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KUNG FU PANDA 2 (2011)

>> Monday, May 30, 2011

Kung Fu Panda Boo...

ung Fu Panda (the first one) was at the very least an interesting enough concept. While I'm not the biggest fan of Jack Black as he seems to repeat the same shtick, the first movie entertained me enough that I would have at least recommended it when asked. Kung Fu Panda 2 on the other hand, is a movie that I feel didn't need to exist. In a year with a record-breaking amount of sequels, I can't help but feel that Dreamworks was only looking to cash in on the franchise cow that all movies seem to be on board for. It's no longer about just making one movie - but rather as many as possible. Chances are, when a studio is offered a film these days they'll ask themselves if a sequel is a possibility, even before the film is released. Later on this year we'll see Hugh Jackman in Real Steel, a film about robot counterparts who box. The studio that's produced Real Steel likes enough of what it's seen to already start talks about a sequel - that studio by the way also happens to be Dreamworks.

Panda 2 is a half origin story about Po (Black), a panda who in the first film learned he was the coveted Dragon Warrior. This story focuses on where he came from and the bad guy responsible for Po's separation from his parents - Shen (Gary Oldman). Shen wants to take over the world and was told once upon a time via a fortune teller that a panda would be responsible for his demise. Shen then had all the pandas killed off forcing Po's mother to abandon him in a box of radishes.

While Panda 2 does a nice job tying itself to the first one (as well as setting up a third film), as aforementioned it seems unnecessary. There's less of a journey for Po and Panda 2 seems to try less hard to please the viewer, as if implicating that because there was a first movie already there's no need to try anything new here or build upon Panda 1. We also get far less time with any characters other than Po than we did in the first movie. Call me asinine, but I wanted to learn a little bit more about the other members of the Furious Five - who include animals voiced by wasted talents such as Angelina Jolie, David Cross and Jackie Chan, to name a few.

Kung Fu Panda 2 gets a closed door. I wasn't out to hate the movie from the beginning and I'm still not. It just didn't do it for me as I was hoping to be a bit more surprised and just simply didn't feel anything. This time around if an individual came up to me to ask if I would recommend this film, I'm afraid the answer would have to be a plain and simple "no".

*Stills courtesy of Dreamworks Animation



>> Monday, May 23, 2011

A fountain of maggots? Hardly...

The day before Pirates 4 was released, I stumbled upon a review via a recommendation from Roger Ebert. The link on Ebert's Facebook page directed me to what Ebert calls "The most negative review of any movie [he has] ever read". It was a review by Ali Arikan titled 'A Fountain of Maggots: Rob Marshall's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides'. Although I had yet to see the movie at that point - I couldn't help but take a gander. That's not something I normally do by the way, for fear of an influence over my own opinion. Well, not that it spoils anything (as there are literally no details present in his review), but Arikan rips Jack Sparrow a new one. He goes on to say he walked out of the theatre because Pirates 4 was that bad. If anything, this only fueled my want to see the movie more. Was it going to be 'walk out' bad? Or was it going to be - as I would guess - disappointing? As it turns out, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and when it came to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, I actually liked it.

One argument Arikan brings up in his review is one I will definitely validate, much like Thor, Pirates 4 only exists to make money. Unlike Harry Potter, however, Pirates didn't necessarily need to have the sequel, either. So, why then did I like it? Because it was fun, less disappointing than something like Thor and I actually like the characters and the storyline based around the Fountain of Youth and eternal life - despite it being a tad tired by now.

The two most recognizable characters in Pirates 4 are (of course) Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Both do fine, as I would hope they've broken in these characters by now. In this chapter, they're joined by Angelica Malon (Penelope Cruz) and Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and as with Depp and Rush, both do just fine. The reason I bring the characters up here is because while watching this latest installment I finally realized why I hated the last two films - Dead Man's Chest and At World's End so much. There are a couple of reasons actually...

The first is because I realized I didn't really give two shits about the characters that the last two films seemed to center around - Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). Both kind of annoyed me and Sparrow may have been the mascot of those movies but always played second fiddle to Liz and Will's romance. The second thing I realized is that the last two flicks seemed to lack that sense of wonder and romantic endeavor the first had. In the first, Curse of the Black Pearl, Barbossa and his thugs were seeking a new form of life - and their journey had a desperate magic about it that complimented the tale of Jack Sparrow. Aside from all the fun everybody seems to have on screen here we get the magic back, we get the banter between Barbossa and Sparrow and best of all - we get the adventure.

I am giving Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides an open door. It reminded me of the first film, which was a huge surprise to us all when it was released in 2003 (especially when Depp gained an Oscar nod for his performance). In fact, I am going to say the only good thing to happen between The Black Pearl and this film was the eradication of the Swann/Turner storyline and the introduction of the plot for Stranger Tides. While it seems most people may disagree with me on this review (namely Arikan), I'll end by saying I had a lot of fun with this one and was pleasantly surprised and I may have to Arikan for that, actually.

*Stills courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures



>> Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Always an Arthur, never a Bridesmaids.

