Tag Archives: Brad Bird

Tomorrowland

IMAGINE A PLACE WHERE NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE. 

tomorrowlandCasey Newton (Britt Robertson) finds a pin that shows her a vision of a futuristic place called Tomorrowland that’s invisible to everyone else; soon she’s on the run with a mysterious girl (Raffey Cassidy)… Another Disney amusement park attraction gets its own movie, as in the case of Pirates of the Caribbean (2003). Elaborate, with a few spectacular scenes and a rousing score. The story is driven by a longing for a better world, but fails to make much of an impact in the film’s second half. Most rewarding aspect: the humorous and emotional relationship between Frank, Casey and Athena. 

2015-U.S. 130 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Brad Bird. Screenplay: Brad Bird, Damon Lindelof. Music: Michael Giacchino. Cast: George Clooney (Frank Walker), Hugh Laurie (David Nix), Britt Robertson (Casey Newton), Raffey Cassidy (Athena), Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn… Judy Greer.

Trivia: Alternative title: Tomorrowland: A World Beyond.

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The Greatest Hits of 2015

It’s time for that annual list of next year’s highly anticipated Hollywood films. Here’s 2015 for ya.

JANUARY:

* Blackhat – Michael Mann’s first directorial outing since Public Enemies (2009) is a cyber thriller starring Chris Hemsworth. Its January release makes it hard to really get excited about it. 

* Escobar: Paradise Lost – Notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar reaches the big screen in the shape of Benicio Del Toro. Josh Hutcherson plays the innocent young man who becomes a witness to Escobar’s life of crime. 

* Still Alice – There have been several Alzheimer dramas before (most notably Away From Her (2007)), but this one boasts an already heavily lauded performance by Julianne Moore.

* Mortdecai – David Koepp is an unreliable director, but this art-heist comedy might be worth a look. A true star vehicle for Johnny Depp, who needs a hit.

FEBRUARY:

* Jupiter Ascending – The Wachowski siblings deliver another sci-fi movie, this time starring Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis. The stars will help, but it’s doubtful that audiences will be much attracted to the film.

* Kingsman: The Secret Service – An action thriller from Matthew Vaughn that follows a veteran secret agent taking on a protégé. Starring Colin Firth and Michael Caine. 

* Fifty Shades of Grey – No one expects this adaptation of the hugely successful novel to be any good; the only question is how naughty will it be? And will audiences line up to find out? Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are in the leads.

MARCH:

* Cinderella – Kenneth Branagh directs this movie that seems to follow in the footsteps of Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Huntsman and Maleficent. Lily James plays Cinderella in the live-action version. 

* Insurgent – The sequel to Divergent (2014). It’s hard to separate this series from the Hunger Games movies and all the other dystopian youth thrillers. But the first film was a huge hit. 

* Serena – Susanne Bier’s first American film since Things We Lost in the Fire (2007) is a Depression-era drama about a love affair between a girl and a millionaire. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are likely to bring star power.

APRIL:

* Furious 7 – There’s an anxiety to make this movie worth the effort, considering it’s Paul Walker’s last. It will no doubt be interesting to see how well the filmmakers have worked around his absence. It certainly looks wild.

* Child 44 – Daniel Espinosa directs this adaptation of an excellent hard-boiled bestseller, a serial-killer thriller set in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and Gary Oldman are headlining.

MAY:

* Avengers: Age of Ultron – Summer puts in a higher gear with this sequel that reunites some of our favorite superheroes.  I hope Joss Whedon lives up to the original, and I look forward to watching James Spader as the villain.

* Mad Max: Fury Road – Perhaps few expected George Miller’s belated sequel to the 1980s franchise to be noteworthy, but the trailers that have been released so far indicate a furious thrill ride. Tom Hardy is in the lead. 

* Tomorrowland – A new Brad Bird movie is always worth a look. This sci-fi adventure, that was co-authored by Damon Lindelof and stars George Clooney, looks very intriguing.

JUNE:

* Jurassic World – It’s been 14 years since the last Jurassic Park movie and that time difference is illustrated in the story of this sequel. Now it’s a fully operational theme park, and very busy. I’m sure everything will go wrong. 

* Inside Out – The new Pixar movie is a weird concept. We follow the emotions inside a little girl, all represented by quirky characters. Co-directed by Monsters, Inc. director Pete Docter.

* Ricki and the Flash – Meryl Streep plays an aging rock star who’s trying to reconnect with her kids. May sound unremarkable, but Jonathan Demme is directing and Streep is probably a hoot to watch. And there’s Kevin Kline.

JULY:

* Terminator Genisys – Terminator Salvation (2007) failed to jump-start this franchise, but here comes a movie that seems to be everything – a sequel, a remake and a prequel all at once. And Arnold Schwarzenegger returns. Has to be seen. 

* Ant-Man – Can’t say I’m excited about this latest superhero project, but perhaps a sense of humor will boost it, as in the case of Guardians of the Galaxy. The cast has Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly.

AUGUST:

* The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – Guy Ritchie directs this adaptation of the 1960s spy series. I guess Warner is hoping for their own Mission: Impossible franchise. Stars Henry Cavill and Hugh Grant.

* Straight Outta Compton – The story of the legendary hiphop group N.W.A. reaches the big screen. Director F. Gary Gray’s first film in six years. Paul Giamatti is in the cast.

SEPTEMBER:

* Everest – A star-studded thriller about a Mount Everest expedition that is hit by a snowstorm. Starring Keira Knightley, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robin Wright and Josh Brolin.

* Black Mass – Infamous Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger is the subject of this film that focuses on his rise. Johnny Depp plays Bulger and the cast also has Benedict Cumberbatch, Sienna Miller and Joel Edgerton.

OCTOBER:

* The Walk – Did you see the documentary Man on Wire (2008)? Well, here comes Robert Zemeckis’s fictionalized version, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The teaser is eye-popping, and I believe this is an occasion where the 3D will truly serve a purpose.

* The Jungle Book – Hard to tell what Jon Favreau might make of this adaptation, but it seems inspired by the Disney version as much as Rudyard Kipling. Bill Murray and Christopher Walken will provide the voices of Baloo and King Louie.

* Crimson Peak – Guillermo del Toro directs this ghost movie starring Charlie Hunnam and Jessica Chastain. Early footage was a hit at Comic-Con last summer.

NOVEMBER: 

* Spectre – The 24th James Bond movie promises to reintroduce both SPECTRE and Blofeld. Daniel Craig returns and Christoph Waltz plays the villain. Sam Mendes is back in the directing chair after the success of Skyfall (2012). 

* The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 – The book certainly did not need to be divided into two separate movies, but here’s the final film in this franchise.

* Midnight Special – Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols returns with a film about a man who goes on the lam with his son after discovering that the boy has special powers. Stars Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst and Michael Shannon.

DECEMBER:

* Star Wars: The Force Awakens – The most heavily anticipated movie of the year. The teaser trailer got everybody curious and J.J. Abrams’s take on this franchise certainly looks exciting. Now we’re waiting for a first look of the old stars…

* Mission: Impossible 5 – Both the plot and, likely, the title are unknown at this time. But Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner and the other familiar faces from this franchise are returning. Christopher McQuarrie, who made Jack Reacher, is helming.

* Joy – David O. Russell is back with another vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence, who plays a Long Island single mom who becomes a wildly successful entrepreneur. Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro are also in the cast.

* The Revenant – Alejandro González Iñárritu directs this drama about a frontiersman who sets out for revenge in the 1820s. Stars Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio.

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5 Summer Movies That Had Better Be Great

Entertainment Weekly recently presented a list of 30 summer movies they “can’t wait to see”. Yeah, right, I thought. As we all know, maybe five of them will be really good. One of them will NOT be Battleship (opening May 18). But how about these five:

 

The Avengers – My attitude to the previous films have been somewhat lackluster (I awarded all of them three-out-of-five stars, not more or less), but perhaps this could be a game-changer. After all, who can resist the Hulk, Tony Stark, Hawkeye, Captain America, Black Widow and Thor join forces for a movie directed by Joss Whedon? All hell could break loose… and I hope it does. U.S. premiere: May 4.

 

Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson’s latest looks like it was invented to prove the auteur theory; every part of it is genuinely Anderson-esque. A quirky sense of humor, an all-star cast willing to tone it down in favor of the director’s sensibilities, childhood memories, fatherhood issues… you name it. Looks like another great part for Bill Murray. U.S. premiere: May 25.

 

Prometheus – The latest trailer (not the one above) is so spoilerific that there’s no doubt anymore that this is a glorious prequel to Alien (1979), in spite of director Ridley Scott’s initial attempts to tone down similarities. Maybe the trailers are setting us up for a huge disappointment, but this looks like an overwhelmingly thrilling return to a sci-fi/horror premise that we love. U.S. premiere: June 8.

