New Releases for the Week of June 21, 2019


TOY STORY 4

(Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Joan Cusack, Keanu Reeves, Timothy Dalton, Christina Hendricks. Directed by Josh Cooley

With the gang now firmly in the care of Bonnie, Woody takes on a craft project-turned-toy named Forky, who thinks of himself as trash and not a toy, as his new project. He tries to show Forky the joys of toy-ness. However, when Bonnie takes them all on a road trip and Woody meets up with an old friend, he discovers there are many viewpoints on what it is to be a toy.

See the trailer, clips, video featurettes and an interview here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: G

Anna

(Summit) Sasha Luss, Luke Evans, Cillian Murphy, Helen Mirren. Anna is without doubt a beauty but she’s also a beast; beneath the exterior of the woman lies a cold, ruthless assassin.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong violence, language, and some sexual content)

Burn Your Maps

(Vertical) Vera Farmiga, Jacob Tremblay, Virginia Madsen, Marton Csokas. A young American boy believes himself to be a Mongolian goat herder – so much so that he crowdfunds a trip to Mongolia, throwing his fractured family into further disarray. His mother makes a desperate trip across the globe for one last shot at making her family whole again.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including some mature sexual material, and brief strong language) 

Child’s Play

(Orion) Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill, Tim Matheson, Gabriel Bateman. A young mother buys her son a special doll, unaware of the sinister nature of the toy in this reboot of the iconic horror franchise.

See the trailer, interviews, video featurettes and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for bloody horror violence. and for language throughout)

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir

(Cradle Walk) Dhanush, Erin Moriarty, Bėrėnice Bejo, Barkhad Abdi. Upon his mother’s death, a young fakir from Mumbai decides to visit Paris to find the father he never knew. Things don’t go quite as planned and what was supposed to be a simple trip turns into a frenetic odyssey.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Oviedo Marketplace
Rating: PG-13 (for some suggestive content and brief strong language)

Pavarotti

(CBS) Luciano Pavarotti, Stevie Wonder, Bono, Nelson Mandela. The story of one of the greatest tenors of the 20th century featuring cutting edge sound and never-before-seen footage. This doc was directed by Oscar winner Ron Howard.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a video featurette and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square
Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language and a war-related image)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Agent Sai Srinvas Athreya
Holy Lands
Kabir Singh
The Spy Behind Home Plate
Unda
Vault

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Agent Sai Srinvas Athreya
Echo in the Canyon
Game Over
In the Aisles
Kabir Singh
Ladies in Black
Mallesham
The Spy Behind Home Plate
This One’s for the Ladies
Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation
Yomeddine

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Agent Sai Srinvas Athreya
Holy Lands
Kabir Singh
Ladies in Black
Mallesham
Sindhubaadh
Swinging Safari

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Kabir Singh

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Anna
Child’s Play
Echo in the Canyon
Toy Story 4

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

The Dog Film Festival, St. Augustine, FL

New Releases for the Week of December 6, 2013


Out of the Furnace

OUT OF THE FURNACE         

(Relativity) Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard, Bingo O’Malley. Directed by Scott Cooper

A steel mill worker cares for his terminally ill father by night and waits for his brother to come home from Afghanistan. When he finally does arrive home, his brother is damaged, feeling betrayed by the country he gave so much to defend. He winds up falling in with a dangerous crowd. When his brother disappears, the mill worker discovers a whole new world, one which the law of the land is immaterial and  a ruthless criminal boss make the rules. What that boss didn’t count on was taking on a mill worker who will absolutely stop at nothing to find his brother.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for strong violence, language and drug content)

Adventures of the Penguin King

(Cinedigm) Starring the voice of Tim Allen. A young King Penguin, absent from home for three years, returns home to find a mate and start a family. He will find that more challenging than he could ever imagine.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Nature Drama

Rating: PG (for some mild language)

Muscle Shoals

(Magnolia) Aretha Franklin, Mick Jagger, Bono, Keith Richards. A small town in Alabama becomes the center of the musical universe when a recording studio starts to churn out hit after hit. Some of the most iconic songs in the rock, blues and country genres have come out of this studio which continues to be significant today.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Musical Documentary

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, language, smoking and brief partial nudity) 

R…Rajkumar

(Eros International) Shahid Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha, Sonu Sood, Ashish Vidyarthi. A courier for a notorious drug lord falls in love with the niece of a rival drug lord.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR 

Toy Story 2


Mesmerized by the boob tube.

Mesmerized by the boob tube.

