Saturday, May 30, 2009

Up (in 3-D!)

Up, 2009
Dir: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
May 30, 2009
Showcase Cinema, Revere MA

I think it's safe to say that most of the talent that heads into Hollywoodish film making ends up at Pixar. They deliver quality product time and again, and Up is no different. In fact it might be one of the better films they have ever made. Along with Wall-E last year, Pixar seems to be branching out in a direction that is safe for a parent company like Disney, and yet still lets them be creative in awesome ways.

There is something strange about being handed a pair of glasses when you are about to watch a movie. Personally, I don't think that 3-D is cool (personally I'm waiting for hologram), but in this film, the animators did a great job, especially with the landscapes. The film is about an old grumpy man who, after his wife dies, decides to fulfill their lifelong dream of visiting Paradise Falls in South America and have their house sit right next to it. His dream is hastened when he hits a man and is going to be sent to a retirement home. Unbeknownst to them, he unveils his plan the next morning by releasing hundreds of helium balloons which are attached to his house and begins to float away. Unfortunately, an overeager Asian kid who had offered his help earlier was under the porch and is now along for the ride. Once they reach Paradise Falls, Carl, the old man, meets a childhood idol that he thought was long gone. He is, however, not the hero that Carl thought he was.

The beginning of the film is a bit misleading, where it shows the hijinks of two kids (Carl and his future wife, Ellie), and their love of Charles Muntz, a famous adventurer who becomes disgraced. The montage that follows, which starts with their wedding, is pretty phenomenal. It goes from the blissful days of young marriage (showing picnics and the way they painted their house together, all with thoughts of Paradise Falls on their mind), to the bizarrely sad (the couple's inability to conceive), to the heartbreaking end (where Carl sits glumly at Ellie's wake.) As soon as it was over, I thought is was really well done, and then immediately I thought how it would be a lot to digest for a kid, though they say they're growing up faster these days. Nevertheless, it was different and effective. Carl certainly has a Grumpy Old Man/Ebenezer Scrooge feel to him at the beginning, and Russell, the Asian kid, is the one who lifts him out of foul mood and helps him learn to live again. Russell, for all his boyish foppishness, is sympathetic enough, though his humor falls flat sometimes (as does a lot in the film, but it's easily overlooked). Forced humor aside, Russell's most poignant moments are when he talks to Carl about his father, a workaholic who absences in his son's important moments in life are becoming more and more frequent. Other comedic moments come from Dug, the oddball of Muntz's dog pack, who, like his fellows, is given a collar that gives him the ability to speak, although in a simple, doggish way. Dug's own story, a "worst to first" expedition, has it's own satisfying rewards. Muntz as a villain is a bit stale, but adequite as the deranged 30s adventurer/tycoon/old-tymey big game hunter. The large exotic bird in the film, Kevin (named by Russell in a fit of glee, though of course is turns out to be female), is Muntz's obsession, and while I want to say it is kind of a throwaway character, is pretty central to the plot, but not in any of the really interesting ways that I thought other parts of the film delivered.

I think that the whole flying away on balloons, or flying away in general, as if flying away from your problems, while used quite a bit, never gets old. Creating that mood, that fantasy, is a hard thing to do, and the wonder you feel when witnessing it all on screen is one of the great parts of going to the movies, at least for me. I'd have to say that this movie is right up there in movies about balloons, right behind The Red Balloon (1956) by Albert Lamorisse, which is one of my favorite films ever, and maybe the most overlooked children's movie ever. Up delivers in every way possible, and is a great story for anyone. It has the smarts, laughs (a few for sure), and ability to pull at your heartstrings that has come to define every Pixar film. They have outdone themselves again, and I can't wait for the next one.

* The short film preceding Up, Partly Cloudy, is also very good, in that "that's what friends are for" kinda way.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation, 2009
Dir: McG
May 23, 2009
Showcase Cinema, Revere MA

Hey Hollywood, WHAT DON'T YOU FUCKING UNDERSTAND!? Huge explosions OH GOOD! do not save a movie, and certainly not this one. There were absolutely no redeeming qualities to take away from the film itself. Actually, Bryce Dallas Howard, despite being the daughter of Richie Cunningham, is kind of a babe, but that's just me. I think that origin stories are overrated anyways. Not really knowing and making it up in your head is part of the fun, but I suppose the cretins in this country demand certain things, explosions being one of them. I think they also believe it is a good idea to let guys named McG (seriously dude?) direct their action films, which is telling.

So this guy is sentenced to death in 2003, and agrees to donate his body to science. He wakes up in 2018, and starts to fight I'M GOING TO KICK YOUR FUCKING ASS IF YOU DON'T SHUT UP! for two hours. Conflict: He is now half machine/half man but actually trying to help the humans, and Christian SMOLDERING INTENSITY Bale, who plays a dour John Connor, is having none of it. Bale is his typical gruff self, which is what it is. If they had transfered some of the rant intensity over on to the screen, then I might have thought he was kicking some fucking ass. But, alas, McG could not pull that out of him. Bale was too busy bitching out the DP and laughing at his name.

