Movie Review: Tangled (2010)


TitleTangled
Release Date: November 24, 2010
Director: Nathan Greno & Byron Howard
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Disney’s take on the fairy tale Rapunzel, is loosely tied to the original story (basically the long hair and a tower).  As any good contemporary adaptation should do, Rapunzel has far more agency and assertiveness than the original character (or princesses in early Disney films).  In this story she is a “lost princess” (one day Disney will create an anti-monarchical heroine)held captive in a tower by the witch Mother Gothel, who kidnaps Rapunzel as a baby, because the magic hair keeps her young. Instead of being rescued by a prince, Rapunzel essentially accosts the swashbuckling thief Flynn Rider and forces him to take her on a journey, although of course they grow to become friends and then fall in love.

There’s a great mix of humor and adventure, with cheerful songs sung by Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi in the lead roles. Visually, the film is enticing and the animators never cease to impress with gags based on Rapunzel’s long hair.  My 11 y.o. son said “this is weird,” but he did like the animals in the movie, the martial horse Maximus, and Rapunzel’s chameleon sidekick Pascal.  I like them too.

Rating: ****

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Movie Review: The Incredibles 2 (2018)


Title: The Incredibles 2
Release Date: June 15, 2018
Director: Brad Bird
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

14 years after the original movie, The Incredibles return with a sequel, which is an incredible display of restraint in these sequel-happy times.  Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be long enough to come up with some original ideas, as the second film shares several plotlines with the original.  This time it’s Elastigirl who is recruited to do superhero work by mysterious rich people, while Mr. Incredible stays home with the kids.  And the kids, having demonstrated their value as supers in the first movie, once again have to demonstrate their value to their parents.  Also, this movie uses trope of the father being incompetent at caring for children on his own, which is irritating, although it could’ve been worse.

What this movie does have is Jack-Jack, a very cute baby who is demonstrating that he has superpowers for the first time.  And he has lots of different superpowers but as a toddler cannot really control them.  Jack-Jack is the comic lifeline of this movie, and I particularly enjoy when he wrestles with a raccoon.

When I reviewed The Incredibles last year, I noted how it preceded the massive explosion of superhero movies of recent years, and how it influenced how the MCU, DCU, et al are tying in interpersonal relationships with action-adventure.  Now the influence is going the other way as the action sequences in Incredibles 2 are inspired by what you might see in an Avengers movie.

Final thoughts: a fun and entertaining sequel, but Pixar and Brad Bird can do better than this.

Rating: ***

 

Movie Review: Big Hero 6 (2014)


TitleBig Hero 6 
Release Date: November 7, 2014
Director: Don Hall & Chris Williams
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Hiro Hamada is a teenage robotics prodigy who isn’t interested in much beyond competing in illegal robot fights until his older brother Tadashi mentors him and convinces him to enroll in a university robotics program. Hiro succeeds in his presentation of microbots to gain entry to the school, but shortly afterward, Tadashi dies in a fire.  This sends Hiro into a depressive state that begins to be healed when he finds Tadashi’s inflatable healthcare companion robot, Baymax.

With Baymax and a group of Tadahsi’s nerdy friends, Hiro begins to investigate who was behind the fire that killed Tadashi and the mystery of his missing microbots.  What’s great about this movie is that Baymax is not your typical science-fiction revenge fantasy hero.  Designed to care for the sick, Baymax is gentle and encouraging, and even when Hiro retrains it to fight, Baymax retains the programming that prioritizes healing.

In addition to this wonderful central message, and a sweet, cuddly hero, the movie has a lot of spectacular visuals. The setting of San Fransokyo is particularly wonderful, combining elements of those two great cities in a futuristic world.  This a great family film, heartfelt and funny, and much better than expected.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: The Peanuts Movie (2015)


TitleThe Peanuts Movie
Release Date: November 6, 2015
Director: Steve Martino
Production Company: Blue Sky Studios
Summary/Review:

My initial thoughts on The Peanuts Movie – a 3-D computer animated reboot of Peanuts made 15 years after Charles M. Schulz’s passing, who needs that? But after watching it with my family, I can say it actually has a lot of the same heart & humor of the classic Peanuts tv specials.  Vince Guaraldi’s classic tunes appear in the soundtrack (along with contemporary soft rock by Megan Trainor) and the characters are voiced by child actors who sounds very similar to earlier iterations. The 3-D animation does allow for some visually stunning moments when Snoopy imagines himself a WWI fighting ace, but largely it sticks to tradition as well.  And Charlie Brown even gets a moment of success!  There are some odd decisions such as having all of the Peanuts gang in the same class (including Peppermint Patty & Marcie, canonically at a different school, and Linus & Lucy, who are several years apart in age), but nothing too jarring.  Is The Peanuts Movie a classic alongside the tv specials of the last century? No, but it is a good 90 minutes of family entertainment.

Rating: ***

TV Review: BoJack Horseman (2018)


Title: BoJack Horseman
Release Dates: 2018
Season: 5
Number of Episodes: 12
Summary/Review:

There are a lot of reasons why people would want to avoid a cartoon about anthropomorphic animal satirizing Hollywood excess, but I’m increasingly coming to believe that they would be missing the best show on “television” today.  The fifth season of BoJack Horseman relies on the audiences accrued knowledge of the characters and their situations for a somewhat quieter and subtler form of storytelling.  At least by BoJack Horseman standards.

Every season of BoJack Horseman has at least one highly experimental episode. In season 3, the nearly dialogue-free “Fish Out of Water” showed BoJack trying to navigate an undersea world, while last season’s “The Old Sugarman Place” explored generational depression by having scenes from BoJack’s grandparents’ life play out simultaneously with BoJack’s story.  This season provides it’s most affecting episode with very little flash.  Instead “Free Churro” features Will Arnett voicing BoJack’s episode-long monologue as a delivers the eulogy at his mother’s funeral.  The very next episode, “INT. SUB” is narrated by a married couple, a therapist and a mediator wonderfully voiced by Issa Rae and Wanda Sykes, using ridiculous fake names and descriptions to protect their clients’ identities.  Thus BoJack becomes BoBo the Angsty Zebra and Princess Carolyn is more surrealistically visualized as Tangled Fog of Pulsating Yearning In The Shape Of A Woman.  The inherent silliness masks the darker plot unfolding which makes it hit all that much harder when the conclusion is shown with the “real” characters.

As typical of previous seasons, each of the main characters has a personal storyline woven into the series arc.  BoJack curiously feels like a supporting character early in the season, but the seeds of his story are subtly dropped into those stories that come to fruition in the back end of the season. Namely, after injuring himself doing a stunt, BoJack becomes addicted to painkillers and increasingly is unable to distinguish his real life and his character on the detective drama “Philbert.”

Diane searches for her own identity after divorcing Mr. Peanutbutter, particularly well explored in “The Dog Days Are Over” where she visits Vietnam and struggles with being fully American but looking Vietnamese (a meta commentary on the fact that Diane is voiced by the white actor Alison Brie).  Meanwhile, Mr. Peanutbutter has a much younger new girlfriend and begins to get insight on why his three wives outgrew him, particularly in “Mr. Peanbutter’s Boos” where scenes from four different Halloween parties (with four different dates) are intercut.

Princess Carolyn seeks to adopt a child while continuing to produce “Philbert” and put out everyone else’s fires.  For the first time we get her backstory, including flashbacks to her childhood in North Carolina.  Todd’s asexuality is explored in an odd sex comedy farce parody, and after realizing that a relationship with Yolanda isn’t working, seeks to rekindle a relationship with Emiliy.  Being Todd this involves a wacky scheme to build a sex robot which becomes a recurring gag that is the one big dud of this season.

