48 posts categorized "PG"


'Glee' rocks the house for marketing geeks

Over time, some memories begin to blur or, in other cases, super-size.

I don't recall Grand Prairie High School music assemblies of a few decades back rockin' the house like what you'll see, hear and feel in "Glee:  The 3D Concert Movie."

I add "feel" to the mix because no bass drum stomp or guitar riff has rattled my insides like what we hear in th "Glee" concert opus since The Who smashed their guitars and drop-kicked the drum set on the Memorial Auditorium stage in Dallas in the early '60s.

Very slickly produced, "Glee:  The 3D Concert Movie" is directed by Kevin Tancharoen, who called the shots on the "Fame" big-screen revise a couple years back.

Full disclosure:  I'm not a fan of the wildly popular Fox TV series, which harmonizes into its third season next month.  I am a fan of Jane Lynch, who portrays salty Sue Sylvester on the show.  Truth is, I never could stomach the TV show long enough for Lynch to appear.

The concert film, though, is something else.  I could do without the insertion of real-life geeks (the dwarf cheerleader, the gay guy outed in the eighth grade, etc.) that's peppered throughout.  Come on guys, if you're going to cut Lynch out of the concert film, which apparently someone did, also 86 the cheesy pathos.

"Glee 3D" doesn't need that.  The cast members who sing, all tangled in high school drama on TV, set a very high standard vocally.

Lea Michele, Rachel Berry to "Gleeks," belts out a rousing version of Barbra Streisand's signature "Don't Rain on My Parade" that may have the rafters still humming at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, NJ, where the concert film was lensed over two nights.

Plano native Kevin McHale is also a show-stopper as Artie, the geeky kid in the wheelchair.  For those of you unfamiliar with Artie's dream in the TV series, the lively number recreating the event on the concert stage might leave some cynics in the audience -- if they're allowed into the movie auditorium at all -- scratching their heads.

Normally, I'd say a movie like this would be for "Glee" devotees only.  The choir (or glee club) singing to the choir (or glee club) as it were.

Not this time.  I encourage all marketing majors as well as music majors, singers and anyone who enjoys a pulsating musical act on stage to attend as well; perhaps with a set of earplugs.  

Present and future marketing execs may be overpowered by the rush of music and put off by the corny theme of "geeks as gods."  Publicity professionals could take notes on how a well-oiled stage show can rumble along so magnificently as a cash cow marketing vehicle, though.

That's something to "don't stop believin.'" For sure.


'Smurfs' up!

If you're about 5, which I am give or take a half-century or so, "The Smurfs" frolic across a movie screen in eye-popping 3-D like Snow White's blue-tinted Dwarfs on holiday in a far, far away place called New York City.

Those slightly older than that might detect more than a little similarity to the "Alvin and the Chipmunks" franchise.

It's refreshing that this big-screen re-tooling of the TV cartoon "Smurfs" of the 1980s is aimed at kids.  Even though human adults co-mingle with the magically transformed Smurfs in a modern day Big Apple, there's no attempt at dual-aged comic appeal.  You know, jokes that appeal to the target kiddies and others aimed at kids' parents, who generally tag along to movies like this.

The story is simple enough.  In an attempt to avoid peril at the hands of evil  wizard Gargamel (talented Hank Azaria with a shaved head and prosthetic buck teeth), a six pack of tiny Smurfs are sucked through a magic portal and deposited in a stream in Central Park, New York, Earth.

Gargamel and his hissing cat Azrael soon show up as well, and the race is on.  But Papa Smurf (voiced with serious wisdom and wit by the ageless Jonathan Winters) and Clumsy (Anton Yelchin) manage, quite by accident, to land in the apartment occupied by a nervous ad exec (Neil Patrick Harris) and his good natured wife named -- what else -- Grace (Jayma Mays).

There's not really anywhere to go in a family comedy featuring main character a little over seven inches tall that the Chipmunks haven't already ventured, of course.  But director Raja Gosnell ("Scooby-Doo," "Beverly Hills Chihuahua") and a handful of screenwriters keep the mayhem coming.

The little blue dudes and one, only one little blue lady (Smurfette, voiced by Katy Perry), are adequately computer-generated and in 3-D (in select theaters).

Harris ("How I Met Your Mother" on TV), proving versatile enough for almost any show biz situation, fully commits to his plight of playing second fiddle to a handful of little blue, well, handfuls.

"The Smurfs" turns out to be fun for the entire family, whether you're a kid or a parent watching your child giggle at the silliness.

But what do I know?  I'm this many (holding up four fingers and a thumb), give or take a half-century or so.


Monkey business that falls flat

I must admit, the brooding big guy of "Zookeeper" has his funny moments.

Not Keven James, who plays the title role.  I'm talking about Nick Nolte, who provides the voice of Bernie, the abused, gruff gorilla.

Bernie just wants to get to TGI Fridays.  The filmmakers probably did too; product placement bucks, you know.

I just wanted to find the entrance to the exit ASAP.

"Zookeeper" may appeal some to children.  For adults who go with them, however, it's likely to be a long afternoon or evening at the movies.

James last graced the big screen opposite Vince Vaughn in "The Dilemma," a dismal film that was neither buddy comedy nor buddy drama, but fizzled somewhere in between.  (Certainly one of Ron Howard's worst films.)

In "Zookeeper," James takes the spotlight solo.  He's Griffin Keyes, a kindly Boston zoo keeper who's humiliated when he proposes to his snobbish girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb of the "Iron Man" franchise) and gets turned down flat.

Years pass and Kate (Rosario Dawson of "Sin City" fame), a guest zoo veterinarian, is showing signs of warming to Griffin.  He's too dense to notice, so the animals break the long-held code of silence and begin to not only talk to Griffin, but coach him on winning Stephanie back.

This is probably not a scenario that "Doctor Doolittle" -- Rex Harrison (1967) or Eddie Murphy (1998, 2001) -- would be found in.  With five screenwriters involved, including James, this sort of entertainment flatness is not uncommon.

There's one thing I like about "Zookeeper," though.  Most of the animals are real (and trained).  Only the aforementioned gorilla is animatronic.  Nolte makes that one appear real through his guttural bellows of solitude and loneliness.

When it comes to the animal voices, Adam Sandler is also a standout as Donald the Monkey, while Sylvester Stallone and Cher are fun as Joe the Lion and Janet the Lioness.

There are some decent elements involved in this production shot at the Franklin Zoo in Boston.  Unfortunately, director Frank Coraci, a frequent collaborator with co-producer Adam Sandler, can't focus the mayhem into enough combustible comedy to keep it interesting.

Coraci directed a couple of very good Sandler comedies:  "The Wedding Singer" and "The Waterboy."

"Click," his most recent Sandler collaboration, didn't in 2006, however.

Sadly, "Zookeeper" flounders so often it really should be about sea creatures.


Fur flies in battle heavy 'Kung Fu Panda 2'

In the first animated family comedy "Kung Fu Panda," we learned what funny guy Jack Black might look like if he was born a noodle-making panda named Po in fictional ancient cartoon China.

And, oh yeah, that heroes come in all shapes and sizes, even roly-poly pandas.

The sequel, aptly titled "Kung Fu Panda 2," offers these insights:

That loving goose that runs the village noodle shop is not Po's natural father after all.  (Take a second if you need it to get over the shock.)

And perhaps most importantly, audiences will be told that the best way to fight really, really well is to find inner peace.

That's a pretty thin story arc for a movie franchise featuring the voices of A-list stars like Black, Angelina Jolie (Tigress), Jackie Chan (Monkey), Seth Rogen (Mantis), Lucy Liu (Viper), Dustin Hoffman (Master Shifu) and others.

From this aisle seat, the first time around in 2008 was a novel hoot.  Po learned to kung fu fight with his idols, the kung fu masters listed above, and generated a ton of fun going through the process.

The sequel, written by the same team of Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, feels a little strained when it comes to story fodder.  Jennifer Yuh Nelson moves up from head of story on the original "Kung Fu Panda' to the director's chair in this one, and may still have a little to learn when it comes to battle overkill vs. character development and depth.

And while I'm on my soap box, the bow to the unnecessary trend of pushing 3-D glasses for a premium price is not only unnecessary, it's ineffective.

To me, the animation looks a little muddy and less defined for the second Po go.  And the emphasis is on fighting, which is sometimes creative but repetitive and boring at other times.

Gary Oldman, who hammed it up recently as wolf-hunter Father Solomon in "Red Riding Hood," brings gusto to his vocal role.  He's Lord Shen, a peeved peacock that embraces the Industrial Age only to forge cannons to wipe out his foes and, while he's at it, kung fu.

Young children might delight in all the mayhem.  Adults who bring them, however, are likely to be yawning before Po even raises a paw to bid farewell to his Pa.

Duty calls, you see, even for a fun-loving panda that would probably rather hang around the kitchen and see how many noodles he can stuff into his furry mug.

Since movie studios need to worry about bottom line profit margin and pandas do not, I get the feeling that once around the kung fu block was enough for Po.

It certainly was for me.


