SALT

Movie Review: SALT (2010)
Spoilers: none

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Spy fascinations go much further when the spy looks like Angelina Jolie, as is the case in SALT, starring Jolie as Evelyn Salt, a CIA officer whose loyalty is put to the ultimate test when a defector accuses her of being a Russian spy. When her own government sets out to get her, she finds herself on the run and under fire.

Jolie, who seems especially invested in her character, puts on an outrageous and cutting performance in comparison to the many wanting ones we get from everyone else in the film, who seem to showcase a rather noticeable lack of character development and shallow writing.

The continual flashbacks of Salt to her past only hint at dramas and internal conflicts from earlier times, but things remain void of meaty plot-twists and a much-needed emotional spark that never comes. Without that spark, Jolie comes off more like the Terminator than a female version of Jack Bauer.

While SALT is set back by a few significant script-based problems, those faults don't totally beat out the freeing, fun, and full-of-excitement summer shoot-out that SALT proves to be. It is only halfway in when the plot begins to stretch the limits of believability, with Salt easily taking out scores of well-trained and well-armored police officers and FBI agents with the butts of guns, half-empty vodka bottles, and her bare hands.

The juicy action and vivid sound effects make this a sizzling film that (for some) will not fail to entertain. Amidst talk of presidential assassinations and the covert activities of hostile Russian splinter cells, the viewer quickly begins to wonder whether fugitive Salt has something to hide after all.

The preposterously unlikely plot – which focuses on the plans of a well-organized separatist group to reconstruct cold war Russia and lie dormant waiting for an attack – does more than dance on the bed of unbelievability; it makes the premise of the whole movie hard to swallow on the merits, but is thankfully accompanied with just enough action to cross genres in appeal.

While the film's gorgeous star makes the viewing memorable, it is unlikely either Jolie or her co-star, Liev Schreiber, will be able to make this work to bring a sequel.

(JH)

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Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: R (for intense sequences of violence and action)
Director: Phillip Noyce
Summary: As a CIA officer, Evelyn Salt swore an oath to duty, honor, and country. Her loyalty will be tested when a defector accuses her of being a Russian spy.
Starring: Angelina Jolie "Evelyn Salt," Liev Schreiber "Ted Winter," Chiwetel Ejiofor "Peabody," Daniel Olbrychski "Orlov," August Diehl "Mike Krause," Daniel Pearce "Young Orlov," Hunt Block "U.S. President Lewis"
Genre: Action / Thriller
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The Animated Mops Were Still Better

Movie Review: The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010)
Spoilers: none

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I guess we shouldn't be surprised by the fact that the spell to raise an army of the undead to conquer the living can be pulled right out of an apparently ordinary spell book, along with many other pages with many other spells on them, and that this book is kept in a wizard's ordinary library, with what seem to be plainly ordinary sorcery books.

Wouldn't such a spell deserve being kept in a vault deep under the earth to prevent the forces of wickedness from getting a hold of it? Apparently, the powerful and just Merlin didn't think that was necessary. But that is the bare-bones fact behind the plot of Disney's The Sorcerer's Apprentice, which follows more than 8 Disney shorts and scores of other spins-offs made from the foundation of the 1797 Goethe poem.

The film wastes no time in getting into the anatomy of the story it so hastily introduced with soundly impressive narration in the opening segment. Merlin had three exceptional apprentices, two good, Balthazar Blake and Veronica (Nicolas Cage and Monica Bellucci) and one evil, Horvath (Alfred Molina), who comes to follow the wicked Morgana la Fey (Alice Kridge) (sounds a bit too much like “Cruella de Ville,” if you ask me) who seeks to destroy the world with the forces of darkness. Merlin dies, but not before making Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) immortal until the chosen one is found who will bring Morgana to an end forever.

Blake lives over a thousand years before coming into contact with young Dave (Jake Cherry) who is to learn at his feet until he is ready to fulfill his destiny. Jay Baruchel, as older Dave, is a thought-to-be-disturbed kid who happens to become a physics genius and is the long-awaited “Prime Merlinian” (prime student of Merlin). NOTE: Please try to avoid the temptation to say over and over “prime meridian,” though you will be prompted to.

