February 25, 2009

Rescue Heroes: The Movie (2003)

AFTER I PROMISED DASH we could rent Rescue Heroes: The Movie, I wasn’t sure how I felt about letting him watch a movie based on a toy line. But who am I kidding: If there was a Stretch Armstrong movie when I was a kid, I’d have made a beeline for the box office. (Breaking: Stretch Armstrong: The Movie in development. Seriously.)

I’ll rely on the back of the box, since I don’t think I could make it sound more exciting:
• A series of mysterious lightning storms wreaks havoc worldwide as they spiral through the atmosphere toward Greenland. Once they collide, they will create one massive storm that will result in cataclysmic destruction.
• The Rescue Heroes use their new Mission Select equipment to contain the disasters all over the world caused by these strange storms. But Billy Blazes is poisoned on a mission and getting weaker by the moment, and Rocky Canyon is grounded for insubordination. So the team is short-handed!
• Will they find the cure to save Billy? Will their teamwork and strength be enough to solve the mystery of the storms and save the world in time?

In terms of action, Rescue Heroes: The Movie doesn’t disappoint – there seems to be an intense, action-packed disaster every 10 minutes or so, including a few with children in peril. Pretty intense for a kids’ film – but I guess, no peril, no rescue, right?
• The front of the box shouts, “It's the Rescue Heroes team like you've never seen them before – in CGI animation!” And for 2003, the CGI is pretty impressive, resembling an odd blend of late-‘90s computer animation and current motion-capture FX.
• The movement of the heroes is very fluid and lifelike, but much like the humans in Fly Me To The Moon, they lack depth and tone (perhaps to intentionally look somewhat toy-like?).
• The heroes use a lot of cool gear, and speak in lots of hi-tech mumbo-jumbo – which could either be confusing to young viewers, or sound really cool.
• For the grown-ups, there are some great (or groan-inducing) puns for incidental character names. For example, take this gem from an avalanche in Switzerland: “Bob Sled and Al Pine are on the scene.”

Rescue Heroes: The Movie is a good combination of fun action with some important lessons woven in – primarily, the value of teamwork and knowing when to let someone else be the “go-to guy” in a situation.

Watch two trailers for Rescue Heroes: The Movie

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5).

What did Dash think?
Dash was glued to the set during this film, although he did ask, “When is this gonna be over?” in the middle of the big finale. Still, he said he’d recommend Rescue Heroes: The Movie to his classmates at kindergarten.

Will your kids like it?
If Dash is any indication, then yes, if we’re talking about young boys. (For what it’s worth, I probably would’ve thought it was cool if I was a kid.)
• Young girls, I’m not so sure. There's a fair amount of female characters, though it’s a mixed bag of role models – for every female Rescue Hero, there’s another female who’s in peril or more concerned about her makeup.
• As I mentioned earlier, the movie is pretty action-packed for a young kids’ film. Kindergartners or older should be fine, but I’d say it’s too intense for the pre-K crowd.

Will your FilmMother like it?
She may appreciate the values of teamwork and being brave, but I doubt she’d want to actually sit through the whole film.

Rescue Heroes: The Movie
* Director: Ron Pitts
* Screenwriter: Brent Piaskoski
* Stars: Norm Spencer, Joe Motiki, Lenore Zann, Deborah Odell, Rod Wilson, Martin Roach
* MPAA Rating: G

Buy this movie for less at Half.com >>

February 19, 2009

The Wrestler (2008)

[UPDATED 2/24: See end of review.]

THOUGH I HAVEN’T thought about him for years,
I would say that I am a fan of Mickey Rourke; his work in ‘80s films Year of the Dragon and Angel Heart immediately come to mind. He was a charismatic actor and a force on the screen – until bad behavior, burned bridges, and a bizarre switch to boxing derailed his career.

Which makes Rourke’s turn in The Wrestler that much more heartbreaking to watch. It’s hard enough to witness what his character goes through, but it’s just as heartbreaking to see what we missed without his presence as a leading man over the last 15 years. (Recommend reading when you’re done here: “Mickey Roars” by Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty.)

• Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Rourke) was a top professional wrestler in the 1980s, ending the decade with a classic match at Madison Square Garden against his evil nemesis, The Ayatollah (Ernest Miller).
• 20 years later, Randy’s gone from selling out the Garden to wrestling in bingo halls and school gyms. He lives in a trailer park. He drives a van with his own action figure on the dashboard. He still uses ‘80s metal songs for his entrance music. He attends pathetic “fanfests” at local VFWs (with even more pathetic turnouts). He’s broke, but he still spends a thousand dollars a pop on performance-enhancing drugs and tanning booths. And when he’s not wrestling, he’s working at the loading dock of the local Acme.
• For companionship – something he will probably never get from his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) – Randy turns to lap dances at the local strip club from Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), who, in stripper years, is a bit past her prime as well.
• After suffering a heart attack following a brutal “weapons match,” he’s told that he can’t wrestle anymore or it will kill him. But an enticing offer is dangled in front of him by a local promoter: a 20th-anniversary rematch with The Ayatollah.

Heartwrenching. Grueling. Depressing. Just a few of the words that come to mind when watching The Wrestler, especially Rourke’s performance. It’s already been said by dozens of reviews and bloggers, and it’s true: Rourke is phenomenal. It’s a milestone in character study, with Rourke showing us who Randy is through minimal dialogue and an emphasis on emotions and reactionary acting – reactions to the situations he’s placed in, and those he puts himself in.
Rourke and Tomei’s on-screen chemistry is palpable. The parallels between Randy and Cassidy are a large part of what draws them together: They’re both past their prime for what they do, which is put on a show that is different from who they are in real life. And in that real life, their relationship skills – often put on hold to please their customers – consist of awkward yet endearing fits and starts that have you hoping they’ll make it work.
• As a former follower of pro wrestling, I can say that The Wrestler accurately captures the essence of the “indie” wrestling leagues: the small, nondescript gyms and banquet halls, the former headliners crossing paths with promising up-and-comers, the reactions and sometimes profane chants of the crowd…it’s all presented here in true-to-life form.
The Wrestler owes a lot to its haunting musical score by Clint Mansell (featuring Slash) that makes the film even heavier to absorb. In addition, the soundtrack features many ‘80s metal tunes to play into Randy’s time-capsule persona, with songs by Guns ‘n Roses, Ratt, Quiet Riot, Accept, Cinderella, Firehouse, Slaughter, and Scorpions.
• Director Darren Aronofsky and cinematographer Maryse Alberti shoot The Wrestler with a documentary-like feel, creating an over-the-shoulder experience for the viewer. At times it’s almost like you could reach out and touch Randy – and in some scenes, you’ll want to pull him back and save him from himself.
• The filmmakers do a good job of accurately depicting life in blue-collar New Jersey (having lived there, I would know), with mentions of neighboring locations like Allentown, PA and Randy’s possible big match with The Ayatollah in Wilmington, Delaware.

Wrestling trivia:
• All the independent wrestling leagues you see in the movie (WXW, CZW, ROH) are real leagues that do business in the NJ/PA/DE area. In fact, it was WXW owner Afa (of the ’70s tag team The Wild Samoans) who trained Rourke for The Wrestler.
Don’t know wrestling lingo? Angle, hard way, blading, face, heel, spots…if these terms sound Greek to you, click here for a crash course in wrestling-speak.

At the time of this review, the Oscars are three days away. The race for Best Actor is basically between Rourke for The Wrestler and Sean Penn for Milk. Here are the pros and cons for each man, as I see it:

Pros for Penn: Penn disappeared behind his role and became Harvey Milk. An amazing portrayal of the gay rights activist, which comes following the recent furor by gay advocates surrounding California’s passing of Proposition 8, which eliminated same-sex couples' right to marry in the state.
Con for Penn: He won this award for his work in 2003’s Mystic River. Will the Academy feel it’s too soon to reward him again?

Pros for Rourke: Who doesn’t love a comeback? Rourke brought much of his real-life hardships and career struggles to the role of Randy. And there are many who still value his contributions to film before the ‘90s began.
Con for Rourke: He may have made too many enemies in Hollywood (and amongst Academy members) to earn their vote with just one film.

