Movie Reviews by a normal person

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Tim Burton directing

While this movie is enjoyable, it was not quite as fulfilling as I had hoped. There were laughs and oddities that make such a movie fun to watch, but I really think Burton could have directed Depp to substantially better results.

The character of Willy Wonka wasn't nearly as engaging as Gene Wilder's version. Instead he came across as a hermit type that was extremely socially inept. The oompa-loompa's weren't even that enjoyable, with Burton electing to use only *one* actor to be the face of every single one of them. Kinda gave the viewer the impression they were more likely to be clones than a race of little people.

Yeah, there was some music, despite the fact that the show is not a musical. Although the music wasn't really all that impressive.

Overall, 6 out of 10 if only because the show is pleasing on a visual level even if the story and dialogue aren't all that good.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Vince Vaughn

Two assassins don't know they've been married to each other for a few years until they are both assigned to the same job.

I didn't expect much from this film, but I was pleasantly surprised. Yeah it has the nice action sequences, but what it really is... is a truly odd story on relationships. As a result there's a surprising amount to laugh at. The action sequences are interesting at first but do eventually become just too implausible even for the most forgiving of viewer. It's unfortunate, since the story does pretty well up until that point.

Mostly what had me laughing is how the actors act out on their desires to "do in" their spouse and the creative ways they avoid being done-in. It comes across as a humorous look at what would happen if a married couple stopped suppressing their truly deep dark desire to wring the neck of their not-so-better half.

7 out of 10

Serenity

For the fans of the canceled TV show "Firefly". This movie is essentially a compacted version of the TV series put on the big screen.

All the cast from the TV show are present, including Tim Reid (aka "Venus Flytrap" from WKRP in Cincinnati) although his part is very small.

The plot works pretty well and alot of the long drawn out elements from the TV series are instead thrown at you fast and furious. Fortunately, this actually makes the movie far more enjoyable and thus allows the script to keep rolling with the action and the character development.

This movie is definitely worth a look-see for the sci-fi fans out there, especially if they saw and liked the TV show. It won't be as fun for those that weren't already fans, but it will still be enjoyable.

I'd say 8 out of 10 for the fans, 7 out of 10 for newcomers.

Batman Begins

Christian Bale (Batman), Liam Neeson, Katey Holmes, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman.

Well, the Caped Crusader is back. For those that remember the horrendous Joel Schumacher era (Batman 3 and 4), you will be very pleased to know that Christopher Nolan (who also wrote and directed Memento) does an excellent job with this movie. User Reviews on Yahoo are giving this movie the highest rankings of movies out this year and for good reason.

In previous movies where the story dealt with 2 of Batman's traditional foes (Catwoman/Penguin, Riddler/Two-face, Poison Ivy/Mr. Freeze) the story always seemed to be something of a split personality. Like they couldn't decide which of the foes was more important and should therefore get more screen time. That's not the case in this movie. Yes, there are 2 villains... well 3 actually if you count the crime boss, but it doesn't detract from the story. Instead, it flows into the story and comes out as very logical.

The villains, by the way, are Raz-al-ghul and the Scarecrow.

Michael Caine as Alfred the butler is perhaps the best actor to play the part... ever. Katey Holmes as the DA trying to bring some justice to Gotham is... well, forgettable. Gary Oldman as "Sergeant Gordon", one of the few not-corrupt police officers could have been done better, but he wasn't bad.

Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman wasn't a bad pick. Not one I would have thought of, but not bad.

But here is what I really liked about the movie... One of the hardest things to portray is the fear that Batman inspires in non-criminals. The original comics (and later the Dark Knight saga by Frank Miller) wanted to show a true vigilante that inspired fear in such a way as to make the good people realize that going bad would definitely result in punishment. This movie does a good job (but not great) at switching the roles around for the first time. Those tense scenes where, in other movies, it's the good people being stalked by the villain, is now the criminals being stalked by the hero. Flashes of movement. Ignorant thugs being pulled into shadows while their friends watch in horror. Strange sounds like the flapping of bat wings. A dark figure there one second and gone the next. All the things that make up horror movies, but now the viewer is actively rooting for the role previously occupied by the villain.

It's a very interesting take on the Dark Knight. I liked it alot.

9 out of 10.

Madagascar

I had some high hopes for this film given the pretty good impression the previews seemed to portray. I must say, I was rather disappointed.

Unlike the Incredibles, which truly surpassed the very good previews, this movie sank pretty low, then began digging. The story was thin. As in not much there. The characters aren't that interesting, and it's not even all that funny.

Kids 8 and under may find it amusing, but most adults will think it's very much in the same league as the movie Robots for entertainment value.

6 out of 10.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Ever since Chris Columbus abandoned the direction of this franchise it's been sinking pretty fast. Alphonso Quaron, who did the 3rd movie, tried too hard to make it as dark as the author suggested and in the end only managed to fit in about one tenth of the book and only half the relevant plot.

Fortunately, this director does manage to get more of the plot into the fourth movie, but unfortunately, at the expense of all the characters that moviegoers have come to love.

Ron and Hermione get very short parts in this movie compared to the previous three. They are on screen maybe for 30 minutes out of the 2 and a half hours of the film. Even more slighted are the characters of McGonnagall and Hagrid, who are lucky if they get even 5 minutes of screen time. On the side of the villains, there was equal destruction. The Dursley's, who we have come to love if only because they make us feel a LOT better when Harry is given wondrous relief by heading off to school and out of their presence, have been cut out entirely. Draco Malfoy gets maybe 3 speaking lines in total. Lucius Malfoy does have a part, but it's so short you don't even get time to hate him.

Okay, so what is GOOD about this movie? First, it really does stick pretty close to the book, which is really saying something given Rowling's penchant for extremely long stories. Second, the special effects are as good as ever, especially the first task in the Tri-wizard tournament with the dragons. I also liked the "gillyweed" transformation that Harry underwent. Overall, the movie is easily passable as something to go see in theaters, but it will definitely not win any awards for direction, script or acting. Special effects... possibly.

7 out of 10 if only because of the lack of character development, otherwise, I'd go higher.

Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Whew!!!!!

The garbage of the past year had me worried that this movie might turn out to be a clunker (e.g. Hitchhiker's Guide, anyone?).

Thankfully, and pleasantly, that didn't happen. It's been literally decades since I read the books for this story, but I do remember it being one of the best series of books out on the market. Understandably, not everything from the books can be incorporated into the movie, but what was included they did a fantastic job with. The script wasn't as in-depth as I had hoped, but it wasn't razor thin like so many others either. There was a good amount of story going on, and lots to keep the attention on the screen.

The acting was ... average, but nothing popped out that would make you think poorly in this regard either. The special effects were in many ways spectacular. Easily on par with the Harry Potter movie and equally as cool. The best part in this regards, however, was the unerring ability of the director to NOT make the special effects the central point in the story. Too often it's obvious the director tried to fit in a cool special effect where it just didn't work into the story. That did not happen at any point in this movie. Instead the viewer sees cool effect after cool effect that only occurs because the story allowed it to unfold as required. I was particulary fond of the griffons flying around doing a couple cool aerial maneuvers.

The scenes were fast and over very quickly and the director didn't dwell on them, which emphasized how cool they were. As a sidenote, this is what the viewer will see on screen:
Fauns
Minotaurs
Griffons
a phoenix
talking beavers
cheetahs
tigers
a unicorn
lots of centaurs doing very cool battle
a chariot pulled by polar bears
a wolf pack
an evil dwarf
and, of course, Aslan in all his regalness

And more I can't even put a name to. Everything worked very well together and at just over 2 hours in length, it more than satisfies. There were a few bits and pieces of the movie that seemed a bit light and could have been clipped out, but those are not that prevalent and don't detract that much anyways.

Overall, 8 out of 10, with a good argument for 9 out of 10.