REVIEW: Monsters University

7 08 2013

Monsters UMonsters University” may not scale the emotional heights of Pixar’s most recent towering achievements “Up” and “Toy Story 3,” but that doesn’t mean the film isn’t moving, charming, or sweet in other ways.  It’s a movie that will be special and touching to anyone who has ever felt like an impostor or an underdog in their own life.  And for those big kids who have been to college themselves, it’s especially meaningful to anyone who has struggled to find their place on campus.

The film opens with a sight to make your heart melt – a tiny Mike Wazowski, the most adorable little nugget with big dreams to become a scarer at Monsters, Inc.  He’s got plenty of book smarts but lacks the intimidating frame to take the Scare Floor by storm.  Mike (Billy Crystal) meets quite the foil in a cocky young James P. “Sully” Sullivan (John Goodman), a dumb party animal who slacks off because he’s blessed with natural skill.  It’s a pretty standard nerd vs. jock dichotomy, in case you hadn’t already figured it out.

But the Pixar plot machine doesn’t have them battle in conventional ways.  Rather, after a big mistake lands them in hot water with Dean Hardscrabble (the ever-intimidating Helen Mirren), Mike and Sully are forced to team up to earn their stripes in the scare program.  They have to win the prestigious Greek Scare Cup to gain reentry into the class, leading them join up with a lovable band of misfits, Oozma Kappa.

The oddballs of Oozma Kappa, a fraternity house that’s also someone’s mom’s house, bring a lot of the vitality and humor to “Monsters University” that we don’t get in spades from seeing our old friends Mike and Sully (and Randall, who’s thrown in for good measure).  The novelty of these myriad new characters, however, does tend to overpower our reliable staples.  It’s still an enjoyable romp with astutely observed characters that offer very applicable life lessons for everyone.

And I think the fact that I’m currently in college led me to feel especially endeared to the film, which so accurately captured a key aspect of my own experience.  It’s easy to come into college expecting that we’re going to be one person, yet we so often find ourselves inexorably and immutably changed by unexpected people and events.  And thanks to Pixar’s great storytelling genius, they find a way to expand this valuable nugget of wisdom beyond the campus of Monsters University and into a larger reservoir of human experience.  B+3stars

Oscars 2011: Monday Morning Wrap-Up

27 02 2012

In case you didn’t get enough of me talking about the Oscars yesterday – I mean, I only live-blogged for 10 hours – here’s a bit of a debriefing which can benefit from hindsight and the absence of heat of the moment blogging.

NPR‘s Linda Holmes called the show a “regrouping;” EW called it “comfort food;” I called it “a VERY good night.”  If I had to sum it up in a word, it would be nice.  It was very nice to have Billy Crystal back after a very strange couple of years experimenting with Oscar hosts, both good (Steve Martin, Ellen DeGeneres, Hugh Jackman), bad (Jon Stewart, Alec Baldwin, Anne Hathaway), and ugly (James Franco, Chris Rock).  It was old-fashioned, just like most of the winners … but if something isn’t broken, why try to fix it?  Here was his hysterical song-a-logue opener, per usual.

Maybe the show was just fun for me because the red carpet was SO dull.  The only two women who were worth a desktop background were Rooney Mara and Jessica Chastain.  Bravo, hope to see you all soon.

I mean, THIS was the highlight of the red carpet!  Bizarre, bizarre…

As everyone knew, this was their movie:

And for all those who think “The Artist” will be a head-scratcher of a winner, at least it’s not forgettable and disposable like “The King’s Speech.”  Curious future Academy-minded ponderers will just have to look beyond the title cards and at the context of its win.  The collective psyche of Hollywood should be pretty apparent.

As for the acting winners, no one can really complain.  Jean Dujardin was charming as can be, and a new generation got to see the greatest actress of our time take the Oscar stage to claim a prize she deserves.  Octavia Spencer got all choked up, and it was beautiful.  Christopher Plummer was dashing as ever, and it was very cool to see the oldest actor to ever win an Oscar deliver quite the speech.  In my opinion, they got Supporting exactly as they should – and then just fell to the allure of a living legend and a Frenchman doing his best matinee idol.  Nothing wrong with that.

I always take solace in knowing that many of the greatest movies ever were not Academy darlings.  You can break down many films into “their” movies and “our” movies, and here are some of the greats from 2011 that now belong to us, the fans.  They get “The Artist;” we get “Shame.”

Overall, as I more or less close the book on 2011, the Oscars were able to brighten a pretty dull year.  They found some great work and rewarded it.  While it might not have been my favorite, “The Artist” is a joyous and buoyant movie that reminds us of the artistry and emotion that brings us to the theater and to watching the Oscars every year.

(And in case any of you were wondering, here was my best of 2011 as of last night.  There are still a few movies from last year I didn’t see that could make a few slots move.)

REVIEW: Tooth Fairy

7 06 2010

Dwayne Johnson (aka “The Rock”) has become quite good at using his physical strength as an asset in kid’s movies. He managed to turn Disney’s “The Game Plan” into something actually quite disarming and fairly entertaining. But now, after doing “Tooth Fairy” for Fox, we can clearly see that charm doesn’t follow the star. Perhaps it’s strictly Disney’s property, this movie seems to suggest.

The movie deals in the mythical, offering a different and ultimately disconcerting take on the Tooth Fairy. There isn’t one tooth fairy but multiple, many of whom are swapping money for teeth not out of their benevolent spirits but as an act of penance. That’s the case for aging hockey star Derek Thompson (Johnson) who is apparently incredible yet still in the minor leagues. He kills dreams not just by ruining the myth of the Tooth Fairy but by pessimistically offering his take on the future to crush idealism.

So he receives a summons from the “Department of Dissemination of Disbelief,” led by a fairy played by the always graceful Julie Andrews.  This is just a wannabe of the Council of Legendary Figures in “The Santa Clause 2,” which included Mother Nature, Father Time, Cupid, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, Santa Claus, and a self-conscious Tooth Fairy seeking a less emasculating title.  But there’s more to the movie’s demise than just the fact that the premise has been used before.  “Tooth Fairy” is critically deficient in creativity and energy, both of which are needed to power a movie of such mythical magnitude.  Johnson here merely dials it in, absent of all the fun and compassion he showed in “The Game Plan.”  It’s almost as if he’s as tired of acting the same tired message as we are of receiving it.

The real question the movie raises is where on earth has Billy Crystal been the past decade. And why on earth did he choose “Tooth Fairy” to come back with? That’s not exactly a triumphant return with a blaze of glory. He makes two small appearances and manages to get a few small chuckles out of us, although one has to wonder if they are pity laughs for a man that once could consistently leave us in stitches.

I will give “Tooth Fairy” that it does have one great strength: puns.  Clever wordplay involving teeth and fairies pops up all throughout the film and in great quantities.  Depending on your sense of humor, you’ll let out either a mild chuckle or you’ll roll your eyes.  But puns are no replacement for good comedy and imagination.  C /