What Makes “The Walking Dead” So Great?

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I know I’m late in the game by about six years, but thanks to Netflix I just got hooked on The Walking Dead. I don’t know why I’ve put it off for so many years, to tell  the truth. I like zombies, I adore suspense… maybe because I have yet to watch a major drama series that’s held my attention for more than a few seasons… I still haven’t finished Lost.

But, crap, I’m a couple of episodes into season 2 of TWD, and I am severely impressed, and officially hooked. The tension is thick enough for me to have to swim if I need to get up for a potty break. The character development is spot on, the pacing is never too slow or too fast.

But what makes the show great isn’t the gore or the horrific monsters wandering the earth. In fact, that’s probably why I’ve put the show off for so long, because I’m easily turned off by gore and blood and guts. And this show has tons of it, mind you. But I realized that it’s never there just for show. It’s there to serve a purpose for the greater story, and it serves it well. The way a war movie has plenty of guts and intestines in order to highlight the gravity of the war’s hell.

But what makes TWD captivating and a well-baited fish hook, is the show’s vast dynamics of characters. Each person from a different walk of life, contributing to a different demographic, representing different beliefs about God and the world as they know it.

No one is completely good or completely bad.

They’re all human. And they’re all just trying to survive this plague.

Sarabeth and I were just discussing the other night, what’s more important in a story? The plot or the characters?

I believe it’s the plot that reels us in. It’s the characters that keep us there. So they are both equally important.

As with The Walking Dead, I want to see how these characters will cope with the travesties heaped on them and how their relationships with one another will either strengthen or break them apart.

Are there any other Walking fans? Am I in for a continual good time to the end? And as you watch or read your favorite stories, ask yourself, “What is keeping me hooked?” Is it the story or is the characters?

Read the first installment of the exciting new serial blog: The Underneath

A Love Letter to Disney

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A while back I wrote a love letter to Pixar Animation Studios. I’ll never forget watching my viewership skyrocket that week. What was that all about? A couple of weeks later I received an email from Pixar Headquarters thanking me for my post and saying that it’s been making the rounds in the studio. Imagine that! I forget how long I cried. (The picture to the left is during the hysterics.) But the thing that made me happiest was knowing that the hard workers at the studio caught a tiny glimpse of joy they bring to our lives on a regular basis.

Yesterday Disney released the international trailer for their highly anticipated and surefire record-breaker, Moana. Take a second and watch it. I’ve watched it about nine times now and I still get chills.

It’s safe to say that Disney is on par with Pixar. After Wreck-it Ralph, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, and most likely Moana, we just need to stop denying it.

They bring a class and beauty to the world that we’ve all but forgotten. In our hurried and messy lives, Disney movies have a way of, I don’t know, restoring order. Even if it’s just the illusion of restoration – or better yet, the hope of restoration.

Their movies are not devoid of evil and chaos and bitterness and jealousies. And their resolutions aren’t as cookie-cutter as they used to be. Disney’s movies sell you on cute, sure, but they deliver on substance and depth.

I mean, how gut-wrenchingly hard is it to watch Hiro release Baymax into the Unknown? If that doesn’t tear you apart, I question your mortality. Not only is their attention to detail and vivid color out of this world, but almost every note strikes a cord with something deep inside us.

Why?

Because they take beauty to the extreme. They push the bounds of reality and expose us to a world of bliss and hope.

Like Pixar, they no longer make movies for kids. Their movies address us adults just as profoundly. Zootopia reminds me that even if I achieve my dreams, my story doesn’t stop and the struggles will keep coming.

Wreck-it Ralph delivers the hard message that I’ve been dealt my cards and I need to figure out how to make the best of it.

Frozen sings about letting go. Big Hero 6 shows us how to do it.

Thank you Disney, for the work and painstaking efforts you infuse in your movies. You have the challenge of not just catering to one specific audience, but to literally every single demographic. And you pull it off with class and style and unimaginable beauty.

I believe Disney movies do make the world a better place, even if it’s just a little. They bring families together. A reason for parents to take the kids out. They provide contexts for us to talk about serious things with our kids. They give us parents footing to address things such as good byes, racism, bullying, sibling rivalry, and my favorite: You don’t have to be a jerk just because you’re popular (Fix it Felix, Jr.).

I know there’s people out there who don’t watch Disney or Pixar movies just because they’re cartoons. I pity those people. They’re missing out on some of the greatest filmmaking in the history of film.

Thank you Disney, for all that you do. Keep at it, and we’ll see you in November!

For more on Disney check out

Baseball and Disney

and One of the Greatest Companies in the World.

