Big Hero 6 (2014): A Review

The Superhero film – like any genre – has its formula.

A steady three act structure. Act 1, we set the tone and characters. Act 2, something doesn’t go right for our hero (or heroes). Act 3, it all comes together, evil is defeated, and good continues to win the day.

So – when the structure is so solid, how do you approach it?

If you’re Disney – it’s with excitement and heart, and that’s on display in their latest release, Big Hero 6.

Loosely based on a Marvel comic (pretty much only the character names and vague concept are ported over here), and set in a made up city called San Fransokyo (it’s like if Blade Runner went right), our lead protagonist is a young teenage genius, Hiro Hamada. Hiro is incredibly bright, but lacks focus, wasting his skills on underground robot fighting. His brother Tadashi, however, is working hard in the robotics wing of San Fransokyo University – with his prize creation being Baymax, an incredibly friendly robot focused on healthcare and well-being.

Hiro and Tadashi live with their aunt, with their parents dying at a young age. Like any good Disney movie, it’s probably not a spoiler to say that Tadashi doesn’t stay in the picture for very long – and as a villainous mystery ensues, Hiro – alongside the wonderful mix of personalities that made up Tadashi’s fellow robotics students – quickly wind up in the world of superheroics.

We’re clearly coloring in the lines in Big Hero 6, but what makes the movie shine is the palette that directors Don Hall and Chris Williams use to shine. From incredible action sequences (a flying scene is equal parts How To Train Your Dragon, Kiki’s Delivery Service and the opening of Futurama), inspired voice work (Damon Wayans Jr. is a delight, as is Maya Rudolph as Aunt Cass, and comedian TJ Miller as burn out fanboy Fred), and absolutely beautiful design, as every inch of San Fransokyo shines, from small details like Hiro’s awesome robot clock to the blimps that shine high above the city.  I especially love how the movie actually bumps convention at times, too, with science ruling the day, and the most bad-ass character being female (complete with a catchphrase of “Woman Up!”)

The movie’s not-so-secret weapon, however? Baymax.

Voiced by 30 Rock’s Scott Adsit, Baymax is one of the greatest creations in the modern Disney lexicon. Huggable, hilarious, and with a silicon heart of gold, you can’t take your eyes off him. The film’s trailers may have taken the shine off of some of his antics, but Baymax represents some of the best physical comedy ever rendered in CG. The acting of Adsit also somehow brings an indelible warmth to Baymax’s robotic voice, which just adds to the love he clearly forms in the audience. There will be a lot of Baymaxes under Christmas trees this year.

Yes, the movie does eventually fall into the same “rush to the end” trap that all superhero movies do. Yes, you can see the twists and turns coming from a mile away. But when a movie nails a formula so hard, it’s difficult to not enjoy every single minute of it.

More Wreck-It Ralph than Frozen (although Ralph is still the better movie), Big Hero 6 continues the Walt Disney Animation Studio renaissance started with 2010’s Tangled. It’s a fun, exciting movie for animation fans of all ages.

Now, if you don’t mind, I have to figure out which Baymax I’m going to buy off the Internet.

Additional Notes: I saw Big Hero 6 in 2D, so I cannot speak to the film’s 3D quality. With the 3D being rendered natively from the computer generated files, it’s probably pretty good – especially the flying sequences. The film is prefaced by a brilliant short, Feast, which will tug at your heart-strings, particularly if you love dogs. Oh, and stay through the credits…especially if you’re a superhero fan.


An Epic End: ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ Trailer

This December, Peter Jackson brings his tales of Middle Earth to a true end.

After three amazing Lord of the Rings films, and – thus far – two installments of The Hobbit, thirteen years of films come to an end with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

Warner Bros. released the final trailer for this third Hobbit film, and it is – as one would expect, epic.

Sure, no Smaug. Sure, barely any of the titular hobbit. But it’s hard to not have an incredible sense that a major chapter of filmmaking has come to an end.

Perhaps The Battle of the Five Armies will continue the upward trend of the Hobbit films. The Desolation of Smaug was a significant improvement on An Unexpected Journey, and while I continue to believe The Hobbit could have been told in just one film – this trailer does a lot to revive the spark for Middle-Earth I once had.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies releases December 17, 2014.


‘Toy Story 4′ Is Real, Set For June 2017

It’s been a very unexpected day from Walt Disney Pictures.

First, Lucasfilm (which they own) announced the official title for the next Star Wars movie – The Force Awakens.

Then, earlier this evening, Pixar surprised us all by announcing…

Toy Story 4.

That’s right – in Summer 2017, seven years after the remarkable third installment of the Toy Story series (which perhaps is the only great “threequel”), former Pixar head and current Walt Disney Animation Studios head John Lasseter (Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Cars) returns to the directors chair and brings us a fourth adventure starring Woody and Buzz.

Described as a “love story”, the story was drummed up by Lassister and fellow Pixar veterans Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo), Pete Docter (Up) and Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) and the script will be written by the surprising duo of Will McCormack and Rashida Jones. Yes, as in Parks and Recreation actress Rashida Jones. They last teamed as the script writers for the indie-flick Celeste And Jesse Forever.

