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Finding Bigfoot (2011– )
7/10
It's Squatchy!
2 January 2012
"Finding Bigfoot" is a silly show, but for some reason, I can't get enough of it. If you are looking for a reasoned, scientific look at a group of four open-minded scientists trying to either prove or disprove the existence of the Sasquatch, this show is not for you. As a matter of fact, that show does not exist at all. "Finding Bigfoot" features three true believers and one skeptic (Ranae the Skeptic is reasoned compared to the other three, which really isn't saying that much) who go out in the woods and hear things at night. Now, I'm no expert, but I'm certain there are several nocturnal animals in North America that make noises and night and they are not all Sasquatches, but then again I'm not a Bigfoot expert, so what do I know? That being said, I cannot stop watching this show. The characters that the team comes across are earnest, honest people who mostly do not know what they saw and want answers. The team of Mike, Cliff, and Bobo are nice people who have a conclusion in mind and try to fit the evidence to fit this final idea (not really good science, but I digress), and Ranae usually fulfills the role of the viewer at home who is screaming at the TV "that noise was a deer, not a Bigfoot!" Finding Bigfoot is one of the least objectionable reality shows on TV right now, though maybe that speaks more of the other shows than this--either way, the truth is out there.
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The Departed (2006)
8/10
"I don't want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me."
18 February 2007
The first lines of this movie are said in a monologue by Jack Nicholson's mob-boss character Frank Costello. He starts with, "I don't want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me." This line essentially sums up the movie even before it begins. The Departed is an Americanized version of a Hong Kong filmed called Infernal Affairs, and tells the story of two Boston state troopers--one goes undercover and works against the Costello gang from within (Leonardo DiCaprio's Billy Costigan) and one works for the Special Investigation Unit while still on Costello's payroll (Matt Damon's Colin Sullivan). Each one lives in a world of deception, each trying to keep their real motives a secret from their adoptive bosses, each trying to out maneuver the other. The Departed ends up being a 150 minute long cat and mouse game between two guys who are referred to as rats in the entire movie. At first, each takes to their responsibilities with vigor and enthusiasm, with Costigan having the more difficult assignment, trying to infiltrate a gang who all knew he was once a cop. As the movie goes a long, we feel the noose tightening around each, as both characters go through moments of dread and loss, until the bloody ending where all of the characters who deceived and schemed ended up getting a suitable punishment. Each character in the movie imposes their outlook on the world on their situations, as each one makes their own luck, so to say, as the first line uttered by Nicholson alluded to. None of the characters are the result of a predetermined destiny, as everyone made decisions on their own and had to live with their results. As Costello said, their environments were all products of their own actions. As far as Scorsese's direction goes, it is as usual top-notch, with quick cuts when quick cuts are needed, a neat opening that gives about as much background information as we viewers could possibly need in a fast-paced 15 minutes before the opening credits even finish, a fine selection of music (almost Tarantino -like in how the music matched each scene), and as much violence and obscenities as you could possibly get in two and a half hours. Boston makes for a fascinating location for a movie such as this--a rich subtext to each character, the possibility for interesting supporting players, and a gritty street life that makes it a poor man's version of New York City, without having thousands of movies made about it already. The one problem with the Boston setting is the accent thing--some of the characters lose the accent then it magically comes back. This is always a concern when it comes to Boston movies. Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen are terrific as high-level police officers, and Mark Wahlberg goes all in with his portrayal of the salty Sergent Dignam. But the real stars are DiCaprio and Damon, each young actors who have really developed into well-rounded portrayers of emotion and gravitas. Yes, DiCaprio may never really leave the Titanic, but here he shows he can act in a subtle, yet strong roll in a Scorsese movie that is almost as good as Goodfellas.
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9/10
"Germany has declared war on the Jones boys."
2 October 2006
The third movie in a movie franchise is a difficult one to make. People who enjoyed the first 2 movies have aspects of the films they love and want to see again, but there is a risk of being repetitive. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade does feature elements of the previous movies that fans would enjoy (Nazis, chase sequences, religious relics, snakes) and brand new elements that appeals to everyone. Brand new to the saga in this movie is Sean Connery's role as Indiana's father, Dr. Henry Jones. An aloof father, consumed by finding the Holy Grail, Connery plays the detached father very well, opening up to Indy only after he thinks he's dead; no one is surprised that Indiana was raised by such a role model. The elder Jones has gone missing, leaving the younger in quest to find him. This adventure leads Indiana on the path to find the Holy Grail as well, trying to retrace his father's steps. This first takes Indiana and Denholm Elliot's Dr. Marcus Brody to Venice, where they meet Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody). A trip through the catacombs of a Venice church and a Bonds-esquire boat chase through the city's canals reveals the truth of Dr. Henry Jones' location, setting into motion a trip through Italy, Austria, Germany, and finally finishing somewhere in the Holy Lands. The Nazis are featured again as the villains, with the full power of the Third Reich chasing down the Jones family. Sallah returns, first trying to protect the inept Brody (perfectly set up by an Indiana speech), then as Indiana's traveling companion who likes to collect camels. This is the funniest of the Indiana Jones movies, with several sly, dry moments of wit, most at the expense of poor Dr. Brody. This movie features planes, zeppelins, cars, tanks, motorcycles, boats, and trains, all of which are the backdrop to this adventure film. On equal footing as the original Raider of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a worthy adventure to (momentary at least) finish off the franchise.
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7/10
"Hey, Dr. Jones, no time for love. We've got company."
