Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Animals are on the loose and going "for the" wild in this new animated feature from Dreamworks, creators of Shrek.

Among the many attractions of the Central Park zoo in New York the biggest of them is no doubt Alex the lion (voice by Ben Stiller) a feline who loves his condition as the center of attention. Alex's closest buddies include sassy hippo Gloria (Jada Pikett Smith), hypochondriac giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) and his best friend Marty the zebra (Chris Rock). In contrast to Alex however Marty dreams with wide pastures where he can run free and live surrounded by nature. When Marty discovers that a group of commando penguins are planning a breakout for Antartica, he realizes his dream of living in the wild might not be that far fetched. After Marty escapes and mistakingly heads for Connecticut (because it has wide open spaces), the three amigos go to the rescue only for all of them to be captured in Grand Central Station and shipped to a wildlife reserve in Africa. The crates however fall off the ship and the four animals end up in Madagascar, an island where they are adopted by a community of lemurs. Everything seems likea great party until Alex's carnivore instinct begins to kick in and he starts seeing his friends as food.

Madagascar is a cute, fun movie about friendship and dreams. It's style is more charicaturesque (the characters were not modeled to be accurate representations of real life creatures but sort of cartoonish versions) and there is a tendency to physical comedy as opposed to other productions that might stand more on wit or sentiment. There are some adult oriented jokes but this one is for the kids, with characters they will most likely be thrilled with. Thus, Madagascar doesn't have that satirical flavor that made Shrek a favorite in the not so young, nor does it have a story as immersing as Pixar's Finding Nemo.

In a technical aspect, the animation is pretty good, specially in Alex where we can see this physical degradation from the proud, well groomed zoo attraction to this psychotic, hungry animal with steak hallucinations.

The Amityville Horror

Twenty six years after the original movie, the new version of The Amityville Horror is a tremendous improvement over its predecessor.

The Amityville Horror, inspired by actual events which spawned a non-fiction novel by Jay Anson upon which the movie is based, tells the story of the Lutz family who buy a new house in Amityville, New York as a starting point for a new life. George Lutz (Ryan Reynolds) has married Kathy (Alias's Melissa George) a widow with three children and is on that tricky stage where he needs to show he is not a replacement father, but a new member of the family. The problem is that the previous owner his wife and kids in that same house, arguing that voices told him to do so. Strange events begin to take place: George begins to have fits of rage, little Chelsea says she can talk to "Jodie" a spectre only she can see, and some inexplicable things start to happen, like a dead dog barking in the middle of the night or windows in the house opening by themselves.

The good thing about this new Amityville, which was directed by newcomer Andrew Douglas, is that it fixes many of the things that made the original movie suck. For starters the '79 version was excruciatingly long mainly because focus turned to secondary storylines that did little to advance the plot such as the brother's wedding or the whole story of the priest played by Rod Steiger. In this modern version the priest (played by Phillip Baker Hall) has only a couple of scenes and that's really all that is needed. This movie is 90 minutes long and it makes a good use of those 90 minutes.

Another significant change from the old version is the importance given to the kids, who were almost background in 79. Here there is tension between George and the oldest child as would be expected with a new father figure. This however got me thinking... This story is supposed to be set in the late 70s. However it doesn't feel like it. If you miss the cars and clothes and just focus on the movie it really feels like it could be happening right now.

The movie manages to give some genuine scares. There is a good use of editing and great timing specially towards the end (another thing that the original lacked). However this is of course a big budget movie made by a big studio so you can bet you'll get your share of spectacular scenes. And it is interesting how these two versions of the same stories can have such opposite endings. One of them, the most anticlimatic finale with James Brolin entering the haunted house to rescue... his dog. This one with a spectacular chase on the roof. The new ending is gripping and suspenseful, but it IS a bit too much. I'm pretty sure the Lutz's did no acrobatics on the roof in real life nor did they flee by speedboat... but then, I wasn't there.

Some people have mentioned they were disappointed by the new Amityville movie because it was a total diversion from the true story. That might be true. My advice: forget about the Amityville background. Watch this movie as if it were a new approach to the haunted house tale and you will be entertained.

Friday, July 01, 2005

King Kong - Trailer

The trailer for the new King Kong movie was released this week. The movie will open in December.

Check it out at: