Archive for November, 2007

Enchanted– seen at the bijou

Posted: November 28, 2007 in Movies

Enchanted (2007)

 

The Review:

Amy Adams as Giselle in Enchanted gives the whole Disney Princess world a light dusting.   A braid of floral dandruff in her auburn hair, singing her happy working song (composed by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz of Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame fame), Giselle sweeps and cleans her animated 2-D world with the aid of her furry bunny, tweety bird, shy curly tail doe friends and one seriously agitated chipmunk named Pip.     After being pushed down a well by the wicked Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon in a luscious black and purple velvet bustier gown lined with golden fingers clutching her hooters) Giselle tumbles far far away into a world of not so happy ever after folks.  She pops up from that rabbit hole in time known as a New York City manhole cover, a billowy vision in a wedding dress — the rude 3-D world of Times Square zooming all around her.    Adopted for a few nights by Robert Phillips (the macdreamy Patrick Dempsey being very macgruffy) a forlorn divorce attorney and his princess obsessed daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey a ray of little Miss Sunshine), Giselle continues her singing, spic n’ span ways, this time enlisting the local Manhattan fauna of rats, flies, cockroaches and pigeons (and thus continuing the Ratatouille tradition of trying to animate grotesque things in cutesy ways). 

Giselle is caught in a world where the rules of love in the Andalasian constitution (that it be true, run straight except for the expected detour for the prince to fight a witch turned hag or dragon, and that  it be happy happy happy forever and ever after) don’t work, don’t apply and don’t make very much sense. She is confused about this place where love can stop and die, or even worse, turn back on a slant, fall down somewhere else, and form a triangle.  Her Prince Edward (James Marsden playing it straight with almost no chaser) following closely behind is being delayed because he keeps on putting his sword through the top of transit buses and being run over by a tour of bicyclist after only finishing the first few notes of their love song— even though her true love, in the guise of Robert, stares her in the face her every real morning, noon and night.   Her emotions are flying as neatly as the little pirouettes of hands over her head that is her happy dance.  

Enchanted isn’t a grand scale retooling of the Disney Princess animated tradition— just a sideways revision.   It’s a romantic comedy for the millions of one parent kids and those families on their second try of happy forever aftering.   Its $50 million opening weekend gross says it is a princess story whose time has come.

But without Amy Adams enchanting portrayal it would be just another bad sappy princess tale decaying among the ruins of not so great family fare.  Adams is all full body princess— all genuine wide eye majesty from her Belle ringlets to her Cinderella slippers.   No winks.   No nods.   No tongue in cheek.    Her posture is princess perfect.  Her every step is almost a Skippy little waltz.   Even her anger and sadness is silk.  

Robert’s unwillingness to see the sunny side of life leaves Giselle perplexed, bothered and bewildered.  He turns down even her gentlest requests.

“Is that the only word you know? No,” she says to him.   “No no no no no no no,” he replies.    “I’m… I’m… I’m so angry! Hahahahhahahaha.” She laughs from her heart.  

Eventually her singing and dancing, her persistent cheerful goodness wins him over.   Patrick Dempsey goes from charmless man to charming lover with aplomb, even though his good looks and engaging smile do most of the acting and talking. 

The transition from Prince Edward to Robert, from one true love to one real love, that wicked reflection that bounces off the magic mirror of life and bends Enchanted waves from fairy tale to romantic comedy isn’t quite the golden ray of sunshine it should have been— even though it does involve a lost slipper and a Prince looking for that perfect fit. 

 

Enchanted only poison apple is with the wicked queen role.   When the evil queen in Snow White asks the mirror “who is the fairest one of all?” it is the wrong question.  If she had said “who is the most beautiful, babe-a-licous one of them all”, the mirror would have said “you your royalness.”     The queen’s side of a fairy story is a tale of pride gone blind.    Half of male goth culture started out with the feeling of wicked joy that a real good looking queen in a dark tight velvet floor length gown produces down in their netherworlds.  

The cartoon version of Narissa is dark wonderbra perfection.    The real version of her applies her makeup with all the deftness of a drunken drag queen, could use a little more support up there, and wears her evil a little too loose around the hips.  She isn’t hot, just damp.   There is no sizzle to her nastiness.

The King Kong like ending which involves a wincing role reversal just proves that this queen should never have been let out of the closet. 

Amy Adam is enchanting, Enchanted the movie a little less so.  It gets a B+.   

