Tag Archives: Disney

Moana (2016)

Once a man has children, he’s going to start watching more animated movies. And look, there are some animated films that I absolutely adore, but in general, my interest level in them is quite low.

This brings us to Moana, the latest Disney animated feature about a girl in a Polynesian tribe (the eponymous Moana, voiced by Auli’i Cravalho in her debut) who embarks on a mystical sea quest with a demigod voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to give back a stolen stone to a goddess. It’s really a lot simpler than that sounds.

I took my five-year-old son to see it today and he thought it was great. I was surprised by how long the movie was — 107 minutes, pretty long for an animation — but he was able to sit through it without a problem. It was me, actually, who needed to go to the toilet and fell asleep for a few minutes toward the end (I was really tired!). But that’s not to say Moana is not a decent movie. As animated films go, it’s actually pretty good, and I think it gives Kubo and the Two Strings (my review here) a run for its money as the favourite for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars next month.

In typical Disney fashion, Moana is spectacular to look at, especially with its abundance of bright colours and beautiful sea views. Kubo is beautiful in its own way because of the stop-motion animation, though for me, Moana is one of the most visually dazzling animations I’ve seen this year or any year. The film also boasts plenty of singing, action, cute characters, comedic moments, and a nice little message about believing in yourself and having the courage to make a change, etc etc. It’s a fun family affair with catchy tunes (“How Far I’ll Go”, in particular, is a winner and a threat to one of the La La Land songs at the Oscars), comedy for all ages, and a dash of heart. You should know the Disney formula by now.

So yeah, it’s another enjoyable, feel-good animated movie that didn’t really blow me away or connect with me on a deeper emotional level (like say Up or Toy Story 3). It was humorous, sure, and of course action packed, though I didn’t feel like the film’s performance in these two departments elevated it above any of the other popular Disney flicks in recent years (Big Hero 6, Wreck-It-Ralph, Frozen and Tangled). That being said, I really don’t have much to complain about the movie other than that it’s a tad on the long side, with a couple of moments that I felt dragged on and could have been trimmed to keep up the pace. Apart from that, all good.

3.5 stars out of 5

The Jungle Book (2016)

Finally! I got to see The Jungle Book!

The film had been high on my anticipation list ever since I heard about how footage screened at Disney’s D23 celebration blew everyone away, even more so than the Star Wars and Captain America: Civil War sneak peeks.

I actually don’t remember much about Rudyard Kipling’s original story or the 1967 animated version, and to be honest, it didn’t seem like something I’d be particularly interested in anyway. A “man-cub” named Mowgli raised by wolves and living with a bunch of talking animals? Not exactly my cup of tea.

Nonetheless, I was still itching to see a film being lauded as the most technically advanced ever made, given that everything — apart from kid actor Neel Sethi (and a couple of extras) — was computer generated. In fact, the whole film was shot on an LA sound stage.

And watching the film, you’d never be able to tell. The visuals in The Jungle Book are as spectacular as advertised — the sharpness of the jungle and vibrant colours of the scenery, the lush greens and fluid waters, the hyper-realistic animals. And yet, as real as they look, there’s also a surrealism to the animals because they talk and have other human traits. It’s a strange blend but one that works to perfection. Your eyes will not be disappointed.

That said, no matter how good the special effects are, The Jungle Book wouldn’t be anything without solid characters and a compelling story. In this regard I must admit I was not confident before I watched the movie, though these fears turned out to be unfounded. It’s a simple coming-of-age story of self-discovery and redemption, but Favreau manages to keep it compelling through a fantastic mix of thrilling action, intense drama, light comedy, and a sense of adventure. I was very sleepy before the movie began (it was early in the afternoon and I just had a big lunch), but minutes into the film I was wide awake and stayed that way until the end.

Apart from Favreau’s deft storytelling, the cast also does a great job of selling us this unique world. Young Neel Sethi, who is 12 now and probably a couple of years younger when he performed, has received mixed reviews as Mowgli. I think he did pretty well, considering he had no prior acting training and had to carry the entire film from start to finish with no one else but him and a green screen. There were a few moments where he comes off a little rough around the edges, but you have to balance that with the naivete and innocence he brings to the performance. On the whole, I lean towards the positive.

I remember back in the old days,  voice actors were just voice actors. Now, they’re getting all these massive stars to fill such roles, and I’m starting to think that it’s more than just for marketing purposes, because the voice cast in The Jungle Book is absolutely wonderful. Apart from being distinctive voices, they each bring surprising depth. Huge props for getting Idris Elba to play ferocious tiger villain Shere Khan, who oozes menace with every word. Bill Murray as sloth bear Baloo provides almost all of the timely humour, while Ben Kingsley voices the austere black panther Bagheera. Christopher Walken also does a great Chistopher Walker as King Louie. On top of that there’s Lupita Nyong’o, Giancarlo Esposito, the late Garry Shandling, Russell Peters, and Favreau himself. The only voice talent that was a little wasted was Scarlett Johansson, who plays Kaa the Burmese Python. Her voice is great, but she’s in it so little that there’s not much of a point other than to throw her name (and photo) on the posters.

As I said before, I don’t remember the beloved animated version and I doubt I’ve read the source material, but by all accounts this version pays respect to both without being slavish to either. I could have done without the couple of song numbers from the animated film that have been thrown in, but to Favreau’s credit at least they don’t come across as jarring.

In short, The Jungle Book met my very high expectations. The visuals are worth the price of admission alone (I went 2D, but apparently this is one of those instances where 3D IMAX is commendable), and the handling of the story, action, drama and tension once again demonstrates that this man

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is one of the best blockbuster directors around today. There have been rumblings that Disney is looking to get him on board with Star Wars, possibly with the Han Solo or Obi Wan standalone movies, and if that’s true, fans have every reason to be excited. In fact, The Jungle Book is so well put together that I think that Jungle Book — the Warner Brothers version of the live-action adaptation to be directed by motion capture king Andy Serkis and set for release in 2018 — should probably be scrapped completely. Yes, the film will star Serkis himself (as Baloo) alongside Christian Bale, Benedict Cumberbatch and Cate Blanchett, but it’s hard to imagine that topping Disney’s version either in box office or critical success. This may be as good as Rudyard Kipling’s story can be adapted to the big screen.

4.25 stars out of 5

Tomorrowland (2015)

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Tomorrowland, for me, came across as one of the more “meh” blockbusters of the year, and I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing it when I first watched the trailers. I mean, come on, what kind of movie is based on a Disneyland theme zone? Not a ride like Pirates of the Caribbean, but a zone!

That said, the film sure looked good on paper. It’s directed by Brad Bird, who was at the helm of heartfelt and exciting animated films such as The Iron Giant and The Incredibles. He also made one of the best action films in recent years with Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. Tomorrowland‘s script was co-written by Bird and Damon Lindelof, co-creator and showrunner of Lost and the writer for Prometheus and Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Throw in George Clooney’s saggy face, rising star Britt Robertson and House himself, Hugh Laurie, and Tomorrowland started looking quite promising.

I admit it started off well, setting up the fun and wondrous tone early on with some cute banter between Clooney’s and Robertson’s characters. The visuals are absolutely spectacular, reminding me of the images of futuristic worlds that captivated me as a child, and I also liked the Disneyland ride tie-in (though strangely, it was with Fantasyland as opposed to Tomorrowland).

After the nice intro however, the film never quite settles in as comfortably as it should have; the pace sags and the concepts start getting less interesting. Things do pick up towards the end, but as a “big ideas” film, Tomorrowland doesn’t go as deep or have as many layers as I hoped it would.

George Clooney gets top billing, though this was really one of those films where the big star just lends his name to the project. I guess it’s still a substantial role, but he’s not in it as much as you would expect, as a part of his character’s story is told in flashbacks and is played by child actor Thomas Robinson (who bears a striking resemblance to him).

The real protagonist of the film is Britt Robertson, who is 25 in real life but looks very much like a young teenager in this. Kudos to the hair, make-up and costume teams for making her look so convincing, especially as I had just seen her in The Last Ride, where she easily looked old enough to be a graduating college student.

Another great casting choice was British child actress Raffey Cassidy, whom they intentionally tried to make look older for good reason. I thought she was very convincing and has a great future ahead of her.

On the whole, Tomorrowland is a solid piece of family entertainment that fails in its ambitions to deliver something truly special. Despite the amazing visuals, it lacked that sense of wonder and magic; it just didn’t have that “it” factor you find in the best children and family films.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Cinderella (2015)

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There have been a lot — some would say too many — fairytale reimaginings over the last few years. Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror Mirror, Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Beastly, Jack the Giant Slayer, Maleficent, just to name a few.

Kenneth Brannagh’s Cinderella, I’m glad to say, is not like any of those movies. It’s a return to roots; a reminder that such stories don’t necessarily need a makeover, and that perhaps keeping them the way they are might be for the best. It’s basically the studio reminding us — and let’s face it, they’re right — that reimaginings might not be as good the originals.

That’s not to say Cinderella is merely a lazy live-action remake of the old 1950s Disney animated film. Brannagh and writer Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass, About a Boy, and soon, Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One) manage to inject new life into the story with some subtle but welcome variations while maintaining the overall structure and spirit or the original tale. The humour is light and Brannagh-ish, and the special effects and costumes are pretty but not overwhelming. Fuelled by solid performances, this is an authentic and charming adaptation. Notwithstanding how straightforward it is, the results are surprisingly effective and strangely refreshing.

You know the story already so there’s no point in giving a proper overview. Skinny-waisted Lily James from Downton Abbey plays the titular heroine, who is left to the mercy of her stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and two stepsisters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger) after her parents (Hayley Atwell and Ben Chaplin) pass away. Richard Madden (holy crap I just realised he’s Robb Stark!!!) plays the Prince, Derek Jacobi plays his father the King, Stellan Skarsgard plays the Grand Duke, and Helena Bonham Carter is of course the Fairy Godmother.

However, rather than just being about a pretty girl who falls for and gets rescued from poverty and slavery by a stud muffin — with the help of some magic — this adaptation tries to add some workable dimensions and cover up flaws of the original story.

Cate Blanchett’s stepmother character, for instance, isn’t just evil for the sake of being evil. We’re given glimpses of her genuine concerns, which helps us understand why she has become the way she is. Plus Blanchett is really good in the role, as she seems to be relishing the opportunity to play a devilish, multi-faceted villain.

Recurring themes include kindness and forgiveness, duty and love, and a lot is said about economic and social status. Bear in mind most of it is just on the surface, but kudos to Brannagh for at least trying to insert some layers and depth into what is still ultimately a fairytale. I don’t agree with criticisms that it’s not “feminist enough.” This Cinderella is progressive; not every woman wants to go full Joan of Arc like Kristen Stewart in Snow White and the Huntsman.

Despite Brannagh’s efforts, there are still some things that a live-action movie adaptation of a flawed story cannot work around. The whole glass slipper thing — you know, getting every girl in the kingdom to try it out when they know what she looks like — still makes no sense.

Quibbles notwithstanding, Cinderella is a strong film, one that is suitable for children and adults alike. Humour, romance, magic and a good lesson or two, it’s a feel-good experience the whole family can enjoy. I’d rank it just behind my second-favourite Cinderella film, Ever After, and there’s no shame in that.

3.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Big Hero 6 (2014)

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Big Hero 6 is the kind of animated film I would have thought was the best thing ever when I was a kid. Kid geniuses, cool superpowers and a cute robot friend to boot, it’s every little boy’s dream come true. I admit I had a great time with it as an adult too despite its fairly straight-forward sci-fi action premise, conventional plot and Avengers team concept (not surprising because it’s loosely based on a Marvel comics series of the same name).

Set in the fictional hybrid city of San Fransokyo (even though the Japanese aspects remind me more of Osaka), Big Hero Six is all about the conveniently named Hiro, a 14-year-old genius who loves to design fighting robots and using his 3D printer to turn them into reality. Without giving away too much plot, let’s just say Hiro designs something really cool that ends up being utilised by a masked villain for evil purposes, and it is up to him and his team of five very clever friends to save the day.

Big Hero 6 does not break any new ground, but it’s a strong effort by Disney that ticks all the right boxes. The visuals are colourful and easy on the eyes; the characters are affable and have plenty of heart; the action is exciting and creative; and the innovation — in particular the designs of the robots and their abilities — is very impressive. None of these things would matter very much if the film doesn’t have heart, but fortunately it does thanks to the strong development of Hiro’s journey.

If you’ve seen the trailer or the posters you’ll know there’s a very adorable white inflatable robot called Baymax, which is a health care assistant designed by Hiro’s brother Tadashi. It’s totally deliberate, but Baymax succeeds in supplying the film with ample cuteness and humour. You know that’s what he’s designed to make audiences feel but you can’t help but fall in love with him.

Big Hero 6 is up for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars next month and I’ll probably be rooting for it to win. It’s not super hilarious like the snubbed Lego Movie, it’s not super cute and moving like Up, and it’s certainly not on the level of Toy Story, which is all of those things and more — but Big Hero 6 succeeds as a fun, entertaining and pretty animated film that audiences of all ages will enjoy.

