July 2008By: Kam Williams
Very Good .................lll
Poor............................ No Stars
The Incredible Hulk
Ed Norton Incredible As The Hulk
Five years ago, The Hulk was brought to the big screen by Ang Lee. But despite critical acclaim, the Academy Award-winning director’s artsy interpretation flopped at the box office. Now, Universal Pictures has decided to go back to the storyboard, and to reintroduce the Marvel Comics superhero afresh as if the initial adaptation of the picture didn’t even exist.
The new picture is directed by Louis Leterrier (The Transporter) who has opted to overhaul the entire cast. So say sayonara to Eric Bana as the title character and to the rest of the principals, including Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly, two-time nominee Nick Nolte, Sam Elliott and Josh Lucas. This version stars Ed Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner, a scientist who was conducting research with gamma rays when something went horribly wrong in the lab.
Via the magic of flashbacks we learn that Bruce was left with a short fuse which transforms him into an invincible green behemoth whenever he fails to control his temper. We also know that his girlfriend Betty (Liv Tyler) was knocked unconscious in the same accident and that her father, Army General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) blames Banner for his daughter’s injuries.
As the story unfolds, we find Bruce on the lam and working on an assembly line in a Brazilian bottling factory which manufactures soft drinks.
He’s been quietly trying to find a cure for his condition while keeping a low profile.
But then, a cut on the finger leads to a bit of his blood dropping into a container of soda about to be shipped to America. And before you can say “Ay Caramba!” the source of the contaminated gamma-laced crate is traced back to its point of origin in Brazil and a crack team of Army commandos soon descends on the place. The mild mannered Banner, who had been incommunicado for almost six months, loses his cool and turns into The Hulk in order to escape.
He returns to the States, and enlists the assistance of fully-recovered Betty, only to have her dad’s henchman, Blonsky (Tim Roth) still on his tail. Worse, Blonsky morphs into a worthy, superhuman adversary, The Abomination, after voluntarily being injected with an experimental radioactive serum.
This development inexorably leads to a colorful showdown in Harlem of all places. At that juncture, computer-generated imagery tends to dominate the screen, with the protagonist and his new nemesis knocking each other up and down 125th Street in a special f/x-driven battle royal which practically looks like a cartoon.
Between its uncomplicated plot and high-impact action sequences, this kid-friendly adventure is a perfect summer blockbuster. Note the closing credits cameo by fellow Marvel superhero Iron Man hinting that a joint sequel might be in the works. Also look for brief tribute appearances by Lou Ferrigno who originated the role of the Hulk on TV, and by the character’s comic book creator, the legendary Stan Lee.
Can anybody smell the franchise that Marvel is cooking?
Rated: PG-13 for violence, frightening sci-fi images, and brief suggestive content
Language: In English and Portuguese with subtitles
Running Time: 114 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Harrison Ford Returns For Close Encounter In Revival Of Indiana Jones Franchise
Like the Beatles’ melancholy refrain in the song “When I’m 64,” Harrison Ford was probably wondering whether his fans would welcome back an “older” and “losing my hair” Indiana Jones after a 19-year hiatus. For that’s exactly how old the veteran actor was when Steven Spielberg started filming the fourth installment in the fabled adventure series.
The good news is that Harrison has aged gracefully and is up to the challenge of his physically-demanding role. However, the overall production is slightly lacking somewhat in terms of generating a certain intangible we’ll call movie magic. Maybe the problem lies in the fact that the film will automatically be measured against the three earlier installments, and that it pales in comparison to those vintage screen classics.
Most folks associate the storied franchise with carefully-choreographed, death-defying stunts you can’t get out of your mind long after you’ve left the theater. Although this endeavor does feature several escape and chase scenes, none in this critic’s opinion would be considered unforgettable.
Gone is that palpable sense of urgency which kept you glued to the edge of your seat, a failing perhaps due to an increased dependency of the special effects on computer-generated imagery. So, instead of seeing our hero actually running headlong in front of a careening boulder, riding under a truck, or swaying on a ripped rope bridge over a swarm of hungry crocodiles like before, he spends a lot more time making believe in front of a blue screen. At least he’s still sporting his trademark whip and fedora.
The story is set in 1957 at the height of the Cold War, unfolding in the Nevada desert where we learn that Indy has been kidnapped by Russian spies led by the steely Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), an Eastern European villainess cut from the familiar mold of Austin Powers’ Frau Farbissina and From Russia with Love’s Rosa Klebb. Tied up in the trunk of a car, Jones is driven to Area 51, a top secret U.S. Air Force base about to be commandeered by the Commies.
Area 51 served as the site of numerous nuclear bomb tests, but even today many UFO conspiracy theorists believe that the location contains the corpse of an alien removed from a spaceship rumored to have crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. This is what is of interest to the KGB which wants Dr. Jones to lead them to the Martian’s mummified remains. For legend has it that it might contain the mysterious Crystal Skull, an ancient artifact said to be capable of unlocking limitless powers, provided it is taken to El Dorado, a lost city made of solid gold.
Of course, ingenious Indy escapes from his captors in spectacular fashion (including surviving an atomic blast inside of a refrigerator) and the race is on to find the priceless icon. Along the way, he teams up with Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), a Harley-riding, rebel without a cause, as well as with Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), an old flame he hasn’t seen for several episodes, since he was looking for the Lost Ark.
The ensuing expedition to the jungles of Peru is less edgy and dangerous than it is comfy and nostalgic, partially because the transparent plot is telegraphs its punches and is outfitted with a complement of the franchise’s usual suspects, from the maniacal henchman (Igor Jijikine) to the back-stabbing, effete double-agent (Ray Winstone) to the obsessed field researcher (John Hurt) to the weak-willed, bureaucratic academic (Jim Broadbent) who plays it by the book.
Just thank your lucky stars that Harrison Ford has the charisma to reinvent one of the most-beloved characters in screen history. Indiana Jones, AARP edition: too spry for a rocking chair, but too ossified for much more excitement than a close encounter with E.T.
Rated: PG-13 for violence and frightening images
Running Time: 124 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Sex and the City
Ballyhooed HBO Series Brought To Screen As A Bloated Blabfest Strictly For Loyal Fan Base
Since I was never swept up into any of the hysteria surrounding Sex and the City during its six-season run on HBO, this big screen adaptation had to serve as my introduction to the adult-oriented sitcom. As someone only casually familiar with the franchise, I anticipated seeing a sophisticated romantic romp revolving around four best friends who candidly confide in each other about the state of their love relationships.
But what I found instead was a bloated blabfest featuring a few of the most shallow, middle-aged females imaginable, immature material girls commenting about men, money, baubles and designer clothes in a flip and superficial manner. When not celebrating conspicuous consumption and the acquisition of status symbols, the film resorts to the sort of comic relief one would ordinarily associate with a typical raunchy teensploit: fart sound effects, poop and pubic hair jokes, a running-gag about a pet in heat, and the current romantic comedy rage, the gratuitous unveiling of male genitalia (ala Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Harold & Kumar 2, et al)
While this much-ballyhooed film version failed to measure up to my expectations, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the TV series’ devoted fans are likely to be as disappointed. After all, the picture is essentially an extended episode reuniting the original cast members and placing their characters in plausible predicaments based on their personalities and the passage of time since the show went on hiatus.
Once we get past the opening credits, the NYC-situated saga proceeds to embroil each of the leading ladies in a personal emotional drama. The primary plotline finds narrator Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and John James Preston, aka Mr. Big (Chris Noth) finally agreeing to marry after having dated off and on for ten years. She then calls gal pal Samantha (Kim Catrall) to share her “big decision,” when the lame brained bimbo guesses, “You finally got Botox.”
We subsequently learn that sexaholic Samantha, the most promiscuous of the clique, has settled down in L.A. with her neglectful boy-toy, Smith (Jason Lewis), a waiter-turned-Hollywood actor. Her crisis arrives when she finds herself attracted to Dante (Gilles Marini), a tall, dark and handsome hunk next-door with an equally-overactive libido. Will substituting food stifle the carnality she craves, or will that simply pack on poundage?
Meanwhile, back in the Big Apple, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), a career-oriented attorney with a five year-old son (Joseph Pupo), has been too busy to notice that she and her husband, Steve (David Eigenberg), haven’t slept together in six months. After he makes an admission of infidelity, she is forced to wrestle with whether she wants to work on or simply abandon the marriage.
The last of the interlocking plotlines involves the disruption of Charlotte’s (Kristin Davis) practically-perfect family life by an unplanned pregnancy. For she and hubby Harry (Evan Handler) had already adopted a Chinese orphan (Alexandra and Parker Fong) after she suffered a miscarriage.
It feels like forever by the time this 2½ hour soap opera ties all these assorted loose ends together, especially given that the dialogue is laced with annoying lines like, “It was the best money I ever spent” from spoiled rotten Carrie about buying a Louis Vuitton. On another occasion, Miranda complains that she can’t get a 917 area code for her new cell phone number, after she narcissistic threw the last one in the ocean in a fit of rage.
Unfortunately, the supporting cast isn’t any more endearing, starting with Jennifer Hudson who plays best-selling writer Carrie’s just-hired assistant, Louise. The Oscar-winner (for Dreamgirls) isn’t given much to do here other than to look relatively frumpy while gushing over her fashion plate boss’ great taste and generosity. Meanwhile, Mario Cantone camps it up as Anthony, a gay wedding planner who seizes on any excuse to steal a scene like a flamboyant queen.
An estrogen-fueled salute to the virtues of excess, if that’s your Gucci bag.
Rated: R for profanity, sexuality and graphic nudity
Running Time: 142 minutes
Studio: New Line Cinema
On the Rumba River
Bio-Pic Pays Tribute To Legendary Congolese Musician Wendo Kolosoy
Born in Northern Congo in 1925, Antoine Kolosoy, divided his youth between honing his skills at boxing and playing the guitar. Roaming up and down the Congo River on his ramshackle raft, he acquired the nickname Wendo while developing a loyal musical following, despite having his songs banned by the Church and the Belgian bureaucrats who had colonized his homeland.
The Establishment’s fear was that his tunes might contain secret messages intended to foment civil unrest, since the lyrics were in his native Lingala. Many of his colleagues were, in fact, assassinated for refusing to perform in Portuguese.
Wendo’s verses were actually apolitical, and after his first album was recorded and released in 1948, he became the Congo’s first Rumba superstar, performing in and around the country’s capital Kinshasa with his band, Victoria Kin. He went on to find fame both as a professional boxer and as a musician, though the latter career would prove to be the more enduring.
It would even survive the blighted nation’s decades of post independence suffering marked by poverty, oppression and civil war, during which Wendo’s brand of Rumba would serve to sustain the spirits of the Congolese people. Ultimately, the venerable cultural icon did fall on hard times, and was temporarily reduced to begging for tips until mounting a successful comeback in the 1990s.
On the Rumba River, a retrospective directed by Jacques Sarasin (I’ll Sing for You), is an endearing mix of reminiscences and impromptu concerts by Wendo and some of his former sidemen, all of whom are by now senior citizens up there in years. Plus, the picture features plenty of compelling cinematography guaranteed to give the uninformed a good idea of what life might be like in a land where over four million souls have perished in a never-ending cycles of exploitation and ethnic cleansing.
An overdue tribute to some talented geezers which might as well be called The Kinshasa Social Club – if you get my drift.
Language: In Lingala with subtitles
Running Time: 82 minutes
Studio: First Run Features
Real-Life Crime Saga Adapted To The Screen
On Friday, October 26, 2001, 27 year-old Chante Mallard, an African-American employed as nurse’s aide, was driving under the influence of both booze and illegal drugs following a night of partying when she hit Gregory Biggs as he was crossing the street. The 37 year-old, homeless white man became wedged in the windshield, and no amount of shaking could roll him off the hood.
Biggs was bleeding but alive, and although his injuries were not yet life threatening, Chante decided to drive home without ever calling an ambulance or reporting the accident to the police. Instead, she invited her boyfriend, Clete Jackson, over, and for the rest of the weekend they continued to drink alcohol, smoke pot, do Ecstasy and make love, while intermittently checking on the deteriorating condition of the guy in the garage.
When Mr. Biggs finally bled to death a couple of days later, they dumped his body in a park in Fort Worth, Texas with the help of Clete’s cousin and set the car on fire elsewhere to hide the evidence. The only reason the trio got caught is because Chante was overheard laughingly recounting the incident to friends several months later. She was subsequently convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, while her boyfriend got 10 years, and their accomplice after the fact got 9.
Stuck, a crime story only loosely based on the above events, stars Mena Suvari (American Beauty) as Brandi, a white girl sporting corn rows and dating an overbearing black drug dealer named Rashid (Russell Hornsby). Soon after the point of departure we find the pair in a noisy nightclub where he pressures her to trust him and take an unidentified pill although she’s obviously already inebriated.
Not long thereafter, she leaves alone and while talking to Rashid on her cell phone runs into a hobo (Stephen Rea) pushing a shopping cart. His head on resting the dashboard, the bum begs Brandi for help, and at first she heads for the hospital, only to panic and turn around. “You should’ve watched where you were going,” she blames the victim, though still promising to get help.
The screen version of the saga departs considerably from the known facts in order to present Brandi as a somewhat sympathetic and emotionally-conflicted figure. Instead, it’s her Svengali-like boyfriend is portrayed as the more culpable monster. While these two mate like rabbits in a controlled substance-fueled frenzy, the picture introduces an array of colorful passersby who come close to discovering their semi-comatose hood ornament. There’s a kid chasing an errant soccer ball, curious illegal aliens, a dog walker and nosy neighbors.
Surprisingly taut and absorbing, even if you’re already familiar with the famous case, Stuck is a harrowing tale which maintains a palpable tension for the duration. Just don’t watch it on an empty stomach.
Rated: R for nudity, profanity, explicit sexuality, drug use, graphic violence and disturbing images
Language: In English and Spanish with subtitles
Running Time: 86 minutes
Then She Found Me
Helen Hunt Makes Decent Directorial Debut with Bittersweet Romantic Comedy
Ten years after she won an Academy Award for As Good As It Gets, Helen Hunt has now decided to take a shot at directing. Her debut offering, Then She Found Me, is based on the best seller of the same name by Elinor Lipman. Hunt also wrote the screen adaptation and co-stars opposite Colin Firth and Bette Midler in this bittersweet romantic comedy exploring a litany of themes, including love, loss, rebirth and redemption.
The story is set in Brooklyn where we find newlywed April Epner (Hunt) hearing her biological clock ticking and eager to start a family. Unfortunately the 39 year-old schoolteacher’s immature husband and colleague Ben (Matthew Broderick) doesn’t share her feelings. In fact, he’s been having second thoughts about even having tied the knot, and is about to break the news that he’s decided to leave her after only 12 months of marriage.
The morning after being dumped, a Prince Charming fortuitously comes waltzing into her life in the person of Frank (Firth), the father of one of her students. He’s recently separated from his wife and can barely hide his attraction to April. But before their love has a chance to blossoms a few flies land in the ointment.
First, April’s adoptive mother (Lynn Cohen) dies. Second, she finds out she’s pregnant by her ex. Third, her birth mother (Bette Midler), a flamboyant talk show host, shows up out of nowhere, in need of quality time and wanting to bond. So, as April practically simultaneously sets about grieving, divorcing, getting acquainted with her long-lost mom, and preparing for the arrival of a baby, she also starts dating the man of her dreams.
No need to spoil any of the picture’s array of surprising developments, suffice to say that the plot is anything but predictable. As for grading Hunt’s overall effort, other than perhaps being a little long in the tooth to have Colin Firth’s character convincingly going gaga over her (“You’re gorgeous!”), she did a decent job of directing a chick flick which ought to be a hit with the distaff demographic.
Just remember to pack the hankies.
Rated: R for profanity and sexuality
Running Time: 100 minutes
Studio: THINKfilm Company
Hobos Find Self-Esteem Competing For Homeless World Cup
When you’re homeless, as the late Rodney Dangerfield used to say, “You don’t get no respect.” Street people are generally shunned by society to the point where some start to wonder whether they are still fully human.
For this reason, Kicking It, narrated by Colin Farrell, is an important documentary. The movie marks the remarkable directorial debut of Susan Koch who ventured to Cape Town, South Africa to record for posterity a soccer competition called the Homeless World Cup. The event was the brainchild of the World Economic Forum which sought to dramatize the plight of the least of our brethren by offering them an opportunity to prove themselves at the sport that the rest of the world calls football.
The games were staged at the same time as the official World Cup in 2006, but the national teams entered here were all comprised completely of the homeless. Among the 48 countries represented were the United States, Kenya, Rwanda, Ireland, Namibia, Mexico, Uganda, Afghanistan, Holland, Russia, Paraguay, Australia, Ghana, Finland, Spain and Kazakhstan, to name a few.
This is not a film to be watched merely for the soccer matches, although a sports fan might find that aspect of the production compelling. Rather, what makes the picture worthwhile are the intimate portraits painted of seven of the participants. From Dublin we have Damien, a goalie who wants to get off methadone, and his team captain Simon a recovered addict who is still grieving the loss of a brother to drugs.
Then, there’s Alex from Kenya, who supports his family back in Nairobi by cleaning toilets in a soccer stadium. Meanwhile, ex-con Jesus, 63, hails from Madrid, where he did time for bank robbery. Despite his age, he’s considered the heart and soul of the Spanish team which is made up of substance abusers, alcoholics and a prostitute.
Nineteen year-old Afghani Najib admits to being plagued by nightmares triggered by memories of public executions carried out by the Taliban’s reign of terror which claimed the lives of his father and a couple of his siblings. Craig, an orphan from Charlotte, North Carolina, also 19, has anger management issues due to an unstable childhood spent on a merry-go-round inside the foster care system. The film’s final subject is Slava an undocumented and hence unemployable Russian whose country now has over 5,000,000 similarly-situated street people.
After the closing festivities, Kicking It signs off with a bittersweet postscript updating how everyone we’ve just met is doing today, whether unchanged, relapsed, deceased or finally inspired to get off the streets and find gainful employment. A tearjerker certain to elicit concern and compassion from anyone watching for the billion on the planet still homeless.
Running Time: 98 minutes
Studio: Liberation Entertainment
Love Comes Lately
Virile Octogenarian Looks for Love and Lust in Wistful Romance Drama
Eighty year-old Max Kohn (Otto Tausig) is an Austrian émigré whose world view was substantially shaped by the Holocaust. Still, he overcame the trauma to become a celebrated fiction writer and now lives in Manhattan with Reisele (Rhea Perlman), his very jealous girlfriend of a dozen years.
Even at his advanced age, the accomplished author remains very busy between traveling to speaking engagements and cranking out steamy, semi-autobiographical tales about the sexploits of a geezer suspiciously similar to himself. But the virile octogenarian’s nomadic lifestyle tends to get him into trouble, for his erotic fantasies have a strange way of playing out in a surreal fashion given his active imagination and healthy libido.
An offbeat blending of Max’s wistful myths and actual conquests is the subject of Love Comes Lately, a bittersweet romantic romp written and directed by Jan Schutte. The German director based the picture on three short stories (“Alone,” “The Briefcase” and “Old Love”) by Yiddish Nobel Prize-winner Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Superficially, the scenarios which unfold reflect the perspective of an elderly Jew, since this is precisely Max’s point-of-view. Yet, they are simultaneously somehow universal in nature, since the essence of what he experiences remains commonly human.
His amorous adventures begin at a Miami hotel where he has a couple of close encounters, one with a seductive widow (Caroline Aaron) and another with a Latino maid (Elizabeth Pena) with a limp who likes Max because he treats her with respect. However, when he has second thoughts about cheating with her, she responds angrily, mistakenly feeling rejected because of her infirmity.
Next, he ventures to Hanover, New Hampshire to deliver a lecture only to end up in the arms of an ex-student (Barbara Hershey) who now teaches Hebrew Literature at Dartmouth. Later, he entertains the advances of his still-grieving, new neighbor (Tovah Feldshuh) who informs Max that he reminds him of her recently-departed husband right before she uses her balcony as a launching pad.
Proof galore that Viagra has enabled a whole generation of frisky seniors to turn the clock way back. Eighty is the new Forty!
Running Time: 82 minutes
Studio: Kino International
Kung Fu Panda
Jack Black as Clumsy Panda Bear in Charming Animated Adventure
Po (Jack Black) is a clumsy panda who works in his family’s noodle shop in an idyllic oasis known as the Valley of Peace. Instead of concentrating on customers, the young Kung Fu fan always seems to be distracted by dreams of studying martial arts alongside the Furious Five, a legendary quintet comprised of the Tigress (Angelina Jolie), the Crane (David Cross), the Praying Mantis (Seth Rogen), the Viper (Lucy Liu) and the Monkey (Jackie Chan). However, he’s so uncoordinated that he’s too embarrassed to share his secret desire with his father (James Hong) who reasonably expects his son to take over the restaurant when he retires.
This all changes the day elderly Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), a sage sensei, has an eerie premonition about Tai Lung (Ian McShane), a former protégé of his gone bad. He has a hunch that the treacherous leopard has escaped from prison after 20 years behind bars, and that he’s head back to the region with revenge in mind.
So, in accordance with an ancient Chinese prophecy, Oogway stages a formal ceremony to name a Dragon Warrior to defend the kingdom. Everyone expects him to pick from among the Furious Five, but a comedy of errors leads to his settling on Po, a late-arriving spectator who makes an attention-grabbing entrance.
Now afforded an opportunity to prove himself worthy, the second act of this action-oriented cartoon revolves around Po’s being whipped into shape for the big showdown by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). If you’re at all familiar with the overcoming the odds fight genre, you know exactly what’s involved, a rigorous regimen featuring trademark tableaus ranging from Rocky’s one-handed pushups to The Karate Kid’s balancing himself on one foot.
Like a cross of Mickey and Mister Miyagi, Shifu employs reverse psychology, telling Po he’s nothing but a lazy bum who’ll never amount to anything, while mixing in trite fortune cookie philosophy like “There are no accidents!” for good measure. As for the third act, Tai Lung does indeed arrive, but far be it from me to spoil the events of the ensuing battle royal.
An animated cross of Rocky and The Karate Kid certain to delight this generation of tykes afresh.
Rated: PG for martial arts action
Running Time: 92 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Mumia Abu-Jamal A Case For Reasonable Doubt
Docudram Films Announces DVD Release
Journalist, writer, death-row inmate and political prisoner. From behind the walls, Mumia Abu-Jamal speaks for the first time in Mumia: A Case For Reasonable Doubt? Mumia was convicted and sentenced to death for the Dec. 9, 1981 murder of a white Philadelphia police officer. Mumia’s conviction has been protested by activists and celebrities because of irregularities in both the evidence and the conduct of his trail.
Released by Docurama Films, this DVD is an excellent tool for understanding the case. This explosive documentary reopens the case on America’s most “celebrated” death row inmate, fearlessly exposing a broken justice system that has confined Mumia Abu-Jamal to prison for over 25 years. Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case For Reasonable Doubt? Dares to ask whether this radical journalist and Black Panther with no prior criminal record was treated fairly by the Philadelphia police and prosecutors for a murder he may not have committed. Biting, yet poetic, this powerful film blows gaping holes in the credibility of the case against Mumia while giving the man himself room to air his provocative political and social views. In an exclusive interview from death row, Mumia speaks about the grandchildren he has never touched and the “state-inflicted terror designed to kill the spirit and eventually to kill the body.” A film the authorities don’t want you to see, Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case For Reasonable Doubt? Is an unforgettably searing indictment of the death penalty and a criminal justice system tinged with racism.
About the filmmaker: John Edginton is an award-winning documentary producer and director acclaimed for his investigative and provocative films, often about high profile subjects. For more information, visit www.otmoorproductions.com.
Running Time: 74 Minutes +extras
Suggested Retail Price: $26.95
Catalog #: NNVG111452