Wreck-It Ralph

Posted on November 1, 2012 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some rude humor and mild action/violence
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Cartoon-style action violence and peril, guns, explosions
Diversity Issues: Strong female and disabled character
Date Released to Theaters: November 2, 2012
Date Released to DVD: March 4, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00A7OIXW6

No one wants to be the bad guy anymore.  In “Despicable Me,” Gru’s delightfully dastardly plans were no match for the overpowering adorableness of three little girls.  “Megamind” found that being the bad guy was no fun after he vanquished the hero.  Even the sharks in “Finding Nemo” became vegetarians, with support group meetings to chant, “Fish are friends, not food.”

And now there’s Ralph (John C. Reilly), having something of an existential crisis.  Back in the 80’s era of arcade video games, before people had home computers and game stations and televisions that were part computer and part game station to play on, if you wanted to play a game you had to go to an arcade and get a roll of quarters.  The primitive 8-bit games had a charm of their own, in part from the novelty of games on a screen instead of being based on mechanical balls and levers, and in part because their very simplicity left a lot of room for the player to fill in the details from his or her own imagination. The brilliant documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters explains that in some ways these older games still provide more of a challenge — they continue to fascinate competitive players.

This is a marvelous environment for a story, whether you grew up with these games and recognize the in-jokes or haven’t played a game since Pong and Tetris, even those who do not know a Wii from a Playstation.  Wreck-It Ralph is so persuasively authentic it seems to be entirely at home with what has been referred to as “the Roger Rabbit of video games.”  Ralph keeps knocking down the building inhabited by the Webelo-like residents of Niceville, and the relentlessly cheerful Fixit Felix, Jr. (“30 Rock’s” Jack McBrayer), with the help of the quarter-loading player, rebuilds so fast that Ralph gets thrown off the roof of the building and everyone in Niceville has a party.  Ralph doesn’t break things to be mean.  It’s just his job.  It’s in his code.  He feels that he is as much a part of the game as Frank and the building inhabitants.  Ralph shares his conflicts with an adorable villain support group (love the zombie with axes attached to his hands).  But he wants more.

Ralph is just lonely.  He wants to go to the party.  He wants to make friends.  He wants people to like him.  But just as he is coded to break things, the Niceville residents are coded to be scared of him.  Just to get rid of him, one of them tells him that if he can win a hero’s medal, he can be their friend.  So Ralph leaves his game to find a place where he can be a hero.

Ralph visits an intense and violent military game called Hero’s Duty with a tough female commanding officer named Calhoun (Jane Lynch).  She is “programmed with the most tragic backstory ever” and probably inspired by video game voice star Jennifer Hale, the combination Meryl Streep and Angelina Jolie of the video game world.  Everything seems to go according to plan until he somehow ends up in Sugar Rush, a game for children that looks like NASCAR if it was designed by Katy Perry.  Adorable little children race cars made out of candy and cookies.

Maybe not so adorable.  Just as Ralph is not so bad, the cute little kids of Sugar Rush are not so sweet.  He is annoyed by Vanellope (Sara Silverman), a bratty little girl, but then joins forces with her to help her build a race car.  And then he meets the “heroes” of Sugar Rush and finds that the line between good guy and bad guy is not what he thought it was.

The witty and vibrant worlds are gorgeously imagined (and of course now available in game form themselves), with a satisfying balance of heart and humor.  The story nimbly mixes existential questions of identity, purpose, and destiny with a sweet friendship and knowing humor about the world of games and gamers and even some Joseph Schumpeter-style creative destruction.  I loved the Mentos jokes and the detour to the car-building site.  And I loved the constant playing with almost Pirandello-esque notions of the way we create our worlds and the assumptions that underly them.

Parents should know that this movie includes video game violence with guns and explosions, some mildly disturbing images, characters in peril, and some potty humor.

Family discussion:  How do you know what is “in your code” and what you can change?  Can a bad guy become a hero?  What did Ralph learn from Vanellope?  Why did Vanellope love her car?

If you like this, try: Two more movies with bad guy-good guys, “Despicable Me” and “Megamind,” as well as “King of Kong,” the brilliant documentary about a video game competition.

Related Tags:

 

3D Action/Adventure Animation Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week For the Whole Family

Flight

Posted on November 1, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Denzel Washington is at his best playing a man who is at his worst.  “Whip” Whitaker is a brilliant airline pilot who flies commercial jets.  He is also in deep denial about a substance abuse and addiction problem that is out of control.  We see him waking up in a daze next to a naked girl, taking an angry phone call from his ex-wife, and medicating his hangover with some alcohol and cocaine.

And then he climbs into the cockpit and takes off into a heavy, gusting rainstorm.  And then something goes very, very wrong.  The plane takes a nosedive.  No one has time to figure out what is wrong and almost no one would have enough time to figure out how to land the plane safely.  But danger hits Whip like another snort of cocaine.  He is suddenly fully present, awake, and in command.  He issues quiet but commanding directions to the co-pilot and senior flight attendant and he comes up with a daring series of maneuvers from jettisoning the fuel to rotating the plane that allow him to land in an open field, with a minimum of injuries and fatalities.

