July 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Peña
Directed by: David Soren (debut)
Written by: David Soren (debut), Darren Lemke (“Shrek Forever After”) and Robert D. Siegel (“The Wrestler”)

On its outer shell, “Turbo” might just look like another cute animated film about an underdog character who proves to have the heart of a champion, but even that familiar storyline can have some surprises. It’s especially true when you make some interesting casting choices and hire a co-screenwriter like Robert D. Siegel (“The Wrestler”) to give the script a substantial shot of hedonism. Randy “The Ram” Robinson had it in “The Wrestler” as did Paul Aufiero in “Big Fan,” a dark comedy which Siegel also wrote. The same can be said about starry-eyed garden snail Theo (Ryan Reynolds), AKA Turbo, who would do anything possible to win the Indy 500. It’s a likeable narrative that, while not very inventive or plausible (even for an animated film), does have spurts of high-octane entertainment value.

It doesn’t really matter that Turbo is a snail and therefore lacks the actual speed or anthropological traits to enter the big race. “Turbo,” which feels like DreamWorks’ answer to the fable “The Tortoise and the Hare,” doesn’t worry itself with much logic and neither should viewers. When our little snail hero is somehow infused with nitrous oxide, he gains the super speed he needs to compete with the fastest cars in the world. Turbo’s brother, Chet (Paul Giamatti), isn’t too keen on these pipedreams, but with help from Tito (Michael Peña), the owner of a taco stand, and a group of wannabe racer snails lead by Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), Turbo is put on the fast track to get to Indianapolis and make a name for himself. Speaking of Jackson, you can’t go wrong when screenwriters choose to reference one of the most hilariously vulgar scenes from “Pulp Fiction” and use him to deliver the dialogue. Sure, the rows of eight year olds in the theater won’t blink an eye, but hidden gems like that are appreciated to balance out a lot of the slapstick for the kiddos.

From a technical and narrative perspective, Dreamworks Animation still isn’t at the levels of Pixar, but have fashioned a nice niche in the industry to create some well-made family films since coming on board in 1998 with “Antz.” Since then, they’ve had some major highs (“Kung Fu Panda,” “How to Train Your Dragon”) and a few lows (“Megamind,” “Bee Movie”), but have refused to take a back seat to their competition. If they want to catch up to the likes of Pixar, consistency is what is going to get them there. Just ask the tortoise.

The Wrestler

December 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky (“The Fountain”)
Written by: Robert D. Siegel (“The Onion Movie”)

It’s not a sports movie in the classic sense, but director Darren Aronofsky’s gracefully expressive film is a perfect example of a heart-wrenching character study worthy of unlimited reverence. At a crossroad in his professional career, wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke in an brilliant performance) must do some soul searching and decide what the priorities are in his life before he loses everything.

The Ram is in the twilight of his wrestling career and can barely afford to pay his rent with the money he earns fighting on the weekends at small arenas. Once a star in his sport, the Ram knows those days are over but can’t seem to let go of the only thing he is passionate about and the only thing he knows how to do. It’s almost like he has something to prove to himself and the fans who have been following him over the years.

Even when he has a career-ending heart attack, there is a small voice inside telling him that he can still compete. He’d rather die doing what he loves than feeling trapped at a second-rate job at the deli counter of a local grocery store where he has to answer to a disrespectful boss.

The Ram is a lonely soul and it shows through his battered face and restless eyes. Estranged from his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), the only real human relationship he has is with Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a middle-aged stripper who he visits from time to time at the club. When he does attempt to reconnect with Stephanie, there is an underlying anxiousness Rourke brings out of his character. The Ram realizes if he is given one more chance to show her he is ready to be the father she’s never known, that’s all he’s going to get. You fear for him and the mistakes you know he is capable of making. You fear for him becoming one of those washed up wrestlers who only lives through the glory days.

“The Wrestler” is the best film of Darren Aronofsky career. After directing daring films like “Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream,” and “The Fountain,” Aronofsky takes a very minimalist approach to this film and makes it feel like a documentary about an emotionally- damaged man. For a film that deals with a sport where staging is such an important element, “The Wrestler” couldn’t be more authentic. Rourke, of course, is the major reason the realism comes through the screen. Basically, he’s in every frame of the film. It is evident, however, how much Aronofsky makes these scenes vibrant, inspiring, and extremely sincere by capturing Rourke in his most fragile state from every angle. It’s the best film of 2008.