Thursday, June 28, 2012

Brave Review

And the ball is rolling with another Pixar film. Brave is their latest film to come out this past weekend and on a Tuesday night it seemed like a good idea to give this one a shot. Over the years I have learned to trust Pixar because every one of their movies they have put out I have enjoyed. And I am obviously not the only one with this opinion because since 1999 with Toy Story 2, every Pixar film has topped $200M domestically. That was 9 films in a row. Now both these statements go until last year with Cars 2. That was a bad idea. It was a terrible movie that really made no sense to me and it also broke the $200M streak by falling just short of that at $191M. So that is definitely something that made me question Pixar for at least a second or two, but I just wrote that off to a slight bump in the road. No one is perfect. Sure my track record of enjoying all the Pixar films got ruined, but I had faith that things would pick back up with Brave and that Pixar would just move on and continue to make good, successful movies while pretending that the whole Cars 2 disaster never happened. And after seeing it, I am here to happily announce that it has. While not a perfect animated movie, I would definitely call Brave a success.

Now the first thing to note, and saying this isn't a criticism but rather just an observation, is that this movie feels a lot more like a Disney film than than a Pixar film. When I think of Pixar I think of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, etc. Not a Princess movie. Princess movie reminds me of all the classic Disney Princess movies, most recently being Tangled. The animation was also a lot like Tangled. But like I said, that is not a bad thing. I'm just curious if we can enter Merida into the ranks of the Disney Princesses, because I feel like we need to, because Disney does own Pixar, so it kinda counts. Or maybe she can be the first Pixar Princess. That has a great ring to it.

But anywho, I digress. Brave. Let's get out my one major complaint. The story line. I'm happy that Pixar went back to original movie route for this year because they have been on a sequel streak recently. Toy Story 3 worked out wonderfully two years ago, but Cars 2 was a disaster and I'm not completely confident about Monsters University next year. So original is good. But when I say original, I mean non-sequel because my complaint with Brave that it is not completely original in terms of the story. The message of the movie is the discussion on fate (that's not a spoiler - it's a tagline to the movie), which discussion is done quite frequently and thus I did not walk away feeling amazingly inspired by what it tried to tell me. Also right along with that is that if you watch the trailer, you essentially know what the movie is about. No, it's not the type of trailer that gives everything away, but when you watch it you will develop a theory about what will happen and after you finish the movie you will realize that your theory was essentially right.

With that out of the way, it really was an enjoyable movie. Despite having an unoriginal and cliche story line, it was fun. Starting off, the animation was stellar. I saw it in 2D and was impressed. Me seeing it in 2D means I didn't see it in 3D, but I was thinking that if I actually did watch it in 3D it would be rather enjoyable and well done, which is saying something for me because I am not a 3D fan.  On top of that, the characters are great in the movie and that gets you invested into the movie because you will fall in love with them. Despite the cliches, the characters show some good character progression. The music in the movie was a huge plus. I really liked the Celtic/Scottish feel in the music and felt that it set the tone for the movie quite well given it's setting. The movie was also very comedic. I found myself laughing during much of it and as a movie directed towards kids that gives it a huge plus. Although that does bring up a small issue. Is this kid appropriate? Well, my answer to that is yes. But that does come with a slight caution flag. There are a lot of sexual innuendos that are thrown into the movie that will make a lot of the adults laugh. Much of it are things that the younger kids wouldn't catch, but at the same time there are a few things put in there that I really don't think are appropriate to be showing younger kids. Also along that lines there are a couple of scenes that may be quite frightening for younger kids. Specifically when they run into the bear. It gets rather intense. So like I said, small caution flag on that, but overall I personally don't think those are serious enough to not take your kids to it. That's just my opinion, though.

Overall this is a great animated movie that while it's not perfect, it's still fun to watch and well made. I expect it to at least be in the running for animated movie of the year and would even be a bit surprised if it didn't get the award. So go see it and enjoy! I'm giving it an 8 out of 10.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

2012 NBA Finals Predictions

It's here! The moment that all basketball fans have been waiting for all season long. The NBA Finals, the climax of the NBA season. And as this will be my last post about the 2011 - 2012 NBA season before it's time to look forward to the next season (and that will come quickly with the 2012 NBA draft), allow me to reflect a little before I get down to my actual predictions about what will specifically happen in the NBA finals.

It's been quite the journey this season. It's a season that will definitely be remembered in ways that are both good and bad. Bad because it was almost a lost season. Good because in the nick of time things worked out. Yes, that is the lockout we are talking about. And it was especially scary going into it at the beginning of last summer because there was the potential of no NFL or NBA. And yes, I know. I am a spoiled sports fan, but that would've been tragic. So we made it. A shortened 66 game season that was quite intense as there were often weeks where teams had 4 or 5 games in a week. Add to that a shortened offseason beforehand that makes it tricky going in to things with little to no preparation for everyone. Just like in the good old days where a group of friends get together and play a game of basketball. You don't practice. You don't prepare. You just jump in and start playing. After all is said and done some realize that they need to practice a lot more than they do and others realize that playing basketball is like riding a bike to them. So that is what it was. 30 teams just jumped in there and started playing basketball. And now after 66 regular season games and three rounds in the playoffs in the books, we are left with just two teams. The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat.

