Sex and the City – Big Time

Sex and the City     B-

Starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, and Kim Cattrall
Directed by Michael Patrick King (HBO’s Sex and the City)
Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language
Appropriate for ages 17+

The Story: Many years have passed since the television show ended, and Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda are still best friends.  Now that she’s 40, Carrie has finally gotten her proposal from her long-time on-and-off-again boyfriend Big.  Of course complications arise, the wedding is canceled, and all of the girls have their little issues.  What else would you put in a two-and-a-half hour series finale?

The Good: Overall, the story is excellent and the characters stick to their guns.  If you liked the series, expect to like the movie.  The script is full of wit, laughter, and heartache and the actors all turn in solid performances. 

I was surprised at how well the men came off.  Men weren’t always the bad guys in the show, but they didn’t come off so perfect as this either.  The few flaws in the men were excused as being brought on by the crazy women.  More on that next. 

The Bad: While I basically like the characters, I can’t stand their self-absorbed, materialistic, irrational ways.  And because I can’t understand them, I can’t appreciate them enough to really enjoy them.  Sure their antics make me laugh, but I spent much of the film wanting to slap some sense into them.  I actually felt sorry for Big, even though he stood Carrie up at the wedding.  In fact, the only empathy I felt was for the poor men that had to put up with these ridiculous girls. 

I will chalk some of this up to this being a big-time chick flick.  I am not the target audience here and I am ok with that.  I’m not saying that men won’t enjoy this and if given the choice between seeing this or most other chick flicks, I would go with this one easily. 

The Summary: Although the girls tend to annoy me a bit, they stay true to their characters and should give their target audience exactly what they came for.

Bella – Indie Heaven

Bella

Starring Eduardo Verastegui, Tammy Blanchard, and  Manny Perez
Directed by  Alejandro Gomez Monteverde
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief disturbing images
Appropriate for ages 13+
Available May 6, 2008 on DVD (review is better late than never)

“If you ever want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans” is the quote that begins this remarkable film about one day that changes the lives of three people forever.  Jose is a young professional soccer player with a bright future until he has an unfortunate accident that ruins his life.  Years later he spends a day consoling a young girl named Nina that has just been fired from his brother’s restaurant, and helps her with a very tough life-changing decision.

This film was powerful enough to win the Toronto Film Festival in 2006, an award that typically goes to an Oscar winner.  Because of the low budget and the lack of promotion, it didn’t have a chance at a major industry award, but settling for the DVD will still give you an unforgettable emotional experience that many will thank my suggestion for later. 

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – Out with a Bang



Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull    A

Starring Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf, and Ray Winstone
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Rated PG-13 for adventure violence and scary images
Appropriate for all ages (just my opinion)

The Story: Many years after Indy’s Crusade, the times have changed and now the Russians, rather than the Nazis, are the bad guys.  They are lead by a female psychic/scientist that tries to force Indy to lead them to a lost city in South America where they might find treasure or even enlightenment to the world beyond ours.  Along the way he meets up with ex-lover Marian Ravenwood (Allen) and her son (Labeouf).  You don’t have to be Maury to figure that one out.

The Good: Let’s start with the beginning.  Every Indy movie opens with a huge set piece, but no movie ever made (I know – big claim) could match up to this one.  From Area 51 to the nuclear tests of New Mexico, this is as big of an opening as you could imagine for the adventurer. 
The rest of the film follows suit.  There is barely time to breath as Indy goes from one city to the next with the bad guys hot in pursuit.  The action is fast and furious and more importantly – funny.  There is a lot of humor thrown into every scene and you will find yourselves needing to take many a fingernail break so that you can laugh out loud. 
It is more than apparent that Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, and the rest of the cast and crew had a blast making this spectacular film and I think that most folks, as long as they don’t take it too seriously, will have a blast watching it.

