Atlantis: The Lost Empire - The year is 1914 and a young linguist named Milo Thatch (voiced by Michael J. Fox) has once again had his request for funding turned down by the board members of the university at which he is employed. The funding in question would be used continue his grandfather's search for the lost city of Atlantis. All Milo needs to convince the world that his quest isn't a wild goose chase is an ancient book known as The Shepherd's Journal. Returning home from work that very day, Milo is greeted by a woman named Helga (Claudia Christian) who takes him to meet a former friend of his grandfather named Preston B. Whitmore (John Mahoney). Whitmore gives Milo the very book that he'd been searching for along with all of the resources he needs to go on his mission. These resources include a large submarine and a skilled crew comprised of cooks, engineers, and any other specialists that could help out on an undersea expedition, such as former military man Commander Rourke (James Garner). Using the Shepherd's Journal, Milo is able to lead the team to a giant air pocket beneath the ocean where their numbers are severely depleted when the submarine is attacked by the fabled beast known as the leviathan. After scuffling with the creature, which they discover is a man-made robot as opposed to a historical beast, the remnants of the team continue toward their goal. After braving the harsh depths of several undersea caverns, Milo and co. find what they were looking for: the city of Atlantis. However, it isn't quite the wonderland that they expected. Through primitive means of communication, Milo slowly begins to learn to communicate with the remaining members of the civilization that once thrived in Atlantis before it became the ruined locale that they discovered. As a favor to the beautiful Princess Kida (Cree Summer) and her father King Kashekim (Leonard Nimoy), Milo uses his skills as a linguist to decipher ancient texts that have been indecipherable to the Atlanteans for ages in hopes of discovering not only what happened to their home, but also how the survivors have managed to stay alive for thousands of years without aging. Unfortunately, the more Milo learns about Atlantis, the closer he comes to inadvertently assisting the treacherous Commander Rourke in mining the ancient energy at the heart of the city for his own personal gain. Atlantis didn't do terribly well in theaters when it was released in the summer of 2001 and I honestly never had an interest in seeing the film myself until about three years ago. During my time at the Kubert School I learned that an artist by the name of Mike Mignola, of whom I am a fan, was responsible for much of the visual style and design of Atlantis. What began as an interest in the look of the film grew into a great admiration of the plot and storytelling as well. Atlantis has become one of my favorite animated Disney films. One of the most notable aspects of the movie remains in the design that I had initially been interested in. The undersea city of Atlantis was beautifully designed, as were all of the mechanical devices inside and out of the city itself. The submarine that delivers the characters to the bottom of the ocean is of a particularly interesting and original design. The story of the film is interesting and involves some mildly science fiction-oriented aspects which I really enjoyed. There is also a decent bit of action between the battle with the leviathan toward the beginning of the movie and the all-out chase/fight scene at the film's climax. As with just about all Disney films there is also a proper injection of comedy throughout the course of the tale and a mild love story. While not many of the characters' voices are provided by big names, Michael J. Fox delivers a solid performance as Milo Thatch, and Leonard Nimoy's portrayal of the king of Atlantis is a nice touch. When all is said and done, Atlantis is a fun, exciting, clever movie suited for all ages and enjoyable for (I'd assume) just about anyone.
Find Me Guilty - In 1986 the United States federal court began a trial against twenty members of the Lucchese crime family based on a sixty five page indictment. It would become the longest case in history, costing taxpayers millions of dollars and amassing over eight hundred and fifty pieces of evidence. In an attempt to turn crime family member Jackie DiNorscio (Vin Diesel) against his friends and associates, prosecutors offered to decrease his (at the time) 30 year prison sentence. Jackie refused the offer and opted to stand trial with the rest of the Lucchese family. Even more surprising than that, however, is the fact that amongst a courtroom full of high-priced lawyers, Jackie chose to represent himself. Find Me Guilty is based on a true story. It may not seem that incredible, but once you see the courtroom scenes in the film in which there are twenty defendants, each with a lawyer, all standing trial at the same time, the situation is put into better perspective. This was perhaps one of the most ambitious cases in the history of the United States judicial system, and at the heart of it all is Jackie DiNorscio. DiNorscio was a high school dropout who'd been in and out of prison his entire life, yet in the face of such incredible circumstances he chose to act as his own lawyer. Easily put, Vin Diesel gave the best performance in this film that I've seen from him yet. Honestly he hasn't had too many demanding roles, but even so, this is an impressive performance. You'll actually believe that he can act when he isn't wielding a gun or punching someone in the face. Find Me Guilty was an absolute bomb at the box office. I wasn't surprised to find this out since I'd never heard of the movie until I saw it on the shelf at Blockbuster. Even then, the only reason I gave it a second glance was because Vin Diesel is sporting hair on the cover. Even if I had seen the trailers for this film I most likely wouldn't have had any interest in it, but after seeing it I must say that it is a pretty good movie. Not great, but definitely worth a watch. One of the most interesting things about the movie is that almost all of Diesel's dialogue in the courtroom scenes is repeated verbatim from the manuscripts of the actual court case from the mid-eighties. Knowing this made the film even more enjoyable because otherwise it would seem as though the writers were just having fun writing Liar Liar-esque silly courtroom rants. In my opinion, aside from Vin Diesel himself, the best performance of the movie came from Peter Dinklage, who plays Jackie DiNorscio's friend who just so happens to be a lawyer in the trial. Find Me Guilty may not seem like much, but if you're ever walking the aisles of a video rental establishment and can't find anything to watch, check it out. It mixes a decent amount of comedy and drama in a film that you'll appreciate more with the knowledge that the events described within actually happened.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events - When their wealthy parents die in a tragic and unexplained house fire, Klaus (Liam Aiken), Violet (Emily Browning), and Sunny (Kara Hoffman and Shelby Hoffman) Bauedelaire learn that they are to inherit their parents' fortune. However, they cannot claim the money until they are of age. In the meantime the three of them are placed in the care of a distant relative by the name of Count Olaf (Jim Carrey). Olaf is an unattractive, greedy older man who maintains delusions of being an actor. Immediately upon their arrival the Bauedelaires are put to work by Olaf, cleaning, cooking, and the like. Before long it occurs to the children that Count Olaf doesn't just intend to mistreat and neglect them, but also kill them and take their money. Minding their own safety, the three youngsters alert the proper authorities to Olaf's inability to properly care for them. Taken from Olaf's home, the children are left in the care of another distant relative named Uncle Monty (Billy Connelly). Everything seems to be going well until Count Olaf arrives on the scene disguised as someone else. It is at this point that the Bauedelaires realize that Olaf doesn't intend to lose his fortune without a fight. One by one the children are shipped to the homes of different relatives, each of which is conned by Olaf into thinking that he's someone else just to get close to the children and their money. As their dire situation sinks in, Klaus, Violet, and Sunny decide that they'll have to take matters into their own hands if they want to rid themselves of Count Olaf once and for all. The first thing that I must mention about this film is the make-up that Jim Carrey dons throughout. It is incredible. The first time I saw the trailer for Lemony Snicket I had no idea that it was him. In the movie itself it's a little more obvious, but the make-up is still magnificent. The look of the film in general reminds me a bit of the works of Tim Burton. Movies like Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Big Fish, and Edward Scissorhands come to mind when trying to think of those with similar themes and design. There is a very distinct Victorian era feel to the film with moments of dark fantasy scattered throughout. As for the acting, I enjoyed every role except for those of the children. Honestly Sunny was just a baby, so there's not much to complain about there, but as far as Klaus and Violet are concerned, I honestly didn't give a damn about either of them. I really didn't feel like either Liam Aiken or Emily Browning pulled off their roles terribly well. Overall I didn't much care for Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events outside of some of the design and acting (on the part of the adults). The story was very simple and dull with very predictable plot points throughout. The ending was weak and unimpressive, and the entire movie relied too much on the probability that younger viewers would be entertained by the sort of cutesy jokes and imagery that one has come to expect from the more light-hearted moments of the Harry Potter franchise. It did very little to keep my interest and ended up being a rather forgettable experience.
Mirrormask - Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) is a fifteen year-old girl who wants nothing more than to be normal. This isn't such an easy task as her father (Rob Brydon) and mother (Gina McKee) own a circus in which she performs. When Helena's mother ends up in the hospital after the two of them have a particularly ugly argument, Helena begins to feel more sorry for herself than usual. With the circus' business dwindling, pressure is mounting on Helena's family. Then one day Helena wakes up in a strange place. A very strange place. This place is home to opposing queens, odd creatures, and a black shadow that engulfs anything it comes into contact with. Soon Helena learns that she may be the only hope for the dying kingdom and that to fulfill her destiny she must find something called the mirrormask. The longer Helena resides in this strange land, the more peculiar it becomes. There are messages and secrets abound and sometimes when she looks through the windows of buildings Helena sees herself on the other side. Or at least the person she is seeing looks like her. With the help of a masked man named Valentine (Jason Barry), Helena must find the mirrormask and set things right within the troubled kingdom or she may risk being stuck there forever. Mirrormask is a movie that I knew nothing about other than the fact that I wanted to see it. The idea that a movie of this much visual intricacy would be created using so many prosthetics, puppets, and non-computer-assisted effects in this day and age drew me immediately to the film. Also, it was written and directed by the team of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, who are responsible for a large number of great comic books and novels between them. I had high hopes for Mirrormask, which is why I was more than a little disappointed when I came away from the film having been somewhat bored, confused, and underwhelmed. The film has a very interesting look about it. The magical kingdom in Helena's head is disturbingly beautiful and many of the beings that inhabit it were interesting to look at, but overall I found that the film was not all that visually gratifying to me. I applaud the attempts that the filmmakers made to use conventional methods to create the look and feel of the story, but it came out a bit choppy in my opinion. It was neat to look at, but not entirely convincing. It's hard to explain what I'm trying to say. It just felt like it could have looked "better". The plot was interesting at the start, but very quickly became confusing. At the climax of the film all of the loose ends are tied up and everything finally makes sense, but for more than half of the movie I had no god damn clue what was going on. The characters were trying to find the Mirrormask, but they seemed to just bumble around making no progress for about an hour. Now I admit that when the point of the movie is finally revealed that it is a really clever and original idea that I quite liked, but there was a long stretch during which I was bored to death by the movie because of the lack of direction. Perhaps now that I know what the storytellers were getting at I could enjoy the film more upon a second viewing, but the first one didn't really leave me with a desire to see it again. Maybe someday in the future, but certainly not anytime soon. I'd recommend Mirrormask to people who like to smoke lots of drugs while they watch movies as well as anyone who likes to say that they like weird movies just to be cool. Aside from those two demographics I'm sure that Mirrormask will find it's audience with some people, but I'm not one of them.