Planes


The rain in Planes falls mainly o the...well, er, planes.

The rain in Planes falls mainly o the…well, er, planes.

(2013) Animated Feature (Disney) Starring the voices of Dane Cook, Brad Garrett, Teri Hatcher, Cedric the Entertainer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Cleese, Carlos Alazraqui, Priyanka Chopra, Gabriel Iglesias, Stacy Keach, Brent Musburger, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Roger Craig Smith, Sinbad, Colin Cowherd, John Ratzenberger, Emerson Tenney, Kari Wahgren. Directed by Klay Hall

The latest Disney animated feature is a spin-off from the animated world of anthropomorphic Cars although it takes place above that world. Welcome to the shiny aerial world of Planes.

Dusty Crophopper (Cook) is a crop-duster, a single-engine plane who was built for the specific purpose of spreading pesticides and manure on crops (mostly corn, which is apparently the source of fuel in the world of Planes). Dusty want more out of life – “I’ve flown thousands of miles and never gone anywhere” he complains.

What he really wants is to be a racer, and the Wings Across the Globe race is the perfect outlet for him. With the support of his friends Chug (Garrett) and Dottie (Hatcher), Dusty trains relentlessly and even though he gets a lot of skepticism and negativity thrown his way, he perseveres. He gets into the race where he is befriended by Bulldog (Cleese), a obsequious Spitfire, Ishani (Chopra) a lovely Indian and the would-be ladies man El Chupicabra (Alazraqui).

Not everyone wants to succeed. Ripslinger (Smith) is gunning for his historic fourth consecutive win i the race and nothing and nobody will get in his way, particularly a crop-duster with delusions of grandeur. As it turns out, Ripslinger will go to any and all lengths to nail down that win and if it means that some planes must crash and burn, well….

Although this is based on a Pixar movie, this actually isn’t a Pixar film, even though John Lasseter co-wrote and produced it. No, it was animated by the wizards at DisneyToons, their direct-to-video arm and that was the intention for this as well. However, the stars aligned nicely for Planes – a planned King of the Elves feature shut down and somebody noticed the merchandising potential of the new characters, thus it was added to the theatrical release schedule a bit late in the game.

Quite frankly, I expected direct-to-video quality and I was somewhat surprised when I found this comparable to Pixar’s work in Cars and its sequel. There are a lot of clever little asides (such as the plane-looking rock formations near Propwash Junction where Dusty, Chug and Dottie reside. There are also air traffic controllers at Kennedy Airport who talk with JFK-esque accents, and German planes drinking fuel from beer steins.

There also isn’t much in the way of story and characterization which cobble elements from …well nearly every animated feature of the last 20 years. Skipper (Keach), a crotchety old war hero, is a dead ringer for Paul Newman’s Doc Hudson, El Chupicabra makes a nice Puss in Boots (albeit not quite as cute) and Dusty could easily be the title character from Turbo. In fact, most of the characters are pretty bland, generic characters you’ve met before in other movies. As for the plot, well, this isn’t the first movie that tells us that it’s okay to dream big because if we want something bad enough and have the support of our friends, we can accomplish anything.

I did like the overall charm of the movie and I will venture to say that if you compare this to most direct-to-video fare this is miles and miles ahead of those. Frankly, this deserved the theatrical release it got – it certainly isn’t as bad as some of the other animated features out there that were always intended to hit the theaters (I’m looking at you, Planet 51. Hop and Astro Boy).

REASONS TO GO: Maintains the goofy charm of Cars. Clever in places.

REASONS TO STAY: Runs the gamut of animated feature clichés. No really memorable characters.

FAMILY VALUES:  Suitable for everyone – there’s a bit of semi-rude humor and a couple of action scenes that might scare the kids a little but nothing I wouldn’t feel comfortable sending an 3-year-old to.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bravo and Echo, two Air Force jets who Dusty runs into during his around the globe race, are voiced by Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards who played fighter pilots in Top Gun; their flight helmets are identical to those worn by the actors in their live action roles.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/21/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 26% positive reviews. Metacritic: 39/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Great Race

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Riddick

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The Burning Plain


This is what it's like to be stalked by a dark, handsome stranger.

This is what it’s like to be stalked by a dark, handsome stranger.

(2008) Drama (Magnolia) Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger, Jennifer Lawrence, JD Pardo, Tessa Ia, John Corbett, Robin Tunney, Joaquim de Almeida, Rachel Ticotin, Jose Maria Yazpik, Danny Pino, Anthony Escobar, Stacy Marie Warden, Debrianna Mansini, Kacie Thomas. Directed by Guillermo Arriaga

In a relationship we take it on faith that our partner will be faithful to us. Of course, that doesn’t always happen. The consequences of infidelity can be far-reaching and are not always paid just by the one doing the cheating.

