11 October 2006

Stick It!

In total, I saw about 20 minutes of Stick It, but let me tell you, that was 20 minutes too long. I kept walking in and out of the room, but even with my sporadic viewing, the movie was simple enough for me to follow a long:

Bad ass Xtreme chick, Haley Grahama gets into trouble with the law. As punishment, she is sent to serve time at a Gymnastics Training Facility (is the US Juvenille Court System really this silly?). Having been a promising gymnast who abruptly quit the sport, Haley is not too happy about returning to the mats.... blah...blah...blah.

The movie is marketed as the gymnastics version of Bring it On. That's such a LIE.

02 October 2006

10 Things I Learned from The Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift

1) Drifting is the art of nearly wrecking the car you just spent thousands of dollars to customize. This underground sport originated in the smoothly paved mountains of Japan. The primary language used in the Tokyo drift scene is English.

2) To avoid serving time in the American juvenille jail system, simply move to Asia to live with your dead beat dad.

3) There aren't very many Japanese people in Tokyo, at least none that we should care about (that is, unless they're yakuza).

4) It's really easy to jump into the Japanese high school system if you know the following Japanese terms: gaijin, sumimasen, and wabaki.

5) If you drive above 180 km in Tokyo, the cops won't bother to go after you.

6) You can make a lot of money selling clocks and sneakers to Japanese citizens.

7) The prizes for racing/drifting usually suck, and aren't worth endangering your life or the lives of hapless bystanders.

8) A cameo by Vin Diesel is all you need to justify your film's use of the Fast & Furious brand.

9) If the video store is out of Tokyo Drift, simply rent Better Luck Tomorrow for a comparable viewing experience.

10) American cars are far superior to Japanese cars. U.S.A! U.S.A!

26 September 2006

Everything is Illuminated

Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. Kind of independenty, but it involves Elijah Wood, Liev Schreiber, and Warner, so not really. Definitely recommend it. Off beat sense of humor mixed in with tragedy and mild political commentary .

Summary: Eccentric "collector", Jonathan Safran Foer (Elijah Wood) goes to Ukraine in search of the woman that saved his grandfather's life in WWII. Lead by Alex (an Ali G. with heart), a hip hop and "Negro" (his word, not mine!) loving translator, Alex's "blind" grandfather, and their "seeing eye bitch", Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. Ultimately, JonFren and company embark on a "rigid search", confront buried secrets, question famliy histories, and -- everything is illuminated.

Rent it.

19 April 2006

Good Movies: Inside Man & Jarhead

The Inside Man

Clive Owen is the clever leader of a gang of bank robbers. Denzel Washington is the detective in charge of negotiating with Clive Owen, et al. Jody Foster is the line straddling woman of mystery who can impressively run around all day in some really high stilettos. Christopher Plummer is the aging owner of the bank who’s hiding a dark secret. I apologize for the crappy summary, but I don’t want to give away too much.

At first, I was surprised to learn that Inside Man was a Spike Lee film, but then after all the cursing, racial tension, NYC, and blend of comedy & drama, I was like, yeah, I can see that. Actually, I can’t really say that I know what a “Spike Lee film” is given that I’ve never seen a Spike Lee film in its entirety. In any case, based on Inside Man, I’ve determined that I enjoy Spike Lee films.

Like your typical heist film, Inside Man delightfully strings you along as you try to figure out the motive, the pay off, and how the robbers are going to escape from a freakin’ bank surrounded by cops! This, however, is a heist film with layers. It’s the thinking man’s (or woman’s) heist film [Just don’t think TOO hard, or you may spot all the plot holes]. What sets this film apart is the moral ambiguity of the characters. Sure, Clive Owen, as heist leader, Dalton Russell, is technically a criminal, but come on, he’s Clive Owen. He’s the inexplicably attractive Everyman. You can’t help but pull for him. Russell seems to be a ruthless criminal, but then you see him lecture a kid about violent video games or beat a guy senseless instead of gunning him down. That’s when you think to yourself, maybe he’s not such a bad guy after all? Similarly, as Detective Keith Frazier, Denzel Washington is positioned at the film’s good guy, and yet, there’s something about Detective Keith Frazier that leads you to believe that he has his price. Frazier may be committed to bringing about a resolution, but if the bribe were high enough, he just might be willing to switch sides. Of course, I can’t forget Jodie Foster as Madeline White, a sleek, power woman who straddles the line between good and evil. You’ll spend most of the movie asking yourself, what’s her deal? Christopher Plummer is quite adept at playing an old, rich, white guy, but I couldn’t help but picture him in lederhosen (He was in The Sound of Music, you sickos!)

