SINBAD: LEGEND OF THE SEVEN SEAS (2003)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 26 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Adventure Action, some mild Sensuality and brief Language

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Directed by: Tim Johnson & Patrick Gilmore

Written by: John Logan

Voices of: Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer, Joseph Fiennes, Dennis Haysbert & Adriano Giannini

Throughout the years, DreamWorks has proven itself to be a nice alternative from the familiar animated Disney fare. DreamWorks Animation cut its teeth with films that were slightly edgier humor than many would initially expect in family movies. They are also notable for taking more risks with original properties (SHREK, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, KUNG FU PANDA) that usually turn out well. When all is said and done, DreamWorks Animation has earned a reputation as (mostly) reliable source of solid entertainment. However, they still have their fair share of duds. 2003’s SINBAD isn’t horrible, but definitely winds up on the lower end of their movie catalog. This film didn’t go as planned for anybody really. Though advertising was everywhere (including kid’s meal toys, action figures, and a bombardment of commercials), SINBAD never really seemed to find its audience. The film was largely ignored in 2003’s summer movie season (with stiff competition from the likes of FINDING NEMO and TERMINATOR 3) and received mixed response from critics. This box office fiasco lost the studio about 125 million (resulting in traditional animation being completely abandoned by DreamWorks). LEGEND OF THE SEVEN SEAS is an okay piece cartoon for kids, but that’s about all it is.

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Sinbad is a heroic pirate sailing the seas, confronting monsters, and going on many perilous adventures. When he runs afoul of Eris, the goddess of Discord, Sinbad finds himself on his most dangerous quest yet. Eris steals the valuable Book of Peace and frames Sinbad for the crime. In order to save his friend’s life as well as his own skin, Sinbad sets out on the wide ocean on a to retrieve the stolen Book of Peace. Along the way, he confronts many obstacles including freaky CGI monsters, dangerous environments and all of the powers of Eris.

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SINBAD: LEGEND OF THE SEVEN SEAS has a pretty basic story that serves as an excuse for a rinse, lather repeat formula. Sinbad sails around, characters bicker amongst themselves and then encounter a monster. This process winds up repeating itself four times before the film is over. This is also a definite instance of traditional animation dying out as CGI has clearly been blended with 2D designs. The effect looks good in some areas, but not so much in others. A giant squid-like monster and a giant bird both have pretty lame designs compared to the rest of the creatures and environments. However, an encounter with sirens is awesome (serving as the best scene of the entire film). Eris is also beautifully animated.

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The biggest problem with SINBAD comes in the voices…mainly Brad Pitt. While Sinbad is typically characterized as a legendary strong-headed hero, there’s definitely less of a timeless feel to DreamWork’s interpretation of the character. Brad Pitt plays Sinbad as Brad Pitt. He’s a smart-ass with a lot of one-liners and a strong appeal to the sole female character. It’s very distracting when you’re watching a scene full of mythical creatures and you here a line like “Pretty cool, right!” or “That’s why you don’t let women drive.” Catherine Zeta-Jones is suitable enough as Marina, but doesn’t serve too much of a purpose other than being a love interest for Sinbad. The best casting decision comes in Michelle Pfeiffer as Eris, who serves as a memorable villainess. Oh, and there’s also Spike, a slobbery dog sidekick that becomes downright insufferable.

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SINBAD has edgy sensibilities (clever adult humor, more risk-taking, etc.) that DreamWorks is known for, but also falters under a scrambled mishmash of ideas that don’t necessarily work. The traditional animation looks stunning, but the CGI is cheap and doesn’t fit well into the film. A couple of the monster encounters are cool, but its by-the-number gets tired before the credits roll. There are good things to appreciate in SINBAD as it’s a slight step above a lot of mediocre garbage that you see passed off for colorful family entertainment, but that’s about the nicest thing that can be said about this film.

Grade: C+

DANGEROUS LIAISONS (1988)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 59 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: Stephen Frears

Written by: Christopher Hampton

(based on the novel LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos)

Starring: Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer, Swoosie Kurtz, Keanu Reeves, Mildred Natwick & Uma Thurman

Though written more than centuries ago, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s DANGEROUS LIAISONS still holds up as all too relevant in this day and age. Birthing a massive amount of controversy since its release, this scandalous French novel is one of the first instances of sex in literature being turned into a tool for manipulation and power as opposed to an act of the deepest love and affection. The 1988 film adaptation masterfully transports the viewer back into 18th century France and forces them to examine a pair of purposely unlikable characters much to our shock and awe. DANGEROUS LIAISONS is a devilish delight for cinephiles and fans of Laclos’s novel.

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Merteuil and Valmont are two former lovers and aristocrats who consider themselves on a higher intellectual pedestal than the lesser souls around them. Using their cunning wits, the two devise a game in which Valmont will seduce two separate women with the goal of humiliation in mind for the reward of a night alone with Merteuil. Valmont’s first conquest is Cecile, the virginal fiancée of a well-to-do music teacher. The second is a Tourvel, the wife of a member of Parliament. This game of seduction, double-crossing, and manipulation has unforeseen consequences on everyone involved. Both the players and their victims will suffer dire consequences.

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At its core, DANGEROUS LIAISONS is all about relationships both physical and emotional. As far as the sexual content goes, the viewer is given a couple of sensual moments and nothing overly erotic or cheesy. Most of the sex scenes are left to our imagination with mere suggestive comments and sly innuendos about what acts being performed behind closed bedroom doors. Though there’s plenty of emotion to the proceedings as Valmont actually begins to show real feelings towards one of his would-be victims, it doesn’t stop the film from sprinkling in bits of dark humor. One morning-after moment with Valmont gets some big laughs, but that doesn’t make his actions any less cruel. The movie also manages to take the viewer on an emotional rollercoaster into areas they might not have initially expected upon going in (unless they have read or known the source material).

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Glenn Close gives one of the best performances of her career as Merteuil. She puts on an innocent respectable persona while her noble friends are around, but reveals her darker true self whenever she’s alone with Valmont. John Malkovich is absolutely fantastic as the complicated Valmont. Though he introduces himself as a repulsive individual lacking a basic moral compass, Valmont quickly shows that there could be a genuine good and caring side to him…if things work out in his favor. Uma Thurman and Michelle Pfeiffer are solid in their roles of Valmont’s potential victims. However, there’s one performance that sticks out like a sore thumb. Keanu Reeves is wooden as the music teacher. Though he’s barely in the film, Reeves simply doesn’t belong in a cast like this and uses a distractingly wooden delivery that competes with his role in 1992’s DRACULA as the biggest mood-killer in an otherwise amazing film.

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The technical accomplishments in DANGEROUS LIAISONS masterfully bring Pre-Revolution France to the screen. Costumes are elegant. Sets are exquisite and convincing. The classical music is fitting. This is one of those rare period pieces where you actually feel as if you’ve transported back to said time period. Clearly, a lot of attention was paid to the tiniest details, save for Keanu’s unconvincing performance.

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In an emotionally shattering scene near the end of the film, one character states that vanity and happiness are incompatible. Truer words have never been spoken and DANGEROUS LIAISONS has never been more relevant. This is a scary notion that’s beyond anyone’s control, but it’s brought to startling light in this fantastic film that more than does justice to a masterful and hugely influential literary masterpiece.

Grade: A

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