Monday, July 28, 2008


Written by Puño Estupendo

Even if you're not a fan of martial arts movies, you've probably seen the work of Yuen Woo-Ping at some point or another. As an action choreographer/director, he's contributed to all of your favorite scenes from films like Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2 and the entire Matrix Trilogy. As a director in his own right, he has close to thirty films under his belt, including Iron Monkey 2 (which I'm a big fan of) starring the always impressive Donnie Yen.

Tai Chi Master is a less impressive film of his from 1993, but it has quite an impressive cast nonetheless, including stars Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh. Though audiences are now fairly familiar with Jet Li through his more than forgettable American flicks like Cradle 2 The Grave or Romeo Must Die, this is Jet Li in his more natural setting, a movie from Hong Kong.

Even with the story being really predictable and very formulaic, it still hits all of the beats to make it just as fun as any other "kung-fu" movie from pre-CGI days. It's a little cleaner looking but it has the same feel and angles of classic martial arts films from the '70s and '80s, giving you all of the pitfalls of an unoriginal plot, but all of the fun in crazy camera angles and awesomely choreographed fight scenes.

Beginning in a Shaolin temple, two boys begin their training under the guidance of a father figure/Shaolin monk. One is hot-headed, impulsive and ambitious, while the other has the completely opposite temperament. Best friends that are loyal to each other, both are expelled from the temple when Chin Bo (played by Chin Siu Ho) takes competition a bit too far and Jet Li's character Jun Bo sticks by him through thick and thin one too many times. Cast away from their home and out into the real world, they manage to come to a town that has all of the ingredients for the average kung-fu movie. There's a tyrannical governor taxing the townsfolk and a small rebel force that wants to help the people by overthrowing him. Several fights later, Chin Bo decides he wants to be somebody and becomes the governor's chief lieutenant while Jun Bo strays not from his heavenly path, thus setting up a series of fighting and training scenes that lead to their final showdown at the end.

Like I said, it's very formulaic and not a bunch of surprises are hiding in its plot. Michelle Yeoh is her awesome, beautiful and bad-assed self, playing Jun Bo's new partner in rebellion Siu Lin and (as always) doesn't let the viewer down. She's so graceful and quick; she and Li compliment each other really well here.

Most of Tai Chi Master is very run of the mill, but the final confrontation at the end is actually a pretty nice segment. That's not to say the rest of the action is lame (it's not), but they escalate through the course of the movie and it naturally makes the biggest splash at the end. The 96-minute running time actually felt a little longer, but I felt better about it once the final scenes unfolded.

Four featurettes are included on this single disc, along with a commentary by Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan. I didn't really think that the movie was so good that it deserved a commentary track, but what's even more useless is the fact that two of the featurettes are hack director Brett Ratner giving his take on the director and the stars. That feels a bit hard up to me, what with most of the geek community and fringe fans hating that guy's guts. Note to The Weinstein Company and Genius Products: If it's not a film directed by Ratner, then for Christ's sake, don't put him on your disc!

All in all, watching Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh in this is still pretty entertaining, despite some unoriginality in other areas.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Batman: The Complete Fifth Season

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

Season Four of The Batman was creative and thought provoking. Robin was introduced to the mythology, one episode echoed Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and in the finale, Batman and J'onn J'onnz (the Martian Manhunter) battled The Joining. The final scene of that season introduced Batman to the Justice League - Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and Hawkman in addition to Martian Manhunter.

Season Five starts exactly one year after the attacks. The show hits the ground running with a two-part episode introducing Superman ("Batman/Superman Parts 1 & 2"). The first episode is chock full of comic culture references with nods to almost every other incarnation of Superman in movies and television. Lois, Clark, and Jimmy have traveled to Gotham to present them with a check from the city of Metropolis to help rebuild from the battle with The Joining. They are met here by Superman villain, Metallo. In his battle with Batman and Robin, Metallo looks much like the T2 from the Terminator series. As a way of linking him to that character and not having to do a lot of explaining, we even get an "Hasta la vista, baby" as Robin drives away on his motorcycle.

In what will become a blueprint for many of this season's episodes, there is a blending of bad guys from both universes. Black Mask, Bane, and Clayface work for Lex Luthor to kidnap Lois. All the while Poison Ivy has been captured and Lex uses her spores to control Superman. The second part of the story is essentially a long fight scene with Lex launching one new attack after another with Superman under his control. In a nod to the current DC Comics mythology, Superman allows Batman to keep one of the last existing pieces of Kryptonite, so it doesn't fall into the wrong hands. But this also serves to give Batman, without super powers, equal footing with Superman. In the end, Superman is introduced to the Justice League.

The season is very uneven and predictable. Much like the final season of Teen Titans, each episode from #3 to #11 follows one of two paths: a Brave and the Bold episode (a reference to the old time Batman Team-Up comic) or a stand-alone, usually action-packed episode featuring a Bat villain that is familiar to the viewer. What worked so well in Season Four was that we got to see Batman as a detective. There was a lot of character development between Batman, Robin, and Batgirl (who's almost an afterthought in this season). The Bat "family" that was built in Season Four is almost ignored and forgotten.

