Reel Opinions


Friday, February 29, 2008

Semi-Pro

Will Ferrell seems determined to bring his demented male ego-driven humor to every sports movie conceivable. He's already covered soccer (Kicking and Screaming), NASCAR (Talladega Nights), and figure skating (Blades of Glory). He tries his hand at basketball with Semi-Pro, an odd and uneven movie that doesn't seem to know if it wants to be a parody of sports movies, or a genuine sympathetic crowd pleasing sports underdog movie. There are laughs to be had, and the cast is loaded with energy, but first-time director Kent Alterman and screenwriter Scot Armstrong (The Heartbreak Kid, Old School) don't seem to know which basket they're shooting for when it comes to choosing an audience or tone.

Sporting a comically oversized fro so everyone will know the movie is set in the 70s (1976, to be exact), Ferrell is Jackie Moon, a man who used the profits from his one-hit wonder song, "Love Me Sexy", to purchase the struggling American Basketball Association team, the Flint Michigan Tropics. He's not only the owner, but also the coach and a player on the team. When he discovers that the ABA will be merging with the NBA, and that only the top four teams will be picked to go pro, Jackie is realistic, and tries to inspire his team to shoot for fourth place. Unfortunately, Jackie Moon is better at staging stunts to bring people into the stands (some of his promotional stunts include "Free Gerbil Night", and a halftime show where he wrestles with a bear) than he is at coaching a winning team, so he decides to bring in a former NBA player named Monix (Woody Harrelson) to the team. Monix has his own personal demons to deal with, but he believes in the team enough that he just might be able to lead them to an unprecedented victory.

Watching Semi-Pro was an odd experience. The movie would just be meandering along, not exactly being awful, but not impressing me at the same time. And then, from out of left field, a big laugh would come out of nowhere that would almost make me forget everything that came before. The movie seems to be continuously in this starting and stopping motion, giving the film an uneven tone throughout. I don't know if it was a problem with the script, or if there was trouble in the editing room, but the film's tone seems to constantly switch from scene to scene. One minute, the movie will be goofy and over the top, bordering on parody. Foul mouthed sportscasters, crazy stunts, and random out-of-nowhere bear attacks are the name of the game during these moments. Then, a couple minutes later, the movie will completely switch gears, and show the characters in a realistic and sympathetic light. There's a completely out of place subplot concerning Woody Harrelson's character trying to reconcile with a former girlfriend (Maura Tierney) who he betrayed in the past. The movie plays these scenes mostly seriously as if it were a drama, but then it will throw in an equally unnecessary gross out gag right in the middle of it, when the girlfriend's current boyfriend catches her having sex with her former fling, and he starts getting off on it and masturbating. This is a perfect example of the film's "Jekyll and Hyde" mentality that prevents it from ever finding solid ground.

I liked the movie the best when it was being silly and fun. These are mostly the scenes that center on Ferrell's character, who is often so off the wall, he seems to have wandered in from another movie at times. He's loud, brash, optimistic to the point of stupidity, and prone to almost child-like tantrums. In lesser hands, Jackie Moon would be the kind of character I would dread to see whenever he walked onto the screen, but Ferrell somehow makes him work. Most likely it's because he's played this exact same character many times before. He's mastered the big, dumb likable lug character almost to a science by now, but he still manages to get laughs, such as when an escaped bear is rampaging through the stadium, he advises the screaming crowd to find a small child and use it as a shield. I laughed a lot during Ferrell's scenes, and this is why it always kind of disheartened me whenever the movie would focus on another character. The more uplifting storylines, like the one centering around fallen professional sports star Monix, and a Tropics teammate named Clarence "Coffee" Black (Andre Benjamin) who has dreams of professional stardom, are fine but don't seem to belong in the same movie as Ferrell. Instead of being a major character in a story, Jackie Moon almost comes across as comic relief who steps in to liven up the story. This is strange, since he carries a good part of the movie.

For all of its inconsistencies and rapid shifts in tone, Semi-Pro is still watchable, thanks to a breezy pace that doesn't overstay its welcome, and a talented and energetic cast that take on the material with plenty of spirit. Even if the movie didn't seem to be going anywhere for a time, I was still admiring the lead performances of Ferrell, Harrelson, and Benjamin. The main fault lies with the final confused film that wound up on screens. Equally curious is the film's R-rating, which seems to exist for no reason. I'm not saying the movie didn't get the rating it deserved, as the obscenities and four letter words certainly do fly fast and furious in a lot of scenes. It's just that it seems unnecessary. If a movie wants to build itself around harsh language, it has to feel like it's part of the story, or that it's appropriate to come out of the characters. Here, the characters sound like a bunch of preteens trying to sound like adults by throwing in random obscenities into their conversations. It especially seems pointless during the film's later half, when it aspires to be a feel-good, stand up and cheer sports movie.

I savored the moments in Semi-Pro that made me laugh out loud, and tried my best to keep a positive attitude when the movie wasn't exactly going well. My reaction ended up being just as split as the movie itself. I'm certainly not sorry I saw it, but it's too random and scattered to recommend. Someone in the editing room really should have tried to stick to their guns and found a proper tone. Semi-Pro tries to be a little bit of everything, and falls short because of it.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Charlie Bartlett

Usually when a movie has been sitting on a studio's shelf for over a year, it's not a good sign for the film's quality. Charlie Bartlett is a welcome exception to the rule, and made me wonder if perhaps MGM was nervous about releasing the movie because they didn't know how to market it. Charlie Bartlett is an odd mixture of teen comedy, a sharp and honest look at the failure of public education, a biting satire on psychiatry and prescription drugs, and a drama that takes a serious look at acceptance both at school and at home. The screenplay by first time screenwriter Gustin Nash doesn't always balance these elements successfully, and it takes a little while for the movie to find its footing. Once it does, however, Charlie Bartlett is a movie that covers some familiar territory, but in an unconventional way.

