May 2008 Reviews
By Shawn McKenzie 05/17/2008
Here are my reviews of the movies that were released in May of 2008. Check back later as the month progresses for more reviews.
Go directly to my review of Iron Man, Made of Honor, Speed Racer, What Happens in Vegas, Redbelt, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Strangers, and The Fall.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is a billionaire playboy arms manufacturer who inherited his company, Stark Industries, from his late father Howard (Gerard Sanders.) He has cool toys that he sells to the military, and he lives a high profile Hollywood lifestyle where he sleeps with hot women, like Vanity Fair magazine reporter Christine Everhart (Leslie Bibb), who questions his tactics while sleeping with him. The only woman he doesn’t sleep with is his longtime personal assistant, Virginia “Pepper” Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow)…though I bet she would like to someday (there’s a little sexual tension that goes on in the movie between the two.) While his bald mentor Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) is back in the good ol’ U.S. of A. running the company, Tony is getting into trouble in Afghanistan in the beginning of the movie. With his college buddy and current military liaison, Lt. Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terrence Howard), Tony is showing off his latest weaponry in the Kunar Providence, The Jericho. After the Jericho demonstration, Tony and Rhodey are traveling in separate vehicles, when insurgent leader Raza (Faran Tahir) and his right-hand man, Abu Bakaar (Sayed Badreya), ambushes Tony’s vehicle. He is badly injured and held captive…and a fellow captive, a scientist named Yinsen (Shaun Toub), saves Tony’s life by implanting an electromagnetic device into his chest that prevents embedded shrapnel from entering his heart (something that looks cool in a comic book movie, but I doubt would work in real life.) Raza forces Tony to recreate The Jericho for them, but he and Yinsen instead build a suit of armor that will later be called the Mark I, which allows him to escape. It works, and once he gets back home, he decides to stop making weapons of mass destruction, because he has seen that they can end up in the wrong hands of people like Raza. Obadiah isn’t happy about the decision, and tries to convince him to change his mind. Tony decides to make cool toys that save people rather than kill people, so he recreates the suit of armor he made back in Afghanistan that becomes the Mark II, but he enhances it to fix the problems that didn’t work with the Mark I. After a test flight in the Mark II, he manages to make an even cooler suit of armor that becomes the Mark III (a little tease in the movie shows that Rhodey, who later becomes War Machine in future movies, will use the Mark II.) Tony is intent on saving the world now from international bad guys, but little does he realize that some bad guys are a little closer to home. Some comic book movies have great special effects, but bad acting, while others have so-so effects but decent acting. This one manages to have excellent special effects and some great acting…especially by Downey Jr. After being a risky hire for years because of his drug problems, I think that we can officially say that the actor is a bankable star again. He manages to be funny and heroic at the same time. It reminds me a little of Michael Keaton…another actor who I liked, but I didn’t think could pull off being a superhero (obviously, in both cases, I was pleasantly surprised.) The supporting cast does a good job as well…but Downey Jr. is the real hero here. It helps that actor-turned-director Jon Favreau helmed this picture (he also has a small role as Tony’s bodyguard/chauffer Harold “Happy” Hogan.) After proving that he can direct an effects-heavy pic with 2005’s Zathura, he has now been put into the same class as Tim Burton and Bryan Singer in making a great comic book movie. Until Indiana Jones comes into theaters this month with his bullwhip and fedora, this will be the sweetest movie of 2008 so far. Make sure that you stick around past the end credits for a final scene starring Samuel L. Jackson in a role that is very important in the Iron Man world.
