From the Editor

Movie Review Archive

Thank you for checking out my movie review archive. I'm in the process of transitioning to something else, so I will no longer post new reviews to this blog. In the meantime, I will keep these reviews archived; these are from the fall of 2008 to April 2011. Please watch this blog for more info and keep in touch (you can still find me on Facebook and Twitter). Here's to more great movies!

Wes Singleton

North Texas Film Critics Association

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li - D

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and martial arts action, and some sensuality, 96 minutes

Martial-arts best thing about video-game inspired "Street Fighter"

If you like video games and martial-arts, then the new movie "Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li" is right up your alley. Just don't go expecting much and you'll be entertained. For the rest of us movie-goers seeking a genuine movie may be hard pressed to find one. As no surprise, the martial-arts fighting in "Street Fighter" is the best thing - maybe the only thing -worth seeing. Those moments are entertaining, but the rest of it is a bore - the other elements - story, writing, acting - are third-rate at best.

"Street Fighter" is based on the video game franchise of the same name that's literally been kicking around for more than 20 years and already inspired one live action film, the Jean-Claude Van Damme flick in 1994. This one deals with one of the "Street Fighter" characters, Chun-Li ("Smallville's Kristin Kreuk) who embarks on a quest for justice in Hong Kong to save her kidnapped father from a ruthless, wealthy businessman named Bison (Neal McDonough), who has ambitions to take over the whole city. Chun-Li gets helps from a couple of cops trailing the case (Chris Klein and Moon Bloodgood) along with an old friend named Gen (Robin Shou).

"Street Fighter: Legend of Chun-Li" has about as much depth as a video game, and taken as that, is modestly entertaining, but taken as a movie is another story entirely. Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak, who helmed the movie version of "Doom" directs with an unoriginal, predictable flair, trying to focus on the ridiculous storyline instead of the martial-arts.

The casting of the central character is a bit baffling given that Kreuk isn't the least bit Asian. McDonough, in a bit of typecasting for the familiar character actor, chews on the scenery while Michael Clarke Duncan - yes, the big dude from "The Green Mile" walks around to intimidate but is still too soft. "American Pie's" Klein is completely wasted here.

"Street Fighter's" violence is even toned down for the PG-13 set to gain wider appeal, but it doesn't help any. You still have to sit through the rest of the stupid, inane plot in between all of the fighting. Wisely not screened for critics, "Street Fighter" comes down to a predictable finish that leaves it open for more of these things. And you never know these days, after all, they made "Pink Panther 2." Don't bother unless you're a fan of the video game series, and even at that you still might be disappointed.

Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience

This is not a review of the film, but more of a rant.

Those Jonas Brothers - Joe, Nick and Kevin to be exact - have amassed a huge following among the young female tween set. Having seen them in interviews they seem to be talented, nice guys and from what music I've heard (very, very brief clips of it), their music seems to be squeaky clean. So why am I mad? I'm mad more at Walt Disney for the way in which they're marketing their movie, "Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience," by opening it up in a limited number of theatres (a little over a 1,000) and charging an exhorbitant amount (anywhere from $15-20, depending upon the time of day) for ticket prices.

You can't blame Disney for doing this, they used this same strategy a year ago with the Hannah Montana-Miley Cyrus 3D concert movie, by opening it up in a handful of theatres and over-charging on movie ticket prices. This strategy paid off too, it was the number one movie, debuting with $31 million and eventually grossing $65 million on a very, very cheap budget.

This appeals mostly to the many, many parents who were unable to get their children in to see the Hannah Montana concert and saving them hundreds or perhaps even thousands of dollars. Not bad for a 75-minute spliced concert footage in 3D. It's the same for the Jonas Brothers, who sold out concerts across the country last year. Parents can breathe a sigh of relief they can pay $20 bucks and see an edited version in 3D.

But Disney hasn't realized that we're still in the midst of a recession, and $20 for a movie - a movie - is still much especially if you have more than one kid to pay for - then buy concessions on top of that. I've heard that Disney is notoriously cheap when producing and marketing their movies, then do all they can to make a profit. Don't get me wrong - I'm a huge Disney fan - particularly of the Pixar films (which aren't made by Disney but who handles the distribution) - but $20 for movie tickets is simply ridiculous. Many will find that in this economy, that $20 is still too much.

For this reason, unless I can score some free tickets like I did for the Hannah Montana concert schmaltz fest (and there's a full length Hannah Montana film to be released later this spring) last year, I'll be skipping the whole Jonas Brothers 3D movie thing. For a non-fan of the boy band, I can't say I'll be upset, but there will be a lot of parents and children upset when they're unable to pay for the tickets. It will also be the first time in several years that I'll likely not see the number one film in the country. I can watch the clips and be satisfied, but that won't work for the many who can't afford to go see the movie.

I guess I can rant and rave all I want. Disney will still reap millions upon millions more dollars from the latest 3D concert venture, but they won't get my $20.

Two Lovers - B-

Rated R for language, some sexuality and brief drug use, 110 minutes

Well-acted “Two Lovers” is a peculiar romantic piece

There’s a brief moment in the new film “Two Lovers” in which Joaquin Phoenix’s character attempts to rap. It’s a humorous, ironic moment of art imitating life and one of the few moments in this divisive film that audiences will remember (in addition to Ben Stiller’s recent Oscar telecast imitation of Joaquin’s “Late Show” appearance). People will love or hate “Two Lovers,” a superbly acted but peculiar, distant film that lacks passion in its statements on love and romance. And for the record, the intense, methodical performance from Phoenix is the real reason to see the film, and unlike his probable career change, isn’t a joke.

The New York City set “Two Lovers” explores a love triangle involving thirty-something Leonard Kraditor, a bipolar man coming off a bad break-up and who had to move back in with his Israeli parents, Reuben and Ruth (Moni Moshonov and Isabella Rossellini), owners of a successful local dry cleaners. The mentally unstable, peculiar Leonard becomes involved with two women at the same time, Sandra Cohen (Vinessa Shaw), a pretty but bland Jewish girl whose father is becomes a business partner to Leonard’s, and the flighty Michelle (Gweneth Paltrow), a pretty but unstable blond and neighbor to Leonard. Michelle, an ex-drug addict, is also involved with her boss, a scummy, married attorney named Ronald (Elias Koteas). Sandra’s interested in Leonard but Leonard’s only truly interested in Michelle, who’s truly only interested in herself.

“Two Lovers” is an odd romantic triangle played out in peculiar fashion, and is difficult to connect to or have any sympathy with the main characters. It lacks honesty in its story, though it’s strangely appealing with Phoenix’s brilliant, skillful performance as the mentally unstable Leonard. He gives a pitch-perfect, studied performance and shades Leonard with the perfect amount of instability, though the performance still keeps the audience at a safe distance. James Gray, who directed Phoenix before in “The Yards” and “We Own the Night,” and seemingly knows him well, competently directs “Two Lovers” though his script is more problematic. The story lacks genuine resonance or any relevant messages about romance and love, and seems intent on “settling” for whoever is left. Leonard must choose, but does he choose the right one?

The women in “Two Lovers” are a mixed bag. Shaw is warm in a greatly underwritten (and really, nonessential) role. Paltrow is superb as the flaky Michelle, and while the film really belongs to her and Joaquin, their relationship as written by director Gray, lacks passion, with only one real heated scene of attachment. Rossellini, resembling her mother Ingrid Bergman more as she ages, shines in a small role as Leonard’s loving, concerned mother.

“Two Lovers” is a peculiar, distant romantic film made better by Joaquin’s studied, intense performance. It doesn’t have a wide appeal yet some will go for the very reason of that odd recent Letterman appearance. My hope is he’ll realize he has a much better future ahead of him in acting than in music.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wendy and Lucy - B

Rated R for language, 80 minutes

Low-key, downbeat but well-acted "Wendy and Lucy"

"Wendy and Lucy" is a small, ultra low-budget independent film about a homeless woman and her dog. It comes at a time when big special effects, big movie starts and big budgets tend to dominate the multiplexes. "Wendy and Lucy" is simple, low-key and is often meandering and downbeat yet makes a few powerful, subtle statements about friendship, loneliness and direction in life.

