Tag Archives: Paramount Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW: Eagle Eye Combines Hi-Tech and SF to Create Effective Thriller!

Eagle Eye marks the fourth time Shia LeBeouf has worked on a Steven Spielberg production, and the second time that he’s worked with both Spielberg and director D.J. Caruso – and the triple team may well be turning into one of modern cinema’s most potent.

Labeouf & Monaghan

Eagle Eye is a techno-thriller that comes across as a twisted tale that might make Tom Clancy duck for cover. It opens with a missile launch intended to take out a major terrorist – a launch that is undertaken with only a 51% chance of the target being correctly identified. From there we move into the life of Jerry Shaw [LaBeouf], who seems to be a typical, ambition-free slacker, watching him at work as a “copy associate” for Kinko’s-like copy shop; fleecing a few friends in a poker game, and attending the funeral of his identical twin brother.

The next part of the film is pretty much what we got in the trailer: Jerry finding a lot of money in his account and a lot of weapons components in his living room: the warning call and his being taken in by the FBI – introducing us to Special Agent Thomas Morgan [Billy Bob Thornton] – and his escape by incredible means and ultimately, his teaming up with Rachel Holliman [Monaghan], whose participation in what follows is coerced by threats to her son. From there, we do, eventually, learn the identity of the mysterious female voice that can call them even from pay phones, or a cell phone belonging to the napping guy across from Shaw on a train.

Part of the reason that Eagle Eye works is that a lot of it [but not all, as you’ll see when you learn the identity of the mystery woman] is technically feasible right now. The film hooks us with what’s possible then draws into the realms of the definitely not yet real. The transition is smooth and the shocking reveal of the source of the voice, and the over-the-top plot that follows, zip by quickly enough that we buy them in the context of the film. The way all the various parts of the film connect may be a bit of a stretch, but the sheer fun of the film supersedes that.

LaBeouf does a good job as slacker Jerry; Thornton keeps Agent Morgan from being just another federal grunt, and Rosario Dawson simmers as an Air force investigator looking into the death of Jerry’s brother – though Monaghan is barely adequate as Rachel.

Michael Chiklis gets the role of the Secretary of Defence Callister – a role that leads everyone to the key plot point of the film: the identity of the mysterious female voice that hounds Jerry and Rachel – and the voice’s grandiose plans.

The special effects are very good and the CGI have enough weight that we buy them even if they are used to create something that is way over the edge of the possible. There may be a nod to societal commentary in the way that various devices [security cameras, traffic cameras and cell phones among them] are used to shred the duo’s privacy, but it’s a surface thing that comes as the by-product of a thriller that aims more toward entertaining than saying stuff.

Final Grade: B

MOVIE REVIEW: Ghost Town: Gervais Displays Surprising Range!

Bertram Pincus [Ricky Gervais] is a solitary man, rude and generally misanthropic, he lives alone and has a job [he’s a dentist] where he can make sure his patients don’t to him. He even has his office literally a few yards from he works so he can avoid as many people as possible – until he goes in for a routine colonoscopy. After the procedure, he finds himself being assailed by the ghosts of people who had unfinished business when they died – the most insistent of whom, Frank Herlihy [Greg Kinnear], believes that his unfinished business is to prevent his widow, Gwen [Tea Leoni], from marrying a “scumbag lawyer.” Problems arise when Pincus manages to weasel his way into her life via the manner in which an important mummified Egyptian died, and he gets the opportunity to meet Gwen’s finance´.

ghost town poster

Ghost Town reminded of the superb Truly, Madly, Deeply, though it’s a good deal more superficial. David Koepp and John Kamps’ script works best when director Koepp allows the rhythms of the dialogue to dictate the pacing and when he leads Gervais into some genuinely poignant moments of revelation – regarding himself and how much he’s been missing while he wastes his life. There are moments where the film verges on maudlin, but Koepp manages to walk that line reasonably well throughout.

It’s not a surprise that Gervais made me laugh here. What is a surprise is the deftness with which he handles the poignant moments mentioned above. Both work because he has terrific chemistry with both Kinnear and Leoni. Kinnear plays Frank as a seeming good guy with a surface smarm but takes it to a level where it masks a smarmy guy who projects a superficial good guy over his smarm, but beneath an equally superficial level of smarm [please don’t ask me to say that again…]. Leoni, who has always had terrific comic chops, matched Gervais mood for mood – and she matches his banter equally well.

There’s a scene where Pincus goes off on politically incorrect riff on the Chinese that really isn’t funny, but because Gwen thinks he’s joking, and laughs, it becomes a far more disarming scene than it might have been. Gervais and Leoni work this potentially awkward scene in such a way that we believe because they’ve established their odd rapport from early on. In the end, it’s the chemistry between Gervais and Leoni – and the way they play off each other – that raises Ghost town above the average romantic dramedy – supernatural or otherwise.

Final Grade: B

MOVIE REVIEW: Tropic Thunder: Apocalypse When?

