Tag Archives: Disney

Oscar Schmoscar 2017

Each year, when I do these quickie reviews of Oscar nominees that I’ve seen, a few of them are marginal categories — like sound editing, or costume design — but this year I think I’ve got a better slice. I still may not necessarily love the winners, but I’m glad that doing my Oscar-viewing “homework” gets me to enjoy a few films that I would otherwise have overlooked.

arrivalArrival

Nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Cinematography, Film Editing, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Adapted Screenplay

A film that I would definitely have watched (and not overlooked) regardless of if it had been nominated, Arrival falls into one of my favourite sub-genres: brainy sci-fi. The movie is about Amy Adams’s character, Dr. Louise Banks, a linguistics professor who is employed by the US military to translate for an alien race whose 12 ships have appeared around the globe. Part of what raises this story to a higher level is how it imagines the challenges of a task like this more realistically than previous sci-fi. The movie shows us how it would understandably be much more difficult than learning another human language. Nevertheless, it’s not just a dry science-y stuff about a first encounter situation. It’s also interwoven by a story of Banks’s own life experiences, having a child who dies of a fatal disease. The movie presents the story in a non-linear fashion, jumping around in flashbacks to various memories and moments in her life. The look of the movie, with its giant monolithic spaceships, and smoky-foggy atmosphere only add to the moodiness and dreaminess of the film — which seems par for the course with brainy sci-fi. That tone also seems to be cinematic shorthand for emotional depth and profundity. As you may have realized from my vague comments, this is actually a tricky film to pin down since it is very non-traditional. Nevertheless, I found it moving, thought-provoking, and really enjoyable — and I hope it wins Best Picture (4.5 out of 5).

lalaland-featureLa La Land

Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score, Original Song (x2), Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Production Design, and Original Screenplay

On to the front-runner… I have to say that I found this movie (which has won a lot of awards already) to be way over-hyped. The semi-musical about an aspiring actress (played by Emma Stone — who I love!) and a struggling jazz pianist (played by Ryan Gosling — who I think is pretty cool) does not have that magic that makes it a Best Picture in my book. The movie tries to capture some old Hollywood musical flair (like a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie, or Gene Kelly’s Singin’ In The Rain), which it actually does fairly well. The scenes flow smoothly into song-and-dance numbers that are well done and look very nice. However, I didn’t feel like the musical numbers had any point other than as bits of flash. I like it when musicals use songs to allow characters to express themselves directly to the audience in a way that they might not be able to through dialogue. This movie starts out with a traffic jam that breaks into song, and later there’s a Hollywood party where the extras sing and dance — it’s all fluff. Stone and Gosling are on their third cinematic pairing, but I didn’t feel the chemistry this time between them. Don’t get me wrong, their scenes together still aren’t bad (and they’re both so attractive that it’s easy to think of them as a couple) but maybe it’s because they didn’t have as many scenes of good interaction as they should. To top it off, I didn’t find their voices very compatible, so when they sang together I cringed a little. The music wasn’t bad (and the haunting “City of Stars” theme is still playing in my head) but in the end, the overall movie was not very satisfying. The theme of following one’s dreams (in Hollywood) and what that might cost has been done to death. There was a bit of play with the storyline and “what-ifs”, and to that bit of editing and storytelling I would give some credit, but it still left the ending kind of flat for me. (3.5 out of 5)

andrew-garfield-hacksaw-ridgeHacksaw Ridge

Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing

This true-life story really caught my attention, despite the fact that I’m not a big fan of war stories. Andrew Garfield plays US Army Private Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who would not pick up a gun despite tremendous opposition and pressure from everyone around him, including his commanders. Becoming a medic, Doss’s heroics saved many of his fellow soldiers, and turned a very difficult and almost hopeless battle into a victory against the Japanese. Director Mel Gibson has a visceral and gory style when it comes to violence in film (which is evident in an early pre-war scene of a young man who gets injured in a car mishap and his leg wound is spurting blood). Nevertheless, the main battle scene is very well done and conveys the kind of anxiety and tension that the soldiers must have felt fighting in the trenches. Unfortunately, the script has an overly sentimental and simplistic style: early scenes are always paid off later in the movie, or characters (namely Doss) start to feel larger-than-life and unshakeably noble. I was also bothered by the demonization of the Japanese (the few scenes depicting Japanese soldiers showed them either committing ritual suicide after defeat, or deceptively surrendering to US troops only to throw grenades when they got close). Overall, there was just a lack of sophistication to the script. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this movie, because I definitely did. It was thrilling, inspiring, heartfelt and moving in parts — and I guess that’s really what it was supposed to be. (4 out of 5)