3.75 stars out of 5

 

Movie Review: Into the Woods (2014)

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Sometimes you just have to go against the grain. Despite the awesome ensemble cast, the reputation of stylish director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, Pirates of the Caribbean 4), the box office and critical success, there is only one thing I am certain of: Into the Woods is a shit film.

Based on the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical of the same name, Into the Woods cleverly builds a world combining several Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales such as Rapunzel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack and the Beanstalk. At the centre of the story is a couple played by Emily Blunt and James Corden, who come in touch with all these classic fairy tale characters as they try and break a curse that has prevented them from having a child.

It sounds like a fun idea, and for the first few minutes of the film (at least) it was not difficult to see the potential of the premise. You get a bunch of big name stars — from Meryl Streep (whom I cannot believe was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for this role at the upcoming Oscars) and Anna Kendrick to Chris Pine and Johnny Depp — playing wacky characters. The tone is light and tongue-in-cheek, and the script makes good use of our knowledge (and the characters’ lack of knowledge) of the fairy tales they’re in.

And so it came as a slow and painful shock to me that Into the Woods simply didn’t work as a feature film. It may have as a Broadway musical — I don’t know because I haven’t seen it — but I found myself not caring much for the story or the characters. There are some admittedly funny moments, many of which are sarcastic or involve Billy Magnussen, who plays Rapunzel’s unfortunate prince, though the whole “turning fairy tales on their head” gimmick grew tiring in a hurry.

At 124 minutes, the film is far too long and the dark final act dragged on for what felt like an eternity. I actually thought the movie was already long when it hit its faux ending much earlier and had to be forced to endure about another 20 minutes of soulless mayhem.

Strictly speaking there’s nothing wrong with the production per se, though as a whole Into the Woods failed to engage me. I couldn’t get into the story because it was so all over the place, I didn’t get into the songs because there was nothing resembling a catchy melody or song, and I didn’t care about anything or anyone because there was no heart or genuine emotion.

Maybe it’s my bias against fairy tale “reimaginings” or my inability to get most musicals, most notably the big screen adaptation of Les Miserables from 2012. But  even had I approached it a clean slate I just don’t see how I could have come to a different conclusion — and that’s the film is strangely detached, unexciting, and far too long.  It’s a pretty movie to look at and I have the utmost respect for the talented cast on the screen, though these positives alone are insufficient to drag Into the Woods out of the shitter.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Maleficent (2014)

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Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give Maleficent, the new re-imagining of the classic Sleeping Beauty fairytale, is that I didn’t mind it. That’s already saying a lot, given that I have not withheld my disdain for similar efforts in recent years, from Red Riding Hood and Mirror Mirror to Snow White and the Huntsman and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

Maleficent is the most visually stunning film of the lot, with colorful creatures, fairies and a magical world full of wonder. It is also far more emotionally engaging than those other films thanks to Angelina Jolie, who is magnificent as Maleficent (see what I did there?) and deservedly singled out for her performance.

It was a relief to discover that Maleficent was not a supporting character — ie, the film was not simply trying to use Jolie’s fame to promote a film that is otherwise dominated by other lesser known actors. True to its title, Maleficent is all about Jolie’s character, who has been tweaked to become both the (wronged) villain and hero of this revisionist fairytale. 

Without giving too much away, Maleficient starts off as a cheerful young fairy who befriends a young human boy after saving him from the wrath of the creatures he stole from. Years later, as required by the story, an ultimate act of betrayal turns her into a vengeful bitch determined to exact her vengeance on the human world. Her fury ends up being manifested in a curse on a baby Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning, Dakota’s younger sister from 2011’s Super 8), who grows up to become — you guessed it — Sleeping Beauty.

The rest of the film goes off on a very different tangent to the Disney cartoon, and, as with most of these re-imaginings, contain plenty of action and obligatory fighting sequences, though to the film’s credit it does feel slightly less coerced. A big reason is because Jolie is so good as the titular character that you actually feel something for her, to the point where all the special-effects-fuelled violence — unlike other films of this kind — begins to means something.

The problem Jolie’s superb performance, and her dominance, is that it renders everyone else in the movie insignificant (even the special effects, prosthetics and makeup used on her seemed more advanced than the others). Apart from Sharlto Copley, who barely holds his own as the King, just about all other characters fail to hold our attention, from Maleficent’s useful shape-shifting sidekick Diaval (Sam Riley) and the boring prince (Aussie Brenton Thwaites) to the three “good” pixie fairies played by Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville.

