Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Best Movie Characters of All Time (#200-190)

Instead of making a best movies list or something like that, I have decided to create a list of what I consider to be the greatest movie characters of all time. This will take a while as I have 200 spots, but before I start with the first ten, I will explain the terms of the list:
- Some of these characters also double as characters from books or comics, but I tried to stay away from real people and TV characters as much as possible

- For each character, I will include a little blurb saying why I put them on the list and their defining moment in the movie(s) they are in.

- If I find it necessary to discuss any thematic elements in regards to the character, I will, but I'll keep it brief.

- Due to the nature of the list, there will probably be spoilers, so a spoiler warning is in effect.

Anyway, moving on. Here are the first ten in my 200 Best Movie Characters of All Time list!


No-Face (Spirited Away, 2001)

Spirited Away is a generally awesome movie with generally awesome characters, but it's No-Face that particularly stands out for me. He doesn't really talk much, and doesn't do much until the climax of the movie, but from the first time you see him, you know he'll have some importance on the story. He follows Chihiro around and seems to take a special interest to her, after she is kind towards him and he insists upon giving her many gifts. He later swallows one of the employees at the bathhouse and continues to eat and eat, swelling to immense size, but it is Chihiro that gets him back to his original size. No-Face is an interesting and odd spirit, and his friendship with Chihiro is actually quite touching, making him my personal favourite character from the movie and one of the best animated characters of all time.

Defining Moment: The train ride to Zeniba's with Chihiro.


Elle Woods (Legally Blonde, 2001)

Sorority princess turned law student, Elle Woods is a character that I generally would not enjoy if she was played by anybody else. However, it's the spirited performance of Reese Witherspoon that places this character on the list. Witherspoon gives it her all and makes Elle Woods an enjoyable and sympathetic character. She follows her ex-boyfriend to law school after he dumps her for not being "serious" enough and after being ridiculed by Selma Blair at a Halloween Party, Elle commits herself to her studies and becomes a top lawyer, taking on a murder case (where she uses her rather, unorthodox, knowledge to prove the accused innocent.) Her transformation is one of the most enjoyable ones I have seen, and she is truly a good protagonist. We want to see her win, and we want to see her be happy, and for a protagonist in a comedy, what more can you ask for?

Defining Moment: Using unorthodox knowledge of perms and shoe styles to prove her client innocent, or the Halloween Party that gets her to take her studies seriously.


Eddie Valiant (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, 1988)

Eddie Valiant is both a parody of the film-noir detective, and yet he is an example played completely straight. Valiant has prejudices against the Toons because one killed his brother (by dropping a piano on his head), and his prejudices give him trouble while working a case, which would end in him having to clear the name of Roger Rabbit. Valiant is a parody due to the silly nature of his brother's death and the fact that he works the case for a cartoon magnate and ends up having to prove the innocence of a cartoon rabbit. In all other aspects, his character is entirely played straight (he drinks like mad, he has personal demons, and he's not exactly pleasant company), and that definitely works in the film's favour. Not to mention he is played excellently by Bob Hoskins in one of his more light-hearted roles. Valiant isn't my favourite of the WFRR characters, but he is the linchpin in the series of fine performances this movie has to offer.

Defining Moment: Tough, but I'd have to say him running over the movie's villain with a steamroller in the climax. Too bad it doesn't work.


Arwen (Lord of the Rings, 2001-2003)
If there is one genre that has given us a ton of memorable characters (a great many who will pop up on this list), it is the genre of sci-fi and fantasy, and one particular fantasy franchise by the name of Lord of the Rings has provided us with some of the best characters of all time. Arwen isn't the best character that the series has provided, because I'd say that for a good chunk of time, her only role is to talk softly in Elvish in overly framed sequences that are over-romanticizing a bunch of nothing, and maybe to throw in some crying every once in a while. However, I put her on the list because of one major plot point that involves her. That is her romance with Aragorn and her decision to lead a mortal life, which is fleshed out and taken seriously, not shoehorned in (as so many romances in fantasy and sci-fi often are). The whole romance with Aragorn is also better than most romances because she actually has chemistry with Viggo Mortensen. Liv Tyler gives a decent performance, not the best, but not the worst either, and the same can be said for her characterization. She is good, but there are so many more characters that Lord of the Rings has to offer.

Defining Moment: Her conversation with her father about her choice to live a mortal life with Aragorn in the third movie, or her single-handed rescuing of Frodo from the Black Riders in the first movie.


The Graverobber (Repo! The Genetic Opera, 2008)
This character is an interesting one, because in the movie, he's not given much characterization (if any), he only serves as a singing narrator and an exposition-provider. However, I put him on the list because of one simple thing: he's extremely charismatic and that makes Graverobber arguably the most popular male character in the movie (at least from its large cult following). In this world, Graverobbers siphon liquids out of the dead to make a cheap version of "zydrate" (a painkiller which many of the people living in the town are addicted to) to sell on the black market. He first meets our main character in a graveyard when she sneaks out to put flowers on her mother's grave, and he keeps popping up in the movie every now and then to provide exposition and to.....narrate, I guess. This character's placement on the list is purely based on the performance. Terrance Zdunich is excellent in the role (which should be expected, as he wrote it, probably for himself), and he portrays the character as mysterious and darkly charismatic, which is perfect, seeing as we know nothing about him. Normally, characters who exist for expository purposes are a bad omen, but Graverobber is not, and for a character who serves absolutely no importance to the plot, he is certainly one of the more entertaining ones.

Defining Moment: "21st Century Cure", our first real introduction to the character (we were introduced to him in the first musical number, but we have no idea who he is or what a Graverobber is)

Flynn Rider (Tangled, 2010)
I put Flynn on the list because he is an amalgam of my two favourite Disney princes (Naveen and Aladdin) while still being a great stand-alone character. Flynn is easily the most entertaining human character of the movie and is a genuinely sympathetic protagonist. To explain the character, I should explain the concept of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (or guy, in this case). The character is used when you have a movie about a depressed hero(or heroine) who's life is magically cured by having the MPDG, an upbeat young person, enter their life. Examples of this character include Giselle from Enchanted and Ramona from Scott Pilgrim, and a rare male example (alongside Flynn) is Jack from Titanic. Flynn pops into the otherwise boring and secluded life of Rapunzel entirely by chance (running from the police after stealing a valuable crown) and he ends up changing it for the better, eventually saving her from her "mother" and captor. This, coupled by great acting and surprisingly good singing from Zachary Levi, makes Flynn Rider one of the most enjoyable characters that Disney has ever created and one of my personal favourites.

Defining Moment: His almost-dying moment where he saves Rapunzel from Mother Gothel once and for all.


Mark Loring (Juno, 2007)
Mark Loring is an extreme manchild, perhaps one of the best manchildren ever put on film. He is one half of the couple that Juno decides to give her baby to, and she ends up getting a bit too involved in their lives. Mark and Juno take a shine to eachother due to their common interest in rock music and horror movies, but we soon learn that Mark is bored in his marriage to the cookie-cutter Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) and bored with his general suburban existance. It isn't quite made clear whether he is sexually attracted to Juno, but it is clear that he'd rather go back to being a teenager and that he's not at all ready to grow up. Him not being willing to grow up also says that he is the last person alive who should raise a kid, as he's basically a kid himself. This is what makes him one of the most fascinating characters (manchildren especially) ever put on film and Jason Bateman's single greatest role yet.

Defining Moment: When he tells Vanessa- to her shock -that he's not ready to be a father and he wants to end the marriage.


Christof (The Truman Show, 1998)
The mastermind behind the whole web of lies that is called the life of Truman Burbank, Christof runs the show from his headquarters in the "moon", and he works to keep the lie going as long as possible, even going to such extreme measures as "killing" Truman's "father" in a fishing accident to instill in him a fear of water, and creating several fake newscasts about the danger of travelling. When Truman tries to get away from Seahaven, Christof engineers several natural disasters and even "resurrects" Truman's father in desperate hope to prevent him from leaving. Christof's desperateness culminates when Truman tries to escape on the boat in the film's climax and Christof finally reveals himself. When he does, his speech to Truman raises some extremely thought-provoking questions about the concept of utopia and whether it is better to live in the crappy real world or live in a safe and happy world that is based on lies. Top off the fantastic writing with a stellar Academy Award-nominated performance from Ed Harris and you have one of the best characters of all time.

Defining Moment: His climactic speech.

Saruman Two Towers Image - 300x450, 32kB

Saruman (Lord of the Rings, 2001-2003)
Saruman was one of my favourite parts of Fellowship of the Ring, and the main reason why I put him on the list was for the simple fact that he is played by Christopher Lee, an expert at the creepy villain role. He gives his all with the performances and not only does he act the part, he looks the part. In fact, he really looks the part. Christopher Lee's Hammer Horror background shows through in this, as he makes an excellent creepy secondary villain. Saruman is a servant of Sauron, and he creates an army to chase the Fellowship and seize the ring. Sadly, Saruman is not featured enough throughout the movies and I hear that his scenes were cut out of Return of the King. It's a definite tragedy that Saruman was underused, but so I hear, he was used even less in the book. I'd say his best use was in Fellowship of the Ring, but he was great in Two Towers as well, and a great character in general.

Defining Moment: His introductory conversation with Gandalf, which revealed his villainous nature.


Lieutenant Dan Taylor (Forrest Gump, 1994)

I say that if there were any Oscars that deserved to be won from Forrest Gump, it were the acting nominations for Tom Hanks and Gary Sinise. Lieutenant Dan is an excellent character, and goes through an excellent transformation after losing his legs in Vietnam. He starts out as Forrest's gruff superior, but after a firing of napalm on their camp, Forrest saves Dan's life, but at the expense of Dan's legs, and Dan grows bitter and angry because of it. This character gave us a revolution in special effects (being able to magically erase Gary Sinise's legs), but he is also splendidly written and genuinely sympathetic, and we see the pain he goes through about feeling like he should have died rather than live without legs, and that makes the resolution of his character all the more satisfying and heartwarming. There's also a couple of unintentionally terrifying scenes with his character, and one of which goes down as his defining moment, so I'll talk about it in that section. However, Lieutenant Dan is probably the best developed character, and the best thing about Forrest Gump that isn't Forrest himself, and he is played brilliantly by Gary Sinise, who lost to Martin Landau for Best Supporting Actor.

Defining Moment: The unintentionally terrifying scene when Dan jumps into the water after Hurricane Carmen. I think that it was meant to symbolize something but I don't quite know what, all I know is it's freaky as hell.


Columbia (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975)

Rocky Horror is another movie that has produced a whole slew of memorable characters, many of whom will appear on this list as well, but the first of them is Columbia. I've always liked this character even though she served very little importance in the movie in general. However, Rocky Horror is one movie where I tend to make exceptions (not just in regard to character, but generally). This tap-dancing spitfire is an extremely entertaining character, and the most we really know or learn about her is that she has a boyfriend named Eddie and she's a Frank-N-Furter fangirl, which is more than likely how she got tied up with him and his servants (whether she is from Transsexual, Transylvania or not). Little Nell did well enough with her performance, although they all pale in comparison to Tim Curry. One more thing before I wrap this up, I loved the costume design for Columbia. I mean, it's just so sparkly and pretty.

Defining Moment: Her genuine horror at the revelation that it's Eddie that they are eating for dinner.

Well, I'll be continuing this in a couple days, so I hope you liked this and I hope you will like the further installments.

Friday, October 21, 2011

My Review of Interview With The Vampire

Interview With The Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994)

Well, October is well underway and I haven't reviewed a single horror film all month, as I have been too busy reviewing Disney. However, I came across the book upon which this is based, and I enjoyed it so much that I had to check out the cinematic adaptation. Despite my saying that I enjoyed the book, there were some things that held it back, as Anne Rice is notorious for writing flowery romantic stuff and the flowery romantic stuff sometimes made it a hard read, and I have some issues with the main character that I will discuss in this review. However, it is entirely worth a read and I recommend the book for anyone who comes across it. But we aren't here to talk about the book, we're here to talk about the movie. Interview With The Vampire is an entertaining movie and one of my personal favourite vampire movies. However, I haven't seen many vampire movies so that title is rather insignificant. It doesn't quite live up to the book (but books are different from movies, so it is unfair to compare them), but this movie has an excellent story, excellent characters, and above all, excellent visuals (which actually won the Oscar back when this movie came out). Like the critics consensus said, it lacks some of the book's subtler shadings and suffers from some clumsy casting, but it benefits from atmospheric direction and a surfeit of gothic thrills.

Interview With The Vampire starts in New Orleans in the 1980's, where a young man named Malloy (Christian Slater) prepares to interview a man named Louis (Brad Pitt) who claims to be a vampire. It turns out that Louis is telling the truth, and he agrees to tell Malloy his life story. It begins in the 1700's in New Orleans, where we learn that Louis was a wealthy plantation owner that lost his wife in childbirth, which robbed him of his will to live. It is at this point in his life where he encounters Lestat (Tom Cruise). Lestat is a vampire, and he turns Louis and makes him into his companion. Louis and Lestat tolerate one another throughout the years but Lestat grows frustrated with Louis' reluctancy to feed on anything but rats.

One day, when Louis is walking alone, he comes across a young girl crying for her mother, who has died from the plague. This little girl plays a big part in the story, as she is taken to safety by Louis and Lestat and made into a vampire. Problem is, Claudia (the little girl, played by Kirsten Dunst) is five years old, and being a vampire, she cannot grow older. Louis and Lestat parent Claudia, Lestat being more of the father and Louis being more of the mother (at least in those times, Lestat being tougher and Louis being more nurturing). When Claudia finds out that she cannot grow up, and when she tries to cut her hair and it mysteriously grows back, she gets really pissed and a plan enters her head.


Claudia formulates a plan to kill Lestat, and this plan is successful, at least temporarily. She kills two boys and tricks Lestat into drinking their blood with full knowledge that drinking the blood of the dead will seriously weaken a vampire. She then slits his throat and throws him in the swamp. However, Louis and Claudia see a ghostly, scarred Lestat that is very much alive, albeit just barely (what with his skeleton-like visage and such). When he attacks, Louis and Claudia run away and catch the ship to Europe, where they had been planning to travel to, to see if there were any more vampires. This brings us to the part of the film set in Paris, where another vampire named Armand (Antonio Banderas) comes into the picture.


Armand is the leader of a troop of vampires who live at the Theatre des Vampires, where there are shows mosy every night (one which included stripping a female victim fully nude before killing her). Armand and his coven know about...what I mentioned in the spoiler warning... and Armand says that Claudia is in danger and she and Louis should part. It could be interpreted that Armand just wants Louis for himself, or he knows that his vampire coven is unpredictable and he knows that the one crime of the vampire (punishable by death) is to kill their own kind. Claudia thinks that Louis is going to leave her for Armand, so she plays the same trick that Lestat played on Louis by getting a woman for Louis to turn who would take care of her.

However, they are kidnapped by Armand's coven. Louis is sealed in a coffin and Claudia and Madeleine (the woman) are trapped in a prison cell with an open roof. I promised not to give away any more spoilers, so we'll leave it at that because I can't really say anything more without giving away the ending. However, you all know by the beginning that Louis survives the whole affair. Needless to say, Interview With The Vampire has a great story at its heart, and it's based off excellent source material. It is a very detailed book, so naturally it couldn't all be transferred to screen. The movie is what I would call a distilled adaptation, as the writers just cherry-picked what was important to the story and put it in the script. Things move fast in this movie, much faster than in the book, and while it sometimes doesn't work in the film's favour, it can't be helped.

One of the most notorious things about this movie is the casting, because the two main stars of this movie were the big Hollywood heartthrobs at the time, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, who were chosen for pretty much their marketability, as it appears to the naked eye. They both look utterly ridiculous as vampires, Cruise as Lestat more than Pitt as Louis, but I was actually surprised as performance-wise, they were both pretty good. However, the huge surprise for me was Tom Cruise, and this is from someone who is hardly his #1 fan. Tom Cruise gave a great performance as Lestat, and even though I could imagine many other actors in the great role (actors such as Jeremy Irons and Rutger Hauer were considered for the role, and Stuart Townsend played the role in Queen of the Damned), I was thoroughly entertained by his performance and found it to be the second-best in the movie.

