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Movie Ratings and Reviews

X-Men Origins - Wolverine

I'm not sure if there was ever much demand for a Wolverine origins story. After X-Men: The Last Stand disappointed so many people, I doubt many were interested in returning to the X-Men franchise. What's more, Wolverine isn't a particularly interesting character to begin with (and he became increasingly less interesting as the franchise continued). I have a lot of difficulty believing that an entire movie revolving around this fairly bland character was an appealing idea for anybody. At any rate, it certainly didn't make for an appealing movie.

Taking place X amount of years before the first X-Men film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine opens with the unexpected murder of several individuals related to a boy named James. James and his older brother Victor run away from home. Both of them are mutants. James later changes his name to Logan, and of course, he is the Wolverine. Both of them are later recruited as part of a special forces team, but Logan abandons the group because he disapproves of their violent acts. Years later, Logan discovers that Victor has been murdering members of the group, and it is suspected that Logan might be killed next. There's some talk of revenge, some tragedy, and then we inevitably get to the part where Logan becomes Wolverine.

To put it mildly, X-Men Origins is a messy movie. The plot doesn't make much sense, the motives of the characters are usually confusing or vaguely explained, and of course, there are loads of undefined mutant powers. And yet, the film is really nothing more than a typical run-of-the-mill, turn-off-your-brain, blockbuster action movie.

Like the previous X-Men films, X-Men Origins has a plethora of plot contrivances, plot holes, power-related oversights, and just general idiocy. Even by X-Men standards, this is a stupid movie. The first two X-Men films found a balance between stupidity and the self-aware. X-Men: The Last Stand struggled with this, and X-Men Origins is even more deterred by it.

While the other X-Men films had their share of interesting characters, X-Men Origins lacks any. Wolverine is the wise-cracking protagonist, though he's unlikable and boring. The primary antagonist, Victor is also completely uninteresting. Most other characters get about 5 minutes of screentime or less, and almost all of them are completely unnecessary. Director Gavin Hood seems so intent on providing fan service and comic references that he forgets the importance of making a tight, entertaining film. As a result, we get unnecessary characters like Gambit and Fred J. Dukes that only serve to bloat the run time (which is admittedly fairly modest at 107 minutes).

The CGI looks fine, but it's fairly unconvincing at times. The action sequences are generic and forgettable. The script is atrocious, the ending is a mess, and character development is nil. On top of all that, X-Men Origins has some massive continuity issues. It would be bad enough if they were restricted to continuity problems within the film. But X-Men Origins seems to go out of its way to contradict events and plot points from the previous X-Men films as well.

The performances are mediocre. Hugh Jackman is just going through the motions as Logan / Wolverine, while everyone else seems to be on auto-pilot as well. Performances range from forgettable, to annoying. Liev Schreiber and Dannu Huston fit the former. Ryan Reynolds and Taylor Kitsch fit the latter.

Harry Gregson-William's score is forgettable and at times, intrusive. The opening of the film is in the 1800's, but if you had only heard Gregson-William's score for that scene, you never would have known. It clashes with the film, and does nothing to help itself or the picture.

As I was watching this X-Men Origins, I was constantly reminded of all the things that the previous X-Men films did right. Interesting characters, good performances, fun action scenes, etc. None of that is evident here. Even X-Men: The Last Stand had a few of those elements. X-Men Origins is just unengaging and forgettable. It's not quite unwatchable, or even painful, but it lacks notable qualities or memorable scenes. The whole affair is bland and uninteresting. The only thing I took away from X-Men Origins was just how much better X-Men: The Last Stand is than this. And if that's not an indicator of a bad movie, I don't know what is.

X2: X-Men United

After Brian Singer directed the silly, stupid, but reasonably fun X-Men, he returned to direct the sequel, entitled X2: X-Men United. Like the first film, it's silly and idiotic, but still oddly enjoyable in spite of its flaws. It lacks the self-awareness that the original possessed which made it a bit easier to digest, but X2 makes up for it with sharper directing and a story with more depth and weight.

After the X-Men discover that the genocidal William Stryker is in the process of unleashing a plan that will destroy every mutant on the earth, the X-Men even their enemy, Magneto, must temporarily team up to stop this monstrosity before it's too late.

Like the first film, X2 seems to have more cons than pros, but it still manages to succeed because of its sheer entertainment value. The characters are just likable enough, the story just engaging enough, and the performances just strong enough to support a film that would have otherwise been unbearable. On top of that, the action sequences are great fun, and the special effects look great.

Unfortunately, X2 suffers from many of the flaws that the first film dealt with. Most problematic is how undefined the X-Men's powers are. Some have the ability to control other objects and people, one of them can teleport, etc. And yet, they never seem to use their abilities to their full advantage. Sometimes this is explained later through sloppy exposition. More often, it's just poor scripting. If you were ever bothered watching Star Wars when the Jedi wouldn't simply force-blast their enemies out of the way, you could go mad watching X2.

In addition to this, there are at least two endings too many, and the film runs about a half hour too long. The first film carried a compact 104 minute run time, whereas this sequel is a lengthy 134 minutes.

The cast remains impressive. Ian McKellan's role as Magneto is slightly expanded, giving him even more time to be delightfully wicked - even when he's forced to help the X-Men. Unfortunately, Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier has a significantly smaller amount of time on screen compared to the first film. Hugh Jackman is still solid as Wolverine, as is newcomers Brian Cox and Alan Cumming, though the characters for the latter two are fairly bland.

John Ottman's score is more traditional than Michael Kamen's score for the previous film - which is a good thing. Unfortunately, within the film, it's just as unmemorable. It's a serviceable score, but I can't recall a note.

While it's just as stupid (if not more so) than the first film, X2 is still entertaining and delightful to watch. If you can ignore the problems with the script, you will certainly have a good time. But if you have no tolerance for the strange and nonsensical -especially in a straight-faced package - then run.


Before Hogwarts - the school for wizards and witches - there was Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. These Gifted Youngsters are mutants look just like us, but have incredible powers that some believe to be an endangerment to those around them. This first entry in the X-Men film franchise kicked off a commercially successful film series, though their critical reception varies greatly. Simply titled "X-Men," this was among the first successful comic-book films, and more or less ushered in Marvel's eventual reign over the super-hero genre. And to be honest, I'm a bit surprised that this film was such a mainstream success.

X-Men focuses primarily on Wolverine who has the ability to self-heal, and can also extend huge, claw-like daggers from his knuckles. He doesn't remember anything about his past, but perhaps Charles Xavier - a mutant himself - can help him.

X-Men is really silly, and really stupid. But the film seems to know that it's really silly and really stupid. Whether its self-aware and almost parody-like environment was an intentional factor or not, the X-Men is a solidly entertaining super-hero film, despite its multitude of problems.

Even though Wolverine is the primary protagonist of the film, there's a massive array of other characters that the film tries to give ample screentime to. As a result, X-Men is cluttered and despite quite a bit of exposition, nothing really gets explained. The direction is all over the place, and the opening scene (a bit of backstory for the antagonist, Magneto) seems completely unnecessary.

And yet, X-Men is an enjoyable film thanks to solid performances and (mostly) interesting characters. Hugh Jackman plays Wolverine with just the right amount of heroism, frustration, and sarcasm to avoid falling into obvious cliches or stereotypes. The highlights of the cast are undoubtedly Ian McKellan as the evil Magneto, and Patrick Stewart as the wise Charles Xavier. They bounce off of each other brilliantly. Every scene they're in truly brings the film to life.

Unfortunately, there are several less impressive cast members. The worst of the bunch include Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, and Anna Paquinn - the latter of which occasionally uses a strong Southern accent, and at other times, forgets it.

Michael Kamen's score is less enjoyable than the film itself. While it has a smattering of tongue-in-cheek fanfares, it also contains dated synthetics, and unmemorable themes. It works well enough in the film, but I'm not inspired to seek any of it out elsewhere.

It's far from perfect, but it's a lot better than many other super-hero franchise-starters. It's got plenty of interesting action sequences, likable characters, and fresh ideas. I'm surprised that audiences have taken to it so much considering its many inconsistencies and notable problems, but it's an excellent time waster.

The Boxtrolls

The Boxtrolls upholds a fine tradition of stop-motion animated films. Beginning with Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (critically NOT directed by Tim Burton), and followed by nearly a dozen other notable efforts, the genre of stop-motion films have been consistently released to critical acclaim. And so, it's something of a testament to the strength of the genre that The Boxtrolls is the least well-received film of its kind, despite favorable reviews. Indeed, like the many stop motion films that have preceded it, The Boxtrolls is charming, funny, and visually stunning.

Every night, a race of creatures called boxtrolls (named for the boxes they wear as clothes) come out from hiding and plunder the streets of garbage and anything they happen to find that strikes their fancy. Among them is a boy named Eggs who thinks he's a boxtroll (his name comes from the label on his box). Unfortunately for Eggs and the boxtrolls, an evil man is in charge of exterminating every one of them, so the race begins to go into decline. But there's something strange about all of this, and Winnie - a young girl - is going to get to the bottom of this, along with Eggs.

There are several reasons why I think The Boxtrolls has been received less warmly than other stop-motion films. For one, it's more childish. It's louder and sillier. There's lots of slapstick and an unusually high amount of gross-out gags. The premise isn't developed much, and there's a surprising lack of heart. Also, the finale consists of a great, big action sequence that's more loud and silly than satisfying or engaging. With all that being said, The Boxtrolls is still a delightful picture; allow me to explain quite why.

The visual appearance of the film accounts for much of its charm (as is typically the case for stop-motion films). It's (needless to say) gorgeous, some sequences are unbelievably beautiful. And the character designs are hilariously fun. The overall art direction makes it look like it's come right out of a storybook. The Boxtrolls packs loads of visual splendor that's so strong, it could carry the movie if the script wasn't already enough to do the job.

That's not to say that the script is great, but it's very good. There's a bit of substance here (but not too much), and the gags usually find their mark. Even the gross-out gags work pretty well, never seeming too gratuitous or grating. Of course, the premise itself is very loosely explained. It's never understood why the boxtrolls must come out every night, other than desire for other people's junk. Surely the reason must be very important since they're risking their night each time they leave their habitat.

And as I mentioned, there's not as much heart as one might hope. The Tarzan-like origin for Eggs would suggest a more emotional, family-oriented storyline, but the film is low on profound moments. Most of the time, it aims to be a wacky adventure/comedy, and it works well in that respect. Still, one can't be faulted for being at least a little disappointed that it didn't embrace its more emotionally charged potential, especially after some very sweet opening moments.

The characters are generally more distinctive and interesting than other animated films. While the boxtrolls themselves are more or less the same (they play out like ickier versions of the minions from Despicable Me), the human characters are fairly diverse, though not always intricate. Eggs is very likable, and his youth and naivety makes him feel a little different from other bland, heroic protagonists. Likewise, the spunky Winnie differs a little bit from the feminist crowd by suggesting a curious interest in grim stories and violence (fueled by malicious rumors of the boxtrolls).

Various side characters are characterized by their lack of interest in younger children and their fondness for cheese. They never pay attention to our protagonists, no matter how important their discoveries are. Depending on the person, this will either be funny or frustrating. Likely both.

By far the strongest character in the film is the villain, Archibald Snatcher. A sort of cross between Syndrome from The Incredibles and the title character from Wreck-It Ralph, Archibald is determined to earn himself a white cap (a sign of prestige), and is forced to be a wicked person (by killing the boxtrolls), so that he can be perceived as a respectable person. Though the character's resolution is a bit anti-climatic, the depth of this character exceeds that of many other animated villains.

Likewise, Ben Kingsley's vocal performance as the villain is the standout of the cast. He's absolutely riotous at times, and one of the disguises he often dons - though completely unexplained - gives Kingsley a chance to be even more comedic and memorable. Isaac Hempstead-Wright and Elle Fanning are surprisingly strong in starring roles as Eggs and Winnie respectively. Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, and Simon Pegg are also wonderful in small roles.

Dario Marianelli's score is very much like the film; a little wacky, but utterly charming. The main theme's strong similarity to a primary theme from Danny Elfman's Frankenweenie is not the only resemblance to Elfman's work, but the sound is suitable for the picture. It's enjoyably quirky and contains some colorful instrumentation to brighten things up. Definitely a noteworthy step into animation, as this is Marianelli's first score for the field.

Yes, it's not as delightfully adult as Laika's Coraline (nor likely as much as ParaNorman which I have not yet seen), but it's a wonder all the same. I suspect The Boxtrolls will actually perform better with audiences in general, due to its less mature nature - and therefore, broader appeal. And yet, it still retains that edge that has made Laika releases such an occasion. It's not the strongest stop motion film to grace the silver screen, but it's absolutely worth a trip to the cinema.

The Golden Compass

In the flurry of generic YA novel adaptions currently on the market - a newly created genre that shows no clear signs of stopping before 2017 - one would have to look several years back to remember the book-to-film trend that preceded these. This much more rewarding niche genre was the children's fantasy novel adaptations. Starting with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 2001, dozens of other books/films have attempted to duplicate the boy wizard's box office. And while many such attempts were fairly entertaining (such as Spiderwick Chronicles and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events), disappointing box office returns (or lack of interest) prevented many would-be franchises from getting off the ground. The Golden Compass suffered the same fate, making very little profit due to overseas rights being sold and lukewarm reception in America. However, in this case, it's more of a blessing than anything that any sequels to The Golden Compass never came to fruition.

Honestly, the premise itself shows quite a bit of promise. The film takes place in a world like ours, where every person's soul actually lives as an animal creature called a dæmon that follows you everywhere you go. The plot itself, is much more convoluted, and honestly, it's very difficult to describe. Here's all you really need to know: The main character is a girl named Lyra. Her uncle believes that there are alternate worlds. The wicked Mrs. Coulter wants control of the universe. And then there's something about child kidnapping that doesn't really get explained.

There is nary a scene in the film that makes much sense. Every single one leaves some kind of puzzling question or hole in the screenplay. I suspect that Philip Pullman's book (which I have not read) gives a lot more detail regarding some of the curious character decisions and confusing plot devices, but the movie explains nothing.

And yet, at the same time, it seems to explain everything. At least, that's what you would think considering that 95% of the dialogue in this film is exposition. That is not an exact percentage, but I'd venture to say it's not too far off. Needless to say, the script is bad. If the dialogue isn't giving some form of backstory or information you'll need to know later, it's just plain cringe-worthy.

What's worse is that just about every scene is crammed with as much talking as possible, which wouldn't be a problem if the script was significantly better. As is, though, the screenplay is an atrocity, meaning that there's very little here that will remain in memory. The whole film is a tedious and forgettable experience - a waste of two hours.

But problems with the script don't stop there. The film has some major continuity issues. When enemies are killed in this film, they explode in a flurry of gold, sparkly dust. Needless to say, this effect disappears at several intervals, and reappears at later ones. Also, when the dæmons are hurt, the owners are affected as well (and vice versa). And yet, this is contradicted at several intervals.

The visuals are a frequent target of praise for this film, though I can't imagine why. The movie looks incredibly cheap. At times it seems like a made-for-TV production. When characters pick up and/or pet their CGI
dæmons, it always looks laughably phony. And the film has a limited number of special effects shots compared to other fantasy films. Also, several shots appear to be re-used, and while the polar bears do look pretty great, we unfortunately have to endure about a dozen shots of them roaring at the camera (this is approximately 11 more times than needed).

The art direction is also terribly misguided. The Golden Compass alludes to a steampunk-esque world, but outside of a few inventions and airships there isn't much "steampunk" here. Besides, most of the film takes place in the snow, anyway.

The cast is full of big names, though the characters themselves are thinly drawn and uninteresting. The protagonist is a spunky young girl named Lyra, who spends the entire film getting rescued by other people - often because of her stupidity and rash decisions. Dakota Blue Richard's performance of this character is adequate, but unremarkable. Child actors Ben Walker and Charlie Rowe fare much better in supporting roles.

Nicole Kidman portrays the films primary antagonist, Mrs. Coulter. It's never really clear if the character is entirely evil, or perhaps could be reformed (she has very strong feelings about Lyra). Unfortunately, that means the character itself is completely dissatisfying, and there is no resolution for this either. This is not a tastefully ambiguous artistic choice. This is weak writing.

We also have Daniel Craig who has all of three or four scenes (despite being featured prominently in promotional material), and is entirely forgettable (thanks to a bland character). For some reason, Christopher Lee is in this movie in one short and almost unnecessary scene in which he gets one (or perhaps two) lines of dialogue. Eva Green shows up to give more exposition and Sam Elliott is surprisingly tolerable as a Texan airship pilot (which is as strange as it sounds).

The voice cast, thankfully, is quite a bit better. Freddie Highmore voices Lyra's dæmon (a meerkat) and his performance is charming enough (though the character is forgettable). Ian McKellan is especially good as Iorek Byrnison (a polar bear), though once again, the character itself is extremely weak.

Alexandre Desplat's score is surprisingly restrained. While there were several scenes that were ripe for an explosion of grand fanfares or bold theme statements, they don't really show up. The score is pleasant enough, but completely unmemorable in the context of the film.

The Golden Compass is tedious and numbing in an irritatingly persistent manner - I liken the experience to getting eaten by a toothless camel. Nothing happens in this movie. The script is awful, the visuals look cheap, and the storyline is so loose and almost non-existent that the audience loses interest before it even gets off the ground (which it never does). It's a surprising disaster that fails to entertain or engage. If you're looking for a solid fantasy flick, The Golden Compass can only lead you astray.

The Maze Runner

To say Maze Runner is derivative would be an understatement. I am well aware that these kinds of accusations are often met with protests like "but Maze Runner came way before other similar YA novels." In this case, that's fair, as James Dashner's The Maze Runner was published one year before The Hunger Games, a novel that has many notable similarities. But it makes no difference as to who was first; the fact is that audiences have already seen this movie many, many times. It doesn't matter which came first, audiences are seeing Maze Runner in 2014. We've already seen "dark dystopian futures" and "one special teenager that will change everything." If those responsible for this film really wanted to honor James Dashner's novel, they would not have made this movie after this sort of thing has become cliche.

The film opens with our main character, Thomas, in a dark elevator. It ascends to its peak, and then a hatch at the top is open. He is now inside the maze. There's a group of boys in the maze with him (about 50 or so in all), and they don't have idea why they're in this maze. What's more, they don't have any memories of their past, excepting their first names. But once Thomas shows up here, things start to get weird. Everything begins to change, and not in a good way.

While the film is partially salvaged by a small collection of interesting scenes, The Maze Runner is a largely bland affair. It's kind of dark, it's sort of dramatic, and it's almost satirical. It briefly attempts social commentary, occasionally tries its hand at humor, and has a handful of action-"ish" sequences. It never really decides what it wants to be, and ends up being a rough assemblage of 12 or so different movies - all of which we've seen before.

It isn't helped much by the fact that the Maze Runner is filled with plot holes. Any opportunity you may be given to become immersed in this (fairly generic) dystopian world is foiled by the distracting plot holes. Not to mention numerous continuity issues that completely ruin a couple suspenseful "race-against-time" sequences. Also, the film more or less requires you to be pretty familiar with source material, as some rather critical elements are left completely unexplained. I attended this film with two other people, and they both asked multiple questions during and after the movie. Had I not read the book myself, I would have been completely lost.

At times, the film traverses into the delightful realm of unintentional comedy. I am grateful for such instances, as there would be little here worth paying attention for otherwise. The sources of said comedy come from the aforementioned plot holes, remarkably stupid character choices, and of course: the acting.

The cast - composed almost entirely of teenage boys - show no evidence of talent or dramatic comprehension in their performances here (with very few exceptions). The lead actor, Dylan O'Brien is boring and lacks the kind of charisma a to-be-franchise lead must have. He has all of two facial expressions: One features him staring off in the distance with his mouth agape (signifying awe or confusion). The other is the same, but with his mouth slightly more agape (signifying fear, or perhaps he was just yawning). Also, he looks completely ridiculous in any scene where he runs (given the name of the movie, he does quite a bit of running). He flails his arms around like he's got a wet mouse in his shirt, and he comically slides along the ground whenever he turns a corner.

The rest of the cast does not fare better. Aml Ameen's primary purpose in this film is to give expository lines, whilst Ki-hong Lee succeeds at being impressively bland. Will Poulter does very little with a poorly written character. Only Thomas Brodie-Sangster escapes embarrassment. He is the only convincing actor in the entire film, though his character name presents a slightly humorous and likely unintentional problem. His name in the film is "Newt," though when another character refers to him by name, it often sounds like they're calling him "Nude."

Actually, most of the characters are completely unnecessary to the plot. Only about two or three of them influence the plot in any way. The others could have been written out and nothing would have changed. At least if there were only three actors, we would have been spared some of the preschool-level performances.

Joen Paesano's score can be divided into two categories. One, the generic synthy melody-less rubbish that encompasses so many other similar films. Two, surprisingly refreshing orchestral bits that are generally completely forgettable, but not unpleasant to listen to. A couple interesting brassy bits and an impressive action piece keeps things from being completely boring.

The Maze Runner is essentially Lord of the Flies (without the creative risks), The Giver (without the ambition), and The Hunger Games (without Jennifer Lawrence), all mish-mashed into a messy, poorly made, and completely forgettable YA adaption. It has all the expected cliches and story points (right down to the "to-be-continued" ending) and does almost nothing to distinguish itself from the many other YA adapted films on the market. Too often during this film, I found myself reminded of the things I enjoyed so much about the source material - which is interesting, because I actually found the book to be a pretty mediocre experience. Just another YA novel with an intriguing premise, wasted on poor writing and weak execution. With that in mind, you should have a pretty good idea about just how bad this film is. Skip it; there will probably be another movie out just like it in the next 6 weeks.

Men in Black II

In many ways, Men In Black 2 feels like a remake of the first Men in Black. Same concept, similar story-line, a final scene that's a direct nod to the ending of the last film (but significantly less clever), etc. But like any good remake, tweaks have been made. For one, all chemistry between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones is gone and shriveled up. Two, there are very few successful gags. Three, the sense of energy and giddiness that the first film produced is not present here. Essentially, we get an 88 minute rehash of the first movie, that lacks any of its notable qualities (excepting special effects).

Because Agent K has been retired, Agent J is now responsible for the Men In Black organization (specializes in moderating alien activity on earth). But as expected, a dangerous alien desiring some important object lands on earth, and Agent J must bring back Agent K to help.

Similarly to Gremlins 2 (a film I reviewed just last week), Men in Black 2 is not content to merely be a bad sequel, but it must degrade the original film as well. By bringing K back to the MIB organization (thanks to the highly contrived device called the "deneuralyzer"), the poignantly bittersweet from the first movie is completely undone. And then, this leads to questions. For one, does K's wife (who never appears onscreen) wonder where he is? Does K miss her? Does K have any desire to see her again. The film pretends that K's wife doesn't even exist, which creates a decided lack of realism to the proceedings. We simply don't believe the characters are there because they have lost their third dimension inbetween the two films.

Everything about this sequel feels rushed, from the storyline, the character "banter" (a term I use very lightly), and especially the ending. The plot points for the last third of the movie seem to be made up as the film goes along. Everyone is on auto-pilot here; no one's using their brain.

A lot could be forgiven if the movie was actually funny, but the problem is that there are few working gags. I laughed from start to finish during the first Men in Black film. During this sequel, I laughed two or three times, and that's about it. There's one very funny gag at the beginning, and a meager amount of chuckles to cover 88 minutes of fairly static viewing.

The deadpan comedy that was used so effectively in the last film feels completely stale this time around. The slapstick comedy is weightless and unconvincing. And the sharp lines from the original has been replaced with tamer, more family-friendly dialogue (a few edits here and there, and this could've easily made a PG rating). One outburst of "Who Let the Dogs Out" will send some screaming from the room (I remained in front of the screen and quietly dabbed the blood flowing from my ears).

If nothing else, the special effects are good, and even improved over the last time. The aliens are integrated somewhat more seamlessly, and some of the alien designs are really fun. It's a shame that the movie itself didn't boast the same kind of creativity.

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones return as Agent J and Agent K, though their performances are so bland (thanks to a very weak script) that they could have been played by anybody. Will Smith's comedy shtick starts to grate really fast, and Tommy Lee Jones is given only one scene (the first one he's in) to remind us of the witty, fast-talking official he was in the first film. The rest of the time, he has about as much energy as a sleeping koala.

New additions to the cast don't fare any better. Lara Flynn Boyle as Serleena is acceptable, but hurt slightly by a poor script. She undeservedly garnered a Razzie nomination for this performance. Much more deserving of said nomination is Rosario Dawson as Laurua Vasquez, a poorly written replacement for Linda Fiorentino's much more engaging character from the first film (she is given only a brief mention in this film). Dawson's character is written as a kind of damsel in distress with moxy. She's got the "damsel" part down pretty well, " and the "distress" bit is good too. The "moxy" part needs work. On top of that, Dawson's character is almost completely unnecessary to the story. In fact, she's so unnecessary, that the writers had to shoe in some plot contrivance at the end to give her character any kind of significance.

Tim Blaney voices Frank the Pug, who briefly appeared in the last film, but returns in this one. For this sequel, he has a significantly expanded role, which is unfortunate as he is as annoying as sidekicks get. He's the kind of character that makes one yearn for a more eloquent replacement - like Jar Jar Binks. David Cross returns as well and is only slightly less annoying than Blaney. Michael Jackson has a funny cameo. Tony Shalhoub and Patrick Warburton both get their names featured in the opening credits, despite boasting about two minutes of screentime apiece.

Danny Elfman's score, like the film it accompanies, also seems to be on auto-pilot. It's not bad by any means (and some trademark Elfman choir near the beginning earns a smile), but it's even weaker than his already mediocre score for the first film. At least this time around Elfman can fault the lifeless picture for lack of inspiration.

Not as funny, inventive, or entertaining as the original, Men in Black 2 is an empty, unengaging experience. The script is flat, the characters are bland, and the whole premise has been reduced to your typical sci-fi action film - but with more talking animals. All of the wit and energy from the first film is either nonexistent or diluted here. This isn't a film bad enough to be worth getting worked up about. It's just bland and disappointing. At least the effects are nice....

Gremlins 2: The New Batch

I find it strange that while Gremlins 2: The New Batch was given a PG-13 certificate by the MPAA, and the first Gremlins was given a PG (and infamously spawning the PG-13 rating soon after), Gremlins 2 is the film that feels more childish. And when I say childish, I mean that Gremlins 2 is exhausting, far too silly, and unlikely to entertain anyone in the double-digit age range. It goes in an entirely different direction than the first Gremlins, trading in its more horror-themed elements for off-the-wall parody humor that is more painful than funny, and less clever than the more (comparatively) subtle satire themes of the first film.

Time has passed inbetween Gremlins and its sequel (6 years in real life), and Billy Peltzer and his fiancee Katie have moved to New York and now work at Clamp Enterprises. By a forced string of events, Gizmo ends up in the same building as Billy, and Billy finds him and tries to take him home. Unfortunately, Gizmo inevitably gets wet, which causes him to multiply, and we get more gremlins mayhem; this time its confined within the Clamp Enterprises building, where hundreds of unsuspecting employees may fall victim.

Now that director Joe Dante has the PG-13 rating at his disposal, one would expect him to crank things up a few more notches from the first PG rated Gremlins film (which was already a dark film in itself). But surprisingly, Dante has created a film that's tamer, more comedic (but not as funny), and far less entertaining than the first film. The PG-13 rating confuses me a lot, as it's significantly tamer than a lot of PG rated films of the same era (Dead Poets Society, Beetlejuice, etc).

One of the interesting things about the first Gremlins film is that there were few "deliberate" laughs. And by that, I mean that none of actors said something funny, then looked at the camera and smiled as the audience laughed appreciatively. Much of the humor was an effective balance of unintentional and intentional, which resulted in a film that was campy and almost self-satirical, but the formula worked, and no one really knows how or why. So I suppose it makes sense that Joe Dante would go in an entirely different direction for the sequel, for that kind of lightning would have been impossible to capture in the same bottle.

Essentially, Gremlins 2 is one giant parody. It has an obnoxious amount of self-referential gags and jabs at the first film, and there's also a horrifying amount of pop culture references. Phantom of the Opera, The Wizard of Oz, and Rambo are all parodied (as well as many other films). But that's all fairly painless compared to the gremlins' horrifying rendition of "New York, New York." Between the faux musical numbers and the jarring "fourth wall" jokes, Gremlins 2 begins to feel like a bad Muppet movie. And believe me; you do not want your movie to feel like a bad Muppet movie.

What's more, Gremlins 2 commits the ultimate sequel sin, in that it actually hurts the original film. One of several elements of the last film that really impressed me was its bravery to kill of a couple supporting characters during the gremlin mayhem in the film's latter half. In this film, we not only learn that these characters did not actually died (though the opposite was strongly suggested in the first), but they actually show up in Gremlins 2! So now, not only do we get this toothless sequel, we also have several teeth extracted from the first film as well.

Despite my bashing, Gremlins 2 is not without positives. Some of the gremlin mayhem works, especially when the spirit of the first film breaks through. There is one particularly gross and memorable gremlin murder early on in the proceedings involving a paper shredder that recalls the kitchen scene from the first Gremlins. And part-way through the film, the gremlins manage to get into some scientific genetic serums (or something like that), which results in the gremlins mutating into various different creatures, which results in some really interesting gremlin designs, though these are sadly underused for the most part.

The cast can mostly be split into two parts: Those that were bad because of the terrible script, and those that were just inexcusably bad by all standards. John Glover and Dick Miller make up the first category. Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, and Haviland Morris make up the latter.

There are a couple actors that don't fit into either category. Don and Dan Stanton play identical lab assistants, and they're amusing enough in two very small roles. Christopher Lee gets to camp things up as Doctor Catheter, but bizarrely enough, their is a very prominent role where a want-to-be news anchor dresses up as a vampire for the entirety of the film, and that part is played by Robert Prosky. In a film that is so pop-culture nuts like Gremlins 2, I'm fairly surprised that the film didn't take the obvious bait. Also, if you thought that Mr. Wing (the Asian shop-keeper) from Gremlins 2 was too obnoxious as a stereotype, wait until you see Gedde Watanabe as a camera-happy Asian tourist.

Jerry Goldsmith's sequel score lacks almost any of the energy from the first film. It feels content to simply regurgitate themes from its predecessor, and supplies no new ideas for itself. And oddly enough, while there are numerous references to the classic Gremlins Rag throughout the film, it never actually appears until the end credits (though its more orchestral arrangement is refreshing).

Largely devoid of the charm and entertainment that blessed the 1984 original, Gremlins 2 isn't completely joyless, but it does its best to get there. 40 minutes of tedious and inevitable set-up, only for the next 107 to be an extensive string of bad pop culture references and predictable slap-stick comedy. The first Gremlins had me in stitches from start to finish. But outside of a few chuckles, Gremlins 2 is fairly static in the laugh department. Bigger, staler, and far less enjoyable, the sequel formula is well at play here.

The Help
The Help(2011)

I'm starting to wonder if I'm becoming "soft." I've recently written positive reviews to shamelessly manipulative and schmaltzy films like War Horse, Forrest Gump, and The Terminal (the latter of which I gave a perfect score to), and I intend to do so again with The Help. It now falls on me to explain why the obvious manipulation and tear-ripping scenes in The Help are credible as "artful" or "skillful." It's a hard case to deliver, but someone's got to do it.

Surprisingly NOT based on a true story (one of the only feel-good cliches this film doesn't follow) The Help is about a recent college graduate named Skeeter who is increasingly appalled by the casual racism that she is surrounded by. She decides to interview as many black maids as possible in order to write a book from their perspective so that white folk would see the injustice of their actions. This is easier said then done, though, as most blacks are terrified of their masters discovering their contribution to this book. Skeeter is only able to get two maids to help her; Aibileen and Minny.

Well, the film IS manipulative. And it's heavily flawed. But the film succeeds because of a number of things. For one, it's just plain entertaining thanks to an interesting premise and likable characters. For another, the acting is excellent. The characters are likable, but very thinly written. It's up to the actors to flesh them out into fully dimensional characters, and honestly, they do wonderfully.

The acting highlight is Viola Davis as Aibileen, the protagonist-ish of the film (shares this title with Skeeter). The subtlety in her expressions and dialogue delivery is astounding. She sells this strong, independent woman who is forced to subdue her opinions and dignity to keep her job. She is the heart of this film. Not far behind is Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson. Like Aibileen, she's strong and fierce, but she has an element of spunk. This is a tired cliche of a character that Spencer breathes new life into. We root for her, because we believe her.

The white cast is generally less impressive, but they also have a lot less to work with. Emma Stone does what she can with an offensively bland character (despite being the lead). Stone brings intricacies that are not in the script, but she's leagues behind Spencer and Davis. Bryce Dallas Howard has the thankless role of the antagonist, a blatant racist (though she considers herself a good Christian). She's venomous in her performance, and thus impresses. It's almost a shame to say, though, that the acting highlight for the white side of the cast is Leslie Jordan as Mr. Blackly, a newspaper editor. He creates more energy and entertainment than most of the other supporting characters (furthering the myth that newspaper editors are the best scene stealers). Also notable are child actors Emma and Elanor Henry portraying four year old Mae Mobley Leefolt. A scene between her and Aibeleen at the end is heart-breaking.

The Help has a wide variety of problems, let alone the film's obvious attempts at emotional poignancy that can be seen from a mile away. There's an unnecessary sub-plot about Skeeter finding a boy friend. When she does find one, we don't buy the relationship, and none of it has anything to do with the rest of the film anyway. This is a 146 minute film. And though it's fairly entertaining from start-to-finish, it could have been shorter had unnecessary characters and sub-plots like that had been removed.

Also uniquely problematic is Thomas Newman's score. On one hand, it avoids the cliche of including a swelling orchestra during emotional moments, instead offering reflective piano performances and some quiet strings. The problem is that his score doesn't really fit the picture. It's far too modern, and as expected from Newman, contains some wacky instrumentation and effects that are just distracting. It may be enjoyable out of context, but it doesn't fit with the film. Newman would accomplish a more fitting score for this time period when he scores Saving Mr. Banks a couple years later.

The Help is certain to annoy cynical audiences, but I think most will be satisfied with this interesting look at racism. It's pleasant, but it's not afraid to bare its teeth on occasion, which pushes this beyond your typical feel-good film. It's certainly not perfect, nor without ironic flaws (leave it to the white person to save the blacks), but it's charming and entertaining, and has real depth thanks to its talented cast.

Galaxy Quest
Galaxy Quest(1999)

By rules of definition - "entertainment consisting of jokes and satirical sketches, intended to make an audience laugh" - the primary goal of a comedy is to make the viewer smile. To chuckle. To laugh. But the average movie-goer will not be satisfied with a single laugh in a 100 minute film. Therefore, a comedy must contain many laughs to justify whatever length it has and the ticket fees of the paying audience. That magical number is never the same for two different people. The interesting thing about Galaxy Quest is that it hits that magic number fairly early on, but its second half is fairly devoid of laughs - big or small. So where does that leave it? Is it recommendable or not?

The film revolves around a troupe of actors who formerly appeared on a popular sci-fi TV show entitled Galaxy Quest. The program was cancelled 18 years ago, and the actors are out of work. However, through a massive mis-communication, the troupe is transported to space into the middle of a war with a species of aliens called Thermians fighting against the sinister Sarris.

The first half of the film contains all the best material in terms of laughs and ideas. The first several scenes are about the crew of Galaxy Quest coping with the fan conventions and type-casting, all of which is original and funny. I would have been happy to see an entire film revolving around this subject. The cast has great chemistry with each other, making the first 20 minutes of the film supremely enjoyable.

After the crew get sent to space, they must all cope with their situation. This provides successful comedy as well, even if it feels a little less fresh. The comedy highlights come courtesy of the Thermian alien species which are hilarious in their movement, bizarre speech patterns, and facial expressions. These aliens provide the biggest laughs and most entertaining moments of the film.

Regrettably, the second half of the film fails to live up to the first. It's not as funny, not as entertaining, and it's absurdly messy. The novelty of the plot and thinly written characters has worn off considerably by now, but the script hasn't realized it yet. What results is a predictable and plodding second half. What's even more upsetting is how tonally off the charts it is.

The comedy in the second half of the film has to unevenly co-exist with surprisingly heavy plot points. I was reminded of 2013's The Lone Ranger, the film that combined wacky Depp antics with the massacre of hundreds of Indians, with unpleasant results. In this film, several torture scenes are "balanced" with wacky spoof humor - the sum of which is disastrous.

What's more, the ending is an absolute mess. Without spoiling anything, it's hard to be specific, but I'll just say that the fight against Sarris is dragged on in a completely unnecessary fashion. With all of that said, the second half is not completely devoid of entertainment. There are still some good gags (and even a couple decent laughs), but it pales in comparison to what came before.

The cast does a remarkable job of taking one-dimensional characters and fleshing them out enough to withstand the 100 minute run-time. Tim Allen (who even looks like a retired TV star) is a likable lead, and he has good chemistry with Sigourney Weaver. Tony Shalhoub is a bit underused, but he's funny when onscreen. Alan Rickman is a highlight among the primary cast, and Sam Rockwell and Daryl Mitchell are great too.

Of course, the actors portraying the Thermians steal the show, perfectly balancing camp and wackiness in a delightful ensemble performance. Enrico Colantoni portrays the leading Thermian.

David Newman's score perfectly parodies the Star Trek/Star Wars material with an appropriately adventurous score. It's a pure parody score, but I imagine it would still function well outside of the film.

The second half lags a bit, and the writing isn't always sharp, but the film is saved by a strong cast and a number of big laughs early on. This is a Star Trek parody that anyone can watch and enjoy (though I suspect Trekkies will enjoy it more). Yes, Galaxy Quest is a mess, but it's certainly an entertaining one.

The Giver
The Giver(2014)

Frustration, thy name is The Giver. Based off of Lois Lowry's book of the same name - which I should add that I have read several times - The Giver has plagued us with terrible marketing and bizarre casting long before its release. I sat in my chair, waiting for the movie to start with intense dread. With so much love for the source material, how could I possibly enjoy this movie that was supposed to be unfilmable? And then the movie starts. And it's surprisingly not awful. In fact, it's rather good. Unfortunately, at the start of the third act, the movie whips its head around, gives you a mischievous wink, and seems to do its best to tarnish any goodwill you directed at the film beforehand. This is not a bad film. This is two-thirds of a good film, and one-third of an awful one.

It would pain me to give you the plot synopsis, as it requires spoiling some brilliant plot twists from the book that are actually established fairly early on in the film (some within seconds). So, despite the fact that the trailers have already spoiled the best twist from the book, I will instead give you a brief summary of the premise. The Giver takes place in the year 2048. Everyone lives in highly regulated "communities," and everyone acts the same. No one has opinions, and no one is allowed to be different. You are not allowed to be rude, not allowed to pursue your own career, as everyone has a lifetime job assigned to them at the age of 18. Our leading protagonist, Jonas, is given a very special job. One that is unique and different from any other. One that will change his life, and everyone's around him.

It is difficult to avoid talking about the book when discussing the film, so I will only do so when necessary. Just bear in mind that if you haven't read the book, I sincerely believe you will like the movie significantly more than if you had read the book.

The first two-thirds are competently done. The story moves along at a nice pace that doesn't feel too fast, nor too slow. The premise is explained efficiently, and while changes are made from the book, they generally work in the film well enough. In fact, many expansions to the culture of the community greatly enhance the world of the film.

The most impressive aspect of the film are the visuals. A crucial element of the book and film is color. As such, color is handled remarkably well in this film. I won't spoil how it is used, but it is done highly effectively. Had The Giver garnered the attention it was likely hoping for, there might have been hope for Oscar nods in the Visual Effects and Art Direction categories.

Unfortunately, the last third is dreadful. The Elders of the Community, who are in charge of reinforcing the laws they create, were not intentionally bad nor good in the book. In the film, all ambiguity is traded in for bad-to-the-bone villains that are not complex, nor interesting. In addition, the brilliant ambiguous ending of the book is changed into a stereotypically Hollywood happy ending that reeks of commercialism, and destroys much of the integrity of the novel. The book contained an aura of uncertainty, though the film turns everything (pardon the expression) black and white.

The adult actors in this film are surprisingly good. Jeff Bridges - who has wanted to make this film for many years - portrays The Giver. His character is a bit more smug than the fatherly persona that the book suggests, but he retains many likable qualities, and ultimately makes the character every bit as delightful as his novel counterpart. Meryl Streep plays the Chief Elder and her performance is surprisingly nuanced, despite portraying a bland character. Unfortunately, one her long speeches at the beginning seems to have been severely edited, eliminating a lot of its potency. On a less satisfying note, Katie Holmes as Jonas' mother is gratingly bad, though this is almost entirely due to the script, as her dialogue is obnoxious.

And then there are the teen performances. In the book, Jonas and his friends are 12 years old. In the film, they've been aged up to 18 (and their real life actors are a few years older than that). Now, there are two reasons for a film to increase the age of their leads:

1). Because child actors are difficult to work with, and don't always produce satisfying performances.

2.) Older teens have more appeal to teenage girls (the primary audience of most YA novel adaptions).

It is clear that this age change was for reason two. My evidence for this is that Jonas (portrayed by Brenton Thwaites) and the love interest, Fiona (portrayed by Odeya Rush) are nauseating attractive. My other evidence is that neither one can act a smidgen. Neither of their performances feel genuine (a problem that likely could have been avoided with younger actors), and the kissing scenes that occur cheapen the film and de-evolve the production into your run-of-the-mill YA film. These are puppy-dog performances with no substance, no charm, and no talent.

The score, by Marco Beltrami, is actually, quite beautiful. There are several moments where otherwise ordinary scenes were transformed into something wonderful because of Beltrami's work. The score is graceful and melodic, two phrases that can rarely be applied to the music in YA adapted films. The use of a (somewhat repetitive) piano theme played by some of the characters also produces an occasionally haunting effect, though it's in desperate need of development.

The Giver is an uneasy mix of genuine art and corporate product. The film is a watered down version of the book that replaces its challenging questions with cheap answers. The Giver tries to duplicate the success of the source novel, but without taking risks, a challenge that proves ridiculous and fatal to the film. Had the film followed the book through the last third, and relied on the strength of the first two acts, The Giver could have been a successful adaption. As it is, however The Giver fails to give audiences a film that intrigues beyond the closing credits. With all the answers right in front of you, where's the discussion? Where's the relevance? Where is there room allotted for audiences to actually use their brains and think and develop their own opinions and theories? If The Giver truly wanted to be a smart film, it wouldn't spoon-feed the audience. And that's why I can deduce that The Giver was not made as film, but product.


After The Sixth Sense scored big with critics and garnered 6 Oscar nominations, director M. Night Shyamalan made a movie with various similarities to what most would consider, his crown jewel. Unbreakable has notable parallels with The Sixth Sense, the most obvious being Bruce Willis in the leading role, but the film also possesses a similar tone and delves a bit into the supernatural (though not as deeply as The Sixth Sense did). It also contains a twist ending - a signature of M. Night Shyamalan - though this element is ultimately the least satisfying part of the film. Thankfully, the preceding hour and a half, do more than enough to save this surprisingly strong follow-up.

David Dunn is returning from a job interview, traveling by train. Unfortunately, the train gets into a major wreck, killing everyone aboard - except for David, who hasn't even a broken bone. David is then consulted by a man named Elijah, who has a disease that causes his bones to break easily. Elijah - a comic book nerd - begins to wonder if David is invincible. And then, he wonders if David might be a superhero.

The most impressive thing that Shyamalan does with Unbreakable, is maintain a brilliantly dark and mildly creepy atmosphere from beginning to end. The film moves slowly, carefully crafting the appropriate tone for the film. The camera angles (most of which are highly unusual) are interesting as well, never quite focusing on the primary characters, making even the most simple scenes feel unsettling. This creates a level of tangible anxiety, which is fascinating as much of the film is occupied entirely by conversation. Essentially, Shyamalan has created suspense out of thin air, in what is an absolute triumph in directing.

The premise itself is interesting as well. It's a super hero film, but without action. It's thoughtful and smartly thought out. One could call it a "super hero film for snobs," but that's discrediting its ability to entertain. I admit that a lot of audiences are likely to be bored watching this film, but for the right niche, Unbreakable will be a delightfully twisted treat.

Moments of brief suspense are dispersed throughout the picture, though it's not paced as well as The Sixth Sense. Some scenes are shockingly dark in their implications. This is a super hero film that feels real. It feels like it could really happen. It's gritty at times, and doesn't shy away from consequence.

The characters themselves are fully dimensional. David maintains primary relations with three other characters, each is done superbly. The relationship between David and his son are especially convincing and impressive, but also very notable are his scenes with Elijah, and with his wife, Audrey.

Unbreakable does suffer from a handful of things, though. Mainly character oversights and the occasional bad dialogue. But the most significant issue is the ending. And in all honesty, the ending is fine. It's good. It wraps things up. But at the same time, it's deeply flawed.

Like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable ends with a twist. The Sixth Sense had a twist that worked on every conceivable level. Unbreakable fails to work on many of those levels. For one, the film is somewhat dependent on the twist, as it wraps up several loose ends. The twist also suffers simply because its less shocking than that of The Sixth Sense, and honestly, not as interesting. The twist isn't bad, it just falls short of the greatness of The Sixth Sense.

Bruce Willis delivers a performance that's equal in strength to his work in The Sixth Sense, though he is somewhat outshined by Samuel L. Jackson who delivers a surprisingly thoughtful performance as Elijah Price. Spencer Treat Clark, delivers a great child performance as David's son, and David's wife, played by Robin Wright, is also notably impressive.

James Newton Howard's score is appropriately creepy, but is also very melodious and frequently interesting. Though it unfortunately gives way to modern-styled percussion on two occasions (each time it's jarring and irritating), it succeeds in enhancing the atmosphere, and being an entertaining score on its own terms.

Not perfect, but mesmerizing nonetheless, Unbreakable certainly doesn't top The Sixth Sense, but it comes surprisingly close. The directing is brilliant, the acting is great, and though the twist is lacking, it still provides appropriate resolution. Unbreakable is extremely experimental - perhaps too much so for most audiences - but it's an intriguing and thoughtful origin story with more guts than most other super hero films on the market.

Men in Black
Men in Black(1997)

In a world where every Summer blockbuster is 2 and a half hours, filled with explosions, contains no interesting characters, and tend to follow strict formulas, it's refreshing to see a film like Men in Black. Whether the '90's were a better time for movies is a debate for another day, but Men in Black seems to be in favor of supporting that theory. It's not a perfect film, but it does a heck of a lot right.

Men in Black creates a world in which aliens exist (around 1,500 of them can be on the Earth at any given time), though they tend to masquerade as humans. Most of them prefer to just live normal lives, but others want to reek havoc. The MIB organization is in charge of keeping these aliens in line, and making sure that other humans don't learn of the aliens' existence. The film is specifically about Agent K, who is training rookie Agent J, as both J and the audience learn about the aliens that exist all around us.

Men in Black is a comedy that provides consistent laughter. So it essentially accomplishes its mission. But Men in Black takes things a step forward by providing likable characters, an interesting premise, and solid performances.

There aren't many smiles or chuckles to be had in Men in Black, as the film seems to be striving almost exclusively for laughter. Not every gag works, but the vast majority of them are successful. The most notable source of humor comes from a device that the MIB use to erase specific memories from normal humans so that they don't remember any of the aliens they might have seen. This device is used nearly a dozen times over the course of the film as an amusing running gag that feels fresh and hilarious each time it's utilized. The secret is in its variation. The gag is never used the same way twice, which is just one example of the added effort the filmmakers have put into this film.

The effects and make-up used in this film hold up surprisingly well. Not every effect works perfectly (there is some definite use of green-screen), but they look good enough to avoid unintentional chuckles or distractions. And the alien designs themselves, are creative and unique.

Even more refreshing is that the film never tries to accomplish too much. It is satisfied to be a sci-fi comedy, and generally avoids pitching in random sub-plots. The exception is a tastefully handled back story for Agent K's character involving his wife, though it only takes up about 90 seconds of the film, and is actually very sweet. The ending itself, actually, also is subtly poignant and interesting. It works on levels you wouldn't initially expect.

Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K is the clear standout of the cast. While many are tired of seeing this sort of fast-talking grump that Jones has played dozens of times (to be fair, he really isn't that grumpy in this film), the character still works because of Jones' excellent performance. Will Smith is also engaging in a lead performance as Agent J. Love him or hate him, no one can deny the energy and enthusiasm he brings to the film, and his chemistry with Jones is superb. Other notable performances come courtesy of Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D'Onofrio, Rip Torn, Tony Shalhoub, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Mike Nassbaum and Richard Hamilton.

Danny Elfman makes an odd choice for this score, and ends up playing it relatively safe. It never seems to have any of the zaniness of energy one would expect, which causes it to seem very flat and uninteresting. It may be represented better outside of the film, but within the picture, it's a disappointment.

Men in Black is a joyous comedy. It loses a little steam by the time it reaches the third act, but the blissfully compact 98 minute run-time insures that the film doesn't overstay its welcome. In short, it's funny, well-acted, fresh, and memorable. What more could you ask of a sci-fi comedy?

The Magnificent Seven

1960's The Magnificent Seven is considered to be one of the great Westerns. Obviously it has inspired numerous sequels and remakes, and its influence in film and American culture is undeniably great. But taken on its own merits, is there anything truly magnificent about The Magnificent Seven? By all standards, it's competently made, but it surprisingly lacks in two key areas: character development and exciting action sequences.

The Magnificent Seven (itself a Western remake of the 1954 film, Seven Samurai) is about a team of seven Americans that are hired to defend a small Mexican town from bandits, who have repeatedly returned to pillage the town over the years. The seven Americans quickly realize they are outnumbered, so they must also train the town to fight.

As previously mentioned, there are two major problems with The Magnificent Seven. The first of which is character development. The film has seven primary characters, and while some are faithfully developed (primarily Chico, a hot-headed youngster), most of the other characters are given little defining traits or dimensions. I would argue that only two or three of the seven protagonists are given personalities with any kind of depth. The other four are given a single notable feature (one is on the run, one is good with a knife) to support their presence. If nothing else, the villain, Calvera, is entertaining to watch, even if he is drawn equally thin.

The other big problem is the ineffectiveness of the action sequences. They fail to raise one's pulse, and though the finale does seem to have genuine stakes (and actually follows through on its risks), it lacks any element of fun. Given the serious circumstances, one could forgive the lack of joy involved, but there is little tension or even thrill to compensate for this.

There are a small number of other issues as well. After the first 80 minutes of the film, The Magnificent Seven begins to drag, and it never really picks back up. As a result, the last 45 minutes seem incredibly long. Also, an unnecessary love story has been shoe-horned in, but isn't developed at all, and finds itself swaying closer to comedy than touching poignancy.

While not without memorable moments, there is little of outstanding notability in The Magnificent Seven, excepting its massive legacy. It takes surprising risks with an ending that's more somber and less triumphant than most modern Hollywood endings, and though the characters themselves are lacking in identification, the performances are great.

Many of the poorly written characters are saved by strong performances. Admittedly, some do fall prey to melodrama, but they still hold up reasonably well. The standout performance belongs to Horst Buchholz who makes the most of an annoying character, and incidentally, the one that's the most developed. Yul Brynner, who portrays Chris Adams (arguably the leader of the seven) is an intimidating screen presence, despite the fact that he plays a protagonist. The same could be said of James Coburn. The villain portrayed by Eli Wallach is enjoyable to watch, and is certainly the most entertaining cast member.

Elmer Bernstein's score is easily the most magnificent element of the film. The main theme is proudly performed in the opening titles (perhaps the best part of the film) and is given several reprises throughout the film. The Mexican influence seeps into the score, allowing for a bit of color in the form of guitar and castanets. The only real problem with the music is the absurd overuse of one particular guitar chord is played on its own at least a dozen times (or more) throughout the film. It's a tad distracting, but it is only a small blemish on an otherwise, highly entertaining score.

The Magnificent Seven is a perfectly watchable movie, but it's a long ways off from great, and even a recommendation would feel generous. Had its characters been stronger, and the action sequences more thrilling, The Magnificent Seven could have been something great. Alas, its flaws and slow third act keep this legendary Western from living up to its legacy. It's not bad by any stretch of imagination, but it's a disappointment nonetheless.


There are films, and then there is Battleship. 131 minutes of explosions, tedious exposition, and lots and lots of yelling. The problem (or at least one of the problems) with Battleship, isn't that it's mindlessly stupid (though it is), or that it contains poor acting (though it does), but that it's profoundly boring. There are times when I nearly dozed off - despite seeing this in the early afternoon after a full night of sleep - and times when I resorted to checking my watch - despite doing so a minute prior. Battleship is one big, bloated, boring, bomb of a film. But if you aren't convinced yet, by all means, read on.

Supposedly inspired by the Hasbro board game of the same name (I'm sure I don't need to tell you that there are almost no similarities outside of their title), Battleship is about a troublesome weapons officer named Alex Hopper, who must lead a small group of navy soldiers against a fleet of aliens. And that is the entire plot.

Battleship really only has enough story and character development to create a 90 second film (plus credits), so how director Peter Berg got a two-plus hour film out of this is beyond me. The aliens don't show up until about the 30 minute mark, which actually isn't so bad when you consider that films like Jurassic Park or the recent Godzilla film wait 45 minutes to an hour before showcasing any real monster action. The problem here is that those 30 minutes feel like 30 hours because the characters are dull as dust, and there is nothing to hold our attention.

What's even more shocking is that the film actually gets worse when the aliens arrive. And this is why: at least before the aliens show up, there are things to occasionally laugh at (unintentional comedy only; none of the intended gags actually work). There is terrible acting, terrible dialogue, ridiculous character oversights, etc. And while most of these things remain in the preceding 100 minutes, they have worn out their welcome long before this point. And what's more, we realize that the monstrously bad opening only revealed a fraction of this film's many problems.

For one, none of the action is even a tiny bit engaging, which is a massive issue, because most of this film is taken up by said action. There are a number of reasons the action doesn't work.

1. We're not invested in the characters in the slightest, conceivable form. Obviously, with the exception of the feminist-pleasing Cora Raikes, none of the characters have any personality. We don't care for any of them. And in the case of the main character, we flat out don't like many of them.

2. Nothing looks real on account of some of the ugliest, cartooniest, and cheapest looking CGI I've ever seen. I was never convinced that anything on the screen was real. The special effects are laughably bad at times. People give the Star Wars prequels a lot of hate for the massive amount of CGI, but if you showed those same people Battleship (which I wouldn't even wish upon my worst enemies) they would find the Star Wars prequels to be increasingly appealing.

3. At some points, you can't even tell what's going on. A lot of the action just appears to be explosion montages.

4. There's nothing here we haven't seen before. The action scenes are just a bunch of shooting, and that's it. There is no variety. It's just ships shooting at alien ships. At two brief points, there is hand-to-hand combat with aliens, but one these is done in a purely comedic way, and the other is suffers from inconsistencies with alien's capabilities. And that's another reason the action doesn't work:

5. Battleship is never consistent. At certain points (especially the beginning) the aliens appear to be ultra-strong and perhaps invincible, with the humans leaving hardly a dent on their spaceships or armor. But as the film progresses, the aliens become increasingly weaker for no apparent reason.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

There is a side story involving Alex Hopper's girlfriend, Samantha, and a double amputee soldier that accomplishes nothing outside of occupying an extra 30 or so minutes of the movie. Various questions about the aliens and their abilities are raised but never answered. This isn't done in a tastefully ambiguous way, so much as it was done to allow for cool shots to take place, without the inconvenience of explaining what they mean.

The design for the aliens - whom we don't actually see outside of their armor until about the halfway mark - is laughably bad. They just look like bald men with prickly beards. Their armor look like Halo/Storm Trooper rip-offs. And their spaceships are clunky looking, and totally forgettable.

The only vaguely entertaining aspect of Battlefield (outside of some unintentional comedy early on) is the amount of clips and camera shots the film re-uses over and over. There are times when you think to yourself "didn't I see this shot of that satellite earlier?" And of course, the answer is "yes," just 30 minutes ago. Many, many, many parts of this film are recycled into other scenes which makes the film seem all the more lazy. At one point, the same image of alien blasters charging appeared twice within two minutes (I know because I was checking my watch for most of the film).

The acting is awful at worst, and bland at best. Taylor Kitsch doing his best Batman vocal impression for most of the film, has mastered the appearance of looking confused and bewildered. He retains these expressions for most of the film, when he's not frowning or having the scene stolen by the nearest empty wall. Rihanna (yes, they allowed her to act) gets to do a bit of yelling, and Liam Neeson gets to do a bit less yelling. Brooklyn Decker and Gregory D. Gadson embarrasses themselves in laughably performances.

Steve Jablonsky's score is an atrocity. Messy electric guitars, melodies that have no more than single note, and themes that rip off Harry Gregson-William's theme from the Narnia films (perhaps a temp track issue?). It's loud, repetitive, and diverges into a number of action film cliches including dubstep, the horn of doom, and repetitive electronic melodies. The nicest thing I can say about Jablonsky's score is that it's better than the accompanying soundtrack (stuffed with bombastic rock-oriented songs), but so is getting one's toe extracted. And I haven't even mentioned the completely ill-advised use of the Pink Panther theme in one scene that surely has Henry Mancini rolling in his grave.

A lot of Battleship's defenders have insisted that this film is a good time if you just "turn off your brain." And despite the many problems I have with that particular line of thinking, I agree in that a brainless action film can sometimes be fun. However, Battleship is no fun at all, no matter how much of your brain is intact. It's long, slow, and totally uninvolving. The acting is bad, the dialogue is worse, and there isn't even a remote element of fun in this movie. On a more positive note, the ocean appears to be real and not a CGI effect at least some of the time. It does its job at looking watery and blue. The rest of the film is sewage.

Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump(1994)

Forrest Gump is the kind of film that shouldn't work on any level. It's as manipulative as a film can ever be, pulling strings and begging the audience to cry, and the entire event is drowned in sticky-sweet syrup. And yet - incredibly - Forrest Gump truly works. It is not without flaw - in fact, it would be nearly impossible to count down all of its many problems - but this film succeeds in being an entertaining, whimsical, and - at times - quite beautiful portrayal of life, love, and 20th century America. And while one would be quick to point to director Robert Zemeckis in regards to the film's success, or perhaps Eric Roth's screenplay, or even Winston Groom's book upon which the film is based, I think the reason this film works, is because of Tom Hank's legendary performance as the title character.

Forrest Gump is a slow-witted Alabama native. But indeed, he has extraordinary talent, and an intriguing life story to tell to whoever will sit next to him at the bus-stop.

Despite being embraced by - seemingly - everyone, Forrest Gump actually fared less well than critics. It holds a 72% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is a good score, but not a great one. This is largely because Forrest Gump will not appeal to the cynical. And Lord knows that film critics get enough hate as it is, but there's simply no two ways about it: Film critics, generally speaking, are more cynical than the average movie-goer. Those willing to accept the occasionally preposterous nature of the film and the sometimes cloying sentimental tone will find a lot to enjoy. But if you've never quite cottoned to the sappier efforts of Steven Spielberg or renaissance Disney, you may find Forrest Gump to be an eternal 142 minutes.

One of the problems with Forrest Gump is that the film goes to exceedingly great lengths to make Forrest as endearing and likable as possible. And honestly, it wasn't necessary; he's already a likable character. Additionally, Forrest Gump just seems to be an expert at everything. When we learn he's an incredibly fast runner, we buy that. But after we learn he's incredible at putting guns together, playing ping-pong, etc., things get a little stale.

On top of that, Forrest Gump also has a running gag in which Forrest turns out to be the originator of several pop culture staples, from one of Elvis Presley's dance moves, to the creator of the "smiley" face, etc. Forrest Gump spends so much time winking at the audience, one begins to ponder the likelihood of contracting an eye-lid blister.

In spite of the film's many problems, however, Forrest Gump is a good film, largely thanks to Tom Hanks. His performance adds an element of genuineness and sincerity to the picture, thus balancing the syrupy sap. On paper, the Forrest Gump character comes off as cloying, but when you see Tom Hanks portray this character, it not only works, it comes to life. This is not a case of a great performance making a decent film worth seeing. This is a great performance that elevates everything surrounding it. It gives the movie a classy nature that makes the sentiment feel earned.

There are genuine moments of beauty and grace. In fact, some sequences are almost stunningly beautiful. When the film eases back a little on the sweetness, it has an old-fashioned appeal to it, and an unmistakable charm in the aesthetics of the picture.

The visual effects are superb. Forrest Gump seamlessly blends with the archival footage in an effect that still holds up today. Even more impressive - to my eyes, anyway - is the effect used for a character who has lost his legs in the war, and must function without them.

I've already praised Hanks' performance, but the rest of the cast is worth noting too. Robin Wright plays Forrest's love interest, Jenny, in a more serious role. She captures the depth of the character, and is never as annoying as she might have been in less capable hands. Gary Sinise as Dan Taylor delivers a performance that's absolutely marvelous, and even giving Hanks a bit of a run for his money. Sinise's performance is powerful and gripping. Sally Fields portrays the most charming of the cast, Forrest's mother, in a sweet but memorable supporting role. Michael Conner Humphreys and Hanna R. Hall portray young Forrest and young Jenny respectively in excellent child performances.

Alan Silvestri's score is very pretty, but it receives an absurdly little amount of screen time. It gets two major appearances (other than the credits), and that is the very beginning, and the very end. You hardly hear it at all the rest of the film, which is largely populated with obnoxious, time-period-accurate, pop and rock songs. While they are interesting from a stylistic point of view, they are simply atrocious from a musical one. They end up stealing a lot of screen time that would have been better served by Silvestri's much more palatable musical score.

Forrest Gump is heavily flawed, but it has some wonderful moments. Tom Hanks gives the performance of his life, and despite too much sweetness at times, the film is a real charmer. The acting is great, the screenplay is great, the score is great, and the characters are great. The over-sentimentality brings the film down a bit at times, but it's hard to imagine that too many people would leave Forrest Gump without feeling at least a little better about life.


Bearing in mind that I have not yet seen all of director Tim Burton's films, I personally think Beetlejuice might be his very strangest effort. This is made even stranger, considering how absurdly normal the first 10ish minutes are. But that's as long as things remain familiar. After that, the film is turned on its head, and never looks back. It's a wacky, crazy ride, but it's absolutely worth taking.

A young couple - Barbara and Adam - are quietly enjoying their vacation in a house in the country, when they suddenly perish in an unfortunate car accident. And yet, they return home, possibly unharmed. That is, until they find a book they don't recall owning: Handbook for the Recently Deceased. It is at that moment when they discover that they are both dead. To make matters worse, an obnoxious family moves into the house, and Barbara and Adam want them gone. So in order to make them leave, they realize they must scare the family away. When their efforts prove fruitless, they turn to the nutty and unpredictable bio-exorcist known as Betelgeuse.

Beetlejuice is as inventive and unique as a film is likely to get. The concept is interesting, and while the execution leaves a bit to be desired, it does provide an effective balance of comedy and horror. The writing isn't always terribly strong - with plot points and dilemmas that seem to be made up on the spot in order for the film to keep moving - but the film gets by on the wacky atmosphere and creative visuals.

The title character, Betelgeuse, actually gets surprisingly little screen time. He is present for about 30 minutes of the 92 minute run-time, which is unexpected. However, the Betelgeuse character is wildly energetic, and some will find the character to be unbearable. The 30 minutes of time the character is allotted is just enough for him to have a significant presence in the film without becoming an nuisance. He remains an enjoyable aspect of the film, thanks to his limited screen time.

The cast of actors are all a delight to watch. Michael Keaton often gets singled out as the highlight, but I think Catherine O'Hara, Jeffery Jones, Glenn Shadix and Sylvia Sidney are just as enjoyable. Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis and Winona Ryder get the thankless job of portraying the normal characters (or at least what passes for normal in this film).

Danny Elfman's score is very much like the film: wild, zany, and very enjoyable. While it may be too high energy for some, few would deny its effectiveness and enthusiasm.

Beetlejuice is a wild romp that's highly imaginative and wickedly entertaining. While some will certainly hate this film, the right crowd will find the whole affair to be deliciously nutty. There's a slew of memorable scenes (the dinner scene in particular is properly laugh-out-loud funny), and trippy environment that the film creates is worth experiencing. Beetlejuice isn't for everyone, but whether you love it or hate it, one thing's for sure: You'll never see anything like it.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Many are calling Guardians of the Galaxy "the most risky Marvel film yet," with the word "risky" frequently being replaced with words like "unique," "different," and the like. But is Guardians of the Galaxy all that risky? It contains its share of likable, well-known actors, has loads of pretty visuals, comes from an established and lucrative studio, and is debuting in a dry spot for cinema. Of course, even with all of these facts on the table, Guardians of the Galaxy still fits comfortably under the description "most risky Marvel film yet," but only because Marvel films tend to be anything but. The fact of the matter is, Guardians of the Galaxy is no more "risky" than it is "unique" or "different," which is to say that it is none of these things. The shame of this is that the first hour has glimmers and ideas promising all of those things, but ultimately fails to live up to them.

In this film's simplistic, yet meandering story line, a group of ruffians team up to deliver an orb with mysterious and vague powers to a collector for a large sum of money. And yet, when things go wrong, and the orb inevitably falls in the wrong hands, they must team up and use their strengths and weaknesses to get the orb back before it's too late. In many respects, this is as close to a Han Solo spin-off as we're likely to get.

Following the foot-steps of a recent 2014 box-office hit - Maleficent - Guardians of the Galaxy disappoints not because it's necessarily a bad movie, but that it only partially realizes its massive potential. With a more innovative director on board, Guardians of the Galaxy could have been marvelous. Instead, it remains marvel-less (please pardon the pun).

The first hour of the film proves that there were creative ideas at hand. The worlds that we visit are visually inventive and unique - especially Xandar, which is an interesting combination of Coruscant and Orlando, Florida - and the character designs are fun as well. Even the spaceships have received enough attention to insure that they are not among the generic brand of other sci-fi films. But these are merely skin-deep cosmetics that desperately try to obscure the cookie-cutter film that Marvel has already made many times before.

Guardians of the Galaxy attempts to be an action-comedy, which proves fairly problematic. This is not an issue of balance, but rather that the action is messy and tedious, and the comedy is flat and humorless. The action includes your run-of-the-mill chase sequence, some hand-to-hand combat, and a great, big, destruction-packed battle at the end. In addition to feeling totally static and bland, the action sequences are edited offensively poorly, with characters randomly jumping from place to place without explanation or flow (akin to some of the awkward editing in last year's The Lone Ranger).

The comedy is not much of an improvement. While some of the visual gags work (primarily those involving a tree-like character named Groot - more on him later), the dialogue is often embarrassingly bad. The film throws in random 70's and 80's references with absolutely zero context, and expects the audience to laugh anyway. Other gags seem to be recycled from other films, meaning that almost none of the humor feels fresh or especially funny. And others still are just obnoxiously immature in a way that only a child could truly appreciate. Sophistication was never the goal of Guardians of the Galaxy, but that doesn't mean that the humor should target the 12 and under crowd exclusively.

Guardians of the Galaxy is not a superhero film, and in my eyes, it would have done well to stay as far away as possible from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to make for a more accessible viewing. Alas, Thanos - a famed Marvel antagonist - is featured in several scenes, and unless you have previous Marvel knowledge, his random appearances will seem confusing and unnecessary (for the record, I don't think the latter descriptor would change even with prior research). He is shown in several scenes, and randomly forgotten with no resolution at all. This is inexcusable. If you must insist upon shoving Marvel characters into the film for the sake of satisfying fanboys, at least do us the courtesy of making his presence necessary to the plot if he's going to be given significant screen-time.

There are numerous other flaws that only deserve brief detailing. A surprisingly emotional opening scene proves completely insignificant to the overall film - though it does showcase an excellent child performance by Wyatt Oleff, and an unintentionally creepy performance by Laura Haddock. And Marvel does their famous "death cheat," in which they suggest the death of a primary character without really committing to it, thus getting the emotion without consequence. This remains the most blatant proof that Marvel is incapable of taking risks.

The characters themselves are not as interesting as the trailers might lead you to believe. Peter Quill - the film's primary protagonist - has a role in the film that's never quite clear. Is he a bumbling Jack Sparrow type that's more quirky than skilled? Or closer to Indiana Jones in his capability? Apparently the filmmakers were as unsure as I was, as the film never decides upon either personality, instead choosing to juggle each, resulting in a remarkably weak protagonist. Gamora - a green-skinned female assassin - is the tough-girl we've seen in dozens of films before, and is only here to satisfy the feminists.

Drax the Destroyer - a big, strong looking humanoid alien - has two distinctive traits (generous by Marvel standards). One is his passion to avenge his family's death, which ends up feeling like an unfortunate Inigo Montoya mutation. His other trait is that he is incapable of understanding expressions, and instead assumes everything is literal. This is played for humor in some of the film's most cringe-worthy moments, and is then conveniently forgotten at several intervals. This could go down as some of the laziest writing in the film if not for Groot.

Groot is a tall, tree-like character, who's most unique feature is that he can only say the words "I am Groot." And while this is indeed, a unique and interesting concept, the film cheats. Groot is allowed to grunt, yell, etc. And worse, his partner-in-crime, Rocket, can translate those three words as if they were simply another language. Thus eliminating any and all innovation with this character. Even so, Groot remains the most likable of the main cast, followed by Rocket, a talking raccoon, who is less drab than the other characters, though his best lines are already in the promotional material.

