You’d have to be hiding under a rock not to know that August was the fortieth anniversary of a little outdoor concert in upstate New York called Woodstock. On August 15,16, and 17 of 1969, an incredible lineup of over thirty folk and rock groups ranging from Ravi Shankar to Arlo Guthrie, The Grateful Dead to Joe Cocker, jefferson Airplane, The Who, Janis Joplin, Santana, and, of course, Jimi Hendrix entertained a huge crowd.
It’s wonderful to watch a talented professional mature in their skills and with the release of Inglourious Basterds that’s what’s clearly happened with wunderkind director and film biz bad boy Quentin Tarantino. His earlier works are best typified by Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction, interesting stories that are so extraordinarily violent that the graphic violence appears in lieu of story or character development. Let me put this another way: Inglorious Basterds is the first Tarantino film I’ve actually enjoyed.
Along with what was apparently a smaller number of film geeks than was expected, I dutifully showed up at the local RealIMAX “quasi-IMAX” screen (see my earlier article on RealIMAX versus IMAX) to see 16 minutes of James Cameron’s much discussed, ultra-expensive Avatar footage unveiled, in all of its 3D glory.
If you’ve seen any of the Spy Kids movies, you already know that director Robert Rodriguez has a knack for making frenetic kids films that have extraordinary, wacky special effects, all harnessed — often loosely — into telling a story that’s exciting and a bit goofy. There’s a certain glossy sheen to his films, an extruded plastic sort of sense that’s uniquely his, and it’s delightful when it’s not too far over the top.
The original story of The Little Mermaid is about a mermaid who dreams of some day becoming a human. Ponyo is based on the same theme, but this time it’s a goldfish called Brunhilde who dreams of becoming human. This isn’t Disney computer-assisted animation as usual, however, but rather the amazing hand-animated world of Japanese legend Hayao Miyazaki.
There are lots of movies about time travel, from the asinine Land of the Lost to the political The Time Machine and Sleepers, to the edgy Time Bandits and 12 Monkeys. Most of those have a gizmo or contraption that causes them to travel through time, but what if you just “hopped” without having any control over it? One minute you were in contemporary Manhattan then in the blink of an eye you were in Los Angeles in the middle of a Vietnam war protest march?
Wow. That was the first word out of my mouth when this astonishing, intense hard sci-fi exploration on prejudice and apartheid ended. Director Neill Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson have crafted a fascinating film that, while flawed, is a significant new addition to the ranks of serious science fiction movies, along with Alien, Blade Runner, The Matrix, and the like.
Let me end the suspense right up front: I liked G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. I didn’t expect it to be a deep, thoughtful war film, nor did I expect it to be a profound visual essay on the challenges of morality in a wartime setting: see Flags of our Fathers and The Hurt Locker (my review). Instead, I expected a loud, action-filled movie that had attractive actors, shiny toys, banal dialog and a barely comprehensible story line. And that’s what I got.
It wasn’t until about 75% of the way through the original Watchmen graphic novel (written by Alan Moore, with art by Dave Gibbons and colorist John Higgins) that I started to really understand what was going on. Once I could see where they were going, however, I was hooked and ultimately found it to be a terrific story about the ambiguity of morality and the difficulty of being gifted with unusual abilities and the concomitant expectation that you’ll use them for good. Whose good? Why?