#81 - Why? Because We Like You!
1947 - 2009
Hello again, patrons of the cinematic arts. This week finds a triple feature in the Electric Theatre: a rare early review of a movie opening this Friday at a theatre near you, as well as the usual theatrical and Tales From The Queue offerings. So let’s hop to!
NOW IN THEATRES
A new Pixar movie is always worth looking forward to. Not that they hit it out of the park every single time. Cars didn’t do a whole lot for me, for example. But taken together, the body of work this studio has created since Toy Story back in 1995 stands as a remarkably consistent, reliably entertaining collection. Up admirably continues this tradition, standing alongside Wall-E, Ratatouille and The Incredibles as one of the studio’s best efforts to date.
Pixar’s work has always stood apart from other animated movies, in part because the studio doesn’t make kids’ movies. Their goal is to make a good movie, period, not one aimed at a specific age group. Up makes that abundantly clear. Yes, kids will love this movie, particularly the wonderful, hilarious scenes with Dug, a lovable dog voiced by writer and co-director Bob Peterson. But it’s a movie that will be most appreciated by older audiences. The movie takes its time starting up, giving us the necessary background to fully identify with our main character, Carl Fredricksen. There are moments of real emotional resonance here and the character design, animation and Edward Asner’s great, subtle vocal performance all combine to make Carl one of the most interesting and relatable characters I’ve seen in an animated film. Director Pete Docter, Peterson and everyone else at Pixar seem to realize that movies like Up are gifts to young people. You watch it and enjoy it on one level as a child, then revisit it later as you’re introducing it to your own children and discover layers that you couldn’t appreciate at first. Movies like this are all too rare.
It almost goes without saying that Up is visually breathtaking. The addition of 3D is handled artfully, giving an added kick to sequences that would already be impressive. I’m kind of astonished that it took filmmakers this long to realize what the good people at Viewmaster have known for decades. The best 3D doesn’t thrust images away from the screen toward the audience, but instead pulls the audience into the images themselves. Pixar’s animation, which has always had a tactile feeling to it, becomes even more immersive in 3D. I don’t think you necessarily have to see Up in 3D, as the story itself is what counts and that’ll play in any dimension. Even so, the effect definitely enhances your enjoyment of the movie instead of distracting from it.
In a summer dominated by sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots and feature-length toy commercials, a movie like Up is even more welcome. It’s a reminder that there are still filmmakers out there willing to take a chance on something original. We need more like them. If every studio nurtured creativity the way Pixar does, the movie landscape would look a lot different. Up is a true delight. Bring your kids, bring your parents, bring your grandparents. A splendid time is guaranteed for all. (* * * ½)
I have never been particularly invested in the Terminator franchise. Don’t get me wrong, I think James Cameron’s 1984 original is a masterpiece, a truly great, gritty, low-budget science fiction flick. But I’ve always had problems with his follow-up and am surprised more people don’t. Sure, as a summertime blockbuster, it kicks up the wow factor by quite a bit. But as a sequel, it kind of does everything fans usually hate. It turns the bad guy from the original movie into the hero and throws a kid into the mix. To me, it’s as if Halloween II had featured Michael Myers coming back to protect Laurie and her young son from an even scarier killer with more weapons and a high-tech mask. Anyway, I never enjoyed T2 as much as everybody else seemed to and, with expectations suitably lowered, I felt pretty much the same way about T3. I expected to feel about the same way about Terminator Salvation (or T4 or, as it should more accurately be abbreviated, TS). And while I didn’t quite hate it, I certainly couldn’t describe it as a good time at the movies.
I have nothing against McG as a director. I liked the Charlie’s Angels movies just fine for what they were (they’re movies based on Charlie’s freakin’ Angels, for god’s sake…what do you expect?). I’m not even going to make fun of his name. I think it’s the height of hypocrisy to give McG crap for his moniker but then give Adam Spiegel a pass for dubbing himself Spike Jonze. Unfortunately, all of McG’s moves in Terminator Salvation have been cribbed from other, better movies (notably Aliens, The Road Warrior and, of course, all the previous Terminator entries). He can pull off an action sequence with flair. There’s a lengthy, Mad Max-esque chase sequence that I did find fun to watch. There just isn’t much of a story here to hang it all on.
Christian Bale shouts his way through the movie as John Connor. This is easily the least interesting portrayal of this character to date. He acts like someone who has been told just how important he’s going to be to the resistance movement for so long that he’s started to believe it without actually bothering to do anything important. Sam Worthington is somewhat more impressive as Marcus Wright, an executed killer who wakes up in the future as something that the previews probably weren’t supposed to ruin for you but did anyway. He’s not bad, although his performance could have been helped if the marketing department hadn’t decided to rob it of its mystery. The movie clicks along for its first half, interspersing fun action with lame dialogue and non-existent character development. But then everything falls apart in the grand finale. For one thing, we’ve seen big fights between people and unstoppable Terminator endoskeletons in foundries before. McG doesn’t really add anything to the mix that we didn’t already see 20 years ago. All this is capped by a Big Dramatic Finish so unbelievably stupid that any good will I may have had for the movie evaporated in a heartbeat. I can suspend disbelief as well as the next guy but this demands that you balance your disbelief on a high-wire above a tank full of flying, ravenous piranha-sharks. Sorry but it can’t be done.
Honestly, Terminator Salvation is not the worst would-be blockbuster I’ve ever seen. Certain scattered moments work well enough on their own terms. But it is joyless, unoriginal, uninspired and occasionally downright idiotic, mostly in the last half hour. Never fumble the ball in the end zone, because that’s what your audience will remember. I don’t think Terminator Salvation was ever going to be a great movie but it could have been a lot better than this. (* *)
TALES FROM THE QUEUE
Underdog stories have an endless, universal appeal, especially if the number of non-sports fans who love movies like Rocky and Miracle are any indication. Personally, I’m a sucker for movies that take the Rocky template and move it into a non-sports setting, whether it’s spelling bees, crossword puzzle tournaments or, as in the case of Bottle Shock, wine-making.
Alan Rickman stars as Steven Spurrier, owner of a struggling wine shop in Paris. His expatriate neighbor (Dennis Farina) encourages him to broaden his horizons (and build his reputation) by seeking out California wines and pitting them against French vintages in a blind taste test. Spurrier travels to the States and is surprised by the quality of the wines, especially a chardonnay by Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman). Barrett’s vineyard is on its last legs and he has pinned his hopes on creating a perfect wine. If this fails, then everything fails.
Bottle Shock is an easy-going, sun-drenched comedy-drama. It takes its time but pulls you into the lives of these characters without you being aware of it. The ensemble cast is top-notch. Nobody does British pretension quite like Alan Rickman and here he’s funny and aloof without ever becoming a caricature. You’re rooting for Spurrier just as much as you are for Barrett. Pullman has an even trickier role. Barrett is a dreamer and a good-hearted person that you want to see succeed. But at the same time, he’s impulsive, single-minded and often makes bad decisions. It’s a complex character but Pullman shades it beautifully. Equally good is Chris Pine, currently captaining the Enterprise in Star Trek, as Barrett’s aimless son, Bo, and Freddy Rodriguez as Gustavo, Barrett’s employee who has ambitions of his own. The only character who doesn’t quite ring true is Sam, an intern who vies for the affections of both Bo and Gustavo. Rachael Taylor is fine in the role but the character is a bit too underdeveloped to really make an impact.
Directed by Randall Miller, Bottle Shock follows the old, reliable Rocky formula as if it were a treasure map. And in a way, it kind of is. This is a charming, crowd-pleasing movie that never got a chance to please many crowds. Now that it’s available on DVD, give it a chance. It’s a feel-good picture in the very best sense of the term. (* * *)
Thanks to Greg Robinson for this week’s TFTQ recommendation. As always, if you know about a movie that didn’t find the audience it deserved, drop me a line and let me hear it! Tales From The Queue is always looking for new suggestions.