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, June 28, 2010

The Last Airbender - B

Rated PG for fantasy action violence, 103 minutes

Hokey, entertaining and with splashy special effects, “The Last Airbender” is a solid family film

Poor M. Night Shyamalan. He makes his first decent movie in nearly 10 years and it opens the same week as that teenage vampire film, which may certainly “eclipse” this at the box-office. OK, bad puns aside but "The Last Airbender," the new children’s action-fantasy film based on the popular Nickelodeon’s animated series, is entertaining, fun and peppered with sublime visual effects. The flaws are obvious: it’s a little hokey and some the acting is wooden, but it works great as a summer family film.

Air, Water, Earth, Fire. Four nations tied by destiny when the Fire Nation launches a brutal war against the others. A century has passed with no hope in sight to change the path of this destruction. Caught between combat and courage, young Aang (Texan Noah Ringer in his feature film debut) discovers he is actually the reincarnated Avatar with the power to manipulate all four elements. Aang teams with Katara (Nicola Peltz), a Waterbender, and her brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone, who also appears in "Twilight") to restore balance to their war-torn world, but not before the weary Prince Zuko ("Slumdog Millionaire’s" Dev Patel) can capture Aang and restore his prominence within the Fire Nation.

"The Last Airbender" is an enjoyable, far more earnest live-action version of the animated, comedic 2005-2008 Nickelodeon series. Fans will surely notice the slapstick tone of the series has been toned down in favor of big-budget action and special effects, but most of it works modestly well. The expensive production - estimates put the cost at the film anywhere from $150-$300 million – should still please fans though every bit of its huge budget shows on screen with its lush sets, photography and nifty special effects that highlight the film (and once again the 3D here is OK but unnecessary). Earth, air, water and fire are all well represented, though the more memorable effects come with the water-soaked climax that kids in particular will get a kick out of.

Shyamalan helms the action, special effects and overall production elements very impressively, and is a departure for the horror-themed director, and he could make you forget that his last two films, "The Happening" and "Lady in the Water," stunk, and his one before that, "The Village," was subpar. Thankfully, "The Last Airbender" marks the director’s return to quality projects and his best film since 2002’s "Signs."

Shyamalan’s decent direction is slightly hampered by his choppy, too-hokey screenplay (talking dragons, waterballs and flying creatures just to name a few) and the stiff performances of some his young cast. Ringer, in his motion picture debut, is a little awkward in his initial scenes but he becomes a nimble presence and his young hero is the heart of the film. The rest of the cast is a mixed bag; the underused Peltz an intriguing Katara while Patel is a game (but maybe miscast) Zuko; however, it’s truly unfortunate that "Airbender’s" worst performance comes from the wooden Rathbone, who’s actually more memorable in "Eclipse" than his emotionless turn here.

After a slow start, "Airbender" picks up considerably about halfway through and shows great stamina until its water-drenched ending, which obviously leaves it open for more "Airbender" installments (a trilogy is planned). The first-rate CG visual effects and some of the fight scenes are memorable, just don’t expect much bloodletting with its PG rating.

Imperfections aside, "Airbender" still manages to entertain. The snow and talking dragons may remind of "The Golden Compass" and "Aragon" movie failures, but unlike those films, "The Last Airbender" is enjoyable enough to come recommended and is something the whole family might enjoy.

Twilight: Eclipse - C+

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some sensuality, 124 minutes

"Eclipse" - Team Edward? Team Jacob? How about Team Bland

If the "Twilight" saga - both Stephenie Meyer's books and movies - are all about pleasing its fans - then the mildly enjoyabe third film in the series, "Eclipse," should do very well. Some might even classify it as the best "Twilight" film, which still isn't saying much. To sum it up quickly, it's more faithful to the novel, it has more action and slightly (make that VERY slightly) less cheesy teen angst than the previous two, but a couple of intense battle scenes (and those come near the end of the film) can't make up for the otherwise dull, tedious story and second-rate acting that has plagued these films from the start.

In this installment of the "Twilight" saga, Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) have been reunited, but their forbidden relationship is threatened to be torn apart again with an evil vampire chick named Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, replacing Rachelle Levefre) putting together an army of vampires to seek her revenge on the Cullen family. Bella is forced to choose between her true love for Edward or her growing friendship with Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), which is made more complex by the fact that the vampires and werewolves are temporarily working together to help bring down Victoria's powerful vampire army. Who will Bella choose and will anyone be left standing after the battle with Victoria's vampire army?

I will say that as a non-"Twilight" fan I was more entertained than in the previous installments, particularly with the energy and ardor of the battle sequences, which are the clear highlight of the film, but that would make it a better film in the same way the chase sequences made "Smokey and the Bandit" a great film. Burt Reynolds jokes aside, "Eclipse" is probably the more memorable of the three films, with a certain intensity (and a lot more blood-letting) missing from the first two, but there's still too much tedious pining of the teenage soul throughout the rest of it. Yes, it is a love story, but please, please make it more exciting to watch and give me characters I truly care about.

