THE MAN (2005)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 23 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Language, Rude Dialogue and some Violence

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Directed by: Les Mayfield

Written by: Jim Piddock, Margaret Oberman & Stephen Carpenter

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Eugene Levy, Luke Goss, Miguel Ferrer, Susie Essman, Anthony Mackie & Gigi Rice

Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy are funny on their own, so someone might assume that THE MAN would get a few chuckles by combining the two into one movie. It’s a fish-out-of-water comedy with potential for clever, if not familiar, laughs. However, THE MAN just might be one of the lamest, laziest and most poorly written comedies to come out of the 2000’s. This film seems to be using a script that’s been collecting dust since the mid-80’s. Instead of simply being as generic as its title, THE MAN runs on a plethora of stale jokes and farts. Before getting into why this movie sucks as badly as it does, I’ll set up the premise.

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Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. Andy Fiddler is a dorky dental equipment salesman who’s visiting the city of Detroit to make an important speech at a sales convention. Agent Derrick Vann is a loose cannon cop who doesn’t play by the rules. Vann’s partner was recently discovered to be dirty and deceased (gunned down by a group of dangerous arms runners). Through a sheer coincidence, Andy gets mistaken for Vann in an undercover operation. This leads to Vann having to drag the reluctant, loud-mouthed Andy along for the investigation as he tries to capture these arms dealers. Wacky, unfunny hijinks ensue.

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Comedy is a hugely subjective genre. What might be hilarious to one person could be lame to someone else. This all being said, I suspect that THE MAN didn’t have many people rolling in the aisles at the movie theater or laughing out loud at home. These jokes have all been done before in countless other movies. We also get not one, but multiple fart jokes as Andy doesn’t do well with red meat. Meanwhile, the entire plot is an overly familiar mistaken identity/fish out of water story and mainly hinges on Eugene Levy. This recognizable performer is simply off his game as a bumbling goof who is far more annoying than he is funny. Some of his “highlights” include holding up an airport line to discuss a tongue scraper with a disinterested flight attendant, getting in a scuffle with a hobo over a paper bag, and getting shot in the butt. Also, I’d be remiss not to bring up those two terrible fart scenes again. The whole shtick with Levy’s Andy is that he’s constantly chatting off the ear of Samuel L. Jackson’s hard-boiled cop and driving him to his breaking point. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Jackson as Levy’s constant yammering was driving me close to shutting the movie off too.

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Samuel L. Jackson is his usual badass self and a stereotypical loose cannon cop at the same time. Some of his clichés include flipping out at his superiors and meeting informants for no other reason than to get exposition while making a public spectacle of chasing them down with his car. Honestly, Jackson seems bored and isn’t the biggest problem with this movie. Other cast members include Luke Goss as the villain (the only character to elicit a single chuckle out of me), a younger Anthony Mackie as the informant, and an underused Miguel Ferrer as Jackson’s superior.

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If THE MAN were simply a lame comedy, it might be a tad more tolerable than it actually is for trying to include a forced sentimental side halfway through. The screenplay (penned by three writers!) somehow tries to turn Eugene Levy’s Andy into a sympathetic do-gooder by the middle of the film in having him give life advice to Samuel L. Jackson. It goes further down this hole by trying to play off the two forming a friendship that isn’t convincing or believable, especially considering all the stuff they put each other through. On the technical side of things, the cinematography ranks with older network television procedurals and the soundtrack adds a “derpty derp” sense of blandness. Besides one chuckle that I got from the villain, the only positive thing I can say about THE MAN is that it has the decency to run at under 90 minutes. This film bombed at the box office as well as tanked with critics and audiences alike. It deserves to be forgotten in the annals of cinematic flops and I’m probably giving it more attention than I should be by writing this review.

Grade: D-

MULAN (1998)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

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Directed by: Tony Bancroft & Barry Cook

Written by: Rita Hsiao, Philip LaZebnik & Chris Sanders

Voices of: Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, BD Wong, Miguel Ferrer, Harvey Fierstein, Gedde Watanabe, Jerry Tondo & James Hong

During the 90’s, the Disney Renaissance was in full force. The studio had hit a streak of hits with LITTLE MERMAID, ALADDIN, and THE LION KING. Though none of their other Renaissance efforts reached the massive success that those three aforementioned films raked in, Disney was pumping out creative and interesting projects. You really wouldn’t assume that a company known for focusing on fairy tales, talking animals, and family friendly material would touch a Chinese legend or a war story…but that’s exactly what they do in 1998’s MULAN to glorious effect. This beautifully animated film is among Disney’s best. It’s a fantastic, progressive and amazing piece of work that I absolutely adore.

