Thursday, January 17, 2008


As long as I can remember, I have adored annimated films. I suppose that love is also the real reason I adore movie musicals so much, since that is what most Disney films are...or were. With the advent of computer animation, I was at first a little disppointed w/ the non-musical, non fairy-tale direction that the story-telling was taking. But Pixar has changed all that.

Last night, I saw Ratatouille for the first time and was very impressed. It was wonderful and proved that Pixar and Disney have made a good choice in their permanant collaboration. The animation was beautiful, the voice talents of Patton Oswalt and Peter O'Toole were memorable, and the direction of Brad Bird is once again inspiring. This was quite a relief for me since I felt the creators slipped drastically with their production of Cars, the weakest of their efforts thus far. It was lovely and colorful but lacked the engaging characters and great story of the prior Pixar films.

Below is a brief synopsis and review of each of the Disney/Pixar films and my personal opinion and ranking of each:

Synopsis: Super Heroes must hide their powers and live like average people after the government decides that they do more harm than good. The sudden arrival of a mega-powerful nemesis makes their re-emergence necessary.
The only Pixar film to make it into my top 100 films of all time, The Incredibles is a shockingly wonderful human story in addtion to a phenomenal feat in annimation. The voice talents are perfectly cast, with Holly Hunter and Jason Lee standing out only slightly. Colors, action scenes, and story-telling all combine to make one smashing piece of movie entertainment with some fantastic dialogue to boot. It is at times hilarious, at times quite moving, and always the height of cinematic brilliance. Family squabbles are deftly handled as well, to the point that we sometimes forget we are watching drawings. It's a stunning achievement in every way.

My rating: 10/10

Synopsis: A darling little robot named Wall-E is left behind on earth to clean up the post-apocalyptic mess that human have left behind. With noone but a hearty cockroach to keep him company, Wall-E is pleased and surprised when a feminine robot visits earth and fulfills all his lonely dreams. Unfortunately, 'Eve' was sent for a purpose and when she is returned to her host ship, Wall-E hitches a ride. What he finds is a massive space station where the human race yet perseveres, as a rotund people that are entirely dependant on 'virtual reality'. A movie that has a thought provoking idea at its core while at the same time telling a moving love story.

Andrew Stanton made a fantastic movie here. Second only to 'The Incredibles', in my opinion, Wall-E succeeds on so many different levels. The story is compelling and as I mentioned before, has a bit of a social commentary to its credit. Wall-E is an absolutely precious little character and we are immediately entertained and drawn into his life where the music of 'Hello Dolly' gives him hope and piles of trash serve to occupy his limitless time. The odd juxtaposition of 'Put on Your Sunday Clothes' and the hazy deserted city make for an almost surreal experience. A large part of the movie contains absolutely no dialogue and this in itself was a brave attempt on the part of the creators. There is a huge ammount of 'silent-movie' style humor that will remind Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin fans of those stars' best work. I was completely bowled over by how significant this film has turned out to be in the stream of time and so happy that Pixar has another amazing film on which to base the next Disneyworld attraction.

My rating: 10/10

2.A Bug's Life
Synopsis: A laboring ant colony must find help when a gang of rowdy grasshoppers threaten to confiscate all of their winter's food supply. Flick, a brave worker ant, searches in vain until finally he comes across a troup of circus-insects anxious for a hit show. When it is discovered that they are actually expected to fight, a real test of the performers' bravery ensues. Think 'Three Amigos' for bugs.

A brilliant story coupled w/ superb animation make A Bug's Life one of the best Pixar endeavors. The colors are gorgeous and the landscapes, as seen through the minature eyes of ants, are impressive. Not only does this film succeed in making us care for the most unlikely of creatures, ants, but it also pulls out all the stops in the dialogue department. Some of the industry's greatest comic talent were cast for the voices in this film and the choices were spot-on with David Hyde Pierce playing a pessimistic walking stick, Dave Foley as the our brave hero Flick, and Denis Leary as a manly Ladybug. Kevin Spacey as the Hopper, the head grasshopper, was also a revelation; the character comes alive like no other Pixar villain, in my opinion. This film succeeds where so many animated movies fail-it is a great story that both adults and children can appreciate.

My rating: 10/10

3.Finding Nemo

Synopsis: Distraught father and clownfish, Marlin, must brave the perils of the ocean as he searches for his son, Nemo-caught by a fishing dentist for his aquarium.

