Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Guy Ritchie Finally Hits His Stride With His First Blockbuster, And Downey, Jr. Hits Another Home Run As "Sherlock Holmes"

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material.
128 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures
**** out of 5

I have a love/hate relationship with Guy Ritchie. Loved “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” since it was released eleven years ago but have since felt he has never come close to following up that walloping debut. With the likes of his Sam Raimi idea of essentially remaking “Lock, Stock” with “Snatch” yet failing miserably in both the director’s chair and in the story department, who knew that it would take Hollywood calling to finally get him back at the top of his game with “Sherlock Holmes.”

Over the years I’ve taken a lot of flack for not liking “Snatch” and in my own defense I have tried numerous times to re-watch and try to see what all the fuss is about. I have yet to be won over aside from the squeaking dog and Brad Pitt’s indecipherable accent. Things really went awry upon his marriage to Madonna when he gave us the likes of “Swept Away” and “Revolver.” Not even another outing with British fave Jason Statham could get Ritchie back in his element.

While I found “RocknRolla” to be a step in the right direction (and coincidentally came after his divorce from what seems to have been a personal black hole of ideas), it ultimately was no better than the two preceding films. Many people probably thought he was in no way the right choice for an updating of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s all too famous detective, but thankfully, with the help of a fantastic cast, Ritchie has managed to roll out a fantastic reinvention of London’s greatest detective in one of this winter’s most fun films, “Sherlock Holmes.”

It’s another dreary day in London, 1891, and Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) has just caught up with black magic entrepreneur Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). In the midst of an attempted sacrifice, Holmes and trusty right-hand-man Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) burst onto the scene and save the day much to Inspector Lestrade’s (Eddie Marsan) dismay. Lestrade makes a quick complaint that Holmes is always getting ahead of the police, which only further amuses Holmes, of course.

Three months later, Blackwood is sentenced to hanging upon his indictment of five murders. While imprisoned Blackwood’s last request is a visit with Holmes. Holmes agrees only to find that Blackwood has been keeping his idle hands busy in prison by continuing his occult driven manners by marking up his cell with all kinds of symbols and inscriptions. Blackwood informs Holmes that not only will he cheat death but three more related murders will occur from beyond his grave.

Also during all the proceedings Holmes is visited by an old friend, American Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), requesting his assistance in finding a “ginger-haired midget.” Holmes finds the midget in Blackwood’s own casket after a groundskeeper sees Blackwood rising from the grave and walking amongst the cemetery. Holmes comes to find that an elusive man-in-black named Moriarty sent Irene to Holmes. Watson, who announced Blackwood dead at the hanging himself now needs to clear his name while Holmes is on the case sending him to the British governments underbelly where the day must be saved before there’s panic in the streets of London from the reappearance of Blackwood.

Thus, the trio of Holmes, Watson and Irene begin many misadventures that may predate “Indiana Jones” but would certainly make him proud. While the plot mainly consists of them all getting into one close encounter after another, the cast brings their all to lend credibility to the outlandish action set pieces.

Huge kudos have to be given to the screenwriters as this normally could’ve been over convoluted and yet another bad case of cobbled together rewrites. With three credited writers – sophomore Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham (“Invictus”) and Simon Kinberg (“Mr. & Mrs. Smith”) – this luckily is not another case of ‘written by committee.’ The story flows along nicely and I’m sure it helps to have such a great source material to pull from. Dating all the way back to Holmes first appearance in 1887, I’m sure between all the original stories, television incarnations and feature films there was lots to pick and pull from but with Downey, Jr. as the rascally detective things have been greatly updated even if not necessarily improved upon.

While there are many instances where Ritchie-isms shine through (an abundance of slow motion for instance), it’s put to full use in bringing out the brains behind the brawn that this version of Holmes happens to be. How does a man of Holmes’ stature bring a giant to his knees? A nicely rendered fight scene shows you in these instances of slo-mo before the fisticuffs ensue. Another interesting take is how it also manages to update itself by slipping in some hilariously unmistakable “bromance” elements.

