Archive for the ‘Silver Screen Reviews’ Category

Silver Screen Review – “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”

July 16, 2009
Image © Warner Bros.

The sixth exciting visit for moviegoers into Hogwarts executes its intricate story cleverly with a parade of smart emotional ups and downs.

By Blake

Originally posted July 16, 2009.

Acceptance of death is a rocky obstacle to overcome. Once one has passed on, family and friends are left to continue on with their lives, which is not often an easy task to take on. Yet Harry Potter has had to do just that not once, but twice so far by the time the sixth volume in his epic tale, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, begins its story. Struggling to find himself, Harry relies on the strong companionship he has with his friends as he begins a journey he knows he must fulfill, and audiences are taken along on that incredible voyage with him.

In the film, the wizarding community has accepted what they feared was happening: Voldemort has returned, and his cronies are causing massive destruction to both wizards and Muggles. As Harry Potter (played by Daniel Radcliffe) returns to his sixth year of studies at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with his best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), he sets out along with Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to learn about Voldemort’s past to better understand how the dark wizard can be defeated. As far as school is concerned, Harry becomes very successful in his potions class thanks to the comments written in his textbook’s previous owner, the unnamed “half-blood prince.” Meanwhile, Harry believes that his schoolmate and rival Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) may be pursuing a mission for Voldemort and is very curious to find out what it is.

Dumbledore and Harry. Image © Warner Bros.

It sure sounds like a cheery tale, doesn’t it? Thankfully, the film takes on an overall lighthearted tone to relieve its dark storyline. Comedy (Luna Lovegood rocks) is delved into on more than one occasion, as is romance in several poignant sequences.

Luna Lovegood. Image © Warner Bros.

The film’s execution of its story is done very nicely, working out several details differently than in the book. Overall this technique works for the best, but at times, especially towards the beginning (where are the Dursleys?) and the climax, it depreciates the film by cutting a few substantial sequences that would have been welcome (though aren’t missed if you don’t know they’re not there). Differences from the book of how a few plot points are delivered also add another level of mystery to the movie. This also simplifies the audiences’ confusion and allows viewers to better understand what’s going on. There’s also a hoopla of foreshadowing instanced many times throughout the film.

What really made the film extra special for me was the presence of Ron and Hermione by Harry’s side for support throughout the entire movie. Lately they’ve sort of taken a backseat while Harry interacts with new characters, but they definitely (and thankfully) have a larger focus in Half-Blood Prince.

Ron, Hermione, and Harry try to find out who the half-blood prince is. Image © Warner Bros.

Emotion is a component that comes across clearly in Half-Blood Prince. By now (if viewers have kept up with previous volumes), they know the characters relatively well. Due to this, audiences sort of automatically know how Harry feels, for example, whenever the subject arises of his parents’ deaths or when other characters reminisce about his parents’ personality traits. Half-Blood Prince does a great job at taking that prior knowledge further to help those that aren’t so familiar with the story to also relate to what’s happening and feel those same emotions. Is it right on-par with the same emotional punch as the books? Almost. The book version of this particular volume conveyed such a beautiful ending, even with its somber tone, and the film grasps that quite well, given that the audience doesn’t have access to what the characters are thinking.

Ron and Hermione. Image © Warner Bros.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is very pleasing. Another rewarding adventure into an imaginative world through a well-thought-out storyline keeps audiences on the edge of their seats and at the same time allows them to laugh and sympathize. The film also sets the stage excellently for what’s yet to come for Harry and friends as they continue their marvelous tale. Those that aren’t familiar with previous installments in the series might not be able to follow along easily, but those that have kept up are in for an amazing experience.

How dow I rank Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? (Bolded is my choice.)
  • Aaah!
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will most likely please: Older Kids (ages 8-10) – Tweens (ages 11-13) – Teens – Young Adults

By Blake; posted July 16, 2009. All images © Warner Bros.


Silver Screen Review – ‘Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian’

June 25, 2009
Image © 20th Century Fox/21 Laps Entertainment/1492 Pictures.

A great cast, a creative plot, and fun sequences make the 2nd ‘Night at the Museum’ an exhilarating ride.

By Blake

Originally posted June 25, 2009.

The central theme flowing throughout Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, the new sequel to the hit 2006 film featuring Ben Stiller as a museum night guard who endures the museum’s creatures and exhibits coming to life at nighttime, emphasizes enjoying life and having fun at what you’re doing. This message is conveyed quite straightforward through the characters’ dialogue, but also by demonstrating the adventure of life through an overall fun experience.

Ben Stiller as Larry Daley in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Image © 20th Century Fox/21 Laps Entertainment/1492 Pictures.

The success of the first Night at the Museum was obvious for a sequel, but its storyline hadn’t left room for much to be retold. If there were to be a sequel, its plot would likely be unneeded and repetitive to its predecessor. However, as underdog as it may seem, Battle of the Smithsonian does exactly what I doubted it could: convey a creatively endearing plot that presses itself forward without feeling like we’re just seeing a remake. The story consists of the mannequins, displays, and artifacts of the American Museum of Natural History in New York being shipped to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Since the tablet that makes the exhibits come to life at night is expected to stay in New York, former night guard Larry Daley (played by Ben Stiller) sets out to return his friends back to New York. Eventually he reaches Washington and the tablet ends up getting there as well, resulting in the entire Smithsonian coming to life, threatening the group’s return home.

