Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Last Airbender emphasizes the cerebral

Posted By on Thu, Jul 1, 2010 at 12:37 PM

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Disappointment in M. Night Shyamalan’s films has become almost reflexive among fans, who have bemoaned the director’s failure to match the success of 1999's The Sixth Sense. Shyamalan’s films, though uneven and often reliant on twist endings, tend to be contemplative, with a spiritual component that seems to frustrate those seeking more obvious thrills. The Last Airbender, a live-action adventure film based on a Nickelodeon animated series, is likely to disappoint as well, since it emphasizes the cerebral elements of the narrative over exciting action. The story centers on Aang (Noah Ringer), a preadolescent Airbender accepting his destiny as the reincarnated Avatar, the only person who can manipulate all four elements and maintain peace among the Air, Water, Earth and Fire nations. (“Bending” is the ability to manipulate an element.) Combining elements of The Golden Compass and Avatar, the movie is distinguished by lovely tai chi choreography and a grounding in Eastern philosophy, though it might be best to see it in 2D rather than the distracting postproduction 3D. Some of the acting and writing are stiff, and Shyamalan has drawn fire for casting Caucasians in roles perceived as Asian, but Airbender does feature strong performances by Indian actors Dev Patel and Aasif Mandhi and Iranian actor Shaun Toub. ***

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Twilight: Eclipse outdoes its predecessors

Posted By on Tue, Jun 29, 2010 at 10:44 AM

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Bella (Kristen Stewart) finally chooses between Emo vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) and hunky werewolf/shape-shifter Jacob (Taylor Lautner) in the third chapter of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga. Directed by the gifted David Slade (30 Days of Night, Hard Candy), Eclipse is infinitely superior to last fall’s pedestrian Full Moon, and quite possibly the best, most stylish Twilight to date. Although the vapid Lautner continues to be a huge drain on the series (I’ve seen better acting in middle school Christmas pageants), Slade proves that bigger can sometimes be better. This film’s more extravagant budget and improved CGI effects and production values finally give the Summit Entertainment franchise the properly epic (read: Harry Potter-ish) feel it’s been striving for all along. I just wish that the dialogue, most of it lifted directly from Meyer’s books, wasn’t quite so tin-ear. ***

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Grown Ups could be Adam Sandler's worst movie

Posted By on Thu, Jun 24, 2010 at 11:00 AM

In Grown Ups, Adam Sandler plays a high-powered Hollywood agent who reunites with some boyhood friends (including former SNL castmates Chris Rock and David Spade) at the funeral of their grade-school basketball coach. Every character comes with a joke: Rob Schneider’s new-age boob has a thing for older — really older — women; Rock’s Mr. Mom is pussywhipped by his wife and harridan of a mother-in-law; Kevin James is, well, fat. None of them gets appreciably funnier with repetition. Lazy, witless, and aggressively coarse, this could very well be Sandler’s worst and most cringeworthy film (and, yes, I’m including The Water Boy and Bedtime Stories). I don’t know what’s more offensive here — the rancid, vulgar humor or the icky sentimentality that permeates every frame like a congealed layer of Transfat. Hopefully, Sandler and his pals had more fun making Grown Ups than anyone will have watching it. *

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Reel Cleveland

Posted on Tue, Jun 22, 2010 at 2:47 PM

Set in 2011, Keitj T. Alin's experimental horror film, A Barge and Its Wind, is a dystopian movie about a government conspiracy involving a mysterious boat docked in Cleveland's harbor.

A local filmmaker, Alin cites Andrzej Zulawski, David Lynch, and Stanley Kubrick as influences. And you can certainly see that in this edgy movie, which he shot in Cleveland using a local crew and actors. It starts simply enough, as a group of people try to cope with their despair. But when a fight breaks out between two factions, things start to unravel. One woman has her guts torn out and another guy becomes so manic, he starts drinking gasoline until he pukes.

"I just wanted to explore human emotions and how people deal with death and sacrifice," says Alin, who has made one other film. "I wanted to take something that you'd expect to be a B-horror film and make people think more and make into more than just a guy in a mask chasing them." A Barge and Its Wind makes its local premiere at 7 p.m. Sunday, June 27, at the Cedar Lee Theatre (2163 Lee Rd., 440-564-2030, clevelandcinemas.com). Tickets are $8.

