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Monsters University Review

With Monsters University, Pixar attempts to take back the crown as the best animation studio out there, a title that seems to be swaying towards Illumination Entertainment after the success of Despicable Me and its recent sequel. To prove they have not lost their magic touch, Pixar have brought back a winning pair, second only in animation to Pixar’s own Woody and Buzz, Mike and Sulley. University looks at the events that forced the two loveable monsters together and what made them the record breaking team that we first met in Monsters Inc more than ten years ago.

“I’m gonna be a scarer!”

Returning characters Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), Sulley (John Goodman) and Randy (Steve Buscemi) are all back, joined by a host of new talent. The primary new characters are mature student Don (Joel Murray), Squishy (Peter Sohn), two headed monster Terri and Terry (Sean Hayes, Dave Foley) and the unpredictable Art (Charlie Day). These new monsters make up the fraternity Oozma Kappa, the fraternity that Mike and Sulley are forced to join in order to compete in Dean Hardscrabble’s (Helen Mirren) Scare Games to prove they have what it takes to be the best scarers on campus and win their place back in the University as a scaring major. But with personal rivalries and an overall lack of scariness about their new friends, will Mike and Sulley have what it takes? The answer seems almost predictable what with this being a prequel, but what’s important is the journey.

 

While Monsters Inc was arguably Sulley’s moment in the spotlight, University is all about Mike Wazowski. We’re introduced to the adorable one eyed monster as a child on a field trip to Monsters Incorporated where he gets his first glimpse at the scare floor and realises his ambition in life is to be working there in the future. This short opening sequence opens up a whole load of strings to Mike’s bow; he has an ambition, he has a background, he has room to grow and learn right from the off, and by the end of the film Mike Wazowski comes out on top as one of Pixar’s considerably best characters to date.

“I can’t go back to jail”

Sulley, however, does not come off that well: arrogant, cocksure and generally that guy in class who seems really big headed who nobody really likes. Saying that, though, watching Sulley and Mike’s friendship blossom over the course of the (near two hour) movie is something very enjoyable, even though at times it feels like Sulley doesn’t really deserve Mike’s friendship. It is not until the final sequence that he really earns any respect or likeability, but more on that sequence later.

 

Monsters University isn’t really any different to any other college movies, using tropes and plot points to move the story along in the expected fashion. But then occassionaly it veers off the path into the realm of the unknown. It would have been very easy to head straight towards the beginning of Monsters Inc but that’s not what Pixar went with; it would have been even easier to end with Oozma Kappa winning the Scare Games and everything having a happy ending but that’s not where they went either and credit has to go to Pixar for their wonderful storytelling.

“I’m going to wipe the floor with that little know-it-all”

The animation is wonderful. Everything is turned up by ten on the colour scales and the creativity to come up with so many different monsters is really unparallelled. If nothing else, this is beautiful to watch. Things take a darker (both in tone and aesthetics) turn when Mike and Sulley risk their lives journeying to the human world. This wonderful sequence brings the two characters together in a really heartfelt exchange of words and shows great comradery between the two as they work so well with one another to get the better of the humans, playing to each other strengths: highlighting the ups and downs of friendship being worth all that hassle if at the end the two parties come out stronger as one than they were on their own.

 

There seems to be an unwritten rule that if you laugh out loud five or more times at a comedy then it’s definitely worth recommending to someone else. I can’t remember a moment when I stopped laughing while watching Monsters University; there was joke after joke, all aimed at a midway between child and adult so that everyone could share in the joy. There were fantastic set pieces, big laughs and really tru touching moments of a bond forming between lifelong friends.

“You’re just not scary”

It seems unlikely that we’ll get another Monsters prequel and it’s probably best if we don’t get a sequel. Monsters Univeristy never quite matches the original but it compliments it wonderfully.

 

My Rating: 8/10

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UK Release Date: 24th May 2013

Stars: Todd Phillips (director), Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifanakis, Ed Helms, John Goodman, Jamie Chung, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham, Ken Jeong.

Plot: This time, there’s no wedding. No bachelor party. What could go wrong, right? But when the Wolfpack hits the road, all bets are off.