Amy Adams really made the movie shine for me. I was unaware that she was even in the film until the movie had been released, and even then I didn’t know she had a main role. Playing Amelia Earhart, she delivers a quirky, determined performance for the confident historic pilot and even has the speech and slang phrases of Earhart down-pat.

Amy Adams (left) as Amelia Earhart and Ben Stiller as Larry Daley in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Image © 20th Century Fox/21 Laps Entertainment/1492 Pictures.

The reprise performances of Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan as miniatures were also enjoyable, each having a real sense for who their character was and what was driving their character to press on.

Steve Coogan (left) as Octavius and Owen Wilson as Jedediah Smith in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Image © 20th Century Fox/21 Laps Entertainment/1492 Pictures.

Time is an element that comes across well as the plot progresses. Most of the film takes place in a single night, so a lot of the movie is delivered in a real-time format (as opposed to showing a lapse of time between scenes). Since the characters have a goal that they must vitally achieve (to get the exhibits back home before dawn), the element of time communicates well the conflict of the pressure that the characters hold, and the pressure that the audience also feels, too.

As far as sequels go, this one surprisingly relays its prior events from the first Night at the Museum relatively well, catching the audience up quite quickly. I’d go as far to say that if I didn’t know that the movie was a sequel and I hadn’t seen the first film, I wouldn’t have realized that it was a sequel. It helps to have the background information from the first movie to help guide the plot and characters along, but Battle of the Smithsonian could have potentially worked out as a stand-alone film by itself, so I complement the filmmakers for creating a fun story that relies on itself.

I can imagine that the movie might have been a challenge to pen, as it relies heavily on comedic dialogue in many scenes. Ultimately the long, drawn-out scenes with nothing but talking are sometimes annoying, sometimes hilarious. The writing does an admirable job at portraying its story’s characters, and a large portion of the film’s comedy comes from puns, parodies, and surprise appearances. Everyone from Oscar the Grouch to three cast members of The Office are shown, and I was guessing all throughout the movie what other people I recognized. Even the Jonas Brothers show up, though not playing themselves.

There are few moments, however, that seem to take cues from other productions rather than parody them. One scene seems very reminiscent of National Treasure while another had me flashing back to Blue’s Clues.

As a whole, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian presents a creative journey that will satisfy moviegoers. Families concerned about appropriate content should note that a few curse words are used, but they’re very seldom spoken and are the only inappropriate elements of the movie. Additionally, there are a few frightening characters (there is a heap of villains this time around) and scenes that might be too scary for those that are easily afraid. Some of the jokes get old, but overall the film gives its audiences a whimsical adventure that reminds them to make time for fun in their lives.

How do I rank Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian? (Bolded is my choice.)
  • Aaah!
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian will most likely please: Kids (ages 5-7) – Older Kids (ages 8-10) – Tweens (ages 11-13)

By Blake; posted June 25, 2009. All images © 20th Century Fox/21 Laps Entertainment/1492 Pictures.

Silver Screen Review – ‘Up’

June 3, 2009
Image (C) Disney/Pixar.

A clever work enriched by colorfully comical characters, magnificently creative sequences, and a winning story driven by emotion, Up superbly delivers a great film and a heartfelt message.

By Blake

Originally posted June 3, 2009.

Most people have at least one desire that they’d like to fulfill before they pass away. It could be anything from settling down in a quiet retirement community to participating in some sort of extreme journey. But establishing a home in South America with a view of a colossal waterfall outside your porch? That would be a little bizarre. Not for Carl Fredricksen, though.

In Up, the tenth film from Pixar Animation Studios, a lonely elderly man named Carl Fredricksen dreams of living next to Paradise Falls in South America and experiencing the “spirit of adventure.” Carl decides that the best way to do so is to fly, by attaching a hoopla of balloons to his house.

When he arrives in South America, Carl is far from the ideal peace and quietness he had pictured. Everything from a stowaway wilderness scout named Russell to a hilarious dog named Dug (who has a special collar that makes his thoughts auditory) to a crowd-pleasing bird that’s trying reach her separated babies all deter Carl from the relaxing living he was supposed to have reached in Paradise Falls.

Image (C) Disney/Pixar.

With such wacky situations as those, Up gets pretty zany at times. Many sequences are filled with hilarious craziness that amounts to a lot of laughs and plenty of giggles, especially from the tinier set of audience members. Additionally, there aren’t that many characters to keep track of. By having only about five main characters, each one that is presented gets developed very well. By the time the film is through, each of their personalities has been excellently portrayed to the audience.

From left: Dug the dog, Kevin the bird, Russell the wilderness scout, and Carl Fredrickson in Up. Each of the characters’ personalities gets developed very well, and their own distinctive traits are all featured just right in this picture. Image (C) Disney/Pixar.