The title character is portrayed by rising young star Anton Yelchin (from Alpha Dog), and when we first meet Charlie, he's just been expelled from a private school for selling fake drivers licenses to the other students. His slightly ditzy mother, Marilyn (Hope Davis), decides that her son should try his hand at a public school. Almost as soon as he steps into the world of public high school, Charlie realizes he's going to have to play against the rules if he wants to make a name for himself in this strange new world. He concocts a plan where he sells prescription drugs to the other students that the many narrow-minded therapists his mom sends him to (who seem more interested in doping Charlie up rather than listening to his problems) keep on trying to put him on. Furthermore, his talent for listening to other people's problems and helping them inspires him to open a counseling service right in the school's restroom, where students can anonymously step into the bathroom stall, and tell him their troubles. Charlie quickly becomes the talk of the school, and he wins the attention of the entire student body. The school's alcoholic and emotionally distant principal (Robert Downey Jr) eventually begins to catch on that the balance of power in his school is starting to shift to this student who came out of nowhere, and becomes further threatened when Charlie begins dating his daughter, Susan (Kat Dennings).

There's nothing in Charlie Bartlett that hasn't been said before, but the way the movie says it in an intelligent and thought provoking manner. This is a movie that remembers when the most important thing in a person's life is to be "popular" and to be seen as someone important in the eye of his or her peers. While this desire exists in some form in nearly every stage of life, it is almost pivotal in those awkward teen years, where nothing else seems to matter. For Charlie, acceptance is especially important. His mother turns a blind eye to his problems, the many therapists he sees seem to think the answers lie at the bottom of a bottle of Ritalin, and his father's sitting in prison on a tax evasion charge. He finds that listening and helping others not only takes his mind off of his own problems at home, but also helps him earn that all-important popularity. With his talking and listening skills, he is able to win over the school bully (Tyler Hilton), and even reach a few teens who couldn't be reached before. One of the film's strengths is that it portrays its characters and situations in a realistic manner. While it is mainly being billed as a comedy, the movie walks along a delicate tightrope as it veers from one tone to the next. Sometimes the change in tone is quite abrupt and jarring (we go from a light-hearted party sequence, to one of Charlie's peers attempting suicide by overdose in the very next scene), but for the most part, editor turned filmmaker Jon Poll does a good job of tackling the film's many sides.

If there's any problem with Charlie Bartlett, it's that it seems to draw inspiration from one too many past films. Its most closest relative is the early 90s Christian Slater film, Pump Up the Volume. It's tone is not quite the same, but many of the plot points are similar. Viewers may also draw comparison to other teen films as Rushmore, or even a little bit of Ferris Bueller. What helps the movie set itself apart is the intelligent screenplay by Nash, and the talent on display. Anton Yelchin obviously relishes his role, as he is able to nail all of his character's personality, quirks, and faults almost to a tee. He makes Charlie Bartlett into someone who is crying out for attention, and has been forced to grow up a little too quickly due to his home situation. As his love interest, Kat Dennings is able to take a somewhat underwritten character, and turn it into a charming performance that makes it easy to see why young Bartlett is drawn to her. The real stand out performance, however, belongs to Robert Downey Jr as a Principal who is probably ill-equiped for his career of managing young minds, and drowns his sorrows in self pity and alcohol. There's a scene late in the film between Yelchin and Downey, where the two have a final confrontation, and Downey's performance here is honest and heartbreaking. He's a deep, rounded character who comes across as being much more than an out of touch adult that a lesser screenplay would have treated him as.

Charlie Bartlett plays almost as an independent movie that somehow got major studio backing. This is both to its credit and works against it. The studio obviously didn't know what to do with the film, so they shuffled it through various release dates the past year or two, until finally dumping it into late February. It's a shame that this movie has almost been prevented from finding an audience with teens, as the film has been given an R-rating due to a few "F-bombs" and some partial nudity. This is a smart movie that all teens could probably take something away from, but they won't be able to see it until it comes out on DVD. Too bad, really. Aside from the fact that the movie suffers from somewhat of an identity crisis, and sometimes tries to cover too much material, this is a movie worth seeing, and is certain to reach its target audience.

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The Best Films of 2007

As usual, it's late in coming, but here at last is my list for the best films of 2007. I thought it appropriate to put this list up today not only because it's the Oscars tonight, but also because I needed to set my mind on some good movies after sitting through Witless Protection. As an average paying filmgoer, I have to wait and see movies that come to my area, so that also adds to why this list is late every year, as I have to wait for certain films to widen their release before they'll come closer to me.

The movies will be ranked just like last year. I start off with what I felt was the best film of 2007, then I list my choices for the great movies of the year, followed by the honorable mentions, and then close things up with my favorite performances. I want to stress that aside from the best film of 2007, none of these movies are ranked in any particular order. I don't like trying to rank all of the movies I enjoyed during the year, so I try to view them as equals in whatever category they fall under. Now that I've got that out of the way, let's get on with the important stuff.


THE BEST FILM OF 2007

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN - It was tough to decide the best film of 2007, as so many great films came out during the fall and winter months. After much soul searching, I chose No Country For Old Men, simply because it was probably the most emotionally effective film I saw last year, and it stuck with me the longest. Like a lot of the movies by the filmmaking duo, the Coen Brothers, this is a movie I appreciated the more I thought back on it. This is a tense and gripping slow-burn thriller that is more frightening than any horror film released in the past couple years. Nothing has been left to chance here, and everything comes together to create the most satisfying thriller I saw in 2007. More than that, this is just a great movie by itself.


THE GREAT FILMS OF 2007 (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)



INTO THE WILD - Here is a movie that should have been more recognized by the Oscar voters this year, especially for Best Picture. Sean Penn directed this quiet but engaging true story of a young man turning his back on human society, and going to live on his own in the natural regions of the U.S. Hal Holbrook has been rightfully recognized for his performance as an elderly man who befriends him at one point, but the entire cast is wonderful, particularly Emile Hirsch in the lead role, and William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden as his emotionally distant parents who play a big part in the young man's decision to leave everything behind. This is a movie that never quite found an audience, but it should have, and hopefully will be discovered on DVD.

ZODIAC - Filmmaker David Fincher has always been known for his violent and sensory films like Fight Club and Seven. With Zodiac, he tackles one of the most infamous unsolved serial murder cases in recent memory, and does so with considerable skill and a strong sense for detail and realism. A strong, talented cast have been gathered including Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr, and Mark Ruffalo - all of whom give noteworthy performances. More than that, the film is a gripping and historically accurate recount of the case. The movie creates a great atmosphere that transports the viewer back to the time of the murders, and it doesn't take long until the audience is hooked. One of the best ensemble dramas of the year.

CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR - This is a movie that divided many of its viewers. Some thought the movie tried too hard to be cute and funny. I personally found it to be a hilarious, informative, and fascinating look at an important time in recent history. This bittersweet comedy-drama focuses on Texas Congressman, Charlie Wilson, and his personal efforts to arm Afghanistan against the invading Soviet Union. Tom Hanks is a notable stand out as the womanizing Congressman who couldn't have realized what his actions would ultimately lead to. Equally noteworthy is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who continues to prove that he's one of the best actors of the current generation with his take as a sharp-tongued CIA officer who becomes Wilson's right-hand man in the operation. This is one of the most entertaining films I saw in 2007, and I think it was highly underrated by a lot of people.

WAITRESS - It may seem strange to put this movie on the list, but this was truly one of the most pleasant surprises of last year. This is a movie that could have gone wrong in so many ways or drowned itself in corny cuteness, but writer-director Adrienne Shelly draws us into this simple but effective story of a small town pie shop waitress (Keri Russell) who finds her plans for escaping her small town life and her abusive husband interrupted with the arrival of an unplanned pregnancy. The movie is smart, very funny, and often bittersweet as we follow her attempts to build a better life for herself and her unborn child, and the different paths she's faced with along the way. It's a true shame that filmmaker and co-star Shelly was murdered before the film's release, and never got to enjoy her film becoming a sleeper hit. If Waitress proves anything, we lost a talented and budding filmmaker much too soon.

GONE, BABY, GONE - Actor Ben Affleck made one of the strongest directorial debuts of last year in this adaptation of the novel by Dennis Lahane (Mystic River). What starts as a mystery of a young child being abducted from her bed late one night grows even bigger as a private investigator (Casey Affleck) discovers that there's much more going on here than just a simple kidnapping. The movie is not just an engaging mystery story, but it's also a fascinating look at the effect the ensuing media circus created by the kidnapping has on the people of Boston community. The movie has a great eye for detail, creating some realistic characters and a real sense of transporting the audience into the middle of the action. A completely effective and fascinating piece of work.


BREACH - This film was released back in February, and didn't get quite the attention it deserved. I am especially saddened that star Chris Cooper wasn't recognized for an award, as his performance here is one of my favorite of the year. He plays Robert Hanssen, a government agent who was found guilty of selling US secrets to foreign enemies back in 2001. The movie is not a mystery or a who done it. Rather it is a psychological thriller as a rookie agent (Ryan Phillippe) is intentionally placed under Hanssen's guidance so that he can spy on Robert's actions, and get some real evidence against him. A relationship between the two grows as they work together, and it quickly turns into a control for power as the two men play mind games with each other, struggling for dominance. A rare early year release that truly stood out.

HOT FUZZ - This outrageously funny spoof of Hollywood action movie cliches gets my vote for the best comedy of 2007. The makers of the hit horror comedy, Shaun of the Dead, reunited for this story of a British supercop (Simon Pegg) who is so good, he makes the rest of the force look bad. Because of this, he's reassigned to a sleepy little community where nothing seemingly happens, until a serial killer starts dispatching the locals. No one in town believes him, as they keep on brushing the murders off as accidents. (Oddly enough, the town has the lowest murder rate anywhere, but the highest accident rate anywhere.) His decision to take the law into his own hands leads to one of the funniest moments of 2007, as the conclusion builds to one of the most elaborate and over the top violent shoot outs ever caught on film. A great comedy that makes me anxious to see what this creative team does next.


RATATOUILLE - Hands down, the best animated film I saw in 2007, this is a wonderful return to form for the venerable Pixar studio after 2006's highly disappointing Cars. Director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant) continues to prove his skill in this simple and sweet tale of an unlikely friendship that grows between a wannabe chef and a rat with a keen sense of taste, smell, and food preparation. Sweet, heartfelt, and very charming, this was one of the most appealing films of last year.

AMERICAN GANGSTER - Ridley Scott's nearly 3 hour crime epic has been criticized about its historical accuracy by some people. I don't think that takes away from the fact that this is a highly entertaining and superbly crafted story that talks about the rise of a powerful drug kingpin in the late 60s and early 70s. Denzel Washington portrays the charismatic kingpin, Frank Lucas, while Russell Crowe is the police detective assigned to shut him down. Both of their performances are noteworthy in the way that they were able to completely transform themselves completely into their characters, making us forget we're watching performances, and to simply concentrate on the story at hand. And what an involving story it is. Despite it's lengthy running time, the movie almost never slows down or lags. A great movie all around.


HONORABLE MENTIONS

Catch and Release, Music and Lyrics, Bridge to Terabithia, The Astronaut Farmer, 300, I Think I Love My Wife, Reign Over Me, Year of the Dog, The Last Mimzy, Disturbia, Fracture, In the Land of Women, 1408, Live Free or Die Hard, Sicko, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Hairspray, The Simpsons Movie, No Reservations, The Bourne Ultimatum, Stardust, Superbad, Resurrecting the Champ, Balls of Fury, Arctic Tale, Away From Her, 3:10 to Yuma, Shoot 'em Up, Eastern Promises, Michael Clayton, 30 Days of Night, Things We Lost in the Fire, Rendition, Dan in Real Life, Bee Movie, The Darjeeling Limited, Enchanted, The Mist, Juno, The Savages, I Am Legend, Walk Hard, The Orphanage, Atonement, There Will Be Blood


THE STAND-OUT PERFORMANCES OF 2007

Amy Adams (Enchanted), Casey Affleck (Gone, Baby, Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James...), Javier Bardem (No County For Old Men), Jason Bateman (Juno), Halle Berry (Things We Lost in the Fire), Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: The Golden Age), Nikki Blonsky (Hairspray), Adam Brody (In the Land of Women), Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men), Steve Carell (Dan in Real Life), Don Cheadle (Reign Over Me), George Clooney (Michael Clayton), Chris Cooper (Breach), Russell Crowe (3:10 to Yuma and American Gangster), John Cusack (1408), Belnicio Del Toro (Things We Lost in the Fire), Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd), Robert Downey Jr (Zodiac), Jennifer Garner (Juno), Jake Gyllenhaal (Zodiac), Tom Hanks (Charlie Wilson's War), Marcia Gay Harden (Into the Wild), Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson's War and The Savages), Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild), William Hurt (Into the Wild), Josh Hutcherson (Bridge to Terabithia), Samuel L. Jackson (Resurrecting the Champ), Tommy Lee Jones (No Country For Old Men), Daniel Day Lewis (There Will Be Blood), Laura Linney (The Savages), Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises), Ellen Page (Juno), John C. Reilly (Walk Hard), Annasophia Robb (Bridge to Terabithia), Belen Rueda (The Orphanage), Keri Russell (Waitress), Amy Ryan (Gone, Baby, Gone), Adam Sandler (Reign Over Me), Molly Shannon (Year of the Dog) Will Smith (I Am Legend), Denzel Whitaker (The Great Debaters), Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton)

All in all, 2007 turned out to be a wonderful year for the movies. The later half of the year held so many great films, it was almost certain I saw something I liked just about every weekend. I can only hope 2008 ends up on an equally high note. I hope that you will join me for the year to come, and see what lies ahead. Happy filmgoing to you all, and enjoy the Oscars tonight!

