It Sucks Being a Toy

Movie Review: Toy Story 3 (2010)
Spoilers: none

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Technology keeps raising the bar in movie animation just like it does in the making of video games. It's damn hard for me to accept the fact that side-scrolling games like Ninja Gaiden (Arcade Version) which came out when I was in high school wouldn't be popular if it were released today. Even so, Hanna-Barbera-style art has fallen out of favor in exactly the same way. We expect more from our animation.

Fanciful CGI work has become the norm and more loved than the classics of the last 50 years of movies. To think that an entire generation doesn't understand why Gone With The Wind was a great film is rather sad, but the same generation understands that CGI-produced characters can act better than real actors. That point is undisputed since CGI “actors” are the result of going back and tweaking the smirks and nods and every little blink of the eyes unto perfection.

Toy Story 3 is as impressive as anything you’ve seen from Pixar. The attention to detail is expectedly unsurpassed in showy and succulent sophistication, and I'm sorry to report that this fact does not do the movie any favors. Toy Story 3, apart from being awesomely crafted to the point of making you crap your pants, is as much of a let-down as any other D+ movie.

It's an animated, cartoon world inside an animated, cartoon world. These toys are alive in a very creepy-when-thought-about way. Given the premise of the film, not only have your toys seen every naughty thing you every did in your bedroom growing up, but they're used to contending with as much or more of the same drama you live with on a daily basis in the real world. It's amazing they don't fight amongst themselves and forget to hide before being walked in on.

And the premise of living and lonely toys that crave attention and want to be “played with” (a sadly suggestive phrase used way too many times in the film) is the stuff of nightmares. Yes, nightmares. These toys need to “breathe” and they fear being kept in attics or bags. And they hate being played with roughly when they are banged on the coffee table by a three-year-old or thrown against a wall. The Fisher-Price toys must have it the worst! It was interesting to learn that toys also chat on the internet when no humans are around.

For those of us with overactive imaginations and shelves and shelves full of childhood toys we once loved to play and sleep with, this is too much to handle. My toys already whispered to me: “Why don't you play with me anymore? I miss being your toy.” Now I can hear them louder. They're jealous, too. My toys of today have warm breasts and demand consoling regularly. I joke about things like that, but I couldn't be more moved (or should I say, bothered).

It sucks being a toy. Every armless G.I. Joe that's been dipped in paint and crushed under a garage door or buried in the mud is feeling that pain—physical and psychological. How many of your toys would you bet are still buried outside somewhere in the sandbox of your old house? Maybe just two or three, but they've been there since the late 80s or earlier, right? And they're waiting in a mental Gehenna for some kid to come along and find them. The implications of this are too horrible to describe at length.

So I'll call it like I see it and take the guff from the majority of critics: this is a mild but maniacal horror film, unfortunately targeting little kids who are already crying about losing their favorite toys and security blankets when they leave them at grandma's house for the weekend. It would be hard to imagine a more horrendous existence than being a toy like one of these discarded ones; take, for instance, this giant, neglected baby doll with a sinking eye, or a bitter and disowned strawberry bear named “Lotso” (Ned Beatty, voice) who runs a prison house where donated toys imprison the newly donated ones. Yep, this is what nightmares are made of, just a little less intense than something of the Tim Burton persuasion. With good animation having become commonplace, this film is memorable only because it is terrifying.

I nearly wish I hadn't seen this movie. All it did was cajole me into imagining a fictitious world where every toy I ever owned has for years been crying out to me from the closet for help, and I've not been able to respond. Sure, it's just fiction, but you know what the metaphysics nuts say: once an idea exists, it has a life of it's own, so in some sense, everything ever conceived exists in some queer aspect. At the least, the idea takes root in us and lives on, thus giving us a personal heaven or hell of one kind or another. 

Neverminding the fact that there is simply no reason for this sequel's sequel to exist, Toy Story 3 will tug at your heartstrings, which will offset its awful premise that might give you nightmares the next time your mind wanders to those broken, headless, and legless toys left forgotten in the attic.

(JH)

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Grade: D+ (1 ½ stars)
Rated: G (should have been rated PG for all the scenes of intense terror)
Director: Lee Unkrich
Summary: Woody, Buzz, and the rest of their toy-box friends are dumped in a day-care center after their owner, Andy, departs for college.
Starring: Tom Hanks "Woody" (voice), Tim Allen "Buzz Lightyear" (voice), Joan Cusack "Jessie" (voice), Ned Beatty "Lotso" (voice), Don Rickles "Mr. Potato Head" (voice)," Michael Keaton "Ken" (voice)
Genre: Animation / Adventure / Comedy / Family / Fantasy
Trailer

When Voices Carry

Movie Title: Alphonso Bow (2010)
Spoilers: none

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What opens with an oddly out-of-the-box music selection and an urban drive in Los Angeles to a restaurant is merely a stage-setter for where the rest of the movie will take place.

Alphonso Bow is about two very different friends who meet at On The Border and talk. The entire movie takes place in the restaurant. They get lunch and they ramble on about the same worn-out topics like two close friends or siblings would over a beer or a cup of coffee. The value, which can seem so pitifully non-existent in the vessel of a movie, must be appreciated at least on a sentimental level.

These two friends, Frank (Michael “Changeling” Dempsey) and Alphonso Bow (Michael “The Nine” Pierce), have a very patient waitress (Kasey Buckley) in a restaurant with a way-too-careful-not-to-offend management that is hesitant to say anything to their loud, obnoxious guests whose voices carry. They should say something—you keep waiting for them to do so. Then the two are met by Samantha (Kate “General Hospital” Rodger) who blends beautifully to make this trying trio of the socially unaware even better.

They order dinner, and even that is an ordeal. For over an hour, the conversations change with each new sideline subject that gets brought up...from life on other planets to 17-year-old cats to 7-year-old kids who don't wipe their asses. With a well-placed use of profanity, the script is finely written and will prompt some laughs just from watching the shear idiocy of inconsiderate blow-hards being what they are.

Frank and Alphonso's personalities compliment each other’s because they are so different. Frank is a brick salesman. Al is an ex-male-exotic-dancer. The two come off like an uncle and nephew. Together, they are sure to get on the nerves of the waitress and everyone else who comes in to eat and ends up having to move tables to get away from them, but they will get on your nerves too before it's all over. The loud, pseudo-intellectual, and opportunistic character of Alphonso is tolerable – even appreciable – up until the halfway point. His sustained and soon grading verbosity is that of a favorite Saturday Night Live character.

What could have been perceived as an insult to On The Border (or perhaps a plug?) is the film’s implied and laugh-worthy reminder that there really are people this annoying...in restaurants, movie theaters, and waiting rooms the world over...standing by, just waiting to frustrate the living hell out of you. We've all been there—or been the guilty parties.

Director Lije Sarki and Nut Bucket Films gives us a peaks-and-valleys comedy that is seldom “laugh out loud” funny, but surprisingly effective at fighting off that expected sense of boredom you get from seeing a trailer that just doesn't succeed at generating a sense of anticipation. But Alphonso Bow is not just non-boring; it generates the same awkward feelings as actually being in a restaurant with an annoying person who draws way too much attention to himself, purely from being an insolent and crude blabbermouth.

Intriguingly choreographed, the softly disturbing feel makes Alphonso Bow a curiously attractive viewing experience. As though the title is called for, it is the best restaurant conversation ever filmed in the history of movies.

Alphonso Bow is an excellently well-made independent project, which should perhaps be required viewing for up-and-comers in the filmmaking field. The question is, what audience would go out of their way to see such a film? A film must do more than be artistic and unique, conceived in the loins of creative brilliance—it must be relevant. It is difficult to say how or to whom Alphonso Bow will measure up in this regard.

(JH)

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Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: No MPAA rating
Director: Lije Sarki
Summary: A womanizing ex-male-exotic-dancer and a brick salesman have lunch and loudly debate controversial topics.   
Starring: Jeffrey Pierce "Alphonso Bow," Michael Dempsey "Frank," Kate Rodger "Samantha," Kasey Buckley "Waitress"
Genre: Comedy / Drama
Trailer

Superficial in the City 2

Movie Review: Sex in the City 2 (2010)
Spoilers: none

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The girls are back in town in Sex in the City 2, featuring - among other attractive stars - Sarah Jessica Parker, that woman who appears to be the perfect cross-over between a seductress and a horse.

This silly and superficial ensemble is almost sure to disappoint even the most adoring fans, with its sluggish and weak-as-soup storyline that never alleviates the painfully slow pacing.

There are guest appearances by Miley Cyrus and Ron White, but all the star power in the eastern hemisphere wouldn't stop this film from needing to be cut into fourths to make watching it more endurable.

Watch and you're sure to be annoyed by crying babies, women who don't know what they want, girl spats, bouncing nannies without bras, suspicions of infidelity, and frivolous wardrobe changes with almost every scene.

Many segments of the film could have been salvaged with some trimming, but when Samantha (Kim Cattrall) gets her girlfriends an all-expense-paid trip to Abu Dhabi, the women meet charming men who are surprisingly fond of western women—with everybody speaking English who needs to.

The first film, though imperfect, was at least engaging and managed to scrape up some measure of meaningfulness, but this addition is only a shade above a superficial strike-out.

(JH)

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Grade: D+ (1 ½ stars)
Rated: R (for strong sexual content and language)
Director: Michael Patrick King
Summary: While wrestling with the pressures of life, love, and work in Manhattan, Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte join Samantha for a trip to Morocco, where Samantha's ex is filming a new movie.
Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker "Carrie Preston," Kristin Davis "Charlotte Goldenblatt," Cynthia Nixon "Miranda Hobbes," Kim Cattrall "Samantha Jones," David Eigenberg "Steve Brady," Evan Handler "Harry Goldenblatt," Jason Lewis "Jerry 'Smith' Jerrod"
Genre: Comedy / Drama / Romance
Trailer

CGI and Talking Animals at the Expense of Quality

Movie Review: Marmaduke (2010)
Spoilers: none

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It's talking animals once again in Marmaduke, the story of a big, clumsy Great Dane that, along with Phil Winslow (Lee Pace) and family, moves to Orange County, California. Phil is a dog food sales promoter and the proud owner of a large and undisciplined Great Dane named Marmaduke. 