Not only are the characters’ distinctive traits communicated well, but they also have a definite drive for their actions. Perhaps more than any other film I’ve seen, Up’s characters have a very emotional motivation behind what they’re doing. Carl’s entire reason for heading to Paradise Falls is to fulfill a personal issue that’s very important to him, and that reason is what keeps him going and what causes him to press forward throughout the entire film.

Image (C) Disney/Pixar.

Up conveys several impactful messages that relate on a number of levels, some subtly hinted at and others clearly spoken out by the characters. Similar to Cars, in which Lightning McQueen learns that life is a journey, Up includes Carl (and the audience too, for that matter) realizing that some of life’s most important epiphanies and fondest memories occur when we’re looking for something else. Perhaps the most powerful message of Up is that you can’t rely on material, tangible “things” or items to get you through life. Carl strives (with much difficulty) to hold on to his symbolic house, which represents so many of his special memories and so much of his lifelong achievements, but when it comes down to it, it’s just a house. In parallel, when you really look at the big picture, it’s the people surrounding you and the relationships made with them that matter most.

Lastly (yes, it gets pretty deep), time is also an issue covered in Up, particularly in valuing the time spent with others. Life on Earth doesn’t last forever, and it can be gone at any time, so don’t take any part of it for granted.

Image (C) Disney/Pixar.

Up is a very special masterpiece. It’s not often that a film rolls along with such an excellent story containing such endearing characters and is able to deliver a hilarious comedy while still attaining a very powerful sense of emotion and impact. That’s what Up succeeds at doing magnificently.

How do I rank Up? (Bolded is my choice.)

  • Aaaah!
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

Up will most likely please: Disney Fans – Preschoolers (ages 3-4) – Kids (ages 5-7) – Older Kids (ages 8-10) – Tweens (ages 11-13) – Adults

Related BlakeOnline articles:

By Blake; posted June 3, 2009. All images (C) Disney/Pixar.

Silver Screen Review – Bolt

November 26, 2008

Hold your breath – ‘Bolt’ could turn out to be something really special.

By Blake

Originally posted November 26, 2008.

It’s been a pretty rough patch of time for the past few years at Walt Disney Feature Animation, and Bolt is honestly the first time since Lilo & Stitch that I really saw a quality combination of story, characters, and entertainment wrapped up into one superb Disney animated film.

Let’s just take a look at some of the films that have been cranked out of the Studio since 2002: Treasure Planet carried too much prestige and dignity to be well accepted. Brother Bear held plenty of emotional strength but relied too much on individual characters to perform certain jobs – some to carry the story forward, others just for comedic enjoyment – instead of an entertaining combination between the two. I never saw Home on the Range, but based on the fact that I’ve never heard anything about it since its original release, I’ll take it that it wasn’t too good. Chicken Little was a little improvement, though maybe relied too heavily on comedy. Meet the Robinsons was yet again a slight increase towards a more quality production but was just about the opposite of Chicken Little – it had lots of heart, but lacked real comedy and thrust too many characters at the audience at one time, not allowing them to digest each of them before another one was introduced.

For the first all-Disney animated movie to be chiefly created since Disney acquired Pixar in January 2006, Bolt promised plenty of potential to show audiences just what effect the $7.6 billion purchase could do for Disney. Some of the many changes Pixar executives made to Bolt include a director swap, a name change (the film was originally to be called American Dog), some character revises (the cat was initially going to be an eye-patched pirate of sorts), and several other alterations. I certainly am curious to see just how different the movie would have been had these changes not been made, but I think overall the movie works very well as it is now.

The plot focuses on Bolt, a canine Hollywood star who headlines a hit weekly television series. Though there’s just one problem: Bolt doesn’t know he’s on a TV show. Thinking his owner, Penny, is in real danger when her character on the TV show is kidnapped by a villain, Bolt breaks out of the Hollywood set to go find her. Mistakenly, he winds up being shipped to New York, where he’s going to need some big time help – and a hoopla of luck – to find his way back home.

Something that Bolt had that I hadn’t seen in a long time was such a powerful reliance on strong characters. Mainly we only spend time with four chief characters, resulting in each of them getting to be developed extremely well since they don’t have to share the spotlight with anyone else. The title character Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) heralds back to when the delusional Buzz Lightyear thought he was a space ranger, as Bolt gallivants around the country thinking he’s a super dog. Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus – a HUGELY clever move on Disney’s part) is very concerned about her lost dog and will do anything she can to get him back. She also, like Lilo, has a vast photo collection of pictures she’s taken herself of her and Bolt on their many adventures. Mittens (voiced by Susie Essman) is a rogue alley cat who Bolt mistakes for a television villain, and enlists her to help him find Penny. Rhino the hamster (voiced by Mark Walton) is definitely the crowd favorite, and is Bolt’s biggest fan. Having watched Bolt’s show on TV, he’s ecstatic at the opportunity to join the star on his cross-country search to find Penny.

