROM RIO.  BUT AT ITS CORE, RIO IS JUST ANOTHER STOCK ANIMATED ADVENTURE WITH A CONFLICTED HERO, A FIESTY FEMALE ROMANTIC INTEREST, A REQUISITE COLLAGE OF COLORFULLY KOOKY SUPPORTING CHARACTERS VOICED BY WELL-KNOWN STARS (GEORGE LOPEZ, JAMIE FOXX, WILL.I.AM, LESLIE MANN, ETC.), AND AN ALL-EVIL BAD GUY (IN THIS CASE, A COCKATOO VOICED DELICIOUSLY BY JERMAINE CLEMENT) WHO GETS ALL THE BEST LINES, STEALS EVERY SCENE HE’S IN, AND GETS FRIED AT THE END.  THE CUTENESS FACTOR IS ONLY SO-SO HERE, AND MOST OF THE FUNNIEST SCENES YOU’VE ALREADY SEEN IN THE TRAILERS.  WHILE FUN AND ENTERTAINING, THIS FAILED MISERABLY AT TUGGING THE HEART IN THE WAY THAT THE BEST ANIMATED FILMS (INCLUDING THE DIRECTOR’S HUGE HIT “ICE AGE 3” FROM TWO YEARS AGO) DO.  AND SADLY (FROM YOUR WALLET’S STANDPOINT), THE 3D IN THIS IS LARGELY WASTED (OR PERHAPS I’M BECOMING DESENSITIZED TO IT?). SO YOUR $10.50 MATINEE, WHILE GIVING YOU SOME FUN AND EXCITEMENT, WON’T DELIVER QUITE WHAT YOU MAY HAVE HOPED FOR. 


SOUL SURFER ***

THIS MOVIE, BASED ON THE TRUE STORY OF PROMISING SURFING COMPETITOR BETHANY HAMILTON, WHO, AT AGE 13, HAD HER LEFT ARM AMPUTATED BY A 16-FOOT TIGER SHARK WHILE SURFING WITH FRIENDS, IS BOTH A CLASSIC SPORTS COMEBACK STORY AND AN INTROSPECTIVE LOOK INTO HOW HUMANS SUCCESSFULLY COPE WITH DEVASTATING LOSS.  LITERALLY SAVED FROM DEATH BY THE QUICK ACTION OF HER BEST FRIEND’S FATHER AND A LOCAL SURGEON (AFTER A 60% BLOOD LOSS), HAMILTON AND FAMILY TURNED TO EACH OTHER, THEIR FRIENDS, AND THEIR CHRISTIAN FAITH TO OVERCOME THE  OVERWHELMING CHALLENGES OF FACING LIFE MINUS ONE ARM AND RETURNING BETHANY TO THE WORLD-CLASS LEVEL OF COMPETITIVE SURFING THAT SHE STILL REMAINS AT TODAY.  THOUGH THE FILM GETS GREAT SUPPORT FROM NAME ACTORS LIKE DENNIS QUAID AND HELEN HUNT (AS BETHANY’S FOLKS), AND NEWCOMER COUNTRY STAR CARRIE UNDERWOOD, THE FILM IS CARRIED AWAY BY TEEN STAR ANNASOPHIA ROBB, WHO, AS BETHANY, IS IN NEARLY EVERY SCENE AND CONSTANTLY SHOWS BOTH THE GRIT OF A DETERMINED ATHLETE, THE EXUBERANCE OF YOUTH, AND THE CONFUSION OF A TEENAGER WHOSE LIFE’S BEEN TURNED INSIDE OUT, SOMETIMES ALL IN THE SAME SCENE.  HER STOIC, “SHOCKED SCREAMLESS” DEPICTION OF THE ACTUAL SHARK ATTACK AND ITS IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH IS BREATHTAKING (AND APPARENTLY ALL TRUE AS WELL).  ROBB HAS BEEN A RISING STAR EVER SINCE TEAMING WITH JEFF DANIELS AT AGE 9 AS OPAL IN “BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE” AND HAS HELD HER OWN ALONGSIDE STARS LIKE JOHNNY DEPP, HILARY SWANK, AND FELLOW TEEN STAR JOSH HUTCHERSON EVER SINCE.  HERE, IT’S HER TURN TO SHINE, AND SHE’S BRIGHT AS A STARBURST.  THIS IS A WINNING SPORTS STORY WITH A DASH OF GIRL-POWER AND A WHOLE LOT OF SOUL THAT BOTH ENTERTAINS AND INSPIRES.     


HOP ** (add 1/2 if you’re into cute, fuzzy, animated bunnies and chicks)

HOP” STARTS OUT WITH LOADS OF PROMISE, SHOWING OFF AN EASTER-BUNNY WORLD NOT UNLIKE SANTA’S AT THE NORTH POLE THAT’S BOTH IMAGINATIVE AND HILARIOUS.  BUT ONCE E.B., THE HEIR-APPARENT TO BECOMING THE NEW EASTER BUNNY, SKIPS OUT ON HIS JOB AND GOES DOWN THE MAGIC RABBIT HOLE, THE MOVIE, UNFORTUNATELY, GOES DOWN WITH HIM--INTO A BORING, TIRESOME, AND EVEN SOUL-LESS TALE THAT HAS ALL THE OUTWARD PIZZAZZ OF “DESPICABLE ME” (SAME CREATORS) BUT ABSOLUTELY NONE OF ITS HEART.  RUSSELL BRAND, THE SELF-ABSORBED ROCK STAR OF “GET HIM TO THE GREEK” VOICES E.B. WITH THE SAME SNEER OF CASUAL CONCEIT, AND JAMES MARSDEN, HIS LIVE ACTION CO-HORT, IS A LOATHSOMELY LAZY SLACKER.  WHILE IT MAY BE FUNNY SEEING E.B. DOING THINGS LIKE PLAYING DRUMS FOR A GROUP OF BLIND GUYS AND POOPING OUT JELLY BEANS, OR MARSDEN SINGING WITH E.B. AS HIS VENTRILOQUIST’S DUMMY, THESE GUYS ARE NOT WHAT YOU’D CALL “SYMPATHETIC CHARACTERS.”  SO MUCH SO, IN FACT, THAT NEITHER IS BELIEVABLE WHEN THEY ULTIMATELY TRANSFORM INTO GOOD GUYS.  AND THE B-STORY ABOUT THE EASTER BUNNY’S RIGHT-HAND CHICK (HANK AZARIA) TRYING TO TAKE OVER EASTER NEVER REALLY GETS OFF THE GROUND.  CUTENESS ABOUNDS IN THIS TIRED TALE, BUT ANY REAL HEART IS HIDDEN SOMEWHERE AMONG THE EASTER EGGS.  TOO BAD...BUT AT LEAST YOU DON’T HAVE TO PAY A 3D PRICE TO SEE IT! 


RANGO ***

THOUGH MOST OF ITS HUMOR IS QUIRKY AND MORE ADULT-LIKE, THIS IS A WONDERFULLY CRAZY MIX OF WACKY CHARACTERS AND OLD-TIME WESTERN STORY-TELLING THAT’S A TOTAL HOOT FOR ALL AGES.  CREATED BY GEORGE “STAR WARS” LUCAS’S INDUSTRIAL LIGHT AND MAGIC STUDIO AS A SPOOF ON THE OLD “SPAGHETTI WESTERNS” THAT STARRED A YOUNG CLINT EASTWOOD BACK IN THE LATE 60‘S, THIS FEATURES A LIZARD (JOHNNY DEPP) WHO ASPIRES TO BE AN ACTOR/DIRECTOR WHO FINDS HIMSELF IN THE REAL-LIFE DRAMA OF THE TOWN OF DIRT, WHICH IS DYIING FOR LACK OF WATER.  POPULATED BY A CAST OF ANIMALS THAT LOOKS LIKE THEY JUST WALKED OUT OF THE STAR WARS BAR SCENE ON TATOOINE, THEY LOOK TO “RANGO” TO GET THEIR WATER BACK AFTER THE LIZARD SPINS A (TALL) TALE OF HIS DARING EXPLOITS, THEN MUST DEAL WITH THE REAL BAD GUYS, A SLIMY MAYOR AND HIS RATTLESNAKE HENCHMAN.  THE WHOLE CONCEPT HERE IS SO WILDLY ORIGINAL, YET SO FIRMLY BASED ON THE WESTERN GENRE SPOOF, THAT IT’S A TOTAL WINNER EVEN IF YOU DON’T GET HALF THE JOKES AND SITE GAGS, WHICH COME AT YOU LIKE A BLIZZARD THROUGHOUT.  AND DEPP’S VOICE PERFORMANCE IS CHARACTERISTICALLY STELLAR AND HILARIOUS.  I SAW THIS DURING RANGO’S 3RD WEEKEND, AND IT STILL TOTALLY PACKED THE HOUSE WITH ALL AGES OF FANS.  AND HERE’S A NOTE TO PRODUCERS LIKE THOSE OF “MARS NEEDS MOMS;” IT WASN’T IN 3D, SO WE COULD ACTUALLY AFFORD IT!!  BRAVO FOR GEORGE LUCAS, WHO SUCCESSFULLY (AGAIN) BREAKS NEW HOLLYWOOD GROUND IN GRAND FASHION. 


SUCKER PUNCH **(add 1/2 if you’re a video game nut)

THIS SAD AND VIOLENT TALE ABOUT A GROUP OF ABUSED GIRLS’ ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE FROM AN INSANE ASYLUM FROM HELL APPEARS TO BE MORE A DEVICE TO PLAY OUT FANTASMIC, VIOLENT, VIDEO-GAME STYLE FANTASIES THAN TO ACTUALLY TELL A STORY.  AND THOSE FANTASIES ARE VERY WELL-DONE ACTION SEQUENCES THAT WILL ENTHRALL THE VIDEO-GAME FREAKS, BUT FOR THE REST OF US, IT’S ALL KIND OF MEANINGLESS BLAH-BLAH THAT LOOSELY TIES TOGETHER A SAD AND EMOTIONALLY PUNISHING NARRATIVE.  EMILY BROWNING, ABBIE CORNISH, JENNA MALONE, VANESSA HUDGENS (IN YET ANOTHER WILD DEPARTURE FROM HER HSM DAYS) AND JULIA CHONG ARE AWESOME IN THE ACTION STUFF, YET ALSO REAL AND VULNERABLE IN THEIR HELLISH REALITY.  THIS FILM COULD HAVE DONE A LOT TO MOVE FEMALES INTO ACTION ROLES IN FUTURE FILMS, BUT UNFORTUNATELY, PEOPLE STILL GO TO THE MOVIES TO SEE GREAT STORIES, NOT JUST GREAT-LOOKING BABES KICKING BUTTS, AND THIS MOVIE FAILS TO PROVIDE ONE.  A DISAPPOINTMENT--BIG-TIME...  


BEASTLY **1/2

THIS INTERESTING RE-TELLING OF THE “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” TALE SET IN A MODERN NYC PREP SCHOOL GETS SOME GREAT PERFORMANCES FROM VANESSA HUDGENS (WHO DOESN’T SING) AND ALEX PETTYFER (WHO DOESN’T DO ACTION SEQUENCES), AND THE PLOT IS FUN AND FAITHFUL TO THE STORY, IF NOT A BIT STRAINED AT TIMES.  FOR ME, THOUGH (AND THE AUDIENCE AS WELL, JUDGING FROM ITS REACTIONS), THIS DIDN’T REALLY GENERATE THE KIND OF EMOTION THAT YOU’D LIKE TO SEE IN A ROMANCE THAT’S TRADITIONALLY SO GUT-WRENCHING.  PETTYFER’S “BEAST” (A SNOB NAMED KYLE) ISN’T ALL THAT ABHORRENT (IN FACT, HE’D FIT RIGHT INTO A LOT OF RAP GROUPS OR THE WWE), AND THE STAKES FOR HUDGEN’S “BEAUTY” (A GIRL NAMED LINDY) AREN’T AS DESPERATE.  I DID, HOWEVER, FEEL AT THE END JUST LIKE I DID IN DISNEY’S VERSION; THAT LINDY WOULD ACTUALLY LOVE THE BEAST SHE FELL IN LOVE WITH A LOT MORE THAN THE PERFECT “PRINCE” THAT KYLE TURNS BACK INTO.  THIS IS A PASSABLE TEEN ROMANCE WITH A FAIRY-TALE TWIST THAT LEAVES YOU FEELING WARM AND FUZZY INSIDE IF NOT INSPIRED AND EXUBERANT. 

 

MARS NEEDS MOMS

SORRY, BUT A COMBINATION OF TERRIBLE REVIEWS, VIRTUALLY NO KIDS IN MY CLASS SHOWING ANY INTEREST WHATSOEVER, LIMITED TIME, AND PREMIUM 3D PRICING HAS KEPT ME OUT OF THIS ONE.  FOR ONCE, I’M ACTUALLY SKIPPING A MAJOR ANIMATED FILM DONE BY A BIG HOLLYWOOD STUDIO (DISNEY, FROM ROBERT “BACK TO THE FUTURE” ZEMECKIS’S COMPANY).  WHO WANTS TO PAY $11 BUCKS (MATINEE PRICE) TO SEE A MAYBE SO-SO MOVIE ANYMORE???  PLEASE, HOLLYWOOD, FIGURE THIS OUT.  3D PREMIUM PRICING IS KILLING YOUR AUDIENCE OFF!