While it may not be the greatest Holmes adventure ever told, it certainly takes the same liberties as this previous summer’s “Star Trek” and opens up a whole new world to expand upon. It’s also noticeable how some things from the trailer wound up on the cutting room floor. One can’t help but wonder if this was originally rated R and cut down to reach a broader audience. Thankfully, it’s for the better in this case. How do you update such an old character while staying true to its roots? Why, elementary, of course, dear readers. It’s all in the action and “Sherlock Holmes” delivers in spades.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cameron Is King Of The Na'vi World. Hopefully The Box Office Is Next

Rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking.
162 minutes
20th Century Fox
**** out of 5

When it comes to bringing forth sheer spectacle in a darkened movie theater, James Cameron is the self-proclaimed King of the World. When “Titanic” dominated not just the box office with over one billion dollars worldwide but moved on to win 11 Oscars the title was very deserving. That was 12 years ago.

In his absence, he has dedicated oodles of his own money in order to bring us the next big thing in filmmaking. While 3-D technology has provided its fair share of the good, the bad and the overrated (“Up,” “Jaws 3-D” and “Coraline”) it is here to stay.

With a $241 million worldwide opening weekend it appears that while no one would say it’s the strongest plotted film ever, where it lacks in the story department, “Avatar” and writer/director Cameron usher in the next decade with visuals of the likes you’ve never seen before. Finally, 3-D technology is used to completely engross the audience into this futuristic world instead of simply using gimmicks to throw objects in your face.

Cameron has never been the greatest storyteller and that’s not what his personal gimmick is even if he’s written or co-written all but one of his features. What Cameron brings to the table with each film is a new sense of shock and awe to the senses. Sure, there are elements heavily borrowed from other films, mostly “Dances with Wolves” and “Ferngully: The Last Rainforest,” but since when do directors have to be completely original to tell a compelling fantasy?

“Titanic” gave us a fictionalized account of the infamous sinking ship filled with stock characters and a generic romance. What brought me back three times was to witness the audacious moments as the boat goes down. “True Lies” gave us Cameron’s third Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle that was simply a family dramedy where the father happens to be a spy.

“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” was a huge step forward for both sequels and computer-generated special effects. While a robot was able to make a fanboy cry over the sight of a thumb sinking into molten steel, the plot was not what drove the film. Anyone who’s crying fowl should turn back to the sci-fi classic and take it all into account again.

When he gave us both the theatrical and director’s cut of “The Abyss” there were many on both sides of the fence that remained feeling short changed with the two radically different endings. “Aliens,” was essentially one of the most well made action films set in space, the original “Terminator” was very basic and a true classic thriller with sci-fi overtones, while the less said about his only guilty pleasure entry, “Piranha 2: The Spawning,” the better.

In the far future, 2154 to be exact, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is being recruited by the military to take the place of his departed twin brother, Tom – a scientist – and travel to the planet Pandora. It is explained that the reason for his selection is that as a twin he is genetically identical to his brother and therefore able to control Tom’s avatar.

Avatars are genetically bred human-Na’vi hybrids used by the government to interact with the local inhabitants of Pandora who happen to be sitting on the planet’s largest deposit of Unobtanium, which can be used to save Earth from an energy crisis.

Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) has other plans for Jake and uses Colonel Miles Quatrich (Stephen Lang) to convince Jake into playing double agent against the scientific side of things. They want Jake to either convince the Na’vi to leave their home and relocate or bring back information about the tree they live within in case the military needs to force the Na’vi out.

While deep in being covert the Na’vi wind up making Jake one of their own after he is saved and trained by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). Also, after being the newest Na’vi inductee Jake mates with Neytiri but none too soon before the military begins to lose its patience and destroys an ancient territory almost killing Jake and Neytiri. After Jake attacks one of the bulldozers, Colonel Quatrich decides that Jake has chosen sides and that the military must now be forced to drive the Na’vi out whether he has to take out Jake along with the Na’vi or not.

Many complaints have been made about the lack of story and that the runtime is far too long. Anyone going into the film looking for a mind-blowing social commentary is ill begotten. What James Cameron has provided is a huge leap into the future of filmmaking.