The cast is obviously great (even Willem Dafoe wasn’t as creepy as he usually is), but I have to give a shout out to the screenwriter(s). The dialogue was snappy and hilarious. The zings just kept on coming. I’m going to go out on a sexist limb and say that the writer was male based on the high proliferation of the F-word. I’m sure that cops swear a lot. I’m even sure that bank robbers swear a lot, but was all that swearing necessary?

I mean, we get it. This is badass Denzel Washington, not Preacher’s Wife Denzel. He is manly, strong, and will f#!@ing swear whenever he feels like it!

My only complaint is the camera work. I’m sure that there’s some sort of cinematic merit to the effect, but I hate it when the camera is strapped to a body and captures ALL the motion. I’m talking about that scene where the camera shakes along with the actors as they run through the streets of New York. It’s like the Saving Private scene where they ride to Normandy Beach. I almost tossed the candies that I had so adeptly smuggled into the theaters. Ok, that’s not true, but nonetheless, I found that shaking effect quite obnoxious.

This may not be the greatest film of all time, but it’s certainly better than most of the films in the theaters right now. If you feel like supporting the movie theater industry, definitely see Inside Man. Otherwise, you should definitely see it on DVD. Just watch it soon, so that I can gloat about all the clues I spotted and how I figured out some of the “twists.”


Based on a best-selling memoir, Jarhead follows Marine Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) from boot camp to active duty in the Middle East. Set during the Gulf War: The Original, I finally learn what happened in the 90s.

I get the sense that most of the people I saw this with didn’t feel the same way, but I thought this film was awesome! It’s hilarious, but in a smart, reflective, satirical sort of way. I can’t remember the exact quote, but one of the soldiers, played by Peter Sarsgaard, says something to the effect of: “Forget the politics. We’re here. This is our job.” The actual line is so much smarter, but essentially, this is what Jarhead is about. Centered on the experience of sharp shooter, Anthony Swofford, Jarhead doesn’t focus so much on the politics of the war, but rather, illustrates the day to day experiences of the common soldier. At the start of the film, war is a far off concept. Time is spent masturbating, goofing around, and training for war. However, when war suddenly becomes a reality, we are reminded that these silly, potty-mouthed young men actually have to put their lives on the line. It’s no longer fun and games.

Regardless of your sentiments towards war, this film begs you to think about the individuals involved in war, the soldiers who, regardless of their politics, have a job to do. Jamie Foxx puts in a noteworthy performance as Staff Sgt. Sykes. His performance is a fine example of how Foxx has learned to reign in his comedic talents and be funny without goggling his eyes and going over the top, i.e., No Major Payne (Yes, I know that was Damon Wayans). Jake Gyllenhaal is a hottie, but he can act too. Peter Sarsgaard takes another turn as the messed up friend with major issues, and delivers.

It’s got my recommendation.

27 March 2006

V for Vendetta

Sometime in the fictional future, the U.S. turns out be as big of jerk as everyone around the world is hoping it’d be, and ends up a pathetic wasteland. Apparently, as a result, the British let a despotic “high chancellor” take over the country and institute a national curfew, ubiquitous surveillance, and a really ominous red and black motif. Their only hope is a mysterious freedom fighter named “V” with an elaborate plan to expose the government’s treachery, galvanize the public, and blow up lots of stuff. Along the way, V unexpectedly meets (and tortures) the dysfunctional love of his life, and learns that there may be more to life than revolution and alliteration.

V for Vendetta is rumored to be the last film by the Wachowski brothers. I hate to say it, but maybe that’s a good idea. V for Vendetta had all the makings of a sure-fire hit: It’s based on a comic book, it stars a female lead who looks fabulous even as a baldie [Curse you, Portman!] and an enigmatic male lead who’s name no one knows, but who’s face & voice everyone will recognize; it’s “from the creators of The Matrix trilogy.” I’m sorry to report that the movie’s quite a disappointment.

The film’s anti-hero, V (Hugo Weaving) is likeably psychotic, but way to melodramatic for my taste. His creepy Guy Fawkes mask doesn’t help either. With a penchant for lengthy, alliterative soliloquies, foppish wigs, and random whimsical moods, V is like a mix between the Phantom of the Opera, Batman, and the Riddler – just way weirder. Natalie Portman is gorgeous, yet quirky as ever, as Evey, a tortured young woman who unwittingly becomes involved in V’s plans for revolution. I’m not trying to make myself the accent police, but once again, another distracting attempt at an accent mars an otherwise, decent performance. [Every time Portman spoke, I was reminded of Drew Barrymore in Ever After.] She is, however, pretty good at acting tortured. When Evey is forced to take a shower, shave her head, and eat nasty oatmeal, you’re actually convinced that such acts are quite torturous. In my opinion, the star of the show was the film’s everyman, Detective Finch (Stephen Rea). The audience can’t help but feel for Finch as he struggles to figure out WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON.

