|KEX'S AMAZING WORLD|
|Nine times out of ten, in the arts as in life, there is actually no truth to be discovered; there is only an error to be exposed. -- H.L. Menken|
This Week: The Replacements:
Okay Kexkateers: By show of hands, how many of you out there have ever suffered through one of those sucky sports movies about a ragtag group of misfits who come together as a team and achieve some impossible goal? You know the ones I am talking about. They go by names like The Bad News Bears (1-100), The Mighty Ducks (1-100), Rocky (1-100), Major Leagues (1&2), Mystery Alaska (one one so far), Hoosiers, etc. etc. etc.
Looks like just about all of you. That is good, because I can now inform you that you will have absolutely no reason whatsoever to have to sit through The Replacement. You have seen it before. I have seen it before. I hated this move the first couple of dozen times I saw it. Something did just occur to me, however. Gene Hackman has now played a coach in two of these dreadful formula pieces. I wonder if Hollywood could get together on some sort of "three strikes and you are out" policy?
Keenau Reeves stars in this movie, playing the role of Shane Falco, a sort of never was former college QB who washed out after getting his ass kicked by 45 points in a Sugar Bowl game. Right away, I lost interest in this movie, wishing to see some highlights of that game instead. Seeing Reeves getting his head handed to him would have been more fun.
Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) is a coach newly hired by the Washington team owner (Jack Warden). Warden appears in the film playing the same sometimes kindly, sometimes cranky generic old man he has been portraying in every movie he has appeared in for the last 15 years. The professional league players are about to go on strike, so McGinty recruits a bunch of former college and professional players he has apparently been keeping an eye on for quite some time. With 4 games remaining in the season, Washington must win three games to qualify for the playoffs, so Hackman must assemble the ragtags into a respectable and successful team.
McGinty is convinced that the only one-time QB in the country who can pull off the job is Falco. We can't figure out why a guy who got beat red in the Sugar Bowl is so attractive, but apparently McGinty sees an untapped potential in Falco. So McGinty convinces him to take the shot, and assembles his team of misfits who are all basically cutout stereotypes imported from all the other sports movies this film is cloned from.
While the professional players go on strike, apparently the team's spirit squad similarly goes on strike. It is rather news to me that NFL cheerleaders are members of the Players Union, but this film is ass rammed in ways beyond imagination. This revelation comes early in the film, but we are already so brain numbed it pretty much passes over. The squad's leader, (Brooke Langston) must recruit a new squad of her own, and ultimately hires on the dancers from a local strip club, which later becomes a potent distraction for opposing teams.
I must confess that I haven't spent a whole lot of time in strip clubs. In fact I have only been to one once for a bachelor's party. I found the entire experience rather boring, and after about 15 minutes of watching the primary proceedings, I was mostly paying attention to the baseball highlights on Sports Center. I did take note of the fact that some of the guys in the place were tossing down a LOT of money, apparently quite enthralled with the proceedings. I had to wonder what type of folk they were. Now I think I know: Apparently they are mostly wannabe Hollywood script writers who don't date much.
Washington loses its first game with the replacement players, and now must win three in a row to qualify for the playoffs. After whipping up on the striking players from the real Washington team in a bar brawl, the replacement team pulls together and wins the next two games, setting up a showdown with Dallas. But days before the big game, the Dallas regular players decide to cross the picket line, forcing the Washington replacement players to face the World's Champions.
Some help appears to arrive when Washington's pro team QB decides to cross the picketline, leaving Falco out in the cold. This movie apparently takes place in an alternate universe where QB's never get hurt, thus there is no roster place for a backup. Naturally the replacement players are resentful of the new QB, and he stinks it up in the first half of the game, much to our utter surprise. At halftime, Dallas leads the Washington team 14-0.
Falco dramatically returns to the locker room, again much to our astonishment, just as the replacement players and the pro QB are having it out at halftime. Falco vows to lead his team to victory, and the stage is set for the ending we expect. As Falco leads his team back onto the field for the second half, the crowd is surprised by his appearance, and we are surprised by the fact that the score of the game is now 17-0. Apparently Dallas has achieved a first in pro football history by scoring a field goal during halftime.
After leading his team to two second half touchdowns, the score stands at 17-14 late in the contest, and Washington has a chance for a chip shot field goal to tie and send the game into overtime. What happens next is a cinch to win a Kexter at next March's Akexdemy Awards presentation, as the most unnecessary plot twist pulled out of the writer's ass at the last second for no apparent reason. Washington's kicker spots some mafia type guys in the stands who are apparently threatening to take away his bar unless he repays some gambling debts by missing the field goal. The kicker confides in Falco, who fakes the field goal.
One figures that the Washington players could have just opted to go for the win without that unnecessary plot intervention, but its of little consequence. Ultimately, Washington scores the winning touchdown and the team qualifies for the playoffs. Alas, the strike is settled the next day, and the replacement players return to their previous lives, better human beings all for accomplishing the impossible.
Early in the movie, when McGinty is recruiting Falco, he asks, "Do you know what seperates the winners from the losers?" After Falco says something stupid in reply, McGinty, in growling Hackmanesque, scene chewing fashion drones, "...getting back on the horse after getting kicked in the teeth." Maybe, but this is one horse that has been ridden at least 20 times too often, and is overdue for an appointment at the glue factory. Somebody out there certainly deserves a good kick in the teeth for okaying this project (yet again), however.
Also Last week: Hard Ball
I've seen a lot of reviews for the movie Hard Ball which compare it to the wonderful movie The Bad News Bears (not to be associated with any of the sequels) made most of a quarter of a century ago. I would like to chime in for a moment and comment on those comparisons myself. So to all of my fellow reviewers out there, here is how the two stack up together: Bad News Bears = GOOD MOVIE. Hard Ball= BAD MOVIE. See the difference?
Here is how it works, for those reviewers who don't understand: GOOD MOVIE=fun, entertaining, worth watching. BAD MOVIE=crappy, waste of time, waste of money, make work project for Keenau Reeves. Understand now?
Speaking of Reeves, would someone explain to me who he bent over for, or continues to bend over for in order to continue to get lead roles in films? The man is so damned wooden that if he owned a dog it would be continually pissing on his leg. I'm puzzled as to why film producers dont just hire a cigar store wooden Indian and hire somebody to do a voice over instead of putting Reeves in one of their productions.
Hard Ball is a movie about a little kids' baseball team, and there all comparisons to The Bad News Bears are required to end. Reeves plays the part of a loser compulsive gambler who is offered a job coaching the team by his friend who happens to be some sort of investment broker.
Just why any investment broker would have a loser friend like Reeve's character is an utter mystery, but Reeves is so far in debt that he accepts the challenge of coaching the team, which consists of a group in inner city black children. Their first game is an utter disaster since they boys basically suck at baseball, but Reeves attempts to lift their spirits by taking them out for pizza.
The pizza party works to bring the boys together, and apparently the pizza itself had magical properties, as close as I can figure, because suddenly the boys start playing well their very next game. Here's hoping the Rockies make a visit to that pizza place next time they are in Chicago.
But Reeves isn't really happy coaching the boys, and he places a huge bet on another sporting event, hoping to recoup his losses and get out of town. What he plans to do with his life isn't clear. During the final baseball game before his wager is played out, the coach of the opposing team challenges the age of one of the players on Reeves team. It seems the boy's birth certificate has been altered, and he is ineligible to play. Reeves makes an impassioned plea for the boy, to no avail. The President of the league bars the boy from playing. Its too bad Reeves was unable to make his impassioned plea on behalf of the youngster who recently got his team disqualified at the LLWS.
Reeves wins his bet, and pays off his debts. He returns to his team ready to quit, but suddenly changes his mind when he realizes how much the game means to his young players. Instead of running off with his friend to place another wager, he takes all the boys to a professional baseball game--the first pro game for all the boys. I think we are really onto something here. All we need to do to cure the disease of compulsive gambling is to get the afflicted to take a group of poor, inner city black youngsters to a Cubs game.
The boys go on to play for their league championship, where they are beaten red by the other team. They gang up on Reeves and burn him at the stake, making for the summer's most satisfying ending....No, it doesn't really end that way, inspite of our wishes. It ends exactly the way you would expect....
Well, almost. Along the way their is a heart wrenching sideplot about the youngest player being killed in a drive-by. That scene was cut from The Bad News Bears. It might have been in Bad News Bears 10, the players get laced in drive-bys, but I missed that one. I wished I'd have missed Hard Ball as well. It was mostly depressing, boring, and not in the least funny. Miss it soon at a theater near you.
Last Week: Blue Crush:
When in Rome, do as the Romulans, as they say. Its not like I had a lot of choice this week. Right here in the very heart of movie land, this was about the only movie showing. I think it premiered on about 800 screens down here. But where else is it going to play big? Hawaii, maybe, but not a lot of people live there. So I'm in the heart of make or break country for this movie, and its not surprising that they are trying to milk it for every penny.
Ostensibly, this is a movie about surfing, and more specifically, girls surfing. Some of my readers might immediately ask, "What possible interest would Kex have in surfing?" To tell you the truth, I don't really give squat about it. I don't even particularly enjoy watching it, although I have spent a little time watching surfers during intervals of my life that I've spent on the beach watching the ocean (and teasing seagulls). On the other hand, the movie did at least seem to offer the promise of lots of hot young babes in bikinis...in other words, I'm there.
But the most immediate and necessary criticism that might be offered of this film is, if you are going to make a 110 minute movie about surfing, it might be a good idea to include some surfing in it. Okay, so its not like surfing was completely absent, but Terrell Davis has spent more time in the Bronco backfield the last couple of seasons than anyone spent surfing in this movie.
Kate Bosworth stars in this film as a promising young surfer chick who was winning all sorts of competitions until she nearly drown 3 years ago after hitting her head on a rock. Now there is another big competition approaching, and she is entered. But she is naturally apprehensive since the competition is dangerous.
"What are you scared of?" her bitchy friend asks in one of the movie's more memorable moments...Gee, that is a tough one...drowning, sharks, getting ripped up by coral reefs, having your teeny bikini top come off on ESPN on national TV in front of 600 people worldwide who watching girl surfing competions....
I think I sort of know how she feels though. Down here in SoCal, I end up in lots of conversations like the following when I meet new people:
"So, I hear you are from Colorado...do any skiing up there?"
"Nope. Never been skiing in my life."
"I'm not too fond of snow, and I'm very unfond of the idea of breaking my leg or smashing into a tree, like former California Congressman Sonny Bono."
"You don't like snow, and you live in Denver?"
"Yes. Maybe if I could learn to love smog, traffic, earthquakes, random gang violence and no NFL team, I might move to Southern California."
Bosworth's character's name is Anne Marie. Her mother has run off to Las Vegas, so she has to work as a motel maid in order to pay the bills, along with her two friends, who are also surfer chicks. One of her friends has about 6 lines in the whole movie, and I kind of wondered why she was even in it. The other friend is mostly there to be bitchy and catty. It makes for some entertaining dialogue.
Anne Marie also has to take care of her out of control, bratty little sister. Supposedly she is smart, but at age 14 she apparently doesn't understand why the sun rises in the east. She also smokes and can slam down alcohol like the current President AND his daughters put together. Anne Marie is apparently having difficulty understanding why she is so wild, although she clearly acted the same way at 14.
There is a dumb sideplot in this movie, which actually turns into the primary plotline, about Anne Marie falling in love with an NFL quarterback who is in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.. Their mutual attraction causes Anne Marie to neglect practising for the big surf competition, until Anne Marie realizes that she is probably just one of about a hundred chicks he is bagging. Then suddenly she decides to get serious about the competition the day before it is set to begin.
We get to see a couple of the quarterback's friends too, who are oversized and overweight for NFL players. Immediately when they appeared onscreen early in the movie, I wondered, "Gee, I wonder if there will be a luau scene in which one of them puts on a grass skirt and makes an ass out of himself. I didn't have to wait long to find out.
WARNING: PLOT SPOILER FOLLOWS: Anne Marie overcomes her fears and does well in the surfing competition, with her Quarterback boyfriend and his buddies there to cheer her on. She doesn't win, but she impresses the sponsors so much that they offer her lucrative contracts. In surfing, I guess that probably means a year's supply of board wax. What happens to everyone else is open to interpretation. Most likely, her quarterback boyfriend spends a few more years in the league before he burns out and squanders all his money on illegal substance abuse. Her sister most likely has a kid at 15, and ends up on The Sally Jesse Show when Anne Marie has her sent off to one of those nasty teen bootcamps. Her other two friends probably get eaten by sharks.