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In Ancient China, Fa Mulan is a young woman struggling to find her identity. While society wants to place her in the strict position of subservient wife, Mulan yearns for something more. When the Huns attack China and her elderly father is summoned to war, Mulan decides to make a sacrifice to save her father’s life and preserve their family honor. She cuts her hair, dons his armor and sneaks off in the middle of the night to take his place in the army. Aided by the small dragon Mushu, Mulan struggles to become a “man” in her military camp and keep her identity a secret from her fellow soldiers. This is easier said than done and the Huns are drawing closer.

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MULAN walks a fine line in Disney entertainment between all-out seriousness and silly fun. It would normally be difficult to take any film seriously that has Eddie Murphy voicing a dragon, but that’s exactly how MULAN should be taken. Yes, there’s some comic relief, but the film has a remarkably mature attitude and vision of the legend that it’s retelling. There’s not only the obvious message about sexism and never judging a book by its cover, but morals about the importance of family, identity, and doing what is right in the face of danger. Mulan is an instantly likable protagonist who goes through big character arcs by the end of the film. She’s a heroine for the ages and that’s especially impressive when you consider that this is a “kid’s movie.” Mushu and a lucky cricket deliver comic relief that will entertain kids, while the colorful side characters provide the best jokes in the whole film. Everything is boosted by a soundtrack full of memorable and powerful musical numbers that perfectly blend right into the story. This entire film is one of those wonderful occasions where everyone in the family can enjoy this film for the same reasons. It’s a story about strength and courage that can be appreciated by all ages.

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The seriousness of the film comes in that this is technically a war movie. Mulan is a soldier and though there aren’t going be bloody battle sequences (after all, this is still Disney), but there are definitely dark moments throughout. The opening of the film shows us the Huns attacking the Great Wall of China and even if you’re seven years old (which I was when I first saw this movie), you can easily guess that those guards on the wall were killed. A walk through the burning landscape of a fallen Chinese camp is especially grim for this family film, but the risk to go that dark pays off in the final third that shows the courage of people willing to rise to the occasion to protect their families and friends. If there is any problem to be found in this film, it would be Shan Yu who is pretty much played as a bland villainous warlord. That’s far from a glaring flaw though.

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During Disney’s Renaissance (1989-1999), the studio was taking far more risks about which stories to tell. These new stories took us from the African savanna to Arabian nights to pre-Colonial America to France. Ancient China is certainly a creative and original setting for a family film. I imagine that it came out of nowhere for Disney fans at the time and they were all the more rewarded through it. MULAN is an A-worthy treasure from Disney!

Grade: A

RIO 2 (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

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Directed by: Carlos Saldanha

Written by: Don Rhymer, Carlos Kotkin, Jenny Bicks & Yoni Brenner

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, Bruno Mars, Jemaine Clement, George Lopez, Jamie Foxx, Will.I.Am, Rodrigo Santoro, Tracy Morgan & Miguel Ferrer

As far as family entertainment goes, the first RIO was nothing to write home about. I thought it was a purely middle-of-the-road movie and many better animated productions have come since. That’s why the decision of making a sequel to RIO seems a little weird. It’s not so strange when I took into consideration that the first movie made bank at the box office. RIO was popular for some reason or another, so I guess one could hope that the sequel might try to improve on the former film. RIO 2 flies in a couple of areas and crashes in nearly every other aspect.

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Picking up a few years after the conclusion of RIO, Blu and Jewel (the endangered Macaw couple) are parents to three young birds. Things seem fairly routine and life is good. This changed for Blu when some unexpected evidence surfaces that Blu and Jewel may not be the last of their kind. The family journeys into the Amazon jungles to find a whole flock of Blue Macaws, including Jewel’s long-lost relatives. Blu finds himself drastically out of his domesticated element as he tries to bond with his strict father-in-law. Meanwhile, the scarred Nigel is back for revenge with a poisonous frog sidekick. To make matters even more complicated, humans Linda and Tulio stumble across an illegal logging operation that threatens the trees where the colony lives, all while Blu’s friends hold a auditions for new musical talent.

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That synopsis alone should give you an idea about the main problem with RIO 2. There are four credited screenwriters and the movie jumbles together four different plots. It’s almost as if a different script was written for each storyline and then the studio mixed the pages together. That’s exactly how it felt as I was watching this whole thing play out. The running time may not be excessively long, but the movie did drag. One might find this an odd statement given all the stuff happening, but none of it was given enough time to properly develop or capture the viewer’s interest.

