Sunday, August 19, 2007


"In a half shell, they're the heroes four, in this day and age who could ask for more?... T-U-R-T-L-E Power." If you got that reference, you are in for one heck of a movie. TMNT, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles if you've been living in the sewers the past 20 years, is brilliant candy for the eye, heart and mind. I went in with low expectations and was hoping for a fun action flick with a hint of nostalgia. The first 10 minutes of the film throws you a curve ball, as the TMNT aren't even a team. It answers the question of what these trans mutated fighting turtles would be doing if they weren't crime fighting... if they just had to live daily lives like the rest of us. The plot line was sophisticated enough to hold my interest throughout, but I think even the youngest fans will keep up with the storyline well enough to get it. You get really deep insight into the minds of Leonardo and Raphael, which interesting and action-packed enough to forgive the shortcomings on the other characters. The turtle vs. turtle arc is brilliantly executed and will satisfy both the fanboy and the average viewer. Some liberties are taken when it comes to pivotal characters, but it seems to capture the lighthearted fun of the cartoon series, the brotherly love of the live-action movie, and the gritty action of the Eastman and Laird comic book that started it all. I was amazed how well the stylistic animation and tear-inducing inspirational moments all blended together. I thought it missed the mark with the voice-casting of Splinter, their rat-turned-mentor, but the teasers they drop for a sequel and the return of their nemesis the Shredder made up for it.

The music was above average and fit the mood of the upbeat action swings, and it makes you chuckle a bit to think that Limp Bizkit got some work for it. (Limp Bizkit? Really??) Even though their original "Shell Shock" song mentions Bebop, Rocksteady and other turtle mainstays, it falls miserably short of the original live-action movie's "Turtle Power" theme song.

"Do YOU stand for what you believe in? And find the strength to do what's right?"
Turtle Power ;)
  • OVERALL: 92
  • VISUAL: 90
  • STORY: 96
  • ACTING: 91
  • BETTER THAN: The Invincible Iron Man
  • NOT AS GOOD AS: Spirited Away
  • WAS MISSING: "Cowabunga" and a better theme song
  • SEE IT FOR: Sibling rivalry & Donatello, customer service rep

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Last Mimzy

I thought I would stay on the theme of movies with "Last" in the title. Wow... was that ever a mistake. I knew very little about this movie going into it, but expected some sort of fantastical family or kid-friendly film about magic and, supposedly, a talking bunny. The doll reminded me a lot of one my friends' kid has, so I already had a special connection to it. A lot had to go wrong to disappoint me because I'm great at suspending belief and enjoying this genre of movies.

However, it was just plain awful. It was based on a short story, and I'm guessing it was a much better read. It had some interesting overall plot points and ideas, but they were executed horribly. I kept wondering what the intended target audience was for this film. Papa Bear would be bored to tears by the lack of action or anything resembling coherent plot. Mama Bear would disconnect herself due to the unbelievably bad acting of the two main child stars (and yes, she'd give them the benefit of the doubt for being kids). Baby Bear wouldn't make it through the first 30 minutes. The story isn't told enough to capture a kid's attention, and there is nothing fantastical enough to inspire their imagination. There's potential for it, but it completely falls short. There are small bursts of averagely-amusing special effects, especially at the end, but it's way too late by that point. I liked Timothy Hutton at times, but Michael Clarke Duncan further adds to the "joke" nature of this film. Rainn Wilson does his best, but not even "Dwight Schrute" can save this movie.

Don't even get me started on the bunny rabbit doll. The first time you see it, you anticipate a warm character with the charm of Gizmo from the Gremlins movies. Instead, you get Charlie Brown's teacher on helium staring creepily at you over shoulders and through intrusive zoom shots. I may actually have nightmares.

I sadly recommend this to nobody. It'd more accurately be titled: The Lost Whimsy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Last Time