The posters that have been released for this final chapter in The Hangover series have been parodying Harry Potter so it makes sense that the trailer continues with that tongue in cheek attitude. It’s a wonderfully put together trailer that will wet the appetite for any fans of the first two films.

I’m pretty sure that it’s impossible not to laugh at some point during the trailer. It starts with a scene you wouldn’t normally expect of the genre but quickly rectifies this with some great humour and that carries on right to the end.

The plot is still pretty unclear but it seems like Justin Bartha gets left behind again, John Goodman plays a bad-ass villain, some guys really wanna be part of the Joker’s gang but all they could find were pig masks, Heather Graham returns and giraffe lovers will probably be pleased and then less pleased in a matter of seconds. Enjoy…

Flight marks Robert Zemeckis’ (of Back to the Future fame) return to live action directing after only working on animation/CGI projects since Cast Away in 2000. As he is most famously known for light hearted projects such as Back to the Future, Polar Express and A Christmas Carol Zemeckis may seem like an odd choice for such a deep story with several difficult and challenging themes to tackle, so would he be able to rise to the challenge?

Denzel Washington is Captain William ‘Whip’ Whitaker, a well known and well respected airline pilot. When his latest flight goes awry Whitaker is forced to make a drastic choice and crash the plane into an empty field, managing to save many lives; from this tragedy Whitaker becomes known as a hero. However, an investigation into the malfunctions of the flight reveal that all may not be as it seems.

There’s nothing I can say about Denzel Washington’s performance that you wouldn’t expect anyway. He is absolutely flawless as the tragic airline captain and is so enthralling in his performance that you can’t take your eyes off him. Right from the beginning Washington draws you into his character and slowly peels away layers and layers of Whip, allowing for a close examination of his character and all of his vices. While not always likeable there isn’t a moment where you want him to leave the screen because the character is full of complexities and conflict and incredibly well written.

And speaking of the writing, Flight is easily the best film I have seen this year in terms of its writing and storytelling and is one of the best written films I have seen in my life. This isn’t a film that is driven by action and there isn’t a lot of action scenes that crop up after the plane crash but that doesn’t matter. Wasington’s character is superbly well written as I mentioned above but so is Nicole (played by Kelly Reilly) who ends up being a wonderful treat really despite the fact I did not have a clue where her story was going or who she was when she first turned up. But then when this was revealed it made it even better. And there is one subtle scene where the plane is coming down over the house of Nicole as she is being pulled away by paramedics which I thought was understated but beautiful.

The wonderful acting is not limited to Washington alone. In a cast that features the likes of Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Brian Geraghty and Bruce Greenwood it’s impossible to expect anything less. Every member of the cast does more than hold their own with John Goodman and one line from Greenwood in particular providing some much needed laughs into a drama heavy production. Goodman’s brief appearances are a joy to behold and while I would have liked to have seen more of him it is probably for the best that he came in small doses.

The filming of the crash is superb. The in-depth analysis of the characters is fantastic and how it deals with the aftermath of such a tragic event is really well done. Flight is absolutely superb, a fantastic piece of drama. Unfortunately for Washington he is in a very tough category in terms of Best Actor at the Oscars and the script probably won’t win Best Screenplay but it has my vote!

My Rating: 8/10.

UK Release Date: 12th July 2013.

Stars: Dan Scanlon (director), Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julia Sweeney, Helen Mirren.

Plot: A look at the relationship between Mike and Sulley during their days at the University of Fear — when they weren’t necessarily the best of friends.

In recent years I have questioned whether Pixar have been going off the boil a little bit with recent films Cars 2 and Brave not quite living up to past Pixar films. However, Monsters Inc is one of my favourite Pixar films so I have been looking forward to seeing how Pixar’s first prequel would turn out. Finally we have the trailer and…

… I can’t help but feel disappointed. You don’t get any real storyline or impression of plot, you don’t really get a sense of a funny rivalry between our two heroes like we did in the very first teaser which was hilarious, and most of all you don’t get to see many returning characters despite the cast returning. Instead you have so many new characters thrown in to these two minutes its impossible to make anything of it!

To paraphrase Nick Fury, I still believe in Pixar. And I really hope that there is more to Monsters University than the obvious jokes the trailer throws at us. If this doesn’t do well then the future for Finding Nemo 2 and the rumoured Toy Story 4 does not look good.

