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March 23rd Movie Reviews

Posted by on Mar. 23, 2007 at 12:28 PM
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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
by Jane Horwitz
Washington Post
After a 14-year hiatus from feature films, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are back from the world of TV 'toons. That the three PG-rated animated features of yore (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 1990, followed by sequels in 1991 and 1993) are now joined by TMNT is less than a joyous event. The new computer-animated film is dimly lit, hard-edged, mechanical-looking and too violent on the big screen for some kids under 10. Its plot is also very confusing -- at least for adults. It includes semi-harsh language (''the snot kicked out of him''), tired ethnic stereotypes (of people in Central America, playing right into the current immigration debate) and a weird joke most kids won't get, which seems to refer to phone sex lines. The monsters and stone warriors key to the plot loom huge over the TMNTs, eyes glowing. Some look like giant bats, spiders, lobsters, or a cross between a gorilla and a wild boar. There are plot points about ancient monsters or warriors taking over the world. The fights are not portrayed as bloody, but they are big and loud.

The film finds the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or TMNTs (long ago morphed into powerful turtle-men by a polluted ''ooze'' and named for Italian Renaissance artists Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael), a little estranged. Leo has been sent away by Master Splinter to hone his leadership skills. He returns when the Turtles' archeologist pal April (voice of Sarah Michelle Gellar) brings an ancient artifact from Central America for secretive museum director Max Winters (Patrick Stewart). It seems to reanimate 3,000-year-old stone warriors and other monsters -- or something. But first the Turtles must reconcile and prove they can again act as one to fight evil.

The Last Mimzy
by Jane HorwitzWashington Post
Kids 10 and older into physics, astronomy, math, and/or the idea of time travel are ideal customers for The Last Mimzy, even though the film is a bit of a mess. Despite charming child actors and a cool central idea, the movie trips over a convoluted narrative, extraneous details and adult characters exuding 9/11 paranoia. It is also scary and emotionally harrowing at times, and too intense for many kids under 10. We see a little girl nearly sucked into a space/time vortex. We see her become nearly hysterical when her mother throws out the magical new ''toys'' she and her brother have found. The movie shows the kids levitating themselves, moving objects just by thinking and communicating telepathically with each other and a seemingly inert stuffed rabbit. There is also talk of the world ending. Kid characters say things ''suck'' and that hamburgers are made of ''chopped-up cow.'' We also see a two-headed snake, spiders and cockroaches. On a less icky level, The Last Mimzy has FBI agents invading a home and carting a family off for questioning under the Patriot Act, which could disturb kids (let alone adults).

The Last Mimzy is based on a 1943 short story, its title taken from Lewis Carroll's poem ''Jabberwocky'' in ''Through the Looking-Glass.'' In the film, 10-year-old Noah (Chris O'Neil) and his little sister Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) find a carved box on the beach containing crystals, stones and other objects that float, spin, make whirring noises and seem ready to do much more. There's also a stuffed rabbit. Soon Noah builds genius science projects and Emma claims she's talking to the rabbit, Mimzy, about saving the world. Their parents (Joely Richardson and Timothy Hutton) take notice and so does Homeland Security.

Dennis Harvey
The inspirational sports movie formula has gotten perhaps a little too much exercise lately, with many recent tales of underdog triumph blurring together. Still, there's always room for a good one, and despite a second half that feels more routine than its first, Pride is a definite crowd-pleaser. Based on a true story, this confident first feature from helmer Sunu Gonera boasts a terrific performance from Terrence Howard as the coach of an unlikely 1970s ghetto swim team, with sidekick Bernie Mac also in fine form. Pic has sleeper potential on home turf, with strong ancillary action to follow.
Prologue finds Jim Ellis (Howard) as a student competing in a 1964 North Carolina swim tournament, to catcalls from the white spectators and outright refusal from white swimmers to share the pool with him. In subsequent fracas, he takes a swing at a cop and gets arrested.
A decade later, Jim has a mathematics degree and a history of athletic excellence. But the world hasn't changed much: When he interviews for a job at upscale Philadelphia high school Main Line Academy, Coach Bink (Tom Arnold) smirkingly informs him, "I don't think a person like yourself" -- meaning an African-American -- "could communicate with our students."
Desperate for work, Ellis accepts a low-paying position cleaning up a rec center scheduled for closure in Philly's poor Nicetown district. He gets a less-than-warm welcome from custodian Elston (Mac), who remembers when the facility was a vital element in the community. Though it's far from that now, he's still furious the city is shutting it down. Confronted by Elston, neighborhood councilwoman Sue Davis (Kimberly Elise) points to the pimps and drug dealers lurking near the basketball court outside and dismisses the center as "a nesting ground for drugs, thugs and the lowest common denominator."
Given the state the rest of the building is in, it's a bit improbable that the pool would be in sterling condition, but oh well. That stroke of luck gives Jim a chance to flex his erstwhile championship mojo and attract the interest of five teens: Puddin' Head (Brandon Fobbs), Andre (Kevin Phillips), Hakim (Nate Parker), Reggie (Evan Ross) and Walt (Alphonso McAuley).
When braggart Andre challenges Jim to a race that the latter handily wins, the kids are impressed enough to ask for swimming lessons. Once they've improved, they petition Jim and the now supportive Elston to let them compete in the area's league. This development lures a sixth teen, Willie, aka Wilhelmina (Regine Nehy), who silences all "But you're a girl" wisecracks with a couple lightning laps.
Still, collective cockiness outstrips barely honed skills, and the team loses its first meet against seemingly unbeatable Main Line. Worse, their behavior is less sportsmanlike than clownish, doing nothing to counter the racist attitudes they confront.
Up to this point, Pride more than makes up in conviction and smarts whatever it lacks in conceptual originality. Period flavor is strong but not over-pushed, and perfs are handled with a likable restraint that avoids the usual sports-pic typing (i.e. Brainiac, Casanova, Shy Stutterer -- well, actually, Reggie is the latter).
While Mac does function as comic relief, he's in character rather than comedian form here, reining in the shtick to winning effect. And Howard, who's surely on track to major stardom, does such subtly engaging work in a stock role that when Jim's emotions do occasionally burst through, they cut to the core.
The young thesps are all excellent (if in more ripped condition than would be common in 1974). Elise, playing an obstacle turned Jim's ally/romantic interest, does OK in a more schematic role. Ditto Gary Sturgis as the local hustler who reps the bad choices these kids hopefully won't make.
After the one-hour mark, however, the script begins hitting more predictable affirmational-uplift notes, which Gonera just half-heartedly tries to freshen up. There are too many tearily triumphant moments, and the de rigeur climactic match could be more rousing. (Admittedly, competitive swimming isn't the most exciting sport in cinematic terms.) Nonetheless, pic has built up enough goodwill to keep auds stoked to the end.
Real-life Ellis, glimpsed during closing credits, still coaches the now nationally famed team he founded in 1971; several of his swimmers have gone on to Olympic trials.

