chillin’: Disneynature’s Oceans.
by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud
a spaceship blasts through the atmosphere en route to another
planet, sea iguanas look on from their primordial perch, comically
unperturbed. In Oceans, an “ecological drama” presented (and
repackaged) by Disneynature films, life far beneath the pulverizing
(and rapturously photographed) power of the tides appears
as vast and unknown as any distant world, a premise that’s
amazingly set-up with a shot of the stars in the heavens dissolving
into the pinpoint lights of glowing urchins. A follow-up of
sorts to Earth (though writer-directors Jacques Perrin and
Jacques Cluzaud are the creators of 2001’s magnificent Winged
Migration), Oceans is equally accomplished, astonishing, and
lyrical. Horseshoe crabs land on a beachhead as otherworldly
(and, in close-up), as menacing, as an alien invasion; a blanket
octopus covers itself in a gorgeous, velvety mantle of oranges
and reds; bulky sea lions elude a hungry orca with acrobatic
Yet you don’t have to like nature films to be transported
by Oceans. Enthrallingly edited from four years’ worth
of underwater footage, shot with state-of-art equipment (that
penetrates nighttime and deep-sea murk) by a dedicated crew
(shown briefly during the don’t-miss closing credits), this
exploration of unimaginable wonders ranges from the piquant
(a shrimp and a crab engage in a miniature gladiatorial battle)
to the exalted (the hurly-burly convergence of dolphins, kingfish,
sharks, and whales while feasting on a mass of sardines) to
the mind-boggling (a 120-ton blue whale, the largest animal
in the history of the planet, passes beneath a camera as massively
as the Empire mother-ship in Star Wars). Along with
former land animals that returned to the sea, such as bovine
manatees that graze the grasslands of the ocean floor, there
are numerous newfound species that defy description; and some
of the most interesting sequences are those that show the
bizarrely resourceful ways in which these creatures interact
with their environment.
Though not as strongly narrative (or cautionary) as Earth,
which follows three mammal families through the devastation
of consumerist impacts on their habitats, Oceans is
a more mystical and illuminating experience. Narrated unobtrusively
by Pierce Brosnan from a vaguely poetic script, and accompanied
by a beautifully evocative score from Oscar-nominated composer
Bruno Coulis, the film resonates on several levels. The synchronized
breaching of a herd of humpback whales is as good an example
of the divine in nature as any on film, while the split-second
glimpse of another whale drowning in a gigantic tuna net needs
no embellishment. And despite its inclusion of the food chain
at its fiercest—such as frigate birds picking off baby sea
turtles like crawling canapés—the most terrifying sight is
that of a gargantuan garbage island turning a wondrous underworld
into an all-too-familiar miasma of lifeless goo.
by Derrick Borte
The poster for The Joneses—which depicts a stylish
and handsome family, annotated with the price tags of their
many high-end possessions—is as much of the movie as you really
need to see. For that matter, the title itself does
much of the heavy lifting: The Joneses, as in “keeping
up with . . .”
OK, let’s guess: materialistic competition among the American
consumer class is misguided and/or spiritually deadening?
You don’t say.
David Duchovny and Demi Moore, both inoffensive and even mildly
charming, play Steve and Kate, salespeople hired by a marketing
agency to infiltrate upscale neighborhoods and influence the
residents’ purchasing decisions on behalf of the agency’s
clients. With the aid of their two pretend children (Amber
Heard and Ben Hollingsworth), they are, essentially, a covert
spokesfamily, surreptitiously pimping a lifestyle comprised
of new Audis, Yves St. Lauren blouses, HTC smartphones, and
so on, and so on.
The family is expected to aggressively move these luxury goods,
and their sales numbers are tracked via some incredible, frankly
nonsensical, system. There are rewards, both material and
titular—Kate has long dreamed of attaining the status of sales
“icon”—and punishments for failing to hit goals.
The set-up, a slapdash blend of multi-level marketing, Glengarry
Glen Ross and Malcolm Gladwell-esque notions of consumer
“influentials,” provides workable, if unoriginal, material
for a satire. But writer-director Derrick Borte focuses more
on the emotional dynamic between Steve and Kate, unfortunately.
The characters are presented largely without backstory, and
this guts the seeming critique: The limited context in which
they operate—crass, conscienceless commercialism, a context
we’re made to understand can be lethal—seems to have no lasting,
negative consequence on them. A little professional anxiety,
a little romantic inconvenience, maybe, but no big deal.
Imagine a comedy about love between concentration-camp guards
in which the guards just decide to quit and ride off happily
into the sunset, leaving the still-running camp behind them.
Would you find that believable, satisfying or funny?
It could be. But it’d take a much darker and daring director—Gilliam
or Gondry, for example—to make it work (or to fail spectacularly).
As it is, the effect of The Joneses is much like what
it pretends to criticize: a bit like having a well-prepared
meal in the home of nice-enough (and well-dressed) people
who won’t shut the fuck up about their new granite countertops.
up to fight: (l-r) Morgan and Saldana in The Losers.
