Frozen

frozenIn the seventy-six years since Walt Disney first released “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ all the way back in 1937 up until the more recently released ‘Tangled’, Disney Animation has long relied on European fairy tales for the basis of their films, and this year’s ‘Frozen’ is no different.

Based on “The Snow Queen” by Hans Cristian Andersen, ‘Frozen’ very much signals a triumphant return fro Disney to the fairy tale genre of animation that they have almost exclusively dominated for the history of film.

The animation is crisp and beautiful, clearly showing just how much of an impact that Pixar Animation has had on major animation features for the past decade or so.  Despite primarily being set in a wintery landscape, the brightness of this film is undeniable.

Just as with the key Disney classics of the past, the other stand out part of ‘Frozen’ were the songs.  The songs in this film are a return to the glory days of Disney Animation, and “Let It Go” will runaway with the Best Original Song and the film as a whole should win Best Original Score at the upcoming Academy Awards.

Some of the films that Disney released during late 90’s and early 2000’s could be classified as subpar, but the past few years has seen a rebound in quality with ‘Tangled’ and ‘Wreck-It Ralph’, and that trend definitely continues with ‘Frozen’.  The quality of the story telling, the emotional impact and the visual quality of all three of these films have been raised and Disney lovers everywhere are the beneficiaries of this.

That being said, I found ‘Tangled’ to be a good mix of a film for both boys and girls, while ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ was aimed at boys, especially those who play video games, and as a result ‘Frozen’ is most definitely aimed at young girls as a main target audience, and at times it slowed the film down a touch for me.

In the end, ‘Frozen’ is probably the best animated film I have seen at the theatres this year. Yes, better than ‘Monsters University, Despicable Me 2, The Croods and all, and should wind up being Disney’s first winner of the Best Animated Feature Oscar this coming February.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

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The Muppet Christmas Carol

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Over the years many a Christmas film or special has come out.  Some have become classics, while others are completely forgettable.  In the Mayer household, we have films and specials that fall into both categories.  However, there is one film that stands out from all the rest as the favourite of the head of the household, and that is ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’.

The Muppets are a staple of my childhood.  From Kermit the Frog appearing on Sesame Street, to Fraggle Rock, to The Muppet Show itself, Jim Henson’s creations carry some of my fondest moments.  Coupling that with perhaps Charles Dickens most famous work was an imaginative stretch way back in 1992, and one that has become synonymous with one of the best portrayals of Ebenezer Scrooge ever committed to film.

When you are watching a film that features The Muppets, you know you are going to get a few things.  First off, there are going to be songs.  While never considered a musical, a Muppet film will have multiple short songs throughout.  Secondly, there is going to be some over the top silly comedy, a staple of a franchise that features a bear that is a comedian.  Finally, you are going to get a film that has some genuine touching moments, and that is definitely at the forefront of ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’.

All of your favourite Muppets are here, from Kermit to Miss Piggy, to Fozzie Bear to Gonzo and Rizzo, albeit in smaller roles than you may be used to, as the real star of this film is and always has been the wonderful turn by Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge.

Michael Caine, all in the span of just over an hour, manages to be vile, hateful, scared, shocked, remorseful, repentant and spectacularly manic all leading up to a wonderful turn as a man full of life at the end.  While the idea of all of this happening as a result of interactions with various Muppets, the end result is just amazing.

The overall filming of ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ is a great blend of actual dialogue from Dicken’s written story along with slight adaptations involving The Muppets themselves, like having Gonzo portray Charles Dickens and having him narrate the film at times.

Having just watched this film again this past weekend, the last thing that I really want to touch on are the songs.  I once again found myself randomly singing along with the various songs during the film, from Kermit’s “One More Sleep ’til Christmas” to “Marley and Marley” sung by Statler and Waldorf all the way to Michael Caine singing “Thankful Heart” after his change of mind.

In the long list of Christmas specials, for me personally, ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ is at the top of the list, and is a shining example of how even in a film starring a series of puppets, your heart can be touched.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

Hunger Games: Catching Fire

catchingfireOne of the biggest surprises of 2012 was ‘The Hunger Games’.  Bringing in a staggering $408 million as an early Spring release, ‘The Hunger Games’ introduced audiences to the Young Adult book series like no other film has.  The film also pushed Jennifer Lawrence to superstar status as an actress, something that was only strengthened by her subsequent Best Actress Oscar for another film.

With that result from early 2012, it was a given that the remaining two books of the series would be filmed as well, and that is where we are, with the second book in the series, Catching Fire, being made into ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’.

