Movie Review: Surf’s Up

They do it for the joy and the rapture and the slow-motion instant replay..

I remember 12 years ago when I was sitting in the theater watching Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story for the first time. The big selling point of the film was that it was the first all-CGI animated feature. Fortunately it also ushered in the fantastic era of Pixar story telling that always exceeded their technological feats.

So now fast forward to 2007 where hand drawn animation has been relegated to daytime animated cartoons and direct to DVD releases and CGI animation has become so commonplace that the story has to be interesting or entertaining enough to draw in audiences, and not just the fact that the images we’re seeing were completely hatched in a computer.

With all of this in mind, it’s so nice to see that a movie like Surf’s Up can provide computer generated visuals that instill a sense of awe, while telling a story that’s unique, touching and entertaining.

Surf’s Up is about a penguin named Cody Maverick, voiced by Shia LaBeouf (Transformers, Disturbia) who doesn’t fit in with his family in Antarctica because of his love of surfing. He soon gets his big break as a sports recruiter comes and signs him up to compete in the Penguin World Surfing Championship.

Story-wise, this film has a lot in common with the beach movies of the 1960s. There’s the mysterious surf hero named Big Z, voiced by Jeff Bridges (Tron, Seabiscuit); the goofy side-kick dude, voiced by the stereotyped Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite, Just Like Heaven); and the beach girl love interest, voiced by Zooey Deschanel (Elf, Bridge to Terabithia)—all of which kept reminding me of the Gidget movies, where the wise and seasoned surfer had to straighten out the naive newcomer.

What makes Surf’s Up so unique is that it’s filmed in a documentary style that mimics many of the reality TV shows that are on the air right now. This is quite a daring thing to do because of how popular reality TV is—it would be easy in an animated feature to make it look too planned out to work in that format. Fortunately, the animators do an excellent job and combined with the natural voice acting, make you feel like you’re watching something that was captured live on camera instead of being painstakingly posed frame-by-frame.

So, how did this movie affect me? Well, let’s just say that when I watched Cars, it didn’t make me want to drive race cars; when I watched The Incredibles, I didn’t want to go out and become a superhero (well, at least no more than usual); but by the time Surf’s Up was over, I was actually getting excited about the prospect of going out and learning how to surf! The CGI animation was so expertly done that I was actually feeling like I was getting a taste of what the sport is actually like. Over the last few years I’ve been lamenting the fact that the movie industry has all but abandoned traditional, hand-drawn animation, but here is a movie that would definitely not have been as effective if it was done any other way.

I think that Surf’s Up was hurt by all of the recent penguin movies. I for one sighed a bit when I saw the first advertisement for it, but take my advice—forget all you know about March of the Penguins or Happy Feet, put on Surf’s Up and get ready for a fun ride!

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Movie Review: Elizabeth: The Golden Age

>I, too, can command the wind, sir! I have a hurricane in me that will strip Spain bare if you dare to try me!

I went into watching Elizabeth: The Golden Age without having seen the first Elizabeth movie from 1998, so I was a little concerned about how lost I could be if this movie was a strict continuation of the first. If anyone else shares my concern, let me reassure you that not only is this a chapter out of the life of Queen Elizabeth I that stands on it’s own very well, but it’s also very accessible to those who aren’t into Old English history.

This chapter out of the life of “The Virgin Queen” portrays Queen Elizabeth I, played once again by Cate Blanchett (The Lord of the Rings, The Good German), as she is in jeopardy of having her kingdom overthrown by a crazed king of Spain who believes that this Protestant Queen is corrupting her people by straying from the Catholic faith. He employs spies and traitors to put into place a plan aimed at dethroning Elizabeth and placing England under Spanish rule.

I have to admit that this movie started at a pace that made me feel like it was building to something big. Everything that was said and done came across with an air of importance. And while the actual battle for England didn’t occur until the very end, there was plenty of treachery, intrigue and genuine surprises to keep me interested.

Just a word to all of the “chick-flick” haters out there: Yes, this is a costume drama and yes people do speak with accents and different languages (with subtitles), and yes there is romance in this movie with a love triangle between Elizabeth, one of her ladies in waiting and Sir Walter Raleigh, played by Clive Owen (King Arthur, Children of Men), but these aspects never detract from the fact that the themes, mysteries and reversals portrayed here are just as interesting and poignant as when told in a modern setting.

Since I did notice as the movie was starting that there were about 20 women in the theater and only 3 men, including me, I feel that I need to emphasize a recommendation for this movie. Since I haven’t seen the first I can’t say whether or not it’s more or less of a “girly” film than the first, but it was definitely an entertaining film for me, a guy, that was well worth the price of admission.

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New TV Round Up

>I remember a few years back when there were only one or two shows on that I’d bother taking the time to program my VCR to record. Most everything else I could take or leave. Some of these shows, like Survivor, I’d start watching regularly out of habit more than actually seeking it out because I was a fan.

Nowadays, though, television has changed dramatically… and for the better! There are so many good returning and new shows on now that I’m seriously considering letting some fall by the wayside simply because I don’t have the time for all of them.

