Kenneth Elliott's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

The Apartment

A much-deserved "Best Picture" winner in 1960, "The Apartment" is, on the surface, a comedy, but at its core, it is a dark societal parody addressing common taboos avoided in much of Hollywood till this era such as extramarital affairs, divorce, and drug usage. Both realistic and idealistic, "The Apartment" has a fantastic script and some great acting. Most notable is the main protagonist Jack Lemmon who plays the over-worked and under-appreciated C.C. Baxter, an everyday man working at a New York City insurance corporation. C.C., in order to gain prestige and recognition within the company, loans out his apartment to several co-workers for discreet late-night flings. The film portrays a version of America far different from the squeaky-clean view of the everything-is-fine 1950s. Here, the very nature of the American business and opportunity is revealed to be corrupt, where the man on top will always back-stab underlings with gossip and frequently participate in the same shady underbelly activities as the underlings he disposes of. It also shows the limited and frustratingly immoral manner in which one has to climb the ladder of success to achieve an upper-management position.

"The Apartment" was very controversial at the time for its sexual overtones; no sex scenes were shown, per se, but the script was peppered with oblique innuendos such as direct mentions to "ring a ding ding" activities. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the film was not in the adulterous affairs within C.C. Baxter's apartment, but the semi-graphic portrayal of drug overdosage. Shirley MacLaine, well-mannered elevator operator and two-way lover stuck in the middle of a secret triangle between C.C. and Fred MacMurray's Mr. Sheldrake, is so distraught and ridden with rejection that she consumes an entire bottle of sleeping pills, barely getting out of the predicament alive. Even when she does recover, she is left with suicidal thoughts and nasty hangovers. Remember, this movie was made in 1960, not 1990, so much of this stuff was ahead-of-its time and shocking to witness on the silver screen.

My one and only complain with "The Apartment" is the half-assed ending. Honestly, the scene when C.C. refuses the offer of a second-in-command position at the (literal) top of the building next to Mr. Sheldrake's office would have been the most compelling finish. In such a rigged business system where corruption and secrets abound, nobody can or will stop bad boys at playing shady games, hence why corruption is so prevalent today. What happened instead, which I absolutely hated, is that C.C. suddenly grew a heart and uncharacteristically refused to be part of the system and left. Everything that followed felt like a typical, paint-by-the-numbers happy ending, including Shirley MacLaine's running through the city to get to her lover-boy. (I guess the both ended happily ever after playing cards.) I would have much preferred a darker, more realistic ending, as everything else in "The Apartment" strived to echo problems in contemporary American society.

The Jungle Book

If you are looking for one of those films that demonstrates new techniques in visual imagery, than Disney's "Jungle Book" remake is for you. It is on that same list that sets "Avatar" and "Gravity" from the dozens of other films using (or mis-using) CGI. And visually, "Jungle Book" impresses. However, if you're looking for any kind of magic regarding story and script surprises, you will be less successful. Watching this gave me strong vibes of Disney's "Dinosaur" back in 2000, which boasted (at the time) revolutionary animation, but was sorely lacking on all other fronts.

Let's start off by analyzing the favorable: the animation will flabbergast you. The creatures are so lifelike, I was under the impression that artists had superimposed CG lips and eyes over real animal footage. By comparison, they make the animals in "Narnia" look like utter garbage. But the truly awe-inspiring feat pulled off by "Jungle Book" was not in the wolves, bears, and large wild cats; no, the real stunner was the fully-photorealistic and completely believable environments these animals lived in. Trees, foliage undergrowth, rocks, streams, hilltops, and temples, every background looked like something pulled out of a Discovery Channel show. All of it looked believable.

With that said, I do wonder why Disney decided to go to obscene lengths to animate all backgrounds, as the finished film did not utilize the technology to its fullest. For the most part, "Jungle Book" played like a live action film with not as many carefully-planned camera swoops and pans as I would have expected. The Kaa sequence, as an example, was a waste of potential; while the Walt Disney classic had the snake demonstrate its awesome length by coiling, turning, grabbing Mowgli and playing with its food, this Kaa was so static and unmoving it might as well have been accomplished through matte painting. The entire thing may have felt "grounded" in part because of the way filmmakers chose to bring Mowgli to life...

... And this leads me into the first major complaint I had with this film. Mowgli. I will give young Neel Sethi a break because he's a kid and I won't dwell on the fact that he was no Haley Joel Osment, but I will criticize filmmakers for not truly pushing the boundaries in animation by attempting to pull off a fully-lifelike CG character. In short: they cut corners. They didn't even try to go the extra mile in the one area of CG that needs the most innovation. Boo to Jon Favreau and team for being so paranoid of the "uncanny valley" they didn't even attempt to innovate. If they had just tried, I would have given them a full star more in my rating. I will give them credit for seamlessly blending in Neel Sethi into every background, but I do think using a live actor greatly limited the scope and vision of the overall film.

Now, for the deluge of criticism...
The story was a complete mess. The script was an even greater mess. I have criticized Walt Disney's 1967 animated film for its lack of narrative direction, as the story seemed to be a series of unrelated antics tying one scene to the next, story obstacles to prevent Mowgli from reaching the man village. Here, the events are even more random and convoluted. Kaa appears and then she exits the story forever. King Louie appears and then he exits the story forever. The elephant herd appears and then leaves the story forever (without saying a word, too!) At least the animated classic integrated these characters and had them return. For example, the animated film had several scenes with Kaa, and a very memorable and tense encounter between Shere Khan and Kaa. Not here. In the animated film, there were important interactions between Bagheera and the elephant pack. Not here. I would have forgiven these antics if they could have at least ended the story. In this version, nothing gets resolved, as far as Mowgli learning to be a man. (I assume he will be enslaved to con-bear Baloo in honey-capers for the rest of his life? What a waste of human potential.) Mowgli does not even reach man village, which defies the entire point of the plot! Wasn't the symbolic image of Mowgli wielding and controlling the "red flower" supposed to denote that he alone possessed powers and ingenuity no animal could possess? The whole film ended flatter than a popped tire. I left feeling as unsatisfied as watching part one of a two-part cliffhanger (ahem, "Deathly Hallows: Part I.")

There were so many things that I disliked about the story. The Kaa scene especially was annoying. First off, I was puzzled why Disney did a gender swap; I hope it was not because Disney realized there was only one female character in the film, and (like always) they need to have at least one evil female in movies nowadays. But even worse than gender-swapping was how Kaa hypnotized Mowgli; apparently someone in the story department thought it would be intelligent to shoe-horn a flashback sequence here-and-now, completely with mysterious Scarlett Johansson narration to remind us of Galadrial in "Lord of the Rings." Honestly, did we need to see Mowgli's past? And even if we did, couldn't somebody pick a better moment for the flashback? Another horrible aspect was the way Shere Khan was handled. I got the impression that instead of being frightened by fire, he was drawn to it, because he willingly and stupidly climbed a dead tree in the middle of a forest fire without having the foresight that a dead tree might snap. For that matter, how did Mowgli get off that same tree during the same forest fire? How was Mowgli able to run with the torch of fire all the way from the man village to the wolf den, unless the forest was only 50 feet long? And top top it off, I wish everyone would quit referring to fire as "red flower." I'm pretty sure that in Kipling's original, "red flower" referred to the physical attributes of a campfire, not a raging forest fire. If I was Shere Kahn witnessing half the forest burn down, I would not exclaim: "Look at that red flower!" Instead, my reaction would be more primal: "Ahhh!!! Red hot terror!!!!!!!!!!!" A red flower? No. Just no.

When it all boils down, the only sequence I truly enjoyed was King Louie. It was funny, it was scary, it had an awesome remix of the classic "I Wanna Be Like You." Here, filmmakers used CG to its fullest potential, in this case turning King Louie into a 15-foot-tall ape of incredible strength,(the song cleverly incorporates new lyrics saying that he is, in fact, a gigantopithicus. Bonus points for that.) I also sense a dark humor in screenwriters when the monkey temple crushed King Louie, rendering the last remaining gigantopithicus extinct. A nice touch. The entire sequence was loaded with a level of fun and innovation the entire movie should have had, but did not. What should have been laughs throughout was constipated dialogue.

In the end, while I dig the animation, this new "Jungle Book" was too butt-kissy to the Walt Disney classic to stand on its own two feet. And yet, it was not dark and realistic enough to be a faithful adaption of the Rudyard Kipling original. It resides in no man's land. Honestly, Rotten Tomatoes, 95% fresh?

Suicide Squad

Boy, this movie gets a lot of verbal backlash from critics. I'm not entirely sure why, as this was the most pleasant superhero movie experience I've had since Disney/Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy." What "Suicide Squad" lacks in dramatic theatrics like Nolan's "The Dark Knight" trilogy, it more than makes up for character diversity and intentional silly humor. (Humor? Oh yeah, that's right: these are based on *COMIC* books, now I remember!) I laud filmmakers for creating a superhero movie starring so many people of color and individuals traditionally marginalized within the genre: we have two prominent African American players (Will Smith's Deadshot, whose smart-ass wisecracks were the biggest surprise of the film, and Viola Davis' baddie Amanda Waller running the show from the sidelines,) and arguably the most refreshing lead to come out of a DC movie in recent years, Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn.

Let me take a moment to praise Robbie's Harley Quinn performance. She is smart, sassy, completely bonkers, and wonderfully entertaining to watch and listen to. She's the type of gal who would bite your head off and then sing a song about it. This is exactly the type of Harley Quinn I was hoping we would get. Her wardrobe redesign, while not my first choice pick of clothes, did suit her. I do not know why Hollywood has deliberately stalled in bringing this character to life, (even though her boyfriend Joker has been seen in nearly half a dozen live-action incarnations,) but it is well worth the wait. Not to detract from Harley Quinn, but Jared Leto's Joker was also fun and demented. With his green hair, bling, strange teeth, and tattoos, Leto is the most mafia-gang-looking Joker we've seen in the DC film universe.

In the weeks leading up to "Suicide Squad's" release, there has been much talk regarding the film's extensive reshoots, done to bolster the film's playfulness. While this was bad news for the tough guys in the audience, (or those who aspire to be tough guys,) the reshoots added another layer for the most part, which separated it from the multitude of countless comic book flicks that seemed to forget the definition of the word "fun." ("X Men" and those new inferior "Spider Man" movies come to mind.) Most of the time, the added reshoot scenes brought much-needed laughs. At other times, however, inserted humor stuck out like a sore thumb, such as that Harley Quinn elevator scene which was stuck in for..... I'm not sure why it was stuck in, to be honest.

To say "Suicide Squad" is a perfect movie is like saying the Joker is sane. There were a number of problems, the biggest one being Cara Delevingne's Enchantress. Do not get me wrong: Enchantress was my favorite character in the film; however, this powerful and mysterious was mishandled as soon as she took matters into her own hands by becoming the stereotypical all-controlling female. Those rock-minions she concocted, as well as the swirling tornado vortex of doom was also lacking in originality. Honestly, the animated "Batman: Assault on Arkham," (which I'm sure director David Ayer watched closely beforehand,) had a more sensible plot. I would have easily given this flick another full star if only the squad had faced-off with a foe worthy of their summoning. My final complaint: couldn't somebody (anybody) do something about the numerous scenes objectifying women? Apart from the offensive butt-slapping and slut-shaming, I did not appreciate how 20% of Harley Quinn's full-body shots were of her backside wearing those microscopic bun-shorts.
"Suicide Squad" is currently killing the box office as this review is being written. I am looking forward to the sequel; hopefully, DC and Warner Brothers can pick a more original problem for the squad to face next time.

Kubo and the Two Strings

While studio Laika's latest offering contains brilliant detail and painstaking craftsmanship, someone forgot to polish the script and storyline; specifically, there were so many things left unexplained or never fully explained I was left feeling more aggravated than awed. Every time that monkey said "no more questions," I felt like tying her up with unbreakable rope and yelling: "No, PLEASE ask more questions so I could understand what these filmmakers are trying to say!" Some specific queries:
Why was Beetle cursed as a bug in the first place? Bugs were never a part of the story, so why not just leave him a cursed samurai? Or, better idea: MAKE HIM A TINY ORIGAMI MAN (Just imagine how cool it would have been if a giant origami soldier could have bailed Kubo out of trouble with his paper-folding abilities? Doing so would have rendered Little Hanzo obsolete.) Kubo's mother sacrificed herself by saving Kubo by... I dunno... Blasting him to a far-off region of the snow and transforming herself into a monkey? How exactly does one do that??? Why didn't she come back as a wooden talking monkey as opposed to a real one? Why exactly did Kubo's grandfather want his other eye? (The grandfather gave his reasons, Kubo offered a logical rebuttal, but I'm still not sure who was right and who was wrong...) Most frustrating is the fact that grandfather, hyped up as the main baddie, didn't even show up till the end, so instead we were left with two boring witches who looked like they came from Jack Skellington's Halloween Town. The Grandfather, (aka, The Moon King Raiden,) had confusing intentions, and I'm still not sure why he didn't appear more often if he was supposedly after Kubo's eye. Why do some people use magic and others do not? Why was there a magical shamisen? If the shamisen was so powerful, why weren't all the bad guys after it instead of Kubo? Why was the armor split up and hidden into three video-game-like traps in the first place? (Coraline's hide-and-seek plot could get away with this stuff because it took place in an alternate slightly-Lewis-Carroll world, but it made no sense here.) The biggest question of them all that really annoyed me: if this story's theme centered around the importance of family and people remembering ancestral history.... why in the hell weren't the mom's two sisters ever mentioned again or seen as spirits during the lantern ceremony? The old grandfather who was set up as a cruel heartless individual was later humanized, as the townspeople called him "a good man." Ummmm, didn't this guy commit crimes? Why weren't the two sisters humanized? Did they not have souls too? I'm not sure whether this was a plot hole or misogyny.

The visuals were impressive, this much I will admit. With its slightly-exaggerated Japanese inspiration and slightly-jerky character movement, there is great charm to stop motion animation. Laika once again delivers masterful detail and believability with their meticulously-posed dolls and sets. I wish filmmakers would have beefed up the Asian flair, because many backgrounds looked too similar to the far-superior "Coraline." Yet, this complaint is a minor one, as most scenes conveyed a feeling of simultaneous ancient and contemporary, such as the opening ocean wave sequence, (which looked like a devil to animate,) as well as every single dream and story-telling sequence. Occasionally, however, things fall flat: what was Kubo fighting at the end of the film? It looked like a giant leech, or those annoying levitating things destroying New York City at the end of "Avengers." Kubo was, I will admit, the most carefully-planned and likable character in the film, and his actions and mannerisms made him very strong without going overboard in know-it-all attitudes (like Coraline in her film or Norman in "Paranorman.")

The end credits was the final nail in the coffin; a nice original melody would have been much appreciated but noooooo, they settle for a George Harrison oldie. And seeing all that traditional 2D animation made me sick that the entire movie wasn't made in this medium. In the future, Laika should make it their goal to focus their attention, not on building detailed puppets and backgrounds, but script-writing. The studio has been on a downward creative spiral since their first feature "Coraline." (Their last effort, "Boxtrolls," was so story-lite I have a hard time remembering what it was about.) Wherever they locked up Henry Sellick, please let him go so he can go back to directing movies again.

The Thief of Bagdad

For those who were interested to see where Disney got much of their inspiration for "Aladdin," watch this 1940 masterpiece. Starring Sabu as young thieving kid Abu, this is one eye-popping Middle Eastern adventure tale involves sorcery, magic, and romance, all in healthy amounts. As a nod to the Arabian Nights tales, "Thief of Baghdad" has everything one would want from an adventure story, without being muddled by never-ending action scenes and confusing plot lines. (My one and only gripe with the film is the semi-cheesy looking giant spider towards the end, which brings this movie one step too close to monster movie territory popularized a decade after.) The towering genie giant, who is both menacing and powerful, is brilliantly portrayed by Rex Ingram, (who played Jim one year prior in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" alongside Mickey Rooney.) "Thief of Baghdad" is also the first film in history, (thanks to RKO Radio Pictures,) to utilize blue screen effects; to portray flying horses, soaring genies, and larger-than-life sets, such a technical achievement was a necessity, and the movie industry owes much to this often-overlooked film. (Take that, "Wizard of Oz!" )


Is Jack Black starting to lose his edge? Has the onslaught of ripping off the 90's officially begun? Is it even possible for studios to make a kids movie without tons of CGI in it? These, and many more questions, plagued me while watching "Goosebumps." What could have been a slightly dark and slightly deranged kids horror flick in the vein of "Gremlins" (or even the 2006 "Monster House") ended up being less fun and more of a chore to watch. Cheap CGI abounds, impossible monster-chase scenes ensue, and the script, (replete with mentions of YouTube, twerking, and "Lord of the Rings") feels like somebody did 10 minutes of research on the top 10 cool things in the last decade and stuck with that. I longed for more scary-hilarious scenes, such as the one where an army of living garden gnomes attempt to kill Jack Black by dragging him into a fiery kitchen oven, (which had elements of the infamous 'microwave' scene from "Gremlins.") More gross/terrifying/revolting/shocking stuff like that would really have bolstered my interest in this otherwise standardized PG film. Jack Black, though delivering his most disappointing performance to date, still managed to be the most entertaining thing in the film. While he has lost some comic steam since his "School of Rock" days, he steals the show as R. L. Stine and makes me laugh. (Honestly, the funniest scene in the film was R. L. Stone arguing with the kids whether or not he was better than Stephen King.) Some part of me wishes a sequel would be made to exploit the true potential of the "Goosebumps" book series, but the more sane part of me wishes the series remained on the written page, like the tomes within Jack Black's forbidden library.

Star Trek Beyond

A frustrating little film that neither wants to be a full-on "Star Trek" episode or yet another JJ Abrams "Star Wars"-lite. The movie rocks when it channels Roddenberry, but these moments are few and far between. "Beyond" receives credit for actually getting Captain Kirk and crew away from earth and into deep space, seeking strange new life forms for peaceful intentions. And yet... The story just doesn't come together. For starters, there is way too much action. "Beyond" has literally less plot than a typical 50 minute television episode, with hardly any philosophical undertones and shocking "wow" moment in the end, other than the revelation that lead-baddie Krall, (who looked more like an Orc in a spacesuit,) was really Idris Elba. This is not such a fantastic revelation for anyone who did 2 seconds of research beforehand and knew Idris Elba was cast in the film as the villain. Also disappointing is Krall's ultimate plan, which is.... (Wait for it).... REVENGE and destruction!!!!! (Evil laugh!) Krall uses a (what else?) super weapon that has the power to destroy... Everything I guess? Why couldn't scriptwriters have gone classic Roddenberry and had Krall lure Federation ships to his planet like a trap, (ahem, a *menagerie,*) and keep them as slaves? Why does Krall go out of his way to destroy the human space station colony? Oh right, I know why: so the film can have an action sequence at the end. The people who script these films must have a fixation with falling sky scrapers, because the finale was just like the ending in "Into Darkness," except with skyscrapers appearing vertically and horizontally, "Inception" style.

Surprisingly, the best aspect of this movie was Jayla, who is the most impressive female side-character to appear in "Star Trek" since bald-headed Ilea in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." Jaylah (whose very name was intentionally created to illicit thoughts of Jennifer Lawrence's strong roles,) is self-reliant, resourceful, helpful, (the crew would not have escaped without her intel,) and funny (she listens to heavy metal and drinks 10 beers without getting tipsy.) Most importantly... She does not die in the end like countless other women in this franchise who seem to have a short shelf life.

I was very pleased with the entire Enterprise crew, who really grow into their roles. The first two films functioned as set-up, and this is the first time we jump right into the film with no introductions or preliminary character development. I loved it. (Unfortunately, the late Anton Yelchin who played Chekhav did an exception job as Pavel Chekov, and the young man will be missed, not only because his death was an unnecessary tragedy, but because he remains the one and only reboot cast member that IMPROVED upon the original role! Yes, you heard that right: Anton Yelchin was even more likable than Walter Koenig.) In addition, I loved the bickering between McCoy and Spock, and it was a wise idea to have those two stranded together for maximum mud-slinging.

There is a scene early in the film where Hikaru Sulu is shown happily embracing his daughter and significant other, who happens to be a man; this is historic because it the first instance I can recall that Star Trek embraces the LGBT community. This is innovative stuff and the one and only instance in recent years how "Star Trek" is boldly going where (few) have gone before. I just wish this movie would have boldly gone to these places more often...


The most delightful cinematic surprise of 2016. Do not be surprised by the overall visual design and talking-animal aspect of it all; this is nothing like the wretched "Chicken Little" of 2005. In actuality, "Zootopia" is fun, has tons of originality, and contains deep messages addressing social intolerance and racism. If that is not enough, the film features a strong female central protagonist in the form of bunny-cop Judy Hopps that shows, (following Pixar's 2015 smash hit "Inside Out,") that the Mouse House is capable of making goal-oriented girls that do not wear tiaras. Both bold and progressive, Zootopia is the most outspoken Disney animated film since "Pocahontas" in 1995, which dealt with similar messages. But the advantage "Zootopia" has over "Pocahontas" is that the movie is genuinely (and frequently) hilarious. So funny, most audiences will laugh without realize they are simultaneously being educated about social ills. I laughed out loud constantly, (particularly the "jumbo Popsicle" scene and the "Godfather" sequence.) The duo of Judy Hopps and sly fox Nick Wild is excellent, and even minor characters like Chief Bogo and Mayor Lionheart are well-developed. There are even smart jokes that only the most knowledgeable of Disney fans will get, namely the "Weasilton" joke (a strange inverse-in-joke started in 2013 by "Frozen,") as well as the "Moana" reference, which is outstanding because that film won't even hit theaters until November.

"Zootopia" does contain several blaring flaws. The most obvious flaw is the disappointing fact that the film frequently contradicts its own social message. For example, "Zootopia" boasts a world where everyone can be who they want to be and all animals are equal... And yet..... Where are the birds and reptiles? (Oops.) Are all the animals, (even sharp-toothed predators) vegetarians? (Oops.) In addition to this, much of the dialogue is frustratingly contradictory. One such example is when Judy Hopps exclaims disgustedly: "Sloths??" when realizing the DMV is run by these animals. Isn't that a bit... racist? Judy Hopps' very name stereotypes rabbits the same way a Mexican guy named "Jose Taco" stereotypes people. Also, I found myself slightly less impressed with Act III of the film, where predators go crazy due to a too-stupid-to-believe biological weapon made from (of all things...) the essence of flowers.

However, I forgive most of the film's sins for the fact that the studio really tried hard to raise the bar in quality. I applaud films that shoot for the moon and miss rather than intentionally aim low but hit the bullseye, (I'm looking at you Illuminations Entertainment.) This is a perfect blend of fun, fantasy, with some realistic hard truths thrown in for added flavor. Couple this with a never-give-up central female protagonist, colorful animation, and Shakira, you have the breakthrough hit, a well-earned 1 billion dollars for the Mouse House. Just one word of caution for Donald Trump supporters: this movie is not for you.

The Boy And The Beast (Bakemono No Ko)

I am a bit reluctant to call-out this movie for what it is: Mamoru Hosoda's first let-down. The man who has gained the attention of anime fans worldwide as Hayao Miyazaki's spiritual successor with his impressive body of work, ("Girl Who Leapt Through Time," "Summer Wars," and "Wolf Children Ame and Yuke,") has consistently brought something new and awe-inspiring to the genre. However, it saddens me to say that this film is an apparent step down from Hosoda's previous efforts. "Boy and the Beast" is still a fun little romp, lightyears ahead of most American counterparts, though it sorely lacks the depth of his previous three films. Could this be Mamoru Hosoda is finally peaking in terms of cinematic quality? Or is the job of writing, directing, AND story boarding exhausted the anime sensei? Only time will tell, but the problems with "Boy and the Beast" include the following three blemishes:

One--lack of depth with every character except for Kyuta and his bear-like master Kumatetsu. I wanted some backstory to the rabbit lord, more character to Iozen (the boar-like beast in opposition to Kumatetsu,) and especially Iozen's son Ichirohiko...

Two-- ...Ohhhh boy, Ichirohiko, what a mess this character is! From the very first moment I saw him, I knew he was nothing more than a human in a boar-hat. Why was anybody, including Ichirohiko himself, shocked he was anything other than a human??? The conflicted boy's human rage appeared out of thin air in Act III, without warning and logical reason; his character seemed to be inserted into the story as nothing more than a cheap obstacle for Kyuta to defeat in Act III.

Three-- Kaede. When Kyuta returns to the human world after spending a decade-or-so in the Beast world, he meets the beautiful student Kaede, a so-nice-she-seems-like-she-has-ulterior-motives kind of girl who talks WAY too much. From the start, she helps Kyuta learn to read, practically gets him him into a college single-handedly, and does countless other things for his personal growth. Why? Beats me. The only thing I know for sure is that once she starts talking, she will talk, and talk, and talk, and talk...

There is much to like about this film. The production values are incredible and surpass anything done by Hosoda in the past. The level of detail in the backgrounds, particularly the city streets in the human world are stunning. Many of the character designs are classic-Hosoda, particularly the Lord, who resembles an elderly King Kazma from "Summer Wars." The score and theme song "Starting Over," sung by Mr Children is well-played. Hosoda is also the master of contrasting narratives (like the human/wolf juxtaposition of "Wolf Children" and the Virtual/Real juxtaposition of "Summer Wars,") The arena beast battle contrasted nicely with Kyuta and Ichirohiko's fight in the human world. Kumatetsu's reincarnation was the most emotional moment, and I'm so glad the film, for all its faults, packed a decisive PUNCH in the last twenty minutes, delivering a kaleidoscope of creative imagery ranging from glowing swords in the heart to creepy shadow whales swimming under city streets.

Perhaps I'm being overly-critical with "Boy and the Beast" only because of Mamoru Hosoda's previous masterpieces. After all, someone who is viewed as the next Hayao Miyazaki must live up to that title. Big shoes to fill, indeed. With Studio Ghibli closed for business, I eagerly await the next film from Studio Chizu.

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

Here it is: my long-awaited review of "The Force Awakens!" This is one of those rare films I can (and have) talk about all day long, so I have written this lengthy review as brief as possible. The bottom line is this:
"Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens," the most anticipated movie since, well, "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace," escorted by years of hype and endless speculation was overall... A good film. It was not a great film. It was not an awful film. It was good. The reasons why are listed below.
Let's first start out on the pros:

The clear stand-out "wow" factor was the casting. Eager to erase the backlash of the prequels by not casting lead actors with zero chemistry, (particularly Christensen and Portman,) this is the first Star Wars flick that had extremely good acting. (And yes, I'm talking about the Original Trilogy films too. Don't believe me? How about this: "But I was going to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!") Daisy Ridley as Rey was extremely nuanced for an actress who hardly had previous acting gigs. Adam Driver was, as always, Adam Driver, weird and unstable. John Boyega, Oscar Isaacs, Domhall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong'o, and the returning "Big Three" did exceptional jobs. My only complaint regarding performances was that the two most recognizable actresses, (besides Carrie Fisher,) Nyong'o and Gwendolyn Christe, were completely covered with either digital makeup or shiny body armor. But oh well...

Apart from the good acting, I praise the filmmakers' efforts in employing strong racial and gender diversity, something sorely lacking in all six previous films. (I sense that this unexpected and greatly-appreciated decision was done by the visionary Kathleen Kennedy and not Mr Reboot King JJ Abrams or Bottom Line Manager Bob Iger.) When George Lucas released Episode IV in 1977, who would have thought that there would ever be a future installment to the saga that would star a white woman as the lead, flanked by an African American man and a Latino man? The diversity here was wonderful, and was done naturally with each character having distinct personality traits and decisions. John Boyega's Finn, for example, is the first African American character since Mace Windu and Lando prominently featured in Star Wars and he is the only one that made me sympathetic towards him as a person. I felt Finn's struggle. Perhaps my favorite moment in the entire film was the joy that overcomes Finn as he is escaping and given a real name: ("Finn! I like that!") Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron also seems ready to fill the shoes of a swashbuckling space pirate left by Han Solo. Speaking of Han Solo, his shocking exit from the saga was necessary and added credence to his character and Kylo Ren's mental struggle with the Force. Filmmakers could have easily have ended Han's part in the story by having him retire at the galactic senior citizen center, but having him get stabbed by his own so was awesome. Brutal, granted, but awesome nevertheless.

Perhaps the most awe-inspiring bit of diversity was Daisy Ridley's Rey. Like Katniss Everdeen from the "Hunger Games" films, Rey exhibits strong personality traits and exists as a person first and then a woman second. In other words, she is not limited by sexist stereotypes; fellow actors do not bash her because she's a woman; she is capable of surviving pretty much on her own. Apart from her survival skills on the desolate planet Jakku, I found it delightful and welcome that Rey was able to free HERSELF from confinement from Kylo Ren at Starkiller Base with minimal masculine help. I loved how filmmakers decided to give her a great deal of agency knowing that fans, (and I've run into more than my fair share of sexist Star Wars fanboys,) will inevitably call her a "Mary Sue." Good for them. It's nice to see Star Wars moving forwards in this regard. Hopefully it will send ripples through all areas of Hollywood. I've seen the film three times in theaters and each time, the theater erupted with cheers during that moment when Rey pulls the lightsaber out of the snow and ignites it. This is bold and beautiful stuff, a Star Wars that feels like a 21st Century film with 21st Century sensibilities that can hopefully end the disgusting trend of marginalizing women and individuals of color, so popular in the last decade...

