Alvin and the Chipmunks
One of the best family films of the year. Period. Sure there were plot-holes and strange moments but since this is really a film for children at its core, I cannot really hold these factors against the film too much. There are two ways to look at this film. One, a perfect children’s film or, two, a film for the general public that was not completely all there.
In order to have never heard of Alvin and the Chipmunks you would have had to have been living in Antarctica for the past fifty years. So in case you have been living at the South Pole, here is the deal. Basically, Alvin and the Chipmunks is trio of small talking (mostly singing) chipmunks. The uber-hyperactive leader of the group is Alvin. The “smart” one of the group is Simon and kind of stupid but completely sweet-hearted one. Alvin and the Chipmunks have been around for just about fifty years but in order to make this film appeal to a 2007 audience, the chipmunks needed a little bit of a modern day twist. This film version of the trio starts from the beginning of the admittance into the human world. The film opens with the trio in a tree in the middle of a forest singing Daniel Powder’s “Bad Day” (very funny moment). The tree is cut down and used as a Christmas tree in the lobby of a record company building. Through a series of events, the Chipmunks wind up hitching a ride home with struggling songwriter, Dave Seville (My Name is Earl’s Jason Lee). After getting past the fact that he had just met singing and dancing chipmunks, Seville agrees to let the three rodents live with him under one condition: they have to help him get his music career off the ground. Once Alvin and the Chipmunks become big “rock stars,” music executive Ian (David Cross) does everything in his power to steal them away from Seville so that he can exploit them. When he succeeds, Seville has a classic case of not knowing what he’s got until it’s gone. He becomes determined to get his “family” back from evil Ian.
This was a great film for a number of reasons. It was extremely refreshing to see a film that was based on previously created characters and not have the film try to make then into something completely different. So many times, characters from the past are changed so much from there original form that you cannot even recognize them. Alvin and the Chipmunks stay true to their original personalities even when they become a “Backstreet Boy”-like pop group. Even the humor was undated to appeal to audiences today. The greatest moments on the film were the musical sequences. I loved seeing those little chipmunks on stage doing their choreographed routines and singing in their classically high-pitched voices. Jason Lee’s performance as Dave Seville was lacking energy though. Throughout the entire film I kind of felt that Jason Lee had been forced to do this film and that he really did not have much interest in doing it. When he is supposed to scream the classic “ALVINNNNN!!!!!!” he does it with little to no enthusiasm.
Like I said before, it is an absolutely perfect film for parents to take their children to but in terms of being a film that everyone would enjoy, well it’s just not going to happen. For these reasons I give Alvin and the Chipmunks a B.
While I sit here and try to think of some way to describe how this film was new, unique, and inventive, I realize that it really wasn’t. American Gangster was a very entertaining and captivating film but it did persuade me to leave the theater thinking, “Wow that was an amazing movie.” I had read many reviews that compared this movie to such gangster/mafia classics as Scarface and The Godfather. When I first read these reviews I thought maybe it would be possible, especially with the two main characters being portrayed but such Hollywood powerhouse actors as Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. On top of that, American Gangster was directed by famed Gladiator director, Ridley Scott. Honestly, the only connection I see between past gangster classics and American Gangster is the fact that they are gangster films. American Gangster is certainly amongst the best film of 2007 but it is in no way destined to become a classic.
American Gangster takes place in the 1970s and tells the true story of how one man, Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), rose and fell from power within the world of heroine smuggling. Russell Crowe plays Richie Roberts, the detective who lead the investigation against Frank Lucas. Through his investigation, Roberts discovers that Lucas has been smuggling Heroine into New York from Far East countries.
Do not take my opinion of this film not becoming a classic so seriously. The fact of the matter is that American Gangster really is true evidence of expert filmmaking. Ridley Scott, who also directed such classics as Alien and Blade Runner, does a terrific job with this film. He does a superb job of equally portraying the good side (the cops) and the bad side (the gangsters). He shows no biased in this film. In fact, he even shows that Frank Lucas was not all bad. Ridley Scott includes the subplot of Frank Lucas tries to persuade his young nephew not to be like him when he grows up. Scott balances this out by also showing the devastating effect that his heroine dealing is having on the general public. One scene in particular stands out as being particularly difficult to watch. The audience sees a crying baby sitting on top of his mother lying dead on her bed from the Lucas’ heroine. The screen the immediately shifts to show how Lucas is unaffected by the harm he is causing. We see Frank Lucas laughing and having a lavish family meal with his family. They are the powerful scenes like this that make American Gangster a powerful film and one that will surely be watched for decades to come. It will undoubtedly even gain several Oscar nominations but it would take quite a stretch of the imagination to expect American Gangster to become an American classic. I give American Gangster a B+.
In An Education, Carey Mulligan plays Jenny Mellor, a brilliant student at a private academy in Twickenham, England. She and her parents both have high hopes for her to attend Oxford. Then, one day as Jenny is walking home from school, she encounters a charming, wealthy gentleman about ten years her senior. As their relationship blossoms, Jenny begins to fail in school and starts to wonder if it would be smarter for her to just drop out of school and live the high life going to parties and drinking champagne with her new lover.
The movie itself has a number of interesting twists and the fantastic performances by Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard are certain points to marvel at. Regrettably, the rest of the movie is missing those compelling moments that keep the audience intrigued and caring about the outcome of the characters. Immediately after the end of the film, I began trying to figure out what the point of the movie was. In a way, it seemed as though the movie concluded with the characters coming right back to where they started. However, Carey Mulligan does stand out as the bright star from this film and the setting of 1960s London is picturesque. I give An Education a B-.
To set the record straight, James Cameron’s Avatar is in no way related to the popular television series of the same name. In fact, Cameron had already written his script 10 years before the cartoon series even aired. Cameron’s Avatar is set in the year 2154 when humans have traveled to the distant moon Pandora to exploit its reserves of a valuable mineral called unobtainium. Problem is, it lies under the civilization of the native people called the Na’vi. The film’s protagonist, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), is tasked by the American military to infiltrate the Na’vi’s world to find a way to get to the resource. In order to do this, Sully must physically become one of the natives. Humans cannot breathe the air on Pandora so human scientists invented a way that they could become avatars, a human-Na’vi hybrid. Sully begins to live with and learn the ways of the Na’vi. He even begins to fall in love with one of the natives, Neytiri. When the time comes for the humans to embezzle the unobtainium, it is revealed that they plan on exterminating the entire Na’vi race. Sully must now decide which side to fight for.
Avatar may seem like a predictable film with a story that has been told before but it doesn’t matter. The greatest aspects of Avatar are the visuals. Without a doubt, this is the most visually spectacular film I have ever seen. James Cameron originally was going to make Avatar right after Titanic and was going to release it in 1999 but he felt that the technology to bring his vision to life was, at the time, not invented yet. So instead of just sitting around waiting for it to become available, he invented the technology himself. Motion capture, which is using a human to create the movements of an animated character, had been used in film before. This is evident with Robert Zemeckis’ films The Polar Express where he used Tom Hanks to capture the train engineer and in this year’s A Christmas Carol starring Jim Carrey as Scrooge. Cameron took this one step further and created a camera system that shows the animated character on a screen at the exact moment that the human actor is performing the movements.
The world of Pandora is unlike anything seen in film before. As an audience member you become fully immersed in Cameron’s vision of a far off world with lushes forests and floating mountains. Also impressive are the native creatures that roam the land. Massive dinosaur-like beasts and vegetation that changes shape when touched make the fictional world of Pandora fully come alive.
There is nothing overly exquisite about the acting, although the cast is certainly top-notch talent. Sam Worthington, who recently found fame with Terminator Salvation and will star is the March release of Clash of the Titans, is refreshing. It is always a treat to find a new actor that clearly has a long and prosperous career ahead of him or her. The rest of the cast is filled out with Cameron’s long time friend and co-worker Sigourney Weaver, Star Trek’s Zoe Saldana, Giovanni Ribisi, and Stephen Lang. The basic plotline is also nothing to go crazy about yet it is still a fantastic tale to be told. The way the humans come to Pandora and threaten to overrun the native Na’vi is eerily similar to the way the colonists came to America and did the same thing to the Native Americans.
Everyone must go see this movie. Even if you are not a fan of fantasy, science fiction, or action movies, you still owe yourself an experience you soon will not forgot. Cameron truly is a modern day J.R.R. Tolkien in his ability to take a mesmerizing and detailed vision and be able to share it with the world with, in Cameron’s case, such elegance, rather than eloquence. I give Avatar an A+. It is easily the greatest movie of 2009.