More of the same, and Hollywood cashes in. Lean times call for lean ideas, and McG is certainly willing to lend his one-named expertise. I'm going to go listen to "Bale Out" and be thankful that at least one phenomenal thing happened while they filmed this tardfest.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Une femme est une femme

Une femme est une femme (A Woman Is a Woman), 1961
Dir: Jean-Luc Godard
May 21, 2009
Netflix Wakefield MA

Knowing that Godard is obsessed with cinema as life, "CINEMA" is boldly projected in the titles, is the first part of understanding practically all of his early output. A Woman Is a Woman is his third feature film, and like Breathless (1960), is filled with references to other films. Godard wants you to know that you are watching a film, and has no interest in trying to disguise that fact. Of course, his penchant for the cinematic is to my taste, but watching the film gets a bit of getting used to.

A Woman Is a Woman is an homage to the American musical comedy of the 1940-50s. While some parts of the film were funny, I think others were lost in translation. At one point, well according to the subtitles anyway, they were talking about how you say things in French and how you pronounce them, which would be completely irrelevant in English obviously. So I'm guessing I missed out on some witty French puns. Oh well. The main plot, if there is one, is centered around Angela (Anna Karina), who is an exotic dancer. She lives with her boyfriend/lover/whatever Emile, and at their place they have witty banter and foolish arguments, all in the name of love. Of course, Angela decides she wants to have a baby (what stripper doesn't, right?) while Emile is not agreeable. As a joke (seemingly), Emile suggest that she ask his best friend Alfred to get her pregnant. Once he comes over, they make a joke about it and Angela gets mad, but we soon find out that Alfred's feeling might be a bit more serious.

Godard is very cheeky in the way he scrutinizes cinema, and in this film he is no different. The disjointed soundtrack, moving back and forth between old 40s songs; the random breaking into song; the winks at the camera. It's all very clever, and Godard knows it. One of the most telling of these moments is when Angela and Emile are having another fight, and they end up on opposites sides of the room. The camera begins to pan slowly back and forth between them, now still, while a narrator makes anecdotes about love while the words he says pop into the screen as the camera moves. I think that Godard knows the ridiculousness of it all, and that's what makes the film decent. In the end he accomplished what he wanted to do, to make a musical comedy while scrutinizing why he loved them in the first place, and why he thought they they were so over the top. Maybe he thought they were just "cinematic."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Angels & Demons

Angels & Demons, 2009
Dir: Ron Howard
May 18, 2009
AMC Theaters, Danvers MA

The powers that be just shat themselves. Seriously. Tom Hanks is a banana-head. That is too kind because he really blew in this movie. No, I have not read this book, but I did see The DaVinci Code, and this is the exact same shit. Running around, looking at symbols, not knowing what they mean for like a second and them BAM! Epiphany, Tom Hanks looking like he's 30 in one shot, Father Time in the next, crazy revelation topped by crazy twist built up upon shaky tension at best, blahblahblah. They made made the same movie except in Rome instead of Paris.

So, plot. The pope has died, and all the cardinals meet for the conclave in Rome. In Austria, scientists create anti-matter and it's stolen. The four leading cardinals most likely to be chosen are kidnapped, and a clue about the secret society Ilumminati is left behind. Enter Robert Langdon, played with supreme blandness by Tom Hanks. The stolen anti-matter is brought to the Vatican and a countdown begins of when the cardinals are going to be killed followed by the anti-matter blowing up. Of course, Langdon wouldn't be complete without a brainy babe in tow, a physicist who was working with the anti-matter (played by Ayelet Zurer, the Israeli Julia Roberts apparently.) From here, the movie descends into repetitive patterns of "Where is the next clue?" to "The symbols tell me it's there!" all the way to the big twist at the end, which I won't say, in case anyone actually reads this.

There are snippets of an uneven theme thrown in here and there, "faith vs. science," but it's handled pretty carelessly. Old women crying out "Man is not God!" in random street arguments didn't really get me thinking about it, only for the next scene to start. I'm not sure how accurate the information is, but there are some interesting things to learn about the Illuminati and the process by which the next Pope is elected thrown in with the awkward dialogue and unnecessary monologues. The action, for what it's worth, is all right, particularly one scene where the assassin take out like 7 or 8 guys while leaving one of the kidnapped cardinals chained over a fire of pews.

So, again, another summer blockbuster that "entertains." The direction was hammy, the acting flat (for the most part; an occasional bright spot) and the writing: bilge. So see this movie if you like seeing hot Israeli actresses not show their boobs and Tom Hanks in a speedo (for realz).

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek, 2009
Dir: J.J. Abrams
May 9, 2009
Showcase Cinema, Revere MA

So Hollywood's favorite dirty stroking habit, retreads of old "winners," belches forth Star Trek for the masses. Sure it's fun, and the explosions were radhat, but c'mon, there has to be some talented writer who wants a buttload of cash. The dudes who wrote this are fucking pedestrian. But hey, they were the safe bet, right?

The actors do a credible enough job of recreating younger versions of the original characters, I guess, but the script blows and does them no justice. The science fictional aspects are ludicrous, even for ST. Fans of the old show might like the film... but then again, maybe not, since it's a "reboot" and pisses all over the original continuity (Tattooed Romulans, led by Eric "I Suck" Bana? Did the writers cast this guy?).

In the end though, you get what you pay for: a summer blockbuster, and Harold killing two Romulans who didn't want him to get to White Castle. Leaving the theater I kind of felt like I had watched a movie like that, not a sweet sci-fi film.