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Beowulf & Grendel (2005)
a failed attempt to make a bloody old epic politically correct
This film tells the basic story of the epic poem Beowulf, about 13 soldiers led by Beowulf who go to Denmark to kill a monster. There is some fighting, but mostly the film focuses on political correctness.
Done skillfully, this could have made it a better film. For example, 1989 film "Eric the Viking" does a hilarious job of poking fun at at the un-politically correct nature the old Viking legends. As another example, Martin Gardner's book "Grendel" also tells the Beowulf story, but plays against the old patriarchal hero myth by telling it from the monster's perspective. Unfortunately, "Beowulf and Grendel" adds political correctness in a way that detracts from the story instead of improving it.
First, they make the monster sympathetic and the soldiers unsympathetic. The king and the priest also get rough treatment. Then they add a new hero, a woman who had been brought to the village as a prize by a man who killed her parents on a raid. It's implied that she later killed him in bed, and now lives manless outside the village doing wicca. Beowulf is made partly sympathetic by showing that he is uncomfortable in his job as a soldier, and by making him the least macho of all the men.
Because they do this in clumsy ways, such as making the king a pathetic drunk and denying the soldiers anything but the most stereotypical dialog, they only mute the core storyline without successfully adding tension or complexity.
"Beowulf and Grendel" is also too slow, with too much screen time spent on the scenery. The locations are beautiful and costumes and sets all look very authentic, but that would be true of any professional production with a decent budget. But instead of placing the action inside the scenery, they show the scenery outside the action, wasting it. And while the costumes look authentic, the movie doesn't give you a real sense of how people lived in that era.
If you want to see a better Beowulf re-interpretation, let me recommend "The 13th Warrior" (1999), which is more loosely based on the epic. It's a lot more fun, and has much better characters. "The 13th Warrior" also does a better job of bringing the historical period to life, with such little details as the horrors of 10th century personal hygiene. Plus the fight scenes are better.
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
still head and shoulders above the competition
I don't want to scare anyone off from seeing "X-Men 3". If you haven't seen it yet, I recommend just seeing it before you read this or any other review. It's a lot better than anything else in the theaters.
That said, I found it the weakest of the three X-Men movies.
They've tried to jam three of the major story lines from the comic books into one movie: the government's war against mutants, the conflict between the X-Men and Magneto's Brotherhood, and Jean Grey's transformation into the Phoenix. Plus they've added some more twists that differ from the comics. It's good material, but it's just too much to cram into a single movie and do it all justice.
Also, the action and special effects have come down a notch. They set the bar high in the first movie, and then raised it in the second, but in the third they lost that edge. In the first two, they found clever ways to make small things capture your attention, like the toy on Magneto's desk that was powered by his mind, or the way Xavier froze all the visitors in the museum. The first two also had scenes you can watch again and again on DVD, like the fight in the Statue of Liberty or Nightcrawler's attack on the President. I didn't see any scenes in the third that I'd watch again and again.
Finally, there are lots of new characters, but none of them are developed. In the first movie, all the characters were fresh. In the second they added Nightcrawler, William Stryker, and Stryker's son. In the third they add a ton of new mutants, but none of them are given any individuality. Magneto's army of mutants was the biggest disappointment. You expect a battle filled with hundreds of strange mutant powers, but all you get is a big fist-fight.
I'm not saying this isn't a good movie. It's worth seeing, it's entertaining, and it has a solid story. I can't think of many third movies in a series that were as good as this one. I'm glad I went to see it, and I'll definitely be seeing the fourth movie when it comes out. Maybe the X-Men series will follow the pattern of the Star Trek series where the even numbered movies are the best ones.
Just My Luck (2006)
no surprises, it's as bad as you expected
Girl who takes her supernatural good luck for granted loses her mojo to unlucky but surprisingly cute loser. Of course you are wondering what happens next. Does she get it back? Does she learn a life lesson along the way? Do the two fall in love in the end?
