Vantage Point gives us just that--a birds-eyed view of an assassination/terrorist attack on the U.S. president. In Spain at a landmark outdoor summit on the global war on terror President Ashton (William Hurt) is shot and a bomb explodes killing hundreds of people. For the rest of the film we see the same 15 minutes over and over but from different points of view: There’s a CNN-like news producer (Sigourney Weaver) who is the first to witness the events; the Secret Service agents (Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox) assigned to protect the president; an American tourist (Forest Whitaker) videotaping the historic event; a Spanish cop (Eduardo Noriega) who suspects what’s going down by the surreptitious actions of his girlfriend (Ayelet Zurer) at the rally; and most importantly the head terrorist (Said Taghmaoui) who orchestrates it all. Through each of these individual perspectives we learn the truth behind the assassination attempt--and as far-fetched as it is it still isn’t pretty. This is an all-out action thriller folks--quiet subtle performances are not required. Quaid goes full blast as the veteran Secret Service agent who has already taken a bullet for the president once before and is still a bit skittish about it. But his loyalty to the president never wavers and it’s through his determination to find out what happened that propels the story forward. Fox also plays it to the hilt much like he does as Jack on TV’s Lost but the actor has a certain movie-star quality to him; he could easily transition from TV to film. Whitaker unfortunately has to play the big schlub with a heart--which at this point seems a tad beneath the Oscar-winner--but he still gives it his all. Hurt’s Head of State is another one of those dream presidents we wish we had. Taghmaoui (The Kite Runner) and Zurer (28 Weeks Later) are adequately cold-hearted as the terrorists while Edgar Ramirez (Domino) effectively emotes as a reluctant member of the terrorist cell forced to do their bidding while his brother is being held captive. Did we mention that the terrorists were cold-hearted? Right. Vantage Point’s trio of film editors (Stuart Baird Sigvaldi J. Karason Valdis Oskarsdottir) must have either thought they’d died and gone to heaven or hell depending on how much of a pain it was to cut the film. Whatever the scenario together with newbie director Peter Travis they keep the action taut and suspenseful. Each character’s POV lends itself to more information as the plot unfolds piece by piece culminating with a whopper of a car-chase scene that should leave you clenching your teeth. The use of electronic devices in the attack is also noteworthy as the main terrorist basically accesses his PDA to 1) shoot the president 2) explode bombs and 3) send the pictures of the destruction to all his friends. OK he actually doesn’t do that last part but he certainly could with that handy device of his. The only drawback to the whole scenario is the implausibility of it all--and the lack of back story. Suspending disbelief we can do but in Vantage Point’s case a little explaining would have helped.
Blades of Glory is just another one those foolproof Will Ferrell comedies in which he plays someone on top who falls from grace only to come out of it a wiser person. OK maybe wiser is a strong word but at least he’s a better person. Maybe better is the wrong word too. Oh whatever. You catch my drift. This time Ferrell plays Chazz Michael Michaels a male figure skater who is all id and uses his improvisational techniques on the ice to woo the ladies. Chazz’s only real competition is Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder) a precision skater who is all about the details especially when he executes his trademark peacock move. Of course they hate each other and in an embarrassing no-holds-barred fight at the World Championships they are stripped of their gold medals and banned from the sport for life. Now three-and-a-half years later they’ve found a loophole that will allow them to compete: If they can put aside their differences they can skate together--in pairs’ figure skating. Let the games begin! Even though he has proven to be successful at this kind of stuff Ferrell is still considered an acquired taste by some. But for those of us who know he could make a Coke Icee blow out of our noses just by reading the phone book he never grows tiresome. He had some excellent support in Blades of Glory as well. Finally starting to really shed his alter ego Napoleon Dynamite Heder is in top form as the prissy MacElroy the smart one--if you can believe it--in the duo. He ends up getting a romantic interest as well in the form of Jenna Fischer. Slightly less mousy than she is on The Office Fischer plays the hapless sister/slave to the brother and sister pair figure-skating duo and reigning champs Fairchild and Stranz Van Waldenberg played to malicious hilt by SNL’s Amy Poehler and Arrested Development’s Will Arnett respectively. Also watch out for Craig T. Nelson as the boys’ unorthodox coach; Romany Malco (The 40 Year-Old Virgin) as their hip-hop choreographer; veteran character actor William Fichtner as Jimmy’s adoptive millionaire father and many other well-placed cameos. Blades of Glory must have been an easy sell for producer Ben Stiller and his Red Hour Productions partner Stuart Cornfield who were able to stock the film with some great comedic talent. Newbie co-directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon are more an afterthought since all they really have to do is point and shoot. Maybe not as edgy as say Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy but certainly more cohesive than Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby Blades simply follows a tried and true formula with very little missteps but hardly any surprises either. The best part? The opening sequence from the skating routines to the fisticuffs which lead to setting a mascot on fire. Good stuff. Blades is just dumb fun.
If animals could indeed view their surroundings intellectually and talk to each other it’s entirely possible they’d discuss how screwed up human beings are especially in the ridiculous way we waste food. But hey to RJ (Bruce Willis) a wily raccoon what we throw away today becomes lunch tomorrow. He tries to impart some of this wisdom to his newfound friends--a motley crew lead by Verne the turtle (Garry Shandling)--after they wake up after a long winter’s nap and discover most of their natural habitat has been turned into a housing development separated by a very tall hedge. Yep these woodsy folk are sure in for an eye-opening adventure as the manipulative RJ convinces the gang to start collecting boxes of cheese doodles Girl Scout cookies and marshmallows telling them there is little to fear and everything to gain from their over-indulgent new neighbors. Now if they can only get rid of that cat... If you’re an actor these days the chances to play a serious Oscar-worthy role are just as great as playing a squirrel. Or a hedgehog. Or a guy called the Verminator. Over the Hedge has a fine slate of voices starting with Willis as RJ the raconteur raccoon whose pretty savvy to the ways of the paved and pre-packaged world of suburbia. Shandling is the heart of the film as the mild-mannered Verne who just wants to take care of his little woodland family. They include a couple of married-with-kids hedgehogs (pitch perfect Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara); a hyperactive but tender-hearted squirrel (a hilarious Steve Carell); an overdramatic possum (William Shatner playing it to the hilt) and his embarrassed teenage daughter (pop star Avril Lavigne); and a snarky skunk with attitude (Wanda Sykes who else?). As far as the humans Allison Janney voices a shrieking but vindictive homeowner while the Thomas Haden Church is said Verminator a fat balding but ruthless pest exterminator. What fun! Over the Hedge keeps to the spirit of the popular comic strip by Michael Fry and T. Lewis on which the film is based. The strip focuses on the travails of friends RJ and Verne as they exploit the human world for their own personal gain while sardonically commenting on how messed up it is. Hedge sort of shows how these two might have met and is just a hoot from beginning to end. The images of woodland animal-meets-modern-day people are spot on: RJ’s spiel on how humans get food (“That’s the receptacle to get the food [a phone]...and that’s the tone when the food comes [the doorbell]”); SUVs (“Humans are slowly phasing out walking all together”); the skunk seducing the stupid cat (“I like your smell.”). The best is when Hammy the squirrel getting so hopped up on caffeinated soda the whole world comes to a stand still for him. Side-splitting stuff. Again success in animation comes when you stick with a simple story and create characters everyone can relate to. Plus hilarious dialogue. It’ll work every time.