November 29, 2004

Murder By Death

mbdA thoroughly ridiculous and silly meta-murder mystery by Neil Simon. The five greatest fictional detectives are spoofed by an all-star cast. A very satisfying movie for people who find Agatha Christie and Dashiell Hammett mysteries frustrating. I quote Lionel Twain:
"You've tricked and fooled your readers for years. You've tortured us all with surprise endings that made no sense. You've introduced characters in the last five pages that were never in the book before. You've withheld clues and information that made it impossible for us to guess who did it. But now, the tables are turned. Millions of angry mystery readers are now getting their revenge. When the world learns I've outsmarted you, they'll be selling your $1.95 books for twelve cents."
(Brattle Theater, Cambridge)

November 28, 2004

Sideways

sidewaysAlexander Payne's most mature film yet. Payne perfectly balances madcap, screwball silliness with real human interaction. Paul Giamatti plays Miles, a depressed struggling writer who takes his old college buddy Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a weeklong wine country trip the week before Jack's wedding. Jack is a conscience-free zone, and he plans to get his knob polished well and often before tying the knot. Jack recognizes that a little hokey-pokey would help Miles at lot more than Zanax, but is Miles too deep in his own tailspin to get laid? (Landmark Embassy Cinema, Waltham)

November 25, 2004

Finding Neverland

neverlandThis year's Thanksgiving movie at Jersey Gardens, Elizabeth, NJ was a delightful movie about family, imagination, and inspiration. J.M. Barrie (Depp) finds the inspiration for his masterpiece Peter Pan by immersing himself in the imaginations of four brothers and their widowed mother (Kate Winslet). Finding Neverland also restores the respectable reputation of Barrie's play from the juvenile clutches of Walt Disney's slapstick cartoon. After the debut performance of Peter Pan, an elderly patron points out to Barrie that the crocodile with the alarm clock is a symbol of time chasing each of us, i.e., mortality. This is the kind of mature, adult symbolism that Walt ignored in favor of a silly chase sequence.

November 19, 2004

Kinsey

A well-crafted biopic, with solid performances from Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, and Peter Sarsgaard. It's a pleasure to watch a movie based on real people who hold such radical opinions about sex at such a repressed time in American history. The story avoids all the boring pitfalls of biographic movies. Reminded me of all I disliked about another biopic about a scientific genius, A Beautiful Mind. (West Newton Cinema)

November 7, 2004

Sky Captain & The World Of Tomorrow

skyA perfectly crafted tribute to Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon serials, but Sky Captain does not work as its own movie. The characters are too two dimensional and the dialog is too wooden. The plot stumbles to a conclusion. (Somerville Theater)

November 5, 2004

The Incredibles

incrediblesA wonderfully funny, exciting, and inventive film. Great for parents and kids too.

When the superheroes of the world are forced into retirement by a litigious public, Mr. Incredible and his wife, Elastigirl, raise a family in anonymous suburbia. Elastigirl hangs up the super-stretchy costume easily- she's content to leave her crime-fighting days behind her, but Mr. Incredible is stifled as a desk jockey. They very cleverly use his past exploits as a superhero as a metaphor for bachelorhood, and the constraints of life as a civilian for married life: Elastigirl begins to suspect her husband is having a extra-marital love affair, but he's not- he's actually fighting crime on the side without telling his wife. He's soon trapped by a former stalker-turned archenemy Syndrome. This forces the whole family to use their superpowers together to save Dad and save their city from certain destruction.

The Incredibles pays tribute to the history of superheroes without directly referencing any of them. They showcase a world full of superheroes in a expansive way which a live-action movie has never done. I have pointed out in the past that Pixar movies tend to focus on the types of characters which are easy to render with CGI (plastic toys, bugs, fish, cars, monsters). The Incredibles is mostly actual people, and they are very well done, if not lifelike. They spent a lot of time getting the hair perfect, maybe a little too perfect in relation to the relatively simple faces and skin. Of course, the main characters are in skintight costumes most of the time, so that makes the animation easier too. However, what's smart about choosing to make a CGI superhero movie is the verisimilitude of their super-heroics: It may take tons of wires and CGI to make Christopher Reeve or Brandon Routh fly, but Mr. Incredible is already CGI, so making him CGI off the ground adds zero effort.

The action sequences in the second half are a classic showcase of how superheroes can join forces and exploit each other's strengths to fight their adversaries, in a way which other superhero movies-- the X-Men trilogy, for example --do much less effectively. Why Disney is incapable of making movies like this is beyond me. (Landmark Embassy Cinema, Waltham)