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Entries in Angelina Jolie (3)

Thursday
May262011

Kung Fu Panda 2

It has been an underwhelming year so far at the movies. By this time last year, I had given out a good number of perfect or near perfect scores, but 2011 has disappointed me. Films like Rango and Source Code have stood proud as the best this year has offered, yet neither of them were truly great. I’ve been waiting many months for a movie to come along and really impress me, something that can make me laugh, cry and excite me all at the same time. That movie has finally come in the form of Kung Fu Panda 2. It’s a tour de force, a real achievement in not just animation, but filmmaking in general and it proves once and for all that animation can be just as funny, unique and emotionally gripping as live action cinema. Let’s just put it this way. If this were released last year, Toy Story 3 would have had a run for its money.

When we last saw Po (Jack Black), he was learning to be a kung fu master. He was inexplicably deemed the Dragon Warrior and was tasked with the responsibility of defeating an impending evil heading his way. Because of his large stature and clumsy mannerisms, he was ridiculed by the Furious Five, who refused to believe he held the power to protect their people. They were wrong, of course, and now Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross) and Viper (Lucy Liu) have accepted them into their clan. But a kung fu warrior’s work is never done and a new evil has emerged in the form of Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), a peacock determined to take over China.

It must be said that Kung Fu Panda 2 is a sequel of the “if it ain’t broke…” variety. The original film was a solid piece of work in itself and it would be foolish to mess with the formula too much. However, just because something isn’t broke doesn’t mean it can’t be tweaked and made better and that’s precisely what was done here. Kung Fu Panda 2 is funnier and more exciting than the original and its heart seems to have grown tenfold.

Throughout this film’s brief hour and a half runtime, Po goes on a journey of self discovery that is more profound than anything presented in the first movie. As he ventures into battle, he begins to have visions of his family, giving him a desire to learn who he is and where he came from. His discoveries aren’t always pleasant, however, which gives the film an unexpected darker tone than its predecessor. It deals with the idea of making the right choice, even if it’s not the easy one. To elaborate would constitute spoilers, but you will undoubtedly feel sadness for Po as he learns the inescapable truth of his past.

That’s not to say Kung Fu Panda 2 is all dark. It still retains the playful exuberance that made the first movie so darn enjoyable. Also returning is the vibrant and distinctive animation (even when obfuscated by the 3D glasses) that seamlessly transitions from lush computer animation to hand drawn sequences that appropriately elicit the feeling of Chinese shadow puppetry. Perhaps best of all is that the characters are just as charming as you remember. Po is still the awkward, hunger fueled jokester you remember him as. He’s just a little more agile and skilled than before. He also shows more confidence, having been accepted as a legitimate kung fu master, and isn’t afraid to spout off one-liners that are hilariously used to parody various action movie clichés.

The Furious Five that accompany Po are better handled as well. Rather than endlessly make fun of him as they did in the first film, they now see him as a part of their family. It creates a sense of camaraderie among the crew and gives them more sympathetic personalities. The most surprising character, however, comes in the form of Lord Shen, who at first glance is too graceful to be threatening—after all, a peacock isn’t the most ferocious animal on the planet—but looks can be deceiving. He may not have the physical presence of the last film’s antagonist, but he is nevertheless ruthless and destructive. He delights in chaos and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. It’s a cold, calculated approach to villainy, just one of many aspects the filmmakers have carefully thought through.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is a wonderful movie. It works on so many different levels, from the pleasing aesthetics to the unbelievable action, that it’s practically guaranteed to please everybody who watches it. While the children they bring will surely enjoy it, adults in the audience may find something deeper hidden in what looks like an otherwise simple tale. To summarize this review, Kung Fu Panda 2 is flat out amazing.

Kung Fu Panda 2 receives 5/5

Friday
Dec102010

The Tourist

It almost seems like a no brainer to pair Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, two of the hottest celebrities around right now, in terms of star power and good looks, together. Jolie is one of the most gorgeous women on the face of the planet and has the talent to back it up and the ladies all swoon over Depp, who also turns in a good performance each and every outing. That is why it’s such a shame they are stuck together in The Tourist, a movie that should have been so much more. It’s still stupid fun, but the first half of that description is what disappoints the most.

As the movie begins, we watch as a British agency led by Inspector Acheson (Paul Bettany) tails Elise (Jolie), who is linked to a mysterious man named Alexander Pearce, a fugitive criminal that they are trying to track down. However, nobody knows what he looks or sounds like, so they are hoping she will lead them to him. As she sits down for a coffee one morning, she receives a letter from Pearce that tells her to board a soon-to-be-leaving train. When she is on, she is to find a man with his shape and size and make the British police force believe he is Pearce. She finds that man in Frank Tupelo (Depp), an American tourist.

With that beginning, one might assume that the movie is on a fast track to absurd action and ridiculous scenarios, almost like Knight and Day only with the gender roles reversed, but that isn’t the case. There is some action, but it isn’t the main attraction. The reason to see The Tourist is to watch Jolie and Depp play opposite each other. They both are magnificent and produce some of the best chemistry we’ve seen all year.

Being an espionage thriller, The Tourist is a tad confusing. At one point, Elise apologizes to Frank for bringing him into all this, but I wasn’t quite sure what “this” was exactly. It’s all explained by the end, but there’s a serious lack of context throughout the majority of the movie. It’s like the filmmakers were so happy to have Depp and Jolie onboard that they forgot to make sense of what they were doing.

At the same time, however, it’s believable. Aside from one early usage of a technology that I’m not sure exists, this is more realistic than Salt, the aforementioned Knight and Day or any other similar espionage thriller to be released this year. Of course, it’s all still preposterous and requires your suspension of disbelief, but I was willing to grant it that and it worked for me. At least until the end rolled around and packed a final twist that was so outlandish it took that suspension of disbelief and vaporized it.

But that isn’t enough to destroy The Tourist. Sure, the screenplay is all over the place and the action scenes leave a lot to be desired—director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (who I mention only because his name is awesome) stages them poorly and doesn’t have the finesse to make them exciting—but the performances are great and there are some hearty laughs, particularly from Depp who has some fun with tourist stereotypes and speaks Spanish despite being in Italian locales.

This is a movie that knows what it wants to be. As the British agency follows Jolie in the very first scene, one of the camera operators zooms in on her butt. His boss, not amused, tells him to “be professional.” As soon as this line is said, Donnersmarck cuts to his own close-up of Jolie’s curvaceous backside. Right here, he’s telling us to sit back, relax and not think too hard. He’s not trying to impress us with flash. He’s just trying to give us some silly fun. And I found myself entertained, so I guess he achieved his goal.

The Tourist receives 3/5

Friday
Jul232010

Salt

There comes a time in the average moviegoers life where they’ll see a film and have no idea what they think about it. It’s a movie that they have no real feeling for, positive or negative. Although I wouldn’t consider myself an “average” moviegoer (seeing as how I see them all), I’ve had this experience a number of times. Now here I am, just returning home from a screening of Salt, and I’m having it again. Its plot flips every which way on its simple journey from opening to close and characters seem to switch moral sides throughout. Sometimes it works. At others, it doesn’t. But the failures outweigh the successes, making Salt a mildly enjoyable, though not recommendable, summer action picture.

The film begins in North Korea where CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is being held as a prisoner of war. She has been beaten and tortured for an indefinite period of time, but is finally released when her husband Mike (August Diehl) finds out where she is and convinces the United States government to help her. Now she is back home working at the CIA headquarters (which works secretly under the guise of RINK Petroleum) and all is well. But one day, a Russian defector named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) is found snooping around and brought in for questioning. As Salt interrogates him, he outs her as a Russian spy and the CIA agents listening in take notice. Although she insists otherwise, they don’t necessarily believe her, so she breaks out to clear her name and find her husband, who she fears may be in jeopardy.

The basic structure of the plot works like this: quick prologue, one long bout of exposition that can be summarized as “Salt will kill the Russian President,” an hour of nonstop espionage action, end. Watching this movie is like taking a sucker punch from an angry man followed by an hour of whippings. Out of nowhere it explodes into action and never lets up. Without downtime, it becomes too hectic and by the end, I was exhausted.

To extensively delve into why the film didn’t work for me would mean ruining the story and I hesitate to do that, but I must point out that the many plot twists do little to intrigue the viewer. One in particular, while interesting, makes everything before it seem unnecessary. Why would the characters act this way? What overall purpose are they serving? The amorphous plot ran on and on and as details began to surface, it only muddled the experience.

While Salt certainly would have worked as a straight forward action picture, the filmmakers decided to throw in these narrative curveballs, but it doesn’t work. I suspect Kurt Wimmer (who wrote the equally dopey Law Abiding Citizen) gave himself a big pat on the back as he put this one on the page, but the problem is he thinks his story is smarter than it actually is. It takes itself so seriously that it makes it hard for the viewer to. At least recent action fare like Knight and Day and The A-Team knew they were stupid and reveled in it. Salt merely thinks it’s doing something more, but in reality is doing much less.

Salt may be a failure, but it’s a mild one. It has moments of inspiration and Jolie is magnificent. Channeling her characters in Wanted and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, she works the tough, calculated persona well, but the material she works with simply isn’t up to her level. I hate to tell you to give a pass to Salt, but I find no reason to insist otherwise.

Salt receives 2/5