 

The Credits:

Directed by Kevin Lima; written by Bill Kelly; director of photography, Don Burgess; hand-drawn animation supervisor, James Baxter; edited by Stephen A. Rotter and Gregory Perler; music by Alan Menken, with songs by Mr. Menken and Stephen Schwartz; production designer, Stuart Wurtzel; produced by Barry Josephson and Barry Sonnenfeld; released by Walt Disney Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes.

WITH: Amy Adams (Giselle), Patrick Dempsey (Robert Phillip), James Marsden (Prince Edward), Timothy Spall (Nathaniel), Idina Menzel (Nancy Tremaine), Rachel Covey (Morgan Phillip), Susan Sarandon (Narissa) and Kevin Lima and Jeff Bennett (Pip).

Enchanted” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested). Pigeons and rats and water bugs, oh my.

Copyright 2007 by Jonathan Moya

 

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Beowulf– Seen at the Bijou

Posted: November 25, 2007 in Movies

Beowulf (2007)

 

The Review:

 

 

Angelina Jolie’s nude animated body dripping with what looks like caramel syrup is the big fan boy highlight of Beowoulf.   She is a water demon, so she is wet all the time—which is three times the amount she is actually ready for Brad.   She rises slowly from a phosphorescent blue puddle, the voice oozing the come-on of a Transylvanian whore, the breasts honeyed perfection, her vertical smile obscured in a golden aura, her cloven hooves in the exact shape of a pair of $600.00 Manolo Blahnik oro gold pumps with the four inch stiletto heels— the perfect temptation of every man doomed to hell.  

This is the second time that Robert Zemeckis has animated female perfection.  The “I’m not bad, just drawn that way,” Jessica Rabbit was first back in 1988 with Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  The nineteen year difference is how long it took nature to catch up with art.  The naturally perfect Jolie is not just bad— she is nasty! 

Actually, Zemeckis tries for a perfecta.   Ray Winstone’s Beowulf has sweeping golden hair contained in a braided headband, six pack abs, bronze muscular thighs clothed in cinched leather briefs that hide the whispered about third leg of every mead maiden’s desire, and a rock solid ass.  He carries himself with the immodesty of a porn star.   If Beowulf never quite comes off as a six and half foot sculpted god it is because the knowledge of the really 5’ 9”, 240 pound Ray Winstone of Sexy Beast fame fogs the vision.

That chiseled manliness in its almost full glory bounces around like a Jai-Alai pelota (with incidental shlong exposure obscured by convenient obstructions) in the early battle between Beowulf and Grendel (Crispin Glover in screeching mutant pain), the monster that King Hrothgar (a mostly half-nude Anthony Hopkins) wants Beowulf to kill because it interferes with the whole Danish community’s desire to feast, wine and fornicate itself into oblivion.  “No singing, no merry making of any kind,” is King Hrothgar’s decree until the hero comes. 

Grendel, a pitiful mass of strangulated blood vessels and seared muscles with the hearing of a bat ingests the Danish merriment assaulting his ulcerating eardrums with all the irritation of the Grinch listening to the Whos down in Whoville singing carols.  In one of the more unusual tracking shots of all filmdom it sleighs over hills and dales, over a river and through woods of bramble branches, a jabberwocky of alliterative senselessness.

When Grendel crashes the party every cell and follicle of him cries out for cessation.  He shunts, shoos, swishes aside, chomps off the heads of any noisy warriors brave enough to assault him— until Beowulf shows him the door, sending him screaming home to mommy(the caramel delicious Angelina Jolie), his severed arm now the mighty Geet’s trophy. 

Grendel dies near the lap of his mother, an innocent little boy crying softly about the bully who beat him up.  In revenge, Grendel’s mother slaughters a troop of Danes sleeping off another big revel.   Their carcasses are strung upside down from the mead hall ceiling like bats hanging from a cave roof.

If the monster seems more human than the man it is because the man is really a monster underneath all that sculpted perfection.  “I know that beneath you’re glamour, you’re as much a monster as my son,” Grendel’s mother says to Beowulf—intent to rid the Danes of yet another horror.    

She proposes the bargain that was the seed of Hrothgar’s cursed kingdom, and would be the curse of Beowulf’s realm fifty years on at the end of a soul breaking, bloody lifetime of empire building.  “Are you the one they call Beowulf?  Such a strong man you are.  A man like you could own the greatest tale ever sung.  Beowulf. . . Stay with me.  Give me a son, and I shall make you the greatest king that ever lived.  This. . . I swear.”

