Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mr. Popper's Penguins

Directed by Mark Waters, Davis Entertainment, 2011. Starring Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, and Angela Lansbury.

Genre: Comedy, Family.

Question: Do you have kids? The summer can be that magical time where you are able to spend more special moments with them - swimming, taking vacations, and day trips around your town. Good quality time. The summer can also be filled with a dozen movies geared towards kids - some good - some not so good. Well, I just came back from one that surprised me and I am putting it in the "good" category: Mr. Popper's Penguins.

I asked again "Are you sure Mr. Popper's Penguins is in theater #20? Positive?" The teen-something popcorn producer nodded. I didn't believe him because when my children and I showed up at theater #20 it still said The Hangover Part II. We returned doubting we had the right theater. My kids looked at me; I shrugged my shoulders and we headed in.

We were the only ones in #20 and there were still five minutes to go until show time... five, four, three, two, one - two minutes past the show time... I keep hoping, praying this was not The Hangover Part II or I was about to be slapped with "Worst Mom of the Year Award". I was ready to dash as soon as I saw Mr. Bradley "Beautiful Blue Eyes" Cooper saying they "F*#@ed-up again!!" But my nerves soon calmed as 30 tweens loudly marched in all wearing the same shirt. Ah, day camp, I thought. We have the right theater. Whew!

But maybe they are in the wrong theater too? Then the lights dimmed, my blood pressure rose again. Music started to...Titanic...What!? There can't be a sequel to THAT?! I searched my memory - it sank, right? Then a shot of the ocean appears on-screen with the large ship heading straight towards us. She tossed necklace overboard, I know it. I saw it! Really, Hollywood - Titanic II Seriously?

...."AAAALLLLVVVVIIIINNN!!!!" My kids turn to me, "Oh, mom can we see that? Please!? Please?!" I think I was still in shock from potentially taking my kids to a rated R movie and the possibility of a Titanic sequel that I said yes to seeing Chipmunks 3... Regrettably.

Focus...Katy. Alright, that is how's my summer is turning out - how's yours?

I wasn’t expecting much from Mr. Poppers Penguins. It started out with a little boy talking to his father on a ham radio. His father was traveling the world on wondrous adventures but rarely home to spend time with his little boy. Fast forward 30 years and Mr. Popper Jr. (Jim Carrey) is a cold, ruthless business man, divorced and father of two children. That is all I am going to tell you because you soon know penguins show up to his apartment.

The first ten minutes or so were pretty predictable and my spidey-senses were telling me I was about to regret taking my kids to see this movie. Sure they will like it, but will I? I sat there for a few more minutes, patiently. Well, I am here to tell you Mr. Popper's Penguins was positively priceless and precious!

Really! When a movie references Apocalypse Now and The Hurt Locker in the first fifteen minutes, you've got a fan in me.

Now if you don't have children or grandchildren I still think you can skip this movie but if you do, take them. It tells a sweet family story that had me giggling during several scenes. Of course, my kids had scenes they giggled through as well -- toilet humor always does that for them. And I mean real toilet humor. Those weren't my favorite. I preferred some of the training scenes. If you have ever tried training a pet you will laugh too.

Also, have ever fretted over your children's well-being and you want to give them best parental advice that will take away their pain? Unfortunately, you are so out of touch with the way kids think, behave, communicate (via the damn texting device) - you actually make your children unhappy with your logical and sage comebacks. You might be the only adult laughing in entire theater...oh, wait, that was just me!

This film won't win any Academy Awards; however, the CGI penguins were hard to tell apart from the real ones. Jim Carrey's performance was close to many of his former fictional characters although with some restraint. I know he can act - The Truman Show, Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind proved that. So, it wasn't a stretch to see him perform here but I did see some sweet moments between him, his kids and the penguins. Yes, I liked the penguins!!

What I enjoyed is this film was how they showcased the family dynamic and how realistic it is. I am not a child of divorce and I am married but with the divorce rate at over 50% it portrays something that many can related to. So, many kids will be able to understand it but don't be surprised when they ask you to get them a penguin for their birthday. Let me be the first one to warn you on that little tidbit. You are welcome!

My kids both gave it 8 out of 10.

My favorite thing: That the movie turned out to be a delight.

My least favorite thing: That I kept thinking Jim Carrey could really use a haircut.