Like I previously stated, each character gets lots of screen time and has plenty of opportunities for the audience to see many different levels of their personalities. Each of them becomes a dynamic character (meaning that they change emotionally) by the time the movie ends and we certainly feel that emotion. Being a dog owner and having lost my dog before, I could feel Penny’s pain as she longed to see Bolt again, and I just felt each character’s emotions in a way that I hadn’t seen in a Disney movie in a long while. Remember when Stitch felt like an ugly duckling that didn’t belong? That’s the kind of power we see here with the characters.

Not only is emotion involved into Bolt, but comedy is also equally taken into account. I don’t know if I’d agree with billing the film as a full comedy as Disney’s currently doing, but it certainly delivered its fair share of laughs. Aimed to mostly please the younger set, I think the jokes came across as successful: there were plenty of high-pitched giggles all throughout the audience. Several particular instances come to mind when thinking of the comedy side of Bolt, but of course I wouldn’t want to ruin any of the surprises for you.

Bolt is certainly something to get excited about. For the first time in six years, a non-Pixar Disney movie has produced a quality, well-rounded entertainment experience. Colorful character personalities wrapped up in an engaging and solid story are balanced beautifully to create a wonderful film. I couldn’t be more ecstatic.

How do I rank Bolt? (Bolded is my choice.)
  • Utterly repulsive
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

Bolt will most likely please: Disney Fans – Dog Owners – Preschoolers (ages 3-4) – Kids (ages 5-8) – Older Kids (ages 9-10)

By Blake; originally posted November 26, 2008. All images (C) Disney.

Silver Screen Review – High School Musical 3: Senior Year

November 15, 2008

The Wildcats return with irresistible musical numbers as they say their final good-bye.

By Blake

Originally posted November 15, 2008.

As it leaps to the big screen, High School Musical 3: Senior Year displays a dazzling arrangement of music and Disney magic that creates a very complete series finale. The music is wonderful, the characters find themselves and their personalities more than ever before, and the story really makes you savor your time, not only with the characters in the movie but also on a real-life level with your family and friends. For a movie that has so much power and influence over today’s modern audiences, it’s heart-warming to know that that kind of sincere message can be played across to such a vast variety of people in a pleasing and not urging way. The film provides its laughs, but its main focus is certainly the emotional side, not so much sad as it is reflective.

The Wildcat students Troy Bolton (Zac Efron), Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens), Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale), Ryan Evans (Lucas Grabeel), Chad Danforth (Corbin Bleu), and Taylor McKessie (Monique Coleman) return to East High for their senior year of high school. In addition to the many exciting and pressuring events leading up to their graduation, such as the basketball finals and the prom, each of them is also deciding where their future lies as they transitionally bloom into adulthood and go to college next year. In an effort to have something fun to do all together as a group one last time before they say good-bye to East High, they all sign up (with some persuasion) to participate in the spring musical, which, of course, results in breaking out into song on more than one occasion, some unexpected plot twists, and a few real surprises that will have you gaping.

While the second film branched off to develop some deeper personalities for some of the other not-so-prominent characters such as Ryan and Taylor, in Senior Year it really is back to being Troy and Gabriella’s story. Their relationship is further displayed as it reaches new levels and the real-life relationship of Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens certainly helps that connection between their characters to play off wonderfully onscreen.

In addition to the entire cast from the first two films returning for thirds, there are three new characters that are introduced in Senior Year, all of which are sophomores. Personally I thought they each got more than enough screen time and, towards the end of the film, found them on the verge of annoying. After all, if this really is the last time I’m going to be seeing a new HSM movie, I’d rather savor the time with the already-established characters I know than get acquainted with some pesky new characters. They did their job to progress the plot forward, but just got a little too much air time than I thought was necessary.

The music of this third volume certainly shows off impressive dance sequences and implements several uses of special effects throughout its tunes. There seems to be a slightly larger focus on slower songs this time, though, almost as if to coincide with the tender subject of saying “good-bye” that is repeated throughout the movie. I won’t name any particular song titles so as to not give away any potential spoilers, but three particular numbers come to mind when thinking of the film’s highest points.

It really is all about good-byes this time around. The characters are all going in different directions as they make their way to college and the film very nicely (and professionally), but most importantly satisfactorily, wraps itself up to conclude the epic, ground-breaking movie series. The characters make it clear to the audience that this is the last time to see them and even as I watched the movie with my family I couldn’t help but get a feeling of nostalgia as if this was something really special, a cultural phenomenon finally coming to a close. Looking back at the 2000’s in years to come, I don’t think any pop-culture look-back special would be complete without mentioning High School Musical.

Even if there will eventually be a High School Musical 4 (which is an indefinite topic around the news lately), a fourth movie is not likely to achieve the same likability from me as the other three did. Sure, it might be a huge success at the box office, but if that’s all Disney is striving for as they create a third sequel, then the movie’s story and plot will probably be bogus as a result of this money-making mindset. HSM3: Senior Year very plainly completes the Wildcats’ story right down to the last scene and furthering that story would not only most likely ruin the worth of the first three movies but also completely destroy the whole theme and effort of Senior Year.