The film underlines several big themes. Frankly, they make them quite hard to miss.

#1 There is no such thing as a coincidence.

#2 Everyone is wearing a mask. It’s up to you to look beyond it… and ignore the disfigurement and lack of eyeballs.

#3 Symbols are bad (except for “V”, anything red, and Guy Fawkes masks); thus, we should blow up any building of significance.

#4 V for Vendetta is actually “Holocaust Redux.”

#5 Natalie Portman shaved her head for this movie, people. This is a very serious film.

#6 Love means never having to say you’re sorry. Okay, that’s not actually one of the themes, but it should be. V did some pretty awful things to Evey.

#7 Guy Fawkes was executed on November 5th.

I understand that the attention span of the average media consumer may be dwindling, but you don’t have to smack people over the head with the film’s themes. If they don’t get it, they don’t get it.

I appreciated the dramatic imagery: explosions, fireworks, the mob of revolutionaries in cloak and masks, the elaborate domino setup, the consistent use of black and red. etc, but it took forever for the film to get interesting. If you have a character as crazy as V is, it’s best to establish some back story early on that will enable the audience to tolerate all of his baffling antics.

There were moments of what I imagine was profound social commentary or notes on the state of humanity, but between Weaving’s mumbling and the wordy dialogue, gotta say that I missed it.

My recommendation: I know you won’t listen or it’s already too late, but a trip to the movie theater is unnecessary. Just wait until it hits video stores. It’ll be really easy to find. Just look under “V.”

20 March 2006

Reese Witherspoon: Double Feature

I. Just Like Heaven
II. Walk the Line

Just Like Heaven

Reese Witherspoon, I mean, Dr. Elizabeth Masterson, is smart, uptight, and hard-working, with a dash of vulnerability. Despite her dedication to her patients and the hospital, her colleagues, friends, and family continually clown on her for being a workaholic spinster with no social life. One fateful night, Elizabeth gets into a fatal car accident. Abruptly cut forward to an unspecified amount of time later, and we meet David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo), a non-threatening alcoholic, on the hunt for a furnished apartment. Fortunately for David, Elizabeth’s sister is quite morbid, and puts Elizabeth’s apartment up for rent, fully furnished – including her stained bed sheets and personal photos. David moves into the incredibly spacious San Francisco apartment only to find the demanding spirit of Elizabeth Masterson. Elizabeth has no idea who she is or what happened to her, and enlists the reluctant help of David to figure out her story. As is the way of chick flicks, David and Elizabeth find that the solutions to their respective problems are each other.

The film is predictable and at times, quite ridiculous, but now that I’ve had a few days to let it sink in, I think it was quite enjoyable. Firstly, how can you resist the charming Mark Ruffalo. Even if his character’s kind of an alcoholic, he’s still so likeable. Elizabeth Masterson is rather a challenge to like as she is bossy, self-centered, and really slow to realize that she’s a spirit, but if Mark Ruffalo likes her, then we like her. John Heder co-stars as psychic bookstore clerk, Darryl, or as I like to call him, “Napoleon Dynamite Moves to San Francisco.” Heder’s character is quite unnecessary except to draw in male audience members with the weak promise, “Dude, Napoleon Dynamite is in this movie.”

The best scenes in the film center on the relationship between Elizabeth & David. Witherspoon & Ruffalo build up some nice little tension before they quickly start falling in love. There’s also a strange, yet entertaining bit where Elizabeth teaches David how to perform a dangerous medical procedure on a dying man. In fact, that’s probably how I should describe the whole movie – strange, yet entertaining.

My recommendation: Mark Ruffalo.

Walk the Line

Feeling partly responsible for his older brother’s death as a young boy, Johnny Cash went through most of his life with some MAJOR issues. Walk the Line follows the rise of music legend Johnny Cash filled with all the requisite rock star clichés: rough childhood, lots of rejection, stifling first wife, drugs, meaningless sex, countless number of children, and a crush on Reese Witherspoon. The biopic quickly scans through Johnny’s professional career in order to focus on the tumultuous love affair between Johnny Cash and June Carter.

It’s really hard to make fun of Walk the Line because it’s a pretty awesome movie.

