Published: Tuesday, 02 June 2009 09:13
Up, Up ... And Above Kids' Heads?
Just because it's a cartoon doesn't mean it's for kids.
By Rachel Wallace
Up is the latest release from Pixar, the same people who brought you Wall-E, Toy Story, and Monsters, Inc.
The trailer for the movie is deceiving. In the previews, you see Carl Fredricksen (Edward Asner) tie thousands of balloons to his house and fly away, getting stuck with a young boy who happened to be standing on his porch at the time he took off. They are in a jungle. There is a bird and a talking dog, and another older character, voiced by Christopher Plummer. Carl comes across as almost a hermit, grouchy in his old age and not happy to be there. Humor ensues!
Seeing the movie, you actually learn that Carl has led a full life, thanks to an animated montage that could easily bring you to tears. He meets his future wife as a young boy and they have the dream of going to South America and living on top of the Falls of Paradise. You watch them grow old together and living their lives. Carl is not a hermit, but rather a man who holds onto the memory of his wife and the fact that he never got her to the Falls of Paradise. When he creates a scene in front of his home with a construction worker, he begins his flying adventure with his stowaway Russell, a young Wilderness Adventure scout.
Up finds itself in the same predicament that Wall-E faced. Through a good chunk of the beginning of the movie there is almost no dialogue and, when there is speaking, it’s elevated language that might escape a younger child. Once the house and the characters enter the jungle, the pace, dialogue and comedy picks up. If a child can sit still long enough, this is where they begin to enjoy themselves. The movie is actually very dark with its themes, although it’s disguised well with bright colors and comedy. But even a lot of the humor was subtler. There were physical gags, but not like in Monsters, Inc., where there’s one at every turn. Most of the child’s humor was sparked by Russell. Overall, the theatre remained pretty void of kids’ laughter — they seemed to be more interested in their popcorn and going to the bathroom.
I am of the opinion that Pixar is attempting to grow with its audience. Toy Story is for a whole different age level than Up. While the earlier Pixar movies were kids movies an adult could enjoy, Up is an adult movie kids might enjoy.
A strong word of warning: if your child has any fear of dogs, I would not recommend this movie. There is an army of attack dogs consisting of rottweilers, pit bulls and bulldogs. Doug is the loveable dog on the commercials, but he is the only of his kind. There are also a lot of moments that involve extreme heights. Characters almost fall out of the floating house multiple times, the dog pack dives off a cliff (although they do pan down and you see the dogs swimming away), and the bad guy is tossed off of the blimp above the clouds. Blood is shown twice, once when Carl thwacks a man on the head and once when the bird is bit by a dog. The movie quickly goes from lighthearted walking through the forest to serious action and being chased by the bad guys. There are dog chases; there is an attempt to set the house on fire and an epic old-man battle which starts out pretty humorous. While I enjoyed it, I looked over at the four-year-old sitting next to me and discovered she kept her eyes covered through most of it. I noticed no bad language, but there was a relatively high violence factor. Lots of dog bites and swinging of canes. There is also a gun which is fired twice, but no one gets shot.
It is a wonderful movie for adults, and I could recommend it to anyone with an age in double digits. The characters have wonderful depth and life to them, the storyline is a wonderful mix of reality and fantasy and the combination makes the movie one of the best of the year.
Previews included Shorts, Astro Boy, Ice Age 3, Imagine That, G Force, The Princess and the Frog, and the Pixar short “Partly Cloudy” which also includes no dialogue, but it’s short and cute about how babies are made by the clouds and delivered by storks.
Rachel Wallace lives in Southern Maryland. She just graduated with a BA in Stage Direction and Management with a minor in English from Greensboro College.
