Archive for August, 2009

AVATAR IMAX PREVIEW

Posted: August 22, 2009 in Movies

I was lucky to score some tickets for the Avatar Imax preview.   They were for the 6 pm Friday showing  at the Regal Pinnacle Cinema 18 and Imax in Knoxville, TN.  I live in Chattanooga which is roughly 90 miles south of Knoxville.   I got there early, about 4:45.   I was the third one in line.    By the time the preview clicked on at a little after 6 pm, the theater was just  half-full.  

The Pinnacles IMAX screen just barely qualifies as an Imax screen.   It is a little bigger than two stories and has just a slight bend at its sides.   I have been to IMAX screens elsewhere that are three stories tall and are fully curved on the sides and on the tops and bottoms. 

The good news about the preview.   The footage was probably from a technical standpoint the most awesome thing I ever seen.    The CGI was just breathtaking and filled with vibrant colors high on blue, gold  and purple.    Three full scenes from the avatar world where shown.     A hunt scene with a creature that looked liked a mutated stegosaurus.  A “horse breaking”  that involved a pterodactyl/dragon looking animal.     And a kissing scene.  They were all moderately suspenseful and filled with the usual 3-D effects: steep drops and objects lunging at the screen.    The clarity of the depth of field was impressive and there was always something interesting to watch in the background, be it huge flock of flying dragons or lush jungle foliage stirring in the breeze.    

The bad news: the acting was pretty much stilted and overwrought.    Some of the action existed to have action for action sake.    Their is a non CGI scene  of a sergeant  orienting a bunch of new soldiers that was pretty much laughable in execution.  I suspect it was a bit of intentional camp.     Another scene had the Avatar version of the Sam
Worthington character break loose from a hospital ward.     It left me cold.  It was so flatly acted and mundanely edited.    It looks like James Cameron has mastery of the the technical but an apprentice view of humanity.   

I left both impressed and unimpressed.    Of course I am going to see it.   I hope it doesn’t succumb to the dummying down that George Lucas gave to the Star Wars prequels.   As far as the preview goes it was a solid B.   My expectations for Avatar were A+ high before and just B+  now.       

District 9 (2009)

Posted: August 21, 2009 in Movies

District 9

(2009)

A Movie Review

By

Jonathan Moya

4 Out of 5 Stars or A-

 

The Plot: (from Allmovie.com)

Director Neill Blomkamp teams with producer Peter Jackson for this tale of extraterrestrial refugees stuck in contemporary South Africa. It’s been 28 years since the aliens made first contact, but there was never any attack from the skies, nor any profound technological revelation capable of advancing our society. Instead, the aliens were treated as refugees. They were the last of their kind, and in order to accommodate them, the government of South Africa set up a makeshift home in District 9 as politicians and world leaders debated how to handle the situation. As the humans begin to grow wary of the unwelcome intruders, a private company called Multi-National United (MNU) is assigned the task of controlling the aliens. But MNU is less interested in the aliens’ welfare than attempting to understand how their weaponry works. Should they manage to make that breakthrough, they will receive tremendous profits to fund their research. Unfortunately, the highly advanced weaponry requires alien DNA in order to be activated. When MNU field operative Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is exposed to biotechnology that causes his DNA to mutate, the tensions between the aliens and the humans intensifies. Wikus is the key to unlocking the alien’s technology, and he quickly becomes the most wanted man on the planet. Ostracized and isolated, Wikus retreats to District 9 in a desperate bid to shake his dogged pursuers.

The Review:

District 9 has cool aliens.  They are a cross between a cockroach and a lobster, with whirling green gyros for lungs.   They have a high “ick” factor, although the main alien Chris looks like a Transformer.  His son is so ugly he is cute.   Their spacecraft stalled out above the sky of Johannesburg South Africa twenty years ago and has remained very ufo-ed there to the annoyance of the human population.   Out of fuel and literally starving, they were shuttled down to a makeshift refugee camp, then a shantytown, and for the vast peeved off humanity in what would be hopefully the final solution to the alien problem, now to a concentration camp 200 kilometers away from the nearest human population.  The “Prawns” as they are derisively called live on the edge of violence since they lack the basic life necessities.   Their only value to humans is their advanced weaponry coded to their DNA.  Oh, did I mention that the Prawns are the good guys?

Leading the Prawn relocation is Wikus Van der Merwe (Silto Copley giving the most out of nowhere acting debut in fifteen years), a mid level screw up at MNU (Multi National United), a weapons and security firm.  Wikus has his cushy position because he married the boss’s daughter.  Accidentally sprayed with a black slime cum starship fuel developed by the alien Chris Johnson (body movement and voice of Jason Cope, CGI exoskeleton by Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital), Wikus starts metamorphosing into a Prawn.  Wikus never goes full Kafka, just his left hand, which can fire Prawn weaponry.  He is now a multibillion-dollar asset to MNU- if he can be sliced, diced, synthesized and assembly lined.    The technology to change him back exists solely on the Prawn mother ship and Chris is the only way to get to it.

Peter Jackson originally hired Neil Bomkamp to direct the much-anticipated Halo movie.   Blomkamp had directed three shorts for the popular video game.  When that production went into turn around, Jackson suggested that Blomkamp make a different feature.    Blomkamp expanded and fleshed out his earlier short “Alive in Joburg” to feature length while keeping the short’s mock documentary style and upping the apartheid quotient.  District 9 echoes District 6, the mixed race neighborhood of 60,000, forcibly relocated when adjudicated as whites only in 1966.  In a further eerie echo, the Prawns speech (all of which is subtitled) has the clicks common to the Bantu language.  

The double flip-flops in District 9 give its satire a human edge.  Both Blacks and Whites exploit and repress the Prawns.  Lacking a consumerist mindset, the Prawns only exist to the White elite for their capitalist potential- the multi-billion dollar reward for those who can unlock, harness and replicate Prawn technology.  Never mind that the breakdown of that technology is what stranded the Prawns in Johannesburg in the first place. Their relocation is the next logical step before genocide.  The Blacks use the Prawns for their juju, believing that devouring a Prawn transfers their power and knowledge. They take advantage of the Prawn addiction to cat food to create a semi-slave underclass.

Wickus’ metamorphosis is the flip-flop that gives District 9 its kick and compassion.   Wickus and Chris relationship evolves through needs, to self-preservation and mutual admiration.  It is a buddy flick caught in action tropes and mated with the identity forged through combat of a war movie.  The Defiant Ones meets Enemy Mine with a little E.T. thrown in for resonance.   Chris and his son only want to go home. District 9 like any great science fiction feature creates its own screwy synthesis and worldview.  The Star Trek reboot was fun, cuddly and familiar.  District 9, however, takes us boldly to places a summer movie has never gone before.   For that, it gets an A-.          

The Credits:   (From AllMovie.com)

Neill Blomkamp  – Director / Screenwriter Carolynne Cunningham  – Producer Peter Jackson  – Producer Terri Tatchell  – Screenwriter Trent Opaloch  – Cinematographer Michelle Belcher  – Musical Direction/Supervision Clinton Shorter  – Composer (Music Score) Julian Clarke  – Editor Philip Ivey  – Production Designer Mike Berg  – Art Director Emelia Weavind  – Art Director Philippa Boyens  – Co-producer Bill Block  – Executive Producer Elliot Ferwerda  – Executive Producer Paul Hanson  – Executive Producer Ken Kamins  – Executive Producer Dianna Cilliers  – Costume Designer Denton Douglas  – Casting The Embassy Visual Effects  – Visual Effects Grant Hulley  – Stunts Coordinator Image Engine  – Visual Effects Weta Digital  – Visual Effects Weta Workshop Ltd.  – Creature Effects Zoic Studios  – Visual Effects