Marmaduke narrates and talks...too much, which doesn't make a lot of sense since the original Marmaduke cartoon's dog never did. Marmaduke the movie is a failure as a comedy that will only generate laughs with very young children, and is not so much based on the comic as much as the fans might be expecting, but is a gaseous and goofy exploration of canine fun for young audiences that the directors obviously didn't think too highly of.

The movie is a cheap attempt to use CGI to create yet another talking animal kid's story, which is more about the dogs than it is the kids in a film that practically begs to be bashed by critics everywhere. No one falls face-first in crap the whole way through, which is a big surprise, considering the relatively few number of wacky knockdowns and insulting dog-surfing routines shown.

As is to be expected, the human characters are inordinately focused on dog affairs rather than people affairs, but there is actually a plot here for children about acceptance and friendship, making the story emotionally weighty in the right places.

Marmaduke may lack originality or cleverness in any form whatsoever, but is only a little ways behind Monsters vs. Aliens (2009) in quality, and perhaps a little more so in appeal. But the animals are adorable and will win over members of the audience when the plot and the acting fail to do so.

With the voice talents of Owen Wilson (as Marmaduke), George Lopez (as Carlos the cat), Steve Coogan (as Raisin), Sam Eliot (as Chupadogra), and Keifer Sutherland (as alpha dog, Bosko), this one is not quite as big of an abysmal disappointment as many moviegoers have made it out to be. Two stars for the wanting, but warm-hearted, Marmaduke.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG (for rude humor and language)
Director: Tom Dey
Summary: A suburban family moves to a new neighborhood with their large yet lovable Great Dane, who has a tendency to wreak havoc in his own oblivious way.
Starring: Owen Wilson "Marmaduke" (voice), Emma Stone "Mazie" (voice), George Lopez "Carlos" (voice), Raugi Yu "Drama Trainer" Christopher Mintz-Plasse "Giuseppe" (voice), Steve Coogan "Raisin" (voice), Stacy Ferguson "Jezebel" (voice), Kiefer Sutherland "Bosco" (voice), Marlon Wayans "Lightning" (voice), Damon Wayans Jr. "Thunder" (voice), Sam Elliott "Chupadogra" (voice), Lee Pace "Phil Winslow," Judy Greer "Debbie Winslow," Caroline Sunshine "Barbara Winslow," Finley Jacobsen "Brian Winslow"
Genre: Comedy / Family
Trailer

Jake: The Legend and the Feline Angel

The above may seem a bold headline for someone to write who doesn't believe in angels. I'm not going to make up the existence of angels, my readers know, even in the interests of appealing fiction. But I'm also not going to make up this story you are about to hear of a wonderful part of my past. The story deserves telling. It is something I want to make sure gets passed along in the cruelly shunning stream of time.

I've never been a die-hard cat-lover, but I've made several exceptions in my time, the first one being the most precious of them all—my childhood cat, Jake. She was as close to a guardian angel as this teaming-with-life planet could offer me. Jake was a pure-blooded Siamese goddess if ever there was one. You may not have known her, but she was a legend on a few streets in one small neighborhood in my old neck of the woods in San Antonio.

Jake came around just before I was born. In January of 1973, a neighbor who my parents barely knew informed them that she had a Siamese that just had kittens. This overburdened, overworked woman practically begged mom and dad to take one. The litter was healthy, and without a pet of their own, mom and dad were glad they walked a few doors down to take a look. The only one that stood out as a clear choice was the one walking toward them, a brown and white-coated little beauty willing to leave mom's warmth behind to share her new, baby kitty love. Right then, she was named and taken home (why she was given a boy's name I know not. Must have been popular at the time).

The Ninjas Have Gone. The Karate Crazies Remain.

Movie Review: The Karate Kid (2010)
Spoilers: none

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2010's remake of The Karate Kid proves it: Have a good-looking black kid, make the music black, and give the kid a more outspoken black mom and you can expect the movie to be a better catch with the youth. But in a movie that owes its very existence to an older and better film, we must not be superficial in our judgment.

So I won't be concerned in my review with what seemed to be worth mentioning to some critics, like that the movie should have been called "The Kung Fu Kid" since young Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) learns Kung Fu instead of Karate, or that Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) doesn't look good with facial hair. But some things we just can't ignore, like Dre's hairstyle.

Smith is cool and convincing with or without that hair, but it's there, hanging off his head, just to remind viewers born after 1995 that he's open – or at least not against – weed-smoking (if not now, then some day). It likewise serves to reinforce the semi-fact that listening to reggae attracts the younger hotties. And Dre digs jamming to rappy cell phone tunes and doing “the robot” version of break-dancing—what better way to bag a 14-year-old babe?

