of love: Pixar’s Finding Nemo.
By Laura Leon
Directed by Andrew Stanton
It’s an age-old story. Domi- neering, overprotective parent
butts heads with rebellious offspring. But in the case of
the latest Pixar-Disney collaboration, Finding Nemo,
the dad is a clownfish named Marlin (Albert Brooks), and his
asymmetrically finned son is Nemo (Alexander Gould). (Writer-director
Andrew Stanton deftly explains Marlin’s control issues in
the movie’s preface, which harkens back to Bambi.)
That comparison aside, however, Finding Nemo is resoundingly
fresh in terms of story, characters and, yes, animation.
Film after film of Brooks’ trademark neuroses can get old,
but as the voice of a fish, he’s magic. Marlin’s heartfelt
if overwrought concern for his only child is what drives this
nervous Nelly on through an ocean full of dangers in his quest
to find Nemo after he’s been netted by a deep-sea-diving dentist,
who has subsequently dropped the little tyke off in his office
aquarium. Marlin and his unlikely sidekick, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres),
a bright blue fish with short-term-memory issues, confront
sunken subs in underwater minefields, clouds of zapping jellyfish,
and, perhaps scariest of all, three deadly sharks who are
trying hard to live by the mantra “fish are friends, not food.”
Meanwhile, Nemo makes friends with aquariummates like the
starfish Peach (Allison Janney) and the scarred angelfish
Gil (Willem Defoe), who try mightily to figure out a way to
save Nemo from being gifted to the dentist’s niece Darla,
a girl who makes Toy Story’s Syd seem positively docile.
Of course, through all the spellbinding adventures and danger,
Marlin begins to realize why he must let Nemo spread his,
er, wings, whereas Nemo comes to understand the magnitude
of his father’s love and loss.
Whereas Monsters, Inc., was all candy, from its vulgar
colors to its unsatisfying content, Finding Nemo is
rich both visually and imaginatively. The Pixar people have
made the screen ripple and shimmer and pulse with all things
aquatic; you actually feel wet from a swim. Ah, I thought
(and I’m a confirmed claustrophobic), this is why people go
Aside from the Bambi moment, which had both parents
and kids in my audience wiping away a tear or two, the movie
is immensely funny, with a joy and a freedom that are positively
buoyant. And while you can assume there will be a father-and-son
reunion, even the most jaded and experienced viewer has no
idea how this can be accomplished, and the way that it happens
is brilliantly conceived.
The characters may share the chubby cheeks and bulging eyes
that have become Pixar trademarks, but they, too, are not
what we’ve seen before. DeGeneres, in particular, is brilliant
in her voicing of Dory; this is no John Goodman, gruff but
sweet sidekick, but a complex, delightfully ditzy original.
When Dory, with that short-term-memory problem, meets Nemo
for the first time, the result is gut-busting. Stanton blends
the moral points into the mix in such a subtle way that it’s
not until long after you’ve seen the movie that you realize
just how beautiful a fish story this is.
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Italian Job, a snazzy remake of the 1969 British crime
drama, is loaded with enough verve, wit, and clever twists
to make the opening heist alone worth the price of admission.
The titular “job” occurs in Venice under the supervision of
a wily old safecracker, John Bridger (old smoothie Donald
Sutherland). John and his protégé, Charlie (Mark Wahlberg),
who devised the heist, are like father and son, and they regard
their crew—Seth Green’s genius hacker, Mos Def’s nerdy demolitions
expert, Jason Statham’s former race-car driver, and Edward
Norton’s high-end house burglar—as extended family. In not-quite-perfect
synchronicity, the crew pulls off an elaborate robbery of
an old palace on the Grand Canal. The canals and lagoons of
Venice are picturesquely utilized, and along the way to a
perfect escape through the Swiss Alps, the film packs in just
about everything a heist caper could want, from precision
explosions to a terrific motorboat escapade that leaves a
raft of gondoliers reeling in its wake. But as surely as greed
follows gold bullion, camaraderie turns to betrayal, and betrayal
leads to a blood feud within the crew.
Director F. Gary Gray has improved measurably since A Man
Apart, the recent Vin Diesel stinker, and while he still
takes too many shortcuts on his way to going over the top
with spectacular action sequences, the stunt choreography
has undeniable pizzazz. John’s daughter, Stella (Charlize
Theron), teams up with Charlie to recoup the gold loot and
exact revenge. Glamazon Stella (whose role is rather well-written
into the action) has inherited her father’s fingertip dexterity,
and earns her living as a “vault technician.” She also drives
her Mini Cooper like a torpedo, and the snubby little cars
provide some fresh vehicular mayhem, especially when bumping
down staircases or plowing onto sidewalks. (In this good-natured
actioner, pedestrians always know just when to jump out of
the way.) The maneuverable minis prove to be an inspired choice
of product placement during the film’s big set piece, a three-way
chase within a hellacious case of freeway gridlock, created
by the hacker.