Related Posts:

Podcasts of the Week Ending July 7


Fresh Air :: The Pediatrician Who Exposed the Flint Water Crisis

Interview with Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha who exposed the Flint water crisis.  She also discusses growing up as a child of Iraqi refugees.

99% Invisible :: Right to Roam

I’ve always been amazed by how Britain protects the rights of walker/hikers to cross land that’s privately owned.  Whereas in the US, one is liable to be shot for doing so.

Ben Franklin’s World :: Brian Regal, The Secret History of the New Jersey Devil

If you’ve ever heard the legend of the New Jersey Devil, you imagine it as a cryptozooligical creature inhabiting the Pine Barrens.   Turns out that the story originates instead with a 17th-century colonist named Daniel Leeds who published an almanac that ran afoul of the Quaker authorities!

Disney History Institute :: Winsor McCay and the Origins of American Animation

Early animation originated as part of a vaudeville act featuring a trained dinosaur.

99% Invisible :: Beyond Biohazard

A video podcasts explores the effort to let future generations know that something is dangerous without using language or symbols that won’t be understood.

Hit Parade :: The Deadbeat Club Edition

The first part of the story of how two very different New Wave acts emerged from Athens, GA in the 1980s.

Movie Review: The Incredibles (2004)


Title: The Incredibles
Release Date: November 5, 2004
Director: Brad Bird
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

On the flight home from our honeymoon in Italy, my bride and were separated by Alitalia and seated at opposite ends of the economy cabin.  My loss was assuaged a bit by being able to stretch my legs under the curtain into first class, dining on wine and cheese, and watching The Incredibles on tv.   With a sequel released this summer, I thought it worthwhile to watch again. Probably relaxation and wine were my chief accomplishments of that flight because I didn’t remember the movie all that well.

Set in a stylized 1960s, The Incredibles recreates the golden era of superhero comics, but asks the question of what it would be like if superheroes married, raised a family, and tried to live a normal life.  The drama of the movie is inaugurated by Mr. Incredible’s mid-life crisis which draws him back into the superhero game behind Elastigirls’ back.  When he gets in above his head, she has to come bail him out and their children Violet and Dash get to use their powers to fight crime for the first time.  It’s a great movie that works on many levels, and in typical Pixar fashion has a lot of humor and a lot of heart.

For all the retro design of The Incredibles, I find it interesting how much it presaged the boom of superhero comic movies of the past decade and a half. In the interim between The Incredibles and The Incredibles II there has been 3 Spider-Man films (one finishing a trilogy and two from a reboot), 3 Fantastic Four films (including a reboot), Superman Returns, Christoper Nolan’s Batman trilogy, 9 X-Men films, 5 DC Extended Universe films, the entire 19 film run of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and others I’m forgetting.  The Incredibles‘ focus on interpersonal relationships within the family, a villain inadvertently created by the hero’s actions, and a society that seeks to reign in rather than celebrate people with powers are all facets that make it a forerunner of contemporary superhero movies.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Inside Out


TitleInside Out
Release Date: June 19, 2015
Director: Pete Docter
Production Company:

The premise of Inside Out is well-established from all the promotion for the movie.  Inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley Anderson are five personified emotions – Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear, and Disgust.  When Riley and her family move from Minnesota to San Francisco and she has to leave behind her home, friends, and hockey team, and deal with moving into a creaky, little house, a late moving van, and her parents’ distraction, Riley faces new stresses that throw the organized world of her emotions into disarray.

The story goes in places I didn’t expect.  Joy and Sadness are separated from the “control center” of the mind to the “memory banks” and have to find their way back in what is essentially a buddy film.  Joy – the self-appointed leader of the emotions – has never understood the purpose of Sadness and as Riley goes through what is essentially a depressive episode, Joy realizes that they can’t resolve the problem until she lets Sadness take control and allow Riley to express her feelings.

