Event Horizon (R)

8 Stars

There are natural forces that govern the universe.

And there are theoretical forces that may govern a fictive universe.

Good science fiction attempts to bridge the gap between the two realms. By taking unanswerable questions of physics and applying theoretical possibilities past our limits of understanding, one may craft a compelling story.

An event horizon, in general relativity, is a boundary in space-time beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer. It is the point of no return, the moment when escape from a gravitational pull becomes impossible. They’re most commonly referenced surrounding a black hole.

(Side Note: In Mr. Peabody & Sherman the protagonists perilously approach such a boundary.)

Event Horizon falls prey to a common error in semi-recent science fiction: A drastic overestimation of our species’ developments in space travel. First of all, apparently we’ll still be recording ship’s logs on compact discs. This film is set in 2040, and it’s doubtful our explorations will spread to Neptune by then.

To hazard a charitable guess, this is an attempt to break convention in common science fiction thrillers. It certainly seems to be the case amongst other aspects of the plot.

Take note of Cooper’s ultimate fate. Richard T. Jones, whose voice I recognize, plays the kooky black guy.

Sam Neill and Larry Fishburne turn in strong performing leads as Dr. Weir and Captain Miller.

I’d place Invent Verizon more in the horror genre than anywhere else. So judging it as a horror movie, I give it eight stars and call it great.

To draw connection to a completely dissimilar film, it’s reminiscent of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. It tells a complex story that, due to production issues, builds on a cracked foundation.

Plot description that explains, “It’s left up to the viewer to interpret,” usually means the narrative’s incomplete.

So there are loose threads in the Extent Orion quilt. But most of the fibers are strongly woven with thought provoking ideas.

Profoundly dark musings, mind you; never forget it’s smart, but still a horror movie.

A vivisection takes place. Vivisecting, no matter how tasteful the visual conveyance, is never fun.

That’s not to say it’s poorly crafted: The CGI’s generally good enough, the special effects are sound, the gore isn’t over the top and the tide of tension undergoes a steady ebb and flow.

If you’ll allow the limitations set by the technology available in 1997 (in terms of CGI and production design) and can stomach a handful of unsettling scenes, then check it out for some thrills and chills. (It’s available to stream instantly through Netflix, and has been since my freshman year of college, six years ago. I doubt it’s going anywhere soon.)

But if you haven’t seen the movie and are sensitive to spoilers, stop reading.

To continue my introductory discussion of science fiction and the application of natural forces, the viewer will buy into a theoretical force if it compels the story forward.

When it comes to Event Horizon, I’m fine with everything up until they board the actual ship. The stuff with the magazine centerfold is intelligent and easily acceptable.

Then, things get a little shaky once you start to consider the implications of the ship’s consciousness.

What’s with the ice crystals? Was there a spill of liquid nitrogen? Did a change in atmospheric pressure trigger the freezing effect on the ship’s interior?

I believe there’s a subzero answer to these questions. Seems like someone fell in love with the idea of using the term ‘corpsicle’ in dialogue.

Okay, first of all, they had two options for explaining the darkness inhabiting (or possessing) the ship. The reappearance of Weir towards the end, when he battles with Miller in the hellish core, is a physical incarnation of the entity.

The nature of that demonic being is what the film’s final cut never nailed down. They could either call it Hell (a concrete location defined by religious beliefs, but at least a colloquial construct of reality), or generate their own mythological realm (the parallel dimension governed by chaos.)

Ultimately they choose not to answer the question, leaving it up to the viewer’s interpretation.

I don’t appreciate incomplete narratives, but I understand production difficulties. I just wish they’d picked a side and stuck with it. The majority of misunderstanding stems from this sole incongruence.

As I mentioned before, certain forces govern our reality. It’s simple enough to believe that the Event Horizon passes through this chaotic dimension (be it Hell or otherwise) but the affect it has on the ship requests a distant reach for our brains to continue the suspension of disbelief.

There’s a bevy of examples, so I’ll list a quick few. One of the main problems is what I call, ‘an incongruence of metaphysical properties,’ or the misalignment of surreal forces.

The quick and easy i.e.? Telepathic abilities don’t include clairvoyance.

Actions are governed by motivations, and for the plot to unfold the way it does, it would be according to the ship’s mandate. We can assume the ship’s all knowing and all-powerful, because it telepathically dissects the crew’s memories and locates their fears. Furthermore, it projects hallucinations onto their consciousness.

Even further, it can cause objects to vanish, like Miller’s gun. Meaning it can literally manipulate the fabric of existence.

If the ship has the ability to alter reality, its initial antagonism seems unmotivated and inexplicable. Why string along the entire crew through this revelatory process? What does the ship (or the evil entity possessing it) hope to gain through tormenting the individuals?

There’s an inconsequential argument to be made here. Perhaps the entity’s wish is to let the three crewmembers escape, thereby spreading…what, exactly? Hell on Earth? Why does Starck seem to be the only one ‘infected’ so to speak? The final scene suggests her mind’s plagued with the same malady inhibiting Weir’s character at the film’s open.