I AM NUMBER 4 **1/2

THIS STORY, ABOUT A TEEN-AGER FROM ANOTHER PLANET HIDING OUT AT A HIGH SCHOOL IN OHIO TO ESCAPE THE ALIEN GOONS THAT ARE OUT TO GET HIM (AND HIS OTHER BRETHREN; THERE ARE NINE IN ALL, THEY’RE BEING MURDERED IN ORDER, AND #3’S JUST BEEN OFFED...) WAS A SOLID 3 OR 4 STAR MOVIE FOR ME FOR ABOUT TWO-THIRDS OF IT.  INTERESTING CHARACTERS, ONE OF MY FAVORITE GENRE SITUATIONS (UNBEKNOWNST ALIENS AMONG US), SUSPENSE, FLASHES OF GREAT ACTION, BUILDING TENSION, A TOUCHING ROMANCE, AND FINE ACTORS IN ALEX PETTYFER (ALEX RIDER MOVIES), DIANNA AGRON (QUINN FROM GLEE), AND EVEN TIMOTHY OLYPHANT (FROM RIGHT HERE IN MODESTO).  BUT WHEN IN THE THIRD ACT IT DISSOLVED INTO ONE OF THOSE NOW ALL TOO STANDARD CGI-ENHANCED BATTLE ROYALE’S BETWEEN INDESTRUCTIBLE ENTITIES WHERE LITERALLY EVERYTHING IS DESTROYED (IN THIS CASE, A HIGH SCHOOL, COMPLETE WITH ITS STADIUM--AND IT SOMEHOW DOESN’T ATTRACT NATIONAL MEDIA ATTENTION???), MY ENTHUSIASM DISSOLVED ALSO.  LESS AT THE END WOULD HAVE MADE FOR A LOT MORE OVERALL.  TOO BAD--I’M AFRAID THIS MAY NOT DO AS WELL AT THE B.O. AS THE DISNEY/DREAMWORKS PEOPLE HAD HOPED BECAUSE OF IT--BUT THERE’S STILL A LOT OF WORTHWHILE STUFF TO SEE HERE.  AND I SUPPOSE THE ACTION JUNKIES WILL ENJOY THE ENDING AS WELL.


GNOMEO AND JULIET **

SHAKESPEARE STRICTLY FOR THE 10 AND UNDER SET, THIS GOOFY REDUX OF THE BARD’S STAR-CROSSED LOVERS‘ TALE HAS A LOT OF CUTENESS AND MILDLY FUNNY MOMENTS, BUT IT’S COMPLETELY STRIPPED OF EVEN A HINT OF THE ORIGINAL STORY’S DEPTH OR RICHNESS, AND IS THUS PRETTY BORING UNLESS YOU LIKE WATCHING TALKING GARDEN GNOMES THAT LOOK WAY TOO MUCH LIKE THE SMURFS HAVE LAWN-MOWER RACES AND BATTLE EACH OTHER WITH GARDEN TOOLS AND SUPER-GLUE.  AND UNFORTUNATELY FOR ME, THE ELTON JOHN SOUNDTRACK DIDN’T HELP EITHER, SINCE EVERYTHING HE’S DONE SINCE MID-70’S HITS LIKE “YOUR SONG” AND “CROCODILE ROCK” SOUND ALL THE SAME TO ME ANYWAY.  SAFE AND FUN FOR YOUR (VERY) LITTLE ONES, AND HOPEFULLY YOU CAN KEEP FROM SNORING OR GROANING TOO MUCH IF YOU’RE OLDER THAN 12. 


THE EAGLE **

SOME TEENS MIGHT BE ATTRACTED TO THIS PERIOD ACTION FILM STARRING CHANNING TATUM AS A ROMAN OFFICER WHO TRIES TO RESCUE HIS FAMILY’S HONOR BY GOING ON A LONELY QUEST TO RETRIEVE THE EAGLE STANDARD OF HIS FATHER’S SLAUGHTERED ROMAN LEGION IN THE HEYDAYS OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE IN BRITAIN.  TOO BAD THERE’S NOT MORE ACTION; THIS DRAGS CONSIDERABLY THROUGH THE MIDDLE AND THE CLIMACTIC BATTLE AT THE END IS TOO LITTLE TOO LATE.  THERE’S ALSO SOME HAUNTING SIMILARITIES BETWEEN THE ROMAN SITUATION IN BRITAIN AND THE US’S CURRENT SITUATION IN COUNTRIES LIKE AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ THAT COULD HAVE BEEN OBLIQUELY EXPLORED SOMEHOW, YET NEVER WERE TOUCHED UPON IN THIS STORY.  WITHOUT SOME KIND OF CONNECTION TO THE MODERN DAY LIKE THIS, THE WHOLE PREMISE OF MEN FIGHTING, STARVING, BEING TORTURED, AND ULTIMATELY DYING “TO DEFEND THE EAGLE” SEEMS ALMOST LUDICROUS.      


THE GREEN HORNET *1/2

THIS FILM, BASED ON A SERIES OF 1940’S ERA RADIO SHOWS ABOUT A BATMAN-LIKE CRIME FIGHTER CERTAINLY HAS SOME POTENTIAL, BUT IS SHIPWRECKED THROUGHOUT BY SETH ROGEN, IT’S STAR, WRITER, AND PRODUCER, WHOSE MISGUIDED PORTRAYAL OF SPOILED NEWSPAPER HEIR BRITT RIED/GREEN HORNET IS SO OVER-THE-TOP OBNOXIOUS AND REPREHENSIBLE THAT I DID NOT FOR EVEN ONE SECOND WISH ANYTHING BUT VERY BAD THINGS TO HAPPEN TO HIM.  IF HE WAS THE MOVIE’S VILLAIN, THAT MIGHT BE OKAY, BUT UNFORTUNATELY, HE’S SUPPOSED TO BE THE HERO!!  EVEN WHEN HE SUPPOSEDLY TRANSFORMS FROM HIS SELF-CENTERED WAYS, ROGEN’S ONE-NOTE ACTING MAKES HIS METAMORPHOSIS ABOUT AS BELIEVABLE AS THE LATEST END OF THE WORLD THEORY.  CHINESE MARTIAL-ARTS STAR JAY CHOU, AS THE HORNET’S SIDEKICK KATO, IS THE ONLY GUY WE REALLY CARE ABOUT HERE (DESPITE HIS STRAINED ENGLISH), AND CAMERON DIAZ, AS THE LOVE INTEREST OF BOTH RIED AND KATO, GETS THE SHOW’S BEST LINE WHEN SHE SCREAMS OUT WHAT WE’VE ALL BEEN WANTING TO SAY TO ROGEN’S CHARACTER THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE FILM; “WILL YOU JUST SHUT UP AND BE QUIET FOR A SECOND!?”  ANOTHER BARGAIN-BASEMENT MOVIE THAT COMES AT A 3D RIP-OFF PRICE.


2010


YOGI BEAR **1/2

YEAH, I KNOW IT’S DUMB AND JUVENILE AND ALL THAT, BUT THAT’S ACTUALLY PART OF THE CHARM OF THIS FARCICAL COMEDY ABOUT A COUPLE TALKING BEARS WHO HEIST “PIC-I-NIC” BASKETS AND THE DUMPY PARK RANGER WHO TRIES TO THWART THEM, BASED ON THE OOOOOLD HANNA-BARBERRA CARTOON SHOW.  HERE, CGI-CREATED YOGI (VOICED BY DAN AYKROYD) AND “LITTLE BUDDY” BOO-BOO (JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE) HELP “MR. RANGER” SMITH (TOM CAVANAUGH) AND A CUTE, GEEKY ARCHAEOLOGIST (ANNA FARIS) SAVE JELLYSTONE PARK FROM THE CLUTCHES OF THE EVIL CITY MAYOR WHO WANTS TO USE IT AS A WAY TO MAKE MONEY FOR HIS POLITICAL CAMPAIGN.  THE PLOT IS THIN AS TISSUE PAPER, THE CHARACTERS AS STOCK AND OVER-THE-TOP AS, WELL, CARTOONS, AND THE JOKES AND GAGS BOTH DUMB AND DUMBER, BUT IT ALL WORKS OUT TO BE SO SWEET AND SILLY AND LAUGH-OUT-LOUD GOOFY THAT I FOUND MYSELF NOT CARING, AND I DON’T THINK MOST OF THE AUDIENCE DID EITHER.  AND LISTENING TO AYKROYD AND TIMBERLAKE DO THEIR DEAD-RINGER RENDITION OF THE OLD YOGI AND BOO-BOO IS A CRACK-UP IN ITSELF.   A KOOKY, CUDDLY, LIVE-ACTION CARTOON THAT’S A MINDLESS MATINEE OF ENTERTAINMENT FOR EVERYONE IN THE FAM, ESPECIALLY THE LITTLE ONES!


TRUE GRIT ***

IT HAS NEITHER THE BIGNESS, THE HEART, OR THE GREAT ONE-LINERS OF THE 1969 ORIGINAL THAT GOT ACTION SUPERSTAR JOHN WAYNE HIS ONLY ACADEMY AWARD, AND IT’S TOO SLOW AND THE DIALOGUE TO PERIOD-AUTHENTIC TO ENGAGE MOST KIDS (EVEN OLDER TEENS), BUT THIS IS STILL A WELL-ACTED, WELL-WRITTEN “SERIOUS” WESTERN THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE WILL ENJOY, ESPECIALLY BECAUSE OF ITS STELLAR CAST, INCLUDING JEFF BRIDGES IN THE ICONIC ROOSTER COGBURN ROLE, MATT DAMON, AND ESPECIALLY 14 YEAR-OLD HAILEE STEINFELD.  HER PORTRAYAL OF THE PRIM, UNDAUNTED, YET NAIVE MATTIE ROSS, WHO RELENTLESSLY PURSUES A COWARDLY KILLER INTO INDIAN TERRITORY AFTER HE MURDERS HER FATHER, IS AS NEAR TO PERFECT AS YOU CAN GET.  HAILEE MAY HAVE SPENT THE BALANCE OF THIS YEAR LIVING LIFE AS A “NORMAL 8TH GRADER” AFTER SHOOTING “GRIT,” BUT THERE’S NO DOUBT THAT THE YEARS TO COME WILL BE ANYTHING BUT AS SHE’LL UNDOUBTEDLY RISE TO THE TOP OF THE CASTING CHARTS FOR JUST ABOUT ANY PRIME TEEN GIRL ROLE IN A  WHOLE SLEW OF UPCOMING MOVIES.


GULLIVER’S TRAVELS *1/2

A BASICALLY BORING RENDITION OF JONATHAN SWIFT’S 18TH CENTURY TALE ABOUT THE WILD, WEIRD TALES OF A SEA-GOING ADVENTURER IS RESCUED FROM THE DEPTHS OF DREARINESS BY ITS STAR, JACK BLACK, WHO ALMOST SINGLE-HANDEDLY INJECTS ENOUGH LIFE AND FUNNINESS INTO IT TO MAKE IT A (BARELY) TOLERABLE COMEDY.  UPDATED FOR A MODERN AUDIENCE,  GULLIVER (BLACK) HERE IS A WIMPISH MAIL-ROOM CLERK IN A NEWSPAPER’S HQ WITH THE HOTS FOR THE TRAVEL EDITOR (AMANDA PEET), BUT NO GUTS TO ASK HER OUT.  SO HE CANIVES A WAY TO GET ASSIGNED TO DO A STORY FOR HER ABOUT THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE, AND OF COURSE THEN DISAPPEARS INTO LILLIPUT, LAND OF TINY, RENAISSANCE-ERA PEOPLE THAT ARE ONLY A FEW INCHES TALL.  THERE’S SOME REFERENCE TO SWIFT’S ORIGINAL (GULLIVER SAVES LILLIPUT FROM AN INVADER’S NAVY, PEES OUT A FIRE IN THE KING’S CASTLE, ETC.), BUT THE STORY MORE CENTERS ON A CORNY  LILLIPUTIAN LOVE TRIANGLE BETWEEN AN ARROGANT GENERAL, A COMMONER, AND (WHO ELSE?) A PRINCESS THAT’S ABOUT AS CLICHE AS YOU CAN GET.  THE ONLY SAVING GRACE IS BLACK, WHOSE SNAPPY INPROV AND INHERENT FUNNINESS CONTINUALLY ADDS CHUCKLES WHERE THERE MORE LIKELY WOULD HVAE BEEN GROANS.  FOR JACK BLACK FANS (YES, I’M ONE), A PASSABLE AFTERNOON’S ENTERTAINMENT; FOR ANYONE ELSE, PRETTY MUCH A WASTE (MADE ALL THE MORE GALLING BY THE USELESS USE OF 3D--WITH THE ACCOMPANYING HIGHER PRICE).


TRON LEGACY *

UNDOUBTEDLY THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE SEASON FOR ME, THIS LIFELESS TALE BASED ON THE 80’S-ERA SCI-FI ADVENTURE ABOUT A GAMER WHO’S SWEPT INTO HIS OWN VIDEO GAME’S WORLD GETS OFF TO A MILDLY INTERESTING START, THEN QUICKLY DESCENDS INTO A STOCK SERIES OF ACTION SEQUENCES LOOSELY HOOKED TOGETHER BY SOMETHING THAT MIGHT PASS FOR A STORY.  I WAS SO BORED BY IT AFTER 30 MINUTES THOUGH, THAT I NEARLY FELL ASLEEP.  THOUGH THE ACTION SCENES WERE EXCITING AND WELL-EXECUTED, THEY WERE ALSO MEANINGLESS BECAUSE I COULDN’T CARE LESS ABOUT THE CARDBOARD CUT-OUT CHARACTERS AND THEIR BIZARRE, CONTRIVED “STRUGGLES.”  AN EMOTIONLESS CLIMAX POLISHED OFF THIS FORGETTABLE AND PROFOUNDLY UNREMARKABLE FILM.  AN UTTER WASTE FOR ANYONE SAVE A VIDEO GAME JUNKY.


