For a filmmaker who’s known for making ultra-violent genre fare, Robert Rodriguez has never failed to balance his cinematic machismo with his softer, more kid-friendly role as a father, taking time out between bloodbaths to create something for both his family and ours. Shorts is perhaps Rodriguez’s best and most inspired young-adult film since the original Spy Kids. Whether this is faint praise or a legitimate compliment is entirely up to your taste, and quite possibly your age, but there’s little doubt that this sci-fi fairy tale is the perfect piece of back-to-school entertainment for children and their young-at-heart parents.
The set-up is relatively simple. A magical wishing rock falls into the center of a residential community built around a super-advanced technology company responsible for the creation of the “black box,” a device which can become, essentially, any other electronic device you need it to be. In an interconnecting series of – you guessed it — shorts, Rodriguez spotlights four groups of neighbors whose wishes produce what one might best describe as shenanigans.
The first follows young Toe Thompson – ignored by his distant, work-addicted parents and bullied by the daughter of his parents’ boss, Helvetica Black – as he wishes for friends who appear as troublesome, super-powered, miniature alien spacecraft. The second story follows a group of three children whose wishes create walking alligators, giant pterodactyls, venomous snakes and one incredibly smart, telepathic baby. The third chapter focuses on super-scientist Dr. Noseworthy (William H. Macy), his son and the family tutor (Toe’s sister Stacey, played here by Kat Dennings), as young “Nose” Noseworthy accidently mutates a booger into a giant, flesh-eating monster. The fourth section finds Toe’s parents wishing to be closer and suddenly being joined, quite literally, at the hip. The fifth and final chapter illustrates how all the madness comes together as the company’s CEO, Cole Black, wishes himself into a massive, unstoppable, all-powerful robot.
The real success of the film is in the tone it strikes. It’s colorful, but not overly cartoonish; it’s good, silly fun, but it never panders; it’s aimed at children, yet it has enough maturity to entertain the adults. It is, in a sense, the kind of bed-time story a parent might make up with their children, incorporating the enthusiastic suggestions shouted from beneath the covers. The presentation of the film as a set of short movies is fun and inspired – and certainly on DVD kids will watch and re-watch their favorite chapters – but it’s not, critically speaking, entirely necessary. Shifting around the timeline and showing how one event leads up to something you’ve already seen is a clever invention, but the story never really gains anything from the structure. That said, given the film in question, if an idea is fun, it has a place here within the craziness, regardless of the questions or criticisms that might apply to more straightforward movies.
Rodriguez doesn’t really flex the visual style here that we’ve seen in his higher-budget productions, but he manages a narrative and tonal juggling act that’s no less impressive for the film’s being aimed at younger audiences. The effects are surprisingly well rendered and while, for this critic, the booger-monster seemed a bit sillier than the rest of the film, each of the wild creations – from walking reptiles to five-story mechanical behemoths – look relatively respectable.
Overall, when a critic can see a film that’s meant for children in a child-less room filled with fellow film critics and still have a good time, that’s absolutely a credit to the filmmaker and his cast. Adults will no doubt be forced to find their inner child to enjoy the movie, but one wouldn’t suppose they’d be flocking to theatres without children of their own – children who will no doubt have a blast making their way through Shorts.
These are the movies arriving in theaters, August 14, 2009
Synopsis: Over twenty years ago, aliens made first contact with Earth. Humans waited for the hostile attack, or the giant advances in technology. Neither came. Instead, the aliens were refugees, the last survivors of their home world. The creatures were set up in a makeshift home in South Africa’s District 9 as the world’s nations argued over what to do with them. Now, patience over the alien situation has run out. Control over the aliens has been contracted out to Multi-National United (MNU), a private company uninterested in the aliens’ welfare – they will receive tremendous profits if they can make the aliens’ awesome weaponry work. So far, they have failed; activation of the weaponry requires alien DNA. The tension between the aliens and the humans comes to a head when an MNU field operative, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), contracts a mysterious virus that begins changing his DNA. Wikus quickly becomes the most hunted man in the world, as well as the most valuable – he is the key to unlocking the secrets of alien technology. Ostracized and friendless, there is only one place left for him to hide: District 9.
