Category: Movie Reviews

Movie Review – The Last Airbender

Plot: The Four nations of Water, Earth, Fire and Air lived in peace for centuries, protected by the Avatar who has the power to control all four elements.  Young Aang (Noah Ringer) was the next Avatar in line until he disappeared, frozen in ice for a hundred years.  The Fire Nation has declared war and is close to controlling all the nations, but Aang is finally discovered by Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) of the Water Tribe.  Aang is the last hope to bring peace to the four nations, but he must learn to master all the elements.

You would think a movie where people can bend and control elements would be pretty damn cool, but instead it’s boring and poorly directed by a man who is falling faster than Blockbuster Video: M. Night Shyamalan.  What happened to this guy?  His first two films (The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable) were downright spectacular, and then for some reason he lost the ability to direct a good movie.  I know some people really like Signs, but I hate it.  Regardless, The Last Airbender’s premise was a lay-up; A bunch of dudes who can fight using fire, water, the earth and air.  Come on!  You can’t make that cool?  But what’s worse than the directing is the terrible acting.

I feel bad calling out the acting because it’s almost all kids, but really, this is Jake Lloyd/The Phantom Menace level acting going on.  It’s a smorgasbord of overacting, awful delivery and laughable facial expressions.  Noah Ringer plays the hero, Aang, and man is he bad.  You know you are experiencing bad acting when it takes you out of the movie.  And that’s what Ringer does every time he speaks a line of dialogue.  There’s one scene where he’s rallying the troops in the Earth tribe.  I imagine this is what the speeches were like in the Detroit Lions locker room before every game in their 0-16 season.  It was that poorly delivered.

Jackson Rathbone is equally as bad as Sokka.  Nicola Peltz as Katara was passable, only because she is a very likable character.  But really, all these characters have no pulse.  They are all static and monotone with no personality.  The one character that seemed to be salvaged was Dev Patel as Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation.

Patel gave a strong performance, but he was also the only character that was well developed and had a sympathetic back story even though he’s a big villain here.  You really understand his drive to capture the Avatar Aang and why he is so vengeful.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about our protagonist.

Shyamalan does a horrific job of explaining to the audience why Aang is important.  Yeah, we get the idea he’s the only one capable of controlling the elements and bringing peace, but his true power is never explained.  We’ll have random scenes of him talking to spirits in really lame dream sequences.  How does this happen?  If this is the Avatar’s true gift, than how come he can commune with the spirits before he can even master controlling all the elements?  These scenes just happen with no explanation.

Now maybe the movie can be salvaged with some cool fighting sequences, right?  Nope.  They are actually filmed really poorly.  The worst part is that they are hokey when they should look awesome.  One scene in particular is when they are in the Earth nation and these warriors almost do a silly Lord of the Dance sequence when they should be tearing up the earth.  I’m supposed to take this seriously, but the fights are a joke.  The use of the elemental powers are weak as hell.  And when there isn’t fighting going on, the film has nothing to offer.  Nothing.  It is a black abyss of horrible acting and yawn inducing scenes.  The end battle is decent, which at least brings this film some solid entertainment value.

As bad as the acting is though, the man to blame here is M. Night Shyamalan.  I feel like he was asleep while making this movie.  There are important plot points that are not even shown that you feel like were accidentally left out, like you went to the bathroom for five minutes even though you didn’t.  Now that’s just lazy filmmaking.  This is really great source material but there is nothing about this worth recommending.  It’s a bad movie.  I would give this series another chance if they brought in another director, but seriously, M. Night, go away.

Rating: 4.5 out of 10

Movie Review – Toy Story 3

Plot: Andy (John Morris) is heading off to college and his long time toys are headed for Sunnyside Day-Care Center.  At first it’s a welcome and exciting change, but the toys are soon abused and misused by the toddlers.  Led by Woody (Tom Hanks), the toys attempt to break out of day-care and head back for Andy’s house.

This may be the best Pixar movie I’ve ever seen.  The other two Toy Story films are very good movies, but this one transcends very good.  It is truly a great film, and so far the best of the year.  Where so many third films fail horribly, this one outdoes its predecessors.  Kids will enjoy this just fine, but Toy Story 3 is made for adults, and especially those just entering adulthood.

What separates this from the other two movies is that they were solely focused on one character.  The first Toy Story primarily revolved around Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and his coming to terms with being nothing more than a toy.  The second film is about Woody and his desire to be special by being part of a collection to be gawked at in a museum.  Toy Story 3 is about these toys as a group.  We’ve always seen the camaraderie between the toys, but here it really hits home.