.... I only wish the same levels of bold originality could have been applied to, well, everything else about this film. Here lies the Achille's Heel of "The Force Awakens." The story, plot, music, production design, special effects, (EVERYTHING other than the diversity and good casting,) played it too safely by mimicking the Original Trilogy to unhealthy levels. The amount of 70's and 80's nostalgia sickened me to a point where by halfway through the film I almost thought I was watching a fan film of Star Wars. You thought "Jurassic World" payed homage to the original film too much? "Jurassic World looks like the most brilliant piece of original storytelling compared to what JJ Abrams, Michael Arndt, and Lawrence Kasdan did with this film, where at one point Rey even QUOTES from "Star Wars: Episode IV" as if she watched it! (See the "Kessel Run" line.) I won't list all the atrocities committed here, but the general story arc is enough to believe that Disney didn't try their hardest: Once upon a time there was a little droid R2D2, (I mean, BB-8,) who has a plan to the Death Star, (I mean, a map to Luke Skywalker,) and this young farm boy on a desert, (I mean a scavenger girl on a desert,) must help get it the plans (map, my bad!) to the good guys' secret base on a jungle planet before Darth Vader (I mean, Kylo Ren and the First Order) get to it first. Etc. Etc. Etc. Obviously, Lucasfilm took the prequel criticisms to heart by giving fans everything they desired, which was essentially, a re-make of "A New Hope." Nowhere in this film will you find anything as unique and whimsical as a pod race, a random speeder chase through Coroscant, or even anything shocking on a large-scale like Executive Order 66. If you love the OT to death, good for you. But if you were expecting something new from Star Wars, than "The Force Awakens" will leave you craving Rian Johnson's still-untitled Episode VIII. Personally, as a fan of all six films, I felt ripped off. Even after viewing the film four times, I still felt ripped off. Using a food analogy, if the Prequel Trilogy was like George Lucas serving an original Chef's Surprise that the masses weren't necessarily clamoring for, than "The Force Awakens" was an "order up!" dish of exactly what the customer wanted, down to the no-tomatoes and extra fries on the side.

The production design was the worst part of the film, as it felt recycled and stale: during preproduction, a plethora of spacecraft was sketched and designed from the ground-up, but the team frustratingly defaulted to the lowest common OT denominator by employing unused Ralph McQuarrie designs. It makes me wonder why Doug Chiang was even needed in this film in the first place. Oh well... From the very beginning, the production team was urged to "hold back," and this is the crux of the problem. Star Wars was never about "holding back," but to push forwards and experiment to see what styles work/ don't work. The original films were brilliant and technically innovative (for the time,) and the prequels, as much as fans like to argue against this fact, revolutionized computer generated effects, digital film, and story style (honestly, who ever heard of a "prequel" before Episode I was released???) JJ Abrams' take on the Star Wars universe is one too conservative and too familiar-looking. In fact, it laughably falls back to outdated props and costumes, giving me strong vibes of Halloween party masks instead of truly bizarre aliens (think "Sebulba" from "The Phantom Menace.") The Resistance Base on D'qar was filled with the most repulsive sight I had hoped never to see again: trash-can looking droids obviously driven by midgets in costumes. If filmmakers were so keen on "practical effects" (which, by the way are not in the least bit practical for anyone who has ever worked with prosthetics and make-up,) then why did they create Maz Kanada and Supreme Leader Snoke as fully-rendered CG characters? Oh wait, I know why: because to compete with "Lord of the Rings," Disney needs their "Gollum" mascot.)

The music also left a lot to be desired. I can honestly say that this was the weakest score in any Star Wars film, as John Williams filled our ear-drums with reused melodies galore including the "Luke's Theme," which was played at least 5 times more often than necessary. (As a note for future installments: please use "Luke's Theme" sparingly or else it would loose its mystical impact, please and thank you.) Rey's theme was ok, but it does not act as a driving force the way "Duel of the Fates" hit a home run or the way "The Astroid Field" toyed with the emotions in "Empire Strikes Back." Kylo Ren's theme also reminded me of Dr. Evil's theme from "Austin Powers" which is only acceptable knowing that the masked man is a nut-case. There was exactly ONE scene when the music soared to the heights of the other film, and thank god it was the final scene with Luke Skywalker.

Again, as mentioned at the beginning of this review, I can go on all day about the pros and cons of "The Force Awakens." But to keep it short, I will give this film 3 out of 5 stars for the brilliant casting, bold employment of gender/racial diversity, and the fact that we got another Star Wars film (heck yeah!) My ultimate judgment depends solely on Rian Johnson's Episode VIII and Colin Trevorrow's Episode IX. If VIII and IX end up being original and inventive, I will forgive all the sins committed by JJ Abrams and will give The Force Awakens an extra star. However, if the Sequel Trilogy ends up being just a rehash of the Original Trilogy, than I'm sorry for everyone in Lucasfilm and ILM because their talent is being squandered.


"Cinderella" is one of those rare films I enjoyed despite being mentally-prepared to hate it. I have not been fond of Disney's recent cinematic movement of de-Disney-fying their own animated films, turning the classics into darker, live action nightmares ("Sleeping Beauty," "Alice in Wonderland," "Jungle Book").

Yet, I was thoroughly delighted by "Cinderella," in part because the story was kept simple and true to the Disney tradition. I will credit Kenneth Branagh for his directing abilities, and for keeping things classic without relying completely on Nolan-darkness or CGI. For the first time in years, I walked out of a Disney blockbuster feeling good, the way Disney films use to consistently deliver goodness. Much of my positive reactions hinged on Branagh's humanistic approach to characterization; due to the director's experience in theater, the performances were the film's primary special effects. Ella was lovable without being sarcastic and strong without kicking butt every 10 minutes. Her heart-of-gold-smile came off as authentic, as did the stepsister's obnoxious giggles and arm-and-feet flailing. The biggest surprise was the fact that I actually enjoyed both Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter, (which is saying a lot because I have grown tired of seeing these two actresses star in everything new under the sun since their previous entanglements with "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter.")

The second strong factor is the music, (even though something felt "off" without the inclusion of songs, particularly "Bippity Boppity Boo" and "A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes.") The score is stirring and feels like the music was meant to be here, unlike the majority of films that treat score as background white noise. "Cinderella's" score is purposeful and adds spice to the plot, reminding me of how music was incorporated in live action family films of the early 1990's and earlier. And the end credits "Strong" performed by Sona Rele tops things off nicely.

The elegance of the costumes and sets is another reason to be proud; the ballroom dance sequence featuring dozens of billowing, intricately-designed gowns is eye-popping and classic Kenneth Branagh in every way. The iconic glass slipper has been reinterpreted to look sleeker with dozens of reflecting crystalline angles and accented by a crystalline butterfly; the swirling fairy-dust-like magic transforming Cinderella from pauper to princess is done so well it gives the original 1950 iconic dress-transformation scene a run for its money. Add to this the over-the-top golden pumpkin carriage, fireworks display, and aristocratic flavor of the ball, you have one of the most pleasing sequences in recent Disney memory. I wish this sequence went on longer.

And here lies the main problem with the film: the good parts should have lasted longer. Filmmakers spend a great deal of time explaining how Ella became known as Cinderella, how her parents died, and why she stays humble and happy despite the hardships that followed. Oh, I wished the script could have been amended, taking more time to delve into the Prince's kingdom and his side of the story. I especially longed for a more fleshed-out sequence of dialogue between Cinderella and the Prince before the clock struck 12 midnight.
There needed to be more Fairy Godmother. Like the animated film, the fairy godmother only appeared in one brief scene; Helen Bonham Carter had the potential to be the high point of the film with her silly antics and humorous dialogue; her lack of screen time was a wasted potential, and the fact that she narrated the film only made me more frustrated in what could have been.

In the end, "Cinderella" is well-played because it is a focused, elegant film with a specific "style" in mind that greatly complemented the theme and tone of the original Walt Disney animated masterpiece. It did not stray too far from what is expected (yes, I'm looking at you "Maleficent,") and was charming for the sake of being charming, lovable without being polluted by overly-dark tones which seem to plague all fantasy films in recent memory. While I miss the songs of the original 1950 animated version, this new version is good, if not the "definitive" version of the story. Expect to see another "Cinderella" remake from Disney within the next thirty years.

The Peanuts Movie

The biggest surprise about "The Peanuts Movie" is less of a surprise and more like a huge sigh of relief; Fox and Blue Sky Studios could have easily unleashed all mediocracy and turned Charles M. Schultz' characters into hipper, slicker, entities of the modern world (with probably better box office intake and respect from kids these days,) but the higher-ups resisted that urge and kept things classy. I respect that. Nowhere in this film does Lucy pull out an iPhone and text her friends. Nowhere does Linus play Nintendo. In fact, all characters behave in exactly the same way one would expect them to. The Peanuts characters have always survived the test of time due to the simplicity of both character design and true-to-life situations experienced by all kids. Remembering what truly makes Peanuts special, this film delivers where it matters the most. Snoopy is the lovable mischievous beagle, (all grunts and whines provided by the incorporation of original audio clips by legendary Bill Melendez.) His death-defying ariel missions playing out as a side-story are true to Schultz' "The Great Pumpkin," but will also please kids familiar with the misadventures of "Phineas & Ferb"'s Perry the Platypus. The main character himself, Charlie Brown, is the boy who can't get anything right, whether it is flying a kite, kicking a football, or saying Hi to the little Red-Headed Girl across the street. Lucy is still the loud-mouth know-it-all we know and love. Everybody else is treated with the same level of respect. I particularly admire the senseless babble talk of grown-ups and the inclusion of the Kite-Eating-Tree.

However, "The Peanuts Movie" is not a perfect film for three reasons. The first reason has to do with the fact that during the entire film, (especially prevalent in the first half,) filmmakers were OVERLY paranoid in staying truthful to source material, and as a result, instead of inventing new situations and dialogue, they did the cheap route by repackaging existing dialogue from Charlie Brown's TV specials of the 1960s. Having watched "It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" and "Charlie Brown's Christmas" every year since I was born, I can say confidently that I know those tv special like the back of my hand: seeing the same dialogue recycled in every way possible made long for the scriptwriter to do something new. Heck, they could have at least re-worded phrases like: "Help! I've been kissed by a dog!" Into something more substantial. The second problem I had with the film was the schoolroom scene, in that I found it odd how Sally was in the same classroom as the rest of the children. I was always under the impression that Sally was much younger. She should not have been in the same room as Linus, Charlie, and Lucy. Finally, the third problem I had with the film is the animation; I am hesitant to say the animation disappointed me because Blue Sky Studios spent so much work successfully capturing the facial expressions and mannerism of the original Shultz characters... My disappointment lies with the backgrounds, which are often as 3D as a standard run-of-the-mill CG toon. I found it clashing how CG cars and buses would be included in the same frame as paper-cut-out-looking people. One scene featuring a photorealistic World War I dogfight between Snoopy and the Red Baron was particularly clashing.
But as a whole, "The Peanuts Movie" retained all the magic and simplicity of the TV specials and comic strips. Charles Schultz' fabulous characters are known and loved by millions, and the final moments when Charlie Brown finally gets the courage to speak to the Little Red-Headed Girl may bring tears of joy to older fans. Because let's face it... In all the decades of Charlie Brown's comic strip mis-adventures, (most of them which ended in disappointment,) not once did he ever muster enough courage to talk to that girl.

Pokemon the First Movie - Mewtwo vs. Mew

For millions of kids who grew up in the late 90's, "Gotta Catch 'Em All!!!" is the dearest catchphrase ever uttered, referencing those colorful pocket monsters (Pikachu, Togepi, Meowth,) who earn their places alongside other animated television legends like Fred Flinstone, Homer Simpson, and Scooby Doo. 1999 was the year Pokemon finally stormed multiplexes, and its grand arrival was perfectly timed; the anime phenomenon peaked that summer, and evidence is as obvious as an onix's strength: "Pokemon: The First Movie" is, to this day, the highest grossing anime in America, by a very large margin. (Yes, it made even more money than "Spirited Away.")

This is good and all.... Except for one major letdown:
"Pokemon: The First Movie" was not a very good film.
Yes, it was satisfying for any kid simply wanting to see more of Ash & friends, but the film did nothing to elevate the world of Pokemon from a mere television show to something greater; the only "new" thing it brought to the table was the introduction of MewTwo and his sad backstory. It kills to me to think how huge Pokemon would be to this day if this first film had been made with care and attention. While many, (including myself,) were expecting a well-rounded adventure with the "feels" of a quality Disney film (such as "Tarzan" which came out the same summer,) audiences got a glorified, hour-long Pokemon episode...
...Less than a Pokemon episode, actually.
This film contained less substance and goodness than even a lesser-rated Pokemon episode like "The Kangaskhan Kid." The whole film was thrown together faster than one of Team Rocket's homemade inventions. Just watching it from the beginning is confusing, (and this confusion increases exponentially the less one knows about Pokemon in general.) At the start, audiences are treated to a cute and harmless cartoon "Pikachu's Vacation." This is immediately followed by a dark prologue of Mew Two breaking free from the lab, featuring more murder and mayhem than a normal G-rated show about cute little animals.
The movie did not drag. It was so short, I did not find myself staring at a clock; as a fan of Pokemon I found the whole story rather entertaining, for what that's worth. Yet, the whole thing was devoid of fun and, most importantly, humor. Ash, Brock, and Misty go through the motions of their basic characterization with very few wisecracks and wit along the way. I long for Ash's bursts of egotistical overconfidence, Misty's constant bitching about her broken bike, and Brock's big-brother persona. This movie delivers nothing in this area. Only Team Rocket keeps in character by providing some laughs. (One notable joke occurs when Team Rocket appears in the cloning lab and exclaims: "Who's that Pokemon??" A clever reference to the show's in-between-commercial catchphrase.)
The film's ending is abrupt and rushed. MewTwo being defeated by love is the cheapest and most cliche way to end any film, and his turnaround was frustratingly hurried. I will admit that the "death" scene of Ash Ketchum and Pikachu's failed attempt to to revive him with electrical attack was probably the saddest moment in Pokemon history since Ash said farewell to Charizard.
As a relic of pocket monster history, "Pokemon: The First Movie" is still watchable, even though it may not be the most important or memorable adventure of Ash Ketchum. (Puzzling observation: why was the end-credits epilogue with Ash, Brock, and Misty walking through peaceful scenery alongside the vibes of Christina Aguilera's "We're A Miracle" much more entertaining than the movie itself?) Drastic upgrades in the story department will take place in the next couple years with "Pokemon: 2000" and "Pokemon 3: The Movie."

The Good Dinosaur

Whatever you truly think about "The Good Dinosaur," it will be ultimately remembered best as Pixar's first financial failure. That's right. The self-proclaimed King of CG toon studio just put out their first box office flop; there are several reasons why it misfired.
First, the story was so slim it was practically nonexistent. Arlo the apatosaurus gets lost. He be-friends a weird puppy who happens to be a human. He then embarks on a long adventure to find the Great Valley, I mean, his homestead. That is pretty much it. The story, which incorporates elements of the classic American Western did not make me go "wow" but instead made me go "Why?" Did audiences need to see T-Rexes acting like Cowboys? Did we need to see a human boy be portrayed as Lassie? Did we need to see cattle-wrangling raptors and dinosaurs harvesting corn? How did Arlo's dad build the grain silo anyways? And, to paraphrase Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park: "we do expect to see dinosaurs in this dinosaur [movie]?" What we mostly saw were birds, buffaloes, and small mammalian critters. I wanted more dinosaurs.
Second big problem about the film:
The world portrayed in "The Good Dinosaur" was so ridiculous it could not possibly exist, giving me strong vibes of the confusing world of Pixar's "Cars." The action within this world was a series of antics, and it would have functioned much better as a multi-part web toon series than one full-length film. As it stands, "The Good Dinosaur" felt so... Episodic.
Third big problem about the film:
The animation was absolutely ridiculous. It is hilarious that leading up to this film, the only positive thing Pixar praised about the film was the revolutionary CG techniques used to render the backgrounds. The overall feel was as mis-matched as "Finding Nemo," where goofy characters stick out like sore thumbs against realistic backgrounds. "The Good Dinosaur" takes this mis-matched feeling to a whole new level of stupidity: backgrounds are now 100% photorealistic.... And the characters? Glorified pool toys. Every second Arlo moved through the very-real landscape, I was worried he would step on a photorealistic sharp pebble or thorny bush and pop his PVC.
Now, despite all this critical backlash I've brought to the table, why do I generously give three stars to this film?
This film had sympathetic characters that kept me interested, which is something I can't say about "Brave," "Monsters University" and "Up." While the characterization was not handled even a tenth as well as the protagonists of "Inside Out," I felt for Arlo and his struggles. I rooted for his success, and thought his motivation was sincerely played out. Best of all, Arlo felt human (which may seem like a ridiculous statement, but think about: dinosaurs are the dominant species and humans are the animals in this weird weird world.) Arlo was not some glorified male character who pushes through everything to get to the top. He fails as often as he wins. He gets scared. He shows fear. He gets sick. He tries his hardest. Just like Alanis Morissette once sang: "You live you learn, you love you learn, you cry you learn, you lose you learn." As much as I thought the photorealistic backgrounds were unnecessarily detailed, the natural elements was the real villain of this movie, and it was a huge threat to Arlo's well-being; the rainstorms, flash floods, and cold nights were as imposing as any evil villain in any typical Disney film.
(I award special points to that triceratops. That guy was the highlight character of the film and I longed to see more than two minutes of him. In fact, that entire wacky sequence was the highlight of the film for me.)
In the end, I had one last nagging observation about it all: "Sanjay's Super Team," the brilliant short film that preceded "The Good Dinosaur" should have been the feature-length film. This brief, but wild, animated treat about a young Indian boy's imagination of Hindu superheroes showed far more potential for a 90-plus minute movie than the film audiences actually got.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Like most sequels, "Game of Shadows" is a noticeable step down from the original. The action is a bit more clumsy this second time around, and there is clearly less care taken on fight choreography and story. The plot is harder to follow as character zip from Point A to Point B with very little time to breath in between. On the positive side, the duo of Downey Jr and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson continues to impress, and their bromance-like relationship is just as fresh as it was in the original 2009 film. Another strong factor is Jared Harris' Professor Morriarty who shows real brilliance and menace on screen. Though the movie as a whole failed to "wow" me, I am thankful for that chess game sequence towards the end of the film; up till now, there has been surprisingly few films that show both the evil mastermind engaged in an intellectual duel with the famed detective of 221 Baker Street. The chess sequence shows both masterminds at their pinnacles, demonstrating not only their their talents at chess, but how their brains are wired for the game even when neither are looking at the board. Thus, the film's theme is wonderfully illustrated here: life is a well-played, well-timed chess game, replete with intricacy and good/bad moves. This sequence in itself is worth the price of admission. However... I may not watch this movie again anytime soon because of one huge blunder: Noomi Rapace as the gypsy. I was downright offended how the script-writers conveniently killed off Kelly Reilly's Irene Adler (one of the highlight characters from the first film, a strong female character to boot,) and replaced her with the exact definition of "baggage." That gypsy had exactly one important scene early on, and then her role afterwards became reduced to, literally, looking scared while chewing food, leaving the fighting (and fun) to all the men. Booooo. I shall say it again: Booooo.

The Martian
The Martian(2015)

I will be frank: I was disappointed with this film, despite the fact that I am an avid lover of space travel and science fiction set in the realm of plausibility. Similar to Disney's "Tron: Legacy," I fell in love with the production design, the special effects, and the stunning visual flair that surrounded the protagonists.... but everything else, (particularly the protagonists,) might as well have been dead spuds dehydrating in Martian soil.

The look of "The Martian" is brilliant; that I will admit without hesitation. Never before has an expedition to the red planet been portrayed with such detail, scientific insight, and realism. The filmmakers must have consulted NASA because everything looked authentic. The Martian habitat with its cylindrical nodes was totally livable. The orbital transit vehicle with its massive solar arrays and spinning hub of artificial gravity also seemed straight out of a rocket scientist's simulation. Every control panel button, every zip-lock food package, every storage container, every gold-foiled plating gave strong NASA vibes, and I not only longed to take a journey on one of these crafts, but I felt depressed knowing such things are not on NASA's agenda, (at least not for the next 20 years.) Visually, "The Martian" out-did the Big Two films that came before it: "Gravity" and "Interstellar."

Now that I've stated what I loved about this film, let me now state everything I hated about this film: everything else.

The characters were not so much real characters are stand-in archetypes. Matt Damon comes off as a lucky smart-ass who laughs in the face of danger, calls himself a space cowboy, and frequently vents his disapproval of the Captain's choice in music as much as other problems like, you know, staying alive 200 million miles from earth before starving to death. (Just little things like that.) Apart from the initial scene where he plucks the skewer from his gut, Damon rarely shows fear; there was surprisingly little frustration on his part, considering he's surviving on Mars alone for almost two years. The rest of the cast, (apart from Damon's fellow crew-mates,) were just as unimpressive. The manner Damon and the earthly NASA crew came up with inventions came off as dumb, more like Discovery Channel "Mythbusters" than real scientists trying to find real solutions to real problems. While using Mars Pathfinder as a communication device was super-cool, the whole delivery came off as those aforementioned guys who blow up soda bottles and balloons in the name of "science" just to elicit "cooooool man!" comments and "woooo hoooo!!!!" cheers from the rest of the "bros." For this very reason, I sometimes forgot I was watching an actual movie and not some loud television program made for the scientifically illiterate.
Ridley Scott had the strange notion that interjecting badly-timed humor in the more-desperate second half of the film was a brilliant idea; in reality, this detracted to the somber situation of the matter, making the whole film resemble "Armageddon" more than, let's say, "Apollo 13." The height of the film's stupidity peaked with the "Project Elrond" scene which not only should have been cut in the editing room, but every trace of this scene should have been burned and removed from human memory. Sean Bean's smug recognition to the "Lord of the Rings" was done solely to remind audiences that he played Boromir; this practically ruined the second half of the film for me; the scene was unnecessary and completely patronizing to fanboys. I also could have lived without the "Iron Man" references, and the strange fact that the soundtrack was loaded with 70's oldies just to be on the same playing field as "Guardians of the Galaxy." The soundtrack fell flat, and the most upbeat disco songs were included in scenes that would have been better with dramatic score or, (better yet,) no music.

Perhaps I'm being overly critical of this film because my expectations were sky-high and I expected more from a Best Picture nominee. (Just my luck it's probably going to win...) But as a Best Picture nominee, it deserves to be scrutinized in every way possible. The three stars I give "The Martian" are solely for the visual effects department and the fantastic, gob-smacking employment of real science to bring the various spacecraft and Martian habitats to real life. Forget the humans; the real stars of this film were the airlocks.

When Marnie Was There

The last Ghibli film.
This in itself gives the film melancholy undertones. Beautifully animated and directed, the film aches with sadness and tenderness. Whether or not director Hiromasa Yonebayashi knew this was to be the studio's swan song does not matter; the film feels definitive and lasting, a goodbye-of-sorts to something dear. For this reason, "Marnie" is something extra special. Yonebayashi should be proud, and he may be the most talented rising anime director whose last name isn't Hosoda.

Calm and tranquil, "Marnie" plays out like a stroll through the park. It is never in a big hurry to get anywhere. Its splendid moody visual imagery incorporates natural elements; my favorite sequence is the rising tide preventing our protagonist Anna from escaping the old house Marnie lives(d?). It is very reminiscent of the rising river appearing in "Spirited Away."

The main protagonist, tomboyish Anna, is a troubled child plagued by not only asthma attacks, but depressed, knowing her foster parents were accepting money from the government to keep her. For this reason she feels like a useless commodity for most of the film. Until she meets Marnie, that is. This character interplay is very reminiscent to Sean from "Arrietty," who also moved to the countryside to recuperate (and found a peculiar friend in the process.)

Marnie being a living memory was not so much a shocker because I was already familiar with Joan G. Robinson's children's novel. However, what initially confused me was Marnie's sudden (and unrelenting) emotional attachment to Anna. While the third act explains everything, the first half of the film gave strong vibes that Anna and Marnie were lesbians. This isn't a bad thing, as such a twist would have been bold would have vaulted this film to the top of the Ghibli roster. But alas, filmmakers decided to play the safer route, which was still charming and unexpected in its own way.

The music score thunders with emotions, and this is the best soundtrack to a Ghibli film since Yonebayashi's previous "Arrietty." The only real issue I had with the film is the character design, which is often bland, apart from the title character of Marnie, the first and only blonde protagonist in a Ghibli film. The film is not perfect, but it worked in all the ways a Studio Ghibli film is supposed to work. It certain did not let me down, unlike a couple recent efforts like "From Up On Poppy Hill" and "The Wind Rises." While the two aforementioned films were sold as "big" films that felt small in minuscule, "When Marnie Was There" was sold as a "small" film but it roared with emotion and felt "huge." The only other time I felt this way was when I first watched "Whisper of the Heart," one of the studio's most awesome efforts.
Farewell Studio Ghibli. At this point in time, it is hard to say for certain if they will ever return to feature films, but just in case they do not, "When Marnie Was There" is a fine period at the end of their sentence, the end of a majestic era...


There is no way to approach "Inception" without comparing to Satoshi Kon's stellar anime "Paprika," which was released about half-decade earlier and dealt with the same themes (dream terrorists, machines that can read/create dreams, our inability to distinguish between the two states, etc.) At first glance, Christopher Nolan ripped off the anime big-time; the weird conglomeration of imagery in the film's early moments felt familiar; about a dozen other visual motifs, (including the lady breaking glass in order to get to the "reality" behind it,) also screamed out "Rip off!"
However, I still found "Inception" to be an incredibly original film because of its focused script, highly-concentrated delivery, and storyline that doesn't shy away from appealing to viewer's intellectual abilities. If "Paprika" was an overview of many ideas dealing with the subconscious, "Inception" takes a few of these ideas and analyzes them more thoroughly than a laboratory scientist on the verge of a scientific breakthrough. Some viewers may find the dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream harder to follow than Monty Python deductive reasoning, but the film delivers as strongly as any of Christopher Nolan's best efforts. This is the director's most Hitchcock film yet; the tense music and choppy editing go together in a way only Nolan can pull it off. The layered dream concept was interesting, with each layer getting deeper and deeper into the subconscious. However, I longed for wackier, impossible visuals. The one scene where the cityscape is literally bent upside down was awesome, as was the sequence with exploding flowers and cobblestone bricks near the cafe. However, such moments were far and few between. I longed for the parade of nonsensical electronic appliances in "Paprika," stuff found only in the deepest reservoirs of our minds (or down-the-rabbit-hole.)
The film had a speedy first act (which was my favorite.) I enjoyed the explanation of the projections, the process to "kick" patients awake, and how these artificial dreams are constructed the same way architects use blueprints and CG simulations. However, the actual plan, once executed, seemed to drag, and not just because it took about a half hour for the van to plunge into the water. Later in the film, however, there were too many repetitive visuals of floating men in hotel rooms. After two minutes of it I felt like saying: "I get it. It is a neat visual effect. Shall we move on?"
The cast was top notch. Leonardo DiCaprio, once again, proves himself to be one of the finest actors in Hollywood today, and we are also treated to great performances from "Juno"'s Ellen Page as well as the usual Nolan suspects: Tom hardy, Michael Caine, and Cillian Murphy.
In the end, I was impressed. The film took an interesting concept and ran away with it. While it did not pose the stark originality of Satoshi Kon's "Paprika," (or use as many of the mind-bending concepts,) "Inception" is a refreshing breeze of originality in an era where everything seems to be sequels, reboots, or superheroes. An original story that appeals to the cognitive intellectual curiosity is welcome. We need more movies like this.

The Rescuers
The Rescuers(2014)

In a time when nothing seemed to work for the Walt Disney Studios, "The Rescuers" (1977) was a much-needed sigh of relief. It was one of the studio's few real smash hits in that stretch of uncertainty following Walt's death and before the Renaissance of the 90's. Originally rejected by the Moustro himself for politicizing children's cartoons, "The Rescuers" is the story of two mice sent by the United Nations to intervene and rescue a young girl held captive in a bayou by a very Cruella-de-Ville-ish woman seeking a lost diamond. While the villainess' motives are a bit lame, and her overall appearance and persona have been used before in a certain dog movie, "The Rescueres" is full of heart and humor, containing all the right "feels" as does the best Disney animated features. Bob Newhart's Bernard and Eve Gabor's Bianca are excellent protagonists and their personalities (chic mouse and good-hearted janitor) compliment each other well. Add the little girl Penny to the mix and you have the Disney masterpiece of the 70's. Penny is perhaps the most pitiful Disney child ever invented, and her sincerity and helpless plights bring the whole thing to another level. You will cry. The heartfelt songs, including "The Journey" also gives melancholy vibe to the film.
Made in a time when the old Disney animators were retiring and the new crop started to enter the field, (including master animator Glen Keane,) "The Rescuers" is a very special film in the history of the studio.

