“HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” (2010) Review

“HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” (2010) Review

I have been a major fan of J.K. Rowling’s ”HARRY POTTER” novels as much as the next person. But I would have never become a fan if it had not been for the movie adaptations of the novels. Mind you, I have not harbored a high opinion of all the movie adaptations. It has been a mixed bag for me over the past nine years. Of the seven movies that were made, I have a high opinion of at least four of them. And the most recent movie – ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” – happened to be one of them. 

I never thought I would think highly of ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I”. When I had heard that Warner Brothers planned to split Rowling’s seventh novel into two movies, I did not think it was a good idea. And I felt it was an attempt by the studio to get as much profit from Rowling’s saga as much as possible. Being a steady fan of the franchise, I went ahead and saw . . . and thanked my lucky stars that the movie had not been shot in the 3-D process. Not only did I develop a high opinion of ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I”, I fell in love with it. Considering the number of complaints I have heard about the movie, I suspect that many would be surprised by my opinion. But I did. I fell in love with that movie. And considering the detailed nature of Rowling’s novel, the decision to make two movies from it may have done justice to Steve Kloves’ screenplay.

Directed by David Yates, ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” told the story of Harry Potter and his two close friends – Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger – and their efforts to elude Lord Voldemort and his Deatheasters throughout Britain, after the latter assumed control of the wizarding world following Albus Dumbledore’s death in ”HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”. Not only did Harry, Ron and Hermione do their best to elude Voldemort and the Deatheaters; they had to find and destroy the remaining horcruxes – objects or receptacles in which Voldemort had hidden parts of his soul for the purposes of attaining immortality. Harry had destroyed Voldemort’s school diary in ”CHAMBER OF SECRETS”. And before the start of ”HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”, Professor Dumbledore had destroyed another – Marvolo Gaunt’s ring. There remained five horcruxes for the trio to find and destroy. But as fugitives within Britain’s wizarding world, their task proved to be difficult.

As I had stated earlier, I ended up falling in love with ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I”. But this feeling did not blind me to its flaws. And it had a few. One, what happened to Dean Thomas? For the first time in the saga’s history, he had a bigger role. At least in the novel. He failed to make an appearance in this adaptation. Mind you, his lack of presence did not harm the story. But it would have been nice for Harry, Ron and Hermione to encounter at least one fellow Hogswarts student (other than Luna) during their adventures. And poor Dean Thomas had been sadly underused since the first movie. Two, I wish that director David Yates and editor Mark Day had chopped some of the scenes featuring the Trio’s ”Winter of Discontent”. I could understand that the three friends would endure a great deal of despair over their situation and the state of the wizarding world. However . . . was it really that necessary to endure so many shots of Harry, Ron and Hermione staring into space, looking depressed? These scenes nearly bogged down the movie’s middle section. The Dursleys barely made a presence in this movie. Worse, Kloves had decided to delete Harry and Dudley’s goodwill good-bye. Who became the new owner of Sirius Black’s home, Number 12 Grimmauld Place, following his death? Since ”THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE” movie failed to clear the issue, I had hoped this movie would. It never did. I had also hoped that ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” would clear reveal the identities of the two other horcruxes that were revealed in the sixth novel – Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup and Rowena Ravenclaw’s Diadem. The only thing that Kloves’ script did was mention that the Trio did not know about the cup, the diadem and two other horcruxes.

Despite these annoyances, I still love ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I”. The only HARRY POTTER movie that I love more is 2004’s ”HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN”. There had been complaints of the movie’s dark tone. Personally, this did not bother me one bit. In fact, I reveled in the story’s darkness. Other HARRY POTTER have ended on a dark note. But the story’s dark tone was not only well handled in Rowling’s novel, but also in Kloves’ script. Why? Because it suited the story. Aside from the ”Winter of Discontent” sequence, the rest of the pacing for ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” was well handled by Yates and Kloves. The movie also featured some outstanding sequences. Among my favorite were the following:

*Lord Voldemort’s murder of Charity Burbage at the Malfoy Manor.

*The Order of the Phoenix escort Harry to the Weasleys’ home, the Burrows.

*Harry, Ron and Hermione’s escape from Bill and Fleur’s wedding at the Burrows to London.

*The attack upon the Trio by two Death Eaters at a London café.