February is looking like a very exciting month over here in the UK for film releases. There’s animation, Oscar nominated performances, big laughs and big explosions. Here’s my rundown of the films to look out for over the next four weeks.

 

Bullet to the Head – 1st February

This looks like the speech-slurring Sylvester Stallone is back to his best as he teams up with Fast Five‘s Sung Kang. A very ordinary storyline but throw in some fantastic action scenes and funny one liners and you’ve got yourself one of the most enjoyable action films of the year.

 

Flight – 1st February

Denzel Washington is a man that always delivers and here he is with his latest Oscar nominated performance as a pilot who’s heroic saving of a crashing plane is soon under investigation as he may not be all he seems. With a supporting cast of Don Cheadle, Melissa Leo, Bruce Greenwood and John Goodman this has no choice but to be a fantastic drama.

 

I Give it a Year – 8th February

This is probably the film that I am most looking forward to this month. I can’t remember the last time I saw a trailer that genuinely made me laugh out loud as much as this one does. I Give it a Year looks hilarious and I hope that I will not be disappointed, especially since Simon Baker, of The Mentalist fame, is in it!

 

Wreck-it Ralph – 8th February

Nominated for the Best Animated Film Oscar at this years ceremony, Wreck-it Ralph looks set to be able to rival anything that Pixar have done in the past. Set in the world of video games we follow bad guy Wreck-it Ralph in his attempt to prove to himself and everyone else that he is in fact a good guy.

 

A Good Day to Die Hard – 14th February

The fifth installment in the Die Hard franchise promises to be the biggest one yet. And with the introduction of Jai Courtney as McClane Jr it may be a sign that Bruce Willis is ready to pass on the mantle of leading the series, although I highly doubt that!

 

Cloud Atlas – 22nd February

Cloud Atlas‘ narrative structure is one that hasn’t been seen all that often in film and, upon it’s release in America (a good few months earlier than the rest of the world for some daft reason) it instantly divided critics. Despite this, I am still excited to see how the film will play out and really looking forward to seeing how the adaptation of David Mitchell’s epic novel turns out.

“In a race against time, a crew of art historians and museum curators unite to recover renown works of art stolen by Nazis before Hitler destroys it” – that is the true story synopsis of The Monuments Men, to be directed by George Clooney. Clooney will also be starring in the film alongside a rather impressive cast: Daniel Craig, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville and Bob Balaban. The latest big name actor to join the project is good friend and previous co-star of Clooney’s Matt Damon. Clooney is also co-writing the feature and it is set to start shooting in Europe at the beginning of 2013.

It has long been confirmed speculation, although not actually confirmed, that Jamie Foxx would be playing the main villain Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Well this week it has been announced that what everyone already knew IS true. Foxx seems very excited to be playing the role and he should make for a good villain. Another piece of casting news was announced this week regarding the sequel and that is that Dane DeHaan, of Chronicle fame, will indeed be playing Harry Osborn. Like Foxx, DeHaan has been linked with the role for a while now so it is good to get some solid confirmation about it.

 

Arnold Schwarzenegger has made a swift return to acting since leaving his post as the governor of California, starring in The Expendables 2 and having an incredible four films slated for release in 2013. However, he will also be returning to Conan for The Legend of Conan. The Legend of Conan will not be a reboot or a remake but a catch-up with the old character, a greater hero story apparently. It will completely ignore the Jason Momoa update that was released earlier this year and absolutely flopped. Sylvester Stallone, a good friend of Arnie’s, has relatively good success when he brought back his famous characters (Rocky and Rambo) to the big screen a few years ago and Schwarzenegger will be hoping to do the same with Conan.

 

And how could I ignore the two posters that were released this week for two of the most hyped movies of the next year: Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel.

Superman Into Darkness

Disney now owns three of the biggest companies in the world of movie making: Pixar, Marvel and LucasFilm, in particular the Star Wars franchise. So with these three huge franchises all working under the same roof it is inevitable that comparisons will be made, but just which is the biggest and best franchise? I will be ranking Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars out of 10 in categories such as Oscar recognition, box office takings, quality of the films and star quality.

 

Box Office

The box office takings are vital to companies and film franchises such as these three as it indicates whether there is any demand for their films any longer and obviously, at the minute, there is. The Star Wars franchise (the original trilogy and prequel trilogy) have taken $3,793,650,642 at the box office, making an average of around $632million per film. Marvel Entertainment have so far released six films of their own, from Iron Man to The Avengers and have made $3,772,055,196 (with The Avengers making up the most of that) averaging $628million per film. None of this quite matches Pixar who, since releasing Toy Story have amassed an incredible $7,794,770,758 at the global box office, however on average this only amounts to just under $600million per film.

Marks out of 10 for Box Office takings:

Pixar: 6

Marvel: 7

Star Wars: 8

 

“Son?”

Oscars

Each year the Oscars acknowledge the best films and the best efforts in making films. Marvel are really lagging behind in this area with just three nominations, two for Iron Man and one for Iron Man 2. Star Wars have so far managed to win seven Oscars with another fifteen nominations! But still this is far far behind Pixar who have been storming the Oscars with almost all of their films and have won ten Oscars for their feature films with another 30 (yes 30!) nominations!

Pixar: 10

Marvel: 1

Star Wars: 6

 

Film Quality

There is no doubt about who makes the best films out of Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars. Ever since their first release Pixar have continually churned out near perfect, enjoyable family films almost every year. With their recent releases it looks as though they have started to lag but their discography cannot be ignored. Marvel, aside from Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, have dominated the superhero genre and continue to bring out fun, light hearted but still very very good films and all of this culminated in one of the best films of 2012: The Avengers. I have never really liked Star Wars but I can appreciate that the original trilogy was good (yet nothing to really shout about) however the prequel trilogy is universally disliked.

Pixar: 10

Marvel: 8

Star Wars: 6

Star Talent

Star Wars made stars out of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford primarily, although they were virtual unknowns at the time. However, they did attract Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness to the franchise. In the prequels they managed to cast some good British talent with Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor along with the huge Samuel L. Jackson. Marvel also signed Samuel L. Jackson up along with huge stars Robert Downey Jr, Ed Norton, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Renner, Hugo Weaving, Tim Roth, Jeff Bridges and Sam Rockwell (and that’s not even all of them!). Tom Hanks, John Ratzenberger, Michael Keaton, Kevin Spacey, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi have all provided voices for Pixar characters but a lot of the time the actors are unknown to audiences.

Pixar: 6

Marvel: 9

Star Wars: 4

 

Overall Ratings:

Pixar: 32/40.

Marvel: 25/40.

Star Wars: 24/40.

So overall Pixar comes out on top which is unsurprising to say the least! Although with their two most recent films (Cars 2 and Brave) not going down as well as previous efforts are they on the decline? Marvel have just released the third highest grossing movie of all time this year and their universe of films is only going to continue to grow and get more and more exciting. Star Wars has continued to live on in television shows since the end of the film franchise and everyone is expecting big things from the new instalment. In the next few years it will be interesting to see who Disney is getting the most from.

Argo Review

In a year with so many big action sequences and huge blockbuster films hitting the cinema screen it would be easy for Argo to have escaped attention. Argo depicts the unbelievably true story of the rescue of six American diplomats in Tehran, Iran during 1979 in which CIA operative Tony Mendez (played here by Ben Affleck) attempts to infiltrate Iran and get the diplomats out by pretending to be a film crew scouting locations for their new science fiction film titled Argo.

The obvious problem when making a film about a rescue mission is thus: audiences primarily go because they want to see the rescue which puts pressure on the build up to the rescue because it becomes a hard task to get your audience invested in your characters and your story. It was a worrying start for Argo, I felt, because the opening narration which outlines Iran’s state at the time of the events seemed pretty boring and while not exactly irrelevant, it wasn’t actually needed either. Fortunately these early concerns of boredom were soon put to rest, largely thanks to Ben Affleck, although not for his acting.

Ben Affleck is not often quoted as anyone’s favourite actor and, in all honesty, I don’t think his performance in Argo as Tony Mendez will change that at all. Tony Mendez seems to come across as quite a boring although no doubt brave and intelligent man but he’s not a character who immediately gains your interest and pulls you into the story. Fortunately, Ben Affleck is a wonderful director and he directs Argo as well as starring in it and he does a brilliant job of really capturing the emotion of the story. Every time that the film goes back to Iran and focusses on the stranded Americans the film seems to dig a lot deeper than most, with real panic, stress and human pain being shown and Affleck very subtly leaves the empathic audience to really get a feel for the conditions and sadness of the situation by themselves.

