Movie Review: “Big Hero 6″

Starring
Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, T.J. Miller, Genesis Rodriguez, Damon Wayans Jr., James Cromwell
Directors
Don Hall & Chris Williams

There is a clear sea change in the quality of Disney’s animated movies once they acquired Pixar in 2006. “Bolt” was the first film produced after the merger, and it marries the sensibilities of both companies reasonably well, though still has too much of the old Disney stodginess. Over time, though, the Pixar Way shone brighter with each release, and with the 1-2-3 punch of “Tangled,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” and “Frozen,” Disney is succeeding both critically and commercially at a level that they haven’t enjoyed in a while.

With “Big Hero 6,” the Marvelization of Disney films has begun (Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment in 2009, and “Big Hero 6” made its Marvel comic debut in 1998). It is a superhero movie about science nerds, a film where no one escapes a bad situation using anything other than their brains. In fact, brute strength does not factor once in the proceedings. Peter Parker and Tony Stark would be proud. So would Walt Disney, because the movie has a ton of heart. Also, the lead character’s parents were killed 11 years before the opening scene. That’s the Disney way.

Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is a bored boy genius living with his aunt and his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) in the city of San Fransokyo (you read that right). Hiro graduated high school at age 14, and spends his time taking part in illegal ‘bot fights. Tadashi, hoping to inspire Hiro to apply himself, brings Hiro to the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, where Tadashi and his friends are working with cutting-edge tools to make the world a better place. Hiro wants in, and he earns his acceptance after dazzling Professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell) with his newest invention, mind-controlled microbots. The microbots are almost immediately lost in a fire, which takes the lives of Callaghan and Tadashi. Shortly afterward, Hiro discovers that his microbots are being manufactured in a seemingly abandoned factory, and he is nearly killed by a masked man who’s controlling them in ways that they were never intended to be used. Hiro convinces Tadashi’s fellow colleagues to team up and use their super smarts to unmask the man who stole Hiro’s tech.

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Movie Review: “Interstellar”

Starring
Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, Michael Caine, John Lithgow
Director
Christopher Nolan

A coworker of mine is hoping that he can convince his wife to take their two girls to see “Big Hero 6” while he ducks into another theater to see Christopher Nolan’s new film “Interstellar.” Here’s the irony: the moral of “Interstellar” is that he should see “Big Hero 6” with his kids instead.

This is both an impossibly dense movie, and a deceptively simple one. The quantum physics talk and the hypotheses regarding time and space turn out to be a bit of a red herring. The true essence of “Interstellar” is about love, and Anne Hathaway’s character sums it up perfectly: time can contract and expand, but it can’t go backwards. In a nutshell, Nolan spent $165 million and 169 minutes telling us to seize the day with our loved ones. That’s a great message, and he pulls a number of incredible technical achievements in the process, but with “Interstellar,” Nolan has fallen into a trap that has caught many before him: the pitfalls of autonomy.

Set in an undefined but presumably not-too-distant future, Earth is suffering another Dust Bowl period, crops are dying, and there is reason to believe that the children will be the last generation Earth will ever know. Former astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) has taken up farming to help the cause, but a series of strange events leads Cooper and his daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) to an off-the-grid NASA facility, where a team is preparing to investigate a series of planets in a far-off galaxy, courtesy of a wormhole, to see if life is sustainable. They need a reliable pilot, though, and they ask Cooper if he will join them. Cooper is understandably conflicted, since there is no guarantee that he will return, but he ultimately decides that the salvation of the human race is the nobler goal, and he joins Amelia Brand (Hathaway), Doyle (Wes Bentley), and Romilly (David Gyasi) on a boom-or-bust mission to find another Earth.

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Blu Tuesday: The Newsroom, Hercules and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Newsroom: The Complete Second Season”

WHAT: Following an exclusive report on a top-secret U.S. drone strike that turns out to be untrue, the “News Night” staff becomes embroiled in a legal battle when the producer responsible for the story sues the network for wrongful termination. Meanwhile, Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) goes on the campaign trail with the Romney press bus and Maggie (Alison Pill) deals with the aftermath of a traumatic trip to Uganda.