The funniest of the Pixar movies, Finding Nemo is a wonderfully entertaining and stunningly beautiful film. Ocean life is depicted in all is glory, from colorful coral reefs to fields of floating jellyfish and each species is given its own painstakingly crafted personality. Voicework is also brilliant, with Albert Brooks leading the cast as the chronically stressed Marlin and Ellen Degenerous running away w/ the entire film as adorably forgetful Dory. Children will never glance at a blue tang in an aquairum without immediately calling it by that familiar name, a sign that the creators have truly done their job. Though John Ratzenburger ( a staple in Pixar voicework), Geoffrey Rush, and Willem Defoe all do wonderful jobs with their parts, it is truly Degenerous that draws the bulk of the laughs. Though much of this can be credited to the writers, its Ellen's own interpretation and delivery of the lines that make them great. The sweet story, comic genious, and sheer beauty of the underwater world make this another masterpiece.

My rating: 10/10


Synopsis: Remy is a rat with great talent for cooking. When he is seperated from his clan, a natural fascination for food draws him to Gusteaus, a formerly 5 star french restaurant in the middle of Paris. Through oddly endearing means, Remy is able to concoct wondrous dishes using the hands of talentless Linguini-a young man with little skill but big dreams.

I have already expressed some of my opinion in the opening paragraph of this post. Let me add that upon multiple viewings I am even more impressed w/ this film. The voice characterizations are so compelling and the beauty of Paris is so lovingly detailed. Not to mention the food. Who would have thought that animated dishes could make one's mouth water? I also feel that the climax of this film, featuring a restaurant critic's first bite of the title dish, is one of the three best scenes in the Pixar catalogue.

My rating: 9.5/10

5.Toy Story 2:
Synopsis: Stalwart Woody the Cowboy is kidnapped by a nasty toy collector and Buzz Lightyear, his loyal space-toy friend, must save him before Andy gets home.

While it may not have had the originality going for it that the first installment did, Toy Story 2 makes up for it by telling a wonderful story and showcasing some state of the art animation. WHere the first movie spent alot of time setting up the different characters, this film gets right into the story and contains more action that almost any Pixar film except The Incredibles. The addition of Kelsey Grammar as The PRospector and Joan Cusack as Jessie the Cowgirl were also strokes of genius. Details are again exceptional-especially during one scene where Woody is meticulously 'cleaned'-and one lovely song, tenderly sung by Sarah McLachlan, lends an unexpected note of tragedy to the story. As sequels go, Toy Story 2 may be one of the best ever.

My rating: 9.5/10

6.Monsters Inc.:
Synopsis: Monsters Inc, a company in existence for the sole purpose of entering children's rooms through closet doors and capturing the screams that supply the power for their city, is threatened when a 'dangerous' child enters the Monster world. Rather than face the consequences, Sully and Mike struggle to return the precocious little girl to her room but encounter unexpected problems.

Being a mother, I was immediately a fan of this film. The idea that monsters would be frightened of children was ludicrously appealing and the somewhat involved plot set-up succeeds surpisingly well. I also feel that 'Boo' the nameless little girl of indeterminate age (probably about 2) is the best representation of a toddler that Disney or Pixar has created to date. Her every motion and garbled word tugs at the heartstrings, along w/ the sweet brevity she exhibits throughout the film. Sully (John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal) are also wonderful choices as the 'monsters' without malice. Though this film does lack the details and beauty of some of the others, one can't help but marvel at the brilliant color and the motion of Sully's fur as he moves. Incredibly entertaining and surprsingly moving, Monsters Inc has nothing to be ashamed of.

My rating: 9/10

7.Toy Story:
Synopsis: Woody the Cowboy toy must deal with his own jealous feelings as well as his friends apparent awe for a newcomer in the form of Buzz Lightyear, a space toy w/ special 'powers'. Adventures ensue as each toy vies for the admiration of their fellow toys as well as Andy, their child owner.

Toy Story was a revolutionary achievement in the world of computer animation. It proved that computers could accomplish an animated story every bit as appealing and impressive as Disney films of yore. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen were wonderful choices and lend a truly human aspect to the characters they voice, always making their respective 'toys' seem alive to the viewer. To the brilliant animation and appealing story, add a great script and you've got a wonderful film that remains a landmark even today. Though I prefer the sequel to this original take on the lives of toys, I still think 'Sid's Toys' is one of the greatest things to come out of any Pixar film. The rest of the cast is also great-many of which have gone on to voice characters in other Pixar films.

My rating: 9/10

Synopsis: Hot-shot race car, Lightening McQueen gets lost on route to an important race and comes across a sleepy town of cars where people are nonexistent and friendship takes top priority.

Though I'm an avid hot-rod fan and loved the idea of cars with personalities, I feel Cars was the weakest of the Pixar movies. The desert landscapes are gorgeous, the voices well-chosen (Paul Newman stands out particularly), and the animation faultless. But the film lacked much of the heart that the others had and the idea of a world populated by automobiles instead of people looked better on paper than it came across in the actual viewing. The story also suffered and seemed to dwell a more on moral than entertainment value. Though Larry the Cable Guy seemed like a slam-dunk in the comedy department, his role paled in comparison to Degenerous' in Nemo. Not a bad movie, but not a rousing success either.

