Posts Tagged ‘Great Movie’

Top 11 Romantic Comedies

April 23, 2016


11 Jerry Maguire

Jerry Maguire was a powerhouse when it came out. It stars Tom Cruise when he was at the height of his pre-freakout part of his career. So far it was also the height of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s career and the movie even got him an Academy Award. The one is probably the most critically acclaimed movie on this list and it won or was nominated for a lot of awards. It has a great cast with Cruise, Gooding Jr., Jerry O’Connell and a great villain in Jay Mohr. A lot of the movie is focused on the title character trying to regain his honor and his career after a huge professional setback. There is plenty of romance, though. Unfortunately, a lot of this movie has been heavily quoted and the movie’s tropes have become very cliche. At the time, it felt pretty original. As a warning, it has some pretty graphic sex scenes in it that I was not allowed to watch when this first came out. Other than that, it’s a pretty fun movie.


10 Alex and Emma

Go figure that a romantic comedy movie about a writer would be on this list. I guess I have always identified with writers. Also, a big part of this is a deadline which I think we are all far too familiar with. Now, I’ve never really been one for writing romance but the main character is a writer played by Luke Wilson who enlists Kate Hudson to help him work through his latest book. So we get them working on the book and that is juxtaposed with scenes from the book. The two stories contrast and fit together and we get to see a lot of the growing chemistry between Kate and Luke. This was only the second romantic comedy I saw that more or less had a male lead. Of course, Luke is the guy who must change to get the girl he needs instead of the one he wants. It’s a cute little movie that has a bunch of interesting twists to it.


9 Coming to America

Most of you have probably seen this movie already. It’s often in rotation several times a year on Comedy Central and it was a big hit around the time of Trading Places. It comes from the brighter part of Eddie Murphy’s career when he regularly picked better movies and was not yet a caricature of himself. Ok, I am mostly kidding because Eddie Murphy often gets a bad rap even though he has made some great or at least fun films along with a string of bad ones. This is the tale of an African prince who journeys to America to figure out his path in life and to try and find a wife. The movie is surprisingly subtle for both the times and for Eddie Murphy. There is an interesting fish out of water story mixed with a story about a man hiding what he is for benevolent reasons. The movie is funny but not at the expense of the story moving forward. It ends up being a pretty sweet movie with a tight little love story.


8 Shakespeare in Love

I love the plays of William Shakespeare. My early days in theater were spent doing a lot of Shakespeare plays and they were so fun to do creatively. This movie was a massive hit when it came out, it was nominated for and won a lot of awards and for good reason. I love anything that humanizes Shakespeare. I don’t like ‘updating’ classic literature as much as I like when that literature is brought to life. Romeo and Juliet is arguably one of Shakespeare’s worst plays but mostly because people misinterpret it. It is a play about the excitement of lust and new love and the insanity it can cause. This is the backdrop of the movie, a romance set in an obviously romanticized Elizabethan era while Romeo and Juliet is being made. Almost everybody is somebody you could read about in a history book but they feel like a real person. They didn’t whitewash Shakespeare’s real history either at least not much. As I get older, I have learned to really embrace the ending as a happy one.


7 Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Now hold on, don’t leave right away. I promise I won’t go int the porno part of this movie if you don’t want me too. It’s enough to know that this one is about two broke roommates who decide to make a cheap porno spoof to pay their bills. There is a lot of wackiness involved and you get a lot of sexual humor and humor based on the awkwardness that we feel around sexual humor. It has a cast of supporting characters who are zany but human and it’s really fun to see them all interact. However, above it all is a story about two people who have known each other a long time. Two friends who explore whether they might be more in a very interesting set of circumstances. Like a lot of Kevin Smith’s movies, I went in expecting a silly stoner comedy and I came away with something that felt really interesting. Who says friends can’t become a couple? (Fair warning there is some nudity in this one)