2 October 2006
After the success of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the sequel was inevitable. George Lucas came up with the story and Steven Spielberg again directed this second adventure in the Indiana Jones serial. The high energy and joy seen in Raiders of the Lost Ark has been replaced with a darker, more serious adventure, as Indiana is charged with recovering a magic stone for a village in India who has seen drought and all of the children have gone missing. The beginning of the movie is the high point of the film, with an extravagant musical number in club Obi Wan (oh, that George Lucas and his inside Star Wars jokes), a Shanghai night club where Indiana is closing a deal over artifacts from the Chinese dynasty. Kate Capshaw is the featured singer and the latest "Indiana girl" in this film, a movie that, curiously enough, occurs BEFORE Raiders of the Lost Ark, so the suspense of Jones' fate (if there really was any) is removed, and so any potential love affairs that fail to carry over between movies. Also missing is John Rhys-Davies' Sallah and Deholm Elliot's Brody, instead, we get to see Indy's child helper, Short Round, who's job is to go into tight quarters and say "Doctor Jones" about 300 times. The plot is complicated, as I had to watch the movie a couple of times to get an idea of was actually happening, and, unlike the previous film, most of the movie happens in one place. The famous scene in this movie is the dinner at the palace, where the visitors are treated to chilled monkey brains and other appealing meals. The movie does feature a fantastic scene with an underground rail system that turns into a chase sequence that is filmed well and is enjoyable to watch. This film does not have the whimsy or innocence seen in the other two Indiana movies, and suffers because of it. While still an enjoyable film, it is the least of the three Indiana movies.
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9/10
"At least you haven't forgotten how to show a lady a good time..."
2 October 2006
Steven Spielberg was supposed to direct Return of the Jedi, but Hollywood politics intervened, and instead, we got the Ewoks. OK, the Ewoks were probably going to be in the movie whether Spielberg was involved with the movie or not, but the weakest of the original Star Wars movies is one of those "What if?" moments, as I think about how the saga could have ended if the visionary director was involved. The primary reason for this thinking is that just two years before the release of Jedi was Raiders of the Lost Ark, a collaboration between George Lucas and Spielberg. The story goes that Lucas and Spielberg were trying to come up with a story for a James Bond movie when it looked like they were going to have a crack at the franchise. Unfortunately for them, the Bond people went a different direction, allowing Lucas and Spielberg to use some of the ideas they had in their mind to come up with the character "Indiana Jones," a swashbuckling archaeologist who escapes the inescapable situations, restores truth and order, and gets the girl in the end. The movie Raiders of the Lost Ark is the first of three adventures following Indy around the world, and the movie that features the best of Indy's girlfriends. Fresh off his Han Solo success, Harrison Ford fell into the role of Jones, as Tom Sellick was originally tapped to play the role. The movie is a series of adventures, ranging from the jungles of South America (who hasn't seen the big ball rolling toward Indiana Jones), to the mountains of Nepal, finally ending the deserts of Egypt. Karen Allen plays Marion, a former lover of Indy's, one that has been jilted in the past. We get the feeling the first time we see Marion and Indy in the Nepal bar that Indiana is the type that has trouble keeping girlfriends, and Marion is the only one he could possibly be with. The movie revolves around Indiana trying to find the fabled Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do, as Hitler wants to use the power of the Ark to win his conquest of the world. Breathtaking adventures, fantastic chase sequences, and a wry sense of humor (the scene where Indiana beats his sword carrying adversary is one of the biggest laughs in any movie I can think of) makes Raiders of the Lost Ark an adventure film that holds even to this day. When the movie ended, I was disappointed that it was over, as I wanted the adventure to continue. It did, later in the decade, with two sequels, with plans for the fourth edition to come out in 2008.
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7/10
"I wanna go fast!"
4 August 2006
When looking at the merits of a movie and decide whether it is good or not, one must think of the goal of the picture. Is it a serious film, designed to comment on society, or is the movie's job to merely entertain? I think we all know the answer to this one when it comes to Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. This movie's goal is to entertain the audience, make them laugh, make them spend an hour and a half rejoicing in talented comedians doing their job well. And this movie reached its goal. Not only is this movie an above-average sports movie (it even concludes with a big race and a warm and fuzzy winner!), but is also a very funny movie. All I had to do was listen to the reaction of the sold out theater I was in and I knew that most people will find this movie to be very funny. Will Ferrell is Ricky Bobby, a NASCAR driver who makes up one half of "Shake and Bake," with John C. Reilly's Cal Naughton, Jr. being the "Bake" half of the duo. They are childhood friends who have now become teammates on the top NASCAR level, where Cal sets up the play that lets Ricky win almost every race--that is, unless Ricky has already crashed out of it. Talladega Nights follows the same story arc that Days of Thunder did, but is far more entertaining, as Ferrell and Reilly work together to bring humor to all parts of the racer's lives, including a bizarre dinner ritual that includes corporate sponsorship. Sure, the movie slows down for about 20 minutes in the middle to develop plot, but that may have been designed to give us, the audience, a break, allowing us to get ready for the final scenes of the movie. Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Ali G, Borat) plays the French Formula 1 driver who threatens to oust Ricky Bobby as the best driver on the track, perhaps the funniest overall character in the movie. There is not one scene with Cohen in it that isn't funny. After watching this movie, it is clear why Will Ferrell takes his comedies so seriously (watch the extras on the Elf DVD to see Ferrell between scenes, he's not always "on" playing the clown on set)--he gets the results he's looking for. This movie is laugh-out-loud funny pretty much from start to finish, and seeing Gary Cole return to comedy as Ricky Bobby's father will bring back memories of Office Space for a moment, then this new character will win you over.
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6/10
"Where did you come from?"
