Monday, April 27, 2009


2009. Rated R, 114 minutes.
Director: George Tillman, Jr. Starring Jamal Woolard, Derek Luke, Angela Bassett, Antonique Smith, Marc John Jeffries, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Amanda Christopher, Naturi Naughton, Anthony Mackie.

Plot: The life and times of Christopher Wallace, AKA The Notorious B.I.G.

The Good: Even better than simply not making our hero a saint, the movie doesn't try to justify his indiscretions. It's content to show him as a guy who often has to learn the hard way. It also manages to show him as thoughtful, if a bit selfish. Woolard in the title role is simply note-perfect. Unfortunately, he's so good and has a look enough like Biggie I can see him struggling to land other roles. Actually, the title role is shared by Woolard with Biggie's real-life son, Christopher Jordan Wallace, who ably plays his dad as a kid. The movie also makes effective use of Biggie's music as both a score and a soundtrack.

The Bad: I've often complained about movies, especially comedies, that simply run too long. However, I'm a firm believer that biopics should be at least two hours long. This one is a bit shy of that mark and suffers because of it. In particular, his various attempts at reconciliation with the women in his life are either glossed over or just plain left out as things between he and them go from bad to good instantaneously. It also limits character development in others who should/could have had major roles. Lil' Kim (Naturi Naughton) suffers the most as the script makes her completely selfish, lacking any compassion and most other human emotions besides anger. The circle around Biggie known as Junior MAFIA also suffers, only depicted as flunkies and hangers on when by most accounts he did have real friendships within the group. Even his friendship with Puffy is never dealt with.

The Ugly: How he gets "inspired" to make his hit song Juicy.

Recommendation: This is a pretty good biopic that sticks to the headlines from its subject's life. For hip hop fans, it's a worthy first entry into the genre. It could've used some more fleshing out to be great. Even though it's no disappointment, one can't help but wonder how much better a movie about Biggie's friend turned nemesis, the more interesting and dynamic personality Tupac Shakur, could be.

The Opposite View: Rob Daniel, Sky Movies

What the Internet Says: 6.0/10 on (4/27/09), 50% on, 60/100 on

MY SCORE: 7/10

Flight From Ashiya

Flight from Ashiya
1964. Not Rated, 100 minutes.
Director: Michael Anderson. Starring Yul Brynner, Richard Widmark, George Chakiris, Suzy Parker.
While on a dangerous rescue mission, three men who work for the Air Rescue Service each have a flashback to other important times in their lives. What the movie wants to do is build up these guys by making us love them through thier individual stories. It only manages to accomplish that for one of them, 2nd Lt. Gregg (Chakiris). For the other two, it gives us a bunch of pointless melodrama that might've been good if it didn't try to cram full-blown romance movies into the 20 or 25 minutes allotted each flashback. We get people falling hopelessly in love at first sight, stories skipping years with insufficient reason or explanation and all sorts of other cliches. What's meant to be poignant and maybe even racy for the era comes off as ridiculous and forced. MY SCORE: 5/10

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Jamie Foxx to Play Mike Tyson???

While checking out, I came across this post about Mike Tyson wanting Jamie Foxx to play him in a biopic. I did indeed confirm, he told this to MTV News. What an interesting idea.

Years ago, Michael Jai White of Spawn fame played the boxer in an HBO movie. If I remember correctly, he did okay in the role but nothing earth-shattering. He seemed to have gotten the role based more on his resemblance to Tyson than anything else. I think he's an okay actor, but I wouldn't re-cast him for the part.

Foxx, on the other hand, has more than enough acting ability to go around. He'd have to bulk up, but otherwise I think it would be an excellent choice.

But there's still a problem. I don't think this movie should happen anytime, soon. My reasons are purely selfish. I just don't think Mike has really ridden off into the sunset already. I'm not talking about his boxing career, which I hope is over forever. I'm talking about his three-ring circus of a public life. I can't help but get the feeling he's not done with bizarre occurrences, just yet.

Do you think a movie about Tyson's life should be made in the relative near-future? Who would you cast to play him?

City of Ember

City of Ember
2008. Rated PG, 95 minutes.
Director: Gil Kenan. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway, Bill Murray, Mackenzie Crook, Tim Robbins, Toby Jones.

Plot: When the Earth's surface becomes unlivable for human life, survivors relocate to the underground city of Ember. The founders leave instructions on how to get back t o the surface to find out if conditions have gotten better. They've locked them in a box set to open in 200 years. Fast forward those 200 years and Ember is falling apart as the city's aged generator is failing. The box has been lost and the city's collapse seems inevitable.

