Ice Age: Continental Drift


 

Ice Age: Continental Drift

Scrat is only a little bit obsessed.

(2012) Animated Feature (20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Ray Romano, Queen Latifah, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, Peter Dinklage, Seann William Scott, Wanda Sykes, Aziz Ansari, Jennifer Lopez, Drake, Keke Palmer, Heather Morris, Joy Behar, Nicki Minaj, Josh Gad, Alan Tudyk, Nick Frost, JB Smoove, Chris Wedge. Directed by Steve Martino and Michael Thumeier

 

There isn’t much we wouldn’t do for our families. We’d put our lives on the line to defend them. We’d do things that we don’t like doing to make things work. We’d go as far as we had to just to get together with them. Even though we fight like cats and dogs sometimes, when it comes down to it, our families are everything.

Manny the Mastodon (Romano) thinks so too. After everything he’s been through, his wife Ellie (Latifah) is the apple of his eye. His daughter Peaches (Palmer) is now a teenager (we saw her getting born in the last Ice Age movie) and like most teenagers, she’s terribly concerned with hanging out with the right crowd. She has her eye on Ethan (Drake), the dreamboat who has his own little entourage, although her BFF Louis (Gad), a kind of mole, is far nicer and cares about her as a mastodon…er, person.

Scrat (Wedge) the obsessive squirrel has tried to plant his acorn right in the center of things. Unfortunately, his determination has led to the cataclysmic break-up of the super-continent into the seven continents we know today. That action has inadvertently separated Manny from his family although fortunately Diego (Leary) the saber-toothed tiger is with him as is Sid the Sloth (Leguizamo) and his feisty but not altogether there Granny (Sykes).

They are floating about the sea on an ice floe when they run into Captain Gutt (Dinklage), an orangutan pirate who is also the self-styled ruler of the sea. His right hand woman is Shira (Lopez) who may just be a more ruthless cat than Diego, although you know the two are going to fall for each other. You know it.

Meanwhile, back at home the continental upheaval is taking its toll as Ellie is trying to lead the others to safety while Peaches alternately worries for her dad (who she had words with just before things went south) and still trying to fit in with the cool clique, while Louis frets. Will Manny ever see his family again?

The first Ice Age movies were pretty good and I enjoyed the camaraderie between the main trio of Manny, Diego and Sid. With each passing film more characters have been added into the mix and the films have been getting on the bloated side. As with the third film in the series, there seems to be less fun in the mix. You get the sense that this is just a paycheck for everyone involved, from the studio head on down to the animators and the voice talent. Sykes dos make a welcome addition, although her character is an insulting steroetype for the elderly which is disheartening. Still, she has some of the funniest moments in the film.

One thing it does have going for it is the 3D. I think it’s fair to say that the entire film revolves around 3 so that if you see it in 2D, you miss quite a bit. I don’t often recommend the upcharge but it is worth it here. However, don’t expect much logic or sense. As Sid says to Granny, “We fought dinosaurs. It didn’t make sense, but it sure was exciting.” Although I’d have to question the exciting part. Still, this is a feature length cartoon, not a lesson in history, zoology or geology.

As always, my favorite segments are the ones involving Scrat the Squirrel. This time, an awful lot of them already have appeared in the short films that Scrat has starred in which is a further sign that this franchise is running out of gas. I think it’s fair to say that I got a sense that I’ve seen it all before throughout the film, but in the case of Scrat I literally have.

There’s enough here to keep the small kids happy (and there were plenty of them even at the later showing that I attended which in itself is pretty sad – parents who keep their kids up to see a movie past their bedtime should have their heads examined) but the parents who go with them are going to be counting the minutes until the movie is over – and at a running time of well over an hour and a half, that’s a lot of minutes.

REASONS TO GO: The Scrat sequences are always entertaining. Smaller children will love it (although kids 3rd grade and older might turn their noses up at it as being for little kids).

REASONS TO STAY: Really, there isn’t much here that hasn’t been done before.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the humor is a little bit rude (although not much) – and some of the cartoon violence might upset the very little.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Captain Gutt was supposed to have been voiced by Jeremy Renner, but his busy schedule precluded it so Peter Dinklage was cast instead.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/21/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 39% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100. The reviews are pretty negative.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ice Age: The Meltdown

SCRAT LOVERS: While much of the footage with Scrat was shown initially in the short Scrat’s Continental Crack-Up that accompanied Rio, there are plenty of new scenes that highlight the obsessive squirrel.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Oxford Murders

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Big Miracle


Big Miracle

Drew Barrymore is not so sure about her big kissing scene with her latest co-star.

