Goosebumps

October 16, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush
Directed by: Rob Letterman (“Monsters vs. Aliens”)
Written by: Darren Lemke (“Shrek Forever After”)

“Goosebumps” books and the Robin Williams movie “Jumanji” are two memories I have of youth in the ‘90s. Not me, mind you; I was a teenage nerd more into Space Ghost and “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” but the younger people that I’ve come to know over the years who embraced those things are apparently the ones who have made BuzzFeed and Jimmy Fallon who they are today, with their brightly-colored ‘90s nostalgia powering the internet away from my beloved absurd comedy. But I digress. We’re here to talk about the film adaptation of R.L. Stine’s kid-targeted horror books and how big a debt it owes to “Jumanji,” since it, too, is full of decently-realized CGI creations that rampage through a city while a somewhat faded comedy superstar looks to reign in the chaos. This isn’t high praise, but the formula will likely turn the movie into a fondly-remembered experience for any kids in the crowd.

After moving to a new house in a new town (of course), Zach (Dylan Minnette) struggles to fit in at his new school. Making things more difficult in the popularity department is his mom (Amy Ryan) being the school’s new vice principal. As luck would have it, though, Zach meets a cute girl next door in Hannah (Odeya Rush), who takes him on a nighttime adventure into an abandoned amusement park. Not amused, however, is Hannah’s mysterious recluse father (Jack Black), who forbids Zach from seeing Hannah again. When Zach later sees what seems to be her father abusing her, Zach calls the police on Hannah’s father. Finding nothing unusual, Zach and his new friend Champ (Ryan Lee) break into the house to rescue Hannah, only to find out her dad is hiding a spooky secret: he’s horror author R.L. Stine and all of the monsters he’s conjured up on the page over the years are in fact real, and they’re itching to escape into the real world.

Though frenetic and paper-thin at times, “Goosebumps” comes alive when the monsters do. From a ventriloquists’ dummy named Slappy (also voiced by Black) to an army of garden gnomes to a levitating poodle, the creepy creations are more fun than most anything the generically bland Minnette and the the cute-but-underwritten Rush turn in. Black handles himself fine as a fictionalized version of R.L. Stine, though the magic behind the story – why the things Stine writes come to life – is so woefully under explained it’s basically a giant shrug. Still, though, the movie has enough charm when the various creatures are onscreen with Danny Elfman’s Halloween-ready soundtrack bouncing along in the background to power past the (goose)bumps in the story.

Turbo

July 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Peña
Directed by: David Soren (debut)
Written by: David Soren (debut), Darren Lemke (“Shrek Forever After”) and Robert D. Siegel (“The Wrestler”)

On its outer shell, “Turbo” might just look like another cute animated film about an underdog character who proves to have the heart of a champion, but even that familiar storyline can have some surprises. It’s especially true when you make some interesting casting choices and hire a co-screenwriter like Robert D. Siegel (“The Wrestler”) to give the script a substantial shot of hedonism. Randy “The Ram” Robinson had it in “The Wrestler” as did Paul Aufiero in “Big Fan,” a dark comedy which Siegel also wrote. The same can be said about starry-eyed garden snail Theo (Ryan Reynolds), AKA Turbo, who would do anything possible to win the Indy 500. It’s a likeable narrative that, while not very inventive or plausible (even for an animated film), does have spurts of high-octane entertainment value.

It doesn’t really matter that Turbo is a snail and therefore lacks the actual speed or anthropological traits to enter the big race. “Turbo,” which feels like DreamWorks’ answer to the fable “The Tortoise and the Hare,” doesn’t worry itself with much logic and neither should viewers. When our little snail hero is somehow infused with nitrous oxide, he gains the super speed he needs to compete with the fastest cars in the world. Turbo’s brother, Chet (Paul Giamatti), isn’t too keen on these pipedreams, but with help from Tito (Michael Peña), the owner of a taco stand, and a group of wannabe racer snails lead by Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), Turbo is put on the fast track to get to Indianapolis and make a name for himself. Speaking of Jackson, you can’t go wrong when screenwriters choose to reference one of the most hilariously vulgar scenes from “Pulp Fiction” and use him to deliver the dialogue. Sure, the rows of eight year olds in the theater won’t blink an eye, but hidden gems like that are appreciated to balance out a lot of the slapstick for the kiddos.

From a technical and narrative perspective, Dreamworks Animation still isn’t at the levels of Pixar, but have fashioned a nice niche in the industry to create some well-made family films since coming on board in 1998 with “Antz.” Since then, they’ve had some major highs (“Kung Fu Panda,” “How to Train Your Dragon”) and a few lows (“Megamind,” “Bee Movie”), but have refused to take a back seat to their competition. If they want to catch up to the likes of Pixar, consistency is what is going to get them there. Just ask the tortoise.

Shrek Forever After

May 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz
Directed by: Mike Mitchell (“Sky High”)
Written by: Josh Klausner (“Date Night”) and Darren Lemke (“Lost”)

“Shrek Forever After” is being labeled as “The Final Chapter” of a 9-year-long fairytale franchise and well it should be. It’s a sequel that’s squeezing out what little magic is left in it’s ogre-sized tank. It might be superior to the slaphappy third installment in 2007, but there’s still not enough originality to make it a truly happily-ever-after.

In “Forever After,” DreamWorks Animation and screenwriters Josh Klausner (“Date Night”) and Darren Lemke (“Lost”) toss a little of Frank Capra’s classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” into the mix as a more mature Shrek returns to a Shrek-less version of Far Far Away.

With the everyday repetition of his family life (changing baby ogre diapers isn’t as adventurous as he thought it would be), Shrek doesn’t feel like the same nasty ogre that once instilled fear into everyone. Instead of running for the hills when Shrek is near, the villagers now look upon him as a celebrity.

In an attempt to revisit his glory days, Shrek signs a pact with the villainous Rumplestiltskin (Walt Dohrn), who has held a grudge with the lovable ogre since he ruined him chance to take over the kingdom years ago. All Shrek wants is one more day where he can feel like the ogre he used to be. Rumple, however, has other ideas.

Transporting into an alternative universe where he was never born, the Shrek realizes that a lot has changed in Far Far Away. Fiona (Cameron Diaz) is now a strapping warrior leading an underground ogre resistance; Donkey (Eddie Murphy) pulls a carriage for some evil, whip-whapping witches; and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) has packed on a few pounds and become a lazy house cat.

To break the spell and return to his regular life, Shrek must get Fiona to fall in love with him all over again and share in “True Love’s Kiss.” Isn’t breaking a spell with a kiss as listless as a storybook tale can go these days?

As in the last two “Shrek” movies, it’s Banderas’ Puss in Boots who steals most of the scenes. Even though there’s not much swordplay in this last film, the now pudgy feline with the Spanish accent is able to match the energy of the new characters, including an army of personable ogres (Craig Robinson and Jane Lynch give funny performances). Cameos by the Gingerbread Man (Conrad Vernon) are also enjoyable. One of the best parts of the movie is when Gingy gives his best impression of a gladiator chopping down fierce animal cookies in a coliseum.

Despite some character highlights, “Shrek Forever After” doesn’t reach the level of the first two installments. It may be the darkest of the series, but it’s light on charm and all around cleverness.