random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Friday, December 30, 2005

DVD REVIEW: Millions (2005) ****

Millions (2005) Big Poster
PG (for thematic elements, language, some peril and mild sensuality)
1 hr. 37 min.
written by: Frank Cottrell Bryce
produced by: Graham Broadbent, Andrew Hauptman, & Damian Jones
directed by: Danny Boyle

Here's a movie about a coupla kids that come upon a bag full of a million dollars....for adults. Yeah, it's a real sweet movie about two brothers but the true messages it holds will really hit home more for adults than children. If I had seen every movie released this year (in other words, if I got paid to review movies) this one would be in the top five of my top ten. As it is, it is easily on my Top 10 best films of 2005 list. It's a real sweet treat that'll leave you thinking about it long after viewing!

Damian Cunningham (Alexander Nathan Etel) is a 7 year-old boy with an imagination so vivid he believes he sees famous Catholic Saints in the flesh. This could be due to his vast knowledge of all the stats on these Saints, his inspirational faith, or a way to deal with the recent loss of his mum. His 9 year-old brother Anthony (Lewis Owen McGibbon) is much more realistic and practical and sees Damian's bizarre knowledge and behavior downright weird. In fact, on their first day at a new school together he asks Damian to try acting normal for once and be like all the other kids. Yet, that's what's so sweet about Damian is that he's so true to himself. He speaks his heart.

The movie begins with their father, Ronnie (James Nesbitt) recently moving them into a home in a newly built community near the rail in suburban Liverpool. When a duffel bag filled with $265,000 falls outta the sky (it would appear) lands on Damian's cardboard fort near the house it sets he and his brother on an adventure that leads him to see what true wealth really is. As they both try and figure out what to do with their new found loot they better figure it out fast because the UK is about to switch its currency from Pounds to Euros in one week.

So what do Damian and Anthony decide to do with alla that loot? There were plenty of times while watching where I thought, "what would I do?" Well, what's cool about the brothers is that their are different enough that they both have their own ideas as to how best to utilize their windfall. At first they start to give some away to friends and then they treat a huge table of homeless folk at the local Pizza Hut. Yet, while Damian wants to continue their charity work, Anthony wants to investt he money. Tension builds between the two when Damian donotes $10,000 pounds to a visiting charity at school that would help less fortunate villagers in Africa. Of course this was right after Anthony had just got done warning him that giving too much away at a time wil draw too much attention to them.

I'm not gonna mention where the money came from although the movie does go into detail on that. Mainly, cuz I see that as a subplot that although integral, takes away from the real story which involves the boys, their father, and Dorothy. Now, Dorothy (Daisy Donovan) is the woman who works at the charity that finds Damian large donation in a donation basket. I also won't mention much more about the film, I'll leave alla that for you to discover. It's about how these boys deal with the death of their mother in funny and serious ways. It's about their lonely father dealing with raising two boys alone and possibly getting to know Daisy.

The direction and writing of Millions is wonderful. There are special effects that serve the wonder and awe of the story and that's it. There are sporatic appearances by Saints that are there to help and guide Damien thru dealing with life without mum and his money problems. Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting" & "24 Days Later") deserves great credit for establishing his range and making a family movie that isn't "dumbed down".

The cast starting with the brothers is amazing. It's easy to find cute kids but finding cute kids that can act is hard. There's onlt so many Dakota's or Haley Joels out there. It's sad that this movie isn't more popular than it is. I laughed, cried, and was surprised as I watched it and I thought, here's a family movie that has a great message of faith for adults and children. There have been movies in the past about chracters who come upon sudden cash. It's nuthin' new. I automatically think of "A Simple Plan" with Billy Bob Thornton. The only thing both movies have in common is that coming across this money did not necessarily make life any better. But, here the money is simply a tool that helps the brothers to see what being good is and what true wealth is. I highly recommend this heartwarming film about miracles and millions.

Special Features: The movie has a great full-length audio commentary by director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce. Some deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

DVD REVIEW: After The Sunset (2004) ***

After the Sunset (2004) big poster
PG-13 (for sexuality, violence and language)
1 hr. 40 min.
written by: Paul Zbyszewski
produced by: Beau Flynn, Jay Stern, & Tripp Vinson
directed by: Brett Ratner

Yeah, so I'm trying to get caught up on some movie watching lately. Here's a movie that I didn't really have an interest to go see in the theaters, so I figured I'd get around to it in the comfort of my own home. That I did.

When Roger Ebert reviewed this film back in November of 2004 he wrote that there was much about the movie that was unbelievable. Well, yeah, sure there is. It's a heist movie mostly set in the sun-soaked Virgin Islands, it's gonna have a sense of disbelief. This is one of those typical "one-more-job" movies about a coupla thick as romantic jewel thieves Max (Pierce Brosnan) and Lola (Salma Hayek) and the obsessed FBI agent Lloyd (Woody Harrelson) who has routinely failed in capturing them. It's a simple movie with a simple plot and pleasures that is barely saved actors that seem like there are having a great time (and who wouldn't in a film shoot in the Virgin Islands).
It all starts out with a diamond heist in Los Angeles by Max and Lola that is supposedly to be their "last" and would see them retiring in St. Lucia. After what is indeed a successful albeit assault-of-our-common-sense steal from agent Lloyd, we then see itchy Max trying to assimilate to his new life of paradise. Beautiful woman. Sun. Lobster. Plenty of Money. Nice car. Nice beachfront home. How hard could that be to get used to? Well, once a thief always a thief. Just as Max starts to get itchy Agent Lloyd shows up in his home, sitting in his comfy chair and drinking his pricey cognac.

It seems that there's a big cruise liner named the "Diamond Cruise" that's docked on the island for several days and Lloyd wants to make sure Max knows he knows why he's really there. Yes, there's a special diamond on that ship. Thus begins the cat-and-mouse games between the the three of them. Which was actually quite entertaining. Its was fun to see Brosnan and Harrelson together pseudo-bonding (to the point of being caught in bed together) in a kinda "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" kinda feel.

