Category Archives: Films – 3.5 stars
Night At The Museum
Ben Stiller plays Larry Daley, a divorced dad with plenty of ideas but little luck in seeing them through. At the urging of his ex-wife, he decides to seek a steady job, and finds himself thrust into the position of night security guard at the New York Museum Of Natural History. The outgoing security guards (Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs) leave him some strange and dire-sounding advice before they leave for their retirement party, and Larry soon finds out what they meant: after dark, all the exhibits in the museum come to life.
There’s a lot to like here. Animals and dinosaur skeletons rampaging through the museum halls, miniature diorama Roman armies slugging it out with tiny American frontiersmen, and an Easter Island statue that loves chewing gum. Ben Stiller carries the leading role well, treading a fine line between hapless and hero, and the supporting cast are generally excellent. However, there is a lot of flab, too. Ricky Gervais’s pointless turn as the museum director could be cut almost completely, and there are a lot of meandering motivational scenes that just reiterate points already made clearly enough. If it had been twenty minutes shorter, the action/comedy blend would have been unbeatable.
Death Of A President
Crank begins with a beautifully simple action movie premise: professional killer Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) learns that he has been poisoned, and only has an hour to live. But he finds that he can counteract the drug by raising his adrenaline level, and keeping heart pumping at full tilt.
It’s a recipe for non-stop mayhem as Chelios hunts down the men who did this to him, and the first half hour is a truly wild ride. Given that most people will be watching the film with some notion of the idea behind it all, the way he figures out the life-saving effect adrenaline has may seem a bit long-winded and clunky; but with everything else that’s going on in this short time–police chases, hold-ups, bar-fights–this is easily forgiven. Chelios has no time to plan an elaborate attack–he has to stay focused on where his next hit of energy is going to come from. The script handles this pace by sticking to a succession short, snappy, and mostly hilarious set-pieces. The editing is fast and jumpy, with lots of playful post-production effects.
Unfortunately, the middle part of the film flags a bit as Chelios picks up his girlfriend to try and explain everything to her. Although she is key to a few action sequences, she represents everything that Chelios wants, but can’t have, and that he must say farewell to. Her very presence is a dampener rather than a thrill. This also means that The Sex Scene (note the capitals) comes at a point in the film where the emotional tone has shifted more towards the serious and realistic.
The Sex Scene was clearly intended to be humorous. After learning that her boyfriend is a hired assassin rather than a computer games programmer, Eve (Amy Smart) storms out of the restaurant in Chinatown where they were eating. Chelios chases after her. Eve beats him off, he grabs on to her, and in the wrestling match that ensues they end up having fiery sex in front of a crowd of amused onlookers and a tour bus of Chinese school girls.
But at no point does anyone shout “rape” or try to intervene.
Given the complete lack of realism inherent in the rest of the film, and the blatant disregard shown for human life, perhaps I should have treated this scene with the same level of amused disbelief and detachment, but I couldn’t. It feels strange to say this about a film where I laughed at a gangster’s hand being chopped off and tossed around, but the Sex Scene felt inappropriate, and in poor taste.
It wasn’t the sex act itself, or the minimal nudity on display. It also wasn’t the way anger turned into sex; A History Of Violence has a far more shocking scene exploring the intersection of violence and lust, and it was not inappropriate. But elsewhere in Crank when Chelios pulls out a gun in the middle of a crowd or crashes a motorbike into a cafe, people run and cower in fear. The crowd reactions are correct in the context, and therefore remain inconspicuous compared to the action at the heart of the scene. In The Sex Scene, however, the reaction of the crowd is wrong, and therefore draws attention to itself. My suspension of disbelief was disrupted, and suddenly violence stopped being funny, and started being questionable.
I’m not going to condemn the whole film on the basis of a single mis-staged scene. But it sits right at the middle of an otherwise very good and cleverly constructed action flick, and it made me more critical of the remainder of the movie. It ends well, and appropriately, but it leaves behind most of the humour of the first half in a way that left me wondering whether its overall quality was down to luck or good judgement.
The Ant Bully
Lucas Nickel is a small kid, who gets pushed around by the local bullies and big kids. In retaliation, he torments a small ant colony in his front garden. One of the ants, Zoc, is a wizard who plans to save the colony by making a potion that will shrink “The Destroyer” (Lucas) to the size of an ant. What Zoc hadn’t counted on was the Queen’s decision about Lucas’s fate. Rather than sentencing him to death, she forces him to live with the colony, so that he can find out what it is like to be an ant himself. Adventures ensue. Lessons are learned. It’s a fun film.
But what bothered me about it is the billing the voice actors get. The big names on the movie poster are Nicolas Cage, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, and Paul Giamatti. I have no problem with Cage and Roberts being there. They do the voices for Zoc and Hova, two of the main ant characters. But Streep and Giamatti both have exactly two scenes each. And not big scenes, either.
Until I saw the film, I had no idea that the mighty Bruce Campbell does the voice for Fugax, an ant scout. Campbell has a big role in this film, with substantially more screen time and more lines than Streep and Giamatti put together, and yet he is relegated to a much lower billing.
The emphasis placed on the voice talent–or rather, the lack of such emphasis–is something that I like about Pixar’s animated films. If you look at the posters and promotional material for Cars, for example, you won’t find Owen Wilson’s name in big letters, even though he’s a reasonably big box office draw right now. The fact that Pixar itself is a guarantee of quality allows them to concentrate on finding the right voice for their characters, rather than the right star to put on the poster. Would Craig T. Nelson have been given the lead voice in The Incredibles if Pixar had been unsure of a box office hit? Would Brad Bird have been given the opportunity to play Edna Mode (one of the best voice performances ever)?
I know that the reality of Hollywood is that big names are what draw an audience in. I just find it disappointing that even in animated features, where the actual presence of a big name actor is less relevant than in a live action film, this is still so clearly the case.
There’s a point in Poseidon not long after the ship has capsized (I hope that didn’t come as a surprise) where the camera focuses on a pair of corpses apparently rising up from the dead. It turns out that there’s survivor beneath them, pushing them up and out of the way, but for a moment, I thought: wow, there’s going to be zombies in the film. How awesome would that be? Not only would the heroes have to make their escape from an upside-down sinking ship, they’d also have to avoid legions of the living dead, eager for human flesh.
And from that point on, whenever the camera would move through a corridor, panning past the bodies of passengers and crew, I couldn’t help but think…and now they’ll rise up!
But no. No zombies. Just a well put-together disaster movie remake. I like Josh Lucas. We need to see more of him.