Quest For Camelot

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

A young girl named Kayley dreams of being a knight like her father, who was killed defending King Arthur from the brutal Ruber. When Ruber steals Excalibur from Camelot, Kayley goes into the forbidden forest to find it. There she meets Garrett, a squire befriended by her late father, who left Camelot after he became blind. Joined by a two-headed dragon, they find the sword and fight Ruber to return Excalibur to Arthur.

This is the first attempt by Warner Brothers, home of Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck, to get into Disney territory with a full-length animated musical drama, and it is a step in the right direction, even if it does not match Disney or even non-Disney features like “Anastasia.” questforcamelot.jpg
The movie’s greatest strength is the first-class talent providing the voices: Cary Elwes as Garrett, Jane Seymour and Gabriel Byrne as Kayley’s parents, Don Rickles and Monty Python’s Eric Idle as the dragon, and (all too briefly) Sir John Gielgud as Merlin. The animation has some good moments, especially a sleepy ogre. The heroine and hero are spirited if a bit too generic. But with the exception of the dragon’s cute duet, the songs add little and slow down the story. Themes worth discussing include the importance of cooperation, loyalty, and the strengths of those considered disabled.

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Action/Adventure Animation Fantasy For the Whole Family Musical Talking animals

Sleepy Hollow

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This is less the Washington Irving story than it is “Scream” set in post- revolutionary times. Its production design by Rick Heinrichs is ravishingly eerie, all gray skies, looming spires, gnarled branches, and rearing horses. The magnificent collection of character actors is almost another element of the production design, with faces right out of Holbein or Daumier. But the spurting blood, rolling heads, and postmodern sense of irony are jarring and uneven. (It’s set in 1799, the end of the century, get it?)

Johnny Depp plays the honorable but easily frightened Ichabod Crane, in this version not a schoolteacher but a sort of 18th century detective, committed to the use of science and logic. He is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of murders attributed to the Headless Horseman, the ghost of a bloodthirsty Hessian soldier, who steals the heads of his victims because his own was stolen from his grave.

Crane insists that the murderer cannot be supernatural, until he sees it himself. Still, he analyzes the evidence to find the secrets that link the victims together and the human force driving the Headless Horseman.

The themes of science vs. supernatural and appearance vs. reality appear throughout the movie, as Crane must understand his own past in order to see the truth. He describes himself as “imprisoned by a chain of reasoning.” He keeps coming back to a toy given to him by his mother, a spinning disk with a bird on one side and a cage on the other. As it spins, the bird appears to be inside the cage, an optical illusion, and, not by coincidence, the very illusion (persistence of vision) that makes us think that the people in the thousands of still pictures that make up a movie are really moving.

Depp plays Crane with the right haunted look and rigid posture. But the ludicrousness of some of the plot turns and the exaggerated fright reactions leave him with the most outrageous eye-rolling since Harvey Korman’s imitation of a silent film star. Indeed, the movie frequently brings to mind those sublime “Carol Burnett Show” movie parodies, especially when the villain ultimately finds time for a detailed confession as the planned final victim is waiting for the Headless Horseman to arrive. The wonderful Christina Ricci is wasted in an ingenue part.

Parents should know that this is a very, very gory movie, with many headless corpses, lots of spurting blood, heads being sliced off and bouncing to the ground, various other murders, a couple of “boo!”-type scares, and of course characters perpetually in peril. The heads all show up eventually, too. There is a brief but non-explicit scene of a couple having sex, several very gross moments, and a scene of torture in an Iron Maiden. This is only for teens who really enjoy slasher movies, and then if they can’t find a video of something better, like “Poltergeist” or director Tim Burton’s own “Nightmare Before Christmas” or “Edward Scissorhands.”

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Fantasy Horror

The Matrix

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

In “A Star is Born,” Kris Kristofferson sings a song that begins, “Are you a figment of my imagination or am I a figment of yours?” This is the theme of “Matrix,” heavy on special effects, striking visuals, and brooding paranoia, but light on plot, dialogue, character and even coherence. In other words, it is the ideal movie for the kind of teenager who wishes that video games could come to life.

Though rated R for violence (zillions of guns and explosions and some some pretty gross moments, including an icky bug that enters the hero’s body through his belly button) and language, most teens 14 and up who are begging to see it should be able to handle it without a problem.

Keanu Reeves plays a computer programmer with a sideline as a hacker who gets mysterious messages that lead him to Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), leader of a rag-tag group that lives aboard a rocket-style craft. It turns out that it is not 1999 but somewhere around a hundred years into the future. All of humanity has been turned into a source of energy to keep machines “alive” by what Morpheus describes as “a computer generated dream world built to keep us under control.” The Matrix is a massive computer program that has the humans believing that they are still living in a world that has been destroyed. Morpheus believes that Neo is “the one” who can retake the world for the humans. Special agents, led by Smith (Hugo Weaving) seek out Morpheus and his followers, to destroy them.

