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Terra Nova (2011)
Well, SOMEONE Had to Like It...
I've watched five or so episodes of Terra Nova thus far, and I think it is quite good, definitely not the drivel that one would believe from scrolling through the first couple of pages of reviews on IMDb. Calling something "family friendly" doesn't really offend my sensibilities- why can't families have shows that are appropriate for all members to watch? True, the gore and body-count in the series is noticeably lower than we have be trained to expect from any offering that features dinosaurs, but I never finish an episode and say, "Gee, I wish more characters had died and exposed their shredded flesh on camera to preserve my sense of realism this time!"
Obviously, the graphics and scenery are really well done, as one would expect from all the hype surrounding the large-budget production. The dinosaurs are better than anything I've seen on television, and I admire the care and planning that has been put into the futuristic trappings.
The cast and characters are generally well-done. Jason O'Mara and Shelley Conn have great chemistry and I have enjoyed watching their characters rekindle their relationship. I will agree that two of the children: the youngest daughter and the eldest son, are grating and pointless. The daughter seems to mainly have existed as a plot point in the pilot: to give the family a reason to escape to Terra Nova and ratchet up the stakes while still building sympathy for the parents. After that, she's just too cutesy-wootsy and tends to get in the way. The son is the dreaded "worst offender" of the show. I think that probably without him, a lot more people wouldn't have so much to complain about. Every single storyline for him is a mess of clichés, from "son is inexplicably always angry with father" to "son is horny and will do stupid things for a hot chick" to "son is a moron and really deserves to die, but he is a main character, so we will kill someone else to teach him a Very Important Lesson." The middle daughter is much more tolerable and her storyline is (dare I say it?) sweet. In that manner, I find it kind of refreshing to mash up family-friendliness with sci-fi stuff. How often in dinosaur flicks do you get to have "sweet" (not ooky-gooky, just tender) moments between characters? Not that often. Stephen Lang and Christine Adams as opposing leaders of Terra Nova and the Sixers are probably the strongest performers of the lot.
Overall, the stories have been pretty good, and never what I would consider to be offensively unwatchable. It's not LOST, but geeze, why should anything else try to be LOST? LOST was LOST and this is Terra Nova, and it is good at what it is. It's interesting and exciting and entertaining. The b-plots can tread on tired ground, as I have mentioned above, but the a-plots are solid.
Overall, Terra Nova does what it aims to do well. Sort of a loose contemporary spin on Lost in Space, but with dinosaurs. If you don't like those kinds of shows, guess what? You won't like this. And that's okay, but that doesn't mean that Terra Nova is badly done by any means.
The Most Beautiful Disney Film Since Sleeping Beauty, Idiotic Title Nonwithstanding
Tangled is above all else a masterpiece of animation and background. I'd never say another thing about cg again if there was a hope that even a quarter of the stuff churned out looked so stunning. It could have been a much worse film in other aspects and I would still be drooling.
Which makes it even better that it doesn't suck as much as the trailers imply. I have no explanation to offer for the crap job done on the marketing other than everyone other than the artists are a bunch of greedy bastards. Anywho, it's a charming story, not nearly as snarky and Shrek-ish as I had feared, filled with some excellent characters. Mother Gothel is an excellent villain, combining charm and evil marvelously. And as for the titularly tangled couple, both are serviceably great in a not-too-terribly-bland way. Maybe a little too quippy for their own good, but oh man, they boast some of the most attractive character design I have ever seen. There seems to be a lot of lifting from anime, with the huge saucer eyes and heart-shaped faces. The voicework was in many cases good, better than I was expecting to say the least. Donna Murphy was, of course, great and I like Zachary Levi well enough from his role as Chuck, but Mandy Moore was the sleeper hit. Frankly, all she had to do was not suck it up and I would have been floored. I still would have liked to see Kristen Chenoweth in the role, but Moore's voice definitely had a stronger note of sincerity and thankfully the nasally pop-tartness was for the most part absent in her singing.
And the songs! Actually, I am afraid to admit I cannot remember a single tune from the show, which I just saw this afternoon. I remember them as pleasant enough at the time and know I liked Mother Knows Best quite well, but they just didn't stick with me. Instead I've been humming True Love's Kiss all evening, being in the spirit of the movie while infinitely more catchy.
So all in all, Tangled was a worthy placeholder in the coveted 50th feature spot. If it had any faults, which were few, they can all be forgiven by the sheer beauty of the artistry, which really is the whole point anyways. At least if you ask me.
The Rescuers (1977)
I will give credit where it's due and say The Rescuers did it's fair share of freshening things up in the ailing, but not dead, Disney studios. It's a lot nicer animation than Robin Hood and streaks ahead of the Aristocats in every aspect imaginable. It's actually pretty gloomy and dark and not what I would consider a musical (thought it has songs), making it the first straight up adventure story since 101 Dalmatians, with whom it shares a lot of similarities. However, this film stumbles where that one shone in terms of compelling characters and effective story arcs.
The animation is pretty standard fare for the period, with the bothersome scratchy xerox lines of the 60s-80s, but the swampy backgrounds are very lovely and atmospheric. Medusa is particularly well animated, a farewell performance by the great Milt Kahl. The scenes where the mice are following the alligators to the showboat lair and in the pipe organ strike me as especially dynamic sequences. I would almost think they were computer aided- they have that feel of movement. The oil paintings at the beginning were quite moody and atmospheric, but they didn't hash as well as I would have liked with the rest of the movie, plus the whole sequence was kinda creepy and put a glum cast on the film from the outset.
