It has been a little while since I did this Tuesday feature, but there are two movies hitting Blu-ray today that bombed majorly at the box office and it was a real shame because they were both very good. First up is Dredd, a high-octane thrill ride that was surprisingly entertaining for a movie that was dumped into theaters in September. Dredd packs a stunning visual style which I’m sure will look great on your HD TV and features one hell of a performance from Karl Urban as the growling Judge Dredd. If you’re a comic book fan, the film is a must-see. One cool special feature is “Mega City Masters: 35 Years of Judge Dredd,” which will make the die hard fans wild with delight. After you’ve had your fill of Dredd‘s blood and guts action, lighten things up with Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, which is one of the strongest animated films of the year. A return to form for Mr. Burton, Frankenweenie is a real treat for fans of the classic Universal Studios monsters and a heartwarming story for any pet owner. It also happens to be very funny, creepy, and relentlessly clever. As far as features go, check out the “Making Of” feature on Frankenweenie, which dives into how they brought those wonderful characters to life.
If you wish to check out Anti-Film School’s review of Dredd, click here, and if you wish to give Frankenweenie a read, click here. Otherwise, get those credit cards ready and add these awesome movies to your collection.
-Theater Management (Steve)
by Steve Habrat
In the wake of his stellar 2007 musical Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Tim Burton churned out two horribly inconsistent remakes that were typical exercises in pricey style over script substance. Alice in Wonderland found Disney filling each frame with sugary 3D effects and sprawling CGI landscapes that looked like it was inspired by Burton rather than actually crafted by him. The film was a disaster but I pointed my blame more at Disney than Burton. This summer’s Dark Shadows remake was another catastrophe that suggested that maybe Burton did deserve some of the blame for these movies flying wildly off their gothic tracks. Needless to say, I was a bit worried going in to Frankenweenie, the third horror-themed kiddie flick of the late summer and early fall (the other two being ParaNorman and Hotel Transylvania). Well, after two massive duds, Mr. Burton is finally on the right track again and firing on all creative cylinders. In fact, I’d go so far to say that Frankenweenie ranks near the top as one of Burton’s strongest films in his vault. While some children and adults may be turned off due to the black and white presentation of the film and the morbid subject matter, Frankenweenie thrills, chills, and even tickles movie buffs with a strong affection for the classic Universal monsters, 40’s and 50’s B-movies, and Hammer horror offerings. Plus, it truly is difficult to resist a story about a boy and his undead pup.
Frankenweenie ushers us into the small town of New Holland, where we meet young outsider Victor Frankenstein (Voiced by Charlie Tahan), a lanky amateur filmmaker and brilliant scientist who adores his feisty bull terrier Sparky. Victor’s parents, Edward (Voiced by Martin Short) and Susan (Voiced by Catherine O’Hara), encourage Victor to step out of his comfort zone and join the baseball team at school. During his first game, the Frankenstein’s bring Spark to watch Victor play, but after he knocks the ball out of the park, Sparky chases after the ball and is hit by a car. Victor is devastated by the loss but his eccentric science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (Voiced by Martin Landau) inadvertently gives Victor the idea of using electricity to bring Spark back from the dead. Confident he can pull off the experiment, Victor rushes out to dig up his four-legged friend and reanimate him as quickly as possible. Determined to keep his experiment a secret, Victor is soon found out by fellow outsider Edgar “E” Gore (Voiced by Atticus Shaffer), who blackmails Victor into teaching him how to reanimate deceased pets for the science fair. Meanwhile, the cranky New Holland mayor, Mr. Bergermeister (Voiced by Martin Short) suspects that Victor is up to something strange in his attic laboratory. As more and more dead pets are unleashed on the town, Victor turns to his crush and next-door neighbor, Elsa van Helsing (Voiced by Winona Ryder), for help from the angry mobs who wish to send these abominations of science back to the grave.
With Burton in complete control of his vision and Disney doing very little to screw it up, he cleverly builds upon his 1984 short film of the same name. Frankenweenie is a ghoulish and cobwebbed celebration of classic monsters and dated creature features that inspired Burton as a young boy. I was consistently astonished the way that Burton works references to Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolf-Man, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon into Frankenweenie and figures out a way to make all these films flow together without stretching it. These references absolutely hilarious, that is if you are in on the jokes and have seen the movies. If the Universal monsters weren’t enough, Burton also tosses in Godzilla, Vincent Price, and Hammer’s crown jewel Horror of Dracula just to let you know he loves those movies too. You may also catch a whiff of Edward Scissorhands with the overall look of New Holland and there is even a Nightmare Before Christmas aura in the pet cemetery where the adorable Sparky is buried. Frankenweenie also dares to be a little creepy in places, which was incredibly impressive considering most straightforward horror films can’t even muster an effective jump scare.
And then we have the wonderfully voiced and illustrated characters, all who despite being made of clay and plastic, jump to life in incredible ways. I absolutely loved the loner Victor and I could relate to his sadness over the loss of a beloved pet. I had to have both of my dogs put down in the same year and it was absolutely devastating. I just wanted to reach through the screen and hug the little guy. Then we have Sparky, the playful pup who enjoys passing a ball under his backyard fence to Elsa’s poodle, Persephone. I grinned ear to ear when she sniffed Sparky’s bolts and received a shock that left two white streaks that have her looking like the Bride of Frankenstein. While the adults are all fairly straightforward (Short and O’Hara voice stereotypical concerned yet hilariously oblivious parents), the kids are the real treat. The grave and monotone Nassor (Voiced by Short) will grab laughs as he commands his mummified Colossus to crawl from its tomb (wait until you get a look a Colossus) and Weird Girl (Voiced by O’Hara) is creepy fun as she walks around bug-eyed with her cat curled up in her arms. The chunky Bob (Voiced by Robert Capron) and the scheming Toshiaki (Voiced by James Hiroyuki Liao) hilariously compete with Victor and the results are as macabre as you can imagine. Ryder is appropriately mopey as Elsa, who I wish we would have seen more of and Landau purrs through his work as Vincent Price-esque science teacher Mr. Rzykruski, who appears to have just rolled out of his grave.
While it is truly depressing that Adam Sandler’s limp Hotel Transylvania beat out Frankenweenie at the box office, it was really hard to see families flocking to a film like this. This is pretty bizarre territory but I sincerely hope that this finds an afterlife on Blu-ray, which I suspect it will, especially with the Hot Topic crowd who go bonkers for Jack Skellington. Personally, I feel like Frankenweenie was more appropriate for the fall/Halloween season as it does offer more than a few creepy moments that are sure to raise the hair on your arms. For the first time in quite a while, it seems like Burton is working from the heart rather than just rolling up his sleeves for a paycheck. I never got the feeling like he was bored with the material or under pressure from the studio, which was a relief. I absolutely loved the monsters-run-amok ending and I can honestly say it was much more thrilling than anything found in Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows. And then there is the overwhelming emotion that takes hold in certain places, something that many can relate to, especially if they have lost a pet. It may be a small effort but it’s a passion project that pays off. While I loved the weird and wacky ParaNorman, I think I have to go with the heartwarming Frankenweenie as the best animated film of the year.
by Steve Habrat
This fall sees the release of three ghostly children’s films and the first one rising out of the grave is ParaNorman, a gentle and amusing adventure about a lovable loner who can chat with the undead. From the makers of Coraline, ParaNorman is such a high-quality film, both in animation and story, that I firmly believe that the upcoming Hotel Transylvania and Frankenweenie won’t be able to live up to this virtually flawless work of art. Despite the fact that ParaNorman is marketed as a morbid children’s film, ParaNorman definitely doesn’t skimp on the witty humor for adults and it even invites in some extremely efficient horror that would make most straightforward horror films blush. ParaNorman also scores big with the countless loving nods and tributes to B-movie and classic horror films (check out that opening), something for horror fans to go crazy over (I sure did!). Slightly more accessible than the surreal Coraline, ParaNorman is funnier, crazier, and a genuine crowd pleaser with imagination run amok, just like it should. And if all these touches aren’t enough to make you fall for ParaNorman, get a load of the hero himself, Norman, a shoe-gazing outcast who prefers to be alone with his ability. If you are even thinking about resisting against Norman, you can’t. You will fall for him the second you meet him.
Welcome to the small town of Blithe Hollow, New England, a place where it seems that every day is Halloween. It is here in Blithe Hollow that we meet Norman Babcock (Voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), a skinny loner with a shock of brown hair who can speak to spirits. His parents, Perry (Voiced by Jeff Garlin) and Sandra (Voiced by Leslie Mann), don’t know how to relate to him while his sister, Courtney (Voiced by Anna Kendrick), thinks he is a freak. At school, things are no different for poor Norman. He is the target of relentless bullying from the big lug Alvin (Voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and finds his only friend in the overweight Neil (Voiced by Tucker Albrizzi). One day, Norman finds himself confronted by his estranged uncle Mr. Prenderghast (Voiced by John Goodman), a man that Norman’s father has strictly warned him to stay away from. Mr. Prenderghast tells Norman that he has the same ability as Norman and that he needs his help to stop a terrifying curse that will be unleashed upon the town. Norman refuses to take him seriously, but after he suffers from a horrifying vision, Norman decides to humor his uncle. Unfortunately, it is too late and a horde of zombies have risen from their graves and begun attacking the town.
The grounded opening half-hour of ParaNorman easily overshadows all the supernatural pandemonium of the second half but that is not to say that I didn’t like the second half of the movie. I got a huge kick out of seeing Norman’s day-to-day routine of mimicking a zombie in the mirror while he brushes his teeth, trying to comb down his fright wig hairdo, and sitting in front of the television watching shoddy old horror flicks while his grandmother’s ghost watches in revulsion. It was these moments where Norman really stole my heart and really got me to root for the little guy. The second half of the film is when the explosion of horror references takes over and sends the film into overdrive for chiller fans everywhere. Everything from John Carpenter’s Halloween to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead all the way to Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (!) are referenced while the soundtrack is a mix of pulsing synthesizers as colonial zombies lurch towards the trigger happy town. I must admit that I was a bit surprised to see all these horror references in a children’s film mostly due to the adult content of those films. I can imagine very few kids in the audience have actually seen those films and were actually picking up on these touches. For the adults who cherish these horror classics, directors Chris Butler and Adam Fell handle them with loving care and miraculously allow them to all flow together into an explosive witchy climax.
