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
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!