The antagonist is shamefully bland - as is usually the case for Marvel villains. It's just another bad guy bent on world domination, who will achieve whatever means blah blah blah, etc, etc, etc. On a somewhat related note, his makeup is atrocious.

The cast is basically fine, as they do their best with a terrible script. Chris Pratt is a likable presence, even when portraying the notably poorly written Peter Quill. Zoe Saldana (who apparently is the go-to actress for sci-fi films after starring in Avatar and JJ Abram's Star Trek films) and Dave Bautista are fine in their roles, and Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper do good voice work for Groot and Rocket respectively.

The most memorable characters and performances are from the supporting cast. John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Benicio del Toro are particularly enjoyable - the latter of which has an almost identical appearance to Ron Perlman's character from Pacific Rim.

Tyler Bate's score is laughably generic. It features one of the most bland main themes in recent memory, and features all the predictable action score elements. Low brass for the villains, bland fanfares for the heroes, etc. Slightly more interesting is the soundtrack, which features 80's song that make the film's musical direction stylistically different from other sci-fi films, but ultimately just causes Guardians of the Galaxy to feel like whatever the hipster equivalent of The Avengers is.

It's frustrating that Marvel elected to avoid taking any real risks with Guardians of the Galaxy, opting for the typical Marvel story, plot points, and weak characters, as the potential for this film was huge. Mere glimpses of what could have been remain intact, but Guardians of the Galaxy is largely a by-the-numbers sci-fi film that fails to innovate, interest, or entertain. Films like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes represent the kind of success a film can find when it takes risks, tries new things, and boasts intelligence far beyond its peers. Indeed, intelligent and entertainment CAN exist in the same film. But honestly, it would have been nice if Guardians of the Galaxy had at least implemented one these.

Groundhog Day

Having now seen Groundhog Day myself, I wonder how teenagers - whose opinions of this film are probably not influenced by nostalgia - react to this film. Compared to comedies today, it is slower paced, strives for less belly-laughs, and is mostly just a quieter film. Do teens today have the patience to sit through 5 minutes of set-up with a significantly smaller gag ratio than today's comedies? Groundhog Day would never have been profitable, had it been made in the present. Which is a sad thing, as Groundhog Day reminds one of how charming the "quiet" comedy could be.

TV weatherman Phil Connors is as arrogant as they come. He's rude to those around them, and insists he's a star. Due to unexplained circumstances, however, Connors is set in a time loop, in which he must relive Groundhog Day, over and over again. And he has no idea how to get out of the loop.

Simply summarized, Groundhog Day is as pleasant as a film gets. While belly laughs are rare, there is a satisfactory amount of chuckles and smiles throughout the movie, but even then, one could argue that there are less such instances than in other comedies. For me, Groundhog Day is good entertainment, in spite of slightly less plentiful gags than modern audiences are used to. The story and protagonist are interesting enough that the film still works in spite of all that.

Groundhog Day has its sweet moments, mostly because of the romance between Connors and new producer, Rita Hanson, that works surprisingly well. Even when working with occasionally cheesy dialogue, the two leads have great chemistry, and thus, their relationship remains interesting and believable. It gives the film a much needed extra dimension.

My sole complaint (which is more a matter of preference than anything), is that Groundhog Day elects to avoid some of the darker elements of its premise. Groundhog Day is played mostly for comedy. Though it is implied that Phil Connors is frustrated with living the same day over and over, there is no dramatic scene or outlet to truly express this. Even during a montage in which he tries to commit suicide in various ways, it is done for purely comedic purposes. The ending is also a pinch unsatisfying, thanks to a cop-out that results in a somewhat hasty finale. The lighter tone of the film is largely to blame for this.

Groundhog Day boasts an enjoyable cast. Bill Murray is delightful in the lead, beautifully balancing humor and drama. Andie MacDowell generally gets it right, but falters at time with some of the less intelligent dialogue. Stephen Tobolowsky is a highlight among the talented cast, portraying an overly-friendly insurance agent named Ned Ryerson. The film wisely chooses to limit his presence to just a few scenes, thus eliminating any chance of him becoming overbearing or obnoxious as he well might have with more screen time.

George Fenton's score is playful and fun. Though it does contain some unfortunate '90's synths and at times, ill-suited electric guitar, it's a pleasing and enjoyable effort by Fenton.

One could argue that Groundhog Day is an overly sentimental and innocuous film - a good time-killer, but nothing more. I would argue that it's a bit more than that. It does some interesting things with its premise, and has more depth than one might expect (even if it could have supported significantly more). Even if the ending disappoints a bit, and there aren't many big laughs, Groundhog Day is entertaining enough and funny enough in an endearingly mild way to make for pleasant and likable entertaining. Labeling it as a masterpiece - as many have come to do so - is absolutely stretching things more than a little. But even if its cultural significance didn't make it a must-see by most standards, it's an enjoyable enough film that it deserves a recommendation anyway.


A film like Gremlins doesn't call for a review, so much as it demands a detailed discussion. This isn't because the film is particularly complicated, nor does it imply that there are loose ends to theorize about. It is simply because Gremlins can be interpreted in a number of different ways. Is it a dark family film? Or a cheesy horror flick? Is the film a cliched product of the 80's? Or perhaps a smart satire that was years ahead of its time? For me, it is all of these things. It's a joyous romp that's hilariously silly - so much so that the absence of truly serious moments can be completely forgiven.

The plot is simple; a young man receives a strange present from his dad: a mysterious creature called a Gremlin! There are 3 rules that must be obeyed to insure that nothing goes wrong. One, the Gremlin must stay away from sunlight, or it will die. Two, the Gremlin must not get wet. And most importantly, the Gremlin must not be fed after midnight.

Care to guess how many of these rules get broken before the film ends?

Gremlins is a rare kind of a film, in that it has actually improved with age. The characters are laughably stupid, there's an abundance of product placement, and the Gremlins - even in their "cute" stage - are (perhaps) unintentionally creepy. These are legitimate problems, and yet, they actually manage to enhance the film. I think the over-the-top silliness of the film is to thank for this, as this allows for an environment in which unintentional laughter is not detrimental to the movie experience. This bizarre blend of self-aware comedy and unintentional humor has resulted in a film that will only continue to get better as the years pass.

Admittedly, one could argue that Gremlins is a bit of an awkward film to watch, in that the the intentional and unintentional comedy is often indistinguishable from the other. One scene that effectively hones in on this issue is the famous monologue, in which one character recalls a tragic memory from her childhood. Supposedly, this scene caused a stir among studio executives, whom requested that the scene be removed as it was uncertain whether this was supposed to be sad or funny (if you care for my two cents, I laughed myself nearly to tears at this part).

This could definitely be an issue for some. Is a film that contains so much unintentional humor and laughable flaws worthy of a recommendation? My answer is an unequivocal "yes." The film thrives on cliches of the past. Now that what was modern in the 80's is also a tired cliche in the 21st century, Gremlins has become an intentional parody of itself. It's the tone that the film was always aiming for, and has managed to re-achieve that goal decades later.

Another fascinating aspect of this film is the violence. Gremlins received a PG rating from the MPAA, and the criticism thrust at both this film, and the MPAA due to the violent images resulted in the birth of the PG-13 rating. Yes, as expected, Gremlins die (albeit, in highly creative and massively unexpected ways), but several humans perish as well. If one considers this film to be a horror movie, than this isn't unusual at all. But if one thinks of this as a family picture, than this is very unusual indeed. Once again, I reiterate: this kind of movie simply demands discussion!

The acting is terribly hammy, but in spite of - or rather, because of - this, the performances are delightful. Zach Gilligan is the lead actor, and Phoebe Cates portrays the love interest. Both characters are dull as dirt in terms of personality, but their moronic inclinations make them highly entertaining to watch all the same. The other actors tend to fall in the same territory.

Jerry Goldsmith composed an appropriately maniacal score for this picture. It contains his signature synthesizers (adding to the film's dated feel even further), and ties in Christmas tunes to reflect the holiday setting. In terms of music, there are no questions here: the tongue is absolutely in the cheek.

There is roughly 45 minutes of build-up, followed by nearly an hour of Gremlins mayhem. Thanks to the camp nature of the film, the 45 minute build-up is no less entertaining than the Gremlin destruction later on. The last hour is almost non-stop craziness, and needless to say, it becomes exhausting. But it's the best kind of exhausting; the kind that comes with knowing that you're having an absolute blast. Indeed, the amount of fun here is almost overwhelming at times. It's tempting to spend the entire run-time of the movie trying to analyze its intentions, but the best route is to save this kind of thinking for afterwards. It honestly doesn't matter much in the long run whether you think Gremlins is a dumb movie for smart people, or a smart movie for dumb people. Just let it be known that Gremlins is good, dark fun for everyone!

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

Apes on Horses (also known in some territories as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) might just be the most intelligent Summer blockbuster to be released in years. Less about the explosions, and more about the characters themselves, Apes on Horses suggests its morals without getting preachy, and conveys a surprising amount of respect for the viewing audience. It's a surprisingly fascinating character study, and perhaps more importantly, it is simply excellent entertainment.

Picking up 10 years after the 2011 reboot/prequel, Apes Without Horses (also known in some territories as Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Caesar and his fellow ape friends have assembled a home in the forest, and a new generation of apes have been born and trained. Life is good, until a human wanders into the forest, and shoots a young ape on impulse. Caesar - having thought the humans extinct on account of a world-wide epidemic established at the end of the last film - gathers a group of apes to travel to the nearby human territory, where he forbids the humans from entering the forest. This conflicts with the interest of humans, and both sides begin to plot war against each other. Caesar does not want war. And thankfully, there are a couple of humans interested in keeping peace as well.

Apes on Horses puts films like How to Train Your Dragon 2 to utter shame. This is a film that truly expands on ideas from the last installment, takes risks, and challenges audiences. It takes what works in its predecessor, and enhances it here. It eliminates the flaws of the 2011 reboot, and even brings in its own ideas too. Apes on Horses makes How to Train Your Dragon 2 look like the half-baked product it always has been.

One interesting thing about Apes on Horses is the faith it has in its audience. It allows time for characters to develop and the story to play out. While the experience is fairly heart-pounding (and completely absorbing) almost the whole way through, the big action set pieces are saved until 100 minutes in. And even when they arrive, they don't strive exclusively for fun and spectacle (in fact, they hardly strive for "fun" at all). The action scenes are still written and filmed as character pieces, containing significant dramatic heft and refusing to bury its heart under all the eye candy.

Humans die in this film. Apes die in this film. And while the camera generally shies away from most deaths in the film, the body count is high. Apes on Horses utilizes little blood or gore, and yet, every death feels brutal and important. Action films today kill off hundreds without giving hardly any of them a second thought. It becomes weightless at times. Apes on Horses gives death impact. And that in itself is quite an innovation.

Apes on Horses plays itself very serious. One would be not be wrong to think that this could easily back-fire on the film. But the subject matter is depicted with such weight, and the characters treated with such depth and intelligence, that it completely works. Even imagery like the apes riding on horses - majestic, yes, but undeniably ridiculous - is given a pass in this film, largely because of the script's surprising smarts.

This sort of strategy might call for a comparison with another recent blockbuster, Godzilla. Godzilla took its ridiculous premise, and created a self-aware, b-movie atmosphere so that audiences might swallow the unbelievable story. And while some viewers (like myself), were satisfied with this approach, many labeled the film as "stupid" and "hammy." It will be interesting to see how audiences react to Apes on Horses, which is far more ridiculous, but plays it completely straight.

The (generally) uninteresting human characters from the first film are replaced with far more interesting human characters this time around. Jason Clarke portrays the primary human protagonist, striking the right balance between brave and fearful. The character juggles a number of relationships throughout the film, all of which Clarke handles professionally. Gary Oldman in a supporting role as the leader of the few surviving humans does his shouty business, and gets a brief, but poignant scene somewhat late in the film. Kirk Acevedo gets the thankless role of the "jerk," and labels himself as such in the only pseudo-self-aware moment in the film - albeit, using a slightly stronger synonym.

The apes are supplied with motion capture technology, as was the case in the 2011 predecessor. Andy Serkis portrays Caesar, in a performance that actually exceeds his groundbreaking one in the last film. Just Serkis' vocal performances alone are astounding, to say nothing of the physical portion of the acting. It remains an exciting event when Caesar gets to talk. If this doesn't land him an Oscar nomination, then there's not much more Serkis can do. The supporting apes are wonderful as well. The standouts (other than Serkis) being Karin Konoval and Toby Kebbell.

The only slip in the acting department is Kody Smit-McPhee, portraying Malcolm's son. A lot of the problem here is that the character doesn't feel like it really belongs in the film. Perhaps if the character was significantly younger (Smit-McPhee is 18) than he would be more endearing. Instead, he comes across as awkward in terms of personality, and dazed in terms of his performance.

On a visual level, the special effects are amazing. The apes are as convincing as conceivably possible, and the cinematography allows for a few slightly unusual angles, which keeps things interesting. This and Godzilla remains the most visually delightful live action films of the Summer so far.

Michael Giacchino composes the score, and it is a tad disappointing. There's no memorable themes, and despite some Giacchino-isms that are fun to spot (though his signature two-chord "emotional" theme is getting stale), the score doesn't seem like it would be especially interesting outside of the film. Granted, it does work well in the picture (the music he wrote for the opening montage is brilliant - this sequence alone is worth the price of admission), but it's a long ways off from his work on Abram's Star Trek films (and an even longer way off from his work at Pixar).

Flaws are few, but present. A character arc between Caesar and his son, Blue Eyes, is never realized as well as one would hope (it's almost as if some early scenes with them were removed in post-production), and there's a tie-in with the 2011 reboot that feels forced and unnecessary. And speaking of the final act, the bar is set so high by a stunning action sequence at (roughly) the 100 minute mark, that the climatic set piece at the end feels almost underwhelming by comparison. And finally, the ending itself, is not so much a resolution, but a break point to be picked up by the next sequel (presumably the last installment for a modern trilogy). Some may be dissatisfied with this, though if one walks in with this knowledge, they may find it less disappointing.

Apes on Horses is the best Summer blockbuster I've seen this year (and among the best films I've seen this year). It does everything a sequel is supposed to do, and more. It does surprising things, and doesn't dumb things down for brain-dead audiences. Even if big action sequences are scarce, the film is intense and entertaining from start to finish. The characters (human and apes alike) are compelling and interesting, and the visuals are often stunning. I sincerely hope this film does well at box office; it's been a while since I've seen a blockbuster as smart as this one, and I'm clinging to the hope that audiences still like 'em this way.

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol

Let's address the elephant in the room, shall we? Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is Brad Bird's weakest film to date by a very wide margin. However, considering Bird's impressive body of work (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille), this is more inevitable than disappointing. And considering this is Bird's first foray into live action, Mission Impossible 4 is all the more impressive. It's leagues ahead of the first two installments, and it barely edges out J.J. Abram's Mission Impossible 3, thus making Ghost Protocol (arguably) the strongest of the four currently existing Mission Impossible films.

After breaking Ethan Hunt out of jail, the makeshift spy team consisting of just four individuals, must stop a mad man from receiving the launch codes to nuclear Russian missiles that threaten the lives of millions. And that is my one sentence synopsis.

While Brad Bird loses a bit of his distinct visual style in the move from animation to live-action, one can still see Bird's fingerprints all over the film. Mission Impossible 4 might just be the most stylish of the four Mission Impossible films. Bird even gets a chance to embrace his animation roots in a snazzy titles sequence, and surprisingly, two "A113" references (I only spotted one during my viewing).

As is generally the case in the Mission Impossible universe, the highlights of the film belong exclusively to the action sequences. And in the case of Ghost Protocol, they have never been better. The opening sequence is absolutely marvelous, and while one could argue that the film never does reach the grand heights of the first 5 minutes, it comes tantalizingly close. The suspense is played up in a charmingly old-fashioned way. Everything that CAN go wrong during the team's missions, WILL go wrong. This results in several "edge-of-your-seat" moments that makes you feel like a little child (I mean that in the best way possible).

Conversely, there does seem to be a bit of action-overload, and the film gets a bit exhausting by the end. The 132 minute run time is extreme, and honestly, at least 15 or 20 minutes could have been shaved off to make for a tighter picture. Certainly some of the "talky" scenes could have been snipped away. Several of these are reasonably funny thanks to likable characters, but just as many of them consist of needless exposition. The last five minutes in particular, suffer from this (as well as a completely unnecessary, and uninteresting twist).

The cast is in fine form. Tom Cruise still sells the role of Ethan Hunt, even though he is given far less to chew on than any of his previous performances as this character. He has no emotional arc this time around, but the character itself is likable enough to make amends for such. Simon Pegg is the primary stand-out, getting the funniest lines and most comedic opportunities. Franchise newcomer Jeremy Renner is solid in a supporting role, and while Paula Patton is fine as Jane Carter, the character itself doesn't have any kind of personality. This is something of a disappointment considering Bird's impressive line-up for strong female characters (Helen Parr from The Incredibles, Collette from Ratatouille, etc.).

But perhaps the most disappointing part of this movie, is the lack of a central villain. While we're teased with a promising antagonist early on, we are instead given an identity-less Russian man, who seems horribly tacked on, and is given no memorable scenes, dialogue, or traits. Ghost Protocol's predecessor, Mission Impossible 3 was significantly better in the villain department, and even the first two films had villains that were nasty enough to suffice.

Michael Giacchino's score is noticeably weaker than his work in Mission Impossible 3, but he still does a notable job of expanding and playing with Lalo Schifrin's iconic theme. The opening titles are great, and Giacchino gets to use some very prominent choir early on - a rarity from the composer.

Despite it's problems, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is a lot of fun, and remains the best film in the series so far. The suspenseful action scenes, witty dialogue, and stylish direction add up to a picture that's both smart and entertaining. It's a long ways off from The Incredibles, but Brad Bird has still managed to produce a satisfying action film that doesn't dumb things down - and that alone is worth celebrating.

The Terminal
The Terminal(2004)

Sometimes, there are films that make me wonder why I even bother to watch cinema. I show respect to the picture by sitting quietly in front of it, allowing it to plead its case to me, and all who choose to watch. We hear its argument, and can then deduce whether the film is worth seeing again, or worth recommending to others. In the case of a film like Nacho Libre (for example), I am disgusted by the entire affair, and I wonder if watching movies and taking the time to critique them is even worth it. But ultimately, it is absolutely worth it. Because, for every Nacho Libre or The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I get to talk about a film like The Terminal, in hopes that I might persuade another person to sit down, and listen to its case.

Viktor Navorski is visiting New York, but unfortunately, due to political and bureaucratic mumbo jumbo, he is forced to remain in the airport for an indefinite amount of time. Over the course of his stay, the curiosities of both the airport and America unfold before him.

The Terminal is the embodiment of great cinema. Everything that I love about film, music, and art (none of which, are mutually exclusive, mind you) is contained in this film. It is moving. It is funny. It is sweet. It is warm. It is sad. It is happy. It ISN'T perfect. But it's so wonderful, that perfection hardly matters at all. The Terminal defies genre labels. It has a slice of everything.

A large part of The Terminal's success is found in the main character, Viktor Navorski. He is almost unnaturally innocent, and at the beginning of the film, understands nothing about America. He can barely speak any English, and he is confused by everything he sees. But his kind-hearted nature makes him immediately likable. One might argue that the script is somewhat disrespectful to Russians, as it seems Viktor is a tad primitive (he runs into a glass wall at one point). And yet, the character itself is so likable, that it is hard to actively find fault with one of Viktor's endearing personality traits.

One could accuse the film of being somewhat aimless. Indeed, the plot is a bit thin. But the concept is so charming, and the movie so entertaining, that this flaw doesn't even register until the film is over. The Terminal fills the audience with an almost aching sense of happiness, and I honestly could have stayed in this film, in that airport, for significantly longer than the 2 hour run time allots.

The cast is terrific. Tom Hanks provides a stunningly marvelous performance in the lead. It exceeds mere excellence. He becomes Viktor. His performance walks a fine line between being overly cutesy or frantically cloying. The character and performance are one, resulting in a genuine and touching lead.

The supporting cast is charming. Various highlights include Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chi McBride, Diego Luna, Barry Shabaka Henley, Kumar Pallana, and Stanley Tucci (though his character is essentially reduced to a cartoon over the course of the film).

John William's score bears some resemblance to his work in Catch Me If You Can (perhaps appropriate considering this films many parallels to that one), but I personally think that this is the stronger work. With a deliciously fun (and slightly mischievous) accordion theme, as well as a multitude of other beautiful themes, John William's work here is equal to the picture itself.

I laughed, I cried, and I left wanting more. The Terminal isn't a perfect film, but it's a masterpiece in its own right. It makes the airport into a whimsical, foreign place, and creates characters that will stay with you long after the end credits. What more can I ask from a film that delivers in every single aspect? The Terminal is one of the most satisfying and entertaining films I've had the pleasure of seeing. It's a feel good movie that truly does make you feel good.

Nacho Libre
Nacho Libre(2006)

One of the most common misconceptions about film critics - whether professional or amateur - is that they cannot enjoy "stupid" movies. And while I can only speak for myself, entertainment can cover a multitude of sins. As long as I find the film entertaining and enjoyable, I'm satisfied. And if a "stupid" movie meets that criteria, so be it. The problem with Nacho Libre (or one of many) is that it's not merely stupid. It's downright insulting. And the film simply isn't entertaining enough (and certainly not enjoyable enough) to forgive its glaring offenses.

There's not so much a story here, as there is a premise. Ignacio is the cook in a Mexican orphanage run by nuns and friars. Ignacio, who cares deeply for the orphans, wishes to provide better food for them. So he fulfills his lifelong dream of becoming a professional wrestler, in order to win money to support the orphanage. The catch is that the orphanage finds wrestling to be disdainful, therefore, Igancio must keep his wrestling persona (entitled, "Nacho Libre") a secret.

Let's start with the positives of my viewing experience. I got to sit in a very comfortable office chair. It had an adjustable back that allowed me to recline with ease and it had two arms on the sides so I didn't have to deal with the awkward dilemma of deciding whether I should have my hands joint on my lap, or position one on each leg. Regrettably, there was no spot for me to rest my head, so by the end of the movie I had a rather uncomfortable crick in my neck, though it did produce a satisfying crack when I swiveled my head after the movie had graciously elected to present the end credits.

In analysis of the film itself, the positives are a bit less intriguing (which just goes to show how dismal this movie is). There are roughly three smiles to be had over the course of this film - excluding the smile of relief that comes with the entrance of the end credits, and excluding the smile that occurs before the film starts in vain hope that this might duplicate some of the better aspects of director Jared Hess' previous film, Napoleon Dynamite.

Other than that, we get to see a bit of the quirky style of cinematography employed in Napoleon Dynamite. As far as I can tell, Nacho Libre was filmed on location in Oaxaca, Mexico, and the scenery is lovely. I'm sure the cast and crew had a wonderful time there. Maybe they sampled the local cuisine, visited some famous landmark or other. Perhaps they purchased themselves a souvenir or two to celebrate the occasion. I'm sure they made memories to last a life time.

Also, the film is 92 minutes, and though it feels like it's 92 hours, at least it's not 93 minutes.

Now that the overwhelming positives are out of the way, let us move on to the meat of things. Frankly speaking, Nacho Libre is utter trash. Worse, even. It is overwhelmingly terrible. Letting this rubbish get away with that very label is an illustration of my boundless generosity and unfathomable thoughtfulness. Though one expects that the film is targeting an audience akin to that of Napoleon Dynamite (that is, 12-18 year olds), the screenplay appears to be written with five year olds in mind. Though in my humble opinion, any parent that allows their child to be exposed to this waste is liable for abuse.

Example 1: Nacho Libre has one rule, and that is as follows - As long as you say it in a funny voice, whatever you say is funny. Thus, we have one of the laziest scripts in recent history. The dialogue doesn't have an ounce of humor on it. The film leaves it up to the cast (chiefly our esteemed leading actor, Jack Black) to say it in such a way that it might be perceived as comedy. We get lines such as "I don't want to get paid to lose, I want to win!," that would never be mistaken in any other comedy as "humorous." But if Jack Black says it in that Mexican accent, it simply MUST be worth laughing at.

By the way, the voices aren't funny either.

Example 2: All the obnoxious children's film cliches are here! Poop jokes, fart jokes, butt jokes, butt crack jokes, wedgie jokes, more poop jokes, fat people jokes, more butt jokes, jokes about Mexicans (this one is a smidgen less common in children's films), jokes about accents, jokes about serious rituals, jokes about gross food, more wedgie jokes, more fat people jokes, skinny people jokes, people-singing-awful-sounding-songs jokes, and of course, slapstick.

Now, seeing as this is a wrestling comedy, there is an abundance of slapstick. And while one could be lead to believe that at least the slapstick comedy could be done well in such a film as this, they would be crushingly wrong. There are a number of rules involved with slapstick.

Rule 1: All good things in moderation. Slapstick, most of all.

Now, one could argue that in a film like Nacho Libre, it is impossible to rein back on the slapstick. And while I really do think that if the script was better, at least half of the slapstick could have been cut out, the script is so bad, it's understandable that the director might choose to saturate the production with its numerous wrestling sequences. And yet, it matters little how much slapstick a film contains, if none of it is funny. Observe.

Rule 2: Good slapstick has weight. It should look genuine. If someone is supposed to get punched, it sure as heck better look like that someone actually got punched.

Jared Hess cannot get the slapstick right. It never looks real. It doesn't look like anyone is actually getting hurt. Yes, as suggested by name, slapstick is supposed to be "harmless violence," in that no one is supposed to really get hurt. But in a film that's all about wrestling, and beating people up in the ring, etc., we should wince at least a bit. Instead, it almost looks like I could walk into the ring myself, and then exit unharmed. If slapstick is to be funny, it should look like it hurts. Instead, some characters are literally punching air. I'm sorry Hess, but you can't veil badly choreographed slapstick with loud sound effects.

One of several frustrating things about this film is the clear lack of effort put into this film. Anyone can write in a script, "[character name] smears poop all over [other character's name]'s face." Anyone can write in a script, "[character name] leaps around in spandex." Anyone can write in the script "[character name] talks about puppies, but her accent causes her to sound like she's saying 'poopies'." The closest thing to clever that the script does is have Jack Black's character sing a Lion King rip off that includes a gag that might have been funny, had it not been lifted directly from Shrek.

Surely Nacho Libre doesn't expect anyone in the double-digit age range to find diarrhea jokes funny. No one thinks it's funny to have Jack Black's character hit on a nun. And I'd be hard-pressed to find someone that would laugh at Jack Black loudly using a public restroom.

How can a film like Nacho Libre be accepted as entertainment, when there are so many comedy films around that produce consistent laughs and feature gags that could actually be deemed "intelligent?" Take a film like The Incredibles, where every line is dripping with satire and sophistication. And yet, the dialogue is hilarious and accessible. Kids will laugh at the gags, adults will laugh at the gags, and neither feels like the film is pandering to the lowest-common denominator. Even Napoleon Dynamite felt like it was trying, and it managed a reasonable number of chuckles. In Nacho Libre, it just feels like the director told Jack Black to do whatever he wanted in a "funny" accent and a "funny" costume.

The cast is required to do very little of significant effort. Jack Black speaks in a purposefully silly Mexican accent and runs around in a cape and spandex for 90 minutes. He occasionally makes silly faces, and he stands in positions that accentuate his rear. Big deal; a million people on YouTube have filmed themselves doing the same thing. The rest of the cast speaks in exaggerated Mexican accents and some get to make silly faces. To put it bluntly, no one is pushing for an Oscar nomination.

Even with all my frustrations involving the ambitiously juvenile humor, this film is made even worse just because it's extensively dull. At least when I was offended by the low-aiming humor, I could get mad or frustrated. But otherwise, the film is just a bore. Nacho Libre runs out of plot half an hour in, and it runs out of working gags before the Nickelodeon logo even debuts. But still, the excessive amount of obvious and potty-related gags are the most disturbing factor. Why do people find this funny? I think the phrase "losing faith in humanity" is vastly overused. And yet, as far as descriptors for this film goes, I can think of no better alternative. The profitable box office numbers for this film lends itself very nicely to that phrase as well.

Edward Scissorhands

Many people would agree that Tim Burton has ascended to the highest highs and and descended to the lowest lows; each on multiple occasions. One can never be quite sure what sort of film they're walking into if Burton's name is on the poster. But in spite of his various enemies and cynics, most agree that Edward Scissorhands is a marvelous work of art. And in my humble opinion, the majority is absolutely correct.

In this imaginative, dark fairy-tale, an artificial man named Edward is taken in by a charitable family after living alone in a castle for many years. He has scissors in place of hands because his inventor had not yet completed him before his untimely death. And while Edward's family fears he may be an outcast, he wins the gossipy, suburban neighborhood over. Still, the fickleness of the neighborhood plays a part in what could be considered a tragic love story.

Edward Scissorhands succeeds due to a variety of reasons. The most obvious is simply that it's entertaining. The drama is engaging, and the comedy is delightful. But these are bare bone requirements for most films. And Edward Scissorhands is not "most films."

The characters themselves are lovely. The star of the show is, of course, Edward Scissorhands. He may just be one of the most likable characters in cinema. Brilliantly portrayed by Johnny Depp, his childlike innocence is conveyed through thoughtful facial expressions (as Edward speaks very little) in a performance that can only be described as "magical." It's incredible how likable he is, however, because of some clearly awful things he does during the film (mainly at the end). The supporting cast is also great. The gossipy women of the neighborhood are a riot, and Edward's adoptive family are sweet and amusing.

The story is hugely unique, and while there are obvious lapses in logic and various questions left unanswered (mainly concerning how Edward took care of himself all those years in the castle), much of this can be forgiven because of its fairy tale vibe. Because this is, by and large, a story book-esque fantasy, these "flaws" almost come off as charming. A potentially accidental benefit, but a benefit nonetheless.

While the visuals aren't as lavish as most of Burton's more recent efforts (this film has a 20 million dollar budget: compare with Alice in Wonderland's 200 million dollar budget), they boast a unique look. Some bits come off as dated (some intentionally so), it still manages to grapple a memorable feel. And Burton's style clearly shines through.

The script is smart. It knows what it can get away with, and never really pushes the line. It also avoids some obvious story routes that could have been obnoxious. Unfortunately, one such story route remains, and that is Edward's romantic interest in a girl named Kim. But even this is handled pretty well in the latter half of the film (though it suffers in the first half).

And then there's Danny Elfman's score. Now, if you've never enjoyed Elfman's work in the past, this will not change your mind. But if you are an Elfman fan (and I am), you're in for a treat. This might be Elfman's best work. The emotional moments are beautiful. They jerk tears from your eyes. And the comedic bits (which some might find overbearing) are brilliantly done. It's equal parts fun and tragic, combined expertly to deliver a satisfying package that elevates the film (as any film score should) in large ways.

Edward Scissorhands isn't perfect, but it is enormously satisfying. It's both funny and moving. It's a film that's smart, original, and even challenging. Audiences will savor moments of happiness, and be horrified in moments of tragedy. Edward Scissorhands is a film where everything comes together darn-near perfectly. Movies like Edward Scissorhands don't come often enough. Some will insist that Burton is a soulless director who has been ruined by money, but I argue that no such director could have created such a magical film as this.

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Note: If you've seen the trailers, then this review can be considered "spoiler-free." Otherwise, beware!

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a crime against film. Not that it's criminally bad, but that it goes against everything film is. Film is art, but How to Train Your Dragon 2 is mere product. It regurgitates themes and ideas from the first film without supplying any original concepts of its own. It does what will generate excitement among fans of the first, and waits for the box office returns. I simply can't understand who would support such a naked cash grab.

Berk is a much happier place to live than it was at the start of the first How to Train Your Dragon. The residents of Berk now own their own dragons, and they participate and spectate various Dragon-oriented games and races. But Hiccup and Co. uncover a mysterious group of dragon-catchers, and most surprisingly (unless you've seen the trailers): Hiccup's long-lost mother.

Among many other frustrating things about How to Train Your Dragon 2 is Hiccup's new character design. Not only is it obvious bait for teenage girls (a large portion of the demographic for this movie), but it doesn't make sense. Hiccup remains nerdy and goofy, but his new look betrays that. Also, none of the other characters have changed much at all in terms of appearance. Sure, some of the kids have a little peach fuzz, and Stoick has some white in his beard, but that's it! No one's appearance changes as dramatically as Hiccup's.

This is further evidence at the lack of effort put into this film. The entire movie is running on visuals (which are, admittedly, gorgeous) and lame gags that rarely generate laughter or even smiles. Many of said gags are among the "cute" variety, which should enchant small children and grandparents, but leave most teens cold.

The plot is often forgotten, which leads to weird pacing issues. A standard film should have a beginning, middle, and end. How to Train Your Dragon 2 has a very long beginning, and a very long ending. The beginning of the film establishes the plot, subsequently forgets it, and then introduces Hiccup's mother (a character that is only there to create a cheap twist at the beginning). The end is just a very long and dull series of battle sequences, filled with contradictions, cheap solutions, and vague explanations.

For a fantasy film to really work, I believe it needs strong characters more than anything else. Unfortunately, this cast does not fit the bill (this problems also plagued the first film). While Hiccup is likable, his makeover diminishes his appeal. The supporting cast is either annoying or boring. The exception being Gobber and (surprisingly) Ruffnut, who provides some of the film's only successful comedy, thanks to her new love interest.

The voice cast itself is fine, if unspectacular. Jay Baruchel makes no attempts to change his voice to match the new character design for Hiccup, but the performance itself is fine. Newcomers, Cate Blanchett, Kitt Harrington, and Djimon Hounsou provide serviceable performances.

Other than the animation, the only truly great thing about How to Train Your Dragon 2 is John Powell's score. He follows up his enormously enjoyable work in the original with a score that nearly equals it. It brings back the old themes, introduces some new ones, and puts into one fiercely enjoyable package. The only real downside is that one of the songs in the film ("For the Dancing and Dreaming") has a melody that's almost identical to "Noble Maiden Fair" from 2012's Brave. This remains the only blemish in the music department (excepting the Jonsi song).

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a soulless and empty motion picture. It fails to take risks or introduce creative ideas that differ from anything seen in the first. Its frantic attempts to expand upon the universe result in continuity issues with the first film. How to Train Your Dragon 2 exists only to steal money from the fans of the first film, and perhaps create a stronger presence in the terrifying realm of fan fiction). If you are a part of either above party, then you'll probably enjoy this film, despite my argument. Alas, I implore you, be aware of the beast you're feeding.

Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow is the kind of film you watch, then shrug when it's over. There's little worth raving about, and little worth getting furious about. It's moderately pleasing Summer blockbuster barf. It will make a ripple in the box-office, perhaps serve as a nice rental in the future, but it's not the kind of film that remains in memory for too long.

A la Groundhog Day, Major William Cage continues to live the same day over and over again. It is the day of a terrible battle, in which him and his fellow soldiers are ambushed each time by an alien species called, the Mimics. Every single time, the battle fails, but Cage might just have the key to victory.

So, there's stuff that works and stuff that doesn't. The action sequences are totally forgettable, others loud to the point of head ache induction. The comedy is fairly solid, with a few decent laughs throughout. The performances are fine, but not outstanding, though the script doesn't really lend itself to impressive performances.

The characters are generally quite bland. Character personalities are suggested, but never fully developed. They just sort of fade out as soon as they leave the screen. Tom Cruise is fine in the role of William Cage, Emily Blunt is fine in the role of Sergeant Rita Vrataski (a name more complex than the character itself). The only notable performances come courtesy of Bill Paxton and Brendan Gleeson who make for amusing comedic supporting characters.

The story is cleverly constructed. Despite the fact that Cage's character is reliving the same day over and over, the film is hardly ever tedious. The secret is that it only devotes a few seconds to reveal that Cage is living the day over again, instead of going through the entire day all over again. This is where similar films (like Source Code) have failed. It is most notable thing about this film.

Christophe Beck's score is generally forgettable. The electronic effects are a bit annoying, and there is little memorable material here. Supposedly, director Doug Liman (in regards to the music) "preferred a non-traditional approach, driven by percussion and distorted orchestra." I don't know about you, but that description is almost enough to make me run for the hills.

Basically, Edge of Tomorrow is fine. It takes a bit of time to find it's leggings, and the last 20 minutes seem to drag, but it's entertaining enough to make for a pleasing time at the cinemas if all other options have been exhausted. It's just under two hours long, making it slim by traditional Summer movie standards, but it still lags at times. In short, Edge of Tomorrow is sporadically fun, and there are some good bits here and there. But I'd be hard-pressed to recall much of this film if quizzed about it in a month or so.

The Matrix
The Matrix(1999)

Films like The Matrix do not come often. It boasts a complex storyline and fascinating concept. It creates an alternate reality so tangible, one could truly believe in its existence. The Matrix is a film as ambitious as they come. And while it's is not without flaw (and indeed, there are many), The Matrix is so refreshingly original and delightfully entertaining, that many problems can be overlooked. What cannot be overlooked, however, is the final 5 minutes, which is among the worst endings in memory.

Spoiling as little as possible (though it's rare to find someone these days that haven't yet see this film), The Matrix creates the idea that the world we live in, is not real. It is, in fact, something called, The Matrix. The audience explores the true world with the protagonist, Thomas A. Anderson, as he struggles to comprehend the extent of this revolutionary discovery.

The concept is terribly fascinating. It's hard to explain anything at all without spoiling things, but it is ingenious. Many have argued that it's not entirely original, and I agree, there are definitely elements lifted from other Sci-Fi films, but they're arranged in such a way (and given enough subtle changes) to make a satisfying and intriguing concept.

The story is complex, and confusion is almost necessary. The film possesses an almost dream-like quality, in which little makes sense (likely intentionally). Scenes cut to and fro with little transition or fanfare, adding to the dream-like aesthetic of the film.

One would be forgiven for criticizing the film for suggesting far too many questions (and supporting them with far too few answers). And while it is a tad irksome, many of these questions are probably better left to the imagination. Other notable flaws include some expository lines (that do a poor job of concealing themselves), and some weak writing at times.

But the biggest problem with this film (and the only really significant detriment) is the ending; specifically the last 5 minutes. To explain everything that's problematic with the ending would take a far greater deal of time than anyone has to write nor read about. Never mind the fact that this is a spoiler-free review!

To put it as simply and spoiler-free as possible, the ending is inconclusive. Not in the way that inspires sequels (though this film has spawned two add-ons to date), but rather, it doesn't resolve anything. The dilemma created at the beginning of the film is not dealt with, and the film doesn't acknowledge this. Even had it been left as a cliffhanger for a sequel, I might have forgiven it. But instead, it looks at the sky and whistles innocently, completely ignoring the fact that it's fascinating concept has been left alone. In fact, after the concept is established, The Matrix reverts to a high-level heist film - that is still engrossing, and smashingly put together, but it's lacking the brilliance that it initially promises.

On top of that, the ending gives way to a lot of conveniences and cop-outs, and is both very un-cinematic, and highly anti-climatic.

There are a good number of action sequences, and they are exceptionally crafted, though there are certainly too many of them. The Kung-Fu is cool, and even some of the shoot 'em ups are neat, but they become exhausting after a while. And one can only watch nameless henchmen miss the protagonists so much before becoming skeptical. Also, the gratuitous amount of slo-mo just comes across as dated, and the excessive amount of destruction in the last hour just makes the film seem like it's trying too hard; especially when there's a very interesting concept that feels like it's been ignored in favor of said action and destruction. Still, there's an excellent chase sequence at the very end that's among the best in recent memory.

Keanu Reeves is engaging in the lead, and Laurence Fishburne is solid alongside Reeves (though he talks in an odd, robotic way - perhaps intentionally). Hugo Weaving also has an odd speech pattern in the role of the antagonist, though he pulls it off much better. He's as menacing as Sci-Fi villains get. The supporting cast is good, but not great (Matt Doran as Mouse fares the best).

Don Davis' score does what a good score does; and that is improve the film. Many scenes are significantly improved through Davis' music, as it provides tension and texture. Though it occasionally gives way to too much drums and not enough melody, it's an admirable effort that gets the job done.

The Matrix is the kind of film one can talk about for days. It has a lot of depth and substance, and the plot is hugely complex and open for interpretation. And yet, the pros and cons also merit discussion. The Matrix scores a lot of points by simply being entertaining, smart, and original. But the ending is so hugely unsatisfying that the 2 hours preceding the final five minutes is nearly undone as a result of its incompetence. The Matrix is a weird, wild ride. It's just a shame that the payoff (if it can be called that) is so abysmally weak.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Though perhaps the term is slightly overused, there is no getting around it: Captain America: The First Avenger is a formula film. And I don't mean that it hits all the notes you would expect it to (though it does). Nor do I mean that it doesn't really make any attempt to surprise you (though it does not). Rather, I am directing your attention to the abundance of tired cliches that Super Hero movies (and even film in general) have exhausted. If not for the cast, this would have been a long two hours indeed.

Steve Rodgers aspired to be a soldier, but was deemed too small and wimpy to take on such a job. But because of his kind heart, Dr. Abraham Erskine decides that he wants to perform one of his scientific examples on the man. And he does so, which results in Steve Rodgers becoming the ultimate hero as all of his athletic abilities are dramatically enhanced. He is dubbed, Captain America. But what's a super hero film with a super villain? We get our antagonist in the form of Red Skull, commander of the Hydra (a terrorist organization) that is bent on world domination (aren't they all, these days?).

As each character is introduced, you can already predict their character arc, if they die, and what purpose they will serve to the story. There are no surprises.

Steve Rodgers (later Captain America) is terribly bland, as a result of him being the perfect person. He's sickeningly nice and good-natured, which makes him hard to identify with. A good protagonist needs to have flaws, and Steve Rodgers lacks these. Peggy Carter is Rodger's love interest, and the romance between the two unfolds in a tediously predictable fashion.

The villain himself, Red Skull, is also terribly dull. What separates him from any of the other power-hungry villains in cinema? His defining feature is that he looks like a rejected Voldemort design.

The action sequences are fairly unimpressive from almost any standpoint. The visuals are not strong enough to suggest awe or create a spectacle. And the characters are too bland to have a significant connection with any of them during these scenes, thus eliminating tension. And the sequences lack innovation. None of them are significantly different from any other action sequence in similar films. They are entirely unmemorable.

The first 30 minutes are the strongest in the entire picture. They are the most story-driven (the following 90 minutes have little story at all to speak of), as well as the most character-driven. This is before any of the action sequences, and focuses purely on Steve Rodger's origins as Captain America. There are fun bits here, and it moves along at a brisk pace. The talky 30 minutes of the beginning are far more enjoyable than the action-packed 90 minutes that follows.

The most problematic part of this film is the ending (specifically the last 15 minutes). A lot of it doesn't work for various reasons (difficult to discuss in a spoiler-free review). Without giving anything away, there are obvious things that are overlooked by the characters, a "cheat" that allows the impact of something serious to occur without actual consequence, and a very anti-climatic fight at the end. It's a mess.

Thankfully, the cast keeps things interesting. Chris Evans is solid in the lead, perfectly pulling of the nice-guy persona, even if that's the only thing his role requires. Hugo Weaving makes Red Skull less of a bore than he might have otherwise been. Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter continues the Marvel tradition of having weak female characters and weak female performances (though she is an improvement in both respects over Iron Man's Pepper Potts).

The acting stand-outs all come from supporting cast members. Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine is delightful (as always). And Tommy Lee Jones, while portraying the gruff, sarcastic character we've seen dozens of times, is still quite memorable. And Toby Jones is also enjoyable to watch as Arnim Zola, a Nazi Biochemist.

Alan Silvestri's score actually makes very few notable appearances in this film. There's nothing in the music that's especially memorable, perhaps less a problem with the score itself than with how it's presented in the film. Alan Menken contributes a song (lyrics by David Zippel) that's pleasant and retro, though unmemorable.

While not as enormously dull as many of the other Marvel films, Captain America: The First Avenger is too formulaic, too bland, and too uninspired to make a significant impact. A stray witty line now and then, and some fine performances keep the film from becoming too boring, but there isn't enough here that's new or interesting too remain in the memory for long.


Maleficent: the newest addition to the "gritty/revisioned fairy tale" trend. Starting with Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland, and continuing through Mirror Mirror, Oz the Great and Powerful, and Jack the Giant Slayer (among others). And while Maleficent doesn't improve much over these other efforts, one at least gets the feeling that it was created with good intentions, as opposed to merely being another product cashing in on a hot trend. Indeed, there are some great concepts in this film. But alas, that is all they are: concepts. Never are they fully fleshed out, nor developed enough to leave the impression they might have with a little more care.

This is a revisioning of 1959's Sleeping Beauty, told through the perspective of the villainess, Maleficent. In this story, Maleficent was not always wicked. She was once a guardian of the fairies, though she became cold and wicked when she was betrayed. Betrayed by whom? Her boyfriend.

Yup, we're going the Oz the Great and Powerful route here. Another popular villain whose motive roots from a break-up.

Now to be a fair, I think it's a good - if not great - idea to make a movie about the Maleficent character to flesh out her motives and personality. Because frankly, she had neither in the 1959 film. Unfortunately, her motive is beyond weak. Some Disney fans will be outraged.

But trust me; there are good ideas here. The entire film basically revolves around Maleficent's relationship with Princess Aurora. The three fairies in charge of caring for Aurora are terribly incompetent, so in order for Aurora to survive long enough for a devastating curse to work, Maleficent needs to keep Aurora alive, though she hates her. But over time, Maleficent starts to care for the girl. And to my surprise, this idea really works. It's not perfect execution, but it works.

Unfortunately, only about half of this film is devoted to this relationship. The other is about King Stephen (who betrayed Maleficent to begin with), and the paranoia and confusion he is dealing with, due to his daughter being cursed. This part of the story isn't interesting, nor believable. It's been done before, and done better, and it's just plain dull.

There are (very, very, very brief) flashes of dark humor, that one wishes were developed further, in order to add to the Maleficent character. Some of Maleficent's powers are interesting as well, but because they're never fully explained, the extent of her powers are unknown. She has the ability to morph animals into other beings, the ability to heal, to curse, etc. It leads to some weak bits when one wonders why she can't simply blast her foes out of the way.

It all leads back to the script, which feels very much like a first draft. There are great ideas here, but they're never developed enough to work as well as they might have. The tone is all over the place, switching from gritty to childish. Indeed, the first 10 minutes of the film are almost nauseatingly child-like, while other scenes are remarkably intense for a children's film. Of course, it's never very clear what audience exactly Maleficent is targeting.

On top of all that, the ending is very weak, and very disappointing. Granted, there is one sort of twist near the end that's actually kind of sweet. But ultimately, its impact is diminished due to the nearly-identical twist used in last year's Frozen.

Other than Maleficent herself, the main selling point here is the visuals. And yes, they look pretty good. I was rarely blown away, but they are still pretty to look at. Be warned, however. We witness some very odd looking CGI characters, and some flight sequences near the beginning that rival the early Potter films in their unbelievability.

As one would expect, Angelina Jolie is great as the title villainess. She is given a character with a lot of dimensions and depth, and she handles it marvelously. She straddles the line of scenery-chewing early on, but she improves as the film continues.

The rest of the cast is fine, but not remarkable. Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville portray the three fairies in charge of caring for Aurora, and they are amusing, though they are completely forgotten in the middle portion of the film. Perhaps it's for the better, as it allows more time to focus on Maleficent and Aurora, but at the same time, it's very odd that they're just dropped from the film until later.

But eyes will roll upon Breton Thwait's entrance as Prince Phillip (a thankfully small role). He looks like he came right out of a boy-band, and not in an intentionally comedic way. Tweenage girls may swoon, but anyone else will be groaning or suppressing laughter.

James Newton Howard's score (while sorely missing references to "Once Upon A Dream") is both majestic and powerful. There are some beautiful piano bits, and some marvelous orchestral pieces. Ignoring some unfortunate electronic elements near the end, James gets it right, and it's grand.

Maleficent is the framework for a good movie. There are parts in place, and mere suggestions of bright ideas and concepts. But it never fully comes together, and the weak writing is partly to blame. Had this been given some more re-writes, and a little more time for development, Maleficent could have been something great. As it stands, it's less offensive than many other revisionist fairy tales, but it remains disappointing. Other than the surprisingly well developed relationship between Aurora and Maleficent, the only really notable bits are when the spirit of the 1959 original shines through (the christening scene where Maleficent curses Aurora is one of the best in the film). It's a shame that a little more emphasis had not been placed on recognizing the 1959 film, but that's just another item on a long check-list of undeveloped ideas that prevent Maleficent from living up to its animated source.

Pacific Rim
Pacific Rim(2013)

Mixed Bag - Noun - something that has both good and bad qualities or parts.

Pacific Rim is equal parts fun and awful. The highlights are delightful, but the bad parts are astoundingly terrible. There are immeasurable problems with this film, but there are an almost equal amount of noteworthy cinema. Pacific Rim could make for an ideal night with friends, when you can all laugh and enjoy the good with the bad. But as a viewing experience judged on its own terms, it's lacking.

Gigantic monsters called Kaijus are rising out of the ocean. And what are we going to do? Release the transformers! Or more specifically, Jaegers: giant robots that are controlled from within by two human pilots. Unfortunately, the Kaijus are increasing in number, and the Jaegers have been dismissed as too risky and too dangerous. However, Jaeger commander Stacker Pentecost is convinced that they can end the Kaiju outbreak by using the Jaegers to plant a nuclear bomb in the portal from which the Kaijus are spawning. In desperate need of capable pilots, Stacker contacts former pilot Raleigh Becket to assist him. Also, lots of backstories.

So let's get (at least some of) the bad out of the way first. There are a lot of laughably bad moments (on account of poor writing, poor acting, etc.). Also, there are a lot of bits where the characters lips don't match what they're saying, and they are always distracting. And the occasionally weak editing resulted in inconsistencies between shots.

But the editing isn't the only thing that's inconsistent. All of the technology involving the Jaeger is confusing, and some of its capabilities aren't clear. As a result, the film seems to contradict itself as suddenly new concepts are conveniently revealed in life-or-death situations.

The film is structured bizarrely. There's a quick beginning, a quick middle, a long end, and another middle, and a short end. Needless to say, the pacing is everywhere. And somewhere along the line, at least 20 minutes of this film must have been cut out, as significant problems are resolved in seconds, but never are these resolutions explained.

Almost all of the characters are incredibly boring. They're stuffed with backstories in a desperate attempt to get the audience to cling to these bland characters. Instead, these backstories only create unnecessary exposition, and barely impact the story at all.

But what this film gets right, is sublime. While the characters are mostly lifeless, there are 3 supporting characters that are almost enough fun to make this film worth watching. Dr. Newton Geiszler and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb are two doctors with opposite personalities (Newton, a bit fun loving, while Gottlieb is more stuck-up) forced to work in the same division. They are an absolute riot (even though they share far less scenes than one might expect), and their scenes are the highlight of the film. Along with them, there is the villainous (though not the antagonist) Hannibal Chau, who is hilariously over-the-top and his scenes are equally memorable to Newton's and Gottlieb's.

And, of course, the visuals are superb. The designs for the Kaijus are nothing short of incredible. They're unique, and frightening, and the Jaegers look impressive too. The fight sequences themselves are dazzling, but they also lack tension (likely a result of the slow-moving nature of both sides).

Charlie Hunnam, playing the lead, Raleigh Becket, is absolutely terrible. It is clear that Hunnam was not cast based on acting ability, but rather, how he looks without his shirt on. Rinko Kukuchi as the love interest, Mako Mori, is equally weak. Both of these performances are laughable, though the third lead, Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost manages to escape mostly unscathed. Mana Ashida, who has a small role as young Mako Mori, provides a more compelling performance than almost the entire cast.

Charlie Day is delightful as Dr. Newton, and he gets to display a surprising amount of range in this role. His counterpart, Dr. Gottlieb is also excellent, and very funny. Ron Perlman as Hannibal Chau also supplies a substantial amount of laughs.

The score, composed by Ramin Djawadi, benefits from a strong (if hugely overused) main theme. Unfortunately, far too often, the electric guitar rears it ugly head, causing it to leave a more sour impression then it might have otherwise. Also, the horn of doom is used in an early sequence.

While there are moments of genuine fun, Pacific Rim gets too involved in tedious backstories and a lot of laughably terrible bits. The potential for a great film is absolutely there, but mostly poor acting, and a generally weak script bog this movie down. It's such a shame, because the highlights alone almost make this film worth watching. But how, in good conscience, can I recommend a movie that, at times, reaches almost unfathomable lows? I truly have no choice, for in spite of how good parts of this movie is, there is simply too much awful for one 2 hour film.


Over the last few months, the newest Godzilla reboot has been generating a lot of steam, thanks to some marvelous trailers. It's not outlandish to call Godzilla the most hyped film of the year so far. But the funny thing about this, is that it will only appeal to a very specific group. I suspect most mainstream audiences will be disappointed by this reboot. Some will find it laughably bad. But if you find yourself in this film's (very small) target audience, then the hype will have all been worth it. Indeed, I find myself in that camp. Long live Godzilla!

Ford Brody has just returned from serving in the U.S. Navy, when he gets a phone call that his father has been arrested for trespassing in a quarantined area in Japan. Ford travels there to pick his father up, though his father is convinced that the Japanese scientists are hiding some mammoth secret. Needless to say, Ford's father proves correct. The scientists have been in possession of a MUTO, a large flying beast, and now it has escaped! But of course, there is a larger beast that makes his grand appearance later...

It is important, and I mean very important, to walk into Godzilla with the right expectations. Based on the trailers, one would expect Godzilla to be a more gritty and intense experience than say, Jurassic Park. And while it can be perceived that way, Godzilla is ultimately an homage to the Hollywood b-movie, which Godzilla shares its roots in. As a result, there are some scenes that very over-the-top, and even silly, but it's all part of the fun. Unfortunately, I suspect this will fly over the heads of many mainstream audiences.

Godzilla's b-movie mannerisms elicited chuckles at the screening I attended. In fact, an unexpected use of one of Godzilla's signature moves was met with uproarious laughter. Indeed, I was among those laughing, though I wonder how many of us realized we were supposed to be laughing with the movie, and not at the movie.

Is this a flaw of the film itself? That its intentions as a modern b-movie (though obviously, with a larger budget) is not defined clearly enough? I think this is more a problem with the marketing than anything. Audiences are expecting something more realistic. Though surely anyone walking into a film starring a giant lizard should know better than to expect absolute realism! If nothing else, the vintage feel of the delightful main titles should have given audiences a big enough hint.

Homages aside, Godzilla still packs a lot of fantastic bits that don't require b-movie know-how to enjoy. The special effects for instance, are breath-taking at times. There's a lot of build-up before the big reveal of Godzilla himself, but the tantalizing flashes we see of the beast here and there are enough to keep out attention. There are some shots in this film that are nothing short of mesmerizing. While the b-movie fun may disappoint some movie-goers, no one could possibly be disappointed by Godzilla himself. If one has trouble defining the word "spectacle," Godzilla is the antidote.

The interesting thing about the monsters in this film (Godzilla and MUTO), is that they are so abnormally large (Godzilla is taller than most sky scrapers), that they cannot target individual pedestrians. Indeed, we rarely see humans get eaten, because these monsters are too huge for that. Consequently, the monsters evoke less a feeling of terror or suspense, but rather, one of awe and excitement.

Unfortunately, like any creature-feature, it's occasionally slowed down by the less interesting humans. With the exception of Bryan Cranston's character (who is actually in much less of the film than the trailers would tell you), everybody is without personality. And unfortunately, the script tends to falter during these portions too. Still, no one comes to a film like Godzilla expecting strong characters or a strong script. They are preferred qualities, but when a film continues to dazzle you with eye-candy and Godzilla-madness, some flaws can be forgiven.

The actors do the best they can with half-baked characters. Aaron-Taylor Johnson is wooden in his performance in the lead (likely the reason he was not shown in any of the trailers), and so is Elizabeth Olsen in a much smaller role as Ford's wife (likely the reason she was not shown in any of the trailers). Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa has nothing to do in his role, but occasionally deliver exposition. Bryan Cranston is the clear stand-out, though he also possesses the unfair advantage of portraying the only character with a personality.

Alexandre Desplat's score is as loud and bombastic as any blockbuster score. And yet, it has melody. It has intelligence. And unlike Zimmer's disastrous Amazing Spider-Man 2, Desplat's score actually utilizes an orchestra! (So did Zimmer's, but how can you tell with the electric guitar and the dub-step in your face at all times?) Like the film itself, Desplat allows himself many homages to the classic b-movie, while also providing a score that is universally enjoyable. It is melodic, and yet, appropriately thrilling. Desplat has never scored a movie quite like this, but he has succeeded admirably.

Godzilla will not appeal to everyone. Only those that know exactly what they're in for will enjoy Godzilla to its fullest extent. It is essential to appreciate and understand Godzilla's b-movie sensibilities. If nothing else, audiences will be amazed by the stunning visuals. And how refreshing it is to see a movie that ends without unresolved story threads and un-learned secrets, and instead, just ends while it's ahead (I'm looking at you, Amazing Spider-Man franchise). It's unlikely that Godzilla will require the fanbase that one might have suspected 3 or 4 months ago. But it has the trimmings of a cult-classic.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

When you read this review, consider this perspective: While I acknowledge their flaws, I do legitimately like all 4 Spider-Man films preceding this one. Spider-Man 3 has its laughably bad moments, but it's entertaining enough to enjoy, and The Amazing Spider-Man - while lacking the intelligence of the previous entries - remains good fun. So it was a cruel surprise when I realized with great dismay that this not-so-super sequel playing before me is fairly bad. To put it kindly, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will not be found on anyone's list of favorite super hero films anytime soon.

Let's keep the plot section simple, yes? This is a super hero after all, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 makes no attempt to transcend the genre cliches, so what reason have I to dress things up? A worker at Oscorp falls into a vat of electric eels and is conveniently transformed into a electrical-powered villain dubbed Electro. Naturally, Spider-Man (mild-mannered secret identity is, of course, Peter Parker) must go off to fight him. There's also a subplot with Harry Osborne that's kind of glossed over, and relationship troubles with Gwen Stacy (because everyone was waiting with bated breath for more poorly written romance scenes, apparently).

Let me address the positives before I begin the shredding. The first 10 minutes are very enjoyable, despite (or perhaps because) of its silliness. The special effects look good, the Spider-Man/Peter Parker character remains likable, and there's one or two good performances, which I'll detail later. I wasn't bored for most of the 140 minute run-time, and therefore, I find it hard to hate this movie. But make no mistake; this is a bad movie. In fact, more so than being merely bad, it's a stupid movie.

There is no such thing as logic in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Every minute of this film poses a new question, typically falling under one of these categories: "Why in the world did [insert character name] do that?" "How does that make any sort of sense?" "Someone got paid to write this script?"

The Spider-Man films have never been revered for their romantic bits. In Raimi's trilogy, capable actors managed to make the sometimes dubious dialogue work. In Mark Webb's reboot, the romance did not work. In the case of this sequel, it's just plain awful. If you found yourself chuckling at the infamous line from 2012's The Hunger Games ("I watched you walk home from school everyday. Everyday."), you'll be in stitches during some of these scenes. Even outside of the romance scenes, there are unintentional laughs aplenty. One such part can actually be found in the trailer: Observe Rhino's terrible aim.

And speaking of the trailer, you could save a good deal of money and time by just watching that instead of the film. The entire movie is essentially in the trailer. All the funniest bits are in the trailer as well. Most people are coming to the cinemas to see more of the Green Goblin and Rhino. Won't they be disappointed when these characters get a grand total of, perhaps 10 minutes of screen-time altogether?

Even more unfortunate is this film's total predictability. It doesn't do anything to build upon the typical formula of super hero films. Other than a sort of twist at the end, the closest thing to an innovation this film makes is that Peter Parker switches from using Bing to Google.

The characters and performances really do go hand-in-hand here, so let's discuss them together. Andrew Garfield is as likable as ever in the role of Spider-Man. His quips in battle and his overly-friendly nature keeps the character itself a cut above the Spider-Man from Raimi's trilogy. The performance itself is just on par with Maguire's. Emma Stone portrays Gwen Stacy. Her entire role consists of her doing a lot of looking sad and crying occasionally. Jamie Foxx does what he can with a poorly written character. Foxx is Electro, and the entire character is dealt with very badly. He will probably evoke unpleasant memories of another sympathetic spidey villain; Sandman. Dane DeHaan is surprisingly wooden in his role as Harry Osborn/Green Goblin, until he makes the inevitable transformation. At this point, he's not over-the-top enough, nor menacing.

The best performances in this film belong to the supporting crew. Sally Fields as Aunt May improves over her performance in the predecessor. And while some will find Paul Giammati's Rhino unbearably corny, I was always smiling when he was onscreen (though brief this time is). The best bit, however (and the best part of this movie), is Marton Csokas as a German doctor, and head of Ravencroft Institute. He is hilariously campy and over-the-top. It's just a shame that his big scene lacks the fun it initially promises.

And then there's the music. Ugh. Replacing James Horner (who did a perfectly fine job on the 2012 reboot) is Hans Zimmer. One must admit that Zimmer's score, while unpleasant, is intelligently developed, and is unlike his usual work (despite the occasional dash of Inception popping in). It's simply bizarre to hear him writing a theme in a major key. And speaking of, this is Spider-Man's theme, which sounds more akin to a local news report fanfare, than for that of a super hero. More interesting is Zimmer's clarinet theme for Electro, which is only pleasant to hear until the whispering rap vocals come into play. And if I haven't lost the film music community yet, here's two more horrors of this unfortunate score: the infamous Horn of Doom (albeit, less bombastic than normal) and dubstep. Need I say more?

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels like a middle film. It's simply there because it has to be. No one is going to remember this film among the other, better Spider-Man films. In fact, I daresay this might knock Spider-Man 3 off its pedestal as the unanimous worst Spidey-film. Deservedly so.

At the end of the film, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 sets itself up for another sequel (and hits you over the head with a suggestion of a 'Sinister Six' film). Sony is clearly excited to reveal all of its ideas for sequels and spin-offs. It's enough to make one wish that Sony had focused a bit more on making The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a film worth being excited for, as opposed to the planned add-ons.

Dead Poets Society

It is difficult for me to simply describe my feelings towards Dead Poets Society. It's a film that lives on in your heart and your mind. It's an experience you'd be hard-pressed to forget. But at the same time, it's heavily flawed, and downright unlikable at times. Even frustrating. The third and final act of this film is worthy of applause, but the first and second leave a less satisfying impression.

In a tedious and brutal series of classes at the Welton Academy (a prep school for boys), a group of senior students have their outlook on life completely changed by their English teacher, John Keating. Though his methods are considered "unorthodox" by his peers, he quickly becomes a hero to the students of his class, as he teaches them to "seize the day!"

My mixed feelings towards this film are (partially) a result of the divide in quality between the first two acts, and the third. The first two acts are fairly light-weight. It's a mere suggestion of the depth to come. While the actors are in fine form and Robin Williams' performance as John Keating is mesmerizing and intensely likable, scenes without Williams (or two of the primary characters, Todd Anderson and Neil Perry, whom I'll discuss later) are either dull, distracting, or unlikable. This is partially due to the fact that many of the boys in this film are downright obnoxious. These depictions may be realistic, but an audience needs to like these boys if the film is to work.

John Keating's speeches and lessons are both interesting, and meaningful. They contain substance that is not found elsewhere (other than the third act). In the end, the first and second act lack the heft of the dramatic third act.

The final third of this film is truly enchanting. By means of an intense twist, the film is spun on its head. The acting is cranked up to an 11, and the story suddenly has weight. It has importance. It has intelligence. The final act of this film is nothing short of triumph. It's both poignant and rousing, but it is so very difficult to forgive the first two-thirds.

Part of the reason the first two thirds don't work very well, is that there is no clear main character. At first it seems to be Todd Anderson, but then the story sort of shifts to Neil Perry. Then back to Todd, and then back to Neil. Then Todd again. When one character takes center stage, the other one completely evaporates. Neither one ends up feeling like a main character. One could say that John Keating is the main character, but he isn't relate-able enough, as he portrays a sort of perfect human being, and his screen-time is insufficient for such a label anyway.

At any rate, when Neil and Todd ARE onscreen together, they are charming semi-leads. Their friendship is sweet and believable, and they remain the only truly likable characters, other than John Keating. The other boys are either undeveloped, uninteresting, or annoying. Though the two hour length serves the film well, in that one slowly grows on these characters over time, it's ultimately not enough time to develop all the characters, or remember them fondly.

The acting is top-notch. One has good reason to fret when a film takes place entirely around child actors (albeit, in the 18-20 range), but the performances are excellent. Robert Sean Leonard as Neil Perry must display the conflict between following his own passions, and following his father's rules and plans for him. Leonard turns a potentially one-dimensional character into a person with depth and personality. The same goes for Ethan Hawke as Todd Anderson, a performance that gets increasingly better as the film progresses. Of course, the performance that has achieved the most glory is Robin Williams as the miracle teacher, John Keating, and while the other performances are deserved to be lauded, Williams presence is truly magical.

The score, composed by Maurice Jarre, is - for the most part - atrocious. The film is scored with synthesizers, and as a result, the music is terribly dated. A dated sound is not necessarily a flaw, but the music is truly bad at times, and even distracting. Some of the beautiful shots in this film inspire grand music, and Dead Poets Society is without such. That is, until the final scene. This is when the score - like the film - becomes something truly important. In my humble and inexperienced opinion, this is one of the best and most notable uses of film music out there. It elevates the final scene to grand heights.

The final act is almost enough to save this film. It is something that feels both beautiful and important. And yet, the first two thirds feel so long, and they are so problematic, that it is difficult to forgive the film for this, no matter how lavishly wonderful the final act. Interestingly enough, while I was impatiently waiting for the film to end during the first two thirds, when the film ends, I almost felt as though it could have been longer. I wanted to know what was to happen after the credits roll. Does this prove I have become attached to the characters onscreen? Does this mean, that by almost starving for more at the end, that this film has overcome its problems that the first two acts possessed? Is this success? Ambiguity is not favorable in a critical review, but there it is.

War Horse
War Horse(2011)

The most difficult part of writing a review is writing the opening paragraph. One stares off into space, or at an empty text box, waiting for the words to come to them. However, in the case of War Horse, much of my review from The Book Thief could be re-arranged to form the opening of this review. And that is because much of my criticisms and compliments regarding The Book Thief are completely applicable here. War Horse will absolutely divide audiences. The cynical will scoff. The sentimental will sob. And those representing the middle ground should be very impressed by what Spielberg has wrought from such a simple story.

War Horse is based off of a play, which was then based off of Michael Morpurgo's 1982 novel of the same name. The film follows a horse named Joey as he is taken from place to place, owner to owner, changing and influencing the lives of those around him.

War Horse feels very much like a family film to me. In fact, it did not surprise me when I learned that Morpurgo's novel upon which the film is based is a children's novel. While most adults should find War Horse to be a satisfying experience, there is some humor and story concepts that seem to target a younger audience, or at least a broader one in terms of age. In fact, despite the PG-13 rating, I think War Horse is appropriate for someone as young as 10 years old (though various slow stretches and the extensive 2 and a half hour run time may test the young).

War Horse is as old-fashioned as a modern Hollywood movie will ever get. Old-fashioned to a fault, even. But it would take a pretty hard heart not to be moved by this film. Even though the various stories (there is no single plot) are fairly simple, the film is rich and layered. Even though most would argue the 146 minute run time is extravagant and unnecessary, I think it's nearly justified. War Horse contains the cozy feel of watching a cheesy Hallmark movie with your parents or grandparents at Christmas time, except with the steady veteran hands of Steven Spielberg, and a cast of talented actors.

The film's episodic nature is somewhat distracting. One gets familiar with the (seemingly) primary cast after the first 45 minutes. However, after that, the story moves on to a new set of characters. And then the same thing occurs (except within an even shorter span of time). This repeats a few times, and with each new set of individuals, one wonders what happened to the ones we left behind (some of this is explained, some is not).

Inevitably, some characters we meet and story-lines we are introduced to are far more interesting than others. Some characters are likable enough to spend an entire film around. Others get dull in mere minutes. But the film moves on like an odd sort of cake walk, moving from place to place. Person to person. This causes occasional pacing problems, but the film manages to feel mostly cohesive.

Despite this odd form of story-telling, War Horse is both entertaining and significant. There are a number of notable highlights peppered throughout the film. These include some riveting and deeply impacting battle sequences, a funny sort of friendship that develops between a German soldier and a British soldier, and the rousing, and effectively moving finale.

The visuals are often gorgeous. The very opening of the film contains some stunning cinematography, and there are many other moments of beauty in this field as well. The visual effects are integrated seamlessly, and the whole film is like a beautiful painting.

The performances are solid throughout, though the screen-time for most of the actors equates to roughly 30 minutes (or less). Jeremy Irvine as Albert Narracott has the biggest role (occupying about half of the run time). Irvine's performance is sincere and likable, and his relationship with his horse is easy to believe. Other members of the enormous cast, including Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, Niels Arestrup, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Patrick Kennedy, are also very good.

The score, composed by John Williams, is beautiful. Rousing, majestic, and very exciting at times, John Williams proves for the umpteenth time his excellence in this field. Williams can truly do no wrong.

