31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 20 – Monsters University (2013)

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Director: Dan Scanlon

Cast: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren

Screenplay: Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird, Dan Scanlon

104 mins. Rated G.

 

Pixar sequels scare me. I wasn’t a big fan of Toy Story 2. I hated Cars 2. Toy Story 3 was great, but it felt like the exception that proved the rule. When Pixar announced that my favorite property Monsters, Inc. was getting a prequel, I was both shocked and intrigued by the concept. When I discovered that we would be seeing the story of Mike and Sully meeting in college, I was still very confused. Then, I saw it…

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In Monsters University, we get another look into the unique universe that Pixar created where monsters exist and get energy from the screams of children, where a young monster named Mike Wazowski (TV’s The Comedians, When Harry Met Sally…) experiences disapproval by his peers in his attempts to become a professional scarer. But he finds a new rival in fellow student Sully (John Goodman, TV’s Roseanne, The Gambler). When both students are kicked out of the scaring program, they decide to join Oozma Kappa, a failing fraternity, in an effort to win the Annual Scare Games and earn their way back into the scaring program, proving to their judgmental Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren, The Queen, Woman in Gold) that they have what it takes.

Pixar has great timing. Releasing Monsters University at a time when fans of the original film are entering the college portion of their lives is perfection, much in the same way they did with Toy Story 3 a few years previously. Great working of their audience.

The voicework here is phenomenal, getting great work from the veterans as well as new additions Helen Mirren and Nathan Fillion. Charlie Day absolutely steals his scenes.

"MONSTERS UNIVERSITY" (Pictured) SULLEY amongst other MU monsters. ©2013 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Monsters University is a perfect prequel, rarely feeling the need to fall back on referencing the original. For the most part, it blazes a new trail and knows it doesn’t have to embrace a cliché finale.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Pete Docter’s Monsters, Inc., click here.

[Top 250 Friday] 12) Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

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Director: Irvin Kershner

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz

Screenplay: Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan

124 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi action violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award (for visual effects)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

iMDB Top 250: #12 (as of 6/3/2015)

 

On the very short list of the Best Sequels of All Time, The Empire Strikes Back is pretty darn close to the top. Director Irvin Kershner (RoboCop 2, Never Say Never Again) brought not just the best installment in the Star Wars franchise, but also an amazing science fiction epic.

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It has been three years since Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, TV’s Regular Show, Kingsman: The Secret Service) and the Rebels destroyed the Death Star. While Luke heads to the Dagobah System to train with the Jedi Master Yoda (Frank Oz, TV’s The Muppet Show, Zathura), Han Solo (Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Age of Adaline) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher, When Harry Met Sally, Maps to the Stars) evade the malicious Empire while trying to find somewhere to hide out when they come across Cloud City and Han’s old friend, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams, Batman, Barry Munday).

Kershner presents Empire as a dark continuation of the Star Wars Saga. Luke is challenged in his furthering of his Jedi abilities with Frank Oz puppeting the creature Yoda in a great performance of the little green Jedi Master (there was even a campaign to win Oz the coveted Oscar for an acting role), while Han and Leia are tested in their abilities to trust, both one another and those close to them as they carefully avoid detection by the enemy. New to the series, Billy Dee Williams handles his role capably and intermingles into the cast with ease.

The film is beautifully shot and looks just as nice now as it did 35 years ago. Ben Burtt displayed some great new sound effects for this film, setting a new standard for sci-fi while setting itself above the rest. The film is also perfectly paced. I could watch it ten times in a row and it would still flow well.

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Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the series (and also the only one not written by George Lucas). It proves that some films can best their predecessor. The film, now 35, is still an amazing piece of cinema.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

 

[Star Wars Day] Revenge of the Sixth…Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness

Screenplay: George Lucas

121 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi violence and brief mild language.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Score
  • Special Achievement Academy Award: Ben Burtt [For sound effects (For the creation of the alien, creature and robot voices)]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Supporting Role [Alec Guinness]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

iMDB Top 250: #20 (as of 1/18/2016)

As we close Star Wars Days 2015, we end on the original film in the Saga, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, from director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138).

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In A New Hope, it has been 19 years since Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Scooby-Doo!: Moon Monster Madness) was dropped off with his uncle and aunt on Tattooine. When the two droids C-3PO and R2-D2 come into his family’s possession, Luke gets swept up in R2’s mission to deliver a message from the captive Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, When Harry Met Sally…, Maps to the Stars) to the crazy hermit Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness, Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai). When Luke discovers that his father knew Kenobi long ago and is gifted his father’s lightsaber, he is set on a quest to save the princess and defeat the Empire.