Tom (Patrick Dempsey) is a wealthy single inventor who invented the sleeve that cools a coffee cup that you see in places like Starbucks. Back in college though, he was a bit of a player (something that hasn’t stopped in his present life.) At Cornell University in 1998, he was attending a Halloween party wearing a Bill Clinton mask when he met a woman named who called herself Monica (Ellie Knaus)…as in “Lewinsky”…who invited him back to her dorm room. She told him to let himself in with the room key planted above the door. With the mask on, Tom let himself in and crawled into “Monica’s” bed. Imagine the shock when Monica’s roommate was asleep there (she promptly pummels him understandably.) The roommate is Hannah (Michelle Monaghan), the supposedly boring bookworm art major roommate of Monica. They start to talk, and even though they don’t sleep together, there is chemistry between them that lasts for the next ten years. Back in the present, they’re still so close that her widowed mother, Joan (Kathleen Quinlan), and his father, Thomas Sr. (Sydney Pollack)…who is about to marry wife #6, Christie (“Nip/Tuck’s” Kelly Carlson)…are both astounded that they haven’t upgraded to becoming boyfriend/girlfriend. Other than Tom now being rich, the two haven’t grown in the last ten years. Tom is still a player with many rules for the women he dates in order to avoid a real commitment. Hannah works in an art studio, and she has to be the platonic date for Tom when he goes to yet another wedding for his dad. Tom finally wakes up when she goes on a six-week business trip to Scotland, and suddenly he realizes that he can’t live without her. He decides to tell her that he is love with her and wants to date her for real, but she comes back from the trip with a new boyfriend named Colin McMurray (Kevin McKidd, NBC’s excellent-but-cancelled “Journeyman.”) Colin is a rich whiskey plant owner who is good at basketball, Highland games, hunting, bagpipe playing…and is apparently very gifted downstairs. She is excited, because they’re engaged to be married in just two weeks, and she wants him to be her maid of honor. Her cousin Melissa (Busy Phillipps) is ticked, because she wanted that position (and she hates Tom anyway…ever since she had a short-lived drunken fling with him in the past.) She sucks it up and works with Tom and fellow bridesmaids Stephanie (Whitney Cummings) and Hilary (Emily Nelson)…the latter of which is trying to lose weight to fit into her bridesmaid dress…to make sure Hannah’s wedding goes off without a hitch. Tom is still in love with Hannah though and almost doesn’t want to be the MOH (Maid of Honor), but his basketball buddies, Felix (Kadeem Hardison, Dwayne Wayne from NBC’s “A Different World”), Dennis (Chris Messina), Gary (the forgotten Arquette sibling Richmond), and a hanger-on who they call Tiny Shorts Guy (Kevin Sussman) wants him to go through it. Their reasoning is that he can break Hannah and Colin up from within so that he can be her knight in shining armor and be with him. He goes along with it…all while struggling with wanting to tell her how much he wants to be with her. There is no sing-a-long to a Burt Bacharach song, but Tom and Hannah might as well be Julianne (Julia Roberts) and Michael (Dermot Mulroney) from 1997’s gender-switched My Best Friend’s Wedding. While this movie is cute, it’s not nearly as good as Wedding. I can appreciate a good chick flick, but the great ones are the ones that don’t follow a predictable pattern. Wedding didn’t follow it; Honor did…therefore, Wedding was the better flick. I am just now finally accepting Dempsey as a romantic lead instead of being the geek from 1987’s Can’t Buy Me Love and 1989’s Loverboy (I don’t care if every woman in the country thinks that he is “McDreamy” from ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy”), but I hope that he doesn’t paint himself into a corner now. I started to see it in last year’s excellent Enchanted, but I can see him having to take romantic leads for years. What if he wants to play an action hero someday? (Don’t laugh…the gawky persona that is Nicholas Cage has pulled that off for years.) He and Monaghan do have some decent chemistry though. I just wish that I didn’t see the entire plotline from beginning to end before I ever saw the movie.
Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) is an 18-year-old car driver whose family runs Racer Motors, which consists of Pops (John Goodman), Mom (Susan Sarandon), Speed’s younger brother Spritle (Paulie Litt) with his pet chimpanzee Chim-Chim, and mechanic Sparky (Kick Gurry.) One family member who is no longer working in the family business is Speed’s older racecar driver brother Rex (Scott Porter), who, after an argument with Pops, was seemingly killed in a bad car accident during the dangerous cross-country race, the Casa Cristo Classic 5000. There were rumors of him becoming a dirty racer, but Speed didn’t believe them, and he actually allows Rex’s previous racing records to stand as a tribute to his brother who was like a mentor to him. Businessman E.P. Arnold Royalton (Roger Allam), owner of Iodine Motors, wants Speed to join his team, but he declines, because he is loyal to Racer Motors and doesn’t want to race for a corporation. This ticks off Royalton, and he makes it his mission to foil Speed at every turn. He has already had his goons beat the crap out of fellow racer Taejo Togokhan (Rain) for not being loyal enough, so Speed has a reason to worry. He has former classmate and current girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci), along with Racer X (Matthew Fox)…a masked driver who wants to take down the corrupt racers, like racer Snake Oiler (Christian Oliver), and is working closely with Inspector Detector (Benno Furmann) to do so…help him put a stop to Royalton’s evil plans. Larry and Andy Wachowski, a.k.a. the Wachowski brothers, wrote the screenplay and directed this adaptation of the 1967-1968 Japanese anime series created by Tatsuo Yoshida. While it was visually cool (which isn’t a surprise, since the brothers were the masterminds behind the Matrix trilogy), story-wise and acting-wise it was stupid. I understand what they were going for by making all of the performances stiff in order to simulate the way anime is usually drawn, but since I’m not a big fan of anime in general (and I never really liked the original cartoon), I wasn’t crazy about the movie’s attempt to portray anime. All of the sets and costumes looked like they were set in the same world that the 1990 big screen adaptation of Dick Tracy came from. After the boring Into the Wild from last year, Hirsch is now on my hit list of actors to avoid (the same category that Richard Gere and Ryan Gosling reside currently.) I love Ricci, and she was the perfect choice to play Trixie, but since the original character wasn’t interesting, neither was her performance of it. The Wachowski brothers could adapt Sailor Moon or Pokémon and I still would have hated it though, so I think that they might want just to stop trying.
Joy McNally (Cameron Diaz) is an ambitious Wall Street stockbroker who seems to have everything going for her. She is competing for a promotion within her firm against her coworker Chong (Michelle Krusiec) that their boss, the slightly sexist Richard Banger (Dennis Farina), will decide. On the complete opposite side of the ambition fence is wood craftsman Jack Fuller (Ashton Kutcher.) He works for his dad, Jack Fuller Sr. (Treat Williams), and even though he is creative in his woodcraft, he is extremely lazy and unmotivated. Even though it pains him and his wife Judy (Deirdre O’Connell) to do so, Jack Sr. decides to fire his son. Back in Joy’s world, she throws Mason a surprise birthday party, who in turn surprises her by dumping her. She was planning to go to Las Vegas with him, so she decides to take her best friend, bartender Toni “Tipper” Saxson (Lake Bell), instead. Jack Jr. has the same idea as well, and he takes his best friend, incompetent lawyer Jeffrey “Hater” Lewis (Rob Corddry), with him. The two sets of friends are accidentally double-booked in the same hotel room, but after clearing up the confusion, they party the night away together. The next morning, Joy and Jack discover that they got married during their drunken celebration the night before. They quickly agree to get a divorce or an annulment, but she gives him a quarter that he uses to put into a slot machine and he wins $3 million. Since it was her quarter and they are now married, they go to court, and Judge R.D. Whopper (Dennis Miller) makes the decision that if they want to see any of the money that they have to live together as husband and wife for six months and attend marriage counseling with therapist Dr. Twitchell (Queen Latifah.) While not happy with the arrangement, they put on a happy face while separately plotting ways to get out of the marriage so that they can get the full $3 million. Tom Vaughan, who directed the very good John Hughes-like 2007 British comedy Starter for Ten, helmed the picture. This movie wasn’t exactly the follow-up I was expecting, but it was very funny. I happen to be a critic that actually likes Kutcher, and he had some decent chemistry with Diaz. While the story was predictable (along the same lines as this year’s Made of Honor), the comedy getting there was entertaining and cute. Creepy bearded comedian Zach Galifianakis makes an appearance as Dave the Bear, a friend of Jack and Hater who is more than willing to hook up with Joy if she decides to dump Jack and look elsewhere. There is something oddly amusing about his performance in the movie. Overall, I’m glad what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas, because that would be a shame, baby!
