Month: November 2008

“Kung Fu” Fighting: Review for “Kung Fu Panda”

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 Kids movies with messages tend to be kind of preachy and annoying. There are a few exceptions, but not many. Actually, a lot of kids movies over the last five or six years haven’t been up to scratch as they were in the ’90s. Yes, there was Pixar, but other than that, only a few not only became box office surceases, but also critical ones. I was in the theater watching Wall-E and during the previews, there was a trailer for a new movie from Dreamworks Animation Studio. The company had had its hits and misses. For the hits, they had the Shrek franchise and the Madagascar series. For misses, they had Shark Tale. It seems a little funny and a little risky that, while churning out kid movies, they also get A list casts. What if the movie stinks? Wouldn’t that ruin or at least make a scratch on their career? Well, some might think that. I, personally, am surprised how they got the actors to participate in the films without going bankrupt. You’ve got Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, David Schwimmer, Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett Smith, Martin Scorsese, Will Smith, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Black, even more big stars. It is an extremely brave decision to do that. By that, I mean hire huge stars who could easily sue you for tens of millions of dollars or publicly disown the film (that’s what Matthew Broderick and Nicole Kidman did with The Stepford Wives). Anyway, the trailer was for a film about a rather rotund panda bear living in China who loves kung fu. I could not have thought of a dumber plot line. Jack Black had been hyping the film on Nickolodeon a lot as time went on. I still thought that nothing could be more mediocre than a fat panda acting as if he cared about martial arts. It just didn’t click for me. That is, until I actually saw the film. I had been avoiding going to see the film for a long time, but I finally decided to rent the movie on DVD. And I loved it. Sure, the big cast thing is very risky, but the voices pay off. Jack Black plays a lovable panda who works in his father’s noodle shop. When he learns that the Furious Five-a group of martial artists consisting of Viper (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogen, God knows why he’s in a kid film), Crane (David Cross, Arrested Development), Monkey (Jackie Chan!), and a leader of sorts, Tigress (Angelina Jolie)-are about to pick the Dragon Master, he rushes up and accidentally falls into the middle. When the old Tortoise is probably about to pick Tigress, he falls in front of him and is named the Chosen One. The Five have been mentored and trained by a tiny red panda named Master Shifu, voiced by Dustin Hoffman (for those of whom who have not already figured it out, the character’s name is a play on words, the original being “sifu”, which is, ironically, the Japanese term for master). The comedy was very cute and all the actors seemed interested in their characters. Their voices weren’t bored sounding, as if they really got into their lines. The food part, where Po (Jack Black) and Shifu fight over the dumpling, is very funny. The fight scenes, even though they’re digital, are fantastic and very well “choreographed”. And the message is clear: be disciplined and believe in yourself. This is a fun and wonderful kid film.

Grade: A-

Love’s Labour’s Lost: Review for “Quantum of Solace”

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It’s kind of strange, but global warming is affecting everything. Even TV shows and movies. One day you have David Schwimmer freaking Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) out on 30 Rock and the next day you have James Bond chasing down a villain who runs a conservation company called Greene Planet. But global warming is not the only thing about this latest 007 flick. After his great love, Vesper Lynd (the sexy Eva Green, The Dreamers), betrayed him (?), he’s left a cold, hard man who, although he denies it to his boss, M (the great Judi Dench), is bent on revenge. He’s joined by a strong female of sorts, Camille (Olga Kurylenko, Hitman), who is after an evil general who killed her family. In a way, Craig not only lets James Bond bleed and not put a Band-Aid on the wound, he’s become a much meaner 007. I’m hoping that he’s a little softer in the next film. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly‘s Mathieu Amalric plays a bad guy who is part of an organization called QUANTUM, the same guys who killed Ms. Lynd. This film tries a little too hard, probably because of all the expectations they have come to receive for the first direct sequel in the James Bond series. The beginning action sequence showcases this need for attention; it feels as if it’s trying to create the exact same tension as the Construction scene in Casino Royale. Which is doesn’t; nothing can top that scene; it remains one of the most heart pounding and exciting action sequences of the 21st century. And then the action just kind of piles onto each other, with two more fight scenes that don’t really get that adrenaline flowing. David Arnold comes back for his fifth James Bond film and he “scores”! His use of music makes each scene more intensified, and his use of the “City of Lovers” track from Casino Royale is particularly devastating in some scenes. Jeffery Wright (W.) plays Felix Leiter, a cool agent. I must admit, last time, I was iffy about him playing the role, but seeing CR maybe a second time makes me happy he’s playing Bond’s cool ally. MK12, the company who made the main title designs for Stranger Than Fiction, makes an unlasting impression upon this film. I was expecting, after knowing that the girls were going to be back in the titles, it would be back to sultry, sexy titles. Instead, we’re given James Bond brooding with a gun in the desert. Marc Forster, director of the aforementioned Stranger and Finding Neverland, directs his first 007 movie. It’s not exactly a bad choice. He’s a great director; he did an amazing job on The Kite Runner. I don’t think however, he made a great Bond film. Craig was great, unsurprisingly, but the storyline felt to quickly churned out. Fun, but certainly not as much fun as Casino Royale.    