(2012) Family (Universal) Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Kristen Bell, Dermot Mulroney, Tim Blake Nelson, Ted Danson, Stephen Root, John Pingayak, Ahmaogak Sweeney, Kathy Baker, Vinessa Shaw, Andrew Daly, John Michael Higgins, Gregory Jbara, James LeGros, Rob Riggle, Sarah Palin. Directed by Ken Kwapis

 

Americans sometimes overly admire self-reliance. There’s nothing we love more than a lone wolf taking care of business on his/her own. Situations arise in life however where help is needed. Generally we as a nation despise asking for assistance although there are instances where reaching out is the only way.

Adam Carlson (Krasinski) is a reporter for an Anchorage television station whose current assignment in the winter of 1988 is to go to small towns on the fringes of the 49th State and file reports about life on the last frontier. He has amassed quite a following in the small town of Port Barrow, Alaska where he is finishing up his most recent assignment, particularly from Nathan (Sweeney), a young Inuit lad who is a bit star-struck and looks to be fleeing tiny Barrow for bigger and better things.

Filing one last story, Adam notices something rather peculiar – water spouts coming from a small hole in the ice five miles from the nearest ocean. Upon further investigation, it is discovered that three California Gray Whales are trapped there, cut off from the ocean where their fellows have begun their Southerly migration. In a short time, the hole will freeze over and the whales will drown, having no means of getting air.

The filing of this story causes quite a ripple effect. Greenpeace activist (and Adam’s ex-girlfriend) Rachel Kramer (Barrymore) charges in, guns blazing, in an effort to rescue the whales and alienate the humans who might not necessarily agree with her points of view. One of those is oilman J.W. McGraw (Danson) who has a towable ice hover barge that is only a few miles away; it can break up the ice and carve a path to the ocean for the whales but Rachel and J.W. have had run-ins before over oil drilling rights in Wilderness Preserves.

The national guard has to be mobilized in order to get the helicopters to tow the barge to Barrow, which requires the co-operation of the Governor (Root) who isn’t giving it, until Kelly Meyers (Shaw), one of Reagan’s press coordinators in the White House recognizes an opportunity to improve her boss’s environmental record and give a boost to the Bush campaign (the first George, not the second) and puts pressure on the Governor to co-operate.

Colonel Scott Boyer (Mulroney) is assigned to lead the helicopter team to move the huge barges but it is a dicey proposition at best. Meanwhile, the media is descending on tiny little Barrow to cover what has become an international sensation, including L.A. reporter Jill Jerard (Bell) who like Adam yearns for the big time.

In the meantime, the situation for the whales – dubbed Fred, Wilma and Bam-Bam – is getting more desperate by the hour and it doesn’t appear as if help is going to arrive in time. There is something closer that may well be the only chance for the whales. The trouble is, that it’s a Soviet icebreaker and to allow them to save the day might not be possible in that political climate.

These are based on actual events (Kwapis skillfully intercuts actual footage from the incident) although the plot has been condensed and made Hollywood-friendly. On paper it seems like it could be one of those treacly family movies that just reeks of cliché – dumbed down to kid levels. There is a kid here but unlike most family movies he doesn’t save the day – instead Nathan is taught the beauty of his heritage and learns to value his ethnic background. Otherwise, this is a movie that the whole family can appreciate.

The cast is well-assembled. Krasinski in particular is one of the most likable leads working in Hollywood today and the more movie work he gets, the more likely it is that the small screen is not going to be able to afford him shortly. Personally I think he’s one or two roles from being a huge star.

Barrymore is likewise a reliable lead, albeit further up the wattage ladder than Krasinski. She usually plays ditzy – and there’s a hint of that in Rachel – but she takes the committed environmentalist with tunnel vision cliché (she won’t wear make-up because so much of it is animal tested for example) and rather than make the character a caricature gives her flesh and blood instead. It’s a nice portrayal and illustrates why she’s one of Hollywood’s finest.

Danson, Nelson (as a state wildlife expert) and Baker are all fine actors who never disappoint; Danson is as close to a villain as the movie gets but he’s just so dang likable you wind up kind of wanting him to do the right thing – and not to be much of a spoiler but he does.

In fact, nearly everybody does the right thing here. It’s one of those movies where there are no real villains other than the elements and the conviction and commitment of the people of Barrow and those whom the story touches becomes the real focal point. That’s where the warmth is in the story, despite the chilly setting (which was filmed in British Columbia rather than Alaska).

The whales are portrayed both animatronically (well done) and by CGI (not so well done) and remain more or less on the periphery. Yes, everyone loves them and wants to save them but the people are the focus of the story. It becomes a family film that actually doesn’t pander to the kids at the expense of the adults, but rather treats kids intelligently and expects them to understand what’s happening without drawing in crayon.

I found myself liking this more than I expected to. Originally sentenced to the doldrums of the first release week in January, Universal moved it up into February, perhaps because the movie turned out better than they expected it to. This is good solid family entertainment that doesn’t disappoint the kids or the adults and hopefully, not the studio accountants either. Movies like this are to be encouraged.

