48 posts categorized "PG"


Pawing the spy beat to save the world

It's been a pretty ruff summer for live action movies with talking dogs.

"Marmaduke" was definitely yapping up the wrong tree back in June, even with Owen Wilson providing vocal life to the cartoon favorite's live action outing.

Now comes "Cats & Dogs:  The Revenge of Kitty Galore," the follow-up to "Cats & Dogs" of 2001.  That's an eternity between movies in doggie years, of course.  Chances are that the film's target audience of youngsters will have no, or very little connection to the first adventure.

The sequel is bigger and better with animals that really appear to be talking.  We can attribute much of that to advancement in technology as much as anything else.

The bottom line is extremely silly cat and dog spy adventure drivel in bits.  Some work better than others.

Parents may delight to some extent in the stars and former stars who ham it up giving voice to their respective critters.  Veteran songstress Bette Midler gets so far into her vocalization of feline villainess Kitty Galore, for instance, I can almost imagine her coughing up a fur ball at some point.

Also, I never thought I'd hear the lazy, raspy voice of Nick Nolte coming out of an Anatolian Shepherd.  But that's the "Affliction" star as Butch, the gruff DOG agent that's been pawing the beat for some time.

Canines and felines are forced to work together to go after evil in this one.  Christina Applegate brings an impressive balance of toughness and smarts to Catherine, the agent from rival MEOWS.

We only have to look as far as hairless Ms. Galore and the Bond-like opening credits that rookie feature film director Brad Peyton splashes across the screen to deduce that what comes next will be a heated up Cold War-like spy caper.

The only thing those who missed the original "Cats & Dogs" need to know is that animals talk when humans aren't around.  In fact, some of man's best friends and purring kitties have secret lives as elite spies.  In addition to fetching balls and rubbing between the legs of their so-called masters, they might just be off on a grand adventure when the humans aren't looking.

Kitty Galore, once a MEOWS agent, has gone rogue.  Unless cats and dogs put aside their inborn differences, the evil kitty with the Midler meow might just rule the world with a diabolical plot she's planning.

"Cats & Dogs:  The Revenge of Kitty Galore," available in 3-D (which adds a little pop), will entertain young, inexperienced movie-goers the most.

Know this, parents.  You'll need to put on your silly hats as well, or it'll be a long dog (and cat) day afternoon at the movies.


Disney goes for the 'Sorcerer' sweep

The film-making folks at Disney are quite comfortable poking around their own back lot for ideas.

They only had to look as far as one of their most popular amusement park rides to come up with the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise, which shows no signs of letting up as a box office cash cow.

Here we go again.  The Mouse House and director Jon Turteltaub slip us a Mickey with "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."  A Mickey Mouse, that is.

Nicolas Cage, Alfred Molina and Jay Baruchel head the cast in an ambitious live action sorcerer's yarn that pulsates with comic quips, CGI wizardry and, for lack of better words, fantasy high jinks.

It's all very loosely based on the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment of Walt Disney's creative ceiling-breaker "Fantasia" of 1937.  Mickey Mouse conjures up a runaway straw broom in that one.  The new version pays homage to the original with a contrived segment.

Know this:  "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," circa 2010 is  lively and fun comic-adventure.  And know this:  It's not because Turteltaub or some Disney exec felt the need to spotlight the broom (or, in this case, mop) segment.  Frankly, that part's pretty boring.

The rest isn't, though.  Cage, sporting a beleaguered look and rag-mop hair extensions, portrays Balthazar, a former apprentice to Merlin himself about a thousand years ago.  Flash forward to modern day Manhattan and Balthazar is continuing his search for a chosen one, of sorts, to carry on the fight against evil sorcerer Horvath (Alfred Molina).

Balthazar will need a protege, of course.  So young actor Jay Baruchel takes on Dave, an NYU physics major with no idea he's about to play a major role in attempting to save mankind from Horvath and evil sorceress Morgana (Alice Krige).  They're intent on raising the dead to wipe out the living.

With that as the driving force, it doesn't appear that this conglomeration of special effects and nonsense would amount to much fun.  It does, though.

Cage, who chooses roles badly at times ("Knowing," Bangkok Dangerous"), rolls up his sorcerer's sleeves and has the kind of acting blast we've grown familiar with in the "National Treasure" flicks.

Also, I really like the way Molina (the terrific British actor of "An Education" and the forgettable "Prince of Persia") injects frivolity into the villain of the piece.

If I were the jury, I'd still be out on Baruchel, though.  In his meatiest role yet, the guy who finally grabbed center stage with the recent "She's Out of My League," might just be out of his here.

For some reason, instead of conjuring up Mickey Mouse's determined demeanor as the sorcerer's apprentice, Baruchel channels Christian Slater and even Peter Falk's "Columbo" with a stammering, stuttering speech pattern.

Annoying, that.  But it can't smother the overall frolic appeal of what could be the next Disney franchise.

Ahoy, there.  Take that, you "Pirates."


'Despicable' fun brightens summer slate

With an angular lead character that looks like he fell out of a computer somewhere between "The Triplets of Belleville" and "Ratatouille," "Despicable Me" captivates with anti-hero bad-boy naughtiness and determined orphan charm.

It must be a snap for animators to round up A-list talent these days.  The biggest stars appear to be lining up for their turn at the microphone.  Production after production has delivered, beginning probably with the first "Toy Story" in 1995 when Tom Hanks claimed his place in the animation universe as Woody and Tim Allen blasted off "to infinity and beyond" as Buzz Lightyear.

"Despicable Me," like so many animated yarns hitting screens in 3-D, welcomes Steve Carell to the CG-character club.  Of course Carell, who has announced he'll exit "The Office," his highly successful TV sitcom, has breathed vocal life into animated characters before.  He was Hammy the hyperactive Squirrel in "Over the Hedge" in 2006, for instance, and the mayor in "Horton Hears a Who!" two years ago.

Gru, the triangular ambitious villain Carell voices in "Despicable Me," however, is the kind of character that can leave a lasting imprint.

As it turns out, Gru, who has very high evil aspirations, merely wants to steal the moon.  That's right, in this animated world where a rival villain (the nerdy Vector voiced by Jason Segel of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall") has already made off with one of the Great Pyramids of Egypt, Gru's topper is to grab the moon and demand a princely ransom from Earthlings.

These are the kinds of villainy, I suppose, we can only find in animated fare.   Jimmy Stewart offered to lasso the moon for Donna Reed when they were courting in "It's a Wonderful Life" in 1947.  Stewart's lovestruck George Bailey was just joshin', though.

Gru is so serious about his task that he has a secret lair under his semi-Gothic house in an otherwise ordinary bedroom community.  Every villain needs a lair, of course, and Gru has a good one.  Dozens, perhaps hundreds of tiny yellow minions construct whatever the boss needs; sort of an anti-Santa's workshop.  

Resident mad scientist Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand, on screen recently in "Get Him to the Greek") is the brains of the operation, and might just be more evil than Gru himself, who's a bit of a mama's (Julie Andrews) boy.

"Despicable Me" works where some elaborate animated fables has failed.  Co-screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (both part of the "College Road Trip" writing team) and co-directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin (both with animated short experience) fill the world they've created with gadgets (a shrinkage machine), off-beat adventure and the cutest trio of young orphans you're likely to see on a movie screen -- animated or not -- for years to come.

Let's just say it takes a heap of evil to resist three precocious faces in desperate need of a father figure.  Another impressive thing:  The directors don't overuse the 3-D effect, which apparently takes major restraint these days.

With a PG-rating, "Despicable Me" serves up family entertainment that'll have the kids on the edge of their seats with a to-the-moon-and-back tale.  Parents, meanwhile, can breathe a sigh of non-offensive entertainment relief.


'Airbender' has a rough Night

If "The Last Airbender" isn't the worst film of the year, the hokey compilation of cheesy kung-fu moves attached to special effects enhancements will certainly be one of the prominent artistic bottom-feeders.

Writer-director-producer M. Night Shyamalan began his career with a flourish.  "The Sixth Sense," especially, dazzled in 1999.  More recent efforts,  "The Village," "Lady in the Water" and "The Happening," pretty much fizzled.

"The Last Airbender," a would-be epic with the interest quotient of a slug taking a tongue bath, just baffles.

The hook in this fantasy yarn about a Fire Nation able to bully nations of air, water and Earth is that the prophesied Avatar (Dallas native Noah Ringer as Aang), an airbender who can control all the elements, has been absent for 100 years.

Boy wonder Aang arrives in an ice ball along with a gigantic furry creature and is quickly befriended by Katara (Nicola Peltz), a young waterbender, and her protective brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone, also on screen as the vampire Jasper Hale in "Twilight:  Eclipse").

According to Shyamalan's adaptation of the Nickelodeon animated TV series "Avatar:  The Last Airbender," Aang ran away from Avatar training before he could fully master water, fire and earth bending.  The challenge here is to fend off the evil Fire Nation flame-throwers and avoid capture by Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation, who's not exactly feeling his daddy's love at the moment.

Aang may be a little behind on his element altering courses, but thanks to a laughable plot by Shyamalan, someone here is fully capable of halting time.  I've never seen just over an hour and a half feel like an eternity before.  Nothing much works here.  The special effects, while accomplished enough, only manage to perpetuate the silliness.

At least this film is being released in 3-D.  So if your child drags you to it, you might be able to nap behind the glasses without anyone noticing.

Ringer, the Dallas-based American taekwondo martial arts state champ, convinces as the young Avatar (no relation to James Cameron's epic wonder of the same name).  I just feel sorry for "Slumdog Millionaire" star Dev Patel, who made a poor follow-up film choice to play Prince Zuko.

Of course Shyamalan is the one who'll suffer most if this turkey bombs, which it should.

Unless something much more accomplished happens in the near future for the "Sixth Sense" filmmaker, I see a dead career.


'Karate Kid' kicks into entertainment overdrive

"Wax on, wax off" morphs into "Jacket on, jacket off" in the successfully re-imagined "Karate Kid."

With all due respect to the late Pat Morita, who, as mentor Mr. Miyagi was nominated for an Academy Award in 1985, this redux has more entertainment kick than the original.

The new, 21st century "Karate Kid" may lack just a little in the master role featuring kung fu legend Jackie Chan.  It soars in others areas, though.  Sorry, Ralph Macchio, but Jaden Smith doesn't just go through the motions of a bullied kid-in-training to take on his tormentor in a martial arts tournament.

If case you missed Jaden on screen with his superstar dad Will Smith in the emotional drama "The Pursuit of Happyness" in 2006 or in the doomsday drama "The Day the Earth Stood Still" in 2008, know this.  Jaden Smith can act.

That's what makes the familiar, yet sufficiently reshaped story enjoyable for parents.  And despite a laborious running time of well over two hours, the new version, set primarily in China, has a stand-up-and-cheer finish for "Karate Kid" newbies; its target audience.

"The Karate Kid" retains the tone (somber) and theme (surrogate father/son bonding) of the 1980s franchise.  Thanks to a generally effective script by first timer Christopher Murphey, the basic idea is jump-kicked to a higher emotional level.

There's no need for director Harald Zwart ("The Pink Panther 2" remake) to explain the fact that popular Detroit kid Dre Parker (Smith) has no father figure in his life.  Just before single mother Sherry Parker (Oscar nominee of Taraji P. Henson) and reluctant son take a cab to the airport and board a flight to Beijing, Dre takes one last look at the pencil mark on the door frame noting the day his father died.

Dre lands on his feet in a strange foreign land.  Before the jet lag has even subsided, the dread-locked kid from the U.S. has caught the eye of a young violinist in the park.  Meiying (Wenwen Han) is obviously intrigued by this animated stranger.  In movies like this, however, the bully has already claimed the girl.

Dre takes several beatings from advanced kung fu student Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), who shows no mercy in combat.  Finally, the aging apartment handyman, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), steps in as protector.  Han turns out to be a secret kung fu master (with serious emotional baggage).  Once mentor and student hook up, the "Karate Kid" tale begins to glide along the track to a well-orchestrated ultimate showdown.

