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stefanbe

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2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Monsters vs. Aliens is a good enough for a rental or a cheap matinée screening, but paying extra for the 3-D glasses isn't a good investment for such an adequate product., 1 April 2009
6/10

Animation is a wonderful medium that allows us to create worlds and creatures that would not be possible in the realm of live-action film-making. However, like in live-action, the most important aspect in animation is the story. No matter how fantastic your visuals will be or how funny and multi-generational your jokes are, if your script is not up to snuff, your film is going to be simply average. Featuring an all-star cast of talented film and television actors, Monsters vs. Aliens is similar to an amusement park ride. You have fun while on it, it all passes by very quickly and then you forget about it some moments later as you go on the next ride.

When a planet explodes and a meteorite enters the Earth's atmosphere, Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon) comes in contact with it and soon she grows into a giant. Naturally, she is caught by the government and detained in a top-secret building with other monsters: a scientist who experienced a botched experiment to give people the live-span of cockroaches (Hugh Laurie), a gelatinous blob with no brain (Seth Rogen), a playboy fish-ape hybrid (Will Arnett) and finally, the chemically-altered Insectosaurus. When an alien leader Galaxaar (Rainn Wilson) attacks the planet, the President (Stephen Colbert) calls upon this group of monsters to help save the day.

Monsters vs. Aliens just feels like a fun excuse to show off some impressive visuals, but without a concrete story, it's hard to care for the main characters or their quest to save the world. Susan is quite under-developed and I didn't feel much emotion for her character in the same way I did for, say, Stitch (from another animated science-fiction comedy Lilo & Stitch) or last year's Wall-E. The best aspect of the film is B.O.B. Seth Rogen does a great job in the role and even when he's not saying anything or when the scene is not centered on him, the character's facial expressions are hilarious to watch. Stephen Colbert also does some funny work as the President of the United States (the role he was pretty much born to play). The rest of the actors do good jobs, but nothing quite impressive. Had a professional voice actor like Jim Cummings and Tress McNeille taken on those roles, they would have knocked them out of the park.

In any case, the film has enough good humour and well out-together action sequences that the audience will not be bored by it and Monsters vs. Aliens feels half as long as the advertised running time. However, some added character development would have helped the film from being just another run-of-the-mill DreamWorks animated comedy. While certainly better than the likes of Shark Tale or Madagascar, it doesn't reach the heights of their other comedies, most notably Shrek and Bee Movie. Monsters vs. Aliens is a good enough for a rental or a cheap matinée screening, but paying extra for the 3-D glasses isn't a good investment for such an adequate product.

87 out of 128 people found the following review useful:
A fun romp through New York's night-time music scene., 6 September 2008
8/10

For years, teenagers have connected with one another through music and the discovery of new and different bands. Even though technology has allowed music to be more widespread and portable, there is still the thrill of late-night adventures seeking live performances from favourite bands. In Peter Sollett's Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, he brings this out on screen in a fun manner that shows you do not necessarily need crude humour or death-defying encounters to make a night out with friends an interesting and worth telling story. Throughout the film, the audience becomes more enriched by the characters and their ideas. Nick and Norah could have easily become a smug "teenagers rule over all" tale like this year's Charlie Bartlett, but is instead is a sweet romance between two individuals that most people can easily relate to.

Nick (Michael Cera) is the guitarist for a queercore band with his two friends Dev and Thom (Rafi Gavron and Aaron Yoo). He is currently grieving over the separation between his former girlfriend Tris (Alexis Dziena), but decides to join his friends for a performance out in New York City. In an act of desperation, he encounters Norah (Kat Dennings), who asks Nick to be his boyfriend for five minutes. After her drunken friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) runs off into the city, Nick and Norah along with his friends scour the city in search of her. Meanwhile, Tris is decides to go after Nick to find out if it truly is over between them.

One of the key successes of this film lies with the ensemble cast of talented young actors. Adults are barely featured in this film, as the teenage characters are given the overall spotlight here and Peter Sollett has hired some very good actors to play these parts. Michael Cera is still playing the awkward individual he has been doing since Arrested Development, but he still grows into the part well, as his character is not quite as nervous as previous roles. He proves to be likable and relatable in the part and his chemistry with the other actors comes off very well. Kat Dennings surpasses him, though, giving Norah a sarcastic wit and coming off as very easy to relate to. The way Nick and Norah progress throughout the film is handled very well by Cera and Dennings. Ari Graynor deserves some acclaim for her wacky, but still nuanced performance as Caroline. She is given the bulk of "stunts" in this film, particularly when sharing the screen with a piece of gum that ends up becoming a separate character by itself. Aaron Yoo, Rafi Gavron and Jonathan B Wright allow their best friend roles to become more than just simple stereotypes as they prove just as likable as the leads. Jay Baruchel also does a fine job in a small role that is definitely very far from the meek actor he played in last summer's Tropic Thunder.

Credit should also go to first-time screenwriter Lorene Scafaria, adapting the original source material by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. She writes a funny and intelligent script with well-developed characters who evolve effectively and realistically as the film goes on. She also does not go the Adventures in Babysitting route by showing New York after hours as a grungy underworld, instead opting for a more light-weight approach to the material. She understands the independent musical scene of the Big Apple and she portrays it effectively throughout the course of the film. Director Peter Sollett and Cinematographer Tom Richmond also do well in lighting the city and allowing it to breathe. Even though the large majority of Nick and Norah takes place at night, there is still plenty of light that shines through, particularly in showing the vast culture. Legendary locations like the New Jersey Turnpike, Times Square and Pennsylvania Station also make appearances to give the film an even more New York feel.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist simply wants to be a fun, breezy ride through New York's music scene and the audience is happy to go along with it. The characters are easy to relate to, the writing is intelligent and the direction is solid. Though there have been plenty of "one night in the city" films, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist manages to stay fresh and original and unique through its running time. Overall, this is definitely one to watch at the evening showing with the buddies.

2 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
A funny, smart action comedy from Ben Stiller., 15 August 2008
8/10

Ben Stiller is a funny actor who manages to create likable characters, even when playing mousy, irritable types. This reviewer's reaction to Stiller's directing efforts, however, have been less than positive. The Cable Guy was an un-even film that, despite a couple of interesting moments, started to get much too ridiculous and creepy in the third act. Meanwhile, I found his 2001 "comedy" Zoolander, a riff on the male model industry, to be a complete disaster failing to release a signal laugh from me. With Tropic Thunder, he finally succeeds in making a film that is smart and gives talented actors some worthy material. While Tropic Thunder is nothing more than a fun summer diversion, there is still plenty to like about it, despite its occasional flaws. Unlike Zoolander, it does not take itself too seriously or nor does it spend more time on its visual style rather than its humour. Stiller intelligently relies on more than just a one-joke premise and actually manages to make the audience care for a bunch of whiny actors. As long as he doesn't butcher this rare success with a poor sequel, Stiller the director remains on my good graces.

Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) is a popular action star whose attempt at dramatic acting becomes such a massive failure, he decides to star in Vietnam war epic Tropic Thunder to get back on top again. Award-winning Australian method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr) is also hired to star in the film, but as a black character, leading him to have plastic surgery to make himself be the character even when the cameras aren't rolling. They are joined by Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), a flatulence obsessed comedian with a strong heroin addiction, rapper-turned-actor Alpa Chino (Brandon T Jackson) and aspiring young actor Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel). After a disastrous day on set that infuriates the film's maverick producer Les Grossman (Tom Cruise), director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) decides to shoot the whole film guerilla style in the real Vietnamese jungle. Not surprisingly, however, chaos ensures as the actors are mistaken for real soldiers and they finally have to put their wits to the test.

Due to his high-standing status in Hollywood, Ben Stiller has managed to procure some major actors for the film and except for one occasion, he does not rely on stunt casting as each actor does well in each part. Stiller himself is fine in the lead role, playing his usual self while still managing to poke fun at the typical action star. Jack Black manages to be his funniest here, not necessarily when parodying the obvious Eddie Murphy influence in Portnoy, but more in his random rants as a result of the lack of heroin. Brandon T Jackson and Jay Baruchel round out the troop by playing more the straight men in the house of wackos and intelligently not going too over-the-top. The stand-out in the cast is Robert Downey Jr, who parodies both the problems of extreme method acting and ethnic stereotyping that one might see in a film. Downey Jr does so well in the part of Lazarus, that once the character reverts back to his normal self, it comes as such as a shock due to how well he portrayed the African American soldier in the previous ninety minutes. Other actors would have completely gone wild with the character, yet Downey Jr is subtle enough that we start to forget that he was Tony Stark earlier this summer or Charlie Chaplin back in the early 1990's. Like his character, he truly disappears into the role.

Steve Coogan is a delight as the director trying to keep himself under his control and the funniest moment in Tropic Thunder involves him in a dark, but wonderfully comical way. Matthew McConaughey is also enjoyable to watch as Speedman's incredibly loyal agent. After a slump in poorly written roles, his work here becomes his funniest role since the aging hipster in Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused. If there is a disappointment in the cast, it's Tom Cruise as Grossman. Tom Cruise is a very talented actor, but Stiller gives him material that is designed more to be funny simply because it's Tom Cruise as a balding, fat wanna-be hip-hop dancer. What could have been an interesting take on the typical studio executive mogul is wasted away on stunt casting and lousy writing. The watch-ability of his scenes are elevated thankfully because of the presence of McConaughey and Bill Hader. While watching those scenes, I wanted the film to just get back to the jungle-deserted actors. The more action-oriented scenes also lack much humour, but the performances from the actors are enough to make up for it, particularly in one moment when Lazarus has a truly worthy revelation.

