december, 11, 2004 archives

one of my favorite parts of the week magazine is a section they call “best properties on the market,” which shows a handful of homes fitting a certain category (southern plantations, homes that look like castles, etc). but the best part is the “steal of the week,” which are often homes that have surprisingly low prices. one that was featured recently is the angus h. currie house in maxton, north carolina — $180,000. you couldn’t buy a cardboard box for $180,000 in los angeles, and this place is over 4,000 square feet.

ocean’s twelve is one of those good films that is unfortunately overshadowed by its predecessor. at the end, the heist just isn’t as exciting, so the movie ends up falling a little flat. the whole style of the movie is really fantastic, it’s just the plot that ends up being a letdown.

a tale of two movies

i’ve watched a couple of recent bill murray movies in the last few days. the first was the lauded lost in translation, which does a great job of conveying the disconnection of being a traveller in a foreign country. i haven’t travelled to japan, so i can’t say how true-to-life that aspect of the story is, but i experienced the disorientation of being on your own in a foreign city with a disrupted circadian rhythm when i was in finland and sweden a couple of years ago, and i saw my own experience echoed in that aspect of the film. but besides really capturing that feeling well and being beautifully shot, the movie doesn’t really go anywhere, and the characters don’t seem to live up to their potential.

the other bill murray movie follows in the tradition of the sibling rivalry story of which cain and abel is probably one of the more familar examples. murray’s character finds himself becoming second fiddle to a newcomer in his household, and in trying to reestablish his dominancy, puts the well-being of what is effectively his sibling in danger, only to come to realize that what he has done is wrong, and he has to put his own life on the line to make it right.

that movie is garfield: the movie. it follows in the footsteps of the disney animated/live-action films like mary poppins and bedknobs and broomsticks and the classic who framed roger rabbit, but also with elements of talking-animal pictures like babe and stuart little.

the garfield character is entirely computer-generated, and is actually pretty good. the animation of the fur is close to on par with monsters, inc.. bill murray was a great and natural choice for the voice, and he doesn’t disappoint, giving an understated performance that really suits the character.

the performances of the live animals, particularly the dog playing odie, are also pretty amazing, especially in scenes where garfield interacts with the live animals. the technology for doing face/lip replacement for making it appear as if the animals are really talking has certainly progressed impressively since early films that employed the technique. (and is certainly far beyond the peanut-butter-in-the-mouth trick from the days of mr. ed.)

the human actors turn in fine performances, especially in a film where you would think they might be tempted to just phone it in. the character of jon is given a bit of an upgrade for the film, not being quite as big of a doofus as he is in the comic strip. played by breckin meyer, he is just a normal guy that is awkward around the girl he had a crush on in high school, who happens to be garfield’s veterinarian, liz (played by jennifer love hewitt).

i believe this is a bit of a departure from the garfield comic strip canon, where liz is garfield’s vet, but whose only connection with jon is her constant deflections of his advances. without spoiling too much of the plot, the relationship between jon and liz is certainly much different in the film than the comics.

and while the film does preserve a great number of elements of the comic strip (garfield’s love of lasagna, odie getting pushed off of furniture by garfield, and pooky the bear), another liberty that the film takes is in inventing a bad guy, a morning talk-show animal trainer (who is allergic to cats) that takes advantage of the fractured relationship between garfield and odie. the villian is played by stephen tobolowsky, the character actor probably best remembered for his role as ned ryerson in groundhog day. (which, incidentally, is one of my favorite films.)

the film was photographed by dean cundey, which gives me just one degree of separation from the film (since we both worked on steven spielberg’s director’s chair). some of the camera work is quite amazing considering that it was done with the main character in many shots not actually being on camera. the opening shot, in particular, is expertly choreographed and really helps to establish the quality of the interaction between the real world and the animated garfield.

so to summarize: lost in translation is a great mood piece, conveying the disconnected feeling of a stranger in a strange land, but without a strong story to give body to the fabric of the film. garfield is a great family-friendly retelling of the classic story of sibling rivalry rooted in cain and abel. and jennifer love hewitt is hot.

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