A genteel look at the high school hop

As long as there are teenagers and proms and movies, there'll be flicks about frantic teen girls fretting over decorations, dresses and dudes.

"Prom," starring a mixture of experienced and newbie young actors and actresses, gravitates away from trendy "Gleeful" singing, dancing and prancing.  For the most part, it even avoids a big sports game, although a lacrosse jock figures prominently in the plot.

It also shies away from horrific bloodletting ("Carrie, a previous "Prom") on every schoolgirl's night of nights.

Instead, "Prom" focuses on the angst of class president Nova Prescott (Aimee Teegarden), a focused overachiever from a blue-collar home, determined to make prom night live up to its theme of Starry Night.

There are some problems, though.  Nova doesn't have a date, for one thing.  First-time screenwriter Katie Wech stir the plot pot further with a tragedy that destroys or severely scorches the prom decorations just weeks before the big night.

The rest of the prom decoration committee is, like, pooped, so they bail on their class president during her time of crises, yet remain close friends.  (Gosh, I love the magic of the movies.)

That leaves it up to Nova and Jesse (actor/musician Thomas McDonell), the long-haired (cliché alert), motorcycle riding (cliché alert No. 2), high school bad boy (cliché  alert No. 3), who's on detention of sorts after ticking off the principal, to get the disco ball polished and rotating by prom night.

Please don't make me say guess what happens next.  We all know what happens next.  Probably even the young teens (primarily female) know how this thing's going to play out.

The appeal of "Prom," directed by Joe Nussbaum ("Sydney White"), springs from the gentle, almost magical way this conflicted teen cabal grapples with what just might be a first life crisis.  

No one's going to confuse "Prom" with something from the late John Hughes at his high school angst best  ("Pretty in Pink," "The Breakfast Club").

That was then (in the '80s) and "Prom" is now, however.

I'm reminded almost constantly that youth of today might not know or even care about movies that moved past generations.

So, if that's the case, here's the (relatively) new century's prom movie.

I'd just like to thank the filmmakers for not focusing on the glee club or having a pouty, white-faced teen vampire show up to claim the prom king crown.


CGI Critterville visits 'Chinatown' in 'Rango'

In the ever-increasing deluge of animated films, there are soaring adventures for kids like "How to Train Your Dragon," somber thought pieces for adults like "The Illusionist" and those that aspire to appeal to several generations, such as "Up."

"Rango" is a wild card, even using the aforementioned parameters.

"Rango," my friends, is for movie lovers.  While it might appeal to kids to some extent, director Gore Verbinski aims this amazing critter Western not only at adults, but at adults with such diverse movie-viewing experience as "Chinatown" and, dare I say, "The Terror of Tiny Town."

"Chinatown," of course, was Roman Polanski's sleaze-oozing potboiler of 1974 starring Jack Nicholson and late, great director John Huston as a power broker with a tight grip on the L.A. water supply.  All you need to know about "The Terror of Tiny Town" (1938), an awful movie, by the way, is that it spoofed traditional Westerns by inserting little people into all the traditional roles.

"Rango" does the same, but with critters small and smaller.

Johnny Depp, who has "Arrrrrrrrrrrded" his way through a trio of Verbinski-directed "Pirates of the Caribbean" adventures, injects a ton of personality into the title character.  Rango, or at least the violently displaced family pet that will become Rango, is a chameleon.

He gets lost in the desert near Las Vegas, then, by chance, winds up in the dusty Western town aptly called Dirt.  The water supply has gone bone dry and the mayor, a devious turtle voiced by Ned Beatty (looking a little and sounding a lot like Huston), seems to always be sipping some.

After bragging a little in the saloon following a series of cactus juice shots, Rango is named sheriff.  A posse is formed and the little lizard that could (or maybe not) hits the trail to bring water back to Dirt.

To fully understand the beauty of the CGI animation in "Rango," you just have to experience it.  Say what you will about Verbinski turning an old Disney theme park ride into a cash cow movie franchise, he has done wonders here.

In addition to Depp, who is marvelous, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy and the great Harry Dean Stanton all lend their voices (and are  all tremendous) to a well-imagined character menagerie.

The Western cliches come fast and furious.  But combined with the visual brilliance, "Rango" morphs into an animated comic-adventure that's sure to become a topic of conversation when the next movie awards season heats up.  (No need to worry about that now.  That won't happen for a couple of weeks at least.)

My only minor complaint about this tongue-in-and-out-of-cheek Western spoof is that screenwriter John Logan ("The Aviator," "Sweeney Todd") gets a little too mystical at times.  And, at almost two hours, it definitely runs too long for small children.