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Witless Protection

When I walk into a Larry the Cable Guy comedy, I expect a few things. I expect a lot of dumb redneck humor, a lot of bodily fluid humor, and a lot of unfortunate shots of Larry's exposed butt crack. His latest film, Witless Protection (and yes, the title is funnier than any of the jokes in the actual movie) takes things one step further. This is the first movie headlining the popular stand-up comic that I have found virtually unwatchable from beginning to end. I'm not saying that his past cinematic efforts like Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector and Delta Farce were good, but I'm also not exaggerating when I say I was thinking of bolting for the exit within the first five minutes. The only thing that kept me in my seat was the bizarre fascination to see if it could get worse. It did with each passing minute. If there's anything more uncomfortable than watching an awful comedy, it's watching an audience being subjected to an awful comedy. Just listening to the dead silence of a moderately filled theater clued me in to the fact that I was not alone in my hatred for what was being passed as entertainment.

In all of his movies, Larry is always the same character, just with a different job profession. I suppose Larry is supposed to be a sort of variation on the Ernest P. Worrell character that late comic actor, Jim Varney, made popular in the series of Ernest films back in the 80s and early 90s. The difference here is that the character of Ernest may have been a dumb redneck, but there was a certain sweetness to him and the desire to always do the right thing. The Larry the Cable Guy character is a racist, dim-witted, slob who seems too stupid to even want to do the right thing. He just stumbles upon doing good by accident. This time around, he's a sheriff's deputy in a backwater hick town who mistakes a woman under FBI witness protection as being kidnapped by crime lords. The woman in question is Madeleine (Ivana Milicevic), who is on the run because a crooked business tycoon named Arthur Grimsley (Peter Stormare, sporting the worst fake British accent ever captured in the history of film) is after her and some information she holds that could incriminate him. Larry doesn't trust the FBI agents escorting her, thinking they're crooked, so he snatches up Madeleine, and the two go on a cross country chase trying to figure out the truth behind the whole situation.

I really want to know who the Larry the Cable Guy character is supposed to be intended for. I have not seen much of his stand up act, but judging by his movies, his humor seems too juvenile and immature to appeal to any reasonably intelligent adult. But, I wouldn't even dare let a child watch one of his films, as every other thing out of his mouth is a sexual innuendo, or a play on a sex act. (The scene where he refers to an "evacuation" as an "ejaculation" is one of the film's more subtle and tasteful moments.) When he's not pushing the PG-13 rating to the limit with his constant talk of sexual acts, he relies on gross out humor, usually relying on farts, or other bodily fluids. The scene where Larry has to remove a key that he accidentally swallowed by projectile vomiting, then digging through his own puke to look for the key is the only scene that got a reaction from the audience at my screening, and it certainly wasn't laughter. I was never sure what to make of his character, as the movie keeps on sending us mixed messages. One minute, he's trying to help this Madeleine girl, and the next he's handcuffing her to a toilet. He's supposed to be a big, fat lummox who eventually grows on you, but all he did was make me want to never watch another movie featuring him ever again.

Writer-director Charles Robert Carner obviously didn't think Larry was reason enough to react in disgust, so he adds a couple other things into the mix to ensure watching Witless Protection is as painful as humanly possible. There's a chase scene fairly early on between Larry and the FBI agents at a pig farm that is shot in sped-up motion and handled so ineptly, I almost couldn't believe what I was watching. Everything is shot so amateurishly, and the performances so off, I was shocked that previous works popped up under Mr. Carner's name when I checked his credits on the IMDB. He drags some decent actors down with him as he mishandles each scene in this sinking ship of a movie. Aside from the previously mentioned Peter Stormare, the usually likable dramatic actor Joe Montegna pops up in an off the wall cameo as one of Larry's cousins - a redneck mad scientist with a passion for obese women. Montegna bugs his eyes out of his sockets and talks in a goofy voice, but he can't generate the slightest amount of personality or comic energy. He has shown an obvious knack for comedy, particularly when he pops up on the TV cartoon The Simpsons as the town's resident mob boss, but here he's working too hard for no reason.

Witless Protection is an absolute misfire in a way that few bad movies ever achieve. It lacks the slightest bit of energy, and it certainly hasn't been made with even the tiniest bit of thought or skill. It is a humorless, vile film that plunders the very bottom of the barrel, and then tries to scrape even lower than that just because it can. I will concede the fact that Larry the Cable Guy's stand up act is popular with many, but if this movie goes on to find an audience, I will lose hope in humanity's desire to be entertained. If there's a worst movie than this to come along in 2008, I don't want to see it.

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Be Kind, Rewind

Before I begin this review, I would like to advise that cynics and those who cannot take a leap of faith with a film's premise would be wise to stay away from Be Kind, Rewind. The film's plot is so ludicrous, loopy, and somewhat off the wall in an affectionate sense that naysayers will probably spend almost the entire film picking out its faults. With me, the movie worked, because I found myself wrapped up in the spirit and good-will of the movie itself and the cast that has been gathered. Writer-director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep) gives his film such a goofy, warm-spirited feel that I couldn't help but get pulled in. The premise is thin, and yes, it could be argued that this is a one-joke movie. While these are obvious faults, this time, I didn't find myself caring quite as much.