Some will find War Horse too cheesy. Others will find it too boring or too long. And others still will absolutely find it far too sentimental and old-fashioned. But War Horse wears these qualities on its sleeves. The story itself isn't especially strong (and the script makes little effort to hide this), but those willing to embrace this film will find themselves moved and even enchanted.

The Book Thief

I don't claim to have extensive knowledge in the field of literature, but Markus Zusak's novel, The Book Thief, is one the finest books I've ever read. It's darkly humorous, whilst being legitimately heart-breaking. But frankly, it didn't need a film adaption. Despite this, we have the 2013 film adaption of this modern classic. Inevitably, it doesn't come even close to matching the sheer perfection of Zusak's novel, but the film is surprisingly engaging, if deeply flawed.

Starting in the year 1938, The Book Thief is about Liesel Meminger; a young girl, who is adopted by a middle-aged German couple. Liesel's brother is adopted by them as well, though he dies during the train ride over. Shortly after Liesel's adoption, the family takes in a Jew named Max Vandenburg to hide him from the Nazis. In the mean time, Liesel learns to read and discovers the power of the written word.

The Book Thief is a very difficult book to adapt to film. The book has a slow pace and a meandering plot, which one can get away with in a book (especially because the writing itself is so beautiful, and the narrative is so ingenious), but in a film, this can become dull.

Also, the film has the impossible task of incorporating the most unique aspect of the source novel, and that is the narrator. The book is narrated by Death, which is, of course, a brilliant concept. But this idea is very difficult to convert into the film. Death doesn't speak much during the film, and when he does, it feels a bit jarring, and absolutely unnecessary. Death (as a character) has such a small part in this film, it's clear that he is only here to satisfy fans of the novel. As a result of his limited screentime, his character is much more watered down (most notable is his obsession with colors, which is completely gone in the film), making him seem more like an odd footnote than an integral part of the story.

The Book Thief is flawed; there is no getting around that. But at the same time, it's utterly fascinating. The characters are still as lovable as they were in the novel. And there are some very pretty visuals. In fact, had this film had the awards traction it had been hoping for, this certainly would have earned nominations for Costume Design, and maybe even cinematography. This film really does transport you to Nazi Germany in the same way the Hobbit films transports one to Middle-Earth (though not quite to that scale).

The novel upon which the film is based is roughly 550 pages in length, and in order to keep the film from obtaining an obscene run time (it clocks in at just over 2 hours), much of the subplots, and some of themes, have been dropped. But The Book Thief is truly at its best when the spirit of the novel manages to break though the many changes and alterations.

One theme and tone that The Book Thief consistently attains is innocence. This story is more or less told through the eyes of a child (meaning Liesel), and her interactions with a friendly neighbor boy named Rudy Steiner are cute without being cloying. Her relationship with the Jew that she helps hide is also very sweet. And her relationship with her foster father, Hans Hubermann, is very warm and endearing.

I really do hate to continue to bring up the flaws of this film, but there are several that need mentioning. The editing is a pinch choppy at times, and this is even more notable towards the end of the film where there is clear "Return of the King Syndrome," with false ending after false ending. And there are many times when the film is extremely sentimental (though there are definitely some earned emotions throughout). Also, there are many moments in the film that aren't explained well, which will absolutely confuse those that have not read the novel.

The acting is surprisingly great. Geoffrey Rush is excellent as Hans Hubermann, and Emily Watson perfectly combines irritable-ness and genuine sweetness in her role as Rosa Hubermann. Ben Scnetzer as Max Vandenberg delivers a sweet performance, and Nico Liersch as Rudy Steiner is another child actor that defies the child acting stereotype. The only hiccup comes from the lead performance, Sophie Nelisse as Liesel Meminger, delivering a performance that's adequate, but sometimes stiff, especially when reciting dialogue.

The score is composed by John Williams (the first non-Spielberg effort he has scored since 2005). The score is a bit understated, but there are several moments of unmistakable beauty. Even when the film doesn't always get the themes of the book right, the score always rings true.

The Book Thief is basically an art film for the mainstream. It's just different enough from most mainstream films of similar ilk to trick audiences into thinking they're seeing something truly spectacular, while providing something legitimately solid. Cynical moviegoers will have a field day with this film, but forgiving fans of the book, and perhaps a handful of patient newcomers will find The Book Thief to be mostly satisfying, it deeply problematic. At its peak, The Book Thief is masterful. At its worst, it's overly sentimental. But it's never less than watchable.


Planes is just plane boring. And if you groaned at that pun, you'll probably agree with my assessment. Nearly every single gag is painfully corny, and not in an intentional manner. The story itself covers all the traditional underdog/feel-good movie hallmarks, and you can practically arrange the events of the film in your head before even watching it. Even children and fans of Pixar's (much more enjoyable) Cars movies will probably find themselves distracted or bored.

Planes is more or less Cars in reverse. Instead of a big-city racer learning to slow down and take it easy, Planes is about a crop duster plane that learns to race. The crop duster in question is named Dusty Crophopper, and because of his background in farming, no one (except for some close friends) believes in him. Will Dusty be able to overcome insurmountable odds to claim fame and success?

Take a wild guess.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear; Planes is NOT a Pixar film. It's not even a Disney film! Planes comes courtesy of DisneyToon Studios, whose last theatrical release was 2005's Pooh's Heffalump Movie. However, thanks to its tie-in with the Cars franchise (and a cameo by John Ratzenberger which is actually larger than his last 3 Pixar roles combined), Planes has been mistaken for a Pixar effort, which of course, it is not. In fact, it's odd to say it's an "effort" at all, since there seems to be little legitimate talent of thought involved in this production at all.

Let's be perfectly honest with each other, Planes exists for one reason alone, and that (of course) is money. The Cars franchise has made billions of dollars in merchandising, so why not get a piece of that pie? And yet, I cannot figure out what kid could possibly enjoy this film. Even as a fan of not one, but both of the currently existing Cars films, I found myself decidedly uninterested and bored out of my skull.

It's tempting to criticize Planes for being more of a "kid's film" than a "family film," but that would be implying that Planes is a film. It is, in fact, a product, and it's almost even more insulting that the "film" itself does almost nothing to conceal this fact. You can practically hear the cash registers chiming in melodious song during those (surprisingly dull) flight sequences.

There are only two things one can do during Planes to avoid drifting into slumber. A.) Count how many scenes are lifted directly from Cars. I counted at least four, but I'm willing to believe I missed a few as I was struggling to remain focused on the film while the slow movement of the minute hand on my watch seemed much more fascinating. The other game you can play is "How Many Racial Stereotypes Can One Movie Contain?" In this category, my number was around a half-dozen.

Even the animation itself- usually a strength in any modern animated film- is barely above direct-to-DVD quality. It never comes close to rivaling even the early days of Pixar, Disney, or Dreamworks. And the character designs are completely uninspired.

The only aspect of this film that came close to impressing me was the voice acting. While Dane Cook as the lead, Dusty Crophopper is not interesting (the character itself is deathly dull), the supporting cast is occasionally respectable. The highlights come courtesy of Danny Mann, Teri Hatcher, and Cedric the Entertainer.

The score, composed by Mark Mancina, is fairly pedestrian. There really isn't anything unique or exceptional in the score, though it's fine for what it is. The electric guitar that occasionally seeps into the music, however, I could have done without.

Anyone else would walk into a film like Planes with the lowest possible expectations (perhaps excepting small children). However, I had the tiniest glimmer of hope. And that is because in 2000, DisneyToon Studios released a little gem entitled The Tigger Movie. And while my adoration for that film may be partially influenced by nostalgia, I can all but guarantee that The Tigger Movie will provide a much more entertaining, thoughtful, and wholesome experience for you or your children, than the 90 minute commercial that is Planes.


When one watches a movie like Paranoia, one cannot help but hypothesize what would drive a person to make a film this aggressively terrible. These kind of things do not happen on accident; this film must have been made with the intention of being hilariously bad. Paranoia is as bad as a film can get, and yet, it is 100% watchable, thanks entirely to its extremely successful unintentional comedy.

The film doesn't make a lick of sense- so much so that the actors themselves seem noticeably confused at various intervals. That is why it pains me to tell you the plot of this movie. As best as I can figure out, a young tech wiz named Adam Cassidy has been asked by a powerful CEO, named Nicholas Wyatt, to steal information from another powerful CEO named Augustine Goddard. However, Goddard also wants Adam's help stealing information from Wyatt. But please don't quote me on this, as the entire movie is an intelligible mess.

This is an odd kind of review to write, because while Paranoia is indeed awful, and it completely lacks any of the important elements of a good thriller (or even a mediocre thriller), it excels in the area of comedy (albeit, unintentional comedy). So while I am absolutely flunking this movie, it's a totally enjoyable watch, especially with friends.

Take for instance, Adam's relationship with a woman named Emma Jennings (a character that has probably set feminism back 40 years), which covers all the typical romance cliches, and is completely unbelievable. Or, you can laugh in amusement as the camera zooms in on a security lens for the umpteenth time. Or keep a running tally of how many scenes Liam Hemsworth gets to take off his shirt (at least 6 in the first half hour). And speaking of running, Hemsworth flails his arms out (akin to a jet plane) whenever he is running in this film (best highlighted in a chase scene that had me laughing so hard, I had tears streaming down my face).

There's also the script, which is simply crammed with lines that a 7 year-old could have written (and written better). Also ripe for mocking is the film's apparent message: Lie to your girlfriend, break the law, and abuse work funds, and your life will easily improve (and you'll still get to keep your girlfriend). Another laugh-worthy bit occurs when a secondary character is hit maliciously by a car, but appears shortly afterwards with only a rash-like scar on his cheek. There's also a plot twist, which seems so predictable and irrelevant, that it took me several moments to realize that it was actually meant as a twist. And then, of course, there's the acting.

To be fair, not all the performances are bad. Gary Oldman as Nicholas Wyatt is actually very good, making a perfectly menacing antagonist, while still being enjoyable to watch. Harrison Ford as Augustine Goddard is passable, though any other actor could have portrayed this character (I would also note that Ford has never seemed older than he does in this film).

The rest of the cast fares less well. Liam Hemsworth cannot make any of his lines sound smooth or natural, and despite being the protagonist, he grows fiercely unlikable by the film's third act. Amber Heard's role requires looking pretty (and clearly, there was very little emphasis on emotions or dialogue performance). There are also numerous supporting characters, whose names we never pick up on that are just as bad.

The score by "Junkie XL" (a name that hurt me to write), is entirely subdued, and likely for the better. When the music actually can be heard, it's very synthetic and ultimately indifferent.

Yes, Paranoia is a disaster, but rarely will you see a disaster that is so enjoyable. I laughed quite a bit during this film- much more than during the majority of today's intended comedies. So, for those of you wanting a real review, here it is: This movie is rubbish. Paranoia plays out like an extended commercial for Apple (and occasionally like a music video), and there are plot holes big enough to comfortable live in. But here's the review for those of you who just want a good time: Watch this movie. You'd be hard-pressed to find a film worse than Paranoia, but the laughs justify the film's immeasurable problems.

Muppets Most Wanted

Muppets Most Wanted seems to be under the "bigger is better" lane of thinking. Compared to 2011's smashing The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted has more songs, more celebrity cameos, and more elaborate set pieces (though remarkably, it boasts a shorter run time). Despite this, Muppets Most Wanted is not nearly as hilarious, brilliant, or enjoyable as its predecessor. Still, while it's nothing if not inconsistent, most should be satisfied with this 2014 follow-up, even if it's lacking the effortless charm of the reboot.

Constantine, the world's most wanted villain has a deceptive plot to steal the royal jewels (or something of the sort). Incidentally, he looks exactly like Kermit the Frog, with the only visible difference being a mole on his right cheek. He frames Kermit for his crimes, and convinces the Muppet gang that HE is the actual Kermit.

Most of the crew from the first film returns, including director James Bobin, writer Nicholas Stoller, and much of the Muppet cast (leads from the previous film, Jason Segel and Amy Adams, do not appear). And yet, Muppets Most Wanted is no where near the comic brilliance of the 2011 reboot. It's still perfectly watchable (and recommendable) entertainment, but it fails to meet (or even come especially close to meeting) the standard set by its predecessor.

With that being said, Muppets Most Wanted is actually closer in feel and tone to Henson's original films than the 2011 reboot. With this in mind, Muppets Most Wanted actually might appeal more to fans of the original movies. Personally, Henson's films have been a bit of a hit-or-miss commodity for me, and I found the 2011 reboot to be much more accessible and entertaining. Nevertheless, Muppets Most Wanted finds something of a balance between the two, which might create an appealing middle ground to those who adored the 2011 reboot, and those that found it blasphemous.

The script isn't consistently funny, and this could be a major problem. However, in this case, the gags come at a reasonably rapid pace, so if a gag makes you groan, you won't have much time to consider that, because you'll be smiling a few seconds later. Alas, this reveals another issue with Muppets Most Wanted, and that is that it's rarely laugh-out-loud funny. You'll probably smile your way throughout most of the picture (and there's a generous array of chuckles dispersed throughout as well), but genuine laughs are rare. As a result, you may find the film to be much worse in retrospect.

As far as The Muppets themselves go, there is inevitably not enough screentime to give ample attention to all of them. Kermit, Constantine, Miss Piggy, Walter, and Fozzy get the most screentime (Animal and Scooter get a fair bit as well). The other Muppets, while mostly not forgotten (in fact, a lovely cameo references the Muppets that actually WERE forgotten in the last film), have much smaller bits. Often getting only a single memorable scene (or even line) to themselves.

But also problematic in this field is the roles of Kermit, Walter, and Scooter. Kermit is typically the level-headed member of the gang, but he's in a Russian prison for most of the film. So logically, this should leave Scooter as the one to take his place in this role, balancing the sanity with the insanity. Alas, this becomes sort of a shared role between Scooter and Walter, which makes the characters seem both redundant and unnecessary. Furthermore, this forces Scooter to do things that seem outside of his character in order to accommodate Walter. It's a bit frustrating, and certainly sloppy, but is there really any better alternative?

As I mentioned, there are absolutely more songs in this film. "We're Doing a Sequel" has some great zingers, and the tune is guaranteed to be a nostalgic one in (give or take) 20 years. But it's also a bit of a curiosity, has it decidedly names the movie during the song; but not as Muppets Most Wanted. Rather, it dubs itself "Muppets...Again." This was actually the original title, but it was later changed to the much less charming (but considerably less awkward), Muppets Most Wanted. This problem recurs in the closing number.

"I'm Number One" is a surprisingly funny number between Constantine and his partner, Dominic, where Constantine elaborates on how he is the most wanted criminal in the world, while Dominic, is only number two. "The Big House," detailing the Russian Prison is immediately forgettable, and relatively uninteresting. "I'll Get You What You Want" falls under the same criteria. The "Interrogation Song" is perhaps the highlight. It's not as flashy as some of the other numbers, but I daresay I chuckled the most during this song. "Something So Right," (which is this film's equivalent of "Man or Muppet") is notable for its camp value, but little else. Lastly, the closing number, "Together Again," (from The Muppets Take Manhattan) is sheer nostalgic bliss, even if the original number is superior. There's also a Spanish arrangement of the Muppet Show theme that's an amusing addition.

The performances by the Muppets are what you'd expect. Voices that mostly sound the same as the originals (though some differences are more apparent than others), that are perfectly zany, and capable of delivering punch lines. The human cast is seemingly enormous (due to a massive amount of cameos that I'll let you discover on your own), but there are really just three primary players. One is Ricky Gervais as Dominic Badguy (who is, as you can see, one of the film's antagonists). His performance is serviceable, but he doesn't do nearly enough scenery-chewing. Tina Fey as Nadya- a Russian GULAG officer- never feels right in this role. I personally think that this has more to do with the script than her character, but either way, it reflects badly on the performance. Lastly, there's Ty Burrell, portraying a French Interpol inspector, who is the highlight of the humans (and possibly, of the film). He completely gets the Muppet tone, and provides the right amount of camp and comic ability.

The score, composed by Christophe Beck, is notable for actually including a main theme; something the other Muppet films rarely accomplish. Still, the theme is not developed in the slightest, resulting in a repetitive sounding score. There's an instrumental arrangement of "Together Again" early on that really surprised me, though it felt much less inspired after I realized that it was only there to tie in the number at the end (as opposed to being a spontaneous scoring idea).

As a whole, Muppets Most Wanted is an odd kind of beast. While there are definitely gags that bomb, and inconsistencies that will certainly bother some, there are enough smiles and chuckles to satisfy most audience members. Kids will probably find themselves a little bored, and fans of Henson's films, or the reboot, will be mildly disappointed. But the entertainment value is absolutely there. Die-Hards may just have to squint a bit to see it.

Note: The film is preceded by a short film entitled Party Central, starring characters from 2013's Monsters University. It's got a few decent gags (particularly near the end), but it's nothing special. Younger fans of Pixar's prequel will enjoy it the most, while anyone older will find it passable. On the whole, it's more than a bit depressing that this is the only new Pixar film that audiences will see for over a year.

Mission: Impossible III

The first 3 minutes alone of Mission: Impossible III are better than anything in the previous two Mission: Impossible films. After a middling original, and an unwatchably boring sequel, Mission: Impossible III is a breath of fresh air. The action sequences are tight, the performances are great, and the film is all around fun from start to finish.

Ethan Hunt is on yet another "impossible" mission, though this time, things are complicated due to his recent marriage. Hunt is on the search for a "rabbit's foot" that is also being targeted by the villainous Owen Davian.

While portions of the plot seem relatively familiar to the first two installments, Mission: Impossible III is a significant improvement over the Brian de Palma's (and an infinite improvement over the disastrous Mission: Impossible II). Any and all of the problems with the previous two films are completely fixed here. Thus, Mission: Impossible III is one smooth ride.

The action sequences are fantastic. Some of them are great fun, while others provide impressive tension. Indeed, there are a number of "edge-of-your-seat" moments- something that the first two films were sorely lacking. And thankfully, these sequences are never too long. The second film suffered from (among other things) tedious action scenes that lasted far too long, whereas Mission: Impossible III does a much better job of keeping them tight and manageable.

And surprisingly, the stuff inbetween the action isn't so bad either! That's called "story," yes? It's nice to see that in an action film. It's not as absurdly convoluted as the first Mission: Impossible, nor as insultingly simplistic as the second film. Mission: Impossible III strikes a nice balance to avoid being a massive chore, or a massive bore.

The tone of this film seems a bit more gritty than the previous two films (though it still allots time for fun). With the addition of a spouse, Ethan Hunt is in a much more stressful situation then before (this sort of thing was attempted in Mission: Impossible II, but it failed to provide anything more than a half-baked love triangle). And the villain, Owen Davian is far more menacing and memorable than the villains in any of the previous Mission: Impossible films.

Also, I should add that the screenplay is great. Unlike the first two films, where the combined dialogue highlight was "Hasta lasagna, don't get any on ya," there are some really snappy lines here. Characters are allowed amusing banter and clever quips that make the primary cast more likable, and the downtime between action sequences just as entertaining as the explosions and gunfire.

None of the performances are on auto-pilot here. Tom Cruise gives a performance that far exceeds the depth of his previous engagements with this franchise, and Ving Rhames reprises his role of Luther Stickell (a character that's given a much better script this time around). Laurence Fishburne as the head of IMF is very entertaining in his role, and Simon Pegg in his two scenes alone make this film worth watching. Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan, and Keri Russel also provide notable performances, but the acting highlight is Philip Seymour Hoffman as the antagonist, Owen Davian. He's completely despicable and menacing, and brutally unforgiving portraying the most interesting and memorable Mission: Impossible villain of the film series thus far.

The score is composed by Michael Giacchino- thankfully, with an orchestra this time, unlike Zimmer's electric guitar garbage that provided the music for Mission: Impossible II. While full uses of the classic Mission: Impossible theme are used sparingly, Giacchino's own material is entertaining enough to easily forgive this. In fact, it's probably the most engaging and entertaining score of the franchise so far. That said, though, one gets the feeling that Giacchino could probably right this stuff in his sleep. Still, it's good fun.

It's hard to complain about a movie that fixes everything that its predecessors did wrong. That's not to say that Mission: Impossible III is a perfect movie, but it's closer to being one than the previous two films. Simply said, Mission: Impossible III provides what's most important for this kind of film: Fun. But it's certainly appreciated that it manages to add an ounce of intelligence and craft to the offerings as well.

Iron Man
Iron Man(2008)

It is not uncommon for a film to take its time to really "start." It sets up the back story, establishes the characters, etc. When done right, this can be a rewarding way to begin a film. When done wrong, you get Iron Man. And when I say this film gets it wrong, I mean it like this: This film never starts. I quite literally waited the entire 2 hour run time for this film to really get moving, and it never did. One could make an argument that this is, in fact, an origin movie, and as a result, it is likely to be more slow-moving than other action-comedies. But there have been many origin stories (Spider-Man immediately comes to mind) that have managed to be thoroughly entertaining, and getting the point and origin of the main character across. Needless to say, Iron Man is no Spider-Man.

As I have mentioned Iron Man is an origin story, specifically about a "playboy, philanthropist, genius" named Tony Stark. He gets seriously injured and captured by terrorists, so an electromagnet is planted in his chest to keep him from dying. In order to escape the terrorists, he builds a suit of armor, which then allows him to become (you got it) Iron Man.

This is a story that could have been comfortably told in a single hour. And yet, it the run time is over 2 hours. Approximately 10 minutes of that represents the action sequences of the film. The rest of the movie is lots and lots of talking. I was amazed by how much meaningless dialogue there was in this film. The plot is simple enough. The characters are actually too simple. So I really don't understand why the majority of this film had to be devoted to conversation regarding the politics of war and weapons, and the formulaic romance between Tony Stark and his assistant Pepper Potts. It's a waste of time and an utter bore. Half of the dialogue could have been removed from the film, and nothing would be lost on the audience.

Thankfully, not quite all of the conversation is unnecessary exposition. There are a meager handful of comedic scenes, that are actually very effective. Frankly, I wish there had been a greater focus on the comedy in Iron Man, because these short bursts of humor and chuckles were far more enjoyable than the rest of the film.

Because even when the conversations have temporarily stopped to make way for flashy action sequences, the film is still a bore. The early action scenes with Iron Man are horribly dull, because he's essentially invincible. And even the climatic fight scene, involving Iron Man vs. the villain in his own Iron Man suit, is remarkably pedestrian; containing all the thrill and tension of a Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots match.

The characters are hugely under developed. Pepper Potts and Lt. Colonel James Rhodes (close friend of Tony Stark), have no personality to speak of. Tony Stark is also a fairly one-dimensional character, but he's likable enough, and receives the lion's share of the humor. The villain (the identity of which I'm really not sure is a spoiler or not, so I'll play it safe) has no distinguishing personality traits, but he's just menacing enough to suffice. And his performance is also pretty solid.

The acting is decent all around. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is a perfect fit for the snarky hero. Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stone is also surprisingly good in his role. And thanks to undeveloped characters, Terrence Howard and Gwyneth Paltrow are utterly forgettable. As expected, Stan Lee has a quick cameo that earns a chuckle.

The score, composed by Ramin Djawadi, is fairly bad. In part, because it's completely unmemorable, and also because of its rock music emphasis. The use of electric guitars, while arguably appropriate for the film, are never pleasant to hear, and all attempts at emotional or suspenseful music are generic and bland.

Not so much flawed as it is dull, Iron Man is a long 2 hours. While snippets of comedy throughout are more than welcome, everything inbetween is tedious and uninteresting. Iron Man simply lacks almost any form of excitement, tension, or fun. The special effects may be shiny and pretty, but the entertainment just isn't there.

The Kid
The Kid(1921)

Note: For this review, I watched the original 1921 version of The Kid (as opposed to the 1971 cut, which includes a musical score composed by Charlie Chaplin).

Silent films have always fascinated and impressed me for as long as I can remember. Modern cinema has the advantage of words and improved cinematography, effects, etc., that makes it easier and easier to draw the audience into the world that the director envisions. In the case of Charlie Chaplin's The Kid, it has no audible words or flashy effects. It doesn't even have music. For 68 minutes, the film does not make a single sound. And yet, it's ultimately more engaging and entertaining than the majority of films released today. It is a testament to the acting, the directing, and even the cinematography; all doing their part to create an experience that is both wonderfully comedic, and surprisingly emotional. A triumphant achievement.

A young woman decides to abandon her baby boy, and leaving him only with a note that simply requests that the person who finds the boy will care and love him. He is discovered by The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin), and after some deliberation, he decides to take the baby in, and names him John. Meanwhile, the woman at the beginning has grown very famous, but she is still reminded of her little boy, whom she misses terribly.

The story is very simple, but in this case, less is more. While these plot points and story ideas have been done to death nowadays, The Kid remains an engaging experience. It's remarkable how fresh the film feels, despite its now cliched story concept. The Kid is truly a timeless picture.

As previously mentioned, there is no music in this film (or sound of any kind). A film's musical score is often responsible for setting the tone or mood of the scene. And so, without the advanced cinematography and effects we have today, The Kid should be emotionless in theory. And yet, it is quite the opposite. You will laugh. And you will cry.

While the cinematography (while simplistic) and directing are supporting factors in this, the real reason why The Kid manages to succeed emotionally and comically, is due to the acting. There a number of fine performances here. The obvious one is Charlie Chaplin himself as the The Tramp. His comic scenes are nothing short of hilarious, and even his more subtle comedic ideas are chuckle-worthy. And yet, his evident care and love for the child he adopts is very sweet, and gives the character (and performance) layers. The child he adopts, John, is portrayed by Jackie Coogan. Coogan was only 6 years old when he performed in this film, and yet, his performance is nothing less than perfect. Like Chaplin, his comedic bits are very good, but it's really his emotional pieces that sell the performance. His performance would have been noteworthy no matter how old he was, but the fact that he was only 6 is unbelievable. A miracle, even.

The Kid is an utter delight from start to finish. Very funny, very poignant, and boasting some fine performances, The Kid is a winner through and through. It gives you the laughs, the tears, and the craft to provide a very satisfying 68 minutes. Absolutely timeless, and an absolute must-see for anyone.


I'll just put it out there; I'm not very familiar with many of Tim Burton's directorial efforts. The only films I've seen, in which Burton was at the wheel, was the immensely underrated Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the immensely underperformed Alice In Wonderland. So while I can't tell you how the stop motion animated Frankenweenie ranks in comparison to Burton's other films, I can tell you that this is a very good movie, worth watching.

But Frankenweenie certainly won't appeal to everyone. The story line may be a bit too disturbing for some (though the PG rating does help constrain it), but teens and adults shouldn't mind.

Frankenweenie is actually a remake of a 1984 short film of the same name, produced by Disney, and directed by Tim Burton. If you didn't already know this, you may not be the target audience for this film. Burton was actually fired after making this short film, after it was deemed too dark. Now, nearly 30 years later, and we have a remake of the film that Burton was once fired for making. There's an irony there.

The story follows a boy named Victor, who is devastated when his dog and only friend, Sparky, is hit by a car and dies. In an attempt to revive his companion, Victor tries to resurrect his dog using lightning. Victor succeeds, though some adjustments have to be made, and no one can know about Sparky's re-given life. Still, fellow students discover that Sparky has come back to life, so they attempt to revive their own pets, which brings disastrous results.

Frankenweenie is filmed in black and white, which is an extremely risky move, considering that this is being pitched as a family film, and most kids will not find the lack of pretty colors appealing (if the color choice is keeping you from seeing Frankenweenie, then this probably isn't the film for you anyway). The color choice is a tribute to old fashioned horror films, and while it may seem gimmicky to some, it really does give Frankenweenie a very wonderful retro feel.

The retro feel, however, is not only evident in the color palette. Many elements of the story are purposely done to resemble films of yesteryear, which will may create some nostalgic moments for older audiences.

Even though Frankenweenie is a "family" film, I can't recommend it for youngsters. The aforementioned black and white won't appeal to them, and Frankenweenie can be relatively dark and creepy for a family flick. Plus, there are some "boo" moments which could frighten young ones.

Still, only more mature audiences are going to get the most out of Frankenweenie. Just as last year's Rango paid tribute to classic westerns, Frankenweenie has boatloads of references from the horror genre. Though horror buffs will benefit the most from this, spook film novices (such as myself) will still get a lot of the in-jokes. Obvious ones like the re-animation of Sparky, the Igor-resembling classmate and other such things should appeal to all members of the audience, while slightly more obscure references will leave more experienced movie-goers chuckling. There's even a Jurassic Park reference!

The characters in Frankenweenie are instantly memorable and immensely entertaining. While the main characters like Victor, and his parents may fall a bit more into the "generic" category, the supporting cast is a riot. The voices for these characters will surely be imitated upon exiting the theater due to the silly accents and often hilarious dialogue.

The animation, as is often the case in claymation films is absolutely stunning. The frame rate is noticeably higher than that of Pirates! Band of Misfits, another one of 2012's claymation films. Character designs are extremely amusing, and sight gags are numerous (though perhaps not as plentiful as the aforementioned pirates flick, though it comes close).

As a side note, I saw this is in 2D, and I noticed very few segments that could've made use of 3D. However, because Frankenweenie is in black and white, I can't imagine any color blurring. I would stick to 2D, though.

The outrageous characters are made even more hilarious thanks to excellent voice acting. Charlie Tahan is commendable as Victor, while Catherine O'Hara (who is cast as several characters) speaks with much humor. Other voice talents (including Martin Short, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder, and Atticus Shaffer) are equally convincing as their characters.

As one expects from a Tim Burton film, Frankenweenie is scored by Danny Elfman. While Elfman often fails to make his scores too much different than his last, I am pleased to report that Frankenweenie feels quite a bit different than his other scores. Similarities are still very much evident, but this score where near as similar as his scores for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice In Wonderland. Frankenweenie also boasts a much more playful mood than Elfman's other work, which is extremely welcome.

Frankenweenie is absolutely delightful. Gorgeous animation, hilarious characters, and boatloads of film references provide an entertaining 87 minutes. Plus, it has plenty of heart to contrast the creepy and darker elements of the story. Frankenweenie won't appeal to everyone, but animation lovers and movie buffs will have a scream.

Mission: Impossible 2

Mission Impossible 2 is a very difficult film to review, because for the most part, it's let down by a single issue: it's unspeakably boring. It seems that director John Woo was more interested in directing a generic love-story than a spy flick, resulting in a weirdly slow (and uneventful) first hour. During the second hour, Woo must have realized how crushingly dull the first half of his film was, and crammed as much action as he could into the second hour. But even then, these action scenes only add up to lots and lots of mindless shooting, a car/motorcycle chase that lasts far too long, and a well-choreographed (but ultimately tedious) hand-to-hand fight scene. The first hour is a bore, but the second is so mindlessly constructed and even pointless, that one almost wishes to return to the plodding first half.

In the process of recruiting Nyah Nordoff-Hall, agent Ethan Hunt falls in love with her, creating an unfortunate complication. The complication is that Nyah is to go meet up with an old love named Sean Ambrose, in hopes of attaining a dangerous virus that Ambrose plans on releasing into the world.

I'm all up for a good romance, even if I was expecting an action-packed thriller. But when a romance is written as poorly as this one, it's hard to hold one's interest (some lines are even cringe-worthy). The problem here, is that everything about Ethan and Nyah's relationship is predictable and familiar. There is nothing unique or intriguing about their relationship, nor the circumstances surrounding it, ultimately dooming the first half of the film.

The second half focuses far less on Ethan and Nyah's love-story, and chooses instead to hone in on the primary strength of the first film; meaning action sequences. Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, the action sequences (while generous in screen-time) are criminally tedious. One extended sequence literally just involves people shooting at each other, to the point where it's impossible to tell what's going on.

And, as mentioned, there is a chase sequence where Ethan Hunt is trying to get away on a motorcycle, but it quickly becomes monotonous and repetitive. With this sequence, and a car chase from Jack Reacher in mind, I can only conclude that chase sequences should be banned from any and all Tom Cruise films to limit extended periods of boredom.

As far as positives go, I suppose it's notable that the plot isn't even close to as convoluted as that of the first. However, the first half of the film actually goes to the extreme opposite, with a plot and script so simplistic, it's legitimately insulting. The sweeping cinematography might be worth praising too, had it not been for the excessive amount of slo-mo.

All the actors involved seem to be on auto-pilot (with a single exception). Thanks in part to bland, and lifeless characters, Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, and Thandie Newton fail to make any lasting (or even temporary) impressions in their performances. Only Anthony Hopkins (as Mission Commander Swanbeck) is especially notable, and in any other film, he might not have been. His two scenes provided more entertainment than the rest of the film combined.

The score, composed by Hans Zimmer, is simply, terrible. It's the worst score I've heard in a very long time. Emphasizing on electric guitars (and even wailing middle-eastern vocals), this rock-oriented score is nothing short of unbearable. It also commits one of the worst crimes a musical score can be found guilty of. And that, of course, is hurting the film itself. I was tempted to hit the "mute" button on multiple occasions, out of sheer disgust of the repulsive rock music. Also interesting is the lack of Lalo Schifrin's original theme- making only two, fleeting appearances.

Mission Impossible 2 just isn't any fun. The script is bad, the performances are weak, and the action sequences are a total snooze. While it's not as needlessly convoluted as Brian De Palma's original, it also lacks the over-the-top fun that the first at least sporadically achieved. I can't recommend it for much more than an antidote for insomnia.

Jack and Jill

I cannot even begin to imagine what the makers of Jack and Jill were thinking (assuming they were thinking at all, of course). I'm not referring to the nightmarish gimmick of Adam Sandler portraying a man named Jack and his twin sister, Jill, as there is clearly a market for this kind of "comedy" (mostly restricted to children in the single-digit age-range). Rather, I am referring to the absurd amount of offensive humor in this supposed family film, including jokes about Mexicans, Christians, terrorists, etc. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. There is not a single funny gag in this film, and there is rarely a moment where the events onscreen aren't utterly grating or unbearable. My fascination with awful cinema knows no bounds, but Jack and Jill took my patience to the breaking point. I'm forever scarred. There's no going back; I will never be the same.

Jack and Jill are twin siblings (as I mentioned before, they are both portrayed by Adam Sandler). Jack cannot stand his nutty and emotional sister, but Jack's wife insists on letting Jill stay with them over the holidays, as Jill is clearly very lonely. Jack is especially crabby because Al Pacino (yes, Al Pacino is in an Adam Sandler movie) has refused to be a part of a Dunkin' Donuts commercial that Jack is directing. However, Jill becomes very useful to Jack when Al Pacino develops an intense love for Jill (?!?!?!), and the whole film gets worse and worse from there.

Now, to be fair, this film was never good. From the first second, to the last, Jack and Jill is just a long grind. A long grind that somehow manages to get worse and worse as the film goes on. A miraculous achievement (don't you dare take this sentence out of context). Just when you think Jack and Jill can't get any more offensive or awful, you get another racism joke. Another weird scene where 70 year old Al Pacino is trying to romance a 40 year old Adam Sandler in drag. Another celebrity cameo that makes you scream at the screen, "What obscene amount of money were you offered to accept a role in this train wreck?!"

And come to think of it, calling this film a train wreck may be a perfect analogy. Yes, it's horrible. Yes, it's depressing. But one can only watch in morbid curiosity to see what happens next.

And perhaps curiosity is fair. That is, after all, what drew me to this film. When a film has such an infamous reputation as this one, one cannot help but be drawn in. But there are numerous pleasures in this film, other than Adam Sandler portraying two of the most unlikable characters in all of cinema. In what other film can you see Shaquille O'Neal sensually licking a frozen ham? In what other movie can you Adam Sandler (as a woman) debating God's existence with an atheist? And in what other movie will you hear Al Pacino shot this most memorable line of dialogue: "I can smelly horny across the ocean!" Yes, this movie is actually PG.

I'm trying to figure out what the thought-process was behind the makers of this "film." Why is it a good idea to have so many offensive/raunchy jokes in a PG rated family film? At least in the first 10 minutes of the film (which feel more like 10 years), I felt like I was watching a family movie. After that, the screenwriters must have realized the idiocy of their decision to sign onto this movie, and decided to shoot for the stars, hoping to at least earn some "edginess points" in the process.

And yet, we still have the common staples of bad children's entertainment. Including (but not limited to), poop jokes, (dozens of) fart jokes, silly dancing, and slapstick.

Even the special effects used in this film to make it so Jack and Jill can be in the same scenes are done poorly. They're almost never in the same shot, and when they are, you can only see one of their faces. I can probably count on my hands the amount of times they both appear onscreen at the same time. Heck, The Parent Trap with Lindsay Lohan from 16 years ago pulled the "twin" effect off better than this film.

Adam Sandler (who won the Golden Razzie award for Worst Actor and Worst Actress for this film) is, needless to say, atrocious. The character of Jack, is almost unbelievably rude, and a total jerk. Jill, on the other hand, is as obnoxious as you would expect, with the single most annoying and ear-bleedingly terrible laugh in the history of cinema (and you will hear this laugh numerous times in this film).

Al Pacino gets a surprisingly large role in this film, and while his performance isn't bad, per-say, he comes across as terrible anyways, purely because of the script. His role in this film seems somewhat ironic, interestingly, because he says in this film that he would never stoop so low, as to allow himself to be in a Dunkin' Donuts commercial. And yet, here he is, dating Adam Sandler in Jack and Jill!

Other celebrity cameos only leaves the audience wondering what Oscar contender they lost a bet on. The biggest question seems to be why Johnny Depp has a scene in this film, despite not saying anything funny (or anything that's supposed to be funny). Also, he's wearing a Justin Bieber shirt, because, you know, why not?

So, if you can't wait to see Adam Sandler in heels, making a run for the toiler screaming, "it's the chimichangas! They're making a run for the border!," then this will be all kinds of fun for you. But for the more sensible remainder of the population, this will be an intolerable slog. I think Al Pacino says it best at the end of the film: "Burn this. This cannot be seen. By anyone."


The title should be a hint, but if spiders give you the willies, Arachnophobia will be your own personal horror show. The icky factor is dialed to a 10, providing some effective moments of skin-crawling. In other words, Arachnophobia is a deliciously fun ride, with genuine thrills and legitimate laughs.

The amusingly self-aware plot is that by unfortunate chance, a deadly Venezuelan spider was transported to a small town where the spiders quickly multiplied and begin killing various town residents. The nest is, rather coincidentally, located in the farm of arachno-phobic, Ross Jennings.

It is so rare to see a film get this mix of comedy, chills, and thrills down so perfect. Never does one element seem to outweigh the other. The tongue-in-cheek delivery of the story is highly enjoyable, and there are some genuinely creepy-crawly scenes. All of this leads up to a thrilling (and chilling) climax that is fantastic fun.

There is a lot of mastery in the build-up in this film. Spiders are often dancing around potential victims, tantalizing the audience with another gruesome death. Will it bite her? Will she notice it? We watch with morbid curiosity and a grin as we writhe with anticipation and (perhaps slightly twisted) delight.

The spiders are nearly as creepy as they could possibly be. They're silent and quick. They can jump (which adds a whole new layer of terror). And some are quite large. We see them hide in food, and exit out of victim's nostrils. Arachnophobia creates a sense of paranoia that will stay with you long after the film has ended.

And yet, the creepiness is kept from getting too nerve-wracking thanks to its self-aware attitude and campy spirit, which insures a fun time, even when you're chewing your nails away and intermittently brushing off your shoulder.

Jeff Daniels as Ross Jennings isn't given as much to work with as some of the other cast members, but he makes for a likable lead. The real stand-out, however, is John Goodman as Delbert McClintock, who provides the biggest laughs of the film, and steals all of his scenes. He's woefully underused, however, as he appears in just a handful of short scenes. The supporting cast also has their share of funny bits, including Stuart Pankin, Roy Brocksmith, and Kathy Kinney.

Trevor Jones' score is surprisingly fun. The cheesy and dated music (an unintended result that has come with age) adds to the fun, and the pleasant town melodies make the comic build-up to the spiders' reign even more chuckle-worthy.

Arachnophobia is a surprisingly clever and smartly made movie. It provides a satisfying blend of comedy and suspense, coupled with solid performances and a hot heaping of camp. It's fun, it's reasonably creepy, and just a really good time. Watch it with friends and have a blast.

The Lone Ranger

When one walks into a film directed by Gore Verbinski and starring Johnny Depp, one has to be prepared to suspend their disbelief once in a while during outrageous action scenes. The Lone Ranger is no exception, but this movie pushes the boundaries of ignorance even farther than the Pirates of the Caribbean films. The number of ridiculous coincidences, miraculous death escapes, and dumb luck in this picture is too large to count. It falls past the mark of forgiveness and into the vast unknown of sheer absurdity. For that reason (among others), The Lone Ranger can be easily enjoyed as an embarrassment to the names of everyone involved. But there's just enough legitimately good stuff in this movie to make one yearn for the fun film it could have been.

So, I'm not quite sure what the film was all about; the whole affair just seemed like a blur of dull conversations, sporadic weird-ness, and the occasional (and preposterous) action scene. As far as I can tell, this movie is about John Reid, a lawyer who is out to find the men that killed his brother. And also, there's Johnny Depp talking to a horse now and then. That's more or less, the gist of this film.

The Pirates of the Caribbean films, while mindless and often remarkably stupid, still manage to be decent fun most of the time, providing colorful characters are impressive action sequences. Some of this is still true of The Lone Ranger, but in considerably smaller increments- with the exception being the stupidity, which has been massively inflated, resulting in a treasure trove of unintentional comedy.

The extent of the stupidity knows no bound. The script- which contains more than its fare share of bad dialogue- is all over the place. It never keeps the tone consistent, and the same goes for the character personalities (the exception being Tonto, though his personality is no more elaborate than Jack Sparrow with a dead bird on his head). There are various needlessly convoluted conversations (which are therefore, needlessly dull), and the attempts at comedy are often embarrassingly juvenile. In other words, there are poop jokes.

What's more, the script is terribly lazy. Many, many incidents are left unexplained. Example: During one scene, John Reid wakes up, and finds himself on a small platform that is several hundred feet high (you've likely seen this bit in the trailer). The next scene, he is no longer on the platform, but speaking with Tonto. It is never explained how he got off of the platform, and for that matter, it's never explained why he was there to begin with. This is only a single example, but there are numerous.

Furthermore, the script has the bizarre idea to have the entire story narrated by Tonto over 60 years in the future to a young boy. The film will randomly cut back to Tonto and the young boy, and these cuts back never feel natural, and they always take one completely out of the story (or at least what passes for a story in this film).

As I briefly touched upon before, this film is everywhere tonally. While it's often a fun, light-hearted adventure, it randomly cavorts into the dark and oddly depressing. One extensive massacre of seemingly hundreds of Native Americans is an unfortunate example of this.

And did I mention that the love interest of the title character is actually his sister-in-law, whom his brother married? What?!

There are action sequences in this film, but they're not as large in number as one might hope. Most of the film is devoted to tedious conversations and hit-or-miss comedy. What action scenes are there tend to be fairly forgettable. The highlight of these sequences (and the of the film) is one extensive train/horse chase/fight near the end. It's still preposterous, but it is undeniably fun.

If more of the film had focused on this care-free, high-energy mood, this could have been as fun as the best of the Pirates films. Unfortunately, too much of this film is focused on convoluted plot details, and weird Depp antics.

The acting in this film is often embarrassing. Armie Hammer as John Reid never hits the right note. He always feels out of place in this film, and never gets into the role. Of course, considering the script he had to work with, it's unlikely even the best of actors could have made this look good. Johnny Depp as Tonto is sporadically entertaining, but occasionally terrible. Some of his comedic bits work, and others are cringe-worthy. Scenes that involve him talking to horses are especially bad. The other performances are generally lifeless.

The score, composed by Hans Zimmer, is fun at times. But it's constantly quoting his score from Inception (and more infrequently, Sherlock Holmes and Rango). It's frustrating, and distracting. However, the extensive use of the William Tell Overture during the action sequence at the end is clever, and very entertaining.

As much as I'm tearing The Lone Ranger apart, I didn't hate it. Because of its preposterous nature and numerous unintentional laughs, The Lone Ranger is reasonably entertaining. Unfortunately, the comic nature of some scenes and sequences aren't fully embraced consistently. The film often gets too caught up in uninteresting plot threads and tedious dialogue to focus on just having a good time. The key to getting the most out of The Lone Ranger, is to see it with friends. You'll all laugh aloud at the film's absurdity, and hopefully get a kick out of the end. If you're watching on your own, expect to doze off, zone out, or wonder aloud why Johnny Depp would allow himself to be humiliated in this way.

The LEGO Movie

I know there's still nearly 11 months of the year remaining, but I am convinced that no other 2014 release will make me laugh as much, or as hard, as The Lego Movie. The gags come at a furious rate, the film features eye-popping animation, and there are enough clever easter-eggs to justify second, third, and fourth viewings for any fan (or former fan) of Legos. For 80 minutes of this movie, I almost never stopped smiling or laughing. Which makes it terribly unfortunate that the last 20 minutes threatens to unravel every perfect thing that The Lego Movie did in the preceding one-and-a-quarter hour.

Emmet, just an ordinary construction worker, falls down a hole (a la Alice in Wonderland), and discovers a crazy world, totally unlike his own. Emmet is even more shocked when he learns that he is the "Specialist," the fulfillment of a prophecy that will save the entire universe from Lord Business, who threatens to destroy the world on Taco Tuesday.

So, if you've seen any of the trailers, you know that The Lego Movie takes place in a world composed entirely of the Lego brand construction toy. But this is no mere marketing gimmick. The animation includes hundreds upon hundreds of clever Lego references that kept my eyes moving in vain hopes of catching every detail. I can only assume that I have only discovered a fraction of the intense detail put into this film. Not to mention a slew of amusing sight-gags that rival that of Aardman. The Lego Movie demands repeat viewings. And I am more than happy to meet this demand.

For the first 80 minutes of the film, the gags literally do not stop. I'd say there's at least 5 gags to a minute (not counting little easter-eggs in the background), and if you multiply that by 80, you get- well, a lot of laughs. The gags range from slap-stick, to satire humor, social commentary, pop culture references, visual gags, etc.

The satire and parody elements stand out, often downright mocking other similar films. Unfortunately, The Lego Movie falls into a very common pitfall for films that rely heavily on parody humor: It ultimately becomes the very subject of its mockery.

This is when we get to the last 20 minutes which are, not necessarily bad, but a dramatic departure from what came before. The gags seem to stop. They're actually still there in moderate supply, but because of how frequently they came before, the whole film seems to slow down. And the ending becomes something remarkably pedestrian and predictable in a way that one thinks that it MUST be intentional self-parody. But it isn't. For a film as ridiculous as this one, it's a shame it chooses to take itself so seriously at the end.

All of my problems with the last 20 minutes root back to the "twist." This is a spoiler-free review, so I won't give the game away, but let's just say that it's almost nothing a twist should be. In other words, it's not shocking, it's not inventive, and it's not good. I am convinced that The Lego Movie would be vastly improved had the twist been absent.

The voice cast is clearly having a lot of fun with their characters- all of which are extremely fun, and very memorable. Christ Pratt in the lead as Emmet gives an appropriately chipper performance, and Elizabeth Banks manages to expand upon the generic tough-girl, Wyldstyle- the most uninteresting of the main cast. The highlights, however, are indisputably Morgan Freeman as Vitruvius (featuring one of the best character designs in recent memory), as well as Will Arnett, Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, and many others. There are dozens of hilarious cameos as well, often voiced by major celebrities (but I'll let you discover them on your own). A brief cameo by Abraham Lincoln also gets a laugh, but one can't help but wonder if Daniel Day-Lewis was ever offered the role.

The score, composed by Mark Mothersbaugh, is an effective parody score. It jumps from genre to genre, amplifying the chaotic and hilarious environments. And yet, while it's amusing in the picture, I doubt it will provide a satisfying listen outside of the film.

The Lego Movie is 80 minutes of the funniest, most inventive, and ingenious animated cinema to grace the screen in years, and 20 minutes that is merely okay. The Lego Movie is so close to being a near-masterpiece, that it's painful for me to merely label it as a near-near-masterpiece. But all issues with the end aside, The Lego Movie is a must-see, not just for Lego fans and youngsters, but for audiences of all ages. The sheer amount of joy and fun contained within this film is unmatched by any animated film that was released last year. My face still hurts from smiling.


Had I not known before watching the film (or had I somehow missed the remarkably obvious "hidden Mickey"), I would have never guessed TRON to be a Disney film. It simply has little to nothing in common to anything else Disney has ever made. And I'm not referring to the lack of musical numbers or princesses, but rather the lack of humor, coherent plot, memorable characters, and basically anything resembling entertainment. TRON is a mess. A boring mess. Its cult classic status is a mystery to me.

Normally I'd explain the plot of the film right about now, except I have no idea what the movie was about. Somebody named Flynn gets sucked into a computer game, and has to figure out how to defeat something called Master Control Program. But there are so many points of confusion and tedious chase scenes mish-mashed throughout the film, that the plot gets totally lost at times.

Perhaps I would have a better understanding of the story if the dialogue wasn't so terribly dull. The script is composed of incredibly bland exposition and tedious tech-talk, making it a chore to listen to.

While TRON is only 96 minutes long, it's fairly dull from the very start. There are some slightly intriguing elements early on, but by the time TRON hits the 45 minute mark, it becomes a certified snore-fest. Frankly, I was just about bored to tears.

TRON is often praised for its "incredible" visuals. But they look so horrendous that I can't imagine they are appreciated as anything more than as a lesson in how NOT to create special effects. I understand that this film is over 30 years old, but surely the intense ugliness of this production was evident at the time of its release.

The effects are frightfully messy looking. Once we enter the video-game world, everything from the backgrounds to the (laughably bad) costumes are digitally created. This makes the film appear muddy and shoddy. So muddy, in fact, that I frequently mixed up the identities of certain characters, merely because the special effects caused their faces to be difficult to see clearly.

The acting ranges from bland to campy. Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan fall into the former category. David Warner falls into the latter.

The score, composed by Wendy Carlos, is delightfully retro, yet simultaneously obnoxious as a result. The electronic elements are amusing, but they become excessive and irritating as the film progresses.

A mess of a film, TRON features disastrously ugly special effects, terrible dialogue, weak acting, and a confusing story that isn't worth trying to follow. On top of that, it's just a big bore, lacking the fun and excitement of the films it's so clearly trying to imitate (namely Star Wars). If you want to see a better video-game oriented Disney film, watch Wreck-It Ralph. If you've already seen Wreck-It Ralph and you want to see if Disney can find success in the same pattern twice, here's your answer: no. Go watch Wreck-It Ralph.

Now You See Me

Now You See Me is reminiscent of a magic act I once saw. The magician was very funny, and he frequently had me laughing and smiling quite widely. Alas, the "magic" portion of his act was a bit weak. I would have been very happy to have seen this magician devote his entire stage-time on comedy, but seeing as he was- in fact- a magician, he was inclined to perform some magic. Now You See Me is the same way. The comedy works, and it's a lot of fun at times. But it ultimately falls short when it tries to incorporate the twists and tricks that would be expected of a film like this.

Four independent magicians are called together by an unknown person to pull of a caper of magnificent proportions. The caper takes place over the course of three performances, and they all end in the audience receiving massive amounts of money from various sources. As a result, the FBI is attempting to crack down on the magicians, while repeatedly being made a fool of.

So at first, Now You See Me sounds like a light comedy/caper film. But that's only part of it. The comedy works very well, and there are definitely some laughs to be had. The chemistry between the magicians is often entertaining, and there are definitely some clever lines.

Alas, the film falters when it wants to be more than a comedy. What seems to be the whole point of the film, is discovering who is behind the entire caper, and what will happen when the job is finished. And to what purpose? These questions are answered in the twist ending which, frankly, is incredibly weak.

Granted, it's not predictable. I'll admit that the ending surprised me. But it's just not a good twist, and it's hard to explain why without spoilers. The main issue is that it's just unsatisfying, and it's not thought out. It seems that the makers of this film merely decided to choose an ending that would seem the most surprising to audience members, without it really changing the preceding events.

The fact that the whole film is supposed to be a sort of build-up to the end makes the twist all the more disappointing. But the ending is made even worse by the fact that it's padded out in a way that seems almost conceited. The filmmakers are clearly reveling in their own genius at the end of the film, but the twist is so lacking in said genius that the ending is just one big egotistical flop.

And even the rest of the film, while rarely dull, is heavily flawed. The four magicians, for instance, are only partially developed. J. Daniel Atlas' personality doesn't go beyond having a bit of an ego (he's essentially the Tony Stark of a magician's version of SHIELD). Merritt McKinney is the most entertaining of the four, being a clever, but mischievous psychic. The other two magicians- Henley Reeves and Jack Wilder- have no personality at all. The former of which is actually entirely unnecessary to the story.

I'm not even kidding- Henley does not impact the story in any way, shape, or form. The movie would not be any different if she was not in the film, and that's a clear problem. Jack Wilder, on the other hand, is merely a plot device. The only reason Henley Reeves and Jack Wilder are in this film, is to complete the four-magician group. During one bit at the beginning, the film seems to be even acknowledging the weakness of these two characters by writing them completely out of a scene where all four magicians are interrogated by the police. We see J. Daniel and Merritt questioned, but not Henley or Jack.

And I should also point out one of my least favorite things to see in films aimed at audiences 13 and up: Childish humor! This film has it all; cartoon-ish villains (those wascally magicians are always one step ahead), slapstick, a hypnotic spell that causes victims to become passionate violinists, and one man has an blunt object thrown at his crotch. Granted, the latter three elements are relatively brief, but they don't need to be here at all in a film that's PG-13, and therefore aiming at teens and up.

The cast is filled with big names, and while the performances aren't great (undoubtedly hindered by the mediocre script), they suffice. Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson are the standouts from the main cast. Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, and Mark Ruffalo (as the FBI agent assigned to investigate the caper) are very weak in their roles, but not terrible. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are predictably solid in supporting roles.

The score, composed by Brian Tyler, has a definite personality and a distinctive feel that makes it easy to identify and associate it with the film. And yet, there isn't a single moment in the film where the music especially stood out or impressed me. It works for the film, but it's hard to say how it would fare as a solo listening experience.

The comedy mostly works (except for any of the physical comedy/slap stick), but the film is empty. With the exception of the ending, Now You See Me is entirely predictable. The film clearly thinks it's smarter than it really is, which hurts the film a lot (especially during the far too drawn-out ending). If this film had just settled for being a simple comedy/caper in the vein of the Ocean's movies, Now You See Me would've been a fun time. But the predictable twists, botched ending, and weak characters bog the film down. It's tempting to make a pun about "not seeing" a movie called Now You See Me, but I'll pass for the sake of good taste.

Captain Phillips

This is what a solid Hollywood production looks like. Very good acting, very good characters, very good execution. Captain Phillips is over 2 hours long, but there's not an ounce of fat on it. The film is intense, never boring, and it constantly keeps you guessing. And yet, while there's not much to complain about, it's not until the last 10 minutes that we are ever treated to something truly spectacular.

Based off of a true story, Tom Hanks portrays Captain Rich Phillips whose cargo ship is taken over by Somali pirates. Phillips is forced to employ his keen wit in hopes of outsmarting the pirates, but everything isn't as black and white as one might think.

As I have said, roughly 2 hours of this movie represents solid film-making. You can see the craft and the skill, and it's not difficult to tell that this movie was constructed carefully and thoughtfully. And yet, nothing about this movie screams "Oscar contender" until the last 10 minutes. That is when we get a marvelous display of heart-wrought emotion, tension, and acting. In the last 10 minutes, I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, with my rear on the very end of my seat. Frankly speaking, the final 10 minutes of Captain Phillips alone is worth the price of admission.

The characters are developed lovingly. Captain Phillips, while he may be perceived as a generic hero, has some surprising depth, and certainly some personal flaws that allow him to feel human. The pirates (namely Muse) are also portrayed in a surprisingly human light (despite their savage introductions). Such blurred lines in considering true evil is most refreshing and appreciated.

But of course, Captain Phillips is indeed a thriller. And it certainly thrills. It is a rare moment when you're not fearing for the life of not only Captain Phillips, but his crew as well. This is an intense experience, made even more impressive by the general lack of violence.

It's thanks to the layered and interesting characters, as well as the accelerated feeling of intensity that a film with so simple of a story can feel so engaging and full of depth.

The cinematography might bother some, because while it does create a claustrophobic feel, the in-your-face camera angles might be distracting for some. Oh yeah, and there's shaky cam, which actually made me slight nauseous during some scenes. Oh well, you get used to it.

Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips is great, but it's his last 10 minutes on screen that really sell the part. Yes, those last 10 minutes are truly spectacular. Barkhad Abdi as the ring-leader pirate, Abduwali Muse has been picking up a lot of praise, but frankly, the performance isn't as good as you've heard. It's solid, but I sincerely believe the only reason Abdi's performance has been so well received is because of his lack of training in this area. Considering that, it's an impressive performance. But it's merely "good" on it's own terms- which is not a bad thing at all, I should add.

The score is primarily composed by Henry Jackman, but it has passed through many hands (including those of Hans Zimmer), and has been re-edited many times. It still manages to feel cohesive, but that hardly matters, because the score is weak. I can't deny that the score does amplify the events onscreen (and there's some interesting percussion in the first act of the film). But there's not a single interesting melody or theme as far as I can tell, and the score is simply too synthetic for my tastes. The worst, however, is at the very end, where we hear one of the most blatant uses of plagiarism in the history of music: Zimmer's "Time" from Inception is playing at the final scene. Same chords, same instrumentation, same everything. It almost ruins the mesmerizing finale.

Captain Phillips could be described as a journey to get to the last 10 minutes. And while the last 10 minutes are unarguably the best, that's taking too much away from the preceding 2 hours. This is a good film, worth watching. It's an intense experience, and a remarkably thoughtful one, further assisted by strong performances and tight pacing.

The Sixth Sense

If you were to merely mention the name M. Night Shayamalan in a room full of movie watchers, you would either elicit hysterical laughter, or hysterical sobbing. M. Night Shayamalan is the infamous director of some of the worst movies of all time. So one could be forgiven for forgetting that at the beginning of his career, Shayamalan was one of the most promising new directors in Hollywood. The Sixth Sense is a testament to his initial genius.

Very little of The Sixth Sense can be revealed without potentially spoiling something (don't worry, I will avoid spoilers in this review). However, the basics of the story is as follows: Brilliant child psychologist, Dr. Malcolm Crowe, is attempting to help a young boy, Cole Sear, whom acts almost jarringly like a previous patient of Malcom's. This previous patient of Malcom's ultimately committed suicide, so in order to redeem himself (and lift the guilt of his failure), Malcom tries to help Cole, though he quickly discovers that this case may be much more serious than he first anticipated.

The Sixth Sense creates a chilling atmosphere. It is a bit frightening (occasionally terrifying), but incredibly skilled to be certain. The cinematography (while more than a touch odd- sometimes distractedly so) amplifies the creepiness and the tension. The Sixth Sense is a masterpiece of mood.

Of course, the element that The Sixth Sense is known best for, is the twist at the end. In my opinion, the end twist is perfect, and for a large number of reasons. For one, the movie is not about the twist. The Sixth Sense is not merely a build-up to get to the finish. In fact, this would have been a perfectly satisfying movie without the twist. But the last 3 or 4 minutes of the film is really what causes it to rise above so many others.

The twist also makes one think. It forces one to reconsider almost the entire events of the film. To replay them in one's mind. It causes one to have a different perspective on everything. It's so obvious. It makes so much sense. But you can't see it coming. There are many brilliant twists in the world of, not only film, but literature and even music. The Sixth Sense will likely remain as one of my all time favorite twists.

However, as I mentioned, The Sixth Sense is a fascinating, creepy, and completely gripping experience, even without the brilliant twist. The story is highly intriguing, and as events unfold, things get more and more interesting. Alas, The Sixth Sense is mislabeled as a horror film. And while there are moments of somewhat grisly violence (and moments of undeniable terror), simply calling The Sixth Sense a horror film is a disservice to the film's successful mystery elements. Because at the heart of The Sixth Sense, it is a mystery. A wickedly creepy mystery that seems all wrapped up by the penultimate scene (and easily could've ended there), but the last scene makes is what really concludes the mystery.

And then there's the acting, which is excellent. The highlight is undeniably Haley Joel Osment as Cole Sear, the disturbed child. His performance is one of my favorite child performances of all-time (closely rivaling my other favorite; Asa Butterfield in Hugo). He absolutely kills every scene he's in. Osment sells the tears, the stress, the anxiety, and the intelligence that's so important to convey in this character. This is not an easy role, but Osment not only succeeds, he triumphs.

Osment's performance is so extraordinary, one almost forgets that the rest of the cast also flourishes. Bruce Willis as Dr. Malcolm nails it, by balancing sympathy and wit into a likable and layered character. Toni Collette as Lynn Sear- Cole's mother- is also a sympathy producing role, and is handled with the right amount of strength, and motherly kindness.

James Newton Howard's score is mostly atmospheric. It enhances the film, and unlike most atmospheric scores, it has a distinctive personality that one can recognize even without the picture in front of them.

The Sixth Sense is both an intellectually satisfying film, and a thrilling one. It's gripping, riveting, and at times, a bit scary. But it's a sensational experience that must be seen to believed. It truly is a shame that M. Night has become one of the biggest jokes in cinematic history, because his earliest contribution to mainstream film is a very important one.


I'm not sure quite what it was about Henry Selick's Coraline, but it feels like an indie animated short film. Perhaps it's the animation, or maybe the off-kilter story, but Coraline has a very home-spun, gutsy feel to it, that very much reminds me of an art-house animated short film. It possesses many of the same qualities, and (like similar short films) does things that "normal" animated films would never even consider attempting. So as a massive fan of animated short films, I found Coraline to be 100 minutes of sheer joy and wonder.

Coraline is adapted from Neil Gaiman's book of the same name. Coraline Jones is a neglected child (her parents are often much too busy with work), so now that they've moved to a new home, away from all of her friends, Coraline is truly lonely. What's more, she hates life, and she hates her situation. But when she discovers a door to an alternate world- a better world- Coraline is happy again. She has different parents and friends there (though they all have buttons sewn onto their faces in place of eyes, though everyone's so nice, Coraline hardly cares). Alas, the fantastical and dreamy world that Coraline has discovered isn't all it seems. And indeed, this place of beauty and amazement slowly transforms into a twisted place of horror and fright.

I guess I should quickly point out that I do not recommend this movie for younger children. Even though teens on up should find a lot to love here, this film is way too intense, disturbing and potentially traumatizing for young viewers. Coraline really pushes the PG rating, but in my opinion, it's all the better for it.

One of director Henry Selick's previous films was The Nightmare Before Christmas. Most people often mistake that film as a directorial effort by Tim Burton (due to the trademark Burton visuals). And while Coraline is indeed a dark fantasy stop-motion film with creepy visuals, it has its own unique visual style that's completely different from Burton's. I don't think too many people should mistake this for a Tim Burton movie, as Selick's directing makes Coraline feel like a completely different kind of beast, while retaining many of the things that make Burton's work so enjoyable.

And while I'm talking about them, I guess I should add that the visuals are gorgeous. In fact, they're downright stunning most of the time. The stop-motion animation is beautiful, and it gets better and better as the film continues. At times, the animation is so smooth and detailed, one could be forgiven for mistaking this for a CGI film. Coraline is one of the most visually astounding films I've had the pleasure of viewing.

Thankfully, there is more to Coraline than just visuals. The story is one of remarkable depth. While the idea of children transporting to an alternate dimension is not an uncommon one (this has been explored in countless books, novels and films, both recent and old), it's the world itself that sets it apart (and in many respects- above) other similar stories. This alternate reality isn't so different from Coraline's own that it has a Alice In Wonderland type contrast from the real-world to that of fantasy. It has a distinctly dream-like quality that causes it to seem ridiculous and outlandish, and yet, sometimes oddly believable. Other films have attempted this kind of surreal quality, but few have accomplished it. Count Coraline among the few successes.

Every bizarre and creepy thing that happens in this film simply delighted me. So rare it is to find an animated film that truly dispenses with the idea that animation is a medium for children. After all, animation is just that: an art medium; not a genre designed to baby-sit toddlers and pre-teens. It is truly a treasure to find an animated film that understands that this art medium is just as much for adults as it is for children. Not only that, but Coraline also seems to understand that at times, it can be an even more effective style of story-telling for adults than live-action. Indeed, such eye-popping visuals and clever character designs simply could not be utilized in live-action to the same effect.

The voice cast is solid. Dakota Fanning as Coraline Jones provides a believable voice for the title character. Robert Bailey Jr. as the geeky Wybie (a character created specifically for the film) is also perfect in the role. Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French are riotous in their roles as Coraline's elderly neighbors Miss Spink and Miss Forcible. Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman portray Coraline's parents (in both the real world, and the alternate one), and their performances are especially noteworthy for getting the tendencies of any parent correct, and Hatcher's chilling performance for Coraline's "other" mother.

The score, composed by Bruno Coulais is excellent. It's strange and inspired (like the film), and fits the picture like a glove. There's a great harp theme, and memorable uses of choir. The instrumentation is odd, and the score does feel very experimental, but I think it really suits the nature of the film.

Stop-motion films simply don't garner the attention of CGI animated films for some reason. While every once in a while, a Nightmare Before Christmas comes along and garners a lot of acclaim, mainstream audiences always seem to pass on these stop-motion endeavors. Frankly, I can't understand why. It's a terrible shame, of course, because stop-motion does so many things that CGI animated films dare not do. Perhaps that's why they're so often ignored by the mainstream. If this is so, then maybe it's better that they don't garner as much attention. After all, I'd rather have one stop-motion film every couple of years like Coraline, rather than getting the stop-motion equivalent of Madagascar every other month.

Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks is a feel-good movie. That's what it's marketed as, and that is what it is. Interestingly enough, it's during the less sentimental moments of the film when Saving Mr. Banks most consistently makes one feel good. The first half provides most of the comedy, and it's a really enjoyable time. The second half, however, contains more of the emotion, and while this is supposed to represent the more touching and personal moments of the film, it feels decidedly more artificial (and undoubtedly less entertaining) than the first half. But make no mistake, Saving Mr. Banks is a good film, 100%. Unfortunately, only the first 50% is truly exceptional.

P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins novels, is very passionate about her books- specifically the characters. So when Walt Disney tries to acquire the film rights to Travers' novels, she is horrified at the changes that Disney has suggested. This results in an intense and extensive fight with Travers' and Disney both trying to change the other person's mind, though there can be no film made at all if Travers chooses not to sign away the rights to make the film.

Even though you could probably already guess, Saving Mr. Banks really sweetens up the story. In reality, P.L. Travers hated the film so much (even by the end of production) that she walked out of the premiere in tears. And I don't think it's spoiling anything to say that by the end of the film, P.L. Travers has certainly warmed up to the movie. This isn't so much a flaw, as a warning: If you're disgusted by Hollywood pumping too much sugar in stories you might rather have been served without sweetening, stay away from Saving Mr. Banks. With that being said, though, Saving Mr. Banks isn't without some hard edges.

For example, there are numerous flashbacks to P.L. Travers' childhood, where her father is a struggling alcoholic. These flashbacks are certainly more heavy-handed than the rest of the film. And while I'm on the subject of these flashbacks, I might as well comment that they're a lot less interesting than the parts with Travers as an adult. And unfortunately, these flashbacks probably take up a third of the film. Now, granted, they are beautifully shot, and they are somewhat engaging, but the parts of the film involving Travers as an adult are so well done, it's hard to find interest in these less-entertaining flashbacks.

Now, as I said, the parts that occur in Travers adult life, where she is fighting for creative control (or at least creative influence) in the film is extremely well done. The script is excellent; with witty dialogue, highly successful comedy, and plenty of opportunities for the actors onscreen to stretch their legs and show off. The outrageously finicky attitude of P.L. Travers is truly hilarious, and while her actions would be obnoxious in real life, she's very funny in film.

Nearly as funny as Travers reaction and disgust towards the changes Disney suggests, are the reactions towards P.L. Travers by the script and songwriters of Mary Poppins. There are many hilarious moments in this movie (primarily in the first half). I only wish that more of the film had been devoted to these comedic scenes, as the emotional element doesn't work nearly as well (though it's certainly not ineffective).

Emma Thompson lights up the screen as the nit-picky, uptight P.L. Travers. I found myself smiling widely almost every time she's on the screen. She delivers the comedic portion of her part perfectly, and the emotional part sympathetically. The other highlight is Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, who is intensely likable, and very charming. The supporting cast are also very good (though one does wonder how much the script is to thank for this), but I have two problems with the casting. The first is in regards to Colin Farrell, who portrays P.L. Travers' father in the flashbacks, as Farrell is hugely miscast. The second is directed at B. J. Novak, who is far too recognizable. One can't look at him without seeing B. J. Novak. Still, the acting overall, is solid.

The score, composed by Thomas Newman, is pleasant enough. It makes nice use of piano, and has some interesting instrumentation (not that I would expect anything else from Newman), but it does lack the charm of a Sherman Brother score. And I only make that comparison because this is, after all, a film about the making of Mary Poppins, and it would've been nice to hear some more tie-in with the themes from the film, as use of these themes are sparse.

Even though Saving Mr. Banks has many problems and issues, the sheer amount of laughs and amusement from the first half of the film cannot be discounted, even though the second half of the film isn't as entertaining. The acting is solid all around (with Emma Thompson in particular being a notable stand-out), and the screenplay is terrific. Still, by making this a feel-good movie, Saving Mr. Banks has some slow moments. Saving Mr. Banks is not perfect, but it's so intensely likable, it's hard to imagine someone not smiling throughout it.

War of the Worlds

Contrary to Spielberg's customary treatment of aliens, the extra-terrestrial beings in War of the Worlds are not friendly. In fact, they're downright terrifying. Know what you're getting into before turning on War of the Worlds: This is not the fun, light-weight Summer blockbuster you may be expecting. This is in fact, very dark, very bleak, and very grim. But nonetheless, War of the Worlds- in spite of many problems- is a must-see.

Ray Ferrier and his two kids, Robbie and Rachel, don't get along very well. Ray is divorced, and he rarely sees his kids, so when he's placed in charge of them for a few days, things are difficult. But that all seems so slight when strange things begin happening. And then, the aliens come.

Who would have thought that an alien-invasion film could be so affecting? War of the Worlds is an intense, thrilling, and often very frightening experience, but it still has a brain.

The aliens are horrifying. Though for the most part, we only see their tripods (large, walking and flying machines from space), their presence is still immensely terrifying. To be completely honest, I wasn't frightened at all when we get the first, full look at the tripods. The build-up got me on the tense, but the reveal was surprisingly unspectacular. But once people start getting vaporized, War of the Worlds becomes a shocking, and suspenseful cinematic disaster film. It gets even more intense when we see what's actually happening to the individuals that get collected...

But who needs aliens? There are many points when desperate humans seems to have even less humanity than the aliens. It is exceedingly rare to see an act of goodwill performed by a human in this movie. Many of the people in War of the Worlds are savage and violent. Though ordinary people don't contribute to the (extremely high) death count nearly as much as the aliens, the murders authored by humans feel even more brutal.

Indeed, brutal is a key word here, because that was one of the main words flashing in my head throughout the entire film. War of the Worlds is a brutal film. It's far more gritty and intense than most popcorn movies would dare to go. I actually struggle with using the term "popcorn movie" to describe this film, just because it's hardly fits this description. War of the Worlds is remarkably thought-provoking, and uses its brain far more than most action films today.

The special effects are stunning. There are some visuals in this film that literally caused my jaw to drop. I can't elaborate much more than that without spoilers, but I can say that this is a gorgeous film.

There are some problems with this film, one of the biggest issues are the characters themselves. Robbie and Rachel are incredibly obnoxious and bratty. And while Robbie seems to become at least slightly more likable as the film goes on, Rachel is an annoyance from start to finish. Ray, the protagonist, is unlikable by traditional movie standards, but among the cast here, the audience tends to sympathize with him a bit.

I do believe that the two children (and Ray) are supposed to come off as slightly obnoxious at the beginning of the movie, but their attitudes are so unbearable at times, it sort of takes me out of the movie a bit. Thankfully, the action gets intense soon enough that this issue doesn't spoil the movie, though it does annoy me.

My other major problem is with the ending. It's not inherently bad, but it's a tad unsatisfying. There's a bit of deus ex machina and an overly triumphant finish that clashes with the incredibly dark and horrifying events that preceded the ending. The ending is really the only thing that reminded me that I was watching a Summer blockbuster.

The acting is a mixed bag. Tom Cruise as Ray Ferrier is solid (his Razzie nomination for this performance baffles me), and Justin Chatwin as Robbie is good enough. Dakota Fanning as Rachel is incredibly bratty (whether this is because of the acting or the character itself is up for debate). There are some interesting side characters as well that are given solid performances, and you can't go wrong with Morgan Freeman narrating (he speaks at the very beginning, and the very end).

John Williams' score is mostly atmospheric, with a couple solid bits of action music. There's an especially good piano piece at the end. For the most part, I doubt this score will be very interesting taken away from the film, but when put next to the picture, the movie is greatly enhanced.

While War of the Worlds does have some problems, it's a gripping, brutal, and thought-provoking rush. It's surprisingly hard-to-watch at times, but this film is all the better for it. War of the Worlds is not only a very good film, it's an important one. And an unforgettable one.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Buying a ticket to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, is essentially the same as buying a ticket to Middle-Earth. You are transported to a stunning world of dwarves, dragons, and elves, where there are beautiful forests, enchanting treasure troves, and perilous mountains. For 160 minutes, you are in an entirely different place. There are many problems with this film, but I think the trade-off is worth it, as Middle-Earth has truly never looked better.

Continuing from where An Unexpected Journey left off, The Desolation of Smaug follows Bilbo and company on their journey to the dwelling of the great dragon, Smaug. On this extended journey, they encounter orcs, skin-changers, and giant spiders (among others), all of which pose their own kinds of threats and challenges. And yet, nothing compares to the great and mighty Smaug himself.

I've already said it, but I'll say it again: Middle-Earth is gorgeous. The visuals are rarely less than stunning, and at times, they're downright jaw-dropping. Everything from the cinematography, the visual effects, and the scenery make Middle-Earth a place you never want to leave (and a good thing too, considering the nearly 3 hour run-time).

But of course, the main visual attraction here is the Smaug, the dragon. And let me tell you, he is every bit as stunning as one might expect him to be. Considerably more so, actually. When he is finally revealed in full glory, one can only sit in their seat, jaw on the floor, in absolute awe. Smaug's grand revealing is the highlight of the film. Admittedly, there are one or two sketchy looking shots in the last act, but the visuals are still fantastic. I sincerely believe that if this weren't competing with Gravity, The Desolation of Smaug would have a very good chance of winning the Oscar for Best Visual Effects.

As far as the story itself goes, yes it's very padded. So padded, in fact, that the story tends to get lost in all the fluff. Still, thanks to likable characters and great acting, The Desolation of Smaug proves an entertaining experience, despite this. That's not to say, of course, that this is 160 solid minutes of entertainment. There are many slow moments, and at times, you can really feel the run-time, but the visuals are generally enough to keep one from getting bored.

There are a large number of action scenes in this film (relatively few of these are contained in the book, but when a 300 page book is being converted into 9 hours of film, nobody truly cares). One of the highlights that occur in the first act of the film is a really fun and inventive little chase where all the dwarves are floating down a perilous river in barrels, whilst being pursued by orcs and elves.

The characters themselves are as likable as ever, and some of the dwarves have been developed a bit more this time around (though there are definitely some dwarves that are still lacking personality). The new additions are a bit of a mixed bag. Yes, there's Smaug, one of the greatest characters in this series, but we also have the arguably unnecessary Legolas (who appeared in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy), and Tauriel. Legolas is remarkably cardboard in this film, and has lost all of his personality and charm from the original trilogy. It seems he's only here to sell more tickets, kill some orcs in inventive ways, and complete the love triangle with Tauriel and Kili.

Yup, you read that right, there is a love triangle here. And while it's not as poorly done as that in, say, Hunger Games, it's still weak, and is only there as filler. Unfortunately, this love triangle seems to represent the only character traits of those involved (Tauriel, Kili, and Legolas).

Despite some flaws in this aspect of the film, The Desolation of Smaug is still a solid fantasy film. There are plenty of wow moments, and at times, there's some reasonably successful humor. If nothing else, The Desolation of Smaug isn't going to be a miserable experience for anyone.

The acting is great. Martin Freeman shines, once again, as Bilbo Baggins, and Ian McKellen is still excellent as Gandalf (though his screen-time in this film is shorter than in its predecessor). Richard Armitage is growing into the role of Thorin Oakenshield very nicely, and Benedict Cumberbatch steals the show as Smaug (just as Andy Serkis did as Gollum in An Unexpected Journey).

Many reviews have stated that Howard Shore's score for this chapter in the Lord of the Rings series is a bit lacking. And while I agree that this is Shore's weakest score for the series to date, it's still a good score. It is missing some of the memorable qualities of previous scores in the series, but the (admittedly rare) uses of the Concerning Hobbits theme and the theme for the ring is satisfying enough.

While I don't think The Desolation of Smaug is a stronger film than An Unexpected Journey, there is still enough here to suggest that fans won't be disappointed with this fifth visit to Middle-Earth. Between the acting, the visuals, and Smaug, no one is going to leave without being somewhat impressed at some point or another. There are problems to be sure (namely the awkward love triangle, and the long length), but The Desolation of Smaug is still a solid entry in the Lord of the Rings series. And also, I must add that the ending is phenomenal. Without giving anything away, let me just say that the last few shots are gorgeous and build the perfect amount of anticipation towards the final chapter, There and Back Again. Indeed, you can count me among those looking forward to the final chapter, with bittersweet excitement.

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride is not unlike Tim Burton's other films. They're dark, a bit creepy, with predictably Burton-esque visuals, and are peppered with bits of macabre humor. It would not be outlandish to merely dismiss Corpse Bride as "just another Burton film." Alas, even though Burton's Gothic film-making formula hasn't changed much, one should not forget that Burton's signature style is one of the things that make his films so appealing. Corpse Bride is no exception.

Set in the Victorian Era, Corpse Bride is about a young man named Victor that is forced by his parents to be wed to a young woman named Victoria, whom he has never even met. However, there's a change in plans when Victor gets into a bizarre mix-up, and accidentally proposes to a corpse named Emily.

This review could quite simply be summed up in a single sentence: If you enjoyed Tim Burton's other efforts, you will likely enjoy this one. The similarities between this film and others by Burton are numerous. And yet, Corpse Bride never feels stale or rehashed.

Corpse Bride focuses on two worlds: The World of the Living, and the World of the Dead. The World of the Living has a grey and white color scheme, to the point where scenes in this world appear to be in black and white. The character designs here are deliciously Burton, and consistently inventive. The satire humor used in these scenes are always successful.

The World of the Dead is supposed to be a more lively environment, but surprisingly, it's actually less interesting and creative than the World of the Living. While some scenes in this world utilize bright colors (giving off a distinctive Día de Muertos vibe), many of the scenes are just filmed with a darker color palette. It's similar to the palette used in the World of the Living, but much less exaggerated, and therefore, less interesting.

In addition, the residents of the World of the Dead are limited to skeletons and occasional corpses, which don't allow for especially interesting character designs.

Despite less than successful contrast, Corpse Bride is still supremely entertaining. There is not a single dull moment, thanks to the always fascinating clay-mation and intriguing story. The characters are likable and funny, and the ending is surprisingly touching.

The voice acting is superb. Johnny Depp's performance as Victor perfectly captures the shy, nervous nature of the character. Emma Watson as Victoria is also excellent- though on a side note, the character itself has an unexpected resemblance to Scarlett Johansson. Helena Bonham Carter is unrecognizable as Emily, and the supporting cast is fantastic. The best performances here come from Tracey Ullman, Paul Whitehouse, Joanna Lumley, Albert Finney, and Christopher Lee.

Danny Elfman's score doesn't explore much new territory compared to other Tim Burton scores, but the Elfman style has become as much a part of the Burton experience as anything else. For what it's worth, Elfman's score is a touch more elegant than his work for other Burton films, likely due to the time period. Elfman also contributed four songs to the picture, all of which are pleasant, but unmemorable.

Entertaining to the last minute, and featuring enchanting animation, Corpse Bride is unabashedly Burton, and I wouldn't want it any other way. It is a bit short at only 77 minutes, and as a result, it leaves one wanting more. But needless to say, this is a good problem to have.

Knight & Day
Knight & Day(2010)

If you want to know what might happen if Tom Cruise starred in an animated movie- but without the animation- Knight and Day should be quite a treat. Knight and Day, like many animated films, dispenses with reality and provides silly circumstances and wacky characters. And yet, at the same time, Knight and Day is a surprisingly solid action movie. There are fun chase scenes, and legitimately cool fight sequences- all while retaining the film's zany, crazy tone. By all accounts, Knight and Day should not work. The blend gritty action scenes and cartoon-like humor is jarring, to the say the least. But the action is effective enough, and the comedy is funny enough, and it all lends itself to a very enjoyable popcorn flick- albeit, a nutty one.

June Havens' life turns upside down when she meets a guy by the name of Roy Millers that turns out to be a secret agent of sorts. He's eccentric- maybe crazy- but there are "bad men" everywhere, and if she wants to get out of this alive, June has no choice but to trust Roy- even when things a bit out of hand.

Knight and Day, in many respects, could be considered a terrible movie. It's silly, it's over-the-top, it's completely improbable, and at times, Knight and Day seems to adapt a sort of "anything goes" kind of attitude. But therein lies the film's charm. It revels in its silliness. It relishes its over-the-top antics. It basks in its improbability.

This is the kind of film that will drive people crazy. Knight and Day could cause a passionately negative response from the wrong audience. You think Pirates of the Caribbean is silly? That franchise will feel like To Kill A Mockingbird compared to this. Knight and Day is one of the most unexpectedly ridiculous films I've ever seen. But it's exactly that exaggerated absurdity that causes Knight and Day to move beyond other generic thrillers of the same cloth.

Knight and Day is a wacky little experiment, but it does have problems that are a bit more universal. For example, the main character, June Havens, is all over the board. She has no single personality- it seems to change from scene to scene. The least she could've done is let one of the other characters have one of spare personalities, as the majority of the character ensemble have little to no memorable character traits. There are exceptions of course (namely Roy Miller and Simon Feck), but as a whole, the characters are bland.

Also, at a nearly two hour run time, Knight and Day does feel a wee bit long. The film is mostly engaging from start to finish, but it does run of steam a bit at the 70 minute mark.

Tom Cruise nails it as Roy Miller, the suave secret agent with a screw loose. Cameron Diaz does her best with her personality-confused character, June. Though one does get the feeling that this role might have been better suited towards someone like Kristen Wiig. Still, Diaz' work here is solid. Also notable is Paul Dano as Simon Feck.

I'm not sure whether to praise John Powell's score for its inspired instrumentation, or state my confusion with it. Knight and Day makes heavy use of the accordion in this score, which is, frankly speaking, surprising. In its own weird way, the score does work, but the "anything goes" feel of the film is definitely evident in the music.

Knight and Day is as silly as action films get. It's almost cartoonish-ly over-the-top, and this will almost certainly turn off some audiences. But for those who will excuse this, Knight and Day is a remarkably entertaining popcorn movie. It's a little long, and the ending is definitely too cutesy, but for a reasonably low-profile action movie, Knight and Day is surprisingly fun.

Arthur Christmas

Some films are destined to be classics. And while Arthur Christmas is far from a masterpiece, it certainly feels like a movie that could quickly become a Christmas tradition among many families. It's funny, it's cute, it's warm. What more could you ask of a Christmas film?

Aardman presents a much more modern version of Santa Claus then what audiences are used to. A small army of elves are deposited into towns via the S-1; a giant spaceship of a sled that blends into the sky as to avoid suspicion. The elves, like spies break into people's houses to plant presents for all the nice children (and Santa is in charge of laying a single present under the tree of select houses).

As expected Christmas Eve goes without a hitch...until it's discovered an hour later that a child was missed. Arthur Christmas, one of Santa's two sons is determined to make sure that the gift reaches the missed child, yet Santa's other child, Steve insists that there's no way to get to child before morning. Grandsanta (the Santa preceding the current one) won't have it, and teams up with Arthur Christmas to deliver the present to the missing child on the old sled, which leads to catastrophic events.

The beginning of Arthur Christmas is quite brilliant. We see the elves at work delivering presents, and the Christmas family has great chemistry with each other. Still, after the first half-hour (incidentally, when the plot starts), Arthur Christmas loses some of it's genius. This is still an excellent film, though if the rest of the film was as immensely entertaining as the first half-hour, Arthur Christmas would've been a much better film.

Still, Arthur Christmas still stands as delightful entertainment. The characters here aren't exactly unique, but they are both developed and hilarious. The elves nearly steal the show with their quick witty lines and energetic screen presence.

And while Arthur Christmas can be wickedly funny, there are slow moments. Perhaps somewhat ironically, Arthur Christmas is less enchanting when it tries to be magical. These humorless bits provide pacing problems and also feel extremely dull when compared to the rest of the film.

Still, not all these serious bits are a bore. Parts of Arthur Christmas (specifically around the ending) are surprisingly touching. While it's unlikely to leave anyone in tears, Arthur Christmas boasts surprising emotional depth that's rarely seen in non-Pixar animated outings.

The animation is attractive, without being jaw-dropping. Though character designs are distinctly Aardman, and environments can be pretty, the quality of the animation isn't always consistent. It looks good, but not necessarily great.

Voice acting is extremely well done. James McAvoy provides a silly and clumsy voice for Arthur, while Jim Broadbent as Santa is performed to perfection. The two standouts, however, are Bill Nighy as Grandsanta and Ashley Jensen as Bryony. These two characters are the comedic highlights of the films, and they wouldn't have been the same without their voice actors.

The score by Harry Gregson-Williams is mildly disappointing. It's not quite Christmas-y enough, and it does little that's new or unique. The score's massive potential is mostly unrealized, and it lacks energy. At some points, it sounds like his scores for the Narnia films. Still, it's mostly pleasant, if generic work.

Arthur Christmas has a lot going for it. It's quite funny at times, and contains some surprisingly touching bits. Still, slow parts do occur, and the film never lives up to it's first half-hour. Flaws aside, Arthur Christmas is a delightful holiday treat that aims high and mostly hits it's target.


I'll admit that when the teaser for Frozen first came out, I was appalled. It appeared that after the recent commercial and critical successes of Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph, Disney was testing our tolerance for the pedestrian. And subsequent trailer releases did little to boost my confidence in the picture. I am pleased to say, however, that Frozen far exceeded my expectations, and proved itself worthy of the Disney name. It's not as funny as Winnie the Pooh or Wreck-It Ralph, and it doesn't capture the Disney Renaissance feel as well as The Princess and the Frog, but Frozen is one of the year's best animated films- especially notable in a year where good animated films have been rather scarce.

Loosely based off of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, The Snow Queen, Frozen is about two sisters (both princesses) named Anna and Elsa. Elsa, the elder of the two, has magical powers that allow her to create and manipulate ice and snow. Elsa has to keep this secret to herself, though, in order to protect her sister and the kingdom. But on the day of Elsa's coronation, her cover is blown, and she flees to a far away mountain, and puts the entire kingdom in eternal winter. Anna is determined to speak with her sister and help her fix everything, so Anna begins a journey to her sister- but not without the help of an ice salesman named Kristoff, a reindeer named Sven, and a talking snowman named Olaf.

Frozen takes elements from Renaissance Disney (such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King) but there is clearly more influence from modern Disney (such as Enchanted and Tangled). The Tangled influence is the most evident in this picture, but thankfully many of the flaws evident in that feature are nonexistent or minimized in this one.

The characters are definitely more modern Disney. In Renaissance Disney, the primary characters were somewhat bland, but very likable. Most of the humor came from the supporting characters. In more recent Disney films (specifically Tangled), the main characters can provide just as much humor as the supporting cast, and that much is true here.

It's worth noting, however, that many of the characters are irritatingly similar to those in Tangled. For example, Anna is alarmingly similar to Rapunzel. Sven seems like a combination of Maximus and Pascel (and essentially serves the same purpose as both of these characters), and while I won't say that Kristoff completely goes the Flynn Rider route, there at least seems to be a little influence from this character. Despite this, these characters are still entertaining, and serve their purpose.

The more notable characters, however, are Elsa and Olaf. The internal conflict in Elsa is done to perfection, and her character design is fantastic. Olaf- despite being pushed heavily in marketing- isn't in quite as much as the film as you would think, and (thankfully) he isn't nearly as obnoxious as one might think based on the trailers. On the contrary, he's very funny, and provides many of Frozen's biggest laughs. He's not as good as Genie from Aladdin, or even Mushu from Mulan, but he' gets the job done. The Duke of Weselton (delightfully voiced by Alan Tudyk who portrayed King Candy in last year's Wreck-It Ralph) is funny in the few scenes he's in, but his motivation as a (minor) villain is both underused and underdeveloped. There's also a very funny character named Oaken who runs a trading post who gets one very memorable scene.

The songs also seem to take more of a page from modern Disney. Rather than producing big, Broadway-type numbers like the Renaissance Disney films are known for, the songs in Frozen have a very noticeable pop vibe- while retaining the orchestral score. This was notable in certain songs in Tangled and Enchanted, but they were never implemented this heavily. Also, rather than Alan Menken/Glenn Slater collaboration that recent Disney musicals have had, the score is instead written by Christophe Beck with song lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (Book of Mormon, Winnie the Pooh).

There are 10 songs in this film, but two are reprises, and one is under a minute, and it's really more of an afterthought. The opening number, "Frozen Heart" has a similar feel to "Virginian Company" from Pocahontas. It's a good song (and destined to be forgotten among the other numbers), but the melody and music is especially nice in this song. I'd personally be interested in an instrumental version of this song with a fiddle performing the melody in place of the vocals.

"Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" is a heartbreaker. Don't let that innocent title fool you, this song was a tear-jerker. The lyrics aren't especially clever, nor do they flow especially well, but that's not the point of this particular song. Rather, it's to show the struggle Ana and Elsa have being separated, and this is accomplished perfectly through visuals and pitch-perfect singing performances. "For the First Time in Forever" is the most Tangled-esque song in the film with bouncy lyrics and predictably chipper attitude. But it won me over all the same (especially towards the end).

"Love is an Open Door" is a catchy and comedic number that's sort of a parody of the absurdly brief pre-marriage relationships between Disney characters. Later parody and satire humor related to this is also successful. In fact, I would argue that the few bits of parody/satire type humor in this film is better than all related humor in the entirety of Disney's Enchanted.

"In Summer" and "Fixer Upper" are good for throwaway comedy numbers, but the standout is "Let it Go." On one hand, the pop song vibe is a pinch distracting, but the orchestral score makes it work. The lyrics are excellent, the visuals here are gorgeous, and Idina Menzel nails the singing. A reprise of this song performed by Demi Lovato plays during the credits, but it's vastly inferior to the original.

Disney films are also known for their beautiful animation and Frozen is no exception. The environments are gorgeous, sometimes stunning, and some scenes involving snow falling are almost breath-taking. Admittedly, this films might have really benefited from traditional animation instead of CGI, but that doesn't make the visuals any less attractive.

The cast is reasonably good. Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel as Anna and Elsa respectively are without flaw, whilst Jonathan Groff as Kristoff is good enough. Josh Gad as Olaf is channeling a lot of Jonah Hill here, but the performance works, and it's never annoying.

Christophe Beck has composed dozens upon dozens of scores over the years, but none of this work has been especially memorable. Frozen is an important milestone for him, however, as it's a reasonably good score, though his work is certainly outshined by the music in the lyrical numbers- which are composed by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.

The first half hour of Frozen provides some of the biggest laughs of the film, and more importantly, the most touching moments. And while there are emotional highs and lots of humor throughout the rest of the film, nothing else in this film compares to the first half hour. The first 15 minutes especially are pure cinematic gold. But the rest of the film does more than enough to make itself a memorable animated film that you would be doing yourself a favor to check out while it's in theaters. It's not the best that modern Disney has to offer, but it's a fantastic throwback to the Disney Musical.

Note: There is a Mickey Mouse short film preceding the film entitled "Get a Horse!" It's both technically interesting, nostalgically pleasing, and genuinely funny. It's fun, it's inventive, and worth arriving early for.

The Croods
The Croods(2013)

While companies like Pixar (and to a lesser extent, Disney) continue to innovate and take risks, Dreamworks is still using their same formula. The formula, of course, is use themes from better films, recycle all the same gags from previous efforts, splash some colorful visuals on it, and it if it does well, plan a sequel and a television series. Examples of this formula: Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon and Shrek (though in it's defense, Shrek never got a TV series). Now, we can add The Croods to Dreamwork's extensive list of products.

The Croods is about a family of cavemen that are used to living in their protected cave. Eep, the oldest daughter of the family, wishes to explore the outside world, but her father, Grug, forbids it. But the entire family is pushed outside of their comfort zone when their cave is destroyed, and they are exposed to the wilderness. They find a tour guide of sorts named Guy (and his pet sloth, Belt) that promises to aid them on their journey. And so, the generic adventures begins.

So, let's count the cliches and rip-offs in The Croods. For one, we have the adventurous, free-spirited daughter (see Brave), and the overprotective father (see Finding Nemo). We have the father learning to adapt to his offspring's new way of life (How to Train Your Dragon). And we have the main character giving a spoken epilogue at the end of the film (nearly every CGI Dreamworks film) There are many other examples in the film, but this is all to say that there is nothing in The Croods that we haven't seen before in other animated films.

This is the same film that audiences have seen dozens of times. There is no reason to see this film, because odds are, you own an animated film that's almost exactly like this.

Occasionally, formula films can entertain, but The Croods is not an example of this. In fact, more often than not, The Croods is downright dull. The plot is uninteresting (and offensively generic), the characters are unlikable (as well as being either bland or a tired stereotype), and the entire film is absurdly predictable.

The humor in this film scarcely ever works. All of the gags seem aimed at the 10 and under crowd (and for that matter, the story seems that way too). With that being said, kids will probably love this movie, but there's nothing here for their parents or older siblings.

Even the animation is lacking. The visuals in the first 20ish minutes would've looked unimpressive 10 years ago. After the first 20 minutes, the animation picks up significantly with some beautiful environments, but the characters themselves still lack detail. However, I will say that some of the designs for the prehistoric creatures are very unique, and very creative, so if nothing else, there is at least a little originality in the creature design department.

The cast provides serviceable, but unimpressive (and forgettable) voices for the characters in the film. No stand-outs here.

The score, by Alan Silverstri, is fun at times. But one of the main themes sounds frustratingly similar to the Burning Bush theme from Prince of Egypt (a much better Dreamworks film, by the way).

It frustrates me to see a film so devoid of creativity, and so reliant upon the themes and ideas of other, better films. It frustrates me even more to see how much money these formula films make. Aren't audiences tired of seeing Dreamworks regurgitate characters, plots, and gags that they've seen in many other films, many other times? Aren't audiences getting bored with Dreamworks making the same film over and over? Well, if you disagree, then you're in luck: Like the franchises listed at the beginning of this review, The Croods is getting a sequel and a TV series. Frustrating is too weak a word for me to use. How about disgusted?

The Scarlet Pimpernel

*This review contains spoilers from the book, "The Scarlet Pimpernel."*

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy, has been adapted into several films over the years. One of the most notable versions is the 1934 adaption- mainly for Leslie Howard's performance as the title character. But how well does it hold up today?

Taking place during the French Revolution, the Scarlet Pimpernel is an elusive Englishman that rescues French aristocrats from the guillotine. His identity is a secret, but the wicked Chauvelin has convinced Marguerite Blakeney- a social icon in London- to discover the Scarlet Pimpernel's identity. Little does Marguerite know that the Scarlet Pimpernel is actually the idiotic Sir Percy- Marguerite's husband!

This adaption of the Scarlet Pimpernel has aged nicely, but it still a mixed bag. There are moments of brilliance, and moments of glaring weakness. And while there are various portions of the film that fall under both categories, they are mostly divided into comedy and drama.

The comedy works extraordinarily well. The humor (coming primarily from Sir Percy) is almost always successful, and there are laughs to be sure. Much of the reason the humor works so well is because of the killer delivery from Leslie Howard (portraying Sir Percy and the Scarlet Pimpernel).

Unfortunately, the more dramatic moments are far less enjoyable. These moments of drama feel completely pedestrian, and it's not all interesting. Part of this is the script, which falters in the film's more serious moments. The other part is the characters which- with the exception of Sir Percy- are hugely undeveloped. In the book, the characters are very fleshed out, and are given clear personalities and charming intricacies. In the film, they are but cardboard cut-outs, with character development nonexistent- resulting possibly from the brief 95 minute run-time.

There are- of course- many differences between the book and film. One of the biggest changes is the attention the main character is given. In the book, Marguerite Blakeney receives most of the attention. In the film, it is Sir Percy (though considering Howard's genius performance, this is more than acceptable). The ending has also been dramatically changed, and while it might bother die-hards of the source material, I personally found it a refreshing change, and it kept me wondering what would happen.

Despite the less-than developed characters, the acting is solid (though Raymond Massey seems terribly miscast as Chauvelin). Alas, the only notable performance is Leslie Howard as Sir Percy/The Scarlet Pimpernel. He steals every scene he's in, and he's the only thing we're thinking about in the scenes he's not in. His performance brings life and excitement to the picture.

I only note the score (composed by Arthur Benjamin) because there is almost no music in the film. There is perhaps 10-15 minutes of music in the entire film, and none of it leaves an impression.

The Scarlet Pimpernel has its charms (mainly deriving from Leslie Howard's terrific performance), but on the whole, the more serious moments fail to deliver, and the production is a bit forgettable. It's harmless fun for those seeking a serviceable adaption of the source material, but those expecting more will merely be underwhelmed.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Is the rough economy getting you down? Frustrated with taxes? Do you hate the government? Are the feelings mutual? If this is you, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire just might be the feel-good movie of the year. It shows the audience that as bad things are for some today, it's nothing compared to what could happen in the future.

For those unfamiliar with the Hunger Games universe, there are 12 Districts, and once a year, one boy and one girl from each district are selected randomly to compete in the "Hunger Games." The Hunger Games are a barbaric fight to the death, where the lone survivor is the victor. Previous victor Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark showed some daring defiance during their year in the Hunger Games, which the Capitol is not pleased with. They are threatened by the ominous President Snow, as Snow realizes that the rebellion of Katniss Everdee could cause a massive uprising.

For those who can't take a joke, Catching Fire is NOT the feel-good movie of the year. Far from it; it's dark- much darker than the first- and we witness the brutal deaths and punishments of many individuals. Those unfamiliar with the books will almost certainly be shocked at many intervals.

While the first movie focused primarily on the Games themselves, as well as the effect it has on those in the 12 Districts, Catching Fire is more about the politics of the Hunger Games universe. And while that may not sound especially exciting, Catching Fire is never less than entertaining, and it's rarely anything but gripping. The thought-provoking themes of the original are greatly expanded, and Catching Fire treats audiences with surprising intelligence. This is especially impressive for a YA film adaption; a genre that rarely reaches this degree of intellect.

Just like the first film, there's some killer social commentary, and yes, there is another Hunger Games which puts previous victors in the Games- including Katniss. But this new set of games isn't quite what you would expect if you've seen the first film.

The build-up to the Hunger Games is strong, but not nearly as strong as that witnessed in the original. The original had me on the edge of my seat before the Hunger Games even started. This time around, I was very much intrigued before the Games, but rarely in much suspense.

And even when the Games start, they're not as savage and frantic as the Games in the original. Most of the time, competitors are running from obstacles in the environment, rather than other competitors. (At the end of the day, there are reasons for this, but I don't want to reveal any spoilers).

Catching Fire embraces various elements that weren't in the first film, or weren't as evident. For instance, Catching Fire can be very funny at times. The original film had some laughs as well, but not as many as this one (likely due to the extended amount of social commentary). There are also some wonderfully creepy and just plain weird bits. And no, I'm not referring to the goofy makeup on the Capitol members- though while we're talking about it, Hair and Makeup, and the Costumes are very much worthy of Oscar nominations, though it's a coin toss to predict if it will get them.

Also noteworthy is that the cinematography is much improved from the original. It reaches a compromise between those who liked the raw look of the shaky cam, and those seeking a more clear and less dizzying effect. The shaky cam is gone, but the camera still moves around slightly, like it's a home video, therefore giving you the best of each. Though there is one dancing scene that, while technically proficient, made me a bit dizzy.

The biggest issue with Catching Fire is the same as it was for the original- the romance. For 90% of the film, Catching Fire treats the audience with respect and intelligence. The script is good, and the acting is great. But both of these things falter when the romance takes stage. Just like in the first film, it's very poorly written- though there are no lines quite as cringe-worthy as some of the dialogue in the first ("I watched you going home everyday. Everyday."). Still, these scenes drag the movie down, and they're the only thing that stops Catching Fire (and the first film for that matter) from becoming a film that audiences can watch and say they enjoyed without guilt. The romance is simply unbelievable, and immensely hammy.

The cast is excellent. Jennifer Lawrence (who some people are calling the main reason to see this film) is phenomenal as Katniss Everdeen- as she was in the original. The torment she's in- both physically, and psychologically- is totally believable. Donald Sutherland is back as the chilling President Snow, and Woody Harrelson is in fine form as Haymitch. The hilarious comic relief (with even more screentime than in the original) comes courtesy of Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks as Caesar Flickerman and Effie Trinket respectively.

James Newton Howard's score improves on his work in the original. There are many extensions of themes from the first film (most notably the "Horn of Plenty" theme), and the mildly creepy violin theme for Wiress and Betee is exceptional- I only wish it was used more!

While I don't think Catching Fire is better than the original- it's simply not as savagely intense, nor as heartbreaking as the first- this is still a superb win for the Hunger Games franchise, and will leave audiences starving for the sequel(s). The very ending- in fact- will leave fans of the book with a knowing smile, whilst those unexposed to the source material will feel like they were punched in the stomach (in a good way), and they'll be scrambling to get their hands on the third book.

Mission: Impossible

In what roughly equals one third of Mission: Impossible, I could only ask myself, "What the heck is going on?" Mission: Impossible can be so hopelessly convoluted at times, it's impossible to understand the film's plot. This is especially odd, as the plot isn't even especially complex, it's just presented in an needlessly complicated way. Still, all story and screenplay issues are easily redeemed by the thrilling action scenes and nifty (and dated) espionage scenes.

Ethan Hunt, framed for murdering his entire mission team, is out to clear his name. And while that's the gist of the film, it is very possible that you won't understand what's going on for significant portions of the film.

There are several "twists" throughout the film, but few of them really register as surprising or stunning, as the audience is often scratching their heads, wondering what just happened. Mission: Impossible does not have a strong story, but it's made worse by a poor script and convoluted story-telling.

Thankfully, the action scenes are fun enough to make one temporarily forget the filler in-between. Sure, they're all a bit ridiculous (not to tell a bad joke, but Mission: Improbable anyone?), but they're reasonably entertaining, and at times, highly suspenseful.

Still, one feels like the impact of the action scenes could've been heightened by more interesting characters. There is not a single memorable character in this film (with one exception, though it would be a spoiler to say whom this character is). The characters have absolutely no personality, which hurts the film dramatically.

As a result of the bland characters, the performances are bland, but at least serviceable. The actors and actresses try to get as much out of their weak characters as possible, but it doesn't make anybody more memorable.

The score, composed by Danny Elfman (utilizing themes by Lalo Schifrin) is really fun at times. The use of the Mission: Impossible theme is great, but the score doesn't rely entirely on the use of this theme, which is refreshing for a film like this. The only problem with the score (which doesn't have anything to do with Elfman himself) is the ear-bleedingly terrible arrangement of the Mission: Impossible theme during the credits by Larry Mullen, Jr. and Adam Clayton.

While Mission: Impossible is heavily convoluted and not especially original (one scene involving a telephone call is highly reminiscent of 1993's The Fugitive), but there's enough entertaining action sequences to make up for this. Mission: Impossible isn't exactly sophisticated fare, nor is it as breezily fun as other popcorn flicks. But it's got enough thrills to justify a watch- and enough issues to justify a pass.


There have been dozens of adaptions of A Christmas Carol over the years. Some better than others, but with each bringing something new or interesting to the beloved story. Now, I don't consider myself to be an authority on A Christmas Carol- I haven't read the book, and I certainly haven't seen all of the movies. But I can say with certainty that Scrooge will likely please even the grouchiest of humbugs.

You know the story: An old grump named Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts representing the past, present, and future respectively. They have come so that Scrooge might see the error in his ways, and redeem himself before he permanently dooms himself in the afterlife.

Scrooge does everything a Christmas movie should do. It provides a Christmas-y atmosphere, it references plenty of Christmas carols, and it leaves you all warm and fuzzy inside when the film ends. If you love Christmas, you will more than likely enjoy yourself while watching Scrooge.

Something worth noting is that Scrooge is a musical, and therefore has a large number of songs. Though some merely consist of characters saying rhyming dialogue without even singing. The songs are generally likable, though I found many to be forgettable, and one was borderline annoying ("Thank You Very Much"). The only song that really stands out is "Christmas Children," which is a beautiful song that perfectly captures the feeling of Christmas. Also notable is "A Christmas Carol" which opens the film during the opening credits.

The performances are solid all around. Albert Finney is especially impressive as the title character, Scrooge, perfectly selling the old miser, despite only being 34 at the time of this film. A performance that often gets overlooked, despite it being really excellent is Alec Guinness as Marley's ghost. Also very notable is Edith Evans (Christmas Past), Kenneth More (Christmas Present), David Collings (Bob Cratchit), and Richard Beaumont (Tiny Tim).

The score, composed by Leslie Bricusse (who also wrote the songs and the screenplay) is appropriately Christmas-y, but not especially memorable. Then again, most of the score is covered with lyrics, as there is little music without song.

Scrooge is not a perfect movie. It has some small pacing issues, not all of the songs are good, and I suppose one could say that this film is pretty cheesy. And yet, I would be lying if I didn't say that I definitely cried at the end. Yeah, Scrooge has some problems, but when a film fills you up with so much Christmas cheer as this one did, it's relatively easy to forgive its few problems.

Ender's Game
Ender's Game(2013)

"What?!" That was the first thought I had when the end credits started rolling for Ender's Game. This is partly due to the fact that the story is incomplete, and the film ends, essentially, with a cliffhanger. Some might say it's less a cliffhanger then a hook for a potential sequel, but the story is not wrapped up, so in my eyes, the film ends with a cliffhanger. In addition to this, the ending is just plain weird. I will avoid spoilers in this review (very difficult, considering many of my problems with the film revolve around the last 10 minutes or so), but let's just say that anyone that has not read the book (I am included in this demographic) will be baffled, confused, and decidedly weird-ed out.

The premise of Ender's Game, is that in the future, gifted children are to be enrolled a sort of military school, so that they can be trained to attack against an alien fleet that threatens the existence of the universe. An especially gifted young boy named Andrew "Ender" Wiggins is accepted into this school, and is the one that Colonel Graff believes will end this long-fought war.

It really is a shame that so much of Ender's Game doesn't work, because there is so much in this film that works really well. The acting is generally solid (though not without some less-than-superb performances, which I'll detail later), the visuals are good (and at some points, absolutely gorgeous), and the premise does have a lot of potential. I like the main character, Ender Wiggins, and I like the development in the relationships Ender makes throughout the movie.

Unfortunately, for every good thing there is in Ender's Game, there's at least one bad thing. The ending, for instance is a major issue. As I mentioned before, there will be no spoilers, though frankly, I have a lot of opinions about the last 10 minutes that would likely take at least 2 reviews to fully detail.

One (of several problems) with the ending is its big "twist." Maybe my expectations for this fabled twist were a little high. I was especially curious because many that had read the book complained that the twist was revealed in the trailers. The twist, in fact, is hardly a twist. It's hard to explain without giving anything away, but this twist- while not predictable- really isn't much of a shocker. I didn't see it coming, but I wasn't shocked, nor surprised. The twist just doesn't feel consequential, or meaningful, and there are a number of reasons I can think of as to why this might be, and how it could've been fixed- though I, of course, can't detail them without spoilers.

In addition to the ending, there are a significant number of scenes that just had a really awkward feel. That's really the best I can describe these scenes- awkward. Maybe once or twice, this was done intentionally, but I really do think most of these occurrences were completely unintentional, and it makes one feel a bit squeamish. Sometimes it's because of the dialogue, others because of the cinematography, but there are enough of these kinds of scenes that it's worth mentioning here.

Also disappointing is how little is done to enunciate this dark premise of children learning warfare to fight in a galactic battle. It's briefly touched upon, but this sort of controversial and thought provoking premise is given little in-depth discussion in the film. Movies like The Hunger Games have done an excellent job of properly displaying the darkness of its twisted premise, but Ender's Game makes almost no attempts to do so.

The acting, as I mentioned before, is generally solid, but not without mis-steps. Asa Butterfield is good in the role of Ender Wiggins, but I couldn't help but feel like this was a step back from his near flawless leading role in 2011's Hugo. Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff is solid, but his character is missing the wit, energy, and charm that we're so accustomed to seeing Ford deliver. Ben Kingsley's small role as Mazer Rackham is not without merit, though his makeup job is silly and distracting. Also notable for their good performances are Viola Davis, Nonso Anozie, Hailee Steinfield, and Abigail Breslin.

The films involvement with children, unfortunately, does lend itself to some expectedly bad "child performances," but for a film with this many kids, the acting is all right. The main problem here is Moisés Arias as Bonzo. In addition to being completely miscast, Arias just feels really off in his entire performance. He's really more laughable than menacing.

The score composed by Steve Jablonsky is simply atrocious. Offensively so, actually. The score for Ender's Game is, essentially, trailer music. In other words, it has loud percussion, far too much electronic influence, and no personality. It's completely anonymous sounding, and the gimmicky uses of viola and cello frustrate me. If trailer music is your thing, then you'll probably really like this score, but to me, it just sounds like stock music, and bad stock music at that. This score is especially disappointing when one considers that James Horner was initially attached to compose for this film before leaving the project. Surely even Horner at his absolute worst would've been a massive improvement over the drivel we have to suffer through here.

Ender's Game has a lot of problems (believe me, I've barely started to name them all), and the missed potential here is a bit crushing. But there is a lot that Ender's Game does right. I'll be honest, there were significant portions of the film that I found to be relatively gripping. If nothing else, I was hardly ever bored during Ender's Game (especially notable because of its near 2 hour length). Unfortunately, a terrible ending, less than intelligent handling of the premise, awkward scenes, and a horrendous score (among other problems) stop Ender's Game from being the enjoyable Sci-Fi entry it wants to become. Ender's Game obviously wants to start a franchise (and early box office numbers suggest this may happen), but there's going to have to be some significant changes made if it hopes to be a truly notable YA adaption.

Julie & Julia

Before I begin this review, I will warn you that I may overuse the word "charming," as there is simply no other way to describe almost any aspect of Julie & Julia. Everything from the acting, the cinematography, the stories, the music, is charming, and there is hardly another way to explain it. This is a film I fell in love with, and enjoyed to the very end. When the movie ends, you want more. Indeed, I was enchanted, delighted, and yes- charmed.

Julie & Julia is based off of two books: "Julie & Julia" by Julie Powell, and "My Life in France," by Julia Child. The film tells two separate stories, about two aspiring chefs and writers. One is about Julia Child, a joyful and butter-loving woman who falls in love with Paris after moving there with her husband, and attempts to find a hobby, until she finally decides on cooking. The other story is about Julie Powell, a young woman struggling with her unpleasant cubicle job, who decides to write a blog, detailing her challenge to make all 524 recipes in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in 365 days.

From the very minute the film starts, and we see Meryl Streep as Julia Child, one can't help but enjoy every little bit of her performance. Every minute Julia Child is on the screen, the film is enchanting. And while this does cause Julie Powell's half of the film to seem less enjoyable by comparison, you grow to love Powell's story as well.

It's been a long time since I've laughed so much in a film. The charming script provides plenty of laughs and amusing lines for the characters to say. But that's not to say the more thoughtful parts aren't done well. Because while they're not as polished as the comedy, they're meaningful and believable. Indeed, certain moments are quite touching.

There's not a single dull moment in the film. Julie & Julia is as charming as a film gets, and I enjoyed every minute of this beautiful treat.

The acting is excellent. Meryl Streep as Julia Child might be one of the best performances I've ever seen. She's funny, and utilizes a number of charming intricacies. And while the rest of the cast has trouble matching what Streep is doing so well, they're still great. Amy Adams as Julie Powell is a thoughtful performance, and while not without it's humorous moments, is more serious than Streep's. Other notable performances include Stanley Tucci as Paul- Julia's husband- Linda Emond as Simone Beck, and Jane Lynch as Julia's sister Dorothy.

The score, composed by Alexandre Desplat, is charming like the rest of the film. The French sensibilities perfectly compliment the sweet main themes, and memorable violin statements. The score also adds an extra emotional layer that increases the poignancy of certain scenes.

An ideal comedy -that even at 123 minutes, it never feels long- that includes brilliant performances, and a wonderful script (as well as a beautiful score), Julie & Julia is one of the most memorable films I've seen all year. I was immensely sad when the film came to a close, not because the ending was sad, but because I had enjoyed myself so much during the film. Indeed, I imagine that I'll be returning to Julie & Julia sometime in the future, an occasion to which I'm very much looking forward to.

Bon appétit!

The Witches
The Witches(1990)

Many children have grown up reading the work of Roald Dahl, and I was no exception. To this day, The Witches remains my favorite book by the prolific children's author, being more frightening, creepy, and wickedly twisted than any book I had read at the time. The movie manages to convey these traits of the book (sometimes better, sometimes worse), but in a manner that could potentially traumatize younger children. In other words, The Witches doesn't hold back on being as dark as it needs to be- that is, until the unfortunate twist at the end that Dahl himself spoke publicly against.

As explained in the film, witches appear to be normal, and harmless-looking woman, but that's what makes them so hard to spot. Witches hate children, and will do anything to get rid of them. Few are aware of the existence of witches. One of these few are an elderly lady named Helga, grandmother of a young boy named Luke, whom she now cares for, as Luke's parents have died. But things get interesting when Luke stumbles upon a meeting composed of witches (quite by accident), and is subsequently turned into a mouse.

The Witches, even to someone like me who has read the book, feels like something completely new and original. The set designs are clever, the cinematography is unique (if a little clumsy at times), and while some bits might seem a little dated for some, the dark charm The Witches possesses cannot be ignored.

Does this film have problems? Well, yes, but most of these would involve comparisons between the book and the film, which leads to tiresome nit-picking, so I'll try to avoid detailing this.

However, I must briefly address the ending (though I will not spoil anything), which differs dramatically from the book, and all but destroys the tone the film was going for. The Witches strives for darkness and frights. So much so that The Witches really does push the PG envelope. In fact, I think the ending is all that saved it from getting the PG-13 it probably deserved. And it's because the ending is so absurdly happy, as something occurs that perfectly wraps up the film, and makes everything all right, and this is not how it should be at all.

The ending for the book was perfect, and the only reason this change could be considered necessary, is to insure that children won't find themselves further disturbed by the book's non-typical ending. But the content before this ending is so un-friendly to children, this change didn't need to be made. This is the equivalent of running a marathon, only to give up a few steps away from the finish line.

Ending aside, The Witches boasts some truly terrifying visuals (at least, terrifying for a family film), and some surprisingly grim moments. But that's the beauty of it; it's a dark, horrifying film, disguised as a movie for families. This is exactly the kind of adaption that a Roald Dahl book deserves, and I'm sure Dahl would've loved this movie had it not been for the ending.

Child actors usually get a bad rap, and while Jasen Fisher as Luke is completely inoffensive, his performance also doesn't require much depth. For most of the film, Luke is a mouse, and even before Luke is turned into a mouse, his screen presence is limited- at least for a main character.

Anjelica Huston's performance as the Grand High Witch is solid, though her spotlight is stolen by her purposefully grotesque appearance. Whether this is the result of a mask, prosthetics, or special effects, the make-up job is fantastic. Also notable is Mai Zetterling as Luke's grandmother, and Rowan Atikson as a hotel manager- both actors are solid in their roles.

The score, composed by Stanley Myers, enhances the film (especially during its more suspenseful moments), but it's completely forgettable. There's not a single musical moment I can recall, which is unfortunate.

The Witches a fresh, and wickedly entertaining production, but it certainly won't appeal to everyone. Some of the campier aspects of the film will certainly bother some audiences (for example, I'm certain that at least a half-dozen of the witches were actually male), while children will likely be scared spit-less by some of the more frightening images. But fans of the book should enjoy themselves (while nit picking throughout), and those in the mood for an offbeat, darker-themed fantasy should find themselves immensely satisfied.

If only it weren't for that ending...


Years from now, Gravity will be the film that countless directors will credit to being the movie that first opened their eyes to the world of cinema. You may have seen movies about space, and you may have seen movies about astronauts, but you have NOT seen a movie like this. Gravity is unlike any other movie I've ever seen, and unlike any movie I ever will see. Perhaps it is unwise to say so, but I'll say it anyway; stop reading this review this very second. Go see Gravity while it's still in theaters, and see it in 3D. The less you know about Gravity before you go in, the better. This is an experience, and I would not suggest risking it to be hampered by knowing too much about it.

The crew of the Explorer is finishing up on their space mission, preparing to go home. Our female protagonist, Dr. Ryan Stone is especially happy to be home, as she has found space to be decidedly unagreeable. And yet, everything goes wrong as debris from a Russian satellite accident begins to rain upon the group, and the result is disastrous. Dr. Stone is stranded, floating around in space, only accompanied by space veteran Matt Koawlski, as the two struggle to survive in the unknown that is outer space. Still, while Matt Koawalski is an important and memorable aspect of the film, this is Dr. Stone's story, and it is her that we invest in.

Gravity is an experience like no other. This film takes you on a journey, a struggle of life and death, and it doesn't let go until the credits start rolling. For some, it may even be long after that. Like I stated in my introduction, there's not a doubt in my mind that many, many future filmmakers have just made their first step into the world of movies by watching Gravity.

But what specifically makes Gravity such a fantastic film, worthy of the praise that has been showered upon it? Well, just about anyone you ask that has seen this film will immediately point out the visuals, and they are stunning. Every frame of this film is gorgeous, and any given shot could have been used as a movie poster with zero editing to the picture itself.

The cinematography is gorgeous, and often awe inspiring. And the way Gravity is filmed is also very unique, as there are very few "takes" in this film. The first half hour of Gravity almost appears to be one long, fluid shot. The visuals are jaw-dropping at times, and I began to wonder how some of these shots were filmed. All of this is enhanced by 3D. Indeed, even the most malicious of anti-3D spokespeople would have to admit that the use of said technology in this film is masterful to say the least. And yet, Gravity is so much more than just pretty pictures.

There is a story behind those images. You notice that I mentioned that I was curious as to how portions of this film was shot (and these shots will likely inspire future directors and cinematographers), but Gravity doesn't give anyone the time to think about the technical aspects of the film for long. The story, while simplistic on the surface, is gripping and involving. If Gravity doesn't grab you, you're probably dead or lying. Check your pulse; it may have stopped.

Throughout Gravity, I was alternating between sitting on the edge of my seat, and holding back tears (and occasionally reminding myself to breathe). The moments of intense action and impossibly stressful situations are done to perfection, but Gravity doesn't forget to give us a reason to fight for Dr. Stone.

Dr. Stone seems like a bit of a party-pooper at first. But it doesn't take long for us to invest in this character. We learn bits of her back story, and we feel her struggle. The emotional aspect of this film was done so well. There were several times in this film where I had a lump in my throat, and I was holding back tears (often unsuccessfully). Thank goodness I could hide behind those 3D glasses.

Sandra Bullock delivers a stellar performance (if you'll pardon the pun). Bullock makes you fight for this character (and I often found myself quietly cheering her on in my seat). There are scenes that, on paper, shouldn't work, but Bullock makes them work. In fact, she makes them shine. And then there's George Clooney as Matt Kowalski, who seems to be getting the cold shoulder in many reviews as the guy who's just "there." But for me, Clooney's performance almost matches Bullock's. He's a character you love and grow attached to. He delivers the emotion when he needs to, and as he assures Bullock's character that everything will be alright, he adopts a warm, fatherly persona like few others can truly accomplish.

The score, composed by Steven Price, is perhaps a touch electronic for my tastes. But that doesn't mean it doesn't work. On the contrary, I can't imagine any other score in place of the one used for Gravity. It's intense at times, and at others, emotionally satisfying. The music has problems, but it really does improve and enhance the film, and as long as a score does that, I'm happy.

Gravity is an unforgettable experience. It's an intense, roller-coaster of a film that delivers the thrills, but doesn't forget that heart and strong characters are essential to make this kind of film work. Mix in flawless visuals, pitch-perfect acting, and many tear-jerking scenes, and you've got yourself one of the greatest space movies ever made. Gravity is going to inspire audiences and filmmakers for years and years to come, and perhaps attribute a few grey hairs as well.


There is some truth to the saying "You can't judge a book by its cover," but at the same time, it doesn't always apply. In the case of Epic, I got exactly what I anticipated; a generic kids' fantasy film, with not an original bone its body. And yet (perhaps this is where that old saying comes into place), this is hardly a the trudge I thought it would be. Despite its many flaws, Epic is a fairly entertaining fantasy film. It's practically guaranteed to enthrall children, and will give their parents or babysitter a chance to nap, or perhaps watch and find themselves mildly engaged.

The premise of Epic is that there is a secret, hidden world, just outside, where flowers can walk and talk, bugs can likewise speak and thrive, and there are little tiny people that look just like us. A girl named Mary Katherine (she goes by M.K.), is skeptical of this world (though her eccentric father has devoted his life to the subject), but she quickly believes when she is shrunk down to the size of these tiny people, and gets involved in a matter of life and death, good and evil. She is now on a quest, and is accompanied by a stern general named Ronin, an independent young man named Nod, and two slugs named Mub and Grub.

Epic certainly gets off to a bit of a slow start. In fact, the first half of the movie did little to nothing to entertain me. The generic story and plot, and weak characters hardly engaged me, and while it wasn't disastrously bad, Epic was shaping up to be a relatively boring experience.

However, it pleases me to say that the second half of the film is significantly better than the first. The gags are stronger, the characters are a bit more likable, and the production is far more entertaining as a whole. The story is still familiar and old, and I wouldn't expect anything to really surprise you, but as far as generic fantasy films go, you could do worse.

One of the best elements of this film is the relationship between M.K. and her nutty father, as well as the (admittedly few) scenes regarding M.K.'s parents separating. These scenes are surprisingly thoughtful, and even a bit touching, and provide an emotional backbone that's necessary for almost any film- animated or not- to really work.

Some of the most amusing bits involve the two slugs, Mub and Grub. While they're irritating at first, they begin to grow on you. Indeed, by the end of the film, I found myself (somewhat guiltily) laughing at their jokes.

The voice cast does their job, but one wouldn't be wrong to have hoped for more out of such a star-studded cast. Surprisingly enough, the best performance of the film comes from (Lord help me) Beyoncé Knowles as Queen Tara. Her part is played surprisingly meaningfully, and her role remains one of the few memorable characters in this film. Also notable is Jason Sudeikis as Professor Bomba; M.K.'s father.

Danny Elfman's score is good fun at times, though it's not especially memorable. There are some fun moments of inspired instrumentation, and while I wouldn't rank it among his best work, it's still a joy to hear Elfman in his element- which is, of course, fantasy films.

The place where Epic really excels is in animation. Some shots are simply stunning, and it's always pretty to look at. This might be one of the best looking animated film I've seen that hasn't come from Pixar or Disney.

If you're looking for an animated film to keep your kids occupied for an hour and forty minutes, Epic should suffice. It's not likely to entertain adults as much as the efforts of Pixar, Disney, or even Dreamworks, but if you can excuse the extremely familiar story (and the slow first half), you'll find that this is far from the worst of the childrens film crowd.


Shrek- like the Dreamworks CGI film that preceded it, Antz- attempts to target an older audience in comparison to competing companies like Disney and Pixar. And yet, curiously enough, most of Shrek's jokes are just plain childish. Surely the absurd amount of gross-out gags contained within the the first 5 minutes of the film weren't meant to entertain adults, were they? Yes, there is some edgy content that will appeal more to adults, and some humor that kids won't get, but for the most part, nearly everything contained within Shrek is just kids stuff. And pretty weak kids stuff at that.

Shrek is sort of a parody to the classic Disney films, and various fairy-tales. Shrek, an ogre, has his swamp suddenly populated with fairy-tale characters. Furious, Shrek complains to the person responsible- the villainous Lord Farquaad- and demands to have his swamp back to the way it was. Lord Farquaad offers to give Shrek his swamp back, but only if he saves Princess Fiona from a tower guarded by a dragon, and brings Fiona back to his castle. This is so that Farquaad can marry Fiona and become king. Shrek agrees, and so he embarks on this quest, along with a talking donkey named...Donkey.

Shrek isn't funny enough, nor emotionally satisfying enough to compete with even the lesser efforts of Pixar or Disney. The humor is rarely very funny, as much of it appeals to a much younger audience than what we're led to believe by its much stronger parody elements. And sadly enough, these bits of parody humor are only evident in the first half of the film. After that, Shrek is your run-of-the-mill children's flick. Ironically, Shrek ultimately becomes the very thing it's poking fun at, except immensely watered down.

Had the film focused more on its parody humor, and less on its generic romance story, Shrek could've been a reasonably good time. But alas, Shrek decides to abandon one of its only working components in the second half of the film, resulting in a largely uninteresting 90 minute trudge that feels much longer than an hour and a half.

While a number of the fairy-tale oriented characters are pretty funny, the main three characters that the film chooses to focus on (Shrek, Donkey and Princess Fiona), are an absolute bore, if not completely unlikable. Shrek is an uninteresting character (and his grumpy nature makes him extremely unlikable at times), and Donkey is rarely funny, and is more often obnoxious. Fiona is a cardboard cut-out of the "girl-that-fights-for-herself-and-has-an-attitude" that we've all seen far too many times to care much about.

The more interesting characters, like Gingy (the Ginger-Bread Man), the three blind mice, and the three little pigs, get little more than a line or two in their measly roles. They're funny when they're onscreen, but they get, perhaps, a minute and a half total of screen time. The fairy-tale creature with the most screen time is the Magic Mirror of Snow White fame, though even his role his relatively small.

Mike Meyers as Shrek is instantly forgettable, and is accompanied by a half-hearted Scottish accent. Eddie Murphy is easily the best of the voice talents, providing energy and excitement to the character, even with less than engaging material. Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow are forgettable in their roles, and don't make any kind of lasting impression.

The animation, while not quite up to today's standards, still holds up pretty well. The character designs are nothing to write home about, and the humans are a little clunky, but the environments look pretty good, and there are some relatively impressive sequences.

The score, composed by dynamite duo Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell, is very good at times, especially when utilizing the heroic main theme. But when the soundtrack kicks in, utilizing dated pop and rock songs that feel completely out of place in the film, Shrek begins to feel more and more like a mere product as opposed to a film.

While it's not unwatchable, Shrek lacks the laughs and the heart to compete with Disney or Pixar. The parody elements are used far too little, and the the bland characters and predictable plot that the film chooses to focus on will likely bore older audiences. There are brief moments of inspiration and clever humor, but they don't come nearly often enough to make up for the tired and helplessly blah story it encompasses.

Johnny English

If I didn't feel like ruthlessly tearing this film apart at the moment, I could simply copy and paste the majority of my review of Shawn Levy's The Pink Panther, as many of my points in that review apply to Johnny English (not to mention that both films are nearly identical). And yet, Johnny English is even worse, and while at least the Pink Panther provided a meager handful of infrequent chuckles, Johnny English has little to no working gags. Once again, I am disgusted by the low standards of live action children's cinema- that is, if I dare to refer to this inexcusably terrible piece of formulaic tripe as cinema.

There's hardly any plot in Johnny English. The majority of the film is made up of loosely related action/comedy scenarios that are neither exciting, nor comedic. The bare bones plot of the film is that Johnny English- by account of an absurdly violent incident at the beginning of the film resulting in the death of every other agent in the country- is the only living secret agent in England, and therefore, the only person that can uncover the secret behind some stolen jewels. Teamed with his partner, Angus Bough (who contradicts the film's previous statement that all of the other agents have died), they must uncover the missing jewels, as well as stop an evil "genius" from becoming king.

Johnny English has almost nothing that will appeal to anyone over the age of 9 (and I am sorry to insult those 1-9 year-olds in this manner). All the children's film cliches are here, including poop jokes, silly dancing, a bumbling main character, and dozens of other unfortunate elements.

The humor is also subject to not one, but two shots of a man's bare bottom (one of which is an extended bit), and an alarmingly raunchy scene of innuendo that struck me as completely out of place for a PG film. In addition to quite a bit of violence, and a surprising amount of language, I can't imagine what parent would feel comfortable letting their kids watch this.

And yet, as I stated before, there is nearly nothing here that could possibly be enjoyable to anyone whose age is in their double digits. At times, Johnny English is downright insulting in it's stupidity, and general laziness.

We've seen everything in this film before in other movies. Just rarely this poorly. Johnny English is also an extremely predictable movie, with gags that can be predicted before they even begin to occur. There's not an original gag in this film, and I struggle to think of any funny one(s).

Rowan Atikson tries hard as Johnny English, but he cannot make the material work, no matter how silly his faces. John Malkovich as the villain, Pascal Sauvage, sports what might be the worst, unintentionally bad French accent I've ever seen in a feature film. Supporting actors like Ben Miller and Natalie Imbruglia are so forgettable and weak in their roles, that they're hardly worth mention.

The only vaguely bright spot about this film is its half-way decent score, composed by Edward Shearmur. Purposefully emphasizing on spy cliches, the score is actually pretty fun at times, if somewhat formulaic.

Unfunny, even vulgar, and an utter failure in almost every respect (not to mention sloppily edited, and poorly shot), Johnny English is one of the worst kids films I've seen in recent memory- an impressive feat. Consistently defying logic, physics, and my tolerance, Johnny English is an aggressively bad film. Other than acknowledge the score again, the best thing I can say about Johnny English is that its only 88 minutes. And yet, that is certainly 88 minutes too long.

The Prestige
The Prestige(2006)

Before The Prestige started rolling, I was worried that I had placed my expectations for this film too high. I'll be frank: I shouldn't have worried. Never was I expecting this film to wow me as much as it did. I was engaged from the very first second, and remained so until the very last. I tried to force myself not to analyse the plot when the movie concluded, but it's impossible. It's like being stuck on a riddle all day, and indeed, The Prestige is very much like a riddle. And so it messes with your mind. Films like this can drive a person mad. The many, many plot twists are often surprising (sometimes even shocking), and I adored every one.

Two passionate magicians, Robert Angier and Alfred Borden, are having massive success with their brilliant illusions. But when one of their magic shows goes horribly wrong, the two turn against each other, plotting and out witting the other person. It becomes an obsession, and consequences occur.

The Prestige is simply thrilling. Fast paced, mesmerizing, and doesn't feel even a bit long- despite the over 2 hour run time- The Prestige has you hooked from the very first shot. The plot is so intricate, weaving together 3 different times in the two magician's lives. This is at first overwhelming, but the picture grows clearer and clearer, but it doesn't make things any less unpredictable.

The tone of the film is dark, and indeed, there isn't a true protagonist. There are main characters- in the form of the two magicians- but they both seem morally incorrect. In a way, this might suggest that one doesn't connect to either one in sympathies or emotion, and yet, one feels for both. Both seem in the wrong- and deciding which one is more at fault may simply come down to a "he started it" conclusion- but at the same time, they are both characters we sort of root for. We never really choose one fully over the other, as their is still an emotional anchor for each (but to keep spoilers out of this review, I won't discuss this element further).

The twists are devilish. And there are many of them. You find yourself surprised so very often in this film, as events continue to unfold. Not to make the obvious Inception joke or anything, but The Prestige has many layers.

Everything about this film is so smart, and so well done. The characters are flawlessly developed, and the story is original, unique, and gripping. I've already said plenty about the twists of course, and the intricacies with the interwoven stories. I'm shocked and appalled that this film did not receive so much as a nomination from the Academy for editing, as it is so skilled and precise. I'm not the kind that pays attention to the editing, but in a film like this, it's crucial- far more so than most action films.

The A-List cast is perfect in nearly all of their roles. Hugh Jackman wowed me as Robery Angier- something I was not expecting. His role requires so much depth and emotion, and Jackman totally sells it. Christian Bale as Alfred Borden is also excellent, his character's initial simplicity betrays his complexities. Other notable performances come from Michael Caine, David Bowie, and Andy Serkis.

The score, composed by David Julyan, is my only half-issue with the film. While the score does enhance the onscreen events, and perfectly sets the tone and often the emotion, it's also entirely underscore, and is unlikely to be very interesting when taken away from the film. It often feels quite synthetic, and is completely unmemorable, not boasting a single theme or idea that sticks in the memory. It works within the film, but is unlikely to do so outside of it.

The Prestige not only impressed me, it wowed me. It's an experience that cannot be missed. Masterfully deceptive, and deviously assembled, The Prestige is, dare I say it, a masterpiece. The Prestige succeeds as a mystery, a drama, a thriller, and a mind-bender, while placing heavy focus on the characters themselves. Just one bit of advice- a caution if you will: Don't over think it, just absorb it all. Pay attention, and you will be greatly rewarded.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2

Well, David Yates has once again disappointed me. Director of the previous 3 Harry Potter movies (Order of the Phoenix, The Half-Blood Prince, and the Deathly Hallows Part 1) as well as this final chapter, Yates has left me unsatisfied every time. It's not that his work on the Potter films have been especially bad (with the exception being Deathly Hallows Part 1), but they've felt weak when compared to the first four films. So while I like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, it's so disappointing when one considers that this was a finale that the franchise has been building up to for over 10 years. I can only imagine how disappointed I would've been had I not blown through the series in a matter of weeks.

In this final chapter, Harry and his friends must destroy the final Horocruxes, though things get tricky when Voldemort and his forces begin to attack Hogwarts.

I was never truly enchanted during this film. Entertained? Yes- at least most of the time. But Deathly Hallows Part 2 never does reach the dramatic heights it's trying to achieve. It never feels like anything important or fantastic. The whole film just feels sort of slight. This is not a bad film, but as the conclusion to one of the most influential franchises of all time, I have to say, I was expecting more.

Of course, one could now say that my enjoyment of the film was perhaps affected by my expectations. And yet, I believe the film would still be at fault. Such a film as this should be made to blow away even the highest expectations, and never did this film come close to doing so.

The characters are still lovable, but we only see a little bit of most of them. Neville gets a decent role in this film, though his entrance near the beginning of the film would've been much more meaningful and delightful had his one-line role in the previous film been replaced with a different wizard.

The characters have typically been the best part of the franchise- and I may get a lot of hate for this- but the story itself isn't all that interesting to me. It's intriguing, to be sure, but so much of the screen time in this film- and definitely the previous one- is devoted to exposition and story, that we don't really get to spend enough time with the characters we love (other than the three main characters anyway, but they don't have enough depth to be as effective on their own).

The visual effects are excellent, and probably the best of the series. Indeed, the visuals are a treat, and at last we have a version of the invisibility cloak that doesn't look like a cheap green-screen effect!

Acting is solid on all sides of the spectrum. I don't have anything to say here that I haven't already said in previous reviews of the Potter films.

The score, by Alexandre Desplat, is once again disappointing, but it's a massive improvement on the last two scores of the film. I'm willing to believe that the best parts of this score are better represented on the album, but judging purely by what I heard in the film, there wasn't much that stuck in my mind. Still, the most pronounced use of the now classic "Hedwig Theme" since the Goblet of Fire is in this film, and that's worth commending.

For 2 hours, I was mostly entertained. And while that's an impressive feat in itself, I couldn't help but shake the feeling that this should've been better. There's nothing here that's truly awful, or even bad I suppose, but there's little here that leaves an impression like the first four Potter films did. As a franchise conclusion, this does what it needs to do. But it should've done more.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1

After viewing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I declared it the worst of the Potter films so far. It was quickly replaced, however, by Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Still, when all was said and done, I enjoyed the films, as they still managed to mostly display what had made the more entertaining predecessors so enjoyable. Unfortunately, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (an extraordinarily tedious name to say or type), is the new weakest entry for the series, and it could hardly be considered enjoyable.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione set out on a quest to destroy the Horocruxes which keep Voldemort immortal. And that's essentially the entire plot.

There are a number of things that make the Harry Potter films enjoyable. The characters are the main reason, but also visual effects, music, humor, and the magical setting of Hogwarts. Unfortunately, very little of this is contained in this penultimate chapter.

Absolutely none of this film takes place in Hogwarts, which means that almost none of the characters that we've come to very much enjoy seeing are in this film. Harry, Ron, and Hermione eat up almost all of the screen time, while their character flaws are more noticeable than ever. Other than Bellatrix, most of the villains get only a single scene.

Neville is seen once, gets one line, and has completely lost his shy, clumsy personality that made him so likable in the previous films. Luna Lovegood is hardly in the film at all. And of course, almost none of the Hogwarts teachers are in this film. The one character that DOES return however, is Dobby- the house elf that makes Jar Jar Binks seem intellectual. Still, he only gets a few scenes. New characters like Xenophilius Lovegood and Rufus Scrimgeour get sadly little screen time.

There is almost no humor in this movie. This is most likely due to the darker tone, but the film is so dreadfully dull, a little more comedy would've helped things considerably.

The visual effects don't get too many chances to show off in this film compared to the previous entries, but the effects do sparkle when they're on screen. Admittedly, there is one less-than-convincing snake, but other than that, the visuals are great, though less so than the last four films.

The pacing is so absurdly slow that one will feel every second of the 146 minute run time. While the other Potter films have also boasted lengths of similar size, they never felt nearly as long. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows drags and drags.

I didn't even feel like it was building up to anything either. Other than in the very last scene, there's no great sense of anticipation. The whole film feels plotless and aimless.

There were really only two truly well done scenes. One involved Hermione Granger reading a sort of fable about three men meeting death, which utilizes some really nifty animation, though this sequence would've probably been enhanced by some music, as there is none during this segment. The other brief, but notable scene involves Bellatrix torturing a main character. This is notable because it's painful and horrific, without actually showing anything. It's by the strength of the onscreen acting that this scene is so successful.