6 Catch and Release

So I watched this movie initially because of Kevin Smith’s involvement. It certainly did not hurt that the movie also stars Jennifer Garner who I had liked in Daredevil and Timothy Oliphant who I had enjoyed in Die Hard 4.
This was probably the first or close to first romantic comedy that I watched on my own recognizance. I will give you a heads up here, this one looks weird on paper. It starts with Jennifer Garner’s fiance dying on a fly fishing trip and then goes from there. The relationship between Garner and Oliphant is pretty funny and interesting to watch as there is a strange dynamic from the start. On top of that, there is a B-plot where Kevin Smith romances a single mother with a kid. The two stories are fun to watch separately but watching them interact is even better. I know this one is kind of an obscure pull but I really enjoyed it.


5 Chasing Amy

Alright yes, three movies in a row on this list have Kevin Smith involved but it is a known fact that I am a big Kevin Smith fan. More than any other movie, this was the one that broke Smith into the mainstream studio system. For this movie, we delve into the exciting world of comic books which is a topic near and dear to my heart. Two of the main characters make comic books for a living and you know Kevin Smith has been in the industry because everything about that feels right. The movie is a little bit of a product of its time. There is a flamboyantly gay black man in a time when there were a few of those sorts of characters in Hollywood. Kevin Smith is so great at dialogue that even the more cliched characters come off as real and likable. The main part of this movie is that Ben Affleck plays a guy who ends up dating a lesbian. While some people thought it was a little crass at the time, I think it was a little ahead of its time in depicting the unpredictability of the Kinsey scale. Of course, that’s just my opinion.


4 Groundhog Day

This is technically the only science fiction movie on this list. I would also classify this as a dark comedy while most of the rest of these movies are at least a little bit lighter. Bill Murray is a comedy legend and is very funny as a man who is trying to decide what is important. The universe makes him repeat the same day over and over again until he achieves what he is supposed to. Andie McDowell is a great romantic lead. She is cute, funny and appropriately skeptical as a formerly grump starts to become a romantic. Another strength of the movie is that it has a great ensemble of character actors who interact really well with Bill Murray. I feel like the movie is about discovering that love is not checking things off a list but is more about realizing how to make a real human connection. I am sure most people reading this have already seen the movie but it is worth checking out if you have not.


3 Forgetting Sarah Marshall

I was totally blindsided by this movie. While I had heard that it was a good movie and that it was worth seeing, I had no idea how good it could be. I actually watched this movie for the first time this week so it is the freshest in my mind. Ten minutes in and I was definitely hooked. The cast is fantastic as it has Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand and a whole bunch of great actors in smaller parts. I especially love Kristen Bell and the meta references to Veronica Mars which was one of my favorite shows of all time. Segel shows why he was able to rock it in The Muppets as he is the star and the writer of the movie. Frankly, more of this movie is about break ups rather than new relationships. Everything really clicks together and there are a lot of moments where I felt like the movie had really shown what had been in my heart during my most awkward moments. It may have the best message at the end of all the movies on this list. (Fair warning there is a lot of nudity in this one)


2 Love, Actually

This movie is a Christmas tradition for my family. My mom actually owns three copies of it on DVD. This movie is actually pretty atypical in structure for a romantic comedy. There is a huge cast of characters that make up a whopping nine couples who the audience gets to follow. At times, the movie seems to employ just about every actor in England which is the setting for most of the movie. A couple movies like Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Day later tried to use this formula to zero success. Love, Actually is a really charming movie. There is a bitter, sardonic edge to a lot of the humor that makes it feel emotionally true even if some of the plots are contrived. I am trying to spoil as little as possible with this list but it is important to note that not all of the stories have happy endings. Not all of the stories and couples are even very likable but the movie as a whole is very cathartic and is always a good watch.


