★★★★ / ★★★★
Writer-director Thomas Balmes took Alain Chabat’s idea of filming babies from four different corners of the world and documenting their journey from inside the womb up until they learned how to walk: Ponijao from Namibia, Bayar from Mongolia, Mari from Japan and Hattie from the United States. What I first noticed about this impressive documentary was its lack of narration. Balmes’ decision to not explain why parents were doing or not doing certain things for their children made us active participants because we had to come up with our own conclusions. The picture having no subtitles to translate the foreign languages was quite bold because then we feel like the child in its very early years–unable to discern what the parents were saying exactly so we rely on the tones of their voices to guess what kind of expression they wanted to portray toward their child. While the movie was undoubtedly cute (I love the scenes when the children would interact with animals, especially when Bayar was petting his cat), it went far beyond, “Aww, how cute!” Since I had a bit of experience studying child development and psychology, it was so much fun applying what I learned toward something I’m actually seeing. We literally see these children grow before our eyes as they change from being entertained solely by toys (or random things in the dirt if they didn’t have any toys) that made strange noises, to learning via simple imitation, to having a sense of self when they realized that their bodies can have a direct effect onto the world. We even had a chance to observe how the children attempted to talk via babbling and say their first word. Furthermore, the film wasn’t just about the babies. Secondary to the subjects were the parents’ child-rearing practices. Since I live in America, I’m used to seeing parents coddling their babies as often as they could. So, initially, I found it surprising that parents in Africa and Mongolia allow, if not highly encourage, to let their child roam in the dirt and explore his and her surroundings. They even let animals like goats, dogs and chickens get near their babies without worry. I guess what the director wanted to tell us was the fact that babies have high resilience physically and psychologically. They have the need to explore the world and experience a spectrum of emotions which includes pain, frustration and anger. What Balmes managed to capture on film was magic. I admired the way it was able to condense over a year of life into a breezy eighty minutes yet successfully highlight the most important elements.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009)
★ / ★★★★
I hate giving good-hearted comedies bad ratings and reviews but it’s one of those things I have to do for the sake of giving an honest critique. “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” stars Kevin James as a security guard who tries to stop criminals from robbing an entire mall during the busiest shopping time of the year. James’ character is someone one can root for because he is a genuinely good guy but doesn’t quite reach for his full potential because he tends to put others before himself. Unfortunately, a main character that the audiences want to root for isn’t enough to save this movie. Like “Get Smart,” this film featured most of its funniest jokes in the trailer so when one is actually watching the movie, it becomes too underwhelming or disappointing. The story is also way too safe. James falls for one of the girls who run a booth at the mall (played by the adorable Jayma Mays) but he can’t quite ask her out because of his own insecurities. After stopping the robbers (come on, you knew how it was going to end), he suddenly gets the courage to go for the things he wants. It’s all been done before and other films have done a way better job. I was more interested with James’ mom and daughter instead of the whole criminals-taking-over-the-mall bit. I get that it was trying to make references to the “Die Hard” series, and I did chuckle from time to time, but it was not as funny as it should have been. I didn’t really feel a sense of danger for any of the characters so I wasn’t invested in what was about to transpire. Overall, this movie is very forgettable because it’s as light as cotton candy. If James is given a better script for a future film project, I know that he can excel if he keeps his energy as much as he did here. I do appreciate his enthusiasm for the role but at the same time everyone else should deliver as well. I’m going to have to say skip this one unless one really wants to watch a safe, family-friendly vehicle.
Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
I almost gave this a two stars out of four because there were moments where I thought it diverged too much from the adventure and focused a little bit too much on lame/unnecessary character development. With a family-friendly summer blockbuster film, one expects breath-taking action sequences right after another instead of a forced attempt of sentimentality. Still, I decided to give this film three stars because there were some truly memorable scenes such as the mine ride, the cave of crystals, the T-Rex, and the geyser. Brendan Fraser, like in “The Mummy” films, is really likeable as a scientist whose lab is about to be shut down; Josh Hutcherson continues his role as a kid who’s a little bit sarcastic but often keeps something up his sleeves; Anita Briem is also a neat addition because she provided energy when the story tends to slow down a bit. I did not see this in 3-D even though the entire picture is designed to be seen in such a format so I can’t comment on how much or if it’s better than on a flat screen. Still, there’s plenty of visual eye candy and adrenaline for those who just want to sit back and not think too much. But I must admit that I really like the science in the film: how Fraser’s character used kinematics to determine how high they are from the ground as they free fall, the application of Geology when it comes to recognizing certain rocks and their properties, the concept of bioluminescence (the production and emission of light when chemical energy is converted to light energy), and more. It made the movie that much more fun for me because I’ve taken classes that deal with those concepts. (I am a certified nerd/geek/dork.) This is the kind of movie that a babysitter can let kids watch because it’s pretty harmless, there’s a plethora of bright colors, and pretty funny one-liners. It could’ve been a lot better but it could’ve been a lot worse.