Returning Shows

I’ve enjoyed NBC’s The Office since it’s American premier. I think it’s grown beyond what the original creators thought it could and it doesn’t show any signs of wrapping up or wearing down. I was worried a bit about how they were going to handle the show now that the two main romantic hopefuls were finally together, but from the looks of it I think the office antics will keep the show from falling into the hole that most shows experience when the romantic tension is gone.

My Name is Earl is another show on NBC that is going strong. I really enjoy these “sit-coms” that don’t feel the need to beat you over the head with a laugh track every time the writers felt they were being funny. Instead they deliver a more subtle humor that in many cases tends to be more intelligent.

If you’ve never seen My Name is Earl, check it out. It seems to fly just below many people’s radars while it’s possibly one of the best-written comedies out there.

It seems like a few years ago, a show like NBC’s Heroes wouldn’t have had enough support from the network enough to give it a fair chance to grow an audience. I’m glad that such a well-conceptualized show is being given so much network respect. I think this is positive fallout from the success of ABC’s Lost, which is supposed to return in January or February sometime.

Heroes is definitely a show that I make a point of to see every episode even if I have to record it or buy it online. (Although I don’t think I’ll be buying it anytime soon since it’s no longer available on the iTunes Music Store.)

New Shows

The first show that made me start to feel very optimistic about the new TV season is NBC’s Chuck starring Zachary Levi (Less Than Perfect). Chuck is a well-written, frequently very funny show about a computer repair nerd who accidentally get’s thousands of the nation’s secrets implanted in his brain. Since he then becomes the only “copy” of the materials the government has he becomes enlisted by two competing spy agencies to assist them in protecting the country. This is a show that doesn’t try to take itself too seriously but is a lot of fun!

The Bionic Woman, which is also on NBC (a trend?), was developed by The SciFi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica co-executive producer David Eick, and I think the connection shows. Beyond the obvious connection of being a campy 70’s show that’s been updated for modern audiences, it also has the same dark feel of BSG, and many of the minor actors.

While normally this would be the type of show I would be excited to embrace, when placed up against all of the other great shows on the air, this is surprisingly one that I’m thinking of making a conscious effort to skip. Really, how much time can I spend watching TV every week? Especially considering the three shows that I’ve saved for last—

At first glance, NBC’s Journeyman would appear to be a re-imagining of the show Quantum Leap. While in some aspects this is true, the creators have done an excellent job of making the characters and situations seem very real and believable (within the reality of the show), so that I feel much more of a connection with the time traveling Dan Vassar, played by Kevin McKidd (Rome, Nicholas Nickleby).

Journeyman has enough of an episodic flow with self-contained storylines that it should be an easy show for viewers to pick up on without feeling too lost, but there’s also the ongoing mystery of why he’s time traveling in the first place, that should be an interesting topic to explore. This show is quickly becoming one of my favorites.

One new show that I really didn’t expect to like as much as I do is NBC’s Life. The premise of the show is that a former police officer returns to the force after having been framed and wrongfully imprisoned for years. While in prison Charlie Crews, played by Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers), gets a keen insight into the criminal mind, and also develops his own unique perspective on life. All of this combines into an investigative technique that is really fun to watch unfold.

I really think that I’ve saved the best for last with ABC’s Pushing Daisies. I must confess that the thing that initially turned me onto the show is that it was going to be narrated by one of my favorite, but rarely seen, actors Jim Dale (Pete’s Dragon, The Harry Potter Audiobooks—by the way, Jim, if you’re reading this, e-mail me. I’d love to design a Web site for you).

Watching Pushing Daisies is like watching Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It is so well written in a storybook style and the art direction and acting is so charming that it’s a real treat! It really seems like the producers take as much time and care with all aspects of this show that they would normally take on a feature film.

Pushing Daisies is about a pie maker named Ned, subtly played by Lee Pace (Infamous, The Good Shepherd), who has the unusual ability to bring people back from the dead with a touch. He uses this talent by teaming up with a private investigator and touching crime victims and asking them how they died, and then he touches them again and they go back to their dead state. The problem is that if he keeps them alive for longer than a minute, then someone randomly in the vicinity dies instead. Also, in waking up his recently dead childhood sweetheart and keeping her alive, he in unable to touch her or else she’ll become dead again.

I watch every episode of this show with the fear that it’s going to be cancelled because I’ve seen too many good shows that seemed too unique to be embraced by the general public. (Ever heard of Firefly?). I can also imagine that this show would have very high production costs which would mean it would have to do really REALLY well for the network to keep it going.

I’m sure there’s much more out there to watch, but I’m going to try to keep it reasonable. These are the shows that I’m hoping will be embraced by the world at large and have long and fruitful lives. I know that by letting shows like The Bionic Woman go off of my schedule I run the risk of getting wrapped up in a different show that gets cancelled and then having to catch up with this also-ran (if it survives), but I guess that’s a chance I’m going to have to take.

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