Leo is a young boy who is undergoing treatments in a New York hospital (I don’t think they say it outright, but I assume the boy has cancer of some sort). Presumably due to his treatments, he learns that he has the ability to become a “phantom” and can explore the city as a ghostly apparition. Alex (voiced by Jared Padalecki) is a New York City detective who is injured while attempting to capture the villain known as “The Face” (voiced by Vincent D’Onofrio) who has taken control of the city’s power supply, throwing the metropolis into chaos. Now, using Leo’s phantom powers, Alex’s detective work and his reporter friend Mary (voiced by Melissa Disney) as their “legs” they team up to foil the plot and save New York.
I love superhero stories, and this seemed like a nice twist on the typical cartoon or comic book hero story. Phantom Boy is a French animation, and done by the same team that made A Cat In Paris. The animation was hand drawn, and rather simple, but it was still remarkably well done, and had a very French feel to it. The story keeps you engrossed in the mystery and actually can effect you emotionally. As I said, we’re not sure what Leo’s ailment actually is, but we learn that his chances of recovery are low. Despite that, he becomes the star of an action movie, and while some of the situations seem sad, he isn’t a sad character at all. Leo’s powers, his adventures, all show the silver lining of life, and finding the good things in bad situations because he only discovered this ability when he got sick.
The directors (Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol who also wrote the screenplay) said something very interesting about superheroes; it’s not their powers we’re interested in, but their human side, that’s what people identify with. It’s entertaining to watch them fly and climb walls, but that’s not what makes them captivating.
I really enjoyed Phantom Boy, it was an original story, that felt very pulp-ish, and very noir-ish and it had a lot of heart in it. It took a slightly different spin on astral projection ( A nice thing about foreign language cartoons is that when they’re dubbed into English, you don’t notice that the mouths don’t match like in live action films.
Bottom Line: I really enjoyed the fact that even though the Face’s backstory was teased several times it was never actually revealed. Also, I really enjoyed A Cat In Paris, which I watched the next night.
Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr) is a Chicago defence attorney who has a reputation for only defending guilty clients, and he is usually successful. He’s arrogant, rude, and rich. During one trial he recieves a phone call that his mother has passed away. Hank now has to return to his childhood home and see his estranged father (Robert Duvall), the town’s judge, and his two brothers Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong). Amid the funeral and family reunions, the Judge (as he’s known by all) has apparently been involved in a hit and run accident and is now suspected of murder. Hank sets out to discover the truth and, along the way, reconnect with his family.
The Judge was more drama than courtroom drama. It was more about the man returning to his home and reconnecting with his roots, with his family and with himself. Hank had lots of unresolved issues in his small hometown. He caused a car accident that cost his older brother Glen full use of his hand and a future as a major league baseball pitcher. He cares for, but wouldn’t take care of his mentally challenged brother Dale. He runs into an old girlfriend he left years ago (Vera Farmiga), and suspects he may be the father of her daughter (Leighton Meester). He’s hated his father for years from incidents stemming from his own juvenile delinquency. The prosecuting attorney, Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton) has come to town specifically to challenge Hank who arrogantly prevented him from convicting a guilty client years earlier. And to top it all off, he’s running away from his dissolving marriage in Chicago unsure how he can care for his young daughter.
First and foremost, this was an excellent story played out by actors who are at the top of their field. I did have to chuckle a bit though, because I don’t think Robert Downey Jr. can be anyone other than Tony Stark now. His Hank Palmer character had so many of the same quirks, I was waiting for Iron Man’s repulsor beam to be pulled out in the bar fight scene. A bar fight scene that really isn’t a fight, because Hank deduces who the parole violators are and reads his opponents before they can act, rather like a certain consulting detective he’s played as well. These comments aside, I still think he gave an excellent performance! And as good as Downey Jr. was, Duvall was equal if not better, and certainly deserving of his Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.
As I said, the entire cast was great, even Dax Shepard as C.P. Kennedy, the Judge’s locally picked attorney. Director David Dobkin helped write a masterful tale, that I really enjoyed, though the ending left me the slightest bit unfulfilled. There were too many personal points about Hank’s life that I wanted to know how they ended up. Did he reconcile with his wife? Did he get back with his high school girlfriend instead? Did he leave Chicago to come home? Did he get custody of his daughter? I suppose the mark of a good story is that you want more, so The Judge was very successful on that front.
Bottom Line: an engrossing story and great performances should put The Judge on your “to watch” list.
Well, Escape Plan would have been a big letdown if I had any hopes for it at all. Fortunately I went in with very low expectations and was moderately entertained. The trailer looked pretty cool when I saw it the first time, which was months ago, now I’m not sure what I saw that interested me. I should have been able to see right through this one… But, it is one of the “big” releases this week, so I felt I had to watch it so I could say what was going on at work.
Sylvester Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a man who makes his living finding the deficiencies in high security prisons by escaping from them. He is hired to break out of the un-escapable “Tomb”. He’s kidnapped, thrown inside, and his evacuation code doesn’t work with the warden (Jim Caviezel). His team on the outside can’t track him and monitor his safety either. This time he’s on his own, until he meets Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a man being held by the warden until he gives him the location of a man whose capture would make the warden rich.
The movie plays out less as an action thriller and more as a “puzzle” movie, as the filmmakers called it in the special features. It played out to me like a slow movie. This one had no business being almost two hours long. There were scenes that were just so slow to me that I had to speed them up. Watching Stallone walk down a corridor, and then having a very predictable “Stallone” style fight with Vinnie Jones was just a bit too much for me this night as I was already tired and starting to feel under the weather. The nice thing about watching DVDs on the PS3 is that I can hit the FFWD button and it plays at 1.5 times the regular speed but still plays the audio (sped up of course).
The supporting cast wasn’t very supportive, but that could be because they weren’t really given much to do. Caviezel’s Warden Hobbes was flat and uninspired, and the identity of “who set Breslin up” (and threw him in jail) was so obvious, this was a “puzzle movie” with only one piece. Even the special effects didn’t look that special, as some scenes of a tanker ship on the water looked incredibly CGI-ed. Stallone himself looked puffy. That’s the only way I can describe him. I don’t know if it’s the HGH or whatever else he’s pumping into himself, but he looked awkward and disproportionate (especially around the face and shoulders) for someone who at the same time looks to be in good shape.
I can’t believe I’m saying it, but the lone shining star in this film was Schwarzenegger’s acting. I actually liked his character and his portrayal. After watching Last Stand, I do think that Arnold is actually acting his age. His characters are older, as is he. He’s not taking on super action packed fights, and when he does fight someone in this movie, it’s either in a crowd or riot setting or a staged fight with Stallone’s Breslin. Seeing 66 year-old Arnold fighting 67 year-old Stallone doesn’t come across as badly as seeing 67 year-old Stallone fighting everyone else. Stallone gets the bulk of the action in this one, but Schwarzenegger does get to pull the machine gun off the rescuing helicopter which feels like a “classic” Schwarzenegger scene, and is a nice nod to the actor and his fans.
Bottom Line: It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t all that entertaining either. If the choice is between Escape Plan and going to bed early, take the extra sleep.