(1999) Animated Feature (Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, Wayne Knight, John Morris, Laurie Metcalf, Estelle Harris, R. Lee Ermey, Jodi Benson, Jonathan Harris, Joe Ranft, Andrew Stanton, Jeff Pidgeon, Sheryl Bernstein. Directed by John Lasseter and Ash Brannon

It’s not often that a sequel turns out to be better than the original, but Pixar’s computer-animated Toy Story 2 definitely fits into the exception category.

Woody (Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Allen) and all the gang are back with a few charming new additions. Woody is kidnapped by a dastardly toy collector (Knight) to complete a group of “collectables” (remember when they were just plain ol’ toys for playing with?) that he intends to sell to a Japanese toy museum. His pals, of course, take a little trip out into the world beyond Andy’s room, once again, to rescue their friend.

Except that Woody isn’t sure he wants to be rescued. See, he’s discovered that he used to be a BIG star – his own television show and a pretty impressive array of merchandising (remember when we used to call it toys?) – Yo-yos, lunchboxes and, of course, the precursors to action figures, or what used to be called “dolls.”

The other three figures in the set – Stinky Pete the prospector (Grammer), the hyperactive bronco-bustin’ cowgirl Jesse (Cusack) and the faithful steed Bullseye – have been languishing in storage waiting for their set to be completed. They are initially chagrined that Woody wants to return to his owner. A particularly poignant song, “When She Loved Me,” illustrates the lot of toys (and makes me wish I’d treated my own better) and leads into an examination of the nature of love, disguised as the relationship between kids and their toys. It is thought-provoking scenes and songs such as this that elevate this film above the average kid movie.

Eventually, Woody chooses to go back to Andy but to get there he must surmount the Evil Emperor Zurg (don’t ask), another Buzz (again, don’t ask) and a traitor amongst his friends (gasp!). Woody’s sentiment – “I know he’ll grow up,” says Woody in a moment that really defines the movie, “and I want to be there for every minute of it” – turns out to be a metaphor for parenting in general. Who knew?

There are a lot of great gags that will be appreciated by kids of all ages. Kids will dig seeing their heroes in action again, and parents won’t be bored with much of the action taking place at a level that reaches the young and old alike. Da Queen and I took our then ten-year-old son with us to the theater back in the day and I’m pretty sure we enjoyed it at least as much as he did, if not more.

Toy Story 2 requires a few leaps of faith in its own internal logic, and there are a few in-jokes that may sail over the heads of the terminally unhip, but beyond that it’s nearly perfect entertainment for the entire family. Unlike some of the other big kidflicks from roughly the same era, parents can actually enjoy this together with their kids, instead of having to go in knowing they’ll be subjected to ultra-violence, dumbed down to the lowest common denominator and made with the express purpose of making money off of spoiled kids and their parents determined to demonstrate their love by how much they spend. Ain’t that a poke in the eye?

Here is a win-win situation for families who want to head to share a movie night as a unit. Heck, you’ll enjoy it even if you don’t have kids.

WHY RENT THIS: Something both kids and parents alike will love. Sophisticated, layered story that respects kids. Chances are you’ll want to own this one, especially if there are kids in the house.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A few minor lapses in the movie’s internal logic.

FAMILY MATTERS: A couple of scenes of toy peril but otherwise suitable for the entire family.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The address of Al’s Toy Barn in the movie is the same as Pixar’s animation studio at the time in Richmond, California.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: The 3-Disc Ultimate Toy Box edition from 2000 that combined both Toy Story films at the time includes the outtakes shown at the end of the movie and the classic Pixar short Luxo, Jr. The 2-Disc Special Edition includes these as well as an introduction by co-director and Pixar chief Lasseter, an excerpt from the Japanese game show Ponkickies involving Woody, a music medley, some interviews from the film’s 1999 release and a couple of games. The Blu-Ray edition includes all of this as well as some features on Pixar and the late Joe Ranft, a preview of Toy Story 3 and a look at Buzz Lightyear on the International Space Station.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $485.0M on a $90M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Up

FINAL RATING: 9.5/10

NEXT: The Truth About Romance

Chimpanzee


Chimpanzee

There's nothing quite like savoring a fine meal.

(2012) Nature Documentary (DisneyNature) Tim Allen (narrator). Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield

 

Watching chimpanzees in their own natural habitat is not unlike looking at our aboriginal beginnings. They live in tribal families, forage for food in an unforgiving environment, utilize tools to crack open nuts and are fiercely territorial. Sounds a lot like modern man to me.

Oscar, a baby chimp, is nurtured by his fiercely protective mom Isha. As is true with most moms, she tries to teach her son everything she can so that he can take care of himself when the time comes for him to be on his own. Unfortunately, that comes much sooner than expected.

