Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, People of a Feather and a wild party in Project X
With many Oscar winners still in theatres, there are only a few new films this week. One for kids is poised to be a big hit and a teenage party saga set to make a lot of noise.
Here’s the list:
Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax: 3 ½ stars
People of a Feather: 4 ½
Project X: 2 ½
Putty Hill: 4
Jess + Moss: 3
DR. SEUSS’ THE LORAX: No, the Forest Action Network did not make this children’s film, although at times it seems it could have. That’s why Glenn Beck at Fox News has been slamming it for what he calls “indoctrinating” our kids with an anti-capitalist message. No, this is truly from the “Cat in the Hat” man although amplified by the people who made the wonderful Despicable Me animated film and are now working on a sequel. Dr. Seuss imagined a town without trees and an industrialist admitting responsibility for cutting them down to make a profit with a line of clothing.
This new version goes further with a more sophisticated slam at business (“I’m just building the economy,” says the tree cutter) and then adding a second businessman who seizes an opportunity. Since the air is getting dirty with no trees to replenish it, he sells bottled air. He turns nasty and reactionary when a young man (voiced by Zac Efron) wants to impress a girl (Taylor Swift) by finding a real tree for her. The ones around town are all plastic. He gets the tree cutter’s story and also meets The Lorax (voiced by Danny DeVito) a small creature with a big handlebar mustache and a mission to speak up for the trees. Bright dayglo colors, quite good use of 3D and other modern touches (car, scooter and snowboard chases) make the film lively and busy. Not as heartfelt as Despicable Me but close and offering a good do-something message. (Park, Dunbar, International Village and many suburban theatres) 3 ½ out of 5
PEOPLE OF A FEATHER: There’s a form of movie poetry at work in this environmental film. It shows up in some astounding pictures that are smoothly edited together into a compelling and even entertaining examination of, wait for it, climate change. The approach is excellent. Rather than study the whole big issue abstractly, this film explains one example in detail with people who see it happening every day.
The Inuit of some islands in Hudson’s Bay harvest eider from the local ducks for clothing and seal meat for food. Both are getting harder to find these days. Quebec Hydro, not the usual suspects, is at fault. The utility releases more water from its dams in the winter when it has to generate more power. That has the effect of reversing the seasons for ice formation in the bay, changing the currents, making the ice unpredictable and either killing or chasing away ducks and seals. We spend a lot of time with the local people to get that story. We watch them make harpoons and rope, go ice fishing and eider gathering, kill a seal and eat raw meat. We watch the ducks diving for food and wolves and an owl prey on them. We get the old days of igloos and dog sleds re-created and contrasted with today’s snowmobiles, modern houses, TV, MP3 players and a rap song by some village youth We get all this in sparkling photography including some stunning time lapse sequences. Joel Heath, of east Vancouver, spent seven years up there studying the wildlife and made this superb film along with the local people to tell their story. (VanCity Theatre March 2-5 and Denman Cinema March 6-9. Check their websites) 4 ½ out of 5
PROJECT X: Five years ago, Superbad gave us three high-school guys trying to get to a party and get laid. Project X gives us three guys organizing a party so epic that it’ll boost their reputation and, maybe, get them laid. You can see, can't you, that this one is totally different. You also know what’s going to happen from the start, when the dad tells his birthday-boy son to have only a few friends over, “four or five tops,” to respect the house, stay out of his home-office and not touch his expensive car.
With invitations texted to everybody and even a Craigslist posting this shindig swells into an awesome event. Half of North Pasadena shows up, and crash by splash they let loose. Ecstasy and beer are consumed. Women go topless in the pool and upstairs. When that maniac the guys stole a garden gnome from shows up angry, the bash goes out of control and attracts the police SWAT team and the TV news crews. There’s no art here, no depth, just a step by step building of an adolescent fantasy into that blowout. The actors and the director are new to us but the producer we know. Todd Phillips wrote and directed Old School, The Hangover and others. This is not one of his best but it is pretty funny, in a stupid, debauched kind of way. (Scotiabank and suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
PUTTY HILL: If only more indie films were as good as this. No money, only amateur actors (except for one) and no story. That could have produced something dull. Instead we get an engrossing portrait of a working class community, rare enough in the movies, and this time alive with little everyday dramas and an unusually respectful view of the people there. Around here you could make a film just like it in parts of Surrey, like Whalley or alligator flats.
Matt Porterfield, who both makes and teaches films (at Johns Hopkins University), takes us into a semi-rural neighborhood just outside Baltimore where a skateboarder, an ex-con tattooist, his estranged daughter, people who’ve moved away and others who have stuck, all gather for a wake for a young addict who died of an overdose. He brings out their thoughts and stories in improvised and very naturalistic dialogue and one neat trick. At various times he interviews the characters from off screen. It’s an unexpected intrusion of a documentary style into a drama but it works to reveal characters quickly. Their thoughts aren’t profound and most didn’t even know the deceased all that well. But there’s a raw community spirit that gradually comes into focus.
Porterfield lived there as a teenager and knows these people. His film and his characters come off as believable and real. (Pacific Cinémathèque until Mon. March 5) 4 out of 5
Playing in tandem with …
JESS + MOSS is lovely but a less successful independent film because quirks and gimmicks and odd camera angles interfere with a presentation that’s best when it flow lyrically and gently. Even the appearance of the film changes from time to time because director Clay Jeter insisted he had to use of some old and varied stock. It’s more distracting than arty.
This film also has no story; it’s a series of vignettes about an 18-year-old girl ((Sarah Hagan) and her 12-year-old cousin (Austin Vickers) who spend a summer on a tobacco farm in Kentucky. They rides bikes a lot, swim in a pool, play records by artists as diverse as Caruso and Connie Francis, start bonfires, set off fireworks, and at one point shoot pellet guns inside the messy old house they inhabit. They’re free and enjoying it. But they have to comfort each other because they feel abandoned. She misses her mom and often listens to her voice on cassette tapes where, when she isn’t calling all men “pathetic,” advises: “you can be anything you want to be.” He lost both his parents and is trying to revive his memory of them by listening to instructional tapes. Too convenient a parallel and, again, distracting, especially when the film, like the tapes, rewinds a few times. (Pacific Cinémathèque March 2, 3, 8 & 12) 3 out of 5
NOTE: All the images a stills provided by the movie studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.