Muppets Most Wanted (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | March 23, 2014 | Add Comments

The gang's all here in Muppets Most Wanted (2014)Muppets Most Wanted, Kermit and friend’s latest big-screen adventure, opens with an epic, infectious musical number titled “We’re Doing a Sequel”. It may be the film’s highlight; it’s an elaborate, show-stopping sing-along with cameos, comedy, and obscure movie in-jokes abound. “We’re doin’ a sequel/That’s what we do in Hollywood!”, sing Kermit and Fozzie Bear. “And everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good!” Unfortunately, that last line rings true of the film.Dominic Badguy (Rickey Gervais) and Kermit-look-alike Constantine in Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

In 2011, Disney re-united the gang for The Muppets, a sentimental reunion adventure that also starred Jason Segel and Amy Adams, plus Walter, a new Muppet. The film wasn’t a monster success but it was an immensely entertaining movie and the perfect way to introduce the Muppets to a new generation. This time around, the reunion plot is out of the way, so the filmmakers could’ve gone in any direction.

Prison supervisor Nadya (Tina Fey) hires Kermit to run a musical in Muppets Most Wanted (2014)Muppets Most Wanted scraps all of it’s predecessor’s story lines (and human characters) for an international caper/prison-break musical. The film begins with The Muppets signing Dominic Badguy (Rickey Gervais) as manager for an upcoming world tour. Dominic, who happens to be an evil criminal, quickly takes control from a sad-faced Kermit. Before long, Dominic’s amphibian partner Constantine swaps places with Kermit, who ends up in a Siberian prison lead by Nadya (Tina Fey). The rest of the group doesn’t notice anything, of course, so it’s up to Kermit to escape from prison and prove Dominic and Constantine as criminals.

With top-notch musical numbers, a suitably bizarre plot, and an all-star cast of comedians, the right ingredients are all here (it’s a Muppets movie for goodness sake!). But despite some fantastic elements the parts never really come together. Let’s start with the major issue: the script. There’s simply too much going on as the movie cuts between four plot-lines: Kermit in prison, the Muppets’ world tour, Dominic and Constantine’s epic heist plans, and a comedic-sub-plot involving an Interpol inspector (Ty Burrell) and CIA detective Sam the Eagle. It’s too bad the screenwriters didn’t give all these threads enough time to develop. Unfortunately, the whole movie feels like a lesser re-tread of previous Muppets outings.

A cluttered script isn’t the film’s only problem: The climactic sequence drags, individual Muppets don’t have enough to do, some of the jokes fall flat etc.

Interpol inspector Jean Pierre (Ty Burrell) and CIA detective Sam the Eagle in Muppets Most Wanted (2014)Still, there’s plenty of reasons to be entertained by Most Wanted. Not all the one-liners works but this is a Muppets movie and there are plenty of moments throughout to keep you laughing. The human cast, while not as interesting as last time, features a truly top-notch roster of comedians. Rickey Gervais, Tina Fey, and Ty Burrell are all wonderful in small, comedic roles (who knew all three could sing!?). The puppeteering here is also pretty phenomenal, as our furry stars manage more elaborate hilarious stunts than ever before.

Like its predecessor, Most Wanted is a full fledged musical (a rarity these days). While not quite as wittily written as The Muppets, the musical number’s are still contagiously fun. Songwriter/actor Bret McKenzie’s songs draw on 60’s girl groups, 70’s disco, and classic show tunes to create a pastiche of infectious pop fun.

It’s too long, too cluttered, and too unoriginal but Muppets Most Wanted manages too serve up enough bizarre Muppets mayhem to keep you entertained. Director James Bobin keeps the laughs funny, the songs catchy, and the action exciting. I’ll take the Muppets over The Lego Movie any day. Waka-waka!

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | January 8, 2014 | Add Comments

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) skateboards to a volcano in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)The Secret Life of Walter Mitty 3 1/2 Stars

This was a great year for movies, but have any films made you laugh out loud from beginning to end? Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is one of those films. Stiller is excellent as director and actor, and the film is as bizarrely funny as it is cheerfully delightful. It’s not perfect but it’s still one of the most enjoyable films of the year.

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) lives his quiet life daydreaming about romance, adventure, and co-worker crush Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig). He works as a Negative Assets Manager in LIFE Magazine’s photography department.  But as LIFE moves online, and prepares for it’s final issue, Walter’s job is threatened.  Legendary photographer Sean O’ Connell (Sean Penn) sends in some possible cover photos for Walter to look at. Negative 25 (which Sean declares to depict “the quintessence of life”) is immediately selected for the cover. But when Walter can’t find the photo, he flees his job and flies to Iceland, to search the world for Sean. As he tussles with sharks, scales the Himalayas, and falls in love with Cheryl, Walter discovers living is a lot more thrilling than dreaming.

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) with his co-worker crush Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a fine achievement for Ben Stiller, both as actor and director. As actor, he’s absolutely hilarious playing Walter. Stiller portrays Mitty as a hardworking daydreamer in search of excitement and gives the character soul and meaning. His performance is thoughtful and moving, and yet his deadpan delivery and quirky physical humor will make you burst out laughing. Even in the dramatic scenes, he’s wonderful. The supporting cast is solid too: Kristen Wiig, Patton Oswalt, Sean Penn (in a 5 minute role), and Adam Scott, as Walter’s obnoxious boss Ted, are all fine. But this is Stiller’s show and he’s subtly hysterical in a great role.

Stiller’s work as director, however, is even more impressive. From the gorgeous visuals to the layered script, his mark is all over the movie. He’s plenty experienced at making audiences laugh, and that’s quite evident here: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is easily one of the funniest movie of the year. But it’s not the jokes that surprise; it’s the fact that Stiller proves himself as a truly talented director. The movie is equal parts comedy, romance, and adventure and Stiller is equally adept at all three. The film is beautiful, moving, and enthralling, not least because of Stiller’s direction.