Former military man Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is now a self-defense instructor who runs Southside Jiu-jitsu with his wife, Sondra (Alica Braga), in Los Angeles. He has loyal students such as Snowflake (Jose Pablo Cantillo), who helps teach the class, and Joe Collins (Max Martini), a local cop…but the business is tanking. It doesn’t help matters when they have to repair the storefront window after hysterical lawyer Laura Black (Emily Mortimer)…suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following a rape years ago and needing to refill her medication prescription…accidentally shoots the window with Joe’s service revolver. Sondra forces Mike to ask her brother, Bruno Silva (Rodrigo Santoro), a club owner and fight promoter, for a loan, but when he comes to the club, he finds out that Bruno hasn’t paid Joe for his services as a bouncer. Instead of giving him the loan, Bruno says that Mike should fight the undercard tournament, since the prize is fifty thousand dollars. Mike refuses to fight for sport, and as he is leaving the club, he ends up saving movie action star Chet Frank (Tim Allen) from some guys who were messing with him. To thank Mike, he gives him a gold watch and invites him and Sondra over for dinner with his wife, Zena (Rebecca Pidgeon) and producer Jerry Weiss (Joe Mantegna.) The dinner pays off, because Jerry hires Mike as a consultant on Chet’s film, and Sondra goes into business with Zena on something involving Sondra’s fabric. She needs to borrow money from loan shark Richard (David Paymer) to finance it though…but it appears that things are looking up. Things soon start to look down though when the watch turns out to be hot. Mike had given Joe the watch so that he could pawn it and get the salary back that Bruno hadn’t been paying him…but that act of generosity resulted in Joe getting suspended from the force. In addition, Jerry stole part of Mike’s training regimen (which involves marbles in a bowl…long story) and sold it to fight promoter Marty Brown (Ricky Jay.) Along with more deception that surfaces, Mike tries to decide if he should fight in a mixed martial arts competition to get himself out of his current financial crisis. This is the mixed martial arts movie that last March’s Never Back Down failed to be…good. It took legendary playwright David Mamet…the writer/director of non-action movies like 1994’s Oleanna, 1997’s The Spanish Prisoner, and 2000’s State and Main…to make an effective martial arts movie. While it didn’t have as much action as Down, it was more interesting because of the story. Down succeeded in ripping off 1984’s The Karate Kid; this movie was actually classic Mamet. It was dialogue-driven, and for a man who started his career writing for the stage, I could possibly see this movie transitioning into a stage play. I read in the production notes that Mamet was actually a student of martial arts himself, so he wrote from experience. Ejiofor continues to impress with every role he plays, and Allen’s brief presence was surprisingly good for a man who has made a career of playing G and PG-rated comedic roles. It had so many of Mamet’s regular players that I’m surprised that Alec Baldwin wasn’t in it. The movie will obviously be lost in obscurity come awards season because of its May release date, but it is one that deserves some kudos for not giving us the clichéd action flick.
