Friday, November 12, 2010

Movie Review: "Skyline"

By Skip TuckerOkay, I’ll admit it. I was sucked in (absolutely pun intended) to see this movie by the trailers – reminiscent of “Cloverfield” and “Independence Day.” The special effects looked awesome, and the cast was, by in large, fairly easy on the eyes. Firmly ensconced in the center seat in the center of the theater (it was a 9 AM showing, so there weren’t a lot of people in attendance), I eagerly anticipated the beginning of a sci-fi blockbuster.

What I got was a sci-fi dud.

I tried, I really tried to like this thing. The movie opens with a hungover couple (Eric Balfour from “24″ and “Haven,” and a spectacular-looking Scottie Thompson from “NCIS”) awakening to a shaking room and eerie blue light. Now, if you’re unfortunate enough to actually look at the blue light, your veins pop up, your eyes turn milky, then you’re sucked up into the sky.

No kidding.

The rest of the film has these two, along with Donald Faison (“Scrubs”), his snappish, aging trophy wife (Hey! I used to have one of those!), and a few others peeking out the windows, desperately trying to figure out what was going on.

I know how they felt.

You know a movie is in trouble when at no point during the film do you care nor identify with any of the individuals. Instead of what you got in “Independence Day,” the characters in “Skyline” were, for the most part, simple bystanders to all the action going on between the Stealth fighters and Matrix-style Sentinels.

And the ending – without TOO much of a spoiler, suffice it to say that I can confidently predict that your reaction will be pretty much the same as mine, which was … “Wait… that’s IT???”

While the special effects are pretty good (especially for a limited budget movie), “Skyline” was a major disappointment. One of the signature lines from "Independence Day" was Will Smith muttering, "Oh HELL no." The closest equivalent in "Skyline" was one of the characters saying, "This can't go on forever." At 92 minutes, it just felt like it.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Movie Review: "The Expendables"

By Skip Tucker
At 103 minutes, “The Expendables” is an gonzo action movie on steroids, overdosing on testosterone. However, what else would you expect from a movie directed by, co-written and starring Sylvester Stallone? This is most definitely NOT “Eat, Pray, Love.” In the full theater 12:05 am opening screening at the Grove, there were MAYBE five women in the audience. (Sidenote: There WERE several of the guys in attendance who worked as stuntmen on the movie. They treated us all to an impromptu gymnastics and martial arts demonstration prior to the movie).

So, here’s the plot. Stallone is “Barney,” the leader of a group of motorcycle-riding mercenaries who get their jobs through a tattoo artist, played with a grizzled glee by Mickey Rourke (who steals every scene he’s in). The movie opens with the group freeing some sailors taken hostage by Somali pirates. In a precursor of what’s to come, the pirate ringleader gets literally blown in half during the inevitable firefight. Unfortunately, there’s a problem with one of the Expendables – a sniper named Gunner (Dolph Lundgren, who last faced up against Stallone in Rocky IV) is strung-out on drugs and goes off the deep end (who could tell?) and attacks one of his own team. Apparently, being a murdering psychopath is okay, but (as Mr. Mackey says) “drugs are bad,” and he’s forced off the team.

For the next mission, a mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis, in a one-scene cameo) hires the mercenaries to assassinate a general of a fictional Caribbean nation an island where the inhabitants speak Cuban Spanish.

Follow so far?

The honorable Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, makes his less than two-minute onscreen appearance in this scene trading insults with Stallone:
Schwarzenegger: Give this job to my friend here. He loves playing in the jungle, right?
Stallone: Right.
Bruce Willis: What's his problem?
Stallone: He wants to be President.

Good stuff.

It’s pretty easy to tell the bad guys from the good guys in this movie. All the bad guys wear red berets that never fall off. Wearing a red beret in "The Expendables" is as dangerous as wearing a red shirt on "Star Trek."

Rounding out the cast are Eric Roberts as the rogue ex-CIA agent and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin as his muscle, Jason Statham as Barney’s best friend and right-hand man, Terry Crews as the guy with a love affair with REALLY big guns, Randy Couture as the therapy-loving killing machine, and Jet Li as the comic relief – the butt of all the short jokes.

The fights are bigger, the guns are louder, the explosions more epic than in any other film in recent memory. There are plot holes you could drive Stallone’s ego through; it’s not going to win any Academy Awards, and it’s bound to garner a warehouse full of negative reviews, but the boys and I loved it.

