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Monday, March 7, 2011

Gnomeo and Juliet review
    I sincerely believe that “Gnomeo and Juliet” was made after the following conversation between two executives in Disney’s “Low Creativity, Moderate Profits” department:

Exec 1: We want to do “Romeo and Juliet” for kids, but the characters shouldn’t be human. Let’s do it with some cute little creatures that will make the movie more family-friendly.

Exec 2: Why don’t we make the title a pun? Kids love puns. Or at least we’ll tell them they love puns.

Exec 1: How about “Romeo and Blueliet”? All of the characters are blue.

Exec 2: Let’s leave “Juliet” alone and do something with “Romeo”.

Exec 1: Ooh I’ve got it. “Snowmeo and Juliet”. All the characters are snowmen.

Exec 2: “Cromeo and Juliet”. They’re all crows. Or they’re all made of chrome.

Exec 1: “Yo-yomeo and Juliet”. They’re yo-yos and their feuding because they’re on opposite hands.

Exec 2: “’Fromeo and Juliet”. They all have big funny afros

Exec 1: “Gnomeo and Juliet”. They’re garden gnomes.

Exec 2: Good one. We’ll go with that. Although I still kinda like “’Fromeo and Juliet”…

    It’s hard to watch “Gnomeo and Juliet” and not think that the title came first, and the movie was made around it. Garden gnomes aren’t that funny, their backyard environment isn’t a world of possibilities for an animated comedy, and kids aren’t going to be thrilled about the idea of an ugly garden gnome movie anyway. There’s only one tacky pink flamingo in the movie, even though flamingos are much funnier-looking than gnomes. The whole cast should have been made up of them. Call it “Flamingomeo and Juliet”.

    Those familiar with the story can anticipate the plot. Two feuding gnome families live in the backyard of grouchy duplex neighbors Montague and Capulet. Gnomeo (James McAvoy) is the star lawnmower racer for the Blue (Montague) gnomes. Juliet (Emily Blunt) is the sheltered daughter of the Red (Capulet) gnomes. One night, dressed all in black, they both sneak out to sabotage the other family. They meet in the middle and fall in love. But then they discover each other’s true colors and their minds fill with problems and questions. Can a Blue actually love a Red? Will the other Blues and Reds even allow the two to love each other? Hint: the movie has a Disney ending, not the Shakespeare one.

    The film is smattered with Shakespeare references (including a cameo by a statue of The Bard), which leads me to believe that it is trying to appeal to the high school theater geek demographic. Once it hits DVD, its legacy will probably be as one of those movies that English teachers pop in for a rainy day “source vs. adaptation” discussion. Its legacy will not be that it is entertaining.

    I liked the voice casting, there’s something positive. McAvoy and Blunt are charming enough for me to root for them (something I don’t usually say about McAvoy). I liked the idea of Jason Stathem as Tybalt, Juliet’s villainous goon of a cousin. Shame we only get his voice, since I’m sure Stathem would nail the part in live action. The film could have cast some goofy celebrity comedian in the part of the flamingo, but they go with respected veteran voice actor Jim Cummings – always a treat.

    I hold Disney animation to a higher standard than “Gnomeo and Juliet”. It isn’t that the film isn’t aiming high, it just isn’t aiming high enough. Its characters, jokes, and spirit would be a lot more enjoyable if I didn’t know I’d seen them all done before and done much better. Your kids might enjoy it more than I did, since they haven’t had as many chances to see the same things done before and done better. The film is harmless, but it didn’t hold my interest. I’ve got a pun name of my own for it. I call it “So-Someo and Juliet”.

Two stars out of five.

1:19 pm est          Comments

Sanctum review
     The ads for “Sanctum” draw immediate attention James Cameron’s producing credit. Since audiences associate Cameron with stunning visuals, it’s no wonder that the film makes a number of unnecessary attempts to look beautiful. At the opening there’s a big majestic shot of the opening to the cave where the movie takes place. Almost all the underwater shots are bathed in a warm bluish-green hue. Muscular bodies glisten with occasional beads of perspiration.