Thankfully, the acting has not slipped much. The main trio of Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson are still solid in their roles. Still, as they're basically the only characters we see for most of the film, there's not much else to say in regards to acting.

The music was immensely disappointing given the composer on board: Alexandre Desplat. There was not a single moment where the score stood out. The entirety of the music felt like underscore, though in all honesty, that's really all it was. Now, this isn't really Desplat's fault. There simply isn't much for a score to do in this film, as nothing really ever happens during the movie. Still, this seems to be the weakest of the Potter scores thus far (a spot previously held by the score for the Half-Blood Prince by Nicholas Hooper).

Boring, uninteresting, and painfully slow, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 takes nearly everything that made the previous films so entertaining, and throws it all out the window. A disappointment in nearly every respect, Deathly Hallows: Part 1 lacks the sense of magic, wonder, and -most importantly- fun that this film very much needed. Deathly Hallows: Part 2 already has the expectations of keeping up the standard of a successful film series. Now it has to make me feel like watching this tedious and frightfully dull film was actually worth it.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This may feel very much like a cut-and-paste job of my other Harry Potter reviews. Because even though Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the weakest chapter in the series thus far (beating out the previous entry, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), it still boasts almost everything that has made the other Potter films so enjoyable- just in slightly smaller measures.

Harry Potter is told by Dumbledore to become friends with a new teacher at Hogwarts, named Horace Slughorn. This is so that Potter can extract a memory from Slughorn that he has been hiding out of shame. The revealing of this memory is key to discovering more about Voldemort and his plan.

The first half of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince- while not without its moments- is very much lacking in the story and magic department. For a while, we're not sure where the story is going, as the majority of the focus appears to be on romantic relationships. And while the romance is not written as poorly as other notable teenage-aimed films, it does fall into a number of cliches, and these sub-plots are uninteresting.

This is also causes the first half of the film to have a much lighter tone than some of the preceding Potter films- even more so than The Order of the Phoenix, which has been one of the lightest Potter films so far.

Still, after the first half, the tone becomes darker, the story is much improved, and we have a couple surprising plot twists that I won't spoil.

The visual effects are excellent, and the cinematography (especially in the dazzling opening sequence) is fantastic. The characters are here, and are still lovable. Two characters that intrigued me when they were introduced in The Order of the Phoenix- Luna Lovegood and Bellatrix Lestrange- have been more developed this time around.

The acting is good, as was the case for most of the Potter films. Performances are solid, though there isn't really a standout.

The score, composed by Nicholas Hooper, is by far the weakest of the series. Nothing in the score that I heard in the film was unique, engaging, or intriguing. Indeed, there were few moments when I even noticed the score. One portion of the film also seemed to use the "rose" theme from Disney's Beauty and the Beast, which did not help the score's cause.

It may be the worst in the series, but Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is an enjoyable, if uneven fantasy flick, further aided by a surprising twist. Given the ending of this film, I'm intrigued to see where the series will go next.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Well I wouldn't call it a dud, but let it be known: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is easily the worst of the Potter films so far. Granted, this is still a very likeable and certainly recommendable production, but it's not as good as the first two Potter films, and not nearly as good as the second two.

Potter is failing to convince almost anyone that Voldemort is truly back, and those that do believe Potter have been ridiculed. Unfortunately, it is also believed that Dumbledore is planning a rebellion against the Ministry of Magic, so a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is hired in order to avoid the practice of practical magic by students. This new teacher is Dolores Umbridge, who immediately makes many strict rules, and creates unfair punishments. Meanwhile, the beginning stages of Voldemort's wicked plan take place.

While Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has many of the things that has made the other Potter films so enjoyable (great characters, great special effects, good story), there's an element of childishness that makes the film feel slight and less intelligent than the previous films. The first Potter film- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone- had a similar issue, though it's much worse in this case, as we've become accustomed to the darker and more thoughtful Potter films of late.

Still, this is a Harry Potter film, and with that being said, it's still funny, exciting, and intriguing. The characters are still fun to be around, and some of the new additions are great.

Dolores Umbridge is perfectly repulsive, and downright evil, while still being civil, and having a smile that never leaves her face. She's easily one of the most memorable characters in the franchise. Bellatrix Lestrange has an interesting character design, and while she doesn't get much screentime here, I look forward to seeing her character develop in future films. My only issue regarding the characters is that the dark lord Voldemort doesn't seem even nearly as menacing as any of the other Potter villains. Perhaps that will change as the series continues, but for now, he's hardly memorable, especially when compared to the rest of the characters.

The acting continues to improve. The child actors are getting better and better, and the adults are consistently great. Most notable, however, is Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge. Staunton gives one of the best- if not THE best- performance of the Harry Potter series so far.

The score is composed by Nicholas Hooper. His score is good, and at some parts very good, but it's far weaker than any of the previous Potter scores. Dolores Umbridge's theme is memorable, and it pays more respect to Williams' themes than Doyle's score did, but Hooper's efforts simply aren't as great as the previous four.

While it doesn't stand up to the rest of the Potter films, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is still a watchable, amusing, and sometimes thrilling adventure, from a series that- so far- has not turned out a bad film.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Well, here I am reviewing another Harry Potter film- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - trying to narrow down what makes them so entertaining. Is it the story? For while the story for the first film was a bit weak, they've certainly improved as the series continues. Is it the characters? I can complain all I like about how little screen time some of them get (and indeed, this problem plagues this chapter as well), but those complaints do stem from a love for the characters in the film. Of course, there is the music, the visuals, and the storybook feel that all of the films seem to possess. Flaws aside, the Harry Potter films have given me many reasons to return to Hogwarts, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is no exception.

The students of Hogwarts are anticipating the Triwizard Tournament, though they are dismayed that students under the age of 17 are not permitted to enter the tournament. Despite this, Harry Potter is somehow selected to compete- even though he is not of the appropriate age. A mystery now surrounds the tournament, and it's important that it be solved before any harm comes to Hogwarts.

Everything that has made the previous films so enjoyable is here in this film. The characters are just as loveable as ever, and the new additions (specifically Rita Skeeter and Mad-Eye Moody) are excellent. The visual effects are fantastic, and the overall story continues to develop.

There truly isn't much more to say that I haven't already said in my previous reviews of the Potter films. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is entertaining, well made, often exciting, often funny, and occasionally magical.

The acting is well done. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson are growing more and more at home in their roles as Harry, Ron, and Hermione respectively. Brendan Gleeson is fantastic as Mad-Eye Moody, and Miranda Richardson is hilarious as Rita Skeeter.

The most worthy of note, however, may just be the music, composed by Patrick Doyle. While John Williams scored the previous three films, a change in composer still seemed like a refreshing idea. And Doyle's score might just be the best Potter score thus far. With a strikingly beautiful arrangement of Hedwig's theme at the very beginning, and many memorable cues that even those not listening to the score should notice, Doyle's score is a breath of fresh air from the already superb work by Williams. The only problem that some might have, is that many of Williams themes are underused or omitted entirely, but Doyle's new additions to the score easily make up for this.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is fun, but also has substantial depth. A delight to watch, and just as wonderful to listen to, this is exceptional fantasy entertainment.

Hot Rod
Hot Rod(2007)

As I sat watching Hot Rod, I was constantly reminded of Napoleon Dynamite. Each have sort of a YouTube-esque feel, and they both revolve around similar characters and feature very similar humor. The primary differences between the two films is that Hot Rod has more well-known actors, a bigger budget, and very, very few successful gags. Napoleon Dynamite was no masterpiece, but it at least provided a sufficient amount of chuckles to satisfy audiences willing to accept it for what it is. In the case of a film like Hot Rod, even those willing to be entertained by Hot Rod on its own terms will find very little to laugh, or even smile at.

Rod Kimble wishes to be a stuntman like his late father, and is constantly doing stupid stunts. Rod is sadly inept, so many stunts end with him getting hurt. Rod wishes to prove to his stepfather that he is a man, though, and the only way Rod can do this, is to beat his stepfather up. So, when Rod's stepfather has a heart condition that requires a heart transplant for him to live, Rod must raise the money for this, so that his stepfather can live long enough to see Rod prove himself to be a man.

The humor is simply dumb. The many gags in this movie can only be described as idiotic, aiming for those with high toleration for such idiocy, or for those with low maturity. It goes without saying, though I'll say it anyway: Hot Rod is not for those looking for a sophisticated comedy.

There are various points in this film where events occur for seemingly no reason other than to create hilarity. A random street brawl suddenly occurs during one scene, and the chaos only served to give me a head ache as opposed to the laughter that Hot Rod was trying to achieve. There are many other examples of this throughout the film, too numerous to name. It just feels like the writers were too lazy to write a series of cohesive events, so basically anything goes in this movie.

Many gags are painfully unfunny. Some are quite predictable. One supposedly humorous scene involves Rod beating up his 60 year-old stepfather, but this is more painful and sad to watch than funny.

I already knew I probably wouldn't like this film before it even started. But seeing as Hot Rod isn't even a full 90 minutes, I figured any pain would be brief. Unfortunately for me, the film just seems to go on forever. Unfunny comedies often feel long, but this felt like an eternity.

The cast does try pretty hard, but the material is so unfunny, it's hard to blame the performances for being as weak as they are. Andy Samberg plays the imbecilic Rod Kimble perfectly. It's a shame he doesn't do anything particularly funny. The other cast members aren't even worth mentioning.

The score, composed by Trevor Rabin, consists of terribly dated sounding synthesizer tunes that sound like a nightmare from the 80's. It's simply terrible, and the soundtrack consists of an assortment of dated rock songs. Between the "music" and the awful screenplay, I wonder if I would have enjoyed Hot Rod more if the film was set on mute.

Hot Rod is stupid. There really is no other way to describe it. Even Hot Rod's biggest defenders would have a difficult time denying that. The few gags that are worth smiling or laughing at actually make you feel guilty for doing so, simply because the humor is so absurdly dumb. Even those in the mood for a mindless comedy will certainly be disappointed by this obvious cash-in on the Napoleon Dynamite trend.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

After two entertaining and likable films starring the students of Hogwarts, we have the first truly great Harry Potter film. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban takes everything that made the first two films great, and expands upon them, making this easily the best Potter film so far.

Harry Potter and friends are once again studying at Hogwarts, though the escape of an insane murderer named Sirius Black threatens the lives of everyone at Hogwarts, namely Harry.

The characters are as lovable as ever, music is great, acting is (mostly) solid, etc. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban avoids many of the pitfalls of the first two films, and manages to bring a whole lot of new magic to the series.

The story, while seemingly simple at first, becomes more and more complex as the story unwinds. The plots for the original was relatively simple, and while the sequel's plot was a large improvement, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban takes things a step further.

The visual effects are significantly better in this film than the previous two. Magical spells and creatures come to life in a more real and convincing way than the previous two films ever managed.

Despite a nearly 2 and a half hour length, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is entertaining from start to finish, with few moments of exception. There are loads of memorable scenes packed into this film, from suspenseful action scenes, amusing spell and magic displays, and some very polished use of time travel at the end.

The acting is good, but as is expected of child actors, some more emotional scenes are performed quite poorly (and dare I say it; laughably). I'm specifically referring to Daniel Radcliffe, who's acting as Harry Potter is good, but he simply cannot convey the emotional complexity his character is demanding. The other actors are good (including Michael Gambon who replaces Richard Harris as Dumbledore), though Emma Thompson as Sybill Trelawney steals every scene she's in (though admittedly, she's not in many).

The score, composed by John Williams, features a diversity that's not evident in the previous two scores. Moments of fun and intense action are scored pitch perfect by the master composer. This is the last Potter film that Williams scored for, but it seems that Williams really brought his A-game for his last outing at Hogwarts.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is funnier, smarter, and more exciting than anything witnessed in the previous two films. Massively entertaining, and certainly magical, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a superb fantasy film.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a worthy sequel. Like any good sequel, it takes what made the original entertaining, but doesn't rely purely on those things, and instead adds some new ideas to the mix. The result is a fun, fantasy film, that's even better than the original (though not by too much).

Once again living with with his cranky foster parents, Harry is met by a strange creature named Dobby that warns him not to go back to Hogwarts. Not listening to Dobby, Harry leaves his house with help from Ron Weasley (and two of his brothers), and they all go back to Hogwarts. Though things start going wrong, just as Dobby had warned, and by through a terrible tragedy, it is revealed that the feared Chamber of Secrets have been opened.

The most notable flaws in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is its start. The first half hour is fairly week, and a couple notches down from that of the original. The film takes a while to get going, and we also have a most annoying scene with Dobby, who- by the way- is one of the most annoying film characters in recent memory. Similar to Gollum, but without the redeeming psychological aspect, Dobby is a short, irritable, havoc causing creature that causes a lot of trouble for Harry. And yet, at the same time, we are asked to feel sympathy for the character. Impossible!

Still, once things pick up, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a clearly better film than The Sorcerer's Stone. The characters are becoming more defined, the Harry Potter universe continues to develop and expand, and the special effects (while still sketchy at times), are a dramatic improvement over the original.

That's not to say there aren't problems. Many new characters are hardly given more than a brief mention and exist purely for fan service. I would've liked to see more of characters like Pomona Sprout and Colin Creevey, and yet, after their introduction, they're hardly seen from again. One could argue that they were not necessary to the plot, but then why do they need to be here at all?

The acting is good, like in the first, though Daniel Radcliffe is significantly better in the role of Harry Potter as opposed to that of the original. Rupert Grint's role as Ron, on the other hand, seems limited to looking frightened all the time, and he's completely ignored during the climatic battle (Hermione Granger decrease in screen presence is even more extreme). Newcomer Kenneth Branagh portrays Gilderoy Lockhart in one of the more humorous roles in the film. Also, special kudos to Shirley Henderson, who delivers a pitch perfect performance as Moaning Myrtle.

John Williams' score is once again, excellent, though perhaps a bit less so than the original. The themes don't stand out as much as they did in the first film, but the score is still delightful.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is an improvement over the commendable original. Despite the nearly 3 hour run time, the film isn't often dull (in fact, I found myself more consistently entertained in this outing than in the shorter predecessor). It's funnier, darker, better acted, and more technically proficient than the first film, and the plot is far more unique and intriguing. This is indeed a successful sequel.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Despite having never read the Harry Potter books, I was pretty sure what I was getting into before I watched the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: a basic kid's fantasy with a few kid wizards get mixed up in an evil, magical, plot. And I was correct. Essentially, I got what I expected, which- in this case- isn't a bad thing, but is it unfair to have hoped for a bit more from one of the most famed film series of all time?

Harry Potter is an orphan child that is taken to Hogwarts (a school for wizards) upon being informed that he has magical abilities. Harry befriends Ron Weasely and Hermione Granger, and it isn't long until the trio discover a villainous plan to steal the Sorcerer's Stone.

As far as fantasy films go, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is pretty solid. A lot of things are going for it. The characters are likeable, the acting is good, and the story- while extremely familiar- is engaging. At the same time, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone has no small number of issues either.

The length is one of the biggest problems. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone has a two and a half hour run time, and frankly, the tale seems absurdly slight for a film of such length. Indeed, there seems to be no real middle in the story. Just an absurdly long beginning and a really fast ending. The film just kept building up to something, but ultimately there was nothing to build up to. The treasure here lays in the journey, not the destination, but it would've been nice to have a little more meat in the conclusion.

The other most notable issue is the special effects. While there are a number of effects that are pulled off quite well, the vast majority are hopelessly dated, cheap looking, and even phony at times. One's tolerance towards this may vary depending on the person. The film is entertaining enough to be enjoyed in spite of dubious effects, though they can be quite distracting at times (and downright laughable at others).

The acting is mostly good, though as the film deals with children, the acting is far from excellent. Daniel Radcliffe is respectable as Harry Potter, but there are a number of poorly delivered lines on Radcliffe's part. Emma Watson is good as Hermione Granger too, but the highlight of the children actors is Rupert Grint giving a standout performance as Ron Weasley. Richard Griffiths has a small, but highly memorable bit, as the father of a spoiled child.

The score, composed by John Williams, is appropriately magical. With a very memorable main theme, and some really excellent action music, this is a superb fantasy score.

The best thing about Harry Potter is that it creates an environment you want to return to. You want to spend more time with the characters, you want to spend more time at Hogwarts. But you also want to have something to do while you're there. And there's simply not enough going on to justify a 152 minute run time. Still, most of the film works, and there are some really good ideas here. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone isn't quite enchanting, but it does cast a rather good spell.

The Pink Panther

I suppose it might be important to note before I start this review, that I've never seen any of the Pink Panther movies before this one. This might explain why I was not as disgusted by this film as many others. The Pink Panther is not a film I can exactly recommend, but I didn't find it as horrendous as many others have.

In the film's simplistic plot, the dim-witted Inspector Jacques Clouseau is hired to discover who murdered a famous soccer coach, and who stole the famous Pink Panther diamond from said coach. However, unbeknownst to Inspector Clouseau, Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus hired Clouseau knowing that Clouseau would be unable to solve the case. And the point of this is...well...actually, it seems there really isn't much point to hiring Clouseau and then firing him later.

The excuse the film uses is that Dreyfus, in an effort to win the Medal of Honor, tries to solve the case himself, while using Clouseau as the idiot mascot of the case. But couldn't Dreyfus have just solved the case without pointlessly hiring Clouseau as the press idiot? I know this is a children's film, but the least this film could've done is finished writing the plot!

On a more positive note, The Pink Panther manages to get a few good laughs. Some gags are really quite funny. But the problem here is that for every gag that works, there's at least one other that's painfully unfunny. Many gags fall victim to predictability, excessive overuse, and absurdly poor timing. Yes, there is laughter, but there are also many groans.

The comedy is not sophisticated by any means. Everything about this movie is stupid, but stupid can be funny, and The Pink Panther often shows us this. Slap stick, awful disguises, and silly accents flood the film. When the humor was successful, I laughed. When the humor was less successful, I groaned.

I feel that more of the gags might have worked had the rest of the characters been more intelligent. An idiot is always funnier when those surrounding the idiot are much more sensible. The problem here is that everybody in the film is just as stupid and dim-witted as Inspector Clouseau, which makes Inspector Clouseau seem less zany than he should.

There are fart jokes (of course), and there is silly dancing (of course), as these are the unfortunate staples of children's films. But much to my surprise, The Pink Panther had some very surprising sexual humor. This is a PG rated film, but some content was surprisingly risque. Had this content been in a film aimed towards adults, this might've been funny. But seeing this kind of humor in supposed children's entertainment only served to disgust me. There was also some surprising language in this film. I may not be a parent, but if I was, I would not feel comfortable letting my children watch The Pink Panther.

And yet, the film just isn't funny enough to recommend to older viewers. The Pink Panther is just too silly and immature to consistently entertain audience members older than 12. Indeed, the childish nature of The Pink Panther is more than likely to irritate most older audience members.

Steve Martin does his best in the lead. Between the exaggerated French accent and silly antics, Martin's performance is adequate, if unimpressive. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is very weak. The weakest member of the cast is easily Kevin Kline as Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus. He's stiff, dull, and frequently changes from his American accent, to his (very weak) French accent.

The score, composed by Christophe Beck, is fairly pedestrian. Though it benefits greatly from Henry Mancini's deliciously jazzy main theme, Christophe Beck's mediocre arrangements of theme do little to energize the score or events onscreen.

While not as painful as one could be lead to believe, The Pink Panther is simply not consistently funny enough to recommend to older viewers. At the same time, I can not- in good conscience- recommend the film to younger viewers either, due to risque material and language. In an odd attempt to please the entire audience, The Pink Panther fails to please anyone.

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid is often hailed as one of Disney's best films. By some, it's considered Disney's best film, period. So after years of merely hearing about The Little Mermaid, I finally got the chance to judge for myself.

Ariel, a young mermaid of just 16, is fascinated by the world above sea level. But her father and king of the ocean, Tritan, as well as a musical crab named Sebastin, is worried for her safety. But after saving a human, Prince Eric, from drowning, Ariel is determined to go back to the surface and not only see him, but to marry him as well. Naturally, Tritan doesn't allow it, so Ariel finally betrays her father, and accepts magic from the sea witch, Ursula. Ariel is transformed into a human, but only can remain as such for 3 days. If she fails to kiss Prince Eric before those three days are up, Ariel will belong to Ursula. And it doesn't help that Ariel completely loses her voice as part of the deal.

I'll admit, I wasn't all that impressed during the first 20 minutes to half hour. Yeah, the animation was nice, and the songs were spectacular, but it was all just a little...good. I was expecting "great," so merely "good" was a little disappointing. Thankfully, The Little Mermaid quickly got better after this.

The songs, as I just mentioned, are spectacular. There's the grand "Part of Your World," the upbeat "Under The Sea," the sinister, "Poor Unfortunate Souls," the romantic, "Kiss The Girl," and my personal favorite, "Les Poissons," which is a song that Eric's chef sings about the art of making sea food meals, much to Sebastin's distress.

The characters are generally memorable. Sebastin is a bumbling stick-in-the-mud, Scuttle is loony and terribly stupid, and the film's villain, Ursula, is certainly one of my favorite Disney villains. However, I found Ariel to be a bit of a brat, and Prince Eric is no different than any other prince Disney has produced.

I personally didn't see anything in the score that could've caused The Little Mermaid to win an academy award, but alas, it did. That's not to say the score (composed by Alan Menken) is completely dull, because there are some moments where the music really shines; it's just a little underwhelming for an award-winning score. The lyrical songs are much better.

The Little Mermaid is undeniably entertaining. There are moments of fun, moments of romance, and lots of memorable songs and characters. In the end, it's not my favorite Disney film, and it's not quite a masterpiece, but I'd be a liar to say I didn't have a good time.

The Sword in the Stone

The Sword In The Stone is a major disappointment. It's by no means a bad film, it's just disappointing. What I expected to be an origin film was really just a silly film about a boy with a wizard for a teacher.

Don't let the title deceive you, this is not a movie about a sword in a stone, it's about a skinny young boy named Arthur- whom everyone calls Wart- who has a rather ruthless and obnoxious father and older brother. While hunting with his older brother, Kay, Wart discovers a wizard named Merlin and his frumpy owl, Archimedes. Merlin is convinced that it is his job to tutor the boy, and that's all there is to it.

There's not nearly enough plot to last even the short 79 minute run time. This might've worked as a 15 minute short film, but as a feature length film, The Sword In The Stone feels padded and tedious. There's just not enough material.

Which is a shame because The Sword In The Stone has so much potential. This could've been a marvelous rags-to-riches story, but alas, it's just a Ben Kneobi, Luke Skywalker tale.

The Sword In The Stone does have some bright spots though, make no mistake. While a majority of the characters are dull and forgettable, Archimedes is at least slightly amusing, and Merlin is the real main character, and he steals all the scenes anyhow. The protagonist, Wart, is likeable, if mostly forgettable.

The animation is shockingly bland. Despite a beautiful underwater segment, The Sword In The Stone has little visual sparkle.

There are songs too, but like many of the characters, they're forgettable. They're not bad by any means, just forgettable. At the minimum, they're not dull and that's good enough for me.

The score, by recurring Disney composer George Bruns, is disappointingly mediocre. However, there's a wonderful jazz piece utilizing the piano during a scene in which Merlin uses magic to wash dishes. This is the only part of the score I can recommend, unfortunately.

Some of the scenes are funny, if somewhat pointless to the actual story. The quarrels between Merlin and Archimedes are particularly amusing. There's also one scene towards the end, where Merlin battles a witch in a fun, yet completely illogical duel of magic.

While The Sword In The Stone lacks a real plot, and ultimately has nothing to do with the sword in the stone, it's an occasionally fun ride with enough humor to be a mildly enjoyable diversion.


For the first 10 minutes, Antz made me smile, sometimes laugh, and for the most part, was quite enjoyable. My doubts towards the usually mediocre Dreamworks had faded; but only for a little bit. The quality dropped just a wee bit after the first 10 minutes, but I was still enjoying myself. The film holds up for another 20 minutes, and then it's rarely amusing again.

The main character, Z, is tired of having decisions made for him. He doesn't want to be a worker, and he's sick of being forced to things he doesn't want to do. Through a crazy chain of events, Z becomes a war hero, is accused for kidnapping Princess Bala, and ultimately, begins his journey to Insectopia, where he can make his own decisions, and live in paradise.

After the first 30 minutes, Antz decides to movie the story in a completely different direction and what could've been an entertaining film turned into another mediocre Dreamworks entry.

Part of the reason Antz was such a disappointment were the characters. They're simply unlikeable. At the minimum Dreamworks managed to at least develop personalities for the characters (though there are several exceptions) but none of them are very likeable. Bala is a brat, Z is a bumbling idiot, and General Mandible; the film's villain, is often confusing.

Mandible has no motive for his villainy, and is ultimately forgettable for his lack of personality or originality.

Antz is the second CGI movie ever made, so I might have forgiven Dreamworks for the ugly animation. However, the first CGI film (Toy Story) had considerably better looking animation, so Antz really has no excuse.

The character designs are atrocious. You can't tell the difference between a female ant or a male ant until they talk! The design of the ants face and head look like a bad version of E.T. right down to the skin tone. It's just downright awful.

And the voice acting is also rather disappointing. The voices lack energy and a vast majority of the lines sound flat. With so many big names, I had expected more. Perhaps that's why I was so disappointed.

The score however (composed by Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell) was incredible (especially during the beginning where there are a lot of jazzy songs). The music is perhaps the only thing that tops it's competitor film, A Bug's Life. However, there's an incredibly silly lyrical song that's played during the credits that has nothing to do with the movie and it's just awful. I don't know what Dreamworks was thinking by adding this song into the credits.

The thing that surprised me the most about Antz, though, was how non-family friendly the film was. Some scenes take place in an ant bar, some language that shouldn't be allowed in a children's film, and a LOT of violence. I scarcely ever see films with such a high body count. Hundreds if not thousands of ants are killed during a war, one of which was decapitated. One bug ends up falling to his doom and we see the impact. For a teens on up film, this may not be a big deal, but for a movie for kids, this is unacceptable.

While Antz does have some brief moments of inspiration, it ends up being another mediocre film from Dreamworks. With bad animation, bad story, bad voice acting, and a lot of slow parts, Antz is a relatively pointless affair. Antz has some redeeming qualities, but ultimately, the best thing about Antz, is that it reminds us how good A Bug's Life is.

The Artist
The Artist(2011)

When it comes down to it, the Academy Awards aren't always exactly fair. Especially when it comes to Best Picture. Both The Artist and Hugo were nominated for best picture, and both were a love letter to cinema. From there, it should've been obvious one of these two films would win; it just came down to choosing the better picture. And while I personally believe Hugo deserved the honors, The Artist was more than a worthy rival, and was full of charm and spunk.

It's 1927, and George Valentin is on top of the world. He's starring in film after film after film. He was an idol. But things change, and change is precisely what stops George Valentin's career. After pushing a former nobody named Peppy Miller into the acting world, things regarding films begin to change. Silent films are no longer acceptable. Only films with talking can survive the box office now. But George refuses to give in to "talkie" films. So while George suffers, Peppy thrives. And while Peppy only wants to be friends, George is determined to stay away from Peppy and talkie films.

Essentially, The Artist is riding on it's retro feel. Everything from the visuals, to the costumes, to the score is all very retro and nostalgic. And while this is The Artist's primary selling point, The Artist boasts many other attributes.

The story is not entirely original. The apprentice surpassing the master, change, etc. The Artist's story consists mostly of things we've seen before. The trick, though, is that The Artist takes these worn elements in a whole new direction. And of course, the old-fashioned feel helps with that.

The score (composed by Ludovic Bource) is much more important in this film than most others. Due to the lack of dialogue and sound, the music is all you hear. So if the music isn't fantastic the whole way through, it's up to the visuals to impress. Thankfully, the music is not only good, it's superb. With it's cheerful and old-fashioned feel, it's jazzy beats, and heavy (and appropriate) emphasis on the piano, The Artist's score is one the best of 2011.

Yet of course, The Artist won the Oscar for Best Original Score. Frankly, it's hard to say whether it deserved it. This is mostly because my other favorite scores of 2011 (Hugo and The Adventures of Tintin) are so distinctly different from the others, it's unfair to compare them. Ultimately, the score for The Artist is the most broadly appealing, which boosted it's odds at winning (plus, the audience was paying more attention to the music, being a silent film).

The acting was fantastic. There were a couple recognizable names in the mix, but a majority of the cast are unknowns. Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, whom is constantly conflicted with what he wants, and what the world wants. This was a difficult role to play, but Dujardin nails it, and received a well-deserved Oscar for his efforts. Berenice Bejo also does a fantastic job with her role as Peppy Miller, likewise for the rest of the cast.

Conveying gestures into understandable actions (with surprising minimal subtitles) was not an easy task, but the actors have accomplished this well. Some scenes are so brilliantly acted and executed, they deserve a moment's appreciation.

Mixing drama with comedy, and adding some old school flair makes for a fresh and thoroughly entertaining film. The Artist doesn't quite reach the dramatic heights that the Academy would like us to believe, but it comes close, and serves as a funny and moving depiction of accepting change.

And the dog was cute too.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

After a strong, if somewhat wobbly first film, The Lord Of The Rings trilogy goes significantly downhill with it's inferior sequel. The Two Towers has all the strengths and flaws of the first, though the strengths have diminished slightly, and the flaws have an even bigger presence.

The Two Towers is a continuation of the original film, in which a young hobbit named Frodo Baggins, as well as some friends, attempt to destroy a mystical ring, though dark forces oppose them.

At the end of the first film, the main characters are split up, which unfortunately, makes the film extremely complicated. Various plot lines are juggled and if the audience doesn't keep track of them all, things can get extremely confusing.

One plot line, involving Frodo and Sam attempting to destroy the ring on their own meet the Gollum. The Gollum is truly the most interesting character in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. His conflicted nature splits him into two personalities, one who wants the ring, and will kill to get it, the other that truly cares about Frodo and Sam.

The most uninteresting plot line involves Pippin and Merry being taken by walking trees and forced to do....nothing. We scarcely ever see the duo, and when we do, it's often dull. The primary source of comic relief in the first film is gone, making The Two Towers especially hard to watch.

There's less action and more talking. The length has actually been increased by a quarter hour, which makes the film even more tedious than the original. Even the dramatic battle at the end of epic scale is little compensation, as it doesn't feel very exciting.

At times, it feels like The Two Towers is repeating itself over and over again. You can count on the fact that every hour or so, someone almost dies, only to be saved an arrow to the offender's head. It's the primary source of escape in this film.

The acting, at the minimum, has not been hurt. Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen and the rest of the cast are as strong as ever. Christopher Lee's role, however, is significantly smaller, which is unfortunate.

Special effects also have not been affected in a negative way, and they are just as grand and marvelous as ever.

The score, by Howard Shore, feels a bit weaker than that of the original. The main theme is used less frequently, and the usage of lighter pieces are almost completely gone, due to the film's darker nature. It's still a good score, but it's weaker than it's predecessor's.

Dull to the point of hair pulling, The Two Towers fails to entertain. Even with the addition of Gollum, The Two Towers is boring beyond belief, and the action scenes are minimal. With little to excite viewers, it's a marvel that this tedious sequel actually has a positive reputation.

Ocean's Eleven

Ocean's Eleven is not trying to be a masterpiece. I greatly appreciate this about Ocean's Eleven. It's not trying to be perfect (because it clearly isn't). It's only goal is to provide a very entertaining two hours, in which it succeeds and excels at.

Danny Ocean has just gotten out of prison, and has no intentions of returning to society as a model citizen. Rather, he plans a heist to rob three of Vegas' biggest casinos and loot over 150 million dollars. Of course, this job is too big to do alone. Ocean get's 10 other recruits, for a total of eleven people, making this genius heist.

Ocean's Eleven would like to convince you that there's an emotional core to the film. In fact, there is, in the form of Ocean's ex-wife Tess, whom he is trying to win back. Alas, this romance is written with a minimal of elegance, and creates problems for the film's pacing. Ocean's Eleven is at it's best when ignoring the romantic aspect of the film, and focuses on entertaining.

Despite the fact that Ocean's Eleven is, in fact, a heist movie, the action is not what makes Ocean's Eleven such an entertaining film. It's the characters, whom are funny, developed, and best of all; memorable. Ocean's Eleven has a huge assembly of wonderfully entertaining characters who really make the movie.

George Clooney plays Danny Ocean who we sympathize with, and he gets much of the one-liners. Brad Pitt portrays Rusty Ryan, who may strike one as less humorous than the rest of the cast. Matt Damon plays a nervous wannabe named Linus Caldwell, and Julia Roberts acts as Tess- Ocean's ex. The more humorous characters, Saul, Basher and Reuben (the arguable standout that should've been in more scenes) are played by Carl Reiner, Don Cheadle and Elliott Gould respectively.

Constant attempts at "quotable" lines are made, and while most of them work, a decent amount fall flat. Some are so bad you may wince. Though it's unlikely you'll remember too many of the bad lines when there are so many memorable ones. You're likely to have a couple favorites by the end of the film.

Similarly to Ocean's Eleven's attempt at romance, this film also tries to convince us that this is an intelligent film. This is by no means a smart movie. Nor is it a dumb one. While it's general ignorance to things like common logic may irritate some, this is still far more intelligent than most popcorn flicks.

The score, by David Holmes is not poor, by any means. It's just a little generic. It has a basic jazz feel without doing anything truly unique. The emphasis on electronic sounds was also irritating. It works well for the movie overall, but it's extremely forgettable. Also, the music played at the end is truly atrocious, mostly because it doesn't match the film at all. A clunky piano piece and a sudden change to orchestra made the ending feel incredibly dramatic, like the conclusion to a masterpiece. Ocean's Eleven is not a masterpiece, and the music is almost laughably out of place at the end.

Flaws aside, Ocean's Eleven is marvelously entertaining and incredibly fun. Not everything works, but it's such a fun ride you'll hardly care. A true winner, if far from perfection.

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

A common trend in Dreamworks films, is that they have an incredible beginning, and fall to pieces within half an hour. Unfortunately, the same can be said for Madagascar 3, which runs out of steam quite shortly.

Alex, Marty, Gloria, and Melvin attempt to make their way from Africa to New York. But first, the gang have to pick up the penguins at Monte Carlo so they can all fly home. Unfortunately for them, their ride is totaled and they are being pursued by a French animal hunter named Chantal DeBois. In order to get away, the gang joins the circus where they must actively train and keep their eye out for DeBois.

From the point where Alex and Co. get to the penguins (within 5 minutes of the film's opening) to the point where they join the circus is marvelously zany and energetic entertainment. The rest is just plain dull with the occasional chuckle to ensure that the audience won't fall asleep.

This second sequel feels extremely forced. Everything was perfectly resolved in the last film, so it's quite obvious that the filmmakers were really struggling to make Madagascar 3 work. On top of that, Alex's parents from the second are completely omitted. At first, this isn't a big deal because they weren't particularly interesting characters to begin with, but you can't simply omit primary characters without explanation. A simple good-bye scene would've worked.

New characters are dull and mostly personality-less. Otherwise, they're stereotypes. Character development is minimal, and what little development there is ends up being rushed and forced.

Most of the time, there's not really very much going on. There are long stretches were nothing happens, and when something occurs to actually develop the plot, it's typically rushed. Even in it's brief 93 minute run time, Madagascar 3 feels like an eternity.

Madagascar 3 runs on cliches and slapstick humor (the latter is practically a cliche in itself). Inconsistencies among characters and personalities are also present. And while we're naming flaws, it might be worth pointing out that this series really doesn't have anything to do with Madagascar anymore.

Madagascar 3's strength is not expected of it's character development or plot, though. Where Madagascar 3 should excel is in it's humor. Sadly, it fails to satisfy even in this single aspect. After the first 20 minutes, there are almost no laughs. Are there smiles? Sure. You might even get a chuckle every now and then. But that's about it. Surely a basically plotless animated film would have some decent humor to boast, but Madagascar 3 falls short here.

Animation is one of the few places where Madagascar 3 succeeds. Easily surpassing the best the first two had to offer, the animation in Madagascar 3 is marvelous, and even a bit jaw-dropping at times. Bright colors and surprising detail makes Madagascar 3 a winner in the visuals department.

Voice talents are energetic, a word that cannot be used to describe this lifeless film. Ben Stiller provides a recognizable voice for Alex, and Chris Rock is perfect for Marty. David Schwimmer is sadly underused as Melvin, however, and it would've been nice to see more of Cedric the Entertainer.

The score by Hans Zimmer, while a bit generic as a whole, handles the character of DeBois quite cleverly with something of a French tango. Ultimately, the theme could've used a bit more development, but this is still a step up from Zimmer's other Madagascar scores.

In a rare moment of creativity, a clever remix of "I Like To Move It, Move It" and the Circus Afro song (if you've seen any of the commercials, you know what I'm talking about) plays during the credits. Had the rest of the film been as unexpectedly clever and energetic as the remix (and the first 20 minutes), Madagascar 3 could've been a delightful surprise. Instead, Madagascar 3 marks the weakest chapter in the series that will only entertain those who enjoyed the previous two entries.

You would almost wonder if this is the last of the series, as the ending wraps the film up so well. Would Dreamworks have the intelligence to even consider ending the series here? With nearly 740 million dollars grossed, and a strong fanbase, I think the answer is obvious. Even when there's nothing left to tell, you can leave it to Dreamworks to squeeze every last penny out of any of their films that have even become a moderate success.


There's just so much to love about Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. It's moving, it's well acted, well made, etc. In fact, it's one of the best films that 2012 has to offer. Effectively capturing the character of Lincoln, and all the surround him, this is an absolute must-see.

Lincoln mainly revolves around the 13th amendment and Lincoln's work to get it voted in. Only the final months of Lincoln's life is chronicled, but that's enough for us to experience Lincoln as not only a beloved president, but a sincere and occasionally funny man.

The film opens to the Civil War, where soldiers are fighting for their lives, and their hopes. This is scene is bloodless, but still extremely brutal, and is a big eye opener to the horrors of war. This scene is effective and powerful, like the rest of the movie.

Despite a lengthy 2 and a half hour run time, Lincoln does not test one's patience. It entertains throughout. Modern film might suggest that an audience can't sit still for half an hour without an explosion or action scene of some kind. Lincoln goes against that theory. There were no explosions that I can recall, and action is almost completely non-existent. Yet, Lincoln rarely feels dull.

Part of this comes from the marvelous acting, some from the masterful cinematography. And some of this comes from Lincoln's surprising humor. Despite what one might initially think, Lincoln is actually a quite funny movie. Witty lines pepper the film, and even some well done physical humor pops up now and then. Lincoln tells occasional jokes as well, which demonstrates Lincoln's wonderful sense of humor.

This is one of the best acted films I've ever seen. Though Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln is getting a lot of buzz as a possible Oscar winner, I think that the rest of the cast did excellently as well, and deserve praise. Daniel Day Lewis' portrayal of Lincoln in this film is absolutely perfect. Retaining Lincoln's wit, kindness, and heart, this as close to the real thing as we'll ever get. Sally Field as Lincoln's wife, Mary, is convincing and well done. David Strathairn is excellent, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets a small bit as well. Tommy Lee Jones gets some of the better lines as Thaddeus Stevens, and an Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actor is not out of the question. Gulliver McGrath as Lincoln's youngest son, Tad is sweet and sincere.

The score from John Williams is a bit underwhelming. It's still a very good score, but it's not as moving or iconic as one would expect from the master composer. It's still a fine score, with some great standout moments, but it doesn't quite live up to the standard that Williams has set for himself.

As one of the best films of 2012, Lincoln is a must-see. With superb acting, a fantastic script, witty humor, and emotional depth to spare, Lincoln is an immensely satisfying experience. Now stop reading this review and go see the movie.

Fred: The Movie

Less than a week ago, I watched and reviewed Battlefield Earth. I gave it the distinguished honor of being my least favorite film. However, now that I've seen Fred: The Movie, I take all of that back. I can't imagine a fate worse than being forced to watch this movie. Hands down the most obnoxious and annoying movie to ever be created, Fred: The Movie is an insult to humanity. I can't even believe how much I hate this movie.

Based off of the almost as annoying "Fred" videos on YouTube (which involve a teenage boy talking in an irritating high-pitched voice for 3 minute), Fred: The Movie has almost no plot. Fred is trying to find his girlfriend, Judy, and avoid Kevin the bully. That's the entire story.

Fred is unbearable in his 3 minute videos on YouTube, so this 82 minute film on the character is enough to drive someone crazy. Fred's voice chattering for nonstop made me want to yank my hair out. His high-pitched shriek (which he emits at least a dozen times throughout the film) must be the world's most annoying sound.

In the movie, Fred just comes off as a pervert. As do most of the other characters. I can't even believe that people went to the trouble to make this disaster of a film. This is the kind of film I just want to punch in the face. The kind of film that makes me want to break the screen. I am not a violent person, but this movie enraged me by how awful and downright obnoxious it is. Move over Justin Bieber; Fred is at least twice as annoying as you are.

The gags aren't funny. Most of them revolve around Fred's strange and childish mannerisms. We witness barfing almost a dozen times. I would call the humor (if it can even be called humor) annoying, except I've used that word way too many times in this movie. Same with obnoxious and irritating. I'd need a thesaurus that could tell me all the different ways to say "annoying" to effectively express this nauseatingly awful film. Heck, I don't even want to call it a film, because it's an insult to even the worst of cinema.

The acting, while admittedly better than that of Battlefield Earth, is just what you would expect from a group of talent-less teenagers. The entire cast is obnoxious, but Lucas Cruikshank takes the cake by portraying the most annoying movie character ever.

I don't think a movie has ever made me so angry. This is truly the worst film ever made. Unfunny, annoying, idiotic, and insulting, Fred: The Movie should be destroyed so no one can ever watch it again. Everyone involved with this production should be ashamed. Even just 5 minutes in, Fred: The Movie is a grating and disgustingly terrible excuse for a film. The only upside to this film, is that it can effectively be used as a meter to test your friend's taste in movies. If they laugh at any of the jokes in this movie, they have no taste.

The Sting
The Sting(1973)

The Sting is an ideal example of a fun, forgettable comedy. It's reasonably entertaining, it's pretty clever, and it's well acted. It's no masterpiece, and the twists and characters may feel overused now, but The Sting is still a decent way to spend 2 hours.

Master con man, Johnny Hooker seeks revenge and reward to scam Doyle Lonnegan, a gang leader who killed Hooker's long time crime partner. Hooker gets the help of Henry Gondorff and others to make this elaborate scheme work.

The plot may be paper thin, but The Sting manages to stretch itself to a rather unreasonable 2 hours. Certainly a sub-plot or two could've been removed and shaved off at least half an hour. Despite the length, The Sting is (mostly) entertaining from beginning to end.

Production values are high. Cinematography is good, costumes are good, etc. It's hard to pick out a flaw in a movie like this. It's far from perfect, but The Sting makes few stumbles (though the script certainly could've been better).

Acting is top notch. Paul Newman as Henry Gondorff pulls off the character well, and Robert Redford completely fades into the role of Johnny Hooker. Robert Shaw portrays a very interesting villain as well.

The score (adapted by Marvin Hamlisch) is upbeat and jazzy. Clearly influenced by "The Entertainer," Hamlisch's score is a high point in the film.

Besides the fact that's it late and I'm ready to turn in, I find myself with absurdly little to say about The Sting. I was entertained for the better part of 2 hours, and I will be checking out the score. What caused The Sting to be received with such acclaim is beyond me, but there are worse ways to spend a couple hours.

Jack Reacher
Jack Reacher(2012)

Jack Reacher baffled me. This has nothing to do with the plot being complicated (as it's insulting to the intellect) or a twist I didn't see coming (as any twists in this film can be seen from a mile away). Jack Reacher baffled me because it was moderately successful at box office, moderately successful with critics, and moderately successful with audience members. The fact that this head-scratchingly terrible film has had even the slightest success with, well, anyone simply confounds me.

A man named James Barr is accused of shooting five random citizens. Jack Reacher, a relatively unknown status confronts Barr's attorney, Helen Rodin (the last name sounds remarkably like "rodent" in the film), and convinces her to examine the evidence before attempting to defend Barr. In the meantime, Reacher is in charge of...I don't really know...investigating? The problem is, the plot is decidedly muddled. They serve little purpose other than to loosely string action scenes and weak one liners together to assemble a "film."

It is impossible for me to discuss every little flaw in this film, so I will only cover the most important bits.

For one, the film is plagued with predictability. Countless cliches and a familiar story means few (if any) surprising events occur. There is a twist or two in the film (after all, this is a mystery film, if a poorly conceived one), but I saw them coming long before they actually occurred.

The back-stories behind the shooter victims represent some of the most emotionally manipulative content I've ever seen in a film. I was actually insulted that the audience was supposed to be moved by these stories as they are hopelessly cliched and melodramatic.

I can't remember the last time I saw a film where I was so uninterested in the events on screen, and so unattached to the characters. The story is boring, the characters have no personality. Was any actual effort put into any part of this film? Even the action scenes are often nonsensical and cheap looking. They lack suspense, and many of them don't seem to fit into the movie very well (the latter point is most noticeable in one of the most boring and poorly made car chases I've ever seen).

Jack Reacher also suffers from being way too much like a kid's film. Seriously. Numerous kicks in the crotch, bumbling henchmen, and quite a bit of slapstick eat away at the screen time. And speaking of screen time, I should mention that this film is over 2 hours long, and every minute seems like an eternity.

Part of the boredom is a result of terrible dialogue. It is drop dead boring, and there's a lot of it. And when the dialogue isn't boring, it's laughably terrible. Did someone really get PAID to write this script?

And then the acting, which is extremely weak. Tom Cruise delivers no energy to his performance as Jack Reacher, and Rosamund Pike as Helen Rodin does an excellent job at portraying a plank of wood. Seriously, I don't think she changed her facial expression a single time in this film. The rest of the cast is just as bad, and the performances are never above sub-par.

The score, composed by Joe Kraemer, can't even be defined as music. I don't recall a single moment in the film where the score had an actual melody. The score is also pretty sparse, as a lot of scenes don't have any music (though some scenes desperately needed some). It doesn't help that the little music that's there often sounds like Howard Shore's much better score for Hugo.

I have hardly scratched the surface of everything I hated about this film. Truly insulting in every respect, this is an unwatchably bad film. I almost want to say that it's essentially a made-for-TV thriller, except that's an insult to made-for-TV films and thrillers. Aside from one amusing line about the antics of cops (which provided one meager chuckle), Jack Reacher is a complete waste of time and a shocking mess.

The Muppet Movie

I'm very thankful that The Muppet Movie is not my first exposure to these characters. I've seen many of their movies before, as well as their TV show, so I know that these characters are capable of being funny. Had I seen The Muppet Movie first, however, I likely would've avoided the muppets like the plague. A truly terrible film in just about every respect, The Muppet Movie is a disaster, and I find it strange that other people don't see that.

In a nutshell, The Muppet Movie is about Kermit the Frog, who is convinced he may have a career in film, and goes on a crazy road trip to Hollywood, picking up new friends to come along. Things are further complicated, however, by a villainous man named Doc Hopper, who's intent on using Kermit to promote his fried-frog-leg business.

This is not a complicated story. And yet, The Muppet Movie seems to have found the most convoluted way possible to tell it. The story is completely unfocused, and the whole production lacks any kind of cohesiveness. At times, I began wondering if this was really the entire film, as it seems that major scenes or necessary dialogue were missing somehow. Perhaps there was initially a longer cut of the film, but it was condensed in editing. Research may prove beneficial, but I'm not sure how much more time I want to waste on this film.

The Muppet Movie also suffers from fairly poor comedy. I'll admit, the first 20 minutes has some pretty memorable scenes, and the many cameos (while a bit excessive) were fairly amusing. Yet, after the first 20 minutes, the whole film is a complete and utter drag. Paced absurdly slow, with almost no successful humor, The Muppet Movie is mind-numbingly boring.

At the same time, many of the jokes are painfully terrible. Most of the time, it's hard to tell apart clever parody, or awful joke. I'm sure a lot of the humor was hilarious 30 years ago, but today, none of it really works.

At least the songs are good, right? Well, no. Yes, "Rainbow Connection" is a classic, and "Movin' Right Along" is pretty catchy, but the rest of the songs are weak. "Never Before, Never Again," is completely forgettable, and immensely dull. "I Hope That Something Better Comes Along" sounds like the lyrics were written by an eight year old, and "I'm Going to Back There Someday" just sounds like a bad rip-off of "Rainbow Connection." Still, none of these songs are even close to as awful as "Can You Picture That?" I very nearly skipped this song because I despised it so, and in retrospect, that might not have been such a bad idea.

The acting is all right, though hardly revolutionary. The human cast is basically just there to either move the story along, or interact with the muppets. Still, Charles Durning is pretty funny as Doc Hopper. And the many, many cameos are at least worth a smile. Still, Steve Martin's cameo may be one of the strangest I've seen. It wasn't so much funny as it was odd.

The score, by Paul Williams, is fun. The uses of the Rainbow Connection theme are great, but there's not much here to note.

The Muppet Movie is simply terrible. Slow, unfunny, poorly written, and with terrible songs, this is a disaster, and I can't believe how highly it's often regarded. Even the first 20 minutes, which I mentioned earlier as the funniest part of the film, never made me laugh. A handful of smiles and some clever cameos are all The Muppet Movie has to offer. In my opinion, it could only please the nostalgic, or the desperate.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

The Owls of Ga'Hoole is a flawed film, and it would be hard to deny that. However, like any good film, The Owls of Ga'Hoole overcomes its (many) shortcomings and provides an enjoyable and mostly engaging 97 minutes.

Soren, a naive and adventurous barn owl, has his life forever changed when he's kidnapped (along with his brother, Kludd) by henchmen of the Queen of the Pure Ones, Nyra. Soren manages to escape (along with another owl named Gylfie), though Kludd is deceived by Nyra and joins forces with the Pure Ones. Soren and Gylfie meet up with new friends, in hopes of stopping an evil plot concocted by the leader of the Pure Ones, Metal Beak.

Frankly, the story is nothing to write home about. Literally following every single fantasy cliche in the book, The Owls of Ga'Hoole is certainly predictable. And yet, Soren's quest is just interesting enough, and the characters are just likeable enough, that one can overlook the film's simplistic nature and can enjoy the film on its own terms.

The characters are relatively likeable (as previously mentioned). Though Soren is essentially like any other male fantasy lead (naive, hopeful, blindly heroic and almost eye-rollingly loyal), he grows on you as the movie continues. Glyfie is...well, uninteresting, but it's the supporting cast that really makes the film work. Digger is amusing and fun when he's onscreen, and Twilight is pompous and silly (and remarkably similar to Owl from the Winnie the Pooh films).

The action scenes are thrilling, and the animation dazzles. Some sequences are truly stunning, as the visuals continually show off.

One notable problem with the film is that it doesn't feel complete. This was obviously intended to be the start of a franchise, and the ending makes sure there's plenty of room for that. It's a bit bothersome to be given what appears to be only part of the finished story, but what's here is entertaining enough to make this less of an issue.

The voice talents are generally unremarkable. The standouts are limited to Helen Mirren as Nyra, and David Wenham as Digger. Barry Otto also has a funny little bit as The Echidna.

The score, composed by David Hirschfelder, is often glorious and triumphant. Heroic themes and softer melodies are spread throughout, creating a moderately satisfying score.

Though predictable, and a bit problematic in regards to pacing, The Owls of Ga'Hoole is still entertaining and at times, surprisingly gripping. It isn't especially memorable, nor particularly original, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a better film revolving entirely around owls.


Hitch just doesn't work. Plain and simple. The cast tries hard (for the most part), but this film just simply isn't funny. Featuring a bloated run time of nearly 2 hours, I laughed only once or twice. Yes, Hitch is that despicable kind of movie; a comedy that's not funny. And worse still, it's also absurdly predictable. Formula, formula, formula, and not a single unique character, gag, or plot point. If it wasn't for the big name cast, I might've assumed this was a made-for-TV film.

The paper-thin plot (that is stretched to the breaking point) is about a dating adviser named Alex Hitchens (though he goes by Hitch). While Hitch has matched many people up with their perfect partner, Hitch himself has not had a long-running relationship. So Hitch finally hooks up with a girl, though unfortunate events may destroy his relationship, and his reputation.

You want cheesy pick-up lines? You got it. You want slapstick? You got it. You want kicks to the groin? Heck, we've got that too. But you want laughs? Good luck buddy, nothing here but groans.

And the story is so predictable, I almost felt like I had seen this film before. This film is also ridiculously cheesy, as it tries to make the ending as perfect and happy as possible.

I haven't even mentioned the product placement, pacing issues, and some of the most clumsy dialogue I've ever heard in a romance film. I know this is a chick flick, but come on! Even the most easily moved individuals won't be able to resist a few eye rolls.

The cast, however, seems very committed. Will Smith gives it his all as Hitch, while Kevin James is very energetic as Albert Brennaman. The actors are so into their roles, we almost want to believe what they're saying is actually funny. But no amount of acting could ever fool the audience into believing this script is any good. Also, Eva Mendes is entirely bland as Hitch's love interest Sara Melas (though the character itself is fairly bland too).

Surprisingly, the score by George Fenton is pretty decent. Yes, it feels very dated. And the more sentimental bits are cliched and forgettable. But there is some really fun music and piano pieces throughout, so the score was a pleasant surprise.

As I watched Hitch, I just shook my head in amazement. Insulting doesn't even begin to describe the kind of immature "humor" is on display here. These are the kind of gags I might expect in a TV show on the Disney Channel. Why must Hollywood throw us all of this garbage and expect us to eat it and like it? I like to see some actual effort and creativity in the films I watch!

Staring at the screen in utter disgust, I began wondering how anyone could possibly find this film funny. And yet, 3 of my friends were laughing their heads off as they watched Hitch, repeating lines they found amusing (which was nearly all of them). Sigh. Looks like Hollywood wins again.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

You know what the world needs? More pirates. At least Disney thinks so. And the funny thing is; they may be on to something. Ignoring the less than enjoyable At World's End, The Pirates of the Caribbean films haven't been half bad. What was once considered a terrible and sure-to-fail idea by many has turned into a relatively fun franchise. On Stranger Tides, the fourth entry in the Pirates series, continues dishing out the mindless and entertaining joy of its predecessors, if slightly less consistently than in the first two films.

Summarized as simply as possible, On Stranger Tides continues the misadventures of Pirate Captain Jack Sparrow. This time, Jack is on the search for the Fountain of Youth. Things are, of course, complicated, when Jack runs across an old love named Angelica who semi-kidnaps Jack and steals him aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge, which is commanded by Captain Blackbeard. To further complicate things, they aren't the only ones that want the Fountain of Youth. Barbossa is back, as well as Gibs, but the main focus is on Jack and Angelica.

On Stranger Tides does everything one could reasonably expect in a film like this. We get plenty of action scenes- that are great fun in the moment, but not easily remembered when the film is over- amusing one liners, many of which come from Jack Sparrow, and some impressive special effects, though none of which seemed quite as impressive as those in the previous entries.

It's nice to see old friends again, though I have to add, we don't get to see ALL of our old friends. Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann are no where to be found, though they were mostly uninteresting characters anyway. More importantly, Jack's entire crew is gone, with the exception of Mr. Gibs. Still, On Stranger Tides is crowded enough as it is, and does mostly fine without them.

The new characters aren't particularly great. Most of them are forgettable, others are flawed. Angelica is a mostly bland and confused character. Her character traits contradict each other as the film goes on, and this is not limited to her love-hate relationship with Jack.

Blackbeard as the villain is all right, but he's not as amusing as Barbossa, nor as menacing as Davy Jones. The film seems to be trying to meet halfway with Blackbeard, but it doesn't really work.

Still, no one sees Pirates of the Caribbean for new characters. We just want to see our old friends, and be assured; the characters that do return get plenty of screen time. Jack Sparrow gets his biggest role since the original, which is especially nice since he was all but forgotten in At World's End. Barbossa gets his share of scenes, and Mr. Gibs gets a surprising amount of screen time, though his character seems conveniently forgotten about at many intervals.

On Stranger Tides is fun- so long as you turn off your brain- but there are a number of serious moments that just kills the pacing. To avoid potential spoilers, I won't name the primary serious bits, but let's just say that in a silly film like this, those moments don't belong here.

There's also a bizarre romance between a mermaid and a character named Philip Swift, which makes up one of the biggest "What the heck?!" factors in the Pirates series (which is quite impressive when you consider some of the confounding-ly weird moments in the previous films).

The acting is still great. Everyone seems to be having a good time, and that adds a lot of energy to everyone's performance. Johnny Depp clearly relishes the role of Jack Sparrow, and the same can be said for Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa. Penelope Cruz does what she can as Angelica, but one can only do so much with a bad character. Ian McShane is solid as Blackbeard.

Like the film itself, Hans Zimmer's score is relatively mindless, but it's fun and works within the film. Aside from some guitar throughout, this is essentially identical to the other Pirates scores, but considering the effective (if not entirely original) themes in the previous scores, this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Flawed? Yes. Silly? Yes. Stupid? You bet! And it's more than a bit unfocused. But despite all of that, On Stranger Tides works. It's not as fun as the first two films, yet it's still perfectly enjoyable, as long as you can excuse some flaws. On Stranger Tides is certainly a guilty pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless.

Shanghai Noon

It's one loud action scene after another with Shanghai Noon, sandwiched with racist Asian jokes and lots of unfunny dialogue. When the occasional gag is funny, it's worth a good chuckle,. But these gags don't come nearly often enough, which is unfortunate because despite a less than intriguing plot, the two leads (Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan) really give it their all in this film, though it's not enough to save it.

Chon Wang, an imperial guard from China, travels to America in order to rescue Princess Pei-Pei, whom has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom. Wang gets caught up in a train robbery, which through a strange series of events, Wang becomes friends with outlaw Roy O'Bannon, whom are now both determined to rescue the princess.

There are loads of action scenes, but despite excellent choreography, they never come across as more than loud and dull. These scenes never generate tension, or do anything particularly unique.

The comedy itself is hardly sophisticated, and while there are a number of amusing lines, there aren't nearly enough to top the gags that fall flat.

The characters are generally weak. While Chon Wang and Roy O'Bannon have great chemistry and a surprisingly well done character arc, Roy O'Bannon is undeveloped. In his first couple scenes, Roy seems to be a very timid robber, but this is not referred to for the rest of the film. The villain, Lo Fong, has no personality at all.

The cast is surprisingly devoted. Jackie Chan portrays a perfect Asian stereotype. Yes, the portrayal might be a wee bit offensive, but no one can deny the talent in this role. Owen Wilson also gives a lot of energy into his role. The rest of the cast, however, is generally forgettable.

The score by Randy Edelman attempts to combine Western and Asian music, but the result is clumsy and awkward. The occasional rock elements and heavy percussion don't help much.

Shanghai Noon could be somebody's nightmare. It wasn't quite such an unpleasant experience for me, but it was far from positive. Often dull, often racist, and a lack of truly riotous humor makes for a long 2 hours. This isn't the train wreck it could've been, but that's hardly high praise.

The Great Muppet Caper

For whatever reason, the Muppet films simply do not click with me. Granted, I think The Muppets Take Manhattan and the 2011 reboot are near masterpieces, but I've found myself relatively bored with the rest of the Muppet films. The Great Muppet Caper is a bit of a mixed bag for me. While the last 40 minutes or so is essentially devoid of any sort of laughter or entertainment, there are some parts in the first hour that are very funny. And yet the laughs were few, and while there were plenty of smiles, even a hesitant recommendation may not be hesitant enough.

The weirdly complicated plot involves Kermit, Fozzy, and Gonzo placed in charge of investigating a jewelry robbery (as they are newspaper reporters). The jewelry was stolen from Lady Holiday, whom Kermit wishes to interview, though due to an unfortunate mix-up, Kermit mistakes Miss Piggy for Lady Holiday, leading up to several complications. In addition, another jewelry thief takes place, and Miss Piggy is framed!

There's more to the plot than that, but most other details are unnecessary. And that's one of the problems with this film; unnecessary detail. The movie is way too busy. Nicky Holiday (Lady Holiday's brother) develops feelings for Miss Piggy, but this adds absolutely nothing to the story. Many other plot threads like this are in this film, and many of them should've been cut.

I've already mentioned that the last 40 minutes are dull, and believe me; they are an absolute snooze fest. And they're also completely nonsensical. The convoluted plot suddenly takes a sharp tune from the mildly serious, to an "anything goes" kind of finish. It's not particularly satisfying if you had to ask.

And then we have the breaking of the fourth wall which happens far too much. Personally, I find it funny when a film breaks the fourth wall, but this is a kind of humor that's much better in moderation. The fact that the fourth wall is broken over half a dozen times before the opening credits are over should tell you something about the over-use of this kind of humor.

And yet, despite these flaws, there are times when The Great Muppet Caper is pretty fun. John Cleese and Joan Sanderson have arguably the funniest scene in the film portraying a British elderly couple at breakfast having a deliciously droll and satirical conversation that's nearly impossible not to smile during. Jack Warden also gets a funny cameo as a newspaper editor, as does Robert Morley as a British Gentlemen.

Of course, there are a number of memorable lines as well, and the technical aspect of many scenes is quite astounding.

The musical numbers are certainly a mixed bag. "Hey, a Movie," is forgettable and the onscreen events are chaotic and cluttered. "Happiness Hotel" is an extremely clever and upbeat song, and one of the best songs in the film (it's also very well choreographed). "The First Time it Happens" is the standout of the film, with catchy lyrics, and great choreography. And lastly, "Couldn't We Ride" is immensely dull, despite some nifty onscreen special effects.

Charles Grodin as Nicky Holiday is forgettable, but then again, so is the character. Diana Rigg gets some great lines as Lady Holiday, and is easily the standout of the (admittedly small) human cast.

The score, composed by Joe Raposo, is a simple parody score. Like most of the Muppet scores, the music works fine for the film, but it's not likely to hold up well when taken away from it.

Falling squarely in the middle of the Muppet films, The Great Muppet Caper has some amusing scenes, but dull stretches, a convoluted plot, and fourth wall joke overkill, stops it from achieving a higher rating. Still, I came away from the film humming one or two of the songs, and recalling some funny cameos, so I suppose The Great Muppet Caper succeeds to at least some extent.

Despicable Me 2

I can't say I didn't enjoy Despicable Me 2 because I did, in fact, have a good time watching it. The gags were funny enough, the visuals are nice enough, and the experience was pleasant overall. But at the same time, I couldn't help but feel a little let-down considering this is the much anticipated sequel to the surprisingly funny Despicable Me. It just seems a little weak, even rushed, but I can't deny it's entertainment value and easy appeal that- if nothing else- provides a relatively amusing, if unspectacular 98 minutes.

The paper-thin plot features Gru, adapting to the life of being a father, when out of the blue, he is approached by an agent of the AVL (Anti Villains League) named Lucy Wilde, who wants Gru's help in capturing the villain responsible for stealing a very dangerous chemical.

Despicable Me 2 is a welcome return to lovable characters, but it seems that many of them really don't know what to do. Dr. Nefario leaves Gru in order to go back to evil, but this serves no real purpose in the story, nor does it carry any emotional weight. It seems that since he has nothing to do in this story, the filmmakers might as well just get rid of him. Margo develops a relationship with a boy that goes absolutely no where, and the other two girls basically just stand around and look cute for the entirety of the film.

This isn't as big a problem as it might have been, however, because no matter what these characters are doing, it's funny. That's certainly no excuse for sloppy screen-writing, but it eases the pain a bit.

On the other hand, characters like Fred and Gru's mother from the first film only appear for a few seconds at the end in non-speaking roles. Not only do they serve no purpose in this film, but they also remind us of how funny they were in the original, which makes their lack of presence in this film noticeable and disappointing.

On the subject of characters, we have a couple new ones. Lucy Wilde, portrayed by Kristen Wiig, is essentially the same character Wiig plays in The Looney Tunes Show (though this isn't much of a problem as the character is reasonably funny). Eduardo Perez is worth a few laughs (especially during his dance number, a memorable highlight of the film), and Ken Jeong has a small but amusing bit as a hair stylist.

The script, while a bit uneven, is funny- sometimes very funny- but ultimately can't match that of the original. The gags come frequently enough, and there are many laughs to be had, but one can't help but shake the feeling that there should be more laughs. One of the funniest things about the original was it's villain-related satire humor, and sadly, that's almost entirely gone in this sequel.

The voice cast is adequate. Steve Carrel is just as funny and lovable as Gru as he was in the first film. Kristen Wiig is amusing as Lucy Wilde, and Benjamin Bratt (replacing Al Pacino who dropped out less than two months before the film's release date) is solid as Eduardo Perez.

The animation in the original film was simplistic, but worked for the film. And while the animation has significantly improved in the sequel, it's still not as consistently stunning as that of Pixar, Disney or even Dreamworks. Still, it looks nice enough, and the bold colors are appealing.

While Despicable Me 2 is, in many respects, a disappointment, it's also a reasonably fun film with plenty of laughs to go around. It doesn't match the original (or even come especially close), but it's easy enough to like, and those minions alone are worth the price of admission.

World War Z
World War Z(2013)

After a messy production period, various re-shoots, and a 190 million dollar budget- exceeding the original 125 million price tag- World War Z had been expected to flop both critically and financially. Much to the surprise of most, World War Z did moderately well with critics and performed well at box office.

As for me personally, I found it pretty difficult to even sit still during the film as it was a truly nerve-wracking experience. It was not only suspenseful, it was stressful (and certainly a little terrifying at times).

Needless to say, I had a great time.

World War Z imagines what would happen if a zombie outbreak occurred on the earth, and believe me, it ain't pretty. Humans are infected as soon as they are bitten by one of the undead, and then they become zombies too. Gerry Lane is forced to assist the UN and find a way to stop the zombies in order to secure his family's safety. From this point on, it's one exciting zombie scene after another.

Suspenseful doesn't even begin to describe the tension and fear within this film. It's frightening at times, and certainly startling (I can admit to jumping at a number of occasions), and I was most certainly at the edge of my seat for most of the run-time. Indeed, I haven't seen a film this suspenseful at the cinema since last year's The Hunger Games. In fact, this is even more so.

In a film as suspenseful as this one, you tend to really appreciate those small victories that occur throughout the movie, just as the characters do themselves. They give you a chance to relax before the next thrilling action scene.

And the action scenes never really feel predictable or tired. Quite the opposite. Each nail-biting zombie scene is often eclipsed by the next one, causing each new action bit to be bigger and better than the last. One might expect World War Z to eventually falter as a result (and I suppose one could argue that it does at the end, though I'll get to that), but honestly, I don't recall ever thinking to myself "Gee, this scene's pretty weak compared to the last one." I was in far, far too much suspense to even give that sort of opinion a second though. There was not a single action scene in this film where I felt I could relax, and in a film like this, that can only be counted as a strength.

The zombies are handled well. Some are bound to be put off by the fact that these zombies are fast (as opposed to the slower-moving beasts we're used to seeing), but they're grotesque and terrifying, making them seem immensely formidable. And the family aspect adds depth (though I couldn't help but feel a little less compassion for Gerry's wife Karin after she does something absurdly stupid in one of the earlier action scenes).

The one thing in World War Z, though, that just doesn't reach the standard the film has set for itself, is at the end. I will not spoil the events that occur at the end, but let's just say that somebody gets incredibly, eye-rollingly lucky.

The acting is good all round, but as one might expect, Brad Pitt is the stand-out here. Pitt perfectly displays his care for his family, and we see the stress in his face throughout the film. One could argue that his character is a wee bit bland (indeed, many characters are decidedly undeveloped), but it's hard to give things like that any kind of thought when you're so engaged with the events onscreen.

The score is composed by Marco Beltrami. Supposedly, World War Z received an R rating from the MPAA entirely because of Beltrami's brutal score, so the music had to be toned down to make the cut to PG-13. Still, one needn't be deceived into thinking that the score is tame as a result of this. It still provides the suspense, the emotion, and occasionally the triumph, displayed in the film. The main theme (often performed with a piano and various synthesizers) is not a theme I would've expected to work in a film like this, but work it does, and though it isn't especially memorable, it's at least different.

Truly gripping, and deliciously terrifying, World War Z never loses your attention. I could hardly take my eyes of the screen once the film started. In many respects, World War Z reminds me distinctly of I Am Legend. Both had strong male leads, both were portraying family men, and both involved fighting infected humans at some point in the near future. So while World War Z isn't quite as original or daring as I Am Legend, the result is still the same: A highly suspenseful, and completely absorbing little film.

World War Z is not a film I would necessarily return to (I don't think I could ever subject myself to so much suspense in the same film twice), but World War Z does exactly what a film should do, and that is entertain. And believe me; there is never a dull moment in World War Z.

Battlefield Earth

Worst movie ever made? Boy howdy, they weren't kidding. Who could have possibly thought that Battlefield Earth was a good idea? Who? Surely someone working on the set could've seen how absolutely moronic this whole thing is. Even The Last Airbender had some decent special effects and tons of unintentional laughs. Battlefield Earth has absolutely nothing going for it, and now holds the honored position of being my least favorite movie.

This is where I'd usually explain the plot of the film, but in Battlefield Earth, everything is so needlessly confusing and sloppily made and edited, it's almost impossible to tell what's going on most of the time. To the best of my ability, the story is about John Travolta dressed up in awful attire and make-up, trying to take advantage of the primitive human race by using them to mine for gold. The humans, of course, are trying to break free from their captors.

