I think I’ve discovered at least one of the secrets of Pixar’s inexplicably consistent excellence. Many movies are so desperately eager to dazzle us visually, put their technical prowess on display, that they lose sight of anything resembling story. Pixar seems to wade into each project with supreme confidence in their ability to provide a feast for our eyeballs. This self-assuredness allows them to focus on details like story and character, things that turn a mere lightshow into an enchanting narrative and even help it transcend the boundary into art.
First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him back safely to the earth.
The Apollo missions to the moon were a big part of my childhood. One of my earliest memories involves the launch of Apollo 12 when I was four. Among my more prized possessions is a big hardcover book entitled “Apollo Expeditions to the Moon,” the official NASA history of the program. Naturally, I have movies like The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, plus HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon, in my DVD collection.
You wouldn’t think that there was much that this British documentary could tell me about the subject, but you would be wrong. By focusing on the human experience of the twelve men who actually walked on the surface of another world, In the Shadow of the Moon has something genuinely fresh to say about the greatest adventure of the twentieth century.
The Jungle Book was the last Disney animated film in which Walt Disney had any direct involvement. It’s probably not a coincidence that it also marked the end of the first real “Golden Age” of classical animated features from the House of the Mouse.
While the studio would continue to produce other cell-animated movies over the next twenty years, no one was ever going to confuse The Aristocats and The Rescuers for Pinocchio. It wouldn’t be until The Little Mermaid in 1989 that Disney would really reclaim its animated mojo.
There is a clear pecking order when it comes to computer-animated features from Disney. On the top tier are the Pixar films like The Incredibles and Ratatouille, which push the envelope technologically and are usually have a deeper, more sophisticated story than your typical animated film. On the next rung down is, frankly, everything else.
Meet the Robinsons clearly falls into this second tier, lacking the lushness and complexity of its Pixar brethren. That doesn’t make a bad movie, just simpler and less challenging. While even films like Finding Nemo have the ability to keep the adults entertained while still engaging the kiddies. This bright and cheerful sci-fi tale, however, is one you let your eight-to-ten-year-old throw in the DVD player while you pour yourself a Pinot and curl up with a book.
Who would have thought that the only thing that could bring down the great defenders of truth, justice and the American way would be that fiendish arch-nemesis known as the Trial Lawyer? Well, come to think about it, that’s really not news, is it?
I kid. I kid. Please don’t sue me.
The Incredibles, Brad Bird’s first feature for Pixar and Disney, was the sixth consecutive creative bulls-eye by that group since the release of Toy Story. Frankly, the team at Pixar is starting to make excellence seem almost boring. Who do these guys think they are, the New England Patriots?
Before he struck it big with Disney, Pixar and The Incredibles, director Brad Bird helmed this minor delight of a movie for Warner Bros. which, sadly, almost nobody ever saw when it first came out. A well-deserved cult status followed its release on home video, however, paving the way for its director to move on to bigger and, although it’s difficult to believe, even better efforts than this.
Only the young and idealistic would believe that they could reverse the course of a murderous regime with a few thousand mimeographed leaflets, but that is what the members of the White Rose, an anti-Nazi student resistance group, tried to do and that is the crime for which many of their members, including 21-year-old Sophie Scholl (Julia Jentsch), were executed.
The last time Kevin Costner got anywhere near John F. Kennedy’s presidency, namely Oliver Stone’s cinematic hallucination known as JFK, history took a beating like a narc in a biker bar. Thankfully, Roger Donaldson’s Thirteen Days doesn’t take anywhere near the number of liberties with the truth (how could it) and its historically questionable aspects are minor and forgivable as necessary dramatic licenses in the service of a tightly honed political thriller that also happens to be mostly true.
Sports films about plucky collegiate or high school underdogs overcoming the odds have become a significant sub-genre in recent years. Dating back to Hoosiers, recent examples include Glory Road and Remember the Titans. The success of that last film was the impetus for the recent spasm of similar films. The most recent member of the roster, We Are Marshall, certainly doesn’t disgrace the team, but neither does it stand out from the crowd. Eschewing flash for sound fundamentals, this movie keeps punching for four quarters.
Okay, admit it. When you heard that Oliver Stone was going to make a movie about the events of September 11, 2001, a lot of you rolled your eyes and thought, “Oh, my God, what’s he going to do now?” Was he going to have Richard Nixon rising from the grave to plant explosives in the twin towers? How were the Grassy Knoll gunmen who killed John Kennedy involved? And how did it all tie back to the Vietnam War?
If Tuesday, September 11, 2001 had been an ordinary day, you might have stumbled across the work of brothers Jules and Gédéon Naudet, a documentary about the first nine months in the career of a probationary firefighter, on some basic cable channel like Discovery or the The Learning Channel.
On that morning, Jules, the least experienced camera operator, was tagging along with the battalion chief, Joseph Pfeifer, as he investigated a gas leak, just to get some practice with their video camera. The sound of a low flying jet caught his attention and Jules tilted his camera up in time to see American Airlines Flight 11 plow into the side of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
In a strange way, Little Miss Sunshine is the film that The Royal Tenenbaums could have been. Both movies focus on extended families who are dysfunctional to a comic extreme. But while the rich but unhappy family in Wes Anderson’s film often just seemed annoyingly arch, little Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) and her thoroughly middle-class Albuquerque household are sympathetic, full-blooded characters.