June 2008 Reviews
By Shawn McKenzie 06/24/2008
Here are my reviews of the movies that were released in June of 2008. Check back later as the month progresses for more reviews.
Po (voice of Jack Black) is an overweight panda who dreams of being a kung fu master. Unfortunately, his father, a goose named Mr. Ping (voice of James Hong), runs a noodle shop, and has been grooming Po to take it over one day. Po gets his chance to be a master of kung fu on one fateful day. Legendary tortoise kung fu Master Oogway (voice of Randall Duk Kim) has announced that he will choose the new Dragon Warrior at a ceremony in the Jade Palace. He has had a vision that the evil snow leopard warrior Tai Lung (voice of Ian McShane), the former student of his own protégé Master Shifu (voice of Dustin Hoffman), will escape from the Chorh-Gom prison run by Commander Vachir (voice of Michael Clarke Duncan) after 20 years and head to the Valley of Peace to wreck havoc. The assumption is that one of Shifu’s students, The Furious Five…Tigress (voice of Angelina Jolie), Monkey (voice of Jackie Chan), Mantis (voice of Seth Rogen), Viper (voice of Lucy Liu), and Crane (voice of David Cross)…will be chosen. By pure accident, Po bungles his way into becoming Oogway’s choice to become the next Dragon Warrior. Both Po and Shifu object, but Oogway stands by his decision, so Shifu reluctantly starts training the chubby panda. The training is difficult, with Shifu trying many times to convince Po to quit, but the hungry panda soldiers on and eventually gets better. He’ll have to…because he needs to join the Furious Five in battling Tai Lung, who has indeed escaped the prison. The animation is cool, and for an animated comedy, they take their fight scenes seriously. They really didn’t need to have such a high profile vocal cast, because the only voices that really stand out were Black and Hoffman. The two of them play off each other very well. The voices in the Furious Five alone were surprisingly plain (if I wasn’t a critic who did research, I wouldn’t have even known that Chan or Rogan spoke at all in the movie.) Despite that minor quip, it’s a fun movie for the entire family. The cool thing is that you actually don’t need to bring the family along to enjoy it, because the laughs and the kicks are enough for any adult.
Zohan Dvir (Adam Sandler) is a hummus-loving anti-terrorism army commando who is very good at what he does. His secret desire though is to cut and style hair like his idol, Paul Mitchell (John Paul DeJoria.) His parents (Shelley Berman and Dina Doronne) think that his desire is silly, because he is so good at fighting terrorists. He gets his chance to change his life though while fighting archrival Palestinian terrorist The Phantom (John Turturro) by faking his own death and going to New York City via a cargo hold in a commercial airplane. He heads straight to Mitchell’s salon in the guise of Scrappy Coco (named after two dogs on the flight) from Australia, but they laugh him out (unfortunately, his hairstyle example book that he was studying is a little outdated.) After defending the honor of a man he’s just met, Michael (Nick Swardson), Zohan is invited back to stay at Michael’s place. Michael lives with his mom, Gail (Lainie Kazan), and the way he thanks her for her hospitality is by having sex with her (to Michael’s revulsion.) Meanwhile, since he couldn’t land a job at Mitchell’s salon, he tries anywhere they will take him. Those salons don’t work out, and to make matters worse, he is recognized by an Israeli electronics store owner named Oori (Ido Mosseri), who happens to be one of his biggest fans. Oori suggests that Zohan go across the street to a small salon called Rafaela’s Salon run by a Palestinian named Dalia Hakbarah (Emmanuelle Chriqui.) Using his Scrappy Coco alias, he takes a job sweeping up in the salon. He eventually gets a chance to cut hair, and he soon becomes a hit with older women who like his style and the fact that he takes them into the supply closet to pleasure them. Stylist Claude (Alec Mapa) was the top dog there, but since he doesn’t have the same sexual prowess, he can’t exactly give the entire “full service” that Zohan can. Zohan starts to fall for Dalia though, and it affects his ability to stand at attention in the supply closet. Both Zohan and Dalia have other problems though. Arab cab driver Salim Husaamdiyaa (Rob Schneider) recognizes Zohan and, after his attempt to kill Zohan on his own fails miserably, he contacts The Phantom through a Hezbollah hotline. The Phantom is now the owner of a popular fast food chain back home, so he comes to New York to track him down to enact his revenge. For Dalia, the problem is with developer Grant Walbridge (ring announcer Michael Buffer), who is trying to incite ethnic hatred between the the Israelis and Palestinians so that he can take over their buildings and open a mall and a rollercoaster park. Most of Sandler’s comedies have been rated PG-13, but this one seemed so raunchy that I’m surprised that it was rated R. I’ve seen less male nudity in R rated flicks than in this one (backside nudity, but there is a lot of it.) Otherwise, I thought that it was very funny. Not knowing a whole lot about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it might offend some from both religions, but otherwise, it’s just your average hilarious Sandler flick. His reliable players are there, like Schneider, are there. Even Chris Rock makes a cameo as a Jamaican taxi driver. On the minus side, Sandler and Chriqui have no chemistry as a couple. Actor/director Dennis Dugan helmed this one, making it the fourth collaboration with Sandler (behind 1996’s Happy Gilmore, 1999’s Big Daddy, and last year’s I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.) Obviously, the comedy team knows what Sandler fans want (even if other critics besides me don’t agree), so I don’t think that Sandler is going to mess with success, no matter how many “serious” films he may make.
Five years after the events of Ang Lee’s 2003 semi-flop Hulk, Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, replacing Eric Bana) is in exile in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and working in a bottling factory. He is still a genius scientist who was exposed to gamma radiation poisoning which transforms him into a hulking green monster whenever his heart rate gets above 200 BPM through stress, enragement, or excitement. American Army general Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt, replacing Sam Elliott) is still trying to track him down to get the secrets of his altered genetic makeup to create “supersoldiers” for the military. Bruce has been good at hiding, but when a drop of blood from a cut accidentally makes its way into the bottle of soda pop of an unfortunate consumer (Hulk creator Stan Lee) in Milwaukee, Gen. Ross finally gets the tip he needs to find Bruce. He sends out legendary Russian-born British special operations expert Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to find and capture him. He finds Bruce, but since Gen. Ross didn’t clue him into Bruce’s little power, he finds it a little difficult to capture the un-jolly green giant. Bruce escapes, and Blonsky demands that Gen. Ross inject him with the same Vita-ray serum that transformed Bruce in order to capture him. Meanwhile, Bruce comes back to the United States and heads to Culver University lab in New York City where the Hulk was created. He is there to meet “Mr. Blue,” a.k.a. researcher Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson), who thinks he might have an antidote for him. He runs into his former girlfriend, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, replacing Jennifer Connelly), the general’s daughter, who is now dating psychiatrist Leonard Samson (Ty Burrell.) All the while, Gen. Ross is still intent on capturing Bruce, and he thinks that he might just do that with Blonsky, who has been transformed into an equally hulking monster known as The Abomination. I only say that the first movie was a “semi-flop” because it only made $132.2 million in North America (in actuality, it made a profit, because the worldwide gross was $245.4 million, and they spent $137 million to make it.) It might have been a flop critically as well, though not by Razzie standards. Personally, I really liked the first movie, despite being a little too long. This movie is even better though, and I think that is thanks to its director, Louis Leterrier. He was the artistic director of 2002’s The Transporter and the actual director of 2005’s The Transporter 2 (he also did 2005’s decent Unleashed.) I also think the movie was an improvement because of Norton. Some people didn’t think that he could play Bruce, but I like to point out that he has effectively played physical roles in 1998’s American History X and 1999’s Fight Club. The rest of the cast did their job well, with Nelson being a highlight as Sterns (or as his character will be known in future movies as The Leader.) Like the first movie, the visuals were amazing (though I noticed that they made Hulk a little shorter this time.) The length was perfect, and it had enough plotline dealing with Bruce’s internal conflict that I was satisfied. Norton and Tyler had decent chemistry, and the bad guys, Hurt and Roth, were as bad as could be expected. While the movie wasn’t as cool as May’s Iron Man, it was better than the original movie. I think that it’s a smash!
No…this is not 1967 Anthony Quinn comedy flop that produced the #1 hit song of the same name for Diana Ross & The Supremes. This movie is much, much worse. An airborne neurotoxin infects the northeastern US, but instead of turning people into zombies, the victims decide to kill themselves (I guess they are zombies with low self-esteem.) After the principal (Alan Ruck) reports that there is a possible bioterrorist attack going on, high school science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) decides to leave with his estranged wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel)…who is possibly having an affair with a man named Joey (the writer/director/producer of the movie M. Night Shyamalan, heard only on the phone.) They travel with Elliot’s fellow teacher and best friend Julian (John Leguizamo) and his 8-year-old daughter, Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez.) Julian and Jess are going to meet his wife/Jess’s mom Yvette later in a town just outside of Philadelphia. The train that they are traveling on suddenly stops though in the small town of Filbert in western Pennsylvania after the conductor (Derege Harding) says that they have lost contact…“with everyone.” Others are stranded as well…including a Nursery Owner (Frank Collision) and his wife (Victoria Clark), who think that the toxin is being spread by plants; Army Private Alister (Jeremy Strong), who is the only one left of his platoon alive; and boys Josh (Spencer Breslin) and Jared (Robert Bailey.) Julian leaves Jess with Elliot and Alma to go and look for Yvette, and the trio stays briefly with strange hermit Mrs. Jones (Betty Buckley) while trying to figure out how to survive their situation. Shyamalan keeps doing this…he makes these movies with trailers that really make you want to see the movie…but when you finally see it, you are bitterly disappointed. I was especially interested to see this movie because it his first R-rated flick. Ironically, it’s one of the least bloody horror movies I’ve ever seen. Most of the action seems to take place off-camera. The acting is some of the worst I have seen from all actors involved. Wahlberg is forced to spout out some of the goofiest dialogue in movie history, and Deschanel has a deer-caught-in-the-headlights look throughout (please Zooey…go back to doing comedy!) My fellow movie critic colleague Reggie McDaniel says that the people committing suicide by falling off the building in the beginning of the movie were the best actors in the whole film! I didn’t think that Shyamalan could do worse than 2004’s The Village, but I was wrong. I guess the 1999 Oscar-nominated film The Sixth Sense and his follow-up, 2000’s Unbreakable, must have been flukes, because his art and career have gone downhill since.