No one can deny that Nicholas Cage looks more intense with long hair. He could play Tarzan. Baruchel, our favorite over-privileged-looking, Jewish kid with a pipe-stem physique, still borders on monotone and looks weirder than a concentrating street wino when he focuses squinting-ly on his magic ring before casting spells. Bennet (Omar Benson Miller) is a token funny black guy who has a thankfully under-utilized role while Becky Barnes (Teresa Palmer) is Dave's eye-agreeing girlfriend.

The movie incorporates an intriguing if erroneous plot premise that will ring true with new agers. It's an old adage that is based off of humans using only 10% of their brains, which is false. It's the wizards who find a way to use more than 10% of their brains to do sorcery, so it is said. That's how the wizards are wizards and the witches are witches. The rest of us are just average. Since that stupid myth about only using 10% of our brains will apparently be around for a long time still, we should give credit for its incorporation on a level of entertainment value only and be done with it.

It does make for good science fiction, as does learning that a complete understanding of physics is to understand vibrations and how, by learning to envision vibrations and degrees of heat, we learn to manipulate magic. Balthazar gives tutorials, often while fighting, his chief advice being to wear geeky old man shoes. That's because modern rubber soles resist the electrical conductivity that fosters magical abilities.

The film does not resist the temptation to use loads of CGI to flavor the parts needed, and the special effects are fascinating and used where lots of showy magic is actually useful. This is far more gratifying than anything seen in Harry Potter and the lame Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Here, mirrors can be used as traps, vases can be eternal prisons, and a host of spells can be used to shoot lasers and disable an opponent in many ways. Add car chases to the mix and you have a downright exciting film.

Alfred Molina, as Horvath, was a poor choice. He seemed like a cross between Mr. Bean and Hitler with very few relatable goals or qualities. This is partly to be expected as here is an example of a borderline-cheesy production with star characters that don't blend in well with the recreated story, which tries hard to pay tribute to the dancing, cleaning mops and brooms of olden times you saw in Disney animation of the last century.

To its credit, The Sorcerer's Apprentice possesses a true-to-form Disney style of family-friendliness and a sense of old-fashioned fun that many viewers will not find wasted.

(JH)

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Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: PG (for fantasy action violence, some mildly rude humor, and some brief language)
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Summary: Master sorcerer Balthazar Blake recruits a seemingly everyday guy in his mission to defend New York City from his arch-nemesis, Maxim Horvath.
Starring: Nicolas Cage "Balthazar Blake," Jay Baruchel "Dave," Alfred Molina "Maxim Horvath," Teresa Palmer "Becky Barnes," Toby Kebbell "Drake Stone," Omar Benson Miller "Bennet," Monica Bellucci "Veronica," Alice Krige "Morgana le Fay," Jake Cherry "Young Dave," James A. Stephens "Merlin"
Genre: Action / Adventure / Comedy / Drama / Fantasy
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Crazy Men Tell No Tales: The Adventures of Stonewall Davis

George Davis “stonewalled” the authorities for as long as I knew him, as he did teachers and counselors and all who in any way represented authority figures. For that reason and no other, we called him “Stonewall.” It soon became like he had no other name.

Water and Fireballs, Karate Poses...Oh, Not This!

Movie Review: The Last Airbender (2010)
Spoilers: none

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The Last Airbender has the grace and class of a skinny, sweaty, pale, off-his-meds schizophrenic man putting on a martial arts display in the middle of an intersection in a major metropolitan area. It comes as close as a movie can possibly come to being a textbook definition example of a grandiosely bad movie. And that's not grinding an ax.

When trying to keep its puny legs from buckling under the enormous weight of its would-be-aspiring and epic plot, it foolishly resolves to not be concerned about the fact that its muscles will just never be that strong. The content is thrown up in our faces way too fast, and as it was drawn out properly, was enough for three seasons-worth of cable programming, involving Asian folklore and an astrological-supernatural TV adaptation.

Most of the dialogue sounds like it was taken in heavy portions from an astrology encyclopedia—that or two geeks arguing over who put a fear spell on who first. You can count on one hand the lines that don't sound like they are being read directly off the prompt cards. Scenes with floating mammoth creatures are put in for no other reason than to have two kids say something to the affect of: “That creature floats.” Wasted camera shots, looking down from large ice monuments at hunters, are done in such a way that it takes a good five or six seconds to recognize what exactly you are looking at.

