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Posts Tagged ‘Movie Reviews’

Burn After Reading: Coen’s Bring Imperfect Wackiness

Posted by goldwriting on September 24, 2008

You mean I can only be nominated for one Oscar at a time? But whyyyyyy???

As September crosses into the present, film critics and aficionados everywhere begin grinning and twitching in excitement. Oscar movies are officially on their way to the nearest silver screen. With the ribbon of quality content being cut, the first expected contender came from the brotherly duo not unfamiliar with the Oscar machine, the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan. Fresh off the heels of their Best Directing, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars last year for No Country for Old Men, the cinematic brothers brought us a new chapter in their visual memoirs, Burn After Reading, a throwback to the darkly humorous days of Fargo, which also won them a Best Original Screenplay statue. Into the mix of directorial style and writing finesse we gained the acting skills of Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Malkovich and Tilda Swinton. Frances McDormand is also along for the ride, but she’s a Coen staple (and also married to half the duo, Joel Coen). This movie had Oscar potential written all over it, so the only question going in was would it live up to the expectations?

Swing…the ball connects…it’s going deep…almost there…awww. Ground rule double.

This is not an Academy award winning film and certainly not one of their best, but still a nice way to slide into the season of quality content over box office boffo. Burn After Reading is a quirky, silly tale following a disc of information thought to contain CIA secrets from a disgraced and angry analyst (Malkovich), which is found in a local gym and tightly grasped by the hands of a woman (McDormand) desperate for money to cover her plastic surgeries. Mostly what the Coen brothers are known for is the depth and creativity of their characters and this film does well to cover the bases on that point. Frances McDormand plays Linda, a terribly pathetic woman so deathly afraid of aging and the current state of her body that she has blinders on to the rest of the world and the happiness it can offer. She brings the solid level of commitment and shine we’ve come to know her for. Brad Pitt joins in with what has to be his silliest and least intelligent character to date, Chad, a constantly hyper-active, exercise fanatic who works with Linda at a gym called Hardbodies. I have to imagine this was a fun role for him to play since he hardly gets to let loose like this anymore, not since 12 Monkeys. He provided a lot of the early humor in the film, but also drops one of the biggest plot twists halfway through. Clooney brings to life Harry, a ex-personal bodygaurd with a penchant for compulsive lying and an addiction to sex. George only gets to be this wacky under the tutelage of the Coen brothers, so even while it’s not his best work by any means, it’s a fun reminder that he can indeed get goofy with the rest of the gang. Tilda plays the ice queen wife of Malkovich, while also having an affair with Clooney. Watching her in this role, along with some others, I wonder when her picture will be included in the dictionary next to “emasculating”. Not to be left out of any discussion about over-the-top characters, Malkovich plays his part to the hilt, but I honestly feel his best moments are in the opening scene. There’s not much of an arc for him, so only seeing him come to life early on really provides any surprise and unseen moments.

Burn plays inside the footprints of Fargo, but never quite catches up to it. The Coens obviously know their craft and continue to put material out there with their own voice and character stamp, but this film felt a little like a step back for them. Maybe it was just a way to resettle into the dark comedy they are known for after their detour into heavy drama with No Country. Also running parallel to this is the question of the marketing campaign. Again the trailer was cut in a fashion to show one type of movie, but once you were in the theater it became something different, not wildly so, but still there is a distinct shift in tone from wacky comedy to dark comedy, and sometimes those audiences don’t mix well. It’s like seeing a trailer for Police Academy and getting Rushmore. Two great tastes that taste awful together.

Recommendation: If you’re a devout fan, you’ve already seen it anyway. If you’re on the fence, wait until video. If you’re completely on the other side of the fence, you still read this far anyway? I’ll take that as a compliment. Thanks. 🙂

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Babylon A.D.: A Future No One Wanted to See

Posted by goldwriting on September 7, 2008

No one knows it, but I’m watching The Fast and the Furious behind these lenses on repeat. Damn, I was good back then.

