Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
(screenshots from JoBlo.com)
Disney’s 52nd animated feature is essentially a Toy Story for the digital generation, Wreck-It Ralph. In it, characters from video games in an arcade inhabit a connected electronic world and live their lives after all the humans have left. They are able to visit the individual games by passing through the arcade’s surge protector, which acts as their central station. Their respective games function as both a career and a home world for them to live in. Their actions during gameplay are like theatrical performances, their lives essentially a reality show with some human interference. It’s a brilliant concept and full of references to classic games. More than that, Wreck-It Ralph features a very funny (if by-the-numbers) script and a wide appeal that should leave everyone satisfied.
November 25, 2012 | Categories: 8 - 8.5, Animation, Comedy, Family, Genre, Ratings | Tags: adam carolla, clark spencer, dennis haysbert, ed o'neill, edie mcclurg, henry jackman, horatio sanz, jack mcbrayer, jamie elman, jane lynch, jennifer lee, jess harnell, jim reardon, joe lo truglio, john c. reilly, john dimaggio, katie lowers, maurice lamarche, mindy kaling, phil johnston, rachael harris, raymond persi, rich moore, roger craig smith, sarah silverman, skylar astin, stefanie scott, tim mertins | 2 Comments
Film #25: Cyrus (2010)
Cyrus is a comedy-drama written and directed by the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, and released in 2010. With the exception of its professional actors, the film has all the hallmarks of the indie “mumblecore” movement that the Duplass brothers partake in: Low-budget filmmaking that’s character-based and dialogue-driven. The tenets of mumblecore can be divisive enough for a movie-going public more acclimated to high-concept films; Cyrus doubles down on its disconcertion by featuring a nearly incestuous Oedipal relationship. Plenty of people are probably interested in this movie based on its cast. Many will probably end up disappointed.
Personally, I absolutely loved it.
March 19, 2012 | Categories: 9 - 9.5, Comedy, Drama, Genre, Ratings | Tags: catherine keener, duplass bros, duplass brothers, jas shelton, jay dueby, jay duplass, john c. reilly, jonah hill, marisa tomei, mark duplass, matt walsh, michael andrews, michael costigan, mumblecore, ridley scott, tony scott | Leave a comment
Hard Eight is Paul Thomas Anderson’s debut feature film. It’s no secret that I adore his follow-up, Boogie Nights, and I was also greatly impressed by Magnolia and There Will Be Blood (I haven’t had the chance to see Punch-Drunk Love yet, but I will soon enough). I was delighted to see that PTA can apparently do no wrong, because even his low-key premiere film is an extraordinary delight.
February 28, 2010 | Categories: 8 - 8.5, Crime, Drama, Genre, Ratings | Tags: gwyneth paltrow, john c. reilly, Paul Thomas Anderson, philip baker hall, philip seymour hoffman, samuel l. jackson | Leave a comment
Boogie Nights is Paul Thomas Anderson’s second feature film, but his first, Hard Eight, is so unknown that it practically doesn’t exist. Establishing many stylistic and thematic elements that would pervade his successive three films, Boogie Nights is Anderson’s first exercise as auteur. The result is a fantastic film that is nearly flawless.
January 24, 2010 | Categories: 9 - 9.5, Drama, Genre, Ratings | Tags: academy awards, alfred molina, burt reynolds, don cheadle, heather graham, john c. reilly, julianne moore, luis guzman, mark wahlberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, phillip seymour hoffman, william h. macy | Leave a comment
After their successful collaboration in Gangs of New York, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio became a director/actor team, following that success with 2004’s The Aviator. Scorsese’s epic biopic follows DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, the famous aviator, filmmaker and entrepreneur. The movie takes place from the 20s to the 40s, and includes depictions of well-known stars of the era, including Katherine Hepburn (played by Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale).
The Aviator is like the man whose story it tells, in that it has huge ideas and grand ambitions. The film celebrates its setting with very vivid depictions of the decades it goes through. Hughes is certainly a man interesting enough to fill such a lofty film, with his unrestrained ambitions and obsessive compulsive personality disorder. DiCaprio proves that he is a true leading man who doesn’t have to rely on his good looks and heart-throbbing teen fans. He really embraces the role, accent and all, and fits into it nicely. He manages to fit the character’s needs and is able to balance between paranoid, eccentric, and brilliant.
Hughes is certainly a complex character, and one of my complaints with the story is that it prefaces his anxiety disorder with a single, short scene where his mother warns him about germs. I realize that your environment growing up may have some impact on an eventual psychological affliction, but to imply that his problem is caused by this in a throwaway scene feels kind of cheap.
Throughout the film, Hughes faces some crises. After a very well-shot and fantastic looking flight scene, Hughes crashes in what is easily the most intense sequence of the movie. Another scene near the end of the film, after his sanity and stability has almost entirely eroded away, there’s a sequence of him at his low-point, locked in a room and compulsively lining up jars of his urine. Another problem with the movie is his unexplained and instant recoveries from these incidents. The plane crash severely injures him, but just a few scenes later he’s walking around with no visible evidence that his body had ever been put through the trauma. And minutes after he is in his paranoid depravity, he is presenting a legitimate defense in court. This uneven roller coaster of fortune for Hughes minimizes the power of his highs and lows; they don’t stand out because they’re likely to be ignored shortly.
Despite the film following a considerable portion of Hughes’ career, it still feels like a bit of a light grazing over. I was left with my historical interest in Hughes the man unsatiated. The film definitely is more about Hughes as a person than the things that he does, probably because of the strong performance available with DiCaprio. He’s not the only strong performance, either; in fact the entire cast is very strong.
Cate Blanchett probably commands the most attention for her portrayal of Katherine Hepburn. I thought her first scene during the golf outing was a bit exaggerated, but then again, her character is one of many layers and controlled outward appearances, so after you learn that it becomes palatable. Kate Beckinsale is also satisfactory. Gwen Stefani and Jude Law show up in small but pleasant roles. Alan Alda, playing against his usual type, and Alec Baldwin, playing exactly with his own, team up as a very great and entertaining antagonistic duo. And John C. Reilly once again brings a great performance to a secondary but important character who helps bring a down-to-earth perspective in the midst of Hughes’ head-in-the-clouds ideas.
The direction is superb, as should be expected from such a venerable filmmaker. Scorsese’s compositions show great attention to lighting and colors, with many rooms and locales having their own unique color schemes. He uses an upside-down tracking shot at one point, but also includes plenty of long, exploratory shots that offer comprehensive readings. The editing disappointed me a bit, but this was because of mostly minor errors including ones of continuity.
Overall, the film is an enjoyable look into the life of one of America’s most eccentric and ambitious businessmen. Its length begins to be noticeable near the end, and some pretty shallow explanations and turning points definitely detract from the story, but the cast is top-notch and the direction is great. It may not be his best, but it certainly doesn’t detract from Scorcese’s filmography.
Final rating: 6.5/10
–James A. Janisse
January 15, 2010 | Categories: 6 - 6.5, Biography, Drama, Genre, History, Ratings | Tags: alan alda, alec baldwin, cate blanchett, gwen stefani, john c. reilly, john logan, jude law, kate beckinsale, leonardo dicaprio, martin scorsese | Leave a comment
In 2005, Shane Acker made a short film called ‘9’ about a mute little puppet guy running around in a post-apocalyptic world. The short was visually stunning and mysteriously interesting, and it gained a nomination for Best Animated Short at the Oscars that year. That success was probably what allowed Acker to make a (mostly) full-length version of his short, also entitled 9, which came out in 2009. Unfortunately, when the material from his short is extended to a longer runtime, it is stretched very thin. 9 looks amazing and has an outstanding voice cast, but offers very little in terms of story, character, or action.
9 begins with the eponymous doll coming to life and finding all the humans in the world around him dead. He soon runs into a similar being, numbered 2, who helps him out before getting taken by an evil machine. Apparently robots have revolted and are the cause for human extinction. After the attack, 9 wakes up amidst most of the other homonculi that were numbered prior to him, and the movie sets off.
The puppets that have real lines (six of the nine do) are voiced by very well-known actors. Elijah Wood voices 9, and the others are taken on by Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, and Jennifer Connelly. Everyone does a great job and fits nicely into their roles. They bring a lot of spirit to the “stitchpunk” golems that the film follows.
Unfortunately the characters they are voicing don’t really have much to say. All of them seem to be pretty archetypal – the overbearing but well-meaning grizzled leader, the soft-spoken nice guy, the adventurous and capable female, the quiet weird artsy one… granted, these are all aspects of one man’s soul that have been put in these dolls, but it still would have been nice to have them fleshed out a bit more.
What needed even more help was the plot of the film. It’s depressingly simple. The way the story begins, you expect to go on some sort of epic journey with these puppets, but instead you do a sort of point-to-point roadtrip that ends up being extremely predictable and unoriginal. They go somewhere, they get attacked, another member gets their souls taken away; rinse and repeat. After 20 minutes you can probably guess who’s going to bite the dust and what order they’ll do it in. The robots are made to look way too obviously evil (how could anyone have expected these things to usher in peace if they have machine guns on the front?), and the action scenes that pit these evil mechanical creatures against our lovable stitchpunks are equally unsatisfying. The first creature is decapitated with startling ease by an intervening 7, and though the next villain is a very interesting serpent-like machine, we know that he too will soon fall relatively easily, perhaps after taking out a puppet or two.
The film leaves one wondering who exactly it was made for. The fact that it’s animated isolates many adults who can’t bring themselves to watch animated puppets running around. However, it also has a very dark and somewhat scary tone about it, and its setting is littered with many dead human bodies, so you have to wonder at what age this kind of stuff would stop giving one nightmares.
9 looks amazing. It’s got some of the best CGI I’ve seen in an animated feature so far, and it makes a lot of use of its heroes’ size. There’s a ton of really cool instances showing how these little guys interact with the world from their tiny perspective, and whether it’s using a sewing needle as a weapon or running on a record to play it, it’s all very fun to look at and point out. The earlier puppets like 1 and 2 are markedly different from the later ones – just look at their eyes and construction. This kind of detail is what makes 9 good enough to watch. It just looks so cool.
Despite being the shortest film I’ve watched in a long time, 9 is repetitive and not as inspiring as you may hope it to be. Its plot and characters are sadly underdeveloped, and a lot of the surrounding story doesn’t feel fleshed out at all either. 9 is a movie that you could take or leave, depending on how interesting it seems to you. Even if you don’t end up getting into it, at least you won’t have to spend more than 80 minutes on it. It’d be great, however, if the film had been good enough to make me want it to be longer.
Final rating: 6/10
–James A. Janisse
January 6, 2010 | Categories: 6 - 6.5, Adventure, Animation, Genre, Ratings, Science Fiction | Tags: acadmy awards, christopher plummer, crispin glover, dana ginsburg, danny elfman, deborah lurie, elijah wood, fred tatasciore, jennifer connelly, jim lemley, jinko gotoh, john c. reilly, kevin r. adams, martin landau, nick kenway, pamela pettler, shane acker, tim burton, timur bekmambetov | Leave a comment