Then we have the vividly conceived characters that are all evenly developed, a rarity especially when there are this many at the heart of the film. Norman gets the most attention (obviously) but his best chum Neil is a hysterical little creation himself. Much like Norman, Neil is the target of bullies at school, teased for his weight, irritable bowel syndrome, and his choice of lunchbox (this only names a few reasons why he is an easy target). He enjoys passing time by messily munching on potato chips and freeze framing his mother’s aerobics video. Then we have Neil’s beefcake brother, Mitch (Voiced by Casey Affleck), who enjoys flexing his muscles more than his brain. Norman’s boy-obsessed sister Courtney is enamored with the muscular Mitch while reluctantly becoming Norman’s ally. Courtney bops around in a pink sweat suit while battling back gags over the things that come out of little Norman’s mouth. Rounding out the group of youngsters is Alvin, the flabby bully who tries to impress girls by break dancing to Dizzee Rascal (wait until you see the dance). Alvin tries to deface school property by writing his name in bathroom stalls yet can’t even spell his own name right. It is absolutely hilarious and touching to watch this group try to warm up to Norman even though he never once asks them to.
While it takes Norman some time to win over this rag-tag group of kiddies, the real obstacle is the adults, who are actually scarier than the zombies shuffling through town. Norman’s parents try desperately to level with Norman but all they end up doing is bickering back and forth over what to do with him. Norman’s father, Perry, tries to keep an open mind but he flies off the handle when Norman begins acting like Norman. Perry recoils at the very idea that people will talk about how odd Norman is while his mother, Sandra, takes a gentler approach to reaching Norman. Then there is Mr. Prenderghast, who overly levels with Norman to the point of freaking him out. The rest of the adults all quickly rally together to put down the zombies, who actually turn out to be just as misunderstood as Norman. There is a clever twist with them that I won’t reveal here but it definitely takes ParaNorman on an emotional detour. I will say that the adults end up being the real monsters because they absolutely refuse to listen to what Norman has to say.
I do have one minor complaint about ParaNorman and that is the hair-raising climax that seems to rapidly loose steam as it goes on. Things get a bit too far out in the end and I was left wishing that it would hurry up and end before it got too out of hand. Luckily it does and doesn’t do too much damage to the big picture. After the film ended, the buddy I attended this film with said that he found the film “refreshing” and I have to agree with him. ParaNorman dares to get a little weird and do it with such a wonderful sense of humor. I loved that the film was eager to act grown-up over just catering to the innocence of youngsters, which was the big problem with Pixar’s summer offering. This leads me to the PG rating slapped on the film. I’m still pretty astonished that this got away with a PG rating and didn’t get slapped with a big, bad PG-13. Things get freaky in ParaNorman and some of the jokes may make some adults bat an eye. Overall, ParaNorman kept me in stitches for its entire runtime while also consistently keeping me giddy over the raw inspiration that powers the film. Buggy conclusion aside, ParaNorman is a new classic that is just begging to be seen and revisited over and over. All that is required is that you bring an imagination, a sense of adventure, and a willingness to laugh. A new animated classic and easily one of the best films of 2012, so far.
by Steve Habrat
Of all the Pixar movies that I have seen, my favorite one is without question director Andrew Stanton’s Wall-E, the film that I believe has the most heart and soul out of all the Pixar films. I absolutely love that this is a silent film for half the runtime, allowing us to get sucked in to actions rather than the words. It is very hard to not fall for the peculiar little robot that loves Hello, Dolly, has a cockroach for a pet, and is puzzled over a bra. You won’t be able to get enough of the moments where Wall-E discovers that he is in love with fellow robot EVE, mystified by her sudden presence in his lonely little world. I felt for him in his desperation for a friend, someone he could share all of his interests and chat with in his hysterical little robot blips and squeals. When Wall-E isn’t overtaking you emotionally, you will be shocked to see how intelligent this film truly is. With Wall-E, Stanton points out that big corporations control almost every aspect of our lives and have made us the overweight slobs that we are. They control fads, what we eat, drink, what we should fear, what we should see, etcetera. Tell me that is not thought provoking for a children’s film! And yet Wall-E still fills me with childlike wonder as it shows us how beautiful love can truly be.
Wall-E begins in the distant future, with earth having been abandoned by her polluting children and left to be cleaned up by a garbage-collecting robot named Wall-E. Wall-E has been by himself for quite a long time without anyone to connect with except for his pet cockroach. He spends his days working at a task that seems like it will never be finished and he spends his evenings watching Hello, Dolly and staring up at the stars, hoping for a savior to come and take him away from the mundane. One day, Wall-E sees an enormous spaceship land and send out a sleek robot named EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), who is on the hunt for plant life. Wall-E immediately falls for EVE but she is so consumed with her mission on earth that she barely even notices the sweet Wall-E following her around. The two eventually connect but when Wall-E shows her a small plant he has found, EVE scoops up the plant and heads back out to space to the Axiom, an enormous spaceship that contains what is left of the human race. Wall-E chases after her but once he boards the Axiom, the lovable duo discovers a plot that would prevent the humans aboard the Axiom from ever returning to earth.