This isn't even the kind of bad movie that you can enjoy watching for the humor of how bad it is. Those are the movies with amateur actors or plots that don't make sense because they ran out of money half way through. Or the ones where they try to do something innovative and are just weird. This is worse -- it's professionally bad. Everything is smooth and marginally professional and completely predictable, and painfully boring.
I saw this because there was a slight "not as bad as you expect" buzz, and now I'll admit I was suckered. This movie is so formulaic I doubt I'll even remember having seen it a year from now.
16 Blocks (2006)
the first 20 minutes are decent, then it falls apart
At the start the movie plays against the stereotype for a Bruce Willis action movie. Instead of the invincible wise-cracking hero, he plays an old alcoholic burnt-out cop, who spends his time doing errands and paperwork for the real cops. In the early scenes Mos Def does a great portrayal of an annoying, mentally-challenged petty thief. Then, all of a sudden, it becomes a standard chase movie. Good guys run from bad guys, bad guys catch up, good guys make a lucky escape, lather, rinse, repeat.
In between the running and escaping there are these strange and very dull scenes where they hide for a while. In some of them, Mos Def gives a rambling monologue while Bruce Willis grunts now and then. In others, David Morse gives a rambling monologue while Bruce Willis grunts now and then. They play contemplative theme music over these scenes.
The solid beginning left me more disappointed than if the movie had been bad all the way through. The realism of the first 20 minutes just contrasts how contrived and formulaic the movie becomes.
There are references to Willis's character's 20 years on the force before the movie, and they seemed a lot more interesting. Maybe if they had spent most of the movie on that, on what happened before, it would have been good. But the movie is called "16 Blocks", and that's what you get, a 110 minute slow-motion chase.
Running Scared (2006)
tests your tolerance for plot holes
"Running Scared" is a standard low-grade crime thriller, with cartoonish criminals, gory gunfights, and lots of narrow escapes and coincidences to move the story along.
They were probably trying to copy Guy Ritchie's style, but what you see is closer to a 70's TV cop show that's been made ''edgy'' by adding bad language, lots of blood, and moody lighting.
One warning: the plot makes no sense. I don't just mean that it's a bad plot, I mean that it actually doesn't hold together logically. It's like they rewrote the script a couple times during filming, and didn't realize until it was too late that the scenes no longer fit together.
That said, I gave it a 3, because there a few scenes that taken by themselves are above average, mostly because of the cinematography.
The Ringer (2005)
neither funny nor enlightening
This film neither had the guts to make fun of the mentally disabled, nor the guts to honestly show them as they are: disabled.
90 minutes of cruel retard jokes could have been hilarious, and would have been more honest than this film was. The truth is, people think the mentally disabled are fun to laugh at. "retard" is one of the most common generic pejoratives, along with "Jew" and "gay." If they had guts, the film makers would have put a mentally disabled Jewish homosexual in the movie and ridiculed him mercilessly.
Instead the movie is full of lame jokes that don't offend anyone. They then try to make up for the lack of humor by portraying the mentally disabled "positively". Their positive message seems to be that the mentally disabled don't have any real disability -- that they are just normal people with a few quirky mannerisms, like foreigners who talk with a funny accent.
A worthwhile film would have shown them as they are, disability and all, and found what positive message it could in the truth. But this film is just fantasy, so afraid to say anything negative that it says nothing at all.
If you would like to see a worthwhile film about the mentally disabled, check out "How's Your News", http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0298917/.
Kinky Boots (2005)
if you've seen the preview, you've seen the whole movie
The premise is simple: intolerant factory workers, sassy drag queen, and well meaning but uncomfortable factory owner in the middle. Not a very original or challenging premise, but enough to fill up a 30 second preview.
The problems are in the execution. The movie doesn't have anything bad in it, it just doesn't have anything worth watching in it. They don't develop the premise beyond the obvious. At the very least you would expect some clever repartee between the sassy drag queen and the intolerant factory workers, or maybe a little shocking gaysploitation, but instead everything has been watered down.
