Month: June 2013

Trailer Reviews- 6/27/13

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Good morning, everyone.  One of the goals I had in mind in creating this blog is to continue doing something I did for a short time a few years ago- review trailers and talk about upcoming films in general.  I’m one of those oddballs that loves the trailers almost as much as the films themselves.  There’s a specific art form to it, and both wonderful and terrible trailers exist.  Therefore, each week I’d like to go through the trailers I choose to see, and those I was forced to watch in the theater.  I’d love to hear what you think about any trailers you’ve seen as well.  Here goes!

“Frozen”:  Here we are with the latest non-Pixar Disney CGI-animated feature, which has been adapted (loosely) from a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale.  Disney’s track record over the past few years is good for these, with enjoyable fare like “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Bolt”.  This trailer reminded me quite a bit of the first trailer for “Ice Age”, in that it was a character struggling to acquire something necessary to it, with craziness ensuing.  I’ll accept Disney’s track record for reasonable non-Pixar output and likely take my son to see this when it comes out, even if Kristen Bell is the lead voice talent.  The moose that behaved like a dog in the trailer was a real benefit.  I admittedly laughed out loud twice.  “Frozen” is in theaters November 27, 2013.

“The Lego Movie”: When I first heard about this, I figured it must be another cash grab from Lego, whose direct-to-video submissions have become increasingly more tiresome and less inventive.  However, this trailer brings some hope back into the equation.  Not only was the trailer funny, but they’ve actually lined up huge names to provide the voices, from Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson to Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Charlie Day, and Elizabeth Banks.  There’s also some ‘branded’ Legos in the trailer, like Batman (Arnett),which should add to the fun.  The only beef I have with the trailer is that the animation is terribly choppy.  This isn’t the case with other ‘Lego’ films, so why here?  “The Lego Movie” arrives on February 7, 2014. 

“Turbo”: A snail that dreams of going faster than, well, snails, is in an ‘accident’, and absorbs what appears to be nitrous oxide.  Can you guess what happens next?  The idea is absurd, and even more so that Turbo the snail starts competing in human races.  Correct.  Human races.  Ok, well, at least the voice cast is fun, and I laughed a few times during the trailer, especially when the ‘White Shadow’ appeared.  Ryan Reynolds voices Turbo, and other voice talents include Paul Giamatti, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Snoop Dogg, Michael Pena, Ken Jeong, and Samuel L. Jackson.  “Turbo” will be released July 17.

“Adore”: Does anyone remember the SNL digital short from a few years ago with Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg singing about their respective mothers?  As funny as that was, I never thought of that on a ‘meta’ level and wondered if that idea should become dramatized some day.  If you thought the idea should be turned into a full-length movie starring Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, and two Abercrombie & Fitch models as their sons, then this one’s for you.  I’m certain there are deeper ideas here about trust, friendship, parenting, love, sex, etcetera, but on the surface (which is what a trailer is), all I can think of is a dramatic, Australian rendition of  ‘Mother Lover’.  This movie has been released in Australia already, but there is no release date listed for it in the U.S.

“Price Avalanche”: Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch star in what appears to be your standard indie movie about quirky loners trying to find peace in their self-inflicted isolations.  This isn’t a new storyline, but I’m intrigued to see what else Rudd can do.  He’s great in comedies, even terrible ones, because of his inherent ‘watchability’.  This is a Magnolia films release, and usually those films wind up straight on the video shelf or on IFC.  That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad by any means, but they don’t gain a lot of traction.  I’d see this for Rudd alone, but the back and forth of two road workers figuring out life doesn’t quite get my attention.  This releases August 9th, 2013 (presumably a limited release).

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”:  The first teaser trailer for the second ‘Hobbit’ film has arrived, and to be honest, I’m underwhelmed.  I enjoy the theatrical Middle-Earth world quite a bit, but at this point, I need something new, otherwise it’s just a rehash of things previously seen.  We do get our first look at Tauriel, an elf played by Evangeline Lilly, and the return of Legolas.  We also get our first look at the character in the title– a dragon, that if I’m honest with myself, looked far too much like the lady dragon from “Shrek”.  Perhaps the look will be more impressive on a bigger screen than my computer.  This one hits theaters December 13, 2013.

