Archive | March, 2011

Gnomeo and Juliet

29 Mar

Title: Gnomeo and Juliet
Year:
2011
Director:
Kelly Asbury
Writers: Kelly Asbury, Mark Burton, Kevin Cecil, Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg, Andy Riley and Steve Hamilton Shaw, working on an original screenplay by John R. Smith and Rob Sprackling, inspired by the play by William Shakespeare
Starring:
James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Jason Statham, Maggie Smith, Ashley Jensen, Matt Lucas, Patrick Stewart, Ozzy Osbourne, Stephen Merchant, Julie Walters
MPAA Rating:
G
Runtime:
84 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
5.7
Rotten Tomatoes:
55%

I quite liked Gnomeo and Juliet, it was far from a perfect animated film, but it was really really fun, and the music it has goes a long way to making it have that effect. And though it sometimes feels a bit shaky, especially during the beginning, it’s also full of really cool moments that make it all work out wonderfully.

Though, to me, it could have done fine without being so self-referential. I mean, yes, a lot of the fun has to be with it being Romeo & Juliet with garden gnomes, and its title and jokes made out of the Bard’s material are quite silly and fun, but I feel like they invested too much energy to get in as many references as they can think of, the house numbers were “2B” and “Not 2B”, the glue brand was “the taming of the glue”, the moving companies were “Rosencratz”, “Guildenstern” and “As U Like It”, and I’m sure there were others I don’t remember right now, and a few others I didn’t really catch.

But yeah, other than that Gnomeo and Juliet was a very pleasant little surprise, and considering that four of the five new films I had seen since returning from my two-and-a-half week vacation were quite underwhelming (The Mechanic was the only okay one, and even that one wasn’t as good as this one), I found it extremely refreshing for a change. I mean, you know how it’ll all go because it’s Romeo & Juliet, and yet everything is so sweet and funny that it’s eighty-four minutes breeze by in what seems like a second and you’ll find yourself coming out if really happy about having seen it.

This one was done by Starz Animation, by the way, a company founded only in 2007, and that has to its name the VeggieTales movie and the Tim Burton produced 9, as well as a couple of animated TV series. And Gnomeo and Juliet is definitely a step in the right direction for the up-and-coming studio, and if they keep at it only good things will come their way, hopefully their work on the Hoodwinked sequel, which is due in late April, will also be a success.

But yeah, the tongue-in-cheek nature of Gnomeo and Juliet, them knowing full well how silly it was what they were doing, and how risky fun at the same time, is, I think, what keeps them from being able to soar to awesome heights, while at the same time while keeps it so damn fresh. I mean, as the film starts a gnome tells us that we’re about to see a story that’s been done before, a lot, and that we’re about to see it again, only done differently. And they’re definitely right about that one, we have different color gnomes representing the Montagues and Capulets, living in opposing house gardens. Not to mention Shakespeare himself makes an appearance in this one, in the voice of Patrick Stewart and as a living statue, and he has to see his tragic love story get a more cheerful finale.

I don’t think I want to tell you guys the story, since you probably know how the outline of it goes, and the differences in it are part of the fun and I don’t really want to spoil them. I’ll just say that you’ll enjoy Gnomeo and Juliet, a film that had probably the largest writing credits I’ve ever witnessed, and also an amount of British starpower that’s truly outstanding and a true joy to hear voice the little gnomes, and, as I said, the music also plays a big role here, as the use of Elton John songs really amps up some of the scenes to new levels of fun.

Go see Gnomeo and Juliet, I really do recommend it quite a bit, even though it references its own source material and a slew of other films quite a bit, it does so while never taking itself seriously, and just having fun, and that’s, I guess, what you can hope for from an animated film not from Pixar, a superficial escape from reality into pure fun, and that’s what this film provides. And, more importantly, it’s quite short, which is commendable considering how much they had to do, but they did, having everything in there without making it feel as though they were cramming it all in, but just at the right proportions and speed. A job really well done.

