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Tuesday, May 31, 2005


I went into this movie expecting it to be fairly decent, with at least four or five lines and spoofs that would make me laugh out loud. Thankfully I wasn’t disappointed, although I also wasn’t surprised.

Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) are all best friends and inhabitants of the New York City Zoo. While Alex loves zoo life and all the free steaks and attention that come with it, Marty dreams of living in the wild. Inevitably, they are shipped off to an African wildlife preserve after Marty makes an escape attempt, and from there they find themselves stranded on the island of Madagascar.

What I did find interesting about this movie, being that is geared toward a younger audience, is that the filmmakers did not ignore the fact that Alex is a meat-eater and eventually needs to hunt something cute and furry. While Marty, Gloria and Melman dine on seaweed and other native vegetation, Alex grows hungrier and more irritable. As he has been fed steaks at the zoo his entire life, he has no idea that in order to survive in the wild he must actually hunt and eat a living creature. I expected the movie to glaze over this essential fact of life, but instead it becomes a major plot point aside from the characters’ desire for rescue.

The movie itself does provide the expected humor—in various spoofs of movies, dialogue and even the characters themselves. Everyone seems to agree that the penguins were entertaining, but I also enjoyed the very brief lines that the monkeys received. I laughed hardest at their diametrically opposed human sophistication and core animal nature. I’m sure that most of the humor I enjoyed will fly over the younger audience’s heads, but that is of course what the filmmakers are shooting for in order to appeal to adults. I’ve no doubt that kids will find this movie highly entertaining, as it also provides the necessary slapstick moments that appeal to them.

As I said, there aren’t really any surprises in this movie, as it is funny in a lighthearted way, and doesn’t get too serious with the very real theme of survival in the wild, so I enjoyed it for what it was. If you like most animated films of this type (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, etc…) then you will also likely enjoy this one as well. I give it four stars as an animated film, but for those who aren’t into the animation genre then this movie probably falls closer to three stars.

Friday, May 27, 2005


So there goes another opportunity to give a withering review of a movie I assumed was going to be terrible. Needless to say, Unleashed was not the mindless martial arts movie that I expected it to be.

The basic premise of the story is that Danny (Jet Li) has been raised from childhood by a ruthless mob boss, Bart (Bob Hoskins). He is trained to kick the crap out of people the instant his collar is removed and Bart commands him to “kill.” Unfortunately for Danny, he is also treated as though he were a dog, kept in a cage and rarely given any human interaction…aside from, you know, fighting people. Needless to say, he is left alone for a few minutes one day, and encounters Sam (Morgan Freeman), a blind piano tuner and wise old sage. The movie diverts from the typical martial arts kickfest at this point, and actually delves into plot and character development.

It’s refreshing to watch a movie like this use the plot and characters as its focus instead of mindlessly finagling scenes that present Jet Li with the opportunity to punch someone. It makes the fights all the more interesting when they occur and draws the viewer in past the surface level. The fight scenes themselves are well choreographed, and Jet Li does his usual thing, but I was mostly surprised at how well he could actually act. There were a few cheesy moments, such as when Sam the Blind Sage compares Jet Li to a piano that has been pounded on relentlessly and slowly gone out of tune. But all in all, despite my best efforts I found myself enjoying the movie and the story that it was telling.

Unleashed has all the elements of a good martial arts movie, as in there’s a lot of fighting, but it also adds a story and characters that are surprisingly human. Morgan Freeman and Bob Hoskins both do excellent jobs with their characters, although as my friend said afterward, “Morgan Freeman could be cast as a white teenage girl and still make me believe it.” True enough.

I don’t necessarily recommend that you see this movie in theaters (although you won’t be sorry if you do), but I do highly recommend that you see it eventually. It’s definitely not one that I normally would have gone to see, but I’m very glad I did.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Kicking and Screaming 

I’ll give you a hint about the plot for Kicking and Screaming: it’s two hours of Will Ferrell doing the same shtick that he always does. Except this time he’s inserted into a kid’s soccer movie.

Will Ferrell plays Phil Weston, a reserved husband and father who is constantly failing to live up to his father’s expectations. Phil’s father, Buck Weston (Robert Duvall) is a sports tyrant, who coaches a little league soccer team on which his other, much younger son Bucky Jr., plays. Bucky Jr. happens to be the same age as Phil’s son, Sam, and he is also far superior to Sam in terms of athletic talent. Phil decides to coach Sam’s team of misfits and eventually becomes so obsessed with beating his father that he becomes a tyrant himself.