WHY: Some people really love to hate “The Newsroom,” and for the life of me, I don’t understand why. Though the show can be a tad exaggerated at times (both dramatically and comically), it has great characters and the kind of clever, rapid-fire dialogue that’s become synonymous with every Aaron Sorkin production. Season Two isn’t as strong as its debut season – due to the more focused, season-long drone storyline and certain subplots that remove key characters from the very environment they thrive best – but with the exception of the new title sequence, it’s the same old “The Newsroom,” particularly when taking on real-life topics like the 2012 Elections, Occupy Wall Street and Trayvon Martin. Sorkin’s writing dazzles as always, but it’s the performances by the ensemble cast (from stars Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer, to supporting players like Sam Waterson, Olivia Munn, Dev Patel and Thomas Sadoski) that makes it such a joy to watch. It’s a shame that more people didn’t feel the same way, because although the series is returning for a shortened third season, it still feels like a loss, especially with so few great shows left on HBO outside of “Game of Thrones.”

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray set includes four audio commentaries with various cast and crew, the usual collection of “Inside the Episode” featurettes and deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Hercules”

WHAT: After enduring his legendary 12 labors, Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) and his band of mercenaries are hired by the King of Thrace (John Hurt) to protect his people from a tyrannical warlord, only to discover that he may be fighting on the wrong side.

WHY: It’s actually quite surprising that someone hasn’t tried making a Hercules movie with Dwayne Johnson sooner, because it’s a role that he was born to play. But while the film is marginally better than Renny Harlin’s “The Legend of Hercules,” it’s rooted even less in the original myth, instead using Steve Moore’s comic book series as its inspiration, which suggests that Hercules wasn’t a demigod at all, but rather a mortal man whose legend far exceeds his abilities. Johnson does a good job in the title role, though he doesn’t have a lot to work with, and Ian McShane and Rufus Sewell (as fellow swords-for-hire) add some color to the otherwise drab story, but there’s nothing really special that sets it apart from the many other sword-and-sandal movies. The action sequences are incredibly generic, the twists aren’t surprising at all, and although the story offers a unique interpretation of the Hercules tale, it’s hard not to feel disappointed by the bait-and-switch approach to the material. After all, would you rather see a movie about the Hercules from Greek mythology, or one about an ordinary guy named Hercules who just happens to be stronger than most? Exactly.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Brett Ratner and producer Beau Flynn, there’s an introduction to the film from Ratner and Dwayne Johnson, featurettes on the characters, weapons and specials effects, a behind-the-scenes look at filming one of the major actions sequences and 15 deleted/extended scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Maleficent”

WHAT: When she’s tricked by her human friend, Stefan (Sharlto Copley) – who steals her wings in exchange for a place on the throne – vengeful fairy Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) curses the king’s newborn daughter with a spell that will take effect on her 16th birthday. Sent away to a remote cabin for her protection, Maleficent comes to care for Princess Aurora (played as a teen by Elle Fanning) after realizing that she may be the land’s only hope for peace.

WHY: Hollywood loves a good fad, and two of the more popular trends these days are fairy tales and villains, so it’s not surprising that Disney would want in on the act, especially after the mild success of Universal’s “Snow White and the Huntsman.” Just like that movie, “Maleficent” attempts to humanize its iconic baddie by turning her into a misunderstood antihero whose fall from grace wasn’t entirely of her own making. But just like every other cinematic villain to get the revisionist treatment (from Dracula to the Evil Queen), Maleficent is stripped of everything that made her such a great character in the process, and perhaps even more troubling, as the victim of a creepy drug rape that’s never addressed. Angelina Jolie has the physicality and talent required for the role, but while she does a good job with the material provided, it would’ve been more fun to see her play a full-fledged villain compared to the morally gray character here. Though “Maleficent” is an admirable attempt at breathing new life into a classic tale, there are so many problems with the story and supporting characters that it would have made more sense to go the direct route and make a live-action “Sleeping Beauty” movie instead.

EXTRAS: There are five short featurettes – including a look at Elle Fanning’s involvement in the film, Maleficent’s costume design and the various stages of the writing process – as well as a handful of deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to November

november

The holidays are just around the corner, which means that it’s officially time for awards season, even if a number of studios got an early start last month. Although there aren’t as many options as you would expect from November, the release schedule is packed with promising titles, including Christopher Nolan’s latest mind-bender, Oscar hopefuls starring Steve Carrell and Benedict Cumberbatch, and the penultimate installment of the “Hunger Games” series.

