Wednesday, March 26, 2008

It's a who's who of stars in 'Horton'

*** out of ****

"A person's a person, no matter how small." That is the lesson for us all, that walk down the theater hall, to see Dr. Seuss' "Horton Hears a Who!" -- a worthy Hollywood adaptation once and for all.

After the so-so "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and the dire "Cat in the Hat," a Dr. Seuss story has found the right form in animation instead of live action, capturing the true essence of the book. The cartoon-y animation, true to book form, helps the movie come to life with many of the scenes inspired by the book's drawings. The talented voice cast with top-rated comedians of old and new, along with the hilarious script, boost "Horton" to one of the best family and comedy films this year.

"Horton" starts off with the star of the film, Horton (Jim Carrey, who starred in "Grinch"), a lovable and eccentric elephant living in the jungle of Nool, dictated by Sour Kangaroo (Carol Burnett) who dislikes imagination and things out of order. While taking a bath, Horton hears cries for help coming from a speck of dust floating in the air and chases it down, catching it on a daisy. Trying to talk to the speck, he ends up communicating with the Mayor (Steve Carell) who, unbeknownst to him, oversees the mircoscopic town of Whoville. Dr. Mary Lou Larue, the town's scientist, says that if the town cannot reach stability it is doomed. The Mayor, not believing Horton, who he can only hear but not see, makes the task of survival that much harder.

The Mayor passes on the information to Horton, who is determined to find a stable place for Whoville. He decides to go to the top of the highest mountain in the jungle of Nool. When the resident of the jungle catch wind of the story and start using their imaginations, Sour Kangaroo is unyielding in her attempts to destroy the speck, saying "The only things that are real are what you can see, hear, or feel." The Mayor, too, is under pressure, unable to convince his wife (Amy Poehler), the wicked councilman (Dan Fogler) and the rest of the town of their impending fate.

Sour Kangaroo solicits help from an evil vulture, Vlad (Will Arnett), to destroy the speck. Horton must watch out for aerial attacks from Vlad and the vigilant eye of Sour Kangaroo on his journey to the top of mount Nool.

First-time directors Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino do an excellent job of recreating the imaginative landscape created by Dr. Seuss with gratifying colorful visuals. Screenplay writers Dan Daurio and Cinco Paul also find the quintessence of the book, not straying far from its many themes with jokes-a-plenty.

Jim Carrey has a wide vocal range for Horton, providing a great character voice, and Steve Carell also gives equally fine voice-work as the reluctant Mayor. Dan Fogler and Will Arnett make excellent villains and Seth Rogen gets some snickers as Horton's mouse friend. Jaime Pressly ("My Name is Earl"), Jonah Hill ("Superbad"), Jesse McCartney ("Alvin and the Chipmunks") and Niecy Nash ("Reno 911!") round out the superb supporting cast. However, it is Carol Burnett that creates the fullest character with plenty of personality that you can't help but love and hate.

From the animation team that brought us "Ice Age," "Horton Hears a Who!" is another magical hit.

No matter what, "Horton" is definitely for you, even if you are a Grinch.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Action-packed '10,000 B.C.' short on facts

**1/2 out of ****
Woolly mammoths helped build the pyramids, dinosaurs hid in jungles, saber-toothed tigers were the size of cars and humans spoke English 12,000 years ago? Do not expect to walk out of the theater with historic knowledge by watching the timeline-twisted "10,000 B.C." What you should expect is a historically inaccurate thrill ride of pre-historic creatures and tribes with plenty of action.

"10,000 B.C." is set among a secluded mountain tribe of mammoth hunters that has managed to find the miracle of 21st-century dental care. The simplistic plot focuses on the young, unwilling leader, D'Leh (Steven Strait), who finds his tribe attacked by a marauding group on horse back, capturing much of the tribe for slavery. During the raid, D'Leh's promised wife, Evolet (Camilla Belle), is one of the many abducted, prompting him to go save her and the others.

The perilous journey cuts through the stunning CGI-landscape of high-peaked, snowy mountains, predator-infested jungles and blistering deserts. As D'Leh fights through the conditions, he also must conquer the tyrannical empire and its leader by uniting fellow clans to rescue his people. The story smoothly flows with periodic narration by Omar Sharif.

Roland Emmerich, the man behind "Independence Day," "Godzilla," "The Patriot" and "The Day After Tomorrow" certainly doesn't know the meaning of small scale, and "10,000 B.C." is no exception. Co-writing the screenplay with the film's composer, Harald Kloser, Emmerich masterfully crafts the computer-created world of "10,000 B.C." Scenes of woolly mammoth stampedes, dinosaur attacks and gigantic pyramids make "B.C." easy to enjoy.

You cannot help but feel as if the film pulled a page from the '06 Mel Gibson film "Apocalypto" or the '60s Raquel Welch movie "One Million Years B.C." where the pyramids and dinosaurs are a better fit, respectively.

If only Emmerich cared as much about his actors than his CGI, "10,000 B.C." could have been better received by audiences. While the performances from the relatively unknown actors are surprisingly sturdy, more than a few scenes are laughable, but for all the wrong reasons.

Leading man Strait ("The Covenant") gives a solid performance as an outcast (his father abandoned the tribe when he was young) turned leader, though never exuberates much charisma in battle for a savior role. Belle, known for being the victim in the 2005 horror remake "When a Stranger Calls," plays the damsel dimly without much sense of distress.
The battles on top of the pyramids with charging wooly mammoths are the type of moments when "10,000 B.C." are at its peak. The other scenes are just idle until the next grand battle, which thankfully are only about five minutes away. Watchable and at times admirable, "10,000 B.C." is still visually fascinating and entertaining one that the whole family could enjoy. For fun and excitement, this is a point in history worthwhile to look back upon.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"Semi-Pro" is only Semi-Decent

**1/2 out of ****

Will Ferrell's latest comedic outing, "Semi-Pro," never becomes a slam-dunk, or a three-pointer for that matter. It does score a few points, but mainly just hits the backboard.