 

Make This Your Next Netflix Movie

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Hilarity ensues in the Netflix original The Fundamentals of Caring. It’s the first Netflix original I’ve ventured to watch, but wow, I was impressed!

I expected just another melodramatic indie film that attempts to tie everything together at the end just for the sake of closing out smoothly. But this Paul Rudd-led film was anything but a half-hearted effort. It was hilarious from the very beginning.

And for me to call a movie hilarious is pretty impressive. There are only three movies I think are actually funny. This makes four.

Anyway, I’m not going to go into the specifics except that you’ll want to watch it when the kids are in bed due to the excessive amount of F-bombs dropped.

So if you have 90 minutes to spare, or if you’re like me and your work schedule has completely changed and you don’t know how to adjust to no longer having to wake up at 5:00 AM, then get your Netflix on and enjoy this gem of a movie. The book is on my Christmas list.

How Finding Dory Will Make Me a Better Dad

maxresdefaultYou may laugh, but I highly doubt I’m the only dad who wanted one specific thing for Father’s Day: to go see Finding Dory. It couldn’t have come at a better time as we’re struggling through a hard time in our extended family. (Thank you so much Pixar, for consistently providing a light to us in dark times.)

The movie’s release also comes at a time when my kids are still young, which I’m so grateful for. Finding Dory sucker-punched me in the father-gut as it forced me to examine my current parenting techniques.

By the way, this post will be spoiler-free if you haven’t seen the movie, which you should (it’s shattering records already).

Right off the bat being a father has shown me how impatient I can be. You really never know how much of a perfectionist you are until you become a parent! But when my kids mess up, I’m quick to lose my temper and, I’m sad to say, make them feel bad for what they’ve done.

Finding Dory was like looking into a mirror when Marlin berates Dory (his surrogate daughter, I take it) for her disability (short-term memory loss). I can sympathize with Marlin because- “Son! I JUST told you not to pull on the dog’s ears! What’s wrong with you??”

See what I mean?

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The way Inside Out reminds us parents not to encourage our kids to act contrary to how they feel, Finding Dory practically scolds us for expecting our kids to be perfect despite their learning disabilities (and, as my wife often reminds me, they’re just kids). And for me, the message stung like a jelly fish.

635948550074796045-finding-dory-fdcs-dory10-125-per16-125There are plenty of messages to be found in Dory for the kids too, such as they never need to feel limited by their imperfections. And no matter what, there’s always a way out of their problems, no matter how dire, if they’re just brave enough.

Okay, maybe those reminders aren’t just for the kids.

All in all, Finding Dory doesn’t disappoint. It’s no Toy Story (1,2, or 3), but it’s still millions of leagues (pun) from being an animated movie not closely monitored and fostered by the Disney/Pixar powerhouses. In fact, Finding Dory, in all it’s excellence and daring, encourages, inspires, and illuminates laughter and happiness in an increasingly dark world.

Perhaps it’s a timely movie for all of us at this stage in our history.

Oh, and by the way, the photorealistic short film that precedes the feature is nothing less than 100% brilliant (my second favorite in Pixar’s short film lineup, just behind Presto!). I’m so excited for our kids to see it so I can teach them that things aren’t always as threatening as they seem.

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Yeah, we left the kids at home to go see an animated movie. How often do I have to stress that Pixar/Disney movies are not made for kids? They’re brightly colored adult movies that kids can happen to enjoy, and Dory is no different.

Once it’s been out for a little while, I’ll talk about the film’s climax and why I think it’s so perfect.

Oh! And what did you think about that Beauty and the Beast trailer?? Is that going to be amazing or what? Sarabeth and I have already made the proper arrangements to see it next March.

What Keeps Me Watching Toy Story

Even as a thirty-something year old, Toy Story remains one of my most absolute favorite movies of all time. And like each Pixar film, it’s riddled with tiny things that keep me coming back to it that most people might not really notice. Here are a few examples that I believe help make Toy Story great:

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-21221. Woody is just hilarious. When Buzz Lightyear is showing off his cool gadgets to the other toys, Woody’s impression of the space guns is just perfect. Sarcasm, jealousy, and frustration all rolled into one.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-8502. “We’re with you, Woody,” says Slinky, which prompts Mr. Potato Head to remove his lips and press them against his butt. I didn’t catch this until I was way older. One of the funniest gags in the franchise.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-82923. Okay, maybe the funniest gag is when Woody throws RV out of the moving truck and the toys freak out, because they already think he’s a murderer.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-30334. The lighting. I am absolutely dazzled by the use of lighting in pretty much this whole movie, but especially in the late afternoon just before Andy and his mom leave for Pizza Planet. It really does remind me of my own childhood as summer days were winding down and the sun was setting behind the hills leaving behind a red tint.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-1505. The opening credits. Even when I saw this in the theaters as an eleven year old, I noticed right away that Toy Story opened up unlike any other animated movie ever had: With on-screen credits during the action so there’s no wasted credit time and the movie moves forward from frame one. To this day I consider it one of the greatest movie openings of all time. It’s artsy, it’s simple, it’s telling, it’s to the point, and vastly charming and entertaining. And Randy Newman’s song just nails the mood. (It was also the first time I’d ever heard a song sung by a performer that wasn’t sung by the characters in an animated movie – I hadn’t seen The Rescuers yet.)