“Interstellar”

Who: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Wes Bentley
What: A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to travel through space in search of an inhabitable planet for the human race.
When: November 7th
Why: Christopher Nolan’s latest sci-fi flick has been so shrouded in secrecy that it seems rude to even talk about it, and therefore, I’d actually recommend skipping this entry altogether. But if you’ve already seen the trailer or have been following your favorite movie blogger on Twitter, then you’re probably aware that “Interstellar” has reached “OMG Best Movie Ever” levels of excitement. Of course, it’s that kind of ridiculous hyperbole that has made me super cautious about my own expectations for the film, because while Nolan has proven that he’s one of the best directors in the game, and star Matthew McConaughey can seemingly do no wrong at the moment, chances are that although “Interstellar” will be really good – great, even – it won’t be the cinema-defining masterpiece that some are expecting.

“Big Hero 6″

Who: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, Genesis Rodriguez and T.J. Miller
What: Child prodigy Hiro Hamada and his plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes.
When: November 7th
Why: Pixar may be taking the year off, but Disney wasn’t going to loosen its grasp on the Best Animated Featured category without putting up a fight, although it’s hard to see “Big Hero 6” competing with likes of “The LEGO Movie.” Based on the little-known Marvel comic of the same name, the film certainly looks impressive with its stylish art design, while the cute and cuddly Baymax (whose robotic influences range from WALL*E to C3PO) will likely make Disney millions of dollars based on toy sales alone. Though “Big Hero 6” doesn’t pique my interest nearly as much as the studio’s 2012 hit “Wreck-It Ralph,” here’s hoping that it’s a giant success, if only because it may lead to more animated versions of other forgotten Marvel properties in the future.

“The Theory of Everything”

Who: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox and Emma Watson
What: A look at the relationship between the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife.
When: November 7th
Why: It’s actually pretty surprising that it’s taken this long for someone to make a proper biopic about Stephen Hawking (not counting the 2004 TV movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch, of course), especially considering his prominence not only in the scientific world, but pop culture as well. Director James Marsh’s first narrative feature, “Shadow Dancer,” may not have received the same attention as his documentaries (“Man on Wire” and “Project Nim”), but his follow-up is guaranteed to be in the awards mix thanks to some early buzz following its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The same goes for star Eddie Redmayne, whose performance as Hawking has already garnered praise as the one to beat at this year’s Oscars. And though it’s still early, the trailer does a damn good job of backing up those comments.

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Movie Review: “Nightcrawler”

Starring
Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton
Director
Dan Gilory

Though it isn’t your typical Halloween movie by any stretch of the imagination, Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler” might just be the most frightening film of the year – not in the scares it delivers (because there are none), but rather the chilling peek that it provides behind the curtain of a completely different kind of horror: local TV news. This isn’t the first time that subject has been satirized before in cinema (perhaps most notably in Sidney Lumet’s 1977 Oscar-winning film “Network”), but “Nightcrawler” tells its debauched tale of immorality in the newsroom through the eyes of a Rupert Pupkin-esque antihero more frightening than any masked killer. The cinematic influences are boundless in Gilroy’s directorial debut, but that hasn’t stopped him from producing a truly exceptional thriller highlighted by a wickedly entrancing, career-best performance from Jake Gyllenhaal.

The actor stars as Louis Bloom, a petty thief who’s willing to put in the hard work and make a career for himself if someone will just give him a chance. As luck would have it, Louis finds his calling when he passes by a fatal car accident one night and notices the freelance cameramen filming it in all its bloody glory. These guys are like the storm chasers of the TV news world – driving around at night waiting for tragedy to strike so that they can catch the mayhem on camera and sell the footage to whichever news station is willing to pay the most. After trading some stolen loot to a pawn shop in exchange for a camcorder and police scanner, Louis hits the ground running, and before long, he sells his first video to Channel 6 news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo), a kindred spirit of sorts who favors ratings over ethics. Louis has no shame in the barbaric manner in which he captures these moments (to him, it’s just part of the job), and that makes him very unpredictable, because once he gets a taste of success, he’ll do whatever it takes to get the best shot, even if that means crossing lines that aren’t meant to be crossed.

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