Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Stoked Movies 2007

Somehow I did not see many films this year, and very few really good ones. Lots of ho-hum and disappointing movies this year. Let's start with the very good ones:

Persepolis   NEW
A very unique black & white (with some color) 2-D animated film about a girl growing up in Iran during late 70s and 80s. It's very refreshing to watch a personal, adult story with animation, and this one is told very well, with lots of nuance. It's based on the director's graphic novel, but according to her is a different work of art based on the same story. Check it out on the big screen if you can!

Ratatouille
Oh man, Brad Bird hits another one out of the ballpark for Pixar. Gorgeous romanticized Paris and an enticing cuisine-filled kitchen are the backdrops to a story about a talented rat who pairs up with a lucky garbage boy. Very inspired casting. Ian Holm (reprising his hilarious French accent not heard since Time Bandits), Janine Garafalo (almost unidentifiable with her accent), and Peter O'Toole.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
A very poignant film told from the point of view of a paralyzed man trying to come to grips with his predicament. Visually innovative and some excellent performances. One of the few movies I actually wanted to have be longer!

Once   NEW
This is a lovely, simple musical about two musicians who meet in Ireland and develop a friendship based around their love of making songs. Much of the acting is improvisational, giving it a very genuine, warm feel. The songs themselves are full of emotion.

Atonement
An epic film spanning decades, following a woman, her love, and the tragic happenings caused by her younger sister's false witness. Stunning depictions of a World War II torn France and England. Excellent acting from Kiera Knightly and others. I particularly liked the music which featured a typewriter as one of its instruments.

The King of Kong   NEW
Best documentary I saw this year. In this movie, we learn about what's left of the world of competitive arcade video-gaming, still somewhat alive after its hey-day during the early 1980s when Pac-Man, Frogger, and Donkey Kong machines consumed hundreds of millions if not billions of quarters around the world. One newcomer has the chops to overthrow the longtime champion Donkey Kong player, but corruption within the league and egos stand in his way. Will he fulfill his dream of being the world's best Donkey Kong player? Watch and find out.

Now, some decent movies:

The Bourne Ultimatum
The third in the series still has punch (unlike pretty much all other 3rd films this year). I blogged about it earlier for having a "signal" theme. While it is awfully similar in style and plot to the 2nd, as long as you don't see the series back to back this movie is quite entertaining.

Surf's Up
A surprisingly good second effort from Sony Pictures Animation (and one that I tried desperately to get onto instead of Beowulf. Oh well.) Did you know that penguins invented surfing? Neither did I! But this mockumentary informs us of that fact and follows the trials of a young wannabe surfer on his quest to win, meeting a hero of his, and doing a lot of surfing on some incredibly convincing waves. While not in the same league as Ratatouille, it's still an excellent animated film. (Personally, I found a lot of the humor revolved too much about kids saying "poop" a lot, and didn't take enough advantage of the mockumentary format.) It's too bad so many other penguin movies came out before this -- I think the audience stayed away simply because of that. But do check this out on DVD or Blu-Ray. The last surfing shot is simply stunning...

Charlie Wilson's War
An entertaining movie about a likeable politician who managed (with the help of connections in the C.I.A. and a wealthy Texas woman with a cause) to alter the Afghanistan & Russian confrontation during the early 1980s. Very good acting and writing.

Here are the so-so to mildly disappointing ones:

The Namesake (which a coworker like to pronounce: The Nam-e-sa-kay)
An Indian boy named Googel learns much later in life why his father decided to give him that name. Not bad, but not great. I very much like both the author and director of this movie, but somehow the combination of the two didn't quite work for me.

Sweeney Todd
I'm still undecided about this one. It's really great to see Sondheim get such public attention. And it's true, I can't think of any other film director suitable for this particular Sondheim masterpiece about a blood-thirsty vengeful facial hair technician, or at least any more obvious one. But Burton can be too Burtonesque for his own good. Must there always be his wife Helena Bonham-Carter and favorite actor Jonny Depp in everything? The stage version offers tension and gore through lighting and sound cues, but here everything is depicted in juicy, splattery and firey detail. Subtle this movie is not! Tim, it's a bit weird seeing actors sing without breathing...

And now the clunkers, the abysmal steaming pile of disappointments:

Spider-man 3
I feel sooo sorry for the crew (who as far as I can tell didn't even get a thank you page in Cinefex this year. Come on, Sony!) It was an incredibly stressful production, and while this movie was #1 this year, fans and critics alike panned it for compressing three villains into a hyper-rushed story with some really bizarre Peter Parker dancing scenes (ala Jim Carey in The Mask).

The Transformers
Okay, of course this one was going to suck. But did they have to over-animate the bots? Why couldn't they direct the actors to jump a bit, or cue pools of water to ripple when a 20 ton robot steps on the ground nearby? Did they have to leave out the original theme song? Why couldn't they have found more of the original voice-over artists? All right, I concede it was fun to watch robots duke it out on the streets of L.A.

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posted by Brian at 11:32 PM

2 Comments:

Blogger Colin said...

Actually, Peter Jackson would have been the better choice to direct Sweeney Todd. He has a better track record with gory humor, and has matured more or less into a skillful storyteller, for which Burton has never qualified. Plus, you could continue with an all-down-under cast by getting true singers with Broadway experience--Hugh Jackman and Toni Collette--to play these roles as more than cartoons.

January 10, 2008  
Blogger Brian said...

Ahh yes, his infamous Meet the Feebles probably erased him from my consciousness. That and King Kong have damaged Peter Jackson's reputation to the point I forget about him. But he would have been an apt choice.

January 10, 2008  

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