MOVIES I'VE SEEN LATELY...

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: While this is not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, there's enough to entertain you Mummy fans out there. The effects, while not the greatest, are fun with all sorts of cool monsters populating the film including Yetis and a three headed Ghidorahish dragon. Brendan Fraser is his usual self, as he seems rather comfortable in these light hearted adventure roles, and it looks like he has another (Inkheart) hitting the screen now, too. John Hannah is the only other returning cast member, though, as Maria Bello takes over for Rachel Weisz, and, unfortunately, she kind of brings the movie down a notch. Weisz was just so quirky in the first two movies, adding a factor that didn't seem as vital as it obviously was, and Bello clearly has a hard time matching that. Luke Ford as Fraser and Bello's son is just terrible casting, too. The guy looks way too old for the role, and he just comes off as an annoying, cocky, jock type of guy. It's always fun to see Jet Li and Michele Yeoh, but they are under-utilized in this. Anyways, you can go either way, as there are some very entertaining aspects to the movie, but if anything see it for the Yeti field goal. I'm not even kidding.

Eagle Eye: This movie scared me, in a good way. I really dug the movie, the second collaboration of D.J. Caruso and actor Shia Labeuf. The first, Disturbia, was a good, tense thriller, but this one takes it up quite a few wrungs. First off, its one big action movie, in the vein of The Fugitive, and it's relentless in that department, throwing Shia and the female lead into all sorts of peril. Secondly, it's a pretty hairy thriller in its own right. The characters are being pushed forward by the mysterious voice of Julianne Moore to do things against their will, lest they want bad things to happen to them or their loved ones, and this calls all kinds of morals and judgements into question. Without giving much more away, they are asked to do something bad against the government, with the consequences of those actions being extreme. Billy Bob Thornton and Rosario Dawson were solid in their supporting roles, and Shia is his usually right on self, but I gotta give it to D.J. Caruso for pulling this all together. From the tension, to the chases (some of the best ever filmed), to just giving you one hell of a popcorn flick, he's really upping his game, and I look forward to his next film. This one's a renter.

Navajo Joe: Now here's a doozy of a Spaghetti Western. Burt Reynolds stars as Sergio Corbucci's title character, as he's after Aldo Sambrell's Native American slaughtering outlaws. What more do you need? A more coherent story would've been nice, but that's just nitpicking! I guess I expected a little more meat in that department from Corbucci, who is widely regarded as the second best SW director, after the Sergio Leone, of course. Corbucci, after all, directed, arguably, one of the top 3 SW of all time, The Great Silence. (#2 on my list!) It just doesn't have that same grit as Silence, although it does feel like Corbucci was getting himself ready for that piece. Reynolds is no Clint, but he does a good job here. The Ennio Morricone score (don't let the credits fool you!) is one of his more memorable though, with screaming ladies, heavy drums, and a tune that just catches you and never lets go. It definitely drives the movie. The very end is awesome as we find out Joe's motivation; you can see another big Tarantino influence here. Overall it's worth seeing for multiple reasons: Corbucci's development, Morricone's amazing score, Reynolds' ham-fisted performance, and a better understanding of how Quentin Tarantino approaches his films.

Afro Samurai: While this was presented to us initially as a mini series, it's clearly a movie in five parts and I'll review it that way. One of two Animes on this list, and definitely the one I enjoyed most. Samuel L. Jackson imported this one, and lends his unmistakable voice to two characters, and that alone is worth a rent, but there are many other elements that make this a fun viewing. First off the animation is excellent, with some great character design work. It all moves at a breakneck pace, but it still manages to be visually stunning and not muddy like some other Animes of this type tend to do. The soundtrack is fantastic with the RZA providing the beats throughout. Lastly, it's a simple story told with a layered style that doesn't feel tired. All of these elements just work to give you an entertaining package.

Ping Pong: This Japanese film is a tale of two movies actually. The first half is overdrawn and plodding and almost makes you want to scream bloody murder. As the Ping Pong action picks up, all of the plot lines seems to come together better, and it finishes up rather satisfyingly. I wouldn't say I loved it, but the second half is good enough to make it an alright flick. The thing that really gets my goat though, is that this movie was marketed as having visual effects on par with The Matrix, and that could not be further from the truth. I think that statement really took away from this movie, as I was waiting for it to develop into that the entire time. Annoying!

Perfect Blue: The other Anime on the list is a more dramatic movie, but well done. The story of a pop star trying to become an actress, and how that plays into her psyche, as someone is stalking and killing the crew of the film she's working on. It's an interesting enough premise, but if you look away for a moment, as I did, you may get lost as the story bobs and weaves through fact and fiction. The animation is fine if nondescript. There's a surprising amount of nudity and adult situations in the movie, which kind of threw me, but fit in perfectly to the obsession overtones the story was accenting. If you like psychological thrillers you should dig this fine.

The Italian: This is actually a Russian movie about an orphan kid who is being adopted by an Italian family; the boy is nicknamed The Italian by the other orphans. It's a very good story about a resilient kid, who gets the idea of finding his real parents after an adopted orphan's mother comes looking for her kid and doesn't find him. Fearing his real parents will come looking for him as well, The Russian runs away, and goes on a quest to find them. This is a really telling drama about Russian society, and how an innocent child functions within it. The acting is superb, and very realistic, which creates a nice base for this otherwise fantasy like journey story. It's a tad gloomy, but I recommend checking it out.

Chaplin: Speaking of gloomy, this is a pretty sad movie. Having never really been a fan of Charlie Chaplin, I never really sought out this 90's biopic starring Robert Downey Jr. in the title role. However, a dual spark of interest came last year between watching a flurry of silents, and Downey Jr.'s resurgence. For the most part, this was a pretty good movie, with a lot of insight into the silent era, and Chaplin's life beyond it. I honestly was shocked by a lot of what he accomplished, and went through in his life. Downey Jr. was very good, too, although it's interesting to see how he's progressed as an actor from then till now, and he was nominated for an Oscar then! Anyway, if you were ever curious about Chaplin's life and times, you should check it out.

MY PICK: I'd say give Eagle Eye a shot for the best top to bottom entertainment. It's a fast paced thriller of a popcorn movie. You should be thoroughly entertained. If you'd like something a little less action packed, then go for The Italian.