ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 25 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language including Sexual References, and brief Nudity

Directed by: Terry Jones

Written by: Terry Jones & Gavin Scott

Starring: Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Rob Riggle, Eddie Izzard, Joanna Lumley, Robin Williams, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones & Michael Palin

Simon Pegg was funny in the Cornetto trilogy (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, and THE WORLD’S END). Rob Riggle delivered some of the biggest laughs in both JUMP STREET films. Eddie Izzard’s stand-up comedy is hysterical, while Robin Williams is arguably one of the funniest men who ever lived. Also, the Monty Python troupe were groundbreaking for their irreverent humor and uniquely British sensibilities. With all of these funny and talented people crammed into one film, you’d think that ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING would, at the very least, be fun to watch. That’s what I thought and it turns out that I was sadly mistaken. Learn from my error and avoid this disappointing excuse for a comedy.

After a group of hyper-intelligent aliens (voiced by Monty Python) stumble across a space probe, the extraterrestrials begin a test to decide whether or not Earth needs to be destroyed. This test selects a random human and gives them god-like powers. Unluckily for us, that test subject is amateur writer/teacher Neil (Simon Pegg) and he begins using his amazing abilities to do absolutely anything (see what I did there?). Before you can say BRUCE ALMIGHTY, Neil’s powers start landing him in hot water as he tries to win over the affection of his neighbor Catherine (Kate Beckinsale).

One of ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING’s biggest problems stems from it feeling like a Monty Python sketch that was extended 75 minutes past the point of being funny. There are a couple of chuckles to be had here and there, but the script doesn’t have much compelling flow. The repeating joke is that Neil keeps wording his wishes incorrectly and hijinks ensue. Some of these bits run for almost all of the film (with one co-worker’s crush taking a cult-like turn), and others are over in a matter of minutes (wishing people back to life and winding up with a bunch of decaying zombies).

The film’s characters aren’t worth much either. Simon Pegg is playing a bland nobody and that might be part of the joke, but you’ve seen this type of boring protagonist a million times before. There’s nothing to this person. He’s boring and his biggest story arc is the clichéd motivation of trying to win his neighbor’s love. Kate Beckinsale attempts to make her love-interest/supporting character worth something and winds up with mixed results. She definitely delivers the biggest “life lesson” in a scene where she explains how god-like powers might not be the best thing ever. Also, Robin Williams’s final role was the voice of Neil’s dog Dennis. Much like the rest of the film’s attempts at humor, Williams’s sentient pooch gets a few chuckles at first and then becomes boring.

The biggest conflict comes from Rob Riggle as Catherine’s headstrong, cocky ex-boyfriend Grant. He only plays a tiny part in the film and brings a plot point that exists for a total of 10 minutes, coming off as lame and needlessly dark in the process. A pretty huge plot hole also rears its head during Riggle’s final minutes of screen time. It’s sad when the viewer can figure out how to get out of a dilemma before the main character can, but this protagonist is so much of an idiot that he doesn’t take advantage of an obvious flaw in the villain’s half-assed plan. Also, the Monty Python cast seem like they reunited purely as a favor for director/co-writer Terry Jones (one of the members of Monty Python). Eddie Izzard also shows up for about five minutes a strict head teacher, so there’s that.

ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING is a bland excuse for a comedy that wastes an unbelievable amount of talent. The premise might have made for a fun ten-minute skit, but it simply repeats its one-note beats for 85 minutes that drag out in a manner that feels like three hours. The film is a missed opportunity all around, but I don’t know if it ever had much of a chance with its flimsy concept. Pegg, Riggle, Williams, Izzard, Beckinsale, and the entire Monty Python troupe deserved better than this.

Grade: D

HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Scary Moments, some Creature Violence and mild Language

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Directed by: Chris Columbus

Written by: Steve Kloves

(based on the novel HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS by J.K. Rowling)

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Richard Harris, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith & Tom Felton

Warner Brothers was confident that HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE would be a hit. How confident were they? Well, they believed in the film enough to begin production on a sequel three days after the first movie hit theaters. This sequel brought back director Chris Columbus, who opted for different filmmaking techniques this time around that greatly benefitted the film, and is a faithful-to-a-fault adaptation of the second novel in the HARRY POTTER book series. CHAMBER OF SECRETS is one of those rare sequels that not only lives up to its predecessor, but easily surpasses it.

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Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is spending a rather depressing summer at his abusive uncle’s home, but things liven up in a bad way when masochistic house elf Dobby gives Harry a messy warning not to return to school. The second year at Hogwarts is off to a rocky start as it seems someone has it out for Harry (sabotaging the Hogwarts Express gateway, tampering with a Quidditch equipment), but those are the least of his problems. Something ancient and deadly has been unleashed in Hogwarts. It’s literally petrifying victims who see it and may kill someone very soon. Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) must get to the bottom of another mystery before Hogwarts is forced to close its doors for good.

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Though it still has a child-friendly attitude and is significantly more light-hearted than later entries in the series, CHAMBER OF SECRETS is darker than SORCERER’S STONE. There’s still a fantasy-mystery at the center of this film, but the stakes are higher in that people are actually being petrified and there’s a strange beast stalking the students. There a few scenes that are bound to give little kids nightmares yet again (especially those who are afraid of spiders or snakes).

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With only a year’s worth of extra experience, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson all improved greatly in natural line delivery and believable emotions. Seeing the reunion of Harry (a hero worth rooting for), Ron (great comic relief and a solid sidekick) and Hermione (bringing smarts and exposition) is akin to watching real-life friends meet up. Tom Felton also gets a lot more to do this time around as cocky rival Draco Malfoy. The returning adult cast receives noticeably less screen time, though Alan Rickman is still phenomenal as Snape, Richard Harris is perfect as Dumbledore, and Robbie Coltrane steals his scenes as the lovable Hagrid.

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New characters and fresh faces include: aforementioned CGI monstrosity Dobby, cocky incompetent professor Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh), weeping ghost Moaning Myrtle (Shirley Henderson), and menacing Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs). Much more time is also spent with the charming Weasley family. The best new addition is easily Kenneth Branagh’s headstrong Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, who provides a lot of comic relief and frustrating plot developments in equal measure. Moaning Myrtle gets a couple of grim laughs, while Jason Isaacs is great as Draco’s threatening father.

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The worst character is easily Dobby. I know he might be a fan favorite in certain circles and he certainly plays a significant role in this film’s plot (and in later films), but I see Dobby as HARRY POTTER’s Jar-Jar Binks. He’s annoying, his humor mostly falls flat and I found myself taken out of the film every time he popped up. His final scene also contains a big plot hole pertaining to a certain curse that another character is trying to cast. It opens up a big gap in the series’ logic that makes no sense when you eventually find out about that specific spell in the fourth film.

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CHAMBER’s pacing moves quickly and the script pretty much captures every major scene from the novel. It’s faithful to a fault in that exposition is somewhat too fast and convenient, but that’s the result of filmmakers trying to cram 341 heavily detailed pages into less than three hours. I feel they succeeded, but some of the plot details are a bit heavy-handed. One element that is welcomed is the prejudice between “pure blood” wizards and “mud-bloods” (Muggle-born wizards and witches). This is a remarkably mature element in a PG-rated fantasy.

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HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS is bigger, funnier, darker, faster, and all around better than the first film. It’s slightly grim shift in tone signaled the maturity that later films in the series would follow. Though it’s not without a couple of complaints (which could be considered to be minor gripes), CHAMBER OF SECRETS is an exciting fantasy-adventure that outdoes its predecessor in every conceivable way.

Grade: A-

HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE (2001)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 32 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for some Scary Moments and mild Language

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Directed by: Chris Columbus

Written by: Steve Kloves

(based on the novel HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE by J.K. Rowling)

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Richard Harris, Ian Hart, John Hurt, Alan Rickman & Maggie Smith

HARRY POTTER was a huge part of my childhood. I remember reading the entire book series with my family and repeatedly listening to the audiobooks. I remember the idiotic controversy from extreme religious groups about the series promoting witchcraft. I remember dressing up as Harry Potter for Halloween in third grade, before there were even Harry Potter costumes being sold in stores. I also remember seeing this movie on opening weekend in a sold-out theater with my family. This series (both the books and films) was a huge part of my life, so I’ll attempt to be as unbiased as possible in my HARRY POTTER reviews.

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Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is an orphan living with his abusive aunt, uncle and cousin. On his eleventh birthday, Harry discovers he’s actually a wizard and has been invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Leaving the world of Muggles (non-magic folk) behind for a wondrous education in magic, Harry soon befriends ginger Ron Wesley (Rupert Grint) and geeky know-it-all Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). The school year presents challenges with near-death experiences and other strange happenings. Harry and his friends soon discover that something very powerful is being guarded in the restricted third-floor corridor. The mysterious object peaks the interest of the pre-teen trio and lands them in the crosshairs of a dark wizard who wants to claim unspeakable power for himself.