Elle Fanning, in particular, came across as a poor choice for Sleeping Beauty. Her beauty is a subject for debate, but the strange thing is that she feels too young for the role, despite being the same age in real life as her character (16). I guess it says a lot about Hollywood’s tendency to cast much older actors for younger roles. More pertinent is Fanning’s “acting,” or lack thereof, as all I can pretty much remember of her is the fakish stupid grin she had plastered on her face throughout most of the film.

The other issue I had with Maleficent was how much they had to twist the story so that it fit within the scope of the Sleeping Beauty narrative. There’s a fine line between changing too little and changing too much, and in this case I think they couldn’t find the right balance because it opened up too many plot holes and occurrences that were illogical, even for a fairytale. Part of it is because they tried very hard to make Maleficent a villain you could root for, so that every bad thing she did was justified, and even when she was being “evil” she wasn’t really. What they ended up with was a completely new standalone story, rather than a side story that complemented the original fairytale and filled in the gaps to give audiences Maleficent’s perspective. There is nothing wrong with that, except they still tried to squeeze in too many elements from the original Sleeping Beauty story, resulting in a weird hybrid that didn’t fully work.

But as I said at the start of this review, I didn’t mind Maleficent. It’s a flawed film with a saggy middle act, but thanks to Jolie’s film-saving performance, it’s much better than it otherwise would have been. Coupled with my low expectations, I admit I don’t regret seeing it.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Saving Mr Banks (2013)

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First Private Ryan, now Mr Banks. It seems Tom Hanks always has someone to save.

In Saving Mr Banks, Hanks plays none other than Mr Walt Disney, who has been courting the author of the Mary Poppins books, PL Travers (Emma Thompson) for 20 years in the hopes of delivering a big screen version to audiences. Unfortunately, Travers a bit of a stubborn biatch with very concrete ideas of who her characters are and the limits of what she would allow them to do, and so begins a difficult process of trying to please her while putting together the classic 1964 Mary Poppins film we all know about today.

I had lofty expectations for Saving Mr Banks, but in the end I just thought it was just an OK movie, somewhat sentimental, mildly amusing and rather predictable. It’s charming, warm and driven by wonderful performances and songs and all, though it’s a stretch to suggest it’s anything approaching one of the best films of 2013.

Part of the reason I’m not as high about the film as most others could be because I’ve never been a huge fan of Mary Poppins. In fact, I didn’t even see the film for the first time until I was in my 20s (or at least that’s how I remember it) and I had no idea the film was based on a book. I later saw a stage musical version of it and therefore know all the catchy songs quite well, but as a whole it doesn’t have a special place in my heart like it does for many others of my generation.

This is really a character journey film about the internal struggles of Travers, with Disney playing a more minor role as the facilitator. Travers is snooty, defensive and opinionated, but as we find out throughout the course of the film through flashbacks to her childhood, there is a reason for the way she’s turned out like this, and a reason why she’s so fixated on who her characters are. And the majority of it has to do with her loving father, played by Colin Farrell, is fighting a losing battle against demons of his own.

The 125-minute running time is mostly dedicated to Disney and his team trying to break through the ice and soften Travers up so that they can make the type of film they want to make. For me, the best parts are watching the Mary Poppins music composers, Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and BJ Novak), developing the famous songs such as Chim Chim Cher-ee and Let’s Go Fly a Kite — I found the process to be intriguing and fun, and I wonder how realistic it actually was.

The main problem I had with it — apart from the claims of historical revision and shameless Disney PR — is that Travers (notwithstanding Thompson’s brilliant performance) never comes across as a very likable person. Yes, you get to understand her and ride along with her as she undergoes her character journey, but the sense of empathy was lacking because I found her to be quite insufferable. The other problem is that we all know Mary Poppins gets made in the end, so no matter how much Travers threatens to pull out, we know how it’s going to turn out in the end, and knowing that this is a Disney film, we also know everything will ultimately be A-OK.

That said, from the perspective of an origins story, Saving Mr Banks is a fascinating look into how films were made back in the day. It’s also smartly written and educational (eg, you find out Travers is actually an Aussie!) without being saccharine. If you were/are a fan of Marry Poppins then it’s likely the film will resonate and provide a warm and fuzzy trip down memory lane. For me, on the other hand, it’s just a reasonably enjoyable couple of hours.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Frozen (2013)

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I’ve always been a little biased against cartoon movies, even when I was a kid. I like the classic stories and cute characters, but for some reason I just prefer movies with real people. There are exceptions, such as Toy Story and Up, but these are clever modern tales, whereas the Disney ones, while enjoyable, don’t have quite the same effect on me.

