Live Free Or Die Hard

An advanced note to the die-hard Die Hard fans out there who haven’t seen it:

A lot of prejudice has been thrown at this movie, especially on the Internet. All because it’s PG-13, instead of the R ratings of the original three films. Well, now that it is here I truly say Die Hard, despite the new PG-13 rating slapped on, it is as hardcore and action-packed as quite possibly almost any R movie in recent memory. So what if the f-words are shaved off? John McClane’s trademark phrase ‘yippee-ki-yay’ is still here, in it’s most memorable appearance.

John McClane’s back in fine form in the super-hyped sequel, Live Free or Die Hard. And, in John McClane’s own words, there’s a lot to yippee-ki-yay about. Bruce Willis is reprising his role, and he still, (despite being 12 years older) has that New York-tough cop attitude. And yes, he’s still practically like Superman, with hundreds of sharpshooters shooting machine guns at him and not a bullet grazes him.

12 years after the events of Die Hard With A Vengeance, John McClane has been promoted to a lieutenant, divorced from his wife, and his daughter in contempt has changed her last name to Genarro. So, anyway, a large group of hackers begin to terrorize America, hacking into every computer in the United States and wreaking havoc.

Well, now the FBI wants to haul in every hacker in the U.S. for questioning, and our reliable protagonist John McClane is assigned to escort Matthew Farrell to D.C. It turns out several hackers were unknowingly employed to build code for the mega-hack the bad guys used…The bad guys want to take out Matt, and they’re gonna have to go through John McClane to kill him. But when they kidnap John’s daughter, it gets REALLY personal.

This film sports some of the most ludicrous and yet tantalizingly entertaining action scenes ever filmed, although some of them aren’t completely original. Still, it is a lot of fun to watch. Justin Long is surprisingly good in this, despite being cast against type. And watch for Kevin Smith in a hilarious cameo that had the whole theater rolling on the floor.

And that’s another factor. Live Free or Die Hard works not just as a hardcore action flick, but a cautionary tale, and a comedy. Yes, that’s right. Top that off with the great reviews this film is getting, and call it a true summer blockbuster.

This film has outbursts of huge laughs. It’s hilarious watching Bruce Willis square off with the bad guys, but they aren’t very menacing. Where Alan Rickman from the original Die Hard stole the show, Timothy Olyphant is here instead and sure, he has a good menacing grin occasionally, but he’s generally a wimp.

Lets say, he gets his comeuppance.

It’s not a flick to bring your brain to. Just grab a huge bucket of popcorn and walk in with your adrenaline pumped up and you’ll die hard trying not to love it. B+

Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer

2005. A year of great comic book movies, generally. Batman Begins, for example. But it was also the year that the disease struck America…The disease known as…Fantastic Four! Despite being an overwrought mess of a movie, it managed to make $160 million domestically! Be there any justice in this world?

Yep, the profits were huge, so 2 years later, guess what we get? A sequel! Now, if Hollywood was going by the book, considering the first was terrible, logic dictates that this will s-u-c-k. Well, I tried as hard as I could to hate it. Instead, despite not quite giving it two thumbs up, it gets a very high split. In other words, a 6/10.

A quick debriefing of the characters and their superpowers:
– Reed Richards (a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic): Can stretch any part of his body to great length.
– Sue Storm (a.k.a. Invisible Woman): Can turn any part of her body completely invisible.
– Johnny Storm (a.k.a. Human Torch): Can engulf any part of his body in flames without effect, and can use that power to fly.
– Ben Grimm (a.k.a. The Thing): Cannot alter his physical state: in other words: is a big, strong, hulk-like monster good guy.
– Victor Von Doom (a.k.a. Dr. Doom): The bad guy from the last movie…Now he has Terminator-like powers, and instantly heals after any injury. He’s practically unstoppable.

OK…After several delays, Reed and Sue attempt to get married for the fourth time. But after several bizarre weather obscenities occur, they are linked to a mysterious figure recently discovered on Earth…His name is the Silver Surfer. He’s a shiny, silvery alien who races around Earth on a surfboard…It turns out every planet the Silver Surfer visits, eight days later it explodes.

Can the Fantastic 4 save Earth from the Silver Surfer, a corrupt general, AND Dr. Doom?

