Casablanca (1942)

Film: Casablanca
Release: 1942, Theatrical
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: In the early 1940's, hundreds of Europeans fled to North Africa to catch the plane to Lisbon, where they could fly to America and escape the horrors of the second world war. The last stop on the route to Lisbon is unoccupied French Morocco. Our story takes place in Casablanca, where a man's café plays host to neutral ground.

Hans' thoughts:

One of the most quoted movies of all time, the story of Casablanca is one of love, loss, and self-sacrifice for the greater good. We meet our reluctant hero in the city of Casablanca, in this time a place where money talks - and not much else. As large as the scope of the movie is, illustrating major points about the second world war, most of it takes place in a café not much bigger than a tv-set of today. Most of the score of the film is therefore diegetic, being played beautifully by an onscreen band and pianist. Historically, the movie presents the viewpoints of people who lived with hearing news about the war every day, and curiously in that regard, Casablanca was invaded around the time the movie was made and released.

Part of the appeal of Casablanca is the cozy center of Rick's Café, the main turning point of the movie. Outside in the rest of the world, everything is hell breaking loose but the café is like the little place where the people of it's day could find safe haven, regardless of politics. Our reluctant hero Rick, played by Humphrey Bogart, is the owner of the café. He has certain principles and he tries his best to be neutral in every regard - even women. As far as the hero's journey goes, Rick certainly seems to go through a couple of the steps. When he is given the opportunity to fix his crisis, it is with much reluctance and by the point of no return he has completely pulled up his roots from everything he once knew. It's not all dark though, as much as Rick is a struggling character he also has a certain charm about him, this is because of the writing style of the Epstein bros., who gave the movie a slight comedic angle making Rick and his peers masters of sarcasm.

The female lead of the story, played by the lovely Ingrid Bergman, is a woman who has had the naiveté of her youth stolen from her much too soon, and the complete mess that is the relationship between her and Rick is one of the major driving forces behind the tale. She's confused about every decision she takes, but loyalty is a major quality of hers to say the least. As for the way the movie is shot, it plays it safe. This was originally made as dime-a-dozen romance movie so it wasn't an ambitious project by anyone involved. However, somehow they have managed to make the back-drop shot method still work compared to modern movies. In case you're not aware, the back-drop method is the way of having actors in front of a projected video working as a backdrop. It's a simplistic method but it gets the job done and the lack of color certainly helps in terms of not making the change in quality too jarring.

Casablanca is a timeless tale, as much as it is based around the ongoing war few can not admit to relating to the drama in a good old fashioned triangle-romance. What makes it interesting is that it might as well have ended much differently, which would have made the story trivial and without much substance, however a mix between the nature of the age it was made, combined with changing the writers 4 times have made the movie more of a "best of all worlds" mixed bag. The movie has goofy recognizable characters, a simple plot, but at the same time it also allows itself to try and fully explore all the elements of the story. From the battle between two music numbers in the bar, to the ambitious flashback to the lovers' time in paris to the off-the-wall endning about sacrificing your own happiness for something much greater then yourself - this story tells a tale of a man who lost his way and found it again. Humphrey Bogart played the man Rick in such a way that he is today the prototype for the reluctant but good at it's core hero. Much like Han Solo or Indiana Jones would be in the 70's and 80's or Eddie Valiant would be in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.

While the movie was not shot very ambitiously, the same can not be said for the lighting. Throughout the movie, Director Mark Curtiz has chosen to play a lot on Shadows, making the movie a study in Negative space, much like the Noir genre and the Sin City comic books would be inspired by later. Indeed, one could make the argument that the lighting of Casablanca, combined with Rick's charm would be a prototype of modern iterations of superheroes. 


Citizen Kane (1941)

Film: Citizen Kane
Release: 1941, Theatrical
Starring: Orson Welles, Dorothy Comingore, Joseph Cotten
Directed by: Orson Welles
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: An aging billionaires last word becomes the axis of an investigation into his life.

Hans' thoughts:

Citizen Kane, a movie heralded by many as the greatest achievement in cinema. Even today, people are talking about the movie as the best - giving films like The Room the subtitle "The Citizen Kane of Bad Movies". The film is a cautionary tale, Kane himself a man that has made himself into one of the wealthiest men in the world, living in a mansion called "The greatest monument to a single man since the pyramids". Curiously named Xanadu, a palace built from self-indulgence that would since be nothing but rubble. The name is most likely picked deliberately, as it mirrors the tale of Kane himself. The movie is certainly something else from most other films - loaded with symbolism to a degree that most would have to take repeated viewings to pick up on. The shots are also beautifully framed, using the banality of a doorframe to great effect several times in the film. 