Cast: William Allen Young, Robert Hobbs, Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope; Directed By: Neill Blomkamp
Synopsis: “Ponyo” is the latest tour de force from animation master Hayao Miyazaki and his Academy Award® winning Studio Ghibli. Perfect for audiences of all ages, “Ponyo” is a return to the innocent pleasures of My Neighbor Totoro, with dazzling and entirely hand-drawn visuals that start simply and erupt into fluid, cascading symphonies of color. The story centers on the loving relationship between Sosuke, a five-year-old boy, and a magical goldfish named Ponyo, the rambunctious young daughter of a sorcerer father and a sea-goddess mother. After a chance encounter, Ponyo yearns to become a human so she can be with Sosuke. As to be expected with Miyazaki, the film is awash in pure unbridled imagination and visual wonder-but it is the tender warmth, humor, and devotion of Ponyo and Sosuke that form the emotional heart of this film. In English – featuring the voices of Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin, Noah Cyrus and Frankie Jonas.
Synopsis: The love story focuses on a couple in which the man has a genetic disorder known as “chrono-impairment,” a condition that causes him to involuntarily travel through time. Jeremy Leven wrote the adaptation.
Cast: Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Ron Livingston, Jane McLean; Directed By: Robert Schwentke
Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) is a successful real estate agent who, upon getting engaged to the woman of his dreams, Zooey (Rashida Jones), discovers, to his dismay and chagrin, that he has no male friend close enough to serve as his Best Man.
Peter immediately sets out to rectify the situation, embarking on a series of bizarre and awkward ‘man-dates,’ before meeting Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), a charming, opinionated man with whom he instantly bonds. But the closer the two men get, the more Peter’s relationship with Zooey suffers, ultimately forcing him to choose between his fiancée and his newfound ‘bro,’ in a story that comically explores what it truly means to be a ‘friend.’
Cast: Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones; Directed by: John Hamburg
The Making of ‘I Love You, Man’
Outtakes and Gag Reel
Extended Scenes and Deleted Scenes
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Mike O’Donnell seemingly had it all. He was a star athlete headed straight for a college scholarship until he decided to give it all up to settle down with his high school girlfriend Scarlett. Now at 37, Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry) has become a miserable and unhappy businessman who wishes that he could go back and become the young Mike O’Donnell (Efron) he once was, and correct all the mistakes he made which resulted in him becoming the unhappy businessman he has now become. His wish soon becomes reality as he turns 17 again and gets to live his life over again.
Cast: Zac Efron, Leslie Mann, Thomas Lennon, Matthew Perry, Michelle Trachtenberg, Melora Hardin, Hunter Parrish, Jim Gaffigan; Directed by: Burr Steers
“Way Cool” Tell All Trivia Track
Zac Goes Back (Blu-ray)
Going Back to 17 (Blu-ray)
Zac’s Dance Flashback (Blu-ray)
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Will & Grace star Eric McCormack headlines X-Files veteran R.W. Goodwin’s feature directorial debut, a playful send-up of 1950s-era sci-fi films tracing the bizarre events that unfold after a mysterious space object crashes into a California mountaintop. Based on a story by James Swift and Steven Fisher (who also penned the screenplay), the Technicolor-flavored genre-bender follows a benevolent alien (McCormack) as he attempts to fend off a seriously strange invader. Robert Patrick, Jenni Baird, and Jody Thompson co-star.
Cast: CEric McCormack, Jenni Baird, Dan Lauria, Robert Patrick, Jody Thompson, Aaron Brooks, Sarah Smyth, Andrew Dunbar, Sage Brocklebank, Tom McBeath, Vincent Gale, Jerry Wasserman, Jonathan Young, Michael Roberds; Directed by: R.W. Goodwin
Synopsis: Producer Jerry Bruckheimer brings his first 3-D film to the big screen with “G-Force,” a comedy adventure about the latest evolution of a covert government program to train animals to work in espionage. Armed with the latest high-tech spy equipment, these highly trained guinea pigs discover that the fate of the world is in their paws. Tapped for the G-Force are guinea pigs Darwin (voice of Sam Rockwell), the squad leader determined to succeed at all costs; Blaster (voice of Tracy Morgan), an outrageous weapons expert with tons of attitude and a love for all things extreme; and Juarez (voice of Penelope Cruz), a sexy martial arts pro; plus the literal fly-on-the-wall reconnaissance expert, Mooch, and a star-nosed mole, Speckles (voice of Nicolas Cage), the computer and information specialist.
Directed by two-time Oscar®-winning visual effects master Hoyt Yeatman—”G-Force” takes audiences on a high-octane thrill ride, proving once and for all that size really doesn’t matter.