Joaquin Phoenix is definitely deserving of an Oscar nod. Phoenix was particularly effective in portraying Johnny’s harrowing addiction to prescription drugs. I don’t know if he subscribes to the school of method acting, but Phoenix looked like crap! Well done, Joaquin. Reese Witherspoon, to my chagrin, also proved to be a good actress. Generally, I think she gets by with her snappy personality and by wrinkling her little button nose, but she demonstrated subtlety in her portrayal of June Carter’s complex feelings towards Johnny Cash. My only problem with Witherspoon was her Southern accent. I know that Witherspoon is actually from the South, but her Southern twang was rather distracting, sort of equivalent to Halle Barry donning a mouth grill and dropping the last consonant of each word in B*A*P*S. Witherspoon just got a little too cartoonish when she went into angry Southern female mode. She may have been deserving of an Oscar nomination, but I still don’t understand how she was a sure-bet for the win. The film is very much a love letter to June Carter, so perhaps that confused Academy voters. June Carter was so cool (at least according to the film) that her coolness transferred onto Reese Witherspoon.

Much of the film is (fittingly) dedicated to the music of Johnny Cash & June Carter.
Both Witherspoon and Phoenix surprised me with their singing talents (even though I’ve seen the trailer a million times). Phoenix does a decent imitation of Cash. Witherspoon sounds nothing like June Carter, but after asking my sister to search for June Carter on itunes, I learned, that’s a good thing. I did not consider myself a Johnny Cash fan, but I am now a “Johnny Cash as portrayed by Joaqyin Phoenix” fan.

My recommendation: Despite all the hype, I recommend Walk the Line for the strong performances and the good music.

26 February 2006

Doogal [Just Arrived in Theaters, but Probably Not for Long]

I am afraid to go into the details of the movie, because even I was confused by the story, and I actually saw the movie! Here’s my best attempt at a summary:
Candy-junkie, dog hero Doogal, and a gang of random animals + a locomotive train embark on a quest for three magical diamonds that will free Doogal’s best friend, Florence from a frozen carousel and stop the evil plans of a villainous spring (yes, like the thing found in a mattress), Zeebad and his plan to freeze the sun. Filled with out-dated pop culture references, snappy characters, and an infuriatingly incompetent “hero”, Doogal is as crappy as you’d think it’d be.

I appreciate imagination and originality, but seriously, wizard springs (yes, the ones that go boing, boing. They’re like a jack-in-box without a box.) with magical facial hair, a convoluted story about magical diamonds that make everything right, and a romance between a snail & cow – that’s what I call crossing the line. The burden of every animation house (maybe with the exception of Pixar) is to distinguish themselves from the incomparable force that is Pixar, so you know that the folks at the Weinstein Company were like, forget artistry and detail; forget a tight story line or an effective use of voice talent; forget thoughtful themes that will stick with children for years to come. We’re going to settle for Veggie Tales caliber animation and a story ridden with plot holes, so that we can focus all our efforts (i.e., money) to getting a really cool cast! Once we get a talented cast, the movie will write itself.

You must be wondering, Anna what on earth were you thinking!?! Seriously, how could you expect any more than crap? Here’s my rationale:

1) His name is Doogal!
2) Look at him.
3) The trailer.
4) John Stewart
5) Jimmy Fallon.
6) William H. Macy.
7) Judi Dench [She won an Oscar. Was I so wrong in thinking that Oscar winners no longer take on crappy movies?].
8) Come on, the movie is called Doogal. How cute is that?
9) My sister also wanted to see the movie.

If you put the inanely complex plot aside, the next most tragic element was, I’m saddened to say, my beloved Doogal. Voiced by the kid from Elf (Daniel Tay), Doogal is the worst hero or lead one could hope for. First of all, he’s the very one that accidentally releases the villainous Zeebad and necessitates this arduous quest in the first place! Secondly, he’s so one-track minded. That dog cannot think when candy is involved. He will do anything for candy, even if it puts his friends in danger. With so much attention to Doogal’s troublesome love for candy, you would think that this movie is a tale about the dangers of “candy” addiction, but at the end of the film, Doogal’s owner, Florence, rewards him with a piece of candy! Movie heroes, even if they’re tragically flawed, manage to go through some sort of character arc. Not Doogal. He ends up as incompetent and selfish as he was at the start of the film. To top it all of, Doogal is physically incapable of doing anything other than scuttle across the floor, eat candy, fetch, or lick people in the face. I don’t care how cute your name is; heroes must serve some purpose, and ideally, save the day!