    “Sanctum” is a movie that takes place in a cave, most of it in the midst and aftermath of a devastating storm. I can accept the gorgeous shots of the mouth of the cave in broad daylight at the beginning, and maybe I can buy some of the cave’s early beauty since the film mentions that the team has a cave-load of expensive equipment, which I assume includes several lights. But once the storm hits and the characters are supposed to be down to the lights on their helmets, the cave still looks like it’s lit for a movie set.

    The well-lit cave isn’t the only element whose “beautiful” appearance is a distraction. One time at camp I went caving for a few hours. Mere minutes into the unpleasant experience (slightly more unpleasant than watching “Sanctum”), every inch of me was completely caked in cave mud. The characters in the movie should be filthy even before they are enveloped by the storm, any cleanliness afterward is completely unacceptable. But no, they still all fit Hollywood’s definition of “ruggedly handsome”.

    The story surrounds a group of cave explorers. Grizzled veteran Frank (Richard Roxburgh) is their leader, being the most experienced and having passion for nothing (and no one) else. Rich jerk Carl (Ioan Gruffudd) has paid everyone else to do the menial task of clearing a path through most of the cave so he can jump in at the last minute and “discover” the parts they haven’t touched yet. Carl’s spoiled girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson) is along so he’ll have someone to listen when he says “See that – we’re the first people in history to see that.” Frank’s son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) is in the cave for reasons that were never clear to me. All he ever talks about is how much he hates his dad, how much he hates caves, and how much he hates that his dad chose caves over him. There are four or five other members of Frank’s crew, but… don’t get too attached to them.

    The team gets trapped in the cave when the storm hits, their exit strategy falls through, the chamber that they’re in starts to flood, and they have to move forward into uncharted territory if they ever want to get out. I guess the film qualifies as a disaster movie because of the storm, but structurally it more closely follows that of a slasher movie. The characters get picked off one by one, just by their environment instead of a serial killer. Another similarity with the slasher genre was that I wanted to yell advice to the characters. Specifically, “Don’t fiddle with your air tube when it’s your only source of oxygen!”

    “Sanctum” is based on a true story, so I knew that someone had to make it out alive to tell the story and get a movie deal. Of course, if I were watching real people I would be rooting for them to all make it out of the cave safe and sound. But these are movie characters, and I kept having to recalculate which ones were the most likeable (and later least unlikeable) so I could root for them. Nobody initially higher than third from the bottom made it out. I don’t find it hard to believe that the characters in “Sanctum” might not have been likeable in reality, especially under such dire circumstances. I do find it hard to believe that they naturally spoke like bad actors and weren’t covered in mud.

One star out of five.
1:15 pm est          Comments

The King's Speech review
        A lifetime of guaranteed respect must be annoying for royalty.  Yes, we all love the idea of being able to punish anyone who treats us rudely, but reverence loses its value when we receive it automatically.  Sometimes a royal might question if people are respecting them or the crown.  Some might question if people are acting respectful only because they have an obligation to do so.  And in cases when the king absolutely knows that he’s doing a bad job, the unconditional respect of his subjects doesn’t mean a thing. 
England’s Duke of York, later King George VI, (Colin Firth) is bad at talking.  He has a stammer.  It isn’t the easily mockable type that one would attribute to Porky Pig, but it’s impossible not to notice the elongated pauses that interfere with the flow of his sentences.  Nobody in the kingdom acts disrespectfully (at least not to his face), but he knows he’s failing his countrymen.  The country is on the verge of World War II, and it needs a leader who can command the nation with his words.  He is not the king, he is not supposed to be king, but he is still expected to act like a leader and inspire confidence.  It is time to address the problem. 

