Sunday, April 26, 2009

Earth

Today I saw Disney's Earth, starring polar bears, birds, caribou, walruses, buffalo, elephants, lynx, lions and whales.

Narrated by James Earl Jones, the 'story' here isn't as linear as March of the Penguins or various Animal Planet shows like Meerkat Manor, but it does take us through a year on our planet with the absence of humans (except for that voice, of course).

We start with a polar bear mother and her two cubs who are being introduced to the surface of the earth for the first time. It's hard to visualize these mammoth balls of fluffy fur as the notoriously mean creatures they really are when our first glimpse has them sliding helplessly across glaciers, struggling for footing, and frolicking about. But toward the end of the movie when we meet Dad attacking a mound of walruses with reckless abandon, we see how these families have long survived the conditions.

In another portion of the film, we watch a lone lynx creeping through an icy forest, searching for a rare meal. Later, a fuzzy family of lynx makes the initial peek seem like the cameras were pointed toward an uncommon Serial Killer Lynx, because these kids are just too darned cute to be evil.

But really, the moral of the story is: An Eye for an Eye.

I realize that nature is harsh and that all species are important to the food chain for whatever reason, but that didn't make it any easier for me to watch a wolf chase down a caribou calf and take a chunk out of its backside, or prevent me from tearing up when a baby elephant gets separated from its pack during a dust storm and follows the wrong trail to try to catch up with them.

What I'm saying is: if I had kids, I'm not quite sure I'd let them see this until they were 10 or 12.

There are some scary scenes in addition to the ones I just mentioned—lions roaring during a nighttime thunderstorm, another "chase" scene involving a cheetah that doesn't end well for the prey, etc. I found myself turning away much more than I'd expected.

That said, there are some amazing scenes I could've stared at all day, such as the birds of paradise who were "preparing for dates" with females and a humpback whale calf's first swim through its new home in the ocean.

The lengths the cameramen and women must have gone to to gain this footage is nothing short of impressive (and we see glimpses of them during the credits; hopefully there will be more footage on the eventual DVD), and sitting back and taking it all in, you really do realize just how insignificant you are in the grand scheme of this planet.

Even more of a reason to be good to our Mother Earth, if you ask me.

~~~

Stick It in Detroit

This morning I saw Stick It in Detroit, starring and directed by Robert Phelps.

Todd (Phelps) is a factory worker in the city of Detroit. Like many men, he still hangs out with the same buddies from his neighborhood that he grew up with. None of them seem remotely as bright or promising as Todd, but this doesn't seem to matter to him. He has a steady job, a steady girlfriend and all is right with the world.

That is, until success comes knocking at his door. When he is offered a promotion in Georgia, he's forced to choose between abandoning his comfort zone (and probably his girlfriend, who isn't sweet on the idea of moving south) or taking an opportunity that may never arise again and bettering his career.

The concept of the movie is a good one; the execution left a lot to be desired.

As a film critic, I make no secret of the fact I detest bathroom humor. I'm not entirely against low-brow comedies (after all, I proudly own Airplane and Fast Times at Ridgemont High), I just don't find feces funny.

And therefore, folks like me are pretty much disqualified from finding genuine laughs within this movie.

Entire scenes are built around visits to the toilet, and other "fantasy" scenes that could be funny in another context, seem out of place among the vulgarity.

The acting and directing are fine, but unfortunately the story can't be saved by these two factors.

Obnoxious friends and dead-end lives just aren't my idea of quality comedy.

~~~

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Adventureland

Tonight I saw Adventureland, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart.

James (Eisenberg) has just completed his college degree and looks forward to graduate school with aspirations of travel writing; his parents have recently fallen on hard times and tell him in no uncertain terms that if he plans to attend Columbia (where he's been accepted), he'll have to earn the tuition himself that summer. As he's always been the "mow the lawn for money" kind of kid, he has trouble finding work and ends up at Adventureland, a local amusement park with all of the typical rides, games and characters that come with such a place.

Assigned to "Games," James befriends fellow booth slaves Joel (Martin Starr), a Jewish athiest clearly too smart for the job, and Emily (Stewart), who will be headed to NYU in the fall, and just happens to be beautiful.

Without warning, James falls for Emily, and she for him, but the situation is complicated by the sexy maintenance man Connell (Ryan Reynolds), who is married, but sleeping with Emily.

James doesn't know this, nor does Emily know that James accepted a date with Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva), the resident hottie at Adventureland, when she hurt his feelings during a double date of theirs. Drama ensues.

Recounting it in those few paragraphs, this sounds like formulaic fluff with classic love triangles and summer romance conventions, but for some reason it plays better than that.

The chemistry between Eisenberg and Stewart does seem genuine—and that helps—but more than that, there's a heart that lies deeper in the characters, which enables us viewers to empathize instead of judge. Hasn't everyone made a mistake in a relationship at some point? Probably so, and though this film may make you remember those mistakes, it will also (hopefully) remind you that you have to learn some lessons before you get it right. That is, if your human.

Furthermore, the situations in Adventureland are completely believable, and even the silliest of characters (Frigo) are somewhat real, despite how obnoxious their behavior is.

And since the story takes place in the 80s, my nostalgia radar picked up on several relics from the past, which added a nice ambiance to the overall feel of the film. I recognized the plastic bracelets and heart earrings the girls were wearing, the headband Frigo was sporting, and appreciated the brilliant soundtrack featuring Falco and Crowded House, which played naturally in the background.

Adventureland is a refreshing change from the usual bathroom-humor-laden "college" films involving frat houses and shock jokes. Instead of gratuitous language, you have appropriately timed outbursts that may contain a word or two; instead of clich├ęd sex scenes, you witness kisses that you would remember all of your life if you were living as one of the characters.

I hope other filmmakers will take a cue and make more smart comedies like this one, that come with a side of heart.