Rating: PG
Length: 94 minutes

Review: 6 out of 10

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Perfect Getaway

Directed by David Twohy, Rouge, 2009. Starring Steve Zahn, Milla Jovovich, Timothy Olyphant, and Chris Hemsworth.

Genre: Mystery, Thriller.

Question: Where did you go on your honeymoon? Was it someplace tropical with soft white sand and tall fruity rum drinks? You are having a wonderful time enjoying the scenery, being together and occasionally conversing with others. Did you meet another couple and end up chatting with them? "A nice couple", you think. Think again. WOW! I am so glad I went to Disney World for my honeymoon.

I recorded A Perfect Getaway last week but finally watched it tonight while my husband went out with his friends and my children watched yet another episode of The Amazing World of Gumball. The movie came out a couple of years ago and I considered watching it then but never got around to it. I was too busy then discovering my love of writing.

Well, I am still writing but have the time finally to watch this thriller. Now, I should tell you that I am very critical of thrillers. First, they may be my favorite genre. There is nothing better when you don't really know what's going on in a story until the reveal. But so many thrillers are so easy to figure out that I am usually bored with the film within the first 30 minutes. However, A Perfect Getaway kept me interested.

Of course, the writers used a few tricks and I loved all the references to screenwriting. Seriously, the characters consistently talked about screenwriting - that kept me watching.  These writers knew what they were doing. At least for the first half.

The actors were well cast. Steve Zahn, who can play goofy, sweet, innocent and idiotic well, did a great job as the lead character. His wife, played by Milla Jovovich, was a little out of balance with his character. I mean, she is drop-dead gorgeous and he of...cute. It didn't fit but that is the kicker, isn't it. First trick!

Timothy Olyphant plays this military, rugged dude on vacation with his hot girlfriend. Now they matched well. But that is yet another trick. I really can't tell you much more except to say this one surprised even me. However, there was the reveal (great twist) and then it went on way too long with many scenes with tons of dialogue. Show, people - not tell!!!

Now the best surprise, at least for us female viewers - Chris "Thor" Hemsworth was in this movie! Now he wasn't in it for long but he was shirtless for every scene. (This is for you Sachi. Enjoy!)

Yes, I jumped a few times; Yes, I got that tight feeling in my chest when there was a tense scene; And yes, I would recommend this one. But it fell short as being the ultimate thriller - at least for me. So, all-in-all it was a good movie viewing night.

My favorite thing: The twist in the plot.

My least favorite thing: The reveal method.

Random thought: Now I have to tell you about one of my all time favorite scenes stars Steve Zahn. We rented Happy, Texas a decade or so where he plays an escaped prisoner. He and his partner pretend to be gay pageant professionals to blend in. Now, before you get anything in your head - I must tell you that Steve Zahn's character was a redneck with handlebar mustache and a thick southern drawl. It was a cute movie but there is one scene where he has to show the little pageant contestants their dance routine. PRICELESS! I think we rewound it 3 times. I have never laughed so hard watching a movie.

Rating: R
Length: 98 minutes

Review: 6 out of 10

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Monthly Wrap-Up May 2011

Here are a few reviews you might have missed:

The Last Song - 5 out of 10
The Hangover Part II - 7 out of 10
Deadfall Trail - 5 out of 10
127 Hours - 10 out of 10
Bridesmaids - 5 out of 10
The Switch - 3 out of 10
Something Borrowed - 4 out of 10
Thor - 6 out of 10
All Good Things - 3 out of 10
Best Worst Movie - Documentary
One Week - 7 out of 10

Monday, June 27, 2011

Soundtrack: The Long Riders

This has certainly been an interesting part of my movie history research - discovering movies and soundtracks. And today is no different. The next album on the list at #87 is The Long Riders -1980. (List from Entertainment Weekly)

I will admit that I don't recall this movie or soundtrack. It did come out when I was much, much younger. However, I do recognize many of the actors: David Carradine, Stacy Keach and Dennis Quaid.

You might want to call this a brother movie not so much of the plot, which is about Jesse James and the bank robbing gang, but by who else is in. David Carradine has 2 brothers, and Stacy and Dennis both have their brothers in this film. That must have been an interesting shoot.

Well, the music on here was written and performed by Ry Cooder - comprised mostly of bluegrass and mountain music - a favorite music genre of mine. Upon my research I read more about the reason for viewing this film was for the music so I checked it out. Now I see why. I particularly liked "Archie's Funeral" and "Escape from Northfield".

