Kung Fu Panda 3

January 29, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons
Directed by: Jennifer Yuh (“Kung Fu Panda 2”) and Alessandro Carloni (debut)
Written by: Jonathan Aibel (“Kung Fu Panda 2”) and Glenn Berger (“Kung Fun Panda 2”)

How do you make the third installment of an animated panda bear series even more adorable than the first two movies? Add a handful of fat baby pandas to the mix and give them plenty of dumplings to devour. Such is the case with “Kung Fu Panda 3” as hero panda Po (Jack Black) teams up once again with the Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross) – to defeat an evil villain set to run amok across China.

While the aforementioned cast does another fantastic job with their voice work, specifically Black as the clumsy leader whose on the job training as the Dragon Warrior is working out pretty well, it’s the new talent brought onto this sequel that really makes it memorable. This includes recent Oscar-nominated actor Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”) as Li, Po’s long lost biological father who finds Po and returns him to his panda roots, and Oscar winner J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”) as Kai, a villainous bull set on stealing the life force (“chi”) of anyone who gets in his way. Also, keep your eye out for the scene-stealing and hilarious Mei Mei (Kate Hudson), a female ribbon dancing panda bear who takes quite a liking to a less-than-interested Po.

The narrative is warm and light enough in “Kung Fu Panda 3,” although much of the story isn’t what anyone would really consider original. What still stands out, however, is the incredible animation DreamWorks has been able to create with this franchise. The world of “Kung Fu Panda” is even more visually striking than it was when the original film hit theaters in 2008. The animation studio’s perfect combination of computer generated and 2-D work is brilliant and each character, old and new, feels fresh and exceptionally vibrant. Some of the most impressive animated scenes, much like in the last two movies, take place when animators slow down the action right in the middle of a fast-paced fight sequence so audiences can see the finer points of the battle – the splintering of a wooden pole that just got punched or someone getting a roundhouse kick to the jaw.

An overall comparison between “Kung Fun Panda 3” and its predecessors would leave this recent animated movie lagging behind in storytelling, although the father/son messaging is pleasant enough, but there’s no denying DreamWorks is making a stand against powerhouses like Pixar and Disney. Just as long as they can stop producing schlock like last year’s ill conceived “Home,” DreamWorks will still be in the conversation when the big players are mentioned.

Unbroken

December 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jack O’Connell, Miyavi, Domhnall Gleeson
Directed by: Angelina Jolie (“In the Land of Blood and Honey”)
Written by: Joel Coen (“Inside Llewyn Davis”), Ethan Coen (“Inside Llewyn Davis”), Richard LaGravenese (“Water for Elephants”) and William Nicholson (“Les Miserables”)

As inspirational as any real-life war biography can get, the survival story of Olympic athlete and WWII POW Louis “Louie” Zamperini, who sadly passed away this year at the age of 97, is the kind of hero-worshipping film that would be difficult for any American to resist. Think of something like last year’s “Lone Survivor” or this year’s “American Sniper.” A real patriot has to love these movies, right?

Spanning from Zamperini’s childhood to the end of WWII, “Unbroken” features Jack O’Connell as Zamperini during his time as an Olympic track star to his service in the U.S. military where he survived a plane crash, 47 days in a life raft and two years as a prisoner of war in Japan. While much of the first half of the film is beautiful to look at (credit cinematographer Roger Deakins for his work in the air and ocean) and the life raft scenes are incredibly harrowing and intense, the same can’t be said of the narrative that focuses on Zamperini’s life once he is taken prisoner on enemy soil.

These scenes, which feature Zamperini pitted against his cruel torturer known as “The Bird” (Miyavi), are lacking in sentiment from the get go. Miyavi, while menacing enough to make his character believable, isn’t written with much depth. Instead, screenwriters seem comfortable enough in the rest of the story to keep Bird as a cliché antagonist who wields a bamboo stick with authority. In one scene, Zamperini and Bird, after some time apart, are reunited in a way that should have felt devastating, but comes off as diagrammed and impassive.

Directed with complete respect by Angelina Jolie from a Coen Brothers’ script adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book, there is surprisingly little emotional impact from such an incredible story. Jolie has made a film to admire because of its heroic subject, but not one that honestly captures a character like Zamperini more than skin deep.