While Wall-E remains consistent its entire runtime, the first half of the film is such a breath of fresh air, it remains one of the crowning moments for the Pixar team. When you aren’t wrapped up in little Wall-E’s daily routine of compacting and rummaging through trash, you will be pulling for the little guy to find that spark with EVE. I absolutely love watching Wall-E discover a Rubik’s cube, car keys, and a fire extinguisher. He has grown bored with the monotony of his day to day, desperate to find something that will entertain him enough to forget about the tedious task of shuffling garbage. We also get to meet his pet, a cuddly little cockroach (Did you EVER think a cockroach could be cuddly?) that crawls around Wall-E’s insides, making him giggle and fidget. Watching the two get out of bed was a chuckler, Wall-E so groggy that he bumps into things as he tries to get himself ready for the day. When EVE shows up, Wall-E really perks up as he zooms after EVE, hiding out of bashfulness as he attempts to work up the courage to approach her. The two share a moment in Wall-E’s little house that is movie magic at its absolute finest.
The second half of the film is just as entertaining but it marches to a different beat. We get to meet tons of robots that prowl the Axiom while the humans all lounge around on hovering recliners. The humans are all obese slaves to a corporation called Buy N’ Large that announces over loud speakers what the current trend is in fashion (Keep an ear out for a voice cameo from Sigourney Weaver and an eye out for an appearance by Fred Willard). Buy N’ Large provides the humans with endless amounts of soda as they video chat into screens that obstruct their vision. Wall-E accidentally knocks out one human’s screen, a man named John (Voiced by John Ratzenberger), who discovers a world around him that he has been completely oblivious to. Wall-E and EVE also manage to short out another screen that belongs to a woman named Mary (Voiced by Kathy Najimy). John and Mary meet up and they quickly fall for each other, laughing over the quirky, love drunk robots that brought them together. Aboard the Axiom, Wall-E gets a bit preachy, a call to shake ourselves out of current fads and trends that are controlled by others and explore the world around us. We also get to meet the ships captain (Voiced by Jeff Garlin), who is clueless to what Earth is until he begins to research it. Wall-E comes equipped with a green message, wagging its finger at us for polluting the earth in addition to our brains and bodies.
Wall-E takes its good old time developing the love story between Wall-E and EVE, forcing us to emotionally invest in these little joys and I’ll be damned if the payoff isn’t overwhelmingly satisfying. Not one aspect of the film seems rushed, despite the fact that the film only runs an hour and a half. The standout sequence of Wall-E has got to be when Wall-E and EVE dance around in space, their love deepening with each spin through the air. The film does get a bit intense in the final moments as our lovable little hero gets badly wounded and barely clings to life. It falls on EVE and the captain to save the little guy AND the humans aboard the Axiom. Wall-E is such a pleasant film because it allows us to really get to know this little guy inside and out. His binocular eyes practically overflow with intrigue, curiosity, and wonder at the world around him. It is astonishing that Wall-E’s eyes are more alive than the eyes of the “human” characters found in most other animated offerings. In the multiple times I have seen Wall-E since it was released on Blu-ray, I haven’t been able to find a single thing wrong with the film, a rarity considering most newer films are far from perfect. Wall-E turns out to be a great cinematic love story and a masterpiece of animated filmmaking. Don’t be afraid to fall for this one!
Wall-E is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
After last year’s lemon Cars 2, Pixar has returned to form (sort of) with Brave, a thunderously exciting and comedic offering that falls victim to childish antics that never have the dual appeal for adults. Lacking zero complexity, Pixar opts for a simple story and keeps things light this time around, reluctant to show their emotional strength. Brave also lacks the vision that made their previous offerings so irresistible and unforgettable, seeming somewhat bland in comparison to tasty offerings like Wall-E, The Incredibles, Up, and Toy Story. Yet Brave, with its enthusiastic voice work and detailed visuals, still manages to get on your good side with some clever moments of slapstick humor that will have you chuckling due to their unpredictability. It also features an immensely likable main character in Merida, an archery obsessed tomboy who likes to allow her unruly explosion of red curls bounce around her face as she rides through the woods shooting arrows at targets. I admit I was worried that I may not care for this feisty free spirit but I have to say that she is a real charmer.
Brave takes us to the 10th century Scottish highlands where we meet Merida (Voiced by Kelly Macdonald), the archery fanatic daughter of King Fergus (Voiced by Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Voiced by Emma Thopson). Merida happens to be a tomboy who loves riding her horse through the woods and firing arrows at several targets she has placed around a trail. She also gets a kick out of climbing up the sides of mountains to drink from waterfalls. Merida is a firm believer in pursuing one’s own destiny rather than having her life planned out for her by others. Her behavior horrifies her mother, who demands that she learn to act like a lady before three neighboring clans arrive in their kingdom for a competition that would allow one young man the chance to win Merida’s hand. The clans arrive and each clan leader offers up his first-born son to compete for Merida, even though she is disinterested in the entire event. Merida grows restless during the competition and she erupts in an outburst that infuriates her mother. Merida runs off into the woods where she finds herself face to face with a witch (Voiced by Julie Walters) that offers her a spell that would change her controlling mother. The witch conveniently forgets to add that there is a small side effect that changes her mother’s appearance too. Meanwhile, the clan leaders begin to grow restless over who will win Merida’s hand, slowly stirring up war between King Fergus and the neighboring clans.
