Archive for June, 2007

Rats, Schmats; This is a Blast

The scuttlebutt in the industry is that, supposedly, the public is going to have a big problem with plunking down money for an animated movie about rats. Personally, I suspect that’s just industry excuse-making for the disappointing boxoffice results for last year’s Flushed Away. Audiences will go ga-ga for great characters and excellent entertainment regardless of their species. After all, one of the most famous animated characters ever is a mouse. Right? As multilayered as Ratoutille’s plot is, however, it’s easily the most out-and-out cinematic fun of the summer so far. Think of it as Curse of the Black Pearl, without guns, swords, skeletons, buried treasure, or pirates. Maybe think of your favorite Pixar flick, and figure on Ratatouille giving a hard run at number one on your list.

Broadway Can Be Such a Hoot

For those not familiar with the business of professional theatre—particularly those who deliberately insulate themselves from artists and their foibles—ShowBusiness might come as something of a shock to the system. It might even turn such folk off from theatre entirely. As fascinating and as real as these artists might be, they’re not likely to be everyone’s cup of tea. They’re not the sort of people one typically finds at a church potluck, for instance. Those who already feel a calling to the arts, though, are likely to feel warmly and happily at home. If you care about artists, I think you’ll care greatly about this film.

A Flick for Ladies’ Night Out

There’s no question that director Koltai manages the lushness of Evening with aplomb. Every era and imagined setting of the film—from the early 1960s, to present day, to the dying Ann’s fantasies—has its own effectively distinctive cinematographic design. The light of the passing day and the film’s title itself are used by Koltai as metaphors for the phases of one’s life. The story told is about Ann looking back on that “mistake” with Harris and assessing how it affected her own life. Again, the question is not whether Ann ends up with Harris, or whether her fling with Harris was ill-advised: the question is whether Ann can end up feeling good about the whole thing.

Live Free or Die Hard
Once Again, McClane Packs a Wallop

Bruce Willis is back as McClane, of course—otherwise what would be the point? Teaming up with Willis as computer expert Matt Farrell is Justin Long. So, Live Free or Die Hard gives us terrorists, explosions, gun fights and plenty of dark humor. Do we have a blockbuster? I think so. We’re dealing with a known quantity here. After three previous installments you already know what to expect. I don’t think you’ll be caught off guard by this film. This is a solid action movie to kick off the summer movie season. Grab your popcorn and soda and hold on tight. It’s a good, old-fashioned, thrill ride!

Evan Almighty
If You Film It, Will They Come?

The narrative tension in Evan Almighty, if you haven’t seen the trailer, comes from wondering whether a flood is actually coming; if you’ve seen the trailer, the tension comes from wondering just how, exactly, Evan and his ark will tie in to Congressman Long’s land use bill. Most of the humor in the scenario derives first from Steve Carell’s comedic physicality, which he invests pretty fully in his portrayal of Evan Baxter; then from Baxter’s reluctance to buy in to the whole “voice of God” thing; next from his transformation from Mr. Primp to Mr. Hairy/Robed Prophet; and finally from the Keystone Kops-lite ark-building sequence. Is the humor enough to warrant a recommendation? Probably, for most audiences.

Golden Door
Ellis Island, ca 1910, Comes Alive

The title “Golden Door” refers to the portal at America’s Ellis Island processing center, the primary point of entry for immigrants in the early part of the last century. Symbolically, the door is gold colored. Getting through that golden door is an ordeal—one that the film’s cinematography works very hard (and effectively) to convey. Golden Door’s cramped feeling is contagious and palpable. The camera work often prevents us from seeing much more than just beyond our noses—all while avoiding overuse of first-person POV shots. It is an unusual and sobering effect, not enjoyable but marvelous, shadowing the entire film with a cloud of foreboding. All in all, the film is a great story—but it is a very slow-moving vehicle that portrays a slower-moving period of history.

Day Watch
A Convoluted Russian Mythology

Strangely enough, the aspect of Day Watch that I enjoyed the most was the subtitles. Rather than simply popping up on the bottom of the screen as the characters speak, the subtitles in this film are alive and flow in coordination with the action on the screen. Words are literally thrown across the screen and drip off the walls as if they were written in blood. I actually feel sorry for the Russian population who watches this film without the subtitles as they are missing out on one of its most creative aspects. Unfortunately, when your favorite part of the movie is the subtitles, that doesn’t say much for the film itself.

Eagle vs Shark
Great Characters, But Maybe Too Real

Eagle vs Shark appears to have all of the right ingredients… quirky characters with solid acting and a twisted story that seems ripe for laughs. And yet I often found myself glancing at my watch and fidgeting in my seat. It felt much longer than the roughly hour-and-a-half running time. I had plenty of chuckles, but very few laugh-out-loud moments. To be sure, when the story is good, it’s very good. But it does drag at times and I think in some ways, the story is simply too honest and too real. For me, part of going to the movies is to escape from reality, not be reminded of it.

You'll Thank It For Scaring You

It’s the earlier part of 1408 that entertains the most, because everyone can identify with it. Who hasn’t stayed in a hotel room and heard strange sounds coming through the walls, while imagining what kind of people have stayed in this room before you? The film reminded me of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland where a frightening narrator explains that escape is always possible his way—and a flash of lightning reveals a body hanging from the ceiling by a rope. This movie and the theme park ride have the same purpose: to take us for a ride that scares us, humors us, and has us leaving with a smile on our faces. Mission accomplished.

Of Schlubs and Gorgeous Women

Angel-A appears to be genuinely interested in seeing people lifted out of their circumstances. While at the film’s beginning André seems to operate on the principle that “the only person who can do anything for you is yourself,” he learns (and the film seems to support the idea) that humanity has not been abandoned: that God really does care, and also has the good sense to recruit angels built like (and played by) supermodels. Ultimately, Besson’s is a moral universe in which one’s actions toward others are a pretty good barometer of how one will treat oneself. Very Golden Rule-ish, in a French and earthy fashion. And this is all commendable, and prettily filmed. The wildly prolific producer/writer/director Besson is no hack.

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