Maleficent

May 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copely, Elle Fanning
Directed by: Robert Stromberg (debut)
Written by: Linda Woolverton (“Alice in Wonderland,” “The Lion King”)

Who is a movie like “Maleficent” for? The film is too violent and scary for children who are—maybe—familiar with the Disney classic “Sleeping Beauty,” and too boring for the Hot Topic-shopping teens that made it out to see Tim Burton’s like-minded reimagining of “Alice in Wonderland.” No, “Maleficent” seems to serve one purpose: to give Angelina Jolie a role well-suited to her stature and facial features.

With revisionist takes on fairy tale villains being all the rage, “Maleficent” sets out to tell us the real story of why Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) cursed Aurora (Elle Fanning) to fall into a death-like sleep on her 16th birthday after pricking her finger on a spinning wheel. You see, as a young fairy, the winged Maleficent met a poor, orphaned human boy, Stefan, hiding in the Moors, a peaceful and magical realm free from man. They fall in love as teenagers, only to be pulled apart when ambition draws Stefan back to humankind. Years pass, and the human ruler King Henry wages war on the Moors, to claim it for its riches. The grown Maleficent and her army of Ent-like tree warriors beat back the humans and send the king to his deathbed. King Henry promises the crown to the man who can kill Maleficent, an opportunity the adult Stefan (Sharlto Copely) seizes by sleazily reconnecting with Maleficent, only to drug her and cut off her wings, proof enough to make him king. Betrayed, Maleficent swears revenge on King Stefan, namely by cursing his newborn daughter Aurora to the aforementioned eternal sleep.

It’s pretty bold for a modern-day Disney movie to call one of the studio’s all-time classics an outright lie, but that’s how “Maleficent” treats the events of “Sleeping Beauty,” the latter coming across as a downright smear campaign against Maleficent, a woman scorned who just happens to have destructive magic powers and gnarly black goat horns. Mostly, though, the film is just dull. After her betrayal by Stefan—a thinly-veiled analogy for sexual assault—Maleficent spends a good deal of the movie just sort of hanging around, whether in her wicked tree throne or keeping a watchful eye on Aurora as she grows up, secretly covering for the near-deadly mistakes made by the three fairies charged with protecting the princess.

Maleficent’s relationship with Aurora is simultaneously the best and most problematic part of the movie. Jolie shines when expressing warmth for the cursed girl (and man, is Aurora a dim-bulb in this movie) and it hits a moment of real emotion when Maleficent seeks to revoke the curse, only to realize even she can’t undo it. But defanging one of Disney’s most badass villains, essentially turning her into a fairy godmother, leaves the film feeling like a giant shrug.

The Tourist

December 10, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany
Directed by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“The Lives of Others”)
Written by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“The Lives of Others”), Christopher McQuarrie (“Valkyrie”), Julian Fellowes (“The Young Victoria”)

Hollywood star power can’t get much more extravagant than Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. Set on a picturesque backdrop of Venice, Italy, “The Tourist,” a remake of the 2005 French film “Anthony Zimmer,” has breathtaking set pieces, but the superficial script – with all its generic twists – makes this romantic espionage thriller the perfect example of style over substance.

From German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who won an Academy Award for his gripping 2006 film “The Lives of Others,” “The Tourist” marks the first American feature of his career. It’s a decision von Donnersmarck might regret especially if he made more concessions than he’s used to just to sample the mainstream. It could pay off in the long run, but right now this should leave a bad taste in his mouth until the next opportunity comes up.

Depp plays Frank, a college math professor who is easily captivated by a woman he meets on a train. Although it seems like a chance encounter to Frank, Elise (Jolie) has underlying intentions. She needs Franks’s help to evade Scotland Yard (Paul Bettany is the lead detective) who is trailing Elise so she can lead them to her thieving lover Alexander (identifying Alexander is supposed to be part of the intrigue, but it’s fairly obvious to figure out who he is if you don’t get caught up in the far-fetched plot).

