November 2008 Reviews
By Shawn McKenzie 11/22/2008
Here are my reviews of the movies that were released in November of 2008. Check back later as the month progresses for more reviews.
A young girl named Penny (voice of Chloe Moretz) picks out a cute American White Shepherd puppy from the Silverlake animal shelter and names him Bolt. Five years later, Bolt (voice of John Travolta) becomes the protector of a pre-teen Penny (voice of Miley Cyrus) using superpowers injected into him by Penny’s dad (voice of Sean Donnellan), including his “Super Bark” that sends a sonic wave useful in thwarting the bad guys. His powers are useful, because an evil single green-eyed villain named Dr. Calico (voice of Malcolm McDowell) seems to constantly kidnap Penny’s dad in order to get to her. Bolt always saves the day…but unfortunately, he doesn’t realize that his powers are special effects, because he is the unknowing star of his own TV show. Penny is his owner, but she is also his co-star (her TV dad isn’t her real dad.) Like the plot of 1998’s The Truman Show, this is done by the show’s Director (voice of James Lipton) in order to elicit a more “realistic” performance out of Bolt, so his world is cautiously built to stop him from seeing any of the cameras and effects. While in his trailer, Bolt is mocked by Calico’s two cats (one of which is voiced by Diedrich Bader) who know that Bolt is unaware of his situation. When network executive Mindy (voice of Kari Wahlgren) commands that the show’s happy endings that don’t jive well with adult viewers be changed, the Director…who thinks that he is creating art…directs a cliffhanger episode with Calico finally successfully kidnapping Penny. Obviously, Bolt isn’t let into the change of script, so he escapes out of his trailer, but he is knocked unconscious in a box that’s shipped from Hollywood to New York City. He thinks that the Styrofoam peanuts in the crate he was accidentally shipped in have sucked all of his powers away, because he suddenly can’t do the things that he used to do. A trio of pigeons named Vinnie (Lino DiSalvo), Joey (Todd Cummings), and Bobby (Tim Mertens) take Bolt to see streetwise alley cat Mittens (voice of Susie Essman)…who figures out from his tag that he lives in Hollywood…and shows him a map of America on a Waffle House place mat. She wants to get rid of him, but he kidnaps her instead and they set off for Hollywood. At one stop along the way, they pick up Rhino (voice of Mark Walton)…a TV-addicted hyperactive hamster and huge fan of Bolt’s living in an RV park who enthusiastically wants to be his sidekick. Meanwhile, a broken-hearted Penny and her mom (voice of Grey DeLisle) are desperately trying to find Bolt, while Penny’s Agent (voice of Greg Germann) has replaced the missing star with a look-alike dog. I saw the movie in 3-D, but with the amount of action in it, the 2-D version is almost as exciting. The voice cast did a great job…but the standout character was Disney story artist Walton as the adorable but delusional chubby-cheeked hamster who gets around in a hamster ball. There may be many talented celebrity voices in the movie, but a virtual unknown certainly steals the show (he did do the voice of Goosey Loosey in 2005’s Chicken Little, but that character didn’t stand out to me when I saw it.) While it’s cool to see any movie in 3-D, those who don’t feel like going to the select theaters to see it won’t lose a whole lot, because it’s almost exciting to watch in the 2-D version. If you don’t feel like watching the dreamy bad-boy vampires in Twilight, I highly recommend this fast-paced family film for anyone…young and old.
Ex-Special Forces operative Frank Martin (Jason Statham) is still a professional driver and transporter of “packages” who has a set of rules in order to not get too involved (for some odd reason though, he seems to break them frequently, and the “package” seems to always be a person instead of an item.) He is trying to relax in his semi-retirement with his former nemesis/current fishing buddy French police inspector Tarconi (François Berléand), when Tarconi gets a call that a man named Malcom Manville (David Atrakchi) went through a police checkpoint and has led them on a high-speed chase. Later that night, while Frank falls asleep watching a fishing show on TV, Malcom crashes through Frank’s living room. He is bloody, wearing a metal bracelet, and transporting an unconscious redhead named Valentina (Natalya Rudakova) in the backseat wearing the same metal bracelet. Frank recognizes Malcom as an associate who he gave a transport job to because he didn’t want to do it himself. Frank finds out a little too late that Malcom shouldn’t go any farther than 75 feet away from his car, because the bracelet he is wearing will explode (which it does in the ambulance Frank called for him.) Frank is then knocked unconscious, and when he wakes up, he finds that he is wearing the bracelet himself, which was put there by a corrupt government official named Johnson (Robert Knepper) who was hired by a company called Eaglecorp who wants to import their toxic crude into the Ukraine. Ukrainian EPA minister Leonid Vasilev (Jeroen Krabbé) will not sign the agreement to allow them to do such a thing, so Johnson has Vasilev’s daughter, Valentina, kidnapped and driven around to various cities until Vasilev signs the agreement. While Frank tries out how to get out of this predicament (which includes several really cool but unbelievable fight scenes/car chases), he starts to warm up to Valentina, who treated him coldly at first. As a huge fan of the first two movies, I was excited to see this one. It didn’t disappoint. I’ve always considered these movies to be “action porn,” because they set up the story to invite a fight scene every five to ten minutes, when deleting some of those scenes wouldn’t ruin the continuity of the story. Please don’t think that don’t I want those scenes gone though! Under the choreography of Corey Yuen (who choreographed all three, and directed the first one), the movies are some of the most thrilling and fast-paced films this side of a Jackie Chan movie. I now know that when I see Statham collaborating with Yuen (who also did Statham’s 2001 movie The One and his 2007 movie War), then I am in for a roller coaster ride of adrenalin! Like usual, the acting is bad (Rudakova is particularly bad), but we finally get a proven evil bad guy…T-Bag! For those who aren’t familiar with FOX’s “Prison Break,” Knepper plays Theodore “T-Bag” Bagwell…a predominantly slimy criminal amongst a group of escaped fugitives…so his role here is almost effortless. I would welcome a Transporter 4 if they make one. Maybe the female lead will be someone who can act (and possibly fight as well!)
