Case in point: Charles Dickens, who narrates this film himself, is played by -- get this -- Gonzo. He's not a writer, he's a lamplighter who takes a break from his work to tell the story of Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine), the famous miser who (in this version) wants to give Bob Crachit (played by Kermit the Frog) a mere half-hour off for Christmas and is the subject of jokes at local gatherings. People and puppets mix at random here. Unlike in films like The Muppet Movie, where the puppets are on a crusade to reach Hollywood and the humans encompass only characters they encounter on the way, The Muppet Christmas Carol blends both together. It's a little freaky to see them all sitting together -- in British period dress, too -- around the Christmas dinner table.
Continue reading: The Muppet Christmas Carol Review
Unlike most of the other Muppet films, our featured star in this particular one is Gonzo. As we all know, Gonzo is a "Whatever", but this explanation of his species is no longer good enough for the long-nosed freak. He longs for family, and the satisfaction of knowing what he is. Then no sooner than you can say, "Wakka-Wakka", Gonzo's origins begin to reveal themselves. And they do this, ever so appropriately, through his breakfast cereal (well I thought it was funny).
Continue reading: Muppets From Space Review
Now legendary, the film has been referenced and homaged to an extent matched by few other recent films. It's a classic story: Greedy Phildadelphia commodity brokers Randolph and Mortimer Duke (the inimatable Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) bet the sum of $1 on a "scientific experiment," namely that they can depose their successful managing director Louis (Aykroyd) and replace him with a common street bum named Valentine (Murphy).
Continue reading: Trading Places Review
The plot loosely follows the odyssey of Kermit the Frog from his swamp home to Hollywood in search of celebrity. The desirability of fame and stardom is never questioned. The Hollywood worship becomes pretty maudlin at the end, thanks mainly to songwriter Paul Williams, whose songs are palatable at first ("Rainbow Connection" was a hit) but become too much before the end of the movie.
Continue reading: The Muppet Movie Review
And so we're faced with the third Star Wars prequel, Revenge of the Sith, simultaneously the most anticipated and dreaded film of the summer. Nearly a decade of hype, dashed expectations, and Jar-Jar Binks jokes have finally come down to this, Lucas's third Star Wars prequel and, by all accounts, the last Star Wars movie that will ever be made.
Continue reading: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge Of The Sith Review
Like the American backpackers in the movie from which "The Slaughtered Lamb" derives its name, I simply muttered "what the bloody hell kinda name for a pub is 'The Slaughtered Lamb'." Regardless, we entered. On the wall, by what may be perhaps the tiniest bathroom in all of Manhattan, is a poster of An American Werewolf in London.
Continue reading: An American Werewolf In London Review
I was excited to see the rerelease of The Empire Strikes Back, but I had forgotten about how masterful the film is realized, and I had especially forgotten what it looked like on the big screen.
Continue reading: Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back Review
Spider-Man's hype and box office may have stolen some of Episode II's thunder, but Attack of the Clones finally arrives, three years after its predecessor, The Phantom Menace, and picking up the story 10 years after that installment let off.
The story is considerably more convoluted this time out. Former Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) is now a senator in the Republic, and nefarious parties are repeatedly attempting to have her assassinated. Assigned to protect her are Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and a growing-up Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), now Obi-Wan's apprentice. Soon, Jedi bosses Yoda and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) split the two up: Obi-Wan is tasked with tracking down the bounty hunter who tried to kill Amidala (which turns out to be Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), father/clone of young Boba Fett). Anakin is tasked with serving as Amidala's bodyguard.
Obi-Wan scours a "secret" watery planet (there discovering a massing clone army allegedly purchased for the Republic ten years ago), and then tracks Jango to another planet, where he finds the opposition led by (try not to snicker) Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), who is amassing a droid army for war against the Republic.
Meanwhile, Amidala and Anakin fall in love (awwwwwwwwwwwww), but since she's a politician and he's a Jedi (bound to supress emotion -- which just ain't takin'), they have to keep their romance a secret (just like in The Bodyguard!).
Side stories galore take characters all over the galaxy far, far away... including the inevitable stop on Tatooine to help Anakin's mother and long spells on Coruscant, the 100%-urban capital planet.
On to the nagging questions: Foremost, Jar-Jar is back, and his part is not insubstantial; the character is as grating as ever. But all eyes are on Christensen, and he fills the shoes of Skywalker admirably, though he has apparently been given the sole direction to act like a really bratty teenager.
The use of CGI is on overload, and while many of the sets (real or digital) are quite successful, many of the backdrops are not -- notably the cheesy oceans on the clone planet and an especially flat cathedral-like hallway Yoda scoots through. When the CGI interacts with real-world elements (like when Anakin rides a fat sheep-like creature), the effect is about as believable as Barney being a real dinosaur.
Also out of place is the movie's silly patriotism, with frequent pontification about loving democracy (and this from a former queen -- albeit an "elected" queen... uh, okay) and the Republic. One speech actually includes the earnestly corny line, "The day we stop believing in democracy is the day we lose it!" I say the day Star Wars becomes nothing more than a political platform is the day we lose it.