Blah blah blah blah, Will Ferrell does something ridiculous and slapstick, blah blah blah blah, Will Ferrell yells at little kids, blah blah blah, Will Ferrell drinks too much coffee, blah blah blah for two more hours.

Actually there were a few moments of genuine humor in the movie, as you’ll find even in the worst of comedies, but tragically the comedic value of this film hinges solely upon the performance of Will Ferrell. I suppose if you enjoy his type of humor being shoved down your throat in relentless and repetitive doses, then you’ll find this movie hysterical. I myself prefer him in smaller, more supplementary roles. Mike Ditka was entertaining in his brief appearances as…himself. He plays the role of Mike Ditka: next door neighbor and mortal enemy of Buck Weston, and he is reduced to being angry and intimidating for the duration of the film. The misfit kids on Sam’s team are full of wit and well-timed sarcasm, which is absolutely unheard of in these types of movies. Never before have I seen children who are portrayed as both wise beyond their years and sassy to their authority figures. It was truly groundbreaking. I knew I was in serious trouble, however, when the source of comedy became a kid eating a worm. Twice.

Needless to say, this movie is a waste of two hours. It wasn’t painful to watch so much as it just wasn’t very interesting. I grew tired of the same repetitiveness that I knew I would have to endure when I walked into the theater. I suppose kids would like this movie, but otherwise, it’s really nothing new.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith 

Needless to say, I abandoned my original plan to see Kicking and Screaming last night in favor of seeing Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith at 3am. It was a tough choice, but I fear that Kicking and Screaming could very well be the path to the darkside.

So, as director Kevin Smith so eloquently put it in his review of this movie, “Revenge of the Sith is, quite simply, f***ing awesome.” As it lived up to his expectations, so to did it live up to mine. Granted, I was mostly hoping that it wouldn’t be as substandard as Episodes I & II, but my expectations for Sith have grown considerably over the previous month leading up to the release. I was at the point where I expected nothing short of the magnificence I had grown up with in watching the original Star Wars movies.

If you’re not a Star Wars fan in general, then this movie probably won’t be quite as exciting for you as it was for someone like me. Yet I believe that even without any great affection for the Star Wars universe, this movie is still one that tells an interesting and poignant story. The space battles are glorious, reminiscent of the rebel battles from the original trilogy; the CGI effects are not distracting in this movie as they were in the first two prequels, and everything appears more consistent with the look of the originals, including the battle ships and uniforms of the storm trooper clones.

The light saber duels are also superb (as to be expected these days), especially the duel between Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin (Hayden Christensen). Not only is the choreography both elegant and fluid, but the emotions behind the fight are real, and for once, sharply delivered. The final exchange of words between the two is performed wonderfully by both actors. Hayden Christensen is much better in his portrayal of Anakin in this installment, and I loved watching his conflicting emotions grow as the story progressed. Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) was also excellent, deliciously evil and extremely insidious. He was exceedingly cunning in his deceptions, and he beautifully orchestrates his plans--the most important being the luring of Anakin to his cause.

One more note about the light saber duels—there isn’t much cutting from one shot to the next, so unlike most action fights these days, the viewer can actually see what the hell is happening between the two characters. I wasn’t stuck wondering at every moment which character was struck with that last punch, who had the upper hand in the fight, or why directors allow cameramen with severe epilepsy to film such crucial scenes. George Lucas apparently does not have those same hiring practices. What he does tremendously lack, however, is someone to write the dialogue for him. As everyone anticipated, the dialogue is the weakest part of the movie, especially in the love scenes. It was almost embarrassing at times to hear the words that Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman (Padme) were forced to utter.

Star Wars fan or not, given that Darth Vader is one of the most famous film icons ever, it’s hard not to be intrigued as to how he descends to the dark side of the force. Furthermore, this movie is the final piece in the Star Wars prequels, the story that we have been wanting to hear since we first discovered that Darth Vader is Luke’s father 25 years ago. Well, in my case maybe only 20 years ago, but regardless, everyone has waited a long time for this. And George Lucas finally gets it right.

This film gets the oscar rating from me, an average Star Wars fan (as in, I didn’t camp out in line or arrive in full costume, but I’ll definitely see it twice). For those of you who are indifferent then I would give it four stars, but regardless, this movie was indeed, fucking awesome.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


I would rather have watched Leprechaun 5, twice, without any alcohol to dull my senses, alone on a Friday night than sit through two mind-numbing hours of this movie. It was absolutely horrific.

Under the fierce visual and aural assault, my mind briefly lost consciousness at one point, but I’m certain that I did not miss anything of relevance as this movie was predictable to a fault. I mean it practically writes itself.

