Archive for July, 2010

Angelina Jolie definitely worth her ‘Salt’

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010
Angelina Jolie in "Salt" Angelina Jolie goes Jane Bond in the action thriller “Salt.”

When Angelina Jolie reportedly said she’d like to make a female James Bond movie, she probably meant something like the cutting-edge 007 series reboot “Casino Royale.”

Instead, “Salt” is closer to “Quantum of Solace,” the most recent Bond thriller riddled with standard-issue action movie conventions – preposterous stretches of common sense, over-the-top stunts, inane dialogue and supposedly trained gunmen who can’t hit squat with machine guns.

Jolie may not exactly be in Jason Bourne’s league, but she holds her own in a role that requires much more motion than emoting.

“Salt” originally came with the prerequisite male action hero named Edwin A. Salt (a-sault, get it?) with Tom Cruise up for the role. When Jolie entered the project (reportedly after turning down an offer to be a Bond girl), Edwin became Evelyn Salt, a blonde CIA operative with a will of steel, one tough cookie who refuses to crumble.

We witness that in the opening sequence when she’s tortured by North Korean interrogators who strip her down to her modest, PG-13 essentials and mercilessly beat her. But she doesn’t break.

Freed during a prisoner exchange, Salt marries a nerdy spider expert named Mike Krause (August Diehl) and goes about her CIA desk job under Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber), a tough, by-the-book kind of guy who has an obvious soft spot for Salt.

“Utilitarian is the new sexy,” he tells Salt, who has no idea she’s about to prove him right. (Read more…)

No ‘Ovation’ for shallow kids musical that never should have been made

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010
Devon Jordan in "Standing Ovation" Twiggy Wiggs (Devon Jordan) demonstrates the subtle acting style of the superficial musical comedy “Standing Ovation.”

“Standing Ovation” is a spiritually bankrupt, morally reckless, ethically unhinged and emotionally vacant musical comedy about a group of tweenies who can’t act, sing or convincingly lip-sync.

This film deals in gay stereotypes. It traffics in token black characters. It advocates cheating. It condones revenge. It pushes the idea that money not only can buy happiness, money is happiness.

How this movie ever got into production will go down as one of the great mysteries of the world, along with where Jimmy Hoffa went.

Actor James Brolin served as the executive producer on this cinematic travesty. Maybe he thought “Standing Ovation” seemed like wonderful little movie for kids to enjoy.

In the immortal words of Dr. Phil, what was he thinking?

The story pits a group of cute, nice and poor junior high school girls against another group of cute, nasty and rich older girls called the Wiggies.

The poor girls call themselves the 5 Ovations, led by Brittany (Kayla Jackson).

Her mother and father are gone, for reasons that don’t matter. Her brother Mark (Austin Powell) and grandpa, Gramps (P. Brendan Mulvey), can’t even pay the rent.

Yet, Gramps steals what money Brittany saves and blows it at the racetrack. Brittany chides him for being irresponsible. But what does she do the moment she gets a hot tip from Joei (Joei DiCarlo), a tweenie she’s just met?

She bets on a horse. Yep, that’ll teach Gramps to be irresponsible with money. (Read more…)

“Dann & Raymond’s Movie Club” outing

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

“Saddle up, partner!”

Dann Gire and Raymond BensonJoin Dann Gire (film critic of Chicago’s suburban newspaper THE DAILY HERALD, as well as the founder and president of the Chicago Film Critics Association, and adjunct instructor at Aurora and Harper Colleges in Illinois) and Raymond Benson (novelist, author of 20 books, former official author of James Bond books, film historian, and Film History instructor at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois) for “Saddle Up and Pass the Beans,” a special summer episode of Dann & Raymond’s Movie Club. We’ll be talking about the greatest westerns ever made by Hollywood, and those western knock-offs made in Spain by Sergio Leone during the 1960s. We’ll have clips from “Shane,” “High Noon,” “The Searchers,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “The Wild Bunch” and, of course, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” plus others. See Vernon Area Public Library District for more details.

Cost: Free

WEDNESDAY, July 21, 7:00pm
Vernon Area Public Library
300 Olde Half Day Road
Lincolnshire, Illinois

DiCaprio stars as a corporate raider in mind-bending ‘Inception’

Thursday, July 15th, 2010
Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "Inception" Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) fights off an armed enemy “projection” while in a dream-within-a-dream in “Inception.”

I love this movie!

Christopher Nolan’s insanely imaginative and intelligently trippy “Inception” is “Mission Impossible” led by a corporate Freddy Krueger in a mind-bending adventure that could have been designed by artist M.C. Escher.

My brain still hurts from trying to absorb it all. But it’s a good kind of hurt.

Just when you think “Inception” can’t possibly become more complex and more commanding of our attention, it does. Then does it some more.

Yet, if you’re paying attention (yes, you must!), you can keep up with what’s going on even as you witness five parallel levels of reality unfolding at the same time.

Oh, and something that happens in one reality impacts what happens in the others.

(I warned you that it was insanely imaginative and intelligently trippy.)

Taking a tip from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” writer/director Nolan kick-starts “Inception” with the kind of bravura action sequence that most movies save for their climaxes.

It’s an elaborate scenario in which professional “extractor” Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) leads a team scheme to steal information from a wealthy industrialist, Saito (Ken Watanabe), inside his dreams.

Big fake!

It’s actually a test run so that Saito can see how Cobb works his highly illegal dream heist.

Saito isn’t interested in hiring Cobb to steal corporate secrets. He wants Cobb and his team to plant an idea – an “inception” – into the dreams of his business rival’s son, Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy) so he will think splitting up his father’s corporate empire was self-inspired. (Read more…)

‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ can’t conjure the magic

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010
Nicolas Cage and Jay Baruchel in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" Balthazar (executive producer Nicolas Cage) instructs young Dave (Jay Baruchel) on how to be “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”

Look, if you’re making a feature film based on a classic Walt Disney animated short, the first obligation you have is to make your movie as good as the short. Right?

That doesn’t happen in Jon Turteltaub’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” a generic, special-effects-driven hodgepodge of clichés and conventions.

Disney’s groundbreaking 1940 musical “Fantasia” featured Mickey Mouse as a sorcerer’s apprentice, a novice who uses his limited powers to animate brooms, mops and buckets to clean up the den, a job he was assigned to do.

Turteltaub’s movie doesn’t exactly pay homage to its source. It pays lip service.

The effects scene involving renegade mops, brooms and buckets going crazy pops up in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” almost as a begrudging obligation, a kiss-off.

Dave the apprentice (played by Jay Baruchel) loses control of his janitorial tools, making a mess of things until miffed sorcerer Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) arrives to set things right.

That’s it? Yep.

The rest of “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is a downright silly comic fantasy about a malevolent sorcerer named Horwath (Alfred Molina), Balthazar’s well-dressed nemesis who escapes from a magic Russian nesting doll.

Horwath intends to unleash another doll-incarcerated wizard, the evil Morgana Le Fay (Alice Krige) who wants to conquer the world.

The only person who can stop Le Fay is “the prime Merlinian,” a mystery descendant of King Arthur’s Merlin, the wizard who trapped her in the doll, guarded for centuries by Merlin’s student, Balthazar. (Read more…)

‘Predators’ falls prey to weak second half

Friday, July 9th, 2010
Adrien Brody in "Predators" Royce (buffed-up Oscar winner Adrien Brody) faces off with an alien hunter in “Predators.”

Fast-paced, taut with tension, stuffed with suspense and mystery, “Predators” is easily the best entry in 20th Century Fox’s science-fiction alien-hunter action franchise.

For the first 55 minutes.

Then, as if a key mechanism on a soaring rocket malfunctions, “Predators” sputters and fizzles.

It slows to a crawl, weighted down by too many zany plot twists, too many last-second rescues from certain death and too many “he’s not really dead!” scenarios.

But for the first half, “Predators” is sublime summer monster movie nirvana, beginning with a classic homage to the old “Twilight Zone” TV series.

Eight strangers wake up in the middle of free-falling through the air with parachutes standing between them and fatal squishdom.

