Archive for June, 2008

I Wanna Hold Your Laser-Blasting Hand

The success of WALL•E can be traced back to the charm of its mechanical protagonist: just a lonely guy who is looking for a friend, companionship, and love… a lonely, hopeless romantic of a robot, abandoned on Earth to clean up the massive mess the humans have left behind. He spends his days compacting garbage, collecting knickknacks, and re-watching his lone videotape, desperately wanting to find the romance that he sees in his favorite movie. Fortunately, director Andrew Stanton allows the audience to view this pessimistic future through the eyes of one of the most lovable animated characters ever. Really, the only thing parents will need to worry about with this film is how to explain why the planet is such a mess in the future. And that may not be the worst conversation to have, anyway.

A Talk with Wallace Shawn
One Part Anger, Two Parts Cheer

“I don’t get offered scripts that much,” says the irascible Wallace Shawn, “because filmmakers don’t like me that much. I get a certain number of scripts in the course of the year, and the scripts that nauseate me I don’t do. And the ones that are left over, I do, basically. In other words, there are quite a few that disgust me and that offend me too much, and that seem to me to make the world a worse place. And the ones that are left, I do.” So this makes everyone want to ask: Where does the Toy Story franchise fit on the Shawn disgust scale, and what does he really think of Kit Kittredge?

...But Not Very Badly

A loser/nobody in a dead-end job is recruited by a sexy woman and a powerful man into a world where the rules of reality cease to exist… and he becomes capable of performing unbelievable feats—most of them involving a gun. Sound familiar to anyone else? If you need a hint, try inserting Keanu Reeves as the nobody, Carrie-Anne Moss as the woman, and Lawrence Fishburne as the big man. Got it now? Good. Those willing to completely suspend disbelief (and requirement of a plot) in favor of a few exciting, unique, and creative action scenes would probably do okay to see this movie in theaters. If you prefer a greater number of exciting and unique scenes with a creative plot, however, you may want to look elsewhere.

Up the Yangtze
Broad and Slow-Moving

Yung Chang’s camera documents the rising river. It also documents the human cost of Shui Yu’s dilemma. The teen wants to go off to school—and her parents want her to, too. But to help the family out, she puts plans for education on hold and ventures into a wholly foreign world—both internationally speaking, and within her own country—to earn wages aboard a Yangtze cruise ship. It’s reality programming at its most gritty; I can only wonder what the family thought of Chang tagging along with his movie camera. There are great things to think about in connection with the Three Gorges Dam, and Chang brings several of them up; we can be grateful for that. Finally, though, the film is just a little too slack for my taste, and talks too little about the dam itself. Americans should be cautious about judging China too harshly.

Epic Filmmaking

It’s not a stretch to call Mongol the best Western since Unforgiven. Much was made of the scene in that film in which William Munny lectures the Kid that “we’ve all got it coming.” Critics rightly pointed out that not many directors would have had the respect for the audience to let that scene play out in real time as Munny’s bad news rides out from town in the background. Comparisons were made to David Lean’s seminal “waiting for the camel to ride in from the desert” scene from Lawrence of Arabia. Mongol has that patience in spades, and its pace is often even reminiscent of Sergio Leone at his most languid. Like Eastwood—and Leone—Bodrov should be commended for showing such respect for his audience, all while demonstrating that he, too, knows how to tell an epic tale.

A Talk With Dan Merchant
Imitate This

Dan Merchant is an ordinary guy… as ordinary as a guy can be, that is, if you’ve spent several years working in TV production, put everything you own in hock to make your own movie, spent months walking around the country with inflammatory and contradictory bumper stickers pasted onto your coveralls, and then assembled it all into a powerful, moving, insightful, often hilarious, and yet somehow good-hearted skewering of the religious debates that have gripped America’s politics for the last two or three decades. We daresay: if Dan Merchant’s Lord, Save Us From Your Followers gets much exposure, Bill Maher’s Religulous—which has now slipped to this fall’s release schedule—is going to look quite petty by comparison.

Get Smart
I Thought You Said “Stone in Your Shoe”

The movie doesn’t make us suspend our disbelief too far, as Maxwell Smart usually ends up getting out of his predicaments by some comically ingenious means. The charisma, charm, humor, and likeability of Steve Carell on his own is enough to make this film work as a summer entertainment. The broad comedy is effective and occasionally gut-busting all the way through—despite director Peter Segal’s tendency to let gags run on to a point where they cease to be funny. What keeps this film from being better is the complete lack of chemistry between Carell and Anne Hathaway as 99, whose relationship is the key to the screwball element of the film. This in turn causes the already heavy-handed dramatic and/or romantic scenes to be less believable and more of an ugly distraction than they already are.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster
Hard Issues... Rock Hard!

I played college football, and though I did not use steroids, many of those with whom I competed used them to enhance their game. In spite of that, I never felt any animosity or jealousy, or believed they cheated for gain. I had my choices, and they had theirs—they were just a bit more willing to inherit the risks for the sake of gain, and I apparently was not. In the long run, Bigger, Stronger, Faster is a film about a country that has lost its mooring, destroyed its identity, and is now looking to re-create itself through hubris, though smoke and mirrors. Image is indeed everything, and we are certainly paying the price. My thanks to Chris Bell for a balanced, honest, and controversial look at a persistent problem in America!

The Love Guru
Mike Myers Strikes (Out?) Again

A more experienced director might have been able to rein in the out-of-control humor, but Marco Schnabel isn’t up to the task at this point in his career. Hard to blame him, really; trying to control a manic Mike Myers has to be a daunting task on your debut as a feature film director. On the up side, I can say I didn’t find The Love Guru painful to watch. I found enough laughs to feel entertained by the time the closing credits rolled. It was all the wincing at low-brow jokes in between that took the shine off the experience. This could have been a much better film than the one I watched.

The Animation Show 4
Not For The Kiddies, Please

This week, producer Mike Judge (Beavis and Butthead) releases (in various markets) Version 4 of the venerable Animation Show. The studio commissioned some new artists, drawing on talents thus far unseen. The Animation Show 4 prominently features a series of short films born in the prestigious French animation college Gobelins: Burning Safari; Cocotte Minute; VooDoo (one of my favorites); and Blind Spot. Each one is cleverly and creatively crafted, boasting solid writing and intriguing storylines. Since my opinions are generally favorable toward The Animation Show, I offer these words that Abe Lincoln ostensibly articulated: “For the people that like that kind of thing, that is just the kind of thing they would like.”

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