Monday, December 04, 2006

Movie Reviews? More like GROOVY reviews!

Good news! It's the time of month for awful puns!

Happy Feet? More like CRAPPY feet!

In some ways, Happy Feet far exceeded my expectations. Not that they were particularly high, natch, but exceeded nonetheless. I expected some piece of story-free drivel about tap-dancing penguins, but instead I got the most plot-heavy children's movie I've seen in some time, and not to the film's benefit.

Essentially, the movie is about a slightly disabled penguin youth (echoes of Finding Nemo abound) who must join his wacky penguin friends on a journey to discover the cause of a severe fish shortage and in the meantime inspire humanity through the power of tap-dancing. Sounds pretty crappy, right? Right.

But first, the positives. Happy Feet is a beautifully animated film. A part of me wishes that I saw the flick at an IMAX theater, because the scenic vistas created by Warner Brothers Animation are sincerely breathtaking. Even the landscapes littered with cans and boats look dazzling.

There are a few great moments that gave me the chills. When traveling through "blizzard country," all of the penguins have to huddle together and push their way through the storm. It's the kind of thing you might have seen in shitty documentary March of the Penguins, except this time you care because the penguins talk like Frodo Baggins. Said hero penguin then leaves his friends behind, jumping from a mountain into the ocean on a quest to save penguin-kind, and what results is a brief moment of euphoria--the imagery and the film's score come together amazingly.

The creators of the film took some interesting chances, as well. Recent animated films have relied on brand new songs by noted pop musicians (see: Ben Folds' Over the Hedge and Paul Westerberg's Open Season). Happy Feet doesn't stray from the pop formula, but it utilizes newly-arranged versions of popular music from the latter half of the twentieth century almost exclusively. Prince's "Kiss" and Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love to You" make appearances for instance. It rarely works, but it's bliss when it does. Queen's "Somebody To Love" makes an appearance, and is welcome if only to bring the song back to the forefront. Robin Williams does a version of Sinatra's "My Way" that almost makes me forgive the fact that he's Robin Williams.

Another bizarre but intriguing choice is the utilization of live-action humans as opposed to CGI. Humans are interspersed throughout the entire final hour of the movie. At first, you look at them and say, "Wow! That's really good animation!" Then you're mildly disappointed that it's merely photography. Then you're impressed again because, for the most part, it works. There are moments that fail, of course: there is a scene at the end that finds the humans so moved by the penguins' dance that they attempt to dance as well, and (much like said dancing humans) the scene falls flat on its face.

The bad, ultimately, outweighs the good. Let me start with the lesser of my two major complaints: Robin Williams. First of all, he's not funny. I'll give him validity as an actor, because somehow he manages to pull off his dramatic roles. However, the spastic stream-of-consciousness that he spews was tired shortly after Mork left for Ork. This is more of the same from the goofy side of Robin Williams. Interestingly, both of Williams' characters are more like racial caricatures. One is a Latino scrapper that teaches our lead that dance CAN be cool. The other is essentially the black preacher figure. Both voices are common in Williams' routine, of course, but they seem particularly forced here. Perhaps I would not have been as distracted had the parts been cast with actual actors of the characters' respective races.

Why are there Latino penguins anyway? Even giving into the conceit that penguins can talk, when would they have come in contact with the indigenous peoples of Central America?

My biggest complaint, though, is a doozy. The entire movie revolves around the effects of human life on the fauna of Antarctica. Our trash is choking out the environment, and our commercial fishing boats are robbing the food chain of the all-important fish. I am sympathetic to these beliefs, and share them to some extent. However, the whole thing seems heavy-handed (even for a kid's movie). SPOILER ALERT (is a spoiler alert necessary for a movie about talking penguins?): The resolution to the movie allows for complete removal of human activity from Antarctica. Completely disregarding the fact that this will [unfortunately] never, ever happen, it's just outlandish to believe that thousands of dancing penguins could influence this. If there were a society of dancing penguins in real life, we'd be setting up tents outside of their habitat and throwing more and more cans into the seas.

See it if you're a penguin freak (although it's a bit redundant to call penguin-lovers freaks), if you're interested in seeing state-of-the-art computer technology, or if you have some sick desire to hear penguins ruin classic songs by The Beatles and Elvis Presley. Otherwise, you can probably save all of your kids-movie energy for next summer's Shrek the Third.

Turistas? More like BORE-istas!

The only thing I knew about Turistas before hitting the theater was that it was one of the only times in over six years that I would actually have to pay for a movie ticket. Strike one, Turistas. Strike one.

Strike two came shortly thereafter, when my friend Theresa (rhymes with "Turista") told me to expect something along the lines of Hostel or the Saw movies. Great. I've never seen Saw, but if Hostel was any indication, I could expect uneven pacing and gratuitous gore for the sake of gore.

I waited some time for strike three, but I didn't find it. That's not to say that Turistas was the perfect movie. Far from it. It was another in a series of bleak and forgettable teen thrillers. However, for what it was, Turistas was relatively well made.

The direction was fairly good. There is a miniscule amount of gratuitousness in the film. One nude beach topless shot was unnecessary but not overly sexual, and one eyeball-related kill was gory but served as character motivation for one of the crime's witnesses. The pacing is fair, although there's a slight lull in the middle as the backpackers travel to the house in the woods that will eventually serve as a grave for some of them.

There's a bit of overwhelming foreshadowing in the beginning, and it is a stretch to call the villains' intentions a "surprise." When the antagonist monologues over a quaking teenaged girl, the viewer will more than likely be bored with his plot. It's been hinted at so frequently in the film that we've already guessed it and moved on to the possible solutions. This is not necessarily a demerit, though. Too many movies, I think, hinge upon some game-changing revelation or twist. It's nice and strangely refreshing to come across a movie that simply puts characters into a situation and challenges them to escape.

The actors are run-of-the-mill, mostly culled from various hit television shows. The male lead is on Las Vegas, and his sister is played by some wench from The O.C. The most enchanting of the tourist characters is portrayed by Melissa George, better known as the traitorous Mrs. Vaughn from the third season of Alias.

The most likable character, as is often the case, is the most conflicted. Kiko is a young boy that is paid to corral the titular turistas towards a cabana in the jungle. Despite the fact that his intentions are devious, the character is ultimately sympathetic and easier to relate to--at least for me--than any of the boozehound spring breakers. He is moved by the plight of his prisoners, and, without spoiling too much, shows redemptive shades throughout the film.

In the end, you could do worse than Turistas, but you could certainly do a lot better. If you're looking for a thriller, get into some classic Hitchcock. If you're looking for gore, you'll be better suited with a Friday the 13th flick, which will give you more blood for your buck.

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