Welcome to NICKPICKSFLICKS. I am your host for the evening, America's sweetheart, Nick Spake.
5 Stars= Totally Rocks
3 Stars= Rad
2 Stars= Bad
1 Star= Terrible
Zero= Total shit
Just Reviewed Frozen-November 27th
Just Reviewed About Time-November 1st
Just Reviewed All is Lost-October 24th
Just Reviewed Captain Phillips-October 11th
Just Reviewed Gravity-October 4th
You see "Brave," this is how its done! *****
It looked like Disney Animation was dead in the water for a while there. Sure, Pixar has had the company’s back for almost two decades now. In terms of movies that were solely produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, though, it was a bit of a downhill spiral from “Pocahontas” in 1995 to “Chicken Little” in 2005. While there were some underappreciated gems in the mix like “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” nothing took audiences by storm like “Beauty and the Beast” or “The Lion King” did.
In recent years, Disney Animation has been showing a welcome return to form with one great movie after another, from “The Princess and the Frog,” to “Tangled,” to “Wreck-It Ralph.” Now with their latest animated feature, “Frozen,” it truly feels like Disney is in full-on renaissance mode. The film continues Disney’s legacy of animated fairytales while adding inspired, modern twists. As far as Disney fairytales go, “Frozen” gets it right in just about every department. The music, the characters, the story, the pacing, the suspense, the romance, the themes, the humor, and, of course, the animation, it’s all done to near perfection.
Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” the film is naturally set in a far away kingdom where not one, but two, princesses reside. Kristen Bell shines as the awkward, plucky, endlessly appealing Anna, the younger of the two princesses. She wants nothing more than to reconnect with her big sister Elsa, voiced by Idina Menzel, who spends all day locked away in her room. What Anna doesn’t know is that Elsa possesses the magical ability to create snow and ice, which she has been trying to conceal her whole life. Elsa’s frozen fist only gets harder to suppress as the years go by. Shortly after her coronation, she loses control of her powers in front of everyone and retreats to the mountains in shame. Elsa doesn’t realize, however, that she’s accidentally left her kingdom in a perpetual state of winter.
Anna sets out on a daring quest to find her sister and, along the way, crosses paths with a strapping mountain man named Kristoff, voiced by Jonathan Groff. Even if this is your first Disney movie, it should be obvious that a romance is going to spark between these two. The filmmakers take a few smart, unexpected chances with this love story, though. Without giving too much away, this is the first animated Disney movie where the characters acknowledge how insane it is for people to fall in love and get engaged in one day. Disney also poked fun of this in the live-action “Enchanted,” although that was really more of a satire of fairytales. “Frozen,” on the other hand, is a flat-out fairytale and sees it through to the end.
The romance is also helped by the fact that the leads are so likable and share a genuinely lovely chemistry. But the real love story here is between Anna and Elsa, who are both utterly sincere and deserve to find happiness. It’s nice to see a family movie that not only puts an emphasis on sibling relationships, but also tackles the subject intelligently. At times the bond between the sisters feels like something out of “Wicked,” which also starred Idina Menzel as a good witch everyone mistook for a bad witch.
The supporting players are a ton of fun as well with a mute reindeer named Sven, a tribe of rolly-polly trolls made from stone, and a slimy duke voiced by Alan Tudyk of King Candy fame. The scene-stealer is a nerdy snowman named Olaf, voiced by Jonathan Groff, whose head is constantly getting separated from his upper and lowers torsos. He teams up with Anna and Kristoff to find Elsa in hopes of bringing back summer. Olaf is completely oblivious to fact that heat is a snowman’s kryptonite, however.
Much of the film’s success can be attributed to the songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who previously wrote the songs for “Avenue Q,” “The Book of Mormon,” and the underappreciated “Winnie the Pooh.” Every song in “Frozen” is a treasure, most notably the delightful “For the First Time in Forever” and Elsa’s show stopping solo of “Let it Go.” Even more importantly, each song serves its purpose and beautifully propels the well-constructed plot forward. Even in a camp that includes “Les Misérables,” “Hairspray,” “Sweeney Todd,” and “Dreamgirls,” “Frozen” stands out as the best movie musical of the past decade. Heck, maybe even the past two decades.