The inexcusably bad special effects and thrifty 3D is on league with the always unwelcome and cheesy breaking off into stiff martial arts poses and bad fight maneuvers that accompany cheap CGI water and fireballs. When not seeing flying lemur pets and dragon spirits, and glowing "spirit" fish and white-haired “spirit” girls, you are hearing repeated - enough times to make you woozy - the tireless lingo about the magical manipulation of the earth, water, fire, and wind elements, which would, I suppose, be less hated by Bubblegum Crisis or Dungeons and Dragons campaigners the world over. But that is of little significance to the lot of us (and I'm a D&D fan).

To get a brief synopsis of the plot, a child tells the story at the opening; it’s been a hundred years since the last avatar had come who could bend and balance all the elemental forces of the world. The kingdoms of Water, Air, and Earth are being conquered by the oppressive Fire Kingdom. Global harmony has ceased. They now strive unequally, without one who can master them all. But a young, new avatar is found.

Starring Noah Ringer as Aang, the next in a long line of avatars, and Dave “Slumdog Millionaire” Patel as Prince Zuko, air to the throne of the ambitious Fire Kingdom, The Last Airbender could have established itself as a memorable story. It brought to mind components of The Neverending Story (1984) and The Golden Child (1986), with a faint magical resemblance to Lord of the Rings that I wished could have counted towards something.

And yet, somewhere underneath it all was a plot that once made Nickelodeon proud. Sadly, Shyamalan's out-of-bounds creativity has put him in the penalty box once again in the making of another sorely disconnected cinematic concoction, without a care in the world as to how it would be perceived by viewing audiences.

(JH)

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Grade: F (0 stars)
Rated: PG (for intense sequences of action and violence, and some sensuality.)
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Summary: A young successor to a long line of Avatars must put his childhood ways aside and stop the Fire Nation from enslaving the Water, Earth and Air nations.
Starring: Noah Ringer "Aang," Dev Patel "Prince Zuko," Nicola Peltz "Katara," Jackson Rathbone "Sokka," Shaun Toub "Uncle Iroh," Aasif Mandvi "Commander Zhao," Cliff Curtis "Fire Lord Ozai," Seychelle Gabriel "Princess Yue"
Genre: Action / Adventure / Family / Fantasy
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Don't Bank at the Bank of Evil? Mr. Gru Does!

Movie Review: Despicable Me (2010)
Spoilers: none

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Despicable Me
, with the voice talents of Steve Carell and Will Arnett, is like The Grinch Stole Christmas, but made for any other time of year, the primary character being Gru (Steve Carell, voice), a shady-eyed, world-class villain who makes it his all to be the best villain in the history of humankind. He fails not to strive to make mom (Julie Andrews, voice) happy with the same accomplishments. 

And he's almost there, being surpassed at the start only by one villain named Vector (Jason Segel, voice) whose calling card as of late has been to steal the great pyramids and replace them with life-sized blow-up models.

Outdone, Gru has for years made it his mission to steal the moon in precisely the same fashion. In order to do that, he needs a shrinking ray, which in order to get, he needs a loan from the Bank of Evil. Yes, in this caricature-ishly cute universe, outlaw villains have their own bank and lenders reserved just for them. No need to worry about IRS audits or money trails being investigated by the authorities.

And it's a good thing, too, because a selfish and bitter Mr. Gru is striving not to fall anymore behind in his quota of profit-returning evil inventions. But his task is destined to become much more difficult upon meeting three little adorable orphan girls – Margo, Edith, and Agnes – (Mirando Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, and Elsie Fisher, voice) whom he supposes can help him ruin a nerdically competent Mr. Vector and his plans.

Despicable Me is as high-functioning as it is cute and creative, and as heartwarming as The Cat in the Hat, with plenty of focus on details for the adults, long overshooting the expectations of the little ones. While available in 3D, Despicable Me lacks the eye-luring luster of this year's How to Train Your Dragon or the fast-moving excitement of 2008's action-packed Kung Fu Panda. But it is no less delightful viewing, with characters so original and lovable that it takes freakishly unreal expectations to be let down.

Naturally, the animation is part of the humor, with an always too fun exaggeration of facial features to compliment a script that will put Despicable Me among the better films of the year.

(JH)
   
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Grade: A- (4 stars) Recommended!
Rated: PG (for rude humor and mild action)
Directors: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Summary: When a criminal mastermind uses a trio of orphan girls as pawns for a grand scheme, he finds himself profoundly changed by the growing love between them.
Starring: Steve Carell "Gru" (voice), Jason Segel "Vector" (voice), Russell Brand "Dr. Nefario" (voice), Julie Andrews "Gru's Mom" (voice), Will Arnett "Mr. Perkins" (voice), Kristen Wiig "Miss Hattie" (voice), Miranda Cosgrove "Margo" (voice), Dana Gaier "Edith" (voice), Elsie Fisher "Agnes" (voice)
Genre: Animation / Comedy / Family
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The Full Meaning May Eclipse Me

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)
Spoilers: none

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Some may by now want to drive a stake through the heart of the Twilight series. Others passionately may not. Either way, no one can deny the far-reaching affect of what Twilight has become—a semi-erotic sensation for the young, the lonely, the misunderstood, for the discarded looking for love, probably in the absence of it.

With the choppy and uneasy arrival of the first in the series, we were taken aback by the crafting, which made it fit only for 13-year-olds convinced that nobody understood them. The very long but slightly improved second film added some dimension to its viewing demographic and gained a debatable increase in respect—more so than it lost in powerfully portraying (if in a very manipulative sort of way) the fragility of emotions.

Twilight Saga: Eclipse again raises the bar in continuing to garner admirers while expanding its value in content. The first two movies were only praise-worthy for hitting dead-center their target audience; you must admit so whether you are or were ever “into” the genre or not.

At the beginning, part three moves to Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Bella (Kristen Stewart) in the perfect setting of a beautiful field. Rainy, romantic Seattle can't outdo that. They are hugging and kissing in the throws of passion. Field french-kissing never really happens in life anymore (if it ever did), but it creates a perfect head-vision for an autoerotic moment for divorced, housebound, overweight females, but perhaps for others as well.

Bella’s dad – still clueless as ever – wants Bella to get some space. He figures, why not spend some time with Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who happens to be going through some tough times. That's all a young Bella needs is to spend more time with a male friend, more time around a hormone hurricane, also known as a teenage boy, who wants to jump her bones (wolf or not). Those abs...walking around like he doesn't own a shirt...that won't result in premarital sex or anything! Remember, we never said dad was anything other than clueless.

Bella gets to visit mom and perspective-ize the supernatural smooch-fest that is her flowery, back-of-motorcycle-riding life, but the drama at home hasn’t changed. Jacob has put his passions for Bella on hold, but his love for her is more than he can handle. The love can be felt by a faithfully waiting Edward who is not about to stop fighting for her heart. The stage has been set for a blow-up in this love triangle. The date has also been set for Bella’s change at Edward’s bite.

Meanwhile, unsettling deaths and missing person reports are surfacing in droves in Seattle. The Cullen clan is on the lookout. The slaughter appears to be the work of vampires, “newborns” recklessly created by an unknown party, without the guidance towards inconspicuousness needed to live and carry on in vampire society. But this is more than reckless living. This is a war brewing.

These newborns are out of control and vicious. Oddly, the explanation given is that traces of human blood still remain in the tissues of the newly changed, making them much stronger than aged vampires for up to seven months. But any bloodless vampire is stronger than any human. So doesn’t reason dictate that the human with LOTS of blood should be stronger than the vampire? Guess I should just ignore that little dilemma. It makes about as much sense as the boys of the wolf clan explaining that they go shirtless to more easily transform into wolves. But why wear pants then?

It goes without saying that the Twilight series is known for being provocative fantasy, not reality, just as it goes without saying that Jacob will not stop taking off his shirt to show off his “six-pack” until newly-divorced, middle-aged women with eyes as busy as termites quit demanding it, which will be never…or just until Lautner gets a beer gut at age 33. 

I have never understood what the “Eclipse” part refers to, as I never understood the “New Moon” of the last one’s title, but with the same heavy-handed dose of drama we’ve become used to, Twilight Saga: Eclipse does more than advance an addendum to an epic story; it begins to focus on more mature themes, like the wisdom to make wise life choices, the valuing of virginity and an identity status, and other youth-logical concerns. In cutting down on the emotional exploitation and melodrama and adding more maturity to the pallet, it goes much further towards being a fantastic movie of its type.