Well it's about damn time a good comedy came along. The last comedy I saw that even came close to how funny Bridesmaids is was Tangled, and that was seven months ago. Perhaps it's too much to ask for a really good comedy to come along more than twice a year, but thankfully Bridesmaids leads the way for what looks to be a promising summer for comedies.

Kristen Wiig stars as Annie, a mid-30's woman who's more or less devastated when her friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged. The only thing Annie has to look forward to is that Lillian has asked her to be her Maid of Honour. On a budget and up against super-wedding-planner Helen (Rose Byrne), Annie realizes she may have bitten off more than she can chew.

No sooner does Annie mistakenly give all the bridesmaids food poisoning does her other ideas get pushed aside for Helen's better (and more expensive) ideas. It's a battle for Annie who has known Lillian since they were kids, but apparently losing your friend to a snobby whore is all a part of growing up -as is cute-meeting your way into the arms of a geeky lovable cop with an accent (Chris O' Dowd).

Now, Bridesmaids is more than likely going to be referred to as the women's Hangover - that's more or less true. While I thought The Hangover was pretty funny and have grown to like it more over time - I actually enjoyed Bridesmaids more. Much like The Hangover it even has an Office alumni as part of the cast (Ellie Kemper). I don't know if it was the toilet humour or projectile vomiting that put me over the edge, or if Kristen Wiig (in her first leading role) carried the movie like a champ and made Bridesmaids what it was. Wiig, by the way, is also responsible for writing this film so the fact the part was literally tailor-made for her is yet another reason I believe it worked on almost every level.

I am giving Bridesmaids an open door. While it would do just fine to list all the funny parts of this film (that thankfully didn't all appear in the trailer), it doesn't matter. The whole film is funny and works on several levels (funny, touching, inspiring, etc) and is an easy front-runner for best comedy of the year. I guess we'll have to wait and see as on May 26th The Hangover Part II shows up in theatres. Until then...

*Stills courtesy of Universal Pictures


PRIEST (2011)

>> Friday, May 13, 2011

Paul Bettany - the new poster child for the Vatican.

Being that today is Friday the 13th doesn't help a movie like Priest, which definitely could have used any help it could get. Priest however, is the first movie that I've seen this year where I'm unsure how to rate it. While Priest undoubtedly has some cool moments, I'm not sure what exactly it's trying to do. If anything, one could predict that the film is nothing more than a prologue for what Screen Gems is hoping will be a successful franchise. However, after seeing the first installment, I'm more than doubtful we're going to be seeing Priest 2 anytime soon.

Paul Bettany (Legion) plays Priest, an unnamed man who's set out to save his daughter from the vampires - who since the dawn of time have been terrorizing man and forced them into barridcaded cities run by the church. Previously, Priest was a warrior for the church who used him as a means of forcing all the vampires onto reservations. Once Priest was finished the job, the church then returned him to the status of a normal man - forced back into a regular, drab life (and feared by many).

In order to save his daughter, Priest teams up with law man Hicks (Cam Gigandet) and former fellow vampire hunter, Priestess (Maggie Q). The three of them head off across the post-apocalyptic desert in search of the man who's responsible for the kidnapping - Black Hat (Star Trek's Karl Urban). One can argue that with the names these characters carry (Priest, Black Hat) this whole plot may be lacking imagination, and you wouldn't be wrong. The names are actually a perfect indication of just what to expect in Priest.

When The Matrix was released in 1999 (followed by the sequels in 2003), it was clear the films had a religious undertone. In Priest, the religion is under-toned by The Matrix. There's actually very few action sequences in the film that won't remind you of a Wachowski way of things. There's even a scene that takes place on top of a moving train that's incredibly similar to the semi-trailer fight that took place in The Matrix Reloaded. It's not just The Matrix either, you'll find bits and pieces of almost every movie that relates to post-apocalyptic futures, religion, vampires, etc. within this film. Maybe that's the problem with Priest, just as the character names are unoriginal - so is the plot within reference to any original devices. Also, if the barricaded church city isn't a blatant rip-off of 1984, than there's a huge coincidence at hand.

When it comes down to it, Priest gets a closed door. Most people I spoke to after the movie really only had one thing to say about it - "It was alright...". Is something that's just alright worth the $10-14 you'll pay to see it in 3D? Not at all, really. In fact, when it comes to the 3D in Priest, it's a decision that should have been rethought (as is the case with many recent 3D flicks). There's far too many badly lit scenes in the film that being forced to use a pair of 3D glasses only makes it harder to see whats on the screen. Then again, in a film like Priest - maybe it doesn't matter as you ain't missing much anyway.

* Stills courtesy of Screen Gems


THOR (2011)

>> Friday, May 6, 2011

Don't be Thor-ry, just don't let it happen again.

Although Fast Five claims to be the beginning of summer, I think this weekend counts way more - which is probably why it's starting off with one of the summer's biggest movies, Thor. However, much like Fast Five, I'm sad to say I'm pretty disappointed in this addition to the Marvel line-up, most recently preceded by the similarly disappointing Iron Man 2. The main difference between the two? I ultimately recommended Iron Man 2. Thor, however, does not get my recommendation - but you already know that from the big red door to the left. I know some people will like Thor and this decision was not the easiest for me to make - because I really wanted to like this film. In the end though, it fell short.

