Monday, March 29, 2010

The Princess and the Frog

2009’s The Princess and the Frog is Disney’s attempt to revive the more classic Disney and pair it along the new Disney. So, they hired the directors of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, had the whole thing done by hand drawing and then paired its release with the release of Up. And both the story and the visuals certainly seem old school.
The flick tells the tale of Tiana, a good-hearted, but born into poverty, New Orleans girl who seems to have a divine gift for Cajun cuisine. Problem is, no matter how great she seems to be, she just doesn’t have the money or clout to open up her own restaurant. Suddenly a frog shows up at her window sill saying he is a prince and if she kisses him he’ll be turned back into a human and will give her all the money she needs to open that restaurant. Well, she does it. Problem is, not only does he not turn into a human, but she actually turns into a frog. Oh, and he’s broke anyway, so the whole ‘I’ll give you all the money you need’ thing was a crock. Tiana and Prince Naveen must now find a sympathetic voodoo practitioner who will help them undo the spell that the nasty Dr. Facilier put on Prince Naveen.
There are really two things I wanna say about this movie. One, the whole thing felt incredibly simple-minded and formulaic. Let’s start with the fact that Tiana has tried for decades to get a restaurant going. Not only does she work in two different restaurants but she knows arguably the richest, most powerful man in town. Not only does she know him, but she’s been best friends with his daughter since she was a little girl. So, if she has an otherworldly talent for cooking and has major, powerful connections, what the heck’s the problem? I mean, I know she’s poor, but surely this dude could at least get her a bank loan. I like the idea of doing some classic Disney, but this didn’t seem like a thoughtful homage as much as a recycling. They might as well have just taken a few older Disney classics, mixed them together, placed it in New Orleans and called it a day. It was way too predictable and forgettable.
However, this leads me to my second point. Disney knows who they are talking to, and, here, they were not talking to a 30-something film geek. They were, however, talking to grade school-aged girls. The girls in the audience, my 8-year-old daughter included, freaking loved it. I kid you not, my daughter literally hugged me at a point in the movie. They all stared unblinkingly at the screen with fantasy and romance plastered on their faces and gobbled up every second of it. While I may have thought it a giant bore, Disney wasn’t talking to me and the audience they were talking to heard them loud and clear.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


