Sunday, June 23, 2019

Adventure is Out There

Directors: Pete Docter and Bob Peterson
Voice Talent: Ed Asner, Christoper Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Delroy Lindo, Bob Peterson
Released: May 29, 2009
Viewed in theaters: June 7, 2009

Oscar nominations:

Best Picture (lost to The Hurt Locker)
Best Animated Feature (won)
Best Score - Michael Giacchino (won)
Best Original Screenplay - Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, and Tom McCarthy (lost to Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker)
Best Sound Editing (lost to The Hurt Locker)

I propose a challenge for everyone reading this. I challenge you to watch this movie and not cry within the first ten to fifteen minutes. Or at the very least, not get a lump in your throat. I obtained the lump in my throat during the Carl and Ellie montage when we discover that Ellie isn't able to have children and by that point, I knew the waterworks were about to start. Sure enough, the tears are starting to form when (a much elderly by then) Carl is helping Ellie up a hill to have a picnic, then the next thing we know she's in a hospital bed, then he's at her funeral and the tears are flowing by then. But guess what? That scene doesn't even evoke the most emotion out of me; oh no, there will be another scene later on in the movie that will make me cry even harder if that's even possible! Those Pixar movies really know how to mess with your emotions, don't they?

Up is probably the most famous for its first ten minutes. Even if you've never seen it (for shame!), you're probably well aware of the opening montage as that's all anybody ever talks about when it comes to this movie. While watching this, I couldn't help asking myself such questions as, How does this man fly his house with only balloons attached to it? How does he get said balloons to fit through his chimney (and there are thousands of them!)? When they land in South America on top of the cliff where Paradise Falls is located, how does Carl, an eighty-year-old man, mind you, have the strength to keep hold of his house via the hose as though he's just carrying a balloon? (I mean, I guess he is carrying a balloon, along with several hundred others and his HOUSE!) Why does Russell's mom seem not to be worried about him? Why is Russell himself very lackadaisical about being on the outside of the blimp and nearly gets killed several times as he has many close calls of falling to his death, but all he can say is, "Whee, this is fun!"/"This is so cool!", even though he is scared to death when he's on Carl's front porch when the house starts its ascent (and he's much more safe when he's on that porch than any other time in the movie!) There are definitely some scratch-your-head moments (and there are more I will point out), but I really can't quibble about that. After all, this is the same studio who gave us sentient toys and talking fish and a rat who cooks at a restaurant in Paris. And whatever anybody says, this movie is still more believable than any of the Cars movies. (I just don't understand how a society of vehicles work. How do they eat? Is fuel their food? How are new cars made? Why are there no humans in that world?)

We first meet our protagonist, Carl Fredrickson, as a young wide-eyed introverted boy who loves watching movies about adventures, his favorite being about his hero, the famed explorer Charles Muntz who has discovered a skeleton of some sort of "beast", but has been accused of fabricating it. He vows to return to Paradise Falls, the place in South America where he discovered the fossils, and find the creature. He has a blimp called The Spirit of Adventure where he travels with his many canine companions. Carl is about eight when he watches these documentary films and Charles looks to be in his thirties; maybe in his twenties at the youngest. Just keep that in mind.

Carl meets another explorer enthusiast and Charles Muntz fan, Ellie, a loquacious girl who graciously invites him to join her adventure club. She shows him her adventure book where she tells him she plans to one day follow in the footsteps of their hero and travel to South America where she wants to live in her clubhouse on top of Paradise Falls. She doesn't know how she's going to get there and Carl suggests a blimp just like Muntz has. Ellie thinks that's a great idea and makes him "cross his heart" that he'll take them there someday and he promises he will. I love how she describes South America - "It's like America, but it's south!"

They form a friendship which will inevitably turn into an unbreakable bond and the two marry and this is when we get our montage and where we need to get our Kleenex handy! We see where the balloons come in because they both work at the zoo; Ellie looks to work in the aviary (she has a bird on her shoulder) and Carl sells balloons. They create a fund for their South America trip, but life keeps happening and they have to dip into their savings to fix a broken car or repairs on the house or anything of that sort. (Not sure why they kept smashing the jar with a hammer when they needed to get their money when they could have just as easily turned the jar over and poured the money out!)
They are getting older and Carl realizes that he still has not taken Ellie on her adventure so he purchases airline tickets to Peru which he plans to surprise her with. Alas, it is too late and Ellie will never get to go on her adventure of a lifetime. And Pixar is making everybody cry buckets.

Carl (voiced by Ed Asner)  is now a curmudgeon who refuses to leave his house even though the other homes around it have been torn down to build a new development with much larger buildings. The contractor keeps bribing Carl with money to move, but he refuses, so they just keep building around him. I'm not really sure how something like that works, but I would think if your neighborhood is being torn down, you would HAVE to move (and hopefully they would compensate you nicely). I don't think you could just stay there. But, remember, this is a movie with talking dogs.