(JH)

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Grade: B+ (3 ½ stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence, and some sensuality.)
Director: David Slade
Summary:
As a string of mysterious killings grips Seattle, Bella, whose high school graduation is fast approaching, is forced to choose between her love for vampire Edward and her friendship with werewolf Jacob.
Starring: Kristen Stewart "Bella Swan," Robert Pattinson "Edward Cullen," Taylor Lautner "Jacob Black," Bryce Dallas Howard "Victoria," Anna Kendrick "Jessica," Michael Welch "Mike" Christian Serratos "Angela," Jackson Rathbone "Jasper Whitlock," Ashley Greene "Alice Cullen," Paul Jarrett "Mr. Biers," Iris Quinn "Mrs. Biers," Sarah Clarke "Renee," Peter Facinelli "Dr. Carlisle Cullen," Elizabeth Reaser "Esme Cullen," Kellan Lutz "Emmett Cullen"
Genre: Drama / Fantasy / Romance
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Predators (but the Movie is the Prey)

Movie Title: Predators (2010)
Spoilers: none

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I didn’t enjoy watching Predators. I didn’t expect it to be great, but it calls for repeating that I didn’t enjoy watching it. What could as well stand to be repeated is that the Predator creation is a more than remarkable work of science fiction, utilizing so many enticing elements of Darwinism, and even some alien cultural anthropology. How many of us, having ever picked up a philosophy book or having watched with remote interest the Science Channel, could not be fascinated by at least hearing about these topics?

The Predator race is a race of big-brained animals, competitive beings that, so far as we know, live for the hunt and the kill. Such things are sacred to their kind, the two hallmarks on which their ethics are built. Not many of us are suckers for ethics, but a lot of us are admirers of Predator.

First, there was Predator (1987) and then the less impressive but no-slouching Predator II (1990). Since then, we’ve had the unworthy Alien vs. Predator (AVP) (2004) and the more unworthy Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (AVPR) (2007), and who knows how many fan fiction adaptations sailing around the web as they continue to do in the multiplying.

If you’ve seen the first two and were entertained by them, you likely know that the predators represent something; they represent humankind in their intelligence and ferocity and in their ability to adapt and survive; humans fear the predators, but themselves are the predators of their own world and in their own way. But if you haven’t seen the Alien vs. Predator series or the new Predators, you’re none the worse off. Predators is a noisy, ego-driven, low-functioning sci-fi addition to a series that already gave what it had to give.

What was lacking in Predator? You got to see the technology, the strengths and weaknesses of the creature, and the drive of the beast. You got more of the same in the second addition to the film. There you learned more on the adaptive-ness of this amazing alien race; you learned that predators aren’t confined to the trees or hot jungle climates. They can survive and thrive in smoggy inner cities.

But what do we learn in Predators? We learn that some writers think you’ll be taken more seriously the more you have characters that use the word “fuck” trivially. We learn that clichés used in tense situations generate suspense because we would say the same or similar things in the same situation(s). “We need to stick together.”

But we learn nothing relevant or fascinating about the creatures that the movie is titled after other than the fact that their home world is very similar to earth, only hotter, and with two giant moons or planets visible in the sky (so visible that celestial bodies orbiting this closely would likely destroy each other rather than sustain orbits). I am a sucker for astronomy.

All of the subtle elements of Predator I and II are stuck inside the cubbyholes here—the same music and sound affects are carefully inserted. You say to yourself early on: “I recognize that sound!” Then somebody dies. You knew you recognized that sound just before the next noisy and explosive onslaught of action or needless growling of the predators that seems never to end. Unfamiliar to you is where the story is heading. The music and nearly every bit of sound is a tease to what you remember and loved about Predator, but that doesn’t mean you will love this addition—by no means!

The crude and course acting is the first immediate giveaway that things won’t be like before. Still, there is something about a predator going after his prey using his planets’ own version of horned hunting dogs to flush out the human game. And the AVP line-up did one thing right, which was wet our lips for seeing our favorite tree-cloaked killers being put up against other fighters.

In this addition, the predators hunt down a samurai sword-wielder and Asian crime-lord, a convicted felon, and several militiamen, at least one of whom, Royce (Adrien Brody), has a good enough head on his shoulders to do more than survive. If that type of thing holds your interest, this will provide more than enough bloody, body count-raising action. Just be happy with the action because there’s nothing else, nothing but a poorly laid-out story that straddles the “my eyes are tired and I want to go home” fence. Take a 19-year-old to see it and you’ll feel that much older.

