Tag Archives: CGI

MOVIE REVIEW: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Youth, Apparently, Is Not Wasted on the Young!

One of the strangest – and yet most normal – films of the year is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Even you’ve not been paying attention to pop culture for the last six months, it would hard not to have heard about the movie about the guy who ages backwards while living forwards. Directed by David Fincher [Fight Club, Zodiac], Button stars Brad Pitt as the titular button – a man who is born an eighty-five year old baby whose every breath rasps and rails as if it might be his last and grows physically younger with each passing day. Whether this odd journey through life is supposed to mean something specific, in terms of metaphor, will no doubt be the subject of much debate.

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For Benjamin, though, life is the same puzzle as it is for the rest of, though he views it from a unique perspective. When he first sees Daisy [Elle Fanning], they are seven – but he is, physically, seventy-eight. This makes their relationship, which would otherwise be completely normal, something else entirely. Even so, his first love, first drink, first sex, first affair [and so forth], all happen in pretty much the conventional order – only Benjamin’s de-aging is different.

Perhaps the point of the movie is that “normal” is strictly a point-of-view, not a definitive quantity; maybe, it’s a tone poem on the idea of youth being wasted on the young; it’s even possible to see the film as an argument for the idea that the beginning and ending of life are the same thing seen from different perspectives – and what happens in the middle will be much the same no matter which way we progress, physically.

When Benjamin and Daisy [now played by a luminous Cate Blanchett] finally come together in the middle of their lives – when they both look their age – they do the expected things, like move in together and have a child. Benjamin’s de-aging means that he will appear to be teenager when his daughter hits puberty, which leads to his having to deal with being unable to be a father to his child – again, an ordinary thing that happens to many men but here because of a unique reason.

In the context of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the importance of the ordinary… the normal… is brought home in a new way. Pitt’s performance [including the CG grafting of his face onto older and younger actors’ bodies] is perfect because Benjamin is, in spite of his unique manner of aging, an ordinary man whose life is except for brief moments, pretty ordinary. The film winds up showing us that even the ordinary is wondrous. That’s a pretty heady achievement.

Final Grade: A+

MOVIE REVIEW: The Day The Earth Stood Still: Well Mounted But Empty

The Robert Wise film, The Day The Earth Stood Still, was a metaphor for a cold war that was threatening to go hot. The remake is an ecological horror tale – if we can’t take care of the earth, we – and everything we’ve created – will be removed.

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It seems that we are at the edge of a great precipice – not unlike the civilizations that grew on a handful of other planets out there in the universe. Klaatu [Keanu Reeves] has been sent to carry out the removal of the one major blight on the planet – us. Where the precipice comes in is when a beautiful scientist, Dr. Helen Benson [Jennifer Connelly], asks him if the other civilizations Out There had come to such a precipice and what happened.

So, despite the governments and people of Earth behaving like paranoid imbeciles – and even Helen’s stepson, Jacob [Jaden Christopher Smith] says we should kill Klaatu – even though all that violence and paranoid is only offset by a bit of Bach and the love Helen has for Jacob, Klaatu has had the answer he needed all along. It just takes one beautiful lady scientist to ask the question that shakes the answer loose. That’s drama, folks!

For the third time in three weeks, I’ve seen a film that held a certain amount of promise and discovered that promise is wonderful for trailers, but films need a bit more than that. The Day The Earth Stood Still is well made. It moves at an appropriate pace; most of the effects are quite effective; most of the cast give solid performances [Reeves is his usual Tabula Rasa self – you see what you want to see in his transparent performance… or not…], and there’s even a moral to the story.

Too bad that that the whole thing just so damned silly.

Final Grade: D

MOVIE REVIEW: Bolt in 3D: Disney Closes The Gap On PIXAR – But Only a Little

Walt Disney’s Bolt is a thoroughly enjoyable bit of fluff with just the right amount of darkness and danger to give kids [and their parents] a bit of a scare before everything works out. In terms of animation, it’s almost to the level of PIXAR, though the storytelling isn’t as fluid. The 3D, however, works really well, and the film has more of a feeling of solidity than I expected – and the number of showy 3D sequences is much lower than I would have expected [and none that don’t actually serve the story].

Bolt, Mittens & Rhino

The movie’s conceit is that Bolt [agreeably voiced by John Travolta], a German Shepherd pup who was rescued from an animal shelter, and became the lead in a hit TV show – but since he’s never been off the set, he thinks his TV superpowers are real. When he accidentally gets mailed across the country, he has to get home to save Penny [Miley Cyrus], whom he believes to have been kidnapped by the show’s villain, The Green-Eyed Man [Malcolm McDowell]. He is aided by a streetwise cat called Mittens [Susie Essman] and a hilariously overeager hamster in an exercise ball, named Rhino [Mark Walton].

