Saturday, May 30, 2009


Pixar has released ten consistently great films (although I have not seen A Bug's Life), and this film might surpass them all in beauty, story telling, visual style, humor, and overall significance. I somehow managed to temper my anticipation by reminding myself of how Wall-e had received even higher praise from critics, and was ultimately not the be-all-end-all of animated films that it was made out to be by many critics and internet bloggers. So with Up, I was going to give it a chance.

This is a story of a old man living in his house in the midst of big city development. He and his late wife had bought that house as newlyweds, and everything about it was a constant reminder of her. Rather than give in and move into a retirement community, he takes the second most obvious choice.... he ties a crap load of balloons to his house and uses them to sail to South America, so he can finally travel to Paradise Falls, a place he and his wife had always dreamed of going. Not long after take, off he discovers a little fat boy scout on his porch. Being that they're at about ten thousand feet, he reluctantly lets him in the house.

The adventure that ensues is both ridiculous and hilarious, and involves a giant bird, talking dogs, and a Christopher Plummer voiced blimp flying
antagonist intent on capturing said bird. The action is fun and silly, and uses the 3D technology to enhance the experience, giving the audience a real sense of depth when looking into the Amazonian jungle from the top of a blimp or flying house. Most of all this film has a heart, and it doesn't hold back the sentiment, but it does it so tastefully and poignantly. Two or three times I found myself close to tears. Each of the main characters is so well fleshed out that you really feel you know them, even though they're just a 3D rendering on a screen.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this might be my favorite Pixar movie, and is certainly one of my favorite films of the year so far. I can wholeheartedly recommend this movie to anyone and everyone. Ignore the PG rating, this is fine for all kids. Heaven forbid they watch something with a little emotional substance.

Monday, May 25, 2009

2009 Memorial Day Weekend Movie Extravaganza

Wow, what a weekend! I drove up to Atlanta Friday afternoon to see my grandparents and hang out with my friend Stephen. I usually try to take advantage of the independent cinemas any time I'm in a bigger city, but this weekend I took it a step further. Stephen and I had decided we were going to simulate a film festival, in honor of Cannes. We managed to catch six films at the theaters and another four on DVD over the three day weekend. It was rather exhausting, but a heck of a lot of fun. In the following paragraphs I'll try to briefly give my thoughts on each film that we watched, with an emphasis on the 2009 theatrical releases.

JCVD (2008)
We started off with a double feature on Friday night, JCVD and Blade Runner. JCVD was such an interesting film. Of course JCVD are the initials for its star, Jean-Claude Van Damme, who plays himself, albeit in a fictional story. The film starts with a hilarious and impressively long take showing Van Damme at work on the set of some generic foreign straight-to-DVD action film. We later see him discuss his disdain for these pathetic roles his agent keeps getting him, as well a see him in court during a losing custody battle over his daughter. When he returns home to Belgium the movie takes an odd turn and he finds himself in the middle of a robbery at a post office. It's ultimately not a great movie, but Jean-Claude Van Damme actually delivers a very good performance. I hope to see him is more serious roles in the future.

Blade Runner (1982)
Unfortunately I am in no position to say much about this film because I was way too tired when I watched it and was frequently dosing off. It didn't help that it moves pretty slow throughout, but I definitely want to see this again. From what I saw, Blade Runner is beautifully shot, especially considering it was made in 1982. It seemed to have this amazing, surreal ambiance that permeated the whole film, from the visuals to the score to the characters. I look forward to seeing it again.

Tell No One
I wrote briefly about this film in my Best Films of 2008 entry. It was my fourth favorite film of 2008, but frankly I might have undersold it... This film moves me and blows my mind every time I've seen it (this being the third). From the perfectly cast actors and their performances, to the intricate plot, to the complementary song choices, to the masterful camera work; I cannot recommend this movie enough.

The Brothers Bloom
This was the first movie we saw in theaters on Saturday, and was easily both of our most anticipated. Rian Johnson's Brick was such a delight in 2005, and I was excited to see what he could do with a budget. Needless to say, the film met my expectations. It is so much fun, and the characters are each so great and yes, quirky, in their own way, but the "quirk" doesn't overshadow the humor, the plot, or the action. It's one of the few con movies that doesn't really try to con the audience, and although I wasn't completely sure where it would end up, I had a good idea of where it was going. However, the joy is in the execution, and I must also add that the music is quite well done. If you like any of Wes Anderson's films (yes, it is an overused, but valid comparison) you 'll probably appreciate this, although I do think that The Brothers Bloom is more warm and accessible than the typical Wes Anderson movie, especially his more recent material. This really is a treat, and although some critics (here's looking at you Ebert) couldn't get past the "cutesy," I think it had just the right touch, and it was downright hilarious in parts. Overall, this is one of the more pleasant movies I've seen this year.

