September 29, 2008

The Incredibles (2004)

October is just around the corner, as is Halloween…which made me think back to last year, when my wife and I dressed up our sons as Dash and Jack-Jack, two characters from Pixar’s The Incredibles. And the more I thought about the movie that inspired their costumes, the more I realized how amazing The Incredibles truly is (notice how I deliberately did not describe The Incredibles as “incredible”).

I don’t often gush about a movie, but The Incredibles is such a perfect film that I don’t know where to start praising it – so I’ll start with the plot (cribbed from

Bob Parr (aka Mr. Incredible) and his wife Helen (Elastigirl) used to be among the world's greatest crime fighters, battling evil on a daily basis. Fifteen years later, they’ve been forced to adopt civilian identities and retreat to the suburbs where they live "normal" lives with their kids Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack. Itching to get back into action, Bob gets his chance when a mysterious communication summons him to a remote island for a top-secret assignment. But he soon discovers that it will take a super family effort to rescue the world from total destruction.

The Incredibles succeeds in so many areas, but I’ll try to keep to the ones that impressed me most:
• A script by director Brad Bird that hits all the right notes for making a great film, live or animated: character development, believable dialogue, and sympathetic, relatable protagonists to name a few.
• Extended, heart-pounding action sequences, any of which could be the climax of a lesser action film.
• A love-to-hate villain in Syndrome (Jason Lee), whose origin I won’t disclose in case you haven’t seen the film yet.
• A great dissection of the family dynamic: Bird’s script effectively humanizes the superhumans in the Parr family, including Mr. Incredibles’ mid-life crisis, Elastigirl’s yearning for a functional family, and the sibling rivalry between Dash and Violet.

The Incredibles is a film whose brilliance is a growing revelation for the movie fan. After one viewing, you see that it’s great. But it’s only with repeated viewings that you realize how great. You recognize and appreciate something new about it each time you watch it.

Additional viewing from Brad Bird: By all means, watch his criminally overlooked 1999 film The Iron Giant. You can then follow it with his 2007 Oscar winner Ratatouille, featuring one of my favorite comedians ever, Patton Oswalt, as the voice of Remy the rat.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5).

Will your kids want to watch it?
I would sure hope so. In fact, I would make it required viewing for all your children above a certain age. I say that because The Incredibles is rated PG for a few reasons: superhero fights, intense action sequences, some ominous-looking evil robots, and a couple of on-screen deaths via explosion (which may or may not sink in for the younger crowd).

Will your FilmMother like it?
Again, I would sure hope so. Even if she’s of the “I don’t like cartoons” mindset, sit her down and make her watch this film. I bet by the halfway point, you won’t even need to restrain her.

The Incredibles
* Director: Brad Bird
* Screenwriter: Brad Bird
* Stars: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee, Spencer Fox, Sarah Vowell, Elizabeth Peña
* MPAA Rating: PG (action violence)

Buy this movie for less at >>

September 24, 2008

Sunshine (2007)

If I had to pick a favorite new actor of the last five years, it’d have to be Cillian Murphy (pronounced “Killian”). I’ve been a fan of his since the zombie flick 28 Days Later, he played a convincing baddie in Red Eye, and I can’t get enough of him in Batman Begins as the creepy, deranged Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka Scarecrow. So when my co-worker let me borrow his DVD of Sunshine starring Mr. Murphy, I hoped to see more of this gifted actor at work.

In the not-too-distant future of Sunshine, the sun is dying. (Yeah, that sun.) So an eight-member crew of the spaceship Icarus II has been tasked with flying extremely close to the sun and jump-starting the sun’s power with a detonation “payload.”

Why is their ship is called Icarus II, you ask? Because Icarus I failed the same mission seven years ago – lost in space, it seemed. But out of nowhere, Icarus II receives a distress signal from Icarus I, who not only has oxygen to spare but also still carries their “payload.”