Frozen is Disney’s latest adaptation of a classic tale, this time The Ice Queen from Hans Christian Anderson. Like the previous effort, Tangled, it features a blend of CGI and hand animation techniques which I think works very well and probably saves a lot of time and money too. The cast features Kristen Bell as Anna, the sister of Elsa, the Ice Queen, played by Idina Menzel, plus Josh Gad as Olaf, a magical snowman.

The plot is fairly straightforward. Elsa has special powers like the Iceman from X-Men, making her afraid that she will hurt the people she loves, such as her sister Anna. One day she loses it and unwittingly unleashes an eternal winter on their home land of Arendelle before running off to live on her own, forcing Anna to go look for her so things can be returned to normal.

As an animated feature, Frozen is done very well, with beautiful animations, likable characters, wild action sequences, and some of the best songs Disney has done in a very long time (who knew Kristen Bell had a set of pipes on her?) and I’m sure Oscars are in store. It’s arguably the best classic animated Disney film in years, and it is no surprise to me that the film has been a hit, especially with the kiddies.

On the other hand, the film is undoubtedly formulaic and doesn’t offer anything we haven’t really seen or felt before. There’s the beautiful princess, the charming and handsome love interest, the nasty villain, and of course the cute sidekick (which in this case is the snowman). The story, however, was lacking in my opinion, and more importantly, I didn’t find the film that funny — an amusing moment here and there, but the jokes are more obvious and less edgy than that from other recent animated films such as say Monsters University. 

This is probably my bias creeping through again so I’ll stop now. Objectively, Frozen is a delight, something both children and family should enjoy, though for me it’s just an above average animated film that doesn’t stand out among some of Disney’s more famous classics.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: John Carter (2D) (2012)

Gambit and Kayla Silverfox from X-Men: Wolverine together again in a film about a dude from the 19th century who ends up in Mars?  Sign me up!

To be honest, I had no idea what the heck John Carter was about when I went to watch it at the cinema other than that it was from Disney. I didn’t know it was based on the hugely popular Barsoom series by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs. I didn’t know it was directed by Andrew Stanton, the guy behind WALL-E and Finding Nemo, and I didn’t know that it starred Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins (the pair from Wolverine), as well as great actors like Dominic West, Bryan Cranston, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton and Mark Strong (some of them will be unrecognisable though).

Well, John Carter was better than expected. Not awesome, but better than expected. The film begins on Mars, a planet with breathable air and (some) water, completely unlike the one we know. It is also inhabited by warring tribes of people that look a lot like humans, and one of them (Dominic West) is given a super weapon by a bunch of bald weirdos. Unfortunately, he’s not a good guy, and he has his eyes set on the princess (Collins).

Meanwhile on planet Earth, John Carter (Kitsch), a Confederate Army cavalry officer looking for gold, is pursued by Colonel Powell (played by Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston — woo hoo!). From there, he somehow ends up on Mars, and is captured by a species of green aliens called Tharks. Now if all that sounds kind of confusing, don’t worry. The plot is not particularly important to enjoying the film (though it helps to have a general grasp of what’s going on). I will say that the transition from Earth to Mars is done very well, and doesn’t feel at all jarring or awkward.

The greatest strength of John Carter is its action sequences, and there are quite a few of them. The special effects are amazing (not sure how they turned out in 3D, but in 2D they were just fine) and the fight scenes, some of which are on a humongous scale, are sensational. Whether it’s hand-to-hand combat, gun fights, sword fights, airship battles or gladiator arena duels, John Carter has them all, and Stanton does a solid job of keeping them entertaining.

Unfortunately, the film is also unnecessarily long at 132 minutes, and all the non-action bits felt very slow and rather boring to me. A large part of the problem is the human characters on Mars (other than Carter himself) — they just didn’t feel genuine and the dialogue was appalling, occasionally even laughable. In fact, the Martians provided much more compelling stories and subplots than the humans. Nothing against Collins either, but I didn’t get the chemistry between her and Kitsch, which made the inevitable romance that much harder to swallow. To be honest, it would have been better had Carter been the only human in the whole thing.

On the bright side, John Carter does feature quite a bit of that classic Disney comedy (the alien dog is hilarious), and to Stanton’s credit the film doesn’t take itself very seriously. As a result, the film’s weaknesses are not as glaring and audiences can just enjoy the film for what it is — a popcorn movie that offers a bit of escapist fun for a couple of hours.

3.25 stars out of 5!