Pixar’s first fairytale does come with quite a bit to admire even if it is reluctant to tackle any heavy topics. I can honestly say that Brave had me laughing from start to finish. I loved how rowdy the film was even if things do get a little too out of hand at times. Brave has tons of shouting, drinking, eating, singing, fighting, brawling, and more shouting, sometimes driving the viewer to a headache but it is all in good fun. You’ll get a bang out of King Fergus as he stomps oafishly through the frame, devouring chicken legs and chugging cup after cup of ale. The heads of the three clans, Lord Dingwall (Voiced by Robbie Coltrane), Lord Macintosh (Voiced by Craig Ferguson), and Lord MacGuffin (Voiced by Kevin McKidd), are all equally boorish and disgusting in their own right but they do manage to grab a whole slew of giggles. The one interesting aspect of Brave is that the film is not hiding the fact that it is advocating female empowerment. The men are made out to be clueless and battle hungry in addition to their already hearty appetites. Yet the men are compassionate to the women and they do respect them, which does make Brave’s message a bit perplexing. I understand that Merida wants to break away from what is expected of a lady but I thought we were over this old fashioned defy-conformity-and-do-what-makes-you-happy message by this point.
Brave is, after all, a ladies show and the guys are just there to fill some space. Merida acts as a firm role model for young girls, a less gritty and animated Katniss Everdeen for five-year-olds. Director Mark Andrews pushes Macdonald to really emphasize the Scottish brogue, making her a bit cartoonish at some points but that actually adds to her appeal. She is the liberal answer to her conservative mother Elinor, who is tied to old-fashioned behavior and unwilling to accept anything less. She warns Merdia to keep her bow off the table and that she better grin through the pain of a corset. A blow-up between these two worlds is the only moment that Andrews really cranks the emotional intensity up a notch or two. When the spell is cast upon Elinor, the plot takes an unexpected twist that worried me at first but then really gains some momentum and keeps the laughs flying. The other female character that I was intrigued with upon first meeting her was the witch, who is introduced halfway through the film and then never heard from again. I kept wondering when the story would return to her and develop her further. Alas, she magically disappears.
While I enjoyed all the main characters in Brave, there was a trio of scene stealing tykes that won me over early on and kept me in stitches every time they scampered into the action. I’m talking about Merida’s three trouble making younger brothers who gag over their dinners while plotting ways to make off with trays of sweets brought to them by their servants. Wait until you see the scene where they have to steal a key off one servant, who stashes it in her cleavage. The Pixar team manages to deliver one hell of a pay off in the final stretch of Brave, offering more satisfying action than most of the other blockbusters that have taken up space in the theater this summer. Yet the Pixar team seems unsure over how to make a film that is aimed at younger girls and the message to send to that demographic. It falls back to something that would have really been saying something before the Women’s Liberation Movement but today, it just seems lazy, especially after what Pixar has accomplished with some of their other work. It may not be the best of Pixar’s bunch and you may yawn over what it trying to say underneath all the yelling but Brave still manages to be one of the better films in a summer that has been filled with duds.
by Steve Habrat
The family who argues together saves the world together in director Brad Bird’s 2004 superhero adventure The Incredibles. One of the most action packed Pixar offerings, The Incredibles is a zippy homage to comic books while also pulling back the curtain on the suburban family and allowing us to see what makes every member of the All-American family tick. While The Incredibles, which was also written by Bird, borrows heavily from the critically acclaimed comic book Watchmen, Bird and the Pixar team tweak the storyline is multiple places, watering Watchmen’s extremely complex storyline down, and allowing the focus to be much more intimate. The results are dazzling with snappy jokes, gripping action, and one perfectly timed joke after another. The Incredibles is also a much more adult film, running two hours with multiple suggestive moments and really earning its PG rating. This is far from the warm and cuddly offerings that Pixar is famous for, especially when we glance back at the films that came before The Incredibles. This is the film that really showed the world the emotional punches that Pixar could throw at audiences all while keeping them wildly entertained and mesmerized.
The Incredibles ushers us into Metroville, where multiple superheroes fly through the sky and save the innocent civilians from destructive foes looking to level the city. We meet Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (Voiced by Craig T. Nelson), his wife Helen Parr/Elastigirl (Voiced by Holly Hunter), and his best buddy Lucius Best/Frozone (Voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), all who team up together to rid the city of scum. After the government grows weary of all the collateral damage caused by the “Supers”, they put into place the “Supers Relocation Program”, which forces “Supers” to retire their crime fighting ways and fit in with the rest of society. Bob and Helen soon retreat to the suburbs and Bob takes a job at an insurance agency while Helen raises their three children, Dash (Voiced by Spencer Fox), Violet (Voiced by Sarah Vowell), and the toddler Jack-Jack. Bob, who longs to relive his superhero days, is bored with white-collar conformity and grows more and more frustrated with each passing day. After loosing his temper at his job and getting fired, Bob finds himself approached by the mysterious Mirage (Voiced by Elizabeth Pena), who asks Bob to stop a deadly rogue robot on a remote island. Mirage promises Bob that if he can successfully destroy the robot, he will receive a reward. Bob defeats the robot and he soon begins getting other missions from Mirage, all while leaving Helen in the dark about his new job. Bob soon learns that these missions are being controlled by Syndrome (Voiced by Jason Lee), a super-villain who masterminds countless destructive weapons and has a plan that will wipe the retired superheroes off the planet.
