Talking Movies

December 23, 2019

From the Archives: Alvin and the Chipmunks

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

This is a silly film, as almost goes without saying when discussing the adventures of a trio of singing chipmunks, but not without merit. There are some good jokes and the three chipmunks are splendidly animated and voiced. Theodore the youngest Chipmunk is unfeasibly adorable, Simon is given a number of good lines as the smart one, while the cocky Alvin is not as good as you remember from the 1980s cartoon show but does get a hilarious moment when his voice goes low after inhaling helium from a balloon. He uses this new voice to say the words “major rock stars” to their manager/songwriter/surrogate father Dave. It’s hard to not keep mentally putting a moustache on Jason Lee’s Dave Seville as he uses the exact same voice he does for his famous lead role in TV’s My Name Is Earl. Former Point Pleasant star Cameron Richardson stands around and looks pretty in a hardly written at all role as Dave’s ex-girlfriend who is assigned to cover his rise to fame in her capacity as a photo-journalist and who left him because of his inability to handle responsibility.

What’s sort of snooze-inducing about this film is its unstinting adherence to the formulaic set-up of what a kid’s flick ought to be, but then such laziness should not surprise given that the screen story was penned by Jon Vitti one of the many under-achieving writers who managed to bore us all into a coma with The Simpsons Movie. Of course the Chipmunks will win over Dave’s affections after initially sabotaging his life, of course they’ll alienate his ex-girlfriend from him and then his love for them and his willingness to take on the responsibility of being their adoptive father will win her back by showing that he’s matured. Of course they’ll fall out with him in the second act and be seduced by the dark side of fame and excess offered by ‘Uncle’ Ian, who will of course plot to drive a wedge between them and Dave which will only be solved by an intricate reconciliation/musical number in the finale.

David Cross has great fun playing record label executive Ian Hawke, a college friend of Dave who endlessly patronises him. He steals the Chipmunks away from Dave and flogs an endless amount of crummy Chipmunk merchandise while working them to exhaustion on punishing tour schedules, only keeping them going with extravagant coffees. This isn’t wonderfully written material by any means but Cross (Dr Tobias Funke on Arrested Development) makes the most of it. His final lines, cursing in Spanish before unleashing an Empire Strikes Back style bellowing ‘NOOOOOOOOO!!!!’, are almost enough to make up for the shortcomings elsewhere. This is a fun enough film that will keep kids entertained but their parents will frequently find their attention wandering.

2/5

August 14, 2019

From the Archives: Surf’s Up

Another dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives brings up a rather forgotten CGI animation starring the voice of Shia LaBeouf.

Teenage penguin Cody Maverick leaves home for the Big Z Memorial Surf Off in sunny Pen Gu Island where he falls for a pretty lifeguard and meets a mysterious hermit. Will Cody emulate his hero Big Z or will he learn there’s more to life than winning?

Yes, we’re back with bloody anthropomorphic animals again, although mercifully an early gag establishes that these particular penguins neither sing nor tap-dance… Young Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf) is eager to escape his preposterously boring life of fish-sorting (hilariously depicted) in Shiverpool, Antarctica. A childhood memory of legendary surfer Big Z sustains his dream of using his surfing prowess to escape to sunnier climes. Documentary film-makers follow his progress as a talent scout for slimy promoter Reggie Belafonte (James Woods) plucks Cody from obscurity to take place in the Surf-off that provides the film’s action climax. The documentary film-makers are of course voiced by directors Brannon and Buck (it’s so post-modern it gives me nosebleeds). Cody is voiced by LaBeouf as a variant of his Transformers persona, but that splendidly awkward turn loses a lot of its humour here as Cody seethes with resentment of his bullying older brother.

The presentation of the film as a rough-cut of an MTV style documentary is quite brilliant. There are many of those trademark editing flourishes and a number of great visual gags like SPEN (Sport Penguin Entertainment Network). This all underscores that there’s a genuine intelligence and wit behind this film that just didn’t quite translate into a great script. The CGI is startlingly good during many of the surfing sequences, helped by the hand-held look (so painstakingly rendered) which makes the peril of a wipe-out painfully suspenseful. But such style cannot disguise the short-comings of the writing. Jeff Bridges, as the reclusive surfing guru Geek who mentors Cody, could have done a hilarious reprise of his role as The Dude from The Big Lebowski, if someone had bothered to write the references. Jon Heder as Chicken Joe, a surfer dude chicken, is likewise saddled with a promising role featuring too few gags. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy star Zooey Deschanel is sadly underused as the love interest, quirky lifeguard Lani, which is an especial pity as she’s one of the very few actresses around with a distinctive enough voice for animated roles.

Ultimately you want to like this film a lot more than it actually deserves. Sure it meanders badly as Cody and Geek do their Luke/Yoda thing while building surfboards and there’s far too little development of the Cody/Lani romance. But it doesn’t have the smugness of the insultingly mediocre Simpsons Movie,and its moral that enjoying yourself is better than winning at all costs (like anti-social jock villain Tank Evans) is quite brilliant; especially given that most CGI animations with A-list voices endlessly promote the message that the most important thing in life is to just be yourself … if you’re pretty.

2/5

July 31, 2019

From the Archives: The Simpsons Movie

The second deep dive into the InDublin folder of the pre-Talking Movies archives pulls up a not fondly remembered cash-grab.

Lisa gets a boyfriend, Bart searches for a new father figure, Marge reaches the end of her tether and Homer gets a pet pig which brings about apocalypse for Springfield….

If ever a film was critic-proof it’s The Simpsons Movie. Despite the lazy jokes at easy targets many people will proclaim this film to be a work of genius and dismiss as crazy talk the suggestion that it’s every bit as mediocre as the TV show has become. But when it takes 11 freaking writers to put together an 87 minute film you’re in deep trouble. Yes, there are some great moments; a sequence with Bart skateboarding naked across town for a dare is replete with visual gags, and another scene hilariously introduces a horde of animals drawn in the cutest aw shucks Disney style. Tom Hanks even has a wonderful cameo as himself, the most loveable Everyman film star on the planet.

But then there’s Lisa’s boyfriend Colin, who’s Irish, a guitar playing environmentalist, and not Bono’s son. Sadly his accent is neither Bono nor Colin Farrell but the sort of stage Oirish nonsense found in The Quiet Man. The plot itself is mildly amusing but in tackling environmental pollution it impressively manages to both repeat material from the TV show and lazily jump on the Al Gore bandwagon. Lazy is the watchword here, this film never convinces as a story that needed to be told on the big screen. The clever references and different layers of humour that made the show a phenomenon just aren’t present. The film begins with the family attending the Itchy & Scratchy movie, “I can’t believe we paid to see this when we could just watch it on TV for free!” You said it Homer…

2/5

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