Me? Both men deserve to win, though I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t love to see a Mickey Rourke acceptance speech.

[UPDATE: Well, Sean Penn won the Oscar...which robbed us of a Mickey Rourke acceptance speech that night. However, he did give an acceptance speech the night before, winning for Best Male Lead at the Independent Spirit Awards -- a speech that is profane, hilarious, heartfelt, and worth showing here (NSFW).]

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5).

Will your kids want to watch it?
If they think it’s all about pro wrestling, they might. However, a) there are only about five scenes of in-ring action; and b) The Wrestler is in no way suitable for children:
• A bloody weapons match includes the breaking of tables, smashing of glass panes, and the use of barbed wire and a staple gun.
• During one match, Randy cuts himself on his forehead with a razor blade for added dramatic effect.
• There is a lot of adult language, drug use, and drug-related language.
• Tomei is nude for a large amount of her screen time, and Randy gets explicitly randy with a girl in a nightclub bathroom.

Will your FilmMother like it?
She may not like it – in fact, she may find it hard to watch for its heartbreaking content – but she’d find it hard to deny that The Wrestler is a powerful film, and one that will stick with both of you for days to come.

The Wrestler
* Director: Darren Aronofsky
* Screenwriter: Robert Siegel
* Stars: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
* MPAA Rating: R

Buy this movie for less at Half.com >>

February 14, 2009

Mulan (1998)

FROM 1989-1994, Disney animated films were on a tear. They started  with The Little Mermaid and continued with Aladdin, Best Picture nominee Beauty and the Beast, and culminated with 1994’s global smash hit, The Lion King.

Conversely, most of Disney’s films in the second half of the ‘90s were, in a word, weak. The Mouse House seemed to rest on its Lion King laurels for the next three releases, and they all fell flat: Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Hercules barely register with any Disney fan these days – an even sadder fact considering the oldest of this bunch came out less than 15 years ago.

Which leads us to Mulan, Disney’s big animated feature for 1998…

• In a small village in ancient China, teenage girl Mulan (Ming Na-Wen) visits a matchmaker with her mother and grandmother to uphold her family honor by meeting a man, becoming his wife, and serving him well. After she colossally bungles the meeting, the matchmaker tells her, “You’ll never bring your family honor!”
• Meanwhile, the marauding Huns – led by intimidating leader Shan-Yu (Miguel Ferrer) – invade China and rampage across the country. Because of this threat, one man from each family must serve in the Chinese army, by orders of the emperor.
• Mulan’s father Fa Zhou (Soon-Tek Oh) has a bad leg from a previous war, and she’s distraught that he’s being forced to go. Her father is the only man in the household, and has no choice but to accept (and he’s too proud not to serve).
• In the middle of the night, to protect her father, Mulan cuts her hair, takes her father’s armor and sword, and runs off to join the army as “Ping,” his son.
• Meanwhile, the ghost ancestors of Mulan’s family send Mushu (Eddie Murphy), a disgraced dragon, to protect Mulan during her training and in battle – both of which are led by Shang (B.D. Wong).

Mulan is another of Disney’s half-baked lessons in history / mythology / literature, much like the three films that preceded it. It has some laughs, but overall it’s a rather serious story. (Speaking of story: It’s dumbfounding that it took five screenwriters to create something this tepid.)
Murphy’s Mushu is tough to take and a bit out of place. His jive-talking is so fast and continuous, it’s nearly impossible to catch all the “jokes” he’s making. It is, however, easy to see how Murphy basically schlepped this shtick over to DreamWorks a couple of years later for his work as Donkey in the Shrek films.
The musical numbers (remember when Disney still did those?) are no great shakes. The big standout is Mulan’s solo number, “Reflection,” which was a hit for Christina Aguilera when she recorded it for the soundtrack. The other big number, Shang’s “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” (sung by Donny Osmond) is disappointing, especially considering Osmond’s got the pipes to do something huge, but sounds like he’s talking his way through it.
TOO MANY HUMANS! I have no idea what possessed Disney – on the heels of the all-animal Lion King, their biggest success ever – to do a series of films focusing so much on human characters. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think people have been drawn to Disney’s animated films because of these films’ ability to create loveable, endearing characters that don’t exist in our world – talking animals, to be blunt. (The one perfect exception to this rule: The Incredibles.)
• Shang looks suspiciously like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who was in his WWE heyday at the time – and who now, coincidentally, is a big star of Disney’s live-action movies (The Game Plan, Race to Witch Mountain).

