Capsule Reviews
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The film adaptation of the popular video game involves a detective, played by Christian Slater (!), who is investigating a deadly plot that involves government agents, experiments on orphans, crazed zombies and a few giant hungry dog-like creatures. How they all fit together is anyone's guess, as the movie has a plotline so weak it could be fully described in the punchline of a quick joke. Easily one of the most stupid and pointless films ever made.

The remake of the original 1979 scarefest is spearheaded by Michael Bay as executive producer. Need another reason to avoid it? Consider the fact that its dead-in-the-water treatment is so lame and tiring that it doesn't even generate enough energy to fill you with dislike. Nearly a direct replica of an already-flawed original, rendered completely pointless by the fact that it does not improve, rethink or even heighten all the conflicts or dilemmas explored by its ancestor. Lame as hell.

A reawakening of a dead film franchise that renders every previous entry completely pointless. "Batman Begins," which chronicles the early era of the caped crusader as he is building legacies as both Bruce Wayne and a mercenary by night is driven almost entirely by plot and characterization, and the action does not take precedent until the third act. Very unconventional for a superhero but nonetheless ingenious and reinvigorating, finally it is okay to be a Batman film once again at the movie theater.

Tim Burton's re-imagining of the famous Roald Dahl children's story is a movie so off-the-wall and so driven by its own bizarre reality that it literally drains you of all energy. The colorful sights are an enticing prospect -- especially when the movie moves into the infamous chocholate factory itself -- while an unresolved tone, routine plot structure and performances that seem buried behind plot conventions interfere somewhat with the experience of watching it all unfold. Not a bad movie nor a good one, its great appeal lies in the performance by Johnny Depp, who gives the Willy Wonka role a new directive that, while not necessarily kid-friendly, is engaging in a shrewd and unconventional kind of way.

The second Ron Howard/Russell Crowe collaboration yields a film in which a prize fighter succumbs to the pressures of the Great Depression before ultimately surprising his detractors and returning to the top of his game. Solid performances and respectable plot movement keep the movie afloat (along with camerawork that is some of the best of Howard's career), but the movie is not as perfect as others would like you to believe it is. At the end of the day, this is really just a decent movie that in no way matches the progressive power of another recent boxing drama, "Million Dollar Baby."

Keanu Reeves stars as comic book hero John Constantine, who utilizes a knowledge of the occult to wage an ongoing war against demons and hellspawn who are trying to escape from their world and come into ours. Whether they can succeed all depends on the efforts of he and his newest acquaintance, detective Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz), but the movie cares so casually about the fine details that you never know which way the narrative is going. Still, the sharp production values and skillful directing make it less mediocre than it could have been, and newcomer director Francis Lawrence, should he see the effort as a beginner's lesson, could conjure up something good the next time around.

Four scientists head for the stars to study solar storms that may or may not have heralded the start of life on Earth, only to find themselves caught up in the devastating disturbance and... surviving it! Afterwards, they are transformed into the Fantastic Four, superheroes whom, if not for the fact that they have bizarre superpowers, would probably not have any other distinguishing characteristics in life other than their ages and names. The most insipid and banal excercise of the summer treads waters that no one will be interested in for long; action-less and heavy on corny dialogue, it is like watching someone you know and love blow all of their assets on something that does more harm than good.

Robert DeNiro plays a psychologist whose daughter seemingly spirals into mental collapse when her mother commits suicide. Seeking to relieve her pain, he moves her out to a house up in the hills, where she begins emerging from her depression and creates an imaginary friend named Charlie. But is he imaginary or is he real? Ah, good ol' Dad can't be too sure of that, especially when wierd things begin happening under his roof. A premise that has a lot of promise as a family drama is squandered away for the sake of tossing around cheap thrills and pointless excercises in formula, and the ending twist is so incredibly familiar that you can almost accuse the writer of ripping it off from a certain movie that played in theaters during the early part of 2004.

An aloof but visionary adaptation of a famous series of British sci-fi comedy novels, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" succeeds in exhibiting enthusiasm for its subject matter, but ultimately sidesteps brilliance because it refuses to be very accessible to the casual moviegoer. Jokes and dialogue exchanges litter the celluloid like broad reference points to the literary material, and most of the time you are not able to laugh at something because you're never sure if you understand (or even want to understand) the randomized satire. Still notable for its visual look, "Galaxy" should at least please those who are already experienced in the reading of Douglas Adams' famous stories.

Half a dozen dimwitted college students decided to camp overnight in a shady wooded area while traveling to a big college football game, only to mistakenly wind up in a town in which all the inhabitants are either creepy... or dead. But get this -- people aren't just deceased, their bodies have been made foundations for wax statues at the town's House of Wax, which is like a creepy death museum. Don't assume that any of this paints a pretty portrait, though -- the movie is so vile, so reprehensible and so utterly stupid on so many levels that those who pay decent hard-earned money to see it will undoubtedly feel cheated when they walk away. Avoid.