That being the case, what assumption can we draw from this implication? That events will play out in a similar manner for Starck as they did for Weir? That’s impossible; the Event Horizonis half destroyed and returned to Earth. Will she rein terror across the planet? The manifestation of that development seems inconceivable.

To pile on top, soon after the film begins, Weir dreams of the corpse floating on the Event Horizon’s flight deck. Thereby suggesting clairvoyance.

So you can see how the power imbalances, the inconsistencies between frames of reference, and an ending of minimal consequence add up to a deceptively contrived narrative.

A glaring error left un-snipped: What’s life going to be like for smiley Justin, after the macabre experience he’s been through? It’s almost cruel to let him live; disfigured, traumatized, psychotic and likely suicidal.

Then again, I have confidence in the writing’s veiled attempts at defying convention. Take Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) execution of Dallas (Tom Skerritt) in Alien for example, or more recently David (Michael Fassbender) in Prometheus. The tortured, tormented crewmember never makes it home.

It’s thoroughly twisted, but it seems the only impetus behind retaining that character’s life. Actually, it’s humorous when you consider his character’s position in the majority of the story. He’s lying comatose on that table (potentially infected with chaos and/or Hell, by the plot’s logic) and he never proves a danger to anyone but himself!

Poor lad. Let’s hope therapy helps.

As a side note, Samuel L. Jackson finds himself under similar circumstances in Sphere, where a group of scientists inhabiting Deepsea Habitats study an extraterrestrial object. The loose threads are more numerous and far less satisfying than Event Horizon, but the crew undergoes a similar fate where an evil consciousness delights in telepathic torment. Sphere’s un-good, even if judged as a horror; don’t waste your time with that submarine wreck.

Further side note, when Event Horizon gained its cult following, the demand for an extended cut became inevitable. Unfortunately, the director, Paul W. S. Anderson (not to be confused with P. T. A., the director of Boogie Nights) couldn’t cobble together much extra footage. According to Anderson, some footage had been stored in an abandoned Transylvanian salt mine.

I’m not sure why. I don’t remember any vampiric salt miners in Event Horizon.

The intercepted audio recording is the perfect microcosm for the whole film.

It’s creepy and ominous, and a believable mistranslation. I’ll even allow the idea that their manner of speech transforms to Latin.

And hey, for fun, let’s forego all discussion of computerized auditory scanners.

Who was the message, “Save yourself from Hell,” intended for?

And who had the wherewithal, after passing through the chaotic dimension, to broadcast the warning signal?

Oh. I get it.

Once infected, the spread of Hellish dementia’s a gradual multi-stepped debilitation.

First comes the transformation of basic speech faculties. After that, the craving for sadomasochistic orgy manifests.

Silly me. It’s all coming together now.

Better start rewriting this review.

Perhaps I’ve passed the event horizon…

(See what I did there?)

Frozen (PG)

10 Stars

Ah. The fjords.

Frozen is #8 on my top films of 2013 list. Besides World War Z, it’s the only film I’ve seen twice in full from the past year.

The mission? Keep the review beneath 1000 words. So I’ll be brief and swift.

Speaking of, the animated short shown previous to the ice-harvest open, Get a Horse is a brilliant piece of animation. I love seeing something completely original, smart and thought provoking. It lost the academy award, but can’t comment because I haven’t seen the winner, Mr. Hublot, yet.

The trailer; saw it way, way ahead of time when it was first released. Wasn’t all that pumped for the movie because the short’s devoid of narrative content. The reindeer and the snowman fight over the carrot nose on a frozen pond, and antics ensue. It wasn’t boring, but not overwhelmingly great either.

I liked the no-spoiler trailer.

So I think the lesson to take away, yet again, is know as little as possible about the plot previous to seeing the film.

Why’s director and writer Jennifer Lee’s name got the ‘(XXX)’ after it? Was that ‘pre Vin Diesel,’ or ‘post Ice Cube?’

Is she the thirtieth? Is that even possible? She can’t be an ex porn-star, can she? I didn’t know women had suffixes, let alone such a gigantic one. And I’ve never heard of a man being anything above a VII.

Based on the story “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen, Frozen’s the newest addition to a list of Classic Disney Animated Features spanning back to the debut of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937.

It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Disney animation, but you’ll hear me groaning the loudest if I see that trailer for Planes 2 ever again. The Planes franchise is an inconsistency in life I’ll never get a grasp on. I highly admire the Walt Disney Company but have no respect for their misleading me into the clutches of Planes. It’s a horrendous movie, and has been falsely marketed as an outgrowth of the Cars universe.

There’s this weird market for horrifically bad animated stories. I think it’s intended for kids in kindergarten and below. Because Planes is such a considerable downgrade in narrative and animation from Frozen I’m surprised they’re still peddling this boring crop-dusting crew.

I was purposefully duped into spending six dollars on the rental. I understand their desire for the alternative source of income, but this misleading marketing campaign is deceitful.

But we’re talking about chilly Frozen, with icy Elsa and Anna, the coolest narrative since Tangled.

And now we’re sidetracking to the classics of recent years.