From this aisle seat, the secret weapon guiding this adventure to success is Jaden's dad Will, who, along with wife Jada Pinkett Smith, draws producer credit.  Will Smith is one of the sharpest minds in Hollywood.  Jaden, working exceptionally well opposite Chan, Han (the girl) and Wang (the bully), is amazingly prepared for the final reel fight scenes, as well as the comic and emotional training sessions that come before.

Chan, a master of acting as well as kung fu, injects the expected comic moments without overshadowing his dramatic scenes.

My only complaint about this well-crafted remake is that two hours and 20 minutes is too long to ask young kids to sit still for a drawn-out yarn, even if it does have a rousing finish.


'Marmaduke' rolls over, plays dead

When Bill Murray, playing himself, was milking the scene and taking a very long time to die in last year's horror spoof "Zombieland," he was asked if he had any regrets.

"Well, yeah, 'Garfield,' I guess," Murray said just before he expired.

Some day, Owen Wilson might be saying the same thing about the almost totally humorless "Marmaduke."

And here's some news that's even scarier.  Thanks to ever-advancing computer technology, filmmakers no longer have a problem making it appear that animals can talk.

So in "Marmaduke" the cartoon Great Dane making a clumsy, failed leap to the big screen can talk.  And so can all the other canines at a California dog park.  Humans, or "two-leggers," as Marmaduke calls them, can't understand a word they're woofing.

Of course if these dogs could really talk, they'd be on the phone to their agents demanding a better script. 

That's exactly what Owen Wilson should have done.  This is a family comedy only in the slightest definition of the term comedy.  Wilson is heard but not seen as the voice of Marmaduke, a 200-pound teenage dog uprooted from the Midwest to California's "O.C."

One sniff around the back yard and Marmaduke proclaims, "This is the nicest bathroom I've ever had."  

Director Tom Dey ("Failure to Launch," "Shanghai Noon"), no stranger to over-the-top silliness, did a fine job lining up talent for his dog voices.  Kiefer Sutherland talks tough as pure-bred bully Bosco, for instance, and Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas and Sam Elliott are fun as collie Jezebel and super-sized Chupadogra.

With "Marley & Me" and now this on his list of credits, the only doggie misadventure left for Wilson ("Wedding Crashers") is to portray a talking flea.

The plot is pocked by holes larger than the sinkhole that attempts, but fails to propel the plot when the screenwriters (Tim Rasmussen and Vince Di Meglio) are completely out of ideas.  This film begins and ends with a pointy-eared dog passing gas, if that tells you anything.

If your kids are under, say the age of 6 (no, make that 5), they might get some giggles out of a big dog jumping out of soapy bath water and dragging owner Phil (Lee Pace of "Pushing Daisies" on TV) through the house.

The "Beethoven" films were much more entertaining in the early '90s.  The St. Bernard that dragged people through the yard back then didn't have to say a word to get a laugh.

Big dog slobber was all that was required.


'Shrek's' 'A Wonderful Life,' lousy sequel

The new "Shrek" is a wreck, and not one that's interesting enough to slow down for.

What else should we possibly expect from a third sequel in a franchise that launched in 2001?

Let's face it ... again.  It's time to bid farewell to the lovable green ogre.

I know what you're thinking:  "Hey, it's Shrek.  My kids will love it."

Maybe.  Perhaps cinematic newbies born too late to enjoy "Shrek" in its prime will.  This one can be viewed from behind 3-D glasses, which only really matters for the opening sequence of white horses appearing to gallop off the screen and into the audience.

Once the horses and the carriage they're pulling have passed, however, the kids will be "enjoying" a blatant rehash of "It's a Wonderful Life," of all things.

In the fourth installment of the once creatively vibrant fairy tale set in a twisted land titled Far Far Away, our rotund hero is fighting the marital/parental blahs; a midlife crisis.  His triplet little ogres are annoying him more with every burp or other gas passing (sure to draw a shock laugh from the kiddies).