A warning, however, to any woman thinking of attending “The Expendables”: you may leave the theater needing to shave your newly acquired beard.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Movie Review: "The Last Airbender"

By Skip Tucker
My two teenage boys grew up watching “Avatar: The Last Airbender” on Nickelodeon. They were so excited to see the movie version that we went to the 12:01 AM showing at the Grove. We got our 3-D glasses, found our seats and anxiously awaited the beginning of the movie.

To say this movie was a letdown would be the Understatement of the Year. Director (and writer) M. Night Shyamalan has managed to take a beloved anime series and turn it into a 103-minute, dumbed-down, incomprehensible, juvenile mess. The script feels like it was written in a remedial English class for people with roughly the IQ equivalent of Forrest Gump. The first hint is during the opening scroll, when a disembodied voice reads the words for those in the audience who apparently can’t read for themselves.

"The Last Airbender" tells the story of a fantasy world where certain people have the ability to manipulate (“bend”) the four elements – air, water, fire and earth. The Avatar is the only one who can bend all four and bring peace to the world, or Balance to the Force or some such nonsense. However, the Avatar has disappeared for the last 100 years, and the Fire Nation has conquered and subjugated the other three nations. Now the Avatar has returned. Oh, goodie.

The actors are, almost without exception, disappointing at best. Noah Ringer, who plays the title character, has an emotional range that starts and ends with “confusion.” The bad guys are laughably miscast. "Daily Show" correspondent Aasif Mandvi is Zhao, the Fire Nation commander, and throughout the movie I kept giggling at his voice and expecting him to start cracking jokes.
Jackson Rathbone, who plays Sokka, displays all of the memorable acting skills he's honed during his time as one of the sparkly vampires of the Cullen clan in the "Twilight" series. During all this, Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel as Zuko does little more than sneer for most of his onscreen time.

The single exception to uniformly bad casting and bad acting was Shaun Toub (the guy in the cave who helped Tony Stark in Iron Man) as Zuko’s uncle. Of the entire lot, his was the only one who was believable and to whom the audience could sympathize with and relate to.

The most frightening element (if you’ll excuse the pun) of this botched abortion of a film comes at the end with an epilogue which makes it clear that there are (two) more Airbender movies in the works.

M. Night Shyamalan had a hit with “The Sixth Sense” in 1999. After that the spiral began with “Signs” in 2002, the incredibly ridiculous “The Village” in 2004, sinking deeper with “Lady in the Water” in 2006 and tanking with “The Happening” in 2008. For the love of all that’s holy, STOP LETTING THIS MAN DIRECT MOVIES!

Back in school I learned that punctuation is everything in headlines. This headline should read:

“Thinking of Seeing M. Night. Shyamalan’s new movie? Don’t! Miss ‘The Last Airbender’!”

Friday, April 23, 2010

Movie Review: "Kick-Ass"

By Skip Tucker

At some point, every boy (and most girls) have dreamed of being a superhero (“Superman” was my role model as a little one, and my mother STILL has fairly incriminating photos of me as a little fat kid in a Superman outfit. I’m relatively certain she intends to use them some day).

Based on the comic book from Mark Millar, “Kick-Ass” tells the story of Dave Lizewski (played brilliantly by Aaron Johnson, most memorable as the young Charlie Chaplin in "Shanghai Knights"), a geeky, gawky teenager who gets fed up with the injustices he sees occurring all around him, and decides to do something about it. That something is ordering a hooded wetsuit online and transforming himself into vigilante “Kick-Ass.” Unfortunately, the only ass that get kicked (initially) is his – with almost fatal results. He persists, and almost gets killed again, but this time said ass is saved by REAL superheroes, Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and daughter Hit Girl (Chloë Moretz).

Cage is spot-on perfect as the Batman-style caped crusader, complete with the requisite But it’s Moretz who absolutely steals this movie as the 13-year old (actually 11 when this was filmed) sidekick. With all the violence and gore, however, the real controversy from this film was her vociferous use of profanity (including the C-word). The typical dialogue goes something like this:

Damon Macready: So... Have you thought a little more about what you might want for your birthday?
Mindy Macready: Can I get a puppy?
Damon Macready: You wanna get a dog?
Mindy Macready: Yeah, a cuddly fluffy one. And a Bratz movie-star make over Sasha!
Mindy Macready: I'm just f**king with you Daddy... I'd love a bench made model 42 butterfly knife!
Damon Macready: [relieved] Oh, child... You always knock me for a loop!

