The Lorax: Movie Review

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Hollywood has a hit and miss track record when it comes to adapting Dr. Seuss stories. While the 1966 TV special for How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a celebrated masterpiece, the big screen Jim Carrey version from 2000 is best left forgotten. Same goes for the disgraceful 2003 live-action version of The Cat in the Hat, starring a very creepy Mike Myers. And who can forget the surreal 1953 musical The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, which Seuss wrote solely for the screen. It might be a cult favourite now, but it was definitely not something he was proud of then.

In recent years Seuss’ material has been treated much better by filmmakers who understand how beloved his stories are. When Horton Hears a Who! came out in 2008 people were genuinely shocked by the stunning quality of the animation as well as the script and voice work. The movie’s critical and box office success opened the doors for the next Seuss adaptation — The Lorax.

A scene from 'Dr. Seuss' The Lorax'. Courtesy Universal Pictures.
A scene from The Lorax. Courtesy Universal Pictures.

Set in a town where everything is fake, including the trees, The Lorax is about a young boy who ventures out to find a real tree for a girl he likes. On his journey outside of town he meets the Once-ler, a man who became rich selling a useless fashion accessory and then lost everything after he cut down all the trees required to make it. The Once-ler tells the boy about the Lorax, a mystical creature who had warned him about the outcome of his ways. After all the trees were gone, so was the Lorax, and neither has returned.

After screening the film my four-year-old son said it was the “best movie ever!” Then on the way home he began asking serious questions about nature and how we can protect the environment.

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While Seuss wrote the book for The Lorax in 1971, and it was adapted as a television special in 1972, the underlying environmental message is even more relevant today. That said, it’s not overly preachy and the film, written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (the duo who also wrote Horton and Despicable Me), is hilarious for the most part. The colourful animation is breathtaking too, and the voices, which include Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Betty White, Ed Helms, and Danny DeVito, all fit perfectly.

After screening the film my four-year-old son said it was the “best movie ever!” Then on the way home he began asking serious questions about nature and how we can protect the environment. If a movie can entertain while secretly educating children, it’s a must-see in my book.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Rated G
Voices of: Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Betty White, Ed Helms, Danny DeVito
Directed by: Chris Renaud and Kyl Balda

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REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets In Concert

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

A scene from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Courtesy Warner Bros.

I have been a Harry Potter fan for a long time. I’ve seen all the movies multiple times (in the theatre and at home) and am currently reading all the books with my kids. To say that the excitement of the series has worn off over the years is an understatement. That said, seeing Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra performing the film score live took things to a whole new level and blew me away.

Against a warning from house-elf Dobby, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) heads to his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to discover that the Chamber of Secrets has been opened and a snake-like Basilisk is on the loose petrifying students. Harry and his best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) look for clues to try to catch the monster and close the Chamber for good.

RELATED: Toronto’s Sony Centre announces next chapter in the Harry Potter Film Concert Series

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the second part of the Harry Potter series. The film, directed by Chris Columbus, came out in 2002 and surprisingly holds up very well on the big screen. It was the last Harry Potter film with Richard Harris as Professor Albus Dumbledore (Harris passed away before the film opened) and it introduced the lovable house-elf character, Dobby. Kenneth Branagh played celebrity Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor, Gilderoy Lockhart, and if you’ve read the book you know he nailed the part.

Seeing the film with a live orchestra performing was a truly unique and magical experience. My kids, who just saw the film at home for the first time a few months ago, were on the edge of their seats totally absorbed by it. There were even moments where the hair on my arms stood on end I was so wowed over it all. A lot of people came dressed up as their favourite character and the conductor encouraged the audience to cheer and be loud. As someone who has seen the film at least three times before, it was a brand new experience and I highly recommend checking it out.

Two things I will note since I was asked about both. Yes, you can hear the dialogue of the film as the orchestra plays. They also include the English subtitles, which I thought was a nice touch (especially when the crowd was cheering). There is also a 15-minute intermission in the middle.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets In Concert screens at the Sony Centre for Performing Arts on October 13 and 14. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit sonycentre.ca. A performance of the third film in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, is scheduled for May 16 and 17.

Have you seen a Harry Potter film in concert? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.

