Archive for the ‘Animated’ Category

Corpse Bride

Monday, October 13th, 2008

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2005 was a big year for Tim Burton, first he directed the visually stunning retelling of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, now comes Corpse Bride, his latest stop-motion animation creation. The film pales compared to The Nightmare Before Christmas, but it looks astounding and it has an appealingly dark vibe to it. This is the latest example of A-list actors appearing in cartoons, and here we have Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Christopher Lee and many other famous actors “starring” in the film. Depp plays Victor, a young man arranged to wed Victoria (Emily Watson), a woman he has never met (get it? Victor and Victoria?). Though Victor and Victoria almost immediately fall for each other, Victor is so nervous during the rehearsal that he stumbles through it, and leaves the church to wander the forest. There, through circumstances that won’t be explained, winds up accidently marrying a corpse (Helena Bonham Carter).
Co-directed by Burton and Mike Johnson,
Corpse Bride is taken from an old European fable, and it has an eerie feel to it. There are two distinctive looks to the film: the bland, drab Victorian (get it?) world of the living, and the colorful, jazzy land of the dead. While one of the strengths of Nightmare Before Christmas were the songs, here the songs by Danny Elfman don’t really add anything to the production; they’re kind of throw-away.
Corpse Bride is a spectacular thing to look at though, even if some of the other elements aren’t top-notch.

(this review was originally written for my old, now defunct movie website. )

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Friday, October 10th, 2008

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The Wallace and Gromit short films have a clever, inventive spirit all their own, starring two of the most endearing animated characters I can think of. What a pleasure it is, then, that their feature film debut is just as good as any of their previous outings. I was slightly worried that perhaps the style of the Wallace and Gromit adventures would have to be changed for the big screen, thank the lord that this isn’t the case. Stop-motion master Nick Park, co-director Steve Box and the talented team of artists behind the scenes have fashioned one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen in quite a while.

    As the film opens, Wallace, the cheery, cheese-addicted inventor (Peter Sallis), and his loyal canine companion/protector Gromit are running Anti-Pesto, a humane pest control agency, that seems to deal mostly with rabbits. The 517th or so annual vegetable competition, run by Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) is almost here, and the dynamic duo are commissioned to make sure nothing goes wrong. But, a new invention causes something to go awry, and before they know it, W & G are investigating the mysterious Were-Rabbit. They must discover the truth before the dastardly Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes) kills all the rabbits.
The film is filled with in-jokes, bizarre situations, funny supporting characters and many references that will probably go over most young kids’ heads. You have no excuse not to see this movie. It is a terrific time at the movies, and it will leave a smile on your face for days.

(This review was “borrowed” from my other movie review web site, which is now defunct.)

Vampires in Havana

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

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Ok, imagine a movie about the mad scientist son of Dracula who is obsessed with creating a sunscreen for vampires, his trumpet-playing nephew who doesn’t know he’s a vampire, and several vampire gangsters all after the serum. Oh yeah, and it takes place in Cuba, so the nephew is also a revolutionary along with his friends. To top it off, it’s a cartoon.

Vampires in Havana (or, Vampiros en La Habana!) is an animated film for people who have watched just about every animated film. I mean that it’s unique, strange and unlike most other animated films. It’s really not the kind of cartoon that I would recommend to everyone, but to those who enjoy the more unusual films, I’d say it’s a good choice.

Why are vampire gangsters so funny? I have no idea, but they are. In Vampires in Havana, for instance, one of the main heavies is a large, imposing gangster named Johnny who is accompanied everywhere by a tiny vampire gangster in a suit. I found this particularly amusing.

Vampires in Havana has a definite Cuban flavor, the film is full of sex, music, revolution (!), oh, and vampires!! Very bizarre, but I dug it.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

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Every Halloween, I try to watch at least a handful of scary movies, each year a different batch. Only one film do I watch every Halloween, every year. That, not too surprisingly, would be It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It helps that it’s under a half an hour, but the truth is, it’s a terrific short film: poignant, philosophical, witty (one of the great lines is Charlie Brown’s response after Linus’ rant against Santa Claus: “We’re obviously separated by denominational differences,”) and very, very funny.