It can be tough to remind an audience of something they used to love long ago. Cut to eight years ago where fresh faced post-millennium crowds were stunned by the sheer machismo of a character known as Riddick and the actor who brought him life, known as Vin Diesel. Talk of the next big action star shot around town through phone lines, electric wiring and every wireless network available. Vin was handed the golden ticket, but unfortunately he chose to cash it in on the wrong show. After another huge boost from the Fast and Furious franchise, which he helped create, Vin walked away and jumped into XXX which turned out to be a huge disaster. Since then Vin has stumbled through the action world, briefly turning in a finely tuned family performance in The Pacifier, but never making it back to his once renowned action star fame. Here, in the dark, dreary world of Babylon A.D., Vin was set for a comeback. Poised on the edge of a Blade Runner-esque feature that looked to relaunch the man-myth in the same fashion as Pitch Black did all those years ago. Would it work? Would Vin muscle his way to the top once again?

Not this time.

Babylon A.D. is hamstrung from the start. Here’s a brief overview of the story: Vin plays a smuggler who’s pretty much left the game, but is dragged back in for one big score which could give him the chance at a new life. The deal is he has to transport a young girl into America in six days. Tons of people are after her for different reasons, which Vin tries to ignore at first, but finds himself tangled in her web. This last job forces him to make a choice between caring about himself or caring about others. On paper it all sounds fairly straight forward and easy to get across, but somewhere in the translation from page to screen this simple story became so convoluted and riddled with plot holes that the director himself went on a vulgarity laced tirade against the studio for ruining it. Matheiu Kassovitz railed against Fox Studios for cutting an extra seventeen minutes from the final cut and also not allowing him to shoot what he felt was an integral scene to the story. We as the audience will never know if those missing minutes would have turned the tide of the film, but when the credits to roll as it is the feeling of huge and important facts missing is inescapable. The most glaring of all is the big hook from the trailer where we see a rocket propelled missle explode within inches of the young girl, as if blocked by a force field, but where the field came from, how she created it or what it means about her powers is explained only in the most inept fashion. This would be the only moment the audience could emotionally connect with Vin Diesel’s character since he couldn’t understand any of it either.

In the acting realm, Vin didn’t do a terrible job. He brought back a little touch of the gruff, no nonsense brute we all came to love back in the day. Yet later in the movie he shows even he has an achillies heel, no matter how tough he may seem. A late in the third act crying scene was absolutely painful to watch and should have been cut from the first moment of rehearsal. Put him behind the wheel of a car or the trigger of a gun, but never, ever put Vin behind a sheen of fake tears. Michelle Yeoh tries to add some acting chops to the flick, but even she gets lost in the convoluted plot twists. Stuck smack dab in the middle of this bleak futuristic mess is Melanie Thierry, who plays Aurora, the mysterious explosion proof girl. Piercing blue eyes aside, she has the innocence and purity the role calls for, but not the experience and talent yet to pull the audience in with her.  Once again though, I hate to give her too much flack since everything really starts with the script and the writing just wasn’t there to support her.

In the end Babylon A.D. came to the screen as a great concept, but terribly executed and we’ll never know if that was due to the unfinished and unpolished script, terrible directing by Kassovitz or another example of a movie studio sticking its fingers where they don’t belong. Whatever the case, it was a missed opportunity for Vin Diesel to recapture his former glory. Luckily for him, he already signed on to return to his star making character in Fast and Furious, the fourth part of the franchise, reuniting all four members of the original cast. If done right, Vin still might get the bump he was looking for.

Recommendation: Watch Blade Runner again, or Equilibrium, or Gattaca, or take a nap.

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The House Bunny: Awkward Humor Wrapped in Pink Spandex

Posted by goldwriting on August 23, 2008

OK, that time I am sure something just touched my butt.

Searching for the right words to start this review made me feel as dumb as the main character in this movie acts. The House Bunny is a low-ball comedy pegged deep in a summer filled with high concept humor, but does it succeed as a welcome break? Yes, but just barely.

Anna Faris stars in the movie as Shelley, a Playboy Playmate seemingly past her prime, who is unceremoniously booted from Hef’s paradise. In her search for work in a world which is wildly beyond her understanding, she stumbles into a sorority house on the verge of losing its charter because no one, and I mean absolutely no one, wants to hang out with the girls who live there. Shelley sees an opportunity to bedazzle and befriend these girls, turning them into the popular chicks on campus, while the girls see Shelley as the last ditch effort to save their house. Sweatshirts turn to hot pants, frizzy turns to fabulous and piercings turn to pedicures. But, in an effort to keep some sort of moral along the way, both sides learn what it really means to be a family and how much value should be placed on what other people think of you.