1 Trainwreck

I have talked about this movie previously in this blog, shortly after I saw it in theaters. Amy Schumer is a great comedian who works very blue and also works very dark. She manages to make a lot of that subject matter way funnier than it should be. There is also something to the cadence of her voice that is just inherently funny to me. Combine that with the great, befuddled straight man in Bill Hader and you’ve got a beautiful match. The movie uses a lot of modern romcom tropes and dumb comedy tropes but it manages to strip them down and make them feel more real. There’s real drama and at the end of it, both people in the relationship have changed their lives for the better in a deeply transformative way. It’s really ugly to watch but it’s beautiful too and I feel better for having watched it.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

December 22, 2015

Star Wars has been around my entire life. A New Hope came out 5 and a half years before I was born. The Empire Strikes Back came out two and a half years before I was born. I was five months old when Return of the Jedi came out. I don’t remember exactly when I eventually watched the original trilogy but I think it probably wasn’t at 5 months. I do know that when I watched the movies, I liked them a lot. Even as a kid I was a fantasy fan more than I was a sci-fiction fan but I did love space (I wanted to be an astronaut). Star Wars was able to give me both Fantasy and Space in sufficient portions. I liked the cocky smirk on Han Solo’s face. Luke’s lightsaber, Leia’s fire, Ben’s wisdom and Vader’s spookiness. I never really cared for the droids but hey neither did most of the characters in the movie. I had a huge pile of Star Wars action figures and I read some of the expanded universe stuff as I got older.

I eventually saw the original trilogy in theaters when they released the special editions and the magic that had faded was renewed. On the heels of that gift, they started to release the Prequel trilogy and now I was old enough to eagerly greet the movies in theaters. They were disappointing but they got better as they went along. I defended those prequels the best I could but eventually my enthusiasm cooled and I packed Star Wars away except for watching The Clone Wars tv show now and then.

So it was with a great mixed emotion when Disney announced that they were planning their own Star Wars trilogy now that they owned the property. Several franchises had flourished under Disney including Pixar, Marvel and The Muppets just to name a few. Still, I was concerned because the original trilogy was not perfect but the prequels had definitely tarnished a lot of what was good in the franchise. Were the original actors too old to come back? Would JJ Abrams lose his way and create something less than good? Was there even anything left to mine in the Star Wars universe? There were just too many questions. I had been hurt before, so why try again? Because the trailer was interesting and new and nostalgic all at once. Moreover, I felt obligated to see it out of geek pride. Also, my friends said it was good on Saturday. So all of this was in my mind as I stepped into a movie theater at 3 in the afternoon in Martinsburg, WV.

I will stop here to give a fair warning that, although I’m earnestly trying not to spoil anything, I understand if you stop reading now. Go watch the movie and come back here later. I try not to include spoilers but I know even the slightest thing can be a spoiler for some people.

From the very beginning I was hit with nostalgia and then I was very intrigued. The movie did a great job of mixing the new with the familiar. One of the greatest faults of the The Phantom Menace was that it started with a boring scene about trade negotiations. Every Star Wars film before or since has started with some sort of interesting and/or action-packed sequence. They definitely fully regained that ability to grab you right away and pull you into the story. I definitely felt pulled in and the movie didn’t let me go until the credits rolled. I walked away humming the music, just barely able to keep the humming under my breath. I was smiling pretty hard during and after film. Honestly, the film felt a little like coming home. Sure things were different but most of those things were better and all the things you liked were still there.

It was so good to see Han Solo again. I know Harrison Ford doesn’t really understand the impact of the character and doesn’t enjoy it but he really pulled it off. Carrie Fisher was even more likeable as Ex-Princess Leia and she was a sight for sore eyes. Thankfully BB-8 wasn’t annoying at all after months of having him shoved down my throat. John Boyega was a total surprise hit as I was intrigued about his character in the trailer but was unsure how it would work out. Daisy Ridley is absolutely the actress and character we all deserved for being fans all of these years. Both of them work so well together and separately and I’m excited to see where their story goes. Everybody was absolutely great in their roles even all the bit characters and the CGI characters were so well done that it didn’t feel artificial like the prequels. The whole thing was written by two people. JJ Abrams has come a long way from the mess that was Lost and has even come a long way from the Star Trek reboot. Lawrence Kasdan wrote The Empire Strikes Back which was, until today, my favorite Star Wars movie and his work showed in this one.

Go see this movie whether you’re a Star Wars fan or not. There’s so much I loved in this movie that I just can’t talk about openly. I don’t want to ruin it for somebody who hasn’t seen it yet. I want to tell everybody I know to see it and everybody I don’t know as well.

The Babadook

October 31, 2015

Scary stories are a lot of fun but they definitely stick with you. To this day two scary stories are burned into my brain since they were told to me in the dark of the night. When I was little my dad used to tell me and my brothers about Ambrose the One-Armed Indian. We were especially told about this character when we went out west to visit Arizona. As un-politically correct as it may sound now, this man roamed the nation looking for revenge for some slight against him. The other story I remember vividly is a reading of a horrible story that research tells me was probably Leiningen Versus the Ants. We heard the story around the bonfire at Camp Shohola and while it is an optimistic story it does involve a human being nearly killed by a swarm of ants. I shiver just thinking about it but I also cherish those moments.

I wanted the last movie I did this Halloween to be something well known and something big and flashy. The Babadook got a lot of buzz when it came out but I didn’t catch it at the time. This was actually fighting a long-held tradition of not watching what everybody else thinks is cool. Also, to give you a little peek behind the curtain, this is the movie I watched last. I also knew absolutely nothing about the movie and I don’t recognize a single person involved. I’ve never quite seen an Australian horror film either though I’m sure I’ve seen a Canadian one even if I can’t name it.  The thing is, as much hype as there was, I think people really undersold it.  Of course, these things are subjective.

Let’s get this out of the way, children are very, very creepy. At least, they have great potential to be creepy. I’m not talking about the overdone trope of painting them in white and giving them a long, oily wig either. I’m talking about normal, everyday kids. The average little kid has problems because their language system is still evolving and terrible things come out of their mouths. Also, like drunk adults, everything is a good idea even the things we know are the worst ideas. The kid in this movie is like that. He’s an unfiltered, chaotic mess and you have to feel for his poor mother. Still, I’m told there are both pros and cons to parenthood and he must have good days, right?

It becomes clearer as the movie continues it becomes clearer and clearer that we are dealing with an unreliable narrator. The mother is under a lot of pressure with her job, crazy kid and strained family relations. She’s also suffering from insomnia, anxiety and depression even before things get real. You have to ask yourself if she is hallucinating or if there really is a Babadook after her. The story starts slow as if it is a family drama movie instead but slowly we are driven into the spookier parts of the story. I’ll let you make your own assumptions about whether it’s real as you watch it. However, just thinking that it might be in her head is just as frightening to me as a real monster.

Frankly, the movie was hard to watch but in the best way. The movie is uncomfortable and frightening in just the right spots and pushed just the right buttons. This is a great horror movie but for the love of anything good, please don’t let children see it. Also, if you’re a parent (especially a single parent) and you’re sensitive to scary/emotional things you might want to give this one a pass. Everybody else? Have at it. Happy Halloween.

Horns

October 16, 2015

We are humans. We tend to do a lot of bad things as humans based on the ethical standards we’ve generally set as a society. As often as we do bad things, we think about doing bad things a lot more often. Of course, most people dismiss the impulse and move along their day trying to do the best they can. Those impulses though, can be the most terrifying things in the world. I’ve had them. It’s strange to think of walking through the world and realizing that people around you are having thoughts of their own. Some of those thoughts are angry, dark and even violent. When you’re thinking of punching the sexist guy on the bus in the nose, somebody else really hates your t-shirt and would love to drag you into a back alley. Our thoughts aren’t always that intense but dark little thoughts flit through our brains all the time and we can’t stop them.