The film's title takes itself from the name of a video store in New York where most of the action takes place. It's one of the last "mom and pop" stores that focuses entirely on video instead of DVD. The store is run by kind old Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover), who insists the building has history, as a famous jazz musician was born where his store is now. The other two main characters are Mike (Mos Def), who works at the store and sees Mr. Fletcher as an almost father figure, and Jerry (Jack Black), who spends half of his time hanging out in the store, and the other half of the time creating conspiracy theories about and secretly plotting to sabotage a nearby power plant. The story kicks in when Mr. Fletcher leaves on a trip to spy on some of the competing rental stores, leaving Mike in charge. Shortly after this happens, Jerry's planned sabotage of the power plant goes wrong, and he winds up getting electrocuted. This doesn't kill him, rather it causes him to become magnetized. Therefore, the next time Jerry enters the store, the magnetic waves coming from his body wind up erasing all the tapes available for rent. Mike is now in a tight spot, as he has to think of a solution before Mr. Fletcher comes back, and what's worse, one of the store's few regulars, a somewhat loopy woman named Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow) wants to rent Ghostbusters. The solution? Mike and Jerry film an extremely low budget remake of the movie in question, starring them and some of the other locals, hoping that Miss Falewicz won't notice, as she's never seen the movie before. The plan surprisingly works, and before long, customers are lining up for more of Mike and Jerry's on-the-cheap remakes of popular films.

The message in Be Kind, Rewind seems to be one of a community coming together. As word of the homemade remakes get around, more people get involved, and eventually the entire town starts popping up in their movies that covers remakes from the classics like 2001, Carrie, and The Lion King, to more contemporary films like Rush Hour 2. This is what gives the movie a lot of its sweet charms. The screenplay by Gondry wisely does not make the community into a bunch of colorful locals. (Although there are certainly some oddballs here and there.) They're mostly the kind of people you'd probably expect to find in the kind of neighborhood the movie is set in. The movie is sympathetic without ever becoming manipulative or heavy-handed, and it even gives the film a certain strange Frank Capra feel of the little people coming together to preserve what they believe in. That being said, the movie is definitely not conventional by any stretch of the imagination. Aside from its bizarre and implausible premise, the movie has an equally bizarre and quirky sense of humor to itself. Some may find this irritating, and indeed, the film does come dangerously close to drawing too much attention to itself by being weird just for the sake of being weird. For me, the movie managed to avoid becoming obnoxious, because despite it all, it knows where its heart is, and I found much of the humor to be genuinely entertaining and very funny.

A lot of this has to do with the cast, who seem to be completely game. Jack Black and Mos Def make a good odd couple, with Black playing the more comical of the two, and Def playing the long-suffering straight man to his friend's schemes. I have heard other critics saying that Black's performance is annoying in this film, but I personally didn't find him so. He finds the right balance between playing an off the wall character who builds his life around movies and crackpot conspiracy theories, but doesn't go so over the top that I didn't find myself laughing at him. He doesn't seem to be trying too hard, and I actually ended up liking his personality and his continuously positive spin on the situations he finds himself in. Mos Def doesn't get as many laughs as Black, but he seems to know he's not supposed to. He does a good job of balancing out his co-star's energetic performance, with a more subdued one that not only acts as a good counter-balance, but also makes his character extremely likeable and easy to get behind. I also liked Melonie Diaz, who plays a woman named Alma that joins up with the two lead characters movie idea early on, and winds up encouraging them the entire way through. The entire cast has a charm that carries through to the audience, and helps ground the movie a little, no matter how silly it may get.

If there's any visible fault that can be found, its that the film's premise is paper thin. Aside from some scenes dealing with Mr. Fletcher trying to prevent his building from being condemned and torn down, and a later scene when the government gets involved with Mike and Jerry's unauthorized remakes, there's no real sense of plot or conflict. The movie often comes across as a loosely connected series of skits that just barely manage to tell a coherent story. It's to the film's advantage that it contains such a strong, likable spirit, and the humor is often quite funny. Otherwise, I think this movie would barely have been able to get off the ground. I was also somewhat disappointed that the movie doesn't do enough with its own premise. Aside from the Ghostbusters remake (which easily holds the biggest laughs of 2008 so far), we get to see very little of the other ones, as most of the other films are covered in montages or brief glimpses. The end credits inform us we can see more of their movies on the film's official website, and I highly advise you do so after seeing this movie. A slightly less viable complaint is that the movie misses a golden opportunity when Sigourney Weaver pops up in a cameo as one of the government workers who tries to put a stop to their remakes. The fact that she starred in the Ghostbusters movies, and this film doesn't even have a little bit of fun with that seemed like a bit of wasted potential to me. It is funny, though, that she appears in two different movies this weekend, and both times, she barely registers.

I am recommending Be Kind, Rewind, but with reservations. I think the movie manages to stay afloat because of the cast's energy, and the fact that I got wrapped up in the film's good hearted nature and silly humor. This is not a movie for everyone. There's bound to be a lot of people who will grow frustrated with the movie's cute and loopy tone. I certainly won't argue with that. It worked enough for me to say that I enjoyed it. It's not anything that anyone needs to rush out and see, but with the right environment and the right frame of mind, a good time can be had.

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Vantage Point

If you're going to build your movie around a gimmick, you have to find a way to rise above it, and make the audience feel like they're watching a real movie instead of a filmmaking experiment. Despite its best efforts, Vantage Point never gave me that feeling. It's not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. It's very attention-grabbing for most of its running time, features a talented cast, and I have to admit, the gimmick the filmmakers have given us here is an intriguing one. However, the film's approach ends up being its own undoing, as it leads to a lack of suspense and tension as it starts to wind down. There's also a surprising lack of mystery on display, given the premise. First time feature filmmaker Pete Travis and screenwriter Barry Levy both try their best, but come up short with their own ambition.

The film's central premise take place during a nearly half-hour time frame. This is the amount of time covered when the President of the United States (William Hurt) arrives at a public summit and rally in Spain, takes the podium to begin to give his speech, and then is shot down by an assassin's bullet. The chaos that erupts is only heightened when two bombs (one off in the distance, the other right in the square where the President was) go off, killing and injuring hundreds more. Once this scene has run its course, the movie literally rewinds itself, and starts over again from the beginning, only this time showing it from a different perspective. We get multiple perspectives of different people who were there at the event. The first view we get is hard-nosed network news producer, Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver). Then we see things through the eyes of Secret Service Agent, Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), whose hunt for the truth of what happened is constantly haunted by his own past. We eventually also get the views of a tourist named Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker), who just happened to catch something on his handheld camera that might hold some answers, a shady person in the crowd named Javier (Edgar Ramirez), and even the view of the President himself. Each of these people saw something different either in the events leading up to the chaos, or right before it happened. The story slowly reveals itself each time we watch the events through different eyes, and we're supposed to follow all of their stories to the ultimate conclusion of what really happened.

To its credit, Vantage Point is certainly never boring, and keeps things moving at a pace that never once slows down during its tense and quick 90 minute run time. The opening 10 minutes or so that depicts the event in question is some of the most attention-grabbing stuff I've seen in a movie in a while. Director Pete Travis does a great job of showing the carnage and aftermath of the event, despite the film's PG-13 rating. It's terrifying, gritty, and makes us simultaneously intrigued and frightened at the same time. When the film's central gimmick of rewinding time and showing the same event from a different point of view initially starts to play itself out, I was even further intrigued, and found myself getting excited that I had stumbled upon a rare early-year release gem. Although it took a while, that excitement generally began to fade. The movie eventually begins to abandon its own premise, giving us a final 20 minutes or so that doesn't focus on anybody, and just gives us a standard action movie conclusion with plenty of shoot outs, double crosses, and car chases that are shot well, but don't really offer anything new to the long-standing tradition of car chase scenes. I wondered to myself why screenwriter Barry Levy didn't believe enough in his own idea to carry it through all the way. He does such a great job of balancing multiple storylines, characters, and scenarios without making things confusing, that I felt a bit saddened that he threw it all away for a conventional Hollywood ending. Was it studio pressure, perhaps? Whatever the case, the movie never quite lives up to the promise it gives itself.

The true glaring flaw of the film does not reveal itself until about halfway through. That's when we start to realize that the movie is never giving us anything to figure out for ourselves. There is no mystery in Vantage Point, no clues it gives us so that we can try to follow the information to the ending. The movie keeps everything hidden from us, only to reveal it later on for us. During one of the early scenarios, Secret Service Agent Thomas Barnes runs inside the news van on the scene, asking to look at their live tapes of the attack. He sees something on one of the tapes that makes his face go white with fright, and when he orders the news crew to freeze the tape, we don't get to see what he's looking at. He just runs out of the news van, and we don't hear from him or find out what he saw until the movie is good and ready to explain everything to us during one of the film's later scenarios. It keeps on hiding things from us, only go explain everything away later on. This approach gives us nothing to work with, so we eventually start to feel like outsiders, instead of truly being involved in the story in some way. Another flaw that eventually comes to light is that in covering the same event over and over, a lot of the tension is eventually lost. It never becomes dull or repetitive, since we're looking at it through fresh eyes, but I eventually found that I just wasn't as excited as I initially was about finding out what happened as the film started to rewind itself each time.

The gimmick of Vantage Point that allows us to see things through the eyes of different characters pretty much ensures that there is no one lead character. Some characters do get more attention than others, though. Dennis Quaid's Thomas Barnes character has the most fleshed out backstory, as we learn why this is his first time on duty with the President in almost a year. The fact that he becomes one of the main central focuses during the film's final half when it ditches its own concept makes him probably the closest thing this movie has to a "hero" that the audience is supposed to identify with. The rest of the characters are given either no background or story at all, or very limited information given about them in their dialogue. The only other character who truly stands out beside Quaid is Forest Whitaker's character is probably the most human, in that he's the only one in the film who finds himself trapped in the chaos that comes across as frightened for his own life, while at the same time wanting to do the right thing. The other performances seem to be mainly there for a pay check, especially Sigourney Weaver as the news producer, whose part is so small you wonder why she bothered to show up in the first place. Even William Hurt as the President doesn't get to play as large of a role as we hoped when we eventually get to learn the truth about his side of the story. Though the performances are never bad, they are often given little to do, aside from the previously noted exceptions.

When you build your movie around a gimmick as Vantage Point does, it's always a tricky balance to pull off. You can tell that everyone involved with this project gave their best effort, and for a good part of the movie, that effort pays off. It doesn't take long for the cracks to start showing in the film's own premise and approach. The effort put behind the film manages to keep everything together somewhat, but the cracks are still on display. A movie like this also deserved a better pay off than a conventional and increasingly ludicrous action movie conclusion. Vantage Point starts out playing things smart, then for whatever reason, decides to dumb things down just a little.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Step Up 2 the Streets

I don't remember 2006's Step Up being a huge hit, but according to reports around the web, the movie was a sleeper and managed to make money. So, here's a name-only sequel called Step Up 2 the Streets. Well, the "name only" part is not entirely true, as the movie does make one vague attempt to connect this film with the first when the original film's star, Channing Tatum, pops up in a cameo at one point. Other than that, this is yet another urban dance drama with a bunch of gorgeous 20-somethings with wash board abs posing as teens at a dance school. Even if there wasn't a movie just like this released only weeks ago (How She Move), Step Up 2 the Streets would still be pretty pointless.

Our troubled hero this time around is Andie (Briana Evigan). She's been hanging out with a dangerous gang of street dancers, and the woman she's been living with since Andie's mom died is at the end of her rope, threatening to send her to live with family in Texas if she doesn't straighten up and fly right. Andie's last chance is to take classes at the Maryland School of the Arts. The head of the street gang Andie used to hang out with (Black Thomas) feels betrayed, and her former friends dump her right before a big street dancing competition is about to come up. Fortunately, there's a lot of misfits and outcasts at the school just like Andie who happen to love street dancing. The local cute guy, Chase Collins (Robert Hoffman), introduces Andie to some kids that the school doesn't know what to do with, and with his help, the two start a new group to participate in the big street dancing competition. Of course, first they'll have to win the respect of Andie's former friends, and make Chase's snobby brother, Blake (Will Kemp), realize that street dancing can be just as beautiful as professional ballet.

To say that Step Up 2 the Streets' plotline is not exactly gripping would be an understatement. It's not just that we've seen it all before, it's that the characters are so feeble in their construction, it's impossible to really get involved. As is to be expected, the dance sequences are really the only moments where the movie comes to life. Just like in the recent How She Move, head choreographer Hi-Hat knows how to kick the energy level up a couple notches by displaying some wildly inventive and exciting routines for the performers. The film's opening dance sequence on a subway train is particularly exciting. The actors were obviously cast for their beautiful bodies and abilities on the dance floor, and it's during the musical sequences that the cast truly comes alive. When they're stuck reciting the awful dialogue given them by writers Toni Ann Johnson and Karen Barna, they sometimes look nervous or like deers trapped in headlights. Both Briana Evigan and Robert Hoffman make for attractive leads, but their best efforts can't breathe any real life into their characters that are as flat as the actors' stomachs. The same goes for the rest of the heroes, who are introduced in a montage sequence, then pretty much stay in the background for the rest of the movie, only taking center stage during the dance numbers.