Ben Stiller’s directorial voice is eccentric, funny, and and adventurous, and his unique style often works…but not always. Stiller occasionally indulges in his comedy roots a bit too hard, as if he’s as afraid of the unknown, like Mitty. Some of the broader slapstick humor just isn’t funny and a few scenes feel weird for the sake of it (a Benjamin Button spoof, for example, is amusingly strange but has no reason being in the movie). As the film tries to wrap up, some scenes meander and drag. Though the poignant ending is perfect, Stiller takes too long getting there.

Despite its flaws, the film’s technical side is flawless. Stuart Dryburgh’s cinematography is ravishingly expansive, while the special effects are remarkably effective. The soundtrack is a soulful compilation of catchy tracks including Of Monsters and Men, Jack Johnson, and others. Best of all, the appropriation of David Bowie’s Space Oddity in a key scene is perfectly hummable. Only Greg Hayden’s editing needs a little work; the film, as previously mentioned, is overlong at 114 minutes.

Steve Conrad’s script is also terrific. It feels timeless and topical at the same time, and the characters are well developed. The story is captivating and surprising, and I found the LIFE magazine and photography story-lines engrossing.  Still, plot points like these often get jumbled around. Conrad and Stiller sometimes have more food than they can chew, with all the one-liners, characters, locations, set-pieces, and product placements. Though most of this is entertaining, some scenes could’ve been expanded.

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) meets master photographer Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn) in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a funny, enthralling adventure that marks the arrival of Ben Stiller as a true director. Stiller is also hilarious in the title role, leading a fantastic cast. While it sometimes drags and Stiller’s directing skills still need a bit of work, Walter Mitty is as inspiring, hilarious, and heart-warming as any other film this year. There’s no need to dream. This is one of the most entertaining films of 2013.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Flick’s Review)

Posted on | January 3, 2014 | 1 Comment

3 1/2 stars

Walter Mitty, a middle-aged man, works at LIFE magazine as a negative asset manager and he daydreams…A lot. Over his 16 years at the magazine, Walter has worked on many of famous photographer Sean O’Connel’s photographs and yet Walter has never met him. The magazine’s final issue is to be released and the front cover photo by Sean supposedly reveals “the quintessence of life”. But, when Walter can’t find the photo he must travel to find it and in doing so hope to meet Sean, get the girl, and figure out what the quintessence is.


And so is the plot of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Ben Stiller’s new film which he directs and stars in. The film, which was released Christmas Day, is a serious drama, a ridiculously fun adventure, and a witty comedy. It’s tough to master these three genres in the same film, but Stiller does a fair job. This is his directorial debut and 26 years after his first film, you can see he’s taken some insight into the many directors he’s seen at work. His performance of Mitty is great and he gets the wacky/witty comedy down pat: the film is at times very goofy thanks largely to Stiller’s Mitty. He also does a good job with the drama which there is a lot of. Stiller surrounds himself with an only mediocre cast: Kristen Wiig doesn’t have much to do as Mitty’s love interest, Adam Scott misses his mark as the film’s antagonist, and Sean Penn’s brief appearance doesn’t quite live up to the anticipation of his mysterious character that builds throughout the film.

DF-11070-Edit - Ben Stiller in THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY.

The standout here is the cinematography and score. Stuart Dryburgh’s perfectly framed shots bring to mind photographs. All of the meticulous framing goes out the window, however, when Walter starts to daydream: Dryburgh captures the out-of-this-world adventure with handheld shots that manage the same amount of spirit and meaning as the perfectly framed shots. All of the visuals are aided by Theodore Shaipro, José González, and Mark Graham’s soulful score which is aided further by a variety of artists’ other songs (David Bowie, Of Monsters & Men, and Jack Johnson).

The film isn’t perfect, but it stands out in a season of teenage adventure films, adult dramas, and terrible animated kids films. Through it’s hit-and-miss moments, it always manages to shine through with’s it’s optimistic plot and good hearted moral. If The Scret Life of Walter Mitty is one thing, it’s original and I hope that doesn’t stay secret for long.

Saving Mr. Banks (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | December 30, 2013 | 2 Comments

P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) in Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Saving Mr. Banks 3 1/2 Stars

Nearly 50 years ago, Mary Poppins premiered. Instantly iconic, the Disney favorite featured hummable tunes and fused live-action and animation to groundbreaking effect. It was a blockbuster hit and continues to be a timeless classic.  But did you know the film nearly didn’t get made?

P.L. Travers (Emma Thomspon) attempts to collaborate with others on Mary Poppins in Saving Mr. Banks (2013) Saving Mr. Banks tells that story, and the difficult behind-the-scenes process that goes with it. Emma Thompson stars as P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins book series. After arguing with her agent, she finally decides to give in to Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), who has been begging to adapt her books into a film for 20 years. Hoping to solve her money woes with the project, however, she’s anything but easy to work with. The “collaboration” turns out to be tricker than Disney could’ve imagined, when Travers proves to be a tough teammate when working with screenwriter Don DaGradi and brother songwriters Robert and Richard Sherman. Throughout the arduous process, Travers reflects on her difficult upbringing (the inspiration for Mary Poppins).

A flashback featuring a young P.L. Travers (Annie Rose Buckley) and her father (Colin Farrell) in Saving Mr. Banks (2013) Considering the premise, there’s a lot of potential here. Sadly, director John Lee Hancock (known for sappy Oscar-bait like The Blind Side) isn’t always sure how to balance the snappy one-liners, jingly musical numbers, and tragic flashbacks. In one scene, P.L. Travers takes a silly Mickey Mouse plush toy and places it on a chair, telling it to “Stay there until you learn the art of subtlety.” It wouldn’t have hurt if the the filmmakers had listened. Sometimes, the tearful moments work. Hancock is good at the saccharine scenes that appear once too often. A tear-jerking talk between Hanks and Thompson that appears late in the film is a particularly strong example of this. So while Hancock often tries to hard to win over the audience, sometimes the results are sometimes magic.