In the year 2775, the Earth has become so inhabitable because of the amount of trash we throw out that all humans now live on a large spaceship called the Axiom built long ago by Buy n Large CEO Shelby Forthright (Fred Willard.) It was supposed to be a five-year mission, but 700 years later, Earth is still not habitable. When humans first started living aboard the Axiom, Shelby sent out WALL·E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) units, which were robots programmed to compact trash and stack it into piles. In the years since, all of the units have been deactivated, except for one that was never shut off. For the purposes of this review, let’s call this little guy WALL·E (voice of Ben Burtt, who also created the sound effects and most of the robot “voices.”) He is a cute little robot that still does his job compacting garbage, but out of a developed sense of curiosity, keeps stuff he finds interesting behind, like an iPod and a Rubik’s Cube. He also has a working VCR and one videotape, which happens to be the Hollywood musical Hello, Dolly! that he plays over and over again ad nausea. Since he watches the tape so much, it gives him a desire for love (it’s a good thing that the tape wasn’t a horror movie!) Unfortunately, his only friend is a cockroach, so he is a little lonely. One day, a large spaceship lands on Earth and drops off an Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator known as EVE (voice of Elissa Knight.) She’s a white, shiny, clean-looking probe (as opposed to the grungy WALL·E, who looks like a miniature version of Johnny Five from 1986’s Short Circuit) with a digitized face. She is scanning all around the piles of trash looking for something, and she will shoot at anything that moves with her laser gun. WALL·E is scared of EVE at first, but is oddly attracted to her as well. She comes to realize that he isn’t a threat, and after he saves her from a sandstorm, he brings her back to his place where he keeps all of the stuff he has collected. In a romantic gesture, he gives her a plant that he had found the day before. EVE gets all excited, grabs the plant, and immediately shuts herself down. WALL·E is confused, but he takes care of her while she is in her inactive state. The ship finally returns and collects EVE. WALL·E hitches a ride because he is in love with EVE now, and he doesn’t want to see any harm come to her. The ship heads back to the Axiom, which is being piloted by the Captain (voice of Jeff Garlin) with the aid of a lieutenant robot named Auto (voice of MacInTalk), while they run the ship’s computer (voice of Sigourney Weaver.) The passengers are thousands of lazy and morbidly obese humans, such as John (voice of Pixar good luck charm John Ratzenberger) and Mary (voice of Kathy Najimy), who ride around in floating chairs and drink the day’s worth of food for sustenance. Robots perform all of their needs, so they don’t have to do anything. Even the Captain doesn’t get to do anything, except for the day’s announcements. EVE’s prime directive is to present the Captain evidence that Earth has once again become habitable, so once she arrives on the Axiom, she heads straight for the Captain’s quarters. WALL·E follows her, and a cleaner robot named M-O, a.k.a. the Microbe-Obliterator (also the voice of Ben Burtt), follows along, cleaning up what he determines are “foreign contaminants.” The Captain is excited to find new life on Earth, but when she presents him with nothing, he is disappointed and sends her to be put through a system diagnostic. WALL·E thinks that she is being tortured, so he intends on rescuing her. Little does WALL·E, EVE, or the Captain know, that certain protocols have been put into place that may foil any plans to repopulate the Earth. Let’s face it…this movie is going to be the one announced during the 81st Annual Academy Awards ceremony as the winner in the Best Animated Feature category. Not only does it attempt to make a social commentary about us as humans, but also it is highly entertaining. Does it say that we have trashed our planet? Yes, it does. Does it say that we have become too lazy to do anything about it? Yes, it does. Does it ram the commentary down your throat so much that it makes you want to gag? Thankfully, no. The environmental statement maybe its general theme, but within, it is a space age love story. The relationship between WALL·E and EVE is so adorable that it melts your heart. All WALL·E wants to do throughout the movie is hold EVE’s hand, which is his gesture of love. If you were to be introduced to this movie through the description of it (or even watching the first few minutes of it)…you might find it a little depressing and bleak for a G-rated movie. The scenes at the beginning where it is just WALL·E and his cockroach friend look a little like the future scenes in the Terminator movies, when the robots are crushing human and Terminator skulls (I say this because we see WALL·E roll past what looks like a WALL·E unit graveyard.) By the end though, the movie gives the audience such a message of hope that you feel like cheering. You will definitely leave the theater with a smile on your face. I’ve always liked Pixar movies, but this one is better than 2006’s Cars and 2007’s Ratatouille. It’s probably no surprise that I liked it, because it was directed by Andrew Stanton, the helmer of my favorite Pixar movie, Finding Nemo. See you at the Oscars!
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