Worst of all for Predators is that the first and second movies did something that this farce of a fan-fiction-made-big-picture does not do, which is keep you in awe of this mysterious and powerful race of self-preservers. Win or lose, you were still impressed with these armed man-hunters in the earlier works. What next will they have up their sleeves? Where will they appear? What will they be planning? Surely there has to be a sequel, right? This one does no such thing. You are no longer impressed with their kind, and you could care less to see a sequel or to learn much of anything more.

There is so little to think about here, so little food for the mind. The most appetizing moment is a speech given by Isabelle (Alice Braga), as a woman who was present at the first contact with Predator in 1987 when the Central American village was attacked (where our trusty old Arnie and team were called in to take care of business).

Here, the focus shifts from the careful killers and their cunning use of deadly instinct and skills with alien technology, to pairs of unrelated and unconnected humans who must work together to survive, while the audience is offered only a smidgen more to think about than lines like: “Let’s get the fuck off this rock.” 

The obsession with cheap remakes can only stop when our macho obsession with cool gadgetry and shiny, futuristic toys stops. Only when flashy technology and a cheap desire for nostalgia fall in line second and third to intelligence and worthy storytelling skills will our science fiction begin to climb in quality.

(JH)

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Grade: D+ (1 and ½ stars)
Rated: R (for gore, language, and violence)
Director: Nimród Antal
Summary: A group of elite warriors are hunted by members of a merciless alien race known as Predators.
Starring: Adrien Brody "Royce," Topher Grace "Edwin," Alice Braga "Isabelle," Walton Goggins "Stans," Oleg Taktarov "Nikolai," Laurence Fishburne "Noland," Danny Trejo "Cuchillo"
Genre: Action / Science Fiction / Thriller / Adventure
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What The "Hex" Am I Watching?

Movie Review: Jonah Hex (2010)
Spoilers: none

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Josh Brolin and John Malkovich star in Jonah Hex, a revenge/action thriller that takes place during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant.

A formidable army veteran-turned-terrorist, Quentin Turnbull (Malkovich) has lost his way. In his plot to destabilize the young United States through incendiary, secretive government technology, the only worthy opponent is one man, Jonah Hex (Brolin), who stands able and ready to oppose him.

The scarred-for-life, hungry-for-vengeance vigilante killer with a cryptic necromantic gift is offered a clean record in exchange for taking down Turnbull, and thus, securing the nation. Hex's close brush with death bestows upon him the ability to make contact with the damned in the spirit world and “pump” them for information.

The original Hex character storyline in the comics may have done well at churning up fears of contacting the impudent dead as they await roasting, in fear of approaching hellhounds, in the curious setting of a slightly techno-fied version of the old west. But the movie is an un-energized and one-dimensional bore that itself gets closer to the flat-line right to the end.

While none of the performances are to be repudiated on their merits, not a single one stands out as convincing, not even an always-gorgeous Megan Fox as Hex's confidant, Lilah. The amazing John Malkovich himself fails to bring home the focused fanaticism that Turnbull is supposed to exhibit. We're not dealing with that disturbed Mitch Leary that we remember from In The Line of Fire (1993), who made it his mission to get back at the government by assassinating the president.

And while Brolin may not quite have the flare of Eastwood in his cowboy days, he also didn't have a foundation on which to build it. The too-straightforward story lacks build-up, but when it would almost start to appeal in its simplicity, it begins to lag in the tendency to drift off into light cliché-dom:

“Please, let the innocent go.”
“There are no innocents.”

And it looks like there may not be any happy viewers, either; at least, not very many.

Based off of the cryptic DC comic book character, Jonah Hex the movie is a “dead” resurrection of a flawed hero nobody cares for or looks forward to seeing, making it – on the face of it – a pointless put-together that, frankly, amounts to a near waste of film. 