Each Justice League character gets an episode dedicated to them. It might be an origin back story (like Green Arrow in "Vertigo") or one that showcases their unique talents (like the Flash in "A Mirror Darkly"). There just isn't the chemistry between Batman and these new characters. It makes me long for the traditional Batman and Robin stories.

The traditional stand-alone episodes don't have the heart and cleverness that ones like "Artifacts" did in previous seasons. "White Heat," for example, brings back Firefly. He's a fun character that stands out because people don't remember his name. In this episode, we are introduced to his girlfriend, Blaze, and through an accident he becomes a new villain, Phosphorus. Instead of playing up the stories that made him a fun character (like people calling him "Bumblebee Man" because of his suit), we get an angry villain that's just Clayface with fire. The Joker is featured in "Joker Express". His humor is all but lost in an episode that becomes one big chase scene. The Joker in a criminal mastermind and part of the fun of his episodes is watching the detective, Batman, figure out the mystery.

The season and series ends with a two-parter that brings back The Joining. The finale would have had more power if we really had connected with the heroes. Seeing them all together fighting for Gotham is nice but not inspiring. The final story tries hard to make a point about working together as a team. It isn 't just super-heroes with superpowers that win the battle. Batman is an important piece with his intelligence.

This could have been a powerful episode with deeper meanings. Done correctly, this could lead to future Justice League movies and cartoons. But the lack of creative presentation of these iconic characters makes it less interesting. Season Four showed where the characters could go with creative license. Without that, it's not a Justice League, it's just five guys fighting the bad guys. And that's not what moves us.

The two-disc set includes the usual single Special Feature. This time it's a piece entitled "Joining Forces" which essentially details how the producers tried to translate the Brave and the Bold team-ups from the comic books to the small screen. It's interesting to see the sources they are pulling from but the execution did not translate. The new heros do not soar into our hearts.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Teen Titans: The Complete Fifth Season

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

I approached Season Five of Teen Titans as an informed novice. I have watched Season One of the show. I'm familiar with the core group of Titans from the show - Robin, Beast Boy, Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven. That first season was an extended story line about essentially Robin's greatest foe, Slade. Most of the episodes revolved around Robin and his need to face this powerful enemy. The other characters were established with their powers and teenage quirks. There was not the usual exploration of origins, nor was there mention of their "secret identities." Each character is essentially always in super-hero mode.

Four seasons later, I was able to drop right in with the characters. Little had changed from the established traits put forth in the first season. What had changed was the level of storytelling. Season One's story arc concentrated on a very generic "evil" villain for the "mythology" episodes and even more generic villains for the single story episodes. Robin's conflict with Slade was more teen angst at wanting to beat a powerful foe than it was battling more personal demons.

Season Five starts with a two-part episode, "Homecoming." In a flashback, we are introduced to two classic DC Comics teams. Our hero team for the flashback is The Doom Patrol. This team was a huge favorite of mine in the DC Universe. The Doom Patrol here is Beast Boy's original team before joining the Teen Titans. There's a classic collection of members here - Steve, Rita, Robot Man, and even the mummy-encased Negative Man. This version of Doom Patrol is battling another classic group of DC bad guys, The Brotherhood Of Evil. The Brotherhood are led by The Brain, a clever villain who looks like a Dalek from Dr. Who and actually sounds like one too! The Brain's other co-leader in the Brotherhood is the super-strong ape, Monsieur Mallah, with a high IQ and the ability to speak.

There is little actual plot development through the first two episodes (in fact, that will become a pattern throughout the season). What we're seeing is essentially an older version of the Titans. Steve is a much older version of Robin as leader. He's very serious. Robot Man is an older version of Cyborg. We are able to draw some conclusions by comparing the older team to the younger team. We can see what the Titans "could" become.

Back in current time, the Brotherhood Of Evil have made themselves known again, trying to acquire something generically called "The Quantum Generator." Faced with saving the world and more importantly, his old team, Beast Boy chooses to head off to fight the Brotherhood. It is obvious by the end of episode two that this is distinctly Beast Boy's story. He sees this as a time to grow up, to leave his troubled past with the Doom Patrol behind, and to help create a better, smarter team.

Once this initial plot is set-up, many of the following episodes fall into a similar category. In "Trust" we meet other teenage heroes - Wildebeast and Hotspot. They win over the Titans' trust and are given Titan Communicators as a way to keep in touch. In "Snowblind", it's Red Star who becomes an honorary Titan. In "Kole", it's the great character Gnaark that receives a communicator. These episodes feel like single-issue comics. The stories are rather simple and the eventual endings are telegraphed. Importantly, the writers made a choice to move the series out past the usual home of the Titans. The team travels the globe meeting these characters. It allows for creativity of set design (I love the Journey To The Center Of The Earth feel to "Kole") but too much time is spent setting up these new characters.

One unique quality to the show is its two theme songs. The US version typically denotes a serious story in continuity. If the Japanese lyric version is played, it means a less serious, usually stand-alone episode. This season has three and they're the stand-out episodes of the season. "For Real" introduces us to Titans East who take over for the Titans when they're out of town meeting other heroes. The group is fun and lends a new take to the "subbing in for the heroes" story. They upset the villain, Control Freak, by not knowing him (But "I'm a recurring villain!") and they're upset when they're mistaken for the original Titans and nobody knows them. "Revved Up" is essentially a set-up for one episode-long car chase.

The best episode of the season is "Hide and Seek." This Japanese-lyric show puts together a fun plot, great design, and makes a point to come back to the ongoing story. The serious character, Raven, is assigned the protection of some very young super-heroes (some Tiny Titans, if you will). The evil Mallah puts the kids at serious risk, turning this funny episode into a bit of a drama. They are saved by a huge "invisible" friend of one of the girls. The "invisible" friend turns out to be Bobby, a really big, strong teddy bear that looks like he was designed for a Miyazaki film. Plus, we have more honorary Titans added at the end of the episode to tie it back into the arc for the season.

The season ends with the two-part story - "Calling All Titans" and "Titans Together." In the first episode, the team is finally done on their journey and headed back home. But Robin needs to split up the team to each make one more delivery of Titan Communicators. Once the Titans are split up, the Brotherhood Of Evil starts their all-out attack. By the end of the episode, all the world is in chaos and the Brain feels that by capturing Robin he has captured the King in this game of chess.

"Titans Together" is the end of the storyline started in the initial episode. Here, Beast Boy grows up and becomes a leader. He becomes the hero that he thought he could be. The episode doesn't dwell on his transformation. Instead it gets bogged down by solving all the fights that were being lost in the previous episode. And in finding a way to defeat the Brotherhood Of Evil. This would have been a wonderful point to revisit Beast Boy's conflict with the Doom Patrol and bring closure to his "first family."

Oddly, for a canceled series, the actual last episode is called "Things Change." As an epilogue to the previous episodes, this one just doesn't fit. The team has arrived back home to find their city changed. The video store and pizza place and shops are closed down. A character from earlier in the series, Terra, is brought back but she doesn't remember Beast Boy who had a crush on her. Little is solved and the episode ends with the return of Slade. After such a solid ending with the previous two episodes, it seems odd to hint at further stories (whether they're coming direct to DVD or not in the future). I would've liked to see a true "change." That this season's episodes have caused our Titans to grow. To see their future. To become less a collection of teenagers and more of a family from their experiences.

The show is aimed at a younger audience than say The Batman which ran concurrently with this show. The biggest difference between the two is the level of plot development. Almost always, this series sets up the plot and then fills the time with long, extended fights. That leaves little time for introspection. That doesn't detract from the entertainment of the series, it just leaves you feeling that there could be so much more. I look forward to possible movies in the future for this group. Things do change and I'd like to follow this team into their next adventures.

The DVD includes limited special features - including a short feature "The Teen Titans: Friends and Foes" and some trailers.


Written by Hombre Divertido

Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) Is Barely Worth The Trip

If you have ninety-three minutes to kill, and some money for popcorn and a soda, you could find a lot worse at the theatre this summer. Yes, the 1959 version of Jules Verne’s classic tale is a far superior film, but the story is completely different here, and thus squelches specific comparisons. Yes, the plot lacks depth and the quick wit normally associated with a summer action film, the situations are preposterous, and the 3-D effects are actually somewhat disappointing. With all that said, this film is still worth seeing.

New Line Cinema and Walden Media have created a fun summer movie for the whole family reminiscent of the classic Disney films of the sixties. The pacing is smooth, the soundtrack is excellent, and though Brendan Frasier lacks the energy he throws in to the Mummy films, he still manages to make it enjoyable to watch him deal with the situations. Luckily the supporting cast adds the energy Mr. Frasier is lacking. Josh Hutcherson channels a young Michael J. Fox, and Anita Briem displays a screen presence that we will hopefully see much more of.

Frasier plays scientist Trevor Anderson who is saddled with his nephew Sean (Hutcherson) for two weeks. When signs point to volcanic activity being identical to those that lead to the disappearance of Trevor’s fellow scientist brother and Sean’s dad, they head off to Iceland. After hiring Hannah (Briem) as their guide they inadvertently trek downward to the center of the earth.

Writers Michael D. Weiss, Jennifer Flackett, and Mark Levin have created more of a sequel to the 1959 film, that could have used a more intricate telling and certainly more humor, but director Eric Brevig does well with what he has, and certainly provides enough of the standard and gratuitous 3-D effects.

Recommendation: Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) is an amusement park rollercoaster that is not worth a long wait. It is fun for a few minutes but you will immediately be ready for whatever else the park has to offer.

You must leave your brain in the car for this, and it certainly longs to be part of a double feature, but the performances and simplicity of the story still manage to draw you in. Many theatres are not showing this in 3-D, and that would be the straw that would break the back of the oversized flying fang-toothed fish that attack our heroes, and make this journey not worth taking.

Dallas: The Complete Ninth Season

Written by Senora Bicho

The ninth season of Dallas is one of the most controversial in soap opera history. Even if you never watched the show, you more than likely have heard about one of television’s most infamous cliffhangers, and I don't mean “Who shot J.R.?”

