Monday, August 30, 2004

Movie Review: Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines

United States, 2003
U.S. Release Date: 7/2/03 (wide)
Running Time: 1:50
Rated: R (Violence, profanity, brief nudity)
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken, David Andrews

Director: Jonathan Mostow
Producers: Mario Kassar, Andrew G. Vajna, Hal Lieberman, Joel B. Michaels, Colin Wilson
Screenplay: John Brancato & Michael Ferris
Music: Marco Beltrami
Studio: Warner Brothers

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The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1993) provide for arguably two of the entertaining sci-fi/action plots of all-time. Both films fascinated viewers with the concept of a cybernetic organism traveling back through time to prevent future events from occurring, and the money statistics more than prove this. Now, with the third installment in the series, the captivating plot continues. While T3 is a worthy film to share the Terminator title, it is not up to par with its prior one-two punch. It still entertains and garners a recommendation, but it falls short in comparison to Cameron’s knockout hits.

Upon hearing about the rise of The Rise of the Machines script, most were thrilled yet hesitant--knowing that Arnold was the only returning member of the original casts. Furthermore, with a new director on board in Jonathan Mostow, things were not looking up. Mostow cautiously stepped up to the plate, after the past director of both installments, James Cameron, said that he couldn't put the movie together in time for it to become a 2003 summer blockbuster. Cameron wanted more time to make it good, while Mostow was told to motor something up quick before Schwarzenegger entered the world of politics. Mostow filled the shoes rather nicely in creating a respectable representation of the third film in the series (and notice I did not say, the third and final film in the series).

Mostow claims that there are already screenplays in the works, and that they already have ideas down for 4, 5, and possibly 6. In fact, Nick Stahl, who skillfully takes the place of Edward Furlong in the role of John Connor, has already signed on to make two more Terminator films. Stahl was chosen for the part of Connor after his superb acting in the Academy Award nominated and highly recommended film, In the Bedroom. At this point, it is unknown if Arnold will return for any or all of these future installments, due to his role in the realm of politics. Either way, Schwarzenegger wins. People will either pay money to see his films on the big screen, or they will continue to support him in office. If Jesse Ventura (the former pro-wrestler) can make it in politics, Arnold Schwarzenegger (the emperor of action films) can sure as heck make the cut.

It is hard to tell that Arnold Schwarzenegger is now in his fifties. Before the film's production, the muscular Austrian had to undergo strenuous workout sessions in order to get back into the built physique of the T-800. Arnold worked hard for this feature, and it shows; every bulging bicep and rippling muscle found in the original T-800 prototype can be found in the same Schwarzenegger character some twenty years later.

To add to the manly muscled cast, Kristanna Loken, as the T-X fearsome female Terminator, locks into her robotic moves and terminatrix glares with ease. She also brings a lot more sex appeal to the screen than the previous T2 villain (the T-2000, played by Robert Patrick) could ever provide.

As expected, there is some eye-candy to find in this mixed bag of treats. The helicopter crash scene, the one-on-one Terminator battle versus good and evil, and the unbelievable mechanical crane chase scene towards the beginning of the picture, all provide for eye-popping entertainment. T3’s extensive chase scene comes close to the downright-amazing chase sequence found in The Matrix Reloaded.

Not only is this film aesthetically pleasing to any action aficionado’s eye, but it is also aurally appetizing to every viewer’s ear. The soundtrack by Marco Belltrami (adapted from John Williams's prior composing), with its crisp, thunderous, and snappy snare hits, creates the perfect robotic background feel for this film.

Another nice touch to this third installment is a more potent presence of comedy. With a new additional screenwriter (who previously wrote Rush Hour) this time around, a fresh flavor of humor is added to this sci-fi/action thriller. For example, when Arnold travels into a strip joint, he picks up the line "Talk to the hand," and then uses this same line throughout the film--replacing his old and always quoted lines such as, "Hasta La Vista, Baby" and "I'll Be Back."

While Arnold was honored on the AFI's "100 Villains, 100 Heroes" list for both his role as the villain Terminator in the first film and the hero and protector Terminator in the first sequel, he won't be gaining any more honors for his 50+ work here. The only ground he gained here was in placing his chiseled self in the minds of all of the California voters.