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-36236. Greatest threat line ever: “But we’re not on my planet, are we?”

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-2467. The spinning chair. When the chair spins and Woody is forced over onto Andy’s leg, that one-second shot tells you all you need to know, that Woody and Andy are inseparable, and there is no comfort in the world like belonging to Andy.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-40598. The Pizza Planet truck says “Yo.” Awesome attention to detail. Puts me right back in the ’90s.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-46459. Another great example of detail: Buzz glows in the dark. He’s got to be the only character I’ve ever seen in a film who does this.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-815110. Woody’s run. Woody is the only character I’ve ever seen who can make me literally LOL just by his wobbly, exaggerated run.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-236811. During Andy’s turning point, when his affections shift from cowboys to spacemen, there’s a scene where Andy disappears into the closet as a cowboy and emerges a second later as a spaceman. If you watch carefully, you can see the camera jolt just a tad, giving the impression that the filmmakers were attempting a popular camera trick, but the camera got bumped as though it were a real camera set up on a real stage.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-161312. Adding another sense of utter realism, the Davis’ house is bumped and bruised all across the floorboards and lower doors. There’s scratches in the chairs and wood peeling off the walls. It’s hard to remember you’re in a make-believe world.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-540613. Woody’s voice box waking up Scud is the greatest use of his pull string in the whole franchise. Sheer suspense!

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-7414. I think when we first see Woody, it’s the best character introduction ever, and I can’t explain it. It’s the way the camera is positioned, the perfect tilting of the cowboy doll suggesting that he’s a hero, but also just a plastic toy (but the perfect plastic toy), combined with the music makes is a moment I look forward to reaching every time I turn the movie on.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-869815. The match is blown out! The filmmakers didn’t need to add this scene. The movie would have worked just as well without it. But I’m glad it’s there because it seriously adds a whole layer of suspense and devastation. I love this addition so much that I wrote a post on it a while back. Check it out here.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-371416. The devastation in Woody’s voice and his face is so convincing when he realizes he’s a lost toy. I seriously feel for him each and every time. There’s no Hollywood sappiness here. This is real, raw emotion at his greatest nightmare coming true.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-125617. The Army Men. The whole Army Men sequence could quite possibly be my most favorite scene in the whole movie. It’s playfulness and ingenuity is addicting. Any boy who didn’t immediately start making Army Men movies with their cameras is not a true Toy Story fan.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-209718. The line, “The word I’m thinking of, I can’t say, because there’s preschool children around.”

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-668719. I love Jon Negroni’s theory that this hat proves that Jessie’s Emily could really be Andy’s mom.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-788220. Just like Walt Disney and his crew drew from the popular horror movies of their day as inspiration for Snow White, the Toy Story crew seemed to do the same thing. The kings of animation never intended for animated movies to be just for kids.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-387921. The argument Woody and Buzz have under the truck is a perfect example of two characters not willing to budge on their convictions. And it’s a wonderful sequence, because even though Woody is 100% right, he looses the argument because he can’t control his emotions as Buzz is able to. I think this is such a compelling scene because we’ve all been there (especially us married folk).

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-425222. Everything about Pizza Planet. As a kid (and even now), I’d give anything to go to a restaurant just like this. But it has to be Pizza Planet.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-607223. Take a close look at this Battleship game between Hamm and Mr. Potato Head. I’d love to play Poker against that spud!

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-699424. Woody’s talk seriously makes me want to be a toy. Wait, I am a Toy! And my name’s Andy… Hmmm.

I agree with Walt’s nephew Roy E. Disney that there’s literally not a single frame in the entire movie that doesn’t push the story forward. There are certainly dozens of other things that make this film one of my favorites, but then it would be too long of a post. Share some of your favorite Toy Story moments below! And, thank you, DisneyScreenCaps.com for the images.

Disney Live-Action: Not As It Once Was

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Remember Meet the DeedlesSnow DogsMax Keeble’s Big Movie? Me neither, because I never saw them. These are all products of the debacle that was Disney live-action films of the early 2000s.