Ben Affleck is helped by the fact that he has a very experienced cast for him to direct. The cast combines stars of both television and film in the forms of Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Scoot McNairy and Kerry Bishe among others. Every cast member puts in a more than adequate performance and really bring to the forefront the emphasis on emotion and character. Along with Affleck’s brilliant direction it is partly Goodman and Arkin’s double act and comedic moments that help to sustain interest before the actual rescue takes place.

Once Afflek’s character touches down in Iran and meets the diplomats that is when the pace begins to quicken and things begin to get a lot more interesting! The rescue itself is nail biting stuff that will make your heart thump out of your chest. There is so much suspense and tension created, conflict between the characters, flaws in the plan, will the be found out or not? I think you are best of seeing Argo with no knowledge of the real life escape to save yourself from ruining the ending of the film. Although, even if you do know how the situation resolves itself you will still be overcome with emotion as you will the escape to happen and you wish for everyone to make it out of Iran safely. Of all the films I have seen this year Argo is the one that has created the most tension and suspense. The final act is incredibly gripping, nail biting, edge of your seat entertainment and the audience is rewarded with a fantastic ending.

It would be wrong to call Argo a feel good film but the sense of elation that runs through your body with the climax of the film is unmatched by most films this year. I would suggest that Argo could well be a dark horse for an Oscar nomination. It truely deserves the hype and brings the emphasis of the cinema back to human stories. Just brilliant.

My Rating: 8/10.

UK Release Date: 12th July 2013.

Monsters University is the upcoming prequel to the brilliant Pixar hit Monsters Inc. and while it may be over a year away from release, here is the first teaser trailer showing all your favourite monsters in their college days.

Monsters University is a look at the relationship between Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) during their days at the University of Fear — when they weren’t necessarily the best of friends. Other characters are also set to return such as Randall (Steve Buscemi), Fungus (Frank Oz) and The Abominable Snowman (John Ratzenberger).

This is the first prequel that Pixar have ever done and they have chosen some very popular characters to do it with so they’d better get it right and let’s be honest, this is Pixar. About 95% of the time they get it spot on! The teaser does just that; it teases the audience with what to expect from their two heroes with a hilarious trailer and guarantees that things will be different to Monsters Inc. 

Pixar has Brave coming up later this year however anticipation for that film is not as high as some of Pixar’s previous releases and their previous offering of Cars 2 seemed to miss the spot with a lot of people but hopefully this is just a blip on their form and Monsters University will take Pixar back to being the undisputed kings of the animated film world.

UK Release Date: 25th January 2013.

Stars: Robert Zemeckis (director), Denzel Washington, James Badge Dale, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Bruce Greenwood.

Plot: An airline pilot saves a flight from crashing, but an investigation into the malfunctions reveals something troubling.

From the director of the all time classic Back to the Future trilogy, Flight is Denzel Washington’s latest offering and sees him return to a more drama centred piece after recent films Safe House, Unstoppable and The Book of Eli. This is a great decision by Denzel Washington in my opinion because I think he is at his best in dramatic roles rather than the more action engineered roles he likes to take.

Denzel Washington plays the pilot of a place forced to crash land in the middle of nowhere. He instantly becomes a national celebrity and hero as he lands successfully and saves passengers’ lives. However all is not what it seems and upon doing tests alcohol is found in the pilot’s system which seems to be a reason as to why the plane may have took a dive in the first place. Washington’s character has two sides to him and is something that he could really get into and have fun with, I anticipate a fantastic performance from the ever consistent Washington.

Unfortunately though, the trailer gets a little lost and seems confused about what it is actually advertising. At times I feel like it chops and changes from a crime drama to light hearted drama to courtroom piece then to a thriller; if the people advertising don’t know what kind of film it is then how are we supposed to know? It seems like Flight is suffering from a slight identitiy crisis which really needs to be sorted before its release especially since Denzel Washington, although his films still make a profit, does not have the box office appeal that was once bestowed upon him.