The first thing that I want to get out of the way is the running time of ‘Catching Fire’.  Coming at 146 minutes, or nearly two and half hours, the time can seem daunting going into the film, but I will say this, at no point during the film was I worried about how long it was going to be, and at the end of the film, I actually was shocked that it had been the full run time.  That is a great sign for the film, the fact that two and a half hours goes by pretty much unnoticeably.

‘Catching Fire’ ups the ante on the action, with over an hour of action in the arena, but the key thing that is a difference between the first and second films is on the political side.  This film furthers the story of the seeds of rebellion that the main characters Katniss and Peeta sowed at the end of the first film.  While the twist at the end may be a little too obvious to anyone that is looking, it does fit well with the way the story went.

‘The Hunger Games’ franchise, even with a change of directors between the first film and the second, seems to be in great hands moving forward, is benefiting immensely from the amazing casting choices, and with two more films yet to come as the third book, Mockingjay, is being split up, the next two November’s promise even more visits to Panem and the future political upheaval.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

About Time

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As most of my articles about films in the past year can attest, I tend to have a leaning towards big budget action films, be they superhero comic book adaptations, sci-fi fare or just straight-up action flicks.  But every so often there comes along a film that is so far separated from anything like my normal samplings that it is a shock even to me that I enjoyed it.  ‘About Time’ is the most recent example of that.

For lack of a better description, ‘About Time’ is a romantic comedy with very slight sci-fi leanings in its major plot device.  I say a very slight sci-fi element as the film is based around the ability of the main character to travel back in time to past points in his life.

Other than that quirk, the rest of the film is exactly what you would expect, and that is not a bad thing at all.  I described it last evening not as a romantic comedy, but as a comedy with a love story made possible due to a hint of sci-fi.  While that might sound like a way for someone to justify seeing a film like ‘About Time’, it is just the way that I feel the film was made.

The best part about this film was the role played by Bill Nighy.  Nighy’s character, the father of the main character, sold this film for me, and I am not sure the film itself would have been anywhere near as good had it had a different actor in this role.  His timing and mannerisms were perfect for a father sharing a family secret with his son and everything that comes from that.

I won’t go into much more detail of the film than that, other than to say that it was a very pleasant comedy that will be a perfect date film for couples looking for some time together.  It was very sweet, and when taken the right way, nearly perfectly done.  ‘About Time’ is a great example of the kind of film that will never get made in Hollywood today, something that they have clearly forgotten how to do.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

Thor: The Dark World

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Marvel Studios continued on their path of universe building in 2013 in four different ways.  First, we got to see the potential end of the Iron Man character in ‘Iron Man 3’ back in May, although we all know that won’t happen with Robert Downey Jr. signed on for 2015’2 ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’.  Secondly, we saw the launch of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ on television, furthering smaller subplots on broadcast TV.

The last two parts of this equation have been in the past week. The third part was announced late last week, Marvel and Netflix will produce a four series deal of thirteen episodes each, all culminating in a crossover mini-series called ‘Defenders’ starting in 2015.

And finally, this past weekend saw the release of Marvel Studio’s latest film, ‘Thor: The Dark World’.  Starring Chris Hemsworth as the titular hero and Tom Hiddleston as fan-favourite Loki, the film is Marvel’s first non-Iron Man sequel and a true test to see if they can grow a series that doesn’t involve the aforementioned Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark/Iron Man.

Reading some half reviews before I finally got a chance to see the film on Sunday, I came across many complaints about the comedy aspect of the film and that it shouldn’t be a comedy, and to anyone that says that I say, what is the issue?  I found the comedy aspects to be well utilized to work through some of the slower moments of the film.

And that is where we come to my one real grief with the film.  At times it seemed to suffer from a lack of direction, and not from the director Alan Taylor, but from bringing to screen scenes that were meaningful.  This came to light with some scenes in Asgard that seemed to lag under too much seriousness.  This is where the comedic tones of the film were sorely noticeable in their absence.

The best part of ‘Thor: The Dark World’ is the complicated relationship between Thor and Loki, but that also raises another concern with what Marvel has done with the Loki character.  They have done a wonderful job of making Loki a character you both love and hate all at the same time, just as Thor does in the films.

The problem there is with just how good a job they made of making Loki be an unrelenting villain in ‘The Avengers’.  These two different characterizations of Loki just don’t mesh together and can be a tad jarring, especially with how well the character arc progressed from the first Thor to this sequel.

