For anyone new, my movie reviews are purposely different than most others you’ll read. Rather than bore you with plot details you can find anywhere or attempt to impress you with pompous pedantry, I prefer to boil films down to bullet points describing what I think are the major Pros and Cons, WITHOUT spoilers. Nothing I hate more than some tool reviewer or insecure “critic” telling me everything I want to find out on my own about a film. (These days, most previews do that anyway.) I don’t want to waste your time or mine, so I give you my most memorable and quick impressions–mostly from an artist/writer/storyteller’s point of view–and then let YOU decide from there. If you want to learn more about the plot, cast or crew, you can find all you need and more in under five seconds with any Web search.
My final ratings are basically Own It (so good you’ll want to see it now and again later, plus learn more from typical “extras” included in the DVD), See It (in the theater), Rent It (worth a cheap Netflix or OnDemand viewing when it shows up), Catch It (save your time and money, but if it’s on free TV or download, you’ll be entertained or have your curiosity settled–especially if you can fast forward to the good stuff) and Skip It (you’d have more fun staring at a wall for two hours).
That settled, here are two films released this holiday weekend:
First, LIFE OF PI, which I saw opening day:
–Ang Lee proves that the storytelling debacle that was THE INCREDIBLE HULK was a fluke. Several A-list directors apparently turned this Yann Martel book-to-film adaptation (screenplay by David Magee) down because it was “impossible.” As tends to be the case, that word proved to be its own antonym. Beautifully directed.
–Wonderful performances by the main cast, especially Irrfan Khan as the adult Pi and Surai Sharma as the young version. They both had typical Indian accents, but not too thick to interfere with the dialog for American audiences.
–Great story. The previews are deceiving (as usual) because they make it look like little more than “visual spectacle” but it actually has a very deep story. Though I haven’t read the book, this was brilliant and well told.
–Nice thought-provoking and discussion-generating content about the nature of religion. The boy believes in many religions but his father believes in science; each is shown to be “right” in their own ways. There is humor toward all and judgment toward none.
–If you can’t tell from the previews, the effects work is PHENOMENAL. Makes Pixar and AVATAR look almost average. Why? Because it’s easier to create an unreal world and give it the effects of nature than to create something we all know from nature, interact with genuinely natural forms and make us believe it! I’m speaking of the tiger (smartly and humorously named Richard Parker). Most scenes with it (and other animals on the boy’s boat) are CG and there’s very few that are obvious. (The tiger works better than some of the others.) Although the effects house put at least one tiger and his trainer out of work, they did an Oscar-worthy job.
–The visual spectacle scenes are worthy of the term, especially in 3D. (The film was shot in state-of-the-art 3D, which according to James Cameron was better than even what he had with AVATAR.) I recommend the extra dough if you can swing it.
–Emotions well explored (tear-jerker with some laugh-out-loud moments and an uplifting ending). My wife cried and I even I was verklempt for a bit, but in a good way.
–Parables, lessons and analogies that even I could understand–and appreciate. Plenty of courage and fear, despair and hope; ultimately, life-affirming. Who couldn’t use some of that, especially these days?
–I had no idea there was a French part of India, 30,000 Hindu gods, Christian Hindus or that one could communicate through dance. Educational to boot!
–A few “wait a minute” plot holes/technical gaffes, but very minor.
–There’s quite a bit of setup before we get to the ocean scenes, none of which are even alluded to in the previews. Be prepared for a good deal of backstory (some of which was a bit slow)–probably the first third.
— The grueling ocean journey has two parts: the first takes up more than 60 percent of the film but the second part takes—one sentence. Literally. I’m guessing some stuff was skipped over.
From L to R: Adil Hussain, Suraj Sharma, Tabu, Ang Lee and Irrfan Khan
OVERALL RATING: See It! This one really must be seen on the big screen to appreciate. You may also want to Own It depending on your reaction and what the DVD extras will be (I can only imagine how spectacular it will look on Blu-Ray).
Next up, RISE OF THE GUARDIANS:
—Voice talents (including Alec Baldwin as Santa, Chris “Captain Kirk” Pine as Jack Frost, and Hugh Jackman as the Easter Bunny) did a bang-up job, as you don’t get hung up on the actors; they mesh well with the characters (unlike some animated features with “major” talent, where all you can do is imagine the actor mouthing the lines rather than focusing on the character).
— Director Peter Ramsey did a bang-up job on the William Joyce adaptation, while avoiding direct tie-ins with his books. (Read about its development here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rise_of_the_Guardians#cite_note-27) Ramsey, a former live-action storyboard artist, is the first black director on a big-budget animated feature, but thankfully it has nothing to do with the film or his job on it. He gave it his best and it’s great fun for all races. (Sadly, it hasn’t stopped some media morons from comparing him to President Obama, who’s an African-American mulatto. Ramsey is black.)