Aside from the moments where we cracked up at the sheer ridiculousness of the film, there were actual moments of pure hilarity, due in large part to the charms of the voice talent. Jimmy Fallon voices Dylan, a stoner, hippy bunny that is taller than a cow. Whoopi Goldberg voices said cow, Ermintrude with the attitude and snappiness required of all comedic black actresses. Sweet William H. Macy voices sweet Brian, a snail madly in love with Ermintrude (yes, the COW). Chevy Chase voices the train, which I did not realize could speak until half way through the film. Ian McKellan does what he can now do in his sleep as the good wizard spring, Zebedee. John Stewart is stand out funny (although that’s not saying much) as arch nemesis spring, Zeebad, while Bill Hader (yeah, I don’t know who that is either) plays Zeebad’s adorable henchman, Soldier Sam. Kylie Minogue plays Florence, Doogal’s “best friend”, but she remains frozen throughout most of the film, so it’s rather difficult to mess that part up. To top it all of, that classy dame, Judi Dench narrates. Kevin Smith also proves to be one of the top performers as an internal dialoguing Moose, whose character is actually quite unnecessary. He kind of just appears than disappears for no apparent reason.

One could argue that Doogal was intended for a much younger audience (i.e., people with less discriminating taste), but then how do you explain all the outdated references to the Lord of the Rings, Matrix, Indian Jones, and Harry Potter, or the sexual tension between Ermintrude and Brian? The filmmakers clearly had an adult audience in mind. My only other explanation for the crappiness of the film is that it was produced by half of the free world. The opening credits take about 30 minutes as it displays all the different parties involved in the making of this film. It was apparently a collaboration of UK, French, and U.S. filmmakers. I’m going to blame the crappy magical diamond storyline on the French. I’ll give props to the U.K. leg for wrangling in Dench. The unappealing animation and strange character choices go to Europe in general. The U.S. takes the fall for producing a deceivingly entertaining trailer, the hip pop culture references that are so not hip anymore, and everything else that is wrong with the film.

I think I am especially disappointed by Doogal because it’s the start of an exciting season of CG animation films (Cars, Open Season, Happy Feet, Ice Age II, The Wild, And Bully, and Over the Hedge). This just means that animated films are off to a rough start, and based on the Cars trailer, I don’t think it’s going to get any better.

Doogal, ala Pixar, is preceded by an animated short about a stupid, obese gopher who tries to steal food from delivery trucks to no avail. In addition to sense of frustration, the short leaves you with a horrifying image of a fat gopher stuck to the rear end of an even fatter cow.

My recommend: Obviously, don’t see it. I do, however, recommend the trailer. Cyndi is quite sad that she had to waste her movie gift certificate on Doogal. I guess this makes us even after Into the Blue. ;)

One of the positives that came out of this movie going experience was the pre-movie show. In the past, you were forced to watch a Sprite bottle race a Dr. Pepper bottle or contemplate what the wooden box used to raise up camera equipment is called (apple box!). Now days, movie theaters (at least the AMC theaters) have created the “First Look” series. Essentially it’s a promotional piece for soon to be released movies guised as a behind the scenes special that doesn’t really tell you anything. My “first look” was a featurette on Walking the Line. I was not impressed. The “first look” preceding Doogal, on the other hand, was much more entertaining. It featured a short clip from a new Cartoon Network show called My Gym Partner’s a Monkey (and a “look” at the new Robin Williams flick, RV). Even if evil marketing execs are using this first look to manipulate a captive young audience through the use of cartoon shorts, I’m quite happy to watch cartoons while I wait for my crappy movie to start. I much rather be exploited by the Cartoon Network than have to watch Coca-Cola sponsored movie trivia interspersed with ads for Bryman College.

Doogal gets a F+, but the “First Look” before Doogal gets a B.

08 February 2006

He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special

Intergalactic twin super heroes, He-Man and She-Ra must save two really annoying earth children from the grinch of their galaxy, Horde Prime. Meanwhile, all the children care about is the fact that they’re missing Christmas.

Though my memories of He-Man & She-Ra are vague, both shows still hold a special place in my heart. I can’t claim to be a die hard fan, but I enjoyed He-Man because of its evil villain, Skeletor, who was like Gargemel, but slightly more menacing. I, however, adored the spin-off series, She-Ra. I liked She-Ra because she was like Barbie, only she did something with her life. Plus, She-Ra also had really cool friends, like the mermaid lady, and the woman who could turn everything into flowers and rainbows. She-Ra also had killer boots and pretty hair. I really appreciated how the show refrained from stereotyping the likes and interests of little girls.