While Mulan’s message – that a girl can do just as good a job as a boy – is empowering, it’s been done before. And from a Disney pedigree perspective, the film is nowhere near any of their classics, older or contemporary.

Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5).

What did Dash think?
Mulan kept Dash’s attention for the entire film, despite him asking several questions along the lines of “What happened?” and “Why did he/she/they do that?”
• The ancestor spirits protecting Mulan and her family were a little hard to explain, but we got past it.
• His final thought? “The only parts I didn’t like were the bad guys.” (He tends to obsess about “bad people” and why they do what they do. I can see it now: “When I grow up, I wanna be a profiler!”)

Will your kids like it?
• The storyline may take some occasional explaining to younger kids, with its reliance on ancient China’s history, heritage, and code of conduct – layered with the intricacies (and sometimes brutal reality) of war and battle.
• In terms of possibly questionable content for young viewers: There are a few battle sequences involving swordplay and flaming bows & arrows, and Mulan’s army unit comes across a village destroyed by the Huns, with one character’s father found dead (off-screen).

Will your FilmMother like it?
Like I mentioned earlier, the message of female empowerment in Mulan is noble – and your FilmMother may find it appealing – but it’s been done better elsewhere. And from a pure entertainment angle, Disney’s got many other titles in their library worth seeing before this.

* Directors: Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook
* Screenwriters: Rita Hsiao, Christopher Sanders, Philip LaZebnik, Raymond Singer, Eugenia Bostwick-Singer
* Stars: Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, B.D. Wong, Miguel Ferrer, Soon-Tek Oh
* MPAA Rating: G

Buy this movie for less at Half.com >>

February 10, 2009

Make that “the award-winning FilmFather”…

THE GUYS over at Kindertrauma have bestowed FilmFather with a prestigious Premio Dardo Award!

I’ve seen this award defined on other blogs as such:
This award shows the values that every blogger shows in his or her effort to transmit cultural, literal, ethical and personal values every day.

To give out this award, a blogger picks five blogs they think meet the criteria above. They then list these five blogs, each with a small summary and link. Then each of those blogs must pick five blogs for their own Premio Dardoset cetry, et cetry, et cetry.

After much deliberation, I’ve come down to these five as my Premio Dardo recipients – a decent cross-section of dad blogs and movie blogs:

Sleep Deprivation Ninja
From the minute I saw his blog header, I was hooked. Follow the exploits of the Sleep Deprivation Ninja, a shadowy figure dealing with life as the father of a baby girl (Code Name Alice). You never know what to expect from this stealth, sleep-deprived assassin: He could be describing his latest ninja mission, relaying a story from his youth (“Ninja As Child”), or delivering a five-finger punch to your heart with some endearing prose about his little Alice. In between, marvel at some ninja haiku or the 100-word challenge.

Luke, I Am Your Father
A long time ago (not really), in a galaxy far, far away (well, Seattle)...there lives James, with his wife and their little boy Lukas. Great writing, cute pics and vids, stories you can relate to as a parent…and who doesn’t love a good Star Wars tie-in? (DC Urban Dad also gave this blog a Premio Dardo [just two days before I did], so that must really say something about its greatness.)

I have to wipe his what?
Follow the adventures of left-coaster, new parent, and stay-at-home dad Surfer Jay as he raises his son, Mr. Pants, and debates with his woman Lilly about whether to add to their offspring. Jay’s amazingly honest about how exhausting and frustrating new parenthood can be, and he often says what other fathers feel but don’t have the cojones to put out there. Also includes amazing photography of Mr. Pants, taken by Jay himself.

Stale Popcorn
I just discovered this blog yesterday, and I like what I see. Stale Popcorn is a UK blog featuring movie news, reviews, contests, trailers, and more. Their writing style is right up my alley.