At just under two hours, The Incredibles is given room to really develop its characters to the fullest extent possible, paving the way for weighty superhero films that followed in its wake (the next year would see Batman Begins hit theaters, which would set the bar even higher for the superhero genre). We get to see the day-to-day of each Parr family member, seeing what secrets they hide and how they deal with having extraordinary powers while living ordinary lives. Bob has to take mental torment from his boss, each little mental shove just bringing Bob closer to tossing him around like a ragdoll. Violet is an outcast at her high school, hiding behind thick black bangs and practically fainting at the sight of her crush. When he notices her, she activates her power to turn invisible. The troublemaking whippersnapper Dash enjoys placing tacks on his teacher’s chair, using his lightning fast speed to keep the teacher scratching his bald head over how Dash is pulling the prank off. Helen, who acts as the housewife glue of the family, wears a happy face as she spoons meatloaf and green beans onto her family’s dinner plates. Meanwhile, Bob rounds up Lucius for “bowling night”, which really consists of the duo sitting in a car listening to a police scanner and chatting about the good old days. Lucius, now married, tries to keep his wife happy by not ruining special meals, even while a robot pummels downtown Metroville. Each hero is given their conformist demons and they grapple with how to tackle those demons, realizing that they really do need each other to work these issues out.
The supporting characters of The Incredibles are just as fun and hilarious as the first string. Bird thinks up a really nifty villain in Syndrome, who as a boy was Mr. Incredible’s biggest fan. Syndrome, whose real name is Buddy Pine, was always eager to help Mr. Incredible out even when Mr. Incredible would tell him to stay out of the way. Being wounded by his idol makes him all the more interesting and sinister when he is dishing out his payback to Mr. Incredible. Mirage is a character that is a bit underused but I did enjoy the way she would vacillate back and forth from evil to hero. I really enjoyed being kept in the dark over which side she would be aligned with next. The scene-stealer here is Edna Mode (Voiced by Brad Bird), an oriental fashion designer who comes up with the costumes worn by the “Supers”. A chic pint sized motor mouth, Edna is hysterical when explaining why she dislikes capes and recoiling from Mr. Incredible’s dated superhero get up. She really shines when she unveils a new line of outfits for the entire Parr clan. She also seems like she could be a villain in future Incredibles installments, seeming to get quite a bit of joy out of Bob and Helen’s rocky marriage.
You will be surprised to know that The Incredibles never feels like almost two hours. The film flies by and before you know it, you are right smack dab in the middle of a thunderous final showdown between one of Syndrome’s horrifying creations and the Parr clan. The action will keep the kids glued to the screen, even more so than some of the other Pixar films. While the film does get a bit heavy when it deals with the inner workings of a rocky marriage, the kids won’t really notice and instead by enamored with all the nifty gadgets and laughing over Edna. For fans of comic books and superhero films, The Incredibles is essential viewing and in my opinion ranks as one of the better superhero films to emerge from Hollywood. It is just as interested with the people under the cowls and what they carry around in their heavy hearts. Easily in my top three Pixar films of all time, The Incredibles is a touching film about the beauty of family and friends, all while being a relentlessly entertaining superhero thrill ride packed with gut-busting humor and wit. Let’s hope the Parr clan returns to save the world again.
The Incredibles is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
If I had to pick Pixar’s least accessible film, I would have to go with Brad Bird’s 2007 offering Ratatouille. Featuring some of their finest voice work, particularly from funnyguy Patton Oswalt as the rodent chef, clean animation, and a dreamy score, Ratatouille is one of Pixar’s artiest creations in their line of work. While it may not appeal as much to the kiddies, Ratatouille is crafted more for the adult viewer, featuring more adult humor rather than easy gags that will keep a ten year old howling at the screen. Personally, I find Ratatouille one of Pixar’s funniest films, yet the subtext, with it’s anybody-can-do-anything-if-you-set-your-mind-to-it message, is a little too simple minded, especially since Pixar is capable of infusing their films with some major real world weight. I did find the way the film skewers uptight critics, the ones who are so rooted to their opinion and refusing to alter that opinion extremely well executed. It seemed a bit personal too, since this is the film that was the follow-up to Cars, the first Pixar film that failed to run off with the imagination of some critics.
Ratatouille introduces us to Remy (Voiced by Oswalt), a rat who loves to cook and is blessed with a sharp sniffer that gets him the job of detecting rat poison in the food that the rest of his rat colony gathers. The colony is lead by Remy’s stern father Django (Voiced by Brain Dennehy) and his goofy brother Emilie (Voiced by Peter Sohn), both who voice disgust over Remy’s trust of humans. After having to make a hasty evacuation from their rural dwelling, Remy gets separated from the rest of the pack and ends up in downtown Paris, right at the doorstep of the famed fine dining restaurant Gusteau’s. Remy, who happens to a huge fan of the late Auguste Gusteau (Voiced by Brad Garrett), the chef behind the famous restaurant, fully believes in Gusteau’s message “anyone can cook.” After ending up in Gusteau’s kitchen, Remy crosses paths with newly hired garbage boy Alfredo Linguini (Voiced by Lou Romano), an uptight klutz who can’t cook to save his skin. While exploring the kitchen, Remy notices Linguini accidentally mess up a pot of soup, which he quickly tries to fix but is caught by Linguini. A bowl of the soup is served and the customer begins raving about how delicious the soup is. The rest of Gusteau’s staff believe that Linguini is responsible for the soup but Linguini knows that it was actually Remy that fixed it. Linguini soon grabs the attention of the cranky head chef Skinner (Voiced by Ian Holm) and an even crankier food critic Anton Ego (Voiced by Peter O’Toole), both eager to reveal him a fraud.
