Saturday, April 28, 2012

AFI's Top 10 Animation: #7 - Beauty and the Beast (1991)

I actually had a chance to watch this movie again when it came back to theaters. As much as it is still a timeless classic it was definitely not worth any extra to watch it in 3D. I will go so far as to say the 3D was a detriment to the classically animated Disney film. 

I'd probably say that Belle and Cinderella are tied for first for my favourite Disney Princess. I mean they all certainly have their merits but I would give an edge to these two. Cinderella is strong and hardworking, and Belle is smart, witty, and stands up for what she believes in; and both are beautiful but don't flaunt it. There can be endless arguments for other princesses but we're getting off topic. 

Beauty and the Beast (1991) is again one of my Disney favourites (Let's face it, most of them are. They are just that good.) and for good reason. The protagonist is a strong female character and the man (but at first, beast) she falls in love with is a terribly flawed character. He is not only grotesque and hideous, but he is bitter, angry, and shows no compassion to others. Although he isn't a perfect gentleman to begin with, taking Belle as his prisoner isn't a good start, he starts to soften as time wears on due to Belle's warm and caring nature. I think that the Beast is a symbol for whatever flaws we may have and that we it is possible to find that someone that can love us for all of who we are, not just the good things and that's why so many can connect with this movie and the character.

Of course we can't forget the man that tries to woo Belle on a daily basis, Gaston. He is ignorant, disrespectful, and just about the biggest narcissist you might ever encounter. He is basically the epitome of all the things that any self-respecting person wouldn't be able to stand in a relationship. He's got a great singing voice though and gets some awesome songs throughout the film. He is also followed around by his rather forgettable sidekick Maurice. 

The only other characters I feel inclined to mention are Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts. I'll talk about Mrs. Potts a little further down. Lumiere and Cogsworth have a great double act thing going for them, where Lumiere is the comedic, fun-loving one and Cogsworth is more of the serious straight man but does have a fun side too.

Some great double acts come to mind: Canadians Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster, Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, David Spade and Chris Farley, Mythbusters Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, and more recently Harold and Kumar

I need to also mention the wonderful music, which is half of what makes a Disney film so perfect. Whether it's the title song or Lumiere's amazing rendition of "Be Our Guest", you can't help fall in love with the score of this film.

This movie is well-rounded in how it brings in so many different genres into one film and has the brilliant singing performances and score to back it up. So get together with someone you care about. It could be a friend, a family member, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, a spouse, even a pet. Just have a great time watching a timeless movie. For those lovebugs, snuggle up close to your special someone and let a great Disney film inspire wonder and awe all over again.

- Won two Oscars in 1991, one for Best Original Song and one for Best Original Score. Well done Alan Menken and Howard Ashman
- Beauty and the Beast also had two other songs nominated in the Best Original Song category: "Belle" and "Be Our Guest". Ultimately the title song, "Beauty and the Beast" brought home the gold.
- Here is one more Oscar fact just because I feel like it. Beauty and the Beast became the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards and one of three all time (Up in 2009, Toy Story 3 in 2010). 
- Belle is voiced by Paige O'Hara, but few would actually care. 
- Mrs. Potts is voiced by Angela Lansbury. For those uninformed, she is the old lady from Murder, She Wrote, she also starred in Bedknobs and Broomsticks. If you need more than that, I would suggest you brush up on your knowledge of old British actresses.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

AFI's Top 10 Animation: #8 - Shrek (2001)

As Kermit the Frog so elegantly put it, "It's not easy being green". Those words apply so well in this case. The lovable and curiously Scottish ogre, Shrek, made a huge impression when he hit the big screen in 2001. His adventures that take him from his swamp, to the kingdom of Duloc, to a dragon's lair and back, captured the hearts of audiences of all ages. 

And now is the point where I stop writing like this is a crappy, over exaggerated movie ad.

