The Simpsons Movie

“Why should we pay to see something we can get at home for free?”
–Homer Simpson
I’m not sure on the why, exactly, but the fact is that lots of people are doing just that. If any movie has a chance of catching Harry Potter’s record before the prices go up again, it’s this one. I don’t have any information on the actual dollars being spent, but imdb.com users have already voted it up to the #43 spot by viewer rankings. It’s beating M, Alien, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and it’s only going to go up, I’m guessing.
And it is a pretty good movie, but it really shouldn’t be ranked ahead of Strangers on a Train or Notorious. There’s really not much that should be ranked ahead of Notorious as far as I’m concerned. But it really is a lot like watching an episode of the show, if the episodes lasted 87 minutes, and a good episode of the show besides. Bart is at his bad-boy best, Lisa plays the sax and falls in love with a junior environmental activist, Marge worries and warns and is ignored, and Maggie sucks on her little nuk and quietly saves the day. Oh, and of course Homer screws up a lot. That’s a given.

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The Flying Simpsons premiere their daring new high-wire act.

This time he screws up by polluting Lake Springfield (which the town has just cleaned up at great effort) beyond salvaging when he dumps a silo full of manure into it. The EPA (the head of which reports to President Schwarzenegger — I don’t know if he’s president on TV, but I liked that touch), realizing that the place is now basically a toxic waste dump, decides to solve the problem through isolation, and drops a huge glass dome over the conveniently perfectly circular town.
It just gets wilder from there.
The EPA goes to greater and greater lengths to keep this ecological disaster quiet, the Simpson clan ends up in Alaska, Bart is almost turned into a Flanders, Homer fights a wrecking ball (guess who wins?), and Tom Hanks shows up. Everything’s so rapid-fire I could tell you just about everything I remember happening and there’d still be an awful lot of new stuff for you to see. I’m not enough of a fan of the show to be sure, but I’m guessing that every character that you ever saw on TV is here and then some. And Moe gets to be Emperor of Springfield, at least for a little while.
I’m giving this four idols. If you like the show at all, you’ll like this movie, which is really just the show multiplied by itself a few times for the big screen. They do sort of refer to themselves a lot — like Homer’s comment quoted above — which I don’t really care for, but apparently that’s just become part of the show over the years. And the music is bad, but at least it’s meant to be. Except now I have “Spider Pig” stuck in my head. Don’t ask, just go see the movie. Everybody else is…

Sunshine

Don’t worry, you know I have to review The Simpsons, but that’ll be tomorrow instead. Yep, it’s a double dose this weekend, to make up for the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to watch either John Travolta in drag or Adam Sandler trying to be a comedian last weekend. But this weekend I had almost an embarrassment of choices, and I’d been wanting to see Sunshine just because it sounded cool.
And it was cool, mostly. There were a couple of times, especially towards the end, when I felt like I was watching 28 Days Later, or maybe 28 Weeks Later, in space, but there was a reason for that: this film is directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland, both of whom worked on the aforementioned zombie movies in one capacity or another. And Cillian Murphy is in it as well (Jim from 28 Days Later), playing Capa, the physicist, and Rose Byrne is in it (Scarlet from 28 Weeks Later), here playing Cassie, who has some unspecified but apparently important job. They both sound just like they’re from the U.S., pretty much, even though they’re from Ireland and Australia, respectively.
The story here is that, a few decades into the future, the sun is dying. Not burning out, which it’ll do in a few billion years, but rather being disrupted by a theoretical particle that interferes with the normal fission of the sun. (Theoretical in real life, that is, not in the the movie. Heh.) The eight-person crew of the Icarus II is escorting a huge pile of fissionable material (basically a nuclear bomb the size of Manhattan) to the sun so they can ignite it, drop it in, and basically reboot the system. At least, so the obviously unproven theory goes.

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Don’t forget your sunglasses and the SPF 100,000 lotion!