Dallas is the story of the Ewing family and all of those who are lucky or unlucky enough to come into contact with them. Ellie Ewing (Barbara Bel Geddes) is the matriarch and her sons John Ross “J.R.” Jr. (Larry Hagman) and Bobby (Patrick Duffy) managed their oil empire. J.R. and Bobby were always battling with J.R. being the ruthless businessman who only cared about success at the expense of everyone else’s failures.

Season Nine starts with the Ewing family mourning the death of Bobby who, after reuniting with his ex-wife Pamela (Victoria Principal), was run down at the end of season eight. There is instant scheming to take over Bobby’s position at Ewing Oil that carries on for several episodes, and a rival oil company looks to take over the business.

In addition to the aftermath of Bobby’s death, there are other interesting storylines throughout the season. J.R. becomes the target by a mysterious and beautiful femme fatale and an excursion to Colombia results in a kidnapping. Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) is J.R.’s wife and their relationship is one heck of a rollercoaster ride. In addition to battling J.R., she battles a serious drinking problem. Pam finds a new romance and weds. Jenna (Priscilla Beaulieu Presley) who had an on-and-off relationship with Bobby tries to move on with a new beau. Ray and Donna Krebbs (played by Steve Kanaly and Susan Howard) have to make a decision about their unborn baby and suffer a tragedy.

While this season involves lots of drama, scheming, and mayhem, in the end what happens to the characters really doesn’t matter. Why? Because it was all a dream. In the last episode of the season Pam wakes up and finds Bobby in the shower, which startled all of its viewers. The following season opener revealed Pam had been having a bad dream.

In addition to the 31 complete episodes, there is also one special feature “Seasons of Change.” This featurette discusses the departure and return of Bel Geddes, the changes that were needed in order to compete with Dynasty, and the reason behind making the season a dream. The show had lost its central conflict with the loss of the good brother Bobby battling the bad J.R., so they needed a way to bring him back after killing him.

Even though this season’s storylines aren’t part of the series’ continuity, the episodes are still entertaining and worth watching if you are a soap fan. J.R. is fun to watch and can always be counted on for good one-liners. Since soap operas are always so over the top and mostly ridiculous, it all being a dream doesn’t make this season any worse than other shows. It can just be viewed as a standalone season and enjoyed for what it is.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Written by Pollo Misterioso

There has been a new genre of dance films that seem to be doing very well at the box office, and to think they play like 90-minute music videos. Step Up 2 The Streets is the newest dance film that incorporates dance troupes and drama that makes for a visually entertaining film that is predictable, but gratifying.

Films that incorporated dance have been around for ages (we all remember Saturday Night Fever and Footloose), but now they are taking the most popular dance tunes and constructing them around a character that just needs to dance. Step Up 2 is not necessarily a sequel to the popular film Step Up but instead introduces a new cast and a new set of problems, but in the same setting.

Andie (Briana Evigan) is a part of a dance crew called the 410; they street dance and battle at a local club. Unfortunately, her mother has passed away and she is living with a family friend who does not want to deal with her irresponsibility and recklessness anymore. Threatened with a move to Texas, Andie auditions and gets into the Maryland School of the Arts for dance. Her time is torn between school and her crew, resulting in her getting kicked out of the 410 so she must now form her own crew to be able to show up at the streets.

The characters in the film don’t develop much past their dancing technique. We spend the most time watching Andie struggle as she tries to form a crew that she is not ashamed of. Of course there is also a love interest, but that also is most fun to watch only when they are dancing, the mild flirting that does happen is more awkward than interesting.

This film is about dance and it does not try to be something that it is not. Sure the story is calculated and the lines might be cheesy (especially the ending speech that Andie gives at the end), but that is not the point. These characters can dance and there is something so pleasing about watching professional dancers try to pull off their best moves.

The music is current and the moves are incredible. Watch out for flips and dives that happen in the background. Our main character is a pretty face to follow, but there are other dancers that shine in the film.

This film is part of a genre that combines elements of musicals and older dance films, with the fresh and competitive spirit of television shows as So You Think You Can Dance. Don’t expect to be overwhelmed by this movie, especially in comparison to older classics that combine dance and drama. Step up 2 is stimulating and easy to watch, so just enjoy it for what it is.

The DVD extras include a couple featurettes, “Through Fresh Eyes; The Making of Step Up 2” follows around the director Jon Chu and “Outlaws of Hip Hop: Meet the 410” is an interesting look at how they came up with the choreography. Other extras include music videos from the songs used and deleted scenes.

THE RUINS (Unrated)

Written by Hombre Divertido

Though it appears that all involved had the best intentions, the film was ruined.

One of the challenges of viewing films on DVD can often be the bonus features. Thus is the case with The Ruins, released in an unrated version on DVD July 8th.

The bonus features include documentaries on the making of the film and the special effects, deleted scenes, and more. In the documentary you get great insight into what the producers (Ben Stiller, Trish Hofmann, Gary Barber), writer (Scott B. Smith), director (Carter Smith), cast, etc. were striving for. This only makes it more disappointing when viewing the final result.

