Issue: 9.05
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Hi Gang, and greetings from Hollywood!

Shalom, Gang.

If I had to pick one adverse aspect of having grown up in the film industry it would have to be the fact that the magic is lost on me. I was always behind the scenes and knew how they did all the wondrous special effects the rest of the world simply accepts and marvels at. It’s gotten worse over the years, especially since computer graphics began replacing strong storylines and well-written scripts, and competent acting. More often than not, these days the computer-generated characters are more expressive and personable than the actors, as was the case in last year’s “King Kong”.

No so with “The Water Horse”. This film is, in a word, sensational! Despite the old adage that one should avoid working with children and animals, (especially CGI animals who do everything on command and require no retakes,) every element of this movie works. Director Jay Russell has managed to flawlessly combine an excellent script and wonderful actors with the most adorable non-human title character since ‘E,T.’. Chrisso, the name given to the Loch Ness beastie, takes computer animation to such a new standard, that in comparison, “Jurassic Park” is downright sophomoric. Even to a trained eye like mine, knowing that the plesiosaur is digital the combined elements of the process shots are seamless. Although some of the elements are somewhat predictable, one tends to overlook it because the story is just so damned charming.

Emily Watson as the bitter war-widow turns in such an outstanding performance that even though she comes off hard and mean-spirited at times, you can’t help but feel sorry for her. Alex Etel as the boy who finds Chrisso’s egg and raises the baby does stunts that would have seasoned professional sweating bullets. And the testosterone-laden chemistry between the male leads, (Ben Chapman and David Morrissey who play a captain in the Royal Army and a handyman respectively,) as they vie over the attentions of the widow is reminiscent of two high school football jocks having a pissing contest over the head cheerleader.

Be warned…”The Waterhorse” will have you alternately crying and laughing, and oft times both at once. This is one of the few ‘family films’ that would have made Walt Disney proud!

As far as theater fare, for all you baby boomers who have been waiting for thirty years for the film version of “Speed Racer” to be made, well, this one is definitely worth the price of admission.

Predictably, the updated characters and personalities sometimes don’t ring true to the original Japanimation version of the seventies, and the drama and intensity sometimes get heavy-handed, but otherwise, this film is a gem.

John Goodman is stellar as ‘Pops Racer’, arguably the only person in the business who could have done such justice to the role, his over-the-top scenery chewing lending it’s self perfectly to the role. Emile Hirsch does a suburb job as ‘Speed’ as does Susan Sarandon as ‘Mom’. Christina Ricci plays ‘Trixie’ a little too intensely and sexually, but again, this is 2008, and innocence in movies went out with stop-action photography and leisure suits. Paulie Litt does an especially good job playing the annoying little brother ‘Spritel’ whom, like his animated counterpart does his best to be a schtuck en der tokhes. As expected, the movie relies heavily on special effects, sometimes to the point of eclipsing the spirit of the scene, but then, this is an action film.

The real star of this movie is the Mach 5. Unlike the “Batman” movies, where they ran the gamut of bizarre coachwork (I’m still laughing at the way the rubber tailfins the movies wobbled when the car was moving more than ten miles per hour,) the Mach 5 is still the Mach 5, even though they replaced the classic tailfins on the rear end with a triple spoiler. The car is also noticeably shorter than the animated version, but show me a car that hasn’t shrunk over the last 35 years.

Essentially, “Speed Racer” does an admirable job in bringing a cartoon into flesh and steel, or in this case fiberglass. If this film has one flaw, it is that it tries to emulate the style of the animated predecessor. While pen-and-ink cartoon might be able to handle the bizarre motions of camera-versus-scene, by trying to make the heroic abilities of the Mach Five seem plausible, they only make it look absurd. Still, the film manages to capture the spirit of the original cartoon series admirably, and speaking as a longtime “Speed Racer” fan, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Finally, for those of you who loved last year’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” as much as I did, I have only high praise for the second of the seven books to come to the big screen. “Prince Caspian” is every bit as engrossing as its predecessor, maintaining the original cast and with special effects even more dazzling than the first installment. Ben Barnes is superb in the title role, managing to overcome his teen idol good looks with some topnotch acting, a considerable achievement considering most of the time he had to play against a stick representing the later-added CGI characters. This young man can do more with his eyes than most actors can do with their whole body. And fear not, those of you who become enthralled by the relative newcomer, he will be back in the third film, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, already in pre-production.

The plot, although somewhat formulaic, has some interesting twists. The Pevensie kids return to Narnia, and what was only a year for them have been several centuries in Narnia.
The evil General Miraz has deposed Prince Caspian and named himself king. The kids, with the help of a mouse named Reepincheep (and voiced by the inimitable Eddie Izzard,) go in search of the deposed Caspian and with the help of Aslan, restore him to the throne. Well, I told you it was formulaic! Still, it’s a worthy effort and if you like the “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” series, this one will not disappoint you. What impressed me the most was unlike the “Lord of the Rings” films; this one keeps the violence down to a surprising level while still having you on the edge of your seat. I’m not going to give away too much and ruin it for you. Better you see it for yourself!

Till next month, Gang!

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