florence_bFlorence Foster Jenkins

Nominated for Best Actress, and Costume Design

I watched this movie mainly because I am in awe of Meryl Streep, who inhabits her characters and never gives a bad performance. As good as she was playing the title character — a wealthy New York socialite and arts patroness during the 40s — I don’t really see why this movie was made, and why this true-life story was interesting to tell. Jenkins was a huge devotee of music and loved to put on concerts to an audience that gave her praise despite the fact that she was a technically terrible singer (and Streep is a good singer, so it’s even part of her good performance to be shrill and out of tune). The story was arguably sadder because Jenkins didn’t realize that the kudos and adoration often weren’t genuine, but means of getting her patronage. Even her husband (played by Hugh Grant) was living with another woman on the side. After Hacksaw Ridge, which is set in the same time period, it seems even more trivial that this rich woman was putting on concerts out of vanity while the war was going on. Coincidentally there was a scene(actually a pretty good one) that made this incongruity even more pronounced where Jenkins had given free tickets to some of the military troop for her performance at Carnegie Hall. The soldiers all came across as boorish and uncouth as they were laughing and booing Jenkins’s terrible singing. So much of this movie is about how everyone around her tries to protect Jenkins from learning the disappointing truth for fear it will break her heart. In fact, there’s even an almost so-bad-it’s-good admiration that many felt for Jenkins, along with a genuine appreciation of her magnanimous spirit. Interestingly, in a parallel way, it feels uncouth for me to dislike this movie. On the surface it seems trivial and vain, but to paraphrase one of the movie lines “it’s singing its heart out”. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I’m not appreciating the spirit of this film. Nevertheless, I still think it only merits at 3 out of 5.

amancalledove_trailer1A Man Called Ove

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Makeup & Hair

Going out to left field a bit, I also wanted to review a foreign film nominee. I have a sweet spot for Scandinavian cinema, so A Man Called Ove sounded like a good choice. A relatively subtle film about an old curmudgeon who lives in a suburban housing complex, Ove is very set in his ways. When he loses his job, it’s finally time to join his deceased wife and he decides to commit suicide. Unfortunately (or fortunately) every time he makes an attempt, he is interrupted by his disturbing neighbours and he starts to find reasons to stick around a little longer. Eventually he befriends (or he is befriended-by) a new neighbour — a pregnant Persian woman — who helps Ove’s life get brighter and brighter. I say this film is subtle because it’s not a single heartfelt incident, or an important and touching conversation that melts Ove’s heart. Instead, it’s a series of mundane events that bit by bit nudge his life and his character in a different direction. Interspersed through the film, Ove has flashbacks to events earlier in his life, especially with his beloved wife Sonja. It’s wonderful to see the triumphs and tragedies that led him to become the man we see. The Oscar nomination for hair and makeup is probably for the ageing of the main actor, who apparently looks nothing like the balding Ove. I’m not sure if this award is deserved (especially over movies like Star Trek Beyond or Suicide Squad) but even the physical transformation was very subtle to me. This kind of film is far from unique, but when done well it can be both touching and inspiring. I haven’t seen any of the other Foreign Film nominees, but I wouldn’t mind if this one won. (4 out of 5)

zootopiaZootopia

Nominated for Best Animated Feature

I really love Zootopia and think it deserves to win. It’s not as artsy as some of the other nominees, but this movie about a small town bunny who starts her career as a cop, is so enjoyable. On top of the cuteness and the fun, it’s also a great hybrid of an animated animals story with an actual buddy cop storyline. The characters are wonderfully (and hilariously) conceived, and their expressions and looks are memorably great. As a fan of animated movies, I also found this movie carefully-able to tread that fine line between animals that represent people (which is good) and animals that parody people (which is bad). Zootopia doesn’t just have animals acting like humans  — which always leads to terrible puns — but it’s more like the animals are their own society based on humans. [I know I’m doing a terrible job of explaining this distinction — and you probably don’t care — but to me this makes all the difference between a Shark Tale and a Finding Nemo.] On top of the great characters, hilarious scenes, and fun adventure, this movie also throws in some bigger themes like racism, stereotypes, political corruption, etc. Whether or not this movie wins the Oscar (which I hope it does), I really want Disney to make a sequel as well (4.5 out of 5).