It was especially fun to see a nod to Spielberg when Max and Agent Lloyd return drunk from fishing singing,"Show Me the Way to Go Home," a song from the infamous drunken sing-a-long-at-sea in "Jaws". Yet, it was not cool to see a classic romantic "nursing wound" scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" literally replicated here. Hey, Ratner, there's homage and then there's stealing! Still, Ratner did a great job directing the debut episode of the new "Prison Break" series on Fox that premiered this past fall. His next gig is filling the shoes of Brian Singer in "X-Men 3" which makes me a lil nervous.

There are other characters added to the story with the intention to bring more to the overall plot. But like the other characters, the actors turn out to be more interesting than the characters. A decent subplot is added that involves local crime boss kingpin Robert Moor'e (Don Cheadle) and local police officer Sophie (Naomie Harris). I Iiked Harris as the feisty officer who can hold her own when she reluctantly teams up with Lloyd as he trails Max to make sure that the aforementioned diamond stays on that cruise ship. Cheadle gets involved when he asks Max to steal the diamond for him saying it would be economically good for the island (uh huh). For the short amount of time he has, Cheadle of course shines in this role.

Brosnan has been good at slowly moving outta the Bond limelight by taking roles like Max and his roles in "Thomas Crown" and "Tailor of Panama" that are "spy- similar". I don't think he's gonna stick to this pattern cuz of his roles in "Evelyn" and his upcoming film "The Matador", but then again he is scheduled to do a sequel to "Thomas Crown". Ah well, he was the best Bond since Connery and he's good in these suave spy/thief roles.

The movie is well-paced, well-acted, & well-directed by Ratner (Rush Hour, Red Dragon) but it could be the standard "cat-and-mouse" plot that doesn't make me rate this any higher. It does suffer a lil from the implausible twist ending but then again it began with an implausible scene as well. So, wuddya want? If ya like these actors already and ya wanna tour of the Virgin Islands....then here's yer flick! Would it not be for the talented cast, I woulda given it two stars.

NOTE: I found it interesting & impressive that both this movie and "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" were composed and scored by music veteran Lalo Shifrin (he did the original infamous "Mission Impossible" TV theme along with over 200 film and TV scores). Pretty cool for a 73 year old dude from Buenos Aires!

DVD REVIEW: The Bridge of San Luis Rey (2005) **

The Bridge of San Luis Rey (2005) big poster

PG (for thematic elements, some disturbing images and some sensuality)
2 hrs. 4 min.
written by: Mary McGuckian, Thornton Wilder (novel)
produced by: Michael Cowan, Samuel Hadida, Garret McGuckian, Mary McGuckian, & Denise O' Neil
directed by: Mary McGuckian

I wanted to like this movie. Really. As soon as I saw the cast of Robert DeNiro, Gabriel Byrne, Kathy Bates, Harvey Keitel, & F. Murray Abraham, I thought surely this will be good. I had heard about it and saw it on imdb many times as "in production." Yet, I never saw a release date. I think it may have had a short life in the theater around June 2005, but I'm not sure. So, I then saw it sitting there on the shelf at the video store (yeah, I still go to video stores) and it looked promising.

The movie is based on Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that tells the story of a rickety old bridge (think "Temple of Doom"-only worse) in the early-1700's that has spanned a deep gorge in Peru for ages. When the bridge suddenly collapses--plunging five people to their deaths--the tragedy causes a wave of superstition that engulfs the villagers as they believe they are destined for continued misfortune. Only Brother Juniper (Byrne), who witnessed their tragic demise, can find the connections to divine intervention that will quell the townspeople's fears. Brother Juniper stands before the Archbishop of Peru (De Niro) and the Viceroy of Peru (Abraham) and poses the question as to whether the incident was an act of God or just a simple accident.

Sounds interesting, right? A good mystery perhaps? Boring is more like it! The costumes, on location filming in Spain, and music by veteran composer Lalo Shifrin were amazing. But, man what a snoozer! How could it be so with such fine actors, though? I dunno. I'm sure the book is better. Coulda been poor adapting or editing or even, perhaps, miscasting. But, half the time I had no clue who was who and/or what was going on.

The idea of investigating the lives of these five people is interesting. But, it turns out the characters were not all that interesting. Many of the characters like the Viceroy or the Archbishop fell flat. Could be cuz DeNiro was just not a decent fit or that Abraham was phoning it in. The only characters somewhat interesting to me were the harlequin Uncle Pio (Keitel) for the complexities of love he showed and The Marquesa (Bates) who is starving for the love of her estranged daughter. Overall though, I felt like I should care more about these characters than I did.

I found out that this was actually a remake of a 1946 film of the same name. There was also a 1958 television film. If you have time to really sit down and concentrate for some uninterrupted viewing and you like period films with great costumes....check it out. It seemed to me that what can be connected and learned from the five people who died is that they were the only five characters who were true to the power of love. It's a classic romantic idea but still....boring when there's no investment.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

REEL REVIEWS: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe (2005) ***

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion , the Witch & the Wardrobe (2005) big early

2 hrs. 12 min.
Rated PG (for battle sequences and frightening moments.)
Written by: C.S. Lewis (novel), Andrew Adamson, Ann Peacock, Christopher Markus, & Stephen McFeely (screenplay)
Produced by: Mark Johnson & Philip Steuer
Directed by: Andrew Adamson

Here's what I've found with The Chronicles of Narnia....even if you accept and appreciate the so-called Christian themes, if you don't get into talking animals, magic, & fur coats....this movie ain't gonna be for you. That's just an observation. You're still entitled to go and check it out for yourself. I enjoyed thrilling, good (Aslan the lion) vs. evil (Jadis' the human White Witch) story and I'll tell ya why.....

The story of the four Pevensie children--Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter--starts with the book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. While not the first chronological book (that would be The Magician's Nephew) in the series, it's still the book in which we are introduced to the children that discover the land of Narnia. After being shipped off to the country home of an elderly professor in order to escape the London bombings of WWII, the youngest child Lucy finds an entrance to Narnia through a magical wardrobe while playing hide-and-seek with her siblings.

Lucy enters a snowy, charming land that is introduced to her by a timid faun, Mr. Tumnus (played by James McAvoy), the first creature she runs into near a street lamppost in the middle of a forest. He curiously invites her back to his Pooh-like home for some tea. When she returns to her siblings in the professor's home none of them believe what she's seen. To her it feels like she's been gone an hour or so, but to them only seconds. Georgie Henley plays Lucy with such delight and purity. She experiences life with such awe and optimism that it is just plain fun to look at what we discovers through her eyes.

Edmund is quite the opposite though. He is the type of sibling that is stuck being the second stringer all the time. Often goofing off and sometimes antagonistic, his older brother Peter (William Mosely) is often trying to keep him in line like a father they both obviously don't have. While his other sister Susan (Anna Popplewell) tries her best to keep some type of civility between the two in an effort to retain some type of family for little Lucy.

One night, he secretly follows Lucy back into the wardrobe and stumbles upon the snowy terrain of Narnia himself. He's here! There's no denying the truth behind Lucy's breathless reports. Although there is no Mr. Tumnus for him. Not even Lucy. Instead, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) encounters and is befriended by the ominous White Witch, who sits him up on her frosty carriage and promises him all the Turkish Delight he can eat. Yum! (I guess, never had one). Edmund promises the Witch that he will return with his siblings. She seems suspiciously adamant that this happen. Of course, with Edmund likes the feeling of interest the Witch has in him. He's used to being overlooked and unappreciated. Little does he know the plane she has for him and his family.

Eventually all four of them walk through the wardrobe to Narnia and meet up with friendly Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Here we see the first of many CGI (computer-generated) characters of the film. Some will turn out to be friendly (like the Beavers and Mr. Fox) while others downright mean (the Witch's hench-er-wolf-pack). The Beavers give the kids the lowdown on Narnia. How Mr. Tumnus was taken by the Witch for associating with a human, how the land wasn't always icy and snowy, and how the animals weren't always living in fear. It was Jadis, the White Witch, (the wonderful Tilda Swinton) who has cast Narnia in an eternal winter spell. They stated that they believed that a prophesy that tells of two sons of Adam and two sons of Eve will help the noble and mystical lion ruler Aslan, upon his return, fight the Witch and her minions restore Narnia to its glory.

Edmund doesn't like hearing this about his new found friend the White Witch in such bad light. He bails on his siblings and searches for her ice castle in search of all that she had promised him. Of course that was on the condition that he would bring his family to her. She gets royally ticked and shackles Edmund in her icy dungeon with Tumnus. Dah! All for them gross looking Turkish Delights. Real nice!

Leaving Peter, Susan, and Lucy as his rescuers, as they embark on a perilous journey to save their brother. During which Father Christmas suits them up with some goodies, uh, weapons that it is, that will help in their battle against evil. Of course, the real help comes when they hook up with Aslan (powerfully voiced by Liam Neeson) and his faithful mythical followers of beasts, dwarfs, fauns, centaurs, and giants. An apocalyptic battle ensues with every animal imaginable available, from a unicorn to a cheetah to a phoenix. We know who wins.

There is enough character development and talent in these child actors that you believe the challenges and trails they accept. It doesn't necessarily just happen.You see them bicker and work things out and doubt. They definitely draw inspiration and motivation from Aslan. He is scene as some type messianic leader that will lead the land out of darkness with the help of these children. Who does that sound like I wonder? Heh. There's even a parallel to Christ in a particular decision Aslan makes with the White Witch in order to save man, er, animal-kind.

These books have been scrutinized for years with adults saying they foster racism, depicts sexism, and subliminally hammers Christianity. Sigh. You know what? It's a fantasy book for children, people! Irish Christian apologetic author C.S. Lewis wrote the seven Chronicles of Narnia book back in the mid 1950's as children's fantasy-adventure. Read into it what you will. I read the books as a child and fondly remember the 1979 animated television version. I know the book is better but this was certainly an amazing thing to see in the theater.

Lewis' early life has echoes within the Chronicles stories. Born in Belfast in 1898, Lewis' family moved to a large house in the country when he was seven. Like the movie, the house contained long hallways and empty rooms, and Lewis and his brother invented make-believe worlds while exploring their home. Like Caspian and Tirian (form the other books), Lewis lost his mother at an early age, and like Edmund, Jill and Eustace (other books again), he spent a long, miserable time in English boarding schools. During World War II, many children were evacuated from London because of air raids. Some of these children stayed with Lewis at his home in Oxford. So, he obviously didn't pull all of this outta a hat. He's got some life experience invested in these stories and I can dig that.

With technology as it is now, the story could only have been made today. It makes sense that it comes out now. I went to see it with a group of friends on opening day, December 9th, in Houston, TX to a packed theater. We saw all ages around us enjoying the film. I'd use your discretion as to whether your wee lil ones see this. It does get pretty graphic. Consider it a cinematic combo of the Harry Potter and LOTR flicks. Overall, it's a good time at the movies but ya gotta be able to swallow the whole talking animals and messianic lions....some may not be able to walk through that wardrobe and that's alright.

Friday, December 2, 2005

REEL REVIEWS: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) ***

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) poster

rated PG-13 (for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images.)
2 hrs. 30 min.

novel by J.K. Rowling
screenplay by Steven Kloves
produced by David Heyman
directed by Mike Newell

Year four at Hogwarts finds the now adolescent Harry competing in the Triwizard Championship or some such nonsense. Fans of J.K. Rowling's books no doubt know exactly what happens and will only find fault in whatever description I come up with and the rest of us don't really care. At any rate, as a movie, Goblet of Fire is a step backward from Alfonso Cuaron's work on Prisoner of Azkaban. Mike Newell takes over as director and he does a fine, if uninspired job.