So anyway, Shrek (voiced by Canadian funny man Mike Myers) is just trying to get some peace and quiet in his swamp when everyone's favourite fairytale characters rain on his parade. In order to get his swamp back he has to find Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) all the while annoyed by Donkey, voiced by the great, yet more recently unfunny, Eddie Murphy (come on, you know it's true). Ordered by Lord Farquaad, Shrek has to rescue damsel Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) in order to get things back the way they were. But unfortunately for this ogre, things will never be the same.

As much as I am a fan of Disney and Disney/Pixar films, I'm glad that DreamWorks Animation got a movie in the Top 10. DreamWorks is a great animation studio that has done a lot of amazing films; if you forget some of their great work (let's face it, we can't remember them all) check out the list here. I definitely love Shrek but I'm not sure if it deserves to be higher on AFI's Top 10 list than Finding Nemo or Cinderella

Shrek also has a pretty good soundtrack including: Bad Reputation by Joan Jett, Hallelujah by Rufus Wainwright, and All Star and I'm a Believer (the original version by The Monkees is far superior) by Smash Mouth.  
Shrek has brought us great entertainment over the years with the sequels Shrek 2, Shrek the Third, and Shrek: Forever After. We've also seen a spinoff franchise in 2011's Puss in Boots.

If you have some time on your hands and jonesing for some animated film, go ahead and watch the whole quadrilogy. It'll be great fun and there's only like a 50% chance you'll regret the six hours you just spent watching a fat, green, Scottish ogre and his annoying donkey get into all sorts of trouble. 

- Chris Farley had originally been chosen to voice Shrek and allegedly he recorded most of the voice parts before his untimely death in 1997. 
- When Mike Myers was chosen as Farley's replacement, he asked to have a script rewrite as to not tread on Chris's work.
- Even when Mike had completed all the voice recordings for the new scripted version, he asked the studio to re-record them but this time in a Scottish accent. Thankfully for all of us, they agreed.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

AFI's Top 10 Animation: #9 - Cinderella (1950)

There are so many romantic comedies and unfortunately crappy teen movies that have parodied or just copied the story of this classic story that Disney helped make famous back in early age of great animated film. Cinderella (1950) is one of my favourite Disney movies of all time and it is probably one of the major causes for my love of romantic comedies, as it was probably one of the very first ones I ever saw. 

Despite going through hardships and being taking advantage of in her own home, Cinderella is shown to be a strong female character that is intelligent, kind, respectful, and can take care of things herself not to mention taking care of the ruthless Lady Tremaine, her petulant daughters Drizella and Anastasia, and the meddlesome cat Lucifer. She does get some help by her bird and mouse friends, especially Gus and Jaq, who make an adorable duo. 

Cinderella's fairy Godmother, brings a great warmth and light to Cinderella in her time of need and is the exact opposite of Cinderella's stepmother which shows nice contrast. Just in case you didn't hate Lady Tremaine enough by this point in the movie. The King and the Grand Duke, have a hilarious relationship that definitely creates some more humour in the somewhat gloomy atmosphere of the film. Now here we come to the Prince who, despite being an integral part of the story, doesn't do a lot nor does he say very much. 

Like the ending states, "They lived happily ever after", and where that may not be completely realistic in actual relationships, I would think that these two have a pretty decent chance at making it. For one, the Prince seems pretty level headed and despite being royalty and he doesn't seem pushy or condescending (from the very little we see). Secondly, and most importantly, Cinderella knows the importance of hard work and coming from a tough lifestyle could appreciate the high life without having it effect the person that she is at heart. Of course all of these ramblings are speculation, unless I have any desire to watch the Cinderella direct-to-DVD sequels.....which I do not.

As I said earlier, one of my favourite Disney films, I would have personally put it higher up the list, easily in my Top 5. Ever feeling bummed or stressed about things in real life? Delude yourself by watching this unrealistic animated classic!