First off, let's look at the Thunder. After this past series, Greg Popavic said it best when he said their story is like a Hollywood script. The story really started back when the Seattle Sonics franchise collapsed. Bad coaching, bad ownership, and no support from the city of Seattle caused the crash that sent the team off to Oklahoma City to start over. No expected much from the Thunder once they got to OKC but with the combined effort of great coaching, ownership, and striking gold in the draft with some great young talent quickly sent this team soaring to the top of the league at a pace that surprised everyone. After last year's trip to the western conference finals, high expectations were given to this team and they lived up to it by grabbing the number two spot in the west. Sometimes the number two seed gets quite lucky with matchups, but the road for the Thunder at that spot was a tough and impressive one. First off they had to get through the defending champion Mavericks. Next up was Kobe Bryant and the relentless Los Angeles Lakers. Finally, the last obstacle in their way of making their first finals appearance was the Spurs, a team that was enjoying one of the best winning streaks in NBA history. A Hollywood script? For sure. I don't think a better one could be written. The Spurs, Lakers, and Mavericks have been the only three teams to come out of the west since the '98 Jazz. Add to that going 12-3 through all that is quite impressive. And now the grand finale is to go up against King James, D-Wade, and Bosh in a matchup against the Miami Heat.

So now lets talk about them Heat. The team that 75% of America bitterly despise. And why? Because three good friends were all free agents at the same exact time and decided to go play for the same team? Yeah, pretty much. Sure we could start a huge debate and I'm sure millions of Americans could come to me with their argument as to why this move unclassy, ridiculous, and horrible for the NBA. But I am sorry, I find it all a bit over the top. No, I take that back. I find the level of hatred towards the Miami Heat to be way over the top. No, I am not a bandwagoner. I am a devout fan of the Utah Jazz and always will be. I am just good at pointing out the ridiculousness and stupidity of Americans sometimes and will cheer for the Heat to win in spite because I feel bad for them. Of course I want the Jazz to pummel them whenever they are faced against them, but that matchup isn't happening right now is it? This road of theirs has specifically been an interesting one. Some were ready to write them off in the first round when they were up against a hot and storied Knicks team, forgetting of course that Carmelo Anthony has never learned to play in the playoffs. Then in round two, everyone was willing to write them off when they went down 2-1 against the Pacers. Finally, the Celtics had them. Most thought they were done when the C's went up 3-2. Well, they overcame all of that to make it to the NBA finals for a second straight year.

So now the matchup. Heat vs Thunder. After that last paragraph you would all expect me to be cheering for the Heat in this one. Well, that's not quite accurate. I think Kevin Durant is one of the most classy players in the NBA and so I would love to see the Thunder win. And yes, like stated before, the Heat winning would make me happy as well so its really a win-win situation for me. And that makes it easy to analyze because I am not rooting for a specific team and so its completely unbiased. And at the same time it is hard because it is a really tough matchup to call. Either team winning wouldn't surprise me. Right now after those last two games against the Celtics, LeBron James and the Heat are really on fire and will be tough for the Thunder to knock off. Yet the Thunder have an impressive resume this post season, having just won four straight against the Spurs after the Spurs had won nearly 30 games in a row (if you don't count the two games they lost because they rested their big three) and gone up 2-0 against the Thunder. If the Thunder can do that, one would think that the Heat could be a challenge they could overcome. So it's quite even. In predicting an official outcome, I look at the 2-3-2 setup that always favors the team without home court advantage. The Heat losing one more game in the regular season could possibly be the best strike of luck that the Heat have had. The first two games will be in OKC and all the Heat have to do to gain a huge advantage is win one of those games and they will get 3 straight games in Miami. I am going to take that into account and thus say that the Miami Heat pull this off and win this series 4-2. But we'll see what happens. I will enjoy watching this series. It should be great!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman Review

Hollywood is rather interesting to follow because it seems to go through various phases. One of the recent phases is the fairy tale phase. Yes, turning a fairy tale into a movie has always been a popular thing to do, but this year specifically it was rejuvenated as there was originally four live action fairy tale movies planned, two Snow Whites, a Hansel and Gretel, and a Jack and the Beanstalk. As the year progressed the latter two chickened out and rescheduled to next year for various reasons leaving this year as a Snow White year. Early on I immediately predicted that the first Snow White movie, Mirror Mirror, would be the inferior Snow White film while Snow White and the Huntsman would be the superior. As you will tell as you read this review and compare it to my Mirror Mirror review (seen here), I was right. This movie is quite awesome while Mirror Mirror is extremely lame.