Enter speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).  He is not a doctor, nor is he accredited in any way.  His career is built entirely on his reputation, his reputation earned because he is the best.  Things between the Duke (real name Albert) and Lionel get off to a bad start as Lionel insists upon some rules that Albert feels are beneath a member of the royal family.  For example, Lionel wants them to call each other by first name.  The Duke is insulted enough to be referred to as Albert and even less comfortable being called “Bertie”.  Lionel also insists that Bertie visit him at his office (as opposed to making a house call) and that he stop smoking.  The latter is actually a valuable part of speech therapy, but Bertie is disgusted to be denied the privilege.  Bertie is about to storm out of the office when Lionel shows him that he can speak perfectly when distracted by music.  Bertie sees that he’s making progress and continues to see Lionel. 

Much of the film is devoted to Lionel’s unorthodox therapy methods.  There are physical exercises, one of which involves Bertie’s ever-game wife (Helena Bonham Carter) sitting on his chest.  Vocal exercises see tons of tongue-twisters and silly noises.  They even get into a bit of psychotherapy, in which we learn that being a royal doesn’t command much respect from the royal family itself.  With the exception of the painful memories, these scenes are very funny and make the film highly enjoyable. 

A film of this gravity can’t stay funny and enjoyable forever, and soon more pressing issues force themselves into Bertie’s life.  His father the king dies, leaving the crown to Bertie’s brother King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce).  But Edward abdicates the throne, and King George VI rises to power as the country approaches one of its darkest hours.  His stammer is at once the least of his problems and the last one he needs. 

The added pressure puts a lot of strain on Bertie’s relationship with Lionel.  The two had become great friends professionally and personally. What before was friendly advice on Lionel’s part now comes off as familiar and unprofessional.  Not to mention that now Lionel really has no business enforcing any kind of rules with the king.  Still, Lionel knows that deep down Bertie still needs him more than ever. 

“The King’s Speech” is funny in the right parts, touching in the right parts, and inspiring in the right parts.  It opened late last year, but is coming to our area now because it received twelve Academy Awards nominations, including one for Best Picture.  All twelve of those nominations are well-deserved.  

Four stars out of five.
1:10 pm est          Comments

Green Hornet review
    Every now and then, some wannabe comedian will play a character that is “a superhero with the power to be super-annoying”. Then they make an irritating sound and look for approval from the audience, who either frown or boo. Now comes “The Green Hornet”, a film that asks you to spend $8.50 and two hours of your time watching Seth Rogen play a superhero with the power to be super-annoying.

    Rogen plays Britt Reid, a lazy millionaire playboy who inherits a newspaper empire after his father’s mysterious death. He fires all his father’s household servants, but invites back Kato (Jay Chou) since he doesn’t know how to work the coffee machine himself. It turns out that Kato can make all kinds of gadgets and has all sorts of talents. Britt befriends Kato because of all Kato can do for him.

    Britt and Kato go out for masked vandalism spree. Shortly after they cut the head off of Britt’s father’s memorial statue, Britt notices a group of muggers attacking a woman. He starts threatening them, hoping to scare them off, but they chase after him. The spoiled slob can’t fight them off, but Kato beats them all up with ease (the man has talents). Britt likes superheroes and thinks that with his personality and Kato’s ability, the two will be an unstoppable duo. Kato of course knows that Britt’s personality adds nothing, but goes along with the idea anyway.

    Always one to draw attention to himself, Britt insists that his paper cover all the exploits of the charismatic new figure known as the Green Hornet. This attracts the attention of crime boss Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), whose own charisma has been in question lately. Smaller criminals aren’t scared of him when he comes to demand a piece of their action. They look at his grey beard and think he looks like a “before” model for Just For Men. They don’t even pronounce his name correctly. Sure, they take him seriously when he blows them to smithereens, but it isn’t the same as commanding respect. And now the green goofball is getting all the headlines. He demands a meeting with the Green Hornet and his anonymous sidekick. This puts the heroes in Chudnofsky’s sight, but it also puts Chudnofsky in Kato’s sight.