Through the use of motion-capture, CGI and a boat load of money, Cameron has given a huge middle finger to George Lucas and his ill-conceived trilogy of prequels and Michael Bay who can’t hold his camera still long enough to see or comprehend anything happening on screen. Jar Jar Binks the Na’vi are definitely not.

Robert Zemekis should also pay attention to what’s happening here as the biggest trumpeter of motion-capture. Leave it to Cameron and Peter Jackson to give us the best uses of this style to date. The horrendous backfire of Zemekis’s “A Christmas Carol” and his even worse “Polar Express” adaptations cannot be overlooked when Cameron gives us such a fully realized world that you never once don’t believe that what you’re looking at is real. At least as far as the world of Pandora is concerned.

The cast does their best with what they’re given and it’s nice to see Sigourney Weaver back in action quickly bringing to mind her turn as Ripley in the “Alien” series. Sam Worthington is given far more to do here than when we last saw him in another Cameron-related film, “Terminator Salvation,” where he was reduced to little more than the robot his character was.

Zoe Saldana gives a giant improvement over what was already a fantastic debut in this past summer’s mega-hit, “Star Trek” as Uhura. Bringing a huge sense of sexiness and danger as a fully computer-generated character shows just how far an actress can go in so little time. When we next see her kicking butt and taking names in next spring’s “The Losers,” I can only imagine how great she hopefully will be as she’s given a full action-oriented character.

This is a movie that demands to be seen on the big screen. It is exactly where James Cameron has intended it to be partaken of. If you feel you must see it on your local IMAX screen then you may wind up shortchanging yourself as it was not filmed for IMAX so there’s no way it can look as spectacular as it does through digital projection.

Who knows if it will wind up being the biggest blockbuster of the year but so far it’s definitely on track to being at least one of them. While some over-sized, testicled, racist robots will probably come out on top, it’s nice to see a far better film come along to give it a run for its money. Welcome back, Cameron, your throne awaits its king’s return.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Can One Sport Unite The Country? You May Already Know, But Knowing Is Half The Battle

Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
134 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures
*** ½ out of 5

I may not be a huge fan of sports in general, but I’m learning. I root for only two professional teams, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Pittsburgh Steelers. One by choice, the other I’ve grown to love circumstantially.

Sports movies on the other hand, I seem to have a secret soft spot for. My favorites range all over the map - from “Caddyshack,” “Happy Gilmore,” “Any Given Sunday,” “Tin Cup,” “Major League,” “Kicking and Screaming,” “Mean Machine” and “Shaolin Soccer” just to name a few.

Films about politics I am even less inclined to enjoy unless they bring something more to the table or consist of a great story to begin with. Some of these favorites include – “Frost/Nixon,” “In the Loop,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “The Last King of Scotland” and it may be a stretch but I’d even go so far as to include “Election.”

Clint Eastwood loves to bring to light racial tension, none more so than in his last film “Grand Torino.” A sports film coming from the man who portrayed Dirty Harry so long ago could seem like a surprise. Nevertheless, as a director, Eastwood has been in Hollywood long enough that it’s pretty evident he can get away with just about anything.

Matt Damon seemed to be everyone’s last choice when he was given the role of Jason Bourne in the “Bourne” trilogy but managed to prove himself not only a charismatic leading man but also a bonafide badass. If you thought his prowess was impressive as Bourne, just wait until you see him plowing the field as a rugby player in Eastwood’s sports-meets-politics combo, “Invictus.”

With Anthony Peckham adapting the novel “Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation” by John Carlin, we begin with Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) being released from serving 27 years in prison after being imprisoned on Robben Island for sabotage. Skip to Mandela being elected President of South Africa as an hour-long history lesson follows where we see Mandela’s coping with apartheid spread throughout his beloved country.

Mandela comes up with the idea of using South Africa’s Springboks rugby team to win the 1995 World Cup to unite the country. Mandela enlists the aid of Francois Pienaar (Damon) to lead the team to victory in spite of them having a horrible record.

