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Review: Wreck It Ralph

For family fun last Saturday night, we decided to watch the animated Disney movie Wreck It Ralph. We all love video games, and the premise – of a downtrodden villain growing weary of doing villainous things, and wanting more – seemed appealing.

My kids mostly play their video games online on their PC, or on their consoles, or on their smart phones or ipods.  When I was a kid, if we wanted to play — we grabbed our quarters and cold hard cash, met up with friends and headed to the local arcade. To spend hours dropping quarters into machines.

But, what really goes on INSIDE those arcade video games?

And thus begins the story, of an 8-bit villain, wanting to be a hero…


Movie reviews

Review: Brave – a Pixar movie

Princess Merida: I want my freedom!

Queen Elinor: But are you willing to pay the price your freedom will cost?

Last weekend we took the whole crew to see Brave – Pixar’s first fairy tale.  Originally called “The Bear and the Bow”, Brave stars Merida, the first female protagonist in a Pixar film, and is the first Pixar film with their completely redone graphics system.

Merida is a Scottish teenage tomboy princess, with a wild mane of red curls. She has a huge, burly father, a by-the-book mother – loving and kind, but traditional and determined – and 3 mischievous tiny triplet brothers.

Merida is “just not ready” for her impending betrothal (arranged marriage). Merida and her mother, Elinor can’t communicate well; each of them has a valid point of view – but the other can’t see it.  Merida rebels against tradition, and her mother. She wishes to change her fate.

But, wishes can be dangerous things and can turn out not quite as we expect…

Anime Movie reviews

Coming Soon: The Secret World of Arrietty

“Residing quietly beneath the floorboards are little people who live undetected in a secret world to be discovered, where the smallest may stand tallest of all.”

Do you remember the book The Borrowers? About a family of little people and their adventures living, hidden, in a house of regular sized people?  When something small, like a thimble or sugarcube, would go missing it was because of the Borrowers – friendly, yet fiercely private little people.

Get ready to be swept away, and discover a secret world within our own. Walt Disney Pictures is releasing Hiyao Miyazaki’s latest Studio Ghibli film “The Secret World of Arrietty” on February 17th.  Arrietty is based on Mary Norton’s award winning childrens’ book series “The Borrowers”; Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki considered doing a film based on the novel for 40 years.  Written by master storyteller Hiyao Miyazaki, and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the animated fantasy film was initially released in Japan as “The Borrower Arrietty” or Karigurashi no Arrietty.

Movie reviews

Review: Tangled – a Disney movie

Thanksgiving weekend we took the whole crew to see Tangled, the new Disney movie about Rapunzel.  Rated PG, Tangled is a new twist on the traditional tale, and stars Rapunzel – a lost princess with magical golden hair, and Flynn Rider – a swashbuckling charismatic orphan thief.  All my boys, and my daughter loved it.  And I shed a tear or two.  It was visually beautiful, laugh-out-loud funny, with a moment of tear-dropping sadness and a warm, happy ending.

Appealing to both girls and boys, Tangled stars Mandy Moore as Rapunzel, Zachary Levi as Flynn Rider (aka Eugene Fitzherbert), and Donna Murphy as Mother Gothel.  There’s also Pascal, Rapunzel’s comical, color-changing chameleon companion and Maximus (yeah!) the Head Palace Guard’s horse, who is brave, valiant, determined, and – oh yes – thinks he’s a dog.

I won’t tell you how it begins, because Disney has built a delightful backstory into its tale.  Let’s just say Mother Gothel is a selfish, conniving woman who kidnaps Rapunzel as a baby, and raises her as her own daughter.  Mother needs Rapunzel to stay young – when she sings a song, Rapunzel’s magical golden hair glows with healing and life-giving rejuvenation powers.  If Rapunzel’s hair is cut, the magical powers disappear and it turns brown.  So Mother Gothel locks Rapunzel in a tower and tells her the world is a dangerous, awful place.  The tower is beautiful inside, and Rapunzel has everything she needs.  She is protected and safe.  So why would she ever want to leave? 

