The warm rays of the summer sun are right around the corner, and that means Hollywood is sending out their best and brightest in order to get their greedy little hands on your hard earned buck. With this sudden flush of films on the market the average goer is in a bit of a pickle deciding which movie is worth seeing; that’s where my inimitable critiquing comes in. Now I haven’t seen any of the following movies (nor do I know much at all about them) but I am going to assume its plotline or synopsis solely based on its poster, its cast/director and timeless movie clichés, then proceed to give my review of the film based solely on my fabricated storyline. Sounds pretty fair to me; let us proceed.

First up to bat is The Last Airbender, a film by the infamous M. Night Shamalamanalana…..

The film opens on a precariously located Nepalese mountain temple where a 10 year old, Ari, meditates as the wind violently blows past him. The shot pans in and focuses entirely on his face, demonstrating the Zen like state he currently embodies as the gale force winds surround him. Suddenly, his meditative state is interrupted by a voice saying “Ari you must…… ahhhh, fuck it, you and I all know this one ends with a shitty twist so I might as well skip to the spoilers… Then in a final Shyamalanian twist, the camera pans out (in opposing fashion as the opening scene), and reveals it was all a video game played by some tubby 17 year old who’d been up all night gaming. His mom pops her head in the room and says (a nod to the opening scene) “Alright Ari, time to get ready for school.” Then real life Ari turns off the game, leaving the television black, and exits the room. The final image focuses in on the TV as the music cues the credits.

Really M. Night Shyamalan!! Another twist?? Didn’t see that coming, not by a long shot. Gahhh…  Not only was this a lame rip off of the Matrix, that final twist was a malevolent slap in the face. Were we really just watching some fat kid play his Xbox for 142mins? For shame Shyamalan, for shame. And it’s not like his foreshadowing was subtle with the life bars during the final battle, Ari's need to pick up mushrooms and coins along the way and the final fantasy like subtitles when the fire benders spoke. I think Mr. Shyamalan needs to take a long hard look in the mirror and rethink his career choices. But, to the cinematographer’s credit it wasn’t all bad, this film was beautifully shot, but imagery alone does not a movie make. I give this ignominious flick 1 international ok hand gesture out of 5, adding with it a soulful plea with the studios to stop funding M. Night’s movies, unless this is a “The Producers” type deal where they make more money with a flop than a hit; if so, then by all means proceed as you have the proverbial goose who shat the rotten egg in Shyamalan.

The following film is Warner Brother’s Inception, starring Leonardo Dicaprio and directed by Chris Nolan (of Batman fame).

Jack Stern (Dicaprio) is a secret agent for the CIA assigned to protect the President(Cromwell) during his speech in Detroit. All is going to plan until, without warning, water begins to flood the city streets sending everyone in a panic. The source? Detroit’s inept Mayor(Zane) commandeered the city right into a giant iceberg. Now people are drowning left and right and it’s up to Jack to save the day and the President. But things go much deeper than the eye can see: the President and the Mayor were in cahoots to sink Detroit all along. Jack, now privy to their insidious plan, has to evade capture from his new enemy, the Government, while trying to get the love of his life, Rosie(Holmes), on a lifeboat. Through a series of clever evasions, big explosions & the diffusion of clandestine operations, Jack rows his makeshift kayak to the scene of the crime, finally ending up face to face with the venal duo: the President & the Mayor; only one catch, Jack has just one bullet left. The President tries to reason with Jack, offering him a cushy job, endless amounts of cash & a secure escape for his girlfriend in exchange for their lives and Jack’s secrecy, but Jack piously refuses. The President then asks “Why so serious, Jack?”, Jack looks him dead in the eyes and retorts “Cause it’s my job, Mr. President!” and then points the gun at the Mayor and shoots him dead, thereby gaining access to the anti-sink button and saving Detroit. In the end, Jack Stern arrests the President and his cabinet, outing them to the press as the criminals they are. The final scene is of Jack Stern being awarded a congressional medal of honour, then mysteriously being handed a note inscribed with “What has 5 corners and can’t swim?” THE END

Boy-o-boy this flick has more holes than Sonny Corleone. No matter how hard Chris Nolan tried, this is not Batman, or Titanic for that matter. How they honestly expect the viewer to believe Detroit can sink like a boat is beyond me. The endless twists with who was Jack’s friend now turned enemy, the lack of closure on Stern’s girlfriend, and that convenient “anti-sink” button that saves the day are all egregious examples of carelessness by the director and his staff that left me more confused than a rodeo clown at a grocery store. On the other hand, Leo’s performance as the rogue CIA agent Jack Stern, along with the breathtaking action sequences, are minute bright lights in an otherwise desultory mess. In the end, I give Inception 2 international ok hand gestures out of 5. And for the love of god, please don’t let there be a sequel.

The middle child to this list is Grown Ups, starring Adam Sandler alongside his latter-day ‘dead end kids’

Adam Sandler and 4 of his best friends go to the water park to slide down slides for 95 minutes eventually learning the big life lesson of listening to your inner child, grossing $190 million in box office revenue in return. THE END.

Here we go again, another summer treat for the road from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison productions. I’m not sure how much of this was scripted as opposed to it being Mr. Sandler and his usual suspects being shadowed by cameras as they visited Raging Waters for an SNL reunion party, and then slapping together the semblance of a plot in the editing room. I certainly feel as though we fall victim to the latter. In this summer romp, Mr. Sandler reiterates his reputation as the nicest guy in Hollywood by ostensively never saying ‘no’ to any friend who asked for a part, and then doing him one further by pairing his friend’s character with one of Hollywood’s most attractive leading ladies. But his benevolence obviously created some budgetary reshuffling in that the funding for a shooting script must have been axed in return for the countless star salaries. Ultimately though the acting was mediocre, the directing was uninspired, the plot was wafer thin and the comedy was hit or miss; one can almost say these releases are becoming cloyed. But astoundingly, I give Grown Ups 4 international ok hand gestures out of 5 because above all else, I really enjoy Mr. Sandler’s movies for what they are, pure popcorn fluff for the cinema.

Lucky number four is the much anticipated (if this were 1987) action flick The Expendables, starring (seriously) Sly Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Jet Li, Jason Statham, and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin along with cameos by (honest to God) Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

The film opens up on Rocko (Stallone), alone in the gym as he finishes up his boxing training. All of a sudden he is attacked by 10 masked assailants. He proceeds to kick the shit out of all them without even breaking a sweat, then saying to the last guy “I am the law,” before he breaks his neck. Then he blows up the gym and drives off in his Lamborghini Murcielago. Cue opening credits. Enter Merv (Rourke) and Major Lee (Steve Austin), minding their own business at a gun range, shooting RPGs and M-16s. Without warning, 15 masked assailants storm the pair off guard as they drink beer. Our heros then proceed to kick the shit out of a few of them (watch for the trademark ‘Stone Cold Stunner’) in order to reach their M-16s and RPGs, and then ruthlessly shoot the rest with their ostentatious weaponry, all whilst smoking big fat Cuban cigars. After everyone is dead, they slap hands and wittingly say “Major Lee 3:16 means we just shot your ass.” Both leave the obliterated gun range and drive off in their H1 Hummer & Enzo Ferrari, respectively. Rocko, Merv & Maj. Lee meet up with the rest of their friends, Chevy(Statham) and others, at Rocko’s mom(Estelle, played by Betty White)’s house. Estelle takes out old Expendables stuff, much to their chagrin, so they can reminisce about when they were part of a super secret covert team that saved the world on countless occasions but have since retired. Suddenly a breaking Presidential Address comes on the TV. The President (Schwarzenegger) talks about how the world is under attack by the Russians & Chinese, respectively lead by Drag (Lundgren) and Chang (Jet Li). He implores for the Expendables to come out of hiding/retirement to save the world from Drag & Chang’s nefarious plan - to steal the world’s supply of butonium in order to create the greatest WMD of all time thereby becoming the de facto rulers of earth. In a surprising twist, 35 masked assailants drop onto Estelle’s house intending to kill the Expendables. The Expendables proceed to kick the shit out of all the bad guys but in turn destroy the house. After all the bad guys are dead, Estelle quips to the corpses “Now that’s what I call hospitality.” The Expendables head out on the case in their helicopters, tanks and warships, reluctantly taking Estelle along with them. Through blowing up half the world and killing off hoards of bad guys, the Expendables (slightly battered) finally reach Drag & Chang in their nuclear missile silo HQ and proceed to thrillingly battle it out. Just when it looks as if Drag & Chang are going to win, McCane (Willis), their old partner that they haven’t seen since he went in hiding years ago, storms in barefooted on a zip line and takes out Chang, adding with a smirk “Just thought I’d drop in on you guys”. Eventually Drag nears the holy red button but not before Estelle serendipitously gets a gun and points it at Drag, with Rocko adding “Stop Drag or my mom will shoot.” Drag dismisses the warning so Estelle shoots him dead, thereby saving the day. Fade out to the Expendables all getting accolades from the President, who then asks them to come out of retirement. They all think it over, then give the President an exuberant “YES”, then Estelle pops in and coyly says, “Need someone to pack your lunches boys?” Everyone laughs and the credits roll. THE END.

The Expendables comes replete with all your favorite action clichés: mindless destruction, muscles, fast cars, weaponry, tacked on fights, car chases, platitudes and an over-the-top, suspend your disbelief storyline. Basically this boils down to the cinematic version of an all-star game: no one cares about logic or rules, they just want to see the superstars at play, and that they do. I would better criticize this film but really it is so barely there beyond the special fx that it would pretty much be like trying to strangle steam. But beyond the trite action sequences and brain dead storyline, Betty White (in an obvious nod to her late fellow Golden Girl, Estelle Getty) really adds color to an otherwise khaki film. Her character is just so affable she makes you wish she was your mom tagging along with you on the job, witty quips et al. For what it is, I have to give The Expendables 3 international ok hand gestures out of 5; but heed my warning, leave your brain at home because that will only encumber any enjoyment of this film.

And finally we have the next (and hopefully last) installment of the Sex And The City series: Sex And The City 2: The Golden Years, starring four old leather jackets the studio's costumer never had the heart to throw away.

Three menopausal career women and one transgender traverse through life and try to make sense of the ever so difficult New York City dating scene. One eventually gets married, one gets divorced, one has a kid and one gets eaten by a bear only to come back as a ghost adorned with golden accessories. The ghost then ‘carrie(s) on’ in the afterlife, trying to hook up with Jesus so she can get the best table at the hottest restaurant in heaven, only to later complain about the size of his penis and subsequently breaking Jesus’ heart in favor of Frank Sinatra. After marrying Old Blue Eyes, she returns to her friends in a dream to brag about how fabulous she is in heaven and how she doesn’t have to worry about aging or wrinkles or STDs. This spectral visit effectively makes all her friends jealous and inspires them to commit suicide so they can all party it up in heaven with the Ratt Pack, Richard Nixon, Babe Ruth and John Holmes. The final image is the camera irising in on the golden ghost’s face as she breaks the 4 wall and winks at the audience, letting us know all is going to be just fine. THE END.

Let me begin by unequivocally applauding the Jim Henson Studio on their mastery innovations in puppeteering. Never have I seen puppets so life like! But I digress. Beyond the unprecedented puppeteering, the movie itself was a nice twist on an otherwise predictable canon. Transplanting these otherwise trite characters into new surroundings while keeping the pathos of SATC alive must have been no easy task, but the writers and director were surprisingly efficacious. And I honestly have to say the performances were pretty good (with the help of the preeminent puppeteering that is); I really felt for each character’s struggles as they dealt with aging, death, their lord, the need for pinnacle restaurant reservations and their withered old naughty bits. But alas, this film wasn’t all good as the pacing was a little slow in parts, like when the four got ready to go out, or went shopping, or when the Golden Ghost conversed with Jesus on their first date. These scenes all dragged on beyond what I felt was necessary to further story but with the help of a little editing, this really could have been cleaned up. Ultimately I was taken back with this film and will have to give it 3.5 international ok hand gestures out of 5, 2.5 solely award for the puppeteering – it’s almost too soon to say but, I smell an Oscar for visual fx :)

by Matthew Leeb