NARNIA; VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER ***

I WAS PLEASANTLY SURPRISED TO FIND THIS, THE THIRD OF C.S. LEWIS’S “CHRONICLES OF NARNIA” BOOKS TO BE BROUGHT TO THE BIG SCREEN, TO BE THE MOST ENJOYABLE SO FAR.  MUCH OF THE WHIMSY, HUMOR, AND WONDER THAT’S SO PRESENT IN THE BOOKS (AND SO LACKING IN THE FIRST TWO FILMS) IS RESTORED HERE, AS WELL AS THE DRAMATIC TENSION.  AND THE STORY GETS A PLEASANTLY SURPRISING JOLT FROM ITS NEWEST CHARACTER, THE IRREPRESSIBLY BOORISH EUSTACE SCRUBB, THE ILL-TEMPERED COUSIN OF HOLDOVER CHARACTERS LUCY AND EDMUND, WHO MUST STAY WITH HIM TO ESCAPE THE WWII-ERA BOMBINGS IN LONDON WHILE GROWN-UP BROTHER AND SISTER PETER AND SUSAN BASK IN AMERICA.  EUSTACE (PLAYED MASTERFULLY BY WILL PROUT) THINKS THAT ALL HIS COUSINS‘ TALK ABOUT BEING KINGS AND QUEENS IN A LAND FULL OF TALKING ANIMALS IS HYSTERICAL RUBBISH, AND MAKES SURE TO RUB IT INTO THEM EVERY DAY IN ONE DEVILISH WAY OR ANOTHER.  THAT IS UNTIL HE GETS SWEPT AWAY WITH THEM INTO NARNIA AND IS CONFRONTED WITH A BOATLOAD OF JUST SUCH CREATURES, LED BY KING CASPIAN (OF THE LAST EPISODE), WHO’S ON A QUEST TO FIND A CADRE OF ANCIENT UNCLES WHO HAVE DISAPPEARED WITHOUT A TRACE.  THOUGH THE FOCUS OF THE STORY IS THE QUEST, ITS BEST PART IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE PRIGGISH EUSTACE AND REEPICHEEP, THE SWASHBUCKLING MOUSE, WHO PATIENTLY (AND HILARIOUSLY) MENTORS EUSTACE, HELPING HIM TO TRANSFORM HIMSELF INTO A FAR MORE NOBLE AND UPSTANDING PERSON BY STORY’S END.  FILLED WITH ACTION, HUMOR, AND AWESOME VISUALS, THIS FINALLY HITS THE TARGET THAT THE PREVIOUS NARNIA FILMS MISSED.  A WONDERFUL HOLIDAY MOVIE SPECTACLE. THAT ENTERTAINS ON EVERY LEVEL.        


TANGLED ***

WELL, IT’S NOT “ENCHANTED” OR “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST,” BUT THIS LATEST ANIMATED MUSICAL FROM DISNEY IS STILL A FUN AND WELL-DONE ADDITION TO THE STUDIO’S LEGENDARY LIST OF CLASSICS; DEFINITELY BETTER THAN LAST YEAR’S  “PRINCESS AND THE FROG.”  IT FOLLOWS THE “RAPUNZEL” STORY ABOUT A YOUNG GIRL WITH PRODIGIOUS AMOUNTS OF HAIR WHOSE LOCKED UP IN A TOWER BY AN EVIL WOMAN AND ULTIMATELY SAVED BY A HANDSOME PRINCE.  IN THIS CASE, THE HAIR IS MAGICAL, THE GIRL A PRINCESS (WHAT ELSE?) WITH MODERN LEVELS OF SPUNK AND VIGOR, AND THE PRINCE A ROGUE THEIF, BUT IT STILL ALL WORKS WONDERFULLY.  ADD SOME REQUISITE DISNEY MUSICAL STAPLES (CUDDLY CUTE ANIMAL CHARACTER, DANCING ROGUES, ALAN MENKEN MUSIC) AND SOME TOTALLY UNIQUE ELEMENTS (FRYING-PAN FIGHTS, A HYSTERICAL HORSE) AND THIS NEARLY BECOMES CLASSIC, BUT ALAS, NOT QUITE.  THE MUSIC ISN’T AS MEMORABLE AND THE EMOTIONS AREN’T AS GRIPPING AS THE GREAT ONES, BUT THIS STILL SERVES UP A COOL COUPLE HOURS OF ENTIRE-FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT.



HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PT 1 ***

THE MUCH-ANTICIPATED FINAL CHAPTER OF J,K. ROWLING’S WIZARD SAGA OPENS WITH FOREBODING AND A COUPLE HARROWING ACTION SEQUENCES, BUT THEN SLOWS CONSIDERABLY FOR MOST OF THE DURATION AS HARRY AND FRIENDS HERMOINE AND RON EMBARK ON A LONG, GLOOMY QUEST FOR HORCRUXES, EVIL TALISMANS THAT HOLD THE KEYS TO DESTROYING VOLDOMORT, THE DIABOLICAL MAGICIAN WHOSE MINIONS NOW EXERT NAZI-LIKE CONTROL OVER THE WIZARDING WORLD.  BARREN LANDSCAPES REMINISCENT OF SHAKESPEARIAN HEATHS REPLACE THE HAPPY HALLS OF HOGWARTS AS THE PRIMARY SETTING, AND BROODING DRAMA PUNCTUATED WITH HORRIFIC SUSPENSE FILL OUT THE ACTION.  AND OF COURSE, ANOTHER OF OUR FAVORITES DIES IN THE END (A STAPLE OF THE POTTER FILMS SINCE #4).  THOUGH EVER-FAITHFUL TO ROWLIING’S ORIGINAL TOME, IT’S STILL SAD TO SEE SOME CHARACTERS/SETTINGS NECESSARILY GET SHORT SHRIFT, INCLUDING HARRY’S LOVE INTEREST GINNY WEASLEY AND HOGWARTS SCHOOL ITSELF.  BUT SUCH ARE THE PERILS OF ADAPTATIONS.  IN MANY WAYS, THIS IS A BRILLIANT FILM, WITH FINE PERFORMANCES, AWESOME CINEMATOGRAPHY, AND RIVETING ACTION, MUSIC, AND STORY.  I FOUND IT SAD, THOUGH, TO BE REMINISCING THROUGHOUT AT WHAT HAS BEEN LOST SINCE THE SAGA’S 2001 DEBUT, INCLUDING LIGHTNESS, WONDER, WHIMSY, AND ALMOST ANYTHING THAT COULD BE CALLED FUN.  A MASTERFUL, YET MASSIVELY TENSE AND HUMORLESS DRAMA.        


MEGAMIND ***

AFTER WHAT SEEMED LIKE AN INTERMINABLE OCTOBER, FAMILY FILMS RETURNED TO THE BIG SCREEN FINALLY WITH THIS OFFERING FROM DREAMWORKS ANIMATION, A “DESPICABLE ME” WANNABE (IT EVEN FEATURES A CHARACTER NAMED MINION) THAT WAS LESS EMOTIONAL BUT STILL A HIGH-QUALITY, LOTS-OF-FUN STORY.  CONTINUING THE “BAD GUY TURNS GOOD” THEME OF ITS PREDECESSOR, MEGAMIND IS A BUMBLING BADDIE WHO WARS AGAINST THE SPOTLESS (AND SHAMELESS) SUPERHERO METROMAN FOR CONTROL OF METROCITY.  IN THE ULTIMATE CASE OF “BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR,” MEGAMIND SOMEHOW MANAGES TO ELIMINATE METROMAN, AND THUS BECOMES THE UNDISPUTED (AND COMPLETELY BORED) MASTER OF METROCITY.  TO GIVE HIS LIFE BACK ITS FORMER ZIP, HE DECIDES TO CREATE A NEW “GOOD GUY,” TIGHTEN (PUN INTENDED--IT’S SPELLED THAT WAY IN THE CREDITS), TO BE HIS NEW ADVERSARY.  BUT WHEN TIGHTEN FINDS THAT BEING BAD’S A LOT MORE FUN THAN BEING GOOD, MEGAMIND MUST CONTEMPLATE THE UNTHINKABLE; BECOME THE GOOD GUY HIMSELF.  AND IT DOESN’T HELP THAT HE’S ALSO FALLING FOR METROMAN’S FORMER GIRLFRIEND, INTREPID REPORTER ROXANNE RICHIE.  THE INTRICATE AND WELL-LAYERED STORY (MAYBE TOO LAYERED FOR SOME KIDS) IS CARRIED OFF IN FINE FASHION BY A SUPERB VOICE CAST THAT INCLUDES BRAD PITT, TINA FEY, DAVID CROSS, AND WILL FERRELL AS MEGAMIND, WHO THANKFULLY SPARES US FROM HIS SIGNATURE “SCREAM LIKE A GIRL” SCHTICK FOR THIS ONE.  THE  AUDIENCE HAS ALREADY CELEBRATED THIS END TO THE USUAL FALL DROUGHT OF FAMILY FILMS WITH A MEGA-OPENING-WEEKEND BOX OFFICE TAKE FOR MEGAMIND, AND YOU SHOULD JOIN IN!


SECRETARIAT ***

THIS STORY OF THE LEGENDARY RACEHORSE WHO, IN 1973, WON HORSE-RACING’S TRIPLE CROWN FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 25 YEARS, IS MORE THE STORY OF SECRETARIAT’S UNLIKELY OWNER PENNY CHENERY (DIANE LANE) THAN OF THE HORSE HIMSELF. THIS DOESN’T ALWAYS WORK FOR THE BEST, AS THINGS SLOW DOWN A BIT MORE THAN I’D HAVE LIKED HERE AND THERE.  BUT THE DRAMA IS INTENSE AND THE TENSION REAL, AND ULTIMATELY THIS IS A REAL WINNER OF A FAMILY FILM.  I PARTICULARLY APPRECIATED THE METICULOUS ACCURACY WITH WHICH DIRECTOR RANDALL WALLACE RECONSTRUCTED THE HISTORIC, RECORD-SMASHING RACES (INCLUDING A BRILLIANTLY-CONCEIVED USE OF THE ACTUAL RACE BROADCAST IN ONE CASE).  AND JOHN MALKOVICH’S GIDDY PORTRAYAL OF SECRETARIAT’S QUIRKY AND “COLORFUL” TRAINER LUCIEN LAURIEN KEEPS THINGS ENTERTAINING THROUGH THE SLOW PARTS.  THIS FILM DOESN’T LEAVE YOU IN SPEECHLESS AWE LIKE SECRETARIAT DID AFTER HIS JAW-DROPPING RUN AT THE ’73 BELMONT STAKES, BUT IT WILL CERTAINLY PROVIDE AN INSPIRING COUPLE HOURS OF HIGH-QUALITY, HOOF-POUNDING ENTERTAINMENT. 


LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS; THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE **1/2

THIS IS MOST CERTAINLY ONE OF THE MOST VISUALLY STUNNING MOVIES OF THE YEAR, WITH BREATH-TAKING SCENIC VISTAS OF FORESTS AND ISLANDS AND SLASHING, SLO-MO SCENES OF AVIAN COMBAT THAT RIVET YOU TO THE SCREEN AND DEFY THE FACT THAT THIS IS, INDEED, AN ANIMATED FILM.  DIRECTOR ZACK SNYDER (OF “300” FAME) AND HIS AUSTRALIAN SFX TEAM HAVE TRULY OUTDONE THEMSELVES, AND SHOULD RECEIVE AWARD CONSIDERATION WHEN THE TIME COMES.


TOO BAD THE MOVIE’S STORY (BASED ON A BOOK SERIES BY KATHRYN LASKY), WITH ELEMENTS OF “THE LORD OF THE RINGS,” “THE LION KING,” AND “STAR WARS,” ALL SET IN A FANTASY WORLD OF OWL KINGDOMS, ISN’T POLISHED TO THE SAME GLEAMING SHEEN.  A PLODDING, ALMOST BORING FIRST HALF IS SAVED (BARELY) BY A BRILLIANTLY FILMED AND ACTION-PACKED FINALE, BUT I’M AFRAID THAT, BY THEN, MANY IN THE AUDIENCE I WAS IN HAD CHECKED OUT.  DIFFICULTY IN DISTINGUISHING OWL CHARACTERS DIDN’T HELP, AND SOME OF THE OWL REFERENCES IN THE DIALOGUE WERE JUST PLAIN RIDICULOUS.  SAY “FOLLOW YOUR HEART” OR EVEN “USE THE FORCE, LUKE,” BUT PLEASE, PLEASE NOT “I HAVE TO FOLLOW MY GIZZARD!”  A HIGH-FLYING VISUAL MASTERPIECE THAT’S UNFORTUNATELY BROUGHT LOW BY A SO-SO STORY.


EASY A ***

THIS SMART, SASSY (AND PRETTY RAUNCHY) TEEN COMEDY STARS EMMA STONE AS OLIVE, A BORED GIRL WITH A BORING LIFE WHO TRIES TO LIVEN THINGS UP BY STARTING A NASTY LITTLE RUMOR ABOUT HERSELF TO ENAMOR BEST FRIEND RHIANNON (ALLY MICHALKA).  BUT OLIVE DISCOVERS THAT HER FICTIONAL TALE OF LOST VIRGINITY RESULTS IN THE VERY REAL LOSS OF A WHOLE LOT MORE, INCLUDING FRIENDSHIPS AND HER OWN SELF-RESPECT, WHEN THE HIGH SCHOOL RUMOR MILL AND HER OWN GOOD INTENTIONS LEAD TO A PANDORA’S BOXFUL OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES.  WHILE THIS IS A WELL-DONE FILM THAT’S BOTH HYSTERICALLY FUNNY AND LOADED WITH IN-YOUR-FACE LIFE LESSONS (AND RATED PG-13), IT IS ALSO A VERY TEEN/YOUNG ADULT MOVIE!!  ITS SUBJECT MATTER AND HUMOR GO WAY BEYOND WHAT MOST PRE-TEENS AND JUNIOR HIGH KIDS KNOW ABOUT (OR EVEN WANT TO KNOW ABOUT, DESPITE THEIR BRAGGING TO THE CONTRARY) WHEN IT COMES TO RELATIONSHIPS.  EVEN ITS “TEEN” STARS ARE IN THEIR 20’S AND YOU CAN TELL.  SO PARENTS AND OLDER TEENS, GO ENJOY SOME “A” QUALITY ENTERTAINMENT WITH THIS, BUT KIDS, SPARE YOURSELF A LOT OF “EEWW” AND “HUH?” AND “OMG!” MOMENTS AND COME BACK TO IT IN A FEW YEARS.  YOU’LL REALLY GET IT THEN AND YOU CAN LAUGH AS HARD AS YOUR PARENTS AND OLDER SIBS WILL NOW.