Based on the novel by the same name, The Ruins tracks a small group of vacationers in Cancun who decide to take a day trip to some off the beaten path Mayan ruins. Upon arriving the group is met by some hostile locals who first insist that the tourists leave, and then insist that they not only stay, but that they ascend to the plateau of said ruins. The motivation of the locals seems a bit unclear, but those watching closely will understand the transition. The same cannot be said for other subtle plot points.

Eventually it becomes clear that our cast is not only at the mercy of the hostile natives, but also the vile vines that engulf the ruins. Said fiendish foliage has apparently killed and consumed other visitors to the ruins and has its lecherous leaves set on our heroes. The pain-inducing plants begin to grow on our trapped tourists, and in them as well.

The problem here is that what should be an intense film plays out more as a collection of scenes. The lack of continuity in this ninety-minute attempt at a thriller makes it difficult to appreciate, as the soon-to-be-flora-food friends attempt to survive and devise a way out of this situation, and begin to turn on each other and themselves.

The performances are fairly one-dimensional, and it appears that the director opts for gore in an attempt to glean a reaction from an audience that should be more drawn in by the physiological aspects of the situations. The gore is some of the best seen in cinema, but it falls flat without fear-inducing scenarios.

At certain points of the film the audience will find itself laughing at what should be scary, and wondering if producer Ben Stiller had that in mind all along.

Recommendation: As a classic horror film, the editing and lack of a truly scary antagonist keeps The Ruins from succeeding. There is more potential here for a psychological thriller based on the characters dealing with the situation, but the motivations become too muddled, the decisions are too far fetched, and the situations are not given enough time to play out properly. The bonus material is more entertaining than the film itself, and the deleted scenes actually contain a far superior ending. Worth renting for the true fans of gore and the special effects that go with that genre, but just not scary enough for the rest of us.

Friday, July 11, 2008

WANTED Has Too Much That Isn’t

Written by Hombre Divertido

Wanted (2008) does have Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman, cool special effects, a pounding soundtrack, and at points, a frenetic pace, yet still manages to be boring and predictable.

James McAvoy plays Wesley, a cubicle-dwelling loser, who is recruited by Fox (Jolie) to join The Fraternity, a group of assassins run by Sloan (Morgan Freeman). Wesley is told that his father, who abandoned him as a child, was a recently killed legendary member of the Fraternity. Wesley is to be trained to follow in his father’s footsteps and eventually enact revenge on his father’s killer. Said training takes up a ridiculous amount of the movie, as does the miraculous healing process that the injured go through by being glazed like a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

Wesley eventually gets on board in a motivation switch that is as muddled as the rest of the script. Though most of this is bad, it fails in comparison to the absurdity that is the ending to the clunker.

Why Jolie and Freeman chose this project is a huge question, but their performances are satisfactory, as is that of McAvoy. It is the script (written by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan, based on the comic books by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones) that is the disappointment here, as even the romance between Wesley and Fox that is alluded to in the trailers never materializes.

Director Timur Bekmambetov does his best to make this script exciting, and the special effects are some of the best of the summer thus far (except for the sequence at the end with the rats), but the audience will see every turn coming long before it approaches.

Recommendation: Skip it. It may appeal to the fans of the comic books, but unfortunately it’s far too bloody for anyone that age, and too dumb for anyone older.

GET SMART Needs To Get Funnier

Written by Hombre Divertido

This is just a movie that does not know what it wants to be. It’s almost as if writers Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember wrote a movie about spies, and then tried to turn it into Get Smart by putting Steve Carell in the lead, adding some comedic gags, and references to the original series.

It’s also questionable to whom this movie will appeal. Fans of the original series will find themselves waiting eagerly for references to the original series such as the soundtrack and the key phrases that end up being poorly executed. Most fans will find more laughs in one episode of the 1965-1970 series. Fans of Steve Carell may enjoy his adequate performance in what is more of an action movie with a little comedy…and actually, only a little action.

Carell plays Maxwell Smart, an all-star analyst for CONTROL who longs to be an agent like the suave Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson). After KAOS attacks and eliminates many of the agents, Max is promoted and partnered with Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway).

What is missing here is a comedic supporting cast for Carell. In the original series, the villains added a lot of comedy to the show. Not so here, as Terence Stamp takes over for Bernie Kopell (who makes a cameo) as the evil Siegfried. The rest of the cast fails to deliver any laughs with few exceptions, and Carell, who shows his physical comedic chops while using his Swiss Army crossbow in an airplane bathroom, is simply not given enough material to work with.

The film may be cute enough to carry some from gag to gag, a fun cameo by Bill Murray, and brief comedic moments by Carell, but the lack of an overall good story, tiring deadpan delivery by the usually reliable Alan Arkin as the chief, and the weak reference to the original series will not be enough to carry most through this 111-minute outing.

Original Get Smart creators and legendary comedy minds Mel Brooks and Buck Henry are listed as consultants, but their contributions are certainly not obvious.