2012 saw the release of two five-star Disney Animated Features: Brave (produced under the Pixar name) and Wreck-It Ralph. Two other movies deserving of a near perfect score were released in 2010: Toy Story 3 (which was darn close to five stars) and Tangled (which exceeds five stars.)

2011 wasn’t the best.

But my point is Disney’s on a hot streak. Hopefully they keep up the same quality for decades to come.

Okay, I promise, the rest is about Frozen.

It’s fantastic. That’s all you need for now.

If you haven’t seen it, do so. The less you know the better so beware the spoilers below.

Do you know who’s great?

Kristen Bell.

I just love that little starry eyed delight.

Her breakout performance is hilariously understated in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, she plays a funny cameo in the old Starz comedy series Party Down starring Adam Scott, and the compelling role she played in the western HBO series Deadwood goes tragically unmentioned. I’ve been eying that Veronica Mars movie for days.

I really enjoyed Anna, the character Kristen does the voice for. Let’s hope K-Bell stays prolific.

Idina Menzel does the voice of Elsa, and I must admit I’m more partial towards her character than her little sibling. This cold dame wears a gown made of ice. The fabric billows like it’s malleable. I’m not positive one could weave ice fibers into a fabric, even with sorcery at immediate disposal.

She must be a master on that ice-loom. I’m not trying to be snarky, the physics of Elsa’s magic didn’t concern me in the slightest during the movie. The ice gown exemplifies the beauty of animated films. A wonderful sort of idea is created that can’t be captured in any other medium. If Frozen were live-action, we’d be much less inclined to buy the idea of a flexible sheet of solid ice.

Now, on to nuance. One of the best tricks in the Disney feature handbook, is the inhuman sidekick. For Wall-E it’s the cockroach, Rapunzel’s is a chameleon named Pascal, Pinocchio’s got Jiminy Cricket, and so on.

My girl, Jen Lee the Thirtieth, who also wrote Wreck-It-Ralph, spins a similar sidekick song with Olaf the snowman. The alternative groove is he’s a sentient snow golem summoned through Elsa’s sorcery.

Olaf’s voiced by the promising young talent, Josh Gad. You know him as one of the original costars of The Book of Mormon. He’s also the funniest part of NBC’s 1600 Penn, an underrated comedy and solid show.

I bet we’ll see him popping up in all sorts of comedic antics from now on.

I remember hearing on a podcast that J. Lee Turkey (that’s a bowling reference, running out of Triple X jokes here)  aims to invert classic Disney motifs. So, for example, the ‘princess’ element to the story is a small and almost insignificant point in Wreck-It-Reezy.

With Frozen, Jennifer Strikeout takes these inversions several steps further, and it’s an enormous benefit to the plot. The original conflict and its innovative resolution revolves around a pair of sisters, which isn’t something we’ve seen before, and just a ton of fun along the way.

Soon after the movie’s open, there’s a heart wrenching scene with Anna singing about building a snowman, as she grows older through the years without her sister.

Fiddlesticks; that scene just rips me to pieces.

That poor little girl just wants to play in the snow with her sister…

So my basic point is, there’s some crying that occurs near the beginning of the film. I can’t remember another Disney movie like that, except The Fox and the Hound perhaps. Hunchback of Notre Dame’s another; I can’t stand to see Quasimodo pelted with that rotten produce.

And there’s some crying towards the end of the film. It’s a moving little cartoon, friends, and I think you’ll love it as much as me.

But anyway, it’s tough to keep these things under 1000 words, let me tell you. Barely missed it by 135.

Quickest wrap-up ever –

Completely original storytelling, moving conflicts, lovable characters, beautiful animation, educational, compelling, fun, melodic and heartwarming.

Disney as per the usual.

Good on ya Jenny Three Kiss.

Keep up the good work!

Gravity (PG-13)

4 Stars

Wildly disappointing.

Far and away the most overrated film of 2013.

Sound like I’m jumping on with all the naysayers, but I felt the same about the crummy dialogue long before hearing a critic rave about it.

I don’t have a lot of nice things to say about Gravity. It’s the perfect example of how nefarious the awards system can be, and don’t appreciate the avalanche of critical acclaim it’s received.

Especially when there are tons of better movies from this past year deserving the praise.

Alfonso Cuaron did not deserve best director for this picture, and it’s to the Hollywood Foreign Press’s great discredit that he was awarded the Golden Globe for such a mediocre product.

I haven’t received a legitimate argument for why he won the award, so I’m assuming it has much to do with his ethnicity. Every article I’ve read on the subject, seems to suggest he won Best Director for ‘good reason,’ but then never goes on to cite why.

Because (much like an auteur) he personally wrote, directed and edited his own screenplay? It’s written poorly, and Steve McQueen accomplishes a similar feat with 12 Years a Slave.

I don’t enjoy badmouthing movies. Cuaron worked hard to put this together, and seems like a nice man.

But I have no issue with Cuaron, and appreciate his efforts. I take umbrage with the hype and accolades Gravity has received since its release.

Okay. I’ll talk about the movie for a moment before complaining some more.

I forget where I heard this, but somebody put it perfectly when they said Gravity felt like “it began in act two, and ended halfway through act three.” So if you’re looking for a well-constructed, polished and original narrative, look elsewhere.

