Saturday, July 30, 2005

Stealth (*)

Inane action flick clearly designed to appeal to those ten year old boys who just got their first X-Box. This movie wastes the talents of all involved, especially Jamie Foxx who is given nothing to do except play the horny flyboy. The movie is basically one long visual effects shot, and a boring one at that. Stealth fighter planes soar through the air at rapid speed, but who cares? The story concerns a Navy experiment with an artificially intelligent plane that goes haywire and starts acting out a la Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The A.I. plane, or EDI as it's called (Extreme Deep Invader) is supposed to be scary and menacing, but for some reason, director Rob Cohen likes to use sub-level, generic Bush/'90s rock tunes as a sort of mood setter whenever the plane goes crazy. It's almost laughable how incompetent this movie is at times. Too bad the movie takes itself so seriously. It actually thinks it has something to say. It doesn't.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Murderball (***1/2)

Awesome documentary. Rich, funny, emotional--there really aren't enough adjectives to describe it. The movie doesn't limit itself to just covering the extreme sport of quad rugby, but rather, it gives us a real-life glimpse of the men in the wheelchairs and their families, thier struggles, their triumphs, and everything in between. There's a lot of good father-son moments in the film that will have a lot of the guys in the audience weeping silently. More significantly, the movie busts through stereotypes and breaks down social barriers, and makes you open your eyes a little. You'd be hard pressed to find a documentary, or even a fictional film, with characters and situations as compelling as those in Murderball.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Island (***)

Those in the mood for an exciting, well-paced sci-fi actioner could do worse than Michael Bay's latest. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson star as clones on the run, who escape a very THX 1138/Minority Report existence. The things that happen in this movie could only happen in a Michael Bay movie. When Bay puts his mind to it, he is as good at filming action than anyone else out there. There is a car chase in the middle of the movie that I couldn't help but smile at. The man is just so destructive. The amount of cars and highway totaled just for a few minutes of film is staggering. I also really liked Ewan McGregor's performance. He has some great scenes playing against himself, and the special effects are top notch in this aspect as well. While I don't feel the film is all that original, the score is pretty rancid, and Bay, as per usual, over directs, I really enjoyed it on its own merits. A big, loud, dumb action film.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Wedding Crashers (***)

A breath of fresh air in a summer of remakes and sequels. This is one funny movie. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn play off each other remarkably well. Vaughn is on fire the entire movie. Every joke out of his mouth is a winner, and that guy talks fast. Wilson gets stuck with an obligatory romantic comedy subplot, but he's likeable, as is The Notebook's Rachel McAdams. The movie goes on a little too long, but it has built up so much goodwill in the audience before then that you don't really care. Plus, there's a great cameo in the end. I won't spoil who it is though. Still, this one should make Vaughn the star that Swingers fans always knew he was. Great cast, and lots of laughs. Wedding Crashers is the real comedy deal. A wickedly funny R-rated romp that's as enjoyable for girls as it is for guys.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (**1/2)

This latest remake/reimagining/redo from Tim Burton is at times a marked improved over the original film, and at others maddeningly uneven and redundant. The direction, the production design, and Danny Elfman's score are all wondrous and fantastically realized. This is a winning team, and one would think that the addition of Johnny Depp would knock this one out of the park. When Depp and Burton have combined in the past, the result has been magic. Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood are the obvious standouts. Here, however, Depp all but sinks the movie with his hammy, unlikeable, and way too self aware performance. Maybe it's the inevitable comparisons to Gene Wilder that do him in. I don't know. It didn't work for me at all. It wasn't in keeping with the rest of the film, especially when Freddy Highmore gives such a sweet, good-natured performance in the title role of Charlie. It's a shame the character of Willy Wonka was so misconstrued here. It's also unfortunate that the movie seems to be obsessed with him, all but forgetting about Charlie along the way. On the plus side, Elfman contributes some nifty, though unintelligible, tunes for the Oompa-loompas, and Burton keeps things wickedly dark and demented at times. Damn you Depp.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Fantastic Four (**)

