sequels

Review: Mostly Harmless

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Review: Mostly Harmless

(For anybody who’s wondering, I promise I’ll eventually review a book written in the past five years, it won’t always be these decades-old books. Honest. I promise.)

Like many people I read the first four books of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guild series and stopped there. I’d heard the fifth book, Mostly Harmless, wasn’t as good, wasn’t funny, and that I wouldn’t like the ending. And I’d loved the fourth book so much, especially the ending, so I thought “why ruin it?”

Recently, though, I met someone who seemed appalled that I’d gone twenty years and never finished the series. “You have to read it,” he said. And since he seemed so enthusiastic, I read it. So for anyone who never read the fifth book but wondered “can it really be that bad?” the answer is: no. It’s much much worse.

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Scream 4

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Scream 4

This review is going to piss some of you off.  It should be stated up front that I am a fan of the Scream franchise.  I love its blend of meta-fiction and real scares, its formula-bending obedience to and rejection of horror movie clichés.  I love that these movies have an increasingly Ourobouros-like tendency toward self-awareness while never abandoning an actual narrative.  I love that the women characters are actually strong people, unlike the objectified faux-strong gals in the Joss Whedon adventures.  Halloween scared the crap out of me because it was just a guy who went nuts and started killing people.  All the folks who have donned the Ghostface mask for the Scream adventures have been real — and smart — people who went bonkers.  Yikes!

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Matinee with Snacks

It should go without saying that if you haven’t seen the previous six movies, you shouldn’t see this one. Unlike some of the films, however, I think you don’t need to have read the book (as long as you are current on the movie), which is a testament to its script. My companion sees the movies before he reads the books (a novelty in my usual HP crowd) and then reads them right afterward. Since this is only part 1 of 2, that book will sit idle until next June. I, having read the book, loved the movie. It handled some of my favorite scenes well, and the simple and effective opening scenes of the movie are a gift from Kloves to fans of the characters (particularly Hermione). It may not be my favorite (as Prisoner of Azkaban and Half-Blood Prince continue to wrestle for primacy in my heart), but it does contain my favorite sequence (the Tale of the Three Brothers). My stars!

What Prisoner of Azkaban did for Hogwarts, Deathly Hallows Part 1 does for Great Britain. Shot entirely in England and Wales, HP7.1 drags our travelers through some incredible, otherworldly locations. As when I saw The Road, I would snap out of the story briefly to goggle at the scenery. Not only the locations, but also the cinematography grabbed me as much as the affecting tweaks given the narrative by screenwriter Steve Kloves, king of J.K. Rowling interpretation. Cinematographer Eduardo Serra also shot Defiance, Blood Diamond, Beyond the Sea, Girl With A Pearl Earring, Unbreakable… you get the idea. It may even be more gorgeous — and less showy — than Michael Seresin’s work on Azkaban. Why dwell so much on the visuals? If you’ve read the book, you may agree that this half of the story is the slower-moving, more contemplative chunk of the story, generally. As a result, Serra sets the mood of ever-present danger and menace while still keeping us in the beloved fantasy world that Rowling has given us. Camping just isn’t all that visually compelling on its own. I really got a better feel for their peril and tension with his help.

Composer Alexandre Desplat takes over from Nicholas Hooper with a less noticeable but beautiful score. Sophie Thompson, David O’Hara, and Steffan Rhodri get a fantastic sequence all for themselves in the Ministry of Magic — fans will giggle at their subtle but terrific work. Rhys Ifans as Xenophilius Lovegood? Brilliant! Without revealing too much, the film ends shortly after a key scene at Shell Cottage, and I have to say this one better evoked the book’s emotional experience than did the previous installment’s big key moment. I did not know my companion’s ignorance of the book until afterward — I wonder at its effectiveness for him. I walked out of this film hungry for the rest, already wondering if they will wait and release it as one big fat DVD, and altogether confidence that Kloves and director David Yates have it under control.

I’ve said this about Pixar, and I’ll say it now about the Harry Potter franchise. It’s such a wonderful thing that such a beloved property has landed in so many trusted hands, with such a phenomenal cast. Bless Chris Columbus for setting the stage and plowing through the requisite exposition — the least fun part of the job but the all-important foundation upon which even these darker, different sequels depend. No hate for you, Chris. The whole Harry Potter phenomenon is such a miracle of quality, love, popular adoration, and genuine beauty, I am just grateful to have experienced the books and movies as originally intended — new and large and with the anticipation of the next thing. Pottermaniacs, I think you will love it.

MPAA Rating PG-3
Release date 11/19/10
Time in minutes 146
Director David Yates
Studio Warner Brothers

Piranha 3-D

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Piranha 3-D

Matinee Price

When I saw the first Piranha movie in 1978, I was totally traumatized. I would not take a bath, never mind swim, for some time. I just knew those piranha would come up through the drain and eat me up. When I saw Jaws in the same year, I thought, “no way am I swimming in the ocean now,” and I was haunted by the lone swimmer’s fate in the opening sequence. All this history is just to say that I have a fondness for the effectiveness of Death from the Deep movies. Deep Rising: total hoot. Lake Placid: big fun. Piranha 3D: schlocktacular.  Check out more after the break!

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Predators

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In 2002, a quiet little movie about the Holocaust introduced us to a slim, sensitive actor with eyes that have seen too, too much. Adrian Brody took home the Oscar on the power of those eyes, and now he turns their unfathomable gaze…down the barrel of a machine gun at the Predator. This odd piece of casting inadvertently sets an oddly defensive tone for the first chunk of the movie. Churlish badasses are scripted to cower before Brody’s character’s superior badassery while the audience checks to see if they accidentally kept their 3-D glasses on from the last movie they saw. When Topher Grace shows up, your first thought might be, “wait, we already have the skinny nebbish role cast.” (Or perhaps: “Wait, Nicholas Cage already has this job.”) Brody growls and stalks confidently and manages to mostly overcome his art-house appearance through sheer grit, but his mercenary never quite feels possible. New writers Alex Litvak and Michael Finch give Brody as many aces up his sleeve as they can, but the other characters (easily including Alice Braga and not necessarily excluding Grace) look like they could still dismantle him.

If you can get past this cognitive dissonance (my audience of critics never seemed able to), Brody really does do a god job with what he has, and the rest of the movie is, well, watchable. This is admittedly more than I expected. Taking a page from the Superman Returns book, Predators pretends that no sequels occurred since 1987’s seminal testosteronifest, Predator. This was actually a very good decision; Aliens Vs. Predators might have technically been fun, but it definitely did the franchise no favors. This one’s got Oscar caliber folks in it! Oh, wait, so did… Anyway.

Like a responsible sequel, Predators ups the game, with infrequently seen bigger and badder Big Bads, and also Classic Predator for the kids. It seems like a good idea to give us more on the Predators, but remember those other movies after 1987 that did that? No good. Follow Aliens’ lead on this one. Now, Predators is no Aliens, but I appreciate the effort. The next good decision Litvak and Finch and director Nimrod Antal (Vacancy) made was in the character portrayed by Laurence Fishburne. Every second Fishburne is on screen (looking like he hasn’t missed a meal since the first Predator movie) is a sheer delight.

When the story is forced to end the welcome Fishburne Respite, and lurches back to the matter at hand (you know, humans being hunted by Predators), it does so as clumsily and reluctantly as everything Grace’s character does, but with less reason. From here, things get unnecessarily complicated and maybe it was meant to be profound, but it felt more like the producers reminded the film crew that they only get 106 minutes to tell this story and they have already wasted a lot of time slogging their cast and crew through the mud. Finally, the unintentional campy moment required of all big overblown action movies (compliments of La Brody) and a nice fun old-school end to the film.

Predators, considering that it is actually the 5th movie featuring a fairly interesting advanced species that thinks somehow that we Earthlings are still worthy game, takes a lot more time than it needs to for our leads to figure out that they are maybe being chased by something and they should maybe work together or die alone. We know before we bought our tickets that some technosavvy dreadlocked baddies are going to come into play, and the movie struggles with the balance between “semi-reasonable character development” and “get on with the slaughtering.” (Pause for Deep Social Commentary and pan camera over Awesome Unappreciated Midden Props.)

I enjoyed watching our band of badass misfits bumble around Hawaii and I enjoyed working out their narrative value and order of predation. The gratuitous — no, almost vestigial — Yakuza guy threw off my prediction game by having a purpose briefly, but over all I think I was dead on in my predictions until they threw in what was meant to be the big mind-blow but was instead seriously unnecessary (see also: Topher Grace). It’s a weird sort of compliment, but Predators being awkward, predictable, and occasionally funny was a nice summer refreshment. Of course, it’s been a long dry summer, so it might just be a mirage.