With   Sharlto Copley  – Wikus Van de Merwe David James  – Koobus Venter Vanessa Haywood  – Tania Van de Merwe Mandla Gaduka  – Fundiswa Mhlanga Kenneth Nkosi  – Thomas Eugene Khumbanyiwa  – Obesandjo Louis Minnaar  – Piet Smit William Allen Young  – Dirk Michaels Nathalie Boltt  – Sarah Livingstone – Sociologist Sylvaine Strike  – Dr. Katrina McKenzie Elizabeth Mkandawie  – Interviewee John Sumner  – Les Feldman – MIL Engineer Greg Melvill-Smith  – Interviewer Nick Blake  – Francois Moraneu – CIV Engineer Team Jed Brophy  – James Hope – Police Officer Marian Hooman  – Sandra Van de Merwe Vittorio Leonardi  – Michael Blomstein – MNU Alien Civil Affairs Johan van Schoor  – Nicolas Van de Merwe Stella Steenkamp  – Phyllis Sinderson – MNU Alien Relations Mampho Brescia  – Reporter Tim Gordon  – Clive Henderson – Entomologist Morne Erasmus  – MNU Medic Anthony Bishop  – Paramedic David Clatworthy  – Doctor Mike Huff  – Doctor Anthony Fridjhon  – MNU Executive Jason Cope  – Grey Bradnam/UKNR Chief Correspondent / Christopher Johnson [Voice] Hlengiwe Madlala  – Sangoma Siyabonga Radebe  – Obesandjo’s Lieutenant Melt Sieberhagen  – Anton Grobler Andre Odendaal  – Mike Van Kerland Jonathan Taylor  – MNU Doctor John Ellis  – MNU Medical Scientest Louise Saint Claire  – MNU Medical Scientist Alan Glauber  – MNU Operating Room Doctor Nicolas Herbstein  – MNU Biolab Technician Norman Anstey  – MNU Lead Medical Technician Nick Boraine  – Craig Weldon Robert Hobbs  – Ross Pienaar Sibulele Gcilitshana  – U Günters Woman Mahendra Raghunath  – SABC Anchor Person Phillip Mathebula  – Meat Stall Seller

Copyright 2009 by Jonathan Moya

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Julie and Julia (2009)

Posted: August 18, 2009 in Movies

Julie and Julia

(2009)

A Movie Review

By

Jonathan Moya

3.5 Out of 5 Stars or B+ 

The Plot: (from IMDB.com)

Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and Julie Powell (Amy Adams) are featured in writer-director Nora Ephron’s adaptation of two bestselling memoirs: Powell’s Julie & Julia and My Life in France, by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme. Based on two true stories, Julie & Julia intertwines the lives of two women who, though separated by time and space, are both at loose ends…until they discover that with the right combination of passion, fearlessness and butter, anything is possible.

The Review:

It is a shame that Julie Powell got a movie of her life made before Julia Child.    Powell’s blog, the Julie/Julia project, about the adventures and misadventures of her trying to cook all 524 recipes in Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” within a year is the inspiration for Julie and Julia.  (Poor Child, she doesn’t even get top billing.)   Even though the two never met in life, Child knew of Powell’s blog but expressed bored disinterest for it.  She thought it was gimmicky and opportunistic, but then Child never wrote endorsements for someone else’s cookbooks and rebutted all attempts by others to make money off the Julia Child label.  She unsuccessfully fought Santa Barbara, California rose lovers who wanted to name a bloom in her honor.  The Julia Child Rose blossoms to a simmering butter-gold.  Julie and Julia only cover twelve years of Child’s life (1948-1961), from her first taste of le cuisine France to the publication of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” 

In Julie and Julia, Powell (played by the incandescent Amy Adams) is crestfallen by her muse’s disinterest.    But then, the simplest cooking faux pas has her whining on the floor, coated in a fine layer of flour and rolled in the offal of her latest botched assignment.   Adams plays Powell with her usual gentle and earnest method style. Her candy-coated charm tries to frost over Powell’s self-indulgence and mal content.  She percolates through all the romantic comedy layers- the breakups and make-ups- towards empowerment, the ideal marriage and the joie de vivre that Nora Ephron (who writes and directs here) sees as Julia Child’s natural essence and lesson to the world. 

Meryl Streep does the real cooking in Julie and Julia.   She effortlessly masters Child’s heart and soul.  Her Julia is the perfect soufflé- light and airy with just the right amount of sugar and lift- an embodiment that goes beyond the command of the Child accent and physical style, beyond homage, to revealing real character.    Streep handles the painful echoes of Child’s ironically childless life with poignancy that avoids the maudlin with one exception.   The last scene has her and her mate Paul (Stanley Tucci) beaming at and holding that beautiful little book of theirs with a little too much motherly and paternal affection.  

Stanley Tucci as Paul gives a delightful performance.    Paul and Julia, Meryl and Tucci find perfect support in each other.   Their onscreen marriage all comes together with perfect technique and the right ingredients- a rare and great example of wedded bliss. 

Nora Ephron’s direction and screenplay bring the parallel stories into a respectful balance that never tries to strain the gentle points that float between them.   The two childless couples find their own perfect space.   Julia and Paul live the classic perfect romance.  Julie and Eric (Chris Messina applying enough patience, charm and husbandly concern to make it gel) live their modern marriage within the conventions of romantic comedy, suffering a little bit of the Blands as a result.  The two stories never create a perfect whole, just a satisfying appetizer and entrée. Sometimes that is as good as life gets.    Julie and Julia gets a B+. 

The Credits:   (From AllMovie.com)

Nora Ephron  – Director / Screenwriter / Producer Laurence Mark  – Producer Amy Robinson  – Producer Eric Steel  – Producer Julia Child  – Book Author Julie Powell  – Book Author Alex Prud’homme  – Book Author Stephen Goldblatt  – Cinematographer Alexandre Desplat  – Composer (Music Score) Richard Marks  – Editor Mark Ricker  – Production Designer Benjamin John Barraud  – Art Director Dianne Dreyer  – Co-producer J.J. Sacha  – Associate Producer Donald J. Lee, Jr.  – Executive Producer / Unit Production Manager Scott Rudin  – Executive Producer Dana Stevens  – Executive Producer Susan Bode-Tyson  – Set Decorator Ann Roth  – Costume Designer Kathleen Driscoll-Mohler  – Casting Francine Maisler  – Casting Peter Bucossi  – Stunts Coordinator Erica Kay  – Production Supervisor

With   Meryl Streep  – Julia Child Amy Adams  – Julie Powell Stanley Tucci  – Paul Child Chris Messina  – Eric Powell Linda Emond  – Simone Beck Helen Carey  – Louise Bertholle Mary Lynn Rajskub  – Sarah Jane Lynch  – Dorothy McWilliams Joan Juliet Buck  – Madame Brassart Crystsal Noelle  – Ernestine George Bartenieff  – Chef Max Bugnard Vanessa Ferlito  – Cassie Casey Wilson  – Regina Jillian Bach  – Annabelle Andrew Garman  – John O’Brien Michael Brian Dunn  – Ivan Cousins Remak Ramsay  – John McWilliams Diane Kagan  – Phila McWilliams Pamela Holden Stewart  – Instructor at Le Cordon Bleu Jeff Brooks  – Minister Frances Sternhagen  – Irma Rombauer Brooks Ashmanskas  – Mr. Misher Eric Sheffer Stevens  – Tim Brian Avers  – Garth Kacie Sheik  – Annette Megan Byrne  – Woman at the Party Deborah Rush  – Avis De Voto Helen Coxe  – Dorothy De Santillana Amanda Hesser  – Herself Maryann Urbano  – Dinner Guest Simon Jutras  – Dinner Guest Felicity Jones  – Dinner Guest Meg Kettell  – Simca’s Concierge Stephen Bogardus  – Scott McLeod Byron Jennings  – Houghton Mifflin Executive Kelly Au Coin  – Houghton Mifflin Executive Richard Bekins  – Houghton Mifflin Executive Luc Palun  – The Chestnut Vendor Remy Roubakha  – Oyster Man Marceline Hugot  – Madame Bernheim Erin Dilly  – Judith Jones Robert Emmet Lunney  – Bill Koshland Tom Galantich  – American Ambassador Allyn Burrows  – Waiter in Paris Café Julia Prud’homme  – Bridge Teacher Dimitri Radochevitch  – Fish Monger Emmanuel Suarez  – Baker Christelle Cornil  – Baker’s Wife Francoise Lebrun  – Baker’s Mother Teddy Bergman  – Cobb Salad Waiter Jean-Pierre Becker  – Fruit Store Owner Mark Wilkins  – Butcher Jamie Hall  – Cheese Guy Francesco David  – Butcher Dianne Dreyer  – American Housewife Mary Kay Place  – Julie’s Mother [Voice]

Copyright 2009 by Jonathan Moya

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Funny People (2009)

Posted: August 8, 2009 in Movies

Funny People

(2009)

A Movie Review

By

Jonathan Moya

2.5 Out of 5 Stars or C+

 

The Plot: (from Allmovie.com)

Judd Apatow casts his former real-life roommate Adam Sandler as George Simmons, a comic superstar who learns in the movie’s opening scene that he suffers from a rare blood disorder that will likely kill him within a year. This news gives him the impulse to go back out and work on his standup, something he hasn’t done in years thanks to the massive success of his movie career. At a club, he meets struggling standup Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), takes a shine to him, and hires the young man both to write jokes and to be his personal assistant. Ira, who’s been sleeping on a friend’s pull-out couch and working a day job at a deli, enjoys the glimpse into the superstar lifestyle, but soon the protégé discovers how selfish and egocentric his mentor really is.

The Review:

Critics have been calling Judd Apatow’s latest comedy Funny People his most mature work.   Whenever I hear the words “mature” and “comedy” in the same sentence, I just dread the filmic result.    Critics (this one included) spend most of their lives in the dark, watching movies and eating popcorn and writing about their obsession.   The good ones don’t have a social life and haven’t had one since High School.    So mature to them is a character that is lonely, obsessed and lives his life metaphorically in the dark.   It is easy for them to fall into the trap Apatow has set. 

Adam Sandler’s George Simmons is a cliché dressed in seeming autobiography.   The world sees the comic as lonely, someone who lives for and can only connect with an audience, someone who can’t live or see beyond the next joke and laugh– Lenny (about Lenny Bruce), Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling (Richard Pryor) and Punchline  with Tom Hanks all played the pagliacci facade with a straight face.   Sandler’s Simmons is likewise straight man to his painful miserable existence.  Simmons traded edgy standup for the movie stardom of infantile comedies.   Redo is George’s head grafted onto a baby’s body.   The Mer-man has him neutered with a fishy appendage.  The lonely George treads his palatial estate playing video games and trying to get that standup edge back with ghost written punch lines at second-rate comedy clubs.     

Apatow even throws in a disease/cure of the week to give George, essentially a walking orifice, a bit of sympathy via regretful self-correction.  Simmons chases Laura (played by Apatow life mate Leslie Mann), the woman who got away, now married with two children (the two Apatow kids Iris and Maude).  The Punchline:  George Simmons wants change without really wanting to change himself.   In a Hollywood comedy, that equals failure— romantic and bromantic.  Even his only friend, and chief gag writer, Ira (Seth Rogen) ditches him when the sarcasm gets too honest.  “You’re my best friend, and I don’t even like you,” George tells Ira.

Funny People is off kilter and out of rhythm probably by design.   It is after all a movie about comics finding their timing and their stride in life.  Apatow, like any good writer, is just trying to make it seem real– make it adhere structurally and thematically.

But the bromance loses itself in the romance.   Ira is really the only one who knows, loves and has the patience to put up with George.  The friendship and the movie finds its proper rhythm and place only at the end.  Perhaps Apatow should have listened more to his own friendly instincts, maybe been less loyal and generous to his long time friend Sandler, and made Funny People Ira’s story.  It might have worked.    Funny People gets a C+. 

The Credits:   (From AllMovie.com)

Judd Apatow  – Director / Producer / Screenwriter Barry Mendel  – Producer Clayton Townsend  – Producer Janusz Kaminski  – Cinematographer Michael Andrews  – Composer (Music Score) Jonathan Karp  – Musical Direction/Supervision Jason Schwartzman  – Composer (Music Score) Craig Alpert  – Editor Brent White  – Editor Jefferson Sage  – Production Designer James F. Truesdale  – Art Director Andrew Jay Cohen  – Co-producer Brendan O’Brien  – Co-producer Jack Giarraputo  – Executive Producer Evan Goldberg  – Executive Producer Seth Rogen  – Executive Producer Betsy Heimann  – Costume Designer Nancy Steiner  – Costume Designer

With  Adam Sandler  – George Simmons Seth Rogen  – Ira Wright Leslie Mann  – Laura Eric Bana  – Clarke Jonah Hill  – Leo Koenig Jason Schwartzman  – Mark Taylor Jackson Aubrey Plaza  – Daisy Danby RZA  – Chuck Iris Apatow  – Ingrid Maude Apatow  – Mabel Torsten Voges  – Dr. Lars Allan Wasserman  – Dr. Stevens Aziz Ansari  – Randy

 

Copyright 2009 by Jonathan Moya

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