Saying that Pixar's Monsters, Inc. is the weakest of its quartet of computer-animated feature films is like bitching that you got a Jaguar for Christmas when you really wanted a Porsche; instead of achieving the genius-level greatness of the Toy Story films and A Bug's Life, the studio's new work is just brilliantly designed, cleverly plotted, and funny as all get-out. What's to complain about?
Pixar's latest takes place in Monstropolis, a monster-run universe where scaring Earth children is a full-time job, and where children's screams power their lights and fuel their cars. But a child's actual touch is thought to be deadly, and when a three-year-old stumbles into this human-forbidden world, it's up to blue-collar workers Sully (a blue-furred Yeti with the voice of John Goodman) and Mike (a cycloptic lime voiced by Billy Crystal) to return her to her bedroom before she's harmed by the evil Randall (a slithery, fanged chameleon with Steve Buscemi's patented ickiness).
Monsters, Inc. starts out amazingly inspired (the day-to-day operations of the child-scaring factory are hilariously detailed) and finishes that way, too, with a time-jumping finale that's as mind-blowing as anything in Being John Malkovich; it's easy to forget that the film's midsection is a little flat, with perhaps too much of Disney's stock moralizing. (Of the four Pixar releases, Monsters, Inc. is the one aiming at the youngest audience demographic.) But overall, the movie is bliss. There's always something astonishing to look at - you long for a pause button to catch all the jokes - and Goodman and Crystal are a dream of a comedy team; Crystal, in particular, hasn't been this hysterical since his Oscar-hosting duties circa 1991. Plus, Pixar presents the usual short feature before the film begins, involving a flock of birds on a telephone wire, and it just might be the funniest in its history. Monsters, Inc. is an all-around splendid accomplishment, proving again that those Pixar wizards remain the most reliable entertainers in Hollywood.
There's a special brand of derision that occurs with really stupid thrillers, where the audience becomes a cohesive whole, giggling inappropriately at the inane antics onscreen and even at the prospect of inane antics to come. It's been a while since I've seen a thriller as laughably inept as Harold Becker's Domestic Disturbance, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world; barring Zoolander, it's the funniest release out there. In the film, divorced dad John Travolta is forced to protect his 12-year-old son from the kid's new stepfather, Vince Vaughn, after the child insists he saw Vaughn kill a business associate. With Travolta in full figure-of-rectitude mode and Vaughn repeating his sinister effects from Clay Pigeons and Psycho, there's not much in the way of subtlety or suspense, but it is fun trying to pinpoint what's most ridiculous about the movie.
Is it the inefficiency of the movie's police force, which, thinking the boy's a liar, refuses to fully investigate the crime scene? Is it Vaughn winning some sort of "Man of the Year" plaque when we're not even sure what he does for a living? Is it the finale, in which Travolta is thrown through a car window headfirst and seems only mildly dazed by the experience? Or is it the scene in which Vaughn and the ubiquitous Steve Buscemi are rattling off bad-guy dialogue but were apparently forced in the looping process to keep Domestic Disturbance a PG-13 flick? (Their characters are mouthing an obscenity, but we're hearing "forget that" on the soundtrack, and after this obvious bit of idiocy happened four times in one scene, the audience was sold: This was going to be one crappy cinematic experience.) There's no way I can recommend Domestic Disturbance, but if you're in the mood for a movie to hoot at, you could do worse; the film probably features more pure laughs than Corky Romano or On the Line.
In The One, Jet Li stars in an alternate-world action flick where doppelgangers attempt to rub out each other's existences in order to become the most powerful being in the universe (or something), which allows Mr. Li to play 124 versions of the same character. Take that, Van Damme! While it would be nice to report that even one of them was interesting, Li employs his stardard Zen mask for each version of himself and still seems uncomfortable reciting dialogue, and the film's confused, empty screenplay gives you no rooting interest in anything that happens, not that you can understand the action anyway. How are the fight scenes?, you might ask. Kinda fun at first, since Li's characters are able to bend time to their advantage - SuperLi, too, can move faster than a speeding bullet - but eventually wearying; you might feel like you're stuck in an endless loop of outtakes from The Matrix. The One is slightly more enjoyable than Li's summertime vehicle Kiss of the Dragon - Delroy Lindo replaces Bridget Fonda as Li's American co-star, which is a huge improvement right there - but despite his undeniable martial-arts abilities, Li is looking, in each picture following his American breakthrough in Lethal Weapon 4, less like a star than a really impressive stuntman.
NOVA 6 INDEPENDENT SERIES
French-film fanatics should be in paradise this week, as Moline's Nova 6 Cinema continues its six-week series of independent movies with The Closet (November 7 through 9) and With a Friend Like Harry ... (November 10 through 13), two 2001 French works that not only had critics swooning but raked in impressive bucks during their limited releases this summer.
In Francis Verber's comedy The Closet, a square, hetero businessman (Daniel Auteuil) takes advantage of the politically correct climate, saving his job at a condom company by masquerading as gay, which leads to intial acceptance but a whole slew of other problems, including dealing with a boorish, bigoted co-worker, played by everyone's favorite boorish French actor, Gerald Depardieu. Hailed as both hysterically funny and surprisingly poignant, it's a film that should be seen before Hollywood gets its hands on the remake rights and decides it would be a perfect vehicle for Freddie Prinze Jr. and Will Ferrell.
One of the most critically acclaimed releases of the year, Harry is a Hitchockian comedy-thriller with echoes of Strangers on a Train; in the film, family man Michel (Laurent Lucas) runs into Harry (Sergi Lopez), who might or might not be an old friend from school, and finds himself fraternizing with a guy who just wants to get rid of the unnecessary distractions in Michel's life: Michel's parents, wife, and children. Though the film is available on DVD, Harry's grip is enhanced by director Dominik Moll's widescreen visuals, which makes seeing this fascinating and creepy achievement on the big-screen a must.