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The Dark Knight (2008)
The sequel we deserved to the Batman we wanted
I used to leave a theatre after seeing a highly anticipated movie, specifically a sequel, and be so revved up about what I saw that I would declare that movie to be the best of a series. After each of the prequel "Star Wars" films, I rated that one the best, as good as any of the originals...for a time, until my opinion balanced out and I had a more well-rounded take. For that reason, I steer away from that mindset, and did for "Dark Knight".
Though my opinion is solidifying already after having seen a Warner Bros. screening last night, "Dark Knight" ably stands on its own with or without "Batman Begins". At a two and a half hour runtime, it's definitely an epic of a movie, but one that never runs out of gas. A delightful addition to this experience was a healthy amount of IMAX footage, which significantly adds to the feel of being on a personal, and gruesome, tour of Gotham City.
Christian Bale plays such a well rounded Batman and Bruce Wayne, qualities that none of those who have donned the cowl before him have pulled off. I still have to remember that Bale is British since he speaks with such a spot on American accent. Bale has a particular slurring lisp that serves him quite well, charmingly for Bruce Wayne and threateningly for Batman.
Countering him is the late Heath Ledger, who plays such a scary and creepy Joker that I found it impossible to NOT have chills half the time I saw him on screen. What really separates this brand of Joker from Jack Nicholson's portrayal is true unpredictability. It's obvious that, to be a good guy and think like the Joker, it really takes a toll, and it sure isn't easy. How exactly does one take him down when he's woven his harebrained plot around multiple hostages, explosives, or disappearing parlor tricks?
Initially, I was uneasy about how the character of Harvey Dent would be handled. In my mind, there was really only one faithful portrayal of him, and that could be found in the "Batman" animated series of the early 90s. As well as Tommy Lee Jones COULD have handled him in "Batman Forever", he certainly did not, though it still was a highlight of that movie. Aaron Eckhart ably assumes the mantle here, delivering a performance out of this world, easily on par with the Batman animated series.
Be it known, this caped avenger stands for the good of Gotham City that the police force and its counterparts can't represent, the good that has no jurisdiction, no procedures...and no rules, save for one. I can only hope that we've seen just the prelude to the Dark Knight's upcoming legendary battles with the worst of Gotham City's dark underside.
"The Dark Knight" gets a solid 10 of 10 stars.
Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007)
Low expectations + better than expected story = decent flick
Hybrid live-action + computer animated flicks have a quite spotty box office record. Tim Hill, the director of 2006's "Garfield: Tale of Two Kitties", knows this very well. That movie tanked domestically, just like the first "Garfield" did. The main culprit, of course, isn't the realistic looking blending of computer created characters in a live action world. It's downfall was a tepid, one-dimensional storyline pandering to only the pre-K audience.
Hopefully, Hill has learned his lesson going forth from "Alvin and the Chipmunks". What we have here is definitely no savior of the retro-saturated market of anthropomorphized rodentia movies ("Ratatouille" takes the gold for the most creative, fresh and cute rodent flick), but it's better than much of its competition.
The trio of symphonic singing chipmunks, having been displaced from their natural home in a tree in a far-away forest, find themselves in the big city, having been transported in their downed tree to the lobby of a megalomaniacal music company. Seems their home is now a fresh Christmas tree. Knowing their new digs aren't friendly to little forest creatures a fraction the size of the next largest life form, they find refuge in the muffin basket of one Dave Seville, having been rebuked by his friend-turned-multimillionaire music exec, Ian. The pairing of these octave-gifted munks with this lonely, bumbling musician provides the backbone of the movie's plot.
It's a relief to have been able to laugh along with the rest of the patronage, comprised mostly of pre-teens to freshly post-teens. Granted, I wasn't rolling in the aisles with them, a sign that I must be more critical (and yes, older) than they are. The innocent, brain-resting humor was impeded by a couple factors. Exactly how many potty & poop jokes do we need in a movie these days? By all accounts, we've been shown enough potty pranks to last us well beyond the current Writers Strike (and maybe until the 3d animation folks give the render farms a rest).
The cast of actors seems a bit wooden, too. True, it's hard to be especially convincing when they are putting on a show in front of a bunch of void space, but I couldn't help but wonder during the first 10 minutes if a giant pin-up of Jason Lee would have been more dimensional than Jason Lee himself. Due credit goes to him though, for putting in a decent performance this side of Jon (Vacant) Arbuckle. David Cross stole the show, though, for his delightfully weaselly turn as the music exec seeing too many $'s in the Chipmunks.
