Friday, June 29, 2012

Movie Review: "Moonrise Kingdom"

If you're a fan of director Wes Anderson and his typical absurdist humor, then you'll be at home with Moonrise Kingdom.  An orphaned boy scout runs away with the girl of his dreams on a small island just off the New England coast in the 1960s, as they're pursued by boy scouts, parents, and the local sheriff. 

It's a funny movie from Anderson, that is surprisingly tender hearted.  It deals with young love with such fervor, you believe the reasons as to why these two young pre-teens are drawn to one another, and you laugh at all of the awkward moments that come from that young love.  The kids, played by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, are already masters at delivering each deadpan line of dialogue, that is Anderson's trademark.  As for all of the typical troop that follows Wes Anderson from film to film, they're all spot on here, but it's new Anderson additions, Edward Norton and Bruce Willis, that steal the show.  As with all of Anderson's characters, Norton's scout leader is the most offbeat scout leader you'll ever meet, and Willis's sherrif is a lonely man that is not as sure of himself as most Bruce Willis characters are, marking this as one of his better performances in years. 

This just is a true Wes Anderson film, through and through.  It deals with, what I believe to be, his career long theme of familial disconnect and a search for familial connection, which is represented here between Gilman and Willis's characters' relationship, but most importantly, it's just a funny film.  Boy scouts engaging in epic forest battles, dances in your underwear on the beach, what's not to love about this film?

In many ways, Moonrise Kingdom seems to be the most lovingly crafted film of Anderson's career.  It's debatable as to whether or not it's his best, because it does spin its wheels about in the middle, but there is a sentimental sense of nostalgia for a time in life that we grow out of very quickly, that is different than the feelings that one typically gets from an Anderson film.

I give Moonrise Kingdom an A

Movie Review: "Ted"

Family Guy creator, Seth MacFarlane makes the jump to features with his movie, Ted, telling the story of a boy's teddy bear who came to life, but now the boy is a man, and the bear has become a dirty mouthed, pot smoking slacker.  Like all of MacFarlane's work, Ted is rude, crude, and socially unacceptable.  Some of what MacFarlane finds funny could be seen as poor taste, but occasionally there are moments that are so ridiculous they are funny, such as Sam Jones, the actor who played Flash Gordon in that ill-fated '80s movie making a cameo appearance.  Bottom line, if you're a fan of MacFarlane's television work, then you'll be at home with Ted, where MacFarlane can push the envelope even further at times with an R-rating.  Personally, I find MacFarlane's sense of humor often offensive, in particular his religious jabs and his jokes about those with mental handicaps, but as I said above, often Ted is just so ridiculous, it is funny.

I give Ted a D+

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Movie Review: "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Beasts of the Southern Wild is another Indie in a long line of Independent films from the Sundance film festival that have garnered major critical and award's attention over the years.  The film, winning last year's Sundance Grand Jury prize, is impressive for its just over a million dollar budget, but lacks narrative cohesion.

The film is a tall tale, telling the story of a 6-year-old girl named Hushpuppy, who lives with her dad, Wink, in a Louisianan delta bayou called the Bathtub.  When Wink starts dying, Hushpuppy believes that the storm that floods their home is the fulfilling of an old tall tale about the melting of the polar ice caps and the coming of these large beasts that will ravage the land.

The acting performances are real strong in this film, especially considering that none of the actor's in the film had prior acting experience.  This makes their performances all the more fascinating, in particular those of Dwight Henry as Wink, and Quvenzahne Wallis as Hushpuppy.  The troubles with the film are the cinematography and the script.

The film's shot design by director Benh Zeitlin is cinematic, but thecinematography does little to capture Zeitlin's vision.  The camera is very often out-of-focus, and frustratingly shaky, and I know it's handheld, but it's often too shaky to fully comprehend the visuals.  As well, the fantastical elements of the story never seem to work in conjunction with the emotional story being told between Wink and Hushpuppy, with Wink teaching Hushpuppy how to be strong and learn to live on her own.  In some ways, if the film were just about a father and daughter trying to survive a hurricane in a small Louisiana bayou with no fantasy, I'd buy it better. Which is strange, I tend to love fantasies, but the fantasy of this story just does not tie in real well with the true narrative.  If it wasn't for the performances of Wallis and Henry, this film would not be as affecting as it is.

I give Beasts of the Southern Wild a D-

Monday, June 25, 2012

Top 10: Pixar Movies

With the latest Pixar film, Brave, in theaters, it's time to dust off the Top 10 column and ask the question:  What are the ten best Pixar films produced?