 

Brave – This is Pixar’s hope for a comeback this year. Oh, not with the audience; they seem to have loved Cars 2. No, with the critics who were heartbreakingly disappointed with the John Lasseter-helmed sequel. Brave is the studio’s first fairy-tale, distributed by Disney and directed by Brenda Chapman (who co-directed The Prince of Egypt (1998)) and Mark Andrews who’s apparently known as Brad Bird’s “right-hand man”. Expect darker stuff than the usual Disney fare. U.S. premiere: June 22.

 

The Dark Knight Rises – Spider-Man, you say? Tired reboot, I say (there’s apparently a rumor that Sony is not too happy about it). The Amazing Spider-Man may still be a great superhero movie, but I liked the Sam Raimi efforts and reserve my anticipation for Christopher Nolan’s third Batman flick. Dark as always, the third trailer (above) shifts into higher gear after 30 seconds and delivers the goods. U.S. premiere: July 20. 

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Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

NO PLAN. NO BACKUP. NO CHOICE. 

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is sprung from a prison in Russia by his IMF colleagues, but when a subsequent mission is botched and a bomb destroys the Kremlin, Hunt’s team is disavowed. For the fourth film in this franchise, The Incredibles (2004) director Brad Bird was hired and he brings some of that energy, sense of humor and classic spy trappings. His first non-animated film moves briskly between its exciting, outlandish action sequences (the highlight being a daring climb up the Burj Khalifa), although it loses steam somewhat in the last half-hour. Cruise and his team (including high-profiled newcomer Jeremy Renner) are great fun to watch, diverting one’s attention from the silly story.

2011-U.S. 133 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Tom Cruise, J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk. Directed by Brad Bird. Music: Michael Giacchino. Cast: Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Jeremy Renner (William Brandt), Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn), Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Léa Seydoux… Anil Kapoor. Cameos: Tom Wilkinson, Michelle Monaghan, Ving Rhames.

Trivia: Also released in an IMAX 3D version. Followed by Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015).

Last word: “The script that Andre Nemec and Josh Applebaum did, working with JJ Abrams and Tom [Cruise], was full of these inventive set pieces that were really exciting to do. The nuances of information, which these films really have in spades, was a real challenge. Because you don’t want the audience to guess what’s coming next, but also you don’t want to be so, quote, clever, unquote, that you allow them to disconnect. If the audience becomes confused, they start to disconnect, and you don’t want that either. You have this very narrow sweet spot that’s hard to hit, and certainly, the script was always morphing while we were making the film. It kind of drive us crazy a little bit. I understood that it came with the territory.” (Bird, Den of Geek)

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The Iron Giant

IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE!

 

In the 1950s, a boy encounters a giant made of iron in the woods; the creature is from outer space, but the kid’s new playmate is not easily accepted by adults. An animated charmer that shows director Brad Bird’s potential, even though it wasn’t a commercial success. Reminiscent of E.T. (1982), this is a predictable story of a boy who takes care of an alien hunted by government agents, but gains strength from its sense of humor and the clever way Bird ties it to 1950s fear of commies and atomic weapons. The animation (including its CGI elements) looks beautiful, and Eli Marienthal does a good job voicing the boy.

1999-U.S. Animated. 86 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Allison Abbate, Des McAnuff. Directed by Brad Bird. Screenplay: Tim McCanlies. Novel: Ted Hughes (“The Iron Man”). Voices of Jennifer Aniston (Annie Hughes), Eli Marienthal (Hogarth Hughes), Harry Connick, Jr. (Dean McCoppin), Vin Diesel, Christopher McDonald, James Gammon… Cloris Leachman, John Mahoney.

Trivia: Executive producer Pete Townshend originally intended to turn the story into a musical with songs from his album “The Iron Man”.

Last word: “I’m interested in showing that animated films are films first, and animation second. We want to have something for adults, as well as children. Animation is storytelling. Storytelling can be anything. Hopefully, ‘The Iron Giant’ is a step in that direction. I just pitched them the idea of, ‘What if a gun had a soul?’ They saw the dramatic possibilities in that idea. I pitched them the story line, the way I saw it, and they went for it.” (Bird, Animation World Magazine)

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Ratatouille: The Little Chef That Could

HE’S DYING TO BECOME A CHEF.