There is a lot of talk about sexiness in the abstract, but Lola's sex life is completely absent. She is a gay saint, wise, asexual, with a heart of gold. She is also the only drag queen with any lines, which makes her more of a symbol than a character. The intolerance isn't realistic either. The Northhamptoners go from being wary to being accepting, but there is no real homophobia there. They make no cheap jokes about Lola have sex with men, nor use any pejoratives.
Take the tag "Inspired by a True Story" as a warning; there is none of the messiness of real life in this movie. Instead it is harmless, inoffensive, cloying, predictable, and ultimately passionless.
Worst of all, the musical numbers are dull, which is a kiss of death for a movie about drag queens.
a good true-crime biography, but a little bit thin on details
The strengths of this movie are Luke Goss as the Charlie, and the truth, or at least believability, of the history. The film shifts back and force between Charlie's life as he tells it, and as it is portrayed by the prosecution during his trial. In one version he is respectable thief, stealing primarily from the government, and all-around nice guy. In the other he is a viscous sadist, torturing anyone who displeases him. In both versions he is charming, clever, and competent.
The movie's main weakness is the way that the story skips through small events without ever giving you the big picture. None of the other characters are developed much, and you don't see the progress of his relationships with the other gang members nor how he builds his business. Although the film is only 95 minutes long, it feels longer because it crams so many short scenes in. But because the scenes are disconnected and repetitive, it misses much of the story.
If the film was fiction, I wouldn't have enjoyed it, but as a true story it is fascinating.
all the boredom of a documentary without the historical truth
This film has the feeling of a documentary. It has the kinds of extraneous details and odd occurrences that documentary makers leave in their films to give you a fuller history.
Unfortunately, the consensus from historians and intelligence experts seems to be that Munich is neither accurate nor plausible. It neither shows what really happened, nor even a competent construction of what might have happened. So when you strip away the value of learning true history, what is left? Not much.
A large part of the film has to do with mundane details of an intelligence operation. This would be interesting if these details were accurate, but since they aren't, its hard to see why anyone would care about them.
Another major part has to do with the relationship of the main character with a criminal he uses to get the job done. Again, this is all made up, so it doesn't tell you anything historical about how criminals and intelligence agents cooperated in the 70's.
What's left are the "issues". The two issues are whether terrorism is moral and whether killing terrorists is moral. But the movie doesn't really bring any new ideas to the debate. It doesn't even do a good job of exploring the obvious ideas.
If you are willing to accept that this film will teach you nothing factual about the history, nor will it explore the politics, but are hoping for at least an interesting story, you won't find it. As far as revenge movies go, this one is totally boring.
I wish all the theaters that showed "Munich" had instead shown "Walk on Water," an Israeli film about a modern Mossad assassin who kills terrorists. "Walk on Water" never claims to be anything but fiction, but it explores the issues of justice, revenge, and morality with more truth than "Munich" does. "Walk on Water" also has real characters and a good story, both of which "Munich" lacks.
"Walk on Water": http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0352994/
Dnevnoy dozor (2006)
fresh visual effects but stale characters and a confusing plot
The visual effects are superb, using state of the art CGI with true artistry to create an original and interesting new look.
Unfortunately the characters are all clichés: a troubled loner cop haunted by his past, his doormat girlfriend, the crusty chief of police, the sexy bad girl, the aristocratic villain, etc.
The problem is not so much that the film makers populated the film with clichés, but that they don't do anything with them. They all play their predictable roles with predictable dialog and that's all.
Another major problem with that there is a lot of fighting, done with magic, but they never explain the magic powers, so you never know what is going on. Sometimes getting punched is bad, sometimes getting hit by a bus doesn't seem to hurt the guy. Sometimes they can shoot magic at each other, and sometimes they can't. It's visually stunning, but you don't know who is winning or losing or who is dangerous and who isn't. It's like watching a sport where you don't know the rules.
The first movie had many of the same problems, but it also had some interesting scenes, like the vampire girl in traffic and the first time the main character encounters magic. "Day Watch" has one interesting scene, the opening one set in the past, but it's bland from then on.