The Incredible Hulk, Shine a Light, Be Kind Rewind, Nim’s Island, Made of Honor

The Incredible Hulk, Shine a Light, Be Kind Rewind, Nim’s Island, Made of Honor

Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
for Expats.cz

Unsatisfied with Ang Lee´s 2003 Hulk, a meditative tale that didn´t deliver enough action for the average comic book fan, Marvel Studios has ‘re-booted´ the franchise with Louis Leterrier at the helm of The Incredible Hulk. What we have here isn´t really any better or worse than the previous film, less ambitious, sure, but maybe it ought to be; here´s a Hulk film that delivers what audiences have come to expect from the big green guy, delivering lines like “Hulk, smash!” with a big toothy grin.

The Incredible Hulk
Rating:
Directed by Louis Leterrier. Starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, Christina Cabot, Peter Mensah. Written by Zak Penn.
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Edward Norton stars as Dr. Bruce Banner, currently working in a bottling factory in Brazil, on the run for five years after the genetic accident that mutates him into the Hulk every time he gets angry. He´s scouring for an antidote, but his latest efforts have proven fruitless; his cover is also compromised when some of his blood drops into one of the bottles at the plant, giving the final recipient a bit more buzz from his soda than he bargained for. Soon government agents, led by General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) and Soviet import Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) are after Banner, forcing a Hulk incident in Brazil and a trip back to the Washington. Here, Banner re-unites with old love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) while her father Thunderbolt´s efforts to capture the Hulk become increasingly futile; this leads to ‘genetic modifications´ on Blonsky in an effort to build a force capable of bringing Hulk down.

Things culminate in New York City, with a destructive showdown on the streets less than fully effective; as Hulk battles the monstrous Abomination, it becomes painfully evident that we´re watching little more than two cartoons bash each other up. While the animation looks fine, the characters seem to lack real-world weight, bouncing up and down and taking hits without repercussions; by the end, one character has beaten the other into submission, but we´re never sure that he won´t just pop back up again.

Norton is good, and Leterrier´s direction perfectly capable, but the film lacks the wit and raw energy that Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau brought to Iron Man, which opened earlier this summer. Supporting cast is excellent, especially Roth, who gives us the menacing villain Ang Lee´s film sorely lacked. One big plus: Craig Armstrong´s twangy, pulsating original score.

Watch closely for amusing cameos from Stan Lee (creator of the Hulk) and Lou Ferrigno (who portrayed the title character in the late-70´s TV show); and later in the film, there´s an especially satisfying appearance by another character from the Marvel film universe.

***

Shine a Light
Rating:
Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood, Christina Aguilera, Buddy Guy, Jack White.
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The next best thing to seeing the Rolling Stones live in concert: Martin Scorsese´s Shine a Light, which follows the band over the course of two nights at the New York City´ intimate Beacon Theatre. In fact, it may be even better; rarely has a concert film brought you so close to the band. It´s been said before, but you truly feel like you´re up on the stage here.

We begin with behind-the-scenes footage (shot by Albert Maysles) of Scorsese and company preparing to shoot and setting up equipment at the Beacon Theatre, which included a front light so hot that Mick Jagger will burn if he stays in it too long. Shortly thereafter, Bill Clinton introduces the Rolling Stones to an eclectic audience (look for Bruce Willis in a yellow hat), and Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts perform some 20-something classic hits and newer material, from Jumpin´ Jack Flash and Shattered through Sympathy for the Devil and Brown Sugar up to the title track, which is played over the closing credits. A few guest stars join them for selected songs, including Jack White and Christina Aguilera (neither of whom matches up favorably against the Stones), before Buddy Guy steals the show during the concert´s most memorable tune, a riveting version of Champagne and Reefer. Interspersed quite sparingly alongside the concert footage are interviews and behind-the-scenes footage of the band over the years, tracing their career trajectory from little-known to the most famous rock band on the planet.

The film is right up there with the best concert films ever produced, alongside Scorsese´s own The Last Waltz (featuring The Band and others) and Jonathan Demme´s Stop Making Sense (Talking Heads); if it falls short on any level it has more to do with the band itself, who aren´t quite the same as they were 40 years ago: less gritty, perhaps less real than in, say, Albert & David Maysles´ Gimme Shelter. They´re flashy, spectacular entertainers in Shine a Light, but the music has been better. Not that this affects what Scorsese had intended to capture; that the Rolling Stones still exist is nothing short of extraordinary. This film is an exceptional document of the band today and the years behind them.

This is one of the finest, most technically proficient documents of a specific time and place ever put to film. It doesn´t hurt that you´re watching the Rolling Stones.

A specially-designed IMAX print of the film was screened in the US, and received significant praise, though this hasn´t made it to Prague yet.

***

Be Kind Rewind
Rating:
Written and directed by Michel Gondry. Starring Jack Black, Mos Def, Danny Glover, Mia Farrow, Melonie Diaz, Irv Gooch, Chandler Parker, Arjay Smith, Quinton Aaron.
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There´s a lot of good, and surprisingly, a lot of heart in Michel Gondry´s Be Kind Rewind; the end result, however, is simply a mess. Mike (Mos Def) and Jerry (Jack Black) work at Be Kind Rewind, a last-of-its-kind VHS rental store owned by Elroy Fletcher (Danny Glover).  When a botched siege on a power plant leaves Jerry magnetized, he accidentally erases all of the videotapes in the store. So what do they do when the store´s only customer Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow) wants to rent Ghostbusters? Re-film it themselves. Their ‘sweded´ version of the movie, shot in a day and edited as they go, runs about 20 minutes and removes all the unnecessary junk. Unfortunately, the duo does too good a job, and more requests for sweded videos; soon they´re neighborhood stars but Mr. Fletcher doesn´t seem to care for what they´ve done, nor do some government agents who hit them with copyright infringement charges.

