Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Movie Reviews

I've got a couple decent movies to review this week. Nothing earth-shattering and life-changing, but entertaining and not completely without a message.

The first of these is 21. Let's begin by not overanalyzing this film or making it into some high-brow idealistic one - which it is not trying to be. Once you do that, you can take it for what it is - a well-made and entertaining caper movie with attractive and likable young actors and a couple of great elder statesmen actors, Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburne.

21 is the story of Ben Campbell, played well by British actor Jim Sturgess (of Across the Universe and The Other Boleyn Girl). Campbell, along with several other MIT students, comprises a group of card-counting 21 players who travel to Las Vegas and win millions of dollars. The group is ran by one of their professors, who is played by Spacey, in typical Kevin Spacey-mode - cocky, sarcastic and over-the-top. Their nemesis is Vegas security officer Cole Williams, played capably by Fishburne. Campbell reluctantly joins the group, so as to make enough money to put him through graduate school.

The movie is fairly predictable but the MTV-style cinematography serves the subject matter well. The game of blackjack is not as visually compelling or dramatic as poker, so the music and flashy camera work helps to add tension.

The other student film roles are filled by stereotypical ethnic roles and the love interest is played by Kate Bosworth. I've yet to see her do any compelling acting in any of her roles, but her lack of ability doesn't detract enough to hurt the film.

The plot is not completely vacuous and everyone ultimately gets what they deserve, so don't fear that it's just an empty gambling movie where there are no consequences for questionable and immoral decisions.

I'm a sucker for Vegas and gambling films both light (Ocean's 11) and heavy (Leaving Las Vegas), so this one was right up my alley. Grade: B-

The second film, Horton Hears a Who, probably wouldn't have been my first choice for a film to see, but we had just went out to eat for my birthday today and we were looking for a family friendly film to see. Our son obviously voted for this one. And we were pleasantly surprised.

Horton Hears a Who, for those who don't already know, is from a Dr. Seuss story. This is easily the best screen adaptation of his books (Cat in the Hat and How The Grinch Stole Christmas were the others). There is a lot of great voice talent - Jim Carrey as Horton and Steve Carell, Carol Burnett, Seth Rogan, Isla Fischer, etc. in various other roles.

The main thing that raises this film above the other adaptations is it's visual look (animated as opposed to live action) and the quality of that animation. Also, it does a lot less wink-wink, nudge-nudge type self-referential humor that movies like Shrek are guilty of.

I won't get too into the story, as I imagine a lot of people have already read most Dr. Seuss stories. Basically, Horton the elephant hears a cry from a small person on a speck of dust. The story follows him trying to save the creatures that live on this speck of dust and to make others believe him. The moral of the story is summed up by Horton's motto, "After all, a person is a person, no matter how small." I've heard reviews that have tried to link the morality of the story to the immigration issue and I can definitely see that. But I also took out of the story parallels to fear mongering by politicians. But the movie doesn't beat you over the head with any of those themes. But they are there if you look for them. Grade: C+


CyberKitten said...

Seeing 21 next week when its out here. Looks like a bit of mindless fun. I like Jim Sturgess. I think he has quite a future ahead of him.

Saw Horton last night with CQ. Fantastic animation and a fun story. I'm still amazed how CGI just keeps on improving. I mean - how good can it get?

I didn't like some of the undertone (or at least the undertone that I read into it) but it was generally a delightful little film. The "Who's" were fantastic little guys. It would be such fun living on that tiny little spec - at least for a long vacation! [laughs]

dbackdad said...

I agree about Sturgess. He's a good actor and has a lot of natural charm.

On Who, the animation was great. CGI has came a long way in just the last 10 years.

There definitely was weird understones in the story. I've read probably 10 reviews and everybody got something different. Either we are reading too much into the story or they weren't very good at saying exactly what message they wanted to convey.

wunelle said...

I've been interested to see Horton, mostly (like you and CK) because I'm really intrigued by CG animation. Each new release seems more astounding visually than the last (though, as an aside, I'm amazed at how good movies like the original Toy Story look all these years later. Hell, Looney Tunes still seem amazing to me!).

I think I'd need an "A" rating--and free tickets!--to get me into 21, tho. ;-)

Laura said...

I'd like to see 21 but I am worried about how overblown the facts are with hollywood exaggeration. We saw the original History Channel special "Breaking Vegas" and even that took liberties. I can only imagine what mythical subplots are invented in the name of box office returns. Maybe we'll go for the $5 matinee. As for Horton, maybe I'll see that, but I dunno.

Good reviews tho