Some time has passed since the dead rose up to feast on human flesh and what's left of mankind is making
the best of it. The people have cordoned themselves off from the zombies--or "stenches " as they are so
lovingly referred to--behind the walls of a fortified city where they try to maintain an illusion of life
as it once was. Supplies and food are still needed so a hardened group of mercenaries--headed by Riley
(Simon Baker) and Cholo (John Leguizamo)--run retrieval missions into the vast wasteland using little tricks of the trade to keep the zombies at bay. Back in the city however things aren't so hunky dory. The wealthy and powerful lead by the slimy Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) dwell in a swanky and exclusive high rise and rule over the working class while the disenfranchised peeps on the streets stew over their lot in life. But they aren't prepared for what happens next. Seems the army of the dead are evolving learning to organize and communicate with one another. And they don't take too kindly to getting shot in the head. The only thing the humans have going for them is the fact the zombies still don't move very fast--but that's not saying much.
It's tough for an actor to shine in a horror flick in which the gore and special effects make-up are pretty
much the main attraction--but the Land of the Dead cast do their best. You've got Baker (The Ring Two) as the kindhearted hero; character actor Robert Joy as Baker's mentally challenged sidekick but who's also a wicked sharpshooter; the lovely up-and-comer Asia Argento as a tough-as-nails street chick willing to help out; Leguizamo as the wisecracking mercenary with a major chip on his shoulder and firepower to back it up. And then there's Dennis Hopper. He's playing it pretty straight this time around as the evil and greedy rich guy who doesn't really consider himself the villain considering he was the one who built the fortified city. But a little of the weird Hopper pops through every once in awhile. Of course we've also got the hordes of evolving dead walkers lead by a particularly fearsome zombie. With a bloodcurdling zombie battle cry this badass teaches his comrades to take up arms beat down walls and walk under water. Resourceful fellow.
You can thank George Romero for giving us flesh-eating zombies. If not for his 1968 cult classic Night of the Living Dead we wouldn't have 28 Days Later or Evil Dead--and we'd be a much duller place without them. Now 20 years after he made the last Dead movie Day of the Dead Romero is ready to hurl body parts at us again. Maybe after he saw how well they remade his Dawn of the Dead last year he felt he could do it even better. Not quite. Sure Romero has definitely grown up and improved his writing. Land of the Dead does a nice job moving things along showing how the survivors have adapted to living with their "neighbors" but never really learning much from the experience. Romero also has brought a certain pathos to the zombie. They move around as if in a daze also trying to maintain a semblance of what they used to be--human. And frankly they are tired of being labeled mindless idiots who do nothing but wander about. Dammit. If you prick them do they not bleed? But with all the gratuitous violence and hardly any of the Dawn remake's humor or irony Land of the Dead doesn't really distinguish itself from any of Romero's other gore-filled zombie flicks.
P.J. Hogan's Peter Pan follows J.M. Barrie's story almost to the letter. A girl on the brink of womanhood Wendy Darling (newcomer Rachel Hurd-Wood) loves telling her brothers John (Harry Newell) and Michael (Freddie Popplewell) stories of dastardly pirates as they sit in their nursery under the watchful eye of their St. Bernard Nana. Her 19th-century Londoner parents however believe the time has come for the young girl to grow up especially her father. Then a cheeky wild-haired boy named Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter) flies through the nursery window one night with his trusted yet jealousy-prone fairy Tinkerbell (Ludivine Sagnier) telling Wendy he can take her to a place full of adventure where no one ever has to grow up. She readily accepts the offer and with a few happy thoughts some fairy dust and her two brothers in tow she flies off to Neverland. (Not the ranch…the real place.) Once there Wendy encounters mermaids Indians and the Lost Boys (who refer to her as "mother") and gets the whole pirate experience in Peter's ongoing feud with arch-nemesis Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs). But Wendy soon becomes conflicted because on the one hand she likes hangin' with hottie Peter but on the other she misses her mother. She decides it's probably best to go back and grow up but in her hurry to leave she ends up in Hook's clutches. A rescue ensues. Swords clash ticking crocodiles are fed and fairies are saved as our clever fly boy zooms Wendy and company back to London on a giant pirate ship. But does he stay and grow up himself? Hell no he's a Toys 'R Us kid forever!
All the kid actors in Peter Pan are highly watchable and appealing with angelic faces peaches-and-cream complexions and pouty cherry lips. This is the first time Peter is being played by a real-life boy a fact much hyped by the filmmakers and 12-year-old Sumpter (Frailty) does his best to live up to the expectations. (He's soon to be swoon-worthy material for sure.) He's got a mischievous gleam in his eye and a great sly smile but he really lights up when he's looking into Wendy's adorable face. Hurd-Wood the first-time actress who plays the spirited girl earned her role after a long and involved casting process it's well deserved; she fits the typical English-girl profile perfectly and gets the hang of her craft quickly infusing the character with a natural cheerful energy. It's also refreshing to see the young actors play up Wendy and Peter's feelings of first love which prior films always hinted at but never fully realized. Isaacs in a dual role as the firm-but-loving Mr. Darling and the frightening comical lonely charming needy reprehensible Captain Hook draws on his experience at playing exquisitely awful baddies (The Patriot Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and really sinks his claws into Hook. In a stand out supporting role French actress Sagnier (Swimming Pool) is really fantastic as the vivacious non-speaking Tinkerbell portraying the fairy's conflicted emotions with a silent-film over-the-top technique.
Director/writer P.J. Hogan (My Best Friend's Wedding) and his team try to distinguish their film from the other Peter Pans of the world by using all the technical and special effects wizardry at their disposal. Hogan says his Peter Pan is the way its author Barrie intended to be when he wrote it as a play over a 100 years ago--full of fantasy and wonder. In a way he's right and production designer Roger Ford and visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar take his vision and run with it giving audiences a very lush Neverland with waterfalls fluffy pink clouds crystal-blue waters and a gorgeous fairy world. But despite the bells and whistles there really isn't anything original and different in this Pan. Even its look at the dark side of Neverland has been done in Steven Spielberg's 1991 semi-sequel Hook which showed the dangers of Neverland. In this version lives really are at stake and the pirates are not cute and fun. Even the mermaids are mysterious and malevolent with scary faces and murderous intentions a far cry from the beautiful if somewhat mean-spirited creatures of the 1953 classic Disney animated adaptation another inescapable influence on the audience. When the crocodile draws near for example tick-tocking away the croc's signature tune from the Disney film comes immediately to mind. People may love those Disney films for those cutesy catchy songs but Peter Pan really is a good story. Heck it's a great story. But it's just been done.
The original Seuss story is a wonderful--albeit simple
--children's tale about two bored kids left alone in their house on a cold wet day. They're visited by a six-foot-tall talking adventure-seeking feline who's looking for a little fun (OK maybe a lot of fun). Against the warnings of the children's seriously repressed pet goldfish the Cat (with the help of a couple of troll doll look-a-likes called Thing One and Thing Two) turns the house upside down then puts it all right-side-up again before the kids' mother gets home. The question for Hollywood is how to turn a story like this one that's left an indelible impression on millions of readers young and old since 1957 into a major motion picture? While the film thankfully keeps to this original's plot talking fish and all it obviously tries to flesh things out adding some new characters and tacking on a few life lessons. The kids now have very distinct personalities: Wild older brother Conrad (Spencer Breslin) plays fast and loose with the rules while sister Sally (Dakota Fanning) an uptight control freak has driven all her friends away with her rigidity. Their mother Joan (Kelly Preston) works at the town's real estate office run by the anal retentive Mr. Humberfloob (Sean Hayes) and she's dating the guy next door Quinn (Alec Baldwin) a superficial scumbag who wants to send Conrad to military school. On the particular cold wet day in question Joan leaves instructions not to mess up the house since she's having an important business meet-and-greet there later that night. When the Cat (Mike Myers) arrives he quickly assures Sally and Conrad they can have all the fun they want and nothing bad will happen. Ignoring vocal opposition from the Fish (voiced by Hayes) the Cat quickly puts into motion a series of events that will a) prove his point b) destroy the house and c) teach the kids a sugary-sweet but valuable lesson about being responsible while living life to the fullest.
Just as Jim Carrey immortalized the Grinch Mike Myers seems born to play the Cat in the oversized red-and-white striped hat--he has the sly slightly sarcastic wholly anarchistic thing down cold. Myers' impersonations of a redneck Cat mechanic (with requisite visible butt crack) an infomercial Cat host and a zany British Cat chef are outrageous as are the hilarious little asides he spouts although they'll probably go over kids' heads: "Well sure [the Fish] can talk but is he really saying anything? No not really." But even though Myers has some fun moments he just isn't the Barney type and when he turns on the come-on-kids-let's-have-fun charm and adopts a dopey laugh he seems uncomfortable. As for the kids Fanning and Breslin (Disney's The Kid) do a fine job reacting to the wackiness the Cat surrounds them with although Fanning basically plays the same uptight character she created in the recent Uptown Girls. Of the supporting players Baldwin has the most fun as the villainous Quinn a bad-guy role that while a little superfluous gives Baldwin plenty of opportunities to chew the scenery. Hayes is also good in his dual role; he stamps Humberfloob indelibly on our brains then kicks butt as the voice of the beleaguered Fish.
