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DVD Review: Zootopia

zootopia

Judy Hopps, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, faces up to life in the big city in Zootopia.

I admit it. I bypassed Zootopia when it first came out in March 2016. It’s common for me to be ‘all Oscared out’ at that time and I’d be too tired to go to the movies. However its buzz leading up to the Oscars led me to want to see it. I’m glad I finally had the chance.

The film has a very entertaining premise with a rabbit trying to succeed as a policewoman in a multi-species city. To make it work, the film had to create the city of Zootopia and make it work with all the animal species there. Disney is already renowned for its talking animals and having such would work here. However to have them in the city of Zootopia and existing together in its various areas took a lot of thought to arrange it properly. On top of that, having someone like Judy Hopps just move in adds to the complexity. As she experiences Zootopia and what it has to offer, we experience it too.

One thing about this movie is that with it coming from Walt Disney Studios, you know it has to have the ‘Disney Vibe’ to it. You know, the look, sound, and feel of a Disney show. All the shows on the Disney Channel are known for having that vibe. It’s evident as all the actresses act like Minnie Mouse. So it becomes expected that a film from Walt Disney Studios looks, sounds and feels like a Disney film. There’s no shortage of the Disney Vibe in Zootopia. Even with it being set in the present times, the Disney feel is very much there.

Top praise should go to directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore for directing an excellent animated film. The two have had past experience doing Disney films and Howard even goes as far back as Disney’s 2D animation days. Both Howard and Moore are two of seven who wrote the story for Zootopia of which, storywriters Jared Bush and Phil Johnston would do the final script. The final result is something entertaining and flawless. The vocal talents were also excellent with Ginnifer Goodwin as Judy Hopps, Jason Bateman as Nick Wilde and Idris Elba as Chief Bogo.

This is another plus for the Walt Disney Studios. For so many decades, they had the reputation of being the top animation studio in the business. However they faced a serious challenge from Disney partner Pixar once they became the game changer by making 3D animation the new norm. WDS knew they had to make the transition to 3D but it wasn’t easy. It was almost like Pixar was the professor and those at WDS were the students for a long time. However it’s become evident that Walt Disney Studios is now able to hold its own in 3D animation as it has delivered stellar hits in the last five years like Wreck-It-Ralph and Frozen. It even looks like it’s beating Pixar at its own game! Zootopia is another accomplishment for WDS as it continues to reclaim its #1 status in animation. Besides anything less than #1 should be taken as an insult by Disney.

Zootopia looks to be the top favorite to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It’s top competition appears to come from Kubo And The Two Strings. Kubo has won most of the awards in that category but Zootopia has claimed most of the major awards like the Critics Choice, the Golden Globe, the Producers Guild and the Annie Award. However Kubo has won the National Board of Review and most recently the BAFTA. The Oscar result should be interesting.

Zootopia is another hit for Disney. It’s sweet and entertaining but smart and well thought-out. It’s easy to see why it’s arguably the top animated movie of the year.

 

 

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Movie Review: Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996)

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Death Valley is one of the unexpected stops for Beavis and Butt-Head as the two Do America.

Remember Beavis and Butt-Head? Yes, the two stupid teens who somehow could make us laugh. As most of you remember, they had a feature-length film from 1996 entitled Beavis and Butt-Head do America. I had the luck to see it on the big screen in theatres.

The story is about Beavis and Butt-Head first losing their television. With nothing else to do, they go around town searching for it. However they find themselves with a drunken criminal, Muddy Grimes, who had just been done wrong by his girlfriend Dallas and wants revenge. He thinks B&B are the two hired to do the job and sends them to Las Vegas to off her.

While in Vegas, the two first make fools of themselves on the dance floor only to be led to their hotel suite: right next door to Dallas. However Dallas is one step ahead of Muddy and is able to get the two to transport a small electronic capsule which unknowing to them actually contains anthrax.

The FBI learn of B&B having the anthrax capsule and are on pursuit of them. Nevertheless they’re led astray as B&B constantly go off-path to various other areas of the U.S. such as the Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone Park and Death Valley. The latter they encounter their long-lost fathers: former Motley Crue roadies.

Things become more bizarre as they meet up with a vengeful Muddy who wants to kill the two only to learn he mistook B&B for his real accomplices. Meanwhile the FBI are after B&B and the capsule and are ready to get them as they near Washington D.C. The ending sets up for what everyone would expect to be the takedown of the two only to have things change by their unwitting and temperamental neighbor. In the end, Beavis and Butt-Head save the day and are rewarded by President Bill Clinton. They return home to find their TV and return to being their stupid selves.