- The late Ilene Woods, was relatively unknown when she was chosen by Walt Disney to voice Cinderella. By the time she was 14, she already her own radio show and in coming years would do great work in radio. When she was 19, she was approached by her friends Mack David and Jerry Livingston to provide vocals for two songs they wrote, unbeknownst to her that they were prepared for a new Disney film. 
- Later in his life, Walt Disney had said that Cinderella was his favourite of his movie heroines.
- The great voice actress June Foray (who may be best known as the voice of Granny in pretty much every incarnation of The Looney Tunes as well as Rocky the Flying Squirrel from Rocky and Bullwinkle) voiced Lucifer the cat.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

AFI's Top 10 Animation: #10 - Finding Nemo (2003)

It's taken me a while to get around to starting this rather large undertaking, but here goes the first of many.

In the immortal words of Dory the Pacific Regal Blue Tang (aka the Blue and Yellow fish), "Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming". Those are some great words to live by in general, to just keep on going and you'll do fine. 

One of the early Disney/Pixar greats, Finding Nemo (2003) is a simple story of a how a father loses his son and must face his fears and go to great lengths to find Nemo. It just so happens they're fish as well. It's an inspiring story and if it were live action it would have a more dramatic, serious tone to the film but the fact that it's animated lends itself to a much broader audience and room for crazier adventures. 

Albert Brooks voices the great, yet overbearing and overprotective father clownfish Marlin, and Ellen Degeneres lended her voice to our favourite inept companion, Dory. Ellen went on to have a very productive year, when she also began the very popular The Ellen Degeneres Show. Having to pay voice actors significantly less than on-screen actors leads to the brilliance of voice over work and gave Disney/Pixar the chance to get so many great small parts and cameos voiced by so many great actors. 

Appearing either briefly or in supporting parts are: Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney, Stephen Root (Milton from Office Space), Geoffrey Rush, Pixar legend John Ratzenberger, Eric Bana, and director Andrew Stanton as Crush the green sea turtle. 

No one really cares who voiced Nemo so I won't bother including it.

A lot of people think that great children's animated films have to be extremely dumbed down for kids and can't be scary at all. Disney/Pixar has really shown that this isn't the case and have reached a much wider audience because of it. I find Pixar films tend to be a little edgy, a little scary, and contain some subtle crude jokes that some younger viewers might not get, but that's the beauty of the Pixar way. Since their films are crafted in such a manner, parents (along with other older viewers) can breathe easy knowing these kinds of movies won't be a bad influence for their kids but they can also get some great laughs out of the movie too.

Well I'm rambling so I'll cut it short. Finding Nemo (2003) won Pixar's first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and deservedly so. It is a great story and fantastic overall film to be enjoyed by all ages, and I'm glad that out of all the animated greats, AFI gave it the #10 spot.

- John Ratzenberger has had a voice part in every single Pixar feature film but is probably best known for his role of Cliff Clavin on Cheers.

Friday, April 13, 2012

AFI's 10 Top 10

So I'm going to try something a little more ambitious than usual.

Despite my love of film, I still have serious gaps in my knowledge of some of the great classics of cinema. There are tons of excellent movies I haven't seen and so I wanted to undertake a project that was a bit different. 

The American Film Institute has created a series of special lists of great American films over the years. They call it the AFI 100 Years... series. It's a great place to look for great movies to watch if ever you're wanting something with a little more substance than a lot of the, perfectly respectable but not quite as memorable, movies of today.

I wasn't quite sure which list to choose to do but I think I've settled on AFI's 10 Top 10, that way I can get a wide range of movie viewing experiences over both genre and cinema era. This list was voted on by 1500 leaders in the film industry and they chose from a list of 500 nominated films. The AFI's 10 Top 10, was created in 2008 and includes the Top 10 movies in each of the following genres:

Science Fiction
Romantic Comedy
Courtroom Drama

I'm not really sure how long this will take me or even how I'll go about doing it. I was thinking about doing one a day for 100 days but that seems almost excessive to a point, we'll see what happens. Maybe I'll do it every other day, who knows. In any case, AFI has compiled a great list of American cinema classics and I'm excited to get into it. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

American Reunion (2012)

I have been waiting for this movie for quite some time now. It was such a shame that they had the end the series on a bit of a downer in American Wedding, without a lot of the original cast. It was good but it wasn't as good as it could have been. As for the movies that came out after the third one....well I don't count those and neither should you. In any case, none of those matter because we have finally arrived at the American Reunion (2012).