 

ratatouilleIn creating the concept for Ratatouille, director Brad Bird got help from Thomas Keller, a distinguished chef. He advised the director on what goes on in the busy kitchen of a successful, classy restaurant and also had a few culinary tips up his sleeve, including the design of the ratatouille served at a climactic moment in the film. As much as we enjoy the story, performances and laughs, we also need to be enchanted by the appearance and scents worthy of Paris and a potentially five-star kitchen.

We’re introduced to Remy, a rat who lives with his colony somewhere on the French countryside. Remy is a dreamer, a fellow who looks up on humans and sees them as creatures who do things rather than steal them, which is how he views himself and his family. Inspired by the legendary Paris chef Gusteau who once said that anyone can cook, Remy (who has an advanced sense of smell) wants to be that “anyone”. However, one fateful night when he and his brother Emile are looking for saffron in an old lady’s kitchen, they’re discovered and the ensuing commotion forces the entire colony to evacuate. Remy is separated from Emile and their father, but ends up in Paris via the sewers – in fact, very close to Gusteau’s restaurant. The chef has passed away and the eatery is now run by the sadistic and uninventive Skinner. One of his cooks has just hired a garbage boy, Alfredo Linguini, the son of a former employee. He accidentally screws up a soup, but when no one’s watching, Remy does his best to repair the damage – and the soup impresses one of the guests to the degree that Skinner reluctantly hires Linguini as an apprentice chef, thinking it was he who made wonders. Linguini knows better and when he realizes that Remy not only can cook but understands what he says, they make a deal. Soon, Gusteau is wowing Paris again… but will Skinner learn what’s going on?

Infatuation with Paris, and cooking
Those who expect a lot of wisecracks for the grownups will be disappointed. This is one animated film that works equally well for kids and adults without resorting to gags that no child will understand. The old Disney concept of humanizing cute animals remains intact however, but nevermind. Bird shows an infatuation not only with Paris and the art of cooking, but with what could best be described as the 1960s (just like he did in The Incredibles). Adding to the charm, it’s a Paris that doesn’t really exist anymore. The atmosphere also benefits from Michael Giacchino’s music; he’s written a very warm and infectious score, perhaps his most accomplished yet. The characters and the actors who give them life are all very amusing; Patton Oswalt is likable as the gifted rat, Ian Holm does a broad interpretation (including the accent) of the scheming Skinner and Peter O’Toole is absolutely fabulous as Anton Ego, the most revered and feared restaurant critic who writes his reviews in a coffin-shaped room; I love how every word he speaks appears to soak in poison. The story might be a bit too long as it often is in Bird’s films, but it isn’t simple and predictable. It needs time to unfold and I applaud the director’s constant efforts to not dumb it down but take the chance to tell a somewhat complicated story in an animated film.

Near the end of it, Anton Ego discusses the fate of the critic. We wield power over whoever offers up their work for judgment and we take delight in nasty remarks because they’re fun to write and read… but in the end not even the best of reviews are remembered. The films are though, and one of them will undoubtedly be Ratatouille.

Ratatouille 2007-U.S. Animated. 111 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Brad Lewis. Written and directed by Brad Bird. Music: Michael Giacchino. Voices of Patton Oswalt (Remy), Ian Holm (Skinner), Lou Romano (Alfredo Linguini), Brian Dennehy, Peter Sohn, Peter O’Toole… Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, James Remar, Brad Bird.

Oscar: Best Animated Feature. BAFTA: Best Animated Film. Golden Globe: Best Animated Film.

Quote: “I haven’t reviewed Gusteau’s in years! If I remember, I left it condemned to the tourist trade. Here it is. I wrote, ‘Finally, chef Gusteau has found his rightful place in history alongside another equally famous chef – Monsieur Boyardee.’ That was where I left it. That was my last word – THE last word. Then tell me, Ambrister, how can it be POPULAR?” (O’Toole to his assistant (Brad Bird), questioning Gusteau’s recent success)

Last word: “They had trouble – everybody loved the idea and they loved the look of it and the cast of character types and all the possibilities of the premise but they were having trouble getting the story to coalesce. It kept wanting to go off in too many different directions and a little over a year and a half ago the Pixar founders John Lassiter, Ed Catmull and Steve Jobs asked me to come on the project, write a new script and kind of get in onto the big screen. So my motivation at first was respect for these amazing, really genius guys through some fluke of nature happened to get together and make a company that is actually an amazing place so I wanted to help them out in any way I could. Then my next motivation was oh my God, what have I done. I agreed to the original schedule – ahhh! It was complete fear and that so I just went through it. I described it to somebody else as driving down the freeway the wrong way and just trying to live and make a movie that made sense and fulfilled all the possibilities of [original story writer Jan Pinkava’s] brilliant premise and just survive. We just finished it a couple of weeks ago and I’m still just… heart beating from not dying in my freeway maneuver.” (Bird, Collider)

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The Incredibles: It’s a Family Affair

SAVE THE DAY.