The Goblet of Fire judges who gets in and who doesn't. On that fateful night, three champions names are spit out of the goblet and read by Dumbledore. But then the Goblet spits out one other....Harry's. These two major events point to the return of Lord Voldemort. Dumbledore and the other teachers sense it, but it is inevitable. It would appear Harry is no longer safe at Hogwarts. This fourth installment tries to be the most dramatic, and also the scariest. It does a great job in setting mood and all but does not flesh out enough details in the mystery surrounding Voldemoort f or me to get too concerned for Harry.

In the beginning of the movie, at the Quidditch World Cup, Voldemort's followers gather and wreak havoc. Then, at Hogwarts, a legendary event takes place....the Triwizard Tournament! The cool thing about the Triwizard Tournament is that here we are introduced to student representatives from three different wizarding schools. They all compete in a series of increasingly challenging contests such as stealing a golden egg from a dragon, rescuing friends from underwater doom, and a foliage labyrinth that makes Nicholson's demise in The Shining look tame.

Seeing all the different students was refreshing. Not the I've gotten tired of Ron (Rupert Grint), Hermione (Emily Watson) and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) but it's kinda like meeting a foreign exchange student for the first time. You read about the country but never really met anyone from there much less thought that you ever would. Remember that? Well, here some of the stand out "foreigners" are Durmstrang's Institute's Quidditch superstar Victor Krum, (Stanilsav Ianevski) followed by Beauxbatons' Academy exquisite Fleur Delacour (Clemence Posey) and finally, Hogwarts' popular all-around golden boy Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson). All three of these kids also are also chosen by the Goblet and must compete with Harry.

This is the first Potter film where we see signs of sparking pre-teen hormones and all that that brings. In an effort to build community and diversity, Hogwart's throws a high school dan-uh, er....a Yule Ball. Harry admits to Ron that it's easier to fight a fire-breathing dragon that find a girl to ask to the ball. There are some great "teen character" scenes here. Like when Hermione tells run to grow a pair cuz he didn't have the courage to come out and ask her to the bloody ball. As well as the awkwardness of seeing Harry dance with his date while eyeing the gal he really likes, Cho Chang (Katie Leung). These moments actually bring some great development to these familiar characters but it takes away from what's supposed to be the mystery of the film.
Indeed, concern of rumors of some nefarious plot against Hogwart's form the evil Voldemoort looms. So much that Dumbledore asks Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, the eccentric new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, to keep his magical eye trained on the teenage wizard. Moody (the great Brendan Gleeson) is quite an eccentric character looking like a mad pirate and acting like that uncle that everyone's embarrassed by at holidays. But should we really fear for the safety of these characters? I mean there's what, six books and from those this is the fourth movie? Hmmm.

So, compared to Azkaban, Goblet is visually pretty flat. Oh sure there are wonderful special effects to look to it but it just didn't capture me as Azkaban did. It's just the pace of the movie seemed off to me, somehow. None of these Potter movies are notable for their brevity but the movie seemed excessively long to me. And yeah, I know it's a long book but if the movie feels long, that means they could have cut even more of it. And with each movie, I'm more and more convinced that Rupert Grint, the redheaded moptop who plays Ron, is the only one of these young actors with a wizard's chance in Hollywood of having any kind of "post-Potter" acting career.

Still, Goblet of Fire is fairly entertaining and has at least a handful of fun and impressive sequences. I give it the rating I did mainly because of the fine cast of actors and characters that these films have been able to maintain. Plus, as near as I can tell, most of my complaints with this series are complaints with the source material and not the films themselves. But that still makes this the least satisfying of the Potter films since Chamber of Secrets.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) big teaser

Thursday, December 1, 2005

REEL REVIEWS: Rent (2005) ***

Rent (2005) poster

rated PG-13
(for mature thematic material involving drugs
and sexuality, and for some strong language.)
2 hrs. 15 min.
story, music & lyrics by Jonathan Larson
screenplay by Steve Chbosky
produced by Jeffrey Seller, Kevin McCollum, & Allan S. Gordon
directed by Chris Columbus

When a stage musical is touted as a "revolutionary rock opera" I start to feel a lil suspect. I mean, the only rock operas I'm care about are the Who's "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia." I remember getting so sick of hearing the ads on the radio for this musical when it was making it's theatrical rounds. Maybe it's cuz I know how hype can be and how overexposed some forms of entertainment can get. Maybe it was cuz radio stations just play the same ads over and over. Regardless, I never saw the musical Rent on stage and now that I've seen the movie version, I wish I had.

Based on Puccini's La Boheme, tells the story of one year in the life of friends living the Bohemian life in modern day East Village New York. Among the group are our narrator nerdy love struck filmmaker Mark; the object of his affection his former lover, Maureen; Maureen's Harvard educated public interest lawyer lover Joanne; Mark's roommate HIV+ former junkie, Roger; Roger's lover the HIV+ drug addicted exotic dancer, Mimi; their former roommate HIV+ computer genius Tom Collins; Collins' HIV+ drag queen street musician lover Angel; and Benny, a former member of the group who married money and has since become their landlord and the opposite of everything they stand for. Shows how much changes or doesn't change in the 525,600 minutes that make up a year.
This film adaptation of Jonathan Larson's Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning rock opera tells the story of one year in the life of a group of bohemians struggling in modern day East Village New York. The story centers around Mark (Anthony Rapp) and Roger (Adam Pascal), two roommates. While a former tragedy has made Roger numb to life, Mark tries to capture it through his attempts to make a film. In the year that follows, the group deals with love, loss, AIDS, and modern day life in one truly powerful and at times moving story. Rosario Dawson, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Tracie Thoms, and Taye Diggs also star.
I liked the movie well enough. The songs remained with me as I left the theatre as well as the strong performances (I say performances cuz this was acting and singing). I've been in a few musicals so I know that combining acting and singing can often be quite challenging. It's just that, well, I felt a coupla things were missing here.

First, I feel it woulda been better live cuz of what a live audience experiences at a musical. Seeing the amazing sets, feeling free to sing along with the performers, and actually seeing them instead of a screen makes it all the more personal. After all, there is some pretty personal subject matter to take in here. In a movie theatre, you just don't get the same experience that you would live. The movie was still moving where it needed to be though, just had this feeling that live would be....more.
Second, I had a hard time empathizing with some of these bohemians. It wasn't because some were HIV+, gay, or strung-out. It's the ones who complained about how to make a living without "selling out" artistically. I've heard and seen this in real life and on screen too too much. I mean when you can't afford to eat or put clothes on your back then ya go get a job. Call it what you will, a job is a job. How else are ya gonna survive? It's not romantic to hold firm to some artistic dream and yet not make ends meet. It's stupid.

Beyond alla that it was great to see the talented cast of the original 1996 Broadway run was kept intact except for newcomers Dawson (playing Mimi) and Thoms (playing Joanne). Who both do stellar jobs with their characters. Dawson does a fantastic job on the rocker "Out Tonight" and her duet with Pascal "I Should Tell You" was really heartfelt. Thoms has a great energy and voice as seen in the song "Take me or Leave Me." Both of these women bring great turns on these characters that only add to the original performers.

The movie was great fun with well written music and an often times compelling story.
If you like musicals, try to check this out in the movie theatre. Columbus does a great job and weaving all the songs & storyline together. there is some graphic material as far as drug use and some scantily clad-ness, but overall it's not too much to bear. If you're not into musicals, maybe this is a movie you'll RENT.

Rent (2005) Rosario Rent (2005) Menzel

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

REEL REVIEW: Chicken Little (2005) **

Chicken Little (2005) teaser

Rated G (Action/Adventure, Comedy and Animation)
1 hr. 21 min.
written by Richard L. Baird, Steve Bencich, & Dan Gerson
produced by Randall Fullmer
directed by Mark Dindal

So, last Friday night a bunch of us went out to celebrate Alicia & Adrian's birthdays. We did dinner and a movie. Dinner was a blast but, the movie sucked. Or rather....clucked! Yep, Disney's CHICKEN LITTLE was a pretty lame "chick flick." He, I promise I won't use that again.

You may ask, "Well, then why review it if it was so bad?" It wasn't horrible. I did laugh (those with me can attest to that). Regardless, of how good or bad a movie is, it still needs reviewing, folks. It never stops those writers that get paid for it. Good or bad, it's still some thin' to write about. And that's what I'm gonna do....give ya the good and the bad. But, first let's look at what this was supposed to have been about....

We all know the children's story of Chicken Little who alerted his fellow towns-er-anthropomorphic-people that the sky was falling, sending them into a furry and/or feathered frenzy! In the story what fell on Chicken Little's head was an acorn. Leaving Chicken feeling humiliated and looking pretty dumb.

In this movie, what hit him was actually the sky! Yep, the sky was indeed falling! Ahhh! Yeah, turns out Earth is being attacked by outer space! Yet because the whole town knows that Chicken Little cried fowl, er, foul with the acorn business earlier, he's not taken seriously. It's up to Little and his duck, pig, & fish pals to convince them otherwise, save the Earth and not get fried! Heh...fried.

Now, I knew that going in. It said it all in the trailer that's been out for the past year. I never thought I'd actually go see this movie unless I was taking my 4 year old niece and 5 year old nephew. But last Friday, I just kinda went along for the ride with the gang (hey, when it's my B-day, I'll decide). The last non-Pixar Disney movie I enjoyed was Lilo & Stitch, so I guess I was open seeing that this was Disney's first computer animated venture into animation since splitting from Pixar (bad move Disney).
Okay, so here's the bad. The writing is just lame. The fact that there are three writers for a movie this simple is not a good sign. I mean, we know that this is aimed at kids and families but it can still be written well. Finding Nemo and The Incredibles are great examples of well-written animated films for all ages. Kids, parents, and grandparents can all enjoy those two movies. The best thing Pixar movies did with their films is they didn't need to break away into a music video or musical montage at every other scene in order to progress a plot or showcase a new single from The Barenaked Ladies. You know why? Cuz in Pixar, the writing is always stellar!

Because the writing in Chicken Little was so flat and formulaic, it became an exercise in great animation. Wait, great animation? Well, yeah. It was animated really well. It's just the story that sucked eggs!

The good is that the characters were for the most part well-acted. In animation it takes two aspects to make a character well-acted. And that is 1.) the voice-actor and 2.) the actual art teams bringing movement to the characters. Both of these aspects were well executed. Zach Braff (Chicken Little) does a great job supplying a geeky, insecure-yet-optimistic voice as does the actors who play his pals, Joan Cusack (Ugly Duckling Abby Mallard) and Steve Zahn (Runt of the Litter). My favorite character was Fish Out of Water (see pic above) who was silent but spoke volumes through his facial expressions and body language. He was one of those characters who is silent-but-all-knowing with a fun-loving loyalty about him. This is a character where the artists really excelled in both the design and acting.

There's a great scene at their high school where the Coach (voiced by director Mark Dindal who also supplied the voice of Morkupine Porcupine) has all the kids play indoor dodgeball. The movement and desperation of the characters as Little and all his geek-outcast pals are being picked on, especially poor Runt, is done so well that you literally do flashback to the days back in grade school when we played dodgeball during indoor recess....well, at least I did. The antagonist bully Foxey Loxey (the wonderful Amy Sedaris) is over the top in this scene and everywhere else. There were also some great characters like Mayor Turkey Lurkey (Don Knotts), teacher Mr. Woolensworth (Patrick Stewart), and Little's dad Buck (Garry Marshall).