Here’s where the faults heavily lie. By focusing most of the run time on the political aspects then trying to intermingle the sports angle midway it loses focus and the rugby aspect is never fully realized enough to merit any true importance. Also, anyone looking to understand the crazy game of rugby need look elsewhere as all hope for any kind of explanation of the game never happens. Audiences will have an easier time figuring out how to play whackbat watching “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”

At least we get to learn where the film’s title comes from. I won’t spoil that as it’s one of the more emotional moments of the film. However, most of the audience are surely partaking of this film for it’s incredible acting pedigree. While Morgan Freeman is probably the only convincing big name star that could pull off such a great portrait of one of the world’s greatest leaders, you never forget you’re watching Morgan Freeman. His cool demeanor and over-used voice shines through in almost every scene.

When it comes time for Oscar nods, he’s more than likely to be nominated, although the true winner should be Matt Damon. While his oversized muscles are a sure sign of his training under Chester Williams at the Gardens Rugby Club to prepare himself for the battle out on the field, he never once lets his own persona take over (Leonardo DiCaprio, take note).

Engulfing an ever-convincing South African accent and displaying a sheer level of athleticism while giving us a fully realized portrait of what could have been belittled to a clichéd caricature shows just how far young “Good Will Hunting” has come.

The photography keeps everything well focused whether it’s quiet office meetings or out on the field and the score keeps the mood intense thanks to Michael Stevens and Kyle Eastwood, Clint’s son. Speaking of the photography, there’s an outstanding sequence involving a low flying airliner that at first brings great fear and then at the last second winds up as a great joke. Whether it really happened or not doesn’t matter as the moment works beautifully on film.

While it may not get the mixture completely right, at least the two leads give their all and never try to one up the other when onscreen together. As a sports movie it falls a little short, which is a shame since that’s how some of the advertising is feigning it to be. What we truly have is a portrait of a time that should never be forgotten. Even if a catch 22 is being used to put butts in the seats.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

While Not Quite As "Fantastic" As The Best And Not Quite "Up" To Oscar, This One's Well Worth Every Penny

Rated G
97 minutes
Walt Disney Pictures
**** ½ out of 5

We all know Disney has a long line of hand-drawn animation behind them. Dating as far back as 1937 with their first full-length animated feature, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," they have always been quite the powerhouse of quality, and never more so than during their heyday in the '90s when we were lucky enough to get the likes of "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin," "The Lion King," "Pocahontas," "Hercules," "Mulan," and "Tarzan."

You could also lump in the likes of some of their more underrated films ("The Black Cauldron," "The Great Mouse Detective," and "Oliver & Company") and one of their truest classics, "The Little Mermaid," into this canon of spectacular quality. One right after the other, they were knocking them out of the ballpark.

With a few missteps along the way ("Atlantis: The Lost Empire," "Treasure Planet," and "Brother Bear") there were still a few to keep the faith alive ("The Emperor’s New Groove," "Lilo & Stitch," and "Home on the Range").

Then along came a little production company by the name of Pixar and they went ahead and changed everything. Pixar ushered in a new era of full-length, computer-animated feature films, and I don’t have to tell you about that string of hits. With other major studios seeking out this new medium and hitching a ride on the bandwagon, many have thought for years that the days of traditional 2-D films were completely behind us. Thanks to the likes of some extraordinarily talented veteran creators, we have returned to an era that has lain dormant far too long.

With their latest venture, "The Princess and the Frog," directors Ron Clements and John Musker also mark their return to form. These two were responsible for some of Disney’s biggest hits: "The Great Mouse Detective," "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin," and "Hercules." With the exception of the bland "Treasure Planet," it’s no wonder these two were handed the keys to the animation kingdom to bring fair advantage to the playing field.

Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose, "Dreamgirls") lives a modest life in New Orleans. We first see her as a young child living with her mother Eudora (voiced by Oprah Winfrey) and her father James (voiced by Terrence Howard). What’s this? Tiana has a father? Well, don’t worry, the staples of Disney are still with us as we flash forward to when she’s older and her father has, of course, passed on.

All James wanted for his daughter was a great life filled with what she needs and the dream of opening their own restaurant filled with jambalaya and beignets. All she needs is to make sure she serves everything with a steaming cup of chicory coffee and I’d be sold myself. Being on the poor side of life is fine with Tiana but she still dreams big and has just saved enough to pay for the bayou-side building she wants to turn into her restaurant.