For the benefit of the ladies in the audience, this film also had a lot of well toned muscly guys sporting tattoos that they will wake up one morning deeply regretting about 10 years from now. And the entire movie was played to an obnoxiously loud rapcrap soundtrack that just didn't go with the surfing motif somehow. For the record, the plot of this movie may have been week, but the few surfing scenes it featured were actually fun to watch, providing that you aren't prone to seasickness. Generally I'm not, but I did walk out of this film feeling momentarily queezy. In fact, for a minute I thought I just might end up horking like George H.W. Bush at Benihana. Fortunately, the sensation passed, although I wasn't sure if the nausea was caused by the water scenes or the whole movie.
Last Week: Le Divorce:
I am confident that there are much more descriptive words available even in a lean and concise language like French, but this short list is the best I could come up with on short notice with only my badly worn French-English dictionary available.
There weren't any promising new releases this week, so I surrendered the choice to my better half. I don't really want to do any vindicative finger pointing, because I wasn't entirely opposed to seeing this movie. Afterall, I wasn't any more enthusiastic about the likes of Freddy vs. Jason or Medallion. So this one was truly a default winner at best. Still, the pain can not be entirely brushed away.
On the surface, the matter doesn't really look that awful. It is an opportunity to spend a couple of hours ogling Naomi Watts and Kate Hudson. One would figure that things could be much much worse. But calculations of that nature can only be made before actually experiencing this movie. Next time I want to be this bored, and simultaneously in this much mental pain, I'll head over to Blockbuster and see if they have a 2 hour documentary featuring John David Ashcroft picking toejam.
The plot is a little complicated, so fasten your seatbelts, and I'll try to drag you through. Be forewarned, however, that since this movie completely sucks ass, I am going to give away the ending. I consider that a public service, just to discourage my readers from enduring the pain. You'll thank me for it, trust me on this one.
Kate Hudson is Isabel, who goes to France to help out her sister, Roxanne (Naomi Watts) because Roxanne is pregnant. However Roxanne's husband has met another woman, and walks out on her just as Isabel arrives. Roxanne still loves the piece of crap French guy, and doesn't want a divorce, but he plans on going through with it inspite of her pleas to the contrary. I know, all of you are thinking, "just like those French, always backing out on committments." Well, maybe. But they did build the Arc de Triumph so that Hitler would have something cool to march under on his way into town, so they aren't complete rogues.
Anyway, Isabel is hired by Roxanne's friend (Glen Close), also a famed American writer living in Paris, to help her put together her personal papers. Shortly after beginning work, Isabel is introduced to the writer's aide and instructed to become friends with him. She takes it to heart, and jumps in bed with him at the first opportunity. This inspite of the fact that he is about as appealing as the elephant man's uglier brother.
Shortly thereafter, Isabel also becomes acquainted with Roxanne's mother-in-law's brother Edgar (Thierry Themitte), who is some sort of important French politican. He is easily 30 years her senior, but she takes tour of the rides in Euro-Edgar also. Just when we start to think this film is going to degenerate into a tale of Isabel screwing her way around Paris, it tosses us a curve by flushing itself along a different plotline.
Poor Roxanne is still trying to work out the divorce, but the matter is complicated by a painting her family owns, which she brought to Paris with her. It turns out that it is the work of a famed artist, and her husband's family wants to lay partial claim as community property. In actuality it is an utterly crappy painting, but everyone in Europe is excited about it anyway.
I'm going to pause here to note my ignorance of the artworld by analogy. Suppose by horrible misfortune, Steven Spielberg died tomorrow. He'd leave behind a wonderful body of films for us to enjoy for many decades hence. But there'd still be that one dreadful stinker, 1942, lurking out there to tarnish an otherwise stellar career. You see, by my way of thinking, no matter how good Steve's other movies may be, 1942 is going to blow whether he is walking among the living, or has passed on to whatever ethereal realm to which great filmmakers go. What I am leading up to here is the fact that an ugly painting should be no different. No matter how many masterpieces a guy may paint, if he has an off month and produces a piece of garbage, it will always be just that.