Reign Over Me
Joe Leydon
Two vividly drawn characters desperately needing to jumpstart their stalled lives fortuitously connect in Reign Over Me. Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle head a strong cast in this affecting drama of friend-ship and regeneration. Ironically, however, Sandler's compelling performance in an atypically serious role -- one even more emotionally complex than his troubled character in Punch-Drunk Love -- may compli-cate efforts to sell this decidedly unfunny March 23 release. But Sony will need every iota of the thesp's star power to help overcome any lingering audience resistance to pics dealing with 9/11 and its after-math.
Written and directed by Mike Binder (The Upside of Anger), Reign pivots on the chance encounter of two former college roommates at precisely the right moment in each man's life.
Alan Johnson (Cheadle), a successful Manhattan dentist, finds himself overwhelmed by his responsibilities toward his family -- including his beautiful wife (Jada Pinkett Smith), their children and his aging parents -- and his demanding business partners. Feeling increasingly detached and discontented, he's almost grateful for the chance to focus on someone in far worse shape: Charlie Fineman (Sandler, looking like a scruffy, '60s-era Bob Dylan), a formerly gregarious fellow who shut down almost completely after his wife and children perished in one of the doomed planes on Sept. 11, 2001.
When he's not endlessly playing videogames or refurbishing his kitchen, Charlie aimlessly traverses the streets of New York on a motor scooter. But even when he's outside, he continues to block out the world -- and any unpleasant memories -- by blasting '70s pop and rock through his headphones.
Simply by hanging out with his former roomie (and fellow dental school grad), Alan manages to draw Charlie back toward something like normalcy. But even with the help of an insightful therapist (a credible and creditable Liv Tyler), there are limits to how far Alan can coax Charlie along. And that isn't nearly far enough for Charlie's in-laws (Robert Klein, Melinda Dillon), who resent being denied access to their last link to their lost daughter and grandchildren.
Throughout most of Reign Over Me, Binder takes a deliberately paced and casually discursive approach to storytelling, allowing his actors all the time and space they need to convey their complexities and reveal telling details of character. Many scenes are infused with an air of spontaneity that is by turns thrilling and portentous, so that it's often hard to predict whether an encounter or a conversation is building toward a comic-relief punchline or a deadly serious punch-out.
During the 10 minutes or so, unfortunately, Binder tries too hard, too hastily, to wrap things up with an all-too-pat resolution. And even though some supporting players make memorable impressions with a minimum of screen time -- most notably, Donald Sutherland as a sternly compassionate judge and Paula Newsome as Alan's sassy receptionist -- other actors are unable to fully flesh out roles that, apparently, were diminished in the editing room.
Still, Sandler (never making a false step while maneuvering though vertiginous mood swings) and Cheadle (deftly commingling instinctive decency with quiet desperation) are individually excellent, and bring out the best in each other. And the pic itself transcends its real but relatively minor flaws to score a satisfyingly potent impact.
Russ Alsobrook's high-def digital lensing subtly and skillfully sustains the mood of anxiety that percolates be-low the surface even during humorous moments. The soundtrack includes well-chosen pop and rock hits, includ-ing two versions -- both the Who's original, and a fine cover by Pearl Jam -- of "Love, Reign O'er Me."
by on Mar. 23, 2007 at 12:28 PM
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