When Prince Naveen (voiced by Bruno Campos) arrives on the scene it causes quite a stir in the French Quarter. Particularly with Tiana’s best friend, the uber-rich Charlotte (voiced by Jennifer Cody) who is bound and determined to marry Prince Naveen and become a true life princess just like the ones from the fairy tales Eudora used to read to her and Tiana when they were children.

Dr. Facilier (voiced by Keith David) has different plans altogether and tricks Prince Naveen into giving up a blood sample held within a voodoo amulet. The tables turn as Prince Naveen gets turned into a frog while his original form is taken over by his clumsy and greedy assistant, Lawrence (voiced by Peter Bartlett). Facilier tells Naveen that to become human again he must kiss a princess. He mistakes Tiana for a princess and winds up turning her into a frog as well.

The two make due with their sticky situation and set out to find the likes of Mama Odie (voiced by Jenifer Lewis) who tells them that the only way they can both be saved is for Naveen to find a true princess to kiss him before the clock strikes midnight. Their journey wouldn’t be complete, however, without its fair share of helpful characters.

Along the way they first meet up with Louis (voiced by Michael Leon-Wooley), a trumpet-tooting alligator who simply wants to find equality and play in a jazz band or become human himself to be taken more seriously. After all, who wants a wild creature trumpeting away and scaring off everyone in sight?

Also along for the ride is the heart of the film, Ray (voiced by Winnie and Tigger himself, Jim Cummings), a firefly whose butt lights up. Here we may have what some could consider to be one of the more stereotyped characters in the whole movie, but his character is played with such whimsy and joy for life that it’s very easy to look past it and it will honestly go over all children’s heads. All Ray wants is to find the love of his life, the evening star he’s mistakenly named and thinks is another firefly.

Anyone who thinks things will all go according to plan are luckily proven wrong. The directors and writers have plenty of twists on this age-old tale and some serious surprises await (along with a certain level of darkness which I have always felt was required to make a true children’s film play fair with the entire audience).

While many things may seem overly familiar, it’s only because after 70 years in the business it should be expected that you can’t keep things completely fresh. Louis comes across as a cross between Tiger from the "American Tail" films and King Louie in "The Jungle Book." All he wants to do is blow his horn and give you a great big hug. Also, Naveen’s assistant Lawrence brings to mind Nathaniel from "Enchanted."

Even some of the song sequences could be deemed slightly redundant but thankfully the songs themselves, from Disney mainstay Randy Newman, are immediately memorable and stake their own claim among the classics of yesteryear. The most noticeable are how similar "Almost There" is to "Be Our Guest" or how "Friends on the Other Side" seems like a sequel to "Friend Like Me" and "When We’re Human" calls to mind "The Bare Necessities" as everyone floats along a river bed.

While everything comes together in the end and happily ever after comes full circle, it all moves merrily along and there won’t be a disappointed member in any family. This may not be the best animated film of the year but I would definitely say it ranks right up there in the top three. Only the double whammy of "Fantastic Mr. Fox" (hands down the best animated film of the year) and "Up" (which was the surefire pick until Wes Anderson and company showed up to steal the thunder) are better.

When two of the three happen to be from the same production company, yet created in completely different mediums, it shows just how far Disney has come and that there’s plenty of room for all kinds of animation, be it by hand, stop-motion, or computer-animated. Welcome back Mouse House, it’s been too long.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Far More Than "Fantastic," This "Fox" Has Oscar Contender Written All Over It

Rated PG for action, smoking and slang humor.
87 minutes
Fox Searchlight
***** out of 5

Wes Anderson has truly outdone himself. While his last film was his most mature (The Darjeeling Limited), Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the Roald Dahl novel, is far more adult and crowd pleasing than anyone could possibly imagine, even with the use of stop-motion and a family-friendly orientation.

