All About biggest_loser
Reviewed on June 15th, 2013
Disney presents a film directed by Dan Scanlon
Screenplay by Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson and Dan Scanlon
Starring: (voices of) Billy Crystal, John Goodman and Helen Mirren
Running Time: 110 minutes
Released: June 20th, 2013
One of the more understated strings in the bow of animation giant Pixar are the moral lessons that their films provide to audiences. In 2001 Monsters, Inc. introduced us to Mike and Sully, two monsters that were part of a corporation where monsters could travel through teleportation doors and into bedrooms of children to scare them so that their screams would power their operations. Children were also seen as dangerous outsiders until the business learnt that laughter is a more successful for increasing production. Overcoming our fears, risk taking and laughter are lessons that the animation studio itself taught us and embraced on its own.
Pixar have again upheld this optimistic, moral outlook because Monsters University is a celebration of diversity and learning your specialist skills. The film is a prequel to the 2001 film, with Billy Crystal and John Goodman reprising their roles as monsters Mike and Sully, who are not friends but college rivals learning the trade of scaring and hoping to be accepted into the Monsters, Inc.
The film will give parents an opportunity to talk to their children about the subject of college in a positive outlook. In American there has rarely been a more important time to have this conversation. The Huffington Post wrote in April that there had already been thirteen college shootings this year. In 2007 thirty-two people were shot dead at Virginia Tech. Though never short of funding, the American education system also still produces consistently subpar performances. Countering these pillars of fear and tension, Monsters University captures the emotions of college life and then gleefully subverts them.
The core of the film is the friendship of Mike and Sulley, who represent contrasting attitudes in college study life. Mike is hardworking, ambitious and by the book but also small, an outcast and a loner. He wants to be the sole leader. Sulley is unprepared, lazy and coasts off his family name as a Sullivan. He's bigger, more intimidating and popular than Mike and expects everything will come through his natural ability and that he doesn't need to study. After making a bet with Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), they're thrown together into a Scare Games contest, where they reluctantly band together, along with other loners, to complete a series of challenges to stay enrolled in the college.
Each game played against the other rival fraternity houses gives the film a story structure that is not dissimilar to The Internship. Unlike that film though, you actually care dearly about the characters. This is one of Pixar's greatest strengthens, not just as animators but as filmmakers. Each of the hilarious characters, including a middle-aged student and a two-headed dancer, helps to understand each other's strengths and how to use these in the tasks.
It could be viewed as a generic 'be yourself' message but in the context of a college setting its thematically sensible because college should be a place where people learn their own skills and can take unexpected detours and still succeed. For those assuming this is a derivative underdog story, there is a huge point of conflict in this film, coupled with Pixar's trademark lump in the throat moments, as the story shifts into its darker unexpected final act.
The director of the film was Dan Scanlon, who worked as a storyboard artist for Pixar on Cars. He graduated from Columbus College of Art and Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and in his first Pixar film as director he has used these visual skills exceptionally. The film is hysterically funny, partly due to the wit but also the number of sight gags on display.
Monsters University itself resembles a proper college, with lecture rooms, dorms and orientation stalls, and uses this detail to reference old college films and campus stereotypes. I liked the variety in the monster designs, like how one of the students had a moustache shaped like a vampire bat or the gothic monster that had spikes coming out of the microphone she was holding. Dan Scanlon also controls the beats of the story so that there are breathing spaces between the challenges and that action sequences are brisk and never overlong.
Hollywood films now are bigger and louder, but with little to say. Monsters University is a rare blockbuster that could teach audiences something. The film is about learning to accept fear and failure, while remaining hopeful about change and growth through our different skills. Pixar's personal talent is that their films are still as simulating as they are funny and creative.
Reviewed on May 23rd, 2013
Roadshow presents a film directed by Todd Phillips
Screenplay by Todd Phillips and Craig Mazin
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, John Goodman and Ken Jeong
Running Time: 100 minutes
Released: May 23rd, 2013
Director Todd Phillips (The Hangover series, Starsky and Hutch) said that he felt there was freedom in making R rated movies and that it provided energy and aggressiveness. There has been a lot of testosterone and energy used in the revival of the 'man-child' films made by Judd Apatow and Phillips recently. Some of these are throwbacks to the raunchy comedies of the 1980s, where teenagers could watch raunchy, adult entertainment. When similar films embrace rather than critique the man-child syndrome however, they reveal how outdated and archaic they are because their target audiences are now older and smarter and deserve more.