Halfway through the film, Roxanne gets so despondent, she attempts to slit her wrists. That was an amazing coincidence, because I was having thoughts along the same line. This film was growing so enormously tedious that I wasn't sure whether this surprise plot twist was intended, or adlibbed. Naomi Watts had to be having some severe reservations about the impact this mess was going to have on her career.
But she survives, and we trudge on. Isabel keeps the bedsprings squeaking with both guys, and eventually finds out that Roxanne's friend also got bagged by Edgar. But she doesn't really care, and neither do we.
Ultimately, the husband of the woman Roxanne's hubby is sleeping with, Tellman (Matthew Modine), dispatches both of the two unfaithful spouses into the great beyond, and we are able to escape the theater. The reasonably large audience left the theater so quickly you'd have thought the place was on fire. I suppose on the one hand its fortunate that the theater wasn't burning. On the other hand, the world could not have been worse off if one less copy of this piece of crap suddenly ceased to exist.
Last Week: Mr. 3000
The late, great evolutionary biologist, Steven Jay Gould, used to preach with great passion that "evolution" is not synonmous with "progress," and under no circumstances should the words be treated as if they were related. Its unfortunate that he didn't stay with us long enough to have seen Mr. 3000, because his point would have been well demonstrated.
Humans evolved from "lower" primates, (Gould will forgive me for the utterly inappropriate reference to our ancestors as somehow inferior) and if anyone believes that we have actually improved our lot over or less evolved predecessors, they probably haven't been to the cinema recently. At the very least, they haven't witnessed this effort.
There is no doubt in my mind that Gould probably would have gone to see this movie. The man was a devoted baseball fan; a rare breed that could hold a special place in his heart for both the Yankees and the Red Sox. What he witnessed would have disturbed him for quite a number of reasons.
Mr. 3000 represents, in itself, a sort of evolutionary trend that I am noticing of late in the genre of baseball films. Its another in a new line of baseball movies that doesn't have much baseball in it. I think that sort of defeats the purpose, and will probably come as a major disappointment to most of the films primary audience: men who are found of both comedy and baseball.
That brings us to another matter that would have upset Dr. Gould, as well as most of the movie goers who are unfortunate enough to find themselves attending this film. It not only doesn't have all that much baseball, but it doesn't have a whole lot of comedy either. Gould had an outstanding, if a bit off the wall sense of humor, and I'm sure that the absense of both baseball and comedy in a baseball comedy might have been unsettling to him.
If this had been a made for TV movie, and quality wise, it could well have been intended that way, it might well have been advertised with that hoary "ripped from the headlines" tagline. It will be hard for anyone who follows baseball in even a lukewarm fashion not to associate the plot of this film with a major story currently in the sportsworld.
Stan Ross (Bernie Mac) is a self consumed superstar baseball player who reaches the rare 3000 hit plateau, only to walk out on his team during a pennant race because he is certain that the rare statistic will make him a shoe-in for Hall of Fame honors, and he couldn't really care less what becomes of his team. But over a decade later, it is discovered that through a statistical error, he is actually 3 hits short of the 3000 hit plateau.
So at the age of 47, Ross decides to rejoin his old team, the now hapless cellar dwelling Milwaukee Brewers, to reclaim the 3 hits he needs to guarantee his Hall of Fame status. The owner of the Brewers is only too happy to have him return, because his team is drawing about as poorly at the box-office as a Stallone film festival at St. Mary's Academy for Girls.
The reason that the Brewers are so awful is immediately obvious. They are a collection of hopelessly imcompetent players, with only one superstar to their credit. He is the obnoxious young superstar, T Rex (Michael Rispoli), who has all the charisma of Dick Cheney at a Gay Pride parade.
Naturally, Ross sees himself in the young T Rex, and not only tries to clean up his own act, but helps T Rex become a true team leader. In case you haven't guessed yet, this movie is a Disney production, so that is the only possible plotline it could follow.
Allowing for a moment that starring Bernie Mac in the confined, or should we say strangling perimeters of a Disney script makes about as much sense as allowing George Bush to address a Mensa conference. The man is not only out of his element, he out out of his league. I'd say that to insult Bush of course, but my intent here is to compliment Mac. The man can be pretty funny, and if it weren't for him, this film might have descended from the level of routine crap to some horrifying new standard of truly unspeakable garbage.