Another problem: though the flashbacks (featuring Colin Farrell) to Travers’ childhood are emotionally riveting, they happen far too often, and sometimes distract from the plot, thanks to some sloppy editing.

Emma Thompson stars as P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks (2013)Still, the movie is immensely likable and eminently watchable, thanks mostly to the charm of the cast. Unlike the trailers suggest, Emma Thompson is the sole star of the picture, and quite an entertaining one. As P.L. Travers, she’s simply hilarious. Thomspon pulls off this tricky role by making her character as despicable as she is sympathetic. Thompson masterfully makes us feel for sorry for her character, even as she’s mercilessly insulting fellow workers. The role, as the filmmakers are hoping, is worthy of an Oscar nomination. More importantly, she’s a total blast to watch.

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) waves to onlookers at Disneyland in Saving Mr Banks (2013)Tom Hanks is fine as Disney, and it’s fun to watch him breeze through his effortless portrayal. Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Jason Schwartznam, and, especially, Paul Giamatti also share some fine scenes with Emma Thomspon, even if Whitford and Novak don’t get much to do.

Saving Mr. Banks also has a polished, professional look and feel, as well as some nice cinematography by John Schwartznam. The flashbacks might not always work with the rest of the story, but visually there’s a nice effect. 60’s California contrasts interestingly with 1906 Australia, as the glitzy, sunny city and somber rural landscapes mix.

Robert and Richard Sherman (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartznam) are the songwriters behind Mary Poppins in Saving Mr. Banks (2013)By the time the film ends with the premiere of Mary Poppins (don’t forget to stay for a credits treat), Saving Mr. Banks is, ultimately, winning Hollywood entertainment. The movie is overlong and over-reliant on flashbacks but the cast is fantastic, especially Emma Thompson. In the end, what the film really needs is a little medicine to help the sugar go down.

The Summer So Far Part 2: Even Farther

Posted on | July 11, 2013 | Add Comments

Johnny Depp and Arnie Hammer in The Lone Ranger (2013)I had a lot of fun writing my triple movie summer report (read it here, if you haven’t already!). Now, the sequel to that article has arrived: a double film review. You can expect at least one more of these before summertime’s up but until then enjoy my thoughts on Pixar’s new family comedy Monster’s University and Disney’s epic new fantasy western The Lone Ranger.

The Oozma Kappa team in Monsters University (2013)First up, lets head to college! Following the dismal Cars 2 and the mediocre Brave, I was hoping for a grand Pixar comeback in the old tradition with their new prequel, Monsters University. And, the comeback is an entertaining one, despite not being as sublimely perfect as previous classics like Walle, Up, and the Toy Story trilogy.

The plot is nothing new: two guys (I mean monsters) who hate each other become best friends amidst exciting adventures and pop culture references. We’ve seen variations of this in Finding Nemo, Cars, Up, and the original Toy Story just to name a few. Even Ratatouille (which starred a rat!) featured the storyline. The spin, on Pixar’s sub genre of mismatched animated buddy comedies, is that Mike and Sulley are off to Monsters University college. The film is a prequel and replaces John Goodman’s Sulley with Billy Crystal’s Mike for main character spot. The pair learn to be friends while participating in a Scare Games Contest with loser fraternity team Oozma Kappa. Will they be able to help out Oozma, win the Games, and become friends? We know all the answers but the ride is fun.

The script doesn’t have the multi-layered depth that Pixar normally brings to the table but there are still hilarious sequences (a swearing in ceremony gone wrong and the first Scare Game). Debut director Dan Scanlon doesn’t have the “Pixar touch” that John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Brad Bird do, but he still knows how to impress audiences with crackling humor, detailed animation, and rousing action.

As usual, the animation is top notch. The most visually striking element is the diversity of the new characters, whether major or minor. And of course, there’s a few delicately subtle in jokes that fans of the original Monsters Inc. will love.

I’m sounding a little harsh on the film but I actually loved it; it’s got everything you want in a family film! The story is a bit simplistic and a few characters are a bit underdeveloped but it’s plenty enjoyable nonetheless. Will it live on to be a classic? Not as much as something like Up will. But if you enjoyed Monsters Inc., you’ll enjoy this. It may be lacking a bit of magic, but it’s still a delightful blast.

Johnny DEpp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger (2013)Next…To the west!!!  Hi-Ho Silver! The Lone Ranger is back…Albeit more bloated, bloody, and blockbusterized than you might have remembered it. But, nonetheless, it’s back! And, oh kemosabe, what a deliriously ridiculous mess it is.

The story is fairly simple: John Reid goes from mundane lawman to masked avenger as he tries to find and kill the men who killed his brother. Along the way he gets help from the mysteriously strange Tonto.

The director, producer, screenwriters, composer, and star (Johnny Depp) of the vastly successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise have reunited for a total reboot of the old Lone Ranger radio series and TV show. They’ve scrapped most of what made the Lone Ranger the Lone Ranger. They’ve traded in family friendly Saturday morning entertainment for bloody battles, physical comedy, new villains, and a slightly altered plot. But the most substantial change here concerns the character Tonto. The always in danger throwaway sidekick has been promoted to main character status with the help of Johnny Depp.

A big shock here is the performances, which are rather good. The always great Depp is hilarious and suitably kooky (or should I say all out crazy?). But Tonto isn’t nearly as interesting as Jack Sparrow and when you compare the jokes of Pirates to Lone Ranger, this seems like a serious drama. The title character is played by Arnie Hammer who surprises with a fine turn. I was expecting him to be bland and boring but he actually isn’t bad. The rest of the cast suffers from an over abundance of characters but the supporting ensemble is okay, though not particularly memorable.

Sometimes you can’t help but wonder if two different versions of the script got mixed up and put in the same pile. That would definitely explain two things: tone mix-ups and the length.