Moana – Movie review

moana57c47666d55dd1For a simple animated kids film about a Polynesian princess (technically, she’s only the daughter of a chief, but you know what Disney’s marketing department will say — there is even a line in the movie about the criteria for princess-hood) who seeks her own destiny to help save her people, there are a lot of expectations around this movie. For starters, this movie follows in the tradition of mega-hit Frozen, taking a legend/folktale and giving it new, animated, musical life. The animation has a similar style (most notably with those giant eyes!), and the story is once again full of female empowerment and animal sidekicks (a little pig and a ridiculously stupid rooster, along with “the ocean” as a kind of ally or pet — bet no one’s ever tried that before). Along for the ride is a demi-god named Maui: a thick-chested, tattoo-covered, shape-changing trickster, voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Together, they quest to restore a magical jewel to the heart of a dormant island goddess.

While there are many similarities between this movie and its other Disney predecessors, story-wise the most recent analogue is actually the marvellous Kubo and the Two Strings. Again, there’s a kind of folktale context in which a young person sets off on a quest with some magical allies. In fact, there’s even a very similar scene in both movies where a magic object is stuck in the back of a large monster and our heroes need to retrieve it. I love that Disney and other animation studios are still telling folktales to kids. Animation is one of the best media for capturing the magic and wonder of those kinds of stories. It’s also great that Disney continues to tour the world to bring different cultures to its young audiences. I know that it is often probably more trouble than it’s worth given that there’s always a controversy or two and there’s a lot of political correctness to be maintained, but I really hope that they don’t give up on this goal. The good definitely outweighs the bad, in my opinion.

What amazes me about each new feature from Disney and Pixar animators is how they just keep getting more skilled and masterful at the animation. In this movie, there are (as to be expected) many scenes of the beaches and oceans of the South Pacific. While I enjoyed all the fun, the songs, and the story, to me the most impressive feature of this movie was the incredible water animation (apparently they developed new technologies just for that aspect of this movie). The beaches, waves and water looked unbelievably realistic, and every time we looked out into the horizon over the endless ocean, I could not believe that none of it was real — it all existed only in the computer! If you’re waiting for home video, I would say that the ocean scenes alone are worth seeing on the big screen. Less worthy of bigness, but still pretty cool is how they have also seemed to master the computer generation of curly hair. I know it started in Pixar’s Brave, so maybe that tech is only being perfected in Moana and Maui’s hair, but I gotta say, they both have a lot of bouncy curly locks that any shampoo commercial would kill for.

So what about the story, you ask? It’s pretty good. As I mentioned, it’s an ocean-borne quest where Moana needs to set off to find Maui the demi-god and bring him to the island of Matanui to restore its jewelled heart (and thus restore the life power to the islands, which are dying). Of course, nothing goes without a hitch and a couple of side missions. There’s even a bit of a twist ending (which again reminded me of the twist ending in Kubo and the Two Strings).

The two main actors are pretty good. Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho is youthful and spunky as Moana. I think the casting was perfect. Johnson was also excellent as Maui. He definitely has a more modern, humourous personality which reminded me a little of Eddie Murphy’s dragon character in Mulan in that it seemed anachronistic but it still worked and was quite funny. There are a few other guest roles (including Alan Tudyk as Hei Hei the rooster, which still perplexes me because the rooster does not talk) with a pretty fun cast. If he sounds familiar, but you can’t put your finger on the voice of Tamatoa (the crab monster), it’s the distinctive voice of Flight of the Conchords‘s Jemaine Clement.

Last but not least, the music was  enjoyable as well. There are some rousing epic numbers as well as some funny ones. Moana has her own little anthem, which is not going to be “Let It Go” big (but how could any song hope to be that big?). Frankly, I can’t remember Moana’s song anymore, but during the movie it was nice. Lin-Manuel Miranda (the superstar creator of Broadway megahit Hamilton) also worked on some of the songs — I’m guessing it was Maui’s number, “You’re Welcome”.

Moana is a really fun movie and I am sure that it’s going to do really well at the box office and all the kids are going to want to get tattoos now (only to be disappointed when once they realize that tattoos don’t actually move animatedly). Despite all our expectations, I think Disney has lived up this time. (4.5 out of 5)

Midseason TV 2015

Midseason is here again. It’s that time of year when TV networks (and a growing number of non-TV channels who are delivering episodic content) take a second run at catching the audience’s attention. It’s usually a time when some of the more outlandish/inventive shows come on, which the programming execs might have thought were too risky to debut in the fall. I watched only a few of them, but here’s my take on what I’ve seen.

Agent-Carter-pilotkritika_prevMarvel’s Agent Carter

This is a limited-run series that spins off the character of Agent Peggy Carter (played again by Hayley Atwell) from the Captain America: The First Avenger movie — she was Captain America’s girlfriend. This series is part of the ever-expanding Marvel cinematic universe that includes The Avengers (the movie), and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (the TV series). However, this show is set just after WW2  so it’s a prior generation to all those other characters. Carter works for a fictional US agency known as SSR (which is kind of like the NSA), but she’s clearly over-qualified for the work they have her doing from day to day. Unfortunately, the way she’s treated at her job is one of the things that made me dislike the show. There’s a running gag about how she’s much more capable than her male colleagues who chauvinistically look down on her because she’s a woman and continually treat her like a glorified secretary. The joke is always on them because the audience knows that she moonlights on her own secret missions where she’s continuing to “save the world”. Despite how the show repeatedly reminds us of her competence even within the sexist context of the 50s, Carter can still find herself hiding under a colleague’s desk when he is about to catch her breaking into it — and other types of bungling that really belongs more on a broad sitcom. Agents of SHIELD also had a slow start. However, since this is a limited series to begin with, I gave up on it pretty quickly as I don’t think it has the room to grow and establish itself.

12 Monkeys - Season 112 Monkeys

Remember that 1996 Terry Gilliam sci-fi movie where Bruce Willis was sent back in time to prevent a planet-killing plague, and where Brad Pitt played a mental patient and was nominated for an Oscar? Well they’ve remade it as a TV series starring Aaron Stanford in Willis’s former role as James Cole (Stanford played Pyro in the X-Men movies, and also had a big role in Nikita — another movie-to-TV remake) and Amanda Schull (who played Katrina — Mike’s quasi-nemesis on Suits) in the role of Dr. Reilly that Madeline Stowe kinda played in the movie version. Confused? Well, don’t worry because you won’t really need your smarts for the show (at least not compared to the twisty head-trip that the movie was). The TV series has so far mostly been an “on the run” kind of story line where Cole has come back in time and is trying to stop the destructive events that led to the plague that kills billions in his time. Dr. Reilly is roped into helping him, and together they chase after clues while being chased by various groups themselves. I hope there’s a lot more to come which really expands the universe of the story, but so far it’s very unimpressive. Everything seems done somewhat cheaply (Darn! There’s that overly-colourful lighting that supposedly adds a bit of creepiness to these kinds of low-budget sci-fi shows). They’re going to be introducing the character that Pitt played but they’ve gender-bent the role so he’s a she. I’ll give this show a few more chances, but like so many attempts at sci-fi success in recent seasons, this show doesn’t seem original enough (in fact it has similarities to Continuum) and not just because it’s a remake.

empireEmpire

At first I only intended to watch this new series about a hip-hop music mogul and his family drama because I thought it was going to be a musical show (like a hip-hop Glee). However, though the show does feature a lot of music, it’s kept in a real world context (i.e. musical numbers don’t represent characters’ imagination or interior monologues, but rather actual performances like recording sessions, concerts, music videos, etc.). Nevertheless, I got sucked in from a totally different angle that I didn’t expect: the soap opera angle. The lead character of Lucious Lyon is played by former Oscar nominee Terence Howard, and his main antagonist is his ex-wife Cookie (played by fellow former Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson who was also last seen dying on the TV series Person of Interest). Cookie is released from prison where she’s spent the last 14 years, having taken the fall for Lucious when they were dealing drugs. She’s come back to reclaim not only her family (they have three sons together) but also half of Lucious’s musical empire. Henson plays Cookie as a larger-than-life character who repeatedly barges in on meetings and makes her intentions known. A rivalry is formed between two of the sons when each parent backs the music careers of one and not the other. With her ex-wifely ferocity, not to mention her animal prints and big sunglasses, I could not help but be reminded by Cookie of Joan Collins’s character Alexis Carrington on Dynasty. I realize that most viewers will probably not be old enough to even know what Dynasty was, but there are a number of parallels between this show and that classic series. This show is similarly far from subtle or sophisticated, and its characters are definitely caricatures of black men and women in the entertainment industry (Do they really need to use “po po” instead of “police” and “belee” instead of “believe”?) — in the same way that Alexis was a shoulder-pad-wearing, drink tossing, face-slapping exaggeration of a rich, white woman. Even though I am not a hip-hop/R&B fan myself, as a former Dynasty fan I’ve missed this kind of melodrama and this show has me hooked.