Grade: B-

Review for the New James Bond Theme, “Another Way to Die” performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys

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With such a huge history in music and visual media,you would think that an artist performing a theme for one of film’s biggest franchises would not only be original, but also be far better. The beginning sounds as if they had just recently heard “You Know My Name” (Casino Royaletheme) and said, “Well, that sounds good. Let’s try that and something new!”. The duet is a first and should be a last. The voices, which are used for very different purposes in their original music, clash against each other making it hard to concentrate on vocals. Not to mention the fact that Alicia Keys, no matter how good she is, is not a good choice to perform a Bond theme. The voice is far better in a realm it recognizes and that is R&B. The lyrics are very dark and not fun to listen to. Sure, Bond isn’t all about gushy songs (From Russia with Love by Matt Munro) or villains (Goldfingerby Shirley Bassey), and yes, Quantum of Solacedoes deal with revenge, but what all the theme songs have in common with each other is that they are a show. They are a spectacle for the ears and, once good ol’ Daniel Kleinman gets to work on the main titles, the eyes. The lyrics are not so much bad, but made with ill will, making Bond out to be this man who is out for nothing but  revenge, which we know isn’t true. The lyric calling 007 a man “with a slick trigger finger for Her Majesty” makes me cringe each time! This is a major disappointment. Not since Shirley Bassey’s Moonrakerhave I ever wanted to pull the plug on my computer, iPod, or radio that was playing a 007 theme. Oh, and Patti LaBelle’s “Licence to Kill” wasn’t all that great either, but still better than this.

Grade: C-

Sin City: Review for “Chicago”

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 I was walking to a show in New York earlier this year and saw a very provocative poster on a wall. It had the image of a woman all in black lying promiscuously with the words “Sin Is In!” above her. It was Chicago. Chicago is definitely one of my all time favorite movie musicals (tied with Cabaret). Because of the success of this spectacle, Hollywood brought back its wonderful tradition of movie musicals so eye catching that they have become world famous. After this film was released, Hollywood brought more musicals to an apparently happy audience; films like The Phantom of the Opera and Mamma Mia! The film won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. When Roxie Hart (Oscar nominated Renée Zellweger) yearns for the spotlight, she gets all the fame no one could want when she kills her boyfriend. When she arrives in jail, she is completely star struck by fellow murderess and vaudeville star Velma Kelly (Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones). The two clash over lying and conniving lawyer Billy Flynn (Oscar nominated Richard Gere) to represent them “He’s never lost a case,” says the Cook County Jail’s Matron Momma Morton (Oscar nominated Queen Latifah). When it was first was brought to Broadway by Bob Fosse, people were not exactly pleased with its satirical look at the media. But once it gained recognition, they wanted to bring to the movie theater. Sadly, after many attempts, Fosse died. But new hope came to light in the late ’90s when choreographer Rob Marshall, who directed the Wonderful World of Disney’s remake of Annie, was asked to make it a movie. They were puzzled, however, on how to make the musical sequences make sense. Marshall gave them a great idea, “When Roxie is under stress, she sees the world as a stage.” The choreography is scrapped for Marshall’s, which is still good. A few songs are deleted (Including newspaper reporter Mary Sunshine’s (Christine Baranski) song “A Little Bit of Good”. It is kind of a shame. I bet she would have had fun with that.) And the result is amazing. It really works and the way Marshall directs helps. Making the musical sequences a little like music videos works for and against it. It is amazing to see Richard Gere sing “All I Care About” and then switch to him getting out of a very expensive car, while the lyric “I don’t care for driving Packard cars!” soon follows. The cast is splendid, in particular Zeta-Jones, who made Velma Kelly one of the coolest characters in musical history. Not to mention that Zeta-Jones was a hoofer when she was younger. Queen Latifah is sinfully delicious in her performance, especially her song “When You’re Good to Mama”. There is certainly a lot of spectacle in this film. A definite essential for musical buffs, this movie is Razzle Dazzling!