Filmmakers Jenny Stein and James LaVeck will be on hand for the Ohio premiere of their documentary Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home, which screens at 4 p.m. Sunday, June 27, at the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque (11141 East Blvd., 216-421-7450, cia.edu/cinematheque).In the film, Stein and LaVeck explore the ways in which some progressive farmers — including former Clevelander Harold Brown, who will also be at the screening — have adopted animal-friendly methods. It centers on the story of Brown, a multi-generational beef farmer, who becomes an animal-rights activist and environmentalist. Learn more at peaceablekingdomfilm.org. The screening is free.

The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque (11141 East Blvd., 216-421-7450, cia.edu/cinematheque) hosts "Comedy Stars Under the Stars" at 9:15 p.m. Saturday, June 26, in the CIA's outdoor courtyard. The mini-festival includes four silent comedies it has never screened before: the 1926 Charley Chase comedy Long Fliv the King; the 1920 Buster Keaton movie The Scarecrow; the 1928 Laurel and Hardy flick Habeas Corpus; and the 1920 Harold Lloyd film His Royal Slyness. Bring a chair or blanket and your own food and drinks (but no alcohol). Tickets $8.

Send feedback to jniesel@clevescene.com.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Jonah Hex resorts to summer movie cliches

Posted By on Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 11:48 PM

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Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) is an ex-Confederate soldier turned bounty hunter whose wife and son were killed by his former commanding officer Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich). Hex almost died at Turnbull’s hands himself, an experience that left him with a nasty scar, the ability to talk with the dead, and a really dark sense of humor. As played by Brolin, Hex is a great character. But Jonah Hex isn’t a great movie. Thanks to some sharp writing by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (of Crank fame), parts of the film are inspired. But its spaghetti Western-meets-horror film motif simply doesn’t work. One approach or the other would have sufficed, but everything gets shoehorned into an utterly typical summer action movie plot about a guy who tries to use a super weapon to disrupt the U.S. centennial. Of course, Hex must try to stop this dastardly plan, as well as rescue token love interest Lilah (Megan Fox). A terrible sound mix that frequently buries dialogue under Mastodon’s churning metallic score doesn’t help matters, either. Even with a running time under 90 minutes, the movie feels too long. **

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Friday, June 11, 2010

The A-Team is good dumb fun

Posted By on Fri, Jun 11, 2010 at 8:26 AM

Like the ’80s TV series it’s based on, The A-Team is incredibly simple-minded stuff. The saving grace of both series and film is that the four main characters, Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), B.A. Baracus (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson), “Face” (Bradley Cooper), and Mad Dog Murdock (Sharlto Copley), are so damn likable. Copley (Wikus in last year’s District 9) and Neeson get most of the film’s best moments, but even supporting players Jessica Biehl and Ray Liotta are given a chance shine in between the explosions and shoot-outs. There’s not much to the plot about the Special Forces team that tries to clear their name after it gets framed for stealing U.S. currency printing plates, but plenty of fight scenes, ridiculous stunts, and clever jokes keep you from noticing just how flimsy the whole thing is. Director Joe Carnahan, who made the equally dumb and entertaining Smokin’ Aces, strikes just the right tone here. He doesn’t take the material too seriously, and he doesn’t try to camp up what was already a pretty silly concept. Normally, movies like this have no business going past the 90 minute mark, but Carnahan’s pacing keeps the film from dragging even at a full two hours. ***

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Lack of chemistry cripples Killers

Posted By on Sun, Jun 6, 2010 at 9:29 PM

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At the onset of Killers, Jen (Katherine Heigl) is on a trip to France with her parents (Tom Selleck and Catherine O’Hara) when she meets Spencer Aimes (Ashton Kutcher) on the hotel elevator. Shirtless and ripped, the guy isn’t ashamed to show off his fabulous abs, and Jen falls for him. Quickly. It’s not long before they’re having romantic picnics on the beach and taking long drives on coastal highways. Jen doesn’t know it, but Spencer is a hit man. He wants out of the game, however, and tells his boss he’s quitting so that he can lead a normal life with Jen. His boss doesn’t like it, but he acquiesces. Fast forward three years and Spencer and Jen are happily married, living the suburban dream in a quiet residential community. But when one of their houseguests unexpectedly turns on Spencer and tries to kill him, Spencer realizes there’s a bounty on his head. He goes back to his hit man ways, pulling his small arsenal of automatic weapons out from the attic as he and Jen begin to suspect even the most innocent of their neighbors. While the film’s premise isn’t a bad one, it takes far too long for it to get rolling. And Kutcher and Heigl just don’t click. Kutcher never seems like he’s truly in character (you keep expecting him to tell Jen she’s just been “punk’d”), and Heigl tries too hard to be glamorous (she changes her hairstyle countless times in the film). **

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