Incidentally, George W. Bush can be pretty funny too. Unfortunately, its almost always unintentional, and it almost always scares the living crap out of me, instead of tickling my funny bone. The worst part is that there are, apparently millions of Americans out there who are not only serious, but passionate about the opportunity to put the man back in office.
Of course, the topical aspect of this film relates to Barry Bonds recent milestone of 700 home runs. He is now in possible reach of Babe Ruth's total this season, and could feasibly catch Hank Aaron with a good season next year.
A lot of people are upset about that, because, very frankly, and very accurately, Bonds is a monumental asshole. Unfortunately, humility and decency as a human being has never been prequisite to achieving towering accomplishments in sports. Since we are primarily discussing baseball here, the examples are easy.
Once upon a time, Babe Ruth was the greatest home run hitter in baseball history, and he held career and season records for decades. Ruth was fortunate to have played in an era where the press was less anxious to tear down the public image of sports heros. The legendary Bambino was a womenizing, boozing lout.
Ty Cobb, once the all-time hit leader in baseball was such an obnoxious jerk that even his own teammates hated him to the point that on more than one occassion, they seriously discussed gang beatings. Ted Williams was the last man to hit .400 in a season, and is perhaps the greatest pure hitter of all time. But he was universally disliked by teammates and his own hometown fans. Similarly, few Yankee teammates were on speaking terms with the great Joe DiMaggio. We won't even mention the name of Pete Rose, who should never be allowed to buy a ticket to the Hall of Fame, let alone get inducted.
Mr. 3000 isn't particularly worth seeing. It won't be worth renting a couple of weeks from now when it hits DVD and rental. And if we want to acknowledge that the real world doesn't work like the movies, Barry Bonds is going to be just a big of an ass 10 years from now as he is now. But that doesn't have anything to do with whatever records he may set in the meantime.
Last Week: Just Like Heaven:
Actually, I had a location in mind a little further south. That said, the one prime compliment that I can pay this movie is that it wasn't anywhere near as awful as I expected it to be. But Reese Witherspoon as a work-a-holic doctor? Come now, what is next? A sports movie starring Deep Roy as the center for the Boston Celtics?
A few critical factors prevent this movie from rising above the threshold of almost tolerable to the grand salute of being awarded praise as a pleasant way to spend an evening. But before we can elaborate on those pitfalls, it is necessary to briefly summarize the plot of the film.
Elizabeth (Witherspoon) is a driven young doctor in San Francisco who's entire life is wrapped up in her profession. She works 26 hour days and evidently handles cases for every other doctor in the hospital, since she is apparently the only capable physician in San Francisco. Yeah, we can buy that one.
Her sister has set her up on a blind date following one of her characteristic very long days at the hospital. But on a typical very rainy night in San Francisco, she is so busy talking on a cell phone and fiddling with her car stereo that she doesn't notice that she has swerved into the path of an oncoming Pepsi trucK. Whammo! Those soft drinks are bad for your health. She doesn't die though. She just ends up in a coma for several months.
Meanwhile, her flat gets rented to David (Mark Ruffalo) who is some sort of glorified gardener. He has recently lost his wife, and is too busy stewing in his own angst to enjoy his life anymore. So he moves into the city, where he just happens to be the one to rent Elizabeth's place. I'm not sure how a gardener could afford a flat in north beach that would command about 2 grand a month. I'm not even sure how a resident physican could have afforded it. But we have to suspend our disbelief enough to accept that.
Elizabeth's spirit is still living in the apartment, although David is the only one who can see her. To compound the problem, Elizabeth can't even remember anything about her life. So, as soon as the two can get over the annoying bickering that highlights the first half hour of the film, they warm up to each other as David attempts to help her find out about her life.
Now, once we realize that Elizabeth isn't actually dead, but is just some sort of displaced spirit of a living woman in a coma, the ending of this film becomes more predictable than a George Bush speech attempting to spin away his latest screw up. The writers don't even have the savy to throw a decent curve at us, they just take us where we know we are going with very little imagination.
Of course, we also have to endure a rather typical performance by Mark Ruffalo, who wanders through this film with the confused look of a man reading his lines off a cue card, without the first clue what the film is all about. Memo to Mr. Ruffalo: next time your agent comes to you with a movie offer, read the script first. Your character might have some inkling of credibility if you actually have some idea what the story is about.
I guess the one spin on the boy meets girl, either boy our girl turns out to be a ghost plotline that hasn't been explored is the route this one took, where girl isn't really a ghost afterall. Big whoop. Part of the comedic sendup of this film is supposed to be the unusual site of David talking to somebody no one else can see.
As far as I can tell, the people who made this movie haven't ever actually spent much time in San Francisco. Seeing people walking down the street and having animated conversations with themselves is one of the less strange things you see in that city. In fact, the powers that be are apt to have you hauled away as a freak if you aren't talking to yourself.
Just Like Heaven is essentially the type of cheesy, romantic schmaltz that will probably score a lot of entertainment points with hormonally overcharged 15 year-old girls. For the rest of us, it isn't painful, but then, neither is watching paint dry. Given the choice between the two, I'd probably toss a coin next time.
Last year, the Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature, in a year of remarkable documentaries was an outstanding film about penguins. This year, the winner of the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in a year of remarkable animated films will likely be a film about, yes, penguins. This isn't just the best animated movie of the year. A pretty good case could be made for awarding this the best movie of the year period.
Now, there is every reason why I should have been prepared to pluck this movie bare. We intended to see it on the IMAX screen, which involves driving clear across Denver. Figuring that we would need to get there at least an hour early. I picked a route that would avoid most of Denver's nightmare traffic at rush hour. That part worked out just fine.
However, Denver's new light rail link opened yesterday, and one of the principle stations is directly across the street from the theater, so parking was a nightmare. RTD is offering free rides on the new light rail for the first weekend, so everyone is trying it out. Then everyone else in Denver decided they wanted to see this movie in IMAX too, consequently the hour we gave ourselves proved insufficent.
The seven o'clock showing was already sold out despite our arriving somewhat before 6. We didn't want to stick around for the 9:30 presentation, so we bought tickets for the regular screen presentation at 6:30 instead, and postponed dinner until AFTER the movie. With the combination of heavy traffic around the theater (expected). nightmare parking (unexpected). driving across town to a show already sold out (unexpected), having to postpone dinner and ending up seeing the movie on the regular sized screen, which I could have journeyed exactly 5 blocks to do instead of driving across Denver, I was pretty much prepared to take it out on somebody's movie.
Fortunately, this is a film that is pretty hard to blast apart. Not only is the animation superior, but it has a story which is both interesting and surprisingly complex for an animated film. Some critics are punishing this movie for its overly complex plot, but they are typically the same ones that slam other animated features for being too shallow. Maybe they should stick with other types of films.
What you have here is a throwback Busby Berkeley musical with an array of modern music and the most amazing CGI graphics yet accomplished. The gammit of musical styles can be a bit disconcerting, but this film also features one of the best soundtracks overall of any movie we've seen for awhile. Some of the scenes are so realistic looking that it's difficult at times to remember that this is an animated film.
The plotline contains elements of expressing the importance of individuality, the appropriate and inappropriate expressions of religion in society and most importantly, an interesting and important commentary on human stewardship of the planet. All too often we human folk are inclined to forget that the dominion we have been granted over the earth is not a license to carelessly spend the planet's resources on our whims and desires for short term profit. Rather, it's an enormous responsibility which requires that we use our intelligence and technological capabilities in a fashion which will benefit and safeguard the planet's inhabitants for the long term. We are receiving a decidedly failing grade.
There are a few challenges associated with this film that parents might want to consider, especially if you are considering taking small children. First of all, this is very nearly a two hour film. A great deal of the plotline is somewhat beyond the reach of young children, so sitting through it could be a burden for some. I didn't notice many children getting restless, but very young children might find the running time a bit excessive.
The second problem deals with the inordinate number of coming attractions that led off the presentation. At the screening we saw, something on the order of 8 trailers were shown, which might cause young children to become restless even before the film begins. One of the trailers was for next year's installment of the Harry Potter series. I think it's entitled Harry Potter and the Calling of Advanced Puberty.
Finally, it should be noted that there are at least 3 scenes in this film that might be frightening for young children. The penguin characters have the face most of the perils that complicate the lives of real penguins along the way, including carnivorous birds, lion seals and Orcas. While none of the film's characters end up being anyone's dinner, there are scenes involving some extremely close calls which might not set well with extremely small children.