The Silver Surfer is a marvel of computer technology, a truly memorable character. He looks incredibly life-like, even if Laurence Fishburne’s voiceover doesn’t suit the character. Now, the action sequences don’t disappoint, and Chris Evans brings a real spice to his character, The Human Torch…But the other performances are dry. Jessica Alba is very attractive, but her blonde hairdo looks lame. So does her scientist glasses. Her character is generally wasted, but The Thing and Human Torch have great chemistry that really makes up for it…And the dialogue is improved over the first.

The characters are stereotypical, and towards the end a character does something so stupid it almost ruins the movie entirely. Well, it kinda does, at least it’s second half. Some characters are thrown away when they get interesting, and the nightclub scene is awkward and unrealistic, but the action doesn’t disappoint and it’s an astronomical improvement over the first, even if I can’t quite recommend it. C+

Ratatouille

(Note: As of this writing it will be 12 days before Ratatouille hits theaters, but since I saw it at a sneak preview, I decided to review it over Fantastic Four 2. Don’t worry, I’ll review Fantastic Four 2 next week and likely give it a negative review.)

Toys living their own lives and adventures, battling for the affection of their owners.
Bugs unknowingly hiring actors to fight off enemy bugs.
Monsters being more afraid of kids than likewise.
A clownfish desperate to find his son, aided by a fellow amnesiac fish.
A dysfunctional superhero family who come out of retirement.
A hot-shot racecar who discovers what life is like in the slow lane.

And now, a kitchen rat who aspires to be a chef in Paris.

What are these genius ideas I am listing? Well, the plotlines that the geniuses at PIXAR Animation Studios have cooked up over the years for their masterpieces. Yesterday I caught a sneak preview of Pixar’s newest film, Ratatouille at my local theater. And come June 29, sure, Die Hard 4 and that new Michael Moore documentary are coming out…But this is the film to see.

PIXAR has yet to falter, and every film they’ve made sports an excellent plot, a great voice ensemble, and revolutionary animation. Ratatouille not only fits all those categories, but ranks with Toy Story and Finding Nemo as PIXAR’s best of the best.

Remy is a rat whose extraordinary sense of smell nets him a job among his vast family of fellow rats: food checker. See, whilst Remy’s large family tree prefer eating (literally) garbage, Remy sneaks into a house regularly and cooks up delicious meals. And the best part about liking fine food? He’s in France! But the worst part? Being a rat, eating fine food for rats is like eating garbage for us.

One day while Remy is making a delicious recipe in an old lady’s house (don’t ask), he gets caught and through odd circumstances gets separated from his family. He winds up in Paris, and soon discovers the great food…So while he is in a restaurant kitchen, he makes a great soup and…gets discovered. But he befriends the garbage boy Linguini and they gradually become better and better friends. Linguini doesn’t speak rat, but Remy understands human talk so when Linguini discovers Remy’s passion for making food, they work out a system where Remy controls Linguini’s movements so that when Remy is pulling the meal together, it’s on Linguini’s movements. So at the restaurant, now everyone applauds Remy’s recipes, thinking that it’s Linguini working the magic.

This of course, does not go unnoticed. Indeed, as the scheming owner of the restaurant suspects something is up with Linguini, he devises several plans to ruin Linguini, all which backfire. But how long can Linguini keep this up? If at all? Brad Bird, director of several Simpsons episodes, The Iron Giant, and The Incredibles has long been one of the best animation directors of all time. But where The Iron Giant and The Incredibles didn’t have many roots into genuine reality, this (despite the rat chef thing) has many real-life issues that really, really work in a kids movie.

Now that Shrek 2, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles were smash hits, every studio in every corner is sending out computer-generated kids movies, and not many of them are good. But PIXAR remains faithful. Their animation, ensemble casts, and plots get better and better, and I, for one am their biggest fan. I see no flaw with this movie, it is pure magic. A

Ocean’s 13

George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and company are back in the fourth threequel to hit theatres this summer: Ocean’s 13. After the 700-odd million bucks earned by the first two and the so-so reviews for the second, its clear they felt they had something to prove, to apologize for it.
And so, they tried a new tactic. How about ditching megastars Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta Jones for screen legends Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin? Call it a plan and count me in. This film ups the budget, the wit, the style, and the quality over Ocean’s 12, but falls a tad short of 11. George Clooney jokingly suggested they call it Ocean’s 13: The One We Should Have Made Last Time. Well, Mr. Clooney, I enjoyed your picture, Ocean’s 12. But that title you suggested was fitting.