My rating: 6/10

That's all for now. As more Pixar films are released, I'm sure I'll be ammending this post.

Monday, January 14, 2008


I tell ya, sometimes it PAYS to go into a movie with little or no expectations. I had heard from friends that this modern-day teen remake of Alfred Hitchcock's 'Rear Window' was a good one, but needless to say, considering the source material, I didnt take those claims too seriously. After all, how could it POSSIBLY claim to be a remake when the star was a teenage hoodlum, the 'love interest' was a bikini-clad cheerleader-type, and the setting was middle-class suburbia? But I have to admit that not only is this one a worthy tribute to the original, it's a darn good movie all by its creepy li'l self.

My new FAVORITE young actor, Shia Labeouf, plays Kale Brecht, a high school kid whose father dies in a terrifying car accident at the beginning of the film. Since Kale was the driver of the vehicle, it is understandable that his hitherto sunny disposition and happy-go-lucky attitude are replaced by bitterness and guilt. The story picks up a year later where, after lashing out violently at an unsympathetic teacher, Kale finds himself under house arrest and bringing alot of stress to the already strained relationship he has with his hard-working mother. Boredom eventually reduces the boy to staring out the window at his neighbors, a past time he shares w/ a sexy new neighbor and a visiting friend. Of course, we know the story from there: The kids begin to suspect a neighbor of foul play and grisly discoveries ensue, coupled w/ a good ammount of taut suspense.

Make no mistake, the BEST thing about this movie is its lead. Labeouf is such a natural actor (as many of you 'Transformers' or 'I, Robot' fans know) and that gift is especially evident in the early moments of the film, as he becomes more and more stir crazy in his captivity. Though the character set up lasts an atypical ammount of time for a film of this genre, the key performance is engaging enough to maintain our interest. Kale's romance w/ his neighbor seems a little too rushed for my taste but the chemistry between Labeouf and Roemer works sufficiently and doesnt bog the story down too much. David Morse is cold and charming, almost a send up to the character he played recently on House. His chilling politeness was nerve-wracking to say the least. Moss, Yoo, and Roemer are all serviceable in their parts as well, if not standout.

Like I said, the movie is above average so the direction is good. The story moves along quickly without seeming to leave major holes in the plot or character developement. A few of the latter scenes are extremely well done and I found myself truly terrified, staring through my fingers even. Some of the more grisly moments were a little over-the-top but not glaringly so...the PG13 rating is an accurate one, I believe.

I would recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys a good suspense thriller..that is, if you can keep an open mind and prevent yourself from comparing it to the original masterpiece. It won't change your life or anything, but it's a good bit of entertainment nevertheless.

My rating: 7/10

Friday, January 11, 2008


Well, evidently we can't win them all. Disney had such a great thing on their hands w/ the Pirates franchise after the success of the first installment, but the last two films have proven that even the Disney folks can put too many proverbial feathers in their three-cornered hats.

Thought I usually begin my reviews by a quick plot summary, it's pretty difficult to do that here. I found this story to be so convoluted and strange that I don't know if such a thing would be possible...heh heh. Suffice it to say that SOMEHOW Geoffrey Rush's salty Captain Barbossa is brought back from the grave for SOME strange reason with a VAGUE and largely unexplained purpose that involves rescuing our wondrous Jack Sparrow from the bowels of the Kracken. He is given the help of his former enemies, including our now sadly de-feminized Elizabeth Swan and her beau (?) Will Turner. Along the way, other pirate leaders get involved in an inevitable fray w/ the British military that was kind of a no-brainer after Jack escaped hanging in the first movie.

Needless to say, The Curse of the Black Pearl (9/10) was a fantastic movie. It succeeded on so many levels, one of which was the wonderful characterizations of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp's most endearing role since Edward Scissorhands) and Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa. So though I adored Bill Nighye as Davy Jones in the second film (Dead Man's Chest 7/10) as well as the Indiana Jones-esque action scenes in that film, I was so happy to have Barbossa back in this ones, even if by somewhat cloudy means. Unfortunately, though Rush still 'Arrghs' and 'Mateys' his way through this latest installment with panache, there is too much story to focus on his efforts. When I say 'too much story', I mean just that. So much tale was attempting to be told in this movie, we are left w/ having 'heard' very little of it. Where more time and energy should have been spent on Will and Elizabeth's romance, which was one of the staples of the original film, only about five minutes of screen time are allowed for this important point and STILL we are left w/ a question mark concerning their future.