The Good: There are a number of chase scenes that add some fun to the proceedings. This also helps move things along quickly. Our two teenage stars, Ronan (as Lina Mayfleet) and Treadaway (as Doon Harrow) give earnest performances and make us feel like they're really trying to save a dying city.

The Bad: There are plotholes everywhere. One of them literally runs around the movie eating people. Or slithers around, I'm still not sure because it looks like a giant rooster but I didn't see any legs, but nevermind. The script is incoherent. It tries to borrow from too many other, better movies and fails to assimilate them in a manner that makes any sense. The movie's more known actors whiffed. Perhaps realizing he's in a crappy movie, Bill Murray (as the mayor of Ember) seems to be constantly thinking of his next tee time. Tim Robbins (as Doon's dad) appears to be overcompensating but at least he gives it the old college try. Finally, if you're going to make a silly movie with lots of cgi, at least have good cgi. Sadly, the special fx range from barely adequate, at best, to downright shoddy. It's shoddy more often than adequate so there's no "wow" factor.

The Ugly: What eventually happens to the mayor.

Recommendation: It tries to dazzle kids with lots of excitement but it forgot to write even a decent story. At the very least, it should've given them something easier to follow then maybe it might engage them enough to care. You and the kids might sit through it all but it will likely be forgotten by the time you take it out the DVD player.

The Opposite View: Cammila Albertson, TV Guide

MY SCORE: 2.5/10

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux
2008. Rated G, 94 minutes.
Directors: Sam Fell, Rob Stevenhagen. Starring Matthew Broderick, Robbie Coltrane, Tracy Ullman, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, Kevin Kline, William H. Macy, Stanley Tucci, Frank Langella, Richard Jenkins, Christopher Lloyd.

Plot: Despereaux (Broderick) is an outcast among other mice since he doesn't cower, scurry or show any fear at all. For this, he is banished from "Mouse World" into the sewers below. From there, he embarks on the adventure of a lifetime in hopes of saving a princess and perhaps an entire kingdom.

The Good: It trusts it's audience will stay with it when it lets up off the accelerator. So while there are scenes of silliness and action sprinkled throughout, there's ample time devoted to character development and plot building. The viewer is not rushed from one action scene to the next and we actually get to know a number of these characters. Visually, it's a wonderful piece of work. Like a lot of animated fare, it blends photo-realism with it's more cartoonish elements but it does so seemlessly.

The Bad: The tone might be a tad too serious. Young viewers weened on the all-out goofiness of many animated movies might be put off a bit. Also, If there's one character who was underdeveloped, it's the king. Having him more involved would've added another dimension, particularly if more attention were given his relationship with his daughter, Princess Pea (Emma Watson). As is, he sort of punctuates the movie. He occasionally shows up briefly to remind us he's there. Finally, I would love to have seen just how the rats got their two prisoners, especially the cat.
The Ugly: What happens to the queen.

Recommendation: It might move a bit slow for really young kids or those with short attention spans. Use Ratatouille or maybe even Wall-E as a guide. How you or your kids reacted to the non-action parts of those may provide insight into how they'll respond to Despereaux. For the rest of us, it's a pleasure to take in but admittedly not as good as the two movies I just mentioned. It's a movie in which we can actually relate to the characters having the adventure, even if they are mostly mice and rats.

The Opposite View: Avi Offer, NYC Movie Guru

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Friday, April 17, 2009

High School Musical 3: Senior Year

2008. Rated G, 112 minutes.
Director: Kenny Ortega. Starring Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu.

High school sweethearts, Troy (Effron) and Gabriela (Hudgens), as well as their classmates, have to deal with separation anxiety as graduation looms. Singing and dancing ensues. It does exactly what it wants to do. It gives it's target audience a romanticized, asexual, insulated from the real world version of high school in which every problem can be dealt with by an inoffensive pop tune complete with 1980s music-video styl group dance numbers. By the way, saying these kids have "problems" is overstating it quite a bit. They have inconveniences that slightly detract from the perfection of their lives. Adults in this world exist merely so we know they actually exist. The exception to this is the great and powerful drama teacher. Seriously. The whole thing is a rather innocuous affair that my pre-pubescent daughters both love. Honestly though, all that cheese just upsets my stomach. MY SCORE: 3/10

Wednesday, April 15, 2009



2008. Rated PG, 96 minutes.

Directors: Byron Howard, Chris Williams. Starring John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman, Mark Walton, Malcolm McDowell, James Lipton, Chloe Grace Moretz.

Plot: Bolt (Travolta) is a dog who stars in his own TV show. He believes that he has superpowers and that the amazing feats he performs are real. Bolt unwittingly gets out into the real world in an attempt to rescue "his person" Penny (Cyrus), whom he believes has been kidnapped by their arch-enemy, The Green-Eyed Man.