Rapunzel has watched, for 18 years, lights that dance in the sky on her birthday.  What are they?  And why do they happen on her birthday?  Rapunzel wants to know.  She needs to know.

Flynn is a thief, who – after double crossing his partners – finds Rapunzel’s tower and thinks it’s the perfect place to hide.  He has no idea what he’s walked into, and soon greets a frying pan with his head.

After the manipulative Mother Gothel firmly tells Rapunzel she will NEVER leave this tower, Rapunzel takes matters into her own hands.  If Flynn will be her guide and take her to see the lights, then back home to the tower, she will return to him the satchel with the stolen crown (which she has hidden).

My favorite part of the movie is right after Rapunzel leaves the tower.  When she dances, barefoot, in the luscious green grass, and swings wildly around a tree on her hair.  She’s free!  Which she finds alternately exhilarating and terrifying.  She’s chasing her dream – but does that make her an ungrateful, unloving daughter?

But Flynn doesn’t really want to deal with this beautiful, wacky girl with her long, long golden hair.  Flynn takes Rapunzel to a tavern filled with thugs and ruffians, to dissuade her from her quest.  ‘The world really IS dangerous, so just give me the satchel with the crown, and go back home, and I can be on my way’, he essentially tells her.  Instead, Rapunzel opens her heart to the thugs, and they in turn open their hearts to her.  Everybody has a dream.  Everybody wants to believe their dream can come true.

Soon, the Palace Guard and Flynn’s old partners are after Flynn, Mother Gothel is after Rapunzel, and Flynn and Rapunzel are falling in love.  In the background are the King and Queen, older but still deeply missing their princess daughter, along with the whole kingdom.

At dusk, the King and Queen release their lantern, to commemorate the lost princess’s birthday, and then gradually, every person in the whole town lights and releases their own lantern.  Soon the entire sky is filled with glowing, drifting lanterns, and it truly is a magical moment filled with golden light and beauty, hopes and dreams.

In the end, not only does Flynn save Rapunzel, but Rapunzel saves Flynn.  In more ways than one.

A creative retelling of the classic Rapunzel tale, Tangled is an inspiring movie appropriate for all ages, filled with gorgeous, dreamy, lush rainbow sherbet colors, and exquisite attention to detail.  The music and songs suit the film perfectly, and are sure to become Disney classics.

Tangled is Disney’s 50th animated feature, and the most expensive animated movie ever created – at $260 million and 6 years in development.  Producer Glen Keane worked to create a movie about the German fairy tale, Rapunzel with an artistic style that is “romantic and lush”, with “luscious hair”.  Tangled was directed by Byron Howard and Nathan Greno, with original music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater. 

A part of the film may be slightly scary for young children, as a character gets stabbed, then dies.  You see the knife, and the blood stained shirt afterwards briefly, but not the actual stabbing.

Note:  This review is for the non-3D version; due to family budget constraints, we opted to not see this movie in 3D, but at a regular matinee.

Movie reviews

Review: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice movie

Once upon a time, the great sorcerer Merlin had 3 apprentices, Balthazar, Veronica, and Horvath.  Together they kept the evil sorceress Morgana at bay, and good prevailed over evil.  One day, when Morgana attacks Merlin, Horvath betrays Balthazar.  In an effort to stop Morgana, Balthazar traps her, along with his true love Veronica, inside a small wooden nesting doll – the Grimwald.  The dying Merlin tells Balthazar that only the Prime Merlinian will be able to defeat Morgana, and gives Balthazar his dragon ring – the key to finding the new, powerful sorcerer.  For a thousand years, Balthazar battles evil alone – protecting the Grimwald, waiting and searching for the Prime Merlinian, the hope for the future.  Until one day, by pure coincidence, he meets Dave.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is directed by Jon Turtletaub (of the National Treasure movies – which I loved!), and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.