Galavant-KingGalavant

A Disney-powered show, with musical numbers by composer Alan Menken (he worked on mega-hits including The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast to name a few), Galavant was probably my most anticipated midseason show, but ironically, I ended up not liking it at all. The story of Sir Galavant, is meant to be a satire of the medieval fairytale where the heroic knight saves the damsel from the wicked tyrant and they live happily ever after. In this version, she’d rather stay with the tyrant king and the knight is left a wallowing loser. The ironic take on the fairytale has already been so overdone (see also Shrek, Spamalot) that a TV series really needed something more. Unfortunately that was not to be found in the musical numbers, which were pretty repetitive (the Galavant theme music is used over and over for almost anyone talking/singing about him). Of course, the way everything is flipped around, where everyone is selfish and cynical rather than noble and romantic, gets tired quickly as well. It seems like the act of taking a genre traditionally meant for kids and filling it with ostensibly grown-up stuff (such as the fact that the queen is screwing around with the jester) has painted this show into a corner.

Man-In-the-High-Castle1The Man in the High Castle

Did you know that Amazon releases original scripted content? (In fact, one of their shows just won at the Golden Globe awards.) They do this thing called “Pilot season” where they put a bunch of pilot episodes for new shows online and ask viewers to vote for which ones they want to see made into series. (Sadly the show I liked from last year, Chris Carter’s The After was going to be made into a series but Amazon decided to pull out.) The Man in the High Castle is a sci-fi show built on a very interesting premise: What if the Axis powers won WW2? The story is set in a USA that has been divided into two halves: one is ruled by Germany, the other by Japan. One of the main characters (played by Alexa Davalos) is inadvertently sent on the run when her sister is killed in front of her, leaving her with a mysterious package that people seem to be coming after. The other character, Joe Blake, joins up with the rebels to help transport some secret cargo. While I would have been interested in this show even if it had merely been about characters fighting against tyranny in this alternate USA, there’s an additional Lost-style mystery added by what is revealed to be in those mysterious packages — I’ll tell you it’s a film, but what’s on the film is the real game-changer. Similar to how at the end of the Lost pilot the broadcast that the castaways heard was a twist that really piqued my interest, I am super-intrigued to see what happens in this series (so Amazon better go ahead and make the show!).

glee-season-6-premiere-episode-2-homecoming-new-kidsparks&rec7Glee/Parks and Recreation

Along with the new shows, Glee and Parks and Recreation also returned for both their final seasons. Glee seems to be resetting things by leaving NYC behind and returning to Lima and McKinley High to start a glee club again with new students (this time with Rachel and Kurt as the teachers instead of Mr. Schue). Parks and Recreation did the opposite by continuing last season’s three-year time-jump by pitting friends and colleagues against each other in a bid for land. Leslie wants the land for a national park but some of the others are working with Gryzzl (a fictional internet business) who wants to build a campus in Pawnee. I think both shows will have fun final seasons, but it’s clear that they are winding down and using their remaining vigor to go out on a high note.