Grade: B

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The Eagle

24 Mar

Title: The Eagle
Year:
2011
Director:
Kevin Macdonald
Writer: Jeremy Brock, based on the novel by Rosemary Sutcliff
Starring:
Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong, Denis O’Hare
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, battle sequences and some disturbing images
Runtime:
114 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
6.3
Rotten Tomatoes:
38%

 

Channing Tatum gets around quite a lot, and I’m still not sure as to whether I like him or not. After coming out big in 2006 thanks to Step Up the guy has definitely spent most of his time building up his tough guy image with films like Stop-Loss, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and the aptly titled Fighting. And he’s also tried to show range by playing Pretty Boy Floyd in 2009’s Public Enemies, a role he actually did a real fine job at, not to mention trying to establish himself as a heartthrob with last year’s Dear John, and trying to show his comedic side with this year’s The Dilemma.

So yeah, the guy has been around since he first exploded into the scenes with that dance flick, and, like it or not, the guy’s not going away any time soon, as he has three further flicks lined up for 2011 (one of which is Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire which may turn out to be pretty awesome), so yeah, he’s working his best to keep himself present in your memories.

But yeah, that’s the thing, many people seem to already know if they like this guy or not, they’ve gotten wide enough a sampling of him to form their opinion. I’m not part of that group of people, I’m not sure I dig his style and look and charm at all and I can’t help but think the guy hasn’t headlined a film I’ve graded better than somewhere in the C-range (Public Enemies was a solid B+ film but he had a supporting role there). And The Eagle won’t be the exception.

I mean, The Eagle is good enough, it won’t bore you, but you won’t necessarily come out of it calling your friends and telling them they ought to check it out as soon as possible, you’ll just tell them it was okay, because that’s exactly what it was. And what’s more is that I could have seen it turning out somewhat better than okay, and the fact that it didn’t turn out that way lies substantially on the shoulders of Mr. Tatum, who’s work here is totally uninspired.

I mean, the story itself isn’t that mindblowing, but as another action/adventure flick it will make do just perfectly, it just needed solid direction and good acting from its two leads to realize its potential. And even though Mr. Tatum’s co-star is amazing, because Jamie Bell pretty much always is, the bigger role was his, and he disappointed. As for the direction, well, it wasn’t horrible, but considering it was coming from the guy that has given us The Last King of Scotland and State of Play, two really well made and acted films, it came as a disappointment of sorts, his hand not as sensible as it has been in the past.

The film will no doubt draw comparisons to last year’s Centurion, a film I gave a strong B- to, and that was a film I at least found myself liking, and that was pretty much entirely because of how good its lead actor was, and marks the difference between these two films. I’m not saying Mr. Tatum should be as good as Michael Fassbenber, because Mr. Fassbender is just insanely great at everything he does, but he just needed to bring it to the shooting, something he evidently didn’t. Just because you’re all bulky and some teenage girls like you doesn’t mean you can play brooding and appealing in auto-pilot, Mr. Tatum.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate The Eagle, not even close, but I just thought it could have turned out way better than it ultimately did. An R-rating would have given it the chance to have more explicit actions scenes, and they don’t necessarily have to be as gruesome as the ones in Centurion were, but they would have upped the ante to proper heights.

And it also would have given them the opportunity to add some much needed sexuality to the film. I mean, this is a film all about men, and even though Centurion, to continue the comparison, was too, that one at least had the Olga Kurylenko character to amp up the sexuality. This one needed a character like that, we only see a few women in this one, and while some of them do throw wanting looks towards Mr. Tatum they are no real characters, and the film quickly reverts itself to the position its mostly in, which only focuses on the men on screen.

I won’t go ahead and tell you the story you’ll witness, if you watch the two-and-a-half-minute trailer on YouTube you’ll know everything you really need to, I’ll just tell you that The Eagle, though far from bad, is pretty forgettable. There are themes of loyalty and courage here, yes, and that’s all good and nice, but so many other issues go by unexplored. Go see The Eagle if you like these sort of films, I guess, but it will only work to reassure you that Mr. Tatum is at his best when he’s fighting on-screen, and not acting.

Grade: C+

Sanctum

22 Mar

Title: Sanctum
Year:
2011
Director:
Alister Grierson
Writers: John Garvin and Andrew Wight, based on a story by Andrew Wight
Starring:
Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wyllie, Ioan Gruffudd
MPAA Rating:
R, language, some violence and disturbing images
Runtime:
108 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
5.6
Rotten Tomatoes:
31%

 

Sanctum was that new 3D film that had James Cameron’s name attached as an executive producer, and even though the use it makes of the three-dimensional technology is pretty good-looking, and the whole thing has a beautiful cinematography going on, it really has pretty much nothing else going on for it. The script is pretty stale and the cast, though not given much to work with in the first place, looks just as bland trying to churn it all out in ways the director really should have told them weren’t the right ones.

But I actually didn’t go into Sanctum expecting a good plot, I went into it expecting a visual feast, and on that account it delivered. But I can’t judge a book just by its cover, and this film pretty much just stuck a high-tech camera into an underwater cave and tied it all up with a plot that came very close to undoing itself throughout the film. That I found quite a bit of fault with, and prevented me from really losing myself in the visual grandeur of it all, the underwater photography was amazing and the stunts were pretty nifty, but the stuff they were being employed for was terribly subpar.

And thus, I’m not entirely sure how to feel about Sanctum. As gorgeously shot as it was it wasn’t as thrilling as it could have been had it been granted a better, or at least somewhat competent script, which sucks even more when you consider that the basic plot outline suggested a pretty damn slick adventure that, if written the right way, would have been awesome to watch if aided by this outstanding technical wizardry.

We have a diving expedition into the largest cave system in the world, in Papua New Guinea. And in that expedition we’ll go along for the ride and see the characters in a few situations of peril. Climbing, diving, there are a lot of cool stunts going on in Sanctum, even if the story supporting them is pretty damn thin, and as cool as they are they can’t carry the film by themselves. There is a huge lack of logic in Sanctum, you see a helluva lot of stuff going on, but you can’t always really explain why it’s happening or, more frustratingly, where exactly it’s happening.

The legendary Roger Ebert, my favorite film critic for countless reasons, had this problem as well, as he noted in his review for it that the film suffered from a lack of continuity and that it failed to really orient us within the cave, which is definitely true. And that really does this movie in, I mean, as cool as things may look (though Mr. Ebert, a big detractor of the 3D technology, disagrees on that), visually stunning views in a film get to a point in which they don’t amount to much if they have absolutely no substance to them.

Now, as I have said, I praise the 3D effects here. They’re not the flashiest the technology has ever been, but on a film with a reported $30 million budget I think they look as good as they could have looked. I mean, the big thing I have against the technology, which I have in the past liked but I usually don’t and certainly don’t think is the future of film (at least not yet), is the fact that it always makes things much much dimmer on screen. And that was obviously going to be a major problem in this one, a film that was going to be in quite a bit of darkness even if it didn’t have the 3D, and while it does look pretty dark, it looked much much better than I expected it to.

James Cameron’s name thrown into a film’s ad campaign, especially one done in 3D, does get one’s expectations up a bit. And while the 3D here is pretty good, you expected it to be better considering Mr. Cameron’s involvement, and that’s not to touch on how much better the overall film should have been, but alas, executive producer doesn’t mean director or even producer, and I guess we’ll have to wait til 2014 for the first of the planned Avatar sequels to get to see the 3D pioneer playing and blowing our brains off yet again.

I won’t go ahead and do a rundown of all the characters we’ll get to meet in our deep-sea adventure in Sanctum, the plot doesn’t warrant enough connection to them for you to even care, plus a few of them quickly become dispensable to get a few more cool stunts into place. And, really, when the best writing in display in a film is the one that goes on to entail how a certain death will take place you know the story really isn’t that amazing. But yeah, if you can bear the bad dialogue and just want to watch a pretty cool 3D flick, no matter how crappy the story it’s telling is, then go check out Sanctum, if not, then you’re definitely better off just skipping it.