While this is likely the director´s most mainstream film – it is, mostly, your standard goofball comedy – the patchwork plot is about as strange as it gets. The movie jumps from one idea to the next with reckless abandon: there are strands of romance, depressing inner-city realism, backstory on the video store and nostalgic remembrances of an obscure jazz artist. While this is a relatively short film, things tend to get boring without much in the way of plot to follow. And it can get quite depressing, too. Still, I liked a lot of the film and have some amount of admiration for what Gondry has done here. This will (deservedly) become a cult item for years.

Search YouTube for Mike and Jerry´s sweded videos from the film, and a seemingly limitless amount of sweded videos inspired by them; you´ll likely get more out of these than the actual movie.

***

Nim’s Island
Rating:
Directed by Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin. Starring Abigail Breslin, Jodie Foster, Gerard Butler, Michael Carman, Mark Brady, Anthony Simcoe, Christopher Baker, Peter Callan, Rhonda Doyle. Written by Joseph Kwong & Paula Mazur and Mark Levin & Jennifer Flackett, from the book by Wendy Orr.
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A likable but mostly inconsequential and too often illogical fantasy-adventure, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin´s Nim´s Island should prove modest entertainment for younger audiences. Abigail Breslin stars as Nim Rusoe, a young girl who lives on a deserted island with her father Jack (Gerard Butler) and some colorful animal sidekicks and spends her days reading adventure novels starring Alex Rover (also played by Butler). When Nim´s father gets lost at sea following a torrential storm, she petitions help from the author of her favorite novels, expecting an adventurous hero to come save the day; unbeknownst to her, Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster) is a reclusive Howard Hughes-like figure who hasn´t left her home in months but nevertheless promises to help Nim. Meanwhile, a cruise ship discovers Nim´s island; her home threatened, she must scare them off.

Film presents a real danger – father lost at sea – a bit too lightly, allowing the situation to be resolved via convenience rather than action of the characters. Meanwhile, we´re asked to take a threat of tourists invading the island seriously; throughout the movie I was asking myself why Nim didn´t petition the cruise ship for help in finding her father rather than concerning herself with driving them away. Overall, the film represents a mild diversion where nothing of much importance seems to happen; kids should like the island scenes but will likely be baffled by the obsessive-compulsive/agoraphobic Alexandra Rover material which seems to take up at least a quarter of the running time. At least Foster and (especially) Butler seem to be having fun with the light material.

Note: film is screening only in a Czech-dubbed version on Prague screens.

***

Made of Honor
Rating:
Directed by Paul Weiland. Starring Patrick Dempsey, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin McKidd, Kadeem Hardison, Chris Messina, Richmond Arquette, Busy Philipps, Whitney Cummings, Emily Nelson, Kathleen Quinlan, Selma Stern, Sydney Pollack, James Sikking. Written by Adam Sztykiel and Deborah Kaplan & Harry Elfont.
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A middling, paint-by-numbers romantic comedy, Paul Weiland´s Made of Honor has had about as much thought put into it as that awful pun of a title. Take My Best Friend´s Wedding and replace Julia Roberts with Patrick Dempsey and you have a good approximation of what to expect here: womanizer Tom Bailey (Dempsey) finally realizes he´s in love with best friend Hannah (Michelle Monaghan) just as she announces she´s getting married and moving to Scotland, asking him to be an unlikely maid of honor at the wedding. Will Tom be able to successfully sabotage the wedding and reveal his true feelings to Hannah? Will audiences still come to these movies no matter what 80´s relic they resurrect? I hear Steve Guttenberg is looking for work.

Made of Honor goes through the usual motions and gives us the usual ensemble of colorful stereotypes, including the bitchy best friend, the overweight best friend, the clueless grandmother who dons a necklace made of glow-in-the-dark anal beads and Colin McKidd as the Scottish He-Man who we´d rather see Hannah marry. The film ultimately fails because of the lack of chemistry between the leads (though, admittedly, they share a great on-screen kiss) and our obnoxious, arrogant leading man. Here´s a guy who beds a new woman each night and refuses to see any of them more often than once a week; how are we supposed to root for him? Conspicuously absent in the film is the scene where Tom realizes the error of his ways.

Dempsey is a likable enough actor, but not likable enough to overcome those character flaws; I´m glad to see him getting work, but the attempt to turn him into some kind irresistible hunk here is laughable; it´s been 20 years, but anyone who remembers his quintessential nerd in 80´s classics like Can´t Buy Me Love and Meatballs III isn´t buying the new persona.

Sydney Pollack shows up briefly as Dempsey´s equally womanizing dad; this was the acclaimed director´s final acting appearance.


Jason Pirodsky

Hailing from Syracuse, New York, Jason Pirodsky made his way to Prague via Miami and has stuck around, for better and worse, since 2004. A member of the Online Film Critics Society (www.ofcs.org), some of his favorite movies include O Lucky Man!, El Topo, Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Hellzapoppin'. Follow him on Twitter for some (slightly) more concise reviews.

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