I remember when the project first came out, it was originally thought to be a challenge to have a consistent entertaining feature-length film of Beavis and Butt-Head. Those who remember the TV show from MTV will remember that the show was about the brainless duo going into situations that were both mind-numbing but very entertaining in a stupid kind of way. That and their critiquing of music videos where they came across as your typical teen male bozo horndogs. The series created by Mike Judge and aired on MTV turned out to be just what the young wanted as it charmed crowds from 1993 to its end in 1997.

However the series also freaked parents out and would cause a lot of debate over television ratings and parental friendliness of shows, especially after it made headlines for a lot of young people recreating a lot of destructive incidents of the show: two of which proved to be fatal. Despite the copycat incidents, Mike Judge refused to believe that his show was responsible and would ask where the parents were. The controversy surrounding the show however would be reason why there’s that scene at the end of Bill Clinton rewarding B&B for their ‘service to the country’ and saying: “You exemplify a fine new crop of young Americans who will grow into the leaders of this great country.” Talk about the right shock stuff at the right time. Mind you that’s what 90’s entertainment was all about: entertainment that rattled cages, wreaked havoc, got people’s blood boiling…but came out winners because of it.

Once B&B became a phenomenon in 1993, it paved the way for the chance for a feature-length film. Mind you it would not be easy. It had to be a consistent script that would fit the big-screen right. That would mean an actual story instead of the typical ‘incidents’ as in the series. Plus the flavor of the two characters could not be lost. The two disgustingly charming underachievers had to start that way at the film and stay that way at the end despite whatever happens throughout.

You could imagine Mike Judge and his writing team would have to make a lot of choices and some were noticeable: include Anderson, have a big of Van Driessen, have a surprise for McVicker and everyone, leave out Buzz-Cut, Daria and Stewart, include their long-lost dads, keep out music video critiquing. Yes, it was a challenge. Plus there was having actors for the right fit for the roles like Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, big names at the time, rising star Greg Kinnear, loyal fan David Letterman who gave the two an appearance on his show, and character-actors Robert Stack and Cloris Leachman. In the end, it turned out to be a winning result and it not only charmed fans but received appreciation from critics as well. Watching it in the theatres again this summer got me laughing once again.

However this leads to the big question. Does Beavis and Butt-Head Do America stand the test of time all these years later? I don’t think it does. Firstly today’s young people may not get why B&B was just just what we needed back in the 90’s. Those of us from the 80’s and 90’s remember headbangers at school and teenagers who were idiotic, clueless and even violence-obsessed. Beavis and Butt-Head were the epitome of those teenage male stupids who impulsively loved violence and used their penis instead of their head. Teenagers change over the decades and over the various waves of pop culture and I don’t think today’s teens would get B&B. In fact the show was brought back to MTV a few years ago but it didn’t even last a full season.

Secondly, I feel the biggest reason why B&B don’t stand the test of time too much is because of the shock value and envelope-pushing they did in their time. Look at entertainment nowadays. We have a lot more now than what was around 20 years ago. We have the internet which allows for free speech that’s as unlimited as it gets. We have YouTube where one can post all sorts of videos of all sorts of things. We also have channels strictly devoted to cartoons that pave the way for more adult-oriented cartoon shows than before.

Beavis and Butt-Head came during a time when there were no cartoon channels. Most adult-oriented cartoons would have to soften themselves up if they wanted to be shown on the networks. MTV was the network that dared to show a cartoon as irreverent as Beavis and Butt-Head. B&B hit the airwaves just three years after The Simpsons were rattling cages with Homer’s stupidity and Bart’s sass-mouth and just a year after Ren and Stimpy took cartoon weirdness to new levels. B&B and MTV were the right fit, especially with their music video critiques. They ruled cartoon irreverence during their entirety. However their irreverence would actually pale in comparison to the irreverence of today. In fact it wouldn’t even take a year after the films release for South Park and it’s first season consisting of Stan’s Gay Dog, Cartman dressing up as Hitler and Mr. Hankey The Christmas Poo to outdo all the irreverence and envelope-pushing Beavis and Butt-Head did in their entirety. That’s the fates of entertainment and why Beavis and Butt-Head would now be seen as something to yawn at. Heck, even the whole channel of MTV is struggling right now but that’s another subject.

Beavis and Butt-Head Do America may now lack the the shock value, the envelope-pushing and the irreverent punch it had in its time. Nevertheless it can still entertain loyal fans of the show that still love it after all these years.

Movie Review: Still Alice

Julianne Moore plays Alice Howland, a 50 year-old woman fighting early Alzheimer's in Still Alice.

Julianne Moore plays Alice Howland, a 50 year-old woman coping with Alzheimer’s in Still Alice.

“I wish I had cancer. At least then people wear pink ribbons for you, and they go on long walks.”

It’s always a question whether it’s possible to have a film about Alzheimer’s Disease that’s watchable. The latest film making that attempt is Still Alice. I believe it does so.

Alice Howland is a 50 year-old woman who appears to have it made: a college professor who just published a book on linguistics, an active person recreationally, a wife to a loving and supportive husband and a mother to three adult children. One of which is married and about to be a mother to twins. However something goes noticeably wrong during a lecture about her book. She has a mental lapse she mistakes for an effect of alcohol. Soon there are more mental lapses, especially while jogging around campus and while giving lectures. Even reintroducing herself to Tom’s girlfriend causes people to wonder. Alice seeks a doctor’s attention immediately. She’s given the news: Alzheimer’s. She’s victim to a gene that brings on Alzheimer’s at an early age.

The family is devastated to hear the news. The children even have to get tested to see if they carry the gene. Anna bares the gene but her yet-to-be-born twins are immune. Nevertheless the family tries to go about the best they can while trying to be a help to Alice. However the changes are as hard for them as it is for Alice herself. Firstly Alice will have to give up her professor job. Going to an Alzheimer’s ward in a nursing and witnessing the patients leaves her upset about her future to the point she plans her own suicide using a marked bottle full of pills and a video file on her computer named ‘Butterfly’ of herself instructing her to take all the pills in the bottle. Family friction happens over time as her husband John notices changes in her thinking and Lydia overreacts after she learns Alice went through her theatre notes.

However things get better over time. John learns how to work with her fading abilities and become patient with her even in the case of her cellphone she misplaced a month earlier. Anna gives birth to the twins and she’s able to hold one of them. Her relationship with Lydia grows as Lydia shares her plays with her and gets Alice to see her perform in Angels In America where Alice feels the play. Even Alice is able to give a lecture to the local Alzheimer’s association where she delivers a speech she wrote herself and uses a highlighter to mark the notes she read as John and her son Tom watch. The speech is near perfect.

Over time she continues to acquire inner strength just as the disease is continuing to impair her brain even further to the point she needs a caretaker while John is gone. However it’s by chance that while her caretaker is away, she comes across the ‘Butterfly’ video on her laptop. She obeys the video and even takes the laptop with her as she searches for the bottle. However the suicide attempt fails as the pills still all over the bathroom floor. The film ends with her still alive but will get you questioning if it ended right.

The film is more than just about Alzheimer’s. It’s about having it at a very young age and trying to be able to deal with it and its debilitating effects. You can’t blame Alice for being distraught on hearing the news, especially when she has so much going for her. Just a bit of trivia here: even though 50 seems awfully young to have Alzheimer’s, we should remember the first subject Dr. Alois Alzheimer studied in the disease that bears his name was a 51 year-old German woman. It almost seems understandable to some that Alice sets her own suicide up to happen when the time appears right. However it’s about acquiring inner strength over time. Yes, Alice’s years are numbered and the disease is taking a toll on her mind and her body but she becomes a stronger person over time. It makes like the suicide attempt look like the wrong thing to do after what she’s fought out.

The movie is also about family relations during Alzheimer’s. For those who have a loved one with this disease, you would know how much it affects the whole family and even hurts deeply. It’s even harder to bear when the gene that causes early Alzheimer’s is present in other family members, just like how it’s also present in Alice’s oldest daughter Anna. The frustrations are there in the Howlands as Lydia doesn’t know what to make when she learns Alice went through her script notes. Even John feels the frustration as being the husband. Nevertheless the family unit becomes stronger over time and they continue to function the best ways that they can. Lydia’s connection with Alice through her theatre work helps Alice still keep in touch with the world even as the disease continues to take its toll. Anna even tries to let the fact she bares the gene not bother her and continue to live her life as a wife and mother of newborn twins. That scene where Alice is holding her grandchild is one of the more poignant moments of the film.

Without a question, the film belongs to Julianne Moore. Her ability to give an Alzheimer’s victim a personality and a will of her own while fighting the destructive nature of the disease has to be the actress performance of the year without an equal. She did a top notch job and deserves the Oscar. None of the supporting performances can pare up to the caliber of Julianne’s performance but Kristen Stewart’s performance of the actress daughter with extreme emotions who connects with her mother through the art of theatre has to be the best of the supporting performances and has more range than even the character of John, despite how good of a job Alec Baldwin does. Kate Bosworth was good as the daughter with the same gene trying to live her life normally but it could have been developed more. Hunter Parrish’s role as Tom the son was the most underdeveloped role in the film but he does a very good job with what little he has. Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland do a good job of directing and writing despite making this film appear to be a film of a single acting role dominating for the most part. I’ll admit I haven’t read the novel by Lisa Genova so I can’t say if they adapted it right or not.

SPOILER ALERT: They say the ending is one of the trickiest things to do in a film. I will have to say the scene of the suicide attempt ended rather flat and led into scenes that will leave one wondering if the film makes it look like a good thing the attempt failed or a bad thing. That scene where Alice is with John having ice cream dwelling on how she used to be very smart will have you wondering as will the end scene where she’s with Lydia and she can hardly talk. It also makes you wonder if it ended right. But I think that may have been the point. I think Richard and Wash ended the film that way so we can make our own judgment whether Alice continuing to live is the right thing or the wrong thing.

Still Alice makes for a very watchable movie about Alzheimer’s even if it does appear at times to be dominated by Julianne Moore’s acting. Nevertheless her role is one that leads to a performance meant to shine and she does just that.

Oscars 2014 Best Picture Review: The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch plays mathematician/inventor Alan Turing through many angles in The Imitation Game.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays mathematician/inventor Alan Turing through many angles in The Imitation Game.

“Am I a machine? Am I a war hero? Am I a criminal?”

The Imitation Game is a film that presents us a story of legendary scientist Alan Turing. It shows who he is and his life but also sheds light on many things we didn’t know.

The film opens in 1951 with Alan being investigated by detectives Nock and Staehl. This takes the film back to moments of the past starting in 1939. World War II has started and Turing applies to become part of the cryptography team at Bletchley Park. His ability to decode things and his knowledge that the Nazis use a code called Enigma impressed Commander Alasdair Dennison so much, he brings him on with the team of Hugh Alexander, John Cairncross, Peter Hilton, Keith Furman and Charles Richards.

Turing is difficult to work with as he distances himself from his colleagues. He has an idea for a machine to decipher Enigma but Commander Dennison doesn’t approve. Turing writes to Winston Churchill asking for assistance. Churchill is so impressed with Turing’s idea, he declares him the leader upon which he fires Furman and Richards. He uses a crossword puzzle to find his replacement. Upon which he hires a woman, Cambridge graduate Joan Clarke. Joan however has to deal with her overbearing parents as they don’t want her to work with men and marry immediately. However Turing is convinced enough she’s the right person for the job to the point he provides her a room to stay and work with female clerks while he shares his plans with her.

Difficulties continue as the code of Enigma needs to be reached. First the Germans change the code daily so that the enemies don’t succeed in breaking it. Secondly, Dennison is infuriated with the machine which Turing names Christopher and wants it destroyed and Turing fired. It’s only after the team threaten to leave if Turing is fired that he’s able to continue. Joan is pressured by her parents to either marry or leave her job, to which Turing proposes to her. On top of it, Turing’s team know of his homosexuality but promise to keep it secret.

Even after results happen and Christopher is able to successfully decipher Enigma, the solutions don’t start there. They can’t make it obvious to the Germans that they know Enigma so they have to carefully plan their strategies of attack even if it means considerable time later. Turing learns Cairncross is a spy for the Soviets but is told to keep it a secret or else Cairncross will expose his homosexuality. The place becomes too dangerous for Joan to stay and Turing tells her to leave, outing himself to her and even saying he was only interested in her as a co-worker. Joan leaves angrily. World War II was won and the cryptographers plans are burned.

The film progresses to the 1950’s when Turing was arrested first pursued for hiding confidential information only for them to uncover his homosexuality. His homosexuality was as much of a challenge as his eccentric way of thinking even as far back as his school days when he would be bullied. Fortunately a boy named Christopher befriended him and encouraged him with his coding and shared feelings with him. Unfortunately Christopher died before Alan had a chance to tell him he loved him. At the end, he’s shown with his final struggle with his homosexuality just before his eventual suicide as he’s sentenced to chemical castration: a sentence he chose over two years prison time. In his home where he secludes himself with his own concocted version of the machine Christopher, it’s Joan who comes to him in the end offering moral support and reminding him how significant he was because he was ‘not normal.’