(JH)

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Grade: D- (1 star)
Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and sexual content)
Director: Jimmy Hayward
Summary: The U.S. military makes a scarred bounty hunter with warrants on his own head an offer he cannot refuse: in exchange for his freedom, he must stop a terrorist who is ready to unleash Hell on Earth. 
Starring: Josh Brolin "Jonah Hex," John Malkovich "Quentin Turnbull," Megan Fox "Lilah," Michael Fassbender "Burke," Will Arnett "Lieutenant Grass"
Genre: Action / Drama / Thriller / Western
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Grown Ups: a “Shrunk Down” Comedy

Movie Review: Grown Ups (2010)
Spoilers: none

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What opens up to a recreation of a 1978 school basketball game is prelude to a tenuously-delivered series of put-downs and awkward interactions between the main characters: Lenny Feder (Adam Sandler), Eric Lamonsoff (Kevin James), Kurt McKenzie (Chris Roc), Marcus Higgins (David Spade), and Rob Hilliard (Rob Schneider), all of whom are childhood best friends who grew up, got married, and then got the tragic news that their childhood coach passed away. This is where Grown Ups takes off.

Reuniting at dear old coach's funeral, it is supposed to be a somber occasion, a time for everyone to say goodbye to a childhood mentor who meant so much to these guys who were kids some 30 years back and hadn't seen him in all that time. While I can't see kids being this attached to a childhood authority figure they hadn't seen in forever, I certainly cannot see how 2010's Death at a Funeral didn't teach us anything about unleashing substandard comedy on unsuspecting audiences. We now have two star-powered comedies that didn’t go over well this year.

Death at a Funeral was a four-star contender compared to this fourfold family flop, one which could have been branded with a capital “E” for “embarrassment” had it showed up on the resumes of any persons other than grade-A comedians. Much of the nearly good humor is lost on audiences that will never be prepared for what is to come, and so much of that is mingled with the bad, making the good taste like a watered-down vodka, or if you will, like human breast milk.

Unbelievably, 2010 seems to be a big year for older kid breastfeeding gags, which are not (and have never been) funny. Watching four-year-olds breastfeed and accidentally slip off the nipple, resulting in the mother's milk being sprayed all over a nearby parent is difficult to endure. Enduring it requires being mentally deficient in some way or having the monk-like ability to meditate and block out nasty images that damage the entertainment-craving psyche.

These friends put each other down like any old-time friends would and do. Only, you'd think that because they are comedians with scripts and opportunities to rehearse and to perfect their parts, that they would succeed at what they do best anyways, which is making viewers laugh. This they should do more so than any other group of friends having a gay ole' time and chuckling over each others' idiosyncrasies. But they don't.

Not all immature grown men are funny, just as not all comedians make you want to laugh. If that's the case, then surely watching overly protective and misguided parents going to crazy lengths to try and shield their children from crude sex references and refusing to tell a bratty kid “no” to breastfeeding is nowhere near funny. Dogs with vocal cords clipped and old, mouthy black women with bunions that consume literally an entire foot is worse than not funny. It compels one to quit watching with the strength of a gale-force wind.

Grown-Ups gives us approximately 15% solid laughs, 35% blatant repulsiveness, and 50% weak slapstick that will be a ball-dropper for all fans of these super comedy stars who did themselves – and us – no favors in this cringe-worthy creation.

A miscast Salma Hayek as Lenny's wife Roxanne was a slight miscalculation, while using Colin Quinn as Dickie, the antagonistic competition for the gang, was no way to rise this fart-joke-ridden failure out of the mud. With as much or more creepy than comedy, Grown-Ups has very little respect for an intelligent audience.

We're not wrong to hold professionals to higher standards. No need to abandon this reasoning in our evaluation of big-name comedians. Adam Sandler worked as producer on this project and gave us glimpses into at least one event into his personal life, of a time when swinging on a rope over a river got him smashed against a tree. Guess it was supposed to seem funnier if Kevin James did it.

Funny? Guess you had to be there.

(JH)

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Grade: D- (1 star)
Rated: PG-13 (for coarse language, crude humor, language, and suggestive themes)
Director: Dennis Dugan
Summary: After their high school basketball coach passes away, five good friends and former teammates reunite for a Fourth of July holiday weekend.
Starring: Adam Sandler "Lenny Feder," Kevin James "Eric Lamonsoff," Chris Rock "Kurt McKenzie," David Spade "Marcus Higgins," Rob Schneider "Rob Hilliard," Salma Hayek "Roxanne Chase-Feder," Maria Bello "Sally Lamonsoff," Maya Rudolph "Deanne McKenzie"
Genre: Comedy
Trailer

No Shining Armor, Just a Knight

Movie Title: Knight and Day (2010)
Spoilers: none

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Director James Mangold brings you Knight and Day, an action-based romantic comedy where June Havens (Cameron Diaz), an ordinary woman looking forward to her sister's wedding, crosses paths with the dangerous Roy Miller (Tom Cruise), a government agent who appears to have gone rogue.

