This action comedy about a rogue FBI agent paired with an ordinary woman is supposed to mark the reestablishment of Tom Cruise as a desirable star. The cinematography and mise-en-scène are valued accomplices of that goal, tracking all of Cruise’s actions slowly and bathing him in whichever light is available to make him look the most attractive. It is a good thing that those stylistic elements are showing that much love, for the screenplay robs Cruise of a real showcase. It is unfunny and confusing (Cruise’s agent alternates between hero and villain too many times), and Cameron Diaz’s character receives so much more screen time than Cruise that she becomes the story’s focus. Though the adoring camera would have you thinking otherwise, Knight and Day gives Cruise little material for rebuilding his star status.

It does not help that neither Cruise nor Diaz are particularly good in this movie. Cruise seems to be trying to make his role an everyman type of secret agent. That direction fits with his character's back story, but it ruins the already tenuous believability of his combat scenes. It is hard to take this agent seriously as a viable ally or threat when he acts so distractingly boyish and goofy in his downtime. At least he is more amusing than Diaz, who should have taken an earthier approach to her character. This girl is said to know how to repair a car and how to pick out usable parts out of scrap. Diaz does not look nearly casual enough for a hobby like that, let alone to make us conceive that she will become a willing assistant in international intrigue. Her weakness is not only with her appearance, for her half-hearted line delivery drags down the already lame humor (her truth serum scene is especially awkward). The film is forgettable by itself, but these two actors are insufficient to steer this supposed star vehicle.
First published in The Coastland Times


Almost 11 years after the release of Toy Story 2, Pixar Animation Studios is revisiting their biggest franchise with Toy Story 3. The span between the second and third film may have been primarily the fault of the Disney/Pixar ownership negotiations in the mid-2000s, but that time has been an unequivocal boon to the series. Many of the kids who saw the first movie in 1995 have reached the age where their childhood will be tucked away and reserved for rainy days or for time with their own children. What better way to signify that transition than with one more adventure with the toys that simultaneously enraptured the youth of the world while creating the art (or craze, to some) of the computer-animated feature?


DreamWorks Animation’s most successful franchise finally ends with this fourth chapter. The movie takes stock of everything that has happened to Shrek by placing him in an alternate reality, created by the twitchy trickster Rumpelstiltskin, in which he was never born. This darker story focuses more on action and character than on humor, and it allows Shrek and his friends to be their most heroic and sympathetic since the original film.

“Shrek Forever After” is a serviceable finale that emphasizes the series’ strengths and flaws. The main characters are as appealing as ever, largely because of their voice actors’ seasoned yet still likable performances. However, the anachronistic pop culture humor remains as hit-and-miss as ever. These modern jokes are less numerous than in the other sequels, but they still beg the question of whether they will date these movies. The film also seems the most chaotic, using quick editing and rarely stationary cinematography that render the proceedings somewhat exhausting.

The best moments occur when the alternate universe offers variations on jokes and scenes from the other movies. These details, which range from appearances of old props to direct quotations, are easy to recognize and help tie the series together into one story. A few recollections do rely too much on fond memories of the other movies (“I’m a Believer” is far less magical here than it was in the first “Shrek”). Still, “Shrek Forever After” is almost like a yearbook in how it allows fans to view highlights (albeit twisted ones) of their years in the kingdom of Far Far Away. It may not be as special as the first two movies, but it is a mostly satisfying conclusion.

First published in The Coastland Times


Based on the long-running video game series of the same name, this film is centered on Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), whose quest to undo the usurpation of the Persian throne involves a time-reversing dagger. It does not aim to be more than easy escapism, but its frenetic style leaves it less than comprehensible. It presents fight scenes with confusing and rapidly-edited close-ups of weapons and reactions instead of comfortable medium shots of the actors' bodies. How can you savor the fight choreography or the performers’ skill if you cannot discern which character or whose weapon is in the shot? In classic action movies like "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and "The Empire Strikes Back," one can at least focus one who is attacking and why he made that move. "Prince of Persia," however, indulges in technique over clarity to create a marginally understandable spectacle.

Just as frustrating as the action is the story that loosely strings them together. The screenplay follows the example of "Pirates of the Caribbean" (swashbuckling heroes, breathy beauties, magical MacGuffins) with haphazard results. Many and ideas are not carried out to their full potential, and the characters are depicted as incapable of making some rather obvious choices (not once does Dastan wonder if he can travel back to stop the takeover himself). Such inattentive writing may have been forgivable if performed by a more enthusiastic cast, but most of these actors (especially the overly dramatic Gemma Arterton) are just plain boring. To its credit, “Prince of Persia” is afforded some decent special effects and an amusing performance by the always welcome Alfred Molina. Nevertheless, those elements do little to elevate this forgettable, albeit digestible, movie.
First published in The Coastland Times


Geneticists Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) combine human and animal DNA to create Dren, a marvelous being that becomes too dangerous and intelligent to control. Contrary to the film’s horror-centric marketing campaign, “Splice” is primarily a science-fiction story that offers a parental twist on classic Promethean themes.

The film has a grisly atmosphere from the beginning, but the intended alienation becomes harder to stomach as Dren becomes more predatory. The evolution of Dren from a small computer-animated creature into a formidable humanoid (presented through appropriately disorienting makeup and the naturalistic performances of Abigail Chu and Delphine Chanéac) makes an absorbing first two-thirds. During the last half-hour, the film takes a few distasteful and weirdly sensual turns involving Dren’s maturity and its interaction with Clive and Elsa. Though these events produce a nicely ambiguous ending, their nature is unsettling enough to mar this intriguing film.

"Splice" is most effective when it focuses on the familial aspects of the experiment. The story asks whether certain people, geneticists or ordinary citizens, are unfit to be creators. It is clearly questionable how qualified Clive and Elsa are as scientists (at one point, Clive holds a scalpel in his mouth after making an incision with it), and Elsa's abusive childhood has distorted her judgment on how to raise offspring. Dren demonstrates the consequences of both of those inadequacies. Her mixed genealogy and her oppressive surroundings make her a physical abomination, a psychological riddle and eventually a complete monster. If she were borne of better hands, perhaps she could have become something beautiful.

First published in The Coastland Times


The most successful difference between the 1984 underdog story and this remake is the new Chinese setting. The lead character’s need to embrace traditional kung fu (not karate) to defeat his bullying adversaries is made more meaningful when set in a China that seems to favor autocratic instruction over the peaceful ancient ways. The Chinese culture also permeates through the script, modifying scenes and details from the original to fit this new version. Even if the footage of famous locations become a little gratuitous by the end, the setting contributes enough narrative changes that the switch from American to China does not feel like a gimmick meant to justify the remake.

The rest of the movie is much less successful at revitalizing the story. The new “Karate Kid” succumbs to using current filmmaking trends (quick cuts, handheld cameras, etc.) for its fighting and training scenes. The use of medium shots makes the action scenes more comprehensible than the fights in recent movies like “Prince of Persia,” but the fast cutting looks systematic in comparison to the deliberate long takes in the original film. Perhaps the worst component is the casting of Jaden Smith as the titular student. While the character is supposed to be defenseless and unappreciative anyway, Smith just comes across as whiny and uncharismatic. He might have performed better if he were older and a more developed actor, but his current level of expertise is not quite enough to carry a film.

“The Karate Kid” remains entertaining thanks to its likable story, its location change and a memorable performance by Jackie Chan as the teacher, but the flashier style and inexperienced lead render the film less effective than the more tranquil original.

Initially Published in The Coastland Times