December '05




All Reviews by Jason Aaron

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Johnny Depp is the type of adventurous actor who can spice up even the blandest of roles (just see his hilarious turn in Pirates of the Caribbean, an otherwise worthless film). And Depp has done some of his best work when paired with oddball director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow).

Unfortunately, their latest effort bucks those trends, as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an utter failure on all fronts. While Burton has always done well with smaller, more offbeat films, he’s rarely been able to handle the big-budget popcorn epics (remember Planet of the Apes and Mars Attacks!), let alone one with this much inherent pressure.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is not only based on a classic children’s novel by Roald Dahl, it also follows in the footsteps of the much-loved 1971 film version Willy Wonka and the Charlie Factory, which starred Gene Wilder as the eccentric candy maker, Mr. Wonka. Casting Depp in that role would seem a big step in the right direction, but his performance ultimately proves too bizarre and off-putting. Combine that with the film’s horrific musical numbers and bloated, disastrous visuals and you’ve got the recipe for a train-wreck of a film. (PG) Rating: 1

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

It’s official: Whatever magic the Star Wars franchise generated with the first trilogy of films is now completely dead. And George Lucas killed it. Not since Francis Coppola’s disastrous The Godfather Part III have we seen a once marvelous film series fall to such depths of dreck. The most frustrating part is that there seems to actually be a good movie lost in there somewhere. At times, Revenge of the Sith moves in promising directions only to squander the potential drama with more extravagantly overblown computer effects and stilted, emotionless character exchanges.

Over 45 minutes into the film, Lucas finally sets the stage for a dramatic showdown as legions of Clone Troopers betray their Jedi comrades. Yet the resulting battle consists of simply a five-minute montage of executions. And the birth of Darth Vader, the dramatic event that these three most recent films have all been building toward, is a masterpiece of ham-fisted, groan-inducing hokeyness. Lucas has apparently completely lost the cherished ability to build either tension or excitement, and instead is more concerned with gaudy FX orgies, the only discernible purpose of which is to inspire loads of new action figures. (PG-13) Rating: 1

Star Wars: Clone Wars Volume 2

When George Lucas turns control of his characters over to other writers and directors, good things tend to happen. The best of the Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back, was co-written by Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill) and directed by Irvin Kershner (Eyes of Laura Mars). And the most entertaining Star Wars adventures of the last few years haven’t come courtesy of Lucas’ own lackluster films but instead from the animated shorts produced by Genndy Tartakovsky, the brainchild behind Cartoon Network hits like Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack.

Meant to bridge the gap between the last two big screen films, the Clone Wars cartoons have instead surpassed them both in terms of imagination, humor and adventure. Lucas apparently thought so much of them that he made some events in Star Wars Episode III impossible to understand unless you’ve seen the cartoons. However, if you want to do yourself a real favor, watch both volumes of the cartoons and just pretend the movie never happened. (NR) Rating: 4

Fantastic Four

Back in 1961, when writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby created the first issue of Marvel’s Fantastic Four, sparking a renaissance of super hero comic books, I’m sure they never envisioned a film version like this.

Somewhere between the page and the big screen, the royal family of super-powered adventurers became a bunch of goofball comedians. Director Tim Story, who previously helmed the comedic disaster Taxi, imbues Fantastic Four with plenty of wacky gags but very little in the way of action.

The story follows a team of astronauts (including gorgeous Jessica Alba and gravelly Michael Chiklis), who when endowed with amazing powers by an outer space accident, must use their newfound abilities to oppose the evil designs of the appropriately named Victor Von Doom (former soap opera actor Julian McMahon).

Despite special effects that seem top-notch for the most part, Fantastic Four stills feels like a poorly budgeted made-for-TV-movie, mildly entertaining but quickly forgotten. (PG-13) Rating: 2


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