20 000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954): adapted from the Jules Verne novel by Earl Felton; directed by Richard Fleischer; starring James Mason (Captain Nemo), Kirk Douglas (Ned Land), Paul Lukas (Professor Aronnax), and Peter Lorre (Conseil) : Jesus Christ but does Kirk Douglas ever get out-acted by a trained seal in this movie. Douglas is both terrible and miscast as harpooner Ned Land, a character one wishes would just die. He’s the angry, stupid American. James Mason, Paul Lukas, and Peter Lorre seem to be acting in a different movie.
The biggest-budget, live-action Walt Disney film to hit the screen in the 1950’s (and for at least a decade afterwards), 20 000 Leagues Under the Sea remains involving despite its occasionally torpid pace and that godawful performance by Kirk Douglas. The design of Nemo’s Victorian-era super-submarine, the Nautilus, is superb and steampunky. James Mason as Nemo, Paul Lukas as Professor Aronax, and Peter Lorre as Conseil are all solid in their roles. And the squid fight still works, with the mechanical effects making the squid seem as unearthly as the tornado in The Wizard of Oz.
Made now, 20 000 Leagues Under the Sea would play Nemo as even more of a hero — he’s attacking the slave trade, after all, having been enslaved himself in some South Seas mining colony. Of course, Nemo was a native of India in the original novel. James Mason, not so much. The often languid pace can get a bit wearing at times, as does Kirk Douglas, but 20 000 Leagues Under the Sea still works for the most part. Recommended.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014): based on the books by Cressida Cowell; written and directed by Dean DeBlois; starring the voices of Jay Baruchel (Hiccup), Cate Blanchett (Valka), Gerard Butler (Stoick), Craig Ferguson (Gobber), America Ferrara (Astrid), Jonah Hill (Notlout), and Djimon Honsou (Drago) : How To Train Your Dragon was a lot of fun. So too this sequel, though its frenetic pace and much longer action sequences make it a far less charming movie than the original. Still worth watching, though, for the animation, voice acting, and story. The designs of the seemingly endless number of different dragon species remain a highlight. Recommended.
Run Fatboy Run (2007): written by Michael Ian Black and Simon Pegg; directed by David Schwimmer; starring Simon Pegg (Dennis), Thandie Newton (Libby), Hank Azaria (Whit), Dylan Moran (Gordon), and Harish Patel (Mr. Goshdashtidar) : Fun, amiable comedy takes full advantage of the good will Simon Pegg generates when playing hapless heroes. Hank Azaria seems like an odd choice as the handsome boyfriend, but he does a good job. Thandie Newton is lovely but stuck with being a straight woman to pretty much everyone else in the movie. Recommended.
Poltergeist (2015): adapted by David Lindsay-Apaire from the 1982 movie written by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, and Mark Victor; directed by Gil Kenan; starring Sam Rockwell (Eric Bowen), Rosemarie DeWitt (Amy Bowen), Saxon Sharbino (Kendra Bowen), Kyle Catlett (Griffin Bowen), Kennedi Clements (Madison Bowen), Jared Harris (Carrigan Burke), and Jane Adams (Dr. Brooke Powell): It’s probably a much better-acted film than the original, this Poltergeist remake. Sam Rockwell certainly does everything he can with his role, which actually seems to be modeled on the father in The Amityville Horror rather than Poltergeist (1982): financial woes occupy him.
The kids are much more front and centre here. The scares are pretty light. Perhaps most notably, the Tree and Clown scenes have been completely bungled. It also doesn’t help that the gateway to the Underworld looks and acts like a Stargate, or that occult investigator Jared Harris is dressed like a leprechaun. It’s a diversion, but just barely. Lightly recommended.