If Michael Keaton starred in his next movie as character with no speaking parts, no on-screen time and got cut from the film... I'd be the first in line to watch it. His aura would still leave its mark. There's no end to my fanboy love for the subtleties of his humor, terror, creepiness and sincerity. He can do them all with one furrow of his brow. This movie didn't get a lot of buzz on its way to the video stand, but I highly recommend checking it out to just about anybody. If you've ever had a boss, or co-workers, or been in or out of love... this one's for you. Did I include everybody with that broad question? Yes, I did. If you've ever watched The Office and found the interaction to be interesting or hilarious... this one's for you, but you get to see what people really say and think when they're not on network TV. If you like drama, suspense, dark humor or good storytelling... you guessed it... for you. I've been a salesperson in similar situations and my feelings have run the gamut that the movie depicts, but in real life, nobody would ever imagine saying or doing those things. So many of the exaggerated scenarios are closer to the truth than hyperbole though, so kudos to the writers. Keaton leads a nice collection of role players through their strengths and weaknesses, and the film does a great job of letting you both love and hate most of the characters. They're rude, angry and aggressive, or funny, charming and sly... but you get it. Brendan Fraser overdoes it a bit, but Amber Valletta (of Hitch) is seductively smooth and you get some nice cameos from Daniel Stern and the guy from that old Herman's Head TV series.

You understand everybody is flawed and you find a center to pull for, or root against. This movie could go in a thousand different directions, and yet it left me feeling very satisfied, like it ended the one and only way I logically and creatively wanted it to. It's so good though, that just about any ending would've worked within its story. There are a couple nice literary references thrown in, which actually play nicely into the ultimate plot rather than pop their head in to make the dialogue sound smart. They're there for a purpose. You will predict 20 different endings for this film but lean strongly toward one or two, and if you catch everything the story is telling you, it just may fit them all. Keaton amazingly pulls off Mr. Mom, Batman, Bettlejuice and Pacific Heights all in one character. The tag line for the movie asks who you would sell out to trade up... I recommend starting with whatever lesser movie is at the top of your current queue.
  • OVERALL: 93
  • VISUAL: 88
  • STORY: 95
  • ACTING: 95
  • BETTER THAN: The Temp
  • NOT AS GOOD AS: Shattered Glass
  • WAS MISSING: A tad better score from Randy Edelman
  • SEE IT FOR: Suspense that is sexy, jaded and tense

Catch and Release

Don't bother getting your fishing license. Don't even bother going to the lake. Dubbing itself a romantic comedy, this film has an extremely disturbing sense of romance, and a gaping void of comedy. I do think my wife liked it better than I did, but I doubt by much. To avoid spoilers, I'll stick with what was advertised in the trailer and say the main underlying themes deal with death, love, secrets, depression and moving on from all of it. It's a movie about a bride whose groom dies before the wedding takes place. At the wake, she is introduced to the new romantic lead, who is portrayed as scum. Not exactly the way to get me behind a character. His disturbing spiral of lies and disrespect only intrigues her more and more, and we're supposed to be going along for the ride with a potentially growing courtship. The problem is, both characters have few redeeming qualities to really make you care either way. Kevin Smith was a lone bright spot for me, but it lasted all of five minutes. His interaction with a young boy in the film was humorous, but the fortune cookie sayings that were sprayed through the trailer get more and more annoying. The other male friend in the movie is the definition of pathetically creepy. We're supposed to find him charming, sensitive and brotherly, but he may be the most disturbing character in the movie. Bottom line, I watch films like this for mild entertainment and don't mind plot holes or shortcomings. I'm very easy when it comes to enjoying a movie, and I enjoy tales of getting through depressing times, just not when they're done as poorly and accidentally bipolar as this. This movie wasn't even close to mildly entertaining. The sad moments were detached. The happy moments were yawners. The conclusion was predictably forced. Again, don't bother catching this movie, and if you do, please don't throw it back for the rest of the world.
  • OVERALL: 63
  • VISUAL: 75
  • STORY: 50
  • ACTING: 65
  • BETTER THAN: Uptown Girls
  • NOT AS GOOD AS: Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself
  • WAS MISSING: Boating accident to end their misery
  • SEE IT FOR: A how-to on obsessive, yet-cute depression

Monday, July 16, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

We had our advance screening tickets in hand. We waited in a line for an hour and a half, the day before the movie was released. We paid $5 for our Pibb Xtra, which I proudly snuck past Mel's caffeine sensors. We watched the entire movie in awe, then I sat there feeling robbed. Don't get me wrong, I thought the movie was great and I'm one of the most-biased Harry Potter lovers around, but the movie just felt so... short, to me. It was over two hours long, but as the film version of one of the longest HP books, it just left so much out. I understand this is the case with all book-to-movie translations, but I just couldn't believe how much of the true meat was left out. There are so many huge plot points J.K. Rowling has set up for the final book, whether they are legit, or red herrings, which originated in this book... and none of them made their way to the screen. The prophecy is shortened nearly to the point of being spoiler. Snape is pretty much absent from the film, which is a travesty to one of the book's most complicated characters, and I think, maybe the most important and pivotal when all's said and done.