Danielle Radcliffe has become much beloved by the American people (and I can only imagine his fame is pretty equivalent internationally). As he grew into the role of Harry Potter, I grew to respect his craft more even though he almost grew out of the role in the end. His interviews with the press are excellent as he rails against sexism and derails them with horrible puns. He’s made one of the most successful transitions between child actor and adult actor. He seems to choose roles that are challenging rather than taking the easy and potentially more lucrative route. This movie is no different and he’s excellent in it, even rocking an American accent.

The plot in the movie comes in the aftermath of a tragic death that has rocked a whole community. Everybody is suffering and hurting and the press is crawling all over it like ants. That’s a terrible situation to be thrown into even without supernatural elements. Young, unexpected death brings our lives to a screeching, uncomfortable stop even if we’re tangentially connected. It’s a gateway to introspection and apparently it’s a gateway to other strange things in this movie. Radcliffe plays a character who can suddenly bring out the worst thoughts of people around him and worse yet they ask his permission to act on them. That’s too much for one man to bear and the concept deeply unnerved me.

I’m going to cop to something here. This movie isn’t really that frightening or scary for most of its running time.  It’s more of a supernatural mystery/thriller than a horror movie. Though, it definitely hits a lot of the points that makes it feel like Halloween. Invoking the devil, death, comedy and the darkness in people’s hearts coming out are definitely in full effect.  The supernatural stuff is a slow burn so don’t be disappointed, just wait.  I guess I should also warn you that there’s a lot of sex talk and a lot of nudity and sexual situations in the movie as well. I can’t warn you about that enough.

The movie gets stranger as it progresses and at some point I had no clue where it was going. The movie got dark, really dark. Uncomfortably dark. The acting was so, so good from everybody. The music added a whole dark, almost sad element to it that really helped the mood. The direction and visuals were obviously very carefully crafted. I won’t spoil the mystery but it works so well. I definitely recommend this movie but it’s not for the squeamish. If you can stomach quite a bit of sex and violence, you will be rewarded.

Top 11 Disney Animated Films

June 13, 2015

Top 11

I have found myself using the phrase “I’m a huge Disney nerd” a lot lately so I thought I’d prove it by doing a Top 11 Disney Animated films. This does not include films produced by Pixar because that’s a whole list by itself. I also don’t include any movies by Studio Ghibli because Disney just did the American distribution. There’s also numerous other studios that obviously won’t make this list.  These are films that were important to me growing up or spoke to me in more recent times.

11 Alice in Wonderland (1951)

I read Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass at a fairly young age but I’m reasonably sure that the Disney cartoon was my first exposure to the stories. The world of Alice is fantastic and illogical while still having a certain logic to it. As I grew up, I realized that the books were filled with logic problems, puzzles and riddles but the first time reading it I didn’t know all of that. I liked the story of a young girl travelling through a world that doesn’t making any sense that grows increasingly scary. As in the book, she realizes that none of it is real and wakes up. As I grew, I often wondered about how much she was willing to believe until she refused to believe anymore. The voice acting was very good (for its time) and I especially liked the proper British speech of Alice.

10 Beauty and the Beast (1991)

From a young age I was very interested in books and reading in general. Reading was something I grasped early on and being transported into other worlds was something I clung to. My life was good but there were people having adventures and my imagination wanted fuel to create adventures of my own. Because of all that, I identified heavily with the character of Belle and I have since identified with a lot of the dreamers in fiction. As a kid the story didn’t really effect me the way it does now and even now it’s not the story that sucks me in. I love the songs and all the little side characters and the bizarre world where all of the inanimate objects are characters. The animation is beautiful and definitely still holds up after all of this time. The music is fun and pretty timeless. The voice actors are all great but I especially love Jerry Orbach and Lumiere. That must have been a lot of fun to do.

9 The Lion King (1994)

The Lion King came very near the height of my animation hysteria in the part of my childhood when I thought I might be an animator later on. The Lion King’s animation totally blew me away with how fluid and beautiful it was and, as Frank Sinatra sang, the best was yet to come. Still, Disney really outdid itself with this movie. The voice acting is really great even though they succumbed to the pitfall of using celebrities instead of seasoned voice actors. The music was really well done and I sang along to Just Can’t Wait to Be King and Hakuna Matata everyday for a little while. One of my big problems with the movie is that the main character is kind of entitled and looks forward to adulthood for all the wrong reasons. Of course, part of his journey is learning from those mistakes and earning his place of honor. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to respect the character Scar more as a dynamic and fun villain and the probably the first villain song I really enjoyed.

8 The Little Mermaid (1989)

Once again, yearning for a new world and wondering about a life beyond what I saw around me were themes that resonated with me. It’s not that I had a bad childhood but nobody has a childhood that’s without its bumps. Like many children I felt unpopular and unliked as a kid, a feeling that actually grew well into high school and in some forms exists today. When Ariel sings about the world “Up There” I think about all the times I wasn’t invited to a party or when I was picked last for kickball games. Don’t get me wrong, I always had friends but every so often I wondered what being a popular kid was like. At the same time, like Ariel, I wanted to be different and I really reveled in the differences between me and the other kids. Of course, I realized all of that later in life, when I was a teenager. The main thing that actually attracted me when I was younger was the music. Jodi Benson, Samuel E. Wright and Rene Auberjonois (no really, Odo had a cameo as a French chef) made songs that were a lot of fun to sing along to and enjoy.

7 Tangled (2010)

Depression is a hell of a thing. Depression lies. Even now I hesitate to call what I have bouts of “depression” because depression just calls me an idiot and to stop faking for attention. I don’t feel depressed right now but I definitely go through it from time to time. It’s just bad brain chemistry and it’s hard to get through but one thing that has always helped me fight it off or pull out of the pit is a good song or a good movie. That’s why I talk so much about the stuff I love here, because it really, really means something to me. Tangled was a movie that briefly cast sunshine on a dark period in New Jersey where I had very conflicting feelings about my life. The fluid animation, great music and slapstick humor almost always elicits a smile. The ending just feels really good to me too but I won’t spoil it here. The music is very good and a lot of it feels spontaneous and improvised while being polished at the same time (if that makes sense).

6 The Princess and the Frog (2009)

I love jazz music I like it a lot but not enough to listen to it regularly as many other genres float my boat more regularly. I love the big band sort of jazz that is loud and brassy and full of vibrating, bubbling energy. I love the kind of music that Dr. John sings. What a coincidence, Dr. John sings the very first song in the movie!  I have never been to New Orleans but it’s always been spoken of with almost mythical reverence, especially by the jazz community. The art style and voice acting does a great job of setting the scene in a unique setting. It also takes us back to a different time period pretty effortlessly. The music is downright infectious and I especially like “When We’re Human”. I like the different twist on an old fairy tale with the added theme of working hard to make your dreams a reality but not too hard.

5 Wreck it Ralph (2012)

I love video games. I have loved video games ever since I laid eyes on (but was not allowed to touch) the Atari and watched somebody play Donkey Kong. Not long after we got an NES and I was hooked for life as a console gamer. I also hung out with my brothers and friends in several different arcades around town, pumping quarters for another few minutes of fun. This movie made me so nostalgic for those days of playing the hardest games kids were ever tortured with. The movie itself is really funny and also endearing and charming. I have to admit that I’ve done things in my life solely for the reward. I once ran for class president in high school just to see how many votes I could get. I’m not proud of it nor am I proud of hounding the teacher in charge when I never got an exact count. Later that year I actually won an award for service in the drama department and that felt way better. So I really love the theme of not trying so hard to be something you’re not and instead being the best you that you can be.

4 Big Hero 6 (2014)

This is the most recent animated Disney film I’ve seen. The art style, while similar to other recent movies, is also kind of infused with an anime feel which makes sense. The movie takes place in a mash-up of San Francisco and Tokyo. I read some of the first run of the comic and Big Hero 6 was supposed to be Japan’s official superhero team. While that movie would have been cool, the movie we got was incredibly creative and had a ton of heart. The movie dealt with a lot of tough issues like death in the family but managed to stay lighthearted enough to not get me down. It’s definitely not your typical superhero movie but Disney’s Marvel Studios has proved that it doesn’t always go where you think they will go. This movie surprised me with how good it was and I think it really deserved to win the Academy Award. I really hope that they can write a successful sequel because I will definitely see it opening weekend.

3 Aladdin (1992)

Aladdin was the first soundtrack I ever owned and listened to until the casette tape was nearly worn out. I can sing along to most of the songs (except Friend Like Me. How did he breathe during that?) and I really enjoy doing so. This movie both started my extreme fandom of Robin Williams and it was also the first time I realized that voice actors are people. Aladdin is the story of a poor kid making it to the top with luck and his wits. It’s also the story of being rewarded for both being true to who you are and a good person. The main characters are flawed people but come through fire. Besides the great music, great story and great characters, I also have a very personal connection with this movie. When I had heart surgery in fifth grade to fix the double aortic arch that I was born with, this was the movie they let me watch in the ICU. So it’s also the only Disney movie I’ve watched on heavy drugs.

2 Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

I think this might be the movie that I’ve mentioned most in this blog and it is a movie that I will probably always be fascinated with. As I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered more and more that I like about it. When I first saw it, I was a huge Tim Burton fan and fascinated with the macabre elements of Halloween. As I grew up, I still loved the dark elements married to the comedy elements but I began to appreciate the craft of stop-motion animation. I started to understand the story more and that led me to imagine the world they had created beyond the bounds of the story. What was Easterland like? What was Thanksgivingland like? As I watched it again in my adult years I now understood the parts about depression and self-discovery and creativity. I am always inspired by this movie and I love consuming anything connected to it.

1 Frozen (2013)

What more can be said about this movie? The movie became a phenomenon overnight and most people I know either love it or are apathetic. I actually thought I was going to hate it because the early trailer absolutely turned me off. It said nothing about what the movie was about but that actually worked in my favor. I wrote the movie off and filed it away somewhere in my brain. It came into theaters and left and I still had not watched it. Now, I had no idea at the time that Kristen Bell played Anna in the movie which would have swayed me as a Veronica Mars superfan. Also, had I known that Frozen had the same songwriters as Avenue Q and Book of Mormon I might have taken notice. No. I heard rave reviews and just decided to watch it one day. I love it now. The characters are so interesting, the acting is excellent and the story is a little bit different from what I’ve seen before in Disney movies. They’re are deep psychological stories being told just under the surface of a straightforward tale about the bond between two siblings. The music is amazing and Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel blew me away with how well they did with it. I definitely recommend this one and I promise I won’t get mad if you don’t like it. Just ask my brother.

LAIKA Studios Box Set

March 2, 2015

Animation is a brilliant art form. I have been fascinated by it from a very young age which evolved from Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry to watching Saturday morning cartoons to Nicktoons and beyond. For a long time, Pixar was my God of Animation starting with the premiere of Toy Story. I saw Toy Story five times in theater and, at the age of 13, I seriously considered studying animation so I could get into the business. I got lessons on how to use the program Raydream Design Studio so I could develop my own CGI. I went so far as to take a class on Saturdays at the Maryland Institute College of Art where I learned stop-motion animation. I never really cared about stop-motion too much since I didn’t know at the time that it was used for stuff like Star Wars. I just saw it as the artform that brought us kind of lame things like Gumby and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. That would soon change.

First I discovered Aardman studios and fell in love with Wallace and Grommit and I was impressed (and depressed) by Creature Comforts. Then a movie was released that blew my mind and changed my life forever and that’s no exaggeration. Of course, I’m talking about The Nightmare Before Christmas which was a brilliant film. It is often attributed to Tim Burton but it was directed and developed by Henry Selick. It felt like they took a slice of my life and transplanted it into a very spooky yet playful garden. It’s my go to movie when I’m depressed around the holidays.

I recently got a collection of all of the Laika Studios films and I decided to watch two of them over again and check out the newest selection.


Coraline

I am a huge fan of Neil Gaiman but I got on the fandom boat a little later than a lot of people. I actually started reading Gaiman with the introduction of The Graveyard Book and I am working on steadily consuming his work. One of the more recent things I got was Coraline because the movie was wildly popular and I wanted to read the book and watch the movie. I eventually broke down and watched the movie first and I was captivated by the glorious return of Henry Selick’s direction and the simple, relateable story. While the movie is different from the book, everyone involved took great pains to capture the spirit of the story and hit all of the key points. Coraline is a tale told about being careful what you wish for, not being so critical of what you have and appreciating those around you even though they’re not perfect. It’s also about monsters and interdimensional travel. It’s a really excellent movie that I’m glad to have in my collection to watch over again.


Paranorman

I will be honest here, I went into this movie with near zero expectations and I didn’t even realize it was from the same studio as Coraline until I looked it up afterward. It was a positively reviewed movie on Netflix and, as previously covered, I like spooky stuff. I remembered the trailer had zombies and ghosts and not much else. What I got was actually a pretty touching story about finding your place in the world and acceptance of who you are and the mistakes others make. At least, that’s what I took away from it. Also, the movie’s pretty funny even if it has a kind of mournful undertone through a lot of it. The trailers made this one look silly and fun and full of action but there is also a lot of emotion here. I definitely recommend it even though I probably just raised your expectations. It should meet them.


The Boxtrolls

Finally, I got to see the Boxtrolls and I soaked in the experience on full, glorious DVD on a spectacular 32″ television. Exquisite. All joking aside, I always want to go see animated films in theaters but pretty much nobody else I know wants to go see them. Also going to the movie theater is a crapshoot on the kind of crowd you’re going to get. Animated movies tend to be populated by families which can mean children who don’t understand the etiquette of a movie theater yet. I’d rather use Netflix or buy a DVD than attend the theater with that risk present. Though, I usually have a rule that I don’t buy DVDs of movies I haven’t seen yet so I don’t end up with a clunker taking up space. However, I make exceptions for movies that got enough good buzz or whose creators have good track records. So I took a chance on LAIKA studios because of Coraline and Paranorman being so good.

I didn’t really know what to expect because strangely enough, I never saw a trailer like I had for the previous two films. I knew a little bit because I had seen fleeting images on the internet and because I’m a fan of Kate Leth. So I had mixed expecations due to so many unknown unknowns. The first thing I noticed was that the studio really stepped up their game on the animation and the movie was even more beautiful than the previous two films. You know, as beautiful as the industrial age/steampunk world could be with all of the really grimy details. I can not say enough about the brilliant art direction since, because of the textures and detail, I often forgot the sets were models. The characters were all just as well-crafted and extremely expressive. It’s an amazing thing when animators or puppeteers can imbue an inanimate object with a soul.

The souls they put in were great too. I was really impressed with a great cast of performers who helped to breathe life into their characters. The characters were weird when they should be weird and touching when they should be touching. I was genuinely happy to meet the good guys and hated the bad guys with a passion. Except that it wasn’t always so black and white (a point that is brought up by some side characters throughout). Elle Fanning and a relatively unknown Isaac Hempstead Wright are brilliant as two children out of their element in a childish adult world. Among the adults are Nick Frost, Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg, Dee Bradely Baker and plenty of other great actors.

The movie is about a lot of things but there are several themes that pop into my mind. I like how the movie points out how ridiculous normal society looks from the outside and that goes for both societies in the story. There was a definite focus on family and how important those closest to you are even if you don’t always like them. Social status is only as important as you make it and don’t try to be something you’re not. Good and evil are sometimes a matter of perspective and you can’t let yourself get blinded by the lies other people tell.

I whole-heartedly endorse watching this movie as I really had a good time watching it. I laughed, I felt and I had a lot of thought-provoking, philosophical moments. So the next time you think all animated movies are “just for kids”, think again.


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