So there you have the basic idea, which is nothing terribly new. Beat for beat The House Bunny could be superimposed over other recent college romps as Accepted and Sydney White (the latter being a modern day re-telling of the fairy tale, Snow White). Not to say it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The supremely odd characters created inside the sorority are worth a look, if not a shudder. Anna Faris does what she does best, play people so mentally vacant, so completely oblivious that the sheer fact they can remember to breathe on their own is a gold medal worthy accomplishment (like the Olympics reference? they’re everywhere!!!). In reality Anna is extremely intelligent and knows exactly what she is doing to keep her career moving along, in fact, she was an executive producer on this movie and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her taking the reins even more in the future. From her first big pop on screen in the original Scary Movie, it was easy to see there was more to her than a beaming smile and big, pretty eyes. She plays her roles with a fearlessness most actors can only strive for. The biggest benefit to The House Bunny is her co-stars seem equally trained and willing to look as blatantly stupid as needed. Emma Stone, whom I just reviewed in The Rocker, brings on one of the most uncontrollably awkward characters in the film and alongside Anna delivers the hands down funniest scene in the picture. As hardcore as she looked in her last film, she’s totally replaced it with social ineptitude on a magical level. Also helping to form out the rowdy bunch of misfits is Kat Dennings as their resident pierced, hoodie shielded, man-hater. Kat makes the shift through the film to uber-hottie a little too easily, but I think it was more due to not enough time to devote to her character, not the fault of the actress (who can also be seen co-starring in the upcoming Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist alongside comedy wunderkid Michael Cera). Finally, slipping in between the cracks in the credits, is Rumer Willis, daughter of action icon Bruce Willis. She also succeeds in being socially unfit due to her wearing a upper body metallic brace, possibly fashioned from some Victorian suit of armor. The main downside for Rumer is once the brace disappears, so does her character. Deserving a special mention is Dana Goodman, who plays Carrie Mae, a painfully funny mix of a lumberjack, a greco-roman wrestler, with a topping of Jim Carrey . They made no attempt to explain how someone so odd could exist, but we really didn’t need one.

Although the movie does level out and take on a level of charm, the opening thirty minutes are filled with some of the most painful and uncomfortable awkwardness I’ve been exposed to in a long time. It was there to serve the story and prove how socially oblivious these girls were, but the movie took it to such a level where I almost felt bad for laughing. Most of the opening gags were met with uneasy groans from the audience instead of chuckles and laughs of understanding. Once the girls make the switch from freak shows to femme fatales, the movie finds a much more familiar rhythm and plays that tune until the final credits. Another fault is the misuse in the cast of Kiely Williams and Kimberly Makkouk. Kiely plays Lilly, a mute girl who sends most of dialogue through text messages to the other girls. Her first appearance in the movie comes out of nowhere, or I suppose more literally she dives out of locked room off screen, but her initial outfit is terribly reminiscent of something the maid would wear in Gone With the Wind. The only reason this is worth mentioning is Kiely is the only African American actor in the movie. I’m not saying it was intentionally racist, just saying the wardrobe person took a nap through 400 years of her American History class. As for Kimberly, she plays Tanya, who has a whopping handful of lines in the whole movie and is only part of the outcast crew because she’s tiny, somewhere near dwarf status. While some people might find the few height jokes in the flick worthwhile, it just wasn’t enough to make her character necessary in the least.

I couldn’t possibly write about this without bringing up the continuing trend of casting musicians in feature films. In the role of Harmony, the pregnant member of the house, is Katherine McPhee, American Idol runner-up in Season 5. She does have an amazing voice, which is used in the ending credits and a cringe worthy karaoke scene early on, but she also got tons of notice due to her flawless looks. That imagery only continues in The House Bunny because even nine months pregnant it’s hard to believe college guys wouldn’t be tossing themselves in her path. Adding one more to the musical mix is Tyson Ritter, the lead singer of All-American Rejects. He does a turn as Colby, the long time super-crush of Emma Stone’s character. Not enough really there to say whether he’s a good actor or not, but honestly the character wasn’t cool enough either to make us understand why Emma liked him so much.

Recommendation: It’s a silly comedy that does earn some stripes in the latter half, but be prepared to ache with awkwardness throughout the opening scenes. Uncomfortability is the name of the game here. If you’re down for that, feel free to check it out, but you can honestly wait until video.

