The Losers (2010) – in your face, over the top

As long as there are comic books that haven’t been adapted (or adapted successfully) to big screen, we’ll be regularly  assaulted with over-the-top, self-aware, tongue-in-cheek, archetypal, good vs. evil, paper-thin stories. Most of comic book culture revolves around fallen heroes, and every once in a while a movie is made that perfectly translates that comic book tone into a film. Everything is life or death, everyone has a specific role, nothing is as it seems and almost nothing has any consequence or logic. On a rare occasion, an action film can successfully subvert tired cliches. The Loses manages to do that, keep a straight face with its characterization, and still look good in the process. It’s just fun to watch.

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Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Tim Burton has done it again – a visual marvel of a film, a pretty close adaptation of a timeless classic book, great performances (although a little too heavy on screen time for Depp and Bonham Carter), and a lovely, rebellious Alice. What more do you need to know in order to run into theaters? It’s in 3D, which actually works.
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Best TV shows of all time

This is a strange time for top-ten lists – usually people do them around the holidays. But here’s yet another list for your pleasure. Britain’s Empire magazine has chosen the 50 best TV shows ever made. Many good, respectable shows listed here, and a few gems completely shunned. We’ll post links to similar lists shortly. What do you think are the best TV shows?
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Ratatouille (2007)

A computer-animated cartoon about a cooking rat who’s trying to make it big in a swanky Paris culinary industry? Wow, how high were the people who came up with this ridiculous idea? And how brave were the producers who green-lighted this project, and put up resources for this film? And then, when time came to promote and market the movie, just how much fighting went on behind the scenes over the title of the movie – Ratatouille? These things I need to know. An unusual concept, an expensive project, and an awkward title – so many things that can easily sink a film, and yet nobody budged. Nobody dumbed down the idea or changed the main characters from rats to … maybe dogs. I assume there are dogs in Paris, some maybe are aspiring chefs, but a rat… It took a lot of balls to see a project like that through, and I admire the person who stuck to it.
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Happy Feet (2006)

What is it about environment-conscious movies that immediately receives the wrath of (unabashedly biased or handsomely paid) critics? Whether it’s a politically-charged documentary from Al Gore (An Inconvenient Truth), a sci-fi whaf-if blockbuster from Wolfgang Peterson (The Day After Tomorrow), or an earnest kid-friendly film about cute penguins – any time the dire state of environment is mentioned — it immediately gets discarded as lies, filthy lies and bogus opinions? First of all, there’s so much more in these films besides an ecology message. But just the dismissal itself is unbelievably frustrating – exactly what kind of money is being thrown on so-called critics to make anything environment-oriented go away? And why do we keep believing these “reviews”? I didn’t see Happy Feet precisely because of that negative publicity. I heard one too many angry outbursts about the movie’s eco-friendly message, and skipped it over the holidays. As you might expect, the movie is so much more than that, and it’s a shame people are being scared away from theaters because a movie might contain an unpopular (in what circles) theme. A real shame.
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Corpse Bride (2005)

First it was Wallace and Gromit, and now – Corpse Bride? Wow, two claymation films in one year, better yet, released within a month? This is very nice indeed – the big studios are looking at the animation a little closer, despite Disney’s troubles and closures. I wonder if those two just happened to be finished at the same time, or it was a strategically planned release, to position new animation studios as the future entertainment sources (as opposed to lousy Disney flicks)? After all, only Dreamworks (Shrek series, Madagascar) and Pixar (anything from them is a gem, really) can release cartoons that actually make money. But enough of cynicism – it was a film from Tim Burton, it was not a typical hand-drawn or tired computer-animated product, it was unusual. And as far as I’m concerned, unusual is good. It’s memorable.

Corpse Bride follows James and The Giant Peach and Nightmare Before Christmas – in style and many themes. It’s very dark, painstakingly shot frame by frame, does feature songs (unlike W&G), and it’s aimed at kids, despite its subject matter. W&G had plenty of grown-up references and humour in it – which is why the theater was roaring with laughter – adult laughter, and that can be a bad thing for a cartoon. If kids don’t get a grown-up joke, they won’t tell everyone in their class to come see it next weekend. Whereas adults are too busy promoting serious films to their friends, rather than “that odd toon I saw with my kids yesterday”. Which is a shame, really – because Corpse Bride is very, very entertaining. It’s just not going to get the word-of-mouth it deserves.
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Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

Nick Park has done it again. First with the original three short films (each more amusing and precious than the other), then with Chicken Run in 2002. Now, finally the time has come for the famous duo to claim the big screen. For those who don’t like animation (or have something against claymation), Wallace and Gromit are an English man and his dog, the former is an aspiring inventor, the latter is the savior who comes and repairs whatever damage is done by a particularly unstable invention. They mean good, but sometimes get carried away with their inventions. They are a great pair of characters, an odd couple of sorts, and it is their relationship that works so well in this film – they are inseparable, and yet, very different to the point of clashing at every turn. The film is not only a showcase of hard work and determination (as you know, stop-motion films are shot frame-by-frame), it’s also a testament to a solid script, love of characters, and a phenomenal support cast. You can’t help but love this little town and its characters – it feels so real, and yet cartoonish at the same time.

If you’re familiar with the short films, this movie follows exactly the same way – a simple story, a few unusual inventions and a lot (and I mean A LOT) of sight gags. Except this time everything is bigger – bigger cast, more involving soundtrack, bigger laughs, and of course, a bigger menace. In the short films the duo dealt with a cunning penguin at some point. This time their nemesis is a were-rabbit. OK, let me explain. Wallace and Gromit run a pest control company (called “anti-pesto” – there’s more where that goofy name came from). They take care of a neighborhood, look after people’s gardens, capture rabbits and other pests, making sure that nobody’s flowers and veggies are harmed. Naturally, there’s a big vegetable competition coming up, and everyone’s involved in this somehow (oh, how I would love to live in a neighborhood where people compete in growing veggies). There’s the organizer – Lady Tottington – who cherishes this tradition, has a phenomenal garden of her own, and loves animals of all sizes – even if some of them may feast on her prize-winning veggies. There’s a handful of obsessive gardeners who lock up their veggies for the night in the most unusual fashion, and count the days until their creations get a chance to shine at the contest. Let’s see, there’s Victor Quartermaine, Lady Tottington’s boyfriend who has plans for her estate, and has little tolerance for pests, or nice, friendly people like Wallace who are simply making a living capturing pests.
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Polar Express (2004)

At first glance, The Polar Express doesn’t have a lot of unique qualities that will hook you: it’s best seen on IMAX screens (which is not available everywhere); many characters are played by Tom Hanks, and is directed by Robert Zemeckis  (didn’t we get enough of them in Castaway?) Plus, it was animated using motion capture – an expensive, sophisticated process that makes you wonder why all the bother. Well, if you check all your negative expectations at the door, and just come to see a holiday cartoon about Santa and what really happens on Christmas Eve – you’ll be pleasantly surprised. A lot of effort was poured into this movie – it’s obviously a pet project for Zemeckis and Hanks – and this effort is right there on the screen – in the detail, in the performances, in the emotion.

Maybe if I saw this movie any other day, I would have been less impressed. But the plan was to see a holiday film on Christmas Eve. So I found a movie theatre with IMAX screen, picked up the 3D glasses on the way in, and settled comfortably in the oversized chair… 90 minutes later I picked up my jaw from the floor, and finally ended a very long gasp. Wow, what an experience! It actually made me giddy, just like Final Fantasy did a couple of years ago. Giddy in awe.

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The Incredibles (2004)

Being a sucker for Pixar movies, I tried to see this on the opening day, the very first show, before the crowds flooded in, but I was late. So I gave this movie about 10 days, to dissipate the hype, and cool off the madness. And after having seen it, I wish I saw it on the opening day – so I can tell everyone I knew just how good and delicious-looking the movie is. This is big, expensive, but well put together film, and is worth your time, and your attention. Check it out this very weekend, and then go out and buy it on DVD when it comes out. Your kids (and some friends) will thank you for it.
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