The Adventures of Tintin REVIEW
Director – Steven Spielberg
Cast – Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nik Frost, Tony Jones
I have to admit I was with the movie right up until the half way mark. It was witty, fast paced, and fun. The animation is great, and the style is perfect. We follow Tintin, the intrepid and iconic young reporter, as he races the evil Sakharin to find the lost treasure of the Haddock family. Accompanying him as they battle the baddies is the inebriated Captain Haddock, heir to the lost treasure.
The story of Tintin is both too simple, and too complicated. At heart this is really a chase movie, and should have been left that way; but it is constantly muddled up by scenes which desperately try to catch us up to the story. There’s too much action and very little story, and the details of the story don’t actually make any sense, which doesn’t help. So by the half way point… well, I just didn’t give a damn. Sure it’s pretty. But it loses steam majorly.
On the plus side, (and this will sound strange), it was good to see a kid being shot at. Tintin is quite young, and I was thinking the action and violence would be tamed down, but it wasn’t. He draws a pistol himself very early on in the movie, and I did a fist pump when he did. No kiddy pandering here! Also worthy of special mention is the wonderful team of Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. They have bit parts as a pair of bumbling police, and even reference their Hot Fuzz roles with a line or two.
The very character of Tintin presents a problem… he’s such a friggin boy scout. Jamie Bell plays him with an overbearing innocence and bravery that becomes cloying. He’s a cardboard cutout, with no humor or pathos. Now this isn’t as much of a problem as it could have been, as Andy Serkis more than delivers on the comedy front, and the energy of the action sequences carry Tintin along very quickly. But a bit more personality would have been nice, even if just in the performance.
If Peter Jackson does take up directing duties for the sequel, he would be wise to get a good script beforehand…
The Adventures of Tinin has a good first half, but a repetitive second half that doesn’t clear up some questions I would have liked answered. Frankly, I was bored by the end; an ending which feels very anti-climactic, by the way. The visuals are fantastic, but a better script was needed. It is passable, but nothing more.
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Despicable Me REVIEW
Director – Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin
Cast – Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Miranda Cosgrove, Will Arnett, Elsie Fisher, Dana Gaier, Julie Andrews, Danny MacBride
Despicable Me features the voice talents of Steve Carell as comic super-villain Gru who, after adopting three children so he can use them against an enemy, finds himself falling for the children’s charms and innocence. His heart starts small, but grows three sizes, to paraphrase Dr. Seuss.
The comparison to the Grinch is apt, as this character borrows heavily from him. The movie itself borrows from many movies, and its plot, that of a group of kids changing an old grump’s heart, is certainly not new. While it is certainly new to tell the story with a super-villain locking horns with a new up and coming super-villain (at least until Megamind comes out), this movie definitely does follow a tried and true path. As Frost said, it is certainly nice to go the route less travelled by once in a while, but it also doesn’t hurt to tread down memory lane once in a while.
While the movie may arguably lack huge amounts of originality, it more than makes up for it with its sly sense of (sometimes dark) humour and its swift energy. The manic (and over advertised) little yellow “minions” of Gru’s are the stuff kids movies are made for. They are stupid, adorable, and can be blown up and damaged with no real ill effects. Perfect cannon fodder for the young ‘uns.
This is without a doubt a kids movie, about kids and for kids. This is not to say that adults can not enjoy it as well, but it does lack the all round appeal of a Pixar film for example. The world is self-contained, which I like, meaning it does not rely on in-jokes and parody as much as the Shrek films.
Despicable Me, as I said, borrows heavily from the tried and true formulas we know, and that does stop it from reaching its full potential. It does veer from the truly sappy though, for the most part we really belive in and cheer for Gru’s gradual love for his “children”. It is quite touching, evem cute, and enjoyable to watch. I hear news of a sequel, and while the sequel trend is something I am not a huge fan of, I wouldn’t mind revisiting this pleasant little world. I think Gru will gradually become a favorite character of children. Expect a whole bunch of Halloween costumes based on him. And why not? It is a testament to Carell’s voice talents (and good writing) that such a villainous (granted, comically so) villain could be so endearing. At the end we want to do nothing more than pat him on the back and say “You’re not despicable, Gru.” Not at all. Not at all.