After a small incident where Carl injures a construction worker in a fit of rage, he is sent to court where he is deemed "a pubic menace" and is sentenced to move to the retirement home, Shady Oaks. (Wonder if it's a sister company to Shady Pines; I can see Carl and Sophia Petrillo getting along just fine!) When Shady Oaks employees come to retrieve Carl, he has other plans and to their surprise, they watch as the house breaks free from its foundation and lifts into the sky with a whole bunch of balloons streaming out of the chimney. (Still not sure how he managed to get all those balloons in that chimney!) I read that over 20,000 balloons were animated for this sequence. We also see a small cameo from a  stuffed Lotso bear when the house passes by an apartment building where we see a young girl's room. Pixar likes to put in a little Easter egg for their next movie and Toy Story 3 followed Up. Hopefully this Lotso got lots of love from his owner so he doesn't turn out jaded and cynical like Lotso from Toy Story 3! Not gonna lie; I got really nervous when Carl got awfully close to those wires even though I knew he wasn't going to hit them!

Carl promised a young Ellie he was going to take her to Paradise Falls and he still vows to keep that promise; even if Ellie is no longer physically with him. He soon finds out, however, he's not alone, and I'm not talking about Ellie's cremated remains in a vase on top of the mantle. Russell, a young boy who belongs to a Wilderness Explorer Club who we were introduced to a couple scenes ago when he asked Carl if he could help him in order to get his "Assisting the Elderly" badge, the only one left he needs, was hiding under Carl's porch, looking for a fictitious perky bird Carl had made up to get rid of the kid so he could leave him alone. Ha, joke's on you, Carl! It is pretty funny when he discovers Russell is airborne with him. He's sitting in his chair when he hears someone knocking on the front door...while he's several thousand feet in the air. This is when he discovers Russell visibly shaking on the front porch...and this fear of heights will soon diminish. I did laugh when Carl takes out his hearing aid when the kid is rambling on and on.

They soon manage to travel all the way to South America (I have no idea how that is even feasible!) and land on top of Paradise Falls. This is where the movie turns a little bit crazy, but at the same time, we learn how everything ties in. First we meet a tall colorful exotic bird similar in size and stature to an emu or an ostrich, I would guess. This bird seems to love chocolate; actually it loves eating anything as it eats Carl's walker (before spitting it back up) and tries to eat a balloon which pops in its throat. I was afraid she was going to choke on it, but she spits the deflated balloon out. Despite being dubbed "Kevin" by Russell, we soon find out she is a female bird. Then we will meet Dug, a "talking" golden retriever who is easily distracted by squirrels. "SQUIRREL!" Dug has a device on his collar that allows him to "speak" English. This thing doesn't seem to be translating his barks, but actually his inner thoughts because he's not barking when he's "speaking". Dug is my favorite character in this movie.

Dug isn't the only talking dog in Paradise Falls. Remember Charles Muntz, the guy who should be dead by now because he is, at the very least, fifteen years older than Carl, who is now 80? (And I'm willing to bet there's more than fifteen years between them). The point is, this guy should be dead, but he's still very much alive (and voiced by Christopher Plummer) and still in South America where he is still trying to seek the creature of the skeleton he found (who, coincidentally, looks a lot like Kevin -ruh-roh!) He has a whole crew of canine companions who have these high tech collars that allow them to talk. I don't understand why this guy is so obsessed with finding this bird when he could literally be making millions of dollars (if not billions) by manufacturing this collar. Do you know how many people would love to communicate with their dogs? This things is a goldmine! I know, I know, he wants people to believe him about the bird being real, so he's set on finding one.

Carl is in awe when he meets his childhood hero (probably because he's still alive!) and he invites them to dinner onboard the Spirit of Adventure. (Should that be in italics?) Not only can his bevy of dogs talk, but they perform tasks such as house (airship?) cleaning and even cooking. This guy trained dogs how to cook. Just let that sink in. I love when the dog serves Russell his hot dog, he tries to eat it! When Muntz tells Carl that it's "a real treat" to have guests visiting him, all the dogs get excited when they hear the word "treat." There's just lots of little funny moments with the dogs that even I, as a cat person, can enjoy.

Muntz's top dogs are Alpha, Betta, and Gamma. Alpha is an intimidating doberman, but his collar has broken and he speaks with a squeaky cartoon-y voice which doesn't make him very intimidating at all. I not only love the way his cadence sounds; but the language he uses is also quite amusing: "Master will be most pleased." Muntz has all these dogs, not only to perform all these household tasks for him, but to help him track the bird. When he shows the skeleton of the creature he is trying to capture, stupid Russell is all like, "Hey, that looks like my new giant bird pet!" and proceeds to tell Muntz pretty much exactly how to capture the bird by telling him she likes chocolate. Carl tries to play it off, telling Muntz the bird ran off and is gone now. See, Carl could have easily let Muntz take the bird, but he knows Russell is attached to it and doesn't want anything bad to happen to her. You know that saying, Never meet your hero because you might end up being disappointed? Well that applies to this scenario because Carl is soon learning that his hero is kind of a huge jerk.