***warning:  spoilers***

Nicolas Cage as Balthazar is amazing.  He inhabits the role of Balthazar, and dares you to believe his world is not real.  Weary, but determined, Balthazar searches for the Prime Merlinian, and upon finding him, patiently and doggedly tries to teach Dave enough magic to keep him alive.  Balthazar will fulfill his duty at any cost, all the while hoping to free his lost love, Veronica.  Jay Baruchel as Dave, portrays a total nerd – introverted, and with a love of physics.  Dave is lacking in self confidence, and has no desire to interact with the outside world after an incident that occurs when he is 10 years old.  Alfred Molina as Horvath so reminded me of Doc Oct – he’s always a good villain.  (Yes, that is an oxymoron…)  I enjoyed watching Toby Kebbell as current Morganian magician/entertainer Drake Stone – a tall David Bowie type, more interested in fame than power.  When Horvath tells him his fans will soon be dead, Drake is actually sad.   And I would have liked to have seen more of Becky Barnes (Teresa Palmer); she seemed so capable of adding more to the story, and in the end probably does just as much as Dave to save the world.

Special effects were amazing – believable, thrilling, beautiful, adrenalin-rushing perfect – especially the flying metal eagle, the Wall Street metal bull, the magic scenes, the dragon ring, the Chinatown scene, and the car chases.  (I have a soft spot for a good car chase – like in the old James Bond movies.  Especially the Bond reverse 180, which an early boyfriend taught me, in a huge parking lot – get up to about 30 miles an hour in reverse, then snap up the parking brake, spin a 180, pop it into 2nd, and end up driving forward at 40 miles an hour+.  But, I digress…)

The music was very well done – set the mood perfectly, although it was loud!  Wardrobe was flawless; I especially loved Balthazar’s time-defying trench coat, Horvath’s impeccably tailored gentleman’s outfit, and Veronica’s medieval dress.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is definitely entertaining, but there were a few issues I had with this movie. 

I would have liked to have seen MORE magic.  If I were Dave, and told I was a sorcerer, I’d want to be trying out things, all the time – wouldn’t you?  Although, I did enjoy the nod to Fantasia, with the mops and brooms – a perfect, magical Disney moment.

The movie sets the stage for the plot action from the beginning, and then follows it through.  It’s entertaining, and there are small surprises here and there.  But mostly you just watch as fate plays out the plot that’s already been discussed.  One of the things I liked about National Treasure was the mystery – never really knowing where it was going to take you next.  Was there a treasure map?  Would it lead to treasure?  In Sorcerer’s Apprentice right in the beginning they talk about The Rising, about releasing Morgana, and the battle between the Prime Merlinian and Morgana.  It’s fun, but a little too predictable.  I thought the ending was perfect.  And expected.

Oh, and Nic Cage never does say the line “but it’s fun, right?” that you see in the trailers.

The movie might possibly be a bit scary for younger kids.  It was visually darker than I expected – a lot happened at night.  There were some bugs-morphing-into-people scenes, and some skeleton scenes; nothing too over the top, though.  All my kids (ages 8+) loved it.

Overall, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is an entertaining story of good versus evil, and the interrelatedness of magic and science.  Of how sometimes it takes someone else believing in you, before you can believe in yourself.  And the importance of actively participating in your own fate.  And lastly, of the power of love, and the understanding of the actions we take because we are in love.

We paid matinee price, and it was worth it.

The funny thing was, when the movie was over, we all turned to each other and said “What happened to Horvath?  Where did he go?”  Going to have to see it again, when it comes out on PayPerView.

Movie reviews

Review: The Last Airbender movie

Should you go see The Last Airbender, directed by M. Night Shyamalan?  Yes.  Is the movie as good as the award winning animated Nickelodeon cartoon series?  No.  But then again, The Lightning Thief and Eragon movies weren’t as good as reading the books.

First off, let me just say I’m not interested in reading reviews about the new The Last Airbender movie by critics who obviously haven’t seen the complete Avatar:  The Last Airbender cartoon series.  I’ve seen it.  I loved it.  I had to see the movie – how would it compare to the animated series?

It’s a difficult task, to put the epic fantasy adventure world of The Last Airbender into a movie.  The series is divided into 3 parts, or books – Water, Earth, Fire – and Shyamalan is planning on 3 movies, with The Last Airbender movie as Book 1: Water.