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Credit where credit is due, I was interested during the first 25 minutes of the story and liked the direction things were moving in. Blu trying to impress his newfound relatives, which plays out like MEET THE PARENTS with birds, could be decent enough. Even the idea of Nigel coming back for revenge was entertaining. However, the logging subplot (which introduced an unnecessary second antagonist) had echoes of FERNGULLY (or more recently, AVATAR). The one subplot that didn’t work for me at all were the birds voiced by Jamie Foxx and will.i.am auditioning jungle animals for talent. Every single time those two wise-cracking feathered friends popped up, I felt like letting out a loud groan.

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Speaking of how unfocused the film is. The musical numbers ranged from great to sadly annoying. The film didn’t need a three-minute-long scene of Nigel singing “I Will Survive” with plenty of pop culture references thrown in. The best two songs in the film belong to the jungle birds. There’s also another moment featuring the easily most entertaining character: Gabi the poisonous tree frog. She sings about lamenting how she loves Nigel but is unable to touch him due to her toxic skin condition. The best scenes in the more dull section of the film falling apart all involved Gabi.

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The voice cast all do a decent enough job in reprising their roles, but I didn’t really care about the characters that much this time around. Most of this can primarily be blamed on the sheer familiar storyline. We’ve seen this kind of thing play out in many other movies and adding four different plots didn’t keep my interest, but rather made for a sloppy final product. The film’s visuals are quite beautiful to look at, even if the humans look like they could be rendered a tad more (perhaps Pixar just spoiled us with fantastic animation all these years).

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RIO 2 is harmless kiddie fare that will keep the young ones occupied for just under two hours. However, the predictable plot, lame jokes, muddled execution, and heavy-handed environmental message (that makes FERNGULLY seem subtle in comparison) make this out to be a bit of a chore for the grown ups to endure. Fox is most likely trying to milk a new franchise out of RIO, much like they completely crashed the ICE AGE series into the ground with each sequel. I though the first RIO was a middle-of-the-road experience and RIO 2 does the typical sequel thing (as MUPPETS MOST WANTED says “the sequels never quite as good”) by lowering the quality significantly. RIO 2 doesn’t come recommended at all. If you want a good piece of family entertainment, MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN and MUPPETS MOST WANTED are far more deserving choices than this lame sequel.

Grade: D

IRON MAN 3 (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Sci-Fi Action and Violence throughout, and brief Suggestive Content

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Directed by: Shane Black

Written by: Drew Pearce & Shane Black

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, Jon Favreau & Ben Kingsley

IRON MAN 3 is the first major release from Marvel since THE AVENGERS reigned in May 2012. It also marks a few daring moves for the studio that seemed content to play it safe with their superheroes in the past. It’s Marvel’s darkest movie and consequently the best IRON MAN film yet! This almost doesn’t feel like a superhero film and I mean that in the best possible way. IRON MAN 3 feels like a James Bond film crossed paths with a Marvel production and this is the result.

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Following fresh off the events of THE AVENGERS, Tony Stark is suffering from PTSD. After al, he did witness other worlds, demigods and aliens (let alone fought against them with other superheroes to save the world). In order to cope with these new revelations, Stark has taken to long sleepless periods (up to three full days worth of time) creating new Iron Man suits and inventions. This puts extra stress on Pepper, his significant other, who was already putting up with his erratic narcissistic lifestyle. A new foe emerges in the Mandarin, a formidable terrorist issuing random attacks in different parts of the USA and Pakistan. After one of his friends in injured in an attack, Tony Stark finds himself being targeted by the Mandarin and it appears that there is far more at work than what appears at first.

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IRON MAN was a good origin story for this superhero. IRON MAN 2 was an okay sequel, but seemed like too much set up for THE AVENGERS and not enough Iron Man. However, IRON MAN 3 delivers the sequel that the second installment should have been. There are references to what happened in New York in THE AVENGERS, but this movie seemed almost like a self-contained story that focused on the battle between Iron Man and a cunning villain. The plot is smart and has a few twists, but also knows when and where to place the action scenes and humor. There are a good amount of laughs to be had in parts of IRON MAN 3 and the fight scenes are just plain cool.

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Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Don Cheadle are back in the roles they played so well before. Rebecca Hall (THE PRESTIGE, DORIAN GRAY) shows up as one of Stark’s former lovers and Guy Pearce plays a rival scientist who may be hiding more than a few skeletons in his closet very well. Meanwhile, Ben Kingsley shows up as the Mandarin. If there’s any performance to be ridiculed in this film, it belongs to Ben Kingsley. You’ll know why when you see it, but it’s not bad per se, just wasn’t what I was expecting at all from the character.