It’s a complicated concept, but it’s done well with a lot of humor and creative illustrations of the inner workings of the mind. It has the gags that will make the kids laugh, and the moments that will make the parents weep (as I did both when Riley’s imaginary friend fades away and at the climax when Riley finally tells her parents how she’s feeling, which lead to my son shouting “hey, you’re crying!).  My son also noted that the emotions display a lot of – well, emotions – leading him to conclude that there must by five smaller emotions within their minds, and so on.

Summary/Review: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Tower (2016) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “T” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “T” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Trekkies.

TitleTower
Release Date: March 13, 2016
Director: Keith Maitland
Production Company: Go-Valley
Summary/Review:

Tower pushes the limits of documentary film. It recreates the events of the 1966 University of Texas tower shootings using a hyper realistic form of animation with the words of survivors spoken by actors. It’s effective at putting the audience into the chaos of the massacre and showing the youth of most of the people involved. There are some neat effects such as animation of the KTBX radio mobile unit overlaid over archival film of the University of Texas campus. There are also cinematic asides such as depictions of visions a man may have seen as suffered from heat stroke or a women’s Day-Glo daydream about her romance with her now murdered boyfriend.

The woman, Claire Wilson, is one of the key figures in the movie. An 18-year-old student and 8 months pregnant, Wilson was the first person shot from the tower, killing her baby. Her boyfriend Thomas Frederick Eckman was killed instantly by the next shot. Wilson lay on the broiling pavement for nearly 90 minutes wondering if she would live. In one of the many acts of bravery that day, another student Rita Star Pattern ran into the line of fire and lay by Wilson, keeping her conscious and her spirits up. In one of the more stunning moments of the film as Wilson wonders if she would live the animation dissolves to reveal a very much alive Claire Wilson in her 60s.

Another key figure is John “Artly” Fox, a student who heard news of the shooting and not realizing the severity of what was happening, went to campus to check it out. Fox found himself in the midst of the terror, and with a friend would eventually run out to carry Wilson to safety. Other subjects include the police officers and curiously a bookstore employee who reach the tower and kill the shooter.

This was not the first mass shooting in US history, and not even the first school shooting, but in 1966 they was definitely not a public awareness of this kind of random violence in public places. This is evident in the ad hoc approach that first responders made in response to the shooting. The aftermath was also very different from what we’d expect today. There was no candlelight ceremony, no memorial service, no monument on the campus until 2006. In fact, the university was only closed for one day. The survivors did not speak of the event at all. Remarkably, Wilson and Fox did not meet again until the making of this movie, and they discuss how therapeutic it is for them to speak of the shooting.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

This documentary vividly recreates the terror of a mass shooting and depicts the long lasting trauma of crimes that have become all too familiar to us in the present day.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Read: Guns by Stephen King is a concise case for the necessary regulation of firearms in the United States, a call that’s fallen on deaf ears since at least 1966.

Source: I watched this movie on Netflix streaming.
Rating: ****

Movie Review: Mulan (1998)


Title: Mulan
Release Date: June 19, 1998
Director: Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Mulan is Disney’s interpretation of the classic Chinese ballad “Hua Mulan,” where a girl takes her aging father’s place when he’s conscripted to war against the Huns. Mulan is a misfit in her society’s traditional expectations of a woman, but with the help of the dragon Mushu – voiced by Eddie Murphy – she’s able to find her place in the military.The great part is that Mulan is able to use her smarts to figure out clever ways to defeat the Huns in battle and eventually save the Emperor.

The animation style that draws on Chinese watercolor rather than real world appearance is a nice touch.  It does feel that Disney didn’t bring in their Grade A composers for this movie, though, as the musical numbers are a resounding dud. While it’s a simple tale simply told, especially compared to the other Disney movies of the Renaissance era, but it is a decent movie about family, honor, friendship, and the capabilities of women in a patriarchal society.

Rating: ***