Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Thanksgiving Movie Madness

So this past Thanksgiving weekend I actually got a chance to watch three of the movies I wanted to see this summer but never actually got around to seeing. Just some brief thoughts on each:

Hancock, which received mixed reviews, starring Will Smith as an alcoholic superhero who needs to repair his image.

My wife loved this movie, having gone on several girl dates to see it this summer. And while it was certainly better than what the critics that panned it gave it credit for, it didn't quite live up to the high expectations created by my wife either. The first half of the story entertains as sort of a superhero meets the real world sort of scenario, with Will Smith's Hancock turning to Jason Bateman's Ray Embrey in an attempt to better his public image. It's a cute story that doesn't let itself get weighed down by it's characters. The audience can see the Hancock is lonely and troubled without the story having to dwell on that fact. The movie lost me when about halfway through, it's revealed that Embrey's wife Mary, played by Charlize Theron, actually has super powers like Hancock and is technically his wife. It's not that it's an unbelievable plot twist, it's just that it's a complete U-turn in story. The first half of the movie was more than a bit funny, but the movie's end dragged on and on with tedious life and death matters about our superhero's true natures. It's worth watching, but I wouldn't be running out of my way to see it.

Tropic Thunder
, a star studded send up of the movie business, which received glowing reviews

I had heard from several different people in different circles that this was a great movie and while I enjoyed it, I'm not sure it lived up to the hype. The story is just so over-the-top ridiculous that it begins to lose you after awhile. And while it's funny, I've certainly seen funnier movies. That all being said, Robert Downey Jr. is tremendous as a send up of a character actor who works so hard to get into character he has skin augmentation to make himself look black and can't even get out of character when faced with life or death choices. There's also Ben Stiller putting on his macho hat as an action star begging to be taken seriously and Tom Cruise donning a bald cap and fat suit to play a loud profane studio executive. I remember people being impressed with Cruise this summer, but how hard can it be to act like a complete asshole? Go and watch it because it's got some very funny moments and it's nice to see Hollywood literally ridiculed from top to bottom, but just don't expect anything great.

Wall-E, the latest and greatest widely praised Pixar film.

Forget the fact that this is a "kids" movie, Wall-E was the best movie I've seen in years. It's amazing that Pixar's animation, when combined with a good story, can breath more life into their characters than 90% of whatever else Hollywood has to offer. I could probably go on forever about this movie, but I'll try and keep it brief. Basically, Wall-E is a robot who's charged with cleaning up the earth after it was evacuated centuries ago for having too much garbage. Wall-E falls in love with Eve, a probe sent back to Earth by the robot caretakers of humanity- the human race you see, has spent centuries living in space on luxury liners, having their every whim catered too by literal armies of robots. It's an incredible mix of traditional science fiction and Pixar cuteness, one where neither overwhelms the other, the little robot characters are allowed to shine, and the plot is allowed to progress very naturally.

Some folks have criticized the movie's environmental message, while other's have criticized the portrayal of fat people as lazy, but as a fat guy who's sick of environmental messages, I didn't really have a problem with either of those things. What struck me about the humans in the movie was that they were so damn nice. Even the generally positive Issac Asimov gave us worlds where people too defendant on robots grew cold if not downright hostile. Here, the first few people we see are down right friendly and courteous to Wall-E. The lazy part is true, but that's more a comment about human nature than anything else. Jeff Garlin (who's great as the Captain), shows that even after centuries of physical and mental lethargy, humans are still perfectly capable of getting down to business when the situation demands it. As to the environmental message, yeah, it's there, but I didn't find it overwhelming. As far as messages go, it's a rather soft take care of the planet sort of message, one that you'd have to be pretty hard-hearted to disagree with. And while the movie may be pointing out our over-consumption, this isn't some Marxist flick. Wall-E after all, gains his individuality through the leftover treasures he finds in the garbage. His collection of stuff is part of what makes him who he is. If I haven't said it yet, see Wall-E. And if I haven't said it yet, eat your heart out George Lucas. Pixar's computer characters are a million times better than anything you could ever create.


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