Overall, I'm surprised by how pleased I was when the end credits rolled. If Hollywood has taught me anything with this genre of movies, it's best to go in with very low expectations and be surprised by the lack of suckage put before me.
"Alvin and the Chipmunks" gets 6 of 10 stars.
MUCH more than meets the eye...
Somewhere, someone in the upper echelons of some toy factory is finally having their day. They had to have thought that toys that could transform from diesel trucks and sports cars to giant robots would make a good impact beyond the TV screen. They had a go at it in 1986 with the animated "Transformers: The Movie", but now, CG technology has caught up with the toys and has given to us a live-action "Transformers".
What we have here is an action-packed, non-stop wall-to-wall thriller. A movie so aptly named has a whole lot of transforming going on, and some of it happens so fast that the viewer is still piecing it all together through the following scenes.
With all due respect to other 2007 big summer hits that have been released so far, like "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End", "Oceans Thirteen", and "Spiderman 3", "Transformers" is the one that packs in as much of the action and comedy that's possible in a 130 minute stuff-goes-boom movie. Whenever the action would slow up enough to relax the audience and allow some funny stuff to happen, some scenes induced such hearty laughter that my sides would ache until the action revved back up.
This was the first PR screening I had attended in quite some time, and it reminded me of why I believe it's a better experience than the general release. It's free, obviously. More importantly, it's guaranteed that most in attendance are at least casual fans of the subject matter and most importantly...the atmosphere is electric because there is crowd reaction. Accompanied with raucous applause is the beginning, key scenes, and end of the show. Big reveals are met with theatre-wide gasps and groans of anticipation. And every time the signature sound of a transformation occurred, there were nuts in the crowd (such as me) that would gleefully cackle. With that...
I have to admit. I was childishly hoping to find some Solstice in the parking lot transform into an Autobot. Laugh it up, Hasbro and Michael Bay..."Transformers" will bring out the die hard fan or inner child in just about everyone. There is much more here than meets the eye!
"Transformers" gets a perfect 10 of 10 stars.
The ride's just as fun the second time around!
Several years ago, the notion of a successful pirate movie was about as realistic as the success of some unknown character named "Mickey Mouse" must've been way back in the 1920's. Scripters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio must've gotten some real dumb looks from some higher-ups when they initially pitched their script. A movie based on a well-loved "amusement park" ride - a couple dozen years after it opened - and just as long since any pirate movie was even received all that well?
Well, shiver me timbers, me buckos! $600 million later, a genre was given new life! "Curse of the Black Pearl" showed the movie-going masses the kind of innocent, rip-roaring, swashbuckling fun that isn't easy to glean from many of the films getting passed 'round. And to boot, if one didn't know any better, he wouldn't be privy that the movie was even based on a ride at Disneyland.
Comes the second installation in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" saga: "Dead Man's Chest". So, what now that Cap'n Jack Sparrow has regained his long-lost prize, the Black Pearl? Well, we know he can't just up and get away with making a mockery of the Royal Army, and especially not the East India Trading Company. But who else is out for a piece of Jack? And...just how many pieces of him are there to go around?
"Dead Man's Chest" is definitely no failure to the established summer movie formulas. Fencing, fighting, torture, monsters, chases and escapes via special effects abound. Like its predecessor in 2003, it's all put to good use with extremely witty and inventive storytelling. And it's all out on display on such lush, extravagant backgrounds and movie sets. Much like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, effort was obviously poured into making the story so compellingly gripping, you'd almost forget that in the heat of the action, you're really still sitting in a movie theatre.
The most stunning success of "Dead Man's Chest" has to be the realization of a magnificently fantastic soundtrack, worthy of any mega epic. Great though the soundtrack of the original was, Hans Zimmer has come aboard and created a masterpiece symphony - Hornpipes to accompany us on a journey into the seedy underworld of Tortuga - a massive pipe organ played by none other than Davy Jones himself...and even a little dinner music to muse our appetites.
