I had just entered the theater and began looking around for a seat. The onscreen message was already telling us to put on the 3D goggles and I thought the feature was about to start, but the glasses were for the coming attractions for four different animated films, all in 3D, all four entertaining and fun to watch.
One was a new Toy Story from Disney, the other three based on popular children's books. In a preview of an animal animation featuring talking owls, the level of detail blew me to a new place in film watching experience. Totally absorbed with its artistry and beauty, it reminded me of the awe I felt at my first 'Cinerama' wide-screen event back at age ten.
It was that good. This is the near-term future of film, I guess... the big bold immersive experience of 3D; an edge the large-screen metro-plexes still have over home theatre.
Johnny Depp's insane clown stare will haunt many a contemporary childhood nightmare, but flesh and blood was outdone by the animated characters, most notably Helen Bonham Carter voicing the clueless Red Queen.
It just makes sense that animated films are pushing the 3D tech envelope, though James Cameron's Avatar 3D digital camera innovations will undoubtedly raise the future quality of live action fare. Animated films are adapted to 3D much easier than live action cinematography, which requires special cameras and complex set-ups and have certain limitations in quality of the final cut 3D effects. With animated imagery, stored as digitized frames and layers, the secondary image required for 3D can be generated algorithmically using a digital post-process that will vividly render 3D with a depth and range live-action camera technology inherently lacks.
All this geeking on graphics technology finally brings me around to Tim Burton's and his silly movie, Alice in Wonderland. There wasn't much of a story, of course none of it makes sense. The comedic tone was often uneven. Johnny Depp's Matt Hatter fright face filled up the screen way too long and way too often.
All that said, there was plenty of eye-popping candy for everyone. This film earned its three Fat Laughing Golden Buddhas because there was nothing particular you needed to think about while every thing in sight was way fun to watch. The animated characters are so well done, you truly do forget rabbits can't talk, playing cards can't walk, cats can't fly, and you couldn't care less.
Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0 acid-tripping Fat Laughing Golden Buddhas
A virus born of bad hamburger infects the vast majority of mankind, turning them into crazed killers with a rabid craving for human flesh. There are only two kinds of people left in the world: roaming gangs of zombies with the super-munchies, and those who kill them--the remaining few who, by dumb luck or well-honed combat skills, have avoided the disease.
If your taste in film includes the living dead slurping down sinewy human sashimi, then Zombieland might be just your kind of sick diversion. After a while, killing zombies gets to be wicked fun--their heads get crushed by SUV's and pianos, their limbs torn off and skulls splattered by high-power weapons fire.
There's nothing to like about them... friggin' zombies. We enjoy watching zombies meet their ex-maker with a total lack of empathy, pity or remorse. As more blood flows and more gore globs, the laughter rises. You know what's going to happen, but that won't stop you from getting into this fast-paced chronicle of the great zombie genocide.
If it weren't for Harrelson's and Murray's big tickets, Zombieland would have cost about $19.99 plus a case of red food dye to produce.
Nerdy OCD college student 'Columbus', portrayed by Adventureland's Jesse Eisenberg, religiously observes a self-made set of rules that keep him alive: No. 6, for instance; Always check the back of the car; No.14 - Avoid public restrooms, etc. Making his way from college in Austin back east to his namesake hometown in Ohio, he hooks up with Tallahassee, cowboy zombie executioner par-excellance, who reluctantly allows the kid tag along.
As Tallahassee, Woody Harrelson resurrects his murderous character from Natural Born Killers, dealing out a double-deck of zombie death wearing his trademark pasted-on impish smirk. This role seemed remade for him.
"Mama always said someday I would be good at something. Who would have thought it would be killing zombies?"
Now, even the best Zombie-killing buddy flick can be a drag without enough cool chicks to go around and a healthy dose of tight-jeans T & A. While Tallahassee obsessively rummages through what little remains of America in search of Hostess Twinkies, the boys meet up with the grifting sisters Wichita and Little Rock, who promptly relieve them of their hopped-up Escalade, their pride and their weapons. Of course Tallahassee and Columbus eventually chase down the girls, and after mutual mistrust melts away and a romance begins to blossom between Columbus and Wichita, they all head off for the left coast to take young teener Little Rock to the California theme park she loves so much.
There's not much more to be said about the story, which got started late and never really ended before the credits rolled. I smell a rotting-gut sequel.
I downgraded my rating half a Buddha because, after the four arrive in Lalaland, they kill Bill Murray. You just can't kill Bill Murray and expect to get away with it.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0 exceedingly grossed-out Fat Laughing Golden Buddhas
Brüno is Sacha Baron Cohen's lame attempt to wallow in the mud churned up by his Borat splash, this time as a flamboyant fashionista with a German accent and an affected lisp.
It's pretty much the same film as Borat, following the format right down to similar attempts at his Christian 'conversion' and naked wrestling with his manager/partner. Along the way, Brüno punks redneck cage-fight fans, a black talk-show audience, a swingers party, a trio of deer hunters, and even politico Ron Paul... as he tries to seduce him, calling him, 'RuPaul'
If Cohen could stick to his punking schtick, it would be a funnier, more entertaining film. Instead, like Borat, he insists on spoofing the theatre audience with his gross self-indulgence, as if a character study of Brüno is really necessary, or prancing around half-naked or with rude displays of full frontal nudity are things theatre-goers are bound to find intriguing.
Sasha Baron Cohen is the modern equivalent of the fabled 19th-century flatulist Le_Pétomane, except the talented French farter had way more class.
I suppose one could try for a long reach and call Cohen's antics performance art, if it were good. It's not, mainly because we never convinced a character named Brüno is anything more than Sacha Baron Cohen over-hamming it up in drag.
I suppose this comes from trying to fill up 90-minutes with a collection of skits. Cohen choose to use up about 30 of those minutes by prancing around like a jerk in various states of excessive undress. Not sure why I went to see this one, except that some of the Borat skits worked well. Brüno turned out to be more like watching endless reruns of a fatal train wreck.
This klunker could make someone really miss Pamela Anderson.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5.0 thoroughly disgusted Fat Laughing Golden Buddhas
If there is such thing as a 'chick-flick', thenThe Hangoveris an archetype of the dick-flick. It's yet another treatment of boys behaving badly, as boys tend to do in any group larger than one.
The more outrageous, dangerous, or patently stupid their antics, the higher they will ascend on the ladder of masculine esteem and admiration.
Or so thinks Todd Philips, the director of this raunchy rendition of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas meets
Bachelor Party in the style of Quentin Tarrantino. Phillips, involved in the early stages of Borat as well as producer and director of both Frat House and Old School, again makes a gallant attempt to become the Alfred Hitchcock of juvenile bathroom humor, and almost succeeds.
Phil, Stu and Alan, groomsmen for Doug--about to marry Alan's sister, Tracy--take him on a boy's last night out in Vegas just two days before the wedding, planning to drive there and back to LA in Tracy's dad's vintage Mercedes. When the boys arrive at Caesar's Palace, Phil talks them into upgrading to an expensive suite, and the night begins with toasts and glad-handing up on the hotel rooftop.
The three groomsmen had a lot more fun than it appears in the poster, especially the baby, Carlos, after a primer from Al on how wank off.
It could happen to anyone, I suppose. Anyone could wake up in the morning in a throughly trashed $4,000/day room with a bad hangover and no memory of the night before. You might find a front tooth missing, a chicken in the kitchen, a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet and a groom nowhere to be found. Your mission, should you decide to take it, is to find Doug by retracing your steps the night before and get him back to LA in time to get hitched.
And so they do, but it isn't easy. To get a flavor of what goes on, they hand a parking ticket they found to the valet in front of the hotel, fearing the worst about what might have happened to Daddy's treasured Benz. The valet returns with a Las Vegas patrol car and hands them the keys. As if that wasn't bad enough, about ten minutes later they find the naked chinese gangster someone stashed in the trunk of the cruiser.
Former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson appears later on... it was his tiger, and the baby belongs to the hooker (Heather Graham: she specializes in hooker) the nerdy dentist Stu married the night before, it turns out.
And so it goes, on and on.
At times it was pretty funny, hilarious indeed. But it's that edgy kind of funny where you feel bad in the pit of your stomach and the depths of your being... like after witnessing a long string of Borat rape and incest jokes.
Funny, but not really.
Rating: A Raunchy 2.5 Out of 5
Fat Laughing Golden Buddhas
There's a fine body of cinematic work based on someone alone in space and losing it: the best of these, Silent Running, Solaris, and of course Kubrick's iconic 2001: A Space Odyssey, to which Moon director Duncan Jones seems to pay more than passing homage in his new psychological thriller.
Alone but for his computer companion, Gerty, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell, in a fine turn) maintains a mining facility on the Moon where robotic harvesters scrape the surface of the moon for Helium III, this future earth's main source of energy. Nearing the end of three-years of isolation, he has managed to keep himself busy with quirky hobbies and his structured routine, though lately he hasn't been feeling well and may be hallucinating.
After a disabling, almost fatal accident while out in the field trying to repair one of the robotic harvesters, Sam awakens on a gurney in the outpost infirmary, as Gerty (Kevin Spacey, conjuring up his K-PAX voice) tends to his every need while answering none of his questions.
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is beside himself as the only man on the moon.
Once Sam is back on his feet there's someone else occupying the tiny crew quarters, someone who looks a lot like Sam before he started feeling lousy and began to lose it. Who is this? Is it Sam's imagination, perhaps an alien, an android... something else?
Despite for the fact Jones chooses to ignore the effects of the moon's low gravity in the indoor scenes, the plotline runs tight and the suspense builds ably while a horrible, twisted secret is gradually revealed.
Sam might survive: if he can escape company assassins sent to finish him off and then manage a clandestine return trip to earth.
But perhaps 'survival' isn't quite the right word, given his unique circumstances.
A well-executed drama in the mold of 2001, though GERTY is surely no HAL-9000. The Sci-Fi junkies among us can expect to be thoroughly entertained.
Rating: a lonely 3.5 out of 5
Golden Fat Laughing Buddhas
In this odd prequel to the iconic 60's TV series, director J.J. Abrams almost spoils the whole thing by becoming a little too precious in doling out homage to the past and tries to force-fit every recurring character from the original series into his story, even managing to clumsily shoehorn a wizened Leonard Nimoy into the mix.
Fortunately, astounding CGI and boffo action rescue us from too many long strings of expository dialogue and overdone explorations of the ensemble's quirky character traits.
Recommended for Trekkies, at least those already familiar with Captain Pike and who have an advanced degree in Romulan studies and have acquired a taste for their food.
Not a Trekkie? You could easily get lost as to why any of this inane back and forth banter should matter.
Bruins' tough guy Milan Lucic could have played young Spock in the new Star Trek film, but the director decided Milan wasn't enough of a wuss to play the sensitive half-Vulcan, half-human.