Director Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump,” “Back to the Future,” makes a welcome return to live action after a 12-year detour to work on motion capture animation (“Beowulf,” “A Christmas Carol,” “Mars Needs Moms”). He does a masterful job staging a thrilling but almost unbearably intense plane crash, which ends with a striking image as white-gowned Baptists from the church in the field race toward the plane to help rescue the passengers.

After the crash, two things become clear.  Whip saved the lives of all but six of the people on the plane, something no other pilot could have done.  And Whip was severely impaired at the time because he has an enormous substance abuse problem and an even bigger denial problem.  A sympathetic union rep (the always-reliable Bruce Greenwood) and savvy lawyer (the always-excellent Don Cheadle) try to protect Whip — and, not incidentally, the union, the airline, and its insurer.  They challenge the toxicology report which shows the levels of alcohol and drugs in Whip’s blood at the time of the accident, so that it cannot be reviewed as evidence by the NTSB.  And they warn him that he had better straighten out before the hearing.  But before he leaves the hospital, he is visited by his closest friend and drug dealer (a brilliantly funny John Goodman).

In the hospital, recovering from the injuries he suffered in the crash, Whip meets Nicole, a recovering drug abuser (Kelly Reilly of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sherlock Holmes”).  They have an eerie encounter in the stairwell with an outspoken cancer patient (a terrific James Badge Dale) who chills them with his gallows humor.  After they get out, Whip invites Nicole to live with him, in part because he feels sorry for her and in part because he is no good at being alone.  He must learn that it is his behavior that isolates him, no matter how much he tries to hide from it. And he senses that the same qualities that make him so good as a pilot may make him vulnerable to addiction.

The script wobbles and many people will find the ending unsatisfactory.  It is not clear how we are supposed to feel about the religious themes that are raised by some of the characters and Whip’s ultimate choice may seem insufficiently supported.  We know not to expect an easy answer about how his problems started or what he thinks of himself, but we are entitled to a clearer understanding of what matters to Whip than we get.  Still, Washington may win a third Oscar for the depth, understanding, courage, and humanity of his performance.  He is always mesmerizing on screen and the power of his charisma and the subtlety of his performances makes it easy to overlook just how specific he is as an actor.  But he has always been a little reserved, a little held back.  He is smart and dedicated enough to use that quality to good effect in creating his characters.  But here he opens up more than he ever has, allowing us to be disturbed by Whip’s carelessness and irresponsibility and the way he hurts others but holding on to our attention and loyalty.  Washington is the finest actor in Hollywood and it is genuinely thrilling to watch him.

Parents should know that this is a frank portrayal of substance abuse and addiction with drinking, drunkenness, drug use and drug dealing.  Characters use very strong language and the movie includes explicit sexual references and non-explicit sexual situations and pornography.  There is also an extremely graphic plane crash with characters injured and killed.

Family discussion:  Which characters help Whip lie?  Which ones don’t?  Why?  How do the qualities that make Whip a good pilot make him vulnerable to addiction?  What will his answer be to the question he is asked at the end of the movie? Why do the people in this movie refer to the passengers and crew as “souls?”

If you like this, try: Substance abuse classics like “The Days of Wine and Roses” and “The Lost Weekend”

Related Tags:

 

Not specified

Interview: Arnon Goldfinger of “The Flat”

Posted on November 1, 2012 at 8:00 am

After documentary filmmaker Arnon Goldfinger’s grandmother died at age 97 in Israel, he brought a film crew to her apartment where she and his grandfather lived from the time they immigrated to what was then called Palestine just before World War II.  He was fascinated by their home, which seventy years later looked as though it had been transplanted from their birthplace in Germany.  The books on the shelves were in German.  They always spoke German in their home.  Most of their lives were lived in Israel, but they lived as though they were still in Berlin.

Goldfinger thought he would learn something about his grandparents as the family sorted through their belongings.  But he could never have imagined what he would find or where it would take him.  His grandmother had saved issues of one of the most virulently anti-Semitic newspapers distributed in Nazi Germany.  This discovery led to a journey that illuminated one of the strangest friendships imaginable, represented by an artifact that is almost unthinkable — a coin with a Jewish star on one side and a Nazi swastika on the other.  The movie also focuses on the strain this inquiry put on Goldfinger’s relationship with his mother, who was almost as passionate about not finding out the answers to his questions as Goldfinger was about seeking them.

I spoke to Goldfinger when he was in Washington, D.C. to show the film, which opens tomorrow.

What did you think you were going to film?

