Netflix Movie of the Week #20: The Triplets of Belleville

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After having sat through too many disappointing major Hollywood this year already, I delved into the Netflix instant streaming catalogue to find solace and to cleanse my palate, as it were. I had heard before of The Triplets of Belleville, but I initially dismissed it as the type of ponderous European animation that you’d need to be nostalgic about to properly appreciate. But, being the wild and free-spirited soul that I am, I decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a watch anyway. So imagine my surprise when I found Triplets to be one of the most weirdly absorbing and imaginative films that I’ve seen in a very long time.

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Despicable Me 2 Review

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As the Summer releases keep coming, I find that it’s healthy to devote some time to films that make a departure from the typical blockbuster explosion-fests. Family friendly animated films as well as the occasional comedy provide a good antidote, but such examples are exceptionally hit-or-miss in terms of quality. As a fan of the original Despicable Me, I was curious to see where the franchise would go. Unfortunately, the creative team did’t seem to have much of an idea either.

 Directed by Pierre Coffin, the film follows in the footsteps of Monsters University and continues the trend of animated films with the least necessary sequels. Be that as it may, Coffin certainly knows what he’s doing when it comes to creating a visually engaging and dense world. Writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, on the other hand, have taken some seriously heavy inspiration (read: ripped off) Pixar’s 2011 film Cars 2. Apparently, the go-to plot line for animated films with work-shy creative teams now involves espionage.

Actors Steve Carell, Miranda Cosgrove, and Russell Brand reprise their vocal roles from the first film and are joined by Kristen Wiig as spunky love interest Lucy Wilde and Benjamin Bratt as luchador-style baddie El Macho. All of the voice actors are expertly cast, and bring a real sense of vitality to the film. From Carell’s hapless and often confounded Gru to Bratt’s swaggering, domineering El Macho, the actors and a measure of charisma to the film that it would have sorely lacked otherwise.

 The striking thing about the film is that it is almost exclusively for children, but that’s not necessarily the criticism that it sounds like. I can say definitively that the film knows it’s audience, with most of the humor deriving from the adorably low-brow antics of the minions. Their made-up language and constant slapstick may be a hit with the kids, but might might not find purchase with older audience members who expect some of the same wit that was present in abundance in the original Despicable Me.

 Likewise, the film is almost unbearably cute in parts and might come across as uncomfortably saccharine to us jaded folk. Such a degree of sugar coating, if you will, is of course aimed at the kids, but Despicable Me 2 also incorporates a love story, bizarrely enough, which I would wager the aforementioned children wouldn’t find particularly interesting. My question is this: Who is all of this for? There are certainly few laughs to be found for the adults, and the shoehorned relationship drama almost came across as pandering.

Nevertheless, Despicable Me 2 is, indeed, a departure from the action-saturated blockbusters of today. It’s delightful to look at and genuinely charming in places, but if you’re in it strictly for the story or the comedy, the affair will quickly start to feel like a drag. If nothing else, Despicable Me 2 will put you in a good mood, and for that, I’ll allow it to slip by with a recommendation.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Monsters University Review

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When I first heard that Pixar’s Monsters Inc. was slated to get a sequel, I was a little taken aback. Like Finding Nemo, which I’m more than a little incensed about, Monsters Inc. was the Pixar property that needed a sequel the least. While it’s true that the original was brilliantly written and was perhaps the benchmark of computer animation for it’s time, the story that it was trying to tell was emphatically over by the film’s end. With that in mind, I was expecting nothing more than a profoundly transparent milking of the nostalgia cash cow. It was a pleasant surprise, then, when I discovered that the Monsters University would not be a sequel, but a prequel. For me, a little hope had been restored, but it remained to be seen if Pixar could make that singular brand of Monsters lightning strike twice.

Monsters University, directed by Pixar veteran Dan Scanlon, takes place before the events of Monsters Inc. and focuses on the budding relationship between the over-ambitious Mike, intent on becoming the world’s greatest “scarer”, and Sully, possessed of great potential but coasts by on his family name. Direction is overall impressive and the team at Pixar is to be commended once again for making a visually beautiful film, as  their masterful CG shines. Stars like Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi reprise their previous roles and help to bring the Monsters universe to life.

The two things that have always impressed me with Monsters are the fully realized and rich world and the dynamic and fun characters. While both of these aspects return in Monsters University, the narrative seems to be much more character focused than it’s predecessor. In many ways, this is a positive development, and each film work well within the context of the other. Monsters University gives us a glimpse into the minds of the characters and lets the audience become invested in their fates, and Monsters Inc. gives the characters some vast, incredible challenges to overcome. The issue with Monsters University, however, stems perhaps from the fact that we know how its going to end.

Sure, we can make a reasonable assumption that the protagonists will win the day- as this is a film aimed at children. What I’m referring to though, is the fact that the audience knows that the overarching goals of the characters, to become “scarers” is based on a lie, and is not nearly as vital as the narrative would have you believe. It may be the case that this relatively small plot hole eliminates any of the stakes that may have been established, but that really depends upon the individual audience member’s investment in the Monsters universe as a whole.