Here’s a list of the (several) characters in this film, for reference.
1. George Clooney is Danny Ocean, the mastermind behind this entire plot.
2. Brad Pitt is Rusty, the macho guy designed for the purpose of staring at.
3. Matt Damon is Linus, the pickpocket-in-training who debuts a fake prosthetic nose.
4. Andy Garcia is Terry, the cigar-chomping ex-baddie who joins Danny and his gang.
5. Don Cheadle is Basher, the stubborn explosives expert.
6. Bernie Mac is Frank, the fast-talker.
7. Al Pacino is Willy, the bad guy hotel-owner with more than one dirty secret.
8. Ellen Barkin is Abigail, Willy’s gal-pal and hotel co-owner.
9. Elliot Gould is Reuben, the mentor who lies catatonic after Willy betrays him.
10. Casey Affleck is Virgil, the first of two bickering brothers.
11. Scott Caan is Turk, the second of two bickering brothers.
12. Carl Reiner is Saul, the old-timer/disguise supplier.
13. Eddie Jemison is Livingston, the stereotypical nerd.
14. Shaobo Qin is Yen, the Chinese midget.

Now that I got that out of the way, I’ll tell you the plot. Despite warnings from Danny, Reuben makes a real-estate deal with Willy and (surprise surprise!) is betrayed, and after extreme shock lies catatonic for a long time. Now Danny and his 11 other goons are out for revenge. So to fund the operation, they need to call in their ex-nemesis, Terry Benedict. Who only will fund the job if they steal diamonds from an extremely well-guarded vault.

Whilst the first one, Ocean’s 11, was good, stylish fun, Ocean’s 12 was agreed by many (including yours truly) to be probably a lot of fun to make, but not as much to watch. (Despite my positive review of it.) This is slick, funny, witty, smooth, and ultimately better than 12.

Everyone is very good in this film. Al Pacino does his thing, which is a very entertaining thing. George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt have true movie-star potential, and you can see that’s hard at work here. Ellen Barkin is good in an under-written role, with one fantastically funny scene where she absolutely steals the show. Let’s just say it involves Matt Damon and…elevated romance? (Saying it lightly)

The one thing that got me is the plot holes. Okay, so they get a drill to fake an earthquake to disrupt a security system. Fair enough. But how do they move it, how’d they get it underground? And while we get all the Brad Pitt and George Clooney one needs, the really likable characters, like Eddie Jemison and Don Cheadle, are wasted.

Overall, Ocean’s 13 is slick, sleek fun. It’s dialogue-driven (try that on a summer movie), but under-developed characters and plot holes bothered me. B

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Captain Jack is back in the sequel ‘At World’s End’. It’s not really as much a sequel to last year’s ‘Dead Man’s Chest’ as a continuation, and a fine continuation it is. Now, cliffhanger second films have generally sported worthy continuations, like Back to the Future 3 and The Matrix 3. And Pirates of the Caribbean 3 is better than those two films I just mentioned, and although it barely falls short of the first Pirates, it improves on the second film ten-fold. (And I liked that one.)

When my expectations fell short for Spidey 3 and Shrek 3 was really good but not excellent, all eyes turned on this. Sure, the second one got decidedly mixed reviews, but the cliffhanger ending (while being a cheap trick) left people wanting more Pirates. Well, here they get it. Almost everything is wrapped up nicely (the unanswered questions weren’t big enough to warrant an explanation), but one major character’s outcome really, really bothered me.

You might want to walk into the theater armed with three things:

1) A chart to decipher what’s going on.
2) A checklist to check off which characters are dead or faking it. You’ll check off a lot of people.
3) Kleenex.

The film’s a healthy 2 hours 50 minutes long, with about as many subplots and contrivances as, say, Babel and Spider-Man 3 combined. But who cares? This is an summer blockbuster! Cut it slack, not least of which cause of the billions of bucks it makes.

