Review: Happy Feet 2 (2011, animation)

First Happy Feet released all the way back in 2006 was a feel-good movie that can be enjoyed by everyone and it provided a happy message (even if you are different, you are unique in your own way). Five years have elapsed and penguins have gotten more mellow.

This story still features Mumbles but it is more about his son Erik as he is unable to dance like his father, and is ashamed to be in public. Clearly he hasn’t seen the first Happy Feet movie either. The story takes awhile to pick up but the main crisis in this movie is that an errant iceberg has trapped all the penguins inside Emperor Land and it is up to Mumbles, his son and his band of friends led by a flying penguin Sven.

Main story of saving the penguins lacks any kind of urgency. Even when the penguins are presumably doomed, they seem upbeat enough to be belting out songs. I am unsure what the existential dilemma of krill (voiced by Matt Damon and Brad Pitt) was supposed to add to this story as it looks as if it was solely to add two big names to the poster.

In the end, the story can’t carry this movie, and bright scenery as well as many choreographed dance sequences aren’t enough to save it from being at best mediocre.

Review: Salt (2010, action)

Casting Angelina Jolie as a deadly assassin working for the C.I.A. does not take too much imagination. When a movie wastes a great opportunity spinning the tale of a double agent who is tasked with killing the Russian President and the American President in a single movie, even the short 100 minutes of runtime can run out of steam quickly. Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, who works for the C.I.A. After being captured by North Korea and released, she decides to give up the field work and transfer to a desk job. Of course, as she is leaving work, a Russian spy claims that Evelyn Salt is a double agent who will kill the Russian President.

From that moment on, the biggest intrigue of the movie is whether he is telling the truth, or whether she is innocent and being framed in order to actually carry out the assassination. Unfortunately, the story resolves quickly and then it becomes a race to find out how the American President will be assassinated in the bunker.

Without giving away too many of the plot points, the movie’s central tagline of “Who is Evelyn Salt” ends up giving us a boring answer: she is a spy and there have been many great spy movies. The action is not as frantic as the Bourne trilogies and the plausibility of events and actions approach Bond level (as in, please do not try to make sense of this movie). Ultimately this boring and unrealistic story of Evelyn Salt fails to engage the audience. Who is Evelyn Salt? You may want to ignoring this question.

Rating: 60%

Review: Shrek Forever After (2010, animated)

Another animated movie from Dreamworks is Shrek Forever After, the fourth and presumably final entry in the venerable franchise that has seen its better days. Third outing was universally panned as mediocre and thankfully this new tale keeps things more interesting by creating an alternate universe where Shrek was never born.

Being unhappy with the domesticated life of wife, three children and house in the suburbia, Shrek decides to trade one of his days and be an ogre again through a magical contract with Rumplestiltskin. Cue to the alternate universe where most of the movies take place: Rumplestiltskin rules the Far Far Away land, Fiona was never rescued and instead heads up the ogre resistance against the tyrant and his witches.

The story may be a bit beyond the comprehension of little children (after all, the whole premise is that mundane and middle-age life in suburbia could be a lot worse than the alternatives) and this movie is not as engaging as another Dreamworks movie with dragons. In the end, Shrek Forever After is a stark reminder of how fun the original movie was nine years ago.

Rating: 60%

Review: How To Train Your Dragon (2010, animated)

Another animated movie featuring an unlikely hero, How To Train Your Dragon features the story of Hiccup, a young Viking who can’t live up to his heritage as he can’t kill his first dragon when the opportunity presents itself. However, as the title predicts, he will train the dragon and cause havoc in the village. Vikings are battling dragons who are always after their food and burning their huts down.

This harmless and pretty innocent movie is entertaining throughout for both children and adults alike. Children will marvel at the brightly drawn characters, different types of dragons, and numerous impressive flight scenes. Up until the final battle, the action is brisk: the movie ends, as expected, with a big climactic battle with the true enemy of the movie which drags on for a bit.

There isn’t much benefit to adding another dimension (and adding to the costs of the movie). Stick to 2D and enjoy this harmless tale of adventure and redemption.

Rating: 85%

Review: The Twilight Saga Eclipse (2010, drama)

Moving on from a vampire priest to vampire teens, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is the latest juggernaut pitting Team Edward and Team Jacob against each other. If you are not versed in the mythology of Twilight, here is a quick refresher: Edward is a morally sensible vampire who does not hunt humans and who can go out during the day since the only downside to being a vampire in the series is that sunlight makes your skin sparkle. Jacob is a werewolf, sworn enemy of the vampires. They both fall in love with this angst-ridden teenage girl named Bella.

The “cliffhanger” from the last movie gets resolved pretty quickly as Bella agrees to marry Edward in order to get turned into a vampire (seriously, with immortal life and no downside, who would not want to be one!). Soon the gang discovers that Bella is under attack, again, this time by a new blood who is converting as many as he can and building a vampire army under the direction of a returning evil vampire.

It goes without saying that whether you like this movie or not will depend heavily on whether you liked the previous movies or not. The pacing does improve in this entry and it is interesting to get the backstory on some of the minor vampires. The biggest disappointment is the final battle with the new blood army where Team Edward joins together with the werewolves. For all they are cranked up to be, the fight resolves quickly and it feels anti-climactic.

This movie is for the fans of Twilight, Edward’s pasty face and Jacob (and his pack’s) always half-naked bodies.

Rating: 65%

Review: Thirst (2009, horror)

If you think the world doesn’t need another vampire movie, Thirst will be a refreshing change of pace from graphic horror movies, or teenage angst dramas. Directed by Chan-Wook Park, Thirst tells the story of a priest who, while volunteering in a medical experiment aimed at curing a deadly disease, gets transfused with a vampire’s blood and becomes one.

As you can tell from the premise, the story does not stay serious throughout the movie. As the priest discovers that he’s a vampire and he needs to feed on humans, he comes up with novel ways of procuring blood without killing them, such as drinking from a comatose at the hospital, or providing assisted suicide services.

In the end, he falls in love (for the first time in his life) with a woman and partakes in carnal sins that he was forbidden. Through his moral confusions, the priest struggles to find meaning in his undead life and his love for a married woman. This odd movie fails to find the right balance between the supernatural and the mundane of the daily real life. The ending, although it fits the characters’ motivation, will be a let-down.

Rating: 65%

Review: Pandorum (2009, horror)

If Pandorum‘s goal is to create another cult classic like Event Horizon, the finished product is far from perfect. Pandorum asks the audience to follow along a psychological thriller where the crew of the space ship Elysium awakens to deal with memory loss, hallucinations and creepy humanoid creatures. Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid) and Corporal Bower (Ben Fosters) are likely the only survivor as the spaceship launched from Earth long, long, long time ago to their new home.

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This tale from the 22nd century clocks in at around 108 minute mark, and yet the movie feels too recycled and boring. If you thought ogling at futuristic yet dark corridors for that period of time would be fun, you’re gravely mistaken. This movie feels very much like Alien, with the creature’s fast speed, agility, ability to jump out of vents, but since it is derivative of a movie franchise that’s been done to death, it is tough to find something worth cheering for. Earth is destroyed and humanity’s only hope rests with these handful survivors… yet their tale is surprisingly uninteresting. Visuals are so-so (when they’re not too dark and you can actually make out the details), special effects are pretty bland and the only redeeming quality would be Dennis Quaid’s performance.

This isn’t a space masterpiece of horror and sci-fi, just another interesting idea that didn’t spend enough time in the oven.

Rating: 30%

Review: Zombieland (2009, comedy)

There are lots of movies featuring zombies (if you doubt that, you can look at the listing on Wikipedia), and Zombieland is one of the easiest to recommend comedic zombie films. The movie follows the story of Columbus, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who has avoided human contact as much as possible and now that an infection has ravaged through the country, he must band together with the remaining survivors in order to defeat the hordes of zombies.

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Shy and timid Columbus meets Tallahassee, played by Woody Harrelson, who is almost an expert zombie killing machine reluctantly takes Columbus under his wings and together they travel: Columbus back to see his parents, and Tallahassee to find a Twinkie.

On the way they meet 2 sisters Little Rock and Wichita (since everyone in this movie is named after a city, in order to not develop any personal attachment) which complicate feelings as Columbus is a… virgin. As all these movies tend to do, the parties end up at an amusement park in the West Coast for the big finale.

The movie is a simple guilty and violent pleasure: plenty of zombies get killed in various ways, plenty of humans get killed and yet we develop a personal connection to the 4 survivors. The movie doesn’t have too many actors as this is a road trip of these 4 survivors: there is a cameo by a pretty big name actor as a human survivor, who feels very appropriate. In the end, this is one of the best zombie comedy movies (almost as good as Shawn of the Dead). If you are even remotely interested in a zombie comedy, make sure to visit Zombieland for some good fun.

Rating: 80%