sakeriver.com

Tangled

I've been a bit ambivalent about Disney movies for a while now, and particularly with Disney princess movies. Like everyone, I grew up with the Disney classics--Snow White, Cinderella, Bambi, as well as the newer ones, at least from The Little Mermaid through The Lion King. I loved those movies as a child, and like most bits of entertainment from my past, they'll always have a special place in my heart.

As I've grown up and revisited some of the movies with adult eyes, I've noticed things about the stories and characters that don't sit well with me. I've talked about my issues with Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid before. It all boils down to Disney's general tendency toward facile storytelling, which has become ever more obvious since the arrival of Pixar in the mid-nineties, who continue to show how much depth you can achieve with "children's" movies.

So, going into this movie--Disney's new take on the Rapnuzel story--I didn't have very high expectations. But since I only went as an experiment in family movie-watching, I didn't really care much about what I was seeing. Surprisingly--and I have to wonder if it's precisely because of the comparison with Pixar--but Tangled turned out to be both very entertaining and rather nuanced.

Structurally, Tangled has a lot in common with most other Disney princess movies. You have the wistful girl singing about what she wants, the dashing, handsome male lead who leads her on a transformative journey, and so on. And, like the other modern Disney animated movies, you have the wisecracks.

Where it's different is in the characterizations. Here, instead of being a damsel in distress or a rebellious teenager, Rapunzel finds herself in her predicament mainly out of a sense of duty. And rather than a cartoonishly villainous antagonist, the "evil stepmother" here turns out to be merely selfish. This sets up a dynamic between the two that is both more plausible and considerably more interesting.

Of course, no story, however well written, can work as a film without good acting, and here Tangled does very well. The movie is essentially carried on the shoulders of the three leads: Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, and Donna Murphy, and each of them executes perfectly. The humor never feels forced or desperate, nor do the emotions ever feel dishonest. What's more, the animation is simply brilliant, with so many details of the facial expressions and body language being just spot on.

My only difficulty came with Levi's performance, but not through any fault of his. No, he did a wonderful job here, but after watching him in Chuck for two seasons, it was just too difficult for me to separate his voice from his character in that show, which in many ways is the polar opposite of his Flynn Rider in this movie.

Of course, it's possible that my opinion of Tangled is colored by the fact that it was the first movie outing I took with my son. On the other hand, the fact that it kept him entertained for an hour and a half does speak to its quality. I'd say that whether you have kids or you just enjoy solid animated entertainment, this one is well worth your time.


Viewed: 12/4/2010 | Released: 11/24/2010 | Score: A-

IMDb Page

The Liveship Traders

If you're anything like me, you have at least a few books lying around the house that you bought a long time ago but never got around to actually reading. For me, up until last month, that book was Robin Hobb's Ship of Magic.

I picked it up when it first came out in paperback on the strength of Hobb's earlier series, The Farseer Trilogy, which I had liked quite a bit even though the ending had left me a bit cold. Nevertheless, my aversion to starting an unfinished series was strong enough that I ended up sticking Ship of Magic on the shelf and ignoring it for almost eleven years. Last month, I finally got to the point where I'd read every piece of fiction left in the house, and decided to finally give it a go.

Before I did that, though, I went back and re-read The Farseer Trilogy, figuring that since this new series was a follow-on set in the same world, I should re-familiarize myself with the background. In some ways, that turned out to be a help, because I would otherwise have missed a number of references in the new series to events in the old one, references that weren't exactly necessary to understand the new series, but which added significant depth to the world and some of the characters.

On the other hand, plowing through all six books in rapid succession, it was impossible not to compare the two series, and I found The Liveship Traders somewhat lacking in comparison to its predecessor.

As I mentioned, The Liveship Traders is set in the same world as The Farseer Trilogy, starting ten years or so after the events of the first series. Rather than continuing the story of the original characters, though, the new series moves to a different part of the world and tells a story that is only tangentially related to the first.