What makes Ratatouille such a delicious treat is the budding friendship between Linguini and Remy, both who realize that they ultimately need each other to succeed. Linguini needs Remy because he can’t loose another job and Remy needs Linguini to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. The film also develops a love story between Linguini and another member of Gusteau’s staff Colette (Voiced by Janeane Garofalo), who is forced into keeping an eye on the jumpy Linguini. The love story is fitting since the film is taking place in the city of love. The film also has Remy finding his father and brother, small little detours in the story that stress to Remy that he shouldn’t be so trusting of the humans. The film knows that Emile and Django are slightly bland characters so Bird smartly doesn’t focus on them too much. The film really gets moving when Remy discovers a way to control Linguini (pulling strands of his hair) so that they can continue to fool Skinner and Ego into thinking that Linguini is really cooking and not being controlled by a rat. This is where the film embraces some heavy physical comedy that will really appeal to the tots.
Ratatouille is a film that isn’t content with having one major villain but two antagonists to drive Linguini and Remy to the brink of madness. Skinner is a pint-sized terror as he tries to discover how Linguini is able to cook so well, especially since he is such a bumbling goofball. He is hilarious in his attempts to barge in to rooms to catch Linguni talking to Remy and he tries to get him drunk in the hopes that Linguini will spill the beans about his little helper. Skinner is also trying to capitalize on Gusteau’s name with a line of wretched frozen meals that he is eager to get into supermarket freezers. The skeletal Ego is also a pretentious nightmare as he spews his dislike for Gusteau’s motto and his restaurant, finding the food beneath his refined palette. He sits in his coffin shaped den typing away one negative review after another while sending shivers down his butler’s spine. Ego, who practically gags at the mention of Gusteau’s, gets a witty exchange late in the film with Linguini. Ego growls that if he doesn’t love the food he puts in his mouth, he “does not swallow.”
At nearly two hours, Ratatouille does run a bit long but it never ceases to tickle our imagination. The film gets far on such a simple premise and watching everything come full circle is delectable. The film is brimming with enough characters to hold the adult viewers attention for a good majority of the runtime. Halfway through Ratatouille, we get to meet the rest of Gusteau’s staff and they are all hilarious in their own individual way, even if the film then quickly forgets about them. The final rush to think of something to serve the impossible-to-please Ego will have you rolling on the floor in laughter, especially when you see who shows up to give Linguini and Remy a hand. You can’t shake the feeling that the portrayal if Ego is a jab at the critics who waved off Pixar’s previous offering Cars, a touch that I actually like even if I wasn’t the biggest fan of Cars myself. I was also impressed by how detailed the scenes of downtown Paris are, at times seeming almost real if glanced at from a distance. Overall, Ratatouille may send a simple, elementary message, which is somewhat disappointing, but it features enough “awe” moments and is spiced up with enough laughs to have you ordering up seconds and sending your compliments to the chef.
Ratatouille is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
Did you ever think that animated feature films could move you as much as Pixar’s animated offerings do? One of the most emotional in their body of work has to be 2009’s crowd-pleaser Up, a film that refuses to gloss over real world obstacles that we will all have to face one day. It truly is hard to believe that these films are aimed at children when they are much more adult orientated in their themes. Up has to be one of Pixar’s heaviest films but it also has to be one of the most lively outside of the Toy Story series. Like staring into a neon rainbow, Up is a gorgeous film that doesn’t rely on its meticulous visuals to keep it aloft. No, Up boasts a splendid story that is carefully and delicately told. The script, penned by Peter Docter, Bob Peterson, and Thomas McCarthy, packs thrilling, high-rise action and jokes that fly at the audience at breakneck speeds. Yet the best part of Up is the unflinching look at the pain and heartbreak that life can throw at us and how we can still make our dreams come true, even if we think it is too late.
Up begins in the 1920’s with the young Carl Fredricksen, a quiet boy who hides behind giant eyeglasses and an old pilot’s cap, seeing a theater newsreel that features famous explorer Charles Muntz (Voiced by Christopher Plummer) setting out to find a rare species of bird. Carl dashes out into the sunlight, eager to mimic his hero and while exploring an old house, he stumbles across a chatty redheaded girl named Ellie. The two adventurers strike up a friendship and they soon fall in love with each other. They get married, move in to their dream home, and begin saving for a move to Paradise Falls in South America, the same place their hero Muntz explored and ultimately never returned from. As responsibility and heartbreak prevent them from their dream move, the two try to forget about their dreams and focus on their lives in America. Seventy years sneak by and Ellie passes on, leaving Carl (Voiced by Ed Asner) a bitter and cranky old man, fighting to stay out of a retirement home. He is also tangled in a nasty battle to keep his home from being taken by a construction company that wishes to demolish it to make room for a skyscraper. After a nasty confrontation that ends in Carl injuring one of construction workers, he ties millions of helium filled balloons to his roof and takes off into the sky, setting a course for Paradise Falls. Once aloft, Carl quickly discovers he has an unwanted guest tagging along.