While Anderson’s films have also never been box office gold (his highest grossing, The Royal Tenenbaums, only pulled in $52 million) they have also suffered from a case of love them or hate them. While they mainly appeal to the art house crowd, they have always been favorites of mine. I hope that the times are changing for Mr. Anderson, although with an opening gross of only $6.9 million it looks like Fox Searchlight needs to find a better way to market this astounding achievement.

Not since the heyday of Aardman (Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run and the underrated Flushed Away) has a stop-motion feature film been so full of so many different things. While it does have its depictions of alcohol use, smoking, and slang curse words, (the word “cuss” is used with abundance) most of those things are used with such innocence the youngest members will hardly recognize them. Although, if your children are going to pick up any kind of curse word from watching movies, I can’t think of any cussin’ better.

Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) lives a mischievous life with a day job of killing and stealing chickens. One night while out with Mrs. Fox (voiced by Meryl Streep) they are caught in a trap where Mrs. Fox informs Mr. Fox that she is pregnant. The fake smile plastered upon Mr. Fox’s face will instantly delight and bowl you over with laughter and this is all within the opening few minutes. Mrs. Fox demands Mr. Fox to give up his dangerous job for the sake of their new family, which he obliges.

After raising their son Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) whilst living inside the hole of an evergreen tree for a year (or 12 fox years), Mr. Fox finally decides to hatch his ultimate scheme. This plan Mr. Fox has been devising over the past year. It is a three-phase master plan devised to steal discreetly from the farmers who caught him. Earlier we see that the reason he chose their particular tree is only because it is right across from the farmers Boggis, a chicken farmer (voiced by Robin Hurlstone), Bunce, a duck and goose farmer (voiced by Hugo Guinness), and Bean, a turkey and apple farmer (voiced by Michael Gambon).

With the help of his seemingly only friend, Kylie (voiced by Wallace Wolodarsky) an opossum, Mr. Fox begins to exact his revenge, which goes pretty well at first only to wind up with Mr. Fox having his tail shot off. Bean wears Mr. Fox’s tail around his neck as a tie, much to Mr. Fox’s dismay. Bean has also hatched his own plan to dig out the Foxes from beneath their evergreen and possibly kill off all the local wildlife in the process. All the animals wind up going literally underground in escape and insist Mr. Fox find a way to get them all out of this “cluster-cuss.”

Everything from the beautifully detailed animation, clever song selections, and outstanding vocal choices come together for the most masterful animated film event of the year. If this is what Fox Searchlight has up their sleeve then Pixar better begin to seriously up the ante and not just in-house.

The beautiful script was written by director Anderson along with his friend, Noah Baumbauch (The Squid and the Whale and Anderson’s own The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). The two have packed so many one-liners and double entendres into such a compact runtime that it will take anyone tons of repeat viewings to catch every line of hilarious dialogue.

Then there is the cast. In addition to the likes of Clooney, Streep, Schwartzman, and Gambon, we also get some spectacular assistance with the side characters. Just to name some of the most recognizable and memorable actors we get Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Brian Cox, and Adrien Brody. Also along for this witty romp are the likes of music video director (son of Francis Ford) Roman Coppola, Garth Jennings (Son of Rambow, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and even Anderson himself (as a weasel).

When it comes time for a video release this will truly be a sight to behold on Blu-ray. However, if you are lucky enough to see this with digital projection there are tons of tiny details that you could nitpick for days on end. Whether it’s an amazing long take chock full of action or the many trains, planes, and automobiles that saunter through a scene or even just the fact that the film opens with the shot of a book cover which reads, “Now a Major Motion Picture” along the bottom, the filmmakers and animators have gone to quite another level of overload.

If anyone thought that Pixar was going to be taking home yet another Oscar with this summer’s Up, it appears that the tables have turned and hopefully this will walk away with the coveted naked gold man. As much as I absolutely adore Up (I happen to be listening to that film’s original score as I write this), I am 104% positive that the winner will indeed be Fantastic Mr. Fox. My apologies in advance to Pete Docter and Bob Peterson, along with Carl, Russel, Kevin and Dug, but Anderson and company have truly given us the animated family comedy event of the year.