Kevin is spotted by Muntz and he orders his dogs to attack her. She is saved by Carl and Russell and Dug, who now considers Carl his new master. However, Kevin get injured by Alpha while trying to escape and they help her get back to her nest and offspring. Muntz is waiting with a net and captures her and it's a very upsetting scene! Carl has to choose between saving Kevin or saving his house. In order to stop Carl from freeing Kevin, Muntz sets his house on fire and Carl runs to pull it out of harms way while the dogs drag Kevin onboard the blimp.

Remember when I said that there's a scene that made me cry even more than the montage? After Carl has placed the house by the waterfall, exactly where Ellie dreamed of living, he looks at her adventure book. She had a section labeled "Stuff I'm Going To Do" which would document all her adventures in South America. We see Carl looking at this page earlier in the movie, forlorn that Ellie never got to have her adventure but it isn't until this moment when he noticed that there are photos beyond that page. She has their wedding photo and all the memories they spent together. She may have never gotten to go to Paradise Falls, but this was her adventure. At the bottom of the last page, she wrote, "Thanks for the adventure. Now go have a new one! Love, Ellie." Yes, this is the scene that made the tears flow. I bet with all the crying I've done watching Pixar movies, I could fill up a two-liter bottle!

This motivates Carl to rescue Kevin and this is when we get a crazy scene with Russell nearly falling to his death on the outside of the airship and dogs are flying bomber planes and Carl and Muntz have their old man fight (which was pretty funny) and Muntz gets his Disney-esque death by falling to his demise. Kevin is returned safely to her babies and the others return home with the Spirit of Adventure and Carl becomes a grandfather figure for Russell, who seems to have adopted Dug, even though he said earlier in the movie that his apartment building doesn't allow dogs.

There are definitely flaws with this movie, but the good outweigh the bad; I mean, I can't say there's really anything bad about this movie. Among Pixar's movies, I would personally rank it in my top - SQUIRREL! - ten, maybe even five, but I'd have to really think about where it would be on my list. Perhaps a Pixar ranking is in the works, wink, wink.

Monday, June 17, 2019

You're Either In or You're Out

Ocean's Eleven
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts, Don Cheadle, Carl Reiner, Elliot Gould, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan
Released: December 7, 2001
Viewed in theaters: December 18, 2001

Ocean's Eleven is a fun movie. It's also a ridiculous movie if you really stop to think about it. I mean, there's no way that eleven people could ever simultaneously rob three Las Vegas casinos in one night such as they did in this movie. Once we get introduced to the characters and the plot for the con, you can just sit back and enjoy the ride. 

Danny Ocean (George Clooney) has just been released from prison (for attempted robbery, as we will soon see that is what he likes to do) and decides he wants to rob the Bellagio, the Mirage, and the MGM Grand casinos all in one night. I mean, why be so greedy? Why not just rob one of the places? There is a reason why he is targeting these three particular casinos. Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), the man who owns these casinos, is involved with Danny's ex-wife, Tess (Julia Roberts) and even though he says this isn't about her, it's totally about her.

He reunites with his partner-in-crime pal, Rusty (Brad Pitt), where he tells him his idea and they recruit a handful of men to help him with the job. They all have a role to play in the heist; some are a little more important than others. They need someone to help finance the heist and with casino security knowledge so they go to an old friend, Reuben (Elliot Gould), who once owned a casino of his own. Terry Benedict is a rival of his, so he's happy to help with the heist. I assumed he helped pay for the replica of the vault they reconstruct and he offers his home as a sort of headquarters, but other than that, he really doesn't help with the actual heist. You always need a tech guy in a heist like this so this is where Livingston Dell (Eddie Jamison) comes in. He is in charge of all the electronics and surveillance. He has to sneak into the security room to set up cameras so the crew can see what's going on. Of course we get the inevitable scene with him where it looks like he's about to get caught by a security guard, but instead he gives him something back he forget and asks him a question about how the wires are working. They need someone with knowledge of explosives when it comes times to blow the vault door open, so Basher (Don Cheadle) is recruited He will also help when they need to turn off the electricity in the city for under a minute. For some reason, they made him British and he talks in this really heavy accent which is hard to understand at times. I was really surprised when they replaced Don Cheadle with Terrance Howard in the other two movies. The Malloy brothers, Turk and Virgil (Casey Affleck and Scoot Caan; I'm not sure who plays who) come in handy as drivers and just help with little things, such as pretending to get into a fight at the casino when one lets go of a bunch of balloons to block a security camera. They're just sort of there to assist with small little details. Rusty flies to Florida to convince con man Saul (Carl Reiner) to join them. He will come up with an elaborate story to fool Benedict. Somebody needs to fit into a small money cart that will be wheeled into the vault room (aka the room where all the money is!) so they hire Yen (Qin Shaobo) of "The Amazing Yen" after they see his acrobat show in Vegas. He's very small and limber and can bend his body in ridiculous ways so he's the perfect person to fit into a small box. Danny gets a card dealer he knows, Frank (Bernie Mac), to be transferred from Atlantic City to Vegas so he can cause a diversion later on. I guess he's the closest thing they have to an inside man. Last, but not least, they feel like they need one more person so Danny travels to Chicago where he finds Linus (Matt Damon), after observing his pickpocketing skills. These skills will come in handy with their heists.