I do wish Logan had sneaked in one line, though:
"Forget it Rango, it's Dirt."


'Tangled' shines as golden family fun

In the somewhat confusing world of Disney animated movies these days, a movie based on the classic tale Rapunzel is called "Tangled."

That's where the muddled presentation ends, though.  This goldie locks yarn packs computer-generated vim, vocal vigor and spirited animal characters to go along with the familiar story of a beautiful girl with magical hair that measures 70-feet in length.

"Tangled," available in 3-D and traditional 2-D, is a robust comedy with romance the entire family can enjoy together.

Snatched by Gothel (voiced by Donna Murphy), an evil women hoping to keep the secret of eternal youth all to herself, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) grows up in a tower in a secluded area of the forest.

Her parents, the king and queen, release floating lanterns in a desperate attempt to reach their kidnapped daughter each year on her birthday.   As that special day approaches to signal the start of her 18th year, Rapunzel lets down her hair and runs off with Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi), a thief with a heart of gold as bright as Rapunzel's rather extended hair.

Co-directors Nathan Greno (getting his feature-film shot) and Byron Howard ("Bolt") take full advantage of Dan Fogelman's ("Bolt") briskly paced script.  There's more than a little of something for everyone.  Girls will love the fairy tale romance.  Boys are likely to delight in the action sequences, and parents can breathe easy knowing that Disney -- and more specifically these days, co-executive producer John Lasseter -- is going to keep everything in the family film arena.

Moore, who's been toiling in TV lately ("How I Met Your Mother," "Grey's Anatomy"), brings effervescence mixed with a teeny bit of rebellion to Rapunzel, which should have been the title character.

Animation film-makers must agonize over whether their vocal co-stars will generate the needed on-screen chemistry using only their vocal chords.  In this case, the directing duo had nothing to worry about.  Levi (as Flynn Rider), the title character of "Chuck" on TV, matches Moore syllable by syllable as the career thief who might just not be so bad after all.

Animated flicks often overdo their computer-generated animal sidekicks.  While that is the case somewhat with Rapunzel's overly cautious pet chameleon Pascal, Maximus, the duty-bound palace guard horse Maximus is a hoot.  

Actually, Maximus only looks like a horse.  He sniffs around for clues like a police dog.  It may sound like it would get overly tedious, but Maximus works to the maximum.

And so does "Tangled," despite its title change and rather one-dimensional story tone.

Gather up the family and treat yourself to the newest animated film delight.  I'm betting you'll be glad you did.


'Megamind' arrival dulled by 'Despicable Me'

I suppose if you're a kid, today's steady diet of event or semi-event animated comedies is a cool thing.

But "Megamind" bursts from the screen in 3-D just shy of four months after "Despicable Me," another -- and better -- tale of a super villain who turns out to be a softie.  The similarities and rapid-fire releases diminish the entertainment power of the second to arrive, if you ask me.

Both filled the sound booth with solid talent for vocal elements.  Steve Carell was the baddie who adopted kids for personal gain in "Despicable Me," then found the beauty in family life.

"Megamind" boasts Will Ferrell as the title character; a blue-tinged alien visitor with a swelled head who fights so hard to be bad.  Alas, though, way deep down is goodness, which, in the early going, is his downfall.

Young children will have no clue that rookie screenwriters Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons borrow heavily from the Superman story to send baby Megamind from a shattering planet far, far away to grow up on a planet as blue as he is.  They up the ante, though.  As the baby who will be Megamind hurtles through space, he gets a Bronx cheer from another baby -- a he-man looking little egotist -- on a similar path.

They are destined to battle it out as the citizens of Metro City -- especially TV  news roving reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey) -- look on in various shades of horror, gratitude and disbelief.

Hal (Jonah Hill), who gets a shot of super powers up the nose and turns into evil superhero Tighten, is a nice touch, except almost every animated flick seems to have a nerdy  TV cameraman hanging around.  Remember the guy in "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" last year?

You probably won't be able to recognize Brad Pitt by only hearing his booming voice as Metro Man (the other former baby who jettisoned to Earth).  It's a lively vocal turn for the A-lister, though.

As for Ferrell, he brings his usual strong comic farce force to the title character.  Ms. Fey ("30 Rock" on TV)  is surprisingly animated vocally as the crusading TV news reporter caught between two freedom fighters not so unlike Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca."

So, "Megamind" isn't great.  It is, however, fun, which brings us right back to what probably works just fine for kiddie movie-goers.


And ... 'Secretariat' is just a little off

A horse movie is a horse movie, of course, of course.

Unless it's "Seabiscuit," the seven-Oscar nominee of 2003, which, unfortunately, "Secretariat" is not.

The latest race around the track may be about a supremely gifted horse that defied the odds to win the much-coveted Triple Crown in 1973.  But "Secretariat," though heartfelt and well-acted in some quarters, is overly theatrical at times even for a Cinderella story.

Filmmakers have choices to make when they glorify real-life triumphs for movie audiences.  The creative challenge is to raise the audience's emotional pulse with larger-than-life moments that feel real, or are at least close enough that we can pretend they're sort of real.

In this third outing in the director's chair,  TV writer/producer Randall Wallace ("We Were Soldiers," "The Man in the Iron Mask") fails to corral the over-the-top fairy tale-like emotions at times.

Diane Lane, the fine actress nominated for an Academy Award as the title character in "Unfaithful" (2002), puts on a stern face to portray Denver housewife and mother Penny Chenery Tweedy.

Unwavering in her determination to make her ill father (Scott Glenn) proud as his health steadily fades, Penny abandons her own family in 1969 to shepherd a family horse farm  in Virginia in general and a glistening colt she calls Big Red in particular.

The world will see Red as Secretariat, which scribes at the time and history later dub "superhorse."

John Malkovich, one of the finest actors working, takes on the dubious task and outlandish wardrobe of fiery trainer Lucien Laurin.  Malkovich's hats are so garish in this historical horse opera that I wouldn't be surprised if the two-time Oscar nominee ("In the Line of Fire," "Places in the Heart") didn't request to keep his wardrobe solely for the purpose of burning it.

Even excellent actors can be saddled with lines that fall below their ability to recite them.  Sadly, that's the case here.  "Secretariat" screenwriter Mike Rich, using William Nack's book "Secretariat:  The Making of a Champion" as a "suggestion," had better luck scripting "The Rookie," another real-life sports drama in 2002.

"Secretariat" is not without merit.  It's beautiful to look at in spurts, for instance.  And the five horses that stomp the turf for Big Red all bring honor to a great slice of American history that, unfortunately, is too well known to thunder to the cinematic finish line with the desired lump-in-the-throat dramatic effect.

But what the hay, it's entertainment, right?


Nanny McPhee's back; cures new brat pack

"Little c, big P."

That's Nanny McPhee's standard spelling tip greeting to anyone meeting the magical, big-toothed nanny for the first time.

For many of us, this isn't the initial encounter with the timeless nanny in the dark cloak who speaks softly and carries a big stick, of course.

"Nanny McPhee Returns" is the follow-up to the 2005 original.  Like "Nanny McPhee," the sequel is based on Christianna Brand's "Nurse Matilda" children's books that first lined shelves in the 1960s.  

And, like the first big-screen installment, the wildly imaginative script is penned by British actress/writer Emma Thompson, who also lurks behind the disappearing moles (complete with an errant ugly hair), the bulbous nose and the signature snaggletooth.

The two main differences between the first and second screen adventures is that there are five out-of-control kids to corral instead of seven.  Also, this time war rages between two sets of child siblings instead of between a single parent and unruly kiddos.

And speaking of war, the episodic soothing of young rowdy souls unfolds in something resembling World War II England, although the general store and horse-drawn carts look more like the 1920s than the '40s.

Thompson's script, holding nothing back, begins with a barnyard full of poo.  Before this enchanting adventure pulls out all magical stops and concludes in predictable fairy tale form, piglets will climb trees.  They'll also perform snout-spouting syncronized swimming water ballet.

If that's not enough weirdness, a baby elephant hops in bed with one of the kids and some of the most talented actors around take turns either chewing the scenery madly or turning in marvelous performances.

Maggie Gyllenhaal ("Crazy Heart," "The Dark Knight") does a little of both as Isabel Green, a mother of three with a husband off to war, two snooty young relatives coming to visit and a villainous brother-in-law named Phil.

More than likely instructed to do so by director Susanna White, whose experience lies mainly with TV projects, excellent actor Rhys Ifans ("Pirate Radio") is so silly as Phil that I didn't even recognize one of my favorite actors.

Maggie Smith (the "Harry Potter" franchise) takes her store owner character way over the edge as well.  But at least Dame Smith gets a chance to pull it back a little in the final reel.

On the other end of the spectrum, two-time Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes ("Schindler's List," "The English Patient") is superb and restrained in an all-too-brief scene as military official Lord Gray.

The special effects are marvelous, as is Thompson as Nanny McPhee, the mysterious task master with a golden heart.

We could all use Nanny McPhee, either on a movie screen in one of the most entertaining family films of the year, or -- need I say this? -- at home.