The characters- By far the best in the movie are Bernard and Bianca. Eva Gabor is charming and Bob Newhart makes this quirky, superstitious mouse come to life. The bayou animals served absolutely no purpose to the story- the film could have been made quite easily without their presence and been a lot more enjoyable and less juvenile for it. Penny is just too absowutewy adowable to her own good. From the sticky-sweet lispy voice to the bouncy pigtails and gap tooth, she's just an overdose of goo-goo. I much prefer Anne Marie from a certain Don Bluth's film- a name that would gain a lot more significance in just a few years. Medusa- she's probably the biggest pitfall of the film. I take it back, the entire cast of villains are to blame. Medusa seems at first pretty dangerous and loopy- very much like Cruella but a little broader. But as the movie goes on, her menace gives way to general incompetence. Once the true danger of the cave is done, she is so comically defeated, it kills any credible menace. The same goes for the crocodiles, who at first were an imposing presence of danger, but you eventually got the feeling they were incapable of harming anything even if they tried. Mr. Snoops, well as the odious comic relief, he was a waste from every angle, being neither terribly funny nor particularly villainous.
The music is quite dated, having a particularly strong 70s easy-listening flavour which helps ground the film in a solid setting, I just happen to have a distaste for that style. The songs, with the exception of the Rescue-Aid Pledge are all sung off-screen by Shelby flint as some kind of ethereal narrator. It made the film less of a musical and more devoted to the adventure aspects, which I say is a plus not to keep everything in the same old mold.
The Rescuers is a decent film, but it lacks a compelling force- one that stems mainly from characterization. The protagonists, excluding the titular mice, are too annoying to create any desire for their triumph, while the villains become so impotent they drain the movie, which is geared in all aspects towards adventure, of its suspense.
It's not much of a tale, but I'm sort of attached to it
Many Adventures is just a wonderfully sweet story- it seems odd when you look at it's place in the timeline of Disney releases, but I prefer to think of it as a package film, the first of whose parts was released all the way back in 66. Because of the unusual decade-long production, first as a series of shorts and then packaged together, it shows better than anything else the dwindling grip of the super-studio after Walt's untimely death. The third short is noticeably lesser quality than the first two. But I digress...
Here is the single best use of xerox's stupid scratchy line- perfectly capturing the essence of pen and ink illustrations, again better in the first two shorts than in the last. My main beef with xerox is when it can only be justified by it's cheapness, because then it just looks CHEAP! If every movie released utilized the style this effectively, I would bow down to the glory of the xerox. But they don't.
The stories are so innocent and sweet, it's almost painful, but it never get the sense of itty bitty pweciousness that can threaten the enjoyment of a film for anyone over five. Sure, it's simple enough for the youngest of children, but there is a sense of wry self-awareness- not a completely separate layer like the snotty Dreamworks atrocities, but a gentle, knowing humor and a bittersweet poignancy that any adult can appreciate.
The songs- what child in America doesn't know them? Lovely, catchy, effective and enduring. The voice actors give their most memorable performances, with Sterling Holloway and Paul Winchell leading the pack in their iconic roles.
Of course, being based on such well-known literary work as the stories and verses of AA Milne, it's hard not to compare the two. There's a lot missing in the films, to be sure, and some things added, but I would neither call the subtractions losses nor the additions (esp. Gopher- not in the book!) unwelcome. Perhaps the movies were adapted to resonate better the the American audience, and I, being guilty by association cannot help but find them charming. But really, I find the best adaptions take the essence of their source to create something that can stand on its own in a different media without killing the spirit of the book. And that is exactly why Many Adventures works so unbelievably well.
Quote of the Film:
-But the most wonderful thing about tiggers is I'm the only one!
The AristoCats (1970)
As Dispirited as it is Dispiriting
There are days when I am convinced that the Universe knows deep down what is best for me. This was most recently evidenced when the VCR ate my copy of Aristocats and promptly died, thus taking my retrospective project hostage. Now whether it was the toxic nature of the film that killed the player or the independent actions of the player to commit such a noble act on behalf of my senses, who can really say? Nevertheless, I managed to overcome all obstacles to bare my mind one more time to the spiraling saga of the "lost years" of Disney.
Frankly, Aristocats seems a step back (if there can be one) from its predecessors. The animation is even more scratchy: pencil lines streak the characters with unprecedented gusto. Madame holds the unfortunate distinction of being one of the ugliest drawn characters Disney has ever spewed out, though none of her costars are beauty queens by a long shot. The only really successful character is Georges because his scratchy, wavering persona works in harmony with the style.
The story is a shambles as well. I can't even give the film a heads up for being in Paris, for there's nothing remotely Parisian about it with the exception of the title sequence showcasing Maurice Chevallier (who by his presence makes that the best sequence of the whole film and nothing even happens during it). It's as if all the faults of the Jungle Book were given a shot of heroin and told to run with it. Jazzy music a few decades too early and enough beatnik to make me wonder if Woodstock was happening around the corner. Everybody wants to be a cat was so terribly out of context- the strobe-lights, drum kits, scatting, drug references and occasionally raunchy (for Disney) lyrics were jarring and unpleasant on the palette. We cannot even get away from cloying child characters, though thankfully, we respect the human- animal interaction boundaries this time. I have to say the only things remotely charming in this film were the odious comic relief in the form of the country dogs and, to a lesser extent, the British geese. Two things that had absolutely nothing to do with the story, but were obvious fillers since the producers saw what was essential could in no way stand on its own.
If you can't have interesting leads or music or a good plot, the least you can do is offer up an entertaining foe. However, Edgar is undeniably the worst villain in the Disney canon- not remotely clever enough to be a believable menace. Seriously- his math and reasoning aren't even junior high level, he decides to kill the cats before the benefactor even dies (therefore not only not speeding up his inheritance a minute, but also allowing her the opportunity to adopt even younger cats) and he drugs them when they would have trusted him enough to let him stuff him in a sack (as he actually DID in the last act). To top it off, he's not a serious physical threat or, especially condemning, remotely funny. Even Robin Hood managed to scrape up a villain who could do one of those!
Not to say that there are no redeeming qualities. Though Everybody Wants to Be a Cat bugs me in context, it is not entirely offensive to the ears and is quite catchy. Eva Gabor and Phil Harris are great, though they were both better in other Disney roles- him as Baloo and her as Miss Bianca. Maurice Chevallier coats the opening with his characteristic lovable frenchiness- the one place that takes advantage of the Parisian setting. Speaking of settings, though the character animation was quite hideous, the backgrounds were lovely- especially at times where they became almost soggy and washed out. It is, after all, still Disney.
Everybody, even manic Disneylovers, has a certain film they unleash all their scorn and frustration on. Aristocats is mine, partly because its ugly and lackluster in the long line of progressively uglier and lacklust(ier) films, but mostly because by this point it seemed like they just didn't care. Previous efforts has been misguided and faltered in some way or another, but never had there been such an obvious abandonment before, though I'll reserve my judgement on the after a while yet.
Quote of the film: Uncle Waldo- "Prime Country Goose A la Provencale, stuffed with chestnuts"...? "And basted in white wine." Hic!
O'Malley- Basted? He's been marinated in it!
Theez eez ze Story erf un Eempossible Lerrrrv
If there was ever proof that the "it doesn't matter cause the kid's won't notice" philosophy has any reason to exist, Thumbelina just might be it. I distinctly remember liking this movie, if not exactly loving it, when it was first released. But oh, how time changes things.
Not everything about Thumbelina is entirely terrible. Jodi Benson still has a lovely voice and the "I want" song and love ballad, though moderately bland, remain largely unoffensive to the ear. Even Charo's performance had me cracking a smile. But beyond that...
Characterwise, everyone is a nutcase, with the exception of the Mother, who gets the least screen time of anyone. Thumbelina is frankly dumb as a post, lacking anything that resembles a mind of her own. The other villains and protagonists alike garner no prizes in the brain category, but they make up for it with either general maliciousness or extra-large doe eyes. Jacquiamo does have the distinction of being the animated world's Jar-Jar Binks with his overblown french faerieness.
Visually, the film isn't much of a stunner either. The leads, while not precisely ugly, have the absolute most ridiculous hairstyles I have seen outside of an indie space flick. The computer scenes, like the opening sequence and the frog boat are so jarringly CGI that the simply jerk you out of the experience of the movie to goggle at the disjunct.
Don Bluth is well loved for his distinct visual style that at one point appeared to rival the Disney Empire. Part of what I love about films like All Dogs Go To Heaven is that they are so entirely unlike Disney fare, unlike most anything else out there at all. Thumbelina represents a different Bluth, one who began to doubt that he could overtake the big bad corporation, and scrambled together a bad imitation. It just doesn't take to his style, plus no one can ever out-Disney Disney.
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
The Least Offensive of the Brat Pack
On the surface, SKoW is just another teen angst movie of the 80s. Lots of parents who are squares and teenagers who are misunderstood and, my personal favorite, brooding. Where would the 80s be without the brooding, I ask ya?
But what saves this movie from spiraling into a heap of self-loathing is the trio of truly likable leads. What sunk films like Breakfast Club or St Elmo's was entire ensembles of unsympathetic characters that offered no foothold to build kinship with. Mary Sue Masterson as Watts was the undeniable show-stopper. She fit her character to a tee- lovely, but covered with rough edges and a tough demeanor. Even her rival, Lea Thompson as Amanda, garnered sympathy without coming off as whiny and "poor little popular girl." The weak link may have been Keith, played by Eric Stolz, who was borderline emo at times. Plus it annoyed me that as soon as he got the girl he spent an entire movie chasing, he no longer wanted her. But maybe that's just my own frustration at high school boys. Styupid boyz >_<
Overall, a very sweet film with enjoyable characters you want to see succeed, not just get a punch in the kisser. Speaking of kissers, the last scene is worth the whole film, truly some kind of wonderful.
No, it REALLY is as bad as they say...
This film caught my interest in a worst 10 of the new millennium poll, and since I've never had any particular fondness for the 1997 mega- snooze, I welcomed the possibility of a good laugh. Which I had. While watching a representation of one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century.
I watched both the uncut and the severely cut versions of this, ahem, film (I hesitate to even use the word), so I'll hash the differences in a bit. What possessed the filmmakers to create an animated feature for kids based on an event where in most universes the majority of the participants died is beyond me, but rest assured parents, nobody's gonna die on this animator's watch! We'll just have to find tragedy in other venues. Let's see... awwwkwardly poor animation lifted off of Disney, imitators of Disney, and imitators of imitators of Disney: check. Recycling sound bytes and animation like we just don't care?: chec-chec-check. Ripping off a South-Korean rip-off of the 1997 version: check with a gold badge of shame. And then there's the rapping dog. Yes, you read it right. And yes it must be seen to be believed. Give thanks that youtube is ever-obliging on that score.
So you still can't imagine a movie really being that bad and need to confirm this with your own eyes? Here's how you know which version is the one for you. The Uncut version has a slight advantage of coherence, and a different soundtrack, definitely synthesized. None of that to say that there aren't still gaping plot holes and completely unresolved story lines. The shortened version eschews a lot of the repetition and keeps the pace at a grateful clip, but things lose a lot of sense and get ridiculously choppy and slapped together. Plus, it starts with the end, which ruins the surprise *spoiler* that the most famous ship in history sinks!
If you can watch this without paying for it (in a monetary sense, of course, 'cause you will be paying dearly in brain cells), go ahead if you want a laugh. The mind-blowing inanity is always good to put your own failures into perspective. Just don't blame me if your eye sockets begin to boil in protest.
One Plus Two Plus One Plus One...
Honestly, this is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. I laugh throughout the whole film whenever I watch it, which is at least a few times a year. Excuse me while I gush.
The cast is wonderful beyond words- every person tailored seamlessly to their respective characters. The writing is extremely quoteable and all delivered in a beautiful deadpan.
When a film amuses me so well, I don't go around searching for tiny plot holes and story lines to nitpick at. I don't care if there are some inconsistencies (that you really have to focus on to find), the multiple endings more than make up for it. Speaking of which, I really love the idea to match the chance of boardgames with random endings- I wish they could have made one for each character!
P.S. I Love You (2007)
As Saccharinely Sappy as Tears Made of Dimetapp
There are days when I wonder why I punish myself by going out for these gushy, romantic films when I know deep inside that I rarely will like them. I blame it on the trailers who keep insisting THIS ONE is different! THIS ONE will be mildly insightful! And while I do find PS better than the other recentish dead-husband film, Catch & Release, the amount of tears being poured out in the theater by actors and audience members alike was enough to give me a headache, and I didn't even shed any.
Now admittedly, I guess I really wasn't in the target of this film, namely, women who like crying a lot because it gives life meaning. I was feeling pretty good about life in general up to the point of watching this film, and had no real need to make public displays of tissue-blowing. If you, however, are one of those fortunate folk, this movie is for you! Put it at the top of your Netflix cache and settle in for a good 2 hours of boohooing!
If you are anything that does not fit into this category, well, you might find the pickings on the slim side. I do like Gerard Butler, but he's not in the film a whole ton. Hilary Swank isn't really my favourite actress, which is compounded by 2 hours of her moping on screen. And yes, I get that grieving is traumatic and ugly and emotionally stunting- so why exactly do I want to watch a film entirely devoted to that one aspect of a person's life? What do I really gain from watching an emotionally stunted person painfully grovel in the grieving process for a year? The knowledge that death happens and life goes on? Pretty sure the audience had grasped the concept before they entered the theatre. So basically I sat through a grueling, uncomfortable film that brought nothing new to the table and rung true to no universal truths other than if your spouse dies, life will go on. Bummer. At least the film had impact: namely leaving me in a funk for a couple hours after it ended.
Great Show: Bad Advertising
I remember last year when I saw the adverts for Kings. I thought it was some kind of futuristic post-collapse of democracy thing. It wasn't until I was rifling through the infinite wonderland of Hulu last month that I realized this was a re-imagining of the biblical saga of David and Saul. What a complete botch up on the part of NBC (no surprise there!). With such a faithful account, those drawn in by the ads expecting a sci-fi would be turned off and those actually interested in the religious aspects would have no knowledge of its existence.
But on to the show itself! It's wonderfully written, acted, and styled. I did think the butterfly theme a little corny. Christopher Egan was David- just the image of ruddy youth. Ian McShane's Saul was tortured, pathetic, benevolent- a markedly human character that never felt acted, just lived. Allison Miller and Eamonn Walker were also very good, but the standout was Marlyne Afflack as Thomasina. She conveyed so much through the least lines.
Two detractions in the cast/characters. No matter how fine an actor Macaulay Culkin may prove to be, his image carries so much baggage it is nigh on to impossible to see him as anyone but Macaulay Culkin. It's nothing he does wrong or right, just something that inevitably throws me out of context when he comes on screen. Secondly, I find it frustrating that the bond David and Jonathan shared is modernly construed as sexual: leading to the homosexualising of Jack. Yes, I know Kings is only a re-imagining and subject to any interpretations out there (besides the fact that I am now alluding to events that never actually get realized in the shortened run of the show), but the nature of the friendship of David and Jonathan inevitably reflects on their character, and basing their defining actions on sexual tension over deep respect and loyalty casts it in a cheapened light, not to mention displays a lack of understanding about a culture the writers grasped in so many other ways.
But as I said, many, many more aspects are played out beautifully in both a wretched and sublime manner. I cannot begin to express how terribly I wish the show had continued.
Doesn't Pack the Punch of the First One
I get the feeling that I am in the minority on this opinion, but I do not think PC was the better made of the first two Narnia Films. Yes, I am a huge fan of the book series, but no, I am not a fan of PC, in fact I found it rather boring. So I won't go around knocking the movie just because it deviated in many ways from the book. In fact, many changes were a cinematic improvement. There were, however, some things that made the story much worse.
Firstly, the casting. Honestly, that was a whatever to me, sure Ben Barnes wasn't passing off as 13 in anyone's lifetime, but I have no qualms accepting the character as a little older than Peter. Good grief, I didn't even mind Tilda Swinton making a reprise (though what was up with the design of the hag?). And I will give my stamp of approval on the Night Raid for packing pretty much the only effective emotional punch of the film. The final mega-battle just didn't impress me- we'd kinda seen it before in LWW- this one opted for spectacles over emotional stakes, but even all its PG glory couldn't outshine Lord of the Rings, so yeah, I've seen better.
And here we come to the changes (mostly in characterization) that pretty much effectively neutered all the positive trimming and editing afore mentioned. First off- why are we making Peter a jerk? Honestly- does every teenage male have to be a moody egomaniac with no foresight? It didn't even develop into a decent character arc- he was just inexplicably hormonal the entire film until a rapid change of heart in the last scene- about 5 scenes too late for me to be able to give a crap.
And then there's Susan. Ohhh, Susah. I was not the fanboy screaming "Yuck- they're kissing! Eww, oh no its so gross!" But I do object on the grounds that its so completely out of character for the whole film. Yeah there's some subtle, really corny almost flirting, and then all of a sudden, she's gonna lay one on Caspian in the end? Makes no sense and really gives the feeling that Adamson lost his balls and cut out the majority of the buildup due to fan reaction while still being reluctant to part with the kiss. Which pleases neither the die-hards nor the people who would just like some believable continuity please. Of course, this could all just be a way of making us so disgusted with the older characters that we won't miss them the next go-around. In that case- bravo.
And for the younger ones, I really enjoyed them. I was glad not to feel guilty for rooting for Skandar this time. He's just too freaking charismatic. And Georgie still kept Lucy out of the annoying tagalong territory. The supporting cast was well done and yes, the visuals were really, really good. I'll concede a step up from the first one.
Prince Caspian had the means to surpass its predecessor. If only it hadn't spent most of the time letting the leads wallow around in an unsympathetic funk. I'm just glad we have a chance to go at it again with an infinitely better story- The Dawn Treader!
Are You Being Served? (1972)
THE British Comedy
I was pondering which review would be worthy of being my 50th IMDb review and AYBS won by a landslide. Not only is it the definitive field guide to the world of double entendres, it's my personal favourite TV show- British or otherwise. If you are looking for your first foray into British comedy, you'll find no better, and if you only see one, this had better be it.