Zemeckis’s first performance capture spectacle The Polar Express was a holiday sugar plum marred with creepy The Nightmare Before Christmas side effects. The process which involves filming actors as they performed in Lycra suits studded with myriad digital sensors couldn’t capture eye movement in coordination with face and body.  The result: skin tones with a ghostly pallor, a Santa Claus with a pedophiliac glint and elves with all the warmth of hobgoblins.  The whole train trip was the Rapture to hell. 

For Beowulf the Zemeckis design team added a color palette of sun, fire and gold; and created an EOG device (electrooculography) that synced eye movement with body performance.  Now, the men are bronzed– only the women are deathly pale.  And in a small step up, the eyes are drunk and dazed instead of crazily demented.

However, the monsters are glorious.   Grendel and his mother are a twosome that rock to their own delightfully twisted dance steps.  Grendel’s molded confusion perfectly mirrors the emotional chaos inside him— visually Edvard Munch’s The Scream turned flesh. With screeching authenticity, Crispin Glover captures the whole mad howl of this monster’s existence.  Jolie’s alluring beauty matched with the reptilian voice never let’s one forget the she-demon inside.   Like Medusa her true self is only glimpsed in reflection.  And the dragon at the end is a model of scorched earth burnished perfection.  

The screenplay by Neil Gaiman (the Sandman graphic novels) and Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction) fills in the holes of the Beowulf saga with some oddly appropriate Freudian slush and oedipal intrigue.  The update keeps the tales mythological spine while giving it a tragic dimension– some Joseph Campbell relevance for the generations weaned on the Star Wars six-pack.

Zemeckis directs with all the solemnity of a Viking funeral.   The similar Trojan War and death epic 300, released earlier this year, was all eye-popping, muscle bulging, pulpy testosterone—but it at least it had a level of ironic fun, and stirred things up visually.   Beowulf is all juice by contrast.  It doesn’t want to spoil the read for those few high school English teachers that may be watching.    The Zemeckis that did the Back to the Future trilogy and Who Framed Roger Rabbit knew how to goose and pop the script to make it fun while keeping it classic.   Beowulf is just classic.  In-between the set pieces its rich aesthetic values had me yawning. 

Even with the dust blown off this tome, Beowulf gets a B.  

 

The Credits: 

 

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, based on the epic poem; director of photography, Robert Presley; edited by Jeremiah O’Driscoll; music by Alan Silvestri, with songs by Mr. Silvestri and Glen Ballard; production designer, Doug Chiang; senior visual effects supervisor, Jerome Chen; produced by Mr. Zemeckis, Steve Starkey and Jack Rapke; released by Paramount Pictures. Running time: 114 minutes.

 

WITH: Ray Winstone (Beowulf), Anthony Hopkins (Hrothgar), John Malkovich (Unferth), Robin Wright Penn (Wealthow), Brendan Gleeson (Wiglaf), Crispin Glover (Grendel), Alison Lohman (Ursula) and Angelina Jolie (Grendel’s mother).

 

“Beowulf” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Gory violence and a naked Angelina Jolie avatar.

 

Copyright 2007 by Jonathan Moya

 

 

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Fred Claus– Seen at the Bijou

Posted: November 18, 2007 in Uncategorized

  Fred Claus (2007)

The Review:

Any holiday movie that features Santa Claus gets an automatic pass from this critic.   I don’t like being on anyone’s naughty list.   Besides I have a fetish for striking full-size fays (the correct term for a female elf) in short tight red dresses with white fuzzy trim.   One has been on my Christmas list consecutively since 1965.  Maybe one day she will come. 

Santa Claus fay assistant in Fred Claus is Charlene played by the delightfully leggy and delectably proportioned Elizabeth Banks who is given as many low angles up the skirt camera shots as possible since she has a “secret Willie.”   That is how one child in the row in front of me described the elf that is her secret admirer.  Willie (John Michael Higgins) is Santa’s indispensable right hand and tool. 

Fred is Santa’s older brother played by the half sleepy-eyed, half grumpy-pussed, sometimes just right Vince Vaughn.   Fred and Santa (Paul Giamatti looking as red nose as Rudolph) have been on the outs ever since Santa mistakenly chopped down the tree that contained Fred and the blue bird of happiness.   That was hundreds of years ago, before Santa became a saint, and time became eternal youth for St Nick and his relations— one of the perks of sainthood. 