Brad Pitt was slightly less ridiculous looking in his role as Louis, but my enjoyment of his performance was hampered by the fact that I don't much care for the character. Louis and his whining got a bit tiring after a while (although he is much whinier in the book), and his whole self-pity due to the fact that he has to kill to live starts to get old fast. Don't get me wrong, Brad Pitt was good as Louis, I just don't care for the character so I liked his performance less than that of Cruise and Dunst. Speaking of which, I really enjoyed the performance of Kirsten Dunst as Claudia, who got a Golden Globe nomination for her performance. This was her big debut as a child actress and it was a damn good one. The character of Claudia is, for the most part, an adult in the body of a child, and Dunst embodies that, being very articulate for her age and being able to hold her own against Pitt and Cruise. Needless to say, her performance was probably the best in the movie, and that's something to say for a child actor.

The rest of the performers include Antonio Banderas as an entirely believable Armand (albeit also slightly ridiculous looking), Stephen Rea as a villainous vampire named Santiago, who is a large part in the climax of the film, and Christian Slater as the Interviewer (a last-minute replacement for River Phoenix). They all give pretty good performances, nothing Oscar-worthy but nothing terrible. Out of the three performances mentioned, I would say Banderas was the best. The only problem that I really see is that Banderas wasn't in the movie enough, as Armand was in the book much more. Slater wasn't bad, and Rea wasn't bad either, but Banderas was the best.

The acclaimed elements of the film, however, lie in the visuals. This film got Oscar nominations for art direction and costume design, and rightfully so, because both elements of the film are spectacular. The use of visual effects is also well-done except for one aspect. In my opinion, they messed up the vampire teeth, and it was part of what made Cruise and Pitt look ridiculous. They looked okay on Dunst, but still weird. Another thing, fair warning to those who are squeamish. If you are squeamish around blood, then some parts of this movie will be awkward for you, because there are a lot of gory deaths, some more than others. However, for those comfortable around gore, this should be an entertaining watch.

Don't get discouraged by the unfortunate glut of vampire movies coming out, Interview With The Vampire is a worthwhile watch, especially around this time of year. It may be flawed, but the film has a lot of things going for it. It has splendid performances, spectacular visuals, and despite lacking some of the subtlety that the book had to offer, an excellent story. I also recommend giving the book a read, but like I said, this movie is a distilled adaptation, so you don't need to read the book before watching the movie to understand it as the basic plot elements are still there. It may not be straight-up horror so much as romantic vampire fiction, but it's better than Twilight. It's much better than Twilight. You have to give it that. So in short, I recommend Interview With The Vampire, especially to doubters of vampire movies.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Review of Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Beauty and the Beast is yet another historically significant film for Disney, being the first animated feature film to get a Best Picture nomination (something really special, seeing as the Best Animated Feature category did not exist and all animated films could get nominated for were music), and it was essentially what cemented the Disney Renaissance, perfecting what had been established by The Little Mermaid. The Little Mermaid had established the Disney formula of belligerent sexual tension, consistently great musical numbers (in the age of Menken, which still exists to this day), and memorable characters. Plus, there's just a sweetness to this movie that is near impossible to resist. Watching Beauty and the Beast for the first time in so many years also brought back a wave of nostalgia for me, as my school did this musical in my grade nine year. I would be lying if I said I didn't adore this movie, but I do have a few problems with it. However, the positives far outweigh the negatives in this timeless classic, and we'll talk about them now. Like I have said in my reviews of the other Disney movies, most everyone has heard this story one way or another so a spoiler warning would be pointless.

Beauty and the Beast starts with a stained-glass prologue about a vain and cruel young prince, who encounters an old woman who offers him a rose in exchange for shelter from the cold. He scoffs at her and she reveals herself to be a beautiful enchantress. The prince tries to apologize, now that he's aware that she's hot, but the witch instead turns him into a hideous beast and says that he will stay that way if he does not learn to love and be loved in return by his twenty-first birthday. The enchanted rose serves as a timer of sorts, as when the last petal falls, it will signify that he will be a beast forever. The witch also places a curse on all inhabitants of the castle, turning them into house objects like a candelabra or a clock. The beast lives in exile, horrified by his appearance, and has fallen into a deep depression.

This brings us to one of the best introductory musical numbers in all of Disney-dom, where we meet an intelligent young woman named Belle. We learn that she is looked upon as 'weird' by the townspeople, because even though she's good-looking, she's smart and she likes to read (seen as unusual because she's female and the town seems to abhor reading, which leads to a question I have that I will mention later). She is also being chased after by the brutish town hero Gaston, who wants to claim her for his wife. Belle lives with her father Maurice, an eccentric adventure who heads off for an inventing fair and gets lost in the woods, which is where the two stories intertwine.

We are introduced then to Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, and Chip, the main sentient houseware characters and easily the most fun in the movie. They delight at having a guest in the castle, but the Beast is not so happy about it, and he imprisons Maurice in the tower. After rejecting Gaston's proposal, Belle realizes something's up after her father's horse comes back without her father and she rides to the castle. In an encounter with the Beast, she agrees to take her father's place and stay in the castle forever. The housewares are delighted to have a guest in the castle, and when Belle comes down to get some food (priorly refusing to eat dinner with the Beast), they lavish her with a full extravagant meal (and one of the most recognizable songs of the last twenty years).

The game-changer in the relationship between Belle and the Beast happens when Belle wanders into the west wing of the castle (the one place the Beast told her not to go), and discovers the enchanted rose. The beast frightens her into running away and she promptly gets chased by wolves. The Beast chases off the wolves, and Belle finally stands up to the Beast about his temper issues. What follows is the gradual softening of the beast, and the realization that there may be "something there that wasn't there before" (to quote a song from the movie). This leads to an interesting parallel between the Beast and Gaston (we'll talk about that later though). The romantic climax of the movie is the ballroom scene (the signature scene of the movie, and one of the best staged scenes in the company's entire animated oeuvre). After the ballroom scene, Belle uses the magic mirror to see her father, and she finds out that he is sick. The beast willingly lets her go, and he sinks into a deep depression knowing that he will remain a beast forever and not have his one true love.

Meanwhile, Gaston has been formulating a plan, simply because he won't take no for an answer. He plans to get Belle's father thrown in the nuthouse for his yammering about the beast, and only offers to clear it up if Belle marries him. When Belle corroberates her father's stories, Gaston denounces her as crazy and when shown the grim image of the Beast, Gaston gathers the townspeople, who seem to hang on his every word, to lay siege to the castle and kill the Beast. The objects successfully fight off the villagers, but the Beast is far too depressed to fight Gaston. However, when he sees that Belle has come back, and she tells him to fight, the Beast gains enough strength to fight Gaston, but does not kill him. However, this gives Gaston an opportunity to stab the beast before falling to his demise.

The Beast is on the brink of death and Belle finally admits her love for him (whereas he had admitted it after she left). The Beast is resurrected by the Power of Love, and he is also turned back into his normal human self. Cue the objects turning into their human selves and Belle and the Prince living happily ever after. I enjoy the love story in this movie, and this is coming from someone who doesn't really like romance-based movies (spare for a few). Some think that this has a bad message, in that a guy may start out an asshole but it's your love that changes him, and if he doesn't change, then you're not working hard enough. I disagree, because the Beast only starts to come around when Belle stands up to him and Belle only starts coming around when the Beast calms his temper and doesn't act like an asshole to her.

The calming of the Beast leads to an interesting parallel between him and Gaston. The Beast starts out angry and violent, whereas Gaston starts out as a jerk. However, as the Beast grows nicer and more loving, Gaston grows more and more crazy, culminating in the fight between him and the Beast where he plummets to his death. This is what I think makes Gaston one of the more interesting Disney villains, the fact that he's not inherently evil, and he doesn't have supernatural powers or legions of minions. He has one minion, a beaten-down little schmoe named LeFou, but he just starts out as a jackass who is used to getting what he wants, and he goes crazy when he can't get it. Therefore, in my opinion, Gaston is one of the best Disney villains.

Moving on to the romantic leads, we have Belle and the Beast (another Disney Prince without a name). Belle is a decent enough character, and one of the better characters Disney had produced in that time. She was intelligent, but looked upon as an outcast because she loved reading and she didn't think her father was crazy. The one thing that really annoys me about her character though is her typical "I Want" Disney Princess motivation. By that, I mean Belle expresses that she wants something, but that want is annoyingly vague and never really accomplished. Her song just says that she wants "more", but the perameters of more are never defined. It's not really a big deal, the vagueness of Belle's desires just kind of bugs me.