Kristen Stewart is indeed a decent actress who makes Bella her own, but it's near laughable to see Edward refusing to sleep with Bella only to have him propose on one knee. Sure, I'm all for sexual purity but in this one case it would've been perfectly acceptable since Edward is hardly human and Bella could be turned into a vampire, which is what she always wanted, right? Wrong. She must choose between the two most boring guys ever, which is a joke in and of itself: Pattinson, a vacuous actor if there ever was one, and the muscular Lautner, obvious eye candy but still the worst actor of his generation (it's just painful hearing him recite his lines).

British music video director David Slade helms this outing serviceably, in particular the action scenes, and one thing for sure is getting better with each "Twilight" installment: the special effects. The werewolves are leaner, meaner and more detailed and there's less of the cheapish running up trees by vampires and more jumping and breaking of necks, as much as a PG-13 rating will allow.

My "Twilight" friends and fans who have read the books tell me that things get darker and more interesting with each novel. I've yet to see an interesting story told in the film versions, which makes me eager to see if director Bill Condon ("Dreamgirls") can work his magic with the last two films and actually turn out a movie that's entertaining, engaging and far less dull than the movies have been so far. We'll see.

But what matters most is that true fans of "Twilight," (and most of them female) should be pleased with "Eclipse." Team Edward? Team Jacob? Team do I care? I'll let the fans decide.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Grown Ups - D -

Rated PG-13 for crude material including suggestive references, language and some male rear nudity, 102 minutes

Offensive, sloppy, immature "Grown Ups"

Imagine you got together a few friends you used to work with, played around in front of a camera, cracked some jokes and pretended to have gorgeous wives. That's essentially what Adam Sandler has done, except on a slightly larger scale, with his pitifully, excruciatingly unfunny and sloppy new lowbrow comedy "Grown Ups." You'd think that with his buddies Chris Rock, Kevin James, Rob Schneider and David Spade, all on the big screen together for the first time- you'd think - there would be some better (and smarter) material, but the movie falls flat and takes a crash landing in the first few frames.

Sandler and his pals, James, Rock, Schneider and Spade were all childhood pals in New England who somehow played on a championship basketball team. They reunite 30 years later when their coach dies and they spend the weekend together in the same lakehouse they celebrated their championship in, along with their wives, including Salma Hayek, Maya Rudolph, Joyce Van Patten and Maria Bello and children in tow. They realize how different they are but also realize the meaning of true friendship.

I went in to "Grown Ups" with low expectations anyway, but at least expected a few more laughs than normal, given the comedic talent involved. But I was sorely disappointed painfully sitting through the incessantly dumb, immature jokes so redundantly piled on, but then should I really be surprised? What is surprising is that Sandler actually gets credit for writing a script for this mess, and only he would write himself as a successful Hollywood agent with the gorgeous wife.

Dennis Dugan, who's worked with these guys before on such dreck as "The Benchwarmers," "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" and "You Don't Mess with the Zohan," makes no effort at creating real characters or stories and just lets the cast just mess around on camera. If you’ve seen any of those earlier films, you know what’s in store in "Grown Ups ," and it’s more cringe-worthy than laugh-worthy.

Sure, all of the guys at some point get in a brief zinger here and there, especially Rock and Spade, but this is really just a waste of celluloid with some brief episodes slung together and some unfunny, offensive jokes thrown in. The dog who's vocal cords are shut; making fun of overweight children; James dancing around with a KFC bucket on his head; or anytime that Schneider is onscreen making out with his older wife, Joyce Van Patten (she's Dugan's ex-wife but cinemaphiles will recognize her - in much younger form – from the original "The Bad News Bears"), which is as yucky as you’ve seen in the film’s trailers. It also trots out former "Saturday Night Live" vets Colin Quinn (along with Schneider among the most annoying comedians ever), Tim Meadows and Norm Macdonald, as if that would help any, and utterly wastes a decent actor like Steve Buscemi.

Given that most of the viewers of "Grown Ups" will likely be male, at least Sandler is smart enough to have the pretty Hayek, Bello and Rudolph as eye candy in between all the gross-out jokes, but the sexist material only treats them as objects and little else, given they come out at the end in the pointless climax, a basketball rematch with their old foes, dressed in skimpy cheerleader costumes.

While all of this is seemingly typical Sandler fluff, I give him a little credit. Year after year, he churns out critic-proof films the masses turn out to see and he somehow turns a profit on them, and "Grown Ups" will likely join that list of films. I could certainly make statements like: “'Grown Ups' is one of the worst comedies of the year” and “a disappointment for even Sandler fans” (both are true) but that doesn’t matter, his fans will still turn out. Go if you must but you’ve been warned.

