The trailers for Hotel For Dogs make much of the Rube Goldberg devices that are created for the titular hotel and, in truth, they are pretty amazing. The film is not nearly as much fun, but it does have its good points.
Andi [Emma Roberts] and her little brother, Bruce [Jake T. Austin] are foster kids who have adopted a stray dog they’ve named Friday. Their latest foster parents, Lois [Lisa Kudrow] and Carl [Matt Dillon] are obnoxious, and talentless, would be rock stars who have a no pets policy. In trying to find ways to keep Friday with them, yet unseen by Lois and Carl, they have gone to extraordinary lengths – which take them into a closed down hotel, where they find two dogs, that Bruce names Lenny and Georgia. Before long, Andi and Bruce are being helped by a pair of pet store employees named Dave [Johnny Simmons] and Heather [Kyla Pratt] as they turn the place into a hotel for dogs. Along the way, a guy named Mark [Troy Gentile] joins the band, maybe because chunky kids are funny… or something.
The Rube Goldberg devices in all those trailers? They’re to take care of feeding the dogs and give them typical doggie experiences – like playing fetch, barking when there’s someone at the door, or sticking their heads out of a car window. The devices are created by Bruce [who is clearly the reincarnation of Mr. Goldberg], but one of the key plot points is what happens when the devices malfunction and the dogs all flee the building.
The villains are the pet control officers who rake sadistic glee at putting strays in their cages and count the moments until the unclaimed ones will be put down. Other than the sympathetic Bernie [Don Cheadle], the kids’ social worker, all the remaining adults in the film are pretty much twits [though not as bad as Lois and Carl].
Despite its flaws [and they are several], Hotel For Dogs kinda works. The dogs are well trained and steal every scene, though the kids hold their own, for the most part. There’s a certain lowbrow charm to the piece – though perhaps one too many dog poop jokes. The movie is aimed at tweens [the Nickelodeon demographic], but the dogs and Bruce’s wacky machines will keep adults interested while the forced romance between Dave and Andi develops.
Hotel For Dogs is a put your brain on hold and eat your popcorn movie. That’s precisely what it intends to be and, on that level, it works.
There was an overwhelming amount of great TV, this year [and, as you’ll see not too much later, an almost equally overwhelming amount of excessively bad TV]. Given the truly amazing amount of quality to be found between the networks and the various cable outlets, I’ve decided to list my favorite fifteen shows of the year.
Forget, for a minute, that the complete run of The Real Ghostbusters comes in a box that is the team’s fire station headquarters –with lenticular “no ghosts” symbol on one side and a lenticular Slimer on another. Ignore, also, that the five volumes that encompass the series are packaged in five steelbook cases and a 52-page booklet gives you the complete episode guide – listing all 134 syndicated episodes and the 13 one-hour episodes created for ABC-TV. Forget the extra bonus disc that gives you two hours of material that comes in addition to the 20 visual commentaries; introductions for the majority of the episodes [by various members of their creative teams]; 22 isolated music and effects tracks, and trivia from the vast majority of the eps.
The Real Ghostbusters is unique in the history of animation for a number of reasons: it was commissioned for both a network market [ABC] and the syndicated market; each series had its own writers, directors, designers and story editors, and it was one of the smartest, funniest and, yes, scariest animated series ever to be commissioned. The ABC eps tend to be funnier, while the syndicated eps tend to be scarier [no network Standards & Practices people looking over their shoulders]. The syndicated eps are also – surprisingly, given their turnaround time per ep – slightly better animated than the ABC eps.
Whether they were trying to find a way to get an angry ghost some nap time [while visiting the set of the movie of their careers – a juicy bit of meta filmmaking], or explaining how a throwaway character from the movie became the team’s mascot, The Real Ghostbusters did something that not many movie spin-offs do: capture the feel, tone and quality of the original movie. Every episode was fast paced and the jokes ranged from the slapstick [getting slimed, for example] to the satirical [the aforementioned quiet-seeking ghost couldn’t possibly be echoing a director’s insistent calls for quiet on the set, hmmm…?].