Yet, despite the lack of humour in the aforementioned scenes, there are enough funny scenes to make for it. The fake trailers that start before the film has even started are all well-handled and truly hilarious parodies of the previews of major action sequels and serious dramatic fare vying for awards gold. The way in which Iron Man and Spider-Man are put together is a pure comedic delight. Yet, the fake previews also work well in establishing who the characters are. Celebrity scandals, perfectly placed product placements, the questionability of the "true story" label and actors playing handicapped roles are also skewered with intelligent vigor and done in funny ways. Overall, Tropic Thunder is nothing more than a funny action comedy aimed at making people laugh and it certainly succeeds in that regard.

Swing Vote (2008)
7 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
A well-cast and funny film that starts to take itself too seriously by the end., 10 August 2008
6/10

In every election year, the biggest topic of discussion comes over who is the most responsible to hold the position the President of the United States. Should the Commander-in-Chief be the aging war veteran or the new fellow pleading for change? Swing Vote does not try to answer this question and it certainly will not change who the public will vote for in the upcoming election. That is part of what makes the film almost work as it tries to not tag on a political statement and in a rarity for a Hollywood film about a presidential election, both candidates are portrayed equally. In Swing Vote, it is not about the political party, but rather the man who wants to run the country. In its heart, the film is simply a comedy about a beer-drinking New Mexican chap who is given the chance to actually make his vote count and not just be one in a million ballots. The film only start to falter when it forgets this and begins to take itself much too seriously.

Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner) lives alone with his clever daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll) in a small New Mexican town and trying to make ends meet, despite his major drinking problem and tendency to go fishing rather than work. When he falls asleep drunk in his car on election day, his daughter goes to the booth and votes for him. However, after a computer error, the vote is not counted and Bud is given ten days to re-vote: the catch being that his one vote which choose the American President for the next four years. Suddenly, the media starts to invade his small town and the two competing Presidents (played by Kelsey Grammar and Dennis Hopper) along with their campaign managers (Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane, respectively) arrive to get Bud to vote their party. This causes much confusion as Bud becomes media-obsessed, the two candidates start changing their stances on issues to please Bud and Molly must get her father to make the right choice and not blow this one-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Swing Vote is a flawed film, but the film definitely succeeds in getting some good performances out of its cast of talented actors. Kevin Costner is his usual charming self, while also going for a more gruff and slightly head-in-the-clouds approach than previously shown in work like Bull Durham. While another actor might have made Bud too un-sympathetic, Costner succeeds in making us care for the character. Madeline Carroll is the starlet of the film, allowing Molly to be more charming than annoying as often plagues young actresses who play smart-aleck characters. She also manages to deliver the one truly emotional scene in which she stands up for her father. Nathan Lane is also a stand-out providing his usual perfect comedic timing and one particular dramatic moment that proves even moreso than he is one of the most talented actors of stage and screen. As for the rest of the cast, Kelsey Grammar and Dennis Hopper both appear to be having fun in their roles, while Stanley Tucci and Judge Reinhold are both criminally underused.

Along with the actors, one of the best aspect of the film comes in how it does not lean politically all the way to the right or to the left, providing a more neutral approach while still managing to satirise both sides. In the end, it is the campaign managers who are squandered the most rather than the candidates, who are portrayed in a fair manner. The Republican and Democratic labels are also not hammered into the ground, as the film shows that Bud is voting for the person rather than the political party. The way the film takes a look at the media's spin doctor approach as well as presidential candidates "flip-flopping" to win votes is done in a funny way as well. When Swing Vote stays firmly in the comedy arena, it proves to be a genuine winner. However, there is a shift in the second act where it starts to take itself too seriously and begins to forget that it is a comedic Frank Capra-esquire fantasy and it certainly lacks the subtlety of Capra's finest. In addition, subplots are added that do not add much to the story and questions are left un-answered. Where are the vice-presidential candidates and why are they never mentioned? Why spend so much money on television advertisements for only one person? Ultimately, Swing Vote is a fantasy and while it starts to drag in the final act, it still manages to at least provide a great cast with some topical material.

