Monsters University: Movie review

Monsters University posterSigh of relief, everyone: Monsters University is pretty terrific.

This was not a sure thing. Pixar can do good sequel: Toy Story 2 is one of the best sequels ever. And Toy Story 3 is even better than that. On the other hand: Cars 2.

Monsters University does not, luckily, reek of a sequel churned out to sell toys. It’s a worthy successor to Monsters, Inc. (which for a long time was probably my favourite Pixar film. Or at least up there at the top of the list. It’s almost impossible to choose just one favourite Pixar film). It’s entertaining. It’s smart. It’s funny – sometimes very funny.

A+ grade to whoever decided to make the sequel to Monsters, Inc. a prequel, because there’s really nowhere to go from Inc.‘s lovely final shot. University takes us back to Mike Wazowski’s (voiced by Billy Crystal – who didn’t annoy me even once, which says a lot about how good this film is) and Sulley’s (John Goodman) college days. The former is booksmart but lacks natural talent as a scarer; the latter is the exact opposite. They clash. They start to grudgingly respect one another’s talents. Eventually, they become best friends. Their relationship flows perfectly into – and from – Monsters, Inc.

Monsters University

This is unashamedly a “college movie”. The plot riffs on every Greek system cliche, packing in everything outsiders think of when we picture American colleges: parties, studies, fraternities, sororities, beautiful Ivy League-style campuses, no anxieties about how all this is being paid for. There’s a point near the end when it seems Monsters U will have a standard (and disappointing) college movie ending – the nerd underdogs triumphing over the frat boys. A surprise third act rescues the climax, moves it into unexpected, more interesting territory.

(Slight spoilers: It’s interesting that, though the film appears initially to fawn over the idea of college/university education, it turns out Mike and Sulley are college dropouts. Their success is because of their own hard work and skill at spotting opportunities, not because they have degrees. I don’t remember if that was addressed in the first movie or not, but there’s a nice parallel with the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world.)

See Monsters University on the big screen. It’s stunning. The things they’re doing with computer-generated animation these days are incredible. Every monster is a lush, furry, unique beast, bursting with energy and flexibility. They look like big walking Muppets. Preceding the feature is the short film The Blue Umbrella, whose charm is almost overwhelmed by its dazzle. Its rain-slicked city setting looks like a photograph brought to life.

Monsters University gives me faith that Pixar’s next sequel Finding Dory will be good. But… not as good as its predecessor. Pixar’s films have long been revered because they’re fresh, they’re inventive, they’re awesome – in the literal sense of that word. Very little about Monsters U feels awe-inspiring. Pixar has its formula – a very good formula – but doesn’t deviate from it. (This is why Cars has always bored me, I think – its story hits exactly the beats you expect it to hit, and nothing more.) University is enjoyable, polished, but it’s lacking the darker, rich adult subtext Pixar built its reputation on. Maybe that era is behind them now.


Book review: The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins

The Hunger GamesOh boy. Talk about un-put-down-able.

There’s a reason every YA blog on the internet raves about The Hunger Games and its sequel, Catching Fire: they’re cracking reads with an unstoppable narrative thrust. I gobbled both up inside a week.

It’s heart-pounding stuff. Allow me to steal a synopsis from Stephen King:

The yearly highlight in this nightmare world is the Hunger Games, a bloodthirsty reality TV show in which 24 teenagers chosen by lottery fight each other in a desolate environment called the ”arena.” The winner gets a life of ease; the losers get death. Our heroine is Katniss Everdeen (lame name, cool kid), [who] lives in a desperately poor mining community called the Seam, and when her little sister’s name is chosen as one of the contestants in the upcoming Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place.

Catching FireWhile teenagers battling each other to death has been done to death, Hunger Games proves that a not-so-original premise can nevertheless turn out an original book. I had no idea how the first book would turn out, while the second book has an unexpected twist (spoiler: Katniss and Peeta are forced back in the arena – eek!) that made my insides twist.

Quibbles: Katniss sometimes comes dangerously close to becoming one of those annoyingly perfect heroines who doesn’t realise how perfect she is – she’s great at everything she does, admired by all, has suitors literally willing to die for her, et cetera. The books are saved, I think, by her first-person narration. We’re right inside her head, experiencing the Games with her, and she’s such a trustworthy, capable companion that you can’t help liking her.

And while author Suzanne Collinns’ sparse pose is often employed to brutal effect, she has a tendency to write great action scenes then rush through the links between them. The very worst example of this comes right at the end of Catching Fire (spoiler: when the crux of the rebels’ plan to sabotage the Quell is revealed in a single paragraph of passive speech), and it’s so on-the-nose it might’ve spoiled the whole book if it weren’t for that epic cliffhanger.

If you haven’t read Hunger Games, do so – but wait till August, when the third and final instalment in the trilogy is released. Then you won’t have to wait months and months waiting to find out what happens. Like I will. Aargh.


What the hell happened to Sex and the City?

Sex and the City 2

A Photoshopped android stands in for Sarah Jessica Parker

If there’s a Sex and the City rerun on TV, I’ll usually watch it. I’m not an obsessive fan of the show, but I like it fine. (Even though after all these years, I still get mad at Carrie for breaking up with Aidan and later settling for that dick Big.) ((I also blame the show for the apparent rash of weirdly picky, crazy-analytical single women out there, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.))

So I find this sad:


Sex and the City, the TV series, was about four female friends who talked a lot about the guys they were sleeping with, and looked good doing so. Sex and the City, the movie, mostly overlooked the strongest part of the show – the friendship – and instead presented the foursome as glamazons who live expensive lives few actual women could actually afford. The film isn’t awful, but it’s wildly different in tone to the TV series: the pace is slower, the dialogue has lacks snap, and even the fashions seem out-of-place. (TV-Miranda would never wear the stuff movie-Miranda gets around in.)

The sequel looks even less promising. That last shot of the gals strutting through the desert? Full. Body. Cringe. When did the franchise become so… tacky? Does anyone still find Sex and the City empowering? And if the answer is yes: why?