As the series opens, we are introduced to the Vestrits, a trading family from the port city of Bingtown. The Vestrits are the owners of a liveship--a ship carved from magic wood that imbues the vessel with a life of its own, most noticeable in the ship's animate figurehead. The protagonist, Althea Vestrit, returns home from a voyage on her family ship, only to have her father die and her inheritance--ownership and captaincy of the ship--taken from her. Althea leaves, determined to regain her ship and make a name for herself. From there, we're brought along on a tale of full of nautical adventure, pirate battles, and even war, beneath the surface of which lurk secrets from ages past.

Now, you'd think this sort of thing would be right up my alley, and in a lot of ways you'd be right. I'm a huge sucker for Age of Sail maritime adventures, as evidenced by my love of C. S. Forester and Patrick O'Brian. Combine that with the fantastic setting, epic plot, and excellent action scenes, and it should be perfect for me.

The problem was that too much of the characterization felt forced or flat to me. Part of that came from the more distributed focus--unlike The Farseer Trilogy, which featured only one point-of-view character--The Liveship Traders bounces back and forth between half a dozen or more perspectives, including all of the main antagonists. There's a lot of potential with a structure like that because it gives us a chance to sympathize or at least understand everyone, even the "bad guys." Unfortunately, nearly all of the antagonists seemed almost cartoonishly unreasonable, making it next to impossible for me to connect with them.

Things did eventually turn around with most of the important characters, but it took so long for that to happen--well into the second book--that I would never have gotten to it if not for my inability to walk away from a story I haven't finished.

Still, I don't want to sound too down on the series, because as difficult as I found the first volume, so much is paid off--both plot-wise and character-wise--by the end, that it was ultimately a very satisfying experience. It's of particular note how skillfully Hobb works the plot, starting with a relatively small-scale story of family drama and nautical adventure and building it into an epic, world-changing saga. As long as you're the kind of person who can commit to a series for the long haul, who doesn't need resolutions early and often, I'd say this one is definitely worth your time.


Ship of Magic

Started: 10/6/2010 | Finished: 10/13/2010

Purchase from Amazon and support Sakeriver


Mad Ship

Started: 10/19/2010 | Finished: 10/26/2010

Purchase from Amazon and support Sakeriver


Ship of Destiny

Started: 10/27/2010 | Finished: 11/1/2010

Purchase from Amazon and support Sakeriver

A Fire Upon the Deep

By Vernor Vinge

Going into this book, I had only a vague impression of Vernor Vinge's work. I had a notion of him as a hard science fiction writer, of roughly the same generation as men like Larry Niven, Robert Forward, and Gregory Benford. Thus, I figured A Fire Upon the Deep would be the same sort of book that one of those guys would write--a fairly straightforward plot centered around a strong central scientific or technological concept, written in an engaging style but with more of a focus on ideas and action than compelling characterization. Now, I do enjoy those other writers. Nevertheless, I found it a pleasant surprise that this, my first foray into Vinge's work, turned out to be quite a bit more complex and engaging than I had anticipated.

Most hard science fiction novels are built on a single concept--a giant ring-shaped structure built around a star, for example, or an alien race that lives on the surface of a neutron star--and the bulk of the plot is driven by exploration of the implications of that concept. Fire, on the other hand, incorporates two main SF ideas. One, a universe in which technology becomes limited by proximity to a galactic core--thus, advanced civilizations with faster-than-light travel and interstellar domains can only exist near the edges of the galaxy, and the furthest reaches of space are inhabited by god-like AI entities. The other, a race of wolf-like aliens in which individuals have no true intelligence or consciousness and true sentience only occurs amongst highly bonded packs. Either of these ideas would be interesting enough to merit its own entire book, but by bringing them together in a single story, Vinge makes some neat ideas really spark.

