Popcorn Parents - Family Movie Reviews

Movie Tuesday: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (PG-13)

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is the third installment in an apparently popular action-adventure series that follows the exploits of the O’Connell family as they battle the undead for fun and profit.
 
The story is the same in all three films, and it fits nicely in a nutshell: Find mummy. Wake mummy. Fight mummy. Lather and repeat. This time around it’s Alex O’Connell (Luke Ford) who digs up a brutal Chinese Emperor called Han (Jet Li, in action-figure mode). Alex is the grown son of the two heroes who got together in the first Mummy picture: American professional swashbuckler Rick “Ricochet” O’Connell (Brendan Fraser, cashing in once again) and British scholar Evelyn O’Connell (American actress Mario Bello, unfortunately not fooling anyone). Rick and Evelyn are trying to relax into a normal life, but it doesn’t suit them. When shady characters use magic to rouse the emperor, the family reunites and we’re off and running.

One thing you can say for Tomb of the Dragon Emperor—it doesn’t leave anything out. In a hundred or so minutes director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious, xXx) stages every stunt imaginable; too bad each one has been imagined before. Cohen is running the Indiana Jones playbook from cover to cover. We’re treated to a dozen knife, gun, and fist fights, and we (barely) follow chases on horseback, trucks and rickshaws. Ancient booby traps kill and maim, and reliably evil foreign powers (in this case, the Chinese Red Army) seek supernatural help to achieve world domination. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, the check is in the mail.
 
It’s true that this brand of hoopla is the stuff popcorn movies are made of. But the thrill-ride set pieces just seem to pile up like so many roller-coaster cars. The dialogue—two-thirds of it shouted at top volume—is painful at times, even by summer action-adventure standards. I couldn’t make some of it out, but I don’t think I missed anything. Some of the lines in this film make “I’ll be back” seem like “To be or not to be.”
 
The climactic battle pits the Emperor’s terra cotta army against a hastily awakened brigade of rotting corpses—flimsy stuff, literally and figuratively. At this stage we could certainly use a good old-fashioned kung-fu showdown between the evil warlord and the good witch (Michelle Yeoh) who cursed him millennia ago. But when it comes the final brawl is nothing to write home about. It’s edited to death and lost in the computer-generated free-for-all, the talents of two martial arts film icons utterly wasted.
 
The film’s violence is better catalogued than described: beatings, stabbings, shootings, beheadings, poisonings, crushings, burnings and meltings. Monsters menace and growl; abominable snowmen hurl people around like rag dolls and then (I’m not making this up) do triumphant Tiger Woods-style fist pumps.
 
Most of the characters swear on a PG-13 level. Adults drink and talk about drinking in a way that seems to glorify the practice. There are two or three sexually charged moments: a couple of aborted attempts at seduction between Mom and Dad O’Connell, one with Maria Bello in a slinky negligee; and a momentary view, from a respectful distance, of two lovers wrangling in their night clothes. Oh and, at one point, a yak gets airsick and vomits all over a guy. (No one should ever have to type that sentence.)
 
Whatever magic the Mummy franchise had is now long gone. It may be best to let Tomb of the Dragon Emperor be the final resting place of this series.
 
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The following films were previewed at an August 2 screening: Deathrace (R); The Express (PG); Beverly Hills Chihuahua (PG); Babylon A.D. (PG-13); Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (not yet rated); Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (not yet rated).

 

By Jared Peterson

Movie Tuesday: The Incredible Hulk (PG-13)

by Jared Peterson


The Incredible Hulk begins with a helpful restaging of previous events (the film is a sequel of sorts to Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk): Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) bombards himself with gamma radiation and is transformed into something big and green, as his colleague and main squeeze (Liv Tyler) looks on. Soldiers are dispatched to subdue whatever-it-is; whatever-it-is dispatches them right back and flees on foot.

Five years later Banner is lying low in Brazil, working in a bottling plant and practicing relaxation techniques to control his transformations. He’s also trying to find a cure, which contributes to the film’s slow start. You’d think that Louis Leterrier, director of the hyperkinetic chase flick Transporter 2, wouldn’t stand for quite so much typing before the first big action sequence.

But the juxtaposition of intense physical rampages with equally intense stretches of quiet desperation serves a purpose. Leterrier and screenwriter Zak Penn (X2: X-Men United) return here to an aspect of the Hulk story that carried it through five uneasy seasons on TV: Bruce Banner as Lonely Guy. They’ve even revived that sad little piano tune—titled, natch, “The Lonely Man”—that accompanied Banner’s hitchhiking ennui. For you see, folks, it ain’t easy being green. (I hate myself.)

Casting Edward Norton was a controversial move—and ultimately a good one. As the lead in Lee’s film, Eric Bana (Munich) had trouble inhabiting the character’s nerdiness; he’s a hunk with some of the Hulk’s blocky form pre-installed. Norton wears Banner’s awkwardness effortlessly, and he and the Hulk couldn’t be more different. (Blessedly, the computer-generated behemoth looks nothing like him.) His scrawniness adds weight to Banner’s burden—he’s a small man carrying a gigantic secret.

The supporting cast is similarly downsized. As Betty Ross, Liv Tyler’s elven wisp stands in serviceably for Jennifer Connolly’s voluptuousness. And slight, ferocious Tim Roth ably surpasses the puffy Nick Nolte as antisocial-man-turned-monstrous-supervillain. (Roth played a very mean monkey in Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, which he channels here using only his God-given face and a crisp military uniform.)

Roth is Emil Blonsky, an army major ordered by Betty’s father, General Ross (a taciturn William Hurt) to hunt down Banner. Ross offers Blonsky a prototype strength serum developed with Banner’s research, and he agrees to do the Dew. Power corrupts, and steroids-on-steroids corrupt absolutely. Thus is born our Hulk-sized bad-guy, The Abomination.

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     The action, when it comes, is sustained and very intense, and some elements push the scare factor to alert levels:
     (1) Primal screaming: Several straight-on close-ups of one creature or another bellowing with anger = high-octane nightmare fuel for younger kids. (Remember the PG-13 rating.)
     (2) Gunplay galore: Hulk gets most of the bullets, which bounce right off him—but the results for others are quite real.
     (3) People thrown around like rag dolls: Three or four dozen human bodies are treated like hacky sacks by the Hulk or the Abomination or plain old gravity. It amounts to graphic violence with relatively little blood—a remarkable technical achievement, but it made me wince.
     Profanity is infrequent: Major Blonsky is p---ed about this and that, and at one point he uses the b-word to refer to a colleague he’s just killed.
     Sexwise, Bruce and Betty lie clothed on a motel bed and embrace lustily; he has to stop for fear of Hulking out. (must... not... joke...)
     The previews: Hellboy II: The Golden Army (not yet rated); The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (not yet rated); Miracle at St. Anna (not yet rated); X-Files: I Want to Believe (PG-13); Hancock (PG-13); Tropic Thunder (R). All contain PG-13 material.

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     In light of its predecessor, The Incredible Hulk does a good job being its own monster. It’s big, loud, fun—and it might be a little hard to clean up after.



Movie Tuesday: The X-Files: I Want to Believe (PG-13)

 

By Jared Peterson
 
Chris Carter, creator of the popular X-Files television series, returns us to his bizarre and convoluted world in The X-Files: I Want to Believe, the second feature film in the long-running franchise. Returning, too, are actors David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, who gamely reprise their career-making roles as Fox Mulder and Dr. Dana Scully.
 
Mulder and Scully saw some pretty crazy things in their years investigating the FBI’s X-Files, cases involving aliens, psychics and other paranormal phenomena. Six years after the events of the series finale, we find both characters pursuing other options. Scully, a doctor at a Catholic hospital, butts heads with her ecclesiastical superiors over the treatment of a dying child. Mulder has a little less going on. A fugitive from the FBI, he holes up in a secluded cabin, tends his “I-don’t-care” beard and clips articles on the latest news of the weird.
 
But when an FBI agent is kidnapped, and the only leads come from a proclaimed psychic, Mulder suddenly goes from wanted to needed. An open-minded young agent (Amanda Peet) promises amnesty in exchange for Mulder’s expertise, and Scully reluctantly agrees to bring him in. Once again they find themselves following a twisted trail of murder and conspiracy, hoping against hope that the truth is out there.
 
Faith and reason are major themes. The psychic is Father Joe (Billy Connolly), a disgraced priest and convicted pedophile whose “visions” may be a play to gain forgiveness from the Church. While Mulder the believer trusts the man’s power—if not the man himself—Scully the skeptic is not only unconvinced of his gifts, but seems as perplexed by his stubborn professions of faith as she is disgusted by his crimes.
 
It’s all fairly boilerplate for the X-Files universe and, in fact, the film sometimes feels like just another episode of the series. A meatier-than-usual episode, to be sure, as Carter takes time to further explore the emotionally charged connection between Scully and Mulder. The relationship takes some interesting turns here, and fans who followed every lingering glance in the show will probably flip their lids once or twice on this outing.
 
Over the years people have been drawn in by the thick air of mystery surrounding every element in the saga. Plot, back story and character are played very close to the chest, with viewers leaning in closely to catch every detail. Much like Lost—a program very much indebted to Carter’s innovations—The X-Files is about the quest for secret knowledge. But while Lost trades in hysterics as much as secrets, The X-Files can sometimes be a bit bloodless, with characters revealing little about their internal struggles.
 
Not that this can’t be alluring. David Duchovny’s Mulder charms with a mixture of reserve and watchful bemusement. Gillian Anderson, meanwhile, has legions of fans tantalized by the mere possibility of a crack in her stoic façade. Those fans will not be disappointed here. Scully’s ethical and emotional journey brings vulnerability, longing and passion to the fore, if only for a few key moments. The result is frankly luminous, and this is definitely Anderson’s movie.
 
The story involves a series of violent attacks, kidnappings and murders, some of which are dramatized in gruesome detail. Victims do not always end up in one piece. Sexual content amounts to one or two double entendres, but Father Joe’s crimes against children are a persistent subject of discussion. Profanity plays a role as well.
 
The X-Files: I Want to Believe is a decent mystery picture, but non-fans may tire of trying to read its poker face.
 
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At a July 25th screening the following movies were previewed: Mirrors (R); Babylon A.D. (PG-13); Deathrace (R); Miracle at St. Anna’s (not yet rated); Lakeview Terrace (PG-13); and a teaser trailer for Saw V (R and a half). All of these carried the MPAA’s “green band” indicating that they had been approved for all audiences. For more information, visit www.filmratings.com.

Movie Tuesday: The Dark Knight (PG-13)

by Jared Peterson
 
It’s worth saying up front: The Dark Knight probably should have been rated R. The violence, menace, and upsetting images, imaginative as they all are, are still so pervasive that the total effect could be truly disturbing even for older teens. Your parental guidance might properly lead your kids down the hall to another film or back home to a good book. Adults should consider toughing it out, though, because the film is a triumph—taut, suspenseful, sophisticated, thrilling and (as I exhaust the film reviewers’ thesaurus) action-packed.
 
By night, brooding billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, poker-faced) dons cape and cowl to fight crime in the shadows of a sprawling megalopolis called Gotham. Opinion regarding the caped crusader is mixed; some see a defender of justice, others a dangerous vigilante. The police, who officially want to catch him, secretly appreciate his help.
 
As crime begins to fall and hope begins to rise, Wayne is on the lookout for his replacement: a crusader who can stand in the light, without a mask. He believes he’s found one in the principled new district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, more than meets the eye), who also happens to be dating Bruce’s girl-that-got-away, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, the cat’s meow). Rachel knows about Bruce’s night job, and she once promised they’d be together if he gave up the Bat. He hopes that when Dent becomes the hero he can step down and Rachel can keep her word. As usual, it’s more complicated than that.
 
Meanwhile, crime has a new face, and it isn’t pretty. With streaky hair and smeared clown makeup, the Joker (Heath Ledger, a marvel) is a wide-awake nightmare. He sews destruction and reaps fear. He’s the ultimate terrorist, in that the terror is all he cares about. And he sees Batman as his perfect nemesis—a fellow costumed “freak”—and he aims to pull the city down around them both, all in good fun.
 
The Joker was Ledger’s last completed film role; he died suddenly earlier this year at the age of 28. There has been talk of a posthumous Oscar nomination, which would be a touching tribute to a talented young man taken too soon. But tribute or no, this may actually be the best performance of the year. Ledger is amazing. His Joker is at once casually menacing yet distressingly smart. You’ll never be comfortable when he’s on screen, but you won’t be able to take your eyes off him.
 
As hero and villain collide, the superheroics are plentiful and satisfying. With so many summer blockbusters dominated by computer-generated absurdity, it’s genuinely thrilling to see wonders unfold “in camera.” And so the most spectacular moment in the entire film occurs when something real and three-dimensional and huge—something that should definitely not flip completely over—flips completely over. Any audience might understandably leap to its feet and cheer at such a phenomenal sight. At my screening, I think people were simply too stunned to move.
 
As previously noted, the violence is pervasive and extreme. Batman’s whuppings are brutal but non-lethal—he has rules. It’s the Joker who delights in finding new and vicious ways to end lives. One character is severely disfigured and we see the results in some detail, but even wounds that occur “off-frame” are blood-curdling. There is limited profanity—a single H, GD, and SOB. No sexual shenanigans here, only one or two kisses that seal some fates.
 
Though far darker than any previous incarnation of the Batman story, The Dark Knight is nevertheless an impressive piece of art. You’ll walk away drained—and dazzled.
 
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At a July 19th screening the previews, each approved for the PG-13 audience, included the following: Body of Lies (R); Terminator Salvation (R); Watchmen (R); The Mummy III (PG-13); The Day the Earth Stood Still (not yet rated); Quantum of Solace (not yet rated); Tropic Thunder (R).
 
 

Movie Tuesday: WALL-E (G)

Movie Tuesday – WALL-E

 

by Jared Peterson

 

WALL-E is the latest computer-animated film from Pixar, the talented folks who made

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Upcoming Events Inside Pages

Sat Apr 29, 2017 @12:00AM
Garden Fair & Plant Sale, Washington, D.C
Sat Apr 29, 2017 @12:00AM
A Raisin in the Sun, Washington D.C
Sat Apr 29, 2017 @12:00AM
Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, Glen Echo
Sat Apr 29, 2017 @12:00AM
Johns Hopkins Spring Fair, Baltimore
Sat Apr 29, 2017 @12:00AM
Marley Station Mall Carnival, Glen Burnie
Sat Apr 29, 2017 @12:00AM
Muddy Creek Artist Guild’s Spring Art Show, Edgewater
Sat Apr 29, 2017 @12:00AM
Pygmalion, Annapolis
Sat Apr 29, 2017 @12:00AM
Sailboat Show, Annapolis
Sat Apr 29, 2017 @12:00AM
Sugarloaf Crafts Festival, Timonium
Sat Apr 29, 2017 @12:00AM
The Play of Love, Washington D.C