Old, Same Old
by Sylvan White
Will no one rid me of these comic-book movies?
You know the deal: Superhero soldiers who survive savage beatings
and shootings, then deal out death to the “bad guys.” Supervillians
who kill, whimsically, just to make a point. Men and women
who beat the living shit out of each other—as foreplay.
All that said, the comic-book actioner The Losers is
somewhat likeable. But not being the worst film in a tired
genre is like being a bad fungal infection instead of leprosy.
losers” of the title are a crack commando squad burned by
their CIA handlers in the jungles of Bolivia. Jeffrey Dean
Morgan, who could pass for Robert Downey, Jr.’s older, thicker
brother, is the wisecracking leader. He’s OK. Idris Elba is
the resident badass; Columbus Short is the driver; Oscar Jaenade
is the crack shot; and Chris Evans is the tech geek. Yawn—oh,
wait, there’s Zoe Saldana as the gorgeous killing machine!
She’s OK, too. Surprisingly, Jason Patric—who has spent his
entire career being deadly serious—is hilarious as the chief
bad guy. He’s so good, most of the script’s tired shtick is
unworthy of him.
I don’t have to tell you the plot. You could probably tell
me the plot, without having seen the movie. There are
double-crosses and triple-crosses on the long, bloody, jokey
road to revenge. Except that the plot isn’t really
resolved. With unbearable hubris, the filmmakers engineer
a finale that’s a setup for a sequel. A sequel that, because
The Losers is a box-office loser, will never be made.
The dudes behind this mess—and you know they’re dudes—somehow
acquired the idea that they’re all little Quentin Tarantinos.
So, The Losers is laden with movie references both
offhand (Patric kills early on with a funny line borrowed
from W.C. Fields) and elaborate (an entire sequence riffs
on a key scene from The Matrix, as Evans goes looking
for “Mr. Anderson”). But none of these lifts mean anything.
The biggest failure of this film—of this entire genre of comic-book
movie—is the inability to use violence in a way that has resonance.
One of the 1950s foreshocks of the ’60s earthquake in movie
violence happened when director Robert Aldrich had a couple
of mercenaries played by Burt Lancaster and Gary Cooper bamboozle
a Mexican general by threatening to have a large group of
children shot to pieces. Every time I’ve watched Vera Cruz,
the scene makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
In The Losers, the fun begins with a massacre of 25
children. And not only does it not mean a Goddamned thing,
it’s a plot twist you can see coming a mile away—“they’re
gonna light up those kids, you betcha!”
Sheesh. What good is violence if you don’t know how to use
First, Love Second, Comedy Third
by Alan Poul
JLo’s first venture in movies in a few years is the mildly
likeable The Back-Up Plan, which does more to make
one wish for a reissue of Pillow Talk than it does
anything for its famous lead actress’ movie-star luster. Jennifer
Lopez is Zoe, a successful pet shop owner who is at the point
in life where the biological clock is ticking but there’s
no worthy guy around to wind it up. Lopez is lovely to look
at and eminently likeable, making you really, really wanna
like this fluff, but The Back-Up Plan is more like
an episode of Friends than it is an accomplished movie.
Soon into the movie, Zoe decides to go the artificial insemination
route, this after a thoroughly disgusting scene in which her
gynecologist (Robert Klein) refers to her “hoo-ha” as “one
hot mess,” making me wonder whether Neicy Nash and her Clean
House gang were about to do a redecoration of said offending
property—and hoping to god nobody saw me enter the theatre.
No wonder Zoe can’t find a baby daddy. But of course, no sooner
has she undergone her treatment than she meets a real winner,
a cheese maker named Stan (I can’t make this stuff up), played
by Alex O’Loughlin. Their early courtship has the typical
ups and downs—he spills wine all over her new dress, she bemoans
the loss of her pre-pregnancy booty—but once Stan finds out
about Zoe’s pregnancy, he commits to the long haul. There
is a funny playground scene in which Anthony Anderson, credited
simply as Playground Dad, shares the fatherhood experience.
“It’s awful, awful, awful, awful, and then something small
but wonderful happens.” At this point, Playground Dad’s son
toddles over to hug his dad, revealing that he’s holding in
his little hand a piece of dog poop.
Writer Kate Angelo tries to manufacture emotional conflict
by having Zoe and Stan begin to wonder whether they’re moving
too fast, or at least in the wrong order, but it’s pretty
tepid stuff. Zoe and Stan are amiable enough, but where’s
the conflict and sexy zing? Where’s the cool matching of wits
as each seeks to dominate the other, or at least to get the
other where he/she wants her/him. Thinking back to screwball
comedies like His Girl Friday or the aforementioned
Pillow Talk, there were much more intelligent and quick-witted
sparring partners than modern films like The Back-Up Plan,
and as sweet seeming as JLo is, I’d much rather watch Doris
Day deliver a verbal spanking over the phone to Rock Hudson.
At least those earlier films didn’t have words like “hoo-ha.”