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Confessions of a Shopaholic
I keep hearing concern that it is grossly inappropriate and perhaps even irresponsible to release a movie with a title like Confessions of a Shopaholic during the current economic downturn. I didn't find that to be an issue. My concern is that during an economic crisis, I want far more escapist fare than this adaptation of Sophie Kinsella's novel, which is far too lame and annoying to make me forget about my own little fiscal crises.
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Can a movie where Anthony Hopkins plays a clever murderer go wrong? The answer is no, no it can’t - thank goodness! Though he trades “Clarice” for “Willy Boy,” and cannibalism for a more calculated sort of murder, Hopkins evokes his Silence of the Lambs heyday in what is definitely one of the best thrillers of 2007.
It's interesting to note that, as Kevin Smith has changed and matured as a filmmaker, he has elected to close the circle and look back from a perspective of a dozen years at the movie that put him on the indie map, Clerks. Clerks II is a direct sequel to that movie, albeit one that transpires a decade later - the first such movie Smith has done (although many of his films have featured cameos by characters from other pictures). It feels both the same as and different from its predecessor: the same, in that the script is constructed around a truckload of nearly X-rated gags, and different, in that Smith is peddling a message.
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A spoilt LA brat being shipped off to an English boarding school for a spot of discipline and coming-of-age, may not on the face of it sound that the most appealing (or original) premise in the world. However this transatlantic teen romp is surprisingly watchable (after a clunky start), thanks to a neat script and directing.
The spoilt brat in question is 16 year old Poppy (Emma Roberts) who is uprooted from her pampered, shallow LA life by her despairing father (Aidan Quinn) and shipped off to the foreign world of early curfews, stern matrons, mandatory lacrosse, endless rain and various other English stereotypes under the watchful eye of headmistress Natasha Richardson.
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Wonderful World feels like a modern-day half-baked riff on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Despite a film festival pedigree (it was shown at a number of local festivals on the 2009 circuit), the movie is so lightweight and inconsequential that a review seems almost superfluous. You know how it goes: the poor excuse for a human being experiences a spiritual re-awakening and sees the world in a different light. Although the story is derivative and not entirely credible, the main problem germinates from unconvincing performances. A woefully miscast Matthew Broderick headlines a group of actors who have accomplished good things in the past but are left rudderless in veteran screenwriter Joshua Goldin's directorial debut. Cheesy accents and lame dialogue abound. Wonderful World's themes are clearly conveyed, and the movie avoids what could have been an unbearably cloying ending, but too much of what's on screen feels forced and unnatural.
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Behind the Mask
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon may be the best horror spoof no one has ever seen. Or at least, that was the case when Starz/Anchor Bay dumped the film into a small number of theaters during mid-March 2007 with little publicity and no advance screenings. That kind of release strategy screams "dog!" Perhaps the distributors didn't realize what they had - a smart, witty homage/parody of the slasher genre. Or maybe they knew exactly what Behind the Mask was and, recognizing the mainstream horror audience preference for mindless, repetitive gore, they shied away from promoting Behind the Mask, which offers considerably more. There are, for example, tangible payoffs for those with a sense of humor and an understanding of the genre's often-cheesy conventions. Like Scream, Behind the Mask isn't afraid to openly (and with tongue planted in cheek) reference classics of the past as templates for the present.
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It goes without saying that it's dangerous for a lamb to spend time in the den of wolves, but when that lamb lingers longer than is necessary, the result is guaranteed. Alpha Dog, the 2006 Sundance Closing Night film whose resemblance to a real-life case engendered a lawsuit, is about such a situation. It illustrates that not all master criminals are masterminds and that not all "nerds gone wild" stories have happy endings. Director Nick Cassavetes should be commended for the unflinching manner in which he tells the story - it packs a punch, although it lingers too long to be truly unsettling. There's an art to figuring out when to end a movie and, at least on this occasion, it eludes the filmmakers.
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21 is a perfect example of how something that's "based" on a true story can nevertheless exist mainly in the realm of fiction. While it's true that the source material for the movie, Ben Mezrich's Bringing Down the House relates events that actually happened, screenwriters Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb have fictionalized the entire story, leaving intact only the central idea that a group of MIT students devised a card-counting scheme that allowed them to fleece the Vegas casinos. And, while I'm firm believer in the adage "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story, " 21 doesn't spin a good enough yarn to justify all the changes. In fact, when one character indicates to another that he started out smart then got sloppy and stupid, he might have been referring to the script.