Despite its elegant look, “The Tourist” lacks any real intense moments where we actually think our attractive leads are in any danger. Sure, Jolie sashays as lovely as any actress, but without any character development or chemistry between her and Depp “The Tourist” is a wasted vacation.

Salt

July 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by: Phillip Noyce (“The Quiet American”)
Written by: Kurt Wimmer (“Law Abiding Citizen”)

It might be a studio’s biggest nightmare when a megastar like Tom Cruise drops out of your potential summer blockbuster, but when you’re able to secure someone with just as much celebrity power as Oscar winner Angelina Jolie, having to go back and rework the script to read “she” instead of “he” is a welcomed endeavor. (Yes, we realize there is probably much more to it than simply replacing pronouns, but it is well-received news nonetheless).

While screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (“Law Abiding Citizen,” “Street Kings”) was able to adjust his script according to gender for the film “Salt,” he doesn’t take the opportunity during the rewriting phase to fill in any of the plot holes or enhance some of the foolish dialogue. Despite its shortcomings, however, “Salt” is entertaining, unpredictable and a much-needed albeit moderate kick to the less-than-stellar mainstream summer action flick lineup. Even on that thinly-built frame of hers, Jolie can still carry a movie on her own.

When CIA officer Evelyn Salt (Jolie) is pegged as an undercover spy by a Russian defector, her escape from custody leads to lively foot chases, illogical assassination plots, and some terribly choreographed fight scenes. On her trail are her friend and colleague Ted Winter (Live Schreiber), who assumes she is innocent, and counter-intelligence officer Peabody (the always reliable Chiwetel Ejiofor), who does not.

The ambiguity of Evelyn’s character is what keeps the pace of the film at frenzied levels. It’s also what makes it so fun despite its number of implausible scenes. Still, it is nice to have a hero who isn’t tweaking on testosterone or afraid to break a nail. When Jolie is leaping off highways and onto the tops of semi-trucks it’s kind of hard not to pay attention.

Directed by Phillip Noyce, who is best known for a couple of those Harrison Ford-as-Jack Ryan flicks back in the 90s (his best work are his more dramatic films like “The Quiet American” and “Rabbit-Proof Fence”), “Salt” might feel like another Jason Bourne offering at times. But with Jolie taking the lead there is a distinctive dynamic that comes with featuring a female Hollywood sex symbol that can kick as much butt as the boys.

As far as ridiculous thrillers go, it’s highly unlikely the summer is going to produce anything with more flavor than “Salt.” But even if films like “The Expendables” or “Machete” do end up proving to be more enjoyable, there definitely won’t be a scene in either movie where Sylvester Stallone or Danny Trejo do what Jolie does and outmaneuvers their adversaries with a pair of panties.

Changeling

October 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan
Directed by: Clint Eastwood (“Million Dollar Baby”)
Written by: J. Michael Straczynski (TV’s “Babylon 5”)

While truth may be stranger than fiction, it’s not always a wise decision for a screenwriter to choose to include events of a true story that, although accurate, seem all too tactless and build up to oddly written scenes. As a period piece set in 1928, “Changeling” is beautifully shot frame by frame and well directed by Clint Eastwood. As a dramatic suspense thriller, however, the problems lie in J. Michael Straczynski’s overambitious script.

“Changeling” begins when Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), a single mother working at a phone company, comes home to find her young son Walter (Gattlin Griffith) is missing. Turning to a corrupt LAPD, who is trying to improve their tarnished image with its citizens, Christine is speechless when Capt. J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) tells her that her son has been found. The problem with that statement, however, is that the boy Capt. Jones presents to Christine is not her son, but another kid who insists his name is Walter Collins and that Christine is, in fact, his mother.

Feeling forced by Capt. Jones to take the boy “home on a trial basis,” which is a funny enough idea until Christine actually does it, Jones tells the worried mother that she doesn’t recognize her own son only because she is shocked to see him after a few months. While at home, however, Christine realizes the young stranger now living with her is three inches shorter than her son and is circumcised, unlike Walter. Her proof isn’t good enough for the LAPD, however, as Capt. Jones has accepted all the praise from the local media, and closed the case.

When Christine continues to ask questions and wonder why the police force would try to hide their mistake, she is tossed into a mental hospital for evaluation, a move made only to silence her from embarrassing the police department’s shoddy detective work.

By this time, Christine has already built her case against the LAPD with support from an number of people including Walter’s teacher and doctor, who said they would testify on her behalf that the boy brought to her is not her son. Help is also offered by Rev. Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), who mission in life is to uncover the criminal actions of the LAPD, and broadcast them on his local radio show.

While it all makes for an interesting episode of “The Twilight Zone,” screenwriter Straczynski drops the ball on behalf of Jolie’s time onscreen. By the halfway point, his choice to do this becomes exhausting especially when a lot of loose ends aren’t tied up. As this is happening, the story hits a fork in the road and causes more distractions before its 140-minute runtime is over.

Wanted

June 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov (“Day Watch”)
Written by: Michael Brandt (“3:10 to Yuma”), Derek Haas (“3:10 to Yuma”), Chris Morgan (“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”)

A fast-paced and mostly ridiculous adrenaline rush through the streets of Chicago, “Wanted” tells the story of a bored-out-of-his-mind account manager who finds out that his life is about to get a little more exciting because of his bloodline.

Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) hates his job and his vicious boss, hates his nagging girlfriend for cheating on him with his best friend, and hates the fact that when he Googles his name, the Web site produces “No Results,” which basically tells him he hasn’t done anything with his life.

But when Wesley meets an assassin named Fox (Angelina Jolie) and discovers he was born to follow in his father’s footsteps as hired killer, he says goodbye to his 9 to 5 job and joins an underground fraternity where he is assigned to execute the man who ended his father’s life.

Reminiscent of the sharp narration of “Fight Club” in the film’s early scenes, “Wanted” is visual escapism at its most hyperactive. Beside aerodynamic sports cars and assassin maneuvers that defy the laws of gravity, which can be fun when they’re not too frenetic, a thin plot is what keeps “Wanted” stuck in neutral.

Kung Fu Panda

June 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: (voices of) Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman
Directed by: Mark Osborne (TV’s “SpongeBob Squarepants”) and John Stevenson (TV’s “Father of the Pride”)
Written by: Jonathan Aibel (TV’s “King of the Hill”) and Glenn Berger (TV’s “King of the Hill”)

Let’s not kid ourselves when it comes to recognizing the leader in animated feature films. Although Japanese anime like “Spirited Away,” has been a strong contender for the last few years, very few others can hold their own against Pixar Animation (DreamWorks Animation with their “Shrek” trilogy would beg to differ).

Since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences created a category to honor animated features in 2002, Pixar has won three out of the seven years and been nominated a total of five times (“Monster Inc.” and “Cars” failed to win during their respected years against “Shrek” and “Happy Feet”).

Leave it up to DreamWorks to revisit the fat, loveable character-driven underdog story to return them to grace after not so great showings with “Bee Movie” and “Shrek the Third.” In “Kung Fu Panda,” the animation company proves that Pixar doesn’t have a monopoly on the industry (even though deep down they are all really scared about how groundbreaking “WALL-E” might be later this year).

“Kung Fu Panda” tells the story of a lazy panda bear named Po (Jack Black) who would rather learn the secrets of his favorite kung fu masters than sell noodles with his loosey-goosey father.

Po gets his chance when Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), a wise, old tortoise choose him to fulfill an ancient prophecy over a group of real animal warriors known as the Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogan), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross). This happens much to the chagrin of their kung fu master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) who doesn’t understand why Oogway has chosen Po to protect them.

With the evil snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane) looking for revenge against the village, there is no time to waste training a fat, uncoordinated panda bear to fight a vengeful kung fu expert. Or is there?

The great work with “Kung Fu Panda” starts where it should with perfectly cast voice work by Black, Hoffman, and Kim. The humor ranges from flavorful jokes for adults and silly slapstick humor that doesn’t go overboard for kids. To top it off, animators pay special attention to the action and fighting sequences, which are high on energy and detail (the slow-motion animation is especially brilliant). “Kung Fu Panda” is a smart and funny homage to martial arts classics of the past and is the best animated feature so far this year and Po is definitely a character you can cheer for.