What’s also interesting is that in this film, Charlie Brown and Snoopy are really supporting characters. It’s really about Linus, and his conviction, nay, belief that the Great Pumpkin will arrive in the pumpkin patch this Halloween, bringing presents to all good girls and boys (Santa on the other hand, Linus says, is a phony). It is Linus, much like his role in A Charlie Brown Christmas, whose will and determination guide the narrative thread of the movie.

Every year, I am just as nervous and anxious as Linus is, waiting for the Great Pumpkin to make his arrival. And every year, I, like Linus, am disappointed. But, what I really love about the special (which originally aired on CBS in 1966) is how it ends with Linus vowing to wait, once again, next year. His annual waiting is a pilgrimage, a testament to his character.

Some of the film’s best moments, however, do belong to Charile Brown. The sequence where the gang go trick or treating, and Charlie is given a rock at every house, is still, after all these years, both the funniest and most depressing moment in any Peanuts cartoon. Lucy and Sally are both terrific, as usual, and it’s not a Peanuts special without Snoopy, here with another one of his trademark Red Baron World War I fighter pilot fantasies.

I wonder what it is about It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown that makes me come back every Halloween (much like I must watch the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and Christmas specials every year as well). Maybe it’s the gentle humor of the characters or the simple, yet beautiful animation (the sequence where Linus jumps into a pile of leaves is a small masterpiece of color), or maybe it’s the whole special, how it is sweet and a little sad, but also hopeful, just like Linus. I don’t know, but I still come back, year after year, waiting for the Great Pumpkin with my friends.

WALL*E

Monday, July 14th, 2008

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If Stanley Kubrick, God bless him, was still with us, and had been hired by Pixar to make a motion picture, it might have been a lot like the new, brilliant film WALL*E. Indeed, the film is Kubrickian in many regards (wow, I sound like an uber film snob when I say the word “Kubrickian”), including a riotous 2001 parody. As with all previous Pixar films, it raises the bar for the next one. It’s incredible that one studio has churned out so many great movies, in fact, they’ve never made a bad one.

WALL*E blends elements of a science fiction story, an apocalyptic cautionary tale, a romantic comedy, a creation myth and a silent comedy. Of course it’s a cartoon. It’s unlike any of Pixar’s other films, in tone it really is closer to a Kubrick film. Like the recent masterpiece There Will Be Blood (another film with Kubrickian overtones), WALL*E is nearly wordless for much of the first half an hour. Director Andrew Stanton and his team create a completely unique and original world for their characters, here an Earth 700 years in the future that has been abandoned by all human life. It is a world filled with garbage, stacked neatly into large skyscrapers and run by cockroaches (I think it was the great film critic Roger Ebert who once said after the end of the world, the cockroaches will rule).

Anyway, in this desolate landscape lives a lonely, little robot named WALL*E, who had been designed to clean up the massive amounts of garbage on planet Earth, and prepare for mankind’s eventual return (WALL*E, by the way, stands for “Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth-class). WALL*E spends his days cleaning a huge wasteland of a city (possibly New York), and his nights adding to his precious collection of treasures he finds in the heaps of trash, his most prized possession being his VHS copy of Hello, Dolly! (one of the film’s many great jokes is that VHS tapes work 700 years afterwards).

Into WALL*E’s life comes the robot EVE (which stands for Extraterrestial Vegetation Evaluator), and, of course, he falls instantly head over heels (or is it head over wheels?), and love is in the air. WALL*E and EVE get involved in many adventures, and the film reveals itself to be quite ingenious, sweet and creative. WALL*E is one of the few animated films that could actually be called an epic.

Most modern day animated films are either visually impressive or have a good story and great characters, but few have all these elements. Pixar really is probably the only American animation studio working today who really has never made a bad movie. The next one will have to be pretty damn great to top WALL*E, though.

Kung Fu Panda

Monday, June 9th, 2008

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    Jack Black as a giant animated panda bear who becomes a kung fu hero. If the last sentence amused you, intrigued you or made you laugh out loud, then Kung Fu Panda is probably a film you would enjoy immensely. If Jack Black is not your cup of tea, then I would proceed with caution (unless you have kids, or teens, or twenty-somethings named Adam in your family, in which case you might have to see it anyway). The film is silly, endearing, sweet and immensely entertaining. It’s a breath of fresh air in a genre (the computer animated film) that can sometimes be quite stale.

Ok, it’s basically a generic underdog story, but when the character is such a lovable lug (and Po the Panda is definitely fits the description), it’s hard to be a grump about this movie. Po (Jack Black, of course, doing his slacker schtick wonderfully) is a Panda Bear who dreams of being a kung fu expert, but is destined to be a noodle chef, just like his father, Mr. Ping, who happens to be a duck (or a goose, I couldn’t really tell), and is voiced by James Hong, who is a hoot. Anyway, the plot involves Po being picked as the dragon warrior, and everyone doubting the prophecy, most notably the kung fu master Shifu (played by Dustin Hoffman, who is really quite good here).Of course, the evil Tai Lung (Ian McShane) thinks he’s the dragon warrior, and has broken out of prison to strike his revenge on the peaceful valley, and Shifu, his former master. Oh, I didn’t even mention Shifu’s star pupils, The Furious Five: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu, surely the casting of Lucy Liu as a ‘viper’ is a Kill Bill joke) and Monkey (Jackie Chan). The real heart and soul of the film, though, is the relationship between Po and Shifu, and surely Black and Hoffman are both owed a great deal to the fact that this film works as well as it does.Or maybe I just enjoy really silly movies like this more than I should. You know what, no, I will not apologize. This is a really fun movie. It’s funny, it’s got good performances, the animation is crisp and detailed (and there is also a spectacular opening sequence done in the style of Anime) and it leaves you with a smile on your face that will last for hours. Pretty good for a summer cartoon, if you ask me.

Beowulf (***)

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

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In a year full of great shouting lines, I think I would rank “I…AM…BEOWULF!!!” right up there with “I…AM…MEGATRON!!!” and “THIS IS SPARTA!!!!” Make no doubt about, Beowulf is a Caps Lock kind of movie, everything is big and ridiculous. It’s silly, gory and visually compelling. Oh, and it’s just a wee bit over-the-top. Just a tad.This version of the Beowulf story was directed by Robert Zemeckis, that cinematic innovator who also helmed the terrific Polar Express, which pioneered the animation style that Beowulf uses. The animation style allows for fluid, free-form camera movements that traditional cinematography probably couldn’t pull off (I’m thinking especially of a long shot that pulls back from a drinking hall to the lair of Grendel, in particular.) The film also has some amazing set-pieces, such as our hero’s vicious battle with a horde of sea monsters (I have no idea how this movie isn’t rated R), and the climatic fight scene.Beowulf, as you may or may not know, is a great warrior is summoned to fight the evil Grendel, who has been terrorizing Anthony Hopkins’ kingdom. Beowulf is a mighty, macho dude who looks much more like He-Man than Ray Winstone, the actor who voices Beowulf and serves as his model (we’ll just say that Winstone, who is a hell of an actor, doesn’t really look very much like He-Man). Grendel, by the way, is voiced by Crispin Glover, which is pretty damn random if you ask me.The film also features Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mommy, and gives us a look at animated Angelina’s lovely form. The film also features the animated versions of Robin Wright Penn, John Malkovich and Brendan Gleeson as Beowulf’s buddy. Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary wrote the screenplay, which feels more like a fan boy’s wet dream than as a “serious adaptation of a major work” (I say that as a compliment.)Beowulf is violent, silly, gory and a lot of fun.