It does get a tad bit cheesy at times and you can certainly predict when “a song is coming on,” but High School Musical 3: Senior Year proudly presents its characters, music, story, and family entertainment with importance and poise. That extra touch of Disney magic is sprinkled all throughout the movie, perhaps more than I’ve ever seen it used at one time before. I’ll certainly miss all of the HSM-related mania and hoopla once the movie’s release settles down a bit and the franchise is done for good because you can’t help but get a little emotional as the curtain closes on this whirlwind of a series for one last time.

How do I rank High School Musical 3: Senior Year? (Bolded is my choice.):

  • Utterly repulsive
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

High School Musical 3: Senior Year will most likely please: Musical Fans – Kids (ages 5-8) – Older Kids (ages 9-10) – Tweens (ages 11-13) – Teens – Parents

By Blake; originally posted November 15, 2008. All images (C) Disney.

Silver Screen Review – “College Road Trip”

March 16, 2008

Image © Disney.

Disney’s latest comedy is a fun, amusing family detour but doesn’t quite hit it home.

By Blake

Originally posted March 16, 2008.

College Road Trip, Disney’s newest movie in theaters, combines shades of Are We There Yet?, RV, and even A Goofy Movie to tell the story of an overprotective father (Martin Lawrence) who escorts his daughter (Raven-Symone of That’s So Raven) on a tour of colleges in preparation for her first year out of high school. Naturally, not everything goes as planned and much goes haywire as the father-daughter team struggles to reach their destinations on time.

Raven-Symone (left) and Martin Lawrence in College Road Trip. Image © Disney.

The film’s first half is mostly filled with dialogue and didn’t really connect with me. Thankfully, once the family really gets going on their expedition and the plot picks up speed, the film also strengthens to deliver several amusing scenes.

Detour after detour arises and mayhem occurs when everything from Donny Osmond singing Christmas carols and “It’s a Small World” to a caffeinated pig falling from a ceiling to the father and daughter having a rampage on a golf cart through a college campus. So obviously, the film can be quite comical at times. However, to me there wasn’t anything too hilarious about it. Amusing? Absolutely. Laugh-out-loud hilarious? Not really. A few “heh, heh”’s occasionally but not “my-belly-hurts-from-laughing-so-hard” experiences like I’ve had at other similar movies.

I have to say the last scene really took me by surprise. Taking on a much calmer, real-life tone than the rest of the movie, I wasn’t really expecting it. I won’t tell you what it is because it would certainly ruin the entire movie, but I’ll just say it was just a small dash of Disney magic that will have parents in tears.

From left: Raven-Symone, Martin Lawrence, Donny Osmond, and Molly Ephraim in College Road Trip. Image © Disney.

So, to sum it all up, College Road Trip is overall a humorous film. Kids will be able to spot several familiar faces from Disney Channel and laugh at all the physical comedy while adults will relate to some of the experiences the father goes through in the process of realizing his daughter is growing up.

How do I rank College Road Trip? (Bolded is my choice.)

  • Aaah!
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

College Road Trip will most likely please: Kids (ages 5-7) – Older Kids (ages 8-10) – Tweens (ages 11-13) – Parents with kids not yet out of the house.

By Blake; posted March 16, 2008. All images © Disney.

Silver Screen Review – National Treasure: Book of Secrets

December 31, 2007

The latest Disney/Bruckheimer collaboration (yes, the same team of Pirates of the Caribbean) is at times difficult to follow, but is still extremely entertaining, suspenseful, and a real . . . treasure.

By Blake

Originally posted December 31, 2007.

Being a Disney production, the success of 2004’s National Treasure called for an inevitable sequel. The new film National Treasure: Book of Secrets captures the same faced-paced, adventuresome flair of the original and delivers a multi-layered, somewhat hard to keep up with, storyline.

When we last left Ben Gates, he, his girlfriend (Abigail), his assistant (Riley), and his father (Patrick) had just uncovered a magnificent treasure and were appreciating their newfound riches. Well, as it turns out, a new character, Mitch Wilkinson, claims that Ben’s great-great grandfather planned the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Naturally, Ben, along with his the whole crew from the original film, set out to prove Wilkinson wrong. Eventually they come to the conclusion that the only way to prove Gates’ innocence is to prove the existence of a city of gold. Where is this hidden city? Well, the location is hidden in a top-secret book passed down to every president in office. How are they supposed to get a hold of this mysterious book? By kidnapping the president, of course.

Like I said, the plot is kind of foggy during your first viewing. You know WHAT’s happening, you just might not know WHY it’s happening. I’m sure a second viewing would clear up the indefinite parts, especially if you haven’t brushed up on your history in a while. And, no, unlike the Pirates of the Caribbean movies Disney and Bruckheimer have made together before, you don’t need to be very familiar with the original film to understand the concepts of the sequel. Other than trying your best to keep up with the plot, you’ll enjoy yourself more if you just sit back and tag along for the ride, because the film certainly keeps you awake, with not a moment of slowness. The 30-minute finale sequence (which takes place, story-wise at least, inside Mount Rushmore) was top-notch, with plenty of surprises to keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s very suspenseful and tense, and certainly had me clutching my face as every twist was revealed. And this time around, it’s more like an “International Treasure,” as the characters travel to Paris, France to examine the second Statue of Liberty (yes, there’s more than one!) and to London, England to examine an artifact from the queen’s resolute desk.

Next come the necessary questions that are asked after every sequel: “Was it better than the original?” and “Will there be another sequel?” Book of Secrets keeps to the same style as the original film, and has historical references and clues like the first movie. The characters are developed more, but not so much that they totally destroy the characters’ personalities. The sequel doesn’t take the first film to any new heights, but additionally it doesn’t butcher the original, either. So, I’ll say they’re about the same. As for the next question, the ending certainly leaves room for a possible further installment, though doesn’t leave us on a cliffhanger either. If there is another sequel, Book of Secrets certainly leaves an opening for one, though if this is the end of the National Treasure series, everything is already worked out that needs to be (story-wise) for the series to close.

For those of you that often run late to movies and walk in well after the film has begun, all I can say is DON’T DO THAT THIS TIME AROUND! There’s plenty to feast your eyes upon in the film’s preshow, including two premiere Disney trailers (a new teaser for Wall-E and the first-ever trailer for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) as well as the return of Disney’s hand-drawn short division! This really caught me by surprise and I was utterly delighted when a brand-spankin’ new Goofy cartoon, How to Set Up Your Home Theater, began playing. At first I thought it was a rerun of one of the old 1940’s “How To . . .” Goofy shorts, but then I realized that it couldn’t be, since it deals with today’s modern technology and how to use it. It’s animated wonderfully – I honestly mistook it for a 40’s cartoon. It was simply classic Disney fun, and if you look close enough you’ll spot cameos of Mickey Mouse, Clarabelle Cow, Walt Disney, and even a portrait of Goofy from his first-ever screen debut, 1932’s Mickey’s Revue.

Goofy is featured in an all-new animated short, How to Hook Up Your Home Theater, which plays before National Treasure: Book of Secrets in theaters.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets is by no means the next legendary Disney masterpiece, but offers two solid hours of fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat, nonstop entertainment with characters you already have spent time with before. The Goofy short preceding the film is pure Disney fun and should provide plenty of laughs, and boosts the film’s value even further.

How do I rank National Treasure: Book of Secrets? (Bolded is my choice.)
  • Aaaah!
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

National Treasure: Book of Secrets will most likely please: Disney Fans – Historians – Older Kids (ages 8-10) – Tweens (ages 11-13) – Teenagers – Young Adults – Adults

By Blake; posted December 31, 2007. All images (C) Disney.

Silver Screen Review – ‘Enchanted’

November 23, 2007

The latest Disney Princess flick combines live-action and traditional 2-D animation to blend together a simply wonderful film, and an immediate classic.

By Blake
Originally posted November 23, 2007.

Disney fans everywhere rejoiced Wednesday, November 21, 2007, when the highly-anticipated new film Enchanted debuted in theatres. And they’ve got good reason to celebrate: the movie marks the first time Disney has implemented 2-D hand-drawn animation on the big screen since early 2005 and the first time award-winning music team of Alan Menken & Stephen Schwartz have collaborated since 1996. So . . . this flick had pretty high hopes. Fortunately, these anticipations weren’t hogwash. The film delivers what fans expected, and goes over the top to provide audiences with the next Disney masterpiece production.

The film opens with about 15 minutes of 2-D traditional hand-drawn animation, where we’re introduced to Andalasia, a storybook land where a young woman named Giselle (Amy Adams) dreams of true love. However, she is thrust into the real world (rather abruptly) by Andalasia’s Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), who doesn’t want Giselle to live happily ever after. Giselle winds up in New York City, where the pace of the film slows down a bit (and everything is reverted to live-action) as she’s kindly taken in by a man named Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and his six-year-old daughter, Morgan. In an attempt to save Giselle, her fiancé Prince Edward (James Marsden) rushes to New York along with a few other storybook pals in a desperate search for her. Thus, mayhem breaks out as the fantasy characters rather comically struggle to fit in to the strange and bizarre ways of the real world, often confusing technological devices as magical creatures and breaking out into song whenever they feel like it.

So, that’s the premise for Enchanted, and the formula works out beautifully, because for the first time Disney actually gets to makes fun of their own previous films. The film is brimming with comedy and it is simple hysterical to see sissy storybook characters getting bashed in the real world. The movie is abundant with inside jokes, hidden “Easter Eggs”, and a plethora of other goodies that Disney fans will just have a field day trying to locate. Some are quite obvious, while others are rather subtle and call for a sharp eye.
The characters also strike personalities similar to previous Disney favorites. Giselle seems to be a combo of Snow White and Belle – Snow White because of the major storybook aspects, Belle because of her courage and bravery. Prince Edward seems to be a blend of all the princes, save Aladdin. And Queen Narissa seems to be Lady Tremaine (from Cinderella) and Maleficent (from Sleeping Beauty) wrapped up into one.
The music is also a major plus. Alan Menken (known for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Hercules) has composed the music and score, while Stephen Swartz (Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame) has written the lyrics. The songs are filled with homage to other Princess films, and are easily toe-tappable. “Happy Working Song” has hysterical lyrics and Carrie Underwood belts out “Ever Ever After” quite brilliantly. And “That’s How You Know” is simply an absolute showstopper. Give the music a sample and you’ll easily be reminded of the early 90’s “golden age” of Disney animation – simply spectacular music accompanied by brilliant lyrics.

