Thursday, March 27, 2014

My Top 10 Dream Sequences in movies

When we dream, it’s almost like watching a movie that’s only meant for one person to see. There’s just no limit or telling what kind of bizarre and creative imagery can come to one’s subconscious mind when they fall asleep. This gives filmmakers the chance to be very crafty when creating dream sequences in movies, they can be scary, artistic, beautiful or just plain odd and here are my personal top ten favorite movie dream sequences. Just a heads up, I’m not including movies that take place in a dream world, so don’t expect “Inception”, “Little Nemo” or any of the “Nightmare on Elmstreet” movies to be on this list. Also, I’m not including day dreams like the ones seen in “A Christmas Story” or “The Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, the character actually has to fall asleep in order to count as a dream. With all that said, here’s the list. 
#10 Dream Sequence from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo

Alfred Hitchcock was a visionary mastermind like no other, and who better to artistically show the mental deterioration of someones obsessed mind. After our lead character named Scottie looses the love of his life in an accident, he slowly loses his sanity and begins slipping in and out of his own consciousness, this results in a trippy dream with flashy effects, stylish direction, impressive animation and a hypnotic feel that literally puts you into a trans while watching.    

#9 Dream Sequence from “The Simpsons movie”

I’m convinced that “The Simpsons Movie” represents the best that the Simpsons ever had to offer, including a hilarious and all around insane dream scene. After Homer Simpson gets lost in the mountains, he stubbles across a voodoo lady who gives him a spicy beverage that sends him into this trippy hallucination where he's trapped within a maze of his own mind. With an artistic design directly inspired by Salvador Dali’s paintings, specifically “The Melting Stop Watch”, lots of funny jokes and an unbelievably cool Spider-Pig theme composed by Hans Zimmer, this dream sequence has it all.  

#8 Dream Sequence from “The Big Lebowski

Now here’s a dream sequence so awesome that it even gets its own title sequence. It’s almost like a serial music video from the 1980’s, with a rocking soundtrack, chicks in mini-skirts, elaborates sets, wild costumes and plenty of hummer. This is one up beat dream sequence that no amount of alcohol will ever make you forget.

#7 Dream Sequence from “An American Werewolf in London”

You’d think that a dream sequence in a horror film would go straight for scary imagery, but this flick decides to mix its horror elements with wildly over the top events that only your subconscious mind can dream up. This includes running in the woods with a pack of wolves, visits from the ghost of your decayed best friend, cameo’s from the Muppets and Werewolves dressed up like Nazi’s that invade a house, now that’s crazy. These dream scenes are darkly comedic, but shockingly frightening and a perfect fit for the list. 

#6 Dream Sequence from “All Dogs go to Heaven

This is a very controversial children’s movie, featuring themes and subjects that are very adult for kids. It also makes great use of one of the most frightening nightmare sequences ever seen on film. As our hero named Charlie cheats his own death, he’s told hell never be able to inter heaven, leading to one inevitable conclusion, he’s going to hell. There’s no subtlety in what kind of demonic imagery appears in this dream, fiery brimstone, violent monsters, scary faces, lakes of lava, it’s all really intense but awesome. It’s a chilling nightmare that’s shore to give your children nightmares.      

#5 Dream Sequence from “Peewee's Big Adventure”

Count on a visionary artist like Tim Burton to deliver a dream as wild and creepy as this. The bumbling Peewee Herman is out on a journey to find his stolen bike, in his sub counties he fears he’ll never see it again, leading into a crazy dream involving devils lowering his bike into a boiling caldron, a giant clay-motion T-Rex and a bunch of scary clowns dressed up like plastic surgeons. The overall set design of this dream is brilliant, with the background being pitch black and everything in the foreground being bright and colorful.

#4 Dream Sequence from “Brazil”

What’s cooler then a dream sequence in an artsy movie, how about several in one film. This is the story of a man who wants to be set free from the controlling government he’s stuck in, so during his down time he dreams about being free. Flying through the sky and rescuing the love of his life, however the all controlling society is dogging at his heals and interring his subconscious as well. Not only does this lead to some creative imagery, and incredible visual effects, there also very captivating and full of atmosphere. It actually gets to the point in which you begin to feel like your dreaming yourself.  There just fascinating to watch, and you get plenty of elaborate dreams in this film.  

