Thursday, July 12, 2012


- Rated PG for mild rude humor and action, peril.
- Featuring the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Wanda Sykes, Jennifer Lopez, Peter Dinklidge, Seann William Scott, Aziz Ansari, Nick Frost, Keke Palmer, Josh Peck, Patrick Stewart, Alan Tudyk
- Written by Michael Berg & Jason Fuchs
- Directed by Steve Martino & Michael Thurmeier
- Running time: 1hr 27min.

I haven't really been the biggest fan of the ICE AGE franchise.  I hated the first one with it's terrible animation and cardboard characters.  The second one was an improvement, but still wasn't that great.  But I found the third (which had the dinosaurs) to be surprisingly enjoyable.  I thought that was a good way to go out.  But no!  They had to make another one!  And from the trailers, it looked like we were in for an uninspired ride.

Everyone is back.  Manny and Elle have a teenage daughter named Peaches who just wants to be excepted by her social circle, and especially by the cute popular mammoth.  Sid the sloth is visited by his family and they leave him his senile old grandmother.  Diego is there to, but he doesn't have much to do until later.  This time, the ice cracks once again and Manny is separated from his family.  He, Manny and Diego spend the rest of the film trying to find them.  Pretty standard synopsis, huh?

But this time, there is an inclusion of a villain, something that was missing from the first three.  Manny and the gang are attacked by a bunch of pirates led by an evil monkey named Captain Gutt.  Part of his crew include a silly Walrus and an attractive female Sabertooth, who catches Diego's eye.  This subplot adds a much needed sense of fun and adventure to the franchise.

I really wasn't expecting much, and let's be honest, these movies will never be mistaken as a Pixar-type movie, but you know what?  I had a surprisingly good time.  The pacing of the film is at a breakneck speed.  There are a good amount of exciting action sequences thanks to the addition of the pirates.  Manny and his friends are fine, but the cast of baddies are a breath of fresh air.  Peter Dinklidge provides Captain Gutt with slithery villainy.  He's a lot of fun!  His character design is also very cool.  The subplot involving Diego and his girl version was also involving.

But at the core of the movie is a touching father/daughter story.  Maybe it's because I have an 8 year old girl whom I'm very close with, but their relationship touched me.  Everyone can identify with wanting to fit in and not wanting to listen to their parents.  I think it's very relatable to many kids and adults and was handled very well, I thought.

The humor wasn't as forced as the disappointing MADAGASCAR 3.  It's silly and somewhat juvenile, but it didn't have that snarky, smart-ass vibe that the aforementioned one did.  There was something refreshingly innocent about the slapstick jokes and irreverent humor.  I didn't laugh out loud often, but I smiled quite a bit.  My favorite scene was the encounter with the sirens, It was a clever, scary, but also hilarious sequence.  The movie is peppered with mild gems like that one.  It's not fantastic, but just good enough to be pleasant for it's almost 90 minute run time.

There's really not a whole lot to say here.  It's a typical ICE AGE movie, but done well.  I would say it's the best one.  Also, the 3-D was more impressive than any other animated film I've seen this year.  If you're into that sort of thing, it's worth the upgrade.

Out of all the summer kid's movies, I would say this is the most family friendly.  It doesn't have heavy thematic themes like BRAVE, it's not aimed strictly at adults (PIRATES) and it's not unpleasant (MADAGASCAR 3).  I think most kids would enjoy this over Pixar's latest.  Not that I agree with that, but I would agree that this is a fine summer flick to bring the entire family during the dog days of summer.

Oh yes, I almost forgot.  It wouldn't be an ICE MOVIE without Scrat, that little critter who is still on the endless quest to find the perfect acorn.  His vignettes tie the film together, and are always humorous.  He's a great character, and his last scene is pretty darn inventive.  

*** (out of ****)

Note: The Simpson's short that comes before the film is worth the price of admission alone.  Fans of the series won't want to miss it!


- Rated PG-13 for thematic material including child imperilment, some disturbing images, language and brief sensuality.
- Starring Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper
- Written by Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin
- Directed by Benh Zeitlin
- Running time: 1hr 33min

This film was the talk of the town at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals.  It definitely takes place in a world never really seen in film before.  The story takes place in "the bathtub" which is a community in the Southern Delta.  Away from the reality of the city, people do what they like here.  The folks are all low income, don't have all their teeth and are quite barbaric.  It's almost like they're from another planet. 

The main character is Hushpuppy, a seven year old girl who has a violent, ill-tempered asshole for a dad, who is called Wink.  There is a moment in the beginning that has Hushpuppy burn her house down while trying to cook a meal, then her dad chews her out for it.  He wasn't around to cook her dinner because he's a sick man, but it's still no excuse to be a dick all the time.  Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself here.  Back to the story.  There is a bad storm and everyone's homes in the bathtub are washed away.  Now, everyone is in their boats trying to survive in this mess.  Wink and some other community members have a brilliant idea to blow up the damn to bring the water down, but you know that can't end good.  Oh yeah,  there are also some weird mythical creatures roaming around that may or may not be real.  

Well, at least you can't blame the filmmakers for doing the same old Hollywood stories.  It's a complete original, and that's why I think it's getting a lot of praise.  It certainly has a unique tone throughout.  The performances by Wallis as Hushpuppy and Henry as Wink are incredibly raw and intense.  It sounds like they are going to be nominated and I can't really argue with that.  Their natural ability is clearly evident here. 

The story is going to turn many mainstream movie goers off.  It's so bizarre and out there that I don't think you're average Joe in a smelly T-shirt will get it.  I found it a noble, ambitious try.  I don't think it quite came together.  It's a bit of a mess.  Most of that has to do with Zeitlin's directorial choices.  Unfortunately, he decided to film the entire movie with handheld cameras.  That's fine, but it seemed like his camera operator had Parkinson's.  It is so incredibly shaky that I found myself having to look away much of the time.  I have seen many handheld movies (I even liked the last two BOURNE films), but this was out of control.  It was like he was shaking it on purpose.  It was distracting and completely unnecessary.  I don't understand why you would want to sabotage your film like that.  Did you want it to look like shit?  I'm a filmmaker myself which is why I'm asking this.  I have employed the handheld technique before, but I used it for a purpose.  And when I used it, I didn't over do it so it would take away from the story.  

This pains me, cause I really hate picking on an independent film.  These are the movies that take chances.  And this one certainly does.  The acting is brilliant and the story is truly original (though I think some of the fantasy elements don't quite gel in the end), but the shaky cam technique needs to be put out of it's misery.  It's destroying many potentially good movies.  If you use this technique, it must be used correctly.  And Director Zeitlin doesn't for his feature debut.  Let's hope next time he learns his lesson.  It's not horrible by any means, but I think I'm being harder on it than most BAD movies because this one had lots of potential.

**1/2 (out of ****)

Monday, July 2, 2012


- Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence.
- Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Campbell Scott, C. Thomas Howell
- Story by James Vanderbilt;  Screenplay by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves.
- Directed by Marc Webb
- Running time: 2hrs 15min.

Most reviews of this movie so far have really compared it (probably unfairly) to Sam Raimi's Spiderman films from the past 10 years.  I'll get my opinions of those out of the way right now.  I loved the first 2, and I think they're easily among the best superhero films ever made.  The third one had it's moments, but it suffers from trying to do too many things.  Now, this movie is completely different.  It's not a sequel or a prequel or anything like that.  It's just a different take on a familiar tale.  Some people have expressed that it's too soon to start over again, and that may be, but you know what?  The movie is here, it's a new beginning, and that's that.  Deal with it!

The story is basically the same as Peter Parker (Garfield) gets bitten by a spider and gets super powers.  But the specifics are different.  Parker is now a bit darker because he's haunted by his parents disappearance when he was a young boy.  He still gets picked on by the school bully Flash, but he doesn't seem to care about it as much.  I would say Parker is more confident than ever before, especially when he starts to use his powers.  He's almost cocky.  Instead of Mary Jane, there is Gwen Stacy (Stone), who is more intelligent but just as beautiful.  They're both science nerds and they bond together that way.  Her dad (Leary) is also the chief of police and is after Spiderman, who he thinks is a vigilante menace.  There is also Dr. Connors (Ifans), who knew Peter's father.  So there's a good deal of scenes with Parker trying to find out more about what happened to his dad by spending time with Connors.  But the Doctor discovers some kind of chemical that turns him into a lizard and becomes obsessed with turning the people of New York into reptiles.  All the while, Peter is struggling to find his identity and dealing with being a superhero.  Unlike any other film adaptations, Parker tells Gwen about his alias right away, adding a great deal of tension and complexity into their relationship.

The first half almost mirrors what we have seen before, especially with Uncle Ben's death.  The second half deals with more of the Lizard stuff, and that's not anything new either.  Not that it's bad.  If handled right, it could've been a fun popcorn movie.  There are some pretty spectacular action scenes, and the CG effects of Spidey swinging through the city look the best they ever have due to advances in technology.  But there isn't too much action.  In fact, I would say nothing really exciting happens until about 45 minutes into it.  And those are just short bursts of action.  The best action scene was probably one that had The Lizard and Spidey fighting underwater, and in Peter's High School.

Obviously, the approach was to make something a little more mature and grown up.  It didn't want to be an action spectacle.  Which is fine in my book.  Setting up all the characters in the first half brings a certain complexity to everyone.  My favorite story arc was with Gwen's policeman father.  And Denis Leary does a great job here as a man who is trying to protect the city, and is not sure what Spidey is up to.  Is he a threat?  Is he an Ally?  He doesn't seem to know.  The relationship between Gwen and Peter is very intense and will draw a lot of teeny boppers into it.  It's not unlike TWILIGHT since everyone is all filled with angst, but it's not as grating as it was in those films.  Emma Stone is fine as Gwen, but I've seen better from her.

But the real question is, how does Andrew Garfield hold up as Peter Parker?  Now, I'm a big fan of Garfield.  He was great in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but his performance in BOY A is phenomenal.  It was the best performance by any actor that year and I felt he was completely robbed by the Academy by not getting nominated.  So I was really looking forward to his take on the role.  I understand a lot of critics are digging him as Peter Parker, but I just couldn't get into him.  I thought his Peter Parker was all wrong.  Now, he doesn't give a bad performance, just the wrong one in my opinion.  Others will like him, but it didn't work for me. 

Why?  Well, when I think of Peter Parker from the comics, I think of someone innocent, naive, and wide-eyed.  Here, Garfield plays him with a hint of manic depression, autism, and a hint of tourette syndrome.  Seriously!  Garfield does not stop moving his head from jerking one direction to the other every time he speaks.  And when he's not moving his head all over the place, his eyes are constantly shifting.  It was very distracting.  I kept on thinking that Parker should take a Xanax or Ritilin or something to calm him down.  Like I said, some people won't mind this approach and may actually prefer it to Maguire's Parker, but for me his constant fidgeting and stammering was annoying.  Also, Parker is too cocky at times.  I understand that Parker made lots of wisecracks during the comics, but I found him to be too condescending during some scenes when he's dispatching the bad guys.  A little too mean-spirited, and that's NOT Peter Parker.  At least in my eyes.

The direction is pretty smooth, but I could've done without the POV Spidey cam.  That looked too much like a video game.  But Marc Webb (who's 500 DAYS OF SUMMER was terrific) handles most of the action quite well with the exception of one scene.  And that's the moment when Peter first uses his powers on some innocent people on the Subway.  There were too many jump cuts, making the scene irritatingly self-conscious.  Webb handles most of the dramatic scenes very well, but the tone doesn't seem one of a comic book movie.  It almost seemed like they were trying to go for a kind of DARK KNIGHT-vibe, but guess what?  Spider-man is Spider-man!  NOT Batman.  I don't think adding realism to every superhero story is the right way to go.  It worked for THE DARK KNIGHT, but just because that was successful doesn't mean you need to do that for every character from a comic book.  It seemed like the movie was searching for it's own identity during it's 135 minute running length, and in my opinion, never found it.

There were some stand out moments during some of the action scenes.  My favorite was probably when Spidey had to save a boy from a car about to drop in the Ocean.  Seeing him take off his mask and giving it to the kid to give him confidence to climb into his arms was one of the more inspired moments in the film.  Martin Sheen makes a fine Uncle Ben.  I guess I haven't talked about Rhys Ifans yet as the Lizard.  He's an interesting actor and puts in some decent work here, but his character could have been written better.

That's probably the main problem with the film here.  I felt like the writers were really trying to tell the story with a unique voice, but didn't really get there.  There were a couple of embarrassing moments written in too.  I probably could've done without Spiderman shouting "I'm swingin' here!  I'm swingin' here!" as he makes his way through the busy New York streets.  Nice MIDNIGHT COWBOY reference I guess?

Now, I'm sure there will be tons of fanboys that will love this movie, and you know what?  That's fine!  I love it when someone finds something to love out of a movie I didn't really care for.  My goal isn't to convince you that something is good or bad.  I just like to let everyone know where I'm coming from, and based on what I say, you can determine whether you want to see it or not.  No big deal.

Unfortunately, I didn't like it.  I really wanted to.  My 8 year old daughter liked it enough to want to see it again (though she said she had problems with Garfield too).  My problems stemmed with Garfield.  He makes some bold acting choices, but I felt they were the wrong ones for the character of Peter Parker.  Marc Webb created some cool action sequences and the special effects look better than ever, but it just didn't feel like a Spider-Man movie to me.  Maybe over the years this will hold up better, especially when you can separate it a little more from Raimi's films.  But for now, I don't like it.  It's a superhero film trying something new, but I don't think everyone was on the same page for them to achieve success. 

** (out of ****)