Out last week was Pixar's latest foray, Monsters University. It is the prequel to their hit Monsters, Inc., and is no less fun or entertaining. In fact, it helps you forget that you are a fun-hating adult and relax with the scores of children in the theatre with you.
The movie is about our beloved Mike Wazowski's (Crystal) freshman year of college, and his attempts to become the best scarer on campus. He becomes involved in an inter-fraternity competition where he has to work with rival Sully (Goodman).
This movie, technically speaking, is astonishing. The Pixar wizards have achieved near-photorealism in the sets they create. I mean, look at the picture. The short beforehand, The Blue Umbrella, (which I thought was cute) does an even better job at this. Elements like hair and eyes are the same way. But it never feels like a Mary Poppins live action/animation clash: everything works together perfectly, and I think animators have virtually any tool at their creative disposal now.
Cool technical stuff aside, this movie is just fun. It isn't necessarily surprising or life-changing or anything. It's just a fun ride. Sitting in a room full of kids who laugh at everything makes it even better. It brings back being a kid and being a college freshman at the same time. Each, I think, have their own measure of possibility without doubt mingled in, and that is what Monsters University leaves you with. So go out and see this one, and take a child with you if you can.
Monsters University is rated G for having nothing offensive at all, and features Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi and Helen Mirren.
Next on our trip through time is 1935's Mutiny on the Bounty. It is one of the great maritime films, a swashbuckling adventure in its own right (even though there are no pirates). It has Clark Gable in his second Best Picture in a row, and features one of the greatest villain performances ever.
The movie tells the true story of the mutiny led by Fletcher Christian in 1787 that eventually led to reform throughout the British Navy. The film has been remade twice, once featuring Marlon Brando and Richard Harris, and again with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins, but the original is the clear standout.
What is immediately noticeable is the amount of time this movie spends outside. There is no fake boat with the camera moving around to simulate the sea here. Of course the actors aren't actually sailing a ship, either, but it is extraordinarily realistic for a 30s adventure movie made at the height of the Great Depression. It is an epic movie, taking us to exotic locales through perils thick and thin, even including actual islanders instead of actors in brown paint. It is in that sense one of the more realistic pictures of the prewar era.
What stands out even more is Charles Laughton's performance as the ruthless Captain Bligh. His bent presence overshadows even Clark Gable. He is unrelenting and callous, yet intriguing. He is by no means sympathetic, something we seem to look for in our villains today, but he generates something akin to it. After the mutiny, he and his loyal men are cast adrift, and through his incredible seamanship he keeps them alive for weeks until they find safe harbor. He is no inept tyrant, though his monstrous ego interferes with his judgement at times. He is only the immoveable rock placed in front of the unstoppable force of change, and that is what makes his character so enduring.
The movie is worth it for his performance alone, although it did garner two other acting nominations for Gable and Franchot Tone, the only film to have three actors nominated for the same award. Beyond that, it is one of the great epics, an excellent example of classic cinema.
1934's Best Picture winner, Frank Capra's It Happened One Night, is one of the best movies you haven't seen. For as old as it is, it really doesn't seem like it has aged all that much. It is one of the great romantic comedies, both hilarious and oddly touching, and it captures the thirties like few films I've seen have.
The movie is about a out-of-work reporter (Gable) who meets a runaway daddy's girl (Colbert) on a night bus to New York. She is trying to avoid detectives sent out by her father, and is helpless in the world of common people. He agrees to help her so long as he gets the exclusive story after she meets up with the lover she is determined to marry.
It is the classic story of the mismatched couple that every romantic comedy has tried to tell. The thing is, this one tells it right. Gable and Colbert have uncommon chemistry on the screen, and Capra's everyman touch makes it seem like this might actually happen somewhere, even if it is the idyllic American past. It is filled with all these great Capra moments, like a bus full of strangers all singing "The Man on the Flying Trapeze" together like they do it all the time. It is just as entertaining an escapist flick now as it was for Depression-era Americans 80 years ago.
One might think that, compared with the epics that had won Best Picture before it, It Happened One Night might seem an unlikely choice. The story certainly isn't very "deep", nor is its action particularly seat-riveting. What makes it stick out is its technique. Capra was one of the revolutionaries of pre-war Hollywood, one of the first to be more concerned with the lives of two characters than the events that keep them apart. With that, the actors have so much room to move around in and to explore. Gable's character even went on to influence Bugs Bunny's smart alecky carrot addiction. In that sense it feels quite modern, something quite ahead of its time.
So if you and your girlfriend are looking for something to watch that isn't from the Nicholas Sparks universe or something, try It Happened One Night and get some culture.
The movie features Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, and is not rated.
I love summer movies, when summer movies are good. And with Mud we have just that. This is an enjoyable movie through and through, fun but with a little more weight than it looks like from the outside.
Mud is about Ellis and Neckbone, two kids from rural Arkansas who cross paths with a rambling stranger (Matthew McConaughey), and what happens when they decide to help him. It is a coming-of-age story about dealing with love and finding your place and stuff, but it comes off way better than that. It is written and directed by Jeff Nichols, the guy who surprised us all with Take Shelter last year, and can probably be responsible for Michael Shannon being in Man of Steel.
What impressed me about this movie is its absolute insistence on avoiding genre conventions. It is set in the south, featuring two friends and their adventures involving a vagrant (Twain, anybody?) but that never even crosses your mind. Ellis' family situation is falling apart, and he is crushing on an older girl from the city, but instead of taking the well-established path of everybody getting what they want as the credits roll to upbeat pop, we are taken for an unpredictable and satisfying ride.
We have here a summer movie with (don't say it!) some kind of message. It seems that we don't really know how to deal with love and its effects in any form. But I don't think it is that simple. The great thing is it is a multi-toned message; each strand is compatible with the others but they don't really add up to a cohesive whole. Instead we end up with a kind of collage against the human backdrop of the deep south. The other thing is it doesn't get caught up in trying to teach us anything: it is primarily a story, told to entertain, but told well, like your grandmother might have told one, leaving you to think about it as you drift away to sleep.
Mud is rated PG-13 for some moderately naughty words and some violence.
Growing up, my first "favorite director" was M. Night Shyamalan. Signs was one of the first "grown up" movies I saw in a theater, and it blew my mind. I loved his other earlier films, too. But his career trajectory has always made me a little uncomfortable. He started out as the One with original ideas in supernatural movies, but eventually became entrenched in baffling passion projects. Now he has completed his transformation from a creative genius to an unremarkable used-to-be.
After Earth is just that--unremarkable. I guess to me that is the biggest disappointment. It has some of the hallmarks of a Shyamalan movie, but they are thrown at us like globs of paint. Gone is the thematic finesse we used to expect. It all wraps up in a neat little formulaic package.
The movie is about Kitai and his father Cypher (played by father-and-son Will and Jaden Smith). Cypher is a leader in post-Earth civilization, and brings Kitai along on a trip in order to do some bonding. But the two are stranded after their space ship crashes and Kitai must save them both.
It is the classic story of a kid trying to prove himself to the world, and especially to his successful father. And it doesn't get any deeper than that. He has appropriately-escalating adventures as he seeks to save himself and his father, while trying to master his own fear. The movie tries to insert this thing about fear, about how it is a choice and all. This is the ham-fisted attempt at thematic complexity, and it doesn't come off well. On the surface it sounds like a perfect Shyamalan theme, but it ends up only being moving to fans of the Hallmark Channel.
The movie sticks to established formulas carefully. This is another disappointing thing from a filmmaker whose previous work (even some of the bad stuff) was about at least trying to avoid a formula. It feels like any movie, and notwithstanding its far-future setting doesn't distinguish itself. There is also the weird kind-of accent they speak and the unexplained use of bladed weapons instead of guns that bothered me. But those are just little things.
Overall, I don't think you should go out of your way to see After Earth. Nobody does anything special, and it completes M. Night Shyamalan's journey from visionary to unremarkable in a sad way. Tell me what you think about it, though, especially if we are on different pages.
by Chase Harrison