Speed Racer

by The Wachowski Brothers (2008, United States)

I was as dazzled by the visuals in Speed Racer‘s initial promotional materials, teasers, and trailers as anyone. But as is always the case with such things, there’s the nagging suspicion that the film will be nothing more than such, and that the film won’t live up to the razzle-dazzle. And the fact that the Wachowski Brothers were behind Speed Racer‘s camera only made that suspicion worse. I don’t think the Matrix films were shallow by any means, but arguably, the brothers had definitely placed everything but sheer visual spectacle on the backburner by the trilogy’s end.

And when you’ve got the folks behind such films working on a children’s movie that is a remake of a Japanese anime series that, classic status notwithstanding, is more often the butt of jokes than anything else, well, let’s just say that I totally understand folks’ hesitation.

But the thing is, they’d be absolutely wrong.

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Stardust

by Matthew Vaughn (2007, United Kingdom)

I often find that I need to give a movie a “break” before I see it, if I’ve heard too much about it beforehand. Perhaps I’ve heard so many good things about the movie, and I worry that my expectations are too high. Or maybe I’ve heard so many troubling things that I worry that my opinion may be predisposed to be negative. Whatever the case, it often means that I miss out on seeing it in the theatre and have to settle for DVD, but I feel it’s the only way that I can give the movie a fair shake, that I can judge it on its own merits.

I suppose it’s an odd little quirk of mine, but it’s served me well in the past. And so I did it for Stardust, an adaptation of what is most certainly my favorite of Neil Gaiman’s works. I had read some troubling things—e.g., negative reviews that pointed towards disturbing changes to the storyline—but I resolved to watch the film as fairly as possible, keeping in mind all of the usual caveats concerning literary adaptations. It was an endeavor that proved pointless about thirty minutes into the film: Stardust was much worse than anything I had steeled myself for.

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Hot Fuzz

by Edgar Wright (2007, United Kingdom)

It would be way too simple and too easy to label Hot Fuzz—the latest work of cinematic brilliance from the folks behind Shaun Of The Dead and Spaced—as a parody of the stereotypical, big budget Hollywood action movie. Sure, Hot Fuzz contains countless references to such films as Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys (1 and 2), Point Break, and Die Hard (not to mention The Wicker Man, Terminator, Chinatown, He-Man, and Harry Potter).

However, parodies often seem to have an element of mean-spiritedness and cheekiness about them, which is not at all the case with Hot Fuzz. Rather, just as Shaun Of The Dead was obviously the work of folks who knew and loved zombie horror films, Hot Fuzz is the work of folks who obviously know and love action movies.

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The Amazing Screw-On Head

by Chris Prynoski (2006, United States)

There are two sides to American history.  There’s the boring side that’s been taught to you by history textbooks and schoolteachers.  And then there’s the other side where, as it turns out, America is actually littered with ruins of ancient and alien civilizations (at least west of the Mississippi), where mad zombie scientists seek to overthrow the world, and where horrific demigods lay imprisoned within vegetables, patiently waiting to be freed from their parallel universe prisons to lay waste to Mankind.

The only bastion of defense against these horrors is Screw-On Head, a secret government operative at the beck and call of Abraham Lincoln (yes, that Abraham Lincoln), and who is, well, a screw-on head with an army of steampunk bodies at his disposal.  And he’ll need them all, because the nefarious Emperor Zombie—once Screw-On Head’s closest friend and manservant before he began dabbling in ancient black magic—is seeking the power of an ancient kingdom to bring the world to its knees.

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Little Miss Sunshine

by (2006, United States)

Movies that revel in the glory of quirky families are certainly nothing new.  Indeed, some of the finest movies in recent years have, somewhere near their core, a family of “unique” individuals whose neuroses and foibles are at once the source of their downfalls and struggles and their only possibility for salvation.

Blame it on Wes Anderson, and the broken, messed up characters that people such acclaimed films as The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic, but in recent years, tragi-comic “quirky family” movies seem to be all the rage, especially among America’s current crop of indie filmmakers.  Witness Garden State, Junebug, Me And You And Everyone We Know, The Squid And The Whale, and now, Little Miss Sunshine.

However, it’s a trend that’s coming dangerously close to wearing out its welcome.

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