"That snail is fast!" This tagline sums up all you need to know about Turbo, the rather ironic tale of a garden snail who races in the Indy 500. The latest computer-animated flick from Dreamworks tells a typically predictable underdog story, with the proper doses of humor and heartwarming moments. It's totally cliché, but still great family fun.
Voiced by Ryan Reynolds, Turbo (née Theo) is a simple garden snail who is fed up with his humdrum life in the tomato patch with his overly cautious brother Chet (Paul Giamatti). When he isn't working with overripe fruit at "the plant," the ambitious little snail watches old car race tapes and dreams of being fast like French-Canadian Indy 500 champion Guy Gagne (voiced by Bill Hader). Then one fateful night, Turbo is exposed to nitrous oxide and effectively transformed into a car, equipped with a radio, alarm, headlights, and best of all, super speed. Turbo's newfound abilities quickly come into play when he rescues Chet from a crow attack, but the two brothers are then snatched up by a taco truck driver named Tito Lopez. Just when they think they're about to become escargot, Chet and Turbo are surprised to find that Tito only wants to enter them in a snail race.
Tito and his brother Angelo operate the struggling Dos Bros taco stand in a ramshackle strip mall with a hobby shop, nail salon, and auto repair shop. The owners are friends, racing snails together to take their minds off their failing businesses. But when they discover Turbo's incredible talents, they decide to show him off to the world. With hopes to win the Indy 500 and put their strip mall on the map, the shop owners and their snails band together to travel to Indianapolis. Then, it's all up to Turbo and his supersnail speed.
With a star-studded cast boasting the likes of Maya Rudolph, Samuel L. Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Michelle Rodriguez, Luis Guzmán, Michale Pena and Richard Jenkins, Turbo is an adorable film about a little snail with big dreams. While some animated movies focus solely on entertaining the kids, and others devote too much energy to appeasing the adults, Turbo manages to achieve a nice balance of humor that will have parents and their children laughing together. And it promotes the inspiring messages that we want our children to be exposed to: 1) Follow your dreams, no matter how outlandish they may be. 2) Your heroes may disappoint you, but you can become your own hero. 3) Taco trucks are awesome.
Indeed, Turbo features some nice contemporary touches, like the ever-popular food truck, a viral video subplot, and a French-accented car-racing villain à la Talladega Nights. Still, there is absolutely nothing surprising about this movie, which isn't necessarily to its detriment but certainly makes for a less exciting viewing experience. There's comic relief (most notably Ken Jeong's voice performance as a feisty female manicurist) and a bit of suspense, but we're never too worried that things won't turn out okay in the end. Is it realistic? Of course not. But is it fun? Most definitely. In effect, it's an easy movie to watch and enjoy for 90 minutes or so, but you probably won't find yourself hankering for a repeat viewing. While Turbo is nothing groundbreaking, it's a charming film with a lot of heart.
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Turning "Jack and the Beanstalk" into a Lord of the Rings-style fantasy epic sounds like the premise of a MADtv sketch, but director Bryan Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns) finds a happy medium between grand action filmmaking and the dapper whimsy of an Errol Flynn adventure with Jack the Giant Slayer. The movie nods to its storybook origins: the characters are slight, the villains are goofy, and every action is painted in the biggest, boldest, most colorful stroke possible. It's fluffier than Rings, and that's not knock on the film. Jack is light on its toes, making it the perfect entry-level fantasy film for genre buffs and their kids to enjoy.
Jack suffers most of its problems in the first 10 minutes, a plodding, stylized recounting of man's history with giants. It's a tedious stretch that also introduces us to Jack (Nicholas Hoult), a farm boy whose dreams of a thrilling soldier life cloud his ability to do anything right. His kingdom's princess, Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), suffers from the same inability to escape her life. When she finally goes on the run in one last effort to escape her suitor Roderick (Stanley Tucci), the princess takes refuge on Jack's farm. The two instantly connect, but their rainy night in is rudely interrupted by a few misplaced magic beans, which produce a towering beanstalk straight through Jack's bachelor pad. Jack watches as Isabelle and his home disappear into the clouds. The king and his army immediately spring into action to rescue the princess, and Jack's newfound connection to Isabelle drives him to join the team.