All of these actors talents came through in the animated expression of their roles making the movie tolerable but just not enough to recommend ya go see it. It's a rental. When ya go over to babysit for a friend, bring it. There's nothing offensive about it except what can usually be offensive to the average person with an intelligence that can decipher the difference between Chicken Parmesan and Chicken Nuggets.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

DVD REVIEW: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005) ***1/2

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005) one sheet

PG-13 (for sci-fi violence and some intense images)
2hrs. 22min.
written & directed by George Lucas
produced by Rick McCallum

When I first saw this film with the gang back in May, we all just kinda sat there. Taking it all in. We had just witnessed the end of the beginning. That's it. There would be no more live, full-feature Star Wars films in the theatre. I mean we all knew what the end looked like but how the story got there was what we looked forward to. It took us a while to talk about what we just saw, gestate it in, & realize that the circle was complete.

I think we were all kinda ticked with what Lucas gave us. I was upset that his dialogue & plotting still (like the two prequels before it) sucked. Overall, there was just too much political junk going on in this prequel trilogy (PT). It wasn't like this in the original trilogy (OT). Gone were the characters that made my childhood: the charming space pirate and his furry co-pilot, the strong-willed royal highness, and the whiney, optimistic hero. So, okay. Each trilogy is different yet halves of the whole. I can deal with that.

This is the first Star Wars movie that opens with a space battle over the city planet Coruscant and what a battle it is! Good thing it's out on DVD cuz there's so much going on (look for a kitchen sink crashin into a spaceship-I'm serious!) ya almost haveta watch it unfold in slo-mo. This beautiful battle took a lil over a year to create and it shows! The Clone War rages on and Anakin (w/R2) & Obi-Wan, in their respective starships zig-zag their way to rescue Chancellor Palpatine who has been kidnapped by commander of the Separatist forces, General Grievous.

I really enjoyed the scenes with Anakin & Obi-wan. Mainly cuz of Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan) who with this movie really shows himself to be the best actor of the prequel trilogy. He's brought all the nuances of Sir Alec Guinness and adds to that a great range of camaraderie, humor, & emotion.

The successful rescue ends with a crash (literally) and then we reluctantly tag along while various back and forth forced-exposition scenes show Anakin's inner conflict brewing, spurred on by the tense triangle of Palpatine, Padme, & the Jedi Council. Palpatine has had an evil eye on Anakin since The Phantom Menace (TPM) when he was "lil Annie." Lucas has reduced his secret wife, Padme into that of the helpless pregnant wife ("Annie, I know ya just got back from the war but guess what? Lucas wants me to tell ya I'm with child! Yippee!") watching the war from afar. Gone is the strong-willed, independent character Natalie Portman portrayed. Real sad considering what a capable actor she is. The Jedi Council has pretty much not known what to with Skywalker from the get-go. No Jedi except Kenobi takes the time to really know Anakin. The rest just don't seem to know what to do with him cuz of all his power or they just treat him like a problem. This is pretty stupid on the Councils part and will come back to bite them on their Jedi butts later.

Anakin & Obi-Wan learn that although their numbers are spreading thin throughout the galaxy, the war is turning in their favor. Yet for some reason, the Senate votes to give Chancellor Palpatine even greater emergency powers which raises some serious concern from the Jedi Council. Nevertheless, The Council still feel like the escaped Grievous is still a threat and as long as he's still alive the war remains. They send their best, Obi-Wan to a new world Utaupau where he and Grievous duke it out. Back on Coruscant, Anakin is being played by the council who wants him to spy on his buddy Palpatine while Papaltine wants him to spy on the council. Whew. What's a petulant whiner full of fear to do? It doesn't help Annie that he keeps having these nightmares (badly portrayed. ugh.) of Padme dying giving birth. Real nice thanks for giving the ending away!

So, there's a whole lot for Skwalker to deal with and with Kenobi off dealing with the coughing, bionic Grievous, (to see a better version of this character. check out volume one of the animated Star Wars form the Cartoon Network.)

the only one he feels he can really talk to is the kindly Chancellor. Uh huh. I gotta say, Ian McDiarmid (Palpatine) is the other stand out here as well as the other two prequels. This is his movie. He, like many politicians, is quite sly when he needs to be. He manipulates Anakin in a scene where they are both taking at some sorta live theatre/concert, acts innocent and helplessss when Anakin is witness to Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) threatening his life, & he provokes as he pushes Anakin to the edge telling him that the only way to save Padme from death is to embrace the life-saving power of the Dark Side. From the beginning, due to his fear and lack of control over his emotions, Anakin never had a chance and now even before he dons the black suit....he is Darth Vader.

Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor in 20th Century Fox's Star Wars: Episode III

All of this leads to the final famous lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan & Anakin on the lava planet Mustafar. This is a long time coming and was even artistically designed back in the 70's by legendary conceptual designer Ralph McQuarrie. Anakin has murdered Jedi adults and children at the Jedi Temple, the allies of Palpatine on Mustafar, and now faces his Jedi Master. Christianson's brooding is as red hot as the exploding lava all around them. The battle is a satisfying payoff for any long-time fan. Although his acting is much better here than in Attack of the Clones (AOTC) it is still a far cry from his great turns in Life as a House and Shattered Glass. Blame that on Lucas, who is neither an actor's director or writer. He's a talented creator of worlds, creatures, and stories.

This is the darkest Star Wars movie ever and rightly so. We need to see this in order for us to believe that Vader is the most feared and evil being in the galaxy (as well as being the most iconic villain in cinematic history). We know that Obi-Wan & Yoda are the only recorded Jedi left, therefore the outcome of the duel is set in our minds. What is needed is the emotional delivery of it all. McGregor is incredible as he delivers the line, "You were the chosen one! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them. Give balance to the force, not leave it in darkness," and then, "You were my brother!" You really feel with Kenobi as he feels he has failed Skywalker. It makes me think of Guinness in a A New Hope (ANH) as he quietly reflects, possibly with regret of what he had to do or possibly what he coulda done more.