Big Hero 6 – Movie Review

big hero 6Big Hero 6 represents the true coming-together of Disney and Marvel universes (even moreso than being able to play The Hulk alongside snow-queen Elsa in the videogame world of Disney Infinity). Disney animators (with no small influence from their Pixar brethren) have taken an obscure Marvel Comics super-team and brought them to cute, plastic life with very enjoyable, family-friendly results. Set in the bayside urban amalgam known as “San Fransokyo”, this movie basically tells the story of a young robotics genius named Hiro (voiced by Supah Ninjas‘ Ryan Potter) and his medical-robot-turned-sidekick, Baymax (voiced by 30 Rock‘s Scott Adsit). Of course, connoisseurs of kids/animated movies will recognize a lot of elements from previous films, including most-obviously Pixar’s The Incredibles (as another emotional, character-based super-team adventure), The Iron Giant (also about a young, moody boy and his well-intentioned yet powerful robot), E.T. (where a boy gradually learns to understand his odd, non-human friend) and How To Train Your Dragon (which had a very similar “first flight” scene where boy and dragon/robot fly together through the air and bond emotionally — E.T. also had one of these scenes). Even with all these past influences, Big Hero 6 still has a fresh, fun vibe and I hope it’s the beginning of a trend towards more kids’ superhero stories from the Marvel/Disney/Pixar dream factory.

The heart of this movie is really the relationship between Baymax and Hiro, helping him get over a big tragedy in his life (I am not going to spoil what that tragedy is, but the YouTube trailer has no such hesitation if you’re interested). However, there is also a small group of friends (who play a relatively peripheral role in the movie’s drama) and Hiro’s techno-smarts turn them all into super-heroes. They suit up to help him and Baymax foil the main villain’s big scheme, and the action sequences for those scenes are top-notch. The animated motions of the heroes in their super-suits, doing all kinds of slick-yet-silly things in battle, were smooth and rapid. The other element of Disney-fication of the Big Hero 6 story was having the main character going through an emotional challenge/tragedy. Disney and Pixar both have a way of putting its adorable characters through adult-sized life-events that really get a grip on the audience’s heartstrings. Themes of personal loss and finding strength in others are good lessons for young viewers, and I’m glad that Disney has never really been shy about dealing with these kinds of ideas (albeit in a scaled-down, clean, closed-ended way).

I really enjoyed Big Hero 6, and I hope it represents the start of a new branch of Disney storytelling away from their mega-successful “princess” movies (not that I didn’t love Frozen, because I definitely did) that goes in the direction of modern, sci-fi-based adventures. 4 out of 5

Looking forward to 2014 Movies

As the harsh winter sends us all scurrying indoors, I’m looking forward to some promising movies in the first half of 2014. Don’t be too disappointed in me if the vast majority of these are sequels, prequels, or adaptations. They’re the ones that I know more of what to expect (I’ve been well-trained by the Hollywood Hype Machine!).

Robocop-2014-Movie-Image1In February, we get to see an updated (and even cooler looking) Robocop (Feb 12). This time, the cybernetic policeman sports some sleek, black armour and looks a like a cross between a Cylon and Apple’s new Mac Pro. On one hand, I want to see what Joel Kinnaman (from TV’s The Killing) will do with the role. On the other, I still can’t get rid of the bad taste of Colin Farrell’s Total Recall remake. On Feb 21, we’ll see the wide release of animation master Hayao Miyazaki’s last film before retirement, The Wind Rises. While the based-on-true story of a Japanese aviation engineer sounds ironically more grounded than previous flights of fancy such as Howl’s Moving Castle, or Spirited Away, I don’t want to miss Miyazaki’s swan song.

veronica-mars-movie-sneak-peek-love-triangle-2March is looking good with one of my most anticipated movies of the year, Veronica Mars finally making it to the big screen. While I mildly care about how this labour of love was funded by fans of the show via Kickstarter, I’m more excited that Kristen Bell gets to return to her best role ever, as the young girl detective (now grown up) and a whole bunch of her friends, frenemies, and other acquaintances are popping up too. Note to self: “Rewatch the TV series before March 14”. Before Miss Bell returns, another of my favourite actresses gets to loom large on the screen. Eva Green chews the scenery as Persian naval commandatrix Artemesia in 300: Rise of an Empire (Mar 7), another chapter in the 300 saga (frankly, I don’t know if it’s a sequel or a prequel or neither). I doubt it will be as good as the Zack Snyder original, but I’m a huge fan of the over-the-top fantasy epic. Finally, Divergent seeks to be the next Hunger Games on March 21, when it brings another beloved, young-adult, dystopian series to the big screen. I haven’t read the book (about a future society where people are divided by personalities and a group of mutants … I mean “divergent” … seek to challenge the system) but it seems a little derivative. Nevertheless, I like this kind of stuff, and another one of my favourite actresses (Kate Winslet) is in it.

captain-america-the-winter-soldier-official-trailer-01Captain America: Winter Soldier (Apr 4), brings back Chris Evans as the star-spangled Avenger, but now he has to contend with his abandoned-for-dead former-protege (played by Sebastian Stan) who has returned all hard and bitter (Why do they always have to get that way?) as the Winter Soldier.

Amazing_Spider-Man_2_23The supers just keep coming in May as Andrew Garfield returns in Amazing Spider-man 2 (no subtitle). I loved the first film, so I am very very excited about this sequel (even though I think the way they’ve done Jamie Foxx as the shocking villain Electro is really strange looking). I’m also pumped for the latest X-Men movie, X-Men: Days of Future Past (May 23) because it picks up one of the most interesting of the X-Men comic book story arcs. Time travel is involved, which conveniently brings together casts from both generations of X-Men movies. Since seeing the little teaser at the end of The Wolverine, I am really looking forward to this one. At the end of May, Angelina Jolie vamps it up as Maleficent (the villain from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty). This live-action prequel continues to mine Disney properties for more gold like the two Once Upon a Time series do on television, so I fear that it might be as story-thin as those shows are as well. We shall see.

edge-of-tomorrow-postJune brings us another original, non-sequel sci-fi from Tom Cruise (keep’em comin’ Tommy Boy!). Edge of Tomorrow (Jun 6) features some of my favourite things: time loops, battle armour, Bourne Identity director Doug Liman, and another favourite actress Emily Blunt. I’m not crazy about the fact that it’s set during a war, but at least it’s a war against aliens. Finally, it’s been four years since we last saw Toothless and Hiccup on the big screen, so naturally now the Viking boy and his trained dragon are a bit grown up in How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Boy, I wish there had been a better title for this one.) Despite the fact that there’s a TV show to tell the story of their adventures, it seems like they are going to be able to really expand the scope of this fantastic world with new characters and awesome animation. It’s going to be great to see them take things up a few notches.

Those are the movies I’m looking forward to over the next months. New Cineplex slogan: Come in for the warmth, but stay for the exciting new movies! (or something a little catchier)

Frozen – Movie Review

Frozen Anna_Olaf_Kristoff_Sven-728x513

When I heard that Frozen was going to be based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, “The Snow Queen”, I was excited because I think Disney movies are at their best when they are adapting famous folktales into family musical adventures. After Tangled was a success at reinventing that Disney formula using computer animation instead of the traditional hand-drawn images of classics like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, I was hoping that it would pave the way for more of the same. This time, there’s twice the princess-fun as Frozen is a story about sisters: one, Elsa, cursed with the power of ice which plunges their Nordic homeland of Arendelle into endless winter; the other, Anna, blessed with courage, feistiness and a warm spirit, tries to persuade her sister to release them all from the magical deep freeze.

The characters in Frozen do not stray from the Disney formula, but why fix something that works, eh? Anna is the latest in a long line of plucky princesses; Prince Hans, and outdoorsy do-gooder Kristoff are her dashing white knights; cute sidekicks include Olaf the snowman, and (like Maximus the horse from Tangled) Sven the reindeer speaks volumes with grunts and snorts. The scene-stealer among them is clearly Olaf (voiced by The Book of Mormon’s Josh Gad) who is at once charming, adorable and clueless. A talking, singing snowman is precious enough, but Olaf even has an ignorant affection for summer heat (he has a whole song and dance number about it)! How’s that for obliviously sweet?

It doesn’t take much time before it’s clear that this movie is a musical, starting with an opening number by a chorus of ice cutters. To that end, it’s wonderful that Disney has hired some Broadway voice talent for the roles. Besides Gad as Olaf, Kristoff is played by Spring Awakening‘s Jonathan Groff (he was also Jesse St. James on Glee). Anna is played by Veronica Mars‘s Kristen Bell (who did some Broadway and is not a bad singer), but it’s powerhouse Idina Menzel who hits it home as Elsa (she has an amazing number, “Let it Go”, which sounds like Menzel is once again channelling her Tony-winning character of Wicked‘s Elphaba). The music is generally quite nice, with a few standout numbers (“Let It Go” and “First Time in Forever” do it for me) and a slightly contemporary feel.

Disney’s animation is always top-notch, with fun character designs and stunning landscapes (the scene where Elsa conjures her ice palace is breathtaking). The CG stuff is still new for Disney, and though most of it is really impressive, I still have reservations about the female characters with their giant heads and huge eyes. While they can be lovely, they can also seem a little grotesque. Even though Elsa’s lips and motions fit perfectly with the lyrics, they seemed a bit toy-like when paired with Menzel’s fierce vocals. In fact, everything seems just a little plastic. Though I’m sure that still needs to be refined over time, Disney has definitely planted its flag in the field of computer animation.

Finally, the story of “The Snow Queen” is probably not very familiar to many of us, and that is part of its advantage in Frozen. The plot was not something that audiences were tired of, and there are a few plot twists that maybe we don’t see coming. All in all, I found this movie to be heartfelt and delightful, despite its chilly themes (and seeing it in midwinter). (4.5 out of 5)

Tangled – Movie Review

Whenever Disney releases an animated movie, I wonder whether they’ve finally abandoned their classic formula. Last year’s The Princess and the Frog was probably their last foray into hand-drawn animation, but Tangled clearly suggests that they’re staying true to the kinds of movies that brought them success in the past. It’s definitely the successor of Disney greats such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, except now the animation is produced entirely by computers (which has its pros and cons). Thankfully, Tangled is still a heart-warming fairy-tale adaptation full of humour, songs, and animal sidekicks (and isn’t that what Disney lovers really want?).

I wasn’t too familiar with the story of Rapunzel except that she had really long hair which she let down in order for her rescuer to climb up the tower in which she was trapped. Knowing Disney, I’m sure they’ve got the essence of the original but have taken great liberties to mold the story into a “Disney” tale. In this version, Rapunzel is held in a tower by an old woman pretending to be her mother (but she was actually abducted from her true parents, the king and queen). The woman told the girl that the outside world was too dangerous and that she was keeping Rapunzel in the tower for her protection. What she really guarded was the princess’s magical hair whose power kept the old woman young. One day, roguish thief Flynn Rider happens upon the tower while escaping from the palace guards. Even though she didn’t realize that she was a prisoner, Rapunzel took the opportunity to escape with Flynn in order to see the world (and in particular, a wonderful display of lights that mysteriously appears in the sky every year on her birthday …hmmmm..curious…). Considering how little the original story seemed to contain, the Disney writers did a great job crafting a script that fits together well, with charm, villainy, action, danger, magic and even true love.

It also wouldn’t be a Disney fairy tale without some wonderful music and it was great to have composer Alan Menken back writing the tunes. I can’t say that they were as memorable (maybe it’s the extra dash of pop music flavour that’s been added) as his previous work, but the first song, “When Will My Life Begin” just screams loud echoes of “Part Of Your World” (Little Mermaid) and “Belle” (Beauty and the Beast) with themes of how our heroine yearns for more than the limited life that she knows. Mandy Moore (already being a pop songstress in her own right) does a great job as the voice of Rapunzel. Even Zachary Levi, as Flynn, does pretty well with the musical moments that he gets.

This time around the animals/sidekicks don’t sing, but they are adorable. Pascal is a chameleon friend to Rapunzel, and Maximus is the royal guard horse who is more successful at pursuing Flynn than his master was. The true art of Disney animation is how they can convey so much with their cartoon expressions and movements, which are an essential part of every Disney classic. The animators clearly tried to maintain the traditional Disney style, even when animating with computers. Characters look similar to those from other movies, however, each hair is now individually “drawn” (which I’m assuming they’ve got lots of good programs for, especially since hair is such a big part of this story). Unfortunately, there are some things that still seem off-putting about the CGI. The larger eyes and heads of traditional Disney characters (especially the girls) look odd when animated so realistically. The evil woman, Mother Gothel, looks especially super-creepy with her eyes taking up a large portion of her head. However, I guess the way that computer animation compensates is in the amazing overhead scenes where the virtual camera flies over cities and palaces, and for action and chase scenes on rooftops we get the kind of dynamic camera that is much more difficult in hand-drawn animation. I’m glad that Disney has successfully made the jump to CGI. I’m sure it will only improve, but it’s pretty darn good already.

If, like me, you were hesitant to see Tangled because of how it seems to have been targeted to young girls, or because you think that it’s not going to be like other Disney animated movies because it’s all computer-generated, take heart. I think all the elements that go into making a Disney classic animated film are there and they come together in a pretty good story. (4.5 out of 5)