I enjoyed a few things however, namely the performances of the lead actors, a few witty bits of dialogue, and the dark but pretty direction of Verbinski. These things alone will make the movie watchable, even if it isnt as enjoyable as the prior two. Keith Richards' cameo was a hoot as well, as was the final moments of the film which reminded me of the first movie and gave me an actual charge to see the next one. Who knows, we could end up w/ something great (think Indian Jones and the Last Crusade) if the creators can get it together.

SPOILER ALERT: Perhaps I'm just not smart enough to enjoy this particular Pirate movie but I just didnt GET major points of the story. WHY did we need Barbossa particularly? Because he could sail? Why was Calypso released exactly? What did that accomplish? Davy Jones' locker was neat I guess, but too little explanation was given as to the workings of it and why no one but Jack Sparrow happened to be there. Was it a 'dry' season (pardon the pun)? So Will Turner is now Davy Jones (with longer curlier hair)? And the former crew of the Dutchman are ...okay? Dead? Alive? I was not satisfied on any of these points really. I also did not enjoy or 'believe' the love angle between Davy Jones and the seemed very tacked on to me. Odd stuff. If any of you guys can answer these questions for me, I'd appreciate it.

As it stands, I did not hate this movie. I would probably watch it again, if for no other reason than to see what I missed. But I hope that if Disney truly intends to carry this any further, they put a little more thought into it...or maybe, a little less?

My rating: 5/10


Alrighty folks, it's been a while. Allow me to crack my knuckles.

I just saw this movie yesterday on dvd since I truly don't get to the movies much....the last movie I saw at the theater was Transformers, if that's any indication. I won't bother comparing this to the original John Waters version however, like many critics did, because hey, we all know there IS no comparison to the camp of a Waters film. But let me assure you, this little gem stands quite remarkably on it's own.

Hairspray, as if you didnt know, is the story of pert and portly Tracy Turnblad (rising star Nikki Blonsky) whose bouffant hairdo and luminous smile belie the depth of her personal talents. The gal can sing, dance, and do so w/ a flair that was henceforth only reserved for black society in the sixties. Tracy has an obsession w/ a local 'dance tv' program called The Corny Collins Show and she will literally do almost anything to perform on the air. After a fruitless audition, during which Tracy is belittled and insulted by the current stars of the show due to her weight, all seems hopeless until our heroine finds herself in detention with a group of black students who seem to use the (unsupervised?) time to...well, dance. Thru the window, Tracy is discovered in all her soulful splendor by a current cast-member of the Tv Show, Link Larkin...who is also the object of her hitherto unreturned affections. Needless to say, an appearance on the Corny Show is inevitable as is her subsequent fame and pupularity. Unfortunately, things go awry when station manager Velma Von Tassel (Michelle Pfeiffer) attempts to sabotage Tracy at the height of her success and prevent racial 'integration' on the show as well. Though the story never seriously rises above sixties sattire, there is also a political agenda in the mix as the recurring subjects of racial harmony are addressed.

Performances in this film were all very good, some were great. The casting was carefully and lovingly handled w/ a few surprises thrown into the mix. Nicky Blonsky was sufficiently perky and sweet at Tracy. She's quite a little firecracker so the story centering on her was never a problem. Two of the most central characters, Tracy's Parents, were played by Christopher Walken and John Travolta, the latter decking himself out in hideously realistic drag to play Edna. Both shined in their respective parts, especially where singing and dancing were concerned. Queen Latifah and Michelle Pfeiffer were also extremely good, even if they didnt necessarily exhibit a purely original turn. We have seen both of them in these types of roles before. Supporting players Amanda Bynes, Zac Efron, and Elijah Kelly were all good, some standing out more than others but all sufficiently over-the-top and campy. The biggest surprise for me was James Marsden who was the epitome of charm and wit as Corny Collins with an exceptional singing voice. I had no idea Cyclops had it in him to be so likeable!

I really appreciated the direction and the musical numbers as well. There was evident modernizing w/out a complete departure from the original feel of the John Waters version (oops, I did it). John Waters even gave us a great little cameo in the beginning, which made me smile. I especially enjoyed the tongue in cheek humor of 'Nicest Kids In Town', the sweet and funny romance of 'You're Timeless To Me', and of course the contagious fun of 'You Can't Stop the Beat'.

Let me sum up by saying that I am more than pleased at the direction the movie industry is going with musicals. If there is anything that the success of Chicago has shown us, it's that audiences still crave the surrealistic mayhem of the movie musical and with great endeavors like this one and Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd (dark but lovely I'm told), the genre is finally back on the map. Actors like Michelle Pfeiffer, Renee Zelwegger, and James Marsden are joining the ranks of Gene Kelly and Katherine Grayson as ones that can be counted upon to deliver great performances along with their hoofing and crooning. And that's just fine with me.

My rating: 8.5/10