Despicable Me is quick, funny, and even genuinely touching at times. Steve Carell puts in a great performance, and the rest of the cast backs him up solidly. The animation is vivid and captivating, and the only thing stopping this from becoming a classic is the slightly “been-there-done-that” feel to it all. However what it does it does well, and is a remarkably solid children’s film. Very much recommended.
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The Karate Kid REVIEW
Director – Harald Zwart
Cast – Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Hansen, Zhenwei Wang
The 1984 movie The Karate Kid gets an update with 2010’s The Karate Kid. The name stays the same, despite the fact that the actual martial art portrayed here is kung-fu. Jaden Smith, son (and, I suspect, clone) of Will Smith replaces Ralph Macchio as the young student, and Jackie Chan replaces Pat Morita as the patient yet troubled teacher.
The plot deals with Smith who moves to China (due to his mother being transferred), and finds himself being bullied by a kung-fu student in his class. After Chan tries to intervene with the boys teacher, Smith is entered in an open kung-fu tournament as a way to reclaim his honour (or something). Chan takes the boy on and trains him for the tournament.
I must admit to being a little surprised by the movie. It was better than I was expecting. Jackie Chan is very good, every time he is onscreen we watch him. He is a wonderful actor. Jaden Smith is also good, though he does come across as strikingly similar to his father, down to the smallest of mannerisms. However he knows how to create an interesting, grounded character. The opening of the movie is measured and deliberate, paced wonderfully. No shot is wasted, but it doesn’t whip by too quick either. The setup is clean and efficient, as is quite entertaining.
The training sequences of the movie are also quite good. Jaden Smith’s character is a bit of an arrogant prick, and we enjoy watching Jackie Chan take him down a notch or two. The device that replaces the famous “wax on, wax off” is very interesting. We almost believe that this little kid would truly be able to learn what Chan is teaching him.
We do, that is, until the tournament itself . This is unfortunately one of the worst failings of the movie. We have seen what Jaden has been taught, and yet the things we see him do are absolutely unbelievable. The move which replaces the fabled (and made up) “crane kick” of the first film is just laughable in its complexity. It was straight out of The Matrix, and of course, was out of tone with the rest of the movie.
The other huge flaw with the movie is its pace. After the first 45 minutes it starts to drag, and drag hard. I think the movie could have easily lost half an hour without a sweat. The Karate Kid was co-financed by the China Film Group, and as such we are “treated” to lengthy sequences showcasing Chinese monastic culture, the Great Wall, etc. These definitely could have been cut, as with a scene where Chan takes Smith to a monastery which features a spiritual healing well (or something).
The Karate Kid is a movie with its heart in the right place, but unfortunately it is hampered by its extremely slow pace and a couple unbelievable kung-fu sequences. The actors are quite good, but in the end the movie doesn’t quite live up to its premise’s possibilities.
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Toy Story 3 REVIEW
Director – Lee Ulrich
Cast – Tim Allen, Tom Hanks, John Ratzsenberger, Joan Cussack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Morris, Jodi Benson, Emily Hahn
– follows Toy Story 2
I must admit to not being a huge fan of the Toy Story movies. They are good, but I have never been particularly impressed when it comes to the adventures of Woody, Buzz, and Co. Pixar is of course a good studio who regularly turn out decent and excellent material. Monsters Inc. is probably my favorite of theirs, and I very much enjoyed Ratatouille and Wall-E. Up was a bit underwhelming to me personally, but found great critical success elsewhere. So I must say that for me, Toy Story 3 falls in the category of good but not stellar.
The story starts with Andy, the toys owner, growing up and moving off to college. The toys find themselves shipped to a day care, which is ruled with a plush iron hand by a huge stuffed bear named Lotso. Woody finds himself separated from the others, and journeys back to save them and their trust in Andy, whom they believe has rejected them.
This movie is funny, perhaps more funny than the first two. It also packs the most emotional punch. One scene, where Woody and Co. bravely prepare themselves for certain death in a trash incinerator, is very moving. The origin tale of Lotso’s bitterness is both funny and sad, and the clown who tells the story is priceless. The movie loses ground I find, when it packs on the sugary, treacley, saccharine sweetness (as only Disney can). The ending was, I feel, over-played, and would have been greater if played with the simplicity of the similar ending scene from Monster’s Inc. Less is more, and I don’t think that rule was followed enough here. Or in the Toy Story franchise in general.
This film also feels quite similar to the first sequel, Toy Story 2. We again have a scene where a toy is left behind by its owner, and Buzz once again is put back to his orignal factory setting for comedic effect. Woody is perhaps sidelined a little more than he should have been also. These are fairly minor quibbles however, in a movie that will certainly leave kids and most adults more than satisfied. I just hate it when movies like this are unjustly (in my view) given the title of Best Threequel Ever, etc. It was good, but not that good.
And of course, being a Pixar film, there is a short film preceding Toy Story 3. This one is called Night and Day, and is about… well its about two people wo are made of the same shot but one is day and the other is night. Realizing that explains virtually nothing, I will say it is about recognizing the differences and similarities in each other and respecting each other for them. It’s good, but doesn’t quite live up to the full potential of its premise. It is definitely… well, unique.
Toy Story 3 is an entertaining and emotional ending to the Toy Story saga. It does try to milk its ending a bit too much though, and felt a tad repetitive. But otherwise this is an excellent family film (that is perhaps over-rated), and will be sure to entertain most audiences in that special way only Pixar can.
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Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs REVIEW
Director – Carlos Saldanha, Mike Thurmeier
Cast – Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Simon Pegg
— follows Ice Age 2: The Meltdown
Animated movies usually try to entertain both the kids and adults, the reasoning being that adults will be more likely to take their kids to a movie if they think they themselves will like it. This movie is no exception, except where studios like Pixar do it with smart writing and good storylines, this movie tries to do it with sex jokes and innuendo. And while most of the jokes are pretty funny, I found myself taken out of the movie whenever I heard a comment like “I knew that butterfly ages ago when he was a caterpillar. You know, before he came out.” It was a little too much I found.
Another problem is the story, which is pretty bland. In fact, it’d be hard to find a more generic one. However, it does give the movie a chance to show off some pretty impressive visuals and action sequences, all in a nice family-friendly, Disney channel sort of way.
The comedy is what saved this movie from being pure crap however. I laughed many times, and I laughed fairly loudly. Simon Pegg makes an appearance as Buck, a heroic/crazy Cockney weasel. Both his character and the little scenes involving Scrat the Squirrel (now joined by a love interest/sparring partner Scratte) are for the most part both clever and hilarious, making them the highlights of the movie.
The animation itself is done reasonably well. At times in the beginning the trees, snow and hills look almost Dr. Suess-like, and add to the playful feel of the movie. Science is, of course, fully ignored, as it should be in these types of movies. Anyone nitpicking about that probably shouldn’t be watching the movie in the first place.
If you’re looking for a nice family friendly movie to bring your kids to, you could certainly do worse. However, you could also do quite a bit better. Being funny but very generic, this isn’t quite forgettable, but almost. See it if you have to, I guess. Don’t expect too much though.
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Director – Chris Wedge and Carlos Sandanha
Cast – Ewan McGregor, Robin Williams, Halle Berry, Mel Brooks, Drew Carrey, Jim Broadbent, Amanda Bynes
Robots is the newest animated offering from 20th Century Fox, who also gave us the Ice Age series. It concerns a young robot called Rodney Copperbottom, a young inventor who has dreams outside of his station. He discovers that his idol, inventor Mr. Bigweld, is being replaced at Bigweld Industries, and his successor, Ratchet, is an evil son-of-a-gun (with a doubly evil mother pulling the strings to boot. And to top it all off she’s voiced by… Jim Broadbent?) Rodney journeys to the city to make his fortune and makes many friends along the way, who eventually fight against Ratchet and his gleaming robot army.