Published: Friday, 05 June 2009 09:17
Saturday morning meets Saturday Night in a brave new Land
By Jared Peterson
If you've ever wondered what a $100-million-dollar comedy sketch would be like, look no further than Land of the Lost, the big-screen update of the ‘70s cult TV series. But the huge sets and blockbuster special effects never take you too far away from the campy feel of the original, nor do they hinder the nimble comedic skill that has brought Will Farrell from improv to SNL to unlikely movie stardom. Ferrell is Dr. Rick Marshall—a scientist, author, and self-important boob who has some crazy ideas involving time-travel. He makes it all the way to the “Today Show”, only to be laughed back into obscurity after picking a fight with Matt Lauer. Rick’s only champion is Holly Cantrell (the adorable, imported Anna Friel), a plucky British doctoral candidate who inexplicably idolizes him. She’d follow him into hell, or, in this case, a roadside tourist trap in the desert, where Rick hopes to open a doorway in time with his homemade time machine, a jury-rigged contraption that periodically spits out numbers from A Chorus Line. (Just a stubborn glitch lodged in the memory, he explains. I’ll say.) They board a cheesy flume ride led by a crass redneck named Will (the up-and-coming Danny McBride), the showtune-mo-tron kicks on and the three are sucked down into an alternate universe. Across its wastes is strewn the detritus of history—a Viking ship, a cheap motel, the Titanic, and the skeletal remains of all who’ve come before. They quickly befriend an ape-boy called Cha-Ka (Jorma Taccone), and then they’re off, fleeing for their lives from the kinds of pests you’d expect on a camping trip gone crazy: super-sized insects, average-sized dinosaurs and man-sized lizards called Sleestaks.
Hilarity ensues. No, really. Farrell, having cornered the market on blustering ineptitude, is given free rein here to do what he does best—namely, to dig his character deeper and deeper into quagmires of well-deserved embarrassment, all for our amusement. It’s hard to steal the show from him, but the mercurial McBride occasionally pulls it off; they work very well together, and there were times when I couldn’t honestly tell whether the dialogue was partly or even completely improvised. Regardless, credit is due director Brad Silberling and writers Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas for fostering this loose, improv-comedy style, or for simply stepping out of its way. It’s especially impressive given the extravagances of the frenetic, effects-laden action-adventure production. Blessedly, the film doesn’t take itself the least bit seriously. And what better set-up for that wry, sketch-comedy feel than a fantasy world where anything’s possible, the grosser the better. One downside to the freestyle vibe is a meandering pace in some of the bits. That urge to keep the joke going and going fits in with the conspiratorial, juvenile glee in the proceedings—easily overlooked, of course, if you’re in a juvenile mood, too. Take one scene in which Rick pours dinosaur urine on himself to fool the beasts that are chasing him. Puerile, gross… and pretty funny. But in Farrell’s hands it becomes an aria of exponential misfortune, a seemingly endless pile-up of worse ideas upon bad. And—if you’ll pardon the expression—it’s comedy gold.
Despite this scatological bent, or maybe because of it, the film is being marketed as fun for the whole family. I won’t argue the point, but there’s no question Land of the Lost is PG-plus. The standard curses, including a silently mouthed “F-you,” are all there, expanded upon in inventive flourishes and variations. (Looking for three or four euphemisms for a dinosaur’s private parts? Bring a pen.) There are many off-color comments, some rather rude; references to the classics of bedroom and bathroom humor; plus some good old-fashioned groping—Cha-Ka’s preferred method of introduction. We see Farrell shirtless—whether that’s sex or violence I can’t quite say—catch the occasional glance at Holly’s cleavage, and set eyes on a gaggle of native women in nothing but beaded loincloths and strategically draping hair. Characters make reference to marijuana, and there’s an extended scene with the boys babbling on and nursing the munchies under the influence of some exotic, berry-based narcotic.
There’s a bit of a scare factor here as well. Much of the film’s massive budget has been spent exploring the grosser or meaner sides of God’s creatures. After Rick manages to insult the smarts of an unusually intelligent T-rex it spends the rest of the movie chasing him and our heroes around, roaring and bellowing and snapping the whole way—the sound alone might easily spook the kids. The Sleestaks are slow attackers, just like in the original, but they advance with zombie-esque determination and hiss through rows of piranha-like teeth, which could be kind of unsettling, too. Add to this a little something for every phobia: swooping flocks of giant, red bats; a scuttling, charging crab the size of a Red Lobster (and just as tasty, it turns out); a brood of spiders that scatter from a giant piece of fruit; and an outsized mosquito that drains at least a gallon of Rick’s blood. Swarming velociraptors dismember a wayward, time-travelling ice cream man—no blood there, but still—and a few Sleestaks get devoured or burned up in a lava pit.
The trailer for Funny People, the new film from Judd Apatow, contains a few essentially harmless put-downs—and the complete plot of the movie. Seriously, unless it turns out Adam Sandler’s been dead the whole time, Sixth Sense-style, I think there’ll be few surprises. I’ll still go see it, though.
Jared Peterson most recently reviewed Dance Flick. He has an idea for a big-budget remake of Far Out Space Nuts. What? It could happen.