Fred was present when Santa was born— as big as a turkey and two Christmas hams, his eyes all a twinkle, his dimples very merry, his cheeks like roses, his nose not quite a cherry.  He had a broad face and a little round belly that shook as he shivered off all his maternal jelly.  He looked at his mom and called her a “ho”, followed by two more before Fred up the stairs he did go.  (With all apologies to Clement Clark Moore.)

Fred is a two bit hustler with big dreams, a heart of gold and a posse of bill collector on his trail.   In his latest scheme he needs fifty thousand dollars to open an Off Track Betting parlor right across from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange— and has only three days to get it. 

So Fred does what any black sheep brother with a mythological sibling would do— he steals himself a little red pot of money from a Salvation Army Claus.  In jail after being unkindly pummeled and piled on by thirteen of Santa’s red-suited Brethren, Fred calls the only true miracle worker he knows. 

Soon Fred is at the North Pole stamping endless naughty and nice files, having massive disco parties on the factory floor of Santa’s toy shop and causing work slow downs that put the elves behind on their Christmas quota.

Fred is probably the least of Santa’s problems.   The jolly old elf is fighting morbid obesity caused by the endless generosity of the world’s little one leaving out too many milk and cookies for him to eat.   Corporate already having given the Easter bunny his notice, has sent an efficiency expert Clyde (Kevin Spacey dressed in a Clark Kent costume but still acting like Lex Luthor) to hopefully shut him down permanently.    Santa is only one strike away from being replaced by Chinese labor. 

Guess who will have to step in to save Christmas?

To make a Bad Santa type movie with an actual bad Santa would be box office poison.  So Fred Claus can’t help but to be a homogenized Elf spread served on a crusty bagel— something that is just barely good though not quite kosher. 

It lets the rest of the religious universe crash what is normally a large and loud private party of one sect.

Fred stamps every naughty file as nice.  “Every child deserves a Christmas present,” he says, to a flustered Santa trying to patiently explain to Fred that the factory can’t make enough gifts for everyone.  

As Santa’s surrogate on Christmas Eve Fred passes out gifts to even Muslim and Jewish families. 

If Clyde (read Lex Luthor) had gotten a Superman cape many Christmases ago when he was number one on the naughty list he wouldn’t be such a pud.    The right gift, at the right time can turn an evil genius to good— it can transform the world. 

Fred Claus is a Christmas movie that comes close to suggesting that the world be better with less of the Kris and more the Kringle spirit.  It wants a universal Santa Day that will celebrate the diversity of the world.

It is the only Christmas movie I know which wants to win a Nobel peace prize.  Movies can come up with the weirdest subtext when a bored director (Kevin Dobkin of Wedding Crashers fame) tries to shake things up a bit.

 Fred Claus is not naughty enough to deserve coal in its stocking, but not nice enough to produce visions of dancing sugar plums.  It gets a B, because there are no truly naughty Christmas movies. 

 

The Credits: 

 

Directed by David Dobkin; written by Dan Fogelman based on a story by Jessie Nelson and Mr. Fogelman; director of photography, Remi Adefarasin; edited by Mark Livolsi; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Joel Silver, Ms. Nelson and Mr. Dobkin; released by Warner Brothers Pictures. Running time: 107 minutes.

 

WITH: Vince Vaughn (Fred Claus), Paul Giamatti (Santa Claus), Miranda Richardson (Annette Claus), John Michael Higgins (Willie), Elizabeth Banks (Charlene), Rachel Weisz (Wanda), Kathy Bates (Mother Claus), Kevin Spacey (Clyde), Ludacris (DJ Donnie), Bobb’e J. Thompson (Slam) and Jorge Rodero (Willie’s body)

 

“Fred Claus” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested). Sexual innuendo and ninja elf violence.

 

Copyright 2007 by Jonathan Moya

 

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American Gangster– Seen at the Bijou

Posted: November 14, 2007 in Movies

American Gangster (2007)

 

The Review:

 

Every Hollywood film about black gangsters has to have a chinchilla or Super fly clothes moment in it— where it is announced loud and clear to the police that this dude is a pimp or a pusher.