With a pointless remake like this one, these things only have value when built into new faces and bodies designed to appeal to the youth. That's all you have—the Karate Kid made over with new and fresh talent. 

But on another note, I kept wondering: Would an easily-winded Chinese master working as a maintenance man even have to spend this much energy fighting bully kids? Better yet, how many kids are so ballsy as to fight adults? Let any authority figure tell them to run off and they'll do it. It's that way all over the world...except in movies that exist because of – or are inspired by – 1980s writing.

This Kung Fu maintenance man also knows ancient Chinese healing secrets that work instantly. Now all that's missing is that flute-accompanied solemn meditation music and a red and white headband. But of course, Mr. Han speaks of “peace” and repeats words unnecessarily, like “focus.” And he is reluctant to teach young Dre anything at first. But it's the Chinese gangs that are the funniest.

The gangs in China walk up to the girls they want to impress who are sitting in public areas, and say: “You should be studying!” instead of “You should go out with me!” That sounds like an American stereotype to me. Planet-saving Chinese and violin prodigies only confirm my suspicion.

Jaden Smith as the new Karate Kid isn't as much of a hopeless wimp that Ralph Macchio was as the first one, and that works against the film. Jaden has his pride, but Macchio was really the kind of kid that gets beat up, not Jaden's type. Jaden has too much charisma to be on the receiving end of bullying very often. You can look at him and tell.

The 1984 Karate Kid, from which the new Karate Kid emerges as a virtual clone, taught us that kicking ass with Karate was so, so freaking' cool, regardless of the circumstances. Poor Chinese...they have tried to shake the stigma of everyone knowing and doing karate in gardens and nearly everywhere else, but the 80s wouldn't have it. The 80s also gave us a fascination with bully payback. That fascination still remains today, and not just here.

What gets me is that here is a pretty Chinese girl, Meiying (Wenwen Han) taking what amounts to an unlikely interest in a foreigner, this black kid whose family puts little emphasis on learning the language of where they live. Dre's friend, Harry (Luke Carberry) tells Dre: “You're in China. It might be a good idea to learn to speak it.”

Also irking me—Audiences don't deserve to see kids doing long, dramatic, slowed-down punches. The fight scenes do get better than the initial bullying showdowns, especially during the tournament. But the kicker is, why wasn’t Dre messed with back at home? Now, he’s in China as the picked-on foreigner that gets beat up and taken advantage of. The implication is supposed to be that he’s not a match because the Chinese know Karate and Kung Fu and all that jazz, and that makes them more dangerous than simple Americans who do haymaker swings and get their charge attacks dodged and stepped out of the way from. Another “bullshito” stereotype, I assure you. 

Want facts? Fact is that Asians are the single most targeted class for muggings and hold-ups because of their small statures and lack of threatening instincts or training. They are far less likely to put up a fight. But this stereotype-relying re-make could care less. The martial arts thugs who wear what looks like polo shirts are supposed to be the best and baddest.

The entire movie is reduced to one emphatic sigh: “oh, gee whiz! A man can beat up bully kids and another kid can't? Nothing big there! Get over it! It's called growing up!” Instead of going to the principal to resolve the concerns about violence, Dre's new trainer agrees to enter him into a tournament to fight martial arts bad-asses when the kid has no training. Doesn't sound like a smart idea.

And Mother, Sherry Parker (Taraji P. Henson) is not very concerned with her son spending all this inordinate amount of time with an old dude who teaches martial arts, but with no other students. Hmmm. One bad accusation of inappropriate conduct could have done him in. People think about things like that in the 2000s. It was less than a passing concern in the 1980s.

The film was a do-nothin' thumb-twiddler, the kind you play with while waiting to see the dentist. It adds nothing new and it’s not up to today’s standards. This mother moves the family to China for her career (whatever that was), but she doesn’t seem the type. She's not too sharp and she doesn't keep up with the signs of school bullying, a thing most successful, modern parents have gotten wise to. The movie never reaches its potential in what it sets out to do. Dre could have been sassier, more stubborn, and funnier.

Mr. Han, unlike Mr. Miyagi, is conflicted and not as at peace with himself as a master should be. At every turn, so many opportunities for spirited dialogue are missed where character nuances could have been added to augment the general thoughtlessness and cheap copying from the original.

The martial arts are said to be tools for building mental discipline and wisdom that affects all areas of life and living, but the bullies belong to a school of martial arts that openly spouts hatred, violence, and no mercy. Even the dojo instructor threatens with pain those who come into his establishment. Such is very unbecoming conduct of an established master. 

Within the first hour of the film, every Chinese symbol is thrown in to make things more…"Chinese-y"? Yin-Yan symbols, Chinese housetops, mountains and valleys, and courtyards where uniformed practitioners of the ancient arts train, etc. They all love the color red, and some of them taunt cobra snakes on ledges where they could slip and fall to their deaths in the course of a routine exercise.

