Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Harry Potter franchise ends on a high note

The final spell has been cast and the Harry Potter movie franchise is coming to a close. Of course, you knew that.

The boy wizard’s face has been everywhere lately: trailers, movie posters, magazines, TV shows. If there’s one thing you can count on with a big-budget summer movie, it’s hype. Quality, on the other hand, is a more uncertain variable, one too often sacrificed to the gods of Lowest-Common-Denominator Programming. Thankfully, returning director David Yates and the other professionals on the Potter creative team have not wavered.

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Harry Potter is still magical

Daniel Radcliff play Harry Potter in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

Daniel Radcliff play Harry Potter in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

It’s been two years since boy wizard Harry Potter graced the silver screen, and he’s not so boyish anymore. Fact is, Potter and the now monumentally famous actor who portrays him, Daniel Radcliffe, have become strapping young men, which seems appropriate for a fantasy saga that has grown increasingly bold and dark.

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” draws from and builds on the gloom that’s been creeping into the franchise, but that’s no surprise to fans of the J.K. Rowling novels. The Potter faithful are well aware that “Half-Blood Prince” is packed with nasty dealings, all involving the revival of the evil wizard Voldemort. It’s important to mention the Potter faithful because this movie, more than any of the previous films, requires a primer.

Director David Yates, who also helmed 2007′s “The Order of the Phoenix,” assumes that his audience knows who the characters are, understands what they mean to each other and has at least basic knowledge of the evil stalking the title character. One needn’t read the books to get caught up, but a viewing of the five prior movies will help … a lot.

Click here for full review: http://www.rgj.com/article/20090715/ENT/90715001/1056/Harry-Potter-is-still-magical

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‘Witch Mountain’ is fun despite flaws

From left to right, Carla Gugino, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig and Dwayne Johnson in "Race to Witch Mountain."

From left to right, Carla Gugino, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig and Dwayne Johnson in "Race to Witch Mountain."

RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN
2 ½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG for sequences of action and violence, frightening and dangerous situations, and some thematic elements
98 minutes
Walt Disney Pictures

Disney’s re-imagining of the 1975 family adventure “Escape to Witch Mountain,” has its share of flaws but it’s still a likable feature, in large part thanks to the winning cast.

Dwayne Johnson stars as Jack Bruno, a Las Vegas cab driver with a sketchy past. Despite his desire to go straight, former associates are trying to lure him back to a life of crime, but that becomes a minor concern when two children, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig), wind up in his cab and offer him $15,000 for an extraordinarily long journey.

It doesn’t take long for Johnson to learn that the kids have special abilities and that they’re being hunted by both the U.S. government and something far worse. When Sara and Seth tell Jack they are actually extraterrestrial, he balks. Still, he sticks with them, trying to keep them out of harm’s way despite increasing trouble and the nagging thought that they’re telling the truth. Eventually, Jack recruits a beautiful scientist named Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino) to the cause.

The story has a number of plot holes, most notably that the children regularly fail to use their abilities at times when they would come in most handy and that elite government agents are depicted as bumbling goons. This may bother demanding viewers, but the youngsters in the audience should be able to look right past the trouble spots and enjoy the ride. Truth is, adults can do that too, and those who like Johnson’s affable demeanor probably will. He is winning from start to finish and Robb, Ludwig and Gugino only serve to make him better.

Credit also goes to director and co-writer Andy Fickman who keeps the pace fast enough that viewers don’t have much time to dissect the nagging inconsistencies.

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It’s worth watching ‘Watchmen’

Malin Akerman, left, and Patrick Wilson play superheroes in "Watchmen."

Malin Akerman, left, and Patrick Wilson play superheroes in "Watchmen."

WATCHMEN
3 stars (out of four)
Rated R for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language
162 minutes
Warner Brothers

 

“Watchmen” may be a superhero movie, but it’s got more in common with “Sin City” and “V for Vendetta” than the traditional caped crusader flick. That’s because it’s dark, gritty and built around a traditional detective story. It’s also because the movie is based on a graphic novel written by Alan Moore, who also penned “Vendetta.”

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‘Doubt’ open to viewer interpretation

Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman in a scene from "Doubt."

Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman in a scene from "Doubt."

It’s no surprise when Meryl Streep turns in a powerhouse performance, but it is worth noting. So, let’s get that out of the way.