Disney’s official fan site, D23 has the full story, including this key quote from Lasseter:

“We love these characters so much; they are like family to us,” Lasseter said. “We don’t want to do anything with them unless it lives up to or surpasses what’s gone before. Toy Story 3 ended Woody and Buzz’s story with Andy so perfectly that for a long time, we never even talked about doing another Toy Story movie. But when Andrew, Pete, Lee, and I came up with this new idea, I just could not stop thinking about it. It was so exciting to me, I knew we had to make this movie—and I wanted to direct it myself.”

I have to admit – I doubted the possible quality of Toy Story 3 and we ended up with one of the most emotional films of all time.  Don’t make me regret believing in you, guys.

Can Pixar bring back the magic? Or is this another instance of sequelitis? We’ll find out when Toy Story 4 hits theaters on June 16, 2017


Star Wars Episode VII has a title…

The Force Awakens.

Announced today with a confirmation of the completion of principal photography, I’d expect we’ll get a full press release and what not shortly.

Certainly indicates we’ll be seeing more Jedi in the new trilogy, yeah?

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens hits theaters on December 18, 2015.


Interstellar (2014): A Review

Ambition is a hard thing to fault.

That’s the phrase that’s been bouncing through my head since last night’s screening of Interstellar, director Christopher Nolan’s latest film.

Ambition not only seems to be the drive of the filmmaker here, but also the film itself.  Set in a not-too-distant future where the Government has been disbanded, most of our crops have died off, we’re constantly dealing with toxic dust clouds, and schools teach that the moon landing was faked – so as to reduce the aspiration to go beyond our dying planet – the status quo of Interstellar is a heavy one. And unfortunately, one we may be heading into ourselves.

But even in the times of darkness, there is the spark of humanity, the inspiration to do more. In the film, our great hope lies within Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a widowed father of two. One of NASA’s last great pilots-in-training, Cooper’s plans to see the stars were ended abruptly, thanks to a combination of a bad test flight, the end of NASA’s funding, and the loss of his wife. Now, alongside his father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow), he tries to make ends meet as a Farmer, raising his children Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) and Tom (Timothée Chalamet), while growing one of the only crops left – corn.

Time is running out – and after a surreal message thanks to the magic of gravity – Cooper soon finds himself back in the world of NASA, following the audacious hopes of Professor Brand (Michael Caine), piloting mankind’s last hope – a spaceship headed directly into a wormhole, with the goal of finding an inhabitable planet for all of humanity on the other side.

It’s heady, heavy material – as one would expect with a tagline of “Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here.”  And over it’s nearly three hour run time, Interstellar goes farther into the world of space exploration and the good and bad of humanity than any film in recent memory. Christopher Nolan, who directed, produced, and co-wrote the film (alongside his brother Jonathan Nolan, who originally wrote it for Steven Spielberg) has always been a director who aims to match blockbuster stakes with an imbued intelligence with each of his films.  It’s not the average director who decides to set a heist film in a dream, focus on a magician’s deadly rivalry, or set an entire film in reverse order, and Interstellar follows in Christopher Nolan’s path to mix pop art with high-minded film-making.

Interstellar, partially a brain child of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, can sometimes sway under the weight of deep discussion of physics, time, and relativity (it’s as if Nolan is addressing those who felt Inception didn’t explain enough), but it is the films basis in these concepts – alongside universal human concepts such as love, legacy, survival, and the sins of the father – that adds incredible import to every scene and every sequence.  Before you worry that the film is TOO heady – the movie is full of stunning sci-fi landscapes, tense action sequences, and some of the coolest robot sidekicks ever (which somehow never feel crass or overdone). Mixing both of these worlds makes the movie stronger, and sure to leave a lasting impact with audiences.  The adventure lasts across generations, and even for as long as it is, you never feel bored or disengaged. There’s a sequence in the second act that feels a bit tacked on, but pays off strongly – proving that if you give the film the time, it will deliver in spades.

Each element of the film is an incredible treat. The cast produces stunning work for the most part – a verifiable who’s-who of names (with strong performances from Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain), including some name actors that I didn’t expect to see in the film. The cinematography is stunning (coming from Hoyte van Hoytema, filling in for Nolan’s usual go-to, Wally Pfister), the CGI work is jaw dropping, and Hans Zimmer has produced perhaps his greatest score ever.

Does the movie succeed completely at it’s goals? Perhaps not. The film has an absolutely surprising third act, with shades of 2001, that never quite reaches the lofty heights of that film-defining classic. But at the same time, it may be better to admire a film for reaching just out of it’s grasp. With Interstellar, Christopher Nolan may have aimed for Kubrick, but landed at Spielberg – and that may not be a bad thing.  The film is one that will stick with you for sometime to come, reverberating in your head for ages.

I’ve always been fascinated with space. Fascinated with our place in the universe, and the audacity and the ambition to rise above and see beyond what is in front of us. As I walked out of Interstellar last night, I looked in the sky and found myself looking again with that child-like awe. Not many films can do that for me. This is something special.

Go see Interstellar. See it on the biggest screen you can find. Look forward to debating it with friends for years to come. This is more than a movie – it’s an experience you absolutely must be a part of.