NANNY McPHEE RETURNS ***

UPON SEEING TRAILERS FOR THIS, A SEQUEL TO THE STYLISHLY UNIQUE 2005 “NANNY McPHEE,” I WAS GROANING WITH DERISION, BUT AFTER ACTUALLY WATCHING THE MOVIE, I’M HAPPY TO REPORT THAT MY DUBIOUS IMPRESSIONS WERE THANKFULLY ALL WRONG!  THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST ORIGINAL AND ENJOYABLE FAMILY MOVIES OF THE YEAR.  FOR THOSE THAT REMEMBER, NANNY McPHEE IS A SORT OF ANTI-MARY POPPINS, A STERN-FACED AND EXQUISITELY UGLY OLD BATTLE-AXE WHO SHOWS UP TO TAME INCORRIGIBLE CHILDREN WHEN THEIR BELEAGUERED PARENTS ARE AT WITS END.  LIKE POPPINS, SHE WHIMSICALLY WHIPS THE KIDDOS INTO SHAPE, BUT THIS NANNY’S MAGIC IS ANYTHING BUT A SPOONFUL OF SUGAR.  IN THIS CASE, WE’RE AT THE FARM OF ISABEL AND HER THREE KIDS.  DAD IS OFF FIGHTING WWI, SNOBBY COUSINS ARE COMING FOR AN EXTENDED STAY, ISABEL’S BOSS IS A LOONY OLD GRUMPUS, AND HER BROTHER-IN-LAW IS TRYING TO SCAM THE FARM FROM HER.  McPHEE (DELICIOUSLY PLAYED BY EMMA THOMPSON) ARRIVES LITERALLY ON A WHIRLWIND AND SLOWLY, SPOOKILY, AND KOOKILY PUTS THE SHATTERED FAMILY BACK TOGETHER AGAIN.  BESIDES THE CRAZINESS OF FLYING PIGLETS WHO SYNCHRONIZE-SWIM, COWS WHO SLEEP IN BEDS, AND A BABY ELEPHANT WITH A VACUUM-CLEANER TRUNK, IT’S EVEN MORE FUN TO SEE THE KIDS HERE TREATED WITH SUCH RESPECT, WITH REAL, MEATY PARTS TO PLAY THAT REQUIRE REAL ACTING.  AND YET THE ADULT STARS ARE ALSO NOT BLITHERING IDIOTS OR CARICATURES.  THIS IS A REFRESHING, FUN, AND UPROARIOUSLY ORIGINAL LATE SUMMER TREAT FOR THE WHOLE FAM.           


RAMONA AND BEEZUS ***

BEVERLY CLEARY’S BELOVED “CHAPTER BOOKS” ABOUT FIESTY 3RD GRADER RAMONA QUIMBY AND HER FAMILY ARE BROUGHT FAITHFULLY TO LIFE IN THIS UNEXPECTEDLY FUN AND TOUCHING STORY ABOUT RAMONA’S STRUGGLES WITH HER OWN “UNIQUENESS” AS WELL AS THE FAMILY’S VERY REAL DILEMMA WHEN DAD LOSES HIS JOB.  A SKILLFULLY WRITTEN STORY AND WONDERFUL PERFORMANCES FROM A FINE CAST (JOEY KING AS RAMONA, SELENA GOMEZ, IN A BIG-SCREEN DEBUT, AS BEEZUS, AND OTHERS) GIVE THE MOVIE LOTS OF ZIP EVEN THOUGH THERE’S LITTLE ACTION (AT LEAST IN THE USUAL SENSE OF THAT WORD) AND LOADS OF DRAMATIC TENSION EVEN THOUGH THERE’S NO “BAD GUYS.”  MOST REFRESHINGLY, IT’ PORTRAYS A REAL FAMILY; ONE THAT JUST ABOUT ANYONE IN THE THEATER WILL RECOGNIZE.  THE ADULTS AREN’T DOLTS AND THE KIDS AREN’T ALL IMPOSSIBLY HIP (LIKE ON DISNEY OR NICK), NOR IS EVERYONE IN A CONSTANT STATE OF WEIRDNESS OR DRAMA (LIKE ON FOX, THE CW, OR ABC FAMILY).  IT IS, IN FACT, ONE OF THE BEST SCREEN PORTRAYALS OF FAMILY LIFE THAT I’VE SEEN IN AGES; A WHOLE LOT BETTER THAN THE “CHICK FLICK FOR KIDS” THAT I WAS EXPECTING.  MAKE SOME LEMONADE OUT OF A LEMONY AFTERNOON; GRAB THE FAM AND GO SEE THIS FANTASTIC AND FUNNY FILM!


DESPICABLE ME ****

FOUR STARS AND TWO THUMBS WAY UP  FOR THIS WONDERFULLY WEIRD AND COMPLETELY ORIGINAL ANIMATED DEBUT FOR UNIVERSAL ANIMATION, THE NEWEST ANIMATED FEATURE KID ON HOLLYWOOD’S BLOCK.  TAKING THEIR CUES FROM THE BEST (PIXAR--OH THAT MORE WOULD...), THIS STORY ABOUT GRU, AN ARCH-VILLAIN, WHO SEEKS TO ONE-UP HIS DESPICABLE RIVALS BY STEALING THE MOON, ONLY TO HAVE HIS PERFECT PLAN PERFORATED WHEN HE ADOPTS THREE ORPHAN GIRLS, IS AN ORIGINAL STORY STUFFED TO THE CHEEKBONES WITH WHAT HAS MADE PIXAR FILMS SING FOR FIFTEEN YEARS; COMEDY (FOR ALL AGES), CUTENESS (BY THE BARREL), AND HEART (IN NEARLY TEAR-JERKING BUCKETS-LOADS).  STEVE CARRELL DEADPANS THE RUSSIAN-ACCENTED GRU IN HIS TYPICALLY UNDERSTATED FASHION, WHICH OF COURSE MAKES THE LINES THAT MUCH MORE FUNNY.  MIRANDA COSGROVE, DANA GEIER, AND ELISE FISHER GIVE THE THREE ORPHANS EACH UNIQUE PERSONALITIES, YET TOGETHER THEY’RE THE ESSENCE OF IRRESISTIBILITY, AND GRU’S AIR-HEADED MINIONS, SOME OF THE MOST ORIGINAL CHARACTERS I’VE SEEN IN AGES, ARE SIMPLY HYSTERICAL  WITH A SMART, SHARPLY-WRITTEN STORY TO TIE THESE TOGETHER, THIS EASILY BECOMES THE SUMMER’S BEST MOVIE SO FAR (I GIVE IT THE NOD OVER TOY STORY BECAUSE IT’S ORIGINAL).  AN ABSOLUTE MUST-SEE FOR FAMILY FILM FANS, AND A LOT TO LIKE FOR THE REST AS WELL.  OH YEAH!!!  


CATS AND DOGS; THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE *

YOU KNOW THERE’S A BIG PROBLEM WITH A MOVIE WHEN THE CLEVEREST PART OF IT IS THE OPENING CREDITS.  SADLY, THAT’S THE CASE IN THIS MOVIE, A PATHETIC AND PATRONIZING ATTEMPT AT SUMMER FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT.  AFTER ITS BORROWED-FROM-BOND MOVIES OPENING, WHICH IS A HOOT, THE PLOT, ABOUT CLANDESTINE GROUPS OF CATS AND DOGS UNITING TO STOP AN ARCH-FIEND CAT, DISINTEGRATES INTO A SILLY, BORING STORY THAT’S ABOUT AS ORIGINAL AS A HANNAH MONTANA RE-RUN MARATHON.  VIRTUALLY EVERY LINE OF DIALOGUE IS A SMIRK-INDUCING GROANER; AN ANIMAL-IZED ONE-LINER HACKED FROM SOME OTHER SHOW.  THE CELEBRITY VOICE-CAST IS GOOD, BUT EVEN THEY CAN’T DO MUCH WITH SUCH A HOPELESSLY GIMMICKY SCRIPT.   IN THE END, THIS IS  LITERALLY A POSTER CHILD FOR EVERYTHING THAT’S WRONG WITH THIS GENRE THESE DAYS.  IT PRESUMES THAT KIDS ARE NIAVE, DUMB MOVIE-GOERS WHO WILL FLOCK TO THEATERS LIKE OBEDIENT PUPPIES AS LONG AS YOU SERVE UP A BUNCH OF CUTE ANIMALS DOING DUMB THINGS AND SPOUTING INFANTILE JOKES.  GOOD STORY, ENGAGING PLOT, INTERESTING CHARACTERS, ANYTHING THAT WOULD NORMALLY BE ESSENTIAL TO A MOVIE, IS OVERLOOKED, BECAUSE, AFTER ALL, IT’S “JUST A KID’S MOVIE.”  EVEN MORE INSULTINGLY, IT’S ASSUMED THAT KIDS WILL DRAG THEIR PARENTS WITH AND PERSUADE THEM TO PAY AN EXTRA THREE BUCKS A HEAD FOR A LOUSY, SHADOW-INDUCING CONVERTED 3D VERSION!  PREDICTABLY AND THANKFULLY, IT’S BEING PUMMELED AT THE BOX OFFICE.  LEAVE THIS ONE IN THE DOG-DISH! 


THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE **1/2

THOUGH NOT NEAR AS BAD AS MANY CRITICS MADE IT OUT TO BE, THIS BIG-BUDGET, BIG-SCREEN TREATMENT OF THE OLD EUROPEAN FABLE THAT INSPIRED ONE OF DISNEY’S MOST BELOVED “FANTASIA” SEGMENTS STILL, SADLY, FALLS WAY SHORT OF ITS POTENTIAL.  WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN A VERY PERSONAL (AND FUN) STORY OF AN ALL-POWERFUL SORCERER (NICOLAS CAGE) AND HIS BUMBLING APPRENTICE (JAY BARUCHEL) BOTH TRYING TO RECONNECT WITH LOST LOVES (MONICA BELLUCCI, TERESA PALMER) WHILE ALSO FIGHTING OFF A JEALOUS AND EVIL MAGICIAN (PLAYED WITH PANACHE BY ALFRED MOLINA) GETS STICKIED-UP WITH CASCADES OF CONVOLUTED BACKSTORIES AND “END OF THE WORLD” STAKES THAT GIVE US THAT QUEASY “BEEN THERE, DONE THAT IN JUST ABOUT EVERY BIG-BUDGET SUMMER ACTION MOVIE FOR THE PAST TEN YEARS” FEELING IN THE PIT OF OUR STOMACHS.  THERE’S A NUMBER OF THINGS TO LIKE HERE, ESPECIALLY THE STARS, AND A RE-CREATION OF THE FANTASIA SEGMENT THAT’S BOTH HYSTERICAL AND FRIGHTENING, BUT IN THE END, IT TURNS OUT TO BE JUST ANOTHER “CHOCOLATE CAKE” FILM THAT WE’RE GETTING OH, SO TIRED OF HAVING STUFFED DOWN OUR THROATS EACH SUMMER.  OVERALL, A DISAPPOINTMENT.     


THE LAST AIRBENDER *1/2

THE ONE STAR IS FOR A LOOK AT SOME GOOD KID/TEEN TYPE ACTORS, THE 1/2 IS FOR A FEW GOOD ACTION/EFFECTS SCENES, BUT THAT’S ABOUT ALL THAT’S WORTH WATCHING IN THIS OTHERWISE DISMAL, BORING FILM BASED ON NICKELODEON’S ANIME CARTOON “AVATAR, THE LAST AIRBENDER.”  AS WITH A LOT OF MOVIES BASED ON A TV SERIES, THIS GETS BOGGED DOWN RIGHT AWAY IN TRYING TO EXPLAIN ITS WORLD RATHER THAN JUST JUMPING RIGHT IN, AND THEN PROCEEDS ON THE JOURNEY OF SOKKA AND KATARA, TWO SOUTHERN WATER TRIBESPEOPLE, WHO UNLOCK A GIANT ICE-BALL AND FIND AANG, THE YOUNG SAVIOR OF THE WORLD, OR AVATAR, WHO MUST BRING BALANCE TO WORLD AND SAVE IT FROM DOMINATION BY THE FIERCE FIRE KINGDOM.  BUT THE FACT THAT THE PLOT IS CONFUSING ISN’T THE WORST OF THIS MOVIE.  IT’S MUCH MORE THE BLAH-ZE WAY WITH WHICH IT IS TOLD; JOYLESS, BLAND SCENES FILLED WITH STILTED LINES THAT HAVE ALL THE ZIP OF A SCIENCE BOOK TEXT BEING READ OUT LOUD IN A CLASSROOM.  IT’S TOO BAD, BECAUSE THERE ARE FINE ACTORS HERE (DEV PATEL FROM SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, JACKSON RATHBONE FROM TWILIGHT,  SEYCHELLE GABRIEL FROM WEEDS, NEWCOMERS NICOLA PELTZ AND NOAH RINGER).  YOU WISH THEY HAD MORE TO DO THAN STRIKE MARTIAL-ARTS POSES AND SPOUT DULL, HACKED DIALOGUE.  TO ADD FURTHER INSULT, THE WHOLE THING IS PRESENTED IN CONVERTED 3D, WHICH DARKENS EVERY SCENE SO IT LOOKS LIKE THE ENTIRE FILM IS SHOT IN SHADOW.  AND WE HAVE TO PAY OVER TEN BUCKS TO SEE IT!  AN (ALMOST) TOTAL WASTE.


TWILIGHT; ECLIPSE ***

THOUGH I DIDN’T FIND THIS LATEST INSTALLMENT OF THE TWILIGHT SAGA QUITE AS GOOD AS THE FIRST, THERE’S STILL A LOT TO LIKE HERE.  BESIDES THE CONTINUATION AND DEEPENING OF THE ROMANTIC ANGST THAT SURFACED IN NEW MOON BETWEEN EVERYGIRL BELLA SWAN, HER SAINTLY VAMPIRE BEAU EDWARD CULLEN, AND HER GOOD BUDDY WEREWOLF JACOB BLACK, THERE’S A DANGEROUS NEW ACTION ANGLE THROWN IN WHEN VICTORIA, THE VENGEFUL VAMP FROM THE ORIGINAL FILM, SHOWS UP IN SEATTLE CREATING AN ARMY OF “NEWBORNS” TO ONCE AND FOR ALL DESTROY BELLA AND THE CULLEN CLAN, WHO SHE BLAMES FOR THE DEATH OF HER VAMPIRE PARTNER JAMES.  THIS LEADS BOTH VAMPIRES AND WEREWOLVES INTO AN UNEASY TRUCE AS THEY ALLY TO PROTECT BOTH THEIR TERRITORY AND BELLA.  IT WOULD BE NICE IF EVERYONE IN THIS SAGA COULD JUST LIGHTEN UP ONCE IN A WHILE TO GIVE US SOMETHING TO GRIN OR GIGGLE ABOUT (ACTUALLY, THERE IS A BRIEF TIME HERE WHEN EDWARD COMMENTS ON JACOB’S CONTINUOUS LACK OF A SHIRT THAT WE ALL GET A GOOD LAUGH), BUT TO BE HONEST, THAT WOULDN’T BE TRUE TO THE SPIRIT OF THE BOOK, WHICH BRINGS US TO THE STRONGEST POINT OF THIS MOVIE: IT’S AN UTTERLY FAITHFUL ADAPTATION OF AUTHOR STEPHANIE MEYER’S BOOK.  THE FANS ARE ECSTATIC (AS EVIDENCED BY THE TENTS-FULL OF FANS THAT MADE THE MIDNIGHT SHOWS AT MY THEATER), AND THAT’S HOW IT SHOULD BE WHEN A GREAT BOOK IS TURNED INTO A MOVIE.  ANOTHER BIG AND WELL-JUSTIFIED PAYDAY FOR SUMMIT ENTERTAINMENT AND TWILIGHT FANS EVERYWHERE.   


TOY STORY 3 ***1/2

SCORE ANOTHER HIT FOR THE MASTER STORYTELLERS AT PIXAR, WHO HAVE BROUGHT THIS “STORIED” FRANCHISE TO A ROUSING AND AT TIMES HAIR-RAISING CONCLUSION IN THIS LATEST ANIMATED 3D OFFERING FROM PIXAR.  HERE, WOODY, BUZZ, JESSIE, AND GANG GET PACKED OFF TO DAY CARE BY MISTAKE, AND THEN MUST FIND A WAY TO BREAK OUT AND GET BACK HOME BEFORE ANDY, THEIR OWNER, HEADS OFF TO COLLEGE.  NEEDLESS TO SAY, THE OBSTACLES ARE MANY AND PERILOUS (AS WELL AS HILARIOUS).  THE ACTION’S JUST AS FUN AND NAIL-BITING,THE DIALOGUE JUST AS WITTY, AND EVEN MORE SUSPENSE IS PACKED INTO THIS INSPIRED ENDING CHAPTER.  AND AS ALWAYS, THERE’S SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE IN THE FAMILY.  THERE ARE NOT MANY MOVIE FRANCHISES WHERE THE QUALITY OF EACH MOVIE IS CONSISTENTLY EXCELLENT; THE TOY STORY FILMS ARE A RARE EXCEPTION..  ENJOY TO THE MAX THIS RIP-ROARING, HEART-TUGGING, LAUGH-OUT-LOUD FAMILY FILM MASTERPIECE!


THE A-TEAM **1/2

THIS MOVIE MAY BE PANNED BY MOVIE CRITICS AS A MINDLESS ACTION PIC WITH NO PLOT AND EVEN LESS DIALOGUE, BUT THEY’RE MISSING A COUPLE OF CRUCIAL POINTS.  FIRST, THERE IS A COMPREHENSIBLE STORY HERE AND CHARACTERS WHO SAY MORE THAN “UGH,” “OOOF” AND HACKED ONE-LINERS.  NO, IT’S NOT ACADEMY AWARD MATERIAL, BUT THAT’S THE OTHER POINT; IT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE!!  THIS IS A FUN-AS-HELL ACTION COMEDY (JUST LIKE THE 1980’S TV SERIES, BTW...) THAT ENTERTAINS TO THE MAX, WITH ITS WAY-OUT CHARACTERS DOING WAY-OUT THINGS, AND WHO REALLY CARES ABOUT ANYTHING ELSE?  THE FACT THAT FINE ACTORS LIKE LIAM NEESON AND BRADLEY COOPER ARE INVOLVED MAKES IT ALL THE MORE TASTY.  THROW IN A MESMERIZINGLY MANIACAL PERFORMANCE BY ACADEMY-AWARD NOMINEE SHARLTO COPLEY (THE REPORTER GUY IN DISTRICT 9) AS DANGEROUSLY OFF-THE-RAILS “MAD” MURDOCK AND YOU HAVE AN ACTION FAN’S EQUIVALENT OF A HOT FUDGE SUNDAE WITH WHIPPED CREAM AND A CHERRY ON TOP.  NOT TOO SERIOUS, NOT TOO GROSS, ALL ACTION FUN!

      

THE KARATE KID ***

11 YEAR-OLD JADEN SMITH PICKS UP WHERE DAD WILL SMITH LEFT OFF--MAKING BIG HIT SUMMER MOVIES--IN THIS REBOOT OF THE ICONIC 1984 MOVIE ABOUT A KID LEARNING TO OVERCOME NEIGHBORHOOD BULLIES AND HIS OWN INSECURITIES THROUGH THE TUTELAGE OF AN AGING MARTIAL-ARTS MASTER.  THE SETTING IS NOW CHINA, THE KID, DRE PARKER, IS ONLY 12, AND WE NOW HAVE KUNG-FU MASTER MR. HAN (JACKIE CHAN ABLY STANDING IN FOR THE IRREPLACEABLE MR. MIYAGI FROM THE ORIGINAL), BUT THE STORY IS THANKFULLY STILL THE SAME; PRODUCERS JERRY WEINTRAUB AND WILL SMITH WISELY OPTING NOT TO FIX WHAT AIN’T BROKEN.  THE YOUNGER SMITH IS A DYNAMIC AND CHARISMATIC PROTAGONIST HERE; A FACT THAT SHOULD FURTHER PUT TO REST THE IDEA THAT MOVIES AREN’T HITS WHEN KIDS ARE IN THE MAIN ROLES.  HE SHOWS EMOTIONAL RANGE AND PHYSICAL SKILLS THAT GIVE A GRAND DEMONSTRATION OF BOTH HIS PRESENT TALENT AND HIS ENORMOUS POTENTIAL.  HE AND THE VETERAN CHAN MAKE A WONDERFUL TEAM.  HE ALSO MANAGES TO GENERATE SOME CHEMISTRY WITH LITTLE-KNOWN CHINESE ACTRESS WENWEN HAN, WHO PLAYS HIS “LOVE INTEREST” MEIYING.  THOUGH THE “LOVE‘ ANGLE IS ONE OF THE FEW THINGS HERE THAT DOESN’T WORK (A KISS BETWEEN THE TWO WOULD HAVE BEST BEEN LEFT WHERE IT NORMALLY IS FOR PRETEENS--IN FANTASYLAND), THE FRIENDSHIP BOND THAT THE TWO DEVELOP FEELS REAL AND GENUINE.  OVERALL, THIS PROVED TO BE JUST AS MUCH THE FEEL-GOOD CROWD-PLEASER IN 2010 THAT IT EVER WAS IN 1984 FOR THE AUDIENCE I SAT WITH.  FAMILY-STYLE ENTERTAINMENT AT ITS KICK-BUTT BEST!    


PRINCE OF PERSIA; THE SANDS OF TIME **

A QUITE STANDARD ACTION/ADVENTURE FROM PRODUCER JERRY BRUCKHIEMER ABOUT A PERSIAN PRINCE, AN EVIL ADVISOR, A KICK-BUTT QUEEN, AND A DAGGER THAT CAN TURN BACK TIME.  WHILE THERE’S PLENTY OF HUMOR AND ACTION HERE, THERE’S VERY LITTLE ELSE, INCLUDING A COMPREHENSIBLE STORY OR CHARACTERS THAT DO ANYTHING SURPRISING OR UNIQUE.  WE IN THE THEATER WERE UNIMPRESSED, INCLUDING THE KIDS.  SUCH A SHAME WHEN THE FAMILY AUDIENCE IS SO SHAMELESSLY PATRONIZED.  MINDLESS FLUFF THAT’S ONLY MILDLY ENTERTAINING.


SHREK FOREVER AFTER ***

THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE END FOR THIS VENERABLE FRANCHISE, AND IT GOES OUT IN GRAND STYLE.  HERE, SHREK, LIKE A LOT OF DADS IN THE MIDST OF THE FAMILY-REARING YEARS, LONGS FOR THE “GOOD OLE DAYS” WHEN HE WAS A “REAL OGRE”  LIVING A QUIET LIFE IN THE SWAMP AND VILLAGERS WERE HURLING PITCHFORKS AT HIM RATHER THAN HAVING HIM AUTOGRAPH THEM.  HE GETS HIS WISH WHEN HE SIGNS A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL--ER, THAT WOULD BE RUMPELSTILSKIN--AND IS THROWN INTO AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE WHERE HE’S NEVER BEEN BORN.  DESPITE THE SOMEWHAT DARKER TONE, THIS IS STILL FILLED WITH THE  LOADS OF LAUGHS AND NON-STOP ZINGERS THAT WE ALL LOVE ABOUT THESE FILMS.  PARTICULARLY HYSTERICAL THIS TIME IS PUSS-N-BOOTS (ANTONIO BANDARES) WHOSE DEVELOPED QUITE A WEIGHT ISSUE IN SHREK’S ABSENCE.  A FUN-FOR-EVERYONE CONCLUSION TO ONE OF THE MOST CONSISTENTLY HIGH-QUALITY FAMILY FILM FRANCHISES EVER.  YOU’LL LOVE IT!


ROBIN HOOD *1/2

THIS JOYLESS “RE-IMAGINING” OF THE CLASSIC STORY OF THE SHERWOOD FOREST OUTLAW WHO ROBS FROM THE RICH AND GIVES TO THE POOR CONTAINS ALMOST NONE OF THAT, BUT I FELT CONSIDERABLY ROBBED (OF MY BOX OFFICE MONEY) AFTER ENDURING IT. THIS IS A PLODDING TALE WHERE POLITICS CLOUDS OUT WHAT LITTLE ROMANCE AND MERRIMENT THERE MIGHT HAVE BEEN AS ROBIN, MARIAN, AND THE “MERRY” MEN SEEK TO GET KING JOHN TO SIGN THE MAGNA CARTA.   ENGLISH HISTORY IS SO MANGLED THAT IT ALMOST BECOMES (UNINTENTIONALLY) COMEDIC.  THUS DIRECTOR RIDLEY SCOTT AND ACTOR/PRODUCER RUSSELL CROWE, IN AN ALMOST PREACHY ATTEMPT TO SCORE POINTS WITH TODAY’S OPPRESSED MASSES (I GUESS), HAVE SUCKED VIRTUALLY ALL THE LIFE OUT OF THE TRADITIONAL TALE.  THE RESULT? A TIRESOME, TOO-LONG DIRGE SPICED WITH A FEW GOOD BATTLE SCENES.  YET EVEN THOSE FALL THROUGH AT THE END WHEN AN HISTORICALLY FABRICATED FRENCH INVASION FORCE STORMS ASHORE ONTO ENGLISH BEACHES OUT OF BOATS THAT LOOK FOR ALL THE WORLD LIKE WOODEN REPLICAS OF WWII HIGGINS BOATS.  I SIMPLY BURST OUT LAUGHING.  MY MORE HISTORICALLY ASTUTE COMPANION WALKED OUT.  TAKE HIS CUE.  THIS IS ONE MOVIE YOU’D BEST NEVER WALK IN TO. 


IRON MAN 2 **

TONY STARK (ROBERT DOWNEY JR.), ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING CHARACTERS OF THE 2008 MOVIE SEASON, RETURNS AS ONE OF THE MOST OBNOXIOUS AND BORING CHARACTERS OF 2010 IN THIS PALE IMITATION OF THE ORIGINAL IRON MAN.  HERE, STARK, EGOMANIACAL AND FATALISTIC TO THE POINT OF MAKING US NAUSEOUS, IS CAUGHT UP SHORT WHEN HIS IRON MAN TECHNOLOGY IS DUPLICATED BY A SINISTER RUSSIAN DUBBED “WHIPLASH” (A BROODING MICKEY ROONEY), AND HIS OWN BUDDY COLONEL “RHODY” RHODES GIVES ONE OF HIS SUPER-SUITS TO THE MILITARY.  STARK’S UNRELENTING UNPLEASANTNESS IS MATCHED EQUALLY BY THAT OF HIS OTHER NEMESIS, DR. HAMMER (SAM ROCKWELL), AND WE QUICKLY WISH THEY BOTH HAD “MUTE” BUTTONS SO WE COULD AT LEAST UNDERSTAND WHAT THE CHARACTERS THEY CONSTANTLY TALK OVER ARE SAYING.  PEPPER POTTS (GWYNETH PALTROW) AND “RHODY” (DON CHEADLE) GIVE US PEOPLE WE ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT, SCARLETT JOHANSSEN GIVES US A “KICK-ASS” STYLE WOMAN THAT’S NICE TO LOOK AT (BUT NOT NEAR AS INTERESTING OR HEROIC AS HIT GIRL), AND A NICE ACTION SEQUENCE AT THE END SALVAGES A PLODDING SECOND ACT, BUT OVERALL, THIS IRON MAN IS ONE RUSTY CLUNKER, ESPECIALLY WHEN COMPARED TO ITS GLEAMING PREDECESSOR.


FURRY VENGENCE *

A PROMISING PREMISE ABOUT ANIMALS FIGHTING TO DEFEND THEIR TERRITORY FROM GREEDY,  BUMBLING DEVELOPERS IS COMPLETELY WASTED HERE BY A BAD SCRIPT AND HORRID DIRECTING.  THE BUMBLING DEVELOPER IN THIS CASE IS BRENDON FRASER (HE OF “THE MUMMY” MOVIES), WHO IS A CAPABLE ACTOR, BUT IS ALLOWED TO DO LITTLE MORE THAN ACT STUPID IN THE FACE OF THE STEALTHY ANIMAL ONSLAUGHT WHILE HIS WIFE (BROOKE SHIELDS) SCOWLS AND HIS SON (MATT PROKOP) ROLLS HIS EYES AND IGNORES HIM.  A MENAGERIE OF BIZARRE SUPPORTING CHARACTERS PLAYED SO OVER-THE-TOP THAT YOU WONDER WHERE THEY ESCAPED FROM ARE MUCH MORE STRANGE THAN HUMOROUS, AND A PATHETIC, SENILE CARICATURE OF AN ELDERLY TEACHER IS DOWNRIGHT INSULTING.  PROKOP AND SKYLAR SAMUELS, AS HIS TEEN LOVE INTEREST, MANAGE A HINT OF GENUINENESS, AND SOME OF THE ANIMAL ANTICS ARE CUTE, BUT THEY’RE TOTALLY OVERWHELMED BY THIS TIDAL WAVE OF TEDIOUSNESS.  WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN AN ENVIRONMENTAL “HOME ALONE” STYLE COMEDY IS TURNED TO BORING MUSH INSTEAD.  DON’T GO!

