Category Archives: Movies

MOVIE REVIEW: The Happening: Almost… by Sheldon Wiebe

Any great mystery, espionage or horror movie lives or dies on its writer and director combining to provide suspense – the ominous shadow here, the piercing music sting there – while creating characters we can relate to and placing them in situations that leave them more and more unable to cope, or adapt, until some revelation… some idea… gives them the wherewithal to overcome their plight.

For about two-thirds of The Happening, writer/producer/director M. Night Shyamalan does exactly that. Beginning with the first intimations of something wrong beginning to happen in New York city’s Central Park, Shyamalan provides an almost Hitchcockian build of suspense as people begin killing themselves in numbers that suggest, at first, a terrorist attack.

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The film follows a troubled couple, Elliot [Mark Wahlberg] and Alma [Zooey Deschanel] and the young daughter of a friend, Jess [Ashlynn Sanchez] – giving us a chance to see her with her father [John Leguizamo] before bad things separate them. As the behavioural problem mounts, and theories about the problem evolve, it seems certain that humanity is about to be removed from the face of the planet.

Even allowing for Shyamalan’s tendency to write dialogue that no one would ever really say, The Happening builds nicely. Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography and James Newton Howard’s score do work well to keep the audience on the edge of its seat. The problem arises when the third act has absolutely no surprises and the development of the attacks evolves precisely as it seemed it would – until…

Normally, that would be a good thing, but here, Shyamalan telegraphs the way the film plays in a rather clunky manner, so that the impact of some events are nearly nullified. Also, as a direct result of information imparted earlier, the film’s brief tag is also telegraphed, leaving us saying, “So?” On the other hand, The Happening is a huge improvement over Lady in the Water, so maybe Shyamalan’s career isn’t over just yet.

Final Grade: C-

MOVIE NEWS: Leonardo DiCaprio Plays Games and looks at Akira

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Leonardo DiCaprio loves the biopic. He’s been Howard Hughes, a 60’s scam artist, and a turn of the century Irish Gangster, who is left for him to play? How about the inventor of Pong and the modern day $10 billion dollar video game industry – Nolan Bushnell. A man who is not only known for is spectacular success, but his spectacular failures as well. He managed to create and run one of the first Video Game companies Atari – eventually running it into the ground and Chuck E. Cheese.  In addition to this film, DiCaprio announced intentions to bring Akira to the screen as well.

MOVIE REVIEW: Kung Fu Panda: Panda Power? By Sheldon Wiebe

Pandas are perceived as being laid back, relaxed and just enjoying munching on bamboo shoots. Kinda like your fat, old uncle Kenny – only bigger and with fur. Casting a panda as a kung fu master is one of those contradictory images that just automatically provoke smiles and chuckles – if not hysterical laughter. Which is why Kung Fu Panda had to be more than just another animated movie. In order for it to work, the film would have to find a way to make us believe – in with excellent CGI – that Po [voiced by Jack Black], a poor panda working for his father in a noodle house, could make that leap to… wait for it… Dragon Warrior!

Po & Master Shifu

In anticipation of the evil snow leopard Tai Lung [Ian McShane] breaking out of the most secure prison in the country, Master Shifu [Dustin Hoffman] has trained the Furious Five – Masters Crane [David Cross], Mantis [Seth Rogen], Monkey [Jackie Chan], Tigress [Angelina Jolie] and Viper [Lucy Liu] – in hopes that one of them would be chosen to fulfill the prophecy of the Dragon Warrior and obtain the Dragon Scroll that would take them to an almost exalted level of martial arts mastery. Through a fluke involving fireworks and a chair, Po finds himself chosen to become the Dragon Warrior by Master Oogway [Randall Duk Kim] – and fierce lessons must be learned by all of them so that, when Master Oogway’s time comes, the Dragon warrior will be ready to face Tai Lung.

Kung Fu Panda is a small miracle in both character and animation development. The script, by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger [from a story by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris] packs as much character into the film as action [and there’s a lot of action!]. Watching Po and his father, Mr. Ping [James Hong] deal with the changes in Po’s life are fraught with genuine emotion; the disbelief of Shifu and the Furious Five combine to make things even harder for the poor Po. The animation of the martial arts sequences add to the depth of the film with their intricacy and clarity.

Directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson have done a masterful job of matching voices to characters [Jolie and Liu especially, bring it – and Rogen, counter cast as the tiny Mantis gives his character a surprisingly supple quality] and staging both moments of frenzy and unexpected beauty [the passing of a key character]. Kung Fu Panda is a movie that might have been wholly summarized by its title, but instead is so much more. Thanks to the factors mentioned plus the unexpected range of Black as Po, this is a classic in waiting.

Final Grade: A

MOVIE REVIEW: Sex and the City: Sex Still Sells by Sheldon Wiebe

It’s an odd thing to realize that you’re one of three straight men in a theater auditorium. It’s another thing entirely to realize that, properly presented, women will laugh at a poop joke as heartily as any man – and laugh just as hard when the incident is referred to later in the movie. Sex and the City: The Movie brings the fab four, Carrie Bradshaw [Sarah Jessica Parker], Charlotte York [Kristin Davis], Miranda Hobbes [Cynthia Nixon] and Samantha Jones [Kim Cattrall] back is style [well a lot of styles – all more interesting [or horrific, depending on one’s point of view] than the last.

The Fab Four

As in the series, there are break-ups and make-ups; sexy clothes, sexy foods and sexy sex. None of these things come as a surprise. The surprise is that, as the film opens, Samantha has been in a genuinely monogamous relationship for five years – with an actor, Jerry “Smith” Jarrod [Jason Lewis], whose career she is also managing. There’s a perfectly reasonable proposal between Big [Chris North] and Carrie that’s mature and, again, reasonable – but not magical – which is probably the biggest reason they break up for [if you believe her friends] the sixteenth time. Relationship woes also plague Miranda and Steve [David Fienberg] – which leads to a fateful conversation between her and Big at the rehearsal dinner.

The Big/Carrie break-up leads to one of the brightest spots in the film. Following an unhoneymoon with the four, Carrie hires an assistant to help get her life back on track. She hires Louise, from St. Louis [Jennifer Hudson], who turns her onto rented fashions. Hudson’s natural brightness takes what could have been a stereotypical servant role and elevates into a real friendship.

While Sex and the City: The Movie hits all the best beats from the series – and thus is not the most surprising of movies – it does a great job of presenting the unique friendship that exists between the four lead characters and, hey! Poop jokes! Who knew?

The film was written and directed by one of the series’ most consistently good writers, Michael Patrick King, and you can tell. There’s no groundbreaking cinematography; no raising of the stakes beyond what we’ve seen before. Just a smart [and trust me, even the poop joke is smart], witty film that celebrates one of the most entertaining quartets of characters we’ve ever met. If you’re looking for angst or profundity, this is not that movie. What it is, is fun – enough fun that guys who are dragged to the theater to see it will probably enjoy it almost as much as their significant others. Works for me.

Final Grade: B

MOVIE NEWS: Beverly Hills Cop 4 is a go!

To this day, Beverly Hills Cop 1 remains one of my all time favorite Buddy/Cop comedies.  This is the movie that showcased Eddie Murphy in his prime and had everything. Then came the sequels, Beverly Hills Cop 2 would have been great if it was such a carbon copy of the first film and the 3rd film is just an abortion. I’m more than ready to see a Beverly Hills cop film that takes Axl back to his roots. Especially if they decide to totally ignore the 3rd film. Here’s the story from Reuters. 

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Continue reading MOVIE NEWS: Beverly Hills Cop 4 is a go!

MOVIE ESSAY: Raider of the Lost 80s – by Scott Essman

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When RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK was released in 1981, it did the unthinkable – the movie superseded the previous works that creator-producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg had each done individually in genre filmmaking. And that said a lot, with Lucas on the heels of the first two STAR WARS films, and Spielberg just a few years away from JAWS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. Add Harrison (Han Solo) Ford to the mix, and you had a producer-director-star team that couldn’t miss.