Despite its long run and casting changes, not always for the better mind you, AYBS was one show I can never say outran it's welcome. It remains as fresh and hilarious as the first day of taping, capturing perfectly the working atmosphere (in no small ways can I pick out similarities to my own stint in retail) while seamlessly introducing the absurdly hilarious. Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft were BRILLIANT writers for the show.
The original lineup will always remain the favorite. In that time, I felt the characters were more equally favored, and I loved the caustic Mr. Mash. As changes ensued, there were highlights and detriments, including Miss Brahms coming more into her own, and the most obvious unwanted replacements of Mr. Grainger and Mr. Lucas. I never was a fan of Mr. Spooner, but I don't think he killed the show as more rabid purists may attest. Either way, I was never presented with an episode that couldn't make me laugh and forget the oppressions of real life.
One last note, the musique concrete theme song was really outstanding as a hallmark of the show: very iconic.
So this is my poor tribute to a fantastic show. If anything, I hope the very least I can do is inspire someone to look it up and become a new fan of this brilliant classic
Robin Hood (1973)
The Broken Clock is Right Twice a Day
Here we have the second film in what I consider the "bleak years" of the Disney canon that while doing everything I abhor in animation, still manages to make me like it all the more. I cannot bring myself to love it, but actually liking a film from this period says a whole lot.
I am a Robin Hood junkie. I have watched nearly every adaption available and it does take more than turning my hero into a fox (very sly- bravo Disney!) to deter me from this ageless story. More specifically, it takes Kevin Costner. I can't say this really improves upon the story to make everyone talking animals, but at least it doesn't make everything thoroughly unpleasant. In fact nothing really can kill it: the anachronistic folk-country music, dodgy American casting, the stupid XEROX outlines (yes, even I am getting tired of harping on it), the massive loads of recycled animation not only from within the film but icons of previous films, or the overall laziness this film was apparently treated with based on the assumption that when you market to kids, quality no longer matters. Do you know no shame, post-Walt production team???
And it probably comes down to personal opinion, but mashed all together this stuff just works. Peter Ustinov and Terry-Thomas as Prince John and Hiss make the lamest of Disney villains into some of the most watchable- rather than fearing them, you just want them to go on to see what will come next. I also admittedly enjoyed Brian Bedford as Robin and though the casting of jazzy American Phil Harris as Balo- errr, I mean Little John should be bothersome- who can really help but adore Phil Harris?
The music is hopelessly out of tune with the setting of the movie, and even with itself from song to song- how in the world does Love end up right next to The Phony King of England?- but blast my ears if I don't love it anyways.
So even after telling myself there is no possible reason to or way I could like this Robin Hood, I do. It throws all the conventions of how to make a proper animated feature out the window and then proceeds to spit on them. Yet all this roguish thumbing of the nose only further endears this outlawed film to my heart.
Quote of the Film:
- Taxes! Taxes! Beautiful, lovely taxes! Ah-hah! Ah-hah!
Good, But Not THAT Good
I will say there is something about Glee that has managed to keep me coming back despite several misgivings. It certainly has no lack of talent and sheer desire to have FUN. However, the mid-season finale has really set me back once again.
First the good. I find the actors to be wonderful (note: I am saying actors, not characters.) With the exception of Finn, whom I've heard most accurately described as sounding like a synthesized Cher, they have some wonderful singers and I am no small fan of Broadway style acting and singing. Lea Michele as Rachel is a shining star among the cast- I will give her that. Although I am bound to begrudge the casting crew for trying to pass off obviously twenty-somethings as high schoolers, I can gladly suspend some amount of disbelief if it buys us better talent.
The music is also tremendous- amazing quality period, not just for a TV show. The range of songs has been great, but I'm slipping in my first problem here: how in the world are they passing off these booty songs in high school settings? The Bootylicious number wouldn't have made it anywhere near a school-sponsored club, and Mr. Schuester singing Bust a Move to his students was reaaallly uncomfortable to watch.
Those quibbles aside, what drags the show down is an entire slate of unlikeable characters and a terribly written story. The only character that you can root for is the villain, Sue, because she is so completely evil and doesn't try to fool us by being all wishy-washy about it. Rachel, the diva is so gratingly annoying, you cannot celebrate the talent she rightly possesses. Finn may be a victim of Quinn's lies, but even when he thinks he's the father of her child, he still pursues Rachel and makes no effort to support the baby. Quinn cheats on her boyfriend and then traps him in a responsibility he does not own. Puck is the worst written character of the series, having completely different personalities and arcs from episode to episode. Kurt is manipulative and catty, and no, his sexual orientation shouldn't act as a free pass for mean spiritedness. Even the background characters display more unappealing traits than good.
But that is nothing, NOTHING compared the poor, poor job they did with the adult triangle. Basically, the writers set out to make Terri the biggest witch they could so everyone could say "aww, it's okay" when Will Schuester would eventually cheat on her with Emma, the school counselor. Only it's not okay. And I really don't appreciate feeling manipulated into a situation where I am supposed to condone cheating. Yeah, Terri's self-absorbed and more than a little dim, but guess what? She's his wife. And maybe, like she said, if he didn't always go off soaking up Emma's adoration to punch up his ego (and don't even try to kid yourself that it was all innocent) she wouldn't have been gone to such extremes to keep from losing him. And for all of Emma's doe-eyed Bambiness, she is going after a married man!
So underneath all the feel-good songs and passionate glances and cute gleefulness that is Glee, here is the heart of the show: it's okay to do really horrible things to other people if it makes you feel better for the time being. Because isn't feeling good now just way better than having to have all those icky feelings that come with deep, meaningful relationships? Wow, that's a message for the generations to come.
St. Elmo's Fire (1985)
Come On- Seriously?
I'll probably get a lot of flack for hating this movie- guess I didn't approach it with the proper dewy-eyed nostalgia of the generation before me. But suffice it to say- St Elmo's Fire was pretty crap-freaking- tastic, even as far as Brat Pack films go.