The second film from the Disney Animation Studios since Disney bought PIXAR, Bolt also went through a creative disembowelment at the hands of John Lasseter and seems to be the better for it. It’s much better than Meet The Robinsons on every level. The animation is first-rate [Dreamworks quality, if not yet PIXAR level]; the script is genial and genuinely amusing, and the voice cast works like a dream. If Bolt feels like a weird hybrid of Inspector Gadget, Super Friends and Homeward Bound, that isn’t really a bad thing.

Something to note: some of the scarier moments might be too much for really young kids. There were a few outbursts of tears and crying at the screening I attended. In a way, that’s a reinforcement of Bolt’s effectiveness as an entertainment – it does secure the emotional reactions it seeks. There are also more than a few laugh out loud moments [a few more than the scary darker moments] and, overall, the film does provide a number of giggles, chuckles and grins. Bolt is light entertainment, but it’s good light entertainment.

Final Grade: B+

TELEVISION: Sanctuary Renewed; Series Keeps Getting Better!

With the announcement that Sanctuary [Sci-Fi, Fridays, 10/9C] has been renewed for a second season, perhaps those who those who don’t like to commit to a new series for fear it’ll be cancelled will now give TV’s first green screen series a chance. Two upcoming episodes are good examples of the kind of quirky quality that series is developing.

Sanctuary

Quick refresher courser: Dr. Helen Magnus [Amanda Tapping], a one hundred fifty-seven-year old scientist has established Sanctuary – a home for “abnormals” [creatures benign and otherwise that are not of the perceived normalcy – mermaids, a missing link, children with unusual fear reflexes]. She provides homes – or cages if necessary – for these beings. She is aided by her daughter, Ashley [Emilie Ullerup], forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Will Zimmerman [Robin Dunne] and tech wizard, Henry Foss [Ryan Robins] .

In this week’s ep, The Five, Magnus’ lecture to an underground group in Rome, on abnormals, leads to a meeting with Nikola Tesla [Jonathon Young] who warns her of an impending assassination attempt. Tesla has a few secrets, himself – the only one I can telegraph is that he sleeps during the day.

The episode is fast paced and smart, but has its moments of emotional truth that support the action. We get to see Magnus’ ability to improvise – and the rest of her team show initiative in the way they aid her from their home base. The CG sets and effects are improving and now have much more weight than early on. Even Tapping’s wobbly English accent is much more consistent.

On December 5th, Drs. Magnus and Zimmerman take a mini-sub to investigate the slaughter of a clan of mer-people and find an abnormal unlike any they’ve ever seen. Requiem is a bottle show – a one-set episode – and as such, relies on tour de force acting by Tapping and Zimmerman. Both actors are called on to run through a gamut of emotions in a situation where an unseen menace seems to be influencing their behavior.

Based on these two episodes, Sanctuary is deserving of its renewal and an even larger audience.

Final Grade: B+

MOVIE REVIEW: Beverly Hills Chihuahua: Kids’ Flick Is Smart Enough For Parents to Enjoy!

You’ve probably seen the trailers with the ancient Aztec ruins and the Esther Williams-like production number performed by Chihuahuas. The movie lacks the production number but the ruins play a crucial part in the proceedings. What’s really surprising is that Beverly Hills Chihuahua is a kids’ flick that will entertain the kids but has some gags that will work only for the parents.

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Chloe [voiced by Drew Barrymore] is the queen of the Beverly Hills canine scene. Spoiled rotten by her owner, Vivian [Jamie Lee Curtis], Chloe is shallow, selfish and haughty – not to mention rude to Papi [George Lopez], the landscaper’s Chihuahua who loves her. That all changes when Vivian heads off to Europe for ten days, leaving Chloe in the irresponsible hands of her niece, Rachel [Piper Perabo] – who heads off to Mexico to party, dragging Chloe along.

More concerned about partying and meeting guys, Rachel lets Chloe get away from her and the poor thing is dognapped for a floating illegal dogfight enterprise. Because this is a Disney film, the dogfight never happens as Delgado [Andy Garcia], a noble German Shepherd, rescues her just before her opponent, a vicious Doberman named Diablo [Edward James Olmos] can rip her to shreds. The rest of the film is the story of Chloe and her new friend try to get her home – all the while Rachel, Papi and his owner, Sam [Manolo Cordona] are looking for them.

