Monday, March 22, 2010

Astro Boy and other DVDs


Starring the voices of Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Nathan Lane, Kristen Bell, Donald Sutherland, Bill Nighy, Eugene Levy, Charlize Theron, Ryan Stiles and Samuel L. Jackson.
Directed by David Bowers.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this techno mish-mash. It may have felt borrowed from many sources, but considering that Astro Boy actually came about in the 1950's, maybe it's the sources that have done the borrowing.

In the magical future, Earth is a garbage heap, and the majority of the population now live in the pristine floating Metro City. The president is gleefully corrupt, a conglomeration of every worst stereotype about Dick Cheney, Huey Long, Richard Nixon, LBJ and George Wallace. Robots are servants, and the government is always looking for the latest weapon. Dr. Tenna (Nicolas Cage) is a scientiast developing new energy sources, possible weapons, and he has a genius son Toby (Freddie Highmore) who sneaks in for a demonstration. "Something goes wrong" and Toby is killed.

Yeah, not many kid movies start out with the main character getting killed.

Dr. Tenna somehow can extract the entirety of Toby's memories from some of his DNA (don't ask, move along; it's SCIENCE!) and builds a superrobot to house said DNA. Toby wakes up none the wiser, thinking he's still human, but one day when he finds jet-propulsion in his feet, he learns the truth.

Toby banishes himself to the surface, where he finds a Fagin-like tinkerer (Nathan Lane) leading a bunch of orphans in the largely deserted trash-heap known as Earth.

The movie has a lot on its mind with political corruption, pollution, what it means to be human, etc., and viewers will recognize elements from everything from Asimov to Dickens to Spielberg. Not too overhype it; my silly six-year-old laughed loudest at "I've got rockets in my butt?" Worth the rental.


MOON (***) - Starring Sam Rockwell and the voice of Kevin Spacey. Directed by Duncan Jones.

This showcase for Sam Rockwell is more contemplative and small than most space movies, and I appreciated it taking its time to reveal what's really going on.


AFGHAN STAR (***) - Directed by Havana Marking.

This documentary follows a season of the Afghanistan version of American Idol. In a country where the Taliban ever so recently had banned music and television, once they were ousted, the Afghans are enjoying their new freedoms. One freedom is to watch TV, one freedom is to vote for their favorite singer. And to show how there's still a long way to go, one contestant actually gets death threats after she dares to dance while she sang a number. Apparently dancing is against Sharia law, and the filmmakers found some people who without irony said yes, she deserved to be killed for dancing on TV.


BRIGHT STAR (**) - Starring Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw and Paul Schneider. Directed by Jane Campion.

Cornish is great as Fannie Bryce, who had a romance with the poet John Keats before his untimely death at age 25. But this truck me as one of those stories that's probably better read than viewed. It has several patches where nothing is happening and I grew bored.

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