When Danny and Rusty propose their idea to Reuben, he tells them robbing a Las Vegas casino (let alone three!) can't be done and tells them about the three closest times anyone's ever come close to robbing a casino. One happened in the sixties, one in the '71, and one in '87. Each time the perpetrator gets a little bit closer to getting a step outside (in fact the '87 guy actually does get outside), but none get away with the crime. I like how this scene is shot: each scene is shot in correspondence to how that time period would look on film (compete with what everyone is wearing and the lighting), the music matches the era ("Take My Breath Away" is played for the '87 con).

Turns out Benedict keeps all the money in the Bellagio's vault, so while they are still robbing three casinos, they only need to do it one place. At least that's a little more much as this movie can be realistic! They plan to hit the casino on the same night a big boxing match is being held in Vegas because they know that will bring in a lot of gamblers with all the tourists coming to see the fight (not to mention all the celebrities) and all casinos are supposed to always have a set amount of money on hand so they will have enough. They estimate there will be 160 million dollars in the vault that night and will divide the money eleven ways. The fight will be held in two weeks so that's how much time they have to prepare. In order to do that, Linus goes to the casino everyday where he observes every move Benedict makes and where he is at all times. Lucky for him (and everyone else), this guy has a very set schedule and does the same thing everyday, at the precise minute right down to going to the bathroom. Seems quite convenient for our con artists! This is also when we're introduced to Tess, who works as the curator at a museum at one of the hotels, and Rusty finds out the real reason why Danny is so set on stealing from three casinos that belong to Benedict.

They build a replica of the vault so they can practice with Yen in the money-cart. This is the most dangerous part of the job because he will only have thirty minutes before he runs out of air so they need to make sure he gets where he needs to be in time so he won't suffocate. They also use this replica to make sure he can jump from the cart to another location without signaling the laser lights. While they do get blue prints to the vault, I find it hard to believe they would know the exact replica of it. And exactly how much did it cost to build this replica? If they had an inside man, this would make more sense. They do mention that Frank provided some information, but I doubt a blackjack dealer who just started working there would know all this information! Maybe I'm putting too much thought into this as this is a movie you're just supposed to watch and enjoy.

I do love the scene where the eleven of them are meeting in Vegas for the first time at Reuben's house going over the plan. Yen, who knows very, very little English, asks something in Chinese and Rusty answers him (in English, but still impressive that he knew what Yen was asking) with a very detailed answer. The look on Basher's face as Rusty is answering him is highly amusing.

Saul has a very good question. He wants to know if they get though the security doors and down an elevator they can't move and pass security guards with guns and though a vault that's pretty much impossible to open and not be seen by the cameras, that they're just supposed to walk out of there with all that money. Danny simply answers, "Yes" and Saul seems satisfied with that. Now, of course they don't want to give anything away with how they do plan to do this. As a viewer, I'm screaming at my screen because I want to know, but presumably Danny and Rusty tell everyone their idea off camera.

Danny has been red-flagged by Benedict himself because he has come to see Tess so Benedict knows he's in town and doesn't want him in his hotel. All security will be watching him when he sets foot in the casino. Of course, this is all part of Danny's grand scheme because he thought of everything. They play it off like it's a problem, but Danny knows what he's doing. This is when everyone else (who knows Danny used to be married to Tess) find out about Tess's involvement and there's a funny line where Saul says, "Tess is with Benedict now? She's too tall for him!"

There's an elevator that requires a six digit passcode every so many hours and this is where Linus will come in and will swipe the codes from Benedict being the stealthy pickpocket he is. They will need to turn the laser lights in the elevator shaft off in order to go through it. Basher suggests a device called a pinch (which they steal from The California Institute of Advanced Science) which can shut off all the power in Las Vegas for thirty seconds. While this is going on, Danny and Linus are doing a Mission: Impossible type move where they have to rappel down the elevator shaft before the lights turn back on. When the electricity comes back on thirty seconds later you see that everyone at the fight has become rowdy, so Terry and Tess leave. The patrons at the casino have also gone crazy and it turns into a free for all. Nobody seems to question that the electricity has gone out and there's not even a storm to justify it.

This is the type of movie where you know nothing bad is going to happen and that our protagonist are going to get away with this ridiculous task of stealing $160 millions from a highly guarded casino. You don't know how they're going to do it, but you know it's going to happen. There may be a few hiccups along the way (and we see plenty of them!), but you know they're going to get out of any jams they may find themselves in. You're really not sure what's going to happen until it folds out on screen, so it's fun to see the twists and turns they take. I had forgotten about how they planned to walk out with all the money, but I have to wonder, where did they get SWAT uniforms and trucks? Did Reuben provide those too? Did they share a cut with someone who provided those for them?

There is an amusing running joke throughout the film, where in each new scene he's in, Rusty is usually eating some type of food. I remember seeing nachos, a fruit cup, shrimp cocktail (very Vegas-y), ice cream, and a burger. And those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head.