Soon after Shrek blows his top at the kids' first birthday party, Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn, a feature voice newcomer who's also in charge of the story) offers the big, green, disenchanted guy the same deal Clarence the angel-in-training sold to Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life."  

The details vary slightly, but suddenly Shrek never existed (just like Stewart's George Bailey).  Far Far Away is ravaged like Bedford Falls gone to hell.  Donkey (voiced vibrantly by Eddie Murphy as usual) has no idea who Shrek is.

What of Fiona (Cameron Diaz)?  A human damsel without her Shrek savior by day and ogre by night,  Fiona's leading the ogre resistance against the king (Rumpelstiltskin, of course) and the witches who protect him.

"Shrek Forever After," directed with lots of bluster but little spirit by Mike Mitchell ("Sky High," "Surviving Christmas"), is a sequel with such minuscule oomph that one of its main characters provides the tired metaphor.

Puss In Boots, the Zorro-like kitty voiced by Antonio Banderas, has grown fat and lazy (just like the franchise itself).  When Puss, which can barely right himself, begs Donkey to lend him a tongue to groom fur he can no longer reach, it's almost as if screenwriters Josh Klausner ("Date Night") and Darren Lemke (a feature film first-timer) are signaling us that they're throwing in the adventure towel.

That brings us to Mike Myers ("Austin Powers"), the former "Saturday Night Live" standout who has been at the microphone as Shrek for almost a dozen years now.

For whatever reason -- personal challenges (the death of his mentor father, a divorce) or maybe just due to the fact that there's nowhere left to go with the green ogre who would rather be having a mud bath than tending the kids -- Myers has lost his joy of performance.  

And he took "Shrek Forever After" with him.


Roaming Tuscany and 'Juliet'

"Letters to Juliet" has more to offer romantic souls than some cynical film critics may be willing to admit.

This I know.  When it comes to wine country romantic yarns in quaint Tuscan regions of Italy, I'll take this somewhat contrived yarn over the laughably cheesy  "Under the Tuscan Sun" (2003) starring Diane Lane.

Oh, I know this as well.  Some guys, especially the ones oozing testosterone, will be quick to label "Letters to Juliet" a "chick flick."  Although I generally despise that term, it fits.  Guys who can't handle a little romance in their movie evening might need to boot-scoot down the multiplex hall to "Robin Hood" or "Iron Man 2."

Set primarily in and around Verona, Romeo and Juliet's sacred home turf of old, this warm-hearted romantic comic-drama features two leading ladies.  Amanda Seyfried ("Dear John"), who played Meryl Streep's daughter Sophie in "Mamma Mia!," plays a different Sophie here.  This Sophie is a New Yorker who works as a New Yorker magazine fact checker.

She dreams of writing herself some day.  But first a pre-wedding vacation to Italy with her workaholic chef and fiancé Victor (Gael García Bernal).  

Victor has better things to do than hang around with his beautiful bride-to-be.  That allows Sophie the time to join ladies who answer letters written to Juliet (Yeah, that Juliet) and taped to a rock wall.  Sophie, prone to pulling loose stones out of famous shrines, perhaps, discovers a forlorn letter written a half-century earlier about walking away from true love.

That brings us to the second leading lady.  Veteran British actress Vanessa Redgrave, an Oscar winner for "Julia" in 1978, literally radiates subtle superb acting and senior grace as Claire.  Once the two hook up, "Letters to Juliet" becomes a Tuscany postcard come to life as the ladies, along with Claire's grumpy grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan), scour the countryside in search of Claire's long-lost Lorenzo.

This is all slightly more entertaining than I expected.  The scenery, of course, is spectacular and often bathed in the romantic light of sunset.

Director Gary Winick ("Bride Wars"), who called the shots on a spirited tale of a spider ("Charlotte's Web") in 2006, works his way through a predictable, sometimes silly romantic script (by José Rivera) with a decent tempo and tone.

And, if you want to dazzle your friends when the lights come up, say something like:

"Hey, wasn't that Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave's real-life husband, playing Lorenzo?"

You'd be right.  


Come on 'Babies,' light my fire

Call me a cinematic crybaby if you must, but I was expecting a little more from "Babies," the documentary chronicling the development of newborns around the world over a two-year period.

Maybe I've been spoiled by British filmmaker Michael Apted's brilliant growth-spurt study of British lads and lasses in the "Up" series, which drops in on the subjects every seven years to update their life stories.

Before I get run out of town for failing to cheer the innocent gurgles of newborns in San Francisco, Tokyo, Mongolia and Namibia of "Babies,"  however, know that French director Thomas Balmès successfully captures first gurgles, early crawling and shaky steps in four distinctively different environments.

It's an unusual documentary, though, because there's no interaction between the filmmaker and his subjects.  We see young personalities emerge somewhat, but never do the parents utter a word to the filmmaker about their relationship with their new child.

It's a bit like a visit to a human zoo, really.  We get closeup views of little Hattie in San Francisco being given all the comforts a U.S. child can enjoy.  That contrasts abruptly (in fact, a little shockingly at times) with Ponijao, the eighth of nine children of the Namibian family.

Ponijao might just be the happiest baby of the foursome featured.  And that's despite crawling around in dirt much of the time and competing with flies for mother's milk.  Yet no narrator verifies the happiness of an African family in an environment that will seem not only remote, but primitive to many viewers.

This was all the brainchild of French producer/actor Alain Chabat, who played Napoleon in  "Night at the Museum:  Battle of the Smithsonian" last year.  Chabat, according to the film's press notes, thought it would be fascinating to watch vastly different newborns adjust to their surroundings, their families, their pets and the wide, wide world itself from the time they're born until they stand -- a little wobbly perhaps -- on their own feet.

I agree.  For some reason, however, the magic you might expect never really generates.  All four of the children are adorable, of course.  The awwwww factor is definitely present throughout.

But even as the Japanese and U.S. babies romp with their mommies in mother-child class groups and the two in the plains of Mongolia and a village in Namibia grow up in earthy, basic homes, the fascination level diminishes rapidly.

For all its promise, "Babies" makes 79 minutes feel like a near-eternity.  Let's put it this way.  The toddlers weren't the only ones who enjoyed a little nap time.


Mugging to the animals

If you're 6 or younger, you might enjoy the loony goons live-action cartoon "Furry Vengeance" for the first 30 minutes or so.

By that time it's likely that everyone from toddler age up with have had enough of Brendan Fraser making goofy faces, forest animals sending huge boulders down a steep hill to vent revenge on encroaching humans and a "go green" message that lands with about the same dulling thud as the rocks, or Fraser's so-called acting.

From this aisle seat, I can't fathom why all this "Furry Vengeance" is being taken out on the audience in the form of a "family comedy" that, for the most part, is excruciating to the point of falling just below water boarding on the torture scale to watch.

Some of us, including your humble scribe, actually love wild animals enough to feed squirrels and birds their breakfast before we've even had ours.

Directed by Roger Kumble, who occupied the director's chair for "College Road Trip" a couple years back, "Furry Vengeance" is a waste of everyone's time.

That includes the trained animals (raccoons, skunks, etc.) that, through the "magic" of modern technology, never had to share a scene with an embarrassingly overacting Fraser ("The Mummy" franchise) or Brooke Shields, who looks like she'd rather be shopping most of the time.

This is an animal vs. human plot that's so cartoon-like I'm shocked a road runner doesn't drop an Acme steel anvil on Fraser's head at some point.

Contractor Dan Sanders (Fraser) is paying the price for invading a peaceful Oregon forest in the name of a new "green friendly" housing community.  Wife Tammy (Shields) and rebellious teen son (Matt Prokop) never wanted to leave Chicago.  They're trying to cope, though, at least until Dad begins to come home covered in skunk spray or portable toilet, uh, toilet stuff.

Fraser has managed some real acting recently in "Extraordinary Measures" and a dozen years back opposite  Ian McKellen in the outstanding drama "Gods and Monsters."

"Furry Vengeance," on the other hand, presents Fraser at his mugging worst.  Let's put it this way.  Fraser's "George of the Jungle" (1997) was several grunts better and of higher intelligence than the Neanderthal in a business suit on display here.