All that said and noted, Happy Feet is the most rewarding movie going experience of the year to date. I thought it would be hard to top the summer's leading animated feature Cars, but this film knocks it out in the first round. With only Charlotte's Web, a combination live action and CGI film still to open, this appears to be the run away leader in family fare for 2006.
Previously: Narnia II: Prince Caspian:
If The Golden Compass had an interesting story, a few likeable characters, no cowboy, no polar bears, better weather, menacing villians and better special effects, it would be a lot like Prince Caspian. But then again, if the Colorado Rockies had a manager with half a brain, some decent pitching, a few guys who were hitting and a few guys in the bullpen who could protect a lead, they'd be the Diamondbacks.
As the story opens, a year has passed for the four Pevensie brats. In Narnia, 1300 years have passed, and for us, three years have gone by; talk about a temporal goulache. Of course, three years have also passed for the actors who portray the Pevensies, distracting us for a moment as we ponder whether or not they are all being played by the same actors (they are).
As close as I could tell, the first journey to Narnia didn't improve any of their personalities. In fact, they all appear to be even more insufferable in the second installment. Peter (William Moseley) has become so obnoxious that our first view of him is in the middle of a fight against virtually all the other boys in the train station. The guess here is that he gets ganged up on and beaten often.
Susan (Anna Popplewell) is a vain diva who is absolutely convinced that the attentions of any male that doesn't reside on Mt. Olympus is beneath her consideration, which should severely compromise her social opportunities. Edmund (Skandar Keynes) carries himself with such an air of arrogance that you'd swear most of the population follows him into the restroom just to collect the gold bricks he excretes. Then we have poor little Lucy (Georgie Henley...think her parents wanted a boy?) who is clearly lacking in postive sibling role models; talk about a train wreck waiting to happen. Oops! I probably shouldn't give away the ending of the very last story.
Things are pretty dismal in Narnia too. The land has been invaded by outsiders to have snapped up all the prime real estate for the purpose of erecting spooky castles. All the cute talking animals and centaurs have been driven into hiding deep in the woods. It isn't immediately evident that Narnia is exactly land poor, and there is probably room enough for everyone. But for some reason, the resident Narnians were unable to maintain their own kingdom after the Pevensies left.
By my way of thinking, if the leadership vacuum in Narnia was really that severe, the residents probably got what was coming to them. If they couldn't find a worthy leader to supplant 4 annoying brats, it probably wasn't a kingdom worth saving. If you need the Pevensies to bail you out of any situation, I'd say you are probably already screwed.
Meanwhile, the presumptive future leader of the new ruling class in Narnia is young Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), who is considerably older in the movie than in the book. he seems wise and kindly, but his uncle has aspirations to turn his own bloodline into the ruling class. When Caspian's aunt produces a male child, his uncle attempts to assasinate Caspian and lay claim to the throne. Caspian excapes just in time, taking with him a horn which has the power to summon the legendary kings and queens of old. Caspian blows the horn, opening a portal to Narnia to the Pevensies. It happens just in time to prevent Peter from being beaten to a pulp.
Caspian manages to befriend several Narnians, who pledge to help him regain his throne if he helps them regain their previous freedoms. The Narnians believe they have found a strong new leader who, along with the legendary kings and queens of old, will return the land to its previous glories. Little do they know that they are pinning their hopes on the painfully irritating Pevensie siblings.
The initial meeting between the boorish Pevensies and Caspian is among the film's most entertaining moments. Edmund treats the poor prince like pond slime, while Susan sends him a continuous series of "You know you want to do me, but you never will so eat your pathetic heart out" looks. Peter just wants to pick a fight with anyone he can find, while Lucy pines away for Aslan. The mighty lion is more or less a no show in this story, not putting in an appearance until absolutely necessary very late in the film. Perhaps the polar bears in The Golden Compass should exercise similar discretion. Or maybe Aslan just can't stand the company of the Pevensies for any length of time. I can't blame him.
Prince Caspian is a pretty good movie, but not suitable for younger children. There are several rather violent battle scenes, and the 140 minute running time will be a bit much for children under 10. The film is a bit of a tedious blabfest early on as well, which will challenge young attention spans. Nonetheless, the film is entertaining for an age appropriate audience, and worth a look.
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