The cast have such a good time playing their rakish clichés,
it’s easy to overlook how badly miscast they are: Statham,
who smoldered like a lit stick of TNT in The Transporter,
is downgraded here to a womanizing jock. The exception to
the fun is Wahlberg, who washes out as congenial Charlie,
the unflappable mastermind. Surprisingly good as a brooding
malcontent (The Corruptor, The Yards), Wahlberg now
seems determined to make a name for himself as a Cary Grant-style
charmer. But after flopping badly in The Truth About Charlie,
last year’s remake of Charade, Wahlberg should know
to steer clear of caper remakes. Or at the very least, of
characters named Charlie.
Directed by Rob Schmidt
What could be worse than being stalked by cannibalistic rednecks
in the backwoods of West Virginia? Being stalked by ugly rednecks
whose hygiene is as awful as their inbred mutated genes. This
thriller, with special makeup effects courtesy of Stan Winston’s
studios, is something of a cross between Deliverance
and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And while it lacks
the character-driven suspense of the former and the relentless
frisson of the later, it does create a few passable chills.
Most of these are in the early stages before we come face
to apparent face with the enemy, whose sloppy cabinkeeping
(dirty dishes, refrigerators full of body parts, and general
patina of scum, rust and blood) is more off-putting than Winston’s
At least it creates a sense of woodland menace that blows
the Blair Witch out of its backyard woodlot, and looking
at the pert noses of protagonists Eliza Dushku and Desmond
Harrington is more satisfying than having to stare up the
unsightly nostrils of Blair Witch’s sorry excuse for
a hero. Dusku and Harrington are the most resilient of a group
of six young adults who take a wrong turn on a back road that
lies in the province of a gruesome trio who harvest their
daily meals by waylaying wayfarers with barbed wire traps.
They are also handy with axes and arrows, which periodically
intrude into foreground shots with disquieting immediacy.
There is a modicum of tension as long as the claustrophobia
of the forest or the antagonists’ cabin is exploited, with
matters being especially creepy when the protagonists are
forced to hide in the cabin during a butchering session. However,
the script takes a wrong turn when the quarry stupidly hide
in a watchtower and then make like flying squirrels. A subsequent
battle high in the branches of fir trees is unrealistically
staged, and the film never quite recovers its sense of menace
As has become too often the case in this genre, the visuals
that accompany the introductory credits are the most effectively
disturbing images in the film. Their potency has a latent
power and hints at a horror that is never fully realized.
on the Lower East Side
Directed by Peter Sollett
This portrait of a struggling-but-wacky Lower East Side Latino
family starts out trying too hard to be ghetto. Then, it tries
too hard to be heartwarming. It is something of a wonder,
then, that it ends up in the right place.
Teenager Victor Vargas (Victor Rasuk) has been onscreen for
10 minutes and we already know everything about him. He’s
a more or less innocent and horny teen trying to be a player.
It’s not a very convincing act he’s putting on, either; he’s
more fool than Lothario. He’s also on the verge of being a
real bastard with a girl unfortunately nicknamed “Fat Donna”
(Donna Maldonado)—the film itself is on dangerous ground,
here, too—when fate intervenes, sparing the girl from “Victor
love” and the film from tumbling into bad taste.
Victor moves on with youthful aplomb from this disaster, immediately
hitting on Judy (Judy Marte), the most attractive, least approachable
girl in the neighborhood. She swats him away like a fly. Later,
she accepts his attention as a means to keep other boys—who
can be crude and insistent—away. Explaining the arrangement
to her friend Melonie (Melonie Diaz), Judy calls Victor “bug
These first scenes are peppered with plenty of tough street
language and repetitive cursing. Then, as the film spends
more time with Victor’s family, including his sister Vicki
(Krystal Rodriguez), look-alike younger brother Nino (Silvestre
Rasuk) and nutty grandma (Altagracia Guzman), the hardshell
exterior cracks to reveal an altogether too-gooey center.
There are misunderstandings about telephones and church attendance
and masturbation. Nino plays Bach (badly) on an out-of-tune
piano to his grandma’s delight.
It’s a surprise, then, that the three teen romances—Judy and
Victor, Melonie and Victor’s friend, and Vicki and Judy’s
brother—develop so convincingly. Director-writer Peter Sollett
works well with his young cast, though it’s a bit disingenuous
the way he names all the characters after the actors; it’s
like he wants us to believe that they’re amateurs. They’re
not: Most have years of training in New York’s Professional
Performing Arts High School, and some have off-Broadway experience.
Sollett also has a knack for capturing teen emotions, and
writing dialogue that expresses those feelings. He should
forget about trying to make slice-of-life family dramas; he
could become the next John Hughes.