Archive for March, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family, Fantasy on March 28, 2010 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPhotobucketComputer-animated fantasy film about an awkward Viking teen who aspires to be a  dragon slayer.  The animation is nice and children will be entertained.  However, why do films aimed at children always feel the need to teach us something?  And if the script must lecture the viewer, it should really be something more interesting than the timeworn moral “Animals are our friends”.  Having said that, the relationship between the boy and his dragon is tenderly charming.  Although it wont win any awards for originality, their friendship sustains the film with enough heart to be worth watching.  An improvement over DreamWorks last animated film, Monsters vs. Aliens.

Hot Tub Time Machine

Posted in Comedy with tags on March 26, 2010 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPhotobucketMindless comedy about a group of friends that time travel back to 1986 to the glory days of their teen years.  A strictly hit and miss affair.  Your enjoyment of this will depend on whether you feel most of the jokes work or fall flat.  I side with the latter.  It doesn’t help that many of the gags involve bodily fluids and are of the gross-out variety.  Perhaps it would have helped if the main characters could have shown a little more humanity.  Actor Rob Corddry, as their buddy Lou, spends most of the movie, happily excited to see a guy lose his arm.  He is so sleazy, it’s unclear why he even has friends.  There are several laugh out loud gags (starting with that title) that do hint at what the movie could have been.  But the film has such a grimy, low budget quality, it actually makes the viewer feel physically dirty.  I suppose that’s an accomplishment in itself.

The Runaways

Posted in Drama, Music with tags on March 19, 2010 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPhotobucketSolid biography of the seminal LA girl band the Runaways which launched the career of singer Joan Jett.  Never a major force on the charts or even with critics, the rock quintet seems an unlikely candidate for a biopic.  Based on lead vocalist Cherie Currie’s memoir Neon Angel, this well-acted story  follows the somewhat clichéd dramatic arc of your above-average Behind the Music episode.  The talented cast is what sets the film apart, particularly Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie and Riley Keough as her sister Marie.  Their scenes together have a genuine bond of sisterhood that is engaging.  Actor Michael Shannon is also memorable as rock promoter Kim Fanley.  It’s surprising a man in his 30s would be allowed such unsupervised control over a group of girls barely in their teens.  That’s the sort of fascinating detail that makes this biopic a notable addition to the growing list of  films about “sex, drugs and rock & roll”.

The Magnificent Seven

Posted in Adventure, Drama, Western with tags on March 15, 2010 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPhotobucketGripping epic western of mercenaries hired for protection by a Mexican village terrorized by a gang of outlaws.  Despite being “merely” a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and borrowing themes from the westerns of John Ford, this action film remains one of the most riveting of all time. Director John Sturges has a remarkable rapport with his actors.  Indeed he would successfully reteam with Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Charles Bronson 3 years later in The Great Escape.  Creative casting also includes Yul Brynner off his success in The King and I and Jewish actor Eli Wallach as Mexican bandit Calvera.  This brilliant ensemble cast highlight a perfectly realized tale of good vs. evil.

A Prophet

Posted in Crime, Drama with tags on March 12, 2010 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPhotobucketMorally ambiguous tale about a young Arab prisoner who gets entangled with a Corsican Mafia group on the inside.  This first hour of this crime drama is absorbing as our youthful protagonist must fend for himself in an environment that is totally foreign to him.  Newcomer actor Tahar Rahim is quietly convincing as the initially naïve Malik who gradually learns to adapt in order to survive.  His crisis of conscience in the beginning is believable and compelling.  As his skills and confidence grows, however, the conflict and tension disappears.  Everything becomes so easy for him after a while, our emotional connection to Malik lessens.  His one day leaves for good behavior allow him to do so much, it stretches credibility.  The picture would have also benefited from a tighter running time.  At  2 hrs 29 minutes, the story does not advance like an action picture should. There still is enough merits to recommend this as a good prison drama, just not a great one.

Alice in Wonderland

Posted in Adventure, Family, Fantasy with tags on March 5, 2010 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPhotobucketCarefully studied, but exquisite reworking of both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.  Alice, now a teenager, returns to the magical place of her youth, but has no memory of her prior visit.   Lewis Carroll’s books were never big on narrative structure.  Director Tim Burton attempts to remedy this with additional characters and giving Alice a purpose to accomplish.  It’s marvelous to see this classic tale rendered by the latest technology of the digital age.  The technique of combining live action and animation is indeed visually impressive.  It’s in the meandering script where the story falters.  Johnny Depp’s overly hyped turn as the Mad Hatter doesn’t help matters much.  He’s an embarrassing update of his Willy Wonka character.  Thankfully, Helena Bonham Carter steals every scene she’s in as the Red Queen.  Her eccentric performance is the best thing about the film and lightens the dark tone with some much needed humor.

Black Dynamite

Posted in Action, Comedy with tags on March 3, 2010 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPhotobucketHumorous action comedy concerns an ex-CIA agent’s quest for revenge when the mob kills his brother.  Film’s strong suit is in the details as it lovingly recreates the early 70s Blaxploitation film to perfection.  It’s all here, from the garish costumes to the low production values and implausible plots.  Even the film quality is so immaculate, you’ll swear this movie was made in 1971.  The problem, is it’s difficult to get laughs by making fun of a genre already characterized by bad filmmaking.  A poorly made film that takes itself seriously, will always be funnier than  a spoof that is constantly winking at its audience.  There’s no denying Michael Jai White is well cast.  He acts with enough badassery to make him a credible update of stars like Richard Roundtree and Jim Brown.  But halfway through, the film’s convoluted plot actually begins to drag on the films’ admittedly short 90 minutes.  Anyone who remembers films like Shaft, Super Fly and The Mack with nostalgia, will undoubtedly embrace this humorous spoof.  Others might not completely get the film‘s charms.  Can you dig it?

Valentine’s Day

Posted in Comedy, Romance with tags on March 2, 2010 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPhotobucketInconsequential romantic comedy presents interconnected storylines of various Angelenos on Valentine’s Day.  It all goes down pleasantly enough, but there’s nothing revelatory here.  As a matter of fact, it’s rather shallow.  One of those Hollywood products designed to appeal to you if you’re female and between the ages of 13 and 25.  Given its sitcom-like feel, this should play better on TV than it does on the big screen.  However, for undemanding viewers that are looking to watch a schmaltzy romantic comedy with few surprises, this should fit the bill.  Film’s strong suit is its raft of attractive stars: Ashton Kutcher, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper all put in likeable performances.  That just might be enough, but better to simply rent Love Actually on DVD and see a movie like this done right.