The Bad: The worst thing about this film is the expectation of something different.  People have been looking forward to it for too long and many will expect something far different than what ended up on screen.  I’ve heard of critics being disappointed by the silliness, the script, and even the use of a science fiction driven plot, but I think that if your expectations are where they should be, then you will enjoy this film.  After all – it’s Steven and George’s adventure – not yours.  I can’t think of a better way to end the Indy saga than with a mix of adventure and sci-fi. 
I will say that I wasn’t too impressed with Allen and Winstone’s roles or performances in the film.  Allen is just not that strong of an actress and Winstone’s character is too predictable and clich├ęd.

The Summary:  I loved every ridiculous minute of this movie.
 


The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian – A Kingly Effort

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian     B+

Starring Ben Barnes, Peter Dinklage, and Sergio Castellitto
Directed by Andrew Adamson (Shrek)
Rated PG for epic battle action and violence
Appropriate for all ages


The Story: While only one year has passed since Lucy, Susan, Peter, and Edmund left Narnia to go back to London, 1300 years have passed in Narnia.  An evil king (Castellitto) attempts to kill his nephew Caspian, the rightful heir to the throne, forcing Caspian to flee into the woods where no one will follow him.  When he summons the kings and queens of old to come back to Narnia, the five young rulers must fight for all of the creatures of Narnia and attempt to create peace throughout the land.

The Good: Disney has done a remarkable job of making this film look great (of course it helps to have Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop on your side).  The melding of computer animation with live action and lush landscapes makes this a memorable film at least.

I also really enjoyed the last hour of this two-and-a-half hour long film very much.  The battle sequences trump that which was seen in the first Narnia flick in both scope and realism.

As for the acting, Ben Barnes was a perfect Prince Caspian (maybe a little too good-looking – but I’ll forgive him) and Peter Dinklage was equally strong as the dwarf Trumpkin.  As a side note – if you liked Dinklage here – check out his indie hit The Station Agent – he might be a little person, but he’s one of the biggest talents in Hollywood. 

There is some word going around that due to the violent nature of the film, that it might be too much for young children.  That depends on the parent.  There is no bad language, sex, nudity (even the female centaurs have shirts on), and while there is lots of violence, blood is almost non-existent.  I would have rather had it a little bloodier, but with young kids being the target audience, I can understand that artistic decision. 

The Bad: I found much of the action revolving around the four siblings to be a little annoying.  I loved the action with Caspian and crew, but the four returning characters only added storyline, not excitement.  Most of their dialogue was stale and their acting seemed more whiny at times than decisive.

I would have also liked the editing tightened up a bit.  Much of the second act drags senselessly.

The Summary: Breathtaking visuals and a strong new cast make Caspian an excellent sophomore Narnia pic. 


The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Starring Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, and Jim Broadbent
Rated PG for battle sequences and frightening moments
Available May 13, 2008 on Blu-ray disc (standard DVD has already been released)
Appropriate for all ages

Since before the death of HD-DVD, Disney has been going strong with blu-ray disc, but recent titles such as Ratatouille, Enchanted, and now Narnia are really setting the bar for the budding format.  If you haven’t yet purchased a Blu-ray player or Playstation 3, then you will probably want to skip over this review (or go get one).  But if you are looking to expand your hi-def library, this is a great disc to add to the collection.  For those of you unfamiliar with the C.S. Lewis tale, four siblings from war-torn England discover a hidden door that leads them to the magical land of Narnia, where animals talk and where they are destined for greatness.  The disc’s documentaries and extras have all been seen on previous versions of the dvd, but there is a new game included, exclusively for blu-ray, called Battle For Narnia, which from a brief first play looks like a great little companion to the movie (especially for the kids). 

Redbelt – Split Decision

Redbelt     B

Starring Chiwetal Ejiofor, Tim Allen, and Emily Mortimer
Written and Directed by David Mamet (State and Main)
Rated R for strong language
Appropriate for ages 17+

The Story: Through a series of freak occurrences, a top martial artist (Ejiofor) that hates competition in his sport, is forced to compete in order to save his studio and his family. 