The Long Riders (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Ry Cooder & The Long Riders

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Dangerous Method - Preview

My husband, also a huge movie fan, told me about this movie yesterday. A Dangerous Method.  I watched the preview and now can't wait to see the film. David Cronenberg directed this movie and it stars Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightley, and my newest favorite actor, Michael Fassbender.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Green Lantern

Directed by Martin Campbell, Warner Bros. Pictures, 2011. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Mark Strong and Peter Sarsgaard.

Genre: Action, Crime, Sci-Fi, Thriller.

Question: Have you ever heard the expression: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade? I always thought that was good expression, but I ignored it when I was younger. I had piles of lemons rotting in the corners everywhere. It took a serious wake-up call - my health - to give me the proper recipe to not let the bad stuff get me down - even the details in my past don't bother me anymore. Now I make great lemonade even when lemons are coming at me at warp speed.

Unfortunately, many people ignore the lemonade advice and allow bad things, especially their past, dictate how they react in the present.  But if you have the will and the ability to not let fear rule your life - you will survive - and survive big time! That is the lesson Green Lantern taught. What a great concept!!

However, I am not sure the target demographic will catch the life lesson, but I applaud the story tellers anyway. I asked my son what the moral was in Green Lantern - he said "That superheros are cool?!" Who could blame him for that answer? Unfortunately, Green Lantern was not my favorite comic book summer movie. I think they missed a good opportunity to tell a more cohesive story to go along with the great message.

First, let me say I thought Ryan Reynolds was good casting for Green Lantern - according the previews and this time I did watch them, they showed what I like about him: his sarcastic delivery. He might be the best at it. When I saw Blade: Trinity  (Don't knock me - it was good and I love vampire stories), he was brilliant in it. But in Green Lantern they failed at letting him shine at what he does best. What a shame. It started out with a few good lines but as the story progressed - nada.

The special effects were pretty good, but, and I am probably in minority here, when there are complete CGI scenes as compared with slight use of it, they lose me. It happened in Thor and it happened here. I can't put my finger on why it bothers me. Perhaps it could be the lack of real, tangible objects that throws me off. However, the make-up for certain characters was phenomenal! Specifically Mark Strong's and Peter Sarsgaad's characters' make-up were exceptional.

Speaking of Peter Sarsgaard, big fan here, I found it perplexing when I saw him cast in this movie. Not that I didn't think he could perform well. He is one the best indie movie actors we have but this wasn't his normal project. He did a fantastic job, of course, and he had one the best lines in the entire movie -- I would recommend seeing it for just that scene. Awesome! I just wish it had more of that. Even his character didn't seem fully developed or written well into the story.

Then there is Blake Lively, great name, but lively was not her performance. I have seen her in a few movies and even reviewed a couple (The Town and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee) and I thought she did a great job in both. In Green Lantern she was sorely miscast. She tries to portray a tough, no-nonsense, fighter pilot/business woman who is the love interest for Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds). I didn't buy it. Plus, I saw no chemistry between the two of them. Oh well. She does have one scene where I liked her. Let's just say she points out the obvious to something and I thought it was awesome!

Another actor in Green Lantern deserves mentioning: Mark Strong. Oprah or Ellen once said Anthony Hopkins could read the phone book and they would swoon. Well, Mark Strong may become the next telephone book reader for this generation. You will not recognize him as Sinestro but you will when he speaks. When he opens his mouth I knew immediately was him.  He usually plays the villain (Sherlock Holmes, Kick-Ass, and Stardust) but here he is the leader of the intergalactic squadron.

I suppose I should have admitted this earlier - I didn't read this comic book growing up and I don't know if this story was accurate to the origin. The moral is great and I recommend parents take their kids to see it. They may not get it at first, but I know they will watch it over and over for the cool fighting scenes and creatures. So there is hope that they will eventually get it.

Hint: Stay through the credits.

My favorite part: The one line Peter Sarsgaard says - it really was perfect delivery.

My least favorite part: I would have to say Blake Lively.

Rating: PG-13
Length: 105 minutes

Review: 4 out of 10 (My son gave it a 10 out of 10)

Random thought: If you have not seen Peter Sarsgaard's other movies, let me recommend a few: Boys Don't Cry, Shattered Glass and Garden State. There are many more but start with those. He really is one of the best around, and I hope this movie allows him the freedom to go for juicier blockbusters. I will view them just to see his performances.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Soundtrack: Deadfall Trail

A month or so ago I mentioned a movie called Deadfall Trail that I discovered on Netflix. The movie was decent but it was the score that really got my attention. Composer: Jason Camiolo just sent me the link to listen to the soundtrack.