It must have been a no-brainer for producer Brian Grazer to do another Dr. Seuss adaptation after all the fun magic and profits the 2000 hit How the Grinch Stole Christmas generated. With Cat in the Hat however he didn't collaborate with his usual directing partner the Grinch's Ron Howard. Instead Grazer took a chance on first-time director Bo Welch who previously served as production designer on Tim Burton's Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands and has three Oscar nods to his credit for production design on other films. Welch certainly takes his quirky cue from Burton when it comes to the look of Cat in the Hat especially Sally and Conrad's suburban Southern California neighborhood with its lilac frames and blue roofs. The gadgets are cool too from the Cat's Super Luxurious Omnidirectional Whatchamajigger or S.L.O.W vehicle to the Dynamic Industrial Renovating Tractormajigger or D.I.R.T. mobile for cleaning up the house. When we enter the Cat's bizarre world though the film's Seussian look starts to have problems possibly because there's nothing of this place in the original book. Hidden within the feline's magical crate the Cat's world can produce "the mother of all messes " and in keeping with that purpose there's some effort at making it look like a fragmented Cubist painting. But it's more plastic than Picasso and in the end it's about as interesting as a Universal Theme Park ride (a fact the movie actually mentions).
It's 2065. The earth has been taken over by phantom-like aliens against whom the dwindling human population is powerless save for a super-weapon that could destroy the entire planet. But Dr. Aki Ross (voiced by Ming-Na) and her mentor Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland) are working fast to prove that "Gaia " or the spirit of the earth could be harnessed to wipe out the invaders by creating a spiritual "wave" using eight rare organic life forms. (Yeah we didn't really get it either.) Aki has found six of the eight but time is running out--so together they join ex-beau Captain Grey (Alec Baldwin) and his squad to find the remaining two life forms and complete the wave before a nefarious military official (James Woods) fires his super-weapon and damages Earth beyond repair.
All the amazing visual effects of this film couldn't save it from lame dialogue recited more stiffly than any other animated film in recent memory (couldn't they get the characters' mouths to move just a little?). With the most formlessly drawn face of the characters (she looks like she's 12) Aki demands a vivid personality--not supplied by a monotone Ming-Na who couldn't break a smile in her voice if her life depended on it. Grey (who looks weirdly like Ben Affleck on steroids) Woods and Ving Rhames Peri Gilpin and Steve Buscemi (as the requisite Black joker and chick squad members) are just as wooden but you hope to chalk it up to the stilted and cliché-sodden discourse. Sutherland is the standout as is Dr. Sid--his is the most fleshed-out character in concept delivery and appearance.
Director Hironobu Sakaguchi the video game's creator spent years on the much-touted photorealistic ("hyperReal") visuals which truly are jaw-dropping particularly in Aki's dream sequences and the attack scenes. (Ethereal and strangely beautiful the aliens are a sight to behold.) Some characters look so real you almost forget they aren't. But on the way to creating this masterpiece somebody forgot about the dialogue which is laughably insipid (did Sakaguchi think audiences would be so busy watching they'd forget to listen?). The film's pace is much slower than you'd expect with too little action too much storyline (which unfortunately requires more conversation). It's more inventive than say Tomb Raider but pay close attention or the blather of Mother Earth life forces and other New Age-y gobbledygook will waft past like so much phantasmagoria.
What story? For all the technological breakthroughs the plot is pure Disney formula (wisecracking comic relief obligatory romance) set in the Cretaceous period. Visually captivating but thin in plot "Dinosaur" tells the tale of a spunky Iguanadon (voiced by D.B. Sweeney) who joins a quirky band of dinos on a quest for self-discovery and a new land.
The competent voice cast includes Samuel E. Wright (Sebastian the Crab from "The Little Mermaid") as the crusty dinosaur leader and Julianna Margulies (TV's "ER") as the lizard that steals our hero's heart. But the real credit belongs to the animators who obviously went to great lengths to create expressive faces on our dino friends. It's a shame that Disney who refrained from the routine singsongs and cheesy ballads couldn't have exercised more restraint and kept these dinosaurs silent. It would've been far more thrilling to see these beasts interact as they may have done millions of years ago rather than spouting forgettable quips. James Newton Howard's score provides all the audio needed.
It took five years to create this film and it shows. Directors Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton (supervising animator on "A Nightmare Before Christmas") deserve high praise for their innovative blend of filmed settings and CGI wizardry. Last year's "Toy Story 2" was a party for the peepers but "Dinosaur" sets a new standard in the "How'd they do that?" department. Parents take note: The film's violent dino battles are scarier than the dino Happy Meal you bought to get the dino toys.