I have to stress, I thought the movie was great though. It was definitely darker and edgier than the previous films, and not something I would consider taking my nephew to, but it had its moments. That was my biggest empty feeling towards the movie... it felt like the entire story was only meant to grow anticipation for the next film. This is the only installation in the franchise that felt like a stepping stone story. It didn't feel self-contained, and it didn't seem to have closure like the other films. The casual moviegoer who hasn't read the book, I think, would have been pretty lost and it wouldn't be worth their time. The Half Blood Prince was such an amazing book that the entire time I was watching Phoenix, I just felt like it was setting up the future stories, not telling its own. I think the cast is getting better with each film though, as many are taking the "less is more" approach and really nailing the teen angle. Newcomer Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood was pretty spot on with the limited time she had to portray her loony character. I wish I could talk about the performances of the Order themselves, which the name implies was the focus of the story. Sadly, the banded group of wizard warriors known as the Order could have just as easily not been in this movie and nobody would know the difference. I couldn't believe how small a role the order themselves played. I guess I'll have to reread the book to get my Lupin, Kingsley, Tonks and Mad-eye fix.

I acknowledge that the movie could have been 10 hours and die hard fans would still be saying it was too short, but for everything that was left out of the previous films, I never felt that way about the first four. I thought they did a great job of making a stand-alone film. Phoenix, however, eliminated so much of the heart and dichotomy of the story and characters to seemingly focus on the grandest of end scenes, that I think it's the first one to miss the mark a bit for me. I'll definitely be watching it again... and again... but I think the hype of the movie and the final book being released set my expectations way too high on this one. That's my own fault.
  • OVERALL: 91
  • VISUAL: 94
  • STORY: 90
  • ACTING: 90
  • BETTER THAN: Hocus Pocus
  • NOT AS GOOD AS: Any other HP film
  • WAS MISSING: The Order of the Phoenix themselves
  • SEE IT FOR: Stepping stone to next film for die hard fans

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Transformers 2007

"One shall stand. One shall fall." When Prime said those immortal words from the animated movie, that was the first moment where my hair stood up and I got goosebumps of inspiration. Sadly, that was in the dying moments of the film. I enjoyed the movie thoroughly as the no-thinking, fun action movie it was intended to be. However, I went in with only middle-of-the-road expectations, and came out with mediocre gratification. From a visual standpoint, it was amazing. Those were some very fluid and lifelike robots. The first third of the movie establishes all the human characters and I actually found the dialogue very humorous and entertaining. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that it was nearly a midnight showing and I was surrounded by teenagers with cell phones who felt compelled to text every scene of the movie... to each other. I don't get it... but I'm 30 now, so I'm okay with that. The parent-teenager interaction was great, and the script knew it wasn't Il Postino... it just kept it fun and tongue-in-cheek. Shia LeBeouf made the corny dialogue seem brilliant and is easily the next John Cusack, which is high praise from me!

The middle third of the film pretty much merged the human/Transformers worlds, and I found myself wanting either more dialogue, or more robots. I did appreciate that even robots can have a sense of humor. The final third of the film was all action and did a nice job of pulling off the sense of scale, but I'm actually more excited about getting the DVD than seeing it again in the theatres. There were just too many scenes with multiple robots flying around, and it was so large that you couldn't tell what happened and to whom. That's probably my only downside, and I can't wait to see the whole picture on DVD and slow-mo it a few thousand times. I was a so-so fan of the cartoon, but hold the animated movie as one of my tops ever because it was done so well, with a truly engaging storyline. I think this live-action version fails in comparison to the animated movie, but that's a pretty high bar. The music throughout the film was just so-so. There were some great action scenes with rock songs that got you pumped up, but the rest was a bit forgettable. Plus, with decades of past Transformers music to pull from, it was sad that no nostalgia tunes were thrown in. This is screaming for a sequel though, so I'm sure your favorites will be showing up sooner than later if they weren't in this film.

The toys were too expensive growing up, so I really only had Hot Rod. Maybe this further shows my bias for the Hot-Rod-heavy animated film... who knows! My grandmother did buy me Perceptor, the microscope, but I had to tell all my friends growing up that he was a tank with a "magnifying cannon" in order for them to play with me. You've contented me yet again, Starscream.