Now, if you are expecting soft melodic voices showcasing an up and coming pop star - stop right now. This is not your next dinner party music unless you like to freak out your guests. Deadfall Trail soundtrack was made for a horror/thriller. It was fantastic but it showcases a talent that can evoke major emotion that correlates to that genre.

If I have any Hollywood folk out there are reading my blog - this post if for you. Pay close attention to Jason Camiolo and hire him for your next gig. You won't regret it.

Also, the Main Theme song is probably my favorite.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Soundtrack: Waiting to Exhale

Hello all:

We are up to #88 on the top (EW's) 100 Soundtracks of all time with 1995's  release of Waiting to Exhale.. This album soulfully slides into this group because of Babyface and his tenacity to gather some of the top female R & B performers of all time: Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Brandy and many more.

Check this one out - you won't regret it.

Waiting to Exhale (Original Soundtrack Album) - Various Artists

Sorry for the delay in my posts these past few weeks. I was on vacation, but I am back home and ready to share more of my thoughts on movies. Thanks!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Midnight in Paris

Directed (and written) by Woody Allen, Gravier Productions,  2011. Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Michael Sheen and Marion Cotillard

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Romance.

Question: Have you ever gone to a film reluctantly? A lot of the times you think the movie isn't your cup of tea, right? I had to use that expression because my mother wanted to go see the latest Owen Wilson film because she likes him. Yes, my mouth dropped open when she said that. My mom likes Owen Wilson! Not that I blame her, one bit, but I immediately thought she must have seen only Marley & Me and Behind Enemy Lines and not Bottle RocketWedding Crashers or The Royal Tennenbaums.  I was right.

However, it was Woody Allen's latest film: Midnight in Paris that had me questioning the offer of a free movie ticketI am not his biggest fan, but I do have respect for the film-maker. Nevertheless, you know I am always game to see a film.

As we were sitting in the theater, at on a Monday, I noticed there was a certain age bracket that kept walking in. I was not a member of that group. My mom was though. I wondered if they too were Owen Wilson fans, and I started giggling as each person or couple came in. My mom laughed with me once I informed her about my reason for the giggling.

Soon the lights dimmed and the 15 previews finished. Okay, I am exaggerating but even my mother complained about how many there were. Maybe, I got my distaste of previews from her?

The film began and I was getting a little nervous because the opening credits and song went on for an extended period of time -- perhaps two or three minutes too long. However, it was bearable for it was showing picture-perfect views of Paris. Then the dialogue began and I knew immediately I was watching a Woody Allen film. Owen Wilson's voice conversed with Rachel McAdams' character for about a minute to a black screen. It was quintessential Woody Allen.

Then it hit me: Owen Wilson might have been born to act in a Woody Allen film. Seriously, it was perfect casting. His demeanor and delivery of the overly wordy but brilliant dialogue dripped deliciously off his tongue. I soon relaxed and let the story take me away. And what a wonderful story!

Now, if you like any of the following: Art History, Classic Literature, Musical History, or Film History -- you are going to love this movie. Okay, that is about the only hint I will give you about the wonderfully imaginative part of the plot, but rest assured this movie will delight you.

Owen Wilson plays a writer visiting Paris with his self-absorbed, and overly-pampered-by-her-parents-fiancĂ© played brilliantly by Rachel McAdams (complete opposite of her character in Wedding Crashers). He is a writer stuck in a type of career that doesn't fulfill him and all he wants to do during his trip is walk around Paris soaking in the city's allure.  His fiancĂ©, however, does not so he strolls alone, at night, around the City of Lights. This is something that everyone should do from time to time.

The adventure or quest he takes allows the imagination to soar. It's a slightly off-beat, Woody Allen-esque temperament story, but told in such an endearing way. I sat there mesmerized. This journey of discovery is one that most creative people must take to find their true passion in life. However, many choose not to take it for financial reasons.  Gil Pender, Owen Wilson, happily pursues the mysterious passageway, and we are all along for the ride of a lifetime.

His character felt eerily familiar -- not to another fictional personality but something more about yours truly. Spooky!

