Thanks to Tom Berger for another animated movie review!
Toy Story 3 finishes off the franchise that was started 15 years ago by Pixar's first feature length film, Toy Story. It's an unsurprisingly fitting end to a great series of films, maintaining all of the charm, humour and heart of the previous two films while illustrating what 15 years of evolution can do to CG animation.
The film finds the human star of the series, the not-so-young-anymore Andy, getting ready to pack up for college. Asked to figure what to do with his now long neglected toys Woody and Buzz (voiced by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, respectively) so his younger sister can inherit his bedroom, Andy decides to take Woody along to college, consigning the rest of the maudlin, worried crew to the attic. A misunderstanding by Andy's mom finds the toys on the curb, waiting for the garbage truck. After a narrow escape, the toys manage to get themselves donated to Sunnyside Daycare, where they can finally be played with and appreciated again. Shortly after arrival, they meet the grizzled toy patriarch of the daycare, Lots-O-Huggin Bear (Lotso, voiced by the very good Ned Beatty), who ensures them that their years of neglect are behind them and they can look forward to a lifetime of joy and attention thanks to an ever changing line-up of toddlers.
It becomes quickly clear, however that life at Sunnyside isn't quite as bright as the picture painted, and the toys are now left to hatch an escape plan from the tyranny of Lotso's reign.
The story is gripping and suspenseful, the action is dynamic and exciting (including an amazing Barrel-O-Monkeys nuclear explosion), and the humour, as always, is top notch. There's a formula here, not a complex one but consistent none the less: a little danger, a little emotion, and a laugh every minute-and-a-half, no matter what. Of particular note is Buzz Lightyear set to the Spanish default, and the sexually ambiguous Ken doll strutting his stuff for Barbie in a wide variety of vintage fashions.
The film plays to its strength: its characters and its witty, moving script, and in doing so boils up an engaging story rich with legitimately bitter-sweet themes of separation, loss and transition. Close to home for anyone that has ever outgrown a childhood toy, the film manages to make what might be a modern retelling of "The Velveteen Rabbit" sweet and funny while, true to Pixar form, striking a heartfelt nerve. It's not just a great piece of animated storytelling, it's a great film, bar no qualifiers what-so-ever.
Noteworthy as well is the opening Pixar short, Night and Day. It's a remarkable innovative piece, and an inspired hybrid of classical 2D with 3D animation that almost defies description. In fact, the short was such an unexpected joy, I encourage you to watch it knowing as little about it as you can. My favourite Pixar short by a landslide.
Cameron Diaz does what she can with what little she's given to work with in James Mangold's brainless, hyperactive and utterly rote spy-romance-thriller Knight and Day. Paired with the increasingly wooden, increasingly off-putting Tom Cruise as half of a pair of mis-matched adventurers on the run with a valuable MacGuffin fighting off arms dealers and CIA agents alike, she seems to be the only one in the flick that's got a half-inch worth of ambition.
Diaz is asked to play one of those uniquely stupid Hollywood-committee takes on a modernized cute-woman-in-peril-who-learns-to-handle-her-own-uzis, a tough-talking Bostonian who raised her younger sister and is totally girly, and cute, and goofy, and likes boys, but wears boots (!!) and fixes up muscle cars (!!). Cruise plays agent Roy Miller, the agent gone rogue who swoops into her life and together, they have a series of absolutely predictable kung-fu & fireball escapades across a series of scenic European rooftops.
Knight and Day attempts to enliven its muddled, characterless story by kicking things off with the zenithal version of one of the tiredest Hollywood tropes - characters "meeting cute" - and it succeeds well enough in its early stages, where Diaz is allowed to stretch her cute-chops talking to herself in an airplane bathroom while Cruise's Miller wreaks havoc outside.
It's all downhill from there, though, as Cruise robotically manufactures a performance that at best is reminiscent of the cocky, aggressive charm he could exude in decades past. The film trades in its early attempts at characterization for repeated slapstick gags and hard to follow plot twists, all of which it then tries to paper over with breathless action and hokey romance.
