Archive for May, 2009

Another Pixar Gem

It has now been fourteen years since Pixar debuted Toy Story, the first feature-length computer-animated movie. They have released nine films in that time period and I am still waiting for them to slip up. Their newest release is Up, the story of an elderly man who uses hundreds of helium-filled balloons to fly his house to South America. Will this be the film that will end their run of visually breathtaking, endlessly entertaining blockbusters? I am very happy to report that the answer is a resounding no.

Fillmore: The Last Days
Profane and Glorious

“These groups have gotten too authoritarian,” concert promoter Bill Graham complains in this documentary. Instead of a music scene devoted to “the joy of living,” Graham observed a “bitterness set in” as American youth became more and more disenfranchised. “We want more” became the mantra of the generation, and Graham wasn’t willing to capitulate to the demands of stars or fans. The militancy of the era is on full display in incendiary lyrics by Jefferson Airplane. But the musical performances captured for the film are electric, and you can see what Graham felt was being lost—in the stirring vocals of Lamb and Cold Blood, or in the quirky style of The Grateful Dead, one band which managed to stay small while going mega.

Terminator: Salvation
Where's the Science?

The story itself isn’t half bad, and the three interwoven plots work fairly successfully. Where the movie first starts to break down is with its insistence that, rather than having the action sequences advance the story, the story should serve merely as a device upon which to hang action sequences. Now, that would be okay—if the action sequences didn’t all feel like ones we’d seen done better in other movies, if they didn’t get so doggone repetitive, and if Skynet’s machines weren’t so ungodly stupid. It’s odd that Skynet’s AI could successfully meld mechanical hydraulics with cardiac and cerebral tissue, and yet would deploy a fifty-foot cannon-wielding weapon into the field that can’t deal with three guys and a tow truck.

Night at the Museum 2
Where's the Comedy?

When it came to 2006’s Night at the Museum, this reviewer found himself more in line with the popular opinion than with the critical majority. I thought it was fun. It was the kind of movie people like me often refer to as a rollicking adventure. New York City’s Museum of Natural History sure wasn’t complaining either as their visitation numbers spiked thanks to a renewed interest in their exhibits. Three years later we get the inevitable sequel, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. While I’m sure the Washington D.C. museum will receive a similar boost to the one in New York, unfortunately the sequel failed to win me over as its predecessor had.

A Talk with John Ratzenberger
The Two-By-Four Guy

John Ratzenberger is both a tireless worker—with dozens of films such as Pixar’s A Bug’s Life and several TV series to his credit—and a tireless activist. Success may appear to have come easy for the man most of us remember as either Cliff Clavin or Toy Story’s Hamm, but Ratzenberger himself wouldn’t chalk any of it up as mere happenstance. “As I was traveling for my Travel Channel show John Ratzenberger’s Made in America,” he says, “what I wanted to celebrate was the Judeo-Christian ethic of ‘get up in the morning, put your hand to something useful, and be responsible for yourself.’ … I figured someone’s got to be the Paul Revere and shout from the rooftops that it’s okay if your kid goes into vocational training.”

S. Darko
The Legend Stops Here

So… there’s Jack’s visions about the End of the World and a bloodied, dressed-up Samantha Darko who talks kind of like Bad Galadriel—and numerous fleeting glimpses of some glum kid in red pajamas. Not to mention a leather-bound volume about time travel. And ectoplasmic manifestations that stream periodically from characters’ chests like some leftover special effect from a James Cameron film. Still, its rabbit-trailing, time-tripping, future-shifting vision does make me think about Butterfly Effect-ish philosophy a little more deeply than I have in a while. I’m glad I watched the film for its final notion: very worthwhile, very poignant. But what a slog along the way.

Angels & Demons
Brain-dead, Not Dangerous

If director Ron Howard had stuck with his apparent initial instincts throughout the movie—portraying Roman Catholic Cardinals as a gaggle of chain-smoking celebrity-wannabes who look like nothing so much as scarlet-robed film producers lined up for red-carpet events at Cannes—the film would have at least been provocative instead of just silly. But as the film progresses, the conclaved Cardinals morph into male extras from A League of Their Own, and by the time Langdon receives a warm nod from the new Pope—and almost winks in return—you kind of wonder what alternate universe (or other item) you’ve stepped into. Where’s the iconoclasm? Where’s the mind-numbing oppression? Where’s the invective? Where’s the fun?

A Talk with Mark Freiburger
Good Art, Happy Accidents

Whether you apply the idea of “evangelical tool” to film or any other medium, the idea is problematic because even the Bible itself doesn’t view itself as a tool. Filmmaker Mark Freiburger keeps a good balance between medium and message. “I fell in love with film for film’s sake,” he says, “and went to a regular liberal arts conservatory to study film for four years. And it didn’t dawn on me until making Dog Days of Summer—when I started meeting all these other Christian filmmakers who were thinking of movies as evangelical tool—that film could be used for something else: that I could be making films that make a difference.”

Next Day Air
Few Laughs Become Tiresome

If Next Day Air is any indication of what Donald Faison’s career is going to be like once Scrubs goes off the air, then here’s hoping the show goes on forever. There are a few laughs sprinkled in here and there, but overall I found the movie to be a tiresome, poorly-made disappointment that is certain to be completely overshadowed in the blockbuster-heavy summer season. That’s probably a good thing.

Star Trek
Up to the Challenge

Like Judd Apatow in the comedy realm, J.J. Abrams seems to have his name stamped all over Hollywood. Yet, as a film director he has only one feature credit to his name: 2006’s Mission Impossible III. Therefore, tackling a reboot Star Trek, of one of the most beloved franchises of all-time—a series with a fan base that shames the Twilight and Harry Potter crowds—seems like a daunting challenge. Fortunately, I am happy to report that the 33-year-old director was more than up to the task.

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