From here the movie ends by giving everybody ties to all the unanswered questions or loose ends. The Fate of Padme. The Fate of the droids (and their lobotomy). Vader in full armor standing on the bridge of a starship next to Palpy as we see a certain round space station being built. With the DVD, there's now a deleted scene where you can see the fate of Yoda as well after his defeat at the hands of Palpatine, now the Emperor. Prime real estate my little green friend! Finally, the fate of Obi-Wan (the saddest) and the twins ending in a new hope for the galaxy.

NOTE: There are two new bits of particularly interesting information that we're given in Sith - things that I have to say came as a bit of a surprise to me. The first is given almost in passing in the middle of the film (and involves how Anakin's creation by the midichlorians happened), while the second comes very near the end (and explains how Ben is able to speak with Luke after death in Empire and Jedi). Both will force you to reconsider the complete saga in something of a new light.

So now, how do I feel about Revenge of the Sith (ROTS)? I enjoy it!

Yep, after various theatre viewings within the first coupla weeks of release, I'll deal with Lord Lucas and his poor dialogue and hacky exposition plotting (or more like padding). I've come to terms with it cuz ultimately he's excellent at creating a universe I've known and hold dear since 1977. He's got thousands of people working for him that make these movies look amazing. It's gotta be difficult for actors to get used to all of that blue & green screen work let alone the weak dialogue. Therefore I can't completely blame Portman (Padme) & Christianson (Anakin/Vader) for any wooden delivery. But props, once again, go to McGregor and McDiarmid for all that they bring to it.

It's the end for me. There will never be another movie that I will wanna take the day off work on opening day and stand in line with other geeked-out fans. It's emotional, yeah and that's why I give the movie the rating I gave it. Mainly due to sentimentality. Wish my father coulda seen these three prequels. He's the one who forever changed my world as he took that five year-old me to the theatre a long, long time ago in a....well, you know. Sniff, Okay, um.....

I've had this 2-disc DVD set for almost a week now and it gives ya enough intergalactic bells and whistles to keep you smiling like Jar Jar at an all-you-can-eat buffett (there ya go, I mentioned Jar Jar). So take your time taking all this in.

Below are basically what each disc features:

Disc One: The Film

140 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, single-sided, dual-layered (layer switch at ??), dual-disc Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with writer/director George Lucas, producer Rick McCallum, animation director Rob Coleman and visual effects supervisors John Knoll and Roger Guyett), THX Optimizer, DVD-ROM weblink (to exclusive Star Wars DVD website),
Easter egg, animated film-themed menu screens with sound effects and music, scene access (50 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 EX), French and Spanish (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned.

The extras on Disc Two are formatted in the same fashion as those on the Episode II DVD. This time around, you get 6 deleted scenes in full anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 EX audio. These include a trio of scenes involving Padmé and the birth of the Rebel Alliance, a deleted sequence in which we see Grievous kill the Jedi Shaak Ti and Anakin and Obi-Wan escaping from his trap (some of which is in animatic format), a scene with Obi-Wan, Yoda and Mace Windu discussing the plot to destroy the Jedi... and one that's going to be a BIG hit with fans: Yoda's arrival in exile on Dagobah (that would have been part of the end of the film). For those wondering about the brief Qui-Gon scene that was in the original script, McCallum said at the press event for the DVD release that it was only ever completed in animatic format and was later dropped - Liam Neeson's voice was never recorded.

The documentary material on Disc Two begins with Within a Minute: The Making of Episode III, which runs nearly 80 minutes. I like the way Lucasfilm has tried to keep these documentaries fresh and different on each disc, and the idea behind THIS piece is really great. McCallum acts as a sort of narrator or host, taking you behind-the-scenes on the making of a 49-second piece of footage from the film's climactic lightsaber duel on Mustafar. Rick introduces each production department and explains its role (we see a flow chart-like representation of each department and its staff), then we're shown a few minutes of behind-the-scenes footage of those people at work and explaining what's involved in their jobs. At the end of each little sequence (there are 33 in all), there's a quick credit roll with the names of everyone in the department. Within a Minute is pretty good and is certainly interesting. It accomplishes a few things very well. First, it really gives you a sense of just how many hundreds of people and man hours are required to make a film like Episode III (in this case, 910 artists and 70,441 hours just for this 49-second clip alone). It also gives you a very accurate idea of what it's like to work on a film of this complex nature, and it's a nice way to give each of the many artists involved a nod of thanks. The drawback of the documentary's format, however, is that it gets very repetitive after a while. In addition, it almost accomplishes its task of showing you what it's like to work on a film TOO well. What I mean by that is, anyone who has ever actually worked on a film will tell you that it's generally an exceedingly dull, lengthy and arduous process. On the effects side of things, it usually involves long days and nights sitting in a dark room in front of video monitors. So while Within a Minute is fascinating, it's also hard to watch the whole thing in one sitting.

Next up on the disc are a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes. It's All for Real focuses on the stunt work involved in the making of the film (particularly the lightsaber fights), while The Chosen One examines Anakin's final transformation into Vader, and how that fits in with the rest of the films as a whole. Together, these run about a half hour. I wish they were a little longer and more in-depth, but they're good and worth checking out. I should note that all of the documentaries and featurettes listed here are in anamorphic widescreen - a nice touch.