The main people at fault here are the screenwriters of which there were four. They should have definitely cut out half the script. Things to snip? Some excessively gorey moments, way too long action scenes, the flashback framing device, and Helena Bonham Carter and her leg. At 2 1/2 hours, watching the movie actually felt like work: your mission objective for today is to try to sit through this movie!

The other major mistake is the wild shifts of tone. The movie is trying to be a family action comedy but slips into areas of bloodshed filled thriller, romantic old town drama, black comedy, and even bizarro experimental western. If the film makers could’ve stuck to ONE goal the film would have been breezy entertainment instead of drawn out boring.

Is there anything good about this movie? Yes! It doesn’t fail because of the all action-no story trap that most blockbusters fall into. No, there’s something much more intriguing going on here. It’s not a particularly good movie but I’m definitely glad I saw it. As previously mentioned, the leads are appealing. On top of that, the effects are sometimes dazzling, the action scenes occasionally thrilling, and the musical score consistently heart thumping!

As for director Gore Verinski…well he proves he just needs to rein in his vision a bit more. Th screenwriters, editors, and Disney executives are the real issue, though. I also feel that Verbinski might’ve been a bit stressed by the ballooning budget, Johnny Depp’s could have been fatal horse accident, the tragic death of a crew member, and a release date that was moved three times (a record?). It also seems the film might not have stuck to his original vision. The man seems like a savvy director. Next time, he should make an action movie by himself and then sell it to a studio.

The most fascinating movie debacle of the year, The Lone Ranger is a frequently too violent, often overlong, sometimes fun, occasionally genius, and always interesting summer movie. If only Helena Bonham Carter could’ve used her leg to blow up half the running time…

Mike Wasikowski voiced by Billy Crystal in Monsters University (2013)So far it’s an iffy summer for the movies, with only two out of five films I’ve seen being ones I could honestly recommend. More on the summer later but first: the Chatham Orpheum Theater and Jaws.

The Top Ten Films of 2012…and more! (Flick’s List)

Posted on | February 8, 2013 | 4 Comments

We’ve never done it before, never, not for any other year. But all of the other critics do it and we believe the time has come. It’s time to list the top ten films of the year. Below, you can find my top picks. So, what’s the “…and more!”? Well that would be some awards that will be given to the Worst Film of the Year, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director. Enjoy! I hope to be posting more posts in the rest of the new year!

First, a word or two describing the year. 2011 was widely considered a terrible year for movies. Personally, I think there were some great spectacles, but, similar to this year, there were also many disappointments. All in all, I would say this year was a better year than last. That is not to say that there were no disappointments. In fact there were several films that I was highly anticipating, that dropped my excitement on the floor.

This was not the year of the spectacle. Many of those let-down films that I mentioned are big, explosive blockbusters. The summer was an unfortunate time for films, but the fall and winter films took the torch to a higher level. So what was this year? This was the year of the small (some large) films that put storytelling first. They didn’t use action sequences and laugh-out-loud jokes to carry the film on their shoulders. No, they used them to build your interest in the story. The films weren’t afraid to have A+ list actors sit in a room and talk for 150 minutes. The films weren’t afraid to build tension during cinematic reincarnations of events that we already know will turn out this way or that way. The films on my top ten list all did one thing in common: they told stories of different scales with one common goal. That goal was to keep the audience wanting more. I’m not saying that we need another sequel. What I mean is these were the films that I responded to…and will treasure over time. But before my list…The other lists!

The Other Top Ten Lists

Below are links to other critics thoughts on the year in film. Some are ten best lists while others are just thoughts and some are both, plus some are even audio. Enjoy!

David Edelstein (New York Magazine/Fresh AirRead the list from New York Magazine here. Listen to his thoughts on Fresh Air here.

A.O. Scott  (The New York Times)

Manhola Dargis (The New York Times)

Stephen Holden  (The New York Times)

Michael Phillips (The Chicago Tribune)

Josh Larsen (Larsen on Film)

David Denby (The New Yorker)

Anthony Lane (The New Yorker)

Adam Kempennar and more (Filmspotting) Listen to Part 1 here. Listen to Part 2 here.

Bob Mondello (All Things Considered)

Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter) Read his thoughts here.

Empire Magazine 

Total Film Magazine 

Ty Burr (The Boston Globe)

Wesley Morris (The Boston Globe)

Roger Ebert (The Chicago Sun-Times)

The Top Ten Films of the Year

10. Frankenweenie

Tim Burton’s ode to classic monster movies beautifully blends sentimentality with purposefully cheesy scares. It features a wonderful opening scene that I won’t spoil here. All I’ll say is that, of every moment in the film, the opening showcases Burton’s wildly funny imagination the best. The rest of the film isn’t quite up to your average Burton par, but it’s still enjoyable fun.

9. The Amazing Spider Man

It’s not the best action film of the year (save that for my next pick), but it’s one spot away (second place!), and an entertaining film at that. It was the only summer spectacle that not only met my expectations, but also took them and threw them out of the window. The film features several mind-blowing action sequences (large poles falling down, a scientist turned lizard, etc.) that may not have revolutionized visual effects, but certainly filled the spot of “Lack of Massive Summer Blockbuster”.

8. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Peter Jackson’s decision to adapt J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit into two films scared some people out of their minds. But that shock was much smaller than a baby Hobbit compared to the level of surprise when Jackson announced that there would be not two films, but three. Whatever you think about Jackson’s decision, we can only judge the first film. So…let’s judge! Despite that looming dread in the back of my head (“There’s two more coming! Two more coming! Two more coming!”), I managed to enjoy most of the film It’s worth the extra money for the IMAX and 3-D, and despite the overly lengthy battle sequences (“Just throw the rocks already!” raced through my mind), this is an enjoyable romp through the mystical world that Tolkein and Jackson have magically created.