Here is yet another lovely example of the smug, self-indulgent neurosis that is everything 80s (RENT, anyone?) The plot is virtually non- existent and the philosophies are kitchy at best, poorly delivered the rest of the time. The complete lack of anything resembling sympathetic characters doesn't help the situation. There really was no growth, no forward movement at all. Even the climactic suicide scene was effectually neutered by once again refusing to let death or anything resembling reality or adult life enter in.
Each cookie cutter figure simply goes about making you hate them in the blandest, most predictable way possible. The Stalker is a creep for no discernible reason other than he is a Stalker and Andie MacDowell is gorgeous. The Jackass does everything in his power to constantly remind you he is, well, a jackass. The Gorgeous Slut hides really soulful, deep pain (and some serious emotional imbalances) with a tragically wild lifestyle. The Poet moods and mopes around for a full 3/4 of the film until he can reveal (!) he actually is full of teddy bears and sunshine and rainbows. The Virgin finally becomes a whole, happy human being after getting every Virgin's desire of one hot roll in the sack with a Jackass before he ditches her to really change (for real this time). The Cheating Bastard cheats until it is time for him to get caught. And finally The Feminist go around dousing holy water on any soul that utters "commitment".
Which brings me to my final beef- what bond of super-cement was holding these people together as friends? I can't imagine being with just one of them- Now think of the vortex created by all that narcissism centered in one bar. And they were all so terrible to each other- heads in toilets, near rape, and sleeping around with everrrryone. The cherry was after two BFFs act like total baboons after screwing the Feminist, she's like, "umm, actually I don't want to be with either of you anymore. Let's be friends! And we can hang out in a totally unawkward way every day knowing that I may hook up with one or the other at any given point, but neither of you are satisfying enough for commitment (NOT THAT WORD!)." And they all smile as if to say, "Golly gee, I never thought of that! What a great idea!"
Only it's not. Kinda in the way that watching this movie is not.
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
I happened upon this movie by chance, as I had been intent on seeing Avatar until I realized the length was practically 3 hours, which will no longer cut it in theaters unless I am SURE it's going to be spectacular. I came in with almost no expectations, having vaguely seen the trailer somewhere and really only knowing Jude Law was in the cast.
Which was completely amazing by the way. I will single out Law as the best performance (I do admit to a bias on that part), his take on Watson was a wonderful new (and can't help it- sexy) spin on the character. Robert Downey Jr. took a while to warm up to- I was beginning to worry in the first half if we hadn't made a mistake because his character was hardly investable in the beginning. And truthfully it was his relationship with Watson that saved him- wonderfully acted and set up.
The story was unlike the slim slice of Sherlock fare I've seen- gone was the stuffy old-man-ness and the deerstalker hat. There was a lot more kick-butt than the originals, which doesn't bother me, but the film definitely pumped up the (at times slap-happy) action aspects. Which doesn't say that the mystery suffered. Actually, I found the deductive skills of our favorite detective nicely highlighted- his most dangerous weapon was obviously his head. I was worried for a time that we were going to spin off into supernatural realms, but was pleased to find everything resolved (minus the obvious sequel setup) in the traditional Holmes manner.
The style of the film was also very intriguing. It was beautifully done, though at times a little too obviously digital. The way the camera got into Holmes' head was cool- reminded me of spook films, but tripped me up from time to time. The pounding, almost Indian inspired soundtrack was unlike most anything I'd heard for that kind of film- really fun and different.
This was really a surprise hit for me. What actually struck me the most was how clean it was. Very little language, the innuendo was mild, not a sex scene to be had. Without the gratuitous violence, this could have easily passed for PG. Which is a shame, as it was a thoroughly engaging film- I did get the feeling they padded a lot of the fighting so it would get more attention as "adult PG13" over "kiddie PG." Even though the effects were as entertaining as they were gruesome, it still bothers me that people feel that they cannot relate on a mature level to something that is "clean". Call it a pet peeve.
All in all- really gripping for a first viewing. But I was also aware that I was missing many details that would make further viewings enjoyable. And if there is to be a sequel, (as it seems obvious there must be) I would most certainly be in line.
The Jungle Book (1967)
The Lesser of a Generation of Underperformance
When it comes to the Jungle Book, the things that make Disney my idol are few and far between. Firstly, it doesn't merely cross the dreaded line of believable human-animal interaction, it pounds that sucker into the ground. You cannot expect me to take a film seriously that spends its entirety in talking-animal land. It smacks of a film that is squarely aimed at kiddies, and not even moderately intelligent kiddies, but kiddies who scream at the McDonalds to get their happy meal for the next animated tie-in toy (now we're getting into the root of my beef with Pixar). And honestly, that isn't what Disney is about.
Once again, the style of animation is not the quality I would prefer. Yes, this film was born out of the turmoil surrounding the death of the master, but his involvement with animated films had been greatly lessened since the arrival of Disneyland in the 50's. And the thick, blocky lines are simply clumsy to watch, smacking again of cheapness and low quality because "kids wouldn't notice anyways." Even as a little child, I could tell that plenty of animation was recycled throughout the film, as huge chunks would play out exactly the same frame for frame.
Oddly enough, the savior of the film is the animal characters. They are all wonderfully voiced by their respective actors. If Mowgli had been dropped in his entirety, I probably would actually tip towards liking it. The character was irritatingly stubborn and idiotic, and then I wouldn't be bothered by the "he speaks the language of the animals" paradox. Honestly, they might as well have, as Disney was infamous for strictly ordering his team to ignore the original text. Sher Kahn was a smooth and menacing villain- he should have been given so much more screen time. Phil Harris' wonderfully jazzy, booming voice made Baloo, and who can forget "The Bare Necessities?"
Which brings me to the music, which while distinctly juvenile and has nothing to do with the time period or setting of the film, is just too darn catchy to ignore. The "Wanna Be Like You" song is delightful in its Louis Armstrong-ness, but the best number for me was the Beatles- inspired "Thats What Friends are For". Just think how mind-blowing it would have been if the Beatles had actually spared some time to record for it.