The comedy mostly stems from a lot of the usual tropes of a college comedy being seen through the filter of the monster world. In that sense, I believe that it not only succeeds, but also understands and hits its target audience. See, Monsters Inc. was released in 2001, when I and many other now-college students were just kids. The release of Monsters University perfectly coincided with that film’s target audience’s maturation and assimilation into college life. Indeed, there’s a lot to relate to, and a lot that your average college kid could get out of it. Kids, likewise, will get a kick out of Mike and Sully’s antics, even if this is their first experience with the Monsters franchise.

All in all, there’s a lot of things that Monsters University does right, even if it lacks a little of the Earth-shattering originality of it’s predecessor. Many of its flaws (not that there are many to begin with) can be overlooked, thanks to the brilliantly conceptualized world and clever, dynamic characters. “Solid”, is perhaps the best word to describe the film, and deserves a recommendation at the end of the day.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Short Film Sunday #1: Lily and Jim



Hello once again, people of the internet. After a long day mostly filled with the compulsive and unhealthy watching of far too many short films, I came up with the brilliant idea of spreading the beauty of the medium to the unwashed masses via a weekly column on this humble website of ours. This incredible art form has been undercut for too long, and I plan to give it some long overdo exposure. So, with this noble goal in mind, I bring you the first ever Short Film Sunday.

I’ve found that in the modern era of the internet and any number of other newfangled contraptions there’s a pervasive problem with forming actual connections. We may be in the same room or even sitting across from one another, but it seem like it’s harder than ever to actually build up the courage and put yourself out there to form an actual link with another human being. It’s this ever present idea that Don Hertzfeldt attacks with his brilliant short film, Lily and Jim.

Presented in a low budget style akin to the doodles and scribbles that are no doubt familiar to any high schooler who’s ever been bored during math class, Lily and Jim presents the story of the world’s most awkward blind date, ever. The titular characters are so immobilized by their own insecurities and fears that they are unable to connect in any real way, instead spiting out meaningless and really quite awkward small talk. They’re just trying to find someone to be with, but they’re just so incapable that it all at once becomes hilarious and tragic. They both sit there wanting the same thing, just to connect, to not be alone, but they can’t, none of them will take that first step and really put themselves out there. Instead they soak in their own self loathing and neuroticism and end up where they started, alone.

In may way this kind of thing is exactly why I love short films. In these short 13 minutes Don Hertzfeldt is able to build an illuminating microcosm of modern relationships, showing us how much we vie for human contact but tragically sabotage ourselves in a vain effort to not be hurt. It achieves something that most films can’t even get close to in their lofty 120 minute run-times. By simplifying and shortening he’s able to deliver a clear picture without any of the bloat inherent to many feature length films. It really is quite amazing and something that people shouldn’t underestimate for its short film moniker.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted Review

It seems like today whenever people watch a movie they are looking for some kind of deeper meaning.  What does this film say about morality? How does this movie make me re-evaluate who I am as a person? Although it is great when movies provide insightful ideas about the human condition, there is a lot to be said for movies that are just downright fun.  It may not be a movie that is very thought provoking, but Madagascar 3 is the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in a long time.

After leaving Africa and going to Monte-Carlo, the gang of four unlikely animals and their friends join a traveling circus in an attempt to return to New York and escape the evil animal control officer, Chantal Dubois.  The usual all-star cast is back, featuring Ben Stiller and the always-funny Chris Rock, along with some new additions including Bryan Cranston and Martin Short, who notably voices the funniest recent addition to the animal crew.  With a cast like this, as well as some really top-notch comedic writing, Madagascar 3 doesn’t disappoint.

After having mixed feelings about the first two Madagascar films, I expected more of the same from the third installment, but as soon as this movie started, I knew I was in for a treat.  While most series seem to tire out by the third installment, Madagascar 3 just might be the best film of the bunch.  While the films have always been a little nonsensical, Madagascar 3 throws caution to the wind, ridiculously ignoring any kind of seriousness or even basic physics, while comically poking fun at that fact all along the way.

If there is one complaint I have about this movie, it’s that the laughs trail off a little bit in the third act.  While serious is not a word I would use to describe the later parts of the film, it certainly shifts the focus to developing the plot.  Even though the ending was a little sappy and predictable, it was nice to see that the characters actually showed a bit of emotional growth by the end, and ultimately that’s all you can really ask for in a family film like this.

While it never really reaches the prowess of something like Toy Story, and even though this isn’t likely to become a classic animated film, it’s probably the best movie going experience I have had in a while.  No matter how old you are, I would recommend this movie; even though there’s a pretty good chance you’ll feel ridiculous laughing out loud at a movie that was made for six year olds who think lions are cool.

Rating: 4 out of 5