As I screened this prodigious set, I was pleased to note that J. Michael Straczynski [Babylon 5, Changeling] was the story editor on the syndicated eps and wrote a goodly number of them [including the aforementioned Hollywood satire and explanation for Slimer’s presence]. Under his guidance, the syndicated eps were so well researched [many of the show’s menaces were based on actual mythologies, folklores and urban legends] that they had genuine heft to them. While I’ve only mentioned a couple of episodes [the Hollywood spoof is entitled Take Two, while the story of how Slimer became the team’s mascot is called Citizen Ghost], the rest of series is also as much fun now as when it originally aired.
Features [beside those mentioned above]:
Volume One: Featurette: I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost; Image Gallery: Promotional and Development Art; Design Gallery: Night Game, and Episodic Scripts and Storyboards in PDF Format [DVD-ROM].
Volume Two: Animating The Real Ghostbusters Featurette; Image Gallery: Background Art; Design Gallery: The Man Who Never Reached Home, and Episodic Scripts and Storyboards in PDF Format [DVD-ROM].
Volume Three: Who You Gonna Call? The Heroes of The Real Ghostbusters Featurette; Image Gallery: Character designs of the Heroes; Image Gallery: Equipment, and Episodic Scripts and Storyboards in PDF Format [DVD-ROM].
Volume Four: Something Strange in Your Neighborhood: The Creatures of The Real Ghostbusters Featurette; Image Gallery: The Creature Designs of Everett Peck, and Episodic Scripts and Storyboards in PDF Format [DVD-ROM].
Volume Five: He Slimed Me! The Green World of Slimer! And The Real Ghostbusters Featurette; Image Gallery: Slimer! Character Designs, and Episodic Scripts and Storyboards in PDF Format [DVD-ROM].
Bonus Disc: Promo Pilot – the unaired four-minute original pilot; Promo Pilot Visual Commentary; Extended Interviews [Executive Producers Joe Medjuck & Michael C. Gross; Writer & Story Editor J. Michael Straczynski; Director & Storyboard Supervisor Kevin Altieri; Maurice LaMarche, Voce of Egon Spengler; Laura Summer, Voice of Janine Melnitz One, and Kath Soucie, Voice of Janine Melnitz Two]; DVD Promo Trailer [created for Comic Con 2008]; Alternate Opening and Closing Credits; Title Card Slideshow, and the Series Bible and Promo Pilot Storyboards for The Real Ghostbusters in PDF format [DVD-ROM].
Grade: The Real Ghostbusters: The Complete Series – A
The trailers and TV spots for Four Christmases suggest that its lead couple, Brad [Vince Vaughn] and Kate [Reese Witherspoon] are going to have to cram in four visits to their divorced parents and their various dysfunctional families when plans to go to Fiji are ruined by flight-cancelling fog. The problem with the film is that the families get less dysfunctional as we get closer to the end of the film – and then there’s the cop-out Hollywood ending that recalls the plot point that precipitated the whole fiasco in the first place.
The merriment begins as Brad and Kate visit Brad’s father [Robert Duval], who is also hosting Brad’s two brothers-cum-wannabe-ultimate-fighters [Jon Favreau and Tim McGraw], one of whom is married and all of who, are rednecks who would make rednecks complain about profiling. A hitherto unknown pricing cap for gift exchanges and a satellite dish installation cap a visit that includes Brad being beaten half silly by his brothers – and a secret about Santa being revealed.
The second visit is to Kate’s mom’s [Mary Steenburgen] home – where cougars hold sway, according to Kate. These include lecherous Gram-Gram [Jeanette Miller], Aunt Sarah [Carol Kane] and Aunt Donna [Colleen Camp] – all of whom are upstaged by Kate’s pregnant sister, Courtenay [Kristin Chenoweth] and the revelation that mom’s new boyfriend, Reverend Phil [Dwight Yoakum], is the pastor of an aggressively ecstatic congregation, where Brad gets carried away with their Christmas pageant
By comparison, Brad’s mom [Sissy Spacek] is merely an aging hippie who is now living with Brad’s ex-best friend. By the time we visit Kate’s father, she and Brad have decided that they don’t want the same things and he drops her off, thereby missing the least dysfunctional part of the day – before waking up to the realization that… wait for it… he loves her. D’OH!
From a fast-paced dysfunctional family Christmas movie, Four Christmases devolves rapidly into a toothless tiger. The laughs that dominate the first half of the film [beginning to fade, rapidly during the second visit], are pretty much gone before we reach the fourth visit. By then, it’s time to trot out variations on most of the homilies we’ve come to expect in lazy seasonal films. The crazed energy of the first visit dies well before the last act and all we’re left with is a curiously lacklustre, meaningless film that can’t even get a laugh out of its call back to one of the film’s best scenes, involving an on location TV news crew.