I've seen Brave, it's a solid D+, but lacks any originality.  Even still, Brave marks the studio's thirteenth production, and almost every Pixar film, save for the three exceptions that wont appear on this list, have been a 10 out of 10 effort from the famed animation studio that kick-started the CG-animation craze.  They are allowed a misstep every now and then.  However, I'm gonna cut the chatter and look to greener pastures, of the great Pixar films of the past.  Here's the list:

10.  A Bug's Life
Often one of Pixar's more forgotten efforts, A Bug's Life was their second film, and the animation seems dated compared to what Pixar is doing now.  However, technology is not what makes a good movie, it's story and character, and A Bug's Life continued the tradition of Toy Story with a unique premise of a bug's eye view of the world from the bugs themselves.  There is a cast of eccentric, yet lovable characters, in particular the circus bugs, and many laughs to be had.  While the film lacks some of the depth of Pixar's later offerings, the sheer imagination on display makes A Bug's Life worth it.

9.  Finding Nemo
I love Finding Nemo, but it is what I believe to be the most overrated Pixar movie.  It's a funny movie with a ton of heart, being one of the first Pixar films to deal with the toughest of adult themes -- those of death and loss.  However, since Finding Nemo, Pixar has outdone the film in both imagination and thematic exploration.  Though that is not to say that Finding Nemo is not worth the ride.  Ellen Degeneres' vocal performance is top notch, and she manages to bring to life one of the funniest and most original characters in the Pixar cannon -- not to mention the film is highly quotable -- but for the reasons listed above, this is why it is only number nine on this list.

8.  Wall-E
This film is often considered one of Pixar's crowning achievements, and you wont find any arguments from me.  The sheer audacity to make an animated film with no dialogue for the first half hour, when the primary audience is children, shows not just the mastery of Pixar, but how far they had come since the first Toy Story.  There was a confidence with Wall-E that showed the maturation of the studio.  The themes provoked more thought than any Pixar film that had come before it, I even stood notice to papers getting written on it in college classrooms, that is how far reaching the appeal of Wall-E was.  However, what made this film special, is the characters of Wall-E and Eve.  This is a love story about two robots, and it was beautiful and believable.  Like great Chaplin movies, Pixar needed no dialogue to make audiences feel emotion and to laugh, and this is why Wall-E is a masterpiece.

7.  Ratatouille
Brad Bird's second film with Pixar was one of their more pleasant surprises.  How do you make a movie about a rat who wants to be a chef not just plain gross?  Pixar did it with their usual blend of humor and emotion.  Ratatouille played towards a younger demographic than many Pixar films, and its G-rated appeal made the over-the-top villain obsessed with proving a rat was helping cook, or the almost improbable circumstances of a rat being able to control a human being by tugging on their hair, all the easier to digest.  Ratatouille is an honest film about being yourself that is pure, innocent, and yet another masterpiece.

6.  Monsters Inc.
This is one of Pixar's more forgotten efforts, and yet I absolutely love it.  The world of Monsters Inc. is what I believe to be the most imaginative that Pixar has ever created.  The idea that monsters are actually afraid of humans, was just brilliant.  Not to mention, Billy Crystal and John Goodman make as good of an odd couple as Tim Allen and Tom Hanks.  Sprinkle on top the highly emotional storyline, and you have a breathtaking cinematic experience unlike any other film before or after it.

5.  Toy Story
 This is a hard film to beat.  The original Toy Story was what started it all, and is what separated Pixar from every other animation studio in the US.  They made a film that was funny, heartfelt, and yet genuinely thought provoking.  It was a film that examined the importance of friendship through the lens of humor targeted towards children, however the real charm of the film comes from the vocal performances from Tim Allen and Tom Hanks.  The charm that these two actors brought to the characters of Buzz and Woody -- not to mention the rest of the fabulous ensemble (Don Rickles, I am looking at you) -- Toy Story managed to become more than just a kid's movie, but a great movie in general.

4.  Toy Story 3
It's rare for a sequel to be as good, if not better than the original, but for the second sequel to be as good, if not better, is an even greater rarity.  Toy Story 3 capped off the Toy Story-story with such emotion, it is even greater than the original.  Here's why:  Toy Story 3 was the full summation of three films, it was finishing the journey we started back with the first film with Woody, Buzz, Andy, and the rest of his toys.  In so many ways, this film was not about Andy having to give up his toys and move on into adulthood, but it was about growing up in general and having to move on when the time comes.  All of this was wrapped in a wonderful adventure of the toys having to escape a dangerous daycare facility, the laughs and fun were on full display.

3.  Toy Story 2
Now, to me, this is the best of the Toy Story movies.  Toy Story 2 is just the funniest of the bunch, the jokes were all pitch perfect and the adventure aspects were handled with such larger than life scale that they were awe-inspiring.  I especially love the ending where Woody and Jessie are having to escape a plane taking off from the tarmac, leaping onto Bullseye at the last second.  However, it's the reveal of Zurg as Buzz's father that was the most priceless moment, parodying The Empire Strikes Back; not to mention the intro of Tour Guide Barbie and Rex running behind the toy car, being seen in the rearview mirror like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park.