Cultra Rare Videos (RIP)
Technically not a blog, but I had to share it with you. Cultra Rare Videos provides free downloads of rare cult, exploitation, and “guilty pleasure” movies, mostly from the ‘70s and early ‘80s and none of them available on DVD. If you grew up during that era and miss the nostalgia of VHS tapes, you have to check this out. The movies are .avi files; to view them easily, download a free VLC player (like I did) here: PC or Mac

February 6, 2009

Milk (2008)

I HAD LONG HEARD ABOUT the plight of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in California (as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors). I have also heard, over the years, about another plight: that of Hollywood and its many failed attempts to turn Milk’s life (and tragic end) into a major motion picture.

This finally happened in 2008, when largely unknown screenwriter Dustin Lance Black became one of the greatest Cinderella stories in Hollywood when his script for Milk became the foundation for making the film a reality.

• After Milk’s title sequence – featuring archive footage of police in major US cities “cracking down” on gay bars and arresting patrons – we meet average businessman Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) in New York City, turning 40 and picking up Scotty (James Franco) while cruising the subway platform. They decide to move to San Francisco (specifically, the city’s gay-friendly Castro Street area) to avoid the brutality of the NYPD – yet are met with the same oppression and violence from the SFPD.
• When a police beating results in the death of a local gay man, Milk announces his candidacy for city supervisor. Ironically, he encounters resistance from the most affluent and influential gays in San Francisco. They tell Milk not to expect to jump into a leadership role, that it’s better to side with straight officials who sympathize with their cause: “We’re like the Catholic church. We like converts, but we don’t make them Pope the next day.”
• Following two failed bids for City Council and one for California State Assembly, Milk is finally elected to San Francisco’s City Council. His big fight is to prevent the passing of Proposition 6, which would overturn gay rights in the state, including the right for gay teachers to work in public schools.

While Harvey Milk’s crusades were absolutely noble and courageous, they come off as a bit repetitive in Milk up to a point. They go along the lines of, “Harvey, we’ve got a problem; Person/Legislation X is against gays.” “OK, gather everybody; let’s march/rally!” That changes when the film focuses on Milk’s efforts to defeat Prop 6, which is where Milk really picks up, both in suspense and emotional impact.

As Milk, Penn does what he’s done so well in films like Dead Man Walking, Carlito’s Way – hell, even Fast Times at Ridgemont High: He disappears behind his character so you forget you’re watching Sean Penn the actor and instead become immersed in the person he’s portraying.

Penn (rightly nominated for an Oscar for this role) is backed by an excellent supporting cast, including Franco, Emile Hirsch, Alison Pill, and fellow Milk Oscar nominee Josh Brolin as fellow city councilman Dan White – a man who slowly unravels and is pushed to the limit as he sees his morals, livelihood, and allies eroding before him.

I will say that, having seen the excellent documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, I don’t recall Milk being as fey as Penn portrays him – the real Milk gestured more boldly and had a less nasally, mousy voice than the one Penn projects. But this a minor nit. Bottom line, Milk is a good film, and Penn is great in it.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5).

Will your kids want to see it?
Kids? Doubt it. Teens may have an interest in Milk, and it may come down to their (or your) personal tastes whether they should see it. Milk is rated R for, according to the MPAA, “language, some sexual content and brief violence.” While the language itself may earn the film an R – including many gay slurs said by homophobes and in jest between gay men – the sex scenes, had they been straight couples, would have probably been tame enough to earn Milk a PG-13. (Check out the amazing documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated for the double standard surrounding the rating of films with gay sex scenes versus straight ones.)

Will your FilmMother like it?
Milk is a solid film, and Penn elevates above it in a powerful performance. I think both she and you will be rewarded by checking it out.

* Director: Gus Van Sant
* Screenwriter: Dustin Lance Black
* Stars: Sean Penn, James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, Alison Pill, Diego Luna
* MPAA Rating: R (language, some sexual content and brief violence)

Buy this movie for less at Half.com >>

February 1, 2009

Scooby-Doo! Pirates Ahoy! (2006)

A COUPLE OF MONTHS AGO, I set aside my staunch belief regarding the legacy of Scooby-Doo (that no spinoffs or movies will ever beat the original series) to watch Scooby-Doo and the Loch Ness Monster, and I was happily surprised.