To be fair, the film doesn't shoot very high. It wears its low-brow goofiness right there on its sleeve, and it mostly achieves its goal of being a light-hearted, dumb as a rock summer action movie, which is more entirely than can be said for, say, Ashton Kutchers' repellent Killers. See it in a good mood with low expectations and you might be well enough convinced that it's light rather than stupid, fun rather than ridiculous, charming and cute rather than manufactured and plastic.
That last part is probably a stretch though. 4/10
Another day, another remake. Another safe choice during apparently rocky times - this wintry economic climate, don't you know - and we're off and watching Joe Carnahan's big-screen version of the A-Team. In 2010.
Well now because any time previous, in the late 80's after the TV series ended in 1986 or in the two decades following, an A-Team movie would have been a sad thing, a pitiable thing, a ridiculous idea, as people in the late 80's or in the two decades following would remember the thing about the A-Team show, the thing being that it was ridiculous, and often terrible, and a pitiable thing itself. Time heals all wounds, and makes bad jokes funny.
Now though it, like G.I. Joe and Marmaduke and Miami Vice and Charlie's Angels and Dukes of Hazzard and Clash of the Titans retains only the rosy glow of nostalgia. We can smilingly sing the brassy theme music - daah dah dah, dun duun dun - and recall B.A.'s catchphrases and fear of flying and mohawk and that Face was something of a scoundrel and the cigar and the van but we've forgotten things like the episode where they accidentally hire Boy George to play at a rough and tumble oil pipeline country and western bar and then have trouble 'n' such. Time carves away those bad bits and leaves a false memory, a goofy ideal, ripe for resurrection.
The good news is Carnahan's remake makes the most of those well-trod, resilient bits of remembered corniness. Face (Bradley Cooper) is a scoundrel non-pareil; B.A. Baracus (Quentin "Rampage" Jackson) is a volatile crusher so unmanned by the thought of flight with the manic Murdock (Sharlto Copley) that he must be repeatedly tricked, drugged and heaved onto the plane, whereafter the smiling, smoking Hannibal (Liam Neeson) must distract and bribe him with food. There's none of it surprising, but that they're there at all, these little character-jokes and quirks, is enough to recommend the film despite its howling macho idiocy. That's how low the bar has been moved. That's how little the money folks think of us action movie fans, as they crank out retread after sequel after prequel after reboot after reimagining after remake. That's how bad things have gotten. I like the A-Team movie because the people in it smile and don't do cool slow-motion stylish gun-shooting. Seriously.
The characters in the A-Team movie seem happy, most of the time. Their jokes are creaky and I've heard them all before (in 1983) but they seem to be having fun blowing things up, which is more than can be said for most of the dour goings-on in comparable action films of late. The second Transformers movie, the fourth Terminator movie, this year's A-Team clone The Losers or even Ridley Scott's (A-Team co-producer) own Robin Hood: they all evince a weird need to be slick, stylish and frowny-faced, to let their characters suck as little joy as possible from their stories.
The A-Team might be shallow and loud and old and hackneyed and more than a little misogynist and freighted down with ridiculous "serious" sub-plots, but it at least cracks jokes.
Its characters, over-familiar and goofy, are interesting if not compelling, and the story moves and changes according to their choices like a story should (mostly). Some child, somewhere, could see a thing in Face, or in Murdock or B.A. or Hannibal that they might, being a child, want to emulate, to aspire to be, which is a bit of cheap magic that nonetheless lifts this whole creaking TV remake pile a little bit above the tide. 6/10
It's not quite Pixar-like, Judd Apatow's streak of very funny, very good films, but it's close. As a producer, he's as close as it gets to Mr. Automatic, going from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy to The 40-Year-Old Virgin to Talladega Nights to Superbad to Pineapple Express with only a couple Year One's and Walk Hard's to queer the run.
Apatow's done it the right way, by surrounding himself with a gang of truly funny people and by recognizing what a lot of timid, gloss-obsessed Hollywood folks won't: that guys like Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Steve Carell and Seth Rogan could carry pictures. They're all... these are odd-looking dudes, these Apatowian fellas, and it's hard to make them look good blown up billboard size. But all of them can write their own jokes, all of them are funny, and as Hill proves in the new Get Him to the Greek, all of them can carry the weight of a big film on their back, despite their schlubbiness, despite the films not being SNL spin-offs. There's just talent and comedy, that's both fresh and charmingly old-fashioned.
With Get Him to the Greek there's a weird bit of Hollywood story/actor oddness that evaporates as soon as the picture gets rolling: writer/director Nicholas Stoller is taking characters from a previous film that he directed (that was written by and starred Jason Segel), Forgetting Sarah Marshall, keeping one intact (Russel Brand's rock god Aldous Snow) and slightly tweaking one other (Jonah Hill's disturbed-fan maître d' becomes a shy music intern), and sets them loose in a completely unconnected narrative.
Snow is the last true rockstar, recently fallen hard off the wagon post-a disastrous, career-threatening single about starvation in Africa called "African Child". Worried about slumping record sales and a label-head (the surprisingly entertaining Sean "Diddy" Combs) looking for "the next thing", intern Aaron Green (Hill) suggests the company return to its rock roots and sponsor a gig at the Greek theatre in L.A., to mark the 10th anniversary of a legendary Aldous Snow show. Green is sent to London to collect him, packing an adrenaline shot and instructions to do whatever it takes to get the slippery, deluded, hard-partying rock god to L.A. in three days. Very funny hijinks ensue.
Brand as Snow is the spectacle, the wild spark that animates the whole film. Snow vacillates wildly from petulant artistic preciousness to aggressive junkie posturing to anarchic drug logic and back. Story-wise, tt's a dangerous thing to chance, as the rock-excess thing has been parodied to near-death. Brand, though, limns the edges of his chaos with occasional moments of human frailty. The film notes late in the going that Snow's self-appointed rock messiah is intelligent, and it's a small ignorable moment that speaks to the subtle bits of originality in the film's script and in Brand's performance: he's a pompous idiotic waster in true rock fashion, but there's a cruel, manipulative intelligence underneath it all that helps the whole film feel fresh and funny, even if it's going over well-trod Spinal Tap ground.
The discovery of the film, though, is Jonah Hill as Aaron Green, the spectacular punching bag at the heart of a film that mercilessly visits every kind of humiliation and degradation on him. He stands square in the furnace blast of Snow's rock-superstar excess and the shrivelling, repeated "mind f__ks" of his conniving, unbalanced boss: he pukes, he's sexually assaulted by more than one person, he's threatened, cursed, party to a stabbing. But what makes Hill's performance truly funny is that while he is in essence a nebbish, a victim, a barf-coated ill-looking cannonball of a man he nonetheless retains a really kind of compelling dignity and oddly endearing self-confidence. There's a depth to Hill's performance in this film (and in Forgetting Sarah Marshall as well) that's actually… special. He's not an oversize wild-man, he's not a tiny Michael Cera-esque mumbler. He's doing something new, and it along with everything else in this film is very very funny. 8/10
The funniest joke in the long-awaited live-action/CGI adaptation of everyone's second-least favourite comic strip Marmaduke is actually intentional, which is kind of impressive. Of course, it's not funny in the way that the filmmakers intended it to be funny so that's too bad I guess but it is actually a joke that is actually funny. Some connection had been made, through the layers of awful script and boring staging and legitimately creepy CGI. They intended to make me laugh, when they had the mean dog Bosco call out our Owen-Wilson-voiced hero in the middle of the hero's crowning moment, a big raucous "O.C. rager" of a party, icing our dog out with a growled, "Marmaduke? More like… Marmafake." And they did.
I laughed, I admit it. Marmapuke, Marmapoop, Marmadreck… there's a lot of ways the screenwriters could have gone, and they chose Marmafake, which…well dog-gone it, it doesn't even rhyme.