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Dakota Skye: The Whole Truth and Nothing But

Posted by goldwriting on August 14, 2008

“Do you know someone named Godot? No? Damn…”

There are few times as a movie watcher when you get to be there at the beginning. By the time a directors name gets tossed into the open arena of critics and fans alike, they have already created a handful of theatrical visions and you find yourself scouring Netflix or Blockbuster trying to walk backwards through their cinematic resume. Well, this is one of those few times where you can say you were there when. In a small number of years you can act snobby at parties and brag about how you saw this feature length debut years before anyone knew about the following successes. What’s better than having intellectual ammo at the ready to feel superior about? Not much.

Let’s talk about the movie first, before we get into the behind the scenes masterminds. Dakota Skye is a superhero tale with a twist. Dakota is a young girl, only medium cute (a line from the movie, which is terribly inaccurate) and she has a secret power. No one can lie to her. Anytime someone distorts the truth around her, their real meaning and honest thoughts appear in front of her like subtitles in a foreign film. You might think this would be a great power to have, but once you start realizing how much people lie and what they really feel about you, life can seem pretty bleak. This is where Jonah comes in, a pleasant tinged stoner who seemingly never tells a lie. Meeting Jonah throws Dakota’s world into a spin because there are only two answers, either her powers don’t work on him or he really is the last honest person on Earth. Let the teenage confusion and angst begin!

The movie is really centered around the relationship between Dakota and Jonah, which places a large amount of the success on the shoulders of Eileen Boylan (as Dakota) and Ian Nelson (as Jonah). Thankfully both step up to the task. The chemistry on screen helps the audience sink into their world, reminding us about that time when we met the first person who got underneath all our walls and social defenses. Eileen shuffles her scuffed jeans and worn-in Chucks through a performance balanced between one part slacker, one part dreamer and one part trail blazer. Top off with a dash of jaded teenager forced to grow up too fast and you have the incarnation of Dakota. Her adorable presence on screen and earnest moments really center the film and keep the audience tuned in. Coming in to lend his assistance is Ian with a humble smile, honest face and almost effortless delivery. Certain scenes for him felt so natural it could have been mistaken for improv, just letting him go and feel the moment as it happened. You can expect to see both of these young actors in the coming years, that is, if you haven’t already caught Eileen in Greek and Making Change and Ian in Bratz and True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet.

Now both of those performances would not have been possible if not for the delicate touch of director John Humber. This is his first feature film and I can guarantee it won’t be his last to reach the silver screen. Dakota Skye has the feel and rough edges of a debut filmmaker, but there is a vision, a concept and a level of skill that cannot be denied. The whole story is visually told with delicate pacing, filled with engaging moments, leading up to a beautifully touching final scene right out of any major motion picture we see today (specifically in the romance genre, that is). If this is the beginning of a career, all I can say is I am excited to see what’s coming down the line.

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The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2: Weaving the Fabric of Friendship

Posted by goldwriting on August 10, 2008

“If we all just agree not to stare at the weird bumpy thing at our feet, maybe it will go away.”

I know, I know. This is probably the last movie anyone expected to find reviewed on this blog, but the people who really know me can attest to the fact that I am a movie junkie. I will see virtually anything and the ones I might not see by myself, I will easily go along if it’s with another person. So lo and behold a night with my best friend and she wants to witness the story of the bedazzled wonder-pants. Far be it for me to deny her that right, even though I had the arguement of not having seen the first movie. Would I be lost? Would I understand the bond of these four young and troubled girls? How would I follow the twists and turns bound to pop up? I guess my years upon years of movie watching was actually just training for this moment. So away we go…

The next chapter in the tale of the denim divas follows them to all corners of the earth, but seperately. Each of the girls leaves for the summer to follow thier own path, their own heart and where it takes them is not always right along side each other. One goes to drama camp to find out her place in the theater might not be behind the curtains at all, while another goes to art school only to find drawing passion and heart can’t be done when the artist has closed hers off. One more girl learns the past is only as far your last conversation with someone you care about, while lastly another finds looking into the future is more frightening when you imagine it alone. Each young woman travels their own road and this story is how they find themselves and each other once again along the way.

