Earth To Echo

 

Earth To Echo is the most derivative film I’ve seen in years. It has elements from The Goonies, E.T., Short Circuit, Stand By Me, Poltergeist, Blair Witch Project, The Matrix and District 9, among others. Those elements are crafted together in a film that can only be considered original if you’re a 10-year-old kid who hasn’t seen those aforementioned films.

This PG-rated family feature is perfect for the preteen and early teen crowd. Three boys are due to move from their homes in a Nevada subdivision to make way for a highway. On their last night together, they each tell their parents that they’ll be playing video games at another kid’s house and spending the night. Instead, the trio rides their bikes into the desert to see what’s up with these weird disturbances on their cell phones.

The three boys are Munch (Reese Hartwig), the cautious kid; Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley, resembling a full size Gary Coleman), who archives everything on video; and Alex (Teo Halm), the good-looking foster child. Halfway through their adventure, they are joined by Emma (Ella Wahlestedt) to get some girl power in the film.

Along the way they encounter the alien they name Echo who, like E.T., wants to go home. They take Echo under their wing and dash through an overnight adventure that eventually solves the mystery.

While E2E draws from other films, it has a contemporary look with much hand-held POV footage and the constant presence of smartphones. Directing a feature for the first time, Dave Green maintains a good tempo. The script by Henry Gayden manages to squeeze a good deal of plot—and character—into a 90-minute film.

Earth To Echo is a decent amusement for young kids. And for parents, it might be fun to see if you can come up with more movies—other than those listed up top—that the filmmakers have “borrowed” from to make E2E.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Planes

Planes is like Cars, but with airplanes. It’s not as good as Cars, but better than the forgettable Cars 2. I will admit that I missed the voice work of Larry the Cable Guy.

In Planes, Dusty Crophopper (voiced by comedian Dane Cook) manages to qualify for a round the world airplane race. Being a lowly crop duster, he is the big underdog. Do you think he might have even a tiny chance of winning?

As Brent Mustangberger (voiced by a famous sportscaster) describes the action (only once uttering the catchphrase “you are looking live…”), each leg of the race is a challenge for our feisty hero Dusty. But he always manages to hang on to fly another day. Along the way he becomes friendly with several other plane-toons and emerges as the favorite of fans around the world.

Just as Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) admired the crusty veteran Doc Hudson (voiced by Paul Newman) in Cars, so does Dusty look admiringly to WWII veteran fighter plane Skipper (voiced by Stacy Keach). Lightning had a romantic attraction to Sally (voiced by Bonnie Hunt) and Dusty has a smoldering affection for pink plane Rochelle (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

Dane Cook is not on my list of favorite comedians, but he was a perfect choice for Dusty. Other voices in the cast include John Cleese, Brad Garrett, Terri Hatcher, Cedric the Entertainer, Gabriel Iglesias, Val Kilmer, Sinbad and as bad guy Ripslinger, Roger Craig Smith.

Planes is not particularly funny, but is a pleasant PG-rated amusement. While Planes will charm kids as much or more than Cars, I think Cars had greater adult appeal with its Route 66 nostalgia and remembrance of things past.

Is this the beginning of a new franchise? Well, yes. Planes: Fire and Rescue is being prepared for Summer 2014. And while Planes is not released under the Pixar nameplate, it is executive-produced by the man with a thousand Hawaiian shirts, John Lassiter. And that’s close enough for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despicable Me 2

Despicable Me 2 is sweet and funny. It’s perfect for all ages. In fact, the new one might even be better for the little kids than its predecessor. It’s rated PG, but I think the only guidance necessary from parents should come at the concession stand. (My suggestion: go easy on the high fructose corn syrup.)

Steve Carrell does a wonderful job as lead voice talent. His voicing of Gru, in an Eastern European accent that’s not exactly Russian, delivers a character who’s lovable, but still has a sinister side. Kristen Wiig demonstrates notable voice acting skill as Lucy.

Two notable differences exist between DM2 and the first DM. Gru was an evil villain who crossed over from the dark side and became a loving adoptive father in the first film. In the new one, he’s already a good guy (though one with a tempestuous streak). Also, DM2 has a greater quotient of inspired silliness.

Providing a large amount of the silliness are the minions, those small yellow capsule-like creatures who mumble mostly double talk and do the bidding of whichever leaders they have allegiance to. The minions, who seem to have multiplied like wet Gremlins since DM1, bounce and giggle like Teletubbies—good news for the four-year-old demographic. (The next movie in the series is actually titled Minions, due at Christmas, 2014.)

Also in the silly mode is the goofy fun the filmmakers have with 3-D effects, especially during the closing credits. As with DM1, you’ll want to hang around for a few minutes instead of dashing for the exits.