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The first HARRY POTTER is easily the most kid-friendly of the series. That’s not to say that this film doesn’t occasionally get dark and have serious plot points. There are some scenes that might inspire nightmares in young children, particularly an antagonist’s demise and dangerous obstacles on the third floor corridor. Still, SORCERER’S STONE mostly feels upbeat and innocent, whereas other films in the series become progressively more mature. The musical score adds to the mood of the film, providing whimsy and aiding suspense in equal measure.

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At the heart of this story is a mystery about an ancient object, but that’s not the entire plot for 152 minutes. Instead, this film is also tasked with introducing viewers into the wizarding world, the school of Hogwarts and the big cast of characters in this series. Functioning as both a first step into a long-running franchise and its own movie, SORCERER’S STONE is an entertaining fantasy that occasionally suffers in its pacing. The script is forced to slow down to explain key details to the viewer, so they don’t need to be explained again in the next seven movies. Take for example, the abusive Dursley family portion which feels out-of-place and tests the viewer’s patience. The story significantly picks up steam once Harry finally boards the Hogwarts Express.

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Daniel Radcliffe will always be remembered as Harry Potter, no matter how many other quality films and edgy roles he takes in his career. Being very young at the time this was filmed (fitting for his eleven-year old protagonist), Radcliffe occasionally stumbles over a few lines and I still mock a couple of these moments with my brothers to this day (mainly quoting the “I’m just Harry!” scene). Rupert Grint plays Ron as a loyal sidekick and comic relief. His character doesn’t fully develop until the sequels. Sticking out from the main pack of child actors is Emma Watson as Hermione Granger. Watson’s delivery, attitude, and body language all perfectly encapsulate what most fans probably pictured while reading the book.

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In supporting roles, Matthew Lewis shines as dorky outcast Neville Longbottom, Devon Murray gets a few laughs as rambunctious Seamus Finnigan, and Tom Felton is fantastic as pompous bully Draco Malfoy. John Cleese has a brief appearance as a ghost, while Maggie Smith is well-cast as the stern Professor McGonagall. Richard Harris perfectly embodies headmaster Albus Dumbledore and this would be the first of two performances the late actor would give as the character. Stealing nearly every scene he’s in, Alan Rickman is absolutely amazing as suspicious Professor Snape. Robbie Coltrane is a friendly presence as half-giant Hagrid, while Ian Hart is okay enough as timid Professor Quirrell.

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SORCERER’S STONE’s effects have mostly held up well over time, though a couple of computer-generated creatures look like they came out of a PlayStation 2 game. I’m mainly speaking about a troll, which looks just as cheesy as the cave troll in FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. 2001 was a bad year for trolls in movies. A Quidditch match (an intense wizard sport) still remains very exciting, while the finale is a hugely satisfying culmination of every detail, plot development and character trait we’ve seen up to that point in the film. HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE isn’t quite up to the level of other films in the series, but it’s certainly better than a couple of installments. As the most child-friendly of the bunch and an introduction into the magical cinematic world of HARRY POTTER, the film is enchanting fun!

Grade: B+

DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Action Violence and Sexuality

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Directed by: Lee Tamahori

Written by: Neal Purvis & Robert Wade

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Judi Dench, Will Yun Lee, Kenneth Tsang & John Cleese

The twentieth movie in the Bond franchise and eleventh in my 007 retrospective, DIE ANOTHER DAY marked the end of the Pierce Brosnan’s stint as the iconic secret agent. In the grander scheme of thing, it also technically serves as the conclusion of the original series and caused its studio to reboot the franchise. In other words, DIE ANOTHER DAY has a pretty bad reputation for wrecking James Bond to the point where the series needed to be remade. So, is this a colossal failure? Is DIE ANOTHER DAY the BATMAN & ROBIN of Bond? I wouldn’t go that far, because there are a couple of things I like about this “final” Bond movie. That being said, this is still pretty bad.