Director Raja Gosnell [Mrs. Doubtfire, Nine Months] keeps the pace up, giving the film the feel of a romantic farce. The voice cast is extremely good [big names are joined by animation veterans like Grey DeLisle], though Cheech Marin does a little scene stealing voicing a rat con artist who works with a dim iguana. While the film is mostly light and frothy – darkening only for brief periods [and kids love a good scare, so it’s not an issue] – it is not unintelligent. The characters are well [and sometimes cleverly] drawn and the relationships that form along the way feel very natural.

Off course, we’re taking about a talking animals film [though the animals are only understood by each other], and no one does them better than Disney. The CG work that makes the animals appear to be speaking is very good, and the practical effects are right up there, as well.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua may not quite be inspired, but it is definitely good fun – good enough to not embarrass the parents whose kids drag them along to see it.

Final Grade: B

MOVIE REVIEW: IGOR: Inspired Idea – Utterly Inadequate Film!

In the land of Malaria, things have changed since it was a sunny, happy place. Constant cloud cover and rain have ruined it for agriculture, so the king has decreed that the best way to survive is to develop an economy based on the creation of evil science. The country’s best mad scientists compete in an “Evil Science Fair” – and the king charges the rest of the world a [you should pardon the expression] king’s ransom to not use it.

The Triumvarate of Terror

Each mad scientist has an Igor – a hunchbacked assistant to gather materials and pull the power switch to put the finishing touches on their evil experiments. The film is built on the idea that one of these Igors [voiced by John Cusack] wants to be the scientist, not the Igor. When his master, Dr. Glickenstein [John Cleese] dies during the creation of a new weapon, Igor seizes his chance. With the aid [?] of his previous inventions – Scamper [Steve Buscemi], a suicidal immortal rabbit, and Brain [Sean Hayes], a robot with a brain in a jar – he decides to create life.

The idea of an Igor supplanting his mad scientist and succeeding is a good one, so it’s really a shame that this beautifully designed film [looking like some mad hybrid of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas and a Tex Avery cartoon] is virtually humor-free. Even Jennifer Coolidge’s assortment of scientists’ girlfriends and Eddie Izzard’s unscrupulous Dr. Schadenfreude [who’s won seventeen Fairs by stealing the best efforts of his competitors – and delights in the misery of others] somehow fail to… ummm… come to life.

The animation, from design on, is extremely good, but in light of the paucity of laughs and any real sense of danger, it simply isn’t enough to recommend the film. In short, Igor could’ve used a lot more madness.

Final Grade: D

MOVIE REVIEW: Kung Fu Panda: Panda Power? By Sheldon Wiebe

Pandas are perceived as being laid back, relaxed and just enjoying munching on bamboo shoots. Kinda like your fat, old uncle Kenny – only bigger and with fur. Casting a panda as a kung fu master is one of those contradictory images that just automatically provoke smiles and chuckles – if not hysterical laughter. Which is why Kung Fu Panda had to be more than just another animated movie. In order for it to work, the film would have to find a way to make us believe – in with excellent CGI – that Po [voiced by Jack Black], a poor panda working for his father in a noodle house, could make that leap to… wait for it… Dragon Warrior!

Po & Master Shifu

In anticipation of the evil snow leopard Tai Lung [Ian McShane] breaking out of the most secure prison in the country, Master Shifu [Dustin Hoffman] has trained the Furious Five – Masters Crane [David Cross], Mantis [Seth Rogen], Monkey [Jackie Chan], Tigress [Angelina Jolie] and Viper [Lucy Liu] – in hopes that one of them would be chosen to fulfill the prophecy of the Dragon Warrior and obtain the Dragon Scroll that would take them to an almost exalted level of martial arts mastery. Through a fluke involving fireworks and a chair, Po finds himself chosen to become the Dragon Warrior by Master Oogway [Randall Duk Kim] – and fierce lessons must be learned by all of them so that, when Master Oogway’s time comes, the Dragon warrior will be ready to face Tai Lung.

Kung Fu Panda is a small miracle in both character and animation development. The script, by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger [from a story by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris] packs as much character into the film as action [and there’s a lot of action!]. Watching Po and his father, Mr. Ping [James Hong] deal with the changes in Po’s life are fraught with genuine emotion; the disbelief of Shifu and the Furious Five combine to make things even harder for the poor Po. The animation of the martial arts sequences add to the depth of the film with their intricacy and clarity.

Directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson have done a masterful job of matching voices to characters [Jolie and Liu especially, bring it – and Rogen, counter cast as the tiny Mantis gives his character a surprisingly supple quality] and staging both moments of frenzy and unexpected beauty [the passing of a key character]. Kung Fu Panda is a movie that might have been wholly summarized by its title, but instead is so much more. Thanks to the factors mentioned plus the unexpected range of Black as Po, this is a classic in waiting.

Final Grade: A