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Massawyrm lights up for CITY OF EMBER!!

Hola all. Massawyrm here. You wouldn’t think much of Gil Kenan at first glance. Not that you would think ill of him in any way or instantly dislike him, but rather if you somehow ran across him, “Hollywood Director” is probably one of the last categories you would think to place him. In my experience most directors can be described in two ways – they are either somehow very charismatic, whether through good looks or sheer force of personality that in their quirky way causes all eyes to fall on them, or they are the very picture of normalcy, invisible party ninjas able to slip into and out of a crowd of people almost completely unnoticed. Not Gil. Gil is a dork. And I don’t mean that in an insulting way. I mean that in the way I lovingly refer to my closest friends. There is no doubt that he is giddy and easily excited – a trait Bill Murray referred to as “Enthusiasm”, being sure to repeat the term over and over again to emphasize that it inferred a level of energy that normal people find borderline unhealthy. But it is that energy that allows him to create some of the most inventive and wonderful family films of the past few years. I imagine he’s the kind of guy who commissions the prop department to work up something cool just because he really wants to play with it for a while before putting it into the movie. You know. Kind of like many of you would like to do. Clearly inspired by the family entertainment of the early 80’s - particularly the Amblin films - he sets out to create cinematic daydreams that would feel right at home released alongside those beloved classics. His first effort Monster House was a throwback to the kids adventures of the old days when we weren’t afraid to make movies that could scare as well as excite kids. It was a wayback machine for parents and a breath of fresh air for kids, the kind of film I wish we made more of. Now he’s back with City of Ember, and while he has taken a 180 degree turn in terms of the filmmaking techniques he’s playing around with, he is still trudging along blazing a trail through the overgrown hedges of the oft neglected old school family film genre. Here we have something that is quite easy to explain, but hard to fathom and wrap your mind around. City of Ember is a post-apocalyptic children’s film. Think about that for a second. This isn’t some fantasy world. This isn’t some distant planet. This is Earth. An Earth on the verge of some kind of unnamed extinction. And the only way our scientists can think of to save the human race is to hide a handful of survivors underground in a marvelous city of the future. Unfortunately for our heroes, it is over 200 years since we entered the city of the future, and it is crumbling, ailing, and facing an apocalypse of its own. And our heroes desperately need to find a way out. Much like Monster House, this gives off heavy Goonies vibes with hints of Back to the Future and even a bit of The Secret of NIMH. It’s a fairly dark film that keeps a light and happy tone despite the poor orphan at the end of the world story it is telling. Saoirse Ronan (who you will remember as the evil little girl from Atonement) absolutely makes this film her own. Her few moments of joy in this film are the beating heart that makes this very much what it is. When she smiles, the screen lights up as if puppies and kittens were gently floating down from the ceiling. It’s so god damned adorable. And contrasted against the bleak, dystopian, almost communist underground society of Ember, it is even doubly so. And it is through her eyes that we see this almost dreadful existence turned into a cozy, lovable city. It’s a very odd juxtaposition that Kenan pulls off with panache through the talent of the young Ronan. City of Ember is science fiction, and good science fiction at that. Think Logan’s Run with giant irradiated vermin and piecemeal clockwork technology and you begin to get the idea of what this is. It is an elegantly conceived future that will delight both children and adult alike. Once the action gears up, it becomes a tense race against time to find a way out before the lights go out for good. There are plenty of scares and thrills without ever crossing over into territory to intense for kids. But there’s enough hinted at and in the underlying subtext of the film to keep adults gripped to the very same scenes as their kids. This year has been incredible. It really is 1982 all over again. There has been so much great entertainment on every level that our cinematic bellies are full and our DVD collections are swelling with must owns at a rate far greater than any other year. But the Children’s films this year have been simply magnificent. Family entertainment simply hasn’t been this good in 25 years. So much so that several films have been buried, overlooked or deliberately ignored. And I’m worried that the same fate might befall this. City of Ember is every bit as good as The Spiderwick Chronicles and Speed Racer, and is handily the very best thing Fox has had in their slate ALL YEAR. Here’s hoping Fox can convince enough folks to see this BIG and make it the success it deserves to be. I want to see more movies like this. A lot more movies like this. And I want Gil Kenan to direct some of them. He gets it. He gets it on a genetic level. One or two more films like this and he’ll easily establish himself as one of the current reigning masters of Children’s film. I look forward to his next effort with great anticipation. What can I say? The guy makes me feel like I'm seven years old again. Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em. Massawyrm
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Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 29, 2008, 6:43 p.m. CST

    I am very much looking forward to this.

    by Shan

    Also helped me discover the book.

  • Sept. 29, 2008, 6:46 p.m. CST

    I'm in, Wyrm

    by slone13

    You had me at "heavy Goonies vibes with hints of Back to the Future and even a bit of The Secret of NIMH". Done and done.

  • Sept. 29, 2008, 6:52 p.m. CST

    Third - Looks Good.

    by Alice Cooper Stalker

    I'm really interested in this. I like Monster House a lot.

  • Sept. 29, 2008, 6:53 p.m. CST

    Looks cool, however...

    by Heckles

    If it's not Pixar then the fat-ass kids won't drag their mouth breathing parents to see it.

  • Sept. 29, 2008, 7:01 p.m. CST

    I'm sold

    by BeeDub

    I was on the fence with this one, but now... I'll be there.

  • Sept. 29, 2008, 7:33 p.m. CST

    Good. Enjoyed the book....was rooting for the movie...

    by FlickaPoo

    ...still think it's too bad they had to give away the whole premise though...while not the most original idea in the universe, a kid who hasn't seen Logan's Run or Dark City etc...would have gotten a dark thrill when they finally figured out what was going on...