      

KICK-ASS ***1/2 (R-RATED)

I DON’T GENERALLY TALK ABOUT R-RATED MAYHEM FILMS HERE, BUT THIS ONE IS SO ORIGINAL, WELL-DONE, AND ALSO SO IMPORTANT TO THE FUTURE OF KID ROLES IN FILMS, THAT IT’S WELL WORTH A SHOUT.  AARON JOHNSON STARS AS DAVE, TEENAGE LOSER AND COMIC BOOK GEEK, WHO DECIDES ONE DAY TO “KICK IN” AND DO SOMETHING TO HELP OTHERS BY BUYING A GOOFY GREEN WETSUI, SOME NINJA STICKS AND ACTUALLY BECOMING A SUPERHERO (MINUS THE SUPER POWERS, OF COURSE--OOOPS).  THOUGH HIS ATTEMPTS AT CRIME-FIGHTING ARE PREDICTABLY CLUMSY, HE DOES MANAGE TO BECOME AN INTERNET SENSATION AND A FOLK HERO.  BUT HE ALSO STUMBLES RIGHT INTO THE MIDDLE OF A BLOODY FEUD BETWEEN A FAMILY OF BATMAN-LIKE VIGILANTES (NICOLAS CAGE AND THEN 11 YEAR-OLD CHLOE MORETZ) AND THE CRIME BOSS THAT FRAMED  DAD AND KILLED HIS WIFE.  THE BIG NEWS HERE, BESIDES THIS BEING JUST A WONDERFULLY-TOLD, GOOD OVER EVIL ACTION COMEDY, IS THAT THE KID STEALS THE SHOW!  AND I MEAN THE LITTLE KID!  MORETZ’S “HIT-GIRL” IS THE BEST ACTION ROLE FOR A PRE-TEEN WRITTEN IN AGES, AND SHE CARRIES IT OFF WITH THE KIND OF STYLE,  PIZAZZ, AND HEART WE HAVEN’T SEEN SINCE THE ‘TWEEN YEARS OF DAKOTA FANNING.  LET’S HOPE HER PERFORMANCE, AND THOSE BY THE REST OF THE YOUNG UNKNOWNS IN THIS FILM, WILL BLUDGEON THE TIRED NOTION THAT MOVIES FAIL WHEN THEY FEATURE KID STARS AS MERCILESSLY AS HIT-GIRL DOES NEW YORK MOBSTERS.  HIDEOUSLY VIOLENT, YET GLORIOUSLY DONE STORY-TELLING.


CLASH OF THE TITANS **

THIS REMAKE OF THE OLD 80’S FILM THAT TELLS THE GREEK MYTHOLOGICAL STORY OF PERSEUS AND THE GORGON (AND A FEW OTHERS THROWN IN) IS LITTLE MORE THAN YOUR STANDARD ACTION EPIC, MINUS THE HEART AND CHARACTER DEPTH THAT THE BETTER ONES IN THIS GENRE INCLUDE.  SAM WORTHINGTON (OF AVATAR) DOES A PASSABLE JOB WITH MINIMAL MATERIAL, FIGHTING GIGANTIC CGI MONSTERS AND POUNDING HOME THE DUBIOUS THEME THAT MEN SHOULD BE MEN AND NOT DEMEAN THEMSELVES WITH PALTRY NOTIONS LIKE SEEKING DIVINE HELP OR GUIDANCE.  SOME GREAT ACTION, BUT NOTHING MORE, AND THE 2D VERSION IS PROBABLY AS GOOD OR BETTER THAN THE 3D ONE.


HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON ***

THIS WONDERFULLY FILMED AND SURPRISINGLY DEEP FILM FROM DREAMWORKS ANIMATION TELLS THE STORY OF HICCUP, A MISFIT VIKING KID WHO SAVES HIS PEOPLE BY BEFRIENDING A DRAGON (WHO HE NAMES TOOTHLESS), ONE OF THE VIKINGS’ PERENNIAL NEMESES.  JAY BARUCHEL’S DRAWL IS PERFECT FOR THE HAPLESS HICCUP, AMERICA FERRERA DOES A NICE TURN AS ASTRID, THE AXE-WIELDING GIRL OF HIS DREAMS, AND GERARD BUTLER IS PARTICULARLY EFFECTIVE AS HICCUP’S CONFLICTED FATHER.  THE ANIMATION HERE IS UNIFORMLY EXCELLENT AND AT TIMES BREATH-TAKING, ENHANCED DRAMATICALLY BY 3D.  WHILE SADLY, THIS IS YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF HOLLYWOOD MALICIOUSLY MANGLING KID-BOOK SOURCE MATERIAL (THE MOVIE’S BASED ON A CUTE CHILDREN’S NOVEL) AND READERS WILL MOST LIKELY ABHOR IT, I GUESS IGNORANCE IS BLISS FOR THOSE OF US WHO’VE NEVER READ IT.  THIS IS A FINE, FUN, AND UNUSUALLY TOUCHING PIECE OF WHOLE-FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT.


DIARY OF A WIMPY KID **1/2

FAITHFULLY BASED ON JEFF KINNEY’S POPULAR BOOK, THIS FUNNY (AND TOTALLY UNREALISTIC) CHRONICLE OF 6TH GRADER GREG AND HIS STRUGGLES TO FIND HIS NICHE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL BLOWS EVERY PITFALL OF THIS AWKWARD AGE OUT OF ALL PROPORTION BUT STILL MANAGES TO BE MORE THAN JUST A SILLY CARTOON OR PARODY.  WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE IS THAT GREG (ZACHARY GORDON) IS SO UNLIKABLE.  YOU END UP ROOTING MUCH MORE FOR HIS OBLIVIOUSLY CLUELESS FRIEND ROWLEY (ROBERT CAPRON) AND THE UNIQUE AND SERENE-WITH-HERSELF ANGIE (CHLOE MORETZ).  I ALSO CRINGED AT THE STEREO-TYPICALLY BRAINLESS ADULT CHARACTERS, ALL OF WHOM WERE LITTLE MORE THAN MORONIC CARICATURES.  BUT ANTI-HEROES ARE IN VOGUE THESE DAYS, APPARENTLY EVEN IN KIDS‘ SHOWS, AND GREG EVENTUALLY GETS IT.  THIS WILL HAVE PRE-TEENS HOWLING AT THE MYRIAD OF MIDDLE-SCHOOL MISHAPS THAT GREG BEFALLS, AND PARENTS CAN LAUBH AT THE ABYSMAL MEMORIES THEY INSPIRE WITHOUT HAVING TO RELIVE THEM.  A FUN OUTING, BUT PERHAPS NOT AS SPECIAL AS IT COULD HAVE BEEN EITHER. 


ALICE IN WONDERLAND ****

WOW!  THIS SEQUEL TO THE CLASSIC ORIGINAL TALE BY LEWIS CARROLL OF A VICTORIAN-AGE GIRL WHO FALLS DOWN A RABBIT HOLE INTO A BIZARRE WORLD OF NONSENSE BURSTS WITH ADVENTURE AND DANGER AS A NOW-GROWN ALICE (MIA WAZIKOWSKI) FREAKS OUT AT HER ARRANGED ENGAGEMENT PARTY AND ONCE AGAIN ENDS UP AT THE BOTTOM OF A RABBIT HOLE, WHERE SHE THINKS SHE IS ONCE AGAIN DREAMING THE “DREAM” SHE HAD WHEN SHE WAS LITTLE, ONLY TO DISCOVER THAT EVERYTHING IS (AND WAS) REAL AND THAT SHE’S THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN SAVE HER QUIRKY FRIENDS FROM THE EVIL RED QUEEN (HELENA BOHNAM CARTER) AND HER HENCH-BEAST, THE JABBERWOCKY.  A CLASSIC “HERO’S JOURNEY” WOVEN BRILLIANTLY INTO THE STYLE OF CARROLL’S BOOK, THIS WILDLY ENTERTAINING FANTASY DELIGHTS AND THRILLS BOTH KIDS AND ADULTS (THOUGH LEAVE THE PRE-SCHOOLERS AT HOME--THE JABBERWOCKY IS SERIOUSLY SCARY).  A DELICIOUSLY KOOKY PERFORMANCE BY JOHNNY DEPP AS THE MAD HATTER IS ADDED ICING ON THIS YUMMY TEA PARTY OF A FILM.  DON’T MISS IT!         


PERCY JACKSON; THE LIGHTNING THIEF ** (FOR SOME), * (FOR BOOK FANS)
THIS PROMISING PREMISE ABOUT MODERN-DAY KIDS WHO ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE GREEK GODS WAS BRILLIANTLY WRITTEN INTO A FIVE-BOOK SERIES OF YOUNG-ADULT NOVELS BY RICK RIORDAN, BUT ITS MOVIE ADAPTATION IS SO BADLY MANGLED BY ITS WRITER AND DIRECTOR THAT THIS FILM IS LITTLE MORE THAN YOUR AVERAGE DISNEY CHANNEL ORIGINAL MOVIE, ONLY WITH LESS HEART, LESS PLOT, AND BETTER SPECIAL EFFECTS.  WHILE SOME KIDS WILL GA-GA STARS LOGAN LERMAN AND ALEXANDRA DADDARIO AND OTHERS WILL ENJOY THE FANTASY ACTION SEQUENCES, THERE’S LITTLE ENTERTAINMENT FOR ANYONE ELSE HERE.  AND MOST BOOK FANS, I’M AFRAID, WILL LEAVE THE THEATER LIVID AND LAMBAST IT TO ANYONE WITHIN EARSHOT.  (SEE ALSO COMMENTS ON THE BLOG PAGE)


THE TOOTH FAIRY **

WALDEN MEDIA CHANNELS DISNEY WITH PREDICTABLY HO-HUM RESULTS.  PRO WRESTLER-TURNED-FAMILY FILM STAR DWAYNE JOHNSON (HE OF DISNEY’S THE GAME PLAN AND RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN) STARS AS A HAS-BEEN HOCKEY PLAYER WHO’S SO ARROGANT AND INSENSITIVE THAT HE GETS SENTENCED TO TWO WEEKS OF TOOTH FAIRY DUTY FOR WRECKING CHILDREN’S FANTASIES.  RECKLESS WRITING AND PLOT HOLES BIGGER THAN BOMB CRATERS POCK-MARK THE SO-SO STORY, BUT JOHNSON, THE KID STARS (CHASE ELLISON, DESTINY GRACE WHITLOCK) , AND A SPARKLING SUPPORTING CAST (STEVE MERCHANT, ASHLEY JUDD, JULIE ANDREWS, BILLY CRYSTAL IN A HOOT OF A ROLL) MANAGE TO WRING ENOUGH LAUGHS AND CUTENESS OUT OF THIS TO MAKE FOR A FUN AFTERNOON MATINEE, 


THE SPY NEXT DOOR **

JACKIE CHAN, THE KING OF MARTIAL ARTS ENTERTAINMENT, HAS BEEN SO COOL FOR SO LONG THAT I HAD TO SEE THIS, BAD REVIEWS OR NOT.  CHAN ONCE AGAIN SAVES THE DAY, (BOTH LITERALLY AND ALSO IN THE MOVIE), THIS TIME WITH THE HELP OP THREE NEW KID STARS (MADELINE CARROLL, WILL SHADLEY, AND ALINA FOLEY) AS THEIR COMBINED SWEETNESS AND JACKIE’S STILL-EYE-POPPING-AT-55 MARTIAL ARTS STUNTS RESCUE A TERRIBLE SCRIPT AND EVEN WORSE FILM EDITING FROM BEING DUMPSTER FODDER.  IF YOU CAN OVERLOOK ITS MANY PAINFUL STORY-TELLING PROBLEMS (MANY IN MY AUDIENCE DID), THERE’S A LOT OF FUN IN THIS FARCE ABOUT AN EX-SPY WHO’S CALLED OUT OF RETIREMENT WHILE HE’S BABY-SITTING HIS NEIGHBOR’S KIDS, WHO THINK HE’S A HOPELESS DORK.


2009


AVATAR ****

IT LIVES UP TO THE HYPE AND MAYBE EVEN DOUBLES IT!  THIS AMAZING ADVENTURE ABOUT A MARINE’S LIFE IN THE BODY OF A 10-FOOT TALL BLUE ALIEN ON A PLANET CALLED PANDORA IS A SIMPLE (ALMOST TOO SIMPLE) DANCES WITH WOLVES -STYLE LOVE STORY DRESSED UP IN NON-STOP VISUAL EFFECTS THAT LEAVE YOUR JAW PERMANENTLY AFFIXED TO THE FLOOR THANKS TO DIRECTOR JAMES CAMERON’S METICULOUS, GROUND-BREAKING 3D SPECIAL EFFECTS,  A WORLD-CREATING ACTION FANTASY LIKE THIS HASN’T BEEN SEEN SINCE THE LAST OF THE STAR WARS MOVIES, BUT THIS ONE’S STORY HAS INFINITELY MORE HEART AND ITS EYE-POPPING BATTLE SCENES ARE 3-DIMENSIONALLY MORE COOL.  NO DISRESPECT TO MR. LUCAS, BUT CAMERON HAS JUST RESET THE BAR; WAY HIGHER.  A TOTALLY UNIQUE MOVIE-GOING EXPERIENCE NOT TO BE MISSED.


THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG ***

THIS LATEST DISNEY ANIMATED MUSICAL FAILS TO RISE TO THE LEVEL OF VAUNTED PREDECESSORS LIKE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST OR ENCHANTED, BUT STILL MANAGES TO BE ENTERTAINING THANKS TO A NICE TWIST ON THE AGE-OLD “FROG PRINCE” STORY AND GOBS OF CUTENESS.  SOME SWINGING DIXIELAND JAZZ MUSICAL NUMBERS HELP ALSO, THOUGH COMPOSER RANDY NEWMAN AIN’T NO ALAN MENKEN AND HIS TUNES LEAVE US WITH NOTHING MEMORABLE OR REALLY EVEN SINGABLE.  THE WHOLE NEW ORLEANS/JAZZ MOTIF DIDN’T WORK WELL FOR ME, BUT A LOT OF THE KIDS IN THE CROWD I WATCHED WITH DIDN’T SEEM TO CARE, AND THERE WAS A NICE ROUND OF APPLAUSE AT THE END.  PASSABLE AND UNREMARKABLE FOR ME, BUT THE KIDS (UNDER 10, ANYWAY) WILL PROBABLY LOVE IT.

    

THE BLIND SIDE ****

I WAS ACTUALLY BLIND-SIDED BY THIS MARVELOUS FILM, BELIEVING CRITICS‘ PANS OF IT AS SHALLOW, SAPPY, AND A “TYPICAL SPORTS MOVIE,” I’D STAYED AWAY UNTIL A FRIEND, WHO ABSOLUTELY DETESTS SAPPY MOVIES, URGED ME TO GO.  I DISCOVERED THAT WHAT CRITICS DISMISSED AS SAPPY WAS ACTUALLY THE DEPTH OF EMOTION THAT THE STORY, ABOUT A WEALTHY SOUTHERN WHITE FAMILY THAT TAKES IN A GINORMOUS HOMELESS BOY WHO ALSO HAPPENS TO BE BLACK, MANAGES TO DRAW, EVEN FROM THE MOST CYNICAL.  THE MOVIE BREAKS A LOT OF HOLLYWOOD “RULES,” INCLUDING HAVING NO REAL “BAD GUYS” AND AN ALMOST TOTAL ABSENCE OF THE KIND OF INNER FAMILY AND RACIAL TURMOIL THAT WOULD BE STOCK FOR THIS SORT OF PREMISE.  BUT AS WE IN THE AUDIENCE KNOW, MANY OF THE BEST MOVIES ARE THE ONES THAT DARE TO BREAK THE RULES, AND THIS IS CERTAINLY ANOTHER.  A GLORIOUS, HEARTFELT CROWD-PLEASER THAT ACTUALLY GAINED IN ITS AUDIENCE SHARE IN ITS SECOND WEEKEND (THAT’S WHAT YOU CALL GREAT WORD OF MOUTH), THIS IS FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT AT ITS SIMPLEST AND BEST.  THE STELLAR PERFORMANCE OF THE CAST, ESPECIALLY SANDRA BULLOCK, JUST MAKES IT EVEN BETTER.  DON’T MISS IT!     


A CHRISTMAS CAROL **1/2

UNFORTUNATELY, EYE-POPPING 3D VIDEO CAN’T SAVE THIS GLOOMY, SCARY CHRISTMAS GHOST STORY FROM BEING AN OVERALL DOWNER THAT COULD ACTUALLY FREAK OUT THE 8-AND-UNDER CROWD THAT PARENTS MIGHT MISTAKENLY THINK THIS IS BE GEARED FOR (AFTER ALL, IT’S “ANIMATED”).  WHAT A SHAME THAT A STORY SO FILLED WITH EMOTION AND GOODNESS IS LOST IN A BLIZZARD OF GRUESOME VISUAL EYE CANDY THAT LEAVES THE SUBTLER, MORE TOUCHING PARTS OF DICKENS’ TALE BURIED IN ITS DRIFTS OR SIMPLY BLOWN AWAY.  A STUNNING, GROWN-UP CAUTIONARY TALE WITH ITS HEART LARGELY CUT OUT.  BUMMER...  


PLANET 51 **

IT’S TOO BAD THAT THE PREMISE HERE--THAT AN AMERICAN ASTRONAUT-EXPLORER BECOMES THE “ALIEN INVADER” ON A PLANET FILLED WITH CUDDLY LITTLE  ALIENS THAT LIVE LIKE 1950’S ERA AMERICANS--IS SO WASTED.  WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN A REALLY FUN MOVIE WITH A GREAT CAST (DWAYNE JOHNSON, JESSICA BIEL, AND OTHERS) AND ENORMOUS “CUTE” FACTOR TURNS INSTEAD INTO A GENERALLY BORING HOUR AND A HALF AS THE STORY GETS MORE AND MORE MUDDLED, DISJOINTED, AND INCOMPREHENSIBLE.  STILL, THE CUTENESS AND SOME OF THE GAGS FOUND LAUGHS WITH THE KIDS IN THE SHOW I ATTENDED, AND I MIGHT HAVE GOTTEN A HALF-DOZEN LAUGHS OR SO AS WELL.  BUT NO MORE...  UGH...


THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX *1/2

ONCE AGAIN, CRITICS SHOW HOW IGNORANT THEY ARE OF THE BROAD MOVIE AUDIENCE, PARTICULARLY THE FAMILY AUDIENCE, WHEN RAVING ABOUT HOW “WILDLY ENTERTAINING” THIS ADULT MOVIE IN ANIMATION CLOTHING IS.  I’D HESITATE RECOMMENDING THIS AS ENTERTAINING EVEN FOR THE AVERAGE ADULT, MUCH LESS THE KIDS.  ANOTHER KIDS’ BOOK (THIS ONE BY ROALD DAHL) TURNED INTO AN ADULT MOVIE, THE STORY OF MR. FOX’S INABILITY TO LEAVE HIS OLD THIEVING LIFE BEHIND AND HOW IT AFFECTS HIS FAMILY IS MILDLY ENTERTAINING BECAUSE OF ITS STELLAR CAST (GEORGE CLOONEY, MERYL STREEP, AND OTHERS), ITS SLICK SCRIPT, AND STOP-MOTION ANIMATION.  THINGS THAT ENGAGE KIDS THOUGH (AND LOTS OF ADULTS TOO), LIKE ACTION, LAUGH-OUT-LOUD COMEDY, CUTENESS, ROMANCE, FUN, AND SIMPLE, UNIVERSAL THEMES ARE IN VERY SHORT SUPPLY.  I WAS FIGHTING SLEEP HALFWAY THROUGH.


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A COUPLE “ADULT” MOVIES THAT I TOOK IN OVER CHRISTMAS BREAK...

UP IN THE AIR **1/2

THIS WOULD GET *** IF ALL WE WERE TALKING ABOUT WERE THE ACTING, THE SCRIPT, ETC.  GEORGE CLOONEY, ANNA KENDRICK, AND VERA FARMIGA ARE ALL VERY GOOD IN THIS TALE OF A GUY WHOSE JOB IT IS TO FIRE PEOPLE AND HIS SEARCH FOR SOMETHING MORE EMOTIONALLY PERMANENT IN LIFE.  UNFORTUNATELY, THOUGH, THE STORY HERE IS ABOUT AS DEPRESSING AS IS CLOONEY’S CHARACTER’S JOB, AND LIFTS VERY LITTLE AT THE END.  UGH...


DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS **

A TRITE TALE ABOUT AN ESTRANGED NYC COUPLE WHO WITNESS A MURDER AND PUT INTO WITNESS PROTECTION OUT IN THE WYOMING BOONDOCKS TOGETHER.  CUTE PERFORMANCES BY HUGH GRANT, SARAH JESSICA PARKER, MARY STEENBURGHEON, AND SAM ELLIOT ARE ABOUT ALL THAT’S GOOD ABOUT THIS OTHERWISE PLAIN-VANILLA ROMANTIC COMEDY.


******************************


NEW MOON ***

DESPITE A COUPLE TOO MANY SLOW, ANGST-FILLED INTERLUDES, THIS NEWEST ADDITION TO THE TWILIGHT SAGA IS ANOTHER FAITHFUL ADAPTATION OF STEPHANIE MEYER’S WILDLY POPULAR SERIES; SOMETHING BOOK FANS GET LESS AND LESS OF THESE DAYS.  THIS STORY FEATURES HEROINE BELLA’S ILL-STARRED “FRIENDSHIP” WITH NATIVE NICE-GUY JACOB BLACK AFTER HER OVERLY-CHIVALROUS BEAU (AND VAMPIRE) EDWARD CULLEN DECIDES THAT HE CAN BEST PROTECT HER FROM THE MORE PERNICIOUS OF HIS KIND BY LEAVING HER FOREVER.  WITH THE BROADNESS OF THE AUDIENCE THAT THRONGED TO THE SHOW I SAW, IT SEEMS MEYER MAY HAVE CREATED THE PERFECT MODERN LOVE STORY; WITH APPEAL TO LITERALLY ALL AGES OF FEMALES (8 YEAR-OLDS TO GRANDMOTHERS) AND YET ENOUGH ACTION AND SEXINESS TO BE GUY-FRIENDLY AS WELL. NICE TO SEE THAT, FOR ONCE AT LEAST, HOLLYWOOD HAS CHOSEN NOT TO MUCK IT UP.  THEY’RE DEFINITELY REAPING THE REWARDS!  LOTS OF SUSPENSE, ROMANCE, ACTION, AND ABOVE ALL, GOODNESS AND HEART.


2012 ***

DISASTER MASTER ROLAND EMMERICH’S LATEST ADDITION TO THIS VENERABLE GENRE IS ACTUALLY A VISUALLY STUNNING AND WILDLY ENTERTAINING HOMAGE TO THE LAST 30 YEARS OF SUCH MOVIES THAT I FOUND TO BE A GLORIOUS HOOT!  WITH ALL THE BEST MOMENTS OF CLASSICS LIKE EARTHQUAKE, THE POSIEDON ADVENTURE, DANTE’S PEAK, VOLCANO, AND EVEN JAWS (“WE’RE GONNA NEED A BIGGER AIRPLANE.”) DONE A GAZILLION TIMES MORE OVER-THE-TOP USING THE LATEST IN CGI EFFECTS, THERE WERE TIMES I FELT LIKE I WAS ON A THRILL RIDE AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS OR DISNEYLAND.  THE ONLY THING MISSING WAS THE WIND IN MY HAIR AND THE VIOLENT CLUNKING OF MY ROLLERCOASTER CAR.  IT HELPS TOO THAT EMMERICH PEPPERS THE BASICALLY “SERIOUS” TONE WITH LOTS OF WINKS AND NODS THAT LETS YOU KNOW THAT IT’S OKAY TO CACKLE A LITTLE EVEN WHEN A MODERN-DAY RECONSTRUCTION OF NOAH’S ARK IS ABOUT TO CRASH INTO MOUNT EVEREST BECAUSE SEA LEVELS HAVE RISEN 20,000 FEET ON THE HEELS OF 5000-FOOT TSUNAMIS THAT HAVE SUBMERGED INDIA.  LIKE I SAID...WHAT A HOOT!  


THIS IS IT ***

FOR ONE LAST CHANCE TO SEE JUST HOW MUCH WE LOST LAST JUNE 25TH, “THIS IS IT;” A UNIQUE REHEARSAL-FOR-A-CONCERT MOVIE, IT  DOCUMENTS THE REHEARSALS FOR WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN ONE OF THE GREATEST COMEBACK CONCERTS EVER; THAT OF MICHAEL JACKSON AFTER OVER A DECADE OF SELF-IMPOSED RECLUSION AND BIZARRE OFF-STAGE DRAMAS.  AND IT LEAVES NO DOUBT THAT, AT AGE 50, THE “KING OF POP” WAS READYING AN EYE-POPPING, HEART-POUNDING, JAW-DROPPING MULTI-MEDIA EXPERIENCE THAT WOULD HAVE CONTINUED HIS LEGACY AS THE MOST INNOVATIVE PERFORMER IN POP MUSIC HISTORY AS THOUGH HE WAS STILL 35 AND HAD NEVER LEFT THE STAGE.  COMBINING THE BEST OF HIS OLD SHOWS WITH NEW TECHNOLOGIES AND NEW IMAGININGS OF HIS WORK, THE SHOW IS A CROWNING DEMONSTRATION OF WHY MJ IS CONSIDERED ONE OF THE TRUE GENIUSES OF MUSICAL ENTERTAINMENT.  STILL, IT IS A REHEARSAL MOVIE, NOT A CONCERT, WHICH COMES WITH UNIQUE PLUSES AND MINUSES.  BIGGEST BUMMER; MJ’S HOLDING BACK, ESPECIALLY ON SIGNATURE STUFF LIKE “BILLIE JEAN” (NO MOON-WALKING; SOB-SOB).  BIGGEST PLEASANT SURPRISE; WHITE-HOT LEAD GUITAR-CHICK ORIANTHIA PANAGARIS AND HER SIZZLING RIFFS ON STUFF LIKE “BEAT IT” AND “BLACK AND WHITE.”  FOR PARENTS, THIS WOULD BE A GREAT WAY TO GIVE THE KIDS A BIT OF A HISTORY LESSON ON WHY PEOPLE STILL GO SO CRAZY OVER A GUY THAT MOST OF THEM KNOW ONLY AS A FREAKISH, “OLD” WEIRDO. 

        

ASTRO BOY ***

THIS FILM, BASED ON A VENERABLE OLD JAPANESE MANGA STORY OF A ROBOT BOY ENDOWED WITH UNUSUALLY HUMAN QUALITIES, SEEMS OVERLY-SIMPLISTIC AND SHALLOW AT FIRST, BUT GAINS DEPTH OF FEELING WITH EACH MINUTE AS THE YOUNG ROBOT, THE PRODUCT OF A SCIENTIFIC GENIUS’S NEED TO REPLACE THE SON THAT HE’S KILLED, STRUGGLES TO FIND HIS PLACE IN A WORLD WHERE ROBOTS ARE UBIQUITOUS AND AT ODDS WITH HUMANS, WHO IN TURN ARE AT ODDS WITH EACH OTHER. THOUGH THE PLOT AT TIMES BORROWS SHAMELESSLY FROM OTHER STORIES, INCLUDING  IROBOT, GLADIATOR, WALL-E, AND EVEN OLIVER TWIST, THESE ELEMENTS ARE MIXED QUITE DELICIOUSLY WITH A FRESH TAKE THAT MAKES FOR A VERY SATISFYING DISH OVERALL. FINE VOICE PERFORMANCES BY BILL NIGHY AS AN AGING SCIENTIST, FREDDIE HIGHMORE AS TOBY, THE ASTRO BOY, AND THE SADLY UNDERUSED KRISTEN BELL AS TOBY’S BEST HUMAN FRIEND, PROVIDE ADDED SPICE AND SWEETNESS. 

   

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE **

SADLY, THIS TIME-HONORED CHILDREN’S BOOK FAVORITE, WHICH IS FAR TOO SHORT AND PLOTLESS TO BE ADAPTED VERY WELL FOR FILM ANYWAY, HAS BEEN TURNED INTO A BROODING, ARTSY, MOSTLY-ADULT INDIE FILM THAT MIGHT AWE SOME NOSTALGIC PARENTS, BUT WILL MOSTLY JUST BORE AND CONFUSE THEIR KIDS (AS IT DID WITH THE KIDS SITTING AROUND ME IN THE THEATER).  NOT EVEN THE CUDDLY LOOK OF THE WILD THINGS OR THEIR RAUCOUS FUN FLINGS CAN OVERCOME THEIR DRAWN-OUT, BORING, JUVENILE CONTEMPLATIONS OR THE INEXCUSABLY PSYCHOTIC BEHAVIOR OF MAIN CHARACTER MAX TOWARDS HIS FAMILY.  HOLLYWOOD FINDS YET ANOTHER WAY TO FRUSTRATE AND DISENFRANCHISE THE CORE AUDIENCE OF THE KIDS’ BOOKS THEY CHOOSE TO MAKE INTO MOVIES.


CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS ***

BASED ON THE VERY POPULAR 2ND GRADE-LEVEL PICTURE BOOK ABOUT A TOWN WHERE IT RAINS FOOD, THIS 3D ANIMATED ROMP IS AN HYSTERICAL RIDE WITH PLENTY OF FUN FOR BOTH YOUNG AND OLD.  KIDS AT THE SHOW I ATTENDED WERE WOWING AT THE VISUALS AND ACTION, AND ADULTS WERE CACKLING AWAY AT THE RAPID-FIRE ONE-LINERS AND SITE GAGS.  THOUGH IT GETS PAINFULLY EVIDENT TOWARDS THE END THAT THE SCREENWRITERS WERE STRAINING TO MAKE A FULL-LENGTH MOVIE OUT OF A 36-PAGE PICTURE BOOK THAT HAS NO PROTAGONIST, THIS IS AN ENORMOUSLY FUN FLING THAT SENDS EVERYBODY HOME SMILING AND LAUGHING.


FAME *1/2

UGH!  STARTLING AS IT MAY SOUND, WHEN YOU TAKE A NOT-VERY-GOOD MOVIE FROM THE 80’S AND REMAKE IT, YOU GET (WAIT FOR IT...) ANOTHER NOT-VERY-GOOD MOVIE!  WOULDN’T IT BE NICE IF HOLLYWOOD WOULD FIGURE THIS OUT BEFORE THEY SPEND GAZILLIONS AND BORE US ALL TO DEATH?  I DON’T CARE THAT THIS ISN’T “GRITTY” AND “URBAN” ENOUGH FOR SOME CRITICS.  WHAT I DO CARE ABOUT IS THAT IT’S SO DISJOINTED AND SCATTERED THAT YOU NEVER CAN GET ATTACHED EMOTIONALLY TO ITS CHARACTERS.  IN THIS STORY OF STUDENTS PROGRESSING THROUGH NEW YORK’S “FAMED” PERFORMING ARTS HIGH SCHOOL, THERE’S SO MANY SUBSTORIES THAT YOU NEVER CAN FOCUS, EITHER EMOTIONALLY OR OTHERWISE, AND SO YOU EVENTUALLY JUST DON’T CARE.  TOO BAD, BECAUSE THERE’S SOME GREAT YOUNG TALENT ON DISPLAY HERE THAT IS ESSENTIALLY WASTED. 


9 **1/2

TAKE THE SWEETNESS AND HUMOR OUT OF WALL-E, THE LIVE ACTORS OUT OF THE TERMINATOR MOVIES, REPLACE THEM ALL WITH LIVING RAG DOLLS TRYING TO SURVIVE IN A BLEAK POST-APOCALYPSE, AND YOU HAVE 9, AN ANIMATED ACTION-ADVENTURE FABLE PRODUCED BY THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS DIRECTOR TIM BURTON. WHILE THE ANIMATION IS SUPERB AND THE STORY OF THE RAG DOLLS AND THEIR STRUGGLE TO DESTROY MACHINES BENT ON SAPPING THEIR “SOULS” DOES GENERATE REAL SUSPENSE AND EMPATHY, ITS JOYLESS, HUMORLESS, HEAVY-HANDED STORY WENT RIGHT OVER THE HEAD OF THE YOUNG AUDIENCE THAT I SAW IT WITH, ULTIMATELY BORING THEM.  AND THE ADULTS IN THE THEATER MAY HAVE BEEN LIKE ME AT THE END; WONDERING HOW  RAG DOLLS RISE FROM THE DEAD AND WHAT SORT OF GREEN HEAVEN THEY WENT TO.  A FINE MOVIE WHICH FAILS IN THE END BECAUSE IT CAN’T CAPTURE EITHER THE YOUNG OR THE MORE MATURE AUDIENCE. 


SHORTS **

FROM ROBERT RODRIGUEZ, THE CREATOR OF SPY KIDS, COMES THIS EXCESSIVE, OVERLY-SILLY MOVIE ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A NEIGHBORHOOD BECOMES OBSESSED WITH A MAGIC ROCK THAT CAN CAUSE WISHES TO COME TRUE.  TOLD IN A SERIES OF NON-SEQUENTIAL “SHORT” STORIES (WE CALL THAT NON-LINEAR IN THE MOVIE BUSINESS), IT’S CONFUSING AND DORKY, BUT STILL HAS ITS FUN MOMENTS.  AND RODRIGUEZ, WHO HAS INTRODUCED US TO A TON OF KID STARS OVER THE YEARS (TAYLOR LAUTNER, ALEXA VEGA, EMILY OSMENT,  TAYLOR MOMSON, ETC.) MAY HAVE FOUND ANOTHER ONE IN JOLIE VANIER AS DOUR HELVETICA BLACK.  JIMMY BENNET (YOUNG JAMES T. KIRK IN STAR TREK) IS ALSO VERY GOOD AS LEAD CHARACTER “TOE” THOMPSON.


BANDSLAM **1/2

ONE WOULD THINK THAT THIS WOULD BE A REALLY COOL MUSIC MOVIE LIKE HSM3 OR SCHOOL OF ROCK, ESPECIALLY WITH A CAST HEADED BY DISNEY DARLINGS  VANESSA HUDGENS AND ALLY MICHALKA (ALLY AND AJ).  BUT UNFORTUNATELY, WHILE IT’S ACTUALLY A PRETTY GOOD TEEN ANGST STORY ABOUT A NERDY GUY WHO LOVES ROCK FINDING FRIENDS AND HIMSELF AT A NEW HIGH SCHOOL, IT’S REALLY NOT MUCH OF A MUSIC MOVIE AT ALL.  HUDGEN’S CHARACTER DOESN’T SING A NOTE UNTIL THE LAST 30 MINUTES, AND THEN IT’S ON CHEESY HOME VIDEO!  THOUGH SHE’S GOT A GREAT NUMBER AT THE END, AND ALLY’S GOT A COUPLE EARLIER, THERE’S SO MUCH DRAMA GOING ON THAT THE MUSIC AND THE WHOLE BAND COMPETITION SEEMS ALMOST LIKE AN “OH, BTW” TYPE AFTERTHOUGHT.  AND THAT’S A BIG DISAPPOINTMENT IN THIS OTHERWISE WELL-DONE SHOW.


I LOVE YOU, BETH COOPER **

NOT FOR THE LITTLE ONES, BUT A PASSABLE HIGH SCHOOL DRAMEDY THAT, DESPITE LACKING BOTH DRAMA AND COMEDY, HAS A FEW VERY SPECIAL MOMENTS.  HAYDEN PANATTIERE (CHEERLEADER ON HEROES) IN THE TITLE ROLE IS THE LIGHT SHINING IN THE WILDERNESS IN THIS ONE.


BYE BYE BIRDIE ***1/2

A PLUG FOR THEATER OF THE ON-STAGE VARIETY HERE.  YES COMPANY’S PRODUCTION OF THIS 1960 MUSICAL ABOUT AN ELVIS-ISH SINGER’S VISIT TO SMALL-TOWN AMERICA FOR ONE LAST KISS WITH A RANDOMLY-SELECTED FAN BEFORE HEADING TO THE ARMY IS A DELICIOUS DELIGHT OF SINGING, DANCING, AND LAUGHS.  MAKING ME ESPECIALLY PROUD WERE THE TRULY DAZZLING PERFORMANCES IN LEAD ROLES BY THREE MODESTO KIDS ON STAGE ALUMNI; AMELIA VARNI (ROSE), EMILY KAY SHRADER (KIM), AND PAIGE IVY (URSULA), AND ALSO RECENT ROOM 60 GRAD LAURENCE TABANGCURA AS ONE OF THE TOWN-KIDS.  PLAYING ALL THE WEEK OF AUG 2-8 AT THE GALLO CENTER (MODESTO), THIS IS A SHOW WORTH CHANGING YOUR PLANS TO ATTEND.  DON’T MISS IT!


HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE **1/2

A VERY UNFORTUNATE DIRECTORIAL CHOICE THAT VEERS SHARPLY FROM THE BOOK NEAR THE END AND AN OVERALL “INDIE” FEEL TAKES THIS DOWN A BIT FOR ME FROM MY USUAL POTTER RAVES.  TOO BAD...  SUPERB ACTING AND EFFECTS AS ALWAYS.


G-FORCE ** 

NOT GREAT, BUT A TON OF FUN AND VERY FAMILY-SAFE.  STORY, ETC. ARE SO-SO; VISUAL EFFECTS NOT BAD WITH SOME OCCASIONAL 3-D “WOW” MOMENTS.  AND OH ARE THOSE GUINEA PIGS EVER CUTE!


G.I.JOE; THE RISE OF THE COBRA **

THIS CARTOONISH ACTION/ADVENTURE IS THE PERFECT FIT FOR PURE ACTION FANS WHO CARE LITTLE FOR CHARACTER AND STORY.  FOR THE REST OF US??  THOUGH THE SEEDS ARE THERE FOR SOME REALLY INTERESTING STUFF, THAT’S ALL SUBJUGATED TO THE VIRTUAL NON-STOP MAYHEM COURTESY OF A PLETHORA OF ULTRA-COOL MACHINES THAT (ALONG WITH THE PLOT) JUST GET CRAZIER AND WEIRDER AS THIS ROMP MOVES ALONG.  AND WHAT’S UP WITH THE SINKING ICE-CAP AT THE END??  DOESN’T ANYONE REMEMBER THAT ICE FLOATS?  AH WELL...  A VIOLENT, LIVE-ACTION, 2 HOUR LONG SATURDAY MORNING CARTOON. 


ALIENS IN THE ATTIC **1/2

LIKE G-FORCE, THIS ISN’T GREAT MOVIE-MAKING, BUT IT’S EVEN MORE FUN!  REALLY!  A SORT OF ET MEETS THE GOONIES, WITH LOTS OF HI-TECH ENHANCEMENTS (INCLUDING THE ENTICING FANTASY OF BEING ABLE TO MANIPULATE YOUR SISTER’S BOYFRIEND--OR YOUR GRANDMA--WITH A WII-LIKE GAME CONTROLLER), THIS IS A LAUGH-OUT-LOUD HOWLER ABOUT HOW A BUNCH OF COUSINS FOIL AN ALIEN INVASION.  ESPECIALLY GOOD ARE CARTER JENKINS AS BELEAGUERED GEEK TOM AND ASHLEY BOETTCHER AS HIS OH-SO-CUTE LITTLE SIS.  ASHLEY TISDALE DOES A ROLE THAT’S ESSENTIALLY SHARPAY AT A SUMMER HOME VERY NICELY, AND ROBERT HOFFMAN AS HER REMOTELY-CONTROLLED BOYFRIEND IS SIMPLY HYSTERICAL.  WAY, WAY FUN!


GLEE ****

I’LL TURN TO NETWORK TV FOR THIS WEEK’S SHOUT-OUT, AND A BIG SHOUT IT IS!  IRONICALLY FOX, THE NETWORK THAT STARTED THE SNIDE, CYNICAL DOWNTURN IN NETWORK FAMILY TV WITH THE SIMPSONS BACK IN THE 80’S, JUST MIGHT BE RESPONSIBLE FOR STARTING A MORE INSPIRATIONAL, UPLIFTING REVOLUTION IN THE GENRE WITH THIS MUSICAL DRAMEDY ABOUT A HIGH SCHOOL SPANISH TEACHER WHO, AGAINST ALL ODDS, REVIVES THE SCHOOL’S DEFUNK GLEE CLUB.  USING THE FORMULA THAT HAS MADE COUNTLESS  MUSIC AND DANCE MOVIES A SUCCESS OVER THE DECADES, WHAT’S SO WONDERFULLY FRESH HERE IS THE UNDERCURRENT OF GOODNESS AND WHIMSY AND UNABASHED JOY THAT PERMEATES NEARLY EVERY MINUTE; SOMETHING THAT’S BEEN SO COMPLETELY ABSENT FROM TEEN-ORIENTATED NETWORK TV FOR EONS IT SEEMS.  WHILE TEENS AND TEACHERS STILL STRUGGLE WITH REAL LIFE HERE, IT ALWAYS COMES BACK TO THE MUSIC, AND IN THAT THERE’S A SANCTUARY FROM WHICH JOY CONTINUALLY BURSTS FORTH.  DON’T MISS THIS STELLAR AND INSPIRING NEW HOUR; PREMIERING TUESDAYS AT 9:00 ON FOX.  AND IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET, CHECK OUT THE PILOT EPISODE (AIRED BACK IN MAY) ONLINE AT FOX.COM

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