The original film is still a perfect fantasy/sci-fi masterpiece with great performances, terrific direction, and a nice smooth flow. The special effects still look great (I’m referring to the original special effects, not the Special Edition effects).

Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Age of Adaline) absolutely steals the show as Han Solo, who, alongside his trusty co-captain Wookiee Chewbacca, are hired to assist Luke and Kenobi in rescuing the princess. They are aided by a believable group of performances from a talented cast of newcomers like Hamill and Fisher as well as veterans Guinness and Peter Cushing (Horror of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein) as the villainous Grand Moff Tarkin.

This is the pinnacle of Lucas’ abilities as a filmmaker. His terrific screenplay and his inability to give up when faced with countless problems directing the picture proved him to be a truly captivating artist with a unique vision.

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Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope remains a perfect film, one of the best ever put to the screen. It has become a pop cultural rock, unable to be moved from the public eye in the 38 years since its release, and I doubt it will ever truly disappear. Perfection.

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 3 – Monsters, Inc. (2001)

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Director: Pete Docter, David Silverman, Lee Unkrich

Cast: John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Mary Gibbs, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn, Jennifer Tilly

Screenplay: Andrew Stanton, Daniel Gerson

92 mins. Rated G.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Song “If I Didn’t Have You”
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature

iMDB Top 250: #215 (as of 7/14/2015)

I might get some trouble for reviewing a family film in the 31 Days of “Horror” category for the month of October, but I should stress. These posts are meant as a celebration of horror, and in that way, Monsters, Inc. is very fitting.

Pixar is a brand name all its own these days, about as recognizable as the name of its owner, Disney. Known for creating fully realized worlds that are capable of translating highly complex moral questions, Pixar is perhaps most well known to me for the creation of Monsters, Inc., a gorgeous little gem from 2001.

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It tells the story of James P. Sullivan or “Sully” (John Goodman, TV’s Roseanne, Transformers: Age of Extinction) and his roommate and best friend Mike Wazowski  (Billy Crystal, When Harry Met Sally…, Parental Guidance), two monsters existing in a world parallel to our own, in which their main source of power and energy comes from human children’s screams. It isn’t an easy job scaring the screams out of kids anymore, especially when a single touch could kill you. But when a child called Boo (Mary Gibbs, The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride) is found after hours in Monsters Incorporated, where Mike and Sully work, the two find themselves in quite a pickle trying to right the many wrongs and solve the mystery of why she is there. Mike and Sully have to discover while how fellow scarer Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi, TV’s Boardwalk Empire, Fargo) is involved, get the information to boss Henry J. Waternoose (James Coburn, The Great Escape, Snow Dogs), and avoid Mike’s girlfriend (for her own safety), Celia (Jennifer Tilly, TV’s Family Guy, Bound).

Monsters, Inc. is one of the best films in Pixar’s roster (my personal favorite, in fact). The voice work from Goodman and Crystal (who actually recorded lines together, a rarity in the voice work business) is phenomenal. The animation here is top notch for its time and still looks pretty good for being over thirteen years old. The pacing on the film is another major take-away. It never misses a beat.

Even the musical score just stays with you; this whole film does.

Enjoy watching this film if you haven’t already seen it; it plays with the mythos as well as pulling at the right heart strings, and it pours a couple dashes of The China Syndrome in for good measure.

Take a moment to enjoy some of the little in-jokes that Monsters, Inc. has to offer. Notice that Randall Boggs threatens to throw someone into a wood chipper (a fate he isn’t all too unfamiliar with himself from his work with the Coen brothers). Laugh at Mike’s chair during the employee theatrical performance of “Put That Thing Back Where It Came From or So Help Me” (it happens to resemble one Krang’s chair from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon).

The best little homage in-joke comes from the restaurant Harryhausen’s, which takes its name from Ray Harryhausen, famous stop-motion creature maker known for Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts. Also, when Harryhausen made the film It Came from Beneath the Sea, he only had the budget for a six-tentacled octopus, which appears as a chef in the restaurant named for him in Monsters, Inc. Isn’t learning fun?

Also, wait around during the credits for a list of Production Babies (a staple for Pixar, covering all the children born during production) and a notice proclaiming “No Monsters Were Harmed During the Making of this Film.”

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What a terrific film, I was so excited to revisit it for the 31 Days of Horror and I hope you will view it yourself, either for the first time or the 1000th.

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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