#3 Dream Sequence from “The Prince of Egypt”

This is perhaps one of the most artistically brilliant dreams I’ve ever seen. After our lead hero named Moses dynes the truth of his heritage, he has a nightmare that shows in full detail, his real origin and a secret that had been kept from him his whole life. What’s truly brilliant about this scene is how it’s displayed through hieroglyphics and Egyptian style paintings. It’s all very artistic but it also has a strong atmosphere, chilling musical score, dramatic elements and some incredible visual effects, it truly is one of my favorite dream sequences I’ve seen in a motion picture.

#2 Dream Sequence from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” 

With Alfred Hitchcock’s film-making talents and an art deco design by Salvador Dali, the 1945 motion picture “Spellbound” delivers one of the most elaborate and abstract dream sequences ever put into film. With lots of tilted angles, creepy eyes that are floating all around, a faceless man holding a bent wheel and scenery that’s strait out of any classic Salvador Dali painting, this is one twisted dream that’s wilder then anything Tim Burton could ever dream up.  


Before I reveal my number one pick, here are my Honorable Mentions

Dream Sequence's fromCat People” (1942)
Dream Sequence's from “The Fly” (1986)
Dream Sequence's from  “American Beauty” (1999) 
Dream Sequence's from “The Bear” (1988)
Dream Sequence's from “Rosemary's Baby” (2013)           
Deam Sequence's from “Joseph King of Dreams” (2000)

#1 Dream Sequence from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”      

This is perhaps the most disturbing dream sequence ever seen in a movie, it left such an impact on me that it had to make the number one spot. For those of you not familiar with the movie, Sara Connor is one of our lead characters and she’s learned that in a couple years, everything will fall victim to mass nuclear bombing. Having such knowledge has kept her in a state of fear and paranoia, she can’t even sleep without having a horrific nightmare about the upcoming tragedy. This whole scene is such a real and terrifying perspective of a civilization being nuked, with intense images, an ominous overtone and a glimpse of the innocents that get got in the blast. It leaves me with chills every time and it’s the most unforgettable dream sequence I’ve ever seen in a movie. 

                          Sweet dreams everyone! 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Disney's Alice in Wonderland (1951) (Movie Review)

     Back when I was just a little kid, I was obsessed with Disney animation, with just about every classic on home video, and my feelings for them were mostly universal. However, there were some I liked less then others, and the one Disney classic that I remember liking the least as a child was the 1951 classic “Alice in Wonderland”. I certainly didn’t hate the movie, but I found it frustrating to watch, and back then I just didn’t understand it at all. Things have certainly changed over time, as I’ve gotten older, and I’ve read the original Lewis Carroll novels, which puts me in a focused mindset on how to view the film. Also, after watching Tim Burton’s 2010 “Alice in Wonderland” ... which I found very mediocre and forgettable … it’s gotten me interested to look back at the original Disney classic through a different perspective. Will it be superior to what I remembered as a kid, or will my feelings on the film remain the same … lets jump down the rabbit whole and find out.

      As the movie begins, we meet the young Alice, who … unlike most other leads … doesn’t have any real dreams or ambitions, she just wants to escape from the familiar for a little while. She has a song called “In a World of my Own”, which is her figurative “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, and the song puts you in a mind-set of traditional Disney charms … right down to her singing to a blue bird. Things change when Alice spots The White Rabbit, who oddly enough is dressed in a coat, and is apparently late for something important. With her curiosity peaked, she follows The White Rabbit down his hole, and finds herself lost in a strange and peculiar world, with even more oddball characters, and zero logic to anything. Determined to catch-up to The White Rabbit, she sets off on a journey through wonderland, only to have one strange encounter after another. In essence, the film is less about narrative, and is more like a twisted road trip, as you go from one oddball sequence to another goofy highlight, with Alice acting as our figurative avatar along the way. It’s the kind of premise that will have varying effects on viewers … as some may be open to just experiencing something different … while others may want a layered story with deeper characters.    

     On the one hand, no mater what the movie, I always go in for the experience first … so a movie that’s nothing but an experience should be right up my ally. However, I also feel that I’ve experienced movies with a similar premise, which still had more substance to offer. “The Wizard of Oz” for example is one of my all-time favorite movies, as it was more than just a simple diversion in a fantasy setting, it was also a story about growing-up, while discovering the magic that’s right there at home, and as Dorthey matures, the audience in turn gains something of substance. 
Alice by contrast doesn’t really gain anything from this experience, as she simply slips into this world, comes back out, and the audience in turn doesn’t really have much to take away from this. On the flip side of this, something like Tim Burton's “Alice in Wonderland” had such a generic story, and stock characters that it made me appreciate the animated film for at least being something wholly unique and even memorable in its own right. It certainly gave me a meaningful lesson warning me about “stranger danger”, which stuck with me through my whole childhood. Yeah … there’s a curious detour in which we hear the tale of a family of cute little Oysters, who all get leeward away from home by a nasty character called The Walrus ... and they all get eaten. That messed me up as a kid, and I have to give credit to Disney for not changing things to a happy outcome. As such, the moral stuck with me, and I was always cautious to be around strangers. Every time I had an encounter with someone I was unsure of, I always imagined the wicked grin of The Walrus behind their face.    