*The Trio steal Salazar Slytherin’s locket from Dolores Umbridge at the Ministry of Magic.

*Ron’s departure from Harry and Hermione, following a vicious quarrel between him and Harry.

*Harry and Hermione’s narrow escape from Godric’s Hollow.

*Ron’s reunion with Harry and Hermione and his destruction of Salazar Slytherin’s locket (a horcrux).

*Xenophilius Lovegood’s (and Hermione’s) narration of Peverell brothers and the Deathly Hallows.

*Dobby’s rescue of the Trio, Luna Lovegood and Mr. Ollivander from the Malfoy Manor.

Of the above scenes, at least three of them stood out for me. One of those scenes was the quarrel that broke out between Harry and Ron during the ”Winter of Discontent”. I found it ugly, brutal and emotional, thanks to the performances of the three leads. They really made this scene worked and for the first time; it occurred to me that Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson had really grown in their skills as actors. Hell, in this scene, they gave the best performances in the movie. Another scene that really stood out was Xenophilius Lovegood’s narration of the bleak tale regarding the Peverell brothers and the three Deathly Hallows (the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone and the Cloak of Invisibility). What made this sequence unique was that it was shown via some visually stunning animations designed and directed by Ben Hibon. But the one scene that really impressed me was the Ministry of Magic sequence that featured the Trio’s retrieval of Salazar Slytherin’s locket from the odious Dolores Umbridge (now head of the Muggle-Born Registration Commission). From the moment that Harry, Ron and Hermione used Polyjuice Potion to transform into three workers from the Ministry of Magic (Sophie Thompson, David O’Hara and Steffan Rhodri), until their escape via apparition; the entire scene was a fabulous ride filled with tension, humor, chaos and adventure. I would rate it as one of the best sequences in the entire saga.

I had already commented on the marvel of the three leads’ performances. For once, Radcliffe, Grint and Watson were the ones to give the most outstanding performances; instead of a supporting cast member. But there were other excellent performances. One came from Tom Felton, who continued his ambiguous portrayal of Hogswarts student Draco Malfoy that began in ”THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”. Another came from Ralph Fiennes, who gave a better performance as Lord Voldemort – especially in the opening sequence at Malfoy Manor – than he did in both ”THE GOBLET OF FIRE” and”THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX”. In fact, I could say the same about Helena Bonham-Carter, who seemed less over-the-top and a lot scarier than she was in her previous appearances. Rhys Ifan was deliciously entertaining as Luna Lovegood’s equally eccentric father, Xenophilius. And I have to give kudos to Sophie Thompson, David O’Hara and Steffan Rhodri did a great job in conveying their adolescent characters (Hermione, Harry and Ron) through body language – especially since the three leads added their voices. And in his few scenes, Alan Rickman was his usual superb self as the enigmatic Severus Snape. A good example of how ambiguous he could be can be seen in the sequence featuring the death of an old friend of Snape’s – Charity Burbage. All you have to do is look at Rickman’s eyes and face.

Considering that this tale has no choice but to end happily in ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part II”, I could assume that”Part I” might prove to be the darkest movie in the HARRY POTTER. On the other hand, Yates and Kloves might prove me wrong. But despite a few flaws, I believe that ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” is one of the best movies in the franchise. I have not truly enjoyed a HARRY POTTER this much since ”THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN”. And I can thank director David Yates, screenwriter Steve Kloves; and the three leads – Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. Excellent job, guys. Excellent job.

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“THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE” (2010) Review

Apparently, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” was not the only 2010 summer release struggling at the box office. Disney’s new live-action adaptation of its 1940 animated classic, ”THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE” also struggled. Directed by Jon Turteltaub and starring Nicholas Cage, Jay Baruchel and Alfred Molina; the movie was a fantasy-adventure about a long-living sorcerer named Balthazar Blake who is fighting against the forces of evil and his arch-nemesis Maxim Horvath in modern-day Manhattan; while searching for the person who will inherit Merlin’s powers. This person turns out to be Dave Stutler, a physics student at New York University, whom Balthazar takes as a reluctant protégé.

