Monday, January 03, 2005

Family Film Trailers, A Very Long Engagement, and A Series of Unfortunate Events

So, I was reading the reviewers' board on Hollywood Bitch-Slap, and I saw that apparently we're not supposed to be posting our reviews elsewhere. Oops. So, I'm going to change the format up a little, and start using this for more blog-like comments and non-review things, while putting the links to new reviews (along with the four-star rating and when/where info) at the bottom. Felt weird not typing "Jay's Movie Blog" when entering the link into the IMDB, though, and I wonder if I'll hit that 100 number on the counter again.

In the last two days, I've seen two PG-rated movies, which means I got myself a decent overview on what the studios are marketing toward kids in 2005. I've always tended to like family movies (it takes more skill to make a really good movie with swearing, gore, and sex taken out of the toolbox, leading to more all-around effort), but this looks like sort of a mixed bag.

In front of Finding Neverland:

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith - Still not thrilled by the name - it doesn't quite jump off a pulp cover when you stick a bang on the end the way "Attack of the Clones" does - but whatever faults you may find with Lucas's last few movies... The guy can cut a heck of a trailer, can't he?

Pooh's Heffalump Movie - Looks fine for kids up to eight, I guess. It's disappointing to see Disney shut down Feature Animation in favor of an all-CGI approach and then try to fill a gap on the schedule (February Vacation) by blowing something designed for TV up so that it doesn't look good at all.

Because of Winn-Dixie - What the heck is going on with Wayne Wang? Lots of arty, boutique movies, and then stuff like Maid In Manhattan and this? Does he have a kid who just turned five, is he salting money away for something else? What makes a man's career just change completely overnight? I was really blown away when the trailer seemed to say "written by John Singleton", but, no, it's Joan Singleton, not the guy who did Boyz In Tha Hood.

As to the movie itself... Looks like a cutish "magic dog" movie that's trying too hard. The CGI to make the dog smile is kind of creepy-looking, and cutting the trailer as about ten consecutive "something amazing happens near the dog, complete with chime noises to indicate magic" probably makes it look much worse than it is. I hope those chimes aren't in the movie.

Racing Stripes - What Babe hath wrought. Fifteen years ago, this is a movie about a girl, her zebra, and her dad, and it's cute and sweet and sort of disposable. Now, there's a baker's dozen of celebrity voices coming out of the animals, telling jokes aimed at the adults in the audience, and sort of distracting from a simple kids' story. I think it's good for kids to use their imaginations to decipher what the animals think in stories like these, making this look eminently disposable.

In Front of A Series of Unfortunate Events:

War of the Worlds - Probably won't get a PG, but DreamWorks/Paramount has to attach something. Looks great, though. There will be an eventual entry on why it seems like a waste for Spielberg to do something other than sci-fi.

Ice Princess - Anyone else find it weird for Michelle Trachtenberg to be doing a tween-oriented Disney movie after flashing passing cars in Eurotrip? Okay, maybe that's just me.

Madagascar - This looks like it could be a huge mess. However, it does have a couple things going for it - director Eric Darnell worked on DreamWorks's best animated feature, Antz, for one... And psychotic penguins. Penguins are just hilarious in general, and the character animation on those guys is perfect.

Robots - Zowie. I mean, I love robots anyway, it's by the same team of directors that did the highly enjoyable Ice Age, and it brings the pretty. It's got zany Robin Williams, Ewan McGregor a a likable everybot, and looks very willing to build its own crazy world. Some adult without imagination will probably gripe about it not having much of a story, but, geez, look at it!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - I'd been feeling kind of down about this movie, actually, because it was one of my favorite books as a kid, and not seeing Scott Frank's name on the poster (after all he'd talked about doing a faithful adaptation of Charlie being a labor of love) was disappointing, especially John August's track record is spotty at best (kind of downhill after Go), and Tim Burton has had a pretty hit-and-miss decade. But, the trailer is colorful and joyous, Burton always works well with Johnny Depp, and Depp brought the great kid from Finding Neverland with him. Fairly optimistic here.

The Pink Panther - Hmm; never really thought of these as kids' movies, although that seems to be the direction MGM's going here. Steve Martin had a hand in the screenplay, so that's good, and it looks like a somewhat brighter, more kid-friendly movie than the Edwards series. And a pretty nice cast. I don't really mind that; if you're going to do a new Panther series, you might as well do it differently. Maybe a little more ham-fisted than the original, but OK.

So, what's it all mean? Not sure; there's some good movies coming, but I get the impression that people making these movies are only seeing the huge hits that cross over to adult audiences, or don't know how to just make a smart, simple kids' movie anymore. But then, those sort of sneak up on you, anyway.

The New Reviews:

A Very Long Engagement (Un Long Dimanche de Fian├žailles)

* * (out of four)
Seen 2 January 2005 at Loews Harvard Square #3 (first-run)

I think I have the same ill-founded hatred for Audrey Tautou that regular film snobs have for the likes of Tom Cruise. I know it's pretty irrational, especially since we probably only get to see a fraction of her work in the US. But, on the other hand, if you consider that what foreign films we do get are generally top-tier... Anyway, all the complaints that people seem to throw at American stars seem to hold for her. Always playing the same sort of role, and not necessarily very well. And yet, people seem to go for it.

... and read the rest at HBS.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 January 2005 at AMC Fenway #7 (first-run)

Adapting Daniel Handler's "Unfortunate Events" books (written under the pen name "Lemony Snicket"), at least initially, presents rather the opposite problem that adapting the Harry Potter novels does - they are slim volumes with large text and page counts that are padded by illustration. The writing style is elliptical, filled with the types of digressions and exposition that fall away naturally when translated to a screenplay.

... read the rest at HBS.

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