Hellboy is director Guillermo del Toro's second venture behind the cameras for a comic-book themed motion picture. However, although the hyper-stylized setting and kinetic action sequences share a kinship with those in Blade 2, Hellboy showcases a lighter tone with a hero who doesn't take himself as seriously. In fact, while Hellboy doesn't quite cross the line into open comedy, it comes close. The film bears more of a resemblance to Ghostbusters and Men in Black (with a little of The Mummy thrown in for good measure) than to a traditional superhero motion picture. This isn't Batman or Superman.
The Golden Compass, the long awaited cinematic adaptation of Philip Pullman's well-respected novel, is an adequate but not inspired translation of the source material. Writer/director Chris Weitz (one of the American Pie guys) brings a style that is more obligatory than deft. Constrained by a rushed feel and too little character development, this movie never seems to flow quite right. Passages of dense exposition are interspersed with impressively staged action/adventure sequences but the experience as a whole is less than what movies like The Lord of the Rings have shown us that fantasy adaptations can provide. One key missing element: the world in which this story takes place never feels unique. We aren't drawn into it the way we were with Middle Earth or Hogwarts. In fact, with all the airships flying around, there are times when it feels like an extension of Stardust.
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Margaret Cho: Assassin
Apparently, I approached this production with a misapprehension. I was under the impression that Margaret Cho: Assassin was intended to be a filmed comedic performance. What I got instead was an 85-minute political rant from a liberal Asian American woman who abandoned comedy in her desire to advocate a number of causes. I have no problem with comedians who use politics as the backbone of comedy; the problem comes when nastiness supplants humor. Even those who agree with every one of Cho's positions (and I agree more often than I disagree) may find this motion picture tough going.
I'm neither a liberal nor a conservative, but, after watching Assassin, I can understand why this country is so polarized. The divisions between the far right and the far left are so deep and wide as to be unbridgeable. Cho's monologue radiates hatred and bitterness towards those who do not share her convictions. She gets applause, ovations, and laughs, but it's important to remember that those in the audience share her views. (In fairness, I should mention that it's just as offensive to watch an arch conservative give a lengthy speech. I can't endure more than about 10 minutes of Rush Limbaugh's pontificating before I have to change the station.)
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Hunchback of Notre Dame
Out of respect for the stunning visuals and family entertainment value of Disney's 34th animated feature, I can do no less than recommend The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Sadly, however, this is the least-enjoyable animated feature to come from the studio since its 1989 rebirth. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a notch below last year's Pocahontas, which, in turn, was a drop from the previous year's The Lion King. Apparently, Disney's new wave of animation peaked early; their releases have been in a slow-but-steady decline since the delightful Beauty and the Beast.
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The Thin Red Line
From an opening shot of a crocodile sliding below the stagnant surface of a pond, accompanied by a voice-over pondering the origins of evil and war, The Thin Red Line makes it abundantly clear that is isn't going to play the Is This Better than Saving Private Ryan? game. One starts with 20 minutes of juddering combat footage, the other with an idyllic view of Pacific village life. One is about World War Two, the other about war itself.
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Smokin' Aces is Tarantino lite - a vague and unsuccessful attempt to bring together a bunch of offbeat, unrelated characters in a situation where a bloody resolution is inescapable. Like an absentminded chef, however, writer/director Joe Carnahan has gone into this endeavor without the full complement of ingredients, and the missing ones are crucial to the final product's consistency. The characters are uniformly uninteresting - a bunch of ill-defined caricatures who never attain even a semblance of identity. The undercurrent of dark humor is rarely amusing and the screenplay's supposed cleverness is rarely ingenious. The setup takes too long and the resolution is a letdown. The movie demands an attentive audience to follow the diverse characters and plot threads but, in the end, it fails to reward that attention.
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The Lord of the G-Strings: The Femaleship of the String
A diminutive and seductive Throbbit has been entrusted with the task of destroying the all-powerful G-String that can grant its possessor untold powers.
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A multinational military force known as the Allied Nations has managed to enter the fictional South East Asian nation of Shadaloo to combat the armed forces of a drug lord turned General named M. Bison, who has recently captured several dozen a workers. Via a live two-way TV broadcast, Bison demands Allied Nations regional commander, Colonel William F. Guile (Jean-Claude Van Damme) secure a $20 billion ransom in three days, or he will kill the hostages and the world will hold Guile and the Allied Nations accountable. Guile's assistant, Cammy (Kylie Minogue), is only able to partially trace Bison's signal, determining that his hideout is somewhere in the river-delta region outside Shadaloo City.
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