Lets not forget Directors Chris Buck, who co-directed “Tarzan,” and Jennifer Lee, who co-wrote the screenplay for “Wreck-It Ralph.” They’ve lovingly crafted a classic, taking full advantage of the animation medium to create a grand, icy world that feels almost inhabitable. The scope of the film is so majestic it’s like watching “The Sound of Music.” Lee’s screenplay never hits a wrong note, hooking the audience in from the gripping exposition, to an exciting climax, to a clever ending. Honestly, it’s hard to even find minor details to nitpick with their wonderful musical adventure.
Disney has yet to win an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, excluding all of Pixar’s wins. While Pixar also came out with the enjoyable “Monsters University” this year, there’s no doubt in this critic’s mind that the Best Animated Feature prize belongs to “Frozen.” But why stop there? This isn’t just a terrific animated film, but a terrific film overall. “Frozen” should be considered one of the year’s best pictures alongside “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity.” Lets just hope Disney knows what they have on their hands and give the film a proper For Your Consideration campaign. It’s simply a winner.
In love, and laughing about it in the rain ***
In “About Time,” Rachel McAdams plays the wife of a man that can travel through time. No, this isn’t a sequel to “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” but its impossible not to make the comparison. There are a few key differences between the two movies, though. For starters, this film is less about the time traveler’s wife and more about the time traveler himself. “About Time” also has the benefit of being more charming than the other Rachel McAdams time traveling romance. As far as time-related romantic comedies go, however, it’s no “Groundhog Day.”
Domhnall Gleeson, who was briefly seen as the eldest Weasley in the last two “Harry Potter” movies, stars as Tim. He’s an awkward, British ginger who’s lived a life of bumbling mistakes. After turning twenty-one, Tim learns a family secret from his dear dad, played by Bill Nighy in a funny, effective performance. Every man in Tim’s family has the ability to travel back in time. All they have to do is go to a small, dark space, close their eyes, clench their fists, and think about a certain point in their life. How this phenomenon is possible is never explained, but so what?
The considerate Tim is always open to altering the timeline in order to help out a friend or family member in need. As far as his own aspirations go, Tim plans to use his ability to find the woman of his dreams and give her a perfect life. Enter Rachel McAdams as the kind, beautiful, smart, and unrealistically flawless Mary. McAdams and Gleeson have a lovely chemistry as two people that are basically brought together through manipulate rather than fate, but are still made for each other nonetheless.
Gleeson has all the befuddled likability of a young Hugh Grant. It’s hard to find any fault in McAdams’ performance, although we have seen her play this character a dozen times before. From “The Notebook,” to “Wedding Crashers,” to “Morning Glory,” to “The Vow,” to “The Time Traveler’s Wife” as mentioned before, she’s always the standard cute, nice girl…well except for in “Mean Girls.” Of course if she plays the role so well, who am I to complain?
At times “About Time” can go through a bit of an identity crisis. The first hour is essentially a light, romantic comedy. Then in the second hour, it tries to be something much deeper and becomes overly sentimental. In addition to being occasionally inconsistent, not every joke knocks it out of the park and some of the more dramatic scenes just come off as corny. When “About Time” wants to, though, it can be a very romantic film, a very funny film, and even a very wise film. While it may be hit and miss, there are more hits than there are misses. That’s more than can be said about the Adam Sandler comedy, “Click,” which could never find a consistent tone.
As enjoyable as “About Time” can be, there is one major problem with the setup. Although the film has no shortage of conflict, there’s an easy solution to almost every dilemma. If something doesn’t work out for Tim, he can just travel back in time and change it. Even when time traveling has an unexpected negative consequence, Tim can still simply go back and try again. After the fifth time we see Tim hit the redo button and change things for the better, the gimmick kind of wears out. On top of that, the rules of time travel presented in the film can be all over the place. Then again, every movie about time travel is riddled with plot holes, even the great ones like “Back to the Future” and “Looper.”
“About Time” does recognize, however, that there are some aspects of life that not even time travel can cheat. It’s in these moments that “About Time” does shine through as a meaningful movie about looking ahead with optimism as apposed to looking back with regret. This isn’t the best work from Director Richard Curtis, whose previous credits include “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” and “Love Actually.” For what it is, though, “About Time” is a pleasant enough date movie for couples. Just be sure to check out Curtis’ superior films first, and “Groundhog Day” for that matter.
I'm on a boat ****
You can probably tell whether you’re going to enjoy “All Is Lost” based on the film’s synopsis. Robert Redford plays a sailor on a voyage somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Without any exposition or explanation, he wakes up one morning to find that his yacht has crashed into a shipping container. The sailor has no way to contact help and little means of navigation. Even though the sailor manages to patch the hole up, his boat won’t last long with hazardous weather conditions on the horizon.
What happens from there? Do we flashback to the sailor’s life before he set sail on these deadly waters? No, the plot reveals nothing of his past. We don’t even figure out the guy’s name. Pretty much everything the audience learns about the sailor is based on sheer observation, such a wedding band on his right ring finger. Other than an opening monologue, the sailor barely says a single word. Considering the film’s lack of dialog, it’s not surprising that the script for “All Is Lost” is a mere 30 pages long.
Well, does something unusual happen to the sailor on his journey? Not especially. The film is essentially a week or so of him on the ocean, fighting the waters, fighting the storms, and fighting himself. Picture “Life of Pie” if you took out all the animals and the fantastic element.
So yeah, “All Is Lost” is obviously an acquired taste that will bore some and intrigue others. Even the people who look upon the movie favorably are more likely to admire it than to fall in love with it. That being said, “All Is Lost” is a really bold experiment that’s well worth checking out. It’s always interesting to see a film that doesn’t restrict itself to a three act narrative structure and simply shows a character living their life. The sailor is certainly a fascinating character to follow and much of that’s because of Redford’s performance.
This is an unexpected role for Redford to take at this point in his film career, which has spanned over a miraculous fifty years. Being the only actor on screen the whole time is one thing, but Redford is given the additional challenge of having next to no lines to work with. Nevertheless, Redford creates an utterly sympathetic character through his arresting facial expressions and actions. We always feel this man’s internal and external struggle as he desperately thinks of methods to keep his ship afloat. Like Jean Dujardin in “The Artist,” Redford reminds us that sometimes giving a physical performance is much more difficult than delivering a Shakespearean speech.
There is technically one other character in “All Is Lost,” the sea. Director J.C. Chandor of “Margin Call” did a majority of the filming for “All Is Lost” at Baja Studios, the same facility where James Cameron brought “Titanic” to life. Through some gorgeous cinematography, Chandor fashions the ocean into a vast presence that’s threatening, majestic, and mysterious all at once. The same can be said about the setting in “Gravity,” where Sandra Bullock played an astronaut lost in space. It’s actually quite a coincidence that both “Gravity” and “All is Lost” would come out within just a couple weeks of each other. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Redford and Bullock won the Best Actor an Actress Oscars this year for one-person shows?
Somalian Pirates, We! ****1/2
Seven years ago, Director Paul Greengrass gave us “United 93.” Greengrass’ vision was bold and pulled no punches, easily making it the best post-9/11 film to date. Everything Greengrass brought to the table in “United 93” is displayed in “Captain Phillips.” This is another intensely shot, authentically edited true story about ordinary people forced to step up during a catastrophe. Is it the masterpiece that “United 93” was? Not quite, but that’s a really tough act to beat.
For all those who didn’t follow the story on the news in 2009 or read “A Captain’s Duty,” here’s the deal. Tom Hanks is Richard Phillips, captain of the MV Maersk Alabama. While transporting cargo to Kenya, the ship is hijacked by four Somali pirates. None of the 20 crewmembers are prepared to deal with such a crisis, their only weapons being hoses and knives. This doesn’t stop Phillips from calmly negotiating with the pirates, doing his best to keep the rest of his men out of harms way. The pirates ultimately choose to leave with 30,000 dollars in a covered lifeboat, but not without Phillips as a bargaining chip.
The representation of the four pirates is actually very unique for a Hollywood movie. They’re played by Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, and Mahat M Ali, all of whom are making their first major acting debuts. “Captain Phillips” avoids the temptation to turn the pirates into calculating Bond villains or Hans Gruber. If anything, they can come off as a little dim. Even if they aren’t well educated or well spoken, though, that doesn’t make them any less threatening. As intimidating as they are, the pirates are never depicted all flat-out savages either. The screenplay by Billy Ray strives to give each man some shred of humanity. That doesn’t make them sympathetic, but it does make them more identifiable.
Like he did in “United 93,” Greengrass mostly casts lesser-known character actors across the board. The film includes some effective performances from the various men portraying Phillips’ crew and the navy officers sent to rescue Phillips. There are two recognizable faces in “Captain Phillips,” though. One is the always-welcome Catherine Keener, who we briefly see as the captain’s wife in the beginning. The other is of course Hanks in the title role.
Speaking of Hanks, what a marvelous, multi-layered performance he delivers here. Some would argue that Hanks has been in a slump the past ten years, excluding his voiceover work. Clearly those people didn’t see him in “Cloud Atlas.” He’s destined to get his first Oscar nomination since “Cast Away” for “Captain Phillips.” Hanks is given the difficult task of playing somebody who for the most part seems collected. But underneath that composed exterior is a desperate man who knows he may never see his family again. This role was tailor-made for the likes of Hanks, who reminds us just what a gifted actor he still is.
In space no one can hear you scream ****1/2
Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” just might have the most horrifying premise in all of movies. There are several other strong contenders like “Buried,” in which Ryan Reynolds was trapped in a coffin underground, and “127 Hours,” where James Franco was stuck between a rock and a hard place. But honestly, what’s scarier than being stranded in space with limited air and no communication with Earth? Going to outer space is in itself a fairly scary thought. The notion of anything going wrong up there is the worst nightmare imaginable. As the tagline to “Alien” says, in space no one can hear you scream.
The film opens on a space shuttle gravitating Earth. Sandra Bullock is Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first space expedition after six months of training. She’s accompanied by George Clooney’s Matt Kowalsky, a wisecracking veteran astronaut with one mission left until retirement. While the crew is out on a spacewalk, wreckage from a satellite collides into the shuttle. Ryan is sent flying into open space, separated from the others. Her only contact is Matt, who tries to guide her to safety via microphone.
Cuarón has made one of the most breathtaking 3D experiences of all-time, marrying faultless special effects with transcendent cinematography. Emmanuel Lubezki, who photographed Cuarón’s “Children of Men” and Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” needs to win his first Oscar for this outing. Full of arresting tracking shots and haunting POV shots, “Gravity” becomes a true out-of-body experience that sucks the audience right into the action. Watching the movie, you’ll actually start to believe the cast and crew went into space and filmed on location. Obviously that would be impossible, but the fact that any film could so convincingly create this illusion is a triumph.
Not only does “Gravity” look great, it sounds fantastic too. People rarely consider sound while watching a movie, unless it’s aggressively loud. Much of the film sounds as if the audience is stuck in that space suit with Bullock. We hear the ringing in her ears, the beating of her heart, and debris from the shuttle crashing around her. Never has a movie done such an authentic job at not only taking its audience to space, but also fully emerging them into the experience. This is exactly what 3D filmmaking was made for.
Of course “Gravity” goes beyond just being visually dazzling. Like last year’s “Life of Pie,” it’s an amazing story too. This is thanks to Cuarón’s effective script, which he wrote with his son, and Bullock’s committed performance. Bullock rarely gets enough credit as a dramatic actress. Sure she won the Academy Award for “The Blind Side,” but has since received backlash from everybody. Am I the only one who still thinks she deserved that Oscar? She carries every minute of “Gravity” on her shoulders and there’s definitely a lot to carry. From beginning to end, the audience feels all of Bullock’s dread, excitement, denial, loss, regret, and hope.
Hopeful is actually the best word to describe “Gravity.” As frightening as it may be at times, it’s truly an encouraging film that will motivate anybody to be brave. It’s additionally a film that understands what bravery is, something that “After Earth,” another science fiction thriller, simply missed the mark on. In a sense, “Gravity” really sums up exactly what people think of when considering outer space: A void that’s big and intimidating, but also somehow inspiring.