Wendy Carol (Michelle Williams) is driving to Ketchikan, Alaska in the hopes of a summer of lucrative work at the Northwestern Fish cannery, and the start of a new life with her dog, Lucy (whose real name is Lucy). But when she has car problems in Oregon the thinness of her bleak financial situation is ripped apart, and she confronts a series of increasingly dire economic decisions, with far ranging repercussions for herself and Lucy.

"Wendy and Lucy" is a low-key but well-acted drama about friendship and making the right decisions in life. Williams ("Brokeback Mountain" and Heath Ledger's ex) plays Wendy with a likable, quiet desperation of someone whose only real friend is her dog Lucy. The story and direction from Kelly Reichardt ("Old Joy") often meanders and is too slow in places, but Williams sturdy performance (in a drab role-short haircut, natty clothes) is the centerpiece of the short (only 80 minutes), downbeat film.

In these bleak economic times, many could probably relate to Wendy's plight, especially when she briefly loses Lucy and must get her back, or when she must sleep in her car or her bleak financial situation. With that in mind, "Wendy and Lucy" doesn't offer much, going from one short depressing situation to the next, and many won't be drawn to this downbeat story, but if simplicity and a low-key feel is what you're looking for, then "Wendy and Lucy" is for you.

Fired Up - C-

Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, partial nudity, language and some teen partying, 90 minutes

Hard to get "Fired Up" about this one

It's the weekend before the Oscars, and what does Hollywood throw at us? A Madea movie and a cheerleading movie - makes you thankful - even fired up - for all the great movies nominated this year for Academy Awards. You won't get excited about "Fired Up," a lame, cheap PG-13 cross between "Bring It On" and "American Pie" that may land itself a few awards next year - Razzie's (for worst movie) maybe, but definitely not Oscars. There are a few amusing laughs, thanks to a few supporting players that swing in and out of this otherwise forgettable film.

Shawn Colfax (Nicholas D'Agosto) and Nick Brady (Eric Christian Olsen), the stars of the Gerald R. Ford High School (one amusing touch) football team, are dreading the prospect of another summer at football camp with the dudes. When the two hatch a scheme for them to join their schools cheerleaders at cheer camp instead, they find themselves awash in a sea of gorgeous young women. The guys are having an awesome time until Shawn falls for Carly (Sarah Roemer), the beautiful but suspicious head cheerleader who has a douche-bag of an older college boyfriend, Dr. Rick (David Walton). The boys must come up with some surprising last-minute new moves to prove their intentions and help the team before the all-important cheer competition finals.

"Fired Up," which initials spell out "FU" (an amusing touch until you realize the joke is on you) brings out the worst in lame comedies. For one, an altogether ludicously predictable premise (these girls go to a big cheerleading meet without, like, a coach); two, this is has been done before - brought-en you might say; three, all the actors playing teens hardly look the part (D'Agosto is nearly 29, Olsen is 31, even Roemer is 25), something that's unwisely been done since the days of the original "Grease."

"Fired Up's" best moments are fleeting ones provided by a few amusing supporting players: "Aliens in America's" Ahdhir Kalyan as a flamboyant cheermate; Juliette Goglia as the much-smarter younger sister, and especially Christopher Guest alum John Michael Higgins, who all but steals the show as a creepily energetic cheer master ("prohibado" he warns sternly against using a cheer). Another humorous touch: all the cheerleaders watch and quote every word of "Bring It On" before the big competition (at least it gives a nod to what it's blatantly ripping off).

By the time it peters out at the end, everything in "Fired Up" grows very tiresome (and you'll want to tell the chatty Olsen to shut up). I wanted to like "Fired Up" and it was slightly more amusing than I thought, but you may want to "be aggressive" and get down to the theater to see it fast, it may be gone quicker than you can say "for-for-get-able." You're better off watching the Oscars this weekend.

Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail - C-

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, drug content, some violence and sexual situations, 103 minutes

Perry's latest - the stale, stereotypical "Madea Goes to Jail" is pure bait-n-switch

In Tyler Perry's latest Madea film, you find the same old thing. Hammy, over-the-top broadly played comedy based on one of his plays. Stale drama filled with handsome actors in stereotypical roles. Those familiar with Perry's popular plays will know exactly what to expect from Madea, but this time Perry could be accused of the old bait-n-switch. The film's trailers show all the fun Madea parts, and little of the predictable, ludicrous drama that fills majority of the movie. Heck, Madea doesn't even go to jail until very late in the film.

As with all of his films, the talented Perry writes and directs. A successful assistant D.A. named Joshua (Derek Luke, taking the honors this time) goes into the courtroom to defend a junkie prostitute named Candy (grown up Cosby kid Keisha Knight Pulliam) and realizes it's an old college chum that's gone wayward. With the help of a local minister (Viola Davis - obviously before the Oscar nomination for "Doubt"), Joshua tries to help get her off the streets and drugs. This causes some problems in the relationship with his beautiful fiance and fellow Assistant D.A. Linda (Ion Overman) which helps Joshua realize his true feelings for his old friend.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Madea is causing more problems than ever, and her latest highjinks - bulldozing a woman's car who cut in front of her at the K Mart - lands her some jail time, and she proves that she can survive even the toughest of jails.

Those who know Perry well know what to expect here. Another stereotypical, predictable and unrealistic tale of the streets peppered with Madea's wild antics, which have little to do with the main story at all. In fact, Madea's story is a minor subplot and Perry should know better than do to the bait-n-switch. He knows people will come out to see Madea, except they won't see much of her this time.

"Madea Goes to Jail" underscores the fact that Perry is an immensely talented entertainer whose biggest talents lie in front of the screen. As a comedian he's funny and tolerable, even in a minor role Madea is annoyingly over-the-top, but she also gives energy to an otherwise boring movie. Her most amusing scene comes in a tit-for-tat counseling session with the big guy himself - Dr. Phil. Everything else you've seen in the trailers and should come as no surprise.

Luke, Pulliam and especially Davis are all gifted actors who can make a scene better, but behind the scenes Perry is a sloppy director and writer at best, who should let his actors tell the story without such broad, predictable and stereotypical turns. But, like most of Perry's films, this was done on a small budget and should turn a decent profit that will allow to continue to make films, though really most of this is better suited to the small screen.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Monday, February 2, 2009

Coraline - B+

Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor, 100 minutes

Original, enjoyably fun but dark "Coraline"

"Coraline" underscores the warning to watch out what you wish you - you just may get it and then some. And often, things we wish for are not things we really want. The animated, stop-motion "Coraline" is fun and whimiscal, but with a dark, sometimes weird and creepy-funny tone. It's story, based on the best-selling, award-winning Neil Gaiman novel, is highly original, whimsically peculiar with some good messages for the younger set. Some intense moments in the climax may scare some younger kids, and while I recommend it, I'd also be careful at taking anyone under the age of 10 or so.

Coraline (voiced by Dakota) is a pre-teen who just moved to a spacious, old home with her odd parents ("Desperate Housewives" Teri Hatcher and character actor John Hodgman), who run a website about gardening though they don't have an affinity for dirt. There are some other eccentric tenants in the house as well, including a washed-up acrobat Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane) and two elderly, retired stage actresses Ms. Spink (Jennifer Saunders) and Ms. Forcible (Dawn French), not to mention a chatty, odd young boy named Wybie Lovat (Robert Bailey Jr.) and his black cat.

With Coraline's parents too busy for her to even adequately cook for her, she's left to her own devices, and she wishes for an alternate, happier life. She crawls through a secret door to an alternate, parallel life that is seemingly happier. She has "other" parents that eerily resemble her own parents, except with buttons for eyes. They fix her wonderful, delicious meals and spend their time taking care of Coraline and the their huge, beautiful garden. However, Coraline quickly realizes that things aren't so happy in the alternate life and especially her Other Mother isn't who she seems, and tries to permanently keep Coraline in her alternate life forever.