All that set aside, I must admit that the film hasn't aged all that well. Character writing has come a long way in the years since then and I don't feel that most of them were all that redeeming. Perhaps this is because of the person I happen to be, growing up in a socialist family I probably don't appreciate the kind of mentality required for making this movie work. To me, this movie is about Rich people talking about other rich people and how they did some bad rich people stuff in their rich people lives. But honestly, there must be some core thing I'm not seeing here. The movie seems to attempt to convey the notion that some people would just be better off without certain advantages. For audiences, the big guessing game is what made Kane himself turn into a worse person. Whether it was his upbringing, his ambitions or those around him that turned him into what he is, is anyone's guess.

Interestingly, the movie is shown through the eyes of a young reporter. Walking from person to person asking about the life of Citizen Kane. This almost makes the movie into a casefile from a psychology class. While it may not have been the original intent I assure you that a man with such knowledge could find at least a couple of theories that fits with the life of Kane. Whether it's the historical references, the symbolic imagery or just plainly the well-written drama - Citizen Kane deserves recognition as one of the great movies, if not for all time then at least of the era. Made in a period just after the Great Depression and released in the second year of the second world war the movie gives us a time capsule of the zeitgeist of the years in which it was made and later released.

Acting wise the movie is great, Orson Welles himself playing Citizen Kane is the highlight of the movie. Managing to show the anger and overzealousness that the man contains. He blames his silver spoon for his personal shortcomings "You know, Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn't been very rich, I might have been a really great man."  Other actors do a good job as well, in particular that of Everett Sloane playing Mr. Bernstein. Playing the character as a humble yet joking man - like all others his old age has made him wiser. The actresses on the picture, was unfortunately nothing spectacular. Perhaps held back by a script that made the characters they played very one-note.

No matter how it has aged, there is no doubt that if you love film: This is one to watch. Fundamentally changing what movies were all about while telling a dramatic story of a mans journey through greatness and fall through the eyes of his peers.


Tron (1982)

Film: Tron
Release: 1982, theatrical
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner
Directed by: Steven Lisberger
Next in the series: Tron: Legacy
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: Having lost the rights to his own creations, the programming prodigy Flynn breaks into the major corporation where he used to work in order to hack the company mainframe and prove his claim - What he finds is more amazing than he would've ever believed possible.

Hans' thoughts:

The year is 1982, the computer as we know it has yet to exist. In spite of the success of the Apple II, Personal computers wouldn't be a normal occurrence in everyday households till the mid 1990's. Cyberspace was considered a new frontier, possible to go wherever we might choose and most people knew about purely through the popularity of arcade games. Along comes Tron, a small out of place science fiction movie produced by a (at the time) stagnating Disney corporation and directed by a complete no-name whose biggest success till then had been an animated special to accompany the TV-broadcast of the 1980 winter olympics. 

Tron is nothing if at least not interesting, in it the creators have managed to predict a lot of things about cyberspace and computers that wouldn't become fact for years to come. Every computer in the world has access to each other, akin to the internet you're using right now and at one point the main character plays on something that looks distinctly like what the game boy would eventually be revealed to look like. It also predicted the dualism of people with their online use, every human actor portraying their counterpart in the cyberspace world Flynn enters. 

The cyberspace world also has a lot of spiritual elements, the "users" (humans) are revered as gods by the programs they control and getting in contact with their user is portrayed in the movie as a deep religious experience. The unit used for contact with the real world looking like a giant temple and the program controlling it looks like an otherworldly priest or sage. The world of cyberspace is done mostly as glowing circuits or grids on black backgrounds, giving the movie a very unique look. The suits civilian programs are wearing look almost like they're wearing togas, otherwise being completely white with their circuits visible in some color. The societies structure, almost like ancient rome during the reformation to christianity in it's use of gladiator battles and religious persecution.

The movie is laden with otherworldly (if a bit poorly dated) imagery and accurate predictions of the very future we now live in. I suspect the cult-status and low success of this movie is merely because it was so ahead of it's time, being a tale of wariness towards a technology that, at best, speculative at the time. If you like movies like The Matrix, this is very like it. With the ongoing boom of technology we live in, the story is perhaps as relevant today as it ever would've been in the past and it is recommended for modern viewers for both this reason and the sheer entertainment value of the piece.


The Lion King (1994)

Film: The Lion King
Release: 1994, Theatrical
Starring: Matthew BroderickJeremy IronsJames Earl Jones
Directed by: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: Prince of the lion pride, Simba flees his homeland when he's tricked into thinking he killed his father.