Andy, their owner, is leaving for college, and they don’t know what will happen to them.  But whatever decision is made, they vow to do it together.  The first act of this movie is very somber.  We all remember in the first film how there seemed to be hundreds and hundreds of toys.  When Toy Story 3 opens, it’s only a handful of toys left as they sit around in Andy’s dark and empty room as their last days loom.  This is some dark stuff for a kid’s movie.

The movie is also just as funny as the others though.  Unlike the Shrek films, the characters are still fresh.  The eleven year gap between films was good for this series.  Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are as great as ever as Woody and Buzz.  My favorite character was always Rex the dinosaur (Wallace Shawn), and I liked him just as much as I did before.  They introduce a fantastic villain and really develop him with a clever and sad back story.  Michael Keaton also voices Ken (of Ken and Barbie fame), which was pretty damn funny.  My only real complaint with the characters is what they do with Buzz in the middle of the film.  They have this long running joke with his voice getting switched, but it goes on too long.

Toy Story 3 uses a lot of the same tricks such as playing the environment against the toys’ size, which is always fascinating to watch.  As the movie is partially a prison break story, they really have a lot of fun with it.  Even if you’re not into the story, although I can’t imagine you wouldn’t be, you will be dazzled by the visuals, especially the first sequence of the film.

But the heart of the movie is in its last half hour.  I do not want to spoil anything, but the last action sequence was pretty emotional and heart pounding.  Although the end drags on a bit, I cannot think of a better way to end a trilogy.  It’s great for kids, but better for adults.  I’ve always enjoyed Pixar movies, but I think they finally made a masterpiece with this one.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Movie Review – The Karate Kid (2010)

Plot: A remake of the 1984 classic.  12 year-old Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) moves to China with his mother (Taraji P. Henson) and is instantly the target of Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), a bully who is also a top kung-fu student.  Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), a reclusive maintenance man in Dre’s apartment building, teaches him kung-fu and prepares Dre for an upcoming tournament in which Cheng will also partake in.

The 1984 Karate Kid is one of my favorite movies of all time, so it was really hard for me to get into this remake.  But I’ll come right out and say it; there is absolutely no reason for this movie to exist.  This is not just me being nostalgic.  If you want to see The Karate Kid, than go see the original.  This remake does absolutely nothing new.  It is scene for scene the original with different character names and a different setting.  I’m not just talking about similar scenes.  It’s every single detail.  This is the prime example of how to do remakes/reboots wrong.  Why did Batman Begins work?  It did something new with the character and franchise.  Why did Superman Returns fail?  It’s a worse rehash of the original.  We have the same thing here:  A pathetic retelling of a classic movie.

It’s not just the same exact scenes and conflicts that are copied.  Character reactions and dialogue are ripped right from the original, but they try and slightly tweak them to seem different.  Let me give you some examples.  In the original, when Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) first asks Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) to fix the kitchen faucet, he gets a little scared and closes the screen door.  Dre Parker does the exact same thing action for action in this scene.  Oh, but this time he’s asking Mr. Han to fix the shower head.  Oh, that is so different.  Wow.  How clever.  I’m glad they remade this.  I know it seems like that’s some random detail, but if you’ve seen the original Karate Kid, you’ll notice 800 of the same details happening.  The characters literally mimic everything the original actors did.

The dialogue is really what’s pathetic though and drove me nuts.  This is how much effort they put into this script.  In the original, Mr. Miyagi tells the bad guy karate master, John Kreese (Martin Kove), that it’s not fair for Daniel to face a 5 to 1 problem.  In this version, Mr. Han asks the bad kung-fu master it’s not fair for Dre to face a 6 to 1 problem.  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Now I know what you’re saying.  “Hey, I haven’t seen the original Karate Kid, so this was all new to me.”  But what you don’t realize is that the original is a superior film and I’m going to tell you why.

Like I said, this remake just spits out the same scenes from the original, but they are more drawn out and boring.  The director (Harald Zwart) tries to make it this big epic spectacle, but it’s completely uninteresting.  What made the original work was its subtlety.  Everything that happened was believable.  This is where this version truly fails.

One of my favorite parts about the original Karate Kid were the training scenes.  If you haven’t seen the original or this remake, I’m going to give away some spoilers in the next two paragraphs, so be warned.  Mr. Miyagi has Daniel basically do house chores like waxing cars, painting fences and so on.  Like Daniel, you get frustrated because you aren’t sure where it’s going.  But when you finally realize Mr. Miyagi is teaching him how to block, it really hits you hard.  The reveal of that scene was not over the top.  It was believable, which is why it was so amazing.