As for appropriate age appeal, it’s pretty much a well-rounded family film. I’d probably say the tween boy age group would enjoy it the least. Otherwise, I think you’re fine – younger kids will enjoy it, all girls will enjoy it, and adults will enjoy it. The film is rated PG for “some scary images and mild innuendo.” The “scary images” are mainly due to the villain Narissa, and even then it’s not too bad. If your kid can handle the other scary villains in Princess movies, then they can handle this. The “mild innuendo” label might raise your eyebrows at first sight, but it’s just slight mere humor.
Enchanted is classic Disney at its very best. Hilarious characters, a flood of puns, and sensational music, plus that touch of supreme Disney magic, are all components that make up this superlative film. Enchanted is sure to be placed on the shelf alongside some of the company’s most cherished works as the next Disney masterpiece.
How do I rank Enchanted? (Bolded is my choice.)
  • Utterly repulsive
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

Enchanted will most likely please: Disney Fans – Preschoolers (ages 3-4) – Kids (ages 5-8) – Older Kids (ages 9-10) – Young Adults – Adults

By Blake; originally posted November 23, 2007. All images (C) Disney.

Silver Screen Review – Pirates: At World’s End

June 2, 2007

The latest (and possibly last) installment of Jack Sparrow’s adventures exceed the high expectations fans anticipated, though also provides headaches and full bladders by the time its end credits roll.

By Blake

Originally posted June 23, 2007.

“Ah, we’re good and lost now.”
Although this could be viewed as a quote from Captain Barbossa of the latest Walt Disney Pictures release, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, it’s also how the audience feels throughout the nearly 3-hour-long movie—lost.

The 168-minute third installment to the ‘Pirates’ series, At World’s End, certainly had high hopes when it opened late May. In 2003 (Nemo and Pirates . . . wow, what a summer that was!), The Curse of the Black Pearl dominated box offices worldwide and became the #1 Disney movie of all time with a record-breaking 600+ million dollars. Of course, this being Disney, sequels were planned for such a success as this. In 2006, Dead Man’s Chest not only replaced its predecessor as the #1 Disney movie of all time, but also went on to become the #3 highest-grossing film in history—not Disney history, but history, period—earning over $1.1 billion worldwide.

At World’s End has already set some film records within its first few weeks of release. It had the highest Memorial Day weekend opening ever (topping 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope), the fastest film ever to reach the $400 million mark (topping the very recent Spider-Man 3), and will probably go on to meet, if not dominate, Dead Man’s Chest’s gross.

During the 168 minutes we have during the third installment in the record-breaking film series, we’re showcased to stunning visual effects, several different plot lines, intertwining characters’ missions, and, by the end of the movie, slight headaches. Many audience members viewed it as confusing and hard to follow . . . which, in turn, could lead them to be hungry for second helpings to clear things up. After viewing the movie two times in the first 36 hours of its release, I can personally say seeing the movie twice surely clears the foggy perspective of the storyline, and also gives audiences a chance to view the film not as confusing, but as master storytelling at its best.

So, what’s the mind-boggling plot? Well, all the characters’ missions from the second movie remain the same, but now even more layers of problems are mixed into matters. Jack Sparrow’s crew, led by the thought-to-be-dead Hector Barbossa, are traveling to the end of the earth to fetch back Jack from Davy Jones’ locker, where the notorious pirate was sent after Davy Jones’ pet Kraken devoured him (along with his ship, the Black Pearl).

Why do they need Jack? Well, for money-making purposes, the movie’s creators couldn’t just toss their lead (and clearly audiences’ favorite) character out the window forever. For storytelling purposes, Lord Cutler Beckett, an exec of the East India Trading Company, now holds the heart of Davy Jones, and whoever has the heart controls Jones. In turn, Jones rules the entire seas. So now, Beckett is attempting to wipe out piracy forever. Pirates are disappearing off the map left and right, with only one chance left to win against Beckett—The Brethren Court. It’s up to Jack and Barbossa to round up the members of the Brethren Court to fight against piracy once and for all.

Several plot twists and turns make their way into the movie as well, making for some serious surprises that I would just be foolish to reveal here. 😉

As far as comparison to its predecessors, At World’s End definitely earns its PG-13 rating, for “intense sequences of action/adventure violence and some frightening images.” I’ll say! Nearly every scene is jam-packed with action, this time more serious-toned than the playful-toned scenes of the other films. The third installment also delivers more graphic visuals that viewers may want to look away from the screen for. This film is also more dark than the other films, as the overall mood of the film is more dark-toned than the others.

But, of course, there are MANY more positives than negatives when it comes to this action-packed, layered-storytelling Pirates series. Knowing that audiences will be bawling, the film’s developers certainly threw in many more comedic sequences, making this the absolute funniest Pirates yet. Walt Disney once said “For every tear there should be a laugh, and for every laugh there should be a tear”. I honestly have never seen a movie that paralleled this thought as much as this one. I also didn’t realize how emotionally attached I was to the film’s key characters.

