21 – Kids, Study Your Math!

21     B-

Starring Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, and Laurence Fishburne
Directed by Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde)
Rated PG-13 for some violence, and sexual content including partial nudity
Appropriate for ages 15+

The Story: Young Ben Campbell (Sturgess) is an MIT undergrad who happens to be a mathematical genius.  In order to pay for his upcoming Harvard Medical School tuition, he joins a team of blackjack players, led by professor Kevin Spacey, to try to use their math skills to take Vegas for millions of dollars.  Unfortunately for them, an eye-in-the-sky security agent (Fishburne) is on to their game and will try to stop them at all costs.

The Good: The first half of this film is just plain fun to watch.  The pacing is terrific and seeing the set up and the possibility of winning this big is thrilling.  It was apparent from the Beatles musical Across the Universe that Sturgess had something special, and he proves it here with another great performance. 

The Bad: The second half of the movie just flops.  Once the thrill of winning is over, the characters all start to make stupid decisions for the sake of drama and the unrealistic turn the film makes gets you rolling your eyes on many occasions.  While I haven’t read the true-story book that this movie was based on, Bringing Down the House, I have been told that the real-life events were nothing like what was put on film.  I guess that the real-life events weren’t as cinematic, but I wish the film didn’t feel so immature. 

The Summary: Just like blackjack, when they are winning the film is a blast, when they are losing the film gets tedious and trying.  Also just like blackjack, you can’t force yourself to leave the table till the show is over.

The Mist – Monster Mash

Stephen King’s The Mist

Starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, and Toby Jones
Directed by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption)
Rated R for violence, terror and gore, and language
Appropriate for ages 18+
Available March 25, 2008 on DVD

Many years ago director Frank Darabont was weighing his options for his next film.  He had it down to The Shawshank RedemptionThe Mist.  Luckily for us he chose Shawshank, but now, more than 13 years later (yes – it’s been that long), we finally have his vision of the terrifying Stephen King novella.  The story takes place in a small New England town (actually filmed in Louisiana though) where a strange mist has enveloped the area.  A grocery store full of people are too afraid to step outside and with good reason: the mist is filled with horrible monsters hell-bent on eating them.  Due to an end of the world attitude, many of the patrons of the store develop a Lord of the Flies mentality making it almost as hard to survive on the inside.  You would never know from just watching it that this was a small, independent film with a relatively low budget, but according to the documentaries on the disc, this was true guerrilla style film-making, just done right.  The second of the two discs contains the original vision of the director: the film presented in creepy black and white. 

Atonement – A Breathtaking Romance


Starring James McAvoy, Keira Knightly, and Saoirse Ronan
Directed by Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice)
Rated R for disturbing war images, language and some sexuality
Appropriate for ages 17+
Available March 18, 2008 on DVD and HD-DVD

This World War 2 romance was the most Oscarly of the selections nominated this year, but maybe that was a strike against it.  At least it very deservingly won the Golden Globe.  The tragic story of two lovers that were torn apart by a lie told by a confused girl followed by the grown girl trying to atone for what she did is beautifully portrayed here by a visionary director and flawless acting from it’s cast.  I’ve seen the film five times now and still cry every time.  The special features include some unnecessary deleted scenes and a terrific doc showing how the film came to be.  What is most fascinating is how the evacuation to Dunkerque was assembled into a five-minute-long continuous shot with over a thousand extras  perfectly choreographed.  It’s one of the most tremendous scenes to ever be put on film.  Although HD-DVD is going away, there is an HD-DVD version that is well worth the investment.

I Am Legend – DVD Improves Upon Theatrical Release

I Am Legend

Starring Will Smith
Directed by Francis Lawrence (Constantine)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence
Appropriate for ages 13+
Available March 18, 2008 on DVD, HD-DVD, and Blu-ray Disc

If you recall from my first review, I was a little disappointed with this new Will Smith film.  I thought that the movie was overall effectively frightening, but had a bummer ending that made the audience depressed.  Apparently the producers agreed, and so they gave us the Alternate Theatrical Version with a brand new ending.  Remember that scene on the trailer that I was complaining about being absent in the theater?  You know – the one where the infected are breathing down Smith’s neck?  Good news – it’s in the new version and the ending is a vast improvement over the original.  And if you have an extra day with nothing to do – this disc comes loaded with hours of extras.  The best are the animated comics and a special doc discussing the science behind the movie, where real CDC officials discuss the history of pandemics and why we are overdue for one.  This is a great disc, and an example for all others to follow. 

Enchanted – A Delightful Parody


Starring Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, and Susan Sarandon
Directed by Kevin Lima (Tarzan)
Rated PG for some scary images and mild innuendo
Appropriate for all ages
Available March 18, 2008 on DVD and Blu-ray Disc

On the day a beautiful young cartoon character named Giselle (Adams) is about to marry the handsome Prince Edward (Marsden), his evil mother (Sarandon) banishes her to real-world Manhattan where she is left to fend for herself until her prince comes to rescue her.  Luckily, she finds a nice man (Dempsey) who is willing to put out a helping hand to the poor, crazy, whacked-out, yet wonderful New York newcomer.  The premise is nothing short of brilliant, although the ending seems like the ideas ran dry on the best way to close the show.  Also, it’s great to have Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz doing a movie musical again.  The music here pulled in an unbelievable three Oscar noms.  The disc contains tons of extras including a great making-of doc.  You’ll be able to keep your kids and Disney fans busy for hours with the Blu-ray only feature of The D Files.  Here you can watch the movie with an ongoing trivia game and Disney vignettes placed throughout.

No Country For Old Men – Caught in the Middle

No Country For Old Men

Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Rated R for strong graphic violence and some language
Blu-ray and standard DVD available on March 11, 2008

When No Country won the Oscar for best picture, a lot of folks, including me, were forced to do a lot of head scratching.  But upon much reflection, I have started to see what is so amazing about this film.  My biggest problem with it was what they did with the hero.  Of course I thought the hero was Brolin’s character.  If you watch the film from the point of view that Jones’s sheriff is the hero, Bardem is the villain, and Brolin is just caught in the middle, the film takes on a new dimension.  It is a deeply complex story with interesting characters and thought-provoking dialogue.  The DVD contains a nice documentary on the making of the film and working with the Coens, but like all of the other Coen Brothers films, there is no commentary from them describing their strange, quirky process. 

Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears A Who! – It’s The End Of The Speck As We Know It

Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!     B

Starring the voice talent of Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, and Will Arnett
Rated G
Appropriate for all ages

The Story: An elephant named Horton discovers that a whole world named Whoville exists on a speck atop a flower.  While he is able to communicate with the mayor of this world, no one believes his tale, and conversely, no one in Whoville believes the mayor.  When the animals in Horton’s world try to kill off this speck, it is up to Horton to outwit them and do what he can to save Whoville from being wiped out of existence.

The Good: You can already guess that kids are gonna love this flick.  It is fast paced with loads of colors and a story that they will eat up.  While the film is not as adult friendly as your average Pixar pic, this one should keep the interest of the parents as well as other non-parental units that might wander into the theater.  The creativity is abundant here and should make most audiences fond of this lesser-known Dr. Seuss tale. 
I do find it very intriguing that the commercials and trailers for the film are trying to sell the voice talent over the film itself.  For those thinking that they are getting a Judd Apatow animated film here, please know that Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill are very minor toons in the story and are only being touted in the ads to get you thinking that you might be seeing a G-rated Superbad.  That being said, Carrey, Carell, and Arnett are all brilliant in their respective roles.

The Bad: Every so often the animation breaks from computer to hand-drawn in a very awkward way.  They even try to throw in a Pokeman sequence which feels very out of place.  Also, the end of the movie ends with a song that kind of ruins the enjoyment being had.  From what I understand, Jim Carey insisted on the song against the studio’s direction, and I really wish the studio had stuck to their guns and nixed it. 

The Summary: Beautiful animation combined with innovative story-telling make this a great family film that won’t dull the wits of the children watching it.

10,000 B.C. A Prehistoric Disapointment

10,000 B.C.     C-

Starring Steven Strait, Camilla Belle, and Cliff Curtis
Directed by Roland Emmerich (Independence Day)
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence
Appropriate for ages 13+

The Story: 12,000 years ago, a tribe is invaded and the men kidnapped for the purpose of building the first pyramids of Egypt.  One of the men that survived the attack goes after his tribesman and his woman, who was also stolen as a gift for the king.  Along the way he encounters many strange beasts and becomes a leader of men.

The Good: There is no doubt that the film feels like a big epic.  It’s immense in subject matter and full of great concepts.  The cinematography is pretty spectacular as are the aesthetically beautiful sets.  A lot of skill went into the building of this film.

The Bad: No matter how big your film is, without a decent script, there is no movie.  This script needed some help.  Writer Harold Kloser is a decent music composer, but his first script lacks the complexity and creativity of his music.  The story is not compelling and the characters don’t earn our empathy or interest.  The story has some potential, but doesn’t know what to do with it.  Maybe it’s the distraction that the film steals too many elements from other more successful epics such as Apocalypto and Dances With Wolves, or maybe its that the acting is so poor by most of the cast, but whatever it is, it’s more than apparent that this pic just doesn’t work. 

To make matters worse, the CG isn’t up to snuff.  The mammoths look decent, but the saber-tooth tiger looks completely inorganic.  And lets not discuss the giant birds that look more like dodos than raptors.

I have here exactly the opposite complaint that I had with Semi-Pro last week: this should have been an R-rated film.  You throw in more violence, more bad behavior, and maybe even some decent romance and/or sex, and you might have the ingredients for a pretty strong film on your hands.

The Summary: Bad acting, writing, and C.G. effects plague this promising prehistoric picture.