In this remake, they do this lame “Jacket on/jacket off” thing for about fifteen minutes.  And when the scene finally comes where Dre realizes he is learning kung-fu, it’s complete garbage.  He’s doing all kinds of advanced moves that had no correlation to the “jacket on/jacket off” motion.  It’s totally ridiculous.  The film wants you to buy this as believable like the original, but it fails horribly.  And the tournament at the end is worse.  Dre is doing moves that no human being could learn in the amount of time he had.  But in the original Karate Kid, the stuff Daniel learned was totally believable.

The training scenes in general are total crap.  They are way too long.  They are boring as hell, and there is nothing clever about them.  There is one scene in the movie where Dre and Mr. Han are climbing these long steps.  It lasted for eternity.

Is there anything I liked about this remake?  Jackie Chan held his own as Mr. Han.  This is certainly one of his better acting performances.  But his character actually leads me into something else I hated about the film.  When Mr. Han rescues Dre from the gang of kung-fu bullies, they have this six minute comedic fight.  What made Mr. Miyagi so bad ass in the original was that he defeated the bullies in about ten seconds.  Isn’t that more powerful than some lame drawn out comedic fight sequence?  I guess that’s just me.  Jaden Smith is okay, but he lacks a lot of charisma in the role.  At times, he’s just going through the motions.

So please, if you are going to take your kids to see The Karate Kid movie, don’t go to this one.  Just show them the original.   The only thing outdated about the original is the music.  All they did was take the original script and used a thesaurus to replace certain words in the dialogue.  This was an astonishingly bad remake.  Leaving out the comparisons to the original, it’s simply just a really boring movie.  The training scenes bored me to tears.

It’s a bad movie.  I have nothing else to say.

Rating: 4.0 out of 10 (Bad)

Movie Review – Kick-Ass

Plot:  Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a nerd whose only real passion is comic books.  Wondering why no ordinary person has ever tried to become a super hero, Dave takes on the mantle of “Kick-Ass,” whose only power is taking a beating.  Despite getting his ass kicked, he gains a YouTube following, meets some real bad ass vigilantes and becomes the target of a mob kingpin.

Kick-Ass is really…no, I won’t use that joke.  But I will tell you that Kick-Ass is a damn good movie.  First and foremost, this is a comedy, but it has the right blend of super hero elements to make it a real compelling movie rather than just a simple parody.  It has a very interesting structure.  The first act is a comedy.  The second act is a mix between comedy/action.  And the last third is pure super hero action.

What makes Kick-Ass so interesting is that it begins as a run of the mill teenage comedy.  Dave is a geek who fantasizes romantically about his teacher and hangs out at comic book store with his two nerdy friends.  He endures the normal problems that only occur in high school.  The dialogue is snappy and funny, and the characters are likable.  The comic book elements come into play early, but they are all subtle knocks at the genre.  They work well together.

It’s not until Dave puts on the Kick-Ass garb where the movie starts to get real good.  Because they set it up as a typical high school movie where Dave is a typical high school kid, it makes you really fear for his life when he goes out to fight crime.  The second half really is a different film, which works for and against it.

Kick-Ass eventually moves towards a more traditional super hero tale.  The film loses its original focus and gets especially whacky and over the top towards the end.  They also gloss over some pretty serious moral dilemmas.  A lot of bad stuff happens as a result of this guy becoming Kick-Ass that they don’t dwell or explore it at all.  I understand the director (Matthew Vaughn) wanted to keep it lighthearted, and the stuff in here is just too damn good, so I have to let it slide.

The real heart of the movie though are the colorful characters.  The actors bring their A-game.  Nicolas Cage was my favorite part, playing Damon Macready, also known as the vigilante Big Daddy.  What the director brilliantly does is that you don’t see very much of Big Daddy fighting, but when you do, it’s a spectacle!  He really makes you salivate and want more.

I would also be remissed if I didn’t mention his daughter, Mindy Macready (alter-ego Hit Girl).  She is played brilliantly by Chloe Grace Moretz.  Not only does she take out a gazillion mob guys in the span of two seconds, but Moretz plays the character to perfection with a maturity level beyond her years.  She is probably the most fascinating character.

Speaking of mob guys, Mark Strong plays the main baddie, Frank D’Amico.  Now this easily could have been just another cliché and interchangeable mob boss, but it’s not.  There’s enough flavor and spunk to this guy that I actually got invested in his character.  He is very much written like a generic crime boss, but there is something about Strong’s performance that keeps him fresh.  To be able to play such a tired role and keep it interesting gives Strong an A+ acting job in my book.

If you like super heroes and comics, you will love this movie.  There is a lot of violence, but it’s not ridiculous with blood splashing all over the screen.  It’s a great dose of both bad ass and comedic action.  That’s the biggest strength of this film; it mixes genres successfully.  Along with a great score and a very memorable final line, Kick-Ass is really…you know.