Grade: C+

The Roommate

21 Mar

Title: The Roommate
Year:
2011
Director:
Christian E. Christiansen
Writer: Sonny Malhi
Starring:
Leighton Meester, Minka Kelly, Cam Gigandet, Daneel Harris, Alyson Michalka, Katerina Graham, Matt Lanter, Nina Dobrev, Billy Zane
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, violence and menace, sexual content, some language and teen partying
Runtime:
91 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
4.3
Rotten Tomatoes:
5%

 

I knew the chances of The Roommate actually turning out to be a good film were pretty slim, but I was still holding out some hope for it, hoping it would prove to be somewhat decent or, if that was too much to ask for, that it would be so bad it would be super campy and thus become good. And that hope was all because of one of its two leading ladies. And that would obviously be the gorgeous Minka Kelly, one of my favorite TV stars for the past few years, she first charmed the socks out of me as Lyla Garrity in Friday Night Lights, my favorite TV show ever, and then once she was done with that she started a really successful turn in the equally splendid Parenthood, and now she’s set to become one of the three new Charlie’s Angels for ABC.

But yes, I was psyched to see Ms. Kelly as the star of a feature film, and the girl she’d be co-starring with, Gossip Girl‘s Leighton Meester, was someone I thought she’d be good squaring off with, so I was really digging this project. But alas, all that hope amounted for nothing, The Roommate ended up being yet another horror flick with absolutely no scares or chills, which it’s really pretty horrid, and if this weren’t an excuse to see an hour and a half of Ms. Kelly then I would consider giving this one a failing grade.

Because really, the only commendable thing about this film is that at least it knew how to pick its stars, and even though they’re granted no real depth they at least make the most of what little they are given, but you can’t help but walk out of the movie feeling that they both deserved much better, not a dull movie that wasn’t good or, as I said, bad enough to be fun.

And that, I think, is the biggest problem I had with The Roommate, the fact that it was just plain “eh”. I mean, it didn’t even try to make an impression, even if that was going to be a bad one, it just stays there looming at us, and there’s no atmosphere or pacing or anything, not even the music, that suggests that we should get scared here, it all feels stupendously flat.

But anyways, lets cut to the story, even thought it’s one you’d find out all you need to know about just from watching the trailer. Ms. Kelly plays a girl who just moved into college, and then Ms. Meester plays the titular roommate who, of course, seems to be super chill at first but then you start finding out quick enough that she’s a total creepster and is becoming a tad obsessed with Ms. Kelly’s character.

We have obviously seen this shtick played out countless times through the years, especially reminiscent of 1992’s Single White Female, but that’s not my beef with this film. I mean, if you got two attractive and talented young ladies to star, then you could have made something pretty decent from familiar material, but instead, even though the ladies hit their marks, the film falls way too short from anything near good.

One explanation I have for this is that the supporting cast isn’t felt enough here, not the actor’s fault because they tried, but their material was too damn bland for them to have any effect whatsoever. And the other reason I can suggest for the quality of The Roommate is the fact that it was rated PG-13. Granted, that friendlier rating is obviously far more friendly, commercially speaking, and the film ended its box office run with over $37 million on a $16 million budget, so at least it didn’t lose anyone any cash, not to mention that it was obviously aimed at a younger audience, considering it had a cast full of people who have worked in things like Gossip Girl, Twilight and The Vampire Diaries. But still, the R rating would have provided this one with opportunities to be more fun and more sexy, both qualities which would have helped this one a lot.

The Roommate has no depth whatsoever, no real backstory, not a thing to make us connect. And considering it also doesn’t have any real scary moments to make us forget about all that other stuff it’s lacking, then it fails quite badly, and thus turns into predictable fare. Which would have been all good and fun had it recognized the potential for campy greatness that lied underneath. By all of this I’m trying to say that The Roommate had the potential to be something much more than it was, it didn’t have to be perfect, but there were a couple other paths it could have taken to become at least more fun. And instead we get a dull one, but hey, at least it still has Minka Kelly in it, and she alone makes it bearable.