Oscar’s tribe has rivals. Led by Scar, they have pretty much eaten themselves out of their own territory and crave the rich nut groves of their rivals. Their survival in fact depends on it as does Oscar’s tribe, who will defend their territory with their lives. It’s tough to be a chimp.

Something incredible happens however. After Isha is killed, Oscar is in dire straits. Unable to forage for himself, lacking the experience and the know-how to feed himself, he slowly begins to starve to death. However, the alpha male of his tribe, Freddy, decides to adopt the baby and raise him as his own. Some naturalists have theorized that this occurs in the wild; however, this is the first time such an occurrence has been captured on film.

The visuals are dazzling. Filmed in the Ivory Coast’s Tai Forest, the movie gives us a sense of both the harshness and the grandeur of the primeval location. It took four years to film this and the resulting footage is worth every moment of hardship and danger (some of which was documented on First Look pre-show featurettes that screened in a number of movie theaters nationwide in March, hinting at an extensive home video extra features cache when the movie becomes available on DVD and Blu-Ray) that the crew endured to film in the remote location.

I’ve discovered that the narration by Tim Allen is a bit polarizing. Many critics I’ve read have damned his work, saying that it demeaned the animals and was too jokey. Personally I found it entertaining; Disney has a tendency to anthropomorphize their nature documentaries, making the animals more accessible to children who in Disney wisdom need it to relate to their stories (which I think personally is demeaning to children, but that’s just me). If you’re going to create personalities for the animals, you might as well have a narrator who can make it interesting and Allen does that. Some may find it annoying however – so be warned.

Personally, I’d love to see a DisneyNature feature that is a little more nature and a little less Disney. They send teams of camera crews to get this stunning footage and then don’t trust the footage to stand on its own. While I agree narrators are generally necessary to give background information and provide some context, it isn’t necessary for them to assign human traits to the animals or infer what they’re thinking. It is possible to relay information about animals without making it sound dry; it’s just a difficult line to walk. I wish more would attempt it is all.

The footage here is amazing, some of the best that DisneyNature has come up with in their four releases to date. Sadly, there was no preview for their next film (as they have traditionally done with all their releases until now) so there’s a very real possibility this may be the last DisneyNature release for awhile – let’s hope not. I’d love to see some looks at animal life in the Australian outback, in China, or the rain forests of South America. These days most nature documentaries seem to be stuck in Africa and the Arctic, which is fine because there is plenty to see but the world is a diverse place and I’d love to see some nature documentaries set in other places as well.

Really small kids might have some difficulty with the jeopardy that Oscar is placed in and at the off-screen death of his mom. Parents should expect some hard questions to come up when they leave the theater, but certainly their kids should fall in love with the majesty of the forest that is displayed here – I know this adult did.

REASONS TO GO: Gorgeous cinematography, clever narration by Allen and compelling storyline.

REASONS TO STAY: Could have used more background about chimp habits and behaviors.

FAMILY VALUES: There is nothing here your kids shouldn’t see (and won’t want to).

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The opening weekend box office of $10.2 million was the most ever for a nature documentary.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/26/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 78% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100.The reviews are solidly positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Jane’s Journey

TRACKING SHOT LOVERS: The filmmakers used a zip line and a specially designed camera to create the smooth tracking shots of the rain forest that frame the documentary and are stunning to look at.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Raiders of the Lost Ark

New Releases for the Week of April 20, 2012


April 20, 2012

THE LUCKY ONE

(Warner Brothers) Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Riley Thomas Stewart, Adam Lefevre, Blythe Danner, Jay R. Ferguson, Robert Terrell Hayes, Joe Chrest. Directed by Scott Hicks

A young soldier’s life is saved in Afghanistan when he pauses to pick up a photo of a woman from the rubble; his platoon, where he’d been standing just moments before is wiped out by an explosion. After his tour of duty ends, the soldier vows to find the woman and thank her. Against all odds, he finds her – and has trouble explaining why he was looking for her in the first place. Soon enough, he falls in love with the comely lass, but there are those who’d rather not see the relationship happen. From the works of Nicholas Sparks.

