Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight

In a Nutshell: Didn't live up to the hype, but then again, no film could. Generally good, with moments of greatness. Dark for sure, but should have been darker, IMHO.

Quick Plot: Batman has the common criminals running scared, and there's a new DA in town determined to keep hold of the newly gained ground. But the common criminals turn to an uncommon man, The Joker, a self-admitted agent of anarchy, to take down Gotham's protective dark knight, and much of the city burns in their wake.

In Detail: Good, just not as good as I'd hoped. It had moments of brilliance, no doubt about it, and it is a good movie, just not a great one. First off, it was too long by a good 20 minutes at least, which made the first hour or so drag quite a bit. And I can't believe I'm about to say this, but I think it should have been darker. If you're going to go there, then GO there! Don't take huge strides toward the line, then stop just short. I understand they need this movie to be a commercial success (that $180M US budget is looming large), and I understand that they wanted the movie to be rated PG-13, which I don't think could have been managed with a movie much darker than this one. But there was at least one scene in particular, and perhaps a couple more, that did not pack the punch it could have in terms of suspense and/or emotional tension, simply because I *knew* they weren't going to carry through due to the PG-13 rating (if they had, I swear to you, I'd have fallen out of my seat).

I also think they tried to cram too much in there (see too long comment). I *really* think they should have let the Joker and Two Face each have their own film. Introduce Harvey Dent, fine, but save his arc for a separate movie. That would have allowed for a shorter, tighter story this time around, and yet still allowed for more Bruce Wayne (lots of Batman, but not much Bruce this time; shame to hide Christian Bale behind the mask and suit and voice for the whole film) and more Joker. And believe me, more Joker would have been a good thing. Heath Ledger is just as amazing as everyone said; you simply cannot take your eyes off him when he's on screen, and you can't wait for him to reappear when he's off camera. The make-up, the voice, the phrasing, the sheer presence, and the overlying melancholy of knowing that this brilliant man will never be seen on film again in a fully completed performance. It makes him all the more riveting. Ledger alone is reason enough to see it, so do rent it if you don't make it to the theater. And FYI, no coda (thanks Melissa!).

Will I Buy It? I don't know. Will have to discus with the spouse. Personally, I think I need to see it again just to fully appreciate such a fabulous performance by Heath Ledger. But after that, I don't see myself watching this movie over and over. I'll think about it.


In a Nutshell: Very cute, very sweet, quite funny, perfectly cast. Definitely worth seeing.

Quick Plot: The evil queen of an animated fairy tale kingdom decides to get rid of her rival for the throne by transporting her to the real world. How does such a sweet naive girl manage in modern day New York? Remarkably well, as it turns out.

In Detail: This was such a cute movie. It takes classic Disney archetypes and shows how ridiculous they can seem when compared to reality, sometimes with hilarious results. But it also emphasizes why having those archetypes at all can be important. And it definitely shows that Disney has a sense of humor about itself! The scene with the chipmunk trying to tell the Prince what was going on had both of us just dying. BTW, for anyone trying to figure out why the Prince looks familiar but can't place him, he's Scott/Cyclops (Jean's boyfriend with the laser eyes) from X-Men. Yes really! Speaking of which, all of the casting was simply perfection. I don't think they could have done a better job with any of the parts. One extra bit of casting trivia: The receptionist at the law firm, who has to watch Giselle during Patrick Dempsey's meeting, is Jodi Benson. Think you don't know who that is? Of course you do; she's the voice of The Little Mermaid! Anyway, I really did like this movie, more than DH, that's for sure. He liked it okay; I certainly enjoyed it more than he did. Which actually brings me to my primary criticism: it is definitely a girl movie (little girls and big girls). I'm not saying that's a bad thing, just something you should be aware of. Not much in there for boys, young or old. Still, definitely worth seeing if you're a Disney fan. And huge kudos to Alan Menken (and Stephen Schwartz) for doing such amazing work, as always. You'll be humming the music for weeks. And just so everyone who has seen the movie hates me equally: "How do you know that she loves you?" Feel the calypso beat! That song is almost as bad as It's a Small World.

Will I Buy It? Not sure. As I said, not much there for boys, so I'm not sure how much we'd watch it. But do see it!