7. Moonrise Kingdom

An extraordinary achievement from a director who managed to blend story with humor, style with substance in this indie wonder. Wes Anderson is the man I am talking about. Anderson only overdoes the story with style a few times, and even those segments are entertaining because of the style overdose. Mostly though, he creates cinematic feats of marvel without using $250 million. Anderson has the ability to create entertaining moments out of small two person conversations, and that is unfortunately a rare however delicate skill.

6. Argo

A tense, politically personal thriller-drama that’s expertly crafted. The entire first three and a half quarters of the film are fabulous. Is it possible to have your heart racing, as you’re laughing? Director and star, Ben Affleck proves it is. The amazingly funny scene stealers are Alan Arkin and John Goodman, although Affleck does underuse them somewhat. The only major weakness of the film is the climax. Affleck makes the final moment so obviously fictional that I shivered in my seat. Other than that though, high marks to Mr. Affleck!

5. Life of Pi

While it doesn’t quite rise to the full potential that Yann Martel’s stunning novel gives, it is still a visual masterpiece and for what we have here, Ang Lee and his screenwriter, David Magee, do a good job with keeping everythng straight. The 3-D is the best I have ever seen and this is a competitor for my favorite visuals in a film of this year. (The only other close contenders areThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Amazing Spider Man.)

4. Les Miserables

Forget what they said. The critics were wrong. “A tasteless bombardment” and “I screamed a scream as time went by” were two of many criticisms that critics threw at this film. But, I heartily disagree. The only reason why you could possibly not like the film is because of the camera-on-a-rope effect that is slightly overdone and, of course, if you don’t like the music, then you won’t like it anymore after sitting in the dark for nearly three hours. But I love the music and the film. Tom Hooper’s decision to actually sing live (on set), was a great one because it pulls out the true emotion in the actors which forces us to feel like we’re sitting just above a Broadway stage. All of the actors are wonderful, especially Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. And while Russel Crowe doesn’t have quite as perfectly rounded a voice as Jackman and Hathaway, he can sing. I dreamed a dream that time went by and this remained…CLASSICCCCCCCCCCC!!!!!!!!!!!!

3. Searching For Sugar Man

Searching For Sugar Man is in my opinion the best doccumentary of 2012. There were many other good ones, but this one prevails. It takes the story of an American musician who, ironically, failed in America but was a big success in South Africa and then…He shot himself in front of an audience at the end of a performance. But the film searches for the musician who went by the name Rodriguez. The story is fascinating and as a South African record store owner and music journalist come closer and closer to the truth, the pulse pounding kicks in. And boy does it kick hard. The film doesn’t only tell a fascinating story, but it also tells it well. On top of it all, Rodriguez’s music is wonderful and fortunately director Malik Bendjelloul isn’t afraid to incorporate Rodriguez’s music into the story, this giving the film a breaking-the-boundaries-of-doccumentaries feel. When the credits roll you are left with Rodriguez strumming his guitar and singing his pesimistic, yet amazing lyrics. “Sugar man” he sings. “Oh my gosh!” I respond, in awe of a riveting tale.

2. Lincoln

Steven Spielberg has a wide range: sci-fi ’70s action films to Indy & co. adventures to gritty warfare violence. But I didn’t think he could do this. Here, Spielberg manages to shift the focus in key moments from Lincoln to other vital characters. He also manages to do what, judging from the trailer, everyone thought impossible: turn Lincoln from giant legend statue to intimate, understanding, man. Best of all is Daniel Day-Lewis’ unflinching portait of Lincoln that is without a doubt mesmerizingly real. The screenplay by Tony Kushner, I agree with the critics, does feel more like a play than a film. That doesn’t mean that Spielberg loses sight of his usually cinematic camera angles. In a year of films that ranged from the plain awful to the cream of a very good crop, Lincoln managed to battle it’s way to second place. It is a sincere and beautiful film, not because it involves $250 million effects (which it doesn’t), but because Spielberg and his team took their time. In doing so they have created a film that is beatiful because it is so unlike anything else. It is a real masterpiece.

1. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Raw. It’s definition: “a material or substance in it’s natural state; not yet processed or purified”. That’s how I would describe Beasts of the Southern Wild. It is directed by a debut director and it stars an adult who is a debut and…Quvenzhanè Wallis. Possibly the best performance of the year, as it is unrivaled in realistic feeling. By the way, she was five when she shot it and had never acted in anything before. And the film was shot with just under $2 million. And yet Zeitlin manages to capture truly wonderful acting in order to ground the film in raw, stark reality. The first time I watched the film, I was under impressed, but the second time, the film was totally different to me. Now, I can’t wait to see it for a third time.

The Year Roundup

I hope you enjoyed my list of the top ten films of the year. But no worries: it’s not time to say goodbye yet! Oh no! To give light to other films that didn’t crack the top ten, but were brilliant or horrible in their own way, I have decided to list off some achievements. Let’s start with the worst of the worst.

Worst Film: Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax

I love Dr. Seuss’ playful and funny books, his wit and his humor that travels to all ages. But this animated film is the opposite. Here we get a piece of tasteless trash. A despicable film this is. Not only does it not do justice to a timeless book, it seems as if the filmmakers are prurposefully trying to make this a terrible experience for the audience: it’s unbelievably that bad! The songs are tastelessly antagonizing the already boring film. Am I overwhelming you with terribly awful adjectives? I am sorry, but this film deserves them. There is however one redeeming element to the film: it’s a very short 86 minutes!

Thoughts on Performances of the Year:

This year was a great one for performances. They ranged from debut breakouts that include Suraj Sharma to Ben Affleck sporting a ’70s hairdo to Hugh Jackman singing at the top of his lungs. Some actors and actresses starred in many films like the Hemsworth brothers, Liam and Chris. (Liam appeared in three films: The Hunger Games, The Expendables 2, and Love and Honor. Chris on the other hand, tied his brother’s amount of films and appeared in The Avengers, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Red Dawn.) But my favorite actor and actress of the year both appeared in one film. The actor nearly didn’t get the part, not because he wasn’t offered it, but because he dismissed it. Once he accepted, he researched the role for one year. The actress had nothing to research. She did the audition. Two days later, her mother gets a phone call. She got the part. Both performances are massively different, but both are, in my opinion, truly wonderful works of acting. Here they are.