There's really not a whole lot to say about Step Up 2 the Streets. The cast has talent on the dance floor, but that's not enough to make watching a 100 minute long movie about them enjoyable. This is an ideal movie for DVD, where you can skip ahead to the film's best moments and completely cut through all the stuff in between. Maybe I'm burned out on urban dance dramas that tell the exact same stories and feature the exact same characters over and over again. All I know is that Step Up 2 the Streets left me feeling rather uninspired for the most part, despite the energy on display.

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Jumper

The new movie Jumper wants to ask audiences what you would do if you had the ability to teleport, and could go anywhere in the world? I have an even better question. What would you do if you had the chance to do a movie about people who have the ability to teleport, and could go anywhere in the world? Would you create an intricate background story, describing how this power came to be? Would you look closely at the privileges and consequences of said power? Would you let the imaginative premise and the wonder behind it carry the film? Director Doug Liman (Mr. and Mrs. Smith), and screenwriters David S. Goyer (The Invisible), John Uhls (Fight Club) and Simon Kinberg (X-Men: The Last Stand), obviously didn't want to ask these questions. They dive head-first into the premise, never really giving us a reason to care about what's going on. Though never unwatchable, Jumper is a lot of wasted potential.

When he was 15-years-old, David Rice (Hayden Christensen) had a near-death experience. He fell through some shallow ice into the water, and only survived became he somehow teleported himself out of his dire situation and into a public library. Realizing the power he had, David used it to escape from his alcoholic father (Michael Rooker), and start a life of his own. David now lives the high-life in New York City. He uses his powers for his own personal gain, teleporting anywhere in the world, as well as warping himself into bank vaults to swipe some quick cash. Despite his big city lifestyle, David still longs for the girl he left behind back in his hometown of Ann Arbor. So, he heads back home, and reunites with an old flame named Millie (Rachel Bilson). Not long after the two go on a whirlwind tour of Rome, David not only discovers that there are others with the same ability as him who call themselves Jumpers, but that there is also a religious extremist organization chasing the Jumpers down, as they believe their power is unnatural in the eyes of God. The extremists are led by a man named Roland (Samuel L. Jackson), and David soon finds himself in a war between the two sides when he meets a fellow Jumper named Griffin (Jamie Bell). His only choice is to fight for his own life, and protect Millie, who gets dragged into it all.

When I say that Jumper dives head-first into its own premise and never looks back, I mean it. The movie keeps on throwing intriguing ideas and concepts that could be interesting, but never does anything with them. It doesn't care who the Jumpers are, how they came to be, or even how their power came to be. When David teleports for the first time early on, his reaction looks more like that of a person debating what to pick up at the grocery store. Likewise, when Millie encounters David for the first time in 8 years, the movie doesn't even allow her to be awed or even relieved by his arrival. Considering the last time she saw the guy was when he nearly drowned, only to have his body seemingly disappear without a trace, I'd say she handles the situation of him suddenly walking back into her life rather well. They take off for Rome moments after being reunited, but never really gives them a chance to get close together, as the movie keeps on throwing them into action sequences that are so tightly shot and poorly edited, they're sometimes hard to follow. We don't learn much about the militant religious group chasing David down, either. We know that they're against the Jumpers, because they think they're unnatural, but the movie never goes any deeper than that. The villains exist simply to chase after and shoot at the heroes with bizarre high tech weaponry that the movie also never explains how they came upon. With all the gadgets and futuristic weapons the evil Roland has at his disposal, I kept on waiting for Jack Nicholson to pop up, and ask where he got all those wonderful toys.

A lot of the film's problems seem to stem from a lot of heavy editing that happened before it hit theaters. Running by at a very breezy and fast-paced 88 minutes, the movie rushes ahead, never really developing the characters or the numerous plotlines. The movie does offer hints at some drama that is never fully realized, and makes me wonder if it wound up on the cutting room floor. There's are scenes that hint that David's father is truly sorry for the way he used to treat him, and desperately wishes to reconcile with him. Nothing is truly done with this, and it seems like a wasted chance for some human emotion amidst all the teleporting and fighting. Also underdeveloped is the plot concerning David's mom (Diane Lane in a small cameo), who walked out when he was only five, and is later revealed to play a much bigger role in the story in a plot twist that I will not reveal here. Just like everyone else, David never gets a chance to react to the film's revelation, and treats it with casual indifference. To its credit, the film obviously had a healthy budget to allow a lot of exotic scenery, setting up situations in places like Rome, London, Tokyo, and Egypt. It's too bad the characters "jump" out of these places almost as soon as they pop up most of the time. If we can't attach ourselves to the plot and the characters, the filmmakers could have at least let us marvel at the scenery. Other than an extended action sequence in the Roman Coliseum, it never truly takes advantage of it.

It's one thing to not care about what's going on or the characters, it's quite another to just not even like the characters. I did not like David, who often comes across as a smarmy, egotistical, arrogant jerk. While I sort of like the idea of a lead character with super powers using his abilities for his own needs in a way, David is just too hard to root for the way he's been written. We never want to see him escape from his current situation, or make amends with Millie. It also doesn't help that Hayden Christensen (an actor who has often been accused of wooden and forced performances) has all the personality and charm of a brick wall in this movie. Either the director told him to react to everything with as little emotion as possible, or the guy really doesn't know what he's doing. In the other lead roles, Rachel Bilson and Jamie Bell are pretty much cast adrift by a screenplay that cares little for their characters. Bilson never comes across as anything but a pretty face running alongside David, and Bell's character is surprisingly underwritten, considering how important he seems to be for David to learn more about what he is. As for Samuel L. Jackson, it quickly becomes ridiculous how thinly written and uninteresting his villain character is, and how little he actually has to do with anything.