If you live under a rock, you mightn’t know it’s ‘visually stunning.’

There are three or four solid moments, where the tension’s high, and the plot stays on a compelling track.

The 3-D is sharp. I honestly have no idea if it’s the sharpest I’ve ever seen, but I don’t “feel like I’m in space.”

That’s bullshit, and I’m sick of hearing people say that.

(Okay, here we go again, beware the spoilers below.)

The four good scenes are thus: 1) the fire extinguisher 2) Sandra flipping end over end 3) Clooney being detached and 4) Clooney’s ghost showing up.

Now. I would rather not lose Georgie boy so quickly. I care zero percent about Sandra’s plight, because I have no investment in her character or conflict. I have no context in which to place this individual, so I’m just supposed to care about her because she’s an astronaut in trouble? That’s a lot to ask from your audience, and it doesn’t make for compelling storytelling.

When Sandra’s finally in a somewhat safe location, I realize I’ve nothing tethering me to her character.

Okay, so she’s safe – what does that mean to me in the grand context of the film? Well, she’s halfway to making Clooney’s self-sacrifice worthwhile.

But all for what? It’s unclear why she’s out there in the first place! What do I care if she gets home?

What’s consequential about her getting home? She survives dull circumstances with nothing at stake. There’s no grand scheme here.

This is what I’m trying to get at, my proverbial audience – this is shallow writing.

For example, if we’d seen Sandy make a costly mistake early on (during the absent Act I, perhaps) we might care about her character overcoming this lack of confidence; these feelings of apprehension and indecision.

Gravity is an excuse to do visual 3D tricks in space, and while that may appeal to some, I much prefer the story come first.

I wish ghost Clooney was really alive, and hitchhiked on the tail of a passing comet. That’s the kind of outer space visual I’m looking for. Now that we’re out here, might as well venture a little further from the Earth’s atmosphere, right?

I’m kidding, but seriously.

I heard someone on NPR (I believe) mention how Cuaron’s ability to bring together diverse groups to make this film is to his great credit as a director.

First of all, it’s a movie about two beautiful white people, and that’s it. As noted above, the entire conflict of the movie hinges on your unquestionable compassion for Sandra’s character.

Secondly, how in fuck does this have any bearing on the resulting film that’s produced?

There is zero correlation between a production team’s level of diversity, and the quality of the motion picture.

I find this mildly revolting. Movies’ should not be awarded points for this sort of reason.

Gravity’s mediocre at best, and not worth revisiting for my tastes.

Sorry, Fonso, I bet you’re a good dude, but I don’t love your film.

Iron Man 3 (PG-13)

9 Stars

Ever wonder what a great superhero movie looks like?

Iron Man 3 is #9 on my ‘Top Films of 2013’ list.

The efficiency with which Marvel executes their film franchise is delightful. It’s almost unbelievable what they’re accomplishing in a timely fashion, while retaining quality in their product.

Iron Man 2 did not meet the usual standard, by any stretch of the imagination. If you think about it, the sequel retells the same story as The Great Mouse Detective.

Mind blown?

The third’s different.

First and foremost, the fights and action sequences are spectacular. Elaborate cinematic moments are captured through beautiful camerawork and near-perfect CGI.

And boy oh boy the story’s gripping. It’s packed with tension and emotional.

Here’s what works about the fourth installment (counting The Avengers) in Iron Man’s narrative arc.

First of all, it’s a deceptively small but tight cast.

Robert Downey Jr. is easily the weakest part of this film.

I’m kidding of course. He’s perfect as always.

Some critical opinion has been directed toward the adoption of voiceover narration so late in the series. While this claim’s easily permissible, it’s just as easily argued.

I never considered the voiceover out of place, and it’s certainly not off-putting. It’s a much more personal story with a character whose heroism we’ve grown accustomed to.

One might even say the narrative’s improved by the voiceover.

Stark feels locked up inside his own head. He’s a thinking machine without enough waking minutes left in his lifetime to reach full potential.

He is afraid. He literally awakes in midair; the audience and Tony become conscious of it simultaneously.

This scene utilizes a noteworthy camera technique – as if the audience is watching from the interior of the iron faceplate.

And it’s all interwoven seamlessly.

One might find these plot points contrived. I would disagree on these grounds: From what other material is the writer supposed to draw? He is bound by restrictions set in pre-existing narratives, and anxiety over these issues is exactly what a Tony Stark in our present reality would be struggling with.

Shane Black deserves a hearty round of applause for not only directing; he’s also credited as one of the writers.

Has Don Cheadle ever been less than delightful?

Again I find it hilarious no one noticed Terrence Howard’s replacement in the second until way after the third. (For more on this topic, read my review of Prisoners.)

There are the moments where Jon Favreau’s character (Happy Hogan) is so funny, you’re certain the painful comedic moment’s imminent. And of course it never shows up. Favreau’s spot-on.

Guy Pearce turns in a transformative performance as Aldrich Killian in two separate timeframes. Even though he’s more an unknown, he’s as good as the rest.

Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts is excellent. I’m surprised looking at her cinematic history, because she hasn’t done much outside this role.

I think Paltrow’s really great in this film, and her character’s one of the reasons Iron Man 3 goes above and beyond.

Pepper is supposed to be the lovable and dependable love interest. Tony’s constantly struggling to physically protect her while maintaining their relationship. As a fan of the comics, that’s all I’d expect from her portrayal on the big screen. But there’s a scene where Pepper ends up inside the suit and actually protects the unarmored Stark from certain death.

That’s great writing and the moment’s touching, fun and empowering. It also serves to satisfy the snootier audiences who require such details.

And as a final note, speaking of good writing, Ben Kingsley is an excellent villain.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the comic books or superhero movies, Iron Man 3 is a spectacular film for audiences of all sorts.

Lone Survivor (R)

10 Stars

Never once have I wondered about the origin of the phrase ‘rub some dirt on it.’

For good reason, turns out.

I don’t know if word’s gotten round to you yet, but ‘War is Hell.’

In the course of history, a piece of wisdom has never been so bastardized through overuse.

We’ve all heard it before. Everyone’s weary of the hippy-dippy words (including Yours Truly). But consider the implication of the trend. There must be a reason the phrase became so prolific.

There is a level of indecency; an unpleasantness and lack of fairness that is so difficult to articulate, ‘Hell’ is the most accurate word for it.

The phrase isn’t ‘War is suffering’ or ‘War is misery.’ It transcends terms like torture, depression, fear, panic, pain or dread.

In Saving Private Ryan, instead of Hell, they use ‘F.U.B.A.R.’

Similar high-caliber films like Platoon, Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, The Hurt Locker, Schindler’s List, etc. all explore these hellish realities of war, and are currently the single greatest tool for conveying the inconceivable heartache that comes as a result.

And you can add Lone Survivor to that iconic list of dark war movies. The film sort of shrugs and says, “Yeah, it’s atrocious as ever. It really, really sucks.”

The one way I can describe L.S. is truly horrific. It’s #5 on my ‘Best Films of 2013’ list and I’ll tell you why.

The story’s compelling, timely and riveting. The plot takes unexpected twists, the images evoke a wealth of emotion and it’s based on a true story.

This film will constrict your insides and left me rattled. But it should, and if you can stomach some difficult imagery, and a healthy supply of darkness, check out Lone Survivor.

But be careful of the spoilers below.

What the movie does exceptionally well is accurately depict the almost inhuman combat prowess of navy seals. It opens strong with clips of actual seal training procedures.

The film hooks right from the start when I see the trainees being drowned and brought back from the brink of death. Tough stuff, from the get-go.

The falls down the cliff sides were graphic and not fun to watch.

The depiction of the rookie seal, the tall buff blonde, is just the dark icing on a tall, treacherous cake. But one of the brightest spots in the movie is when he recites the froghopper mantra.

Beside the tragic story on the surface, I like the subtleties as well.

For example Mark Wahlberg’s character (Marcus Luttrell) tosses in a fat lip of dipping tobacco for the mission. When he wakes up, he’s left it in all night!

Sure it’s gross, but that’s a badass character trait. That’s not something regular dudes can do.

Love that Marky Mark. He’s always a winner. Might be cool to see him as a villain sometime.

Some dust got on my contact lens when he thanks the Afghani fellow for helping him. And I love the little kid.

All four of the main characters turn in remarkable performances. Taylor Kitsch as Mike Murphy, Luttrell’s best pal, is an unknown but good.

Emile Hirsch is spectacular, the best I’ve ever seen him. Since The Girl Next Door, America’s been waiting for him to get a role like this. His performance is moving and deeply disturbing.

And the same can be said for Ben Foster as Matt Axelson. His fate is equally horrific and tragic, and had me curling into a ball cringing as we watched his life fade away.

That death scene is such an unsettling, powerful cinematic moment. As a physical specimen, his body endures all of the punishment it possibly can. Part of me wishes I had muted the last five minutes preceding his death, when his final breaths are presented in a macabre fashion.

It’s just so terrible, the way in which his head bobs about deliriously. He literally teeters on the brink of life while those bullets ricochet beside his face.

The sequence is so dark; it’s tough to form even an appropriate response.

The obvious question is how much did they blur the boundary between fiction and reality? Well, I don’t have an answer for you, but does it really matter whether they threw themselves down one mountainside or two?

I’ve heard criticisms about the ending, which I find fair, but they certainly do not fall in line with my experience of the film. I thoroughly enjoyed the ending and never saw any of it coming. I’m on the edge of my seat the entire time.

I enjoy Lone Survivor very much and highly recommend it.

It’s just a tough flick.

Monsters University (G)

9 Stars

Due to the lack of press, I bet most think this prequel panned.

Well, it made $268.5 million at the box office.

And deservedly so, if you ask me. Monsters University is very good!

They rereleased Monsters Inc. in theaters over the summer, so I saw it for the second time since its original release. I mentioned afterward that it isn’t nearly as funny as I’d remembered.

My older sister and younger cousins all agreed; the humor’s not up to snuff in Monsters, Inc.