See the trailer, featurettes and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romance

Rating: PG-13 (for for some sexuality and violence)

Chimpanzee

(DisneyNature) Tim Allen (narrator). The latest Earth Day Disney nature feature follows a young chimpanzee named Oscar for the first four years of his life. His life is irrevocably changed when tragedy befalls his mother and he finds himself with a surprising ally.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Nature Documentary

Rating: G  

Think Like a Man

(Screen Gems) Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, Kevin Hart, Gabrielle Union. A group of women read Steve Harvey’s best-selling book and put the information in it to good use in the romantic skirmishes we call modern dating. Stung, the victimized men determine to turn things around by using the book against their women. And here I thought dating was supposed to be fun.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, some crude humor, and brief drug use)  

Vicky Donor

(Eros Entertainment) Yami Gautam, Annu Kapoor, Ayushmann Khurrana, John Abraham.  The desperate director of a fertility clinic whose success rate has been taking a nosedive sees his fortunes reversed when he discovers a handsome, virile Punjabi whose donated sperm begins creating babies left and right. When the young man falls in love however, his shady past as a sperm donor threatens to kill his relationship before it begins.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Galaxy Quest


GalaxyQuest

Whatever you do, just don't order the lobster!

(1999) Science Fiction (DreamWorks) Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell, Tony Shalhoub, Daryl Mitchell, Enrico Colantoni, Robin Sachs, Patrick Breen, Missi Pyle, Jed Rees, Justin Long, Jeremy Howard, Caitlin Cullum, Corbin Bleu, Rainn Wilson. Directed by Dean Parisot

 

Heroes aren’t what they used to be. These days they shoot first and ask questions later (assuming they ask any questions at all) and would kick your patootie just as soon as look at you. As a matter of fact, they’ll kick you in the rear before they even look at you – anti-social is the new sociable. The people we admire are, for the most part, thugs with attitudes. They just don’t make ’em like Commander Peter Quincy Taggert (Jason Nesmith) anymore.

OK, “Galaxy Quest” wasn’t the best-made TV show ever. And yes, the writing was frequently downright ludicrous, substituting jargon and technobabble in place of actual dialogue. And yes, for the most part, the fans are pimply dweebs who substitute endless discussions of minutiae from the canceled TV series in place of appreciable lives.

And it’s true that the new age mantras uttered by Dr. Lazarus (Sir Alexander Dane) tend to inspire hysterical laughter rather than rational self-examination. But for my part, Lt. Tawny Madison (Gwen DeMarco) can burn my thrusters anytime.

It must be said that historical documents never lie; when actual aliens recruit the long-in-the-tooth and out-of-work actors to get them out of a jam, it’s quite a hoot. That this alien race had built their ENTIRE CULTURE on broadcast transmissions of a mostly-forgotten TV show is mind-boggling. You’d think they’d have had the sense to use “Babylon 5” instead; all I can say is, it’s good they didn’t use “The Brady Bunch.”

I will grant you that the true-life video of the cast’s adventures on far-off planets is far niftier than the low-tech five-and-dime special effects of the TV show. However, it’s a negative that the events somewhat suspiciously parallel the plot of episode 28, “The Conquering Lobster.” That’s the one where Taggart is kidnapped by Tyrosians to command their Battle Cruiser against Sartog, the Crustacean-like alien general. How life imitates art.

Okay okay, I know that the whole “TV show” thing was part of the movie and that Nesmith (Allen), Dane (Lazarus) and Madison (Weaver) don’t exist, but oh man they should have. This is one of my favorite guilty pleasures, a movie I have watched over and over again over the past decade. While it parallels a Star Trek fan fiction story I read ages ago (in which the actors playing the crew of the Enterprise were in a freak accident beamed aboard the actual starship and had to figure out how to get home), the movie is Saturday Afternoon matinee fun. The cast seems to be having an enormously good time (particularly Rickman who gets to lampoon some of his more serious colleagues) and Allen makes for a likably heroic captain…and I would watch Sigourney Weaver standing at a bus stop for two hours, let alone a movie like this.

This was also one of Rockwell’s early rolls and shows his comic versatility which has served him well since. The world of GalaxyQuest is a simple one and a sweet one, a world of geeky kids who have to interrupt their mission to save the valiant crew from certain death to take out the trash, a world of comic book conventions, store openings and personal appearances.  I like this world and return to it whenever I can.

WHY RENT THIS: Fun in a Saturday Afternoon vein. Spoofs 80s sci-fi TV with respect and love. Cast seems to be having a great time.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Might be a bit too geeky for you.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is some violence (mostly of a cartoon variety), a few bad words here and there and a bit of sexuality, some of it interspecies.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: General Sarris is named for film critic Andrew Sarris who once savaged one of producer Mark Johnson’s films; the NSEA Protector‘s serial number is NTE 3120 – the NTE standing for “Not the Enterprise.”