The action of the film is straight forward and exactly what you would expect. Thor is the champion of Asgard, and is leading their forces in the quelling of uprisings that began as a result of the destruction of the Bifrost at the end of the first film.  This allows for the explanation as to why he has never returned to Earth to rekindle his relationship with Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster.

There is continued strife between Thor and his father Odin, despite their apparent differences having been set aside at the end of the first film and a furthering of the respect between the two at the start of ‘The Dark World’.  However, this is eventually torn asunder by the plot of the film and will be another thread left unresolved for a third film.

And that is a bit of another issue that I have with this film.  It really is setup as a bridge to get from the first film where Loki is the villain to the third film which will have the culmination of his schemes for the throne of Asgard.  While a great overall concept, it at times makes the individual films seem weak in comparison.

On the whole, the comedy and action elements of ‘Thor: The Dark World’ do enough to overcome the other failings of the film, and do an excellent job of differentiating this franchise from its companions from Marvel Studios.

A must see in the theatre, a worthwhile see in 3D if you want to take advantage of the five-minute look at ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ coming in April 2014, and of course, as is the norm for Marvel Studios films, stay through the credits for both a mid-credits scene and a post-credits scene.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

Ender’s Game

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Yet another entry into the 2013 theatre calendar in the category of Young Adult, ‘Ender’s Game’ is quite possibly the first one of these films this year to be aimed more towards males and adults.  Based off of the 1985 novel from author Orson Scott Card, ‘Ender’s Game’ also is the latest effort in the embattled Sci-Fi genre this year as well.

Quite possibly the biggest issue for this film is just who it is for.  Is it for young adults or is it for anyone who has read the book, which brings in an audience well over the age of 30, even 40?

And in the sparsely seated theatre I was in last night, this is exactly the dilemma that is facing ‘Ender’s Game’.  A film featuring mainly young teenagers with a side dish of Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley, ‘Ender’s Game’ definitely has a feel that it at one point and time was aimed primarily at teenagers, but the feel that I got from the film is that it in the end is directly aimed at kids from the 1980’s and 1990’s in the audience.

That being said, I actually really enjoyed the film, to a certain degree.  The action scenes were enjoyable, and the “born to be the best” attitude that main character Andrew ‘Ender’ Wiggin displays I found to be accurately displayed on screen to the way that the film was shown.

The downfall for me was at times the acting, and I think that falls down to the young age of many of the main characters in the film.  But, expecting this going in tempered the impact that this did have during the film.

In the end, the positives outweigh the negatives and allowed ‘Ender’s Game’ to be the third best Sci-Fi film I saw this year and the second best “original” Sci-Fi, and that really comes down to the visuals of this film.

I hadn’t mentioned the visuals yet, but they are just stunning in the film.  The thing that really jumped out at me was that these visuals seemed to be done with 3D in mind, even though the film was not shot in 3D nor was it post-converted either, and that was a bit of a surprise.  That being said, it really made for some wonderful scenes and proved that you don’t need 3D to create impactful visuals.

With that said, the visuals make this a must see for any fans of Sci-Fi, and a must see in theatres on as clear a screen, and as big a one as well, as possible.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa

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Probably the main question that arose with the release of ‘Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa’ is this: Is the biggest surprise the fact that we have had three ‘Jackass’ skit movies so far, or the fact that we have gotten a fourth film based off of Johnny Knoxville’s geriatric character, Irving Zisman?

That is really what I found myself wondering last evening as I took in ‘Bad Grandpa’.  Having never watched the original show at any point and time in the past, my only real immersion into the world of ‘Jackass’ was through the three previous movies, and, to be honest, I was never a fan of the skits involving Irving Zisman on a whole.

With that being said, this film definitely has some positive moments, but not really enough to carry the entire 90 minutes or so of its run time.  When it is funny, ‘Bad Grandpa’ is  still a great example of what the ‘Jackass’ brand is.  When it isn’t, it highlights the still unsure acting abilities of Johnny Knoxville.

But then again, if you are going into this movie expecting award winning acting, that might be indicative of some other pressing issues you may be having.  As a prank movie with a “plot”, you get what you get with ‘Bad Grandpa’, and if you are a fan of the ‘Jackass’ franchise, you will get your laughs in for sure.

In the end, I guess I was just expecting more laughs and felt a little cheated by the time the credits rolled.  As for the credits themselves, long a staple of the ‘Jackass’ hi-jinxs, they were even a bit of a let down, aside from the reactions of the innocents finding out this was part of a movie.

A sure recommend for anyone that is a fan of the previous films, there isn’t much to make this a must see in theatres though.  Other than that, most people could take this as a take it or leave it movie.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.