Gina (Basinger) is a housewife who has embarked on an affair with another man, who is also married but not to her – ruggedly handsome Nick (Almeida). They meet in a ramshackle mobile home stuck out in the middle of the New Mexico desert not far from where Gina lives but far enough off the beaten track that there’s no auto traffic. Gina and Nick’s little love shack however proves to be not as safe a place as they thought – and there they meet a tragic end.

Gina’s daughter Mariana (Lawrence) is trying to cope with her mother’s death. Both her family and Nick’s family are at odds with one another, each blaming the other family’s relative for being the catalyst for the affair leading both of them to their doom. Nick’s son Santiago (Pardo) is desperate to find answers and he initiates a conversation with Mariana which blooms into something more.

Sylvie (Theron) is the manager of a high-end restaurant in Portland, Oregon. She is affected by an air of melancholy which is exacerbated with routine bouts of loveless sex, temperamental behavior and frequent absences from work. She smokes incessantly, staring at the sea and the waves crashing on the rugged coastline. She is being followed by Carlos (Yazpik), a mysterious man who speaks no English.

Santiago (Pino) is a crop duster who knows his business backwards and forwards. When his plane crashes in a terrible accident, his daughter Maria (Ia) is heartbroken. Santiago makes his good friend go looking for her mother up North, a woman who suddenly and inexplicably abandoned her family after Maria was born.

If you thought this was a movie from Mexican filmmaker Alexander Gonzalez Inarritu, you’d be half-right – this is from his regular writer Guillermo Arriaga. Entwined storylines that gradually coalesce into a single cohesive story is something of a trademark with Inarritu; Arriaga is unfortunately less successful with it here.

It’s not because he didn’t have the right actors. The three female leads give incendiary performances albeit all tinged with melancholy and heartache. Lawrence, who has since gone on to win an Oscar and become one of the most acclaimed young actresses in Hollywood, is a teenager whose own emotions are a seething cauldron of confusion to her; she feels rage at her mother’s betrayal but also grief for her passing. It’s not an easy part to play and she does a good job playing it.

Basinger has the thankless role of playing a woman in a marriage that seems happy on the outside betraying her family. It’s not the kind of thing that makes a character lovable or one you want to identify with; in fact these kinds of actions tend to make audiences feel uncomfortable with that character and yet Basinger gives the character warmth and relatability. Gina is a good mom and a good wife (other than the infidelity thing) but Nick let’s her access a part of her that her marriage and family life no longer allow – her sense of being an individual, a sexual being and someone who is desirable and desired. That’s a powerful feeling and one that we all need to feel, regardless of our marital status.

Theron is icy cool at the movie’s beginning, closed off and emotionally guarded. Sylvie lives in a sterile environment that betrays nothing about her and love for her has become a series of meaningless sexual trysts. As the movie progresses and we begin to learn more about her, we see the terrible burden she bears. Theron wisely let’s Sylvie’s guard down in fits and starts and as her walls crumble, so too does the movie excel.

The movie’s downfall comes from its storytelling style. All of the stories are interweaved and as the movie progresses we realize that they aren’t concurrent – they take place in different timelines. This can be confusing to the audience as they struggle to figure out who’s who and as more of the plot gets revealed the story should be coming together but in some ways it isn’t too hard to guess what’s going on but in others it really is because Arriaga is so deliberately vague. It’s quite maddening at times.

Still the power of the performances and the storyline make this worthwhile at the end of the day. Just be warned that a good deal of patience is required and a little bit of observation. It’s easy to lose yourself in the acting, particularly the women. It might however distract you from following the storylines you need to be aware of in order to make sense of this.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrific performances by Basinger, Theron and Lawrence.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The jumps between stories and timelines makes the film choppy and unfocused.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief nudity and plenty of sexuality as well as a bit of foul language. Mostly it’s adult in a thematic sense.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Arriaga spent 11 years as a screenwriter (most notably for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) before choosing this novel, one of the most acclaimed in recent years written in Mexico, as the basis for his directing debut.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s an interesting featurette on the musical scoring of the film, a segment that rarely gets attention on home video extras.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.5M on a $20M production budget; unfortunately the movie hasn’t recouped its production costs.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Unfaithful

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: G.I. Joe: Retaliation