Addendum: Every once in a while, a rare film comes along that I originally said I would not buy, and I change my mind. This is one of those. The more we watch this movie, the more we fall in love with it. It is now one of our favorites, and even the child likes it. We haven't bought it yet, but I promise you, we will.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

In a Nutshell: Quite a fun way to fill a boring weekend. Not deep, not serious, not boring; good but not great.

Quick Plot: John and Jane Smith have been married for five years (six!), and things have gotten stale. He goes to work at a contracting company, and she is CEO of an IT company; dinner is always at 7. But it's all a lie. They're actually competing contract killers, and things begin to quickly unravel when they are assigned the same mark.

In Detail: Not a lot of detail to give, actually. A totally disposable movie. You enjoy it in the moment, but it is pretty forgettable once the credits roll (no coda, BTW). Fun to see Brangelina before they were a couple (or so they say; the chemistry is unmistakable), though it is a total waste of their talents. That said, everyone should do something fun and frivolous from time to time, be that starring in such a movie, or watching it on DVD. So indulge and enjoy, if you like this kind of movie, and don't feel guilty. It will have evaporated from your consciousness by the next morning.

Will I Buy It? I don't think so. It was fun once, but there are others of this type of silly fun films that I enjoy more.

Meet the Robinsons

In a Nutshell: Disappointing. It was just all over the place. I wanted to like it, really, but I didn't.

Quick Plot: Lewis is an orphan with a passion for inventing, even if most of his contraptions never work right. But when a kid from the future shows up at the science fair, asking about a man in a bowler hat, Lewis's life is changed forever.

In Detail: I really did want to like this movie. Space ships, robots, dinosaurs, what's not to like? We're always on the lookout for new movies for the child, but they have to be movies we don't mind, in terms of both content and (infinite) repeat viewings. This is not a movie I care to see again. Not only did I find it slow and not very funny, I also found the bad guy(s) rather creepy, and I didn't appreciate some of the things I know my child would pick up. I'm actually a little surprised it was rated G. Nothing too objectionable, just lots of inappropriate name calling, IMO, something we are currently working on teaching is NOT appropriate. I know this was the first movie that John Lassiter had his hand in after Disney purchased Pixar. [Note: This is NOT a Pixar movie; it was in development at Disney Animation long before Disney bought Pixar. Lassiter then became Creative Director, with final approval of all animated films being released,
whether coming from Pixar or Disney Animation.] If this is what became of it *after* Lassiter got hold of it (I know he threw out a good chunk of what they had, calling it garbage, and made them rework it), I'm terrified of what it was like before. I just wasn't impressed at all. It wasn't a terrible movie, by any means. I just needed it to be more than it was. More humor, more heart, more fun, more.... something. I don't know what exactly it was missing, but it was missing something. It's just not for us.

Will I Buy It? No.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom

In a Nutshell: An excuse for Jackie Chan and Jet Li to be in a movie together. Awesome fights, not much else. But you knew that already, didn't you?

Quick Plot: In ancient China, the Monkey King is imprisoned by the evil Jade Warlord. In modern day New York, a Kung Fu obsessed American teenager finds his magic staff in a pawn shop, which transports him back in time and sets him on a quest to free the Monkey King, with the help of a drunken master, a silent monk, and a vengeful girl.

In Detail: Nothing unexpected here, so don't expect too much going in. Well, that's not entirely true. It was quite unexpected to learn that Jet Li really can smile and express genuine joy. It was rather amazing to see! And he looks terrible as a blond (but that's not really unexpected, is it? LOL). The plot is pretty silly, though it does lend itself to a few chuckles here and there. No one is watching for the plot, though. You see this movie because it is the first time that Jackie Chan and Jet Li appear in a movie together, and fight each other. In this, the film does not disappoint. I do wish they had managed to find a better showcase, but they give their all to make it amazing, no matter how ridiculous the story is. Legend has it that they've been working for well over 10 years to find the right confluence of studios, scripts, and schedules that would allow them to work together, and given their current ages (Li is 45, Chan is 54), they weren't sure they could wait much longer, so they accepted this opportunity when it presented itself. It will be sad if this is the only film they get to make together, but better to have this one than none at all.

Will I Buy It? Not sure. We'll have to think about it. A good intro to kung fu films, but still not really a kids movie (it is PG-13 for good reason).

Miss Potter

In a Nutshell: A perfectly pleasant little movie. Nothing at all unexpected, but I quite liked it anyway.