After reading all that it might feel like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 has stuffed way too much into those wildly decorated jeans, but the movie shows itself to be a great example of intelligent and accomplished editing. Each storyline is touched on, taken in and then moved on from with impeccable timing, never overstaying its welcome and never leaving the audience wondering what was going on with the rest of the girls. Everyone is granted a wealth of screen time and that passes on to the viewer a level of visual respect, so we can decide for ourselves which person we want to route for (if not all of them, which in my case, it wasn’t, but I’ll get to that later). Credit is assuredly given to the director, Sanaa Hamri, for her work, but I want to lend a special round of digital applause to the editor, Melissa Kent, for really keeping a well balanced performance intact for everyone involved.

About those performances, let’s take a closer look at the set up and how it differs from the first time these pants made their appearance on the silver screen. We have four young up-and-coming actresses in Alexis Bledel, Blake Lively, Amber Tamblyn and America Ferrera. When the first movie came out Alexis was riding high on the back of Gilmore Girls mania, while Amber had recently enjoyed critical acclaim in her starring turn on Joan of Arcadia (although not the public rating support that usually accompanies such high reviews). This time around, Alexis and Amber have taken a back seat to the Emmy and Golden Globe winning America Ferrera from the critic’s wonder darling, Ugly Betty and the hype/buzz machine powerhouse of Blake Lively and her adolescent hormone extravaganza, Gossip Girl. Behind the scenes the dynamic may have changed, but on screen you would never know how far things had shifted. There is a palpable level of camaraderie between these four young girls, but how far that lasts when the cameras are off is hard to tell. Personally, the two current headliners, Blake and America, stole the show with their respective performances, especially Blake, while Alexis held her own and Amber fell a little flat. Part of Amber’s problem is she has the character with the least reason to support her. For most of the movie she is grumpy, frumpy and bordering on goth. While each of the other girls are stretching and reaching out, Amber’s character is retreating inward, causing a slight disconnect with the rest of the pack. On the other side of the gender line, there are the men in the picture. No teen chick flick is complete without the heartthrob young men to make the girls swoon, but in most stories there are also the jerks and brutish young punks who hurt or disappoint the girls first, which sends them running to the male best friend who they never looked at in that way before, but they see, and so on and so on. In this story I felt a little break in that belief in the world it created because every guy in the film was perfect. They were all total gentlemen, caring, sensitive, bursting with charm, and to top it all off most of them looked they had just walked out of the gym after a 24-hour work out bender (all except for Blake’s dad, which can be excused in this case). The only reason this stood out as a problem for me was they had every guy throwing themselves at their feet, so their only real problem was with themselves, and that makes for very few hurdles to jump over which are not self-imposed.

In the end the movie is enjoyable and the people in the crowd I was a part of all had their share of cheering moments. It’s a chick flick in its purest form, but that doesn’t mean all the boyfriends and best friends out there have to moan and groan when they get dragged to it. The theater experience really doesn’t bring anything special to it, so you guys out there might even be safe until DVD release, but once that comes, you better find yourself a comfy pillow on the couch because you can be sure this will get heavy rotation.

p.s. My friend would be remiss if I didn’t mention her issue with the casting of the male model character in Alexis Bledel’s story arc. Not a bad actor at all, but she got the vibe he (or his character) wasn’t really into Alexis, or her character, or her gender… Oh SNAP! And I would be remiss not to mention that since this is a sequel with no sub-title it will forever be known to me as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2: Electric Boogaloo.

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Pineapple Express: Weed Comedy with a kick…and a punch…and an elbow drop!

Posted by goldwriting on August 6, 2008

“Do you think what they’re doing over there is illegal? I mean, in this state?”

“Man, I’m not even sure if it’s possible.”

Could it be possible the people behind Pineapple Express were so baked they didn’t even realize it got released on Wednesday instead of Friday? Maybe it was supposed to hit last Friday and everyone connected to it just woke up this morning and thought, “Oh crap. Umm…let’s just send it out now.” Or, the least amusing and most likely of the options, they wanted a jump start on opening weekend tallies and figured it might help them unseat the reigning champion, The Dark Knight. Whatever the reason might be, I’m glad for it because it broke up my week nicely.

