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At The Movies

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

Directed by Zach Snyder

Now playing at the Esquire IMAX (1211 K St.)

By Malcolm Maclachlan

In terms of plot and character, this latest animated adventure flick is little more than an excuse for a 90 minute painting.
Man, what a painting.

I actually left the theater thinking that I wish more movies were shot like this. In fact, I think this is the first time I’ve seen a non-Pixar computer animated film that looks as good, or better, than the work Pixar does (not that the script measures up to anything Pixar has done). It’s like science you can see. The birds look like birds, every feather moving independently, with wings that tilt differently on the upstroke rather than just going up and down.

While too many movies try to lazily trick viewers by speeding everything up—as though “The Matrix” hadn’t come out 11 freakin’ years ago—this one throws down the gauntlet by going to slo-mo at least once in every single key scene. I didn’t know I’d ever use the words “fluid dynamics” in a review, but the scenes of owls flying in heavy rainstorms make it clear the animators had a very deep understanding of that particular science. The flight sequences—and there are a lot of them—range from the merely exciting to the breathtaking.
And owls are, or course, perfect for all this. They’re strong, graceful hunters, but at the same time they have those huge eyes and they’re mostly made of fluff. They’re cute enough that we forgive them for their carnivorous ways—and for the bit of gross out humor that comes when the skin and bones need to be disposed of.

The story? There’s good owls and bad owls. The hero, Soren, is a young Tito owl who becomes the only thing that save the former from the later. His brother may go to the other side. His sidekicks include the big tough guy, the small guy who is kind of wacky but has hidden talents, the small plucky cute girl owl who would be his love interest if this was aimed at an older audience and owls could kiss, and the gnarled aging mentor who is unspeakably heroic despite sometimes questionable personal hygiene. The bad guys, well, you get the idea.

On the plus side, a lot of the soundtrack is by Owl City, a synthesizer driven pop band with clever lyrics that is the current intergenerational favorite in our house. A predictable tie-in, but who cares? (no, that was not an owl joke).

At The Movies

Written By Tony Sheppard

Hereafter

Directed by Clint Eastwood
Even if one knew nothing about this movie, any fan of Eastwood’s would recognize it as his work as soon as it begins, as it features one of the director’s signature minimalistic soundtracks. Most think of him as an actor and director, but he’s also an accomplished composer and musician and those skills are heavily utilized throughout “Hereafter.”

The film tells the story of George Lonegan (Matt Damon), a reluctant psychic (“I see dead people, and chat with them…”) who has turned his back on his ability due to the complications and distress it causes him. Unfortunately, his brother thinks that’s a missed opportunity, for both of them. Meanwhile, we are introduced to two other characters whose lives are struck by death and near-death experiences, and the plot slowly conspires to bring these people together in a manner that is inevitable in a story of this kind.

The film has the potential to start many life-after-movie conversations about life after death. After all, it’s a fairly compelling subject matter that has interested people as long as people have had interests. That is, if audiences seek it out to begin with. The Damon/Eastwood combo seems appealing on its face, but the film is moody and slow and is unlikely to appeal to the younger theater-goers who have “Paranormal Activity 2” and a second week of “Jackass 3D” to choose from. I’m not sure it will compel older viewers to seek it out either, although it’s helped by having few mature alternatives in the multiplexes.

I enjoyed “Hereafter” and the music, and like Eastwood’s style of storytelling. It’s lean and simple and he occasionally seems less concerned with polish than with themes. Some of the acting and effects here are a little stilted, but they don’t really detract from the overall outcome, at least not for me. But if you’re a weeper, you should probably contemplate taking a pocketful of Kleenex or a friend with absorbent sleeves.  (Opens October 22)

Jackass 3D

Directed by Jeff Tremaine
Meanwhile, “Jackass 3D” is kicking the box office in the crotch and breaking October sales records. It’s another repetitive collection of self-inflicted genital injuries and assorted attempts to gross out the audience, some with significant levels of success. If you eat all of your popcorn quickly, you might want to keep the bucket close by.

As the third episode in the franchise and at a time when 3D is enjoying a heyday, the use of 3D photography is probably a smarter business move and title choice than it is a truly worthwhile application of the technique. It doesn’t look bad, but it largely seems unnecessary as flying fecal matter doesn’t necessarily gain from an added dimension, unless perhaps there was a fan involved (and there isn’t).

But one aspect of the movie that actually appealed to me as compared with the others, is that it seems more focused on the group’s internal shenanigans and less on practical jokes performed on others. It might be just me, but my patience and enjoyment of movies like this and “Borat” is aided by fewer instances of jokes being made at the expense of the uninvolved. I enjoy many of the sophomoric antics, just not when they seem mean spirited.

“Jackass 3D” is sometimes funny, sometimes offensive, and often both.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story

Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Continuing in theaters (if it manages to stick around) is this neat little comedy from the filmmaking team behind the acclaimed indie hit “Half Nelson.” We didn’t get a chance to review it when it opened a couple of weeks ago, but it’s both enjoyable and extremely timely, with its focus on teenage depression and suicide. As luck would have it, it also fits quite well with the grassroots “It gets better” campaign that has become popular online, encouraging depressed and bullied teens to live their lives and get past the hate and anguish they are so often faced with. I enjoyed this film about as much as anything I’ve seen recently and it deals with this sensitive subject with both tact and a lighthearted humor.

Other Film News
Opening Friday (Oct. 22) at the Crest is “Heartbreaker,” a favorite from this year’s Sacramento French Film Festival in June. The 7:30 p.m. screening on opening night is hosted by the festival with a discussion to follow. Details at www.thecrest.com.

This weekend also marks the fourth outing for Sacramento’s Horror Film festival, playing Oct. 21-24 at the Colonial Theater, 3522 Stockton Blvd.  Details at www.sachorrorfilmfest.com

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently spoke with an audience at Stanford about “The Social Network” (reviewed in CW on Sept. 30). Where the film depicts Zuckerberg as angry over a breakup and motivated to succeed in order to win back the girl, the reality is quite different: “I’ve been dating the same girl since before Facebook.” The problem is that the film is largely a reality-based character study and that’s
undermined when you change fundamental elements of the lead character’s character.


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