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-

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