Published: Monday, 29 June 2009 12:29
Go, ‘Bot, Go
The director of Armageddon and Pearl Harbor ratchets up the effects
By Jared Peterson
With his second film based on the line of Transformers toys, action director Michael Bay is getting audiences back in touch with two key experiences of childhood: playing with really cool stuff, and needing a nap afterwards.
Revenge of the Fallen picks up two years after the shenanigans of the first film, in which Sam Witwicky (action it-boy Shia LeBeouf) was caught up in a war between the user-friendly Autobots and the fearsome Decepticons over a giant energy cube called the Allspark. The good guys won, but the cube was destroyed and remnants of the evil forces remain a threat. Sam made out okay, though, walking away with an almost unmanageably hot girlfriend (the almost unmanageably hot Megan Fox) and a stalwart robot protector called Bumblebee who handily doubles as a tricked-out Camaro. (This is the point where every other teenage boy in the universe hears his alarm clock and wakes up.) The remaining Autobots patrol the world with a secret squad of soldiers, looking for malicious hardware. Though they’re robots in disguise, their battles regularly reduce city streets around the world to rubble (and the world, apparently, barely notices). Sam heads to college, but a leftover shard of the Allspark triggers visions of alien symbols that lead to the deepest secrets of the robots’ origins. This once again makes him the target of the Decepticons and their increasingly elaborate mechanical monsters.
It’s this elaboration that makes Transformers such an exhausting experience. Early on, I knew what we were in for when our robot leading man, Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) descends into battle. As a gleaming tractor trailer, he rolls out of the back of a military transport plane, deploying parachutes to slow the fall. Midair, he morphs loudly into his armored robot self, tucks and rolls onto a highway, rumbles back into truck form and screeches off. It’s awesome, and fans will flip their lids. But not a scene goes by where we aren’t treated to that kind of whiz-bang lavishness. Everything Bay and his team could possibly think of made it into this nearly two-and-a-half hour film. He loves his hardware and wouldn’t have us miss a second of its machinations, even if it plum tuckers us out.
Speaking of hardware, throughout his career Bay has displayed a special talent for bringing to light the most stunning actresses and exposing them, somewhat literally, for the world. These women have all had one thing in common: they all look like they were drawn up by a production team. Megan Fox may be the pinnacle of this process—she appears to have been engineered from the ground up to make boys from eight to eighty go slack-jawed. Bay can’t hide his fascination with her mechanics as well, dressing her in slender tank tops and theoretical shorts, spraying her with PAM and having her arch and saunter just so. Fox may be a capable actress, but who could say? Bay doesn’t care—he just wants us to have multiple angles on her thighs. Like so much here, it may be too much of a good thing.
Humanity takes a beating at the hands of robotkind. Transformers both good and bad leave spectacular destruction in their wakes. (In the disorienting visual frenzy its often hard to isolate the bad guys—I found it helpful to listen for the growling.) Buildings topple or disintegrate; a naval carrier group is decimated (with lingering shots of lifeless bodies sinking with the wreckage); and military personnel and non-transforming vehicles are shot up, flung about, and crushed underfoot. One soldier is cut in half by a sword blade—it happens fast, with no blood—and there are other close calls with blades of various kinds. Slimy robot tentacles are deployed on a couple of occasions to invade characters’ personal spaces. Oddly, robot carnage makes its mark, too—Transformers look almost human when they’re ripping one another’s spines out or being drained of their jiffy lubricants. The action is relentless and chaotic; what passes for a breather is “slapstick” involving multiple Taser incidents (bro-on-bro violence) and a girl smashing her noggin on a dashboard.
At the college, Sam’s mom (Julie White) accepts a brownie from a passing student; it makes her feel funny and act silly. A frat party is depicted with booze and barely dressed coeds on offer. As mentioned, Megan Fox is the film’s candy center, but another barely-clothed temptress (Isabel Lucas) arrives to create trouble. When she corners Sam in a compromising position, her dress inches up to reveal her panties and her true nature as a robot—a slithering metal tentacle with which she tries to dispatch him. Elsewhere, evil robot interrogators use worm-like appendages to dig around in Sam’s brain through his mouth and nose. There’s also some fearsome snarling and stalking by a robot panther. Oh, and front and rear views of John Turturro in an unsettling jock strap. There’s a lot of swearing, including the odd “frick” and “flip”; gross, juvenile references to body parts; and some uncomfortably stereotypical banter between twin robot brothers with hip, urban sass.
The next big toy story due in theaters is G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra; its preview contains a lot of property damage, to include a toppling Eiffel Tower, and a few gymnastic martial arts moves.
Jared Peterson will just have to wait for the release of Weebles: The Wobble of Egghead. He last reviewed Land of the Lost.
Published: Wednesday, 01 July 2009 10:00
Ice Age digs deep for comedy gold
By Jared Peterson
The misfit mammals of Ice Age have returned for a third adventure, this time tangling with the remnants of prehistory’s hefty reptiles. As in the first two films, Dawn of the Dinosaurs follows the adventures of an unlikely herd, a motley assortment of creatures that have come together to form a surrogate family. Having found love, Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano) is expecting his first child with his mate Ellie (Queen Latifah). Sid (John Leguizamo), a hapless and goofy sloth, catches baby fever from them, but has no dating opportunities of his own. One day, he stumbles across a clutch of huge eggs nestled in a cave. Thinking they’re abandoned, he gathers them up and decides to raise them on his own. The hatchlings turn out to be tiny dinosaurs, a species that’s supposed to be extinct—facts Sid is too dim and too sweet to let faze him. When Dino-Mommy comes to reclaim her brood, Sid gives chase, following them into a lush, underground rainforest where the dinosaurs have been thriving all along. Manny, Ellie and friends reluctantly tag along on Sid’s search. They enlist the services of a one-eyed, mentally unstable weasel named Buck (Simon Pegg) to lead them into the depths of this lost land, to help Sid reunite with his little big ones.
Following the family film paradigm set by Toy Story and Shrek, Dawn of the Dinosaurs combines buoyant cartoon action with witty humor aimed at the parents who have guided their kids to the theaters. The mammoths and tigers and sloths make knowing quips about therapy and baby-proofing and playdates, and the movie offers a wide range of clever cultural references to everything from "The Flintstones" to Dante’s Inferno. Directors Carlos Saldanha and Mike Thurmeier focus as much on the physicality of the comedy as on the scripting, and the subtle expressions and crack comic timing evoke the joys of some of the old-school Warner Bros. shorts. The voice work is a bit uneven. As Manny, Romano is supposed to be exasperated, but here he just sounds tired, and Queen Latifah never quite gets her timing right. On the other hand, Leguizamo does a great job of conveying Sid’s touching, eager foolishness. (The lisping voice seems to have been at least partly inspired by his impression of the sweet and dopey kid brother from Leguizamo’s one-man Broadway memoir.) Pegg, fast becoming the most reliable British comedian of our age, is also fantastic as Buck, the unhinged outdoorsman whose reveries make for some good absurdist comedy.
The best bits—and the ones most reminiscent of the cartoon classics—are reserved for Scrat, an unlucky squirrel still just trying to get a nut. This time around, a lovely lady squirrel called Scratté thwarts his efforts. She uses feminine wiles to yank the coveted acorn from his clutches, making their scenes smell sweetly of Pepe Le Pew and his love-hate exploits.
The action is mostly cartoony bonk and boom, with the requisite fights and falls and liberties taken with physics. The harshest of the slapstick involves a kick in the groin. There are plenty of close calls, and some segments might upset the little ones. Velociraptors hiss, sidle and snap, and T-Rexes growl, roar and charge—events made all the scarier in the film’s 3-D format (see more below). A couple of characters are swallowed and nearly digested by a swallowed by a huge T-Rex, and later a giant Venus flytrap—they make it out slimy but unharmed. We see treacherous lava floes and dino-skeletons in the underground caves. There are bits with snot here and gas there, all in good fun. Sid, hoping to provide milk for his adopted babies, attempts to sneakily milk a bison—whatever was under there made him realize the “she” was actually a “he”. Adventurer Buck carries a knife fashioned from a dinosaur tooth, but he mostly uses it as a tool rather than a weapon. There are three or four uses of the word “butt”, and one comment about a nipple; speaking of which, another sight gag involves Scrat getting an unplanned chest wax while wrestling with Scratté through a tar pit—do not try at home.
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is being presented in Digital 3-D. This makes for oohs and ahs—and also jumps and starts, depending on how scary the thing is that’s heading right at you. The glasses were a little less versatile than some others I’ve encountered, and I found them a little hard to keep on over my own spectacles. Since most shots contain at least some 3-D elements, watching without them is not an option.
No previews were available this week.