Grade: C

The Rite

21 Mar

Title: The Rite
Year:
2011
Director:
Mikael Håfström
Writer:
Michael Petroni, suggested by the novel by Matt Baglio
Starring:
Anthony Hopkins, Colin O’Donoghue, Marta Gastini, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Alice Braga, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, disturbing thematic material, violence, frightening images, and language including sexual references
Runtime:
114 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
6.2
Rotten Tomatoes:
20%

When I saw the first trailer for The Rite I thought it might prove to be a pretty competent film, a horror flick I could see myself recommending to friends. It had, after all, Anthony Hopkins in the leading role, and he’s always rather riveting no matter the film he’s in. Plus, it was directed by Mikael Håfström, who had done Derailed five years ago, a film that while wasn’t such a critical hit I found myself enjoying quite a bit, and had also done 1408 in 2007 which was just a superb film all-around.

But then I actually got around to seeing the film, and it really wasn’t all that amazing. I mean, Sir Hopkins is really top notch as always, but not even his greatness is enough for one to forget about the other things that aren’t going as well for the film, the pacing is all off and it really isn’t that scary to begin with, and what we’re left is yet another terribly subpar fright film that feels quite boring.

Mr. Hopkins plays Father Lucas, who has performed his fair share of exorcisms, and then there’s Colin O’Donoghue, who plays Michael, a seminarian from the States who’s sent to see Father Lucas do one his exorcisms. And while Mr. Hopkins is great as always, I thought Mr. O’Donoghue wasn’t really up to the task, as not even playing off a master elevated his own performance, which, contrary to what the ads for the film want you to believe, is the real starring performance of the film.

Oh and, by the way, there was an exorcism film last year called The Last Exorcism, which I’ll talk a bit more about later on, but I mention it now because that film also carried a PG-13 rating, and when reviewing that film (I gave it a B) I noted that while I usually think these sort of films really do need that R-rating to scare the crap out of us, that one did well with the PG-13 because it used it to not show us things, which in turned made them scarier. This one is also PG-13, but it tries to show us as much as they can with that, and in the end it’s a display of worn-out genre clichés, and that doesn’t feel all that great.

I’m not going to fail The Rite, but that’s entirely because of Anthony Hopkins, the man is just too damn good, and he alone keeps this one from failing miserably, and actually makes it an engaging ride for a moment or two. But that’s just the thing, The Rite is not engaging for long enough, and a film of this sort has to be able to keep you enthralled for as long as possible. There are a lot of discussions about faith here, and some of them actually work, and even those that don’t are pretty cool to ponder at, but the action actually transpiring in the film isn’t enough to back it up, the build-up and the mood is set for an extremely satisfying ride, and yet we get a pretty dull one.

And while it’s cool to see the exorcism bits, as we are left to think exactly just how much is real and how much is acted up during the process, we have already seen exactly this same topic tackled a year ago in The Last Exorcism, a film that approached it in a much better way and that overall was heaps above this one. But still, the exorcisms are cool to watch here, the current subject of Father Lucas’ infamous practices is a pregnant teen, raped by her father and apparently housing a demonic presence inside of her. This is all fun to watch, like I say, because of Mr. Hopkins and his treatment of his character, he makes Father Lucas pretty captivating to watch, charming, even.

If you’re half smart you’ll be quick to figure out that eventually Father Lucas himself will be apparently possessed by the devil, and we know the man can play evil insanely well, and he does it here, too, to a degree. I say to a degree because Mr. Håfström for a reason decided to make him sound super ominous giving his voice some weird effects, and Mr. Hopkins doesn’t need that, and the director should have entrusted such a capable actor with the duties of scaring us, instead of trying to create an atmosphere with other technical tricks that in the end was quite sucky. And that ultimately cost us a climax that could have concluded the many interesting themes touched upon here in a great manner, as we instead got an ending that feels horribly generic and seriously off-putting.