The movie’s plot involves Gru being recruited by the AVL (Anti-Villain League) to find out who’s doing some treacherous deeds. His AVL liaison is Lucy who points him toward the Paradise Mall. She also becomes his romantic interest! (Despite his success as a villain, Gru is revealed to have been a flop with chicks.)

Gru’s inklings suggest that a former villain colleague El Macho, now a respectable restaurant owner named Eduardo (voiced by Benjamin Bratt), may be the perp. (Web gossip tells of Javier Bardem and Al Pacino as having been earlier choices for the role, but Bratt does an okay job.)

Adding to the cute factor in Despicable Me 2 are Gru’s daughters who bring on the charm here just as they did in DM1.

The first Despicable Me movie made a quarter billion at the box office, finishing ahead of 2010 animated rivals Shrek Forever After and Tangled. DM2 should equal, if not exceed, that figure, based on good will carryover from DM1 and strong word of mouth likely to follow the release of this new one

Note that the 3-D business at the end doesn’t work quite as well on the home screen—an additional reason to see Despicable Me 2 in a real movie house. (But, remember, go easy on the high fructose corn syrup.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life of Pi

“”Life of Pi” is visually stunning and tells an incredible story. But it is not the next “Avatar.”

Director Ang Lee shares many gorgeous images in this movie. From the opening credits with animals galore, to the blendings of sea and sky, to the amazing enchanted island, to the luminous fish—shot after shot is memorable. And the story is pretty good, too.

A clever young man in India shortens his embarrassing first name to “Pi.” He covers his bases with God. He’s a Christian, a Muslim and a Hindu. His family, which owns a zoo, moves to Canada, traveling with their menagerie via freighter. A monster wave sinks the ship and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with four zoo animals: a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a fearsome tiger. The story is related to a writer by an adult Pi, so we know from the outset that he survived the ordeal.

Most of the movie is set at sea, in and around the lifeboat. The survival instincts of this teenager, along with guidance from a book found in the lifeboat, keep him going through numerous frightening episodes. His “relationship” with the tiger fuels the story’s progress to its conclusion.

Suraj Sharma is the Indian actor who portrays the teenage Pi. His performance is a good one for a movie rookie who is charged with carrying the bulk of the movie’s story. Like Tom Hanks in “Cast Away,” he is the only human on screen for most of the movie.

This is a movie to see in 3-D on a big screen. It is, as they say, “a feast for the eyes.” There is peril and a few scenes that frighten, but “Life of Pi” (rated PG) will thrill kids just as much as it does adult viewers.

Early marketing for “Life of Pi” contained a critic quote that compared it to “Avatar.” Both are pretty to look at and both have compelling stories, but “Life of Pi” doesn’t have the heft of “Avatar.” Enjoy “Life of Pi” for what it is… a solidly entertaining movie. A classic? That’s still to be determined.

“Chimpanzee” /Oscar=Winner/

Animal tales have been a Disney staple for decades. Get some neat real-life footage, preferably featuring cute babies of a chosen species. Craft a simple story line. Hire a great narrator. Put it all together. Disney did it back in the day when they had a weekly TV series. Now, “Chimpanzee” takes those same ingredients and delivers solid, family-oriented fare for the 2012 audience.

“Chimpanzee” moves slowly, but that’s okay. The pace gives us time to enjoy baby chimp Oscar as he bonds with his mother and his extended family. It allows young children to be able to comprehend everything that happens. It’s fun to watch Oscar learn how to crack open nuts. It’s calming to watch raindrops hit leaves in slow motion. This jungle setting is more welcoming than most African jungles we see on film.

There is tension, though, as Oscar’s family engages in a turf war with a neighboring family of chimpanzees. During the battle, Oscar’s mother somehow disappears. He is not quite ready to go out on his own. The foster parent who takes him in is a bit of a surprise, according to the film’s storyline.

Tim Allen narrates “Chimpanzee” with a conversational delivery. You know he’s reading a script, but it sounds like he’s talking to you. Many of his lines sound ad-libbed and maybe some were. He doesn’t sound as folksy as Rex Allen did when he narrated wildlife segments on “Wonderful World of Disney,” but he sounds just as friendly.

“Chimpanzee” is a winner because it is sweet, brief (just under 80 minutes) and absolutely kid-friendly. (Rated G.) Want a movie that your preschoolers, your not-quite-yet-jaded preteens and their grandparents will all enjoy? Want a movie that will put a few smiles in your life, too? Step into the jungle and hang for a while with “Chimpanzee.”

P.S. Stick around for the quick sequence after “The End” with comments from the film crew who went into the jungle to photograph the chimps.