Did I have any problems with ”THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE”? Well, I had a few. Although some of the scenes managed to capture Manhattan in the daytime, most of the scenes were filmed at night. Manhattan makes a vibrant and colorful setting and I found it frustrating that I got to see most of it at night, when it was not really necessary. The special effect of the flying gargoyle from the Chrysler Building really did nothing for me. And the movie criminally – in my opinion – underused actors and actresses such as Omar Benson Miller, who portrayed Dave’s roommate; Monica Bellucci, who played Balthazar’s fellow sorceress and secret love, Veronica; and Alice Kriege, who portrayed the evil Morgana le Fey from the King Arthur legend.

Despite its flaws, I really enjoyed ”THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE”.  There were no cheesy lines. Yet, there was plenty of sharp humor. Thanks to the screenplay written by Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard and Matt Lopez, it was also a solid adventure story about how Dave Stutler who learns to achieve his full potential and a good deal of self-respect. Dave’s mentor, Balthazar, also learned a good deal about patience and overcoming one’s past regrets. With a great deal of humor, the pair not only teaches valuable lessons to each other; but also form a solid pair to take out Balthazar, who hopes to raise the evil Morgana le Fey and stop her from destroying the world.

Despite too many nighttime scenes, I must admit that I found Bojan Bazelli’s photography to be colorful and impressive. I found the special effects supervised by John Fraizer very impressive – especially during the Chinatown sequence and the scene featuring Dave’s use of Tesla coils. And despite the film’s failure to utilize performers such as Omar Benson Miller, Monica Bellucci and Alice Kriege; the ”THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE” could boast a very entertaining cast. Nicholas Cage was perfectly cast as the intense and sometimes impatient sorcerer, Balthazar Blake. And he had excellent chemistry with the deliciously wry and sardonic Jay Baruchel, who portrayed physics student-turned sorcerer, Dave Stutler. Alfred Molina seemed to be more in his element as the sarcastic and villainous sorcerer, Maxim Horvath than he was in ”PRINCE OF PERSIA”. And he managed to produce a surprisingly effective screen chemistry with Tobey Kebbell, who portrayed the young and self-absorbed celebrity magician, Drake Stone. And although I did not find Teresa Palmer’s portrayal of Dave’s lost interest, Becky Barners, particularly memorable; I must admit that she managed to prevent her character from becoming bland.

Looking back at ”THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE”, I cannot help but wonder if producer Jerry Bruckheimer had refrained from allotting a bigger budget to the movie. I think it had the potential to be a major crowd pleaser, but failed to do so with too many night scenes and an unwillingness to utilize the entire cast. But, the movie still had some dazzling special effects, a solid adventure story and a talented cast in Nicholas Cage, Jay Baruchel and Alfred Molina. In the end, ”THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE” proved to be a pretty good movie.

“THE LAST AIRBENDER” (2010) Review

“THE LAST AIRBENDER” (2010) Review

Director M. Night Shyamalan decided to explore the world of fantasy-adventure by filming an adaptation of an animated television series called ”AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER”. This movie is a fantasy-adventure tale set in a fictional, Asian-influenced world with Chinese martial arts and elemental manipulation. ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” tells the story of a young monk and the only surviving airbender (one with the psi ability to manipulate air) named Aang, who is believed by others to be the future Avatar – one who can manipulate all four elements of air, water, fire and earth. With his two new friends from the Southern Water Tribe, Aang seeks to learn to manipulate three other elements – water, earth and fire. In this movie, he journeys with his friends Katara (a waterbender) and her brother Sokka to the Northern Water Tribe, where he can learn how to master the waterbending skill from a master. Tracking Aang, Katara and Sokka is Prince Zuko, the Crown Prince of the Fire Nation; who has been exiled by his evil father, Fire Lord Ozai and sent to capture the future Avatar. With the Avatar’s capture, Zuko’s honor and right to the throne will be restored.

I would have never bothered to see this movie. But an office colleague of mine had really enjoyed the movie and recommended that I go see it. Needless to say, I do not regret following her advice. Mind you, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER”was not perfect. The movie’s first five to ten minutes failed to kickstart my interest. It bored me so much that I found myself on the verge of falling asleep. Most of the cast members gave performances that ranged from mediocrity to sheer boredom. And a good deal of the movie’s dialogue seemed extremely cheesy to me – the kind of dialogue one would find in the ”STAR WARS” and the ”LORD OF THE RINGS” franchises.

However, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” definitely had its virtues. I was impressed by the performances of the two leads, Noah Ringer and Dev Patel, who portrayed Aang and Zuko respectively. These two literally kept this movie together. It also helped that both had genuine martial arts experience. I was also impressed by Shaun Toub, who portrayed Zuko’s wise uncle, Iroh; Aasif Mandvi, who played the Fire Nation’s cold-blooded military commander, Zhao; and Cliff Curtis, who portrayed the ruthless leader of the Fire Nation, Fire Lord Ozai. Andrew Lesnie’s photography, Philip Messina’s production designs and the art directions supervised by Richard L. Johnson were very impressive, if not mind blowing. However, I did find Judianna Makovsky’s costume designs to be very beautiful and memorable.

From what I understand, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” is not exactly a hit. It has failed to fully earn back the money spent on its production. Well . . . what can I say? Regardless of whether it was a hit or not, I found it an entertaining movie to watch and look forward to viewing it again on DVD.

“G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA” (2009) Review

Below is my review of the new action film based upon the “G.I. Joe” toy franchise: 

 

”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA” (2009) Review

For the third time in my life, I saw a movie that was based upon a popular toy franchise. The latest movie with this particular premise turned out to be ”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA”. And if I must be honest, I ended up seeing the movie under confusing circumstances.

I never had any intentions of seeing ”G.I. JOE”. Let me make this perfectly clear. After the mindless action of the two”TRANSFORMERS” movies, I had vowed never to watch another action movie based upon a popular toy. In fact, I had intended to see the new comedy, ”JULIE AND JULIA”. My family and I ended up watching ”G.I. JOE”, because I thought a relative of mine wanted to see it. As it turned out, my relative thought ”I” wanted to see the movie. Which goes to show how dangerous the lack of communications can be. We ended up watching a movie that neither of us had intended to see.

Stephen Sommers, the creator of the recent ”MUMMY” franchise and director of the first two movies, directed this tale about the G.I. Joe Team, a covert unit of international special forces commandos, under the command of a U.S. Army general named Hawk (Dennis Quaid). Original, huh? Following an attempt by terrorists to steal nanotechnology-based warheads, two regular Army commandos – Conrad “Duke” Hauser and Wallace “Ripcord” Weems (Channing Tatums and Marlon Wayans) – join the “Joes” in an effort to prevent the warheads from falling into the hands of terrorists. During Duke and Ripcord’s training at the G.I. Joe’s command center in North Africa, two terrorists named the Baroneess (Sienna Miller) and Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) attack the base and in the process manage to wound General Hawk and steal the warheads. The Team eventually learn that the warheads’ creator – James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), owner of an arms manufacturing company called MARS – was responsible for the attack and wanted the warheads back for his own nefarious means.

What can I say about ”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA”? It was simply your typical summer action blockbuster based upon a popular franchise. And like many of these action films, it was filled with the usual explosions, violence, silly one-liners and special effects. Nothing special. Nothing original. It also featured an underwater battle between the “G.I. Joe” Team and McCullen’s troops. I read somewhere that Sommers wanted to pay homage to the 1965 James Bond movie, ”THUNDERBALL”. Well, he certainly succeeded as far as I am concerned. Sommer’s underwater battle in”G.I. JOE” seemed just as boring as the one featured in ”THUNDERBALL”.

Surprisingly, ”G.I. JOE” turned out to be better than I had expected. In fact, the movie possessed enough attributes for me to enjoy it. You heard right. I actually managed to enjoy ”G.I. JOE”. Despite the usual action nonsense, the movie turned out to rather enjoyable. More importantly, screenwriters Stuart Beattie, David Elliot and Paul Lovett included several twists in both the plot and some of the characterizations that took me by surprise. And ”G.I. JOE”does not strike me as the type of movie that could generate that kind of surprise. Another aspect of the movie that allowed it rise above the likes of the ”TRANSFORMER” movies, was its exploration of background stories of characters like Duke, the Baroness, McCullen, the Baroness’ brother Rex Lewis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the two former rivals, Storm Shadow and one of the “Joes”, Snake Eyes (Ray Parks). The movie also featured a surprisingly effective action sequence set in Paris – a sequence that ended with some noteworthy special effects produced under the supervision of Christian Roberton and shot wonderfully by cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen.

Another aspect of ”G.I. JOE” that impressed me was its cast. Aside from one particular actor, the actors and actresses struck me as surprisingly impressive. Channing Tatum led the cast as Duke, the Army Special Forces officer who decides to join the “G.I. Joe Team” in order to continue his assignment regarding the nanoprobe warheads. Duke is also haunted by a past tragedy that involved his former girlfriend, Ana Lewis aka the Baroness and her brother, Rex. Tatum has been making a name for himself as a up and coming actor for the past three years. I have to be honest. He does not exactly appeal to me as a screen presence. But I must admit that he is a solid actor and did a very competent job with his role. Portraying Duke’s best friend is comic actor, writer and producer Marlon Wayans. He portrayed Ripcord, another Special Forces soldier who decides to follow Duke in joining the “Joes”. Ripcord also harbors a desire to be acknowledged as a top military pilot and he falls in love with another member of the “G.I. Joe Team”. As expected, Wayans provided a great deal of laughter in a role that could easily be labeled as comic relief. Only in this movie, Ripcord has a well written romance and managed to save two major capital cities in the movie’s finale. Wayans not only handled the comedy with great ease, he also did a solid job in his romantic and action scenes.

The supporting cast was filled with first-rate actors and actresses that provided solid performances. I especially enjoyed Sienna Miller as Duke’s conflicted ex-girlfriend, Ana Lewis. Family tragedy led her to join McCullen’s villainous team and change her name to the Baroness. It seemed quite obvious that Miller was enjoying herself in the role. And Rachel Nichols gave an interesting performance as the brainy and uptight Scarlett, who learns not to open up her heart to Ripcord’s humor and warmth. Also, she and Wayans provided great screen chemistry. And it was great seeing Adewale Akinuoye-Agbale again, after three years. I have not seen him since early Season 3 of ”LOST”. In this movie, he was his usual commanding self as Hershel “Heavy Duty” Dalton, the team’s ordinance expert who acted as field commander of the “Joes”. I also enjoyed Said Taghmaoni as Abel “Breaker” Shaz, the Moroccan hacker and communications expert that harbored a fondness for bubble gum. I especially enjoyed his performance in a scene that featured his character’s dismay at being banned from French soil, following the Eiffel Tower debacle. I have to give kudos to Lee Byung-hun for giving a convincingly complex performance as the villainous Storm Shadow. Christopher Eccleston was pretty solid as the main villain, James McCullen. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a hoot as Ana’s slightly neurotic brother, Rex Lewis.

There was one performance that failed to impress me. And it belonged to Dennis Quaid as General Hawk, leader of the “G.I. Joe Team”. Now, I have been a fan of Quaid for years. Out of all the performances in the movie, his was the only one that turned me off. How can I put this? Quaid’s General Hawk sounded and behaved like an authority figure – whether it be a police officer, politician or military officer – from a 1950s or 60s “B” movie. You know – he spouted the usual flag-waving crap in a very exaggerated manner that came off as stiff. I only thank God that it was a small role.

Before I saw ”G.I. JOE”, I had suspected that it would become another ”TRANSFORMERS” or ”TRANSFORMERS 2”. Unlike the two Michael Bay movies, I did not have to turn off my brain to enjoy the film. And that surprised me, despite the movie’s flaws. Also, Stephen Sommers did a pretty good job in directing both the cast and crew to create a surprisingly entertaining movie. He also had the good luck to work from a solid script that provided a few good twists and surprises. ”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA” is not a cinematic masterpiece or exercise in intellectual introspection. If you want a movie that you might be able to enjoy with kids . . . or even a few friends, then I would recommend it.

“SPEED RACER” (2008) Review

 

“SPEED RACER” (2008) Review

When I first saw the trailer for “SPEED RACER” . . . I had simply cringed in my seat. Granted, I had been a fan of the Japanese cartoon when I was a kid. But looking at that trailer, my mind simply cried, “Hell no!” There was no way in the world I was going to see this movie. 

But the more I saw the trailer, old memories of the cartoon kept welling in my thoughts. Soon, I found myself filled with nostalgia for the cartoon. I eventually decided to go see the movie after all. It might turn out to be a pile of crap, but I had to exorcise the ghosts of my childhood. Well . . . I went ahead and saw the movie. And I must say that it turned out to be a hell of a lot better than I had expected.

At a running time of two hours and fifteen minutes, “SPEED RACER” is about a young 18 year-old American (Emile Hirsch) with natural racing instincts. His goal is to become a world-class car racer, in the wake of the tragic death of his older brother, Rex Racer (Scott Porter) during the Casa Cristo, a cross-country rally. Speed is loyal to the family business, run by his parents Pops (John Goodman) and Mom (Susan Sarandon). Pops designed Speed’s car, the Mach 5. The owner of Royalton Industries (Roger Allam) makes Speed a lucrative offer to join the company’s racing team, but Speed rejects the offer, angering the owner. Speed also uncovers a secret that top corporate interests, including Royalton, are fixing races and cheating to gain profit. After Speed denies his offer to join his racing conglomerate, Royalton wants to ensure that Speed will not win any future races. Speed finds support from his parents and his girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci) and enters the Casa Cristo Rally in a partnership with his one-time rival, Racer X (Matthew Fox), in an effort to rescue his family’s business and the racing sport itself.

I must admit that when I first saw this movie, the first ten minutes had left me puzzled. Although I enjoyed how the story introduced Speed Racer’s obssession with racing and the death of his older brother, Rex Racer; I must admit that I had been taken aback by the movie’s visuals. It looked very cartoonish and I have not seen such bold colors since Warren Beatty’s 1990 film, “DICK TRACY”. But my mind adjusted to this new visual style and proceeded to enjoy the rest of the story. In fact, by the time the movie focused upon The Casa Cristo cross-country race, I found myself marveling over John Gaeta’s visual effects and David Tattersall’s photography. Quite frankly, I also ended up enjoying Larry and Andy Wachowski’s screenplay. “SPEED RACER” must be one of the few movies based upon a cartoon that possessed a strong social message – namely one against corporations’ involvment in the sport. And I found it pleasantly surprising.

As for the cast, Emile Hirsch struck me as a little flat at first. But in the scene in which Speed rejected Royalton’s offer, Hirsch’s Speed Racer finally bloomed into life. Christina Ricci gave a fun and charming performance as Trixie, Speed’s girlfriend. Both John Goodman and Susan Sarandon were solid as Speed’s parents. And I do not think that Matthew Fox had never been as sexy and enigmatic as he was as Racer X – Speed’s rival and ally in the fight against Royalton. I especially enjoyed his fight against a ninja assassin. Richard Roundtree gave a surprisingly sly and funny performance as Ben Burns, a former racer who became a commentator. To my surprise, Roger Allam’s slightly bombastic performance as the corrupt Royalton did not bother me at all. In fact, his character’s over-the-top personality seemed perfect for the movie. The biggest surprise turned out to be Paulie Litt as Spritle, the youngest Racer sibling. Perhaps I should not have been surprised. Regis Philbin once described the young television actor as a 40 year-old in a child’s body. Perhaps he is right. But young Paulie was a bundle of energy with great comic timing.

“SPEED RACER” did possess a few imperfections. Either the movie is fifteen minutes too long or its pacing had dropped off a bit, following the Casa Cristo race sequence. And I was a little annoyed with the Wachowski Brothers’ interruption of the fascinating sequence between Speed and Royalton’s discussion about the racing scene with comic moments of Spritle and his pet monkey, Chin Chin, trying to break into the businessman’s candy storage. It just seemed out of place and it nearly ruined the marvelous scene between Speed and Royalton.

Judging from some of the reviews I had read, it seems many film critics had disliked the film. I suspect that “SPEED RACER”‘s unusual visuals may have been a little too mind blowing for them. Unfortunately, a good number of moviegoers ended up paying attention to those critics. Which is a shame, in my opinion. I feel that “SPEED RACER” is one of the most entertaining films I have seen this year . . . hell, in the past decade; and one of the most unusual I have seen in a long time. And it was a shame that it bombed at the box office.  Considering many moviegoers’ recent habit of avoiding anything unusual, perhaps I should not have been surprised.  But I was disappointed.  An unusual movie such as “SPEED RACER” deserved success.  At least I think so.

“ENCHANTED” (2007) Review

”ENCHANTED” (2007) Review

I found myself experiencing mixed emotions regarding Disney’s new live-action film, ”ENCHANTED”. On one hand, the movie – more or less – turned out to be exactly how I had expected. The trailer had pretty much revealed the gist of the movie. Yet, when I finally saw it, I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I had expected I would.