The Rescuers Down Under

There are few Disney animated movies that present as many innovative firsts as "Rescuers Down Under." To name the most obvious:
First Disney animated sequel.
First animated film to utilized digital ink-and-paint (making this, technically, the first computer animated movie, pre-dating "Toy Story" by five years. The colors in this film are gorgeous.)
First Disney animated film to utilize CAPS (Computer Animated Production System.) Most importantly: first animated film that moved and behaved like a modern adventure movie with sustained action sequences not unlike the best of Stephen Spielberg's "Indiana Jones" series.
The film holds onto audiences and never lets go from the break-neck speed of the opening credits, directly leading into the extended flying sequences of Cody and the giant eagle Marahootay. Never before has an animated film allowed viewers to soar over valleys, plummet down cliffs and buildings, and THROUGH environments with such clarity and ease. All animated features following "Rescuers Down Under," from "Aladdin," "Lion King," "Incredibles" to, well, everything released today, owe their allegiance to this film.
On a story level, the movie works, even though it's visual effects outweigh the risks taken within the story department. Perhaps the biggest complaint I had, (and still have,) with "Rescuers Down Under" is that the central characters Bernard and Bianca are over-shadowed by every newcomer including (but not invited to) George C. Scott's McLeach, Jake the fearless kangaroo rat, and the hilarious, (and slightly annoying,) chatter-box albatross Wilbur voiced by John Candy. There are surprisingly few scenes in this film that show Bernard and Bianca interacting and discussing the meat of the story with each other; the breakneck speed of this film leaves little room for small-talk conversations, and I long for scenes like the original 1977 Rescuers where the two mice plan whether or not to take a shortcut through the zoo. In that regard, I felt just as annoyed as Bernard each and every time he got interrupted in his bid to ask Miss Bianca for her hand in marriage. I also found the third act a bit rushed, especially considering the fact that Cody hardly got a chance to even say hello to Bernard and Bianca before his rescue.
Yet this movie still works. On so many levels, it is up there with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and 101 Dalmatians as far as technical achievements. While it is not praised as much today as it was in the early 90's, it still delivers a great deal of "wow" in the visual department. The older generation will appreciate the fact that Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor reprised their roles as the two title characters. And this film is a ton of wholesome laughs.

A Christmas Carol

This 1951 film starring Alastair Sim as the old Humbug is perhaps the most popular adaption of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and is directly responsible for influencing every other adaption that came after it, most notably the recent 2009 performance capture creep-fest directed by Robert Zemeckis. While I loved many aspects of "Scrooge," this film, in my humble opinion, is not worthy of the extreme praise and is not the best adaption.
Before I launch into my criticism, I admit that there were a number of things done right. The Spirit of Christmas Past sequences were among the longest and most in-depth parts of the film and audiences got a strong sense of how a good young man could fall to the snares of riches. One of the few enjoyable liberties taken with the original source material was the sequence showing Scrooge and Marley together, leaning their backs in chairs with smug grins on their faces, plainly stating to the group of business men how they intentionally plan to embezzle company funds through dirty illegal tactics. It is a classic cut-throat sequence and helps us as audiences understand the reason why Jacob Marley showed up to Scrooge's doorstep bound in heavy chains. Also notable is the Ghost of Jacob Marley himself, played by Mervyn Jones, whose performance may be the most pitiful portrayal of the ghost ever seen on film. This Marley ghost truly looked and felt dead and damned beyond hope. (He can only be rivaled by the ghastly specter seen in the George C. Scott version of "A Christmas Carol" in 1984.) Marley's deathbed sequence was also filled with unsettling goodness, as he gives out his last gasps: "Save yourself!" seconds before succumbing to the pleasures of the vulture-like undertaker Ernerst Thesiger (who many will remember as Doctor Pretorius from the classic "Bride of Frankenstein.")
On the downside, there were a lot of things about this film that just did not work for me. One, unfortunately, was Alastair Sim's portrayal of Scrooge himself, who did not seem mean and bitter, but confused and timid, as he delivered his constant whines ("I am too old to change!") sporting bug-eyes like a sleep-deprived chihuahua. Many of the invented scenes not inspired by Dickens also did not serve fulfilling purposes. Belle's present-day scene showing how she helps the poor and destitute seemed to go unnecessarily above and beyond what was needed to be filmed. Also, Scrooge's dying sister Fran's final words which Scrooge himself were unable to hear till his spiritual envoy showed him, seemed a bit unnecessary. The film also had some very poor production values, with frequent camera mistakes fit for a gag reel. The actor underneath the black veil for Spirit of Christmas Future could be comically seen in several important scenes (oops); during Scrooge's redemption, he says "you old humbug!" in his bedroom mirror, and we see a clear reflection of the camera crew in the background (big oops.) Finally, this adaption had the worst portrayal of Tiny Tim, because the child defied his own characters's name; this Tim was as tall as Bob Cratchett and looked absolutely ridiculous when riding on Bob's shoulder through town. Ginormous Tim would have been a more-fitting title.
While "Scrooge" is not a bad movie in any sense of the word, I do prefer the older 1938 "A Christmas Carol" starring Reginald Owen as Scrooge and Gene Lokchart as Cratchett much more.

Happy Feet
Happy Feet(2006)

Happy feet contained the typical ear-marks of a post 2001-era film for all the wrong reasons. Here are the top three things that annoyed me about this film: 1) Soul-less CG characters. The penguins were stiff, identical, but oh, did they look photorealistic! I understand filmmakers were going for a more Discovery-Channel feel, but this decision greatly reduced my emotional connection with all characters. A more logical approach would have been to make the film more akin to the penguins on Madagascar, which were bursting with expression. Also, major points deducted for cheating, as studio Animal Logic went the cheap route by incorporating live action human footage in Act III instead of attempting to create realistic CG people. 2) A complete mockery of music; the soundtrack was a glorified karaoke party, with much of the songs reminding me more of LA than the arctic wilderness. The only exception would be the amazing group sequence towards the end as Mumble got all the penguins to dance as one unified community. This sequence was amazing. 3) The inevitable inclusion of at least two Lord of the Rings actors for insurance reasons. I hate when so many movies do this.

Besides these three aspects, I also disliked this film because of its unnecessarily intense chase scenes involving killer orcas and seals; my gut feeling is that such scenes were included primarily to compete with the shark sequence in Finding Nemo. They certainly didn't help propel the story to new heights. Also, the film had one huge plot hole which was that dancing was forbidden but singing was not. (Huh??)The simple act of Mumble moving his feet for his own self-enjoyment was seen as a moral sin by the community, and yet penguins could sing their lungs out to Elvis Presley? Is that really more sensible? Things get even more ridiculous once the penguins dive into the water; there, they loop, twirl, swirl.. yes, this is also known as DANCING.

On the positive side, this film had some wonderful and funny vocal performances by the late Robin Williams, including his character "Lovelace," which was my favorite character in the movie. Also, Mumble's journey was fairly epic during the last third of the film, as the little guy set out on a quest to discover the truth about the "aliens." The result to this journey was a deep environmental truth involving overfishing, pollution, animal captivity, and human inabilities to act for the greater good despite being the planet's dominant species. Such a daring conclusion was welcoming, and rarely done in this slapstick era dominated by Shrek and Scrat. For this simple reason, Happy Feet may have brought home the Oscar for Best Animation in 2007.

Creature from the Black Lagoon

I never understood the love for this film, nor can I understand why this is such a cult classic, being one of Universal's most popular monster flicks. "The Creature From The Black Lagoon" has an extremely ridiculous plot. To name just a few plot holes and/or inconsistencies:
A fossilized hand is found embedded in a rock outcrop in South America, but the actual creature lives two feet away in the lagoon, alive and thriving, to nobody's knowledge. A scientific crew starts as humble observers piecing together an evolutionary puzzle, but end up as full-fledged monster hunters, despite the fact that the creature eliminated nearly five close acquaintances. The crew also seem to have carried an entire marine squadron's worth of firearms on that little peaceful exploration vessel.
Kay (Julie Adams) is inserted in the narrative for the usual three reasons: 1) to be carried away by the monster in Act III 2) to have the loudest scream and 3) to be the object of affection for two competing men (Richard Denning's Mark and Richard Carlson's David.) Yet, ironically, Julie Adams is by far the best performer in the film, and it is a shame to see her talent squandered.
The creature itself is impressive, especially for its underwater-resistant prosthetics circa 1954. The creature has inspired more aquatic nightmare movies than can be counted, and is the template for countless halloween costumes in the decades since. Its grotesque fish-face, gulping side fins, and webbed feet remain the quintessential aquatic monster look, and for this reason alone I give the film some credit. Another shining aspect about this production is the state-of-the-art usage of underwater cinematography; while bringing a camera underwater and filming fish and swimming actors does not seem like an incredible feat in this day and age with Discovery Channel, such a task was incredibly difficult. The mysterious underwater scenes are the highlight of the film. It's a shame the story and plot were not given the same meticulous attention.


The most enjoyable Jerry Lewis film I've seen, "Cinderfella" contained the expected goofy slapstick as previous classics as "The Errand Boy" and "The Nutty Professor" but this film differs because of its inclusion of some of the sweetest down-to-earth moments which break up the laughs in a very satisfying manner. Essentially, the film is the classic fairy tale Cinderella but told in the 1960's, with a gender-switched lead protagonist, who is not just overworked, but a complete moron who must perform every chore imaginable in his evil step-mother's Beverly-Hill-ish estate. Cinderfella is a very likable idiot, not just because he is Jerry Lewis, but because one automatically feels sorry for him due to the frequent comical abuse he puts up with. Fella sleeps on a bare springboard without a mattress, in a room loaded with junk; he eats soup and saltine crackers at the far end of a 100-foot-long table, while the rest of the family devours prime rib; the furniture he sits on is covered in plastic wrap. Etc, etc... There is this extremely humorous scene halfway through the film where Fella, in the middle of his humble dinner, becomes pestered non-stop by the Wicked Stepmother (Judith Anderson) and Fella's two evil stepbrothers Maximillian (Henry Silva) and Rupert (Robert Hutton,) by performing the most ludicrous-ly simple tasks, such as lighting a cigarette or moving a dish 5 inches closer; this sequence greatly demonstrates Jerry Lewis' undying level of energy, as well as his ability to make audiences laugh without speech, (as this sequence contains very little dialogue.)
The film also stars Ed Wynn as Fella's fairy godfather, (which is as odd as it sounds,) and the beautiful Anna Maria Alberghetti as... Princess Charming. The final sequence in the film with Lewis and Alberghetti together is particularly sweet, where he tries to convince her that they are not meant to be together due to the fact that "I'm a people and you're a person."
This film is a joy to watch, but it does have a few faults that will prevent it from receiving a perfect 5-star rating. First, one can tell that this film was made on a tight budget, so the entire picture had poor production values; so many jokes could have been greatly heightened with better filming and scene composition. One good example is the breakfast scene, where Fella accidentally squeezes orange juice all over the counter; due to the poor camera angle, one hardly sees the mess he makes. In addition to cheap filming, there are some spots of dialogue between Fella and his Fairly Godfather that are a tad sexist, which seem to bash women for no apparent reason. Apart from these two aspects, "Cinderella" is a fun charming little film.

Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart

This is the best animated movie you've never seen and probably never heard of. The story is both bitter and joyous; the 19th Century steampunk setting is vivid and detailed; the film contains a strong psychedelic atmosphere with appeals as much to adults as it does to children; the music is upbeat and, at times, powerful. In short, this animated film is a children's rock opera dealing with themes of love, passion, psychological journeys, and shares similar visual/story motifs with The Who's Tommy. In this day and age of nonstop action animated films and relentless wisecracks, this French film is a breath of fresh air. It is a simple love story about a boy with a delicate mechanical heart who embarks on a hopeless quest to experience love with the beautiful singer Miss Acacia, even if their entanglements result in his own possible demise. (As one might guess, the film has a very poignant ending, one that is not sugarcoated but appropriately tragic and beautiful.)
The magical CG dreamscape is breathtaking. A hallucination version of old Europe, this world is filled with wonders never seen in any other film such as trains that move like accordions, people who float towards the sky when filled with music and love, old men with xylophone backbones, and girls who sprout thorns over their shoulders when angry and Italian ice cream cones from their breasts when romantically-stimulated. And oh yes, this is the only film where I can honestly say that a 2-headed girl actually looks beautiful.
The music is by Dionysos, and is both the upside and downside of this film. On the upside, the rock soundtrack is unique in the world of animation, particularly movies of late when which avoid song-and-dance numbers all together. As mentioned earlier, this movie is very reminiscent of The Who's Tommy...except for the quality of the music, which brings me to the downside of Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart: the music, for the most part, isn't as memorable as it could have been. The initial song between Miss Acacia and Jack is very well-played and performed, (and we hear remnants of it throughout the film,) and Joe's half-rapping half-talking rant is unexpected and loaded with anger and angst. However, I would have given this film a much higher rating if the soundtrack had featured a better selection of songs, and if these songs had been used as connective tissue linking scenes together, (such as Disney's Frozen,) instead of abruptly ending awkwardly, making viewers wonder why there was even a song included in the first place. Thank god for the inclusion of the awesome theme which plays at the end during the credits, (the same song which can be heard during the film's trailer.) I wish this song had been played during the main action.

Rise of the Guardians

This film is a disappointment in part because Dreamworks Animation was, up till this point, on a hot winning streak ("How To Train Your Dragon," "Kung Fu Panda," "Megamind," etc..) and in part because the "Rise of the Guardians" was a poor on-screen translation of the imaginative children's book series by William Joyce. Dreamworks mishandled the story by overthinking the whimsical concept; there was too much focus on Jack Frost's indecisiveness and absolutely no focus when it came to the rest of the team. Easter Bunny and Tooth, in particular, seemed a bit like cardboard cut-out figures in place of real characters which never showed up. Worse yet, the film desperately tried to imitate the inner-child feeling perfected by Walt Disney Pictures, with the end result feeling forced. It has often been said that if Disney was the studio who made films for the "kid in all of us," Dreamworks was the studio who made films for the "adult in every kid." "Rise of the Guardians" went against Dreamwork's successful recipe in a manner that made me think filmmakers didn't really care about the message they were preaching. The villain also left something to be desired: Pitch was a paint-by-the-number baddie, and everything about him, from his British voice to his overdone wispy black shadow-y powers taken directly from Harry Potter's Death Eaters were unmemorable. Every time he appeared, I yawned.
There are, however, several things to be proud about in this film, such as the bold reinterpretation of Santa from a loving jolly "ho ho ho" guy to a Russian mafia man complete with full-arm tattoos and an aggressive fighting spirit. The animation work is also splendid, and Jack Frost's icy tricks were obviously the direct inspiration for Disney's heroine in "Frozen." There was also something very unsettling and mythical about Jack Frost's "birth" from a poor country boy falling through thin ice to rescue his sister.
In short, Rise of the Guardian was a missed opportunity to create something magical and special. It went against its own message of childhood wonder by feeling paint-by-the-numbers and cliche. It is certainly not in the ranks of better films such as "How to Train Your Dragon," "Madagascar," or "Shrek."

Jurassic World

After the fourteen year silence since Jurassic Park III, I was starting to doubt whether or not we would ever see another film from this franchise. Yet, I'm a little hesitant to say that Jurassic World is worth the long wait. While it is leaps and bounds better than the deplorable Lost World, it is unable to match the original's thrills, originality, ingenuity, and (most crucial of all) characters. Sam Neil, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, and the late Richard Attenborough are nowhere to be found in the park this time around; instead, we are forced to listen to Chris Pratt, the typical man-over-nature stereotype, who not only seems to have an inborn upper hand on velociraptors, but also a natural dominance over the lead female character played by Bryce Dallas Howard. This film contains a 1960's-style interaction where man must show woman how to be more hospitable by his own macho attributes (a woman in a top executive position? Heaven forbid! She needs to learn how to be a mom!) and the film's sexist undertones was an annoying problem viewers have to put up with during the entire two hour running time. While some viewers may say: "well, who's interested in the people? The film is all about the dinosaurs, right?" I have to disagree. If you want dinosaurs, then watch a Discovery Channel documentary. The fun and cleverness about the "Jurassic" films is that, to quote Dr. Grant from the first film, "humans and dinosaurs are suddenly thrown into the mix and how can we possibly know what to expect?" That's where the fun is supposed to be. Unfortunately, the human part of the deal didn't go through. In the original "Jurassic Park," it was the interplay between Dr. Grant's dry gruffness, Ian Malcolm's I-told-you-so's, and Dr. Sattler's methodic smarts that made the whole thing worth repeated viewing. Here, the human characters felt as dead and dry as a 65 million year old fossil. Apart from the sexist man-woman relationship, we have a typical bad guy who is hell-bent on using velociraptors for the military. (????? Yeah, I know.) We have two brothers who are a far cry from the sincerity of the original films' Tim (Joseph Mazello) and Lex (Ariana Richards.) Perhaps the only character I really liked was B. D. Wong, who, ironically, was the only returning face from the original film, reprising his brief but pivotal role as crazy dino DNA splicer Henry Wu.
The special effects were obviously the best of the four Jurassic Films, even though they lacked a sense of wonder like the 1993 film's revolutionary usage of computer graphics. This time around, Industrial Lights and Magic had nothing to innovate, and watching these CG monsters roar, run, and chomp made be feel as bored as some of the teenage guests in the film. To be honest, I was more impressed by the special effects used to bring the park's buildings, plazas, and monorail trains to life than the actual animals themselves. I would also liked to have seen more "science" in this so-called science fiction film. A runaway frankenstein dinosaur that is also invisible is a hard concept to take seriously, and is almost as far-fetched as watching Bryce Dallas Howard run from a t-rex in high heels.
In short, Jurassic World was not a bad movie the way Lost World was a BAD movie by every definition; in fact, if one considers "Jurassic World" a reboot instead of a direct sequel, it works quite well. It had a sense of freshness that movie 2 and 3 didn't have, and I felt true terror when first meeting Indominous Rex, a feeling I haven't felt in a "Jurassic" movie since I was a 10 year old kid watching the original's t-rex attack that Ford Explorer on the road. I just wish that filmmakers could have spent more than 5 minutes developing characters, which were often cliche and sexist. I walked out of this movie feeling fairly satisfied, even though I still shake my head in disgust on the amount of money this thing made at the box office.

Into the Woods

A half-baked effort to restore the musical genre back to the Walt Disney Studios. Believe me, I wanted to love this movie, I was so rooting for this adaption to be a masterpiece... but after watching it through, the whole thing felt so uninspired. This former 80's Broadway effort, (songs and lyrics written by Stephen Sondheim,) contained one or two good tunes but unfortunately the whole soundtrack did not carry my attention. "Enchanted" this was not. "Newsies" this was not. Worse yet, the delivery of the argumentative, conversational chatty lyrics sounded like the actors were making up the songs at the spur of the moment. "Into The Woods" was released during a strange time in Disney's history; if it had been made 15 years earlier it would have been heralded as a clever throwback to the old song-and-dance genre the company had been so fondly known for, ("Mary Poppins," "Bed Knobs and Broomsticks," etc...) as well as a cunning retelling of old fairytale stories. However, in a post-Shrek world, "Into The Woods" came off as something neither funny enough to be an all-out comedy, nor serious enough to stand on its own two feet without being compared to the darker original Brothers Grim stories. I also wasn't clamoring to see more magic beans, after seeing something very similar in Dreamworks' "Puss in Boots."
I never was a follower of the original "Into The Woods" musical, so I am unable to say with great accuracy how close this version measured up to the original play. However, I do know that at least one crucial song was omitted from this version (a very GOOD song too I heard,) which left die-hard fans puzzled and angry. While the songs were far from "bad," they did lack a certain "oomph" that carried me throughout the two-hour story.
If "Into the Woods" had been released by any studio other than Disney, I would have thought the interwoven fairy-tale stories (Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Bean Stalk) would have been clever. On the contrary, the Cinderella sequences here seemed like an extended, cross-promotional trailer from the House of Mouse to advertise their upcoming "Cinderella" live-action theatrical feature.
I did enjoy the first half of this movie somewhat... However, the second half greatly ruined the first. I understand the filmmakers' message well: not every fairy tale has a happy ending. But my god, how many women characters had to needlessly die or instantly vanish to prove this point?!? Also, the sequence with the giantess was the crowning achievement of this film's stupidity. How so? An entire song was dedicated to the idea that "witches can be good" and even dared children to ask a simple question: "aren't giants people too?" So how do they follow up this song? Oh yes, they just KILL THE GIANTESS. It comes a-crashing down onto the forest floor after being sling-shot in the forehead. Presumably the giantess died. Bravo children, you are murderers. I lost all interest in the movie at that point.

Clash of the Titans

Normally, I would have said "leave well enough alone," except for the fact that I disliked the original "Clash of the Titans" starring Laurence Olivier and Harry Hamlin. The 1981 so-called "classic" was one of those 80's action genre films where the movie poster was far more interesting than the actual flick itself. With today's technology, filmmakers had the potential to improve upon the original and create something truly memorable and lasting. Boy was I disappointed.

As much as I didn't find the original to be my cup of tea, it was an Oscar Winning Best Picture compared to this 2010 cinematic mess, which visually, thematically, and stylistically tried to imitate "Lord of the Rings" with its forced "the time of man has begun" message and the deep-voiced wannabe Cate Blanchett "the world has changed" introduction. The settling looked less Greek and more Middle Earth. I also got an uncomfortable dash of "Harry Potter," as filmmakers desperately tried to push Ralph Fiennes' suave, raspy-voiced Voldemort persona into the storyline. Halfway through the film, I just wanted to throw a brick at the screen and just read Homer's "Odyssey."

There was some dazzling computer generated imagery towards the end of the film, particularly in the form of the horrific monster Medusa. However, this CG feat fell short of the original. Ray Harryhausen's original stop-motion puppet may have been rickety and jerky, but the character possessed a threatening presence, a soul you might say, which was reflected by the careful cunning way she moved, removing arrows from her quiver one-by-one in a contemplative manner. This new Medusa? Yeah, it looked realistic. Yeah, it had a lot of scales like anything you'd see on the Discovery Channel. Yeah, it was photorealistic and had great rendering and detail. But the moment she appeared, she just jumped out and went "Boo!" and slimed over objects like an eel out of water trying to rejoin its friends in the fish tank. In short, this new Medusa was cool, but was as threatening as a ghost on Scooby Doo.

The "final straw" was the mechanical owl. True, I never was a big fan of the mechanical owl in the original, party because it seemed like a cheap cash-in on a certain squeaky droid invented by George Lucas. In this film, Sam Worthington's Perseus picks up the owl, looks at it, and is rudely told to "just leave it." It was intended to be funny, but it came off as a blasphemous slap in the face to the original; come on, just include the darned owl or leave it out completely; this cheap in-joke only made me want to see the older (and far more tolerable) film.

The only thing I can think of that truly worked was Pegasus; boy, there was an awesome flying horse. Changing the equine's color from white (as seen in the original) to pitch black was a really fine choice. Too bad Pegasus couldn't have dropped in for a visit more often. Sam Worthington should have stayed at Pandora.

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return

Clarius Entertainment's first plunge into feature animation is a breath of fresh air to the current state of animated family films. Nowadays, family animated films seem to be ashamed of being categorized as "kids movies," and artificially compensate this shame by disguising itself in layers of pointless adult humor and pop cultural gags. "Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return" is pure, wholesome entertainment in its simplest form, a film aimed for kids (and kids at heart,) and is proud to serve this specific demographic. Nowhere in this film will you find pointless innuendos, rude sarcasm, and excessive violence. It tells a simple story for the sake of telling a story; while the end product does not tread any new ground, I enjoyed the ride tremendously and feel incredibly disheartened when it mis-performed at the North American box office last year. "Legends" misfire is a real shame, as the animation industry needs more films focused on story and charm, not these loud speedballs full of bells and whistles (*cough* *cough* Cars 2, Madagascar, Big Hero 6 *cough*.)

The charm and satisfying nature about "Legends of Oz" hinges on three factors: 1) the characters 2) the tone and 3) the music. First, the characters were magical extensions of their 1939 MGM counterparts; Wizard of Oz is the type of story so well-suited for animation, I find it puzzling that studios haven't ventured into L. Frank Baum's world more often. Scarecrow, (who is now a genius with a straw head full of Einsteinium equations) is my favorite, and is appropriately voiced by Dan Ackroyd. I especially have respect for the character designs and voice-work of Tin Man (who falls to pieces and is at times emotional,) Lion (now fearless,) and Glenda (big-headed, wasp-waisted, and has a "wicked" sense of humor to rival her former sisters.) I found Dorothy to be an extremely sympathetic, girl-next-door-type, and filmmakers' decision to cast the melodious "Glee" star Lea Michelle was the best bit of voice casting for an animated film this of 2014. Dorothy never falls back into submission to men like so many Disney Princesses before her; the finale of "Legends of Oz" finds our plucky heroine as the strongest individual to confront the evil Jester. She does it alone. Speaking of the Jester, Martin Short seemed born to play this part. He was able to be villainous without conforming to a "Wicked Witch"-brand of evil; he still has time to juggle balls and ride a unicycle on top of everything else he does.
The film's tone, as mentioned before, is the second factor contributing to "Legends" enjoyability. It refreshingly tells a story right without overly resorting to sarcasm and wisecracks. Its humor is comparatively simple, compared to those recent Pixar-Disney offering, which shout from the rooftops their cleverness and talk viewers to death with a million words per minute. While "Legends of Oz" does get chatty at times, (especially scenes where Wiser the Owl is present,) most of the dialogue is purposefully directed and is delivered with simplicity and concise articulation to appeal to its young 21st Century audience.

The last outstanding aspect about this film is its soundtrack. And that's saying quite a bit, as this film was released mere months after the new benchmark in animated musicals, "Frozen," was unleashed onto the world. While "Legends" does not soar to the lofty heights of "Frozen," the songs (many which were composed by Bryan Adams,) are quite good. Just the fact that this is a musical is commendable in itself, as the current animation industry is still characterized by a plethora of non-musical buddy comedies. "When the World" is the highlight, and is every bit as catchy and memorable as "Frozen's" "Let it Go." The song is sung during Dorothy's depressed attempt to pick up the pieces to her broken life; yet, the there is also a sense of hopefulness to this song. The duet "Even Now," between Hugh Dancy's Marshall Mallow and Megan Hilty's China Princess, was surprisingly touching, considering the fact that the song was, basically, a giant marshmallow serenading a broken piece of porcelain. I would buy this soundtrack if I could find it.

Now on downside, the film does show some cracks, (like China doll after her accident,) particularly the usual rookie first-time effort mistakes like pacing, transitions from scene to scene, and most noticeably, the ending. Ohhh, that ending... After Dorothy defeats the Jester, Glenda is freed and what she says is basically this: "Good job, Dorothy, now get out and go back home." This was incredibly rushed, and longed to see more time dedicated to showing Oz return to its former glory. Also, I did not buy into the evil investor guy paralleling the Jester in modern day Kansas. I almost wanted to see this character left out entirely, just to see Dorothy and her neighbors work together for a common purpose; this would make the song "Work With Me" all the more important and the pinnacle to the film's theme.

While "The Lego Movie" was the most visually appealing and funniest animated of 2014, "How to Train Your Dragon 2" was the most dramatic and blockbuster-y of 2014, I will always remember "Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return" as the most pleasant and, overall, enjoyable animated film of that year.


Like a giant clock, this film is a nice visual feast with lots of intricate moving pieces working in unison, but in the end, it is a monotonous ticker that doesn't
do anything new or take me anywhere particularly magical. Yes, "Hugo" did have surprise plot twists that took the story to a far different place in the end than I was expecting... but where it took me was a far less interesting place than I hoped for. When it all boils down, "Hugo" is just a two-hour-long pep talk to an old man who lost his confidence in old cinema, and regains this spark of desire by seeing his work plastered on the big screen again. No major revelations. No real sacrifice. Just a lot of fancy special effects baiting audiences to sit through a story-lite bore, as if Paramount had extra money to burn in a furnace. The early 20-Century world of France looked nice with its CG backgrounds and hyper-realistic dream sequences.... but quite frankly, I didn't give a damn when everything else felt un-motivating.

