animation

“Training” Day: Review for “How to Train Your Dragon”

Posted on

I don’t know how it’s possible, but in terms of quality animated filmmaking, DreamWorks is getting closer and closer to becoming the company that scares and worries Pixar, the King of the Animated Film Company.  I mean, it helps when you have a strong of successful, funny, delightful, ad star studded films (Kung Fu Panda, Shrek), but even then, you have to be good if you’re aiming that high. And so goes how to Train Your Dragon.

DreamWorks Animation follows it’s amusing and thoughtful film Kung Fu Panda with an exhilarating and action packed tale of friends, cuteness, fire, and a good old “I’m-just-misunderstood” fable. Now, I have to say, this film is not original. Not original at all, there seems to be no new spin on any of the elements either. Mostly a tale of a boy and his dragon and how cute and helpful the dragon is, the story is just as unoriginal as anyone could bother to produce to the screen in 2010. What it does have, however, is style.

Hiccup is a Viking who is overwrought with the pressure from his burly father Stoick the Vast to become just as burly and masculine and virile as he is. Purposefully, the build and frame of Hiccup is one of skinny and scrawny proportions. Think of a stick figure with a large head, and there you go. The whole point of becoming a Viking to that society, that whole island, is to kill a dragon. For years, centuries, the little island that the Vikings lived on has been terrorized by dragons. After one of their better battles, Hiccup accidentally takes down a Night Fury, one of the fastest and stealthiest of all the dragons. (Turns out, it’s also one of the cutest.)

Hiccup tracks the Night Fury he shot down and begins to fraternize with it and even train it. Teach it tricks, help it fly again, feed it. It’s just like Lassie, only not annoying. I think it’s a bit easier to show and emulate human emotions into an animated animal rather than a robot (WALL-E), but even so, the animators do very well with giving Toothless a humorous and funny set of facial expressions. Toothless, this black, lizard like dragon (this is clearly not your Asian portrayal of dragons) has a sensibility of being cute and adorable, but it can be reasonably said that it’s not so cute and adorable that the audience can’t get past that part.

What the film lacks in originality, it makes up for in brilliant visuals, snappy dialogue, and great utilization of what it had. Really, the visuals are pretty much the highlight of the film. The characters, while pleasantly round and stocky, depending on the person, don’t have much depth. That is no problem, and against the backdrop of different landscapes and movements, it’s just fine and dandy. What’s the best part? The fire is spectacular, but coming from a recovering pyromaniac, I may be a bit biased. It’s realistic and explosive, just like fire is. How many animated movies and video games get it wrong is either, they make it a bit too explosive or they don’t have the elements of the dancing flames, swaying from side to side like a sultry tango.

The flight scenes are the most exhilarating and thrilling of any film I have ever seen. Even without the 3D glasses, the movement and ferocity of how fast the characters are going will take you to a new level of excitement unmatched by almost any film ever made (I haven’t seen Avatar, so don’t judge me). The speed of the characters goes so fast, you feel caught up in the motion, which doesn’t leave you queasy, but leaves you adrenaline filled. You’d be hard put to find another flight scene or chase scene that could make you feel like that.

Jay Baruchel is the voice of Hiccup and his nasally, geeky tone helps heighten the nasally, geeky, gawky traits of Hiccup. His insecure tone of voice fits well also. His father, Stoick the Vast, is voiced by the big, brawly Gerard Butler. His thick Scottish accent plays well in the film, as each line is wonderfully exaggerated to great comic effect. They lead a very enjoyable cast, including America Ferrera and Craig Ferguson.

The film was sufficiently cute and had great visuals. It took its blatantly unoriginal plot and screenplay and made it good. Not new or particularly stylized, but it took what it had and it did great with it. The storyline was charming; the characters were cute, etc. What may seem like a rather blah film is actually a great time thanks to the great chase scenes and the adorable dragons. Again, the dragons are adorable.

Grade: B+

The Problems with 3D Movies/Toy Story 3D Double Feature Review

Posted on Updated on

The visceral thrill of a film is very important when concerning actions, thrillers, horror movies, westerns, etc. Almost any genre, you will find that visceral experience like no other. Whether it be head turning in The Exorcist, mind blowing like in The Dark Knight, a whirling feeling only experienced when running like in Casino Royale, that visceral thrill can make or break a movie. In terms of critics and box office. And that is where producers do their worst. They have the strange need to think to themselves “That would look great in 3-D, wouldn’t it?” Well, movies seldom ever do. They’re a ridiculous gimmick that comes back every twenty or thirty years. It was popular in the 1950s with horror movies, utilizing the new technology in Creature from the Black Lagoon, House of Wax, and Thirteen Ghosts. It came back in the 1970s and ‘80s again, with horror movies, but this time, a cut below the rest. Friday the 13th Part 3-D. Amityville 3-D. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (had one 3D sequence that was about 10 minutes long).

And it’s come back yet again, only to make horror movies worse than before, to make animated films too kiddy, and to make mainstream action films seem, if possible, dumber. It’s been used in very recent releases. As recent as say, I don’t know, two weeks ago. Pixar Animation Studios released Up in 3D, about which Pixar head John Lasseter said: “3D is a fun toy but is essentially useless.” He is right. It can, however, be used in a very good way. With films like Monsters vs. Aliens, My Bloody Valentine 3D, The Final Destination 3D, and countless other being released in digital 3D, Pixar is actually doing something right.

The classic animated film Toy Story and its equally fantastic sequel was released a s a double feature recently to get audiences ready for the 3-D release of Toy Story 3, due out in June 2010. How did they do? Well, exceptionally well they did.

You should know the story already, if not be able to quote the entire film (which the monks behind us were doing…for both films), but let’s recap. In the first film, released in 1995, Woody (two time Oscar winner Tom Hanks) is the presiding toy over Andy’s many “child’s play things” and when Andy gets a new space action figure called Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) he gets jealous. Very jealous. Jealous enough to plot against him. The two end up at a masochistic kid’s house and have to work together to survive. The original storyline was so dislikable that Disney didn’t even want to produce it. Thank goodness they rewrote the script.

In the second film, Woody’s arm gets ripped a little, and when mistaken as a sale item in a tag sale, is toy napped by a greedy toy store owner named Carl. It turns out Woody is part of a huge franchise along with a trusty horse, a cowgirl named Jessie (Joan Cusack), and the Prospector (Kelsey Grammar).

The 3D was surprisingly well used. Instead of the recent animated releases making the 3D jump out as far in front of your face as possible, the 3D was used to accentuate characters features, to deep the darkness, and to make the depth of scenery look more realistic. And I’m proud to say the succeeded. However, at what cost? Because there isn’t really anything new to view in the film, it’s best to see if you’re fond of memories from your childhood and haven’t seen it since it was released nearly 15 years ago. The glasses add to the cost of the ticket, so I ended up paying $12.75. If you already have the DVDs, however, stay home and enjoy it on your own big screen. Certainly classic films and wonderful plotline. Sarah McLachlan’s performance of the Oscar nominated song “When Somebody Loved Me” is as heart breaking as ever.

Three dimensions that are used efficiently and not gimmicky. Two awesome movies. One good time. And one heck of an expensive ticket.

Toy Story: A+

Toy Story 2: A+

3D: A

Long Time

Posted on

It has been extremely hectic lately and I am so sorry, Faithful Readers, that I have not posted in a long time. So, I will just write what I have seen and provide a capsule review of each.

 

Doubt

The John Patrick Shanley translates to the screen well mostly because of its stellar cast. Meryl Streep as the suspicious Mother Superior, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a priest accused of inappropriate behavior with a young boy, and the charming Amy Adams as the young novice who brought the “case” to Streep. Shanley’s direction is fine and the play itself is mesmerizing, leaving you at the end only with Doubt.  Grade: A-

The Wrestler

Mickey Rourke is back! An emotionally heart wrenching film about an aging wrestler and what would be his comeback appearance and his attempts to bond with his daughter. A fantastic film and having thought about, I think the Oscar should have gone to Rourke and not Penn. The performances are so raw (kudos to Marisa Tomei as Randy’s stripper love interest and Evan Rachel Wood as his daughter) that it’s not as if we are watching a movie, but a documentary about a falling star. More like plummeting.  Grade: A

