Blazing across the screen with eye-popping, sublime artwork, Kung Fu Panda sets itself apart from the modern domestic animation trend with its sheer beauty. From an opening dream sequence whose abstract style seems culled straight from a modern manga, the film enters instant classic status as some of the most gorgeous animation Hollywood has produced since the golden age of Disney. Eschewing the cold and severe art of Dreamworks' Shrek films, the makers of Kung Fu Panda fill the screen with painterly backdrops of mountain vistas and fluttering leaves that give Zhang Yimou a run for his money. It somehow makes it all the funnier to have the titular panda, Po (Black), come huffing and wheezing through the impeccable and non-specific ancient China landscapes like a less-active relative of Hurley on Lost.
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Surprise! Sin City is a mega-violent, highly potent vial of noir crack. And judging from the riotous burst of applause at the end of our screening, one that's destined to be a Matrix-style mass-cult classic.
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The film imagines that there's an entire wing of the national intelligence apparatus composed of nubile young women in tarty schoolgirl outfits (knee socks, plaid miniskirts, the whole bit) selected by how they answered questions buried in the SATs that secretly test for espionage aptitude. The starring quartet of hotties soon to graduate from the D.E.B.S. academy are: straight-A and dishwater dull Amy (Sara Foster, her blonde hair making her the star), chain-smoking and slutty Domique (Devon Aoki, sporting a respectable French accent), love-starved and not-too-bright underachiever Janet (Jill Ritchie) and their over-the-top bitchy leader Max (Meagan Good, trying too hard).
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The Scorpion King ably rehashes the plots of the variety of other, better films including Gladiator, the Indiana Jones series, Flash Gordon, Beastmaster, and even The Goonies. Set 5,000 years ago, a warlord named Memnon (Steven Brand), acting on crazed Napoleonic urges, ravages the land and bends its people into totalitarian rule. With the aid of a seer who foretells the future, Memnon stands invincible against all aggressors.
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Call it a premature yet promising start to the summer action season. Somehow "The Scorpion King" -- a movie starring a professional wrestler and spun off from a shameful sequel -- has become the most enjoyably, unapologetically jumbo-sized popcorn flick since 1999's remake of "The Mummy," this picture's indirect ascendant.
While "The Scorpion King" aims for a considerably lower brow, it's a vast improvement on its idiotic immediate predecessor. In "The Mummy Returns," WWF wrestler The Rock had a bit part as the movie's second resurrected bad guy, an ancient Akkadian king who sold his soul to a "dark god" in order to win a war. "The Scorpion King" is that character's backstory, a tongue-in-cheek, "Conan the Barbarian"-like, 3000 B.C. adventure packed with over-the-top action and intentionally cheesy catch-phrase dialogue.
The Rock plays Mathayus, a sinewy assassin hired by the assembled remnants of several defeated tribes to kill the sorcerer who serves a powerful tyrant king that decimate their lands and peoples. Without supernatural guidance, the inexplicably interracial tribes (led by colossal Michael Clarke Duncan, "The Green Mile") believe they can defeat the ruthless, psychopathic Memnon (Steven Brand) and his silly mohawk-flattop hair-do.
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Without the faintest hint of director Tim Burton's uniquely uncanny style, "Planet of the Apes" version 2.0 feels like nothing more than a generic (albeit overblown) sci-fi summer movie -- and a forgettably mediocre one at that.
A passionless, elementary endeavor of wow effects and a yawn plot (which has been reinvented from the 1968 original), the picture opens circa 2029 with astronaut Mark Wahlberg working on a space station, training chimps to pilot one-man pods into electrical storms encountered in deep space.
After losing contact with one chimp in a rather ominous anomaly, Wahlberg establishes his maverick personality (which soon fades into a vanilla version of your standard action hero) by swiping a pod against orders to go rescue him. Once inside the storm, our hero is sucked into a wormhole that turns his helm dead and spits him out to crash land on a faraway world in the distant future where -- as if you didn't know -- a brutal, medieval society of evolved simians enslaves primitive humans as labor and pets.
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"The Green Mile" begins with a little deja vu. Like Tom Hanks' last mid-Century, Oscar-baiting drama, "Saving Private Ryan," it's bookended by a modern framework that finds an old man reluctantly reminiscing about a difficult year of his life, more than half a century ago.
Because of the familiar faces and the similar prestige posturing, this platitudinous structure invites a little eye-rolling as Dabbs Greer (Reverend Alden on "Little House On the Prairie"), playing the aged Hanks, begins to spin what becomes an engrossing three-hour yarn about a year of extraordinary horrors and miracles on death row in a Louisiana state penitentiary.
Hanks plays prison guard Paul Edgecomb, an unjaded joe in charge of death row who treats people on both sides of the bars with humanity and civility. Set in 1935, the central story opens with the arrival of a kindly colossus of a condemned killer named John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan).
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An unremarkably routine superhero movie based on the cult-favorite comic book about a satanically-costumed blind vigilante, "Daredevil" plays like a C-grade grad project for a night school course called Superhero Filmmaking 101.
Faithful to his inspiration -- the era of "Daredevil" issues written by "Batman" revitalizer Frank Miller and comic-crazy film director Kevin Smith -- in several important details, writer-director Mark Steven Johnson's one stroke of true genius comes in the pulses of fluid, misty, ghostly imagery he uses to depict the sightless crime fighter's enhanced ability to "see" through sound waves and smells.
But most of the picture apes its action style -- and many whole fight scenes -- from last year's "Spider-Man." It has the same ineffectual opening voice-over, the same unconvincingly CGI-assisted rooftop leaping and building-swinging (Daredevil uses a grappling-hook-modified walking cane instead of spider-webbing) and its hero has the same slow-mo back-flip method of dodging weapons thrown by villains.
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