The second half of the movie spends a great deal of time praising old silent filmmakers, and instead of being whisked away by these sentiments, I felt annoyed for two reasons. First, I was annoyed that Scorsese couldn't reference anyone else but Melies, whose poke-the-moon-in-the-eye film has been tiredly referenced in past films and television to an exhaustible degree. Second, I was left slightly puzzled when instead of praising the technical ingenuity of Hugo the common man, (or boy,) Scorsese pats himself on the back for the Oscar committee through his comparing filmmakers to magicians. One may argue that it is the acting and characters that make a film immortal, not the silly eye-tricks on celluloid.

And as far as characters go, none within "Hugo" were very convincing. Hugo himself seemed well-developed and sympathetic, but his bravery and mechanical brilliance was swept under the rug in favor of focusing on Ben Kingsley's character who, let's face it, never really changed by the end of the movie... he simply changed BACK to the character he once was. I don't mind the fact that Kingsley's character was, ultimately, the main focus; what I did mind was that his side of the story was far less memorable than Hugo's adventure-filled life. Chloe Moetz' awesome talent was completely squandered as she played an unmemorable role nearly identical to that of the little girl in last year's "Boxtrolls," and she tried too hard to deliver that wannabe-Hermione-Granger persona.

This movie could have been told much more effectively if it had been produced with no special effects, 50 million dollars cut from its budget, and 30 minutes cut from the overall running time. I couldn't decide whether I thought the automaton or the wind-up-mouse was my favorite character in the entire movie.

Song Of The Sea

This film is Cartoon Saloon and Tom Moore's follow-up to the breathtaking "Secret of Kells," a little-known Irish film that flabbergasted the animation world and proved that 2D is not dead. "Song of the Sea" contains a similar Ancient Celtic-inspired visual style and mysterious undertones, while still being completely family friendly. This is a story of uncovering magical secrets, through the eyes of a young boy Ben (David Rawle) who learns the ancient selkie power of his somewhat-mute sister Saoirse; Ben must overcome numerous roadblocks on his journey of discovery, problems including finding his way home to the sea, a weird half-owl-half-old-lady being, and... his father Conor (Brenden Gleeson.) I was impressed by all aspects of the film, the story, the animation, the music; however, I will ultimately rate this below "Kells" for several reasons. First, while Cartoon Saloon's unique visual style was even more refined this time around, it did have less of an impact on me than "Kells" because I had seen it before. Second, and more important, the story takes place in contemporary times instead of a fairytale version of a past age; this is significant because while "Kells" was filled with impressive forests, mysterious caves, and old castle walls, "Song of the Sea" was replete with common sights I felt, quite frankly, detracted from the mythical nature of the story: asphalt roads, cars, a sony walkman, trick or treaters on a bus, etc. I longed for more magical images; the Selkie scene with Saoirse and her mother frolicking in the ocean was outstanding... but brief. Thank god almighty for the jaw-dropping sequence in the film's conclusion where the ancient spirits of the past wake up from their rocky pedestals and join the otherworld. There is a touching goodbye scene between Saoirse/Ben's mother and Conor. My single favorite scene in the entire film to witness was that huge stone man coming to life and power off into the sunset with his two mountain-sized hounds. Good stuff. There should have been more of this wonder, as the film is done in 2D animation (a rarity these days, I'm afriad) where the only limit is filmmakers' imaginations.
Finally, I thought the pacing in "Song of the Sea" could have been sped up in the middle act of this film. While I did enjoy the mystery of watching Ben piece together his sister's past, and the ultimate realization that Saoirse can turn into a cute little white selkie seal, the film took took long to get there. I felt myself thinking: "can someone just get that girl into her magic coat already???"
But despite its drawbacks, I recommend 'Song of the Sea" for everybody, adults, children, ocean-lovers, and selkies.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

It does not take a hardcore animation fan to discern that "The Tale of The Princess Kaguya" is a good film. The sketchbook visual look, (a rarity for Studio Ghibli, only done in their 1999 "My Neighbors the Yamadas,") the strong vocals of Chloe Moretz and Lucy Liu, and the overall classic 'Old Japan' feel of the whole piece is well done. Perhaps the single most breathtaking (and talked about) animated sequence in recent HISTORY is cradled in the second-half of this film, the scene where our princess protagonist blasts through a series of doors like a human rocket in a fit of intense rage, accompanied by abstract shapes, and hastily-sketched charcoal-inspired outlines. The wonder and excitement in this scene is hard to describe, and the only way to do so is calling it "an artist's sketchbook come to life." This brief, fantastically drawn sequence is outstanding and is worth more than all the photorealistic CGI Hollywood has to dish up. However, with that said, Princess Kaguya shows that, as I feared with "Poppy Hill" and "Arrietty," Studio Ghibli is becoming far too conservative for their own good. True, there is joy, sadness, and true emotions in "Kaguya," but not in heaping platefulls like past efforts like "Spirited Away," "Porco Rosso," or "My Neighbor Totoro,"to name a few. Heck, Isao Takahata's 1994 "Pom Poco," (his least famous film,) contains more visual excitement and originality in its first 20 minutes than this entire film. We as audiences get the miraculous birth of Kaguya almost in the first scene of the 2 hour-long-anime, but there is nothing really miraculous till the last moments when *** spoiler*** the moon people bring Kaguya back to her rightful home with a cloud of joyous, melodious entities. I wanted to see more life, more wonder, more legendary "wow" moments so typical in ancient folklore. I felt hungry for more. Still, "Princess Kaguya" was a fine film, and a bittersweet goodbye to legendary Ghibli co-founder Takahata. This is Studio Ghibli's second to last film and for that fact alone, it must be cherished and protected till the end of time.

Guardians of the Galaxy

I saw this movie for the first time on DVD three weeks ago, and for the love of Stan Lee, I still can't tell you exactly what I saw. I know the film had something to do with the end of the world, something about a talking tree, and something about a rogue, potty-mouthed raccoon, but that was about all I can tell you definitely. Guardians of the Galaxy is a Marvel movie made primarily for hardcore Marvel fans, which I am not (or at least not yet); this may explain why I was lost in the plethora of villain names and planets. However, I give this movie higher ratings than the average Marvel flick because Disney tried to do things differently; they went the extra mile creating characters and situations different from the studio's usual expected army of Captain Americas, Iron Mans, etc. A true Cinderella story of films, Guardians was never expected to perform as well as it did in the American box office; (till the release of Mockingjay: Part 1, it was actually the highest grossing film of 2014.) The characters are believable as protagonists, but far from serious archetypes. Star Lord should have been named Star-Dork, as the IQ of Chris Pratt's character was not much higher than that of his animated alter ego from The Lego Movie. Zoe Saldana was fairly fun to watch, and she is now cemented as the queen of modern sci-fi film, starring not only as the lead female role in this, but also in Avatar and the two Star Trek reboots. The special effects are wonderful and zany, particularly the convincing character animation of Rocket and Groot. I admire the animators' hard work, even though the whole universe depicted here seems like a retread of places encountered in Empire Strikes Back. Many critics bash this film for its clashing usage of 70's oldies, but I found the bursts of retro vibes gave the film a unique beat, a nice reminder that comic book movies should still be humorous and fun (I mean, hello, the movie is about a talking tree and gun-wielding raccoon, how serious can you get???) Star Lord's 80's mixtape was a nice visual motif, and I just wish that the nameless majority of characters who got ruthlessly chopped down were given the same level of personalization and humanization. This movie ain't the Avengers, but it ain't bad either.

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961) is one of the most iconic films ever made. On the surface, this is the rom-com film that defined all rom-coms, from the duel storyline dealing with a man and woman in Manhattan to the encompassing, rain-drenched, concluding sidewalk hug. An ace up this film's sleeve is the deeper subtext, which subtly addresses the social and economic class structure of American life, and how one's perceived social image is different from one's inner being. Audrey Hepburn's iconic Holly, (whose large sunshades and past-the-elbow length gloves are still fashionably relevant today as it was over half a century ago,) is a depressed party girl relying on the generous donations of older men to mask her "phony" lifestyle. Fleeing her past (and Texan husband, who married her at age 14,) New York has become Holly's stage and playground. During the course of the film she encounters and falls in love with an aspiring author Fred (George Peppard) who is also living a directionless life.
The film is based on a novella by the great Truman Capote. Plot-light, but heavy on intricate characterization, watching it is like viewing a mystery story... but without the mystery. For this reason, some viewers may perceive the film as being a deceiving set-up introducing at least 10 characters, but only focusing on two by the end. Also, there is no heavy amount of witty one-liners and slapstick, which define many contemporary romantic comedies. The only real laugh-out-loud character is Mickey Rooney's slightly deranged (and slightly offensive) Mr. Yunioshi. While I do not feel like this film plodded along aimlessly, as claimed by some picky critics, I do think that losing a little padding around the Act II middle-section would have greatly improved the film's trim figure.
There is a refreshingly youthful tone throughout. One of my personal favorite extended sequences in movie history can be found in this film; in this scene, Holly and Fred go on a frivolous city outing, where they engrave a cheap Cracker Jack prize at Tiffany's, and then proceed to sneak around (and rob) a junk store just for the mere thrill of it. It is a fun, well-paced sequence, and a true joy to watch. Finally, there is one more good aspect to Breakfast At Tiffany's: "Moon River," that unforgettable song by Henry Mancini. If there was any question about the movie's deeper themes or the seemingly- odd title of the film (hint: re-watch the opening sequence where Holly is nibbling on a pastry,) the lyrics (including such nice phrases as "two drifters out to see the world, there's such a lot of world to see...") will sum things up nicely.

Babes in Toyland

Written by one of Walt Disney's "9 Old Men," this 1961 musical has "animated film" embedded in its DNA. Even though it is live action,it looks, feels, and sounds, like a Disney cartoon from the same decade. Mother Goose Land is a world where characters get bonked on the head resulting in animted stars, where characters perform 50-foot death stunts in midair, where tealking trees are commonplace, and where picturesque gardens are pulled straight out of a Mary Blair painting. Towards the end of the film, audiences are treated to a brilliant and (at the time,) state of the art stop-motion sequence involving toy soldiers going to war. This was several years before Rankin Bass pioneered the stop-motion art form and it is still a delightful bit of innovation in the studio's history. The human performances, (with the exception of Annette Funicello's flatly-delivered Mary,) are flashy and appropriately over-the-top. Ray Bolger's Barnaby is the perfect steretypical evil villian, (the live-action equivalent of Snidley Whiplash and the spiritual predecessor of "Meet the Robinsons" Bowler Hat Guy); even though Bolger's Scarecrow days were decades in the past, the guy can still deliver great twisty dance moves and maniacally evil facial expressions. Henry Calvin (Zorro's Sergeant Garcia,) plays the fat Gonzorgo who looks like a bumbling oversized hard-boiled egg. His sidekick, Gene Sheldon's Rodrigo (also a Zorro regular, playing the mute Bernard,) has a flat-footed walk and giant shoes, and I felt like I was watching one of Robert Zemeckis' fantastical performance capture experiences than traditional live action. Even Tommy Sands, who plays Tom, has a lot of fun during the hilarious gypsy witch scene.

With all the good aspects about "Babes in Toyland," this is not Disney's finest film, as there are numerous plot holes preventing it from receiving a full five-star rating. Most glaringly is Bo Peep's sheep; our heroes set out on a journey through the Forest of No Return and Toyland to retrieve the sheep, but no only are the sheep never found, but they are never mentioned again (Poor Mary Mary Quite Contrary; she may have to walk on her hands to save cost in shoe repairs afterall for income.) Also, the climatic fight between Barnaby and Tom in miniature form on the Toy Maker's workshop floor could have easily been stopped if only Annette chose to stop on Barnaby instead of cowering from the sidelines like a mountain-sized damsel in distress. Finally, the film uses too much plot exposition before getting to the "good stuff." Audiences have to wait exactly ONE HOUR before Toyland is even mentioned.


A letdown of Godzilla-sized proportions; director Gareth Edwards had the golden opportunity to forever wipe the memory of the 1998 Godzilla from all memory... but instead, this version repeats the same old mistakes: dumb acting, insincere human drama, clueless military personnell demonstrating the dictionary version of "insanity," and a monster that hardly appears in its own movie. Did Gareth Edwards even want to make this movie? Halfway through this mess, I got a sense that the only reason this piece of junk was made was to create a quick and cheap answer to last year's superior "Pacific Rim," which had story, drama, and actual scenes of monsters fighting. Two times in this film, the big showdown between Godzilla and the evil monsters was cut off from view, (either by a closing door or an annoying camera pan,) forcing audiences to listen to more woe-is-me descriptions of human death toll, just to prove society is living in a post-Katrina world. There was only one scene in the entire two-hour film that I enjoyed, and this was the moment Godzilla ignited his tail and spikes with neon blue, resulting in an awesome fire belch: this was classic Godzilla. But as far as the rest of the film, it was a very paint-by-the-numbers, and I felt like a kid being promised a trip to Disneyland, only to find out that it was all a mistake. This is the first film I have seen directed by Gareth Edwards and knowing that he has been accepted into the Lucasfilm fold, I am suddenly very very very scared for 2016's Star Wars spinoff film.

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride

It's like Nightmare Before Christmas, but without all the fun.

The Mummy
The Mummy(1999)

This film injects new life into the 1932 Universal monster movie starring Boris Karloff, which had been sitting untouched in the annals of cinematic history like a predynastic period artifact. While the older "classic" Mummy movie was lacking in action, this version makes up for it with enough swashbuckling joy to make Indiana Jones blush. Bredan Fraser makes a splendid action hero, able to deliver both punches and wisecracks. Rachel Weisz, in turn, breaths new life into the leading lady, though I'm disappointed filmmakers never used the original film's plot twist of her being the reincarnated maiden from Egyptian history.

This film was made during a very exciting time in cinematic history. In 1999, films like "Matrix," "Stuart Little," and of course, "Phantom Menace," were pushing the limits of what is visually possible. The title character in this film is a mummy who talks, breaths, and fights, but is also literally falling apart, and has a transparent head that could not be pulled off even during Karloff's most extravigant makeovers. Scenes of severed mummy arms cruising across floors, or mummies scaling catacomb walls like bugs had never been seen before; "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Lord of the Rings" seem a little less original after viewing this film.

The downside of this 1999 "Mummy" remake is that the action is often taken too far; the swashbucking takes much of the original's dramatic tense moments away. While Boris Karloff's 1932 film is sparse and lacking in many areas, it did contain a creep factor that this film never came close to achieving, despite the beetles crawling inside dead corpses' mouths. In short, this movie is good but overstuffed. There is way too much happening at times for its own good.

Mad Monster Party

45 years before Genndy Tartakovsky released his graveyard smash, "Hotel Transylvania," Rankin-Bass pioneered the monsters-meeting-in-one-locale-for-comic-fun genre. This groovy, musical, B-film assembled all the major monster antagonists popularized by the old Universal horrors of the 30s-50s. Their comic interplay is still fresh and original. (Dracula: "Francesca, you have always been my type. O-negative, isn't it?") The obvious inspiration for Tartakovsky, "Mad Monster Party" contains Rankin-Bass's signature gummy-armed puppetry, but the increased ridiculous humor, witty dialogue, and pop cultural gags makes this a departure for Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass' normal conservative holly-jolly Yuletide television specials.

Mad Monster Party has a very interesting voice cast; even though the list of monsters and ghouls was quite expansive, there are only four actors providing principle vocalizations. Boris Karloff loans the croons to his stop-motion alter ego, Professor Frankenstein, inventor and master of all monsters. Phyllis Diller plays, basically, a green version of herself, named The Monster's Mate. Gale Garnett voices Francesca, professor Frankenstein's masterpiece creation; I really wonder what kind of dirty thoughts were going through the old man's head during Francesca's creation, as she is the 1960s equivalent of Jessica Rabbit: red hair, Bond Girl face, and very, very prominent boobs. (Again, another huge departure for Rankin-Bass's team.) But the grand prize in voice-work goes to Allen Swift who must have lost his voice by the end of the recording session; Swift provides the speaking roles and noises to not only the nerdy main protagonist Felix Flankin, (putting on his best Jimmy Stewart imitation,) but every other character in the film including Yetch, Dracula, Werewolf, and even mafia Chef Machievelli!

The songs are catchy and bursting with the decade's free-spirit, particularly the love ballad "Never Was A Love like Mine" sung by Gale Garnett. Also notable is the hilarious "Mummy" rock song performed by four British skeletons in mod haircuts and guitars (hmmmmm...I wonder who they could have been in another life?) "Mad Monster Party" has been a Halloween classic for my family for years and I find it shameful that casual moviegoers haven't embraced it like other ghoul-themed spooktaculars like "Tim Burton's A Nightmare Before Christmas."

The only major drawback I had with this film was that several scenes seemed to be pointless "filler" in order to extend the movie's length time from mere television special to full-length feature; Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass' incredible track record of successful, 45-minute holiday specials include, (but is not limited to,) "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," "Jack Frost," "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus," and "Santa Claus is Comin' To Town." A scene trim here or there would have served this film well, particularly in early sequences; (did we really need to see every single monster coming on board the ship, or learn about all the monsters' sleeping habits in the castle?) But these fillers were not as horrendous as the studio's later bore "Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July," which took a 45-minute short and stretched it like taffy into a full-length movie. Overall, this film is a winner, a nice departure for the stop-motion studio, and I hope it will be rediscovered by future generations.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Why does every "reboot" have to be dark and gritty as if directed by Christopher Nolan? Fans of the original 1968 "Planet of the Ape" flick, beware; this is not the sci-fi classic you know and cherish. It seems like filmmakers' primary intent was to add a layers of dark broodiness and to showcase the advancements in eye-movement-simulating performance capture. Those CG apes were quite stunning... 60% of the time. But once they started crashing through windows, falling 300 feet onto solid concrete and broken glass shards unhurt and unscathed, I lost all interest in the reality of this stretched and outlandish storyline. While chimps, orangutans, and gorillas are incredibly strong and scary beasts by nature, they are not indestructible terminators that can take down armed resistance of humans equipped with guns and armored vehicles. The androids in "I Robot," (which this film tried hard to imitate in more than a few scenes,) could get away with near-superhero strength only because they were metallic, but apes should never have had the strength to succeed in their plot....which leads me to another thing which puzzled me about this film:
Caesar's plot.
We as audiences understand the bitterness Andy Serkis' Caesar felt when abandoned by his father figure James Franco, how he felt moral wrong by being leashed like a common pet, and how his freedom was never fulfilled under human control. My big question is this: what was the point of this big all-out assault on the human race??? Killing off Tom Felton (who, by the way, still acted as if he hadn't left the Harry Potter set,) was understandable, but there was no reason to cause mayhem to the entire city of San Francisco. If those laboratory drugs within Caesar's mind and genetic makeup were really "intelligence-enhancing" drugs, where is the intelligence in massive, senseless warfare? Perhaps the chimps had read a book by Donald Rumsfeld before setting off on their crusade of mayhem and dominance. For a being disgusted by human frailties, Caesar duplicated the worst of humankind, making him the biggest fool in the entire film.
On a positive note, the performance capture work simulating Caesar and the other apes was convincing a good 60% of the time, particularly in scenes when the apes were confined in a prison-like facility and they interacted in wordless conversations. My favorite sequences were those where NO humans appeared at all, and the apes communicated through gestures, grunts, and groans. While many people criticized the film for its usage of subtitles in one or two scenes, I found this to be creepy and satisfying, and it allowed us to get into the heads of our hominid protagonists. Another thing worth mentioning is the plot twist of the virus that killed humans; a virus is the most effective way for apes to kill off the human species, and the end credits showing a simplistic world map and ominous red lines crisscrossing the globe in menacing expansion, was an elegant and simple way to say something "big" in a short amount of time without having to launch into Lord-of-the-Rings monologues about how "the world is in darkness, and our race is in trouble, blah, blah, blah..."
All in all, the positive is overshadowed by the negative in this film for reasons already described. If you are interested in films that spend an awful long time explaining how things came to be and then abruptly ending when the pieces are set in place, than this film is for you.
For me, however, I'll stick with Roddy McDowell in a plastic monkey mask.

Spirit - Stallion of the Cimarron

I am astounded that this film received as little attention as it did during its initial theatrical release. With critics raving about the artistic usage of silence and minimal dialogue in the first half of Pixar's over-rated "Wall-E," this film accomplishes the same feat, but in higher quantities and better taste; in fact, it consistantly uses music, natural sounds, and no character dialogue throughout the MAJORITY of the film's running time. This is even more impressive considering the fact that its release was smack-dab in the post-Shrek world, an era of American animation characterized by cranked up noise, crude humor, and sarcastic wisecracks. "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron" is a beautiful film that features some of the most spectacular horse movements I've seen in animation. One can clearly get a sense of Spirit's power, rippling muscles, and, untamed speed; in addition, through memorable songs by Bryan Adams, (such as the show-stopper "Here I Am,") the horse's quest for freedom in an American West slowly becoming domesticated by man was pretty powerful. Though "Lilo & Stitch" got most of the spotlight in 2002, "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron" is a hidden gem that should be seen by all families.

While never overly walloping audiences over the head with its message and seriousness, the film does contain more drama than Dreamwork's previous "Road To El Dorado" and comes surprisingly close to matching "Prince of Egypt" for thematic elements and situations. The animation has been famously noted for its 'tradigital' techniques, a hybridization of 2D and 3D CGI; while artists could have toned down the realistic portrayal of running water and rocks, much of these distractions occur in the first half of the film and are not nearly as awful as the 'tradigital,' eye-gorging monstrosity, better known as "Titan A E," two years earlier. Apart from the occasional mismatch of animation styles, the film does get a bit monotonous towards the middle, with Spirit getting captured, breaking free, getting captured, breaking free, getting captured.... This kinda gets tiresome after a while. But setting aside these flaws, this is a great horse flick that can be watched by equine lovers everywhere, alongside "The Black Stallion," "Black Beauty," "Hidalgo," and particularly the recent "War Horse," which borrowed a lot from this film.

Despicable Me 2

This is a very entertaining movie distinguished by the same brand of retro visuals, witty humor, and over-the-top characters as its predecessor. I was disappointed, however, in the absence of my favorite character Vector, Gru's opposing super villain. Instead of Vector, we get Kristin Wiig's Lucy who is, initially, annoying; however, Lucy's character grows on audiences and she is quite funny as the film progresses. The minions are more tolerable this time around, partly because I was expecting their bickering mumbo jumbo, and partly because they were actually an integral part of the plot. Even the villainous El Macho was a funny character.
I liked how much of the movie was set in "normal" locations and that care and detail was given to making these venues seem interesting; what other cartoon of recent memory is set primarily in a shopping mall and a Mexican restaurant? I was reminded in many ways of Disney's television show Kim Possible, which also combined James Bond-esque antics with normal urban settings and everyday situations.
My main complaint with the film, however, is that the title "Despicable Me 2" is out of place. Gru never does anything "despicable" in the entire film, except maybe freeze-gun a kid towards the end of the film and break a few things. Ever since his drastic personality change in the first film, Gru is no longer the type of guy who would steal the moon or run over cars for the sake of being evil. This sequel should have been called "Overprotective Spy Dad," which better describes the plot. While Gru is still a funny person, I miss his old "despicable" ways.

The LEGO Movie

The Lego Movie came out of nowhere to be one of the biggest hits of 2014. Defying all odds, this little film proved that audiences can be enthralled for 90+ minutes by abstract little plastic men and women with limited facial features. In order for this to work, the script HAD to be darned-near perfect, and what we got was one of the freshest animated screenplays I've heard in a long, long time. Very rarely have I seen an animated movie whose script is so full of random jokes and witty humor, throwing curveballs whenever I expected to hear something standard and cliche; I give 10 points to filmmakers for this unexpected treat. Even more unbelievable is that filmmakers achieved all this without making audiences feel for a second that "The Lego Movie" is just a big toy commercial, which it obviously is.
The movie plays to all audiences, from older individuals certain Lego is just a "highly sophisticated interlocking brick system," to younger kids more interested in fun imaginative spectacle and unlimited imagination. In the world of Chris Pratt's goody-goody Emmett Brickowski, vehicles and buildings can be made from scratch, characters' heads can turn 360 degrees, and there are things like talking Uni-kitties and giant lumbering, transforming pirates made from bits and pieces of various Lego pirate sets. Visual animation, (done by "Happy Feet"'s Animal Logic Animation,) also goes above and beyond; while filmmakers could have easily resorted to smooth, traditional CG animation like various LEGO video games or the direct-to-video "Clutch Powers" movie, they wisely went for a more rickety, "real" stop-motion look, with enough organic jerkiness to give Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox" a run for its money. Every scratch and dent and plastic molding mark can be seen on the Lego minifigure characters, and I felt like I was watching real toys being photographed and animated.
Morgan Freeman as Vestuvius is particularly funny as he embodies the useless-old-man wizard, whose specialty is withholding valuable information till it's too late. This film also had a huge gathering of recognizable faces, from movie characters like Batman, Wonder Woman, C3PO, Albus Dumbledore, and Michaelangelo (from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,) to several real-life figures such as Shaquille O'Neill and even Abraham Lincoln. The last time I had seen such a large and diverse cast of animated characters from so many different brands starred together in unification was back in 1988 when Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, and Betty Boop starred side-by-side in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."
Finally, in the aftermath of Disney's mega-hit "Frozen," this film continues the trend of including memorable tunes that one can sing along to, even after the movie has ended; the song in the Lego Movie is "Everything is Awesome," which is, to put it plainly, one AWESOME catchy tune..

How to Train Your Dragon 2

If there was one Summer 2014 film that deserved a higher box office intake, it would be "How to Train Your Dragon 2." For the most part, this sequel takes the best of the original film and flies away to new heights, resulting in one of the boldest undertakings in Dreamworks Animation's history. The action sequences are more epic than the first film. The character interaction is more believable than the first film. The characters' facial expressions are also at least twice as expressive as before. The playful bonding between Hiccup and Toothless are even more like a boy-and-his-dog. If the 2010 "How to Train Your Dragon" is "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," than "How to Train Your Dragon 2" is the "Prisoner of Azkaban." It is that good.
I must note that this new film is surprisingly dark, which is odd, since Cartoon Network's "Riders of Berk," (which served as a half-hour promotional advertisement before this film's release,) was fairly lighthearted in nature. A major character dies towards the end of this film, instantly making this the modern generation's equivalent of "Lion King," "Land Before Time," or "Bambi." Such unexpected trauma may have kept families away from the cinemas, but I also suspect that the mediocre box office reception was due to the unusual lack of slapstick humor kids love so much, (stuff prevalent in Dreamworks hits like "Madagascar" and "Shrek.") I was surprised by how much character-building dialogue was in this film, particularly an extended sequence between Astrid and Hiccup sitting together in the grass early on. Also, the tender dialogue during the initial meeting of Stoik and his long-lost wife Valka seemed more appropriate in a live action fantasy film, and are rarely seen in animation, (unless you include anime.) But don't get me wrong: I loved these out-of-the-box surprises, and I wish Dreamworks would do it more often. This is really the first time the studio has attempted a serious film since Moses split the Red Sea in "Prince of Egypt."
One more original aspect of How to Train Your Dragon 2 that set it apart from standard animated sequels is that filmmakers deliberately chose to age the characters appropriately. Hiccup is clearly five years older than he was in the first movie; while taller and more "filled out" in physical form, he is still no buff athlete and is clearly the same "Hiccup" we know and love. But he still looks a bit different. Viking Chief Stoik clearly has a few more grey hairs than last time we saw him. Astrid is perhaps the most different looking as she not only developed quite a bit physically, but her costume is furrier and fluffier this time around, as if Berk dropped another hundred degrees in temperature.
While the film was generally a masterful feat, (particularly in Acts I and II,) the ending did have a been-there, done-that feel, which was the main issue I had with the original "How to Train Your Dragon." (This may be director Dean Deblois' Achilles heel, as Act III in his debut film "Lilo & Stitch" also seemed a bit cliche and rushed.) In addition, I find it hard to believe how so many characters
are able to train dragons on their own (Valka, bad-guy Drago, etc) and it makes Hiccup's initial meeting with Toothless in the forest during the first film less special. I find it particularly laughable how Drago was able to tame and lord around an Alpha dragon Bewilderbeest the size of a mountain. That defies logical explanation, especially for an animated film that tried so hard in every other way to be believable.

The Three Caballeros

The 1944 Three Caballeros is that one Disney animated classics that many have heard about, but few have actually seen. The second of Walt Disney's goodwill South-of-the-Border awareness movies, (the first being Saludos Amigos,) this one is also a combination of live action footage from Latin American countries and animated segments. The animated portions are brilliantly crafted, particularly the colorful, Fantasia-esque Mexican patterns and dancing cacti towards the end of the movie, which is part of Donald Duck's dreamlike hallucination. This film was so ahead of its time, it elicited feelings of "psychedelic" before that term was even popularized two decades later. Also featured is a short featurette about a boy with a flying donkey, as well as comical Sterling Hathaway-narrated featurette about a penguin seeking to find a warmer climate to live in. Donald Duck is the primary character for much of the film, though we get a reappearance from Jose Carioca the parrot gentleman from Saludos Amigos, as well as gun-toting, loud-mouthed Panchito Pistoles, a Mexican rooster wearing a giant sombrero. This movie is a lot of fun to watch, though it does at times, (particularly the Baa sequence,) feel like a favorable social studies lesson to ease political tensions during the war-era of the 1940s.