This nearly two hour Sci-Fi film seems to never end. While the novelty of being unbelievably terrible may keep some entertained for a short while, I quickly became bored. One can only endure so much awfulness before becoming just plain tired of it.

To explain everything that Battlefield Earth did wrong would to be to write for years and years. And seeing as this movie has already wasted too much of my life, I'll just explain a small fraction of Battlefield Earth's flaws. This should be more than substantial evidence that this is a film to be avoided.

First off, the story is cliched, unintelligent, and told with such laziness, and terrible editing, there's no way to tell what's going on most of the time. In fact, after the movie was over, I didn't recall a single character's name. The manner in which the story is presented makes no sense. I hardly understood anything.

The film appears to repeat itself dozens of times. There were at least a dozen times in this film where Jonnie Tyler (the human protagonist) is being choked by Terl (John Travolta). At least five scenes involve Terl babbling about how stupid Ker (his assistant) is. And Jonnie Tyler makes at least three escape attempts. Not to mention the excessive use of slo-mo and slanted camera angles. Seriously, every other camera shot was done at a slanted angle, even when people were just talking with each other. People today complain about shaky cam, but if more audiences saw what too much angled camera shots looked like, they would have nothing to say.

Special effects are terrible. Costumes are terrible (Breathing devices that go into your nostrils? What were they thinking?!). Make-up is terrible. Dialogue is laughably terrible. And don't even get me started about acting.

The score by Elia Cmiral is loud and obnoxious (like the movie). It focuses too much on poor percussion than actual music. I can only remember two scenes where the score actually had a tune.

If you're dying to see what many proclaim to be "the worst movie ever," the full version of Battlefield Earth is on YouTube. If you want to save yourself two hours of painfully terrible (and painfully boring) cinema, you'd be better off staring at a blank wall for the same amount of time. Unintentional laughs last only as long as you can tolerate bad and boring cinema. Ugh, I can't believe John Travolta still has a career.

Monsters University

Almost 13 years ago, I, for the first time, stepped into a movie theater and saw the film, Monsters Inc. I scarcely remember the experience itself, but having seen the movie so many times since, the film has stayed with me. Personally, I think Monsters Inc. is the definition of a perfect film. It's one of the funniest and most original films I've ever seen, has one of the best movie endings (or quite possibly the best) I've ever witnessed, and I'll admit, I've never seen the film once without shedding a tear at some point or another.

Sadly, after being nominated for the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Film, it lost to Dreamworks' Shrek, a decision that I think everyone is trying their best to forget. Depending on who you talk to, Monsters Inc. is considered one of Pixar's best films, or one of Pixar's more "eh" productions. Being sandwiched inbetween Toy Story 2 and Finding Nemo might have something to do with the latter reaction.

At any rate, I can't deny the impact Monsters Inc. has had on me (or even Pixar in general), so my expectations walking into Monsters University were understandably high. The verdict? It's funny. It's very funny. And I had a great time watching it. But is it as good as the original? Of course not; not even close. It's got moments of brilliance, and it's got moments of subtle poignancy. It may not be able to stack up with many of the other Pixar films, but it certainly possesses that Pixar magic that's kept me coming back for years.

For the benefit of those of you that have not yet seen the original (which you should certainly see as soon as possible), I'll explain the setting. In the world of monsters, everything is powered by human screams. Monsters enter the human world, scare sleeping children, and use their screams to power the monster world. Mike Wazowski, a green one-eyed monster, has dreamed of being a scarer all his life. The reality of this dream begins to form when Mike is accepted into Monsters University; the best scaring college around. Once there, Mike meets Sulley, the son of a much-respected scarer, who is considered the cool guy around campus. Put simply, the two don't get along very well. However, through a series of circumstances, Sulley and Mike are forced to work together and join a fraternity of losers in hopes of winning the annual "Scare Games" and proving to Dean Hardscrabble that they are capable of being scarers.

Monsters University is a riot. In the first 5 minutes Mike gets to college, the gags are coming at the audience in rapid succession. After that first 5 minutes, the film attempts to compose itself and begin telling the story, but with so much potential for humorous stereotypes and visuals gags, Monsters University just can't help itself. Have no fear, the story remains focused, but the numerous sight gags and hilarious dialogue definitely seems to be the priority here, which is not necessarily a bad thing at all.

The one odd thing I did notice about the humor, though, was that so little of it came from Mike. In the original, Sulley was the main focus, whilst Mike got away with the funniest dialogue. With Mike becoming more of the main character, one would expect the humor to be even more focused on Mike. And yet, I recall laughing considerably less at Mike as opposed to the rest of the cast. And this has nothing to do with Mike having any humorous lines that fall flat, it has more to do with Mike having few humorous lines, at least in comparison to the original.

This is not a major issue when one considers how funny the film is already. But Mike's hilarious antics and interactions with the other characters was one of many great things about Monsters Inc. With that missing, one feels just a wee bit let down. I do feel, however, that it's important to note that this isn't something I thought of until after the movie was over. The gags come often enough that I didn't have time to think of why I wasn't laughing at Mike as much as the other characters, which once again, perhaps limits the importance of this oversight.

Is the film as touching as other Pixar films? Of course not. But let it be known that it does have a few meaningful moments. I doubt that Monsters University will water many eyes -even I, who has, admittedly, teared up during at least 10 of the 14 Pixar films to date, never so much as sniffled- but there is a heart among the laughs.

The film runs at a perfect length of 104 minutes. It's not so long that one will be checking their watch, nor is it so short that the fun seems to end so soon.

Pixar takes full advantage of the film's "prequel" status by packing in as much foreshadowing and cameos as they could fit. Some hints at the events of the original are obvious. Some are a little more subtle. I suspect that many references to the original still remain unseen by myself. As if I needed another reason to see the film again. Especially noteworthy in this area of the film is Randall Boggs, the antagonist of the original, whose role in this film has been kept quite a secret in the trailers. The events of this film sets up Randall's motives in the next film beautifully. Also, watch for 3 character cameos in the last 10 minutes. They provide some of the biggest laughs in the film.

The voice cast is excellent, though maybe just a hair weaker than in most Pixar films. Billy Crystal, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi all reprise their roles as Mike, Sulley, and Randall respectively. Helen Mirren is menacing as Dean Hardscrabble, and the Oozma Kappa fraternity cast (Joel Murray, Peter Sohn, Charlie Day, David Foley, and Sean Hayes) are hilarious. Pixar regular Bonnie Hunt gets a small role as a kindergarten teacher. And while John Ratzenberger's cameo is hilarious, I'd love to see him in a bigger role again (his last three roles in a Pixar film have a combined total of four lines).

The animation, is gorgeous, though it's not quite as photo-realistic was what we witnessed in last year's Brave. It's still crammed with detail and bright colors, though, making it a visual treat.

Randy Newman composes his seventh score for a Pixar film. The score is good fun, and a particularly fun jazz track (which appears twice in the film, as well as in many of the trailers) is a toe-tapping standout. Just about every theme from the original film returns, though for some strange reason, the main theme of original ("If I Didn't Have You") is completely omitted. In fact, other than the Monsters University Anthem (which makes one appearance, features no music, and lasts about 20 seconds), Randy Newman does not a pen a new song for this film, which is immensely disappointing.

Flaws aside, I loved this film. While many would beg to differ, Pixar has not made a bad film in my eyes (excluding a couple short films), and this is no exception. Hilarious, touching, and visually impressive, Monsters University is more than worth a trip to the theater. Sure Monsters University isn't as excellent as Monsters Inc. (it's not as funny, and not as touching by a long shot), but it's not really trying to be. Monsters University's goal is to be a very funny film, at which it succeeds with flying colors.

Note: As is typical of a Pixar film, Monsters University is a preceded by a short film, this one is entitled, The Blue Umbrella. In addition to containing some of the most stunning animation I've ever seen, it's also charming and clever, so make sure you arrive at the theater early.

Fantasia 2000

Disney's Fantasia was released in 1940, and though it was unpopular upon initial release, today it is considered one of Disney's best films. Personally, I found it to be immensely overrated, and downright lazy. And yet, I have found Fantasia 2000, the much anticipated sequel, to be entertaining and unique, and a massive improvement on the lacking original.

Fantasia 2000, like the 1940 original, has no single plot, but is made up of a series of animated segments with classical music scoring each segment. I will cover each segment in my review.

The opening segment is Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. This is basically just a bunch of abstract images put to music. As I was watching this segment, I was not only uninterested in the "events" onscreen, but I began to dread the rest of the film. This was essentially just 1940's Fantasia all over again.

The second segment, Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi did little to improve my mood. This segment just followed a bunch of poorly-animated flying whales around for 10 minutes. Hardly brilliant film-making.

It was when Fantasia 2000 reached the third segment, when I began to enjoy myself. With the delightfully fun and jazzy Rhapsody in Blue playing (composed by George Gershwin) and a series of entertaining stories and characters revealed throughout, this is the best segment in the film. If the entire film was like this single segment, Fantasia 2000 would've been an inarguable masterpiece. As it stands, this is just an unusually good segment in an otherwise decent film.

The fourth segment, Piano Concerto No. 2 composed by Dmitri Shostakovich, is mediocre. Based off of Han Christian Andersen's "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," this fourth segment offers interesting animation and character designs, but little else.

The Carnival of Animals, Finale, composed by Camille Saint-Saens, makes up the fifth segment, and one of the better ones. Short and sweet, this segment is about a flamingo who enjoys playing with yo-yo's, much to the disgust of his friends. This funny and energetic segment is memorable, and is also highly reminiscent of Pixar's 1986 short, Luxo Jr.

The sixth segment is hugely unnecessary. I honestly can't believe Disney did this, but the sixth segment is "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" short from the 1940 Fantasia film. No changes of any sort have been made. Why is this here? If we really wanted to see this short, we would just go see the original film! It doesn't help that this short is so forgettable. Not unlike many of the other segments in either film, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is artistically interesting, but little else.

The seventh segment is Pomp and Circumstance- Marches 1, 2, 3, and 4, composed by Edward Elgar. This segment is a re-telling of the story of Noah's Ark, and the music choice here is quite inspired. While this short is beautifully animated and actually extremely touching, it suffers from one thing: Donald Duck.

Donald Duck is the main character here, and though that's not a problem in itself, the filmmakers chose to make Donald mute. We do not hear him speak in this short, which immediately makes him lose all of his charm. This was likely done to draw more attention to the music, but this gives Donald Duck no reason to be here, other than to attract little kids. I have the utmost respect for Disney, but the way the company insists on pandering to children is frustrating.

The final segment is Firebird Suite composed by Igor Stravinsky. The simple short involves a sprite that accidentally awakens a Firebird, which causes mass destruction. This segment features jaw-dropping animation, but the story itself is dull and unfocused.

The segments themselves are a mixed bag, and the same can be said for the intros. Each segment (with the exception of the first segment) is given an introduction from a celebrity.

The first introduction (for the second segment) is given by Steve Martin. His cameo is not funny, and also feels very phoned in. The intro for the fourth segment is given by Bette Midler. It gives us some interesting background about Fantasia segments that were never completed, but this intro is basically the equivalent of being given an array of presents, then having them all quickly taken away.

The introduction for the fifth segment (by James Earl Jones) provides a chuckle. The intro for the sixth segment is given by Penn Jilette and Raymond Joseph Teller, and is the best of the intros, and actually more entertaining than the segment itself.

The intro for the seventh segment features Mickey and Donald, and it's worth a few laughs. The other intros are immediately forgettable and not worth further mention.

A massive improvement over the hugely overrated original, Fantasia 2000 is a solid film. An improvement over the original in animation, music, and length, Fantasia 2000 is entertaining and short. It's greatly flawed, and many segments are uninteresting, but it's worth a viewing, especially if you enjoyed the original.

Rise of the Guardians

I guess I should make it understood before I start this review that I am not a fan of Dreamworks Animation. Most of their films just seem like products to me, and there seems to be little creativity going into them. With that being said, it delights me to say that Rise of the Guardians is an excellent film that far surpassed my low expectations.

The plot, for the most part, is relatively simple. Jack Frost is tired of not being believed in, but gets his chance to be seen and adored when Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and the Sandman call upon Frost to help overcome the dastardly Pitch.

I wanted to dislike this film. The trailers and commercials made this film look exactly the same as everything else Dreamworks has done. And yet, as I continued to watch, I found myself chuckling at a few of the lines. Then laughing. It wasn't long until I was completely engaged with the story and characters, and by the time the film came to a close, I was actually kind of sad it was over.

Let me make this clear; this is not at all like a normal Dreamworks film. The humor is sharper, the story is stronger, the characters are...well they're an improvement anyway. Perhaps most notably, humor does not seem to be the main focus of this film. Granted, this is still a very funny film, but there seems to be a lot more emphasis on the story. Yup, you read that right: A Dreamworks film is actually putting emphasis on the STORY. Not the jokes!

The story itself is made up of familiar elements, but still feels new. It's a crazy blend of The Avengers, Arthur Christmas, How to Train Your Dragon and The Nightmare Before Christmas. And yet, it works. Heck, I was even pretty moved during a few scenes near-ish to the end. Since when is a Dreamworks film moving?

The characters are something of a mixed bag. The five guardians (Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Sandman, and Jack Frost) are all meant to be a bit different than the mythical beings you grew up believing in. Santa's a big Russian dude, the Easter Bunny is a fearless Australian, etc. The problem is that not all of the changes make sense. The two I just mentioned for instance. Why is Santa Russian? Why is the Easter Bunny Australian? I don't really understand the connection, nor the humor in this change.

The Tooth Fairy is a fast-talking, tooth-obsessed fairy. All right, I'll buy that. The Sandman doesn't talk, but communicates through gestures and images made from sand. Okay, that makes sense. Jack Frost is a semi-rebellious, slightly cocky teenager. Not particularly original or interesting, but I can see that. But Santa as a Russian and the Easter Bunny as an Australian doesn't make much sense.

And then there's the villain. Pitch is certainly menacing, and he has a good motive, but he just isn't very interesting. He's not funny, his character design is completely bland, and he doesn't do enough to separate himself from any other animated villain. That's a shame, because he wasn't that far away from being a pretty memorable character. Alas, he still suffices.

Despite the fact that I don't love some of the twists on the guardians, it's still a joy to see them together. The best scenes involve them all interacting with each other. One particularly fun scene involves all five guardians helping the Tooth Fairy collect teeth from under children's pillows. We get to see these characters competing and teasing each other, and it's really fun.

I think what really makes this film work, though, is balance. There's a perfect amount of emphasis on story, humor, character interaction, etc. There's never too much attention on one aspect of the film. Dreamworks is prone to struggling when it comes to balance. Films like Madgascar had too much emphasis on humor. Films like Kung Fu Panda 2 had too much emphasis on story. And films like Over the Hedge had too much emphasis on characters.

In Rise of the Guardians, Dreamworks seems to finally understand that their humor, story, and characters can't work by themselves. By giving the proper balance to each aspect of the film, Dreamworks made this film work.

The voice acting varies in terms of quality. I generally dislike using adults to voice children and teens, so it shouldn't be too surprising that I did not enjoy Chris Pine as Jack Frost. And Hugh Jackman as the Easter Bunny isn't especially great. But Alec Baldwin as Santa Claus and Isla Fisher as the Tooth Fairy are excellent, and Jude Law lends a unique voice to the villain.

The animation is very nice, though not quite as jaw-dropping as what we've come to expect from Disney or Pixar. The score, by Alexandre Desplat, is simply incredible. It's outrageously fun, and gives an appropriate sense of wonder when it needs to.

Rise of the Guardians isn't perfect, and doesn't have the same polish as a Disney or Pixar film, but I still loved it. It's a shame the film did so poorly at box office, because it's a very fun, and certainly magical movie. Perhaps Dreamworks has finally matured into a studio capable of entertaining all ages, and not just kids. I may not have been very kind to Dreamworks in the past, but this film has convinced me that they are capable of excellent entertainment.


If I didn't know better, I would've assumed Anastasia was a Disney film. It perfectly duplicates the Disney formula, with nearly as much success. Containing all the ingredients of a superb Disney movie, Anastasia can't stack up with the best of animated fairy tales, but it's an enchanting film regardless.

Anya has been an orphan from the age of eight. She knows nothing about herself, and is determined to find her family, whom she believes to be in Paris. And it seems she just might make it to Paris when two con men (Dimitri and Vladimir) volunteer to take her there, under the condition she pretends to be the lost princess of Russia, so that they can collect the reward money for finding her. Little do they know what Anya actually IS the lost princess.

This is not a particularly original tale. The story has been told time and time again. And while Anastasia may still produce a sense of deja vu, it also manages to make the story feel fresh again.

All of the best qualities of a good Disney movie are here, in just slightly inferior fashion. These qualities being: memorable characters, great songs, excellent animation. There are others too, but these are the qualities Anastasia best duplicates.

Anastasia is a slightly snarky (but not annoying) damsel, that has much more personality than most other Disney princesses of the time. Dimitri is the scoundrel that (predictably) falls in love with the title character. Vladimir is a jolly and round man, who provides most of the film's humor. The villain, Rasputin, is wonderfully wicked, and has a nasty habit of falling apart at times. A hand here, an eye there, that sort of thing.

The voice cast is good, without being quite great. The two standouts are Angela Lansbury as the Russian Empress, and Christopher Lloyd as the villain.

The songs are marvelous, though the interesting rhyme schemes take some getting used to. "Journey to the Past" is a magical number, accompanied by great music and spellbinding lyrics. "Once Upon a December," this fairy tale's music box/lullaby song is pleasant, and could've been a spot on parody of any of Disney's songs of the same nature.

"Rumor in St. Petersburg" is distinctly Russian, and at the same time, evokes memories of the "Belle" number in Beauty and the Beast (though it's not nearly as good). "In the Dark of the Night" is a fantastic villain's song, with some great accompanying chords and music that really make the song. And "Learn to Do It" is the film's most comedic and easily likeable song, with quick clever lyrics (and includes a sweet reprise shortly afterwards).

The animation is good, and almost great. There's lots of detail, and pretty good character designs. The main problem is that there's no sense of depth. This leads to some pretty cheap looking segments here and there that could've used some polish. Occasional use of CGI is subtle and not distracting, but enhances the animation.

The score, composed by David Newman, has all the elements of a good fairy tale or fantasy score. It's not as playful as most Disney scores (appropriate for the film's slightly darker nature), but it certainly gets the job done.

While I wouldn't put it ahead of most Disney Princess movies, Anastasia makes for a worthy rival. Great songs, memorable characters, and a touching story makes Anastasia a winner. I can't say I was expecting much from this Disney look-a-like, but you can call me impressed.

Jurassic Park III

*This review contains spoilers.*

Ever wondered what Jurassic Park would look like if it were made exclusively for kids? Probably a lot like Jurassic Park III, an almost unwatchable third entry in an otherwise solid film series. Lacking the fun, suspense, and overall entertainment value of the first two films, Jurassic Park III is filled with moments of unintentional humor, tedium, and disappointment all around.

Jurassic Park III begins almost identically to Jurassic Park: The Lost World. A few people are enjoying their vacation a little too close to the dinosaur-infested Isla Sorna, and ends in disaster. One of these unlucky victims is an unlucky boy named Eric. Eric's divorced parents (who curiously were not with the boy at the time of this accident) are determined to go to Isla Sorna and find him, despite the dangers. They also manage to trick Dr. Alan Grant to come along with them (as well as a friend of Grant's named Billy Brennan). As expected, chaos ensues when they reach the island and there doesn't appear to be a way back home.

I wonder if Jurassic Park III was initially planned as a children's film. The body count is much lower than that of the previous two films, and there's more chase scenes than actual violence. The characters seem more like cartoon characters than actual people, and the tone of the film feels more like a sitcom than a Sci-Fi action flick. Not to mention one scene that where three of the main characters are digging through dino doo, as well as an unbelievably awful dream sequence involving a talking dinosaur.

My theory is further supported by Eric, the 12 year old son of the Kirbies (the couple that convinced Grant to come to the island with them) who survives on the island by himself for eight weeks and proves remarkably resourceful. This is a dramatic change from the children of the previous Jurassic Park films, but not a positive one.

The fact is, the Jurassic Park films already require you to suspend your disbelief a bit, but Eric's impressive survival skills (among almost a dozen convenient escapes) pushes it all over the line.

On the bright side, Jurassic Park III doesn't have a the horrendously slow beginning that the first two films had. The original film took at least an hour to really get going, and it took The Lost World a good 40 minutes. In Jurassic Park III, the chaos starts in about 20 minutes (which also shortens the overall run time to about 90 minutes). Unfortunately, the "chaos" isn't much more exciting than the talking in the first 20 minutes.

While the first two Jurassic Park films were extremely suspenseful and unpredictable, Jurassic Park III is almost the opposite. Any and all "boo" moments can be seen from a mile away, meaning that successful scares are few to none. The action scenes are uninteresting and lack excitement. One scene in particular seems almost an exact copy of the "dangling trailer" scene from The Lost World, only much shorter, and lacking any suspense.

Much of the suspense comes from the small body count. Now, there's no right way to say this part, but here goes: More people needed to get eaten. I already mentioned that relatively few people get eaten, but it needs to be emphasized. Adding to my theory that this was initially supposed to be a kid's film, basically all the main characters live. At one point, it seemed Jurassic Park III might have changed it's mind and killed off a semi-important character, but we later discover the character didn't die at all (and I might add that this weak twist was also highly predictable).

The entire film seems very cheap and just thrown together. The special effects, while not bad, are far less impressive (and believable) than those of the first two Jurassic Park flicks. And editing seems to be rushed as I spotted a large number of continuity issues.

The acting is weak, though this has more to with the script than the actual performances. Because the characters in the film are mostly idiots (some seems unusually stupid), the actors appear to be idiots as well, which is something a film should never do. Especially irritating is Tea Leoni as Amanda Kirby, portraying the single-most stupid and annoying character in the entire Jurassic Park film series.

John Williams did not score this third entry (despite his involvement with the first two), which only adds to both this film's slopped together feeling, and my ever-growing respect for the composer. However, replacement composer Don Davis does a pretty commendable job at utilizing Williams' existing themes. While Williams refrained from frequent use of the original's themes for The Lost World, Davis uses them freely and frequently. The score isn't as skilled as either of the previous entries in the series, but it's plenty of fun, and includes some very spirited arrangements of the main theme (especially at the end).

Downright awful in almost every respect, Jurassic Park III isn't funny, isn't exciting, and isn't memorable. Having more in common with the Honey I Shrunk The Kid sequels than any of the Jurassic Park films, Jurassic Park III is a highly flawed and highly disappointing movie in just about every regard. And yet, this is not the end. After over a decade of being in Development Hell, Jurassic Park IV is finally getting made, which will hopefully wash out the bad taste that Jurassic Park III has left behind.

Rear Window
Rear Window(1954)

*This review contains spoilers*

This is perhaps the most disappointing film I've seen all year. Despite brief moments of brilliance and a clever premise, Rear Window is a confused, often tedious, and mostly uninteresting thriller. The film's suspense is all contained within the last half hour, though much of the suspense is diluted through obvious character oversights and a curiously stupid villain.

L.B. Jefferies, a photographer, is confined to his apartment after breaking his leg on the job. With nothing else to do, he passes time by spying on the neighbors through their windows from his room, as he has an excellent view. But things get interesting (at least for Jefferies) when he notices suspicious behavior from one of the neighbors. Jefferies believes there to be a murder, but needs his girlfriend, Lisa and his nurse, Stella, to help him get evidence.

The majority of the film is just plain dull. While I like the premise that the whole film basically takes place from Jefferies' apartment as he spies on a potential murderer, the execution of this concept is sketchy at best.

It's sad how much potential this film had. Looking into the lives of others from Jefferies apartment is often entertaining and also innovative. The cinematography here is great, and the event organization impresses me. And yet, the film's greatest strength is also the film's greatest flaw.

The problem is, this aspect of the film is done so well, and made so interesting, it's nearly impossible to care at all about this relatively generic murder/paranoia case when you're much more curious about the various hinted sub-plots.

The murder doesn't actually occur until around 30 minutes into the movie, and there's a lot of speculation before any serious investigation. In other words, this movie is very dull for a very long time. For almost an hour and a half of this two hour film I was completely and utterly bored. The plot is dull, the sub-plots are under-used, the characters are mostly uninteresting, and there's little to care about.

However, once we get to the final half hour, things get interesting. A dog dies. There's an upset. And the suspense stars to kick in. Some daring moves are made, and then we get to absurdly idiotic finale. This is where I went from being interested in the main plot for the first time in the film, to almost yelling at the characters onscreen for being such imbeciles.

We see the villain advancing towards Jefferies, intent on killing him. Jefferies fends him off by setting off camera flash-bulbs, which temporarily blind him. The villain does a number of stupid things here. For one, as opposed for charging the crippled Jefferies, the villain slowly plods towards him, giving Jefferies plenty of time to call for help, prepare flash bulbs, etc. Then, the villain has the stupidity not to shield his eyes from the flash. I could excuse this the first time and even the second time. But after four flashes, with Jefferies covering his eyes each time beforehand, you'd think the villain would have the sense to at least close his eyes.

The actors are fine, but no one gives a memorable performance. This may be due to the unmemorable characters. L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) has only two defining characteristics: he's cranky and he's nosy. Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) is the cliche love interest with little personality. The saving grace in the acting department is Thelma Ritter as Jefferies' nurse Stella. She's funny, she gets the film's only chuckles, and she's smart too (unlike most of the other characters).

The ambient music (composed by Franz Waxman) is unique and adds character to the environment. Mostly piano and jazz pieces, the score adds an element of almost-creepiness to the production.

I truly don't understand how this mostly mediocre "thriller" has achieved so much acclaim. Rear Window isn't outright bad, it's just not good. Rear Window's enormous potential is wasted on a generic murder case and a bland cast. I truly wish I had enjoyed this movie more, and yet, Rear Window gave me no reason to enjoy it.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Well, I can finally say that I've seen a 2013 release that I genuinely love. About time. Star Trek Into Darkness is crazy fun, well-crafted, and has a great story as well. It's rare to see a summer blockbuster so intelligently made, and so easily enjoyable. I haven't had this much fun at the theater since last year's Wreck-It Ralph. Into Darkness may not have the accessibility of its predecessor, but this is still a superb action flick, and maybe the best action flick I'll see all year.

James T. Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the Enterprise crew must locate terrorist John Harrison and bring him to justice. That's really all I can say without giving away any of the plot twists, as there are several. Be assured, this is a very intelligent story (especially in regards to most popcorn flicks), but there's not much that can be said without spoiling the film.

With that being said, you can probably tell that Star Trek Into Darkness is a highly unpredictable film, which is just one reason why I so enjoyed watching it. From the opening scene to the chaotic and suspenseful finale, you never know what's going to happen next, and it's a blast.

The action scenes are thrilling, the special effects are incredible, and the cinematography is beautiful. The script is great (though once again, there are a couple cringe-worthy lines), and of course; the Enterprise crew.

As was true of the predecessor, the main reason Star Trek Into Darkness is so enjoyable are the characters. Kirk is as likeable as ever, and his friendship with Spock plays out like a conversation between Han Solo and C-3PO. Dr. Bones McCoy gets his share of clever lines, Scotty is as hilarious as ever, and my personal favorite; Pavel Chekov, gets plenty of screen time as well.

Even Uhura, a character I had issues with in the first film, is made more likeable in this film. She's given more of a humorous vibe to her character, which makes her a lot more agreeable, even if she's still the weakest member of the Star Trek cast.

And then there's the villain. This is probably the area that Star Trek Into Darkness most improves upon it's predecessor. The villain in the previous film, Nero, was serviceable, but not particularly memorable. James Harrison on the other hand, the baddie of this film, is not only memorable, but unforgettable. He's menacing, he's smart, and he's responsible for a number of twists in the film. He also has a lot more depth than Nero, and his role adds a lot of psychology to the film at times.

As I've mentioned a few times, there are a lot of twists in this film. And while I did enjoy them, they also represent a possible road block for a few. The great thing about 2009's Star Trek is that it could be enjoyed without previous Star Trek knowledge. And while the same can mostly be said for Into Darkness, some of the film's biggest twists aren't going to have much of an impact on those that don't know a little Star Trek history.

The cast is great. I don't really feel like it's even necessary to go over the individual cast members; they were all fantastic. The single actor I wish to single out is Benedict Cumberbatch of BBC fame. Performing a stand-out villain, Cumberbatch perfectly portrays the many layers of the character with both elegance and sometimes shocking brutality.

The score by Michael Giacchino is not only excellent, I would say it's even better than his also-excellent score for the original. Big, grand, and with a main theme guaranteed to give you chills, this is another masterpiece from the master.

While dramatically darker in tone than it's predecessor and slightly less accessible, Star Trek Into Darkness is every bit as good as the original. Thrilling, funny, visually stunning, and unpredictable, this is the summer film to beat. I may not be a Trekkie, but I know a good film when I see one. I just hope there isn't another 4 year wait for the sequel.

City Lights
City Lights(1931)

One of my biggest movie-related regrets that I hadn't seen a single Charlie Chaplin film. The director and actor has received massive acclaim, and is still considered today to be one of the world's greatest directors. And yet, I had not seen any of his films. In fact, I had seen relatively few silent films at all. However, if Chaplin's other work is even nearly as good as City Lights, I will not hesitate to see his many other films.

Often considered one of Chaplin's best films, City Lights is the story of a young tramp (portrayed by Charlie Chaplin), who befriends a drunk millionaire. The tramp uses resources provided by the millionaire to give gifts to a young, blind girl, whom the tramp has fallen in love with. Things are a bit complicated, though, as when the millionaire is sober, he does not remember ever befriending the tramp.

Due to my limited exposure to films of this era, this review may seem a bit more pointed towards the art of silent film in general, as opposed to this specific film.

At times, City Lights plays like a big cartoon. Slap stick and quirky situations saturate this film, insuring that there is never a dull moment. This is not sophisticated comedy, and it does not take a sophisticated mind to enjoy. In fact, this is likely one of the reasons for City Light's success; it's accessibility.

Chaplin arranges a large number of very elaborate humorous sketches. A masterpiece in comic timing, City Lights is an absolute delight to watch. There are dozens of memorable scenes. If you're not smiling at any given point during the film, you're probably laughing.

Actually, I take back what I just said. For even though City Lights is a comedy, it's also a romance. Very touching, and even tear-jerking at times, City Lights proves that it's just as effective as pulling heart strings as it is at tickling funny bones.

The romance succeeds for a number of reasons. For one, we feel invested in the characters and their story. The film is only 82 minutes, which doesn't leave much time for the characters to be developed, and because City Lights is a silent film, only important lines are shown as subtitles. Everything else is silent. And yet, the characters are defined and layered, some more subtly than others.

The romance also works due to the excellent acting. Charlie Chaplin quite literally makes this movie. His both hilarious and touching performance as the tramp is sincere and humorous. Virginia Cherrill portraying the blind girl is another great performance, and Harry Myers effectively portrays the eccentric millionaire.

I also believe the romance actually benefits from not having dialogue. I say this dialogue is the number one thing that kills a good romance in a film. You could have the best actors and actresses in the world, but with bad dialogue, comes bad romance. By eliminating dialogue, City Lights also eliminates this common issue in modern film that's not just limited to romantic flicks.

The score (also composed by Charlie Chaplin, as well as Arthur Johnston) is delightful. Boasting a large number of catchy and clever tunes, the score is both diverse and entertaining. Music has a much more important role in silent films than in today's "talkies," but Chaplin and Johnston have no problem here.

Not all the sketches work as well as others, and the heavy slapstick may not meet everyone's tastes, but City Lights is a brilliant film that succeeds on both an emotional level, and a comedic one. Funnier and touching than most of today's films, City Lights isn't perfection, nor is it without flaw, but the sincerity and simplicity in which the story is presented is simply beautiful. I look forward to watching more of Chaplin's films in the near future.

Super Mario Bros.

There were a number of questions I asked myself as I sat watching Super Mario Bros. "What the heck is going on?" "Is that really supposed to be Toad?" "Why is everyone acting like imbeciles?" "Why am I still watching this movie?" Nearly 2 hours of my life is gone, thanks to Super Mario Bros., a movie that does everything wrong and nothing right. A serious contender for worst movie ever made, though I'll grant; it had quite a few unintentional laughs.

In a ludicrous plot that seems to be trying to make sense of the nonsensical world of the video game it's based upon, Super Mario Bros. is about two plumbers named Mario and Luigi (we're supposed to believe they're brothers, but they look at least 20 years apart in age), who find themselves in a different dimension. The dimension is ruled by a man, or dinosaur, or whatever he is, named King Koopa. From there on, there's something about a meteorite, de-evolution, and a big glob of living fungus.

I couldn't even begin to mention every single mistake this movie made. I can only go over a handful of flaws in this review, but trust me; I could go on for days.

Let's start with the plot, which I've briefly explained above. It's stupid, it's strange, and jammed with cliches. Everything from henchmen that turn good, child being left on someone's doorstep, clumsy romance, etc.

Much of the film feels like a live-action Saturday morning cartoon. In itself, that's not necessarily bad. In this case, believe me; it's bad. Gravity is defied, special effects are terrible, awful cinematography renders some parts of the film unwatchable at times. Need I say more?

And yet, I haven't even scratched the surface. Characters are stupid and obvious things are overlooked. Tie-ins with the Mario games are forced and uncreative. Plot holes and continuity problems are everywhere. Does this film do anything right?

While the characters' personalities are nothing like they are in the games, it's hard to blame the film for that. This film released in 1993, and at that point, none of the Mario characters had personality. Still, it should be noted that in the film, Luigi is the courageous one, and Mario is more cowardly (the opposite is true in the games). And speaking of Mario, his deep, harsh Brooklyn voice isn't at all the friendly voice we're used to hearing from the famous plumber, but once again, that's not really the film's fault, as no one had ever heard Mario speak before.

The acting is relatively terrible. I'll just save time by saying all the performances are awful, with one exceptions. Bob Hoskins as Mario really isn't that bad. He makes the most out of what he's given to work with, and the result is a passable, painless performance.

Alan Silverstri, what are you doing composing music for this film? You're better than this! It's depressing to see the composer of such classics like Back to the Future reduced to this. Still, the score is awful. The main theme is annoying, and there is no references from the original game's soundtrack in the score. There were lots of possibilities here, and Silverstri refuses to explore any of them.

The dated soundtrack is a nightmare. Various pop songs of yesteryear are in this movie, and they all made me wince in pain. The exception here being "Walk the Dinosaur." I laughed when I heard this playing, because this song is also featured in Ice Age 3, another dinosaur-oriented film starring John Leguizamo (who's terrible in this film, by the way).

Unwatchable, flawed, and laughably bad at times, Super Mario Bros. is an abomination. Forgetting everything that makes the Mario games enjoyable, Super Mario Bros. is a mess of fantastic proportions. It's unusual to see a film this bad. It's almost interesting. Maybe I should spend the next hour contemplating how awful this movie is. It will certainly be a much more entertaining way to spend my time than watching the movie was.

Ocean's Thirteen

Well this was a pleasant surprise. Ocean's Thirteen, the threequel to the excellent Ocean's Eleven and the sequel to the almost-unwatchable Ocean's Twelve, is a fun and light conclusion to the Ocean's Trilogy. It's not as much fun as the original, but it's a vast improvement over the terrible sequel. Third chapters hardly ever work, but I commend Ocean's Thirteen for overcoming that trend.

The Ocean group (with the exception of Tess and Isabel) are brought together when Reuben is in poor health due to a massive shock received from being cheated of the rights of a hotel-casino he was planning to open. The con man responsible, Willy Bank, plans to open the hotel-casino himself, and win the prized Five Diamond award as well. Of course, the Ocean gang devise a devious plan of revenge that's every bit as satisfying for the Oceans, as it is for the audience.

Ocean's Thirteen isn't the strongest film in the trilogy, but it certainly fixes most of the problems that plagued the previous two.

For one, Tess and Isabel (the love interests for Danny Ocean and Rusty) have been completely eliminated from the script. They get a brief acknowledgement and little more. I'm grateful of this, because this completely eliminates the romance aspect. The romance was done so poorly in the first two, and this ultimately hurt the amount of fun that could be had. By throwing the romance out the window, there entire focus of the film is on pure fun.

While over half of the film is planning and set-up for the big con, there is hardly a dull moment to be found. The sheer excitement of the build-up was enough to keep me entertained. Combine that with a reasonable amount of humor, brief dilemmas, and the likeable characters, and you have a perfectly entertaining production. I was hardly ever bored, and the same could not be said for even the first Ocean's.

The plot is less confusing than that of Ocean's Twelve. The characters are just as fun as ever (though the screen time of many is far too short), and of course, the pay off at the end is very satisfying.

Still, despite many improvements, there are a few flaws that should not go overlooked. Like the first two, Ocean's Thirteen is more than a little implausible. Some parts are downright preposterous. Ocean's Thirteen is a smart film, but belief and common sense may need to be suspended on occasion.

And while not a direct flaw, it must be stated that Ocean's Thirteen just isn't as fun as Ocean's Eleven. It's not too far off, but I can't say I laughed as much on this third outing as I did during Ocean's Eleven. Still, Ocean's Thirteen provides it's share of fun and humor. I had a smile on my face throughout much of the film, and I was certainly enjoying myself.

The performances are great, though considering the lack of depth in each, they aren't as impressive. George Clooney and Brad Pitt are suitably suave as Danny Ocean and Rusty Ryan respectively. Matt Damon as Linus is as likeable as ever, and new additions to the cast are just as likeable.

The score by David Holmes is actually a huge improvement over both previous scores for the series. Like the film, it's fun and will make you smile, though those looking for any depth or true sophistication should look elsewhere.

Ocean's Thirteen is an indisputable improvement over Ocean's Twelve, while recapturing the easy fun of Ocean's Eleven. Easy to like and rarely dull, I had a great time watching Ocean's Thirteen. I didn't think I would ever say this, but now I want an Ocean's Fourteen.

Star Trek
Star Trek(2009)

One word: Awesome. I can't believe I loved this movie so much. I've never seen a Star Trek episode in my life, and I had never seen a Star Trek movie. I barely knew who Spock was. And yet, I found Star Trek to be a perfectly satisfying and exhilarating experience.

Star Trek is the story of James T. Kirk and Spock, two seemingly unconnected beings, that find their stories intertwined when both find themselves aboard the USS Enterprise in order to battle the story's villain, Nero, who threatens to destroy many plants in a dramatic act of vengeance.

There's so much that works in this movie, it's hard to know where to start. The action scenes are always fun. Even suspenseful at times, Star Trek boasts a perfect blend of space flights and individual combat. But the key here is that Star Trek doesn't let the action scenes or the flashy effects take over.

The story is just as important in this film, than the action; a trait that's becoming increasingly rare in modern film. The story is by no means revolutionary, but it's told with enough depth and enough punch that it doesn't feel like filler.

Still, the main reason Star Trek works so well is the excellent characters. It's been a long while since I've seen a film with such a likeable group of characters. You become attached, and I wanted to see more of them. As strange as it is to say, 2 hours with these characters seems much too short.

The two main characters, James Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto), didn't agree with me at first. But they grew on me as time went on. Kirk's cockiness and arrogance is reminiscent of Star Wars' Han Solo. Spock seems almost personality-less at first, though the character's depth is developed over the course of the film.

The supporting cast is actually a lot more likeable than the two leads. Dr. Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban) is delightfully crabby, whilst John Cho as Hikaru Sulu has an all-too-small role. Scotty (Simon Pegg) has a very memorable role here with a killer Scottish accent, and tons of energy in his screen presence. Anton Yelchin portrays Pavel Chekov; another energetic character that, like Scotty, owes a lot of his charm to his accent.

The only weak point in the characters is Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana). This may be more of a me-problem, but I just didn't like her personality. When she wasn't boring, she was boasting a cliched, tough girl character. At any rate, I was less enthralled by this Enterprise member.

The acting behind these characters are mostly solid. No one gives a bad performance, but there is an obvious range of quality in the portrayals. Quinto's performance (as Spock) is decent, but I found Pine's (as Kirk) to be more impressive. Simon Pegg is brilliant as usual, as is the rest of the supporting cast. It might be noted that some of the dialogue is a bit silly, but I suppose it's all in the Trek spirit.

Michael Giacchino's score is excellent, as always. Incorporating the original Star Trek themes, Giacchino has composed a very Giacchino-score, employing most of his best score characteristics. While not as diverse, or as character-influenced as his best work, this is still grand and melodious Sci-Fi beauty.

I may be no Trekkie, but I know a good movie when I see one. A roller coaster of effects, action, and great characters, this is superb popcorn entertainment. I missed seeing Star Trek in theaters, but based on how much I enjoyed myself watching it 4 years later, I won't be making the same mistake with Star Trek: Into Darkness.


A Disney musical revolving around Greek mythology seems like a great idea. And in Disney's Hercules, the house of mouse makes great use of the famous characters and setting of Greek mythology. There's some hip, gospel songs and plenty of successful humor. So much works in this movie, but it's all sadly counter-balanced by everything that doesn't work.

Hercules is born to the god and goddess, Zeus and Hera respectively. And while there is joy at his arrival, Hades wishes to do away with the baby, as his fortune reveals Hercules as a potential threat. Hades sends his two dim-witted minions, Pain and Panic to turn Hercules mortal, and then kill him. Unfortunately for Hades, Pain and Panic slip up when Hercules transformation from god to mortal gets stopped part way through, causing Hercules to retain his supernatural strength, but remain mortal. Hercules longs to be reunited with his parents and the other gods, though he cannot until he becomes a hero, which will then allow him to be turned back into a god.

The set up for this story is extremely rushed, and feels almost tacked on. It's like Disney didn't want to spend much time developing the opening, and were more interested in cutting to the action. As a result, there isn't much at the beginning that's of interest, with the exception of one excellent gospel-style song, but I'll get to that later.

The characters are mostly uninteresting. Hercules and the romantic interest, Megara (known as Meg) are almost completely personality-less, while Philoctetes (known as Phil), Hercules' trainer, is just a big grump. Only the villain, Hades, is at all interesting, even if he's basically just a hipper version of Jafar or Scar.

Focusing less on story, Hercules relies on humor to get by. And while most of the humor is successful and funny, there aren't many big laughs here. Disney's next attempt at a hip comedy (The Emperor's New Groove) is a much more successful and enjoyable film.

There's some curious character oversights, and some muddled messages here and there. There are dull stretches, and the action at the end is a bit excessive. Flaws are not hard to find.

The songs are of ranging success. The majority of the songs are jazzy gospel tunes, complete with a group of African-American women singing the lyrics. Not only are these songs an innovative and refreshing concept, but the songs are fun and energetic too. It's hard to suppress a smile during these delightful numbers.

And yet, there are two songs that don't fit into the gospel theme. They are entitled "Go the Distance" and "Our Last Hope." Both are relatively terrible and instantly forgettable. "Go the Distance" exists only to explain Hercules' desire to go home. This is the kind of song that could've been written in 5 minutes over lunch. "Our Last Hope" has a terrible rhythm and bland lyrics and is ultimately, a mess.

It surprises me that a song was not provided for the villain, Hades. Just about every Disney films has had a song for the villain, so why did Hades have to miss out? His slick and sly personality would've been perfect for a nice jazzy beat.

The voice cast is a mixed bag. Tate Donovan provides a bland voice for Hercules, and Danny DeVito does the same for Phil. Susan Egan's voice for Meg is much more unique. It's a shame there wasn't an interesting character to go with it. James Wood is wonderful as Hades, providing a perfectly sly and confident voice for the villain.

The animation is detailed enough, but the animation style is a bit of a problem. The flat, geometric look just makes the animation appear cheap and lazy. CGI is occasionally integrated into the animation, and it looks great.

Alan Menken's score is superb, if a little shy of his work in other Disney films of the time. Grand melodies and exciting action music make this score a success, even though it sounds a bit familiar to Menken's score for Aladdin.

Sometimes funny, but riddled with flaws, Hercules is a disappointing Disney feature. As much as I wanted to like Hercules, there's just so much that doesn't work here. I felt uninterested in the characters and the story, and for most of the film, I was just waiting for the next toe-tapping gospel tune. The 90's was a great time for Disney, but Hercules may not be the best example of such success.


Underwhelming. That was my first thought after finishing Pocahontas. Granted, my expectations may have been a bit high, but this IS renaissance Disney after all. Frankly, Pocahontas is not one of Disney's greats, or even one of their goods. It's a mediocre film with some marvelous musical numbers placed between uninteresting filler.

Loosely based off of the real story of Pocahontas, this romance is formula, formula, formula. Pocahontas is forced to marry an unwanted suitor. She falls in love with a forbidden man. In this case, that man is John Smith. John Smith, being European, and known for killing savages, is of course, initially opposed by the tribe Pocahontas comes from. But John Smith comes to understand the Indians as intelligent and resourceful people, though the villainous Governor Radcliffe is less easily convinced.

Even at a lean run time of 84 minutes (I viewed the 10th anniversary version which includes one additional song, and some extra animation), Pocahontas feels far too long. Simply put, Pocahontas is a bit of a bore. Most of the time, I was just waiting for the next song to start, as they represented the only interesting parts of the film. Attempts at humor are few. Successful humor is even more rare.

This wouldn't be such a problem if the story was more interesting, or the characters more unique. And yet, we have cliched stereotypes, or even worse; completely personality-less individuals that seem to have little purpose in the film. Pocahontas is free-spirited and adventurous; in other words, she is completely indistinguishable with almost any of Disney's other princesses. John Smith has no personality, period. And Governor Radcliffe is the traditional evil villain, who has a distinctly and curiously lazy-feeling motive for his villainy.

The musical numbers are superb, though. While not as catchy or as magical as the best Disney songs of this era, Pocahontas still boasts it's share of enjoyable songs. "The Virginia March" is a delightfully retro Disney song. It would've felt right at home in some of Disney's oldest films. "Just Around the Riverbend" is a lively and joyous number, while "Mine, Mine, Mine" has a wonderfully grand finish, and fun lyrics. "Colors of the Wind" is possibly the best song in the film, with great music, beautiful lyrics, and the best visuals in the film. The only song in the film I didn't enjoy was "If I Never Knew You." This number was specifically added for the 10th anniversary edition, and it's formulaic, dull, and instantly forgettable.

The cast is weak. Irene Bedard and Mel Gibson provide generic and colorless voices for Pocahontas and John Smith respectively. Russel Means and James Fall were noticeably poor as key characters in Pocahontas' tribe. Only David Odgen Stiers (portraying Governor Radcliffe, and his servant Wiggins) shows any kind of energy in his performance.

The animation is breath taking, not that I would expect anything less from Disney. There's one scene at the end where Pocahontas is racing to her village to stop a potential war that's simply stunning. If nothing else, Disney has not slouched in their animation department when making Pocahontas.

The score by Alan Menken is predictably great. Applying the excellent themes from the various songs into the score, Menken has composed another success. It's beautifully written, and often outshines the events onscreen.

Not funny, not interesting, and terribly dull, Pocahontas is one of Disney's weaker films. While the songs are great, and the animation is gorgeous, Pocahontas can't capture the magic of other Disney films of the Disney Renaissance Era. The wonderful songs may stick in my memory, but the scenes inbetween are already being forgotten.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas represents what one might argue to be the most famous and well known stopmotion film of all time. It's one of the few films that generally receive annual viewings, and it's often raved as Tim Burton's best film (despite actually being directed by Henry Selick). Even if this is a case of style over substance, I couldn't help but be enchanted by this visually stunning picture, and I feel this is truly worthy of its cult classic status.

Jack Skellington, the hailed leader of Halloweenland wraps up yet another successful Halloween. The entire land loves him, and though Jack receives much adoration, he feels bored with his job, and wants something different. But when Jack accidentally finds himself in Christmastown, his life regains meaning. Loving what he sees, Jack attempts to imitate the holiday, though things go terribly wrong.

I have to say, The Nightmare Before Christmas was much different than I expected. While I assumed this would be a dark musical comedy, there's actually very little humor to be found. You might get a few smiles, and maybe a laugh, but The Nightmare Before Christmas is by no means a comedy. It's spellbinding fantasy, that imitates the classic Disney formula, while becoming a genre all of its own.

The primary strength of this film, comes from the imagination and the visuals. The story line and setting is highly original. While only Halloweenland and Christmastown is ever seen, we are lead to believe that there's other Holiday themed world as well. It makes one wonder what could await in other lands...

As far as the visuals go, this is certainly one of the best looking films I've ever seen. While never overly complex or as technically astounding as modern stopmotion films, The Nightmare Before Christmas boasts a visual style like nothing I've ever seen before. The character designs are brilliant. The landscapes are stunning. The visuals are much of what makes The Nightmare Before Christmas such a famed classic, and that's no surprise.

Halloweenland and it's residents are wonderfully wicked, and often more creepy than actually scary. The slightly twisted nature to the setting here is memorable and enchanting. Christmastown recalls memories from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, while providing a much more cheery color palette.

Unfortunately, Danny Elfman's songs are less than great. In general, they're forgettable and lacking in fun, and the rhyme schemes are often awkward and hard to follow. The lyrics often seem to force words to rhyme, making the songs slightly unpleasant to listen to at times. This is a shame, because there are so many songs in the film. Still, there are still several good ones, including "This is Halloween," "Kidnap the Sandy Claws," and the phenomenal "What's This?"

The cast is nothing too special. Chris Sarandon voices Jack Skellington when talking, while composer and song writer Danny Elfman voices Jack when he's singing. Catherine O'Hara lends a forgettable voice for Sally, the love interest. Ken Page as Oogie Boogie is easily the standout, providing an energetic performance as the main antagonist.

While Danny Elfman's songs in the film left something to be desired, his score is, quite possibly, some of his very best work. With some surprisingly jazzy segments (that sounds so much like Randy Newman's work, it's uncanny), and some great recurring musical themes and Christmas tie-ins, this is an excellent and hugely memorable score from Elfman.

The main selling point may be the visuals, but that doesn't make this film worth seeing for it's other aspects. The story is very original, Elfman's score is great, and the whole production has imagination to spare. The Nightmare Before Christmas isn't as emotionally satisfying or as hilarious as the best of animated films, but the visuals alone makes this worth seeing.

The Lost World - Jurassic Park

The Lost World, the first sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park is an exhausting, thinly scripted film, that depends entirely on it's action sequences and special effects. Now that I've got the critique out of the way, let me just say that I had a blast watching The Lost World, the rare sequel that improves on the original. The Lost World may be missing some of the majesty and inventiveness of it's predecessor, but The Lost World is more fun, and the dinos are just as thrilling the second time around.

4 unfortunate souls make the dangerous decision to go to Isla Sorna to observe and document the dinosaurs living on the island. Among those five are Ian Malcolm, who had been to the island before, and had been nearly killed as a result of the reptilian beasts. He's hesitant to return, but his mind is made up when he discovers his girl friend, Sarah, is already at the island. And the plot thickens further when it's discovered thatone of Ian's daughters, Kelly, manages to stow away to the treacherous place. And when the group discovers that a rival team of considerably more people have also shown up on the island (with more greedy plans in mind), it doesn't take long for the dinosaurs to show their faces.

It hardly matters why these individuals have decided to come back to Jurassic Park. The plot is thin, so we're hardly given reasons for why this ill-fated group are choosing to set foot on the island. The obvious lack of story and the forced nature of this sequel is bothersome initially. But once the ball gets rolling, it's nothing but sheer entertainment value.

Like the original, The Lost World has a painfully slow start. Obligatory appearances of cast members from the first film and some echoes of John Williams iconic score is all there is to entertain one during the first while. And an awful lot of talking. Seriously, for a film with so little plot, I'm not sure why so much time had to be spent in discussion.

At any rate, the fun starts much sooner in this film. The pace picks up a bit about 40 minutes in, but right around the 50 minute mark, The Lost World fires all cylinders and doesn't look bad. Utterly terrifying and remarkably suspenseful, I had a big silly grin on my face for a majority of the action.

Admittedly, The Lost World has a few gimmicks. For one, there are two Tyrannosaurs this time around. Twice the dinos means twice the fun, right? Well, not necessarily, but the added dinos were certainly welcome.

Don't like being scared? This film isn't for you. Don't like seeing people in horrifying peril? This film isn't for you. Do you insist on some emotional depth or intellectual stimulation when you watch an action flick? Then once again, this film probably isn't for you. But if you kick back and relax, and just turn off your brain, this is one wild ride.

Still, the run time is a bit excessive. The Lost World lasts 2 hours and 10 minutes, and I was left pretty exhausted after the first 100 minutes. So while the last half hour is perfectly thrilling, and still plenty of fun, it also felt a bit unnecessary, and a bit tacked on.

The characters, like the original, aren't particularly developed. After all, they're not the main attraction here. But for the most part, they're likeable when they need to be, and unlikeable when they need to be (though there are exceptions...).

The acting is unimpressive, but serviceable. The actors only need to use some big words to describe the equipment they're using, and be able to show obvious signs of terror. As a result, the actors easily fit into their roles, though I couldn't help but hope for more impressive performances considering the talented players here; Jeff Goldblum, Pete Postlethwaite, Vince Vaughn, etc. Richard Attenborough brings plenty of charm to his character though, reprising his role as John Hammond from the original. Still, his part he is extremely small.

The special effects has held up well. They look just as good as the ground breaking effects in the original (though they're not quite as innovative the second time around). With more dinosaurs this time around, and more complex action sequences, the special effects team likely had their hands full. It all looks great, though.

John William's score, while lacking the iconic nature and grand scale of the original, is still good enough. It's certainly by-the-numbers Williams (and his new theme is completely forgettable), but it still manages to capture the spirit of the film. And fragments of the original themes do find their way into the film, so listen for them.

This being my second visit to Jurassic Park, I knew what to expect. Lots of dinosaurs, moments of awe at the beginning, moments of terror everywhere after that, and stupid humans thinking they can control it all. I even made a few light-hearted attempts at guessing those who wouldn't live to see the end credits (I actually got most of my guesses right). But that may be the biggest issue for some; The Lost World doesn't do much to differentiate itself from the original. Still, considering how much fun the original was, that didn't bother me too much.


Like most sports movies, 42 is easy to like, but hard to love. The underdog story is worth cheering on, and the protagonist is likeable enough to root for. A little humor, some soft moments, and the written epilogue adds up to a whole lot of formula, but still makes for a surprisingly engaging baseball tale.

Jackie Robinson is making history as the first African-American to break the baseball "color line." Only white men had previously been accepted as professional baseball players, but Branch Rickey decides it's time for an exception. Still, this is no happy ending, as Robinson must learn to control his temper, and stay cool under pressure, as thousands of baseball fans would love to see the man dead.

Let me make it clear that 42 does almost nothing that one could consider to be unexpected, or innovative. This is a baseball underdog story and nothing more. Those hoping for something different will find themselves bored, and possibly predicting scenes in the movie before they happen. But for those willing to accept 42 for what it is; a story about a black man's journey to success in baseball, this is an acceptable biography.

The length is the biggest issue (second to 42's predictability). At just over 2 hours long, 42 wears out it's welcome a bit. About an hour in, I started to check my watch relatively often. 42 certainly would've benefited from a shorter run time.

The acting is good, but lacks depth. Harrison Ford provides a reliably strong performance as Branch Rickey, and Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson is easy to like. No one really stands out much, but you'd be hard pressed to find a performance here that isn't believable.

The score by Mark Isham is predictably sappy. From the piano solos, to the horn melodies, and the lively string bits, this is a by-the-numbers "heart-warming" score. It's pleasant, and works for the movie, but this isn't a score I'll be seeking out for my soundtrack collection.

42 is a likeable film. Production values are sound. Acting is good. There are some laughs on the way, and a surprisingly moving speech by Branch Rickey near the end. Still, 42's formulaic structure and unnecessary length is an issue. There are some slow stretches, and it's obvious from the start where this story is going. But considering how little interest I have in the world of baseball (or even sports in general), 42 wasn't such a bad little flick. And it's certainly better than any other 2013 release I've seen this year.

Driving Miss Daisy

Sometimes, a thin plot isn't all bad. Driving Miss Daisy proves that. While undeniably simple in nature, Driving Miss Daisy is as sweet as movies get, and makes for a very pleasant experience.

72 year old Miss Daisy is a Jewish widow who, after getting in a slight car accident, is given a chauffeur against her will. A black man named Hoke, the chauffeur seems to be off to a rough start with Miss Daisy, though instead, a beautiful relationship blossoms.

I almost want to say that I'd like to see more movies as simple as Driving Miss Daisy. But I take it back, because a lot of Driving Miss Daisy's charm comes from the fact that it's simplicity is so rare in cinema, especially nowadays.

The title character, Miss Daisy, comes off as a bit of a grump at first. And though her determined and prideful nature may be a bit irksome at first, you grow attached to her, much like Hoke. Hoke is a lively and kind-hearted chauffeur whose screen presence provides much of the humor in the movie. The chemistry and development between the two is done beautifully.

While there's more than a little bit of formula, Driving Miss Daisy still feels fresh, and is touching without being overly sappy. It's a pitch perfect blend of subtle humor, romance, and sweetness.

Acting is perfect. Jessica Tandy as Miss Daisy is perfectly disguised in the role, and Morgan Freeman is a great choice for Hoke. Dan Aykroyd as Miss Daisy's son, Boolie is also excellent.

The score by Hans Zimmer is more than a little surprising. Known today for his work in blockbuster action movies, this much quieter and simpler score is a nice change of pace. While it's extremely dated, the two main themes (one jazzy, one sobering) are beautiful and memorable.

Driving Miss Daisy will never be one of my favorite films, nor is it a film that I can see myself reaching for when I need something to watch. Regardless, this is an absolutely beautiful piece of cinema that I'm very glad I saw. It's easy-going sweetness and touching warmth is easily balanced with subtle humor, and it never gets overly schmaltzy. To top it all off, Driving Miss Daisy runs at a brisk 100 minute run time, so the thin plot never feels stretched. Driving Miss Daisy is no masterpiece, but it's one of the sweetest things I've ever seen.

Singin' in the Rain

Singin' in the Rain is often hailed as the greatest musical ever made. It's constantly referenced in modern film, and has been universally labeled as a masterpiece. So would it be strange if I were to say this film would've been much better without the musical numbers?

I have nothing against musicals. Some of my favorite films are musicals. But the songs in Singin' in the Rain are mostly mediocre and instantly forgettable, diminishing an otherwise entertaining and enjoyable production.

Don Lockwood is enjoying life as a Hollywood star, even if he does have to work with the irritating Lina Lamont. However, when a new kind of film known as "talkies" becomes popular, Lockwood, as well as his two friends, Cosmo Brown and Kathy Selden must learn to adjust to this new kind of cinema.

As I mentioned before, the musical numbers and songs are among the only things keeping me from giving Singin' in the Rain a better score. I wanted to love this film, but I can only truthfully say that I liked it. More often than not, the songs serve more as filler than something that actually progresses the story, or enhances it.

Only the title song, "Singin' in the Rain," and "Moses Supposes" remain in memory. All other numbers are unremarkable and uninteresting. If you asked me to recount any of the lyrics to any of the other songs, I would struggle to come up with more than a few words.

This is a huge shame, because outside of the musical numbers, Singin' in the Rain is a cheery and entertaining film. The characters are well developed, which makes the story richer. Don Lockwood is confident, but only when the public opinion of himself is positive. Lina Lamont has fame and fortune, and everything she wants, but becomes grumpy when she is not loved by Lockwood. To contrast, Cosmo Brown is a nobody, but is thankful for what he gets and is always positive. Kathy Selden is the most uninteresting character. The spunk and personality displayed in her first few scenes disappears after she makes amends with Lockwood.

Likewise, the acting is excellent. Gene Kelly pulls off confident Don Lockwood perfectly, while Donald O'Connor is perfect as Cosmo Brown. Jean Hagen is great for the despicable Lina Lamont, and Debbie Reynolds makes the best of her character, Kathy Selden. But it's Douglas Fowley who steals most of the scenes as the cranky director.

It's a shame that in a film where music is the main point, that the musical numbers are also the weakest aspect. The actual film is good, corny, feel-good stuff that's fun to watch. You get some laughs, you get some smiles, it's all in good fun. Unfortunately, the songs lead to some terribly dull stretches that break the flow and ruin this otherwise highly entertaining film.


I guess I should mention that I'm a sucker for a good mystery novel. I love reading them, and I enjoy being surprised at the end. Of course, the best mysteries won't rely entirely on a shocking conclusion. Witty dialogue, memorable characters, reasonable suspense, and most importantly, plot twists, must be peppered and laced throughout. The great thing about Charade, is that it takes everything that you could possibly want in a mystery novel, and puts it all under one roof.

A young woman named Regina Lambert finds herself in possession of a large sum of money when her husband dies and leaves her $250,000. Unfortunately for her, three men are convinced that the money is theirs, and they're determined to get it back. With no one else to turn to, Regina puts her trust in a stranger named Peter Joshua. The two must now not only outsmart the three crooks, but also solve the mystery Regina's husband has left behind.

Charade ingeniously blends the best elements of any mystery book, into a single film, creating an engaging and entertaining experience that's both intelligent and exciting. Clever dialogue and some quirky situations helps inject humor and fun into the production, while a handful of chase scenes keeps things exciting. With the added threat of three crooks living right next door, Charade is rarely dull.

The romance between the two leads is surprisingly well done. It's a little overdone at times, but it's not too schmaltzy, nor too formulaic. It finds a perfect balance that few films ever achieve. The chemistry between the leads is excellent, as their personalities easily compliment each other. Modern romance films should take notes.

The mystery itself is genius. There are several plot twists throughout, but all of them seem minuscule when compared to the grand finale. While many similar films often fails to provide much punch during the "revealing" stage, Charade pulls of it's big twist at the end beautifully.

Characters are both memorable, and likeable (or dislikeable, depending on intentions), with great acting to boot. Audrey Hepburn as Regina may appear helpless at first, but she quickly becomes an independent and brave woman, ready to fend for herself. Cary Grant as Peter is suave, but without being romantic. His maturity contrasts Regina's childishness. The three crooks (James Corburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass) are menacing, though not as defined as other characters. Jacques Marin as Inspector Grandpierre gets several laughs as the cranky policeman.

The score, composed by Henry Mancini, is excellent. Often jazzy, but not without suspense and tension, it's a solid work from the master composer.

A truly thrilling and surprising film, Charade is an extremely charming and masterfully made production. With a great cast, witty screenplay, and some great twists, this is the ideal mystery movie. If you're the kind that enjoys mystery novels, this is for you. If you're not into mystery novels, try it anyway.

Oz the Great and Powerful

After the success of Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland, there have been several attempts at remaking classics fantasies with a new twist and/or with expensive special effects. In fact, it's incredible that Disney has waited this long to release another high-profile fantasy flick. Though this might indicate that Disney is really taking their time to craft a quality product, it actually turns out to be quite the opposite. Oz the Great and Powerful is a soulless and hugely disappointing production that clearly exists only to make money.

Oscar Diggs, a sleazy magician, has his world turned upside down when he's swept into the land of Oz. He's quickly proclaimed as a prophecy-fulfilling wizard, who is now responsible for getting rid of the Wicked Witch. Teamed with a flying monkey named Finley, and China Girl; a living china doll, Oscar must fulfill the prophecy and rid Oz of the Wicked Witch.

Oz the Great and Powerful is a hugely mechanical and by-the-numbers film, lacking human touch or personality of its own. It contains all the basic elements that guarantee box office success: A talking animal (Finley), the basic "cute" character (China Girl), showy special effects, and an A-list star. Oz the Great and Powerful does almost nothing unexpected, and lacks any kind of magic or wonder.

The film starts well. Starting in black and white (which eventually turns to color once Oscar reaches Oz), the opening titles boast a vintage flair that really produces a magical feel. For the first 10 minutes, the film is clever, sometimes funny, and relatively well done. In fact, I was really enjoying myself, up until the point when we reach Oz. That's when things start to go downhill.

I was surprised at how little Oz the Great and Powerful has to do with The Wizard of Oz. Being a prequel, I was expecting many references and tie-ins with the original. Instead, it does almost nothing with the Oz world or characters. There's are a handful of similarities and obscure references, but Oz the Great and Powerful made very little use of the license. There's no ruby slippers, no references to Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and no foreshadowing of Dorothy. The few elements that are carried over from the original feel forced and tacked on, implying that the Oz name had little to do with the story, and more to do with increasing ticket sales.

The production just feels a lot like a Disney Channel sitcom. If not for the flashy special effects, this would feel right at home with Disney Channel's TV movies. Relationship drama, a tired and predictable plot, and stereotype "teen" humor are all major elements of Oz the Great and Powerful.

The editing is done surprisingly poorly. There are several flaws in continuity I spotted, including extras disappearing when camera angles are changed, or distances between characters being altered. Laziness abounds from all sides of the spectrum.

The film is tonally uneven. As a romance, it's too clumsy. As a drama, it lacks unique characters or a decent plot. As a comedy, much of the humor feels like it was pulled out of a stock bag. Seriously, I don't think there was more than maybe one or two original gags in the whole film.

I suppose I should state the obvious here and say that the visuals are fantastic. While not as dazzling as Burton's Alice In Wonderland, Oz the Great and Powerful boasts some great visual effects. Apart from one less-than-fantastic looking lion (and the fact that Finley doesn't look much like a monkey), the CGI is fantastic.

Acting is poor, and often clumsy. James Franco was completely the wrong actor for Oscar Diggs. He's not subtle enough to pull of the character's many layers, and he just comes across as someone with a multiple personality disorder. In one scene, he's a genuinely caring and kind man, in the next, he's leaving a little girl to walk home in the dark. Do you see a problem here?

The other actors don't fare much better. Mila Kunis as Theodora is cheesy and overly dramatic, much like Michelle Williams as Glinda, and Rachel Weisz as Evanora. Zach Braff provides a decidedly unenthusiastic and generic voice for Finley.

Danny Elfman's score is a much appreciated bright spot in this disappointing film. While most of Elfman's scores sound extremely similar to each other, his score for Oz the Great and Powerful is excellent, and much different than his usual work. Grand and very playful at times, this is certainly one of Elfman's best scores.

While mostly entertaining, Oz the Great and Powerful feels more like a corporate product than something anyone put any actual effort into. A shameless attempt at cashing in on a hot trend, Oz the Great and Powerful has little more than sparkly visuals to fall back on. Just as Oscar Diggs uses fancy illusions to steal audience's money, Oz the Great and Powerful uses vivid imagery to mask a product made purely for money and merchandising.

Perhaps what gets me the most about Oz the Great and Powerful is how much potential it had. The possibilities of a Wizard of Oz prequel are actually quite astounding. It's a shame that all creative possibilities were wasted into making this squarely mediocre production, that should've been so much more.

Jack the Giant Slayer

Note: This review will contain minor spoilers, though nothing major will be revealed.

Jack the Giant Slayer has been getting many comparisons to last year's John Carter. Both were big-budget March releases, and both had high hopes for sequels. However, the box office returns for both films have been extremely underwhelming. While I am no fan of John Carter, at least it wasn't a complete disaster. The same cannot be said of Jack the Giant Slayer.

Inspired by the classic fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk, this modern re-imagining follows more or less the same story initially. 18 year-old Jack is to sell his horse in the market, though he is swindled by a crafty monk, and given only "magic" beans for the horse. Jack is warned not to get them wet, but of course, Jack fails to keep the beans dry. So, Jack's house is swept off the ground and into the sky by a giant beanstalk, taking a young princess named Isabella with it. Jack volunteers to climb the beanstalk in order to rescue Isabella, along with a handful of other individuals. From here on out, there is almost nothing that even vaguely resembles the original fairy tale.

It would be impossible to specifically name everything that Jack the Giant Slayer does wrong (especially when I'm trying to keep spoilers to a minimum), but even by just naming a fraction of the things this film does wrong, this review will be plenty long.

The film kicks off with an ill-conceived sequence that's entirely CG. It's supposed to be something of a prologue, but the CG lacks detail, and just looks primitive. This prologue would've looked quite impressive in a video game, but in a big-budget fantasy film, audiences expect a lot more. One wonders why this prologue wasn't done in live-action. Time constraints? Budget? A combination of the two? Either way, it's a poor start to a film that only gets worse from there.

The plot is nothing to write home about. It's the basic 'Save the Princess' concept that's been exhausted and stretched to it's breaking point. Even Jack the Giant Slayer couldn't do much with this concept, so an extra half hour padding at the end is tacked on. This last half hour is occupied by a battle between the humans and giants. This is without a doubt, the high point of the film, but it's still riddled with flaws, obvious oversights, and even a cop-out or two.

Jack the Giant Slayer is also tonally uneven in many ways. For one, it attempts to be a romance, a comedy, and an action flick all at once. While this isn't an unusual blend, and many films have pulled it off successfully, Jack the Giant Slayer fails miserably in this respect. The comedy is often lowbrow or childishly crude. Boogers, farting, and belching are just a few things that Jack the Giant Slayer expects us to laugh at. The only laugh this film got out of me was during a clever, but brief reference to a previous film on co-Star Ewan McGregor's resume.

The romance is done clumsily and predictably. If you can't tell from the minute we meet Isabella that she and Jack would fall in love, you are clearly new to the world of film. The romance feels more like an afterthought, or as an attempt to bring girls into the audience, as Jack the Giant Slayer is a complete boy's film, and proud of it.

Characters are underdeveloped and uninteresting, and the acting is mediocre at best. The lead, Jack, is portrayed by Nicholas Hoult, who's role mainly consists of looking bewildered or terrified, until the second half where he shifts into a personality-less hero. Jack's single defining trait is his fear of heights, which is resolved within 20 minutes of the discovery of the fear. Eleanor Tomlinson plays Princess Isabella, a bland character made blander by lifeless acting. The character does nothing to distinguish herself from the thousands of other damsels in distress that Hollywood has given us.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the acting department is Ewan McGregor's performance. Despite being a usually capable actor, McGregor's performance is monotone and forgettable (though this may have something to do with the equally monotone and forgettable character he portrays). The only interesting character in the entire film is Wicke (played by Ewen Bremner), who is killed off within the first 45 minutes.

In addition to the underdeveloped characters, there are many other elements of the film that are not explained, or are quickly dropped or forgotten. The significance of a certain magical crown, which the movie focuses quite a bit on, is never truly explained. Also, while the giants are set aflame, slashed with swords, and forced to swallow large groups of bees, they do not die, or even seem very affected. Yet, they seem easily weakened by ordinary arrows.

The visuals, while sometimes inventive and impressive, seem a bit underwhelming and even unnecessary at times. The giants, for example, are completely CGI, and simply aren't realistic enough to even present the illusion that they're actual living beasts in the film. Would it have been so hard to use real actors for the giants and just balloon them to a larger proportion? It would've been much more convincing at any rate.

The score, composed by John Ottman, is mostly forgettable. While there are rare moments of John Williams-esque action music, the score is fairly generic and uninteresting, not unlike most elements of the film.

I felt like I set my expectations relatively low walking into this film. And somehow, Jack the Giant Slayer went way below my expectations. How? Through poor acting, generic plot, weak characters, unnecessary CGI, and a mass of contradictions and obvious oversights. It is obvious that a sequel was planned for Jack the Giant Slayer. A nonsensical and somewhat confusing attempt of a sequel hook was made at the end of the film. Of course, due to dismal box office results, it appears that a sequel would be highly unlikely for this fairytale flunk.

Last year, I said in my review of John Carter, that if some of the content had been cut out, it could've been a PG-rated flick that kids could see, as the film would certainly be more appreciated by children. The same can be said for Jack the Giant Slayer. There seems to be just enough violence and language to push this film to PG-13. Toned down, this could've been a more family-friendly PG-rated film. Seeing as the nature of this film is more childish and cliched, kids would certainly get more out of this one.

However, because this has been marketed as a film for teens on up, audiences are expecting a rousing action film. Though what they're getting is a film that should've been tailored for children, where it certainly would've been more successful.

And Then There Were None

Film adaptions of books must always reach a certain balance of differences and similarities to the book being adapted. Films like Holes (based on Louis Sachar's book of the same name) shows us what it looks like when a film is too faithful to it's source material. The film becomes predictable for those who have read the book, and frankly, the source material for Holes did not need a film.

On the other hand, films like the adaption of the first three books of A Series of Unfortunate Events, shows us what can happen if a film differs to much from the book. It greatly irritates those who have read the source material, and like Holes, the series did not need a film.

And Then There Were None (based on Agatha Christie's novel of the same name) falls a bit more to the "too different" side of the spectrum. And while And Then There Were None is still an engaging film, and doesn't deter too much from the source material, some changes may have pushed it a bit far.

And Then There Were None is about 10 people who are brought to a remote island, each for their own reasons. They are to stay in a house owned by a Mr. Owen, though none of the 10 guests have even met the man! Despite this, most of the guests are enjoying themselves until a gramophone record accuses all 10 guests of murder. The guests are then slowly killed, one by one, in accordance to a nursery rhyme, Ten Little Indians. The guests come to the conclusion that one of them is the murderer, and they must figure out which one it is until they all perish.

There are indeed differences between the book and film. While most of the differences are subtle, there are a few more major ones (specifically, the conclusion which differs dramatically from the book). I won't spoil anything, but I will say that most of the changes (minus the conclusion) are unlikely to be more than irritating to those who have read the book.

There is certainly a difference in tone. While the book is dark, grim, and extremely suspenseful, the film adaption takes a different route. The subject matter is still dark, but there's a lot of humor in the script, which eases the tone to make the film slightly lighter fare. The suspense is also played down a bit, though those who haven't read the book may find this to be a much more tense experience.

Though the humor is agreeable, some changes are less so. While I won't spoil anything, the conclusion was relatively unsatisfactory, especially compared to that of the book. Also, many of the subtleties of the book are completely lost of the film. And at least one of the deaths don't follow the nursery rhyme accordingly.

Another most unagreeable change is the back story of one of the characters. Vera Claythorne's back story is completely changed, despite the fact that in the book, her backstory is quite pivotal to the conclusion (which may also account to the changed ending).

Differences aside, And Then There Were None is still an entertaining film. Characters are well developed, especially considering the fact that there are 10 primary characters that are developed within a film just under 100 minutes. The personalities are given a surprising amount of depth, even those with less screen time, though once again, the books does a superior job at this.

Suspense is well kept up (especially in the last half hour), though less so than in the book. The murders, while sometimes differing to that in the book, can be unexpected and even alarming, while at the same time, eliminating even the slightest bit of gore.

The acting is solid. The general cast is excellent. The only complaints here regard June Deprez's role as Vera Claythorne. She plays the role without much depth or personality. Perhaps this was due to the script, but at any rate, Vera is not the more interesting character she was in the book.

The score, composed by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, has it's charms (and the recurring tune of Ten Little Indians is a nice, if obligatory touch), but it seems a bit lacking overall. There isn't much by the way of character themes, or the music is surprisingly suspense-less most of the time.

Despite my many nitpicks regarding the differences between the book and film, And Then There Were None is still an enjoyable film in many respects. Though the hugely different conclusion and back story changes may be just enough to turn off fans of the book, this is still an excellent mystery film, if a bit lacking compared to Christie's novel.

Catch Me If You Can

It's certainly been a while since I've seen a film so easy to like and purely entertaining as Catch Me If You Can. Fun and well paced, though not lacking in intelligence, Catch Me If You Can is ideal film. It doesn't reach the masterpiece status many proclaim it has, but it's a confident and enjoyable ride, that even boasts some surprising emotional depth.

Inspired by actual events, Catch Me If You Can follows the story of Frank Abagnale Jr., who runs away after his parent's divorce at the age of 16. Following in his dad's footsteps, Frank becomes a masterful conman, stealing millions of dollars. However, Carl Hanratty, an FBI agent, is hot on Frank's heels. As Frank continues to successfully evade the law, he also faces difficulties of his own, such as old wounds from his parent's divorce.

While not as fast paced as one might expect from such a film, Catch Me If You Can never feels long or boring, despite the lengthy run time; nearly two and a half hours. The film's consistent cleverness, and intriguing plot keeps the audience completely captivated for the entire duration.

The film works as a number of things. It makes for an excellent comedy. Frank Abagnale Jr. is fiendishly clever, and gets into some interesting (and humorous) situations by faking his identity. Catch Me If You Can also works as an action film, due to it's "chase" premise.

Perhaps most surprisingly, Catch Me If You Can also works as a drama. While providing breezy fun, this is also a surprisingly touching film. All of Frank's schemes and cons are done to make his father proud. For despite the devastating divorce, Frank really loves his dad, and this adds an emotional element of the film. Catch Me If You Can would've been a pleasant and enjoyable film without this element. But this extra layer makes Catch Me If You Can memorable, and helps separate it from the dozens of other similar films out there today.

Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent in the leading role as Frank Abagnale Jr. His love for his father, and his easy confidence makes him a surprisingly likable character. Tom Hanks as the persistent FBI Agent, Carl Hanratty is also well done (the amusing Brooklyn accent helps). In a role that's similar to DiCaprio's, Christopher Walken portrays Frank's loving father, who's also a bit of a conman himself. Walken's performance really boosts the emotional umph in this film, making his role the standout in the film.

John William's score is very playful, and is also delightfully jazzy. The child-like main theme and heavy use of the saxophone are memorable staples of the score. The music truly enhances the film, and makes up one of William's most underrated scores.

Catch Me If You Can isn't your average action flick. It's emotional depth and intelligence distinguishes it from others of it's kin, while it's cleverness and humor ensures that it's a fun ride for all. While there are brief moments of genius, Catch Me If You Can isn't a masterpiece, or even close. But it's extremely memorable, and well made, and a lot different than most films of the same nature.

Muppet Treasure Island

As far as quality goes, the Muppet films are all over the board. From mediocre entries such as Muppets From Space and The Muppet Christmas Carol, to masterpieces like The Muppets Take Manhattan and the 2011 reboot, you can never tell whether you're about to watch dull puppet wizardry, or a new favorite film. Unfortunately, Muppet Treasure Island ranks among the very worst of the Muppet films, and that is a downright shame.

Following the plot of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic, Treasure Island, Muppet Treasure Island is about a boy named Jim Hawkins, who with his friends Rizzo the Rat and Gonzo, as well as a host of other characters, go in search of buried treasure. Of course, their journey will not be without peril, as a dastardly plot concocted by pirates awaits the crew.

Muppet Treasure Island is dreadfully dull most of the time. Gags are bland and uninspired, dialogue is mostly the same. While there are a handful of amusing bits here and there, they don't come nearly often enough. Some smiles, one or two chuckles, and not a single belly laugh.

To make things worse, Muppet Treasure Island has a grand total of seven songs, and almost none of which are appealing. "Shiver My Timbers," "Sailing for Adventure," "Professional Pirate," and "Boom Shakalaka," fall under the mediocre/forgettable/inoffensive category. "Something Better," and "Love Led Us Here," are absolutely awful ("Something Better" may have been less painful had it not been for Kevin Bishop's high pitched and highly annoying singing voice). The only decent song in the whole film is "Cabin Fever," which is actually quite fun and is the highlight of the film.

Like The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island is much more human involved than the other Muppet films. This is a shame considering that the Muppet characters are so much more entertaining. And it doesn't help that the actors behind the human characters perform less than satisfactorily.

Kevin Bishop, playing the child lead, is clunky as an actor, though I've seen worse. The thing that really makes his part in Muppet Treasure Island nearly unbearable is his extremely high voice. Tim Curry plays Long John Silver. He's intentionally dramatic and over the top, but this is more obnoxious than comedic. Billy Connolly gets a small part as Billy Bones that's forgettable, but not poor.

The score for Muppet Treasure Island is composed by Hans Zimmer. The score makes up one of the least offensive parts about this film. It's not particularly interesting most of the time, but it's occasionally rousing.

Though Muppet Treasure Island tries hard, it's the worst of the Muppet films, and simply awful. It's rarely funny, hardly amusing, and poorly acted. Though the musical number, "Cabin Fever" is fun, and the breaking of the "fourth wall" provides a few smiles, Muppet Treasure Island lacks the enchantment and joy of the series' best entries. It's also surprisingly violent (and profane) for a G-rated flick, but in a film as dull as this, that's the least of it's problems.

Finding Neverland

There have been a number of Peter Pan films released over many years. From the cult classic, "Hook," to Disney's animated adaption, Peter Pan has gotten more than his fair share of publicity. Disney's Peter Pan has long since been my favorite Neverland adventure put to film, but it seems that it has now been dethroned. Not only is Finding Neverland an engaging and fascinating film, it's also a magical and enchanting experience.

J.M. Barrie is trying to get over the poor reception from his last play by writing a new adventure. To find inspiration, he goes to the park where he meets the Davies, a family of four boys and a widowed mother named Sylvia. Barrie immediately falls in love with the family. Most of the boys enjoy playing with Barrie as they use their imagination to become pirates, cowboys, among other things. Only one of the boys, Peter, refuses to leave reality. As Barrie slowly opens Peter's mind to the world of imagination, the Davies soon inspire Barrie to discover and develop Neverland.

This isn't a documentary. Nor is it a cheesy family drama. Finding Neverland, like the film's portrayal of J.M. Barrie, is playful, a little eccentric, and intelligent. It's a family film that avoids all the common pitfalls of it's own kind. Finding Neverland isn't formulaic, and it doesn't feel the need to pander to kids.

In fact, despite it being labeled as a family film, it's unlikely to appeal to children. It's slower than most family films, lacks action, and while there is humor, it's much more subtle than what children are used to.

The visual effects are superb. As Barrie and the Davie boys explore fantasies, their surroundings change into something of a storybook setting where the children can explore and play. Editing between real life and their imagination make this more than just a novelty. It's an innovation, and a true achievement in editing, visuals, and storytelling.

As Barrie slowly gathers inspiration from his surroundings that will inevitably make up the world of Neverland, we see glimpses of his ideas appear in the real world. A cranky and tyrannical grandmother with a hook in her hand. Boys jumping on their beds and flying out windows. With each inspiration, comes a feeling of magic. Like seeing the magician at work.

The acting is very well done. Johnny Depp, in one of his less bizarre roles, portrays J.M. Barrie with a childlike playfulness and innocence. While his accent may be a bit off putting (he's supposed to be British, so why does he sound Scottish...?), Depp buries himself in the role, and it's absolutely enchanting. Freddie Highmore is excellent as Peter Davies, especially considering his age at the time of production. Kate Winslet is appropriately distraught, but fun loving as Sylvia Davies, and Dustin Hoffman is great in the slightly more humorous role as a play producer that funds Barrie's work, despite his skeptical attitude towards him.

The score, for which the film won an Oscar for, is composed by Jan A. P. Kaczmarek. Like the film, it's magical and beautiful, and has an element of playfulness to it. By absorbing itself into the film, the score enhances the production greatly, and adds to the overall enchantment and wonder.

While a film about J.M. Barrie and his inspirations may initially seem more like a homework assignment than a film, Finding Neverland achieves grand heights as a well made and magical production. It's not quite a masterpiece, but it's not far off. If nothing else, it's a family film that won't insult the intelligence of it's older films, and that in itself is a rare treat.

The Snowman
The Snowman(1982)

To see this short film in it's entirety, use this link (trust me, it's worth it):

I rarely bother to review animated short films for 2 specific reasons (though these are not the only ones). Reason #1- Their length rarely exceeds 10 minutes, leaving very little material to discuss. Most short films can be effectively summarized in just a few sentences. Reason #2 is that short films only occasionally have enough depth or elements worth mentioning to make it worth the effort to write a review.

I make an exception for The Snowman because it does not fall under the description of Reason #1 or #2. The Snowman is 26 minutes long, which cancels out Reason #1. And there is just so much depth and details worth mentioning in The Snowman that I felt almost inclined to write a review discussing it (effectively canceling Reason #2). I may also add that part of my reason for writing a review for The Snowman is that it's such a wonderful work of art.

The plot for The Snowman is extremely simple, even for a short film. A young, unnamed boy builds a snowman that comes to life in the middle of the night. The boy, as one might expect, has a wonderful time showing the Snowman around his house, and later flying in the sky with the Snowman.

While the idea of snowmen coming to life has already been covered in various other feature length movies and short films (most notably Frosty the Snowman), The Snowman is far superior to all previous efforts of this concept.

The first half of The Snowman boasts a cozy and relaxing feel. It's cute, it's nostalgic, and it's beautifully innocent. These 13 minutes are basically childhood winters in a nutshell.

Then we hit the halfway mark, where things take a different tonal approach. At this point, the boy and the Snowman decide to take a motorcycle ride through the woods and fields. The feel here is innocent and cute, but less so.

Then the Snowman and the boy start flying (after they have brought the motorcycle back home). At this point, the film feels a bit darker. Part of this darker feel comes from the song that plays here. While this short film is almost completely wordless, this flying segment uses words in a lyrical song called Walking in the Air. This song is playing in a minor key, therefore sounding dark and mysterious. Yet still, the images, while focusing on darker colors, is still playful. The song is beautiful, and this is a truly majestic piece, but the tone here feels a bit off as to what's presented before this.

Also, as a sidenote, the boy that sings this song rolls his r's. I believe this is intentional, but I personally didn't like that. Still, it was more of a subtle irritation than a flaw.

After this flying sequence, the film returns to the more innocent, child-like feel that it started with, which is welcome.

(Spoiler Begins)

Now for this paragraph and the next, I'm going to talk about the ending, so if you want to avoid spoilers, I'd skip these paragraphs. To explain, at the end, we see the boy run outside to play with the Snowman again, as he did the night before, only to see that the Snowman has melted. We see the boy crying, and then the film ends. At first, I was a bit irritated by the abrupt and oddly melancholy ending of this initially warm and pleasing short. Then, as the credits played, I really started thinking. I realized how much I could connect to this child's trauma.

Though I never acted quite so dramatically, I did have a few dreams where I never wanted to wake up from. Not so much because I achieved fame or fortune in my dream, but because I had met a friend, that I somehow felt strongly connected to, like the boy and the Snowman. When I awoke, I felt sad and almost depressed that my friend had left. I had these dreams mostly when I was younger, but I have to admit that I still have these dreams today (though their immensely uncommon). I realized that this short was more beautiful than I initially thought. I had loved it before, I adored it now. It perfectly captured all of those wonderful dreams I had encountered before. This was a true piece of joyous and bittersweet nostalgia.

(Spoiler Ends)

Despite the nostalgia that I experienced at the end, and the overall magical and beautiful picture that The Snowman painted, it's majesty is dampened a bit a short 40 second intro featuring the boy as an older lad (this intro is done in live-action). This intro felt hugely unnecessary, and I really didn't like it. I felt that it made the film feel cheap, and less magical.

The score by Howard Blake is similar to the film itself, in the sense that it's a beautiful interpretation of childhood innocence. There are a few bits in the score that felt a little more empty than others, but overall, it reflects the film's charm and magic.

Few short films have made me feel the way The Snowman has. It's poignant, yet sad. Warm, yet dark. Cute, yet tragic. Childish, but nostalgic. Not all of the narrative detours work, and there are certainly flaws here. But The Snowman is still one of the greatest achievements in short films, and even cinema in general that I've ever seen.

Apollo 13
Apollo 13(1995)

A downfall to creating a film based off of well known true events is that the conclusion is spoiled, therefore, leaving little in the conclusion that is unexpected. Therefore, these kinds of films tend to rely more on the journey to provide the emotional umph, then the actual conclusion. When the film is made to be suspenseful, this doesn't always work so well. Films like Valkyrie shows us how this can fail. Films like Apollo 13 shows us how it can work.

Three astronauts, named Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise, find themselves in a dangerous predicament when after blasting off into space, begin having extreme rocket malfunctions. Problem after problem occurs, and things are seeming really, really bleak. With just about everything going wrong, it's a frantic survival tale, where the three men are desperately fighting for their lives.

Despite being based off of well known true events, Apollo 13 still provides a suspenseful ride. Though the first half-hour or so is a bit slow, the pace quickly picks up quite a bit, and the film rarely feels long after that. This is quite an accomplishment for a film that's nearly 2 and a half hours long.

Despite being a highly suspenseful and exciting film, Apollo 13 is not what one might consider a "joy ride." The emotional aspect of the film keeps us in pain and sadness for the families waiting to hear whether their husbands and fathers will return from space alive. And of course, worrying families aren't comforted by exaggerating media that are squeezing every last drop of suspense out of the already emotionally taxing situation. By playing a more stressful and tragic game with the family's involvement, Apollo 13 becomes a more intelligent and thoughtful film than it might've been otherwise.

The families aren't the only stressful aspect the film plays from. Back at Mission Control, the entire staff is frantically trying to find a way to guide the astronauts back home. Going with little sleep and lots of coffee, each small victory is a reason for celebration, though there are no rests until the men are safely back.

Solid acting further assists this. Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton, as Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise respectively are very good in their roles, as is Ed Harris as the Apollo 13 Flight Director, Gene Kranz. The standout here, however, is Jim's wife, Marilyn, played by Kathleen Quinlan. She portrays a distraught and pained wife in a performance that we truly believe. There's some deceptive depth in this role, and Quinlan nails it.

The visuals are quite nice. While not particularly breathtaking, the effects look good, and they look real. The zero gravity effects specifically are very good. It's certainly a breath of fresh air from the often excessive CGI effects in film today.

The score, by James Horner, is good, but it's an interesting approach to the film. While one might expect a film in space to have a much more grand score, James Horner composes a less loud and brassy score. While there are moments of triumph in the music, they come less often then one might have expected. Also, in moments of high tension (and there are several), Horner takes another interesting approach to the music. Rather than composing pieces at higher tempos, these pieces are usually played at a slower speed, letting the onscreen action carry most of the tension. Whether this is a plus or a minus is up to your own tastes.

Apollo 13 is a well made and well acted film. Told with suspense and precision, this is a fine example of true event films done right. Still, while there's not much here in the way of flaws (though some might argue that it's a bit repetitive), Apollo 13 also just misses being a truly great film. It's certainly an enjoyable one, and making a 2 hour film endurable is an achievement in itself, but I couldn't help but wonder while I was watching Apollo 13, why I wasn't loving it. The funny thing is now that I've seen the film, I still couldn't tell you.

The Forbidden Kingdom

I have seen relatively few karate/kung-fu oriented films, so The Forbidden Kingdom, I knew, was going to be a bit different than what I was used to seeing in films. But if the average kung-fu film is anything like The Forbidden Kingdom, I will certainly be staying far away from the genre for a very long time.

In a cliche-ridden plot, as preposterous as it is formulaic, kung-fu nerd, Jason, finds a mysterious looking staff in a video store, that sends him back in time to ancient China where he meets Lu Yan, an immortal and intensely skilled kung-fu master who, along with a girl named Sparrow and The Silent Monk, go on a long journey to free the Monkey King.

Yup, you read that right; the Monkey King.

There are so many things that I disliked about this film and so many things it did wrong, I could go on for days. I'll have to settle with explaining the key errors in the following paragraphs.

Let's start with the plot which covers the over-used concept of a wanna-be wimp being trained by a master at whatever art the wanna-be has always dreamed of. It's been done many times before. Karate Kid, Star Wars, The Sword in the Stone, etc. Having the most in common with Karate Kid, The Forbidden Kingdom does little, if anything, to distinguish itself from the dozens of films with the same basic concept.

The story has tons and tons of cliches in it. Excluding the one listed previously, we have: 1) Depressing back story by supporting character. 2) Main character is bullied, only to beat the bullies up when he becomes trained. 3) Oh, and of course the inevitable "moment of doubt" scene where the hero begins to doubt his abilities. There are dozens more, though they make more sense in the context of the film.

Among the many trendy and overused gimmicks, the slow-motion shots are the most exhausted in this film. While I stopped counting at 10, I'd wager there are at least 30 slow-mo shots in this film.

Let's move on to the action, which is downright terrible. With most of the conclusions to these combat scenes being relatively inevitable, there's little presented here that builds any suspense. Choreography is pretty terrible, and frankly, none of the fights look real. The punches and kicks don't always connect with the opponent. Yet, they react with pain, and an embarrassingly exaggerated "punch" sound effect accompanies the blow. The action is gimmicky, tedious, and quickly dull.

The worst offender of the action scenes is the first one that appears at the beginning, which involves the Monkey King in combat with a group of nameless warriors. It's poorly made, looks cheap and phony, and is simply not a good omen for the rest of the film.

Though I could go on and on about the action scenes, I'll move on to the characters, almost all of which are old and tired stereotypes. We have the big bad villain in the form of the Jade Warlord. He has no motive, no memorable characteristics, and no personality. Then we have the main character, Jason, who is our typical underdog hero (portraying a character that's eerily similar to the one he played in Sky High). We have Sparrow (who, by the way, is the supporting character with the depressing back story I mentioned earlier), the personality-less romantic interest, though even the romance is toned down so that it's almost insignificant, making her seem completely unnecessary to the film. We also have The Silent Monk, who has no personality, like Sparrow, and his single unique feature is that he's played by Jet Li. And whoever came up with the frequently giggling and very weird Monkey King should be given a good slap in the head.

All of these characters are acted blandly (though some of that may have to do with their equally bland characters). The only bright spot in this area (and the only bright spot in the film) is Jackie Chan's performance of Lu Yan. In a role that could only be described as an Asian version of Jack Sparrow, Chan plays an often drunk karate master that provides a few smiles, and the only noteworthy performance and character in the film.

The score, composed by David Buckley is fairly poor. Relying on kung fu cliches and occasionally electric guitars, Buckley's score is forgettable and dull.

Crammed with cliches, poorly made action scenes, undeveloped characters, and kung fu camp, The Forbidden Kingdom looks like a cheap, made-for-TV disaster. While it's worth seeing for unintentional laughs (and you will get quite a few), there's little of redeeming value here. At The Forbidden Kingdom's high point, Lu Yan is making wisecracks about Jason's lack of kung-fu skill. At it's lowest point, Jet Li is urinating on Jackie Chan's head.

Just kidding! That was probably the high point.

Professor Layton And The Eternal Diva (Reiton kyôju to eien no utahime)

Note: The English dub is the version viewed.

Movies adapted from video games have earned a bad name for themselves. Usually terrible films that even fans of the source material tend to rebuke, video game movies are generally something to be avoided. Still, there are exceptions, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, being one of them. While Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva isn't perfect as well as being heavily flawed, it's still an entertaining and satisfying film that goes above what is often expected of video game films.

In a condensed form, the plot follows brilliant detective Professor Layton and his young apprentice, Luke Triton as they find themselves, as well as a large crowd of people, trapped in an opera house and slowly being picked off one by one in something of a tragic game. By solving puzzles, Layton and Luke, as well as their friend Janice Quatlane, must survive these puzzles in hopes of apprehending the culprit responsible.

Japanese anime (or really any form of anime) has never been my particular cup of tea. And if you truly detest the genre, I recommend staying far away from this, as it's unlikely to change your mind. In fact, it may cement that opinion. However, keeping an open mind through the quirks and oddities one finds in anime, I found myself actually enjoying myself somewhat.

The film opens with a one minute intro that more or less explains that this films is based off of a popular video game series, among a few other things. This feels very much like a commercial, and it's hugely unnecessary. Thankfully, it's short.

The plot is surprisingly engaging. While it starts a little slow, it isn't too long before the ball gets rolling and in true 'And Then There Were None' style, groups of people and disposed of repeatedly. The film becomes more frenzied and more intriguing. At times, the film is surprisingly creepy.

At times, the film feels very much like a video game. And there are things the film does that would only work in a video game, and simply doesn't work in this film. Some things that don't work is the utter improbability of much of what's going on. For example, Layton at one point, builds a helicopter out of materials he finds in a shed and uses it to fly to a nearby island. This would be acceptable in a video game, but in a film, viewers are much more unlikely to suspend their belief in reality.

Some elements of the mystery seem hugely obvious, and some characters are far too oblivious of them for far too long. Also, those who have not played some of the Professor Layton games will not know several characters whom are in the film, but without proper introduction.

And despite being a mystery, there are many things left open ended and unexplained. While this may not bother some, others may feel disappointed.

Attempts at humor are made, but it's all painfully unfunny. Never did I laugh, but humor is not the primary focus, so this can be excused.

What cannot be excused (and this is the primary reason that I'm not giving this a higher score) is a tedious, dull, and improbable action sequence near the end. It lasts 20 minutes, and frankly, it was 20 minutes too long. This represented the lowest point of the film.

I may be saying a lot of negative things about this film, but I did enjoy it. The plot is intriguing, characters are interesting, but what got me the most, is the ending. An absolutely beautiful and poignant finish. I won't spoil the details here, but you'd be surprised at the emotional depth displayed here.

Voice acting is will make those unexposed to anime cringe. The fact is, it's all hugely exaggerated and often laughable. The more bearable of the voice talents are Christopher Robin Miller as Professor Layton, Emma Tate as Janice Quatlane, and Robbie Stevens as Oswald Whistler.

While the animation isn't stunning, it's serviceable. Mixing hand-drawn animation and CGI, the animation is pleasant, if far from eye-popping.

Perhaps the best aspect of the film (other than the beautiful ending) is the score, composed by Tomohito Nishiura and Tsuneyoshi Saito. Utterly charming and wonderfully inventive, the music is fun, unique, and quite breathtaking at times. While parts of the 20 minute action sequence at the end go overboard with the synthesizers (as this represents not only the low point in the film, but the low point in music), the score is surprisingly effective, and even stunning.

There's a masterpiece somewhere in Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva. Somewhere, there's a beautiful and perfect film trapped in it's heart. Unfortunately, only some the majesty this film tries to produce is executed, leaving a flawed and utterly improbable film in it's place. But for all I dislike about this film, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva still provides a mostly entertaining story, with an ending that's better than it has any right to be.

Source Code
Source Code(2011)

Source Code shouldn't be as bad as it is. It has a relatively interesting and unique (if slightly gimmicky premise), and has some great ideas up it's sleeve. The problem here, is that Source Code also has it's share of terrible ideas and obvious flaws that send this initially entertaining action flick into a downward spiral that progressively gets worse until the film closes.

The premise behind Source Code is that a man named Colter Stevens wakes up in the body of an unknown man, on a train. Completely confused, Colter panics until the train ultimately explodes. He awakens again in a capsule, where he is informed through a monitor that he has the ability to inhabit other people's body through a process called Source Code. Through Source Code, Colter lives the person's last 8 minutes in order to discover information.

The plot is a bit more involved and complicated then that, but everything is so convoluted and tedious, it seems pointless to explain the rest of it.

The idea here is quite unique. I like the premise. The problem here is execution. There are so many ideas that aren't utilized or aren't fully utilized that could've made this a much more intelligent, suspenseful, and engaging experience.

Instead, the plot intricacies trips Source Code, and the film not only becomes flawed, but broken. There are obvious things overlooked by the characters, some contradictions, even a few plot holes. And if you aren't rolling your eyes or feeling somewhat frustrated by the cheap, cheesy, sequel-begging ending, then you've fallen for the gimmick.

Plot details are simply way too similar to other movies. Character revisits the same 8 minutes repeatedly. Sounds like Groundhog Day. Character wakes up in a body where he doesn't know who he is. Sounds like The Bourne Identity. And if the word Inception isn't screaming in your face when Colter, while in someone else's mind, gets hit by a train when lying on the train tracks, then you've clearly never seen Inception.

The fact is, Source Code is not only a bad film. It's a rip off of other, often better films. It's insulting, and it doesn't make for a good film.

The act of returning to the same 8 minutes quickly becomes repetitive. And while there's a "carrot" at the beginning of the film (knowledge of what's going on) to keep you interested for the first couple of "re-visits," the experience quickly grows tiring and dull.

The acting isn't particularly good. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a passable performance as the distraught main character, Colter Stevens. Vera Farmiga does much the same as the seemingly robotic (in character, not in acting) Goodwin. Michelle Monaghan poorly acts the obligatory love interest, Christina, and Jeffery Wright as Dr. Rutledge uses a ridiculously hammy and over-the-top voice just begging for mockery.

The score by Chris Bacon isn't bad, but it's too generic to be anything but mediocre. The main titles show promise, but the rest of it is generic and goes overboard on electronics.

While Source Code starts off with potential, it quickly becomes a mess. Convoluted plot, hammy acting, rip offs from other films and an insultingly terrible ending left me not only disappointed, but disgusted. Source Code has it's share of thrills early on, but after half an hour, the whole film drags, leaving a potentially fresh and enjoyable film in a cacophony of improbability and blunt stupidity.

The Lion King

If one were to name Disney's best known films, The Lion King would certainly be mentioned. Often considered Disney's best film, The Lion King is one of Disney's biggest successes. Personally, I would find Beauty and the Beast or The Princess and the Frog to be more suited towards the coveted title, but that doesn't change the fact that The Lion King is still an entertaining and well made production worthy of the Disney label.

The Lion King is about a young lion named Simba whose the rightful heir to the throne. In a tragic turn of events, Simba's father, Mufasa, is murdered by Simba's treacherous uncle, Scar. Scar tricks Simba into thinking that himself is to blame, so Simba runs away, leaving the throne to Scar. Simba finds new friends in the form of a warthog named Pumba, and a meerkat named Timon and they live a care-free life together, away from the kingdom.

The Lion King is largely a disappointment, not because it's a poor film, but because of it's legacy. While The Lion King stands tall among Disney's most famous and successful offerings, I found it to be a bit weaker than some of Disney's better works. Once again, I emphasize the fact that The Lion King is still an excellent film, it's just not quite worthy of being known as Disney's best.

The story is a bit on the slight side compared to other Disney films. There is little emotional depth. That's not to say there isn't emotion here, but the poignancy evident in Disney's best films isn't quite all there. It feels sweet, and tragic when it needs to be, but I never felt terribly moved or affected.

The characters come off as a bit weaker as well, though they are still loveable and memorable. The main character, Simba fails to have any sort of unique personality, which is common for main characters in Disney films. His lady friend, Nala, has the cliched "spunky and strong" personality so commonly adopted by woman in Disney films. The villain, Scar, is amusing with some clever lines (and an all but forgotten musical number near the beginning-ish), but he's simply too similar to the likes of Jafar or Shere Khan.

As is typical of most of Disney's work, the most memorable and entertaining characters are the side characters. Timon and Pumba are boisterous and outrageous. They're funny in a way that will entertain kids and adults. Zazu, a dodo bird and Mufasa's "majordodo" as he calls himself, is quite funny. And Rafiki, an unexpectedly humorous mandill, has a small and memorable part as well.

The characters are brought effectively to life by a talented voice cast, including Matthew Broderick who's unrecognizable as Simba, James Earl Jones as Mufasa, and Jeremy Irons as Scar. Supporting cast members, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Moira Kelly, Whoopi Goldberg, Rowan Atikson, and others perform memorably as well.

The songs are a large part of why The Lion King is so well remembered and while I wouldn't rank them among Disney's best, I would consider them some of Disney's better work. The opening song "Circle of Life," is pleasant and enjoyable, but forgettable, and includes dated sounding synthesizers that just don't belong. "I Just Can't Wait To Be King," represents more of what makes Disney songs so loveable. The song is upbeat and toe-tapping with clever lyrics and fantastic visuals. Still, while the namesake part of the song is catchy, little else sticks in the memory.

"Be Prepared," the often forgotten villain's song is delightfully creepy, and ranks among the better Disney villain songs. "Hakuna Matata" (one of the two most likely songs to get stuck in you head by the end of the film) is upbeat and catchy. The chorus is a cheery delight, though the verses are less clever. "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" is the best of The Lion King's wonderful songs. The lyrics are beautiful and catchy, and the peaceful and beautiful visuals keep things dazzling. Along with Hakuna Matata, you could have this song stuck in your head for weeks.

The animation is stunning, as is expected of Disney. The African plains and landscape is just beautiful. Birds flying, animals running, all depicted with typical Disney flair. The visuals do not disappoint.

The score, by Hans Zimmer, is pleasant, but like many of the Disney scores, not particularly interesting. The score makes good use of the atmosphere and location, but one wonders if it would hold up well taken away from the film. My guess is is "no."

While not as funny, nor as poignant as Disney's best work, The Lion King is still a delightful film from the house of mouse. With catchy songs, memorable supporting characters, and dazzling animation, The Lion King is wonderfully old-fashioned and charming cinematic entertainment.


It is important, if one enjoys the art of film, to occasionally see an awful movie. This gives balance to your opinion, gives you an idea of what truly bad cinema looks like, and provides some wonderful unintentional laughs. I say this because it's one of the few good things about Stardust. It will give one a much better appreciation for better films, and even mediocre films.

Stardust is about a shooting star that has landed on (presumably) earth. It turns out, the star is actually a person named Yvaine. The main character, Tristan, finds Yvaine, and wants to bring Yvaine home to his girlfriend to win her hand in marriage. He does not know, however, that there are other forces that want the star very badly, and will kill to get it.

There's more to the story than that, but the whole thing is so hopelessly tedious, and so unnecessarily complex, it's not worth it to explain the whole thing.

How so many critics have been won over by this is beyond me. Stardust (in addition to having very little to do with it's name) is endlessly trippy (in the worst way), often dull, and uneven in tone. Stardust tries to follow multiple stories at once, and the sequence of events and the poor editing makes it all feel lazy and slapped together, not to mention extremely in-cohesive.

Stardust is made even worse by a series of contradictions, plot holes, and obvious mistakes that should have been caught. Character development is also extremely rushed. Some characters literally reform in a single scene without showing any signs of remorse previously.

Stardust attempts to be many different genres. Action, comedy, parody, etc. This is typically a recipe for disaster, and Stardust is no exception. Moments of light-hearted and childish humor feels off when the film is so frequently dark and perilous. At times, Stardust feels more like a children's film with it's intellectually insulting humor.

The action scenes are barely what one could consider "action." It mostly revolves around people running away. The few times there's actually "true" action are surprisingly dull. The lengthy climatic battle may go down as one of the most tedious and campy of all time.

Special effects are mostly fine, and they admittedly look pretty good most of the time. Still, the first 10 minutes boasts some extremely dubious looking effects (two pint sized elephants being kept in a cage make up the most offensive of the special effects).

Acting is one of the most painless elements of Stardust. Charlie Cox is believable as Tristan, though a mostly brainless and indecisive idiot can't be too difficult to portray. Claire Danes is fine as the first obnoxious then overly sweet Yvaine. Michelle Pfeiffer makes for a creepy villain.

The score by Ilan Eshkeri is mostly uneven. At it's best, it's rousing, grand, and spirited. At it's worst, it's corny, childish, and shamelessly over the top. The love theme is also an obvious rip off of Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings cue, "Concerning Hobbits."

I am shocked and even a bit disgusted that Stardust has been so positively received from critics. It's ridiculously campy and trippy, hugely unfunny, and often immensely dull. Stardust is ultimately too childish to entertain adults and teens, and way too violent and off color for kids. One of the only reasons to see Stardust would be to get a few unintentional laughs.

Napoleon Dynamite

Usually, after seeing a film for the first time, I have a 1-10 score in my mind that I plan to assign the film when I later write my review. If not, I'm usually fighting between two numbers. But Napoleon Dynamite has simply confounded me. It has taken me some time to decide whether I absolutely adore this film, or absolutely despise it.

Napoleon Dynamite doesn't have a true plot (the only suggestion of a plot doesn't even occur until halfway into the film), but it does have a sort of premise. We follow the adventures of Napoleon Dynamite, a junior in Highschool, whom is nerdy, not particularly bright, and completely unpopular (he has but one friend; Pedro). Napoleon also has a brother named Kip, who's a nerd like him, who spends most of his time hanging out in "chatrooms" online.

While there's no true plot to Napoleon Dynamite, there are at least half a dozen sub-plots. These sub-plots give Napoleon Dynamite something of an episodic feel. It certainly didn't surprise me to learn that a TV series had spawned from this film, as Napoleon Dynamite has that kind of sitcom quality. Usually, when a film is compared to a sitcom, it is considered an insult, but in this case, it is to be thought of as a compliment.

The kind of humor in this film is extremely subjective, and the audience likely to enjoy it is very limited. Teenage boys will get the most out of this, while teenage girls will either be amused or disgusted. Parents will likely be irritated, younger ones will get bored, and grandparents won't understand a thing. The style of the film is very much the same. You may find yourself laughing like a loon, or you may leave the room in distaste. If you're looking for any sign of meaning, symbolism, or even intelligence, you're likely to be disappointed. The key to enjoying Napoleon Dynamite is to embrace the film on it's own terms.

That being said, there's much to enjoy about Napoleon Dynamite. Some of it is the characters (it's likely that we all know someone that's at least a little like Napoleon Dynamite), and some of it is the dialogue. If you're the film's target audience (which as I stated earlier, is likely teenage boys), it may be years before you stop quoting this film. There's just so much memorable dialogue.

Napoleon Dynamite has a lot of seemingly random cuts and scenes (most of which rarely last more than 10-30 seconds). Not all of them fit perfectly into the film, but Napoleon Dynamite still manages to be feel mostly cohesive.

The acting in Napoleon Dynamite is good on it's own terms, but the characters in this film are so hugely one-dimensional that there likely wasn't much of an acting challenge. I'm sure the biggest problem here was keeping a straight face through all of it. Jon Heder as the lead is convincing as nerdy Napoleon Dynamite. Other actors are in the same vein; convincing, but not exactly brilliant.

What little music there is, is scored by John Swihart. The score is mostly dated sounding organ pieces. It's somewhat amusing at first, but eventually feels more like a novelty as the films wears on.

As amusing as Napoleon Dynamite is, I didn't truly laugh almost at all. Don't get me wrong, I smiled and chuckled through almost the whole film. But there weren't a whole lot of "big" jokes. Just a whole lot of snicker-worthy ones. Regardless, I was never bored, though the whole thing is a bit exhausting. And the constant stupidity and parody nature of the films is a bit tiring eventually. Despite all of Napoleon Dynamite's major flaws, though, I couldn't help but enjoy it. Ultimately, Napoleon Dynamite is a guilty pleasure. If nothing else, it seems like this was a lot of fun to make, and the fun certainly translates onscreen well enough.

If I had to describe Napoleon Dynamite, I'd describe it as a very lengthy YouTube video. If this description doesn't appeal to you, than this film probably won't either.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Note: I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in the standard 2-D 24fps format, rather than the 3-D or 48fps format.

You've likely heard of the surprising critical reaction to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings prequel, The Hobbit. While the reviews have not been negative, they've been very mixed, and they're certainly not garnering the critical success of the first three films. If the mixed reaction from critics is keeping you from seeing The Hobbit, ignore what they say. The Hobbit tops all three of it's predecessors, and provides an engaging and entertaining experience for Tolkien fans and newcomers.

For those unfamiliar with the plot; here goes. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an adaption of the first 100 pages of J.R.R. Tolkien's book (The Hobbit). Bilbo Baggins, a peaceful and quiet Hobbit has his life changed forever when his house is unexpectedly visited by thirteen dwarves (named Thorin, Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur) and Gandalf the wizard. Baggins is then taken on a journey to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from a dragon named Smaug.

Unlike most, I have not been particularly impressed by the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. I found it to be too slow, too often, and while I still found it recommendable as a whole, it was certainly a bit disappointing after all the hype. Perhaps that's why The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey appealed to me so much: Because my expectations were so low, making my positive opinion of the film a bit *cough* unexpected.

The Hobbit, even with the mixed critical reaction, will not be a hard sell to Tolkien fans. So it matters little whether I hated this film or absolutely adored it; if you enjoyed the previous three films, you'll likely see this one. It will be the Tolkien novices that need convincing.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle here, is the intimidating, neck-aching, bladder-testing 3 hour run time (not to mention commercials and advertisements which run for at least 20-30 minutes). This was also my biggest concern coming in. The original trilogy had more than it's share of slow moments. And one of the critic's biggest complaints about The Hobbit (outside of, perhaps, the 48fps format) is the slowness of the film.

This is surprising to me, as I found The Hobbit to be a very lively experience. The Hobbit does, however, have a few slow bits here and there, but I found The Hobbit to be infinitely faster paced than it's predecessors. The Hobbit does have a lot of padding to it, though. Of course, one would expect this from a film of 3 hours in length adapting only 100 pages of material. But the padding, surprisingly, never really feels like padding. It feels quite natural and fits with the story. The 3 hour run time is still a bit testing (I admit to looking at my watch on several occasions), but this does not make The Hobbit any less engaging.

The tone of The Hobbit, is lighter than of that of the previous films. It's still a relatively dark film, but compared to the previous Lord of the Rings trilogy, it's a bit more light-hearted. As a result, it's also more humorous (don't go expecting belly-laughs though).

And, as one would expect, The Hobbit is visually incredible. Creatures and environment are beautiful, and the cinematography is impeccable, all of which easily tops anything seen previously in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Some fantasy fans that don't have the money to spend right now (or those that are worried by the mixed reviews) will certainly want to wait until The Hobbit comes out on DVD, but I would not recommend this. The visuals are simply outstanding, and you would be doing yourself a favor to see it all on the big screen.

Still, The Hobbit still is missing some key elements from the original trilogy. The characters, for instance, are not nearly as memorable or as loveable as those of the original. Frodo (who actually does appear briefly at the beginning), Sam, Merry, Pippin, Legolas, and the rest are sorely missed. And while some of the characters still remain (such as Gandalf and Gollum among a few others), a majority of the original ensemble is gone. This is a return to middle-earth but not to the original characters.

Still, the new faces hold up relatively well, and while not all thirteen dwarves are quite distinctive, they hold their own much better than one may have anticipated. Of course, a lot of the character's charm comes from the actors behind all the makeup and CGI.

Ian McKellen is as strong as ever as Gandalf, and Martin Freeman does a standout performance as Bilbo Baggins (honestly, he deserves some award recognition, but he's unlikely to get any). Sylvester McCoy has a memorable part as Radagast the Brown, and Richard Armitage as Thorin (the most distinctive of the dwarves) also performs well. And of course, Andy Serkis steals the show as Gollum. Gollum was arguably the best part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and that remains true here. It's a shame we don't see him until 2 hours in, though.

The score by Howard Shore is excellent. Familiar and beloved themes return, most notably Concerning Hobbits, and the theme for the ring. The score is perfectly cohesive with the film, and should delight those that enjoyed Shore's work on the other three Lord of the Ring films. If there is a complaint regarding the score, it's the familiarity that so much of Shore's work possesses. At times, it sounds extremely similar to Shore's score for Hugo. At other times, it sounds oddly like John William's score for The Adventures of Tintin.

While the extensive length and weaker characters may be an issue, The Hobbit is still a rousing, entertaining, and visually wonderful film. Fans of the book and Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy will find a lot to love. Still, it will be interesting to see if Peter Jackson will be able to squeeze 6 more hours out of only 150 more pages of the book. Seeing the job he did here with The Hobbit, I'm not too concerned.


Firewall has everything going against it. Bland acting, tired and improbable plot, and a horrendously negative critical reaction. Heck, the film doesn't even have anything to do with a firewall. But somehow, the film works. Firewall is not groundbreaking, or even recommendable, but it's certainly watchable, which is more than I initially expected.

Firewall explores a common nightmare of many adults- Identity thief. While this doesn't mean much to the technology-embracing generation of today, Firewall is certainly stressing enough at times to scare teens into being a bit more cautious with personal information.

Technology Executive Jack Stanfield has his life thrown into utter turmoil when he's hacked by villainous, web-savvy hackers. While ringleader Bill Cox threatens to kill Jack's family, Jack has no choice but to follow Cox's commands.

While seeing a man's life slowly fall apart may not seem particularly entertaining, Firewall is mostly watchable, if immensely flawed.

If you like your films to be logical, you should stay far away from Firewall. Improbable to the point of laughter, there's too much that characters get away with. Small leaps of faith are to be expected in most thrillers, but there is a limit, and Firewall exceeds it.

Some moments are quite exciting, and may be on the edge of your seat at times. Still, Firewall is hugely predictable, which eliminates much of the thrill Firewall strives to deliver.

Much of the predictability comes from the unoriginality of the production. And if not that, it's the undeveloped characters. Jack Stanfield gets the typical "Wants to save his family" tag that most father characters get. Bill Cox has the "Nasty Villain" tag and he has absolutely no personality. There's even a henchperson that eventually turns good. How cliched is that?

And because the characters are so bland, the actors can onlt do so much. Harrison Ford as Jack Stanfield lacks the franticness or emotion that he displayed so well in The Fugitive, which Firewall borrows heavily from. Paul Bettany as Bill Cox gets all the nastiness out of the things he does as opposed him seeming like a relatively nasty person. Other actors fare more or less the same- Mediocre.

The score by Alexandre Desplat is generic, but it works very well for the film. It's not a score I would want on my iPod, and while some parts of the score are screaming for more development, it serves the film well. In some ways, the score does an excellent job of reflecting the film; It's serviceable, but it's lack of uniqueness and it's generic qualities make it forgettable.

I know I'm pointing out a lot of flaws in Firewall. But you must understand that I don't hate Firewall. Actually, I almost like it. Still, it comes off as too much of a wannabe version of The Fugitive. As far as generic action thrillers go, you could do a lot worse than Firewall. But you could also do a lot better. Firewall is dumb fun, and nothing more than that.


Driftwood is one of those films that I just wanted to hate from the start. I knew this would be another "classic uplifting film," and I was sure it was going to be disgracefully cheesy. Well, I was right; it's hammy to the core, and does little to change the basic "heartwarming" formula. But no matter how hard I tried, I was eventually pulled in by Driftwood's sweetness and pure innocence.

Recently orphaned nine year old, Jenny Hollingsworth (and her dog, Hollingsworth whom she named after herself) makes her way to a small town in Nevada that has been plagued by the Rocky Mountain Fever. A doctor named Steve Webster temporarily adopts Jenny until someone else can be found to keep her. Steve hopes to leave Jenny with his girlfriend, Susan Moore, but things get off to a bad start when Jenny says more things than she should. So while Jenny stays with Steve, everyone gets to know about Jenny and her curious antics.

If you expect Driftwood to be anything other than a corny, formulaic and helplessly sappy Hollywood picture, you would be absolutely foolish. The reason Driftwood works is because it mixes it's formula so well.

The likeable characters are a large part of why Driftwood is so enjoyable. Jenny, being a strange cross between Orphan Annie and Linus Van Pelt, is immediately endearing and is easy to like. Steve is caring and loving, and plays something of an underdog as he tries to convince the town of the need to vaccinate everybody from the understated Rocky Mountain Fever. Susan is a bit more bland as a character, having little personality. Still, she goes beyond acting merely as the love interest.

Still, the two standout characters (and actors) are Susan's aunt, Mathilda, and Murph, who helps take care of Jenny. Mathilda is cranky and hard to please, and Jenny's big mouth tends to get those around her in some sticky situations with Mathilda. Murph first seems like a grumpy old man, but we see his sweet side now and then under his crusty exterior.

All the characters are made even more likeable by excellent acting from Walter Brennan, Dean Jagger, Natalie Wood, Charlotte Greenwood and Ruth Warrick.

Dritfwood is just very steady and enjoyable cinema. The whole production is charming and pleasant, and hard to dislike. Still, anyone expecting anything other than the basic Hollywood "feel-good" formula will be sorely disappointed. Even when things get surprising grim and bleak looking, everything turns out hunky-dory in the end (and it's nicely wrapped up: no room for a sequel here, unlike modern film). Still, coming in with the right expectations, you should find Driftwood to be a sweet, brief and mild experience. It's no masterpiece, but boy is it adorable.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

It is unsurprising that critics have taken The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring to liking. It's rich story, fantastic set pieces and marvelous special effects make all this clear. And fans of the books are certainly pleased, I would imagine. But frankly, I'm still not quite sure how anyone else managed to enjoy this film. It's excessive length and constant chatter can make The Fellowship a somewhat tedious affair at times.

As complicated as the film may be, The Fellowship is really about a hobbit (think a small person with very large feet) named Frodo Baggins, who receives a ring from one his relatives, that must be destroyed. Easier said than done, though. Many dark powers have sought to take the ring for their own, and will go to great lengths to secure the ring.

Of course, the film is much more complex than that. With many unique (if a wee bit bland) characters, as well as other things that truly enrich the story. Still, what I have explained above is the basic plot.

The run time is monstrous at nearly 3 hours in length. And because much of the film involves a lot of talking, this feels even longer. Yes, there are some action scenes that, while not being truly innovative or unique, at least bring some true excitement, which The Fellowship desperately needed more of.

Outside of action scenes, the slow, laboring pace is only assisted otherwise by two hobbits that join the journey, named Pippin and Merry, who provide comic relief.

Special effects are gorgeous, as are the costumes and set pieces. You really do feel transported to another world. With imagery both beautiful, and sometimes disturbing, The Fellowship brings some fantastic visuals to the screen.

The score, by Howard Shore, is appropriately mysterious, and lighthearted when it needs to be. The main theme may not be initially memorable, but it is quite beautiful, and those who really pay attention to the score will be rewarded.

The acting was extremely strong. Truly some of the best I've seen. Elijah Wood plays the confused and determined Frodo, while Sean Astin plays Frodo's faithful companion, Sam. Ian McKellen plays a majestic and somewhat mysterious role as Gandalf, a wizard and friend of Frodo. And Christopher Lee lends a wonderfully sinister Saruman.

The Fellowship Of The Ring can be tedious at times, and the bloated run time can really take it's toll, but this first chapter in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy manages to have enough high points to make for a (perhaps, slightly hesitant) recommendation.

I Am Legend
I Am Legend(2007)

I am frequently disappointed by action films. They tend to be little more than excuses for elaborate fight and chase scenes with lots by the way of explosions and A-List actors and little by the way of plot or brains. I applaud I Am Legend for not being that kind of action film. Actually, it's quite the opposite. Fights and combat scenes are surprisingly scarce, but does that make I Am Legend dull? Far from it. I Am Legend's creepy and sometimes frightening atmosphere alone will keep you on your toes for a majority of the film's run time.

Robert Neville is the last person left on earth. Everyone else has been completely wiped out by an awful virus. Oh, there are people that weren't killed by the virus, such as Neville, but they've all turned into zombies, and their only remaining goal is to finish all human beings left on the earth. And the zombies are almost finished too. With only his dog, Sam for company, Neville has to take on the entire population of zombies, while also trying to find a cure to reverse the virus.

One of I Am Legend's biggest downsides is that almost nothing happens in the first 70 minutes that progresses the story. We are given plot details through flashbacks, and we see Neville hunt deer. There are a couple of interesting scenes, but almost nothing happens that helps the story advance forward in any way. Despite this, I Am Legend is still very entertaining. Part of this comes from Will Smith's effective performance. A lot of this, however, comes from the atmosphere which is creepy and frightening throughout. There's no one left on the entire planet, so the quietness is a little unnerving, and because we know that there are zombies lurking, I Am Legend keeps you tense and on the edge of your seat for a vast duration of the film. It's certainly difficult to make 70 minutes of nothing feel fast-paced and suspenseful, but I Am Legend does it.

Despite a mostly uneventful first 70 minutes, there is one particularly thrilling scene in which Neville's dog runs into a building that serves as the zombie's primary hiding, and Neville goes after him. The building is dark, and because the zombies have not been seen yet at this point in the film, it is extremely creepy and exciting.

After the first 70 minutes, I Am Legend finally gets some plot development going. One or two somewhat major occurrences happen here, but I won't spoil anything here.

Where this film truly gets it's recommendation is in the last 20 minutes. At this point, I Am Legend is firing at all cylinders, giving everything it's got. With a majorly thrilling ending involving the entire population of zombies, I Am Legend makes up for it's uneventful beginning.

The special effects throughout are serviceable, but hardly jaw-dropping. It's usually obvious when we're looking at a CG creation, or the real deal.

Will Smith (as Robert Neville) is one of the reasons why I Am Legend works. As one of the only characters in the film that isn't a zombie, Will Smith has to carry the film on his shoulders, and he does so admirably. We can tell he's going a little nuts, as he frequently talks to his dog and the various store mannequins, and Will Smith's performance makes us believe that. This is a role that could have easily been quite laughable, instead, it's one of the primary strengths of the film.

The score is composed by James Newton Howard. At least, that score there is. A majority of the film has no music, and when there is music, it's usually quiet and forgettable. Howard fails to do anything interesting with I Am Legend. To be honest though, I Am Legend could've still used more music, even the sub-par kind, because some of the "boo!" moments lacked the umph it needed, and some unexpected trumpet blares could've fixed that.

I Am Legend doesn't answer all the big questions. There's so much left unexplained, that it's sure to irritate some. Still, I Am Legend provides a thoroughly creepy experience that's worth the price of admission for the atmosphere alone. Will Smith's performance, and some truly exciting zombie take-down scenes are just the icing on the cake.

Wreck-it Ralph

While there are many that would argue differently, 2012 has been a relatively good year for animation. With Brave, Pirates! Band of Misfits and Frankenweenie (among others), there's been plenty of appealing films for all ages. And while Wreck-It Ralph looked somewhat less promising than the others in my eyes, it ended up being an absolute joy and one of the best of 2012.

Set in the video game world, Wreck-It Ralph is a typical arcade villain who's tired of being bad. In an attempt to start a new life, Ralph "game jumps" to a game called Hero's Duty, and through a chaotic series of events, ends up in a kart racing game called Sugar Rush. In this Candy Land of video games, Ralph meets a little girl named Vanellope whom is determined to be accepted among the residents of Sugar Rush by winning a kart race against them.

Wreck-It Ralph is a video game movie, and while video game oriented films have a reputation for being relatively awful, Wreck-It Ralph exceeds any pre-expectations that one may have as a result. Perhaps part of Wreck-It Ralph's success comes from the fact that it adapts the video game world, as opposed to adapting an individual video game.

Gamers will get the most out of Wreck-It Ralph. A minute rarely goes by without some reference to some video game, video game character or video game cliche. It effectively satires everything that's good and bad about video games in a way that won't insult gamers, but rather leaving them chuckling as they nod in acknowledgement.

Bowser, Sonic the Hedgehog, Q*Bert, Pac Man, Dig Dug and dozens of other make cameo appearances (some even have speaking roles). Mario didn't make it, though he is briefly mentioned once.

But fear not, Wreck-It Ralph won't only appeal to gamers. Even those who aren't familiar with the wonderful world of video games will find much humor. Wreck-It Ralph has plenty of humor in the less video game oriented field, though many of the best bits come from the various video game references and satire humor.

As is typical for a Disney film, Wreck-It Ralph is filled with memorable characters. The title character, Ralph, while still a bit on the generic side, is an easy to like protagonist. Vanellope is a sarcastic little girl, who is actually much less annoying than one might initially expect (she actually sort of grows on you). Other characters are more entertaining. Fix-It Felix Jr. is the goodie-two-shoes of this movie, while Sergeant Jean Calhoun is a no-nonsense space commander. The most memorable character, however, is King Candy, who's the ridiculously over the top and punn-y leader of Sugar Rush (though he may feel a bit too familiar to the Mad Hatter for some).

Perhaps what's most surprising about Wreck-It Ralph is how moving it is. It's initial attempts at poignancy may seem a bit clumsy and predictable at first, but it quickly develops into something much more satisfying, if far from the elegance of Pixar.

The animation is incredible. From the purposely stiff animation in Wreck-It Ralph's game, to the hyper realistic looking Hero's Duty, to the colorful Sugar Rush, Wreck-It Ralph is the most visually superb computer animated film of the year. A vast array of blink-and-then-you'll-miss-it sight gags that is practically begging for repeat viewings.

Cast members include John C. Reily, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, and Jane Lynch among others. Each voice actor blends beautifully with their character, though outside of Alan Tudyk (the voice of King Candy), there aren't any standouts.

The score by Henry Jackman captures the video game world perfectly. Mixing electronic instruments and orchestra intelligently, Jackman provides an energetic score for Wreck-It Ralph. The heavy use of electric guitar in the Hero's Duty world is purposely overdone to humorous effect, and the theme for the Sugar Rush races is joyfully nostalgic and sounds just like a tune you might listen to in a Mario Kart game. Still, during some of the more serious (and thankfully rare) moments, the score becomes rather generic, and less memorable than the other tracks.

In a film that does so much right, it feels almost overly hypocritical to point out some of things that Wreck-It Ralph does wrong, but they should be mentioned.

Wreck-It Ralph often suffers from being too familiar. Taking bits and pieces from Alice in Wonderland, Monsters Inc., Toy Story, Despicable Me, and various others, Wreck-It Ralph occasionally feels a bit recycled. Still, there's so much of Wreck-It Ralph that's clever and original, this can be overlooked.

What CAN'T be overlooked, however, is the potty humor. Wreck-It Ralph is not stuffed with crude humor, but the almost constant smile on my face changed into a frown during these instances. The potty humor is not necessary, and only makes the film feel more childish than it should. It surely won't score points with parents who will find this to be the only questionable content in an otherwise family-friendly film.

While familiar elements, occasional potty humor and sometimes overly sappy emotion fills the screen, Wreck-It Ralph is an absolutely outrageous film. Consistently clever, visually enchanting, and extremely memorable while even delivering a twist or two, Wreck-It Ralph is a must-see for gamers and adults that grew up with these games. Wreck-It Ralph is unlikely to be considered one of Disney's best films, but it's certainly one of their funniest.

Note: Wreck-It Ralph is preceded by a short called Paperman that is cute and charming, if not quite groundbreaking.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The Lord of the Rings is a somewhat dull trilogy. The Fellowship of the Ring had enough exciting moments to warrant a recommendation, but The Two Towers was inexcusably boring. The final chapter in the trilogy, while still being tedious in parts, is by far the most entertaining.

The plot has not changed in this third installment. Frodo and Sam are trying to get to the land of Mordor to destroy the ring with the (supposed) help of Gollum.

The film's opening is the strongest opening of the entire series. We see Gollum as a hobbit (his name was Smeagol) fishing, when his friend finds a ring in the river. The two fight, and it ultimately ends in Smeagol strangling his "friend." We see years pass as Smeagol slowly transforms into the Gollum. The transformation is grotesque, and to some, maybe even nauseating, but it's wonderfully creepy and truly enjoyable.

Gollum continues to be the most interesting character. With the dark side of him winning over the good side, Gollum begins to get Frodo to think Sam is his enemy. The psychological parts of the first have nothing on these.

The Return of the King is by far the most dark of the three films. Unfortunately, the ending feels way too happy. After the darkness of the film, I was expecting an appropriately tragic ending. Alas, it feels happy in a forced sort of way. And the ending is certainly not assisted by an unnecessary 30 minute epilogue.

The Return of the King is not devoid of dull moments, but it's comparatively faster paced than the other two. There is more action than the other two, though much of it isn't very exciting. The best action segment (and quite possibly my favorite segment of the series) involves Frodo being deceived by Gollum and lured into the layer of a humongous spider. I do have a very slight fear of spiders, so this was especially scary for me, but in a good way. This makes up the most thrilling part of the film, with the possible exception being a fight between Frodo and Gollum near the end for the ring.

There really isn't anything to be said regarding the acting, score or special effects that I haven't already covered in my reviews of the other two Lord of the Ring films. Everything is excellent.

The Lord of the Rings will not go down as my favorite trilogy, or even my second favorite. But this satisfying conclusion makes me look at the trilogy in a more positive light. Through all the flaws of the series, and even this particular series, I suppose it has been pretty epic.


One could make a compelling argument that Mulan is basically no different than any other Disney princess film. And in a way, this is true. All the basic cliches are here: Outcast wanting to prove herself, supporting cast there for comic relief, and obviously the romantic element. To be honest, there's little about Mulan that hasn't already been covered by other Disney films. But here's the catch: The formula works. And that's why; despite it's lack of originality, Mulan not only succeeds, but flourishes.

Mulan, a young Chinese girl is determined to bring honor to her family, and prevent her father from going to war by going in his place, masquerading as a man. A tiny dragon named Mushu and a "lucky" cricket tag along to aid Mulan on her quest.

The romance element is (perhaps for the better) played down. In fact, it almost isn't there at all, merely added to increase character depth, and make it so supporting character Li Shang actually has something to do.

The setting in China is used to great effect, though the animation is surprisingly simplistic. Some shots are quite gorgeous (such as when villain Shan Yu's army is coming to battle in the snow), though it's not quite as eye popping as usual.

There are 4 songs total (not counting reprises). Though these tunes aren't quite up to snuff with that of Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid, they are absolutely delightful (and miles ahead of modern day Disney songs). The first song in the movie is the strongest, though sadly, it's also the least known. Entitled, "Honor To Us All," this song near the opening is by far the most humorous and entertaining.

Other songs fare less well, but all of them have their strengths. "Reflection" is beautiful, but it's too short, and as one of the main themes in the movie, it's woefully underplayed. "I'll Make A Man Out Of You," has great lyrics, but the animation and sight gags steal the show, lessening the impact of the song. "A Girl Worth Fighting For" brings back some of the humor of "Honor To Us All," and is even a bit more catchy. Still, it's far from a showstopper.

The score (by the late Jerry Goldsmith) is perhaps slightly underwhelming when considering the potential, but it works well and is mostly pleasant. It also takes advantage of the setting, though percussion is way too strong at some points.

Characters are a bit of a mixed bag. Mulan is likeable, but does little to separate herself from, say, Belle. The villain, Shan Yu is incredibly generic, and even if he was more interesting, he has very little screen time. Li Shang has no personality, and only exists as the romantic interest. The most memorable characters are the nonspeaking lucky cricket, and the pint-sized dragon named Mushu (Eddie Murphy). Mushu, while not quite reaching Genie status, has lots of quotable lines and will leave children and their parents chuckling.

Perhaps if Mulan did more to separate itself from other Disney films, it would reach masterpiece status. Still, as it stands, Mulan is marvelous. Entertaining, heartfelt, and well worth watching, Mulan reaches heights that other studios struggle to reach. Mulan's not perfect, but it's superior entertainment.


Throughout Seabiscuit, I couldn't help but think of what I would've done differently, had I been the director. That's not to say I didn't like Gary Ross's adaption of the story, but there were so many things I would've changed had I been in charge of this production.

Charles Howard purchases a horse named Seabiscuit that no one seems to have any faith in. Yet, through training, Charles Howard, along with Red Pollard and Tom Smith manage to bring Seabiscuit from rags to riches as the horse quickly becomes the most popular horse in America.

I was not expecting much from this film, and the first 20 minutes did little to help my expectations. Rushed, cluttered, and even confusing, the first 20 minutes of Seabiscuit not quite atrocious, but it's pretty bad. Still, once Seabiscuit manages to find it's footing, it's a pleasant, if unspectacular tale.

The story in itself is relatively strong, and the characters are extremely likeable. Yet, the approach at the story felt relatively straightforward. There's nothing unexpected here. The direction here is perfectly fine, but it's a little on the bland side.

Bits of the story do feel a bit rushed, and some feel too long. The pacing is certainly a bit of an issue at times.

Seabiscuit's strongest asset is the acting, which add depth to the characters, who are already very likeable to begin with. Jeff Bridges plays Charles Howard with a distinct charm, and Tobey Maguire adds warmth to Red Pollard. Chris Cooper as Tom Smith fits like a glove, and supporting cast is strong as well. William H. Macy is also around as Tick Tock McGlaughlin who provides some comic relief.

The score is composed by Randy Newman is probably best known for his work on many of the Pixar films. His primary strength at doing family films makes him seem like an odd choice for Seabiscuit. Like the direction, Newman does a straightforward, but enjoyable score. Though there are a handful of delightfully un-Newman sounding songs, you can definitely still here Randy's style in much of the music.

Seabiscuit feels a little on the safe side for the most part. This isn't a bad film by any means, or even a mediocre one, but at times, it does feel like a missed opportunity. But even with all it's flaws, it's hard not to root for Seabiscuit.

Ocean's Twelve

Imagine a hit movie that, to be honest, no one was expecting. That describes Ocean's Eleven. Now imagine a sequel, that takes everything that made the original such a hit, and throws it out the window. That describes Ocean's Twelve. In an effort to do more, Ocean's Twelve does less in a sequel that's shockingly inferior to the highly entertaining original.

Though Ocean's Twelve is extremely confusing, the basic plot can be summed up in one short sentence: The Ocean's Eleven crew has to somehow get 97 million dollars, and give it to Terry Benedict, the antagonist of the original and this horrendous sequel.

Gone is almost everything that made Ocean's Eleven such an entertaining film. Ocean's Eleven primary strength were the characters. And while the entire cast is back for the sequel, most of the cast gets surprisingly little screen time. We do see slightly more of Danny Ocean, and Rusty Ryan gets an extended role, as does Terry Benedict and Julia Roberts. Yet the rest of the cast, who are far more interesting, get very little screen time, and this is a major disappointment.

The pleasant simplicity of the plot from Ocean's Eleven is not present here. Ocean's Twelve is ridiculously confusing, and oddly tedious at times. Frankly, I'm still not quite sure I understand what happened in Ocean's Twelve.

To make matters worse, Ocean's Twelve tries to be more emotional this time around. For the most part, the original kept the emotion to a minimal, which was good because the romance felt clumsy and pointless. Instead of eliminating the romance, or diluting it, we get MORE of it.

Even the score (by David Holmes) has suffered dramatically. While the original film's score wasn't exactly superb, it at least worked for the film. Despite having the same composer for the sequel, the main theme from the original is completely ignored, as is the style of music. The score doesn't feel cohesive at all, even if only compared with itself. Also, the additional rock and electronic oriented pieces are extremely unpleasant.

Still, Ocean's Twelve has it's share of entertaining moments and humor. One of the best parts of the film involves Tess (played by Julia Roberts) pretending to be...Julia Roberts. I laughed quite a bit here, and while this was (arguably) the most entertaining part of the movie, it's also a reminder of what made the original so fun, and how inferior this sequel is.

The acting is solid, as was the case for the original. Clooney is sharp as ever as Danny Ocean, and Brad Pitt still performs as Rusty Ryan with skill. Still, newcomer Catherine Zeta-Jones fails to energize the generic and cliched Isabel Lahiri, and only serves as another reminder of how far Ocean's Twelve has slipped from the original.

While rare moments of inspiration are still present, this serves as little compensation for a confused plot, uncohesive score and clunky and tediously done romance. After such a commendable first film, it's shocking to see how awful Ocean's Twelve ends up.

The Princess and the Frog

I firmly believe that "The Princess and the Frog" is one of the best non-pixar animated film ever to be created. There has never been a better argument for the revival of traditional animated films.

"The Princess and the Frog," follows of the story of Tiana, a young woman who dreamed of opening her own resteraunt since she was a child. She's so close to her dream, when she gets outbid for the building she wants, and worse; turns into a frog due to a voodoo spell. Tiana and the spoiled Prince Navine must find a way to turn back into a human.

This film is visually enchanting, with gorgeous 2D animation that even rivals modern day CGI. One particularly dazzling scene, is during Dr. Facilier's song, "Friends on the Other Side," a vibrant colored, and elaborate musical number that will win the audience's attention with ease.

So, there are lots of songs, as I should probably mention. Some worse than others, but there's nothing terrible. They range from mediocre, and even incredible. Randy Newman pens all these songs, and composes the score.

All Disney princess films have their magic. This time around, there's voodoo. Certainly there will be discerning parents, and sensitive children may be frightened. I personally enjoyed this unique, and far less generic take. It's darker, and has much more potential. It also provides a lot of unique bits in the film.

The cast is colorful and unique, the movie is hilarious, and at times, quite emotional. There may not be a lot of tears, but you wouldn't be human not be touched by this wonderful film.

I am disappointed that this movie has yet to spark any new 2D developments with Disney. This has to be one of the best examples of 2D animation out there. "The Princess and the Frog" should not be missed or overlooked, it is a treasure.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Bedknobs And Broomsticks is rather obscure when compared to Disney's other films. This isn't a bad thing, though, considering most of Disney's other films are far superior to this overlong production. Lacking any excitement, or even laugh-worthy humor, Bedknobs And Broomsticks has little appeal to those over the age of 10, and even the youngest will likely be bored by the constant chatter and uninventive musical numbers.

Three children named Carrie, Charlie and Paul are temporarily adopted by Eglantine Price, whom they discover to be a witch. Ms. Prince gives the children a traveling spell, in exchange for keeping her secret, which allows their bed to teleport to any given location. The four also snag Emelius Browne- Ms. Price's witch teacher- into the adventure as well.

As one would expect, there are countless plot holes and silly things that are overlooked by the characters, but this is the least of the film's problems.

Bedknobs And Broomsticks runs for a taxing two and a half hours. Had Bedknobs And Broomsticks been truly entertaining, this would not be a problem. Another Disney musical, Mary Poppins has a run time around the same length, and is loved and adored by all ages. Needless to say, Bedknobs And Broomsticks is no Mary Poppins. The content of this dull musical, does not justify the relentlessly long length.

The number of songs in the film are not nearly as high as that of Mary Poppins, but they are far less inventive. Despite being penned by the Sherman brothers, the same duo that wrote the songs in Mary Poppins, each and every number is dull to limit. Occasionally, dancing takes place during these numbers, though the choreography is poor and uninspired. What's strange is that the beat of the music, often does not meet the beat of the dancing, which seems truly lazy.

The score, also by the Sherman brothers isn't too shabby, and the bed traveling theme is relatively strong, but the score often sounds too similar to the Mary Poppins score (especially in the earlier segments). Also, if you hate bagpipes, you will definitely want to avoid this, as the aforementioned instruments make more than one appearance.

Bedknobs And Broomsticks is specifically known for the Land of Naboombu, which is completely animated. It's always a marvel to see live-acted characters interact with animated ones. Alas, despite being showcased as the main attraction in Bedknobs And Broomsticks, the Land of Naboombu occupies a measly 30 minutes of the extensive run time. Talk about misleading!

Special effects often look dated, and the strings that are used to suspend objects in midair are clearly visible most of the time. There are some decent effects though, make no mistake about it. But not all of the effects are as polished as others.

The children are poorly acted, and most other actors fall into the unspectacular area. Only Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson stand out.

Bedknobs And Broomsticks is wholly unspectacular. It lacks the humor and excitement it needed to translate into the fun adventure it fails to be. Add that with the overlong run time and the dull musical numbers, and you get a animated musical that is unlikely to leave anyone coming back for more.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Note: The Director's Cut is the version viewed.

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is not entertainment. It is torture. Despite Close Encounter's legacy, I cannot recommend it on almost any level. Yes, it has greatly impacted culture and films, but this is not entertainment. This is the destruction of a family, a father slowly turning insane, and an overall traumatizing affair turned into a film. I repeat for a third time, Close Encounters is not entertainment.

The, slightly confusing, story follows a man named Roy, who's life is changed when he sees several UFO flying around his hometown. He becomes obsessed with a strange shape and sculpts it endlessly. He begins to go crazy, and his family is devastated. In a nutshell, that is the plot. And while parts of the story seem somewhat intriguing, they are executed poorly.

A good portion of the film centers around Roy growing crazy and the effect it's having on his family. Do we really need all this screen time focusing on the arguments and stress that his family is experiencing? We get the point, his family is vexed, you don't have to emphasize your point with a sledge hammer!

But watching Close Encounters is not only stressful, but it's also incredibly boring. At over 2 hours in length, Close Encounters is a tedious film. It lacks any kind of excitement (minus in one somewhat crucial scene involving a UFO abduction) and is generally devoid of humor. UFOs are teased to the audience, but never in length until the end.

The slowness of the film may not have been a big deal, had the pay-off been substantial. Alas, it's just as dull as the rest of the film, though the most impressive special effect work occurs here, and it is indeed impressive.

The score is shockingly pedestrian, despite coming from master composer, John Williams. There is actually little music to speak of, excepting the famous five note theme. I've come to expect so much more from Williams, but this is a major disappointment.

I feel little need to waste any more of my life than I already have on Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. I despised it and saw it as an exercise in tedium and stress. To see a family fall apart is not entertainment. If other plot points were executed well enough, this wouldn't be a problem, but the whole thing is a big mess. If you want aliens and Spielberg, you'd be better off watching E.T. again.

The Muppets
The Muppets(2011)

The more I think about it, the more I realize that I never really liked the Muppet films. Don't get me wrong, I love the Muppets themselves, and The Muppets Take Manhattan is one of my all time favorites, but the rest of the Muppet movies haven't quite met my fancy. Alas, this bright new Muppet film, aptly titled The Muppets, was not only a Muppet masterpiece, it's also perfectly fun for even Muppet novices.

In a purposely cheesy and paper thin plot, the Muppets and co must raise 10 million dollars to save the Muppet Studio from being torn down by oil tycoon, Tex Richman. The only way to do this: Put on a show! (Of course!) But will the new wave of audience members, who have long since forgotten the Muppets, fall in love with them again?

The Muppets is not only a practice in nostalgia, but it also has enough humor and good cheer to easily stand as it's own movie to those who haven't grown up with the Muppets. The whole gang is back (Rizzo the Rat excepted, not that I mind), and they're just as you remember them (even if Statler and Waldorf are just a wee bit less witty). Certain Muppet's screen time is limited (so don't expect Scooter to rival Kermit for the limelight), but having all the Muppets back is certainly a treat.

Of course, there are certainly some new Muppets too. The main character, Walter, for instance. Walter is what you would expect from a main character; bland and hopeful. Some of these characteristics were purposefully overdone, others feel less purposeful.

The strength of The Muppets come from it's humor, which is fun and varied. Witty one liners, references to previous Muppet films, satire humor, and some slap stick for the kids. There's also a lot of breaking of the fourth wall, which is done superbly to hilarious effect. This is arguably, the funniest Muppet film yet.

You feel obliged to laugh, not just from the humor, but from the atmosphere. Everything is just so happy and cheerful, it's feels ridiculous, but in a good way. It's hard for me to imagine someone not smiling during The Muppets. I personally had one plastered on my face for almost the entire run time.

Of course, musical numbers also make up The Muppets. And while these numbers aren't quite as memorable (or catchy) as that of The Muppets Take Manhattan, they're fun and oozing with joy. Life's A Happy Song is hilariously happy and cheesy, and the film's villain get's a brief rap which is humorous and unexpected. The Mupppets actually won an Academy Award for the song Man or Muppet. Personally, I thought this was one of the weaker songs in the film, and I'm surprised it was even nominated. By no means is Man or Muppet bad, it's just not that memorable.

The acting is appropriately hammy, and audience members will certainly find themselves chuckling from the acting alone. Jason Segel, playing Walter's human brother Gary, and his girlfriend Mary played by Amy Adams don't have much to do during the film, but they at least appear to be having fun. Cameos abound. Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, Neil Patrick Harris and many others get humorous small parts. Jack Black also receives a slightly longer role, portraying himself.

The score by Christophe Beck is comedic and fits like a glove for The Muppets. At times, it feels like it doesn't have much to do, but it does a great job blending with the Muppet world.

It would be hard to dislike The Muppets, even if you haven't been a fan of the Muppet's exploits to the big screen. Overflowing with joy and happiness, and with humor and cameos to spare, The Muppets is one of the most fun and enjoyable films I've had the pleasure of seeing. In a world where gloomy films like The Dark Knight trilogy dominate, it's nice to know that happier films like The Muppets are still around.

Mirror Mirror

Mirror Mirror has a serious identity crisis. What is it, exactly? A parody of the Snow White tale, a modern adaption of the story, a comedy, a drama, a typical triangle romance, etc. Mirror Mirror never truly nails a feel or even a genre, making it feel like a jumbled mess of ideas and thoughts that no one bothered to sort out to make it seem cohesive.

The (curiously un-named) Queen has selfishly ruled the (once again, un-named) kingdom as her own, though it is rightfully Snow White's. Making life miserable for everyone, The Queen issues heavy taxes and outrageous laws to make everything convenient for her. Snow White, however, wishes to do away with The Queen, and restore the kingdom back to the way it was when her late father was king. Through a crazy (and convenient) series of events, both The Queen and Snow White attempt to win the hand of Prince Alcott for their own goals and reasons (love, being rich, etc.).

The 7 Dwarves also get worked into this, but they've been given new names and personalities (or, lack of), and it's unlikely that anyone will ever label them as "cute."

This new take on the Snow White tale is so unlike the story we know and love, one wonders why the makers even bothered to make this a supposed "adaption" of the fairy tale. Many of the elements from the story, such as the poisonous apple, are so incredibly forced. The apple that I just mentioned doesn't appear until the very, very end, and it's apparent that it was only added to make the story similar to the Snow White tale.

Other liberties have been taken too, and the end result really doesn't feel like the Snow White tale at all.

At the very beginning of the film, it seems Mirror Mirror may be a mockery of the classic tale, but it quickly seems to be a modern revision of it. It gets many, many genre changes as the film goes by. It almost becomes a kind of game to see how many different varieties of films it's trying to be.

This genre confusion is somewhat disorienting at times. For the most part, Mirror Mirror feels like a comedy (though laughs are a little scarce), but some scenes are so absurdly serious for the kind of film it's generally presented as (though I suppose what exactly it IS presented as is anyone's guess) that at times, it feels more like a cheesy romance.

Still, the visuals do shine. While the costumes are often ridiculous (some unintentionally so), they can be quite stunning, if not always on purpose. Most of the special effects are good, the set pieces in general are quite attractive and colorful. The woods, however, in which a good portion of the film occurs, look very cheap. It's painfully obvious where the set meets the painted backgrounds.

The Queen is the only inspired part of the film, aside from the visuals, and even she isn't always entertaining. Some of her quips are amusing, while others aren't so much. There are many attempts at humor, and while some may evoke smiles (or laughter at it's higher points), much of the humor falls flat.

Actually, there is some jokes that are a little off color. At a glance, it's all innocent, but taken out of context, there are several gags that feel a bit risque. The Prince accidentally given "puppy love" magic and licks people's faces, the servant that turns into a cockroach later is said to have been "taken advantage of by a grasshopper," etc. It's gags like these that will indoubtedly raise the eyebrows of more than a few parents.

Julia Roberts does a over the top performance as The Queen, and ends up being the highlight of the movie. The other actors, however, don't fare quite as well. Lily Collins and Armie Hammer as Snow White and Prince Alcott respectively are often cheesy, or else wooden. The acting feels un-natural, and often clunky. Other cast members fare more or less the same. Nathan Lane as the bumbling Brighton performs a bit better, though his performance is by no means memorable.

The score, composed by Alan Menken, is actually one his better scores in the last several years. It's light and fun, though there are times when it doesn't seem to have much to do.

Mirror Mirror is perfect entertainment for younger children (if you don't mind a couple questionable jokes), but for adults and teens, Mirror Mirror has little to offer. Some laughs and pretty visuals won't compensate for clunky acting, genre clashes, and frequently flat humor. Mirror Mirror will probably be remembered as little more than trippy version of Snow White, or even more likely, won't be remembered at all.

The Amazing Spider-Man

Typically, when one walks into a film, they have pre-conceived notions and opinions about it. This was true for me when I walked into The Amazing Spider-Man. I had doubts that this reboot would be as good as the original 2002 film, and I was pretty sure it would just cover the same plot points as the original. This is why I was so surprised at how much I enjoyed myself. It's not the greatest film to grace the silver screen, and it is basically the same film we saw 10 years ago, but it's a lot of fun, and sometimes that's all I need.

Peter Parker (who was separated from his parents at the age of four) is a typical science nerd. That is, until he gets bitten by a genetically enhanced spider, and begins to develop spider-like abilities. Now, he must learn to control his new found power in order to stop a monster called The Lizard.

One thing that surprised me about The Amazing Spider-Man was how different it felt from the original. Yes, it's mostly the same as the 2002 version (but with improved CGI and a new villain), but the feel is so much more different. It's more light and more comedic. Which, based on how you look at it, isn't a bad thing. An overly serious super hero film can quickly become disastrous.

There's significantly more action in The Amazing Spider-Man then there was in the original. And although the action is less inventive, the improved visual effects and the greater intensity overcomes the lack of originality.

Emotionally, The Amazing Spider-Man can't touch the original. The characters are less developed, the plot is less complex, and the romance (though there's less of it) feels forced. The Amazing Spider-Man isn't as touching or intelligent as the original.

But that's okay, that isn't the focus of The Amazing Spider-Man. The Amazing Spider-Man only tries to be fun and exciting entertainment, and it does this splendidly. By eliminating most of the emotional aspects of the original, The Amazing Spider-Man makes more room for comedy. This won't appeal to everyone, but it makes it feel more fun.

J. Jonah Jameson, the publisher of The Daily Bugle was one of the best parts about the original trilogy. Sadly, he has been completely omitted from The Amazing Spider-Man. However, considering this is a reboot, it's unlikely that the same actor would've been hired, and even more unlikely that a new actor would be as memorable.

The Lizard can't touch Doc-Oc or The Green Goblin, as he's very straight forward. Kill Spider-Man. Take over the city. Revenge. Let's face it, the villain's development is rushed in favor of getting more action into the film, but I'm oddly okay with this.

The new league of actors perform well, but because of the straight forward nature of all the characters, the acting feels less impressive by comparison of the original. There are no actors that truly stand out. Andrew Garfield, replacing Tobey Maguire, plays a decent Spider-Man, but he tries too hard to imitate Maguire's performance. The mumbling, the shyness, it feels a bit too forced and not as natural. The acting is by no means bad, it's just not as good as in the original.

The score, composed by James Horner, is hands down better than that of the original. With surprisingly heavy use of the piano, and a minimal of techno effects and heavy percussion, the score improves on the original. There are some problems, though. Maybe I wasn't listening hard enough, but there didn't appear to be a recurring theme in the music, which may come back to bite Horner, considering that this is intended to be a franchise. Also, Horner is infamous for copying his own work in his scores, and while I haven't heard enough of Horner's work to judge, I've heard rumors of his Star Trek score finding it's way into The Amazing Spider-Man.

The Amazing Spider-Man isn't as intelligent, or defined as the original. It lacks the inventiveness and complex plot, as well as the iconic villain(s) that made the original such a hit. But The Amazing Spider-Man becomes a slightly better film by being what matters most in a film: Entertaining. It's light tone makes it much more comedic, and the action is more exciting. The votes will always be split as to which Spider-Man is better, but based on what I've seen so far, The Amazing Spider-Man shows an awful lot of promise.


If there's one classic that I think has the most potential to be a masterpiece, Peter Pan is it. Disney did an admirable job with their animated adaption, and Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson have written a marvelous book series about Peter Pan. Hook, unfortunately, isn't nearly as good as it should be. It's silly premise, lack of comedy, and long length this a considerably lesser Pan-tale.

Peter Banning has long since forgotten his childhood as Peter Pan, and is now a middle-aged lawyer who puts work before family (and is severely afraid of heights to boot). But when his kids, Jack and Maggie, are kidnapped by Captain James Hook, Peter is forced to remember his life at Neverland, and learn to best Hook and save his children.

One of Hook's many problems is that it's a children's movie. Much of Hook will only appeal to the younger crowd, and the extensive running time (nearly two and a half hours) and it's slow, crawling pace will leave most children bored out of their minds.

The action is extremely minimal until the end, in which a battle against the pirates and the Lost Boys ensues, which mostly consists of dull slapstick. The humor is also extremely childish. It seems most everything in Hook is geared toward the youngest of children. Yet, as I just mentioned, it has an ominously long run time, which diminishes the film's audience to, well, no one.

It's such a shame too, because Hook might've been a decent film. There was a lot in Hook that I loved, and had Hook played it's cards right, this could've been the Peter Pan film I've been waiting for. Alas, the few elements of Hook that I enjoyed are vastly overshadowed by it's many flaws.

The premise is awkward, and even a bit confusing. The awkwardness is mostly due to the fact that Peter Pan is a middle-aged lawyer. Talk about shattering your childhood dreams. No one wants to see Peter Pan as an adult. His naive perspective of life and staying young is part of what made Pan so appealing in the first place. With Pan being all grown up, much of what made him such a loveable character is gone.

One rather tasteless scene that's worth pointing out occurs during Pan's dinner with the Lost Boys in which a rather grotesque and childish series of name calling occurs. In addition to names like "Mucus Muncher" and "Zit Popper," there are many others not worth repeating. As sorry as I feel for those who watched this scene (including myself), I am much more sorry for the actors that had to memorize these obscene names, as well as the writers who had to come up with them.

The score by the consistently incredible John Williams is perhaps a bit under-par. It's not bad, but it's not quite as good as William's other scores. The score isn't playful enough, nor is it grand enough. Compared to William's other film scores, it's a bit of a disappointment, but it's still mostly solid.

The acting is something of a mixed bag. No one does a poor job at acting, but there are problems, regardless. Robin Williams plays Peter Pan. This is a problem as Peter Pan is no longer a boy, he is now a man. This is a completely different version of Pan, so the actor needs to leave a completely new imprint. Unfortunately, Robin Williams is too big a star for this part, so instead of remembering Peter Pan as a confused and loving father, we remember him as Robin Williams.

Dustin Hoffman, on the other hand, blends excellently as Hook. When we see Hook, we don't see Hoffman. I'm sure the wig and makeup helped, but Hoffman is considerably less recognizable then Robin Williams, which makes his role much better. Hook, as a character, is already one of the better parts of the film, with his subtle elements of satire and humor, and this is aided even further by Hoffman's performance.

Julia Roberts, on the other hand is severely miscast as Tinker Bell. Most other actors do decent, yet not outstanding jobs, though Bob Hoskins performs amusingly as Hook's assistant, Smee.

This different take on Peter Pan fails to find an audience. It's too long for kids, too slow and devoid of action for teens, and too childish for adults. I wanted to like Hook, but it misses the mark as an action film, a comedy, and a family film. It tries to be too much, and it ends up being nothing at all.

Spider-Man 2
Spider-Man 2(2004)

Spider-Man 2 is considered by many to be an improvement on the original, and I think that's a very accurate suggestion. By eliminating some of the flaws of the first, and improving some of the strengths of the first, Spider-Man 2 surpassed the original, and is one of the best super hero films ever created.

Between college, his job as a photographer for The Daily Bugle, and being Spider-Man, Peter Parker has a lot on his plate, and he's not doing that great of a job at any of these pursuits. Yet, as he loses his spidey abilities, Parker considers throwing in the towel, even though a new villain, the 6 armed Dr. Octavian is emerging.

Many of the flaws that were present in the first film have been fixed in Spider-Man 2. One such example is the CGI work, which looks fantastic in this sequel. It's certainly not the best visual effects to appear onscreen, but it's a great improvement over the original.

One of the best parts of the original Spider-Man was the publisher of The Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson. The quick talking, cigarette chomping publisher was consistently hilarious, but his screen time was sadly minimal. In the sequel, his role is greatly expanded, so he appears in more scenes. He remains one the film's highlights.

The nefarious villain, Dr. Octavian, isn't as creepy as Green Goblin, but nor is he as campy. Personally, I wouldn't be able to choose one over the other, but Octavian is a wonderfully sinister villain, though he may be too similar to Green Goblin- in some respects- for some.

Emotionally, the film expands as well, though this improvement isn't quite as dramatic as some of the others. We connect more with the characters (which is also assisted by solid acting by the entire cast), and this makes the film that much more enjoyable.

The romance, on the other hand, is considerably worse than in the original. It feels more cheesy, even a bit more forced. And Mary-Jane is beginning to feel more and more irritating and helpless. It's a shame that there's so much more focus on this aspect of the film than in the original.

The title sequence has been shortened slightly, but it's actually less entertaining than the original's making it seem longer. The title sequence should really be shortened, or perhaps it should be omitted entirely, or withheld until the end.

Danny Elfman's score has improved. The techno effects has been significantly toned down, and there are few (if any) rock oriented pieces. It's still not a great score, but it's a good one, and it serves it's purpose.

Spider-Man 2 both improves on it's predecessor, and provides solid entertainment. Even if cheesy romance create a few slow moments, improved CGI work, intense action, and superb acting make up for the flaws, and more. There aren't many super hero films out there that I've enjoyed, but this is certainly one of them.


Action movies are a dime a dozen. So many are released in a single year, yet so few are actually worth seeing. Spider-Man is one of the few worth seeing. Super hero films have never been all that appealing to me. More often than not, they end up being cheesy, cliched, and often campy. And while certain aspects of the film (most notably Green Goblin's outfit) are indeed campy, Spider-Man holds up very well, especially for a super hero film, and should not be shot down as simply another action film.

The story, as is with many action films, is quite simple. Peter Parker is bitten by a genetically enhanced spider, and is given spider-like abilities. Parker takes advantage of these abilities by doing good and protecting New York from wrong. But when a villain (nicknamed the Green Goblin) becomes determined to get rid of spidey, Parker has to protect himself, those he loves, and the city of New York.

While most action films are soulless excuses for explosions and elaborate fight scenes, Spider-Man is no such film. Spider-Man is smart, and unlike most super hero flicks, Spider-Man has heart.

The film starts off a little slow, truth be told. It's not excruciatingly dull, but the impatient may find themselves a little squirmy during the first 30-45 minutes.

That's okay, because the action really starts picking up after this. There is a very large number of action scenes, and while not all are exciting, they will at least entertain. There are a couple very good and tense action sequences, but the 2-3 inbetween these are usually less entertaining. Many of these lesser action scenes feel a lot like filler, actually.

Danny Elfman composed the score for Spider-Man and for the most part, he did a decent job. The score is grand, and sometimes quite exciting. But overall, it's a little less-than-amazing, and there's a few more rock-oriented pieces than I would've preferred.

Some of the visual effects look a little dated, as do some of the costumes. Even some of the dialogue may strike one as a little hammy, but these are only minor problems.

The biggest problem, however, resides in Spider-Man's run time. The film is roughly 2 hours long, and as such, feels a wee bit bloated at time. The slow beginning, the filler action scenes and even the somewhat tedious title sequence could've all been cut and shortened to create a more reasonable run time. This film could've easily been an hour and a half, instead, slow stretches occasionally appear inbetween action scenes.

The acting is done very well. Tobey Maguire's performance as Peter Parker certainly won't please everyone (his curious stupidity may irritate some), but he does a very commendable job, and the acting feels very natural. Willem Dafoe does very well with the role of the villain, Green Goblin, being both menacing and intelligent.

Still, J.K. Simmons gets the best part as the quick talking, sharp tongued (and woefully underused) J. Jonah Jameson, publisher of The Daily Bugle. Though he appears in only a few scenes, he's certainly a highlight. Spitting out countless quotable lines, JJJ is certainly the most memorable character in the film.

Spider-Man has a few noticeable flaws, but it boasts serviceable action, likeable characters, heart that many action films lack. It may not rank among the best of films, or even the best of action films, but it's a fun ride.


I doubt Disney would ever produce anything like Pinocchio these days. Disney isn't gutsy enough. To be honest, I still don't know how this got into theaters. Disney scarcely ever makes a film as subtly dark as this. On the surface, Pinocchio is a typical Disney children's film, but underneath, Pinocchio boasts a variety of dark themes that work like a charm. It's a shame Disney will likely never make something like Pinocchio again, because it's just so good.

Pinocchio is a very strange story. Even stranger than I originally anticipated. Geppetto, a wood carver, was quite pleased when he was finished with his wooden puppet, Pinocchio. He was even more pleased when it turned into a real boy. And with Jiminy Cricket as Pinocchio's conscience, what could go wrong? Well, a lot. Temptation proves too much for Pinocchio, and, without spoiling anything, he gets into a lot of trouble.

Part of what makes Pinocchio such a great movie is the characters. Geppetto is a mumbling wood carver who cares a lot for Pinocchio, and is easily excited. Jiminy Cricket, one of Disney's most enduring characters, makes many humorous quips that aimed more at the older crowd. And Pinocchio? He's certainly adorable, but his frequently obliviousness between right and wrong may grow tiresome to some viewers.

There are a few songs in Pinocchio, as one would expect from a Disney film, and while all are pleasant, there aren't too many memorable tunes. Naturally, the most memorable (and most recognizable) tune is "When You Wish Upon A Star," which is a sweet and beautiful song that, unlike the other songs in Pinocchio, has become a genuine classic, and well deserved too.

One memorable scene occurs towards the beginning when the many clocks in Geppetto's house go off at once. There are many sight gags, all of which should evoke chuckles. It's moments like this that really make Pinocchio a treat.

The animation in Pinocchio surprised me. Even for today, the animation is really sharp and detailed. It's certainly one of Disney's more visually dazzling adventures.

I mentioned early in this review that Disney would never make a film like this nowadays, and this is because of some of the slightly questionable themes. One of which occurs near the end where children are kidnapped and taken to an island where they are turned into donkeys, whipped, then sold into slavery. This may seem slightly disturbing, and it is, but it works.

If only Disney still made risks like that. Instead, they often take the predictable path that, while can be sweet sometimes, more often is disappointing.

Pinocchio is a unique Disney film that is better than almost anything Disney has served up in the last decade. It's a shame Disney isn't brave enough to do things like Pinocchio these days. With memorable characters, one of the most enduring Disney songs of all, and a lot of heart makes up Pinocchio: One of Disney's best creations.

Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty strikes me as a rather straight forward movie. There is little in this movie that will strike the viewer as unexpected. Yet, perhaps that's why Sleeping Beauty is still loved to this day, it's pure simplicity and basic story telling.

Sleeping Beauty is a tale we all know. Princess Aurora is cursed by classic Disney villain, Maleficent. The curse states that the princess will die before her 16th birthday. The three good fairies (Flora, Fauna and Merryweather) take the child as their own to protect her, though ultimately, Maleficent manages to prick Aurora's finger, killing her. Prince Phillip, of course, has to kiss her in order to awake Aurora, but that proves complicated.

Sleeping Beauty has many strengths. It's animation was impressive for it's time, and while it looks mostly basic today, the animation's simplicity is part of Sleeping Beauty's charm.

The score, composed by George Bruns, is excellent, as is often the case with Disney scores. Also, the main song "Once Upon A Dream," is very beautiful, but some might argue that it was a bit risky. "Once Upon A Dream" is a very slow, waltz song, which may have bored children, but ends up being one of Disney's most enduring songs.

Most of the main characters are likeable, yet not very engaging. However, there are some bright spots in the character area. The three good fairies steal every scene they're in. They're funny and somewhat eccentric, and extremely memorable. Maleficent was just a bit disappointing, considering her legacy, but her sinister appearance (and epic name) alone make her an entertaining villain. One just wishes she had a little personality, as opposed to being another stereotypical Disney villain. Also, she doesn't seem to have much of a motive for her villainy, other than being bad.

Sleeping Beauty's primary problem is due to it's brief run time of only 75 minutes. Admittedly, there's not much to the tale, but Sleeping Beauty never feels stretched or tedious. In fact, the pace is perfect until Sleeping Beauty falls asleep. After that, the movie moves much too fast, and before you know it, Sleeping Beauty is over. The climax is certainly disappointing, but it's not bad. It's just a little rushed.

While Sleeping Beauty doesn't rank among my favorite Disney Princess films, I can't deny it's entertainment value. And the three good fairies are some of Disney's most memorable characters to date. It's rushed ending and (slightly) underwhelming villain are merely minor bumps in the road. Sleeping Beauty possesses two adjectives that are rarely seen in the same film these days: Short and entertaining.


I want to make it clear that the score I am giving Glory means little to nothing. The reason for that, is because I honestly have no idea how to score this movie. I don't feel like this is the kind of movie that's made to entertain. It's made to make people appreciate what 54th Regiment did. It's a powerful movie, but I didn't find it to be very entertaining. I repeat, I don't think this movie was made to entertain. It exists as a history lesson, albeit, a very powerful one.

Glory takes place during the Civil War. Robert Gould Shaw has been asked to lead an army of black men, the 54th Regiment. Finally getting a chance to do something important, many black people volunteer to be a part of this. Glory is the tale of the 54th Regiment's long, hard journey to battle.

Glory has very good production values, that much can be agreed. Very good cinematography, impeccable acting, etc. Glory is extremely well made and really does the story of the 54th Regiment justice.

The battle scenes (there are three in all) are initially shocking. Not knowing much about how these battles were fought, it was a surprise seeing the action onscreen. The opposing forces merely marched to the other all at once, firing shots as they go. It's nothing like I expected, but it was extremely interesting.

The score (composed by James Horner) was, to be honest, a bit bland. Much of the music sounded the same, with little variety. It works well as background music, but taken away from the screen, it would almost certainly disappoint.

The acting is top notch, some of the best I've seen. Matthew Broderick playing the lead as Robert Shaw impressed me the most. Denzel Washington won an academy award for his performance, and it seemed well deserved.

I recommend Glory, but I can't seem to give it a score that seems fair. While the film held my attention, I wasn't very entertained. The production values are here, and it's a powerful movie, but it's not the kind of film I'd see again. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I repeat: Glory, I feel, wasn't made to entertain. It was made to allow us to understand the sacrifices and achievements of the 54th Regiment, and it succeeds.


There comes a time in every critic's life, in which they have to give a negative review to a well known and loved classic. Unfortunately, I am in the situation of giving a negative review to one of the best known and best received animated films of all time; Fantasia.

Fantasia really doesn't have a plot of any kind. Instead, it boasts a unique premise. We are introduced at the beginning to a new kind of entertainment called Fantasia. This is a combination of music and visuals. There are three different varieties of this: The first being music that tells a story. The second being music with no particular plot, and the third being music that exists just for music's sake.

After seeing the introduction explaining this, I grew quite excited. I was certainly intrigued, and I was sure the magicians at the mouse house were about to present another true masterpiece. So imagine my disappointment when Fantasia turned out to be little more than a technical demo. An animation experiment, really.

And as such, the animation is a wonder to behold. Visuals are absolutely gorgeous. Abstract images, and defined images are portrayed beautifully creating a visually splendid film. So it's a shame to report that the visuals are one of the few appealing things about Fantasia.

Let's face it, Fantasia is dull beyond reason. Say what you want, but two hours of random images and classical music is way too much for any viewer. I really do appreciate music and movies, but Fantasia simply does not do either art any justice. We want to be entertained. Yet we're presented with little more than a series of laptop screen savers.

Fantasia is probably most popular for the segment titled "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." You've no doubt heard of it (and probably seen it), and know what it's about. For the benefit of you that haven't heard of it, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is about Mickey Mouse deciding to use the magic of a wizard to do a common household chore. Unfortunately for Mickey, the magic gets out of hand and the result is disastrous.

To be honest, I really wasn't all that impressed with this segment. I've seen much better Disney shorts than this. It's not that it was bad, it just wasn't that great. Still, I can certainly agree that this was one of the main highlights. It at least wasn't boring like a majority of the rest of the film.

For a movie about music, I certainly expected a better musical score. In fact, I expected an original score. And at least 75% of the score was classical music by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky among others. And while I have little against classical music, I'm disappointed that Disney didn't bother to bring us a musical score. Fantasia is all about music so for crying out loud, don't use recycled material!

And because the music was composed first, it's been paired up with some bizzare animation that really doesn't blend. There was great potential here for the music. Being a composer myself, the scenes in the film were extremely inspiring, so it was hard to see them wasted with an ill-fitting score. The potential in the music department was huge, yet no one bothered to do anything remotely interesting with it.

I suppose that if the music Fantasia had chosen to showcase was very good, I wouldn't complain as much. But alas, we are presented with the most uninteresting works of the composers' careers! And it doesn't help that the arrangement for these piece are so unexciting. They're not bad, but they're extremely straightforward and uninteresting. If anyone can put a unique spin on tired old tunes, it's Disney. So why did they choose to play it safe? It's basically the same arrangement of these tunes you've heard all your life.

Come on Disney, at least change it up a little! Add some spice to it! Change the instruments, the genre, the feel! Something! It's a shame that in a movie about music, the score becomes the most disappointing part.

Well, maybe second most disappointing. The entertainment value here is the most disappointing. Sure the animation is pretty to look at initially. But after a while, it starts to get pretty dull. With almost no dialogue, no characters (except for the narrator, the "soundtrack" which I'll discuss later, and a brief appearance of Mickey and a wizard), and no plot, it becomes difficult to concentrate on the film. I ended up glancing at my watch as often as the screen.

There are only two truly entertaining bits. The first one occurs right after intermission. This involves the narrator introducing us to a character called, "The Soundtrack." He's a little bar that represents sound. So the Soundtrack does a few impressions for us. I laughed once here, and that's more than I can say for almost any of the rest of the film.

The second entertaining part of the film occurs during the penultimate segment, in which Dance of the Hours is adapted into a ballet with animals. There are a couple decent bits here, but the best part is at the end of the ballet. This is when a group of alligators dance with a group of hippos. This is one of the only times when humor is used during Fantasia, and one of the few times when I was actually enjoying myself.

You can argue that Fantasia isn't necessarily made to entertain. Than what is the point of it's existence? Is the point of a film not to entertain? Isn't that why we all sit around the television or drive to the cinema? To be entertained? We certainly don't watch it to be bored or blankly watch obscure images over a course of two hours. So is there any real reason for Fantasia to exist? I can't think of any.

Despite some beautiful visuals and rare moments of entertainment, Fantasia is a pointless film in almost all respects. It wastes it's gigantic potential on little more than an overlong montage. As a short film, this might've worked. But as a full length feature? Hardly! Fantasia represents a technical achievement, Mickey's most famous role in history, and two hours of my life I'll never get back.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

It's clear that The Hunchback Of Notre Dame is a Disney film. Many of the key components for a Disney film are here. However, there are some shockingly un-Disney like elements here. And while I wouldn't want all Disney films to be like The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, this is a very nice change of pace.

Frollo, a powerful king and a religious man is in charge of taking care of an ugly hunchback named Quasimodo in order to be forgiven of his sins, specifically, an act of murder. Quasimodo is in charge of ringing the bells in the chapel. But Quasimodo wants to be free, yet Frollo doesn't allow it. When Quasimodo finally does manage to escape briefly, he gets into a bit of a mess, but it helped by a rebellious gypsy named Esmerelda. Frollo, however, is obsessed with doing away with the gypsies, but Quasimodo is determined to help the gypsies which throws his life into chaos.

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame has all the Disney staples: Songs, humorous side characters, romance, Alan Menken score, and a happy ending. But Disney has tweaked the formula a bit, this time around.

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame is significantly darker than most other Disney films. While Disney clearly tries hard not to over do it, there are a lot of intensely dark scenes. Depending on your point of view, this could be a bad or good thing. Personally, I think the level of darkness here really works, even if it may be a bit much for younger kids.

One slightly disappointing thing about The Hunchback Of Notre Dame was it's humor. While there are many attempts at humor throughout the movie, I didn't laugh a whole lot. This isn't because the jokes are dumb, they're just, well, not that funny. They seem mostly more geared to the younger audience.

Rarely have I seen a film with so many songs. I'd like to say there's about 10 songs in the film (though some are just reprises). So it's a shame that the songs aren't very good. In fact, many of them are more like poems as opposed to songs. Many don't have a chorus, and they exist primarily to movie the story along. The songs are in great number, but they just aren't very memorable.

There are two decent songs in the film, though. One is the main theme; "The Bells of Notre Dame," and "Topsy Turvy" which wouldn't be nearly as special without the visuals.

And speaking of the visuals, they are stupendous. I feel like I'm always gushing about how great the visuals are when I review Disney films, and even though I always expect great visuals, I'm always impressed every time. And this is no exception.

The voices are a bit of a mixed bag. Tom Hulce has a less than stellar singing voice, but when he's not singing, he brings emotion and sympathy to Quasimodo. Demi Moore does well as Esmerelda, but there's nothing incredibly impressive here. By far the most impressive voice talent here, is that of Tony Jay as Frollo. Frollo delivers a lot of intense lines and musical numbers that Jay nails.

Though I've never been all that impressed with Alan Menken's scores, he really nails this one. With heavy emphasis on bells and choir, Menken delivers a grand and spectacular score to The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.

While lacking in humor and memorable songs, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame is a solid piece of work. Dark themes, a memorable villain, a winning score and jaw dropping visuals makes this a welcome addition to the Disney canon.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

It clearly says at the beginning of the film, that The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad is a Disney picture. However, I am convinced that "Disney" is a major typographical error, and this is really a 68 minute long Looney Tunes episode. There is a fine line between Animated Feature and Cartoon, and The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad crosses over to the Cartoon side.

The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad is a two part film. The first part is a story involving Mr. Toad, a crazed amphibian with no respect for the property of others. He is charged of stealing an automobile, though Mr. Toad claims he did not steal it. His friends and he must prove his innocence.

The second part is about a man named Ichabod Crane. He's skinny and odd, but despite this, he's a real lady magnet. But when attractive Ms. Katrina comes to town, it's a fight for the lady between Ichabod and town bully, Brom Bones.

I don't know why these two stories were combined into one movie. They're completely different from the other. The only thing they have in common, is that they're both exhausting.

Mr. Toad's story has some fun to it. Some of Toad's antics are amusing, and there are a couple of good lines. But overall, it's dull, and the slap-stick goes way overboard.

I decided to remain optimistic though. I had hopes that the second half with Ichabod would be better. Well, I admit: I was wrong. The second half is even worse. There is almost nothing noteworthy in the second half. The songs are dull and rather flat. It boasts an unoriginal story line. Also, somehow, the headless horseman gets worked into the end and it doesn't make even the slightest bit of sense.

The one good bit in the Ichabod half of the film, is a dance sequence where Ichabod and Brom are both trying to dance with Katrina. Yes, this kind of thing isn't all that original, but it's easily the best scene in the film (which, admittedly isn't saying much).

Ichabod's bit also ends with a chase scene between Ichabod and the Headless Horseman (who's involvement doesn't make even the slightest sense). This is incredibly dull and I can't imagine a worse way to end the film.

The animation is mostly bland. But it's kind of silly that the character's lips rarely match what they're actually saying (though this isn't a problem during the second half, where it's mostly narrated).

The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad is not a film. It's merely a cartoon disguised as a film (and the veil is relatively thin, at that). Disney rarely makes a bad animated film, but The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad is a major exception.

I suppose the reason that Ichabod And Mr. Toad is such a bad film, isn't so much that it's flawed (though it is), it has more to do with it being rather dull and forgettable. It does little to separate itself from the average Saturday morning cartoon. You would be better off watching the Looney Tunes shorts that The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad is so obviously trying to imitate.

While You Were Sleeping

You should never judge a movie by it's title. This is exactly the case with While Your Were Sleeping. Despite the rather awful title, While Your Were Sleeping is a surprisingly charming movie.

Lucy has no family. Few friends. And virtually nothing to look forward to in life except that cute guy (named Peter) who always comes down to the train station, where Lucy works, and buys a ticket for the train, every day. Then one day, Lucy sees Peter mugged and beaten and thrown onto the train tracks. Lucy ends up saving his life, but through a massive miscommunication, Peter's family thinks that Lucy is Peter's fiancee. But instead of explaining things to Peter's family, she begins to enjoy having a family. But things only get more complex as time passes.

While You Were Sleeping is incredibly cheesy, that much is undeniable. But under the hammy premise (that only gets worse as the film goes on), While You Were Sleeping is lots of fun.

While You Were Sleeping plays out like a long I Love Lucy episode. The filmmakers must have realized this too, as the main character is named Lucy, and there's a brief reference to Ricky Ricardo. Amusing twists (some more predictable than others) are inserted to keep filmgoers on their toes. The result is often hilarious.

The best bits of the film are when the whole family is together talking. They're often rambling about random topics until the end of the conversation that may leave you thinking, "What brought that up?" To make it more amusing, each family member is having a completely different conversation with another. I have trouble describing these parts, it's something you'd have to see for yourself.

While You Were Sleeping is very well acted. While there's nothing award-deserving here, the acting feels natural. The characters are memorable, and often funny. Sandra Bullock plays perfectly as a desperate young girl, and Bill Pullman is convincing as a secondary love interest.

The score (composed by Randy Edelman), while sometimes fun (especially during moments of chaos), the score sounds incredibly dated. The music isn't bad, but the dated themes are a little less pleasant than the rest of the score.

While You Were Sleeping manages to overcome it's cheesy premise and cliches. A committed cast and humorous situations makes While You Were Sleeping a fun, if predictable film.

The Adventures of Tintin

You should know that there is expected to be two more Tintin films, and that is a good thing.

I had the pleasure of reading the many Tintin comic books when I was younger, something that I recommend doing before you see this film. After hearing there was a movie planned, I was thrilled, to say the least. Like a geek, I researched everything and anything that had to do with the film, becoming more excited with every new discovery.

Then, I finally got to see the film. Was the film going to be awful? Amazing? Mediocre? I'll put it simply: I loved it.

You might know that this film is based off of the following three Tintin books; "The Crab With The Golden Claws," "The Secret Of The Unicorn," and "Red Rackham's Treasure." However, a much more accurate term would be "inspired" from these books, rather than based off of. The film only borrows scenes, locations, and characters rather than the stories and plots of each. This isn't really a bad thing though, because it's nice to get to expereince a new, if familiar, adventure.

When the film opens, the audience is treated to a 3 minute title sequence, portraying scenes from Tintin books, as well as showing off a fine musical theme by John Williams, whose musical talent is consistent throughout the film. In fact, it's one of my favorite film scores.

Once the actual film starts, we see Tintin in a flea market-like surrounding. This scene not only sets up the film, but does a fine job of displaying some of the greatest animation I've ever seen. It looks absolutely gorgeous, and quite life-like. The style choice is ingenious; putting cartoonish characters in a life-like setting. It's not unlike what other animation studios have done, but it's much more exaggerated in this film, and much more detailed.

The characters are portrayed faithfully. All the characters look like they do in the book, and the voice actors have been selected excellently. Tintin is exactly as I imagined him to be, the Thompson twins are hilarious, and all the other characters have been given a fine treatement as well. Even Bianca Castifore has a short scene.

I do have a few complaints regarding the character of Captian Haddock, however. In the book, he is portrayed as cranky, and usually drunk. In the film, he's portrayed as sad, stupid, occassionaly cheerful, and usually drunk. This portrayal is not a bad one, it's just not very faithful to the books. Also, Professor Calculus is omitted from the film, but he doesn't really belong in this film anyway. However, based on what I've heard the sequel is going to be about, Calculus will probably be added to the cast.

Also, for those who are curious, Snowy does not "think" as he does in the books, he's no different than any normal dog.

Me and the friends that I saw the film with, have all read the books, and it was very rewarding when watching the film. There are literally DOZENS of references, cameos, and easter eggs from the Tintin books. From characters walking in the background, to props, to posters, to names, to buildings, it doesn't end! There is actually a refrence to almost EVERY book in the series.

There are some excellent chase scenes, some exciting fight scenes, and some thrilling escape scenes. I can't remember I had so much fun at the theater. The film was also, quite hilarious, though there was some junevile humor that I didn't appreciate.

Out of a lot of praise, I do have some complaints. I have already expressed my feelings toward the change of Captian Haddock, but I do have some other things to point out as well. For one, the movie didn't have much of a plot. It felt more like the characters were trying to get from point A to point B, without much thought about what to do when they get there. Also, the film felt somewhat non-conclusive, but I feel that this was done intentionally for the sequels.

There was some cheesy dialogue (the last two lines spoken by Tintin and Haddock are ridiculously hammy), and Tintin just cannot say "Great Snakes!" without sounding forced.

I do love this film, I didn't want it to end. I am looking forward to the sequels, more so than any other film, and I have great anticipations for what Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg plan to do with the next Tintin.

Marvel's The Avengers

This review may contain a few spoilers. But at this point, everyone has already seen The Avengers, and if you haven't already, you're probably going to see it anyway. So why even bother with a review? Because there's no way I can say that I dislike The Avengers without explaining myself.

I'm not big on super heroes. The only film I've seen related to The Avengers is Iron Man 2, which I wasn't impressed with. So maybe I'm not the target audience for this film, but shouldn't a good film be tailored for ALL audiences?

The Avengers tries to be a smart and complex film, but in the end, the film is just about Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk, and Thor teaming up to stop Loki, who's bent on world domination.

The Avengers irritates me. A lot. And the reason for that (well, one of the reasons) is because it's all about the money. The Avengers doesn't take any risks. I probably could have told you exactly what was going to happen in the movie before I even saw it. The story held only one surprise, and it wasn't a pleasant one. The surprise was Loki's plan for world domination: Aliens.

Yup, The Avengers isn't just a cash grab, it's another alien movie. And the aliens aren't the only problem. Far from it. The Avengers is campy to the point of laughter. It's filled with cheap escapes and hammy dialogue.

I mentioned a moment ago that The Avengers is just a cash grab that doesn't take any risks. Allow me to elaborate on that, if you haven't already disowned me as a critic.

At the near ending point, Iron Man has to launch a nuclear missile into a portal to stop the alien invasion. After succeeding, it appears Iron Man may be dead. In the end, he lives. Surprise, surprise. If Iron Man dies, there can't be any Iron Man sequels, and one of the primary selling points of The Avengers won't be around for The Avengers 2.

Marvel has a huge money maker, and they know it. They weren't going to kill off Iron Man, they'll miss out on sequel opportunities to make even MORE money! A plot twist or a super hero dying would've made The Avengers a better film. But in the end, it's a predictable and straightforward film.

Of course, I knew The Avengers wasn't going to be an intellectual film, but was it too much to ask that The Avengers might be a little more than a trace-the-lines action movie? For crying out loud, audiences have endured 6 films in anticipation of The Avengers. I think at this point, Marvel should've given as a quality product.

The action is nothing new. There was nothing regarding the action that I haven't already seen. There needed to be a new twist to the action or something. But all we get is basic beat-him-up-and-deliver-one-liners fights. The sheer scale of the action and the speed and manic in which it is delivered was enough to evoke artificial excitement from audience members, but surely SOMEONE had to see how cliche this all is.

And then there's the humor which consists almost entirely of predictable one-liners. Nearly all the humor in this movie has been presented in the same way in other films. But audiences aren't laughing because it IS funny, audiences are laughing because it's SUPPOSED to be funny. Otherwise, there would be little laughter at all. Sure, some of the dialogue was pretty funny, but I scarcely laughed at all.

And nothing even really happens for the first hour and a half. Everything that happens in The Avengers feels pointless and uninteresting.

But I suppose The Avenger's isn't all bad. The acting is decent, but not incredible. There aren't going to be any award nominations for acting, but the acting is serviceable.

As expected, the special effects are incredible. Even if I didn't enjoy the film much, the special effects were incredible. There's enough eye candy to make The Avengers at least endurable.

And the score by Alan Silverstri, while often generic, has more than a few bright spots. I was pleasantly surprised by the score, even if it there were a few missed opportunities.

And speaking of pleasant surprises, I was quite impressed at how well The Avengers managed to juggle all the super heroes, giving each ample screen time, and not letting one take over the rest. I expected Robert Downey Jr. to steal the show, but for the most part, the parts were balanced well.

The Avengers isn't completely terrible, but I can't excuse The Avenger's laziness. There were no risks taken, everything is very straightforward. I wasn't expecting a masterpiece, but I was hoping The Avengers wouldn't be completely pointless. A villain is bent on world domination, so a bunch of people join together to stop him. Is that the best you can do Marvel?

Ugh, forget it Marvel, I'm not seeing The Avengers 2. If I ever want to see a quality super hero movie, I'll wait for The Incredibles 2.

The Sandman
The Sandman(1991)

Maybe it's just because I haven't seen very many shorts, or maybe I'm just easily scared, but The Sandman is terrifying. Really, it's scary beyond reason. Creepy, but thoroughly incredible.

A little boy walks up the steps to bed at night, but the Sandman is coming to get him.

The claymation is wonderful. The art form is even better. And the music is eerie and creepy.

The Sandman is not hard to recommend; it's creepy with a wonderfully horrific ending. The solid animation further carries this short. So unless you're easily scared, there's no reason not to see this film.

The Untouchables

I saw a movie earlier this year called Valkyrie. It was about a group of men who were determined to assassinate Adolf Hitler, and were willing to go to great heights to do so. For the most part, though, Valkyrie was dull and uninspired. And while The Untouchables reminds me distinctly of Valkyrie, The Untouchables is far from from dull or uninspired.

Similarly to Valkryrie, The Untouchables is about a group of men- A lawman named Elliot, a cop named Jim, an accountant named Oscar, and a cop-in-training named George- who all share an interest in bringing a villainous man to justice. In this case, it's Al Capone. With alcohol made illegal, Al Capone is making a fortune illegally selling booze. Elliot and co intend to prove Capone is guilty, but Capone has his resources.

Like Valkyrie, The Untouchables is superbly acted. You really believe in the characters. Their loss is yours. They're unforgettable; all thanks to the actors. Kevin Costner is a believable family man. Sean Connery gets more one liners than the rest of the cast combined. Charles Martin Smith is the nerd-becomes-cool characters and acts with personality to spare. But most of the kudos has to go to Robert De Niro, who plays Al Capone. He's easily the most iconic of the characters in the film, and he's appropriately nasty.

Unlike Valkyrie, we're given some top-notch action. We don't just get one or two decent action scenes; we get a whole mess of them, and none of them are cheap or forgettable. They're all thrilling and heart-pounding. All of them, unique show-stoppers. Just a sampling; a gun fight with smugglers on a bridge, the classic "train station" scene, and a frantic roof-top chase.

The score has become quite iconic, so I'll spend a little time discussing it. Composed by Ennio Morocone, the score is a clever mix of incidental music, jazz, and retro 30's music. And while the score is memorable, and undeniably incredible, the percussion often overpowers, and some of the music in the "sweet" scenes is a bit too run of the mill for my taste. And while this does make the score a little less excellent, it is, unarguably fantastic.

The cinematography is wonderful. There's one scene in particular where the camera plays the point of view of an assassin, sneaking around someone's house at night time. It's scenes like this where the cinematography really shines.

The Untouchables is a fun and sometimes frantic film, with a memorable score, fantastic acting, and some unforgettable action sequences. And while I wouldn't say it's quite untouchable, it's unexpectedly smart and entertains to the last minute.

The Black Cauldron

I never thought Disney could get it so wrong. But they did. The Black Cauldron is quite possibly, the worst film to come from the house of mouse. It's aggressively un-Disney, but unfortunately, that works against this shockingly awful fantasy film.

The Black Cauldron is a story about a young boy named Taran who wants to be more than a pig-keeper. His wish comes true, though, when it turns out that his pig, Hen-Ren can predict the future and create visions. Taran is told by his master Dallben to go into hiding with Hen-Ren, in order to protect the location of the mystical Black Cauldron from the Horned King. On the way, Taran meets a young princess named Elionwy, an old musician named Fflewddur, and a cowardly ewok-like creature named Gurgi.

I knew this film was doomed as soon as I learned the pig was psychic.

The characters, unfortunately, are neither memorable, nor likeable. Taran is always drowning himself in his sorrows, Elionwy is an obvious stereotype, Gurgi fails to evoke laughter, and The Horned King's tiny assistant is easily the most annoying cartoon character ever depicted.

Had I not seen the Disney logo preceding the film, I would never have guessed The Black Cauldron was a Disney film. It's surprisingly dark, and there isn't much humor. In fact, the few times there are attempts at humor, they usually fall flat. I don't recall ever laughing during The Black Cauldron.

Another typically uncharacteristic thing about The Black Cauldron, was how dull it is. I never found myself thrilled, but I was constantly bored. The Black Cauldron just cannot excite the audience in the slightest.

Regardless, Elmer Bernstein provides a very good score, even if it takes a bit to warm up.

But The Black Cauldron is, at least, a visual treat. Many effects are simply stunning. The animation is wonderful, especially for a film of it's age. It's just a shame that there wasn't a decent movie to accompany the visuals.

Disney is usually reliable when it comes to their animated films, so it was certainly shocking to see a Disney film this bad. It's too dull, the characters are annoying, and the logic of the film is constantly changing. Outside of the lovely visuals (and an occasionally lively score), there isn't much to recommend in The Black Cauldron.

Treasure Planet

Treasure Planet has not been greeted with negative reception, by any means. But compared to other Disney films, the response has been lukewarm at best, and Treasure Planet was a major box office flop. But here's the catch: It's really good. Like, really, really good.

Treasure Planet is inspired by the Robert Louis Stevenson's classic, Treasure Island. Having not read the book myself, I cannot judge how closely the movie follows the book (my guess is not much due to the fact that this is an outer space adventure), but it provides a wonderfully entertaining yarn anyway.

Jim is something of a rebel, but it's mostly his Dad's fault for leaving him and his mother at such a young age. Jim is constantly in trouble with the law, and his mother doesn't know what to do with her nearly-adult son. But when Jim gets a map from a deranged sea captain, Jim hopes to redeem himself and bring back the gold of Treasure Planet. A canine friend named Doppler tag along, as the two sail on a ship with a questionable crew, a cyborg cook named Mr. Silver, the captain named Amelia, and a host of others.

The characters are instantly memorable. Yes, we have the stereotype "cute" character in the form of a shapeshifting alien named Morph. Yes, we have the stereotype villain in the form of a sneaky spider named Scroop. And yes, we have the stereotype "humor" character in the form of a robot named B.E.N. (who I didn't find all that funny at all). But there's a slew of original characters elsewhere.

The protagonist, for example, Jim is a slightly different glove than the kind Disney usually likes to wear. Far from perfect with a messed up moral compass, Jim is rebellious, and doesn't like to take orders, but we see him change throughout the movie into a much more respectable chap.

Likewise, Mr. Silver, who is the film's primary villain, never really knows if he wants to help Jim, or deploy his villainous plot to take the booty of Treasure Planet for himself. He's an interesting villain, far more interesting than almost any other villain that Disney has brought us so far.

The visuals are incredible. Stunning. Really some of Disney's best. The same technology used in Disney's, also gorgeous, Tarzan film has been employed here with even better results. CGI backgrounds and often props mix with traditionally animated characters creating a visually superb film.

And of course, Treasure Planet is hilarious. While B.E.N. is more than a tad annoying, he has some redeeming lines, and there are lots of other humorous characters as well. Captain Amelia gets a lot of great lines, and Doctor Doppler is equally funny.

The score was unexpectedly wonderful. This is really some of Disney's best work in the music department. Composed by James Newton Howard (a composer I've had mixed feelings about), the score balances emotion and playfulness skillfully, applying enough strong, triumphant tunes as well for some of the more grand scenes.

Unfortunately for Treasure Planet, there is a montage that occurs just before the halfway point, that was just screaming for the score to kick in and deliver the musical masterpiece to get it nominated for Best Original Score. Alas, Treasure Planet has decided to insert an incredibly irritating lyrical song instead. The song has an extremely loud and annoying sounding drum section, and an ill-fitting electric guitar. What could've been the centerpiece of the film, turns out to be the worst part, and this really is a shame.

Treasure Planet shocked me by delivering one of Disney's best films so far. There's an abundance of memorable characters that you really care about, beautiful animation, and it's naturally hilarious.

And while these are all important traits for a film, Treasure Planet also has something even more important: A heart. Treasure Planet doesn't settle for artificial sentimental stuff that so many other films have adopted and use only to attract a broader audience. Treasure Planet brings us a genuinely emotional film that I will not soon forget.

Alice in Wonderland

Alice In Wonderland really is a mixed bag. I know that's hardly a way to begin a review, but when you've got a bag as mixed as this, it's hard to know quite where to start. I never can tell what Alice In Wonderland is trying to be, whether a drama, an action movie, a comedy, but it appears to be juggling all three at once, which provides mixed results, as I mentioned previously.

Instead of being a mere adaption of the Alice In Wonderland book, Tim Burton instead creates a story that occurs 13 years after. Alice is set to marry a lord who she does not want to marry at all. Demands from her mother and parents of Alice's predetermined husband further confuse and frustrate Alice. So to escape it all, she follows a familiar rabbit into a rabbit hole, and we all know what will happen from there.

Or do we?

Since this is, in fact, 13 years after the original Wonderland incident, things have changed. Wonderland (or Underland, as we learn it is called) has become a much darker, and dangerous place. Alice is destined to slay a beast called the Jabberwocky, but she doubts herself, and the Red Queen wants her killed.

It's all a little bit more complicated than it needs to be. But Underland is all about complications.

I will start by pointing out Alice In Wonderland's biggest strength: The visuals. Between the magnificent makeup, the ridiculous costumes, the outrageous hair, and stunning special effects (and they are stunning sometimes), Alice In Wonderland is one of the most visually captivating films ever made.

But if only everything else was as wonderful and undeniably incredible as the visual effects. The characters, while mostly amusing, feel a little bit...predictable. Tim Burton usually likes to recreate the characters, but instead, we get virtually the same characters from the book (and animated Disney movie), with little exception. True, Burton tries to flesh them out a bit more and add additional back story, but it does little to separate the characters in this adaption from the animated version.

The acting, like the film, is a huge mixed bag. That's not to say that there are BAD actors. All the acting is very good, it's just expected. Predictable, like the characters. Most everyone is played by the book, with no special spin on almost any of them. Johnny Depp disappoints in his role as the Mad Hatter. He needs to be over the top and ridiculous. Instead, he's just rather ordinary. What happened to the wacky, bizzareness that be brought us in Charlie In The Chocolate Factory?

But this isn't always the case with the acting. Helena Bonham Carter (as the Red Queen) is as outrageous and ridiculous as she needs to be, and more. Her acting is by far the most impressive in the film. Carter ends up doing the performance Depp should've done, but doesn't. One performance I didn't expect to like was Anne Hathaway's as The White Queen. "She's much too recognizable." I thought. And I was right. But she does perfectly. She's extremely dramatic and flowy, and she does a marvelous job.

Without doing any research on the score beforehand, I knew that it was composed by Danny Elfman. After looking it up after the film, I was proven correct. Here's how I knew: It sounds like all his other scores. Yes, Elfman's a great composer, but all his scores sound alike, each borrowing elements from his last score. If Elfman can't get his act together, Burton may need to look for a new composer.

My last opinion about Alice In Wonderland may be the most important: It makes sense. Well, mostly anyway. It's not nearly as whimsical and bizzare as it should be. It's actually, relatively straight forward. Alice In Wonderland just isn't weird enough. It needs to be more odd. More outrageous. The animated version did a much better job at this.

I wanted to like this film. I wanted to love it. But Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland just isn't the film it should be. But it's not half-bad. If you haven't already seen Alice In Wonderland, it's not a bad diversion; it's just not a very good one.

The Iron Giant

Brad Bird has directed two Pixar films; The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Both of these are big favorites of mine. Browsing through films, The Iron Giant caught my eye. I could only hope that I enjoyed this film as much as I did Ratatouille or The Incredibles. The verdict is that the film wasn't was good as either Pixar films, but is more than exceptional entertainment. In fact, this is one of the best non-Pixar animated films I've ever seen.

The film opens with a gorgeously animated sequence of a futuristic vehicle flying through space, until it lands in the middle of the ocean where a boat sails nearby. The captain of the boat stares curiously where he saw the flash of light...then a giant 50-foot robot emerges from the ocean.

The film only gets better from there. A young boy named Hogarth is at the diner where his Mom works long hours. The boy overhears a conversation about the Iron Giant, and wonders if it truly exists. His question is later answered when he sees the robot near a power plant, and ends up saving the giant's life.

The two become friends, though the boy has to hide the giant to avoid the government (and his Mom) from finding out (Think E.T.).

The film is quite funny, and it's filled with stunning animation and memorable characters. The story matches up to Pixar quality, in both heart and substance.

There are a lot of tricky issues that are discussed in this film; death namely. The Iron Giant is curious about Earth, and one of his experiences is a deer being shot by hunters. The Iron Giant is traumatized by the experience, and Hogarth explains death as well as he can.

"Death isn't a bad thing," Hogarth says, "Everyone dies."
"You die?" The Iron Giant asks.
"Well, yeah, someday." Hogarth says.
"...I die?" The Iron Giant ponders.
"I...don't know. Maybe..."

The film is very thought provoking, and in some of it's many humorous scenes, laugh provoking. It's even a little tear-jerking at times.

If you understand or appreciate anything about movies, this film should be viewed as a must-see. Something you have to experience at least once.

Pooh's Heffalump Movie

Pooh has proved itself to be as dependable as Pixar. I've never been disappointed thus far with a Winnie the Pooh film, and they've all provided strong, whimsical, and entertaining adventures. And then came Pooh's Heffalump Movie.

Pooh's Heffalump Movie stars Roo, who decides to hunt and capture a heffalump that's on the loose. Roo does find and capture the heffalump (named Lumpy), but it's not as scary as Pooh and friends think, and Roo becomes fast friends with the creature.

Pooh's Heffalump Movie has unfortunately decided to pander more to younger kids this time around. Most of the gags will only appeal to toddlers, and the whimsy that has surrounded previous Pooh films is almost completely gone.

Pooh and the gang is back, more or less as you remember them, though with a few exceptions. Owl is completely omitted, and while we see Christopher Robin briefly in the credits, we never hear him speak.

I was originally skeptical about the newest addition to the cast, the heffalump named Lumpy. But I didn't mind him. I don't think he brings anything new to the cast, and I'm certainly not sad that he hasn't returned to most of the future outings, but he wasn't annoying (mostly), and he was a little cute.

There are a couple songs, which are dull and instantly forgettable. In addition, there are occasionally songs playing in the background, which didn't hurt the film at all, but it did little to improve it. There's not much to say about the score; it's mostly mediocre.

The animation is certainly a cut above that of Pooh's Grand Adventure, but there's nothing jaw-dropping to see.

I scarcely remember laughing at all during the movie. I'm sure this is superb for younger children, but I was usually bored. If you have kids, they'll probably love this. But if you came expecting the heart, fun, and whimsy of previous Pooh films, you'll be sorely disappointed as I was.

Cars 2
Cars 2(2011)

Okay, let me re-explain what you probably know; Cars 2 is widely being considered as Pixar's worst. This is true. It's also being widely considered as a bad film. This is not true. I personally believe this is another great film from Pixar, it just plunges a little more into the Dreamworks tub.

The story revolves around Mater, rather than Lightning McQueen, a mixed decision in my opinion. On one hand, Lightning McQueen is a bland character, with little personality. And Mater, while much more interesting and defined, is also extremely one dimensional, and that really shows when he becomes the star of the show.

Mater is mistaken as an American spy by two secret agents, Flinn McMissile and Holly Shiftwell. Mater then takes part in many missions, while the two secret agents have no idea he's just a regular tow truck. In the meantime, Lightning McQueen is on a World Grand Prix in hopes of beating the cocky, Francesco. There's a bit more to the plot than this, but that's the gist of it.

The film certainly looks like a Pixar film. The animation is easily Pixar's best; appearing more detailed than that of Toy Story 3, and the various race/spy scenes give the movie a chance to show what it can do. Some things look impeccably real (in the last 20 minutes of the film, take a look at the trees).

The film sounds like a Pixar movie too. The musical soundtrack is performed masterfully by Michael Giacchino. Also, the voice talents have been selected carefully, just as in all Pixar films. The original voice actors are back (though due to the death of two characters, Fillmore's voice has been replaced and Doc is deceased), though most of them get few appearances. Also, John Ratzenberger (who gets a role in every Pixar film) has an infestimal role in this film: only two lines.

So, the film sounds and looks like a Pixar, but it doesn't feel like one. Compared to the other Pixars, the story is weak and disappointing. Also, there is none of the heart and emotion that made the other Pixars so lovable.

There's little adult-kid balance, so most parents won't be watching with their kids, which is completely opposite of other Pixars, where parents may enjoy the film more than the kids.

I said earlier that this film is more like a Dreamworks movie. This is because of the lack of emotion, the shallow story, and the kid appeal. Even the humor is a little more Dreamworks oriented, a lot of it being roll-your-eyes kind of humor, and there's even some potty humor. That's not to say you won't laugh; there are plenty of amusing bits, but overall, it pales in comparison to Pixar's previous efforts.

Concluding, this is Pixar's worst film, hands down. However, it's still a great film, although flawed. It's certainly not a must see like the other Pixars, but it's good enough.

Just don't do this to us again, Pixar: I won't be quite as forgiving.

Even Pigeons Go to Heaven (Meme les pigeons vont au paradis)

Even Pigeons Go To Heaven is an interesting short, to say the least. Whether it's trying to be a drama or a comedy is anyone's guess, but it's quite a piece of work anyway.

The plot is about an elderly man who is urged by a priest to buy a piece of machinery that will guarantee his arrival at heaven (as opposed to the alternative).

It's bizzare yes, but sometimes funny, and sometimes dark.

Also, the musical score is the best for an animated short in recent, or even long-term memory.

This isn't the kind of film that anyone will enjoy, but it's a treat for those who will.

Lilo & Stitch

At first glance, Lilo and Stitch seems a lot like E.T. An alien is found and cared for by a small child from a broken home, while the alien learns to adjust to the world. But rather than dismiss Lilo and Stitch as a rip off of the famed film, I suggest seeing the film for yourself (if you haven't already). It's worth seeing.

There are several differences in the story that are enough to make Lilo and Stitch feel like it's own. For one, the location is in Hawaii, which adds a nice atmosphere to Lilo and Stitch. The situation with the family is even more dire; Lilo, a little girl, may be taken away from her older sister who is parenting her due to death of their father.

Stitch, the furry and vicious beast from outer space has escaped execution by crash-landing on Earth. But after being hit by a semi-truck, Stitch is put into a dog pound (though no one's sure quite what he is), and is eventually adopted by Lilo, much to her sister's dismay.

The animation is some of the best I've seen in a 2D animated film. This is most evident in the water scenes, and during a spaceship chase/fight towards the end. A rainbow of colors decorate the animation giving the film a vibrant and upbeat feel, even during some of the more emotionally intense scenes.

Lilo and Stitch manages to be rather funny, though not as much as other Disney efforts. The best lines come from the disgustingly underused alien, Pleakley. Other characters get less amusing jokes (with Stitch carrying most of the extra bulk).

Also, Lilo and Stitch incorporates many lyrical songs in the background (many of them being Elvis oriented). Usually, lyrical songs in the background can be extremely irritating or distracting, but it works for the film's advantage here.

Unfortunately, the title characters can be extremely un-likeable at times, which makes it hard to root for them. Also, as fun as Lilo and Stitch can be, it's also a bit exhausting.

Lilo and Stitch is certainly not at the top of my favorite Disney films, but it's funny enough, beautifully animated, and unique, if a little odd.

Robin Hood
Robin Hood(1973)

I can't exactly call Robin Hood an obscure film. This is Disney after all. But it is one of their lesser known films, which is due to it being a worse film than other Disney films. It's not bad, by any means. It's another solid Disney film, I just can't call it a masterpiece.

This is basically an adaption of Robin Hood, but with animals portraying the characters. Robin Hood steals from the rich, gives to the poor (with the help of not-so Little John), while King John and his henchmen attempt to arrest and execute him.

There are three things that Disney is known for in their animated films: Good songs, memorable characters, and romance. Unfortunately, Robin Hood doesn't completely deliver.

The songs are a major disappointment compared to Disney's previous work. One or two are decent, but most are forgettable, and unoriginal. The songs are partially saved, however, by a fantastic score, courtesy of George Bruns who previously scored The Jungle Book.

The characters are often stereotypes. The King John is cowardly, Robin Hood is cunning and cocky, the sheriff is generically evil, etc. We've seen many of these characters before, and Little John is just WAY too similar to Baloo for comfort (it doesn't help that Phil Harris voices both).

But is there romance? Well, yes, but it's not very good. Like the characters, it's very stereotypical, but it still helps to move the story along.

So, you're probably asking yourself, right about now, what IS good about Robin Hood? Well, I'm glad you asked.

While the characters are stereotypes, the voice acting is superb. Characters are often funny. The action is decent for an animated film. And I already mentioned the fabulous musical score.

Robin Hood manages to entertain from start to finish.

The best part of Robin Hood, though, is the first act. It's not complex; Robin Hood and Little John rob Prince John. That's all there is to it. But it's funny, and extremely entertaining. In the end, nothing else in the film tops the first act.

The animation, is obviously cut-rate. We see repeated character animations, and it's all just very lazy looking. I didn't mind too much, though.

Robin Hood is