Cast: The Wibberleys, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Tim Firth Nicolas Cage, Steve Buscemi, Tracy Morgan, Bill Nighy, Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Kelli Garner, Gabriel Casseus, Jack Conley, Penelope Cruz, Tyler Patrick Jones; Directed By: Hoyt Yeatman
Synopsis: A husband and wife who recently lost their baby adopt a 9-year-old girl who is not nearly as innocent as she claims to be.
Cast: Peter Sarsgaard, Vera Farmiga, Isabelle Fuhrman, Jimmy Bennett, Lorry Ayers; Directed By: Jaume Collet-Serra
The Ugly Truth
The battle of the sexes heats up in Columbia Pictures’ comedy ‘The Ugly Truth.’ Abby Richter (Katherine Heigl) is a romantically challenged morning show producer whose search for Mr. Perfect has left her hopelessly single. She’s in for a rude awakening when her bosses team her with Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler), a hardcore TV personality who promises to spill the ugly truth on what makes men and women tick.
A high-definition stop-motion animated feature – the first to be originally filmed in 3-D – with spectacular CG effects, based on Neil Gaiman’s international best-selling book. A young girl (Dakota Fanning) walks through a secret door in her new home and discovers an alternate version of her life. On the surface, this parallel reality is eerily similar to her real life – only much better. But when this wondrously off-kilter, fantastical adventure turns dangerous, and her counterfeit parents (including Other Mother [Teri Hatcher]) try to keep her forever, Coraline must count on her resourcefulness, determination, and bravery to get back home – and save her family.
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Ian McShane, Keith David, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French; Directed by: Henry Selick
The Making of Coraline
Voicing the Characters
Feature Commentary with Director Henry Selick
Creepy Coraline (Blu-ray)
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A complex, multi-layered mystery adventure, Watchmen is set in an alternate 1985 America in which costumed superheroes are part of the fabric of everyday society, and the “Doomsday Clock”—which charts the USA’s tension with the Soviet Union—is permanently set at five minutes to midnight.
When one of his former colleagues is murdered, the washed up but no less determined masked vigilante Rorschach sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes. As he reconnects with his former crime-fighting legion—a ragtag group of retired superheroes, only one of whom has true powers—Rorschach glimpses a wide-ranging and disturbing conspiracy with links to their shared past and catastrophic consequences for the future. Their mission is to watch over humanity… but who is watching the Watchmen?
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Billy Crudup, Jackie Earle Haley, Malin Akerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan; Directed by: Zack Snyder
Director’s Cut (additional 25 minutes)
The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics
Warner Bros. Maximum Movie Mode (Blu-ray)
Real Superheroes, Real Vigilantes (Blu-ray)
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How many superheroes does it take to save the world? The creators of The Naked Gun and Scary Movie answer this question in hysterical “David Zucker” fashion with the uproarious comedy Superhero Movie.
Meet Rick Riker. He’s young, he’s cool and he’s got superpowers. Now, if he only knew how to use them… but the world is in danger and no one is safe when Zucker and the gang — headed by the hilarious cast of Drake Bell, Leslie Nielsen, Tracy Morgan, Pamela Anderson, Regina Hall and many others — take aim at some of the biggest blockbusters of our time including Spider-Man, Batman, X-Men, and Fantastic Four, to name a few. On March 28th, learning to fly, spinning a web and busting a gut has never been this much fun.
Cast: Leslie Nielsen, Pamela Anderson, Christopher McDonald, Tracy Morgan, Regina Hall, Craig Bierko, Marion Ross, Brent Spiner; Directed by: Craig Mazin
Audio Commentary by Writer/Director Craig Mazin and Producers David Zucker and Robert K. Weiss – Extended Version Only
Release date: Friday August 14, 2009 Genre: Sci-Fi, Adventure, Drama Director: Robert Schwentke Studio: Alliance Films Screenplay: Bruce Joel Rubin Producer(s): Dede Gardner, Nick Wechsler Cast: Rachel McAdams, Eric Bana, Arliss Howard, Ron Livingston, Jane McLean Official Site:thetimetravelerswifemovie.com Rating:PG-13 for thematic elements, brief disturbing images, nudity and sexuality Available film art: The Time Traveler’s Wife movie posters
Synopsis “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is based on the best-selling book about a love that transcends time. Clare (Rachel McAdams) has been in love with Henry (Eric Bana) her entire life. She believes they are destined to be together, even though she never knows when they will be separated: Henry is a time traveler—cursed with a rare genetic anomaly that causes him to live his life on a shifting timeline, skipping back and forth through his lifespan with no control. Despite the fact that Henry’s travels force them apart with no warning, Clare desperately tries to build a life with her one true love.