DIE ANOTHER DAY, Pierce Brosnan, 2002, (c) MGM/courtesy Everett Collection

James Bond’s latest mission has taken into dangerous North Korean territory. When his cover is blown, Bond is taken captive and suspended as an MI6 agent. Through a few cunning decisions and sheer dumb luck, Bond escapes and tries to track down a crazed terrorist from his past. This will require Bond partnering up with catsuit-wearing NSA agent Jinx. The two spies are forced to face off against a terrorist with diamond-acne and a super-weapon-wielding entrepreneur.

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Let me address the good stuff first. I really enjoyed the prologue in North Korea. The action may be bombastic, but there’s a sense of excitement that reminded me of GOLDENEYE‘s opening. It also set up this story with a ton of potential…and then everything goes down hill as soon as the opening titles roll. The problems begin in the titular song of the credits, which doesn’t sound like it even belongs in a Bond film. This just sounded like a random pop song that was thrown in at the last-minute. As the minutes tick forward from that point on, DIE ANOTHER DAY wastes away its potential on pointless scenes, a bored Brosnan, and a screenplay that’s riddled with plot holes. The story feels too clichéd and over-the-top, even for a Bond film (which can typically be far-fetched, but fun). Besides the opening sequence, the only other moment that sticks out for good reason is a fencing scene between Bond and the main villain. As cool as that sequence is, it only raises further plot holes once a few convenient (and stupid) revelations occur during the final third.

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Brosnan seems past his point of caring to be Bond. His performance in this film is even more apathetic than his purely-for-the-paycheck effort in WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH. As far as villains go, only one performance stands out and I won’t give that cast member’s identity away for fear of spoilers. However, I appreciated this person’s contribution to the film and wish that their character served as the main villain instead of a mere plot device. Halle Berry headlines the film with Brosnan and doesn’t really feel like a Bond girl at all. Instead, it almost feels like CATWOMAN got crossed with a crappy Bond flick. Speaking of which, DIE ANOTHER DAY is on the same level as CATWOMAN’s special effects. We get some shockingly crappy visuals. These include cartoony electricity (courtesy of the main villain’s super suit), Flash Animation quality lasers (that don’t blend well with a fight scene), a Syfy-level melting ice palace, and a rubbery surfing Bond aided by a fake-as-hell parachute.

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DIE ANOTHER DAY came out on the 20th anniversary of DR. NO. Throughout this twentieth Bond flick, there are little nods to the other movies (e.g. the shoe-knife in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, the rocket-pack from THUNDERBALL, etc.). All these little cameos only served to remind me how badly this final Brosnan entry screwed the pooch. The original Bond series survived decades of directors, actors, and varying levels of effects. However, none of that could endure after DIE ANOTHER DAY sent everything plummeting into such a rut that a reboot not only became preferable, but transformed into a damn necessity. The original Bond series ended with a whimper as opposed going out with a glorious bang…

Grade: D

THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 8 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Action Violence, some Sexuality and Innuendo

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Directed by: Michael Apted

Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & Bruce Feirstein

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Denise Richards, Robbie Coltrane, Judi Dench, Colin Salmon & John Cleese

The nineteenth entry in the Bond series and the tenth review in my 007 retrospective, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH is a movie that I actually had a weird childhood connection with. Though 2006’s CASINO ROYALE was the only Bond movie I had ever watched before starting this retrospective (in anticipation of SPECTRE), I played the Nintendo 64 version of WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH throughout my later years of elementary school. So while I had never seen this 1999 film, I had played its videogame counterpart enough to guess a basic outline of where things might head. That being said, I was excited to see if this third Brosnan Bond flick would hold up to his first two entries. To put it nicely, this was a disappointment…

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Sir Robert King, a high-profile businessman, has been assassinated inside of MI6. James Bond gives chase to the assassin, but is left in the dark as to why King was killed and by whom. As a result, MI6 assigns Bond to guard King’s daughter, Elektra. The culprit behind King’s assassination appears to be Renard, a chaotic terrorist who had previously abducted Elektra. Bond quickly discovers that Renard seems to be coming after Elektra for a second time and a deadly, destructive plan is set in motion. Aided by a most unlikely nuclear physicist (Denise Richards), Bond must race against the clock to stop a nuclear attack.

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The opening ten minutes of WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH speak volumes as to what kind of movie this is. We see Bond confront a Swiss banker, leap out of a building, witness an assassination, engage in a high-speed boat chase and then jump off an exploding hot-air balloon. As adrenaline-pumping and overwhelming as all of this sounds, none of these things come off as the least bit exciting. An apathetic approach towards the action is constant throughout most of the running time. However, there are a couple of ridiculous scenes that I enjoyed if only for their sheer absurdity. The best of these has Bond facing off against a helicopter equipped with saw blades. This sequence is just as stupid as it sounds, but at that point, I was taking any possible enjoyment that I could muster. The film also looks good (for the most part) with solid special effects and stunts, but sadly this cannot make up for a lackluster screenplay.