Alas though, the Chest isn't completely chock full of gold and treasure. Likely, "Dead Man's Chest"'s most obvious pitfall is one present in many movie trilogies: The dreaded Volume II syndrome. It has no real beginning nor does it have much of an end. This tends to make the story drag just a bit since there's so much room to continue the saga's progression to the third volume. It could even be argued that the movie's 143 minute running time is at least 15 minutes too long, but once the slower pace picks right back up to full-bore, that sentiment fades.
And know ye this...there is a quite darker undertone in this Chest. It's not quite the glorified, happy-go-lucky nature that the little kiddies ate up in "Curse of the Black Pearl". Better squeeze the little ones a little tighter, 'cause dead man REALLY tell no tales...
It's well-known by now that Johnny Depp is quite keen to keep donning the costume and make-up of the Cap'n. And with the awe-inspiring inventiveness and the vivid imaginations of the POTC crew on display, I'd be willing to bet there are many meager souls willing to pay a few more gold coins to hop aboard the Black Pearl another time or two and set out to the open seas of the Caribbean.
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" gets 8 of 10 stars.
Curious George (2006)
Family Film? It's about time!
My introduction to the world of "Curious George" before seeing the movie adaptation was to read a couple of his books to my nephew a few weeks prior. During, it became pretty clear to me that I wish I'd been so introduced when I was little. I thought it was just so cool that there are still children's books that are highly revered for their ability to inspire kids to be curious and enthusiastic about their surroundings - as opposed to just the ones that inspire action through superstrength or superpowers (or at least to little kids, they're superhuman). Those books are fun too, without a doubt, but they just don't seem to make that great of a lasting impression at the outset.
"Curious George" is the first widely released feature film since 2004's "Home on the Range" that is classically animated by hand instead of by computer. And what an awesome choice this was, because so many dimensions of George's personality could never have been rendered by a soul-less computer program. Nearly every time we see George, he has a gaping, ear-to-ear grin that is hard to mistake for anything other than sheer enthusiasm. We know he's enraptured with anything new he sees because he sees the potential for not only the fun he can have with it, but what it can teach him. Save for a couple noticeable flaws in animation (usually only when a character is moving or walking about), the overall animation and character design is very fluid and pleasing. George is a fun, cuddly, awe-inspiring furry little kid that the more humanesque little kids will (and did) absolutely love to watch.
The timing of George's unleashing to the country's silver screens couldn't be better for a couple reasons. First that there are hardly any so-called family movies that can really be classified as...family movies. Last year's "Chicken Little" is barely qualifiable because of its excessive potty humor, which even the little kids of the audience didn't respond lightly to. "Madagascar" doesn't have much slack to qualify, either. "George" is the first family film in recent memory that is reliant on --get this-- NO POTTY HUMOR! NONE! It takes class these days to entertain through story and characters rather than punchlines and gags (more kinds than just one).
Second, though my initial impressions are that this won't kill the box office competition, I sure hope this stirs up people's memories of seeing magnificent classically animated films past. The Disney Dynasty is an easy victim here, having put out nearly all the animated 90's films that are considered "new classics". Point? I see "George" as capable of stirring the stale pot of cloned cookie cutter family flicks around, and inspiring something creative and new, just like Disney did with their new classics. With the increasing amalgam of 3d-animated copycat "Lion King meets the Great Escape" iterations, I for one would view future efforts of George's caliber as very welcome.
Really, it's about time a family film arrives that makes the oldest family members laugh just as hysterically as the youngest ones. Not only am I more, uh...curious to get familiar with the books, I'm stoked to buy the DVD release. "Curious George" is an absolutely, unabashedly fun animated movie that inspires nearly everybody to take off their blinders every now and again to find out how much of life can be discovered by a fresh, new perspective and, dare I say, a little kid's ever curious perspective.
"Curious George" gets 9 of 10 stars
Chicken Little (2005)
The Sky fell all right, but The Story was already a shattered mess
There have been many, many movies that Disney has put out that I've had a high desire to see "succeed". All in all, most Disney animated movies that have made it to the big screen in the more modern cinema history of, say, from "Beauty and the Beast" all the way up to "Lilo & Stitch" and "Brother Bear", have done that. Perhaps some are only a financial success, like "Treasure Planet", but certainly they were popular enough with one group of moviegoers or another to have a good box office take.
Unfortunately, "Chicken Little" is not a success.
