Geri’s Game (1997)

Genre: Short, Animation, Comedy

Director: Jan Pinkava

Writers: Jan Pinkava

Staring; Bob Peterson

Rating: ★★★★

Geri’s Game was Pixar’s return to short films after an eight year gap without making one, with that came a new writer and director in Jan Pinkava that made a change due to John Lasseter’s dominance previously. The story itself is different and in a whole Geri’s Game is refreshing and unique. You can certainly see that in those eight years a lot had changed, with the quality of the animation taking a huge leap forward furthermore our main character is actually human. We follow Geri an old lonely man with a passion for chess, we see him in a tough game against his biggest opponent himself. It’s completely different and in a way bizarre but it works and is absolutely hilarious.

Jan Pinkava deserves a lot of credit for an inventive idea that is superbly executed from sound, story and animation. Geri sitting in a completely empty park begins the game and switches seats physically moving from black then white, as the game looks to heading to only one conclusion Geri makes an aggressive move that changes the whole game. It’s crazy to think that there’s a film focusing on an old man playing himself at chess but its even more crazy to think that it’s so entertaining and funny. The short film lasting just under five minutes was released with Pixar’s very popular feature film A Bug’s Life  and deservedly won an Oscar. It was definitely with the eight year weight as its simply brilliant, one of my favourites.

Watch Geri’s Game here and tell me what you think?

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

Despicable Me 2 (2013) Poster

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Crime, Family

Directors: Pierre Louis Padang Coffin, Chris Renaud

Writers: Ken Daurio, Cinco Paul

Staring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt

Rating: ★★★½

Despicable Me was a huge success and there is no wonder why, it was charming, fun and adorable with a somewhat unique approach to characters, especially the crazy lovable minions. When announced that a sequel would follow and that Despicable Me 2 would be hitting our screens this summer I was worried and unsure to say the least, it had a lot to live up to and to achieve the same success was going to be a big challenge. The ending to its prequel was heart warming and simply lovely but it doesn’t take long for Despicable Me 2 to steer away from that focusing more on a different story, I’m still unsure if this film totally works but nevertheless its adorable and hilariously funny.

We once again follow the character of Gru (Steve Carell) however this time he’s retired and living a somewhat dull life where making jam is the only horrific thing the former villain is inflicting upon society causing his own professor to even leave. The film firstly opens to a group of workers being magnetically attacked and pulled up into the air in a highly comedic manner only leaving the occupant of a rent-a-loo behind. This bizarre event attracts the AVL (Anti-Villain League), in desperate need they send for an agent to hire former villain and master of mass destruction himself Gru to help them solve the case, with his new mission certainly spicing up his life it fuels for the rest of the film. Gru works alongside agent Lucy (Kristen Wiig) with their first meeting involving electrical lipstick and getting chucked into a boot of a car its safe to say there’s more than a few sparks between the two. As the plot develops a strange love story evolves surrounding the two agents, however their mission will get in their way. Investigating a number of suspects located in the local mall, including hairdressers and restaurant owners they are looking for a deadly dangerous formula however one of their leads rings bells in Gru’s head about a former legendary villain.

Although the plots are entertaining for the first half of the film there seems to be too many and its overwhelming and somewhat confusing to say the least, even for a kids film. I haven’t even mentioned the arrival of a young boy that sweeps one of Gru’s girls of her feet, the deadly crazy chicken or the mysterious case of the lovable minions disappearing quickly and bizarrely. It makes for a sloppy watch and it seems that they had too many ideas and wanted to use them all however as they eventually interlinks around the half way mark things start to be more linear and enjoyable. As Gru worries about his daughter Margo’s love life the three girls worry about his causing for some funny scenes including internet dating and impressions of Gru “pooping”, well according to Agnes. As the film draws ever so closely to an end Gru’s suspicions of the legendary villain appear to be true leading to Gru becoming an unlikely hero. The disappearance of the minions become apparent and they are soon found, but just with a different colour and sanity and as for the love story, it boils down to a predictable happy ending all providing laughs and giggles on the way.

Despicable Me was charming due to the cuteness of characters such as Agnes and the change of heart by Gru however its sequel doesn’t seem to focus or highlight this one bit. The ever so sweet Agnes is somewhat in the background as is her lovable companion Mr. Unicorn, Despicable Me 2 feels to me like a completely different film and I’m not too sure if that’s quite a good thing. However one of my favourite things about Despicable Me and I can safely speak for others too, are the cute; small, crazy minions and they are very much present and in abundance. If there’s something that saves Despicable Me 2 from being another pointless boring sequel it is the minions, when the plot seems dry they pop up with a gag or in this films case a song and dance. Despicable Me 2 very much focuses on the minion mayhem and it leads to some crazy sequences and some hilarious entertainment.

Although there are certainly tricks and elements missed by the creators of Despicable Me 2 it seems to be as you reflect you realise that you found yourself laughing more times than you think and when comparing to those bland moments it more than levels out. The quality of the animation is outstanding and completely faultless, although something you come to expect I thought its more than worth a mention. The casting as always is great, Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig as main characters were brilliant and as were the likes of Russell Brand as Dr. Nefario and Benjamin Bratt as Eduardo. The score added to the entertainment, helped of course by the adorable singing voices of the minions.