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A great feature-length film version of a classic animated series., 2 August 2008
8/10

It is in the opinion of this reviewer that the best time to be a child was in the 1990's, a period when cartoons were not heavily censored and talented and creative minds were responsible for some of the best family entertainment to hit the air-waves. The best producers of Saturday morning animation were at Warner Brothers Television, who experienced a major Golden Age with the dream-team of Steven Spielberg, Tom Ruegger and Paul Dini. Along with serious and dark series like Batman, they also revived zany, outlandish cartoons made famous by the Looney Tunes. Animaniacs was the biggest hitter with its dark adult humour and homages to the celluloid of yesteryear and today, but Tiny Toon Adventures was equally popular by re-inventing the Looney Tunes for a new generation, while still keeping that crazy cartoon violence and intelligent comedy that can hold onto any age group, no matter how old. Even when the Tiny Toons were stretched to a feature-length with How I Spent My Vacation, it did not feel like a longer episode of the television series, a curse that so often plagues other feature-length adaptations of popular animated shows.

The Tiny Toon Gang are young off-springs of the classic cartoon characters who made audiences laugh back in the 1940's and 1950's and are currently learning cartoon comedy to "earn their Toon Degree." Summer Vacation has started and each character has their own idea of what to do. Buster Bunny (Charles Adler) and Babs Bunny (Tress MacNeille) start a water gun fight which ultimately leads to Acme Acres getting flooded and them both sailing down the Mississippi. Plucky Duck (Joe Alaskey) joins Hamton Pig (Don Messick) on a cross-country car trip to the Happiest Theme Park in the World, but Hamton's family proves to be more difficult than he imagined. Meanwhile, in other stories scattered throughout, Elmyra Duff (Cree Summer) tries to find a cat to hug and squeeze, Fifi Le Fume (Kath Soucie) attempts to go out on a date with her favourite skunk star and Shirley the Loon (Gail Matthius) goes to the cinema with a loud-mouth Fowlmouth (Rob Paulen).

While the premise sounds thin for a feature-length film, the many directors and screenwriters make all the stories work well together. The best of these is Plucky's unfortunate road trip, which utilises a golden comedic opportunity very well: feeling pity for somebody, while also laughing at their predicament. Plucky's annoyed reaction to all the bad things that happen to him are a perfect blend of script and animation, all in the confines of a small car stuffed with pork. Elmyra's story definitely ranks second just to see how a little, almost innocent girl can cause fear into so many jungle animals. The aforementioned cartoon violence definitely comes to the fore-front with Buster and Babs' story, which makes us smile not only due to the hilarity of the outcomes, but also nostalgically, since Ruegger and company would probably not be allowed to show half of what they do in that segment. Practically half of that segment plays as a parody and homage to Deliverance, including a clever twist on the dueling banjos scene, featuring the unforgettable Tiny Toon Adventures theme song.

Part of the universal appeal of the Tiny Toons is that the humour proves to be very intelligent as it targets subjects with a ferocity that proves that it does not at all deserve the title of "children's fare" that people seem to slap it with. An entire segment featuring Fowlmouth's poor etiquette at the cinema pokes fun at yappers in a note-perfect way, along with an additional jab at Lucasfilm's THX logo. That scene is done so perfectly that it should be featured before every cinema showing. There are also a couple of moments that poke fun at Disney World, cinematic plot holes and even Warner's legal department. The fact that today's cartoons are bland and un-creative makes those intelligent moments even more treasuring as there probably will not be another animated series that will come close.

After watching How I Spent My Vacation for the first time in many years, I can say with all certainty that they do not make cartoons quite like they used to. With the ongoing censorship that today's family entertainment receive, one wonders whether anything like this will ever be made again. This review is not only a recommendation of a truly smart film, but also a plea for Spielberg, Ruegger and Dini to team up again and bring forth a magical creation to our minds once again. Lord knows that the children of the twenty-first century is in need for something with the intelligence of Tiny Toon Adventures. This is not a simple cash-grab, it is a wonderful film with full of spirit, madcap mayhem and hilarity.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The embarrassment of the Batman legacy., 31 July 2008
3/10

Never have the complexities of a slowly developing icon vanished as quickly as in Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin. The Caped Crusader created by Bob Kane and whose popularity was resurrected by Tim Burton and later by Christopher Nolan, has had one major and notable setback and this film is that. Batman & Robin is nothing more than an advertisement for toys, even so far as to having one character actually explaining what her action figure will have in the box. This gigantic mess of a production is also responsible in an accomplishment that makes one question whether the word "Batman" should even be in the title: it's boring. If a piece of popcorn entertainment actually manages to make your eyes drowsy, despite the massive amount of colourful imagery on screen, then it is not doing its job. As an action film, Batman & Robin is a massive failure and as a comic book film, it's even worse, insulting the intelligence of the audience in the process.

Already off the bat, Mr Freeze (Arnold Schwarzeneggar) is introduced as the main villain in this piece with his plan to steal enough diamonds so as to save his beloved wife, who is suffering from a fatal disease. Down in South America, scientist Pamela Isley (Uma Thurman) discovers that her boss has been using her plant-related research to create massive machine men for ruthless world leaders. In response to Isley threatening to report him to the authorities, he kills her with chemicals. However, instead she turns into the evil Poison Ivy, a plant-obsessed woman bent on a plan of world domination that's not made one-hundred percent. Not that the audience cares at this point, anyway. Meanwhile, it is up to Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O'Donnell) to save Gotham from being both frozen over and turn into a garden of poisonous flowers. Trusted butler Alfred (Michael Dough) is also dying and his niece (Alicia Silverstone) comes to visit and sure enough becomes Batgirl.

As evidenced by the plot summary above, one of the main problems with Batman & Robin storywise is that screenwriter Akiva Goldsman is not able to balance all of those major characters enough to probably develop them. The poorly written script is particularly helped by the horribly cheesy lines that litter the production, especially with Mr Freeze whom every line seems to be a bad pun related to coldness. Goldsman also attempts to have us sympathyse with Freeze in how much he cares for his wife. Unfortunately, what could have been touching actually feels like a weak attempt at making the audience care for such an irritating character. If anybody in Batman & Robin is more annoying than Freeze, than it's the titular sidekick. All of his dialogue mostly consists of moaning about how Bruce Wayne is hogging the spotlight and stopping Robin from trying to get hold of the villains. The fact that the usually sensible Alfred takes Robin's sense makes this script even more illogical, considering Wayne's reasons for pulling Robin back are perfectly understandable.

Of course, the script isn't helped much by Schumacher's poorly done direction. The fact that the opening shots of the film feature close-ups on Batman and Robin's rear-end and glued-on nipples is not a good sign of things to come. He gives so much attention to the over-stylised sets and poorly rendered special effects, that the actors are left to wollow and stand around in the background, while the stuntmen do the more "difficult" work. George Clooney's usual Cary Grant-like charm is lost here and the few times in the film that Wayne thinks about his parent's death, he just looks like he is thinking about what to eat for breakfast. Chris O'Donnell was passable in Batman Forever, but in this film, he is just flat and he does nothing to make us care about his character. Schwarzneggar is also un-helped by his material and everything that made him a frightening Terminator seems to have disappeared in his portrayal of Freeze. Watching his performance here, it is not surprising as to why he decided to enter politics. Michael Gough, who was rather solid in the previous films is given an elevated part here, but his performance is so hammy that we unfortunately watch as Bruce Wayne's best friend wilters away, which should not be the effect.

The only actor in the whole film who actually comes out well is Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy. Unlike Clooney or Schwarzneggar, she understands the cartoonish feel out of the whole production and is appropriately hammy. Despite the embarrassing script she's given, she manages to make Poison Ivy a compelling and interesting villain. Every time Thurman appears on screen, the film gets considerably less painful to watch as she proves to be very entertaining. In fact, if Ivy was made the main villain and Freeze was taken out, the final result would have been much more watchable, though as proved by what was released, the film would still have been a lost cause. Nonetheless, Thurman gives an incredibly well done performance that is quite possibly the only memorable aspect of Batman & Robin. Unfortunately, despite Thurman's best efforts, even she is not enough to recommend this completely poorly done two-hour cheese-fest drivel and the bane of both Joel Schumacher's career and the entire Batman legacy.

WALL·E (2008)
3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Quite possibly one of the most beautiful love stories and most visually animated film ever., 29 July 2008
10/10

The average person's appreciation for animated features have grown immensely in the past seventy years since the release of Walt Disney's groundbreaking Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. However, they still retain the unfortunate tendency of being referred to as a "children's film." Even the most mature works from directors like Brad Bird and Hayao Miyasaki have falling into this degrading trapping. Hopefully, Andrew Stanton's follow-up to the magical Finding Nemo will dispel any idea that animation is simply made for a young audience. Wall-E is a masterpiece of epic proportion combining the talents of Andrew Stanton, the skill of Pixar's animation team and a story that feels like a collaboration between master filmmakers Charles Chaplin, Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick. What Stanton has created with Wall-E is not simply a motion picture, it's an experience and a story that will live as long as Homer's The Odyssey, William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet and J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. Wall-E will transcend generations and become beloved for its love story, its cautionary tale of the future and incredibly charming and relatable characters.