Thor (played well by Chris Hemsworth) is a cocky, arrogant God who only wants to fight, beat and destroy anybody and everybody who's willing to take on the challenge. He's kinda like the one guy outside the bar who wants to start a fight over nothing. After egging on his kingdom's (or realm, or planet - or whatever) number one enemy, his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) banishes him to Earth to teach him a lesson in humanity. There he meets Natalie Portman's character Jane Foster and develops a crush. It doesn't take long for Thor to start feeling that warmness inside and it takes even less time for his heart to grow three sizes - as well as you know, kick the shit out of a big, metal robot. Well done Thor, you attempted to not be such a dick. This all leads to another reason why I didn't like Thor, or why I've heard people mention Thor as their least favorite of the Marvel hero line-up.

If you look at nearly every other Marvel movie out there - the characters/superheroes all have one thing in common. They start off as a being a completely different person than that of their alter ego come the end of the movie. Thor on the other hand, is already a superhero - he just has an attitude problem. You can't make a movie out of someone learning to be less of a douchebag - well you can, but it has the same amount of impact as a 'no drugs' episode of Saved by the Bell. This causes there to be no character arc for Thor, so unlike Tony Stark let's say - you don't become interested in character and hence you care less about the story. Thor literally has less to fight for.

With a mystical being such as Thor, I would have preferred there to have been some mystery left to the guy and his story rather than spell it out as clear as day from the get go. If we could have perhaps left Thor's history more of a mystery - there may have been a bit more magic here. But now, the mystery is history and your left with something about as fun as a Wikipedia article on the subject. On that topic as well, I also enjoyed the scenes on Earth a lot more than on Thor's home planet (or whatever it is...) - so the more time on Earth the better.

Is Thor pretty at least? Hell yeah. Is the acting decent - sure. Does Thor fit all the criteria necessary to be a summer blockbuster? Definitely. But I feel my job as a film critic is to use my criticism in a way that will hopefully move the world of movies forward a little. In Thor's case, I'm attempting to make a statement about films and special effects. At which point do we stop admiring the pretty pictures on screen and focus on the story more? While Hollywood is slowly getting the point more and more as of late - sometimes you get a movie like Thor where it's drab, it's uninspiring, has no heart and is relentless in its effort to have you say 'that looks cool'.

On top of it all, with Avengers coming out next year - it's painfully obvious that Thor exists purely for the sake of lining up a few plot points necessary to further set up The Avengers. Overall, it may as well be considered a two hour long commercial for it. Even after the credits the movie proclaims 'Thor will return in The Avengers' (or something to that effect). So, if the story didn't lose interest for me, the fact it's a blatant marketing scheme and overall plot filler would have. For those of you wondering - you do get the fun stuff you'll be wanting to see and an inside joke here and there you'll enjoy. This includes an appearance by Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, a mention or two of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner - and of course the obligatory bonus scene after the credits.

I'm giving Thor the closed door it deserves. Personally, I'm looking way more forward to Captain America and Green Lantern. Thor feels like a prequel that should have been released perhaps after The Avengers - once we've gotten a chance to become attached to the character for a bit. For those of you out there who will tell me 'Well, Thor was fun - couldn't you just enjoy it for what it was?' The answer is yes - and I don't think it's completely unenjoyable. But realistically, if you want to see the movie - you will. It's the same for any movie, really, but if you're reading this before you're going to the movie - you've probably already made up your mind about whether you'll be standing in line later today or not. All I'm trying to do is point out why it didn't really need to exist in the first place - or at the very least, exist in the fashion that it does.

*Stills courtesy of Paramount Pictures



>> Sunday, May 1, 2011


As summer gets into full swing with a line-up of May movies, I have to say I'm a bit surprised. The point of this monthly post is to point out movies I don't think need to exist or only exist as some lame attempt to cash in on another studio's film. This May there's pretty much no movie I wouldn't mind checking out, but with my local theatre's increase in ticket prices ($10.10 to $11.50) I'm going to take advantage of 'This Month I Refuse To See...' and use it to make the tough decisions I need to save a couple bucks. Honestly, I almost refused no movie at all at this month because none look as awful as previous selections.

Thankfully, upon a second glance of the trailers for Something Borrowed and Bridesmaids, I decided we didn't need two wedding movies this month and have decided against the PG-13, undoubted eye-roll-athon Something Borrowed. While I like Kate Hudson and John Krasinski, the trailer reveals all about how the happy ending will come about. Something Borrowed looks not wholly unlike a mix of No Strings Attatched and He's Just Not That Into You.

As I mentioned, it's rated PG-13. To compare it to May's other wedding flick, Bridesmaids is rated R. Anything that has Kristen Wiig in it, looks like a female version of The Hangover AND is rated R looks like a winner either way. So really, when it comes down it - perhaps the best way to state why I'm even refusing to see a film this month is the same reason I always do. Even though Something Borrowed will undoubtedly have it's moments when it opens on May 6th, as usual - there's always something better to see.


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