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Shrek Forever After (2010)
As happily ever after's go, this one ain't half bad.
The final chapter in the SHREK series recalls that familiar term "Be careful what you with for". I too was careful at what I wished SHREK FOREVER AFTER would be. After the disappointing SHREK THE THIRD, the bar isn't set high for this supposedly final chapter. It's never going to compare with the superior first two, but if Dreamworks Animation really wanted to conclude their beloved property with this, they might as well give it all that it has. SHREK FOREVER AFTER, while certainly more elaborate than its immediate predecessor, is not the most original of the series, but if this is really a happily ever after for Shrek, at least he went out on a good note rather than a disappointing one.
The story is basically IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE with Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) trading places with George Bailey. Shrek's life couldn't be better: he has his loving wife Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz) and three kids, best buddies Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss (Antonio Banderas) are current visitors, he's got his swamp back, and above all his days as the flesh-eating ogre are way behind him. But everyday of the same day-to-day rituals can get too routine for our big green ogre. If only he could wish he could be that flesh-eating ogre again! His wish is granted when he meets the crafty Rumpelstiltskin (voiced by Walt Dohrn), but it at a terrible catch. Before you can say "Happily Ever After no more!", Shrek is trapped in a depressing alternate universe where he was never born and none of his pals know who he is.
The real treat of the premise of FOREVER AFTER is that it gives us a chance to warm up with these characters again and recall why we loved them in the first place, and then find out a few new reasons to like them all over again. We already know these characters and we have met them before, and this might just serve as a reunion after the occasional slog of the previous follow-up. Unlike its immediate predecessor as well, this one actual has a storyline instead of the simple premise to be used to hang pop culture reference and in-jokes. It's not a great storyline and certainly not anything original, but it's a step on the right direction. Director Mike Mitchell has at least put Shrek right back on track, and not a moment too soon. If this is really the series' finale, the creators have at least done a credible job at reminding us of the appeal that these characters. In a way, SHREK FOREVER AFTER is a satisfying conclusion, if not a grand one.
Rating: ***1/2 out of 5.
License to Wed (2007)
Oh come on, this was just bad!
Robin Williams has been doing a lot of cinematic turd for a paycheck for some time, and LICENSE TO WED may just be the worst so far (considering myself lucky, I haven't seen his latest debacle OLD DOGS). Painfully unfunny, it just gets worse every minute. It's as if they want thew movie to get worse than you already thought it was. LICENSE TO WED commits that terrible crime a comedy can commit by not being funny at all, but it also commits an even bigger sin by being utterly boring.
The premise sounds bad enough as it is: Hopelessly in-love couple Ben (John Krasinski) and Sadie (Mandy Moore) want to get married. But before tying the knot, they'd have to go through a grueling marriage preparation course with the abominable Reverend Frank (Williams). Forget that the story is also dumb (driving lessons with blindfolds? Seriously who wrote this? How could that not be any more unfunny?), it's also offensive. Are the writers so convinced that we could easily buy Williams' Rev. Frank as a priest, even though he seems more appropriate behind bars (or in an asylum!)? And do these people really want us to understand that the reason Frank is such a completely annoying jerk is that he's building a stronger marriage for the couple? And what the hell is an annoying kid doing in this movie? There is just not enough hate for this movie. Mandy Moore just keeps starring in terrible movies as long as she thinks she's the only thing appealing about it, John Krasinski's career as a TV star won't be too ruined since he really hasn't much to do in this movie. As for the worst, Williams gives his most unfunny and downright insulting performance ever. There was a time where Williams was a comic genius, or at least a comedian who knows how to make as laugh in all the right places. That was, of course, before scripts like LICENSE TO WED landed on his hands. A real bust!
Rating: 1/2 out of 5.
Meet the Spartans (2008)
It's impossible to write a review of this movie!
I mean, it's impossible to review this movie without making the review sound just as bad as the movie itself. But why am I stating the obvious? Of course it's bad. Anyone whose aware of the collective works of the notoriously untalented Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer know this is bad. Anyone who doesn't know need not apply. I can't believe I'm saying this but there are more substantial train wrecks than this horrible, disgusting, unfunny, idiotic, pathetic, shameless, inconsistent, insulting, asinine, foolish, oafish, and insignificant (I need to look up more words in the dictionary to describe this movie) waste of time and money (but since I mercifully saw it on TV, at least I'm not guilty at wasting any cash).