With that said, I’m quite disappointed to report that He-Man & She-Ra are not as cool as I remember. Now, before I launch into my scathing review of the He-Man & She-Ra Christmas Special, I have to give much respect to my M.A. advisor, Prof. Don Roberts, the educational and psychological consultant for the He-Man series. Prof. Roberts helped bring pro-social messaging to Saturday morning cartoons. Thus, as I make fun of the Christmas special, I must note that this great classic was designed for a much younger audience, not snotty little twenty-somethings.

In an effort to refrain from overly religious themes, the Christmas Special emphasizes Christmas as the season of giving – the giving of presents that is. Unfortunately, thanks to the blundering of He-Man’s sidekick, Orko, two Earth children are accidentally transported back to Eternia, causing them to miss the joyous holiday of gift-giving. Let’s just say that the special gets off to a rough start.

One of the reasons I found the opening so disappointing was Orko. I forgot about Orko, not to mention how ANNOYING he is! I hate bumbling sidekicks. Why do superheroes always have to hang out with annoying sidekicks? You’re a superhero! You CAN get cooler friends. Furthermore, Orko had to pick up the craziest kids on Earth, brother & sister pair, Manuel & Alicia. Firstly, Orko found these kids hanging out in the frozen tundra unsupervised. What kind of children go out looking for a Christmas tree in the middle of the Arctic? Crazy kids, that’s what kind. Secondly, these kids were unfazed by Orko (Admit it, if it weren’t for his dorky voice, he’d look pretty scary) or the fact that he transported them across the universe to another planet! To top off their creepiness, the kids were very Earth-centric. When Orko innocently asks the children what “Christmas” is, the children were like, “Duh! You don’t know what Christmas is…” Jerks. Then, when the kids find out they may be stranded on Eternia, they were like, “Does hat mean we’re going to miss Christmas [and not get my new He-Man action figure]? Wah. Wah. Wah Wah.” Jeez, get your priorities in order.

Despite how creepy these kids are, Horde Prime sets his sights on them for reasons I don’t quite understand. According to IMDB, Horde Prime was drawn to their “overflowing goodwill.” Yeah, I guess I missed that part. So, Horde Prime dispenses all his goons, including my boy Skeletor, to hunt down these crazy kids. It’s at this moment that I realize why guys today are so obsessed with working out. It’s the He-Man complex. He-Man is obviously buff, and Skeletor is definitely no slouch. Bad Gator guy? Ripped. Evil guy with two heads? Ripped. Spikey head guy? Ripped. Note to guys: Abandon these unrealistic images of the ideal male form. You will never look like He-Man. Also, why would you even want to look like He-Man? He’s, you know… I mean, just look at him.

Even creepier than the kids, was She-Ra’s horse, Swifty. I didn’t realize Swifty even spoke until the Christmas Special. I definitely never imagined such a gruff, man voice. Swifty’s like a cross between Danny DeVito and a My Little Pony. Second in odd voice casting was Cutter, the Deadly Robot, voiced by Wallace Shawn. Okay, he really wasn’t voiced by Wallace Shawn, but he sure did sound like him.

Overall, the film was quite disappointing. I guess that’s what happens when you watch A Christmas Special in 2006 instead of 1985. I was especially looking forward to all the cameos by the friends of He-Man & She-Ra, but most of the screen time was sucked up by Alicia, Miguel, & Orko. Argh! The story was excruciatingly cheesy and there was little action. Perhaps my expectations were simply too high. Over 15 years of nostalgic affection for He-Man & She-Ra ruined my viewing experience. OR, maybe Alicia & Manuel really were THAT annoying. They are timelessly annoying, if you will.

As much as it pains me, I have to say that this rental was NOT WORTH IT. Preserve the halcyon days of yore. Don’t ruin those golden childhood memories with the cynicism of adulthood. With that said, I can’t wait to see Jem on DVD!

22 January 2006

30-Recond Recaps

I also saw a bunch of crappy movies. Here's a quick rundown.

Fever Pitch
FANATICAL Boston Red Sox fan, Ben (Jimmy Fallon) has to choose between his beloved baseball team and Drew Barrymore. [I'm no baseball fan, but I say pick the Red Sox!] The film is rather enjoyable -- for girls AND boys. Jimmy Fallon & Drew Barrymore are actually quite tolerable, and that's saying a lot.

Beauty Shop
This movie is about a train wreck. I'm talking like derailed, killed a bus full of diasabled children on their way to serve lunch to the homeless, which resulted in a brush fire kind of train wreck. Just because you were nominated for an Oscar or an Emmy [Yeah, I'm talking to you Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens & Keisha "Knight" Pulliam] doesn't mean you can star in a crappy spin-off about a hair salon full of opinonated black women without consequence.
Your saving grace: Djimon Hounsou.