One year in real human years, but 1,300 in Narnian years have passed since the events of 2005’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Telmarine Lord Miraz (Sergio Castellitto) is overjoyed that his wife, Queen Prunaprismia (Alicia Borrachero), has born a son, because he could now be king. The true heir to the throne, Prince Caspian the 10th (Ben Barnes), has not come of age yet, and good ol’ uncle Miraz has been ruling in his father’s stead ever since the king passed away years ago. Now that Miraz has a son, he can rule the kingdom permanently…as long as Caspian is out of the picture. Capian’s mentor, Doctor Cornelius (Vincent Grass), warns him of the plot to get rid of him, so he escapes into the nearby woods with the ivory horn of Queen Susan given to him by Cornelius and warns him only to blow it in great need. After being chased by General Glozelle (Pierfrandesco Favino) and his men, he is knocked off his horse, where three Narnians…Trumpkin the Red Dwarf (Peter Dinklage), Nikabrik the Black Dwarf (Warwick Davis), and Trufflehunter the Badger (voice of Ken Stott)…begrudgingly rescue him. Nikabrik and Trufflehunter bring him into the dwarves’ house, while Glozelle captures Trumpkin. Nikabrik wants to kill Caspian, because he is a Telmarine, but Trufflehunter says that since Caspian has the horn, he will lead the Narnians to freedom. Before he is brought into the house though, Caspian blows the horn in a panic, summoning the kings and queens of old…the Pevensie siblings. In the real world of WWII era London, England in 1941, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and young Lucy (Georgie Henley) Pevensie are still wondering if they will ever return to Narnia where they defeated the evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton) while helping return Aslan the Lion (voice of Liam Neeson) to power. Suddenly, while standing in a London Underground subway station, they are whisked away to Narnia, where they find that their Narnian castle, Cair Paravel, is in ruins, and all of their Narnian friends have been hunted into extinction for over a thousand years. Lucy swears that she saw Aslan though, but the only one who believes her is Edmund. Back at the Telmarine castle, Miraz uses the captured Trumpkin as proof to the other rulers, such as Lord Sopespian (Damian Alcazar), that the Narnians are still around and must be re-exterminated. Meanwhile, Nikabrik and Trufflehunter take Caspian to the Dancing Lawn, where he gets to see other Narnians, such as Reepicheep the swashbuckling Mouse (voice of Eddie Izzard), Asterius the Minotaur (Shane Rangi), Glenstorm the Centaur (Cornell S. John), and others. Two days ago, Caspian didn’t believe Narnians existed, but now, with the Pevensie siblings’ help, he was on a mission to lead them to victory in overthrowing his uncle. The movie was darker than the first one, and even though it was slightly longer, it was more fast-paced. The special effects were amazing…which means that I highly recommend seeing this movie on the big screen (or have a huge widescreen TV once it is released on DVD.) The River God scene near the end is almost worth the price of admission. Fortunately, the allegories to Christianity aren’t quite as blatant. Like the first movie, I’m a little surprised that…for a PG-rated movie…it was so violent. There isn’t much blood, though one character does get his head chopped off (we don’t see the head…just the helmet that contained the head.) While the first movie itself was a little bit of a rip-off of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it was an effective one. The rip-off movies that followed…like 2006’s Eragon (2006), 2007’s The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, and 2007’s The Golden Compass…paled in comparison. I’m looking forward to The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in 2010 and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair in 2012. If they intend also to film The Horse and His Boy (the fifth book in the series) though, they may have to recast the Pevensie kids, because they will be too old to be credibly believable.
He may be a little older…but Indy’s back! Instead of fighting Nazis, it’s Commies this time. In 1957,
Being rejected by the woman you love after a marriage proposal is bad enough, but when you are terrorized by three freaks, that is a huge bummer. In this tale “inspired by true events,” Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) and James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) are a couple coming back to his father’s empty secluded summer home in Pennsylvania after attending another couple’s wedding. James had set up a romantic evening complete with champagne, candles, and rose petals…under assumption that Kristen would say yes to his marriage proposal. They were going to go on a planned road trip together, but after the rejection, they don’t know what exactly to do. James calls his best friend Mike (Glenn Howerton, FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) to come and pick him up when he wakes up, but after that, the couple start to fool around in a form of consolation. It’s at that time, at around 4 a.m., a young woman nicknamed Dollface (Gemma Ward) knocks on the door looking for someone named “Tamara.” She can’t be seen clearly because the porch light is out, but they tell her that there is no one named Tamara who lives there. James goes out to get cigarettes for Kristen, and Dollface comes back and knocks again…this time very loudly. Kristen is freaked out because she then suspects that someone is in the house. She tries to call James, but is cut off suddenly. She grabs a kitchen knife and goes to a bedroom to hide. James comes back and doesn’t believe what she is saying at first, but after a bunch of creepy things happen, he quickly changes his mind. They soon realize that they need to survive the night from Dollface, a hooded man nicknamed “The Man in the Mask” (Kip Weeks), and another girl wearing a Betty Boop mask nicknamed “Pin-Up Girl” (Laura Margolis.) Despite having a plotline that makes no sense (like why Kristen rejected James and why they chose this house to terrorize, aside from the whole “because you were home” thing shown in the trailer), the movie was effectively creepy. After a series of PG-13-rated horror movie duds (Prom Night, Shutter, One Missed Call), it is nice to get a movie that actually scares you. I will admit that the plot seemed familiar to the recent English-language indie remake of writer/director Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, but this one is much more disturbing. Writer/director Bryan Bertino is making his feature debut with this film, and it is a good way to start. Maybe with his next movie he might fill in plot details…but I quibble.
Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) is a five-year-old Eastern European immigrant girl who is recovering from a collarbone and a left broken arm she endured while falling as she was picking oranges with her family in 1915. She tosses a note outside her room in an L.A. hospital to her favorite nurse Evelyn (Justine Waddell), but it blows into the room of Roy Walker (Lee Pace), a Hollywood stunt man who is paralyzed from the waist down following a fall from a horse in a movie stunt gone wrong. His heart is also broken after his girlfriend (also Waddell) ran off with Sinclair (Daniel Caltagirone), the movie’s leading man. When Alexandria comes into his room looking for the note, she meets Roy, who starts telling her some fantastic tales that fuse patients, staff, and others at the hospital with some of his story’s characters. The story consists of the Black Bandit (also Pace), a dreadlocked mystic (Julian Bleach) who materializes from a tree, an Indian prince (Jeetu Verma), a former slave named Otta Benga (Marcus Wesley), an Italian explosives expert named Luigi (Robin Smith), and Charles Darwin (Leo Bill) with his talking monkey named Wallace. They have banded together to seek revenge on Governor Odious (also Caltagirone)…the man who did them all wrong. The beautiful Princess Evelyn (also Waddell) and the Bandit’s long lost daughter (also Untaru) join them in the quest along the way. Roy is spinning this tale to trick Alexandria into stealing a fatal dose of morphine pills for him because he wants to kill himself. This is the second feature film for Indian commercial and music video director Tarsem Singh, a.k.a. “Tarsem.” After winning Best Video of the Year at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards for R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” he went on direct his debut feature, 2000’s The Cell, starring Jennifer Lopez and Vincent D’Onofrio. While it was visually impressive, I thought that movie sucked in general. This movie seemed like it was going to suck, because of Tarsem’s very short track record, and by the fact that it was completed two years ago. It premiered at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival and it’s just now coming to theaters. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. I knew that it was going to be visually impressive again (and it was), but the story was also interesting and the acting was good. While it was weird, I could follow it…something I couldn’t say for The Cell. Who knew that Tarsem would have predicted Pace’s later work in ABC’s “Pushing Daisies” and the comedy farce Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day when he put the actor in the film? Untaru was obviously an unknown, but she was very realistic in her acting…almost too realistic. It almost felt like I was watching a documentary whenever she was on camera. Even though there was supposed to be a love story between Pace and Waddell, this movie was more about Pace and Untaru. They had an odd chemistry. I’m not saying it’s one of the best movies of the year, but it’s certainly an improvement over Tarsem’s last effort. At the pace he is currently going, I’ll be looking forward to seeing movie #3 in 2016!
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