It's probably much more fun to write a review about this piece of crap by imagining how Friedberg and Seltzer came up with this incredible idea.
Friedberg: "Hey! I just saw 300 man! It was awesome! But you know what's more awesome? Why don't we make a comedy about it? I mean come on! These guys are wearing like, what are those, skirts? Are they gay or something? Why don't we make a movie where these Spartan dudes are gay! People will dig that right? I mean they dig anything 300 these days!"
Seltzer: "Yeah man, that will be, like, awesome too! I mean I was thinking of like doing a spoof on pop culture icons like the guys in American Idol or Ryan Seacrest or Britney or Paris Hilton or even those guys in Stomp the Yard and Step Up. And then maybe we can riff on TV commercials as well. But I guess we'll go with your idea. After all, my ideas suck! I didn't even like it!"
Friedberg: "Are you f#&@ing kidding? That's brilliant! Tell you what, we'll combine our ideas together to make a masterpiece. Yeah! This will be big! I'm having an epiphany right know! Wait a minute... Epipihany, what does that mean anyway? Never mind, so here it is: We set this in the same time as 300. That was like, before the first World War, right? So these 300 dudes are like gay right? So we'll just remake the whole story of 300 only make it funny. Yeah, and we'll put in those pop culture references of yours and that will just be a gas! I mean, that Leonidas guy pushes Britney, the judges of Idol, Ryan Seacrest down the Pit of Doom! And then there would be, like, a hip-hop showdown between Spartans and Persians. Yeah, people will laugh so wild that this might just be a classic like AIRPLANE! Yeah, this is gonna be big!"
Seltzer: "Nice one man! I mean your like f#&@ing Spielberg man! Only Spielberg never thought of having that guy from Borat playing Xerxes or have Rocky, Ghost Rider, that dancing penguin from Happy Feet, and Carmen Electra in one movie! By the way, Spielberg did this movie with this guy Bay about Transformers. I was thinking, why not put in a giant robot? People will laugh like crazy, man! I mean, we don't have the budget, but hey, we made that classic EPIC MOVIE without having to spend lots of cash. And while were at it, there's got to be like product placements here so people will know we threw in everything on this movie. Nothing is safe from our riffing. Man I love working with you!
Friedberg: "Yeah man! Me too man! I mean, we're like that guy Hitchcock and that guy Jim Stewart. Or that guy Spielberg and Lucas. We make one hell of a team. I mean, who needs the critics? I don't even read their reviews! I don't even read! Now, let's make this baby a reality!"
Setlzer: "Way ahead of you man! Nicole Parker's already on board and some guy Sean Maguire too. Wait, 'some guy Sean Macguire'? Hey that rhymes! So anyway, lets do this! People are, like, waiting for our next movie! This is like freakin' STAR WARS EPISODE I all over again! Maybe this time, we'll have guys camping in front of the theaters just to be first in line to get tickets! Man, I love Hollywood!"
Friedberg: "Oh by the way man, one last thing. What if the movie sucked?"
Rating: 0 out of 5.
I've seen 96 minutes into the future and, boy does it suck!
Sporting that awful mullet Tom Hanks had in THE DA VINCI CODE, Nicolas Cage sleepwalks his role in this boring, by-the-numbers sci-fi thriller. I don't know what's worse, seeing Nic Cage not just in a mullet but giving his worst career performance ever or the movie that throws every "cool CGI" trick in the book right at us (slow-mo bullets, exploding cars, CGI fight scenes, etc). But the worst thing about NEXT is how much it butchers an otherwise intriguing premise (based on a Philip K. Dick story) to turn it into this years hackneyed, CGI-laden sci-fi blockbuster. With a big star, a sexy female co-star, and the director of XXX on board, the producers insist that everything from logic to coherence is entirely superfluous.
Cage plays Chris Johnson, a man who has the ability to see two seconds (read it again: Two seconds!) into the future, enabling him to dodge car accidents, do magic tricks, and eventually escape an FBI agent (Julianne Moore) who happens to be tracking him. See, they need him to find a nuclear device and disarm it just in time. Simple logic can be applied here, and you don't need to be a rocket scientist to know exactly what's wrong here. How exactly can Johnson be of good use if he can only see two seconds into the future? Did the FBI also need the assistance of The Flash to find the bomb and disarm it within two seconds? Why not? Lots of really silly things are already happening in this movie anyway! Although the movie never really treats itself as a serious sci-fi movie, neither does the movie seem aware of just how preposterous it is. Apply the simplest of logic and you'll be surprised at just how head-scratching it is!
