There is nothing like a little major surgery to jump start your movie viewing.
Last year was downright pathetic, especially for someone who lived and breathed movies for decades. Concentrating on other projects (namely photography and writing) definitely took a toll on my movie watching. This year is a different story; in the past two months, I've watched more movies than I had all last year, and before my screening of Toy Story 3, the last movie I'd seen in the theater was the Hurt Locker last summer. (Just one of two theatrical flicks in all of 2009. Long gone are the days when I'd sit through back-to-back screenings at the Film Center.)
I had a lot of catching up to do when I pre-loaded my Netflix queue for recovery mode. Time to begin wrapping up the highlights (and lowlights) from my past two months. I paid the additional monthly fee to switch my Netflix account temporarily over to Blu-ray, so you'll see a list heavy in A-list Hollywood flicks. Once I've exhausted those available in the higher definition format, I'll switch the account back and settle in for my usual fare of classics and TV shows.
Easily my favorite film of recent memory. Outside of the fact that Ed Asner voiced the main character and it was a Pixar production about an old man who uses thousands of helium balloons to float his house up and away, I knew very little about Up going in, so there were many surprises in store. A wonderful film, from start to finish. Gorgeous to look at, fantastic characters that develop over the course of the story, and a gem of an adventure with a big heart. What's more, it's very funny.
As usual in a Pixar film, they get the details right, which are as much fun to catch as the bigger picture itself. To quote from my own Tweet, the first five minutes of Up is a master class of visual story telling. Highly recommended, even if you think you don't like "family films."
Nim's Island (2008)
If you don't like family films, it's probably because you've seen too many irritating films like this one. Nim (Abigail Breslin) and her idiot of a scientist father live alone on a remote South Seas island (which somehow has internet). When dad is lost at sea, Nim seeks help from Alex Rover, the hero of an Indiana Jones-style book series. Instead, she gets the hero's author, an agoraphobic writer (Jodie Foster) who eats nothing but canned soup and buys hand sanitizer by the caseload. Foster provides the "comedy," throwing up multiple times and gamely pratfalling, dunking, and hysterically traveling from cab to prop plane to helicopter to paddle boat.
The script is silly and dumbed-down, filled with scenes of characters reading their email out loud and talking to themselves as a way to convey information and make sure the audience understands what's going on. ("I'm in the middle of nowhere," one character says, in case we couldn't tell from the expanse of water, as far as the eye can see. "I've got to get back to Nim." Ugh.) And don't get me started on the anthropomorphizing of Nim's animal sidekicks. She talks to a seal, lizard and pelican as if they understand English and they do her bidding, helping to rid the island of the boorish Australian tourists threatening to invade.
Gerard Butler is mediocre; playing the dual role of dad and Alex Rover action man, he has trouble keeping his accent straight. Breslin is okay and Foster does her best considering what she has to work with. I keep waiting for her to show up in a great role. It's been quite a while.
Pirate Radio (2009)
I was so ready to love this movie about a rogue British radio station illegally broadcasting rock-and-roll from a ship in 1966. It's filled with favorite actors (Bill Nighy, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Nick Frost, Rhys Darby) and the premise is promising, not to mention the 60s rock soundtrack, but it just never came together as the mood-lifting good time I was hoping for. Though never boring, it's a little too fragmented and episodic to add up to a winning whole.