"Fly Me to the Moon," a 3-D-animated tale of insects who want to be the first flies on the moon, seeks to instill in kids a sense of wonder at space exploration. Whether it succeeds is really in the eye of the beholder.
Three young flies in 1969 hitch a ride on Apollo 11; luckily their garbage heap is near Cape Canaveral. There are sinister Russian flies and the cutest maggots in film history. Until a climactic fight scene, the film's as mild as baby shampoo.
This oddly paced kids' entertainment displays flashes of intelligence -- then misspells terms on NASA control panels. Jokes are spare for the genre, with a couple of nods to adult sensibilities ("Oh, my, Lord of the Flies!"). The movie is clearly designed for the 3-D format. Long tracking shots demonstrate the depths of environments and show how cool it is that we went into space. The mix of absurdity (such as kid flies enjoying weightlessness) and history is admirable, but how do you awe audiences at man's first steps on the moon while anthropomorphized, blue-skinned, gabbing flies are saving the day?
-- Michael Ordona
"Fly Me to the Moon." MPAA rating: G. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. In general release.
Not always much of a 'Slayer'
"Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer" is a wild swing at starting a franchise, one built on little more than blood and boredom but both in quantity.
The protagonist (somnambulantly played by producer Trevor Matthews) hates himself for surviving a supernatural attack that killed his family when he was a boy. It takes a really long setup involving his professor (Robert Englund, chewing the scenery, among other things) turning into a Jabba the Hutt-like creature to shake Jack from his doldrums and get him doing what he does best: slayin' monsters.
The film's tone is as clear as the various fluids sprayed throughout. As a horror-comedy, it boldly declines to scare or amuse. If it's meant to be serious, the filmmakers might have reconsidered the dudes in rubber suits. The characters are underdeveloped, even for a genre film: Rachel Skarsten, as screeching girlfriend Eve, will have audiences begging for the monsters to find her.
But it's the excruciating wait for anything to happen that makes "Jack Brooks" so frustrating. On the plus side, there are buckets of blood, and it's nicely shot by Joshua Allen.
-- Michael Ordona
"Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer." MPAA rating: R for horror violence and gore, and for language. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.
When dreams begin 'Falling'
Richard Dutcher, dubbed "The Father of Mormon Cinema" after helming such faith-based dramas as "God's Army" and "Brigham City," shifts gears with the explosive thriller "Falling," his first feature since leaving the LDS Church. From the film's gripping opening scene, in which a devastated man hurls expletives toward heaven, it's clear Dutcher has a bone to pick with "the powers that be" -- and he never lets up. Whatever Dutcher's spiritual journey has been, he's developed some serious filmmaking chops along the way.
The writer-director also effectively stars here as Eric Boyle, an ex-Mormon missionary who moves to L.A. to write and direct films, only to end up bottom feeding as a hustling TV news videographer. Eric's quietly ambitious actress wife, Davey (Virginia Reece), is chasing the Hollywood dream as well, lately reduced to jumping through unpleasant hoops to land a movie role. But when Eric secretly films a gang murder and sells the incriminating footage, all hell breaks loose, turning "Falling" into an excessively brutal but undeniably powerful cautionary tale.
Enhanced by Jim Orr's gritty cinematography and Dutcher's and Doug Boyd's urgent editing, "Falling," despite a few heavy-handed moments, is one of the best small pictures of its kind in recent memory.
-- Gary Goldstein
"Falling." MPAA rating: R for strong brutal violence, bloody images and language. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.
Good intentions tangled in 'XXY'
Lucia Puenzo's "XXY" has its heart in the right place, making a case for those born with genitalia of both genders to be allowed to decide for themselves what, if anything, they want to do about their condition. In adapting a short story by her husband, Sergio Bizzio, Puenzo, the daughter of Oscar-winning director Luis Puenzo, has, in her directorial debut, unfortunately been sabotaged by plot contrivance.
When a biologist (Ricardo Darin) and his wife (Valeria Bertuccelli) invite a plastic surgeon (German Palacios) and his wife (Carolina Peleritti) to their home for reasons soon obvious, they improbably have their guests' 16-year-old son Alvaro (Martin Piroyansky) stay in their 15-year-old-daughter's room with her. Such proximity conveniently allows the moody, aggressive Alex (Ines Efron) to forcefully seduce-rape Alvaro, who insists he enjoyed it; the implication is, of course, that he must be gay.