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Monthly Archives: July 2007

The only Danny Boyle film I had seen before Sunshine was Millions, probably his biggest departure from his typical territory (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later). Despite the fact that I loved this film, I’m not really anxious to see his other previous efforts. It’s not that I’m afraid they won’t live up to my expectations, but simply because they are so different from this one. After seeing the movie, I was incredibly surprised to remind myself that Boyle hadn’t directed a sci-fi film before this. This may be my favorite science fiction film of this decade, and the last. Each moment of the film builds on the previous’ intensity. What makes this a better film than, say, Apollo 13 is Boyle’s ability to avoid dull exposition while still providing effective characterization. The film begins on the ship and stays there for all but about the last minute, creating a feeling of claustrophobia that even most other space films can’t muster. Sure, some of the dialogue is a little familiar, but Boyle embraces it, along with his many references to sci-fi greats. There are no distractions to take you out of it, and the suspense is natural and uncomfortable. The film constantly keeps you guessing, but you barely have time to do so before the circumstances are changed. Even though it’s pretty far out there, I never had a hard time buying the crisis, even from the opening line, “Our sun is dying”. Each performance, from an ensemble of well-seasoned but generally unrecognized actors (lead by Cillian Murphy). What makes this a great film is not its entertainment value, but the near religious experience it provides. The crew members are more than astronauts, or just average people (like Apollo 13); they take on a role that is much more important and symbolic. The visuals are more than stunning; they are either painful, or beautiful, or devastating. Even though some of the characters don’t last very long, they are so sympathetic that it’s impossible not to connect to each one of them in their scenes. And even when Boyle takes the film in a new direction in the last 30 minutes, he pulls it off with class and unbearable tension. This film cannot be missed in theaters, even if just for the exciting summer movie factor. Sunshine should be placed among the sci-fi greats of 2001, Solaris, and Star Wars. A

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In the words of one of my favorite critics Roger Ebert “I hated, hated, hated this movie”. Yes, it’s one of the most anticipated, by many, films of the year, and it comes from seasoned, but often despised, director Michael Bay. How disappointed I am to say that this is the worst movie of the year so far cannot be expressed in words. With anticipation and excitement, I went to the theater ready to splurge on lots of popcorn and drink; boy, was that a dumb move. This film is everything but entertaining and actually sickening to watch. The film begins following a few different groups of characters in starkly different environments, and the only one I cared about was Shia LaBeouf’s high schooler, and only because of the acting chops he brings to the table. Bay employs this gimmick of multiple storylines either to follow a recent pattern in Hollywood filmmaking or to provide some sort of payoff when they all conveniently come together in the end. Either way, it simply doesn’t work because none of the characters seem to have any consequential impact on the story until they all come together at which point I was already completely out of the film. Bay’s pretention can also receive the blame – at one point he actually makes a reference to his own movie. I believe the line was “This is even cooler than Armageddon.” What really brought me out of the film was Bay’s camera work. In the first 30 minutes, there were no more than 5 or so shots in which the camera didn’t move it all. I haven’t experienced this sort of motion sickness at a film since Blair Witch. As for the attempts at humor in the film, they are anything but clever and mostly cringe-worthy – especially when the dope behind you is actually cracking up at them. Though by the climax I was too distracted to understand what was going out, I was able to notice a series of cliched and unbelievable situation in which people stop in the middle of a battle to chat and reveal some wonderful life lessons. I actually had no idea which robots were good and which were bad, nor did I care. I think it ended up being some fight over a giant cube with magical powers? Yeah, something like that. The worst part of my night, though, was walking out of the theater, hearing everyone’s satisfaction, when one of my friend’s told me how excited he was that they were already working on Transformers 2. Awesome! Who needs Pirates 4 now? D-

Director Brad Bird doesn’t get the recognition and attention he deserves as one of the best directors working in Hollywood. He has long spoken about the power of animation and how it should be recognized as a medium, not a genre. His words should be taken seriously, since he has crafted some of the best animated films of all time – The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and now Ratatouille. There are certain things one now expects from a Pixar film – a delightful short prior to the film, splendid animation, humor for kids and adults, and a heartfelt message. Ratatouille has all of the above, but with originality and charm that exceeds its predecessors. It may not be as funny as Finding Nemo, but it’s still one of the most humorous movies of the year. What is so incredible about the film, however, is the significance of its message and the passion you feel from director Bird for the topic. The film is a brilliantly crafted statement on art, and Bird should once again be praised for pouring everything into a film that has a message you know he believes in. Too many times directors these days throw in a cliched message simply because they know it is, to some degree, required. Bird, however, chooses topics that hold significance for him; this results in a film that also means something to the audience. On a more clear level – the film is dazzling to watch, the script is clever, and the characters are sympathetic. The voice acting is phenomenal, mostly because it is much more difficult to recognize who is speaking than in many other animated films. Peter O’Toole is, as always, phenomenal, playing a despicable food critic. The ending is unpredictable enough, and one of the greatest feats is making everyone believe that a rat can not only be cute, but can actually be a great chef. The appearance of the late celebrity chef known as Gusteau as some sort of imaginary conscience for Remy, the talented rat, is a little tired but not too distracting. The film is perfectly paced and focused, unlike last year’s Cars. It’s a film that leaves you feeling great but never so much that you are conscience of such an effect. Brad Bird proves once again with Ratatouille that animation should be considered one of the most effective mediums of modern art and oftentimes more so than live action film. A-

