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Percy Jackson & The Olyimpians: The Lightning Thief Review


Good
To say this film has heavy echoes of Harry Potter is an understatement.

Although, the Greek-gods premise lets the filmmakers indulge in some visually whizzy sequences that keep this rather lightweight action movie entertaining.

Percy (Lerman) is a New York teen whose mother (Keener) has never told him that his father is the god Poseidon (McKidd) and his best pal Grover (Jackson) is actually a protector satyr. When Zeus (Bean) discovers that his lightning bolt has been stolen, he blames Percy. So Percy has to learn quickly who he is so he can find the lightning thief and restore peace to feuding brothers Poseidon, Zeus and Hades (Coogan). In addition to Grover, he gets help from a professor-centaur (Brosnan) and his fellow demigod Annabeth (Daddario).

Continue reading: Percy Jackson & The Olyimpians: The Lightning Thief Review

Mrs. Doubtfire Review


Excellent
What was the last Robin Williams comedy that anyone was excited about? Williams wore out his welcome about the time he and pal Billy Crystal made the unbearable Father's Day in 1997. About Williams in that movie, Robert Ebert expressed it best: "He's getting to be like the goofy uncle who knows one corny parlor trick and insists on performing it at every family gathering."

When Williams was good--let's say 1982 to 1994 -- the results were oftentimes spectacular, such as 1993's Mrs. Doubtfire, when his cleverness and comic timing transcended the saccharine boundaries of the typical family film and made it legitimately funny. For younger readers looking for a relatively contemporary comparison, Will Ferrell did the same thing in Elf.

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Jingle All The Way Review


Bad
Jingle All the Way, the Christmas-themed 1996 Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy, is ideal for kids because it's broad and silly. As for the adults watching, they should make sure their eggnog contains a little extra rum. I understand that the movie is for kids -- after all, Christmas is the ultimate kids' holiday -- but can the adults have some fun? For director Brian Levant the answer is no, meaning any viewer over the age of 10 is in for some rough sledding.

For the movie's hero, Howard Langston (Schwarzenegger), his current situation is slightly less trying. A workaholic, Howard has become a lousy husband and father, missing a series of obligations and special events. His young son, Jamie (Jake Lloyd), takes Howard's absences especially hard.

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Monkeybone Review


Terrible
Despite Fox's attempts to market this film on the coattails of director Henry Selick's success with Tim Burton vehicle The Nightmare Before Christmas, be thou not fooled. Monkeybone bears none of the charm or character of its predecessor. The story of a cartoonist (Brendan Fraser) who falls into a coma and enters a world where the star he created, Monkeybone (who is -- get this -- both a monkey and a metaphor for the cartoonist's own penis), this film lacks as much in the way of creative inspiration as it does in taste.

It's not that the unending stream of preschoolish fart and pecker jokes are offensive, they're just tiresome and invariably expected. And they persist, from the opening scene to the entirely unsurprising conclusion. Fortunately, though, the film has some subplots. Unfortunately, they're absolutely senseless.

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Fantastic Four Review


Weak
Fantastic? Not exactly, but Tim Story's take on Marvel Comic's first family of superheroes can be fun if your expectations are low enough.

This summer's second superhero saga, Fantastic Four explains how five members of a planned space expedition face exposure to a cosmic storm that alters each person's DNA, giving them unique powers. Brilliant scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) initiates the mission, which is bankrolled by his longtime rival Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon). They are accompanied by Reed's buddy Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), Victor's director of genetic research; Sue Storm (Jessica Alba); and her cocky pilot brother, Johnny (Chris Evans).

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Christmas With The Kranks Review


Bad
Like the honey-glazed ham around which so much of its story sadly revolves, Christmas with the Kranks is tasty at first but soon congeals into little more than a fatty, gelatinous mess. Based on one of John Grisham's bestsellers that isn't about lawyers, Skipping Christmas, the film features the fine directing talents of Joe Roth (America's Sweethearts) and a script by Chris Columbus, who apparently, now that he's done with the Harry Potter series, can go back to cranking out family-friendly pabulum.

The promising premise has Luther and Nora Krank, a couple of parents who have just sent their daughter Blair off to the Peace Corps in Peru, faced with a holiday season alone in their suburban Chicago home. Not exactly relishing the prospect of once again throwing the big Christmas Eve party, and basically just fed up with the whole guilt-induced consumer frenzy, Luther (Tim Allen) convinces Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis) to chuck the whole thing and spend 10 days on a Caribbean cruise instead. He also boycotts everything to do with the holiday, not buying or receiving any presents and taking no part in the neighborhood gatherings and decorations. Nora goes along reluctantly until the neighbors notice what's happening and turn on the Kranks in a campaign of condemnation and isolation that seems like something out of The Lottery. That is, before a convenient plot wrinkle ensures everyone will have to pull together and enjoy some holiday spirit.

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Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban Review


OK

Well folks, it's another year at Hogwarts Academy (two years in real life), and our rapidly maturing stars are back for another round of magical high jinks and mass merchandising in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Harry's been absent since the fall of 2002, and even casual viewers will notice that a lot has changed over the last two years. Director Chris Columbus (who did the first two films) is out, replaced with the controversial Alfonso Cuarón, who last hit the scene with the teen sex romp Y Tu Mamá También.

You'll notice Cuarón's touch right away. He likes to pick up the camera and get right in his actor's faces, moving all the while, a stark contrast to Columbus's traditionalism. Gone as well are the rich Technicolor tones of the Columbus movies; Cuarón prefers washed-out, yellowish shading that connotes decay and decrepitude. This is old-school wizardry, not kids stuff. In one fell swoop, Cuarón has reinvented the movies into an arthouse series that's as un-kid friendly as it gets.

How you feel about all of that depends on whether you're old enough to vote. I can't speak for the kids, but I heard more than one crying jag erupt during Azkaban's 150-minute running time. Will young kids relate to this iteration of Potter? Here's the story, you be the judge:

Once again, Harry's living with his cruel aunt and uncle, anxious to return to school. That happens soon enough, and quickly he discovers he's the target of the titular Prisoner of Azkaban, a wizard named Sirius Black who was convicted for killing dozens of people, most notably Harry's parents. Now he's escaped and is making his way toward Hogwarts, ready to snuff young Potter. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), now a troubled 13-year-old, doesn't seem overly fazed at first. He's up to his usual school antics; taking classes, sneaking out to go to town, dodging Draco. It isn't until Black arrives on the scene for real (well past the midpoint of the movie) that any of this starts to gel into a plot.

And I use that term loosely. I think of myself as an astute follower of stories, but Azkaban can be baffling if you haven't read the book or don't have someone nearby to explain who's who. For those going into this blind, there are soul-sucking dementors (not especially terrifying here), shapeshifting wizards, old friends reunited, and a time travel subplot all coming together into one of the least satisfying dénouements in fantasy movie history. While it's riddled with plot holes (which I won't reveal since they'd spoil the ending), there's no doubt Harry's going to come out of it okay: The last half hour of the movie is rehashed from another angle as we run through the time travel bit, reliving the scenes from another angle.

Azkaban the novel gets mixed reviews from Potter maniacs -- some say it's their favorite book; others say it's the worst. However, if my research is correct, it is the worst-selling of the five books to date, and it will probably go down in history as the worst of the movies, too. (But I've been wrong before, of course.) In any case, by all accounts, the books really get good starting at #4 (due out in movie form next year), while Azkaban is a slim volume where comparably little happens. Ultimately Harry is in virtually no peril compared to that in the first two stories and those that follow. Heck, Voldemort doesn't even show up in this round.

The other notable problem is how radically older the cast has gotten since 2002's Chamber of Secrets. Radcliffe is valiantly fighting off puberty, but Emma Watson (Hermione) is looking her age; she's tarted up in jeans and a rainbow belt for most of the film, and sports a more stylish haircut to boot. Now 15, Rupert Grint (Ron) looks like he ought to be starring in the next American Pie movie as a wacky foreign exchange student. And Tom Felton, who plays Draco, is now 17 years old and ought to be playing rugby in college. He probably is. I couldn't believe it was the same actor.

Speaking of actors, Richard Harris is sorely missed as Dumbledore. I love Michael Gambon, but he doesn't do the kindly old wizard too well. He's got a Robert Mitchum-esque undercoating of villainy that he just can't shake. David Thewlis and Gary Oldman are fine as the new blood, but it's Emma Thompson that steals the show as a doddering divination professor.

The rest of the series remains intact. Twittering ghosts and pictures are as we remember them (Dawn French steals a scene as a portrait of a vain fat lady), the Quidditch match is an abbreviated bust, and Snape (Alan Rickman) is as menacing as ever. But nothing much happens - certainly nothing to enhance any of the characters aside from the tenuous hand-holding of Ron and Hermione - and Azkaban generates very little energy along the way.

I have high hopes that Mike Newell will reinvigorate the series with next year's Goblet of Fire (how it will clock in at less than 8 hours I have no idea), but I can't recommend Azkaban for anyone but die-hard Potter heads.

The DVD is just the thing for those Potterphiles, including two discs of extras, such as bonus footage, cast interviews, and games for the kids.

Wand by Hogwarts. Jeans by Guess.

Stepmom Review


Bad
One of the worst atrocities of American cinema in recent memory, here we get a one-two punch from two women (Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts) who really should have known better. The setup: Ed Harris is leaving his dried-up wife for a younger dish (see if you can guess who plays who), but mom won't leave well enough alone after she discovers stepmom is incompetent. A cancer diagnosis ensues, but there'll be lots of singing and cleansing tears before the funeral. Shiver. Just thinking about this story makes us throw up in our mouths a little bit. Chris Columbus's most notorious work.

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Mark Radcliffe Movies

Monkeybone Movie Review

Monkeybone Movie Review

Despite Fox's attempts to market this film on the coattails of director Henry Selick's success...

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Fantastic Four Movie Review

Fantastic Four Movie Review

Fantastic? Not exactly, but Tim Story's take on Marvel Comic's first family of superheroes can...

Christmas With The Kranks Movie Review

Christmas With The Kranks Movie Review

Like the honey-glazed ham around which so much of its story sadly revolves, Christmas with...

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Movie Review

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