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There was a second DVD release in 2009; missing from it is the Omega-13 DVD feature and the Thermian language track (which you won’t be able to listen to for very long). However, there is a rap video Sigourney Weaver did that is hysterical and the video is considerably cleaned up from the 2009 release.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $90.7M on a $45M production budget; the movie broke even.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Vincere

The Santa Clause


The Santa Clause
You’d better not cry…

(1994) Family (Disney) Tim Allen, Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson, Eric Lloyd, David Krumholtz, Larry Brandenburg, Mary Gross, Paige Tamada, Peter Boyle, Judith Scott, Jayne Eastwood, Melissa King, Bradley Wentworth, Steve Vinovich. Directed by John Pasquin

 

Belief is a powerful thing. There are those among us who must have the evidence of the senses to believe in something – seeing is believing, after all. It also must be said that one of the most lovely thing about children is their ability to believe whole-heartedly in something without evidence – their innocence augments their faith.

Scott Calvin (Allen) is an executive at a toy company. He is divorced and a bit estranged from his son Charlie (Lloyd). His ex-wife Laura (Crewson) has since re-married to a psychiatrist named Dr. Neil Miler (Reinhold) who is a pretty decent fellow.

Charlie is staying over at Scott’s house for Christmas Eve, with the intention of sending him back to his mom’s for the big day itself. Charlie is beginning to have doubts about the existence of Santa Clause whom Scott tries to re-assure him is real but Scott really doesn’t believe himself so the attempt falls flat. Later that night, they are awakened by a commotion on the roof. When they go out to investigate, Scott startles a man dressed in red on his roof, who then falls to the ground and apparently breaks his neck. The man disappears mysteriously, but when Scott investigates he finds a business card in the pocket of the suit which says that someone needs to put on the suit and that the reindeer would then know what to do.

In order to please Charlie, Scott puts on the suit and ascends to the roof where to his astonishment find eight reindeer and a sleigh. The two of them get into the sleigh and start delivering toys from house to house, with Scott making a rather poor Santa although he is able to magically fit down chimneys or for homes without fireplaces, dryer vents and radiator vents.

The last stop is the North Pole where Scott is greeted by a rather officious elf named Bernard (Krumholtz) who informs Scott that by donning the suit he has activated the Santa Clause which requires him to become Santa. He has until Thanksgiving of the following year to wrap up his affairs, after which he’ll become Santa full time. Charlie is given a snow globe as a gift. The two go to sleep in the North Pole but wake up back at Scott’s house. Scott assumes it was just a crazy dream.

Strange things begin to happen to Scott. He begins to develop an insatiable desire for cookies and hot chocolate and begins to put on an embarrassing amount of weight. He starts growing a long beard which no matter how he tries to shave it off re-appears instantly. His hair turns white. He has an uncanny knack of knowing who is naughty and nice. Kids, unconsciously knowing he’s Santa begin giving him lists of gifts they want.

Neil and Laura, seeing the extent of Scott’s Santa obsession and of Charlie’s increasing insistence that his father is the Santa Claus, become concerned with Charlie’s well-being and seek to terminate Scott’s visitation rights. The petition turns out to be successful and Scott, now determined to be a better father, is devastated.

The events create doubt in Scott that he is the true Santa Clause but while visiting Charlie on Thanksgiving, Charlie’s pleas and faith reawaken the magic and Bernard with Charlie’s help whisk Scott away to the North Pole. Charlie, wanting to be with his father, goes along. Laura and Neil are certain that Charlie has been kidnapped against his will and a police investigation is launched, led by Detective Nunzio (Brandenburg). When Scott tries to deliver presents to Neil’s house on Christmas Eve, Scott is arrested. Can Christmas be saved?

At the time this film was made, Allen was best known for his “Home Improvement” hit series which was then in its third year. The movie increased his star power and led to his casting as Buzz Lightyear shortly thereafter. Two additional Santa Clause movies were also made in the succeeding years.

The movie is inventive and charming and a bit sticky sweet in places. It harkens back to the heyday of Disney live action family movies such as The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes, Darby O’Gill and the Little People and The Three Lives of Tomasina. The blend of magic and physics makes this entertaining for adults as well as kids and the movie never forgets that while its target audience is children that their parents are going to have to be entertained as well.

Allen is at his best here and would have a solid career in family films for the Mouse House following this. He brings the right mix of cynicism and warm-heartedness to the role and the transformation of Scott as a career-oriented man to a devoted father is believable. The chemistry between him and Lloyd as his son Charlie seems genuine.

While the North Pole operation isn’t as impressive as shown in later films like The Polar Express and Fred Claus it was nifty at the time it was released and still is grand enough to get oohs and aahs from the younger set.

