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Entries in jeremy piven (2)

Friday
Apr272012

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Aardman Animations is like a less successful Pixar or Studio Ghibli. Like those two (at least until Pixar’s Cars 2), Aardman Animations has never released a bad film, but they generally aren’t as magical, wondrous or humorous as those studios’. Granted, they’ve only put out five movies to date, so the best may be yet to come, but they simply aren’t on the same level as those powerhouses. Their latest stop motion animation effort, The Pirates! Band of Misfits has more chuckles than outright laughs and more sight gags than a silent film, but it’s charming, clever and amusing, even if it seems tired at a mere 88 minutes.

The movie begins in London in 1837. The English Navy, as reported to Queen Victoria (voiced by Imelda Staunton), rules almost all of the oceans surrounding them, except for a small pirate controlled area in the West Indies. It’s an area that has more peg legs than actual people, where pirates convene to take part in the Pirate of the Year awards, presented by the Pirate King himself (voiced by Brian Blessed). One such pirate known only as the Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) has entered the contest and lost every year for the last 20 some odd years, but this year, he intends to nab the grand prize. This means gathering the largest amount of gold he can. After some unsuccessful looting attempts, he and his crew run into a ship guided by Charles Darwin (voiced by David Tennant). It’s at this unlikely moment that the Pirate Captain learns that his pet dodo (which he thought was a parrot) is very rare and worth a lot of money. If he follows Darwin, he’s guaranteed untold riches, so with his eyes on the Pirate of the Year prize, he sets off to claim his bounty.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is goofy, affable, fun and funny. It’s sporadic in all of those traits, but when it works, it’s something to behold. Clever spoken jokes followed by hilarious sight gags (like when the Pirate Captain hangs a hammock over an actual bed simply because he’s used to it) followed by inventive action scenes give the film a feeling of ingenuity, like some thought and care went into its production. Unfortunately, it’s also those moments that shed light on how weak other sections of the movie are. After some genuine moments of delight, it hits lulls, almost like a heart monitor with a constant stream of peaks and valleys. You’ll be laughing one moment and staring cold at the screen the next, but as far as its comedic prowess goes, The Pirates! Band of Misfits hits more than it misses.

Much of that is due to the approach the film takes to a group of people who are usually seen as ruthless and barbaric. Pirates both old and new are known for their indiscriminate violence against anyone they come across on the high seas, but the pirates in this movie are more or less kind, even when they’re forcing someone to walk the plank, and they come with real heart. The simple story about winning that award, which at first seems so trivial, is merely a tool to teach a valuable lesson to both the characters and the audience. It shows the unimportance of money and the true value of friends and family. It’s not a revelatory message, to be sure, but it’s one that is nevertheless worth hearing and certainly good for the young ones in the audience.

Where The Pirates! Band of Misfits suffers most is in its villainous portrayal of Charles Darwin and its casual, cynical approach to scientists “playing God,” (as cited in the Royal Society’s motto). Given the rampant ignorance many choose to embrace when confronting science, and Darwin’s evolutionary theory in particular, these choices seem dangerous. Then again, the film is so wacky that these issues are hardly issues at all and will most likely be overshadowed by the movie’s actual intent: to entertain. This isn’t a movie with an agenda (despite its flaccid stance on science and Darwin) and most people won’t see it as such. It’s a step up from Aardman Animations’ last film, Arthur Christmas, but it’s not the hit they need and are surely looking for. It’s simply good natured fun that the whole family can enjoy.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits receives 3.5/5

Friday
Aug192011

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World is a sequel nobody asked for. After three films, each one worse than the last, this franchise was done. It wrapped itself up nicely in the third installment by including, quite literally, every character in a final goodbye finale. It’s an underrated threequel—it’s certainly not as bad some make it out to be—but it nevertheless came dangerously close to being rotten. If that movie and its predecessors stuck on one side of the recommendable scale, All the Time in the World lands with a thud on the other. As far as kids movies go, it’s not unwatchable, but the imagination and wit has faded. I think it’s time we let this one die.

When the film begins, Marissa (Jessica Alba), a spy for the OSS (Organization of Super Spies), is on the trail of Tick Tock (Jeremy Piven). He has stolen an OSS mini disk and she plans to get it back. Unfortunately, she’s minutes away from having a baby. Flash forward a year later and she has retired from the world of spies, opting instead to stay home with her new baby and her stepchildren, Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard) and Cecil (Mason Cook), while her husband, Wilbur (Joel McHale) hosts his new reality show, “Spy Hunter.” But when time begins to move forward at a rapid pace thanks to the Armageddon device held by a mysterious villain called the Timekeeper, she is forced to come out of retirement. Soon, her stepchildren learn who she really is and find themselves recruited by the newly reborn Spy Kids division.

Before I begin to criticize this film, it must be noted that it’s not terrible and children will most likely enjoy it. Unless you’re sensitive to, or offended by, gross-out humor, it’s relatively inoffensive and harmless, at least from a moral viewpoint. From an intellectual one, it’s difficult to sit through, especially if clock puns aren’t your thing. Although this installment attempts to capture the same youthful spirit of the other films, it suffers due to a weak story and the replacement of past characters with uninteresting new ones. Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino and the pleasingly wacky Alan Cumming are out in favor of a stupid villain (who wears a clock on his head) and a family without an interesting bond connecting them. The new kids pale in comparison to Carmen and Juni from the original trilogy as well, particularly Rebecca, who is a mean, vindictive little brat who only begins to treat her stepmother with respect once she learns she’s a spy. I guess Marissa quitting her job to spend the last year taking care of her wasn’t enough.

Despite their inferior quality to characters that came before, each actor does what they can and, in keeping with tradition, hams it up big time. They know they’re in an absurd movie and they have fun with it. That fun doesn’t translate to us, though, because the entire movie feels like a prank thanks to its gimmicky (and heavily marketed) 4D aspect. Dubbed Aroma-Scope, each viewer of the film is given a card (thankfully, at no extra cost) with numbers on it. As each number appears, you scratch and sniff the corresponding place on the card and it is supposed to give you a whiff of whatever is onscreen (and if you’re wondering what the chances are of baby poo, I’d say they’re pretty good). But, unsurprisingly, it doesn’t work. At all. There are eight spots to smell, but one particular smell overwhelms the rest: the smell of the card. The intended smells are faint at best and do nothing more than distract from the film. Having to fumble with that card and time it to work with the action onscreen is maddening and unnecessary. This so-called 4D is a bigger gimmick, and much more useless, than 3D. However, I don’t think this one is going to catch on.

There’s a twist at the end of Spy Kids: All the Time in the World and when it happens, Cecil remarks, “I didn’t see that coming.” He’s the only one. It’s so blatantly obvious that one would only need to look at a still photo to figure it out; no movie viewing necessary. To say why would constitute spoilers, so I’ll refrain, but I imagine if you’re smart enough to read this, you’ll be smart enough to decipher the “mystery.” But it’s a mystery not worth solving. Contrary to what the title suggests, your time in the world is precious and short. Why waste it watching this?

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World receives 2/5