Streep is wonderful as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the uber-strict principal of St. Nicholas Catholic School in the Bronx. The children fear her, the other nuns/schoolteachers treat her with kid gloves, and she rules St. Nicholas with iron-clad certainty. But beneath the dark robes and steely demeanor is a woman who cares deeply about her students and the church. This is clear when she begins to suspect the new parish priest of wrongdoing, and asks her nuns to stay vigilant.

It’s 1964 and St. Nicholas has just admitted its first black student, and the young man’s skin color has made him a target. The boy isn’t experiencing any real trouble, however, because Father Flyn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has taken him under his wing. But, as Father Flyn spends an increasing amount of time with the boy, Sister Aloysius becomes concerned by their relationship.

Click here for full review: http://www.rgj.com/article/20081225/ENT01/312250001/1056/ENT

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Don’t kick ‘Slumdog’ to the rear

Dev Patel, left, and Anil Kapoor in "Slumdog Millionaire."

Dev Patel, left, and Anil Kapoor in "Slumdog Millionaire."

Feeling bad about America’s economic woes? Then settle into a screening of “Slumdog Millionaire,” director Danny Boyle’s fresh and inventive tale of a parentless Indian boy named Jamal who becomes a contestant on that country’s version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”

Despite little formal education and a young adulthood spent in poverty, Jamal is doing well on “Millionaire” when he is hauled off by police and interrogated on suspicion of cheating. And, as Jamal explains how he knew the answers to the show’s questions, police officials and moviegoers get a playback of his tragic-yet-fascinating life. They also learn of his lifelong, unrequited love for a beautiful girl named Latika.

Click here for full review: http://www.rgj.com/article/20081219/ENT01/812190465/1056/ENT

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‘Milk’ uplifting despite tragic ending

Sean Penn plays Harvey Milk and Victor Garber plays George Moscone in "Milk."

Sean Penn plays Harvey Milk and Victor Garber plays George Moscone in "Milk."

It’s difficult to imagine a film ending with a double homicide as uplifting, but “Milk” is exactly that.

No, it isn’t a spoiler to say that San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) and Mayor George Moscone (Victor Garber) were murdered on Nov. 27, 1978, by former supervisor Dan White (Josh Brolin). For West Coast residents, the events are common knowledge, and director Gus Van Sant structures his film with that in mind. Although “Milk” chronicles Harvey Milk’s rise as a gay activist and one of the first openly gay politicians elected to public office, the timeline is fractured and acknowledges the murders at the outset. The movie is also peppered with a Penn voiceover meant to reflect the politician’s mindset shortly before his assassination.

But uplifting? Absolutely.

Click here for full review: http://www.rgj.com/article/20081211/ENT01/312110001/1056/ENT

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‘Transporter 3′ for action junkies only

Jason Statham is back in "Transporter 3."

Jason Statham is back in "Transporter 3."

It’s ordinary, silly and often borrows from other movies in its genre. In other words, “Transporter 3″ is exactly what one should expect from the second sequel in a franchise that has never really distinguished itself.

The main thing “Transporter” has going for it is star Jason Statham, who is a blast to watch when he battles his way through elaborately staged action sequences. “Transporter 3″ has plenty of those, so as commonplace as the feature is, it should still sate genre junkies looking for a quick fix.

Click here for complete review: http://www.rgj.com/article/20081127/ENT01/311270003/1056/ENT

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‘Bolt’ is a canine classic

Rhino, left, and Bolt prepare for action.

Rhino, left, and Bolt prepare for action.

Disney’s latest animated adventure is about a perky canine who believes he can jump incredible distances, shoot lasers from his eyes and stop speeding military vehicles with his bark. And the film is appropriately super.

With a top-tier voice cast, likable characters and an endearing story, “Bolt” could wind up in the Oscar race for best animated picture. Even if it doesn’t, it’s worth seeing.

Click here for full review: http://www.rgj.com/article/20081121/ENT01/811210474/1056/ENT

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‘Synecdoche’ a complex drama

Writing a newspaper-length plot synopsis for “Synecdoche, New York” is akin to explaining a complicated scientific principle in 100 words. Whatever is written will miss an important detail, overlook a plot point or simply come across as vague.

To be understood, “Synecdoche” must be watched. That’s because writer Charlie Kaufman (“Adaptation,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) never does anything simply, and with his directorial debut he’s gone deeper than usual.

Click here for full review: http://www.rgj.com/article/20081121/ENT01/811210475/1056/ENT

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