With praiseworthy fight scenes (ah, finally someone shows us how it's done in the year 2010!) and enticing action shots that DON'T rely on camera shaking, the abounding chemistry between Diaz and Cruise is not to be taken lightly. It is never less than noticeable and is only not immediately visible when Cruise is fighting on a plane and kicking the mother-lovin' rumps of government agents sent to take him, or when he is being chased and leaping from car to car as easily as you or I walk to the bathroom to take a tinkle. 

You, the viewer, get to see unbelievable stunts successfully done with off-timed compliments given in conversations happening during perilous situations. And things become more and more improbable and incredible the further in you go. There are more stunts here than in two Mission Impossibles, but unlike Mission Impossible, this one's dialogue doesn't seek to evade the ears of the viewers by trying to sound overly impressive. Count on Cruise and Diaz to bring the impressive...the rest of the movie, uh, maybe not.

Knight and Day isn't particularly funny – certainly not when it tries to be – and the conspiratorial crap that goes to the affect of the CIA and the FBI not knowing who to trust is, to me, a tired old idea that is just not shining on the audiences as much as it used to. Spies and agents switching sides is “old hat” material and pretty much unwanted if it's not accompanied by a completely house-rocking story or sub-story. We don't get either.

We get a movie that is hopelessly romanticized in scope and a darn near perfect fit for nonchalant, “don't over-think it” moviegoers, the kind who dig it when the girl asks, having just gotten though an impending crisis (while staring in a quasi-romantic trance): “Whoooo areeee youuuu?” It's the women who really dig this stuff. I don't think I'll ever quite understand why.

What I do understand is what shouldn't be and why. June's cell phone works...everywhere...even on a tropical island, and apparently all over Europe. At one point, she is told by Roy not to make any calls because if she does, their location will be tracked. It would pay to keep up on what should now be common knowledge about cell phones—those in power can track your freakin' precious cell phone and use it as a microphone without your knowledge. Prepare to get paranoid, but the authorities can hear every word you say in a room if they want to. Having a cell phone will make finding you easier. And it's been that way for years. Cell phones are like billboards printed in font-size-twenty-million and aimed at the satellites. They can't be missed.

But worse than that, the (unenthusiastically named) Roy Miller is a snazzy and cool cat, a guy who should be too cool for his own good. He's in a dangerous line of work and he never worries about getting caught because he can make it away when surrounded by the best-trained agents in the world. Carloads of law enforcement officers can't catch him, even when they've set traps for him—and he can do all that with a body in tow as a drugged June gets toted around with him for more than half of the film. Soldiers have him in point-blank range and he still gets away.

Oh, the lengths quixotic scriptwriters will go! This over-inflated action-comedy is for the women and the hopeless romantics, for anyone who bows the knee in wanton adoration to star power. To provide a woman with those impossibly high levels of suspense is the only near-foolproof way to keep her from cheating on you, but you can never keep it up for long enough. Mortal men cannot so please a woman, but how about Tom Cruise? He can do it.

Even in an ugly hospital gown, Cruise still looks good. There's no denying it, and only for one brief moment in this sentimentally slain James Bond jerk-around did I take my mind off of the movie to think of how much of a rambling psychopath Cruise's philosophical beliefs make him. That says something.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for sequences of action violence throughout, and brief strong language)
Director: James Mangold
Summary: June Havens finds her everyday life tangled with that of a secret agent who appears to have gone rogue.
Starring: Tom Cruise "Roy Miller," Cameron Diaz "June Havens," Peter Sarsgaard "Fitzgerald," Jordi Mollà "Antonio," Viola Davis "Director George," Paul Dano "Simon Feck," Falk Hentschel "Bernhard," Marc Blucas "Rodney," Lennie Loftin "Braces," Maggie Grace "April Havens"
Genre: Action / Thriller / Comedy
Trailer

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