There are a few touching moments and many respectable fight scenes, mostly towards the end. Overall, the new Karate Kid was a purposeless endeavor. If you’ve seen the first one, there is no point whatsoever in seeing this one. But for those big into remakes, perhaps we could remake 1984 cars and re-release them as new. I suspect some would buy them just to say they bought something new.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for violence, bullying, and some course language)
Director: Harald Zwart
Summary: Work causes a single mother to move to China with her young son; in his new home, the boy embraces Kung Fu as taught to him by a master to stave off school bullies.
Starring: Jaden Smith "Dre Parker," Jackie Chan "Mr. Han," Taraji P. Henson "Sherry Parker," Wenwen Han "Meiying," Rongguang Yu "Master Li," Zhensu Wu "Meiying's Dad," Zhiheng Wang "Meiying's Mom," Zhenwei Wang "Cheng," Luke Carberry "Harry"
Genre: Action / Family / Drama
Trailer

Splice

Movie Title: Splice (2010)
Spoilers: none

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The word "splice" is a notably strong word. And for this review, instead of providing my usual given titles, I will let this one stand alone. It deserves to, not unlike the film itself, which stands proudly on its own two feet. In the context of the movie, splicing refers to the splicing of DNA from different animals to create new forms of life.

As it stands, this lofty-sounding, B-movie-ish, Sci-fi idea is not impossible or a crazy exaggeration, and it should not be ridiculed. Indeed, it is done and has been done for some years, making the premise eerily believable, and therefore, more enticing to tinker with in the name of mildly disturbing entertainment. And as shocking and unbelievable as the idea may have sounded to our grandparents, the light shock value it possesses has nothing to do with things while the issue of biomedical ethics and the debate on human cloning has everything to do with it.

Hard at work in white - and for some reason, poorly-lit laboratories, with surprisingly old computer monitors - are Clive Nicoli and Elsa Kast (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley). The two are scientists, a couple specializing in DNA splicing. Their assignment: to extract specialized genes and proteins for biomedical disease research that will turn a profit (Most of you know that anytime someone mentions the words "medical" and "research" in a sentence together, "profit" is either expressed or implied).

Nicoli and Kast are making great progress, and their continued work will hopefully involve experiments with human DNA. But human genetic experimentation is sadly outlawed, thanks to so many good, godly Republicans who have long held sway, even in this fictional reality. It appears there truly is no escape from the religious right...anywhere!

Presenting as much of a problem is their concern for the competition. But when the brakes are put on their work, the two take matters into their own hands. And as always when working with any kind of code, their next off-the-books genetic experiment will bring some unexpected results that will hit very close to home. It will involve human DNA spliced with the extractions from various animals. She/he/it will be called Dren. 

Splice is a thoughtfully written and provocative picture that only ever errs in terms of its showiness of Dren, contrasted with the low-budget background feel. The addition of inter-species erotica was, of all things, distasteful. But never should the candidate viewer make the mistake of assuming Splice to be a cheap, bargain barrel Sci-fi horror flick that is meant only to take away the boredom of a lazy, off-day afternoon, nor is it to find company among many movies that have been cropping up since movies have been made that tell us about how messing with "God's plan" of life or "nature's way" brings chaos.

If the world followed the advice of Bible-belt-ers and other soon-to-be-extinct classes of the pious human community, not only would we not have a space program, but a science program either. We would have astrology only and not astronomy, and we would have only alchemy instead of chemistry. If the far right had their way, children would be encouraged to see their priest or preacher for life's big questions instead of their professors, and many would believe that snow is the result of God shaking out dandruff. I kid you not. 

And therein is the beauty of Splice--it is ideologically driven, without ever taking sides. It has no message to preach, no soapbox from which to drive home an agenda. But it unquestionably makes you think, without contradicting the credibly debatable premise that all human life is sacred. It goes on to declare that if we cross established ethical boundaries, there will be consequences, and some of them will be deeply personal. The question is, are we willing to live with those consequences?

And at what point do we quit doing the work and the work starts doing us? When does a task at hand go from a passion on to an ego-driven obsession? How much of ourselves will we put into our work? And most importantly, will the long-term rewards outweigh the disheartening blows and unfortunate setbacks in getting to where we want to be? These are decisions I am sad to say the human community as a whole is not yet ready to answer. But these are the hot questions that we must answer some day soon.

The Cube director Vincenzo Natali brings you Splice, a film that will eagerly please the Sci-fi junkies and keep everyone else watching and appreciating the stern acting and simultaneous feelings of uneasiness and soft-core suspense. This one is a more-than-promising candidate for best Sci-fi of the year, and some would dare say, at least a bantamweight contender for best film of the year.

(JH)

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Grade: A- (4 stars) Recommended!
Rated: R (for language, brief nudity, violence, and adult situations)
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Summary: Elsa and Clive, two young rebellious scientists, defy legal and ethical boundaries and create an inhuman creature.
Starring: Adrien Brody "Clive Nicoli," Sarah Polley "Elsa Kast," Delphine Chanéac "Dren," Brandon McGibbon "Gavin Nicoli," David Hewlett "William Barlow," Abigail Chu "Child Dren"
Genre: Sci-fi / Horror / Thriller
Trailer

Get Us to the Drugs

Movie Review: Get Him to the Greek (2010)
Spoilers: none

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Jonah Hill plays a record company intern looking to get ahead in the incredible (albeit poorly titled) summer comedy, Get Him to the Greek.

As Aaron Green, Hill has the increasingly frustrating task of getting an out-of-control, hard-partying rock-star from London to Greek stadium in L.A. to perform within the tight space of 72 hours.

The almost has-been rocker, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), is an egocentric, sex-addicted drug-user whose life has long since spiraled into a mess of repetitive, self-destructive behaviors. Searching for a meaning to his wild and wayward existence, he meets Green and finds a most unlikely friend.

While hands-down managing to stake claim as one of the funniest films of the year by far, Get Him to the Greek is also a contender for “Most Raunchy Comedy of the Decade,” as it pulls no punches in being especially endearing to college partiers, drunks, acid-heads, and all-round junkies of every caliber.

As a result of this pathetic pandering, what would have been a straight-up A+ is at best a B+ because the film never lives up to its potential due to the presence of so much risqué, booze-born epithets and material accounting for as much as 85% of the humor, leaving little else to be appreciated.

A very witty and well written comedy, Get Him to the Greek goes far, mostly because of Green's boss, a greedy and materialistic character, Sergio Roma (Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs). His is not only the funniest character in the movie, but his comedic input accounts for about a third of the really big laughs.

From the director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and from the producers of Superbad, three-and-a-half stars for this outrageous – and like the movie's main character, out-of-control – comedy.

(JH)

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Grade: B+ (3 ½ stars) Recommended!
Rated: R (for sex and sexual content, adult language and situations, smoking, and heavy drug use)
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Summary: A record company intern is hired to accompany out-of-control British rock star Aldous Snow to a concert at L.A.'s Greek Theater.
Starring: Jonah Hill "Aaron Green," Russell Brand "Aldous Snow," Rose Byrne "Jackie Q," Zoe Salmon "Herself," Lino Facioli "Naples," Lars Ulrich "Himself," Mario López "Himself," Pink "Herself," Billy Bush "Himself," Kurt Loder "Himself," Christina Aguilera "Herself," Colm Meaney "Jonathan Snow," Elisabeth Moss "Daphne Binks," Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs "Sergio Roma"
Genre: Comedy
Trailer

A-Team. C-Movie.

Movie Title: The A-Team (2010)
Spoilers: none

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2010's A-Team isn't exactly an “A-movie.” And it isn't a “B-movie” either, not in quality or in grade. The budget was big ($110,000,000) and the fluff therefrom can be seen. The A-Team has something going for it, but it gets a C.

Joe Carnahan's A-Team is a grievously twitchy work, but it does what every 80s remake this side of the 21st century does—exploits the sensibilities of audiences with the heavy use of nostalgia. Some of us are nostalgia junkies. And consider that using precious memories to win points with a wider percentage of audiences is not a dumb marketing strategy. Consider why...

First, you have those who saw, knew, and loved the TV show growing up. They will unquestionably love the movie, being that they are the primary target audience. Second, you have the kids and everyone else too young to have seen the series. They will appreciate the movie because it is something new (to them) and has enough action to make you feverishly squint, which (for reasons I know not) is a thing in high demand today.

Third, you have that rather peculiar class of retro-loving teenyboppers who know a little something of the 80s and find regressing into previous generations a cool pass-time (Ten years ago, it was the 70s. Today, it is the 80s). They get to live in and appreciate the decade of square cars and senseless street punks without having been there. So it's a win-win-win for nearly everyone.

The only losers are those who love the 80s, but still have half a mind to loathe this grievous lack of on-screen creativity. Some of us love originality as much as we lust for nostalgia. Perhaps Commander Data will prove to be right when he declared on a certain episode of Star Trek The Next Generation that movies and TV as a form of entertainment will die out in the year 2047. We are, after all, running out of ideas...

...And so were the writers of this A-Team. The characters are fine re-creations of the originals, perhaps even better. Liam Neeson plays a superb Hannibal, with or without those cigars and repeating his catchphrase: “I love it when a plan comes together.” Sharlto “District 9” Copley as “Howlin' Mad Murdock” was more of a sell than the original guy, and his crazy antics are never overused like you would expect them to be. But like the Star Trek remake of 2009, the characters are the main-course. The absorbing action is like the salad before the meal; some eat it, some don't.

Like any good, action-focused film, the limits of believability are stretched. We get the standard erroneous bunk that gets fed into our entertainment, things that the writers ought to have known better than to use, like law enforcement agencies having to keep a caller on the phone for 30 seconds to trace a call. Ever tried prank-calling 911 as a kid? Some of us did. Don't try it!