I loved Midnight in Paris, probably more than most would. First, I studied Art History in college; I recall many of the great authors of our past and envy their talent (especially of late); I am married to a musician and through osmosis picked up many wonderful facts about it; Plus, film, most importantly, is turning into my greatest passion in life.

In fact, I am now on my own creative quest, and I keep getting signs slapped in my face telling me things that will alter my creative life forever. It is scary but thrilling all at the same time. However,  Midnight in Paris was not just another one of those signs that only I will appreciate.

The cast of characters played by the following list was a perfect choice of actors to round out this masterpiece: Kathy Bates, who can do wrong in my eyes; Michael Sheen, probably one of the most talented and most diverse actors today; Tom Hiddleston, who I only saw recently in Thor but think he is about to hit his stride in Hollywood; and of course, Rachel McAdams and Owen Wilson were a brilliant pairing. This is their second movie together, and I have a feeling it won’t be their last.

I will never go reluctantly to a movie again! Thanks Mom (plus, Owen & Woody)!

My favorite thing: The moral of the story.

My least favorite thing. Nothing -- okay, the opening song was a little too long but that is being really picky.

Rating: PG-13
Length: 100 minutes

Review: 10 out of 10

Click on film poster to watch instantly:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Take Shelter - Trailer

I went to see Midnight in Paris this week and watched this preview. I never heard of it until then. Now, this in on my must-see list. I recall Michael Shannon was fantastic in The Runaways, and now I hear about another powerhouse performance. Enjoy!!

Take Shelter

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Soundtracks: Jackie Brown

We have come to #89 on the Entertainment Weekly's top 100 Soundtracks: Jackie Brown. This film was released in 1997 and was Quentin Taratino's follow-up to Pulp Fiction.

Jackie Brown took an iconic '70's female heroine, Pam Geir, and helped reignite her career. The music showcased in the film fit perfectly in the crime/drama/ thriller by showcasing acts like Bobby Womack and Bill Withers. Quentin Taratino always has a flair for the obscure and slightly-off beat nuances from certain cultures and time-frames. In my mind - it's pure brilliance.

Jackie Brown (Music From The Miramax Motion Picture) - Various Artists

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Super 8

Directed (and written by) J.J. Abrams, Amblin Entertainment, 2011. Starring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, and Kyle Chandler.

Genre: Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller.

Question: How many times have you seen a movie with your parents and your children together? I will say it is not that often for me. However, I just watched Super 8 with my parents, my husband, and both my children. Although the reviews are not all the same everyone enjoyed the film. I, however, loved it!

It is very rare to see a movie, today, that receives so much hype and it turns out as good as or better than expected. When we have expectations of films or film-makers somehow, someway something always seems to fall short. Well, not with Super 8.

The trailer is the first place that they got it right. Previews didn't show too much and there wasn't an actor hired for the movie to help draw in the crowds. You may recognize a few of the actors but right this second I can't recall one name except Elle Fanning. (Her sister is rather famous and I type in the actors names after I write my reviews unless I know it.  Okay, most of the time I know it but this time -- nope.)

Second, there is a story in Super 8 that has a moral but not thrown in your face or preachy. I wish I could divulge what it is but, again, I don't want to spoil this one for you. There are several films that Super 8 reminded me of - at least four from my youth. I can't tell you which ones or it will give it away. But trust me -- the storytelling is exceptional and Super 8  is worth the months of waiting.

However, I will say regarding the similar movies, I was lucky enough to have grown up during the '70's and '80's when some of these classic films were first released. These movies were for my generation. They didn't talk down to us or make us the seen and not heard type of kids. Super 8 does the same thing for this generation of kids.

Children today, in many television series and movies, represent a bratty, bored or unintelligent lot -- and sometimes all three. Yes, I know I am exaggerating here, but hopefully you see my point. Super 8 takes a group of middle-school aged children, who all have a goal in mind, each struggling with their own issues, but all discover that listening to their instinct is a good thing.

Now I am not going to tell you anything about the movie in specifics, like most of my reviews.  But I will tell you this is a great story by a great storyteller, J.J. Abrams. Yes, I wouldn't take young children to see this mainly because of the language and the scare-factor. My 9 year-old was a little scared but she is tough. Once she got through to the end and really thought about the movie -- it wasn't so scary to her.

I so imagine J.J. Abrams is clearly represented in this movie as one of the children, and feel he told this tale to pay homage to other great film-makers/storytellers, who will remain nameless, but you will figure it out. Trust me.

Regarding the storyline, Super 8 has a group of children making a movie on super 8 film in the late '70's. That much I can tell you. And if any of you out there love movies half as much as I do you will enjoy this film immensely. These kids go on an adventure while making the movie that is something that I think every young film-maker dreamt of.

For you special effects lovers out there, this one delivered. Plus, don't get up and walk-out at the end of the movie. Stay through the credits.

Now what did my family think of Super 8? I will list the three generations from youngest to oldest.

Daughter - 9 out of 10
Son - 10 out of 10
Husband - 7 out of 10
Mother - 7 out of 10
Father - 6 out of 10

My favorite thing: That it lived up to all the hype. Plus, the humor.

My least favorite thing: That the story has already been told but it didn't bother me all that much.

Rating: PG-13
Length: 113 minutes

Review: 9 out of 10

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Directed by Rob Marshall, Jerry Bruckheimer Films, 2011. Starring Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush and Ian McShane.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy

Question: When you see the list of summer movies released or coming out soon, don't you want to say: "Remakes, Prequels and Sequels, Oh my!" I do. Yes, I have seen many of these types of films in the past few weeks, and some have even surprised me at how good they were. However, after watching the Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End a few years back I rolled my eyes at the latest release in the series: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. I honestly didn't think they were going to make another.

The original Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was brilliant. I loved it and have watched it many times. The second film was an average 5 out of 10 for me, and I was so disappointed with it but it was tolerable. However, the third film in the series has magically disappeared from my memory bank because it was so awful. So, why did I see the latest one? I must confess - I love Captain Jack Sparrow (a.k.a. Johnny Depp), and my husband and son's flight got delayed 8 hours. We had time to kill. (Plus, Super 8 doesn't start until Friday!) So, I thought to myself: Why not?

My expectations were not very high for this film, but I was pleasantly surprised it wasn't horrible. It wasn't great but it was a tolerable story to follow. There were even a few scenes that I got totally immersed in -- let's just say Ariel wouldn't be happy with it but I enjoyed it.

Yes, there were too many over-the-top action scenes. Yes, some of the dialogue didn't leave much to the imagination. That surprised me because when you are learning to write screenplays the number one rule is "Show not Tell" the story. Sure there were plenty of non-verbal actions scenes but when it was a more subdued scene the actors spelled everything out with their words.

Now to Jack Sparrow: To me, he is one of the best characters ever created for the silver screen. All credit to Johnny Depp, and he deserves an honorary Oscar for developing such the well-beloved drunken pirate. Even though I adore this character there is a reason the first story worked so well: he wasn't necessarily the main character. The balancing act of the young lovers, Captain Barbosa's men and their quest, and Jack looking for his ship allowed an even distribution of characters and their stories. The movies now have Jack Sparrow as the central character and it is uneven.

The black-eyed pirate is so dynamic that he over-shadows everyone else. In Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides they tried to showcase a character or two to counterbalance Jack Sparrow. With Ian McShane's Blackbeard they got close but Penelope Cruz's and Geoffrey Rush's characters fell way short. Yes, there was an interesting development between two characters -- that will remain nameless; however, it didn't evoke the same pairing as Miss Swan and Mr. Turner.

All-in-all this film was better than the last, but just don't expect the greatness of the first.

My favorite part: Jack Sparrow was good but I really liked the sea creatures.

My least favorite part: That nothing was left to the imagination.
Rating: PG-13
Length: 136 minutes

Random thought: Ian McShane is high up on my favorite actor list but it probably has to do with a great character he played for British television: Lovejoy. Check it out especially if you like antiques mixed in with an adventure tale.

Review: 4 out of 10

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

X-Men: First Class

Directed (and written) by Matthew Vaughn, Bad Hat Harry Productions, 2011. Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and January Jones.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Sci-fi, Thriller.

Question: When you see a prequel is coming out for a movie is your first thought: Oh-no! or Oh-yay!? Well, I will admit that mine usually is the initial thought. After the prequels of Star Wars came out and not that good -- in my opinion (Sorry, George), hearing X-Men: First Class was in production I was leery -- really leery. Well, I am glad to say that I was wrong to worry. It was top-notch.

The movie started out the exact same as X-Men -- I mean the same scene at the concentration camps but then continued longer in that time frame so we find out more on why Erik becomes Magneto. At this same time we meet a villain who I was not expecting but pleasantly surprised at who was playing him. You know I am not going to say who. I'll let that be a surprise like it was for me. (Yes, I did not see any previews or read-up on anything about the movie.) Now I will say that I did not read X-Men comics growing up and don't know if this movie just resembles the comic or is an exact replica.