“The Time Traveler’s Wife” was directed by Robert Schwentke (“Flightplan”) from a screenplay by Academy Award® winner Bruce Joel Rubin (“Ghost”), based on the novel by Audrey Niffenegger. Nick Wechsler and Dede Gardner produced the film, with Brad Pitt, Richard Brener, Michele Weiss and Justis Greene serving as executive producers. The co-producer is Kristin Hahn.
Heading the film’s cast as Clare and Henry are Rachel McAdams (“Red Eye,” “The Notebook”) and Eric Bana (“Star Trek,” “Munich”). “The Time Traveler’s Wife” also stars Arliss Howard, Ron Livingston and Stephen Tobolowsky.
The behind-the-scenes creative team includes director of photography Florian Ballhaus (“Marley & Me”), production designer Jon Hutman (upcoming “My Sister’s Keeper”), Academy Award®-winning editor Thom Noble (“Witness”) and Academy Award®-nominated costume designer Julie Weiss (“Frida,” “12 Monkeys”). The music is by Mychael Danna (“Lakeview Terrace”).
Release date: Friday September 18, 2009 Genre: Comedy, Drama Director: Steven Soderbergh Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures Screenplay: Scott Z. Burns Producer(s): Gregory Jacobs, Howard Braunstein, Jennifer Fox, Kur Eichenwald Cast: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey Official Site:theInformantmovie.com Rating:R for language Available film art: The Informant movie posters
Synopsis What was Mark Whitacre thinking? A rising star at agri-industry giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Whitacre suddenly turns whistleblower. Even as he exposes his company’s multi-national price-fixing conspiracy to the FBI, Whitacre envisions himself being hailed as a hero of the common man and handed a promotion. But before all that can happen, the FBI needs evidence, so Whitacre eagerly agrees to wear a wire and carry a hidden tape recorder in his briefcase, imagining himself as a kind of de facto secret agent. Unfortunately for the FBI, their lead witness hasn’t been quite so forthcoming about helping himself to the corporate coffers. Whitacre’s ever-changing account frustrates the agents and threatens the case against ADM as it becomes almost impossible to decipher what is real and what is the product of Whitacre’s rambling imagination. Based on the true story of the highest-ranking corporate whistleblower in U.S. history.
Release date: Friday October 16, 2009 Genre: Horror Director: Nelson McCormick Studio: Columbia Pictures, Screen Gems (Sony Screenplay: J. S. Cardone Producer(s): Greg Mooradian, Mark Morgan Cast: Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, Penn Badgley, Amber Heard, Jon Tenney Official Site:welcometothefamily.com Rating:PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, mature thematic material and brief sensuality Available film art: The Stepfather movie posters
Synopsis Dylan Walsh stars as David Harris, very much a “family values” man who mysteriously comes into the lives of single mothers with children and becomes the dream man they always wanted. When he woos Susan Harding (Sela Ward) and eventually moves in with her family, her teenage son Michael (Penn Bagdley) begins to suspect that David is not quite the dream man he pretends to be. Along with his girlfriend Kelly (Amber Heard) and Susan’s friends (Paige Turco and Sherry Stringfield) they slowly start to piece together the mystery of the man who is set to become their stepfather, but they may be too late in getting to the truth.
Release date: Wednesday July 29, 2009 Genre: Drama Running time: 95 min. Director: Max Mayer Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures Screenplay: Max Mayer Producer(s): Dean Vanech, Leslie Urdang, Miranda de Pencier Cast: Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne, Peter Gallagher, Amy Irving, Frankie Faison Official Site:foxsearchlight.com/adam Rating:PG-13 for thematic material, sexual content and language Available film art: Adam movie posters
Synopsis Romance can be risky, perplexing and filled with the perils of miscommunication – and that’s if you aren’t Adam, for whom life itself is this way. In this heartfelt romantic comedy, Hugh Dancy (“The Jane Austen Book Club,” “Confessions of a Shopaholic”) stars as Adam, a handsome but intriguing young man who has all his life led a sheltered existence – until he meets his new neighbor, Beth (Rose Byrne, “Damages,” “28 Weeks Later,” “Knowing”), a beautiful, cosmopolitan young woman who pulls him into the outside world, with funny, touching and entirely unexpected results. Their implausible and enigmatic relationship reveals just how far two people from different realities can stretch in search of an extraordinary connection.