Walking into the theater I had expectations only to be entertained, nothing more. My gauge was set to something just a little over Step Brothers, but not aiming for Superbad, Knocked Up or Beverly Hills Cop (added that last one in because it is by far one of the best R rated comedies of all time). What I got was something much different. This is more than a stoner film, this is a whole new genre, the stoner-action film. The genius of this is no one really ever broached this area since logic prevailed against it. If you have two stoners as the main characters, you can’t have an action film because they’ll sit around and do nothing the whole time. There was a brief poke into this with the release of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, but it wasn’t as much action oriented as hijinx filled. The Pineapple Express formula looks something like this: Smoke weed -=> Witness Violence -=> Smoke more weed -=> Cause Violence -=> Smoke even more weed -=> Go on completely ridiculous violent tangent. As odd as that might sound, it worked like a charm. If this had been shot as a wall-to-wall stoner film it would’ve gotten old within the first thirty minutes, but the fight scenes are so absolutely over the top and beyond hilarious it helped create a nice balance of pacing and energy from the movie and for the audience.

In front of the camera playing our two doobie loving heroes are Seth Rogen and James Franco. Rogen is on a streak which can almost not even be fathomed by most in Hollywood. Reaching back to his humble beginnings on the Judd Apatow led TV show, Freaks and Geeks, Seth has gone on to become one of the most powerful forces in today’s comedy world. Along with Apatow, his mentor, they have single-handedly created the resurgence of the raunchy comedy and infused it with enough heart to increase the audience base by double or more. Soon enough, Rogen will be the Kevin Bacon of the comedy world and you won’t be able to connect two movies without finding him or someone that’s worked with him. James Franco on the other hand, not the well known actor in the comedy circles, but he channels a mix of Rory Cochrane (aka Ron Slater) from Dazed and Confused and Jeff Bridges (aka The Dude) from The Big Lebowski. His relaxed facial expressions and foggy stoner logic throughout the film drive the reaction shots in scene after scene. Lastly, rounding out this baked-in trio is Danny McBride as Red, who in the public eye is just coming off his commendable comedy efforts in The Foot Fist Way. Even though Seth is walking tall in the movie world right now, he actually gets outplayed by both James and Danny who each turn in brilliantly toned and tempered performances. Also, watching these three in a fight scene together was one of the top five most hilarious moments this year.

Some people might not realize that Seth Rogen also is the producer or co-writer of a majority of his recent hits. Knocked Up, Superbad and The 40-Year Old Virgin, on top of this new super-stoner flick, have all felt the weight of his pen and his intelligence for storytelling. He’s got a new big screen adaptation of TV’s The Green Hornet coming up and it almost feels a little like Pineapple Express could be a gateway movie for the audiences to begin looking at him as an action/comedy star. He said in a recent interview he was worried about what was going to happen next since he came up with a lot of these movie ideas when he was fifteen and now he’s much older and has to start coming up with entirely new stories. He might be worried about it, but I’m not. Something tells me Rogen and the entire Apatow crew is going to be around for a very long time. The feeling in the theatrical comedy world right now is reminiscent of Saturday Night Live when you get that perfect mix of cast members. Let’s all sit back, pop open our choice of sugary goodness and enjoy the ride while it lasts.

Recommendation: Obviously I enjoyed the film and I would tell you to go ahead and check it out. The theater experience isn’t completely necessary, but I would do it anyway since you won’t have to wait months for the DVD to hit shelves. Plus, there are a few action scenes which can be helped by the big screen and sound. Oh, and for those wondering about the unanswered question, you do not actually have to be stoned to enjoy the movie.

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The Mummy – Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: Open with Extreme Caution

Posted by goldwriting on August 1, 2008

Yep, I have no idea where his front foot is either. It’s mummy magic.

Movies are almost synonymous with one type of food; popcorn. Summertime is equally synonymous with one kind of movie; popcorn cinema. This would be the type of movie where you walk in, sit down with an overly large tub of possibly-buttered delight in your lap and shut the brain off. Just watch the action, be wowed by the explosions and chuckle at the one-liners you would only joke about, but never believe you would actually hear someone say on screen. Now it may sound like I’m mocking these flicks, but I’m not at all, we eat these up with both hands every year and this summer is no different. How do you think Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull made such a ridiculous amount of money? So, tonight I bore witness to another lasting franchise in the candy coated adventure world and it’s new arrival, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

The first two movies were helmed by franchise creator Steven Sommers, but this time the reins were handed over to another Universal Studios master-at-arms, Rob Cohen. Rob is no stranger to the multi-sequeled storyline, but usually he’s at the front of it instead of coming in during round three. He launched such franchises as The Fast and the Furious, xXx and The Skulls. He also directed one of the more stand out martial arts movies of the early 1990’s, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. With all those credits on his rap sheet, you’d figure this project would be akin to giving a professional conductor one of Beethoven’s classics, a walk in the park. Yet this stroll down popcorn lane proved to be a more windy road than imagined.

