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Superman Returns (2006)
Superman: Back In All His Glory
It's been twenty years since Superman was last seen in the movies. Now, the Man of Steel is back in "Superman Returns," directed by Bryan Singer. In this story, Superman had gone off for five years in search of traces of Krypton, his home planet. In his absence, Lois Lane has become a mother, while archenemy Lex Luthor is planning his next criminal empire. The latest chapter in the Superman saga makes an impressive splash! Brandon Routh is well cast as Superman, proving himself a worthy successor to the late Christopher Reeve. Kevin Spacey makes a fine Lex Luthor as well. The filmmakers give us many facets of the Superman legacy, referencing the character's first appearance in the comics, and even reviving John William's memorable score from 1978's "Superman." All these factors have made the wait worth it for fans.
United 93 (2006)
United 93: A Tale of Terror and Hope
"United 93" is the first movie about the events of September 11th, 2001. Some critics have speculated that, after nearly five years, it was too soon to make such a movie. But the surviving family members of those who had perished had nothing but support for director Paul Greengrass. And ultimately, the movie proves to be respectful and well-crafted. One good thing about "United 93" is the flow of the story. It starts steadily, as we see the terrorists calmly preparing for their mission, the crew and passengers boarding the airplane. Then the tension builds as reports of the other hijacked planes surface, and chaos reigns in air traffic control centers. Finally, the story reaches its climax as the passengers rise up against the terrorists. Admirably, there are no exaggerated performances or characters. The terrorists are not stereotypical villains, and the passengers are not over-the-top heroes. The immortal words of Todd Beamer, "Let's roll," are not presented as a catchphrase, but underplayed. The cast consists of unknown actors, and also includes air traffic personnel who were actually on duty that day, including Ben Sliney, supervisor at the National Air Traffic Control Center at Hearndon, Virginia. "United 93" presents a shocking moment in American history, a tale that simply had to be told.
Cars: One For the Winner's Circle
The latest Disney/Pixar epic, "Cars" is yet another brilliant work. The story takes place in a world populated completely by living motorized vehicles. The main character is Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), a rookie race car with dreams of winning the Piston Cup. When he is on his way to the big race in California, he gets sidetracked in a little town called Radiator Springs, along Route 66. The story is filled with colorful characters, from Mater, a rusty good ol' boy tow truck voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, to Doc Hudson, the town judge/mechanic, and former Piston Cup champion, voiced by Paul Newman. Pixar once again makes clever casting choices, including several personalities from the world of stock car racing: Darrell Waltrip, Mario Andretti and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Racing legend Richard Petty voices "The King," Strip Weathers. Even Paul Newman is a racing enthusiast! The imagery is as breathtaking as always, from the shapes in the desert around Radiator Springs, to the dizzying, exciting action shots at the race sequences. Score another victory for Disney and Pixar!
Crocodile Dundee (1986)
The Great Aussie Classic
"'Crocodile' Dundee" has to be the best-known movie to come out of Australia, and the one that made Paul Hogan's career. He plays the title role of Mick Dundee, a clever hunter from the outback with a larger-than-life reputation. It's Dundee's legend that attracts the attention of American reporter Sue Charlton (played by Linda Kozlowski). She accompanies him into the wild, and later, brings him back to New York City. "Crocodile" Dundee proves to be a fish out of water in America, and yet, he manages to get by with his simple charisma and resourcefulness. It's a nice comedy, with laughs and romance. Any day is a "g'day" to watch it!
American Dreamz (2006)
American Dreamz: The Humor of Reality
In "American Dreamz," director Paul Weitz takes aim and satirizes many targets of the world we know. The main targets are the show "American Idol" and the George W. Bush Presidency. In the world of this movie, President Joe Staton (played by Dennis Quaid, channeling President Bush) is a simple-minded man manipulated by his Chief of Staff (Willem Dafoe, resembling Vice President Dick Cheney). For publicity, he agrees to be a guest judge on talent search reality show "American Dreamz." The host of this show is acid-tongued Martin Tweed (the Simon Cowell of this story, played by Hugh Grant). And the contestants include all-American girl Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore) and novelty act Omer (Sam Golzari). In reality, Omer is an incompetent Arab terrorist who'd rather sing show tunes. But he has a mission to blow up President Staton. And Sally has her own agenda: beneath her sweet image, she is catty and calculating. This movie looks at reality TV with a keen eye. Of course, it exposes reality TV as not being 100% real. "American Dreamz" will serve up satire with music and laughs.