Henry Selick, who directed the equally odd but brilliant animated films "James and the Giant Peach" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas" expertly helms "Coraline," balancing an odd but funny quirkiness along with some dark, creepy elements. Many odd elements of Gaiman's award-winning novel remain intact (those button eyes in the alternate universe are quite creepy, even when you get used to them). "Coraline" is well-voiced by Dakota Fanning (you can also see her in "Push" this weekend too) and especially Teri Hatcher in a nice, good mother-bad mother turn.

The movie is nearly stolen by Saunders and French playing the retired actresses, and their routine in the alternate universe in front of a bunch of small black dogs and Coraline is the film's highlight (let's just say that one of them, is, uh, top-heavy). Keith David, a very familiar character actor with an even more familiar voice, has a good time voicing the cat in the alternate universe. "Coraline" has a dark tone and a quick enough pace that most of the younger ones will be interested, and the stop-motion animation is exquisite, clean, smooth and very colorful.

The climax is intense, dark and even scary, but it reinforces the need to be thankful for what you have, especially your family, regardless of their quirks. "Coraline" is one of the best films of the new year and one of the best animated films of the new year. It may not be for all kids, but it's an enjoyable, entertaining experience.

The Pink Panther 2 - C-

Rated PG for some suggestive humor, brief mild language and action, 92 minutes

Dull, uninspired and unecessary "Pink Panther 2"

To be honest, I'm not sure what inspired the makers of "The Pink Panther 2" to make a sequel to the 2006 remake of the original "The Pink Panther," which was one of the unfunniest films of the decade. "The Pink Panther 2" is just as bad as the original remake, dull, uninspired and unoriginal. It makes you long for the vintage "Pink Panther" films starred the comically inspired Peter Sellers as bumbling Inspector Clouseau. That's not to say that Steve Martin isn't funny, as a matter of fact he's a very intelligent and quite funny comedian, but even someone like Martin can't touch Sellers' brilliance.

The Pink Panther diamond, along with several other treasured items, including the Shroud of Turin and the Magna Carta, are stolen by a highly sought after thief named The Tornado. An international "dream team" of the best detectives in the world are assembled, including one from Italy (Andy Garcia), one from Britain (Alfred Molina), Japan (Yuki Matsuzaki) and of course Inspector Clouseau from France (Martin), along with his assistants Ponton (Jean Reno) and Nicole (Emily Mortimer). It's up to the "dream team" to get all the items back and solve the case, clearly led by the "best detective in the world," Clouseau, who has an unconventional way of getting to the bottom of things.

What's amazing, even surprising about this version of "Pink Panther" is the remarkable, talented cast that's been assembled - including Martin, John Cleese, Andy Garcia, Emily Mortimer, Jean Reno, even Lily Tomlin gets into the act this time. Even more surprising is how flat it all is, especially given Martin's work as a comedian, and the fact that he co-wrote the script. Martin is wrong for the part, given that he plays it very, very broadly and physically, unlike the subtle charms of Peter Sellers' original version.

There are a couple of mildly amusing scenes, including one with Clouseau dressed as the Pope. But much of the rest of it, and it's packed with many comic scenes, fall flat and unfunny, with set ups that are as bad as Martin's fake French accent (When Clouseau goes to pick up a large fire hose to put out a fire - what do you think will happen? That's exactly right). Especially unfunny are the scenes with two little boys doing karate chops. Ugh.

However, there are a couple of noteworthy cast members in "Pink Panther 2," including Tomlin as a Mrs. Manners type assigned to help Clouseau be less offensive. It reminds of Tomlin and Martin's inspired work together 25 years ago in "All of Me," a flawed but very funny work compared to the flat material they're given here. Lavishly beautiful Indian actress Aishwarya Rai is a treasure to behold, at least something worthy to look at here.

Other than that, there's very little that's memorable - even a cameo from Jeremy Irons can't save the dreadful comedy that tries so hard in "Pink Panther 2." It's also unfortunate that such a talented, expansive cast and beautiful sets are really just put to waste, which is what the movie itself is, a big waste of time. Don't bother - watch the original Peter Sellers version and you'll be far better off than this mess.

Push - B+

You can read Wes's full review of "Push" at Pop Syndicate at:

He's Just Not That Into You - D

Read Wes's full review of "He's Just Not That Into You" at Pop Syndicate at: