Friday, October 23, 2009

UP! - up and away in my beautiful balloon

They say your life flashes before your eyes before you die, well in the case of up! We see Carl Fredricksen’s (Ed Asner) life flash before our eyes in the first several minutes of the film. We see Carl as a young man longing to be an explorer. We see Carl happen upon his future wife, Ellie; we see them grow up together, we see them go through the good times and the bad times, we see them grow old and eventually we see the passing of Ellie. Never in my years of film obsession have I ever grown to love a character so fast and then subsequently shed tears for their lose than I do with Carl. If Pixar had decided to skip this intro to Carl’s life the film would have had a completely different impact, you wouldn’t have cared for him, he would have just been a cantankerous old man.

The premise is simple enough; it’s a story of a man going to extremes to do what he promised his wife they were going to do. They had decided many years ago to build a house at the top of paradise falls (based on angel falls in Venezuela) and seeing as the banks are hassling Carl to sell his home he decides the best thing to do is attach millions of helium balloons and fly his house there, sounds easy enough right? Actually the flying the house to South America part is actually very easy, It’s the people he picks up along the way and the adventures they end up going on that complicate Carl’s plan. Soon after Carl takes off he discovers that a young wilderness explorer named Russell on his front porch, he was under it when they took off looking for a snipe. When they get to Paradise Falls after a bit of bad weather they discover that they can walk the house to Carl’s desired destination. On the way to set the house down they encounter a bird and a dog that can talk via a special collar. Not to give too much away, basically the dog (Doug) works for a man who’s after the bird and the adventures for rest of the film are that of Carl trying to stop his one time hero (Charles Muntz voiced by Christopher Plummer) from taking the bird and Doug (who may be one of Pixar’s most lovable character ever) and Russell helping him against Charles and his band of killer, though loveably ordinary dogs.

Up! May very well be Pixar’s finest bit of animation, It takes the opposite view of ratatouille which went out of it’s way to be insanely detailed. Up! Tends to be more simplistic, but I find it fits the style of the story wonderfully. The film manages to blend emotional highs and lows, depression and elation seamlessly to produce an honest look at one man’s life. 5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, October 22, 2009

paranormal activity - did it live up to the hype?

I don’t believe in ghosts and I don’t believe in demons, but I understand why they’re considered frightening. There’s one thing that makes ghost stories that much more frightening than say slasher films or gore films. Where the slasher and gore films may be slightly more set in some sort of reality, ghost films aren’t. you can’t see the enemy pursuing, you never know when it’s going to strike, you’re filled with a constant knot of dread in your stomach and most importantly, you can’t fight back.

Paranormal activity manages to do one thing that American horror films have notoriously lacked, it fills you with a sense of unease, from the moment the movie begins you’ll have a knot in your stomach wondering when something is going to happen. When something does happen, you’ll feel the payoff for the wait is worth it. The film takes its premise very seriously; there are no opening credits, just a disclaimer stating that it’s a video documentation of what happened to this couple, not even a title screen, there’s also no closing credits which leaves you a little disconcerted when the movie ends. There’s a term I coined to describe this kind of movie, which until today I had used exclusively for a type of Japanese film. I call them “creep films”, because they creep you out. The Japanese usually do this by tossing startling imagery at you in the form of small boy ghosts and women covered in blood climbing through you TV to murder you. There’s nothing like this in paranormal activity, but the term still applies, as the movie is a ghost story, or more aptly a demon story. The film maintains this unease from start to finish, building to a crescendo in the climax in the final minutes of the film.

I’ll get to the thing everyone wants to know, will this movie scare you? Probably not, but depends on how easily frightened you are. There are some very disturbing images in the film and a few things that may even haunt you for a couple days after seeing the film. Overall, however, I would say the movie is more geared towards people who like to feel creeped out and have a sense that something really bad is about to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it. Dread permeates the film and it’s an uncomfortable ride witnessing what happens to poor Micah and Katie. The film strikes me as the type of thing that will end up being very polarizing, there are going to be the people who are going to say it wasn’t scary and therefore not worth wasting your time on, but I will argue this point. No the movie is not scary in the traditional sense, but it is frightening if you let yourself get absorbed into the film and with everything that the characters are going through. If you don’t think you can do that, don’t bother seeing the film. 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Zombieland: follow the rules

Horror Comedies tend not to fair well in the box office, this doesn’t seem to be the case with Zombieland and there’s a reason to that. Zombieland is a brilliantly made film that also happens to be funny as hell from start to finish. The basic story follows a young man who’s simply referred to as “Columbus” (Jesse Eisenberg) as this is where he’s from. He encounters a man who will be referred to as “Tallahassee” (Woody Harrelson) who is, at this point in the movie, either the biggest badass left on the planet OR maybe just a tad mentally unstable, perhaps both? They decide for some inexplicable reason to join up and travel together after a humorously tense “stand-off”. It quickly becomes apparent that Tallahassee has some screws loose, but this ups the humor factor by many degrees and frankly if it weren’t for the antics of Tallahassee, a good chunk of the movie wouldn’t be nearly as good as it was. I am, however, getting ahead of myself. Columbus, you see, lives by a certain code of honor, a set of rules he’s established for his personal survival. Tallahassee lives by his own personal law as well, it’s much simpler and to the point “enjoy the small things” and in his case that consists of killing zombies, breaking stuff (“venting steam” as he puts it), and desperately trying to find the one snack food he so longs for.

The entire opening section of the movie after the opening credits is Columbus explaining and showing examples of his rules in action. The basics of which are cardio, the double tap (putting an extra bullet in their head to ensure they’re dead), always wear your seatbelt, limber up, don’t be a hero and always check the backseat amongst others. The rules must have worked for him because, frankly, looking at his past there’s no way he should have survived. Speaking of the movie’s opening, the credit sequence in this movie is easily one of the best I’ve seen this year, right up there with watchmen’s, actually the two are very similar despite the different content. It’s all super slow motion Shots of zombies attacking people while “for whom the bell tolls” by Metallica plays

The movie is set, quite literally, across the entire United States. They start in Texas and head east, Ohio and Florida respectively; where during a food stop/Tallahassee steam vent they encounter a couple of survivors named Wichita and Little Rock (played by the gorgeous Emma Stone and the still adorable though she’s starting to grow up Abigail Breslin). I don’t want to ruin some of the best scenes in the movie for you, but let’s just say eventually they “decide” to travel together. Wichita and Little Rock are heading to pacific playland, which they hear is zombie free. The boys “decide” to come along and they wind up in Hollywood, Tallahassee makes the brilliant idea of staying at some celebrity’s home, he describes the person as the “top of the A+” celebrities….it turns out to be Bill Murray, in one of the funniest cameos I’ve seen in a very long time.

I’m not going to discuss the end of the film, but will state that it’s very well done and has some wonderfully funny moments. All in all though I will end by saying that the casting on this film could not have been any better, every time I see Jesse Eisenberg in a film I like him more and more. Woody Harrelson is in top notch form and Emma Stone is proving that she can hang with the big dogs now, though it’s pretty easy when you have the co-stars she has in this. Zombieland does sway much harder in the comedy direction, but there are some good jump scares and the make up FX are done well, and the film is shot beautifully. There are some wonderful parts where if someone does something, or fails to do something on Columbus’ master list a graphic will subtly spring up in the background acknowledging this, little touches like this are what make the film so worth watching. 5 our of 5 stars