In the vein of Ferrell's other hilarious sports satires "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," "Kicking and Screaming" and "Blades of Glory," "Semi-Pro" drops the ball, taking it one too many with a stale been-there-done-that taste.

Funnyman Ferrell still generates enough sporadic laughs to make "Semi-Pro" a worthwhile venture for fans of the star and this genre.

Ferrell once again plays a superficial, self-absorbed and highly confident character, this time under the alias of Jackie Moon. Set in the mid-1970s, Jackie is a one hit wonder with his Barry Manilow-esque "Love Me Sexy" and uses the money from the song to acquire an American Basketball Association (ABA) team -- the Flint, Mich., Tropics.

Acting not only as the owner, but as a coach, player and promoter, Jackie learns that the ABA is to merge with the National Basketball Association (NBA) at the end of the season. The catch is that only the top four teams will be part of the merger.

At the bottom of the rankings, the sad-sack team gets a much-needed boost when Jackie recruits a former NBA has-been, Monix (Woody Harrelson). It isn't long after Monix clashes with the only promising player on the team, ball-hog, Clarence "Coffee" Black (Outkast's Andre "3000" Benjamin). As the team starts shaping up and the attendance increases, the Tropics look as if they are on their way to be a part of the NBA.

We all know that Will Ferrell can be funny, even in his sleep, with his comedic ability, but he doesn't bring anything new to the table in a film relying heavily on sight gags rather than dialogue. You can't help but laugh at the song "Love Me Sexy" and the promotions to bring in the fans.

To be noted, this film is rated R, unlike Ferrell's other sports films. Ferrell and crew never bother to go the extra mile in what could have resulted in a PG-13 rating, by editing a few words.

Woody Harrelson, who reached film stardom in his 1992 basketball comedy "White Men Can't Jump," shines in most of his scenes. Harrelson carries a majority of the funny lines that work, but a subplot with his ex, Lynn ("ER's" Maura Tierney), just slows down the poorly paced film thanks to first-time director Kent Alterman.

As random as "Semi-Pro" is, there are a number of subplots and scenes that should have wound up on the cutting room floor. A prime example is the scene of a drugged-out hippie fan who receives an un-cashable $10,000 check after scoring a free-throw, played by Jackie Earle Haley of sports comedy "Bad News Bears" fame.

"Saturday Night Live's" Kristen Wiig makes a brief appearance, as well as Patti LaBelle, Rob Corddry and Andy Richter. Andrew Daly ("MadTV") and Will Arnett are dependable for laughs as the wise-cracking sports commentators.

When the fourth quarter rolls around, "Semi-Pro" stays strong, but that isn't enough to win the game. While the film is worth a watch if you like Will Ferrell's previous work, but ultimately "Semi-Pro" is just a semi-decent flick.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

"Be Kind Rewind" Short on Laughs

** out of ****

"Be Kind Rewind" is one of those movies that would make a stellar short film, but stretch it to feature length and you're looking for the fast-forward button. The movie's simple idea is to take popular films and parody them on a shoe-string budget with YouTube quality. This is the concept for this relatively absurd film.

"Be Kind Rewind" has a lot of heart, but never delivers on the laughs. Set in Passaic, New Jersey, the film starts off strong. The opening scene focuses on a dumpy, corner brick-and-mortar movie rental store called Be Kind, Rewind. In this store you won't find a DVD anywhere, only VHS, and yes, this is set in present day.

The store owner is Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover), who leaves Mike (Mos Def), the only other employee, in charge of the store while he scouts out local competition. Mike is odd and shy, with a strong sense of morality that sometimes gets twisted by Jerry (Jack Black), his goofy friend who works in a junk yard.

Jerry hits the play button on this slow moving plot when he destroys a local generator claiming it was controlling his mind, sending magnetic waves through his body. Next morning when Jerry enters the store, he inadvertently magnetizes all the tapes, rendering them blank. In fear of upsetting Mr. Fletcher, and the survival of the store, Mike hatches an idea. Jerry and Mike remake short versions of all the films. In come the parodies.

"Be Kind Rewind" relies on its laughs to come from the parodies that rarely generate a chuckle. "Rewind's" biggest belly-busters are from the natural moments, but they aren't enough to carry the film. The parody highlights range from "Driving Miss Daisy," "Rush Hour 2," "The Lion King," "Ghostbusters" and "Boyz N the Hood" -- anything is fair game.

The director and writer is the Oscar-winning visionary Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "The Science of Sleep"). A Frenchman, Gondry shows his love for American cinema in his most mainstream film yet. Gondry shows his troubled writing skills with poor pacing, but manages to stir up natural, down-to-earth dialogue even for such a quirky film.

Jack Black ("King Kong," "Nacho Libre") again can't contain himself, but is more relaxed than in his past comedic outings. Black is the perfect fit for a character like Jerry who is obnoxious and unaware of his surroundings. Mia Farrow makes another trip back to the big screen as Miss Falewicz, a friend of Mr. Fletcher who keeps an eye on naive Mike. Melonie Diaz joins in on the fun as one of the actresses in the parodies.

Mos Def ("16 Blocks," "The Italian Job") is the one to keep an eye out for. He is excellent as Mike with his quirky mannerisms and shy behavior. Like Mark Wahlberg, Mos Def is one of the few rappers-turned-actors that manage to make a smooth transition to film.

"Be Kind Rewind" is one to watch on DVD. However, you won't find yourself hitting rewind when it is over.