Three months later I watched the prequel with my sister and brother-in-law. We all agree this is quite a bit funnier.

Perhaps Monsters U. isn’t the universe creator that is its predecessor. But the smart writing comes out in different sorts of ways.

The connections drawn between athleticism and scaring ability are at the forefront of this narrative, and I really, really appreciate the ending. (Yes, two really’s.)

They hired an excellent cast of voices. Helen Mirren is the voice of a quietly great antagonist, Dean Hardscrabble, who is a creepy centipede dragon. Of course, Billy Crystal and John Goodman return as the voices of Mike and Sully. Steve Buscemi returns as Randy the chameleon, and the rest of the scare squad from the original film cameo as members of Omicron Kappa (Mike and Sully’s fraternity and teammates in the scare games).

Lot of Greek life humor in this movie. But it’s all in good fun, and never cringeworthy, like you might imagine it to be. The story unfolds in the college campus context, but the jokes never get hokey enough to be painful.

There are two major aspects of this movie I find intriguing. So watch out if you’re overly sensitive to spoilers.

First of all, the animation is so incredibly clear in the scene set in the human world, it really blows me away. Now I’m discussing it, might as well mention I find the scene on the moonlit lakeside rather moving.

But the backdrop is incredibly realistic. It gives me a sort of mysterious feeling.

I find the resolution of the following conflict nothing short of brilliant. They find themselves in seemingly insurmountable circumstances, and manage to pull it off. It ties together a number of themes and subtleties in an excellent fashion.

The second thing I want to mention is the video game quality of the plot. This is something I’ve been noticing in a lot of films lately and think it’s worthy of note.

When movies take on the video game format, where there are ‘levels’ and ‘bosses’ (so to speak) I rather enjoy them. I’ve only heard that After Earth has this quality. I’ve also heard The Matrix Reloaded discussed in a similar manner. Surprisingly, Despicable Me 2 incorporates a touch of this, as well. Perhaps The Hunger Games: Catching Fire utilizes it, but I haven’t thought it through yet.

I’m not certain how to illustrate this concept further. But I’ve heard it talked about in a dismissive manner, when I think it’s noteworthy. There’s something I find appealing about this sort of ‘leveling up toward achievement.’

When I can better articulate this, I will elaborate more.

If you’re looking for a good family movie, with an intriguing plot and some solid humor, Monsters University will do the trick.

But I’d suggest you check out Frozen, Despicable Me 2, or The Croods first.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman (PG)

8 Stars

This is better than The Lego Movie.

That get your attention?

Hear me out.

Everybody (the critics, your Aunt Ruth and the kitchen sink) went nuts over The Lego Movie. But it arose amidst a sea of shadow, Proverbial Audience.

It’s literally the first solid movie released in theaters this year.

I think Lego’s good. Mr. Peabody & Sherman is great. The difference shines through in the pacing.

More specifically, it’s the humor. Less objectively, it’s the captivation.

A superior adhesive glues my eyes to the screen during Mr. Pea & Sherm.

Both movies are smart for different reasons. But Lego relies on a particular reveal; a moment of structural expansion which makes the narrative shimmer. And the laughs are regular but spaced out; some fall flat and it’s never uproarious.

It’s slower and the good stuff is more sporadic.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman hits home on more jokes of a higher caliber. Whether you dig the puns or not, it’s definitely funnier.

The story itself is also superior. It explores time travel in unique ways, distills historical legends and navigates a complex array of ideas.

Strangely it seems easier to connect with the characters on a humanistic level. I’m not sure if it’s because of their biological makeup (the fact that they don’t exist in a Lego universe,) or just the tilted scales of investment.

Anyway, that’s my contrast. Got a problem with it? Let me know!

Here’s a bit more of what does and doesn’t work in Mr. Perman.

The central metaphor of the film tackles the inherent inconsistency of the original animated television series.

A dog can’t possibly be a sufficient parent, right?

If he’s a talking prodigy, perhaps, yes!

What about a time-traveling one? With all the fundamental risk?

Well, is he invincible?

Technically the answer’s yes, but that’s obvious to anyone attending an animated feature.

And yet they are smart enough to take things a step further, and not jam the obvious ‘go-to’ narrative down our throats.

The details of Mr. Peabody’s gaining the legal rights to adopt Sherman are quickly glossed over in less than twenty seconds. It reminds me of Kung Fu Panda 2, when Mr. Ping explains the story of finding Po in the radish basket. That scene can get quite dusty.

The film’s about common mistakes in traditional legends from history. Mr. Peabody warps them back to the distorted historical context, and illustrates to Sherman where the misconceptions arise.

Then Sherman screws something up, and Mr. Peabody inevitably saves them through unbelievable circumstances. Sherman will inevitably ruin the impromptu remedy through extreme stupidity. Then the dog will, again, craft a split-second plan through means of ingenuity. And sometimes a third solution will be required before they end up safe in the WABAC.

This formula’s fine. It just drives me nuts after awhile.

Eventually the question becomes: How’s Sherman going to screw this up further? He nearly kills Peabody at one point!