As the story unfolds we meet some more familiar characters: Charles Xavier (Professor X) played by James McAvoy and Raven (Mystique) played by Jennifer Lawrence. I found it fascinating to see how their start evolved. Also, I always enjoy watching James McAvoy perform -- ever since the first Narnia movie. However, this was the first movie that I could recall watching Jennifer Lawrence, but I do remember her all over the entertainment news during the awards ceremonies.

The rest of the movie unfolds with meeting the adult Erik Lehnsherr and other mutants as they form their union.  X-Men: First Class was well thought-out and told with the exception that it should have been about 20 minutes longer, in my opinion. There were many scenes that seemed rushed through, and I think it could have helped develop the creation and evolution of the X-Men. Perhaps, the film-makers wanted to keep it close to the two-hour mark, who knows?

I enjoyed the relationship between Charles and Erik and saw a real connection between the two characters. It really helped solidify the other X-Men movies for me. As I said before I did not read the comics, and I always felt like I was missing some valuable information about the characters' histories. X-Men: First Class really solved that for more than just those two characters. Well done!

My favorite thing: The surprises. Of course, I am not going to tell you. And I have to say the set and costumes. Most of the movie took place during the mod 60's.

My least favorite thing: How many times Professor X put his fingers to his temple. It got a little repetitive.

Rating: PG-13
Length: 132 minutes

Random thought: You might recognize who plays Erik: Michael Fassbender. He was in Inglourious Basterds. There is something about him that reminds me a young Sir Lawrence Oliver. Both in looks and in talent. He is good! Can't wait to see him in more movies.

Review: 8 out of 10

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2

Directed by Jennifer Yuh, Dreamworks Animation, 2011. Starring Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, and Gary Oldman.
Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure, Comedy, Family.

Question: Do you ever blame your current circumstances on your past -- especially from your childhood? Well, Kung Fu Panda 2 teaches you that no matter where you came from or how bad your start was in this world, you can choose to have a good life today.

I am on vacation with my daughter, 9, and we went to our first Summer movie together yesterday:  Kung Fu Panda 2. The movie was not high on my radar because many sequels usually fall short. Well, I was pleasantly surprised at how delightful this one was.

All the same adored characters are in this one: Po (Jack Black), Tigress (Angelina Joile), Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and many more. There are even a few news ones, specifically Gary Oldman voicing the new villain: Shen. Also, you might want to check on the other new voices. I didn't recognize them until I saw the credits.

The story takes our fearless kung-fu warriors fighting and defending China against an evil Peacock who creates the world's first weapon but that is not what is at the heart of this story. Po discovers his real beginning within his own family history. Kung Fu Panda 2 displayed a solid approach to teach young and old viewers alike that the choices you make today shouldn't be based (or blamed) on the past especially if you haven't had the ideal start.

The animation was spectacular and more amazing than the first film. There are plenty of fight scenes albeit not too violent for the younger generations. Although, I will say the editing was a bit too quick for my taste (or my 40 year-old eyes) during those scenes. The movie has moments of humor scattered throughout the plot but it is not overly comical or childish. There is real heart and soul to the tale.

I was pleasantly surprised at what a good sequel Kung Fu Panda 2 was. So, there is no need to get a babysitter for your youngest. Enjoy a wonderful family movie this weekend.

My daughter gave it a 9 out of 10.

My favorite thing: The moral of the story.

My least favorite thing: The editing in the fighting scenes.

Rating: PG
Length: 90 minutes

Rating: 8 out of 10

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Montly Wrap-Up April 2011

Here is the monthly Wrap-Up from April in case you missed any of those movie reviews.

The Lincoln Lawyer - 3 out of 10
Mother & Child - 4 out of 10
Shutter Island - 6 out of 10
The Lovely Bones - 3 out of 10
Conviction - 7 out of 10
Nowhere Boy - 6 out of 10
Burlesque - 3 out of 10
Hop - 4 out of 10
Welcome to the Rileys - 7 out of 10
Love and Other Drugs - 5 out of 10
Hanna - 8 out of 10
Inglourious Basterds - 10 out of 10
Tangled - 8 out of 10
The Joneses - 4 out of 10
Easy A - 5 out of 10