Hans' thoughts:

Walt Disney Pictures has always been a powerhouse for crafty animation, family friendly storytelling and wonderful music. It's main source of recognition being it's animated adaptations of classic tales in a musical format - most following the same recipe but all somehow managing to be of high quality. Their biggest success is arguably The Lion King, being the highest grossing traditionally animated feature-film of all time.

Now the Lion King is a bit out of the ordinary from it's animated predecessors. First off, it's not based on a fairy tale or even a story normally intended for children. No, The Lion King is an adaptation of sorts of Shakespearean theatre, as well as influenced by biblical stories. The film takes place in Africa, meaning the animators and background artists stood before the momentous task of capturing the beauty of the continent - and boy did they deliver. In the opening musical sequence alone you know that you are in for a grand experience - The song "The Circle of Life" setting up the spiritual premise of the story along with the now iconic sunrise shot and later Rafiki holding the baby Simba over Pride Rock to the climax of the musical number makes that single sequence perhaps one of the most perfectly composed opening sequences of modern animation. 

Now, this movie is of course not all good things. Unfortunately the protagonist of the movie, the young lion cub Simba a bit two-dimensional and actually most of the lion characters are not all that interesting. With the obvious exception of our main villain Scar, one of the great Disney villains from the era. He does pander to a trope though, the sinister yet androgynous male villain - used in other Disney movies such as Pocahontas and Robin Hood. However, Scar is a character oozing of charisma and while his motivations may be shallow it doesn't take away from enjoying his presence on screen along with him having one of the best musical numbers of the picture - a fun fact though, Jim Cunnings had to stand in for Jeremy Irons who were the main voice actor for Scar. Irons had lost his voice singing part of the song, I really have a hard time distinguishing Cunnings from Irons though and that I applaud highly. The break away characters from the film was, as you may know, Timon and Pumbaa. Serving the purpose of lightening the mood from the drama of the story with some well-needed comedy from the protagonists side. Most of the comedy up till that point has been provided by the Hyenas who were villains and the bird Zazu, who's dry wit may only have worked for the adult audience.

I have to commend the animators part on the characters, you can almost see the acting style of the voice actors oozing through the characters they portray, this is especially apparent in the case of Zazu portrayed by Rowan Atkinson and the female hyena Shenzi voiced by Whoopi Goldberg. The animated characters do a lot of the work for voice actors so it is nice once in a while to see the two blend together so well. Another great animation feat was the computer generated stampede in the middle of the movie, I think everyone who's seen this as a child can picture this scene in their minds without even having to re-watch the movie.

Of course you can't really talk about this movie without mention the musical number "Can you feel the love tonight?", while actually not my favorite number of the piece (I prefer Circle of Life) there is no denying the greatness of this song. This song uses the music stylings of Elton John and Tim Rice coupling it with instruments traditionally used in African music. This goes along with the main score done by Hans Zimmer almost completely with african instruments. The song appears in the movie in two versions, during it's main sequence in the actual films sung by the actors playing Nala and Simba along with a choir and again during the movies credits with the main verses sung entirely by Elton John himself. 

Lion King is one of those movies that just work from top to bottom, somehow the creators have managed to add just the right ingredients to make a true animated ever-green. A spiritual tale of karma, along with a classic coming of age story with loss, love and taking responsibility for one's actions. The Lion King ended up being the high point of what is now known as the Disney Renaissance, an era started by The Little Mermaid and ending with Tarzan. An era all filled with great films in their own right, along with the former biggest Disney success, Beauty and The Beast.


O.K. Connery (1967)

"Operation Kid Brother: is too much
for one mother!" sounds like a different
movie altogether
Film: O.K. Connery
Alternate Titles: Operation Kid Brother, Secret Agent 00, Operation Double 007
Release: 1967, Theatrical
Starring: Neil Connery, Anthony Dawson, Lois Maxwell, Adolfo Celi
Directed by: Alberto De Martino
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: The evil organization Thanatos is planning to take over the world with a new magnetic superweapon. In his master spy brother's absence, the surgeon/hypnotist Neil Connery is called in to assist MI6.

Hans' thoughts:

In the 1960's, one of the most booming sub-genres in the film industry was the spy movies - mostly due to the success of the James Bond movies. This movie is an odd little existence from that time. "Operation Kid Brother" is a James Bond rip-off with, just that, Sean Connery's actual brother Neil Connery playing a character of the same name. The movie is also littered with actors who's played characters in the actual James Bond movies. I don't know if this was a serious money grubbing effort, or the most elaborate prank in the history of the world. However, it exists, so let's dive right into it.

So a thing you will quickly notice about the movie is the sound department. The main theme of the movie is a riff on the iconic Bond music, sounding just different enough to pass off as something else. Though I suspect even the most unconcentrated viewer can hear the giant similarities right away. You'll also notice that movie is, unfortunately, poorly post-produced. The actors dubbing themselves apparently have a hard time hitting their own lip movements, and in the case of Neil Connery himself he wasn't even present for the re-dub due to an illness. Therefore, you unfortunately don't get that trademarked Connery type voice as you never hear his own voice in the movie. I don't know who post-dubbed Neil's lines, but the lack of even a fake scottish accent disappointed me. Another sign of a poor post-production is some VERY ugly sound cuts, not even bothering to at least fade or overlap the sound at some points. The movie has sudden jumps of complete silence between scenes and it is painfully obvious.

Plot Wise you get pretty much what you would expect from a James Bond type-movie. It is over-the-top with some weird gadgets and one of the main characters abilities is to hypnotize. It's an interesting spin on the super spy ideal, though I will point out that the character of Neil Connery is very much a Mary Sue (or, well, Marty Stu since the character is male), a character that is way too perfect to be true and feels like a confidence-boosting self-insert, created for wish fulfillment if you will. On that note, Neil Connery is not much of an actor, however not to a degree that it takes away from the experience and seeing the other Bond actors there makes up for in that they at least have talent enough to make it entertaining. 

If you wanted another Connery-era type Bond movie, this is the next best thing. Defying the lack of substance by, at least being a curious bit of history and by not relying too hard on the action like later Connery movies would end up doing. If you can track this down, I recommend giving it a watch if curious.


Brave (2012)

Film: Brave
Release: 2012, Theatrical
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson
Directed by: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: In the scottish highlands, the princess Merida is more a warrior than a scholar, when she is set up for marriage, Merida runs off into the woods.

Hans' thoughts:

The beauty about Pixar movies is that a lot of the time, they can take a very simple story and give it a cornucopia of layers. Sure, the message may be pretty close to the surface, but it's never the focus of the story. Even the most 'preachy' one, Wall-E, is more of a cute little love story between robots than the environmental message it eventually becomes at least 15 minutes into the movie. Sometimes though, it can be nice with just a fairy tale that's well told and in that regard this movie definitely delivers. 

Brave takes place in Scotland, and all throughout the movie you have this beautiful forest esthetic. The music is for the most part celtic, making the movie a joy to just look at, the character designs are simple yet recognizable and the bright red hair of Merida and her little brothers make the movie really colorful even in it's darkest moments. 

When this movie came out, I noticed it got a lot of flak because people had expected more, this is the first Pixar movie with primarily female main characters and I suspect the lack of a larger message behind the movie is what frustrated some audiences. Pixar has spoiled us with deep movies over the years, so something as simple as this is out of the ordinary. Stick with it though, as it is both funny and heartwarming in it's simplicity. 

Sometimes, with enough icing, the simplest of cakes can be as tasteful as the complicated ones and this is such an occasion. It may not be the deepest of cartoons, but it is wonderfully animated, and with a pretty cute story to boot.


Big Top Scooby-Doo! (2012)

Film: Big Top Scooby-Doo!
Release: 2012, Video
Starring: Frank Welker, Mindy Cohn, Grey DeLisle, Matthew Lillard
Directed by: Ben Jones
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: When Mystery Inc. goes to Atlantic City, hoping for a bit of R&R, Fred's fascination with circuses gets them involved in a hunt for a werewolf who've been doing a jewel heist crime spree throughout the nation

Hans' thoughts:

The first thing that's going to pop out at you when you watch this movie is also one of the first things that hit the screen. This movie absolutely excellent music, peaking at an absolutely wonderful into-credits sequence. The whole sequence is done in such a way that it looks like cardboard cut-out dolls are on the screen, and the imagery combined with the twisted honky-tonk esque motif that many associate with the circus is genuinely creepy. Not scary - creepy. Which is exactly how a Scooby-Doo movie should be able to convey. That I applaud. Music like this, with the occasional exception, plays throughout the movie to varying degrees of success, none as great as the aforementioned sequence.

However, this movie has a pretty big flaw in it's monster. As sad as I am to admit it, I could not take the character design of the werewolves seriously as all. The snout looks downright strange and the eyes look way too fake. Now of course I know that the monsters in the Scooby-doo franchise are never real, but this made it to a point that it kind of distracted from what was going on, on screen. Which is a shame for the story is actually not half bad and the mystery kept me guessing as to who the perpetrator was throughout, even wondering at times if the movie was going the "monsters are real route" this time which Scooby-Doo movies have, unfortunately, done a lot. I will give the movie this though, the outcome took me by surprise.