    Thematically this is one of the darkest Disney movies, and was frustrating to watch as a kid. Unlike Dorthey, Alice doesn’t have any friends to comfort her on the journey, and every time you think Alice will finally experience something positive, it always turns out wrong. The talking flowers for example are introduced singing “Golden Afternoon”, which is this beautifully detailed and colorful sequence, but the second it ends, the plants turn on Alice, call her names, and treat her like garbage. 
There’s the famous tea party scene in which Alice meets The Mad Hatter and The March Hare. This scene again starts as something positive, with these charming little teapots whistling, and there’s a catchy little “Un-Birthday Song”, but the longer she stays at the table, the more frustrating it gets, as the two simply ramble like loons, and poor Alice isn’t allowed to drink a simple cup of tea. The characters of Tweedledee & Tweedledum are the closest Alice gets to a friendly encounter, and as a kid, I so wanted them to be the figurative friendly companions to go with her on the journey. The most unsettling part of all is when Alice gets lost in the woods, and has a big cry, as she fears she’ll never get home again. This in a nut-shell is why I didn’t like this movie when I was a kid, as it just seemed so joyless when compared to other Disney offerings. However, I’ve come to respect the films atmosphere and tone as being consistent with the spirit of the novel. On that note, despite leaving out a number of sequences and characters from the book, this movie captures the tone and spirit of the novel better than most other adaptions.

    Just as a side note, “Alice in Wonderland” holds the record for the most songs contained in one animated Disney feature, with fourteen total. However, the songs themselves are so short, that they’ve never left too big an impression on me ... although, “Painting the Roses Red” is still kind of catchy. As far as animation is concerned, this is all around one of Disney’s best-looking 2D pictures. Not only are the designs creative, but for a film that came out in the early 1950’s, the artistry on display has aged incredibly well. Some of my favorite designs are all the odd forest creatures Alice encounters when she gets lost in the woods. Also, the animation reflects the dark tone of the movie with its bright Disney presentation. The backdrops are mostly black and empty, while everything in the foreground is bright and colorful, which allows the imagery to leap off the screen. One of my favorite animation highlights is a sequence with an army of playing cards, and still to this day, the visuals during their little dance are fascinating to watch. My favorite scene of the whole movie … by far, is when Alice first descends down the rabbit hole. This sequence is rich with atmosphere, absorbing imagery, and it captures a haunting sense of euphoria … like your descending into a mysterious dream world.

    Most of the characters do leave a memorable impression, and have a charming appeal on their own. Even some of the smaller characters like The Doormouse and the bird named DoDo have a distinct charm that stick with me. 
The character of Alice may be simple on the surface, but the inflections through her body movements, facial expressions and a solid vocal performance from child star Kathryn Beaumont help breath so much life and charm into the character. Still to this day, Alice remains one of the best child characters from Disney’s animated line-up. It’s no wonder that Kathryn Beaumont would go on to voice Wendy in Disney’s "Peter Pan" after this. Ed Wynn was another great reoccurring talent for Disney at the time, and I don’t think any other character is more affiliated with him then The Made Hater. The Caterpillar, despite being one of the biggest jerks in the film, in another really fun character to watch, with his smokey breath, and fast spoken dialogue. Of course, my favorite character of all is the mysterious and mischievous Cheshire Cat. Unlike the others, Cheshire Cat seems fully aware of just how insane he is, and has fun with it. He’s like the wild card of the bunch, always leading Alice down a different path, and usually to his own selfish delight. Sterling Holloway was yet another reoccurring vocal talent for Disney, and I think his portrayal of Cheshire Cat is his best by far. He’s crazy, he’s unpredictable, he has a zany attitude, and as a result he’s just a tone of fun to watch. 

    As we reach the third act, Alice’s determination to go home drives her to ask for aid from The Queen of Hearts … big mistake. 

While just as crazy as the other characters, the Queen is also the most dangerous, as her short temper with people can get them axed-off ... which is kind of dark by Disney standards. For all the evil witches and malevolent Queens to come from Disney, none scared me more as a kid then The Queen of Hearts. While the others may have looked more threatening, I always felt the heroes at least had the ability to fight back, or had someone at their side. Alice by contrast is alone, completely at the mercy of this unhinged psychopath, and is facing some high stakes. With that said, looking back as an adult, I forgot just how funny this character is. She’s like an overblown child, governed by her unstable emotions, and only wants things to go her way. It’s hilarious to see her act comb and collected in one moment, only to freak out and loose her temper in the next. I love character’s that just can’t control themselves, and The Queen of Hearts implosive nature makes her equal parts threatening and hysterical. The movie builds to a climactic court room scene in which Alice is put on trial, and its a brilliant sequence all around, with all the characters coming together, and some great interplay. As things escalate, the land seems to unravel around her, and locations seem to merge together, making for a trippy finale.     

    When all is said and done, “Alice in Wonderland” is a wild ride, with some colorful, imaginative highlights and a lovable lead character guiding us through the journey … but I still can’t bring myself to call this a favorite among Disney’s collected works. Even Disney himself wasn’t the biggest fan of the movie, claiming it lacked the heart of his early works. Still, the film has become a classic over time, and fans of the source material seem to view it as the best representation ... certainly the most famous. For me, while I enjoy the movie fine, I can’t help but see it looming in the shadow of other films that feature a similar premise, but gave me more. Personally, my favorite movie to utilize this formula is a spooky little animated picture from 2009 called “Coraline”. While the concept was very similar, with a girl venturing into a dark, twisted fantasy world, I also felt it did a better job balancing its scary content with some uplifting moments, a deeper character journey, a heartfelt ending, and it just felt like the more satisfying experience ... at least in my opinion. Still, “Alice in Wonderland” has its place in the realms of memorable animated ventures, and while it’s not an absolute favorite, I’ve certainly come to admire the movie more than when I was a kid.     

I give Disney’s 1951 animated classic “Alice in Wonderland” … 3 stars out of 5.

Monday, March 17, 2014

My Top 10 favorite romantic songs in animated movies

Some Times romance is conveyed best through music, and animated movies always seem it hit them out of the park. For this list I’ll be counting down my personal favorite romantic songs from animated pictures, and I’ll only be looking at the songs themselves, not so much the lovers on screen, well, maybe with some exceptions.

#10 Accidentally in Love from “Shrek 2"

Here's a perfect odd romantic song for a perfect odd couple. The title sums their relation up perfectly, they did accidentally fall in love, and they couldn't be happier about it. It's also a really upbeat song, with a nice beat and the scene in the beginning of the movie offers more than enough visual hummer. It's the kind of romantic song you'd expect from an animated DreamWorks comedy, and personally I think it belongs amongst some of the best.

#9 Love Will Find a Way from "The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride"

      When it comes to "The Lion King", most people think of the song "Can you feel the Love tonight", which has gained the reputation as one of the greatest songs in the entire Disney collection. Well, that's certainly a good song, especially when sung by Elton John, however, it also felt out of place because the couple in that film was really tacked on, and personally I actually prefer the song titled "Love Will Find a Way" from the admittedly inferior but also underrated sequel. While the actual lovers in the movie were nothing that special, this song was at least in place because the movie was all about their relationship. Also, it’s just a really nice song, with a majestic score and sweet lyrics.     

#8 Kiss the Girl from "The Little Mermaid"

      Now here’s a classic Disney song that definitely earns a spot on my list. Shortly after this movie’s release it even got an Oscar nod for best original song of the year, ironically it lost the award to “Under the Sea”, so either way “The Little Mermaid” still brought home the gold. It’s interesting to note that unlike all the other Disney princess movies, the couple aren’t singing this song together, instead it’s the supporting characters that get all the credit, which is kind of refreshing. The song itself is slow and romantic, but it also carries a surprisingly upbeat tone that really livens it up. The setting is perfect, the pacing is great and the buildup is just perfect. Combine that with Allen Matkins catchy lyrics and you got yourself a classic Disney song that ranks among some of my favorite romantic songs from an animated movie.   

#7 A Whole New World from "Aladdin"

      Oh, don’t even act surprised that I included this song, you all knew it was coming. This Oscar winning song is so famous, I don’t even know what I need to say about it. Upon its release, it actually beat out Whitney Huston’s “I will always Love You”, out of the Billboards top 100 spot, and to this day, it’s still a gem. While the song is romantic enough on its own, it's the presentation with our two lovers flying trough the clods and across the sky that really makes it feel all the more magical. On a side note, I just love all the different locations in this scene, from Arabia, to Grease, to Egypt, to China, they certainly cover a lot of places in one night. Sweepingly romantic and unforgettable, “A Whole New World” has earned its status as one of Disney’s greatest songs.  

#6 Far Longer then Forever from "The Swan Princess"

      While I freely admit that the couple in this film is about a generic as animated couples get, their duet song titled “Far Longer than Forever” is still a gem from my childhood and takes a different approach than most other lover songs. This princess and prince are actually separated from each other, but their feelings for one another are still just as strong, even across thousands of miles. That’s such a unique way to have a musical duet like this and it only adds more flavor to the song. If this movie had been released under the Disney banner, this song would be put amongst some of their best musical numbers. The melody is great, the visual style is captivating, and it’s so simple, yet so uplifting that it conveys the exact same feel that most of Disney’s popular hits convey.

#5 For the Dancing and the Dreaming from "How to Train Your Dragon 2"

      This is perhaps the most unique romantic song number on my countdown, it’s much shorter and isn't exactly what a popular artist would put on a record, but it’s still just as touching and uplifting as anything else I’ve mentioned. This is also very special because unlike most romantic songs that always feature two good looking young adults, this one features two middle aged parents that have been reunited after several years. The peace starts nice and soft as the husband tries desperately to reconnect with his wife, and as she opens up to him again, the song really begins to liven up. The real high note that completes this scene is their sons reaction as he just takes in this moment as it’s the first time in his life he ever saw his mother and father together. It’s cheerful, with some subtle comedy thrown in, and packed with lots of genuine human emotion, which is more than enough to make this little song one of the best feel good moments I’ve experienced in an animated motion picture.   

#4 I See the Light from “Tangled

      Here’s another great example of a romantic musical number in an animated movie that just hits all the right notes. It’s visually one of the most spectacular musical numbers I’ve ever seen, with all the lanterns floating through the sky, the reflections in the lake, the warm colors, it’s all very original, innovative and breath taking. Even without the location, it’s still a really sweet song, establishing how someone's lifelong dream came true and now a new one takes its place. I also like how the couple sings individually and through voice over at first, then gradually they begin to sing out loud together. It’s colorful, it’s unforgettable and one of the best romantic songs to come from Disney in years.  

#3 At the Beginning from "Anastasia"

     This song is every bit as sweet and wholesome as any of the previous songs listed, and it’s positively dripping with a cheerful tone and melody that never lets down. However, unlike the previous songs which were all about the beauty of the moment, this one is all about looking back at when the romantic journey started, what highlighted the experience, and where it all lead to in the end. It’s positively laced with nostalgia, and in a rare case, it’s not sung by the couple, it’s actually played over a clip montage during the end credits, which makes this a unique entry on the countdown, but a very special one all the same.        

#2 If I never Knew You from "Pocahontas"

      This song is making its way in popularity but it still isn’t a house hold title like “A Whole new World”. Shame, because I think this is one of the better romantic songs to come from Disney. The melody is beautiful and it’s such a great song about what life would be like without someone you loved. The actual scene with Pocahontas and John Smith singing this was deleted from the theatrical release, but the 10th anniversary DVD addition thankfully put it back in the film. Pocahontas and John Smith were never one of my favorite Disney couples, but this song is still a personal favorite, it’s subtle and touching. Plus the final version performed by Jon Secada & Shanice is fantastic. I really hope more people discover this because it really is one of Disney’s best romantic songs.

Before I revial my #1 pick, here are some Honorable Mentions ...

Love Always Comes as a Surprise from "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted"
Love is an Open Door from "Frozen"
Ma Belle Evangeline from "The Princess and the Frog"
Looking for Romance (I Bring You a Song) from "Bambi"
Bella Notte from "Lady and the Tramp"
Jack and Sally duet from "The Nightmare Before Christmas"

#1 Beauty and the Beast (song) from "Beauty and the Beast"

      This is hands down the definitive romantic song, and easily one of the greatest songs to come from Disney. It has such a simple melody combined with a beautiful theme, and matched to an unforgettable scene with the two lead characters dancing in a ballroom. I can’t think of another musical number as touching, or as enduring as this one, and even to this day, it still warms me up inside. Belle and Beast always seemed to represent the greatest couple to ever be featured in a Disney movie, and it only figures that they’d get a timeless song to go with them. There’s also several other great renditions of this song, including the recent version performed by Jordon Sparks and I especially love the duet version performed by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson. Whatever version you listen to, it’s still a timeless gem and the greatest romantic song to ever be featured in an animated movie. 

            The End