Happy-Go-Lucky

Oh, how the meek will inherit the earth. Unless the realists get to them first. A positively brilliant Mike Leigh film starring an irrepressibly optimistic school teacher named Poppy. Poppy has her bike stolen. Poppy is happy nevertheless. She decides she needs to learn how to drive and gets an instructor that is her polar opposite. Hilarity and heart warmth ensue. An extremely fantastic performance from Sally Hawkins, whom the Academy did not even nominate. She deserved to win. Odd ball and featuring one of the best performances of the year (2008, at least). If I had been the instructor, I would have pushed her out of the car.  Grade: A-

Dangerous Liaisons

An absolutely decadent cast (John Malkovich, Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Uma Thurman) with an incredibly sumptuous plot. The Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close) calls on her partner, the Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich), to seduce the young daughter of her cousin, Madame de Volanges (Swoosie Kurtz), in order to have revenge on a former lover, the man to whom young Cécile de Volanges (Uma Thurman) is promised in marriage. At first, Valmont refuses her proposition: he wants to seduce the virtuous Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is spending time at his aunt’s house while her husband is abroad. With beautiful costumes and directing, a top notch cast, and an incredible director, Stephen Frears, this is one heck of a film.  Grade: A+

Three…Extremes

Three short horror films from three Asian directors. What do they add up to? One hell of a terrifying ride! Dumplings, directed by Fruit Chan (what an ironic name! Hong Kong) is about a woman who starts to eat mysterious dumplings to restore her youth. The secret ingredient will make you more than nauseous. Cut, directed by Park Chan-wook (South Korea), is about a horror film director taken hostage by a berserk film extra. Effectively scary. Last but not least is Box, directed by Takashi Miike (Japan, famous for Ichi the Killer and Audition), a very enigmatic film about a woman hanuted in her dreams by the ghost of her sister, whom she murdered when they were little out of jealousy. While a little confusing, it is ultimately a very suspenseful film. Overall, the trios are great and do what they are meant to do: Scare the bejesus out of you!  Dumplings: A  Cut: B  Box: B+  Overall: A-

Cruel Intentions

Dangerous Liaisons for the Gossip Girl generation! Essentially the same plot of the classic film, if for more explicit language and sex. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Philippe play the conniving characters, while the young virgin is played by Selma Blair and the virtuous girl played by Reese Witherspoon (both would be back together for Legally Blond). With adults, the story is erotic and sexy and classy, but with teens in a prep school-it’s just really icky! Really awkward and uncomfortable as well as gross. The acting is average and the overall point of the story is made less meaningful when you add teenagers to the equation.  Grade: C-

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Overlong story of a man who ages backwards, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 20 page short story. Bloated in running time: 2 hours and 47 minutes. Brad Pitt is rather bland as Button not to mention that his Louisiana accent is a thin as paper. The CGI, while excellent, felt excessive at times for the character of Button. Cate Blanchette is excellent as Daisy, Ben’s love interest. The movie is constantly interrupted by scenes in a hospital (it is told to a young woman’s mother, Daisy, as a journal Ben left for her) which wouldn’t be as annoying if they were less frequent. The math of aging backwards isn’t quite right either. Ben ages very rapidly during the first 90 minutes and when he hits Brad Pitt age, he seems to slow down. Daisy as a woman also doesn’t age rapidly enough. When she’s twenty to when she is 45 she looks virtually the same, albeit the hair color fades a little. It isn’t until the final half hour or so does she really age. David Fincher is great as director. Good, but not great, film.  Grade: B

Up

Pixar’s tenth feature film about an old curmudgeon heading to South America with a young boy is very good. Though, I think it is Pixar’s most blatantly preachy film they have released so far. The animation is stunning as usual, but the story itself feels as if its message is being shoved in your face. Nevertheless, it is a fantastic film. The character of Russell just bursts with exuberance. I particularly enjoyed the short film preceded by Up, called Partly Cloudy, about rain clouds who create babies and other cure animals for storks. One certain cloud, a little rain one, ends up creating the most dangerous things and the poor stork who ends up having to take them away ends up with man an injury. Extremely cute and heart warming, it may be the highlight if you don’t like UpPartly Cloudy: A+  Up: B+

Nightmares and Dreamscapes: Review for “Coraline”

Posted on

The team who brought you the stop-motion animation masterpiece The Nightmare Before Christmas is back delivering a terrifying but fantastic film yet again. Neil Gaiman’s wonderfully eerie children’s book hits the screen in a big way, and works great as a SMA movie. I imagine that a live action version would not be as convincingly scary.

Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is a ten year old girl who has moved to a three story housing complex completely against her will. She misses her friends. She doesn’t want to go to a new school. Her upstairs neighbor, a Mr. B, is slightly crazy, while the two retired actresses living below are just as balmy. The two are voiced perfectly by Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, the wackiest British comediennes ever. Her parents are always busy and don’t want to be pestered by Coraline. She remains bored to death, even when she makes friends with a weird kid named Wyborn. While all this transpires, she wishes for a better and more exciting life. She finds a door in the living room that leads to another world that’s so fantastic. She has a really cool Other Mother (both mothers are voiced by Teri Hatcher) and her crazy neighbors are interesting and fun. But all of them lack a real human quality and have button eyes. She soon learns that all is not what appears. The Other Mother is one of the scariest characters ever exhibited on screen.

At first, the film is very slow and drags on with no purpose. It isn’t until Coraline enters the Other World that the film gets exciting. There are several elements, such as the character of Wybie, that are not in the original book. The black cat is a purrfect cynical version of Jiminy Cricket and speaks in a very wise tone.

The animation in the film is flawless and the movements the figures make are seamless and unbelievably fluid. Thy have come so for since Nightmare. It is really quite amazing. But as amazing as the film is, I wouldn’t let anyone under the age of eleven see it. It is too scary, and the images are a little too disturbing for young ones. Not only that, but it makes a mother the main villain. Parents may also frown at the buxom Miss Forcible. Don’t take your younger kids to see it, no matter how fantastic it is.

 

Grade: B+

 

I, Robot: Review for “Wall-E” 3-Disc Special Edition DVD

Posted on Updated on

Pixar is honestly one of the most amazing studios ever. More amazing than MGM, more fantastic than Universal, and more exciting than 20th Century Fox. Not only because of the amazing visuals they provide for all of their films, but also because of their acclectic choices of films. Even though their is a small taste of a Pixar film in each, they’re all different and wonderfully so. Toy Story was an adult tale disguised as a kid’s film, with it’s catchy humor and great voices. A Bug’s Life was the second venture into computer animation and it was just as satisfying. With each new Pixar film, a new adventure was experienced by all audiences and pleasure is the feedback and reception the guys, like Brad Bird (director of The Incredibles and Ratatouille) and John Lasseter (directer of Toy Story and Cars), have been getting ever since. Wall-Eis the newest of the bunch. I was a little hesitant due to how fast the studio has been churning out films, great or otherwise (they’ve already got a new film planned for May 2009, UP). But with his wonderfully emotional binocular eyes, Wall-E warmed the hearts of virtually everone on the planet. Wall-E, a trash compacter whose job it is to clean up the mess we left on Earth 700 years ago, is very lonley and spens his time collecting trinkets he finds and watching Hello, Dolly!But his life turns around when a sleek probe named EVE lands to collect any vegetation. It’s nerd love at first sight. And that is what makes this film so amazing: love. as you can tell, I’m very sappy and an easy target for filmmakers out to make audiences cry. Even though its political message is a little strong for me, its fantastic characters and wonderful storyline make it worth it. The new DVD contains two discs in a , at first confusing, eco-friendly package. The first disc has that wonderfully cute and funny Presto. It also features the new, and equally funny short film BURN-E. There is also a fascinating documentary about Ben Burtt, who also did the sound effects for Star Wars, and how he created the sounds for Wall-E. The second disc has funny vignettes and a brilliant new documentary called The Pixar Story. It chronicles the studio from its humble beginnings at Lucasfilm to its blockbuster films like Cars. The third disc is one of my favorites. It has a DisneyFile Digital Copy which allows you to carry the entire film on your computer or your iPod. A truly amazing film, you can bet it’ll win for Oscar’s Best Animated Feature.

Film: A

Features: A

The Pixar Story: A-

Overall: A