Big Top Scooby-Doo! is, if a bit flawed, still neck and shoulder above some of the other direct-to-video and televised Scooby-Doo movies. As with Scooby Doo! Mask of the Blue Falcon this feels less like a cinematic experience and more like an extended episode of the What's New Scooby-Doo? TV-show. Don't take that as a criticism though, because that is what I feel the live-action movie should have been. A well-written mystery with some good comedy starring characters that the audience know and love. Once again, the direct-to-video Scooby-Doo movies prove that they're able to give the human members of Mystery Inc. their own appeal that doesn't need to be backed up by Scooby's antics constantly - which is an achievement almost in and off itself. 


Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Film: Wreck-It Ralph
Release: 2012, Theatrical
Starring: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch
Directed by: Rich Moore
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: Wreck-It Ralph is the villain of a arcade game called Fix-It Felix Jr., on the 30th anniversary of his game console, Ralph starts reflecting on his role as a villain and vows to change

Hans' thoughts:

In the 1980's games were at a very different place than it is now. No, literally, home gaming was only just showing up so everyone were going to these mystical places called "arcades". I doubt a lot of kids today even want to go to one of these but to the people who grew up in those times, this was were you spent your allowance. If you had any. I'm from 1990 myself so around the time I was old enough to have enjoyed going to an arcade they were pretty much gone. So why am I telling you this? Well, because even though you may never had set foot in an arcade, you can actually relate to this story. This story is very much like Toy Story in that it's "what happens to the toys at night when the kids are sleeping" but also a bit like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, in that it has a lot of cameos from well-known franchises. Characters like Zangief, Q*bert and Kano all show up in this movie. For a short time anyway.

Thankfully however, this movie does not turn into "spot the character" as it could have. Instead of turning into a marketing ploy it actually has some compelling characters of it's own, playing in a pretty exciting story. The story is a pretty adult one, even if it is targeted towards kids. After 30 years of doing the same thing every day, the game villain Ralph goes on a soul searching journey to find out what it feels like to be a hero, if only just for a little while. Unfortunately, without it's villain the game he comes from can't really function and it stands in danger of being unplugged - the equivalent of armageddon in this universe.

Ralph is played like a very mellow person, he has a temper for sure but most of the time he just seems like he is the straight man to all the other characters antics. He's the audiences eyes after all, and he doesn't take anything too seriously. I have to admit that it took me a little bit to warm up to him, unlike the character Vanellope. Vanellope is most likely the popular character from this movie, she's a sassy little smart-ass who just wants to live out her greatest dream. Fix-It Felix is a very nervous guy like Ralph, but unlike Ralph he's also very conformed to the world he lives in - then again he's never really met any trouble and when he finally sees Ralph breaking out of character he has a hard time dealing with it. The last "main" character is the female officer from the game Hero's Duty, Calhoun. She's the stereotypical hard-ass female who just needs to find love again to warm up to people. All of the characters are archetypes for sure, but it feels appropriate since they're supposed to be characters defined by their role and their programming - a very meta comment about the state of character writing in the videogame industry.

Animation wise the movie is great, this could very well have been a Pixar movie judging by the quality but it's made by Disney's main studio. Being smooth as ever but as a nice homage to classic video games, some of the characters move in "jumps" like say, the bartender at the game tapters. On that note, seeing some of the classic video game characters reimagined in this artstyle was a nice little treat on the side. 

Wreck-It Ralph shows a lot of love for the subject material and it has some genuinely nice original content as well. The music is "digital" as it should be, and the meta gags combined with some pretty well done dramatic writing for a kids film just makes it all the better. 


Monsters University (2013)

Film: Monsters University
Release: 2013, Theatrical
Starring: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi
Directed by: Dan Scanlon
Previous in the series: Monsters, Inc.
IMDB Page: Link opens in a new window
Description: Mike Wazowski is a young monster who've dreamt of being a scarer for Monsters, Inc. his whole life. Tons of challenges await when he starts his freshman year at Monsters University.

Hans' thoughts:

The thing about prequels is that the audience pretty much already knows what the outcome is going to be - so you better be able to pull a lot of very good red herrings. Which is exactly what this movie does!

Monsters University, or as I like to call it, Party at the Design Department, is a colorful and happy movie. If you watch this one and it's predecessor back to back you will notice quite a lot of changes. One thing I definitely noticed was the much better use of lighting. Okay granted, the original Monsters, Inc. had technological limits and I respect that but even going by that, this movie really had an ability to set the mood. This is a movie about monsters after all, and this is a very dark movie. As in, the blinds are pulled in almost all the rooms.

In fact, not till our main characters join a fraternity do we see a more light-hearted movie. Up until then the movie has been kinda silent, well for comedy standards anyway. It does have one wild scene before the movie "starts" but I'm not gonna spoil it. This is just a review after all. As you may have expected, we don't see a whole lot of actually going to school in this movie. It IS a kids film and our main characters sitting around in a classroom taking notes would be a horribly boring kids film. The plot of the movie is believable though, there's a passable reason for why this movie has all the energy that it has.