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

I have never seen an actor like Daniel Day-Lewis. This is the only film I’ve seen him in, but while and after watching him, I could feel Lincoln. Lincoln is one of the most loved American presidents of all time. He is one of the most famous people of all time. He died one of the most tragic deaths of all time. How do you translate all of that into one film, more precisely one performance? You don’t. You focus on one task out of a trillion and make that performance a nail biting “How did he pull that off?” craze. In a year of great male performances, this one arose from the rest because of Day-Lewis’ sheer skill.

Best Actress: Quvenzhanè Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

“Come on! She was five years old when she shot the film!” If you haven’t seen the film, that is what must be racing through your mind. That’s exactly what I thought when I heard the buzz. There were definitely many great performances from adult women this year, so why did this youngster surpass them all? I highly doubt that Wallis was aiming for perfection. I think she was just doing her best. But there is a raw intensity that she posses. It’s far too raw for some; many people don’t enjoy watching something so real. But I love it. I love the overwhelming expressions that spread across Wallis’ face as her character, Hushpuppy, experiences many things that your average 5 year-old wouldn’t be able to handle. This is barely a performance: to me it registers more as a 5 year-old being put on camera, acting as she always would. This is probably part of Wallis’ genius.

Thoughts on Directors: I’ve already talked about the great performances of the year, but now the question has come: how are these films crafted so greatly? They are directed by a great director. Also, the entire film. From the special effects to the score to the cinematography; it comes down to the director to make the final decision. The greatest directors of this year are the ones who have been able to take the stories and make them something of their own. They put their style into it. Lincoln wouldn’t have been the same if it was directed by Benh Zeitlin or Terrence Malick or Martin Scorsese or Tim Burton. As you read those names you must be thinking “I can’t even imagine the film with those directors at the helm!”. That’s my point! Spielberg makes Lincoln his own film. But what about some other directors who are just starting out. Take for example Malik Bendjelloul (Searching For Sugar Man) or Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man). Are they just as good? Judging from this year, yes. But my No. 1 pick just barely manages to rise above the rest.

Best Director: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)

Although Beasts of the Southern Wild managed to beat out Lincoln for my favorite film of the year, Spielberg managed to beat Zeitlin for my favorite director. Why? Because, with Lincoln, I sense Spielberg is moving into a new phase of his career. Is this enough for me to award him as being the best director of the year? No. But this phase, judging from this film, will be a wonderful one, an absolutely great one. Spielberg garners great performances from his actors, but so does Zeitlin! Yes, but I think Wallis is more responsible for her performance than Zeitlin. I think Spielberg is very much responsible for not only Day Lewis’ performance, but the entire ensemble’s performance. Spielberg has so much to deal with: keeping John Williams’ score hearty and exciting, but reserved, keeping the editing in sync with the film’s long, slowly drawn out pace, not allowing for Janusz Kaminski to get too fancy with the camera work, and of course getting the most emotional, dramatic, yet real performances out of the talented cast. And he pulls it off. Every nitty-gritty trick, it’s all there.

With that, I hope you’ve enjoyed my year end-wrap up extravaganza. It was probably the hardest post to write out of any that I have written. It’s also just about the longest (or pretty close) post I ever wrote. But, I think it was worth it. Was it? (Comment below! COMMENT BELOW!!!!!) Until the next post…”That’s all folks!” (Trust me, that’s really all there is left to say.)

Arthur Christmas (Flack’s Holiday Recommendation)

Posted on | December 8, 2012 | 1 Comment

Poster for Arthur Christmas (2011)

4 1/2 Stars

Arthur Christmas tells the story of the Claus family. There’s the current Santa named Malcolm, the classic looking ho-ho ho man; there’s Steve, the modern and selfish one who’s next in line; and then there’s the Grandsanta, who’s been retired for a while but still quite lively. Of course there’s also (and surprisingly just one) Mrs. Claus and lots and lots of elves. Every year they go around delivering 2 billion presents around the world, despite some years with glitches. This year they succeed. “Mission accomplished!”, yells Santa! It’s Santa’s 70th year and he’s expected to retire (the balloons say “Congratulations Steve”, for goodness sake) but he doesn’t. And then Arthur the silliest, youngest, and most anxious (for Christmas) member of the family discovers one kid’s been missed! A girl named Gwen wants a pink bicycle and even wrote a nice letter about it but she’s now in danger of getting 0 presents! So along with Grandsanta, a stowaway wrapping expert elf, and all eight reindeer Arthur travels to return this present in a hobbly, wobbly sleigh. And let’s just say this one present isn’t delivered in the 18.4 second average a character mentions early in the film. On Arthur’s journey he encounters many obstacles. Lions in Africa, a government that thinks he’s in a UFO, reindeer that keep falling, and more are all big hurdles. We also get to see the spaceship Santa travels in. That brings in another problem: perhaps Grandsanta didn’t want to help Gwen out and perhaps he just wanted to prove to Santa and Steve that traveling in hi-tech sleighs and going down chimneys can still be done. But can they deliver the Christmas present before Gwen wakes up?

Arthur Christmas and Grandsanta in Arthur Christmas (2011)

This is the perfect Christmas movie: it’s short, funny, and has mass appeal for the whole family. Once the journey gets going you can tell how almost every scene is going to play out. But the overcalculation never really bugged me. Anyone over the age of 9 will know how the story is going to turn out (if they’ve seen other movies) but that’s not the point. The film is so joyous that you’ll get too wrapped into the fun to care about the flaws.

