Friday, October 30, 2009

Up (2009)

Movie quotes:
Dug (talking dog): My name is Dug. I have just met you, and I love you.
[Dug jumps up on Carl]
Carl: Wha. -
Dug: My master made me this collar. He is a good and smart master and he made me this collar so that I may speak - Squirrel!
[Dug interrupts himself to stare intently at something in the distance for a few long seconds]
Dug: My master is good and smart.

At a glance:
Stunning animation is used to embellish the funny and heart-lifting story of an old man who rediscovers the joy of life

Our review (with spoilers):
Carl (voiced by Edward Asner) is in the latter stages of his life. He lives alone in his tiny house, sandwiched between loud, rapidly rising skyscrapers, and endures what seem to be daily visits from people wanting to buy his house and demolish it. When he loses his temper and strikes one of them, he gets ‘invited’ into a retirement home. But Carl has a secret escape plan: on the morning of his last day in his house, thousands of tethered helium balloons are released, taking him away. Also with him is an uninvited guest: Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai),a local boy scout who happened to be on the porch when the house detached. Carl heads for South America to pursue the dream he shared with his deceased wife Ellie. Along the way, he learns to tolerate (and even love) Russell and life.

Up’s narrative has moments of weakness, but the film also has a way of touching something deep in our psyche: the fear of growing old, the sadness of dreams that are never realized, and the joy of using our ingenuity and our imagination to achieve peace and happiness. The occasional weak links in the script are dwarfed by the general good feelings and sense of wonder. The highlight of this good vibe is one long sequence, early on, as we view the life adventure of Ellie and Carl told solely and magically with images and music. The wonderful Pixar animation serves the story rather than distracting from it; of particular beauty are the ultra-realistic jungle panoramas.

Rating:  3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"If it had lived up to its golden first five minutes, Up would have been the film of the decade. As it is, it remains the best animated flick of 2009, a funny, moving, beautifully made argument that dreamers can move mountains."
- Ian Freer (Empire Magazine)

"A hugely enjoyable work, whose care, craftsmanship and creative courage are rarely found in mainstream films — animated or otherwise."
- Cosmo Landesman (Sunday Times [UK])

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)

Movie quotes:
Ryder: So, for five-hundred bucks they'll take you on a dog-sled ride on a glacier.
Garber: Dog-sled?
Ryder: Yeah... and you know that old saying that if you're not the lead dog, the view never changes?
Garber: [stares at his boss] Right, otherwise you're always looking at the asshole of the dog in front of you.
Ryder: That'll be funny in a minute when I get to that part.
Garber: It's funny now.

Ryder: These tunnels don't change much, do they?
Garber: Just the people in 'em.

At a glance:
A solid cast, led by John Travolta and Denzel Washington, try to salvage this weak train-hijack remake, but are done in by a poorly structured script and needlessly over-stylized action sequences

Our review (with spoilers):
Personality-laden psychopath Ryder (John Travolta) assembles a band of tough ex-cons and hijacks a New York subway car, complete with hostages. His ransom demand is a cool 10 million dollars, but he has a hidden agenda that will earn him much more. To facilitate his goals, he forms an unlikely partnership with his nominated negotiator, train dispatcher Garber (Denzel Washington). Ryder considers Garber a kindred spirit – they each got in trouble for stealing money, although the amount stolen and the amount of trouble varied greatly.

There’s a bottomless well of potential drama available when you pit a crazed hostage taker in a tense battle of wits with a sharp but unsure dispatcher. Throw in Tony Scott’s ambitious editing and what could go wrong? Well, a trainful of things could. The structure of the script is way off. The psychological battle between Ryder and Garber takes center stage and becomes the dominant feature of the film. This still could have worked, but the story is again derailed by a pointless side-track into Garber’s redemption story. It seems Garber may have taken a bribe. Or maybe he didn’t. He got demoted and is under investigation by a bully boss who is obviously jealous of Garber’s success. My thoughts on this? Who cares about Garber’s redemption! Have we forgotten that we have to rescue a subway car full of hostages?  Eventually, even Ryder doesn’t care about the hostages, and this ends up being a huge plot hole. His flawed escape plan is to jettison the hostages and sneak through a neglected side-tunnel and out onto the street. Except – he’s trying to sneak out a tunnel that all the subway workers know about! This also leads to a long Ryder/Garber car chase - something that had no place in a film about a train hijacking. Finally, even Tony Scott goes fully over the top with his staccato editing. He attempts to make flying a helicopter from point A to point B much more exciting than it really could ever be.

In the end, Pelham milks what it can from its star-studded cast, with John Turturro and James Gandolfini improving on clichéd lines. Scott keeps things moving as he always does, so the film is as easy to watch as it is to forget. But why does it exist - why remake an almost perfect film?

Rating: 2 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Featuring good work from the dependable Denzel, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is hampered by hyper-kinetic visuals from Scott, an over-zealous turn from Travolta and a thoughtless script from Brian Helgeland."
- James Mottram (Channel 4 Film)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Whatever Works (2009)

Movie quotes:
Perry: She explained to me your theory about life being meaningless.
Boris: Don’t let it spoil your evening.