Also noteworthy is Mark Strong (previously the bad guy in last year's "Sherlock Holmes" and next in the upcoming "Robin Hood") in the role of über-bad guy Frank D'Amico, a heartless, vicious, mob boss karate expert. He’s so bad that his ultimate defeat will have everyone from bubblegummers to ballistics experts cheering. And the ever-popular Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin from “Superbad”) is brilliant as D’Amico’s son Chris, who transforms himself into “Red Mist” for his (and bad daddy’s) nefarious purposes.

Directed by Matthew Vaughn (who also directed “Stardust”), “Kick-Ass” is most definitely NOT a movie for the younger set, nor the easily offended. But if this is your sort of film, swoop on into the nearest Cineplex and strap in. It’s a ride you’ll remember for a long time to come!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Movie Review: "How to Train Your Dragon"

Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (who also directed the 2002 Disney hit “Lilo and Stitch” – remember that fact for later), “How to Train Your Dragon” is an hour and 38 minutes of pure fun.

Set on the island of Berk, which is "twelve days north of Hopeless and a few degrees south of Freezing to Death," “Dragon” tells the story of a Viking village beset by a plague of “pests” – in this case, a whole bunch of fire-breathing dragons of all shapes and sizes. The deadliest and fiercest (and never before seen) is the Night Wing.

The Vikings bravely meet all of the dragon raids, led by Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) and his best friend, Gobber (Craig Ferguson). Stoick’s pipsqueak son (and Gobber’s apprentice) is Hiccup (voiced by “She’s Out of My League” star Jay Baruchel). Hiccup desperately wants to prove his manhood by slaying a dragon, but all of the adults (and other teenagers) in the village think he’s generally a clumsy goofus who can’t seem to do anything right.

One night during a raid, Hiccup accidentally injures a Night Wing. Unable to deliver the killing blow as it lies helpless, Hiccup cares for and eventually befriends the beast, who he names “Toothless” (whose facial features, incidentally, are a dead ringer for the aforementioned Stitch). Hiccup also learns that the dragons are not anything like the vicious monsters that everyone claims – but how to convince the other Vikings?

It was fun to try to identify the voices of the characters. Baruchel and Butler were a snap, as was that of Ferguson. Two I missed (and had to wait for the credits to identify) were “Superbad” alumni Jonah Hill and McLovin himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

It was mildly distracting to listen to the Scottish brogues of both Butler and Ferguson playing Vikings, while all of the younger set seemed to have American accents… but I nitpick.

A bit of advice: spend the couple of extra bucks and see this movie in 3D - preferably IMAX... if you don't, you'll end up doing it eventually anyway.

SO much better than last year’s animated snoozefest, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” “Dragon” is a terrific movie for the entire family.

Good job, Dreamworks!

Movie Review: "Shutter Island" (2/21/2010)

Martin Scorsese scores again with “Shutter Island,” a psychological thriller based on the 2003 best seller by Dennis LeHane. Set in 1954 with Leonardio DiCaprio as U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels, who, with his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), are investigating an asylum for the criminally insane in the middle of Boston Harbor. Apparently, one of the inmates - or “patients,” as spooky head psychiatrist Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley) prefers to call them – has inexplicably escaped. A gale-force storm knocks out the ferry service and forces the two investigators to stay on the island longer than they had anticipated.

Teddy is battling his own demons, including horrific flashbacks of his time as a U.S. soldier liberating the Dachau death camp, and of the death of his wife (Michelle Williams). He’s convinced that there is much more to the asylum than is being revealed, and obsessed with finding the answers. Unfortunately, his own sense of sanity seems to be rapidly slipping away.

This is one of those movies where, the less you know going in, the better. Resist the temptation to read any spoilers, or have your friends tell you any more about the plot. The psychological twists and turns are well worth finding out on your own.

“Shutter Island” is heavy, dark and depressing. It’s not a movie I’d particularly recommend as a romantic first date, and certainly not one for the kiddies, but it’s powerful and thought-provoking.