In pooling my thoughts to review this movie, I am so highly disappointed that good animation is its only high mark. In this pivotal point in the history of The Walt Disney Company, where its relationship with Pixar is still on the rocks while a new president is stepping up, I wanted this movie to be a smashing success. I wanted this to be the movie that starts another Golden Age revolution, where it is possible that Disney takes the top spot in producing awesome animated movies.
I fear that there aren't many good storytellers left at Disney Feature Animation, and there didn't seem to by any present for the making of "Chicken Little". The story itself, chronicling the tales of the title character proving to his community that he is not a failure, was a good enough premise. Though it wasn't executed well at all. Instead of solid, premise-building scenes where it's main characters interact well with others (and get the audience laughing along the way), we get a sappy, melodramatic mini-soap with voice actors who don't have a good script...followed immediately by, more times than I'd care to recall, potty humor gags. Judging by the audience of my screening, made up of at least 40% little kids, only they found that funny.
With so many 3D animated movies coming out recently, like "Madagascar", "Robots" and "Valiant", all released this year, many companies are trying to prove their movie-making chops to us movie-goers. They can make a very beautiful looking movie, with wonderfully rendered characters that can move so fluidly and realistic...but the very vital element of sharing a good story is missing in action. It's my belief that a great story without great animation will be a much better movie than one that looks great, but has a weak story. Though, both elements are what made Pixar's "The Incredibles" an Oscar-contending, $265 million hit. Computer animation is, indeed, not the shoe-in, cure-all solution to a great movie.
To boot, "Chicken Little" has a weak soundtrack, composed mainly of songs that were popular at one time or another...to the pre-teen-aged crowd. Instead of beautiful, original, fully-composed songs like "A Whole New World" in "Aladdin" (or anything close to it), we are treated to Spice Girls' "If You Wanna Be My Lover" (complete, by the way, with karaoke subtitles). Unoriginal and highly annoying.
Having sufficiently railed on the movie, it is my belief that the corporate suits in charge of financing Feature Animation have more blame for the steady decline in their movies than anybody working under them. It seems they think they know what makes a successful movie, over-riding many decisions of the animators and storytellers--those who are still at Feature Animation--who have proved they can make great movies. I believe said pencil pushers are what made last year's "Home on the Range" fail, critically and financially.
All in all, I believe "Chicken Little" is a failure that I define as hot having a good story to match its sweet computer animation. In Disney's quest to prove that they are still the Best of the Best, movies like this will prove to the world that they are merely the best of the rest. And we all know that it's not the Disney we grew up on and cherished.
"Chicken Little" gets 4 of 10 stars
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Total. Convoluted. Tripe.
Many of the most popular cult classics in the past have been, well...great movies. Take "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", a token '80s take on a slacker making any excuse he can to skip school. Or maybe "Scream", "Scary Movie" , "American Pie", more recent examples of cult/thriller hits...significantly less perfect than "Ferris Bueller", granted, but still decent flicks.
Comes "Napoleon Dynamite", a contrived "cult" movie that I'd sooner pay to undergo a root canal without novocaine than sit through again. Apparently, it chronicled the story of a less-than-capable high-schooler making the motions of surviving school as a patently un-cool jock. No real plot or reason for wasting valuable celluloid was ever revealed in the first two-thirds of the movie I was able to stay awake for, nor was there revealed any incentive to try to catch up on what I missed.
In short? I hate this excuse of a movie with every fiber of my being.
Jerry Seinfeld has been the ONLY person in the history of motion picture to get away with making a "show about nothing", and with tripe like "Napoleon Dynamite" in contention...he will be keeping that unique aspect for a very long time.
"Napoleon Dynamite", with all due respect to IMDb, gets 0 of 10 stars.
Not bad from a non Pixar - Disney partnership
At the outset, "Valiant" has some obstacles to overcome with the movie-going audiences at large in America. The most gaping chasm in its way to achieve a status better than average is the inescapable fact it's the first wide release feature-length 3d animated film to date from the Walt Disney brand that does not have Pixar attached to it. Having achieved a 10-year repertoire together with top 250 contending films such as "The Incredibles", "Monsters Inc", "Toy Story"s 1 & 2, Disney has so much go regain from their unjustly strained relationship with Pixar. And there is no denying that Vanguard's "Valiant", while putting forth a good effort, just cannot keep the fast pace of adventure, character development, plot, endearment and even marketing that a Pixar creation can.
