I’ve never been the most diligent student of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, unfortunately sticking mainly to the features that have booked passage to America, dubbed and redressed by the fine folks at Disney. “Ponyo” is the latest import to hit these shores and for a Miyazaki lightweight like myself, it’s perhaps the most charming production I’ve encountered yet. Heartwarming, graciously surreal, and pure eye candy, “Ponyo” is an elevating fantasy that swims enthusiastically in delightfully unexpected directions.
An electric brew of “Alien Nation” and “The Fly,” coated with a viscous layer of social commentary, “District 9” is a volatile action/horror picture with a stupendous visual fingerprint. A barnstorming combat film with flashy weaponry, alien mysteries, and goopy body trauma, the film is destined to become a cult classic -- a largely unapologetic statement of hysteria, flanked by large deposits of geek Spanish fly. However, while there’s astounding visual reach, “District 9” is riddled with inconsistencies and a confusing point of view, reducing the heat on this ambitious film, robbing it of a lasting power it should rightfully own.
“The Time Traveler’s Wife” is a romantic, tragic, sci-fi hodgepodge of fate. To deconstruct it with an analytical mind would be a foolish proposition, confronting material that plays with fantasy conceits to create its very own identity, free from the binding straps of realism. It’s a film that needs to be granted permission to be magical and mysterious, to take the audience to unfamiliar places of time and heart. It’s a lovely picture, but something that is best approached in a relaxed state of mind.
As charming and energetic as “Bandslam” is capable of becoming, the feature is restrained by director Todd Graff, or perhaps the better description is smothered. Graff, who covered teen ambition in the semi-musical, mostly awful “Camp,” takes on the subject again with “Bandslam,” and while the results are more pleasurable and his directorial hand improved, there’s still oodles of melodramatic itches within Graf that he should exorcise. There’s a great movie somewhere in “Bandslam,” but Graff won’t allow its natural vitality to take flight.
Worshiping James Cameron’s “The Abyss” and checking the dirty diaper of “A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child.”
My introduction to the fantastical mind of John Hughes arrived mid-summer 1986, when I was oddly granted permission to see “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” at the local mall 4-plex with a friend. I was 10 years old, adorable, and utterly unaware of Hughes at the time. The champagne-worthy celebration that sweltering day was strictly regulated to being let out of the house and permitted to devour forbidden PG-13 fruit without intrusion from irrationally judgmental parents.
Controversy has followed “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” ever since the film sprinted into production early last year amid writer strike restrictions, with fans feverishly voicing their objections to the director, the fetish-wear costume design, and character arc alterations. The buzz was so toxic on this feature, Paramount fearfully withheld the film from press screenings to preserve whatever goodwill was left to profit from. It’s not been an easy journey for “Joe,” but the toy-inspired film is finally ready to show, and to be perfectly frank, Paramount was smart to hold the picture until the last possible minute.
Writer/director David Twohy has a lot of tricks up his sleeve with the thriller “A Perfect Getaway,” but his ambition is far more compelling than his execution. A cringingly self-aware, painfully verbose, and somewhat smug motion picture, “Getaway” is itching to keep audiences guessing, but it’s far more successful at putting viewers to sleep.
“Julie & Julia” is a heavenly foodie playground, filled with gorgeous photography that captures every last dripping ounce of gourmet delights, anchored by a type of lascivious attention to detail that would make Bob Chinn blush. It’s a dream to behold, and the story’s not too shabby either. Carefully orchestrated to subvert expectation at all the right moments, “Julie & Julia” surprises as much as it delights, bringing writer/director Nora Ephron to a new level of storytelling subtlety once completely alien to her, pulling together a parallel lives tale that explores the thrill of creation and the agony of approval.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Carolco Pictures reigned supreme with their stable of franchises (the “Rambo” series), action blockbusters (“Total Recall,” “Terminator 2,” “Cliffhanger”), and provocative thrillers (“Basic Instinct,” “Jacob’s Ladder”). And then 1995 hit them square in the jaw, due the embarrassment of “Showgirls” and the massive financial misery that emerged from record-setting box office failure of the pirate epic, “Cutthroat Island.” Much has been written and vocalized about this notorious bomb, but cleave away all the rancid press and Hollywood gossip, and there’s a rip-roaring adventure film in there somewhere that will do just about anything to please its audience.
This is not Disney’s first encounter with Witch Mountain, and it most certainly won’t be their last. However, it’s their loudest contribution to date. A reimagining of the 1975 motion picture and the 1968 Alexander Key novel, “Race to Witch Mountain” does away with all that pesky character development stuff to put the pedal to the metal and offer family audiences an adventure packed with stunts, gunfire, and one-liners. It’s definitely a vibrant diversion, and kids will undoubtedly be glued to the screen, but the high tech, fist-happy approach leaves much to be desired.
Seeing how this “Parenthood” idea works, trapped with Stallone in the “Lock Up,” and trying to remember Yahoo Serious and “Young Einstein.”
Because music videos don't get much better than this...