Monthly Archives: August 2005

The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D

Even for a kids’ film, this is unforgiveably bad. Imagine, if you will, a pale shadow of the already excrable Spy Kids 3D, with none of the humour or strength of plot, and you’re probably giving it the benefit of the doubt. The 3D effects are poorly done, pointless, and repetitive. The acting is….no, the acting isn’t. The only thing it has going for it is that Alex seemed to like it–at the time.

It makes Robert Rodriguez’s achievement in making Sin City seem even more extraordinary, and even more like a one-off.

Lois McMaster Bujold – The Hallowed Hunt

Although The Hallowed Hunt bears all the hallmarks of Bujold’s tremendous craft, it never really came alive for me. It’s set in the same world as her two previous books (The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls), but in a different country, and there is no overlap of characters. The story concerns the murder of a prince and the possible re-emergence of an ancient power. It’s a tale of romance and purgatory, involving clever use of the (very real) Five Gods theology Bujold has established for this world.

Right from the start, this had two things working against it: a low-tech, feudal fantasy setting, and flowery language. I must be getting crusty as I get older, because my tolerance for lordlings and princesses is really low. Bujold overcame my resistance in the other Chalion books, but it seems like her writing style here has taken a turn for the precious, with lots of old-fashioned turns of phrase and elaborate description.

I don’t mind the romantic side of the book, but it sorely lacks Bujold’s traditional themes of gritty practicality and inner strength. With a few exceptions, very little happens in The Hallowed Hunt that requires the characters to take a stand and turn the story around. Most of the time they just go with the flow, and merely express great concern along the way.

I hate to say this, but I found it dull, and I had to force myself to keep reading.

Ocean’s Twelve

There are two main reasons I didn’t like Ocean’s Twelve. First of all, it’s entirely pointless. It has no heart, drifting instead between several plot lines that do tie together, but not in anything you’d call a climax. There is a “big” heist they have to execute, but is far from central to the film. Most sequels at least try to be bigger and better than their originals; this one lacks even that ambition.

Secondly, the use of cinematic shorthand to tell the story really bugged me. There are lots of knowing glances, and histories alluded to with a nod and a wink. It lends the illusion of depth to the characters, but when the credits roll, do you actually know anything about them? No. This shorthand extends to many key sequences in the film itself, which are not shown as part of the action, but instead revealed after the fact in flashbacks or conversations.

As an ensemble star vehicle, it is appropriately self-indulgent and deliberately harmless to each participant’s position on the Hollywood status ladder. But as a heist or a con movie, or even as a crime comedy caper, it is utterly flaccid.

Alien Vs. Predator

Sometimes you fancy a film that will challenge your assumptions, and sometimes you just want some raw comic book carnage. In the latter case, you could do worse than to flip on AvP. But you could do a whole lot better, too.

Open Range

Everything about this film is slow. From the way the characters talk, the speed at which the plot develops, right down to the slow fade-to-black cuts at the end of each scene. Even the climactic gunfight plays out over the course of twenty minutes or so. This isn’t a bad thing, though: it echoes the pace of the period it is portraying, and with it provides a very immersive experience.

(This quick review is part of my September 2005 “clearing the decks” exercise.)

Wedding Crashers

Despite the crass silliness of the trailer, this is a remarkably mature and–in places–quite subtle comedy. That’s not to say that it isn’t also roaringly funny, with plenty of absurd situations and over-the-top characters: it’s both.

Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn play two lawyers whose favourite summer activity is blagging their way into weddings and wedding receptions, and pulling women. The thing is, they are much more than just unwelcome freeloaders. While they are making the most of the free food and drink, they are also charming the guests, making conversation, and acting like entertainers (who just happen not to have been formally invited). They are fundamentally nice guys who just happen to indulge in a shallow hobby. The film is about what happens when love hits them in the face, and forces them to grow up.

Wilson and Vaughn have tremendous chemistry on screen, with Wilson’s laid back charm the perfect foil for Vaughn’s hyperactive patter. They make it all look so easy and natural, that you can’t help but love the journey they’re on, and take delight in every twist and turn along the way.

The Island

The reason I’m not giving this any more than three stars is because it is so infuriatingly, deliberately shallow. If it had just blundered on through a bunch of action sequences with no regard for the questions raised by its premiss (clones are being raised and kept in an isolated community, until their originals need them for spare parts, and two of them escape), that would simply be ordinarily shallow. But no. The screenplay places a handful of really interesting issues and questions right there in front of you–stuff that would go on to generate fascinating conflicts and emotional drama–and then completely ignores them in favour of blowing shit up.

For example, the US defense department is funding the cloning institute heavily. What are they getting out of it? How does this tie in with the President having a clone lying around? No answer. Also, the cloning institute’s scientists discover that somehow new model clones are acquiring the memories of their originals. Wow. What potential! So let’s just destroy the whole batch. And most egregiously, while on their escape run, Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), whose original is lying in a coma awaiting her backup organs, gets to speak to her original’s child. The child asks, “Is that you, mommy?”

A moment like that is just begging for further exposition. Look at it: the moment is actually down on its knees weeping for attention. I believe this is known in the trade as a “heartfucker”, and you can not just ignore one. You can milk it for all it’s worth, you can twist it into a miraculously happy ending, but what you can’t do is back away from the scene and try to cover your tracks with a mighty car chase. OH WAIT YES YOU CAN APPARENTLY.

Sheesh. That’s what I mean by deliberately shallow. The production team knows there is a more intersting film here, but not only did they make a conscious choice not to make it, they also made a conscious choice to tantalize the audience with glimpses of what it could have been.

The reason I’m giving this as much as three stars is that the film they did make is still a pretty good action movie. A little slow to develop, a little implausible in the damage our heroes can sustain and still walk away, but still full of well-directed thrills and decently (if not spectacularly) acted characters. And what more could you ask for in a summer blockbuster?

No, wait…don’t get me started again….


Rob Cohen can direct vehicle action, but very little else. The scenes with people in them are dreadful, and the cliché count is so far off the scale, you could make a drinking game out of it. The morality–or lack of it–behind the script is simply scary. And the treatmen of artificial intelligence in the movies clearly hasn’t moved on since HAL. (Okay, perhaps a little Knight Rider has crept in around the edges, but still….)

On the positive side, Josh Lucas may be a man, but I totally would. Ditto Jessica Biel. They need to give their agents a good kicking for getting them into this mess, though.

Herbie: Fully Loaded

When I saw this, and came away thinking, “yeah, that was okay”, I started to seriously wonder if my critical faculties are being eroded by hanging out in the presence of a four-year old. Because, you know, it’s a Herbie film.

But: it sorta works. It isn’t challenging or adventurous by any means (okay, it’s downright shoehorned in), but it has charm. So many remakes and series extensions feel like cynical pocket-money grabs that it’s pleasant to see one that feels like it is just trying to be a bit of good fun. The performances felt honest, like the cast were genuinely into their characters and cared about making the film work as a whole. Lindsay Lohan is always nice to drool over watch, and Justin Long deserves to see more headline screen time. Even Matt Dillon’s bad guy over-acting was restrained and amusing rather than over-the-top and silly. And did I have a lump in my throat at the end? Yes I did. Because I’m a big softie.

I don’t think I would have gone to see it on my own, but with young kids, it’s great.