Most are military (Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Danny Trejo, Oleg Taktarov, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali). One is a doctor (Topher Grace). One is a death-row inmate (Walton Goggins). One an Asian gangster (Louis Ozawa Changchien).

They don’t know where they are, or how they got there. Braga’s soldier says she doesn’t recognize the strange jungle they’re in.

When they finally notice the three moons above them, they know they’re not even on earth.

Nobody uses names.

Brody’s mercenary soldier becomes the natural, reluctant leader, the one who puts together the puzzle first: “This is a game refuge,” he concludes. “And we’re the game!” (Read more…)

Villain finds his softer side in comedic ‘Despicable Me’

Thursday, July 8th, 2010
Edith, Agnes, Margo and Gru from "Despicable Me" Orphans Edith, Agnes and Margo talk the villainous Gru into a roller-coaster ride in the 3-D comic, animated “Despicable Me.”

Universal Pictures’ “Despicable Me” fills the bill as a mildly diverting, whimsically entertaining 3-D computer-animated feature for kids.

But in the wake of Pixar’s multilayered “Toy Story 3,” brimming with sadness, horror, adventure and time-passage metaphors targeting more mature viewers, the French-made “Despicable Me” may come off as a more generic production that will be instantly forgotten once the end credits roll.

What’s it about?

Look no further than the commercials and theatrical trailers. They tell us everything we need to know about the story arc: “From Super Bad to Super Dad!”

Steve Carell supplies the villainous hero, known as Gru, with a cartoony Russian accent that, to the actor’s credit, never grates on the eardrums as it so easily could.

Gru wants to become the greatest villain in the world. To do that, he’ll have to steal something even more daring than the great pyramid, the most recent achievement of his closest villainous rival, the enigmatic couch potato Vector (Jason Segel).

Gru’s plan: to steal the moon from the sky with help from a super shrink ray.

Meanwhile, the emotional subplot kicks in when three lovable little orphans – Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher) – arrive at his doorstep selling cookies for Miss Hattie’s Home for Girls, run by the no-nonsense Miss Hattie (Kristen Wiig).

The three girls give the would-be master villain an inspired idea: He’ll use the girls to infiltrate his rival’s headquarters and supply him with information that will enable Gru to become the best at being the worst. (Read more…)

Lame dialogue, awkward acting drag down ‘The Last Airbender’

Thursday, July 1st, 2010
Noah Ringer in "The Last Airbender" Mystical Aang (Noah Ringer) prepares to stop the Fire Nation in M. Night Shyamalan’s epic fantasy “The Last Airbender.”

“The Last Airbender” blows.

The main characters in this special-effects stuffed epic don’t just bend air.

They bend fire, water, earth, plus logic, humor, acting and storytelling so far they almost reach the breaking point.

Two months ago, M. Night Shyamalan’s 2-D, silver screen remake of an old Nickelodeon animated TV series was reprocessed as a 3-D feature at an estimated cost of around $10,000 a minute.

That might have made the marketing of “Last Airbender” a little easier during Hollywood’s current mad rush to join the 3-D fad, but the extra-dimensional transfer didn’t do the movie’s visual quality many favors.

In fact, the polarized lenses necessary to create the 3-D effect actually turn the already dark images even darker, so the experience of watching “Airbender” is a lot like seeing a regular movie through sunglasses.

That’s a shame, especially because “The Last Airbender” is one big, blubbery whale of a special effects movie imbued with cheesy Saturday morning cartoon dialogue, some embarrassingly awkward performances, and tired, passionless direction from a filmmaker who has lost his knack for flicks, at least temporarily.

The Nick TV series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” was something of a critical milestone for animated shows.

Highly influenced by Asian anime, the series divided the world into the Air Nation, Water Nation and Earth Nation, all under attack from the Fire Nation, led by the young Prince Zuko (no apparent relation to Danny Zuko of “Grease Sing-A-Long” opening next week).

Shyamalan’s “Airbender” – the “Avatar” part of the title had to be dropped because some other movie already used it – follows the TV premise.

A young waterbender named Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) see something under the ice. We know, because Sokka says, “There’s something down there!” (Read more…)