I always enjoy the ‘mental schematic’ editing technique. A similar effect is achieved in the Sherlock Holmes films (starring Robert Downey Jr.) in combat preparation, and to illustrate the calculative mind of Russell Crowe’s character (John Forbes Nash Jr.) in A Beautiful Mind.

As a final high note, I really like the relationship between the protagonist (Sherman, voiced by Max Charles, a mostly unknown child actor) and the antagonist (Penny Peterson) voiced by Ariel Winter.

Penny’s particularly great in the antagonistic role, because she’s a female who physically bullies Sherman.

But conversely, she’s also his love interest. Which is different because she’s taller than him.

My sole criticism is I never really feel the stakes are high. And therefore, the central conflict is difficult to hone in on.

Sherman’s potentially going to be taken away by child services. Peabody may be dead at one point. Sherman’s being forced to spend time with a girl who publicly humiliates him, and wrestling with the notion of loving a dog as a father figure. Who knows if we even like Penny yet? And all three of them are lost in the throes of time travel!

It’s tough to feel tension from any one particular direction.

Then again, I really enjoy Mr. Peabody & Sherman and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun and chucklesome ninety-minute ride.

Don’t wait for a scene after the credits, though.

Sadly there isn’t one.

The omission is, by far, this film’s greatest weakness.

Mud (R)

10 Stars

Mud is not a ghost.

I promise.

Thought I heard that on a podcast before seeing the movie, and turns out, it’s a complete fabrication. Made the whole damn thing up.

Myself and I, we really had a good laugh.

It actually jives with the story for awhile…but I digress.

Don’t waste your time focusing on homemade red herrings. Pop the disc in with the expectation of a complete story told quietly well.

Talk about a nomination snub.

I’m surprised the Academy didn’t glom onto Mud.

Then again, it’s an April release. Oscar doesn’t check his radar until May.

Even though it’s only #11 on my ‘Top Films of 2013’ list, it still deserves the nod more than half the B.P. nominees.

This film written and directed by Jeff Nichols scores on both ‘ocative ots.’

Provocative thoughts and evocative shots. Hah! What more do you need?

If you want to talk well-deserved spotlights, Matthew McConaughey will be at the forefront of the dissertation.

He’s the award winning lead in Dallas Buyers Club. Turning in a magnificent performance, he cameos as a broker; a character who inspires DiCaprio’s in The Wolf of Wall Street.

He’s cleaning up the small screen in HBO’s True Detective alongside Woody Harrelson. The new series (just concluded last weekend) is pretty much an eight-hour movie, and an excellent one at that.

Matt’s also in The Butler, but I refuse to see that movie, or refer to it by its listed title. It’s a shame, I would probably enjoy him as John F. Kennedy.

What a 2013. Keep it up Mr. McC!

The best way to describe Mud is delightful. It weaves a quietly cool narrative, with a heart-wrenching conflict at its center.

There seems to be a trend in adventures by the Louisiana Bayou.

This is a similar setting, but different, and you’re racist for mistaking the two.

Those of us who aren’t bigots know the plot unfolds in a small riverside Mississippi town.

Although Matt’s credited for the lead, I’m pretty sure Ellis (played by Tye Sheridan) has more screen time. And the narrative seems to swivel primarily around his perspective.

Never the mind.

Both turn in excellent, astonishingly true performances. Neckbone, Ellis’s best friend and cohort’s (played by Jacob Lofland) about as hard and crass as they come in the realm of moral children.

Hey guy, don’t see this Dramystery with your bros if you’re easily moved to tears. Okay?

It’s a touching romp full of beautiful imagery and a well-crafted simplistic story.

I think this film’s more suited to adults, despite the nature of the narrative. The transformations come thru both Ellis and Mud, and the juxtaposition of their romantic conflicts is excellent.

My love for the film stems from admiration for the writing.

This is an all-around fun story that everyone can connect with, no matter your age or gender. What’s great is considering how far removed it is from the realm of personal familiarity. I’m not going to run into a boat caught in a tree anytime soon.

The film may be mostly about growing up and broken love, but set in the Mississippi context, and with such devoted attention to physical detail, it might appear a waterlogged portrait of, “two boys who learn things.”

And it is; but it translates onscreen in an enchanting fashion.

There are minors who use swear words in this film. So if cursing gets you queasy, get the fuck over it, and go see the movie anyway.

Ellis’s blind devotion to Mud, whom he believes to be a good man (despite the protestations of everyone around him), is the catalyst allowing their ultimate redemption. That rapport, that silent understanding between two honest and good people; it’s a distinct enigma, and the film captures it perfectly.

It’s the complete opposite of disheartening. It’s heartening.

What an ending, huh? I was sure it was going the other way.

But I’m all too pleased with what we’re given.

Like I said before, Mud is definitely not a ghost.

Ironically, the actor portraying the role couldn’t be more alive (in this writer’s heart, at least.)

Really, I hope he retains this aversion to phantasm in his professional career.

I’m just happy I don’t have to write any more letters begging for Sahara 2.

Don’t miss Mud!

Mulholland Drive (R)

8 Stars

This blue box has no bow.

