Bolt – Disney Wants Back in the Game


Starring the voice talent of John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, and Mark Walton
Directed by Byron Howard and Chris Williams
Rated PG for some mild action and peril
riate for all ages

    Bolt is a genetically engineered super dog that has powers that he uses to protect his owner, a young girl named Penny.  At least that’s what Bolt thinks.  Ever since he was put into a TV show, he is fully convinced of his special abilities and the director wants him to believe it so bad that he never makes it apparent to Bolt that he’s just an actor.  When he thinks that his owner has been kidnapped, he escapes from the studio in order to travel from New York to Hollywood in the hopes of rescuing her.

    Story-wise, this is a very clever movie with well-developed characters and strong voice talent.  Travolta ended up being a terrific choice for Bolt, but stealing every scene he was in was Rhino the hamster, voiced by story artist Mark Walton.  I will even go as far as to say that Rhino is the best animated film side kick since Aladdin.  Between the great script and the fast pace of the film, most kids and their parents should find Bolt to be a very entertaining film experience.

    What trumps these kudos, however, is the artistry of the film making.  This is one amazing looking film with huge attention to the smallest details.  I’m not sure how the 2D version will play, but the 3D print I saw is one of the most vibrant, beautiful looking films I can recall.  And while they are two completely different movies, I’d put Bolt up against Wall-E any day for pure aesthetics.  Bolt is a winner and proof that Disney Animation is really trying to catch up to Pixar in both story quality and animation.     A

Slumdog Millionaire – City of Vishnu

Slumdog Millionaire

Starring Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, and Irfan Khan
Directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting)
Rated R for some violence, disturbing images, and language
Appropriate for ages 13+

    When Jamal, a young man from the slums of Mumbai, makes it to the final round of the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, he is tortured and interrogated by the police who are trying to discover how he cheated.  While he is not book smart, he tries to convince the authorities that each question asked holds specific relevance to his life.  Through the course of the game show, we discover Jamal’s journey from his childhood to present day, and what has really driven him to want to be on the show.

    When I first heard about this film several months ago, I wasn’t too terribly interested.  Most descriptions I saw, as well as the trailer, suggest a cheerful, happy film about a kid trying to prove himself to his love by going on a game show.  This film is far from that terrible description.  It turned out that this is an epic motion picture, masterfully directed by one of the greatest directors in the world, Danny Boyle, and beautifully written by Oscar nominated screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty).  Sitting in the theater you never once get the hint of a frivolous Bollywood love story, but rather a coming of age film reminiscent of City of God (Boyle actually told me that they were so concerned with this parallel that they almost considered giving one of the young actors a different haircut because of the resemblance to one of City’s main actors).  What gives this film an even greater depth is the quality of the romance and the dynamic between Jamal and the game show host.

    Even though only Khan has appeared in American films, and many of the actors were very inexperienced, the performances were perfect.  If you expect over-the-top Bollywood acting, you will be very much surprised.  Danny Boyle has always been able to get great performances out his relatively unknown casts, and this film is no exception.

    I think that it’s more than apparent that I really loved this film.  I’ve seen it twice now, and can’t wait to go back again once it is released into theaters.  I truly believe that this little film has the potential to score a big audience.  At the very least, it should be a huge hit during the awards season.     A+

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa – A Big Improvement

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

Starring the voice talent of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, and Jada Pinkett Smith
Directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath (Madagascar)
Rated PG for some mild, crude humor
Appropriate for all ages

    The zoo escapees from the first film are back and ready to leave Madagascar.  Their makeshift plane doesn’t make it too far though, and when they crash land in an animal preserve in the heart of Africa, Alex the lion discovers that he is the long lost son of the aging king.  

    After watching the first Madagascar film I was in pure misery.  Sure the animation looked OK, but the story and production were just plain bad.  So you can only imagine the anticipation I had for this sequel.  Maybe it was the low expectations, or maybe it was just the fact that the film makers raised the bar, but I found myself feeling a sense of enjoyment rather than the dread I expected.  

    First off, the back story following Alex as he is abducted from Africa and his long journey to America was a brilliant touch.  It gave a depth to the story that it was sorely missing.  On top of that, the other characters had real development and weren’t just there for the scenery like in the first film.  On my review of the first film, the only positives I could think of were the Hogan’s Heroes penguins and the British chimps.  These character still provide big laughs, but overall, there is a lot to chuckle at here.  I can easily say that the improvements here make this a truly entertaining picture that adults should enjoy as much as the kiddos.

    All that being said, the film still doesn’t live up to the work of Pixar, or even Disney.  You get the sense that there was an attempt to copy or at least pay homage to The Lion King, but the story is never elevated to that level.  Even with all of the great little touches, the film will never be considered an animated classic, but then again to just overcome its obstacles is saying something and I can honestly recommend this as a fun movie for the entire family to enjoy.    B+

Zack and Miri Make a Porno – Disgustingly Funny

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Starring Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, and Craig Robinson
Directed by Kevin Smith (Clerks)
Rated R on appeal for strong sexual content including dialogue, graphic nudity, and pervasive language
Appropriate for ages 18+

    Zach and Miri, best friends since grade school and current roommates, are underpaid barristas that struggle to make ends meet.  In order to try to get ahead financially, the two decide to make a porno together, hoping that it will get them out of the hole they are in.  
    For over a decade now, writer/director Kevin Smith has excelled at making the dirty adult comedy.  Some were funnier than others, but over and over again, he has proven that he can push the line of decency.  With Zack and Miri now, I am pretty sure he doesn’t even see the line.  This is a crass, crude comedy that has more potential to offend than any movie that has hit theaters in recent memory.  That being said, if you think it might offend you – it will.  TV commercials have done a great disservice to audiences by only allowing the movie to be advertised as Zach and Miri.  After all, Zach and Miri, for the uninformed consumer, can sound just as cute as Nick and Norah, or even Harry and Sally.  Put Make a Porno in the title, however, and immediately the viewer knows – “maybe this film is or is not for me.”

    But enough about the title.  While a perverse pic on the outside, this is just a cute love story at heart.  While telling the story of two friends with a great deal of sexual tension might not be original, the backdrop most certainly is.  And only in a movie about porn could Smith deliver what will perhaps be the biggest sight gag of the year (sorry – too awful to tell you about, or even hint at).  

    The characters are all fun and while the script lacks a natural feel, there are still many laughs to be had throughout.  I especially loved the very talented Craig Robinson as the co-worker/porn producer.  Just like in The Office, and the recent Pineapple Express, he steals every scene he’s in and I can’t wait to see him in bigger roles.  

    Smith’s films all have the same problem in that they read better than they sound.  Sure, the lines are funny, but much of the time they just don’t sound right.  Also, just as in Clerks 2, many of the jokes are dirty, but not funny.  While this is a huge improvement upon that horrible little sequel, at times during the film I wished that the focus would have been on making the movie more hysterical, rather than just more revolting.    B-