Some would first come to the movie thinking it’s about him and his lifestyle. Some would first think this is autobiographical. It’s more. It presents the story of Alan and his eccentrically intelligent and creative thinking. It presents Alan’s side of the story from beginning to end focusing on the three biggest events in his life: in 1928 as a teenager when he’s first given support of his eccentric imaginative thinking and first learns of his homosexuality; during World War II and the story of the moment and invention that defined him; and in 1951 with Scotland Yard’s trying to link him of a crime only to discover his secret that would lead to his tragic fate. The focus of the story is especially clear at the beginning when Alan asks us: “Are you paying attention?” The film also presents why it was so important for this machine to crack Enigma had to be created as Alan would remind us it wasn’t simply against the War but against time. Especially for the UK which was suffering terribly. It also presents their strategy for helping to win the war as soon as they could.

It’s also very much about Alan the person as it is about Alan and the team working to crack the code. It presents Alan’s intelligence as creative in which he can decipher things through his work on crossword puzzles. It presents Alan as one who also has a very unlikable side including a ruthlessness his coworkers found hard to deal with though they stick with him because they feel he’s the only one who can succeed at cracking the code. They can’t stand him but they believe in him. It especially presents Alan’s homosexuality as for why he was about to go on trial. As he is about to be tried, he looks back on his life for when he was part of the mission to his schoolboy days and his encouragement from Christopher: the one person who truly understood him. It ends with Joan, the one colleague who knew him best and deserves to desert him after what he said to her but comes in the end to remind him of his significance to this world.

It’s obvious that Alan was able to solve Enigma in time but appeared unable to solve himself and even doubt his self-worth just after his sentencing of ‘chemical castration.’ A common thing as we see all too often in history how some of history’s biggest heroes would eventually become rejected by the people and even die lonely. Nevertheless we’re reminded that he still had people willing to stand by him even as he felt worthless. Especially Joan as she reminds him after he becomes a recluse after his defamation: “Do you know, this morning I was on a train that went through a city that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for you. I bought a ticket from a man who would likely be dead if it wasn’t for you. I read up, on my work, a whole field of scientific inquiry that only exists because of you.”

The movie tries to show more of what Alan Turing did as an effort to combat the war rather than focus on his lifestyle. Actually the movie does show about the struggle with his homosexuality throughout his life. His first difficulty came in high school as he fell in love with his friend Christopher and had to pass notes in his special code to him. We should remember that Alan was not beaten up in high school because he was gay but because of his intellectual eccentricities where it first showed its presence. He had continued difficulty during his work as even though his colleagues were supportive of him, they did remind him he could lose his job and be imprisoned because of it. Joan appeared to be the one who dealt with it best as she was not afraid to be in a sham marriage with him especially since it would help get her parents off her case. Then we see at the end as Alan has to deal with his ‘chemical castration’ which would eventually lead to his suicide at 41. We should remember those were the times. It’s because of the criminalization of homosexuality in the past that we had the pride movements that spawned out of the 70’s and are what they are today.

Benedict Cumberbatch did an excellent job in his portrayal of Turing. His performance was full of dimension for a person who was hard to like and had quite an imagination but quite smart and even troubled in the end. It’s a role where he not only acts off of his actors but us the audience too filling us in on all the details and making us think too. You can tell when Alan as narrator tells us to pay attention. Of the supporting players, it’s Keira Knightly as Joan who shines the best as the one who not only helps decipher Enigma but is the one person who can decipher Alan as a person in the end. The actors making up the cryptography team–Matthew Beard, Matthew Goode and Allen Leech– did great both as a team unit and in their own individual moments. Other standout supporting performances came from Rory Kinnear as detective Nick and young Alex Lawther who did a remarkable job playing the young Alan Turing.

Also deserving of acclaim is director Morten Tyldum. Very experienced in his home-country of Norway, this is actually his first direction of a English language feature and it’s an excellent first-effort. Also excellent is the script from Graham Moore. He did an excellent job in creating the story off of Andrew Hodges’ biography setting the three periods of Alan’s life that defined him most and piecing it all together. It succeeds in keeping us interested. Technical aspects were also excellent such as the set design, costuming, cinematography and the composed score by Alexandre Desplat.

The Imitation Game is a unique story about a scientist who went from a hero to a criminal of his time. It tells the story through his eyes and leaves us both interested and getting us to think as well. That’s the movie’s best quality.