When WALL*E premiered, I described it as follows: “WALL*E is the best film of the year – let alone the summer – so far. Easily.” While that was before The Dark Knight and a number of amazing smaller films came out, this eco-fable/romance between the decidedly blue collar trash compacter on tank treads and the equally decidedly uptown seeker of life is still one of the year’s best films.
Looking like a Bizarro World hybrid of ET and Johnny 5, WALL*E may be the year’s most unlikely leading man, while sleek, shiny EVE should be far, far out of his league. For some reason, though, the duo have become a classic romantic duo – in spite of their differing backgrounds – and their story plays almost as well on a twenty-seven inch screen as in a theater.
The three-DVD set is almost overflowing with features: Disc One: Audio Commentary by Director Andrew Stanton; BURN*E, a new animated short featuring a peripheral character from the film; Presto, the animated short that accompanied WALL*E in theaters; Deleted Scenes [two, lasting over six minutes], Sneak Peek: WALL*E’s Tour of the Universe, and Animation Sound Design: Building Worlds from the Sound Up – Legendary Sound Designer Ben Burtt Shares Secrets of Creating the Sounds of WALL*E.
Disc Two: The PIXAR Story, a ninety-minute documentary by Leslie Iwerks; Deleted Scenes [twelve more minutes – with optional introduction by the director]; Behind the Scenes Featurettes [The Imperfect Lens, Captain’s Log, Notes on a Score, Life of a shot: Deconstructing the PIXAR Process, Robo Everything, and WALL*E & EVE]; BnL Shorts [The History of Buy n Large; Operation cleanup; All Aboard the Axiom; Captaining the Axiom, and Meet the BnL Bots]; WALL*E’s Treasures and Trinkets; Lots of Bots [Interactive Storybook & Games].
Disc Three: Digital Copy [for uploading to other media]
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].
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.
The story of how Po [Jack Black] becomes the Dragon Warrior – despite the skepticism of the Furious Five Masters, Crane [David Cross], Mantis [Seth Rogen], Monkey [Jackie Chan], Tigress [Angelina Jolie] and Viper [Lucy Liu] – is one of the year’s surprise hits, critically as well as at the box office.
The film’s DVD release is full of bonus features and, in a special two DVD package, includes The Secrets of the Furious Five. This twenty-five minute tale finds Po facing his greatest challenge – teaching a class of easily distracted young bunnies the art of king fu [Master Shifu, still voiced by Dustin Hoffman, seems particularly tickled by the situation]. To get the class’ attention, Po relates stories of how each of the Five – Crane [David Cross], Monkey [Jaycee Chan], Mantis [Max Koch], Tigress [Tara Strong], and Viper [Jessica Di Ciccio] – had to overcome such flaws as impatience [Mantis], Compassion [Monkey], control [Tigress], and so forth. Even Master Oogway [Randall Duk Kim] puts in an appearance.
Most of Secrets is filmed in the beautiful 2D style seen in the prologue to Kung Fu Panda, with CG used for scenes that feature Po and his class – and the clever cover art from the two DVDs is designed to be one larger picture when placed side by side.
There is a wealth of features on each DVD.
Kung Fu Panda: Audio Commentary by Co-Directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne; Meet the Cast; Pushing the Boundaries [improvements in CGI]; Sound Design; Kung fu Fighting Music Video by Cee-Lo; Mr. Ping’s Noodle House [watch a master make noodles from a simple ball of dough]; How to Use Chopsticks [this time for sure!]; Conservation International: Help Save Wild Panda; Dragon Warrior Training Academy; Printables and Weblinks [DVD-ROM], and Dreamworks Animation Jukebox.
Secrets of the Furious Five: Po’s Power Play: Learn to Draw [Character animators show how to draw their respective characters]; Dumpling Shuffle [which bowl is the dumpling under]; Pandamonium Activity Kit [DVD-ROM]; The Land of Panda: Learn the Panda Dance; Do You Kung Fu [demonstrations of basic kung fu forms]; Inside the Chinese Zodiac; Animals of Kung Fu Panda [and how they relate to their namesake forms of kung fu], and What Fighting Style Are You?