Jumper shows a lot of promise with its premise, big budget, and exotic scenic locations. The film's fleeting promises are brought down by an underdeveloped screenplay, and a fast-paced directing style that never lingers long enough for us to enjoy what we're looking at. The best moments of the film come right at the beginning, when David and Millie are teenagers, and played by Max Thieriot (Nancy Drew) and Annasophia Robb (Bridge to Terabithia) respectively. These two young actors have more personality and chemistry than their adult counterparts who drive the main section of the film. The opening scenes with young David discovering his powers also hold a lot of imagination and the hope of great things to come. It's too bad Jumper has to betray everything it sets up before the movie has hit the 20 minute mark.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles

There are some critics who say that The Spiderwick Chronicles is too intense and not appropriate for the youth audience it's seeking. These people have obviously forgotten that children are fascinated by the unknown, especially the things that may make them uneasy. When I was a child, my friends and I would create imaginary adventures sometimes, and the stuff we dreamed up was frequently much more intense than the stuff the kids in this movie face. The movie is thrilling for kids of a certain age, without being too scary or inappropriate. The Spiderwick Chronicles is a spirited fantasy adventure that will capture the attention and imagination of its young audiences, and accompanying adults may find themselves more involved than they imagined, just as I did.

The background story concerns a man named Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathaim), who discovered that mythical creatures from far-off magical realms dwelled in the woods that surrounded his home. Some of the creatures could only be seen when they wanted to be, while others were invisible to the naked eye, and could only be seen with the aid of a magical device known as a Seeing Stone. As time passed, Arthur built friendships with the many fairies, goblins, and griffins that lived right outside his home, began to study them, and wrote down everything he learned about the different beings in a private journal he called "Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You". However, not all of the magical inhabitants of the woods were his friend, and a shape-shifting Ogre king named Mulgarath (Nick Nolte) wanted to use the book's information to learn the weaknesses of all the other creatures in the forest, so that he could rule over all the magical inhabitants. Arthur was forced to create a magical barrier around the house to protect the book and the secrets it held, and mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen again.

Flash forward to the present, and a new family who are direct descendants of Arthur Spiderwick have moved into his long-abandoned home. Recently divorced mother, Helen Grace (Mary-Louise Parker), is looking for a fresh start, and brings her three children to the home to begin a new life. The children include twin sons, Jared and Simon (Freddie Highmore in a dual role), and older daughter Mallory (Sarah Bolger). Jared is a rebellious and somewhat moody child, prone to causing trouble. That's why the family doesn't believe him when he starts complaining of hearing something moving around inside the walls of the house, or catching very brief glimpses of what looks like a tiny person just out of the corner of his eye. Doing his own private investigating of the house's unexplored regions, he stumbles upon the attic where Arthur Spiderwick studied the creatures, and discovers the Field Guide within. Breaking the seal upon the book somehow alerts the creatures that it has been found, and the evil Mulgarath begins to send out his armies to surround the house and discover a way past the barrier that was placed years ago. Jared is eventually able to convince his two siblings of what's going on right outside their front door, and with the aid of a tiny house-dwelling creature named Thimbletack (voice by Martin Short), he will have to learn the secrets behind the ancient writings if he wants to protect his family.

Based on a series of childrens fantasy adventure novels by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, The Spiderwick Chronicles doesn't quite reach the heights of the Harry Potter series, but it's definitely a step up from some recent failed franchise attempts like Eragon, The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, and The Golden Compass. Having not read the original stories, I cannot say how accurate the screenplay by Karey Kirkpatrick (Charlotte's Web), David Berenbaum (Zoom), and John Sayles (Silver City) is. What I can say is that the movie does a great job of holding our attention with a skillful blend of mystery, adventure, and fast-paced action that never seems to let up, but never becomes so overbearing that the movie starts to lose itself to chaos. The film's opening prologue scene centering on Arthur Spiderwick and his research definitely sets up a wondrous, if not ominous, tone that the movie successfully carries throughout. This is a family adventure film that does not talk down to children, nor does it shy away from them being placed in life-threatening danger. Mulgarath and his army of monsters are willing to kill our heroes if it means getting the book, and they come pretty close many times throughout the film. And yet, the movie is wise enough not to dwell on the dark nature of the story, featuring a generous amount of wonder and discovery to balance it all out. This is primarily a movie about discovering other worlds that exist right outside your front door. It's a theme that just about everyone can relate to at some point in their life, and the film exploits that natural desire of discovery wonderfully.

Obviously, any film that builds itself around special effects is in danger of letting the effects work take control of the film, dragging the story and the characters down with it. This is fortunately not the case here, as director Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Just Like Heaven), keeps the attention focused on the three young leads, while making sure that we get enough time to admire the creature design. With the focus on the human cast, it almost makes you wish there were better actors in the lead roles, which brings me to my main complaint. While the performances are adequate and never offensive, I kept on thinking it could be better. Popular child actor Freddie Highmore (August Rush, Finding Neverland) has the daunting task of not only playing two characters, but also attempting an American accent (he's British in real life). You can tell that he's trying, but he never quite completely convinces. As sister Mallory, Sarah Bolger can come across as being somewhat shrill, though she never annoys. The most disappointing performances, however, are the two main vocal performances from comic actors Martin Short and Seth Rogen (who gives his voice to a cowardly hobgoblin that befriends the children named Hogsqueal). They're supposed to infuse the story with comedic energy, but never quite earn their laughs.

While I could have wished for a better cast to tell the story, the way the story has been told left me very engaged. The effects work, while not exactly what I would call "realistic", is still effective, and I liked the designs of a lot of the creatures. Seeing the griffin make its first appearance almost made me wish it had appeared in the movie sooner, and afterward, made me wish the movie had used it more. Most of all, though, I admired the way that the film did not talk down to its audience. Though the ad campaign tries to pass it off as a rollicking adventure for kids, there is a sort of bittersweet undercurrent to the story, a lot of it having to do with the broken family at the center of the film. Though seldom seen, the childrens' father plays a large role in the story. Most of the concern with those critical to the movie, however, comes from the dark fantasy elements, including shots of the kids being dragged along the ground by invisible monsters, and having bloody claw-shaped wounds suddenly appear on their arms and legs. It's nothing that will send kids in the upper single digits or close to hitting 10 running out of the theater, but very young children would probably be better off at home.

Those of the right age, and their parents, are certain to find something to like at least. The Spiderwick Chronicles holds a lot of imagination, and lives up to a lot of the promise that it holds. This is a movie that taps into the feeling we all have when we are younger. When a yard surrounding a house can indeed be a way into other worlds. The Spiderwick Chronicles brought a sense of wonder and discovery that stayed with me throughout it. When it was over, I had a lot of good memories. Both of the movie itself, and of the adventures I used to have in my mind.

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