In American Gangster it comes about half way through when Frank Lucas (played by Denzel Washington with his usual charm and confidence) the drug dealer with the Brooks Brothers wardrobe attends the first Ali-Frazier fight at Madison Square Garden wearing an extremely loud chinchilla coat given to him as a present by his wife Eva (Lymari Nadal).   Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe in deep intensity mode) the New Jersey Detective leading a drug investigation unit on a mandate to collar the biggest drug kingpin available spends a good five seconds staring Lucas over and sizes him up as prime suspect number one.  

Even Detective Trupo (Josh Brolin spewing arrogant and menacing vibes), a cop on the take, makes it a point of honor to pull Lucas over and shake him down for the protection money Trupo feels is his due.   Lucas seething with rage at his lapse throws the coat into the roaring flames of his fireplace while his wife cries in stunned disbelief.  

The next day at the police precinct Roberts pins Lucas’ photo in the center with all the other suspect drug kingpins.

The point: drugs may kill, but wearing the wrong clothes will get you nabbed. 

In American Gangster style determines the good from the bad and the bad from the ugly.   

Russell Crowe goes through his entire wardrobe of five bargain store shirts, a couple of leather windbreakers, a pair of faded jeans and two suits in the less than three hours of running time.   Washington goes through twenty wardrobe changes just in the trailer alone!

The suits have all the power here.   They’re American Gangster’s visual shorthand for who has the upper hand. 

For the first two thirds the immaculately tailored Lucas wears the power clothes— and can dish out the fashion advice. 

He dresses down his younger brother Huey (an underused Chiwetel Ejiofor) when he flaunts the wrong rags.   

“You’re too loud. You’re making too much noise.  The loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room,” he explains to Huey.  Lucas and Huey then go shopping for the right threads.  

Even the Superfly inspiration, fellow drug dealer and self-styled “Mr. Untouchable”, Nicky Barnes (a strong Cuba Gooding Jr.) is chewed out for being a bad fashionista.  Wearing the wrong clothes puts the whole operation at risk.

When Richie Roberts gets to wear the suit in the end, and Lucas turns state evidence dressed in nothing but a T-shirt and a pair of causal pants, the visual irony of the whole situation doesn’t comes across as a reversal of fortunes—just a weird style faux pas.

And what does Lucas do?   Not snitch on Nicky Barnes.  That would make the 1970’s nothing but a sly fashion joke.   American Gangster doesn’t have the heart to pull that kind of trigger.   It doesn’t like to get its clothes dirty.   It is oddly bloodless for an R-rated film. 

No.  Lucas rats out the other suits– Detective Trupo and his long-black-leathered coated, slick-back-haired gang of thugs.  Cops with the cojones to sell back seized dope to the dealers they took it from.  

Ultimately, American Gangster becomes just a loony fashion war with heroin as the hot accessory of the moment. It reduces American capitalism and its consumer society to a pitch: buy direct and sell for less.

Lucas goes directly to Thailand, cuts a deal with the local drug colonel, and using his relatives stationed in Vietnam arranges to have the dope shipped directly through military cargo flights— sometimes using willing G.I.’s as his mules, but more often just smuggling it inside the caskets of the war dead.  His heroin is twice as pure and one-half the street price.   He even brands it—“Blue Magic” is delivered in cerulean packets with the named stamped on it.

“Everything about Frank Lucas’ life seems unpretentious, ordinary and legitimate,” states Richie to an FBI commission.  Lucas even takes his mom to church every Sunday.  

In contrast, Richie is a straight cop (he turned in close to a million dollar haul without pocketing a single dollar, much to the disbelief of his corrupt cronies) with a messy life.   He is going through a divorce and his constant stewardess hopping doesn’t bode well for him getting custody of his son.  His wife Laurie (Carla Gugino) hates him for his honest poverty, his incorruptibility that yields no lucre.

The third time around isn’t quite the charm for Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott.  Crowe’s Richie Roberts is stuck in the middle between the dour intensity of Maximus from Gladiator and the champagne effervescence that made his Max Skinner from A Good Year such a sour concoction.  Richie’s lightness of character is buried under several layers of quiet gruff.  The final facedown between him and Lucas is subsumed by constant chumminess.  It is a stare off where both can’t keep from smiling.  Crowe did a better balancing act in 3:10 to Yuma where the levity and intensity were part of a bigger confidence game.  

Denzel Washington did three films with Ridley’s younger brother Tony Scott (Crimson Tide, Man on Fire and Déjà Vu) where the performances were just an accessory to the action.  Here Denzel is just being Denzel— charming, sophisticated and light.   The intense moments have a feathery seriousness—they never roost.   His inner beast has pussycat pleasantness.  Instead of malice, his soul is cloaked in ennui.  If American Gangster had the Washington from Training Day (an over the top performance of evil that won him an Oscar) it would have stung.