On the voice acting side, the returning characters have their voices intact. Buscemi, Crystal and Goodman all returned for this film. I'm actually pretty impressed by the voice-range of Buscemi, seeing Randall turning into the character we know from the original is quite the treat. Crystal and Goodman also both do a pretty good job, being able to convey the emotions well enough that you believe that these particular voices would come out of these characters. 

This movie also pumped up the imagery from the original. The original movie took place in a factory so there was a lot of walking through white hallways with not much to look at. This movie however, has some pretty well-designed locations and some very cool character designs. I'm especially impressed by the dean of the school, who plays a major part. She looked very imposing and could've been a creature from an actual horror film.

On the comedy side, this is a big step-up from the original. This movie has more characters to bounce off of each other and that makes for some very funny moments. I especially liked the character named "Don". This movie having more energy also makes for some very good physical gags. Monsters, Inc. was one of the least popular Pixar movies, so going ahead and actually making a sequel to it is a surprising move - if not a bit overzealous. I'm happy to say though, that this is a really good animated movie, capturing the spirit of the original as well as building upon it's lore.

Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Film: Monsters, Inc.
Release: 2001, Theatrical
Starring: John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi
Directed by: Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich, David Silverman
Next in the series: Monsters University
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: In the world of monsters, everything is powered by the screams of children. One day, the energy company Monsters, Inc. is invaded by the most dangerous force in the universe: A small child.

Hans' thoughts:

After the success of Toy Story, people were pretty psyched to see where Pixar would go next. The answer? A sweet little story. So okay, maybe Monsters, Inc. isn't the greatest or most ambitious tale by the movie magicians at Pixar. Not for lack of trying though.

In the movie we follow the tag-team of James P. Sullivan, the company's most efficient scarer and his engineer Mike Wazowski. Everything is going quite good for the team, Mike Wazowski has a sweet girlfriend and Sullivan is close to breaking the record of the company. As far as work-type comedies go, this has a pretty decent setup and you definitely feel the chemistry between the two characters. 

As for the villain side, while intimidating enough you would have expected something just a bit more sinister with a setup like this. Randall is creepy, sure, but not as imposing as I would've liked. He's played out more like a bitter math-teacher that takes out his issues at home at the kids. Kinda like Crocker from Fairly Oddparents I guess.

The thing that sells this movie for me is two things, first off is the visual style. This story is about monsters, and you can tell the character designers has had at least a little fun trying to come up with all sorts of different looking colorful characters. A wide-variety of colors on screen is always a plus in my book. Of course you can't talk about the visuals in this movie without mentioning the room where they keep all the doors to childrens bedrooms. Mike and Sullivan riding a door into a giant room full of doors with lord knows how many stories is a sight to see. 

The second thing I like about this movie is the music, in particular the opening. The opening music for the movie is upbeat happy jazz, which is really pleasure to listen to and it goes surprisingly well with the setup. Before Wall-E, Sully and Mike were the oldest Pixar characters (judging by their actions anyway). Which makes them someone who might feasibly listen to jazz. Of course, this movie does have a weak point. I'm sorry to say that the jokes in this one are some of the weakest that Pixar has been involved with, it does get the occasional giggle but one particular running-gag just fell flat for me every time.

Monsters, Inc. is one of the weaker Pixar movies, but we're still talking Pixar so it really isn't saying much. The movie is still heads and shoulders above a lot of others in the genre.


Kick-Ass 2 (2013)

Film: Kick-Ass 2
Release: 2013, Theatrical
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey
Directed by: Jeff Wadlow
Previous in the series: Kick-Ass
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: 5 years after the fall of drug lord Frank D'Amigo, his son Chris is still seeking vengeance on the world's first costumed hero. Donning an all-new costume, he becomes The Motherfucker: The world's first super villain.

Hans' thoughts:

This movie is exactly what a sequel should be, instead of trying to do a formulaic repeat of success, it broadens out the universe and the story and takes the next logical step. From the first hero to the first villain, this move is the other side of the coin in a lot of ways.

Kick-Ass was a wild movie for sure, but it was also a little dramatic - trying to remind you at every turn that the story was still supposed to take place in the real world. To some extent anyways. Kick-Ass 2 on the other hand puts the pedal to the metal, this is very much a comic book movie and a good one at that. There's more action, more characters, bigger scenes, bigger events, bigger everything.