REASONS TO GO: An engaging story. Krasinski is rapidly becoming one of the most compelling leads in Hollywood. Doesn’t talk down to its family audience, at least not much.

REASONS TO STAY: CGI whales aren’t always authentic looking.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stephen Root’s Governor Haskell is a fictional character; the governor of Alaska t the time this actually took place was Steve Cowper who was fairly supportive of the rescue efforts.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/19/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 73% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100. The reviews are solidly positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dolphin Tale

INUIT LOVERS: Offers a rare and intimate look at Inuit culture in modern society, specifically in regard to their view about whales and how they use them for food and as a spiritual touchstone as well.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Journey 2: Mysterious Island

Oceans


Oceans

Underwater, turtles become sprinters.

(DisneyNature) Narrated by Pierce Brosnan. Directed by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud

The oceans are vast, covering nearly three quarters of our planet and yet humans have laid eyes on only 5% of it. It makes up the largest territory of our planet and yet what we know about what lives there is infinitesimal compared with what there is to know.

As our technology has evolved, so has our ability to study the creatures of our seas. Some, like the bottle-nose dolphin and the blue whale, are creatures who swim close to the surface and as a result, we’ve been able to study them at some length. Others exist at greater depths, or swim in places that are more difficult for humans to access. Even these remote places, however, are becoming more and more reachable with submersibles that can withstand greater pressures, high-tech scuba apparatus and underwater cameras that can take amazing footage.

This is the second in what is slated to be an annual Earth Day event by Disney’s nature documentary division (last year, they released Earth to much acclaim). While Disney is distributing these movies, it should be noted that both Earth and Oceans were made by documentarians in England and France, respectively and were financed and produced outside of the Mouse House.

Still, the images here are magnificent, from the stately blue whale migration to the antics of sea otters and dolphins, from the weird and mysterious spider crabs to the serene and beautiful jellyfish. There are orcas and sharks, to be sure, and gulls dive-bombing for sardines, clouds of krill and schools of yellowfin tuna. There are squid-like creatures undulating through the liquid world with scarf-like streamers trailing them like a Spanish dancer, and tiny eels dancing in a strange ballet on the ocean floor. There are beautiful clownfish darting in and out of the Great Barrier Reef and penguins in the Antarctic, clumsy clowns on the ice but graceful and sleek in the water.

In its own way, Oceans is a beautiful movie but I’m wondering if there isn’t a bit of overkill here. After last year’s Earth and the latest BBC/Discovery Channel epic nature documentary series “Life”, Oceans feels almost like too much of a good thing.

The other quibble is with the narration. Pierce Brosnan is a fine actor but he doesn’t make a great narrator; his voice lacks the gravitas of a James Earl Jones or even a Sigourney Weaver. In all fairness, the narration he is given to read isn’t very inspirational and lacked the humor Disney nature documentaries are known for.

Still, that’s not what you come to a movie like this for. You come for amazing images and to see things you’ll never be able to see with your own eyes. The way to approach a movie like Oceans is to let the images sweep over you, wash you away and take you to the deep blue. It is as alien a world as anything George Lucas has ever devised and yet it is on our doorstep.

Asking the question “What is the ocean,” as the narration posits at the movie’s beginning, dumbs down the movie. Unless you’re a very young child, you know what the ocean is and clearly Disney is going for parents with very young children. While young children will ooh and ahh over the pictures, they don’t have the attention span to last the entire 90 minutes of the film. The trick is to get the same sense of wonder from adults, which they do nicely. It then becomes unnecessary to talk down to the audience by asking them “What is the ocean” because the questions you want them to ask are “What more is the ocean” and “How can we help save it.”

There are sequences that are powerful, with a forlorn shopping cart sitting on the ocean floor (which led me more to wonder how on earth it got there) and garbage floating on the ocean’s surface sending the requisite ecological message which should have been stronger; a segment that showed species that are now extinct was excised for the American version. Perhaps Disney didn’t want children to dwell on the harsh realities, but then why show baby turtles being picked off by frigate birds if that’s the case?

The co-directors were responsible for the much-superior Winged Migration and to their credit to capture some amazing sequences, but quite frankly I wasn’t wowed. Oceans turns out to be less of an educational tool than a new age video, and to my way of thinking our oceans deserved a better movie.

REASONS TO GO: Some very spectacular and beautiful footage, as well as amazing behavioral mannerisms of creatures both familiar and unfamiliar.

REASONS TO STAY: Perhaps a victim of Earth’s success; didn’t stack up favorably. Brosnan’s narration didn’t carry enough gravitas.

FAMILY VALUES: Perfect viewing for all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Perrin narrates the French version; his son Lancelot makes an appearance as the young boy in the movie’s framing segments at the beginning and the end.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the magnificent footage should be seen on a big screen for full effect.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Express