22 July 2006
When a writer/director has a resume of five films, certain themes emerge. With Alfred Hitchcock, each movie had an innocent man accused of wrong and other themes that carried through each of his films. Some have said that M. Night Shyamalan is today's version of Hitchcock, which is a rather staggering leap--Shyamalan is only 20 of so films behind Hitchcock. But the one comparison you can make is that Shyamalan's movies tend to have similar themes and motifs: nothing happens by accident and loss. Each of Shyamalan's movies feature a character or characters who have lost a family member and have a specific purpose to the story. Lady in the Water is most similar to Signs, as the story features a character, Cleveland Heap (Paul Giamatti), who lost his family but finds as the movie goes along that he has a purpose to the world he is living in. Giamatti's performance is fantastic, though the character has a speech impediment that I found to be a contrivance and unnecessary. As the superintendent of The Cove apartment complex, Cleveland knows all of the tenants and the ins-and-outs of the complex. One night, Cleveland is checking out a night swimmer, when he falls into the pool. He is saved by a mysterious lady in the water, named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard), who we later find out is a mythical creature from an Asian bedtime story. This is where the movie either works for you or doesn't work for you. You can either buy the premise that this apartment complex is the site of a battle between the forces of good and bad, or you will not buy it. This will determine whether you enjoy the movie or not. I bought into the conceit, and thought the movie was entertaining, not nearly as good as The Sixth Sense or Signs, or even Unbreakable, but still better than The Village. The movie does delve into some self-referential material, especially in the movie critic character played by Bob Balaban, and it is cute, though I could imagine some rolling their eyes at the last scene we see Balaban in the movie. Will you enjoy this movie? I don't know, it really is up to the individual movie goer. Will you buy the premise? Will you care about these characters? If you do, you'll have a good time. If you don't, then you just wasted 2 hours of your life.
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7/10
"Hey, you gonna eat your tots?"
15 July 2006
The old Monty Python Flying Circus television show is a model of brilliance and frustration: hilarious skits about anything and everything, always ending before the skit came to its natural end. Sure, the punchline was delivered and just about everything funny about the subject had been performed, however, I always felt cheated by a quick cut, the line "And now for something completely different," and then a new sketch would begin. I bring this up because the opening parts of Napoleon Dynamite reminded me of Flying Circus and their painfully unfinished sketches. There is humor still in these opening scenes, waiting to be mined, but instead, we are whipped ahead to the next scene, going through the same process again. Take, for instance, the scene where Napoleon (Jon Heder) first meets a Mexican immigrant, Pedro (Efren Ramirez), at his first day of school. Napoleon is impressed by Pedro's bike, leading to the two new friends to try "sick" tricks with the bike. Pedro leaps off a ramp and gets "like 3 feet of air, or something" (in actuality, it was about 3 inches, but Napoleon was duly impressed), then Napoleon crashes and burns trying to do the same thing. Suddenly, we've moved on to the next scene in their lives. I would have preferred just a bit more of that scene. If just felt like we moved on before the joke was over. Maybe I'm nitpicking. Or maybe my disappointment is in the fact that there was plenty of potential comedy here to find, and only a fraction of it comes through the film. The movie itself is harmless, occasionally hilarious (the scene where the farmer shoots a cow got the biggest laugh from me), and potentially insightful into the high school community. I'm not really sure what the final analysis was of high school (was it a good thing that Napoleon finally found acceptance from his peers by doing a dance that is supposed to make the movie audience laugh at him?), but the movie does show the outcasts in school and how they go through life. The best performance in the film is by Tina Majorino, who plays the shy and plain Deb. She does a great job of playing a reserved and awkward high school coed who does of feelings for one of the movie's characters. Her emotions come through the picture easily. The motives and feelings of the other characters are sometimes harder to figure. The Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) and Kip (Aaron Ruell) characters are more problematic. Uncle Rico is living in the past, and Kip is living online. They both are socially awkward, more so than even Napoleon, yet at the end of the film, they kind of get what they want, even if it means forgetting where they came from. This movie shows life in Idaho and has its roots in followers of the Morman Church, and is perfectly safe for families to watch, though Kip's online conversations would be more than PG if we could only look at that computer screen. Or if your family is a fan of cows, as there's a whole lot of steak in this film.
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6/10
"Come on, he's one guy, and he's French."
1 February 2006
During the Summer of 2001, Ocean's Eleven, a remake, was unlike most remakes of the early 2000s. It was fresh, it was lively, it was fun to watch. Steven Soderbergh, who has directed some very heavy movies (Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Solaris) brought us two hours of con-man entertainment that had very little to do with the premise of the original Rat Pack film from the 1960s other than Danny Ocean led 10 other thieves to rip off a Vegas casino. The pace, the plot, and the fun I had while watching Ocean's Eleven made me want to see Ocean's Twelve very much, hoping this would be the movie that bucked the sequel trend of the 2000s. While I was not expecting Godfather II or The Empire Stikes Back, I was at least hoping for a serviceable sequel, one that at least kept the life and energy of the original flowing through the characters and the scenes of the movie. By now, you should be getting the feeling I didn't feel it from this sequel. While Ocean's Twelve is not a bad movie, it just does not live up its predecessor's. Perhaps it was the genius of the fun little movie Ocean's Eleven that this movie just looks so different and less entertaining. Ocean's Twelve's first mistake? They make the good guys losers in the first scenes. Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who had $160 million stolen from him in the first movie by the band of 11, finds out who stole the money and gives them 2 weeks to return the dough, plus interest, or it's "game over." This gives the movie makers and excuse to send the crew to Europe, to new fancy locales with new music and characters to meet. The plot is unimportant, as it just serves to allow each character a chance to scheme and plot some impossible scenario, and the acting is solid. George Clooney knows more than he's letting on as Danny Ocean, Brad Pitt knows even more than Ocean as Rusty Ryan, Bernie Mac likes his nail salons as Frank Catten, Matt Damon shows a nice comedic touch as Linus Caldwell, and, well, I could go on about the cast, but I wont. The newest additions to the cast are Catherine Zeta-Jones as an international thief expert and Andrew Cassel as the Night Fox, the designated bad-guy in the film. His motivations are juvenile but keeps the plot moving. The ending is border-line confusing, as the ultimate motivation for everything in the movie becomes clear only after the last scene of the movie, or possibly after a repeat viewing. As I said, this is not a bad movie, especially for those who enjoy a good caper movie, but perhaps the overreaching breadth of the movie made it difficult to capture the fun little moments of Ocean's Eleven, or allow much humor, or allow the banter we saw in the 2001 movie. Maybe it was the different tone of the movie, but those who loved 2001's Ocean's Eleven may see something good in Ocena's Twelve--though don't expect a great time.