The Cannonball Run (1981)
Fast, Furious and Funny!
One of the most madcap action comedies of all time is "The Cannonball Run." In it, star Burt Reynolds and director Hal Needham are reunited after their stunt-rich classic "Smokey and the Bandit." The rest of the cast boasts many names such as Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Jackie Chan, Terry Bradshaw, Adrienne Barbeau, Peter Fonda and Farrah Fawcett. The story follows everyone on a mad dash across the country in the infamous Cannonball Run, an insane (and illegal) race from the East Coast to the West. Lots of the humor is lowbrow, but it will still make you laugh. The quintessential character of this story has to be DeLuise's alter ego Captain Chaos, since the movie is pure chaos itself. "The Cannonball Run" is a nice mix of adrenaline and laughs!
Fat Albert (2004)
New Lessons From an Old-School Cartoon
"Fat Albert" can be called a kind of update on the classic cartoon created by Bill Cosby. Instead of a straightforward live-action adaptation of the animated show, the story brings the characters through the TV into the real world. When Fat Albert comes to solve Doris' troubles, he and his friends find a much different world than the one they knew in the 1970s. And complications arise when Albert falls for Doris' foster sister Lauri. It's an interesting concept having the characters change their personalities as they stay in the real world (Mushmouth can speak clearly, Weird Harold isn't so awkward, etc.). And older viewers will feel nostalgic seeing the classic characters. But a sharp eye can tell the animated versions of the characters in the movie are dramatically different from the cartoon as it actually was. (That was one problem critics had with the movie.) But the movie is still good for some laughs, and even has some touching moments. On the whole, it's a good family movie.
Scary Movie 4 (2006)
More Dark Crude Laughs
"Scary Movie 4" marks the fourth movie in the franchise, and the second in the franchise to be directed by David Zucker. You can tell the difference between Zucker's style and that of the Wayans Brothers, the creators of the "Scary Movie" franchise. Under the Wayans, the humor was more outrageous, focusing on sexual organs. Zucker's style isn't so sexual, but there are more dumb jokes. The crude sex humor is still there (watch what happens when Charlie Sheen tries to overdose on Viagra). The cast, led by Anna Faris as Cindy Campbell, once again spoofs the recent horror movies and thrillers, such as "Saw" and "War of the Worlds." This movie is good for some laughs, but it's not the best movie in the "Scary Movie" franchise.
Thank You for Smoking (2005)
"Thank You For Smoking" is the movie adaptation based on Christopher Buckley's clever satire on the tobacco industry. The main character, Nick Naylor (plyed by Aaron Eckhart), is a tobacco lobbyist and spin doctor extraordinaire. He knows people hate him for representing a product known to kill thousands. But he has the good looks and charm to win people over. The movie is just as clever as the book, and filled with memorable characters: Rob Lowe as Hollywood super-agent Jeff Megall; Robert Duvall as tobacco baron "The Captain"; and William H. Macy as Senator Finistirre, the politico on an anti-cigarette crusade. The story makes you laugh, but also opens your eyes to the tobacco industry, showing you how they work to attract new smokers. You might even find yourself sympathizing with characters you ordinarily wouldn't like. That just proves the power of spin doctoring!
Chicken Run (2000)
Chicken Run: Nick Park Hatches a Classic
British animator Nick Park made his name with the clay-animated antics of Wallace and Gromit. In his feature film debut, "Chicken Run," he shows off his winning style. The story, which is a take on "The Great Escape," follows the escape plans of the chickens at the Tweedy Farm in England. Their ringleader is Ginger, a hen voiced by Julia Sawalha. When Rocky (Mel Gibson), an American circus rooster, comes "flying" in, the plan becomes to fly off the Tweedy Farm. The clay animation is well done in this movie, and is even more impressive without assists by computer animation. There are several great characters, including the comic rats Nick and Fetcher, and Mrs. Tweedy (Natasha Richardson), who makes the most wicked cartoon villainess since Cruella DeVil. This movie is truly up to par with Wallace and Gromit's excellence.