Notes: I also laughed when the filmmakers, seeking to set the tone after Marmaduke & family's big cross-country move to the O.C. from Kansas so the dad (Lee Pace) could work for a dog-food company with a mean boss (William H. Macy, for some inexplicable reason) by mixing "California" by Phantom Planet almost directly into "California Love" by 2Pac. I assume they'd spent all the soundtrack licensing money by that point, because they left out "California" by Belinda Carlisle and "California" by John Mayall and "California" by Joni Mitchell and "Going back to Cali(fornia)" by L.L. Cool J and "Hotel California" by the Eagles. Too bad.
Anyway Marmaduke is, we're told, a big, gangly goofy dog played by two or more real dogs in the film, that talks with a creepy CGI animated mouth. I'm pretty sure, at least, that they used more than one dog because sometimes Marmaduke has a big, dangly pair of testicles, and sometimes he doesn't, which is obviously problematic and I started thinking, while on-screen Marmaduke was having another interminable dialogue session with some other dog about something that to so brazenly, as filmmakers, use dogs with varying levels of testicle-havingness is kind of bold, almost as if they're saying "Yeah, sometimes 'duke's got nuts and sometimes he doesn't. We don't care, because nobody will notice, and if they do notice, it's because you're a perverted weirdo who both looks at and notes dog's nuts." Which left me feeling vaguely insulted, and terribly aggrieved.
So Marmaduke has some friends that are dogs and some enemies, and he makes some mistakes and eventually gets sad and runs away from his family and his haughty girlfriend, voiced by Fergie from the Black-Eyed Peas, who is actually a better voice actor than she is a singer. Marmaduke then falls into a sink-hole along with another funny-looking but faithful and nice dog (voice of Emma Stone) and then or perhaps before then there is a dog-surfing championship and everything is fine, even the sub-plots about 'duke's dad's mean boss and his kid that hates soccer.
Kids might like it, but I doubt it, as aside from being creepy and awkward and really poorly plotted it's just… dull. One of the first thing they teach you in screenwriting school is "show, don't tell", that expository dialogue is a no-no and narrators all the more so. But dogs can't really act, and they don't really do anything except run around and eat sandwiches so for the film to have a narrative structure the dogs have to talk, a lot, explaining everything, and because dogs don't drive or frame houses or fold clothes they talk while just… standing there looking around. It's hellaciously boring, but probably unavoidable as Marmaduke is clearly an intellectual property that fans have literally been screeching and rending their clothes to see brought to the big screen and given the ol' Hollywood treatment.
I don't have anything more to say about Marmaduke. 2/10
What to do, what to do. You've made a mint, a fortune. An incomprehensible pile of dough from your HBO TV show and syndication and DVD sales and the film version which made half a billion dollars and you know, you know in your bones because your product is good, that there is more money sitting there, waiting to be made.
Your fans still love you, and haven't been won away to other shows: your brand is sacred and almost uncontested in its niche. But... well, it's getting to be a stretch. Sexy single women in their 30's struggling to make it in the big city have become married mothers in their 40's with fortunes of their own, fortunes that seem a little tacky maybe in these days of conspicuous economy and restraint.
What you should do is say, "We had our run".
What you definitely shouldn't do is make your coda a two-and-a-half-hour long slapstick romp about rich, dull women that look like ropy hunks of lacquered wood with jewels glued to them having a very expensive vacation in Abu Dhabi. Despite the impulse.
Catching up with the girls two years down the road from the first film, Sex and the City 2 catches Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) as she struggles with the boring realities of her marriage to Mr. Big (Chris Noth) and spends her time decorating their new apartment "12 floors down" from their previous penthouse. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is barely hanging on, dealing with her daughter's terrible twos and the fear that her husband may have a thing for their fetching Irish nanny (Alice Eve). Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is chafing in her lawyer job, trapped under the glass ceiling while P.R. agent Samantha (Kim Cattrall) struggles with the onset of menopause. Getting the girls together out at the premiere of a film, Samantha is asked by a Sheik to visit his hotel in Abu Dhabi to design for him a P.R. campaign, and she whisks her three friends off to the U.A.E. for a fabulous, each-to-her-own-stretch-Maybach-limo vacation. Some drinks, some shopping, some dishing, a couple of romantic crises that arrive apropos of nothing and fizzle away into meaninglessness almost immediately.
