Saturday, May 22, 2010

Penny Thoughts: May 14-20

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) ***½
Director: Alfonso Caurón
Writers: Steve Kloves, J.K. Rowling (novel)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, David Thewlis, Michael Gambon, Tom Felton, Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, Robert Hardy, Timothy Spall

So torn. So torn I become when evaluating these early Potters. Last time I declared the second film to be the best of the bunch, but this one is the most vibrant. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” is the only one of the series to be directed by someone I would consider a premiere director, the great Alfonso Caurón (“Y Tu Mama También”, “Children of Men”). Imagine what this entire series would be coming from a director like that. This is clearly the best-directed film of the bunch, however, there is too much going on in the plot here for the script to fully explore elements the way the filmmakers did in the first two installments of this franchise. It feels more rushed than the first two, and with a source novel nearly twice as long as either of the previous books and ten minutes less running time in the movie, it’s no wonder it feels like there’s less substance here. But it is still beautiful and wonderfully imagined for the screen.

Delgo (2008) **
Director: Marc F. Adler, Jason Maurer
Writers: Patrick J. Cowan, Carl Dream, Jennifer A. Jones, Marc F. Adler, Jason Maurer, Scott Biaer
Starring: Freddie Prinze Jr., Jennifer Love Hewitt, Anne Bancroft, Chris Kattan, Malcolm McDowell, Val Kilmer, Michael Clarke Duncan, Louis Gossett Jr., Eric Idle, Burt Reynolds, Kelly Ripa, Sally Kellerman

With better production values and a good clean up on the script, the CGI sci-fi fantasy “Delgo” actually had the potential to be a good movie. It isn’t a good movie, but it’s got some good ideas behind it. The CGI animation is less than impressive, especially when put up against the standards of most family programming today. It might be good enough for Saturday morning cartoons, but not a theatrical release. The filmmakers chose to put production sketches of all the major characters in the closing credits of the film, and they made me wish they had animated this film with traditional hand-drawn animation. The designs looked like something from the imagination of Ralph Bashki (“The Hobbit”) and would have made for much more interesting viewing than the film’s rather flat looking CGI renderings of this fantasy world.

Red Cliff – Original International Version, parts I & II (2009) ***
Director: John Woo
Writers: John Woo, Khan Chan, Cheng Kuo, Heyu Sheng
Starring: Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Fengyi Zhang, Chen Chang, Wei Zhao, Jun Hu, Shidou Nakamura, Chiling Lin, Yong You

As historical war epics go, John Woo’s “Red Cliff” isn’t outstanding, but it’s good enough to prove the rule that any good movie is never too long. Despite a nearly 5 hour running time, I never got bored watching it. Its length ends up giving it a classic television miniseries feel, giving the audience plenty of time to invest in the characters and understand the politics behind the war they are fighting. While not every one has five hours lying around to kill, the film is separated into two parts and might make a good replacement to yet another “Lost” marathon over the weekend to try and figure out just what the hell is happening on that island.

Young Einstein (1988) ½*
Director: Yahoo Serious
Writers: Yahoo Serious, David Roach
Starring: Yahoo Serious, Odile Le Clezio, John Howard, Peewee Wilson, Su Cruikshank

…and the perils of instant streaming on the Wii are discovered. I wanted something stupid and mindless, but not this stupid and mindless. I remembered Yahoo Serious hitting it big with this strange Aussie flick back when I was in high school. I never caught it then and wish I’d kept it undiscovered. I Googled it after watching the film and found it to hold spots on several “worst films ever” blogs. That seems appropriate.

The Hidden Fortress (1958) ***½
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Writers: Shinobu Hashimoto, Ryûzô Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni
Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Misa Uehara, Minoru Chiaki, Kamatari Fujirawa, Susumu Fujita

Known best as a major source of inspiration for George Lucas’s “Star Wars”, samurai movie master Akira Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress” is a funny and poignant critique on the human sin of greed. Following two bumbling, wanna-be heroes (upon whom Lucas would model R2-D2 and C3PO), “The Hidden Fortress” depicts a complicated scheme by a General and his Princess to escape from her captured kingdom through her enemy’s land into an ally’s. The plot is driven by the greed of the two buffoons the general ropes in with promises of gold and the greed of the enemy soldiers they encounter along their journey. Greed, it would seem, is not always good, although it can be used for good.

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