    The Green Hornet writes checks with his mouth and Kato cashes them, at least that’s how Britt sees it. He thinks he’s being fearless by drawing the bad guys out into the open. But he’s really just putting his natural ability to be annoying to slightly better use. Kato still does all the work even if he is about as charismatic as Chudnofsky. He becomes increasingly frustrated trying to get Britt to grasp that concept

    But Britt continues to talk down to Kato, ordering him to get coffee and so forth. Britt even keeps Kato from enjoying the company of his beautiful new assistant (Cameron Diaz). The two come to blows and a surprisingly even-sided fight ensues. Britt is at no point a good fighter, because that would require him to have some kind of talent. The difference is that Kato has to spend an extra split second thinking of a way to send Britt a message without doing permanent damage, a problem he doesn’t have with disposable villains. Britt thinks he’s just improving.

    None of this is to say that the film isn’t impressive visually. Director Michel Gondry has lots of tricks up his sleeve, my favorite being a multiple split-screen sequence where suspected Green Hornets are hunted down. Nor am I saying that Seth Rogen isn’t funny. He got a few hearty laughs out of me and he’s about as good an actor as any to cast as the delusional lump that is Britt Reid. The problem is that super-annoying delusional lumps don’t make good superheroes and therefore “The Green Hornet” doesn’t make a good superhero movie.

Two stars out of five.

1:06 pm est          Comments

Season of the Witch review
    “Season of the Witch” is an ugly, ugly film where Nicolas Cage helps escort a suspected witch to an unfair trial in a plague-ravaged Europe. Everything about the film is unpleasant; I only came out of the film with a laundry list of complaints. In the interest of salvaging some fun, I will be subjecting the film to Popcorn Games. Popcorn Games are where you eat popcorn according to what happens in the film.

Cage is playing an English soldier, so eat a piece of popcorn each time he attempts a British accent. His costar Ron Perlman doesn’t bother attempting an accent, probably because any country would be glad to have a tough guy like him on their side regardless of apparent nationality. 

Cage and Perlman are the film’s good guys because they desert their Crusading army, which has taken to killing women and children in cold blood. Their commander seems shocked by their questioning of his moral authority after his army has been completely obedient for the past twelve years. When this happens, eat twelve pieces of popcorn and wonder how these two degenerates could be the first ones to bring up the issue. 

The film can’t go ten minutes without giving us shots of dead plague victims. The faces of these victims are all distorted to the point where they look like Sloth from “The Goonies”. Eat a piece of popcorn each time you see such a body Don’t worry about losing your appetite, the special effects are so bad you won’t realize that these are supposed to be people. 

The girl (Claire Foy) that the group is escorting is accused of witchcraft, but it’s clear early on that she’s actually demon-possessed. Eat a piece of popcorn every time the film confuses the two concepts. Eat two pieces later in the film when it confuses demons and zombies.

The team’s crooked guide is played by British actor Stephen Graham. British actor, British character, and inexplicably Graham plays him with an American accent. The character isn’t even important, yet serves as a distraction. When he talks, stuff a lot of popcorn in your mouth so you have as much trouble talking as he does.

The film likes to bring up those infamous tests where suspected witches would be killed even if their deaths proved they weren’t guilty of witchcraft (“if she’s a witch, she’ll save herself from drowning”, etc.). Roll your eyes and roll a piece of popcorn into your mouth when you realize that these references are supposed to be some sort of statement regarding War on Terror-style interrogation techniques.

The one decent suspense scene in the film is one where the team has to get their whole caravan across a weak suspension bridge. They have a hard enough time just getting to the center, and then they have to fight gravity to get to the other side. All while the ropes could go at any minute. You’ll want to bite your nails, bite popcorn instead.

The climax of the film involves CGI demons, and a scene shortly before it involves CGI wolves. The CGI demons are crummy, but at least the artists can be forgiven for not knowing how to render a fictional creature. But eat a piece of popcorn for each of the cheesy CGI wolves. You’ll be wondering if the artists have ever even seen a wolf.

The team is joined by a young altar boy (Robert Sheehan), who is supposed to be the eye candy for the film. As opposed to, say, Ron “Hellboy” Perlman. Eat a piece of popcorn every time you think that the film wants to turn him into the next Robert Pattinson. Then remember that the movie is going to bomb and Sheehan isn’t even on the posters.

One star out of five.
1:01 pm est          Comments

Little Fockers review
      One of the themes running through the “Fockers” series is that the characters have a real problem respecting boundaries. In 2000’s “Meet the Parents”, Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) was reluctantly strapped into a polygraph machine by his girlfriend’s father Jack Byrnes (Robert DeNiro). While this behavior is certainly over the line, the film at least took the time to explain that Jack cared only about his daughter’s well-being, even if he knew it was at the expense of making Greg uncomfortable.

    In 2005’s “Meet the Fockers”, Jack was still interjecting himself in Greg’s business, but Greg’s parents (Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman) were added to the mix. Roz (Streisand) was a sex therapist, and the topic came up in many conversations, much to Greg’s humiliation. Whereas before Jack actively defied a boundary, the joke here was that Greg’s parents were just ignorant. They were simply unable to gauge how appropriate the topic was, even though Roz must have earned her degree decades earlier and the couple had years to practice the art of polite conversation. The film was a lot less funny because it was hard to believe that the characters could be so socially inept.

    In “Little Fockers”, another five years have passed. Greg is finally married to Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo) and they have twins. Greg’s parents still tell inappropriate sexual anecdotes and Jack is breathing down Greg’s neck as always. Jack has recently had a heart attack and he is concerned about Greg’s ability to lead the family after he is gone. Greg is doing his best, buying the family a new home, trying to get the kids into an expensive private school, and even stepping up professionally as the new spokesperson for an unflattering drug. But other people are interfering with his happiness by overstepping their boundaries.

    One such overstepper is a family friend named Kevin (Owen Wilson). Previously a bit character, Kevin has been upgraded to something of a third lead. Kevin is incredibly rich, vaguely spiritual, and still competing with Greg for Pam’s affections. This time he seems to be craving the kids’ affections too. He’s always there to comfort the family and to say something to one-up Greg. Greg is understandably unhappy with Kevin for his constant showboating, but Kevin doesn’t take the hint and Greg looks like a jealous jerk for bringing up the subject at all. It’s bad enough that Kevin is this stupid, but the rest of the characters look just as bad for failing to see right through him.

    Another character who fails to see the way she violates boundaries is a fellow nurse named Andi (Jessica Alba). For whatever reason, Andi wants to have an affair with Greg. Granted, she’s actually out to violate a boundary, but she crosses a line in her methods alone. She has Greg pretend to be her new boyfriend as she meets an ex, she meets Greg one on one after a fight with Pam, and she throws herself at him in such a way that Jack has what he thinks is enough physical evidence to prove an affair. Come to think of it, Andi may be terrible at reading Greg, but Greg is the stupid one here. He’s living in a world where people fail to see such boundaries, he needs to come right out and tell Andi that she’s making him uncomfortable and sending the wrong message to his family.

    Other characters don’t see boundaries, Greg doesn’t bother to establish boundaries, nobody is smart enough to be likeable. I guess at least the twins can be forgiven for ignoring boundaries, since they are literally too immature to grasp the concept. Everybody else is just immature in the annoying, figurative, should-know-better sort of way. But even then, I can’t forgive “Little Fockers” for ripping off the “kids say the darndest things” device used in countless funnier films before.