The Team Behind "The Matrix" Present: "Splat!: The Movie"

Rated R for strong bloody stylized violence throughout, and language.
99 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures
*** 1/2 out of 5

Congratulations, gentlemen. After months of suffering through all those wretched date-night chick flicks this year, your revenge has finally arrived. Now that New Line Cinema’s final theatrical releases are being distributed by Warner Bros. I hope this means that with the recent success of The Final Destination (the fourth and supposed “final” installment in spite of being the highest grossing yet), and what the filmmakers of Ninja Assassin (both Warner Bros. films) have unleashed upon us, this new blood gets my vote as to who should be placed in charge of a fifth Final Destination.

Producers Joel Silver and the Wachowski Brothers, along with director James McTeigue, aren’t necessarily known for bringing forth a bloodbath such as the likes of their new film, Ninja Assassin, but it definitely gives most gore fests a clear run for their money. Yes, it is a video game adaptation but all’s fair when you think a scene can’t possibly become any more gruesome then along comes another whizzing throwing star or swishing katana sword to slice another limb and spill gallons of blood.

In case you were ever wondering just how much blood the human body contains do not look to this film for answers. Every wound and lopped off appendage sprays a never-ending fountain of bright red blood. Coagulates are at an all-time low and the film feels more like an Americanized remake of Ichi the Killer from one of Japan’s busiest directors, cult favorite Takashi Miike.

The filmmaking assemblage here could possibly result in Miike having to make something even more outlandish as the ante has been upped considerably. Any filmmakers who cut from blood beginning to drip from a dryer to ketchup squirted upon a batch of French fries have their own sense of humor about them and I’m more than happy to share it.

The opening scene sets an immediate tone as a group of goofy Yakuza boys are hanging out while one is being tattooed. A sealed envelope is delivered full of black sand which immediately catches the attention of the old man delivering said tattoo. He delivers a speech warning the young men that the last time he saw that type of envelope he only survived the blood-soaked attack due to a convenient birth defect which caused his heart to develop in the wrong spot (and if you think that won’t rear its head again before the show's over you are far from the target demographic).

A quick attack nastily disposes of everyone, including the man whose heart’s on the wrong sleeve, which is brought to the attention of Berlin-stationed Europol agent Mika (Naomie Harris) who’s also discovered a money trail linking numerous political assassinations to an underground society of assassins. She brings this to the attention of her superior and confidante Ryan Maslow (Ben Miles) who at first doesn’t believe her until Mika is attacked herself after searching through secret files given to her by the wife of one of the assassination victims.

Raizo (Rain) was raised in this world of secret ninjas known as the Ozunu Clan and through flashbacks we see all the clichéd but still fun-to-watch training exercises which are brutal, bloody, and unflinching. While growing up in this world he also finds time for a love interest who is killed after she decides she’d rather live a free life. Now Raizo is out for revenge against the Ozunu Clan and wants to protect Mika to try and bring down everyone involved including his master, Takeshi (Rick Yune).

This being a movie about ninjas makes the plot way more convoluted than I have made it sound. The reason anyone will want to run out and watch this movie is because they know what they are getting: plenty of action scenes, ridiculously choreographed fight scenes, and body parts flung at the screen to no end. This was the first time I have watched a film of this type and actually longed for a 3-D IMAX release. As if the film wasn’t already silly and funny enough it would completely add a whole new level of meaning to in-your-face.

Speaking of which, there is a particular fight scene that takes place in a bathroom that is so outrageous and blood splattered yet brutal and disgusting that it gives new depth to the meaning of bathroom “break.” Someone’s face pounded into the edge of a porcelain urinal is gross once, but when it is continually hammered into at least five times it just makes it hilarious. This opinion is not just mine; the audience seemed to think this was hilarious too as there was a growing sound of laughter as the scene progressed.

Anyone who has born witness this year to the likes of Bride Wars, The Ugly Truth, Confessions of a Shopaholic, He’s Just Not That into You or All About Steve have rightfully deserved this hilarious splatterfest. Any girl who thinks she can’t sit through this should have to after the abysmal onslaught of chick flicks forced upon the male consciousness this year. You don’t have to watch the trailer to know what you’re in for but keeping your female counterpart away from it will more than likely help your cause.