random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

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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