Next, we have The Beast, easily the most nuanced character in the movie. We see three shades of him: the angry and violent side that was the result of his grotesque appearance and his priorly 'beastly' personality before that whole incident with the witch, the kinder and softer beast that is the result of Belle standing up to him, and the depressed beast that lies at the bottom of angry beast and becomes more visible when Belle leaves. All three shades are portrayed excellently and the Beast is one of the most well-rounded characters that Disney has ever produced. The last characters that I want to talk about are the Objects, easily the most fun characters. The interplay between Lumiere and Cogsworth is fantastic, and they themselves are excellent and hilarious characters on their own. Never mind that only Lumiere has a French accent, they're all just awesome characters. I have one question about Mrs Potts though. Why would she let anyone drink out of Chip. I mean, he is a teacup, but he's still her kid. But all in all, this film has some of the most memorable characters of all time, and some of my personal favourites as well.

The film also has some of the best songs that Disney has ever written, and some of the most recognizable songs of the last two decades. There's nary anyone who hasn't heard the song "Be Our Guest" and even the titular "Beauty and the Beast" (especially considering that one has been redone so many times by so many different pop artists that it's impossible not to come across in some form). Both of those songs are impeccably staged, and easily the most lavishly staged out of all the songs, but they aren't my favourites of the bunch. My favourite is the opening number, titled "Belle". I like how it is staged, I like the multi-layered approach to the song, I just love everything about it. The mob song is my second favourite of the bunch, also an excellently staged affair. Needless to say, the songs are fantastic and deserve to be listened to and remembered for years to come.

Another thing this movie has going in its favour is the lush animation. This has some of the best scenery in any Disney movie, and it shows in the lush castles, beautiful landscapes, and excellent character design. You can tell that Disney was starting to experiment with CGI with this movie, especially in the ballroom scene (with an obvious CG chandelier) but it's mostly hand-drawn, and the details of the castle are just amazing. I know I have lavished undying praise on this movie without giving it a perfect score, so I figure I should explain myself. There are several holes in the story that don't entirely detract, but are certainly noticeable. First of all, the terms of the curse affecting all living things in the castle must have applied to every flea, rat, and dust mite on the premises due to all the talking housewares. I guess this because no way would a spoiled brat like the Prince let all of those people live in his castle. Secondly, why would a town that abhors reading have a reasonably successful bookstore. Belle's patronage can't be enough, I mean, where would she get the money to pay for the books, she doesn't have a job. Those plot holes really aren't that big, but they are noticeable and detract from the movie a little.

All in all, there is one word to describe Beauty and the Beast, and that word is timeless. This is an absolutely timeless movie, and it should be shown to all future generations. Anybody who has not seen this movie should see it now and anyone who hasn't in a long while should see it again. Minor flaws aside, this is an excellent movie and deserves its place as the cementer of the Disney Renaissance and one of the best Disney films of all time. I didn't remember loving this movie as much as I do, as it had been years since I had last viewed it. Lush visuals, excellent characters (including a complex villain), a compelling romance, and an all-around sweetness that doesn't take away from the film like it could. Other than what I have said, there really isn't much more to say, so I guess we'll end the review on this awkward ending.

P.S. I'm really enjoying this Disney marathon, kind of contradicting to the horror theme that this month has. To keep the balance between old and new age Disney, I have to watch one more film in the renaissance before I can watch any more of the old ones.


Monday, October 10, 2011

My Review of Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Out of the three films featuring Disney Princesses that came out in the Old Age of Disney, I think Sleeping Beauty is the best one, or at least my personal choice out of the three. Compared to Snow White and Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty has a better-developed story, the romance between the prince and the princess is better developed, and the film also has arguably the most terrifying villainess in not just animation, but in all of film. The strength does not lie with the hero or heroine, but it's not as bad as in Snow White and Cinderella. Sleeping Beauty is still not the best work that Disney has to offer, but it is a great piece of animation nonetheless and it is much more timeless than its predecessors.

This is another movie based on a classic Grimm's fairytale, so chances are everyone has heard of the story of Sleeping Beauty in one way or another and we needn't talk about it as if we don't know what it's about. The film starts out with hoards of peasants flocking to the castle to celebrate the long-awaited birth of a princess. The townsfolk come bearing gifts for the Royal Family and there is joy to be had by all. Three fairies (Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather) come to visit the child as well, and bestow upon her three gifts. The gifts of beauty and song are bestowed upon her when the party is interrupted by an evil witch by the name of Maleficent, who is pissed that she didn't get invited to the party, and treats the snub like an act of war.

Instead of bestowing a gift upon the princess, she bestows a curse. The curse states that Aurora will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die on her sixteenth birthday. But the third gift still hasn't been given. Merriweather lightens the curse by having her fall into a deep sleep instead of die when she pricks her finger. As a precaution, the king has all the spinning wheels rounded up and burned. The fairies also have a plan to raise Aurora in the woods as their own without magic so Maleficent cannot track them. They would return Aurora to the kingdom once the sun set on her sixteenth birthday and they could be sure that the curse could not be fulfilled.

The sixteen years pass by and we see that Aurora has blossomed into a lovely young woman living in exile with the fairies under the name Briar Rose. Preparations for Aurora's birthday are underway, and the fairies try to bake her a cake and make her a dress without magic, to comedic failure. To get her out of the house, they send Aurora to pick berries. This is where she meets the fully grown Prince Phillip, the prince whom she is unawaredly betrothed to. Neither knows that they are arranged to be married and they hit it off right away, dancing in the woods together before Aurora runs away when he asks her name. She tells the fairies, and they tell her that she cannot see him (because they do not know that he is Phillip).

Maleficent had retreated into her headquarters in the dark mountain, and her wild boars of evil (at least that's what they look like) had been searching for Aurora for years. However, they had been searching for an infant all that time, not a girl of sixteen as Aurora had become. Frustrated, Maleficent sends out her crow to find Aurora, and the crow is ultimately successful, as Maleficent is waiting for Aurora at the castle when she is brought back to meet her parents. Despite the best efforts of the fairies, Aurora does prick her finger on the spinning wheel and she falls into a deep sleep. This event turns Phillip into a more important character as he is brought in by the fairies to perform the necessary heroics, because the deep sleep can be undone by true love's kiss. The whole of the castle has been put to sleep as well so Aurora's parents won't find out that the curse has been fulfilled, and Phillip falls into the trap of Maleficent.

Once Phillip is kidnapped, Maleficent's plan is revealed, and this is what truly cements her status as a wicked villainess. Maleficent does not plan to kill Phillip, she just plans to keep him until he's old, then let him go and rescue Aurora who has stayed young and pretty over the many years. Turning Phillip into a dirty old man, if that's not evil then I clearly do not know what is. The fairies do free Phillip and he performs the necessary heroics priorly mentioned, including battling Maleficent, who has transformed herself into a vicious fire-breathing dragon in one of the most epic scenes ever put to animation. He does get to the castle and performs the necessary kissing, and he and Aurora live happily ever after.

Aurora's characterization is not nearly as weak as Snow White, but that doesn't mean that she is a fully realized character. She's basically only in the movie to stand there and look pretty without anything to do. But she and Phillip (we'll get to him later) are basically chess pieces for the fairies and Maleficent to move around to their liking. The fathers of Aurora and Phillip serve as comic relief of sorts, and they are effective and amusing in their roles, but that's all that can really be said about them. The fairies are interesting side characters, and they are the more active protagonists. They have more bearing on the plot then the prince or the princess, and it's their idea to hide Aurora from Maleficent in the woods. One of the things I like about the fairies is their interplay with one another, especially Flora and Merriweather bickering about whether the dress should be pink or blue. These are some of the most fun characters Disney has created, and certainly the chessmasters of the whole affair.

Moving on to the hero, Prince Phillip was a boon for Disney Princes. He may look exactly the same as the other two princes before him, but he is progressive in the simple fact that he has a name. The romance between him and Aurora is built up better as well, and them falling in love the moment they meet is partially averted in the fact that they were arranged to be married, so they would end up together whether or not they liked eachother. Phillip is also more active in the story than the other two princes. The one in Snow White shows up at the beginning and the end to perform whatever romantics necessary, and the prince in Cinderella is so uninvolved that he doesn't even go to find the person who fit the shoe. Phillip, on the other hand, is much more of a hero than the heroine, and we genuinely want to see him win. He's also a decent singer, but I only like Bill Shirley's singing voice when it's coming out of Jeremy Brett's mouth (in My Fair Lady).

Now that we're done talking about the good characters, let us get to the villainess, easily the most remembered thing about the movie. Maleficent is a truly excellent villain, and probably the most terrifying villainess of all time. She is a combination of the two most popular types of villains nowadays, being cold and calculating but also packing one hell of a whallop, especially when she transforms into a dragon in the climax. She treats a harmless snub like an act of war, and carries it out just as such. I mentioned her plans with Phillip, and those are truly evil, but brutally murdering an innocent teenaged girl just for being snubbed an invite to a baby shower is also incredibly evil. Her character design is impeccable, with the black/purple/green colour scheme and her long flowing robes. Some may say that she is the best of all the Disney villains. I disagree with that statement, although I will be so bold as to say that she is the greatest villainess ever put to celluloid (no matter animation or live-action).

The artwork is also fantastic. In fact, the artwork in this is some of the best that Disney has ever created in any of their movies, especially their old ones. I loved the surrealistic touches and the animated set pieces in this one, as well as the character design. The consistent dream-like atmosphere works in the film's favour, and the colour scheme is splendid and decadent. The orchestration is also fabulous, but much like Snow White, the songs in Sleeping Beauty are very bland and forgettable. The songs got better in the Renaissance, it seems the music people at Disney were more focused on orchestration than songwriting. The main song "Once Upon A Dream" is forgettable and the rest are so few that they don't leave an impression at all.

All in all, Sleeping Beauty is a classic, and it has aged much better than its princessy predecessors. There are other older Disney movies that are better (like 101 Dalmatians and Peter Pan) but this goes down as a worthy entry into the Disney Animated canon. The film has fine animation, great orchestration, fun side characters, and an unforgettable villainess. I would recommend this movie to anyone who hasn't seen it. I've been watching too many girly movies though, so I need a less feminine Disney movie to continue my marathon. I think I'll go to my favourite hand-drawn animated movie of all time, which you will find out sometime soon. Out of all the Old World Disney movies, Sleeping Beauty is my third favourite, next to Peter Pan and 101 Dalmatians. The whole of the film is on youtube, so I would encourage anyone who hasn't seen it (whether not at all or in a while) to give it another look.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937)

When reviewing a film like Snow White, one can't help but factor in historical significance, because on all counts, this is an important movie. I disagree with the AFI in calling it the best animated movie of all time, because it is certainly not. I don't think one can call it the best because it is the first. They haven't worked the kinks out yet, and while it is a fantastic movie, it is flawed, and I shall point out those flaws in this review. Still, I like this movie much more than I like Cinderella, and it is perhaps the pinnacle of old-world Disney. It doesn't hold the status of timeless classic like other Disney works because it hasn't exactly aged well, but when put in historical context, Snow White has many things in its favour. It has excellent artwork, fun side characters, a memorable villain, and excellent orchestration.

Most everyone has heard this story in some way or another, so we needn't talk about the movie as if we don't know what it is. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is a Disney-fied version of the classic Grimm's fairy tale. The titular character is a beautiful young princess who is envied by her stepmother, the Evil Queen, for her beauty. The Queen is told by her magic mirror that Snow White has usurped her as the fairest in the land and as revenge, the Queen sends her huntsman out into the woods to kill Snow White and bring back her heart in a box that she had custom-made for the occasion. The huntsman cannot do it, so he tells Snow White to run off into the woods and never come back and he fools the Queen with the heart of a pig.

Snow White herself is a kind, caring, but extremely simple girl, and she means no harm by being prettier than the Queen, so her being marked for death because of her beauty alone makes the Queen all the more villainous. She hides in the woods like the huntsman says and with the help of her animal friends, she comes across the house of seven little "children" who appear to have no mother because their house is a mess. Snow White breaks and enters into the house and decides to clean it up. We then see who the house belongs to: seven mining dwarves who all have names that describe their personalities (all except Doc). There's Bashful, Sleepy, Grumpy, Dopey, Sneezy, Happy, and Doc, and they are easily the most entertaining characters in the film.

The Dwarves find Snow White and they allow her to stay because she offers to cook and clean for them, essentially what a mother would do in that time. But meanwhile, the Queen has figured out the huntsman's ruse and she decides that if you want to get the job done, you have to do it yourself. She formulates a potion to turn herself into an old peddler and creates a poisoned apple with which she will kill Snow White. The effects of the poisoned apple can be reversed with true love's kiss, so the Queen plans to bury Snow White deep in the ground so that will never happen. Her plan is put into action when the dwarves go to work, and being the idiot that she is (and someone that clearly was not taught stranger danger), Snow White lets the Queen into the house and is coerced into taking a bite of the poisoned apple and thus, appears dead.

Snow White is kept in a glass coffin that the dwarves fashioned for her, and eventually, her prince does come and they ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after. Perhaps I should explain. There is a prince in this movie (who doesn't have a name, so I will henceforth call him Joe). Joe appears at the beginning of this movie, and he makes his way into the castle to see the fair maiden with the "lovely" singing voice (which I will talk about later). He is in the movie so little that you could basically do the movie without him, and he has no personality, so he is basically indistinguishable from the princes in Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty (although the latter had a bit more personality than the former). He's a decent looker and a decent singer, but that seems to be the only thing that matters. Joe just shows up at the beginning and the end to perform his princely duties, and he leaves so little of an impression that he could be written out of the movie entirely.

There is another flaw in character with this movie, and that is the titular character, Snow White. When put in historical context, her characterization makes perfect sense, as this was how women acted back in the 1930's. However, her characterization is the main reason why this film didn't age well. Snow White is a blithering idiot and if not for the prince swooping in to rescue, her idiocy would have gotten her killed. Any sensible person would call foul if a creepy old lady offered them an abnormally large, abnormally red apple, but Snow White lets her in, possibly because she sees the old woman as helpless. She is also supposed to be lovely and a great singer, but she is really only average-looking and I find her voice (both speaking and singing) shrill and unpleasant.

The dwarves are the most entertaining characters in the movie by far, and they make for some fun slapstick (not unlike the mice in Cinderella). My favourite dwarves are Dopey and Grumpy, but the rest are fun as well. They seem to fold like houses of cards when Snow White enters their lives, and only Grumpy seems to resist, but he cracks eventually. What I don't understand is why Doc is named Doc as opposed to Stuttery, because stuttering is his defining personality trait. They also sing the only memorable song from the movie, and one of my favourite Disney songs ever. But we aren't talking about the songs yet, we're still talking about the characters. The other memorable character this movie produces is the Evil Queen. She may not have a name, but she is one of the most memorable villains that Disney has produced, as well as one of the most vain characters ever put on film. Her simple motivation is to kill a young girl because she's prettier and she will stop at nothing to do it, including making herself temporarily ugly. There are better villains in the canon now, but she is fantastic nonetheless as the first one (the one that started it all if you will).

The other thing that this movie has going for it is its excellent artwork. For the 1930's, and the first animated film ever made, this film features some excellently lavish animation and great colourization. The design of the human and animal characters is excellent as well, and the film on a whole is splendid and lavish. There really isn't too much more to say about that without repeating myself though, so we'll move on. The songs in this movie, apart from Hi Ho!, are very bland and forgettable. There's the bland love song, the bland "I Want" song, and a few other forgettable tunes. But I don't place too much of the blame on the filmmakers, because this was their first movie and they were working out the kinks. Needless to say, the songs got better, as did the animation, but for the first animated movie ever made, they were both decent.

It isn't the strongest work in the Disney animated canon, and it hasn't aged particularly well, but Snow White is an animated classic, and possibly the most historically important (alongside The Little Mermaid which kicked off the Disney Renaissance). The animation is excellent, and despite a weak heroine and bland hero, it has entertaining side characters and a menacing villain. It has flaws, but the film has a sort of inherent likability that is near-impossible to resist. Even naysayers of this movie have to acknowledge that without this movie, there wouldn't be the string of Disney classics that we know today. The AFI was foolish in naming this the greatest animated film of all time, because the first of a new medium like animation has not had the kinks worked out of it yet. There are a ton of better animated movies that came out after this one that deserve the top spot, but Snow White definitely deserves to be on the list, just not at the top. I would recommend that those who haven't seen it do so immediately, as the whole of the film is available on youtube (since it's so old it's practically in the public domain). This review marks my return to Disney, so expect more reviews of their movies soon.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

3:10 To Yuma

3:10 To Yuma (2007)

The western was once a staple of cinema back in the 50's and 60's, what with classics like High Noon and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. It disappeared for the longest time, but it is beginning to show a resurgence, starting with Unforgiven and culminating in the remake of True Grit. But in the middle lies the remake of 3:10 to Yuma, which is an excellent film and one of the best of its year, as well as one of the best remakes of all time (and so I hear, a remake that is better than the original). It has a complex and engaging story accompanied with impeccable acting and abundant atmosphere. This is the kind of western that makes me want to see more westerns, and one that you don't necessarily need to be a fan of the genre to enjoy.

One of two main characters in this movie is Dan Evans (Christian Bale), a poor rancher who has his horses stolen by the gang of the other main character (who will be mentioned later) in the beginning of the movie and is later enlisted to help deliver the criminal to the train station where he would take the titular 3:10 train to Yuma, where he would be hanged. Evans is a one-legged veteran of the Civil War, and he struggles to support his wife (Gretchen Mol) and his two sons (the elder being played by Logan Lerman and the younger being played by an unidentified child actor). His elder son William is an adventurous boy who dreams of being a cowboy and demands to come along with his father, and his younger son has tuberculosis, which is what ties the family to the failing ranch.

The other main character is Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), the criminal being transported to Yuma. Wade is the leader of a gang of criminals, and the gang (lead in Wade's absence by Charlie, played by Ben Foster) spends most of the movie tracking down Wade, leading to a violent confrontation at the train station. The rest of the movie is chronicling the journey of Evans and Wade (as well as the rest of the group taking him to Yuma which includes the likes of Peter Fonda and Kevin Durand). It also shows the interaction between Wade and Evans, which is fascinating in itself. Some emphasis is put on the strained relationship between Evans and his oldest son William, the latter noticing that the former is struggling to support the family. William also sees a sort of glamour in the renegade life of Wade and humanizes him despite Wade's attempts to convince William that he is an inhuman outlaw.

The interaction between Wade and Evans is the core of the movie, because when you look at it, the story is quite basic, and it's the characters that make it good. This is helped by the magnetic chemistry between Christian Bale and Russell Crowe and their excellent individual performances as Evans and Wade respectively. The character of Ben Wade is fantastic alone, and as opposed to being the cliched western bad guy, he is an interesting character. He doesn't really have any sympathetic qualities to him, but the writers don't try and make him sympathetic. After all, the writers of The Dark Knight did not try to make the Joker sympathetic, and he is arguably the greatest movie villain of all time. I'm not comparing Ben Wade to the Joker, but he has definitely earned his spot on the list of best villains of all time, due to the fantastic writing accompanied with the fantastic performance of Russell Crowe.

The other main characters, namely Evans and his son, are both fantastically written as well. They aren't quite as good as Russell Crowe, but Bale and Lerman give fantastic performances. Logan Lerman's performance serves as the linchpin of the movie in my opinion, the cherry on top of the wonderful ice cream sundae that is this movie. He is a credible actor, not just the teenybopper star that Percy Jackson has set him up to be. I am excited to see what projects he does in the future, and depending on the success of Percy Jackson (which to me looks like a second-rate Harry Potter but you never know), he could turn into one of Hollywood's next big thing. The chemistry between him and Bale is great, as they make a believable father-son duo, and the antagonistic chemistry between Bale and Crowe is electric as well. This trio of fantastic performances is easily the best thing of the movie, and I could even go so far as to say that Bale and Crowe deserved Oscar attention that they sadly did not get.

The film also has a fine supporting cast, which is lead by Ben Foster as the film's secondary antagonist. Foster is a fine character actor, and it shows through. I had only seen him as Angel in X-Men 3 prior to this, and he is certainly no angel in this one (sorry, I just had to do that) as he is much more violent than Wade. Wade could be violent, but he was more cold and calculating, whereas Charlie was the hair-trigger tempered second-in-command with undying loyalty to Wade. Evans' wife Alice was played by Gretchen Mol, and she gave a good performance as well, but she was only in the beginning of the movie, before they depart on the movie's mission. The actor who plays Evans' younger son is unknown to me, as he was not listed on the movie's wikipedia page, but he wasn't bad, at least by the lax standards of child actors. Peter Fonda is in this movie as well, and Luke Wilson comes in around the middle. They are both good, and that pretty much wraps up the film's good supporting cast. The film on a whole is peppered with fine performance, but none of them can live up to the excellent performance of Crowe.

There is also praise to be had for this movie's visuals as well. The film has the atmosphere of an old-style western despite being made only four years ago, and that definitely works in the film's favour. I loved the design of this movie, everything from the old barns to the city to the ornate (at least by 19th century standards) hotel room where they hide Wade so his gang won't find him. This film could have gotten praise for its art direction but it sadly didn't. In fact, that's a common theme for this movie. This film only got two Oscar nominations, one for Original Score (which it won and deserved) and Sound Mixing (which it lost to The Bourne Ultimatum). It deserved so much more than that though. Crowe and Bale deserved acting nominations (who would be up for which award is debatable) and the art direction definitely deserved a nomination. Not getting enough attention is what has partially placed this film into underrated territory.

So, I bet you're wondering why I gave the film an 80 and not a perfect score when I have been giving the film endless praise. Well, there are a few small problems I have with this movie. The first problem is its rather odd pacing. Some of it is a bit too fast, so fast that I had to rewind it to see what had happened. The rest of the film moved at fairly normal speed, so these moments stuck out even more and they kind of annoyed me. The beginning was also kind of abrupt. We are rushed into the action of Dan seeing his barn on fire, and we aren't even introduced to the characters yet, so it has little impact. However, these are very tiny flaws, and they do not majorly detract from the awesomeness that is this movie.

All in all, 3:10 to Yuma is an underrated remake, and one of the best westerns I have seen (but that's not saying much because I haven't seen too many westerns, something I would like to fix). It didn't get nearly as much attention as it should have, so it is with that I recommend 3:10 to Yuma to most everyone. Even those who don't really like westerns could find something to like about this movie, especially if you are a fan of Russell Crowe or Christian Bale. I took a chance on this movie, because I didn't know too much about it and I wasn't sure whether or not I'd like it. However, I ended up adoring it, and if you take a chance on it, you might too. I might also end up seeing the original someday, but in the meantime, I need to see a ton more westerns to be a better judge of them. Yuma has pretty much everything. It may not be perfect, but it has great acting, great visuals, and a great story, and it is well worth the watch.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Mystery Men Review

Mystery Men (1999)

File:Mystery Men.jpg

I absolutely adore this movie. I adore this movie almost as much as I adore Zoolander, my other favourite Ben Stiller comedy. I know it's silly, but the concept of a renegade gang of superheroes with no powers is silly. By extension, the concept of Batman is silly. I love Batman, and I love the fact that Burton and Nolan took their Batman movies seriously, but a guy who dresses up like a bad and fights crime is inherently a silly concept. However, we aren't talking about Batman, we're talking about Mystery Men. There are many things I adore about this movie. I love the acting, I love Geoffrey Rush as the villain, I love the fact that it doesn't take itself too seriously until things do get serious at the end, and I love the disco-themed villain sidekicks.


Mystery Men is about a crime-fighting team that starts out as a trio. Roy, Eddie, and Jeff (Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, and Hank Azaria) are a well-meaning crime fighting trio, but they aren't exactly great at their jobs and they are overshadowed frequently by the city's top superhero, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear). Captain Amazing has basically rid the city of crime and it's put him out of a job. He gets the not-so-bright idea of getting a notorious villain by the name of Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) out of the city's insane asylum so he'll have someone to fight then. It's too bad that Casanova Frankenstein is much smarter than him and Amazing ends up tied to a machine that Casanova will use to kill him and wreak havoc upon the city.

The movie isn't about Captain Amazing though, it's about the Mystery Men (although they are never addressed as this at any time during the movie). The trio decides to expand and they recruit four new members. As well as the original three (who have the alter egos Mr Furious, The Shoveler, and The Blue Rajah, who's powers I will get into later), there is the Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell) who can only be invisible when nobody is looking at him, there's The Spleen, who's powers ignite with one pull of the finger, The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo) who has a superpowered bowling ball with the skull of her dead father in it, and the Sphinx (Wes Studi), a walking metaphor-spewer who can cut guns in half with his mind. Mr Furious' power comes from his boundless rage (which mostly fails throughout the movie, causing Roy to have a crisis), the Shoveler has...well...a shovel, and the Blue Rajah is, in his own words, "a limey fork flinger" (although Azaria only speaks in an English accent as the Rajah, he talks in his actual voice when Jeff is talking to his mother). His costume also doesn't have a speck of blue on it.

With Captain Amazing out of the picture, Casanova intends to use one of his machines to wreak havoc upon the city, and it's up to the gang to stop them. The climax takes place in Casanova's mansion during a dinner party with all of his associate gangs. My favourite of all of these is the Disco Boys, Casanova's personal gang, lead by Tony P. (Eddie Izzard in a deliciously hammy performance) and Tony C (who doesn't really talk much). There's also a lady gang (not unlike the Fembots in the first Austin Powers movie), a rapping gang (featuring Cee Lo Green), a frat boy gang (with a covert cameo from Michael Bay), and a gang of businessmen. The gang defeats them in all sorts of hilarious ways and we also see Roy's true furious side come out when Casanova threatens his girlfriend (Claire Forlani, who plays a waitress that he attempts to flirt with throughout). Besides Roy getting a girlfriend, other details of the personal lives of the original trio, like Eddie's wife being worried about his crime-fighting, and the fact that Jeff lives with his mother and has to steal her forks for missions.

Now that we've got the story out of the way, I shall talk about how much I love this premise. Never before has a genre been killed so spectacularly as the spoof, what with the Seltzerberg works such as Date Movie, Epic Movie, or Scary Movie (and its many sequels). However, Mystery Men remains as one of the greatest spoofs ever made. It's not as good as the spoofs I have seen in the Mel Brooks collection, but Mystery Men is a damn fine one, affectionately poking at the superhero genre, and essentially doing what Kick-Ass did twelve years before, only Kick-Ass was considerably more violent and this one is more geared towards comedy than action. They make fun of the fact that the only thing that distinguished Captain Amazing from his secret identity, billionaire Lance Hunt is that Lance Hunt wears glasses (a clever reference to Superman).

The script is very well-written, but instead of yammering on and on about how great it is, I will present you with some of the best lines from it and let you see for yourself:

"What about.....Death Man"
"Death Man is dead"

"I... am the Waffler. With my griddle of justice, I BASH the enemy in the head, or I burn them like so! I also have some truth syrup, which is low in fat." (Dane Cook in a great cameo)

"It must have been hard for you Tony, all these years. All the people saying that disco is dead."
"Disco is NOT dead. Disco is LIFE!!"

(when trying to make Roy angry)
"Your penmanship is atrocious"
"You dress in the manner of a male prostitute"

Sound funny? That's only the tip of the iceberg. This is an incredibly hilarious movie and there are a lot of sight gags to go along with the great lines. The characters are fun, and I like that none of them have traditional powers. Well, technically speaking none of them have any powers, but the powers they give themselves are unique, like having the skull of your dead father in a superpowered bowling ball, or flinging forks. The dialogue would only be decent, however, if it weren't for the performances of its excellent cast. Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, and William H. Macy are the original trio, and they all give affable and fun performances. The rest of the gang is great as well, my favourite out of the new additions being Janeane Garofalo followed by Paul Reubens (the man may be a perv, but he is funny). Greg Kinnear plays Captain Amazing as a total jackass, and that's what he's best as playing, so I guess he did well. My favourite performances out of all of them would have to be Geoffrey Rush as Casanova Frankenstein (hamming it up with the best of them) and Eddie Izzard as Tony (an equally excellent performance). I'd say that the film is watchable for them alone.

The action scenes are very cool, especially the one at the beginning and the awesome climax. Aside from that, there really isn't too much more to say, as I have said everything that I love about this movie. It may not be perfect, but Mystery Men is an extremely funny and extremely entertaining movie and it is definitely worth watching. I give it an extremely high recommendation for fans of superhero movies, silly comedies, and fans of any of the film's formidable actors. In fact, I would recommend it to anyone, especially those who probably wouldn't think much of it upon first glance. It has a great story, great jokes, and great performances from its excellent cast, making Mystery Men one of my favourite comedies of all time, and it's tied with Zoolander for my favourite comedy featuring Ben Stiller. I even find this to be a bit underrated, because most won't think much of this movie and just dismiss it as a stupid comedy, whereas it is so much more than that.

(I have decided to forgo the star system which I used in my other reviews in exchange for something a little different)

My Score:  8.3/10

Saturday, October 1, 2011

District 9 Review

District 9 (2009)

There haven't been many sci-fi classics in the last little while, but that chain was broken in 2009, which was a fine year for sci-fi. We had Avatar (which I still haven't seen), JJ Abrams' Star Trek, and we had District 9, whic is one of the best films of that year and one of the greatest sci-fi films of all tiime. It has an intelligent allegorical story, it has some good performances from both the human and alien characters, it has extraordinary special effects and makeup effects (which I don't really talk about that often in reviews), and it has emotional resonance. It almost feels like a news feature on the aliens, especially in the beginning, which is shot in the "mockumentary" style. Even though that style of filmmaking has been done before (like in Christopher Guest's movies and even some TV shows like Modern Family and The Office), it is given a new twist in this movie.


District 9 takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa, where out of nowhere, an alien ship arrives. It shows no signs of movement, so the military cut their way in and discovered alien life. Over the course of twenty years, the aliens lived segregated from humans in the titular District 9. They live in squalor and filth, and are under persecution from the humans living in Johannesburg, who cruelly nicknamed them "prawns". They are especially persecuted by the MNU, which has a mission to serve the aliens with eviction notices to relocate them away from the humans. The evictions naturally don't go well, and there are many alien casualties.

The leader of this mission is Wikus van de Merwe (played by Sharlto Copley) an MNU employee who is sprayed by a mysterious fluid while searching the shack of one of the aliens. He immediately dismisses this as nothing and continues on with his job, confiscating the tube which the liquid was in. Later on, he starts getting sick, and it is revealed that the thing under his arm sling (he wounded his arm in a fight between the aliens) is no longer a human hand, but a giant alien claw, not unlike the "prawns". It turns out Wikus was infected with alien DNA and he is slowly becoming one of them. Because of this, he is brought to a medical experimentation facility. They test his ability to fire the alien weapons (which can only be used by the aliens because of biological engineering) and he narrowly escapes being vivisected.

After these events, Wikus becomes a fugitive from the MNU and the entirety of Johannesburg, and he hides out in the only place nobody would dare look for him. He hides out in District 9, where he meets the alien that developed the fluid, an alien named Christopher and his son. Christopher says he can help Wikus if they can get the fluid back from the MNU. The entire climax of the movie is focused on fighting the military that was infiltrating District 9 to get Wikus for busting into MNU. The climax is exciting and thrilling, and this is one of the rare movies (like Inception the year after) that is thrilling as well as being intellectually and emotionally satisfying as well. That is everything that goes into a sci-fi classic in my eyes, and District 9 has it.

One of the best elements of the film and what makes it so good is the allegory. It is fairly obvious that this film substitutes racism for species-ism, and it does that extremely well. The humans are incredibly callous towards the aliens, cruelly nicknaming and even killing them for no apparent reason other than they fact that they are different. They keep the aliens in squalor and intend to move them to even more squalor (Wikus says it's like a concentration camp) just because the humans in Johannesburg don't like them being there (even though they are already extremely segregated). This treatment could be connected to the treatment of any number of races, but the segregation especially connects with the ghettoes and eventually, concentration camps in WWII. I know, I can find WWII allegories in nearly anything. It's kind of spooky. I guess when you have a vested interest in something, you can find semblances of it in things that appear to be unrelated.

District 9 has a lot of things going for it and one of those things, although lesser than some of the other elements of the movie, is its decent cast. There's only one actor of relative name in this movie, and even at the time he still wasn't that well known. The actor's name is Sharlto Copley, and he did a fantastic job as the main character, something he could have gotten an Oscar nomination for. The rest of the actors are not big-name ones, but they all do a decent enough job for the characters they are supposed to play. The alien that is most featured is named Christopher, and he could go down as one of the greatest CGI characters (and that is a great honour considering he is not played by Andy Serkis). For someone who doesn't speak any discernable language and for someone who can only be understood through subtitles, he gets across a lot emotionally.

The film is more talk-y than most recent films involving aliens, but that's not to say that the film is not a thrilling one. The second half of the film is very thrilling and the climax is extremely entertaining. The special effects were great but not overblown, not unlike JJ Abrams' Star Trek, and they were seamlessly integrated into the human world of the movie. The design of the aliens is some of my favourite alien design in any movie and the design of the hovering mothership (which the aliens are unable to get to) is splendid. The art direction is wonderful as well, especially the design of District 9 itself. I don't normally talk about makeup effects in my reviews, unless I feel that they are absolutely extraordinary and worth remarking on, and I feel that way for this movie, as the makeup effects showing Wikus' transformation are amazing.

The script was Oscar-nominated and rightfully so, because it is great. District 9 was nominated for a few other Oscars as well, like Visual Effects (which it lost to Avatar), Adapted Screenplay (which it lost to Precious), Editing (which it lost to The Hurt Locker) and Best Picture (also lost to The Hurt Locker). Admittedly I haven't seen a lot of the 2009 Best Picture nominees, but out of the live action ones, this one is my personal favourite. This is pretty much a perfect movie, and there is nothing wrong with it in my eyes. District 9 has the potential to become a new sci-fi classic and I hope it does because it is a truly great film. It has everything going for it. It has great performances, a heart-wrenching story, great special effects, a thrilling climax, and a great allegory. If you haven't seen this movie, then I would strongly encourage you to do so ASAP, as it has transcended into must-see territory, whether or not sci-fi is your thing. Because it's not just sci-fi, it's great drama as well. So see it, and you won't be disappointed.

Blade Runner Review

Blade Runner (1982)

NOTE: There are many versions of Blade Runner, and the one that I acquired and am reviewing is the final cut.

Wow, two 100% movies in one day! I have been meaning to watch this movie for weeks and I never got around to it, and now that I've seen it, I couldn't be more happy that I did. Although this is not a film I think I can completely understand in one viewing alone, I have seen enough to know that I really like this movie. It's a slow burner, and that may not appeal to everyone, but for those patient enough to watch it, they will definitely enjoy it. Critics were torn over this one and it was a box-office failure, but since then it has developed a large cult following and has commonly been placed on lists of the best movies of all time. It is recognized as one of the best of its genre, and I do agree. Like District 9, the other movie I watched today, this is a sci-fi classic, as well as being a film-noir classic.


Blade Runner takes place in the year 2019, where scientific advancements have enabled genetic engineers to create replicants, which are near-lifelike robots with superhuman strength and physical agility. Because of this, the replicants are used for menial labour on the other colonized planets, and after a bloody mutiny, replicants were made illegal to have on Earth and finding one on Earth was punishable by Death. In order to maintain a replicant-free Earth, the government has a special unit of policemen called Blade Runners, who track down the replicants and execute them. Except that this is not called execution, it is called retirement.

This is where our main character comes in. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is an ex-blade runner who is called back to tackle the case of some renegade replicants, who the higher-ups want him to "retire". These replicants are Pris (Daryl Hannah) a basic "pleasure model", Zhora (Joanna Cassidy) a replicant working as an exotic dancer with her own replicant snake, and their leader, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) the main antagonist of the film and one of the best sympathetic villains of all time. You see, replicants are designed to have a four-year lifespan and all that Batty wants for himself and his kind is a longer lifespan. His goal is simple, but impossible in the world that they live in, and he is desperate to achieve the goal even if that means killing Eldon Tyrell, his "father".

The film tracks Batty and the replicants trying to get to Tyrell to get him to add more years to their lives, and it tracks Deckard attempting to retire the replicants. This all culminates in the final confrontation between Deckard and a dying Batty. I won't give away the ending, but it is very beautiful, at least the one in the final cut is. There is also a romantic subplot of sorts that actually fits, unlike a good deal of romantic subplots in movies. It is between Deckard and a mysterious woman named Rachael (Sean Young), who is revealed to be a "special project". She is a replicant of sorts, but with no set lifespan, and she is implanted with the memories of Tyrell's niece and thus believes she is human. However, when she finds out otherwise, she leaves Tyrell, like a rebellous teenager running away from home. She crosses paths with Deckard on a few occasions and he is told to retire her but ends up falling in love with her.

A common discussion amongst the fans of this movie is whether or not Deckard is a replicant himself. I will have to say no. He stopped being a blade runner for a long time because he disagreed with the treatment of the replicants, whom he saw as people. With Rachael, he tries to convince her that there is no difference between a replicant and a human, or at least that he sees no difference. Besides, his eyes do not glow in the dark like Rachael and Batty, and he is fairly capable of showing human emotion, which replicants cannot do (but show possibility of doing). Besides, Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford both said that Deckard was human, so that seals it. Rick Deckard is indeed human and he is not a replicant.

There is an interrogation machine used in the beginning of the film called the Voight-Kampff test, which is used to determine humans from replicants. It asks a series of questions for the subject to empathetically respond if they are human, and thus, it determines the difference between humans and replicants. Deckard says in the movie that it takes around six or seven questions to determine the identity of the subject, but it took over one hundred questions to determine whether or not Rachael was a replicant, because she truly believed she was human with the memories given to her. That's all that can be said about the test though, so we'll move on to the characters.

Blade Runner has produced some of the most memorable characters in any type of movie, and the splendidly written characters are matched by the great actors. The main character is Rick Deckard, and he is an amazing anti-hero and just an amazing character all around. Most of what can be said for the development from the character, I have already said in my paragraph regarding whether or not he is a replicant, so I will try to avoid repeating myself and move on to the other characters. Roy Batty is one of the greatest villains of all time and certainly one of the most sympathetic, as all he wants for himself and his kind is a longer life. This was Rutger Hauer's best movie so I hear, and it's too bad that the best he can do nowadays is Hobo With A Shotgun.

As you all know by now, I am sort of obsessed/in love with Harrison Ford, and I thought he was Oscar-worthy as Rick Deckard. However, I know why he wasn't nominated, because Blade Runner got lukewarm critical reception upon the time of its release. I still think Indiana Jones is Harrison's all time greatest role, but Rick Deckard comes in a close second. Not only is Harrison Ford extremely attractive, he truly is one of the greatest actors of all time and deserves to be revered as such, despite having a less than exemplary record in the 2000's (which isn't at all his fault). The final confrontation between him and Hauer is one of my favourite scenes in any movie, and Hauer proves to be a match for Ford (which truly speaks to his talent).

Rachael is played by Sean Young, and this is probably her best movie too. Anybody can guess that you can't judge Ace Ventura and Blade Runner on the same scale, but this is still her best work and the best work she will ever do (especially considering that she doesn't really have a career anymore). The two female replicants named Pris and Zhora are played by Daryl Hannah and Joanna Cassidy, and they both gave pretty good performances as well, Hannah being better merely because she was in the movie more. The last notable actor in this is Edward James Olmos, who was okay but fairly forgettable, the most forgettable out of all the performances. Needless to say, this film has a fine cast of actors who gave great performances.

The visual aspects of the film are truly magnificent, and this film contains one of the best musical scores of all time. The art direction and visual effects were nominated at the Oscars, and they lost to Gandhi and E.T. respectively. The art direction is absolutely brilliant and it is accompanied with great cinematography and lighting. The copy I bought was digitally remastered and I can tell, as it looked vivid, beautiful, but surprisingly bleak, like the nature of the film. The visual effects, what little are used, are very good and both Oscar-nominated categories deserved their nominations and since I haven't seen Gandhi and I've only seen bits and pieces of E.T., I think they deserved to win.

All in all, Blade Runner is one of the best movies of all time and one of my new personal favourites. It has a complex original story that can't and shouldn't be replicated (if you'll excuse the pun), it has great characters (including one of the most iconic heroes and one of the most iconic villains), it has great visuals, and it's all around a great movie. Unlike a lot of science fiction movies these days, Blade Runner is a quiet, contemplative movie, and it is not focused on explosions. It is a different type of sci-fi than say, Star Wars, but both of those movies deserve to be revered for the masterpieces that they are. If you haven't seen Blade Runner, I would encourage you to do so as soon as possible, as it is a must-see as much as something can be a must-see.