In the story, there is the physical world with the Four Nations – Air Nomads, Water Tribe, Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation – and the Spirit World where the ancient spirits exist.  The Avatar is the link between the two worlds, a divine reincarnated Being who exists in the mortal, physical world in human form, with the ability to travel to and from the Spirit World as needed.  Within each of the Four Nations are certain people who have the ability to “bend” their natural element, using movements based on real world martial arts.  Each bending choreography is matched to a similar martial arts style:  waterbending – Tai Chi, earthbending – Hung Gar, firebending – Northern Shaolin Kung Fu, and airbending – Ba Gua.  Rarely, benders can master more than their element:  a waterbender can also heal, and a firebender can also bend lightning.  The Avatar, who can bend all four elements, is tasked with maintaining peace between the Four Nations.

As the story begins, the Avatar has been missing for a hundred years.  The Fire Nation has become aggressive, invading and conquering other lands, and exterminating the Air Nomads (as according to the cycle, the next Avatar was to be an airbender).  The world is out of balance, and hope has been lost.  Time is passing, and the situation is desperate.  Only the Avatar can save the world.  But, where is the Avatar?  In the opening sequence Katara and Sokka find a boy, frozen in the ice along with an odd giant beast.  Turns out, they’ve been frozen for a hundred years…

*spoiler alert* – be warned!  (Also, note:  This review is for the 2D version.)

Settings, scenery, CGI:  Shyamalan has visually created another universe – be prepared to be transported to a whole other world, just like in Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.  The CGI is amazing; the scenery gorgeous and utterly believable. Shyamalan transported the crew to film in Greenland for months, and it was well worth it.  The wide expanses of snow and ice, perfectly accentuate the stark remoteness and beauty of the vast Northern Water Tribe city.  I especially enjoyed the flashbacks of Aang with the monks and other airbenders.  The Fire Nation ships were perfectly designed – industrial, dark, and malevolent in appearance.   The fantastical creatures were well done, including the Fire Nation mounts, the dragon spirit, and especially the flying bison Appa – even showing a bit of Appa’s fighting attitude.  Although, I only heard “yip yip!” once during the movie…

Costumes were extensive and detailed.  I especially loved the Northern Water tribe outfits of blue and white leather and fur.   I did think Aang’s costume should have been more monkish – yellow and gold.

Names:  Shyamalan elected to change the pronunciation of some of the character’s names, to make them “more authentic”.  Not a good idea.  Aang is now pronounced “ahng” instead of “aingh”.  And Sokka is now “soak-ka” instead of “sock-ka”.  Seriously distracting.  It’s like watching a Harry Potter movie, with “Harry” changed to “hari”.

Hair:  I had some serious hair issues with this movie.  Katara – where are her ubiquitous hair loops?  Firelord Ozai – where is his long hair?  Prince Zuko – totally wrong;  he should have a shaved head with ponytail.  In the cartoon, when Zuko wears his head in a ponytail, it signifies he’s evil and focused on capturing the Avatar; when he wears his hair short and shaggy, he’s a force for good.  Seeing him in the movie as evil with short, shaggy hair is jarring.

Writing:  While Shyamalan stays mostly true to the story, the main issue I had with this movie was with the writing.

Aang:  Noah Ringer plays him convincingly and naturally.  But, where is the joy?  The laughter?  Aang is a child; a fun loving, yet reluctant hero.  He likes to play games and go penguin sledding.  And he laughs often.  I don’t think he laughed once in the movie.  Also missing were the beginnings of Aang’s feelings of love for Katara.

Aang’s running away:  In the movie, the reason Aang runs away is because “as avatar he can’t have a family”.  Which doesn’t even make sense!  He’s already being raised by monks, not by a “family”.  In the cartoon, once the monks reveal Aang is the Avatar (4 years earlier than the normal age of 16, due to the urgent war situation), he is treated differently by everyone except Monk Gyatso, who as the monk who has raised Aang, is his beloved mentor and father figure.  The head monks decide the world’s best interests are more important than Aang’s best interests, and decide to remove Aang from Monk Gyatso in order to accelerate and complete his training.  Aang is distraught.  He has lost his friends, his “father”, and the weight of the world is now on his shoulders.  It is all too much, so he runs away – not intending to be gone 100 years, maybe just a couple days.  The flawed logic of this “new” reason is distracting.