There are high-end weapons in big supply, like bazookas, and they're everywhere. There are explosions and cargo storage containers crashing down with no one getting crushed, and the good guys appear in the nick of time. I'd say those plans come together a little too well. The team knows just where to put down cargo containers to block headshots from snipers. The broad, endless waves of machine gun fire never really seem to hit anybody. And of course, the bad guys give speeches when they should just be pulling the trigger.

But I liked it, having gone in ready to hate it. I was captivated by the fleeting scene changes, though I could have used a Tylenol ¾ of the way in. The movie captures every bit of the entrée ingenuity and confidence that you came to expect in the classic TV series, but with several extra servings of loud, shaky, and explosive.

The inexcusably rushed pace of the plot was, true enough, a setback. But by the time the story was contorted into a head-scratching hiccup of action, I was already hooked. Hello, everyone. My name is Joe Holman and I'm a nostalgia-holic.

(JH)

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Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action, violence, language, and smoking)
Director: Joe Carnahan
Summary: A group of Iraq War veterans look to clear their name with the U.S. military, who suspect the four men of committing a crime for which they were framed.
Starring: Liam Neeson "Hannibal," Bradley Cooper "Lt. Templeton 'Faceman' Peck," Jessica Biel "Charisa Sosa," Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson "B.A. Baracus," Sharlto Copley "Murdock," Patrick Wilson "Lynch," Gerald McRaney "General Morrison," Henry Czerny "Director McCready"
Genre: Action / Adventure / Thriller
Trailer

The Title Stands Out. The Movie Does Not.

Movie Review: Killers (2010)
Spoilers: none

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Killers is a 2010 Action-Comedy starring Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl, focusing on the life of Jen Kornfeldt, a recently broken-up young woman from a well-to-do family who meets Spencer Aimes (Kutcher), the guy of her dreams in France. But things get complicated when she finds out that her knight in shining armor also happens to be a foreign spy.

This low-profile comedy is good enough never to rely on clichés and always to buy and trade on the richly nourishing supply of good chemistry and naturally aspiring performances. Ashton is more of a mature charmer than he's ever been, with a brand new look, and with Heigl as a sensational match-up.

As Jen's insensitively blunt but keen-minded father, Mr. Kornfeldt (Tom Selleck) is not as much of a submissive pushover as in the Magnum P.I. days. Pretty boy actors are often given rotten roles. It's refreshing to find Selleck in a part that fits his rougher, foreign looks and sophisticated mannerisms.

An intelligent, thoughtful, if slow-to-start romancer that will have scarcely little by way of roaring laughs, but lots by way of the performances of the lead characters, Killers says a lot about honesty in relationships; namely, about how nature can get the best of us in that we often select a mate not unlike the opposite sex parent we get along with the least.

Two-and-a-half stars for this forgettable and occasionally awkward (but always well blended) action-packed, laugh-light romantic comedy.

(JH)

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Grade: C+ (2 ½  stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for violent action, sexual material, and language)
Director: Robert Luketic
Summary: A vacationing woman meets her ideal man, leading to a swift marriage. Back at home, however, their idyllic life is upset when they discover their neighbors could be assassins who have been contracted to kill the couple.
Starring: Ashton Kutcher "Spencer Aimes," Katherine Heigl "Jen Kornfeldt," Tom Selleck "Mr. Kornfeldt," Catherine O'Hara "Mrs. Kornfeldt," Katheryn Winnick "Vivian"
Genre: Action / Comedy / Romance / Thriller
Trailer

When Aladdin Met Indiana Jones

Movie Title: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
Spoilers: none

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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, directed by Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire's Mike Newell, is one of the best video game movies I've seen. Don't get excited. That is simply to say that I am no worse off for watching it, which can't be said of most video game films. The same can be said, for instance, of 2008’s Max Payne. Just call this one a cross between Aladdin and Indiana Jones and you've pretty much nailed it.

Alone in the Dark (2005), Super Mario Brothers (1993), and Double Dragon (1994) were loathsome accomplishments that will never see the light of day in terms of knowing movie success, or accomplishing simpler things, like...you know...just being semi-entertaining. Prince of Persia has the entertaining part down in a cast of good characters and motivated, chemistry-laden performers who go so far as to care about the parts they play. Aside from being white people in a dark-skinned land and time, they adopt their parts well. As with the video game, there's even a confident sub-title that betrays enough confidence to suggest having multiple additions in the series.

Set to triumphant theme music that sounds like it was swiped from the background of a 1960s McGraw-Hill Films video, Prince of Persia is a mythologically focused journey of one young, orphan outcast who finds the favor of the King of Persia and is succored into the ranks of warrior royalty. Coming of age and finding himself with an opportunity to put his acrobatic combat skills to good use, his brother by adoption and crowned prince, Tus (Richard Coyle), gives the order to invade Alamut, a city suspected of supplying Persia's enemies with weapons.