But above all, the real problem is that, despite the abundance of special effects and chase sequences, it never comes off as exciting or even remotely interesting. Seeing Nicolas Cage dodging a bullet just in the nick of time was supposed to be cool, but it comes of as superfluous and just lousy. Director Lee Tamahori has a history in some bloated, overblown CGI fest, but this has to be his worst. Never has CGI-induced action felt quite as boring as in this film. The performances are nothing special at best, just plain bad at worst (Nic Cage and his mullet both deserve Razzies). The worst thing about it is that it could have at least been good as a wholly disposable but enjoyable action yarn. NEXT aims low, but misses immensely.
Rating: * out of 5.
One the best James Bond movies ever.
Is it possible to talk about James Bond movies without having to bring up GOLDFINGER? I guess not. This is probably the most popular entry in the series, and arguably one of the best of James Bond. It's not art for sure, but it's a great film and great fun. It gets everything right. The characters are iconic (can anyone forget about Mr. Goldfinger? Or what about Oddjob and his now iconic bowler hat? Do we not still wonder if we're dreaming whenever Pussy Galore introduces herself to Bond?), the gadgets are absolutely memorable and a pattern for all the other Bond movie gadgets in future installments, and above all its carried by Sean Connery's suave portrayal of Bond; could anyone be cooler than Connery when reciting lines as "Bond... James Bond"? The plot is relatively more simple than the later template for James Bond movie plots. Like FROM Russia WITH LOVE, this was much closer to the Ian Fleming portrayals. Bond is sent to investigate on the mysterious billionaire Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) whose business as a gold dealer may have something to do with the stockpiling of gold bullion in the Bank of England. His investigation leads him to the discovery of Operation: Grandslam, Goldfinger's ultimate plan to gain control of the world's economy.
Like all classics, those who already saw GOLDFINGER will probably be aware of its influences to, not just the series, but similar films in the genre altogether. Just as well, those who haven't seen it will be pleasantly surprised that a lot of notable elements are probably derived from this film. It's so iconic in many ways. Still, there are moments of camp and age here and there, especially in some of the rear-projection work, but that's too little reason to dent the film (as a matter of fact, who cares if its a little dated? it's as if they had the technology we had when they made this film!). Overall, GOLDFINGER ranks high with the best of the Bonds, and probably one of the best in spy adventure movies ever.
Rating: ***** out of 5.
Never Say Never Again (1983)
A second look: NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN.
I actually loved NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN when I saw it for the first time. It is after all Sean Connery's real final take on the James Bond role (but is usually exempted since NSNA was never really part of the EON Productions package). He has aged a lot since the public last saw him as Bond... James Bond, and it clearly shows. The movie itself establishes this fact by having Bond attend a health spa early in the movie so that he be back in tip-top shape to save the world again when two nuclear warheads are stolen by the ever-present organization of terror SPECTRE. Anyway, it's really a remake of THUNDERBALL (it's even made by the people who did the original), only modified a little to fit the subplot involving Bond coming out of retirement.
Seeing it many times before, I've always learned to suspend my disbelief when the older Connery does stunts that his younger self used to do. After all, I was able to buy an elderly Roger Moore in OCTOPUSSY and A VIEW TO A KILL. But seeing it again recently, it was clear that the real flaw wasn't Connery's aging. The movie itself hasn't entirely aged well. While I still kinda like it, and I enjoyed it more than his inferior DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, but like that one, Connery is one of the chief reasons to see it. There are a number of other good things to say about it, beginning with Klaus Maria Brandauer's performance as Largo. While THUNDERBALL was superior in anyway, the Largo in that one paled in comparison to this one which was much more intriguing and menacing.. and he doesn't even need an eye patch to hint at his malice.
Unfortunately, not everything was nearly as good as I used to think. The Bond girls are surprisingly weak, even if one of them happens to be Kim Basinger. Basinger doesn't do much as Domino, other than being completely gorgeous (the Tango scene was the best moment of her in the entire film). On the other hand, bad Bond girl played by Barbara Carrera hams it ups just too much that it almost becomes irritating. Not to mention those things she wears! It certainly hasn't aged well. Another quibble would be the requisite change of talents. It's a little off-putting to see a number of familiar faces (M, Q, Moneypenny) being played by unfamiliar faces and even in alternate names (here, Q is referred to as "Algy", and that's not even his real name). The music was OK at best, cheesy at worst; I prefer Barry's works.
NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN is a pretty mediocre entry in the series, it even goes on too long (by the time it reaches the third act, I felt that the film has lost much of its gas), but it wasn't bad. Actually, it was much better than some of the mediocre entries in the official franchise. Worth watching, mostly for Connery's final performance as Bond (MR. BEAN fans will also want to check out Rowan Atkinson's first ever role).
Rating: *** out of 5.
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Hitchcock's favorite... and one of his best.
Little Charlie (Theresa Wright) is excited when she hears the news that her great uncle (and namesake) Uncle Charles (Joseph Cotten) is visiting in their town of Santa Rosa. Little does Charlie know who her uncle really is, and his purpose for visiting. Soon, their seemingly perfect relationship is shattered by a shadow of a doubt: Good ol' Uncle CHalrie may be the wanted Merry Widow Murderer.
Regarded by the Master himself as his personal favorite among his works, SHADOW OF A DOUBT is one of Hitchcock's best works. With his emphasis on suspense rather than surprise, the story is not really about Charlie finding out who her uncle really is. In fact, if it won't take you halfway throughout the movie without knowing who Charles really is. But Hitch doesn't aim for surprise; to shock us with a twist ending that might come of as implausible if not obvious. Instead, he focuses on his characters and the tension brimming between them. If Charlie knew of her uncle's identity, what would she feel? And how far will Charles go to keep his identity hidden? Will he risk killing his favorite niece (not to mention the daughter of his only sister)? There's so much tension going on that in fact, it's the ending (not the climax) that comes of as the weakest point (Once again, Hitch leaves a number of things open for debate and curiosity that comes off a little frustrating).
But despite just that little quibble (after all, it's a pretty common Hitch trait that I've learned to live with), SHADOW OF A DOUBT is an expertly-crafted and intriguing thriller, held together by strong performances and Hitch's touches of suspense and dark humor. Not his best ever, but up there in his Top 10.
Rating: ***** out of 5.
Typical Hitchcock, but in top form.
SABOTEUR looks like a prototype of Alfred Hitchcock's later film NORTH BY NORTHWEST (it's also similar to his earlier classic THE 39 STEPS). Everything from the man framed for a crime he didn't commit, the lovely young woman who helps him out, and the climactic final confrontation in some famous landmark. Substitute Cary Grant's Roger Thornhill to Robert Cummings' Barry Kane, Eva Marie Saint's Eve Kendall to Priscilla Lane's Pat Martin and the finale take place atop the Statue of Liberty instead of Mt. Rushmore and you have SABOTEUR.
Still, although it isn't the best movie the Master of Suspense has created, it's nonetheless watchable and rather entertaining. The pace moves rather fast early on where factory worker Barry Kane (Cummings) is framed for setting the factory on fire. Kane knows who really did it and hopes to clear his name. As usual, he narrowly escapes the law and several occasions in hopes that he find the real saboteur before he strikes again. But since this is way before Hitchcock's bigger budget productions, SABOTEUR is a little tamer than his later works. The cast is OK at best, with Cummings coming of as a decent man-on-the-run but a rather wooden actor. Lane's performance fares a little better, but she's not the best of the later perennial blond heroines. Only Otto Kruger's and Norman Lloyd's suitable intriguing antagonists that remain the best.
The pace slows down midway (involving a scene inside a train with a bunch of circus freaks feels a bit out of place in a Hitchcock movie), but picks up later on, especially before the climax atop the Statue of Liberty (which, sad to say, is rather anti-climatic). Overall, not one of Hitchcock's best movies and far outdone by later attempts at the "man-on-the-run" formula, but a must-see for Hitchcock's fans.
Rating: ***1/2 out of 5.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
What a summer blockbuster sequel should be!
Big expectations from the original are hard to live up to, which just seems unfair to this reasonably enjoyable and exciting sequel. Going over that age-old Hollywood mantra that "bigger is better", this sequel throws in bigger set-pieces, better special effects and a superb cast. But unlike most sequels to successful hits, IRON MAN 2 is not only big in terms of special effects and action set-pieces, it also has stronger characters (perhaps the only real problem with that is that they're too many of them) and an even stronger plot.