Sokka:  “Soakka” is Sokka’s evil twin.  Just kidding!  But seriously, Sokka is supposed to be funny; he is a brave, creative warrior, with a big heart.  Not a bender, but always the “man with a plan”, and handy with a boomerang and sword.  With a quick, sarcastic wit; always the victim of physical comedy.  If anyone is going to get covered in Appa snot, or get soaked by accident from Katara, it’s Sokka.  In the movie Sokka is too serious, and too old.  He gets wet or frozen accidentally a couple times by Katara, but where is the quick wit?  And he’s supposed to only be 15, yet looks like he’s 25.

Uncle Iroh:  Where was his defining characteristic of often speaking in riddles?

Dialogue:  The writing was functional, but not elegant, heartfelt, or profound.  Reminded me of a high school English project where part of it is excellent, and part rushed because you have 45 minutes until deadline, and 3 more pages to fill.  One example:

Aang:  “I need to talk to the spirits.  Is there a special spiritual place I can go to?”
Princess:  “Yes, there is a special spiritual place you can go to.”
Aang:  “Can you take me to the spiritual place?”
Princess:  “Yes, I can take you to the spiritual place.”

And how many times do they have to explain that Zhao raided the ancient library and found the scroll that reveals the location and form of the Moon and Ocean Spirits?  In the cartoon, it’s alluded to a couple of times, and revealed once at the oasis.  In the movie, they spell it out in detail at least 3 times.  I mean seriously, it’s like MAJOR PLOT POINT!  PAY ATTENTION!  There is no subtlety, or surprise.  I hate being smacked in the face when watching a movie, like I’m an idiot, and need things repeatedly pointed out to me.

Casting:  Much has been made about the “racially insensitive” casting.  After watching the movie, I don’t think it’s that big of an issue.  However, Katara and Sokka’s grandmother is distracting – she looks out of place, like a British grandmother in a village of Inuits.   The other characters feel true to their roles, especially Dev Patel who successfully exemplifies the conflicted, tortured, and determined Prince Zuko.

CGI timing:  With the exception of some timing issues, the bending CGI sequences were well done and seemed real and natural.  For some of the fight sequences, the CGI and bending movements are not always clearly matched to each other, in action and effect.  Also, people are leaping and avoiding, but the CGI fire/water/air/earth attacks aren’t there yet or are there too early.

Music:  Music seemed to be off at times – sometimes perfectly matched to the action and mood, and sometimes awkwardly inappropriate.  I heard the classic Airbender fight sequence drum beat music once.  Would liked to have heard it more!

* end of spoilers *

The Last Airbender is an epic adventure, set in a unique fantasy world, with a classic battle between good and evil, a reluctant hero and his devoted band of friends, each with their own strengths.  A story of destiny, friendship, love, duty, honor, and family.

The Last Airbender is definitely worth the ticket price for a 2D matinee, and with only mild violence and fighting, is appropriate for all ages.

So grab your kids, and escape to another world for two hours of air conditioned comfort.  And to truly understand this epic story, use Netflix, and treat yourself this summer to the animated Avatar:  The Last Airbender series on DVD.  It’ll take a while, but it’s worth it.

Finally, a shout out to Shyamalan’s daughters – thanks for bringing visibility to this wonderful series, and tell your dad I’m looking forward to Book 2:  Earth.


Just finished watching the entire The Last Airbender cartoon series, Water, Earth, and Fire, and noticed something really cool!  Did you know Lord Ozai is voiced by Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Commander Zhao is voiced by Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy), and Prince Zuko is voiced by Dante Bosco (Rufio, from the movie Hook).  Best $75 I ever spent – I’ll try and get a review up soon.

Update 5/6/2012:

Just so you know, this is what Roger Ebert had to say about this movie:

“The Last Airbender” is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. The laws of chance suggest that something should have gone right. Not here. It puts a nail in the coffin of low-rent 3D, but it will need a lot more coffins than that.”