—William Joyce, the author/artist of the original books, got the idea from his daughter who once asked him if Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny knew each other. Sadly, she died of a brain tumor at age 18 before the film was released, but it’s rightfully dedicated to her. I think she’d be proud.
—Great message(s) for kids as well as the kid inside all of us. This is one of those “barometer” films where you can guage how much of your or others’ inner child is still alive by their reaction to it. Cynics will hate it, optimists will dig it.
—Wonderful, quirky interpretations of the bunny, Tooth Fairy, Sandman and Santa (who has “naughty” and “nice” tatooed on opposite forearms). Santa has a Russian accent and works out!
—If you can see it with a kid you like, you’ll probably enjoy it more. (You won’t escape kids in the theater for this kind of film.) Thankfully, we moved from the obnoxious chatty brats next to us and there was an adorable child behind us who laughed at the right moments and had some perfectly placed comments. There’s a part where one of the Guardians is trying to convince someone that he and his friends are real, and the little one behind us whispered, “They ARE real!” Master-Card priceless.
—Lots and lots of action to keep little ones (and visual big ones) entertained. Pretty involved story too.
—Humor for kids as well as a few laughs for adults. Claus has the best dialog overall and the silent Sandman the best visual gags.
—New uses for Yeti! The elves are often funny. The tiny tooth fairies are adorable. Sandman steals his scenes, though. (If only Neil Gaiman’s was this cool, I would have read the DC comics version.)
—Jude Law relishes his role as The Boogeyman and it comes through.
—During the end credits there’s a nice bit of follow-up animation. (Nothing at the very end, though.)
—Great set designs for Santa’s and the Tooth Fairy’s HQs. And watch forthe visual nods to “Easter Island”.
—Nice to see a “reimanging” of classic “good” characters that doesn’t turn to cynical negativity, “youth culture” stereotypes or inuendo to be “cool,” OR use bodily function humor to be funny. Refreshing.
—Pleasing and vibrant-when-appropriate colors throughout; though there are a couple clunky scenes, the animation is well done overall, especially on Santa. (Little stuff like picking up a book and turning the pages is wonderfully acted.)
—Kudos for a Michigan mention! (I believe the main kids in the film are from Ohio.)
The way-cuter-than-Neil-Gaiman’s Sandman steals most of his scenes…I want the action figure!
One of a gazillion tooth fairies who work like elves for The Tooth Fairy (how else can she get to all those kids each day?)
NOTE: I didn’t see it in 3D so I can’t comment on its quality. However, most animated films look better than live-action conversions. And from what I could see, there are plenty of scenes that could take advantage of the process. If you normally see the 3D version, you won’t be disappointed.
—Some of the action is much too quick; there’s precious little time to linger and enjoy the artistry of many scenes! (If you see this out of the theater, you’ll want to hit the pause button several times.)
—One character is defeated and triumphantly returns, but we’re not told HOW the return happened. Deleted scene?
—Some may think parts are preachy or syrupy sweet, but that’s purely a matter of individual taste. It’s mainly for kids, so keep that in mind.
—Santa mentions his belly several times, but doesn’t HAVE one! He’s wide but with a flat tummy. Huh?
—Nothing special about the reindeer; they’re not shown much at all.
—I personally didn’t care for the face of the Boogeyman (why no eyebrows?); could have been scarier/more menacing.
—Eggs with legs?! WTF?
—Everyone calls Santa “North”. I know it’s short for “North Pole”, but a lame nickname. Why not “Nick” or something closer to the character?
—NO Mrs. Claus or even a mention of her. (I forgot to check if Santa was wearing a wedding ring; I think—I HOPE—he did.)
—The human Guardians are all white caucasians, as are all the kids except two. With a black director? Could have been more diverse.
–With two Christian holidays, there’s no mention of J.C. A good thing for most audiences but I know some might be offended at the omission.
—The elves don’t make the toys?! They’re act a lot like the (empty-skulled) Minions in DESPICABLE ME, except they’re silent and not as personable. They also have Gene Simmons-like tongues, which was a bit disturbing.
—Most of the film actually takes place at Easter Time. Doesn’t make much sense releasing it now, unless they plan on shipping the DVD in April (a long way off).
OVERALL RATING: Definitely a Rent It, and a See It if you have little ones and want to have some family fun.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy your last week of November!
By the way, 11/23 was the 49th birthday of Doctor Who (despite the character looking half that age)! I’ll devote a later blog to that.
P.S.: Want your own life-affirming, humorous or adventurous ORIGINAL ART commission? I’ll tackle whatever’s on your mind. ALL commissions for the rest of the year get FREE continental US shipping from me. Ask Craig HERE.