Despicable Me 2 had a lot to live up to and it was never going to be easy, it could have played it safe and writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul could have milked the relationship of Gru and his family even more but instead they were original and inventive and most importantly funny. Although not as cute or adorable as the first film it is certainly funnier than its prequel, with many eye-watering moments and even relatable embarrassing scenes. It has its flaws but I was left entertained and that was what its aim was, for me Despicable Me 2 is worth the watch and definitely a trip to cinema to see. Cue cheesy sign off and minions singing.

 

 

 

 

 

Knick Knack (1989)

Genre: Animation, Short, Family

Director: John Lasseter

Writer: John Lasseter

Rating: ★★★★

Knick Knack is another Pixar animated short, again the ever so talented John Lasseter playing creator. In my opinion this is the most hilarious and funny story yet providing many laughs, its also accompanied by a fun feeling score only adding to the entertainment. This time Pixar bring a bunch of holiday souvenirs to life as the story follows a snowman trapped in a snow-globe who attempts to escape in order to attend a hot party with the other souvenirs however the dome around him causes more than a few problems. As the other souvenirs watch on the snowman attempts to smash the dome, drill through the globe and even blow it up but that only leads to more trouble as the globe frantically leans over the edge of the shelf. The attempts provide us with many laughs and the persistency of the snowman only makes it more entertaining.

Knick Knack is certainly funny with a good inventive story by John Lasseter but for me the adding of the fun score is why this animated short stands out from those previously made. More so the addition of more “characters” and those extra details just show how amazing Pixar have progressed. The short film of just over three and a half minutes was released with the feature of Finding Nemo (2003) but surprisingly didn’t win an academy-award nor get a mentionable nomination. Out of those watched so far I think that Knick Knack is my favourite just for its fun feel, it also has more of that modern Pixar touch. Simply brilliant and unique.

Let me know your views on Knick Knack, watch it here.

Dark Skies (2013)

Genre: Sci-fi, Horror

Director: Scott Stewart

Writers: Scott Stewart

Staring: Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo

Rating: ★★★★

It’s not very often sci-fi films attempt to horrify their audiences, I can’t think of many successful attempts in fact since M. Night Shyamalan’s 2001 Signs and its that film coincidently that Dark Skies plays very much to. Films focusing on “aliens” all have the potential to be frightening due to the real life possibly of their existence, well for some, however it’s making them believable within the film that decides its success. Dark Skies does this with intelligence, using the slow burning approach and showing the protagonists at the end. For me the Dark Skies is a suspense, thrilling sci-fi horror with a great storyline, cast and crew.

Throughout the film we follow the Barrett family, peacefully living life in the suburbs they are then shadowed by a series of disturbing events that eventually leads them to find out a deadly force is after them. The family as a whole is already experiencing their own individual problems but those that won’t compare to what awaits for them. Lacey and Daniel (Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton) the parents and head of the household are both struggling with their jobs and have a money issue causing conflict in their relationship, whereas their kids Sam and Jesse (Kadan Rockett, Dakota Goyo) are struggling to fit in and make friends. The family is slowly drifting apart, something that they have to change especially to survive.

As previously mentioned a series of unexplained disturbing events occur, I shall not reveal those but allow for yourself to be surprised and entertained. Somewhat desperate and obviously terrified Lacey and Daniel seek help in form of a specialist, Edwin Pollard a researcher who follows those haunted by this deadly force. He explains how “the grays” have taken over and are preying on the Barret family, it is then the most terrifying thought for an audience occurs as he explains “people think of aliens as these beings invading our planet in some great cataclysm, destroying monuments and our natural resources. Bits it’s not like that at all. The invasion already happened”. It gives you shivers and from this point on the film breaks free and the action you come to expect happens all in a thrilling, amazing and simply brilliant final half hour.

The storyline can be viewed as bland or plain and predictable it’s easy to see why, however the twist in this film steers Dark Skies away from those negative labels. Scott Stewart writer and director plays homage to Signs (2001), although there’s no tin foil hat scene there is the typical “last supper” and small connections such as kids drawings, and the story of their first Fourth of July. Is this pure laziness? A lack of original ideas? For me Stewart has highlighted the success of Signs and is simply trying to replicate that, just like those play homage to such classics.

The acting was good, something you’d come to expect from a big release. Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton make for a believable portrayal of parents, worrying as a mother and being the “let off” as a dad. However I do feel if this film missed a trick or a key element it’s that stereotypical sci-fi eery score that makes those hairs stand up on the back of your neck. The special effects were also decent however making our protagonists very un-detailed is slightly disappointing as it could have been the difference between this film being a classic and just a cinema release.

In the whole Dark Skies is a great film and a good horror, when compared to those released around the same time it certainly wins. It’s possibly for me my favourite film with Extratestorials since Signs however it doesn’t quite beat it. If you’re looking for a very watchable film that has some scares and will keep you entertained then it’s certainly one to watch. This could possibly be one of my favourite films of this year, and in my view it’s simply great although flaws and room for improvement it’s certainly more than worth viewing.

Night At The Museum (2006)

Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy

Director: Shawn Levy

Writers: Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon (Screenplay), Milan Trenc (Book)

Staring: Ben Stiller, Dick Van Dyke, Owen Wilson

Rating: ★★★

I remember watching this film as a kid in the cinema and just like most others my age I found it amazing and exciting, seven years later although not as excited and amazed I still very much enjoy it. Night At The Museum has had some really bad and in my opinion unfair reviews, it has a predictable somewhat plain storyline but then again not many films break that mould, what this film does do though is create laughter and give you a new look at history. It has a great cast from Ben Stiller to Owen Wilson and Ricky Gervais and the special effects are what you expect but still of quality. In general this film is very watchable and if you let yourself you will enjoy it and be entertained.

Ben Stiller plays the character of Larry Daley, divorced and unemployed he’s a complete loser but the failed marriage and career doesn’t bother Larry as all he wants to do is be a good father and impress his son, Nick. When finding out he might be getting evicted Nick and Larry are disappointed to say the least but in a desperate need of a job he takes up the vacancy of a night guard at the natural history museum. There’s a saying that at night history comes to life, unfortunately for Larry it just happens to be true. When the sun sets all the museums exhibits come to life, from Rex the dinosaur to cavemen and elephants. After somewhat settling in on the job Larry invites his son to spend a night shift alongside him however the retired guards Larry replaced set out to steal the museums most precious treasures, with the help of the most historic figures Larry must stop the guards and save the museum all before the sun rises.

The supporting cast to Ben Stiller as previously mentioned is outstanding and involves some big names. Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan play to rival figures one being a roman the other a cowboy, the two provide great laughter and some funny scenes. Others such as Robin Williams who takes on the role of Teddy Roosevelt and Ricky Gervais who plays the boss of the museum. The scenes as a kid excited me, seeing a giant dinosaur come to life and play fetch like a dog was amazing not so much now but it still brings a smile and that’s due to the good special effects. Due to the special effects not only does it bring amazement but laughter as some historic characters wreak havoc.

Night At The Museum is very watchable like I’ve said and although really for kids if you let it, you will enjoy this film. The cast is great and this for me is the key to this film, all providing laughs and comical sequences they keeps you entertained. As a kid the dream is there, that you can walk into a museum and it comes to life, as an adult it’s about the special effects and more so the laughter. This was never going to be an iconic film or one that people will watch over and over but it entertains and that’s what its meant to do. Fun, creative and hilarious.

Tin Toy (1988)

Genre: Family, Animation, Short

Director: John Lasseter

Writer: John Lasseter

Rating: ★★★

Pixar and more so John Lasseter by 1988 had started to get the hang of making animated short films and in their latest edition Tin Toy it well and truly showed. Just falling short of five minutes long it shows how a one man band tin toy has to choose between survival and doing its job. Fun, Inventive and simply brilliant Tin Toy shows the life from a toys perspective bringing objects to life once again. A one-man wind-up toy finds trouble with a big destructive baby, doing everything to flee and survive he hides under the sofa however when the baby falls to the floor and begins to cry he chooses to do what a toy does and risk his safety. Its hilarious and at the same time adorable due to the behaviour of both our characters and the expressions shown by the fantastic animation.

The animation for a 1988 production is unbelievable and the progress from their first “The Adventures of Andre and Wally B” is remarkable and this was deservedly noticed as it won an Oscar. The expressions and from the characters is amazing and so is the detail surrounding them, something that’s improved. The sound also plays an important role in the film. Tin Toy was released with Toy Story in 1995 one of Pixar’s biggest features and names. It will make you laugh and chuckle, and the whole thing together has that special feeling, simply brilliant.

Let me know what you think and watch it here.

Red’s Dream (1987)

Genre: Family, Short, Animation

Director: John Lasseter

Writer: John Lasseter

Rating; ★★★½

In 1987 came Pixar’s third short film and with that they decided to be more adventuress than those previously made. Red’s Dream is funny and adorable with “Family” written all over it, once again bringing life to most common objects this time Pixar choosing a bike. Sitting in a shop we see Red the unicycle hidden away in the for sale corner, sleeping away we enter his dreams of a better place and life. This is where the humour begins as we see Red’s dream about becoming a circus act juggling away and stealing the show from a clown. The animation of this short is again amazing for 1987 with improvements on those previously made.

John Lasseter also behind Luxo Jr. is the man behind Red’s Dream writing and directing once again. This time the short is four minutes long, twice as long as previous films made giving Lasseter the chance to produce more magical stuff. Red’s Dream is a simple story but once again it has that brilliant execution and although simple it makes a lot of laughs and even some sympathetic “awww’s” from the audience as poor old Red sits there in the for sale corner. Although not released as part of a feature this short film has made cameos in many Pixar films over the years. Fun, inventive and again simply brilliant showing the progress Pixar have made and foreshadowing those great things to come.

Let me know your views on Red’s Dream – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VA1vZ8wJTys