Boris: It’s uncanny. She exactly the kind of moron you described.
Marietta: You are not the gentleman I was expecting.
Boris: I’m sure not. I’m sure you’d be happy if she married the guy who caught the biggest catfish in Plakemun County.
Marietta: I’d be happier if she married the catfish.

Melodie: Oh, wait…I always carry some Viagra with me.
Randy: That’s alright, I eat a lot of red meat.

John: Who are you?
Boris: I’m her husband. You wanna pass out here, or go in the living room.

John: I can handle the truth: does she hate me?
Melodie: That was a pretty awful thing you did with her best friend.
John: Then she hates me?
Boris: Yes, yes, she hates you! I can’t stand it! I hate you and I just met you!

At a glance:
Although still a faded copy of his greatest films, Whatever Works has perfect casting and enough humor and pathos to rate as Woody Allen’s most successful movie in many years

Our review (with spoilers):
Woody Allen never gets  tired of telling the same Pygmalion-style story. An older, neurotic, intelligent Jewish man crosses paths with a much younger woman – a girl, really. She’s not too bright and she’s naïve, but she’s eager, sincere, and she learns quickly. And, of course, she’s beautiful. She’s easily influenced by this supposedly more intelligent older man, a man who is generous but complains about it. Allen’s script isn’t often funny, but it has two obvious strong points. One: Larry David has the ideal look, personality, and delivery to play the Allen character. He’s got a great ‘I don’t care if I’m funny’ going for him. Two: Evan Rachel Wood is a truly charming screen presence who refuses to play the role as a typical ‘Allen female’ clone. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments, and some heartfelt speeches about life and love. What doesn’t work are the gay jokes, and John’s (Ed Begley Jr.) lightning fast coming out transformation. Don’t compare this to early Allen – it’s obvious now that he’ll never make ‘em like he used to – but for latter-day, Allen, it is the funniest he has written since Mighty Aphrodite in 1995. I’d like to call it a comeback, but this is tempered by the fact that Allen pulled the script from a bottom drawer where it had been sitting since the 1970s.

Rating:  2.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"[Larry] David's human sandpaper delivery gives a full, deep voice to Allen's reckless misanthropy."
- Sean Burns (Philadelphia Weekly)

District 9 (2009)

Movie quotes:

"When dealing with aliens, try to be polite, but firm. And always remember that a smile is cheaper than a bullet."
- Automated MNU Instructional Voice

MNU Agent: MNU! We're serving eviction notices.
Alien: What is ‘eviction’?

At a glance:
Director Neill Blomcamp’s first feature length film is a gritty, action-packed, and ‘realistic’ appraisal of humankind’s most expected reaction to the presence of drastically non-human aliens in their midst

Our review (with spoilers):
Johannesburg, South Africa is the unlikely entry point for the first Earth visit from extraterrestrials. A massive ship hovers over the city for months, taking no action and showing no signs of life, before it is finally raided from below. Its starving ‘cricket-like’ occupants appeared to be rejects from another world, and they are treated as such on Earth as well. They are held in an internment camp near Johannesburg. This decrepit shack city quickly deteriorates into a slum. When the residents of Johannesburg tire of the behavior that these violent scavenging aliens bring, a mass force eviction is planned to move the creatures 200 miles north to a new tent camp.

The man sent in to command the operation, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), is as prejudiced as anyone. He’s probably a moderate – he’s derogatory, and has no qualms about illegally moving the aliens as long as there is a token effort made to make it look like it is legal. To his credit, he wants to do it without violence. While inspecting an alien’s shack, a small metal device sprays his face with a black fluid. De Merwe gets progressively more ill. Admitted to hospital, his arm turns into an alien claw. This is big news for the MNU, the alien wrangling / arms dealing multinational that employs him. They whisk him away and perform tests that prove De Merwe can now fire the aliens’ advanced DNA-specific laser guns. De Merwe is quickly sentenced to death by operation, his body to be unceremoniously harvested for organs and DNA, and then sold on the open market at great value.

While fleeing from his death sentence, De Merwe is sheltered by an alien (Christopher Johnson) and his son. Christopher, one of the most technically advanced aliens, has a plan to rescue his comrades and cure De Merwe.

District 9 paints an ugly picture of how humans might treat a visit from aliens. The documentary-style vision is bleak – and it’s probably a realistic appraisal of how humans would actually react. The aliens are grossly different in appearance. Humans hate and distrust those who are different. It is fair to say that the more differences, the greater the hate and distrust. Apartheid is used to isolate the aliens – in fact, the shacks used in the film are existing shacks from an apartheid area of Johannesburg. Most refreshingly, the film also scrupulously avoids any attempts at sentimentality via anthropomorphism.

District 9’s powerful themes cannot help but overpower their execution, especially when the budget was so small. The movement of the aliens suffers from obvious low-budget CGI constraints. Those comments aside, I have rarely finished watching a movie and been as keen for a sequel as I was at the end of District 9. The touching and open-ended conclusion cries out for more. And encouragingly, director Neill Blomcamp has already mentioned the ‘S’ word.

Rating:  3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"District 9 is a ferocious fable. Potent and provocative, it is an allegory for our time. It is bursting with contemporary themes -- oppression, greed, power, propaganda, and the conflict of disparate cultures."
- Tony Macklin (