The other major obstacle, as I observed with other movie-going patrons, is that the translation of British humor in conversation to many American viewers is garbled. I just didn't see much humor in the fast-paced beak flapping that composed many parts in the film's plot progression. Many of the jokes and gags just don't connect and sadly, as a result, must therefore progress with forms of bodily flatulence.
It is very important to separate "Valiant" from any other Disney 3d animated film to glean any sense of fulfillment from it. One must realize that none of the masters of animation at either Disney or Pixar contributed to it, and while "Valiant" fell short in many places, it is a, er...valiant effort from an up and coming production company overseas. The animation, for the most part, is very smooth and slick with very few noticeable errors in modeling or animation. The character models are simplistic enough in their design yet complex enough in their movement, and the effects and backgrounds are kept secondary to the characters, where they should be. The voice-casting is competent enough to keep the movie progressing forward, and the running time is mercifully short.
With the yet-to-be-mega-hyped release of "Cars" set to roll in 2006 to wrap up the current contract between Pixar and Disney, there is a sense that Disney must undertake and produce their own projects (like the upcoming "Chicken Little" and "Rapunzel: Unbraided") or mend their partnership with Pixar to produce a 3d hit that is truly worthy to carry the Disney name further than just the movie theater screens.
"Valiant" gets 6 of 10 stars.
Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers (1988)
The Mother Of All Cartoons
Everybody has a series of some sort that started them on a path of what they come to expect from nearly everything else in the genre proceeding it, whether it be a "Batman", a "Star Wars", or more aptly in my case, "Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers". It was released in '89 to be one of 4 original series on a new 2-hour block of cartoon TV known as the Disney Afternoon. Perfect timing for me, what being around 7 years old. Upon first seeing it I became enthralled. It seems that everyone also has a character whom they feel they can identify with in some degree. I remember being a somewhat scatterbrained kid...goofy, funny, if even also bucktoothed. And I want(ed) a shirt like Dale's pretty bad.
Over the years, I've found that, even having evolved into supposed adulthood, good cartoons are hard to come by and stay with. When I saw the series as a little kid, there was no way I could've pointed out all the little nagging errors in it, like sometimes slippery animation, thoroughly worn music and tired sound effects. Rather, they were counter-balanced with interest by the intriguing concept of a band of tree-residing rodents out to further the cause of justice, no matter how seemingly small the battle.
Just how could the police solve crimes like widespread cheese disappearances, mysterious weather patterns or potential citywide destruction...from a record player? Well, they can't. They don't have the necessary perspective. They aren't 2 and a half inches tall. Naw, these cases are best left for Chip, Dale, Gadget, Monterey Jack and his winged pal, Zipper. Of course, not every team is a perfect unit. Chip might over-analyze a case, leading to missing out on an opportunity to act. Gadget's latest gadget is liable to act in an un-anticipated way. Monty's next rush to action might get the gang in a bit of a pinch. And Dale...well, a "creative" solution is a creative solution, after all. Might just not work, though.
So then, why are the chronicles of diminutive crime-fighters so awesomely excellent? I find that, among many reasons, there don't seem to be many cartoons that can practice what they preach without doing just that. Teamwork, detective work, creativity and tolerance can be extolled without preaching, and to boot, while having fun! Cunning and eccentric baddies like the aptly named Fat Cat don't stand a chance against this well-oiled machine...no matter how well-thought out a devious star constellation rouse is.
It's really quite amazing how Disney's bargain-basement cartoon of the bunch came to be one of the most well-received of them. Of other Disney Afternoon favorites like "Duck Tales", "TaleSpin", and "Darkwing Duck", this is the least expensive to produce, and as aforementioned, my favorite. It just goes to show that a mix of the old-fashioned Disney magic and awesome character interactions make the show over "special effects". About 16 years after the fact, I find this show has not aged, despite my more discriminating tastes, and has remained my all-time favorite cartoon series. Whenever my inner child wells to the surface, I still pop in a long-ago-recorded VHS episode. And dare I say, I hold the series in such high regard that if the latest and greatest can't stack up to the Rescue Rangers, it's just not old-fashioned enough.
"Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers" gets a well-earned 10 of 10 stars.
