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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Pink Panther 

I keep hearing "Steve Martin is no Peter Sellers" this, and "it just doesn't come close to the original version" that, so perhaps my enjoyment of this movie is only because I had nothing with which to compare it. I suppose my best advice, in that case, would be not to see this movie if one is strongly attached to Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. As for me, having walked into the theater expecting yet another overly drawn-out "Saturday Night Live skit" type movie, I was extremely surprised to find that The Pink Panther, while not continuously hilarious, was definitely still funny. And most of that was due solely to Steve Martin himself.

Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline) has finally been presented with a case that could catapult him to national fame and glory--the high-profile murder of France's beloved soccer coach, Yves Gluant (Jason Statham). Adding to the mystery of the soccer coach's murder is the missing Pink Panther diamond, presumably stolen from Yves as he died. Dreyfus decides to place the most incompetent detective in France in charge of the investigation, so that after months of botched police work he can swoop in at just the right moment and solve the case himself, thereby winning a medal of honor and a seat in the French National Assembly. Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Steve Martin) is therefore promoted and given charge of the case, along with Detective Ponton (Jean Reno), who is to secretly report back to Dreyfus on all of Clouseau's activities. If Dreyfus had ever watched even one single episode of Columbo, then he would know better than to underestimate a seemingly clueless detective; however, this not being the case, Clouseau is left to stumble aimlessly around Paris searching for the killer and the stolen diamond. While Clouseau may be completely hopeless, he is nevertheless pure of heart, and makes an earnest if not bewildered attempt at an investigation. With the competent and well-trained Ponton at his side, Clouseau spends the entire movie conducting ridiculously unhelpful interrogations and becoming involved in several blundering mishaps. Yet somehow, he seems to be on the right track, much to the irritation of Chief Inspector Dreyfus.

Most of this movie is just silly, but not quite to the "roll your eyes" extent. The comedy comes entirely from Clouseau himself, in his seemingly idiotic actions and the other characters' reactions to him. He's a lovable doofus, yet completely unaware of this fact, so he proceeds with full confidence into foolish conversations and situations. It is impossible for anyone, characters and audience alike, to take him the least bit seriously, especially with his ludicrous French accent and naive foolishness. With an abundance of funny one-liners and silly (yet still comical) slapstick routines, the movie was for the most part quite entertaining. I was honestly shocked that a movie centering around an absurd and over-the-top character such as Inspector Clouseau didn't have to be completely nauseating or obscenely juvenile, and I was impressed with Steve Martin's ability to make the character so likable and even pleasant to watch.

This film was quite fun, so I suggest that if you miss it in theaters that you make sure to rent it on DVD. Again, I have no idea how this version compares to the original, but in all honesty, I don't really care. This film, on its own, was simply good. And nothing against Peter Sellers or anything, but come on--we're talking about The Pink Panther, not a James Bond movie, and if Sean Connery can be replaced with Pierce Brosnan, then I think Steve Martin can take over a lesser-known or iconic role from 40 frackin years ago. But, like I said, I wasn't even born when the originals came out, so maybe I just don't get it. All I know is, this movie was funny, and I just plain loved Steve Martin's Clouseau.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Nanny McPhee 

Nanny McPhee is a fantastic movie for children, which probably won't teach them to behave better, but will definitely entertain them for a few hours.

Recently widowed Cedric Brown (Colin Firth) has seven extremely clever yet horridly behaved children, who expend great amounts of effort in order to run off every nanny whom he hires to care for them. He has no time to spend with them either, as he is deeply in debt and in danger of losing the house and being thrown into debtors' prison--somehow this is due to his wife having recently died although it's completely unclear as to why that should cause him to be suddenly poor. Nevertheless, he must work all day and night, and to make matters worse, he can't seem to find a nanny who can withstand his children's antics. Fortunately, a magical and shockingly ugly version of Marry Poppins shows up one evening, along with the requisite thunder and lightening of course, and promises to teach the children how to behave. This Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) is a startling person indeed, certainly enough so that I would have behaved instantly at the mere sight of her. But the Brown kids are made of braver stuff, and they see her as merely another opportunity for endless pranks intended to drive her off. Nanny McPhee, however, is intent on forcing the children to behave and display proper manners under threat of magic. It's so simple really--do as Nanny McPhee says, or she'll turn you into a newt, or something similarly unpleasant.