Jared Peterson lives in fear of the coming Humid Age. He last reviewed Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
Published: Friday, 10 July 2009 14:16
Editor's note: The following review contains relatively explicit descriptions of sexual activity. We do not intend to offend anyone, but the point of doing these reviews is so parents know exactly what is in the films their kids want to see. And, frankly, there was no good way to write indirectly about some of the content in Bruno.
The man behind Borat is back to carpet-bomb your comfort zone.
By Jared Peterson
In the new film Brüno, Sasha Baron Cohen, the comedian/chameleon responsible for the real-life exploits of fictional louts like Ali G. and Borat Sagdiyev, sets a new standard for indelicacy. He once again demonstrates that he will do whatever it takes to make sure you cannot believe what you just saw him do.
Brüno is an Austrian fashion reporter, on the outs in the fashion world for a series of public faux pas. Ruined and desperate for the spotlight, any spotlight, he travels to America, the promised land of celebrity obsession, to seek fame and fortune on the cheap. His attempts at pop legitimacy cover the usual bases: taping a celebrity talk fest (punctuated with close-ups of his genitalia), adopting an African baby (which he checks as baggage on the flight home), and contriving to make a sex tape (with politician Ron Paul as his unwitting partner). When all of his plans go bust, he reasons that the snag must be his flamboyant homosexuality, and the film shifts its focus to document his efforts to “convert” to the other team in order to smooth the way to success. Brüno heads to the American South, naturally, to enlist the help of clergymen, drill sergeants, karate instructors and backwoods hunters in his bid to play it straight. But he proves to be both set in his ways and insatiable in his appetites. Crass and oblivious, he cuts a wide swath through our cultural landscape, leaving only angry, bewildered and mortified citizens in his wake.
Love him or hate him, Cohen is an expert provocateur, and tireless in his pursuit of maximum outrageousness. Like his other characters, Brüno is both a fool and a lens that magnifies the foolishness of others. His shenanigans often reveal the absurdities and hypocrisies that lie along the cherished paths of the straight and narrow. There can be no better example of this than the climactic scene of the film, in which Brüno appears reborn as “Straight Dave”, a mutton-chopped man’s man in sleeveless army camouflage. He rallies the crowd at an ultimate-fighting cage match by spitting homophobic vitriol, and when he receives a challenge from Lutz (Gustav Hammarsten), a spurned lover and former assistant, the two are locked in the cage to fight it out. The house goes crazy, hooting and cheering and reveling in the sweaty aggression they paid for, but when the grappling turns tender, and the two kiss and fall to the floor in a lovers’ embrace, a dizzying social reversal takes place. The fans are beside themselves—they avert their eyes or stare in horror; they scream and rail and shout profanity-laced protests (which take on an unintentionally supportive sexual connotation). Some claw desperately at the cage, a few burst into tears, powerless to stop the defiling of their altar of violence. It’s magic. When the fight is what you want, the cage is part of the thrill. But when the nature of the beast changes, the worm turns, and what holds the horror in just as effectively keeps the horrified out.
Brüno originally received an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America; I shudder to think of what the filmmakers cut in order to garner a very hard R. Put simply, the content here is thoroughly inappropriate for children. Several scenes involve sustained, detailed, graphic depictions of hetero- and homosexual sex acts. Some are simulated; others are not. In most, the intersection where body parts touch is redacted with a black bar or box—for whatever that’s worth—but elsewhere the naughty parts are graphically, even gleefully displayed. We are subjected to a close-up penile puppet show, elaborate sex games and the bare-bodied sex of swinging couples. Bondage equipment and other sexual implements are shown in use. Indignities are doled out with all-inclusive abandon. In one scene, Mexican day laborers are used as furniture and a naked man is rolled out as a serving platter. There are jokes at the expense of autism, several references to Hitler, and one quip comparing a fashion show to a slave auction (that last one not entirely unfair, I think). There is lots of swearing and sexually explicit talk throughout, some of it derogatory of gays. As mentioned, the movie features cage-match violence and the apparent endangerment of children.
Neither for the young nor the squeamish, Brüno is a dubious achievement in the theater of embarrassment that is now one of our culture’s livelier arts. Enter at your own risk.
The film Funny People is about stand-up comedians. Stand-up comedians tell jokes, and jokes are sometimes dirty, and so this “red-band” trailer—the kind shown only before age-restricted films—has some dirty jokes, including quips about oral sex and violence against prostitutes.
Jared Peterson thinks there ought to be detox tents outside some movies. He most recently reviewed Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.