Rewind Review: Escape from Witch Mountain

It’s very hard as a moviegoer to resist the temptation to watch something on opening weekend. However, there will come weekends when there’s no new release that you care to see. So what do you do?

Well, this is where my Monday review comes in. I’ll review something I’ve seen over the weekend that I think you should see next weekend if the batch of new releases doesn’t entice you.

This weekend I watched Race to Witch Mountain, I personally judge every remake, reimagining and rehash on its own individual merits. However, my rule of thumb typically is if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Conversely if it was never really that good to begin with, why not?

returnfromwitchmountain1978_24411_678x380_08212015102921

The original pair of Witch Mountain films fall into the latter category. They were slow-moving, not very interesting, and couldn’t even be saved by Bette Davis, one of if not the greatest actress who ever lived.

There are many, many things that work well in Race, and those that don’t are minor and don’t detract from the overall experience.

The Pros:

Pace – The move really gets humming, and I was clutching the edge of my seat at times. At the beginning the kids are involved in a chase and you think it’s going to be a two-hour trek to Witch Mountain.

Race

Editing – Amidst all the action the cuts are fast and well-timed; however, I was never left befuddled by what I was looking at in the frame, like in Quantum of Solace.

Dwayne Johnson – Yes, that’s right I said it The Rock. Not only has he steadily improved, and look every bit the part of ‘action hero’, he is also great with a one-liner – which is crucial for any action star. The Rock actually even emoted, some, in the dramatic farewell. Does this day something bad about actors or film? Not necessarily, considering he was always a performer he just needed to learn to transition. Of course, that doesn’t mean every wrestler, singer, rapper and reality star should do it. There needs to be some ability, talent, constant improvement and the intangible like-ability. I’d take Dwayne Johnson over Vin Diesel in a part any day.

The Young Stars – If you haven’t noticed Dakota Fanning isn’t Dakota Fanning anymore. That slot now goes to AnnaSophia Robb. You’ve probably seen her, and just haven’t put a name to her face. She was in Bridge to Terabithia, Because of Winn-Dixie, and other films, and she is excellent. It’s not easy playing a well-spoken, smart, deadpan alien and she did wonderfully, as did Alexander Ludwig, who already proved he could carry a would-be franchise in The Seeker, a film whose box-office failed its concept.

Race to Witch Mountain

Last but certainly not least is Carla Gugino – It was good seeing her on screen again. I’ve always felt she was slightly underestimated in the ‘Spy Kids’ films.

The Cons:

The FBI agent – Played by Ciarán Hinds, the agent seemed like a poor-man’s attempt at Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive.

Garry Marshall – As the nutty alien scientist who helps them find the mountain Marshall seemed out of place. It was a comedic role, and it feels odd that it was.

1

The Syphon – The assassin sent after the kids from their home planet to thwart their mission is ultimately more of a con than a plus. It does look creepy with its helmet off, but you end up forgetting about it until it shows up to throw a monkey-wrench into the equation.

Overall: cool locations, pretty good effects and a steady level of tension through make Race to Witch Mountain worth seeing, it’s not your parents Witch Mountain or your childhood’s for that matter- and in this case that’s a good thing.

 8/10

Advertisements

Review- Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Carla Gugino, Maxwell Perry Cotton, Madeline Carroll and Jim Carrey in Mr. Popper's Penguins (20th Century Fox)

You may not be expecting much when walking into a film like Mr. Popper’s Penguins. While it certainly won’t blow anyone away it does have some surprises in store and it really is quite good.

There is a quick backstory montage with some flashes that establishes who our protagonist is and what his relationship with his father was like. This sets up our expectations for what he will be like as a grown man. While this set up can have us assuming certain things how they come about is a bit unexpected.

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film is Jim Carrey’s performance. Here you get what I call a hybrid of his two very distinctive styles, both of which I like. It’s a homogenization of his over-the-top comedy and his dramatic persona much more so than Liar Liar, which is very much the former.

This film also sets up several standard situations but avoids trapping the film in overly-familiar gags and goes about things differently. There are Needing to be Two Places at Once, Apparent Defeat and Ulterior Complications that are to an extent necessary and accepted handled briskly and with a twist such that they’re not stale.

This film by doing those stock things in a slightly more inventive, fresher way does end up being rather funny. There is a good dose of slapstick and verbal comedy thrown into the mix such that it’s balanced.

Comedy aside it is a family film and so the family unit has to be strong in terms of performance and chemistry and this film does that perfectly. Aside from Carrey you have Carla Gugino as his ex-wife and Madeline Carroll and Maxwell Perry Cotton as his children. Though she’s played other roles Gugino since Spy Kids is the prototypical uber-mom charming and appealing to all ages. The kids have very different tasks and handle them brilliantly: Carroll as a teenage girl whose emotions are always teetering on the edge and Cotton who plays the younger brother wise beyond his years. They make fantastic foils and allow Carrey to play drama and comedy at times simultaneously.

The children and the family story ultimately bring out the biggest surprise in that while packaged as a goofy animal film it is a sweet, heartfelt story.

While his dialogue does get a bit repetitive the film does adequately turn the man from the zoo into a serviceable villain. There are also secondary threats to the penguins conditions that never over-intrude but make their presence known.

The CG work that’s done, when it’s needed, in this film is also well-rendered and never too obvious.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins is one of the better surprises I’ve had at the movies in while. Which just goes to show that just as you can’t judge a book by its cover you can’t judge a film by its trailer (or its poster for that matter).

7/10