Meanwhile, Great Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) insists that the ill-behaved children need a woman's influence, so she informs Cedric that she will cut off his inheritance unless he marries someone by the end of the month. The reasoning, apparently, being that it is better for the children to be split up and put into workhouses rather than left to stay at home with their loving yet poor father. As the children begin to learn simple, basic manners under Nanny McPhee's magical teachings, Cedric searches in desperation for a woman whom he can marry. It is glaringly obvious within the first five minutes to literally every single person in the theater that he will eventually marry the beautiful, sweet, scullery maid Evangeline (Kelly Macdonald,) once he learns to look past her social status.

There are, of course, the various slapstick pranks and tricks that the children plan and execute throughout the movie, as they initially resist Nanny McPhee and her infernal magic walking stick. Other challenges arise with the introduction of Cedric's chosen bride, Mrs. Quickly (Celia Imrie), the epitome of a cruel stepmother whom the children decide must be dispatched with as well. Of course, in the process of planning Mrs. Quickly's exit, they are surprised to discover that Nanny McPhee might not be so bad afterall, and they might do well to listen to her.

This was definitely a good movie for children, and I found it to be fun to watch as well. It was ridiculously predictable, but the lack of surprises didn't ruin the story in the slightest. Much of the film consists of the many pranks that the children pull in order to achieve a specific goal, and all are silly and fairly innocent. There were many moments of humor, and even more so for the kids in the audience; but overall this movie was easy to watch and quite harmless. If you're going to spend atrocious amounts of money by taking your kids to see a movie, then this is the one to pick. You definitely won't be wasting your money.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Final Destination 3 

If you don't like any of the Final Destination movies then don't even bother with this one, because it is basically identical to its predecessors. There is one new tiny twist, but for all intents and purposes, this sequel merely serves up a fresh batch of teenagers to be mercilessly slaughtered by Death before one or two of the central characters figures out how to temporarily beat Death's design. If you liked either of the first two Final Destinations then I guarantee you will like this one as well.

This time Death decides to kill a group of teenagers on a rollercoaster. But, once again Death is unable to resist being a smug little showboat about his grand design, so he allows one of the teenagers, Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), to have a premonition about it, presumably so he can impress her with his grandiose strategical skills. Wendy is a little less inspired than she is frantic after having seen precisely how she and her classmates will die, so she insists on being let off the ride before it begins. Sure enough, the roller coaster crashes in a freak accident mere seconds later, leaving those who disembarked along with Wendy now squarely in front of Death's crosshairs. And Death is super pissed this time, understandably annoyed that his meticulously plotted design has been thwarted all because he had to show off to some chick that he was going to kill anyway.

Death gets to work immediately, first killing off the less important characters in the most sadistic manner imaginable so that the main ones can be left for a suspenseful scene at the end of the movie. Death, always thinking about building dramatic tension. For a good portion of the time Death seems content to just cause the wind to blow ominously every time there is a pause in the dialogue, but since he's no slacker he gets right back to work coming up with ridiculously complicated cause/effect procedures for the next kill. Meanwhile, the hopeless teenagers scramble about looking at pictures of themselves taken right before the freak roller coaster accident in order to determine how Death plans to kill them on his second attempt. Not all of the roller coaster survivors take Wendy seriously, however, so they are punished for their lack of faith by dying in grisly yet wonderfully orchestrated death traps.

I seriously didn't realize how incredibly pissed Death was at having failed with his roller coaster plan--he's really getting a bit uptight lately. The death scenes were actually comical in their gruesomeness, but I suspect that this was intentional. And perhaps I've finally become desensitized to bad dialogue, but I didn't think the script or storyline for this film was all that terrible--at least, not for a movie of this sort anyway. There's nothing really surprising in this movie for those who have watched the first two films, although the level of gore in this one was a bit of a jolt. I suppose the lesson here is not to mess with Death's design when it's "that time of the month" for him. I have to say I was definitely entertained though, at times laughing even as I felt extremely tense.