It’s been quite a few years since Angelina Jolie won her Oscar for Girl, Interrupted; it seems as though she dropped off the face of the serious acting world – until now. Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart rolled into Cannes film festival this year, and its another one of those current event films. Last year brought two of them – United 93 and World Trade Center. Obviously these are not easy films to sit through, but, if done right (like United 93), they can be truly moving. Sadly, Winterbottom’s telling of the brutal murder of Wall Street Journal writer Daniel Pearl in Pakistan is neither moving nor respectable in any fashion. The only great thing about the film is Jolie’s performance, which, contrast to many opinions, is not eclipsed by her star power. I would like to think that most of the problems with the film happened in the editing room, but it is simply too flawed for editing to receive all the blame. The first twenty minutes of the film are actually pretty good – the telling of the events leading up to the murder is effective and emotional. It’s after this first act that the film comes to a screeching halt instigated by disorienting editing, a host of confusing minor characters, and varying points of view that distract more than inform. When dealing with a topic this serious, it is imperative to remain focused and straightforward. By halfway through the movie, I was so confused that the film no longer had any staying power and the emotional moments just laid there on the screen. If this were a fictional event, these faults would not be so serious. However, if one remembers all the discussion last year about whether it was too soon for such films to be made, it should be noted that the proper handling of such recent tragic events is critical, especially to those people directly affected by the events. A Mighty Heart is almost offensive in its mishandling of such a serious topic. Winterbottom exploits the persons involved by randomly showing us images simply to provoke an emotional response. Random cuts to Daniel throughout the film serve no other purpose. The lack of a single point of view results in not only confusion but also a lack of suspense. It is a shame that some of the powerful images in the film fall flat because of all the distractions. Some more careful editing could have prevented these mistakes and resulted in a more powerful film. As is, A Mighty Heart is anything but mighty. C

If you don’t live in Austin, you’ve probably never heard of Chalk, and you surely haven’t seen it. Maybe my opinion is skewed by the best kept secret feeling I got while watching it, or the fact that I was surprised to even learn of its existence. Oftentimes the best films are ones you approach with no expectations. Such was the case with Chalk. It’s an independent, obviously, mockumentary about teachers. The film begins with a statistic about how many teachers (somthing outrageously high) quit after the first year. The film proceeds to follow several teachers at a local school – some rookies, some veterans, as they either struggle to control their students, fight with other teachers, or compete against each other. The film is completely hilarious, but it definitely has a conscience. You certainly don’t have to be a teacher to connect with the characters, and it maintains an amateur feel, as a mockumentary should. Now when compared to films like Chirstopher Guest’s Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, the film feels not only more significant, but also more real. Sure a couple shots are too jumpy and ultimately distracting, but the film is so focused on following the stories of these teachers – not the teachers, or the parents, and there are no insignificant subplots. The characters never feel contrived or exaggerated, and each performance is honest and believable. Ultimately, the film is sharply written and well-constructed. There are lines that are truly memorable and hilarious, but more importantly, the situations stick with you even longer. I doubt that I will be able to look at teachers the same way after seeing Chalk; I had an earnest sympathy for the characters in the film, and I feel that this will translate to my attitudes about teachers in the future. The film also made me realize that I can’t think of a mockumentary I didn’t like, so perhaps they are just too easy to make. More likely, though, is that when someone decides to tackle one, they realize the importance of a well-written screenplay and a carefully chosen topic. This film fulfills every expectation for a mockumentary, and exceeds most others in both entertainment and significance. The filmmakers now have a well-deserved deal with Morgan Spurlock, and I am certain that we will see more of them in the future, unlike some of the teachers in the film. A-