The appearance of Patrick Warburton as Hymie near the end of the film certainly could be an indication of plans for a sequel. Hopefully the writers will get smart and make it more like the television series

Recommendation: With the huge comedic disappointments of Adam Sandler's Zohan, and Mike Myers' Love Guru, there is not much else out there for those in need of some laughs, and this does have some laughs, but it is a small drink in the midst of a severe drought. Catching this one on DVD, and hoping for some laughs from Will Farrell in a few weeks may better serve the parched.

Monday, July 07, 2008


Written by Fumo Verde

In 1987 I started a new hobby that would come to dominate my life and turn it into a style, a way of living that at the time was still considered to be on the outer fringes of society. It was my buddy Rick Taylor who introduced me to the world of surfing. Since then, I have taught many of my friends how to surf and have even learned to make boards. Through surfing I've learned more about our oceans and weather patterns than I could have possibly imagined, all the while dreaming about being a pro-surfer. This documentary pays tribute to those who made professional surfing a true sport.

As we all know surfing was born in the warm waters of the Hawaiian Island chain that the U.S. Government stole form the people of Hawaii. In doing so, Americans from the mainland caught the bug for the traditional water sport and took it back home. Amazingly it wasn't commercialized into the fads that came and went during the 1950s and 1960s, and if contests were held, the winner usually won a can of Spam or a six-pack of Coke. Even in the Mecca of surfing, Oahu's North Shore the surf contests were mainly for locals only and small prizes where awarded, if any.

Surfing started to catch on around the world, and places like South Africa and Australia began to accumulate small surfing communities out of which the men who would change the face of surfing forever. Like it or not, these are the men who were the forefathers of pro surfing and this documentary tells their story and how they tried and made surfing what it is today. Wayne "Rabbit" Bartholomew, Shaun and Michael Tomsom, Mark Richards, Ian Cairns, and Peter Towned came form different worlds but they all wanted the same thing: to be the best surfer in the world. To do that there was only one place to go, the proving ground to all of us who have ever paddled out on the foam stick, sat back on the tail, turned around, and charged it: the North Shore.

With incredible surf footage from those early years, injected with killer music form the time, director Jeremy Gosch was able to bring the stories of these men to life. Blending the action sequences of the '70s with live interviews of these men brought you back to the beginning when the thought of being a pro surfer was more of joke than a profession. Interviews with other surfing and Hawaiian legends are prominent in this film and give a good balance. What I remember reading about these guys back when I was learning to ride was they pissed off a lot of people, especially the local crowds. Watching this movie will make you understand why too.

That's why I wrote, "Like it or not." The way they surfed was different then what was going on at the time, a transformation was taking place. It was radical before radical was re-coined for the surfing culture. The deep barrel rides, the wide carving, and quick snaps here all brought to light via the Bronze Aussies and the South Africa crew.

It wasn't just in the water, but on land they took the idea of being a professional to heart. If they had a meeting with the media, they would show up on time, would always dress nice, and act accordingly. They were carving out a sport from an intense water recreation, one that takes over your life and changes who you are. Most people back then thought surfers were just drug addicts who could surf. Tomson, MR, Rabbit and the rest were out to prove that surfing could be come a pro sport just like golf or tennis or baseball. That money could be made and so could a living. Kelly Slater can vouch for this and he does. He thanks these men just as we all should. They had to show off, to hot dog it up, just to get some attention so they could get into the contests. This hot doggin' handed them the attention, and how they handled it comes out in this fantastic documentary.

If it wasn't for surfing I wouldn't be who I am, and if it weren't for these men, I may have never know what surfing could have been for me. If you are surfer and you watch this film, I think you will fully agree with Michael Tomson when, near the end of Bustin' Down the Door, he says it the best, "I will surf till I die!"

Same here.

Bustin' Down the Door will open in New York, Los Angeles, Orange County, and other select cities on Friday, July 25.

The Closer - The Complete Third Season

Written by Senora Bicho

Trying to make its mark as the channel “that knows drama,” TNT has found its most successful original series with the crime drama The Closer, which has become a summer success as each season they have been able to reach out to new viewers. With the conclusion of Season Three, it became the most viewed ad-supported cable series of all time, because it is well-written and engrossing with a great ensemble cast.

What has allowed yet another crime show to make its way to my regular TV lineup is the main character Brenda Lee Johnson played to perfection by Kyra Sedgwick. Similar to Patricia Arquette providing the foundation for Medium, without Sedgwick in the starring role the show wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. She has been nominated for the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award, and Primetime Emmy for her performance each year the series has aired, winning the Golden Globe in 2007.

It is so wonderful to have so many shows airing today based on powerful women: Medium, Damages, Bones, Saving Grace, Weeds, and The L Word just to name a few. It is so nice to see dynamic, well-rounded women portrayed in these shows. The Closer is one of the best examples of these female-focused shows; Johnson is strong and intelligent but also vulnerable and flawed.

Season Three starts off cleverly with all of the members of the Priority Homicide Division being videotaped at the crime scene of a triple homicide; this allows new viewers to quickly get acquainted with the main characters. Johnson is the Deputy Police Chief in charge of the unit, having recently relocated from Atlanta.

