Bolt

Bolt is the new movie from Disney, with excellent animation, a great cast, and an unsurprisingly predictable story. John Travolta, Miley Cyrus and Susie Essman seem like an incredibly unlikely cast, but they all fit their characters quite well. Don’t even get me started on Rhino the hamster, an adorable creation who automatically steals any scene he’s in.

Bolt is a super-dog, with powers such as speed, strength, and the famous ‘Super-Bark’, who saves his owner Penny from the bad guys every time. Except there’s one problem. It’s all just a TV show.

However, Bolt has been brought up to genuinely believe that he has powers. So when he thinks Penny is in danger, he escapes from the set and is accidentally shipped from Los Angeles to New York.

Now with the help of a sarcastic cat voiced by none other than Susie Essman and a plump hamster named Rhino, self-described as Bolt’s “#1 fan”, Bolt must get back to Los Angeles.

Surprisingly the action is really cool here, 100x cooler than anything in that one movie that I hated (Twilight, I’m talking to you). The beginning of the film is basically one big, long action sequence that is geninuely, legimately, awesome. It completely sets the film up.

Many times throughout the film you have to suspend your disbelief, which is perfectly alright with a Disney movie. John Travolta is good, he’s always sort of been one of my favorite actors. Miley Cyrus is okay although shes barely on for 15 minutes despite receiving second billing on all the trailers and such.

Bolt has the potty humor for the little kids, the action for the teens, and the broad humor for the adults. In other words, it’s a family flick worth seeing. B+

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Australia

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman star in Australia , one of the most ambitious movies of the year. Best of the year? Not really. The director, Baz Luhrmann is an immensely talented guy who has done Romeo+Juliet and one of my favorite movies, Moulin Rouge. He hasn’t directed in 7 years, 3 of those years gone into planning and shooting this.

The film suffers from bipolar disorder. In order, it shifts from comedy to romance to western to drama to comedy to western to action to romance to comedy to drama to western to action to romance. Well, it is three hours, so I suppose it can’t be all too consistent.

Lady Ashley has come from England to Australia in 1939 to purchase a cattle farm called Faraway Downs. When she arrives there she learns her husband is dead. When a greedy opportunist tries to seize control of Faraway Downs, Lady Ashley teams up with Mr. Drover to save Faraway Downs and drive 2,000 cattle from the Downs to Darwin , in order to supply the military with meat.

Afterwards, Lady Ashley and Mr. Drover fall in love, but 2 years later Drover leaves for a driving mission and Lady Ashley for Darwin – right during the attack on Darwin . Can they survive?

There’s just about something for everyone in here – I suppose thats a curse and a blessing. Hugh Jackman is in top form here, and although Nicole Kidman at the first 30 minutes is whiny and screechy, in the last 2 1/2 hours she turns in a really good performance. The young boy who plays the adopted Aboriginal boy is also really really good, there are top-form performances EVERYWHERE.

The action is quite well-paced, and one scene has such breathtaking beauty it could be the must-see scene of the year. (Want a final opinion? Tune in January for the 2nd Annual Ryan Michaels Awards!) The comedy is mostly based on how stuck up Nicole Kidman is, but what does that matter.

But alas, the first 45 minutes are so unwatchable in so many ways. If you end up seeing them, just say to yourself, “Ryan said the last 2 hours are awesome, I can get through it!” In actuality, the first 45 minutes probably could have been cut out completely and replaced with a 5-minute narration.

The romantic parts are good, and surprisingly most of the dialogue is actually fairly good for a romance. There was one part though, where I was cracking up uncontrollably.

So alas, Australia is an old-fashioned epic in the sense of Gone With The Wind. Mind you, Australia doesn’t even come close to the sheer masterpiece that is Gone With The Wind, but it’s a good ol’ time at the movies. Mind you, it is something of a mixed bag. B

Twilight

The insanely popular book comes to the big screen with mixed results in Twilight. Having read the book with equally mixed results, it seemed this week I either review this or The Secret Life of Bees. The title of that alone drew me off, I chose Twilight.

Bella Swan has just moved to a small town in Washington where despite being quite shy, she makes friends almost immediately. Then she meets Edward Cullen. She thinks he is quite handsome, but he appears to hate her. Turns out Edward is a vampire who, with his family, is hiding out here in Forks. Edward doesn’t sleep in coffins or have fangs. No, he appears human, but has super strength and speed, and is immortal. But then a trio of evil vampires come to town, killing the local people. Can Edward stop the killing and save Bella?

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson play the leads. Stewart, having acted in some excellent films (Panic Room, Into the Wild) was quite good, convincingly having the look of an average girl and yet you can see why this vampire is so in love with her. Perhaps it helps that, instead of 99% of actors playing teenagers, Stewart is actually is one. Pattinson is okay, although at times it appears he’s just trying too hard to be intense.

The special effects are laughable, albiet thankfully few. It’s the rare movie where I’m glad there’s only one fight scene. The supporting cast is okay, and the mega-Twilight fans out there are likely pleased with the vision that has been brought to screen. But alas, there are moments, many moments actually, where I laughed uncontrollably. (Hint: Not at the jokes.) The script needed more tweaking. The sudden popularity of the books forced the writer to speed up the script, and it shows at times.

If you’re a teenage girl or a mega-Twilight fan (I’ve narrowed it down to about 30 million) then you will love this, make no mistake. As for me, I can go without another billion sequels. Judging by the money this will make, Hollywood probably won’t listen to me. C

Quantum of Solace

Bond is back for the 22th time in the highly anticipated sequel, Quantum of Solace. Following up the best Bond movie ever was never an easy task, and it doesn’t fulfill that nearly impossible task. Casino Royale was a story of self-discovery, love and trust. This is a flat-out revenge flick. And it’s mighty fine at bringing the action.

The reason that Casino Royale was so great was that it brought a very real, very human side to Bond. (Anyone remember that CGI surfing scene in Die Another Day?) This expands on that, and also partly throws out that gritty realism from Casino Royale. Well, it’s still gritty.

The realism? Meh…

Picking up hours after the end of Casino Royale, Bond is vengefully mourning the death of Vesper Lynd. How? By engaging in a 20-minute chase through car, prison cell, parade, and rooftops, to catch a would-be assassin of his boss, M. The man is linked to the mysterious, vast terrorist organization called Quantum.

A transcontinental journey for Bond gives him one lead from Quantum: Dominic Greene, an environmentalist with a hidden agenda: Vanquish the water supply of Bolivia. Bond gets help from Camille, a mysterious Russian woman who is seeking revenge for the death of her family.

If this sounds alot more formulaic than Casino Royale, thats cause frankly, it is. It’s not as complex, as human, or well, as good. However, Daniel Craig is still awesome at James Bond, and is probably the most human rendition of Bond out of all 6 Bonds. (Anyone remember George Lazenby?)

Olga Kurylenko is a fairly interesting Bond girl, and another named Strawberry Fields is rather pointless. Take her character away and everything still plays out the same. The action sequences are half adrenaline-fueled, another half you want it to end. The cinematography and editing are quite good, especially during a shoot-out scene following an opera sequence.

Director Marc Forster has done excellent movies (i.e., Finding Neverland) but this is his first action gig. You can kind of see the influence of The Bourne Ultimatum on the cinematography. He’s pretty good at the staging and such, and during the character-driven moments his directing skills are highlighted.

Ultimately, it’s a mild disappointment, but is still definitely worth seeing. Too bad Casino Royale looms over it. B

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

One of the best casts of the year unite for one of the more disappointing films of the year, Madagascar 2. Being a mild fan of the original, I wanted to check this out. And the cast definitely does not disappoint. Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Baldwin, and the late, great, Bernie Mac all get their spotlight. Heck, even the lead rapper of the Black Eyed Peas is here.

A couple of the jokes really are quite clever and it’s more mature than the original. But quite simply, it’s not that funny.

Our original animal heroes return from the first film. Alex, the showman lion, Marty, the wise-cracking zebra, Gloria, the sassy hippo, and Melman, the quirky giraffe. They are still stuck on Madagascar, but the penguins (yes! they return) devise a plan for them to fly to NYC with a crashed plane. It doesn’t work too well, and they crashland in Africa.

Alex is reunited with his parents there, Marty meets about a million other zebras exactly like him (all of them also voiced by Chris Rock), Melman is made the local witch doctor. And Gloria? She falls for a giant (and do I mean giant) hippo named (wait for it) Moto Moto. Why does Moto Moto like Gloria?

– “Well, uh, you giant, girl!”
– “Well yeah, but Moto Moto, why else do you like me?”
– “Cuz you huge, Gloria!”

It seems great in Africa but a sneaky, mean lion named Makunga causes events that banish Alex from the land. And then the water hole dries up. Can he fix everything before it’s too late?

Like I said, some moments are genuinely hilarious. The best scene in the film involves, unsurprisingly, the penguins and their grand plan to hijack a local tour bus. Chris Rock is still really funny as Marty, and Sacha Baron Cohen is underused, albeit hilarious. But alot of the jokes are either really “kiddy” or would just fly over their heads. I was surprised and disgusted when a couple of homophobic jokes popped up.

But alas, Madagascar 2 is for the kiddies, and the kiddies and their parents will flock to it in droves. One will like it, another will be staring at their watch. I leave the guessing to you. C-

The Nightmare Before Christmas (2008 re-release)

Tim Burton and Danny Elfman display their genius in the stop-motion classic, Nightmare Before Christmas. Yes, I know. The Nightmare Before Christmas came out 15 years ago, so why am I reviewing it? In light of its 3-D re-release last week, I figured this review wouldn’t be completely irrelevant. Cause if this hadn’t came out in 1993, it would easily make my top 10 this year.

Jack Skellington lives in Halloweentown, a fantasy-town where the setting is perpetually Halloween. It looks like something only Tim Burton could conjure. But when Jack accidentally opens a magical portal to Christmastown (where it is perpetually Christmas). Jack kidnaps Santa Claus and tries to pose as Santa Claus. and well, everything that could possibly go wrong does.

The songs are absolutely hilarious. The lyrics are creative and the animation…The animation is absolutely gorgeous. The images are so vivid and beautiful. This is a truly amazing experience and just goes to show that with all the CGI animation today that stop-motion animation is still an amazing, revolutonary art.

The story is incredibly quirky, and the animation team put their imagination in every detail, however minuscule. In the age of Shrek, this is a breath of fresh air. Forget the fact that it’s 15 years old. A