So all in all: Great music: poor animation. Interesting characters: poor utilization of them. Sure it's tons better than a Saturday morning cartoon, but come on, is that the level you should be comparing a Disney film?
The Sword in the Stone (1963)
A Different Side of Disney
I distinctly recall this as the favorite film of my early childhood. Whenever we went on a trip, this was the movie I brought for the car ride (much to other passengers' chagrin). Looking back now, it seems odd, what with the lesser quality animation and sloppy voiceovers on the main character (not to mention the lack of princesses!). But even with all the faux pas that I normally rake animated films over the coals for, there's just something about this movie that is sincerely endearing beyond the limitations of reason.
First off, the comedy is unparalleled. No snarky jokes or one-ups, no pop culture reliance, no BATHROOM HUMOR. Just a masterful blend of character, situations and wordplay. Yet at the same time, a level of poignancy is attained that just tweaks your heart at the right moment. I would say that the squirrel sequence is one of the best executed scenes in animated history. Interestingly, this film also houses one of the best studies of character animation: the wizard's duel where Merlin and Mim change into a variety of creatures without losing their essential defining traits.
The lessons of this story are also wonderfully unique in the Disney canon. There is no singular overarching villain that our hero overcomes. Rather Arthur learns to shape his own character and take command of destiny. It is not battles that define the hero, but his ability to take insight from the world around him and apply it to his own growth.
I can see the reasons why this film often gets overshadowed by showier works like Little Mermaid, but I also see the wonders that await once you give it a chance. Sword and the Stone offers a different kind of Disney that is both refreshing and a comfort to watch.
Quote of the Film:
-I am not a boy, I'm a squirre-, I mean I'm not a squirrel, I'm a boy, no, I'm... I'm an old man!
A Bubblegum Cartoon
And yet another dog film brought to us by Disney.
When it comes to animation, Dalmatians started a trend in Disney I don't really care for. Strapped budgets required some money-saving scheme, so in walked Xerox and with it the very scratchy-outliney style that lasted through The Rescuers. There's just something about that style that bugs me- perhaps it suggests a lack of refinement and finishing. Anywho, it is what it is, and despite my predisposition, I did love the elegance of the dogs- they always felt wonderfully sleek and fluid. Surprisingly, there are very few songs. In fact, there is only the infamous Cruella De Vil and a short blurb at the ending. I guess the extreme popularity of Cruella more than made up for the lack of other songs.
When reviewing this film, I feel I must draw at least some upon comparisons to Lady and the Tramp. They were made so close together, yet appear so radically different. You can see the radical changes in Disney really start to break through around 1960 (it happens again at the end of the 80s). Once again, we are dealing with a dog's point of view, but for some reason it does not feel as entirely faithful to that point as in its predecessor. There is just a little too much focus on the human characters- the dogs begin to run into danger of stepping the boundary of cartoon-animals-that-talk land, instead of being purely animated characters (that trend only gets worse from here).
What keeps this film from getting a higher score is it's not as easy to get plugged into as some stories. Being more of an adventure film than a love story, Dalmations just doesn't leave that much impact on me. It was suspenseful and well-crafted, but it never gripped me with meaningful relationships or outstanding characters or charged lines. Not to say that adventure films are inherently bad, but outside of spectacular sequences or plots, they are harder to invest in. And Dalmatians simply didn't offer me anything investable.
So in the end, Dalmatians is kind of like a piece of bubble gum. I never really crave it, but it's fun to get as a novelty once in a blue moon. And after 10 minutes of unsuppressed bubbles, I spit it out and it doesn't cross my mind again. It's good for a pleasurable throw-away afternoon, but has little use beyond that.
Quote of the Film:
-I live for furs. I worship furs! After all, is there a woman in all this wretched world who doesn't?
Lady and the Tramp (1955)
Even I Have Got it Pretty Bad...
I am not the world's biggest fan of talking animals, but Lady and the Tramp is priceless. Perhaps it is because they are characterized so faithfully and fleshed out so well, I forget that they aren't really human. After all, isn't that how we begin to treat our pets?
In choosing a plot that he infused with his own experiences, I think Disney did a superb job- much better than some adaptations of famous classics. Keeping the story strictly to a dog's point of view was a wonderful decision- it kept things from getting silly or overly- cartooney.
As usual, I cannot fault the animation of the film- it is truly lovely and harmonizes with the elegance of the Victorian period. The characters are wonderfully captured and seamlessly integrate human characteristics in a dog's body.
The musical numbers stand out strikingly in the film- the haunting "What is a baby" always creeped me out, while the lullaby was wonderfully warm. The Siamese cat song was utterly terrifying yet somehow mesmerizing. "Bella Notte" was, of course, a knock-out, but the best song was "He' a Tramp." Peggy Lee was an outstanding talent, providing the voice of the cats, Darling and Peg.
As far as the story goes, its actually very interesting. The cats and the rat are very VERY creepy- I always get surprised thinking about how nightmarish Disney films can turn. The whole plot line of Ladies and Tramps went over my head as a youngster, but looking on it now, its kinda racy if you applied the standards to humans. Lady was pretty much stamped deflowered after spending the night out with Tramp, regardless of whatever may or may not have happened (think about what exactly Jock and Trusty were proposing in the latter half). But who could really blame her for digging on Tramp- he's a scoundrel, but they love him!
Quote of the Film:
We are Siamese if you please. We are Siamese if you don't please.
The Fillion Show
I'll hazard a guess and say that most of those whose interest was first piqued in Castle were already fans of Nathan Fillion. I know I was. I had first followed him from the ultimately doomed, yet wildly popular Firefly into the ill-fated Drive. But here is how Castle will succeed where Drive did not: chemistry. Castle allows Fillion to pour out all his on-screen charm, plus his characterization is much closer to the Malcolm we first knew and loved. After all, why mess with a good thing?
