Of Musings and Wonderings

{March 16, 2014}   Monsters University [Film]

imagesCA4GKQIWPixar really know their audience. When they released Toy Story 3, many of the people who were the right age for the first film’s target audience (around my age) were either about to go to University or were there already. A few years later, Pixar gave us Monsters Inc, and with Monsters University, have followed it up – again – with a story that many of the original audience can connect and relate to, as well as embracing new, younger audiences.

Monsters University expands on the universe we saw in the original. It starts with a little monster named Mike, as he goes on a class trip to Monsters Inc. There, they witness how the power of screams is harnessed, and Mike sneaks through a door and into the human world. After the trip, he has only one wish for his life. To become a scarer.

The only problem is that Mike is not scary. But he is determined, and goes off to Monsters University, becoming a Scare Major. He is the stereotypical nerd, using book smarts and knowledge to push himself in his course. There, he meets Sulley, a monster whose family are well-known as scarers. Sulley walks into the class late, acts like he owns the place, and gets by on looks and pure talent. Until a mishap between the two means they are spotted by the dean, who kicks them both off the course.

monstersMike sets about finding a group to enlist in Scare Games, joining a fraternity of very non-scary monsters, the only one he can find. But they are denied entry for being one team member short, and Sulley, seeing his chance, joins up with them. Of course, there are disagreements and arguments and eventually, they all come to accept one another and progress through the games, with a mixture of Sulley’s natural talent and Mike’s book smarts.

Okay, so the nerd and jock joining together to do well is not a new story. But this is Pixar we’re talking about, and they are good at taking cliché ideas and making them new. Just look at the Toy Story films. On the surface, there’s not a whole lot particularly unique about them. But the films themselves are brilliant, witty and have a great way of impacting on both children and other generations. Toy Story, Monsters Inc and Bug’s Life, to me, were all amazing, and make up a strong part of my childhood. I remember being super excited for Toy Story 2, and even at an age where I am technically an adult, I practically jumped for joy when I heard about Toy Story 3, and looked forward very eagerly to Monsters University.

Happily, I was not disappointed.

The humour, as it is a kid’s film, is a little simple in some places, though there are some brilliant moments that feel almost slipped in for the adults, and the jokes throughout remain strong whatever age you are. It’s fun to see the budding relationship between Mike and Sulley, and to see how they go from enemies to friends, and even a little bit of how they progress through Monsters Inc itself, bringing us to the starting point of the first film.

(SPOILERS COMING UP, if you haven’t seen the film)

maxresdefaultI have to admit, the ending left me a little conflicted. It’s a kid’s film, which usually means stories of following your dreams no matter the odds, overcoming obstacles, succeeding because you’re so damn unique. Monsters University takes a different route. Instead of Mike and Sulley overcoming all the odds, we see Sulley cheating so Mike can feel he’s a proper scarer, and Mike trying to prove himself by breaking the rules and putting everyone in danger. As such, they get kicked out of the University itself. Mike, as we know, doesn’t become a scarer, but he does put the skills he’s learnt to use, and helps Sulley do what he cannot. In a way, they don’t succeed, and yet…they still prove themselves. They have forged a lifelong friendship, have grown as characters, and there’s the feeling that, even if you can’t be the best at what you want to do, you can be the best in another way.

And really, isn’t that a better lesson to teach kids? More realistic, more down to earth. That you may not always reach your dreams, but that other dreams do come and just because something doesn’t work out doesn’t mean you have to give up.


Monsters University is a fitting sequel to the original film, one that will appeal to everyone, whether they grew up with Monsters Inc or have never even seen the film. More importantly, I’d strongly recommend this to anyone who did watch the first film when it came out. To me, it’s a great reminder of what Pixar meant to me as a kid, and who doesn’t want to connect to their childhood self, at least once in a while?


{March 15, 2014}   Now You See Me [Film]

now you see meFour street magicians are brought together to perform, entertain and, more importantly, cause a stir. Together, they make up ‘The Four Horsemen’, and for their first show they transport a Frenchman to his bank in Paris, where he steals money from the vault and showers it over the crowd. The Horsemen follow instructions presented to them by a mysterious figure, and upon realising the money is actually missing, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes is partnered with Interpol agent Alma Dray to track down the Horsemen and figure out what actually happened.

They enlist the help of a former magician who specialises in exposing magician’s tricks, and a strange game of cat and mouse ensues, with the Horsemen always staying one step ahead of the authorities.

Now You See Me is a fun, entertaining film, with enough magic and trickery to sustain it through the length of the film itself. It’s got a brilliant cast, with both Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine playing interesting, if slightly dickish, characters. The special effects work nicely to add to the sense of magic to the whole thing, with the Horsemen planted at the centre and showing off what they can do, even if this sometimes stretches the suspension of disbelief.

Most of the film focuses on Rhodes as he chases the magicians and tries to work out their next step, following their misdirection and realising more and more of the world they are all now operating him. There’s a budding romance between him and Dray, overshadowed at points by Rhodes passionate dedication to catching the people who constantly outrun him and the FBI. The film’s focus is on the authorities, but personally, I wanted to see more of the Horsemen, more magic and seen a bit more exploration of their characters, especially in terms of how they act together and how they work as a team.

NOW YOU SEE MESome of the strongest parts of the film come from the disasters people have experienced over the last few years. During their first show, the Horsemen speak of how the people were screwed over by the banks, how the recession has left people without jobs, homes, money, while the banks seem to get away with it. It forms the basis of their main act in the show, endearing the audience to them by convincing them that one man has been able to screw over his bank, with the money going back to the audience watching. In New Orleans, the audience are made up of victims of Katrina, all with the same insurance company, all of whom were, again, screwed over by them. And the Horsemen manage, in a small way, to help make it up to these people.

The revelation towards the end of the film feels a little forced, yet obvious at the same time, but it doesn’t detract from the sheer enjoyment of the movie. The magic is spectacular, absolutely wonderful to watch although very much unrealistic (but that’s what suspension of disbelief is for, right?). And the cast themselves, from Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine right down to James Franco’s brother (Dave Franco), are brilliant, adding real strength to the film. Like I said above, I would have absolutely loved to have seen more of the Horsemen themselves – who wouldn’t want more of Woody Harrelson? – but it’s a minor flaw in an otherwise really good film.

{February 24, 2014}   Alone In The Dark [Films]

alone in the darkOh, God. I’d honestly forgotten I’d watched this one. The main reason I remembered is because I started keeping a list of movies and books, mainly so I would remember to get around and write about them. Well…the fact that this almost disappeared from my mind says a lot, doesn’t it?

Let me see how much I can actually remember of this…

Paranormal detective is hunting for some artifacts. Finds some, is chased down for it, teams up with super hot scientist Tara Reid, and together they, err, stumble across something weird and fight it. Also some stuff about him having grown up in an orphanage and losing his memory at the age of ten. Because he was experimented on, or something. Oh! The people he grew up with end up fighting him, too.

So yeah, there’s all that going on. Honestly? It really, really felt like this film was trying to do too much. There were moments where it could have been halfway good, but then they’d squeeze in some crap and just leave you going “Whha…”

The film jumps from one thing to the other with as little explanation as possible. The action scenes are really dark, which means there’s very little to see, and the ending gives an overall apocalypse feel…people are supposed to have been evacuated, yet they leave cars and such behind. Because when it comes to Alone In The Dark, clearly no one was thinking of the word ‘sense’.

No wonder some people believe it’s one of the worst films ever made. We did not know this when we watched it.

Basically, stay away. Stay far, far away, unless you want to feel like you’ve lost part of your life you can never get back.

alone in the dark2

{February 16, 2014}   The Conjuring [Films]

the conjuringLet’s get one thing straight before I delve into this. I hate dolls. They creep me the hell out. By this, I mean china dolls, or old-fashioned dolls. Not like Barbie’s and stuff. I used to love them. But ventriloquist dummies and most types of dolls…my nan, when she used to go on holiday, used to bring back these big doll things. Because we visited her more often, I’d get first pick. I’d pick the least creepy looking one (I’m sure to most normal, sane humans they didn’t look creepy at all. They weren’t that bad), thank her with a smile and throw it in my cupboard once I got home, so I wouldn’t have to look at them.

So…yeah, I was really, really not into the first part of this film. Or any shot of ‘Annabelle’. Even looking up some of the images for this post were bad enough. They are scary, all right? Along with the previously mentioned dummies. (I can’t watch anything where there’s a shot of a dummy talking on its own. Puppets are fine. Dummies…no. Just no.) If you ever saw the Derren Brown where he convinced a guy he was a dummy, then just know that that in itself freaked me the hell out. Like, if that was me, I would have probably had nightmares and panic attacks for years.

*deep breath*

conjuring02The Conjuring tells the (allegedly) true story of a family who move into a large, spacious home, only to find that strange things begin happening. Firstly, their dog is killed shortly after moving in. Strange paranormal disturbances follow this, and eventually, the mother contacts Ed and Lorraine Warren, paranormal investigators, and asks for their help.

There are countless films out there that deal with families moving into haunted homes, (not complaining, as I do have a tendency to love these films) but The Conjuring stands out from these as it deals with, not just the family, but the Warrens, too, a real life couple who investigated these sort of happenings, and whose recordings inspired the basics of the film. (They were also the couple to investigate Amityville, and there’s a reference to this towards the end of the film)

To me, it really was the Warren side of things that made things most interesting. As the family try to cope with what’s happening, we see how Ed is trying to protect Lorraine, after a previous exorcism went wrong. And, as he states, she takes on the pain of what she sees and feels. It’s easy to see why he was less than eager to take on the haunting, and why he tries hard to keep her out-of-the-way.the conjuring 2There are some nicely done moments of real horror in the film, especially as it builds up towards the actual possession (because of course there’s going to be a possession). We get glimpses of the ghosts that haunt the property, and slowly, over the course of the film, we get hints and clues as to what is actually going on. It’s not thrust in our faces, and there are moments where we’re almost allowed to work out what’s happening, and what might happen, before the film’s characters do.

It’s an interesting plot, with an excellent build up, and one that is handled quite nicely. There aren’t long periods of time where nothing happens, but there’s not a scare in every scene. As well as that, the atmosphere really adds to the tension, and like in most haunted house films/novels, the house itself becomes a character in its own right.

Really good film, probably one of the best I’ve seen in a long while.

As a side note…they’re making a spinoff, based on Annabelle, the doll at the start of the film. To which I say…no no no no nope and hell no. I’ll be staying far, far away from that one.

{February 13, 2014}   Iron Man 2 [Films]

iron man 2I know, I know, I really should have seen this film before now. Ages before now. But I finally got to watch it! Yay!

After Tony Stark has revealed himself as Iron Man, he is urged to hand over his technology to the government, because, obviously, it will be much, much safer in their hands. Tony refuses, of course. In Russia, Mickey Rourke uses similar technology to Stark to build his own weapon, and is eager to get revenge against the Stark family. Tony discovers he’s dying, and appoints Pepper Potts as his CEO, to run his business, and hires a pretty redhead as his personal assistant.

Kind of wish I could go back and watch this before The Avengers, now, just to see if I could have worked out who she was beforehand. Anyway!

Iron Man 2 is your typical superhero fare, with a bit of added drama over Tony’s state of health. But, well, there’s not exactly a lot of tension in that. He’s the hero. Of course he’s going to survive. And win. No matter what sort of technology or how many guys the bad guy has, Tony will win. We know that. And the film doesn’t do a great job of really making us feel tense or worried. We do, however, get a glimpse at Tony as a more sympathetic, human character, rather than just a multimillionaire with some fun toys to play around with.

There are also some pretty cool action scenes, especially involving the fights, and, more importantly, some awesome scenes featuring Iron Man and Lt Rhodes, either fighting each other or fighting side by side.

It’s not a great film. Not even a really good one. But it is a decent superhero romp, and there’s plenty of Robert Downey Jr. to enjoy in it. More importantly, it is one of the many Marvel films feeding into The Avengers, and part of me thinks that it’s worth watching just for that.

et cetera