We start immediately where the second film left off, where the once-bad guy Captain Barbossa comes back from the dead to help Will, Elizabeth and company rescue Jack Sparrow from Davy Jones’ locker. They go to pirate lord Sao Feng for help, and are rudely interrupted in their conversation by only, say, the entire British navy in a huge attack.

In a primary subplot would-be weds Will Turner and Elizabeth are ticked at each other for various reasons – the primary one being Will mistook Elizabeth for kissing Jack. So when Will, Elizabeth, Barbossa and company finally rescue Jack from Davy Jones’ locker (or, World’s End), Jack is delusional to the point of talking to himself and imagining several other Jacks around him – resulting in a rather dull, prolonged sequence.

Freaky, tentacle-lauded sea lord Davy Jones is REALLY mad at Jack, especially after Jack succeeded in taking stealing his much-treasured Dead Man’s Chest (which winds up in the hands of the British army, in other words Lord Becket), evading and killing his “pet” sea-monster The Kraken, and being associated with all Davy’s enemies – and his ex-flame. So when he hears of Jack being rescued from, er, Jones’ locker, he combines his gruesome army of sea-monsters with the vast British forces, and voila, you got one dang big army.

With the wily Captain Jack Sparrow, the brave Will Turner, the newly-elected-pirate-king Elizabeth Turner, and lots and lots of eccentric pirates from all over the world join to fight the greatest army ever forged. But with Elizabeth’s father dead, Will’s father a rotting monster-guy on Davy Jones’ ship, and Jack’s dad one of the nine pirate lords, there’s lots of extra motivations and betrayals thrown into the mix…

And the last hour has the most mind-blowing action ever since the last ½ hour of Terminator 2, and that was 1991. The entire scene probably cost a good $100 million – out of the reported $300 million cost of the film. The battle between good pirates, bad pirates, monsters, and the entire British army is incredible and easily gets this film the high rating I give it. Now, mind you, some scenes lacked satisfying conclusion and others complete purpose – but the superb acting, action, and production design will blow the minds of many.

As it did mine. A-

Shrek the Third

Everyone’s favorite ogre is back in the sequel Shrek 3. Shrek 2 was the #1 animated moneymaker of all time and Shrek 1 was a smash with critics and audiences, so naturally they’re gonna make a third. And I respect that. I mean, I gave the first Shrek an A, the second an A-, and this one a B+. But if things turn out the way I predict it will, Shrek 4 will net a D. In the hands of Sky High/Deuce Bigalow director Mike Mitchell, disaster is imminent.

O, out of the depths I cry to you, DreamWorks Animation Studios.

DO – NOT – FINANCE – SHREK 4!

Ahem…Sorry. L My conscience took over. The new Shrek 3 is a wonderful movie that delivers kids-oriented jokes and pokes at adults and fairy tales like a Tommy gun. Everyone’s back, reprising their roles. And while the director of the first two Shrek’s, was making the Chronicles of Narnia, fellow animators Chris Miller and Raman Hui took the helm. And well, to be frank, their talent is obvious.

I will admit, the trailers for Shrek 3 looked terrible. The “My butt’s itching up a storm” line was stuck in my head for Lord knows how long. I read Roger Ebert’s 2.5/4 review (whilst he gave Shrek a 4/4) thinking, oh, boy. This will be a fiasco. So I reluctantly walked into the theater and was pleasantly surprised.

Ogres Shrek and Fiona are married, their friend Donkey has kids (they are absolutely adorable), and generally are living happily ever after. But this is interesting because it shows what happens after the good guys live happily ever after. Meanwhile, the evil Prince Charming has been reduced from the would-be heir to Far, Far Away to having a gig as an actor in a resturant, a change that doesn’t sit well with him.

When Fiona’s father, King Harold, kicks the bucket, it occurs to Shrek and Fiona that they need to find a new king, and quite frankly, Shrek doesn’t want the responsibility. Shrek is told of a new heir to the throne, a teenager named Arthur. So after Shrek, the loud-mouthed sidekick Donkey, and the ever-cute cat Puss in Boots set out to find Arthur (or, Artie) so he can become king. And, well, to be honest…Artie’s a dork.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Fiona, well, is…pregnant. (Another terrifying undertaking for Shrek). Prince Charming rounds up an army of villains to raid Far, Far Away. To take back the town, Fiona teams up with Queen Lillian, Snow White, Cinderella and the gang. But how long can they hold the town before Shrek convinces Artie to become king?

It kinda feels like the makers are running out of ideas, and if they do make Shrek 4 they oughta make it a prequel about Shrek’s early exploits before he meets Donkey and Fiona. I really, really liked this one. Sure, the predecessors are better by a lot, but that’s like comparing The Wizard of Oz to Gone With The Wind. The voiceovers are hilarious. Plus, talk-show host Regis Philbin, mega-pop star Justin Timberlake and British comedian Eric Idle are among the additions to the all-star cast. While their characters are generally brief, they are a worthy addition to the Shrek universe.

So, I thoroughly enjoyed this one, but the franchise should stop here. B+

Spider-Man 3

Spidey’s back in black and gone bad in the (over)hyped sequel Spider-Man 3. I’ve almost literally been counting down the days to this movie ever since the day that Spiderman 2 came out, the film that I regard as one of the best comic book movies ever. Tobey Maguire gained my respect, proving that The Cider House Rules wasn’t a fluke. Doc Ock was pretty cool, too.

So, with all the praise I’m heaping on the first two flicks, why do I feel slightly disappointed? Well, for one, to get it onto the table, it’s probably the most entertaining movie so far this year. (A worthy competition.) So by the time you read this it’s Thursday and half of you guys have already seen it and derived your own opinions. My guess: maybe 50% of you guys were slightly disappointed but definitely entertained (like me), 25% loved it, and 25% hated it. Throw in maybe .001% who declare it the best movie ever.

But onto what I was saying. Why am I disappointed? Well, the last movie perfected the emotion of Peter and MJ’s relationship. No melodrama. In this, they both cry at least five times and have less great dialogue to work with. Other than those few gimping flaws, there’s nothing slacking or lacking.

For the first time in a while, Peter and MJ are doing great, contrary to the situation in the second movie. Pete’s superhero alter ego, Spider-Man, is adored by the press. Even the eccentric anti-Spider-Man editor of The Daily Bugle has gained some respect for the guy. MJ makes her debut on Broadway. Peter decides to propose to MJ, courtesy of his Aunt May’s treasured wedding ring.

Then, continuing a subplot from the second film, Harry becomes the Green Goblin and, considering he found out in the second film that his best buddy Peter was actually Spider-Man (see, Harry considers Spider-Man responsible for the death of his father) he attacks Peter, but instead of killing Spidey it nearly kills Harry. Now he has memory loss and can’t remember the last few months, or anything regarding Peter’s superhero alter ego.

Meanwhile, escaped convict Flint Marko is on the run to find money so he can obtain pricey medicine for his ailing daughter. When the police locate him, he escapes into a scientific test site (does anyone read the KEEP OUT signs?), and the scientists are too dang dumb to notice. When the machine goes off, it puts sand into the DNA of poor Marko and voila, Sandman is born.

While MJ and Peter are out on a date, a weird alien goo finds it’s way onto Peter…This goo apparently amplifies emotions, specifically rage. This does much:

1) Peter/Spidey begins to flirt with a girl that he saves…MJ gets jealous….You know the drill.
2) A five-minute sequence that could be funnier than anything in Blades of Glory…Lets say it involves a lot of dancing, flirting, eating, and overacting. All on Spidey’s part.
3) That new ambitious photographer, Eddie Brock, fakes photos of Spidey robbing a bank and turns the city against him…Peter proves the photos wrong and gets Eddie fired. And…well…through weird circumstances Eddie becomes Venom.
4) Peter gets paid three times as much as usual at his job.

Meanwhile…Apparently Flint/Sandman is the one who REALLY killed Pete’s uncle in the first flick, giving Spidey a motive to hate his guts. Meanwhile, Harry suddenly, despite apparent amnesia, in a flash remembers everything…Including his brutal fight with Spidey. That’s all in the first hour.

I really liked it. It was complex, action-packed, and quite funny. But at times it was kinda campy. And although many complain it was overlong, I complain it wasn’t long enough. B