Epic (2013)

Epic

Release Date: May 24, 2013

Director: Chris Wedge

Stars (voices): Amanda Seyfried, Josh Hutcherson, Colin Farrell

Runtime: 102 min

Blue Sky Studios is best known for their Ice Age movies. Chris Wedge, co-director of that franchise, goes solo with Epic, the third animated movie of 2013 (after Escape from Planet Earth and The Croods). It follows the female protoganist, M.K. (voiced by Amanda Seyfried), who is forced to re-locate to the home of her estranged father, Professor Bomba (voiced by Jason Sudeikis), after her mother’s death. Her father is an eccentric character, as he is convinced there are tiny people living out in the woods.

It turns out, there is. But it’s a little more complex than that. It’s a challenge of good and evil of the Leaf Men, who, by protecting the queen (voiced by Beyoncé Knowles), preserve the life of the forest; but the evil Boggans threaten them with powers of decay. Today is the day Queen Tara must pick the pod to be the heir to her throne. M.K. is mixed up with this world when she is turned from a stomper (the Leaf Men term of big humans) to a little miniature human. She must team up with a crew to help keep the pod away from the malevolent leader of the Boggans, Mandrake (voiced by Christoph Waltz), in order to save their world, and ours.

It must be expected that a movie called Epic really won’t be so damn epic. It turns out to be a good, light-hearted animated flick that teaches kids about teamwork and that, even if you feel alone, you truly aren’t. It’s a nice message, and the way the filmmakers portray it is imaginative and admirable. The animation has a great, human look and feel to it. It might as well be an animated version of The Borrowers, just with very mild action sequences, in a very fun, but forgettable story.

It’s an old-fashioned, good vs. the forces of evil, predictable and formulaic ride. The imaginative action sequences are fun and have intensity present. There’s a lot of room for imagination at play, but there are only a few notable characters. The main Boggan, Mandrake, is often psychotic and threatening for a children’s movie, but nothing that will have kiddies waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares. He has some memorable lines, but he’s more underwhelming than anyone could believe a character portrayed by Christoph Waltz could ever be.

Nod (Josh Hutcherson) is a misfit Leaf Man who needs to learn about teamwork, and the primary Leaf Man, Ronin (Colin Farrell), is precisely the man to teach it to him. He’s a no-nonsense character, and Queen Tara desperately wants to see his smiling face. She requests this in a truly dull fashion. I don’t have much praise to hand out to Knowles, Hutchison, Seyfried or really even Farrell, but I don’t have anything to fault them for, either. They just don’t stand out so well. Many of the characters have good lines, but you’ll forget their names (most notably Bomba, Bufo, and M.K.) as soon as you walk out of the theatre.

There are four characters whose names and presences no one will forget anytime soon. Nim Guluu is the “rock-star” information keeper of the miniature world, appropriately voiced by rock star Steven Tyler. There’s also a silly, three-legged dog who mostly just runs in circles. The laid-back slug called Mub (Aziz Ansari) and his uptight snail associate, Grub (Chris O’Dowd), are the true scene-stealers of the movie. They’re hilarious in the way Mub thinks he has a chance with M.K., and how Grub is an aspiring Leaf Man. (Let that irony sink in for a second.) They’re never annoying, always funny, and the movie is at its most lively when they’re on-screen. Who thought slimy little things could be so appealing?

Epic isn’t quite, y’know, epic, but it’s a predictable and funny ride that is a blast once it really gets going. For the most part, it’s about as memorable as its generic title. The great animation and hilarious and slimy scene-stealers make this memorable, and something worth watching twice. Christoph Waltz, to his best ability, rocks his role and he shines when Mandrake is at his most psychotic. You care for the protagonists, because no one wants to see a forest rot to the ground, right?

74/100

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Django Unchained (2012)

Django UnchainedDjango Unchained

Release Date: December 25, 2012

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio

Runtime: 165 min

Tagline: Life, liberty and the pursuit of vengeance

Quentin Tarantino has brought us many great films like Pulp Fiction, the two Kill Bill films, Inglourious Basterds, and now, he has given us the extraordinary Django Unchained, his best and longest feature yet. The spaghetti western inspired Django Unchained follows the titular character, Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave-turned-bounty hunter who gets purchased by a former dentist, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). King purchases Django with the intent of Django assisting him with finding the Brittle brothers, a trio who each have high prices on their heads. Schultz soon mentors Django and he makes him his deputy, and after a winter of killing criminals and collecting pay, King feels responsible for the young Django; so he wants to help him find his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). This leads the two to Candyland, a plantation ran by the most ruthless slave/plantation owner in all of Mississippi, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Tarantino is a man who strives on creativity, and the creativity is ever-so-evident here. It is stunningly brilliant and creative. It is one of the most original screenplays of 2012, in fact. The writing is immaculate, with flairs of dark comedy throughout the feature. Like a kid in a candy store who can’t help but ask for a chocolate bar, Tarantino just can’t itch that need to entertain his audience. Even during the most serious of situations, he writes in the humor with his great talent. This shouldn’t really be classified as a comedy because the laughs are far between, but when the funny material is there, it makes this one hilarious experience. He is one of the greatest working writers in cinema, and I would love to know what lucky pen he uses.

His usual direction is there, too, and those aspects aren’t the only great things. The characters, the performances and the soundtrack are the other real highlights. Oh, and the topics that are explored are very well done.

There’s not a lot to say about the soundtrack, except the theme song is amazing and the music fits perfectly for this story.

The concepts of slavery and racism back in this time are never dropped. They play running themes in the film, and they are quite fascinating, really. Mostly everyone treated the blacks like scum back in the late 1850s and 1860s. Now, when I say mostly everyone, I mean everyone but Schultz. He is originally from Germany, and he often thinks how unfairly these black people get treated as often baffling. He is also against slavery, as he states when he explains to Django of what he wants from him. When Django is riding one of Schultz’ horses, he doesn’t understand why everyone is staring at them. He is the face of those who are more tender to the black people, even for a bounty hunter. This person seemed to be very rare, indeed, back in the 1860s.

I knew black people got treated unfairly back in this time (and around the time of the 1960s, as well), but never this unfairly, to a point of even fighting to the death. They are traded and sold like it’s an everyday occurrence, which, back then, it was. Well, thanks Tarantino, for giving me an idea of what people did to the slaves. I know it may not be completely accurate since, let’s not forget, Tarantino is a very creative and imaginative man.

Schultz treats Django like an equal, and brings him his freedom, two things Django had never received from a white man before. This causes their relationship to appear quite unique in this time, and it is a great thing. To us, the audience, it feels natural – even though it does not seem this way to anyone else. Everyone assumes that Django is yet another slave, but people are often shocked when they learn he is actually a free man. They just think he’s yet another black man. While I am on the topic, racial slurs are used excessively, but it is merely to show how people actually treated them back then.

Racism is explored, but it is actually explored more subtly than slavery. Slavery is explored relentlessly and sort-of ruthlessly, but not in a bad way. The amount of ruthless material is exactly what you’d expect from Quentin Tarantino. Slave owners and others are completely brutal to the slaves – they whip, place them in hot boxes, and often make them fight to the death, among other immoral and ruthless acts. Keep in mind, to most white folk, these acts were not immoral at this point in history. These two themes of racism of slavery are explored expertly.

The first half of the film is very, very entertaining because we get to watch the two bounty hunters (Django, Schultz) kill and have a few yuks while doing it. These themes of racism and slavery are very much there near the beginning, but these two concepts become more ruthless when Monsier Calvin Candie makes his first appearance. He first shows up while watching two of his “Mandingo fighters” fight to his death, which first gives you a glimpse at his sadistic personality. This man is completely chilling and ruthless, but is nonetheless fascinating and often funny, and he is a villain you’ll love to hate. He just about steals every scene he is in, and Leonardo DiCaprio is in a role that should finally win him that Oscar. He is the best villain of the year. He is better than Javier Bardem as Silva in Skyfall, and I did not believe anyone could out-perform that man, and he did it. And he did it well.

Leonardo DiCaprio is certainly the best performer of the bunch in this film, and he steals just about each scene he’s in. Christoph Waltz is also a great supporting actor, and the character change is interesting: a Nazi (in Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino’s last film) to a bounty hunter in this film. Jamie Foxx isn’t worthy of many awards in a year of so many great leads, but he’s a great performer altogether. He captures the emotions of intensity of all kinds. Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson (as Stephen) are also fine.

In a nutshell: Django Unchained is Tarantino’s finest film yet, and it’s truly an exhilarating experience.  It’s a great story about survival and it has great themes of racism and slavery, that Tarantino explores expertly. The performances, the writing, the soundtrack the direction and the themes are all immaculate. Sorry, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this takes over as my favourite of the year.

100/100