The bromance subgenre could be traced back as far as any Western but today it echoes Hollywood's fixation on male friendships and reveals the general misogyny of the studio system as it hinges most of its resources on male orientated films. The reckless stupidity associated with not all, but many of these bromance films, amounts simply to wasted energy, aggressiveness and chaos, still in search of the word adult.
In spite of racist and misogynist undertones, the first Hangover movie drew appeal from the fact that its story seemed shrouded and mysterious, as its central characters uncovered their idiocy from the night before. It was about them coming to terms with their actions. If the sequel was a poor, laugh free cash-in, this third film challenges it to lower the bar past juvenile and into a new zone of painfulness.
Lame, unfunny and poorly made, this is not simply a question of juvenility or gender politics, but how far a director and producer is willing to sell-out a popular cast and franchise name for something that displays his own ineptitude.
Zach Galifianakis' opening scene, where he drives along a highway with a giraffe in the trailer, is an example of the attention-seeking, mean-spiritedness found in The Hangover Part III. What isn't shown in the film's previews is that when the giraffe reaches the overpass its head is knocked clean off and it smashes into a windscreen, causing a pileup of cars.
Animal cruelty features three times in this movie and like everything else here it's grimly unfunny. Who would have thought? The writing in Phillips' screenplay, co-written by Craig Mazin, is generally awful. The jokes aim low and still miss and there are three or four long, laboured transition scenes where the characters stop to signpost the next lurching stage of the plot through lazy expositional dialogue. There's no mystery or actual hangover till an end credits scenes, which means the title is now redundant too.
The story structure is dull and rigid, now resembling a heist action movie as the Wolfpack search for gold. After the giraffe incident and the death of his father (Jeffrey Tambor), Alan (Galifianakis) is forced into an intervention by his Wolfpack friends Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha). They prepare to take him to a clinic, only to be ambushed by Marshall (John Goodman) who kidnaps them. He reveals that Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) has escaped from prison and has stolen half his gold. He wants it back and says that he will kill Doug if they don't comply or contact the police.
Todd Phillips' dependability on Galifianakis is the sum of why the film is so unfunny. No one else is allowed to try and be funny, unless you think a grotesquely exaggerated Asian stereotype counts, but then I've never liked Mr. Chow. Bradley Cooper, after his career defining performance in Silver Linings Playbook, is called to do so little that Phillips seems utterly daft about his comedic talents. Once quirky and original, Galifianakis' mentally strained man-child act is now irritating and sad, with every quip line foreseen, which robs the jokes of their unpredictability.
If anyone were to say that the lack of growth in these cartoon characters is the point then it would be to excuse the dunderheadedness of this achingly boring and hopefully, but not definitely, last entry from what it is: a limp, unimaginative, charmless, joke-free action movie, pretending it's a comedy, and one that should be shunted and long forgotten.
Reviewed on May 9th, 2013
Universal presents a film directed by J.J. Abrams
Screenplay by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch and Simon Pegg
Running Time: 132 minutes
Released: May 9th, 2013
In 1966 Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek as a TV series and coincidentally this was the same year that director J.J. Abrams was born. The show was pitched as a space Western in the vein of Wagon Train, which was a Western mystery show set on the Frontier. Star Trek converged with the start of the Vietnam War. Roddenberry had already seen action as a fighter pilot in World War II. To counter Vietnam, his version of Earth was a society without conflict and in space there were galactic truces, race relations and a sense of unity aboard the ship the Enterprise. As with any good Western, there was moral code of ethics between men, no matter how pointy their ears might have been. Roddenberry believed in a disciplined society that could be unaffected by war or religion. Spock for example was said to be modelled on a police Chief he knew when he was part of the LAPD.
After many years as a TV show and dozens of films, someone decided Star Trek should be reinvented yet again and Abrams was hired to transform it into a glossy action film. As a filmmaker J.J. Abrams is somewhat of an enigma. One of his heroes growing up was Steven Spielberg. When he was a boy he was hired to repair some old film footage for him. Spielberg would later produce Abrams most personal film Super 8, a movie that typifies the director's career. Part of the film is a loving tribute to home movies and geek culture, while the other is a bombastic, overblown blockbuster, short of any personal imprint. He's a slick filmmaker, I enjoyed his TV show Alias until it became ridiculous, but he struggles to find the balance his idol has between action and character. Into Darkness is a better film than the messy 2009 film though. The best scenes overcome the generic, simplification of the action genre by retreating back towards the essence of the original show: a morally ambiguous grey zone, where the values of the characters and their races are tested. However, the characters are still bound by a rigid story structure, where at least ten elaborate set pieces take full precedence over the human and Vulcan drama.
The most interesting aspects of the plot are when Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Kirk (Chris Pine) butt heads over their different beliefs. Kirk is tasked with tracking down a rogue agent named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is now essentially a terrorist bomber, causing havoc in London by using desperate people to do his bidding. This leaves a chilling, lasting impression, particularly when the film adds a layer of complexity, with Spock insisting that Harrison should be captured and trialled first. He's at odds with the order of the mission and Kirk, who wants revenge for the death of a colleague. Cumberbatch is frighteningly good in the film, a massive improvement over Eric Bana's villain in the first movie. The tension he brings through his menace, his arrogance but also his ability to cast doubts in the minds of the protagonists about who the baddies really are, is a magnetic quality that is hard to prepare for prior to seeing the film. What a terrific find he's become over the last few years.
However, by ingraining itself in the structure of an action film, a lot of this ambiguity is undone. Whereas action and moral ethics fought and overlapped persistently in The Dark Knight, Into Darkness' rhythm is too discrete and foreseeable. The action is timed acutely to follow a stretch of exposition, dividing itself between moments of ideology and combat, and the emphasis on set pieces means the lines between good and evil become transparent again and remove the crucial shades of grey. Abrams also seems more interested in choreographing lavish action sequences than exploring the personal side of the drama. His imagination in the set pieces is limitless. He employs an array of frenzied techniques, including rapid cutting, tilting cameras, overhead shots and quick pans, to breeze through the action. Yet when the characters stop to face one another and talk his direction has none of the same flair or creativity. The actors sit or stand still, with the camera perched on their shoulders for dull reverse angle shots that don't heighten the tension.
Rarely do we ever see these characters in their downtime either. Without any inner life they become ciphers for voicing conflicting moral ideas, like instinct against logic or law and these conflicts are often resolved within a scene of one another. After watching Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan recently, which Into Darkness borrow from, it's also fascinating that Kirk is viewed as an ageing man who has to start thinking about death and his legacy. In this film he's more on par with Tony Stark, able to bed two alien girls with tails at once. That amplifies where they're aiming this film at, in spite of the occasionally intriguing layering of the story. For a franchise that prides itself on going where no man has gone before, the Enterprise is starting to travel in circles.
My Recent Reviews
A look at some of the most talked about titles of PC Gaming in 2008 - the year that was.
Bioshock 2 Teaser Trailer
A new motion picture, detailing the turbulent relationship between Alyx Vance and Gordon Freeman. (Contains spoilers)
Jun 18, 2013 2:05 am GMTbiggest_loser posted a new blog entry entitled Monsters University - Film Review
Jun 16, 2013 11:41 pm GMTbiggest_loser posted in the topic Best difficulty setting for The Last of Us? on the System Wars board
Jun 16, 2013 1:30 pm GMTbiggest_loser added The Last of Us to their now playing list
Jun 16, 2013 1:29 pm GMTbiggest_loser added The Last of Us to their wish list
Jun 16, 2013 1:29 pm GMTbiggest_loser added The Last of Us to their owned game list
Jun 16, 2013 1:29 pm GMTbiggest_loser added inFamous 2 to their owned game list
Jun 16, 2013 1:29 pm GMTbiggest_loser began Following inFamous 2
Jun 16, 2013 1:28 pm GMTbiggest_loser gave inFamous 2 a score of 7.0
Jun 13, 2013 6:06 am GMTbiggest_loser began Following Titanfall
Jun 12, 2013 11:53 pm GMTbiggest_loser added Dying Light to their wish list