This long-delayed fantasy film touted as the most expensive film in South Korean history is some kind of mess. As the title implies dragons do go to war--but the real casualty of this endeavor is the patience of even the most undiscriminating viewer. Here is a movie absolutely overstuffed with exposition and backstory but none of it adds up to anything remotely cohesive or comprehensible. An ancient prophecy about Korean serpents becoming dragons and laying waste to the world is about to come true--some 500 years after it first came to pass. Pressed into service to save the world (or a computer-generated facsimile thereof) are a young TV reporter (Jason Behr) and a girl named Sarah (Amanda Brooks) both of whom are destined to play a pivotal part in the ultimate salvation--or destruction--of mankind. It’s only a matter of time before downtown Los Angeles becomes a war zone. Both Behr and Brooks play their roles with absolute conviction. Unfortunately in this unintentionally outrageous context they come off as laughably stiff as a result. Their obligatory onscreen romance comes off as just that--obligatory. If they’re humanity’s last hope then we’re in big trouble. Chris Mulkey and Elizabeth Pena turn up as FBI agents. Nice to see them getting work but it would be even nicer if they--being the talented actors they are--were given something anything to do. By default Robert Forster comes off best as Jack a wise antiques dealer who definitely has a vested interested in the fantastic goings-on. It’s a stock role and not a particularly good one loaded with senseless dialogue. But Forster manages unlike his co-stars to inject just a little bit of humanity and humor into the proceedings. Writer/director Hyung-rae Shim relies totally and wholly on CGI effects to tell the story but because the story is so unabashedly stupid that reliance comes off as seriously misguided. Dragon Wars is not remotely credible even by fantasy-film standards and it’s not fun enough to encourage audiences to suspend disbelief. There’s never a sense of wonderment or fun and that’s deadly in a film like this. As befits the filmmaker behind such a one-dimensional a film Shim is basically a traffic cop. The actors go here. The effects go here. And despite the endless CGI effects the rest of the cinematography is murky and dark. Dragon Wars (or D-War as it was originally known) does qualify as a movie: It has a beginning a middle and an end--and all of them are useless.
National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj shares something in common with another recent equally unnecessary sequel Big Momma's House 2: Its title is an absolute misnomer since Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds) is nowhere to be seen in his own sequel--just like Big Momma’s house in its sequel. Ah but the title of the latest National Lampoon installment is still the movie’s most intelligible facet. Taj Mahal Badalandabad (Kal Penn) has moved on from being Van’s beleaguered bumbling assistant and is now off to England’s prestigious Camford University to continue his education. He arrives on campus thinking he’s been accepted to an elite fraternity only to be derisively turned down by uptight and arrogant Pipp (Daniel Percival). He’s relegated to “The Barn ” the campus loser dwelling and vows to turn its misfits into winners so he can not only get back at Pipp but also to steal his girlfriend Charlotte (Lauren Cohan). Despite his best efforts to prove otherwise Kal Penn is a talented actor’s actor. He has sold his soul for a few million bucks and to stoner frat-dude fans thanks to the Van Wilder movies and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and its planned 2008 sequel but he has a true thespian’s pedigree. His future is rich with bigger and better roles (especially March’s The Namesake his first dramatic lead). His talent is visible and audible in Taj but so at times is his empty soul like when you can occasionally hear the nuances in his faux-Indian accent. Penn still remains the only reason to watch the movie aside from occasional breast flashes (courtesy of a curvaceous Holly Davidson Sadie Frost’s sister) and he should keep the predominantly immature contingency satisfied. The incredibly beautiful Cohan who had a small part in Casanova shows some promise not to mention far too much class for this movie. But sometimes a National Lampoon movie is the best vehicle for a beautiful young actress to break through into the mainstream. Where to begin on a movie’s flaws that are so vast they’re like grains of sand on a beach. Mercy is reserved for directors who actually try for something different but wind up failing miserably; then there’s Taj’s Mort Nathan who literally tries to be the same (as college comedies of years past)--but winds up failing miserably. Nathan’s only other movie the Cuba Gooding career-ender Boat Trip will follow him around wherever he may descend but his latest offering just barely tops that one. The hopefully ashamed writer freshman David Drew Gallagher is also in need of a serious hazing after this effort. He steals the playbook from movies like Revenge of the Nerds and Old School but truly cannot manage a single genuine laugh. The director and writer together though are a veritable calamity and the movie’s lone joke. Their combined work is uneven unlike ever before--even for a movie that needn’t worry about production blunders because of its fan base. Every time there is an almost maudlin moment of tenderness the duo further hammer the nail in their coffin--that is until Nathan’s next National Lampoon movie (2008’s Bag Boy).
How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog is the story of acerbic curmudgeonly Peter McGowan's enlightenment a renowned critically acclaimed playwright fallen on hard times. Having knocked out a trio of Broadway blockbusters during the 1980s he is going through a dry spell though he is still considered the movie capital's most dynamic (and perhaps only) playwright. McGowan's beautiful wife exacerbates his problems putting real pressure on Peter to have children which he couldn't care less about. (He also has to deal with living with his rapidly declining mother-in-law.) And McGowan's attempts to fix up his latest production (directed by a maniacal young savant who favors old show tunes as a means of communication) are being jeopardized by his new neighbor's noisy dog which is keeping him awake at night. Ultimately Peter learns to like children thanks to the neighbor's mildly handicapped daughter fixes his play and the dog is dealt with--though not by Peter.
Kenneth Branagh playing a wordsmith is given too many words to say in the film. Most are funny some are not but Branagh is the film's comedic center and he performs that function more than adequately. Robin Wright Penn is fine as Branagh's wife/foil though she isn't given too much to do other than be happy or sad--there seems to be no in-between for her. Other actors shine brighter: David Krumholtz is hysterical as the loony director of Branagh's new play Jared Harris is too funny as Branagh's modern-day Falstaff and Suzi Hofrichter who plays the cerebral palsy-stricken Amy is a real find. (Unfortunately the laconic Peter Riegert and dumbfounded Jonathan Schaech are underused.) The highlight of the film however is Peri Gilpin's performance as the vapid TV talk show host-turned-Mike Wallace who gets her comeuppance from Branagh. Simply brilliant acting by both Gilpin and Branagh or....
...is it more wonderful writing and directing by writer/director Michael Kalesniko? That interview scene with Gilpin and Branagh is just one instance of the skillful stylized parody he uses to tell the story of a man's life in the theater in a highly theatrical style. During the course of blaming McGowan's slump on anyone but McGowan Kalesniko skewers the usual suspects: nagging wives troublesome in-laws TV news shows neurotic intellectuals lovable bums insane co-workers cynical doctors and of course the ubiquitous barking dog living next door. As Kalesniko allows McGowan to grow closer to his adorable troubled neighbor Amy the movie almost edges into predictability. Fortunately the mostly witty dialogue saves the film from too saccharine an ending rendering it a potent comedy. Ah if only Kalesniko had found someone to edit the film a little more to make it sharper and more biting.