I recommend Final Destination 3 to anyone who liked the first two movies, or to anyone who enjoys teenybopper horror films. Me, I'm anxious to see what they come up with for the next sequel. Final Destination 4: Death Vs the I.R.S. Whoever wins, we lose. Damnit I should have been a Hollywood screenwriter!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Apparently bad guys have still not figured out that Harrison Ford, while 60-some years old, will simply not stand for anyone threatening his family/national security/powerful religious relics/peace throughout the galaxy.

This time Harrison Ford plays Jack Stanfield, a high-tech banking executive who relentlessly devotes his life to protecting the customers at his bank, no matter what. He's a loving husband and father, of course, and therefore always ensures that he is home on time for pizza night, no matter how busy his day at work. After spending the day fending off would-be hackers with clever firewall protection and convincing the new president of the company, Terminator T-1000 (Robert Patrick), that any amount of fraud loss and/or stabbing of customers with one's metallic arms is simply unacceptable, his business partner and friend, Harry (Robert Forster), talks Jack into a quick meeting with a potential new business partner, Bill Cox (Paul Bettany). While this will make Jack about a half hour late for pizza night with the family, he agrees to hear the guy out for a minute or two. Unfortunately, the meeting turns out to be a setup, and Bill Cox threatens Jack with a gun and instructs him to drive home, whereupon he finds his family tied up. Cox then informs Jack that he will either help Cox and his evil henchmen steal $100,000,000 from the bank, or they will kill Jack's family. Ohhhh, big mistake, pal. Nonetheless, Jack is forced to do as the henchmen say for the time being, and he sets to work trying to thwart Cox's plans in the least violent way possible. At first. This proves to be somewhat of a challenge, however, as Cox and his henchmen have put together a fairly solid plan to manipulate Jack into the theft. Apparently this evil-doer is a little more prepared to engage Harrison Ford in a battle of wits and might than some of his evil predecessors.

But still, the man did threaten Ford's family, which is usually the worst of all offenses one can commit against Harrison Ford. Nonetheless, Jack is still willing, at this point, to continue playing nice with the bad guys, and after attempting and subsequently failing in every trick and escape strategy of which he can conceive to save his family, Jack reluctantly resigns to rip off the bank's richest customers in order to ensure the safe release of his wife and kids. Or does he?

All in all, I really enjoyed this movie. While I felt safe in my assumption that everything would turn out ok for Jack and his family in the end, I still found myself quite nervous and tense throughout the last hour of the movie. For a thriller, I was really quite surprised at how suspenseful Firewall turned out to be, as I was fully expecting the same ol' same ol' from this movie. Harrison Ford does his usual, convincing job in the portrayal of an ordinary man pushed entirely to the brink, and while there were a few minor plot holes, the storyline was relatively believable. At least, enough so that I was not irritated with complete implausibility and ridiculousness. To a certain extent, thrillers are supposed to be ridiculous and outside the realm of reality, but this one was a great balance of outlandishness and believability. I highly recommend Firewall, as it is thoroughly suspenseful and pleasantly well-written. Plus, who doesn't like to watch Harrison Ford give bad guys their deserved comeuppance?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

When a Stranger Calls 

You know that scene toward the beginning of Scream where Sidney gets a mysterious phone call or two, blows them off at first, starts to get a little spooked, and is then attacked by the ghost face guy? That entire sequence might have taken up about 10 minutes, max. Now imagine that entire exchange being drawn out for an hour and a half longer, and you will have just watched When a Stranger Calls.

I should just stop there, as that's probably the best review for this movie that you will ever get. But, I blew two hours and $17 (including candy), so why not waste another hour writing a more in-depth analysis, shall we? Let's start with the candy: the raisinets were pretty tasty, but my favorite part of the mix was by far the red sour patch kids. I was glad that I had decided at the last second to throw in some reese's pieces, because they added a nice peanut-buttery flair to the snack that would otherwise have made for a rather bland chocolate/sour mix. On the other hand, I was a little annoyed that the reese's pieces and raisinets were so indistinguishable in the darkened theater, as more than once I bit into a raisinet anticipating a reese's piece--it's a very discomforting sensation to eat a mushy chocolate raisin when one expects the hard candy shell coating around peanut butter. I'll never mix the two candies in the same bag ever again, I tell you.