Quick Plot: The enchanting life story of author Beatrix Potter.

In Detail: To me, this is one of those movies that is greater than the sum of its parts, and I can't really tell you why (much in the same way that I cannot tell you why Hancock was *less* than the sum of its parts). There is absolutely nothing in the story that was a surprise, to the point that it makes me wonder if it is her story that they used as the pattern for many of Hollywood's similar stories. And yet, I really did enjoy it. The chemistry between Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor was unmistakable, and everyone was clearly enjoying their parts and the costumes and the sets. Just a very sweet and lovely movie. Worth watching, if you like this sort of thing.

Will I Buy It? I'm considering it. I have a few similar movies, so I'm not sure if I need another one. If we were still buying DVDs in the quantities we used to, I'd probably say yes.

Get Smart

In a Nutshell: Lots and lots of smiles, if not a lot of belly laughs. Worth seeing, but I'd suggest renting.

Quick Plot: After years of trying, Maxwell Smart is finally promoted to an agent for CONTROL. With Agent 99 by his side, they work to battle the evil KAOS and save the President of the United States.

In Detail: This movie really was a good bit of fun. Nothing spectacular, and we didn't find ourselves laughing out loud too often (though two particular instances do come to mind), but it was a perfectly fun way to spend a lazy afternoon at the theater. Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway were just a delight. They clearly enjoyed each other and what they were doing, playing off each other effortlessly. I will admit that we are both huge Dwayne Johnson fans, so we were a bit disappointed that he wasn't in the movie more than he was. The gadgets were fun (and many of them are actually real, including the tooth radio), and the homages to the original television show were excellent. We couldn't help but leave the theater with big smiles on our faces; hard to ask for more than that.

Will I Buy It? Unlikely. I'm not sure we'd watch it over and over. But it is certainly worth seeing once.


In a Nutshell: Didn't like it much, but I can't really put my finger on why. Just disappointing.

Quick Plot: Hancock is a depressed drunken "superhero" who earns more ire than good will from those he helps. Then one day, he saves the life of a PR specialist (and derails an entire freight train in the process), who makes it his mission to clean up Hancock's image and change his life for the better.

In Detail: I found this movie quite frustrating. I think it is one of those that tried to be several different things, and ended up doing none of them particularly well. The premise was fine, and I found the developments in the story itself really quite interesting. It was just the execution and support for the core story that seemed to be all over the place. They needed to pick a direction and go there whole-heartedly, but they never fully committed. And only Will Smith made the movie enjoyable in some fashion. He made the character much more complex than it had to be, with many subtle shades and genuine anguish over his situation. In most other actor's hands, you wouldn't have cared for Hancock at all, but Smith makes even this very unlikable creature evoke at least a little sympathy. Too bad that wasn't enough. As I said, I can't really put my finger on exactly what I didn't like, I just didn't care for it. It was, unfortunately, much like what I expected it to be from the initial trailers. This means I must give huge props to the marketing department who managed to release a commercial for the movie that showed it to be more of a "typical Will Smith movie" and got me in the theater against my better judgment. So, kudos to their marketing department for weaseling two extra tickets from us. This will teach me to listen to my instincts from now on.

Will I Buy It? No.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


In a Nutshell: Very good movie. Liked it, but didn't love it.

Quick Plot: Humans have trashed the Earth, to the point that they had to leave while a group of robots tries to clean up the mess. After 700 years, WALL-E is the only one still functioning. When a probe robot named EVE appears, WALL-E falls in love with her, following her into the depths of space when she is recalled to the mother ship.

In Detail: It really is a very good movie. I see why the critics love it. It is very sweet and full of heart. It is quite funny in places, it is sad in places, and it is very pointed in places (particularly for adults). Ignoring the setting, it is so very much like a classic Disney movie, it's almost scary. Hey, there's a reason we still consider those movies classics today, and I have no doubt that *this* movie will become one of those classics that my great-great-grandchildren will watch. All of that said, I was a little disappointed in it. It just wasn't a lot of fun. Now, I'm not saying that all Pixar movies have to be fun, I was just hoping it would be a bit lighter, a little more for kids, dare I say, a little sillier. It was fine for kids, no objections to content. In fact, it was great for little kids in one respect: it is not a heavy dialog movie. It is more like a silent movie than anything, and even young kids can intuit a good bit of what is going on. But the deeper points would be totally lost on anyone younger than at least 7 or 8 years old. And if it hadn't been for the fact that they do market their films to children, I suspect the ending would have been different.

We did take the child, and he did seem to like it. It was later in the day than I would have liked, and he'd gotten up unusually early, so he was pretty tired by the time it started. He was very engaged for the first 30-45 minutes. He seemed to zone out a bit in the middle, partly due to what was going on, I think, and partly just due to being tired. He perked back up with 20-30 minutes left to go, though, and he did ask to see another movie when it was over, so I guess he enjoyed the experience. He just wasn't as excited about it as I'd hoped he'd be. We knew it wasn't the perfect movie for him we'd been waiting for, but that's okay. So far this year, Kung Fu Panda is really more what I had in mind for him. I may have to reconsider what I said last week and take him to see it. We're still considering.

Will I Buy It? Yes. I know I sound a little negative about it. It really is a very good movie! It just turned out a little different from what I wanted it to be.

Addendum: As with most Pixar movies, the more we see it, the more we like it. Even the child loves it (robots and space ships, what's not to love).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

In a Nutshell: Great fun! We really liked it a lot.

Quick Plot: Po, the "fluffy" panda, dreams of joining the Furious Five masters of kung fu in the Jade Palace, but his father wants him to take over their noodle house. When this untrained warrior wannabe is selected as the Dragon Warrior to defend the town, no on can believe it, especially Po. Can he master this martial art and save the village?

In Detail: We really did like this movie. The opening sequence had us just rolling! Those 5 minutes alone were worth the price of admission. We will never again use the word "awesomeness" without laughing. Most of you know that "typical" Jack Black films (like Nacho Libre) are not my cup of tea, and I was concerned that Kung Fu Panda would be "too Jack Black," but it wasn't at all. I thought he was great. The animation was quite good, and the kung fu sequences were amazing! They really spent a lot of time working on them, and it showed. (For those not aware, the Furious Five are based on the five main forms of kung fu: tiger, mantis, monkey, crane, and snake.) The plot is very straight forward; nothing unexpected except maybe how the final battle resolves, which was priceless. It was also a lot more serious than I was expecting. Not in a bad way, I just expected them to try and be funny all the time, but it really had a lot of heart and quiet moments as well, which to me was a very good thing. My one main criticism is that the other voice talents were very under-used. Why go after such big names if they don't have worthwhile parts? But that is about the only thing I could find wrong with it. Oh, and do stay for all of the credits. Not only is there a coda at the end, the "background" that is going on behind the credits actually fills in some small bits of the story. Nothing major, just little tidbits that were follow-ups to some things that has been left and not picked up again. It was very neat to see and made waiting for the coda very enjoyable.

Now, for those wondering if we will be taking the child to see it, the answer is no. It is not that I object to any of the content! From that perspective, in my opinion, it is fine for children. The problem is that, at age 3.5 (can you believe it?!), my child doesn't have the judgment not to "hi-ya" everything in sight, and I *know* that is what would happen. He would want to imitate what he saw on the screen, and I think he just needs to be a little older so that he doesn't hurt himself (or us, or the furniture, or the cats, or....). Give it a year or two, and it will be a great movie for him.

Will I Buy It? Yes! We'd buy it just for us, even if we didn't have a child.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Iron Man

In a Nutshell: Loved it. If you like action movies, comic book adaptations, or Robert Downey, Jr. at all, you should definitely see it.

Quick Plot: Tony Stark is the world's leading weapon manufacturer. When he is kidnapped by insurgents and ordered to build them a weapon of awesome power, he instead builds a suit to help him escape and decides to fight evil.

In Detail: Not sure how much detail to give. I certainly don't want to spoil any of the fun bits! I will tell you that my husband grew up reading Iron Man comics and is quite a fan, and I have never read a comic in my life, and we both really enjoyed this movie. You all know that I like brainless action films anyway, and this is by far one of the best movies we have seen in the last 2-3 years. It even had a little bit of brain to it. The effects were good, the banter was wonderful (how could it not be with Robert Downey, Jr.?), there were serious moments and hilarious ones, the film was paced very well, it never felt too long... I could go on and on. Even my parents liked it! Just extremely well done. Definitely looking forward to the next one. Oh yes, there will be a next one. Don't believe me? Be sure you stay for all of the credits; there's a coda at the end.

Will I Buy It? Definitely!

The Pixar Story

In a Nutshell: Excellent Pixar documentary. If you are a Pixar fan at all, you should see it.

Quick Plot: The story of how Pixar came to be. This is not about their technical achievements or software design, but about the people who make Pixar the company we love.

In Detail: Just excellent. I cannot say enough good things about this documentary. I have been a fan of Pixar since *before* Toy Story. We saw most of Pixar's shorts on VHS in high school (1993 or 1994) because one of my teachers knew someone who knew someone at Berkley, if I recall the story correctly. Then came Toy Story, truly one of the most amazing things I ever saw at the theater, both in terms of technical achievement and in terms of pure story. Pixar does amazing things, but what makes the company continue to be amazing is its people. Those people are at the heart of this documentary. See them in their natural habitat, see them when they were young and naive, see them as they are today. And never cease to be amazed at what they have achieved, and what they have overcome to achieve it. (A little bit of trivia for you: the writer and director of this documentary, Leslie Iwerks, is the granddaughter of an old friend of Walt Disney and the first ever Disney employee, after Walt himself. His name is Ub Iwerks. Amazing man; you should do some research on him if you are a Disney or animation buff.)

Will I Buy It? I'm seriously thinking I will. To put that into perspective, I only own two other documentaries, both of them about Titanic.

The Bourne Ultimatum

In a Nutshell: Not a whole lot of plot, but it more than makes up for it with excellent suspense. One of the best nail-biters I've seen in a while.

Quick Plot: Jason Bourne is tired of living on the run with no memory. He wants to know who he really is, and he wants to be left alone.

In Detail: That pretty much covers it. Not a whole lot of plot to speak of, but that's okay. I don't mind if a film doesn't have a long detailed plot as long as it does well with what it has. On this front, the film does quite well. More Joan Allen (good), more Julia Stiles (good), and adding David Strathairn (good). And they really did build the suspense from one scene to the next. They would build it up and let it down, but not quite all the way down, then build it back up again. We really enjoyed it. Just sit back and let it roll; don't think too hard.

Will I Buy It? Don't know. I don't even know if we own the first one. It was good, I'm just not sure if we'd watch it over and over (besides, my parents own it, so we could borrow it if need be).

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

In a Nutshell: Disappointing. Not terrible, just not as good as Raiders or Crusade. Perhaps on par with Doom; better in some ways and not as good in others.

Quick Plot: A Soviet KGB agent seeks an ancient crystal skull, reported to have mind control powers. Indy must stop her, both to restore his reputation and to help a kidnapped friend.

In Detail: I honestly don't know what to say about this movie. It just felt... off. It was very strange. Most of the things that critics/reviewers liked about it were the parts I didn't care for, and most of the things that they thought were done poorly were the more enjoyable/important parts for me. The opening sequence, in particular, seemed almost to be a caricature of Indiana Jones movies, as though we weren't really supposed to believe what was going on. Some of that is fine, realizing that Indy can't do what he used to do with his added years (and mileage). It also broke a cardinal rule for me with this kind of "willing suspension of disbelief" film; if you establish the rules of your world as functioning in a particular manner, then you have to stick with your own rules! (Magnetism, for those who have seen it. That's all I'll say here.) Very unusual for Spielberg. To me, the film improved in the realm of believability after this segment, at least somewhat. Despite that, no one in the film seemed to really believe what they were saying, at least not most of the time, particularly on the looped segments (looping is when dialog has to be re-recorded after the scene has been filmed, usually due to excessive background noise of some sort; think dubbing). It did have its moments, don't get me wrong. Some scenes were done very well, and I thought they did an excellent job of lending some weight and importance to Indy's activities since we last saw him. But the pieces of this movie just didn't seem to mesh as well as in previous films. To address the two other primary concerns I have heard from many people: 1) I had no problem with the CG effects in the movie, so don't worry too much about what you have seen in the previews. I was fine with what they did, generally speaking. And 2) yes, Cate Blanchett is a one-sided character, but she is meant to be, much like the high priest in Doom. Given that, she does it well. Just don't expect a deep and multi-layered performance; it was never intended that way.

Will I Buy It? Probably, but more because we feel compelled to than because we liked the movie. ::heavy sigh::