The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
A truly underrated Disney gem
By all accounts, the lion's share of Disney sequels sorely lack any semblance of the pure Disney magic that we all could come to expect from the films that preceded them. And it's easy to disseminate the root causes. They are not well storyboarded from the get-go, are completed outside of Disney Feature Animation's walls, and not surprisingly, are micromanaged into a cookie-cutter recipe from above by less-than-talented management.
And this has to do with "Rescuers Down Under"...how? It doesn't, and I love it. Disney's first attempt at an animated sequel was a magical brew of the same ingredients that made "Rescuers" endeared by so many, young and old. And what's more, the differences between the two have made "Down Under" down right better. This was Disney's first foray into the world of 3d animation, and the beauty of its use in the film is that it's utilized fairly sparingly, and I'm convinced that they knew the technology wasn't yet powerful enough to warrant use all on its own. The color schemes give me a sense of warmth, like I assume the land down under is nearly year-round. It's not nearly as dark and drab as its predecessor, so the sense of innocence so lost is felt on a deeper level than with Penny of the original.
"Down Under"'s opening 20 minute salvo could be categorized as its weaker point because of its lack of the main story's progression, but I beg to differ. Disney's cornerstone formula of a magical movie-going experience has always been storytelling, and it's most apparent in the first 20 minutes. This is when we truly know how deep the bonds run through the boy and the massive golden eagle not just because he initially rescues her from a poacher's trap, but when she rescues him from a perilous fall down a cliff she bumped him off from and flies him back to her nest, we know the connection is quite mutual. Now we know the depths that one is willing to go through to rescue the other.
The voice acting cannot go unnoticed, either. Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor return, respectively, as Bernard and Miss Bianca and prove that thirteen years between the two Rescuers movies didn't diminish their abilities at all. Wilbur's performance by the late great John Candy make this it as memorable as any one of his live action movies. McLeach, the evil poacher, is given new depths of eeee-vilness by George C. Scott, who had definitely made his niche in the characterization in movies past. The glaring lack of an Australian accent aside, Adam Ryen's performance as Cody is right on par and was crucial to the ability to connect with the character.
Neither can the powerful performance by Glen Keane, animator extraordinaire of Marahute the golden eagle, go overlooked. From the first frame, it is very obvious that he is intimately familiar with the body of an eagle and all its workings, and on through to the last frame, I know that he had all the time and resources he needed to complete such an awesome effort.
But honestly, what kind of 8-year-old could have visualized the movie on this kind of level when it had barely come out fifteen years ago? Really, the only thing that mattered to me was that I felt a bond with the boy, a deep-down conviction that the trials he endures are happening to me in a different plane of being. And when the final credits have rolled, that is ultimately what makes or breaks such a movie, which definitely made it great.
"Rescuers Down Under" gets 9 of 10 stars
Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)
The most underrated comedy in my DVD arsenal
"Dracula: Dead and Loving It" is a movie that seems to define what someone either really likes or dislikes about a comedy, and more specifically a parody: gags. For me, the gags herein worked, there were reasons for their having been used and therefore makes it funny to me. The storyline didn't stall, the gags weren't desperate for laughs, and the acting was exactly what was needed: the comedic touch.
The casting choice to have Steven Weber and Amy Yasbeck, both veterans of the TV series "Wings", was brilliant because the chemistry between their personalities was proven and honed before the movie. The choice of Leslie Nielsen for the titular role was dead-on. Someone that has the wisdom of centuries (decades, whatever), is cunning (a la the Naked Gun series), and above all, never gives up (until turned to dust). Mel Brooks, having proved his comedic prowess with films like "Young Frankenstein", comes through in the role of Van Helsing. Even the incidental characters seem to have a reason to belong and flow in the movie, like Essie, the guardian of Mina, or Martin, Dr. Seward's right-hand man of the sanitarium...
Martin: "...the patient in the west wing? He's havin' a conniption fit."
Dr. Seward: "Oh. Give him an enima."
As stated, the movie will most likely be quite funny or very dull, depending on what the viewer expects from it beforehand. Being that I like a good slapstick comedy (and I do), the performances above all are what were able to pull me in.
"Dracula: Dead and Loving It" gets 9 of 10 stars
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Another so-so offering in the Spidey franchise
I came out of the first Spidey-flick with conflicted feelings. It had great 3D effects, a decent plot dealing with the beginning of Spiderman, but a mixed bag coming from the acting department.