Of course, the whole was greater than the sum of the parts, and RAIDERS was perhaps the finest work that any of the three men had delivered to date. Every shot in RAIDERS was a mini-masterpiece, every line memorably delivered, every image indelible. It would be impossible to surpass, and though Spielberg released the ultimate genre pic E.T. the next year and Lucas and Ford provided the third STAR WARS film the following year (failing to top the instant classics of STAR WARS and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK), the group re-teamed with INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM for a monster summer 1984 release.
DOOM had more thrills and chills than RAIDERS, and like EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, was a significantly darker film than the original which spawned it. Rumors of an X rating abounded, and critics lashed out at the violence, though most audiences ate up a return trip with the character and the frantic pace of the film’s second half. DOOM was not as good a film as RAIDERS, but as sequels go, it provided much of the content that audiences beckoned in a genre sequel.

Continue reading MOVIE ESSAY: Raider of the Lost 80s – by Scott Essman

Movie Games: Incredible Hulk Making Of Video

I always said that if you want to get some insight into a popular upcoming film, look no further than the Video Game Tie-In.  I saw The Incredible Hulk Game at New York Comic-Con a few weeks ago and it looks amazingly beautiful – if empty. There are some awe inspiring moments like when you jump off a 30 story building and you see the entire city around you, without any popup or draw-in. Looks gorgeous. But at the same it looked strangely, "antiseptic," with no people or dirt or grime. The game play and design seems to be exactly the same as the last Hulk game, only prettier. But the last Hulk game was pretty darn good for a movie game, so why mess with a winning formula.  Take a look at this latest Making of trailer.

Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Ok, I’ll admit I’ve always been pretty ambivalent towards the Indiana Jones trilogy. I liked Raiders well enough, but loathed Temple of Doom – it’s completely un-watchable, while Last Crusade was meh. So when they announced that they were finally going to do Indy 4 I could not have cared less. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull returns the series to it’s Raiders glory. This is the film that should have followed the Raiders, it’s pretty much a direct sequel with many nods to the first film and in the final moments brings everything full circle. When this film works, it works really well, but there’s still that strange sense of deja-vu. It feels like you are watching the original again, only 20 years later with slightly different characters and plot.  Maybe it’s because I watched Raiders the night before the screening so it was still fresh in my mind. But everything felt familiar instead of Nazi’s you had Russians, instead of Belloq we had Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), instead of the Ark we had this goofy looking Crystal Skull which looked exactly like the head from one of the Alien films. I can see the crossover fan fiction already.  This familiarity isn’t a bad thing – especially considering how completely out of sync Temple of Doom feels like when I watch it. It put a smile on my face the first time Indy (Harrison Ford)  is re-introduced to the world in shadow with his hat and the first time you hear the classic John Williams theme again. It’s like I’m a kid again. I don’t care what anyone says John Williams is the greatest film composer of our times. You don’t have a soul if the Raiders theme doesn’t get your blood pumping. No many how many times it’s replayed it during the movie.  The opening 30 minutes of Raiders is simply, brilliant is too strong a word, exhilarating is better.  But then something happens that starts to derail things and it pains me to say it, because we love him here at EM and I’ve met him a couple of times, Shia LaBeouf  brings everything to a screeching halt.  Everything about his character is just horrible: from the stupid name – (Mutt Williams) to the greaser, bad boy attitude, to the playing with his pocket knife and his habit of combing his hair when he’s nervous.  None of it works, it just doesn’t ring true. Shia isn’t the bad boy, James Dean type. He’s the normal kid who gets into trouble because he’s a smart ass. 