Something I've never noticed before was during the credits (probably because I never watched the end credits), after they credit everyone, it ends with, "And introducing Julia Roberts as Tess". Obviously this was a joke/Easter egg because she was already a huge star by then and had already been in many, many famous movies and had won her Oscar the previous year. It just made me do a double take when I saw that!

I've seen this movie a handful of times, but I've only seen Ocean's Twelve and Ocean's Thirteen once. I don't remember anything about either of them except that I didn't enjoy watching them and thought they were a bit boring, or at least not as fun a the first one. There is one part I remember about the second movie and that's when Tess pretends to be Julia Roberts as she bares a striking resemblance to her...because she IS Julia Roberts, haha. I don't remember why she had to pretend to be the famous actress, but it was an amusing scene, although you have to wonder...if Julia Roberts exists in the same world as these characters, then why not George Clooney or Brad Pitt or Matt Damon? How come nobody mistakes Danny, Rusty, or Linus for those famous actors? I also saw the spin-off,Ocean's Eight, where Sandra Bullocks play Danny's sister and she recruits her own team of thieves to rob jewelry at the Met Gala. While not as good as the original (and while I know the 2001 is a remake of a 1960 movie of the same name with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr, I consider the 2001 film the original because nobody ever talks about the 1960 movie or probably even knows it exists because the 2001 film is much more well known; heck, I didn't even know this was a remake until several years later!), I did enjoy it more than the sequels. My only gripe (and spoilers for Ocean's Eight about to come) is that they make this big deal how all these women were able to pull off his huge con, but psyche! Yen from the other movies was there all along (recruited by Sandra Bullock unbeknownst to the viewing audience) and helped them with a major part of the scheme. I was like, seriously? I know they wanted to have a fun cameo from the other Ocean movies, but I groaned out loud when I saw that. 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Death Wish

Free Solo
Directors: Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
Released: September 28, 2018

Oscar nominations:
Best Documentary (Won)

I don't mean to start out this review with such a morose statement, but I predict that the guy who this documentary revolves around will be dead by the time he's 40. Alex Honnold is 33 at the moment and he's known for free soloing which is where you rock climb without any ropes or basically any kind of safety gear. Sounds pretty stupid if you ask me. Two years ago he became the first person ever to free solo El Capitan, a massive rock formation in Yosemite National Park and it was captured on camera and thus this documentary was born. I vaguely remember hearing about this on the news when it happened.

Before I started watching this, I checked to see if he was still alive (I didn't know for sure!) He is, but even knowing that it still made me nervous while watching him climb so high without any safety gear! I can't imagine that they would still release the film if he had died. I mean, they wouldn't do that, would they?

In the mid-2000s, Honnold free soloed cliff walls  around 1,500-2,000 feet tall and this is where he started becoming known to people who follow this kind of thing (unlike me!) He has his eyes set on El Capitan because nobody has ever free soloed it and it seems like the reason that has never happened is because it seems impossible (and very dangerous!) They talk to a mountain climber (one of many they talk to and I don't remember any of their names) who has climbed El Capitan many times and he said he would never free solo it, although he has free soloed many other mountains in Yosemite.

Of course it would be stupid for Honnold to climb this mountain sans safety gear on his first try and the film documents him climbing it many times with ropes and harnesses and taking copious notes. We see pages and pages of a notebook filled with pretty much every little detail you can find on the mountain. It kind of reminds me of a playbook coaches uses in football games because he's using it to plot every move he'll make when he'll eventually free solo it. He has to assess every crack and crevice on the rock wall (some just barely big enough to hold only your big toe!) and determine which maneuver will be the safest. We see him fall on many of his trial attempts, but luckily he is attached to ropes so these trial runs are quite important! I don't remember if they said how many times he climbed El Capitan in the film, but I watched a TED talk he did and he said he climbed it 50 times within the last decade.

The mountain is divided into "pitches" and each one is given a name. One of his dilemmas while free soloing El Capitan will have to be choosing between "The Boulder Problem" route or "The Glass Wall" route. Both are very scary and seem impossible for someone free soloing. Also, both are high enough that if he falls, he's dead. In "The Boulder Problem", he will have very narrow crevices to work with and will have to know exactly how he plans to maneuver his arms and legs on each crevice. I think he even mentions that there's a small crevice just barely big enough to put his toe on. Towards the end of this pitch, he'll have to do a karate kick to reach a bigger rock he needs to get to and really stretch his leg to get to it. "The Glass Wall" is exactly what it sounds like: it will literally be like trying to climb a glass wall. In the end, he will choose "The Boulder Problem" route. I guess it was the lesser of two evils. There's another pitch called the "Monster Offwidth" where he says in order to get through it you have to do these crazy yoga poses and if you can't hold them, then you will die. It almost looks like he's climbing straight up a chimney because he's between these two narrow vertical rocks. It looks very claustrophobic to me! Needless to say this guy is in pretty good shape. While that is important, it still won't stop you from making a fatal mistake!