Be Kind Rewind

This film was funny; this film was campy; this film showcased the wild acting talents of Jack Black... however, due to an over reliance of plot exposition and background history of certain characters, Be Kind Rewind was bogged down and did not have the spontaneity it needed to stand alongside cheap, campy 80s "junk" like Nick Moranis and Dave Thomas' "Strange Brew," (which also relied on cheap film techniques.) In turn, the film had some really weak plot devices to lead up to Jack Black and Mos Def's remaking of famous films. There should have been some funnier and more logical way to erase hundreds of VHS tapes than reverting to the getting-hit-by-lightning routine (which also begs the question: why didn't Jack Black erase the new VHS movies he and Mos Def had created?) Good performances from Danny Glover and Melanie Diaz.


This is one of the better "talking dog" movies I've seen; it is certainly better than Cats & Dogs and its sequel. However, aspects of the plot and the "family before work" theme seems reused, and had been done better by many family films in the past couple decades. I was amazed by how well-trained many of the animals were; while its overreliance on CGI was unnecessary in some parts, many of the effects surprised me for a film this low-key.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

I hate Jerry Bruckheimer. No, I mean, I REALLY hate Jerry Bruckheimer, so much that I cringe every time his moving logo of the lightning hitting the tree appears before opening credits. This film puts into play every negative aspect that bothered me with his previous films: twisting history and reality for the sake of more action, convoluted plots, unnecessary chase scenes, the sexist portrayal of women, the over-achieving heroism of men, and (worst of all,) the overly-commercialized cliff-hanger ending that sets up future cash-grabs.

What made "Sorcerer's Apprentice" such a shame to watch was that I actually enjoyed it up to a point. That's right. Act 1 and a portion of Act 2 I actually ENJOYED. The beginning story set-up with the Wizards and the dragon ring and the Grimhold was interesting; there was clever dialogue and situations ("Are you crazy?!?" Nicholas Cage makes a gesture meaning: 'a little.'), and Jay Baruchel's awkwardness was hilarious. (This was the first time I had seen Baruchel in live-action; previously, I was familiar with the guy as simply the voice of Hiccup from "How To Train Your Dragon.") Even Nicholas Cage was entertaining as Merlin's heir Balthazar. However, after the pointless tie-in to Walt Disney's Fantasia involving Baruchel's failed attempt to clean the facility using the untested magic of anthropomorphic brooms and mops, "Sorcerer's Apprentice" spiraled into typical Bruckheimer fare. Explosions abound. Chase scenes ensue. The Grimhold gets tossed around like kids playing a game of hot potato. Women are A) sex objects B) unspeakable evils that must be squashed and/or C) a plot stall. In the end, boy gets girl. Balthazar dies but he doesn't die. Mankind is saved from womankind by cleverness and young guys filling their "old man's shoes." And, of course, there's the inevitable cliff-hanger. While I was not expecting refined drama and excellence from a summer film intended for mere entertainment, Disney should really try harder. With the financial disappointment of "Prince of Persia" and the laughable flop which was "The Lone Ranger," perhaps audiences are getting wiser by avoiding these poor-man-Spielberg movies.

Life of Pi
Life of Pi(2012)

Life of Pi is one of those movies that is wonderful to watch, but would have seemed even more brilliant if I had not read the source material beforehand. As a lover of Yann Martel's unforgettable novel, I found this film adaption leaning too heavily on computer-generated spectacle intensifying the sinking ship, the rolling sea waves, and the initial cat-and-mouse encounters between Pi and Richard Parker. Thank goodness the quality of CG effects was brilliant, as otherwise this film would have felt like a cartoon. Rhythm & Hues, the late special effects studio in charge of the numerous simulated animals and environments produced some of their best work to date; I was truly convinced that Richard Parker was a living, breathing Bengal Tiger after Pi's throat. In turn, the colorful psychedelic sequences of color and light were also a wonder to behold, even though a certain night scene featuring glowing jellyfish and algae screamed "Let's cash in on Avatar's Pandora." Ang Lee did a fine job handling the narration, with the back-and-forth interplay from present to past; Martel's writing was too good to leave out, and the best of the novel's written passages were incorporated into Pi's retelling, down to the spot-on perfect final conversation he has with the two officials from the Japanese Ministry of Transport. This shocking revelation of the symbolic nature of the zoo animals was by far the best part of the film (and novel) and it ended the film in a satisfying and melancholy manner. As far as an emotional ride, Life of Pi scaled back the spiritual and emotional journey of Pi lost at sea; I never got the sense that the boy was stranded on sea for 230 days, as he looked and acted like he was lost for 2 or 3 months. My favorite part of the novel, which was the humorous three-way fight between the Christian, Hindu, and Muslim priests, was left absent. Even more frustrating is the absence of Pi's conversation with Richard Parker; this was a total, complete missed opportunity, as CG could have been used very well to create a talking Bengal tiger. Suraji Sharma, who played Pi, and Irrfan Khan, who portrayed Pi's adult-self, were very well acted and memorable. I wish I could say the same thing about Rafe Spall, whose overly-amazed interjections stuck out like a sore thumb.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson may have just created his masterpiece, which I had previously thought impossible, as his previous three efforts, "Moonrise Kingdom," "Fantastic Mr. Fox," and "Darjeeling Limited" were a few of my favorite films of all times. This film is a joy to watch, as Anderson employs his signature centered camera shots, his painstakingly perfect color schemes looking like they had been ripped out of the pages of Vogue, and his innocent doll-house-like arrangements. While the overall weirdness of the story and the occasional violent scene prevents the film from being in the "total pure cinematic goodness" territory like "Moonrise Kingdom," the end result shows Anderson has reached new heights, as he took everything that made his films great and up'ed it up a notch.

Like all of Anderson's films, this one weaves a deep symbolic truth about humanity alongside a comedy filled with fabulously-acted and fabulously-dressed characters. From the distinct purple Lobby Boy hat and straight mustache worn by Zero Moustafa to the birth mark shaped like Mexico on the flour-powdered face of Agatha, these bubbly, over-the-top people are all Andersonian. I wish I knew them all. This film succeeds more than his past efforts because the comedy and sense of danger is increased to a point of occasional slapstick, which hasn't been done on this level since his "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou." The numerous scenes of people falling off mountain cliffs, prisoners crawling through sewers, angry men punching each other in the faces and tossing cats out the window, are all done as seriously as possible. The end result is completely hilarious. Complementing the funny parts in the same way salt adds flavor to a chocolate chip cookie, there are some really deep symbolic tie-ins with the historical situations that started World War I. The fictitious Grand Budapest Hotel, which sits on top a mountain in a fictitious European country is, in essence, Europe before 1914: peaceful, impressive, majestic, the place every rich person would visit. But now, it is a shabby place in ruins. Still functional, still grand in its own way, but no longer magical. This is apparent in the film's first (and last) moments when an old Gustave H, famed concierge of the hotel, sits depressed in his drabby orange-1960s-style carpeted lobby, unrecognized by many. And it is not just the hotel that symbolizes Europe before its fall. The surrounding landscape becomes a tumultuous maze of crime, murder, deceit, and confusion. Just like World War I, the plot gets so complicated, nobody knows what is going on by the end, and as a result, 30 people aim guns at each other in the hotel's great lobby and shoot at each other nonstop in the greatest gun show since the OK Coral. Some of the events leading up to the shootout include: the death of a rich lady (Tilda Swindon,) her complicated will, the true possession (and theft) of her famous painting "Boy With Apple," the lady's rich evil son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) who would stop at nothing to see Gustave H done away with, Willem Dafoe's J G Jopling, the hired assassin, and Agatha (Sairse Ronan) who aids in Gustave H's jailbreak through her talent of pastry-making. As mentioned before, the characters are very distinct, very unique, and I fell in love with all of them. I would like to have a posable collector's doll of each and every one to set on the mantelpiece. Gustave H is believable, despite his obsession with Romantic-era poetry and the impossible situations he is put through. (At one point in the film he is imprisoned, but escapes by digging through six feet of concrete from his cell using spoons, small pick-axes and hammers.) His lobby boy, Zero Moustafa, is just as likable. The unusually-large cast also sees the returns of Wes Anderson favorites like Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, and Bob Balaban. The cost in casting all these A-star actors and actresses probably made up the majority of the film's budget. In short, I was impressed with The Grand Budapest Hotel for its sheer imagination, truthful historical undertones, pumped-up action/comedy, and the wonderful characters. If you love Wes Anderson, please watch "The Grand Budapest Hotel." If you don't know who Wes Anderson is, please watch "The Grand Budapest Hotel" because it's about time you learned.

The Wind Rises

The world lamented when director Hayao Miyazaki revealed that The Wind Rises, (Kaze Tachinu,) was to be his last feature-length film. Over the decades, the man has produced some of the most memorable animated experiences, from the high-flying adventure Laputa: Castle in the Sky, the medieval epic Princess Mononoke, to the charming and cuddly My Neighbor Totoro. In comparison to these classics, The Wind Rises is, as much as it pains me to say it, far less memorable. Part of the problem may have to do with Miyazaki San's claim that he has "reached his limit" and is out of creative ideas; a second, and more plausible, reason is the source material. The Wind Rises is Studio Ghibli's first biographical film. Basically, this two hour animated film is the more-or-less truthful account of Jiro Horikoshi, Japanese aircraft designer who brought to life the infamous Mitsubishi A6M Zero, a war plane responsible for the deaths of thousands during World War II. You might be scratching your head by now: "why make a movie about this guy? That doesn't sound interesting." And the truth is, Jiro's life was not very interesting, though Miyazaki tried extremely hard to bring the wide-eyed wonder of Jiro's creative struggle and the devastation of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 to life. From the material he was given, Miyazaki succeeds. However, like many biopic films before, this film does not have a powerful story arc, and seemed more like a series of events, which is how true-stories often play out. Even more frustrating is Miyazaki's decision to incorporate his trademark nature-vs.-war message, (best seen in Princess Mononoke,) into The Wind Rises. The result was a weaker film with a conflicted message; one one hand, Jiro Horikoshi wanted to be the greatest aircraft designer of his age, but on the other hand, he was warned numerous times by his hallucinatory-mentor Caproni that airplanes, as beautiful as they may be, will eventually be used for war and bloodshed. Jiro's painstaking effort to make his architectural dream a reality seemed a bit unscrupulous and unwise. The film's tone was not particularly devastating or serious, and the actual war often referenced was never shown. I also had a big problem with Jiro himself as a character. Again, I hate to say this, as Miyazaki is one of my favorite filmmakers, but the main character's actions, intentions, and personality was a bit... robotic. Even characters in the movie laughed when the man got married, as they thought that he loved airplanes so much he was going to marry one. Now, I did not mind the detailed technical descriptions of the planes, particularly the clever cross-section method Miyazaki used to show audiences the internal guts and framework of the vehicles; in many ways, this anime reminded me of The Right Stuff, which went in-depth into the creation of the X-1 and Mercury spacecrafts during the Space Race. The film, while being the highest-grossing title of 2013 in Japan, received harsh criticism from local critics for being un-Japanese and unpatriotic; all these claims are totally justifiable, as numerous characters repeatedly bash Japan for being backwards, simultaneously praising the technical achievements of the German Nazis. As an American, this kinda rubbed me the wrong way.

Finally, the ending was a bit odd. I did like the airplane graveyard Jiro sees in a dream, where the wrecked frames of planes litter the once-beautiful meadow, and the memories of the planes go into the sky, very similar to that one unearthly sequence in Porco Rosso. However, I was put off when Jiro's wife ***spoiler*** dies in a very subtle manner. She does say a few farewell words but then she just... fades. (She did not go to heaven, but the planes did?!?) Planes are great, but they should not be viewed higher than fellow human beings. If Jiro felt any bit of remorse for his actions, they were not apparent to me. Like a robot, he was just doing what he was programmed to do: make beautiful airplanes. On the good side, The Wind Rises had some awesome animation, as typical with all Ghibli works. In fact, if airplanes are your thing, than this had THE best animation, outdoing the flying scenes in both Laputa and Porco Rosso; the level of skill and patience these artists put into recreating every nut and bolt on these historical flying machines was commendable. I also enjoyed the humanization of the machines, where engine sputters, piston explosions, and propeller hums seemed to be performed by human voices; this added a retro quality to the film because such sound effects were done by people in old movies. The dream sequences between Hiro and legendary Italian designer Caproni were brilliant, and these remained my favorite scenes in the entire film. They were whimsical, impossible to achieve in live action, and classic Hayao Oh-My-God-That's-Clever-Miyazaki. Overall, I give this film 3 out of 5 stars, as it is perhaps Hayao Miyazaki's weakest effort, but as a film it is pretty good, if a bit technical, and leans on the unemotional and technical. I am a bit worried how Studio Ghibli will fare without the master, and the fact that his last work was less than stellar. Hopefully, Hayao Miyazaki will still work in the studio to assist the upcoming rising anime stars Goro Miyazaki and Hiromasa Yonebayashi.

The Dark Knight Rises

*spoilers* The final installment of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is, to put it bluntly, a half-baked effort. While the script had plenty of unexpected twists and turns, it never reaches the height of perfection, which is Heath Ledger's creepy and smart dialogue that filled the previous installment, The Dark Knight. Tom Hardy's portrayal of Bane, I'm afraid to say, cannot fill the Joker's enormous shoes, and while the guy's unsettlingly smooth voice and unlawful actions are clever, he comes off as a second-rate villain; Bane's plot to keep control through mass hysteria by placing the fate of the entire city in the hands of paranoid civilians is a rip-off of a memorable sequence from the last film. I felt that so much more could have been done, creatively speaking, to cap off Nolan's visionary portrayal of the Caped Crusader. As a positive note, I did get a smirk out of the whole political aspect of the film, particularly Gotham's war between the 1% and the deprived 99. Overthrowing the police force, the justice system, and, basically, anybody with cash lining their expensive pockets, is a clever metaphor to Occupy Wall Street, which occurred during the time of this film's shooting. In turn, Gary Oldman continues to impress as Commissioner Gordon.
Apart from recycled story elements and a villain that cannot match its predecessor, I must point out another element about Dark Knight Rises which let me down: Catwoman. Now, the classic, jewel-thief character did not bother me, per se; in fact, Anne Hathaway seemed born to play the part. What bothered me was that the character's potential was greatly reduced to 1960'ish 'meow' jokes, fake-looking leg props kicking bad guys in the faces, and countless shots of Hathaway's leather-clad behind perched atop a speeding motorbike. It becomes very clear towards the final minutes of the film that Catwoman's primary function in this film is to persuade female viewers that Nolan is not sexist when Marion Cotillard's Miranda, the strongest female character in the film, suddenly replaces Bane as the true villain in an unexpected (and highly illogical) plot twist. I detest when superhero/action films attempt to gain viewer's sympathy by delving into the villains' tear-ridden past; Dark Knight Rises is no exception. We learn all about Bane's struggles and how darkness (both literal and figurative) and brutal imprisonment led to his ultimate despicable nature. I'm sorry, but I found the whole flashback sequence pointless, especially after the fact that Bane had murdered an army of people; at this stage in the film I did not CARE how he became evil. The final problem I had with Dark Knight Rises is the ending. While the origins of Robin are revealed, it makes me wonder how Batman is going to return (especially with the knowledge that both director Nolan and Christian Bale will not be returning in 2016's Batman vs. Superman.) To sum up Dark Knight Rises, I was let down, partly because several new characters were undeveloped, and partly because the film could not compare to its superior installment. (Oh, Heath Ledger, why, oh why did you have to die?!?)

Spice World
Spice World(1998)

This frolicking British flick is colorfully insane every second of the way; this can clearly be seen from the impossibly-campy antics experienced by the Spice Girls between traveling tours to the girls' signature over-the-top costumes. The movie pokes fun at the girls' struggles with celebrity fame, media morons trying too hard to cash in on their brand and, of course, those malicious men who would love nothing more than to see the musical quintet dead in the eyes of the public. Borrowing more than a page from The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, Spice World highlights the girls' best songs in strategic, and sometimes unexpected, locations; for example, their legendary "Wannabe" is sung impromptu at a local pub with a boom-box serving as the only musical backdrop. Like the Beatles' films, many numbers take place during concerts or recording sessions; however, unlike the Beatles, who performed glued to their instruments, Geri, Melanie G, Melanie C, Emma, and Victoria provide high-flying choreography in addition to their vocal talents. The ending song "Spice Up Your Life" demonstrates exactly why the girls were so popular. This sequence will make you want to get up and dance.

The film truly encompassed the decade of the 90's: the obsession of retro furniture (just take a look at the interior of that traveling, double-decker bus!), platform boots so high they could reach the stratosphere, healthy amounts of "girl power," and 'anything-goes' fashion ("could somebody please tell me exactly what the dress code is here?" one character remarks). The Spice Girls could have created a convoluted and overly-absorbing piece of cinematic self-promotion, (ie, the Monkees' film "Head,") but they have, instead, gone the more fun and carefree route by placing themselves in comic and embarrassing story-lite situations filled with fun, flair, and secret agents bottle-feeding baby piglets. My favorite sequence in when the girls are put through military training; each of the Spices don a green, unflattering camouflaged army outfit, except for Posh, who still retains her fashionable flash in a short, tight, army-patterned dress. It is silly to watch, sure, but I appreciate how the girls stay true to their public on-stage personas.

The upside and downside of Spice World is that its humor succeeds only half the time. While I believe taking the "campiness" out of the film would have been a major mistake, I also believe the film would have been much stronger as a whole if many jokes had been taken farther, instead of being cut halfway before reaching their humorous pinnacles. One such example is towards the end of the film when the British police stop the girls from reaching their concert at Albert Hall; Baby Spice approaches the officers with a pouty-puff display of innocence. Then... the scene cuts, and the girls (somehow) arrive unscathed to their concert a couple minutes later. If Baby Spice had gone farther in her pleas, (or if Ginger Spice had interfered by whacking the cops across their kissers,) I would have been more satisfied.

But despite the half-hearted attempt at many jokes, the far-fetched nature of the story disguised everything that did not work. I am annoyed by critics (both professional and amateur,) who give Spice World one star out of five. One star? Really? My personal rule-of-thumb is that one shouldn't call a film "cheesy and all-over-the-place" in a condescending manner if the film's intent was to present the world as being, well, cheesy and all-over-the-place. (Extra points to the alien encounter scene.) In all honest, I enjoyed the groovy and rockin' Spice World; while it did not ascend to the heights of A Hard Day's Night or Help, it is on-par with Herman's Hermits' musical comedies of the 60's.

Treasure Island

Still Disney's best pirate movie.

Okami kodomo no ame to yuki (The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki)

Be scared, Studio Ghibli, be very scared. Director Mamoru Hosoda has demonstrated with this impressive anime that he, and his newly-formed Studio Chizu, is on the way to becoming an international household name. The amount of creativity, visual detail, and originality add up to a masterful artistic work that has every right to sit on the DVD shelf alongside past Japanese classics as Spirited Away and Akira. With this being Hosoda's fourth feature-length film, the man is just getting warmed up; I have a positive happy feeling that the best is yet to come.

Originally released in 2012, the same year as Studio Ghibli's sweet-but-safe From Up On Poppy Hill, Wolf Children is, contrastingly bolder, more daring, more memorable, and has more emotional oomph in its first act than Poppy Hill has in its entirety. The original storyline was written and conceived by Hosoda as a parallel between real-life parenthood and the seemingly supernatural bond between parents and children. Hana, a young mother who singularly raises two half-human half-canine pups from the last remaining wolf man, endures the same emotional trauma as any overworked, overstressed contemporary mother; she is a very relatable character to both men and women. The film also deals with bigotry, stereotypes, following one's individual path, and growing up; all these aspects are crafted so well, I never felt for an instant that I was re-watching some recycled product about tolerance and love. The themes were disguised extremely well behind a beautiful backdrop and an enthralling, intriguing concept. Hollywood should watch this movie and take notes; it will help them. The emotions in this film are genuine. Several sequences, including the death of the wolf man and the school fight between Yuke and the schoolboy were the most memorable. There were plenty of humorous sequences too, such as Ame and Yuki's terrorization of the stuffy urban apartment, as well as Yuke's collection of animal bones and live snakes, as part of a failed attempt to fit in with other children. As with Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars, Hosoda knows how to balance comedy with drama; this film shows that his decision-making process has become all-the-more refined. The contrasting life directions both children ultimately take is also unexpected and praiseworthy.

A few problems I had with the plot, however, prevents me from giving the film a full 5-star rating. For starters, what would society and townspeople think of Hana as a considerate mother after they learn about Ame's disappearance at the end? She can't very well explain: "hey, it's ok, he was a WOLF." A second problem with the film is the aforementioned scene when Yuki nearly slices the ear off a fellow classmate. He mistakenly thought a wolf had caused the harm... yet, I found myself asking: "how can you NOT notice what just happened? Can you not see the girl with the pointy ears and wolfish face standing there in front of you?" In addition, this film did not balance the theme of past vs. present as well as previous films. For example, Girl Who Leapt Through Time dealt with the idea that one can mess up his or her life by meddling with the past; Summer Wars blended traditional feudal-age Japanese warfare with the cyber era. With Wolf Children, Hosoda went for a more traditional look and feel, as all the visual images dealt with the natural world and agriculture; (I even learned quite a bit on how to plant potatoes!) There were very few scenes that smashed the old with the new in clever ways, my favorite being the image of the wolf man's driver's license sitting on a shelf in a place of honor. Traditional anime would have settled with the stereotypical motif of an old-faded-photo-in-a-frame motif. These plot holes are few, fortunately, and are overshadowed by the emotional, original narrative.

In short, Mamoru Hosoda, who was once employed by legendary Studio Ghibli, but 'let go' due to creative differences, looks like he may very well become Japan's next anime master. Wolf Children is his third and most impressive work to date. Very soon, Studio Chizu may eclipse the house of Hayao Miyazaki.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

I cannot fully express my disappointment for this movie. While Part 1, An Unexpected Journey, bored audiences to death with its stretching of source material (dedicating almost an hour of screen-time to dwarves eating dinner before the adventure even leaves Bag End,) this second installment does something far worse: it delves into the world of fan fiction. The biggest mistake I made before watching this film was that I read the novel by JRR Tolkien. Bad idea. Peter Jackson & Co. diss source material at every turn, and creates an elaborate series of pointless antics and fluffy filler that has little to no resemblance with Tolkien's vision. It becomes very clear halfway through the film that Jackson is intentionally stalling, and that adapting 7 chapters from an already-slim book is not nearly enough to fill the enormous 2 3/4 hour film duration. There were so many changes from the book that angered me, I lost count. Bear-man Beorn is no longer a humorous hermit but a monologuing bore who speaks of evil using the same tone and mannerisms as Lord Elrond. Offensive. The dragon Smaug is no longer a free agent; he is not bad for the sake of being bad, but is now in cahoots with Sauron, even recognizing the ring and calling it "precious." Offensive. Thorin Oakenshield's quest to take back Erebor is no longer a secret quest, as it seems that most characters, including Thranduil knows about the mission in full detail; (if you stop and think about it, how the hell does Thranduil know this?!? Did Elrond or one of the dwarves text him?!?) Offensive. Invented she-elf Tauriel plays a tough warrior, but her strength quickly deteriorates into a completely unnecessary love triangle with Legolas and, (of all people,) Kili the dwarf. Offensive. While I understand the reason for wanting a somewhat fresh breath of air in a movie filled with clanging swords, spears, and fire, this love triangle could have been handled much better. Kili getting stabbed by a Morgul blade and having Tauriel utter elvish magical words is a complete deja vu to the Frodo/Arwen sequence in Fellowship of the Ring. I felt ripped off. (And as a side note, how did the orc who stabbed Kili come into the possession of a Morgul blade? Morgul blades are rare, but this film makes it sound like you could buy one at any local Wal Mart.) The film should have been renamed Rise of The Lord of the Rings, because, in all honesty, there was more talk about Sauron than Bilbo. In fact, one has to sift through the scenes with a fine comb just to find a sequence primarily about our beloved little burglar. At least the first movie gave Bilbo extended on-screen performances, (the best example being the awesome Riddles in the Dark sequence.) This second time around, Bilbo has a moment or two with the spiders, a moment or two saving the dwarves from the Mirkwood elves, and a completely disappointing showdown with CG dragon Smaug. "Oh, S-S-S-S Smaug the w-w-w-w-w-wonderful!" he sputters while sweet-talking the dragon. And then he runs in fear. That's pretty much all we get from Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins. It's sad, really. The dragon scene should have been Bilbo's time to shine, but filmmakers settled for cheap action sequences and more macho dwarves swinging axes. My final complaint with this film is the ending. The ending was executed so poorly, at least a dozen individuals in the theater raised their hands in annoyance. I don't mind a cliff hanger once in a while, (heck, my favorite movie of 2013, Catching Fire ends with Jennifer Lawrence ready to scream when told that her home got blown to smithereens,) but Peter Jackson takes the cliff-hanging to unhealthy levels. First off, Gandalf is literally hanging off a cliff in a giant bird cage. The dragon is on the way to destroy Laketown. Kili is nearly dead. The orcs are still out there. NOTHING. N-O-T-H-I-N-G gets resolved. It was like a giant hangnail you want to yank out but can't. At least The Two Towers ended with the conclusion of Helm's Deep, a wise decision because it built anticipation for the third installment. Not in Desolation of Smaug. I just wanted to forget the movie and read the book again. With all the negative things I've said here, it is fair to point out the good in this film. This was NOT the worst movie I've seen, not by a long shot, as I do give Desolation of Smaug 2/12 stars (which is more than I gave to the second installment of the Jurassic Park trilogy.) One star goes to the production design. The costumes, sets, computer generated effects, and overall detail was amazing. Several scenes, especially the Guillermo Del Toro-inspired woodsy Mirkwood forest is exactly how I envisioned it. Another full star goes to several successful attempts to fill in potholes left in Tolkien's original text, most notably: what could 13 dwarves and 1 hobbit do when they actually get to Erebor? In the book, there was no plan whatsoever. Here, the dwarves at least have a somewhat creative plan. Finally, the half star I give to Smaug. While the overall design of the dragon was disappointing, his menacing presence, movement, and slithering nature was creepy, impressive, and worth viewing. There is a scene towards the end of the film where Smaug gets dipped in molten gold like a chocolate-dipped ice cream cone at Dairy Queen, and he emerges completely shimmering and reflecting. This one scene was jaw-dropping. Unfortunately, this is pretty much all I can find positive about Desolation of Smaug. As an admirer of Tolkien and a lover of the original children's novel, I was greatly let down. I will take Rankin/Bass' 1977 animated Hobbit over this dreck any day. Due to the constant fiddling with the original narrative, Jackson's obsessive desire to interject as much Sauron as possible, I have lost all desire to see how this overstuffed, fan-fictionalized, action porn will play out in 2014's Hobbit: There And Back Again.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

While this second chapter in the Katniss Everdeen saga was tighter and more focused, there were several areas that could have used additional polishing. As with Lynn Collin's novel, the number of characters was vast, and there was just so little time to properly introduce many of the participating game tributes. A particularly sad missed opportunity was when Katniss watches brief replays of the Reaping in neighboring districts; more time should have been dedicated to the Reaping, as audiences would become familiarized with these characters later in the film, when Katniss eventually teams up during the Quarter Quell games. As is, I was quite pleased with the performances of Jeffrey Wright as BeeTee and Amanda Plummer as Wiress. Of all the new characters, most of the film time was dedicated to top game maker Heavensbee, who is mostly seen in extended conversations with President Snow discussing the most-convenient way to eradicate the wily Katniss Everdeen; these conversations are not actually in the novel, but like the first film, they are drawn from the novel's first person narration, and Katniss' suspicions and internal struggles. My only REAL complaint with Catching Fire is the same complaint I often have with most novel-to-film translations, which is: much non-action details are removed for the sake of keeping the film duration within manageable restraints. (Keep in mind, though that the editing is not abused like many recent book-to-film adaptions like the Harry Potter series and the over-bloated Hobbit films.) While most of the essential plot points were played out just as it was in Collins' novel, several omitted situations would have given the overall film more originality and intrigue. For example, Haymitch's near-death turmoil in the arena would have better explained why the man drinks and this would have also added to his arena knowledge credentials. Other examples of scenes I would have liked to have seen are the two runaway Peace Keepers Katniss meets in the forest near District 12, and the video coverup of District 13. Such scenes would have made the Capitol all the more despicable and would have given the rebels more reason to start a revolution.