One star out of five.
12:54 pm est          Comments

True Grit review
         “True Grit” is a meeting of many powerful forces.  Jeff Bridges is the most recent winner of the Academy Award for Best Actor.  Directors Joel and Ethan Coen won the Academy Award for Best Director three years ago.  The film is a remake of a 1969 Western that won John Wayne an Academy Award for Best Actor.  Matt Damon is in the film, and he has an Oscar for writing and two acting nominations.  With all these acclaimed elements in place, it is no surprise that the film will no doubt go down as a critical darling.  And with all the acclaimed elements leading to high expectations, it is no surprise that the film is just a bit disappointing. 
By now, it is little secret that the real star of the film isn’t grizzled bounty hunter Rooster Cogburn (Bridges), but rather his determined fourteen-year-old client Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld).  Mattie is looking to avenge the death of her father at the hands of Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).  Mattie is stubborn and knowledgeable, and she is one to get what she wants.  There are a number of scenes early in the film where Mattie displays her skills at fast-talking haggling and firm promises of legal action.  Steinfeld is terrific in these scenes, but I had an issue with legal threats as a way of moving the story along.  The Wild West world of the film is one where people solve their problems with violence and don’t stick around to worry about consequences.  It seems out of place for the characters to let legal obligations affect their actions. 

Mattie doesn’t trust Cogburn, so she insists on accompanying him on his mission to find Chaney.  They team up with a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Damon), who has an agenda of his own.  Somehow they manage to make good progress with one being fourteen, one being injured, and one being old, drunk, and out of shape.  There are many scenes where the team’s loyalty is tested and one member wants to kick another out of the group or strike out on their own.  The second act of the film essentially depends on the chemistry between the three leads, which all three actors have in spades. 

There are occasional shootouts as the story goes along, and of course there is a climactic battle when we finally meet Chaney toward the end.  I liked the action scenes in the film because they kept me guessing.  While conventional logic tells me that the main characters need to live to see another fight (and Maddie has to make it to the end, since she’s narrating the story as an adult), there was legitimate suspense as to how the characters were going to get out of various situations.  I wish the scenes had been longer so the characters could keep their cat and mouse games going, but I can’t fault them for wanting to take care of business as quickly as possible. 

The Achilles’ heel of the film is its ending, an element that has brought down many a Coen brothers film in the past.  Rushing, loose ends, and crucial action taking place offscreen all cause the film to end on a sour note.  It isn’t so much that the film loses steam, because this isn’t a film that simply runs out of good ideas.  The problem is that Maddie needs to be taken away from the action for a while, and we end up feeling just as removed as she is.  Still, the closing narration could give us better details.  Like “No Country for Old Men”, the film ends on a cryptic line and the credits roll before anyone even realizes that the scene has ended.  Still, “True Grit” is probably the best thing opening at your theater this holiday season, and it is certainly a good decision to acquaint yourself with it before it rakes in a number of Oscar nominations. 

Three stars out of five.

12:49 pm est          Comments

Tron Legacy review
    I hate to admit it, but I didn’t do my research before seeing “Tron: Legacy”. That is, I never saw 1982’s “Tron”. The movie came out three years before I was born, so I didn’t see it in theaters. I never bothered renting it when I frequented video stores. It isn’t even available from Netflix. I went into “Tron: Legacy” without a clue. But then again, so are most people.

    Disney wants to make “Tron: Legacy” its big hit of the 2010 Christmas season. For it to be a hit, it needs to be seen by lots and lots of young people, people even younger than me. Is this an audience that is supposed to have seen the original? Going in, I doubted it. I thought for sure that the film would be more of a remake, something to give fans of the original an update with modern special effects while standing alone as an entertaining introduction for a new generation. But “Tron: Legacy” either requires deep knowledge of the original film or the film is just poorly thought out on its own.

    The story is that software CEO Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) went missing in 1989. It was rumored that he was working on perfecting a virtual world. His son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) doesn’t believe him to still be alive, but is interested when he finds out that a call was made from his father’s long-vacant office. He goes to investigate, only to be sucked into the virtual world that his father created.