Tyson (2009)
Going in, I had fairly limited knowledge of Mike Tyson, not being a boxing fan at all. We went to see this based on the high critical praise, and frankly, it is well deserved. This is a fascinating documentary about a fascinating and truly disturbed individual. Listening to Tyson talk about his childhood is tragic; listening to him talk about his first manager and his children is touching; listening to him talk about women is horrific. Love him or hate him, he has a certain draw to him. From the ridiculous, raunchy statements that come out of his mouth, to his sometimes brilliant colloquies on life, love, success, and failure, Mike Tyson is an entertaining guy, and this is an entertaining and insightful documentary. Check it out.

Sin Nombre (2009)
I just wrote a review on this not long ago, but just a quick note: Sin Nombre totally worked for me for the second time. This is not an easy movie to watch, but the performances and direction are very good and worth seeing. The scenes with the Mexican gang initiation is harrowing, while the scenes of the Mexican countryside are breathtaking. Sin Nombre is an effective mix of beauty and tragedy, and is still one of my favorite films of the year.

Rudo y Cursi (2009)
I wasn't completely sold on whether to see this film or not, but the reviews were pretty good and it fit into our schedule and our theme of independent film watching so we gave it a shot. This really is a good movie. Rudo y Cursi is a charming tale of two brothers, both wishing to be famous soccer players, which they both end up doing to some extent, although one of them would rather be a singer. It features familiar themes of brotherhood and money doesn't buy happiness (or does it?) and is frequently hilarious, if not predictable. Overall, I really liked it. The acting is good, the writing is funny, and although a bit cliché at times, it has a sweet, genuine spirit. This was a welcome lighthearted film in the midst of some pretty heavy material, and I recommend it if you get a chance.

Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2009)
I was really looking forward to this documentary, not only because of the 98% Tomatometer, but because I love heavy metal, especially '80s. However, when I first saw the preview for Anvil: The Story of Anvil I thought it was another "mockumentary" in the style of This is Spinal Tap, because I had never heard of this band. It is an amazing story about these two Canadian Jews,
Steve and Robb, sticking together for over thirty years and never quite making it big, although they're recognized by many of their peers as pioneers of heavy metal. Not just any peers, but the likes of Lars Ulrich and Slash. More than just a music documentary, this is a commentary on friendship and the pressures that striving after this lifelong dream can have on family and friendships. We follow them to their mundane jobs, on a disastrous European tour, and through the recording of their 13th album. This film was fascinating as a real life human drama, often touching. Although I really liked Tyson, this is probably the best documentary I've seen since Man on Wire last year.

Goodbye Solo (2009)
I must start by saying that I am not a big fan of these "neo neo realism" or "minimalist" films. I find them consistently boring and somewhat pretentious. This film really doesn't have much of a plot other than the main character, Solo, a cab driver in North Carolina, trying to find out why an old man wants to kill himself. Solo finds out of his plan after much pestering about why he wants someone to drive him to the top of a nearby mountain on a specific date a few weeks later.
However, the main character, Solo, is so infectious and likable, that it easily makes the slow dreary parts tolerable. I can't recommend this to everyone, but I did enjoy most of this film.

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
Stephen hadn't seen this film yet, so I Netflix'd it and brought it with me. Sally Hawkins' performance still amazes me. She's not acting, rather she is this character, Poppy. She's a British school teacher with a flowery outlook on life, always trying to brighten somebody's day. It's so intriguing seeing how the people around her react and are affected by her, and also how she maintains her uplifting demeanor. With on of the best performances of 2008, Happy-Go-Lucky is a 'must rent" in my book.

I can't wait to do something like this again. It was kind of exhausting, but so much fun. Next, I'd love to actually go to a real film festival somewhere, anywhere. We'll see...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek

One thing about Rotten Tomatoes, a site which I absolutely love and rely on, is that it can instigate some pretty high expectations for a film. For example, if a film has, say, a 96% on the Tomatometer, one might be inclined to think that this is one of the best films of the year, or almost perfect, etc. No, the reason for the high score is the movie is highly accessible, and well made of course. This is why Pixar films always have such a high rating, because they're high quality films created for broad, "general" audiences.

So, is Star Trek the best film of the year so far, or the best Star Trek film? No, but J.J. Abrams has created a fun, character driven summer blockbuster that will probably exceed most of the other special effects driven popcorn flicks this year. Films like Transformers 2, which is probably about 5% real and the rest of it CGI, have shallow characters with no substance or plot to speak of.
It bears mentioning that I was not overly impressed by the special effects, but they served the film well, as opposed to being a distraction. I'll take a good story with strong, developed characters any day over robots and explosions. Those might be cool to look at briefly, but the true beauty of film is losing yourself in a story and identifying with its characters, while being challenged in some way.