However, despite the edits, there is much to love in this second installment. The film keeps intact the main theme, which is that politics itself is a crafty and dirty game and that society as a whole is an inescapable arena to those who are in control. Because of this, I actually felt more drama and dread BEFORE Katniss stepped into the tropical-theme ocean arena. The 75th Quarter Quell, while exciting and ruthless, did not have the same shock appeal as the game portrayed in the first film, and filmmakers had to try even harder to keep audiences at the edge of their seats. Having familiarized myself with this world through the first film, filmmakers rightfully throw us into the story with no prologue, no introduction; in fact, when I watched the film in cinemas, I did not even notice an opening title logo succeeding the Lionsgate Logo. The acting in this film was very satisfying. Jennifer Lawrence, (who, at this moment, is the most well-respected actress to date,) delivers a devastatingly emotional punch not seen in the original Hunger Games. In turn, Josh Hutcherson's Peeta and Woody Harrelson's Haymitch are also believably sympathetic, and they have really grown into their characters. Hunger Games: Catching Fire is my favorite film released in the year 2013 and will be watched for years to come for its political satire, emotionally-charged story, and trailblazing female-empowerment by Jennifer Lawrence.


This may be Disney's best animated effort since Tarzan, and continues the upwards trend of quality starting with 2010's Tangled and continuing with Wreck-It Ralph.

While the animation is expectedly sophisticated, and while the plot line is peppered with unexpected twists, the crowning achievement in Frozen is... the music. Its impressive array of songs, starting with "Do You Want To Build A Snowman?" fancifully introduces audiences to the sister- bonding theme present throughout the film. Frozen successfully did something I never thought possible since the Disney Renaissance of the 90's: it lifted me. In fact, I felt lifted right off my feet as the soundtrack drove the story, giving the film iconic presence, separating it from competitors by miles. Let's face it: recent animated films sound awful; when characters are not telling over-the-top crude jokes to make parents giggle and gag, the soundtrack is filled with jarring snippets of out-of-place 80's oldies. Disney has shown with Frozen that they have stepped above such juvenile pranks by delivering the richest musical experience in an animated film for over a decade. The numbers are Broadway-inspired and add delicious audible layers of joy to the visual experience. The last time Disney attempted this was not long ago: Tangled from 2010 was a somewhat half-baked attempt to bring back the great Disney musical, and it had only one or two songs that I would truly call memorable. Frozen, on the other hand, succeeds in delivering one memorable tune after another. The only song I did not enjoy was that lame, forced song sung by the rock trolls, (which should have been saved as a DVD deleted scene at best.) Idina Menzel's "Let It Go" was the standout moment which demonstrated that Disney is still capable of delivering the WOW, the immortal sequence that sticks in your brain long after you leave the theater. ("Be Our Guest" in Beauty and the Beast is one great example.) The way in which Queen Elsa releases her pent-up fear and uncertainty and single-handedly creates an ice palace from snow and frost, resulting in shimmering spires, polished transparent balconies, and her own sequin gown and snowy-white locks is unforgettable.

The animation is also pleasing, particularly the aforementioned ice effects performed by Elsa. One has to see the snow queen running across a freezing lake creating intricate snowflake patterns to believe it. I did find the CG performances a little stiff compared to the expressive Tangled, however, and less time was taken here to make Anna and Elsa's facial expressions seem special. The few scenes that did match traditional animation in expression was Anna's joyous and bubbly dance around the castle and the hilarious dance performed by the Duke of Weselton.

On the downside: the weak link of Frozen is the story, which proved to be a mixed bag. On the positive side of storytelling, Disney, through the direction of its first female director (Wham! Take that Pixar for your mismanagement of Brenda Chapman during last year's Brave,) delivers what may be the first Disney animated film to successfully deal with the interactions and emotions of two women. As a nice twist, the men in this film are marginalized, fulfilling the traditionally-female role of love interest. **Spoiler** One of the dashing male characters even turns out to be a good-looking double-crosser. **End of Spoiler** As a result, Frozen passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, and is a very good sign that Disney may (finally) be nearing the end of its boys-only, buddy-movie regime, which got old and annoying by the middle of the 00's. I would liked to have seen Anna interacting and chit-chatting more with Elsa and interacting less with minor plot devices such as Olaf the Snowman and Kristoff; the big moment in which Anna meets Elsa and tries desperately to convince her to return home was not the touching woman-to-woman moment I was hoping for, though I do give Disney points for trying. The story element that absolutely, positively did NOT work in this film concerned rock trolls; these annoying roly-poly things ruined every moment they appeared in. The initial inclusion of these characters in the First Act opened up a huge, gaping plot hole, which was: 'if the troll creature-thingies were so powerful, why didn't anyone ask them for help more often? In fact, why couldn't they just resolve Elsa's dilemma in the first place?' The plot point of reindeer-man Kristoff knowing these creatures was also too unbelievable to believe, even for a Disney film, and the inevitable song (which was inappropriately upbeat due to the fact that Anna was DYING,) was sloppily executed. In addition, the designs of these little rock monstrosities were like something out an 80s saturday morning tv show if CG had been rampant in that era. I almost expected Rainbow Bright and the Smurfs to join the frolic at any moment. A second complaint I had with the film had to do with Elsa's secret; where was the logic of Elsa being locked up in her bedroom for over 10 years without Anna even demanding an explanation? The logic gets even foggier once the girls' parents die the inevitable Disney-parent death. Ummm.. who is running the kingdom in the parents' absence? Certainly not bedroom-bound Elsa. Anna? Being a diehard dreamer, I never got the impression that she was capable of ruling a kingdom. If there was a political middle-man somewhere, he definitely didn't make an appearance. My final complaint with Frozen was the opening, in which a very odd choice of music eliciting Brother Bear rubbed me in the worst way possible; the tune made me think of Inuit people, Call of the Wild, Alaskan Cruise Lines, everything BUT a charming fairy tale. Immediately after the title logo appears, we then see a group of macho men with razor sharp saws and ice picks, harvesting frozen H2O from the lake with the same clockwork precision as the Hebrews from the Prince of Egypt. This scene was totally unnecessary and was probably put there to dupe boys in the audience into thinking they weren't watching a "princess-y" movie; this moment put me off almost as much as Zachary Levi's monologue at the start of Tangled, destroying all illusions of majesty and fantasy. As much as I had hoped this film to be cinematic perfection, these faults prevent me from giving Frozen a perfect 5.0 score. The plot holes, the rock gnomes, and a couple other factors, all strip Frozen of being able to sit alongside Disney's finest classics like Pinocchio, Beauty and the Beast, (or even Tarzan and Mulan when you look at the piece as a whole.) However, despite its faults, Frozen has enough goodness to show that Disney has regained its "Groove" after losing it to Emperor Kuzco back in 2000. To intentionally quote Anna in one of the film's better songs: "For the first time in forever, there'll be magic, there'll be fun." Frozen had magic. Frozen had fun. Keep up the good work, Disney. Just work a bit more in the story department.

[As a side note, the Mickey Mouse short, "Get A Horse," preceding Frozen was a nice little experiment, but felt too safe for the studio's own good. Why make 30's-era Mickey Mouse shorts when this is the year 2013? Also, the combination of hand-drawn animation and cheap, stiff CGI (with CGI "winning" the battle in the end,) only reminded me of the depressing thought that plagued me throughout watching Frozen, which was: 'boy, this film would have looked even better if it utilized plain, old-fashioned traditional animation.]

From Up On Poppy Hill

To say that From Up On Poppy Hill is a step up from Goro Miyazaki's last effort, Tales From Earthsea, is not saying much, as the director's cinematic debut was disappointing on every level excluding music and art direction. Goro's second film is a much more satisfying experience, is adequately paced, and contains memorable scenes and situations. With legendary Dad, Hayao Miyazaki, in charge of script and animation planning, I do wonder how much of the effort is actually from Goro's direction. From Up On Poppy Hill can be enjoyed by 5 year olds, 16 year olds and 70 year olds; it is "small," but does not feel overly "small" as the studio's previous Secret World of Arrietty; most importantly, the film is a much-needed slice of life drama amidst a the studio's long list of fantasy-based works such as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. The closest film I can compare this one to is Ghibli's Whisper of the Heart, which contains a young girl's personal struggles and pleasures in an urbanized 20th Century setting, a world where compact cars and bicycles abound instead of bathhouse spirits and talking animals. However, the film still has problems. Despite the fact that Goro has finally learned to grab viewers' attention, there is a certain lack of imagination and overall "goodness" in this film, which is present in most of the studio's works. While I did appreciate the painstaking detail in animation and backgrounds (from the bits and pieces of junk laying around the clubhouse to the gorgeously realistic portrayals of a city during an afternoon rainstorm,) I felt like the characters were at times expressionless and went through Ghibli-esque motions instead of acting how real people act. In turn, many scenes were cut short before they reached an emotional pinnacle. Two examples: First, when Umi helps Shun with the school paper, the two are alone in a room and this would have been a wonderful opportunity for dialogue showing their mutual attraction; Goro could have at least include one or two carefully-placed lovey-dovey side glances. But due to this lack of character interaction, I felt the scene was a bit flat. The second, and more glaring, example is the frustrating finale, in which Umi and Shun rush to board a ship in the harbor to discover once and for all the truth about their biological relationship. The salty sea captain, (who had known both their fathers,) does reveal something important.... but the scene is so rushed, it is an anticlimax to the ferociously-anticipated buildup; as much as I do not want to say it, this blunder tarnished the film as a whole. If there is one sequence that should have been the powerful "Wow" moment of Poppy Hill, it should have been this sequence. But alas. Out of the entire canon of Studio Ghibli's young "couples," Umi and Sho are the least convincing. (Sophie and Howl this couple ain't.) On the bright side, the themes of change vs. tradition were handled very well in this film. While Whisper of the Heart took place in a universal time period, Poppy Hill is fixed at a specific place, namely 1964, the pivotal year Japan was accepted into the "modern" world, where it was chosen to host the Summer Olympics; the country was forced to set aside many of its traditions to embrace a highly-Westernized culture of television, fast food, and pop songs like Sukiyaki; (the Sukiyaki song actually plays in the background twice in the film, as an audible reminder of shattered traditions and/or new hopes.) The theme of change vs tradition is never pushed into viewers' faces and is symbolically shown through the high school clubhouse. The clubhouse is the central plot device for a decent portion of the film; whether to keep the grand old building or tear it down is matched perfectly with the larger society's internal struggle to accept the changes, for better or worse. This, in turn, harmonized well with Umi's internal struggle to let go of the past by accepting her father's death or to continue persevering hope by raising the signal flags.

The Mummy
The Mummy(1932)

While it may not have the swashbuckling thrills of the 1999 version starring Brendan Frasier, this original Universal-released Mummy makes up for its slow pace and (sometimes) boring plot with the most disciplined form of subtle horror in all the studio's monster movies. Out of all the Mummy adaptions over the decades, this one captures the reincarnation subplot the best. The theme of a "living history," that past and present, life and death, have no separation, is commendable. And even though the attempt to authenticate period costumes and archeological artifacts is laughably UN-true to life, the film does a good job in symbolically showing how 1500-year-old-culture can still retain a noticeable pulse in the contemporary era.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

I never understood why this film is blessed with so many layers of love. Granted, many parts are fun, most notably the car's transformations into other vehicles, (pre-dating Transformers by 40 years). Granted, this is true "wholesome" entertainment, but the film is so rounded and standard, it offers very little that has not been demonstrate before by other films of the decade, (particularly several films from the Walt Disney studios.) Dick Van Dyke is expectedly colorful and flexible; many songs are worth repeating; Robert Helpmann plays a brief, but surprisingly memorable, role as the Child Catcher. However, as a whole, the film leaves much to be desired. Nearly 2 and a half hours long, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang does not have enough fun to fill its enormous duration; it contains an intermission for the sake of keeping abreast with sophisticated 60s classics like My Fair Lady; its tone is downright confusing. This mismatch of tonal ideas put me off because Act One seemed like the film was going to be United Artists' answer to Mary Poppins, (complete with picturesque turn-of-the-century settings, fancy ladies' hats, two British kids, and, most importantly, the presence of Dick Van Dyke.) However, the remainder of the movie spirals into slapstick and antics, suddenly becoming a live action interpretation of The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. True, the silliness is all a fictitious story cooked up by Dick Van Dyke's character, but the sudden clash could have been handled better. Most depressingly is the lack of attention and care given to the title character: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Even when I first watched this film as a kid, I felt like the car did not seem as special and personal as it could have been. The car receives unbelievably little screen time, and there was never a solid reason as to why characters should cheer and sing for it. Herbie the Love Bug this ain't.

Strike Up the Band

Another cute romantic comedy starring the immortal duo of Garland and Rooney. This one has several great songs, a funny animated sequence involving instrumental fruits, and entertaining choreography. While the story is predictable at times, the end result is pleasing.


A masterful and gutsy undertaking in the world of animation, Fantasia serves as an experimental blend of visual storytelling and classical music without the need of dialogue. Not well-received in 1940, the film takes a laudable stab at the overly-conservative cinematic world at the time, with sequences depicting a godless evolution, hallucinatory waves of colors/shapes, topless (and sometimes nude) female figures, and a demon tossing souls into hell for his own amusement. Much of the animation work, from the free-falling leaves and seed pods tended by nature fairies in Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite to the dancing hippos and elephants in Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours, to the gothic grotesques in Night on Bald Mountain to the classic Greek creatures of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, was the inspiration for disney artists for decades to come; these sequences were strong influences on such Disney efforts including, but not limited to, the tranquil Bambi, the slapstick Dumbo, the flittering pixie in Peter Pan (and the later Tinkerbell direct-to-video-sequels,) the semi-gothic Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and, of course, Hercules. Unlike the later sequel Fantasia 2000, this original work does not rush the melodic performances, as many sequences are quite long. Young children may be bored. The animated sequences match the music SO well, it is hard to imagine that Walt Disney's visual narrative was not the original intention of composers. An example would be Igor Stravinsky's Rites of Spring, as each note, each drumbeat is matched through dinosaurs' snapping jaws and swinging tails. I can imagine this song no other way.


A good enough Disney Fairy Tale, but defecated upon by John Lasseter and Ed Catmull who had the odd notion that nobody would watch a princess movie unless it was packed with killer action and slapstick. "Tangled" has a long and twisted journey, almost as long and twisted as the protagonist's hair, and I have followed its journey religiously since the Eisner Era when the film was called "Rapunzel Unbraided." Under the careful supervision of master animator Glen Keane, the legendary story of the girl with long, golden locks was supposed to be something astonishingly beautiful, deeply romantic, and Classic Disney with a capital C and D; it was also supposed to be animated with a hyped-up technique mimicking rococo-style brushwork. But this was not to be. Enter John and Ed, the big boys from Pixar. Seizing control of production, they degraded Glen Keane from director to art supervisor, pulled Rapunzel from the title of her own movie, slapped on the Shrek-inspired Tangled label with the hopes of attracting more boys, and added a swashbuckling traitor named Flynn Ryder instead of the classic Prince. Flynn, to be quite honest, was the only thing that worked in these series of changes, as his character was well-developed, and I loved his dashing smirks, which are halfway Orlando Bloom and halfway Errol Flynn. However, I did not appreciate the jarring, Emperor's New Groove-esque narrated opening which killed all grandeur and awe, and his initial crown-robbing antics reminded me too much of Tulio from Dreamworks' underrated "Road to El Dorado." One of the funniest and well-crafted moments that sticks in my memory is the tower sequence where Flynn first meets the mysterious girl. Whamming Flynn over the head with a frying pan and then hiding him in the closet was unforgettable, and the sequence contains the distinct flavor of humor that makes Disney Disney: (ie, both parents and children laugh at the same time at the same joke.) The character animation is fluid like classic 2D Disney characters. Rapunzel herself is a sight to behold as much of Glen Keane's original wide-eyed joy and expression is captured; Mandy Moore's vocals are impressive. (Glen Keane, for those who do not know, was supervising animator to some of the most memorable Disney characters of the Mouse House's Renaissance period: Ariel, Aladdin, the Beast, Pocahontas, and others.) The decision to make Rapunzel's hair magic and moving was smart, and the non-photoreal rendering of 70 feet of golden locks made her all the more impressive and memorable. The squash and stretch of Rapunzel and Flynn, the minimal usage of detail and light/dark, and the care and attention to body expression/posing is the best I've seen in a computer animated film, outdoing both Dreamworks' "Kung Fu Panda" and "Madagascar. While I did enjoy the character animation and the 2D aesthetic quality of many backgrounds, (including far-away views of Rapunzel's Fantasyland-looking tower,) painterly and picturesque the animation is not. In this historical moment in time (the year 2010,) the studio proves it had a long way to go before delivering CG that truly mimics hand-drawn animation. The closest "Tangled" gets to achieving Keane's initial vision is during the brief, but beautiful, lantern sequence in which Flynn and Rapunzel share an unforgettable duet "I See the Light." Apart from bursting in color, the song may very well be the most memorable Disney tune since Tarzan's "You'll Be In My Heart" waaaaaay back in 1999. This sequence is gorgeous, romantic, heartfelt, and I wish the entire movie could have bled off of this one scene. In some instances it does, but in most cases, unfortunately, it does not. The only other memorable song in this Alan Menkin soundtrack is "Mother Knows Best" in which the evil Mother Gothel persuades Rapunzel to stay at home in seclusion. Like the best Disney films, the song is reprised towards the end in a semi-disturbing mockery tone. The pivotal "death" scene towards the end involving cut hair and tears of sadness, is brilliant and restored my confidence in Disney Animation Studios. Overall, I am a bit disappointed in "Tangled" because of its long, long history and John Lasseter's changes, which seemed to detract from the sincerity of the classic European fairy tale; however, this is still a laudable and praiseworthy step in the right direction for the studio who could not produce a single critically-acclaimed animated hit since 2002's Lilo & Stitch. (And yes, it had been that long.)

Pacific Rim
Pacific Rim(2013)

As stated by many critics, one must already be an admirer of old-time Japanese kaiju to enjoy this film, as we get exactly this. As a fan of the usual Toho classics, (ie, Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra, etc...) I was fairly surprised by the amount of clever fun in this film; under the thick shell of CGI and intense, sweeping action, this film is a comedy in disguise. Though I could have lived without the 20-or-so direct parallels to James Cameron's Avatar, director del Toro's artistic direction is expectedly weird and wonderful, and the story starts fast with no thirty minutes of unnecessary I-saw-something-in-the-ocean-what-can-it-be padding before the "real" story begins. Instead, Pacific Rim begins with the refreshingly simple and laughable scenario: "big ugly monsters appear; we make big robots to beat them up." It works because for these types of movies, the fun is not in the "why" and "how" but in the execution. Unlike Transformers and countless other action movies (many of them in the superhero genre,) this film does not try to cram deep messages, over-paid A-stars, and American patriotism down one's throat. I never thought I'd like this film, but I did. It is not perfect, but it is clearly the best summer movie I've witnessed out of the seemingly-doomed 2013 crop.

The Moon-Spinners

This odd-titled film is filled with mystery, suspense, and is peppered with the same kind of dramatic, visual/narrative liberalisms as Alfred Hitchcock's body of work from the same era. Hayley Mills, for the first time with the studio, begins to leave her cutesy girl image behind in favor of something more serious and (do I dare say it?) sexy. However, make no mistake, Moon-Spinners is a fun family film, as it contains the same frolicking antics, good music, and humor as many Disney classic films from earlier years, (though I subtract a full star from the overall rating because Act 3 does get a bit TOO silly and chatty, particularly during scenes with Pola Negri's Madame Habib. As a side note, this was Negri's final on-screen performance.) Not universally recognized as a classic in the Disney canon, Moon-Spinners is an under-appreciated effort from the studio, and is a bold departure from their early-1960s formula.

Johnny Tremain

Semi-historical Disney film appeals to the young and young at heart by choosing to not focus on the political turmoil and violence of the Revolutionary War; this account embodied the hopes, the pursuits of happiness and fulfillment, and applauds the independent, strong, hard-working spirit of Johnny, who singularly symbolizes the type of individual that made young America successful. The sense of patriotism is strong, and is the perfect Fourth of July film to watch with the entire family. The acting is decent enough, (though Sebastian Cabot goes a bit overboard as the egotistical Jonathan Lyte,); the costumes, sets, and matte paintings used to bring 18th Century America to life are, typical of a 1950's Walt Disney Production, highly romanticized and highly-appealing. This movie makes you proud to be an American.

The Parent Trap

There must have been invisible cotton candy spun into the 35 mm during filming, because I have rarely experienced a film so sweet and satisfying. Optimistic, clever, upbeat, the pure example of feel-good film, The Parent Trap has all the perks and wit of the original 1961 classic starring Hayley Mills, but is enhanced with more-focused themes, deeper heartfelt messages, more believable acting, and a hip enough script to be accepted by contemporary kids living in post-Flower-Power generations. This movie literally crackles at the seams with goodness, reminding us that when Disney puts its heart and mind into creating quality entertainment, it is untouchable. I am proud to say that this 1998 Parent Trap is more than just a 90's facelift: it remains the finest remake I have ever seen. Director Nancy Meyer's deep respect for source material is obvious, as she went the extra mile to craft a comedy comfortable to view, never jarring or confusing viewers. This is also the bittersweet last hurrah from longtime Disney producer/director David Swift, who produced not only the heartwarming/heart-wrenching classic Pollyanna, but (surprise!) the original 1961 Parent Trap. The touchy themes of marriage and divorce are handled in a far more down-to-earth fashion than the original film, which danced around the subjects through frequent slapstick and laughs, instead of bravely facing the issues. In essence, this new-fangled 1998 Parent Trap took a spritely romantic-comedy leaning towards comedy and turned it into a smart, elegant romantic-comedy leaning towards the romantic. A boatload of changes with the script and storyline are taken to differentiate itself from the original; these changes, both big and small, pay off nicely, perhaps because of Swift's attempt to polish his past attempt. The changes show the determination to not just re-tell the story, but to improve it when necessary. The decision to make the girls international travelers, Hallie from sunny old Napa and Annie from prim and proper England, upped the stakes in their mutual decision to switch places; this also added more sensation and excitement to the girls' journeys into new settings. I don't know where they filmed the location shots for Hallie and Nick's hacienda-style homestead, but the Spanish-stucco eden was picturesque, contemporary, and makes me green with envy upon every viewing. The romantic dinner boat in front of shimmering city lights was, in turn, breathtaking. The decision to place the late Natasha Richardson's gown-designing Elizabeth James smack-dab in England, (instead of the relatively localized Boston,) made her prominent, important, exotic in the eyes of an 11-year old, and most importantly, unobtainable to Dennis Quaid's Nick Parker. I found myself adoring the ripped photograph motif, the crucial moment in which both girls realize they are identical twins separated at birth; their action of counting to three and holding up each half at the same time is a strikingly powerful and appropriate symbolic reminder of the fragility and easily-tearable nature of romantic relationships, as well as how two girls, who are given the pieces to the marital puzzle by complete fate, can repair this relationship by simply showing the bravery to put both torn halves together. Maybe it was sense of completion when the two halves of ripped celluloid meet, maybe it was the unforgettable expression on the faces of Lindsay Lohan and Lindsay Lohan, maybe it was their duel exclamation of teary-eyed "oh my god,"'s but something gave me chills in this pivotal scene. True, Hayley Mills had a similar moment, for the same reason, but this version conveyed more emotion. Filmmakers' decision to de-age the main protagonist from 13 to 11 was also a brilliant move, as Hayley Mill's performance and developing physique seemed too mature for the mischievous nature of the character(s) she portrayed; in turn, Mill's Flower-Power attitude, the 60's-I-can-prove-my-generation-is-in-control took away much of her innocence. In Lohan's case, innocence and purity are undeniable, and her balance of cute and intelligent is a version of preteen girl Hollywood can no longer manage these days. If Hayley Mills was the self-serving trickster demon of Norse mythology, Lindsay Lohan would be the Virgin Mary: innocent, and bearer of great hope for sinful others. But not to push some kind of Christian allegory, Lindsay Lohan is still a kid, and acts like a kid. She yanks her yellow duffle bag out of a pile of luggage instead of merely removing bags from the top; she sticks her face out of a cab window and waves at statues, she boogies around with her butler to an inventive, secret handshake; she wears beaded bracelets, paints her nails blue, finds friendship in toy bunnies, and jumps into a lake naked. Lindsay Lohan's outstanding first role in a feature film is, arguably, her best performance to date. She pulls off her English accent and prissy mannerisms quite nicely, and delivers the same level of professionalism when confronting adult characters. And a special shout-out should be given to the special effects team who managed to integrate Lohan's double image seamlessly, truly making me believe that there are two Lindsay Lohans in this world. Reinvented supporting characters are just as well-played, as parents are just as important to the plot as the freckle-faced match-makers. Dennis Quaid's Nick Parker is now a good-looking, dashing gentleman, who is actually outgoing, and fun to be around. This is a dream dad, and if I were an 11-year-old girl, I would feel at home being hugged by this guy every day. Even more significant is the mom character; Natasha Richardson's Elizabeth James is no mean, short-fused, Irish redhead who resorts to punching ex-husbands in the eye; now, she is an independent, smart, likable, individual, who is just as nuanced and humorous as Dennis Quaid. They admit during the romantic boat dinner that neither remembered the exact reason for their split, though one nasty after-effect involved the throwing of a hair-dryer. This is much more believable than the 1961 original's lame excuse of personality clashes, (which begs the question: SHOULD this couple be reunited?) Scriptwriters cleverly avoided the issue because, quite frankly, nobody cares how they split. By not remembering the crux of the argument also shows that the marital split was just a grown-up quarrel, positive proof that seemingly intelligent adults have less good judgment than their own kids. I strongly believe that the pacing and timing was handled much better in this 1998 remake, with changes adding more punch to scenes. Just as fisherman wait before reeling in their prized catches, the crucial timing unrolled important scenes with maximized emotional fireworks. One humorous example would be the extended lizard moment during the camping trip; here, the lizard not only frightens Elaine Hendrix's Meridith, but also crawls over the woman's face, but ends up inside her loud mouth. Another example is the invention of new roles, Simon Kunz's English butler Martin and Lisa Ann Walter's housekeeper/cook Chessy, whose intertwined love affair 3/4 through the film provided yet another thread to tie the broken little family together; their presence also provides fresh humor, and is a strong visual reminder that love-at-first-sight relationships are not limited to good-looking main protagonists. Perhaps the biggest proof of the outstanding pacing in this movie is the whole "small world" web of intertwined relationships during the long hotel sequence. Meredith "knew" Natasha Richardson's character because of her wedding gowns, yet had no idea she was Nick Parker's ex-wife; Richardson's character had no idea Meredith was going to marry her ex-husband; both Meredith and Nick were clueless that Elizabeth James was on the property; and NOBODY was aware that a pair of preteen girls were pulling all loose threads tighter and tighter, as it was they who intentionally orchestrated the mix-up from the start. This relationship knot, replete with numerous deer-in-the-headlights-looks as characters spy on each around corners, between crowds of hotel guests, and through closing elevator doors, was hilarious. Gently played, and full of class and charm, but hilarious nonetheless. This buildup was like repeatedly shaking a can of soda pop before opening it, and it made Nick Parker's signature unplanned dip in the pool all the more anticipated. Again, as with Hayley Mill's performance mentioned earlier, no new ground is broken in this sequence, as the original went through a similar routine, but the original was not as tight, not as professionally-crafted, and not as fun. Minor pet peeves I had with the original are mended in this slick new version. Most notably is the scene when Nick and Elizabeth are seriously contemplating what to do with the girls, as, admitting they cannot separate them after already meeting, begin to relapse into the original's monologue about "six months split." To my delight, Chessy, posing as a waitress, immediately cuts this idealized fantasy short with: "Guys, they can't go to two schools every year!" Bravo, duh. I felt like patting her on the back, and I appreciated the filmmaker's guts to come out and say it so directly. Another home-run scene which the original shy-ed away from was during Annie's girl-to-woman conversation with demon fiancee Meredith. Annie, despite being a kid, is no fool to facts of life, and she comes out and just says it: "If you ask me, marriage is supposed to be based on something more than just sex, right?" Bravo. I felt like patting her on the back too. In addition to these two major mends, Lohan's more-realistic actions of unfamiliarity with new surroundings are also more apparent; in this version, she struggles to push the front door of her own house open, before realizing (too late) that the door opens inwards; it is little things like this, not big grandiose ones, that would unmask an imposter's true identity. My extensive praise for this film would be unfairly incomplete without mentioning Alan Silvestri's unforgettable score, where sweeping instrumental themes, (and I mean SWEEPING,) are interlaced with retro golden oldies, winking back to a simpler, more innocent era. Nearly every second of this film is seasoned with musical glee, and there are many winks to the 1961 original which many audiences may not catch. During the opening Disney logo, with the shimmering castle, we hear the distinct eight-note motif "Let's Get To-Ge-Ther- Yeah-Yeah-Yeah." Subtle, but clearly apparent if you know your Disney history. Also, during the touching moment in which Hallie meets her mom for the first time, she places her hand on the brass doorknob to her English apartment, and a the accompanying musical crescendo is strangely reminiscent to the scene Hayley Mills first meets Maurine O'Hara on the staircase. Like the extended toying-with-you scenes mentioned earlier, Silvestri does the same thing with the music; sparkly, grand entrances do no trail off, but melodiously lead into something big, touching, and tranquil, augmenting the tenderness tenfold. My only regret on the musical front is that Lindsay Lohan never breaks out into full song-and-dance routine as does her 1961 counterpart. True, she does half-hum, half-sing the "Let's Get Together" refrain while walking into an elevator shaft, but this is too brief. My only real complaint with The Parent Trap is that I wish many areas of dialogue had been reworded, as much is lifted directly from the original. As much as I adored Meyers/Swift's decisions and liberties with the original, I think additional tweaking with the script would have served the film well. In addition, several scenes towards the end tried too hard to connect with the original, such as Meredith's tapping sticks together to scare away mountain lions, which never really fits in this version. Finally, I could have lived without numerous pop-culture references, particularly those comparing Meredith to Cruella de ville, which seems like a cheap ploy by the studio to advertise their own brand. But apart from these minor complaints, The Parent Trap is a heartwarming effort and, in my humble opinion, the studio's most outstanding effort in the last decade of the 20th Century.