The screenwriter Steve Zaillian (Schindler’s List) in Script magazine notes that American Gangster was cobbled together by dropping every other scene from two scripts that told the story from each protagonist’s view point.  The result is a film that never resolves its major conflict in a dramatically satisfying way even though it is true to the major facts of Richie and Lucas life.   American Gangster could have used a real movie ending.  Its balance keeps it from being a black Godfather.  

American Gangster has a cool surface.  It’s as slick as a business presentation– and just as detached.

It needs to rub in more of that Josh Brolin and Cuba Gooding Jr. funky nastiness, instead of being woefully full of underdeveloped supporting roles.  It needs to be Corelone grand and mean streets gritty.    It needs to be a contender instead of an Oscar pretender.   

American Gangster gets a Boyz n the Hood B. 

 

The Credits: 

Directed by Ridley Scott; written by Steven Zaillian, based on the New York magazine article “The Return of Superfly,” by Mark Jacobson; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by Pietro Scalia; music by Marc Streitenfeld; production designer, Arthur Max; produced by Brian Grazer and Mr. Scott; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 158 minutes.

 

WITH: Denzel Washington (Frank Lucas), Russell Crowe (Richie Roberts), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Huey Lucas), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Nicky Barnes), Josh Brolin (Detective Trupo), Ted Levine (Lou Toback), Armand Assante (Dominic Cattano), John Ortiz (Javier J. Rivera), John Hawkes (Freddie Spearman), RZA (Moses Jones), Lymari Nadal (Eva), Yul Vazquez (Alfonse Abruzzo), Ruby Dee (Mama Lucas), Idris Elba (Tango), Carla Gugino (Laurie Roberts), Joe Morton (Charlie Williams), Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Doc), Roger Guenveur Smith (Nate), Roger Bart (United States attorney), Chuck Cooper (private doctor) and Linda Powell (social worker).

 

“American Gangster” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Explicit and very realistic-looking intravenous drug use and bloody, bloody gun violence.

 

Copyright 2007 by Jonathan Moya

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Bee Movie– Seen at the Bijou

Posted: November 7, 2007 in Movies

 Bee Movie (2007)

The Review:

I am glad to see that Jerry Seinfeld is ready to get back to work.   Doing American Express commercials with Superman and being a standup guy isn’t as rewarding as it once was.  Ah, to be a drone again and to punch that old clock!  The stuff of Jerry’s dreams— but not mine. 

In Bee Movie the newly matriculated worker bugs choose the dead-end jobs they will be doing for the rest of their lives from a flap display of appealing positions ranging from crud picker to regurgitator.  The good spots like pollen collector are inherited positions with a twenty-seven million year waiting list. 

Technically, they are not bees, not even insects— though they are black and yellow and fly, and exhibit a collective hive mentality.   They are a weird hybrid that has four legs instead of the normal six and speak with the chipper high tones of those taking antidepressants.  The parents worry whether their children are still being “Beeish” and not dating wasps. 

Everyday life in the hive is a Rube Goldberg conglomeration of ladles, scoops and tubes coated in a purple and golden aura– an endless theme park ride to keep the bees working and amused.  

And everyone is, except for Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld), a maverick Bee who dreams of seeing life outside the hive.   On a dare he is able to fly along with a squadron of pollen jocks, the only bees allowed to leave the hive. 

He finds a friend when a rainstorm causes Barry to break formation and seek shelter in the window box belonging to Vanessa (Renée Zellwegger), a quirky big–hearted Manhattan florist, who saves him from being mashed under the winter boots of her dim bulb tennis partner Ken (Patrick Warburton). 

Barry is smitten and she is curiously amused—and the two prattle around the city taking in the sights. 

That is until one day in a grocery store he stumbles upon a secret that shatters him.  Rows and rows of golden honey stocked neatly to the ceiling plastered with Ray Liotta’s face— and all marked 50 % off.  The bees are slaves to the hu-“man”, and all their work just serves their sweet cravings. 

“This is stealing.  A lot of stealing,” Barry screams in dismay.  “You have taken our homes, our schools, our hospitals.  This is all we have.  And it’s on sale!”     