In the early 80’s Tobe Hooper was killing it in Hollywood. This no-name from Austin was making one successful horror flick after another. For only $70k, he made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (arguably one of the top horror movies of all time). He followed this with other successes like Salem’s Lot and Poltergeist. Cannon Pictures offered him a three picture deal and everyone wanted to work with him. Then, Lifeforce changed his filmmaking career. Why, you ask? Because it was so awful that, despite his track record and influence (after all, his last movie was a co-production with Steven Spielberg), no one wanted anything to do with it or, it seemed, him. He never again gained the prominence in the industry he so briefly enjoyed.
You may know why after I sum up the plot in three simple words: Vampires…in Space. You heard me. Lifeforce is about a crew of British astronauts (why British I will never know) who come upon a space ship in Haley’s Comet that is 150 miles long. Yeah, you heard me again. Inside they find the drained bodies of several odd, alien-like creatures and three perfectly preserved nude humans inside force fields. Sheesh. Well, these humans turn out not to be humans but space vampires and the world may well be screwed because they’re coming a courting in London town.
This movie has alot of great ingredients, a fantastic director, the writer of Alien, Aliens and Dune, and an Academy Award winning special effects artist, but it is so bad that the female lead, Mathilda May, filed to have it officially taken off her filmography. Patrick Stewart publicly denounced his support of the film (he has a small part). And the movie lost tons of money. Lifeforce is proof that all the right ingredients won’t make up for uber crappy execution. Everything about this movie is bad. I could go into individual examples, but just think in your head of an element of a movie and I can guarantee you that Lifeforce’s version of that element is terrible. Just trust me. It's not even campy bad, it's simply bad.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Shorts is a 2009 family flick by Robert Rodriguez, who seems to have a split personality that allows him to release (in order) movies like Sin City, then Shark Boy and Lava Girl, then Planet Terror. Either way, one thing that runs through all his movies is a lighthearted approach to convention and shallow storytelling ability. You watch a Rodriguez movie because it’s going to be fun, not because it’s going to change your life. Shorts is no different.
In this flick, a rainbow colored rock is found at the end of the rainbow by three grade-school aged brothers, who soon learn the rock will grant anything you wish. Problem is, the kids and adults in the neighborhood who get their hands on the rock don’t look before they leap and, again and again, make poor wishing decisions. Before you know it, the place is run amok with things like talking babies, giant crocodiles and tiny aliens. Somehow, the residents have to figure out a way to turn things around before they get totally out of control.
The movie has the depth of a goofy Disney channel television show and the dialogue is just plain stupid at times, but I’m pretty sure I would’ve laughed and enjoyed myself as a kid. It almost seems like it was written by a kid, based on how they wish, and it’s acted almost entirely by kids. So, if you want a movie filled with adventure and fart and booger jokes, this is the one for you. If that’s not your cup-o-tea, then skip it, you won’t be missing much.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Gomorra is a 2008 Italian drama about the groundlevel, negative impact the mafia has on the people of Italy. Whether it’s revealing the realities of child couriers, sweat shops, toxic waste or neighborhood strangleholds, the movie attempts to show the viewer not the rich mob boss in his penthouse, but ugly effect those boss’s have on the people at the bottom of the heap. This is a fantastic idea for a story and the critics of the world seemed to love how Matteo Garrone pulled it off.
I’m gonna have to disagree. While the idea is great and the movie was well shot (I loved the cinematography approach they chose), the movie didn’t succeed with me because the scope was WAY too broad. They simply covered far too much, detailed far too many storylines and covered far too many characters. Granted, Garrone was clearly trying to give the viewer a wide angle on the problem because he feels the mob’s reach is wide. In other words, I have to show so much because they impact so much. Got it, but still, as a movie, it simply wasn’t very engaging because there was no story to get sucked into. I would’ve liked it a ton more if he had just limited his scope by a couple of the storylines. A movie just about two kids who run into trouble because they’re annoying the mob and the story about the toxic waste dumping would’ve likely been great.
For the second time in a row I’m going to suggest that a feature I watched would’ve been much better as a documentary, but it’s true both in Hunger’s case and here. The info is great and the problem of the mob is very real. Garrone’s same approach (the expansive examination) would make for a great doc, but as a feature, it’s does so much that, in the end, it does far too little.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Hunger is an Irish drama and was Irelands submission for the Best Foreign Feature Oscar this last year. In it, the awesomely named director Steve McQueen, gives the viewer a graphic look at true stories from the Non Compliant Prisoner wing of Ireland’s infamous Maze prison in 1980-81. In this wing, a group of 75 prisoners stage two strikes so they can be classified as political prisoners. First, they strike by not adhering to any of the prison’s hygiene rules. This means no bathing, no cutting hair, no using the latrine, no clothes or shoes, and so on. They then switch to a hunger strike that lasts weeks and leads to some terrible outcomes for some of the participants.
While I appreciate that McQueen didn’t explain everything, I would have liked this movie immensely more if he’d at least explained something. The viewer has no idea who these prisoners are, why they should be considered political prisoners, why they want political prisoner status, why the prison won’t grant them it, or, really, anything else. There’s literally one scene with dialogue in the entire movie and most of it is inconsequential. I like it when filmmakers hide the ball a bit and make me do some thinking and guessing, but this was ridiculous. And I like the point he was trying to make, that the point is how horrid the conditions were and that the ‘who’s and ‘why’s of the story don’t matter as much as ‘what’ happened. Ok, I get that, but if you wanna make a story that is engaging and interesting, make a proper feature. If you want to simply show the viewer the stark realities of Irish prisons or to expose the seedy underbelly of the Irish prison system and skip the story stuff, then make a documentary.
This movie was visually fantastic, but was way to austere with the story development. The end result was a moderately interesting and forgettable peak into a dark time and place in Ireland.
Saturday Afternoon

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Serious Man

It's not weird when a movie slips through the cracks, but it is strange to hear more about a movie after its release from anyone with a name. Usually anything by the Coen brothers is announced by trumpet or at least a small amount of fanfare. I can understand why A Serious Man received less to-do than say Burn After Reading, but at this point I'm pretty sure anything they slap together can be considered above average.

Larry Gopnik college math professor watches the world around him unravel as his marriage comes crashing down in an unexpected way. His son and daughter treat him as a utility, his brother can't seem to get it together and his tenure review at college is in danger of being denied because of a bribe attempt by a Korean student. Amidst the chaos, Larry searches for answers from his local Rabbis, hoping that one of them will be able to show meaning through all of life's trials... something that no math equation can solve.

If there is a moral to many of the Coen movies - it is that there is not necessarily a moral or meaning in many of life's struggles. This seems to be the hard point of their recent movies, and A Serious Man is no different. One wishes this movie were maybe as tight as the recent Burn After Reading for example, or even No Country for Old Men, but it wouldn't necessarily be appropriate if it were at the same time. Larry's broiling frustration and confusion are mirrored by the somewhat disjointed and claustrophobic pacing of the film. Not at all their easiest watch, and somewhat flawed by a lack of cohesion, but quite a few humorous and lighthearted moments highlight and lift a film that would otherwise be a pointless downer.