Wednesday, July 23, 2008
2008's Space Chimps is the first directorial effort of Kirk DeMicco and it's good at best. DeMicco is new to directing, but he's produced several other kids movies like Racing Stripes and I had high hopes for this flick b/c it's produced by The Weinstein Company (previously Miramax) and stars some great people like Patrick Warburton, Andy Samberg and Stanley Tucci, but I was largely disappointed. This movie was like so many movies for kids of late, whether it's Shark's Tale, Madagascar, The Wild or...say...Racing Stripes, in that it doesn't focus on story and in fact seems to care very little about story, relying instead on easy, very predictable plotlines and stupid humor that doesn't even get my seven-year-old laughing. This is why when a kid's movie w/ a decent amount of emphasis on story comes along (like say Finding Nemo or Over the Hedge) it's talked about w/ a reverence generally reserved for classics like Citizen Cane. Space Chimps falls right in line w/ most of the typical movies that come out for kids now-a-day's. It tells the story of a chimp who's never amounted to anything, much less his famous grandpa (the first animal in space), who suddenly has the chance to be a hero. Problem is he doesn't really want to be one. Here's a shocker though, in the end he turns out to be a hero all along. I'll wait for you to finish gasping. Done? Ok. It's not all bad though. The scientists did make me laugh now and again. And while the visuals and audio both are generally subpar, I did like that the the movie had a sweetness and innocence to it that most kid movies lately don't have. There aren't the now regular fart jokes, random cuss words and far too intense violent moments. Outside of Pixar, most studios are producing animated movies full of crass humor and inappropriately scary moments, but not this one, it's just a simple, sweet story. I liked that. It's not enough to make up for the bad, but this would certainly be worth a rental if you have a young kid and are wanting a safe movie w/ a good hearted message.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
2008 Sundance Audience Award winner by Jonathan Levine (who hasn't done anything else you've heard of) that focuses on that crucial period in lead character Luke Shapiro's life, the summer after high school graduation and before college. What if I told you there was a movie out there were a pot dealing teenager is the most grounded, sane, innocent person in a film? Well, that's what's going on here. Luke is 18-ish and is spending his last summer trying his damndest to sell enough weed to make enough money to go to college and abandon his loser-ish life at home and at high school. Along the way he meets Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley), a character that seems to stem from the dreams of the late Hunter S. Thompson, and his intoxicating stepdaughter (the girl from Juno that's not Juno, the other teenager, you know the one). Dr. Squires is a pothead and a psychologist. who agrees to give Luke complimentary seesion if Luke will "pay" w/ weed. Problem is, Luke falls head over bong for the good doctors stepdaughter. And so begins a story about two very different people (Squires and Shapiro) who are trying over this summer to figure out both who they are and who they want to be and maybe find a little love along the way. Ben Kingsley plays Dr. Squires to perfection and with an irony that is just simply thick (as in, he's a psych who's much more messed up than his patients). But now the real surprise in this movie is Josh Peck who played Luke. Peck is best known as the chubby comedy kid from the Disney Channel. He's been in all their pre-teen comedy crap for years, be it The Amanda Show or Josh&Drake. Here he gives a performance that feels so confident and natural that he actually overshadows the great Ben Kingsley. I couldn't believe it. I absolutely loved this performance. Peck's Shapiro is cool, smart and very very brave and yet at the same time vulnerable, naiive and innocent. I really liked this movie and found myself thinking about it for well beyond the time it was on screen. It does drag a bit at times and could've used a more cohesive vision, but overall I really did love it and thought the performances, especially of the leads, were just fantastic. And the whole movie is packed w/ style, I mean, the visuals are amazing for the budget. I hate that this flick is playing almost nowhere, but if it's in your town and your looking for something a little different, check it out. It's a truly decent flick that's totally flying under the radar.
Friday, July 4, 2008
2008 brings another Pixar movie and like all the others, this one is fantastic. Pixar takes making kids movies seriously. They work on the visuals, the performances and the story like someone trying to truly impress and entertain. Too often filmmakers and studios churn kid flicks out, knowing they'll make money no matter how bad they are. Not Pixar, they put the time, heart, money and talent into every pic, no exceptions and Wall-E doesn't fall short of that standard. Wall-E is directed and written by Andrew Stanton, he's the bad mutha who brought us things like both Toy Story's, A Bug's Life and Finding Nemo. Like those, this film is essentially about the little guy overcoming vast odds and in the process finding real love and friendship. In this case, the little guy isn't an ant or a toy, but a robot whose only friend left on an abandoned Earth is a cockroach. You see we humans have so trashed earth by the year 2110 that it's uninhabitable. Corporations have built large spaceships that resemble cruiseships, and we've been out in orbit stuffing our faces and sitting on our duffs for the last 700 years. Meanwhile tons of robots are back on Earth cleaning up our mess. Wall-E is one of them, but over the centuries he's become the only one left. All of a sudden another robot shows up scanning the Earth to see if it's inhabitable again. And the story takes off from there as Wall-E and the other robot (Eva) bond and make their way back out to that giant spaceship. The movie is very endearing and actually left me thinking about it long after it was over. That said, it might not be for everyone. There's almost no talking in the film and none at all for the first third or so. It's a very very very simple movie. There's nothing clouding it up at all. It's just about the most simple, straightforward feature length cartoon I've ever seen. For that reason, some people will love it for it's universal approach and it's minimalism, while other might get bored as hell. I have a feeling that this one won't be as easy to swallow as Stanton's others and may well go down as an overlooked jewel in the Pixar collection, like Fantasia is to Disney or The Secret of NIMH is to Don Bluth. So, what I'm saying is, I loved it, but it is pretty different in it's approach and it's likely not for everyone.