Once Up lands in Paradise Falls and allows us to get to know the energetic and pudgy Boy Scout Russell (Voiced by Jordan Nagai), the film takes on a lighter tone that the kiddies will go gonzo over. We get to meet a rare squawking bird that Russell calls Kevin and a pack of talking dogs that are led by the dopey Dug (Voiced by Bob Peterson). I loved the scenes where Carl has to grit his teeth and tolerate the ball of energy that is Russell. I also enjoyed seeing Russell win Carl over with his constant pestering. It was great to see the bitter Carl finally emerge from his shell and allow another person to grow close to him in the wake of Ellie’s passing. Early on, we see that Ellie suffers a miscarriage, which severely wounds the hearts of the optimistic couple. It truly is heartwarming to see him watching over Russell in a fatherly like manner and admitting that he just wants Russell to be safe. It will also get you when Carl reluctantly begins protecting man’s best friend Dug and the rare bird Kevin, especially when Kevin gives Carl backtalk. You’ll be on the floor in laughter.
Up has to be one of the most bipolar films that I have ever seen. One second, it will have you gasping for air in between all the knee-slapping jokes and the next second, it will have you fighting back tears. The silent opening montage that shows us the progression of Carl and Ellie’s marriage is sweet, fuzzy, and piercing. There is more emotion in this opening ten minutes with computer-generated characters than there are in most live action films with flesh and blood actors. Take note, Hollywood. The last act of the film embraces rollicking thrills set in the clouds. Our motley crew of heroes is pitted against the now evil Charles Muntz and his army of talking dogs. The one flaw that does sort of bother me in Up is the lack of development in Muntz, who is just suddenly evil. We are given a thin explanation that sheds light on his bitterness, but I wanted a bit more out of him. It doesn’t help that he enters the film late in the game. You will, however, get a kick out of the elderly showdown between Muntz and Carl, both who suffer loud cracks in their backs as one swings a sword he can barely lift and the other swings a walker.
At times resembling an old sketch that has come to high definition life, Up’s spellbinding visuals are complimented by Michael Giacchino‘s delicate sore, which adds an extra push to all the emotion. The best moments of the score come in the quieter moments, when it is just little twinkles of piano keys. Up’s ultimate message of encouragement and reassurance are what really made me fall for the film. I firmly stand behind its reassurance that our dreams can come true, no matter how old or how young we are. I also loved Carl and Russell discovering that they need each other to nurse their wounded hearts. Russell, it turns out, is largely ignored by his biological father and told by his stepmother that he annoys his father too much. Each time I watch Up, it never gets any easier to hear Russell mutter that confession and Carl’s reaction always gets me. Up has to rank up there as one of my favorite Pixar films, one that has stuck with me the longest and is always a treat to revisit. It may be a tearjerker reminder of how unpredictable life can be but it always helps when you have somebody by your side to share the smaller moments with. Up is a dream come true.
Up is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Charles Beall
2011 was the year of vintage Spielberg. Along with J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8,” we were treated to the first animated feature film by this legendary filmmaker; these two films, for me at least, reminded me why I fell in love with the films of Steven Spielberg in the first place.
So we have “The Adventures of Tintin,” and boy is this a great film. I will admit that when I first saw the trailer for this movie, I aired on the side of caution. I had been familiar with the name Tintin, but had no idea as what to expect, and in a way, Spielberg knew this. Both he and Peter Jackson had a great challenge ahead of them, adapting a uniquely European comic for a worldwide audience. As someone who has no idea about the source material, and who thoroughly enjoyed the film, I can say their gamble was a success.
To delve into the plot of “Tintin” would be a disservice to the reader. But I will tell you this: this movie is a grand adventure in the style of the movies we grew up with. There is an underlying mystery, a legend, and it is up to Tintin and his sidekick Snowy to solve it. And I’ll tell you this, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, consumed in a child-like giddiness that I rarely experience while watching a film.
Spielberg, like Scorsese with “Hugo” (a magnificent masterpiece), uses 3D technology to add, well, another dimension to the story; it is a tool, not a gimmick. We are literally immersed in Spielberg’s world of Tintin and we see shots that no live action film could accomplish. There are chase scenes that come out of the imagination of an eight year-old, and it is obvious that the filmmaker is having a blast. The detail in every scene is impeccable, from the distorted reflection in a bottle to the consistency of the pores on a face. The love of film and serials past is evident; there is an homage to “Jaws” that made me want to go up to the screen and give it a big ol’ kiss.
But, most important, what we have in “The Adventures of Tintin” is a filmmaker who is constantly challenging himself and whom is willing to revisit the films of his childhood, and ultimately, the films that made him the artist he is today. Tintin will be, hopefully, a character that kids will embrace on this side of the pond. He is a smart character, who uses his intellect and imagination, not an iPhone and Google to solve mysteries or to have an adventure. I for one cannot wait to have kids, mainly because I want to see them discover movies, and “The Adventures of Tintin” will definitely be in the “Spielberg section” that I will indoctrinate them with.
Mr. Spielberg, bravo. (And I love you, please give me a job.)