 

In 1999, there was a film called The Iron Giant. It was an animated tale about a boy who ran into a being from outer space, a gigantic figure made of iron. The giant was befriended by the boy, but the grown-ups feared it was nothing but a massive weapon of mass destruction (which it actually was) manufactured by the Russians (which it wasn’t) and tried to destroy it. It was a beautifully made film, funny, warm and exciting, and the critics loved it, but it didn’t attract the huge crowds and its commercial failure ultimately helped ruin the Warner Bros. animation department. When Brad Bird, the director, a few years later asked Pixar if they would ever consider making something darker they reluctantly agreed.

Why on earth did they? Well, Bird is a very talented guy. Those who actually saw The Iron Giant recognized his potential, and he had previous experience from working with Disney as well as the people behind The Simpsons. I guess it also helped that Bird was able to present the Pixar brass with a very attractive idea for a film. What happens when a metropolis no longer can afford help from superheroes, because of all the lawsuits and destruction of property? Well, the heroes are assigned new identities and forced to live ordinary lives, which is not easy considering how difficult it is to keep one’s extraordinary powers hidden. Bird introduces us to the Parrs, your average suburban family. Bob works for an insurance company and Helen stays at home with the kids, of which there are three. No one’s particularly happy, especially not Bob who used to be the superstrong Mr. Incredible. He’s still got his strength, but also an impressive gut; when his help suddenly is required he decides to try to get into his old tights again. He doesn’t tell Helen about it, but the mission turns out to be a trap, so she has to don her Elastigirl costume and come to his rescue. What about the kids? Oh, they’ve also got superpowers and this is a time as good as any to test their skills.

Bond a primary source of information
There are ingredients in the film that remind one of The Iron Giant. That movie was set in the 1950s, this one probably takes place about ten years later, and both movies feature robots that are very deadly and always run out of control (these are not films for the smallest of children). But James Bond seems to be the primary source of inspiration. Mr. Incredible’s arch-nemesis keeps a hideout that would make any Bond villain green with envy, the music borrows heavily from John Barry, and there is even a “Q” character, the eccentric lady who designs costumes for superheroes. The animation may not impress those viewers who enjoyed the smooth and detailed Finding Nemo (2003), but I like it, it’s clean and stylish. Colors are used in a symbolic way; as long as the Parrs stay in the suburbs the movie looks pretty bleak, but when the adventure kicks into high gear the colors grow brighter.

Craig T. Nelson is perfect as Mr. Incredible; Samuel L. Jackson is also terrific as Frozone, another former superhero. Jason Lee makes the bratty supervillain really annoying and Bird himself is hilarious as the diminutive costume designer (he couldn’t find an actor who would do the part justice). It’s obvious that he has put a lot of love and labor into this project, not only when it comes to designing superheroes and their strengths and weaknesses, but also creating a family that sticks together through thick and thin. Watching the constant collisions between trying to raise kids and stopping evil from taking over the world is great fun. Thank God Pixar was ready for something darker.

The Incredibles 2004-U.S. 115 min. Animated. Color. Widescreen. Produced by John Walker. Written and directed by Brad Bird. Music: Michael Giacchino. Voices of Craig T. Nelson (Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible), Holly Hunter (Helen Parr/Elastigirl), Samuel L. Jackson (Lucius Best/Frozone), Jason Lee, Wallace Shawn, Sarah Vowell.

Trivia: The character of Edna Mode was based on Edith Head, the legendary Hollywood costume designer.

Oscars: Best Animated Feature, Sound Editing.

Last word: “I still really love the characters and love the movie. You’d think I would be sick of it. But I don’t just see the movie when I see the movie, I see all the great people who worked on it and all their hard work, because they could not have worked any harder. They were just absolutely committed. I had about the biggest, longest wish list anyone could have, and 99 percent of what I wanted to get on the screen we got on the screen within our schedule and within our budget and within our resources. So I’m just stunned we were able to do it. We were told at the beginning of it by some people here that it was an unmakable movie. […] Just way too complicated, too many characters, too many costume changes, too many effects, too many locations, too many sets.” (Bird, IGN)

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