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.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

May 9, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber
Directed by: Mira Nair (“Amelia”)
Written by: William Wheeler (“The Hoax”)

Based on the New York Times bestselling novel, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” takes viewers into the past of Changez (Riz Ahmed), a Pakistani man who moves to the U.S. to go to Princeton and  chase the American dream. He rises to the top of a consulting firm where he is immediately take under the wing of Jim (Kiefer Sutherland), an executive who believes Changez has what it takes to thrive in the industry. After 9/11, however, things take a turn for the worst for Changez as he is met with new difficulties because of his nationality. Met with hostility from a country he loves, he soon finds himself at the center of a kidnapping. Sitting across from him is Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber), a reporter who wants to find out where Changez’s ideals lie.

The element that works best in “Fundamentalist” is Changez’s rise to prominence at his firm Underwood Samson. Changez is a natural at thinking critically and assessing values of companies, often reminded by Jim of his “gift.” Ahmed plays these scenes with a well-rounded, quiet confidence. In fact, Ahmed is easily the strongest part of the film. He shows not only the ability to anchor the story as the lead, but delivers a wide emotional range. The film also takes time to reminds its viewers of the uneasiness with foreigners (and especially those of Middle Eastern descent) that was held in America shortly after the 2001 attacks. Not only is he mistakenly arrested on the street, but when returning from an international flight, Changez is singled out, taken to a backroom and strip searched. It’s a touch ham-handed but director Mira Nair certainly gets her point across that racial profiling exists in this country.

Technically, the majority of the film takes place in flashbacks, which attempts to offer most of the intended tension for the film. The plot, however, becomes convoluted and the payoff is weak. Additionally, there is a subplot involving Changez and his girlfriend Erica (Kate Hudson) that don’t work. The romance (and the arguments) between these characters fail to ignite any passion or chemistry on the screen.

In the wake of the events of the Boston marathon bombings, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is likely to be a hot topic for debate. It’s anti-profiling themes can be taken several different ways, with its impact either strengthening or weakening depending on how one relates it to current events. Regardless, the film as a whole fails to muster up enough interest and wears out its welcome over its bloated 2-hour-plus run-time. It’s a nice display for Ahmed, who is likely new to American audiences, but doesn’t have enough substance to stand alone as a strong political thriller.

The Killer Inside Me

July 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom (“A Mighty Heart”)
Written by: John Curran (debut)

It would be impossible to dismiss Michael Winterbottom’s “The Killer Inside Me” wholeheartedly because of the solid albeit sometimes babbly performance by lead actor Casey Affleck or the stylish film noir environment created by Dutch cinematographer Marcel Zyskind (“A Might Heart”), but what little substance and emotional pull the controversial picture has is quickly lost even before Winterbottom’s intentions are fully revealed.

In “The Killer Inside Me,” Affleck, who earned an Oscar nomination for playing another killer in 2007’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” stars as Lou Ford, a well-respected sheriff in the 1950s who is suspected in a string of killings in a small West Texas town. The murders begin with Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba), a known prostitute who Lou is having a sadomasochistic affair with after demanding she leave town.

Thorough flashbacks, we find that Lou’s mental problems stem from scarring events he experienced as a young boy. When he meets Joyce, who is open to violent sexual encounters, things start boiling over. Left waiting in the wings is Lou’s wife Amy (Kate Hudson), who is clueless to her husband’s indiscretions and psychopathic tendencies.

Intertwined in the sex, secrets, and sadism is a weak narrative about blackmail and corruption. Nothing, however, is as remotely interesting as trying to pin down what director Winterbottom is actually doing when he turns these curious fetishes into scenes of ultra-violent rage. If these scenarios are supposed to make viewers feel uncomfortable, they succeed. If they’re supposed to answer questions about Lou’s vicious character, they don’t.

What we’re left with is a thriller without much suspense and characterizations that fall by the wayside in favor of brutality that offers little to the script at hand. A film should never be penalized for being “too violent” especially if it enhances elements of the story. “The Killer Inside Me,” however, simply flaunts its ability to disturb, which makes it seem desperate to evoke some kind of sensation more than anything.

Bride Wars

January 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Anne Hathaway, Kate Hudson, Candice Bergen
Directed by: Gary Winick (“13 Going on 30”)
Written by: Greg DePaul (“Saving Silverman”), Casey Wilson (debut), June Diane Raphael (debut)

A guy would have to be completely insane to break up with someone like Kate Hudson or Anne Hathaway. What would have to possess him to actually end a relationship with two of the most beautiful and talented women working in Hollywood today?

Despite the incomprehensibility of the act, that’s where I am right now after watching the ladies’ new movie “Bride Wars.” Stop printing the invitations, put the ice sculpture in a big freezer, and cancel the stringed quartet. With Hudson and Hathaway hamming it up as Bridezillas, the bachelor pad is looking a lot more comfortable from this side of the aisle.

As best friends, Liv (Hudson) and Emma (Hathaway) have been dreaming of the perfect white wedding since they were little girls. It was at an early age when they knew a June wedding at the Plaza Hotel was what they’ve always wanted.

But when an employee working for Marion St. Claire (Candice Bergen), the iconic wedding coordinator at the Plaza, accidentally books Liv and Emma’s wedding on the same day, the women’s claws come out as both refuse to be flexible with their arrangements.

Instead, in an array of misguided and cheaply-written jokes, Liv and Emma set out to sabotage each others weddings. In one instance, Emma pretends she is Liv’s fiancé and sends her desserts knowing she will eat them because she was once overweight. Liv goes as far as ruining the hue of Emma’s spray tan causing her skin turn the color of a pumpkin.

The childish and mostly unfunny attempts at humor continue back and forth until the big day when Liv and Emma have to realize their friendship means more to them than Vera Wang dresses and five-tier cakes. But by the time the lethargic characters are settled and everyone is back to their lovely selves, all you really want to do is throw back a couple more glasses of champagne and call it a night. Give me a “chick flick” about weddings any day of the week (I love “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Father of the Bride”), but don’t lose the wit while doing it.

Fool’s Gold

February 13, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Donald Sutherland
Directed by: Andy Tennant (“Hitch”)
Written by: John Claflin (“Anacondas”), Daniel Zelman (“Anacondas”), Andy Tennant (“Ever After”)

If you think a perfect world would somehow manifest if Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson hooked up in real life, you’re far too helpless to be saved. In that case, “Fool’s Gold” was made for moviegoers like you; those who will swoon over a shirtless McConaughey and call it passable entertainment.

In “Gold,” McConaughey and Hudson play Finn and Tess Finnegan, a husband and wife treasure-seeking duo who are going through a messy divorce. On the morning that they’re separation if finalized, Finn is late to the court hearing because he has just found proof that a 300-year-old buried treasure known as the Queen’s Dowry actually exists.

Despite the fact that Tess is a bit interested in finally finding the treasure, she seems to have left that life behind her and now works as a stewardess on the yacht of millionaire Nigel Honeycutt (Sutherland) and his sassy, famous, and all too annoying pop tart daughter Gemma (Alexis Dziena). When Finn finds out that Nigel is on the island, he hatches a plan to stow away for just long enough to explain his situation so that he might get some financial support for the treasure hunt. This series of reckless scenes, which all lead up to a longwinded background story, are by no means funny or fascinating to watch unfold. And unless you want to get dumber by the minute, McConaughey is the last person you want to hear spewing out fictional history lessons and adventure tales. How he didn’t read this script (presuming he can read) and immediately think, ‘Hey, this is like that other movie I did, ‘Sahara,’ but in the ocean,” is beyond explanation.

Playing opposite of McConaughey is Hudson, who was once thought to be the most exciting up-and-coming actress when she wowed us with her performance and landed an Oscar nod as Penny Lane in 2000’s “Almost Famous.” Since then, Hudson been swimming in the kiddie pool with by-the-number roles in everything from “Raising Helen” to “You, Me, and Dupree.” Fight the undertow, Kate, and move on to better gigs.

Better days to come, however, won’t start with “Fool’s Gold.” It’s poorly written across the board by John Claflin and Daniel Zelman (the two guys who came up with “Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid”) and director Andy Tennant decides to make another movie as if he was directing a big-budget TV sitcom on its last leg.

File this one with films like “Captain Ron,” “Boat Trip,” and “Cabin Boy.” A trip out to sea with this crew and you’ll be swimming back to shore.