The 5 Most Overrated Movies of All Time

Since you’re on this site, you probably enjoy discussing movies. And like me, you’ve probably been frustrated by seeing a movie you couldn’t stand, only to find out everyone else loves it. Of course, since I’m taking down overrated movies here, you probably also love at least some of the movies in this article. So it’s important to remember that even a great movie is simply that — a movie. I don’t necessarily expect you to agree with me, as long as you consider my thoughts and enjoy the read, and perhaps leave a response. But if I can release a few people from their servitude to one of these movies, my work will not be in vain.

Without further ado, the most overrated movies of all time:

Glory poster#5 Glory (1989 Dir. Edward Zwick)

Okay, before I get a contract out on my life, I’m not saying Glory  is a bad  movie. I’m just saying it doesn’t deserve its five Oscar nominations, slough of other awards or the endless adulation it’s received. I know in our political and cultural climate, hardly anyone dares criticize such a movie, so for the first time ever, let’s take an honest look at Glory.

Colonel Robert Shaw (Matthew Broderick) is commissioned to lead the first Regiment of black soldiers in the U.S. Army. The sequences of training the regiment are far more Hollywood than history. For instance, there is a scene in which soldier Silas Trip (Denzel Washington) is caught deserting, and is to be flogged before the regiment. We are supposed to be shocked when Drill Sergant Mulcahy (John Finn) yanks Trip’s shirt down to reveal years’ worth of whip scares. Shaw actually starts crying when he sees this. Trip then stares unflinchingly at Shaw while he is flogged, as Shaw whimpers like a little girl.

This brings us to my indictment of Glory, and of those who praise it. It’s less about its quality than about the fact that people seem to think the film is making some kind of bold statement about the country’s history. But if a film wants to make a bold statement about history, it needs to get history right. Modern audiences are moved by the scene above. But Shaw would not have been. The thing people forget is that we are looking at the U.S. Army of the 1860s. White men in the army where routinely flogged for deserting, falling asleep on duty, or having an unkempt uniform. They were also accustomed to sleeping on the ground, eating maggoty bread and (get this) being shot. Shaw most likely had scars on his own back, and had certainly been grazed by a bullet at the Battle of Winchester.

The movie tries to deal with a lot of arguments and issues that would find no place in a military environment, especially if you want to tell a story of honor and glory. We hear a lot of infantile whining about military discipline, not only by new recruits, but by white officers we’re supposed to sympathize with. Then there’s the scene where Shaw informs the regiment that the Confederate Congress has issued a proclamation that any negro captured while fighting for the North will be executed. After he delivers the shocking news that if they go to war they might die, we’re supposed to be inspired when they are all still there the next day.

To be fair, Glory  certainly has some things going for it. It’s interesting and refreshing to see a full cast of black actors playing very different characters fighting together. Both black and white bring passion to their roles and there are some really powerful moments, especially the campfire the night before the climactic battle. Also, as race movies go, this one is a lot deeper than most. But for every great moment there’s another one that’s ruined by awkward acting or cheap cinematography, including, sadly, the crowning moment of an otherwise good climax.

The climax is the 54th’s doomed assault on Ft. Wagner on July 18, 1863. We see Shaw and Trip fatally shot at the foot of the fort’s walls. The remaining major characters, and a lot of extras, then storm the fort. The crescendo comes when Sgt. John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman), Major Cabot Forbes (Cary Elwes), Thomas Searl and Jupiter Sharts run up onto a ledge before they are killed by cannon fire. It’s all supposed to happen in a moment, because they died fighting. However, the camera focuses on them for well over a second, as they stand there awkwardly, posing for the camera. You can almost see Freeman thinking “Aw, yeah, I’m gonna get another great close up!” while you can see Elwes looking for Zwick, thinking “Do I tilt my gun up a little? Down a little?” And finally, even though we saw Washington shot through the chest at the bottom of the hill, we then see him running up behind everyone, craning his neck as if to say “I want to be in the picture, too!” Not only that, but the camera actually cuts away from this awkward pose to the cannons, and then back to the awkward pose for another second or so, before our heroes disappear in cannon smoke, making it truly laughable.

It makes a great still, but the moving version is pretty painful

It makes a great still, but the moving version is pretty painful

For better or worse, Glory  has had a huge impact on movies since. The black Union soldier has become to civil war movies what the explosion is to Michael Bay movies, even though, in reality, there were black men fighting for the South before there were black men fighting for the North (yeah, that’s right) and the role played by black Union soldiers in the war was actually very small. Glory  is a solid movie over all, and I own a copy that I enjoy watching from time to time. But come on. Five Oscars? Really?

Society’s rating (according to Rotten Tomatoes):

My rating:

 

Cars poster#4 Cars (2006 Dir. John Lasseter)

There isn’t much that can be said about this one, except that if it hadn’t been riding the coattails of Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, it wouldn’t have had nearly the success that it did. As Doug Walker put it, it seems more like a satire of a Pixar film than an actual Pixar film. Cars spawned an endless flood of toys, lunchboxes and kiddie toilet seats, as well as a handful of sequels, all to the tune of $10 billion in the first five years after it came out. And does anyone even remember what it was about? Don’t feel bad, I had to look it up myself.

The first reason this movie doesn’t work is the world it tries to create. Consider A Bug’s Life, which is similar in that it has an entirely non-human cast, in this case ants and other bugs. This works well, because bugs actually have their own existence, independent of humans, so it’s interesting to hear a story about what hopes, fears and conflicts bugs might have in their own world. Cars‘ world is populated with anthropomorphic machines, with no trace of human existence. But if there are no humans, where did all these machines come from? Did a submarine crawl out of the sea millions of years ago and magically grow wheels? Or was there some divine mechanic that took a side panel from the first daddy car and made the first mommy car, and told them to bump uglies and fill the earth? And if so, from whence did the babies come, mommy’s tail pipe? See the problem here?

Anthropomorphic vehicles have worked better in other movies, usually as a foil to a more serious plot, or as wisecracking sidekicks, such as the taxi in Roger Rabbit. It can be interesting to see a show where sentient vehicles interact with their owners, e.g. Nightrider, or interact with each other, talking about the jobs they do for  their owners. But machines exist only to serve a purpose. With no humans in Cars, the writers have to stretch their characters into emotional and organic roles that don’t make sense. For instance, near the beginning, Lightning McQueen is pursued by a police car. The police car’s motor back fires a few times. McQueen exclaims “he’s shooting at me! Why is he shooting at me?” A better question would be “how is he shooting at me?”

But let’s say we get past all this, and generously grant the film its ill-conceived premise, and just judge it by its own standards. It’s still not a a good movie. It’s not terrible, but it’s just a handful of overused cliches with nothing original. We start out with a self-absorbed, ambitious protagonist, McQueen, that we know is going to learn a lesson in the end. We then learn that he doesn’t have any friends. Through a misadventure, he finds himself a fish out of water in a small, forgotten town out of the interstate limelight. Some of the characters of this town are Rockwellian stereotypes, such as Doc, who is both the town judge and the town doctor. The rest are more recent stereotypes, like a hippie, a big city lawyer and a fairly racist Hispanic stereotype.

cars sugar

This movie is sugary enough to give a man diabetes.

