Considering I have never been a real fan of the first three Rambo films, I did not set my standards too high for this installment of the franchise. Thank goodness for that or I would have been really upset. Rambo was decent enough but the story and the acting was clearly lacking. I know you must be thinking, “Who watches Rambo for the storyline?” Well I do! I love big ‘blow ‘em up’ films just as much as the next person but there has to be at least some kind of a story and you have to have at least a few actors who know what they are doing. Especially when making a sequel to such a famous franchise as the Rambo films. This movie just didn’t have either one of these factors but it did have some redeeming qualities.
This installment, simply titled Rambo, begins with Vietnam Veteran John Rambo living a quiet life in Bangkok. He has been living a simple life since we last saw him in Rambo III but now a group of human rights missionaries need him to take them up river into warlike Burma. The people of Burma have been oppressed by the Burmese Military for over fifty years and this small group wants to try to help. Rambo tells them it is a bad idea but he takes them up river anyway. Soon, the missionaries are captured and taken prisoner by the Burmese military. John Rambo spends the rest of the film using his signature Vietnam guerilla tactics to save the helpless missionaries to whom he warned, “I told you so.”
I must say that even though the acting stunk and a strong storyline was clearly missing, I still cannot give Rambo a horrible rating. This is sole because of two reasons and two reasons only. To be frank, I thought it was awesome to see Sly Stallone blowing stuff up and kicking the bejesus out of the bad guys one more time. The guy is 61 years old! Honestly, how many more action films can he keep making? So that was certainly a plus. The other redeeming quality of this film was its ‘R’ rating. So many sequels these days are cheapened and turned into PG-13 films just so that they can make a few extra bucks. Last year’s Live Free or Die Hard was the only Die Hard film not to be rated ‘R’ and therefore John McClane was unable to utter his famous, “Yippee-ki-yay!” catchphrase. The same thing has happened to the Terminator films. The first two were awesome and but when the third one came out, everyone thought I stuck because of was not as ‘tough’ as the first two. Why is this? Because Terminator 3 was dumbed down and turned into a teenage-friendly PG-13. Rambo, however, kept its “R” rating and, honestly, it made the film so much better. After all, what good is a Rambo movie without all the blood and guts? I give Rambo a C+
Once again, Brad Bird, the current heavy-weight animation champion strikes again with his newest film, Ratatouille. Brad Bird, the animation mastermind behind such hits as The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, returns to form with a computer-animated film about a rat that can cook in beautiful Paris, France as the backdrop.
Ratatouille stars Remy, a sweet rat that feels that stealing food from humans is wrong and an overwhelming desire to cook. Even though his father and friends don’t share any of the same beliefs as he does, Remy travels to the “City of Lights” to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. He ends up inadvertently teaming up with a young man who wants to be a great chef but doesn’t have the talent. With these two misfits teamed up together, they are able to save a restaurant, impress a critic, and get the girl, all while making great food in the process. Oh, and if you are wondering what ratatouille is and why it is the name of the movie, ratatouille is the name of a certain dish that consists of cooked vegetables. It is also the dish that the duo prepares for the critic in order to win him over. Just thought you should know.
I must say that I wasn’t sure if Ratatouille was really a film I wanted to see in the theater but I am glad that I did. I had forgotten the effect a film like this can have on a child and I found myself feeling like a child again when I saw the little girl sitting next to me in the theater laughing, practically crying, at the moments that only a child can truly appreciate.
The story was good and the voice talents were as good as can be expected but the truly entertaining and mesmerizing part of the film was the achievement with the visual effects. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the fastest improving accomplishment in the business today is the ability the film industry has to make CGI films look more and more spectacular with each new film. When Remy stands on top of a building at night and looks at the Paris skyline for the first time, I was seriously taken aback. It was gorgeous! It is amazing to see how far computer animated films have come since the first full length CGI film was made back in 1995 (Toy Story).
I know I like to know who the voice actors are before I see an animated film so here you go. Remy is voiced by the rising comedian Patton Oswalt (T.V.’s “King of Queens”). The evil head chef of the movie’s restaurant, Gusteau’s, is voiced by The Lord of the Rings’ Ian Holm. Brian Dennehy is the voice of Remy’s father, Django. Brad Garrett ("Everybody Loves Raymond") is the voice of the original chef of Gusteau’s, Gusteau. Finally, the legendary Peter O’Toole plays the voice of the very evil restaurant critic, Anton Ego. No hesitation necessary, I give Ratatouille a solid B+.
Kate Winslet is certainly one the best actresses of our generation and she definitely deserved to win an Oscar. However, she should have been given the award for any other number of her past performances instead of her portrayal of an illiterate Nazi. Winslet always shines in every movie she does and her performance in The Reader is no different but she has certainly done better.
The Reader takes place in Germany after World War II. Winslet, a tram worker, meets a young teenage boy named Michael Berg (David Kross) and begins an affair of love and literature with him. The affair runs its course and before we know it, several years have gone by and Michael is in college. It is here that he finds out that during the war, Winslet performed unspeakable acts and she is now standing trial for her war crimes. From there, the former lovers strike up a life-long acquaintance bound together by their mutual love for the written word. The Reader is definitely not a “feel good” movie. It is actually pretty depressing. Even the love scenes were kind of weird and awkward. I know I am making the movie sound bad but it’s not. It is actually a very well done film. Kate Winslet is excellent as always, and so is Ralph Fiennes. The surprisingly good performance came from newcomer David Kross as the teenage Michael Berg, who plays Kate Winslet’s lover. He is not an overly amazing actor but he certainly played the part the way it was meant to be played: excited at the idea of sleeping with an older, more mature woman but also cautious, wary, and uncomfortable at the same time. The pace of The Reader is pretty slow but if you see it, which I recommend you do, hang in there. There is no action or comedic relief to be found but it is the adapted storyline and skilled acting that truly drives this movie. I give The Reader a B-.
Reign Over Me
There must be a reason why more films like Reign Over Me aren’t produced on a more regular basis but I cannot figure what that reason is. Another thing I cannot figure out is why Adam Sandler hasn’t let the public see his true acting talent sooner. After seeing Reign Over Me, it is hard to believe that this is the same guy who went back to grade school in Billy Madison and beat up Bob Barker in Happy Gilmore. The film is heartwarming at its core but on the surface it is, at times, hard to watch.
Reign Over Me tells the story of Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) who leads a life in New York City that many would be envious of. Johnson has a loving wife and children and a job that pays well though not fond of.
Although the audience may be envious of Johnson’s lifestyle, he feels that he is stuck in a rut and can’t get out of it. He does have his limits though. Early in the film a patient of his offers him sexual favors and Johnson is quick to turn down the offer. One day, Johnson runs into his old college roommate, Charlie Fienman (Sandler). Charlie doesn’t remember Johnson and it is obvious from the getgo that Charlie is mentally unstable. We learn early on that Charlie lost his wife and three young daughters in a plane crash. Johnson feels that this may be the breather that he needs and tries to help Charlie come to terms with what happened to his family. However, many attempts prove fruitless.
Although Johnson feels he is doing a good thing by trying to help his old college pal, the extensive time he is spending with Charlie is taking a toll on Johnson’s family. Eventually, Charlie opens up to Johnson and reveals that his family was lost in one of the planes that flew into the World Trade center on September 11th, 2001. Charlie continues his downward spiral even after seeing a therapist (Liv Tyler). In time, he has a serious run-in with the law but is able to get off brought on a complicated chained of events.
Reign Over Me deals with complicated and emotional themes but the actual filming process was done simplistically. Many aspects of the film helped to make the feel of the movie what it was. Whenever Charlie is on screen in his apartment, the shots of him are straightforward. Nothing special is done to portray the lonely simplicity of Charlie’s life after losing his family. Every time Charlie is shown in his home, he is in the center of the shot. No abnormal camera angles are used in these scenes. Another way that Charlie’s life is made grim is by the lighting effects. When scenes are taking place in Charlie’s home, it is always dark. This is in contrast to the well lit scenes of Alan Johnson’s home.
For Don Cheadle, his performance is nothing out of the ordinary. Cheadle can always be counted on to give a spectacular dramatic performance. It amazes me that Cheadle is still only an Academy Award nominee and not a winner. Adam Sandler’s performance in the film is what gave the film its genuine sensitivity. Sandler is completely believable in his role as a psychosomatic widower. Everything from his wild Bob Dylan-esque hair to his slurred speech proves that Sandler is a versatile actor and a master at his craft. Many comedic actors before him have tried their hand, unsuccessfully, at dramatic roles (namely Jim Carrey). Sandler proves in Reign Over Me that he has what it takes to not become just another type-cast comedian.
Reign Over Me is a film that everyone should see eventually but not if you are under the age of 17. The film is properly rated R for its lax use of strong vulgarity and for its constant dealing with adult themes. I give Reign Over Me a B-.
Kate and Leo are back together again more than a decade after they made millions of screaming teenagers flock to the theater to see Titanic. However, if you are going to see Revolutionary Road expecting to see Titanic 2, don’t get your hopes up. This film is anything but an epic romance. Most of the time, you cannot help but cringe at the way Kate and Leo’s characters treat each other. I would love to get married someday but Revolutionary Road has certainly made me re-think that ambition.
Revolutionary Road is the story of a marriage gone wrong told though the eyes of the young couple, Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet). The film of course starts out with the couple young and in love. They get married and move into a cookie-cutter neighborhood where all the houses are identical, the husbands work, and the wives stay home to take care of the home and children. Their false happiness is short-lived and this is where the film becomes, at times, difficult to watch. Between the two of them, the movie is filled with lying, cheating, crying, screaming. Basically nothing like the romantic bliss Kate and Leo experience in their last film together.
The look of the Revolutionary Road is fairly bland. Oddly enough, this is a compliment. Sam Mendes, the director (and real life husband of Kate Winslet), wanted to portray 1950’s America and being a completely cookie-cutter environment where all the men dressed the same, each house was a duplicate of the one next to it, everyone drove the same kind of car, and the women all had the same fashion sense. The choice for this type of art direction became very effective. It did exactly what it was supposed to: make the audience pity The Wheelers and their lifestyle.
The acting in Revolutionary Road is by far the strongest aspect of the movie. Kate Winslet was spectacular as always as April Wheeler, the wife who feels trapped in her suburban world. She wants to do more with her life before it is too late. She even suggests to her husband they move to Paris. Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of his best performances to date as Frank Wheeler, the frustrated husband who, like his wife, wants more out of life but feels it would be smarter to just stay where they are and keeping living the same boring lives. The really standout performance, however, is the one given by Michael Shannon (World Trade Center, Pearl Harbor). He plays John Givings, the deranged, recently released from the sanitarium son of Helen Givings (Kathy Bates, also from Titanic). As I watched the film I found Shannon’s performance haunting. Rightfully so, Michael Shannon is nominated for Best Supporting Actor at this year’s Academy Awards for his performance in the movie (Although, albeit he’ll lose the Oscar to Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight).
My one and only disclaimer for Revolutionary Road is to just prepare yourself for a movie that is nothing like Titanic. I know many people having been waiting to seen Kate and Leo in a movie together for over a decade now but this is definitely not the love story you were probably looking for. Nevertheless, the movie is certainly well done. I give Revolutionary Road a B.
Rush Hour 3
Finally, a Rush Hour movie I have the desire the see a second time. Rush Hour 1 & 2 were entertaining enough to see once but they didn’t warrant my time and energy for a second go around. Honestly, I didn’t even want to spend the $10 to see Rush Hour 3 but my friend dragged me to see it because he thought the first two were great. I went to the theater not expecting much. However, within the first 15 minutes of the film I had already laughed more times than I had in either of the first two films. Jackie Chan may not be able to speak English any better than he could ten years ago but Chris Tucker has only gotten funnier.
Rush Hour 3 rejoins Chris Tucker as LAPD detective James Carter and Jackie Chan as Chief Inspector Lee in their best adventure yet. This time, when an assassination attempt on the Chinese ambassador fails, the crime fighting duo is hot on the trail of the notorious group responsible for the failed assassination attempt. Their investigation leads them to Paris, France. On top of all of this, this film has more beauty women in it than the first two did. Ok, so that may be beside the point but it makes the film more worthwhile to see.
Bottom line, the film is surprisingly refreshing and teams together one of this decades favorite duos for one more time. I give Rush Hour 3 a B.