Charlie (Jennifer Lopez) meets and falls in love with Kevin (Michael Vartan), a surgeon and pathetic weakling. We are subjected to at least half an hour of their budding courtship, where Kevin tells Charlie after spending about 10 minutes with her that her eye color is, “brown at first sight, amber upon closer inspection, a medium chestnut brown tipped with russet as you gaze softly upon the sunset, and a burnt sienna with a touch of raw umber when you realize how disgustingly weak and submissive I am under my mother’s stifling matriarchal regime.”

Aw, says Charlie, you’re so different from other men because you know that my eyes are brown.

I was mentally willing my heart to stop beating at this point, as I realized with utter terror that this was only the first half hour of the movie. It gets worse. Kevin takes Charlie to meet his domineering mother, Viola (Jane Fonda), who predictably hates Charlie as she is a lowly temp and therefore unworthy of her impotent son. Kevin decides that the proper thing to do at such a meeting is to propose to Charlie, reasoning that it is, “the perfect moment.” Viola becomes completely unhinged and sets out to destroy the relationship by driving Charlie nuts. She moves in with the couple and proceeds to irritate Charlie at every moment by acting like a complete loon.

Uh huh.

JLo is normally someone whom I enjoy watching, and yet her character in this movie is so irritating with the constant baby-talk pitch of her voice and inexplicable attraction to the emasculated Kevin, with whom she shares absolutely no chemistry. I actually found Jane Fonda’s performance to be pretty entertaining, but no amount of good acting could have saved this movie from being relentlessly boring, predictable and completely asinine. It was simply too difficult to find the situations funny, when they have absolutely no chance of ever happening to any person in real life. Throw in an assortment of repugnant dialogue and this movie becomes excruciatingly painful to watch.

My eyes and ears are still bleeding.

Sunday, May 15, 2005


This movie was, in short, completely ridiculous. In fact, I am convinced that the whole thing was written, produced and directed by a ten year old.

The concept of the story is good: 7 FBI profiler students on the cusp of graduation are secluded on an island for their final training simulation, along with a tag-along Philadelphia cop (LL Cool J). Standard procedure for the FBI, I’m sure. Once there, however, things go horribly awry and the profilers start dying by means of elaborate deathtraps, rigged by an unknown serial killer. Each deathtrap is set to go off at a specific time, so the considerate killer leaves wristwatches around the island to help the profilers determine at what time one of them will be killed next. How thoughtful.

Each of the profilers has exactly one trait, and one trait only, about their personality, which the killer then targets as a weakness. The deathtraps are specifically designed for a particular profiler’s weakness, so it’s a good thing that these people are so incredibly predictable, such that the precise victim encounters the correct trap at the precise moment that he/she is supposed to. Inevitably, they all start pointing fingers at LL Cool J, as he is the newcomer and must therefore be a serial killer. At no point is it assumed that the killer could be, I dunno, hiding out somewhere on the island. No, that’s just madness! Furthermore, it’s a good thing that all these tools were on-hand for the killer to use in setting up the traps. Hey, look, 50 million dominos are inexplicably lying around—I shall painstakingly set them up for use in a needlessly sophisticated deathtrap!

This is the point in the movie at which you start to get confused. First of all, if these people are presumably so intelligent, then why the hell are they acting like absolute idiots?! Seriously—I can accept that a group of teenagers (or college students even) will be completely devoid of common sense, but if you present me with a group of FBI profilers at the top of their graduating class, then it’s going to be difficult for me to watch them being total morons. For example, as people ostensibly trained in high pressure situations, it’s annoying to see them panicking and freaking out every five minutes. It’s tiresome to see them making the dumbest decisions, like chaining the wheelchair-ridden profiler to a desk and then telling him to find a hiding spot. Um…? Dude, he’ll probably have a better chance at survival if you allow him the use of his wheelchair! But, perhaps not, maybe he prefers to drag himself at an excruciatingly slow pace around the facility.

The movie gives up any pretense of continuity at the end. The profilers are whittled down to three, at which point the killer is revealed. This is great and all, except that given the ending, the revelation makes absolutely no sense. I always enjoy twists at the end of movies, but only when they have been prepared. In this case, the twist is haphazardly inserted at the end in blatant conflict with the plot and previous ten minutes of film.

We. Have. Derailed.

If you must see Mindhunters, at least wait for the DVD. Don’t spend $10 to have this movie insult your intelligence, and apparently, the competence of the FBI.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


This movie works brilliantly. Within the first ten minutes I was both very uncomfortable and completely incredulous at what I was seeing.