We hear a lot of rhetoric about how small town poverty is better than big city wealth, which is always amusing coming from Hollywood producers. McQueen, who has learned the value of hard work during his trial, ultimately gets everything he wanted in the beginning anyway, but turns down millions of dollars to be “happy.” The story pushes the familiar idea that friendship and family are better than worldly success, but never believes in its own message enough to sell it. Significantly, none of the characters in this movie have any meaningful family connections. How could they, after all?

Even if Cars isn’t good, it is kind of cute, and I suppose that’s what sold so many products. If you like this movie, it doesn’t mean you’re an idiot. It just means you’re easily entertained.

Society’s rating:

My rating:

 

Avengers poster#3 The Avengers (2012 Dir. Joss Whedon)

The success of The Avengers is a powerful testament to the superiority of aggressive marketing over quality product. For some reason, American moviegoers made this film the highest-grossing film of 2012, probably the second most embarrassing choice by the American public in that year.

There is a video game series called Marvel Ultimate Alliance. The story of the game is an afterthought as an excuse to cram every single Marvel character in to the same game and have them go around beating up polygons. I’ve never found it that interesting, but it works okay as a game. The problem with Avengers is that it’s exactly the same thing, except we, the audience, don’t get to play.

Anytime you cram several superheroes into the same story you’re playing with fire. You’re mixing mythologies and there’s usually not enough time to develop all of them and create enough suspension of belief. For instance, why in the name of Odin can a hammer forged by the gods and imbued with the power of lightning and thunder not break (or even dent) Captain America’s shield? I don’t care if it was designed by Howard Stark. And even if we grant that the shield is indestructible, why is Cap’s arm not broken behind it? This might seem like a minor detail, but Avengers is full of questions like this, because the mythologies don’t gel. And because they don’t, we have to settle for a movie that is about like watching a video game. The B-movie “story” concerns a race of computer-generated aliens that invade New York City. Who are these guys? We don’t really know. Where do they come from? Who cares? What were the events that provoked their hostility with the Earth? If they can rip open a portal to NYC, what prevents them from attacking several points of Earth at once? And if they have such technology, why do they still need live mounts? None of these questions are ever bothered with, as these aliens are just cannon fodder for the heroes to show off their powers. The aliens are led by Loki, who has transitioned from being a poorly written prodigal son in Thor (first he hates Odin, then he loves Odin, then he throws himself down to the earth because Odin simply tells him “no”) to now being a flat-out cartoon villain, consumed with a drive to (what else?) take over the world.

Now, which one of these pictures is from Avengers ...

Now, which one of these pictures is from Avengers …

Marvel Studios also needs to learn that stone walls do not a prison make, nor rampant destruction an action sequence. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent rendering huge battle sequences for Avengers in which skyscrapers and aircraft carriers are laid waste, and the audience never breaks a sweat. In fact, the one action sequence in the movie that’s actually engaging is the one-on-one fight between Hawkeye and Black Widow, which involves no CGI, but only great choreography.

... and which one is from Man of Steel?

… and which one is from Man of Steel?

This summer, movie goers were treated to a similar movie, The Man of Steele, which was panned by critics and audiences alike. And not without reason. But the people who lapped up Avengers  never seemed to realize that Man of Steele  was the same movie (In fact, Google either one, and you’ll get lots of images from both). Avengers  throws constant superhuman fighting in your face with no rules of reality. Man of Steele  does the same thing. Avengers  spends most of its two hours blowing up trains and tearing skyscrapers to bits. Man of Steele  does the same thing. Avengers wastes precious little time on story or character development. Man of Steele  does the same thing. In fact, Man of Steele comes out the stronger, because

Is that gravel spray being raised by Clark or the Hulk? Who knows?

Is that gravel spray being raised by Clark or the Hulk? Who knows?

the director isn’t mediating between six stars and dividing up the face time. We at least get an interesting and moving expose of Clark’s relationship with his parents, and Michael Shannon is actually able to develop a compelling (if over-the-top) villain in General Zod. The only thing Avengers  brings to the table that Man of Steele  doesn’t is some great shots of Gwyneth Paltrow from behind and Scarlet Johansson from above. In fact, Amy Adams as Lois Lane spends most of her movie in a parka. But really, which of those two options is the mark of the superior film?

Society’s rating:

My rating:

 

Princess B poster#2 The Princess Bride (1987 Rob Reiner)

We now reach the hard-core portion of this list. Strong of heart, read on. I apologize if I shatter your childhood, but it’s high time that you knew 1) there is no Santa Clause, and 2) this movie sucks. The faithful reader may remember my review of The Grey, in which I commented that, at the end, I felt like an 18-year-old groupie who had been picked up by Director Joe Carnahan, only to find out in bed that Carnahan had this … “little problem.” My experience watching The Princess Bride was similar, except that I felt more like a chronically cheated-on wife, who has spent years going to counseling and forgiven her husband over and over and over again, because he has promised to take her on some romantic vacation to some exotic location, and then, when the time comes, he leaves her at the airport and goes off with his secretary.

From the start, we see a cheap movie. Cheap sets, cheap camera work, cheap actors. But it still shows signs of being a fun, campy fairy tale. After enduring the griping of a young, ailing Fred Savage about the story being read to him, we see the story of a girl named Buttercup (Robin Wright) falling in love with a farm boy named Wesley (Cary Elwes). Buttercup later hears that a ship carrying Wesley was taken by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who never takes prisoners, so she figures he’s dead. Five years later, she is betrothed to Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). However, she is kidnapped by three brigands and taken on a ship. At one point, she tries to escape by jumping overboard, and hears a strange noise. And here we have a good example of the crystalline dialogue we get to hear over and over in this film. The leader, Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) shouts out “You hear that, highness? Those are the shrieking eels! They always grow louder when they’re about to feast on human flesh!” Did they have a five-year-old write this? Vizzini also spends much of this part of the movie repeatedly shouting “inconceivable!” It gets old real fast. He also shouts lines like “Move the thing! And that other thing!

I’ll admit this part does a good job of creating mystery and suspense, as they find themselves being followed by a stranger who gains on them no matter what they do. After they scale the Cliffs of Insanity, Vizzini cuts the rope at the top, leaving the stranger clinging to the cliff side. He instructs his swordsman, Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), to dispatch him once he reaches the top, while he and Fezzik (Andre the Giant) escape with Buttercup.

The stranger ascends, and we get the single awesome scene of the movie. And awesome it is! I have PB fightpersonally studied under Ted Katzoff, the Fencing Maestro who choreographed this scene. The man is a swordplay genius (not to mention one of precious few non-European Maestros). He has worked on films such as Hook and Outrageous Fortune, and I would expect nothing less than what he delivers in this scene. The swordsmanship displayed by both combatants is truly remarkable, being both technically proficient and exciting to watch. Each man starts out fencing with his left hand, and just when we think one of them is going to lose, he switches to his right! We get flips, dives, stair fencing, the whole nine yards. The whole movie should be like this. Alas …

The stranger bests Inigo, but knocks him out rather than killing him. He then goes on to somehow defeat Andre the Giant in a wrestling match that still somehow manages to be boring. Finally, he bests Vizzini in what is called a “battle of wits,” but is really just a contest to see whose ears start bleeding last from listening to Wallace Shawn’s incessant, nasal rambling. Thankfully, Shawn dies. Buttercup is now the stranger’s prisoner, and in a following scene, she learns that he is the pirate who killed her love. Eventually she pushes him down a hill. The camp meter shoots up here, from merit-badge-camp-out to Mt. Everest-base-camp. As he rolls down the hill, he shouts out a catch phrase that Wesley used to say to Buttercup. This is supposed to immediately clue Buttercup in that the stranger is actually Wesley. Upon realizing this, she throws herself down the hill for … some reason, and we have this long, stupid scene of them rolling down a hill, at the bottom of which they kiss.

About this time, we join Humperdinck and his right hand man, Count Rugen (Christopher Guest), at the head of a search party, examining the footprints from Inigo’s fight with Wesley. Two things take shape in this scene. First, we see that Humperdinck is able to analyse the fencing technique of both fighters from their tracks, implying that he is a skilled fighter and tracker himself. Second we learn that Humperdinck hired the brigands to kidnap and kill Buttercup, in order to frame a neighboring kingdom for it, to generate public support for a war. Humperdinck is beginning to show himself as a stereotypical fairy tale villain. And that’s a good thing because, as we all know, when people go to a fairy tale movie, they’re going to see sword fights. Yes, there’s also that “true love” thing, but there’s no point in having a true love if there’s no danger to save her from. That’s why good movies of this genre, such as Errol Flynn movies or Zorro movies, are packed with sword fights, each one more spectacular than the last, leading up to the climactic battle between the hero and the villain, which should blow us all away. Yes, it’s a formula, but there’s a reason it’s a formula. And hey! Reiner has already got Maestro Katzoff right there on set, and he has two sympathetic swordsmen, Wesley and Inigo, still alive after their fight. What’s more, we’ve learned of Inigo’s vendetta against Count Rugen for killing his father, so we also have two villainous swordsmen, with henchmen at their command. Perfect!

Make no mistake, while there have been some clever moments, up to this point, this has been by no means a good movie. We’ve seen ham-fisted acting, painful one-liners, and gaping plot holes. There’s been no explanation of why Humperdinck wants to go to war, or who with. For that matter, why was he trying to catch the brigands if he hired them? I’ve been overlooking all of this because there has got to be some more of that swashbuckling action before too long. I mean, it’s not like Reiner would actually put his one good fight scene in the first 20 minutes of the movie! Would he?

The boneheaded moments are coming faster now. As they walk through the Fire Swamp, Wesley tells  Buttercup the story of how he was, in fact, captured by Roberts, but Roberts took him on as a valet. Three years later, Roberts decided to retire, and so appointed Wesley to plunder in his place.

Wait a minute! Did I miss something here? This is our hero in this fairy tale? And he’s spent the last two years as a pirate, killing people by his own admission? Was he under some kind of coercion? Was he using his position to undermine Humperdinck’s oppression of the masses? Was he at least using his ill-gotten gains to provide for the less fortunate? If any of these things are true, we’re never given any indication. We’re just left to assume that Wesley has been raping and pillaging his way around Florin for two years because … his old boss said to. Worse yet, at the end of the movie, Wesley actually suggests to Inigo that Inigo take over raping and pillaging from him!

At least our primal couple are walking through a dark and dangerous swamp from which none have returned. What thrilling dangers and battles lay ahead? Will Wesley have to fight dragons? Trolls? Orcs? Will the adversity finally force Buttercup to find her inner strength so she can be of help? The tension is palpable as they push their way through vines and trees. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Wesley is pounced upon by a … rat? A freaking RAT! Granted it’s an unusually big rat; one might even say a rodent of unusual size, but it’s a freaking rat! In addition, it doesn’t look real at all. So we spend three minutes watching Buttercup cower in a corner while Wesley rolls around with a stuffed animal.

But that’s okay, because the climax is going to be awesome.

Miracle Max. Amusing, but too little, too late.

Miracle Max. Amusing, but too little, too late.

To make a long story short, they get out of the swamp and Humperdinck captures Wesley and sends him to the torture chamber, leading Buttercup to believe he has been released. Humperdinck eventually kills Wesley by sucking his life away. On the day that Humperdinck and Buttercup are to be married, Fezzik and Inigo break into the torture chamber and steal Wesley’s body. They obtain a pill which brings him back to life, but with temporary paralysis. The three break into the castle. Inigo has to fight four guards, but it’s over in about three seconds. He then confronts Rugen, who flees. Inigo gives chase, but Rugen is able to trick him by throwing a dagger into his gut. He recovers, however. This fight isn’t terrible, but it’s nothing compared to the first one. Inigo basically backs Rugen into a corner and skewers him after some dialogue.

But that’s okay, because we’re almost to the big fight between Wesley and Humperdinck!

Buttercup enters the bridal chamber, sick with grief after the wedding, and is about to kill herself, when she hears Wesley’s voice! She turns to see him lying on the bed. They kiss and he tells her she’s not married, because she didn’t say “I do,” and didn’t do “it.”

“A technicality that will shortly be remedied.” Ooh, boy! Our contrived, two dimensional villain stands in the doorway, sword in hand. Chills run up my spine. This is it! “But first, to the death!” Sounds good to me. “No!” Wesley says. “To the pain!” Um, okay. That sounds fine, as long as you guys fight.

Well, not just yet. First we have to listen to a long explanation of what “to the pain” means. Finally (finally!), Wesley rises to his feet and the fight is on! He raises his sword. Humperdinck counters by … dropping his sword?? Then sitting down and letting Buttercup tie him up? No!

No, dammit, no! Don’t do this to me!

I forgave the whiny, prepubescent Fred Savage, the shrieking eel nonsense and Wallace Shawn’s inconceivably annoying rants. I forgave our “hero” spending years as a murderous pirate for no discernible reason.  I forgave the stupid and unscary “battle” with a stuffed animal in the Fire Swamp.  I forgave the torturously boring torture scene and the physiologically ridiculous fight between Inigo and Rugen, but I forgave those things because this movie promised a thrilling climax. A dazzling duel between hero and villain. I mean, they had a world-class fencing maestro right there on set. He had already done a great job with one fight scene — the one at the end should have been even better! Fencing on rafters! Falling chandeliers! Backflips! But the best Reiner could come up with was to have the villain wimp out and sit down and get tied up. Haven’t you ever seen a campy sword movie, Reiner? You couldn’t possibly have thought this movie was good enough to be different.

When I first saw this movie, I had a headache for the next day or so, thinking of the two hours I’d never get back. Even after I saw it, I really wanted to like it, but I’m just not that dumb.

Society’s rating:

My rating:

 

And now, the most overrated movie of all time:

 

 

Nightmare poster#1 Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993 Dir. Henry Selick)

This is it, the creme de la crap. How this mess of a movie achieved critical acclaim and won a loyal cult following of tens of millions, I will never understand. Everything about it is just plain warped, right up to the way it was marketed. It was sold to the public as a Christmas family film, and given mild-sounding PG rating. Then, as soon as the theatre doors were shut, a door that looked like a pumpkin swung open and families with young children were sucked into a world full of vampires, werewolves and ghouls in a celebration of the macabre. And I have to admit that this opening number is pretty cool — that is it would be if this were a horror movie. But it’s a Christmas movie, dammit. At least that’s what it said on the poster. Don’t get me wrong, the horror genre has its place, but this is not it. We have to wait until 20% of the movie has gone by to see the first glimmers of holiday cheer. And even once it arrives, there’s not much too it. I know we’ve all seen plenty of cheesy holiday specials with titles like So-and-so saves Christmas, and most of us were tired of them by age 10. But to those specials’ credit, they at least make an effort to capture the true feelings of Christmas that bring people together during the holidays; the joy of giving and forgiving. The only “Christmas” this movie has to offer is the most two-dimensional, cellophane-wrapped, commercialized version imaginable, and even that only shows up for about 5% of the movie.

This movie doesn’t have any good versus evil narrative, which wouldn’t be fatal if it had another narrative that went somewhere — but it doesn’t. It seems to try to tell a story of how a misguided hero’s plans go wrong, but it never gets off the ground. After a whiny solo about being tired of his job, Jack Skellington, the “pumpkin king” of Halloween, wanders into Christmas  Town, and is taken aback by the feelings of warmth and joy that replace the fear of Halloween. Having “grown so tired of the sound of screams,” he becomes convinced that getting involved in Christmas is the way to escape the rut he is in.

So, like any reasonable businessman fancying a career change, Jack seeks out the owner of this … franchise he’s discovered, and buys him a beer and says “I would like to learn more about what you do here, maybe even try working with you for awhile,” right? No of course not. He dispatches three of his minions, Lock, Shock and Barrel, to kidnap Santa, and announces that he is forcibly taking over Christmas. What the hell? It’s really hard to buy Jack as the well-meaning but misguided tragic hero, because if his intentions are truly non-malevolent, he has to be the biggest bone-head the world has ever seen. I mean, how could anyone not out of his skull ever think this was a good idea? When Lock, Shock and Barrel have accomplished their task, they haul in Santa, bound at the hands and feet and tied in a sack (a freaking sack!), and throw him at Jack’s feet. Jack simply tells Santa “You can consider this a vacation — a reward! I’ll be taking it from here.” He then allows Santa to be dragged away by the trio, absentmindedly dismissing them with the comment “See to it he’s comfortable!” Are you kidding me? these kids have shown themselves in previous scenes to be anything but responsible, careful or empathetic, and Jack can see they’re dragging Santa off into a world full of open sewers and torture devices. What does he think the three little psychopaths are going to do, put Santa up in a Hilton and serve him coffee and a croissant every four hours??

Sure enough, Santa soon finds himself stuffed down a pipe and tied to a torture rack in the lair of the

Merry Christmas, suckas!

Merry Christmas, suckas!

Boogieman, Oogie Boogie. Meanwhile, Jack carries on with his insane plan, placing gifts under trees that attack children all over the western world. He never seems to feel the least bit bad about it, his narcissism even prompting him to insist that humanity is “thanking us for doing such a good job,” when the national guard is firing at his sleigh. There’s nothing to root for in this movie. We’re supposed to identify with Jack as his “good intentions” blow up in his face, but he has more in common with a maniacal comic book villain than anything else, sicking killer toys on children a la the Joker, or being driven to remake the world in his image a la the Lizard. The female lead, Sally, at least has her head on straight (if only thanks to stitches), but she never accomplishes anything. We can’t root for Santa to save the day either, because we never see anything he does.

Fans of this movie will probably argue that it wasn’t made for the story, but rather for the animation and the music. To be sure, the stop-motion animation is done with tremendous care and skill, but the most that animation can do is make your movie look real. It can’t make your movie good. Without at least a decent story to carry the movie, no amount of technical skill will save it. And to be honest, as fluid as the animation looks, there’s nothing revolutionary about it. The same techniques have been used hundreds of times before. The music, frankly, is overrated. There are two numbers in the movie that I found impressive; the opening and Oogie’s song. The rest range from annoying to decent, but cliche.

Anyway, Jack finally gets it through his skull that this was a horrible idea, and races back to Halloween Town. We get the single scene in the movie where good faces off against evil, and he saves Santa and Sally from Oogie. Santa races off to magically save the day off camera, and finally causes snow to fall on Halloween Town, presumably for the first time ever. We then get the culmination of a romance that was assumed, rather than developed; a kiss between Jack and Sally, even though they only have about 1.5 lips between them. So did this story actually go anywhere? Is there going to be some cultural exchange or cooperation now between Christmas and Halloween Towns, which might vindicate all this foolishness? Or did Jack actually learn anything from this debacle? Probably not, because Jack wasn’t trying to do something good that went wrong. He was doing exactly what writer/producer Tim Burton did when he wrote this story, along with most of his other stories: taking something that everyone loves, something that was fine as it was, and putting his own twisted stamp on it, expecting us all to care. Look, I’m sorry Burton had an unhappy childhood. That’s no reason to subject all of us to it. The stuff in his movies should be shared with a psychologist, not with families who’ve come to see a warm holiday film. I bet Burton deliberately neglects to flush public toilets, too, because he’s convinced the next person to come along would love to dissect Tim Burton’s leavings to learn what kind of food Tim Burton eats. And that’s what this movie is: the poo from Burton’s narcissistic ass, spread across the silver screen for the world to marvel at and analyze!

Society’s rating:

My rating:

It’s fun to talk about why a movie is good or bad. But just as interesting is the question of what makes people love some bad movies. Some movies achieve acclaim by touching on subjects that make people afraid to criticize them. Glory exploits an inspiring part of history. No one wants to say anything negative about it, partly for fear of being considered racist or otherwise uncaring, and partly because they really want the film to be as meaningful as the event. Some films rely on shear marketing “firepower,” spending huge numbers of dollars. The world was smothered in merchandise related to Cars and The Nightmare Before Christmas both before and after their releases. Everyone talks about how much they love them, but few actually remember the movies themselves. Still other films manage to get a commitment from people early, so that they refuse to believe they have been cheated. The Princess Bride actually starts out pretty promisingly. That was why I endured the last two thirds of it and really tried to like it. It seems many people actually managed to make themselves like it. Marvel Studios actually spent four movies advertising Avengers. People were so excited, they were giving Avengers five-star ratings before they’d even seen it.

I hope you got a kick out of this article. Perhaps you have an overrated movie you’d like us at Walking Taco to take down a peg. (Already, I’m beginning to think of movies that probably should have been on this list.) If you do, post a comment and ask us to review it! Until then, good night.

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Rise of the Guardians

Rise G posterThe first thing you’ll notice about Rise of the Guardians is that it’s certainly, well, different. We start off with narration by the main character (Chris Pine). “Darkness … that’s the first thing I remember. It was dark and it was cold and I was scared.” Fair enough. But he continues. “Then I saw the Moon. It seemed to chase the dark away, and then I wasn’t scared anymore.” Ooookay. About this time, we see our narrator, his face young, but his hair white, apparently being pulled by an unseen force through the top of a frozen lake, to alight, barefoot, on the snow-covered branch of a tree, apparently unbothered by the cold. He soon wanders into a village, where he realizes no one can see or hear him. He continues: “My name is Jack Frost. How do I know that? The Moon told me so. That’s all he ever told me.”