“Jack” the monkey is certainly the crowd favorite, and the film’s creators seen to knew it, as they throw the character into a more noticeable role than they did in the second movie. The monkey appears more, and now he has a little rivalry going on with Cotton’s parrot . . . hilarious.

Also providing comic relief are the ever-funny Pintel and Ragetti (a.k.a. the goofy pirate and his one-eyed chum). But, this time, they not only provide laughs, but are also a vital part of the film’s plot.

And, boy, it sure is nice to have Barbossa back. Not necessarily a funny character, but just the way he deals with things (such as donning a wide grin and laughing when he appears to be in serious danger) granted a few chuckles out of me.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the film contains possibly the most creative and hilarious single movie sequence I’ve ever seen!

Parental Notice: As I stated previously, At World’s End definitely earns its PG-13 label. If your kids survived the other two movies, they’ll be ready for this. If you continually remind your child that “it’s just a movie”, they might be fine. However, if your child is strictly used to Barney and Blue’s Clues all day, you’ll most certainly want to hire a baby-sitter for this round. It really just depends on what your child can and can’t handle.

One question that I’ve been asked a lot during the past few weeks is: Which is my favorite Pirates of the Caribbean film?
Well, right now it’s hard to say. I really liked the original’s charm, innocence (well, at least kinda innocence), and its ride-influenced themes and gags. I like the second and third films for their master layered-storytelling and unique visual effects, as well as the development of the characters. I admired the third film not only for its clever way of “wrapping it all up”, though it ultimately wasn’t the strongest installment of the three. So, I have to say (being a Disney fanatic), the first is my favorite.*

Jam-packed with magnificent storytelling, stunning visual effects, and just plain “piratey” fun, Pirates of the Caribbean: At Word’s End is surely “what you’ll want most” this summer.

(Note: When you see ‘At World’s End’, you’ll also be treated to the premiere trailer for the newest Disney Princess movie, ‘Enchanted’!!!)

*However, over time, I’ve grown to like the third movie more. It’s my favorite as of 2008! 🙂

By Blake; originally posted June 23, 2007. All images (C) Disney.

Silver Screen Review – The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

December 8, 2006

by Blake

Originally posted December 8, 2006.

Jack Frost is on his way to the North Pole and is serving up plenty of holiday fun in the newest installment in The Santa Clause movie series, The Escape Clause.

To catch you up to speed on the last two clauses, the first clause in 1994 allowed regular father Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) to become Santa. The second clause in 2002 proposed Scott, now Santa, to become married (the “Mrs. Clause”). This time, the “escape clause” refers to the current Santa wishing he had never become Santa at all, allowing anyone to fill his place. That’s where Jack Frost (Martin Short) plays in to things.

All the characters from the original two clauses return, with the exception of Bernard (David Krumholtz), Santa’s number-one elf. The film provides no explanation of why Bernard left or what happened to him. All we know is that Curtis (Spencer Breslin), previously titled number-two elf, is now number-one.

Besides that, all of the other characters are back including Scott’s son Charlie (Eric Lloyd), Mrs. Claus a.k.a. Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell), Scott’s ex-wife Laura (Wendy Crewson), Laura’s current husband psychologist Neil (Judge Reinhold), Charlie’s half-sister Lucy (Liliana Mumy), and all of the legendary holiday figures such as Easter Bunny, Mother Nature, Cupid, and others. Those repeatedly-gassy computer-generated reindeer also unfortunately return, as well.

The film’s plot surrounds Jack Frost trying to upstage Santa and take over Christmas while Carol struggles to combine her new life as Mrs. Claus with her need to be with old family and friends she left behind (such as newcomers Alan Arkin and Ann-Margret, who play Carol’s parents).

The movie mainly takes place in the North Pole, with not much happening outside of the Pole’s berm. That’s satisfactory for a little bit, but after a while the film seemed to become somewhat like a television series episode and not much like a movie, with nothing really happening aside from sequence after sequence of problems in the North Pole. Once the plot finally progressed after about 50 minutes of postponement and we were finally taken out into the rest of the world, the movie began to get favorable.

Several characters that come to mind in adding enjoyable moments during dull North Pole scenes include the relaxed Neil, the agitated Sandman, the delusional father of Mrs. Claus, and the villainous Jack Frost. As for the reindeer, their overused gas is just getting annoying at this point.

Overall, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause will provide families with laughs, emotional moments, and a generally enjoyable movie experience. The movie’s second half is much better than its first, and once the film arrives at that point there’s not much not to like. Although the film was released a little early to be a Christmas movie (it debuted on November 3, 2006), by now I think we’re all ready for a little Christmas excitement.

Besides, what’s a better ingredient for Christmas merriment than the magic of Disney with the wonders of the holidays?

How do I rank The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause? (Bolded is my choice.)
Utterly Repulsive
Not Good
Very Good

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause will most likely please: Preschoolers (ages 3-4) – Kids (ages 5-8)

by Blake; originally posted December 8, 2006. All images (C) Disney.