“Despicable Me 2”:  Sometimes (often these days), the excerpts from a film that make it into the trailer are the funniest, best scenes in the film, and nothing is left to the imagination.  I’m worried about that for “Despicable Me 2”, because this trailer is hilarious from start to finish.  The minions are funny, Gru is funny, the Eminem song fits perfectly, and even a couple of great stereotypical ‘parenting’ moments are thrown in.  I’m not sure what the plot is, exactly, but what I saw was funny, and I think that’s the point.  The first film was good, but not great, more hyper than comedic.  The hyperactivity is still present, and expected, but hopefully we all laugh more than the first. The entire setup is ripe for comedic greatness, both for adults and youngsters. “Despicable Me 2” opens July 3rd.

“Free Birds”:  This is a very high concept for an animated children’s film- altering the fate of turkeys forever by changing the first Thanksgiving meal centerpiece.  Clearly, it wouldn’t be humans doing the time traveling in a kid’s movie, but turkeys instead.  So, wayward turkeys (who, according to the narrator aren’t very smart) need to work together to figure it all out.  The trailer works, and my child belly laughed throughout, but I’m inclined to give pause once I see who the director is.  Jimmy Hayward is responsible for both “Jonah Hex” (terrible), and “Horton Hears a Who” (underwhelming), and therefore I can’t get too excited.  We’ll see this on November 1st of this year. 

Next week I’ll review another batch of trailers, and discuss a report I read about how and why trailers have changed over time.  Thanks everyone!

Film Review- ‘Monsters University’ (***)

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The start of a beautiful friendship?
The start of a beautiful friendship?

‘Monsters University’  *** (out of 5)

Starring (the voice talents of): Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Steve Buscemi, Charlie Day, Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Aubrey Plaza, and Nathan Fillion

Written by: Robert Bair, Daniel Gerson, and Dan Scanlon

Directed by: Dan Scanlon

I cannot say with a clear conscience that Pixar is lazy, as they are clearly productive with their output of short and feature-length films.  I can only point out that they lack the ability to stay as creative as they are prolific. Their films are generally so good and beautiful-looking that the standard they set for themselves each time is quite high.   “Monsters University” is another sequel, or in this case, prequel, to an existing hit, as opposed to an original story.  Including “Toy Story 2” & “3”, “Cars 2”, as well as the upcoming “Planes” (a “Cars” spinoff) and the announced “Finding Dory” (reaching theaters in 2016), this is the sixth project considered a continuation of their previous material.  I never felt the ‘Monsters, Inc’ story needed to continue, or that I needed the back story of the Wazowski/Sullivan friendship, but Disney/Pixar gave it to us anyways.  It’s a wholly unnecessary movie, but like all Pixar films, it’s better than 90% of the ‘family’ material given to us today.

It won’t take long to summarize what happens here, but I digress:  Mike Wazowski (Crystal) dreams from a young age of becoming the best ‘scarer’ ever, and follows the path of his scaring ‘hero’ by attending Monsters University over other famed establishments such as Fear Tech.  The first day of class, the ultimate monster jock, James P. Sullivan,  (Goodman), doesn’t even bring a pencil to class, and why would he?  He’s a Sullivan, and his father was a legendary ‘scarer’.  I think Pixar misses out on a huge opportunity here to introduce, at least as both characters are moving in, the parents.  I, for one, would revel at the opportunity to see Mama Wazowski or the Sullivan family.  What about brothers or sisters?  In a movie that gives us the opportunity to see where these characters come from, and what their motivations are, it’s odd to not see family, or hear any more about them other than a passing statement.

The main event takes place as a result of a snafu by our main characters.  Mike works hard, reads everything there is to read, and can’t quite pull off ‘scary’ like Sully, who can scare without much of an effort.  This isn’t a new idea; there’s always the bookworm versus jock storyline, so how do they get us to stay interested?  The aforementioned ‘snafu’ causes both Mike and Sully to get booted from the scare program at the university (a pretty harsh punishment for first time offenders), a punishment handed down by the scary looking and inconsistent character Dean Hardscrabble (Mirren).  Now we have our MacGuffin- how do the characters win back the favor of the dean?  If you guessed there would be some competition involved, instead of going through a customary appeals process, as would be the norm, you got it!  But wait, there’s more!  Of course, our ‘at odds’ heroes have to work together to win the ‘Scare Games’.  Cue an extended Pixar version of a montage, and voila!  A resolution!  (Every movie needs a montage….MONTAAAAAAAGE!!!)