The film also suffers from its mightily weird choice to have the four sexually open imbibers spend their last hour of screen-time among the burqa-ed ladies of Abu Dhabi. That hour is spent pin-balling violently from hilariously simple cultural dismissiveness - the ladies' response to Carrie's observation that veils make it seem like Muslim men "don't want women to have a voice" is to go to a nightclub and sing "I am Woman" to rapturous applause - to facile commentary on the real dirty pool being played in that part of the world - slave labour building 7-star hotels - to borderline offensive exoticism to openly rude flaunting of the cultural mores of the city they've decided to visit. It's uproariously moronic. Samantha, shrieking and haggard and shaking under the stress of her aging vagina, throws handfuls of condoms at men in the Soukh, and then panics when they get mad and shouty, you know, as those Muslims do. Thankfully, the ladies are whisked away into safety by robed women, who doff their robes to reveal, for some reason the spring '10 Versace line. This is supposed, I assume, to mean something.
It's not just pointless, it's also enthusiastically rude: a whole-hearted celebration of the clueless, rich American abroad. Furthermore - and most tragically - it's decidedly not Manhattan, the locale that transcended setting to become a living, breathing character itself in the original series.
Almost all of what made the original TV show so great - its verve, its spark, its keenness of observation and snappiness and willingness to be up-front and unapologetically adult and funny and sexy - is gone. What remains is limp. It's shiny, to be sure, and there are a few short scenes of the girls sitting around the pool trading quips and bawdy barbs, but they're a melancholy pleasure buried under hours of pointless, boring agonizing over the really minor minutiae of grown-up life. A loud baby, a braless nanny, a TV in the bedroom, a mean boss: this is hardly sexy, provocative stuff, and outfits and jewelry and shoes alone can't keep this massive, gaudy thing afloat. 3.5/10
Our Family Wedding is a grim prospect on its face: a frantic wedding movie meets an uproarious culture clash movie, where two patriarchs - the smooth African-American and the fiery Latino - do hilarious battle and then there's some romance somewhere. It fails to deliver even on that meagre promise. Forest Whittaker and Carlos Mencia play the fathers of young lovers Marcus and Lucia (Lance Gross and America Ferrera) who return home to L.A. to announce their surprise engagement and plans to be married immediately. Things get complicated, when we learn that Lucia's family don't really like black people, and Marcus' father, a neat-freak radio DJ-cum-ladies'-man, doesn't like Mexican people. Predicaments predictably follow, in the proper order and to factory specifications.
Despite a legitimately (for the most part) talented cast and a set-up almost guaranteed to be worth at least a few forced laughs, the film manages to be almost completely devoid of humour. It's a punishing, depressing display. The film knows what beats to hit, and tries with heroic, military determination to hit them only to fail, every single time. We're presented with the really uncomfortable knowledge that the film knows it should be funny, here, here and here, and is really trying, honest - see how the goat tries to have sex with the fancy man!? - but just can't quite haul it's hackneyed self anywhere close to an actual laugh. It's ugly and it tries to make you complicit in its ugliness, like when you walk in on your roommate three quarters of the way through an extra large pizza and they try and make you eat the last slice.
To do the obvious thing and fail at it is the worst thing an artist can do. To offer a thin-gruel compromise to your audience, to say "here's a trite, rote ethnicity-clash wedding comedy that you know will be derivative but what else are you going to watch come on it can't be terrible" and then to hand them something terrible is just... rude. To ask us to watch Carlos Mencia flail his way through a grim, graceless Mr. Hulot-inspired bit of non-comedy is mean, and makes us feel badly about ourselves and the choices that brought us here.