Grade: C

The Mechanic

18 Mar

Title: The Mechanic
Year:
2011
Director:
Simon West
Writers:
Lewis John Carlino and Richard Wenk, based on the story by Lewis John Carlino
Starring:
Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Donald Sutherland, Tony Goldwyn, Jeff Chase, Mini Anden
MPAA Rating:
R, strong brutal violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity
Runtime:
93 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
6.8
Rotten Tomatoes:
52%

CBS films released their first feature a bit over a year ago, the January 2010 release Extraordinary Measures, with Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser, a film I actually gave a failing grade to. Then in April they released the Jennifer Lopez vehicle The Back-Up Plan, to which I gave an only marginally better C- grade to. In November they got their third release overall out in theaters, one named Faster, which I liked better and gave a C+ to. So, the thing I’m trying to say is that this is a studio that has started out shaky, they haven’t made a film I can truly recommend so far, but at least they  have been getting better and better.

And now we have The Mechanic, their fourth release overall and the first of two they have planned for this year (the other one being Beastly which I’ve yet to review), and they aren’t breaking the streak with this one, this is the best film they have released so far, it’s not an amazing film, but it’s an improvement. This is a remake of a 1972 film that starred Charles Bronson, and though this one doesn’t do all that much to make the story feel great, there are huge amounts of action and violence which is obviously what star Jason Statham specializes in, and then he has Ben Foster as his co-star here, a young actor who I feel should be better known as he always gives really solid performances no matter the film he’s in, like he does here.

The film is quite insane really, it’s insanely over the top and insanely filled with all the action movie clichés you can think of. But it worked for me because the interplay between Mr. Statham and Mr. Foster was really neat to see play out, that’s what really made the movie fun, not the huge stunts, but just their interactions.

Jason Statham, with his roles in Guy Ritchie’s two awesome films Snatch. and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, as well as roles The Italian Job and the leading part in both the Crank and Transporter franchises has made a name of himself as one of the biggest real action stars of the past decade, and the way he goes about his business in his films has made him appealing both to men who find his ass-kicking pretty damn awesome, and to women, who find him attractive. That’s his thing, that’s what he has going for him, he knows he’s not an amazing actor, that’s why he doesn’t go around doing more serious projects, but he knows he can be great in action films.

As for Ben Foster, well, this guy really is a good actor, and his presence, when combined with the sheer ass-kickery provided by Mr. Statham, is what ultimately lifts this film up to really respectable heights considering the sort of film this was. If you have seen 3:10 to Yuma and especially The Messenger then you know the sort of goods this guy can deliver, and even though the material here isn’t as amazing, he still does his thing.

The relationship The Mechanic focuses on is the one that can develop between a hitman, Arthur, and his mentor. The hitman, obviously, is Mr. Statham’s character, and his mentor was Harry, played by the awesome Donald Sutherland, the closest thing to a father and real friend Arthur has ever known. However, Harry has been murdered, and Arthur is in need for some bloody revenge and he also has to deal with Steve, Mr. Foster’s character, Harry’s son who’s a bit of a screwup and who thinks the life of a hitman is super awesome and easy to accomplish and wants to learn the tricks of the trade.

Mr. Foster rocks the role of Steve, and it’s cool to see Arthur sort of taking him under his wing out of respect to the man who showed him the ways of their unique craft and trying to teach everything to Steve in return. The qualities in Mr. Foster’s performance are pretty cool to see unravel, he feels volatile, like he’s ready to blow or really mess things up any second now.

That’s really it for the story part of it, a hitman who has his mentor murdered and wants answers and revenge while trying to protect and correct the son of said mentor. Other than that, it’s all about the quest for said answers and revenge, and the process of their job, explosive and bloody as it’s portrayed. But the relationship between Arthur and Steve is enough to keep you engaged here, and it’s really well played by the two actors who portray them, it’s cool to see Arthur open himself up to having a close relationship with Steve and it’s cool to see how Mr. Foster embeds in Steve much more depth that the character really called for, and make it a much better film because of it.

Grade: B-