His camera crew consists of other mountain climbers and people who know him pretty well and this will be the first time one of his climbs will be documented. Even they have to assess the mountain to know where they're going to set the cameras and where they will film him. They are nervous because they don't want to accidentally kick a rock out of place or anything that could drastically change Honnold's outcome. They are also nervous about filming him because knowing he has a camera on him could add more pressure to Honnold and he could lose his concentration which is something he needs 100% of when doing something like this. While his family and close friends are supportive of him, none of them are thrilled that he wants to free solo this massive rock (or any formation of rock, really). His mom says she doesn't even want to know when he'll be free soloing or else she'll just be worrying while it's going on. His rock climbing friends tell him he does not have to do this; that he doesn't owe anybody anything. His camera crew friends are super nervous about filming this crazy expedition. You can't really blame anybody for being scared about his determination to accomplish this crazy feat because it's mentioned that every free solo climber (at least the well known ones) are now all dead. We get a little montage of how this one died and how that one died (yeah, basically they all fell off a mountain to their deaths). Some were in their 50s when they perished, others only in their 20s or 30s.

The person I feel the most bad for is his girlfriend, Sanni, who he met at a book signing in Seattle. Now I don't know how long they had been dating when we see them discussing his upcoming free solo climb and he says having her in the equation will not change his mind about free soloing El Capitan. It seems like they had been dating long enough that they bought a house together in Las Vegas so it seems like it's somewhat of a serious relationship. At the beginning of the movie Honnold is asked if he has a girlfriend and he says he's headed in the direction of having one, so I can only assume that part was filmed when he first met Sanni (if this is the same woman he's talking about) and he says he will always choose rock climbing over any woman. Ouch. Now, again, this was presumably filmed before they started having a serious relationship, but if I were that girl, I would be a little ticked off if I saw that. If I were her I would dump his sorry ass because he does not seem to care at all that she doesn't want him to do this because she's scared for his life. He's determined to do this whether or not anyone else wants him to or not. She is relieved (of course!) when she gets the phone call from him once he has successfully scaled the mountain and repeatedly tells him she is proud of him. Now I have no idea if they're still together or if he retired from the dangerous sport once he completed his White Whale of free solo climbing. He does mention that there's always a mountain bigger than the previous one that someone will try to attempt. He seems to make a good amount of money from sponsors so he could comfortably settle down, but the question is, does he want to? I think she would be stupid not to dump him if he does continue to free solo because why put yourself through that constant worry and trepidation?

I wouldn't say that Honnold doesn't seem to care about the possibility that he could die, but it almost seems like he doesn't care about the possibility that he could die. He seems more concerned that his friends would have to witness it if it did happen. He is not a reckless climber by any means as he thoroughly did his homework on El Capitan and knows how to turn his full attention to what he's doing while climbing, but that still won't stop you from the possibility of falling because any small wrong move you make could mean the end of your life. We see him get a scan of his brain and apparently his amydala doesn't get stimulated very much which could explain why he free solos, but it seems like he doesn't do other thrill seeking activities like bungee jumping or sky diving (though maybe he finds those too safe!)

He first attempts to free solo El Capitan in the fall of 2016 and wakes up super early when it's still dark outside. The thinking is they want to start at a certain time so the sun won't be in his eyes during critical moments of the climb. It's still dark when he decides to bail. I don't know exactly how high he was, but I think if he had fallen at that point, he would have only broken some bones. I guess he didn't feel comfortable going on with the climb, plus all the cameras were making him nervous. On the day of the accomplished climb, they reconfigure the cameras so they're not as obvious, though at certain points you see him saying something to the camera so they're not that hidden. I have to wonder if the complete darkness was the reason why he bailed the first time because this time it's daylight when he starts out. Yes, he had a flashlight on his helmet, but it was pitch dark!

He completed the task two years ago on June 3, 2017. It only took him just under four hours to climb up almost 3,000 feet which seems pretty fast to me...but what do I know. I literally know nothing about rock climbing. We see about maybe twenty minutes of the actual climb and the film speeds up at times (through the "boring" parts, I guess). We see him successfully complete "The Boulder Problem" and all the other scary parts of the mountain. One of the cameramen at the bottom who had his camera on a tripod turns around for the majority of Honnold's climb (pretty much when he's high enough to kill himself if he falls). I can't blame the poor guy; I knew Honnold survived this climb while watching it and even I was getting super nervous! I can only imagine how nerve-wrecking it was to be there while it was happening live. He (the stressed-out cameraman) said he would never do anything like this ever again.

To everyone's great relief, Honnold makes it to the summit and that is when he calls his relieved girlfriend. We never see how he gets down, though. Did a helicopter take him back down? Did he take the steps in the back? Did the two cameramen who were up there have an extra set of ropes? I hope he didn't have to free solo down the mountain!

I hope he doesn't feel any pressure to have to climb a mountain that's taller and more terrifying than El Capitan; I think he should just retire. He already accomplished his dream and lived through it and he might not be so lucky the next time or the time after that. It's just not worth it to gamble with your life like that!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Fresh Prince of Agrabah

Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Alan Tudyk
Released: May 24, 2019
Viewed in theaters: May 29, 2019

My review of the original movie.