Stupid and harmless comic book flick that misses the chance to be something more. I think we've been too spoiled by the comic book adaptations as of late: Spider-Man 2, The Incredibles, Sin City, and Batman Begins have all raised the bar so high that it's a bit of a disappointment to watch a film that hearkens back to mid-90's forgettable superhero flicks like The Phantom or The Shadow. While not as appallingly bad as Catwoman, this one's just cheesy and inconsequential. The special effects are really bad, but Jessica Alba may be even worse. The only actor who really nails his character and the tone this movie should have been going for is Chris Evans as the Human Torch. The script is pretty pathetic and at times, even comes close to reaching Batman & Robin levels of garishness. Julian McMahon of Nip/Tuck fame could have been a good villain, but the screenwriters failed to give him any discernible motivation for turning so evil. It seems like they just figured that with an hour and a half gone by, it might make sense to add some external conflict for the characters. I did like that the filmmakers used real makeup and costume effects to create The Thing rather than just go with some CGI creation like they did with the Hulk a few years back. In the end, this isn't really a hateable movie. Just a missed opportunity. A sloppy adaptation. The folks at Marvel and Fox let a potentially great franchise slip right out of their hands.

Dark Water (**1/2)

Surprisingly not bad. For me, this movie works better as a tense little drama about the struggles of a lower-class, recently divorced family than it does as a supernatural thriller. It's not really that scary or creepy, and the end is a bit sappy and ridiculous. But there is a good stretch of the movie, say an hour or so, where you're just caught up in the trials and tribulations of Jennifer Connelly's character as she and her daughter try to survive in a world that's all but given up on them. The acting in this movie is also above average. Jennifer Connelly is good, but it's the male supporting performances that are a real delight. John C. Reilly, Tim Roth, and Pete Postlewaithe all seem to be having a blast giving truly nuanced and adept character portrayals. When they're on screen, the movie clicks.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Me and You and Everyone We Know (***1/2)

An unusual and somewhat brilliant little quirkfest. There are moments in this film that are so funny and so well-constructed that you can't help but be taken in. Give writer/director/star Miranda July credit: she set out to make a movie that interested her and that she thought was funny. That kind of commitment to a unique vision is rare these days. I laughed hard and often during the movie, especially during the movie's standout scene involving two kids in an Internet chat room. It's a scene that tops a similar one between Clive Owen and Jude Law in Closer. Miranda July is a performance artist in real life and it shows. Much of the movie is just a bunch of weird, somewhat disconnected yet funny ideas thrown against a wall to see which ones stick. It doesn't add up to a completely satisfying whole, but you won't forget this movie anytime soon.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

War of the Worlds (***)

Steven Spielberg's latest summer blockbuster is a good, sometimes great, sci-fi thrill ride. Boasting the best special effects and sound design of any other movie this year, this is grand, virtuosic filmmaking designed to scare, excite, and tweak the imagination. The movie is pretty relentless after the first ten minutes and doesn't really let up until the end. There are some amazing set pieces in this film, and images that stay with you. The first encounter with the aliens as they rise up from under the ground in massive laser-wielding tentacle ships is awe-inspiring and original. Tom Cruise does fine work as the everyman struggling to save his family. I like how dark this movie gets. For all its popcorn flick worth, it's a pretty dark and somber ride for the most part. It reminded me a lot of Spielberg's own Jurassic Park and The Lost World. The movie has problems in its final third, most glaringly a way too happy ending and some choppy editing. Not a classic, but an enjoyable summer flick. Well worth your $10 bucks. Go see it on a big screen.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Bewitched (*1/2)

An unfunny mess. When I first heard of writer-director Nora Ephron's gimmick in adapting Bewitched to the big screen, I had hopes of something good. After all, not doing a straight-up big screen remake of the hit '60s comedy seemed the smart thing to do. Like the Brady Bunch movies, I thought this would be a hip, funny spin on a beloved classic. And with stars like Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell involved, how could it not be? Easy apparently. This is a complete waste of talent. The gimmick: Nicole Kidman is a real witch who gets recruited by Ferrell's actor character to co-star with him on a television remake of Bewitched. Get that? Doesn't matter. It's all too convoluted and unfunny for its own good. It goes nowhere and Ferrell kind of just flounders around on screen. On the plus side, this is the most enjoyable Nicole Kidman has been since Moulin Rouge. Although the film is not exactly a gold star on her track record of late, she is immensely likeable and well-cast in the role.