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At The Movies

Megamind

Now playing in IMAX 3D at the Esquire IMAX
Directed by Tom McGrath
Review by Malcolm Maclachlan

In terms of its basic plot, “Megamind” has a very similar set-up to another animated flick that came out over the summer. “Despicable Me” featured a misunderstood villain who didn’t really necessarily want to be bad. He was just looking for an identity. He is surrounded by one key sidekick and hordes of artificially-created minions. Each develops a new relationship that helps them get in touch with their non-evil side.

But “Despicable” was a huge letdown when it came to laughs, relying instead on schmaltz. “Megamind,” on the other hand, delivered several legitimately funny moments because it fully embraced its own inherent silliness. This shouldn’t be hard when your two leads are Will Ferrell and Tina Fey, who each got laughs out of lines that would have just been filler if delivered by less-skilled comic actors.

The mad scientist this time around is an egg-headed blue alien (Ferrell), a misfit who just wants to please but is continually foiled by Metro Man (Brad Pitt, who, spoiler alert, is barely in this thing). So he turns to a life of crime, but mainly for the odd camaraderie that develops between hero and villain. What’s strange here is that no one seems that focused on the fact that Megamind is clearly an alien. His odd facial hair and continual inability to properly pronounce common words make him seem more like an immigrant—something I doubt was an accident.

There is plenty here for kids to glom onto. But this one also delivers some laughs for adults. It’s more slapstick than action, at least in the front two-thirds. David Cross does a nice turn as the sidekick Minion, and somehow manages to not use any profanity or say anything you wouldn’t want your kids to hear. This wasn’t the visual tour de force that these films sometimes are, and the 3D didn’t always feel like it really mattered that much. But I laughed more than I have in ages at any animated film produced by any company but Pixar. Overall, a pleasant surprise.

The Complete Metropolis

Directed by Fritz Lang
Review by Tony Sheppard

In 1927, Fritz Lang made a movie that was as innovative for its time as “Avatar” is now – supported by an intriguing and relatively timeless story. “Metropolis” has long been revered by film buffs and even just occasional glimpses demonstrate its influence on countless movies that have been made in the 80 years since.  The setting is a futuristic city with skyscraping buildings, elevated roadways, and airplanes in constant motion.

However, the themes are less about technological innovation, despite the involvement in the story of a lifelike humanoid robot, but rather about the socio-economic divisions between segments of the population. This is one of the most remarkable depictions of a profoundly classist society ever captured on film – with an upper class that lives a life of luxury (albeit limited to the male members of society) and a working class that lives a life of endless toil and hardship. Within this framework, the son of the city’s leader is given cause to venture into the bowels of the city, where he is horrified to learn how the other half lives.  

The running metaphor is one of head (the ruling class) and hands (the workers) that are separated and out of touch, and the idea that they can only co-exist successfully when there is mediation provided by a heart (somebody who cares about both). It’s like an 80-year-old precursor to the sound bite of compassionate conservatism, and a classic of classism and labor relations that stands alongside such black and white films as Chaplin’s “Modern Times” (1936) and the even more satirical “I’m Alright Jack” (1959 – Peter Sellers).

Over the years, as much as an hour of the original 153 minutes of running time was edited out.  As renovations attempted to recover the original story, place cards were inserted with missing scene descriptions, until lost footage was found.  Most recently, approximately 25 minutes of lost scenes were found in a film museum in South America and “The Complete Metropolis” is the closest version to the original masterpiece. It is somewhat scratched and otherwise damaged during the recovered scenes, but still as profound as ever. It is due to be released on DVD on November 16th.

Movie Briefs

Riding the Divide

Playing at the Crest for one night only at 7p.m. on Monday, Nov. 15 is “Riding the Divide” – a documentary about a 2,700 mile mountain bike race along the continental divide from Banff, Canada to the US/Mexico border. The screening is sponsored by local bike store Mad Cat Bicycles (KRCA’s best bike store, four years running) and the film is a remarkable depiction of endurance during a grueling event that is run without support teams, including the constant need to find high energy food supplies and avoid bears. It’s also full of the kind of beautiful scenery and injuries to bodies and bikes that one might expect from several weeks riding through the Rockies.  

Two films that open this week are both pleasant surprises in rising above their own fairly simple subject matter, largely through the involvement of appealing casts who are tasked with depicting engaging characters.

Unstoppable

In “Unstoppable,” Denzel Washington stars as a veteran train driver who is paired up with a rookie conductor (Chris Pine) on a day when negligence at a train yard causes a runaway train carrying toxic cargo to threaten countless lives.  The story is based on a real case, although, as one might expect, the amount of dangerous cargo and the speed of the train have been increased significantly for the big screen.

Morning Glory

“Morning Glory” is a fun and fluffy (watch the movie to appreciate the choice of adjective) film about a young TV producer (Rachel McAdams) who is drafted by a major network to drag their struggling morning show out of the ratings basement. Much of the entertainment is generated by Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford as on air talent who get along about as well as a pair of crashing freight trains.


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