Ooookay.

We then cut to 300 years later, at the North Pole. How do we know it’s the North Pole? The text on screen tells us so. We cut to the inside of a building, where a pair of booted feet make the ground shake with each step. We see a pair of strong arms, one tattooed “naughty,” the other tattooed “nice,” gripping a chainsaw, as it lays into a hapless block of ice. As a brilliant ice sculpture takes shape, we hear a booming voice: “Still waiting for cookies!”

Yes, it’s him. Chris Cringle, Pier Noel, bringer of joy and lover of children, but he’s nothing like you’ve seen in any other Santa movie. “North,” as he is nicknamed in Guardians (Alec Baldwin), is a regular badass, a mountain of a man that would make Jack Reacher submissive (yeah, I said it). He drives a tricked-out sleigh that would make Shaft jealous, pulled by reindeer that look like they should be ridden by the eight horsemen of the apocalypse. Or maybe Ghost Rider. Or the Headless Horseman. (They totally needed a scene where North pulls the sleigh up in front of the Fortress of Solitude and yells “Hey, Kent! You need to get yourself one of these babies!” And then races off, leaving a green-with-envy Superman in a cloud of dust. Alas, I wasn’t consulted.) Best of all, he carries these two huge scimitars, which he twirls with expertise, and with which he slices and dices the forces of evil!

Dude! Where was this Santa when I was kid??

North looks at his globe, a magical monitor from which he watches over all the children of the world and sees evil power creeping across it. He deduces that the lord of all evil himself, none other than the Boogeyman (Jude Law), is amassing power for an attack on the world’s kids. He calls an emergency meeting of the Guardians, supernatural beings who are given the power and responsibility to protect the wonder and innocence of children everywhere. The team consists of North, the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), the Sandman (no voice) and, of course,

I'm not a kangaroo, mate. I'm a bunny. The EASTER Bunny.

I’m not a kangaroo, mate. I’m a bunny. The EASTER Bunny.

the Easter Bunny, who is also nothing like you’ve seen before. “Bunny” is voiced by Hugh Jackman, and Jackman must have enjoyed the heck out of this roll. He gives free reign to his Australian accent, and kicks his tough-guy persona into overdrive. Fittingly, his animated avatar is six feet tall, master of Thai-Chi and sports thorny tattoos across his keg-sized shoulders. He also wears a quiver across his back, carrying deadly boomerangs and egg bombs, which he’s not afraid to use.

Awesome. Though I have to say, all this makes watching him paint beautiful designs on eggs kind of awkward. Imagine if you caught Tito Ortiz doing needle point. Well, nothing’s perfect.

As you’ve probably figured out, this is a story not unlike The Avengers. The idea is to get a handful of superhumans together and have them fight against a huge army of nameless, faceless bad guys led by one villain who actually speaks. The Boogeyman (aka Pitch Black) even has a back story similar to that of Loki in Avengers (also rather similar to that of Satan in the Bible). He was once a Guardian, but when he demanded all the power and renown for himself, The Man in the Moon dismissed him from the company of the Guardians, and cast him down to the earth, to wander about scaring people. The Man in the Moon fills the roll of God in this story. We never see him directly, but he selects people to be Guardians and directs them in the fight against evil. He watches over the earth. And for a movie about Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy … it works well enough. Once he knows Pitch is up to something, the Man in the Moon selects Jack Frost to join the ranks of the Guardians, and the battle begins.

If your dentist had Tooth's enthusiasm, you would run out the door in terror.

If your dentist had Tooth’s enthusiasm, you would run out the door in terror.

How does Rise of the Guardians stack up? It definitely takes some risks and I have to give it a nod for that. It’s not likely to become a classic, but it creates a world you can lose yourself in, and takes its characters to a place no one ever has before. It has a few gripping action sequences, and some funny lines. All in all, I liked it, and held on to the DVD to watch it a second time before returning it. Director Peter Ramsey helmed it well, considering that, with what they tried to do conceptually, it could have been an absolute train wreck of a movie, and it was actually pretty good. Plus, it’s safe for kids.

Maybe even a little too safe. There is one major flaw in Guardians, and that is that they do an absolutely abysmal job with the villain. Pitch is represented in every scene as this weird looking guy who mainly hangs out in the shadows and whines about how unfair his life is. They never make him scary. This is especially problematic considering who he is supposed to be. I mean, he’s the  Boogeyman, for Pete’s sake! He’s a Satan. A Dracula. The embodiment of all evil and terror from our basest instincts. The faceless horror that reaches out of every shadow to drag you to Hell. He’s the reason 4-year-olds wake up screaming at 2 a.m., the reason you suddenly start walking faster at night and you don’t know why, the reason grown men still make sure their closets are latched before bed. He needs to scare the audience, but Pitch never becomes the slightest bit threatening. We never see him do anything, except create this army of black horses (Night-mares. Get it?) that the Guardians fight. It’s implied that he’s giving kids nightmares around the world, but we never see any nightmares, or their effects.

Do something scary!

Do something scary!

I understand they were making a PG family film; I’m not asking to see blood and guts. They still could have made him scary. All Ramsey had to do was watch a few Disney movies and take notes. Disney has perfected the art of terrorizing kids and still getting a G rating. Throughout the whole movie, I thought it must be building to something. Pitch was going to change into something horrible and start attacking some kids … no? Well, I’m sure they’ll at least have some decent jump-scares where he pops out of something, maybe his eyes red, his teeth pointy … no? Well maybe he’ll transform for the final battle … nope. Pitch stays the same bland computer sprite for the entire movie and never makes himself a real threat. That, by itself, takes a star and a half off of this movie’s score.

Oh, well, like I said, nothing’s perfect. Guardians is still a wild ride, and well worth watching, if only for being original and good.

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Wreck-it Ralph

Wreck-It poster

The premise of Wreck-It Ralph is a digital-age version of Toy Story (1995). It all takes place in a happy little arcade, strangely free of graffiti, litter and juvenile delinquents. Every night, when the arcade closes down, the characters in the games are free to wander between consoles, socialize and goof around. Only one catch: if you die outside your own game you don’t regenerate. But I’m sure that won’t become an issue.

We are introduced to this world by Wreck-It Ralph himself (John C. Reilly), the miscast, wheel grinding, time-card punching “bad guy” of the game Fix-It Felix, Jr. He explains how, all day, he has to demolish a building with his comically big hands, so the hero, Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer), can save the day. After which, Felix is rewarded with a pie on the roof of the building, and the tenants throw Ralph off the roof, into a mud puddle. Ralph shares his frustration at seeing his contribution to the game go unrecognized while Felix is given pies and medals. Ralph is talking to a villain support group, whose members extol the value of being a villain. As Zangief, from Street Fighter II, says “If Zangeif was good, who would crush man’s head like sparrow’s egg between thighs?” They tell him that it’s a villain’s lot in life to get beat over and over, and watch the hero get the glory, and that his life will be happier if he excepts it.

And I just have to make a comment here. Don’t villains usually win in video games? Especially in arcade games, which are designed to keep you pumping quarters in. Realistically, it would be Felix getting thrown into the mud 99% of the time. Oh, well.

Ralph has his inevitable confrontation with the rest of the game’s cast (Nicelanders, they are called), in which Mayor Gene (Raymond Perci) tells Ralph that bad guys don’t get medals, and if Ralph ever won a medal (since he clearly never will) the Nicelanders would let him live at the top of the building in the penthouse. Ralph calls his bluff, and storms off to do just that. Something that’s amusing to watch here, and in certain other scenes, is the choppy, blocky way in which the characters move. It is, of course, intentional, and it does bring out the feel of a 1980s platform game, which is what this is supposed to be, but I’m sure it also saved Disney several tens of thousands of dollars.

Ralph’s quest for a medal leads him to steal the uniform of a space marine from the game Hero’s Duty, a fictitious game that is exactly like 10,000 real shoot’em up, blow’em up, throw-away first-person shooters that you find in arcades all over the world. Ralph’s misadventure in Hero’s Duty is certainly one of the best, possibly the best scene in the movie, and gives rise to a line every parent in the audience will love: “When did video games become so violent and scary??” It also introduces us to Sgt. Tamora Calhoun (Jane Lynch), the model-proportioned, yet tough-as-nails cliché who leads the marine troop. Calhoun’s spittle-throwing PG version of a potty mouth might just be the most entertaining part of the movie, but “It’s not her fault,” because “she’s programmed with the most tragic back story ever.” I won’t tell you what this back story is. Suffice to say, I laughed enough to shed tears when I saw it, because it’s so over the top, and yet just like what you see in video games today. Calhoun is awesome.

Tri-fold

Eventually, Ralph also lands in Sugar Rush, a candy-themed cart racing game. The landscapes in Sugar Rush are beautifully rendered, although, if you’re a salty snacker like me, you might get a little nauseous after a while. Here, Ralph meets Vanellopy Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a game character who wants to join the races, but is ostracized from the racing community because she is a glitch, the oppressed subculture of the video game world. Ralph is blackmailed by Vanellopy into joining her quest to buy or pry her way into a race so she can become part of the game, and the two start to become friends. Their relationship is similar to that of Sully and Boo in Monsters, Inc., except that Vanellopy talks. And boy does she ever. She could have gotten really annoying in the hands of a lesser director, but Rich Moore (who has directed voice acting for The Simpsons and Futurama) toned her down just enough that she’s lovable, if slightly eccentric. Ralph, Vanellopy, Calhoun and Felix eventually find themselves in a battle to save the arcade from a cataclysmic threat, and from one of the most subtle, surprising and effective villains I have seen in a long time. This leads to a lot of great chemistry between the characters, and a weird, yet strangely plausible romance between the pint-sized Felix and the arm-twisting, nose-breaking Calhoun (classic pick-up line: “Look at the high definition in your face! It’s beautiful.) I will say, I thought the ending was just a little too happy. There’s a point where it looks like victory is going to require a terrible sacrifice, and the movie would have been more powerful if it had. But, in typical Disney fashion, they had to have everything work out a little too perfect. Oh, well.

To help the reader fully appreciate the quality of Wreck-it Ralph, I thought it would be worth putting my encounter with it in context. My wife and I had previously driven 250 miles. We did this because, for the first time ever, we were going to leave our 2 1/2 year old daughter in the care of her grandparents overnight so we could spend a romantic evening together. On said evening, we dressed to the hilt and had a romantic dinner at one of the finer restaurants in town, then spent some time strolling around downtown under the lights. Finally, we checked into a hotel and got ready for bed. We had a bottle of champaign in a bucket of ice when we slid into bed. We were snuggling a little bit, when we decided  a movie wouldn’t hurt, so we charged some extra to our room to see Wreck-it Ralph. At the credits, we realized we could back the movie up in 30-second increments, so I spent about 10 minutes repeatedly pushing the button, and the ice in the bucket melted while we passed the champaign back and forth and watched Wreck-it Ralph a second time.

Yeah. It’s that  good.

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Brave

This movie rocks. Everything about it. The story, the colorful characters, the laughs, the scares, the gorgeous scenery rendered in flawless CGI, and the haunting Celtic soundtrack that wafts through the theater as you sit transfixed. Pixar has done it again, serving up a feast for the eyes and ears, without sacrificing a good story, thought provoking messages, and something for every age, gender and background to relate to.

At the start, we meet Merida (Kelly McDonald), princess of a Scottish kingdom, and Daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Elinor works overtime, trying to teach Merida to be a princess, which generally involves being lady-like. Merida loves to ride horses, shoot arrows and climb mountains, much to her mother’s chagrin, and father’s chuckling pleasure. The best scene in the movie is an early one in which Merida, and her horse, Angus, gallop through a shimmering emerald forest, Merida firing arrows into passing targets while Gaelic siren Julie Fowlis weaves a haunting yarn over fiddles and Celtic flutes. I’d probably buy the DVD just for that scene.

For awhile, it looks like Brave might turn out to be a microwaved version of Aladdin. Merida is horrified when she learns that her mother has invited three other kingdoms to submit contestants for her hand in marriage, and three princes are coming to compete for her in the Highland Games. A series of arguments follows, in which Merida doesn’t want to get married, least of all to someone she’s never met, and her mother tries to remind her of her duty to the kingdom and the importance of stable government. The big day arrives, and the three princes fire arrows at targets to determine who will win her hand. Suddenly, in what initially appears to be the ultimate cliche, a cloaked figure approaches the archery range. Merida throws off the cloak (big surprise, right?) and declares, “I’ll be shooting for my own hand!” As her mother protests, she fires arrows dead center into each target, winning the competition.

Of course, for your average modern fairy tale, this would probably be the climactic scene. Our strong, free spirited heroine throws off the shackles of patriarchal oppression, beats the men at their own game (using weapons, of course), and establishes herself as an independent woman, or at least chooses her own man. It would have been easy, and politically safe, to throw something like that together, but of course, easy doesn’t cut it for Pixar. We still have a lot of movie to go and, while Merida doesn’t exactly end up as a tamed shrew, she soon realizes she has a lot to learn about life in medieval Scotland, not the least of which is putting family and country above her own desires.

Pixar’s talent for story telling especially comes through in the fact that this story relies for its context on a back-story from eons past. This back-story is mentioned only in two very short, and rather washed-out flashbacks, but it still makes perfect sense (within the context of the movie, that is). Using the art of brief, visual story telling Pixar wove the two stories seamlessly together.

That’s probably as much as I should say. Pixar wisely left some major plot points out of the trailers, and it’s better for you to be surprised. It’s no fun reviewing great movies; I can’t say much or I’ll ruin it. I should note that the main reason I’m not giving Brave five stars is that I’ve only watched it once. But I intend to remedy that when it’s out on DVD.

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The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

Director Steven Spielberg and Producer Peter Jackson collaborate for their marvelous adaptation of The Adventures of Tintin.  As a welcome Christmas gift to fans of the classic long-lived European comics as well as the uninitiated, this is the first motion-capture animated film I can fully praise with an abundance of exclamation points.  Spielberg has directed a sprawling action-adventure film for families that springs with life and leaps with wit.

In the 1940s, young reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) purchases a model collector’s ship, the Unicorn, that immediately thrusts him into danger.  The model contains a riddle and secret code, but what does it mean and where does it lead?  Accompanied by his trustworthy pup, Snowy, Tintin must elude several dangerous characters seeking to steal his rare artifact.  This leads the young adventurer to Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), a notorious drunk who may be the key to solving the secret of the Unicorn.

With Tintin, the infamous Steven Spielberg finally returns to light up cinemas following a 3-year absence.  Ironically, this film may have more in common with Raiders of the Lost Ark than his last disappointing outing with the famed archeologist. Tintin is full of exciting mystery and grandiose action sequences, brilliant animation, shades of inviting humor, and a gorgeous 3D presentation.  This is easily the best animated film I’ve seen all year, and contains one of the year’s most entertaining action sequences, live-action or animation.

As for the motion-capture technique, Spielberg and Jackson know what they’re doing here.  I’ve found the work done by Robert Zemeckis (who’s recently been obsessed with the technology) over the last seven years to be a total snooze.  The Polar Express, Beowulf, and Christmas Carol never got it quite right despite painstaking efforts to be sure.  Tintin, however, is a visual marvel.  The animation is spot-on, and the performances behind the characters onscreen, chief among them Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, and Andy Serkis, are uniformly excellent.

The film ends with the setup for another adventure, and I hope American audiences seek out The Adventures of Tintin, as it is not a well-known property here.  Forget about needing to know anything.  Walk in blind and let the film dazzle you from beginning to end.

 

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Tangled

Every woman who has ever known me well enough to talk about such things has told me that Disney movies made her wish that she had blond hair, as so many Disney heroines did. I never really understood it at the time, especially since there are non-blond Disney heroines. Not only that, but I’d always thought jet-black hair was far more attractive than blond. The Fates smiled on me, and one day I met the beautiful, black-haired Asian woman who is now my wife. However, she is always talking about wanting to dye her hair other colors, especially (of all things) blond. Yuck. But I digress. More recently, I’ve begun to see why so many women feel the way they do about Disney and hair. Disney’s latest animated fairy tale makes the picture pretty clear, as it comes right out and declares the two points Disney has always been making.

First point: brown-haired girls are useless. Disney has always hinted at this. While the hair colors of their leading ladies are more diverse than some people acknowledge, there has only ever been one brown-haired Disney heroine (unless you count Megara, who is a pretty small part of the Hercules plot, not to mention terribly drawn). However, in Tangled they just come right out and say it. The villainess, Mother Gothel (Donna Murphey), discovers a magic flower that has the power to keep her young forever. Centuries later, the flower is uprooted and made into medicine to save an ailing, pregnant, brown-haired queen. The queen then gives birth to Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), who has long, flowing blond hair, that contains the flower’s power. Gothel kidnaps her and spirits her away to a secluded tower to keep herself young. We later learn that Rapunzel’s hair can never be cut, or it will turn *gasp!* brown and lose its power. Isn’t that a slap to the face of every brunette in the audience.

On the upside, Disney may have found their most likable heroine ever in Rapunzel. The princesses of Disney’s golden age (e.g. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty) were justifiably criticized for being overly passive, depending on a man for their happiness, and waiting to be rescued. On the other hand, Disney’s silver age reeks of overcompensation for this. In the early ‘90s Disney subjected us to a whole generation of Kimpossible-esque princesses spouting musical rhetoric about making their own choices and marrying only for love. It wasn’t terrible, but it was an obvious attempt to be politically correct in an age of commercials full of girls playing soccer and shouting about how girls kick butt. Then, as Disney descended back into mediocrity, they had their heroines attempting near-suicidal stunts and fighting more than Lara Croft. Esmerelda slapped and kicked her way through innumerable guards in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It was all pretty forced.

Lara Croft as a Disney Princess

Rapunzel transcends all of this. On the spectrum between pining prince-craver and emasculating bitch she really doesn’t show up anywhere. She’s a pretty simple character; all she wants is to get out of her tower for a day. She’s humble, yet full of life. Adventurous, yet real and relatable. She’s warm, human and caring. Far less sexualized than Esmerelda, Jasmine, or even Ariel, she’s still thoroughly female. She’s spontaneous, pretty and, yes, blond.

Not only that, but Rapunzel actually has a legitimate grievance in her life. Just when I thought I’d go insane if I had to listen to one more spoiled brat sing about her desire for “adventure in the great wide somewhere,” it was easy to sympathize with the plight of a girl who just wanted to see what was outside her bedroom.

Our male lead (Zachary Levi) is a bit more of a stock character; not too different from Aladdin or Phoebes, but he’s still a lot of fun to watch.

This horse is a better fencer than his rider.

Of course, you can’t have a good story without a villainess to antagonize the primal couple. Disney has been through a real dry spell of villainesses in the last couple decades; the last one I can name was Ursula in The Little Mermaid. I am happy to report that sinister femininity is back with a vengeance in Tangled. Which brings up the second point Disney is trying to make: Black-haired women are evil. The queen in Snow White, Malificent in Sleeping Beauty, The Queen of Hearts, Cruella Devil – they all had black hair (or black horns). Even Ursula had black hair once she transformed into a young woman for the last act. It’s also worth noting that, while Disney does have black-haired heroines, none of them are Caucasian, except Snow White.

True to form, our antagonist in Tangled has black hair. Not only that, but director Nathan Greno uses this hair extensively to emphasize her evilness. Time after time it frames her face for a menacing close-up, or flows into a black cloak that she’s wearing. In all fairness, though, Gothel is a pretty three-dimensional character, especially for a villain. It actually took me almost half the movie to be sure that she was the villain, and that’s rare. Early on, she’s mainly a doting, if over-protective, mother for Rapunzel. It just makes it that much more fun to watch her true colors come out later.

All in all, this is a genuinely terrific movie, and you owe it to yourself to check it out. Disney succeeds here where they’ve often failed – in making a movie just as enjoyable for adults as for children – and they did it with almost no violence or sensuality. Tangled deliciously skewers every Disney cliché, from emotive animals to ridiculously spontaneous musical numbers. The story is loaded with hilarity from start to finish, and it’s also a story full of true love, overcoming one’s fears, and often heart-wrenching self-sacrifice. It reminded me of why I once loved Disney. And while I no longer do, and never will again, it was really good to go back for an evening.

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Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. FoxWes Anderson has never been one for mainstream flicks.  His movies consistently focus on quirky characters with less-than-ideal family situations, and derive a sort of awkward comedy from odd situations and situations.  Rarely one to go for a simple punchline, the heart and humor of movies like Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, and his other films is drawn straight from putting the audience in the middle of awkward, borderline cringe-worthy situations and eschewing our expectations of what we have been conditioned by a mainstream Hollywood movies to see.  That’s not to say his movies are especially enjoyable, mind you.  I can appreciate, to a certain extent, the raison d’être for these strange celluloid experiences, but they don’t exactly make for good entertainment.

Fantastic Mr. Fox, then, seems like the perfect opportunity for Anderson to break out of his comfort zone and craft a tale that would appeal to all ages, adapted from a beloved kid’s book, based around talking forest creatures working together to solve problems and tackle issues.  Unfortunately, what could be a lighthearted children’s movie with possibly some adult themes and life lessons (see also: Up, Ratatouille, Beauty and the Beast) ends up getting bogged down by Anderson’s quirky sensibilities and characters that are never really fleshed out to their true potential.  Broken up in a series of related vignettes, the story centers on Mr. Fox and his family who move into a tree near the properties of the local Town Grumps:  Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, three farmers who don’t take kindly to foxes stealing their chickens and other belongings.  Mr. Fox, who has retired from his chicken-hunting ways and now has a sensible job as a newspaper columnist, decides to take a trip back to the glory days of his youth and embark on one last harrowing chicken-thieving adventure even though doing so could endanger his wife, son, and everyone else he cares about.

Fantastic Mr. Fox - Planning

Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and Badger (Bill Murray) plot their revenge on the farmers.

It’s a selfish conceit, but one that Mr. Fox atones for in various ways throughout the course of the film.  Getting to that point involves such a wandering journey with a disconcerting lack of narrative focus that it’s a little unsettling and at times downright frustrating.  There are so many things happening in this movie that are only superficially dealt with that I was not sure why they were included in the first place.  Mr. Fox has a strained relationship with his son Ash, and instead is all too quick to sing the praises of their live-in nephew Kristofferson.  But this relationship conflict is never really brought to a satisfying conclusion, and instead just pops up from time to time.  Ash and Kristofferson are also somewhat at odds over a girl in their school whom they both fancy, but again this thread is left dangling with no resolution at the end.  The somewhat central plotline of Mr. Fox returning to his farm-raiding days of old is present throughout the film, and as his schemes escalate into a full-blown battle between the three farmers and the Fox family and a handful of moles things get refreshingly ridiculous and overblown but in a way that’s enjoyable instead of pretentious.  Watching the farmers call in a fleet of excavating equipment to dig the Fox family out of their hole is such a fun exaggeration it could have been pulled straight from the far-super Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a film full of potential half-baked to watery mediocrity by a director who was too busy exercising his own eccentricities to focus on creating a truly enjoyable and entertaining film.  The stop-motion artistry is outstanding, and Ray Harryhausen himself would likely tip his hat in approval, but ultimately it’s the story that matters, and that’s where the film unfortunately falls short.

Rating:

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Despicable Me

About a year ago I came across the first teaser trailer for a film called Despicable Me. It was a computer animated film, made by a studio other than Pixar, so that’s always hit or miss. Some non-Pixar films I enjoy – Monsters vs. Aliens – some I could have called the rest of my life complete without having seen – Ice Age 2.

Now I realize that I am not the target audience for the majority of these films. Pixar has spoiled the world by creating films which universally resonate between all age groups. An 80-year old man could walk out of the film Up pining for his departed wife, while an 8-year old boy could walk out quoting his favorite lines from the character Dug. While I’ve yet to find a non-Pixar film which hits me on this kind of emotional level, I have at least found a couple which amuse and entertain.

So when the first teaser for Despicable Me came out, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. To be fair, it was a teaser in the finest sense of the world, giving little to no information about the plot, just a quick flash of some words, some music and a slew of famous names who would be providing voice overs. (Which also tends to be a bad sign. If you have to sell your animated film by the fact that Julie Andrews is playing a bit part… not generally a sign of confidence.) But as subsequent trailers came out, more details became available, and my interest level was at least somewhat stoked.

Then came the infamous “fluffy” trailer which came out this past spring. This is, of course, the trailer where we see the main character, Gru, and his girls at the amusement park. They step up to one of those shoot-down-the-object games in order to win the smallest of the girls a large stuffed unicorn. When the carnival game bests them, Gru uses his own device, destroys the booth, and the little girl is handed her unicorn. She then utters the line which overloaded the cuteness-radar of my fiance, and therefore locked in my plans to see this film – “It’s so FLUFFY!!!”

"Light bulb!"

So about the film. Despicable Me is about the world’s number-one super-villain, a large man with a heavy accent and pointy nose named Gru (voiced by Steve Carell). Gru is a villain in every since of the word, from popping the balloons of children, to cutting in line at Starbucks, and driving a vehicle which emits copious amounts of greenhouse gases, not to mention an army of loyal minions. All is going well until suddenly another contender enters the competition for number-one villain, a character by the name of Vector (voiced by Jason Segel). In an effort to reclaim his title as number-one villain, Gru concocts a plan to steal, what else, the moon. This plan becomes more complicated when three orphan girls come into his life. Now Gru has to balance the demands of being a villain with the new-found responsibilities of being a parent.

The line sure to boost the adoption rate - "It's so FLUFFY!!!"

Ironically, my favorite part of the trailer sums up this film – “It’s so FLUFFY!!!” This film is a lot like cotton candy. It’s filled with fun-colored fluff which is enjoyable, but ultimately the substance is a bit lacking. Now, that’s not to say I didn’t thoroughly enjoy this film. I laughed almost throughout the movie, and it did have a pretty solid core to its plot. It just lacked that emotionally gut-wrenching essence that tends to exist in a Pixar film. Whereas Toy Story 3 gave me pause to reflect on my own life and find deeper connections to the characters and story, Despicable Me gave me some time to laugh and forget about the world for an hour and a half of simple entertainment – a valid purpose as well.

I don’t want to downplay that this film does have an emotional and moral plot line. That’s all good. There is something a bit saddening in that probably 75% of the funny moments are captured in the trailer. But that’s the state of our world today. Trailers give away all the funny moments and when you get to the theatre you end up watching the trailer with 10-minutes of filler between each joke. Despicable Me still proves to be entertaining, and adds some good moments on top of those presented in the trailer. Plus, it throws in a few zingers only adults will pick up on, so keep an eye out for those.

Random Untrue Fact: Every minion has a dollar sign tattoo somewhere on his body.

The minions steal a bit of the limelight of the film,  much like the penguins of the film Madagascar. They provide much of the humor which resonates with smaller children, and the part of all adults that wants an excuse to laugh at silly sounds and goofy antics. In a lot of ways they remind me of the Rabbid characters from the “Rayman Raving Rabbids” series. They were a nice addition to the film, and since they’ve already greenlit both a sequel to the film, and a spin-off for the minions. The question will be if they can stand up on their own without something of substance to back them up.

I heartily endorse seeing this film. It won’t tug very hard at your heart strings, but you will be entertained, you will laugh, and you may want to run out and adopt the smallest child that can utter the phrase “It’s so FLUFFY!!!” as soon as the lights come up. Also, stick around through the first part of the credits, especially if you’re seeing it in 3D. The minions come out and play with the 3D effect. We saw it in 2D, so this wasn’t quite as amusing, but I still don’t feel it would have been necessary to spend the extra money to walk out of the theatre with my depth-perception temporarily altered. But that’s just me.

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Rating: 4.4/5 (7 votes cast)
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