At the start of Wall-E, The Planet Earth has been abandoned for seven hundred years as the humans await for it to be cleaned up and livable again. However, one robot is left to clean up the rubble and left-behind rubbish, a unit called Wall-E. For some many years, he has been doing the same task over and over again, accompanied only by a little cockroach. In those seven-hundred years, he has developed a personality and a curiosity for collecting various old objects. The one thing he longs for, though, is another robot to hold hands with. One day, a giant space craft lands and out of it comes a shiny new robot named Eve. Wall-E is immediately smitten with Eve and as she starts to get know him, Eve starts to grow fond of the little trash compactor. After Eve takes off again into space, Wall-E follows his dream girl-bot into space and truth about the human race is revealed.

That is what happens in the first thirty minutes of the film, which is completely devoid of any human dialogue whatsoever. Wall-E and Eve communicate only in speaks and whistles, created by renowned sound designer Ben Burtt, most notably known for doing the beeps on R2-D2 from Star Wars. However, while George Lucas's creation may simply be a tin can on wheels, Stanton and Burtt have created two likable personalities with Wall-E and Eve, whose love story is the main reason for the film's success. I can say, without a doubt, that Wall-E is quite possibly the most touching and beautiful love story ever told. We feel for these characters and care for them, so whenever they're in mortal danger, we're always worried whether they will survive. I will even admit I was almost teary-eyed while watching this film. That is how powerful Wall-E is as a motion picture. The film is also very funny and touching at the same time, giving off a very Chaplin-esquire quality. The whole film definitely gives off a very City Lights vibe and I would not be surprised if Stanton was heavily influenced by that masterpiece. The most beautiful scene of the film in which Wall-E and Eve "dance" in space together is one that will be hard to top in any lifetime by any film released after now. The score by Thomas Newman is so incredibly superb that it almost feels like a separate character in the film and adds to how powerful the whole piece is.

The social commentary is also effective and definitely makes you think more than any so-called "intellectual Sundance release." I would not be surprised if (at the rate people are going) Earth does end up looking the way it does in the film. China itself is already slowly heading in that direction. The humans in the film are made to look like large and cartoon-like, so as to resemble babies. What the film is saying is that humans are evolving backwards, rather than forwards. Everything needs to be done for us, much like a mother caring for her newborn and in this case, the robots are the mothers (as shown by the robot teacher in the baby school). There already are robotic vacuum cleaners where you just need to press the button and that is it. The Pixar animators and storytellers have not gone on auto-drive for Wall-E, but are putting themselves in control in where the story leads and thus why the film succeeds more than hypocritical schlock like Pokemon: The First Movie and Alvin and the Chipmunks posing as family entertainment these days. When the humans realise they must do something, they start to wake up from their bedtime naps and walk much like how babies take their first steps. I wouldn't say Wall-E is being manipulative or offensive as the film is putting a mirror up to the people, so that they understand that they do need to change their habits quickly. This film is teaching people a lesson and giving people something that your average toy advertisement will not.

The Pixar team has pulled out all the stops and in effect have created their greatest achievement yet. Stanton succeeds because he puts story and characters before all else, while still providing some breathtaking animation and terrific entertainment in the process. And it is films like Wall-E that prove even more that animation is capable of anything: any genre, any emotion, any laugh.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Pure visually impressive entertainment all the way! Go Speed Racer Go., 29 July 2008
8/10

The transition that an animated series takes from being a Saturday morning cartoon towards turning into a cinematic live-action feature is most always a rocky one. Horrible efforts like Mr. Magoo and The Flintstones in Viva Las Vegas have left fans of those beloved 1960's characters with anger, this reviewer included. With Speed Racer, Andy and Larry Wachowski have succeeded in creating a big-screen version of a cult cartoon series worthy of being called an adaptation. The clichéd plot of the film is saved by interesting and funny characters, fun-filled action sequences and some of the most kinetic and fascinating visual effects work put on film. The former directors of The Matrix, a film which I personally dread, understand that they are essentially making a big-budget cartoon with live actors and do not take themselves seriously. And therein lies the fun that Speed Racer holds.

Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) loves racing and throughout his whole live has wanted to be like his late brother, driving towards world records and the Grand Prix trophy. Even though the race tracks of his futuristic wonderland is filled with booby traps and other dangers, his family supports him. His father (John Goodman) is an independent race car maker, while his younger brother Spritle (Paulie Litt), mother appropriately named Mom (Susan Sarandon) and long-time girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci) cheer at the sidelines. He also has a pet monkey called Chim-Chim, who provided some of the film's funniest moments. After a very successful race, Speed is given the chance to join a much bigger company lead by the usual smug, stereotypical British villain (Roger Allam). However, after a shocking revelation that racing is fixed, Speed teams up with the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) and the trouble-arousing Taejo (Rain) to save the sport he holds so dearly to his heart.

The main focus of Speed Racer is entertainment and at that, it does a terrific job of pulling the audience in. The visual effects are incredibly well done and quite possibly some of the best ever brought to the film. The entire feature is one giant kaleidoscope of images springing towards the audience, almost giving it a 3-D feel. The Wachowski Brothers go for the opposite route of, say, Tim Burton and create a vibrant and colourful world that feels like diving inside a giant pool of Skittles. Many will accuse the filmmakers of trying to go for a video game approach for Speed Racer, but in the case of a film whose main theme is racing, it's appropriate. Not even the great minds at Pixar made a racing car film as exciting as this one and it will be especially hard to watch Formula 1 Racers driving around the curbs without thinking of the spectacular scenes that the Wachowskis have built. The Wachowskis have also in the process not only created something worthy of being called a Speed Racer adaptation, but a big-screen version of Super Mario Kart as well. The imaginations of those two are out of this world and they even trump the Nintendo people in race car weaponry.

However, Speed Racer doesn't become a well done film on the excitement level alone. The Racer family never comes across as snotty and the audience generally cares for them, even annoying little Spritle. Emile Hirsch does fine work as Speed and while the character is still relatively cardboard, he gives a good enough performance that we still root for him. Christina Ricci is a long way from Wednesday Addams providing the most anime-like portrayal in the film as Trixie. John Goodman is especially fun in the role of Pops and Matthew Fox's appropriately flat work as Racer X adds to the character's mystery. The only poor performance in the film comes from Stephen Colbert's arch-rival and Korean pop sensation Rain as Taejo, who is lively as the furniture that appears in the scenes with him. The best performance from the film, however, does not even comes from a human being as chimpanzees Willy and Kenzie prove to be a very engaging bunch as the mischievous Chim-Chim.

The other major positive of the film comes from Michael Giacchino's usual brilliant score. As proved by The Incredibles, he can write some really great action scores and Speed Racer is not exception. However, the main theme song from the television series will probably still in viewer's heads more and it is quite a lively tune indeed. Speed Racer is a film that should be best viewed in the cinema to get the true cinematic experience of it all, but on a good enough television set, it can hopefully provide a fun enough experience for the whole family. Despite its length of over two hours, the time flies by and the film proves to be incredibly engaging and it feels like the 1980's has nudged its way nicely to the 21st century.

2 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
The most mature, most thought-provoking and best Batman film to date., 21 July 2008
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Throughout the almost seventy years, Bob Kane's superhero Batman has existed, he has taken on many different forms. He has been an overly comical figure as played by Adam West and George Clooney as well as a brooding neurotic as taken on by Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer. The first filmmaker and actor to truly delve deeply into Batman and his altar ego Bruce Wayne beyond the Batmobile and suit are Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale. While their first collaboration Batman Begins was a passable entry in the film series and a nice jolt of energy after the embarrassingly awful film that was Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin, The Dark Knight brings Batman to a whole new respect, blowing previous entries out of the water. The Dark Knight takes the mythology of Batman and Bruce Wayne and truly looks deep into what makes a hero. As Aaron Eckhart's character District Attorney Harvey Dent says early in the film, "You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."

Those walking into The Dark Knight expecting to see some heart-bumping action sequences will certainly have that delivered to them, but this isn't the happy, "everything works out in the end" type story that Iron Man, Indiana Jones and Speed Racer all had earlier this summer. Director/co-writer Nolan is not afraid to go down a path similar to Shakespeare's tragedies of old. The comical glee that Burton and Schumacher's entries brought forth in the 1990's have vanished in favour of a one hundred percent bleak Gotham City where nobody is safe from harm. Throughout the entire film, there's a sense of danger looming over each important character and an un-certainty that they will truly have a joyful comic book ending. The Joker is a devilish fiend that uses every scare tactic in the book and whose use of tricking the authorities and Batman bring to mind the serial killer in David Fincher's Se7en. Every single death trap is planned far in advance and he not only tricked the character, but the audience as well. His history is not given and his terrorist attacks are not for any cause but his own enjoyment. He is menacing and evil and not charming in the least. He is not a likable foe, but somebody who nobody would want to cross on the street. Nolan builds the complexities of the character so perfectly, that we are constantly guessing what he is up to.