Rating: 8 out of 10 (Great)

Movie Review – Hot Tub Time Machine

Plot: Three friends (and one nephew) try and re-capture their youth for the weekend by returning to a famed ski lodge in which they always had a memorable time.  But while getting drunk in the hot tub, alcohol short circuits the wiring sending them back to the 80’s.  Will they mess with the past or follow the space time continuum rules?

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie this funny.  Sure, this past decade had some great comedies like The Royal Tenenbaums and Tropic Thunder, but I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time.  This is in the vain of comedies from yesteryear; Clever, but don’t take themselves too seriously and are consistently hilarious.  Comedies don’t have to shock you with gross out jokes.  They don’t have to have Will Ferrell dancing around like a buffoon.  They don’t have to have Vince Vaughn talking really fast.  They just need to be funny.  Hot Tub Time Machine is a simple story, but so uproarious.

What’s great about this film is that it doesn’t just say, “Hey, let’s make fun of the 80’s and ride that all the way to the bank.”  It’s about the characters, not the time period.  And the characters are all consistently funny.  I have to admit, I’ve never seen a John Cusack movie I liked.  I always thought of this guy as Mr. Mediocre.  His movies don’t suck, but they aren’t super memorable either.  And he’s always just kind of…there.  But in Hut Tub Time Machine, I finally saw the comedic talent.  Cusack plays Adam, the straight man of the group, and he plays it to perfection; so well in fact that I love when he strays from that persona, but he never goes overboard.  He’s extremely likable in this movie.

The man who steals the show though is Lou, played by Rob Corddry, the wild man of the group who is throwing out swears like peanuts at a baseball game.  You always have to have that guy in these types of movies.  Sometimes they are great, but sometimes they fail horribly.  What I love about this character is that he’s the money hungry pathetic jackass, but he realizes it.  Most of these types of characters in comedies are not aware of this, making them annoying and detestable.

There are some fantastic supporting roles here as well.  Crispin Glover of Back to the Future fame is hysterical, having one of the funniest long running jokes I’ve ever seen in a movie.  This joke is brought up constantly, but doesn’t get old.  Now that’s the sign of a great comedy.  I have to say though, one of the characters I was looking forward to the most was Chevy Chase as the mystical Hot Tub repairman.  It’s not that he was bad, but he never made me laugh.  I know Chase has hit the skids the last few years, but I know he’s also capable of more, and I feel he was underutilized.  He just kind of comes in, says a random line, and leaves.  Unfortunately, this was the worst part of the movie.

Now as I said before, the jokes rarely derive from the fact that these dudes are in the 80’s.  However, there are some very subtle and clever little 80’s throwbacks that you really have to pay attention for that are gut-wrenchingly funny.  There is one towards the end taking a shot at Karate Kid that is barely audible, but if you hear it and know Karate Kid, you will crack up.  I did.  And I love the clever throwbacks to other famous time travel movies like Back to the Future and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  This is how you make fun of a time period.  It’s not shoving the clothes and hairstyles down your throat, but subtle hints.

And like I said, it doesn’t play off cheap gross out jokes.  Sure, there is some potty humor here, but it’s done in smart ways like There’s Something about Mary and not a bad Kevin Smith movie.

If you’re like me and haven’t laughed really hard at the movies in a long time, then go see this one.  This absolutely trumps recent comedic hits like The Hangover or Wedding Crashers.  It’s not that these movies are bad, it’s just that I don’t laugh a lot when I see them.  I get chuckles here and there, but Hot Tub Time Machine brings you genuine laughs.

Rating: 8 out of 10 (Great)

Movie Review – Shutter Island

Plot: Set in 1954.  When a prisoner escapes Shutter Island (a high security rehabilitation hospital for the criminally insane), Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) leads the investigation.  Daniels discovers more is going on than a simple escape as he unravels potentially illegal and frightening practices by the Hospital’s Doctors while also trying to keep his own sanity.

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, back together again; the Joe Montana and Jerry Rice of the movie scene if you will.  Certainly not their best effort, but a very strong film nonetheless.  When you go see Shutter Island though, make sure you pay attention.  Scorsese is arguably the greatest director of all time, but his one weakness is pushing scenes a little too long.  Has the guy ever done a movie under 150 minutes?  This is quite apparent in Shutter Island, but it’s not enough to derail this visually beautiful paranoia/insane romp through one of the freakiest hospitals/prisons I’ve ever seen on film.

Let’s talk about the visuals for a bit.  Wow.  This film looks gorgeous.  Many of the scenes in Shutter Island are hallucinations, and they look outstanding.  One in particular is when Teddy Daniels is surrounded by a building of fire, and I just couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.  Although these “dream sequences” go on way too long, it looks so good that I don’t even care.  Scorsese is very good at keeping you interested even when a scene drags on.

Leonardo DiCaprio.  What can I say?  He’s great as always, and probably my favorite actor out there today.  His performance is so perfected.  Every line he delivers, every facial tick is carefully calculated and played out.  Everyone shines in this movie.  Ben Kingsley.  Michelle Williams.  Emily Mortimer.  And two great cameos from Jackie Earle Haley and Elias Koteas.  Unfortunately, Mark Ruffalo as Daniel’s partner, Chuck Aule, is mediocre.  Not bad, but just looks JV compared to everyone else.  Sorry, Mark.  But other than that, if you love watching great performances, then a Scorsese movie is always a good bet.

As good as everyone is, DiCaprio really has to carry this.  He’s basically in every single scene.  This is a near two and a half hour movie, and it’s all about Leo.  That’s it.  Fortunately Leo is more than up to the task, although it might be too much screen time.  Give another character the chance to shine.  Even when he has a one-on-one moment with another character, the focus is solely on him.

I think there were also a couple scenes and sub-plots that didn’t add anything that they spend way too much time on.  The film refers back to Daniel’s war history several times.  While interesting and visually compelling, I don’t think this was all that important to the core of the film, and they spend a lot of time on it.  There is also a lengthy scene in which Daniels talks to the Warden (Ted Levine) that has some interesting dialogue, but it really doesn’t need to be there and goes on forever.  Maybe if I watch it again it will mean something.

In fact, this movie begs you to watch it twice.  They have such a good set-up that you want to rip right through to the end to see what the hell is going on.  This is both a strength and a weakness as you will miss crucial detail.

While the end is a pretty darn good pay-off, I will warn you it’s a tad ambiguous, which will understandably anger some people.  Normally this would anger me as well, but I think because it’s Scorsese, I let it slide.

Bottom-line: this is a film worth seeing.  I think it drags in a lot of areas and it’s excruciatingly repetitive, and even though there are great performances all around, DiCaprio’s Ted Daniels is the only real intriguing character.  I think there are plenty of interesting characters on this island, but they just weren’t explored enough.  Pay attention and be prepared to reflect and think afterwards.

Rating: 7.5 out 10.

Movie Review – Avatar

Plot:  It is years into the future.  The Military travels to the planet Pandora in the hopes of digging up hordes of rock that is extremely valuable to Earth, but they are met with resistance by the planet’s inhabitance, the Navi.  Jake Sully (a paralyzed soldier) is put in the body of a Navi (an Avatar) in the hopes that he will find a weakness, but Jake ends up growing attached to their culture.   

Avatar is a very good movie.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and think you should go see it, but it’s not an “Oh My God, I can’t believe what I just saw!  Holy crap, I’m going to be talking about this for the next twenty years” type movie.  Although I’m sure most people will have that sentiment.  I’ll say this about Avatar:  For the first third, I was pretty damn close to thinking that way.  The special effects are the best I’ve ever seen…for maybe about a half hour.  Unfortunately, my big gripe with Avatar is with the second half.  It was a “been there, done that,” and I wanted more based on how the first act began.  But let’s dive into this near three hour budget breaking bonanza, shall we?

When we first see the humans put into their Navi-Avatars (those blue guys in the trailer), my jaw dropped.  I’ve never been a special effects guy.  I’ve always felt special effects should be in the background and maybe enhance a movie’s story here and there, but when I do see remarkable special effects, everything else takes a back seat.  It’s rare, but Avatar gets that distinction.  The effects especially had me tingling when you see the Navi interacting with their environment.  Holy crap.  This is astounding.  The facial expressions were downright scary in how realistic they looked.  I felt like I was more CG than these things.  The lighting and how the trees and forest react to the Navi is mesmerizing.  The animation in the creatures was all amazing.  Yadda, yadda, yadda.  This is all pretty early on in the movie, but here’s the problem: This is three hours long.  The special effects don’t develop or give you any more variety after the first 30 to 45 minutes.

To be honest, it got pretty boring.  The effects get so repetitive that even though they were unbelievably impressive (and I can’t stress that enough) I got sick of them.  It was either close-up after close-up after close-up of the Navi, or it was particles of trees moving around their bodies.  Show me something else with these awesome effects, or don’t make a three hour movie!  Enough already, I get it.

Then we have the big huge action scene at the end, it was no more special than what I’ve seen in recent movies like Helms Deep in the Two Towers, or the lava planet in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.  Yeah, I compared Avatar to a Star Wars prequel.  Go cry about it.

