Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom Review

The movie that so many martial arts fans have been waiting to see, a showdown between Jet Li and Jackie Chan has finally arrived. Unfortunately, it has arrived in the form of a slightly better than mediocre movie aimed mostly at the younger crowd.

The movie starts as Jason (Michael Angarano) wakes up and visits a DVD/Pawn Shop in the Chinatown section of Boston to purchase some of his favorite kung fu movies. The shop is run by Jackie Chan in old person's make up and if you thought that Chan was difficult to understand before through his accent, just wait until you try and hear him through his accent and "old man" voice.

(On a completely unrelated side note, I found it odd that Jason has a Sega Dreamcast and an old Nintendo 64 box set up in his room. Especially the box. Is it really worth saving 10 years later? You might say that it's set in the past, but an Xbox 360 shows up in the Old Man's pawn shop.)

Anyway, Jason is riding his bike home when some girls stop him and ask him what he's doing. He talks to them for a second, when out of nowhere, some bullies show up and see that he buys things at a shop in Chinatown. Of course, to them this means that the place will be easy to rob. (???) Things escalate out of control when the main bully SHOOTS JACKIE CHAN and then plans on shooting Jason until the mystical staff that Jason picked up in the pawn shop drags him off the roof of the building and transports him to ancient China. Immediately this takes me out of the movie, as I cannot stand movie bullies who inexplicably escalate things to realms that would never happen in reality. I understand that bullies in the real world exist, but not like this. Fortunately, the movie becomes more entertaining once they enter ancient China.

What follows is a movie that's one part "Back to the Future Part III" (or Ninja Turtles III, depending on your perspective), two parts Lord of the Rings, and two parts Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. (That's 5 parts for those of you who are keeping track.)

Jason is then tasked by Jackie Chan to take the staff to the Warlord's castle and release the imprisoned "Monkey King" (Jet Li) in order to get home. Along the way they pick up a monk (Jet Li, again) and a young woman named Sparrow. The problem is that you really never get a sense of any sort of danger or sense of foreboding, despite the attempts to highlight the story of Sparrow, who is seeking vengeance against the warlord for killing her parents. Oh yeah, she also inexplicably only speaks about herself in the second person.

Nor do you fully understand why Jason is so anxious to get home. He doesn't seem like he has any friends and his only excitement in life is watching old Kung Fu movies. There's also the fact that the last time he was conscious in his world, someone was holding a gun to his head and he was falling off a building. Personally, I don't know if I'd necessarily want to go back to that. But I guess that's just me.

The fight scenes are pretty good and show themselves to be entertaining enough, especially between Jet Li and Jackie Chan, but the reasons for which they all fight never really rise above mediocre.

Coupled with the fact that some of the bad guys make INCREDIBLY stupid decisions given the prospect of a "prophecy", the movie can't shake its failures despite the attempts to rise above these inherent shortcomings. The movie reads almost like a cliff's notes to an Asian "Lord of the Rings" (minus the mystical creatures) and in fact certain imagery looks almost like it was taken straight from the film trilogy.

Yet, despite it all, "The Forbidden Kingdom" does prove itself to be an entertaining way to spend two hours if there is nothing else to do. I can applaud what they were trying to accomplish but unfortunately the whole is worth less than the sum of its parts


Forgetting Sarah Marshall Review

We are getting to a point with comedies where the idea that whatever Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Superbad) produces is supposedly comedic gold. Unfortunately, the last two Apatow produced movies (Walk Hard and Drillbit Taylor) did not exactly live up to his high pedigree. Fortunately, Forgetting Sarah Marshall corrects that pattern and puts things back on the right path.

Written by star Jason Segel (of TV's How I Met Your Mother, possibly the best sitcom on TV today) and directed by first time director Nicholas Stoller, "Sarah Marshall" is an incredibly hilarious look at people's motivations within relationships that really takes the opportunity to give all the characters a chance to explain themselves.

By now I am sure most people have heard of the basic premise of the story. Peter Bretter (Segel), a composer who does music for his girlfriend Sarah Marshall's (Kristen Bell) TV show "Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime" gets dumped (while naked). In an attempt to get away from it all, he goes to a resort in Hawaii that Sarah once mentioned to him. Of course, as luck would have it, she is there with her new rockstar boyfriend Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). And, because no comedy would be complete without a new love interest, Peter develops a crush on the front desk girl Rachel (Mila Kunis).

What really makes this movie great is the way that it doesn't demonize anyone. Every character, whether it be Sarah or Peter or Rachel, all have issues within their lives that need to be dealt with. In many romantic comedies, the person who does the dumping is not really given a second glance and the blame is often squarely put on them. Unlike those, without giving anything away, you find that the real reason for the split is much more complicated than a woman who just wants to move up in the world. Looking at the characters as people with flaws and imperfections certainly helps to make the movie relatable in ways it might otherwise not have been.

A small issue with the movie is that it isn't as funny as Knocked Up or Superbad. This shouldn't be construed as a complaint though, as the laughs are consistent and don't really cease for the duration. The problem is that while I found myself laughing out loud, they never reached the complete hilarity of those other movies. Only once did I find myself laughing uncontrollably, which happened a few times in those other films. Yet, in comparison to the majority of the movies that pass for comedies today, this is infinitely better. I do feel somewhat bad for Jason Segel though, as he shows his penis numerous times yet it never really comes off as that funny, except for at the very end. Funny how the only time naked dudes are really ever used is for humorous effect. Naked women are usually shown so that people can see naked women. (I don't buy the whole "It makes sense for the scene" crap.)

On its own merits, without comparison to other movies within the genre, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is very funny and provides an experience that not only delivers minute-for-minute hilarity, but also crafts an engaging story. One more final complaint is that the end somewhat begins to head down the track of predictability, somewhat lessening the effect of the rest of the movie, but I wouldn't find it to be too much or a complaint, nor something that ruins the experience in the slightest.

As a final note, I have to mention that while Mila Kunis has always been hot, in this movie she's pretty much off the charts. Not to take away from the hotness of Kristen Bell, of course. I don't know whether it's movie magic or what the situation is with her in this movie, but I think we can all agree that Macauley Culkin is a lucky man. Yeah, I don't know how that happened, either.