Abrams took a tired franchise, gave it a shot of adrenaline as well as a few pints of fresh blood, and launched it back into space. The story is well crafted, maybe a bit contrived at times, but the real catalyst for the success of this movie is the casting, primarily Chris Pine. He hasn't been in hardly anything, yet he storms onto the screen like he owns the place and demands to be noticed. His portrayal of James T. Kirk, captain of the Enterprise, is spot on; he nails the essence of Kirk without ever stooping to a Shatner impersonation. He's also given a bit more freedom to rebel than the original Kirk might have, given that the story sets him in an alternate universe in which he has grown up without his father. This adds a new dynamic to his character without changing who he is or ultimately will become.

I don't need wallow through a plot synopsis, because frankly, that is not why you should see this movie. The focus was on Kirk and Spock(s), their rivalry, and ultimately their budding friendship. Each original crew member was introduced in a charming, often humorous way, and the writers did a great job honoring the canon, while taking their liberties as well, in order to make it fresh. To put it simply, Star Trek is just a heck of a lot of fun, and easily worth your ten bucks to see it on the big screen. I look forward to seeing where Abrams takes the franchise from here, and I have no doubt it will be an exciting ride.

Monday, May 4, 2009


I had a chance to check out Earth in Austin, TX with my son, Westin. First, I have to give mad props to any documentary that can hold the attention of a 4 1/2 year old for 90 minutes. Second, as far as nature documentaries go, this could be the best one I've ever seen. I thought going in that it might get old after a few minutes, but I was captivated throughout. It follows a few different animal families from different parts of the globe, and doesn't hold back when it comes to the harsh realities of survival in the wild. It wasn't too graphic for children, but its tone was often pretty bleak.

Going into this film I was worried that the narration was going to be full of ignorant Al Gore-isms and tree-hugging climate change nonsense, and while I wasn't completely wrong, it really wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, the voice over by James Earl Jones was quite good, often adding just the right touch of humor to the situation.

Of course, the main reason to see a nature documentary is the imagery, and Earth delivers in a huge way. Disney manages to get some amazing shots of wildlife, so clean and clear, and magnificent to behold; I have literally never seen some of spectacles they captured on film, including my favorite shot, which involves a ginormous airborne great white shark and a helpless seal. 'Nuff said.

Sin Nombre

I think it's important to note that I came into this movie with very high expectations. Although I had never heard of it until about March, it quickly became one of my most anticipated films of the year. I'd never heard of writer/director Cary Fukunaga, but the subject matter as well as the high praise from many critics had me salivating when I realized I might get a chance to see in while I was in Austin. My sister was kind enough to humor me and go to that movie instead of the new one from Michael Caine, and off we went to a nice little Regal independent theater in Austin.

This film is about two different individuals, a Mexican gang member and a restless Honduran girl, and how their worlds collide on a train carrying illegal immigrants across Mexico to the United States. I don't want to spoil any details of the plot, but I will say that there are some pretty brutal moments in this film with lots of gang violence. I've heard that it isn't proper to describe one film by comparing it to another, but in the case
of Sin Nombre the comparison is too accurate to ignore. It falls right between City of God and Slumdog Millionaire in subject matter and tone, and all three movies feature themes of young love, gang violence involving children, and poverty.

Obviously illegal immigration is a huge theme in this movie, but it is far from politically charged, instead focusing on the humanity of its characters and garnering plenty of sympathy for them. I found it very easy to root for these people and separate the characters from the issue itself. I am definitely in favor of more stringent measures when dealing with illegal immigrants, but at the same time you can't wish ill will upon another human being. Issues such as poverty and corrupt government in Mexico need to be addressed in a serious, aggressive way in order to make any progress with the illegal immigration problem, but if this film is any indication, the situation is virtually hopeless. Even for the ones who make it, it still must be bittersweet considering many leave their loved ones behind, and might not ever get to see them again. It's a choice that I'm blessed to have not had to make, and I thank God for that!

I know I've been sufficiently vague about the film itself, but let me assure you that this is a great movie which lived up to my high expectations. It's not as devastatingly beautiful as City of God, or as expansive and daring as Slumdog Millionaire, but Sin Nombre does have some amazing, unique cinematography and great young actors who make this tale survival ultimately rewarding. I highly recommend this film as it's one of my favorite of the year so far, and I personally can't wait to see it again soon.