In this movie we not only get the first supervillains, but also the very first superhero team "Justice Forever". This team is lead by a completely unrecognizable Jim Carrey in the role of Colonel Stars and Stripes. But really, you could have told me it was someone else and I would've believed you - kudos to the makeup department on the facework and to Carrey himself for a excellent performance. He really managed to the take on the guise of someone else. Most of the members of Justice Forever - however likable, is kinda one-note archetypes. There's not much to them but they're likable enough to not become grating or feel flat.

This is more than can be said for The Motherfucker's team. While all his teammates certainly get backstories and each have at least a single moment of their own, only the character Mother Russia really stood out to me as a completely realized characters. Though the same thing happened to the heroes team, at least they managed to make me able to tell them apart based on more than the look. 

The breakout actor of this movie is definitely Mintz-Plasse as The Motherfucker, he really getting his acting chops fit into shapes and he had a lot of very cool moments - even in spite of the character itself being a whimp. He plays the wimp in such a way that you actually like him though, and I found myself kinda wanting him to succeed. This is mainly due to the two leads. While they certainly acted decently, Kick-Ass was just kind of around because his name was in the title, not having all that much to do in this movie before the final act. And while I love Moretz as Hit-Girl, she does not manage to pull off the struggling teenager persona all that well. This is in part because the actor who played Marcus, her caretaker, felt sort of bland to me.

Overall, Kick-Ass 2 did a lot more with the universe and has much better action than the original, I just doubt there is all that much more you can do with this property - though they seem to be setting up a sequel for it. I look forward to seeing just where they intend to go with it next and until then I will have had a very enjoyable experience.


Kick-Ass (2010)

Film: Kick-Ass
Release: 2010, Theatrical
Starring: Aaron-Taylor Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloë Grace Moretz, Nicolas Cage
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Next in the series: Kick-Ass 2
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: The nerdy high-schooler Dave Lizewski decides to live out his fantasy as the superhero persona Kick-Ass. Accidentally, he gets thrown into one man's violent war against a powerful drug lord.

Hans' thoughts:

In a world much like our own, Dave Lizewski decides to dress up like a hero. Not because of some revenge-scheme or other normal-type motivations - he just figures it's the right thing to do. 

Kick-Ass came out in 2010, critically acclaimed but bashed by parent interest groups. This is mostly due to a ton of curse words and the movie being littered about with over-the-top violence mostly committed by an 11-year old actress.

Personally? I thought it was a lot of fun! Being laddish at heart and a big comic book geek I could relate a lot to the different personalities in this movie. I think many comic book fans like myself has fantasized at one point or another about putting on a mask of our own, and fighting the people who make the streets unsafe at night. The movie is of course, also a very sobering experience as the very first time our hero actually goes to fight crime, he fails miserably to the point of being nearly fatally wounded. The movie also has a lot of funny moments, some of the best being characters snapping the movie back to reality and putting a mirror up to the audience "Everythings fine?! You're grabbing a fucking bazooka!". Though not the point of breaking the 4th wall, the movie is showing you that it is very much aware of just how insane the premise is.

On the acting side you have Nicolas Cage in perhaps my favorite role he's done yet. His socially awkward, southern Big Daddy has some of the funniest moments and perhaps the best shot action scene in the movie. While Johnson and Mintz-Plasse also both do a very good job of portraying dweeby teenage guys that are in way over their heads, the break-out star of the movie is young Chloë Grace Mintz starring in the role of the ass kicking Hit-Girl. She has the biggest number of action scenes and some of the most badass moments in the film.

The movie does have it's problems though, slight plot holes like how does a single security camera manage to capture an entire hollywood-style fight scene from a single position. Or how amateur superheroes can have such well-made costumes. But really, it's a comic book movie and I really had no problems with suspending my disbelief.

Overall, this is one of my favorite superhero movies, and action movies overall and I look forward to what's going to happen next in this universe.

Scooby-Doo! Mask of the Blue Falcon (2012)

Film: Scooby-Doo! Mask of the Blue Falcon
Release: 2012, Video
Starring: Frank WelkerMindy CohnGrey DeLisle
Directed by: Michael Coguen
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: After stopping yet another crook in a monster suit, Mystery Inc. goes to a comic convention where Scooby and Shaggy are hoping to meet their hero - The actor who played Blue Falcon on their favorite TV-show. But as is always the case, problems are never far away as the reveal of a new reimagined Blue Falcon movie is haunted by the original hero's nemesis, Mr. Hyde.

Hans' thoughts:

The existence of this movie is to me - completely surreal. Not only are we talking about Warner Bros. actually mentioning a lot of the old school Hannah Barbera characters again - they're doing so through a parody of their own business practices. Well, to some extent anyway.

If you're more than a little familiar with the Hannah Barbera characters of yore like I am, you will be thrilled by this movie. Most of the movie takes place in a convention hall and for some reason the creators decided to make all the convention goers and posters reference classic Hannah Barbera series. If you're not though, fret not! Because as a Scooby-Doo cartoon this is actually above average as well. As opposed to most of the TV-show episodes, you actually get a lot more face time with the individual members of Mystery Inc. and the writers give them more well-rounded traits. It is much more than telling them apart by looks and catchphrases this time around. Judging by the animation style of the movie, I suspect it was the team behind What's New Scooby-Doo? that created this little gem.

Scooby-Doo has had a ton of Direct-to-Video releases like this, unfortunately most of them seem to be just a teeny bit creatively bankrupt as they seem to have stood around the water-cooler, suddenly snapped their fingers and gone "Wait, what if this time - The monsters were REAL?". Fortunately, this movie actually understands what makes Scooby-Doo entertaining in the first place, the mystery aspect. Making the monster real kinda takes the "whodunit" out of it all. I actually found myself wondering who stood behind the attacks this time, at least for a short while. Still, it is a kids movie and by the last 10 minutes most adult audiences will most likely have figured out at least WHO did it, only waiting for the motive to show up. It does have some nice fake-outs layered out over the course of the movie though and I applaud that. The problem with Scooby-Doo as a franchise has been the tendency to become way too formulaic, to the point of self-parody. 

As I stated, Warner Bros. kinda pokes fun at itself and fan culture a little in this movie. The character of Owen Wilson, the original actor playing Blue Falcon is voiced by cartoon veteran Jeff Bennett, who seems to have channeled actor Adam West during his performance. Which is only strengthened by the fact that the characters backstory is also very much like what West had to deal with after the end of the 1960's Batman live-action TV-Show. On the other hand, the reimagined Blue Falcon costume in the movie looks very much like the reimagined Batman costume from the modern movies. Tons of references like this are in the movie and most people should be able to pick up on them.

The movie doesn't delve too much into the references though, as this is still a Scooby-Doo cartoon. So of course Scooby and Shaggy gets into all sorts of antics, all the physical comedy you could want from a Scooby-Doo cartoon is present here. I have to bring up though, that to me Daphne really stole the show a lot of the time. She is funny in a surprising way in this one.

Scooby-Doo! Mask of the Blue Falcon ends up not only being a fun send off to an iconic character, but also one of the best Scooby-Doo stories to date and a love letter to the golden age of TV-animation. It feels like an episode of the show, only with a longer running time, a more complicated mystery and higher stakes. Which is really all you could want in a Scooby-Doo movie. Nostalgia for the adults and fun for the kids - Go watch it!


Up (2009)

Film: Up
Release: 2009, Theatrical
Starring: Edward AsnerJordan NagaiJohn Ratzenberger 
Directed by: Bob Peterson, Pete Docter
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: To fulfill his late wife's dream of high adventure, the elderly Carl Fredericksen ties thousands of balloons to his house in order to fly it to South America.

Hans' thoughts:

Few modern animation companies has had as long a stride of success as Disney Pixar. This can be attributed to quite a few things, their imaginative stories, their absolutely beautiful animation or, perhaps the most important, their ability to level with children while holding the attention of adults. 

In this case, we're talking about one of their biggest successes: "Up". When I first heard about the plot this movie has, I was convinced that it was based on a childrens book or something to that effect. As it turns out: This is an original work through and through! Stunning actually, that this movie is so simple on the surface, but already in the introductory sequences it is made clear that this movie has so many layers underneath. 

What the story is about is up to anyone to decide, although personally I would have to guess that it is about loss. Loss as a subject matter is a pretty dark piece to put into, what seems like, a simple childrens movie. This is where the movie shines, because while it has it as one of the facets of the story, it manages to tell it's story in such an uplifting and step-by-step oriented manner. 

Mixing up the story with just the right amount of comedy, and this is one of the most desperate Disney villains I've seen yet. Right up there with Claude Frollo from Hunchback of Notre Dame. The story manages to show us what he's doing and sets up a believable reason for what made him go over the edge. Of course, without approving of his actions: He's still believable as a villain and the audience still root for the heroes.

Another thing that really shone through for me in this movie is the score, while very simple, we see early on that a change in something as small as rhythm can make the main theme convey a lot of different emotions, the same song that can make you happy and cheering for the heroes can get you down and, personally, I actually got kinda misty eyed at times. That's a sign of a strong connection between picture and sound.

Up is one of those "complete" movies. All loose ends are tied, the story is told in a very sweet manner and the fact that they made the audience convey emotions about a building is quite a feat. I could never imagine a sequel to this movie, so take it for what it is. A story that just might go ever-green.

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