The story takes place many years after the last chapter and Rick and Evie’s son, Alex has taken on the family business of digging up and uncovering the most dangerous of mummified enemies. This new foe happens to be an ancient Chinese emperor who once controlled the five elements and tried to take over the world, which seems to be a bit of a habit for these mummies. Once he is reawakened, the ride begins and we are off once again, racing around the continent to try and stop him from becoming completely immortal. The basic premise works and personally I was glad to move the location out of Egypt, since I felt they had played that tune as long as they could. Yet once you move below the basic storyline, all the connecting points seem to fall apart. I’m a huge supporter in the “willing suspension of disbelief”, which we all need to fully enjoy any movie, but this suspension was pulled just a few hairs past the limit. So many things take place which are never explained, never set up and sometimes never paid off. Once the momentum really got moving, every other scene was spent trying to figure out how we got there and what was going on. It had a little taste of Wanted, which also jumped absolutely huge logic holes for the sake of making something look cool on screen, but that film, under the insane vision of Timur Bekmambetov, pulled it off much better.

As for casting, back in the day this was going to be the bread and butter of Brendan Fraser’s career (who plays our dashing hero and young Indiana Jones homage, Rick O’Connell), but since the first movie I haven’t felt that same magic from his performance. Ever since then it has all felt like a shadow or almost a parody of the moments he created in the original. Also, in the first two he starred alongside Rachel Weisz, but she didn’t return to the sand and savagery this time and the studios were forced to either write her out or replace her. They chose the latter. In comes Maria Bello as Evie O’Connell, the spunky and adventurous librarian-cum-swashbuckler. I think Maria is a fantastic actress and I was wildly supportive of her turn in A History of Violence, but this was not a good fit for her. Her action scenes felt forced and overly silly, on top of her accent sliding in, out and completely off the British continent. From the original chapters, the only person to bring the exact same level, for better or for worse, was John Hannah, as Evie’s charmingly opportunistic brother, Jonathan. New to this series was Michelle Yeoh, an immortal witch hoping to stop the Dragon Emperor, and Jet Li as the Emperor himself. Michelle was fairly strong in her performance, but Jet Li spent most of the movie walking around as an animated Terra Cotta statue, so it’s a little hard to criticize any lack of emotion from the part.

It can be argued that acting skills and story structure have nothing to do with popcorn cinema, it is all about the special effects. We are there for the glitz, the glamor and the wonderment of things we have never seen before on screen. Unfortunately this visual extravaganza didn’t break down any walls in that realm. The statue effect on Jet Li’s character skipped back and forth between impressive and amateurish, while the practical effects and explosions failed to really pop the eyes open of the audience. The one thing standing out amongst the crowd was the Yeti creatures (don’t ask how or why they appeared, just let that one go). These imagined visualizations of the abominable snowmen provided not only some much needed freshness to the flick, but some decent comedy as well. Numerous times there was laughter peeling through the audience, but half of it was laughing alongside the movie, while the rest was laughing at it. Big difference, same result: entertainment. As many problems as this does have, I can’t say I walked out unamused. The plot holes and logic issues leave the script looking like a well used target down at the local gun range, but the jokes were plentiful and they kept coming until you gave in and laughed.

Recommendation: As I’ve said before, this is an action movie, so it can only be helped by seeing it on the big screen, but on this occassion I might just suggest waiting for TV distribution and sitting really, really close to the set.

p.s. I was once again reminded about why I choose to go to the Arclight Cinemas as much as possible. Tonight they gave out posters signed by Rob Cohen to people sitting in random seat numbers. Plus, if that wasn’t enough of a bonus for the night, Rob Cohen himself was there to introduce the movie. He mentioned that he made the movie for us, the fans, the general public, and not for the critics and bloggers (like myself). He said it’s about sheer entrainment, so whether you think it’s good or it’s bad, if you laugh at it during any point, his job is done. For me the job was done, but it might not have been the job he intended.

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