Monsters University made me happy…

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YAY!!  I will admit that I was worried.  The last two Pixar films have been mediocre–by their standards–and I was not sure how well a prequel would work.  I loved Monsters, Inc. and I am still amazed by its creativity and unique premise–could they capture the magic again?  Well, the answer is yes…yes, they could.  Monsters University is clever, original, funny and yet, with the tender heart and emotional core you’ve come to expect from Pixar.  And although I will not rank it in my top 5 Pixar films–they have met the challenge–beautifully.

Now, this story is not connected to the original–the characters have yet to evolve to that point and the events of that film are far from happening–so, the story has to stand alone and led into that time period.  This time, Mike Wazowski (my favorite) gets the character attention.  They focus on Mike and James P. Sullivan’s introduction and how their relationship evolves while attending MU–it is great knowing how it all turns out in the end–it adds something sweet to story–you know?  This premise allows for a whole new crop of characters and all sorts of college high jinks.  The parallels to our own human college experience are hilarious and the small troupe of misfits in the fraternity Oozma Kappa are all  lovable and charming.

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Billy Crystal was born to play Wazowski and he shines here–this is Mike’s story and Crystal bares the burden easily.  John Goodman is perfect as Sully (again) and I appreciated how he made Sullivan feel and sound younger.  The OK members are all perfectly cast–Sean Hayes and Dave Foley as Terri and Terry–Peter Sohn and Joel Murray as Squishy and Don–but my all out favorite is Charlie Day‘s Art!!  OMG! LOVE HIM!  Here is a random treat…

Monsters University – A Performance By “Art” – YouTube

All the voice talent is top-notch!  Helen Mirren as Dean Hardscrabble is a bit intimidating and her character design is pretty cool.  And I love that Steve Buscemi‘s Randall is included–so great!

The intricate world of Monstropolis is expanded and they are able to capture all its charm.  I need to watch it a few more times to catch all the little, funny details in the background (loved that about Pixar!).  The character designs are amazing!  If you were impressed with Sully’s extraordinary hair–wait until you see Art’s fur!!  But, as always it is the soul that they are able to convey that continues to be their greatest achievement.

OH!  Before I forget!  Make sure to go early because the Pixar Short this time is AMAZING!!  It is The Blue Umbrella by Saschka Unseld (I am excited to see more from him) and the animation is incredible–looks so real it is mind-boggling.  And what they are able to accomplish with just some animated eyes and a mouth!  It’s a wonderful addition to their short library.  Check out this clip:  The Blue Umbrella

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Written by Monsters, Inc. scribes Daniel Gerson and Robert Baird the new narrative is consistent with these characters and they feel familiar and right.  Director Dan Scanlon did a fine job with the pacing and made smart choices with what could have been typical plot devices.  I enjoyed the unexpected directions and especially loved the ending–a great nod to accountability and real consequences–but also about having faith and working hard to achieve your dreams.  Being that this is his first big feature to direct–I am looking forward to what he does next.   And I need to mention Randy Newman‘s score, which is perfect and added to the feel of the film.

Obviously, I loved my time at Monsters University!  I laughed.  I awed.  I choked up.  I was moved.  I smiled.  Yup.  That’s a good Pixar experience–maybe not the best in their library but definitely better than the last two–which is hopeful for future projects.

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MIKE WAZOWSKI!!  😀

 

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Flight could have been a truly great film, if only…

It started strong.  The first hour of Flight is captivating, tense and thought-provoking.  Denzel Washington is in top form and the flight sequences are nail-bitingly good.  Unfortunately, the film never seems to find the “story” it wants to tell.  It is nice to see Director Robert Zemeckis back in live-action and he still has some serious skills creating human drama, but I was never totally invested in this one as I was with some of his other films which I love–like Cast Away and Contact.