Knight and Day - C+

Rated PG-13 for sequences of action violence throughout, and brief strong language, 110 minutes

"Knight and Day" an uneven blend of thriller and comedy

The mildly entertaining new spy thriller "Knight and Day" starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz is a very divisive film. People will love it or loathe it. It will be either a big hit or a huge flop. On the upside, there is a reckless, enjoyable charm to it and it's peppered with some decent action sequences, on the downside it's wildly uneven, implausible and largely pointless.

Diaz is June Havens, a midwestern girl who finds herself wrapped up in the life of a secret agent named Roy Miller (Cruise), with a deadly mission of guarding a top genius inventor (Paul Dano) who has created a perpetual energy battery that some high-powered and dangerous criminals the globe over is seeking. June is unsure who to believe - the beguiling Miller - or his colleagues at the CIA, including Agent Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard), who also has an interest in the battery, and their director (Viola Davis), who just wants all of this put to rest. June and Roy soon realize the only thing they can count on is each other.

"Knight and Day" is filled with a high-powered energy and a fast pace that starts minutes into the film. The only thing is, it's hard to buy into the story and particularly the romantic comedy angle, which seems forced and inconsequential to the story. Diaz's annoying, shrill character really is unnecessary; Cruise could've (and has) played this alone in the past ("Mission: Impossible" anyone?) and done just fine. All said and done, much of "Knight and Day" is a pointless excuse to get Diaz and Cruise together onscreen, which isn't a bad thing given the eye candy they provide, but a more engaging story would've helped; after all, the bad guys are after a...battery.

The action sequences, and there are many in "Knight and Day," are the real highlight, including the opening plane crash sequence, to many explosions to the finale, an exciting motorcyle-car chase-bull run through the streets of Spain. The script, on the other hand, is wildly jumpy, going from one episode to the next, as Diaz's character literally wakes up to another adventure.

This may be due to director James Mangold's ("Walk the Line") craggy direction, who handles the action serviceably but doesn't integrate the romance as smoothly. Cruise throws Diaz around, drugs her up and before you know it, they're in love. As for the supporting cast, recent Tony-winner and Oscar-nominee and wonderful actress Viola Davis ("Doubt") is considerably underused as the CIA director, while character actor Peter Sarsgaard ("An Education"), playing another slimeball, is fun but miscast.

"Knight and Day," with all it's shortcomings, has an carefree appeal and some energetic fun that manages to keep you centered in the action, even if you don't care much for the stars, who have the capability to both charm and annoy at the same time. With that in mind, you'll hate it or hate that you enjoyed it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ondine - B

Rated PG-13 for some violence, sensuality and brief strong language, 102 minutes

"Ondine" - a lovely fairy tale that treads familiar waters

"Ondine" is an Irish fairy tale about a fisherman who believes he has discovered a mermaid. It's a handsomely photographed, well-acted and tender story from Neil Jordan ("Interview with the Vampire") and starring bad boy Colin Ferrell in a change of pace for him. The script is a little uneven and slow, but there are a handful of nice, poignant moments.

"Ondine" tells the story of Syracuse (Colin Farrell), an Irish fisherman whose life is transformed when he catches a beautiful and mysterious woman (Polish actress Alicja Bachleda) in his nets. She says her name is Ondine, which means "she came from the sea." His ailing but irrepressible daughter Annie (Alison Barry) comes to believe that the woman is a selkie, a magical seal/woman creature who can transform themselves into a human, while Syracuse falls helplessly in love. All goes well until the real, dark world intercedes in the tale, and Syracuse, Annie and Ondine are forced to deal with secrets that could permanently all of their lives.

"Ondine" is a well-developed, emotionally satisfying story that's part love story and part fairy tale, all with dark shadings. It all has a familiar ring to it, but those that stay with the story will appreciate it's poignant payoff in the end. "Ondine" is especially memorable for the low-key but believeable turn from Ferrell, who gives his best performance in several years and this, along with the recent "Crazy Heart," proves he may be developing into a solid character actor.

The title role is well-played by a novice, Polish actress Bachelda, a risky move for director Jordan considering he could've gone with a more well-known actress in the role. The role is the film's trickiest and the more underdeveloped; Bachelda plays it well though a little emotionally vacant at times. The role probably could've been more skillfully played by a better actress, but we'll never know that. Newcomer Alison Barry is outstanding as Ferrell's daughter and nearly outshines him; she's the real heart and soul of the film and has some of the best scenes. Watch for director Jordan's favorite actor (he's collaborated with Jordan on several films) Stephen Rea in a small role as a priest.

"Ondine" may not please everyone, but then most fairy tales don't. Either you'll like it or you won't with little in between. I happened to enjoy it, particularly the restrained Ferrell performance.

Jonah Hex - C-

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and sexual content, 80 minutes

Unfocused, messy "Jonah Hex" doesn't deliver

Take a decent DC Comics character, scramble it with a couple of solid character actors, a pretty movie star and some big explosions and you come up with the murky, jumpy "Jonah Hex," a disappointing adaptation of the graphic novel character. Sure, it's moderately entertaining with a handful of energetic action set pieces, but in the end it's a rather pointless affair.

Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) is a scarred bounty hunter and ex-Confederate military in the post-Civil War who nearly died at the hands of an evil criminal named Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), who scarred Hex's face in a grotesque way. Turnbull supposedly died before Hex could enact his revenge, but he is back again, wreaking havoc and building a dasterdly weapon and an army that could destroy thousands. The U.S. military under President Grant's (Aidan Quinn) is devising its own way to stop Turnbull: by using Hex to stop him. Hex, who also has special powers to speak to the dead, is on a very personal mission of redemption, love with a beautiful woman named Talulah (Megan Fox) and exacting violent revenge on the man who physically and mentally scarred him for life.

Jonah Hex is a shoddy, mildly enjoyable misfire that has gone wrong in the hands of the wrong director. Brolin, under heavy makeup, tries his hardest for a believable performance and he would succeed had the unfocused script not gone in so many directions. Jimmy Hayward, director of "Horton Hears a Who" and an animator who ironically worked on the first two "Toy Story" films, is the wrong choice for the material, falters in navigating the material. The uneven plot, filled with lots of explosions and gun shooting, simply doesn't give a chance to fully develop the Hex character.

Malkovich chews up the screen and it's always nice seeing Michael Shannon, who's wasted in a brief supporting part as a circus ringleader. The beautiful Fox has little to do as Hex's love interest, and she's the weakest link in a movie full of them. The first big action set piece, in which Hex fires upon a group of criminals, is tremendously pointless, and goes down hill from there. The predictable showdown between Hex and Turnbull pulls absolutely no surprises, either, only setting up more films if this is a hit.

"Jonah Hex" could've been great. It has all the right elements, but fell apart under a forgettable, uneven story and misdirection. Comic book enthusiasts will likely be very disappointed, to say the least. Not worth your time unless you really enjoy this type of thing.

Toy Story 3 - B+

Rated G, 103 minutes

A colorful, funny playtime with Pixar's "Toy Story 3"

It's hard to believe that it's been 15 years since the first "Toy Story." That film helped put Pixar on the map with animation movies, and the rest has been history. Lots of things have changed since 1995, but one thing is for sure, Pixar can still make great animated films with a rich palette, warm storytelling and some fun moments. It's also great seeing Woody, Buzz and the gang back for another adventure and while the thin story treads familiar ground, there still some fun moments to be had with an poignant, unforgettable ending.

Andy Davis is now 18, fresh out of high school and soon to be off to college. His childhood toys Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) along with Jessie (Joan Cusack), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Rex (Wallace Shawn), the Potato Heads (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris) and the whole gang clamor for his attention, afraid he'll forget them forever when he goes off to school. Due to a mix-up, the toys end up in Sunnyside, a daycare that gets a lot of use out of used toys. All of them think it's a great place where they'll be wanted, led by a big, friendly purple bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty) but Woody constantly reminds them that they're Andy's toys. They soon realize the truth about Lotso and Sunnyside and decide to make their way back to see Andy before he heads off to college.

"Toy Story 3" is a florid, enjoyably fun animated vehicle that doesn't disappoint though it's not the best of the three films. Pixar, now making their films largely away from the Disney studio, have remodeled the characters for some fresh laughs but a thin, familiar story and too many characters seem to detract from the Woody-Buzz chemistry that made the first two films so memorable.

Back in the 1990's when the first two films were released, both Hanks and Allen were nothing short of superstars, something that's definitely not the case today. For that reason, the writers and producers of "Toy Story 3" have added a considerable amount of characters, including Barbie (Jodi Benson), Ken (Michael Keaton) and Lotso (Beatty) and while they all have some good moments, they fill "Toy Story 3" with too many predictable laughs and a distracting busyness.

The middle section sags but it picks up for an energetic climax and a very emotional ending that will have you reaching for the tissues. All the actors do solid work, and it's nice hearing both Hanks and Allen again. Rickles, Ratzenberger and Shawn are all a hoot as usual and steal most of the film's best laughs, such as when Mr. Potato Head uses a tortilla as a disguise.

Even with it's flaws, "Toy Story 3" is still far better and more clever than most animated films these days. It's entertaining, often hilarious (one bit with Buzz in Spanish is particularly funny) with great appeal to the masses. It comes with the usual Pixar short that precedes the main film, this time a clever, symbolic one called "Day and Night." Also, don't forget to stay over to watch the credits for more fun moments.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Karate Kid - B

Rated PG for bullying, martial arts action violence and some mild language, 140 minutes

Pleasant, entertaining but overlong "Karate Kid" remake

Those who grew up in the '80s will have a good weekend at the movies with the remake and movie version of "The Karate Kid" and "The A-Team." "The Karate Kid" is a pleasantly enjoyable if not overlong redo of the charming Ralph Macchio-Pat Morita 1984 hit film that spawned a couple of sequels. Starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith and produced by Jaden's parents, superstars Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, it really should be called "The Kung Fu Kid" or "The Martial Arts Kid" and is a little redundant at times, but it's still a decent summer popcorn flick.

Dre Parker (Smith) moves with his mom Sherry (Taraji P. Henson) to China when she's transferred there with her work. He soon encounters some bullies who rough Dre up, until he meets his apartment building's maintenance man Mr. Han (Chan), who teaches him about life, love and martial arts. With Mr. Han's help, he's able to stand up to his cruel Chinese bullies but learns from Mr. Han there's more to life than just fighting.

Simplistic, humorously predictable but entertaining, much like the original "Karate Kid," this is a movie for the masses. Chan and Smith are a good team though they lack the charisma of Macchio and Morita, who'll forever be remembered with the "wax on wax off" (this time it's "jacket on jacket off"); they still have tremendous appeal that carries it through the film's chief flaws. For one, it states and restates its wholehearted messages over and over again, and at 140 minutes, it's simply much too long for a family film. It's also slow to develop the story in the film's initial chapters, as it really doesn't get going until nearly an hour into it.

Still, there are some fun moments, primarily with the teacher-student montages and you clearly know this sets up the predictable ending, but it's fun getting there. Also, for a film called "The Karate Kid," it's a tad misleading given that there's no karate in the film, it's all about martial-arts and kung-fu, but then times have changed too.

"The Karate Kid" remake is mostly memorable for the likable Chan-Smith pairing, who'll make this a hit if it resonates with a new generation.

The A-Team - C+

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence throughout, language and smoking, 117 minutes

Energetic but overdone "A-Team"

It's nice having not one, but two 1980's remakes in one weekend. "The A-Team" remakes the cheesy, iconic '80s TV show that made Mr. T famous, while "The Karate Kid" remakes a hit 1980's action movie. "The A-Team" the movie rides on the easy charm of the TV show while also standing on its own two legs. The story's a little wobbily, but it's filled with enough humor and action set pieces that it may be easier to forgive the fact that underneath all the explosions there isn't much to go on.

The story follows the adventures of four U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers-turned-mercenaries, including: Col. Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), their charming leader; B.A. Baracus (wrestler Quinton "Rampage" Jackson); handsome ladies man Lt. Peck (Bradley Cooper) and of course the wildly crazy Murdock ("District 9's" Sharlto Copley). The team is arrested and jailed for robbing the Bank of Hanoi, but they were set up by renowned criminal Pike (Brian Bloom) and are branded war criminals. After managing to escape from military prison, they set out to find Pike to set things straight and become heroes again.

"The A-Team" is a fun-filled, action-packed adventure that's really one extended action set piece. Those who don't care much for explosions won't care much for the overlong film, either and the cheeky self-aware humor grows tiresome after while, but it should please fans of the serious, who've had to wait nearly 25 years for this to get to the big screen. The film, directed by "Smokin Aces" Joe Carnahan, is harmless and bloodless enough to please the masses, along with a handsome cast, particularly Cooper, who spends a lot of time shirtless, and Jessica Biel, added to include some female power in the mix.

Neeson grounds the film well (but we still miss George Peppard), Copley steals scenes as the imbalanced Murdock, though Jackson has big shoes to fill trying to impersonate Mr. T. He does OK on his own though it's unnecessary to add "fool" in Mr. T form after each sentence. Mr. T could pull that off but Jackson, a professional mixed martial-arts wrestler with limited acting abilities, is less than memorable. Watch closely for a couple of brief cameos from Dwight Schultz and Dirk Benedict, who appeared in the original series.

"The A-Team" movie, much like the TV show, comes together predictably in the end, a little messy, a little scattered and far too long for something like this. "The A-Team" is a forgettable but likable action-movie that'll do well for a bit, and then be gone quickly.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) - D+

Not rated, 90 minutes

"Human Centipede's" shock value wears thin

I had the opportunity to see the horror film "The Human Centipede (First Sequence)" recently during it's extended run in Dallas. I had heard much about the shocking nature of the film and it's true that some parts of it are genuinely disturbing and very difficult to watch. However, once the shock value wears off, it only reveals that there wasn't much to the film to begin with.

During a stopover in Germany in the middle of a carefree road trip through Europe, two American girls (Ashlynn Yennie and Ashley Williams, in their film debut) find themselves alone at night when their car breaks down in the woods. Searching for help they find only an isolated villa, whose mysterious owner, Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), takes them in for the night. The next day they awake to find themselves in the basement, trapped in a terrifying makeshift hospital with another one of the doctor's abductees (Akihiro Kitamura). Dr Heiter explains to his three "patients" they are not about to be separated, but joined together in a horrific operation. He plans to be the first to connect people, one to the next, via their gastric system, and in doing so bring to life his sick lifetime fantasy: "the human centipede."

"The Human Centipede," directed by Dutch director Tom Six and filmed in the Netherlands, is a film that's all about the shock value and little else. The unsettling premise may remind of what horror film directors like David Cronenberg or Eli Roth would do, but it also may make some ill (especially in one scene involving defecation). It especially grows tiresome as the film goes on, with very little to do with the human centipede after it has been created except walk it around and beat on it. As the demented German doctor, Laser is the best actor in the film, though the two actresses are considerably whiny and annoying.

It's also no mistake that the horrific doctor is German; he's obviously making a statement regarding Nazi atrocities and it becomes a little heavy-handed in the film's last section, which becomes more of a crime mystery than a horror film. "The Human Centipede" has gained a cult following in the festival circuit, and it could continue as it gains more word-of-mouth; with this in mind Six is also supposedly working on a sequel to the film.

"The Human Centipede" carries some disturbing images but just know it isn't an altogether pleasant movie-going experience. Some horror film enthusiasts may want to take a gander to see what it's all about, but it's a disappointment considering the hype for the film.

Killers - D

Rated PG-13 for violent action, sexual material and language, 100 minutes

No secret here: Awful "Killers" is DOA

Lionsgate, the studio behind the new action comedy "Killers" starring Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher, is trying a new "marketing strategy" by not screening the film in advance for critics. This has worked well for Lionsgate with the "Saw" and Tyler Perry films, but those films have a niche audience who disregard what critics say. Don't believe the studio's strategy, "Killers" is a lousy, woefully unfunny movie and one of the worst romantic comedies to be released in 2010.

While on vacation with her parents (Tom Selleck and Catherine O' Hara), Jennifer Kornfeldt (Heigl), a beautiful young blonde who's just been dumped, meets Spencer Aimes (Kutcher), a good looking single man. The two begin to fall in love, but she doesn't know Spencer actually works for the CIA and in between the times they spend together chases and kills criminals. Spencer quits his job and they continue their relationship back home and rush into a quick marriage. They are happy together, but after three years people show up trying to kill Spencer, because of a huge reward that has been promised and Jennifer must help Spencer kill his enemies.

Now it's easy to see why Lionsgate didn't screen "Killers" in advance: it's a terrible, sloppy and laughfree movie with the most contrived plot seen in some time. Robert Luketic, who directed Heigl in last year's equally awful "The Ugly Truth," does nothing to generate any chemistry between Heigl, at her most annoyingly self-aware and shrill, and Kutcher, at his most bland. This tries to be "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," but news flash: Heigl and Kutcher aren't Jolie and Pitt.

It's been a long time since I've sit through a comedy and you could hear a pin drop in the theater with the lack of any laughter, chuckles or even murmurs. You'd think with someone like O'Hara chewing up the scenery it'd generate a few smiles, but she along with Selleck are wasted as the drunk mom and gruff dad. The fact that I didn't buy a single minute of this makes it all the more painful to sit through.

The only good thing "Killers" will do is make Heigl second guess leaving a good gig like TV's "Grey's Anatomy." (Note to Heigl: BIG mistake.) She and the handsome Kutcher, with zilcho chemistry, come across as flat and vastly overrated. A big disappointment and likely the first big flop of the summer.

Survival of the Dead - C-

Rated R for strong zombie violence/gore, language and brief sexuality, 86 minutes

Romero's "Survival of the Dead" redundant

George A. Romero single-handedly invented the zombie horror genre with "Night of the Living Dead" in 1968. He's been through several reiventions of the genre over the last 40 years, and he's still riding the current wave of zombie popularity with the remake of "Dawn of the Dead" a few years ago. Romero's latest entry, "Survival of the Dead," will no doubt please his loyal fanbase, but it's his weakest film. Badly acted, it also seems redundant and even a little boring by now, though it's always fun seeing those zombies get blown to bits.

"Survival" takes place in a desperate, nightmarish world where the dead walk the earth, relentlessly attacking the living. It is the story of Plum Island - a beautiful refuge whose isolation allows two powerful families to maintain a semblance of order in the wake of the zombie apocalypse. But as the inhabitants slowly die off, the two clans become sharply divided: The O'Flynns believe that the undead must be destroyed without exception, while the Muldoons insist that afflicted loved ones be kept "alive" until a cure is found. Into this situation wander a small group of National Guard soldiers who, after robbing the protagonists in "Diary of the Dead," have decided to strike out on their own in an effort to survive.

"Survival of the Dead" isn't Romero's best effort, a half-hearted, sloppy and unscary effort at high-camp and zombie soap opera that borders on the ridiculous, even for something like this. Romero and his zombies are the real star instead of the no-name actors that are mostly wasted in the film. "Survival's" super low-budget only reveals that most of it was spent on the makeup and gun props. But the zombies seem to be better actors than the real humans. The climax is fun when zombies come out en masse, but you have to suffer through an otherwise banal story to get there.

Sure, Romero's zombie movies shouldn't be taken that seriously, particularly for their production elements and acting, but it shouldn't rob the audience of having fun, which "Survival" does from start to finish. For real zombie action, watch some of Romero's better, earlier efforts, including "Night of the Living Dead" and the 1970's version of "Dawn of the Dead." For Romero fans only.

Solitary Man - B+

Rated R for language and some sexual content, 90 minutes

"Solitary Man" an absorbing character-driven drama

If you ever wonder why nice guys often finish last, see the new Michael Douglas film "Solitary Man." His character is one of the most unsympathetic and thoroughly unlikable characters seen on screen in sometime, but Douglas, in one of his best performances in years, infuses the character with an indelible charm that'll have you both hating and loving the guy.

Douglas is Ben Kalmen, a self-absorbed, once-successful and wealthy New York City car magnate who's life has hit the skids due to his shady business dealings and his romantic indiscretions. He's dishonest, unfaithful and hard up for cash. He left his faithful, loving wife Nancy (Susan Sarandon), who's now a successful real estate agent, and he's rarely around for his daughter (Jenna Fischer) and his grandson who looks up to him. Ben can't seem to stay faithful to the same woman, as he sleeps with the 18-year old daughter (Imogen Poots) of his girlfriend (Mary-Louise Parker). His high-profile crimes prevent him from finding a job, so he spends some time with an old college pal (Danny DeVito) after exhausting his possibilities in the city to try to get his life together.

"Solitary Man" is a downbeat but engrossing drama, superbly crafted and showcasing an excellent performance from Douglas. Douglas has been doing mainstream films for so long that people forget that he won an Oscar in 1987 for playing Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street," one of the most hated characters in movie history (and he returns in a sequel this fall). Douglas' Ben Kalmen isn't as bad as Gekko, but not by much, though Kalmen's biggest crime is his character flaws he won't admit to. Everyone seems to see it but him and continues to make bad decision after bad decision.

The film, written and directed by Brian Koppelman, is an interesting look at a flawed, very selfish character who's old enough to know better. This film provides a meaty role for Douglas, but he's well-supported by Sarandon, DeVito (if you remember, his buddy from "Romancing the Stone"), Parker and particularly Fischer, as the responsible daughter fed up with her Dad's bad decisions and refusal to get help. A couple of subplots and characters are unnecessary and advance the film very little, including the college kid (Jesse Eisenberg) he befriends; his romance with his girlfriend's daughter also comes across as too creepy.

"Solitary Man" is a great character piece filled with many memorable moments (Douglas working in a deli is a treat to watch) and is definitely worth a look. Though it's still very far off, it could also net Douglas his first Oscar nomination in years, something that'd be very well-deserved.

Marmaduke - C

Rated PG for some rude humor and language, 87 minutes

"Marmaduke": Easy, dull laughs for the whole family

I grew up on the "Marmaduke" comic strip and always enjoyed the adventures of the giant Dane and his family the Winslows, who didn't quite know what to do with him. I'm not so sure that Great Danes are so greatly entertaining, though, which may explain the reason for another talking animal movie. Banal but energetic, "Marmaduke" moves in such a breezy manner, you may forget the movie is as bad as Marmaduke's breath.

The film is filled with voices you may know (Owen Wilson, Kiefer Sutherland, George Lopez), ones you may have difficulty recognizing (is that really Fergie as a collie?) and jokes you've seen a thousand times before. "Marmaduke" the film bears little resemblance to the far funnier comic strip, and it follows the Winslows (decent actors Lee Pace and Judy Greer, totally wasted here) as they trek from their native Kansas to California. In tow are their kids and animals, including Marmaduke (voiced with lazy appeal by Wilson) and their cat Carlos (Lopez). Everyone has difficulty fitting in, including the kids and the animals, who must deal with some "pedigreed" animals (Sutherland, Fergie) who look down the mutts.

A few fun moments and a predictable, heartwarming premise highlight "Marmaduke," an otherwise forgettable experience that only the younger ones will really enjoy. Marmaduke has a party, gets into trouble with the family and the other dogs trying to fit in and gets trapped in the film's climax. I can bet you $10 that you can guess what happens, and you didn't have to suffer, I mean, sit through this film.

The film does essentially the same thing as the similarly themed and equally dreadful "Garfield": add a well-known voice of a charming comic actor (Bill Murray was Garfield, Wilson, with lazy appeal, does the honors here). Based on the appeal of Wilson alone, the film will likely be a modest hit with families looking for family entertainment. But even family entertainment should be good, after all, even young ones can smell poo. On that note, go if you must, but it won't be pleasant.

Splice - B

Rated R for disturbing elements including strong sexuality, nudity, sci-fi violence and language, 104 minutes

"Splice" is scary, unpredictable and unsettling fun

"Splice" may surprise you in more ways than one. The horror film wants to raise some tricky moral and ethical questions about science and DNA, but really it's a decent, scary film with a handful of nice jumps and some excellent special effects.

The Canadian production from "Cube" director Vincenzo Natali and starring fellow Canadian Sarah Polley and Oscar-winner Adrien Brody, it's about a pair of scientists Elsa and Clive (Polley and Brody) who are experimenting with splicing human and animal DNA. By accident they create an unusual creature they call "Dren" who appears to be a human female but also has animal characteristics such as wings and the ability to hunt down and eat their prey, in case humans. As Dren grows at a fantastic rate, they realize the danger of their experiment and that they shouldn't have played Mother Nature.

A fantastic, intelligent horror film that's well-acted, well-written and well-paced. It's a little heavy-handed at times and the second act in particular is heavily flawed, but as a scary, jumpy horror film it works very nicely. The special effects are first-rate, scary and add more to the film than you might think. The first half is by far the better part and conjurs up memories of that nasty creature from "Alien," except this one has the ability to communicate.

The finale, like much of the film, is meant to shock and in many ways it does. It blurrs the line between reality and science-fiction, but still entertains along the way. Polley and Brody make for a good team and director and writer Natali has crafted a horror film that's just as disturbing as say, "Rosemary's Baby." Entertaining, unsettling, "Splice" succeeds most in its disquieting tone. Definitely recommended for horror enthusiasts.

Get Him to the Greek - B+

Rated R for strong sexual content and drug use throughout, and pervasive language, 109 minutes

Hilariously raunchy, "Get Him to the Greek" rocks on

The new comedy "Get Him to the Greek" is what the recent, dreadful "MacGruber" should've been: profanely, laugh-out funny with a coherent story that holds it together. Starring Jonah Hill and Russell Brand, it's actually a spin-off featuring Brand's character, Aldous Snow, from the film "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" (Hill was also in that film, as a different character). This Judd Apatow-produced film is efficient, well-written, featuring a good bit of laugh-out moments and is nearly stolen by a well-known rapper.

Hill is Aaron Green, an L.A. record-company assistant living his girlfriend Daphne ("Mad Men's" Elisabeth Moss). His boss is the profane, greedy Sergio (Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs), who is looking for the next big money-making project. Green is a huge fan of veteran rocker Aldous Snow (Brand), who's experiencing a career downturn after the failure of his last song, "African Child" and the breakup of his relationship with pop singer Suzy Q. (Rose Byrne), with whom he has a child. Aaron's idea is to feature an anniversary concert of Snow at the famous Greek Theater in L.A., which is brilliant until Sergio puts the naive Aaron in charge of getting the wildly unpredictable Snow from London to L.A. in time for the concert. Easier said than done and it will be a miracle if Snow makes it in one piece.

"Get Him to the Greek" is the sleeper comedy of the summer, featuring some of the wildest, funniest moments since "The Hangover" last summer. Don't go expecting a clean, high-brow comedy, either, as it has some of the bawdiest bits of comic hilarity seen in some time. Hill is the perfect straight man to Brand's self-absorbed, dirty rocker, who gets his straight-laced assistant into all kinds of awful trouble, from a "Today" show mishap, to stuffing drugs down his pants, to a very wild, rather furry time in Las Vegas.

It helps that "Greek" is terrifically written and directed by the "Sarah Marshall" team of Jason Segel (better known for the TV show "How I Met Your Mother") and Nicholas Stoller, who handled the film with fun energy and pop. Watch for some delicious cameos from a slew of rock/pop stars, including Katy Perry, Christina Aguilera to Pink, as well as a one with Sarah Marshall herself (Kristen Bell).

But the biggest and most memorable surprise from "Get Him to the Greek" is the side-splitting performance from rapper Combs, who nearly steals the show in a performance that should win him some accolades, as foul-mouthed record executive Sergio, who delivers some of the movie's best lines ("You can't outrun me, I'm black!" he shouts to Aaron). It comes as totally unexpected in the vein of Tom Cruise in "Tropic Thunder."

The film is predictable and too busy at times, with awkwardly handled moments (especially a misplaced attempt at a threesome, which really doesn't belong here), and as good as Moss is as Aaron's girlfriend, that whole subplot is really unnecessary. Still, "Get Him to the Greek" delivers some of the best comedic pieces this year and far outpaces "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which was amusing but not great, and the best moments in that film belonged to Brand.

"Get Him to the Greek" is (so far) the most entertaining, winning comedy of the summer, and definitely comes recommended.