The problem with this movie is… well, just read the tagline: “You can shine no matter what you’re made of.” You can see the formula coming a mile away, can’t you. The whole story is filled with pat sayings and condescending emotional messages that were old when Disney decided to make his living off of them. Rodney’s journey from robot-adolescence into robot- adulthood has been seen a million times and would be embarrassing on kids TV; we don’t need to see that kind of stuff at the theaters, we really don’t. We’ve seen it too much already.
Thankfully, the same thing can’t be said about the animation and the “sets”. The movie is absolutely beautiful visually, the colours are vibrant when they need to be, and perfectly moody when that is called for. The world the robots live in is supremely imaginative; Rude Goldberg-like devices abound as transportation, and the action is staged quite well.
There is alot of inventiveness in this movie, just in the wrong proportions, and in the wrong places. It’s as if they spent the minimum time on scripts possible, and then spent the remaining time on animation. The movie is certainly a good try, but it doesn’t quite get to where it wants to go.
If you’re a kid you will probably enjoy it. There’s enough fart jokes to keep kids laughing nonstop, but the adults may leave feeling they wanted something a bit more. Pixar it ain’t.
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Finding Neverland REVIEW
Director – Marc Forster
Cast – Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Dustin Hoffman, Freddie Highmore
Finding Neverland follows J. M. Barrie ( played by Johnny Depp), the author of Peter Pan, in his relationship with a fatherless family of boys, which gives him the inspiration to write his most famous work. Now if the events and conflicts in the movie had actually happened, the movie would have a bit more credibility. Now I am not a stickler for historical accuracy in moves, but this movie really takes liberities. It removes characters, adds conflicts where there were none, and generally does what it wants just to add emotional punch (and at times, rather contrived emotional punch at that).
However, if you were to look at the movie as just that, a movie, without delving into the historical background, it will not in the most part dissapoint. Johnny Depp is great (as always) and he definitely creates a distinct character. Dustin Hoffman plays the role of Barrie’s producer with calmness and proffesionalism, also creating a distinct character. The standout performance however, belongs to Freddie Highmore. In his breakout performance he is responsible for most of the dramatic wieght in the story; and it is an amazing performance, doubly so because of his young age. He went on to star (recommended by Depp) in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, has since starred in many movies (of varying quality, to be sure), and has made quite a name for himself.
The movie has many good parts and a few bad parts. The biggest problem is the rather heavy- handed treatment of the emotional points, and an unbelievable character transformation near the end of the movie rubbed me the wrong way. However, the performances are excellent, and the movie has a fair degree of charm and magic. One sequence has Barrie and his wife going to bed in seperate rooms; she goes into her room and shuts the door, but when Barrie opens his door we see a brief glance of (as he sees it) a fairytale world of green valleys and misty forests. It is a surprisingly touching scene.
Finding Neverland is a decent movie; magical at times, a tad manipulative at others. It’s worth a watch for the performances and charm. A good all-round family movie.
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Director – Pete Doctor/Bob Peterson
Cast – Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordon Nagai
People love Pixar, and they certainly have predictably turned out good movies. And while Up is certainly no Ratatouille or Monsters Inc. (my two personal favorites Pixar movies), it certainly makes itself entertaining.
The plot concerns a cranky old man who ties balloons to his house and floats off in order to a) escape the life of a retirement home and b) to fulfill a promise made to his dead wife to journey to a half-mythological place called Paradise Falls. He picks up a kid, a dog, and a giant bird along the way, and they have an adventure being chased by an old explorer named Muntz who tries to capture the bird.
The movie has the usual Pixar hallmarks; humor, wit, and charm, but this time the “charm” threatens to give way to saccharine sweet mushiness, and the humor tends to be lost at times to rather lengthy action sequences. The sappiness really gets piled on high in a couple places about half way through the movie, and there are a couple extremely formulaic plot developments. But there are some very funny moments; for example one EXTREMELY funny sequence involving the discovery of the large bird that is guaranteed to have you rolling in the aisles; and there are quite a lot of Michael Cera-like lines from a pack of dogs (who serve the villain) that are extremely well written and read.
The best thing about the film is that it does go places which most kids movies either don’t go, or go badly. It deals with the death of an elderly loved one, with loneliness, it even dabbles a little with loss of innocence. And it is all done in a very “About Schmidt” way that is a nice breath of fresh air in a “family movie”.
As it is Pixar, I must mention the short film which always precedes their films. This one is called Partly Cloudy, and concerns the old Storks-Delivering-a-Baby myth. In this version, storks deliver the babies , but the clouds actually make them by sculpting with mist and then electrifying it. One of the clouds however, isn’t very good at it, and the short concerns the relationship between that cloud and his stork, who is all too aware of his clouds inability. Very inventive, sweet, and funny.
Up is a good movie, but more like the quality of Cars or A Bug’s Life than Ratatouille. Recommended, if you have nothing else to do.
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Son of Lassie REVIEW
Director – S. Sylvan Simon
Cast – Peter Lawford, Donald Crisp, June Lockhart, Nigel Bruce
“Son of Lassie?” I can hear you think. “What the hell?” I can hear you say. But there it is. Son of Lassie. But please, don’t let the title (which makes the movie sound like a corny, ridiculously contrived “sequel-for-the-point-of-a-sequel”) scare you off. While the title is in hindsight not the best, this movie is great family fare.
This sequel to 1943’s Lassie Come Home is just as good as the original (an under-seen classic), but it does differ enough to make it interesting. As in all the best sequels, it is darker than the first. While the obstacles in the first one amounted to at most thugs with sticks, this film throws Lassie and owner Joe Carraclough (now THERE’S a last name to be proud of) against none other than the Nazi’s themselves. And not absurd caricatures of Nazi’s either (which is unexpected, as this was made in the dying years of WW II) but decent portrayals of Nazi’s.
Yes, Nazi’s. That’s typical of this film. It is at heart a dog movie, it’s a warm family movie, but it shoots higher than average films of its ilk. The bad guys are Nazi’s who Joe tries to avoid after he is forced to parachute from a burning reconnaissance plane into the heart of Norway. (Yes, Norway.) Throughout the movie we meet English POW’s, and Norwegian resistance fighters. We watch a peaceful mountain village get the crap bombed out of it, and, what is more astonishing, we see the aftermath. People crushed under rock carts, etc. (In a Lassie movie? Yes, in a Lassie movie.) This movie treats it’s WW II subject matter JUST as seriously as The Great Escape for example, maybe even more so. The crowning touch is that the theme played throughout is an adaptation of Edvard Greig’s (a Norwegian) most famous piece, the Piano Concerto in A Minor, a great piece which suits the scenery and the action wonderfully.
One sequence in particular deserves special mention, and that is the final chase sequence. Joe and Lassie are running away from a prisoner work camp with a couple dozen of German soldiers in pursuit. They run pell-mell through beautiful Norwegian hills, rocks, and trees (actually filmed in Northern Canada). They hide under rocks, Joe smashes a soldiers head in and returns fire at the Germans. They run and run, until they find themselves on a large wooden bridge with Nazi’s at both ends. With nowhere else to go, Joe grabs Lassie in his arms and jumps the approx. 30 feet down to the raging water below. He falls down small waterfalls and battles rapids, all the way to a friendly fisherman’s house. It is a spectacular scene, guaranteed to leave you breathless (if you’re a kid) or at the very least interested (if you’re a cynical adult).
This is a great movie that happens to be aimed for the family demographic. It can, I believe, be watched and enjoyed by pretty much anyone. Definitely recommended.
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