There were several narrative options it could have taken: A straight-up drama about airline politics (especially after a crash)–a truthful look into an alcoholic’s struggle with sobriety–a character study that explored the dichotomy of our society’s definitions of hero and villain or even a love story of two broken souls seeking a bit of solace.  Any of those would have interested me and with each possible idea I would get excited…but, none of those paths were taken.  Instead, we get an uneven, over-long spiral into self-destruction that never quite gripped me–emotionally or intellectually.  You are left with a series of dramatic moments that are never earned, therefore you are not impacted by them.

The performances are the reason to go see this.  Washington is easily one of our finest actors and this is a meaty role for him (I am sure there will be some Oscar buzz).  John Goodman is a much-needed breath of fresh (comical) air, anytime he is on-screen.   Don Cheadle and Bruce Greenwood are solid, as always.  The knock out performance though, belongs to Kelly Reilly, as an unexpected love interest.  She is vulnerable and broken and yet, strong and full of hope.  I am looking forward to see Ms. Reilly in more.

Overall, I can say Flight is a bad film…it has enough to be okay–but it could have been more.  If only…

Argo is a tense, well-crafted thriller!

Ben Affleck has found his calling…as a director.  With Argo, he makes his third successful film (in my opinion) and shows us an ability to create nail-biting tension and tell tight, fast-paced narrative.  It helps that the story is based on true events and is completely riveting.

Argo walks a fine line between reality and dramatized fiction.  Writer Chris Terrio does an excellent job of telling the story as straight forward as he can, without sentimentality or political agenda.  It is a rescue mission. Period.  Terrio also incorporates humor and much need levity especially in the Hollywood scenes.  It reminds me of old school film making -not flashy or stylized–just good storytelling.

Affleck assembled a strong cast.  John Goodman and Alan Arkin are great together and offer some comic relief.  Bryan Cranston is awesome and NOT underused.  The six diplomats in need of rescue are not explored very much–which could have been issued except that Affleck, smartly, focused the story on his character, CIA operative Tony Mendez.  And although Affleck does a fine job playing Mendez, as a latina I have to ask…”Where there no latino actors that could play…a latino character, Mr. Affleck?”  Just asking.

What really worked for me was the tension.  It was palpable.  There were moments that I found myself on the edge of my seat–whispering directions to the screen.  “Go. Go.”  It was nerve-racking, but in a very good way.  😀

It is also cool that this incident actually took place.  I am always impressed by what the men and women of our covert agencies deal with and do.  Very cool indeed.  Nice when you get to acknowledge one of them and admire his effort.

ParaNorman scores high points for originality and craftsmanship…

First of all, I love stop-motion animation and I also love it when kid-centric films do not insult children. Treat them with respect–speak clear and they will understand and hear your message. ParaNorman does that successfully. It is an original take on accepting and loving yourself and they even throw in the affects of bullying. Nicely done.

This is the second feature released by Laika Animation (the first being the 2009 Coraline–which is one of my favorites). And again, they stay in the adventure/horror genre. This time though they turn it on its ear.  Things are not quite what they seem in Norman’s universe and they have fun exploring all the clichés (“Not   all witches have to be ugly? Of course, they are…they’re meant to sell key chains.”).

The film was written and co-directed by Chris Butler (first feature) and the experienced animator director Sam Fell. Together they do an excellent job of building the characters around this unique premise. As a zombie/horror fan, I appreciated all the cool nudges to the classics.  It is at once touching, poignant and funny. The skill and patience that it takes to create this medium is incredible.  The result is nothing short of amazing.

The voice talent is perfect and surprising. I could easily make out John Goodman, but Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Anna Kendrick were unrecognizable–so cool.  Kodi Smith-McPhee (Let Me In) as Norman and Tucker Albrizzi as Neil are both wonderful (and kind of look like their 10 inch figures).

Overall, this is a great story, cleverly done. It may a bit too scary or gory for young kids (depending on their exposure) and although it does not reach Nightmare Before Christmas iconic status and it’s not even as perfectly crafted as Coraline, it is still a cool addition to the genre that I am sure will continue to grow in cult status. I foresee Halloween viewing in my future. 😀