Fall films heat up holiday season

Ted Pigeon

Shark Tale In summing up my disappointment over this latest computer-animated endeavor from DreamWorks, I could easily say that it doesn’t hold a candle to Disney’s “Finding Nemo,” which would be very true, but such an argument is practically irrelevant. Where “Nemo” aimed to unite adults and children in the audience with its simple, yet heartwarming story, “Shark Tale” wants to divide them and is mostly interested in pure comedy, with a plot that centers on ideas and references that only an adult could understand. It doesn’t want to be “Nemo,” and that’s just fine, but the makers of this film failed to realize that scattershot laughs aren’t enough to hold a movie together that doesn’t offer a story worth telling.

Will Smith provides the voice for the film’s central character, an underachieving little fish named Oscar living in an underwater metropolis working at the “whale” wash. Oscar has dreams of bigger things and is sick of being insignificant, but when he has an accidental run-in with the shark mafia, he uses the incident for his claim to fame. He teams up with a shark named Lenny, voiced by Jack Black, a vegetarian with a heart of gold who wants nothing to do with his “family business.”

The major problem with “Shark Tale” is that the plot becomes so needlessly complicated and weighed down with dialogue that it wears out its welcome real fast. On top of that, the filmmakers focus on squeezing so many pop-culture references and send-ups to classic films that they forget to tell a story. And so, the initial awestruck feeling the film creates with its wonderful sights eventually wears off, and the movie ultimately comes across flat.

Friday Night LightsThe vast majority of sports movies tend to fall into one of two categories: dumb comedies about a bunch of losers who finally learn to play as a team, or formulaic and cliche-ridden pieces of inspirational fluff. “Friday Night Lights” is closer to the latter and inevitably employs some of the standard conventions of your typical sports movie, but it is a film of surprising emotional depth that truly captures the feeling of a football team from a small Texas town in search of a state title.

The subject matter might seem average, and a lesser movie would have treated it as such by just going through the motions of a typical sports movie, but director Peter Berg and the screenwriters have more on their mind. This is one of the few sports films I can recall that isn’t about the championship in the end and isn’t really about the game of football so much as the people who are a part of it.

More than any other film of its kind, “Friday Night Lights” takes us into the minds and feelings of the players that make up the team, all of whom are real characters with dimension, not the stereotypes we’re used to seeing.

Like many of these kinds of films, this one comes down to “the big game” at the end. But when it gets to that point, this film is confident enough in its characters and themes that it doesn’t have to rely on all of the cliches that are usually incorporated for emotional impact, and it consequently has much greater resonance.

Team America: World PoliceNow here is one of the most vicious, offensive and tasteless films to have been released in a good while, and also one of the funniest. Known mostly for their edgy social satire, “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have decided to depart from the construction paper style animation of their famous television show and move up to puppets with “Team America.” The film is about an American freedom-fighting organization that travels the world ensuring the American way of life is protected from the terrorists.

The film is similar in nature to “South Park,” in that the humor is both sophomoric as well as intelligent. There are some really inspired comic moments in the movie, yet there is also (perhaps inevitably so) a good number of truly idiotic moments as well; sometimes we get both at the same time. Nonetheless, despite some of the material falling flat, the movie delivers laughs in steady proportions which puts it well beyond many other comedies of recent times.

Concerning its politics, the film attacks both sides of the political spectrum, which is actually quite refreshing right now in this country. The movie has its points to make, but it’s not telling anyone how they should feel; in fact, it is precisely that attitude which Stone and Parker are really attacking here.

Aside from its political satire, “Team America” also works as a parody of the contemporary action movie, in particular Jerry Bruckheimer films, embodying almost every aspect of that style – dialogue, music, slow motion and over-the-top action – except with puppets.

They even have a song in there entitled, “I Miss You like Michael Bay Missed the Mark with ‘Pearl Harbor.'” But no matter what this movie is referencing or satirizing, it is done with a combined sense of wit and idiocy that makes for a very funny and, at times, hilarious movie.