"Spider-Man 2" was exactly the same experience for me. All the good points (effects, plot, character development of Doc Ock) were almost exactly counterbalanced by acting, and the atmosphere, the feeling of the movie as a whole. Tobey Maguire, for some reason, just doesn't cut it for me, and I can't determine exactly why that is. If it's the theory of a skittish teen suddenly morphing into an unstoppable web-slinging crimefighter than it can't be the actor. But if it's just me coming away thinking the role would be better suited for somebody else, I guess it is the actor.
That quite sums up what this movie franchise is shaping up to be for me. Neutral films counterbalanced down the middle by the good and the bad. The door has been left wide open for at least another 2 movies, so I'll likely see Spidey 3 and hope it will be the one that breaks out of this state of neutrality.
"Spider-Man 2" gets 5 of 10 stars
(Potential SPOILERS lie herein. Proceed at your own risk)
"Garfield" is an attempt at re-capturing, in some degree, the feel and wit of the original comic strip bearing the same name...however, it might as well not have even been made like this because it is completely unfaithful to the strip. In its glory days, the strip told of a fat, lethargic, fun-loving cat who reveled in those qualities by booting around the ever-unaware dog Odie, keeping the unspoiled owner Jon on his feet with his prowess to devour lasagna, trapping the young kitten Nermal in his own inexperience in the cat world, and laughing as the uninterested vet Liz handily rejected every advance the lovestruck Jon made toward her.
Only the lasagna-snarfing kept some faithfulness. The other elements of what made the strip great have made this movie quite poor with their marked absence.
Perhaps since I am a big fan of the strip in its heyday, I came into this movie somewhat biased, having seen trailers combining a CG cat with a live-action dog and a cordial Liz with Jon. I believe that at least the immediate cast of animals (Odie, Nermal, Louis, and I'm assuming Arlene) should have been CG as well. A live-action Odie sans an oozing tongue and a non-stop tail made for a poor balance to a cat that is most certainly not supposed to be quicker on his feet than Odie.
Even more than that, I would have been much more partial to a well-animated 2D (hand-drawn) movie that can take advantage of its ability to invoke motion and emotion far better than this 3D incarnation did. A fair amount of Garfield's motion seems as if it was unduly rushed through production, so it made a somewhat slick movement choppy and not believable. What with the incessant corporate plugging (WAL-MART appears right in my red cross-hairs), I'd have thought the movie could be held up to higher standards of animation than the display I witnessed. Alas, it appears the resources that should have been allocated to it were wasted in the over-the-top set design. The lack of faithfulness allowed Jon's just-enough income of yesteryear morph into a computer engineering salary.
The live-action cast of characters were not given a substantial script befitting of their talents, especially the under-served Bill Murray. Though he is the only voice I could imagine taking the role over from Lorenzo Music, the producers did him no service by chalking the script full of intestinal jokes and dancing furrball scenes. He pulled off the best performance he could for the material, though. The same cannot be said for the scripts of Jon and Liz. Jon was so lovestruck and dumbhounded in the strip that Liz could see right over the top of him, especially when he lands face-down on the floor after the logistics of a failed kiss. Not here. I'm surprised the movie ended five minutes prior to their potential upcoming marriage.
Perhaps the producers should have literally hit the drawing boards to paw out a better film befitting the cartoon strip. As it is, this stinker's going to get buried and left to decompose in its own lameness.
"Garfield" gets 2 of 10 stars
Darkwing Duck (1991)
One of the 4 tiers of the Disney Afternoon
Back in the day when the Disney brand was a force to be dealt with and not just another brand name, there was a cartoon called "Darkwing Duck", chronicling the adventures of the title Batman wannabe, his adopted daughter Gosalyn, and his crash-prone partner, Launchpad. The wit was rapier, the plots were funny and quite redeemable, and even over 10 years later, the show's material isn't dated.
I remember that I was on cloud nine when I'd rush (run) home from school and catch this on the tail end of the Disney Afternoon. Though "Gargoyles" did have its moments, DD is, in my opinion, the last great cartoon out of Disney's arsenal, mostly of bombs they churn out like so many second-rate straight to video sequels.
Along with "Ducktales", "Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers", and "TaleSpin", this cartoon was the backbone of the Disney Afternoon. The moment that the DD DVD box set comes out (don't worry, I'm not holding my breath), I'm so there.
Darkwing Duck: 4.5 / 5 stars