Barry decides to sue the human race for the misappropriation of the bee’s labor.    And he wins.  But there are disastrous side effects—all the flowers, vegetables and trees start to die.   And soon even the bees themselves.   But take heart, this is a family movie, and family movies don’t end in ecological disaster.  

The collective hive mentality of Bee Movie, forces the plot to jump through so many illogical hoops that Bee Movie almost stings itself to death.   Parents may want to give their children two spoonfuls of sugar and one of honey less they prattle on about being a crud picker, regurgitator or mite wrangler to the end of their dyeing days.  It is nice for children to have a fall back position, but to fall back so low, well. . .

I suspect that some children are going to be thinking dirty job for eternity or dope fiend— and choosing dope fiend.  In that case, parents would be advised to take their kids to see American Gangster playing in theater twelve next door,  because “Bee”-ing yourself here  clearly means the end of the world. 

Even being an animated bee is a stretch for Jerry Seinfeld.   Being Jerry worked in Seinfeld because he was free to sit back and be the straight man to a more talented cast.   The show was deliberately episodic and about nothing for a reason— the man was a lousy actor.  In longer doses he was sweaty, uncomfortable and almost insufferable. 

In Bee Movie Seinfeld is just uncomfortable.   The timing of his jokes just hang in the air.  They don’t buzz.

The screenplay written by Seinfeld and Seinfeld scribes and friends Barry Marder, Spike Feresten and Andy Robin is three half-hour episodes uneasily waxed together with as much bee foolery, bee facts, and cautionary wisdom about their necessary ecologic role as the audience can stand.  Bee Movie is at it best when it is nothing more than friends hanging around and shooting the breeze– just a Seinfeld episode. 

The bits between Barry and Vanessa, and his fellow hive mate Adam (Matthew Broderick) are loaded with chummy repartee.  Chris Rocks throwaway barbs as a mosquito named Mooseblood, Barry’s temporary traveler splattered on the windshield of life zing with the survival comedy of people in the same mess.  “Why do you people have to be so god dumb clean,” he cries.  “How much do you people need to see.  Open your eyes.  Stick your head out the window.” A life mantra if there ever was one. 

The last two-thirds of Bee Movie wiggle in honey righteousness.    The court case and the ecologic disaster that results have all the fun and excitement of being in bed with the hives.   The more it scratches the messier it gets. 

The directors Steve Hickner (Prince of Egypt) and Simon J. Smith (the Shrek 4-D attraction at Universal Orlando) give the images a hypnotic lushness and a pacing that swarms with pheromone acuity.   The sags never show because Bee Movie is always busy setting up the next big set piece. The best animated montage I have seen this year is Barry’s introduction to the outside world:  a kaleidoscope of green nature that floats into the cool pastels of box kites floating high on a breeze.

The blitzkrieg of Bee Movie ads on NBC primetime (Jerry’s old network) has the smell of a sitcom deal waiting to be announced between Jerry and the peacock network.  Why else would NBC air such unfunny stuff?  

Bee Movie never quite lives up to its own buzz, but then it is just a B-movie.

It gets a B, of course. 

The Credits: 

Directed by Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner; written by Jerry Seinfeld, Spike Feresten, Barry Marder and Andy Robin; head of character animation, Fabio Lignini; edited by Nick Fletcher; music by Rupert Gregson-Williams; production designer, Alex McDowell; produced by Mr. Seinfeld and Christina Steinberg; released by Paramount Pictures. Running time: 100 minutes.

WITH THE VOICES OF: Jerry Seinfeld (Barry B. Benson), Renée Zellweger (Vanessa), Matthew Broderick (Adam Flayman), John Goodman (Layton T. Montgomery), Chris Rock (Mooseblood), Patrick Warburton (Ken), Larry King (Bee Larry King), Ray Liotta (himself) and Sting (himself).

“Bee Movie” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested). A few scary moments and mild hints about, er, the birds and the bees.

Copyright 2007 by Jonathan Moya

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  Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

The Review:

My experience with plastic sex dolls is limited to the occasional fumbling around with a condom.  Although I must admit I was psychologically scarred when in a pique of curiosity I did pull down the pants of my G.I. Joe and discovered that underneath he looked exactly like Barbie.   And so did Ken too!  For the two years between first and second grade, I thought I was living with an alien thing growing between my legs.  I thought I was a Martian.   It was the only explanation that seemed to fit.   It was also, my only childhood delusion.  