Yes, my Proverbial Audience, if you watch Mulholland Drive, expect no packaged narratives.

It’s been about an hour, and the thought wheels are still rolling on this one, which is always a good sign.

There’s only one question to ask.

Are you willing to take the half hour afterward to find out what you saw?

If the answer’s no, rethink this one.

That being said, there are probably fans out there who’ve never looked into interpretations of the plot. I couldn’t live with myself, but there must be.

I’m alluding to the disjointed narrative woven through David Lynch’s writing and directing. His use of different shooting styles and camera angles is pretty amazing.

For some reason it has a very 90’s feel to it, despite its theatrical release in 2001.

The film runs a little too long and is thoroughly confusing. It’s not ‘intentional obfuscation for the sole purpose of confusing the audience.’ That’s misleading, and I don’t think it happens all that often.

For years, I would have argued the pointlessness in the ending of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I still contend that it’s an overall bore, and the dull slog is not worth the thoughtful and rather brilliant implications of the ending. It’s perplexing as all get out, but now that I’ve read about what Stanley was going for, I can appreciate the virtue of his intent.

Although I’m not a big fan of Blue Velvet, I appreciate what Lynch tries to do in his movies.

Even after understanding the common interpretations of the plot, there still remains a feeling like something’s missing. It’s very similar to how I felt after Blue Velvet, but my preference lies with Mulholland Drive.

MD was originally conceived as a television show, and this is where much of the plot falls apart. Lynch had to compact a narrative intended for an entire season into a feature film. Many question whether the final film can be classified as a complete narrative.

I wish I could answer that question. I’m not sure and have done too much research already. Perhaps I’ll get back on that some day.

I had to have the answer, and felt satisfied by it. I’m not necessarily ecstatic about the explanation but it works, and it’s fine; an original idea at the very least. I found the plot development compelling regardless.

Hey, I got a thing for elaborate high-stakes storytelling. I find it thought provoking and puzzling. I enjoy the whirlwind of disjointed moments, the coil and release of the tension spring.

I adore the chase for comprehension, the errant cuts, the inexplicable in the real, the terror and indecision. Keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat certainly counts for something.

Mulholland, I find, is reminiscent of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts from 1993. Except not nearly as boring.

It gives off a bit of a Pulp Fiction vibe (particularly in terms of the disjointed narrative).

I’m also reminded of Sharon Stone’s character in Basic Instinct with Laura Harring’s role as Rita. They’re both portraits of the typical femme fatale who sexually prey on their victims.

Naomi Watts is great in MD; she’s playing a difficult role here and executes it convincingly. Really, I mean, this is some tough stuff!

Overall, I enjoy Mulholland Drive. It’s ghostly, ethereal and compelling. The material’s gritty and tense, but befuddling.

Despite the incomplete narrative, Lynch offers his audience a thought provoking experience unlike any other.

Nonetheless, the story is mysterious and enticing, and if you like movies it’s worth a shot.

I’m finishing this review the following morning, and still thinking about it.

What does that say about the film as a whole?

Top 35 Films from 2013

Ladies and gentlemen, the definitive lists. Enjoy.

Top 20 Films of 2013

  1. Elysium
  2. American Hustle
  3. Side Effects
  4. 12 Years a Slave
  5. World War Z
  6. Lone Survivor
  7. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  8. Frozen
  9. Iron Man 3
  10. Rush
  11. Mud
  12. This is The End
  13. Star Trek Into Darkness
  14. Blue Jasmine
  15. Pacific Rim
  16. Spring Breakers
  17. Prisoners
  18. The Wolf of Wall Street
  19. The Croods
  20. Captain Phillips

Top 15 “Also Rans”

  1. Despicable Me 2
  2. Monsters University
  3. The Wolverine
  4. Thor: The Dark World
  5. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  6. Turbo
  7. Man of Steel
  8. Oblivion
  9. Don Jon
  10. The Spectacular Now
  11. Saving Mr. Banks
  12. Dallas Buyers Club
  13. We’re the Millers
  14. In a World…
  15. Ender’s Game 

Runner Ups

  1. All is Lost
  2. Nebraska
  3. Her
  4. The Place Beyond the Pines
  5. About Time
  6. Now You See Me
  7. The Way Way Back
  8. The Great Gatsby
  9. Frances Ha
  10. The Heat
  11. G.I. Joe: Retaliation
  12. Epic
  13. Gravity
  14. Escape from Tomorrow

Un-Good Movies

  1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  2. 47 Ronin
  3. Planes
  4. A Good Day to Die Hard
  5. August: Osage County
  6. Fast & Furious 6

Movies I Won’t Watch

  1. Blue is the Warmest Color
  2. Grown Ups 2
  3. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
  4. The Internship
  5. Last Vegas
  6. Lee Daniels’ The Butler
  7. Kick Ass 2
  8. Oldboy
  9. The Best Man Holiday
  10. The To Do List
  11. The Hangover Part III
  12. Identity Thief
  13. The Last Stand
  14. 42
  15. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
  16. Free Birds
  17. Anything By Tyler Perry (Peeples, Madea’s Christmas Rubbish, etc.)