Even though T3 doesn't come quite as close to the level of T1 or T2, it is still an entertaining, thought-provoking, action-filled, high tension, sci-fi thriller that is sure to be a crowd pleaser. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Movie Review: Jack Frost (1997)

United States, 1997
U.S. Release Date: 1998
Running Time: 1:29
Rated: R (violence, gore, language, and brief sexuality)
Cast: Scott MacDonald, Christopher Allport, Stephen Mendel, F. William Parker, Eileen Seeley, Shannon Elizabeth

Director: Michael Cooney
Producers: Jeremy Paige, Vicki Slotnik
Screenplay: Michael Cooney, Jeremy Paige
Music: Chris Anderson, Carl Schurtz
Studio: Simitar Video

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Jack Frost is one of those films that can be labeled as a horror/comedy. Its spooks are more like spoofs and both its dialogue and scares are so over-the-top that they come off as phony and excruciating. Jack Frost is not intended to be altogether scary; instead, its geared more towards amusing inanity. However, in all actuality, this pitiful picture is neither scary nor side-splitting. The hilarity this picture attempts to secrete is more like sheer stupidity, and the overall film is more vomit-inducting than laugh-inducing.

Described by some as a campy B-horror picture, Jack Frost contains so much absurdity that it could possibly strike a chord with a few morons and turn them into avid fans of the film. Unfortunately, this film’s foolishness really results in an overall ridiculously retarded feature. The only attainable satisfaction and entertainment from this feature can be found in your own satirical “Mystery Science Theater 3000” comments.

The plot, as poor as it is, breaks down like this… On a cold and dark night, convicted killer Jack Frost (Scott MacDonald) is being driven to the place where he is to be executed. En route, the vehicle he is riding in gets in an accident with a truck marked, “Genetics Lab”. Jack is thrown out of the vehicle and into the snow. Then, after the Genetics Lab truck gushes out gallons of genetic chemicals all over the crazed Frost, Jack dissolves into the snow. The snow then somehow (through a lame-looking morphing sequence) comes alive forming a mutant killer snowman housing Jack’s personality, soul, and his craving for murder. With snowman super powers and icicles for fangs, Jack Frost is thirsty for blood and ready to wreak havoc on the tiny unsuspecting town of Snowmonton. There he will find the man who put him behind bars in the first place, Sheriff Sam Tiler (Christopher Allport).

As if both the plot and premise do not already turn you off, here are a few more reasons why Jack Frost is jacked-up. For one, Frost makes a scarier villain in his human form--which is only featured in the first ten minutes of the film. Once the transformation from human to snowman takes place, the fear of the antagonist is based alone on his sharp spiteful voice. Secondly, the round Styrofoam-looking fluff of the snowman really does not install much fear; it rather provokes chuckles and smirks at how silly the living snow looks. Thirdly, all of the science behind the genetic transfiguration is absolutely asinine. (It is explained in a thirty-second muddled blurb of complete bull.) Also, the acting in Jack Frost is exactly what one would expect—beyond bottom shelf. In addition to the bad acting, the characters themselves are all so utterly pathetic that one could honestly not care less if Jack gets his way with them or not. Furthermore, the scenery – set in a supposedly cold wintry town – features very little snow. For example, the snowman contest in mid-town features about ten snowmen, but where did the snow come from? The streets and sidewalks are dry as a bone. The snow that you actually do see on screen is so fake looking that it could easily be mistaken for any other white substance. To put it simply, there is practically nothing on screen that is worth your attention.

With the exception of the laugh-out loud scene where a pre-American Pie Shannon Elizabeth (or Shannon Elizabeth Fadal, as she was then referred to as) realizes that a snowman’s carrot is multi-functional, Jack Frost is a bad movie—and that’s not “bad” in a good way. The only other positive aspect of this film (and I stress only), is the cleverly composed score featuring Christmas classics arranged in minor keys with dissonant chords.

Michael Cooney, the writer/director of this disgraceful picture, apparently set out to make a movie that is so bad it’s good. He failed. Was this straight to video production made precisely for the purpose of being made fun of and mocked? Its only real purpose should be collecting dust on the rental store shelves. Jack Frost is so deplorable that – at most – it is barely endurable.

