Moana (2016)


Island girl.

Island girl.

(2016) Animated Feature (Disney) Starring the voices of Dwayne Johnson, Auli’i Cravalho, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk, Oscar Kightley, Troy Polamalu, Puanani Cravalho, Louise Bush, Jenica Bergere, Sisa Grey. Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements

 

Princesses come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and from all sorts of different cultures. The South Seas have had their share of mythic royal figures, but Disney has chosen to make up a fictional princess for their venture into that territory. Will she measure up to the pantheon of Disney Princesses?

Moana (A. Cravalho) lives on a remote but idyllic Pacific island. The palm trees are full of coconuts, the bay sheltered by a coral reef abundant with fish, the people happy and ruled by a benevolent chief (Morrison) who knows his daughter Moana will be a formidable chief one day. However, there is a fly in the ointment when it comes to paradise; centuries earlier, a rogue demigod named Maui (Johnson) had stolen the heart stone from the Goddess of the Earth. Instantly a flame demon had fought Maui to get control of the stone – which controls all creation – but fails to do so. Both the stone and Maui’s magic fish hook which allows him to shape shift are both lost.

However with the heart stone gone, entropy is setting in as a curse spreads over all the islands; vegetation rots and dies. The sea’s bounty dries up. However, as Moana’s grandmother Tala (House) when Moana is very young, the sea has chosen her for some great purpose. Somewhat ironically the sea looks a whole lot like the water tentacle from The Abyss. However, that blight has reached her island and there is no time to waste, despite her father’s decree that she not go beyond the reef to the deep ocean.

After finding some ancient sea vessels that recalls an era when her people fearlessly navigated the ocean and went on voyages of discovery, Moana heads out in one of them to seek out Maui and make things right. Accompanied only by the world’s stupidest chicken, she will brave legendary monsters, demons of fire and an angry Goddess if she is to succeed in saving her people. It doesn’t help that Maui turns out to be petulant, arrogant and unreliable. Moana may have to save her people on her own.

Disney movies tend to be a bit formulaic and this one is no different than most, so detractors of the Mouse may find themselves having a hard time enjoying this one. After all, it has just about every element of what you’re either going to love or hate about Disney movies. However, the big difference is Moana herself. As Disney princesses go, she is much more real. Sure she’s plucky and rebellious, but she feels uncomfortable with the Princess label until Maui points out “If you’re in a skirt and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” Touché.

Johnson does a pretty credible job as Maui and he is certainly the most memorable character as you might expect. He also gets to sing a song. Yes, the Rock sings – although croons might be a more apt description – and believe it or not, he’s not half bad. I don’t know if there’s anything that Johnson can’t do. I imagine there must be something.

The animation here is mainly computer drawn except for Maui’s animated tattoos which are hand drawn and are among the film’s highlights. The computer drawn animation is bright and gorgeous, full of radiant greens and blues and reds. It is as colorful a Disney film ever except for maybe The Emperor’s New Groove. That will keep the youngest members of the family mesmerized but for those who are older it creates a pleasant and occasionally spectacular image palette.

The musical numbers are about what you’d expect although I did enjoy “How Far I’ll Go” which is likely to be the Oscar nominated song here, but don’t discount “Shiny,” the clever tune sung by Clement who plays a kind of cross between a giant crustacean and a Disco ball. This isn’t Beauty and the Beast but it also beats most of Disney’s most recent movies by a country mile.

Given how good Zootopia was earlier this year there has been a seismic shift in animation this year; for the first time ever, the Disney Animation Studios is surpassing Pixar in terms of quality and with the next film in the Pixar pipeline being Cars 3, that’s not going to change for at least a little while. Moana is the kind of movie that Disney justifiably became famous for – a double edged sword, it’s true but who can argue with success? I certainly wouldn’t – not when it might mean having an army of angry 8-year-old girls standing at my door.

REASONS TO GO: Moana is one of the most compelling Disney characters in years.
REASONS TO STAY: Follows the Disney formula without deviation.
FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of peril, some images that might be too scary for the wee ones and a bit of rude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Auli’i Cravalho is the youngest Disney princess ever, having recorded her role when she was just 14 years old.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/1/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Frozen
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

New Releases for the Week of November 24, 2016


MoanaMOANA

(Disney) Starring the voices of Dwayne Johnson, Auli’i Cravalho, Jemaine Clement, Alan Tudyk, Temuera Morrison, Rachel House, Nicole Scherzinger. Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements

A plucky teenage girl (are there any other kind at Disney?) sets out on a dangerous quest across the Pacific to save her people. Aiding her in her quest is the once-mighty demigod Maui who teaches her the way to become a master navigator. Together they’ll face mighty monsters, impossible odds and at times, each other. The one thing that Moana finds on the way to fulfilling her people’s prophecy is the one thing she most wanted to and never expected to – herself.

See the trailer, interviews, and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements)

Allied

(Paramount) Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan. An American spy during the Second World War meets a comely French Resistance fighter on a mission and the two eventually fall in love. Reunited in London after the mission is over, they marry and begin a family. That’s when the bombshell drops (and I don’t mean the Blitz) – his wife is suspected of being a Nazi double agent and he is given the order to take her out permanently.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: War Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence, some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use)

Bad Santa 2

(Broad Green/Miramax) Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony Cox, Christine Hendricks. Willie Soke, the worst Santa ever, is back and his evil elf sidekick Marcus has a scheme to rob a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve. Along for the ride is Thurman Merman, the irrepressibly optimistic and naive boy (now a young man) and Willie’s horror show of a mom who turns everything she touches to ca-ca. Not helping matters is Willie/s lust/love for the charity’s director, a curvaceous and prim lass with a libido that just won’t quit.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some graphic nudity)

Dear Zindagi

(Reliance) Alia Bhatt, Shah Rukh Khan, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Tahir Raj Bhasin. A budding cinematographer looking to create the perfect life for herself encounters a free-thinking extrovert who teaches her to see life just a little differently – that the joy is in life’s imperfections.

See the trailer and promos here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Nocturnal Animals

(Focus) Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson. A woman trying to put her life together after a dysfunctional marriage and a brutal divorce is sent a book by her ex-husband that is violent and graphic – and dedicated to her. Knowing that she did something terrible to her ex, she doesn’t know what lengths he’ll go to for his vengeance.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard (opened Tuesday)
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for violence, menace, graphic nudity and language)

Rules Don’t Apply

(20th Century Fox) Warren Beatty, Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Annette Bening. When Midwestern beauty queen Maria Mabrey comes to Hollywood in 1958 under contract to the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, she is met by his personal driver. Both devoutly religious, they of course fall instantly forever, threatening to break Hughes’ cardinal rule of his employees having no relationships whatsoever. When Hughes  begins to fall for the actress, both Mabrey and the driver are drawn increasingly into his bizarre world.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual material including brief strong language, thematic elements and drug references)

Vertical Limit


If you're just going to hang around, I'm gonna leave.

If you’re just going to hang around, I’m gonna leave.

(2000) Action (Columbia) Chris O’Donnell, Robin Tunney, Bill Paxton, Scott Glenn, Stuart Wilson, Temuera Morrison, Alexander Siddig, Izabella Scorupco, Ben Mendelsohn, David Hayman, Augie Davis, Roshan Seth, Nicholas Lea, Alejandro Valdes-Rochin, Rod Brown, Robert Taylor, Steve Le Marquand, Robert Mammone. Directed by Martin Campbell

Those who climb mountains are a different sort of breed. They risk life and limb, push themselves farther than even they themselves think they can go, for a reward of standing someplace few humans can visit.

For most of us, the mountain peaks of the Himalayas are farther away than the moon; someday, we may be able to take a shuttle to the moon. No matter what future, it will always take a special sort of human being to scale those heights.

Peter, Annie and Boyce Garrett are such human beings. Dedicated climbers, they push themselves up the highest peaks and they do it with joy. However, tragedy intervenes when Peter (O’Donnell) is forced to make an awful decision, one he must revisit later in the movie.

The results of this drive a rift between him and Annie (Tunney). Peter becomes a National Geographic nature photographer, whereas Annie continues climbing, becoming one of the world’s best. She signs onto an expedition funded by billionaire adventurer Elliot Vaughn (Paxton) to scale K2, one of the most fearsome, lethal peaks in existence.

Vaughn had been part of an ill-fated expedition that was caught by the weather just short of the summit, resulting in the loss of the entire team except for him. Vaughn wants to find his personal redemption on the peak, which is never a good thing when going up against K2.

Despite the warnings of veteran climber Montgomery Wick (Glenn), the well-outfitted team ascends and Vaughn promptly shows his true colors, making decisions based on ego and ignoring the expertise of his climbers. Caught by a storm and avalanche, three of his team members (including Annie) are buried in a crevasse.

Peter frantically mounts a rescue mission along with Wick (who has his own reasons for going along) and, among others, Monique (ex-Bond girl Scorupco) who’s in it for the money, Kareem (Siddig) who’s in it to save his cousin, and brothers Cyril (Le Marquand) and Malcolm Beach (Mendelsohn) who are in it as comedy relief.

They are in a race against time, as the survivors will suffer from fatal pulmonary edema (due to the altitude) if not pulled off the mountain in time. Did I forget to mention they are carting unstable nitro bombs to help dig the survivors out? Spectacular stunts and explosions to follow.

The stunts are spectacular, with a helicopter sequence having both Da Queen and I frozen to our seats.  Campbell (Goldeneye) keeps the pacing murderous, as the climbers go from peril to peril. Trying to keep the story as realistic as possible, the filmmakers used a lot of expertise from real climbers to give audiences a sense of being up there (some of the scenes were filmed at the actual K2 base camp).

The problem here is believability. There are a number of rather sizable holes I couldn’t really reconcile. The biggest one is this; after a perilous climb to reach the dying survivors that takes everything the rescue party has and then some, how are they supposed to cart down the crevasse-dwellers who are too sick to even move a leg out of the way of a rock outcropping? Don’t ask me It’s just Hollywood, right? Also, there are too many close calls. It’s almost rote that people wind up dangling in mortal danger of a rather long plummet only to be saved as they slip off the mountain, either by their sheer willpower, or by the intervention of another climber thought to be too far away to be of help. It gets old after a while, guys.

Nonetheless, this is exquisite eye candy, beautifully filmed. If there was an Oscar for best stunt performances (and by golly there should be), Vertical Limit would be a major contendah. As it is, it is disposable entertainment.

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous vistas of mountain peaks. Some pretty spectacular stunts.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overly repetitive. Too many holes in logic and too many occasions when believability is stretched beyond the breaking point.

FAMILY MATTERS: There are some scenes of intense peril as well as occasional bits of strong language.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The backdrop for the mountains was Mt. Cook in New Zealand standing in for K2 in Pakistan; this would mark the first time that director Kiwi-born Martin Campbell has filmed in his native country.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: While most behind-the-scenes featurettes are normally little more than puff pieces put together by the publicity department, the one here is actually fascinating, detailing the kind of training the actors went through and the challenges – often potentially life-threatening – the cast and crew faced in making the film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $215.7M on a $75M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cliffhanger

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: 47 Ronin