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The Producers (2005)
8/10
"Where did we go right?"
7 January 2006
The Producers, the 1968 version, is perhaps my favorite movie, at least comedy, of all time. It's a close call between Mel Brooks' loving salute to his favorite Nazi and Dr. Strangelove for the top of my comedy leader board. I never saw the Broadway production of The Producers, written by Brooks, except for the few scenes shown in a classic Curb Your Enthusiasm episode last year, so when I walked into the theater to see the movie version of the Broadway musical, I was going in with a clean slate, as far as the singing and dancing was concerned. As far as the story goes, I basically have the entire movie memorized. From the throw-away lines first uttered by Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, to the ultimate result of Springtime For Hitler, I knew what was coming, and I knew it would be funny. So I concentrated a lot on how well the song and dance numbers supported the story I loved so much. For the most part, the singing and dancing was just fine. The most impressive of the 8 or so song numbers that made it to the movie shows an office filled with unhappy public accountants, and Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) telling us the viewer why he wants to become a Broadway producer. He is wooed into the business by Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane), who was once king of Broadway, but now has fallen on tough times, where he shows are so bad, the theater has installed a sign that goes from "Opening Night" to "Closing Night" before the end of the first act. While going over Bialystock's financial records, he discovers a play that flops could make more money than a play that does well, sending the two on a quest to produce a sure-fire flop. This leads them to Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell), a former Nazi who wrote a loving salute to Hitler. The producers also consult the man regarded as the worst director on Broadway, Roger De Bris (Gary Beach) and his common-law assistant, Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart), who may have been together for too long. Their appearance, though, brings on perhaps the funniest song of the movie, "Keep It Gay," where you have to hear it to believe it. Bialystock and Bloom also hire Ulla (Uma Thurman) as their secretary, even though she speaks very little English, but her Swedish assets woo her bosses into giving her a job. The songs are good, though do add to the overall length of the movie. If you are a musical fan, you'll love the fact they kept most of the songs from the play in the movie, but others may feel it slows the movie down a bit. The ending could have been shorten a bit too, it just felt like everyone has having such a great time that they kept adding to the final scenes, just to make sure it never ends. The movie plot is almost scene-for-scene the same as the original movie, though one main character (Dick Shawn's off-the-way funny LSD) does not make it into this new version, possibly because no one would ever be able to match Shawn's performance for the original. Fans of the original movie will appreciate this version overall, but may quibble with the performances of Land and Broderick. I didn't like the whiny, feeble version of Bloom in this movie, and Lane's Bialystock is fine, but not Mostel, as we knew it could never be. One problem? Nathan Lane has too much hair. His comb-over looks reasonable. The musical numbers look like they are right out of Broadway, they look wonderful and sound wonderful too. And here's the most important part: Mel Brooks did not mess up his original genius. Now, if only he could get Mostel and Wilder to sing again, we may have something.
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4/10
"Honey you actually bought that shirt?"
2 January 2006
I never saw Cheaper by the Dozen (the 2003 surprise hit), and I don't think you have to see it so get all you can out of the sequel. That is to say, there is little to get out of it, so don't waste your time "preparing" for it. Cheaper by the Dozen 2 is a formulaic family comedy where Steve Martin becomes a father possessed with a drive to outdo another father, only to be reminded that his family will still love him no matter if they win the big movie-contrived competition or not. Tom Baker (Steve Martin) and his wife, Kate (Bonnie Hunt) begin the movie by attending their daughter's graduation ceremony with his 11 other kids. Lorraine's graduation (Hilary Duff, no singing this time) motivates Tom to start thinking about how the family is moving apart from the customary tight-knit group he remembers, so he wants to take the family on one last vacation. So they load up the cars and vans and head out to some lake somewhere in the Midwest (or Canada, depending on the film's budget), a lake that has seen the evil Jimmy Murtaugh (Eugene Levy) buy up all of the land and build super lake homes on the shore. Jimmy and Tom have a history, one that is sort of dumb and is one of those back stories that can only be written for a story like this one. I really like Eugene Levy as a comedic actor, but I don't think he was right for this role. Levy excels in understated humor, where his character has no idea he's being funny. The role of Jimmy is over-the-top and cliché and I didn't think he fit the role well at all. Carmen Electra plays Jimmy's wife, and she's actually very good at playing the bimbo wife when given the chance, and the kid actors are generally good as well. The story is predictable and only mildly entertaining, but I guess families will enjoy the night out and there is a certain sweet charm to the final scenes of the film.
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Fantastic Four (I) (2005)
4/10
"What's the worst that could happen?"
2 January 2006
Most Marvel Comics' fans complain that The Incredibles ripped-off The Fantastic Four, and while they are right, when it comes to the movies, The Incredibles was entertaining while Fantastic Four was not. Fantastic Four relies on one-liners and special effects to carry the movie, not trusting the story and bombarding the viewer with quick scenes and supposedly funny lines. Cheap jokes about an invisible girl can only go so far, even for the target audience of pre-pubescent boys. The radiation cloud of doom inflicts unknown damage to five scientists who travel to space in hopes of finding the key to life, rendering each person with radioactive powers. Michael Chiklis, who is usually a good actor, gets very little to do in this movie expect to sulk around and say dumb things like "It's clobberin' time" or "Look at me, I'm huge!" as The Thing, and his talents are wasted. Jessica Alba was good as the cute starlet in Sin City, is adequate here as The Invisible woman, while her brother is some guy who catches on fire (Chris Evans) and hates the fact that he cannot use his powers to pick up chicks. He is by far the most annoying character in the movie. The other super hero is Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) who tries to find the cure to the super hero problem while trying to figure out his relationship with the women of his life. The evil doer is again a Darth Vader like manipulator, this time it's Dr. Doom (Nip/Tuck's Julian McMahon), and like most movies, the villain is the most interesting character in the movie. His motivations are clear, and all of his actions relate to his wants as a selfish business mogul. The movie isn't bad, it's just predictable and at times boring. The special effects are solid, though lack any thrills. Perhaps for the inevitable sequel, the movie-makers will give the Fantastic Four more to do than just utter one-liners. If they want to know how it's done, they should go rent The Incredibles.
