Notes from the back row 

The calm before the Oscar storm

Well it’s less than a month until the Oscars so don’t expect Hollywood to be hitting us with any of this year’s greatest films right now. Those guys know most of us have the attention spans of a gnat (whatever the hell that is) and there’s no way we’ll remember a doozy film released now by the time the next Oscars swing around. Instead, this week we’re gonna have to settle for a monkey, a panther, death as spectator sport, and a cyber-bank robbery-internet security-kidnapping thriller that tries to be creepy except no one really understands what’s going on.

First the monkey. Curious George , in his first feature, is so old school it’s actually kind of appealing. Most people should remember the books from our youth and this film, directed by newcomer Matthew O’Callahan, is a real throwback to simpler times.

First, it doesn’t bother with the fancy new 3D computer animation, opting instead for regular old 2D with really nice bright colours.

Second, instead of a handful of pop-culture references and characters talking and acting like they’re jacked on crystal meth (i.e. Shark Tale, Madagascar) Curious George keeps things nice and simple. Perhaps too simple for adults but if you’re under 10 years old or mildly retarded this is a stellar film.

A subdued Will Ferrell provides the voice of the man in the yellow hat who, after being told yellow is the new khaki, travels to Africa in search of an idol to save his museum. Instead he finds the original cheeky monkey and, upon returning home to New York, hijinks ensue (including a King Kong reference).

Complete with a Jack Johnson soundtrack that we’ll be hearing in every coffee shop on earth for the next six months, Curious George , with its message of if you want to learn something get out and experience it, captures the big smiles and peering innocence of the good old days. Come to think of it I believe it was a Curious George lunchkit I once used to pummel some poor kid in the face while my buddy Terry Galvin held his arms. The kid was putting the moves on my woman.

Speaking of mindless carnage and gore, Final Destination 3 opens Friday at the Village 8 and if you liked the first two you’ll like this one as well. Especially since it recycles the exact same plot and this time there’s even some nudity. After a pesky premonition scares the hell out of her, high school senior Wendy gets off a roller coaster and so do some of her friends. It crashes, people die and amidst clues caught on her digital camera Wendy and her friends (including two hot airheads that actually die in tanning beds) must cheat Death as he comes to sequentially reclaim those souls he missed. Amidst crushed heads, nail guns, and a few minor plot holes Final Destination 3 reminds us that when your time’s up, your time’s up and the only sure things in life are death, taxes, and horror movie sequels.

The Pink Panther , also opening Friday, is funny but lacks the sense of physical comedy Peter Sellers brought to the original. Steve Martin does a decent job but it’s not the same and fans of the old film will be disappointed.

As far as Firewall goes, sure it’s a thriller but if you want to see a bank robbery movie check out Stander a 2004 flick about Andre Stander, the real-life Johannesburg, South Africa, police captain who would become that country's most notorious (possibly the worlds ballsiest) bank robber. It’s the DVD of the week.

AT VILLAGE 8 Feb. 10-16: Firewall; Pink Panther; Final Destination 3; Curious George; Big Momma’s House 2; Underworld Evolution; Nanny McPhee; Brokeback Mountain; When a Stranger Calls.

AT RAINBOW THEATRE Feb. 10-16: King Kong.

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