So anyway, this high school girl, Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle), goes out to an isolated house in the middle of the woods to babysit for a wealthy couple. First, however, the filmmakers are careful to firmly establish that Jill is a super-fast sprinter on the track team, which is ostensibly done for purposes of exposition that will no doubt come into play later as Jill runs frantically away from some random ne'er do well. She is given a quick tour of the house, wherein it is also firmly established that all the interior lights are motion-sensor detection, so she will not have to flip any light switches whatsoever, as the lights will come on automatically as she enters a room and go off as she exits. Fairly standard for motion detection, I would think, but not in this movie. The two children whom Jill will be watching are apparently recovering from the flu and were put to bed prior to her arrival, so the parents ask that Jill not wake them up as they will most likely die if returned to a conscious state before morning. So, as soon as the parents leave and Jill begins to settle into some homework, a creepy guy starts calling and doing some serious heavy-breathing. After the filmmakers have exhausted every "false alarm" scenario that they can think of, including the cat that runs around and apparently sets off the alarm system, the stranger finally stops breathing long enough to ask Jill whether she has checked on the kids lately. Feeling sufficiently creeped out, she phones the police and they tell her they will start tracing the calls, which are coming from inside the house. (!) Like, oh. My. God.

I think every pre-pubescent girl has heard this particular scary story many times, and I admit that I used to get that unsettling feeling when I used to babysit, worried that it might actually happen to me. I mean it is a good scary story.

For junior high girls.

There was about 30 minutes of actual story, meaning that the remaining hour was filled with foreboding music and sweeping shots of the darkening sky outside. Literally. My favorite part, however, was when the family cat, who had spent most of his evening running around the house making the lights go on and off, went ahead and ate a live bird. It was seriously cool as hell, and they spent a good 5 seconds on it at least. I was even more impressed with its mastery of the lights, which seemed to be less about motion-detection and more about going on or off when it would be most frightening to Jill.

I don't recommend this movie. Unlike a good horror movie, it was not scary. And unlike a bad horror movie, it was not funny. It was just boring.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Big Momma's House 2 

Well come on, what do you expect? I imagine that if you find yourself in the theater watching this movie then you are either:

a). someone who likes dudes in fat woman drag
b). a huge Martin Lawrence fan with undying loyalty and devotion
c). sacrificing yourself for the good of mankind (me)

FBI agent Malcolm Turner (Martin Lawrence) has married Sherry (Nia Long) from the first movie, and in typical fashion she has demanded that he give up his Porsche and dangerous field work in favor of a minivan and a desk job. Malcolm dutifully complies, and the FBI sends him out on a vital mission that is crucial to our domestic security: teaching children about safety while dressed in an eagle costume. He's not completely happy about his new job, but with a baby on the way he's willing to sacrifice his professional goals. Nevertheless, nefarious schemes are still afoot, and Malcolm's former mentor is shot and killed while undercover. As is customary for the FBI apparently, Malcolm's boss orders him to keep his nose out of the investigation even though he is by far their best field agent. Not to be deterred, however, Malcolm quickly discovers that the main suspect in the case is business executive Tom Fuller (Mark Moses), so he decides to go undercover as Fuller's nanny, unbeknownst to his superiors at the FBI or Sherry. And what identity should he choose but that of Big Momma! On comes the fat suit and the hilarity!*

Big Momma/Malcolm is unfortunately not prepared for all the housework and shuttling of children that is required for his cover to work, so he has to come up with clever ideas in order to trick Mrs. Fuller (Emily Procter) into thinking that he has completed the nanny's daily responsibilities. He isn't sure how to fix breakfast for the kids, but, thinking fast and on the fly, he pulls a MacGyver and pours the milk directly into the cereal box! Similarly, rather than waste time trying to decipher the complex instructions on the washing machine (pour soap, press start), he improvises and throws the family's clothes away. Haha, Mrs. Fuller will never notice! Pure comedy. Next he sets to work fixing the family's problems--little Carrie Fuller isn't a good cheerleader, so he teaches her some moves. Andrew Fuller eats brillo pads and flings himself off high kitchen appliances, so Big Momma just calls him "two kinds of crazy" and moves on. Having nearly forgotten about his actual mission up to this point, he snoops around the house for a bit and copies some random files on the Fuller's home computer. All in a day's work, really.

This movie actually wasn't horrible, and I did find myself smiling here and there. Martin Lawrence himself is just an all-around entertaining and funny guy, so even in the context of this movie he was still relatively fun to watch. The Big Momma character was harmless enough, and provided a mild source of general pleasantness, but as a whole this movie was pretty uninspiring. Granted, Big Momma's House 2 certainly isn't meant to be anything other than a silly little comedy, but I don't think it's worth a $10 trip to the theaters unless you are into this sort of throwaway humor. Besides, there is probably a Big Momma's House 3 in the works, as Malcolm outright threatens the audience with another sequel at the end. He warns to keep a lookout, because you never know when Big Momma will return--so you know, stay on the edge of your seats.

*film is not hilarious

Thursday, February 02, 2006


You'd think that a movie centered on the Naval Academy, with the tagline "50,000 Apply, 1,200 Are Accepted, Only the Best Survive," along with, say, previews that suggest a young cadet's struggle to become a leader under the grueling training of his Lieutenant, would therefore actually be about the difficulties in becoming a Naval Officer. But no, you would be wrong. This movie is about boxing. Haha, suckers!

No seriously, this movie really is about boxing. Yes, I was pretty confused as well, but nevertheless, that's the plot. Jake Huard (James Franco) works in battleship construction across the lake from the U.S. Naval Academy, and dreams of one day becoming a Naval Officer by attending the prestigious and selective school. He bides his time on the waitlist, however, and keeps in excellent physical condition by competing in the boxing ring. Cleverly, the filmmakers demonstrate Huard's toughness in the opening scene, when he is nearly knocked out and defeated at the hands of a superior fighter, only to get back up again and keep fighting, winning the round through sheer determination of will. He gets accepted into the academy the following day, ostensibly because one of the officers at the academy spends all his spare time in local boxing rings scouting for undiscovered talent. Again, I'm not making this up--one of the officers really was present at the local match, just hangin' out. So, despite Huard's mediocre grades and test scores, the Naval Academy makes an exception to their "best of the best" rule, which must be more of a guideline really. It's important to note that his father does not support this decision, and feels that Huard would best be served to join the workers union and never pursue any of his goals or dreams. I'm sure his father will not later realize that he was wrong and subsequently tell Huard that he is in fact proud. Surely.

For their first year of training, the cadets are introduced to Lt. Cole (Tyrese Gibson), who has served an astonishing three whole years in the Marines already, and is therefore the meanest motherfucker you have ever met! Huard's other superior officers include the sexy Lt. Ali (Jordana Brewster), and none other than Donnie Wahlberg himself, who has apparently left his New Kids on the Block days firmly behind him, and now just wants to kick cadet ass..."step by step." I'm sorry-I'm sorry, I couldn't resist. Huard has little difficulty with the physical training, but he struggles with his academics and is routinely humiliated in front of his class for not being able to remember the latitude/longitude of Annapolis! What a doof! It is at this point in the movie when what appears to be a boxing "subplot" actually becomes the main one, and Huard decides he's going to devote every second of his free time to practicing for "Brigades"--the school-wide boxing tournament held at the end of every year. One would think that as he is on the brink of flunking out, that he would instead consider studying, but well, we've already established that he's an idiot. He enlists the help of Lt. Ali to help him train, and the rest of the movie is essentially a musical montage of his boxing practices. Furthermore, despite the fact that Huard makes a point to tell his buddies about the cadets who get expelled for dating each other, and Lt. Ali's re-emphasizing the "no fraternization" rule, she is helpless to resist his charms and the ridiculous "oops I fell over scene" actually takes place.

In the span of 3 minutes, every line from the "How to Make a Movie for Dummies" book was hurled at the audience in full force. I mean we're talking some serious boxing/climactic sports moment clichés here:
-"That's my boy right there, that's my boy!" (x1)
-"He's gotta pace himself" (x2)
-"He's gotta slow it down" (x2)
-"Stay off the ropes" (x3)
-"Yeah, that Huard's a tough kid"/"he's a tough kid" (x2)
-"Yeah, stay down!" (x1)

I even heard someone yell "Defense!" a couple of times, apparently delirious and under the impression he was an extra in Glory Road rather than Annapolis.

It wasn't just the absurd overuse of clichés that irritated me about this movie--it was also extremely boring, with some of the worst dialogue I have ever heard in my life. It was like watching the convergence of all the worst elements of film in a cinematic particle accelerator--it actually would have been funny if the filmmakers weren't taking this movie so seriously. Don't spend $10 to see this movie in the theater, don't rent it, don't buy it, don't even look at it. You'll only encourage the filmmakers by reacting to it. Just walk away.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Last Holiday 

Seriously, what is it about Queen Latifah that makes her so damn likable? It honestly seems near-impossible to dislike her movies (Taxi probably being an exception), because every time she is on screen I just can't help but smile. It makes complete sense then, when all the other characters save but a few enjoy her presence as well, because to do otherwise just seems idiotic. It would be like hating sunshine.

Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) works as a cookware sales clerk at a Crate and Barrel type store, where she secretly harbors a crush on LL Cool J, or more specifically his character, Sean Matthews--a coworker in outdoor sales. She is of course too shy to talk to Sean despite the urgings of another coworker, who constantly tries to convince Georgia to wear sexier clothes and flirt with Sean. Instead, Georgia goes home every night, cooks delicious recipes by Emeril and then feeds them to her young neighbor, Darius (Jascha Washington), while she eats Lean Cuisine and pores over her "Possibilities" book--a collection of places, food, and people that she wants to visit/eat/meet someday. And oh yeah, she cuts out pictures of her head and pastes them onto bridal pictures, with coworker Sean as the groom--which is totally not creepy in any way. As it happens, Sean seems to have a crush on her as well, but just when it seems that he is going to ask her out, Georgia hits her head and has to go in for CAT scans, which reveal that she has a terminal illness and just three weeks left to live. HAHAHAHA! Oh it's so goofy and funny. Anyway, her HMO won't cover the $340,000 operation, so she decides to liquidate her retirement funds and dash off to a ski resort in the Czech Republic, where she checks in to the $4,000/night presidential suite at the Grand Hotel Pupp. She intends to live out her remaining weeks to their fullest, with spa treatments, snowboarding lessons, base jumping, and by tasting everything on a menu prepared by world-famous chef, Didier (Gérard Depardieu).

As it happens, Matthew Kragen (Timothy Hutton), the owner of the Crate and Barrel type store where Georgia just quit, and his mistress are also at the resort, along with Louisiana Senator Dillings (Giancarlo Esposito) and Congressman Stewart (Michael Nouri) to work out a deal that will save Kragen's failing business. When they see the hotel staff eagerly tending to Georgia's every need, they assume that she is someone extremely rich and important, and make efforts to ingratiate themselves to her. While Georgia simply wants to relax and do some of the things she has always dreamed of trying, everyone else desperately attempts to figure out who she is. With the exception of Kragen, they all soon find themselves quite taken with her good natured and devil-may-care attitude toward life. As for Georgia herself, she learns a valuable lesson about living life to its fullest, teaching herself as well as everyone around her to make each day count. I'm sure you get the idea.

The plot itself is nothing special, but what makes the movie interesting and worthwhile is Queen Latifah herself. As with all the characters in the story, the viewer too wants to spend more time with Georgia and hopes the best for her in the end. There were a few laughs here and there, but mostly I just smiled throughout. Basically the whole movie felt like a great big warm hug with a few home-baked cookies on your way out. Good cookies too, not burned at all.

This is the perfect movie to see if you want a picker-upper, and I can't stress enough how curiously enigmatic Queen Latifah is as the star. But I still won't go see Taxi. Women will probably be more into this than men, but it's nice and pleasant enough such that it won't bother you if your girl drags you along.