To be honest, I just wanted to be there with the camera and document the world I knew was going to disappear very quickly.  I thought it would be an even quicker process.  I knew this flat all my life and I had an ambivalent feeling toward it.  On the one hand, I had an attraction to this world, to this culture, to those books, to the secrets, the mystery.  On the other hand, as an Israeli it was so foreign, so German, so connected to the tragic happenings in the Holocaust.  It was only later I had an idea to make a film, but even then the idea was just something very short.  People would ask, “What can you learn about someone from what they leave behind?”  This shows you can learn a lot.

What does your mother think about the movie?

I was very afraid of course.  Our relationship was close before and if it would stay like that, it would be fine.  But I was surprised.  It brought us closer.  She was very supportive of the film.  After the first screening, when she first saw it, she said she saw it was important for her, too.  When her friends saw the film, they said to her, “We didn’t know, either.  We didn’t ask.”  She felt that she was not alone.

Why was your mother reluctant to know more?

She was really raised in a German house.  I remember as a kid, hearing her argue with her parents in German.  But when she went out of the flat, she was in Tel Aviv, the Mediterranean combined with bohemian, a place of vibrance.  She lived two lives.  But like all of the people of her age, she wanted to leave the past behind her, as you see when you look at her flat, not even any dust from the past.  Your house is the place you want to live in.  And she wanted to live with with barriers to all the historical items.  Before I made the film I thought it was her character.  But now I understand it’s a barrier from all the pain and sorrow.

You met with Edda, the daughter of the Nazi couple who were your grandparents’ friends.  Tell me something about your impressions.

They were lovely people, very friendly, welcoming, warm.  That made it harder.  If they were nasty it would have been easier for me.  During my research I would think, “Maybe it’s not possible, maybe it’s not right” that this friendship existed between my grandparents and the Nazis.  If I called someone out of the blue and said “My grandparents knew your parents, I would not recognize one name.” But the way she recognized it so immediately, the way she knew and was so glad to hear from me in such an open way and with such memories — I don’t remember even one gift my parents’ friends gave me — but for her, she remembered so much.

What about her father, the man who was your grandparents’ friend while having an important role in the Nazi party?

I found much more about him than what is in the film.  It was important to say that he did not live the Nazi party.  He was involved in anti-Semitic propaganda.  But he wanted to stay in contact with Jews.  I found all kinds of other things about him, nothing that would change your mind, no smoking gun, but you could ask yourself, “Did he have an alternative?”  The way to describe what happened was this.  Nobody knew what Hitler wanted, but everybody knew if they did something Hitler did not want, it’s the end.  It was a classic regime of terror.  There’s a book called Alone in Berlin that described life in the war. It’s horrible.  I am a Jew; I don’t so much identify with them, but still I can understand and ask the question, “Could he do something?”  If you look at his career, you won’t find him in the concentration camps.  He is in the headquarters, spying, thinking.  For me, it’s enough.

One of the most shocking moments for me was when Edda told me that she knew my family had lost someone in the concentration camps.  She did not have the details right.  She thought it was my grandfather’s mother, not my grandmother’s mother.  She’s a little mistaken with the details but it shows that she and therefore her parents knew some of what happened.  That means my grandparents were sitting over there in the garden where we were, discussing the death of someone from their family with a man who was a Nazi.  Did they ask him if he received their letter asking for help?  Did he tell them he could not help them?  There were a lot of lies over there.

My favorite character in the movie was your grandmother’s friend.  What a beautiful face.  I felt I knew your grandmother by seeing her friend.

She was my grandmother’s closest friend and like an aunt to me.  When I first approached her, she did not want to be filmed.  She was the only one, and I could not understand why.  It took me almost a year to persuade her.  But she said, “I will give you half an hour, but you come alone.”  I told her I had to bring a cameraman and a sound man, and she said, “No, no, no.”  In the end, it was only me and the cameraman.  I figured she would see it is not threatening and she would let me stay longer.  The cameraman said, “Be careful.  Remember who you are dealing with.  Ask the questions you want in the beginning not as usual at the end.”  After 32 minutes she told me it is enough.  Three months later she passed away.  Her daughter was so happy that I captured her in her beauty.  There’s such elegance in those characters.

Why did your grandmother keep the Der Angriff newspapers even though they were filled with anti-Semitic propaganda?

There was something emotional about it, a memory from a very, very important event in their life.  The idea was to keep an eye on the Nazi and push him to include more Zionist material in his story.  There may be a possibility my grandfather even edited the article.  It was something very vivid at the time and maybe she forgot about it.  She never opened it again.  Maybe she forgot about it.

What are you going to do with them?

I think maybe give them to the Zionist archive in Jerusalem or to Yad Vashem.

Why does this movie touch people so deeply?

The film is telling an amazing story about a Nazi and a Jew, but really it is a movie about family, what you know about your family, what you want to know, what you can know.  Those questions anyone can identify with, especially in America, a place of immigrants.  Some people who see the movie tell me, “I want to ask my parents more about our history.”  And some say, “I need to get rid of a lot of the things in my house!”

Related Tags:

 

Directors Documentary Interview
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2021, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik