The rants and raves of a teenage cinephile who is just a little bit obsessed with Catherine O'Hara and Hayao Miyazaki.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rio (2011)

After being a little more than pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Kung Fu Panda, and then adoring last year's How to Train Your Dragon even more than critically lauded Toy Story 3, it goes without saying that in my mind, Dreamworks has gone from being a factory of second-rate animated fare to a studio that could someday rival even the Grand Deity of Animation itself in terms of consistent quality (the "Grand Deity of Animation" being Pixar, of course). Dreamworks' latest effort, Rio, hasn't quite taken them to that point yet, but it's still a ridiculously enjoyable and lusciously vibrant romp.

The film follows Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), a rare blue macaw who lives in Minnesota with his owner,
Linda (Leslie Mann). When Blu is taken by ornithologist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) to Rio de Janeiro in order to mate with the fierce and independent Jewel (Anne Hathaway), he is promptly kidnapped by a group of bird smugglers. Thus, with the help of the other birds of Rio, Blu and Jewel must go on an adventure through the streets of Carnaval in order to escape and return to Linda and Tulio.

From the very first scene (an exhilarating musical number), the film takes full advantage of the resources that are at their disposal automatically from the plot - those being the gorgeous colors and delectable beats of Rio and of Carnaval. The score, helmed by John Powell (one of my favorite underrated film composers), is, needless to say, amazing - and the use of classic bossa nova is intelligent and perfect. And then there's the visual spectacle on display, one of reds, blues, oranges and yellows, put on display most effectively in the climax of the film, which takes place in a Carnaval Parade. It's in this aesthetic care that the film gets its most success.

Also, it's important to mention the quality of the voice acting on display. Though perhaps Rodrigo Santoro takes it too over the top, the rest of the cast is splendid. I'm a shameless Jesse Eisenberg fan, and I loved him here - he was neurotic, funny, and adorable. Anne Hathaway is, well, Anne Hathaway and what's better than that? And then there's Jemaine Clement, whose deliciously evil work as bad bird Nigel is made even better by a musical number that could have come straight out of "Flight of the Conchords".

As much as I wish awesome voice-overs and great aesthetics are enough to make a film succeed completely, they're not. Unfortunately, Rio suffers from an unspectacular screenplay. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it; it flows well, it's funny, and there are unexpected touches of heart here and there. But, it lacks the sparkle that everything else about the movie has, preventing the film as a whole from reaching the heights that it could have.

However, it's impossible not to enjoy Rio. It's cute, adorable, vibrant and totally entertaining. It may not have taken Dreamworks to a Pixar level (and it's certainly no How to Train Your Dragon) but it's still great fun for any age.

See it: if you like any of the actors involved, if you think Dreamworks has potential, if you like bossa nova, if you kind of want to feel like a kid again, if you've ever seen Black Orpheus.

Skip it: if you didn't like How to Train Your Dragon, if Jesse Eisenberg does nothing for you, if you're imperative to cuteness.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mini Review 4-Pack!

Guess what guys? Today you get an extra special treat, which is that I am going to review in short a few movies. It'll be fun!

The Help - The narrative is very clunky, but the spot-on performances from every single member of the cast and the visually appealing aesthetic more than make up for it, and I'll be darned if I wasn't a teary mess by the end. Emma Stone is great, but this is Viola Davis's movie and she runs away with it, giving a performance of sensitivity and gravitas. However, best in show goes to Sissy Spacek, who somehow manages to turn the word "napkins" into one of the funniest moments in the movie. (7)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Cliche time - I admired this movie more than I enjoyed it. Considering this could have been a total joyride made for money's sake only, it was surprisingly artistic and intelligent. It tackles themes like animal testing and human evil in ways that are, while not always subtle, usually successful - not an easy task. Plus, the CGI was UN BE LIEVABLE. Bonus points for the cinematography. (7)

30 Minutes or Less - In short, the movie is as enjoyable and funny as it could have hoped to be but it's nothing really special - and for 83 minutes, it somehow seems to drag. Aziz Ansari and Jesse Eisenberg make a really great tag team though, with Ansari being wildly hysterical and Eisenberg providing a unsurprisingly powerful amount of real acting in a role that could have come off as hysterical and incoherent. (6)

Crazy, Stupid, Love - This one was tough for me. I think that I'm confusing how much I wanted to like this movie with how much I actually did. That being said though, despite being imperfect and falling prey to some minor cliches, it's definitely one of the best big-studio romantic comedies in a LONG time, thanks almost completely to the remarkably talented cast, none of whom can really be singled out because they were all just so good. I will say though, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling were simply superb, and the amount of chemistry they exuded was irresistible. (7 - but a super high seven. Like, almost an 8. I'd have to see it again.)

And just for fun (and because I love lists), my top 10 performances from this quartet, in no order:

  • Viola Davis, The Help
  • Sissy Spacek, The Help
  • Octavia Spencer, The Help
  • Jessica Chastain, The Help (um, range much? this was completely different from Tree of Life)
  • Jesse Eisenberg, 30 Minutes or Less
  • Aziz Ansari, 30 Minutes or Less
  • John Lithgow, Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Ryan Gosling, Crazy Stupid Love
  • Marisa Tomei, Crazy Stupid Love
  • Liza Lapira, Crazy Stupid Love

So, which of these movies or performances was your favorite? As always, your opinions, be they affirmative or negative, are always welcome below

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"I don't really know what kind of girl I am."

As a movie viewer, reviewer, and critical watcher, I find myself so often confronted with the problem of expectations, assumptions, and outcomes when going in to see a film, an issue I've talked about on this blog before, most notably in my post regarding my conflicting feelings for I Am Love. However, the problem here isn't so much a purposeful act of contrarianism, but self-imposed limitations in the range of films that I watch, and that I want to watch.

For example, when I see a trailer for a big-budget superhero movie or a goofy family film, I'm not nearly as excited or intrigued as when I see a trailer for a foreign artsy drama or a quirky indie comedy, mentally proclaiming that the former "are just not my kinds of movies".

The thing is though, when movies like the aforementioned I Am Love and other films I less than loved such as Precious and Up in the Air (all of which I was really excited for) fall flat in my estimation, while movies like Kung Fu Panda and Thor end up being highly entertaining and enjoyable, I can't help but question my own presumed taste (even if the formula does work the other way around, with many movies that I knew I would hate absolutely living up to their expectation).

The most recent example, and the one that prompted me to reflect on this topic, is Jurassic Park, which I finally saw for the first time only a couple of days ago. I was expecting to enjoy it, sure (it's not so popular for nothing, right?) but I wasn't expecting at all to love it as much as I did. I thought that there was no way that a movie about dinosaurs on an island could be that good and thus I was rather surprised when I found myself absolutely falling head over heels for it.

It's a problem that I'm not sure really has any solution, besides perhaps toning down my own snobbery and keeping an open mind to even the most unappealing of movies. That's not to say that anyone should go see everything because it "might be good" - I mean, that would be impossible! But, that perhaps good cinema can exist in many different realms and by widening our horizons you can get the best of everything.

Of course, I'm still young, and my tastes are still developing. What I find entertaining now I may find detestable later on - who knows what my cinematic tastes will be like in one, five, ten, twenty years - but I hope I can always examine myself and that I don't get in the way of my own moviegoing experiences.

P.S. This post obviously has nothing to do with the ever polarizing Juno, but the quote seemed appropriate.

Do you find yourself surprised by your own tastes and expectations? Are your tastes still developing? Love Jurassic Park? Hate Juno? Sound off below!