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Awhile ago, when I was yelling at people that Atonement wasn’t a “complex” plot (just stupid) and that there’s no such thing as “complex” plots just poorly scripted films, I may have to eat my words. I find myself on the fence as to whether this movie is overly complex or stupid.  There’s a fine line between the two and I think David Koepp (screenplay), George Lucas (story) and Jeff Nathanson‘s script walks that fine line. This movie takes place right in the middle of the Cold War scare and in the opening there are several references to the witch hunt and how this isn’t “our America,” anymore. But then the next few scenes you have Russian agents speaking in heavy Russian accents in the middle of an Ice-Cream parlor and chasing Indy all over town. Not to mention they break into a top secret military base. The FBI would be completely incompetent if they didn’t investigate all the obvious Russian activity. The writers want to make a political statement, but this obviously isn’t the film for it. Even if it is set during that paranoid period in our history. They would have been better off just ignoring the subtext then trying to shoehorn one in. Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you. And politicians and government agencies are always out to capitalize on it, just look at our current situation.

All of the major action set pieces also feel like stuff that we’ve seen in the other three films only longer. There’s one chase sequence that’s fun for the first 5 minutes but 10 or 15 minutes in, I was like – I get the point, let’s move on already. This is a b to the w action film with little character development or progression. No one in this film has grown since Raiders.  Which actually is a good thing, it’s what we’re comfortable with as an audience and really, why mess with a formula that works.  But back to the plot, without giving anything away instead of chasing an ancient artifact, this time Indy gets caught up in a Russian Spy’s (Irina) quest for an object that promises untold knowledge and treasure. I won’t say more than that, but the film’s 3rd act feels like poorly constructed fan fiction. A great what if Indy discovered….It’s really nice special effects, but what happens in the end is almost exactly what happens at the end of Raiders. After the ride Steven Spielberg takes us on, I somehow expected something more, I don’t know, original. I can’t see Shia being able to carry an entire Indy film by himself, but it’s clear that’s where Spielberg and Lucas want to go.  Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn’t a perfect film, but it’s far more satisfying as a whole than the sum of it’s parts.

Final Grade B

EM Review by
Michelle Alexandria
Originally Posted 5.22.08

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – Indy Can Still Take Us on a Wild Ride!

Indiana Jones is back – and it’s a Very Good Thing!

Indy has faced many obstacles in his life, but never before has he been considered a potential threat to national security! And let me tell you, it really bugs his @$$!

The problem arises because of a [former] friend who helps a covert Soviet team steal something highly magnetic from Area 51. The consequences of that incident even lead to Indy being put on “on indefinite leave of absence” from his teaching job – the timing of which is conveniently perfect for him to meet a Brando/Dean/Fonzie wannabe named Mutt Williams [Shia LeBeouf], who says his mother told him that Indy could help them. Indy is further persuaded by the KGB goons who try to grab him and Mutt [which leads to the revelation of one of the most poorly kept secrets in the history of cinema…].

It seems that an old colleague of Indy, “Ox” Oxley [John Hurt] may have found the location of the legendary lost city of gold – and the Commies want something that should also be there – something that ties in with the object they nabbed in the film’s opening. “Mother” turns out to the former Marion Ravenwood [Karen Allen] is as feisty as ever [if she could have duped her guards into a drinking contest, she might well have escaped].

Now we come to the key to the whole film – the Crystal Skull of Akator. Spalko believes it’s one of thirteen and when united with its fellows will give the Soviets the ultimate weapon. She’s sure of this, because it speaks to her. Apparently she’s a bit on psychic side…

Crystal Skulls Cast

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the kind of adventure that many of us would kill to have, if only they didn’t happen in some wonderful parallel universe that looks like our own but has as much magic as science. There are chases [and we never even think to question how there could be two parallel roads next to each other in the Mayan jungle]; sword fights on jeep hoods [see parallel roads], and strange and wondrous artifacts, like the exquisitely beautiful, if oddly shaped crystal skull. There’s even a lost city [and a pretty cool explanation for why our modern satellites have never encountered it].

Every Indy film is very much of the time in which it takes place: Raiders and Last Crusade, set in the forties, dealt with Nazis, as well as supernatural artifacts; Temple of Doom [set in the late thirties] was a pulpy adventure that revolved around a Kali death cult. So it’s no surprise that Crystal Skull uses the trappings of the cold war as the basis for its story [and riffs on the best known film cold war allegories for its trippy conclusion].