I'll say the same thing about this movie that I said about the live-action Beauty and the Beast and that I'll inevitably say about the upcoming The Lion King: it wasn't as good as its animated counterpart. That said, even though I had my doubts, I did enjoy the movie (for the most part) and it did bring a sense of nostalgia for me. Now if I had watched this movie without ever watching the animated movie or even knowing about it (and I would have to been born yesterday for that to happen, but just go with me!), I would have found this movie to be very weird and probably wondering what the heck was going on. But since I have seen the animated movie, I understand what they were going for, but there are just many aspects of Aladdin that doesn't quite translate nicely to a live-action remake. (:::coughcoughTheGeniecoughcough:::) While the movie pretty much keeps to the same beats as the original, there were a few changes, so beware that there might be spoilers if you haven't seen this yet.

We'll first start with the Genie. Let's just get him out of the way, shall we? Will Smith had some big shoes to fill but I think it's a bit unfair to compare him to Robin Williams who made the Genie such an iconic character. There's no way anyone could have ever lived up to his performance. The character is still a wise-cracking, jubilant, fun-loving all-powerful being, but Will Smith brings a different vibe to him. I didn't have a problem with his performance; what I had a problem with was the look of the genie. When he was the blue CGI genie, it just looked so weird. It's one thing to animate the Genie and do a bunch of crazy things that you're provided with Williams' voiceovers, but when you bring the Genie to real life, yikes! Not pretty! The Genie does disguise himself as human when he's around other humans so we get a break from the CGI monstrosity for a few scenes. That said, the Jafar evil genie is much worse; probably because he's only in abut five minutes of the movie and they wanted to make sure the Will Smith genie looked better, which, it does, but not by much.

They throw in a new plot twist by giving the Genie a love interest. Yeah, it's a little weird that this all powerful being falls in love with a mere mortal. (Although (uh, spoiler warning if you've ever seen the original!) he does become freed of his genie duties, so does that mean he no longer has his genie powers and is now just a human?) When we first meet the Genie, he's on a boat in his human disguise and talking to his children and I thought that we were going to see the origin story of how this man became a genie, but then the movie starts and I start getting into it because they're singing the songs I know and, honestly, I just forgot about that scene. It isn't until the end of the movie when they return to that scene of him on the boat with his kids and wife that I realized that this scene takes place after all the events of the movie and he has married the woman he fell in love with and these are their children.

Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and Jasmine (Naomi Scott) get to wear more clothes in this version as Aladdin wears a shirt and Jasmine never bares her mid-drift. She also gets to wear more than one outfit (which seems more realistic!) and has some exquisite ensembles and even wears a beautiful dress in her signature turquoise shade during the "A Whole New World" scene. I love that they even styled her hair the same way as animated Jasmine in that scene (tied back with three different hair ties). While she has some gorgeous jewelry, I was a little disappointed she never wears those huge gold earrings her animated version sports.

Jasmine has much more of a bigger role than she did in the animated movie. We learn more about her backstory like why she isn't allowed to to leave the palace (because her mother was killed and her father fears for his daughter's safety). Her father (who comes off much more competent than his bumbling animated counterpart) and Jafar (Manwan Kenzari) want Jasmine to marry a prince because they need somebody to become Sultan (the idea for Jarfar to marry Jasmine so he can become Sultan doesn't come into fruition until the end of the movie), but Jasmine has other ideas and she wants to be Sultan. She doesn't understand why she has to marry an outsider who will lead a country that nobody knows better than she does and that she's been prepared for this her whole life.

When Aladdin and Jasmine meet, he thinks she's the handmaiden to the Princess and she goes along with it. When Aladdin sneaks into the palace to return a bracelet Abu had nabbed from her, he comes face to face with both Jasmine and Dalia, the real handmaiden to the Princess (and a character that isn't in the animated version). Jasmine has to get Dalia's attention to make sure she knows that she needs to pretend that she's the Princess. While it's a comical scene, I have a hard time believing Aladdin would believe the girl he met in the marketplace is only a handmaiden because she's wearing this gorgeous silk colorful dress (I can't remember what color is is in this scene..she has a turquoise dress, a pink dress, an orange dress, a purple dress, you get the idea!) and Dalia only wears simple gowns in muted colors. Plus there's her jewelry....I mean, c'mon, Aladdin... But he doesn't find out she's the Princess until the Genie transfers him into Prince Ali.

Abu, Raja, Iago, and the magic carpet are all in this movie but none are as fun or as lively animated as their '92 counterparts. Obviously they're all CGI. There were some cute moments with Abu, but then other times you could tell he was a CGI creature (especially in the eyes) and it just looked really creepy. I feel like this movie won't age very well in the future. The CGI just isn't the best. I was really disappointed with Iago. He's the character out of these sidekicks that lost a significant amount of screen time from the original. He's voiced by Alan Tudyk which I had no idea because he just sound like a generic parrot squawking. What make Iago so great in the original is that he was voiced by Gilbert Gottfried (brilliant casting because who would want a parrot that sounds like Gilbert Gottfried?) and while he does use a squawking parrot voice when he's around other people, when he's alone with Jafar he talks to him as he were a normal human and we see he's a lot smarter than he lets on and has a vast vocabulary. They seem to keep it a bit more realistic in this movie where the parrot, while sometimes says smart-aleck things, only talks in a few words and phrases and probably wouldn't be able to carry on a conversation with a human. Also, I never heard anyone refer him to as "Iago", although it's possible I just missed that, but I swear towards the end of the movie Jafar calls him simply, "Parrot". There are a lot of scenes from the original with him that were cut, but he does get a pretty big part (no pun intended!) during an action scene towards the end of the movie where he becomes a huge bird (helped by Jafar who has become a sorcerer with one of his genie wishes) and chases Aladdin and Jasmine, who are on the magic carpet, around Agrabah to seize the lamp.

We have the same songs as the original, plus a new song that Jasmine gets to belt out called "Speechless" that's very empowering, so it's nice she finally gets her own song. Too bad it's just kind of meh. I mean, I guess it's okay, but I feel like it's trying to be "Let It Go", but it's just not as good. Also, if you were to ask a young kid who didn't know all the original songs which one wasn't in the animated version, they would probably guess right. Some of the music arrangements were changed around a little bit, but it' still (pretty much) the same lyrics. I did notice that they changed some lyrics to "Arabian Nights"  which isn't the most culturally sensitive song and instead of using "barbaric" in the line, "It's barbaric, but hey, it's home!" they use "chaotic." There were probably other slight changes, but that was the only one I noticed. The end credits pull a Slumdog Millionaire where the cast is doing sone Bollywood (I didn't know Agrabah was in India!) dance to a remix version of "Friend Like Me" featuring DJ Khaled. Ugh, no thanks. I love "Summertime" and "Getting Jiggy With It" as much as the next person, and while Will Smith does a decent job with the genie songs, he just doesn't hold a candle to Robin Williams who sang those songs with a lot more energy (and a lot more different voices!) He doesn't even scat during "Friend Like Me", but he has more hip hop influences. I think he was slightly better singing "Prince Ali", but I think that might have been because he was in human form and I didn't have to look at that scary CGI genie. I was disappointed that they didn't have the "Don't they look lovely, June?" and "Fabulous, Harry, I love the feathers" lines, but  I did laugh when he sings, "He's got monkeys, a lot of monkeys" which is taken out of the original song. The new pop version of "A Whole New World" isn't as good as the '92 pop version, but I do think it is much better than the new pop version of "Beauty and the Beast." The songs from the '92 version are much superior than the newer versions and they will always be.

So there appears to be some new rules since the last movie with the wish-making. Remember in the animated movie when they're trapped in the Cave of Wonders and Aladdin tricks the Genie into getting them out of there without using one of his three wishes? In the remake, Aladdin says, "Genie, I wish for you to get us out of this cave" and I'm thinking, Oh, so they're counting this as one of the wishes. But, no. Apparently, when making a wish, the master of the Genie has to be rubbing the lamp. What kind of bs is that? Also, wouldn't an all-knowing genie KNOW when one isn't rubbing the lamp? Duh. I don't know, I thought that was really stupid. The wishes are all the same: Aladdin wishes to be a prince, the Genie saves him from drowning after Jafar captures him and tries to kill him, and of course, he sets the Genie free.

Speaking of Jafar, he's not as, ahem, animated as he is in the '92 movie. He doesn't come off as very menacing to me. He has this weird obsession with invading the country Jasmine's mother is from. I can't remember the name of it which is surprising because he must mention invading it at least 3,000 times. Sadly, this Jafar does not have his pun game on because that scene where he spits out pun after pun in the animated movie is not in this one. But I feel like this Jafar doesn't have any fun and thus his pun game isn't up to par. This Jafar also never calls Aladdin "Prince Abubu."

I admit I haven't seen many of Guy Ritchie's movies, none of them really appeal to me. I've only seen Sherlock Holmes. I heard he likes to use a lot of slow motion in his movies and live-action Aladdin was no exception. He especially likes to use it when characters are falling. We see it when Aladdin is falling towards the water when he's been tied to the chair by Jafar and when Abu falls off the magic carpet with the lamp.

One of my biggest complaints about this movie (besides the CGI) would have to be how dark it is during some pivotal scenes. It's very dark in the Cave of Wonders and it's very dark during the "A Whole New World" magic carpet ride scene. Yes, it is nighttime during these scenes in the animated movie too, but at least they can work with color and make it more vivid, not too mention you have more room with animation and this story just lends itself better to animation, especially with the Genie. There were quite a few young kids (twelve and younger) in my audience and I can only hope that their parents showed them the animated movie and that's why they were seeing it. Give me the animated movie, all day, every day.

 Haha, so when I was walking out of the theater there was a display for the new Chucky movie and this girl, probably eight or nine, tells her mom she wants to see that (WTF?) and her mom goes, "No, you are not seeing that! It's too creepy."

Want to know the most outrageous thing about my excursion to the movies? I paid $5.76 for a small drink! I had a free movie pass and a coupon for a free small popcorn, so at least that was all I spent, but still! That much for a small drink; can you believe that? I can get a large iced latte at Scooters for the exact same price! This is why I sneak my snacks into theaters!