Movie Review: The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie

A scene from “The Lego Movie”. Courtesy Warner Bros.

This review was originally posted on Criticize This!

I spent a good part of my childhood creating and building objects out of Lego: Vehicles I dreamt of driving, buildings and houses I imagined living in, and other random things I could come up with while playing on my bedroom floor. The possibilities of what one can do with those colourful bricks are endless, and I made sure I tested every combination possible. The Lego Movie takes those childhood memories and turns them into a reality. An awesome, spectacular reality.

Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt) is a regular, simple Lego man who follows his instructions and does what he’s supposed to do day in and out in the city of Bricksburg. Then he falls into a hole and wakes up with a strange object glued to his back.

The object, he discovers, is the “Piece of Resistance” and it’s needed to stop the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell), the controlling ruler of the Lego universe who will go to great lengths to keep everything perfect. Emmet is joined by a team of “Master Builders” willing to help him on his heroic journey, unless Lord Business catches him first.

There have been many Lego-themed, straight-to-DVD movies, videogames, and TV shows, and while some of them are very good, nothing has come close to capturing the true feeling of playing with Lego as The Lego Movie did. It could be that instead of strictly going the computer animated route, the filmmakers incorporated a traditional stop-motion look and even used real Lego bricks in the making of the film. And it looks absolutely brilliant, especially in 3-D.

Writer-director duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who were responsible for the great adaptation of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, infused the script with enough twists and turns to give The Matrix a run for its money. This is not a watered-down kids flick. Yes, kids will love it (my 6-year-old is still going on about it), but this is a smart, inspired production that goes beyond all expectations of what a movie based on Lego could be.

Towards the end there’s a moment that totally changed the dynamic of the entire film and made me realize I was watching something truly unique. The Lego Movie is a near cinematic masterpiece and I can’t wait to experience it again.

Rating: **** (out of 5 stars)

Movie Review: Despicable Me 2

Despicable Me 2

A scene from Despicable Me 2. Courtesy Universal Pictures.

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When the first Despicable Me came out in 2010 it felt fresh and put new life into the family-friendly animated film genre that had started to get stale. After endless amounts of films cheering for the good guy, we were all of a sudden rooting for the bad guy and actually wanted him to succeed in stealing the moon to be the most evil villain in the world. It was fun and exciting. Despicable Me 2 is unfortunately not as original as the first, but it is equally entertaining.

Gru (Steve Carell), who is out of the villain game raising his three adopted girls and working on a line of jams and jellies, is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help find a criminal mastermind with plans to create evil creatures and take over the world. He’s partnered with an agent named Lucy (Kristen Wiig) and must go undercover in a mall to stop them before it’s too late.

While the plot is not that groundbreaking, the script is loaded with gags and one-liners that Carell and Wiig pull off perfectly. The film never feels dull and is a continuous laughfest. This is largely thanks to the addition of Benjamin Bratt as Eduardo, the owner of a Mexican restaurant in the mall. I’ve never considered Bratt a funny guy, but he really puts it on here and makes me want to hear him do more characters like this. Steve Coogan and Ken Jeong work well too, but both are highly underused.

I honestly dread 3D films these days, but the use of it in Despicable Me 2 is great. There are a few gags such as bubbles floating around, which the kids in the audience went nuts for, but for the most part it is used to help the glorious animation look even more stunning. And just like the first, the animation and colour palette is truly wonderful.

Of course, the only opinion that matters is that of my six-year-old son, who screened the film with me. He was so excited to see it he couldn’t sleep the night before. When the credits rolled he immediately wanted to know when we could see it again because to him, it was the most amazing thing ever. And how can anyone argue with that?

4/5 stars

Rated G
Cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt
Directed by: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud

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Movie Review: Skyfall

Skyfall

A scene from ‘Skyfall’. Courtesy Sony Pictures.

This review was originally posted on Criticize This!

I have to get something off my chest; I’m not a fan of James Bond. There, I said it. I have enjoyed some of the films and find them mildly entertaining, but I feel the character is a joke and I don’t anticipate or ever get excited for the next Bond film. Especially when it’s the 23rd film in the series. But with Skyfall being directed by Sam Mendes, who won an Oscar for American Beauty, I was much more interested in seeing it.

As a disclaimer I need to let you know that I did indeed miss the first 10 minutes of the movie, which I later found out had no connection to the rest of the plot. I arrived just in time to see James Bond (Daniel Craig) fall off a train to his ‘death’ and catch the iconic opening sequence, this time with Adele handling the theme song. As for the rest of the film, it’s full of action, tongue-in-cheek dialogue, solid acting, and one of the greatest Bond villains ever.

This is Craig’s third time out as Bond and he really does own the character now. I honestly can’t think of another actor working these days who could fill this role as well as he does. He’s got style and charm and yet is tough enough that he makes his action scenes look believable. And the greatest thing about Craig’s Bond is that he allows the character to show his flaws, which makes him much more relatable than the previous incarnations.

The true standout in Skyfall is Javier Bardem as the bad guy. He did something I never thought he could do and that was be more creepy than his character in No Country For Old Men. He’s pure evil in this role and I felt very uneasy when he was on screen and had a hard time shaking his image afterwards. It’s a truly magnificent performance.

With the studio bringing in a director like Mendes this will hopefully open the doors for other top filmmakers to get a crack at the franchise. It’d be hard to top Skyfall, but wouldn’t it be wild to see where someone like Quentin Tarantino or Joss Whedon would take it next?

Whether you’re a Bond fanatic or just a fan of solid action films,Skyfall will not disappoint. It even made me excited for the next film.

Rating: **** (out of 5 stars)

Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It Ralph

A scene from “Wreck-It Ralph”. Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures.

This review was originally posted on Criticize This!

As a child of the ’80s who grew up on Nintendo and Atari and spent a lot of time at the local arcade wasting my allowance, I have been highly anticipating Wreck-It Ralph for months and expected nothing but great things from it. Well, game on! It exceeded what I wanted to get out of it and is an amazing, original film that absolutely blew me away and was the most fun I’ve had at the theatre all year.

Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) is the bad guy in Fix-It Felix, a popular game that has been a mainstay of the arcade for 30 years. His job is to destroy a building as Felix (voice of Jack McBrayer) rebuilds it and saves the people inside of it before throwing Ralph off the roof and winning a gold medal. After doing this for three decades Ralph is tired of being the bad guy and decides to jump to a game he can be the hero in. With him missing from Fix-It Felix though, the game appears broken in the real world and risks being unplugged for good.

Written by Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston, and directed by Rich Moore,Wreck-It Ralph is highly innovative in the way it blends real video game characters into its world. One of the best scenes is where Ralph attends Bad-Anon, an Alcoholics Anonymous type meeting for video game villains, and is joined by the ghost from Pac-Man, M. Bison and Zangief from Street Fighter, Bowser from Super Mario Bros., Dr. Robotnik from Sonic the Hedgehog, and a few other recognizable baddies. Sonic, Q-Bert, and many other classic game characters also make an appearance and should get anyone over 28 giddy to see them on screen.

Reilly and McBrayer really fit their characters perfectly and it would be hard to imagine anyone else voicing them. Sarah Silverman as Vanellope Von Schweetz, a glitch in the colourful kart racing game Sugar Rush, Jane Lynch as the tough-as-nails Sgt. Calhoun from the HALO-esque Hero’s Duty, and Alan Tudyk as King Candy, also from Sugar Rush, are all perfectly cast too and really get to play it up.

The animation is bright and colourful and is jaw-dropping at times it’s so awesome. The 3-D is used extremely well and is better than any other animated film I’ve seen this year, too. The score is also worth mentioning as it’s a nice mix of old and new and incorporates some 8-bit nostalgia along with the sound of newer electronic music, such as Skrillex. It works and really wowed me.

No question, I loved Wreck-It Ralph and highly recommend it. But my 5-year-old loved it even more and is making me take him to see it again this weekend. And probably again a few more times after that.

Rating: **** (out of 5 stars)

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 4

This review was originally posted on Criticize This!

By now most people know what to expect from the Paranormal Activity films, and Paranormal Activity 4 is more of the same. Lots of scenes of quiet, empty rooms, a few jump scares, and not much in way of a story. But this is more about the experience and just like the other films, PA4 is a lot of fun to watch, especially in a theatre full of screaming people.

Continuing from where the second part ended, Katie and her nephew Hunter are still missing. Cut to a suburban neighbourhood with a nice, normal family who have a weird boy lingering around their house. One thing leads to another and soon the weird boy is living with them. Then strange things begin to happen and… well, that’s about all I can say unless you want me to spoil it.

I really enjoyed where directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman took Paranormal Activity 3 and was hoping this one would stray a bit and offer up something unique. Unfortunately, it seems they just went through the same motions as the first and second film and kept to the formula. While I enjoyed this one more than the first, it’s not even close to the second or third in terms of being well executed or remotely believable (the cameras recording it all really make no sense this time around).

What is better about PA4 is the acting. Kathryn Newton, who plays the daughter of the new family being terrorized, is outstanding in her role. She’s funny, sells the fear she’s supposed to be feeling, and is all around great to watch. As her best friend, Matt Shively does a great job too and is equally stellar in his part. I hope to see more of them in normal roles down the road.

If you expect something different than the previous films, or analyze every detail of it, you’ll probably be disappointed with PA4. If you go in wanting to be scared and freaked out though, and let yourself get absorbed into it, the film delivers.

Rating: *** (out of 5 stars)

Movie Review: Silent Hill: Revelation

Silent Hill: Revelation

A scene from ‘Silent Hill: Revelation’. Courtesy eOne Films.

This review was originally posted on Criticize This!

Silent Hill is one of the scariest, most cinematic video game series around and I was genuinely excited to see what Hollywood would unleash when they decided to adapt it into a movie back in 2006. For a film that should have been completely chilling, like the games, it failed on all fronts and bored more often than it scared. When the sequel was announced it looked more like the Silent Hill movie I wanted to see the first time around. Did I get what I wanted? Sadly, no. I got a 90-minute Marilyn Manson-esque music video that made my brain hurt.

Sharon or Heather or Alessa (or whatever they want to call the little girl from the first movie this time) is now a teen on the run with her dad. She escaped Silent Hill and the creepy people that live there will do whatever it takes to get her back. When her dad goes missing, she packs up and heads there to find him only to end up in a never ending nightmare of madness.

Michael J. Bassett is a hack director, but a good hack director. His last film, Soloman Kane, was quite a wild ride and showed a lot of promise. With Silent Hill: Revelation he tries hard to be shocking and pushes aside story, good performances, and anything else worth getting behind. It’s as if he set the movie up as a selection of bizarre scenes and stitched them together however he felt. That said, this is one of the most atmospheric films I’ve seen in some time and the set design, visual effects, and use of 3D is all very well done.

As far as acting goes, Adelaide Clemens does a half decent job in the lead and is very likable. Everyone else should be ashamed of themselves. Kit Harington appears to be channeling John Travolta in Grease with his terrible attempt and Sean Bean, Carrie-Anne Moss, Malcolm McDowell, and Deborah Kara Unger are all laughably horrendous. Why are they in this film in the first place? Just killing time, collecting a paycheque?

Silent Hill: Revelation might be cool to look at, but it’s overall annoying and doesn’t offer up anything truly horrific. Stay home and watch a real horror movie, like A Nightmare on Elm St., and save your money for something better than this junk.

Rating: ** (out of 5 stars)

Movie Review: Frankenweenie

Frankenweenie
A scene from ‘Frankenweenie’. Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures.

From the very first beautiful black and white frame of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie I was completely absorbed into the stop-motion world Burton had brought to fruition and was glued to it in awe like a 12-year-old watching their first monster movie. It’s dark and morbid and references campy B-movies from the past, but it’s also one of the most visually mind-blowing experiences to sit through and is by far Burton’s best film to date.

Victor Frankenstein is a smart, imaginative boy who makes 8mm movies, knows a lot about science, and spends most of his time with his dog Sparky. When Sparky is run over and killed by a car, Victor is devastated and can’t live with himself. He gets the idea to bring Sparky back from the dead, and succeeds. His friends at school find out and soon everyone is bringing all sorts of animals back to life. One thing leads to another, and the entire town finds itself under attack by wild zombie pets.

Burton originally made Frankenweenie as a short film during his early days as a Disney animator and has wanted to make a feature version of it ever since. This is his baby and every detail of it, from the story to the character and set design, has all been meticulously crafted. There are many aspects of his previous films incorporated too, and if you’re a true Burton aficionado you’ll get a kick out of finding all the hidden references.

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The black and white image might not appeal to everyone, but the contrast it has over colour really highlights the detail of the characters and the sets and is a real treat for the viewer. The 3-D works well too. This is unlike any other animated film we’ve seen and shows just what can be done with stop-motion.

Danny Elfman always seems to do his best work on Burton films and his score here is a true delight and acts almost as a tribute to classic monster movies in itself. It stands on its own and would be a great listen even without the movie, which is a true testament to how great it is.

Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short both voice multiple characters, including Victor’s parents, and really get to show off their comedic range. Winona Ryder is perfect as the girl next door, Elsa Van Helsing, and Martin Landau is hilarious as Victor’s science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski. The only voice I wasn’t that impressed with was Charlie Tahan as Victor. He does grow on you, but it felt very uninspired and weak.

It should be noted that I took my 5-year-old to see Frankenweenie with me and it was a bit too scary for him at times and he had a lot of questions about death afterwards. Unless you’re prepared to deal with that I’d say eight and up is probably fine. Adults will connect with the film more than young kids anyway, as that is who Burton was making this for.

Whether you’re a fan of the horror genre, a fan of animation, or a fan of Tim Burton, Frankenweenie is a film you’ll fall in love with and cherish for years to come. Get out to see it as soon as you can.

Rating: **** (out of 5 stars)

Movie Review: The Master

This review was originally posted on Criticize This!

Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master was my most anticipated film at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Not only because I’ve been a huge fan of Anderson’s work since his breakout film, Boogie Nights, back in 1997, but because I had heard nothing but praise for it from everyone who saw it. So when I got a ticket to the public screening on the last night of the fest I was overly excited and, needless to say, my expectations were beyond reasonable.

It’s the end World War II and Naval officer Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is being sent home. With poor social skills and an appetite for alcohol mixed with paint thinner, Freddie doesn’t fit into the post-war world and is struggling to find his place. On one of his drunken escapades he boards a ship late at night and meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an author and pseudo preacher. Dodd is a charmer and a drinker, and Freddie is soon swept into his cult-like group “The Cause” and becomes his top follower and close friend.

Whether it’s Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights, Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love, or Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood, Anderson has a way of getting actors to deliver a performance as if it’s their last. The Master is no exception. Hoffman’s eloquent and passionate portrayal of a man who truly believes he is as powerful as he claims is gripping and exciting to watch. Phoenix, who went off the rails and ditched acting a few years ago, returns with a powerful, almost biographical, depiction of a disturbed man lost in the world. Amy Adams also gives an outstanding performance as Mrs. Dodd, and it would be shocking if the three of them don’t get Oscar nominations for their work.

Another highlight of the film was Jonny Greenwood’s jarring score. This is one of the best pieces of music ever put to film. It’s very front and centre and actually helps move the story forward instead of just being in the background. It takes the entire viewing experience of The Master to another level and is sure to be studied by film and music scholars for years to come.

If you’ve followed The Master in the news at all you will know it was shot in 70mm and should be viewed in a theatre that projects it in its native format, which I did at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. To my dismay I couldn’t see a big difference between it and a regular 35mm film though. That’s not to say it didn’t look amazing, because it did and Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s cinematography is gorgeous. But it didn’t shock my being the way I had anticipated it would. Maybe if I saw it again in a regular theatre I would appreciate it more in 70mm.

While there are many other things about The Master to get excited over and discuss, I found I didn’t love it the way I thought I would and I definitely didn’t connect to it the way I have with Anderson’s previous films. Yet, there is something so seductive about it that it’s hard not to be mesmerized and enthralled by it. I’m sure with time I’ll come to cherish it more and even consider it a masterpiece. Either way, it’s a solid cinematic experience and you need to see it to judge for yourself.

Rating: **** (out of 5 stars)