There are no villains in this movie – Neil and Laura act out of genuine concern for Charlie and that’s kind of refreshing. Some Scrooge-like critics grumbled about the custody issues bogging down the plot but quite frankly I disagree. The movie is about the difficulties created by Scott becoming Santa and in that sense the reaction of other adults to Scott’s transformation seems logical and believable to me. Even though there is a certain magic in the North Pole scenes, Scott’s coping with his physical transformation are for me the best scenes in the movie.

This is certainly not the best Christmas movie ever made but it has become a minor holiday classic. It is clever, good fun and essentially harmless. It could have used a little more edge and Santa breaking his neck early on might scar the more sensitive kids for life but other than that this is charming holiday viewing and definitely a movie I don’t mind seeing again and again.

WHY RENT THIS: Clever and heartwarming in places, a worthy addition to Disney’s live action family film tradition. Allen proves he has big screen star power here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little sticky-sweet in places. Somewhat dated at times.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few moments of crude humor but not so crude that you wouldn’t want your kids to watch.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The script was originally written with Bill Murray in mind, but he passed. Fellow SNL alumni Chevy Chase was also offered the part but had to decline due to scheduling conflicts. Disney had a strict policy of not hiring ex-cons, but an exception was made in his case for the “Home Improvement” television show which was produced by Disney’s Touchstone arm and Allen went on to make movies not only in the Santa Clause franchise but several other family films as well the Toy Story series.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The special edition DVD includes a feature hosted by Wolfgang Puck as he shows you how to make some of Santa’s favorite snacks, and there’s is also an interactive game called “Santa’s Helper.”

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $189.8M on a $22M production budget; the movie was a franchise-establishing blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: The Holly and the Quill concludes!

Zoom: Academy for Superheroes


Zoom

Tim Allen is pleased to find out that he isn't responsible for the problems of Zoom.

(Columbia) Tim Allen, Courtney Cox, Rip Torn, Chevy Chase, Spencer Breslin, Ryan Newman, Kate Mara, Michael Cassidy, Kevin Zegers, Thomas F. Wilson. Directed by Pete Hewitt.

I’m all for superheroes. I love ’em. Really, I do. Give me a movie about a superhero and I’ll almost certainly be there, unless it’s Catwoman. I will admit to missing that one, and after I saw it on DVD, I realized I’d made the right decision. I’ve even enjoyed the faux heroes of Sky High and The Specials.

Being a long time fan of the genre, I will admit that much of what goes on is intended for younger audiences. After all, comic books are part of the American landscape for most kids. That’s why it didn’t faze me – at least at first – that a superhero movie was coming out aimed directly for small fries. I enjoy Tim Allen, at least most of the time, so I had hopes that this would be along the lines of a GalaxyQuest for the spandex set.

Hope may spring eternal for a blogger, but not so much for Jack Shepard (Allen). He runs an auto shop that prides itself on taking the time to fix cars right. What his customers don’t know is that Jack was once better known by another name – Zoom, team leader of the Zenith Project, kids with special powers who had been trained by the government to be a genuine superhero team. They had been the pride of America, protecting us from threats foreign and domestic until an ambitious general named Larraby (Torn) irradiated them with gamma radiation (doesn’t Bruce Banner have a patent on that?) causing one of them, Concussion, to go berserk and attack his own team, killing all of them except for Zoom who is forced to run faster than he ever has before, creating a vortex into which his brother is sucked, never to be seen again. This leaves Jack without any speed powers (except in one finger) and retired, more or less happily, for 30 years.

However, there is a threat on the horizon. Nebbish scientist Dr. Grant (Chase) has determined that a transdimensional portal is about to manifest in our world, and when it does Concussion will be loosed on our world again. He and General Larraby decide to revive Project Zenith and use the powerless Zoom as a trainer for a new generation of heroes. Comely (but clumsy) psychologist Marsha Holloway (Cox) is sent to fetch Jack, promising him that the kids won’t be irradiated, but “natural ” methods will be used. A half million dollar paycheck doesn’t hurt either.

The kids – superstrong six-year-old Cindy Collins a.k.a. Princess (Newman), chunky twelve-year-old Tucker Williams a.k.a. Megaboy (Breslin) who is able to inflate various parts of his body, sixteen-year-old telekinetic Summer Jones a.k.a. Wonder (Mara) and seventeen-year-old Dylan West a.k.a. Houdini (Cassidy) who is able to turn invisible at will – are skeptical. The world has changed in thirty years and the idea of becoming a superhero, while cool, is a little passé. Zoom, for his part, is just going through the motions. He hasn’t been told what the kids are being trained for, so he thinks it’s just a government lark. He’s there strictly for the paycheck.

As time grows short, the pressure begins to mount on Jack to train the kids – or else. Gradually, he begins to grudgingly learn to like the kids and begins to actually prepare them for the life of a superhero, until he finds out the truth. Can he prepare the kids in time so that they don’t meet the same end as his previous team?

The movie is loosely – verrrrrry loosely – based on an illustrated book by Jason Lethcoe. However, the similarities between his book and Sky High were too noticeable and so the decision was made to alter the storyline. What results is a pastiche from various movies, some good, some bad but none working cohesively. Allen and Cox do their work gamely and manage not to disgrace themselves. Neither does the young cast, although Newman’s Princess was so annoying that by the end of the movie I was hoping that a meteor might hit her, or at least some calamity would befall her that might cause her to miss the rest of the movie.

Because the movie is aimed squarely at a younger set, the action is dumbed down. The fact that Jack’s team (which included his fiancee, by the way) had been killed by his own brother could have been explored in greater depth, but it was glossed over, the filmmakers not wanting anything unpleasant for the tykes in the audience to dwell on. Mostly everyone acts like buffoons, and the comedy, such as it is, is of the pee-pee doo-doo ca-ca variety, as one of my writing teachers used to identify the style.

This very much has the look and feel of a Saturday morning made-for-TV movie, something that might have aired on the Disney channel or Nickelodeon (and it probably will anyway). Young kids who are not so discerning (and I’m talking of the four to six-year-old variety) will probably get a kick out of it, while their parents will spend their time eagerly anticipating the end credits. That’s a shame, because there are some nice elements here, enough so that they could have made a decent movie of it in better hands. Director Pete Hewitt (whose previous movie was Garfield which should tell you all you need to know) needs to go back to the drawing board and rethink this one. Incidentally, the movie was released theatrically as Zoom but was retitled for the DVD release on perhaps the hopelessly insane chance that the audience might not recognize it.

WHY RENT THIS: Allen and Cox are at least pleasant. Some of the special effects are tolerable.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Dumbed down for kids, the movie misses some real opportunities to explore complex themes. Newman is way annoying.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the rumor is a little rude and of the toilet variety but otherwise okay for most kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A photo of the old Zenith team not only includes Allen and Zegers but also Alexis Bledel, Wilmer Valderrama and Devon Aoki.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a collection of four public service-type shorts aimed squarely at teaching youngsters good values.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $12.5M on an unreported production budget (but one I would guess would be north of $50M); the movie was a major flop.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The Town

Toy Story 3


Toy Story 3

Buzz and Woody discover that Jessie has a bigger cut at the merchandising than they do.

(Disney/Pixar) Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, John Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn, Michael Keaton, Ned Beatty, Estelle Harris, Laurie Metcalf, R. Lee Ermey, Timothy Dalton, Whoopi Goldberg, Blake Clark, John Morris, Jodi Benson. Directed by Lee Unkrich

For many, the Toy Story movies are a warm reminder of childhood, either experiencing the movies as children themselves or being transported back to childhood as an adult. Eleven years after the second movie in the franchise (still the only sequel Pixar has made, although there are plans for sequels to Cars and Monsters, Inc in the next two years) would there be a demand for Woody, Buzz and the gang after all this time?

Years have passed since the adventures of the first two movies and Andy (Morris) is getting ready to leave for college. As time has gone by, many of his toys have fallen by the wayside – either having been donated, handed down to his sister Molly or thrown out, leaving only a few remaining holdovers; Hamm (Ratzenberger) the caustic piggy bank, Rex (Shawn) the unselfconfident dinosaur, Mr. Potato Head (Rickles) and his wife (Harris), Jessie (Cusack), the rootenist’ tootenist’ cowgirl in the West, Buzz Lightyear (Allen) the greatest toy ever made and of course, his best friend Woody (Hanks).

Andy is cleaning out his room before he leaves and has a hard time deciding what to do with his remaining toys. They’re old and worn-out and most people would throw them into the trash but Andy is not most people. He can’t quite let go just yet so he elects to take Woody with him to college and earmarks the other toys for the attic, but his mom (Metcalf) mistakenly throws them in the trash. Woody manages to help rescue them, and the toys, thinking that Andy no longer wants them, elect to go to Sunnyside Day Care as donations where maybe they might have a future, despite Woody’s attempts to persuade them otherwise.

Sunnyside is run by a strawberry-scented teddy bear named Lotso (Beatty) who seems kindly and welcoming at first. He has quite a set-up where toys will be played with forever in an ownerless world. At first glance, it seems like heaven for the toys but it quickly turns out to be the other place as Lotso assigns them to the Caterpillar Room where the youngest tots are gathered and unspeakable things are done to the toys. Lotso is revealed to be a tyrant running the toys of Sunnyside with an iron fist. Will Woody help his friends – his family – escape? Will Barbie (Benson) find romance with Ken (Keaton)? Why is Buzz speaking Spanish?

I can’t say this is a game-changer when it comes to animated features, but it is a marvelous movie nonetheless. Unkrich has managed to recapture the magic that made the first two movies classics even without the late Jim Varney (who passed on in 2000) as Slinky Dog (Clark, a close friend of Varney’s in real life, takes over the role). There is a bittersweet quality here that is only hinted at in the first two movies (especially the second); the essence of growing up and putting aside childish things. The last scene in the movie is one of the best in the series and should this be the last Toy Story film (and there’s no sign that it will be), it’s a marvelous way to go out, bringing things full circle in a sentimental but not over-the-top way.

The look of the movie is pretty much identical to the first two so in a way this is a step backwards for Pixar in that it doesn’t hold up against the magnificent animation seen in Wall-E for example, but it really doesn’t need to. The look of the movie is like going back home again in a lot of ways and seeing that things are exactly the way you left them.

They did add 3D and IMAX to the mix which to my mind didn’t really enhance the movie overly much; if you can take or leave either of those things I’d advise you to check out the standard version while you can; no need to spend $3-$10 per ticket just for those bells and whistles when the standard version works perfectly well.

I don’t really need to go over the voice characterizations. Most everybody who cares about movies has seen at least one of the Toy Story films and knows how good this cast is. Keaton and Beatty make fine additions and interact with the existing cast very nicely. There are some really clever moments (like a brief appearance of the Pizza Planet truck, or a train full of troll orphans) and some genuinely affecting moments that tug on the heartstrings without being manipulative.

The movie succeeds on all levels. Kids are going to go bananas for it – if you’re a parent, be resigned to demands to see it three or four times this summer. For adults, the underlying themes of memory, loss and growing up will hit home. After setting a Pixar record for the biggest opening weekend, the answer to the question I posed in the first paragraph is a resounding yes. More to the point, this is a summer family movie that will please everyone in the family and bear repeated viewings. Andy may be moving on, but given how good Toy Story 3 is it’s a good bet that the rest of us won’t be.

REASONS TO GO: Recaptures the magic. Ending had Da Queen in full-on bawl mode.

REASONS TO STAY: It doesn’t really break new ground nor does it measure up to Up or Wall-E but that doesn’t mean it’s not terrific.

FAMILY VALUES: Perfectly suitable for every audience.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Unkrich co-directed Toy Story 2 with John Lasseter and edited the first two Toy Story movies prior to being named director on this one.

HOME OR THEATER: Oh, big screen, definitely.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: Paper Heart

New Releases for the Week of June 18, 2010


June 18, 2010

Woody and Buzz, together again at last.

TOY STORY 3

(Disney/Pixar) Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Michael Keaton, R. Lee Ermey. Directed by Lee Unkrich

If you think that there is a glut of computer animated features, you have Toy Story to blame. That was the very first all-computer animated feature. It established Pixar as a major player in Hollywood and spawned an equally successful sequel; the only one Pixar has made to date. Now, they’re going the three-quel route with Andy having grown up and gone to college. His mom donates the toys to a day care center, which turns out to be bad news as there is some nefarious goings on there. Still, Andy wants Woody back, which seems a little creepy for a college boy. Still, after nearly a decade’s absence, Buzz, Woody and the gang are back which is cause for celebration in itself.

See the trailer, featurettes, clips and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D

Rating: G

Jonah Hex

(Warner Brothers) Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Michael Shannon. This DC comics adaptation pits a disfigured cowboy and bounty hunter out to gain revenge against the man who maimed him and killed his family. There are elements of the supernatural involved in this gritty western which is based on a character not very well known outside of comic book fandom; it’s surprising, given that better known characters like Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Arrow and Swamp Thing are all languishing in development hell that this got greenlit, and even more surprising that Warner Brothers has not promoted it very heavily. Still, the trailer looks very promising.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (For intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and sexual content)

Please Give

(Sony Classics) Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Amanda Peet, Rebecca Hall. A Manhattan couple purchases the apartment next door in order to eventually expand their own apartment. However, the elderly woman who resides there has to die first, which leads to a good deal of liberal guilt and as the couple begin to get involved with the lives of the elderly woman and her granddaughters, their own lives and ambitions begin the evolve. This is the latest film from director Nicole Holofcener who also directed the wonderful Friends With Money. It opened in limited release elsewhere in April.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for language, some sexual content and nudity)