The Good: It's a fish-out-of-water tale mixed with a road movie and both aspects work well. The dialogue is sharp and funny. Unlike a lot of Disney movies, it's not afraid to give us a bittersweet ending. Perhaps most importantly for a film like Bolt, we get fun action scenes and intoxicating visuals. Oh, and the pigeons are hilarious.

The Bad: Even though it's barely over an hour-and-a-half, it drags a bit in places. That's partly due to our hero having to literally travel across the country. The movie could've gotten more mileage out of Penny by checking on her more often to see how she's handling the situation, but that's nitpicking.

The Ugly: The way the cats on the studio lot pick with Bolt.

Recommendation: 2008 is the strongest year for animated movies I can remember. That said, Bolt is one of the better entries.

The Opposite View: Lou Lemenick, New York Post

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New on DVD 4/14/09

The movie I most want to see out of this week's new releases is The Reader. Obviously, it's the most critically acclaimed of the bunch.

However, that's not the only thing I'll watch. At some point, both The Spirit and Splinter will find their way into my DVD player. I've only heard terrible things about the former. This means I have to watch it just to see how bad it could actually be. With any luck it'll be so bad it's awesome.

Other movies being released on DVD this week:

Dark Matter
The Pope's Toilet
American Swing
Crude Impact
Metamorphosis (AKA Beyond the Screen Door)
In Your Dreams
Mask of the Ninja
Baseline Killer

Which ones are you rushing out to rent?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace
2008. Rated PG-13.
Director: Marc Forster. Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Giancarlo Giannini, Gemma Arterton, Jeffrey Wright, David Harbour.

Plot: An attempt on M's (Dench) life by the mysterious Quantum organization leads Bond (Craig) to Haiti where he meets the beautiful Camille (Kurylenko). She in turn, leads him to Quantum's leader Dominic Greene who is of course, trying to take over the world in some form or fashion. Action ensues. Or re-ensues, since it starts with a car chase, but nevermind.

The Good: The action, duh! These sequences will flat knock you on your butt. It amplifies the Bourne-style in splendidly brutal fight and chase scenes with amazing stunts. However, it's careful to never get into the gizmo heavy cheesefests that marred the Pierce Brosnan 007 flicks. This Bond also has another thing in common with Bourne, he's ruthless, in fact moreso. He's piling up quite a body count. To pull this off, Daniel Craig is perfect. Whether or not he's the best Bond is a matter of opinion. What isn't open to debate is the fact that he's given us by far the most athletic version of the character. Aside from the physical stuff, we also notice that for the first time, a Bond movie isn't a stand-alone adventure. It's actually a real sequel that often refers to it's predecessor. This further humanizes our hero, even as he's performing unbelievable feats. He often has thoughts of revenge and can't sleep due to the events of the prior movie. The relationship between Bond and M continues as it did in Casino Royale as well. That is, it provides a solid foundation and seems to grow during the movie. It helps that Judi Dench has been wonderful in the role.

The Bad: The story is convoluted and rushed. This seems to be a constant Bond problem as the bad guy has to go through a whole lot to take over the world and Bond has to go all over the world, quite literally, to figure things out. As a result, he seems to discover a lot of things either by accident or unintentionally implied psychic ability and we are left scrambling to catch up. The movie is also formulaic. In CR, there were long sections of the movie devoted to us getting to know the new Bond. Here, those sections are stripped away and we just follow the same leftover steps. As far as Bond villains go, Dominic Greene and the evil general we meet later are a bit bland. If the Bond reboot needs anything, it's "a better brand of criminal" to quote The Joker. Oh, and what happened to the creative names for the bad guys and the Bond girls. Hearing the outlandish and sometimes racy names of these characters was part of the fun. I realize they wanted to get away from some of the more silly aspects of the franchise but they could lighten up just a tad. Dominic Greene and Camille? Where's the fun in that?

The Ugly: He keeps tearing up my Aston Martins!

Recommendation: As with any of the Bond movies over the course of 40 years, it's a must-see for fans. It's also a must-see for action fans since it may be the genre's best film of 2008 that doesn't include a costumed hero (unless you consider a well-tailored suit a costume). It's also not as good as CR. While, it's certainly a fun ride, the movie between the action scenes is lacking. Fortunately, those action scenes come early and often and are all dynamite.

The Opposite View: Mike McGranaghan, Aisle Seat

What the Internet Says: 7.0/10 on (4/6/09), 65% on, 58/100 on

MY SCORE: 6/10