It seemed the company was just churning out whatever cheap film they could make to get the attention of persistent 8-year-olds to drag their parents to the latest family comedy.

The Disney studio had become what Walt Disney himself never intended: cheap entertainment that pandered to the lowest denominator of audiences.

(No offense if you happen to like any of those movies; I confess I’m quite partial to Heavyweights.)

But those days are long behind us.

Just like Disney’s animation division, their live-action films are giving the rest of Hollywood a run for their money, especially in the realm of their sub-genre – live-action remakes of old Disney animated classics.

It started with the odd, yet bewildering Alice in Wonderland in 2010. That was improved on with 2014’s Maleficent, a bit formulated, but more impressive than most people expected. Last year’s Cinderella confirmed that Disney has hit upon something great with this remake franchise by delighting us all. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

And now the studio’s newest release, The Jungle Book, is taking the box office by storm. And well it should! I saw it the other day and was seriously blown away. It was like watching Peter Jackson’s King Kong all over again, only, dare I say it? I bit more dazzling.

Sure, it follows Disney’s original ’67 animated version, but the detours are delightful! It was hard to believe that these animals are completely CGI (be warned parents of young ones: this is not Babe – far, far from it). Nothing at all looks fake in this movie. As impressive as it was to look at, I’d say the most wonderful thing about it is that there’s literally not a single dull moment. I never checked my watch, I never even bothered to scratch the itch on my ankle for fear of missing something.

And you will never see Shere Kahn the same way again. This new version of him just may be the most fearsome villain in the whole Disney pantheon.

And the franchise, it looks like, has just begun. Disney has confirmed that they will be remaking many of our childhood favorites (Dumbo, Peter Pan, Aladdin, Pinocchio, etc.). And if they keep on doing whatever it is they’re doing right, I say bring it!

Have you seen The Jungle Book? Share your thoughts.

 

Silly Rabbit, Animated Movies Aren’t (Just) for Kids

 

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Zootopia is Disney’s 55th animated feature film, and it broke records as being the highest grossing Disney animated opening of all time.

Why is that? Personally, I think it’s because Disney has been delivering better and better films after their decade of mediocrity (1995-2004). The animation powerhouse, with the help from Pixar geniuses, has worked hard over the past twelve years to regain the world’s trust. Each film, from Bolt to Big Hero 6, has steadily gotten better and better, and diving deeper and deeper with substance and superior quality.

After seeing it with my son today, I can see why it’s garnered a near 100% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes by both critics and audiences alike (many even claiming it’s the best Disney film ever), and why it’s broken the record as the studio’s highest grossing opening.

Zootopia is not your typical animated film. Sure, it’s anthropomorphic, which is not uncommon in the medium, it pulls as many quips as it can, and… well, that’s pretty much where the similarities stop. Outside of that, it’s a seriously fun and entertaining crime drama.

In fact, it’s so reminiscent of my favorite buddy-cop movies, Lethal Weapon, that I no lethal_weapon_3longer feel a need for Riggs and Murtaugh to team up for a fifth installment because a sly fox and a “dumb bunny” beat them to it.

If you’re one of those closed-minded weirdos who write animated films off as being “kid movies,” you need to rethink your approach. If this movie doesn’t convince you that select animated films can be way better than your typical live-action release, then you’ve got some rewiring to do. (There’s a scene where a main character cries and it’s better than any crying I’ve seen any real actor pull off…yeah, I watered.)

Most of the jokes are subtle. Many of them I won’t notice until future viewings (and there will be many…by choice), but I caught enough to know that they’re there. And yes, it’s got that warmth and heart Disney is known for, but it never, ever feels cheesy.

Judy-Hopps-disneys-zootopia-38966363-777-777I can foresee myself choosing Judy Hopps as my favorite Disney character after a more timely analysis of her character. I want her to be my daughter’s role-model. She is strong, humble, and determined to be the best she can be doing what she wants to do. And no bull-headed water buffalo is going to get in her way.

Is Zootopia my all-time favorite Disney movie? I don’t know, but it’s way up there. But then again, A Goofy Movie isn’t technically considered part of the Disney animated movie lineup. So… of the official 55 releases… I guess I’ll just have to watch it a few more times to decide. And I can’t wait!

Disney does not make kid movies anymore, and this is just one more proof of that. If Hollywood didn’t segregate animated films in their award ceremonies, Zootopia would easily be in the running for best film categories just as Inside Out would have been earlier this year.

Don’t forget to vote for your favorite short story to cap off Endever’s first writing contest!