Watching Eagle vs. Shark was deja vu all over again – a raunchier version of the surprise hit everyone has since forgotten – Napoleon Dynamite. Sure the jokes are original, but the situations really aren’t. All one can do while watching this film is think about how much it reminds them of Napoleon. It tells the story of an unlikely couple, Jarrod and Lily, who meet at Jarrod’s animal party – an event characterized by goofy costumes and some intense Fight Man (which apparently is a video game). After they ‘hook up’ in their nerdy way, Jarrod decides he must return to his home town to beat up a bully from school. The film never really bores, except when all momentum comes to a screeching halt with some cheesy animation thats absurdly symbolic – something about a couple of apples who meet and fall in love. Why this was included is a mystery to me, but it sucks the audience right out of the film if only for a few seconds. Sure it was somewhat refreshing to revisit nerds in an even funnier way than Napoleon, but at the end – the film is too similar to that now classic. It provides no real payoff – I never really cared whether or not the two leads ended up together or, and especially, if Jarrod won the death match with who thinks is his nemesis. The fight scene is painstaking to watch and essentially offensive. I can’t pretend that I didn’t find the film funny, but I was always conscious of the shear pointlessness of what was happening on screen. A comedy cannot succeed if it has any serious moments that simply bore the audience because they don’t care about the characters. This doesn’t make it a bad film, but the distractions certainly stand in the way of some of the comedy. The plot is simple enough, but its not particularly focused. There are too many subplots and scenes that serve no real purpose except to include a joke that the writers could find another place to put it. Another way to test a comedy is how many lines you remember and actually want to quote in daily conversation – sadly, there are only a few of these in Eagle vs. Shark, and they aren’t really quotable because they are so dependent on the events in the film. Yes the film is funny, but there’s no way I’ll sit through it again. B

Expectations are always a factor when going into a movie, whether I’m riding the hype train of a film like Snakes on a Plane, carrying preconceptions based on opinions of others, or going in know next to nothing about a film. The case with Once is that I went into the matinee screening with extremely high expectations given early response to the film, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year. I am always pleased buy reluctant to admit that my expectations were met; Once is one of the best films of the year. It’s ambition perfectly matches its execution – its a simple but heart-wrenching tale of a struggling but talented Irish musician (Glen Hansard) who meets a woman, rather younger than himself, played by Markéta Irglová. The relationship between the two develops in generally unexpected ways, and they eventually decide to record an album together. The story never lulls, and the chemistry between the two is clearly natural. Each song (the film is truly a musical) provides not only insight into the characters’ emotions, but it provides a memorable and entrancing soundtrack that accompanies this brilliant untraditional love story. In no other film this year have I sympathized so deeply with the characters. About forty minutes into the film, I was still unconvinced and unmoved by the characters’ journeys – it is at a moment about halfway through, when Irglova’s character makes a run for some batteries in order to listen to some of Guy’s (Hansard) music that I truly became absorbed by the film. The moment isn’t much different from the rest of the film, but I am convinced that each person who sees this movie has a moment when they realize how real these characters are. At this point, the film becomes more than a typical love story or musical; it simply becomes a transcendent film about life that anyone can connect with. The only criticism I have is that John Carney, the director, stays with the two leads a bit two long in a few scenes, but it never once took me out of the film completely. From the opening song to the inspiring but heart-breaking conclusion, I was completely moved by the film in surprising ways. The performances by the two leads and most of the supporting cast are true to life and commendable; the biggest strength of the film is its humility and devotion to reality. It’s a film I will surely see more than Once. A-

I am back in town after a month vacation, and will be posting several reviews of films I saw while away:

Once
Eagle vs. Shark
Chalk
A Mighty Heart
Ratatouille

It is quite astounding simply to be able to review this film and Ocean’s Thirteen on the same day. Both films emphasize the essentialness of having fun at the movies. The main difference between the two, the obvious aside, is the significance of the film’s style on the audience’s reaction. Yet since its in actuality unfair to compare two films for the sake of ratings, I should stick to my thoughts on Knocked Up. In determining the effectiveness of a comedy, only one question must be answered: was it funny? Despite the subjectivity of this question, I think anyone between the age of 14 and 55 would find this latest venture from director Judd Apatow absolutely hilarious. What strikes me most about the film is something one finds in very few comedies, or any film: each moment from the trailer is even more hilarious in the context of the film, even though you’ve already heard the joke countless times in advertisements. There are no dull moments, no unfunny scenes, and this is partly because the audience realizes that every joke is shockingly realistic and applicable. Films like this make me wonder why the formulaic romantic comedies still get green-lighted when smart material like this exists. Additionally, each minor character is just as hilarious as the two leads, who deliver each joke with sincerity and absurd crassness. Nothing falls flat, even the more serious moments towards the end that contrast what one would expect from this film. Apatow avoids topics one would find on an after-school special and sticks to what he knows is funny. This fact is the sole reason Apatow’s comedies are so successful: he knows what you think is funny and he gives it to you, as opposed to the majority of other Hollywood directors who show you what they think is funny or entertaining. It’s the kind of movie that makes you wonder what your grandma would think of it, a disturbing thought in itself, but in the context of the viewing you can only laugh at the absurdity of that potential situation. Apatow never tries to be cute; he sticks to the crude humor that simply works. There doesn’t need to be anything profound beyond the obvious lesson. Sure Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) could have taken the proper precautionary measures, but that would leave no story and no legitimacy to the film; there’s no reason to shy away from the obvious mistakes people make all the time, especially when there’s so much humor in them. What many people are calling excrutiatingly awkward moments must have had a different experience, because what Apatow decides to show may not be necessary, but, now to my surprise, it doesn’t seem out of place. In the end, the film, in the words of Paul Rudd, “tastes like a rainbow”. A.