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passable entertainment even if whatever great premise it had was sucked dry
This is one movie where I can frankly describe as simply stupid and dumb, yet the superficial beauty that was presented right before my eyes covered almost all what was there to hide. The point is, despite its being dumb and stupid, the lack of intelligence was made up for by presenting the whole thing with style and energy in such a way that I found it quite enjoyable. I will say that this is a film which has the number of blood and gore inversely proportional to that of the brain cells required to fully appreciate it, but one that still manages to entertain nonetheless.
I've always thought of werewolves as interesting creatures even when I was a child. They didn't scare me because they interested me, and thus I have several story books about them. On the other hand, vampires have always been presented as romantic figures who even appeal to a mere mortal even if they have evil agenda which makes them scary, but they are still interesting. This is how the movie's premise got... nay, grabbed my attention. The good news is that it met some of my expectations. The bad news is that there's a lot more I wanted that wasn't met.
Directed by first-timer Len Wiseman, the movie has no really interesting plot other than a gothic sort of "Freddy vs. Jason", where vampires and werewolves (okay, lycans) are to engage each other in a massive battle. Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a vampire who dedicates her life into killing lycans - an ancient form of werewolf, a clan of whom her own kin has been at war with for centuries. When she discovers that the lycans are on a track of Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman), a mortal medical student, she senses danger ahead and awakes Viktor (Bill Nighy), the most powerful vampire of all, to battle Lucian (Michael Sheen), the leader of the lycans. That is the plot, or should we say an excuse to execute action scenes with Kate Beckinsale on a hot leather outfit.
"Underworld" tantalizes with some interesting ideas, but whatever interesting premise it had was lost along the way. The idea of vampires and werewolves as completely different species was interesting and was a bit like a "Romeo and Juliet" for the underworld (which incidentally, was one of the film's working titles). But the filmmakers did not fully develop the idea and character development so viewers don't really have a concrete idea of whom should they root for. Granted, the action scenes were good, but I felt cheated as it seemed the director was creating a plot for it, instead of the other way around. The result is, "Underworld" runs out of ideas for what story it has to tell. The final showdown between the vampires and lycans had a visual punch, but was not entirely satisfying.
And the other hype surrounding the film, that Kate Beckinsale stars in an action movie? It's interesting, all right. But so was Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler in a movie. So was Tom Cruise, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, Danny deVito, Steven Spielberg, Britney Spears, and John Travolta all crammed in cameos for "Goldmember". The point is, a great premise doesn't necessarily mean a great movie. The movie has to work its way around the premise to meet the expectations of the audience. Sure, Kate has an imposing presence onscreen but if that's the sole reason to like this movie, then it would have been better to just stare at the movie's poster for five minutes.
In the end, "Underworld" doesn't amount to much. I said it was dumb and stupid, but it occassionally entertained me. Alex Proyas' "The Crow" still remains at the top of my list as far as gothic movies are concerned. Not since this late Brandon Lee starrer have a gothic movie been so intellectual and represented a change. But for the meanwhile, while the longing for a film as good as "The Crow" continues, "Underworld" somehow quenches the thirst... even for just a while.
Phone Booth (2002)
It's one interesting call
Recently Hollywood seems to have this thing for making us stay away from ringing phones. First we had "The Ring," and then we have this one. The difference of this is clearly about morality because "Phone Booth" is a lesson in how our small lies can ruin us and kill us in the end... probably literally.
The film mainly works because of its intricate plot and fluid camera work in the limited area of a small and claustrophobic phone booth. Reportedly based on a short student film and shot in just 10 days, the film tries to have Stu's confinement in the phone booth shape both the story and its impact as there is almost no action here other than the dialogue between Colin Farrell and Kiefer Sutherland. Director Joel Schumacher's main job here is to totally get the viewer's attention in a labyrinthine plot involving hookers, pizza delivery guys, and Katie Holmes, so that at the end of the film you haven't even noticed that virtually all the scenes are in one place.
