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

Monday, May 25, 2009

Land of the Lost - D

Good and bad news. Good news: Will Ferrell in a new comedy. Bad news: It stinks.

If you’re a child of the ‘70s and ‘80s, you probably remember the cheeky and cheesy Sid and Marty Kroft syndicated TV series "Land of the Lost," which featured a family thrown back in time in a dinosaur-filled land. It was altogether pleasant, harmless Saturday-morning entertainment geared for the younger set. Fast-forward to 2009 and to the big screen Will Ferrell-led parody remake, and "Land of the Lost" has become a special-effects laden, painfully unfunny piece of junk thrown upon the movie masses. In spite of Ferrell’s usual goofball charm and some realistic dinosaurs, this one crashes and burns quickly. Consider "Land of the Lost" this summer’s first big disappointment.

On his latest expedition, Dr. Rick Marshall (Ferrell) is sucked into a space-time vortex with his time machine, his research assistant Holly (Anna Friel) and redneck survivalist (Danny McBride) Will. In this alternate universe, the trio befriend a kindly primate named Chaka (Jorma Taccone), their only ally in a crazy world full of dinosaurs and other fantastic, unusual creatures. They must find and use Dr. Marshall’s time machine to get back to their own world before an evil Sleestak threatens to take over the universe.

Fans of the TV series will be thoroughly dissatisfied with this mediocre big screen version of "Land of the Lost" – intended as a spoof – but anyway you look at it, it’s still a pointless, unfocused and expensive mess. The funniest single scene of the movie comes at the beginning as Ferrell’s bumbling doctor is being interviewed by "Today’s" Matt Lauer but it goes downhill from there when Rick, Holly and Will (a family in the original, a group of unrelated acquaintances here) are transported to another time, another place, leaving the audience searching for any genuine laughs.

The parody premise isn’t a bad one given how seriously the TV series took itself, how cheaply it was produced but still managed to engage an audience. This version of "Land of the Lost" reverses that. A costly, expensive production, it hardly takes itself serious, yet it still fails to entertain. What’s the problem then? Maybe it’s the uneven direction by "Lemony Snicket’s" Brad Silberling, or the unoriginal, pointless script from TV writers Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas that lacks cleverness. Or maybe it’s Ferrell’s fault, who’s a genuinely funny guy, but whose self-aware, loony sort of humor falls flat here (he pours creature urine on himself and runs around a lot…um, not funny). Honestly, it’s a little bit of all the above. The director, writers and star never quite get a handle on "Land of the Lost" and the movie veers off into too many directions, losing what could’ve been a clever, sharply-witted satire.

Clearly designed to ride on Ferrell’s charm, "Land of the Lost" wastes most of those around him too. The pretty Friel comes across rather empty and the usually hilarious McBride, seen to good effect in "Pineapple Express" and "Tropic Thunder," seems a little stifled here. Taccone, a "Saturday Night Live" writer and producer whose responsible for some of those wickedly amusing digital shorts with Andy Samberg, seems to be the only one enjoying himself (he and Ferrell also have a couple of humorous exchanges).

Not all is lost, no pun intended, on "Land of the Lost." The creatures are frightfully intense and far more realistic than the series, but largely an afterthought. Those evil Sleestaks are another story, who come across as too rubbery in this version (which may be the point, but it still doesn’t work). A nice tidbit: listen closely for the voice of "Star Trek’s" Leonard Nimoy as a sleestak who may be good or bad.

By the time "Land of the Lost" stumbles onto its predictable climax, you’ll realize what an unsatisfying experience it’s been. Ferrell fans will still come out to see it in its first week, and hopefully pass the word along that his movie stinks. Don’t waste your money, as there are many other better movies out there (see "Up" instead) that will provide a far more pleasurable cinematic experience than "Land of the Lost."

My Life in Ruins - B

Rated PG-13 for sexual content, 90 minutes

Sweetly familiar "My Life In Ruins" welcomes back Vardalos

About this time back in 2002, the independent comedy "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" was really taking off and would eventually gross $370 million worldwide on a measly $5 million budget, making it one of the most profitable films of all time. It also made a big star out of its charming lead actress and writer, Nia Vardalos, who was of Greek heritage. Vardalos would go on to star in a ill-conceived TV comedy series based on the movie that bombed and had many wondering whether she was an overrated one-hit wonder. Since then, Vardalos has been largely MIA but returns to channel her Greek roots in the new sweetly familiar, pleasant romantic comedy "My Life in Ruins," which marks a cheerful return for the delightful actress.

Vardalos is Georgia, a Greek-American tour guide who is leading a tour around Greece with an assorted group of misfit tourists who would rather buy a T-shirt than learn about history and culture. In a clash of personalities and cultures, everything seems to go wrong, until one day when older traveler Irv Gordon (Richard Dreyfuss), shows her how to have fun, and to take a good look at the last person she would ever expect to find love with: her Greek bus driver (Alexis Georgoulis).

"My Life In Ruins" is a satisfying, if not overly familiar and predictable, chick flick that succeeds on the appeal of the beautiful, underrated Vardalos. This is essentially a reworked version of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," with Vardalos’ single spinster Greek-American transplanted to Greece as a lonely travel guide looking for love. However, the light-hearted, low-key "Ruins" is a more likable film than the overrated, stereotypical "Greek Wedding," though it may not do as big business at the box-office. Vardalos possesses an empathetic likability – if you liked her in "Greek Wedding" you’ll love her in this – but she runs the risk of being typecast with roles like this.

"Ruins" is directed by "Miss Congeniality" and "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" director Donald Petrie, who certainly knows a winning but familiar formula: the charming Vardalos, the lovely scenery, and a handsome suitor while throwing in some amusing moments. Vardalos didn’t pen the script this time, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t without flaws. It’s predictable and thinly drawn as it looks: the group of misfit tourists who initially hate Georgia then become pals by the end of the film, not to mention the peculiar love story angle, which really doesn’t develop until the "Ruins’" last act and seems like a stretch. And some of the Greeks are stereotypically drawn as the ones in "Greek Wedding," who sing and dance to Anthony Quinn’s Zorba and all of whom are passionately amorous.

Still, there are some fun moments along the way that lead down to a calculated, expected finale . Dreyfuss is strictly around for comic relief and his goofy, sarcastic wit succeeds most the time, and watch for a cameo from Vardalos pal and the film’s executive producer, Rita Wilson, who co-Executive Produced "Ruins" with her husband Tom Hanks, both of whom also produced "Greek Wedding" and last summer’s Greek-themed hit "Mamma Mia!" (Wilson is half Greek herself, which explains this Greek fixation).

Vardalos is paired with Greek hunk Georgoulis who doesn’t do much but look pretty, not to mention some amusing supporting players, including "Saturday Night Live’s" Rachel Dratch and character actor Harland Williams as a goofy American couple, UK character actress Caroline Goodall as an uptight doctor and fellow Brit Sheila Bernette, who provides some memorably silly moments as an elderly, energetic clepto.

The loveliest thing about "My Life In Ruins" may not be the characters or the story, but the gorgeous, picturesque Grecian scenery seen throughout the film that may inspire you to take your own trip. In the meantime, we can enjoy Vardalos’ winsome, pleasant trip, and we welcome her back, hoping to see more of her in the future.

The Hangover - B

Rated R for pervasive language, sexual content including nudity, and some drug material, 100 minutes

You'll remember this "Hangover": rude, crude and bawdy

You won't soon forget "The Hangover," which takes lewd, low-brow humor to a new level. It doesn't do much in the way of inventive storytelling, but there are more than a few amusing moments to keep this energetic, raucous comedy rolling to big box-office. By the way, if you stay for the credits, you'll find out what the main characters couldn't remember and also discover "The Hangover's" funniest moments.

"The Hangover's" premise is simple: Doug (Justin Bartha from the "National Treasure" movies) is about to get married. His groomsmen: the suave, smooth and married school teacher Phil (Bradley Cooper), uptight and henpecked dentist Stu (Ed Helms of "The Office") and his future slacker brother-in-law Alan (comedian Zach Galifianakis). Armed with cash and a sweet ride, his father-in-law to be's classic Mercedes, they set out for one last night of nasty "what happens in Vegas" fun.

They wake up to a totally trashed hotel room with a tiger, Stu missing a tooth, a baby and all of them completely unable to remember what happened, courtesy of some drugs that Alan slipped them. And their lead man, their groom Doug, is missing and the three must embark on a crazy journey to get him back and to the most important day of his life.

The lively, silly antics of "The Hangover" make it so absurd but also absurdly fun to be a part of. Todd Phillips, director of "Old School," helms some memorable moments in "Hangover"; it's not a particularly great film - a familiar, exceedingly thin storyline and cardboard characters - but then it's packed with such sophomoric, witty fun that it's best to sit back and enjoy the ride. All the actors gel together well and seem to enjoy each other's company. Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis are a treat, especially scruffy man-boy slacker Galifianakis, who can incite laughs by just standing silently with a goofy look (he's also referred to as "Fat Jesus" by a cop). It's unfortunate that Bartha, an engagingly handsome actor, is hardly around for the more memorable parts of the "The Hangover."

And what fun "The Hangover" is. It's hard to describe how all of it fits together without giving away the movie, but there are some memorably silly moments that involve Mike Tyson, the baby, a stripper, a gay Asian man named Mr. Chow (who they find in the trunk of the Mercedes), a police car and the film's most hilarious scene - a taser demonstration with some kids. Ken Jeong, who played the evil king from the equally funny "Role Models" last fall, nearly steals the movie with some high kicks and drolly sassy (and utterly offensive, if you're Asian) lines that can't be repeated here. Jeffrey Tambor, Mike Epps and even Heather Graham all get in a few moments of fun.

As mentioned earlier, if you stay over to the credits, you'll find out what actually happened through some rather nasty, crude photographs, but they're also the best part of the movie. Not everyone may care for "The Hangover" (and it's definitely not one for the kiddoes) and you shouldn't expect much, but you can certainly expect to have fun and enjoy a few hearty laughs, which isn't always a bad thing.

Drag Me to Hell - B

Rated PG-13 for sequences of horror violence, terror, disturbing images and language, 99 minutes

"Drag Me to Hell" is Raimi's thrilling, fun and jumpy return to horror

Welcome back, Sam Raimi to horror films, and what an enjoyable thrill ride you provide with your latest offering, Drag Me to Hell. This marks the first genuine horror film for the Spider-Man director in 17 years, since Army of Darkness, and his best one since his hallmark Evil Dead series, which put Raimi on the horror film map. Single-minded in its quest to please the masses, Drag Me to Hell is hilariously over-the-top (as much as a PG-13 rating will allow) from the first frame and its story needs more work, but Raimi is one of the few directors who can scare you and make you laugh in the same breath.

Loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), pretty, smart and on the verge of an important promotion, orders to evict an old woman named Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) from her home. Bad move. Now, she finds herself the recipient of a supernatural curse courtesy of the ugly-weird Ganush woman, which turns her life into a living hell as she's taunted by some pretty nasty evil spirits. Desperate, she and her suspicious but handsome boyfriend Clay (Justin Long) turn to a seer named Rham (Dileep Rao) to try and save her soul, while the evil forces work to push her to a breaking point so they can literally drag her soul to hell.

Raimi's Drag Me to Hell is one of the more exciting but over-the-top horror offerings of recent memory. It's has enough jumpy, scary moments to please horror-film enthusiasts and those looking for a good ride. In spite of its title, Drag Me to Hell has little to do with hell itself and has enough commercial appeal to please the masses. The familiar Poltergeist-type premise itself is thin, leaving too much unexplained, and Raimi goes toward the obvious gross-out moments too much, but one thing can be said of this offering: there's never a dull moment. Those awfully mean, unpredictable spirits show up at any time to terrify and cause unspeakable damage.

Raimi's hardly subtle approach is often heavy-handed, and you know exactly where the predictable ending (which reminds of Stephen King's Carrie) will take you, but Raimi's creative spirit when it comes to horror is admirable, even if his story needs some work. Raimi and older brother Ivan also penned Drag Me to Hell's sloppy script; the plot is threadbare at best, the characters aren't well-written and some of it's downright choppy. Fortunately, it all seems shaped around all those inventive and tensely skittish moments, which are plentiful enough to memorably carry Drag Me to Hell.

The lithe Lohman (Matchstick Men) is a tenacious yet vulnerable heroine, and a tough one, too: she's literally dragged, beat up, thrown around and thrown up on in every imaginable sense throughout Drag Me to Hell. Justin Long, best known as Mac from the Mac-PC Apple commercials, blandly has little to do, but character actress Raver, under loads of frightening make-up, is an impressively disgusting old woman who won't go away.

The lively special-effects, including the creepy make-up, some flies, false teeth and a talking goat in the amusing but rousing climax, are cheesily above-average and done in the usual gory-but-fun Raimi style. Ironically, the most memorable episode in Drag Me to Hell features minimal special effects: a riveting but humorous wrestling match between Mrs. Ganush and Christine in a compact car that will make you think twice about where you park.

Drag-Me-Hell is nasty, hilarious and crowd-pleasing fun, but not recommended for the faint-at-heart; it happily and energetically pushes many frightening, disturbing buttons not to mention its PG-13 rating. But for those waiting to be eagerly scared out of your movie seat this summer season, Drag Me to Hell is the perfect movie for you.

This review can also be found at

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Up (in 3-D) - A

Rated PG for some peril and action, 96 minutes

The fantastic, touching adventure "Up" flies high: it's one of 2009's best

We critics are a fickle group. We call one movie the "best of the year" in January until another one comes out that's better. But I can honestly call the brilliant and charming new Pixar animated adventure Up, one of the year's best that will certainly make my Top 10 Best List at year's end. Clever, touching, funny and dynamically animated, it won't take long for Up to hook you in to it's wonderful story. Nearing the 6 month mark of 2009, I've only given out two "A's" (the other being the new Star Trek) because I feel a film should earn it, and Up is richly deserving of it.

By tying thousands of balloon to his home, 78-year old widow and balloon salesman Carl Fredricksen (perfectly voiced by Edward Asner) sets out to fulfill his lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America, inspired by his late wife and an adventurer named Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). Right after lifting off, however, he learns he isn't alone on his journey, since Russell (Jordan Nagai), a wilderness explorer 70 years his junior, has inadvertently become a stowaway on the trip. Along the way, they find some canines, a bird and maybe even Muntz himself, who may be interested in something valuable that Carl and Russell have in their possession.

Up is sublimely entertaining and certainly one of Pixar's best, maybe even their best movie yet as it delivers some valuable messages about the importance of love, loyalty and friendship. It's hard to believe that the Pixar team could top last year's WALL-E or even Ratatouille, but they manage to do it in their exquisite, detailed and crisp palette they bring to life in Up, not to mention one of the most touching stories seen in some time in live-action or animation. Up is more than just a cartoon for the kids, it's a finely-drawn adventure for both young and old.

The sentimental but insightful prologue of Up, done with little dialogue detailing Carl's backstory, draws you in quickly to the story and helps you understand why this old man takes such an unusual adventure, unwittingly with the plump, awkward Russell, who has some family issues and in need of a friend and father figure. Along comes a fluttery and squawking large tropical bird that Russell names Kevin and feeds it chocolate, though we find out later that the bird is actually female; there's also lovable pooch Dug, who has an unusual way of speaking.

Much of the success of Up lies not just in the fantastic animation, but the touching story. Up is helmed by Monsters Inc. director Pete Docter and Pixar animator and writer Bob Peterson, who's worked on numerous Pixar features. Many current animated features feature an abundance of smart-aleck characters, cutesy talking animals and adult pop culture humor elevated well above the kids' heads. Not so with Up, as they'll easily connect to and vastly enjoy the timeless, amusing story and its bright, flawless animation. Up is a clear reminder of how Pixar has become the Cadillac of animation and setting the standard in this genre (the 3-D works well too but unnecessary).

Sure, the story of Up is nothing new - old man and young boy relationship has been done numerous times (the recent, affecting Is Anybody There? with Michael Caine among them) - not to mention it's messages - but it's also never been as spirtedly done as with a thousand colorful balloons. And yes, the dogs do talk, but in a distinctive way (some sort of sensors) that becomes the cleverst part of Up. The charming canine Dug, voiced by co-director Peterson speaks in humorous robotically stilted language: "I love you and have just met you" he says upon meeting Carl.

Veteran Asner (he'll always be Lou Grant to me) and newcomer child actor Nagai tenderly voice the leads, while Plummer is a crusty and peculiar Howard Hughes-inspired Muntz. And a Pixar film wouldn't be a Pixar film without Cheers' John Ratzenberger, who's instantly recognizable with just a couple of lines. Up finishes predictably but enjoyably and you'll leave with a big smile on your face - old man, boy, dog, tropical bird and lots of balloons all happily intact.

I highly recommend the lovely, exceedingly enjoyable and splendid Up, a rare early summer treat that will hopefully last all summer long.

You also find this review at

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Terminator Salvation - B

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and language, 115 minutes

Entertaining, serious Terminator Salvation is loyal to the film's franchise

I’ll speak directly to the faithful Terminator movie (and now TV series) fans first. You’ll love Terminator Salvation, a faithful entry and reboot to this aging sci-fi franchise with 25 years under it’s belt since the very first James Cameron Terminator film way back in 1984. For the rest of us, Terminator Salvation is a big, modestly entertaining summer action-film with a gritty, dark style and futuristic vision. The McG-directed movie and starring Dark Knight’s Christian Bale lacks a bold visual flair and is a little muddled, but it’s packed with action and plenty of enormously loud explosions to enliven the proceedings. It takes itself way too seriously, but most of Terminator Salvation works well.

Set in post-apocalyptic 2018, John Connor (Christian Bale) is the man fated to lead the human resistance against Skynet and its army of Terminators. But the future Connor was raised to believe in is altered in part by the appearance of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a stranger whose last memory is of being on death row and being visited by a mysterious doctor (Helena Bonham Carter). Connor must decide whether Marcus has been sent from the future, or rescued from the past. As Skynet prepares its final onslaught, Connor and Marcus both embark on an odyssey that takes them into the heart of Skynet’s operations, where they uncover the terrible secret behind the possible annihilation of mankind, and where Connor must save his own father Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) in teenage form.

Terminator Salvation is a huge summer action sci-fi film that’s enjoyable enough to stand it’s own but also apart from the other Terminator films. It’s heavy-handed and lacks visual boldness, but there’s enough to keep you engaged. Terminator knowledge is helpful but not essential, even if you don’t know the difference between a T-800 and a T-1000 robot (or in movie terms, the difference between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick). In Terminator Salvation there’s a clear distinction between the machines and the humans, and this time out the machines take the form of not only the evil robots, but also on motorcycles, airplanes and even in the water (a nifty addition); they were designed by special effects wizard Stan Winston in one of his last films (Salvation is dedicated to him).

Terminator Salvation’s plot, written by Terminator 3’s team of John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris, is a tad muddled but faithful to this series of films, and continues to follow the war between the humans and the machines and it’s self-directed company, Skynet. But those going to see Salvation will likely go for the special effects and action, which there’s an abundance of. McG, whose biggest film to date has been the Charlie’s Angels sequel, has a lack of visual flair of someone like Cameron or Ridley Scott and he’s seemingly over his head here. He fills it with too many loud explosions and some of the non-machine visuals lack a fresh realism (in other words, they look a little fake) but the cast and plot keep it going.

Bale, fresh of the huge worldwide success of Dark Knight, helps to reboot this franchise as well with his usual, intense acting and he ably carries the film on his shoulders. However, the best new addition isn’t Bale, but Australian actor Worthington as Marcus, who’s also revealed to be one of the machines but who’s more human than machine. Also in Cameron’s upcoming film Avatar, Worthington lends a likable intensity that establishes a strong connection early on, even more so than with Bale. In addition, Worthington grounds Salvation’s most memorable scene (and one that Bale isn’t in), a breathtaking, fast-paced desert battle with some nasty machines that climaxes on a mile-high bridge.

As for Salvation’s story, it takes itself far too seriously and is a little confusing even for sci-fi fans, so it’s best to sit back and enjoy the action and special effects. Bryce Dallas Howard, replacing Claire Danes from the third film, has little to do as John’s wife Kate; Yelchin (also seen as Chekov in the new Star Trek), has a few convincing moments as Connor’s father. Bonham Carter’s role is little more than a cameo, and watch for Schwarzenegger’s likeness - though only briefly - in the climax that reveals more about his machine.

Salvation’s style is single-minded, dark and gritty, with a vision obviously influenced by Children of Men. Yet, as we’ve known in this franchise, Connor is this world’s savior, and as expected, Terminator Salvation is hopeful enough to leave it wide open for many more installments (“I’ll be back,” Connor says with a familiar tone). Terminator Salvation isn’t the smooth, well-oiled machine it strives to be, but there’s enough entertainment for the masses.

You'll also find this review on the Pop Syndicate site at

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian - C+

Rated PG for mild action and brief language, 105 minutes

Oh, what a busy "Night": pleasant but overdone

I enjoyed the mildly entertaining 2006 comedy "Night at the Museum" - a fun, well-handled premise with the always engaging goofball Ben Stiller. The big-budgeted overdone sequel, "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" (even the title is longwinded) is a different story. It has a few wistful, pleasant moments moments but is larely unnecessary, tiresomely busy and excessive. There's way, way too much going on, so much in fact that you'll be worn out by the end. Though Stiller is suitably goofy, Amy Adams outcharms him and Hank Azaria's nuttiness all but steals the movie.

Stiller is Larry Daley, the night security guard at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. Everything in the museum, including the T-Rex, Attila the Hun, Teddy Roosevelt (still played by Robin Williams) and all the miniatures still come to life. Except two years later the slacker Larry has become an inventor, started his own business and become quite wealthy, with less time for his new friends. He returns periodically to visit, and finds out from Teddy that the Museum is completely renovating and moving most of the museum to the archives underground at the Smithsonian, where they'll never be seen again.

Larry treks to D.C. only to find that the miniature Jedidiah (Owen Wilson) and Octavius (Steve Coogan) are being held captive by evil Egyptian prince named Kahmunrah (Azaria), who has a plan to take over the museum, maybe the world, once he gets the combination to unlock a mysterious vault. Larry, along with Amelia Earhart (Adams), General Custer (Bill Hader) and a couple of rare monkies, Larry must stop Kahmunrah in his tracks, resulting in a memorable battle at the famous museum that's never been before.

"Night at the Museum 2" is a display of what happens when Hollywood gets its hands on a successful formula: make it bigger, better and work it to death until it becomes pointlessly mediocre and unnecessary, which this film becomes quickly. "Night at the Museum" is overstuffed with an all-star gallery of Hollywood faces playing famous characters, most of whom get lost in the shuffle somewhere along the way. It's quite unfortunate, since the talented Stiller, director Shawn Levy, and writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (extremely funny writers and actors on "Reno 911!" but not so much here), all who worked on the first film, fail to capture the energy, spirit and fresh humor of that movie.

That's not to say that "Night at the Museum 2" isn't without it's funny moments - especially with Stiller around. Whether in a slap fight with the monkeys or torturing fellow security guard Jonah Hill in a wickedly funny cameo, you can always count on him for a couple of laughs. But Adams' Earhart is a charming comedic sweetheart (she also looks good in a bob hairstyle), and Azaria, playing the lispy Egyptian prince and voicing several other characters, walks off with the movie in all his nutty glory (his Thinking Man is as funny as it is in the trailers for the movie).

"Saturday Night Live" star Bill Hader also has a couple of funny moments as General Custer, though Christopher Guest, Ricky Gervais, Williams, Wilson and Coogan all get lost in the shuffle, clearly casualties of the excessively busy script. Especially tiring is the climax, which literally swamps the screen with nearly every character in the film.

"Night at the Museum 2" isn't a terrible film, just a disappointment given the success of the first film. Stiller is fun, but the real treat is the loony Azaria and the cute Adams, who'll charm your socks off. Too bad the same can't be said for this pointless movie, and prepare yourself to take a nap afterwards, you'll need it.

Dance Flick - D

Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, and language, 90 minutes

"Dance Flick" is an (unfunny) Wayans family affair

Before I begin this review, I mean no disrespect to the Wayans family. I really do like them, just not their movies. They're all immensely talented and funnier in person than many of their movies, which generally suck, except for parts of the first "Scary Movie." Their latest spoof, "Dance Flick" lampoons those silly but popular urban dance movies such as "Step Up" and "Stomp the Yard" and ends up one of their unfunniest, offensive films yet. Given, with the Wayans' you know what to expect: low-brow, mindless, very broadly played hardly cutting-edge comedy. The most memorable thing about "Dance Flick" is that you'll find a Wayans somewhere in front of or behind the camera.

Street dancer Thomas Uncles (Damon Wayans Jr.) is from the wrong side of the tracks, but his bond with the beautiful Megan White (Shoshana Bush) might help the duo realize their dreams as the enter in the mother of all dance battles. Many, many films are spoofed in the process, including: "Step Up," "Stomp the Yard," "You Got Served," "Save the Last Dance," "Dreamgirls," "Hairspray," "Little Miss Sunshine" and even "Ray" but of the 80 stretched-out choppy minutes of it, there's about 5 of it that's funny, and 3 of those minutes belong to the always evil, wickedly funny Amy Sedaris, who's the silliest of them of all with a rather large body part that I cannot describe in this family-friendly blog - but trust me - it's the funniest gag in a movie stuffed full of them.

It doesn't help that "Dance Flick" features some of the worst stereotypes of recent memory - blacks, whites, disabled, gays (one character sings "I'll be gay forever" to the tune of "Fame" - ugh), overweight - you name it they attempt to make fun of it but not successfully. Not to mention, the Wayans have somehow managed to push the boundaries of the PG-13 rating - if you take your children to this mess be prepared to do a lot of explaining, and not in the good sense. Add David Alan Grier in a fat suit to really stink up the proceedings even more.

The most proflic thing about "Dance Flick" isn't the number of films it spoofs but the number of Wayans involved in the productions. It's truly a family affair: Damon Wayans Jr. stars (and he bears strong resemblance to his father, who is interestingly the only Wayans family member missing from this production), and watch for cameos or small parts from Marlon (mildly funny as a teacher), Shawn (unfunny in nasally voice), Kim (blink and you'll miss her) and the funniest of them, Keenan Ivory Wayans (with a memorable impression of Steve Harvey full of bleached white chiclet teeth and loud suits). One of the nephews, Damien Wayans, directs (or at least gets credit for it), Craig Wayans (a cousin) helps write and produce along with Shawn, Marlon, Keenan Ivory and Damien. There are many, many other Wayans peppered throughout: Chaunte, Michael, Cara Mia and Gregory among them.

Even if no one but the Wayans family saw this movie, it'd probably still make money, and that very well might be the case. "Dance Flick," much like their other low-brow comedies, will most likely be a modest hit in spite of the fact that it really stinks. Definitely wait for a rental or buck movie, and even then you might feel cheated.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Angels and Demons - B

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, disturbing images and thematic material, 138 minutes

The swiftly entertaining Angels and Demons is better than The DaVinci Code

To quote none other than Gomer Pyle: Surprise, surprise, surprise. That could well sum up the description of Ron Howard’s exciting new thriller Angels and Demons, the sequel to the 2006 mega hit The DaVinci Code, which brought people in with its controversial story then bored them to death in the process. Overlong but engaging, Angels and Demons’ church-based conspiracy storyline is considerably less controversial than DaVinci but surprisingly better on many levels: it’s far more entertaining, briskly paced and action-packed. Even Gomer could find something to enjoy in Opie’s latest production.

Dan Brown’s book Angels and Demons was actually written and set before DaVinci but since it was far more popular it hit screens first. After its tremendous worldwide box-office success, director Howard decided to turn A&D into a sequel to DaVinci, since both featured the same lead character, Harvard Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks).

Angels and Demons finds the Catholic Church in a state of change following the death of the Pope. In addition, the murder of a physicist, Leonardo Vetra, finds Professor (and symbolist) Langdon (Hanks), and Mr. Vetra’s daughter, Vittoria (Hebrew actress Ayelet Zurer), on a mission to uncover clues about an old and highly secretive organization, The Illuminati, which now has in its hands a destructive weapon that could wipe out the Vatican and most of Rome.

Clues lead them all around the Vatican, including the four alters of science, Earth, Air, Fire and Water. An Assassin (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), working for the Illuminati, has captured four cardinals, and is set to murder each painfully. Meanwhile, the Church is in the process of selecting a new Pope, with a powerful Camerlengo (Ewan McGregor) with papal motives, not to mention the strong arm of the Vatican law and Commander of the Swiss Army (Stellan Skaarsgard), who gets his way most of the time. With both scientific and spiritual forces clashing, Robert and Vittoria must race against time in a single day to save Rome from destruction physically and spiritually.

Angels and Demons is an energetic and entertaining though overlong spectacle that pops with intensity and action and a terrific cast. Howard and company must have learned something valuable from DaVinci, as in cut the long, blathering speeches, tone down the controversy and amp up the action. Set in Rome with much of the action occurring in less than a day, it moves along very nimbly, even with a hokey, ridiculous but enjoyable climax in St. Peters Square in Rome.

Howard’s big, expensive production shows on screen but is handsomely filmed, with a story that is faithful to the tone of the book and keeping with its quick pace. DaVinci scribe Akiva Goldsman, and Indy 4 screenwriter David Koepp, have greatly simplified Brown’s seemingly complex narrative, trimming sections and changing characters to fit its rapid, athletic conspiratorial plot (let’s just say they do lots and lots of running here). Howard directs A&D’s narrative with a smooth, taut flow and is essentially a high-level scavenger hunt as it moves from one ancient church to the next uncovering clues to the conspiracy.

Speaking of which, the most impressive thing about Angels and Demons is that much of the action was actually filmed on the Sony back lot. Ancient landmarks St. Peters Square, the Cistene Chapel, the Fountain of the Four Rivers and more are all astonishingly recreated in detail, a necessity given that the Catholic Church, still upset over DaVinci‘s provocative plotline, refused to let them film in these actual locations. The first-rate Oscar-worthy production and set design, along with Hans Zimmer’s stirring orchestral music lend an auspicious credibility to the fictionalized story.

As for Hanks, he carries the movie with aplomb with his usual likable performance; fortunately, the creepy/annoying mullet hair from DaVinci is trimmed here. He is also well-paired with the stunningly beautiful Zurer, a stronger and more compelling heroine than DaVinci’s bland Audrey Tatou. Skaarsgard (Good Will Hunting) is always hammy fun to watch, while sturdy character actor Armin Mueller-Stahl (Shine) has a few good low-key moments in a small role as a soft-spoken Cardinal. Macgregor (Moulin Rouge) throws the movie off-kilter, but only because the talented actor is miscast (he’s far too young and should be Italian) in the film’s key role.

The movie is about 20 minutes too long and Howard could’ve accomplished far more with less, tightening some situations and resolving its plot far more expeditiously. Even with that - count your blessings - Angels and Demons is recommended and does something DaVinci didn’t do: entertain.

Management - C

Rated R for language, 93 minutes

Peculiar, offbeat indie romantic comedy "Management" hits the wrong notes

If the new movie "Management" were a contestant on "Celebrity Apprentice," they'd be fired. If it's possible to be so offbeat that's it's plain weird, "Management" does just that. A talented cast and a few touching moments can't overcome the thin story and the slack direction. "Management" exudes only surface-level emotion that may leave you feeling a little empty; it's a likable but hollow movie. I can look at Jennifer Anistion all day, but that doesn't mean it's a great movie.

Trish (Margo Martindale), Jerry (Fred Ward) and lonely their middle age son Mike ("Sunshine Cleaning's" Steve Zahn) run a well-kept motel in Kingman, Arizona. One day an uptight business traveler named Sue (Jennifer Aniston) checks into the motel for the evening. Mike, who doesn't have much of a life, is instantly attracted to Sue and finds reasons to talk to her, like bringing her wine to her room. They end up having a quick fling but Sue leaves to go back to Maryland, but Mike, thinking they have something special and quickly falling in love, keeps pursuing her. They end up seeing more of each other, but things become complicated when Sue's former punk rock ex-boyfriend named Jango (Woody Harrelson) arrives to sweep her off her feet.

"Management" is a mediocre quirky romantic comedy that's modestly affecting but shallow and unsympathetic at its core. The movie seems to wear its quirky attitude on its sleeve, filled with peculiarly awkward moments that come off as more creepy than anything. Sure, Mike is a nice guy, but really, would you answer the door if you're alone at a motel so he can give you some cheap wine just as an excuse to talk to you - the exchange is as awkward and weird as it seems on paper - especially when Sue lets Mike grope her rear end. Then, Mike follows Sue across country - twice - in moments that are altogether stalkerish. How these two get together is beyond me.

Zahn and Aniston are a lovely couple, and the likable Zahn in particular has some touching moments, but Aniston's talents are wasted in a vastly underwritten role. The best moments are from a couple of supporting players - "Prison Break's" James Liao as a funny (but stereotypical) Asian buddy of Mike's who offers him help when he's in a pinch, and the always wonderful character actress Margo Martindale in a bittersweet role as Mike's loving mother who wants to help him get "unstuck" from "whatever he's stuck in." Harrelson, in a brief role is - no surprise - quite weird as Aniston's ex-boyfriend.

The final act of "Management" is enjoyably predictable, but most of the twists and turns are too awkwardly handled and lack emotional depth to truly draw you to these unusual people. "How did your presentations go today?" Zahn's character asks Aniston's. "Oh, OK, just average," she replies. That could well sum up this movie: average. Interesting premise, uninteresting characters, a quirky and hollow tone that leaves you with little. As much as I like Aniston and even Zahn, I don't recommend this movie.

Is Anybody There? - B

Rated PG-13 for language including sexual references, and some disturbing images, 95 minutes

Caine carries the familiar, offbeat but affecting "Is Anybody There?"

Michael Caine is a legendary, award-winning actor who can give great performances in just about any film ("Jaws 4" anyone?) and he is the primary reason to see the offbeat English dramedy "Is Anybody There?" The film channels many familiar themes - growing older and relationship between old guy and young boy, and while it can grow a bit maudlin at times, it's also sensitively handled and touchingly memorable.

"Is Anybody There?" is set in late 1980's seaside England, and concerns an unusual, uptight boy named Edward (Bill Milner), who grows frustrated living with his Mum (Anne-Marie Duff) and Dad (David Morrissey), who turned their home into basically a nursing home. Edward is concerned with the paranormal and longs to have contact with ghosts, always walking around with a tape recorder. A crusty and washed-up former magician named Clarence (Caine) who has a liberating sense of anarchy, always stirring up trouble. The two at first don't get along but help each other - Edward to relax a little and Clarence to accept his past and move on - their odd relationship changing each other more than they think.

"Is Anybody There?" is a surprisingly touching comedy, with many more poignant moments than you might think, but then that might be expected when you team an old man and a young boy. Milner, bearing a remarkable resemblance to "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's" Freddie Highmore, anchors the film well in a solid performance as the peculiar, precocious little boy fixated on the afterlife and Arthur Clarke. He and Caine share a palpable chemistry together, and the best moments are the ones they share together, brimming with fun dialogue ("If I want to off myself, I'll just jump out the window," he tartly tells Edward, who hides his belts for fear he'll kill himself). Their relationship, while familiar and done many times in movies before, still provides the film's more memorable moments (a seance scene is particularly funny).

Of course, the very best thing about "Is Anybody There?" is the superb, emotionally-layered performance from Caine as the retired magician Clarence, who knows he's running out of time and can't do much about it. Caine is one of those extraordinary actors who can act completely with their face and body language, in particular watch Caine's doleful eyes when Edward completely dismisses him by throwing dirt in his face. Caine could've easily phoned this performance in (and he almost does) but he's the focus of every scene, you can't take your eyes off him.

"Is Anybody There?" chases too many rabbits, the subplots involving Edward's parents isn't all that interesting - a frustrated Mum and a disinterested, mid-life crisis affected Dad - tend to get in the way. The ending, as predicted as it can be, is emotionally charged and superbly handled by the leads. Recommended for Caine alone, who might garner even more awards consideration with this role.

Rudo y Cursi - B

Rated R for pervasive language, sexual content and brief drug use, 103 minutes
In Spanish with English subtitles

Relaxed "Rudo y Cursi" enjoyable and touching

"Rudo y Cursi" is a dramedy that tells the story of two Mexican brothers who are plucked from squalid obscurity and rise to fame as rival soccer players in Mexico City. "Rudo y Cursi" reunites the stars and director of "Y Tu Mama Tambien," a superb, ground-breaking (and altogether scorching) film. Entertaining fun, touching and well-acted, "Rudo y Cursi" a little too ambitious and heavy-handed at times, but you'll still get a kick out of most of it.

Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal and Diego Luna play Tato and Beto, two brothers scraping by as banana farm laborers in rural Mexico , until one day a scout spies their friendly game of soccer and sign them on as star athletes for rival teams. They quickly learn that the high life of top players-fame, money, and beautiful women-has a dark side. And when their professional rivalry turns bitter and personal, the brothers see that they must reunite before they lose everything they once dreamed of.

Carlos Cuaron, directs and writes the enjoyably pleasant "Rudo and Cursi," and the director of "Y Tu Mama Tambien" reunites the stars of that film, real-life pals Bernal and Luna, whose realistic, relaxed chemistry highlights the film. They're very believable as brothers, helped by the fact that the two actors have been life-long friends who know each other well. Bernal is especially good as Tato, who's real passion is singing, while Luna is sympathetic as the goalie with a gambling problem. Cuaron adds some pretty flavor to "Rudo and Cursi," in the form of Adriana Paz as Beto's strong-willed wife and particularly Jessica Maz as the beautiful TV star that Tato becomes involved with.

"Rudo and Cursi" is really a rags-to-riches-to-rags story that pertinently tells what can happen when you let fame get to your head. Cuaron's messages are a little too heavy-handed and the narration unecessary - we can figure things out without the obvious metaphors regarding individualism, family loyalty and even soccer balls. Cuaron's script is also a little uneven, awkwardly transitioning from comedy to drama back to comedy. It works better as a comedy, with some truly funny moments along the way, the most memorable having Luna dressed up as a Cowboy singing a Spanish version of Cheap Trick's "I Want You To Want Me" to some kids at a circus.

"Rudo y Cursi" is a looser, more charming film that succeeds in a different way than "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (sorry, no steamy, sensual scenes this time out) and essentially ends up back at where it all started. The film scores points with the amiable Bernal-Luna partnership that helps to forgive the script's ambitious flaws. "Rudo y Cursi" is a warm, enjoyable movie and a nice alternative to the big-budget "Wolverine's" out there.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Star Trek - A-

Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, and brief sexual content, 126 minutes

The new “Star Trek” an exciting ride, for both Trekkies and Non-Trekkies

The new “Star Trek” lands in theatres this weekend and there’s just one word: WOW. Both Trekkies and Non-Trekkies (I include myself in that category) will get a treat out of this exciting, robust and colorful new reboot of a seemingly tired pop icon from “Lost” and “Alias” creator J.J. Abrams. Not everything in the story works, but it’s a rollicking roller-coaster ride that could essentially be termed “Star Trek: The Early Years” as it details the early life of Captain Kirk, Spock and the gang before their adventures on the U.S.S. Enterprise.

James Kirk (Chris Pine) is born to a Starfleet captain who is killed just moments before James is born. He grows up to a brash, rebellious but highly intelligent Iowa boy who thinks he can do anything. Meanwhile, Spock (“Heroes” Zachary Quinto) is born a Vulcan father and human mother and grows up to be a nerdy kid picked on by the cool Vulcan kids for his mixed heritage but is ultimately superior in just about every facet. Kirk and Spock meet at the Starfleet training academy, where Spock has advanced himself but Kirk, unsurprisingly, finds himself in trouble at every turn. He becomes quick pals with an older, sarcastic doctor Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) and becomes attracted to fellow academy officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana), though her attractions clearly lie elsewhere.

Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, along with Scotty (British comedian Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and some old and new friends, must battle the evil Nero (Eric Bana), who has a beef with Spock over some past mistakes, and whose desire is to destroy the heart and soul of the Federation and everyone on the Enterprise. But if you know anything about Star Trek, Kirk and company won’t go down without a colorful, interesting fight across many galaxies.

Abrams' “Star Trek” is a robust, thrill-a-minute roller -coaster ride that throws its audience into the mix from the first scene, and his style is more Indiana Jones, throwing out some colorful, whirlwind special effects and pacing that will keep the audience engaged, even when its story falters ever so slightly. But Trekkies and non-Trekkies should leave pleased with the new results, even if there are some unique changes and twists and turns along the way that haven’t been seen before.

The most inspiring thing about the new “Star Trek” has to be the casting. Handsome newcomer Pine is a solid but slightly blandish Kirk, and as usual on the smart-aleck side, but then so was Shatner, who usually played this thing with more tongue-in-cheek fervor. But Pine grows on you, and he’s well teamed with “Heroes” Quinto, perfectly cast as the younger Spock, who infuses and shades him with more human touches (not to mention a fun fight scene with Kirk). On top of that, Quinto and Pine share a palpable chemistry that’ll grow in future outings.

The rest of the new “Star Trek” cast also performs ably. Bana, under heavy makeup and tattoos, is a brooding, evil villain; Saldana is a smart but ravishing beauty, but the biggest twist that Trekkies must get used to in this version is her romance with…Spock. It’s highly unusual to see it and will take some getting used to. Urban makes a great impression as Dr. “Bones” McCoy, and he utters “damn it, Jim” with a force that will remind you of the old TV series. Pegg grabs a few laughs as Scotty in a role far smaller than expected, while Cho’s Sulu is tremendously athletic though newcomer Yelchin is a little too bright-eyed as Chekov.

And yes, Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance as the old Spock, in another supposed plot twist that’s essential to the story. The twist seems a little forced, but it’s great seeing Nimoy, he’s terrific as usual, and hard-core Trekkies might even shed a tear when they first see him. Trekkies will also note that Uhura now has a first name, and watch for the well-known actress playing Spock’s mother.

“Star Trek” is full of great action scenes – really too many to mention here – but standouts include Sulu and Kirk’s fight atop a Romulun space ship in mid-air, and Kirk’s intense run-for-his-life from a very nasty wintery creature. As for the predictable climax, if you think that Kirk, Spock and company are down for the count, think again, as it leaves it open for a whole new set of outings for the new generation of young Trekkies.

“Star Trek” is a colorful, robust and action-packed way to spend your weekend. For those non-Trekkies, “Star Trek” knowledge isn’t essential, and for true Trekkies, they’ll probably turn out in droves for repeat viewings. This should be a big early summer hit and rightfully so, I’m surprised that this turned out so well. Live long, prosper and enjoy the fun new “Star Trek.”

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Next Day Air - C

Rated R for pervasive language, drug content, some violence and brief sexuality, 90 minutes

Messy, mediocre “Next Day Air” loses identity along with package

The new comedy “Next Day Air” is a messy, mediocre comedy with an identity problem. It strives to be a hip, urban version of “Pulp Fiction” but ends up a mish-mash of blood and bullets with a few mildly funny lines thrown in. The novice filmmaking team of “Next Day Air” is largely responsible for this jumbled mess about a misplaced package in the wrong hands, and it ends up wasting a talented, handsome cast, all of whom have done better than this film.

Pot-smoking slacker Leo (“Scrubs” Donald Faison) is on the verge of losing his job as a delivery man for a UPS-like company. However, he accidentally delivers a drug-filled package to the wrong address, to a couple of dense, low-life thieves named Brody (Mike Epps) and Gooch (Wood Harris). They see the package as a jackpot and a way out of the ghetto, and have an interested buyer in Brody’s cousin Shavoo (Omari Hardwick) who intends to “flip” the package and make a huge profit. However, the package’s intended recipients, Puerto Rican couple Jesus (Cisco Reyes) and Chita (Yasmin Deliz) along with the package’s Mexican cartel original sender Bodega (Emilio Rivera) come looking for the package with time running out before the situation becomes too explosive for everyone to handle.

“Next Day Air” is a sloppy, awkward and bloody mixture of dark comedy and drama that doesn’t always work. The mediocre results are a result of novice director Benny Boom and screenwriter Blair Cobbs, who ends up with something different than their original intent. Boom’s lazy direction and Cobbs unfocused, thin script results in an uneven affair. It chases too many rabbits in its middle section and while the bullet-filled, slow-mo climax is fun to watch, it’s overly stylized and too bloody to fit in with the rest of the movie.

“Next Day Air” lacks a true hero and a true focus, though the normally funny Faison, known to TV audiences from “Scrubs,” tries with a badly written role that disappears for a third of the film. The rest of the cast is annoyingly unfunny – Epps and Harris stand around their dirty apartment arguing for the whole film – while others such as Mos Def are tremendously underused (the funny, deadpan Def – by far the biggest name here - is in just about three scenes with a few minutes of screentime - yet he gets top billing). Throw in an extremely unfunny cameo from Debbie Allen (“Fame”) and you end up with a real mess. Also, the stereotypes in “Next Day Air” are woefully offensive, as if all Puerto Rican women (namely Deliz) speak in a nasally Rosie Perez-like tone.

“Next Day Air” does have a few funny lines and moments, mostly involving Def (“I like your outfit, your hair” he tells Deliz when first seeing her) or the bumbling Faison, who mugs for the camera much of the time. What it does do is answer the question of what’s happened to Darius McCrary, the older brother from the ‘90s TV series “Family Matters,” who pops up here in a small role (“What is his name? I’ve seen him before, whispered someone at a recent screening).

Much like, McCrary, you’ve seen all this before, and done much better. I wouldn’t bother with “Next Day Air,” and you should wait for it to arrive as a DVD $1 redbox rental, which shouldn’t be long.