Friday, June 24, 2005

Land of the Dead (**1/2)

Director George Romero returns to the genre he practically invented and defined, and the results are mixed. I enjoyed the first half of the film. Much time is spent showing the effect the Zombies have had on our society. It's interesting to see the humans split into different factions: those with money and those without. For many of them, Zombies have become a way of life. They learn to cope with that fact and take advantage of it. For the Zombies, they're growing smarter. They learn. Heck, one of them, affectionately called "Big Daddy," even wields a machine gun and acts as a leader calling on the others to unite. So far, so good. But then, the movie starts to drag. There's action in it, but it's not very exciting. There aren't a lot of scares, so it's not that scary either. In short, the second half of the film just kind of lumbers along like the Zombies themselves. It's all rather predictable and echoes a lot of what we saw in Day of the Dead, only with fewer guts and gore as it appears that Romero was contracted to deliver an R-rating. If you're a fan of these type of movies, you may dig it. All others should avoid.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Herbie: Fully Loaded (**)

Harmless Disney fluff. Families might enjoy this wacky little throwaway movie, but I don't think it has much appeal beyond that. If anything, it's nice to see Lindsay Lohan looking like a normal girl, and not the skeleton with skin that she is now. Michael Keaton and Matt Dillon are wasted, but at least they got a paycheck. Herbie's CGI contortions are thankfully kept to a minimum. Admittedly, I've never seen any of the other Herbie movies, so I don't know how this one stacks up, but I'm not exactly inspired to go and check them out. I guess if you go see this one, you know what you're getting into.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Howl's Moving Castle (**)

I don't get what the big deal is with Miyazaki animated films. His Spirited Away won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature a few years back, and his current film, Howl's Moving Castle, is drawing equal acclaim. I don't see why. The animation is done in that annoying wide-eyed anime style, and, aside from the moving castle, it's not even fun to look at. The vocal work by Billy Crystal, as the talking fire Calcifer, is distracting, and the story is just not that involving. Clocking in at just over two hours, you may be checking your watch often with this one.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Batman Begins (****)

I love this movie. Hats off to Christopher Nolan and David Goyer, who co-scripted, and Nolan, who directed. This is Batman as it's never been told before: dark, scary, complex, character-driven, and brilliantly acted. Imagine that: an intelligent, exciting, and totally entertaining mainstream Hollywood blockbuster that focuses more on story and character than it does on special effects and gee-whiz thrills. Don't get me wrong though. The gee-whiz thrills are there and then some. But what this film does really well is focus on the man behind the mask.
Christian Bale is wonderful in the role, and I think, the most accomplished actor to take on the part. He invests Bruce Wayne with depth and grace, and when he dons the cape and mask, the voice he uses is like a creature out of hell: it puts the fear in anyone. I really enjoyed the fact that this one focused so much on Batman. All the previous Batman movies were fascinated by the villains. Here, the villains are low-key, believable, and they all take a back seat to Batman.
Believability is another key element of the film. Nolan and Goyer have done an incredible job of deconstructing the legend and fashioning an origin tale that is both super and yet totally of-this-world. Gotham City is a weird mix of many big cities, and it manages both to be futuristic and utterly modern. The weapons and the Batmobile are all given practical explanations, as are Batman's fighting skills.
And how about that cast? Michael Caine is awesome as Alfred: funny, wise, and touching when his loyalty to the Wayne family is on display. Morgan Freeman is like the "Q" to Bale's Bond and their scenes together are among the more enjoyable in the movie. I could go on and on. Nobody is overacting here. They're all wonderfully understated.
This is an excellent set-up for what Nolan and Goyer intend to be a trilogy. Why stop at three? If they are anywhere near as good as this one, audiences are going to be in for a special treat. It's rare that I'll leave a movie, especially one that runs roughly 2.5 hours, wanting to go right back in and see it again. I felt like that after seeing Batman Begins though. I even clapped at the end of it. For me, this is pure moviegoing heaven.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (**)

Mr. & Mrs. Smith is a star vehicle with an okay premise that wears itself pretty thin over the course of two hours. Brad Pitt is in relaxed, goofy mode here and he's fun to watch. Angelina Jolie, on the other hand, can't do comedy to save her life, and it seems she combed through the script beforehand to make sure everything she did onscreen was tough and "bad ass." She ends up just being a bore. Director Doug Liman keeps things moving admirably, and there's a great knock-down, drag-out fight between the couple in their own home. But the movie doesn't know when to end and keeps going unnecessarily for about a half-hour more after that. The script is pretty inane, with weak banter between the two, and even weaker subplots. I wish the movie were more in line with Vince Vaughn's very funny performance as an assassin who lives with his mom. I would have rather watched a movie about him and Brad Pitt, than I would Brangelina.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

High Tension (**1/2)

This movie is excellent up until the last fifteen minutes or so. First, let's discuss what it does well. Derivative as it is, it does a good job of nailing the style and tone of those great, low budget 70's thriller-horror flicks like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Duel. The movie is spectacularly intense for most of its running time, and really does live up to its title. Before it gets overly "clever," the story is very simplistic: a crazy trucker kills an entire family, and it's up to one woman to escape from the house and stop him. About that crazy trucker: he's given little MO other than just going around killing young girls' families and then kidnapping the girls, cutting off their heads, and making their decapitated heads give him a blow job. Sick, twisted, and definitely not the PG-13 ghost horror we've been seeing a lot of lately. So up till now, it's a bloody, scary good time. And then....SPOILER ALERT! The movie decides it doesn't want to be a simple, balls to the wall straight up horror flick, and thinks it needs to be about something. So what does it turn to? That's right! The ol' multiple personality twist at the end. Apparently, the crazy trucker is actually the woman he's terrorizing! What a load of crap. This movie was going for ***1/2 stars, and it's lucky to be getting **1/2. For the love of all that is good and pure, STOP with the multiple personality twist endings. We don't need a twist. Just give us some crazy-ass trucker, don't explain why he's so crazy, and just scare us. That's all we need.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Lords of Dogtown (**1/2)

This movie has more talent behind the cameras than you would think. Although the movie teeters on the edge of just a bunch of kids going around being "extreme," it's saved by Catherine Hardwicke's spectacular directing. She previously directed Thirteen and here, she captures the thrill of skateboarding in its early days by giving you an upfront seat the action, and really nails the 70's atmosphere. Heath Ledger is also fantastic in a supporting role. I liked it, but the movie lost focus when the boys started getting famous. The subject was almost too big for an hour and a half movie. I never got a sense of how their style of skateboarding caught on with the world. Much better than I thought it would be though.

Rock School (***)

Highly enjoyable documentary. Almost as entertaining as the Jack Black flick. For some reason, a grown man swearing around children never fails to make me laugh. Stepping into the role of teacher is Paul Green. He's a cocky and camera-loving fool but we like him because he truly seems to have the kids interests at heart and connects to them in ways that other adults never could. My only real complaint is that the film seems to reveal everything up its sleeve in the first hour or so, and tends to sag towards the end. It's kind of a one trick pony, but a good trick nevertheless. Very funny.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Madagascar (**1/2)

Fine family entertainment. The number of pop culture references are thankfully kept to a minimum, and when they are used, they're pretty funny. The animation is stylistically rendered and like most computer animated films, it's a joy to look at. The script is pretty slight, however, and the movie takes about half of its running time to truly get rolling. The celebrity cast does fine vocal work, but it's Da Ali G Show's Sacha Baron Cohen who steals the show. Dreamworks animation is no Pixar, and I don't think this one will appeal beyond the family crowd like Shrek or Finding Nemo did.