    Kevin created this world so users could log on and enjoy themselves in a stylized landscape. The selling point of the movie is that we get to enjoy the impressive visuals of this world. But at no point does the world look enjoyable. Everything is murky, save for occasional lines of neon light. All the people are pale and all the locations look like they’ve been rented from a tacky laser tag arena. Why did Kevin think that this world would be appealing to gamers and why did Disney think that this world would appeal to viewers?

    At first, Sam’s only goal is to escape from the virtual world. But then he realizes that his father might have been stuck here all these years as well. He meets the ruler of the virtual world, who must be his father since he looks just like his father did when he disappeared. Alas, he is meeting Clu (also Bridges), an evil virtual clone of his father who was designed to keep order but instead rules as a tyrant. Clu battles Sam in a virtual arena, in a deadly game with rules that the film thinks are self-evident (they are not). Clu appears to be winning when Sam is rescued by a girl named Quorra (Olivia Wilde). She takes him to her mentor, the long-lost Kevin.

    Sam, Kevin, and Quorra spend the rest of the film trying to get back to the portal from whence Sam came. The problem is that Clu can use the same portal as an opportunity to get out himself, and enslave all of Earth in the process. Apparently mankind cannot possibly stand up to an artificial being that has never existed in the real world. But then again, what advantages and disadvantages would humans have against living video game characters.

    Again, the movie might have provided an explanation that just went over my head. Maybe there was an explanation hidden in the 1982 film, one that I was supposed to know going in. I don’t know exactly why the movie doesn’t make any sense, all I know is that it doesn’t. I doubt better visual effects would have been able to save the film, but it certainly doesn’t help that they are as equally unappealing as the story. You’d be wasting your time logging on to “Tron: Legacy”.

One star out of five.
12:36 pm est          Comments

The Tourist review
        It is usually a good thing to know that actors had a good time filming a movie. If the movie is a comedy, their natural glee will make their performances that much more believable. If the actors are good friends with each other, their chemistry will bring out the best in each other’s performances even if the movie isn’t a comedy. However, it is a bad thing that Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie had fun filming “The Tourist”, because there is no reason for “The Tourist” to exist other than for Depp and Jolie to have fun.

    “The Tourist” is another one of those dreadful “Actors’ Paid Vacation” movies. 2004’s “Ocean’s Twelve” is probably the most well-known example of this formula, but it might soon be replaced with “The Tourist”. APV movies happen when big name actors want to take a break from their busy schedules. They sign on to do an easy movie in a beautiful location (in this case Venice). Nobody else can book them during this time because they are technically working. They get to spend a few weeks having fun goofing around on a set, and the studio is okay with this because they get to promote a movie with an exotic location and big name actors. Everybody wins, except the people who pay to see a movie that was made just so the actors could enjoy themselves and not because it actually deserved to be made.

    Jolie stars as Elise, girlfriend to criminal banker Alexander Knox. Scotland Yard is after Knox, but their only lead is Elise. At least that’s the excuse that the team, led by Acheson (Paul Bettany), uses to look at Elise all day. Elise isn’t much of a lead, since a year of surveillance hasn’t gotten the team a single good look at Knox. It turns out that Knox may have recently had plastic surgery, so even Elise may not know what he looks like anymore. The film goes far out of its way to establish that nobody knows what Knox looks like, which means that he’s either going to be played by a big-name actor in a shocking cameo or someone hiding in plain sight.

    One day, Elise gets instructions to meet up with Knox. But since Knox knows Acheson’s team is following her, she is supposed to throw them off his trail by befriending someone on a train and making the team think he’s Knox. She chooses Frank (Depp), an American tourist. Frank goes along with her because he’s not about to turn down someone who looks like Angelina Jolie. Acheson is fooled for a split second before figuring out that Frank is nobody. That split second causes a mole inside Scotland Yard to believe that Frank is Knox, and he passes his picture to a dangerous gangster that Knox crossed. Acheson is still following Elise to get to Knox, and the real bad guys are following the couple because they think Frank is Knox.

