Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)

Monsters vs Aliens

If you’re going to read this blog, I suppose there’s something you should know about me right off the bat: I fucking love animation. I’ve been obsessed with the medium — especially the pure, hand-drawn and stop-motion stuff — ever since I discovered He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Voltron: Defender of the Universe as a child. (I actually broke my wrist, swinging a plastic sword around and shouting, “I have the power!” when I was two years old.)

That said, I continue to watch a lot of animated features as an “adult,” and I recently took a chance on the 2009 Dreamworks release known as Monsters vs. Aliens — a 90-minute CGI romp that blends references from all the major science fiction films of the past 50 years into a silly and colorful adventure. Overall, I found it to be extremely decent. It never attempted to get deep or pull on any heartstrings, but it maintained its light and breezy tone from beginning to end, evoking a few genuine chuckles along the way. It also benefited from some really great voice acting by well-known artists such as Reese Witherspoon, Kiefer Sutherland, Will Arnett, Rainn Wilson, Amy Poehler, and Stephen Colbert.

The computer animation was adequate enough to propel the story at a steady pace and dazzle the senses every once in a while. And, even though the characters’ mugs were — for the most part — ugly as sin, the animators managed to create some really brilliant facial expressions that added a little more depth to the already punchy dialogue. They also gave us the wonderfully behemoth and dead-eyed mutated bug, known affectionately as Insectosaurus, whom I will never forget. The movie would have gotten an extra pot leaf if it had been filmed one cel at a time. But it maintains a certain charm of its own, and it is in no way offensive to even the most sophisticated sensibilities.

Three pot leafs out of five:
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Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Uncle

This movie, based on the popular 1960’s television series starring a young Robert Vaughn, is a perfect example of Style over Substance — and I don’t usually go for that. Yet, somehow, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was able to win me over with its charm, and I must admit that it’s a pretty solid flick. Despite essentially glossing over its plot, which involves a nuclear warhead, international espionage, and some very earnest attempts to save the world, the movie manages to be a ton of fun. Guy Ritchie’s super-slick direction and a few fantastic performances by the young cast — Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, and Alicia Vikander — keep the boat upright for an entire 116 minutes.

While Ritchie is responsible for a few of my favorite flicks, including Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, he’s also capable of making some real stinkers. (Swept Away, for example, was one of the most atrocious flicks I’ve ever sat through.) And ever since Revolver and RocknRolla, which were both unique and interesting, the talented director has been more reliant on the works (and scripts) of others, borrowing Sir Conan Doyle’s detective for a couple movies and then rebooting an old TV show. (Next, he’s taking on a Knights of the Round Table movie, which seems a bit too ambitious. But I’ll watch anything that attempts Arthurian legend.) Anyway, my expectations were not exceptionally high when I popped The Man from U.N.C.L.E. into my DVD player, but in the end I was pleasantly surprised. Although Ritchie seems to be pulling his little non-linear pranks for no good reason these days (showing us part of a scene and then going back to it a few minutes later to fill us in on what we missed), he still hasn’t dropped the ball completely, like I keep half-expecting him to do.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. gets points for including a strong and sympathetic Russian protagonist — the type of character that has been largely absent from Western cinema for the past few decades. (American audiences, at least, got used to seeing Russians as “bad guys” in the 80’s and 90’s, and it’s refreshing to see that trend changing 15 years later. Another recent British film to do this well was Last Passenger, IMHO.) But the best thing about The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was it’s subtle but acerbic humor, which was present throughout. (A scene that involves accidental electrocution, in particular, had me rolling!) I’ll give it a fair rating because it’s so terribly fluffy — but also lots of fun.

Three pot leafs out of five:
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The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Goldfinger (1964)

Laser Crotch

Happy 2016, folks. (That still sounds so “futuristic” to me. And yet, quality hover boards remain commercially unavailable. Oh well…) A good friend of mine suggested that I start a movie review blog, and since I do admittedly watch a lot of random, unconventional cinema, I figured what the hell?

I kicked this new year off with the classic James Bond flick, Goldfinger, interestingly enough, and immediately decided that it represents one of the best entries in the series. After Skyfall caught me rather off-guard with its surprisingly artistic direction and mildly poignant script, I decided to start the whole franchise over from the beginning, watching Dr. No and From Russia With Love first. I had almost forgotten how light and breezy 007 could be before Daniel Craig and co. turned him into the super-serious, 21st-century assassin that he is today! (And, for the record, I do know how to enjoy both versions of the MI6 superstar — the campy and colorful playboy of yesteryear and the mumbling, dead-eyed killer we’re given today.) But Goldfinger is definitely one of the best depictions of the infamous secret agent: It’s much more fun than any of the post-GoldenEye attempts, and it beats out its two 1960’s predecessors in almost every category as well.

Released in ’64, Goldfinger has everything that makes the Bond films so memorable: an irreverent-but-explosive opening scene, a psychedelic sequence of opening credits, a titular song (sung by Shirley Bassey this time), a sexy Aston Martin car, a bunch of nifty gadgets from Q Branch, an absolutely ridiculously-named “Bond girl” (Pussy Galore), the lethal fedora-wielding henchman (Oddjob, who later became my favorite character in Nintendo 64’s GoldenEye), an appropriately diabolical supervillain in Goldfinger himself (who had a house like Tony Stark’s), and gorgeous views of the Swiss countryside. The movie is also responsible for about 73% of the jokes cracked in the Austin Powers series. (And I believe it may be the first film to ever feature a laser beam inching slowly toward somebody’s crotch.) The opening scene, which shows Sean Connery emerging from the ocean with a wet seagull attached to his head, sets the tone of the film perfectly. By this third outing, the handsome actor had struck a commendable balance between professional badass and vulnerable human being. We actually hear Bond remind himself of “discipline” aloud at on point, as he tries to avoid the distractions posed by the opposite sex. And when things get really hairy for our hero, his ego evaporates and we see him genuinely fearing for his life.

The direction of Guy Hamilton, who replaced the director of the first two Bond films (Terrance Young), seems a bit more confident and evenhanded here too. The script is straightforward and coherent, and Hamilton doesn’t complicate it with extraneous shots or mumbled dialogue. Unlike more recent Bond flicks, which feature some of the most incredibly nuanced fight choreography ever conceived, Goldfinger gets points for its refreshingly awkward fight sequences, which are filled with sloppy face-palms and rib-kicksĀ  — just like most of the hand-to-hand man-grappling I’ve witnessed in my storied life. Anyhow, in the final analysis, I’ve got to rate Goldfinger higher than both Dr. No and From Russia With Love. It seems to be the high water mark of the series so far…

Four pot leafs out of five:
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Goldfinger (1964)