It's the East Great Falls Class of '99 high school reunion and everyone, and I mean everyone is back. Of course the constant cast of Jim, Michelle, Stifler, Jim's dad, Kevin, and Finch (played by Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Seann William Scott, Eugene Levy, Thomas Ian Nicholas, and Eddie Kaye Thomas respectively) are all back but we see some old faces that at least I've been missing since American Pie 2. American Wedding was seriously lacking when most notably Oz (Chris Klein), Heather (Mena Suvari), Vicky (Tara Reid), Jessica (Natasha Lyonne), Sherman (Chris Owen) and Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) didn't return. Thankfully they are all back for the reunion and it's going to be one hell of a night. 

Not to be too lazy but I think the American Reunion site says it best:

In the comedy American Reunion, all the American Pie characters we met a little more than a decade ago are returning to East Great Falls for their high-school reunion. In one long-overdue weekend, they will discover what has changed, who hasn't and that time and distance can't break the bonds of friendship.

It was summer 1999 when four small-town Michigan boys began a quest to lose their virginity. In the years that have passed, Jim and Michelle married while Kevin and Vicky said goodbye. Oz and Heather grew apart, but Finch still longs for Stifler's mom. Now these lifelong friends have come home as adults to reminisce about - and get inspired by - the hormonal teens who launched a comedy legend.

Going to see a movie on opening night never felt so good. It was a great return to the awesomeness that is the American Pie series. There were some really great moments but you could tell the movie had a slightly different feel to it compared to the older ones. Of course, all the characters are 13 years older so it's to be expected that the atmosphere has changed. Honestly though, a couple parts seemed a little forced and a little uneven around the beginning of the movie, mainly because they had to tell so much of everyone's story again. Despite a bit of a rocky start, the movie ended strong, definitely up to par with some of the older ones of the series, and although predictable in many ways there are some great surprises in store that, I have to say, are very gratifying. My only main disappointment was how long certain returning characters appeared in the movie. Some deservedly got some more screen time like the return of both Oz and Heather, and John Cho as Milf Guy #2, but Jessica's, Sherman's, and Nadia's parts were kind of lackluster. Of course you expected it from the trailer but Stifler's mom (Jennifer Coolidge) makes a great return. I do have to say that while the movie is mostly about Jim, and Stifler often takes the cake (or should I say pie? I shouldn't), Noah Levenstein (Jim's Dad) has been the real backbone to the hilarious embarrassment throughout the years.

All said and done, this was an awesome movie, a much better sequel than all of American Pie 4-7 combined, not quite the same as the original three (not saying it's worse, just a little different), but I was laughing out loud pretty often in the theater. I would definitely recommend going to see it if you enjoyed any of the first three installments of the franchise at all, I doubt you'll be disappointed.

- Even including the "other" American Pie movies, Eugene Levy is the only actor of the series to appear in every single installment.
- Two of Alyson Hannigan's co-stars from How I Met Your Mother appeared in cameos or small parts in the movie. Charlene Amoia (Wendy the Waitress) plays the part of Ellie, Kevin's wife, and Neil Patrick Harris is a host of what seems shockingly like Dancing With the Stars.
- If you still don't remember or somehow forgot, Thomas Ian Nicholas who plays Kevin, starred in early 90's classics like Rookie of the Year and A Kid in King Arthur's court.
- Not all that important, but I have to say that Ali Cobrin who plays Jim's inappropriate younger neighbour Kara, reminds me of a young Marisa Tomei, who at 47 is still smokin'. Just saying.