The Good: When I state above that the plot is driven by freak occurrences, I really mean it.  This is a complicated screenplay with a complex web of story lines that build the plot.  Written and directed by celebrated filmmaker/playwright David Mamet, Redbelt is a masterfully conceived story with terrific dialogue and an inspired performance by Chiwetal Ejiofor.  While I can’t even come close to being able to pronounce his name, he is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors with his amazing performances in this and other great films such as Dirty Pretty Things, Serenity, and American Gangster.  The supporting cast are in the film only long enough to try to propel Chiwetal’s character forward, but they all turn in solid performances. 

The Bad: I was really into this film until the third act.  I don’t wish to give anything away, but there was a twist involving his wife that was poorly fleshed out and that I hardly bought into.  I also felt the ending to be a bit manipulative and the focus lost. 

The Summary: While Mamet’s writing and directing skills shows throughout, it’s the great performance from Ejiofor that makes this an interesting take on the martial arts genre. 

Speed Racer – Long Ride To Nowhere

Speed Racer     C

Starring Emile Hirsch, Matthew Fox, John Goodman, and Susan Sarandon
Directed by The Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix)
Rated PG for sequences of action, some violence and language
Appropriate for ages 5+

The Story: Based on the Japanese Animated series of the same name, Speed Racer follows the life of a young boy named Speed Racer who wants to become a world champion race car driver.  With the help of his family and a mysterious masked driver named Racer X, he is placed into the right situations to allow him to have a chance to win the world championship.

The Good: At the very least, this film is innovative.  It looks and feels like the cartoon, only with live action actors thrown in the mix.  The color palate is vibrant and almost hypnotic, but this does get old towards the end.  Aside from a few bits of bad language (not too bad) and a young kid giving someone the finger, this makes for a good film for kids (but good luck prying them away from Iron Man). 

The Bad: At 2 hours and 15 minutes, this film proves to be at least 30 minutes too long and there were many, many scenes and plot points that could have been sliced out without damaging the integrity of the film.  If you are going to make a movie this long, then it demands to have a plot worthy of this length.  Unfortunately, I can’t even tell you what the plot was about.  I used to love the animated series, but I do remember that every episode had pretty much the same story and the movie follows suit.

The Summary:  There will be some big fans of the movie, and many will enjoy it, but I predict that most will get tired of it quickly, or not give it a chance at all.

Iron Man – Good Start to the Summer



Iron Man     B+

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, and Gwyneth Paltrow
Directed by John Favreau (Elf)
Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content
Appropriate for ages 10+

The Story: Based on the Marvel Comics super hero, Iron Man follows the life of the famous alcoholic, womanizing billionaire Tony Stark who has made his fortune off the sale of weapons and weapon technology.  When he is kidnapped by terrorists in the Middle East and forced to face the destructive nature of his own creation, he escapes back to America, and commits his life to ending terrorism by creating a flying metallic suit that will allow him to fight evildoers world-wide. 

The Good: Spiderman, Superman, and Batman have been around in movies and TV for ages, and while they still come up with some good material, it is great to see this legendary comic finally come to life.  As a kid I loved Iron Man.  Tony Stark is one of the coolest men ever written and the super hero story just makes it better.  The story here is told very well with loads of action, humor, and political commentary.  Robert Downey Jr. delivers Stark like no other could with an arrogance and stagger that epitomizes suave.  Overall, Favreau does a great job with the genesis story of this classic character.

The Bad: The first two acts fly by and are really interesting to watch, but in the third act, when the really baddie reveals himself, the story bogs.  While the ending fight sequence is intense, it is far too short and even more underwhelming.  The last Superman movie had this same problem.  What do you do when the most thrilling moment of the film falls in the middle.  For Superman it was the falling jumbo jet.  For Iron Man it is the trip back to the Middle East to stop the ongoing terrorist attacks.  The scene is so good that it becomes hard to trump. 

The Summary: While a bit flawed, Iron Man delivers a solid hero flick that should put Hollywood on track for the summer.