But enough about the special effects, because there is actually other stuff to discuss.  Now the story is mediocre.  It serves its purpose, but mediocre.  I really liked three of the characters quite a bit.  This movie would have been a lot worse if Sigourney Weaver was not in it.  She is great as the doctor in charge of the Avatar program.  She is capable of carrying a scene entirely on her own.  The other great performance was Zoe Saldana as Neytiri, the Navi we get to know the most.  Her tone and voice flow beautifully with the intention of the scene.  Remember, she was also Uhura in Star Trek this past summer, so big things are ahead for this actress I’m sure.

Then there’s Sam Worthington as the protagonist, Jake Sully.  A very likable guy, solid performance.  You sympathize and enjoy following his character.  There are big things ahead for Sam Worthington as well.  Unfortunately, everyone else in this movie is excruciatingly cliché and predictable.

The biggest problem is the antagonist, the generic strong armed military man, Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang).  He’s so cliché, that he makes other movie clichés seem original again.  I mean really, this was pathetic.  And I’m sorry, I know it’s a movie about special effects, and if it was just a secondary character, I’d let it slide, but this is the antagonist.  It’s too important.  This hurt the movie significantly, especially in the final action scene.  As there’s such an underdeveloped whatever bad guy, I just didn’t feel a whole lot of emotion at the end like I wanted to.  The main protagonists were all good characters, but I needed to see more from the bad guy.

All in all, Avatar is a solid movie.  I like the main characters and the special effects were revolutionary, but the movie is so long, that the effects get stale during the course of the film.  It’s so repetitive and predictable in the second half that I can’t be completely and utterly impressed with it.  When comparing it to something like Star Trek, it’s just not as good because Star Trek gives you so much variety with its effects.  You get planets imploding into themselves, people teleporting in mid-air, epic space battles and that movie had much better characters and a much better story (although I know a lot of people hated the story in Star Trek).

James Cameron is a great director, but this is not his best work.  I’ll take Aliens, Terminator 2 and The Abyss any day.  Those movies had not only ground breaking effects, but moments and scenes of great tension with memorable villains.  While Avatar has some great moments, there are no great scenes.  It sounds like I dislike this movie, but I don’t.  I enjoyed it a great deal.  It’s a very good movie, just not a great one.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.        

Movie Review – The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Plot: After stealing from three wealthy farms, Mr. Fox and his family become fugitives as the farmers declare war and won’t rest until Mr. Fox is found.

In the late 90’s and early part of this decade, Wes Anderson was one of my favorite filmmakers.  Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums are two of my favorite movies.  But after Tenenbaums, he released the very mediocre Life Aquatic and then The Darjeeling Limited three years later, his worst film yet.  But he’s back in a big way with his latest effort, The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Although it’s animated, you can tell it’s a Wes Anderson movie.  The man has a very distinct style that is his own, often very quirky and off-beat.  Normally this style of filmmaking frustrates me to no end such as films like I Heart Huckabees or Burn After Reading.  They are just being weird for the sake of being weird but ultimately say nothing.  I accept Wes Anderson’s style because his weirdness actually enhances who the characters are, and the man writes damn good characters.  Fantastic Mr. Fox has these in bunches, which Anderson’s previous two movies did not.

This is a funny movie.  It’s not laugh-out-loud, but that’s okay.  The story is ‘meh,’ but the characters are off the charts hysterical.  The way they interact with each other and the environment around them is so much fun to watch.  This is credit to the writing, but the voice talents really give the characters their mojo.  George Clooney as Mr. Fox takes some getting used to, but the voice grows on you as the film goes on.  Jason Schwartzman is fantastic as Mr. Fox’s egotistical and underachieving son, Ash.  Bill Murray – great as always.  But the man who steals the show is Wally Wolodarsky as Kylie the possum.  He’s portrayed as a little crazy and unstable (the great visuals attest to this), but his voice is so sensible and subdued.  I loved it.

The best part is the relationship between the father and son, Mr. Fox and Ash.  Both characters are exactly the same, yet one is successful and the other fails.  Mr. Fox is so damn reckless as he literally digs himself into deeper and deeper holes, yet most of the time he comes out the winner.  His son Ash is exactly the same, only he fails miserably at everything he does.  What also makes this relationship fascinating is that Mr. Fox sees his son as different and an oddball, yet he can’t see that he’s the same way and instead bonds with his nephew, Kristofferson (Eric Anderson), who not only has all the talent in the world, but is very zen and has his head on straight.  Mr. Fox thinks Kristofferson is just like him, but they are two very different people.  Watching all these characters clash is what makes a Wes Anderson movie great.