The dilemma for Icarus II: Stay on course and complete their mission as planned, or save Icarus I's crew (if anyone’s even alive) and use their payload to double up Icarus II’s firepower? After a devastating accident kills Icarus II’s captain and depletes their oxygen supply, their decision is made for them: They must rendezvous with Icarus I. What they find (and what happens) once they board Icarus I puts their mission and their lives in jeopardy.

Sunshine is a potent combo of several genres: sci-fi, thriller, and drama. It moves at a methodical pace – just when you wish the story would move forward, it does. The most memorable and impactful scenes are also the most wrenching, usually involving the fate of one or more of Icarus II’s crew members. The film also does a commendable job of creating the same overpowering feelings of paranoia, isolation, and helplessness seen in 2001 and Alien.

So, did Murphy deliver for me like he’s done in the past? Yes, mostly. He’s done stronger work, but his performance here is solid and sympathetic. As part of an ensemble, he’s not supposed to stick out, and he doesn’t – for which he should be acknowledged.

On a side note: If you were planning to fly a spaceship really close to the sun, why in the world would you name it the Icarus – especially the way that story ended? Didn’t the music of Iron Maiden teach us anything?

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5).

Will your kids want to watch it?
Based on the ads and DVD artwork, Sunshine looks like a tame space adventure about kick-starting the sun. But it’s rated R for good reason: There’s a fair share of adult language, several bloody stabbings, and a few graphic scenes of what overexposure to the sun’s heat and the cold of space can do to the human body.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Sunshine is a solid film experience that doesn’t disappoint, though it may depress at times. Whether your FilmMother will like Sunshine depends on if she’s open to being bummed a little by a movie. That being said, there are some strong performances, impressive special effects, and a larger, more earnest theme that overrides a few spots of sadness.

* Director: Danny Boyle
* Screenwriter: Alex Garland
* Stars: Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Chris Evans, Hiroyuki Sanada, Cliff Curtis
* MPAA Rating: R (violent content, adult language)

Buy this movie for less at >>

September 18, 2008

The Land Before Time (1988)

Well, this review was to have been for 2005’s Doogal, but instead our TiVo recorded Jim Carrey’s The Mask. Okay. Plan B: Raid the DVD cabinet for something my boy hasn’t watched in a while...

Which lead us to The Land Before Time. The movie, not for real. Though that would have rocked pretty hard.

The Land Before Time was “a George Lucas/Steven Spielberg presentation” and directed by Don Bluth, a longtime Disney animator whose non-Disney films (The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, All Dogs Go To Heaven) tend to lean more towards “serious” storylines versus fairy-tale, Disney-esque fables.

Plot: Kid brontosaurus Littlefoot (Gabriel Damon) is the last hope for his family’s (and his race’s) survival. Guided by the dying words of his mother (a T. Rex got the better of her) and separated from all adult dinosaurs due to an earth-splitting quake, Littlefoot takes his group of kid dino friends with him to seek out the “Great Valley,” which supposedly has enough plant life, water, and food to last for generations.

The Land Before Time takes itself very seriously for a G-rated kids film. There are little or no high jinks and few “cute” scenes. In fact, the film carries a solemn, dreary appearance and tone, punctuated by lots of perilous scenes featuring earthquakes, volcanoes, and a ferocious predator (the aforementioned T. Rex).

Not only that, the kid dinosaurs are more annoying than endearing – they’re as two-dimensional as their animation, with character development largely replaced with lots of “am-not / are-too” dialogue.

Of course, all this is Cynical Dad talking. My 5-year-old son (and dinosaur buff) seemed to enjoy the movie, not taking his eyes off the screen or asking me random questions in slow parts of the film.

• A haunting, angelic score permeates most of The Land Before Time, and it made me think of the sad parts of Titanic. Sure enough, the film’s score was done by Titanic’s James Horner.
• According to The Internet Movie Database, The Land Before Time has spawned 12 (count ‘em) direct-to-video sequels, plus two sing-along videos, two video games, and a short-lived TV series.

Rating: 2 stars (out of 5).