As with the other people who enjoyed the first IRON MAN movie, my hopes were high for the sequel. As in other superb comic-book movie sequels like SPIDER-MAN 2 and THE DARK KNIGHT, the storyline frees itself from the exposition settled in the first movie and are now able to take the story into a different direction for the sequel. Following the end of the first movie, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has already admitted his identity as Iron Man and, as he puts it, "successfully privatized world peace". Arrogant as he is, he gets the job done, but saving the world is only half the battle. Stark also has a demanding Senator Stern (Gary Shandling) on his back who wants his Iron Man technology surrendered to the military, a similarly egotistic rival (Sam Rockwell) who wants Stark and his crowning achievement be reduced to yesterday's news, and of course there's vengeful Russian physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) bent on killing Stark to avenge his father. Only to make matters worse, the arc reactor that's keeping Stark alive is slowly poisoning his blood, and would kill him if he doesn't find a substitute to the reactor's Palladium content.
There are enough characters here that could have made this as an early reunion for The Avengers, with a powerhouse of a cast to boot. In addition to the return of Downey's egotistic Stark and Gwyneth Paltrow's delightful portrayal as long-suffering assistant-turned-CEO Pepper Potts, there's also Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johnasson in a black leather suit and sporting red hair! 'Nuff said), Samuel L. Jackson's return as Nick Fury (after a very brief cameo in the first), Don Cheadle replacing Terence Howard as Lt. Col. "Rhodey" Rhodes (who finally gets his "next time" opportunity as he dons the suit as the battle-ready War Machine), and even Favreau's Happy Hogan (nothing more than an extended cameo in the first film) gets more screen time. On the bag guy side is Rourke's disgruntled Vanko, Rockwell playing another character we would love to hate, and Shandling's hilarious portrayal of a greedy politician. Too many of these characters could have repeated the misstep that SPIDER-MAN 3 had done; too many characters with too many subplots that ruin the flow of the story. But director Jon Favreau and writer Justin Theroux avoid this pitfall by just giving our characters enough screen time that they deserve and only throwing in subplots that actually move the story along.
IRON MAN 2 is what a summer blockbuster sequel should be; it throws in everything we expect from its superb predecessor and giving is a little more without being something akin to an overstuffed, overcooked turkey. The action sequences are great in the first movie, and they're even bigger here. It even has a better, more thrilling climax than the one in he first, and more interesting and even outrageous villains than in the original. As usual, Downey Jr. is still one of the chief delights with his portrayal of a different kind of comic-book hero. Throw in a cast that looks absolutely perfect and every thrilling action set-piece in place and you have a sequel that's actually worth the wait.
Rating: **** out of 5.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
A second look: DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER.
Sadly, time has not been kind to 1971's DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. I know I was rather enthusiastic with this entry before, and I actually remember loving it the first time I saw it. But this final entry for Sean Connery has aged poorly over the years of not seeing it. While there are still a number of things I liked about it, there are moments that made me cringe this time around. Connery, who accepted the role only because he was getting paid big-time, is actually the best thing about this entry. As usual, he IS James Bond, with all the charms we know and love from him. And another, Blofeld's (This time, played by Charles Gray) ridiculous plot of using theft diamonds to power a laser is typical Bond movie hokum - another over-the-top plot for world domination and extortion. Good action and chase sequences at least prevent it from being boring. The title song was pretty good too (sung by the one and only Shirley Bassey).
But sadly, there are all too silly and mostly dull moments in DAF. Bond girl Tiffany Case (Jill St. John) remains one of the most annoying of the Bond girls (Lana Wood also appears as an even more thankless Plenty O'Toole). Elements such as Bond pitted against two sexy acrobatic women named Bambi and Thumper (!); an obligatory nod to a sillier and more comedic tone; and those two homosexual assassins (Putter Smith as Mr. Kidd and Bruce Glover as his sidekick Mr. Wint) are all dated now. But perhaps the biggest disappointment I had was Blofeld. Excellently portrayed in the first two movies he was in (though I should also note that he was so much more sinister in the earlier entries when his face is yet to be revealed), is reduced to an even more campy villain (he even disguises himself as a woman in one scene!). And by the way, what the heck happened to Bond's vendetta against Blofeld for the death of his wife? We were left dangling in the end of ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE only to get Blofeld back as that same old baddie who plots to destroy the world's deadliest weapons if his demands are not met.
While I still did enjoy DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, chiefly to see one of Connery's final performances as 007, I now think it's one of the lesser entries in the long-running series. Though it's far from the worst (because at least, unlike MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, it's not boring), it's easily one of the Bonds that haven't aged well throughout the years. Watchable, but hardly Bond's finest hour.
Rating: **1/2 out of 5.