2.  Up
What makes Up such an unforgettable experience, is that it is first and foremost one of the funniest movies I've ever seen.  The humor runs the gamut from making observations about the elderly to about the canine variety, while always retaining its G-rated charm.  Mix that with one of the best movies about learning to move on after the death of a loved one, with a G-rated Raiders of the Lost Ark-type adventure and you have one of the most enjoyable movies of the past decade.

1.  The Incredibles
This is how a Fantastic Four movie should be.  With the proper dash of mystery, action, humor, and familial drama, The Incredibles are a family of superheroes that manage to distinguish themselves from any comic book superheroes because they are infused with that Pixar charm.  The characters are all flawed. but genuinely lovable.  Of course, what makes The Incredibles Pixar's finest film is that there is nothing about I do not like.  It's original, taking an approach on the superhero genre that had never been done before, looking at the boring, mundane, day-to-day grind of being a super, and comedy ensues.  A genuine master work.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Movie Review: "Brave"

To clarify, Disney/Pixar's Brave is not the worst time at a movie theater you will ever have, it just falls drastically short of the usual Pixar pedigree.  When a feisty princess in a fantasy realm -- oddly reminiscent of Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon -- asks a witch for a spell, she accidentally turns her overbearing mother into a giant bear (no pun intended) and must help turn her back into a human.  Brave is charming and innocent in the way that most Pixar movies are, with none of the little winks and nudges included for the adult crowd that most other animation studios offer, but it's the fact that the story just feels so uninspired that really gets me.  Pixar has a knack for being original and telling stories that have never been told before, and this story just feels like a run of the mill Disney fairy tale, without any of the charm that comes when based on a pre-existing story that you already know and love.  The characters are fairly standard for such a film, and the plot is sluggish to reach its finale.  Overall, the animation is beautiful and it should entertain, but don't expect another Pixar masterpiece.

I give Brave a D+

Movie Review: "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is one of the more pleasant surprises I've had at a movie in a long time.  The premise is simple, a 70-mile-wide asteroid is going to hit Earth in three weeks, some panic, others riot, and others just live life hard and fast like they always wanted.  It's in this world where we find Steve Carell, in a surprisingly soulful and straightforward performance as Dodge, whose wife just left him.  Dodge decides to try and find his high school sweetheart -- the one that got away -- before the world ends, all with the help of his optimistic neighbor, Penny, played with genuine sweetness by Keira Knightley.  The film is charming at times, and dramatically fascinating at others.  The balance between the dark comedy and the drama is fairly well-played by writer/director Lorene Scafaria.  While some of the funny bits, such as Dodge and Penny stopping in at a restaurant called Friendly's, tire fairly fast -- I mean, we get it, people are acting on their inner impulses knowing the world is going to end -- the core of this story, the relationship between Penny and Dodge, is perfectly executed.  Honestly, any minor bumps in the journey of these two characters cannot deter from the real core of the film, and that is loneliness and the need for companionship.

I give Seeking a Friend for the End of the World a B

Friday, June 8, 2012

Movie Review: "Prometheus"

Certain ideas are interesting in theory, such as having Ridley Scott (director of the original Alien) return to direct an Alien-prequel, called Prometheus.  Alas, certain ideas, such as this one, are already setting themselves up for disappointment. 

The fact of the matter isn't that Scott and company do not have a story filled with original ideas, it's that the story falls into cliche, horror/action territory, trying to pigeon-hole itself as a prequel to Alien, rather than being its own film.  For example, the idea of aliens coming to Earth and creating humans, is an intriguing kind of sci-fi concept that hasn't been committed to celluloid before, however, once the explorers reach the mysterious planet that may harbor all the clues as to where we came from, the film sees fit to play all the same cards as the original Alien.  An android with ulterior motives, a questionable mega corporation mogul, tons of crazed monsters running around killing, and a female scientist having to become a hero.  The problem is, all of these things have been done, over and over again before, to much better results. 

There is a lifelessness to this film about discovering where life originated.  It feels as if it's going through all of the motions, trying to put all of the pieces into place for the next installment, rather than innovating and being something truly original.  If this film were not beholden to the Alien franchise, I believe Prometheus would not only be a different film, but possibly even a better film, but unfortunately it is what it is, and I just cannot recommend it.

I give Prometheus an F

Friday, June 1, 2012

Movie Review: "Snow White and the Hunstman"

This movie just got on my nerves.  The film tries to reinvent the Snow White fairy tale by further exploring the relationship between Snow White and the Huntsman, the man sent by the evil Queen to kill her, but he lets her go instead.  First and foremost, I don't buy Kristen Stewart as the essence of purity and innocence, aka Snow White.  Then, turning Snow White into a warrior princess?  Come on.  While the effects team do a marvelous job at building the fairy tale world, and actor Chris Hemsworth is awesome as the Huntsman, the film is just a cluttered mess.  There is very little character development, with one wondering what the relationship between Charlize Theron's evil Queen, and her grovelling brother, truly is.  Then, adding insult to injury, the dwarves are never fully distinguished from one another, marking this as a film not worth seeing.

I give Snow White and the Huntsman an F