This may not be the reaction of every moviegoer who sees Crash, but I think the wide array of characters and situations will give each viewer at least some experience to which he/she can relate. The story follows a large group of vastly different people, of different races, economic backgrounds, and social status. We are first presented with the characters as they are, reacting to situations involving race as they normally would. The audience is confronted headfirst with common prejudices that are perhaps not quite as blatantly expressed in everyday life, but elicit the intended emotional response from the viewer.

A racist white cop (Matt Dillon) needlessly and excessively harasses an upper-class black tv director (Terrence Dashon Howard), when he mistakenly assumes that his wife (Thandie Newton) is white instead of light-skinned. He fondles the wife during a pat-down, humiliating her and emasculating her husband, as they are both powerless to resist. The cop’s partner (Ryan Phillippe), is a well-intentioned white rookie cop, who is disgusted with his partner’s blatant racism. My favorite scene in the movie came during the racist cop’s second coincidental encounter with the light-skinned wife later in the movie, as he is forced to face the consequences of his earlier harassment. It was truly a moving scene. I also enjoyed the scenes between Anthony (Ludacris) and his partner-in-crime, Peter (Larenz Tate). Anthony complains about the prejudices that he encounters as a young black man, and then promptly proceeds to reinforce all of those preconceptions by acting the way people expected him to in the first place.

What I really liked about this movie was that, as in real-life, no one is all-good or all-bad. Even the racist white cop is shown to have redeemable qualities, while the well-intentioned white cop realizes in one horrible instant that he doesn’t know himself quite as well as he thought. What separates this movie from others preaching the same message is that it really makes the viewer uncomfortable and is not afraid to confront the feelings behind racism head-on. It presents scenes which are perhaps exaggerated yet still recognizable. Each character can be both the victim and the perpetrator of prejudice, so all sides of the issue are portrayed and examined, seeming to ask the viewer, “and what exactly did you do in situations like this?”

At one point, the upper-class black tv director tells Anthony that, “You embarrass me. You embarrass yourself.” I immediately wanted to say the same thing to white people like the racist cop, shamelessly perpetuating the same prejudice that, as the movie tries to establish, everyone is guilty of doing even with the best of intentions. I highly recommend you see this movie. No matter what your background, it will definitely cause you to question yourself.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

House of Wax 

I definitely wasn't disappointed. This movie turned out to be precisely what I expected, so the $20 was well worth it (I had to bribe my date to come by offering to pay for his ticket). Such is my punishment for dragging him to Hitchhiker's Guide--don't let that be your fate as well!

So as I said, this movie is exactly what one would expect it to be. Several attractive college students from a random Florida university take a shortcut through the backcountry roads instead of safely traversing the interstate system on their way to a football game; therefore, they inevitably fall victim to crazed hilljacks. Having been raised in small-town Indiana myself, I can't say I'm surprised, we see this sort of thing on a regular basis, yet have the good sense to steer clear of toothless, rusted truck-driving maniacs. Yes, all of the characters are devoid of common sense: they camp out in the middle of nowhere; they ignore the fact that a truck-driving maniac drives up and wordlessly watches them for several minutes for no clear reason; they accept that a brand-new fan belt can spontaneously snap in a parked car overnight; they hitch a ride from a dirt-covered country bumpkin who dumps roadkill into a festering pit of rotting carcasses--need I go on?

This is of course, hardly surprising. The only difference between this horror movie and others of its ilk, is that the deranged back-country killers turn their victims into wax figures. Well, at least these particular maniacs have found a creative outlet for their murderous tendencies. Speaking of which, here's a quick parenting tip: if you have identical twins, and one of them is evil, then don't strap him down in a chair and abuse him--you're only exacerbating the problem. Evil twin will then surely resort to killing hapless college students when he grows up.

It also goes without saying that there are several blatant references to the infamous sex video featuring Paris Hilton, who plays the role of the blond airhead who meets a grisly demise. She frantically dashes away in the requisite red lingerie, yet tragically does not survive the ordeal. Basically, she does exactly what the filmmakers (and audience) expect her to do.

This film is what it is, and I enjoyed it as such--your standard horror flick of today. I can't in good conscience give it more than two stars, but I do recommend it as long as you understand the concept of horror movies. Characters in these movies are always completely idiotic, as they wander helplessly through the movie, setting themselves up for the slaughter. Entertaining in their stupidity, yes. But surprising, no.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven 

Clearly, director Ridley Scott did not want to offend anyone in this middle-of-the road piece.