One bright spot: Anjelah Johnson as the tomboy sister of the bride is the only actor in the film that's able to wring a couple of laughs out of it, and the sisters' relationship is one of the only interesting things in a film that's otherwise not much more than a grim procession of joyless clichés. 2/10
I didn't expect much going in to watch Kevin Smith's Cop Out, which was maybe the key to why I enjoyed it as much as I did. Expect nothing, and any small glimmer or pinprick of light will end up being a pleasant surprise. Smith's been on a hell of a rough streak: he's affable, an entertaining, accessible twitterer and speaker and someone who makes some not very good movies. With Cop Out, though, he made something that's inoffensive and just somehow manages to hang together, which might have something to do with the fact that Smith is, for the first time, directing someone else's script. He's seemingly outside his comfort zone, for once taking on a big-ish budgeted broad Hollywood comedy. That can't be without it's challenges, especially considering Smith's to-date history of personal, dialogue-driven output, but this is a Warner Brothers movie with gun play and car-chases. Luckily, television writers the Cullen Bros. penned a script that Smith was able to work with; light on action and heavy on the potty-mouthed (but occasionally smart) dialogue. Smith moves the story along scene by scene and doesn't let things bog. He made this movie. It wasn't too bad,and I'm weirdly sincerely proud of him for it. He's improving. He's honing his craft. He's working on his directing chops, maybe recognizing that scatological slices of personal angst and white-dude heartache can only take a director so far.
Don't get me wrong; Cop Out's not perfect. It isn't a great movie. Occasionally, sloppy editing sadly exposes a few weak links here and there and the camerawork is sub-par, but as far as straight-up Hollywood buddy cop movies go, it works well enough. Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan play NYPD detectives in the process of royally screwing up a drug case. As the film opens, they hand in their badges and guns, which kicks off a 30-day suspension without pay. Trouble: Willis' daughter is getting married and he needs money to pay for the wedding. He tries to sell his dad's old baseball card which gets stolen in a robbery being committed by Sean William Scott. The cops track Scott down but he already gave the card to the drug dealers from their aforementioned case, who are looking for a mysterious Mercedes Benz. See? There's enough interesting, goofy stuff going on to at least keep the film moving, which is great. At times, the twisty-turny plot even feels vaguely (vaguely) reminiscent of Coen Bros. style comedy (think Lebowski's series of unfortunate events) even though it never quite gets there. The dialogue, although sometimes uneven and eerily Smith-esque (lots of tired, unfunny dick jokes), does have its share of laughs. Unfortunately, a handful of neat story moments and funny one-liners can't overcome the film's rougher patches - most distracting of which is Morgan's jealous husband subplot, which is a) tedious and unfunny and b) a bad fit for Morgan's character.
In some cases Cop Out's weaknesses are smoothed over by decent performances. Willis is perfect and Morgan is sporadically funny, although your tolerance for his schtick will be tested. He does dial back his hyper-wacky TV persona just enough to let a goofy-but-responsible police officer character rise to the surface, but he also sticks his tongue out in one scene while saying the words 'orally fixated' which made me throw up a bit in my mouth. So there's that. Sean William Scott is absolutely hilarious, and by far the best part of the film. I always kind of hated this guy but he keeps surprising me, and his character in this is just offbeat and weird enough to actually refresh this whole affair. He isn't integral to the plot but without his performance the film would've sucked large, to be perfectly blunt. Well played, Stiffler, well played. And, of course, what would a buddy cop film be without a rival partnership within the force? Kevin Pollack and Adam Brody are perfect as the department's more-successful, cowboy-boot wearing drug-squad superstars, and even though it would have been great to see more of them, what little they did add gave the story a much needed... something.
I liked it, warts and all. It's pleasing to see Kevin Smith trying something different, something newish and freshish, at least to him. It's obvious that after seeing Cop Out he's still got a long way to go as a filmmaker, but for the first time since Clerks he seems to have shown a glimpse of what he's capable of when he's just focused on making a plain old movie. Not very deep, not very personal, but entertaining and more or less by the books, which I never thought possible. What a surprise! 6/10
There's a lot of bad things to be said about Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and not just about its horrendous title. The flick's full of characters that find themselves in close-ups, flatly declaiming in the best Twilight fashion every single plot point with the expository efficiency of an elite military unit. We need to go get the three balls so that we can go to the place to fight the bad guy, who thinks I am the bad guy when in fact it is he that is the bad guy, for the following reasons: x, y, z. Let's get shields and swords from the shield and sword pile and and and... . The story's thin as a French pancake, with twists that are both predictable and out of the blue, with characters that abruptly careen into the action from way out in left field. It's derivative of and a poor, cheap imitation of the Harry Potter films - odd, given that director Chris Columbus is the man that helped launch that franchise as well.