City and County of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk was not the first openly gay politician in the United States. That honor goes to José Saria, who ran for City Supervisor in San Francisco in 1961…but lost. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, Cathy Kozachenko was elected to City Council in January of 1974…the first time an openly gay person had ever been elected to public office in the United States. The first openly gay person to run for a statewide office and win was Elaine Noble, who ran for the State House in Massachusetts and won in November of 1974. Milk was the first openly gay man to run for office and be elected in 1977. He is also the first gay politician to be assassinated. Director Gus Van Sant, using a screenplay written by Dustin Lance Black (writer on HBO’s “Big Love”), has made an interesting and compelling movie. 40-year-old Milk (Sean Penn) meets his younger future boyfriend Scott Smith (James Franco) on the steps of a New York subway station in 1970, and the two are instantly attracted to one another. Under Scott’s encouragement, Milk and Scott move to San Francisco and open up a camera shop in the openly gay Castro Street District of an Irish-Catholic neighborhood in the Eureka Valley. Fighting discrimination from his homophobic business neighbors and the district’s homophobic police force, he rallies the masses to use the neighborhood’s significantly large gay population to gain some political power. With Milk as their leader, he constantly tells potential supporters, “My name is Harvey Milk, and I want to recruit you”…earning him the nickname “The Mayor of Castro Street.” He and his supporters…including teenage street hustler Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch), lesbian campaign manager Anne Kronenberg (Alison Pill), photographer/documenter Danny Nicoletta (Lucas Grabeel), Dick Pabich (Joseph Cross), Jim Rivaldo (Brandon Boyce), and Michael Wong (Kelvin Yu)…back him up through three unsuccessful runs for office. Surprisingly, he runs into resistance from David Goodstein (Howard Rosenman)…the publisher of the influential gay magazine The Advocate…because he doesn’t want Milk to make waves and make it harder for a gay man to win a political office. Milk gets closer then ever before on the third run, and his opponent, Art Agnos (Jeff Koons), gives him some good advice…stop telling the people what you are against and start telling people what you are for, because people need hope. He decides to run for a fourth time, but by this time, his relationship with Scott has strained, because Milk seems to be more into politics than their relationship. They break up (though Scott seems to support Milk from a distance), and Milk hooks up with a young flamboyant Mexican named Jack Lira (Diego Luna.) Milk wins the fourth race, along with a former cop and fireman named Dan White (Josh Brolin), but he faces new challenges. Singer and orange juice pitchwoman Anita Bryant (seen in archived footage) has been feverishly campaigning against gay rights, and she has an ally in California State Senator John Briggs (Denis O’Hare), who backs Proposition 6…legislation which would require the state to fire all gay teachers, and all teachers who support gay rights. He manages to defeat the proposition, earning props from Mayor George Moscone (Victor Garber), but angering White, who was ticked off that Milk didn’t sponsor a pay raise for Supervisors (White said that their salary couldn’t feed his family; Milk thought it was not a good idea politically.) White quits, but he decides to come beg for his job back. Milk convinces Moscone not to let White get his job back, and in retaliation, White shoots and kills both Moscone and Milk. After suffering through Van Sant’s “Death Trilogy” (2002’s Gerry; 2003’s Elephant; 2005’s Last Days; and a fourth film, 2007’s Paranoid Park), I was glad to see him make a movie that moved with a steady pace and told a fascinating story. From all of my research about Milk, Van Sant and Black covered every significant part of the last eight years of Milk’s life. Penn is sure to get an Oscar nomination, and Franco and Brolin might get noms as well for Best Supporting Actor (if the latter doesn’t go up against Penn in the Best Actor race with his movie W.) Penn plays his character with no clichéd gay nuances. He simply portrayed a passionate politician who happened to be proudly gay. It’s nice to see Van Sant make a riveting movie that ends with a death, but is inspiring instead of depressing.
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