For Whom the Bell Trolls
Trolls is directed by Mike Mitchell and stars the voices of Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Russell Brand, James Corden, and Gwen Stefani. The film won the Academy Award for Best Original Song ("Can't Stop the Feeling").
Good ol' cynical me did not get any hopes up when I first saw trailers and posters for DreamWorks' Trolls, especially when I realized that it was yet another feature film to be based off of one of those toys or action figures that you thought was gone and forgotten in one of the dusty corners of your basement. This is the day and age we live in though, in which anything and everything must have a movie, and Thomas Dam's Good Luck Troll Dolls are no exception. But even though Trolls is based off of a toy doll whose popularity was at its peak back in the 60's, it actually isn't that bad. It's not great by any stretch of the imagination, but it is colorful fun that is bound to entertain children. I can't say the same for parents though, who might not buy into watching 90 minutes of a bunch of bright, happy-go-lucky trolls who love to do nothing but hug, dance, and sing.
That's the life of the Trolls, a group of tiny creatures who feel almost nothing but happiness all of the time. The Trolls' constant happiness, however, puts them in danger in the face of a group of joyless, ogre creatures called Bergens. The Bergens hold an annual event called Trollstice, in which the Bergens cage the trolls and their giant tree home in hopes of eating them. Eating trolls is the only way that the Bergens can feel happiness. The Trolls are led by King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor), who manages to help the Trolls escape from the Bergens and find a new home. Twenty years pass without a Bergen sighting, and King Peppy's daughter, Princess Poppy (Kendrick), decides to throw a party to celebrate. One Troll named Branch (Timberlake) objects to the party, believing it will attract a Bergen. Branch's fear turns out to be true, when a Bergen crashes the party and kidnaps many of the Trolls. Poppy decides that she must venture to the Bergens home town and rescue the captured Trolls. The only Troll who decides to come with her is Branch, who believes that Poppy won't be able to make it alone.
The "Be yourself" message is typical for any animated children's film, but that's not quite what Trolls attempts to convey to the audience. The film's central message is more about being happy, and that everyone has true happiness buried inside themselves somewhere. Because of this, the movie attempts to be as upbeat as possible.
- Trolls is very colorful and is a delight to look at from an artistic stand point. The backgrounds are lovely and imaginative, and there are Trolls of all kind of bright, shiny colors. Colors, man. If anything, that's what you should see the movie for. Poppy has a sequence in which she sings a song about braving the dangers of the forest ("Get Back Up Again") that involves her evading consumption at the hands of various creatures that look like they came from some Nickelodeon clay-mation show. This is the best glimpse of the world in which the film takes place.
- I have nothing really good to say about the humor in Trolls. There's a Troll who poops glitter out of its butt, and there's another one that poops cupcakes. Poppy even has the audacity to offer said pooped cupcakes to eat. But aside from poop jokes, the movie must also think it's funny that Justin Timberlake, a famous singer, voices a Troll who hates singing. Come on though, do you really think Timberlake would sign on to a voicing role in a musical in which he doesn't get to sing? So spoiler alert, Branch eventually sings. And to enhance the argument that Trolls is not targeted towards adults in any way, there really isn't any noteworthy secret adult references slipped in anywhere. The jokes are all simple-minded and predictable at a level that kids might laugh at, but would make the parents just roll their eyes.
I suppose the best way for me to describe my feelings towards Trolls is that I think it's fine. It's not terrible. It's not great. It's fine. Kendrick and Timberlake provide some nice vocals, and the film's rainbow lollipop art style is impossible to ignore. But unlike some previous DreamWorks' productions, this one is mainly for the kiddies, providing little for the parents to remember. If you're not the most demanding viewer, you'll likely be joyed by the film's harmless musical fun. Don't watch it expecting Pixar genius or anything like that though.
Recommend? Only if you're bored or need to entertain kids for 90 minutes.
Luck don't live out here
Wind River is directed and written by Taylor Sheridan and stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen.
Taylor Sheridan has been the writer of two other crime-based thrillers that I just couldn't come away from feeling dazzled or blown away by. The first was Sicario, a film that I wanted to love, but just couldn't. The second was Hell or High Water, and I largely had the same mental reaction towards it as I did with Sicario. Perhaps it was that I didn't perceive either of these films the way they were meant to. I know they were crime films featuring grisly violence as well as a sharp psychological edge. I just didn't get what exactly was intended by those psychological edges.
Wind River, though? I think I do get it, and that's why I can safely say that I liked it a lot. It's a film that tugs and pulls with its violence, characters, and mystery, but in a way that takes full advantage of the setting as well as what the writing is trying to get at in the grand scheme of things. One of the best parts of the film is the text that is given to us right before the end credits, and it brings the film full circle just when you think there could be a twist ending or that Sheridan decided to let us go out on a gentle note after everything calms down.
The plot involves game hunter Cory Lambert (Renner), who accidentally stumbles upon the frozen body of an 18-year old girl, Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Chow). Lambert notices that Natalie is not wearing any shoes and isn't dressed in proper winter attire. The FBI is notified, and they send out rookie special agent Jane Banner (Olsen) from Las Vegas to investigate if a murder had taken place. An autopsy reveals signs of trauma and rape, and, from there, Lambert and Banner work together to uncover the truth behind Natalie's death.
The truth is, there isn't anything inherently special about Wind River's whodunit, and I doubt you'd feel any sort of static shock when you find out what is going on. The main takeaway is that Wind River raises a point, and a damn good one at that. Amidst all of the driving snow and trigger-happy violence is a fact that even the most hard-nosed liberals are likely to overlook. It almost hurts to accept what the end text tells you is true. And no, you're a damn fool if you think I'm going to spoil it for you here.
- Jeremy Renner continues to show that he has a knack for playing roles that don't rhyme with Lock My. He is effectively able to display a natural comfort that his character feels in the harsh, winter environment of the Wind River Indian Reservation. The Reservation is like his own backyard, hiking and maneuvering through it like he knows every square inch backwards and forwards. As a result, Lambert shows little to no confusion about where to go and how to handle a tense situation that easily turns violent because the movie needs it to. The cynical viewer might be bothered by Lambert having little to no trouble in unraveling the mystery, especially since his expertise is in hunting and shooting animal threats and not in solving crimes.
- The setting, the snowy and wide-open wilderness of Wind River Indian Reservation, is utilized in a way that reminded me of the success of Fargo. Fargo was another film that took place in a wintry setting, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and that was kind of the point. Some of the craziest and most unexpected things in the world can happen in the middle of nowhere, and Wind River is taking the same sort of approach. A landscape buried in multiple inches of snow is not someone's ideal pursuit for a vacation or area of residence, but it's a location that is very capable of being the scene of the crime, just like any big, bustling city.
- Wind River is solely placed in the hands of its two main stars: Renner and Olsen. Because of this, every other character is pushed around only where the plot needs them to stick. