Monday, June 28, 2010

Movie Reviews - Alice in Wonderland, Iron Man 2, Prince of Persia, Toy Story 3, Knight and Day

It's been a while since I've done a movie review…I think the last one was The Lightning Thief back in February. So here's a quick round up of the movies I've seen over the past few months and what I've thought of them.

I knew from the trailers and various interviews that this was a "new venture" in the Alice world….happening 'after' the Alice books (which are fabulous). I've always enjoyed Tim Burton's work and was excited to see how this would play out. Generally I liked it. Though part of me was left wanting a little more. More what? I'm not quite sure, it just felt like there were times when Burton was holding back to try and keep the movie "Disney-fied" (nothing wrong with that - I'm a big Disney fan too) rather than going all out Burton. Granted, I think in order to keep it a fun and family friendly Alice, he did the right thing. I think it will be interesting to see some of the "darker fairy tales" that are coming out in the next couple of years. From what I'm reading about them, I think I wanted this Alice to be darker.

Bottom Line: It was a lot of fun and a great reimagined follow-up to the Alice story (though in terms of reimaginings, I'm still more stoked for "looking glass wars" than I was for this Alice)

3.5 stars

The first Iron Man movie was fabulous. It gave us great character development of the reckless and egotistical Stark coupled with life altering experiences that put him in the path to develop and become Iron Man. The resulting conflict was great. This second film was enjoyable, but seemed to lose some of the depth of character development, especially in terms of the antagonists. I really liked Rourke as Whiplash and felt like Rockwell did a good job as slimy Hammer…but the character development on these villains and their cause left a little to be desired. The peripheral efforts to get us intrigued by Nick Fury, Black Widow and S.H.I.E.L.D. in general seemed to hijack the story at times. I'm really stoked to see The Avengers but while I'm watching Iron Man, I'd like any previews to be better integrated.

Bottom line: Fun movie with lots of 'splosions and special effects. Not as tightly developed as the first, but still enjoyable.

3 stars

I've been a fan of the Prince of Persia video games for so many years I can't say. I've always loved the mythology and fantastic stories that go along with it….Aladdin, Ali Babba & the 40 Thieves, Sinbad, and the many stories of the Arabian Nights. The PoP video games are some of my favorites…I love the adventure, the story, the puzzle style gameplay. So much fun. Having this movie partially based on the recent "Sands of Time" game was an enticing prospect. I was a little worried when Gyllenhaal was cast as the prince…I just couldn't see him portraying an Arabian prince. I liked the supporting cast though (I was sure Arterton, Kingsley and Molina would do a great job), so I was still hopeful. The movie was well done and good fun. The story was well portrayed and 'believable' (as believable as these sorts of stories can be).

The parkour/gymnastics/athletics of the adventure was carried off quite well (in some movies, the camera work surrounding the parkour ends up making me sick). I thought the cast did a great job. As I thought, I especially loved Kingley's portrayal, though at some points he seemed a little bored. Gemma was a great heroine and a good counterpoint to the Prince. In spite of my worries, I felt like Gyllenhaal did a good job as the Prince and carried it off. Sometimes the writing/humor/etc seemed a little forced, but generally it was good.

Bottom line: It won't get "movie of the year" or anything, but it is great escapism that is carried off well. My own personal preference would love to see some sequels take place in this same world.

3.5 stars

I've loved Pixar's work since they first hit the big time with the first Toy Story film a decade and a half ago. In my mind, they have captured the vision and magic that made the Disney studio great. In fact, I give Pixar the credit for helping Disney rekindle their own vision and get back on track (Disney's still put out a few stinkers, but they're at least getting some of their groove back).

Anyway, I went into Toy Story 3 with high expectations. Those expectations weren't met…exactly. The movie I saw was much different from the movie I thought I was going to see. The tone was darker, the feel was heavier. It's still Toy Story, but instead of being "your 4 year old's Toy Story", this is more like the Toy Story for your pre-teens or beyond. As an adult, I enjoyed the more complex plot of the story and the adventure the toys had to go through. The kids had fun with the universe and the humor. Towards the end of the movie, I could really feel the directorial pull on my emotions. They really pulled out all the stops to try and emotionally engage viewers in the tension of the scene. It worked out alright, but the level of suspense and emotional tension they created seemed, once again, to be an over-the-top departure from the arc of the previous films.

Bottom line: The writing and humor of Pixar are still fabulous. The general fun and excitement are there and engaging. The concept/plot of this version is very intriguing but it's a big tone change from the previous films and as such is slightly off putting. It's a good continuation of the series, but doesn't surpass the previous movie in quality.

3 stars

NOTE: The pre-movie short was very creative and a lot of fun. I really liked it. What I didn't like was the heavy handed delivery of the "moral" of the story…that again was a departure from prior Pixar methodology.

I acknowledge that many/most action-adventure films involve a lot of suspension of disbelief in order to sustain the high intensity, fast paced thrill ride they want to deliver. I'm all for suspending disbelief. I also acknowledge that part of this "suspension" requires suspending criticism of holes or deficiencies in the plot or character development. That's acceptable as well.

With those two points of knowledge firmly in place, you are ready to watch Knight and Day. This film is a wild ride of adventure and action from east coast America to western and central Europe. The fight scenes, car chases, escapes, weapons, technology, etc are all over the top and fantastical. The dialog is cheesy. The characters are largely type-cast action movie characters. This is especially true of Tom Cruise's character. My general reaction to this film and his character is that Knight and Day is a caricature of all of Tom Cruise's action characters (and some of his off-screen persona) rolled into one. From his crazy grins and smooth smile, to his patent 'angry man' voice/face and intense looks, this is "what we love about Tom Cruise" taken to the extreme.

This isn't a movie trying to spoof action movies or even spoof Tom Cruise. From a high level, it seems to take itself seriously as an action film. But there is certainly a level of recognition from the writers/directors that this movie is about poking a little fun at the genre and the eccentricities and crazy behavior/mannerisms of its stars.
The plot twists, turns, spirals, and shreds itself out of control again and again from zany stereotypes to transparent thrill moments. There's a lot of great humor in the film that's well carried out.

Bottom line: This is a light-hearted action movie that should not be taken seriously. Tom Cruise as caricature is laughable and fun to watch. Diaz is a great counterpoint and adds great humor (I think one of my favorite scenes is when she's given the truth serum). The plot is thin. The action is over the top. After the past few years of action adventure getting heavy and intense, this is a break from the norm and is a good fluff piece…but not something I'd watch a lot.

2.5 stars


Brian Miller said...

nice. thanks for the reviews...heard knight and day was not that great...and i so cant wait for avengers...

logankstewart said...

Of all these films, I've seen only one, Toy Story 3. I would like to see all of them, though, and probably will eventually, whenever I get around to it. Great write-ups and fair reviews all around.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Alice was good but not great - I'm stunned it's made as much movie as it has, especially with so many great films out right now.
And I definitely liked Prince of Persia better than most. Your review is quite fair.

Southpaw said...

I haven't seen any of those yet so I'm glad to read your reviews.