This movie is not as much about the Crusades, as it is about delivering the message that religious groups can, and should, peacefully coexist in the Holy Land. I'm not sure if religious tensions can be broken down to simple acceptance and tolerance, but it is a nice message nevertheless. More importantly, this movie is careful not offend anyone, as it chooses isolated fanatical villains rather than Christians or Muslims as a whole.

The story takes place around 1184, between the second and third crusades. From what I can gather, the film is relatively accurate from a historical standpoint, although it does of course receive the Hollywood treatment. Balian is the hero of the story, played surprisingly well by Orlando Bloom. He travels to Jerusalem for some vague reason that was not really made clear, along with his newly discovered father Sir Godfrey (Liam Neeson), who happens to be a crusading knight. Sir Godfrey dies along the way, but passes his knighthood and title to Balian. Off Balian scoots to Jerusalem, where he lives on his father's land and instantly gains everyone's respect (Christian & Muslim alike) for being such a gosh-darned nice guy.

I spent a good portion of the movie trying to determine the plot of the story, as it is never really made clear what Balian's purpose in traveling to Jerusalem is, nor is it made clear what he's doing when he arrives. He just wanders around encoutering the main characters, all of whom adore him with the exception of Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas). What reasons Guy de Lusignan has for detesting Balian with such an extreme passion remain an exercise left to the viewer.

As I said before, this movie is not about the crusades. It takes place just prior to the third crusade, so we see a portion of history that deals with the reclaiming of Jerusalem by the Muslims, lead by Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). Again, Saladin is not the bad guy in this movie, but a moral and just man, who attacks the city only after repeated provocation on the part of Guy de Lusignan and his co-antagonist, Reynald (Brandan Gleeson). Everyone else in this story, including the leprosy-afflicted monarch, King Baldwin (Edward Norton), does everything in his power to prevent confrontation by encouraging peaceful coexistence. Despite these efforts, the fanatics take over and war ensues. Balian is drawn in as an unwilling participant, his only goal to protect the innocent people within the city.

The battle scenes are typical, but not too drawn-out for a change--there's only so much of the same repetition one can take after all. The scenery is breathtaking at times, and while the story itself comes dangerously close to dragging along, it usually plows through just in time.

I enjoyed the film for its basic message, which is that religious strife is often caused by a few severely misguided fanatics, and that peace in the Holy Land is possible only through mutual respect. It is certainly a worthy message, but like its Hollywood depiction, seems somewhat unrealistic.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

xXx: State of the Union 

I love Hollywood.

I'm pretty sure I lost about two years of my childhood memories while my brain cells were liquified, but what's more important is that I learned how to drive my car onto railroad tracks at 220 mph thereby melting (?) my tires off, so that I may comfortably catch a speeding bullet train. If, you know, I ever have the need.

Our new Triple X agent for the sequel is Darius Stone (Ice Cube), with Samuel L. Jackson reprising his role as Agent Gibbons, the leader of this ultra secret inter-government protection agency. We begin our story with some random commando guys storming the ultra super-duper top secret XXX headquarters, killing everyone inside with the exception of Agent Gibbons and Nerdy White Guy Sidekick (Michael Roof). Now, with Vin Diesel dead (i.e. wanted too much money for the sequel), Gibbons recruits a convicted felon to protect our nation. Why our nation's military forces have not adopted this recruiting technique, given it's apparent success, is beyond me.

So, Ice Cube tries to act very menacing, he scowls and throws disdainful glares at Agent Gibbons and Nerdy White Guy Sidekick, and he refuses to play by the rules! Including the rules of physics, logic, gravity, common sense, hell, even common courtesy--all in an effort to stop a conspiracy by General Deckert (William Dafoe) to seize military control of the U.S. government. He enlists the help of his hoodlum car jacker friends and his she-man ex girlfriend in order to do this. Again, I think our military recruiters are obviously looking in the wrong places to swell the ranks of our armed forces. Need help hijacking that tank? Send in our hoodlum car jackers to do it! For a while I was certain we were watching Grand Theft Auto: Iraq.

This movie isn't that bad, I found it to be pretty entertaining in fact. My favorite part is when a veritable war is taking place on the streets of Washington D.C. during the President's State of the Union address, and yet, our vigilant press can't be bothered to report it. After all, the President's speech is far more likely to boost ratings.

If you don't mind complete absurdity and questionable dialogue, then this movie is for you. Perhaps I am just easily entertained, but I found it to be worthwhile as far as amusement goes. It's not a bad way to spend one's afternoon, although I do wish hadn't lost some of those memory cells--I bet I had a pretty good childhood. Oh well.