With its despicable holographic cover art equipped with the cheesy tagline, “He’s chillin…he’s killin”, this VHS/DVD is irrefutably one you should shun. Unlike The Evil Dead trilogy, Jack Frost is just another one of the countless cult films in the horror/comedy genre that is horribly bad. When it comes down to it, Jack Frost deserves the cold shoulder. (1/2 star out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004

Movie Review: Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman

United States, 2000
U.S. Release Date: 12/12/2000
Running Time: 1:31
Rated: R (violence, gore, language, and brief nudity)
Cast: Christopher Allport, Eileen Seeley, Chip Heller, Marsha Clark, David Allen Brooks, Ray Cooney

Director: Michael Cooney
Screenplay: Michael Cooney
Studio: Unapix Home Entertainment

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Just when I thought this film’s precursor (Jack Frost) was already horrid enough, along comes yet another attempt to make a “good” bad movie from creator Michael Cooney. Who would have ever imagined that a sequel to the already egregious original was even warranted? Who enjoyed the first Frost that much, to even have an interest in seeing a follow-up? Apparently, Cooney did; I suppose he thought that there were still untold portions of the repugnant storyline left to tell. Consequently, Cooney squatted, strained, and out came the reeking flatulent that is Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman.

After being buried in the ground for one year in several gallons of green anti-freeze, Jack Frost [Scott MacDonald (voice)] is found by a team of scientific researchers. This team of intellectual geniuses decides to perform a series of lab tests on the green genetic goop, but mid-research an accident occurs. A cold cup of coffee is knocked into the tank of anti-freeze—resulting in the return of the mutant murdering man made of snow. Jack heads to the Islands (he apparently is heat resistant now and won’t melt in the hot sun?!) where he will find his nemesis Sheriff Sam (Christopher Allport) and Sam’s wife Anne (Eileen Seeley). Sam and his wife are on vacation for the holidays taking part in their friends’ wedding. Still recovering from last year’s Christmas calamity, both Sam and Anne figured that they’d be safe in the tropics—away from both the snow and the haunting memories of Jack. Little do they know that Jack is hungry for more and headed to the Islands for one last chance to get even with the Sheriff, and this time Jack brought some friends along.

There really is no point in taking the time to mention any of the actors in particular or any of the scenes at all, because everything in this feature is truthfully equivalent to feces. All of the dialogue is hideously bad and all of the characters and their situations are absolutely unbearable. Even the film’s tagline, “He’s icin…he’s slicin”, is dreadfully worse than the original’s already putrid tagline of “He’s chillin…he’s killin”, and the overall feature is so annoying and intolerable that stomach ulcers are sure to result.

Everything about this movie, from its fruity incorporation of Captain Fun, to its awful ending, makes the abominable and his stupid Styrofoam snowball spawns unwatchable. Jack Frost 2 is one of those films where every copy (in every format) should just be thrown into a burning bonfire. That way, no human being will ever have to stomach this horribly bad horror ever again. The punishment of standing in the corner as a kid is far easier and more enjoyable than sitting through this sissy sludge as an adult.

On the upside, there is now a Christmas gift that Santa can give out worse than coal—Jack Frost 2 on DVD. This frosty folly will be forever frozen in time as one of the worst movies ever made. If my scale went into negative stars, this would undoubtedly be subzero material. (zero stars out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Movie Review: 13 Going On 30

United States, 2004
U.S. Release Date: 4/23/04 (wide)
Running Time: 1:30
Rated: PG-13 (Sexual situations, profanity)
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Christa B. Allen, Jack Salvatore Jr., Kathy Baker, Phil Reeves, Judy Greer, Alexandra Kyle

Director: Gary Winick
Producers: Susan Arnold, Gina Matthews, and Donna Arkoff Roth
Screenplay: Josh Goldsmith, Niels Mueller and Cathy Yuspa
Music: Theodore Shapiro
Studio: Columbia Pictures

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In 1988, a rising star named Tom Hanks was featured in a film entitled Big, about a young boy who makes a wish at a carnival wishing machine to be “big.” Overnight, his wish is granted, and while scared and uncomfortable at first, he adjusts to his surroundings and manages to capture the hearts of those around him with his charm and sense of hope. 13 Going on 30 has been labeled the female version of Big, and rightfully so; its plot is similar, but yet its story is crafted in such an enjoyably original and feminine way. Though 13 Going On 30 doesn’t attain equivalence to its male counterpart, it still presents an honest effort of a film that comes off as nothing but bright-spirited, fun, and heartwarming.

