January '05

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All Reviews by Jason Aaron

The Village

They can't all be gems.

Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan had a great run going, with The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs and even his little-known early feature Wide Awake. They’re all excellent films, with stunning visuals, clever storylines and, of course, Shyamalan's trademark — a surprising twist at the end. After all those great films in a row Shyamalan was due for a letdown.

The Village is that letdown. Yet actually for about the first forty minutes or so, things go great, but unfortunately by then most viewers will figure out the film’s disappointing twist, draining away any sense of tension. Still, Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron Howard's daughter) gives a breakout performance as the blind woman at the heart of the drama affecting an isolated country town with a mysterious secret. The supporting cast boasts Oscar winners Adrien Brody and William Hurt, plus acting heavyweights Joaquin Phoenix and Sigourney Weaver.

If only Shyamalan hadn't tried to milk the whole twist-ending theme for one more film. Hopefully now, he'll move on and realize that he can still make great movies, even if they’re twist-free.

Even more disappointing than The Village is The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan, a new Sci Fi Channel mocumentary billed as an inside look at Shyamalan's secret world. While The Village is still entertaining at times, this one-joke farce (which was initially advertised as a real documentary) is a complete waste. (PG-13) Rating: 2

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

During his stint on Saturday Night Live, Will Ferrell was like a throwback to the show’s golden age, that grand bygone era when it was actually funny. Since then, Ferrell has parlayed his TV experience into enjoyable film hits like Elf and Old School.

Paired with Adam McKay, the former head writer on SNL, Ferrell co-scripted his latest vehicle, the story of flamboyant 1970's newsman Ron Burgundy. The few scattered laughs the film does provide come almost exclusively courtesy of Ferrell, even though he has a capable supporting cast, including Kansas City native Paul Rudd and the hilarious Fred Willard, who usually steals the show.

Right now, Ferrell is in the phase that most SNL breakout stars go through, where they can seemingly be hilarious simply by walking around (Ferrell's next film with McKay, Talladega Nights, was pitched to studio executives with the simple set-up, “Six Words: Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver”). Sooner or later, that phase always wears off, and those comics either branch out and prove they’re good actors (like Bill Murray or Adam Sandler) or they don't (see Chevy Chase and Eddie Murphy). Let's hope Ferrell makes his move sometime soon. (PG-13) Rating: 2

King Arthur

Take the producer of Pearl Harbor, the director of Training Day and the writer of Gladiator, put them all together on a film and what have you got: a bombastic, mildly entertaining action flick that plays like a poor imitation of Braveheart.

This latest retelling of Arthurian legend is supposedly based on newly discovered archaeological evidence that places the real Arthur in 4th century Britain as a servant of Rome. Merlin is recast as the mysterious leader of the Woads, barbaric British natives who oppose the Romans. The ranks of the Woads also includes Guinevere, who's no longer simply a damsel in distress but now wields a bow alongside the Knights of the Round Table.

Gifted actors Clive Owen (as Arthur) and Stellan Skarsgard (as Arthur’s nemesis, the leader of the viscous Saxons) lend credence to the whole mess with their serious acting chops. But still King Arthur never does much of anything to lift itself out of Braveheart's shadow. There's even that same scene, the one that has become a must-have for historical war epics these days, where in the last moments before the great battle the brave leader rides up and down past his assembled soldiers, urging them on to victory with an inspiring speech.

Unfortunately for King Arthur, the action scenes that follow the speech are equally uninspiring, even in the grittier unrated Version. (PG-13) Rating: 2

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Far too often films that represent great technological advancements prove to be sorely lacking when it comes to plain old entertainment value. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow suffers from a touch of that syndrome, but not enough to make it a complete bore.

Jude Law plays the title hero, a daredevil pilot and two-fisted adventurer like something straight out of a 1940’s movie serial. Actually, the whole film is like something from the 1940s, as it's heavily influenced by everything from Buck Rogers comic strips and Blackhawk comic books to the original King Kong and the classic Fleischer Brothers Superman cartoons. The great technological advancement here is the film's look, which seamlessly melds live actors with computer-generated environments for simply gorgeous results.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow genuinely looks like a Buck Rogers adventure come to life, but unfortunately director Kerry Conran didn't add enough of his own ideas to make the film truly memorable. Law is a dashing stand-in for Errol Flynn and Gwyneth Paltrow does a great job as a spunky Lois Lane type. There's even a cameo by long-dead Laurence Olivier. But ultimately, Sky Captain simply pales in comparison to that other homage to the 1940s, Raiders of the Lost Ark. (PG) Rating: 3



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