The one big problem I had is that the story is too impulsive.  What I mean is that it just decides to ramp up whenever it wants to with no build up or explanation.  At the beginning of the movie, Mr. Fox decides he’s done stealing from farms, but resorts back to his old ways after years of retirement, just like that.  I understand that the character himself is impulsive, but I didn’t buy this quick turn.  It just happens.

There is also some of that “weird for the sake of being weird” element that adds nothing.  There’s one scene in particular that brought me a great deal of frustration.  The characters just start dancing.  I know why they are dancing, but it felt way out of place, especially because everyone was acting so subdued throughout the movie to this point.

If you are a Wes Anderson fan like me, you are going to love this.  The characters have all their quirks about them, especially in how they dress, which is what I expect in an Anderson flick. They face serious problems like death and family with a seemingly “whatever” attitude, but you still get the sense they care a great deal.  Even if you don’t know or like Anderson, you will enjoy this one a lot.  If anything, the stop motion animation is fun to watch.  You don’t see that anymore.

Rating:  8.0 out of 10.       

Movie Review – District 9

Plot: It’s been almost thirty years since an alien race crashed landed on Earth.  Their ship is damaged making it impossible for them to return home.  They live in terrible conditions in a place called District 9 in South Africa.  When the government tries to relocate them to a new facility, something goes terribly wrong with one of the government officials.

District 9 is a damn good movie, but I think people need to calm down.  It’s not one of the greatest movies ever made.  It’s getting a little more praise than it deserves.  Make no mistake though; it is something that should be seen.  I have to admit that when I saw the trailer, I thought it was just some gimmick like The Blair Witch Project, one of my least favorite movies of all time.  “Oh, so it’s an alien movie, but shot like a documentary.  Yeah, we’ll see how this one turns out.”  Sure, I was a regular Sammy Skeptic, but I thoroughly enjoyed this.

There are only two great characters, but it’s enough.  The government official, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), is very likable at the beginning.  The movie does a great job of getting the audience on his side.  This is good because bad stuff starts to happen to this guy, but he also has some questionable actions.  Copley gives an outstanding performance here, probably the best acting I’ve seen so far this year.

Unfortunately, the human antagonists are pretty ‘meh.’  This hurt the movie a little bit.  I would have liked to have known more about the bad guys.  The other great character is Christopher Johnson (one of the aliens).  He’s one of the few aliens you get to know.  You really feel for this guy and that’s credit to the great direction.

Neil Blomkamp is the director.  This is his first movie, and boy does he have a bright future.  Some of the tension he creates had me sweating bullets.  Easily the best scene for me is when there is a huge standoff in a government building.  There are a lot of realizations about what’s been happening to some of the aliens that come to a head here and the character interaction was gut-wrenching.  It’s one of my favorite scenes so far this year.  The beginning was also great, as we watch the back and forth between the humans and aliens as they argue about being relocated was fascinating.  It was a very strong first half.

The special effects also need to be mentioned.  A lot has been said already about how good they look, and they do look really good.  The amazing part is the budget was about $30-35 million, yet they look so much better than some of the big budget movies like X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  There are so many special effects these days that look like a Saturday morning cartoon, but these actually look real, dammit.  But the special effects are nothing if it’s a sub-par story, and District 9 is very strong in that area.

Unfortunately, there were some elements that bothered me.  The last third of the movie drags on forever.  This really knocked it down a few pegs.  The climax keeps going and going and going.  There are too many character twists.  Enough already, just get to the ending.  I think it was wrapped up nicely and I like the ending a lot, it just takes forever to get there.  It gets so long that it starts to feel like a ‘meh’ sci-fi action flick.  This hurt some of the tension in the end, but you still get the emotional impact you crave.

So all in all, an impressive movie, but it’s not the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.  I think people are overrating to it because of the way it was made.  Yes, it was very original, and we’ve never seen anything like it done before, but I’m not going to give it 500 points just for that.  The Blair Witch Project was original and different too, but that movie had crappy characters and an even worse plot.  District 9 has a great story, and pretty good characters.  Definitely a must see, but let’s calm down.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Movie Review – Funny People

Plot: Popular and succussful comedian George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is dying.  He goes back to his roots and performs stand-up again.  He befriends a struggling comedian named Ira (Seth Rogen) to help write jokes.  Ira gets more than he bargained for though as he has to deal with George’s dysfunctional life and relationships.

When I go see a movie called Funny People with Adam Sandler, I expect to laugh.  Despite a few chuckles early on, this movie really irritated me.  It’s boring.  The characters are all jerks.  It can’t decide if it wants to be a comedy or a family drama.  Oh yeah, did I mention it was boring.  And it was almost two and a half hours long, come on!  Now this was made by writer/director Judd Apatow, who everyone is just in love with right now.  The only movie I’ve seen from him was The 40 Year Old Virgin, which I liked quite a bit.  I thought this was going to be a nice little story about comedians.  Boy, was I wrong.

The absolute worst part are the little obnoxious inside jokes.  I really hate this crap.  The same thing happened in Ocean’s 12.  Oh, look at us, we’re having so much fun and laughing at each other’s jokes that only we can understand.  I didn’t pay seven bucks so I could watch you entertain yourselves.  Entertain me, please!  Let me explain what I mean.  So there are all these jokes about how Seth Rogen’s character Ira (a struggling comedian) loses too much weight because his only charm as a comedian was looking fat and funny.  Oh, haha.  Get it?  Just like Seth Rogen in real life.  I couldn’t help but feel this was put in because Apatow and Rogen probably joke about it a lot and find it hilarious.  Well good for them.  I don’t think it’s funny, and I don’t need it shoved down my throat throughout the movie.

Apatow also casts his own kids in the movie, which is fine, but got problematic with one scene in particular.  Everyone is watching a tape of one of the daughters performing a song from Cats in a school play.  I don’t know if the performance was real or done specifically for the movie, but it felt like I was watching Judd Apatow’s home movies.  Come on!  I want to watch a movie here, not your home videos.  This is ridiculous.  Not only that, but Leslie Mann, who is Apatow’s real wife and who also plays the mother in the film, can’t stop talking about how great the performance is, just as a real mother would.  The problem is she is not just talking to a few relatives at Thanksgiving or something, she is telling thousands of moviegoers.  It’s a bit annoying, and adds to the fact that the moviegoer is unfulfilled, as it takes you out of the film.

But let’s take a look at the real issue: The movie can’t decide on its genre.  It tries to be both comedy and drama.  This works great sometimes, such as movies like The Royal Tenenbaums.  The problem here is that it’s a half ass comedy and a half ass drama, so what do you get – a half-ass movie.

Now, the first half was okay.  I got some laughs, and it was mildly entertaining.  I especially like the interplay between Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman trying to make it as actors and comedians.  They were great together, but this completely disappears in the second half.  What we get instead is an awkward, unfunny, poorly written family drama.  It’s dreadful to watch and it drags on forever.

Adam Sandler’s character, George Simmons, is trying to selfishly break up this family.  The sad part is that you don’t like or want to root for any of these characters.  Maybe that’s what they were going for, but I’m sorry, it’s just uncomfortable to watch, and not in a good way.  If the tension was eased with some jokes, than okay, but there are none worth laughing at.  It goes from a mediocre story about comedians to a boring and awkward family drama.  And this is the entire second half of the movie.  It’s just a completely uneven film.

Now I want to talk about Adam Sandler.  Sandler is trying to make an effort to be a more serious actor.  He’s shown talent in movies like Punch Drunk Love.  The difference between Punch Drunk Love and Funny People though is that Punch Drunk Love is actually funny, so it makes Sandler’s performance stronger because he is in a better film.  He’s perfectly fine in Funny People, but the character just isn’t there.  The guy is supposed to be this wildly popular comedian, but he’s flat out boring and uninteresting.  I don’t get it.

I think Sandler’s best stuff was Happy Gilmore and The Wedding Singer.  Maybe the stuffy critics will disagree with me, but that’s how I feel.  Those movies were gut-bustingly hilarious, whereas Sandler now does these half comedies/half dramas like Spanglish, and to a lesser extent, Click.  These movies blow bags, as does Funny People.  I know he’s trying to grow up, but I guess part of me is selfish and wants him to go make Happy Gilmore 2.  I prefer him fighting Bob Barker and talking to invisible penguins rather than playing some jackass comedian who’s on death’s door, but that’s me.

So if you are expecting a few good laughs at the movies, don’t see Funny People.  You’ll be bored to tears.  Maybe I wanted something different, but this one just annoyed me with its pretentious inside jokes and lackluster characters.  If Judd Apatow is having a good time and laughing it up with his family and buddies, than good for him, but as a moviegoer, it turns me off.  It feels like this: “Hey, look how much fun we are having in our little world and you’re only invited until the credits come on.”

I think comedies are suffering right now.  We either get an atrocious Will Ferrell piece of garbage or these half-ass dramedies.  I miss the days of Dumb and Dumber, Wayne’s World and Kingpin.  Clever writing, downright hysterical and never took themselves too seriously.  The Seth Rogens and Will Ferrells just don’t compare to the talents in those movies.

Although, I feel I might be alone on this.  So be it.

Rating: 4.0 out of 10.