In the acting department, everybody succeeds in being truly excellent in bringing their newly introduced characters and old friends to the screen. Christian Bale has officially surpassed Michael Keaton as the best Batman/Bruce Wayne as he gives both personalities a different feel. Unlike somebody like Superman, one understands why people do not recognise Batman as Bruce Wayne. In any scenes featuring Batman, one starts to forget that he is also that billionaire playboy. The gruff Batman voice has received some criticism, but it proofs in making the character intimidating and shows he is not somebody to cross. Heath Ledger disappears into the role of the Joker perfectly and proves to be very scary in his role. The character is extremely cunning throughout the whole film and Ledger's performance allows the audience to believe it. Never before has Ledger given such a tremendous performance and watching the "In Memory" credit pop up at the end of the film will bring anybody back to reality that like James Dean and River Phoenix, he left the world much too early. Aaron Eckhart also does equally superb work as Harvey Dent and his transformation into Two-Face is treated incredibly well. Maggie Gyllenhaal is an appropriate replacement for Katie Holmes and her death is definitely emotional as unlike with Holmes, we understand why Bale and Dent care so much about her. It's also why Dent turning psychotic is more than just his face getting scarred. It is done with so many depth and I respect Nolan even more for it. Gary Oldman also has a fine turn as Commissioner James Gordon, intelligently taking away the flashiness that he usually gives off on film. Veteran actors Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman give off fine work as usual as Wayne's two mentors, who trust him to do the right thing.

The action is incredibly well done. It's not just "punches and explosions" like some film snobs love to call it, because every possible serious set-piece is put to use. The moment when Batman goes from the Batmobile to the Batpod was when I said to myself "This is an terrific film." The theme of how much good one can do is done well without beating anybody over the head. And when Batman decides to take the fall of Dent's bad-doing, he becomes more than just a man in a bat costume. He is a human being who cares about others and understands that people look up to him not because of the cool gadgets and vehicles and fights, but because he is a hero and somebody who just wants the world to be a safer place. That's more than you can say about any politician. He also understands that everybody needs somebody to look up to. Great men like Dent should be remembered for all the good they for the people, not the few bad moments that they ended their life with. It's a poignant massage and further proof that Nolan has crafted a mature superhero film that is so much more than a flying mouse chasing after a violent clown. The Batman series has become a serious franchise and now "Wham!", "Pow!" and "Holy Shark Repellent, Batman!" will be the farthest things from peoples' minds when Bob Kane's classic superhero is brought up.

4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Indiana Jones is back and he can still pack a punch., 28 May 2008
8/10

The Indiana Jones films have always been about fun, danger and low-budget epic-ness. Nineteen years after The Last Crusade, Harrison Ford has once again donned the fedora and while he is able to afford a senior discount this time around, he can still pack a punch. Along with Ford, director Steven Spielberg, executive producer George Lucas and composer John Williams also return. And while The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn't the masterwork that Raiders of the Lost Ark is, it's still an entertaining time at the cinema.

The Indiana Jones flicks have always been known as much for their performances as it has for its action scenes. Harrison Ford slips back into the fedora and leather jacket comfortably, though he is now older and wiser. Along with Han Solo and Rick Deckard, Indiana Jones is his most iconic character and he plays him with the same amount of rough-ness as he did in the 1980's. Returning for the first time since Raiders of the Lost Ark is Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, proving even further that of all the love interests in the other films, she is the only one who comes close to matching whits with Indy (as shown when he tells her "they all had the same problem, they weren't you"). The addition of rising star Shia La Beouf as greaser Mutt Williams is a smart one. He gives a great performance, keeping down-to-earth and not going over-the-top, delivering his lines well. He also makes what could have been an annoying character very likable. The stand-out of the film is Cate Blanchett, who puts on a faux Russian accent for her role as the evil Communist agent who is also pursuing the Crystal Skull in the title. She helps make the villain an evil one would not want to cross with. The only character who doesn't fit is Sam Winstone's Mac, who just feels like an unnecessary way to give him a sidekick more his age.

In regards to action, Steven Spielberg's direction in those scenes is the usual great work he's been delivering since Duel way back in 1971. The final hour is especially exciting, with half of it consisting of a car chase through the Amazon, ending in the most lethal ants ever seen on screen. Despite some geographical mistakes, it's hard not to be on the edge of the seat, while watching it. The classic Ben Burtt sound effects are also in place to make these sequences even more worthy of being in an Indiana Jones film. The score by John Williams is also perfect as usual, from the timeless "Raiders March" to the new themes written for this film, it shows that he is still the master of film scores.

In area of special effects, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is hit-or-miss. The film has more computer-generated effects than an Indiana Jones film should have and Spielberg's idea to use CG prairie dogs instead of real ones is an odd choice. However, when it comes to practical model effects, the film delivers and the matte painting background also work well in having that old-time style. The film's homage to 1950's science-fiction films also add some fun to the proceedings and despite the idea of aliens in an Indiana Jones film seeming odd, it works.

Overall, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull stands with Speed Racer as the most entertaining film of the year, showing that you can't put an old hero down and that an 80's action star can work in the 21st century. With both John McClane and Indiana Jones returning with flying colours, all that's left now are the Ghostbusters.


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