The original GI Joe movie, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra was so awful – even the trailers were abysmal – that it made my Bottom Feeders list for 2009. GI Joe: Retaliation, however, has gone from terrific trailer to terrific trailer. The addition of Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis to the cast seems to have energized a potential franchise that really needed something more. Check out the spiffy new trailer, above, and cross your fingers – this might just be fun!
The movies in the Fast & The Furious series have never been ‘films’ – they are popcorn flicks in the truest sense. If you want unbridled action with a minimum of dialogue and a lot of hot cars, gorgeous girls and ripped guys, then this is the series for you.
Faster opens with a glowering Driver [Dwayne Johnson] being cuffed and escorted to the warden’s office. From Driver’s perspective, the warden’s words slowly fade away into nothingness. Once out of prison, he begins to run, pausing to pick up a car [a pimped out Chevelle SS] and stopping only as long as it takes to kill people. Which people? In this fast-paced, efficient vengeance flick, that information is doled out by a judicious use of flashbacks, photos and, occasionally [very little] dialogue.
What happened to Dwayne Johnson career? At one point he was on his way to becoming the next big action star, but somewhere along the way Disney got hold of him and he’s been playing the same character and making the same movie for the last four years. I like The Rock and kind of liked Disney’s Race to Witch Mountain, a remake of the 70s classic film. I remember having a conversation with Shia LaBeouf a few years ago and we talked about Disney’s past and how he thinks they were turning a page and becoming more daring. Watching Hannah Montana, High School Musical and this I don’t see it. They have a formula and that’s it. I can pretty much write the same review for every Disney movie and just swap out the lead character’s names and come away feeling the same. These are safe, harmless movies, but they don’t do anything that pushes the envelope. I like these kind of movies because they are my “Pallet” cleanser. After watching some serious, heavy film, or engrossed in an intense round of gaming like Batman Arkham, or Call of Duty all day, it’s nice to watch these cotton candy fluffy little things.
On Blu-ray all of these Disney titles just pop on screen because they get the medium and pushes it. But they fell asleep at the switch for Escape to Witch Mountain the 2.40:1 transfer kind of “sucks.” The picture looks more like a slightly better than average DVD Upscale. Audio is 5.1 DTS-HD, in English, French and Spanish. Subtitles are French and Spanish. The menu navigation is very simple and straightforward – especially for a Disney film.
I have fond memories of the Witch Mountain movies of the seventies [though not so much for the TV version from 1995 – despite the presence of such cult icons as Vincent Schiavelli and Brad Dourif], so I approached this update/re-imagining with no little trepidation. Nostalgia can be a terrible thing.
Race to Witch Mountain is not as whimsically charming as those films, but it has a charm that comes purely from the performances of AnnaSophia Robb as Sarah; Carla Gugino as Dr. Alex Friedman, and Gary Marshall as eccentric conspiracy and UFO theorist [as if there’s any other kind in movies], Dr. Donald Harlan.
The kids appear in ex-cons Jack Bruno’s [Dwayne Johnson] cab seconds after he emphatically suggests to a couple of goons that he has gone straight, and give him a huge wad of cash to take them “that way.” The kids, Seth [Alexander Ludwig] and Sarah, are not from around here as they demonstrate when they pick up a convoy of tails. The two have come to Earth to obtain something that might rejuvenate their dead homeworld [injecting a glossing of relevance into the film that is pretty much forgotten forthwith].
The U.S. government wants them and it’s the team of Henry Burke [Ciaran Hinds], Matheson [Tom Everett Scott] and Pope [Christopher Marquette] that is closing in on them. To make matters worse, there’s a Siphon Warrior [Tom Woodruff Jr.] that wants to kill them [their planet’s military thinks it would be easier to just invade Earth and start fresh]. Friedman is a scientist who tries to bring science to a UFO convention [!] and Dr. Harlan is a fringe scientist who keeps track of government and UFO stuff from a foil-lined motor home.
Director Andy Fickman keeps things moving well enough that the holes in the scripts are virtually invisible – and peppers the film with quotes from/homages to any number of science fiction classics [two of which, Marvin the Martian and 2001 are even included in the trailer] to give the proceedings another layer. There are plenty of good moments for Johnson, too, but he really shines when he interacts with Robb and Gugino. I still haven’t figured out why he isn’t the biggest action star in history – he’s got tons of charisma and is an infinitely better actor than Arnold.
Even in a medium budget SF film, the effects have to be solid to let the audience buy into the proceedings and they are very good here. The suit and prosthetics for the Siphon Warrior are also cool – and the climactic fight between it and Bruno is a good one. The kids from the original movies, Ike Eisenmann [credited as Iake, here] and Kim Richards, have delightful cameos as a small-town sheriff and a waitress in the town diner.
In short, then, Race to Witch Mountain is an action-packed ride that will likely have kids spellbound and adults consistently amused. It may not be an interstellar epic, but it is definitely galaxies of fun.
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.
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.