First and foremost I want to address my biggest concern going in. Kristen Stewart. That bothered me. Here you have this amazing looking movie that seems to combine Snow White with Lord of the Rings and you cast Kristen Stewart as the lead role? Seriously? Ummmm.. yeah! I decided that I was going to give her a second chance and I'm glad I did because she actually did a rather good job. Now she wasn't extremely spectacular and drop dead gorgeous, but for the direction the movie was trying to go with it, she fit the role quite nicely. Normally when you think of Snow White, the image of Disney's classic Snow White character will come to your mind. This extremely, almost unnaturally happy lady with a high squeaky voice. She never gets mad, worried, or angry but is very positive and friendly to everyone. Nope. That's not what you get in this. Instead we are treated to a down to earth, human Snow White. This movie does not have the tone that Disney's Snow White does as it is very dark and menacing at times. Thus with this Snow White we get a young lady that has been locked up in a tower for many years and is just getting her first shot at fresh air that she's had in quite some time and with that comes the natural emotions of fear, uncertainty, and non-trust that makes her fragile at times. But add to that she tries to be brave and positive with a few moments of relaxation and happiness as well. This version of Snow White requires someone who can act. Did you know that Kristen Stewart can act and show emotion? Yeah, neither did I, but she can. And she does have a natural beauty to her. Snow White is supposed to be the fairest of them all. I wouldn't call Kristen Stewart the prettiest girl on earth, but they didn't need to cast that to make it work. Instead of making it look like a forced beauty, it is natural and human and I think it works quite well. I am impressed.

But now for a quick second, lets jump from one beauty to the other one. Charlize Theron as the evil Queen. Oh my flippin' goodness, she is so amazing in this. Quite honestly the perfect evil queen. The evil queen is supposed to be one of the fairest in the land and Charlize Theron is quite breathtaking in that manner. But oh she is so evil. And its a convincing evil, unlike Julia Robert's embarrassing failure in Mirror Mirror. And they do a great job of making her look old when the story line requires it as she switches back and forth from being old and ugly to young and beautiful again. So yeah, as is the case in Snow White, a big focus is placed on these two women which is great. The movie does like showing off the women just so you are forewarned if that bothers you, but I honestly didn't find it distracting and I am one that is usually more sensitive to that. Yes the queen has this thing where she likes to sit naked on occasion but all we see is her bare back in a couple of scenes. Yes, there are times where they both show off cleavage, like when Snow White is running and her dress falls off her shoulders or when it does an extreme close up of her with her slightly low cut dress. Like I said, it didn't bother me, but in being objective it is there if it bothers you.

But now that I've spent all that time on our two ladies, lets talk about the actual movie for a bit. It's not a happy Disney version of Snow White. It is closer to the Grimm Brother's version. There is a lot of action and a lot of dark scenes, which I think makes it awesome. I don't need to tell you what the story of Snow White is because you already know, but worth noting is that they do a good job of making it their own. It follows the typically Snow White story to start the movie with Snow White escaping, the queen sending the Huntsman to kill her, and the Huntsman finding her but not being able to do it. Where it digresses is in this version is after that. The Huntsman not only spares Snow White, but he stays with her the whole movie, becoming her protector as well as her mentor as they of course go on the quest to dethrone the wicked queen. Also unique to this story is the major Lord of the Rings esque battles that really add to this movie's awesomeness. With that in mind, the best part of the movie is easily the visual effects. They were quite amazing. I was a big fan of the costumes in the movie, especially the Queen's outfits. Also the music was great. All this added to a very beautiful movie going along with the interesting, action packed story line and the great acting for just about everyone.

Now was this movie perfect? No, it wasn't. I had really high expectations for this movie and while I really enjoyed it, it wasn't quite as epic as I imagined it being. The script could've used some work. I also felt like we could've spent a bit more time getting to know the characters much better. It seemed like once they were introduced, the movie expected you to automatically know who they are and what their role is and just jumped right into it. It also seemed a bit rushed as they tried to do too much. It felt like they crammed 3 or 4 hours of movie into one movie. They could've used this same story line and done two or three movies from it, which is honestly what I thought was going to happen because I had heard already that this was an intended trilogy. I expected the first third portion of the Snow White story with this but instead was given the whole story in one movie, which one caught me off guard with the way they finished it and two made extremely curious as to how they plan on doing a sequel to this, but I will leave it at that because an elaboration would require me to spoil the movie and I won't do that for you. The movie also felt really long despite all this. It was only two hours and seven minutes, but it felt like I was sitting there for three hours. 

So like I said, it wasn't as great as I thought it would be. There are several imperfections, but overall I really enjoyed this movie. In deciding a number out of 10, a 7 seems a bit low while 8 may be a touch high, so I will go right in between that and give it a solid 7.5 out of 10 and strongly recommend you go see it. It is worth your money.