Summer Magic
Summer Magic(1963)

Charming Disney film set in a highly-idealized turn-of-the-century country town is like watching a musical postcard come to life. Bonus points to Burl Ives.

Gedo senki (Tales from Earthsea)

As much as I want Hayao Miyazaki's legacy to prosper, young Goro's director debut remains the weak link in a succession of strong films from Studio Ghibli. This film is a fantasy world mostly devoid of fun and awe, and is played out frustratingly "safe" through its entire duration. Numerous scenes are dedicated to walking aimless around the countryside, or planting crops; dragons, which play a strong, symbolic role in this world, are practically nonexistent; Cheech Marin plays a distracting, stereotypical bad guy who laughs just to show he is evil, (it would work in a Disney film, but not in a world that tries so hard to be real.) And I could not stand seeing another dark wizard in a dark tower, accompanied by dark music. Whatever happened to the full-bodied nuanced Ghibli characters, such as Lady Eboshi from Princess Mononoke? Or the double-agent Haku from Spirited Away? Prince Arren does have a clear bad side, but he is so indecisive, I almost forgot what he set out to achieve halfway through the film. However, there is a good side to this film. First off, the animation work is beautiful, and the character designs, particularly Therru and Sparrowhawk, are memorable and thoughtful, (though other critics may disagree on this.) The songs and score, while not soaring like Princess Mononoke or My Neighbor Totoro, are still pleasant and worth listening to. As much as I was disappointed, Tales from Earthsea is still better than most smart-alecky, celebrity-voiced American animated features of recent memory. Goro still needs more practice and experience in filmmaking, however, before he can truly take the place of his legendary father.

Donovan's Reef

While The Searchers and Quiet Man have been regarded as director John Ford's finest, I find Donovan's Reef to be the director's under-appreciated gem, a hilarious and beautiful picture worthy of repeated viewing; to this day, it remains my favorite collaboration between John Ford and John Wayne, and the quintessential definition of the term screwball, romantic comedy. The film contains colorful characters well-played by well-known performers, as well as the most breathtaking landscapes I've ever seen in a film mostly played for laughs, (the only other film similar to this is the panoramic sweeps of John Ford's Hatari.) While the duration of the film is taken by the legendary Duke, who owns a local, rowdy saloon, the heart and driving force of the story is adequately fulfilled by Elizabeth Allen's Amelia Dedham; the prissy, wealthy Bostonian journeys to the fictitious, picturesque island of Haleakaloha to checkmate the local doctor, (Jack Warden,) who also happens to be her biological father. You see, in accordance to the rigid, almighty governing rulebook at the Dedham Shipping Company, a certain Dedham may or may not receive his portion of company stock, and solitary control, of the company if he clearly does not "behaving in a way suitable for Boston standards." Amelia's quest is to deceitfully prove "Doc" Dedham has had an affair with a luscious South-Sea girl in a colorful sarong. Her clever scheme backfires in part by Guns Donovan and his scene-stealing navy chum, Thomas Gilhooley, (played by a Lee Marvin who behaves like he had an overdose of cane sugar.) The two men hatch this lame plot to conceal both Doc Denham's three children and, more importantly, his marriage to the last heiress of the island kingdom, Princess Manulani; much of the film hilariously portrays the unraveling of this plan, as Doc Dedham's three cute kids are unceremoniously taken by Guns Donovan, not the most convincing father figure. Along the way, Amelia softens up to island living, and ultimately becomes smitten with Donovan himself, after a series of embarrassing love-hate encounters, which often involved her falling flat on her ass or getting soaked with sea water like a saturated sink sponge. The film does a great job in the fun department, as story and plot remain flexibly loose, allowing for much slapstick, verbal fireworks, and relationship meltdowns. In addition to Amelia's humiliating encounters, the island of Haleakaloha also offers a nutty, French-speaking priest who owns a leaky chapel, a brash, egotistical louse after Amelia's fortune, (who happens to be the island's governor and played by, who else? Caesar Ramero.) The film also features several signature John Ford bar fights, complete with flying glass, pianos falling on people's heads Tex Avery-style, and wine bottles smashing onto people's noggins with no real consequences. On the negative side, typical with several John Wayne films produced in this era, there are stereotypes which many audiences may feel uncomfortable watching, particularly jokes poking fun at the local Chinese population; these individuals are either chattery comics or, in the case of the Governor's assistant Mr. Eu, secretive schemers. But I find these stereotypes watchable because practically every White character does not escape the same finger-pointing mockery; in fact, one persistent theme of Donovan's Reef is the idiocy and imperfect nature of salty military men, who are caricatured even MORE than non-Anglos. This is clearly see in Act I, in which Gilhooley jumps ship and swims all way to Haleakaloha just to egg on a traditional, 20-year punching contest with Donovan for the singular reason that they mutually despise the indisputable fact that both share the same birthday; neither man is able to remember the reason or origin of this hurtful tradition; when forced to concede and shake hands, they do so grudgingly, not unlike five-year-old boys caught in a playground brawl. Despite being released in 1963, I found that the film actually does a darned decent job at handing issues or racism and bigotry. While ultimately screwing with reality and all things serious in life, Donovan's Reef is, fantastically, twenty years ahead of its time, regarding progressive messages of racial tolerance and multiculturalism. The rigid attitudes of Dedham's Shipping Company remains the hub of all humor, and is ultimately overturned when Donovan "makes a human being" out of Amelia, by placing her over his strong knee and gives her a good whacking job over the backside in the second-to-last scene in the film. In addition, the eldest and most mature of the three kids, Lelani, has one strikingly poignant moment when she flees to her room in tears, heartbroken that she would not be allowed to see her white, half-sister Amelia, on the basis of adult prejudice towards her skin color. In addition to addressing racism, Amelia's character was a somewhat strong female character, (at least in in the early 60's.) As mentioned in beginning of this review, Elizabeth Allen's character seems to be the crux of the story, though filmmakers wisely told the story through more the most colorful characters Donovan and Gilhooley, (who at one point are trying to drown each other each other in an artificial, outdoor lily pond.) She spends much of the last half of the film discovering answers for herself, rather than being told; she sees through the lies created by the scheming, deceiving ex-military men, and independently learns the truth about her father, Doc Dedham, and her siblings' tie with the legendary Princess Manulani

Oz the Great and Powerful

The most apparent flaw in this film is that storywriters glorified, almost deified, a con-man. The infamous "man behind the curtain," who should have been a cowardly, deceiving individual, is suddenly the big hero who single-handedly saves the land, hooray, hooray. This does not seem right as, let us not forget, the same man forced a young girl in ruby slippers to perform dirty deeds while he sat safely and snugly behind the walls of Emerald City. There is a serious flaw in character continuity when comparing the original with the new. In this 2013 reinterpretation of Oz, trickery and deception is not only celebrated, but becomes the singular way to win. I would liked to have seen more negative aspects in Oz's personality shine through, as the talented top-hat-wearing James Franco's portrayal hovered somewhere between heart-of-gold and a mischievous I-work-alone type, which confused me at times. I longed to see more scenes of James Franco childishly playing in his heap of gold which, strangely enough, was my favorite scene in the entire film. As with Sam Raimi's previous Spiderman efforts (heck, nearly ALL superhero films to date,) the singular hero must save the timid majority, whose only purpose is to cry when bad stuff strikes, and cheer when the hero arrives. I never liked this black-and-white mentality of the public, and it shows in this film. A lot. What happened to L. Frank Baum's satirical commentary about the common worker saving the day, those scarecrows, tin men, and whatnot? That optimistic and very-American message, while present, is not clearly defined in this movie. Instead, so many characters are mere obstacles for Oz to defeat or work around. This leads me to the second big problem I had with the film, which is the fact that every female character was defined only in relation to the man. Disney, (particularly contemporary Disney in the post-John Lasseter-takeover,) has a noticeable problem with the development of female characters both believable and independent. In this world, we get the obligatory sisters-divided-between-each-other-over-a-man. While I did admire filmmakers' attempt to explain the origins of the Wicked Witch of the West, (and I did not expect Mila Kunis' character to undergo the green makeup transformation,) the reasons for her transformation, because Mr. Wonderful did not accept her love, was weak, unbelievable, and is a slap in the face to female empowerment. What is this, the 1950s? Michelle William's Glenda, while showing some signs of bravery and independence, draws her final strength, not from her own powers and experiences, but from the memory of her deceased father as well as the deceiving wizard who has not an ounce of magic blood in his body. The women are never treated as respected individuals, and, in fact, there was much more inter-character development between Oz and the CG flying monkey, (where a completely-predictable bromance relationship formed.) Glenda looked like a regal Mariah Carey and tried her hardest to put on her Lady Galadriel imitation. The special effects were quite good, though not revolutionary, and the widespread "cartoony" feel mentioned by critics was not as widespread as claimed. However, several fabricated backgrounds were a bit reminiscent of the colorful worlds seen in dog-food commercials on television. On the positive side, the design of Emerald City was very similar to the grandeur of the MGM version, but bigger and more impressive. The shimmering green towers, yellow brick road stretching for miles and miles, and the infamous poppy fields leading up to the city were magical, and was like something out of a nice dream.

Robot & Frank

Robot and Frank is a true cross-genre. Various elements of science fiction, drama, crime, and comedy complement each other in this indie production; all parts make a successful and fulfilling whole. Much of the film's success hinged on the performance of its main protagonist, Frank, an elderly man far from the typical protagonist in mainstream films. He is no hero, a notorious cat burglar, and one who is quickly spiraling down the path of senility. Frank, wonderfully played by Frank Langella, struggles to remember his own children and what he did the day prior, but, as common with dementia victims, he vividly recalls experiences decades in the past. His condition and characterization is contrasted perfectly with Robot, Frank's nameless mechanical caretaker who recalls facts, figures, and the daily schedule at lightning speed. What really bolsters the story's believability is that Robot is not alive, never pretends to be alive, and never advertises a consciousness, as most films dealing with this subject matter do, such as Robin William's Bicentennial Man, the closest film I've seen thematically and stylistically to Robot and Frank. Instead of relying on a fantasy element to drive the story along, filmmakers choose an even more interesting, and realistic, path: Robot, through its simulated intelligence, has great effect on characters, who respond to it in various ways. In other words, it is the characters' own humanity that camouflages the robot's mechanization; it is they who give the robot life, through their interactions, their day-to-day dealings, their conversations with it. My favorite aspect of this film is by watching each character respond to Robot in a different way. Old cat burglar Frank initially views Robot as a glorified toaster, a walking heap of scrap metal who can malfunction and murder him in his sleep, but once realizing that the thing can serve his interests and desires, he opens up to it and responds to it, as if it were a child-sized, faceless, human being. Jennifer the local librarian, performed by Susan Sarandon, views robots like friendly slaves, toys, things to smile at and converse with, but still not on human level, the same way a loving dog owner talks to his or her faithful pet. Frank's son Hunter, played by a frustrated-looking James Marsden, views Robot as an expensive security system, not unlike a Life Alert for present-day senior citizens. By the way he pulled it out of the trunk of his sedan, and the way he refused to sell it, Hunter did not view Robot as anything more than a walking investment. Liv Tyler's Madison, Franks's daughter, viewed the robot as a nuisance, an obstruction to humanly conversation and living, and it was she who turned off the "device" three-quarters through the film, to Frank's dismay. The film is set in the future, but this is one of the most conservative visions of future I have seen on screen, one that is, basically, not too different from the present year 2013. The big difference, of course, is the presence of personal robotic aids which feel very real and believable, not like comic housekeepers from the Jetsons, or big clunky machines of great intelligence from Lost in Space. If you have seen contemporary Japananese culture and society as being "prophetic" to the future of the United States, robots will soon be doing household chores, assisting in the lives of senior citizens, and working in businesses, for better or worse. These are not machines that pop out of nowhere, but are the evolutionary progression from today's Honda Asimo and smart phones with siri capability. The film's story, while not conceived as a mind-twister, did have a few unexpected twists, especially towards the end when Frank does NOT die, (as I assumed from the symbolic references to the delusional Don Quixote.) He does not become imprisoned for his actions, (as typical cat burglar movies.) What actually happens is the most believable scenario: Frank is put in a senior home where he rightfully belongs. The final credits solidify my love for the movie as the song "Fell On Your Head" by Francis and the Lights hits the spot with its minimalist and slightly futuristic tune; during the song, short video clips of real-day androids and helper bots make audiences realize how the future is already happening and that the events in Robot and Frank may soon become realistic fiction.

The Hunger Games

Hunger Games satisfies without making viewers feel over-fed with nonessential visual and thematic junk. Watching this lean, quick-paced story unfold makes me extremely grateful that director Gary Ross did not go the egotistical route by defying source material for the simple sake of showing that he can do it. (And yes, I am referring to every director responsible for handling a Harry Potter adaption.) There are just enough bells and whistles to tell the story efficiently. It is lightning fast when it needs to be fast. It is brutally emotional when it needs to be emotional. And most refreshingly, unlike many blockbusters I have seen in recent summers, it actually shuts up when it needs to shut up in the end. No new characters teased me in the final scene; no unresolved cliff-hangers were dangled before my eyes for the ake of reminding me that there will be another film, (even though there will be three sequels following this one's success.) The end credits are exactly how end credits should be: a list of talented individuals who crafted the film over black backdrop, without useless CG magic tricks dazzling audiences, ensuring they stay in their seats till the reel completely unspools. There is balance in Hunger Games, and director Ross successfully demonstrates how less is more. Computer generated effects are used only when most needed, such as the grand welcoming ceremony where the "Girl on Fire" is paraded through the Capitol like a futuristic gladiator. Even more notable is the bold decision to NOT show the biggest symbolic motif of the series, the mockingjays, who remain mysteriously absent, save their haunting melodies. We as audiences are thrown into the shocking world of District 12 without an annoying extravaganza to explain, (and ruin,) how Panem is the way it is, or a flashback showing Katniss learning the art of archery from her now-deceased father. Instead, we see just enough of this world from the simple, opening credits, (by the way, opening credits start immediately, not 5 minutes later after an extended killer action sequence, thank goodness.) While the later part of the film, however, does contain some flashbacks which I could have lived without, these scenes are few, and do not detract as badly as they could have. As with the story, the technical style is refreshing because of what I DIDN'T see. There were none of the expected sweeping shots, no rotating cameras zooming in and out at every possible angle at characters' glassy pupils. Gary Ross went the opposite route by quickening the pace with short, choppy cuts, (some parts seem almost like a fast-paced slide projector.) This method complements the decrepit feeling of wear-and-tear within District 12. Katniss Everdeen is a memorable, courageous character who is as much a symbol of hope to feminism as she is to the fictitious world of Panem. For the first time in recent memory, a mainstream blockbuster film has delivered a female protagonist who audiences perceive as a realistic hero first, and a female second; most action films present the opposite: women are women before they become narrative entities, (if even that, sadly.) Katniss goes through rough treatment through the course of the two-hour film. She gets hurt. She strives to succeed. She learns through experience. And it is refreshing to see the male character lean on her, (both figuratively and literally,) for support. Women are much more adaptable, stronger-willed, and more intelligent than one would expect in the army of Spidermans, Iron Mans, and super-hams that bombard us each summer. The violence is surprisingly limited for a film whose premise is about a competition where kids kill other kids. When slaughter does occur, however, it is how all violence should be depicted: grotty, painful, awful, irreversible, and nothing to be celebrated. The incessant laughter and carefree attitudes of the watchful high-fashion world of the rich, ruling class at the Capital accentuate the horrid nature of violence. A purple-haired Stanley Tucci nails his bizarre scenes. In some ways, the film eclipses the novel in quality. One example is Katniss' internal, first-person musings, which are theatrically replaced with more-tangible monologues of President Snow stubbornly expressing his ideology of societal control. The few complaints I had with this film were also complains I had with the original, source material; the most notable of these including laughably convenient escapes for our heroine involving well-placed beehives and excellently-timed falling parachutes. In addition, the soundtrack should have soared more than it did, and the ending song was downright unmemorable when it should have been the resounding drumbeat solidifying the film's powerful message.

Wreck-it Ralph

Looks good... however, I fear the film may cater to the heavy-gaming crowd, when its focus should be unifying Disney fans of all ages.

Star Trek Into Darkness

(Spoilers.) Director J. J. Abrams' vision for Star Trek is, apparently, a universe filled with nonstop laser firings, terrorist attacks, and limited philosophical themes; Gene Roddenberry would have been furious if he had seen the countless alterations made to his visionary trailblazer. Even one perplexed character in the film inquires: "what has this become, a military operation?" And I had to nod my head in agreement. Gone are the days when Star Trek is about seeking intelligent life forms, peaceful scientific research, learning about the frailties and strengths of humanity, going where no man has gone before, etc... The Enterprise is now an intergalactic protector of homeland security who fights terror with terror. Compare this movie with, let's say, the original pilot episode "The Cage," and you will see how much this franchise has deteriorated, all for the sake of catering to summer audiences seeking less thinking, and more bang-pow with their buttery popcorn. The character development in this film is lacking with several of the Enterprise's crew members, particularly Zoe Saldana's Uhuru, who functions primarily as a love interest of Spock. The only shining performance in the film is Benedict Cumberbatch who plays the villainous Kahn; this guy had a presence, a well-constructed character, and was not a typical bad guy. While the original 2009 reboot felt like a second-rate knock-off of the Star Wars film series, Into Darkness suffers from a different identity crisis as, aesthetically, it reminded me of not only Star Wars, but several other film franchises, most notably Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight, with Kahn's sneaky Jokeresque havoc. The film's third act is also the most disappointing, as Captain Kirk's sacrifice was a laughably unoriginal play-by-play of the earlier, and far superior, Wrath of Khan, down to the live-long-and-prosper moment behind radioactive glass. The manner Kirk (and the Enterprise) were revitalized presented an unbelievable and abrupt resolution to deliver a feel-good ending. As with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, I found it nearly impossible to retain emotional attachment to main protagonists who reboot themselves like video game avatars, coming back from death unharmed and unscathed. J J Abrams, who has delivered original, thoughtful work in the past, has churned out a paint-by-the-numbers sci-fi that eliminates everything that made the original 1960s television show legendary, but adds elements that really do not fit the Star Trek world. This movie is a patchwork quilt of various themes and plot points. I can live with Abrams' camera lens flares, but the man really needs to work on finding the heart and soul of a series before yelling "action." He needs to find a singular voice and stick with it. I am now very very very scared for Star Wars: Episode VII.


I am very familiar with the story of Secretariat, who is regarded by historians and racing fans as one of the greatest pieces of horse flesh to ever grace a track; perhaps, because of historical significance and my previous knowledge of the industry, I felt like the script was watered down severely in order to accommodate younger and/or less-hardcore audiences. Too many scenes, including the highly unnecessary conversation about the significance of winning the combined Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont stakes, should have been cut or re-shot. In addition, the somewhat clunky and predictable dialogue lessened the authenticity, particularly Diane Lane's unrealistic certainty, (borderline clairvoyance,) that her horse will win future races, with no shadow of a doubt. In addition, many scenes felt like it was filmed for a non-ambitious, family film on ABC; on-track action scenes seemed like they had been captured by an iphone. However, despite these problems, I truly felt inspired by Secretariat and Penny Chenery's gutsy endeavor to succeed. From the horse's vindicating win at Churchhill Downs to the unreal 30-length win at Belmont, filmmakers succeeded in the areas that mattered. I truly felt the excitement and magic of the sporting event; even though the simulated races were filmed exactly 40 years after actual events, I felt something authentically "1973" pull through and shine. And because this was the main point of the film, I can conclude that they succeeded nicely.

Watership Down

Completely underrated, and undeservedly forgotten by non-animation buffs, Watership Down is a thrilling, heart-wrenching, heartbreaking, and often frightening tale of human endeavor... from the viewpoint of rabbits. Based on Richard Adams' novel of the same title, the film consistently shows what animation can accomplish if used seriously; the film terrified and awed me when I was younger, and certain sequences emphasizing the brutality of life (rabbits caught in snares, hawks snatching our heroes in the blink of an eye, the mythological "black rabbit" hovering over the dead, etc.) will stick with you forever. Art Garfunkel's "Bright Eyes" is the icing on the cake.

Peter Pan
Peter Pan(2003)

Scripted and filmed as if its only intention was to please fans of the Disney animated classic and Spielberg's Hook. It fails to retain the excitement and wonder of either. The special effects look cheap at times and the few brief occasions that I found to be spectacular were those that boldly followed the original play.

Babes in Arms

A fun enough musical starring Michey Rooney and Judy Garland, one of Hollywood's most chemistry-laden pair. But this is no masterpiece; the film is peppered with dialogical cliches, and ends with an outspoken (and highly unnecessary) praise to American patriotism.

Lagerfeld Confidential

Karl Lagerfeld, master fashion couturier and current head of the
House of Chanel, is one interesting individual; a full-length documentary exploring his day-to-day activities and psychology would seem like a brilliant idea. However, after watching "Lagerfeld Confidential," I was left confused and unsatisfied, like a hungry man given a dry cracker to digest. Lagerfeld is naturally a personal man difficult to interview, but this documentary keeps everything confidential, and does little to elicit interesting tidbits from his life and secret success recipes at Chanel.

D2: The Mighty Ducks

Even though I miss the original's imperfections and rudeness, (such as the kids' over-the-top delinquencies,) this is the film that the first one should have been. There is a greater sense of excitement now that the players are older; the stakes are higher, the teamwork speeches are more believable, the competition is fiercer.

Thoroughbreds Don't Cry

Mickey Rooney plays a wonderful smart-aleck jockey. The film portrays the horse racing biz exactly as it was in the 1930s: the all-important "King of Sports," full of cheating, talent, excitement, drama, and humor.

The Fifth Element

This film is slowly becoming one of those prominent cult classics, those guilty pleasures of the 1990's. While the story is predictable as a lesser episode of classic Star Trek, there is a lot to love here. Willis' frowns are unforgettable; Jovavich's "Multipass" line is legendary; Chris Tucker is, for lack of a better description, a truly bizarre, out of this world, individual. Director Luc Besson has created one of the most visually impressive and original worlds in science fiction, one that presents a future less about technological dazzle and more about our present Western society's silly and pervasive attitudes and customs (metropolitan areas are so congested, taxi cabs must now fly; there are still McDonald's restaurants in the 23rd Century etc....) Costumes, designed by legendary French couturier Jean Paul Gaultier, are the most liberal, eye-popping garments I've ever seen in film and this accentuates the film's sassy, and sometimes provocative, tone.

Finian's Rainbow

An odd conglomeration of leprichan magic, Fred Astaire taps, Francis Ford Coppola camerawork, and Civil Rights undertones; none of these things harmonize in any logical way.


I was torn in half watching this. One the good side, the film prevents a central female protagonist, (unique to the Boy's Cub at Emeryville.) The CG medievel world of Scotland is lush, mysterious, and moody, a refreshing change from the studio's focus on the hip iphone world; the directors' choice to present a strong-willed, middle-aged mom is also a thing sorely needed in animation. However, on the bad side, I felt that filmmakers squandered Merrida's potential by making her a selfish brat most of the time; the message was less "be strong and find your way," and more: "follow your elders and maybe good things will happen," which put me off. On a final note, I wanted to see Merrida actually use her bow and arrow to solve problems, not create them.

Fantasia 2000

The first sign that the mighty Disney Feature Animation of the 90s was not going to retain its magnificence through the next decade; this film was lackluster, and led to a series of mediocre efforts for the remainder of the 2000s. While the idea of reprising the original 1940s classic music extravaganza was a wonderful idea, especially in the wake of an exciting new century (and millennium,) Fantasia 2000 fails to work for several reasons. 1)The film is so short, it ends as soon as the ball gets rolling. 2) The peaceful, memorizing musical interludes are jarred with annoying live-action commentary from celebrities. (Of all people, Steve Martin?!) 3) The animation was disappointing, as the studio relied on over usage of stiff computer graphics. 4)Unlike the original 1940 work of art, which paralleled each grace note, each melodious moment with visual equivalence, this version treated music as an afterthought.

On a positive note, a couple segments, Rhapsody in Blue and Carnival of the animals are wonderful to behold and quite humorous and colorful. But most impressive is the slam-bang Firebird Suite, which remains the ONLY segment that I can truly call "awe inspiring." Thank heavens it was played last.


The best Pixar film in recent memory.

Alice in Wonderland

Call this "Pirates of the Caribbean in Narnia." The film spends a sickening amount of time on Johnny Depp's face, sacrifices Lewis Carroll's nonsensical quirk with epic obligation, ruins Alice's character by making her 10 years older than necessary, has cheap 3D effects, and avoids Tim Burton's signature happy morbidity for fear of "offending" young viewers. Visually and emotionally, I had hoped for something more akin to America McGee's popular game "Alice," but instead, I got another fantasy clone with a predictable plot.

Peter Pan
Peter Pan(1953)

One of the defining film that set Walt Disney's animation from the rest of the pack. This film is heartwarming, hilarious, incredibly animated, and contains several of the most memorable songs ever written. Critics may note, however, that over-the-top zaniness (characters falling on their heads, getting hit in the heads with hammers, stars circling heads, etc..) as a detraction from darker, realistic Disney toons from the 30s and 40s (Pinocchio for example.) And critics may note the underlined racist tones concerning Native Americans. But overlooking these two things results in one of the best portrayals of childish innocence ever brought to the big screen. This film hits you hard with emotions: the multi-layer camera used to simulate Pan soaring over London is breathtaking; the sequence where Hook dukes it out with the crocodile is one of the funniest moments in Disney animation history. There is never a dull moment, never any "dead" time in Peter Pan. Every second of this film is purposeful and direct.

Monsters, Inc.

This is one of Pixar's most imaginative and inventive motion pictures, which uses 3D CGI to its advantage in almost every second. Doors leading to different worlds, monsters of all sizes and shapes, and the voice talent of Billy Crystal contribute to a funny and entertaining experience. However, this film is no Toy Story, as there were several problems. First, the action at the end is too fast and ends too abrupty; second, its numerous jokes are targeted for middle-aged, white-collar workers instead of children who deserve more attention; finally, the "scare" factor is watered down to a point of annoyance at times.


This film was NOT "beautifully animated and solidly scripted," as claimed by Rotten Tomatoes. Besides having some of the ugliest character designs I've seen since Rugrats, I pin-pointed nearly every line of dialogue before it was uttered. For a film that rubs its "originality," into audiences' faces, there were quite a few stereotypes: Norman comes off as a stereotypical see-I-told-you-so possessor of weird powers; the zombies were stereotypically green, gooey and falling apart in the most predictable ways; Norman's sister was a one-dimentional man worshipper,... in fact, how come every female in this film (besides Norman's mom) was an aggressive type?

The film is desperately trying to be a nostalgic wink to 80's horror films, and 80's films in general, (due to the bam-slam beats of the background soundtrack, Freddie hockey masks, Poltergeist-ish ghouls rising from the ground, and unnecessary bad language.) None of it amounted to anything, since half the characters are yakking on very-2012-era cellphones, and the animation is stylistically similar to Laika's previous, (and far superior,) Coraline and the Pixar films of the last ten years. (If you're going for nostalgia, at least make it LOOK old-school.) There are some serious flaws in the logic of the film's second half: scary zombies are portrayed as innocent good guys seeking peace of mind, even though their mortal counterparts murdered a child. The young child is then portrayed as the big bad unspeakable Evil who must be tamed by the one-boy-who-nobody-understands. Though the last ten minutes of the film are nicely put together, (reminiscent of the more somber and intriguing Coraline,) this cannot save "Paranorman" from its insincere attempt to rip-off the 80's and slasher films, all while sugarcoating it as a kiddie flick.