It’s been several hours since I walked out of the theater and I’m still wondering whutinthehighholyhellwuzzat?!? If you’ve seen any of the films that Kaufman wrote previously [Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind], then you know that is the usual state of mind that follows a screening his work. It’s just that Synecdoche, New York takes things to a whole other level.
Kaufman lulls us into a state of false comprehension by opening with the family of small time theatre director Caden Cotard [Philip Seymour Hoffman] as they go about a depressing day – a day that seems to last forever and ends with his artist wife, Adele Lack [Catherine Keener] and daughter, Olive [Sadie Goldstein] leaving for a show in Berlin. The two-week separation becomes seventeen years.
In the meantime, Caden, following on the heels of a Broadway success with Death of a salesman, wins a genius grant of quite possibly billions and mounts a play that he hopes will bold and true and a bunch of other artistic stuff. What he winds up with is a scale version of New York – peopled by actors playing all the people in his life [however slightly or parenthetically]. But that’s all window dressing.
Besides being a pun on Schenectady [the Cotards’ hometown], synecdoche is a word that can mean “a part that represents the whole.” In terms of Kaufman’s film, this can mean any number of things – Kaufman himself says that it means what you take out of it. For me, the film is about Life. It grows and shifts in variations on a theme even as members of Caden’s cast quit and are replaced – even though the new actors are doing the same things as their predecessors, they are different because they are different people, much as we are different people at various stages of our lives.
Life, and Death, are both bigger than we are, and smaller. We can be replaced, though never exactly. We can be reproduced, though never exactly, in any number of media. In an odd way, Kaufman seems – to me at least – to be saying that life, the universe and everything is what it is. That can be both a comforting thought and a harrowing one.
Confession time. I did not see Madagascar. Nope. The trailer did nothing for me – and I was thoroughly penguined out, in any case. Thus, you can imagine my surprise when the trailer to Escape 2 Africa actually caught my attention. Further, you can probably imagine my surprise when I sat through the film and found myself laughing. Not uproariously, mind you, but laughing.
There’s probably no point in providing a plot description. Other reviewers will have covered that in enough detail that only the ending will be in doubt [though I’m not spoiling anything when I say it’s a happy one].
What you need to know is that Madagascar 2 is funny, frequently very much so. Also that the main characters – Alex the lion [Ben Stiller], Marty the zebra [Chris Rock], Melman the giraffe [David Schwimmer] and Gloria the hippo [Jada Pinkett-Smith] – are only half the story, laugh-wise. The second string – King Julian the lemur [an unrecognizable Sascha Baron Cohen], Mort the squirrel [Andy Richter] and head penguin Skipper [Tom McGrath], among others – more than hold up their end of the comedy tentpole.
There are some scenes that might scare younger kids [a toddler was taken, crying, from the theater when the villainous lion, Alec Baldwin’s Mukunga, was being particularly nasty], but as a whole, this is a film that will thrill kids while not boring parents. Fans of CG animation will also enjoy the film.
Now I’m going to have to rent the first film. Nuts!
I remember, with great fondness, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Tom and Dick Smothers started out as a comedy/folk duo, playing clubs like the legendary Purple Onion. When CBS offered them their own TV show, they had no idea what they were letting themselves in for. The Brothers Smothers started fairly innocuously, but as the series progressed it became a bastion of political satire that caused one U.S. president, LBJ [who clearly had a sense of humor], to send the duo a letter of praise – and another [Johnson’s successor, in fact] to ask CBS to take them off the air [making them the second top ten-rated series to be removed from a network’s schedule because a sitting president didn’t like it – the first being The Wild Wild West].
My favorite moment of the series came as the teaser for one episode that found Tom and Dick noting that CBS had been getting a lot flack because of the show, and that henceforth the audience wouldn’t hear “anything you wouldn’t hear in your own home…” followed by the sound of a toilet flushing. The Best of Season 3 has moments that match that hilarious moment [the opening song of the season premiere, We’re Still Here, for example notes that they’ve survived, among other things, the network’s censors]. And presented some of the most memorable musical performances of sixties television – as when Jim Morrison of The Doors blanked on the words for Touch Me, or when Donovan turned the show into a love-in/sing-along for Happiness Runs. And where else would you find George Harrison stopping by just for a couple minutes to urge the brothers to keep on keeping on? Continue reading DVD REVIEW: They’re Finally Here – The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best of Season 3!→