So, how does the show stand up in its own right? Well, we've been here before, several times. TV is saturated with crime shows from every perspective possible with pairings of main characters ranging from the mundane to the outrageous. This particular series strongly resembles USA's Psych, though Castle has a touch more gravity (Just a touch, though). And it is very funny: an odd mix of irreverence and humor on one hand with tenderness and heartstrings on the other.
As far as the casting, the supporting people do their job well enough. I am still waiting for something that will totally sell me on Detective Beckett. I feel its coming, but I am not completely won on her character yet. The police force does the basic job of setting up punchlines and plot lines, but I wouldn't miss or notice if one didn't appear in the next episode. The grandmother is hit-or-miss, but Molly Quinn stands out in the crowd as the level-headed daughter.
Overall, its a good series. Not the greatest ever, but definitely worth the effort of keeping up with it. However, the driving force that sets it apart from every other show rests squarely on Fillion's able shoulders. Were he not Castle, I probably wouldn't bother.
Peter Pan (1953)
I Think Neverland Was the Other Way...
Peter Pan is a wonderful story, in my top 10 for children's works. Unfortunately, this version does not make the top anything for children's films. Like its predecessor, Alice in Wonderland, this movie loses its soul with the abandonment of the wit and satire so abundant in the original.
On the happier hand, it is a good enough film. Tinkerbell became such an icon you cannot say the name without conjuring up the Disney image. The songs are for the most part catchy and somewhat memorable, though I still hold that Katherine Beaumont is a warbly singer at best. The plot is still interesting, but the tension between Wendy and Peter is severely lacking. She is obviously jealous and he (somewhat) naively toys with her, but I miss that tangible tension between the characters that makes you wriggle in your seat. That, and the severe alteration of the original narration and dialog are what keeps the film from soaring.
Overall, not the best thing to come out of the Disney vault. But if this is the worst they have to offer (Pixar partnerships excluded), I can by no means complain. My recommendation: skip this and get the 2003 live version. Its excellent in every way: wit, tension and storybook quality.
Quote of the Film:
-I hereby banish you forever! -Please, not forever! -Well for a week, then.
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Something of a Wayward Tale
In some ways I like Alice in Wonderland very much. And in some ways it falls kind of flat. I think it all stems from the transition of mediums and the radically different beast the original book was.
As pretty much everyone in the Western Hemisphere with any education knows, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are simply nonsense for nonsense sake. There are no real moralizing overarching themes: they exist on the merit of wit and wordplay. Now in that, they are wonderfully successful and entertaining. So why adapt them into a film- namely a Disney film, known for it's life lessons and happy endings? Well that is the question that everyone would like answered.
While glimpses of the original wit shine through during the entire movie, there is a disconnect in the obliged Disney storyfication. Now I never begrudge Disney for tailoring their sources to their trademark pattern- they do it so well. However this time it does feel a misstep choosing a source so unsuitable to their goal. Here the words are a tumbling, bumbling servant, not the framed focus and the morals leave a heavy taste in an otherwise whimsical palette.
That being said, Alice is not without its values. The serial stories were mostly entertaining, especially the walrus and the carpenter. Even more than that, the characters are vividly memorably and interesting, though when you really sit down to think about it, not a one is extremely likable or even pleasant. That is the greatest feat, so props both to the animators and the writing team (and obviously Mr. Carroll).
And the film is itself quite interesting visually- with Mary Blair at the helm of the backgrounds. I wish her influence had spread to the character design - it could have really punched it up. You can see this film starting the crossover from the soft rounded "typical" Disney animation to a more graphic style that culminated in Sleeping Beauty.
The music is pretty good- nothing outstandingly stunning, but it all fits in and moves the story along very well. I have to say I do not find Katherine Beaumont to be a gifted singer- her warbling voice did nothing for me.
While I do not find Alice in Wonderland to stink of all that is wrong with the world, I cannot shout its praise with any enthusiasm either. It has its highs and lows, its merits and pitfalls. While Alice captures my interest for the time she is on, I never find myself clamoring for her presence, humming her tunes, or even thinking about her really. If I was presented with a quote, my mind would immediately race to the novel, not the film. And that, I think is a testament to the endurance of the original.
Quote of the film:
"The time has come" the Walrus said, "to talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings. And why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings."
The Chicken Soup of Classics
Out of all the Princess stories Disney has put out there, Cinderella probably has the most enduring appeal. I can't really say why, but for some reason, generation after generation thrusts her to the top of their lists. As a little girl, I wanted nothing more than to be Cinderella with her glass slipper- it was my absolute favorite costume.
Honestly, I don't think there is any story that more realizes the longings of the human heart than Cinderella. Who has never wanted to run away from the drudgeries of daily life and find someone who sees you as no one else ever had? The story is older than the English language and somehow it still rings true.
As for the characters, if nothing else, Disney can make a wonderful villain. Lady Tremaine is evil to the T, in a wonderfully calculating, not overtly physical way. Her cutting tongue and eyes do the work for her- she doesn't need staffs of lightening to strike fear into your heart. The animal friends tend to grate, especially that idiotic Gus. I would have cheered had he met his fate in Lucifer's jaws. Cinderella herself was no pushover- making some justly catty remarks at times. However, she just lacked the drive to make her entirely sympathetic. Sure, she was nice and fed animals, but what was keeping her at that place? We never know. Even if she only became a maid in another house, at least she'd be getting paid and have a shot at respect. It seems the only reason things work out in the end for Cindy is that everything sort of falls to place in her lap. She never works for her dreams that she sings so fondly of.
Which brings me to the music, which is lovely, as ever. Ilene woods has a lovely, rich voice, probably my favorite of any Disney heroine. Some big standards originated here- A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes, So This is Love, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo...
Cinderella is a wonderful heartfelt story with a ton of musical highlights. While it is lacking in some character development, it does provide some classic villains and excellent voice work. If you are feeling sick at heart, pop it in- it'll warm you up and make you hum Mmm Mmm Good!
Quote of the film:
-Surprise! Surprise! -Duh duh duh- Happy Birthday!