So last week, I wanted to see if I could be happily surprised once again, and put on Scooby-Doo! Pirates Ahoy! for Dash and I to watch. Was it worth it, or did we feel shanghai'd? Read on…

Scooby-Doo! Pirates Ahoy! opens in the Bermuda Triangle as a research ship glides into the notorious waters, only to be attacked by a ship of ghost pirates.
• We then join Scooby and the gang as they go with Fred’s parents on a cruise ship to (where else?) the Bermuda Triangle. It turns out to be a “mystery cruise,” where the crew stages mysteries for the passengers to solve.
• Well, with the gang’s extensive experience in mystery-solving (40 years this September!), they solve all the “mysteries” very quickly, ruining it for the other passengers.
• Soon, Shaggy spots a man floating in the water, and the crew rescues him. It’s Rupert Garcia, survivor of the attacked ship at beginning. Not surprisingly, nobody believes him when he says his boat was destroyed by ghost pirates. In fact, Scooby and the gang think his story is part of another staged mystery by the ship’s crew. They soon find out that it’s all too true, when the pirate ship shows up and its crew of ghost pirates – led by Captain Skunkbeard – take over the cruise ship and kidnap Fred’s parents.
• Scooby and the gang go after Skunkbeard’s ship to rescue Fred’s parents, and also to stop Skunkbeard’s quest for a painting of stars that was aboard Garcia’s boat, which will lead him to “Heaven’s Light” at the center of the Bermuda Triangle, and give him the power to travel through time…or something like that.

• The scope of the mystery within Scooby-Doo! Pirates Ahoy! is quite ambitious, but falls a bit flat. Like other TV shows that leap to a full-length movie, the film largely feels like an extended episode from the original, classic series.
SD!PA! does keep a couple of the trademark components of Scooby-Doo intact, including several requisite chase scenes with accompanying “chase music” (here in the form of blaring, pirate-tinged rock tunes).
• Lost from this Scooby movie are a lot of the in-jokes and grown-up references (so prevalent in Scooby-Doo and the Loch Ness Monster) aimed at grown-ups who, um, grew up on the original TV show.
• And not to be Cynical Grown-Up, but most adults will figure out who’s behind Captain Skunkbeard way before the end.

In terms of Scooby-Doo! Pirates Ahoy!’s watchability: you could do worse, but as Scooby-Doo and the Loch Ness Monster shows, you can also do better.

Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5).

What did Dash think?
I figured Scooby-Doo and pirates would be a winning combo for Dash’s attention span, and I was right. Still, he surprised me by actually hanging with the whole film, even when the hour was getting late. His only question: “Why did the pirates want to kill everybody?” I explained they weren’t trying to kill anyone, just scare them. That seemed to satisfy him; either that or he was too tired to debate.

Will your kids like it?
• If they’re not super-selective and don’t have a dedication to (or remembrance of) the original TV series like I do, they will probably enjoy it enough to sit through it – but I highly doubt repeat viewings will occur.
• The Y7 rating for SD!PA! (we caught it on Cartoon Network) seems appropriate – the ghost pirates are a bit creepy, with some of their mean, gnarly faces shot in close-up in the opening sequence. And there is a fair amount of swordplay and cannons blasting, but no injuries or deaths.

Will your FilmMother like it?
Doubtful. She could probably tolerate it if she had to, but I’d tell her to seek out something better for everybody to watch.

Scooby-Doo! Pirates Ahoy!
* Director: Chuck Sheetz
* Screenwriters: Margaret M. Dean, Jed Elinoff, Scott Thomas
* Stars: Dan Castellaneta, Mindy Cohn, Tim Conway, Grey DeLisle, Arsenio Hall, Casey Kasem, Edie McClurg, Kathy Najimy, Ron Perlman, Freddy Rodriguez, Frank Welker
* MPAA Rating: G

Buy this movie for less at Half.com >>


Related Posts with Thumbnails