The climax and the ending, however, tend to be this film's greatest misfires. It seemed all the energy the movie had to offer was used to the limit in creating tension and edginess for the other parts of the film that the climax was left heavy-handed and pretentious. The attempt for the twist at the end was also predictable.
But Colin Farrell carries this film noir suspense thriller straight to the end with his convincing performance. Because the movie is told in real time, he has to create a significant degree of tension among Sutherland and Whitaker. And he does, which makes an otherwise boring premise interesting to watch.
Lilo & Stitch (2002)
out of this world
"Lilo & Stitch" is a cute and funny movie which has characters not that hard to like. Not like those traditional Disney animated features where a lot of the characters seemed to have come out of the same blueprint, this features unique characters with adorable personalities. It also shows the traditional Hawaiian way of life clearly as well as entertaining you without being boring or having to resort with musical numbers.
The plot? Well, you'd probably think "Yeah right. Yet another animated version of aliens going to earth..." But actually, it is not about another ala-"War of the Worlds." The story is about Lilo (voiced by Daveigh Chase), a lonely little Hawaiian girl who with her older sister Nani (Tia Carrere) have been struggling to stay together since their parents died; and Stitch (Chris Sanders), a pesky little monster from the planet Turo created by mad scientist Jumba Jookiba (David Ogden Stiers), and is programmed for destruction.
Stitch, originally called Experiment 626, is sentenced to exile in a distant asteroid, but when the monster escapes to earth, he is adopted as a pet and is named "Stitch" by Lilo. From then on, Lilo and Stitch share some hilarious adventures, evading welfare officer Cobra Bubbles and running away from galactic police agents. They soon learn about "ohana," the Hawaiian concept of family which means nobody gets left behind nor forgotten.
The animation is simply beautiful, capturing the beauty of Hawaii and the waters surrounding it with the computer animation seamlessly placed in with the hand-drawn segments, while a space pursuit prologue enthralls the audience with action and then consistently amazes with the Hawaiian atmosphere on earth. Plus the comedy is brilliant and not contrived.
The downside though is that this movie deals with broken families and how one can recover a new family and it does not present it in the usual Disney way. It has complex issues never seen made so realistically in a Disney movie as when Lilo first meets Stitch, he is a mean, heartless experiment because he has no family. Meanwhile, Lilo and her sister try hard to live together harmoniously and take care of each other as social worker Cobra Bubbles (Ving Rhames) constantly check on them.
Usually Disney shows issues too shallow as their target audiences are children who are merely looking to be entertained and don't care on what's going on with the world. And oftentimes, issues are shown metaphorically. But in this one it may be too intense and profound for the younger audiences who have had similar experiences. But at least it has none of the preachy syrupy stuff that ruined good old Disney films the past years.
The point is, if you're looking for an excitingly funny and refreshing animated movie, then you won't regret seeing "Lilo & Stitch."
The Blonde Goes Bland
Suppose someone tells you a story that has a shallow plot and you liked it not because of the story itself but rather because it was fresh and something you have never heard of. Now suppose that someone comes again later and says he has something to tell you again and he does and you realize that while the characters and settings have been slightly altered, it is basically the first story he told you. You would think that this guy was so impressed with his first story that he based a new one on it.
This is what it's all about. "Legally Blonde 2" starts where the first one left off: Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) is now working full-time at a top law firm and is just about to marry the man of her life - Emmett (Luke Wilson). However, after learning that the mother of Bruiser, her ever-faithful chihuahua, is held captive as a test subject to the latest brands of cosmetics, Elle brings the case to her law firm which consequently fires her. Deciding to take matters into her own hands she decides to go to Washington to set on passing a bill on banning testing cosmetics on animals.
I've always thought Reese Witherspoon as an excellent actress, and I did like her enough in "Sweet Home Alabama" to save the film from its ditzy premise. But her onscreen cutesiness alone can't save this one from the jinx that sequels often have to suffer. The originality that was used in its predecessor was, well, all used up and we're left with nothing but what seem to be jokes and scenes that were edited out from the first film. This is definitely one chick movie with no attitude and falls flat. While the original movie worked because of its inventive approach which also helped Reese Witherspoon gain her "next Meg Ryan" tag, "Legally Blonde 2" on the other hand feels very much as forced as an obligatory sequel due to the commercial success of the first film. And what's next? "Legally Blonde 3: The Blonde House"?
encounters some rough moments but overall a nice ride
Probably the most commercially successful pirate movie after the days of Errol Flynn, "Pirates of the Caribbean" pairs blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) with unscrupulous pirate Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Along with a ragtag team of pirates, they must battle a band of the world's most notorious pirates aboard the legendary "Black Pearl" ship led by the cursed Captain Barbossa, in order to save Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), the daughter of an English governor and Turner's love interest, as well as to reclaim certain honors and possessions that were once Sparrow's.
The film is lavishly produced (it's backed by Mr. Bruckheimer, what else do you expect?) and we have a flamboyant production design. I like how Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom exchange banters with each other and with the rest of the cast, and those swashbuckling skills are well displayed. We also get some decent performance from Geoffrey Rush but I really would want to give credit to Keira Knightley who did a marvelous portrayal of Elizabeth Swann. She's got the looks, the spunk, and the appeal; plus she's probably the prettiest English actress I have seen in a while. So does this mean that "Pirates" goes for an absolute smooth sailing henceforth?
Sure there are sword fights, ship adventures, and the whole pirate-movie shebang. Also, the leads' charisma and diverse natures work together, and here the story itself is more than good enough to stand in its own right. "Pirates" has all the elements I am looking for in a typical summer film and I commend it if only for the entertainment value.
But while the character ambiguity of Depp and the on-screen presence of Knightley make the whole outing interesting, the film steered a bit towards being a ho-hum. It is more like an overstretched theme park ride that seems enjoyable at first, but then eventually becomes tiresome. Or maybe this is one case where I expected too much that it left me quite unsatisfied.
So I guess this depends on what your expectations are. Sure, it had its shortcomings, and it wasn't as good as it could have been, but I know this is certainly what majority of moviegoers are looking forward to these days. If so, fine. Just like Barbossa, we are parched with thirst for a good summer movie and this could be the one that could break the curse and quench that thirst. So go on and sail into the movie. You know you want to.
Finding Nemo (2003)
quite a catch
Pixar Studios have done it again. I have to say that these guys are totally good in computer animation, as well as in storytelling. Rarely do those qualities come together but here they are, delivering unto the audience once again something that one can only be drowned with wonder. Such is the marvel of Finding Nemo.
The story is about Nemo (voiced by Alexander Gould), a young clownfish who is fed up with his dad Marlin's (Albert Brooks) excessive paranoia over him. He swims to a place where his dad forbids him and ends up being captured by a scuba diver. He is then placed in a fish tank in a dental clinic somewhere along the harbors of Sydney. Thus the quest of Marlin, along with Dory (a hilarious forgetful blue tang voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) to find Nemo before it's too late.
The story is a simple one but where the film more than makes up is on the overwhelming sense of detail and rich, lavish colors and textures as if we aren't really watching an animated film at all. Scenes such as Marlin bringing Nemo to school while swimming through corals and anemones, to the aquarium where Nemo was taken to, are nothing short of breathtaking, and undoubtedbly one of the most outstanding animation ever to hit the screen.
The world of "Finding Nemo" is simply alive with lovable creatures swimming about their daily lives under the ocean, darting across the screen in playful manners. The viewer almost literally dives into another world for nearly two hours and one cannot help but be completely captivated.
The music and screenplay also blend very well with the visual feast that it produces such a high quality movie. From its basic storyline, to the father-and-son relationship theme, to the wonderful underwater world throughout, this is really an adventure through an ocean of stunning visuals and storytelling.
Talk about pop culture comics with a heart, "Hulk" is really an incredible movie that combines sci-fi with elements of film noir. While most of those who have seen it complained of too much 'blah-blah' and not much 'blam-blam', I would say this goes down as one of the most gripping films I have ever seen.