Will your kids want to watch it?
Any pre-teen who’s into dinosaurs is probably aware of the Land Before Time series, and would want to see this movie. If that’s the case, I’m not sure how you’ll be able to dissuade them from wanting to watch this film. Maybe you can steer them to one of the sequels for a more rewarding experience…?

Toddler warning: Littlefoot and his gang are chased several times by an angrily drawn T. Rex, which may be too intense for wee ones. I asked my 5-year-old if the T. Rex was scary. His reply: “Sort of.”

Will your FilmMother like it?
I think mother and father alike will find The Land Before Time a bit of a drag to watch, in both its tone and lack of momentum – with a 69-minute running time, it sure seemed a lot longer.

The Land Before Time
* Director: Don Bluth
* Screenwriter: Stu Krieger
* Stars: Judith Barsi, Gabriel Damon, Bill Erwin, Pat Hingle, Candace Hutson, Will Ryan, Helen Shaver
* MPAA Rating: G

Buy this movie for less at >>

September 15, 2008

The Late Show (1977)

For Father’s Day this year, my wife got me a quirky little memoir by Canadian film critic David Gilmour called The Film Club. He tells how he allowed his 15-year-old son to drop out of school, provided his son watched three movies a week with him.

In one passage, Gilmour says he’s hesitant to recommend movies to friends, because there’s always someone who didn’t enjoy his recommendation. That is, except, for The Late Show. Gilmour says he has never gotten a negative reaction from anybody he’s told about this film. So when I saw it on the discount shelf at Music for a Song while on vacation, I picked it up and checked it out.

For aging private inspector Ira Wells (Art Carney), the PI business ain’t what it used to be. Nothing but small-potato capers come his way; he’s a leftover from the golden age of gumshoes. But when an old colleague shows up dying (then dead) at his doorstep, Wells is determined to find out whodunit.

At his buddy’s funeral, he’s handed the case of ditzy Margo Sperling (Lily Tomlin) and her missing cat. From there, it becomes a clash of his ’30s noir dialogue (“dames,” “dolls,” “grifts,” “fence,” “toots”) versus her ‘70s new age lingo (meditating, “vibrations,” “karma,” “grass,” “Pittsville”). Meanwhile, the case of the missing cat snowballs into two-bit thieves, “hot” merchandise, gunplay, a connection to his buddy’s murder, blackmail, and more murders.

If you put aside some of the rough stuff mentioned above, The Late Show is a nice, charming film. It’s actually the kind of late movie you would have seen on TV back in the day. But compared to today’s films, it plays little more than a glorified episode of The Rockford Files (ask your fathers, young dads).

In short: Recommending The Late Show to you (a la Mr. Gilmour) would be like asking you to try a mild new flavor of ice cream. You’d probably say thanks, try it, and never think about it again. That said, if you come across The Late Show, watch it – but I wouldn’t recommend seeking it out.

Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5).

Will your kids want to watch it?
I can’t think of any reason they would, unless they’re an older kid and/or a film student.

Will your FilmMother like it?
Eh. It’s pleasant and mildly amusing, but it won’t stay with her after it’s over. Take from that what you will.

The Late Show
* Director: Robert Benton
* Screenwriter: Robert Benton
* Stars: Art Carney, Lily Tomlin, Bill Macy, Eugene Roche, Joanna Cassidy, John Considine
* MPAA Rating: PG (adult language, violence)

Buy this movie for less at >>

September 11, 2008

The Jungle Book (1967)

Whenever I re-visit older, classic Disney movies, I do it cautiously for two reasons:

1. The pacing doesn’t keep up with what kids are seeing in today’s Pixar/Dreamworks era, or even in Disney films made after The Little Mermaid.

2. The villains, and often their actions, can reach a level of scary that may leave its mark on young viewers. I mean, the evil queen’s transformation to witch in Snow White? Cruella De Vil’s desire to make a coat of 101 Dalmatian puppy skins?

So with some caution I sat down to watch Disney’s The Jungle Book with my 5-year-old – not only with concern of the scary factor, but also that I remembered it to be a bit slow.

Jungle Book in a nutshell: Abandoned baby Mowgli is raised to a boy in the jungle by a pack of wolves, until it’s decided that he must be taken to the “man village” before the return of Shere Khan, the ferocious tiger who will kill the boy before he becomes a man…and a hunter.

So Bagheera (Sebastian Cabot), the black panther who originally found Mowgli, takes the reluctant boy on a journey to the man village, along the way meeting the likes of Kaa the snake (Sterling Holloway), Baloo the bear (Phil Harris), and Louie (Louis Prima), the king of the monkeys.

The Jungle Book was better than I remembered. The personalities of Mowgli and the animals really come through (especially Disney regular Harris as Baloo), and there are several fun musical numbers including “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You.”

There are some spots where the action and fun run cold. The scenes of the elephant infantry drag on, and scenes with Kaa were putting me to sleep much like the way he hypnotizes Mowgli so he can try to eat him.

All in all, my 5-year-old enjoyed The Jungle Book. It moved along pretty well (save for the spots mentioned above), and aside from some animal fighting at the film’s climax, nothing too scary. If you can, check out The Jungle Book’s 40th Anniversary Edition: digitally restored movie, games for the kids, plus a solid retrospective on the making of the film.

"Shere...Shere Khan...Shere Khan...Shere Khan, lemme rock ya, lemme rock ya, Shere Khan."

Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5).

Will your kids want to see it?
It’s a Disney classic with fun characters and catchy songs, so I’ll go out on a limb and say yes. And if you haven’t caught up with The Jungle Book lately (or at all), treat yourself.

Will your FilmMother like it?
I don’t see why not, unless she’s running a Disney boycott blog or something. Fun story, fun songs…a Disney classic in every sense.

The Jungle Book
* Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
* Screenwriters: Larry Clemmons, Ralph Wright, Ken Anderson, Vance Gerry, Bill Peet
* Stars: Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Louis Prima, George Sanders, Sterling Holloway, Bruce Reitherman
* MPAA Rating: G

Buy this movie for less at >>

September 5, 2008

Everyone's Hero (2006)

This summer, my 5-year-old’s interest in baseball piqued a bit late. Mid-August, to be exact. However, his ability to hit a Wiffle Ball in our backyard, combined with his knowledge of “Ferret Jeter” (a character from Bear in the Big Blue House), piqued his interest just the same. So I sought out a movie for us to watch together that was a) about baseball, and b) amazingly, not a Disney or Pixar film.

In Everyone’s Hero, Yankee Irving (Jake T. Austin) is the worst baseball player in his sandlot in 1932 New York City. But his dad (Mandy Patinkin), a janitor at Yankee Stadium, tells him to “always keep swinging” – not just in baseball, but in life. Later, Yankee discovers a magical talking baseball named Screwie (Rob Reiner) in his sandlot. Then news breaks that Yankees star Babe Ruth’s beloved bat Darlin’ (Whoopi Goldberg) is stolen, and Yankee's father is fired as a result. Yankee then vows to find Darlin’ (with Screwie reluctantly in tow) and return her to Babe Ruth before the Yankees lose the final game of the World Series (and also to get his dad’s job back).

Okay: one con, one pro…
Con: Reiner delivers Screwie’s dialogue with all the timing of an ancient Catskills comic, and I’ve heard enough of Goldberg’s “sassy” acting to last me a lifetime. For me, both performances wore thin by the film’s end.
Pro: The animation by IDT Entertainment (now Starz Media) is very well done – using facial expressions, depth perception, and shadowing worthy of a Pixar film.

Everyone’s Hero does have a bit of a Finding Nemo aftertaste (a journey to bring someone back, finding strength from within, “Always keep swinging” vs. “Just keep swimming”), but in the end it was fun to watch with my son. It’s a film for any dad who’s a fan of baseball nostalgia and who wasn’t an All-Star as a kid. That being said, it does have an ending that’s ridiculous for adult viewers — but probably a dream come true for any kid who loves baseball.

I guess calling it “ridiculous” is a bit subjective; the film does feature a talking ball and bat.

