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Monthly Archives: November 2007

August Rush sucks, plain and simple.

I like fairy tales but only when they’re done well. I don’t have a problem with suspending disbelief for a film as long as the movie does two things: sets rules in the first 15 minutes or so and follows them throughout the movie. As long as they are set up early, I don’t even care how ludicrous these boundaries seem.

Even though I’m not asking for much, August Rush manages to fail this test miserably.

I assumed in the beginning that these human beings are at least half-way intelligent, but…no. Any person has enough common sense to not make some of the decisions made in this film. Even the intelligent decisions aren’t believable because of the reasoning (or lack thereof) of the characters. So, when I say this movie is “incredible,” I just mean that the movie is “not credible,” and the word is in no way intended to be construed as praise. Do not misquote me.

The “plot”: Lyla (Keri Russell) and Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) have a romantic evening of having sex on a rooftop and are meant to be together forever. Their spawn (Freddie Highmore), who later gets the name August Rush from a lunatic street musician (Robin Williams), ends up getting put in an adoption home, then escapes to the streets of New York to be a street musician in a sequence too much like Oliver Twist to be an homage rather than a complete rip-off, complete with Williams as a terrible incarnation of Fagan. Then some black guy who works with child services (Terrence Howard) tries to track down the unnamed abandoned child who somehow escaped from the boys’ home. Oh, and “August” plays guitar real good.

Aw, how inspiring.

The only thing I found even remotely “inspiring” was thinking of great movies with similar themes that I’d rather watch than August Rush: for adoption homes, Boys Town; for (metaphorically) lost children, The 400 Blows; for the bonds of family, The Grapes of Wrath.

And it’s not that movies today featuring fairy-tale elements can’t work. Perfume: the Story of a Murderer, my favorite film from last year, is a brilliant piece of art, and this year’s Across the Universe is wonderfully uplifting. If it weren’t for the use of the Beatles’ music to construct a story, Universe‘s plot would be too contrived and the storyline too stale to work; and because Perfume stays within its early-set boundaries, it comes off beautifully.

Consider it a fair warning, though: don’t be fooled by the talent on display in August Rush. Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is a talented little actor, and he’s done some great work. Howard was Oscar-worthy in Hustle & Flow, and Robin Williams was awesome… when he did (or still does) cartoon voices (he was more than welcome in Happy Feet, but the live-action version of him is much too animated for real life).

The movie is even written by Kirsten Sheridan, the daughter of Jim Sheridan, who is known for his tough Irish movies like My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father, and In America (which Kirsten co-wrote with her sister and father).

I would say August Rush is the worst movie of the year, but it would be competing with these potential turkeys in the coming weeks: Awake, I Am Legend, Alvin and the Chipmunks, National Treasure 2, P.S. I Love You, and Alien vs. Predator: Requiem. The movie may have some competition after all, but “C’est la vie,” say the old folks: goes to show you never can tell.

As Bill Maher might say, new rule:

I will no longer be using stars as ratings. Every time I come across other star ratings, it seems like the point in using them is to say how “technically” good the movie is, begging people to be objective about critiquing movies. For example, I loved Bee Movie, but I feel that I should rate it two stars or so, because really, it isn’t a masterpiece, or even that well put together. But I can’t give it two stars, because then that would mean I’m not recommending it. Right?

I just can’t find a reason to be objective about something as subjective as art.

When I personally rate movies, I score them out of ten, showing how much I liked it on a gut level. 1/10 means it’s the worst piece of garbage with hardly any redeeming qualities (if any at all), and a 10/10 says the film is a masterpiece of the cinema and one of my favorite movies ever made (not necessarily worthy of a Top Ten Of All Time list, though). You’ll be able to figure out anything in between.

I won’t change any of my past ratings (it’s a simple conversion: zero stars=1/10, half-star=2/10…four stars=9/10, Great Movie ranking=10/10), but from now on, I will stick with ratings out of ten.

Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves for the biggest disappointment of the year.

Please, don’t translate that as me saying, “This is the worst film of the year,” because it’s not. It’s not really a bad movie, but Lions for Lambs should be so much more than one big preachy message. Based on the details of the film, it has “Oscar” written all over it: the movie stars Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise (who, no matter what you think of him, was great in Magnolia and Born on the Fourth of July), and it’s directed by Robert Redford (responsible for the beautiful Ordinary People and magnificent Quiz Show). Lions for Lambs works for a bit, but it fizzles and turns sour when we discover the movie’s true colors: a lack of a challenging point-of-view, despite what Redford says it’s about.

The story develops as three events happening at the same time. One is in Washington, D.C. between Jasper Irving (Cruise), a senator, and Janine Roth (Streep), a liberal-minded journalist who works for a conservative corporate news channel. The two discuss ideas that are intended solely to set up issues of both sides of the political spectrum, which are never toppled or supported. As a matter of fact, they’re never resolved.

On the opposite coast of the U.S., Professor Stephen Malley (Redford) tries to persuade Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield), a highly intelligent but very lazy student, to participate more politically in society. Then, there are two soldiers (Michael Peña and Derek Luke) fighting in Iraq who were convinced by Malley’s take-part-in-society speech and volunteered in the Iraq conflict in order to make a difference.

Given that the great majority of events take place in these three locations, the movie is very talky. I like plays, and I like to talk, so I didn’t find this alone to be a downside to the film. The dialogue is weak in parts, though, and since the movie is built on speaking, some scenes just fall apart. One obvious example is when Irving makes a “big speech,” and the camera slowly moves in, the orchestra slowly getting louder. I assumed it was a joke, a way of Redford showing Irving as a joke (especially since Cruise seems to be doing his best John Edwards impression). Apparently not, given that he repeats this technique with at least one or two other characters.

I actually agree with a lot of the political ideas that Redford lays bare in this movie, so it’s not a matter of him being a liberal. But there’s no structure for the rants: one can’t just speak his philosophy and expect people to find it intriguing or entertaining. Redford seems most keen on getting his two political cents across: “serve your country” by protesting and picketing, and don’t “serve your country” by physically fighting for something you feel strongly about (as his past students do in Iraq). Everything else Redford has learned about filmmaking just falls by the wayside, especially how to provide closure for a movie. The last few images are shameless, and shame on Redford for using them. He ends up not taking a stand, and I expect more from the director. Maybe if he could have found a more solid point-of-view, we’d actually have a good movie on our hands.

Bee Movie is like its Dreamworks Animation predecessors Antz and Shrek since it makes animals seem more like humans and it has razor-sharp wit that will be understood by more adults than children. Kids will still enjoy Bee Movie (I heard giggling throughout the screening I was at), but there will be a good chunk of laughs going over their heads. As compared to the past animated movies from Dreamworks, Bee Movie is just as intelligent and enjoyable as any of them.

The movie is about Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld), a bee unwilling to conform to his bee society. Bees only live so long (he finishes grade school through college in nine days), and he doesn’t want to spend the remainder of his life working in the same boring job. Surely, we’ve all been there.

One day, he ventures out the hive and interacts with the real world and its people, mainly through a florist (Renee Zelwegger). I don’t want to say much more, because seeing the way the movie zigzags its way through its story (like a bee) is half the fun. (If you’re a cynic, you’re not going to buy into the movie. At all.) To give away anything else plot-wise would be to ruin an experience of joy and humor unlike few movies this year.

It’s pretty simple, and maybe a little obvious: any fan of Seinfeld’s comedy will love Bee Movie, and unfortunately, anyone who hates his comedy will hate it. Actually, the film is only a three-star movie in the technical sense, but the humor elevates it to the level of four-star hilarity. I get a great kick out of Warburton’s voice work, his best for a movie since Emperor’s New Groove, and I also love Seinfeld’s one-liners. I felt at times as if the movie was tailored to my personal tastes.

One critic has complained that the movie won’t be enjoyed by both children and adults. Well, who says an animated movie has to be enjoyed by young ones? Ralph Bakshi’s Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic are surely not for kids, but they’re art pieces intended for a much older crowd. Hayao Miyazaki’s movies (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away) are not rated G for a reason. And what child in its right mind would like Triplets of Belleville? (It’s good but definitely not kid-friendly.)

So if you’re an adult on the outside and a child within (or vice versa), I don’t see why you would dislike Bee Movie. It’s cute, funny, clever, and any other adjective you would use to describe a cartoon you adore. This isn’t the best animated film of the year (the honor of which no doubt goes to the masterpiece Ratatouille), but I loved it in a care-free, forget-what-the-world-is-like-for-a-few-minutes kind of way, which is more than enough to please me.