Paul Weitz's latest opus centers on the story of Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), whose job as the advertising sales editor at a local sports magazine is torn away from him when the publication is bought out during a conglomerate takeover. The job is then given to a 20-something guy named Carter (Topher Grace), who wants to succeed in the world of business enterprise but is seemingly in way over his head here, not fully aware of just how damaging his company's antics can prove to be for the established employees there. Rather than make this story a platform for ruthless backstabbing, though, Weitz sees the material in a more relevant and feel-good context, and he develops his characters in a way that not only stresses their professionalism, but also certain weaknesses. Well-crafted and acted mild comedy.

Ridley Scott's latest historical epic, about 12th century crusades over Jerusalem, is more like a pale imitation of his "Gladiator" rather than its own movie. Orlando Bloom stars as a blacksmith burdened by tragedy who is whisked away from his village in France by his father and taken to the Holy land in hopes of finding redemption. While there, however, he instead comes across a politcal tug-of-war between members of the Christian authority of Jerusalem over whether the kingdom should attack threatening muslims who plan to seize the city and take back what they believe is theirs. Much less enthusiastic than it sounds, the movie lacks character perspective, fully realized story arcs, and genuine interest in any of the events it presents. Totally boring.

George A. Romero's fourth entry in the genre that he founded in 1968 with "Night of the Living Dead" is a tame but fun little experiment with the zombie persona, in which human characters are secluded in a city overrun by social inadequacy and their enemies -- the walking undead -- are starting to use their brains in order to get around all those pesky obstacles that keep them from getting close to all that living flesh. As usual, Romero packs his film with social and political commentary, and he gets good performances from people like Dennis Hopper, whose character, like most, seems to exist in a bubble that has totally disregarded the presence of mankind's potential demise beyond the city walls.

Perhaps the most pointless sequel to a successful horror film since "Exorcist II: The Heretic." A basic retread of all the material that came before it, the movie opens as its main characters, Rachel and son Aidan, transplant themselves into a new town to try and escape the memories of the evil little girl that disrupted their lives in Gore Verbinski's "The Ring." Needless to say, she is back and badder than ever... or so the filmmakers would have you believe. Lacking all the menace and skill of its predecessor, "The Ring Two" slogs its way from one sequence to the next without so much as a thought in its head. The narrative is a basic rehash with virtually no context, and the fact that it doesn't try to push for newer goals, as a respectable sequel would, makes the experience all the more infuriating.

Fox's CGI follow-up to "Ice Age" is not only a major improvement over that previous endeavor, but also a serious contender in the ongoing competition between movie studios over who is capable of doing truly great work with this relatively young genre. Ewan McGregor voices a robot whose big dreams as an inventor take him into the big city, and the adventures that follow are stocked with humor so diverse and multi-faceted that it pleases audiences no matter what their age may be. The movie is also the best looking visually since "Finding Nemo," driven by the notion that mechanics come fully equipped with the promise of intricacy woven into the images. Robot City itself is a skyline of such detailed and innovative proportions that it deserves comparisons to the great fictional metropolises of any cinematic genre.

Robert Rodriguez's adaptation of the famous Frank Miller graphic novels is a triumph of scope, distinction, artistic thrust and compelling storytelling. In a city alive with corruption and peril, several shady characters, some related only by a mere thread, engage in gruesome battle with lowlives of every evil face imagineable. Cannibals, corrupt politicians and religious figures, vengeful hookers and shady law enforcement are just some of the citizens to meet in a place like this, which is so alive and sharp in its visual extravagence that it wows the eyes long before it ever has the chance to pollute our minds with its lurid subject matter. One of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had at the movies.

The purported final installment into the legendary "Star Wars" franchise is stirring in the way it bridges two seemingly-alien story arcs into one convincing saga. Anakin Skywalker, the hero of the prequels, is now destined to fall into the clutches of the Sith and become Darth Vader, the villain of the later stories -- as such, observing the movie becomes less about absorbing action and more about exploring the deterioration of character. Fascinating but flawed sci-fi blockbuster (especially in terms of dialogue), "Revenge of the Sith" is nonetheless probably the best possible result one could have hoped for to conclude this series.

The first new movie of the year repsects the long-running tradition of January cinema releases by being both lousy and miscalculated. Michael Keaton starts as an architect whose wife, a famous author, turns up dead in a river channel after going missing for several days. Unfortunately for him, she isn't totally ready to say goodbye to him yet, and when she tries to instigate contact with him through electronic devices, it turns his life into a foreboding detective story. The characters seem so involved in their situations that you wish they'd share in the glory; the script here is neither very constructive or detailed, and often it builds great big mysteries for viewers to solve without actually giving them the right insight.

2005, David Keyes,  
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