The story is basically about an animated heroine named Giselle (Amy Adams) who lives in the blissful animated world of Andalasia, where magical beings frolic freely, animals are talkative companions and musical interludes punctuate every interaction. Giselle becomes engaged to the handsome, valiant, and bumbling Prince Edward (James Marsden). Her fate takes a turn for the worse when his stepmother, the villainous Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), throws her through a magic portal, apparently to her doom, in order to keep her son single and thus remain queen. Giselle’s plunge into darkness lands her in the strange and chaotic world of New York City. As the cruelty of this new place wears down the fairy-tale idealism of the once carefree princess, such as a homeless man stealing her tiara, the frightened Giselle meets the pragmatic divorce attorney Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey), who takes her into his apartment despite belief that she is a little crazy. Robert also has to deal with his own fiancée, a very attractive When Giselle’s chipmunk friend, Pip, reveals to Edward of her whereabouts, Narissa orders her henchman Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) to accompany Edward and Pip to New York and prevent her stepson and the missing bride-to-be from reconciling.

”ENCHANTED” is basically a predictable story. Even before the last reel, I knew that Giselle and Robert would fall in love. From the moment Edward met Nancy at the ball, I knew those two would also become a couple. I knew that Nathaniel would eventually realize that Narissa viewed him as worthless and betray her. And I knew that Narissa would end up in New York and nearly kill Giselle. But what I did not expect was how I would enjoy the way the cast – especially Adams, Marsden, Spall and Sarandon, screenwriter Bill Kelly and director Kevin Lima poked fun at the Disney animated fantasy legacy. They did it with fun, color and gentle humor. Okay, the humor was not always gentle. Jodi Benson (the voice of Ariel of ”THE LITTLE MERMAID”) caustically made fun of Giselle’s ”fairy princess”. Giselle’s talent for making friends with animals of all kinds was definitely a spoof of several Disney princesses’ friendships with . . . animals. Only Giselle may have taken it to an extreme by summoning them to clean Robert’s house. I do not know about you, but I would be freaking out at the thought of birds, mice and cockroaches inside my home. The ”happily ever after” for most of the characters seemed a little saccharine, but on the whole I enjoyed the movie very much.

I have heard a lot about Amy Adams in the past, but this is the first time I have ever seen her in action. And quite frankly, I am impressed. Not only did I admire her singing voice, I especially admired how she maintained Giselle’s perky ”fairy princess” personality up until the end – even if it suffered bumps from Robert’s more cynical views on love, her disappointing reunion with Edward and her encounter with Narissa. I realize that Patrick Dempsey’s career has bounced back with the TV series, ”GREY’S ANATOMY”, but since I do not watch the show . . . this was my first time in seeing him in action since his days as a leading man during the late 1980s and early 1990s. And it was nice to see that his talent has not waned one bit. He is still as charismatic and professional as ever. I must admit that it was a bit strange seeing him portray a character less extroverted than his roles from the past.

James Marsden. Dear James. I think his talent was wasted in the ”X-MEN” movies and ”SUPERMAN RETURNS”. He really shone in his role as the valiant, yet slightly pompous Prince Edward. Hell, the man was perfect. And he was also charming enough for me to be happy that his character had a happy ending with someone in the film. It was good to see Timothy Spall again, after his appearances in two ”HARRY POTTER” films. Actually, his role as Narissa’s henchman, Nathaniel, strongly reminded me of his other famous role – Peter Pettigrew. But unlike Peter, Nathaniel proved to have more balls . . . and something of a moral compass in the end. But his performance was thoroughly first-class as usual. And of course there is Oscar winner Susan Sarandon, who portrayed the villainess h- the conniving and greedy – Queen Narissa. Sarandon spent most of the movie peforming Narissa’s voice in the animated sequences. But she was deliciously evil as her flesh-and-blood counterpart arrived in New York City. One could tell that Sarandon was enjoying herself. And for a brief moment, we got to see how she had manipulated Prince Edward all of those years, pretending to be his loving stepmother. I have only one complaint – I did not really care for the platform shoes she wore. Visually, it did not exactly mesh with the rest of her image.

If you are expecting surprises from this charming spoof of Disney fantasy animation, you are going to be disappointed. As I had stated before, it is a rather predictable movie. But if you are expecting first-class entertainment, laughs, music and a good story, then ”ENCHANTED” is your movie and I suggest that you see it as soon as possible.

“TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN” (2009) Review

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Below is my review of the new movie by Michael Bay called “TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen”:

”TRANSFORMERS:  REVENGE OF THE FALLEN” (2009) Review

Two years ago, I had posted a review of the 2007 movie, “TRANSFORMERS”.  Needless to say, I had written a bad review of the film. Since then, I have seen the movie at least once or twice on television cable. And my opinion of it has changed. Somewhat. My new opinion has led me to view its sequel, ”TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen” with different eyes. Let me explain.

When I saw ”TRANSFORMERS” for the second and third times, I discovered a little secret. If a moviegoer harbors low or no expectations of films like the ones from the “TRANSFORMERS” franchise, that person might find him or herself actually enjoying such films. All it takes is the act of simply shutting down one’s brain. However, there are chances that this little tactic might not always work. It did work for me when I saw ”TRANSFORMERS” for the second time. It also worked when I finally saw ”TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen”.

This second movie began two years after the first, when the main hero, teenager Sam Witwicky has graduated from high school and is ready to enter college. In this film, a revived Megatron (the main villain from the first film) and the rest of the Decepticons have returned to Earth in order to take Sam prisoner, after he learns about the ancient origins of the Transformers and some vital information about a certain machine from the remnants of the All Spark (please do not ask me to explain this – I suggest you read the Wikipedia entry). Joining the mission to protect humankind are the Transformers, their leader Optimus Prime, and members of the NEST Team (military Special Forces assigned to work with the Transformers).

And how was the movie? Honestly, it was not all that bad. But it was also far from perfect. One had to deal with a lot of overbearing action – Michael Bay style. In fact, I found it nearly impossible to distinguish between the Transformers and the Decepticons during their fights. The use of Eubonics by two of the Transformers – twins Skids and Mudflap – annoyed the hell out of me. Nor did I find it at all humorous. And could someone please explain how the National Air and Space Museum (where Sam and his friends found the former ancient Decepticon, Jetfire), which is supposed to be in Washington D.C., end up in a location that strongly resembled the western United States? Seeing John Tuturro’s nearly bare ass in one scene did not help matters. Nor did Ramón Rodríguez’s frantic portrayal of Sam’s new college roommate, Leo Spitz. He made Shia LaBeouf’s performance in the 2007 movie look downright subtle. And quite honestly? This movie was too goddamn long. A running time of two-and-a-half hours for a movie based upon toy robots?

But as I had earlier stated, I had no high expectations of the movie and I managed to shut down my brain – somewhat – while watching it. And the story was not that bad. Screenwriters Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Ehren Kruges found a way to bring Megatron back from the dead in a believable manner. They also introduced another villain – an ancient Transformer Prime who went against the other Primes by constructing some kind of machine that can steal the heat and energy from Earth’s sun. Hmmm . . . not bad.

Another aspect of ”TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen” that impressed me was Ben Seresin’s photography. Despite the movie’s fast action, Seresin did an excellent job in capturing the color and grandeur of various locations like New York, Washington D.C. and especially the Middle East. And although there were times when Michael Bay seemed to succumb to his penchant for MTV-style direction, he still managed to maintain a steady pace for the film. And through his direction, he expressed his talent for revealing the funny and quirky sides of the average American citizens.

Speaking of American citizens, I might as well talk about the cast. Shia LaBeouf gave a more subtle performance as the Transformers’ human friend, Sam Witwicky. With Ramón Rodríguez chewing the scenery, I guess that LaBeouf felt he could relax and tone down his performance. Megan Fox gave a nice and occasionally funny performance as Sam’s mechanic girlfriend, Mikaela Barnes. It was nice to see Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson return as Army Rangers William Lennox and Robert Epps. As they had done in the 2007 movie, the pair made a solid screen team. Aside from his ass, it was nice to see John Tuturro reprise his role as Reggie Simmons, now a retired U.S. intelligence agent. However, I must give top kudos to Kevin Dunn and Julie White as Sam’s wacky parents, Ron and Judy Witwacky. More than they did so in the first film, they made a great comedy team, much to my surprise.

Should you go see ”TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen”? I cannot answer that question. It is certainly not one of the best films I have seen this year. But if you are looking for the occasional mindless form of entertainment in which you can shut down your brain, this is definitely the movie for you.