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7/10
"What were you children doing in the wardrobe?"
2 January 2006
This movie joins the legion of films based on books I was supposed to read as a younger kid, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a solid adaptation of the CS Lewis novel. For this uninitiated viewer, I found aspects of other fantasy movies sprinkled in the story, with some elements of greater theology thrown in there for good measure. Tilda Swinton plays the evil White Witch (though we never find out how she becomes so powerful or how she recruits her followers) who proclaims herself the ruler of Narnia. The kingdom resides in the back of a wardrobe in an English countryside home where four children flee to during World War II's Battle of Britain bombardment of London. While trying to hide from the housekeeper, the children enter Narnia where they become entangled in the war between the white witch and animals of Narnia, lead by a lion named Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson). The kids, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and Lucy (Georgie Henley) are used by the Witch to proclaim war against Aslan's forces, setting up a battle sequence right out of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. The prodding by the White Witch reminded me of Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies, perhaps shedding light on the source material for George Lucas and his mythology. There is also an undeniable religious slant to the pivotal Aslan scenes, as the parallels between Aslan and Christ cannot be overlooked. It's not a bad thing, and critical viewing of this movie could be used to discuss stories of the Bible without overtly discussing potentially dicey topics. Overall, the movie is entertaining, though a tad long, I thought some scenes could have been trimmed, allowing the story to flow better. The beavers (voiced by Ray Winstone and Dawn French) are not only funny and bring some levity to an otherwise heavy movie, but the animation is top-notch, producing believable beaver tour guides for the characters and viewers. Lovers of the book will like this movie, while other viewers may be entertained in the levels of mythology featured in the movie and their relations to theology.
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7/10
"Violet... you're turning Violet!"
6 December 2005
Tim Burton's personal style is all over Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, an updated version of Roald Dahl's book that inspired the 1970s Gene Wilder movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The dark undertones beneath a happy, bubbly exterior, the heart of the movie is about greed while we enjoy the candy. The essence of chocolate is what this movie is about. While we enjoy the junk food, there is nothing good for you in it, and there is something evil about it rots your teeth. Burton's knack for making what was once a light and fluffy piece of work a darker, more foreboding piece of art shapes the effectiveness of this movie. He did it in the Michael Keaton Batman movie, and here, he uses a Johnny Depp that is channeling Michael Jackson to bring a new Willy Wonka to life. The man who lives within his own chocolate factory is eerie enough, but one who reminds us of a once famous pop singer who lives in his own Wonderland takes the movie to another level. Unfortunately, the timing could not be worse for the movie, as the weirdness of Mr. Jackson kind of ruins the effect of Depp's decision to make Wonka a weird-loaner type character. Freddie Highmore plays Charlie who lives with his family in a small house where all of his grandparents live in one bed. His one grandfather used to work for Wonka, and when Charlie finds the last golden ticket and wins a trip to the chocolate factory, he takes Grandpa Joe (David Kelly) with him. It's Charlie and 4 other children, all of which fall to greed and excess. The fate of each child is truly frightening, and parents should be warned that their children could be scared. The factory itself is truly awesome. The set pieces are wonderful, great looking, and allow the Oompa Loompas (all played by Deep Roy, digitally reproduced to give the allusion of an Oompa Loompa army) to stage their productions with ease and glamor. The music used is catchy, not the Oompa Loompa song from Willy Wonka, but instead 5 different styles, from rock to jazz. My only complaint came in the scenes explaining Wonka's motivation. It involves scenes with his father (Christopher Lee, which had to have set a record for most blockbuster films starred in in one decade) and his anti-candy bias. The reason for this provides a momentary chuckle, but I don't think I needed to know what made Wonka tick. Overall, the movie looks great, but the execution of the story is brought down by Depp's decision to make Wonka a modern day Michael Jackson, in an age of Michael Jackson.
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7/10
"Sometimes the most real things in this world are the things we can't see."
30 November 2005
The Polar Express is a beautiful movie based on the children's picture book of the same name. As wonderful as the paintings that occupy the book are, the movie looks just as good. The movie follows a young boy who finds out on Christmas Eve that he will be going to the North Pole to watch Santa take off on his worldwide trip to gift giving. He had doubts that he will see Santa at all, but goes on the trip and meets up with a know-it-all kid with a terribly annoying voice (voiced by Eddie Deezen) and a girl who has a song in her heart (voiced by Nona Gaye) on a train that goes directly to the North Pole. The Arctic Outback provides the backdrop for the train ride, as we see quiet forests, howling wolves, and interesting terrain that supplies most of the suspense in this movie. The most daring part of the movie comes when the train goes through a roller coaster of tracks, ending by skating across a glacier. This scene is a wonder to watch, expertly crafted by director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future movies), though may scare a few of the young ones out there. Tom Hanks supplies the voices to six characters, including the train conductor, Santa Claus, a hobo riding on the train, and the young boy in which the story revolves. The movie was made by capturing the movements of the actors and running those movements into computers that animated the movie action. The final scenes of the movie take place in the North Pole, where the viewer will see more elves than they may ever want to admit to. The story of the movie is as simple as the book that it is based on, but is still fun to watch. Adults will like the simple story with a positive message, and kids will like the pretty scenes and the subject matter, though some of the perilous situations could scare a few kids. A holiday classic for years to come.
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3/10
"I work for the post office so you know I'm not stable..."