The Skeleton Key
Young hospice aid, Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) accepts a position with a creepy couple in the bayou and agrees to live in their creepy house.

21 January 2006

Holiday Movie Review

Anyone from Hawaii knows that there are only four things to do when you're home for the holidays: go eat, mall, shopping or movies -- brah. For me, this post-college break was no exception. Although it's taken me awhile to get out of winter holiday hibernation, here are my quick thoughts on this year's batch of winter wonders.

The Family Stone
Don’t be fooled by that cheeky little movie poster with the ring finger, or that mildly humorous scene where Diane Keaton slips on some spilled casserole. Resist the adorableness of Sarah Jessica Parker dancing to Maxine Nightingale’s catchy “Right Back Where We Started From.” The Family Stone is NOT a romantic comedy. Yes, there’s romance. Yes, there’s comedy. But, there’s also terminal illness, homophobia, poignant black and white photos, and lots of tears. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the movie. I just want to make sure you’re not misled.

The Family Stone would be more accurately described as an engaging family portrait rather than a movie. If you think of it as a movie, then you’re going to expect a gripping story. I can’t really explain why I enjoyed the movie. It’s on the verge of being a holiday movie cliché with all the pretty snow, the seemingly big, tight-knit traditional family filled with not-so-traditional characters, the secret illness, the homage to a holiday movie classic (Meet Me in St. Louis), and of the course the good old, “People aren’t always what they seem” trick. Despite the clichés, I think the movie’s worth a viewing. The interaction between the various characters is inexplicably engaging. It’s like sitting at a bus stop and watching a frazzled mom yell at her rowdy kids. Normally, such a scene would not be so appealing, but since you got time to a kill, the exchange presents a nice little diversion. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll wish you were somewhere else. It’s just like going home for the holidays! Most people will tell you it’s not worth seeing. I say: check it out. Just be sure to go in with low expectations.

Memoirs of a Geisha
Long before Gwen Stefani and her “Harajuku” girls, the hottest and most prestigious role for women in Japan [besides being married to a really rich guy] was that of the Geisha. Memoirs of a Geisha chronicles the rise of blue-eyed, Sayuri [Zhang Ziyi] as one of Japan’s premiere Geisha. Sold to a Geisha house at a young age, Sayuri’s life is wrought with challenges: her sister becomes a young prostitute; she ticks off one of the hottest Geishas of the moment, Hatsumomo [Gong Li], and is consequently made a servant girl; she’s only desired by old guys or guys with facial disfigurement; and to top it all off, despite having grown up with a cute little Japanese accent, develops a distractingly Chinese twang that makes everything she says sound like it came out of a fortune cookie [I know I sound harsh, but I’m getting tired of interchangeable Asians. For a movie that is as culturally specific as Memoirs, I think it’s important to recognize the distinct difference between a Japanese and Chinese accent. I mean, you won’t every see Gerard Depardieu playing King Henry VIII – unless it involves Whoopi Goldberg or imaginary characters. In my opinion, they should have just filmed the movie in Japanese and subtitled it.]

Anyway, Sayuri endures all hardships and eventually pursues a demanding career as a Geisha under the tutelage of the mysterious, yet discreetly self-serving, Mameha (Michelle Yeoh), all in the hopes of getting closer to the Chairman (Ken Watanabe, who looks better bald) because he once bought her a snow cone. I’m serious. Sayuri DEDICATES herself to the Chairman all because of a little shave ice. [This is why kids should not take candy from strangers! They might fall in love with them, and then dedicate the rest of their life to getting one step closer to their sugar daddy.]

I know that there’s a lot of criticism of the film’s cultural accuracy, but seriously, I think cultural accuracy went out the window when they let their characters speak with a Chinese accent [Let it be clear, I’m not hating on the Chinese actresses, just their accents]. If you aren’t as selectively obsessive as I am, and can get beyond the whole Chinese accent thing, you will find a visually captivating film, scored by the legendary John Williams [He even rocks some Taiko drums!]. Essentially, director Rob Marshall created a really cool music video. If anything, the film leaves you wanting to read the book. I say rent it on the chance that there will be an option to watch the film dubbed in Japanese.

Fun with Dick & Jane
Due to some shady business shenanigans, corporate peon, Dick Harper (Jim Carrey) loses his cushy VP job when his employer goes bankrupt. In order to maintain the comfortable lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to, Dick & his wife, Jane (Tea Leoni) are forced to head back into the brutal job market. Unfortunately, due to the massive lay-off, they have an extremely difficult time finding a job that will cover their mortgage payments. What do Dick & Jane do in the face of such adversity? They decide to go Bonnie & Clyde and ruin the lives of other hard working people?