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I don’t know what happened between TOMORROW NEVER DIES (my pick for the most underrated 007 film) and WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, but it seems like Brosnan just stopped caring. When performed well, the character of James Bond can bring a level of fun and excitement to even the most preposterous script. In his third outing as the iconic secret agent, Brosnan seems bored. The only halfway decent performance in this movie comes from Sophie Marceau as Elektra King, but I saw her character’s whole story arc as forced and unbelievable. Denise Richards takes the spot of worst Bond girl that I’ve ever seen. She has no chemistry with 007 and her wooden delivery make all of her puns even more painful to behold. Finally, there’s Robert Carlyle as the scarred madman Renard. This Bond villain is just plain vanilla. He’s bland and the only unique characteristic to him is that there’s a bullet in his brain that makes him immune to pain. That being said, the final showdown between himself and Bond comes off like the actors are rehearsing for a fight scene as opposed to actually performing stunts in front of the camera.

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THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH is where Brosnan’s stint as Bond began to turn sour. The self-referential attitude is absent and the character of Bond has suddenly turned into another generic action hero. The qualities that made this long running franchise of spy movies so special don’t seem to exist within the confines of these 128 minutes. I was far more bored than excited. The action scenes (which should have been impressive, save for that lame final fight) somehow come off as dull. Sadly, WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH doesn’t pack enough of a plot or enough excitement to be remotely satisfying.

Grade: C-

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones

Written by: Monty Python

Starring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, & Michael Palin

Monty Python is a group reveling in absurd humor. Their first film was an anthology consisting of the best sketches the early seasons of their show had to offer, but HOLY GRAIL was the troupe’s first real feature. It serves more like an excuse to connect a series of original skits. The special thing about this material is that all of the laughs revolve around the legend of King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail. It should come as no surprise that Monty Python’s dedicated fanbase have since made HOLY GRAIL into one of the biggest cult classics of cinematic history. I watched this film many times in my childhood and found it hilarious back then. Years have passed and this was my first viewing in a long time. Truth be told, I now find it to be slightly overrated, although there are still plenty of wacky antics to be had.

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King Arthur gathers a band of trusty knights and is appointed by God to find the Holy Grail. The knights stick together in the first and last third of the film, but there’s also a good chunk of the middle portion that revolves around the separate knights on their own individual searches for the blessed artifact. In these segments (ranging from as short as three minutes to about 7 minutes long) they each encounter unique dangers. The oddball animation frequently seen in the FLYING CIRCUS series makes an appearance here and the humor is totally surreal. This movie in no way, shape or form tries to take itself seriously. This provides lots of silly scenes that either hit or miss, depending on what jokes work for each viewer.

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To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed that this film wasn’t nearly as hysterical as I remember it being. Nostalgia definitely has a factor in the enjoyment level. If you didn’t grow up with HOLY GRAIL, then you’re not likely to love it as much as everybody else. Certain jokes feel really forced in areas. Sir Galahad’s encounter at the Castle Anthrax is among one of the more annoying scenes in the movie. At one point in that sketch, the characters even break the fourth wall and ask if the scene should have been cut. The answer is yes, because it’s not on the same level as most of the ridiculous moments on display. Another sequence that feels like the Monty Python group is trying too hard involves evil knights that say the dreaded word “Ni!” Those are just two of a handful of jokes that aren’t that solid to begin with, but drag on too long.

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With these more annoying bits aside, the movie is genuinely funny in plenty of areas. The Monty Python team take on multiple roles (Michael Palin plays more than 10 characters) and it’s quite entertaining to spot their familiar faces over and over in different scenes. Some actors even talk to themselves (dressed in different clothing) during some moments. The film makes no qualms about the shoe-string budget it was filmed on, going so far as to poke fun at the low-quality of sets and use actors banging coconuts together to simulate sounds of horses clopping. The highlights include a vicious Black Knight, a cave guarded by a hideous creature (anybody who’s seen this film knows which specific scene I’m referring to), a historian narrator, and Sir Lancelot’s adventure.

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This is a film that I really can’t critique in the same sense that I review a traditional narrative. HOLY GRAIL doesn’t have so much a story, but rather a bunch of set-pieces that are loosely connected in the King Arthur legend. The quality ranges from excellent to iffy, but no scenes is outright horrible or bad. The movie is self-aware and its sudden conclusion (a joke within itself) may disappoint some viewers. I didn’t find HOLY GRAIL to be as awesome as I remember it being and the acclaimed reputation is a little much. This still stands as ridiculous fun, but younger viewers are likely to enjoy it more than adults.

Grade: B

PLANES (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for some mild Action and Rude Humor

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Directed by: Klay Hall

Written by: Jeffrey M. Howard

Voices of: Dane Cook, Stacey Keach, Danny Mann, Priyanka Chopra, Brad Garrett, Teri Hatcher, Cedric The Entertainer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Roger Craig Smith, Gabriel Iglesias, John Cleese, Carlos Alazraqui, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards & Sinbad

From above the world of CARS. That’s the tagline front and center on the poster of PLANES. It’s a bold-faced marketing trick that suckered enough of the unsuspecting public to believe that this film is actually Pixar creation. This is not true. PLANES is from Disney and the reason they could even use the CARS world is because the company owns Pixar. If it sounds like I’m bitter, it’s because I am. There weren’t any preconceived notions about this one. If anything, there may have been a lingering sense of hope that it might be a fun little piece of family entertainment. I was so very wrong and am firing both barrels at this thing, Let me lay down the premise for you…

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Dusty Crophopper is a plane dreaming of competing in aerial races. His role as a cropduster keeps him in the same boring routine day after day. Despite his low-class job, Dusty does go to a qualifying tournament for the prestigious Wings Across The World race. Due to a technicality, Dusty does qualify for the global race. There’s a quirky twist though. Dusty is afraid of heights (a plane afraid of heights, I’d dare call that idea wacky), so begins training under a war veteran named Skipper. Of course, his fierce competitors don’t take too kindly to a lowly farm plane competing with the likes of them. Dusty must overcome his fears, beat his rivals, and make some new friends to win this race.

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One might call PLANES an easy target for criticism, because it was intended for children. However, I will use my favorite rebuttal when reviewing films like this. Good family entertainment is entertaining for the whole family! Using the excuse of “Well, the kids liked it. Wasn’t that the point?” is not a valid point. Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, and even Sony Animation all have their fair share of hits and misses, but the hits go on to become memorable classics to be cherished because they were absolutely GOOD films. I’m not intentionally searching out direct-to-video kiddie films to bash on. I know those are dinky little cartoons, but PLANES was released theatrically from a studio well-known for delivering fantastic entertainment. I was at the very least expecting something serviceable, but PLANES fails in every single respect.

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There’s a big difference between crude humor and adult humor. PLANES continually mistakes the former for the latter. The film is full of some sexual humor (planes remarking on the back propellers of female planes). Pop culture references that already seem dated are sprinkled in. There is a poop joke thrown in at the end for good measure and even a little offensive religious humor. This is found in the offensively stereotypical character of a plane from India that believes in recycling (instead of reincarnation, get it?) and finds tractors (instead of cows) sacred. Plenty of children’s entertainment (plenty from Disney) have showcased intelligent jokes thrown into their sweet tales of overcoming incredible odds and learning what’s truly important in life. PLANES isn’t one of these films.

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Dane Cook provides the voice of Dusty Crophopper and that alone speaks volumes to this films quality. The man can act (e.g. MR. BROOKS), but Cook sounds like he’s just reading lines with a quick paycheck being waved in front of him. In fact, that’s possibly how the recording sessions went. Other washed up comedians populate the side characters, including Gabriel Iglesias and Sinbad. Everybody speaks as if they’re baby-talking the characters for the kids. Fun fact is that this film was originally intended for a direct-to-video release. It was produced by the DisneyToon Studios portion of Disney. DisneyToon has been responsible for every terrible sequel Disney has produced, along with all those cheap-looking CGI films. The animation of PLANES looks about on the same level as these bad films. This more than deserved to make a quick buck on the home video market. It’s insulting and underhanded that Disney put this abomination out in nationwide theatrical release.

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Surprisingly, PLANES also never seems to nail precisely what kind of tone it want to use. It’s overly cutesy and familiar, but there’s also a bit of a misguided serious edge in parts. A perfect example of this is a war flashback that comes out of nowhere and involves other planes being blown up and killed. It takes a skillful hand to balance wonderment and a darker side. THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER is a good example of this done right. On the other hand, PLANES is a film that babies its audience for a majority of the film. It makes things a bit startling when the story decides to launch the viewer into this impromptu scene of destruction that feels so radically out-of-place, it’s almost shocking.

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The tagline of PLANES shouldn’t read “From above the world of CARS.” It should say “From the director of TINKERBELL AND THE LOST TREASURE and the studio line that gave you all those terrible direct-to-video sequels to beloved classics, comes PLANES. This film was originally slated for a direct-to-DVD release but somehow got put into theaters everywhere.” I also have written what should be the tagline for the upcoming sequel “The first one made money and your kids will drag you to see this one too. See you during next few years for BOATS and TRAINS.” Enough said!

Grade: F

FRANKENSTEIN (1994)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Horrific Images

Frankenstein poster

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Written by: Steph Lady, Frank Darabont

(based on the novel FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley)

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Robert De Niro, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Hulce, Ian Holm, John Cleese, Aidan Quinn, Richard Briers

Without a doubt one of the greatest and most influential horror stories of all-time, FRANKENSTEIN has been adapted in countless ways. Produced on 45 million by Francis Ford Coppola (who had directed DRACULA a mere two years before), this version of FRANKENSTEIN was considered by many to be overblown. It wasn’t nearly as financially or critically successful as DRACULA. However, as time has gone on, the film has been noted as one of the most faithful-to-the-novel versions of the story (the widely acclaimed 2004 miniseries went on to hold the number one title in that department). While some have said that it’s style over substance and is lacking in certain respects, I completely disagree. I have yet to see the 2004 miniseries, but this 1994 film is my favorite FRANKENSTEIN story thus far.

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For those who are completely out of the loop, Victor Frankenstein is a wealthy young aristocratic genius. His mother tragically dies in childbirth and it’s an experience that deeply affects Victor. So he vows that nobody will ever have to die again (overpopulation be damned) and so it’s off to a prestigious college in Germany. Victor finds himself constantly bickering with his hoity-toity professors and their so-called scientific ways. He wants to create life, which as they say “is not only impossible, but immoral.” With the help of fellow scientist, Victor slowly learns the possibilities of life and gives this gift to a creation of his own…with disastrous results.

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That’s about all you need to know about the plot, especially if you haven’t read the novel and don’t know how things play out. Rest assured, this is far different than the 1931 Boris Karloff classic. As great as that monster movie is, it’s essentially the dumbed down concept of the novel (much like the 1933 version of THE INVISIBLE MAN). FRANKENSTEIN is a far more complex story than just a creature feature. There’s philosophical questions that are raised. How far does science need to go before it’s considered morally wrong? What makes us human? These kind of concepts are covered in an intelligent way through a story of a scientist and his monstrous creation.

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This is classical horror and the production designs make it seem epic in scale. Every shot is carefully chosen. The set design is fantastic. As for the actors themselves, Kenneth Branagh doubles as both director and Victor Frankenstein. He knows exactly how the character should be portrayed. While he begins as a heartless man doing despicable things for the sake of the science, he regains his humanity later on, but it’s far too late when the creature seeks a calculated revenge.

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There have been many performers given the role of Frankenstein’s Monster. These range from Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee to Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. Robert De Niro isn’t the first name one thinks of when Frankenstein’s monster is brought up. It cannot be denied that De Niro gives the creature a certain amount of pure emotion that was needed for the role. One moment is downright heartbreaking to watch and in others, his anger is fierce beyond compare.

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Like all the film adaptations, certain liberties were taken with the material. This isn’t detrimental to the film at all though. Beautifully shot and well-told, FRANKENSTEIN deserves to be right up there with Bram Stoker’s DRACULA. It’s a pity that the trend of reviving classic horror tales ended here. Sure we have Universal’s silly new WOLFMAN (which stripped all the elements of character that the original had) and a rumored upcoming CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON remake, but I want to see H.G. Well’s THE INVISIBLE MAN and Robert Lewis Stevenson’s DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE. Horror has roots in the classical period of storytelling and when a film like FRANKENSTEIN comes out, it must be celebrated. This is a mature and adult telling of a story that was serious to begin with. I consider this version of FRANKENSTEIN to be essential viewing for horror fans!

Grade: A+

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