30 November 2005
A formulaic holiday film for the family, Jingle All the Way is a waste of Sinbad's and Phil Hartman's talents, though may be the best we could hope for from Arnold Schwarzenegger. We follow Howard Langston (Schwarzeneggar), the too-busy-to-be-a-good-father we always see in holiday movies, who has one job during for Christmas: get the Turbo Man Doll his son demands. His wife, Liz (Rita Wilson), asked Howard to take care of this task weeks before the movie begins, but did he do it? Noooooo, of course not. So now we enter the holiday hunting season, and just to make it even more desperate for Howard, it's Christmas Eve!!! We follow Howard from toy store to toy store, trying to find this doll in an effort to keep his son happy and prevent him from becoming some bitter, evil adult. The son, by the way, is played by Jake Lloyd, who a few years later would play Annikan Skywalker in Episode I of the Star Wars saga, so I guess he does become a bitter, evil adult in the name of Darth Vader. Perhaps this movie's power reaches even that galaxy far, far away. Anyway, each toy store Howard goes to, Sinbad's mailman character shows up there too, and a rivalry of sorts begins, where they are both enemies in the search for the toy and contemporaries as fathers just trying to make it a good holiday for their kids. Sinbad, who I find very funny, is given very little to work with here, and he plays such a cartoon character, it is hard to take him seriously. The late Phil Hartman plays Howard's next door neighbor, Ted, who helps Howard's wife get ready for the holidays in an effort to get his own Christmas gift. This silly subplot went nowhere, and was just a waste of having Phil Hartman in the movie. Jingle All The Way is sort of entertaining for kids, though there is a potentially disturbing scene involving a gang of Santas who run afoul of the law. Adults will just roll their eyes and wish they were watching Chevy Chase spend his Christmas Vacation.
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5/10
"The Sky Is Falling"
30 November 2005
We all know that at some point during a movie called "Chicken Little," the sky would begin to fall. The way this Disney movie does it in this computer animated movie is surprising, though I'm not really sure if it is entertaining. The movie revolves around Chicken Little (voiced by Scrubs star Zack Braff) who first alerted his hometown to the fact that the sky was indeed falling. The opening scene is the movie's strongest as chaos ensues in town as Chicken Little yells from the bell tower that the sky was falling. When asked to prove it, all Chicken Little could do, however, was show the public an acorn that may have hit him in the head. This of course means Chicken Little is either naive or crazy, or both, and becomes the town laughing stock. This embarrasses his father (voiced by Gary Marshall) to no end, making the Little family an outcast of sorts. This is one of the movie's weaknesses. It relies on tried and true situations that we have seen in many other movies. The movie then shifts a year later as Chicken Little goes to school, taught by a big sheep voiced by Patrick Stewart (Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek). We quickly find out that not only is Chicken Little a loser, but all of his friend are as well, which includes an ugly duckling (voiced by Joan Cusack), the Runt of the Litter (a big fat pig voiced by Steve Zahn), and the peppy Fish Out of Water (voiced by Dan Molina), who was by far my favorite character in the movie. After a major accomplishment by Chicken Little, we soon discover that the sky is indeed falling, but as I mentioned, not for the reasons we would have suspected. The movie then devolves into one of those action pictures that could have been solved with one misunderstanding cleared up. Kids will find it entertaining, and perhaps some adults will enjoy a few of the movie's in-jokes, but overall, this does not measure up to the recent Disney-animated pictures, which include The Incredibles and Finding Nemo.
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9/10
"We were this close to nuclear war, and luck prevented it."
8 October 2005
In what should be required viewing for all Americans, The Fog of War allows one of the most controversial American cabinet figures of the 20th Century to tell the story of the Vietnam War. Robert McNamara talks to us, the viewer, directly, through director Errol Morris' device known as the "Interrotron," speaking of American policies from World War II to the run up of the Vietnam war. If the movie were just McNamara telling us about what happened, that would be one thing. But the movie is much much more, as we hear from McNamara what he felt about each move, not only in his 85 year old body, but also through file footage and tape recordings made in Lyndon Johnson's White House. The Fog of War won the Oscar for best documentary, though it's wildly entertaining through the use of footage from the 1960s, making it almost a narrative movie rather than the "boring" documentary. There is a certain unsettling aspect of how McNamara and the viewer can look right at each other, with only the screen in between us, and he tell us about how orders he made killed hundreds of thousands of foreign civilians, how events he interpreted lead to the death of thousands of American kids in Vietnam, and how he tells us if the Americans had lost WWII, it would have been Americans tried for war crimes, instead of the other way around. The movie is presented almost as an autobiography, presenting each story as a life lesson, where there are 11 of them. I found this approach effective, as it gave the viewer an expectation of what McNamara has learned, and in turn perhaps what we as a country has learned. The present day parallels are obvious, take out most of the "Vietnams" and replace them with "Iraqs," give it 20 years, and the movie could be about Donald Rumsfeld. Errol Morris is about to elicit insights out of McNamara on camera by shouting out questions while McNamara speaks, asking the questions we want the answers for. This movie should be required viewing for all high school history classes, and maybe even for all voting Americans. It will make you think hard about the issues of war and national policy in a time went the debate is vital.
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4/10
"But when Max snoozes, he wins."
7 October 2005
A colorful and occasionally imaginative film, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl (In 3-D!!!) is an overall disappointment, a movie that had good intentions at the beginning, but devolved into a cheesy "message for our youth." The movie revolves around Max (Cayden Boyd), the picked-on grade school student who would rather create his own world rather than live in the real one. Of course he's picked on by class bully Linus (Jacob Davich), of course his parents are always fighting (David Arquette and Kristin Davis), and of course Max lives life as a miserable school student who has very little going for him. Writer/director Robert Rodriguez formulated the entire movie, from story to special effects, based on inspirations provided by his children. There are reasons that most movies, even the bad ones, are not made by children. The movie is well meaning, but relies on too many familiar story devices: class bullies, mean teachers, quiet kids who save the day. We've seen this movie before, but the colorful, Super Mario-Mushroom Kingdom-like worlds that inhabit the movie does add some to the entertainment value. Max is taken to his dream world, known as Planet Drool, by Sharkboy (Taylor Lautner) and Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley), the two superheroes of the world. Each superhero contains some depth, not as much as the superheroes in The Incredibles, but the nice little subplot of each character trying to find their place in the world was a nice touch. For instance, after one difficult scene to watch, we now know Sharkboy cannot rap well at all. Otherwise, the characters are each have one note. George Lopez hams it up, most likely intentionally to offer a cheese element to this movie, but I found his characters to be annoying. The movie's plot lacks any imagination, and the world of Planet Drool does feature some creativity, but not enough to save an otherwise pedestrian family feature. This movie is Rodriguez's second foray into the 3-D genre, and though I did not use the 3-D glasses while viewing the movie, the scenes accenting the technology are pretty obvious to the casual observer and distract from the overall viewing experience. I really enjoyed the visual style Robert Rodriguez employed in Sin City, and that movie may have even been enhanced with a few 3-D moments, but Sharkboy and Lava girl was a move in the opposite direction for the maverick director.