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IRON MAN 3 takes some unexpected turns along the way (one of which is clearly owed to BATMAN BEGINS). This is the most obvious twist of the bunch too and the film spent a little too much time spelling out (in case some of the audience members didn’t get it from the first two times it’s shown). Some of the logic used in this world seems a bit silly when one tries to analyze it, but the viewer should also consider that we are watching a story in a world filled with frozen patriots, demigods, and aliens. So you kind of have to erase a bit of logic from your mind when entering this film.

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With these criticisms in mind, the film is still a “superhero vs. villain” story and it marks the first time Iron Man has faced off alone against someone with actual powers. The movie never loses its speed and even though it’s the longest running IRON MAN film thus far (a bit over two hours), it felt like it went by at a perfect pace. It seems that since Marvel has gotten all of the origin stories over with for each of its main heroes, they are now willing to shake things up in their universe and take some risks. This benefits both the film and the cast greatly. The ending of IRON MAN 3 makes some bold moves and I can’t wait to see where the character of Tony Stark goes from here on. Color me officially excited for the upcoming THOR sequel, CAPTAIN AMERICA sequel and the second AVENGERS movie. It’s looking to be a brave new direction of Marvel Studios and I like what I’m seeing a lot.

Grade: B+

THE NIGHT FLIER (1998)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Horror Violence, Gore and Strong Language

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Directed by: Mark Pavia

Written by: Mark Pavia, Jack O’Donnell

(based on the short story THE NIGHT FLIER by Stephen King)

Starring: Miguel Ferrer, Julie Entwisle, Dan Monahan, Michael H. Moss

Stephen King has famously tackled vampires in his critically acclaimed SALEM’S LOT, that was later turned into a great miniseries and a so-so remake of said miniseries. King actually did return to write about bloodsuckers one more time in NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPES. Contained in that massive anthology was a little story titled THE NIGHT FLIER. This tale was unnerving and absolutely terrifying. Eventually (as all Stephen King stories usually wind up) it was adapted into a feature-length film. While some movies based on his short stories have been terrible (THE MANGLER, CHILDREN OF THE CORN, GRAVEYARD SHIFT), THE NIGHT FLIER stays remarkably true to the source material and does the impossible, it captures the sheer frightening nature of the words on paper that it’s based on.

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Richard Dees is a tabloid reporter and an all-around asshole. He’s arrogant, self-important, and whiny, and those are some of his better qualities. There isn’t a low to which he won’t stoop to make his article in the Inside View (think National Enquirer before it focused on celebrity gossip) more shocking. After a couple of countryside airports turn up with a bloody massacres and no survivors, it appears that a serial killer is on the loose, using his plane as transportation. To make matters even more strange, the victims have been drained of blood and the brutality on display seems too much for one mere man to commit. Dees takes the case from a new reporter and begins his investigation into “The Night Flier.” Meanwhile, the wronged reporter does everything in her power to get her story back.

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The short story was a slow deliberate scarefest that ended in a climax that kept me from sleeping for a few hours. It’s easily one of the best pieces of vampire fiction I’ve read. Keeping in tone with the story, THE NIGHT FLIER is an adaptation that relishes in everything that was frightening about the short story and cranks it up a notch by the conclusion. The story ended in a quietly freaky way that was good for a written work, but wouldn’t have really worked in film format. Wisely, director/co-writer Mark Pavia keeps the movie going a little further past where the story originally ended and finishes on a solid 15 minute long purely nightmarish conclusion.

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As far as Stephen King adaptations go, THE NIGHT FLIER is criminally underrated and stands tall when placed against the actual story. Miguel Ferrer inhabits his role with such ferocity that it’s impossible to separate the actor from the character. I’m sure he’s a really nice guy, but Ferrer has a knack for playing scumbags. The addition of Dee’s rival (a character who wasn’t in the story at all) adds another layer to the film and plays into just how bleak the final third becomes. The effects themselves range from cool to somewhat cheesy. One moment near the end of the film involving the reveal of The Night Flier made me roll my eyes, because it was unneeded and corny. This being said, despite the occasionally hokey effects, this is a solid piece of horror cinema.

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THE NIGHT FLIER stays true to the source material, while changing a few things up that actually work better in this visual medium. Even though Dees is a complete and utter tool, we can’t help ourselves enjoy watching this despicable man go through a creepy investigation that ultimately leads to a confrontation that will decide his fate. In the realm of Stephen King adaptations, THE NIGHT FLIER is great. In the world of vampire films, it’s also great. This is an underrated gem of a movie that deserves more acclaim than it gets.

Grade: B+

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