These suspicions and subsequent battles lead the star, Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), to fight alongside Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) on a journey to protect a sacred dagger that gives its possessor the ability to travel back in time, powered by the sands. Oddly, the thing is activated by...a button?! Dastan discovers corruption and murder in an uncovered plot to subvert rule of the entire Kingdom of Persia, and potentially, the world.

Most of the action is incomprehensibly cluttered in choppy camerawork and overly lavish special effects. There is a push to add jokes and comic relief, which, more often than not, only serve to make viewers take the film less seriously than they otherwise would. But use of these was not a total failure. The characters have their places, most with a value that is brought out by the others.

There is a strong sense of heroism and a feeling of historicity in a plot that should seem far more detached in senseless science fiction than it is. The film has some of the most poorly constructed names of any movie and do not sound remotely Persian or Middle Eastern. And you can see Dastan doing flips and out-clanking swords and dodging the arrows of those who clearly had the drop on him.

“Seso” (Steve Toussaint) is a blade-throwing warrior whose only prominence on screen is but a fraction of the time of the major characters, and yet there is triumphant art in his short presentation. Ben Kingsley's “Nizam,” by contract, is a role of shallower dimensional depth, and this happens to be one of his weaker performances.

The plot of the Prince of Persia is laid down with very little narration and more in the out-folding of the story on screen, in which it sometimes needs help and condensing for clarity. Secret societies of snake-wielding, vision-seeing assassins would be among the first things to go if it were up to me, as would ostrich races and entrepreneurial gypsies with large senses of humor who roam the desert.

Prince of Persia is not alone in being one among quite a few modern movies with a runaway tendency to go heavy on the eyeliner, a thing that is quite visible and that I frankly can't see the sense in, anymore than I can the sense in situations lifted right out of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (you'll very easily spot them). This is a fun-filled adventure, heavy on an excitement, but too light on suspense and the gravity needed to make it an upright, non-slithering success.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action)
Director: Mike Newell
Summary: A young fugitive prince and princess must stop a villain who unknowingly threatens to destroy the world with a special dagger that enables the magic sand inside to reverse time
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal "Dastan," Gemma Arterton "Tamina," Ben Kingsley "Nizam," Alfred Molina "Sheik Amar," Steve Toussaint "Seso," Toby Kebbell "Garsiv," Richard Coyle "Tus," Ronald Pickup "King Sharaman"
Genre: Action / Adventure / Fantasy / Romance
Trailer

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It's a Wonderful Life + Back to the Future + the Color Green = Shrek Forever After

Movie Review: Shrek Forever After (2010)
Spoilers: No

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Fortified with vivid voice-work from a celebrity-stocked cast, Shrek Forever After follows in the footsteps of three previous films, all of them but one being clearly superior to this film. This one, we are told, will be the last installment in the series—and that – dear readers – is a good thing. 

The only monumental flaw in this could-have-been positively charming endeavor is its plot, an audacious rip-off of It's a Wonderful Life, and believe it or not, Back to the Future. Add a little something (or big something) green and you have this inferior end to a now magic-drained fantasy. The novelty of the 2001 film has long since worn off.

Shrek (Mike Myers) has fallen into a routine of being “the good ogre” and misses simpler times when humans were terrified of the big, green monsters. In despair and frustrated with his plain life of husband and father, he strikes a deal with Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dorn) in which he gives away a day of his life in return for one day of being a mean, terrorizing ogre like olden times.

The plan is a horrible manipulation. Shrek finds that the day he gave away was the day of his birth. Consequently, he never existed, leaving Rumpelstiltskin to rule and thrive in an empire of Wizard of Oz witches and maliciously employed magic.

With the voice talents of Eddie Murphy (Donkey), Cameron Diaz (Princess Fiona), and an irresistible Antonio Banderas voicing Puss in Boots, Shrek Forever After gets off to an almost incomprehensibly fast start, but does manage to be entertaining and emotionally satisfying in course, as Shrek strives to undo the wicked work of Rumpelstiltskin to reclaim his old life. But if he doesn't act fast, he will be “erased from existence,” Back to the Future-style!

Written more for children than adults – with its repetitive and highly annoying sound effects that will have the little tikes laughing and the adults cringing – this Shrek will appeal more to younger children than older kids. Even long-time fans will not find themselves dazzled by what is offered. The writers are obviously out of ideas.

(JH)

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Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: PG (for some intense action and crude humor)
Director: Mike Mitchell
Summary: Rumpelstiltskin tricks a mid-life crisis-burdened Shrek into allowing himself to be erased from existence and cast in a dark alternate time-line where Rumpel rules supreme.
Starring: Mike Myers "Shrek" Eddie Murphy "Donkey," Cameron Diaz "Princess Fiona," Antonio Banderas "Puss in Boots," Julie Andrews "Queen," Walt Dohrn "Rumpelstiltskin / Priest / Krekraw Ogre," Kathy Griffin "Dancing Witch / Wagon Witch #1"
Genre: Animation / Adventure / Comedy / Family / Fantasy
Trailer

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