Monday, July 17, 2006

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

U.S. Release Date: 7/7/06
Running Time: 2:35
Rated: PG-13 (Violence)
Cast: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Stellan Skarsgård, Jack Davenport, Kevin McNally, Naomie Harris, Jonathan Pryce, Tom Hollander

Director: Gore Verbinski
Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer
Screenplay: Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio
Music: Hans Zimmer
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures

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- commentary coming soon -

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006

Movie Review: Eight Below

U.S. Release Date: //06
Running Time: 2:00
Rated: PG (Brief peril and mild language)
Cast: Paul Walker, Bruce Greenwood, Moon Bloodgood, Jason Biggs

Director: Frank Marshall
Screenplay: David DiGilio
Music: Mark Isham

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Eight Below functions on a similar level as Disney’s Homeward Bound—only this time, the dogs don’t talk; there is no cat accompaniment; and the canines have no one to return to other than their musher. Similarly, Eight Below compares to March of the Penguins, with its documentary filmmaking style, which depicts the dogs enduring the weather and the ways of the land. In every sense, the dogs are the stars of the show; the rest of the cast merely serves as a slumbering shadow behind the eight precious and powerful pups.

Gerry Shepherd (Paul Walker) is an Antarctic guide who also serves as the primary caretaker of eight sled dogs. However, when Gerry leads geologist Dr. McLaren (Bruce Greenwood) on an adventure to find a specific rock, the cold nearly claims both of their lives. With the dogs pulling the weight, the humans barely make it back to the base—only to be flown to the nearest hospital.

Once Gerry recuperates, he attempts to journey back to Antarctica to save his sled dogs from the upcoming winter. Nevertheless, the weather has worsened making travel impossible. As Gerry struggles to make it back to Antarctica, the dogs are left to fend for themselves—with all odds against them.

Walker is for the most part flat and inconsistent. Meanwhile, Jason Biggs and Moon Bloodgood play the parts of the unnecessary wisecrack and the pointless love interest respectively. Biggs is erratic, and Bloodgood is as excessive as the number of o’s in her first and last name. On the other hand, Greenwood maintains his pride. Yet, instead of taking the time to praise the human actors for their work, the most praise can be assigned to the dog trainers for their commendable accomplishments.

For any dog-lover, Eight Below is a depressing tale of Darwinism; it’s survival of the fittest—Disney style. For the younger crowd, guidance is necessary to talk them through the death sequences and help them get over the fact that the animals are chained up – outside – in a climate that reaches as low as thirty below zero. For the adults, it’s an emotive “based on a true story” production about a cluster of courageous dogs that really deserve more screen time than their human counterparts.

To parallel the film and the Iditarod, it is obvious that it is the dogs that do the work, pull the sled, and lead the way. In the same breath, it is the musher who shouts, steers, and applies the breaks. The bottom-line is: it is the human hindrance that slows the pooches’ potential to shine. If those in charge of Eight Below could have ran the race all over again, they should have kicked the musher off the sled and lost the excessive weight. (** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Movie Review: Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels

U.S. Release Date: 3/5/99
Running Time: 1:43
Rated: R (Violence, profanity, drugs, brief nudity)
Cast: Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, Jason Statham, Steven Mackintosh, Vinnie Jones, Sting, Lenny McLean, P.H. Moriarty, Steve Sweeney, Frank Harper, Stephen Marcus, Peter McNicholl, Vas Blackwood

Director: Guy Ritchie
Producer: Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay: Guy Ritchie
Music: David A. Hughes and John Murphy
Studio: Gramercy Pictures

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Guy Richie’s freshman affair is in a word: ingenious. With shades of Tarantino’s grit, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is an imaginative mix of violence, drugs, originality, and ingenuity. Although a trouble initially surfaces in following who’s who and what’s what, this uncertainty quickly subsides as the plot thickens and the threads begin to expertly intertwine.

To simplify the plot: Eddie (Nick Moran) gets involved in a high-stakes game of poker with his friends’ money, only to loose his £100,000 buy-in and leave £500,000 in debt. He and his pals, Tom (Jason Flemyng), Soap (Dexter Fletcher), and Bacon (Jason Statham), then decide to team together and devise a plan to pay back their debt.

In the process, the four purchase two double-barrel shotguns – from a couple of small-time thieves – to pull off a heist. The friends need cash quick to avoid having their fingers sliced off one by one. Meanwhile, several other players look to get in on the game simultaneously.

When Richie wrote this script with a sardonic and confident fountain pen, his certainty and inventiveness were stamped into the soul of his screenplay. In return, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels turned out to be a big-time success. Despite only grossing just under $4 million at the American box-office, Lock, Stock became one of the largest grossing movies in the history of the English box-office.

Lock Stock’s main strength is in watching each piece of the puzzle end in violence and play out in the main characters’ favor. With this style of fashioning his script in favor of the “good guys” and depicting the unfortunate luck of the “bad guys,” Richie sculpts an unpretentious and intelligent caper. In addition, while this intriguing structure most certainly defines the phrase, “being in the right place at the right time,” it also converts the film’s violence from macabre to comedic.

In a genre full of ho-hum, how could you refuse a film so fresh and absorbing? Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels is jam-packed with unique characters, interesting twists, and tongue-in-cheek humor. And, with scenes like the story of the flaming man and the semi-conscious Gloria revived, you can’t go wrong.

According to the Cockney Rhyming Slang Dictionary in which the characters draw from: Twist and twirl or Rob Roy, you’d be a Joe Rook if you robbed yourself of taking a butcher’s hook at this lemon-squeezy-to-praise picture that’s worth every pound of your bees and honey. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006