Coda: This was the last film for Christopher Reeve (co-director) and his wife, Dana (exec producer).

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5).

Will your kids like it?
If they like baseball, yes. And even if they don’t, they would still probably enjoy the antics and adventures of Yankee, Screwie, and Darlin’ (isn’t that my lawyer’s firm?).

Will your FilmMother like it?
I would think she’d find it endearing, at least for its message of never giving up – I mean, “just keep swimming” – I mean, “always keep swinging.”

Everyone’s Hero
* Directors: Colin Brady, Christopher Reeve, Dan St. Pierre
* Screenwriters: Robert Kurtz, Jeff Hand
* Stars: Rob Reiner, William H. Macy, Whoopi Goldberg, Jake T. Austin, Robert Wagner, Forest Whitaker, Raven-Symone, Dana Reeve, Mandy Patinkin, Joe Torre
* MPAA Rating: G

Buy this movie for less at >>

September 2, 2008

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)

Sympathy follows the story of Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin), a deaf-mute factory worker living with his ailing sister who needs a kidney transplant. He gets laid off from his job and, desperate and broke, he meets with a shady group of black marketers who promise that if he sells them one of his kidneys, they’ll find a match for his sister. (Ryu and his sister are not the same blood type.) He agrees, but when he wakes up from the surgery, he’s naked and alone in an empty field.

Returning home, Ryu has two goals: find the people who did this to him, and kidnap the daughter of Park (Kang-ho Song), the president of his former employer. He achieves the latter with the help of a girlfriend-revolutionary (Du-na Bae) and without his sister’s knowledge of the plan. But once his sister does learn that the little girl in their apartment was kidnapped and not a playmate, things take a deadly turn for nearly everyone involved – especially when Park begins to extract his own revenge on his daughter’s kidnappers.

Sounds pretty intriguing, right? Well, a revenge tale is only as good as how much we feel for the person seeking the revenge. Unfortunately, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance doesn’t let you form that crucial bond with any of the characters pursuing retribution. Even though Ryu was robbed of a kidney, he’s such a one-dimensional character that we feel little pity for him – and even less once he kidnaps the innocent little girl.

The near-total absence of dialogue and musical score slows the film down to a painful plod. This attempt by director Chan-wook Park to give us an idea of Ryu’s silent world is noble, but ultimately it creates an empty experience.

And while the idea of parallel quests for vengeance is novel, the interest in this approach fades fast as Park mistakenly uses a maddeningly slow pace for building suspense: We spend nearly every scene waiting. For. Something. To. Happen.

By the time revenge is dished out (in torturous, gruesome displays with the apparent hope it will outweigh earlier boredom), we frankly don’t care. We feel for none of these sub-humans, and when they meet their demise, good riddance.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is considered the first film in Park’s “vengeance trilogy,” followed by the vastly superior (yet even more brutal) Oldboy (2003) and the unsettling Lady Vengeance (2005). Seek out those two and avoid Sympathy, because frankly, it doesn’t deserve any.

Korean, with subtitles.

Rating: 1½ stars (out of 5).

Will your kids want to watch it?
If you have tweens or teens who seek out gory films or are up on Asian Extreme cinema, Sympathy may grab their interest. But if you tell them that it’s a boring two-hour Korean film with subtitles, it should distract them from watching it.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
I highly doubt it. I didn’t even consider asking my FilmMother if she’d want to watch this with me. Then again, if your FilmMother is a fan of Asian Extreme films, steer her toward Oldboy or Lady Vengeance.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
* Director: Park Chan-wook
* Screenwriters: Park Chan-wook, Lee Jae-sun, Lee Mu-yeong, Lee Yong-jong
* Stars: Song Kang-ho, Shin Ha-kyun, Bae Du-na, Lim Ji-Eun, Han Bo-bae, Kim Se-dong, Lee Dae-yeon, Lee Kan-hie
* MPAA Rating: R (strong gruesome violence, strong sexuality, language and drug use)

Buy this movie for less at >>


Related Posts with Thumbnails