Yes, the story is complicated and has a tendency to take itself far too seriously; so if it has to work, it has to be engrossing and exciting. The good news is, it is. It also brings along deeper motivations than just providing another action story by providing its own social critiques which gives the plot a significant depth lacking in most modern Hollywood movies. It asks the kind of questions about morality, justice, exploitation, society and a father-son relationship while telling the audience that this is not about a hero saving the world from evil. It's about saving oneself from the incarceration of anger and hatred.
Perhaps the most notable thing about this film is the offbeat cinematography that keeps a few idiosyncrasies around, probably to enhance the feel of comic books. This is shown mostly by the way some scene transitions were made especially the split-screen techniques, which all looked clean and functional blending with the aura that gave the film a unique characteristic. Plus the direction is brilliant, as might be expected from Ang Lee after his sensory feast that is "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".
Nick Nolte and Jennifer Connelly as Bruce's father and girlfriend, respectively, as usual give fine performances. Nolte's character could have been over the top as it is, but he manages to keep it right. Eric Bana delivers a fine performance as well as the troubled scientist who always had to live in fear and he manages to share the terror and vulnerability almost like a baby's reflex that makes him a character you immediately care about, innocent and tragic. And while the Hulk CGI doesn't really equal his LOTR counterpart Gollum in terms of quality, he does manage to hold his own by maintaining the central focus on him on every scene he is in.
Overall, while it did not catch up with Spidey who has now swung himself atop the box office, I liked the film as it really showed what Marvel superheroes really are: that they are heroes first because they save themselves from their own demons.
And that I think is all that matters.
the cradle rocked me to sleep
Arguably, the "Tomb Raider" movie franchise is the most popular RPG-based movies in the history of cinema. And maybe I can say to the extent that it was clearly overhyped.
Let's face it, the first installment was plainly bad. And while you would think Angelina Jolie and company would at least try to do better in the second one, frankly they don't. "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" remains one of the many forgettable action movies, relying on too much CGI, stunts and flashy editing. There's nothing wrong with it, except that everything that's too much isn't nice... especially when not all of it works in the way it was intended to. Oh yes, there's a better storytelling and characterization. But "better" doesn't necessarily mean "good".
The action sequences are not as quite as adrenaline-pumping as they could possibly be. In fact, the whole movie lacks suspense and Jolie doesn't seem to possess any kind of vulnerabilty which makes the two-hour seating very much of a drag. The second rate special effects don't help either.
I suppose "Cradle of Life" isn't what archeologists would call a treasurable find. They may not probably dig it; but when they do it's bound to be classified as junk.
The Lizzie McGuire Movie (2003)
This film plays well as a teenybopper movie, especially for the fans of the TV series. But I'm afraid its reach can't go far beyond than that. It has not every bit as much charm as the cute Italian girls playing cameo roles, and its plot and the twist are truly ridiculous (although not exactly in an awfully bad way).
Perhaps one of the few things I liked here is Hilary Duff in her first title role on the big screen. She just lights up the screen on every scene she's in and I do like her Italian accent.
But that's just about it. It has a premise dipped in extra-sugary syrup, and the film in general was very much like the bag of Cheetos I was munching through the duration of the movie: dangerously cheesy.
Bad Boys II (2003)
they're bad, alright
I haven't been really excited about this one since the past Jerry Bruckheimer-Michael Bay tandems on films haven't turned out as well as they were advertised ("Armageddon", "Pearl Harbor", and even the first "Bad Boys"). So I wasn't really expecting anything much. I guess I shouldn't have expected anything at all.
"Bad Boys II" tries very hard to be a good action movie. It uses only enough story to tie together its action sequences and the whole 2 1/2 hours are too much and this only drags the inane story. The script and acting do nothing to help the story and its action sequences, supposed to be one of the movie's main attractions, are weak and bloated. Not even the chemistry of Lawrence and Smith can save the fatuous one of Bruckheimer and Bay.
In the final analysis, it's just another summer movie that tastes like salted popcorn. It tastes good while it lasts, but eventually you end up rather dry and thirsty.