Given all of that, the goofy plot, the awkward script and Hogwarts-made-of-cardboard-and-tape feel of the whole thing, the Percy Jackson movie does just enough stuff right. It manages to poke its lumpy head up high enough above the crowd of post-Potter knockoffs to be reasonably enjoyable.
It's the classic oldies hero jam: unsuspecting normal seeming teen dude is plucked up by fate and sent on his journey, where he attends a camp full of centaurs who teach him the moral and physical lessons he needs to know to destroy the bad dude.
It's all swaddled in the garb of the ancient Greek Gods - Zeus (Sean Bean) is seriously peeved at Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) and the rest of the gods because someone stole his lightning bolt, and its up to the various demi-gods, their half-human sons and daughters who hang out down on earth learning to fight at picturesque "Camp Half-Blood" to get it back to him before he kicks up epic hell. In charge of the plan is Poseidon's son, Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), whose true god-identity was hidden from him for some half-explained reason. Lerman is better than good as Percy, and he keeps things moving along over some rough spots with plenty of charisma and twinkle.
What makes the film work (even when it shouldn't) is its willingness to actually theoretically scare its tween audience. Percy and his comrades fight Hades, Lord of the Dead, a giant, angry minotaur and hydras galore, all of which are legitimately frightening and very neatly-handled (Percy overcomes Medusa by watching her in the reflection on the back of his iPod). It's thoroughly kid stuff, but thankfully not afraid to scare a kid where a kid needs to be scared and for that reason alone, it's worth seeing, at least, you know, if you're a kid. 6/10
It's hard, it has to be, to be a filmmaker in the 21st century intent on remaking a genre classic like Universal's legendary The Wolf Man. You're going to find yourself, much like The Wolfman (the remake loses a space) director Joe Johnston has maybe found himself, square in damned if you do and damned if you don't territory. You're handed the keys to the kingdom, you find yourself responsible for a profoundly important cultural artifact like wolfie, and you have to deliver. Do you "update" and "re-imagine" and risk the absolute thrashing you'll take, word-of-mouth, from the reverent nerd crowd? Or do you go old fashioned, do it faithful and old-school, and risk alienating audiences more used to slasher flicks and Werewolf versus Dracula inside the Techno Dome techno-monster thrillers like Underworld?
Thankfully (to this nerd, any way) Johnston went old school. Way old school. His remake features Benecio and Anthony Hopkins as the cursed father and son of Blackmoor, competing beasts cursed by fate to burst into full mane every full moon and tear up the hedgerows of the sleepy countryside. The wolfman in The Wolfman is no sleek CGI beast - we're talking full on Lon Chaney Jr. man-with-a-hairy-face style beast-man style, and it's both silly and impossibly great to see, thanks to the diligent old-fashioned hair-by-hair makeup by Rick Baker.
That they did it, that they were faithful to the original aesthetic and idea of the 1941 original is near enough to make me happy, if only because it could have been so, so much worse. As it is, the film is herky-jerky, rushing at a sprint through important character moments and then slowing to an inexplicable crawl when there's not really much going on. Emily Blunt, del Toro and Hopkins are all as good as they could be, but where they succeed wildly as actors in creating a dreadful, haunted atmosphere they fail due to a poor script at creating much in the way of emotional resonance. The film is beautiful, dark and gloomy and spectacularly well designed but at the same time leaden, morose and not in any way affecting. It crawls and sprints, it looks great when it doesn't look hilariously goofy, the characters are mysteries to us and to each other, and it falls way short of both the original and the grand dank tragedy it was trying to be. It could, though, have been a million times worse. 5/10