Even when it’s dealing with exposition [as in most of the middle act], Indy 4 entertains by making the “Basil Exposition” character [John Hurt’s Oxley] interesting – and tossing in some action or surprise every time things look to be slowing too much. Many of the best allusions to the previous films happen here – watch for a great gag with a snake, in particular.

Though there are some significant CG effects used in the film, a lot of the best stunts are practical, and Ford can be seen, clearly, doing more than enough of Indy’s stunts to make us believe it’s still him when a stuntman takes over. Even little things [like the over-the-top meaty sounds of the fist fights] perfectly recapture the feel of the previous films.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is much better than I was expecting [and I was expecting a lot!]. Steven Spielberg does what he does best – marrying action and adventure to interesting characters. He keeps the film moving and provides some wonderful sights along the way.

If you want to put it in terms of the entire series, Crystal Skull fits in, quality-wise, at about the same place as Last Crusade. The two films even deal with daddy issues, so that’s a pretty natural conclusion.

Final Grade: A-

Movie Reviews – Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian – Michelle’s Review

If you have read my reviews for any length of time you will know that one of my many film bias is an extreme dislike of talking animals in my movies. Generally, they creep me out and take me right out of the experience. The one exception to that rule was The Chronicles of Narnia. I didn’t think that was a perfect film, but I liked it well enough to go and read all of the books. I always thought Prince Caspian was a pretty weak book. It was too short, the lead character Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) was a whiney little #$## who didn’t do much in it, but the book’s biggest sin was it didn’t really delve into what it must of been like for the Pevensie kids – High King Peter Pevensie (William Moseley), Edmund Pevensie The Just (Skandar Keynes), Lucy Pevensie – The Valiant (Georgie Henley) and Susan Pevensie (Anna Popplewell) adjusted to the idea that they were adult Kings and Queens trapped as powerless 13 – 16 year old children. The book missed an opportunity to explore this dichotomy. When we first see the Pevensie kids we see how they are adjusting – not well. Peter is getting into fights over the most minor slights and it’s up to Edmund to protect his back. And that’s the beautiful thing about this movie – it’s how the Pevensie family has become so close to each other and wise. In the first film they were typical one dimensional kids and the kid actors were clearly out of the element.

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Here, they are very self aware and self assured as both actors and characters. There are times when you watch this movie where you can really see the duality of their personalities. You get that yes while they may look like kids, they truly are the former great Kings and Queens that they once were. It’s in their eyes, the way they move, and how they act. These kids could never had pulled this complexity of emotion off in the first film, but here it’s as if they were born to play these parts. The change in Edmund and Susan are the most pronounced. Edmund is a bad ass, calculating warrior that will do anything to protect his family, especially his brother Peter. While Susan has grown to be quite the fighter herself, the camera loves her and director Andrew Adamson showcases her perfectly, especially during the sweeping battles. When Susan breaks out the bow and arrow it’s a thing of beauty and pleasure to watch. As far as the animals go, I had the biggest concern for the noble mouse Reepicheep, I didn’t care for his character in the book, but he’s great in the film.

In one of our many emails, I think Sheldon summed up why Caspian works so well the best – it’s because the filmmakers chose to “make Caspian, naïve, rather than whiney.” And that subtle change makes all the difference in the world. Caspian comes across as stronger in the movie, more pro-active, not someone who just let’s things happen to him. He’s also self-involved at the most inopportune times. I like the fact that the film really played up the rivalry between Peter and Caspian. In the book Caspian just let Peter do everything without complaining or standing up for himself. Here Caspian calls Peter on his sometime “arrogance.” The writers Andrew Adamson (screenplay), Christopher Markus (screenplay), and Stephen McFeely took the best of C.S. Lewis’ work and expanded it to make it better. It’s a shame that Peter and Susan won’t be in the next film, because they will be missed. Everything about Prince Caspian is just right in terms of cinematography, scope and vision; the tone is dark but hopeful, and epic but intimate. While watching the battle scenes, the only thought going through my mind was, I hope the final Harry Potter film is a 10th as good as this was – . Bring on Eustace and Dawn Treader!

Final Grade A

EM Review by
Michelle Alexandria
Originally posted 5.17.08