Blazing across the screen with eye-popping, sublime artwork, Kung Fu Panda sets itself apart from the modern domestic animation trend with its sheer beauty. From an opening dream sequence whose abstract style seems culled straight from a modern manga, the film enters instant classic status as some of the most gorgeous animation Hollywood has produced since the golden age of Disney. Eschewing the cold and severe art of Dreamworks' Shrek films, the makers of Kung Fu Panda fill the screen with painterly backdrops of mountain vistas and fluttering leaves that give Zhang Yimou a run for his money. It somehow makes it all the funnier to have the titular panda, Po (Black), come huffing and wheezing through the impeccable and non-specific ancient China landscapes like a less-active relative of Hurley on Lost.
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Cats & Dogs is ridiculous and harmless, a Mission: Impossible for the animal world. For years, a secret high-tech espionage war has been waged between the feline and canine races, right under the noses of ignorant humans. The spark of this high-tech war came about as the result of the dog race overthrowing the then-dominating cat race during ancient Egyptian times (they even ruled the human race). Man's best friend re-established the humans as the dominant race and has protected that balance for years. And a breakthrough for dogs is approaching, as one human, Professor Brody (Jeff Goldblum), is on the verge of discovering an allergy vaccine which will enable all humans and dogs to co-exist in peace. The only problem is that the diabolic Mr. Tinkle (voiced by Sean Hayes), a furry white Persian with the attitude of Richard Grant's character from Hudson Hawk, and his small army of pesky felines have "cat-knapped" the family dog Buddy, who has been guarding the Professor and his family from the tuna-breathed fiends. The bodyguard job then falls on the shoulders of a Beagle pup named Lou (voiced by Toby Maguire) -- who is mistaken as a secret agent dog by an Anatolian Shepard named Butch (voiced by Alec Baldwin).
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Surprise! Sin City is a mega-violent, highly potent vial of noir crack. And judging from the riotous burst of applause at the end of our screening, one that's destined to be a Matrix-style mass-cult classic.
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The Scorpion King ably rehashes the plots of the variety of other, better films including Gladiator, the Indiana Jones series, Flash Gordon, Beastmaster, and even The Goonies. Set 5,000 years ago, a warlord named Memnon (Steven Brand), acting on crazed Napoleonic urges, ravages the land and bends its people into totalitarian rule. With the aid of a seer who foretells the future, Memnon stands invincible against all aggressors.
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I am serious. And while The Island isn't exactly a great film, the case for Johansson as action starlet has been made, handily.
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Call it a premature yet promising start to the summer action season. Somehow "The Scorpion King" -- a movie starring a professional wrestler and spun off from a shameful sequel -- has become the most enjoyably, unapologetically jumbo-sized popcorn flick since 1999's remake of "The Mummy," this picture's indirect ascendant.
While "The Scorpion King" aims for a considerably lower brow, it's a vast improvement on its idiotic immediate predecessor. In "The Mummy Returns," WWF wrestler The Rock had a bit part as the movie's second resurrected bad guy, an ancient Akkadian king who sold his soul to a "dark god" in order to win a war. "The Scorpion King" is that character's backstory, a tongue-in-cheek, "Conan the Barbarian"-like, 3000 B.C. adventure packed with over-the-top action and intentionally cheesy catch-phrase dialogue.
The Rock plays Mathayus, a sinewy assassin hired by the assembled remnants of several defeated tribes to kill the sorcerer who serves a powerful tyrant king that decimate their lands and peoples. Without supernatural guidance, the inexplicably interracial tribes (led by colossal Michael Clarke Duncan, "The Green Mile") believe they can defeat the ruthless, psychopathic Memnon (Steven Brand) and his silly mohawk-flattop hair-do.
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Without the faintest hint of director Tim Burton's uniquely uncanny style, "Planet of the Apes" version 2.0 feels like nothing more than a generic (albeit overblown) sci-fi summer movie -- and a forgettably mediocre one at that.
A passionless, elementary endeavor of wow effects and a yawn plot (which has been reinvented from the 1968 original), the picture opens circa 2029 with astronaut Mark Wahlberg working on a space station, training chimps to pilot one-man pods into electrical storms encountered in deep space.
After losing contact with one chimp in a rather ominous anomaly, Wahlberg establishes his maverick personality (which soon fades into a vanilla version of your standard action hero) by swiping a pod against orders to go rescue him. Once inside the storm, our hero is sucked into a wormhole that turns his helm dead and spits him out to crash land on a faraway world in the distant future where -- as if you didn't know -- a brutal, medieval society of evolved simians enslaves primitive humans as labor and pets.
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"The Green Mile" begins with a little deja vu. Like Tom Hanks' last mid-Century, Oscar-baiting drama, "Saving Private Ryan," it's bookended by a modern framework that finds an old man reluctantly reminiscing about a difficult year of his life, more than half a century ago.
Because of the familiar faces and the similar prestige posturing, this platitudinous structure invites a little eye-rolling as Dabbs Greer (Reverend Alden on "Little House On the Prairie"), playing the aged Hanks, begins to spin what becomes an engrossing three-hour yarn about a year of extraordinary horrors and miracles on death row in a Louisiana state penitentiary.
Hanks plays prison guard Paul Edgecomb, an unjaded joe in charge of death row who treats people on both sides of the bars with humanity and civility. Set in 1935, the central story opens with the arrival of a kindly colossus of a condemned killer named John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan).
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An unremarkably routine superhero movie based on the cult-favorite comic book about a satanically-costumed blind vigilante, "Daredevil" plays like a C-grade grad project for a night school course called Superhero Filmmaking 101.
Faithful to his inspiration -- the era of "Daredevil" issues written by "Batman" revitalizer Frank Miller and comic-crazy film director Kevin Smith -- in several important details, writer-director Mark Steven Johnson's one stroke of true genius comes in the pulses of fluid, misty, ghostly imagery he uses to depict the sightless crime fighter's enhanced ability to "see" through sound waves and smells.
But most of the picture apes its action style -- and many whole fight scenes -- from last year's "Spider-Man." It has the same ineffectual opening voice-over, the same unconvincingly CGI-assisted rooftop leaping and building-swinging (Daredevil uses a grappling-hook-modified walking cane instead of spider-webbing) and its hero has the same slow-mo back-flip method of dodging weapons thrown by villains.
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