Monday, November 26, 2012

Rise of the Guardians

Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine) is lost--and he has been for the past three hundred years. Ever since he woke up in a pond and the Man in the Moon told him his name, Jack has been searching for his purpose and hoping that one day someone could see him. Jack finally get his chance when he is picked to help the Guardians--Santa (voiced by Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (voiced by Isla Fisher), the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Jackman), and the Sandman--fend off the Boogieman (voiced by Jude Law) as he tries to regain the power he lost after the end of the Dark Ages.

Rise of the Guardians is animated eye candy--the character design, the scenery, everything is visual perfection. No fault can be found in any of the animation. Even going beyond the visual designs, each of the Guardians has a unique twist that sets them apart from other interpretations. Santa is a tough burly Russian with tattoos. The Easter Bunny is boomerang wielding Australian. The Toothy Fairy has feathers and countless mini-fairies to help her with her work. And the Sandman is the short and silent type. Although the comparison has been made it warrants repeating, this movie is animated Avengers for the little kid in everyone who still believes in magic. This rag-tag group of people come together, despite their differences, for the greater good--to save the world's children from a world of fear.

Warning to parents about to take their kids to see this: although this film is only rated PG, there are moments in it that are surprisingly dark for a movie aimed at such a young age group. Also be wary because this film tries and fails to reach a level of Pixar-like magic with a great chunk of the film dedicated to moments that are obviously meant to be tear-jerkers. Based on my experience, many of the younger children [four or younger] lost interest in the film half-way through. But while they may not appreciate it now, they will as they watch every year as they grow up. Because there is no denying that in a few years time Rise of the Guardians will be a Christmas staple--joining the ranks of other holiday themed classics in ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas and other programs like it. There will be no escaping this infectious and funny film. And I see no reason why you would want to. There have been rumors that there are plans to make a sequel--hopefully this is true and hopefully the sequel will be as original and exciting as the first.

Rise of the Guardians will surely be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature but it will certainly lose to Wreck-It Ralph. Not for lack of trying but most certainly because Rise of the Guardians tried so hard to enchant and endear that it its efforts feels forced--even, dare I say it, formulaic. But as last remark I must as why was Chris Pine casted to voice a teenage boy? He does his best but he can't help but sound a bit old coming from the mouth of a boy who doesn't seem to have completed puberty.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Joey (Katharine Houghton) and John (Sidney Poitier) have fallen in love and plan to get married--after knowing each other for less than two weeks. When Joey takes John home to meet her parents (Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy), they are met with shock and hesitation. John only has one day before he has to board a plan to go to Geneva but doesn't want to marry Joey unless they have her parent's complete support.

It will be impossible to walk away from this film without feeling like you've experienced something wonderful. Unlike the more recent remake starring Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner doesn't treat the issue of interracial relationships as a punchline. Made in 1967, Guess was a film that pushed boundaries. To put this all into context, at the time of filming interracial marriage was illegal in 17 states and blacks had only received the right to vote four years earlier. America was strife with racial tension and this film was one of the first to depict interracial marriage in a positive light.

Hepburn would go on to receive an Academy Award for her role in this film and it is well deserved. She lights up the screen with her easy elegance and long-forged chemistry with Spencer Tracy. Tracy's speech at the end of film is easily the most heart-warming moment of the entire one hundred and forty-eight minutes. And as Stacy's last role--he died two weeks after finishing filming--it is one that he and his family can certainly be proud of. He plays the lovable but over-protective father to perfection. Tracy and Hepburn's long history performing with each other plays out wonderfully as they were able to portray a long-timed, happily married couple all that more convincingly.

Hepburn and Tracy were fantastic but this film has received its fair share of criticism. Probably in large part because of the racial tension in America at the time, the script writers made the young couple in the center of the turmoil almost too perfect. Poitier's character is a doctor, who graduated from a prestigious school at the top of his class, helps sick children in Africa, is polite, dresses well, doesn't want to engage in pre-martial a nutshell he's perfect. While Houghton's character is sweet, trusting, young and naive--almost too naive for a young girl growing up in America in the 1960's. Joey doesn't just believe that interracial marriage shouldn't be an issue--it shouldn't--but she doesn't even seem to think that anyone else will either. The audience isn't given a chance to get to know her and she can come off as ditzy and oblivious--she never once acknowledges the trouble she and her future family might encounter.

But despite the criticism, this is a film that should be appreciated not only for it's entertainment value but for it's cultural significance. It was bold movie attempting to break ground in a tumultuous time in America--and I would argue that many of it's messages are still relevant today. But political and social, this story at the heart is about love--now that is something that we can all understand.

Watch the movie! Chat with me on twitter! Check out my second blog! What did you think of this film? Leave a comment below!

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) has spent the last 40 years searching for the murderer of his young niece. She disappeared one day and no one has seen her since but her murderer has continued to send Henrik a gift every year on his birthday. Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) has lost his life savings when he is sued for libel after he publishes an article about a wealthy businessman, Wennerstrom. After Mikael's fall from grace, Henrik decides to hire him to solve his niece's murder in exchange for evidence that would clear Mikael's name and send Wennerstrom to jail. Mikael soon finds that he needs assistance and enlists the help of young tech-guru, Lisabeth Salander (Rooney Mara).

This is not a film to watch in order to fill some time on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It is quite the emotional roller coaster--but in the best sense possible. The overall tone of the film is quite dark and somber. Each moment of the film is filled with an omnipresent sense of dread and anticipation. There is something oddly unsettling about knowing that something terrible is about to happen before it happens. The tone is very similar to another film based off Swedish source material--Let Me In. Both are stories driven by very strong female lead characters that are complex and alluring and dangerous. 

A large part of what makes this film so impressive was Rooney Mara's portrayal of Lisabeth Salander. Mara's performance was stunning. She was able to create a character that was as vulnerable as she is strong--it was an absolute pleasure to watch even during the most intense and disturbing moments of the film. Craig and the rest of the cast were fantastic as well but were at least slightly overshadowed by Mara's complete commitment to her role--physically and creatively. There cannot be enough nice things said about the level of acting in this film.

But the acting wasn't the only factors that contributed to the success of this film. The reading frame of the film's plot seemed a misplaced. The beginning and the end seemed like loose ends that are a bit unnecessary but they added to the overall feeling of the film. Both Lisabeth and Mikael are lost in their lives so it only makes sense that the film doesn't begin and end with a neatly tied bow. Everything from the costumes, to the setting, to the script helps make these characters and this story resonate so powerfully with audiences. It feels so real and honest. There are so many moments that are gritty and raw and repulsive and this film makes no apologies.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a bold film that separates itself from other films with its unapologetic approach to violence and storytelling. It isn't a movie for the faint of heart but it is a powerful piece that helps hit home the consequences and realities of rape and violence. The acting is superb under the careful hand of director, David Fincher, who was careful to tread a careful line between gritty and gory. It is a brilliant film--anyone who watches it won't soon forget it.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It Ralph has spent the last thirty years being under appreciated. He is the bad guy in his video game but it seems impossible for people to see past his tough exterior after his is done for the day. He tries his best to fit in but his anger finally explodes one day. Ralph sets off into another game, Hero's Duty, in order to prove that he really is in fact a good guy. Along the way he finally makes the friends he's always wanted and single-handedly threatens the lives of every single video game in the arcade.

Wreck-It Ralph is the best time I've had at a movie theater in a long time. I was hesitant walking into the theater--mostly because I am not a terribly huge fan of any of the main voice actors and because I am still trying to recover from my disappointment after seeing Pixar's Brave this summer. Despite my hesitation, I was drawn to the theater because I wanted to see all of my favorite childhood video game characters on the big screen. And let me tell you, this movie is PACKED with references to "retro" video games and oddly enough, food. Although many of the references are aimed at people in their twenties--the first generation who grew up on video games--the film is just as enjoyable without understanding many of them. So adults and younger children don't worry. Some of my favorite cameos included Bowser, Sonic the Hedgehog, PacMan, and milk's favorite cookie, Oreos! Oreos--that's a reference that everyone can get.

The plot of the film was not what I was expecting. From the trailer, Wreck-It Ralph came off as movie geared toward stereotypical boys but after watching it I am convinced that it will appeal to girls just as much--possibly more! This film tackles the material in a very clever way and I will admit that the ending blindsided me. sort of embarrassing considering that this is, after all, a Disney film. But one of the most impressive features of this film is the  amount of time and detail the film makers put into creating three distinct worlds. The settings felt so real that it was almost as if this movie was revealing the secret life of video games--much in the same vein as Toy Story. Each world felt distinct but my only regret is that Ralph didn't do a bit more game-hopping so that I could see the rest of the arcade. Considering that was my only disappointment, I can easily say that this film was a job well done.

While on the surface, Wreck-It Ralph, seems like a vehicle for Disney to prey on our nostalgia in the modern era, it is a film that is equal parts humor and heart. The characters--both old and new--light up the screen and the material is handled in a way that is smart and respectful. I was not expecting much walking into the theater but on my way out I was impressed with what Disney had managed to create. This film proves that they are still the masters of creating new and engaging stories using other people's source material. Main point: if you have time this weekend, GO SEE IT!

Watch the movie! Chat with me on twitter! Check out my style blog! Leave a comment below!

FTC: I attended a free early screening of this film. I have no affiliation with Disney.
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