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The War Zone at Home

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Journey to the Center of the Earth, in which morose hunky scientist Brendan Fraser, his nephew (Josh Hutcherson), and a blue-eyed Icelandic babe (Anita Briem) roller-coaster down a mine shaft, fall into a chasm, and get chased by dinosaurs, is clunkier and more simpleminded. It would be barely passable under normal circumstances, but in 3-D it’s a circus of excellent FX. You get the always-good-for-a-laugh yo-yo-in-your-face, some spat-out mouthwash, many sharp objects, snapping dino jaws, a cute little bluebird, and even monster pus. With the glasses on, the image is a little dark, and the underground oceans and forests look fakey fakey. But who cares when the background is actually back and the foreground so fore it seems to tickle your nostril hairs? If today’s movies take place inside computers anyway, it’s nice when the technology can usher us inside, too.

In The Wackness, Josh Peck, of Nickelodeon’s excruciating (for non-tweens) sitcom Drake & Josh, plays a recent high-school grad who wheels around an ice-cream cart selling pot, some of it to his long-haired stoner psychiatrist (Sir Ben Kingsley), while lusting after the doctor’s willowy stepdaughter (Olivia Thirlby). The writer and director, Jonathan Levine, labors to establish the period (it’s 1994), which means a lot of white kids talking like rappers and ominous signs (for drug dealers) of a Giuliani crackdown on New York crime. The movie feels autobiographical—emotionally authentic (with a fair amount of bitterness toward women) and somewhat unshaped. The Giuliani stuff doesn’t come to anything, and Peck needs to learn that even dazed-and-confused teens don’t let their mouths hang slackly open all the time. The fun is watching Thirlby—second banana in Juno—do a tantalizing sex-bomb number, and Kingsley get to flout his knighthood by sticking his tongue down the throat of Mary-Kate Olsen.

The big film opening of June was the latest Pixar triumph, Andrew Stanton’s Wall-E, which screened too late (Why, Disney, why?) to be reviewed in this magazine’s double issue of two weeks back. You can read my full paean to its beauties here, but it’s worth restating the thesis: that the movie is essentially a parable of two children, Wall-E and Eve, who restore the connection between humans and the natural world. Pixar, a beacon for the future of film technology, has defined itself by telling stories of loss, decay, and the dark side of materialism, with a tension between childhood wonder (inspired by old toys, cars, movies) and the disengagement brought on by growing up in a fast-paced cyber world (CG-ennui, anyone?). It’s as if simple machines hold memories that aging humans forget. What a peculiar company this is, forward- and backward-looking, a technological Janus head, using all its computer resources to warn us that computers are stealing our souls.

Full Battle Rattle
Directed by Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss.
Mile End Films. NR.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Directed by Guillermo del Toro.
Universal Pictures. PG-13.

Journey to the Center of the Earth
Directed by Eric Brevig
Warner Bros. PG.

The Wackness
Directed by Jonathan Levine.
Sony Pictures Classics. R.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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