In Fire, a team of researchers inadvertently awaken an ancient and powerful AI that immediately turns on them, destroying the outpost and then spreading outward like a virus to take over entire civilizations. One ship escapes, carrying with it a small piece of the AI that could be the key to defeating it, but it is marooned on a primitive planet within the Slow Zone--a part of the galaxy close enough to the core that faster-than-light travel is impossible. Immediately after landing, the survivors on the ship encounter the planet's inhabitants--a group-minded race called the Tines--and become caught up in the local politics and war. Meanwhile, the malevolent AI continues to spread, and the starfaring races in the outer galaxy scramble to oppose or flee it. The novel bounces back and forth between epic, space-opera interstellar war and medieval intrigue and betrayal, culminating in a breathtaking climax.

Fire combines gripping action, well-realized characters, and tense, complex intrigue in what I think is one of the best examples of its genre. It's also surprisingly funny for hard SF--scenes are intercut with newsgroup-style posts discussing the events of the story, many of which are hilarious to an Internet-savvy reader. It's little wonder that Fire won the Hugo for Vinge--I could scarcely put it down, and even having had weeks to contemplate it I can think of no flaws and still find it a very satisfying story. Indeed, this is the best hard SF I've read in quite some time.


Started: 9/21/2010 | Finished: 9/23/2010

Purchase from Amazon

Brideshead Revisited

By Evelyn Waugh

In what is by now, I'm sure, a familiar pattern to readers of this blog, Brideshead Revisited made its way onto my reading list via the community forum here. A then-regular poster described it as "one of the greatest works of twentieth century Christian fiction," and the surrounding discussion piqued my interest. Unfortunately, though I can appreciate the craft that went into the novel, I found that its viewpoint was simply too far removed from my own for me to be able to connect with it.

The bulk of the story is presented as a memory of the narrator's. Charles Ryder, an English Army captain during WWII, finds himself and his unit unexpectedly brought to a new station that turns out to be the former home of the aristocratic (and eccentric and deeply dysfunctional) Flyte family, which he knew and befriended in his younger days. Wandering the grounds and halls of his new billet, Ryder remembers to himself (and, thus, to us) the story of his friendship with Sebastian, the younger son, his increasing involvement over the years with the family, and his eventual estrangement from them.

It's hard for me to know exactly how to interpret this book. On the one hand, it seemed a bit like a deconstruction of English upper-class society and values, since more or less all of the characters that inhabit that social stratum are depicted as shallow, self-absorbed, and boorish. The problem for me was that the contrasting figures--mainly Ryder and Sebastian's sister, Julia--are largely unsympathetic themselves, managing to be just as shallow and unpleasant as the people they sneer at. Additionally, I couldn't help but feel that the author, despite portraying it in what seemed such a negative light, nonetheless had a strong attraction to the upper-class lifestyle.

Most likely, the unpleasantness of the principal characters is meant to give more weight to the religious theme that ultimately is the central focus of the novel. But, here again, I didn't feel as though I had the right context or viewpoint to connect with that focus, especially as it's only fully realized in the closing pages with the conversion of the two main agnostic characters of the story. And even at that, given my own religious leanings, it was hard for me to feel that the payoff as a reader was worth having to endure what was basically an entire novel of awful people being awful to each other. In the end, it simply felt empty to me.

Still, I have to admit that my feelings on this book are largely informed by my own spiritual viewpoint, and I suspect that many Christian readers--especially those with an appreciation for subtlety--will come away with the same feeling of beauty and admiration for the book that the forum poster I mentioned felt. And even though I didn't connect on a religious level with Brideshead Revisited, I have to appreciate just how subtle Waugh's depiction of "the operation of Grace" (as he put it) was. So often writers seem to want to beat the reader over the head with a religious message, where in this book, I suspect that many people might miss it entirely. That may not sound like a virtue to everyone, but for me, all of the most profound experiences I've had with fiction have come from books that made me feel like I discovered something on my own.


Started: 9/13/2010 | Finished: 9/20/2010

Purchase from Amazon

The Neverending Story

By Michael Ende

My copy of The Neverending Story is getting a bit worse for wear. The dust jacket has long since been lost, and the lettering and imprinted design on the rust-colored cover are barely visible. The binding has stiffened and the pages are becoming brittle. None of which is terribly surprising, considering that I've had it for twenty-four years, and have read it at least a dozen times.

Like a lot of people of my generation, my introduction to The Neverending Story came via the 1984 film, which immediately became a favorite and went on to become a staple film in my young life. My mom bought a copy of the book a couple of years later--initially it was for her, but it's been mine ever since I saw it lying on a windowsill where she'd left it. Like The Lord of the Rings, it grabbed a hold of me from the first and I've been returning to it ever since.

I love this book. I love the feeling of nostalgia I get when I read it, remembering all the nights I stayed up late as a kid to finish just one more chapter. I love that even having read it so many times, it never feels stale to me. I love that at 31 it still gives me the same rush of adventure and imagination and wonder that it did when I was 7. I love the way it invites you to tell your own stories.

What struck me the most as I was reading it this time is that I can't wait for Jason to be old enough for me to read this with him. As I turned the pages, I imagined the look on his face when he hears about Uyulala, the Southern Oracle, or Bastian's adventure with Grograman, the Many-Colored Death. I even thought about what sort of voices and accents to try with each of the characters. My only worry is that he might learn to read early enough that by the time he's mature enough for this story he'd rather read it on his own than have me read it to him. I know what I was like at 7, and in so many ways he seems to be on the same track I was when I was his age.

But we'll leave that problem for when or if it comes. For now, I'll just savor the anticipation. Because if he really is like me, then Jason is absolutely going to flip for this book.


Started: 9/9/2010 | Finished: 9/11/2010

Purchase from Amazon

Night

By Elie Wiesel

Our copy of Night has been sitting on our nightstand for a long time. Juliette bought it in 2006, shortly after Oprah put it on her book list. I appropriated it a few months later, intending to read it quickly. Somehow, though, I just couldn't bring myself to read such a heavy story--I must have picked it up ten times over the past few years, only to quit after the first page. Last week I finally found myself with literally nothing else left in the house to read, so with an effort of will, I forced myself through it.

It's not that I have a problem with Holocaust stories, exactly. I read The Diary of Anne Frank in school, like everybody, and I went to see Schindler's List and Life Is Beautiful in the theater, and was moved by both. I'd even go so far as to say that I feel a certain responsibility to read books like this--the war and the Holocaust weren't so long ago, but they are far enough in the past now that they no longer feel immediate or real to many people. I think it's important that books like Night exist and are read, because what happened to the European Jews under the Nazi regime was a crime the magnitude of which should never be forgotten and must never be repeated.

But, responsibility or no, I just couldn't look forward to the prospect of experiencing such a story. It's just too much to bear, even just reading it. Admitting that makes me feel shallow and self-centered; if I am, then so be it.

Now, having finished the book and had some time to reflect on it, I can say that my fears were borne out--reading Night, with its brutally sparse and honest writing, was a harrowing, deeply disturbing experience, not least because I've been feeling my own mortality more keenly the past few years than I ever did when I was younger. And honestly I can't say what, if anything, I gained from the experience. Am I shocked and horrified, outraged at the ordeal the Jews went through? Of course. But then, I already was. In just the same way, after having read Night, I feel an immense respect and sympathy (if that's the right word) for the survivors of the Holocaust and their families, but I already felt that before I'd even heard of the book.

Nevertheless, I do feel like it was important for me to read this book and I feel I've done something worthwhile by having done so. It's not an experience I care to repeat, but that I had it at all feels meaningful.


Started: 9/7/2010 | Finished: 9/8/2010

Purchase from Amazon

The Name of the Wind

By Patrick Rothfuss

About two years ago, I solicited some book recommendations from the forum community here at Sakeriver, and a few people enthusiastically offered The Name of the Wind as a good choice. That was the first I'd ever heard of the book, not surprising since it was author Patrick Rothfuss' first novel. I put it on my list, but held off because it was the first book in an incomplete series and I generally hate having to wait to finish a series. I was burned by Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time and George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, and in no hurry to repeat the experience.

A year later, I still hadn't gotten around to picking up The Name of the Wind, but it came up again at the forum. Interestingly, one person said that he didn't think people needed to wait on the second book to come out before starting this first installment. "Even if it never comes out," he said, "[The Name of the Wind] is well worth reading." I still put off buying it, though, for another six months, at which point I was flush with Christmas gift cards and in a hurry to buy a whole stack of books.

Nine months after that it was still sitting on my nightstand, a victim of my inabiity to start an unfinished series while I still had any other books in the house left unread. But, finally, last week I picked it up off my nightstand and started in on it. Three days later--including one night staying up until 3 AM reading--I was done.

I wish I hadn't read it.

Not because it was bad, mind you. No, I wish I hadn't read it because it was probably the best new fantasy novel I've read in years, and it absolutely kills me that the second book won't even be out in hardcover until at least March. Possibly even longer--it's already been delayed several times over the past couple of years.

The Name of the Wind is the tale of Kvothe Kingkiller, a legendary adventurer in the world of the story who, at the book's outset, is living as an innkeeper in a small, rural town, having apparently faked his own death some time before. He's eventually tracked down by a famous writer, who convinces Kvothe to tell his life story. Warning the writer that the tale will take three days to tell properly, Kvothe launches into it, beginning with his youth in a family of travelling minstrels. As the story progresses, he tells of his time as an orphaned street urchin in the huge city of Tarbean, finally making his way to the famed University, where he studies to learn, among other things, the power of the name of the wind.

On a certain level, The Name of the Wind isn't anything new when it comes to fantasy. After all, the boy of humble origins who rises to become a giant in the world is a pretty standard genre trope. What makes this book great is how skillfully it's all executed. Kvothe's time at the University is reminiscent of Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea or perhaps Harry Potter at Hogwarts, but feels derivative of neither. And the layers of story within story not only work brilliantly to give us background without heavy exposition and to bring the characters to life, but also gives us a glimpse of an ending before we've even begun. It reminds me of the effect that the beginning of Gabriel García Márquez's 100 Years of Solitude, and I daresay that what Rothfuss has done here rivals a masterpiece like 100 Years, but with the clean, easy language and approachability that genre fiction really does best.

I hate that I have to wait months still for the next book, and probably years for the third. I even hate Rothfuss a little for making me love this book so much. Life will go on, of course, but it's going to be hard to find another book in any genre that won't suffer in comparison to this one.


Started: 9/2/2010 | Finished: 9/5/2010

Purchase from Amazon

The Grapes of Wrath

By John Steinbeck

Considering that Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors and that The Grapes of Wrath is one of the most studied pieces of American literature, you'd think I'd have long since read it. Maybe even more than once. I never took any specific courses in American lit, though, and in my personal reading I just never got around to it. Until just now, that is.

The first thing I was struck with--as I am always struck by Steinbeck's stories--was how deeply concerned with land the man was. Every one of his stories I can recall reading has begun with a description of a place. But "description of a place" doesn't really do it justice, because for Steinbeck, the places where his stories occur are characters unto themselves, and his descriptions are like songs, full of life. I sometimes wonder if a modern author could get away with openings like this, nearly devoid of action or hooks. I suspect they could, if they were writers of the same caliber as Steinbeck.

That's a big if, of course. And sometimes I wonder whether people really appreciate how skilled the man was. He's obviously hailed as a great and important writer, and his stories are read in classrooms from elementary school through university. But how many people actually look at his work for what it is?

Take a book like The Grapes of Wrath for example. It's a fairly simple story, told in straightforward language that makes it quite easy to read. Structurally speaking, there's nothing particularly surprising about the plot--the descriptions of the conditions that the migrant workers had to endure must surely have been shocking to readers of the day, but even at that, an attentive reader would have been able to guess the course of the narrative well before the last page. The morality is clear, even strident. The scenes border on the melodramatic.

All that apparent simplicity belies the subtlety and skill in Steinbeck's writing, though. Take another look, and you see themes developed and woven into the structure of the story, adding depth if you care to find it. And, of course, the characters themselves are so richly realized that you can't help but feel like part of the Joad family, yourself. And something about the way the book cuts back and forth between scenes and descriptive interludes brings it all home in a profound way, even though each individual portion might seem to be beating the reader over the head with message and melodrama. It's a masterpiece.

For me, one of the trickiest parts was in remembering exactly when it was taking place. Given the Joads' humble background and folksy speech, it's easy to picture them as belonging to the age of horse and buggy, possibly even as far back as the Civil War era. Yet Steinbeck wrote the novel in the mid-to-late 1930's, and he set the story contemporaneously. Consider, then, that by the time of the events depicted in The Grapes of Wrath, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong had already been recording for over a decade. Benny Goodman was already the King of Swing. Hitler had already come to power in Germany. James Cagney, Mae West, Clark Gable, Walt Disney, and the Marx Brothers were all already household names. If anything, the abject poverty of the migrants is even more striking in that context.

The Grapes of Wrath was acclaimed a "great work" by the Nobel Prize committee, and has been both praised and damned by critics and readers for over 60 years. You may not have the same reaction to it that I did, but whether you're already familiar with it or whether it's new to you, I'd say that there's enough there to make it worth your while.


Started: 8/18/2010 | Finished: 9/1/2010

Purchase from Amazon

The Warded Man

By Peter V. Brett

Over the past couple of years I've developed a sort of book-sharing friendship with one of my co-workers. I lent him a couple of Neil Gaiman novels, and he lent me The Stone War. It's been working out pretty well for both of us.

I'd recently let him borrow my copy of Cordelia's Honor, and a couple of days later he stopped by my desk.

"Have you read The Warted Man yet?" he asked, a note of excitement in his voice.

"Warted Man?" I repeated. "Nope, don't think so."

"I'll bring it in tomorrow," he said. "I think you'll like it."

Of course, it turned out that I had misheard him, and what he had actually said was Warded, not Warted, which makes for a pretty different mental image. Happily, I hadn't read (or even heard of) that one either, so I put it into the queue.

He was right, I did like it.

In The Warded Man--author Peter Brett's debut novel--humanity struggles for survival in a world where demons called "corelings" rise from the earth every night, destroying everything they come across. The only protection offered comes in the form of wards--magical symbols painted onto homes and city walls that repel the corelings. There is no other way to stay safe, no way to fight back, and when someone is caught outside after sunset--or, worse, when the wards on their home fail--death is swift and terrible.

Against this backdrop, we are introduced to three young characters from three different towns, between whom the narrative skips back and forth. Arlen, a boy whose rage at losing his mother to the corelings while his father cowered in fear drove him to strike out on his own to find a way to fight back against the night. Leesha, a Healer's apprentice who becomes an outcast in her village after her fiancé lies about having slept with her. Rojer, raised by a Jongleur--this world's equivalent of a traveling minstrel--after his village is destroyed by corelings. We follow these three through their youth and into young adulthood as they each uncover hidden talents that may help turn the tide against the corelings.

Because it's the first episode in a series, much of The Warded Man works to establish the backstory of the characters and give you a peek into the world in which they toil. Indeed, about the first two-thirds of the book fall into this category, with things not really picking up until near the end. You'd think that would make the book feel slow and uneventful, but rather than relying on exposition, Brett instead largely focuses on the characters' individual stories, giving us only glimpses at the larger world and its history. The result was a book that was hard for me to put down once I got going.

If I had to make a comparison to other works, the closest I can think of might be Terry Brooks' Shannara series, which also features a fallen world in which dark forces run loose. But Brooks had a tendency to rely pretty heavily on cliché--in fact, the entire first book of that series is blatantly derivative of The Lord of the Rings, and though over the course of the next several books he sort of grew into a more compelling writer, I'm not sure I would really put him in the top tier of epic fantasy authors. Brett, on the other hand, seems fresher in his approach to the genre, and although the novel starts out a little stylistically thin, it continues to develop with the characters--a trick that made me suspect that Brett is a better writer than I had initially guessed--and there's also enough content to pull you in anyway.

The only real negative experience I had with The Warded Man was in not discovering that it was part of a series until I was three-quarters of the way through the book. I hate having to wait for new episodes, so I usually prefer to wait until a series is complete (or at least mostly complete) before starting. Based on the strength of this first volume, though, I think I'll just have to suck it up and wait for the sequels, because it seems like they'll be worth my time.


Started: 7/25/2010 | Finished: 7/29/2010

Purchase from Amazon

Toy Story 3

I heard today that Toy Story 3 recently passed the billion-dollar mark in worldwide box office sales, making it a member of a very exclusive club--only six other films in history have done that. And, despite the fact that the movie is now over two months old, it's still in first-run theaters and still apparently chugging along. My local cineplex still has three showtimes for it.

What with the movie being pretty old at this point, rather than doing a normal review, I'd like to take the opportunity to meld in a topic that I've been thinking about a lot lately: coming to movies after the hype.

Obviously, at this point we're way after the hype for Toy Story 3, but even though I saw the movie almost four weeks ago now, that was also still far enough after the premiere that I couldn't help but be aware of the huge buzz about the film. That's just how it goes for my wife and I now that we're parents; we see movies late, if at all. On the one hand, it's good for us, because we see so few movies nowadays that we want to make sure we get the most out of our time at the theaters. We just can't waste time with the mediocre ones the way we used to.

On the other hand, though, it also means that it's more or less impossible for us to see a movie without being biased. Of course, now that every movie is previewed and reviewed inside and out for months before it debuts, almost nobody actually goes to see a movie without any preconceptions. But back when we saw 50 or 60 movies in a year, we'd see them before most of our friends and before we knew that this movie was a flop or that one was a critical darling or this other one made a trillion dollars. Having all that information ahead of time can't help but influence the way you view a film.

Take Inception, for example. Everyone I know that saw that film came out discussing theories about what was really going on. None of them gave me any of those theories, of course, not wanting to spoil it for me, but just the fact that I knew that they were doing it meant that I watched that movie with an eye toward "figuring it out." Now, I generally do watch movies with a more analytical mindset than the average audience member, but this one had me examining things like themes and cinematography not just from an aesthetic standpoint, but also with the intention of unraveling some sort of secret. I still enjoyed it a lot, mind you, but I can't help but wonder what my reaction would have been had I seen it on opening night.

Similarly, with Toy Story 3, I went in with the knowledge that a huge percentage of my friends (both offline and on social networking sites) had talked about the fact that they cried at the end. So I knew that there was going to be a big emotional moment, and it absolutely changed the way I reacted to the plot and characters--there were several points in the film, for example, where my predictions about what was going to happen next were way off base. Even the fact that I was consciously making predictions in a movie that isn't about "figuring it out" says something.

And this brings me to the "review" portion of this post, because the fact that I knew what everyone else's reaction was, my tendency is to remove myself to a cool, analytical distance from the story and characters, one where I'm more likely to notice how a scene evokes an emotion than to actually experience the emotion for myself. So the fact that I was still hit hard by that emotional payoff and did cry, and that it came in such an unexpected and truly heartwrenching manner, that speaks volumes to the skill and talent of the filmmakers.

That I can still be amazed by what Pixar does, that I've come to the point where I can simultaneously take for granted that their films will be amazing and yet still be profoundly touched by them, that is something wonderful. With every new offering, Pixar keeps managing to bring me back to that place where film is new and exciting, where I remember what it is that keeps me coming back to theaters, and for that I cannot thank them enough.


Viewed: 7/27/2010 | Released: 6/18/2010 | Score: A

IMDb Page | Purchase from Amazon

first prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 ... next last