Disney's latest effort, Wreck-It Ralph (out a while ago, sorry) is a pretty fun movie all-around. I feel like Disney is on the rebound from a slew of pretty weak offerings, but it isn't quite back yet. There is lots of potential that isn't quite reached with this one, even though there are lots of good parts as well.
Wreck-It Ralph is the story of, well, Ralph, an oversized bad guy in an arcade game. But he's tired of being the "bad guy" and wants the respect and friendship of the other characters in his game, so he decides to win a medal, something only good guys can do. You see the story already.
Now before I tear this children's movie to pieces I do want to acknowledge some of its strengths. One thing Disney learned from Pixar is how to make dynamite sideline characters and give them distinct animated cues (like the little people in Fix-It Felix Jr's game). But there is still something significant lacking in the main characters. This is common in all the studios, but is something that Disney learned how to fix decades ago. They are all pretty flat and most of their problems simply arise from miscommunication. I know, it's a kid's movie and doesn't need to be that complex. But think of any pre-Cars 2 Pixar movie or The Lion King and you'll see the difference. Not that the movie is bad. Like I said, I think Disney is on it's way back to greater glory. I mean, look at the short Paperman, which screened before the feature. They obviously have some brilliant people working for them who I hope get a shot at a full-length feature soon. But this wasn't that feature.
One thing I did like was the quality of voice acting here. Most animated features rely on a long list of famous actors to draw in viewers, regardless of voice talent. Of course Wreck-It Ralph features its share of headliners but the supporting cast is filled out by some talented actors instead of quaint cameos. Also the overall design of the film is pretty good. I was worried the Sugar Rush sequences would leave me in a color coma but that didn't happen.
So I guess other than some character qualms there is a lot to like about Wreck-It Ralph, especially in the otherwise-weak year for animation. But I'll continue to look ahead to see what Disney turns out next.
Next up I'm pretty sure will be Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. Hooray for history!
My apologies to all seven of my loyal readers for my absence. Hopefully I'll be able to do a little better now that things are really starting to heat up, cinematically speaking.
Today I'll be talking about Eon Production's 23rd James Bond installment, Skyfall. This really is the most impressive Bond I've seen in quite a while. Director Sam Mendes brings him back to top classic form, and also gives him a deeper personal side that had been absent since, well, Dr. No. As all good Bond movies, it is a perfect distillation of the mood of the day, and an observation of the flavor we like our heroes to have.
In the hands of nearly any director, this movie could have very easily slipped into nostalgic ramblings and sentimental mire. Instead with Mendes we get a crucial look into the Bond enigma. So much of what has made him so appealing is that we really didn't know all that much about him. But I think 50 years is long enough to not know about your protagonist. Here we see the kind of depth that Casino Royale started to create before Quantum of Solace interrupted. Mind you, this movie is not simply a meditation on character. I consider it the most complete Bond movie since Goldfinger or Thunderball, and you don't have to be a Bond nerd to enjoy it. There is definitely enough to keep you on the edge of your seat to the end.
The story itself is simple, even typical enough: a cyberterrorist named Silva is releasing names of undercover MI6 operatives on the internet in an effort to get at M. The great thing is everything that happens around that. Javier Bardem plays Silva, and is the best he's been since No Country for Old Men. He can take his place as one of the mere handful of great Bond villains to date. Of course we get Dame Judy Dench reprising her role as M, and Ralph Fiennes appears as a bureaucrat responsible for her retirement. All the players are splendid, and in their hands this becomes more than just an action flick.
I said earlier that this is one of the most complete Bond movies ever. That is because it so successfully plays off of the classic Bond archetypes. It just feels "Bondy", which, oddly, is kind of uncommon. There are all of these great moments when one is reminded that this is why you like James Bond. His wit hasn't been this sharp in fifteen years. Overall it is just a great movie, and I'm glad of the direction the franchise is taking. Haters will call it just another Dark Knight because of its melancholy overtones and the acknowledgment of characters' weakness, but I don't really agree with that. I think that more discerning and even skeptical audiences are requiring their heroes to be a little more vulnerable and accessible than they once were, and this Bond gives them just that. He is nowhere near where Connery or Moore or even Brosnan ever were. But then, neither are we. The Bond for the new century has fully arrived.
This week I have Wreck-it Ralph, Flight, Argo and Lincoln to catch up with, and Hitchcock, Silver Linings Playbook, Rise of the Guardians and Life of Pi are all out as of now, so we'll see what wins the fight to be seen next, and pretend that Twilight never happened. Let me know if there is anything you'd like to me see, that might make it a little easier.
Alright, sorry for the wait (I know you were all at the edge of your seats for this one) but here we go with the Wachowski/Tykwer joint effort, Cloud Atlas. The one thing everybody is calling Cloud Atlas is ambitious, and I certainly agree. However, "ambition", when it does not achieve magnificence, carries the stigma of being "almost", or worse. I feel that Cloud Atlas, alas to all you Wachowski fanboys out there, is an almost. For all the impressive things it has, there are a few too many details that make it less than it purported to be.
The film is not a narrative, really, but more a lengthy philosophical dissertation about how people carry on beyond themselves throughout time and how things like love and hate are eternal. Or something like that. Part of what makes Cloud Atlas an almost is its ultimate lack of something really definable running through it, which in a movie like this is essential. There are moments when thematic messages are clearly stated, in monologue, to the audience almost, but these don't have much of a common presence in other story lines. They almost add up to something grand upon consideration, but not quite. The trailer does a better job at this than the movie itself does. So everything is kind of connected. The best any characters come to realizing this is in vague moments of deja vu or outright hallucination. I feel that there was effort taken, in weaving the various story lines together, to come to some ultimate moment of clarity, but I don't feel like it ever quite got there.
All this being said I do not think Cloud Atlas was a bad movie. For every flawed bit there are long moments of beauty. For the most part, it is pretty enjoyable, if only just to see all the different makeup designs. Not all of these work, I'll be very frank. But again, ambition. At any rate, one has to take his hat off to the actors in taking on such varied roles. But I fear that perhaps too much attention was drawn to this fact and it sometimes proved a bit of a distraction. While I'm here, I'll mention that another distraction was the dialogue in the "post-Fall" sequence. It reminded me only of the dialectish banter used by the desert-dwellers in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Not necessarily a bad movie in itself, but it should be contained to its own world.
Overall, I do think this is a movie worth seeing. Despite its clunky bits and its ultimate lack of resonance, it is one of the most original pieces of filmmaking in the last few years. But it won't change your life.
We're going to be pretty busy for the next little bit. Wreck-it Ralph is already out, and next week we get Skyfall, which I've been looking forward to for quite some time. I'll try to stay on top of it all for you.
by Chase Harrison