The year is 1987 and Jenna Rink (Christina B. Allen) is just like every other thirteen-year-old girl—in the struggle to gain not only popularity, but also the stares of all of her school’s dreamy blonde boys. Jenna is unhappy with the way she looks, and wishes that she could be just as pretty and perfect-looking as the much-older models in her favorite magazine, Poise. She aspires to become a member of the “Six Chicks” (a snobby yet fashionable group of girls), even though her attachment to this clique would require a name change—making the six a seven, thus killing the trendy rhyme.

In an effort to gain acceptance into the six chick circle, she throws a party in her basement and makes her supposed best friend Matt (Jack Salvatore Jr.) look stupid in front of all of the giggling girls. But, despite Jenna’s efforts, these bratty girls are backstabbers; Tom-Tom (Alexandra Kyle), the leading lady of the “Six Chicks,” uses Jenna to write her school report, steals her party food, and then leaves her party - with the other five following - to find something better to do. Jenna is left in the dark thinking that the reason for their leaving was all Matt’s fault. Frustrated with Matt and herself, Jenna wishes with all her might (and a little wishing dust too) to be “thirty, flirty, and thriving.”

A much more mature Jenna (Jennifer Garner) wakes up in the year 2004, in her own apartment, with a sexy body, and a naked man in her shower. Being the same thirteen-year-old trapped in her new thirty-year-old body, she must now adapt to her living environment, the people around her, and her job. Now an admired editor for Poise magazine with a hunk-of-a-hockey-player boyfriend named Alex (who happened to be the naked man she saw in her shower), Jenna feels smart, successful, and sexy—everything she wanted. However, once Jenna discovers that she works with the potentially conniving Tom-Tom, who currently goes by Judy (Judy Greer), and once she determines that Alex is a dumb jock and realizes that she is no longer friends with Matt (Mark Ruffalo), she must get things straight. Jenna must quickly overcome all of her obstacles with work, win back the man she really cares about, and reorient her life in a more friendly and devoted direction to make up for the mistakes she once made.

For the literal mind, one thing that makes this type of film hard to buy into initially is the incredulity of the fairy tale-like powers of a wish. The mere idea of a simple wish transforming someone into a different body is preposterous, but more illogical ideas have been committed to celluloid and have worked equally in their own way. Even though a ludicrous body-switching wish turned into a reality (either by means of dust or a Zoltar machine) is easy to dismiss, 13 Going On 30 permits you to sit back, disconnect your cords of logic, be silly, and just smile for a good hour-and-a-half. Also, what makes this film hard to swallow is its aspects of time transportation; unlike Big, where Josh just goes through an extreme overnight growth spurt (as if that is believable), Jenna fast-forwards through time which (as always) unavoidably puts an endless world of paradoxes on display. Regardless, what makes this picture palatable, just like Big and Liar, Liar (another stretch of a wish-based feature—only with birthday candles), is the fact that it's cute, charming, and has the capability of bringing out the fun-loving kid in all of us.

Without a doubt, the dominant driving force of this film is Jennifer Garner’s acting. With her first headlining feature, the star of ABC’s “Alias,” has surely set herself on the train towards super-stardom. Her light and fluffy role as a teenager inside a woman’s body comes across as natural, and it is one heck of an adaptation from her role in Daredevil. Any future movie project that has her name on it will definitely do well at the box-office. As for Andy Serkis, his first human screen performance after playing the creature Gollum for almost six years, works out nicely—promising him a brighter future as well. To add, director Gary Winick creates a favorable follow-up to his last feature, Tadpole, and also manages to sneak a hint of homage to Lynch with a Blue Velvet poster in the background.

Another one of 13 Going On 30’s main strengths is the soundtrack. This film cleverly uses songs from the ‘80’s mixed with songs from the present to match the film’s transcending feel. Some tracks include a perfectly-fitting Billy Joel’s “Vienna,” a commonly-used Rick Springfield’s “Jesse’s Girl,” and a poetic Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield.” The pop song selections nicely go hand-in-hand with the sugary cotton candy sensations that the overall film emits.

13 Going On 30 (a title inspired by the song “Sixteen going on Seventeen” from The Sound of Music) is not just a “chick flick” for girlie sleepovers with polka-dotted pink pajamas, pillow fights, and lots of bubble-gum gossip. It is a warm and genuine story about the importance of laughing, having fun, and loving one another that is suitable for either males or females of any age—between thirteen and thirty and beyond. All-in-all, just like the film’s luscious lead, 13 Going On 30 has got it going on. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004