Thursday, March 29, 2012


Gore Verbinski, 2011 (8.8*)
Academy Award, Best Animated Film

I loved this trippy, clever, irreverent film! You know you’re into something heady when a family's pet chameleon character, hilariously voiced by Johnny Depp, falls off the family car on a highway,  and  gets blown by traffic smack into the windshield of the convertible driven by Hunter Thompson with Dr. Gonzo in the back, and Hunter and the lizard are wearing the same shirt ! That’s an indicator right there that this film may be a little induced by altered states.

Director Gore Verbinski directed the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and once again he seems to have fun directing this wacky stuff.

After falling off the car, he meets various desert dwelling critters that give him advice, with Alfred Molina as an armadillo telling him he needs to find the town of Dirt, out there somewhere. When he does, it’s inhabited by an odd assortment of western dressing animals. He meets a snotty girl, tho tells him, after mutual insults, "strangers don’t last long here", but when he discovers the town needs a sheriff and a hero, he volunteers, being lost and having little choice. He picks up his name in a bar, but I won’t spoil how he gets it, it’s mostly visual.

Much of this film is like that, references to classic westerns like A Fistful of Dollars, High Noon, even the later Quick and the Dead. There are also scenes paying homage to Chinatown and Apocalypse Now, and likely others that escaped me.

Ned Beatty gives his best John Huston (a la Chinatown) voice, as the mayor, who may or may not be involved in a plot involving the town’s water supply. British actor Bill Nighy is a dead ringer for the voice of Jack Palance as the villain Rattlesnake Jake. The plot is eerily similar to that of Chinatown, a parched town needs water, it never rains, and for some reason the town’s supply faucet has gone dry, spewing out mud and no liquid, so everyone is about to die of thirst like the crops already have.

Depp is perfect for this, delivering lines like "and stay out of my peripheral vision", and  "we should follow the pipe to it’s hydraulic origin, capture the criminals and solve this aquatic conundrum".

If you like classic westerns, as well as Depp’s irreverent, inebriated style, this will be right up your alley. Perhaps more enjoyable for adults than kids, it’s still a G-rated comedy that the entire family can watch together with many guffaws – though I’m sure the kids will often ask “what did he say?”, just like the background characters do.

There’s an uncanny scene by Tim Oliphant as the voice of Clint Eastwood, delivering the film’s best line.
Depp: “The Spirit of the West. Hey, is this heaven?”
Spirit of the West (as Eastwood): “if it was, we’d be sharing Pop-tarts with Kim Novak.”

I’m sure all the kids are asking, who’s Kim Novak? Well, she and Clint Eastwood are 60’s stars that both live in Carmel, California now – that should clear that up somewhat, and of course, Pop-tarts imply breakfast, which insinuates.. er, the hokey-pokey – that’s what it’s all about!


Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Byron Howard, Chris Williams, 2008 (7.8*)
Another enjoyable Pixar-Disney animated film, with some incredibly realistic graphics, at least the landscape portions (the humans look a little stiff and plastic). Bolt is a small Swiss shepherd who is rescued from an animal shelter in the beginning, when he is being appropriately cute with a rubber carrot toy. His person, as he calls her, is a little girl named Penny.

The story inexplicably then skips forward five years, at a point when Bolt and Penny are the stars of a kids tv show, in which Bolt rescues Penny from various perilous situation, most involving a green-eyed man (voiced by veteran actor Malcolm MacDowell).

The only problem with Bolt is that in order to make the show work, he has been fooled into thinking that Penny is really in danger, he has no idea that it's all a TV show, and everything is make believe. Mistaking Penny to be really in danger while he's trapped in his studio trailer, he manages to escape and immediately gets packed up and shipped away.

He runs into an alley cat named Mittens (Susie Essman, perhaps the weakest cast member - I'd have rather heard a pro comedienne like Joan Cusask in this role), and a hilarious hamster in a running ball, named Rhino.

Perhaps the lead roles could have been better cast. John Travolta is just ok as Bolt, he was actually funnier in real action comedies like Get Shorty. Miley Cyrus was just ok as Penny, no doubt selected for her young fan base.

Filmed just after The Incredibles, this has a lot of similar action, but the screenplay isn't quite as good, but it was certainly more entertaining to me than Up, which was Pixar's worst film to date to me, losing their best character in the first 10 minutes, and sticking us with two unlikeable characters for the rest of the film.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Take Shelter

Jeff Nichols, 2011 (8.5*)

An intense young man, brilliantly portrayed by Michael Shannon, begins having apocalyptic dreams, leading him to think a huge storm is coming. He slowly drifts toward his vision and away from his everyday duties. He begins to spend more time and money building a safe tornado shelter for his family behind their house. 

This descent into obsession could have been ineffective without a performance such as Shannon’s, in his most intense role since his Oscar®-nominated part in Revolutionary Road.

His wife is played by Oscar-nominee Jessica Chastain, who had an amazing list of films released in 2011: her nominated performance in The Help; the updated Shakespeare play about the Roman military, Coriolanus, directed by Ralph Feinnes; and perhaps her best acting, in Malick’s The Tree of Life. In my opinion, she was likely nominated for her least unique and most predictable performance.

Director Jeff Nichols handles this with a subtle hand, and the film won 31 awards for 2011, most of them at film festivals. Critics have rated it higher than fans, 85 from Metacritics, 76 from fans at IMDB, far too low, in my opinion – I’m with the critics on this one.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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