What happened to the first Icarus, you ask? It was lost seven years ago, under unknown circumstances. The second Icarus is truly mankind’s last hope, as it took basically the last of the earth’s resources to build. And the ship is gigantic. Considering that one of the major issues they have to face is having enough oxygen for the crew, there are huge parts of it that should probably not be pressurized, but they are for some unexplained reason. Still, I hate to nitpick too much on sci-fi movies about things like that. There are just so many variables in your average sci-fi flick, you’d go crazy trying to smooth over every plot inconsistency. Besides, the geeky fans will find ways to do that retroactively.
The Icarus II has just entered the communication “dead zone” (of course) when everything starts to turn weird. They pick up a distress beacon from their sister ship, and, on physicist Capa’s recommendation (or as he puts it, wild guess), they detour to explore the wounded ship in hopes that two piles of fissionable material are better than one.
It was around this point that I was afraid, for a few minutes, that it was going to turn into a standard survival in space/under water/trapped on alien world flick, and it only narrowly avoided that potentially awful fate. But the cast pulled the script over that little problem, and I started liking it again. I don’t want to give away the exact problem, but let me just say here that the cast was great. Aside from Murphy and Byrne, we have Michelle Yeoh, who I always like, as Corazon, the botanist in charge of the plants that provide their oxygen; Chris Evans (Johnny Storm from the Fantastic Four films, who somehow seems like a much better actor here) as Mace, a tough-guy pilot/astronaut; and Cliff Curtis (Fracture, Live Free or Die Hard), as Searle, the ship’s psych officer who can’t quite cure his own unhealthy fascination with staring into the sun. He’s really cool, always really believeable, I think. Because nearly every scene is on one ship or another, there are only eight other actors listed, including the woman who does the voice of the ship’s computer, but they’re all great. I suppose with so few roles to cast, you really take the time to get that right.
So this one gets three and a half idols. That little hiccup about halfway through keeps it from going any higher, but aside from that it’d probably be a four. It’s very low-key, mostly, more about the people than the events, which is good because it could so easily have turned into just another special-effects extravaganza. And it’s got some great opposites in it — there’s the huge empty void of space and the relatively cramped confines of most of the ship; the whole light-dark thing that Searle obsesses on; and the graphic realization that in space, you can freeze to death and be burnt to a cinder at almost exactly the same time. Yikes.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Or, You-Know-Who and the Bird Bunch. I have to confess right away that I’m really not a Harry Potter fan. The more hype the books got, the more determined I was never to read them. And I still haven’t, though from what I hear, that’s just as well here. The books keep getting thicker, but this movie is the shortest yet — though at two hours, eighteen minutes, ‘short’ is purely relative. The point is, I don’t really know the whole Hogwart’s mythos, and could never survive a Harry Potter trivia contest. I’m just trying to look at these as movies, without the hype.
That can’t be done, of course. It’s all hype. It isn’t such a bad movie in spite of that, though. Strangely, the effects are iffy in places — with all the money they have to throw at this film, everything should look more real than the person sitting in the next row, but sometimes it doesn’t. And I can’t figure out why they bother to have Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort — with all that makeup on him, it could be nearly anyone playing the part, and the poor guy’s just wasted. Maybe they should have hired someone cheaper and spent that extra money on effects.
Anyway, the kids have grown, and the problems are darker. Voldemort is alive and up to no good, but the Ministry of Magic (led by Robert Hardy as Cornelius Fudge — Robert always seems to end up as bad guys these days) is doing its best to hide the truth and make sure no one believes poor Harry. Imelda Staunton, as the scenery-chewing Dolores Umbridge (Rowling should have just given in and spelled it ‘umbrage’) is sent to crack down on Dumbledore’s treasonous scheme to take over said Ministry by instituting a series of ‘reforms’ at Hogwart’s to keep the kids in line. One of them states that boys and girls can’t ever be within eight inches of each other, which you know was a bad move. If anything’s going to make teenagers rebel, it’s a rule like that.
And rebel they do. Harry, Hermione, and Ron have learned about the grownups organization, the Order of the Phoenix, and now they’ve formed their own — a (co-ed) group of students learning all the magics that Umbridge has tried to suppress, and incidentally getting a lot closer than eight inches in the process. This secret school part is pretty cool, actually.
Speaking of cool, though, I think I’ve figured out the secret of the Harry Potter success, at least when it comes to the movies. I think a big part of the reason why I liked this movie as much as I did is because it reminded me so much of other movies. Not other HP movies, just movies in general, and a few books for good measure.

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Pink = Evil

Umbridge, for instance, is a classic Stepford Wife. She’s always wearing pink and smiling even when she’s doing something terrible, and looks like a moving waxwork doll up until the end when she finally gets dirty and rumpled. (It should, by the way, be a crime to use as much pink as she does. Painting the stone walls of a castle pink is just wrong.) The Ministry’s whole disinformation campaign is completely 1984. The repressive school? Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Early on, as Harry and Mr. Weasley take a surreal little trip through the Ministry building, it seems a lot like a Monty Python sketch, right down to random bursts of flame. They even go a little Matrix-y, which was kind of a shock. I’m not kidding. There’s this hallway covered with black, shiny marble-like tiles, and they have a huge battle there that’s a lot like the huge gun battle in The Matrix that gave me one of the worst headaches I’ve ever had. Only with magic instead of bullets, of course.
So how can it not be popular? There’s something for everyone! I just can’t decide if they meant to imitate all this stuff, if it was all accidental, or if I’m reading too much into it. It also helps that so many popular actors are back, too, of course — Emma Thompson is there, Robbie Coltrane, Helena Bonham-Carter, Alan Rickman, David Thewlis, Gary Oldman, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, and now I have to stop before I get carpal tunnel. You’ll recognize nearly everyone, that’s the point.
Of course the three kids are all back. Daniel Radcliffe is turning into a pretty good actor, and so is Rupert Grint. I never really liked Ron before, but he’s starting to grow on me. Emma Watson… not such a good actor in this one, I thought, but not too bad. She did the lighter stuff fine, the scenes where it’s camaraderie among the friends, but she seemed very stiff on the more serious lines. And the films are definitely getting more serious. The fights are scarier, the monsters are nastier, and Helena Bonham-Carter totally channels her performance in Corpse Bride to look really creepy. The giant spiders are still the creepiest — I forget what movie that was, because they’ve all blurred together — but this one has its moments. They borrow a little from The Mummy, too, with the bad guys turning into whirlwinds of sand. Wow, maybe I am reading too much into this…
Okay, no more parallels, just a ranking: three and a half idols. Not suitable for the younger crowd, and please don’t announce the names of all characters and creatures as they appear, like the woman behind me did. The important thing is that it’s safe for the non-rabid-Potter-fans like me, and entertaining even if you don’t know the name of Dumbledore’s best friend’s second cousin’s neighbor, who once invented a really cool spell.