'Puzzle' is Well Made, but a Few Pieces are Missing

Based on the film Rompecabezas, Puzzle is one of those little-known independent films that sneaks into theaters with little to no fanfare, although the fact that it is being promoted “from the producer of Little Miss Sunshine” should help it get noticed somewhat. Puzzle is a quiet, little film about a woman who discovers that jigsaw puzzles are the key to changing her life. While the subject matter doesn’t sound all that exciting, the film really isn’t about puzzles but instead about one finding their voice, or so it appears. It’s also a message film that has its own agenda expecting the audience to agree with the choices of the main character and applaud her “brave” behavior. Frankly, it just feels manipulative.

Directed by Marc Turtletaub, Puzzle’s most impactful scene comes within the first few minutes. We see Agnes (Kelly MacDonald) cleaning up the house and they decorating it for a birthday party. Then we see her serving appetizers while being ignored by the guests. …

Monsters University is a Scream


It’s been a dozen years since Monsters, Inc. arrived in theaters the first time. The clever comedy of an odd couple working at the power company, Monsters, Inc., the company that “scares because they care,” introduced us to Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan. Mike is a short, green, amphibian –like, round creature with one big eye. James is tall, blue, hairy with purple polka dots. The pair are best friends, but that wasn’t always the case.

Instead of a sequel, the folks at Pixar and Disney decided to go the prequel route to explore how these two oddballs met in the first place and the result is pretty favorable. There’s no re-hashing here, it’s a whole new story with familiar friends. Unlike other “origin” stories, this one is fun to sit through. This second Monsters movie is just as good as the first.

One could argue that what made the first Monsters movie so likeable was the monster’s relationship with Boo, the little from the other side of door in the human world. There is no Boo equivalent in this story as it focuses on friendship, working together as a team and perseverance.

The story begins with Mike as a little tike with few friends and big dreams. However, he shows promise at an early age for his future in the scaring business during a field trip to Monsters, Inc. Fast Forward, and Mike (again played by Billy Crystal) is entering the doors of Monsters University. He meets his new roommate, a bookish but very friendly, Randy Boggs (Steve Buscemi), who later becomes the villain, Randall, in the first movie. This is a nice twist, but sad to know how awful he becomes later in life.

Mike first meets Sully on a quiet night of studying. The meeting is literally accident as Sully interrupts Mike with the mascot of the rival school. Sully already has a reputation at the school thanks to his father, an early graduate of the school, who is practically a legend for scaring. The two spar off each other trying to impress Professor Knight (Alfred Molina) and Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren). The two are so full of themselves that they fail to see how they can both benefit from the other’s help. To make matters worse, they end up with a group of seemingly “losers” including Squishy (Peter Sohn), a short monster with multiple eyes, Don (Joel Murray) a downsized salesman going back to college at an older age, Terri (Sean Hayes) and Terry (Dave Foley) a two headed monster, and Art (Charlie Day), an odd little fellow who is game for anything. The team must come in first place during the Monster Games in order to impress Hardscrabble.

Though this is not a sequel, many of the original’s cast make short appearances here which can’t help but bring a smile to your face. While “Monsters U” has the same charm as the original, the musical score is different and this is essentially a G-rated college movie. All the familiar surroundings and stereotypes are – jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, etc. “Monsters U” isn’t overly sentimental, but seeing how Mike and Sully turn from their bickering and start to build a budding friendship is something most of us can relate to. Friends look out for each other. Good friends try their best to make others feel included. There is nothing in this film that will embarrass you or your children. Instead, it is full of good lessons on how to get along with others and seeing the value in each other. Something we could all benefit from.

One of the best things about seeing a Pixar film is the promise of seeing a new short before the main attraction. The short that accompanies Monsters is The Blue Umbrella and is a marvel in itself. Some scenes look so realistic, one wonders if the short is completely animated or only partially so.

Again, Pixar accomplishes what so few other animated films do – create an entertaining story with morals that the whole family will really appreciate. The 3-D version is fine, but nothing spectacular and certainly not worth the extra cash to pay for that feature. One more note: be sure to check out the Monsters University's “official” website. It’s just as clever as the movie.


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