Jim Carrey & Tea Leoni are funny people. In fact, they’re quite funny in the film. That’s why it’s quite unfortunate, although not surprising, that the film fails on the whole. It just seems like they’re trying too hard. First, they try to pull off some political satire by modeling the Enron scandal, masterminded by CEO, Sam Samuels [Alec Baldwin], an annoying caricature of George W. Bush. Come on now. Anyone and their grandmother can make fun of the president. Making fun of George W. Bush is so 2002. Truth be told, the story line is not all that original [duh, it’s a remake], the supporting cast is unremarkable, and the truly comedic scenes are sporadic and few. Not worth a rental, unless you have a coupon. Wait until it hits the USA network.

The Producers
Infamous Broadway Producer, Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) and his pathetic account, Leo Bloom concoct a brilliant money making scheme to produce a surefire failure and avoid the notice of the IRS Step 1) Seduce a lot of little old ladies and have them back your new Broadway show “Cash” Step 2) Choose a terrifyingly horrific script about the greatness of Adolf Hitler Step 3) Produce the gayest production on Broadway 4) Have your show flop on opening night 5) Keep all the money 6) Escape the notice of the IRS

Okay, so as far as money making schemes go, the plan is pretty ridiculous, but as far as, comedy genius, it’s brilliant! First of all, if you’re not into musicals, you’ll probably find this movie really annoying. On the other hand, if you love musicals, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this crazy production. I found this musical version of the The Producers WAY more interesting than the original film. Most of my enjoyment can be attributed to the stellar cast. Will Ferrell does what he does best (crazy with a side of sincerity), only this time he does it with a German accent as writer/devoted Nazi, Franz Liebkind. Nathan Lane is the ham that he always is, but is quite entertaining as the skeezy producer. Matthew Broderick as was by far, my favorite, as the neurotic Leo Bloom. He’s so nerdy and crazy – adorable! My only casting complaint is Uma Thurman as the sexy, Swedish secretary, Ulla. Thurman first of all doesn’t have much of a singing voice, her dancing skills leave much to be desired, and frankly, she looks a little scary in her close-up shots. All she really have going for her is the blonde hair and her show girl legs. I think the film would have been much better off casting a no-name for the role of Ulla. I mean, it’s not like people are rushing to The Producers to see Uma Thurman. The Producers is a must see – unless you hate musicals or Mel Brooks. In that case, you must experience no joy in your life.

King Kong
You know the story. Big ape on a remote island falls in love with blonde actress (Naomi Watts). Heartless movie producer (Jack Black) captures the ape and takes it back to NYC to put him on exhibition. Ape escapes, finds aforementioned blondie, and takes her up to the Empire State Building. Sinister fighter planes circle the gorilla and girl. Then, bad, bad, bad things happen.

After Disney’s remake of Mighty Joe Young, I thought I had my fill of movies featuring tearinful endings and a gorilla that falls in love with blonde women. Apparently, I’m still into that rather specific genre, because I adored King Kong. Sure, the dialogue may get a little clunky and the tone of film is rather inconsistent as the movie fluctuates between a campy period piece, a drama, and a great action film. Despite such flaws, the film is still very entertaining. The action scenes, including an awesome fight scene between King Kong and a pack of T-Rexes, are dynamite. The romance in the film is palatable. Naomi Watts is quite endearing as the soulful, young starlet, Anne Darrow. You can kind of see why King Kong falls in love with her. The chemistry between Anne and screenwriter, Jack Driscoll, played by the curiously attractive, Adrian Bordy is cute, but is no match for the bond between Anne Darrow and King Kong. I’m such a sucker for animals that exhibit human characteristics, and you will too. It’s hard not to love King Kong. He’s like a cross between Russell Crow and Koko the ASL gorilla. I found Jack Black rather despicable, but I guess that’s intentional for his character. It’s just sort of hard to look at Jack Black without expecting that at any moment he could break into some air guitar, scratch his butt, or do something satanic.

The best part of the film takes place on Skull Island. It’s when director, Peter Jackson takes you to NYC that the movie gets a little clunky. The island stuff is lush and magical. NYC just seems cheesy in comparison. Jackson should stick to locales with lots of trees. I say that you should definitely check it out. It may not be a cinematic masterpiece, but it’s undoubtedly entertaining. WARNING: You may pee in your pants. Children and adults that scare easily should be forewarned of the frightening native folk on Skull Island. Although highly stereotypical, they are possibly the scariest characters I’ve ever seen in my life.