  • Sept. 29, 2008, 7:34 p.m. CST shame yourself and your family.

    by FlickaPoo

  • Sept. 29, 2008, 7:38 p.m. CST

    ColWTH fears the Truffle Shuffle

    by Heckles

    Good day sir.

  • Sept. 29, 2008, 7:43 p.m. CST

    "Every bit as good as...Speed Racer!"

    by Christopher3

    Raves Massawrym of AICN.

  • Sept. 29, 2008, 7:43 p.m. CST

    The book is great

    by Larry of Arabia

    The best children's sci-fi series since Ender. If the film is half as good, it's a winner.

  • Sept. 29, 2008, 8 p.m. CST

    ColWTH, you ignorant bastard

    by slone13

    May you suffer the same fate as Chester Copperpot.

  • Sept. 29, 2008, 8:04 p.m. CST

    Very well-written book, but Massa, the fact that

    by CreasyBear

    Ember is actually subterranean is a huge spoiler. In the book, we're not sure just how detached from reality this story is, and the constant darkness and lack of any weather is part of the mystery of the setting, which IS the story. Then again, the moviemakers may already spoil the underground part themselves with the trailer.

  • Sept. 29, 2008, 8:04 p.m. CST

    It all started to go wrong for ColWTH when his mom....

    by FlickaPoo

    ...sent him to a summer camp for fat kids.......

  • Sept. 29, 2008, 8:11 p.m. CST


    by Massawyrm 1

    The conceit of the movie is set up within the opening of the film. That the city is underground is something I doubt they felt they could get away with visually and thus immediately toss out the idea of keeping it a secret.

  • Sept. 29, 2008, 8:16 p.m. CST

    In a movie the spoiler was unavoidable....

    by FlickaPoo the book it takes a while to sink in that all light in the city is artificial...and even when it does it isn't immediately obvious that the city is underground (at least to the intended young adult reader). In a movie you wouldn't be able to hide the fact that it is always dark...or at least always night time.

  • Sept. 29, 2008, 8:49 p.m. CST

    "giant irradiated vermin"

    by Toonol

    Is this a kid's version of Fallout? Because that would be COOL!<p> Saying this is as good as Speed Racer is a high complement; that's the 2nd or 3rd best movie out this year.

  • Sept. 29, 2008, 9:18 p.m. CST


    by PotSmokinAlien

    I took the time to wrap my mind around the idea of a post-apocalyptic childrens' film when you reviewed Wall-E, Massa, but I'm glad to see the little dude's got some company now. Here's hoping this is the start of a trend.

  • Sept. 29, 2008, 9:23 p.m. CST


    by PotSmokinAlien

    You must love you some visuals, dude. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm assuming TDK's your number 1... what would keep Speed Racer out of your #2 spot?

  • Sept. 29, 2008, 9:23 p.m. CST


    by Massawyrm 1

    Sure...but in that movie Mankind blasted itself into space and everyone survived. In this one they put a couple hundred people underground...and didn't.

  • Sept. 29, 2008, 11:24 p.m. CST


    by Mr. N

    Do you need a Baby Ruth bar? What's with The Goonies hate? Not a perfect film, but enjoyable and exciting... much more so than than the shit that gets out these days *cough* Indy4 *cough*

  • Sept. 30, 2008, 1:25 a.m. CST

    Sounds great, but...

    by ChickenDelicious

    ... I've seen more references to the "Wayback Machine" in the past month than I have in all my previous years combined. Ok, we get it, it's the hot pop culture reference of the moment. Can we put it back to bed, please?

  • Sept. 30, 2008, 1:28 a.m. CST

    Oh, and ColWTH

    by ChickenDelicious

    Whatever happened in your life to make you so utterly misguided, I truly am sorry.

  • Sept. 30, 2008, 4:07 a.m. CST

    Let me guess...they escape to the above

    by Dingbatty

    ground, and the world is all healed and green? This story has been done before.

  • Sept. 30, 2008, 5:14 a.m. CST

    will totally check it out

    by The Amazing G

    I watched Monster House with my 9 year old cousin recently and was surprised at how it captured the old school vibe it was going for

  • Sept. 30, 2008, 6:33 a.m. CST

    Dingbatty (this response has a sort of spoiler)

    by CreasyBear

    In the sequel, they have to confront above-ground survivors for necessities, a not so thinly veiled reference to current problems with allocation of global resources. The books lay on the environmental messages pretty thick.

  • Sept. 30, 2008, 8:55 a.m. CST

    It might have been good

    by bingo the clown

    if it had been directed by Terry Gilliam or Guillermo del Toro, because they're willing to actually put child characters in danger. As it was, it was strictly by-the-numbers pedestrian film making. Still, there are a lot of worse films you could take your kids to.

  • Sept. 30, 2008, 9:40 a.m. CST

    CB, ahh, okay.

    by Dingbatty

  • Sept. 30, 2008, 11:06 a.m. CST

    NIMH series was so good

    by Freakemovie

    The movie was okay, but Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and the two sequels were pretty awesome when I read them in fifth grade.

  • Sept. 30, 2008, 2:26 p.m. CST

    Sequels to Nimh??

    by jmyoung666

    I loved that book when I was a kid. What were the sequels? Never heard of them.

  • Sept. 30, 2008, 4:28 p.m. CST

    Last Unicorn

    by SeanMiller

    That movie always creeped me out as a kid. It did have some amazing imagery, especially the end with all the unicorns coming back to life from the depths of the ocean and pushing the beast back into the water. I wish they still made "creepy" kid flicks these days. Also, Secret of Nymph...just awesome. I still get sad every time the male "hero" rat gets stabbed by the bad guy. I recently got my wife and sister together and we re-watched this movie. Brings back so many childhood memories. Lastly, Goonies rocks and always will. Corey is just too damm funny in that movie.