The jokes are wonderful. There’s slapstick comedy, hilarious one liners, and terrific gags about the Santa buisness: in other words those of all ages will find something to laugh at! The script by Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith is incredibly well done. Aardman is a bit underappreciated, in my opinion. If you ask some one if they’ve heard of the company they’ll probably just say “Oh didn’t they do Wallace and Gromit!?” And the answer is yes, but not only. They’ve also made Chicken Run and The Pirates! Band of Misfits (among some others), which are also great holiday family viewing for once you get tired of ho-ho-ho films. Aardman is arguably the British Pixar. The animation is always amazing and the films themselves appeal to the whole family.

Here’s a link to our article about seeing the premiere of The Pirates! Band of Misfits and meeting Peter Lord (the director of Pirates! and producer of Arthur Christmas) at TIFF Kids (Toronto International film Festival Kids).

Long time Aardman fans might be a bit surprised by the fact that the film isn’t stop motion, the way their films are typically made. But the CGI didn’t bother me. It’s as sleek and different from clay puppets as can be but works well for this film (the visuals are much more complex and intricate than Wallace and Gromit, for example).

Arthur Christmas and Grandsanta in Arthur Christmas (2011)

One last, great thing is the voices. James McAvoy as Arthur and Bill Nighy as Grandsanta are the two standouts but Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, Hugh Laurie, and Ashley Jensen are terrific in supporting roles. As for the nameless elves there’s an unbelievable amount of star wattage. I couldn’t tell that many of these actors played minor elf roles (Andy Serkis, Robbie Coltrane!). Click here to see the full cast and crew.

The movie also has a great moral: when others give up on something you think is worthwhile accomplishing, don’t back off. “Be the change you want to see in the world as Arthur (I mean Gandhi) once said. Arthur is committed and even if he’s occasionally foolish he’s not one to back down from something that’s right. Anyone who watches this movie can learn something from this message.

Arthur Christmas in Arthur Christmas (2011)

My favorite character is Arthur Christmas because he (as mentioned in the paragraph above) is strong willed and smart. He may seem nonsensical and foolish but, more so than anyone else in his family, he proves that he cares that every child gets what they want for Christmas. James McAvoy is great as the voice behind the character.

My favorite scene is the opening. We get to see the visually astonishing sled spaceship for the first time as well as the process of delivering presents. Go to iTunes to watch the first 9 minutes and 47 seconds of the film for free and understand fully what I am talking about.

Arthur Christmas has been rated PG for some mild rude humor by the MPAA. I completely disagree. Everyone always complains about how few G movies are released. That’s a true statement and one way to solve that problem would be if the MPAA rated movies (that should be G) G. I would rate it, Arthur Christmas, G but note that there is some intensely perilous action sequences that may be frightening to younger viewers.

Arthur Christmas and Bryony in Arthur Christmas (2011)Who It’s For: Arthur Christmas is a must for those tired of the Christmas classics viewed time and time again, year after year. Original, beautiful, exciting, filled with adventure, and appealing to 5 year olds and 95 year olds this exactly what a great holiday family movie should be.

Don’t forget to check back for more holiday movie recommendations (with Who It’s For special paragraphs) from Flick and Flack coming soon!

Brave (Flick’s Review)

Posted on | July 7, 2012 | 2 Comments

4 stars

Merida, a young up-and-coming princess wishes she could do things her way. But her mother, the Queen, raises Merida as a noble princess. So, after learning she will have to be married to someone, not by her choice, she asks a witch to “change her fate.” The results are unexpected.

Brave is a movie about wanting to be different. It’s about Merida breaking out of the small must-do-this box the Queen (her mother) has set up. Truly, the movie is about many different things, but this is the core, the underlying theme: it’s what the movie revolves around. It may have been done before (Fiddler on the Roof: “TRADITION!”), and yet it’s interesting to see Pixar’s version, a studio that always brings something new to the table.

The story has a couple of different meanings, but unlike, for example, the Toy Story films, there is only one central plot. All of the Toy Story films were ensemble movies and each toy had their own story. (That’s why it’s called Toy Story.) Differently in Brave, there are no numerous subplots that give unlimited depth. If I watched Brave again (soon), I am sure I would not notice no more than three new things.

As with every Pixar film, the voice cast is wonderful: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connoly, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, and (of course) John Ratzenberger (for the first time ever I couldn’t recognize him). They all nail the Scottish accents perfectly. Also, the visuals here are very different from the usual style. They are old fashioned. The shots take in quite a bit at a time. This is a different approach, one that those who obsess over Pixar will not be used to. Nonetheless it works very well, mostly because it fits just right for this film.Brenda Chapman was the original director for the film, but somewhere during the production, something went wrong… so they changed the director to Mark Andrews. It could be because of that the story isn’t multilayered (I don’t think Pixar has ever switched directors in the middle of production before). This is nowhere near as good as Pixar’s best: the Toy Story films, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, WALL-E, Up, and more, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any interesting visuals or morals, for that matter there are.

My favorite character is Merida because of her enthusiasm, hunger to go on an adventure, and the feeling she has, that she has to put things right.

My favorite scene is a scene in the middle of the film (after the spell) when Merida and her mother, the Queen are playing in a pond because it could have turned into an overly sentimental scene filled with an overdose of cheesy schlock, but, (sigh) it’s not. Instead, it’s sadly unique and evolves the characters in a brilliant, subtle way.

Brave is rated PG for scary images and rude humor and I agree.

It doesn’t compare with Pixar’s best, but it still is visually and morally fun. As they say: “be happy with what you’ve got.” And while at the beginning of the film Merida isn’t, I am. Keep it coming Pixar.

Moonrise Kigdom (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | June 27, 2012 | 1 Comment

5 Stars

Moonrise Kingdom is about two 12 year olds: orphaned Khaki Scout Sam Schcusky and lonely Suzy Bishop who has a family who dislikes her. They run away and fall in love but are then chased by the Khaki Scouts, the Khaki Scouts leader (played by Edward Norton) Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), a police (Bruce Willis), and other people. Will Sam and Suzy stay with each other or will they be taken away from each other and never meet up again? Watch Moonrise Kingdom to find out.

Before Moonrise Kingdom the only Wes Anderson movie I had seen was the stop action, Roald Dahl book adaption Fantastic Mr. Fox, so unlike others I can’t really complain that Anderson continues to repeat himself in his movies. In fact aside from one story thread the film Moonrise Kingdom is very different from Fantastic Mr. Fox. The most direct relationship the two films share is that they are both great movies. In his newest effort Anderson proves himself to be a master at creating  visually sumptuous, live action scenes. The movie is a treat for the eyes as the camera slides through rooms and doorways. This is more astonishing to look at than some 3-D movies.

But of course visual awesomeness doesn’t make up a truly great movie. Luckily the movie is also amazingly acted. this deserves to be called one of the most star studded movies ever made. The cast includes regularly frequent Wes Anderson collaborators such as Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray as well as newbies Tilda Swinton, Frances Mcdormand, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, and Harvey Keitel. Swinton (as Social Services) is funny as is Balaban (as The Narrator). Willis plays nicely against type and McDormand is great. Murray is hilarious as always. Norton is also terrific and Schwartzman (as Cousin Ben) is hilarious as well. However the real spotlight here is on the two kids (who are the main characters) not the supporting cast of stars. Jared Gilman is Sam and Kara Hayard is Suzy and they both have great chemistry together, are very likable, and suit there their characters perfectly.

Moonrise KindomThe story is at times quirky, heartwarming, and hilarious and is always well written, entertaining, suspenseful, and very good. Wes Anderson shows off not only visual flair but writing polish. The casting director for this film, Douglas Aibel, also did a great job. There are some lines in this film that will make you laugh out loud (“That’s a loaded question”) and scenes that may make you cry (a scene on a roof near the end) This all proves that the script is very, very good, which it is.

My favorite characters are Sam and Suzy. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are both excellent and have amazing chemistry together. Their characters are also very funny in parts.

My favorite scenes are the opening when the camera glides back and forth showing different rooms in Suzy’s house and the part on the roof near the end (I don’t want to spoil it!) because it does a good job at making you sad.

Moonrise Kingdom is rated PG-13 for romantic content and smoking. I agree but would add brief blood, some peril, partial nakedness, and alcohol use.

I also wanted to mention that this was the opening night film at Cannes, had the highest per theater moneymaking average for a live action film ever (unadjusted for inflation), and was shot in Rhode Island.

Sad. Funny. Quirky. Amazing. Exciting. Astonishingly Moonrise Kingdom is all of these and a perfect film. It’s basically flawless, a must see, and the best movie of the year so far. I hope it gets nominated for Best Picture and other Oscars and maybe even wins. The actors, scenery, and casting is great as well as the music, story, dialogue, and script. Wes Anderson does a great job as director. This is a must see film.

Moonrise Kingdom (Flick’s Review)

Posted on | June 26, 2012 | Add Comments

3 1/2 stars

Sam and Suzy, two twelve year old kids run off together because of their love. Sam quits his Khaki Scout group. Suzy runs away from her parents and three brothers whom she doesn’t feel any connection with. (Sam is an orphan.) The Scout Master, the local cop, Suzy’s parents, the Scout Troop, and a dog try to find Sam and Suzy.

Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is a beautifully crafted quirk fest. The film is a blazing ninety four minutes. It moves along fairly quickly. None of the actors are typecast (Bruce Willis is the opposite of your average action cop). The set design has the feel of the 60s’, which is where it takes place. The music is like nothing you’ve ever heard before on film. But the real center of focus here is Anderson. Because while arguably the music is the core of the film, Anderson brings it all together.

The movie is not what you might expect (unless your an Anderson cinephile). The film follows two kids: Sam and Suzy. Each kid has their own story, and in that story are a few vignettes. For example, Sam was a Khaki Scout. (Was? If I explained that, it would be a minor spoiler.) At the very beginning of the film, we see Scout Master Ward checking on everything. While he is doing so, Anderson establishes the character. (Although here Ward is tough and gruff the character is later… well I won’t spoil it.) It is within these three or four minute vignettes, that we discover the life of Sam and Suzy. I think it’s a brilliant way to tell the story and speed us up on everything we need to know.A problem I had with the film was Bob Balaban’s Narrator. After we witness these wonderful episodes of loss, hope, loneliness, and more we meet a character with an indescribable voice, a red coat, glasses, and a lopsided, green hat. This character talks about New Penzance. However, nothing he says is essential to the plot. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Narrator wasn’t even in the original idea and was instead thrown in later because maybe ten more people would go see the movie because Balaban’s in it.

At the moment I would say this is the best film of the year (Men in Black 3, not so far behind), but it will probably be beat. The only other Anderson film I’ve seen is Fantastic Mr. Fox, so maybe I didn’t love the film because I’m not used to or accepting of Anderson’s style. But I doubt it. I found the quirky aspects joyful, at times even exhilarating. But I didn’t love the movie. It doesn’t quite feel like a film (which is okay). At times, however, this creates a false feeling of joy. The film is at times melancholy, but then a joke will be said by Bill Murray or Bruce Willis or Frances McDormand or Edward Norton or somebody else. Anderson wants so many feelings evoked at once, but it just doesn’t work. What works in the film? Creativeness has never been more lifelike.

My favorite character is Captain Sharp because he proves himself and while he doesn’t have the best past he does good.

My favorite scene is at the end of the film when the many scouts are chasing Sam because it mixes the many elements (comedy, drama, quirky action) perfectly.

Moonrise Kingdom is rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking and I agree.

It may not be for everyone (it’s not completely for me), but I did enjoy Wes Anderson’s latest. While it’s not perfection it’s certainly worth seeing. I wouldn’t mind watching it again.

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