At 2 1/2 hours in length, this installment is a bit long-winded and bladder-challenging (compared to 2:13 for Episode I and a little over 2 hours for A New Hope), but the decision to go "epic" at least makes room for lots of action when Amidala and Anakin aren't busy smooching. The action starts right at the beginning, with an impressive skycar chase through Coruscant, and ends with an equally smashing "big battle scene" that easily outdoes the one in Menace. Best of all, though, is the already famous Yoda light-saber battle, which is as funny as it is thrilling. That said, the pod race in Phantom is still probably the best action sequence in the series so far.
Less impressive are the talky parts, which haltingly attempt to create a romance between Amidala and Anakin. The love story just doesn't work and it's very awkward, maybe because George Lucas is simply out of touch with the realities of youthful romance, or maybe because the leads didn't have chemistry. I don't know for sure. I do know, however, that if Anakin Skywalker is going to play the cool outcast he shouldn't act like a baby around his would-be girlfriend. And Amidala's 11th hour confession of love comes completely out of left field, a necessary plot point because we know she has to eventually bear two kids by the guy.
In fact, much of Episode II feels like it's ticking off items to make sure we get to the appropriate state of the galaxy by the end of 2005's Episode III. There's still a long way to go -- Anakin has to turn evil and disfigured; Amidala has to have two kids, split them up, and have one become the princess of a planet still not introduced in the series; Yoda and Obi-Wan have to become hermits; and then there's the matter of the Death Star, which has to be built. Episode III is either going to be a complete disaster or a work of genius.
Altogether, the movie is enjoyable despite its nagging script inadequacies and crummy "down" scenes. The action is fun, the acting is good enough, and the direction is capable, if not inspired. If you're a die-hard Star Wars fan, you will like this better than Episode I (though I grade them roughly equal), but it still won't hold a candle to the earlier films.
But chances are when it's said and done, you aren't going to be talking about Episode II for its good things. An impromptu conversation with another filmcritic.com staffer set us off on a number of incongruities and simply baffling moments that might be pointing to Lucas's senility. For example: When did R2-D2 become able to fly? When did Obi-Wan become afraid of flying (or afraid of anything for that matter)? What's with Jimmy Smits and his Elizabethan collar? Since when does a Jedi Knight have to go to a library to figure out where a planet is? And why didn't Lucas get the hint about Jar-Jar Binks the first time around?
Mysteries of the universe, I tell ya.
The DVD answers few of these mysteries, with eight deleted scenes (see Natalie Portman lose her accent!) and various effects-oriented documentaries. There's even a trailer for a mockumentary about R2-D2. Amusing.
Teddy bears' picnic.
Yes, the reissue is as good as the original. Yes, it lives up to the greatness of the rest of the series. Yes, the enhancements are top-notch and they really add to the enjoyment of the film.
Continue reading: Star Wars: Episode VI - Return Of The Jedi Review
The cunning dexterity and gravitas with which George Lucas snaps into place every remaining puzzle piece in his epic 30-year storyarc is remarkable. The talent of Hayden Christensen will surprise his detractors as he portrays a complex, compounding crisis of conflicting loyalties thattear Anakin Skywalker apart, leading him to slip ever more rapidly toward the Dark Side of the Force. The potent sensations of betrayal and inevitabilitythat fuel the climactic duel between the young Jedi knight and his former master Obi-Wan Kenobi are positively goosepimpling, even though every "StarWars" fan knows the outcome and has been waiting for this moment for years.
These elements, coupled with much improved dialogue, far fewer scenes transparently designed to foster inevitable tie-in video games,and genuinely compelling emotions make up for the myriad of shortcomings that plagued the previoustwo"Star Wars" prequels.
Opening in the midst the Clone Wars between the crumbling galactic republic and an alliance of separatists that is really a frontfor the evil Sith Lords (all those villains called "Darth This" and "Darth That"), "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge ofthe Sith" is surprisingly character-driven. The plot revolves around the volatile, brash young Anakin being appointed by the increasingly powerfulChancellor Palpatine (soon to be revealed as Darth Sidious) to be his personal representative on the Jedi Council, which has for centuries tried to maintainpeace in this galaxy far, far away.
Continue reading: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge Of The Sith Review
Computer animation leader-of-the-pack Pixar Studios doesn't just create visually astonishing, wildly amusing kiddie cartoons. The company's clever creative team also comes up with the most inventive, least clichéd plots that children's movies have seen in at least a decade.
Any five minutes of "Toy Story," "Toy Story 2" or "A Bug's Life" is more original and more entertaining than the entirety of most flicks aimed at the adolescent demographic -- and Pixar has done it again with "Monsters, Inc.," a witty, warm and wonderful CGI 'toon about the scary, hairy beasts that lurk in our closets and under our beds at night.
The story takes place in a parallel monster world where electrical power is generated through the bottled screams of Earthly children. Big, burly, blue-furred, horn-headed James P. Sullivan (voice of John Goodman) is the top scare-maker at Monsters, Inc. -- the electric utility of the monster world. He's a friendly, blue-collar joe who jumps through dozens of closet doors a day, which rotate through his factory floor work station on a high-tech conveyor, operated by Sulley's best pal, Mike (Billy Crystal) -- a squat, green, walking pool ball with one huge eye that takes up half his body.
Continue reading: Monsters, Inc. Review
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