Movie Review: Cars

Knowing that I’m a big Pixar fan, I decided that I would try to be as impartial as possible in watching the new movie, Cars. I did a good job too—I thought. At first I was jaded as I heard Randy Newman’s Disney/Pixar logo fanfare at the beginning and I thought, “Oh yes, this is a John Lasseter film and he ALWAYS uses Randy Newman.” Then I was cynical as the movie started and I thought, “Is this going to be an hour and a half long Chevron talking car commercial?” And then the race began… I was hooked.

The story is about Lightning McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson (Wedding Crashers, Shanghai Noon), a rookie on the racing circuit with a huge fan base and even larger ego. When his arrogance leads to botching his easy victory which ends up being a three-way tie, a showdown race is scheduled between the three winners in California for the following week.

On the way to California, his impatience causes him to be stranded in Radiator Springs, an old forgotten Route 66 desert town with an unusual automobile population. It’s here that he learns that his one-man-team/win-at-all-costs mentality is not the way to find true happiness and make real friends.

Pixar definitely is the top CGI animation studio for technological innovation and it showed in the smoke left by the squealing tires and the visual depth of the crowds in the opening racing scenes. The reflections on the cars actually made me think that they must have used real cars in places. The realism was amazing!

As with all Pixar films, their technological prowess never upstages the depth and charm of their characters. Owen Wilson is perfectly cast as the self absorbed speedster, and the Radiator Springs gallery of misfits all have their special charm and appeal. Tony Shalhoub (Monk, Galaxy Quest) does a perfectly unrecognizable accent as the obsessive Luigi, the European auto mechanic; Paul Newman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting) has a powerful presence as the road weary Doc Hudson; but perhaps the most memorable of the bunch will be Larry the Cable Guy (Larry the Cable Guy), who voices the innocent and brash Mater, the tow truck.

Apple iTunesI have to say that Pixar has done it right again. While I wouldn’t classify this as my most favorite of their movies, it in no way tarnishes their reputation for putting out the finest in CGI Animation, if not the finest in family entertainment.

I dare you not to enjoy this movie.

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Movie Review: Firewall

>The kinds of things I look for in a suspense thriller are a dangerous adversary, a likable protagonist, an overwhelming crisis, and a sense of real danger. Firewall has all of these qualities and more as it ups the ante by having the crisis set around the main character’s family who are taken hostage. The interesting twist is that his family is being held as hostages in his home with him. This creates the ever-present danger that if he fails to comply with the kidnapper’s demands, he runs the risk of having his family killed right in front of him.

In the movie, Harrison Ford (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark—do you really need me to tell you who he is?) plays Jack Stanfield, the director of network security at a bank in Seattle, Washington. The crisis begins as Bill Cox, played by Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World), uses his thugs to take Jack’s family hostage.

The ultimate goal of the hostage takers is to rob the bank. They place such complete surveillance on Jack that it seems virtually impossible for him not to comply with their demands in order to save his family. This is exactly what I liked about it. There were times when I thought there was no way he’d get out of it, and sometimes when it appears that he is going to get them out, it backfires and makes the situation worse.

To avoid spoiling any of it, I won’t say anything more about the plot. I will just say, that Harrison Ford is getting old. That’s not such a bad thing, though, but it was strange for me to watch this movie after finding out that he’s about 2 years older than my parents, who are now 62. The filmmakers actually used this to their advantage a few moments when he actually gets hurt! At one point, he had to climb around the side of a building and I started to think that they were stretching the believability a bit, but then he drops down on the ground and hurts himself and struggles to get up again. He’s also almost 20 years older than Virginia Madsen (Electric Dreams, Sideways), who plays his wife, but she did a very good job playing the mother of 2 children and I didn’t think about the age difference after a while.

My only complaint about this and other movies in this genre is that, while there were no questions left unanswered, the end of the movie came too soon after the climax. I like to have a little time to see that the characters are all really OK and that they are getting their lives back. At the beginning of this movie, his daughter calls him “Jack”, instead of “Dad” indicating that there must be some kind of rift between the two of them. I would have liked to see more of an emotional connection between them by the end.

Another thing that stuck out to me, though it didn’t bother me as much as other movies have, is that there was no foreshadowing left unexplored. Comments like, “Hey, his Radio Controlled car is messing up the TV!” or “Don’t forget the dog’s new special collar” or “Don’t feed him peanuts because they’ll kill him” all come back to pay off eventually, though not always as effectively as you might expect. Just once I’d like to see someone look longingly at a tube of toothpaste, or something, and never see it again—just to play with our heads.

Overall, Firewall effectively lives up to the suspense thriller genre. Although it didn’t get my adrenaline pumping as much as some other movies I’ve seen, it’s still a fun ride with strong actors and an engaging plot.

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Movie Review: Tristan and Isolde

>In the first few minutes of Tristan and Isolde, I thought that it was going to be a poorly-done knock-off of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. The movie unfolds as a medieval period film about warring kingdoms with a big battle at the beginning. I soon realized, that this wasn’t intended to be a battle movie like Braveheart; rather, it was a tragic love story which takes place in an adeptly portrayed pre-Christian England.

This movie is a retelling of an ancient legend that has many variations and has inspired other well-known stories such as Romeo and Juliet or the love triangle of King Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot.

At the time the movie takes place, England and Ireland are enemies. Only Ireland is united under one king whereas England is broken up into tribes. If those tribes were to unite, then they will be much too strong for Ireland to dominate, so Ireland’s king does his best to sabotage England’s unification efforts. Lord Marke, played by Rufus Sewell (A Knight’s Tale, Arabian Nights), is the tribe leader most likely to unite England as king. He brings the orphaned boy Tristan, played by James Franco (Spider-man 1, 2 & 3) into his household where he raises him as a son.

The adult Tristan goes to battle and is believed to be dead after he is cut by a poisoned blade. He is sent away in a funeral boat but his boat ends up beached on the coast of Ireland, where he’s found by the King’s daughter, Isolde, played by Sophia Miles (Thunderbirds, Underworld). Isolde nurses him back to health in secret, and they inevitably fall in love.

Eventually, Tristan returns to England and is sent to a tournament to win the prize in the name of Lord Marke. Little does he know that the prize is the hand of Isolde in marriage.

One of the things this movie did very well was the getting-to-know-you sequences between Tristan and Isolde. There was a natural relationship that formed as she nursed him back to health. When the time came for Isolde to marry the king that Tristan was loyal to, the angst that the two of them feel, pitted against their need to be separated because of duty was very powerful. This movie effectively shows us these struggles instead of just telling us that they exist. It’s funny, but during this portion of the movie, I kept thinking about how good Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones could have been, if the Anakin and Padme sequences had been structured the same way that Tristan and Isolde’s sequences were.

One of the things that I really liked about this story is that Lord Marke is really a good guy! Isolde even begins to appreciate him after a short time. This makes what Tristan does even more despicable. It was nice to see the main characters actually struggling with the decisions as they attempted to balance duty and honor against their love for each other.

In the end, I was sad about the the fates that Tristan and Isolde were consigned to and for the mistakes that they made. I would classify this as a great morality tale. Often we believe that our feelings should rule over us always, and that if something “feels right” it must be good. But we need to always remember, that honor and duty aren’t just social conventions— they’re reminders that our choices and actions actually impact the lives of others, and ultimately, we’re responsible for much more than just our own peace and safety.

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