Just ahead of a Pixar exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (more on this next week) comes the latest feature from this groundbreaking animation studio. Carl, a curmudgeonly old man whose life is full of disappointment, decides to fly a balloon to South America, only to discover a youngster has come along for the ride. There they find an even older man, Muntz, and his aircraft whose adventures in another era inspired Carl to do what he does best. Voices include Ed Asner as Carl, Christopher Plummer as Muntz and Delroy Lindo. Critics ran out of superlatives for this movie, some calling it Pixar’s finest — that’s some compliment — which would make it one of the films of the year. Also screening in 3-D format in selected theaters — a version that Roger Ebert and Variety’s Todd McCarthy among others have warned audiences against seeing because of the significant dimming that 3-D glasses cause.
Synecdoche, New York
Charlie Kaufman is a gift sent from Heaven for movie lovers burnt out by Hollywood mega-productions that are as stupid and cynical as they are expensive. This film is Kaufman’s directorial debut after writing Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and other offbeat titles, and hopefully it will allow him to direct many more. Philip Seymour Hoffman is an ailing, miserable theater director whose latest project will be his defining work. And what a work it is: It lasts a lifetime, and as it develops the film morphs into something very strange, indeed. Critics were divided about this film’s complexity and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to thematic layering, but it remains a must-see because there’s nothing out there like it. Oddly, the gargantuan stage that recreates a segment of New York and takes up most of the latter part of the film is not a million miles away from the idea that resulted in Muntz’ aircraft in Up.
An ambitious and able corporate saleswoman (Jennifer Aniston) stays in a nondescript motel in Kingman, Arizona, and is clumsily wooed by the owners’ lovelorn son (Steve Zahn from You’ve Got Mail and Sahara). But something between them catches fire, and Zahn finds himself in some odd situations as he accompanies his new gal to the other side of America, among them meeting Aniston’s former boyfriend, a yogurt tycoon (Woody Harrelson). Aniston’s performance has attracted real praise, offering complexity and subtlety that a cookie-cutter romantic comedy wouldn’t have time for.
Top prize winner at Cannes last year, this is a stone-cold-sober depiction of the Comorra crime empire in Italy based on an extraordinary book about the organization by journalist Roberto Saviano, who is now under permanent police protection. The film concentrates on the lower end of the crime empire — mundane daily activities and the mechanics of violence — within a squalid community in Naples, whose youth fantasize about Tony Montana and other Hollywood gangster icons, but whose association with criminals delivers next to nothing of genuine value. The title is spelled as Gomorrah in some territories.
Day of Disaster
Another made-for-German-TV production slinks its way into Taipei theaters with
this loose recreation of a ghastly accident known as the Los Alfaques Disaster in Spain in the 1970s, in which a tanker crashed into a camping ground, exploded and immolated hundreds of people, killing more than 200. Now this is a popcorn flick. Made in 2007, the original title is Tarragona: Ein Paradies in Flammen.