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Sin City (2005)
8/10
"Tell anybody the truth and they're dead!"
21 August 2005
Robert Rodriguez is an ambitious filmmaker. He's done an old west trilogy, he's done 3-D kids movies, but his crowning achievement thus far is Sin City. Not just story wise, but visually and technically, Sin City is a triumph. The glossy, rich look that this movie possesses is something to behold. The use of black and white gives depth to the story and lush look that will not doubt be copied in the future. Most of Sin City was done in front of green screens with the backgrounds added later, much like Sky Captain was, and the transition to finished product is wonderful to see. Based on the graphic novels, as in illustrated comic books but could also apply to the very adult content of the stories, by Frank Miller, Sin City translates three of Miller's stories into the film, held loosely together by a running storyline. The stories pretty much follow a standard formula: an unlikely hero gets in disturbing trouble and they have to fight their way out of it. Greed and power are overlying themes throughout Sin City, often ending with violent results. Bruce Willis plays a detective with a bum ticker, Jessica Alba plays a stripper, Rosario Dawson plays a commando hooker, Brittany Murphy plays a waitress, Mickey Rourke plays an ex-con who is on a mission for survival, Clive Owen and Benecio Del Toro play opposite each other for one storyline, and Elijah Wood plays the most disturbing character in the movie, the mute Kevin. This is only a partial list, it's a fun game to watch Sin City and try to figure out where you've seen each actor on the screen before. Rodriguez shares the directing credits with Frank Miller, as the movie takes it visual style straight from his books, and Quentin Tarantino, who directed one scene. The movie bogs down in it's length, as three of Miller's stories are condensed into this two hour movie. This lead to some confusion on which character was which and why they were doing the things they were doing. The movie would have benefited from disposing of one of the three stories and saving it for the inevitable sequel. The stunning visuals however overcomes any qualms I had with the plot. The violent nature of the movie will detract some viewers, and that's OK. This movie was not made with the casual viewer in mind. Sin City is best viewed when the viewer is prepared for horrifying violence and beautiful black and white photography.
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8/10
"You know I'm retired from hero work."
12 August 2005
Oh how far we've come. Remember back in the 1980s when a computer generated cartoon character of a guy in sunglasses looked so ridiculous that some thought computers had no future. After the success of the Shrek movies and Finding Nemo in the early 2000s, the computer revolution reached a crescendo with Disney/Pixar Studio's movie The Incredibles. The richness and scope of the scenes in The Incredibles is what makes the movie so watchable. The story is pretty good too, a solid superhero story that appeals to both kids and adults, with a sly sense of humor that will entertain. The use of a newsreel montage takes older viewers back to the a day when all of the news came in grainy newsreel stories that had their distinctive narrators. But the punchline comes with the real modern concern presented in the newsreel: citizens suing anyone and everyone. The Incredibles tells the story of Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and his wife Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and how they cope with life after superheroes were "retired" by the government over growing legal concerns. The couple have three children, two of which have special powers of their own. Mr. Incredible takes on the name Bob Parr, with wife Helen, and kids Dash (Spencer Fox), Violet (Sarah Vowell) and baby Jack Jack, as they live a normal, boring life where they can't exhibit their powers. When Bob is given a chance to return to his suit, he takes it, working for someone named "Mirage" (Elizabeth Peña) who ends up working for the dastardly Syndrome (Jason Lee), who was once a huge Mr. Incredible fan. Mr. Incredible gets into big time trouble, and it's up to his family to save the day. The family becomes liberated at the notion that they can partake in their magic powers, and the energy of the movie really picks up. This leads to some standard chase scenes, but they look great due to the wonderful computer animation techniques used by the film makers. The richness of the colors and details on the screen pack the punch needed to make the silly movie believable. Samuel L. Jackson also plays a superhero, Frozone, who is mainly a background character. At nearly 2 hours long, The Incredibles is lengthy, though never tedious, and is the longest completely computer generated movie to date.
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Thunderball (1965)
8/10
"I hope we didn't scare the fishes."
11 August 2005
If there was a perfect setting for a Bond movie, the Bahamas was it. We get to see beautiful women strut around in very little, the ladies got to see Sean Connery strut around in very little, and the seaside locations opened up vast possibilities when it comes to action scenes that are thrilling and seem fresh, even though they are basically the same chase sequences we've seen in the previous three Bond films. They say Thunderball is Connery's favorite of the Bond films he starred in, and it may because Bond carries most of the action throughout the film. Unlike Goldfinger, where Bond is captured and does most of his work through dialog, Thunderball features a Bond swimming, running, jumping, shooting, running some more, and swimming in a shark infested pool. Thunderball also features Largo (Adolfo Celi), SPECTRE's #2 man (notice the eye patch Largo wears and the one Robert Wagner wears in Austin Powers, coincidence?????), and Largo is almost as enjoyable as a villain as Goldfinger was, almost as suave as Bond, a cunning villain who soaks up the scenes he's in. The crowning achievement of Thunderball are the tricky underwater action sequences where most of Largo's plan takes place. As I said about Goldfinger, the plot doesn't matter, just sitting back and watch Bond do what he does in the manner that he does it is why we watch. Tom Jones is the principal singer for the movie's soundtrack, adding an added sexual energy to the movie. Must be something about the tropical setting, but this movie is dripping with sexual tension, with the biggest laugh of the movie coming from Bond's response to a woman in bathtub asking for something to wear. The man certainly can think on his feet.
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Goldfinger (1964)
8/10
"No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die."
11 August 2005
In 1964, the formula for nearly 20 future movies was set in stone with the third James Bond film, Goldfinger, often regarded the best of the Bond films. I'm in no position to judge the merit of such a statement, but I will say it's a favorite of mine. To start off with, I'm a Sean Connery-Bond person; no warm spot in my heart for Roger Moore or Timothy Dalton, though Pierce Brosnan has added life to the franchise, as far as I'm concerned. In Goldfinger, Connery exudes everything that makes James Bond that character that we think of: suave, cool under pressure, quick on his feet, a ladies man. We see the ladies of Bond, from the first scene to the last, as Bond conquers not only evil herion dealers to a loony gold-hungry super villain who's plan is a simple one: take over Ft. Knox and crash the gold market. So the plan is silly, and the execution of the plan is just as absurd, but with most Bond movies, the plot is not what's important, it's the scenes you're expected to see. In Goldfinger, we get to see the Bond-blow something up scene, the Bond-flirt with Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) scene, the Bond-meet with Q (Desmond Llewelyn) and get vital equipment scene, we see Bond-roll in the hay with the villain's woman scene (literally in Goldfinger), and we see the return of the villain for one last hurrah scene. The formula is all there for us to see in Goldfinger, and we'll see it again in the future. The joy of Goldfinger is the villain, Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), with his head henchman Oddjob (Harold Sakata), as they formulate a ridiculous scheme to take over Ft. Knox and blow up all of the gold inside of it. Oh yeah, there's help from the Communish Chinese too. The movie also features the dirtiest of the double entendre-named Bond girl, Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), prompting the movie's biggest laugh when Bond realizes who he's waking up to. Goldfinger's special effects are pedestrian by today's standards, and director Guy Hamilton's use of speeding up the film distracts in some scenes, the movie still holds up as one of the ultimate Bond movies.
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The Shining (1980)
8/10
"Here's Johnny!"
10 August 2005
The Shining is definitely a Steven King story, definitely a Stanley Kubrick movie. Their marks are all over this 1980 thriller about claustrophobia inside a possessed hotel. Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, an author who gets the job of winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies where he'd be alone with his family and could write his latest book. The hotel hires caretakers for the winter to avoid ware-and-tear since the mountain blizzards often cuts the hotel off from the rest of civilization. Early in the movie we are told that a previous caretaker had gone insane and killed his family, and ominous sign to be sure. The mood of the film is established even before that scene however, as in true Kubrickian form, the opening of the movie has a certain feel to it that tells the viewer that something will not be right about the coming movie. The strange sound track, the long helicopter shot of a winding Colorado road sets the mood, an uneasy one. As the movie goes along, slow, quiet scenes predominate. Kubrick trusts his story enough to go minutes without any dialog, and the only words spoken have very little to do with the story, much like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Jack's wife, Wendy, is played by Shelly Duvall who has the difficult job of acting surprised when her husband is taken over by the hotel. The more remarkable acting job was turned in by Danny Lloyd who plays Jack's son, Danny. Danny is the distant cousin of Cole in The Sixth Sense as Danny can see into paranormal worlds and has a creepy invisible friend "Tony." What make's Lloyd's acting even better is that he didn't know he was in a horror film, perhaps lending a certain understated value to his character. The sprawling hotel becomes a character in the movie, in more ways than one, and we become claustrophobic with the characters as the movie reaches its climax. The final third of the movie is where the action happens, where the thrills reside. Most fans of the King book find the movie slow and plodding as Kubrick builds up to the final parts of the film. From the point where Scatman Crothers returns to the hotel in one of the funniest rescue missions you'll see in films to the end, there are genuine thrills and chills. The film will be remembered most for Nicholson's slide into madness (a role custom made for the actor), but it should be remembered as a well crafted, big buildup/big reward thriller.
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The Village (2004)
6/10
"Heed the warning bell, for they are coming."
23 July 2005
M. Night Shyamalan has made some of my favorite movies: The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs. Now he has written another movie that has what is now known as the "twist ending," something he is becoming synonymous with in The Village. I wouldn't dare give away the quick turn to the left the movie takes, but I will say, it disappoints to a degree. It is not a ridiculous ending, but what could have been if Shyamalan had trusted his original premise of a 1890s Pennsylvania countryside village terrorized by creatures who patrol the surrounding woods. We get the usual eerie mood that Shyamalan has given us before. The Village excels in the isolating feeling that we got in Signs. I might be the only person to admit to liking Signs, but I appreciated the humanized battle between one family and invading aliens. Here in The Village, we have one town, cutoff from the rest of society trying to battle a race of creatures who limits their abilities to even treat their sick and injured. The pace of the movie is slow and moody, especially through the orange tint and effective soundtrack. The village is lead by a counsel of elders, including Edward Walker (William Hurt) who is father to two daughters, including the blind Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard). Ivy has a childhood fling with the local mentally challenged man Noah (Adrian Brody) but ends up falling in love with Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix), who is the first to suggest leaving the village to gain medical supplies. After Noah causes harm to Lucius, Ivy decides she's the one to go out into the woods and find medical help. This is where the movie goes from moody mythical theater to that movie with a "twist" ending. I wanted more, dammit. I don't think I'm the only one. I was intrigued by the creatures, and I didn't like how Shymalan dealt with them. Sure, there is a certain amount of interest and logic to how the movie played out, but it could have been more. I didn't hate this movie, but I kind of hated how it ended. Mr. Shyamalan, for your next movie, perhaps the best "twist" is no twist at all.
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