Ted Elliott

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The Lone Ranger Review


OK

Everything about this film screams excess, from the ludicrous two-and-a-half hour running time to the whopping scale of the action sequences to Johnny Depp's bizarro costume. But this reunion between Depp and his original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy director Verbinski is a solidly made romp that actually has some genuine laughs and thrills. There's certainly never a dull moment.

It's set in late-1860s Texas, where John Reid (Hammer) arrives to visit his brother Dan (Dale), whose wife Rebecca (Wilson) is John's former flame. After an elaborate prison break, John is deputised and joins the posse of rangers hunting down the escapee. When they're ambushed, John is the lone survivor, nursed back to health by quirky outsider Tonto (Depp), a Native American who knows how to get to the bottom of what's going on here. So they go undercover to find the truth, which involves a secret silver mine, construction on the first transcontinental American railway, and tensions between European settlers and the native Comanche community.

The script is a complex riot of details that resolutely refuse to gel into a coherent picture until the screenwriters are good and ready to fill in the gaps. In the mean time, they throw the characters into a series of madcap action set-pieces that are wildly cartoonish in the way everyone just dusts themselves off afterwards and carries on. From train crashes to horseback chases, this is non-stop action. And Verbinski is an expert at staging these massive sequences, so they're a lot of fun to watch, especially when the film is populated with such energetic characters.

Continue reading: The Lone Ranger Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Review


Good
Captain Jack Sparrow is back for another high seas romp and, despite the long running time, this is more freewheeling comedy than action adventure. And while it's hilarious fun, it's also so meandering that it's a bit dull.

In London, Jack (Depp) is brought before George II (Griffiths) so he can help the Brits beat the Spanish to the Fountain of Youth. But after an elaborate escape, Jack ends up in the crew of the ship captained by the evil Blackbeard (McShane) and his daughter Angelica (Cruz), with whom Jack has a past. So now Blackbeard, the Spanish and the British, led by Jack's old nemesis/pal Barbossa (Rush), are racing to the Caribbean to find the secret of immortality. And their first task is to capture a mermaid.

Continue reading: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Review

Aladdin Review


Extraordinary
Disney's version of Aladdin and his magic lamp is one of its best animated features -- or features, period -- with terrific songs and gorgeous colors, thrilling action sequences and big laughs. It doesn't have the classical emotional weight of Beauty and the Beast, which came out a year earlier, but it's one of the only Disney films to break out of that nebulous "family" genre and function as a genuine comedy/adventure.

What everyone remembers, comedically speaking, is Genie, a blue whirling dervish of impressions and wisecracks as vocalized by Robin Williams in 100 percent inspiration, negligible perspiration mode. But Aladdin also features what may be the only tolerable role for Gilbert Gottfried, period: Iago, the cranky parrot sidekick of evil villain Jafar. Even Aladdin and Jasmine, while essentially bland, have likeably cynical streaks (Jasmine is disgusted by the parade of handsome princes sent to woo her, as if she's just finished watching a Disney movie marathon). These characters would have significant goodwill flogged away by a TV series and the pair of direct-to-video follow-ups that bookend it, but on its own, Aladdin is a rollicking good time. And although the contribution of Williams is immeasurable, the Disney team rises to the occasion with some terrific, fast-paced gagwork and visual mastery.

Continue reading: Aladdin Review

The Road to El Dorado Review


Weak
The Road to El Dorado is DreamWorks' second big attempt, after 1998's The Prince of Egypt, to break into Disney's monopoly on the animated film business. It is an effort as disappointing as the first.

The one aspect of this film that fits squarely within genre conventions is the subject matter. Like such classics as Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, El Dorado finds a classical fantasy in the lost city of gold, couching it in a historical context: In this case is the Spanish explorer Cortez's very real search for that mythical city. Unfortunately though, Cortez is lost for the bulk of the film while we are left to follow two roguish Spaniards (voiced by Kline and Branagh) who stumble upon, in sequence, a map to El Dorado, Cortez's ship to the New World, and El Dorado itself. Once the two con artists find El Dorado, they are of course hailed as Gods, and the bulk of the story concerns just how they are going to carry out this charade and make off with the gold back to Spain. In the process, we are left with a half-hearted conniving native medicine man voiced by Armand Assante as our only hope for a true villain. Once they find the lost city, the plot follows turn for turn that of the 1975 Sean Connery vehicle, The Man Who Would Be King. One could argue that plagiarizing a great film is not such a bad idea, considering a great bulk of the audience has never seen said film or read the book it is based on. Nonetheless, it tends to irk any true movie fan to see great movies remade badly.

Continue reading: The Road to El Dorado Review

Aladdin Review


Extraordinary
Disney's version of Aladdin and his magic lamp is one of its best animated features -- or features, period -- with terrific songs and gorgeous colors, thrilling action sequences and big laughs. It doesn't have the classical emotional weight of Beauty and the Beast, which came out a year earlier, but it's one of the only Disney films to break out of that nebulous "family" genre and function as a genuine comedy/adventure.

What everyone remembers, comedically speaking, is Genie, a blue whirling dervish of impressions and wisecracks as vocalized by Robin Williams in 100 percent inspiration, negligible perspiration mode. But Aladdin also features what may be the only tolerable role for Gilbert Gottfried, period: Iago, the cranky parrot sidekick of evil villain Jafar. Even Aladdin and Jasmine, while essentially bland, have likeably cynical streaks (Jasmine is disgusted by the parade of handsome princes sent to woo her, as if she's just finished watching a Disney movie marathon). These characters would have significant goodwill flogged away by a TV series and the pair of direct-to-video follow-ups that bookend it, but on its own, Aladdin is a rollicking good time. And although the contribution of Williams is immeasurable, the Disney team rises to the occasion with some terrific, fast-paced gagwork and visual mastery.

Continue reading: Aladdin Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Review


Good
Any sailor worth his salt knows that "pirate" is a curse word you don't dare utter on the high seas. You just might summon the scavengers' fearful wrath.

Actually, "pirate" wasn't a word you wanted to mention in Hollywood, either. Calling the genre troublesome is an understatement, as directors who attempted big-budget pirate adventures were plagued with disastrous shoots, and the films received lukewarm response at the box office. Everything from Roman Polanski's Pirates to Renny Harlin's Cutthroat Island immediately sank to the depths of Davy Jones's locker.

Continue reading: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Review

The Mask of Zorro Review


Excellent
With all the recent rehashing of old movies and TV series, (anyone catch the new Tarzan movie?) you wouldn't be blamed if you didn't expect too much from this one. But on the bright side, this one does have Anthony Hopkins taking on an entirely new ethnicity, which is always interesting.

Hopkins's performance aside, The Mask of Zorro somehow managed to keep itself afloat despite steamrolling through almost every action movie cliche in the books. In retrospect, The Mask of Zorro never loses its freshness precisely because we are continually presented with new formations of the action movie spectacle in a genre we haven't seen much of in a while. Part Robin Hood, part disaster movie, part young warrior in training movie, another part Robin Hood, Zorro seems to take the most classical elements of all of these action genres and put them together in a way that we know we've seen it all before, yet still enjoy the ride.

Continue reading: The Mask of Zorro Review

Small Soldiers Review


OK
Joe Dante's action story, about military-chip-endowed toys that wreak havoc on the neighborhood, is well-intentioned, and with five writers it ought to be. But while Dante would love to recapture the magic of Gremlins, he ends up capturing only the disappointment of Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Phil Hartman's final movie.
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