Saturday, July 4, 2009

"Up" [A]

The opposite of the self-explanatory movie title is "Up". It could be about almost anything. In fact, it's about a man who seeks to fulfill his promise to his dead wife by going to a mysterious place in South America known as "Paradise Falls". He does so by hoisting his house out of the city with several hundred helium balloons just as they come to cart him off to the old folks' home. He encounters a young Wilderness Explorer, the actual wilderness, a wiley giant bird, an outcast talking dog, and his boyhood hero, now gone bad.

What worked: characterizations, story elements, gags ("squirrel!"), and animation. The 3D system was more astonishing and less intrusive than with Coraline.

What didn't work: my disbelief system kept kicking in whenever the old man stopped needing his omnipresent cane and was able to accomplish physical feats worthy of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger. His disabilities vs abilities shifted a bit to conveniently for the plot.

Friday, July 3, 2009

"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" [B]

The self-explanatory title is one of the many indulgences of this film. There are few surprises here. Jesse James is alternately a bad man, good father, and psycho. Robert Ford is alternately a weasely hanger on and a calculating, cold-blooded killer. They spend the entire film in a sort of macabre dance, like a moth and a flame, ultimately destroying each other.

What worked: The characters are rich and deep and well acted. This history is palpable. The story is as sparse as the landscape and feels like that's as it should be. The color palate and narration give the work a feel similar to Ken Burns' epic "The Civil War". There is tension in every scene, which is the only thing that allows the deliberate pacing to work.

What didn't work: As I wrote above, this is a self-indulgent film. It often languorously wallows in its own sense of self-importance, perhaps a bit like Bob Ford. And while it inhabits the same vast landscapes as other Westerns, it seems to give that up for a claustrophobic fixation on the two antagonists.

Ultimately this is a good, but flawed, film. One must be in the right mood to tolerate its moodiness.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" [B-]

An alien who appears to be a man lands in the middle of New York's Central Park and tells us that he's here to save the Earth. It takes another hour and a half for him to reveal and us to realize 'from whom'.

What worked: I added marks for being a little more sciency than much of what passes for science fiction today. I also actually liked Keanu Reeves as the detached alien. Given the situation, there was little hope of him acting entirely human. The response and response team of the government was almost realistic. The little kid. John Cleese. Some actual thought and philosophy.

What didn't work: Jennifer Connely as the astro-biologist. What? Why did GORT have to appear as a super-buff humanoid? I'd have thought we'd learned by now that robots have no business looking like humans, especially if they're coming from a non-human planet. I didn't like that the government was portrayed as quite so heartless. The overall feel of the movie was a little too deliberate (plodding?).

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"Swing Vote" [C+]

What would happen if the entire presidential race boiled down to one vote? With just as preposterous a premise as giant flying robots, this film attempts to find out.

What worked: I loved the small Southwestern town and the population just managing to scrape by and the kids with lousy parents trying to do better. The rapacious media and the disingenuous politicos were fine-tuned and right on. Having the daughter find out that her mother was in even worse shape than her loser father was a nice touch (as opposed to having her actually live up to the hopes the daughter had for her). There were some laughs.

What didn't work: The Kevin Costner loser character did not elicit much empathy from me. He was simply a loser and didn't care that he was a loser, even though he supposedly loved his daughter. The plot worked, but it was missing a real driving force. There was much mugging going on, but not much acting.