WINGED M IGRATION
At the beginning of Jacques Perrin's documentary Winged Migration, even before the title has appeared, we are informed that the film took more than four years to complete, that it required near-global group participation, and that "no special-effects shots were employed in the making of this film." It seems like an overly grandiose introduction until you actually see the movie. For Winged Migration, currently playing at the Brew & View, is an absolutely astounding experience, a visually breathtaking work that is also more pure fun than just about anything in current release.
Perrin's work, a Best Documentary Feature nominee at this spring's Academy Awards, is simply a visual document of birds from all over the world, migrating from one continent to another; the narration is sparse, the information gleaned is minimal. Yet there's nothing remotely tedious about the movie. The camerawork is so miraculous that Winged Migration produces an almost shocking level of verisimilitude; flying alongside a flock of birds or following them on the ground, you feel as if you're understanding these creatures as never before. Perrin and his team of cinematographers - using, among other devices, remote-controlled cameras and hot-air balloons - get us staggeringly close to the action; the effect is so vivid that it's actually heart-wrenching when a wader with a broken wing tries, in vain, to escape a group of sand crabs and winds up being devoured. You feel like you've lost a friend.
There's no end of unforgettable sights and sounds: a bird on a cliff taking a thousand-foot plummet into the sea; the Clark's grebe, running on the water; a flock of birds photographed to look like a swarm of bees, blowing and shifting in the wind; a bird swallowing a fish half his size in one swift gulp; the comic yelping of a flock of geese; the amazing synchronicity of hundreds of birds turning their heads, in unison, at the camera; a captured parrot escaping his cage (you want to applaud); thousands of penguins waddling about, like bored guests at an Antarctic cocktail party. Winged Migration makes you obsessed with patterns and sounds, and your sense of perspective is constantly shifting; you barely want to blink for fear of missing some new astonishment. I felt more alive after Winged Migration than I have at any other release this year, and I can't wait to see it again.
Remember the early-'80s TV spinoff AfterM*A*S*H, starring Harry Morgan, Jamie Farr, and William Christopher? Conventional wisdom had it that the show failed so spectacularly because, of all the memorable M*A*S*H characters, those portrayed by this trio were perhaps the least deserving of their own series; for my money, the two sequels to 1999's American Pie, 2001's American Pie 2 and the current American Wedding, are the AfterM*A*S*Hes of American cinema. I wasn't a huge fan of the original Pie, but at least it featured a terrifically able young cast who proved to be an unexpectedly charming ensemble. If, however, I had to pinpoint the actors I absolutely didn't warm to, the ones I'd choose would be Jason Biggs and the insufferable Seann William Scott. And, in what feels like a personal assault, they're unquestionably the stars of Pie 2 and Wedding.
I'm well aware that this is a minority opinion, particularly in the case of Mr. Scott, whose odious Stiffler character has, among many, achieved the cult status once reserved for Belushi's Bluto from Animal House. But if, like me, you're tired of viewing nebbishy Biggs' continued, outré sexual humiliations and Scott's unending quest to swallow things that should be coming out of a human body, American Wedding will prove to be very tiresome indeed. Likeable Pie actors Chris Klein, Mena Suvari, and Tara Reid are completely out of the picture (good for them, less good for us), Alyson Hannigan's comic inventiveness as Michelle has been thoroughly defanged, and even hilarious actors such as Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, and Jennifer Coolidge are badly wasted; that they make you smile at all is due more to the personal affection you carry for them than for their onscreen antics. (Where the hell is Christopher Guest when we need him?) This second sequel reeks of a contract obligation; maybe it's performed so listlessly, even by Biggs and Scott, because the actors want to ensure no possible American Pie 4. They shouldn't worry.
SPY KIDS 3-D: GAME OVER
"Your kids might enjoy it, but it's doubtful they'll be clamoring for Spy Kids 3." Thus endeth my review of last summer's Spy Kids 2. And yet, here it is, less than a year later, and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over has already raked in more than $50 million in less than 10 days. (Ah, what did I know?) Admittedly, writer-director Robert Rodriguez was wise enough to give a new spin to this third take on the series, which is far more than can be said for the creators of American Wedding, and he certainly understands the primal appeal of 3-D movies - audiences of all ages get a charge out of objects leaping off the screen and into their laps. But, good God, it's 2003; hasn't technology allowed us to move past those damned red-and-green cardboard glasses, which have the effect of dulling out the film's color palette and making everything onscreen look indistinct?
Of course it has, as anyone who's viewed an IMAX 3-D movie can tell you. The truth of the matter, though, is that the red-and-green eyewear is cheaper to mass-produce than the more high-end alternative; this cheapness extends to Spy Kids 3-D as a whole. Though its storyline, while hardly novel, is ideally suited to the 3-D experience - the kids (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) enter a videogame to stop the world-domination plans of yet another uber-villain (the ever-unfunny Sylvester Stallone) - the movie feels repetitive and naggingly unfinished, as if Rodriguez printed take one of every scene and couldn't be bothered with re-shoots. (No one suffers from the movie's "let's get this over with" feeling more than Vega and Sabara, who were so endearing in the original film and now just appear lost; with this movie and American Wedding coming right on the heels of the latest Tomb Raider flick, it's almost as if actors are becoming as tired of this summer's sequels as we are.) As usual, Rodriguez provides gizmos aplenty and celebrity cameos galore - in addition to series regulars Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Ricardo Moltalban, Steve Buscemi, Tony Shalhoub, Bill Paxton, and Alan Cumming, we also get George Clooney, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, and Elijah Wood - but they serve as little more than a smokescreen, distracting us from the realization that Spy Kids 3-D is horribly edited, lethargically presented, and almost completely joyless.
So let's try this again: Your kids might enjoy it, but it's doubtful they'll be clamoring for Spy Kids 4.
... I think ... .