Another one of the highlights of the show is J.K. Simmons as Assistant Police Chief Will Pope. I have loved Simmons ever since his love-to-hate character on Oz; he is always entertaining and steals all of the scenes he is in. The remaining main characters all have unique and interesting personality traits that together create a special chemistry. The performances are all strong and bring a sense of reality to the show.

In addition to the many captivating cases that the division tries to solve, they deal with internal struggles, political concerns, budget issues, and personal drama. We also see a lot more happen on the personal front for Johnson. Her romance with FBI Agent Fritz Howard continues and grows, we are introduced to the demanding relationship with her parents, and she deals with some serious health issues.

This DVD collection includes all 14 episodes along with a few special features. There are unaired scenes included in several episodes; however, they went unnoticed by me while watching them. Luckily, they also have a collection of all of the scenes together on each disc. Obviously, since they were originally unaired they do not add much. Of course, you will find the totally unnecessary but always present gag real.

The only item really worth mentioning is the featurette “The Art of Interrogation.” It includes interviews with professors and legal professionals along with people involved with the show. It provides interesting information on the use of interrogation together with how the show was created around this key tool used by the police. Being a crime junkie, I really enjoyed the featurette. It was fascinating and also gave me a bit more of an appreciation for what goes into the interrogation scenes in the show.

Season Three of The Closer is the strongest season yet and I am anxiously awaiting Season Four that airs on July 14th so you still have time to get caught up on Season Three.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


Written by Hombre Divertido

It is rare that a film would prove to be such a frustrating experience; but thus is the case with Hancock.

Will Smith, who can usually be counted on for quality fourth of July weekend films, plays the alcohol-drinking, unenthused superhero, who muddles his way through the capturing of evil-doers, and the obligatory rescuing of the innocent when he feels like it, and even then, with general distain for the public.

Early in the film Hancock rescues and is befriended by public relations whiz Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) who takes on Hancock as a client and project. He attempts to soften Hancock while improving his image. Embrey is successful to an extent, and the antics of Hancock before and after the rescuing of Embrey are reasonably entertaining.

Had writers Vy Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan kept it simple and given us 120 of the before and after of Hancock the reluctant superhero, we would have a quality movie ripe for a sequel. Instead, we are rushed through the establishment of the character and the transition, so that we could get to ridiculous and vague plot transitions, and unnecessary violence all in 92 minutes.

No point in going into the rest of the plot; it’s a mess. It does include Charlize Theron in a somber performance as Ray’s wife Mary.

The movie is full of CGI effects, but considering where the quality line has been established this season with Iron Man, Prince Caspian, The Incredible Hulk, etc., those too are quite disappointing.

Director Peter Berg is not off the hook here either. Though the writers are primarily to blame, the directorial choices did not help. The film gets gratuitously violent in the second half, and the choices made in his direction were not only inconsistent, but include a nauseating close-up style reminiscent of the cheesy chase scenes in Point Break.

No blame on Will Smith here. His performance is spot-on, but he appears to be fighting the reins of the writers and directors throughout.

Recommendation: The first 30 to 45 minutes are fun. Head for some Iron Man or Hulk after that.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Sword in the Stone (45th Anniversary Special Edition)

Written by Senora Bicho

I admit it; I am a bit biased when it comes to the classic Disney animated films. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the newer films too, and especially everything from Pixar, but the older films feel like coming home and offer an innocent charm. The Sword in the Stone is no exception. I have not watched this movie in a long time but always remembered it fondly. The new 45th anniversary edition lived up to those fond memories.

The Sword in the Stone is the story of Arthur, the boy who would be king. The story is set in historic England at a time of great unrest. The King has died with no heir and no one can agree on a successor, which places a dark cloud over the country. One day a miracle occurs and a sword miraculously appears in a stone. The engraving states that whoever can pull the sword out of the anvil will be king. Many try unsuccessfully and so the sword was soon long forgotten.

Cut to Merlin the Magician who is anxiously awaiting a houseguest. His grouchy companion owl, Archimedies, accompanies him. Arthur, an 11-year-old boy, who lives with his foster father and brother, soon joins them. He is basically their slave and has ambitions to be a squire. Merlin explains that he is to be his mentor and will teach him how to use his brain instead of focusing on brawn. Merlin and Arthur go on several adventures as Arthur learns many valuable life lessons. The best scene of the film is when Arthur competes in a wizards’ duel with Mad Madam Mim and proves the benefits of higher learning and brainpower.

The story is simple but offers a good message. The characters are entertaining and engaging and are set within a solid and interesting story. Archimedies has always been my favorite and still steals the show. There are very few songs but those included are fun. The animation looks terrific. The picture is crisp with bright colors. The sound is also nice clear.

There are not too many extras offered in the new edition. First is the only new item offered, “Merlin’s Magical Academy Game” that includes many different activates as players try to earn shields. All of the rest of the bonus features were on previous editions.

“Bonus Movie Shorts” includes Goofy in “A Knight for a Day” and Mickey Mouse in “The Brave Little Tailor.” “Disney Song Selection” allows viewers to jump right to their favorite song and also puts the words on the screen for sing-a-longs.

“Music Magic: The Sherman Brothers” highlights the incredible musical talent behind the movie. The Sherman Brothers were involved with many Disney movies and they appear in the extras on many of the classic Disney films. The brothers are included in the featurette and share about their experiences.

“Backstage Disney” includes a featurette called “All About Magic” and has Walt Disney talking viewers on a journey through a magic property room. It also includes a scrapbook of the artwork from the film along with film facts.

I can’t speak to the difference in picture and sound quality in this edition as compared to the last edition since this is the first time I have watched it on DVD but it isn’t mind-blowing to look at or listen to as compared to other films that have been re-mastered recently. I didn’t think it was that different from my old VHS copy really. If you already own “The Sword in the Stone” on DVD I don’t see any reason to add this one to your collection. Compared to animated films that come out these days, children may be bored by this but as a kid at heart I still enjoy this one even just to pop it in on occasion to watch a few of my favorite scenes.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Written by Musgo Del Jefe

The bar for fantasy films aimed at a child audience has been set almost unattainably high by the Harry Potter films and The Chronicles of Narnia films. The Spiderwick Chronicles positioned itself to compete in that rarified air but in its execution it falls woefully short.

The Spiderwick Chronicles, like Narnia and Potter, pull from a series of young adult books by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi. Since the Spring of 2003, there have been five books published in the main series and two ancillary titles. Not unlike the Lemony Snicket books, the producers at Nickelodeon Films needed to combine more than one book to fill a feature length film. Instead of thinking forward to future films and further time for character development, they decided to adapt all five into one film (leaving out a majority of the plot of Book Four).

As an arm of Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Films has a tradition of developing their own TV programs to film (Rugrats, Jimmy Neutron and SpongeBob SquarePants) and similar live-action family fare (Good Burger, Nacho Libre and Lemony Snicket). This fantasy film falls right into line with their previous releases.

The movie opens in a promising way. Single mother, Mrs. Grace (Mary-Louise Parker) arrives at a "haunted house" (Spiderwick Estate) with her three children - older sister, Mallory (Sarah Bolger who was brilliant in In America) and twins, Jared and Simon (both played by Freddie Highmore who played Charlie in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Simon and Jared are polar opposite characters and young actor, Highmore, pulls this off pretty well through hair and posture differences and slight voice inflections. Simon is the peacekeeper of the family, avoiding conflict at all costs. Jared is our main character, our storyteller and mischievous. In the opening scenes, there are weird happenings and sounds surrounding the house. Whether it's disappearing trinkets of the family or noises in the bushes, these Amityville Horror type of touches set a good creepy mood. Jared is blamed for most of the weirdness, setting the tone for his character.

Jared's discovery of Spiderwick's Field Guide book sets in motion the thin plot of the film. He meets a brownie named Thimbletack (Martin Short) who becomes our exposition to the world of faeries and the plot for the remaining 70 minutes of the film. Thimbletack tells Jared that an ogre named Mulgarth (Nick Nolte) wants to steal the Field Guide to learn its lessons and take over the faeries. When Simon is accidentally mistaken for Jared and kidnapped by Mulgarth's goblins, we meet Hogsquel (Seth Rogen) a comic relief that likes to eat birds and figures prominently in the end of the story.

The adventures leading to the resolution of the story feel episodic and rushed. There are some great special effects that are not given time to live and breathe as they are in Lord Of The Rings or Chronicles Of Narnia. There seems to be a rush to keep the plot regarding the Field Guide moving forward instead of getting to know this universe of faeries or more about the Grace family.

The plot elements hint at a much larger and better story. Most fantasy aimed at young adults works well when it clearly works without its fantasy elements. The Harry Potter books and films would be interesting stories if Hogwarts was just a normal school instead of one full of magic. The addition of the fantasy elements allows the director to tell the story of the "real" world in the context of the magical world. The Grace family has gone through a divorce. Jared's deep denial of this and wish for his father to return has resonance in many of the magical plot lines. Mulgarth is a bad ogre and bad father figure. In fact, little is played of the fact that Mulgarth disguises himself as Mr. Grace but when he is discovered, Jared must stab him in the stomach.

We meet their elderly Aunt Lucinda (Joan Plowright), who herself was abandoned by her father, Arthur Spiderwick (David Starthairn). Her pain should be an inspiration to the Grace children but there is not that connection. There isn't the moment of healing or hope from her to the kids. In the end, Lucinda and Arthur will find a timeless reuniting that is really more metaphorical and real. Is this symbolic of a reuniting with Mr. Grace and the kids or is their abandonment illustrated more by the stabbing of the "father" and his turning into a snake?

This movie would've been better served to break the five books into two or three films. The actors do a wonderful job and I would love to see more of the special effects. The monsters are interesting but you have to wait for the Special Features on the DVD to really appreciate them. The style is here but not the substance. This will not fall into the pantheon of the great fantasy films being released in the past ten years.

The DVD is loaded with extras and special features. "The Field Guide", "It's A Spiderwick World", "Making Spiderwick" and "Deleted Scenes" are all entertaining and hint even more at the larger world that Nickelodeon thought they were creating. It's a shame to let such timeless possibilities go to waste. There's always next time, Nick.