Category Archives: Movies

MOVIE REVIEW: Get Smart: From Analyst to Super-Spy by Sheldon Wiebe

Get Smart could have gone wrong in oh so many ways. Fortunately, rather than parrot the ‘60s hit spy spoof, writers Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember choose to give us the story of how super-analyst Maxwell Smart [Steve Carell] made the shift from computer jockey to field agent. Mixing clever gags with action is tricky, and while the ratio isn’t quite right, the film manages to maintain its entertainment quotient by keeping Max from being hopelessly incompetent. Instead, Max passes the field agent test with flying colors but is only sent into the field when the identities of all Control’s agents are compromised.

Only Smart and Agent 99 [Anne Hathaway, sexy in a Disney-cute way and deadly in a Modesty Blaise way] can find and destroy KAOS’s stockpile of nuclear weapons – cleverly hidden in a Moscow bakery [well, it would be cleverly hidden if the bakery wasn’t a huge building with an enormous sign bearing its name]. If they fail, it could be curtains for Los Angeles and the visiting President of the United States.

86 & 99

Staples of the series [Max’s love of little British sports cars; Agent 13, the master of disguise; certain trademark phrases] make appearances – including one that is so utterly perfect that I won’t mention the character or the actor. I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise for fans of the original series. Besides the homages to the original series, there are things about this movie that work because they are different.

Max is not incompetent – his bumbling usually occurs because his focus is too narrow and everything outside his focus gets past him – watch him deal with a hulking Russian assassin, for instance. He also cuts a mean rug in a party scene – where he gives an unlikely dance partner an incredible ego boost [which refers back to Max’s past].

Get Smart’s supporting cast is excellent, but underused. Since some of the action sequences run a bit long, it might have been a good idea to give more time Dwayne Johnson’s suave Agent 23 – or Terrance Stamp’s Siegfried. Another cool change is Alan Arkin’s Chief – instead of being put upon like the character originated by the late Edward Platt, here the Chief is very much a player.

Overall, then, Get Smart is a smart, if slightly overlong movie that reintroduces the characters from the TV series in a fresh way that does not negate the originals. For the most part, it is great fun – and the moments where it tries too hard can be forgiven. Peter Segal directs the film with good energy and if the action threatens to overwhelm the comedy occasionally, it never quite does. The result is an entertainment that should tickle fans of the series as well as those who’ve never heard of it.

Final Grade: B

MOVIE REVIEW: The Love Guru: Crickets… by Sheldon Wiebe

Imagine the sound of one hand clapping. Not in the Zen koan way, but in the actual one hand impacting on nothing but air way. This was the sound that accompanied eighty-five of The Love Guru’s ninety-one minutes at the screening I attended – and another four minutes were closing credits.

In a nutshell: Toronto Maple Leafs owner Jane Bullard [Jessica Alba] hires the number two self-help guru in the world, Guru Pitka [Mike Myers] to help her team’s superstar, Darren Roanoke [Romany Malco] get his mojo back after his girlfriend leaves him for the Jacque Grande [Justin Timberlake], goalie of the Leafs’ Stanley Cup opponents, the Los Angeles King.

Grande Parties With Pitka

Myers performance is smarmy and self-indulgent; Alba is her usual wooden self and virtually no is funny. In the course of the film, I laughed six times – two because of actual humor and four because if the sheer awfulness of the attempts at humor. That was four more times than the group of fifteen-year olds [allegedly the film’s targeted audience]. Otherwise, the theater was silent.

Writing, acting, cinematography, directing – all pretty much suck. The only things preventing The Love Guru from being the worst movie I’ve seen in the last few years would be Norbit and Delta Farce. The Love Guru makes The Cat in the Hat look like Shakespeare. You have been warned.

Final Grade: D-

MOVIE NEWS: The Amazing Stan Winston Dead

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It’s been a weird couple of Days first Tim Russert on Friday who was a giant in journalism died. I never met him, but did admire him. But one of the few movie heroes that I have – Stan Winston is dead.  I first read about it on Aint It Cool News who reported the death earlier today, but generally I take everything they say with a grain of salt. So I searched around and didn’t see any reports on it, I did ask one of the few Hollywood contacts that I have if it was true, and yes it is. Stan Winston was a giant in the film industry and a visionary master of practical SFX.  He’s won numerous Oscars and is best known for many of his creations including Terminators, Aliens, making us believe Dinosaurs were real in Jurassic Park, and most recently made us believe that a Billionaire could create a suit of Armour that flies.  Check out AICN’s really nice tribute here. You can read the Reuters piece here.  Last year I had the supreme pleasure of meeting and spending a little bit of time with the great man. You can read that interview here.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Incredible Hulk: This Time Hulk Smash! By Sheldon Wiebe

Ang Lee’s Hulk, the A Beautiful Mind take, left fans cold, so now we have Louis Leterrier’s “HULK SMASH!” version – and it does indeed rock the house. The script – solely credited to Zak Penn [suggesting that the parts star Edward Norton worked on were edited out] – gives us all kinds of neat stuff to watch: Bruce Banner [Norton] working on Brazilian martial arts techniques to maintain his calm; a graphic that pops up every so often to remind us that it’s been x days since his last Hulk-out; a kind of spiffy pair of references to Captain America [including a shield!]; a brief appearance by Dr. Leonard Sampson; a hint that the Hulk’s smartest arch-enemy might be waiting in the wings if a sequel is warranted, and lots more.

The question is, does the movie work? Well, yeah, it does. The only real problem with the film is that it has been edited to be almost the exact opposite of the Lee film – almost all action, with a small amount of character development. A lot of critics will probably tell you the film is humourless, too, but watch for what has to be Stan Lee’s best cameo ever and see what you think. There’s even just enough romance to remind people that Banner had a serious relationship before he become the Jekyll/Hyde being that he is.

Hulk Not Like Little Man

The plot here is pretty much the basic Hulk comics plot: Banner doesn’t want to become the Hulk but people won’t leave him – with predictable and dire results. The fun is in setting the film is real locales [the chase through the Brazilian favella might remind of Jason Bourne, but it’s nifty in its own way] and in using the Banner character to show two of the basic conflicts in fiction: Man vs. Himself; Man vs. The Environment, and Man vs. Man. Banner’s struggle against his primal self is there, just as in the comics, as is his struggle with the U.S. Army – personified by General Thunderbolt Ross [William Hurt] and Emil Blonsky [Tim Roth]. A case could be made that the climactic battle between Hulk and the Abomination could also represent Man vs. The Environment [or misuse of same], but we’ll forego that one.

Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk loses the comic affectations of Lee’s film – there are no shots composed to resemble comic book panels – but retains the emotional core [however little screen time it might get] and powers forth the action. By the time Hulk and the Abomination clash, they are characters and not merely CG constructs. Leterrier’s direction is as swift as merciless as Emil Blonsky, and a whole ‘nother level beyond what he achieved in his Transporter films.

Perhaps, if there were more character moments [not many, but the inclusion of the Banner-Samson chat from the first trailer would’ve been nice] the film would resonate better, but this time, it’s all about the fun – and The Incredible Hulk is definitely that!

Final Grade: B+

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