Tropic Thunder may well be the most [deliberately] politically incorrect film I’ve ever seen – and one of the funniest. The fake trailers alone are worth the price of admission! Ben Stiller’s film takes aim at every level of Hollyweird culture, from trailers to fraudulent writers to explosive studio executives – and is on target far more often than not.

When the writer of a book about the Vietnamese War [Nick Nolte] suggests that a first-time director [Steve Coogan] send his actors into the jungle – which has been seeded with cameras and various practical effects [explosions, gunfire and the like] – the cast members find themselves mixed up with a heroin cartel headed by a twelve-year warlord [Brandon Soo Hoo].

Tropic Thunder Cast

The actors are a truly motley assemblage of stereotypes: Tugg Speedman [Ben Stiller] the action star seeking legitimacy; Jeff Portnoy [Jack Black], star of the Fatties franchise and drug addict, also seeking legitimacy; Alpa Chino [Brandon T. Jackson], a rapper breaking into the acting game; Kevin Sandusky [Jay Baruchel], an actor in his first big movie, and Kirk Lazarus [Robert Downey Jr.], an Australian actor with multiple Oscars, who has his skin darkens to play a black character. None of them really has much of a clue, which leads to explosive ranting by studio head Les Grossman [a virtually unrecognizable Tom Cruise].

Stiller’s direction is pretty much on the money as his movie-within-a-movie allows him to show Hollywood at both its strangest and its worst. When we see the trailer for Simple Jack, for example, we aren’t seeing an attack on the mentally handicapped – unless we’re looking at Tugg Speedman for playing a mentally handicapped man solely to win an Oscar – or Kirk Lazarus for explaining, in a very funny bit, why simple Jack didn’t work. And speaking of trailers, the fake trailers that open the film are spot on satires of specific genre trailers, and are among the funniest moments in the film.

Other highlights include black rapper Alpa Chino keeping Lazarus honest as he plays a black character, even while he [Chino, that is] tries to flog his line of merchandise on camera; Coogan’s director, Damien Cockburn, taking charge; Speedman using what he’s learned from Lazarus to wow his captors in a live, less-than-no-budget performance; that the film becomes a big honkin’ war movie even as it satirizes the culture that creates an Apocalypse Now; Matthew McConaughey’s turn as Speedman’s TiVo-obsessed agent, and Danny McBride who steals every scene he’s in as the film’s special effects expert, Cody.

Tropic Thunder may be the best film Ben Stiller has ever made. It’s loud and crass, joyously politically incorrect, and well under two hours and gives us all the action of movies thirty minutes longer. In a summer that has had a number of good comedies, Tropic Thunder literally blasts its way to the next level.

Final Grade: A-

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 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

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-

Stop-Loss: Character Drama Makes Point About Military Legal Loophole!

Stop-Loss Review EclipseMagazine.com Movies

It’s been awhile since Kimberly Peirce directed a feature film [that would be her first, 1999’s Boys don’t Cry], but she’s back with another character driven drama that is important for more than just its characters – Stop-Loss.

Continue reading Stop-Loss: Character Drama Makes Point About Military Legal Loophole!

The Spiderwick Chronicles Enchants – And Scares… A Little!

The Spiderwick Chronicles Review EclipseMagazine.com Movies 

In this age of bowdlerized fairytales and Political Correctness, it would seem that most venues for storytelling are more concerned with not offending someone than actually telling a story. The writers of the five volumes of The Spiderwick Chronicles created their stories with a refreshingly dark edge – something that kids of all ages immediately gravitated toward. It is my great pleasure to tell you that the makers of the film adaptation have not watered the books down. Any changes [and there are a few] are solely to bring the books’ dark enchantment to the big screen.

Continue reading The Spiderwick Chronicles Enchants – And Scares… A Little!

Cloverfield Gives The Classic Monster Movie A Fresh Spin!

 Cloverfield Review EclipseMagazine.com Movies

It’s a good thing that Cloverfield is only eighty minutes long [not including closing credits] – otherwise I might not have been able to leave the theatre afterward! As it was, I felt like I had been through an actual wringer when the lights came up.

Continue reading Cloverfield Gives The Classic Monster Movie A Fresh Spin!

CBS/Paramount Comes Up With Unique Way to Promote CSI Reruns

CSI Cast

Los Angeles CA, January 16, 2008

As we all know, most shows are currently in reruns until the end of January when new episodes will be trotted out for February Sweeps Weeks. To put themselves ahead in the ratings game, CBS/Paramount has come up with a unique way to draw viewer interest to the reruns currently airing of CSI and has sent around a publicity image titled ‘Behind the Crime Scene: Ten things you didn’t know about this week’s episode of CSI’. This week’s rerun of CSI is a rebroadcast of the episode ‘Go to Hell’, which airs this Thursday, January 19th at 9pm EST on CBS. Above is the publicity image containing the ten things we didn’t know about ‘Go to Hell’. Continue reading CBS/Paramount Comes Up With Unique Way to Promote CSI Reruns