    Again, the film isn’t really about the plot with the mistaken identities. The film takes 45 minutes to get to the slightest hint of an action sequence, and the plot barely picks up after that. The point of the film is that we get to “enjoy” Frank and Elise killing time in Venice the same way Depp and Jolie enjoyed themselves killing time in Venice. They stay in a ritzy hotel, they eat decadent food, she wears gorgeous dresses, they exchange in cutesy dialogue, and there are plenty of beautiful shots of Venice’s canals and gondolas. It’s a good-looking film to be sure, but it needs to do more than look good to be worth two hours of your time, not to mention your money. “The Tourist” isn’t worth the trip.

One star out of five.

12:27 pm est          Comments

Tangled review
            “They don’t make them like this anymore”.  There’s a slippery phrase.  If someone used this phrase to sell you a car, what would you think they meant?  You’re supposed to think that it’s a classic, that it’s from an era before everything got soft and cars were allowed to look cool.  But it can just as easily mean that it’s from an era before modern safety standards, which would make the car old and impractical.  The point is that there’s usually a good reason why they don’t make them like this anymore.  In the case of Disney’s “Tangled” however, the phrase proves true in the best possible sense.

            “Tangled” does indeed invoke another era, an era before so many animated films had to be covered in layer after layer of irony.  Disney made “Tangled” after they realized that they hadn’t done a straightforward fairy tale movie a while.  There’s no crude humor, no references to modern technology, and no break dancing.  This is an honest film.  It succeeds because it is genuinely smart, funny, and sweet.  It is a film with a smile, not a smirk.

            The film tells the story of Rapunzel.  We know she’s a heroine with long hair, but we don’t know much else.  The film wastes no time filling in the rest of the details.  Rapunzel is a princess whose ailing mother was given a potion made from a magical healing flower.  The flower’s healing powers were passed down to Rapunzel.  An evil witch (the previous owner of the flower, who hadn’t shared its powers with anybody) kidnaps baby Rapunzel from her crib and raises her in a tower far away from the kingdom.  Rapunzel can never leave the tower and the witch can keep the healing powers for herself.  Despite having an evil witch for a “mother”, Rapunzel grows up to be kind, charming, and strong-willed.  She just wishes she could leave her tower.  

Along comes handsome bandit Flynn Rider.  He likes to steal things with a team and then take all the loot for himself.  His latest theft is a crown belonging to the kingdom’s “missing” princess.  Looking for a hiding spot, he comes along Rapunzel’s tower.  Fearful of other people, Rapunzel immediately overpowers him, takes the crown to use as leverage, and hides him from her mother.  She comes to make a deal with Flynn:  she’ll give him back the crown and he’ll take her away from the tower to see the kingdom’s annual lantern celebration, where thousands of lanterns are released so the “missing” princess can find her way home.  He reluctantly agrees, and so the adventure begins.

            All the elements of a classic Disney adventure are here.  There’s a tough chameleon sidekick, a bar full of thugs who turn out to not be so mean after all, thousands of uses for Rapunzel’s hair, love followed by betrayal followed by more love, and musical numbers.  Oh, how I’ve missed those wonderful chirpy Disney musical numbers, done here as masterfully as they’ve ever been done before.  I like to think of this style as an old friend that I haven’t seen in a long time.  Other, cynical animated movies would have me believe that this friend wore out its welcome a long time ago.  I can’t even remember why this friend left in the first place, but let’s never fight again.

Too many animated films today assume that kids are sick of the “same kinds” of fairy tale movies that Disney perfected during the late 80s and early 90s.  The kids of this generation have seen so many attacks on the original formula that they might not realize what the original formula even is.  “Tangled” is an excellent introduction to the Disney Classic for some, and excellent reminder for the rest of us, and just plain excellent for everyone.   Five stars (out of five)
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