If you want to see a recent animated flick that has an 80's Goonies-on-a-quest flavor, and is actually clever, witty, and campy, (something "Paranorman" tried to accomplish but never really succeeded in,) please watch "Monster House."

Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission

A must-watch for anybody wanting to travel to space, or for those who simply want to learn more about the ins-and-outs of the Russian Space Program. This is a very interesting documentary, even though there is not nearly enough detailing the historic 50-minute-buildup: Garriot's week-long stay at the International Space Station. Extra points for the old Skylab footage.


Despite the annoying decision for filmmakers to plaster Viggo Mortensen's face in the front and center of almost every scene of film,(to rub in the fact that Lord of the Rings was so successful,) Hidalgo is a good film with good music, good action, good drama, a surprise ending, and enough multiculturalism to make the cinematic 19th Century world believable enough. I only wished to see more horse-racing, less Arabian Nights.

The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D

This may sound shocking, but I found this odd-titled film half enjoyable, despite the overall feel like it was rushed through production, with no care whatsoever in the creation of numerous poke-you-in-the-eye 3D effects. As with the superior "Spy Kids" several years before, "Sharkboy and Lavagirl" works because of its INTENTIONAL cheesiness, its fun stab at interpreting children's intricate imaginations, and the inherent, humorous mockery of director Robert Rodriguez. Our main hero is a young boy who wants the simplest thing possible, the permission to dream and use his imagination, (which also happens to be the singular thing society and the educational system seeks to squash from the youngest age demographics.) Max is no loud-mouth, no smart-aleck, no "see-I-told-you-my-dreams-were-real-now-say-sorry" type of brat, but a quiet, "artsy" type who we've all met before. (Maybe we WERE him, long ago.) His two prized creations of Sharkboy and Lavagirl are always there to help despite their occasional quarrelling, and their quirky appearances and actions are, for lack of a better word, ridiculous. If they were anything else, I would have been sorely disappointed in the film. Characters become frozen into ice blocks and used as bobsleds to escape enemies; characters are attacked by electric eels and hunted down by giant electrical outlets; characters sleepwalk on queue, stop moving rollercoaster cars with their legs, shoot butterflies into each other's faces, sing rap-lullabies, and float downstream on giant chocolate-chip cookies. Childishly imaginative, unaboundedly silly. This is the type of fantasy "The Never Ending Story" wishes it was. However, despite a great start and even greater potential to be a classic, "Sharkboy and Lavagirl" ultimately is disjointed, its message of pro-imagination never fully-realized. All loose plot-threads are neatly tied by the final scene, but there is no sensible logic as to how they have been tied. In addition, as stated in the beginning of this review, much of the fanciful world of Planet Drool had been created within a computer, and the generally-bad quality of special effects detract from the fish boy and molten girl's antics. I believe the film could have been more successful if it had followed closer in the footsteps of Spy Kids: less visual blare, less moving around, less focus on getting the job done, and MORE absurd interactions between featuring flesh-and-blood actors and physical props.


Does not have the extended sequences of witty witty dialogue that made Hard Day's Night ooze with goodness, and much of the slapstick comedy may appear too Monty Python for some, but the film succeeds because it makes the 4 lads of Liverpool larger than life, their globe-trotting adventures poke fun at themselves and James Bond spy films of the 60's. This is a fun winner, whose humor and far-out story dwarfs Hard Day's Night.

The Mighty Ducks

It is fun, but somehow does not feel fun enough, big enough, or as important as it should be. I do like the underdog, anti-hero heroics of it all (Gordon Bombay was a drunk, cheating rat-of-an-attorney, the kids were all juvenile delinquents,) and the hockey scenes are fun and fancifully-slapstick. But it should have been a much "bigger" film.

Hotel Transylvania

It is nice to see that studios still make animated films with children as the primary audience; recent flicks from Pixar and Dreamworks have so many hidden in-jokes and adult themes, this film, with its young quirk and fast-paced slapstick, is refreshing. Genndy Tartakowsky, better known for his influence in tv's Samurai Jack and Dexter's Laboratory, shows his skill as a cartoonist with characters' colorful, squash-and-stretch aesthetic qualities, surpassing both Madagascar and Tangled for having the most-traditional-style "acting" in typically-stiff CGI. The story, focusing on the father-daughter relationship, is also rare these days.

However, I am unable to give this film more than three stars for several reasons. The crude humor is unnecessarily overpowering, and at times I felt like I was watching some post-Shrek cash in common in the first half of the last decade. Also, there were many plot holes (Dracula staying alive in broad daylight? The Invisible Man is allowed in the hotel and another human is not? etc.)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1

This mess starts nowhere and finishes nowhere. Exciting conclusions are supposed to accelerate, not slow down the action. I am not a big fan of splitting up one single book into two long movies for the sake of profit.

Robin and the Seven Hoods

Even though Sinatra and his rat pack friends won't get awards for acting, they can sure sing and swing. This 1964 musical is fun, has rock-solid performances, puts into comic light the era of glorified gangster crime, and is responsible for bringing "My Kind of Town" into the world.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

By the middle of this overstuffed flick, I found myself asking the impossible: "what does Bilbo Baggins have to do with all of this?" Then I remembered the book, which was about the journeys and adventures of the little hobbit. And I felt a longing to return to the world created by Tolkien, and to leave behind this mess created by Jackson.

In short, this disappointed me as much as the overly-epic Narnia movies.

The Magnificent Seven

If you can get past Yul Brynner's bald head and the downright hammy performance of Steve McQueen, this is actually an enjoyable film.

Napoleon Dynamite

Yet another comedy that glorifies idiots.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

I tried really hard to adore this film, with my preconceived expectation washed-over by waves of positivity from professional critics and peers. Seeing it, however, left me feeling downright confused. The film was replete with scenes that placed me in a black hole of emotions, as they neither made me laugh or feel excited. Worse, such scenes detracted from the whole experience, as they were placed in pivotal moments (ie, the big fights and/or character relationship scenes.) One such uncomfortable moment featured a man who takes a steel ax to the head, and he lays there, dead and cross-eyed, in front of the camera like a smiling, ax-headed triceratops. Is this supposed to be laughable or depressing? Or what? I'm not sure, but it killed the moment for me. The flying scenes, which at times are wonderful to behold, come off most of the time as Asian renditions of Peter Pan, minus the pixie dust. Again, is this supposed to be eye-popping or eye-watering (due to tears of mocking laughter?) I'm not sure.

On the positive side, Crouching Tiger had THE best martial arts sequences I have ever witnesses in a feature film, a decent story, and multiple, strong-willed female protagonists who decided the course of action, (a simple choice, but one that is sorely needed in modern films.) The editing is done very well, and is obvious during the extended flashback scene; (if handled by a run-of-the-mill Hollywood director, such a scene would seem boring and worthy of the editing room than the living room.)

Ang Lee has created something that is otherworldly, totally watchable, but, unfortunately, frustrating, as crucial moments are tarnished by misplaced humor (if that was Lee's intention.)

Marvel's The Avengers

Before viewing, I sensed that Avengers was Disney's efforts to cash-in on six or seven different characters, rolling them together in one cinematic casserole in hopes of generating six or seven times the profit. Ultimately, even though this is exactly the case, the film does manage to add enough humor to keep my attention. Ironically, the most interesting parts of the film are NOT when the heroes suit up and make a mess of New York, but when they are all crammed into a single, windowless room, taking verbal potshots at each other's shortcomings, armor-less and irritated.

If you are a moviegoer who likes a lot of 'bells and whistles' with your story, Avengers is for you. But if you are looking for something that Rotten Tomatoes describes as having "a script that never forgets its heroes' humanity," you may be left a little confused as I was; I know this film genre isn't the most realistic in the portrayal of human existence, but believability is deeply diminished after our heroes crash a multitude of times through trees/rocks/buildings/solid steel, and emerge with only fashionable cuts on upper eyebrows and lips. While the effects are good, they are all "expected," including the grand finale featuring falling buildings and fireballs, an image Hollywood has force fed the public since 9/11. I felt like I was watching a bunch of boys playing war games in the sandbox for two straight hours, and was shocked by how much I WASN'T laughing; this film should have been looser in its execution and even wittier in the dialogue department. (These are COMIC books, after all.)

However, despite all this, much of this film seemed to work. Downey Jr.'s Ironman, while coming off as an annoying playboy in his first two feature films, is very fitting alongside fellow Avengers; the man serves as a Han Solo-ish bad boy who intentionally stirs the hornet's nest of super tempers in order to fulfill his emotional whims. Johanasson's Black Widow, while never possessing a superhero power (a fact which raises many issues of on-screen sexism I won't get into here,) is quite strong-willed, and realistically gets her butt kicked as often as she kicks it; she is, perhaps, the most believable of the on-screen action figures. However, it is Ruffalo who shines the brightest; though his CG transformation into the epic, green guy is tarnished because special effects artists took the safe route by aping Peter Jackson's King Kong, (down to the chest thumping,) his mild-mannered scientist role makes him both sympathetic and understandable.

Overall, this is not a bad film; I would deffinately watch it again. However, I felt none of the awesomeness most have attributed to it, as it contained none of the intriguing dialogue in Nolan's The Dark Knight, nor the revolutionary CG effects of Raimi's original Spiderman in 2002.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

One of (if not THE) most emotionally-satisfying animes of the 2000-2010 decade. This is the film that put newcomer Mamoru Hosoda on the map, (who later directed Summer Wars and Wolf Children.) You can clearly see the sincerity poured onto every frame, from the detail in background paintings to subtle details and mannerisms of characters. Like a two-edged sword, "Tokikake," (as it is affectionately called by fans) works as both a slice-of-life, coming-of-age drama, as well as an intriguing sci-fi; it incorporates an ultra-believable teenage protagonist, whose relationship with other characters is so spot-on, you will forget this is an animated film. While the film could have used a few brief cuts here-and-there, it is an awesome effort from an awesome talent, with emotion that drives through the heart, heightened by a truly memorable soundtrack and top-notch animation. This is the type of anime Studio Ghibli should have produced circa 2006.


The original 1984 short had all the goodness of this hour-and-a-half production, but was packed into a much-tighter container. This 2012 version is, on the good side, a much-needed expansion of Burton's vision, with sights and scenes more professional and visually-appealing than his low-budget experiment.

Yet, Burton falls for the common fishhook for directors, which is: bigger is better. Not necessarily so, and definitely not in this case. More monsters, more action, more quirk, etc are fun, and elicit memories of old black-and-white horror movies, but the poor dog gets lost in the whole mess, resulting in a cookie-cutter plot about how one "shouldn't play god," directly and deeply contradicting the original's touching message about how love and determination conquers seemingly-impossible obstacles.

In short, I loved the key moments of Sparky's journey: his death, Victor's struggle to resurrect him, the neighborhood folks' odd feelings about the canine monster, and, most importantly, their eventual acceptance of him. However, with plot padding, new characters, and Burton's 20-year resume since the original Frankenweenie, I expected more.

Road to Bali
Road to Bali(1952)

The first and only "Road" picture in color emphasizes the exotic South-Sea location, which increases the humorousness of Hope and Crosby's famed international havoc. While it does not slam-dunk in the comic-absurdity department as "Road to Morocco," and while the actors' aging definitely shows, this is still a funny little film with enough good songs, pretty girls, and slack-stick humor to satisfy followers of the "Road" series.


THE quintessential Disney film of the 00's decade.

My Neighbors the Yamadas

Visually distinct, and completely unlike anything produced by Studio Ghibli, I often forget this film is part of the Ghibli canon, in part because of the simplistic, almost coloring-book artwork, as well as the borderline-Americanized plot and storyline. This is the last thing I would have expected from master filmmaker and longtime Ghibli veteran, Isao Takahata, who brought us the emotionally-enraged masterpieces "Only Yesterday" and "Grave of the Fireflies" in classic anime style.

This film is NOT bad. At times it is quite humorous, and even comes close to sad in many instances. However, I had a hard time deciphering who the target audience is. One minute, Yamadas feels like a children's film with its family antics; other times, it feels like something targeted for the fathers of families, with much time dedicated to broodings and feelings of the family dad.

Men in Black
Men in Black(1997)

I was disappointed in the entire film because the aliens/story/characters were completely unbelievable and unimaginative. At least Ghostbusters made the ghosts somewhat intriguing to look at.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

I felt like I was watching Lord of the Rings-lite the entire time.

The Time Machine

Decent adaption to a decent sci-fi book by Wells.


Often hated by those who feel their testosterone overpowers all, the first true animated Disney romance since Lady and the Tramp is gorgeous to behold, containing a retro style reminiscent of the pre-WWII Disney. It feels classic every way, which can be especially heard in Alan Menken's songs and score. "Colors of the Wind" may very well be one of the finest songs in the Disney canon, and "Just Around the River Bend" and "Savages" are not far behind; however, Pocahontas suffers, not because of any one flaw, but because it followed in the shadow of mega-hit Lion King.

The Prince of Egypt

This may very well be the king of all animated American features of the 1990s. Never trying to compete with Cecil B DeMille's live-action epic, this is a personal, lyrical, (and in many ways, more faithful) retelling of the story of Exodus. Most significantly is the decision to focus on the humanity and indecisiveness of Moses, instead of the iconic (borderline godlike) qualities often associated with a muscular Charton Heston. The musical score and numbers in this film impress in the greatest way possible; the animation, with its detail and careful attention to light and shadows, is reminiscent of moody Baroque art; the filmmakers, with Brenda Chapman at the helm, do not shy away from the disturbing, adult themes of the story. And to top it off, the climatic Red Sea still wows today because the scene was never crafted for photorealism, but for aesthetic sensation. This film is bold, beautiful, and speaks to children and adults alike, as it contains a certain joy rarely seen in the cartoon world.

Dreamworks Animation ain't what it use to be.

It Came from Outer Space

Despite pointless monologues from various protagonists, inferior special effects (even for 1953 standards,) and illogical plot details, this film is still a lot of fun to watch; it demonstrates a very-real concern for the American population concerning technological "others" threatening "our" well-being. It even begs the inconvenient question still haunting America today: what gives us to right to obliterate the things we personally dislike? This film was the first 3D picture for Universal Studios, and featured a story by the famed author and futurist Ray Bradbury.


This film recreates the comic misery of owning an oversized pooch who destroys your family and furniture, often in outlandish proportions, but it never loses focus of the central theme, and the usage of special effects and rude humor is never overdone. Pleasing human performances from Grodin, Hunt, and the ever-popular Dean Jones, (who makes one of his most memorable silverscreen appearances since his 1960's Disney classics.) This film has a decent score, and a surprising amount of heart.

The Cat Returns

What may very well be the most 'pointless' Studio Ghibli film is still better than many American animated efforts. A simple story, cute characters, and a sense of humor allow this anime to succeed, even though it is nowhere near the same quality level as past efforts like Spirited Away or Laputa: Castle in the Sky.

Star Trek Generations

Weak plot typical villain, but William Shatner gives a wonderful final performance.


Historically inaccurate portrayal of the first test pilots to reach the edge of space; the film's redeeming quality is that its combination of human drama and aerospace technicalities, influenced both Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff.

Love.Com: The Movie

Charming, funny, romantic, sad, silly. Everything a first-love flick should be. The simple story of a height-challenged boy in love with the tallest girl is augmented by a manga-inspired visual flair, and set in the ultra colorful world of hip contemporary Japan, where teenagers' hairstyles and fashion accessories are more interesting and awe-inspiring than most American summer action flicks.

Faraway, So Close! (In weiter Ferne, so nah!)

The film is consistantly intriguing, well-acted, and relies on subtle originality to spur on one scene to the next. However, the plot moves relatively slow, and never reach a grandeur resolution, which one would expect, considering the brilliant spritually-stirring First Act of the angels watching over mortals residing in Berlin.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

This movie never appealed to me initially, but has grown on me over time. This fact shows the universal appeal of the story and characters. Tim Burton's designs, (coupled with Henry Selick's keen sense of movement and 3D space,) complement each other, resulting in one of the most impressive and distinct worlds in animation.

Hotaru no haka (Grave of the Fireflies)

One of the most depressing, but brilliantly directed, animes from the famed Studio Ghibli.

Jurassic Park III

The only saving grace is the fact that it was made with intentional humor.

The Neverending Story

Interesting character designs, spacey music, and fascinating fantasy... but the plot is remarkably cliche for a "book" that is supposed to be fully-absorbing.

The Lost World - Jurassic Park

A big disappointment, especially when the first one was so good.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

The first Star Trek film has an obvious bipolar personality struggle: it wants to be Star Wars: A New Hope and 2001: A Space Odyssey, when it should be neither. On the occasions that feel like classic "Star Trek," the flick is quite enjoyable.


Still Michael Bay's best effort. Though it unsuccessfully mixes suspense with humor, and eschews the simplest of astronomical concepts, the third act is engaging, (and a bit unexpected.) This film also has a longer shelf life than the run-of-the-mill Action/Adventure because it introduced audiences to the very-real threat from space; though 1998 is in the distant past, the possibility of a giant astroid destroying human civilization is engrained in the minds of pop culture. Due to this fact, I view "Armageddon" as a semi-important landmark in pop culture, (in the same manner DNA and cloning was introduced into household conversations with 1993's Jurassic Park.) You can say what you want about the overall noise, the quirky characters, and the unnecessary clutter of dialogue, but at the film's core, the filmmakers got it right: space travel is bold, dangerous, but rewarding. One scene towards the film's conclusion shows young children playing with toy space shuttles, reenacting the crew's asteroid-drilling operations; there needs to be more "space" movies with this kind of optimism. No alien attacks, no time-warping. No hyper-drive. (In fact, no "villain,"" except for the villainous problem at hand.) Just a bunch of mortal human beings, a simple plan, a spacecraft to get the job done, and a clock ticking backwards.

The Mask of Fu Manchu

Despite inborn racism regarding the portrayal of a highly "Americanized" 1930's Orient, Fu Manchu is wonderfully executed in its artistic morbidity; costumes, Karloff's shady nuances, and surreal stage sets, push this flick from mere Adventure talkie to horror.

The Secret of Kells

I felt like I had stumbled into a beautiful, colorful dream free from linear perspective. Magical and replete with mythology and mystery, the animation and narration are mostly free from nonessential clutter, leaving viewers with specific images and moods. If you hear someone screaming in the background, it is those big toon studios with their photorealistic, rendered messes, wishing they had the ability to simultaneously create art that is both abstract and emotionally concise.

Brendan's interaction with Aisling has a certain fairy-tale quality, illiciting memories of traditional Irish folklore, but the simplisitc, (almost Cubist,) visuals and modern dialogue give a much-needed dose of 21st Century sensibility. The authentically- accented voicework of Evan McGuire, Christen Mooney, and Brendan Gleeson contribute to the experience.

This isn't a Disney toon, but it isn't a Japanese anime film from Studio Ghibli, either. It is in a league all to itself. My only complaint with "Secret of Kells" is that several places seemed too humorous in context of the situation. Many scenes will, no doubt, remind viewers that this is a "kiddie" film; however, because the film had been created with children as their target demographic, this is not a bad thing.

The Christmas Toy

This charming Christmas TV special is guaranteed to make you believe two things: 1) Jim Henson is a creative genius. 2) Pixar has committed one of the biggest copyright infringements in cinema history with "Toy Story." John Lasseter and Co. should be ashamed.

This special, while being a warm, funny, and imaginative take on what happens to toys once kids leave the vicinity, contains a surprising bite of frigidness; the fear of being caught by humans, and the resulting death-like state that awaits all toys who step out of line, make this show unique, and timeless. Peppered with heartbreaking moments throughout, Christmas Toy also captures the tender feelings experienced by children on Christmas Day. This is not standard kiddie stuff, and adults should not shy away from watching this one.

My one and only complaint is that the ending is a bit sugarcoated, the happy resolution is sudden, and seems to contradict several "rules" in the toy universe; however, I understand Henson's choice, as Christmas should ultimately be a happy, joyous occasion free from fear and sadness.

Short Circuit

The most impressive aspect is its technical achievements, as Number 5 looks like he/it really is a fully-functional AI, down to the hydraulic joints and wiring. Though several bots were used in the filming of the picture, the illusion that there is only one Number 5 performing is convincing. "Short Circuit" is often humorous, (Ally Sheedy's character thinking the robot is an alien, a clever reference to ET,) often sweet (the obvious inspiration for PIxar's Wall-E,) and explodes with a sense of 80's optimism: clearly, this was the era of the microprocessor, the rising field of computer science and mega-minds Gates and Jobs. High tech and proud to be so.

The Bride of Frankenstein

The opening scene portraying author Mary Shelly conversing with Percy Shelly and Lord Byron sets the film up to be wittier and more satirical film than the original classic. While this is generally the case, (most apparent during the unusual, and unusually touching, scene between the monster and an old blind man,) the flick often fizzles in spouts of sequel-itis. Instead of advancing the story or pushing the characters to new territory, the filmmakers generally settle with cheap shock-and-awe to outdo the original film. On a final note, the monster's mate had disappointingly-little screen time.

John Carter
John Carter(2012)

There is so much wonder and eye-popping excitement within the original Burroughs books, to attempt a John Carter film would be difficult. Sadly, Andrew Stanton does not even seem to try to entertain the senses, as the Marscape looks curiously similar to the high deserts of California, the costumes are indistinguishable from those in Prince of Persia, and the CG spacecraft look like they belong on the Wookie planet from Star Wars Episode III. In addition, the film suffers from the obligatory prologue which ruins all hope of later suspense, and the actors do not fulfill their assigned roles. John Carter, who should be the Tarzan of the Stars, (wonderfully portrayed in the past through Frank Frazetta paintings,) is reinterpreted as a forgettable-looking flip-flop who can't decide if he should fight or stay home. And whoever claimed that Lynn Collins' character is a "good role model" for women should be drug out into the street and shot.

The Invisible Man

Claude Rains' performance is incredible even though, ironically, he is never seen until the final shot. The actor's foaming-mad-dog voice of uncontrollable rage is enthralling; couple this with incredible special effects (for the early 1930,) and H G Wells' most intriguing storyline, and you have an incredible masterpiece that gets to the point quickly.


Arguably, Tim Burton's finest.


The original, mostly wordless, first act is heavy in sci-fi/political satire, and this should have carried through the film's entirety. Instead, we get one chase scene after another, filled with enough technological geekery to make every Radio Shack worker giggle in delight. The second the adorable Wall-E leaves Earth's boundaries, the plot gets lost in space.


A classic example of how the implication of horror is more powerful than simply "showing it." The entire "Indianapolis" sequence deserves to go down in movie history as one of the most well-formunlated, appropriately-paced, and emotionally-charged scenes. "Jaws" proves that there is more to suspense than just eye-candy.

Winnie the Pooh

Disney Animation Studios has succeeded in the seemingly impossible; they have carbon-copied the original Pooh film, down to the simplistic artwork and charming voices... and yet managed to make the final product extremely unsatisfying. Deliberately contrived to illicit memories of the Original, there are very few surprises and very little originality. Overall, this Pooh is one of the studio's weakest efforts for an animated feature film since the 40's package-films like "Fun and Fancy Free;" not including the end credits, which practically run the length of the film, this is an overstuffed short flick, not unlike Pixar's "Tin Toy" and "Geri's Game." Unless you are a Pooh fan who cherishes every little bit of the "silly old bear," you will feel cheated and let down. I am depressed, as this film singularly represents the final nail in the coffin for Disney's 2D animation department.

The Bride Wore Black

Successfully walks the line between suspense and humor. Dark, dark humor.

War Horse
War Horse(2011)

The horse and its various human acquaintances come together in an unforgettably tender and somber wartime historical drama. While the film plods along without a guiding map along the middle, the remarkably focused first and third acts unfold in classic Spielbergian style. The sweeping musical score and the realistic portrayals of trench warfare contribute to the memorability of War Horse.

The Muppets
The Muppets(2011)

This film panders so much to the original Muppet fans growing up in the 70s and 80s, that it completely forgets to fulfill its number one priority: to connect with children/families living in the year 2011. Sadly, the majority of the film spends an agonizingly long time reminiscing about how "the Muppets WERE," how great things "use to be," and how the contemporary entertainment industry "doesn't get it." Going down this route automatically niche's the concept.

If I wanted an origin story, I'd just watch the original "Muppet Movie," which was far snappier and funnier.


It is nice to see the Monkees in their own feature-length film. However, this groovy, 60's-era trip suffers from the fact that the boys' core audience was kids and young teenagers; "Head" tackles so many psychological truths about society and the mass media, its deeper message seems almost inappropriate for a musical group/tv personalities specializing in "happy go lucky" antics. This film would have been more successful if it was lighter, more playful, and with more cinematic structure.


Great film, even though most of the frights are now considered cliche. But for 1982, this was the horror hit.

The Little Mermaid

The Disney film that made Disney Disney for my generation.

The Long, Long Trailer

To enjoy this movie, you need to have experience with either a trailer or an RV.
I have.

The Secret World of Arrietty

While it does not retain complex characters of Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke, this movie is still an emotional, original, and beautiful movie.

Howl's Moving Castle

The only film directed by Hayao Miyazaki that I am not completely thrilled with.

Princess Mononoke

Beautiful, unique, and absorbing.

Whisper of the Heart (Mimi wo sumaseba) (If You Listen Closely)

Highly overlooked in the US because of the lack of explosions and wisecracks. The most relaxing, visually absorbing, and heartwarming of Ghibli films, I felt the magic and love poured into each frame of this film. Neither a fantasy or an action film, I still found the protagonist's story unique, the setting special. My only complaint is the recurring theme song: i would loved to have heard anything but Country Roads.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Should have renamed this one the "never-ending story." Obviously, Peter Jackson loves his film so much he does not have a clue of how to end it. On top of it, it has poor pacing, surprisingly little Frodo & Sam, and I hated the ghosts at Pelinor Fields.


What graphic novel adapted films should be like.

The Adventures of Tintin

could have been fun. could have been memorable. Sorry. I'll take the 90's animated tv series over this any day.


I have always loved this movie.

How to Train Your Dragon

Drops the ball in the third act, but still a good watch.


A very satisfying, if a bit sad, film.

Disney's A Christmas Carol

Captures the Victorian Dickens era quite well, though at times it stumbles too far into Tim Burton territory.

Ernest Saves Christmas

Always been one of my favorites


Act 3 plays out too much like a typical action film, but Acts 1 and 2 will astound you.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

This is a classic, but not in the vein of "Shane" or "High Noon." It is something all to itself!

The Dark Crystal

One of the greatest fantasies ever.

The Illusionist (L'illusionniste)

It's no "Belleville," but it's good.

The Happiest Millionaire

Last from the old mousetro. While not the studio's best, it is still charming, funny, and has good music.

Spy Kids
Spy Kids(2001)

This movie came out of nowhere, and amazed me how good it was!


Classic, if a bit dated

The Quick and the Dead

I actually liked this better than Spiderman 2


One of the best!
Note to Rottentomatoes: this film was NOT released in 2002, but 1998!

Bicentennial Man

One of the greatest mysteries of my life is why the heck this only got 37% fresh on rotten tomatoes. Perhaps it was the fact that there were no scenes of robots killing people, perhaps it was because of the lack of explosions and car chases, but this is real science fiction/ drama, the way it should be. It not only complements Asimov's "Positronic Man," but it surpasses it by adding humor and a touching conclusion.

Blade Runner
Blade Runner(1982)

Apart from the flying cars in the year 2019, this film is timeless.


Sorry to say this, as I loved del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth to death, but this film is typical, dry, and unoriginal. Sure, the costumes are great, and the creatures are cool, but the dialogue is predictable, and the bad guys are cliches. I expect more from del Toro.

Bridge to Terabithia

Great acting, great story, emotional, and memorable. Why only 3 out of 5? Because it doesn't quite capture the carefree and innocent tone of the novel, and Disney tried to push too much of its "let's-imitate-Lord-of-the-Rings" mentality into it.

Only Yesterday

This movie will make you cry.

Finding Nemo
Finding Nemo(2003)

The most overrated Pixar film. A virtually nonexistent plot, stereotypical characters, and boring music. When the backgrounds look photorealistic and the characters look like bath-tub toys, you know you've got a clash of ideas.

Ice Princess
Ice Princess(2005)

The most underrated Disney film in the past ten years. This one is much more than it seems; the acting is good, the music is catchy, and it actually has an emotional pulse. Refreshingly simple, surprisingly sincere, and you'll really believe Michelle Trachtenberg can skate!

The Electric Horseman

It has its moments, but loses focus in the third act. Redford is good, though.

Destination Moon

Surprisingly good, surprisingly scientific, and surprisingly accurate to what the next 10 years will be.

13 Going on 30

Best romantic comedy of the 2000s.

Spirited Away

One of the best. Ever. And I mean it.

The Mask of Zorro

The swashbuckler "Pirates" wish they were.


Chrisopher Nolan? You owe Satoshi Kon big time!