So Lars and the real girl, about a 27 year old virgin so painfully shy that he treats the anatomically correct sex mannequin he “met” on the Internet as his real girlfriend, has a shared ache for me and all the other Martians and nerds who grew up scared about that thing in-between their legs. And if parents were really caring and smart, all shy boys would have a real girl like Lars for their first love.  

The real girl of the title is Bianca who comes fully assembled and delivered in a Frankenstein-size crate suitably attired in black arm and fishnet stockings, a matching sequin top and skirt, and smart designer pumps.  

Lars (Ryan Gosling in a performance so wittily self-contained it is easy to miss the fact that most of it is improvised) spent his pre-Bianca life in the converted garage apartment in back of his brother’s Gus (Paul Schneider) house avoiding all attempts at breakfast, lunch and dinner invites his brother’s wife Karin (Emily Mortimer) tried to hijack his way; excusing himself from the innocent yearnings of Margo (Kelli Garner), the blonde from his church with a naïf’s smile, an I.Q. and a pulse; and (this being a PG-13 film with no solo yo-yo playing allowed) nights alone in his dark bedroom.  

With a half loopy, almost sexual smile on his face Lars announces his newfound friend to Gus.  Bianca confined to a wheelchair, is a missionary of Brazilian-Dutch blood— a religious girl whose faith won’t allow for Lars and her to sleep under the same roof.

“Bianca is in town for a reason,” observes the local therapist and general practitioner Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson) explaining Lars delusion to the perplexed Gus and Karin.   “Just go along with it.”   And everyone in town does. 

Their romance is a kind and gentle relationship until Bianca develops a village life.  She volunteers at church and the hospital, reads with the aid of an audio book to the first graders at school, even has a part-time job as window dressing at the dress shop in the mall—all to the chagrin of Lars.   

“How did you know… that you were a man,” Lars asks Gus in the kitchen one day.  “You grow up when you decide to do right.  And not just right for you– for everybody.  Even when it hurts,” Gus replies.

Lars is uncomfortably starting to notice more grown up things—namely the curves, the legs and ass on Margo as she shimmies up and down at every strike she makes at the bowling alley— the two out on a friendly date intended to cheer up Lars enduring another lonely night of Bianca volunteerism. 

It leads to Bianca and Lars first argument.  Days later Bianca becomes sick.   When Lars resuscitates Margo’s office teddy bear after another coworker had hung it with a noose made from an extension cord (in retaliation for Margo stealing his action figures), Bianca suddenly stops breathing and is admitted to the hospital. And things only get better for Lars.  

Nancy Oliver’s’ screenplay is a delicious inside joke.   Oliver was a regular scribe for Six Feet Under, the comic drama about a family of undertakers that ran for five seasons on HBO.  Substitute a corpse for Bianca and this would be a weird horror comedy about necrophilia.   The chaste “manno”-philia allows Oliver to pitch the ruse to a wider audience, while keeping it Hollywood small-town gentle.   The lack of an edge or dissent from the townsfolk to Lars affliction robs Lars and the Real Girl of any emotional depth it might have—making it just a small good film with some charm and strong performances.

Craig Gillespie’s gives Lars the muted color scheme and subdued camera placement typical for independent comedies now.  With a more talented cast of Billy Bob Thornton, Susan Sarandon and Sean William Scott, Gillespie released, just a month earlier, the lamentable Mr. Woodcock.   The movie had the feel and tone of a production shoot where everyone was just there for the paycheck.     Lars which was filmed and finished before Woodcock, at least had some beginner’s luck and a cast that wanted to make some art on its side.  

Lars and the Real Girl is as gentle as a last breath—just not as final.  

It gets a B.  

 

The Credits: 

Directed by Craig Gillespie; written by Nancy Oliver; director of photography, Adam Kimmel; edited by Tatiana S. Riegel; music by David Torn; production designer, Arv Grewal; produced by Sidney Kimmel, John Cameron and Sarah Aubrey; released by Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures. Running time: 106 minutes.

WITH: Ryan Gosling (Lars Lindstrom), Emily Mortimer (Karin), Paul Schneider (Gus), Kelli Garner (Margo), Patricia Clarkson (Dagmar), Nancy Beatty (Mrs. Gruner), Maxwell McCabe-Lokos (Kurt) and Karen Robinson (Cindy).

Lars and the Real Girl” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). No man-and-doll sex, just courtship.

Copyright 2007 by Jonathan Moya

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