Thursday, July 16, 2009


Every time I see a Pixar film, it's my new favorite. I loved Finding Nemo. And when I saw Ratatouille, I was enchanted. Then there was Wall*E, and my heart was stolen. Now it's Up, and, yes, it's now my favorite film. Not just my favorite Pixar film, but my favorite film of the year, at least so far.

Young Carl Frederickson meets a young, spirited girl named Ellie, and they both dream of going to South America when they're both old enough to travel. We speed along to 70 years later, and Ellie has passed away, when Carl remembers the promise he made to Ellie when he's being forced out of his home. Before they can take him to a retirement home, he ties balloons to his house and sets them free, which allows the house to travel up, up into the clouds. However, he has a stowaway, Russell, an 8-year-old boy scout who's just trying to get a badge for helping the elderly. Together they embark on an adventure in, yes, South America, where they encounter large, colorful birds and talking dogs.

Don't come in late to this film, I'm begging you. In the first 15 minutes, you'll see how Carl and Ellie meet, and how their relationship progresses. And that first segment sets up the entire film.

I saw Up with a minister, who was wondering afterwards how she might use it in counselling sessions with those who are aged who have lost their partners and wonder if there's anything worth living for. The film shows us what kinds of adventures lay ahead for us, only if we're willing to open our hearts.

It's a love story; it's an adventure story; and, at the end, it's still a love story. Up flies higher than any film you'll see this year. Thumb's up.

Two Lovers

Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix) is a burned-out and occasionally suicidal young man. He lives with his Jewish parents after his fiancée left him, helping out at their Brooklyn dry cleaners, and on occasion, practices at amateur photography. In quick succession, he meets two women: Sarah (Vinessa Shaw), the daughter of his parents' business associates -- she's frank, direct, sensual, Jewish like Leonard, and the girl his parents are pushing him toward -- and, his neighbor, Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow) -- mercurial, fun, blonde, and another lost soul. Michelle is in love with a married man and cries on Leonard's shoulder; Sarah wants to save him. We watch his journey as he bounces between the two women, and the two lives they portend.

This is Joaquin Phoenix's last movie to date, completed as he announced he was quitting the film business to become a rap star. Whether or not we see him again, Two Lovers is a fine send-off. It's moving and interesting, and his portrayal of Leonard, caught between two worlds in several different ways, is quite compelling. Frankly, my take on his whole characterization -- and this is based on no fact at all -- is that we're seeing Joaquin Phoenix trying to figure out his own life, which way to plunge. That very idea did not hurt his characterization at all.

The women, Vinessa Shaw and Gwyneth Paltrow, also do a good job of showing us two distinctly different women, both with their own issues.

The movie is dark and a bit slow, but I don't think those are bad things. My only complaint is that the ending didn't seem quite real to me. But see it, and judge for yourself.

Thumb's up.

Confessions of a Shopaholic

Isla Fisher plays Rebecca Bloomwood, who doesn't have many talents except for one: she can shop. And, apparently, she can bluff, which is how she gets a job with a struggling money magazine (think Money magazine, only without all the subscribers).

Her innovative comparisons of APR to consumerism earn her a column where she shows how people should practice frugality. Except that she doesn't, and she can't.

Those young women watching this movie will smile knowingly when Rebecca can't resist the latest pair of boots even though she has nowhere to wear them. However, when we compare this film to very similar The Devil Wears Prada, we see that the script for Shopaholic can't really compare. There's very little wit, and we're left with a rather dreary tale of a woman who can't stop consuming.

Still, I did smile and I did laugh, particularly when Rebecca joins an AA group just for shopaholics -- there are a couple of very funny scenes with this group. And John Goodman as her father is always good for a chuckle.

On the whole, if you don't have a particularly witty script in a comedy, you have to depend on physical situations to make you smile, and you have to like the players. A lot. Fortunately, Isla Fisher is very winning, very charming and a genuinely funny comedian, even though her character is stupid, in her portrayal as a young woman whose dreams are bigger than her pocketbook. Shopaholic is much better than the awful chick-flick fare currently out there, but not nearly as good as it could have been.

I'm torn about the thumb's up/thumb's down ranking for Shopaholic. If you don't mind putting your expectations far below a movie like Prada, you might enjoy this romp.

Thumb's up.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Movers move objects with their mind, Pushers control other peoples' thoughts, Watchers can see the future, Bleeders emit high-pitched screams that can burst blood vessels, Sniffs can track people by sniffing an object to see where they've been, Shifters can temporarily change what an object looks like to others, Wipers can wipe memory, Shadows can cloak themselves and others around them from detection, and Stitchers can heal or unheal people. Oh, and Spinners -- no, wait. That's what my head is doing from trying to figure all this out.

Welcome to a world filled with mutants with mostly latent powers. There are the good guys -- Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning -- who are hunted by U.S. government agents in Hong Kong. We're not sure why they want them, but I'm sure it's to use them against .... somebody. And there are a whole lot of evil experimentation going on by said government agency, which makes them clearly the bad guys.

This is a muddled sci-fi action thriller. Thrilling because ... well, okay, it's not that thrilling. It's obviously sci fi, and you get the feeling that, with a better director and a better script, it could've amounted to something a lot more thrilling.

But at the base of everything is the funny feeling that we've seen this movie before: mutant humans hiding from the government, who want to destroy them for some-odd reason. But that movie, or those movies, had an A director behind the project each time, and a lot more money for the effects.

Push has a few things going for it, namely Dakota Fanning. And there are some unpredictable little situations along the way, which is always welcome, particularly the ending. However, the ending isn't set up properly and it remains a big ball of mutant confusion.

Thumb's down.