MPAA Rating R – strong creature violence and gore, pervasive language

Release date 7/9/10

Time in minutes 106

Director Nimrod Antal

Studio 20th Century Fox

Toy Story 3

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It seems impossible that a movie with a 3 at the end would be able to boast any commentary better than “not too bad, considering.” But Toy Story 3 may well be the least unnecessary sequel ever. Toy Story 2 left Andy and his toys in the playroom in 1999; now, 11 years later, Andy is going off to college, and Toy Story 3 completes the circuit of the relationship kids have with their most significant toys. Full disclosure: I have long enjoyed the embarrassing sentimentality of anthropomorphizing my toys; every drop in the Goodwill box twinges my guilty conscience even without Pixar’s incomparable franchise to press the point. I will fully grant that some of the struggles in this film get me right where I live more so perhaps than regular people, but I will also attest that I was far from the only person blubbering at the end. Even hardened critics weren’t immune to this lovely story.

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The Karate Kid (2010)

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Talk about a movie that needed never to be made. If they had made this movie exactly as it is, but never tried to tie it to the original franchise of the 1980’s, it might have slipped your notice, but it wouldn’t have had to live up to the idea of a remake. Leaving aside that the martial art demonstrated through out this film is Kung Fu and not Karate, despite the fact that the funny winking sound cue in the preview does not happen, if you ignore the sheer lack of necessity for reviving this franchise, The Karate Kid 2010 is a sweet, gentle bit of entertainment with some pretty cool sequences.

First of all, Jaden Smith is a likeable, vulnerable kid, a skinny black preteen thrown onto the streets of Beijing, rather than just dealing with obnoxious American leg-sweepers. He has inherited full doses of both his parents’ onscreen charisma. Jackie Chan, while forced to play his Mr. Han with a little too much Ancient Chinese Secret, generally gets to be funny and warm and emotional, while giving us a reminder of the powerhouse he used to be before he became a walking kids movie. And China itself (all manner of staggeringly beautiful locations and vistas) is a character too, a huge mysterious land of peace and beauty and focus and rebirth. We don’t learn much about the culture or traditions of China, but we can still admire the artifacts of same as window dressing for this sweet tale.

It doesn’t take long for the Only In A Movie extremes to set in — immense kindness and good fortune in making friends and obtaining skills clashes with intense, motivationless malevolence and unregulated dangers. Watching a cool, confident, cornrowed Detroit kid get pummeled by sleek Chinese street toughs is hard. Waiting almost 50 minutes for the most cursory beginning of any martial artistry is harder. I was fortunate to have a martial arts instructor as my companion, so I can say that the fights are solid and impressive. There is a scene for us old-school Chan fans wherein he gets to do his awesome use-of-the-environment fighting style. Chan may be 56 but he’s still a sinewy and focused dancer in combat. Tight & quick editing keeps us from enjoying the movies as much as we could.

Quiet maintenance man Mr. Han is the new Mr. Miyagi. Besides Chan’s obvious action movie pedigree, he is a great actor choice for this role. He’s warm and intense, funny and serious, and clearly bristling with experience and inner power. We all know he’s going to teach the boy kung fu, but we’re left in the dark as to his methods and his reasoning. This is good only because it affords us plenty of times to see the beauty of the world Smith has been dropped into.

This movie is not so much about narrative surprise (nor about setting the world on fire) as it is about being a sweet, solid, serenely-paced bromantic — no, paternomanti – action comedy. It’s so feel-good there isn’t even any conflict between teacher and pupil. Smith is great being a popular kid and not altogether good at being one whose self-esteem has been crushed like a bug, but we don’t have to wait that long of course. Knowing Chan will turn that bug into a grasshopper is a given, but watching them together is the pleasure.

MPAA Rating PG

Release date 6/11/10

Time in minutes 126

Director Harald Zwart

Studio Columbia Pictures

James Cameron Talks Re-release of Avatar; Sequels

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James Cameron Talks Re-release of Avatar; Sequels

To add to the excitement of the release of Avatar on DVD and Blu-Ray tomorrow, James Cameron has shared some information about the planned sequels. He also talked about the planned re-release of Avatar in theaters scheduled for August.

We’re working on finishing an additional six minutes of the film — which includes a lot of Weta work — for a theatrical re-release in August. We were sold out of our Imax performances right up to the moment until they were contractually obligated to switch to ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ so we know we left money on the table there.”

More past the break.

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