Disc Two also acts as an archive for material most of you will already have seen before. This includes the "web documentary" series on the making of the film that's available on the official Star Wars website (although only 15 of the complete 18 parts are included here, likely for disc space reasons - missing are Going to the Dark Side, Behind the Curtain and Ten Gallons of Buildings), the film's teaser and theatrical trailers, 15 TV spots, the A Hero Falls music video that was seen on MTV, and galleries of production photos, one-sheet poster art and the film's outdoor print campaign. There are also previews for the forthcoming Lucasarts video games Star Wars: Battlefront II and Star Wars: Empire at War. Those of you with Xbox systems will be thrilled to learn that you can insert this DVD in game console and play two complete demo levels of Battlefront II, including the opening space battle over Coruscant (the full game streets on the same day as this DVD). Finally, as with the previous Star Wars DVDs, Episode III includes PC DVD-ROM weblinks that will take you to a special online site featuring additional exclusive material.

So that's that.

Despite its share of flaws, Lord Lucas has made a film that surpasses TPM and AOTC but is still not as great as the OT and quite honestly....nothing could. Yet, it is the best of the prequels. The extras may not be the best of all the Star Wars DVDS....just wait. It would be stupid to think this is the only version Lucas will ever put out.
That's right.

There is another.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005) teaser
Here's the horribly designed teaser poster

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

REEL REVIEW: Doom (2005)**


rated R (strong violence/gore & language)
1 hr. & 40 min.

directed by: Andrzej Bartkowiak
written by: David Callaham & Wesley Strick

Last week some of the fellas and I went out to the Tuesday night $5.00-free parking-free popcorn special at our local theatre. Parked our brains and watched the latest sci-fi video game translation to screen. You gotta know what you're goin' into when you make the decision to see these types of flicks. It cracks me up when people gripe and complain that a movie like DOOM was rotten. I mean that's one of the reasons trailers exist, so you can kinda make up yer mind, ya know? (My wife and I make it a tradition to do the whole thumbs up/thumbs down review after each trailer when we're at the movies.) When I first saw the trailer, I thought, "Ah, looks just okay but fun. I'll check it out with the fellas," and that's exactly what happened.

For those of you who have no idea what DOOM is or about or never played the classic FPS video game (which really is pretty creepy!) here's the deal: Communication with researchers within the Olduvai station on Mars has gone mysteriously dead. From the desperate sound of the last scrambled message from the research facility received....life on the red planet doesn't look so good. Of course this warrants an investigation by the most elite strike force team man has ever assembled, right? Mmhmmm. Okay, so some hideous creatures with apparent ties to the facility's genetic testing (why? why is it always about genetic testing?) is loose up there and killing off whomever. Enter the RRTS (Remote Response Tactical Squad), the uber-Marines that get to the bottom of this mystery with the help of their massive weaponry. The nightmares the team encounters as they search around every dark tunnel are nothing compared to what type of horrific work they discover has occured all in the name of science. Nevertheless, their job is simple: seal off the portal to Earth and make sure nothing gets out alive. Simple.


Maybe that's what the creators of this movie thought. Take a popular video game and make it into a blockbuster movie. Sounds good. I'm sure it sounded good to Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo for the Super Mario Bros. movie back in 1993 too. Heh. Okay, I'll be fair. DOOM wasn't as bad as that mistake but it didn't feel like it was giving me a new perspective from the game or anything anti-formulaic. I'm not gonna be too critical of the movie cuz, as I mentioned above, I knew what I was going into when I bought my ticket. I knew it was based on a video game and I knew it gonna be kinda like Aliens. I knew all that and I was fine to expect just that....you see that way if there's anything new and original about the movie, I can be pleasantly surprised.

The obligatory introduction scenes of characters in a movie should give the viewer some type of investment in the actors you'll be watching throughout the film. This can be done in many ways but in this film we first see Sarge (The Rock) sitting at his computer shirtless in all the Rock's muscle-bound glory with a wide Semper-Fi tattoo stretched across his upper back. This scene got a wave of laughter in the theater. Probably cuz we all thought, "What other way are they gonna introduce a tough-as-nails Marine played by The Rock?" I'm not making fun of The Rock here. I like him. I think he's a decent actor (more on that in a bit). I suppose in these types of round-up-the-troops-we-gotta-a mission type of movies, there's not gonna be a whole lotta character revelation right away. Although, we do see that there is something to Reaper's (Karl Urban of LOTR) past and it's somehow tied to that facility up there on Mars.

Once the team arrives at the station on Mars there's exposition dialogue informing us what's going on and giving away the soldiers character quirks. We're also introduced to the only female lead character, Dr. Grimm (Rosamund Pike of Die Another Day) and we find out she has a connection to the mysterious Reaver....they're twins! After their parents died mysteriously on an archaeological dig on Mars, she became a bio genetic doctor and he became a Marine. One learns how about life and the other learns how to end it. You can see where there might be some friction between them. While Sarge and the other soldiers are running around blasting creatures away, getting freaked out, and for some (of course) dying, we see these two characters develop into something interesting. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with a blow-em-up movie with no character development. It's just nice to see it here.

Although the movie is filled with scenes, characters, and locations I feel we've seen in other movies, there are still some elements I got a kick out of and found interesting and entertaining. I already said I enjoyed the sibling relationship of the two Grimms but I also wanna not that Urban's and Pike's acting kinda carries the movie moreso than The Rock's role. The just have more interesting layers to work with. But The Rock (kinda like Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan) does what he can with the writing given to him. As I mentioned before I think he's a decent actor that we will see stretch in the future which is revealed in the ending twist. He's got a great range of _expression (as seen in Peter Berg's The Rundown) and coming from the world of wrestling, I think he's got a better theatrical grasp then Arnold did when he started out. There's also a kinda wacky, cool space-porting travel device where an individual lets this silvery, reflective blob thingy envelope them and then shot out to space to Mars (and/or back to Earth).

While I enjoyed elements of DOOM, it still wasn't enough to give it a higher rating. The formulaic sending in of the elite soldier due to dire straits has been done before and better. And the scientific whoop-dee-doo theory of these creatures having an extra pair of chromosomes making them superhuman and blah blah blah just wasn't enough for me to care. Overall, it was just a fun night out with the fellas watching control-free video game with a bunch of other people on a giant screen.

Moving Pictures


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