If you’re detecting cynicism towards a perfectly innocent movie, you’re correct.  There’s nothing wrong with “Monsters University” as an innocent, better-than-most-every-kid-movie-around movie, but as an innovative, wholly emotional, memorable film, it fails.  Sure, Charlie Day’s ‘Art’ character is quirky and fun, but doesn’t get enough screen time, and Joel Murray’s ‘Don Carlson’ is great, but since “Fargo”, we’ve been inundated with the Minnesota Swede accent as a cute trait far too many times.  Maybe what’s missing here is a bit more heart.  So, we’re missing a ‘Boo’ type of character from the first movie, or at least more than simply an origin story of sorts to make this memorable.  Or necessary.

Film Review- ‘Man of Steel’ (**1/2)

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Just because the character can fly...
Just because the character can fly…doesn’t mean the movie follows.

‘Man of Steel’   **1/2 (out of 5)

Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, and Laurence Fishburne

Written by: David S. Goyer, based on a story by Goyer and Christopher Nolan

Directed by: Zack Snyder

**CAUTION: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD**

Considering the talent involved both in front of and behind the camera, combined with the lofty status of ‘Superman’ in the comic world, then multiplied by the high bar set by the ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy, “Man of Steel” arrives at theaters with enormous expectations.  This particular franchise reboot should, all things considered, be the new high water mark for all comic films.  Right?  After watching the magnificent trailers time and time again, I couldn’t help but think “It looks like they may have nailed it this time”.  The end result, however, is a decidedly mixed bag of ‘high’ highs and ‘low’ lows; that being said, I should consider it a failure based on all the variables I mentioned before. After all, what else would it possibily take for someone to make an excellent modern film involving the superhero of superheroes?  I can’t say this is a bad movie, but I also can’t claim that it’s a great one, which ultimately makes this a disappointment.

It seems superfluous to go over the entire origin story of Superman with an audience that’s quite familiar with it, but I will say that there are a few changes to what we’re used to that deserve mentioning.  This film version doesn’t give us a straight timeline from the birth of Kal-El to when he takes off as ‘Superman’.  The story weaves in and out via flashbacks, which I appreciated as someone very familiar with the origin.  Like I said, though, the origin isn’t exactly the same.  We now have a Krypton not threatened by a sun, but by internal ‘core’ strife.  Jor-El (Crowe) still pleads with a Krypton high council, that somehow, despite being in a civilization advanced enough to proliferate itself across the universe, doesn’t want to listen to one of its’ top minds.  There’s also an interesting twist on the reasons for baby Kal-El’s very existence that I found interesting.  I sensed the reasons for Krypton’s demise certainly mirror issues that we have as a civilization now.

Director Zack Snyder’s (of the satisfying “Watchmen” and underwhelming “300”) production gives us a Krypton that is truly ‘alien’ in scope.  So much so, in fact, that I wonder where the inspiration comes from- while watching the movie, I was struck by how Giger-esque Krypton and it’s derelict ships looked.  The alien technology, like the assisting ‘computers’ on the planet are quite the creation as well.  This alien world is in stark contrast to the Smallville, Kansas setting we see young Clark Kent grow up in, where Jonathan Kent (Costner) looks predictably weary and offers life advice that only a guy who has been in many baseball movies can do. 

The casting is key for all superhero movies, since we all want to see the comic icons we’ve followed for years embodied by an actor that can bring forth the ‘essence’ of the character, whether or not they may actually ‘look’ like the drawn form.  ‘Man of Steel’ is almost more important, because, well, we’re talking about SUPERMAN, the most iconic comic character of all time, his two dads, his two moms, the most well-known love interest in comics, Lois Lane, and a villain that did a fine job the last time out.  I’m happy to say that most everyone does quite well in their roles, especially Cavill & Adams.  Cavill is clearly the strongest physical version of Kal-El we’ve seen, and he’s also the best we’ve seen- he plays Superman in a way I’ve always wanted to see him- convincing physically, kind yet firm in his manner, and also just cautious enough with us humans that we still see him as an alien.  Playing the role of ‘savior’ is not an easy task; Cavill navigates the gap between all-powerful being and emotional, soft, caring individual with ease.  I’m excited to see what he can do going forwar, and at the very least, to me there is no doubt that we have our Superman, and he’s good at it.  The only thing missing for me is the feeling I got from previous incarnations of Superman, where he seems quite happy and proud to defend the planet.  There aren’t many moments of joy in this film, to be sure.

Amy Adams as Lois Lane didn’t work for me at first when she was cast, but she’s actually perfect.  She plays the role with equal parts vulerability and no-nonsense.  Crowe as Jor-El is a commanding presence on-screen, not simply a talking head waxing poetic like Marlon Brando in the same role.  Michael Shannon plays Zod in a way I didn’t expect- I knew the character as a delusional alien with a God complex.  Shannon’s Zod is (mostly) a more focused character- he talks methodically (with an almost Southern drill seargent voice as opposed to the pompous Terence Stamp in the original), and like many good villains, really believes what he is doing is for the greater good.  I was pleased when he was cast, and remembered his brilliant turn in “Bug” as a severely disturbed man, but with a purpose. Perfect for Zod. **SPOILER ALERT** My only beef with his character is how he loses control at the end, doing an about-face and destroying just to destroy.  I didn’t see this Zod as someone who wouldn’t do something without a purpos.  Even without his crew, I figured he’d still regroup and try it his way again.  Instead, he went bonkers.  The other negative would be Ayelet Zurer as Lara Lor-Van, Kal-El’s birth mother.  The way she delivered her lines reminded me of Pernilla August as Anakin’s mom in Star Wars, Episode I, and no one should deliver a performance like that.  Ever.

With all this film has going for it, how can it fall short?  Well, I don’t see how Christopher Nolan, the king of grounding things in reality, can be involved in a film where indestructable aliens arrive, mass destruction of property and loss of life (assumed) occurs, and none of the characters stop to ask WHY or HOW.  Even Snyder has managed to make the fantastic seem like it could really happen (“Watchmen”) and sadly we don’t have characters that stop and ask that in 243 minutes.  Maybe that’s going to be a part of the sequel or inevitable ‘Justice League’ movie.  Maybe next time they’ll actually explore how and why Superman will help humans ‘do wonders’, or how Clark can pose as a worker on what should be a top secret ice excavation.  Maybe next time we will see a reaction from the world that I thought might be in a Snyder/Nolan movie instead of basically ignoring the subject.  That’s just the thing; after years and years of trying to deliver a movie that was worthy of the top hero, there was plenty of opportunity to get it right once and for all.  Anything less than that should be considered a failure.  There’s enough strength in the performances that I can’t quite call it a failure, but as bad as I want to love this movie, it’s obvious that it never quite delivers.

Welcome!

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Dear Reader,

Welcome to The Film Fan Perspective! This blog is dedicated to the study, review, and discussion of films/motion pictures/movies (however you prefer to say it), trailers, and film-related news. I am not affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, or other form of media. I’m simply a big fan of the movies, and I like to talk and write about them. I have strong opinions that certainly border on arrogance, but I definitely invite criticism of my ‘work’ on a civil level. There won’t be any Pulitzer-winning material on this blog, so keep that in mind. As for training, I can only say that I had a theater class in college, reviewing a number of plays, and learning about the structure of criticism through that process, and admittedly leeching off great film writers of our time. In essence, I know I’m not great at it, but I certainly think I have a thoughtful point of view.

Each week, I’ll review a different movie, whether it be new in theaters or new to me. From time to time, I’ll review films from the past, and hopefully I’ll compile enough reviews to amass a searchable ‘database’ in the future. For now, however, baby steps. To quote David 8 (and likely others) in ‘Prometheus’, big things have small beginnings.
Thank you in advance for reading. Movies are a passion of mine, and I’ve wanted to explore the hobby of review and criticism for a long time. I’d love it if you joined me in the discussion.

Sincerely,

Josh Adams
The Film Fan Perspective