RELATED: 'Jack' Might Have Just The Right Amount of Nonsense — Trailer
Jack the Giant Slayer's lengthy setup feels frivolous in both script and execution, a series of hurdles in the way of the real fun of the movie. Jack partners with head knight Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and the king's advisor Roderick (like Jafar!) — who hides a secret connection to the towering beasts — to climb the beanstalk and track down Isabelle. Singer knows his way around an action set piece and turns the scaling of the beanstalk, even with CG enhancements, into a dizzying vertigo experience. When the group arrives in "Gantua," the land of the giants, they immediately encounter the floating land's residents and are outnumbered (not to mention, outscaled). Singer has his cake with the design of his monstrous ensemble: they're both cartoonish (maybe a bit so in the case of Bill Nighy's General Fallon, who has a second, blabbering head) and realized with detail and familiar motion. The giants have distinct personalities, and they clash with both their human adversaries and each other. Most of Jack the Giant Slayer is from Jack's ant-like perspective, like a medieval Honey I Shrunk the Kids.
Hoult is up to the physical task of outrunning (and occasionally slaying) the giants, a gimmick that never gets too repetitive thanks to Jack's 90-minute runtime. Livening up the set pieces are McGregor and Tucci, who both chew up their fair share of scenery along the way. McGregor is sprightly as the noble knight. At one point, the actor finds himself wrapped in dough, fated with becoming a human-sized pig in a blanket. Silly, but McGregor knows it — and plays it through for laughs. Tucci has a ball as the diabolical villain, sneering and sniveling against the computer animated giants. The man knows what he can get away with in a fairy tale movie and takes full advantage. The two eventually share a duel and its the highlight of the movie.
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Teased in the trailers, Jack and the Giant Slayer caps off with a grand battle. The movie takes one too many cues from the fantasy films of yore (moments in the score feel directly ripped from Rings), but impressively, Singer's stamp never disappears, even in the biggest scenes. A sequence where the beanstalk is cut and topples over across the open fields is expertly crafted, while the warring finale moves swiftly from small moments, like Elmont and Jack organizing troops for battle, to vistas filled with destruction. When giants attack, they go big. Singer always knows just where to have us looking — at a firing catapult, at a bellowing giant, at knights pushing against the castle gate to ward off intruders — and it's cut together for maximum thrills.
Jack the Giant Slayer is blockbuster entertainment built upon fairy tale logic. Scrutiny does it no justice, but from a giant's point of view — or atop the beanstalk, if you're a pesky human — the big picture is good fun.
What do you think? Tell Matt Patches directly on Twitter @misterpatches and read more of his reviews on Rotten Tomatoes!
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
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I'm glad that Bryan Singer's new film, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures re-imagining of the "Jack and the Bean Stalk" tale, is finally coming together. Since breaking out with The Usual Suspects in the mid 90s, Singer has established himself as a versatile visionary who has a knowledgeable understanding of what makes cinema such a powerful medium. He now turns his energies to unexplored territory - the fantasy genre - with Jack and the Giant Killer, but although the film has now been officially greenlit by the studio, little else is known about the project.
It's common knowledge that Christopher McQuarrie has re-written Mark Bomback and Darren Lemke's original script and Deadline is now reporting that Kick Ass star Aaron Johnson may be taking the title role. The development is hardly a surprise for those who have been following Singer's activity: Johnson was rumored to be playing young Cyclops in the filmmaker's X-Men: First Class (on which he is a producer) and he supposedly held casting sessions for both projects at the same time (which could have been the cause of the plethora of false information that surrounded that film's casting process). Now, with First Class well underway and no news about Johnson being involved, the probability of him working with Singer on Giant Killer is looking good.
In my opinion, the actors won't make or break this film: it's all about Singer's direction. He's proven himself capable of handling both massive action sequences of quieter character driven moments, so I don't think that there's anything to worry about. Johnson seems like a fine young performer; I have no doubt that his career is on the fast track to success. But the major story that will surround Jack and the Giant Killer will be Singer's return to the big screen after a pretty lengthy absence - by the time the film is released, presumably sometime in 2012, it will have been more than three years since his last film (2008's Valkyrie); the longest we've ever had to wait for a new movie from the talented auteur. That means that expectations will be high, but I doubt that he'll disappoint.
Update: Well, it looks like Sam Raimi managed to clear his schedule for this one. Yesterday we reported that Disney was courting the director to take the reins of Oz, the Great and Powerful, a proposed prequel to the original The Wizard of Oz, but that he had other commitments (World Warcraft) to consider before accepting. Now, Nikke Finke over at Deadline Hollywood is reporting that Sam Raimi has in fact agreed to take the directors chair in a meeting that went down with CAA (Creative Artists Agency) reps last night. Raimi will direct Robert Downey Jr. in the title role as a circus wrangler who gets whisked away by a tornado to the land of Oz, where he somehow manages to finagle his way onto the throne in the Emerald City.
Original story (June 14): Vulture is reporting that Disney has reached out to Sam Raimi to helm Oz, the Great and Powerful, a prequel to the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Although it had been rumored that Sam Mendes and Adam Shankman were also in the running for the gig, insiders are now reporting that Raimi received an official offer for the project this weekend.
However, it's not yet clear whether Raimi's schedule will allow him to accept. The director of the Spider-Man trilogy had planned on shooting a live-action adaptation of the popular video game World of Warcraft after wrapping Spider-Man 4, but since Sony has dumped Raimi and ordered a Spider-Man reboot, the director's next project has been a matter of speculation. World of Warcraft is now in pre-production, with a planned release date some time in 2013, but Disney is interested in beginning principal photography on Oz, the Great and Powerful sometime this year.
Even if that leaves time for Raimi to direct Oz, the Great and Powerful, Warner Bros. has been concurrently developing two competing Oz-based films of their own. One, called Wizard of Oz, is connected with studio producer Basil Iwanyk and scribe Josh Olson (A History of Violence); the other project, Oz, is being developed by Twilight producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey and writer Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After) for Warner's New Line Cinema. Both would have to contend with British filmmaker John Boorman's straight-up CGI adaptation The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which is due sometime this year.
While it's not unusual at all for competing studios to be in development of similar subject matter (especially when said subject matter is now public domain, as the original L. Frank Baum novel has been since 1956), pressure from Warner Bros. may force Disney's hand; if World of Warcraft becomes a major commitment for Sam Raimi, I wouldn't be surprised if the studio moves ahead on Oz, the Great and Powerful without him.
While the first two Shrek films scored high praise from both critics and audiences the third installment of the animated saga 2007’s Shrek the Third was widely considered a letdown a signal that Dreamworks’ wildly successful franchise had finally jumped the shark. But that didn’t deter the studio from greenlighting a fourth Shrek film Shrek Forever After with the somewhat dubious assurance that it would be the last to feature the titular green ogre.
The plot of Shrek Forever After in many ways reflects the creative fatigue the filmmakers clearly feel: After fathering triplets with his wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz) Shrek (Mike Myers) has settled into a wearisome domestic routine of morning feedings clogged bathrooms and neighborhood pot lucks. But a domesticated Shrek is a boring Shrek and he soon longs to escape the tedium of family life and return to the carefree days when all the creatures of the forest feared his roar. But how? He's stuck.
Or so it seems until a lispy local charlatan Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn doing a solid Paul Reubens impression) offers Shrek a magical “deal” enabling him to turn back the clock for a day and spend 24 hours without the oppressive dictates of family life which the beleaguered ogre eagerly accepts. But fairytale contracts rarely come without hidden caveats and Shrek soon awakens in a nightmarish bizarro world where his family and friends have vanished and ogres are hunted by vicious gangs of witches. Worst of all Rumpelstiltskin has managed to install himself as Far Far Away’s decadent dictator turning the castle into some sort of crazy lesbian nightclub where his witchy subordinates gyrate to pounding techno music.
Call it It’s a Wonderful Shrek — or even Shrek to the Future if you will. It’s not the most original storytelling scheme but it allows the filmmakers to essentially hit the reset button on the Shrek canon and re-introduce familiar faces like Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) in slightly tweaked form. Fiona is no longer a dainty princess awaiting her savior but the butched-out (this emerges as a trend in the film) leader of an underground ogre resistance plotting to free Far Far Away from its effete Napoleon and his haggish minions. In order to avoid vanishing from history entirely Shrek has to woo her all over again — a task made harder by her newfound independent streak.
Fans of Shrek will be happy to know that Shrek Forever After — its weird butch/femme dynamic notwithstanding — marks a definite improvement over its predecessor. That said it won’t likely inspire any grassroots campaign to convince Dreamworks to reconsider its supposed decision to retire the character for good. The film works partly because it carries more modest aspirations largely shunning the laugh-a-minute pace and copious pop-culture humor that characterized the first three installments. The franchise is clearly running on fumes but this film has just enough laughter in the tank to make it to the finish line intact.
One final note: The 3D aspect of Shrek Forever After is surprisingly mundane adding little to the overall viewing experience. It’s disappointing considering that Dreamworks just recently did such terrific work on the 3D sequences in How to Train Your Dragon. Save your cash and hit a 2D showing instead.
Warner Bros. Eyeing a New Trip Down the Yellow Brick Road?
The Los Angeles Times reports that Warner Bros. is mulling a new trip down the yellow brick road. The studio is said to be examining two existing Wizard of Oz projects, with an eye toward giving one of them a modern gloss.
One project, Oz, currently lives at Warners' New Line label. The Temple Hill production has a script written by Darren Lemke, a writer on the upcoming Shrek Forever After.
A second Wizard of Oz project, set up at Warners proper, skews a little darker, says the LAT. It is written by A History of Violence screenwriter Josh Olson and focuses on a granddaughter of Dorothy who returns to Oz to fight evil. Producer Basil Iwanyk and his Thunder Road Pictures are behind that one.
Although still in the early development stages, the idea of a new Wizard of Oz movie is said to have been advanced seriously enough that representatives for some of Hollywood’s top directors have been briefed.
With its Harry Potter series drawing to an end, Warners likes the idea of a franchise, and Wizard of Oz and the many books L. Frank Baum wrote featuring many of the same characters fit the bill nicely, notes the paper.
Little Timmy Jensen is your typical 10-year-old kid who's afraid of the big bad Boogeyman lurking in his closet. But one night when Timmy's dad comes in his room to do the usual "Nope nothing's there" routine he opens the closet-and right before Timmy's eyes is immediately sucked in by some unknown malevolent force. That's got to screw with a kid's head. Now 15 years later Tim (Barry Watson) is indeed messed up inherently apprehensive of closets and the dust bunnies under the bed but trying to move on with his life. That is until his mother unexpectedly dies sending Tim back to the point of origin: his dilapidated childhood home in the sticks. He decides he'll spend one night in the house to get over his fears once and for all and accept the fact his dad just "left." Ah if it were only that easy.
When the entire film rests on the shoulders of the guy who played the oldest son on the WB's 7th Heaven you know you're not in for anything meaningful in the way of acting. But that's fine. Horror films of this nature aren't about good acting. They are about dumb folks walking into even dumber situations. Watson fulfills his duties as said hero nicely by a) looking fearfully at and inside a lot of closets and under a lot of beds and b) walking cautiously around empty houses. The rest of the unknown cast also do their best as the Boogeyman's victims and potential victims. They include Tory Mussett (The Matrix Reloaded) as Tim's cutesy girlfriend Emily Deschanel (The Alamo) as Tim's long-lost childhood sweetheart and Skye McCole Bartusiak (The Patriot) as a mysterious little girl who guides Tim in the right direction to defeating the Boogeyman. Clever girl.
OK it's sort of understandable how Boogeyman got made. The film's premise has a built-in scare factor that's tapped into our childhood fears of the darkened closet. Yet once you get past this initial idea there just has to be more substance than Boogeyman provides. Director Stephen T. Kay (Get Carter) goes through all the right motions setting up the camera to make it look as if the Boogeyman is lurking everywhere you turn. But it's a very very long buildup to the climax. After about the 1 000th close-up shot of a closet door you're ready to jump onscreen and churn up some good scares yourself. By the time the anticlimactic showdown actually happens you already have your foot out the door just thankful it's coming to an end.