This movie became a pheneomenon and a cultural touchstone because of its then-revolutionary special effects, especially the “bullet time” effect that quickly became an icon and then a subject for parody (the best example is in “Shrek”). But just as important in the success of the movie is the way it addresses the nagging feeling everyone (but especially adolescents) have about whether we are truly aware of the “real” reality. It also addresses the question of destiny vs. choice. The visuals are stunning and the action sequences are electrifying, but for me the most intriguing and intelligent scene in the movie is Neo’s quiet conversation about fate with a woman who is taking some cookies out of the oven.

The movie can lead to some interesting discussions about the relationship between humans and machines, and why Smith says that the first Matrix program, creating the perception of a utopia-like society, was unacceptable to the humans. Their attempt to keep the humans compliant through happiness did not work, so they had to try again with the past “reality” of a stress-filled world. There are also issues of destiny versus free will and loyalty versus self-interest. What did Morpheus mean when he said, “Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony?” Is it possible that humans could create machines that would “decide” to take over? What do the names “Morpheus,” “Trinity,” and “Neo” signify? Most important, would you choose the red pill or the blue pill, and how do we make that choice in our “real” lives? Parents should think about raising the issue of violence in movies, and the impact it has on viewers, especially impressionable or disaffected ones, as well.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy both “Terminator” movies and “Blade Runner.”

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Action/Adventure Fantasy

The Thief and the Cobbler

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This neglected but absolutely delightful animated musical (released in theaters as “Arabian Knight”) is a must for family viewing.

A shy cobbler and a plucky princess save ancient Baghdad in this fairy tale, put together by the Oscar-winning animator from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” It is one of the most visually inventive animated movies ever made, with dazzling optical illusions and shifts in perspective. Jennifer (Flashdance) Beals and Matthew (Ferris Bueller) Broderick provide the voices for the leads, with the late Vincent Price’s voice providing silky menace as the evil sorcerer. Jonathan Winters as the hilarious thief steals every scene he is in.

The musical numbers are pleasant, with one sensational show-stopper when the desert brigands explain that if you don’t go to school you’ll turn out like them. Unlike the recent Disney movies, this was not designed to sell merchandise, just to tell a story and entertain, which it does very, very well. It is suitable for everyone except maybe the smallest children, who might be frightened by the hulking bad guys.

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Action/Adventure Animation Fantasy For all ages For the Whole Family Musical

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Posted on April 14, 1999 at 3:06 pm

In this technical marvel of a movie, human and animated actors interact seamlessly. It begins with a cartoon, loveable Roger Rabbit taking care of adorable Baby Herman, despite every kind of slapstick disaster. Then, as birdies are swimming around Roger’s head after a refrigerator crashes down on him, a live-action director steps in to complain that the script called for stars, and we are in a 1947 Hollywood where “Toons” are real.
A private detective named Eddie (Bob Hoskins) is hired by the head of Roger’s studio to get evidence that Roger’s gorgeous wife Jessica is seeing another man. Eddie does not want the assignment. Once a friend to the Toons, he hates them since one of them killed his brother. But he needs the money badly, so Eddie goes to the Ink and Paint nightclub, where Jessica performs, and he takes photos of her playing “patty-cake” (literally) with Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), maker of novelties and gags. Roger is distraught when he sees the photographs. But it turns out that Jessica is completely faithful to Roger, and that she is caught up in a complex plot to close down Toon Town and Los Angeles’ excellent public transportation system to build freeways. Eddie’s efforts lead him to Toon Town and then to a warehouse where the real villain is revealed.
This was a one-time opportunity for cartoon characters from all the studios to join forces, and it is one of the great pleasures in movie history to see them all together. Donald Duck and Daffy Duck perform a hilarious duet at the Ink and Paint Club. On his way out the door at Maroon studios, Eddie brushes by several members from the “cast” of “Fantasia.” The penguin waiters from Mary Poppins show up in another scene, as do Pinocchio, Mickey Mouse, and Woody Woodpecker. The mix of characters and styles works extremely well, and kids will enjoy seeing some of their favorite characters in a different context. Kathleen Turner provided the sultry speaking voice of Jessica Rabbit, but her singing voice was Amy Irving.
Children will be delighted with the Toon characters, and with the interaction of the cartoons with the human actors and with the physical world. Eddie’s venture into Toon Town is almost as good. The story is fast-paced and exciting, and the slapstick is outstanding. But the human and cartoon characters mix more smoothly than the combination of slapstick and film noir references in this movie. The plot includes murder, corruption, and suspected adultery. The premise that the only possible explanation for the traffic system in Los Angeles is that it was the vision of a sinister madman is funnier for adults than it is for kids. Eddie is not an especially attractive leading character. Still reeling from his brother’s murder, he drinks too much and is surly to his clients, to his girlfriend, and to Roger.

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Animation Based on a book Comedy Fantasy For the Whole Family Satire
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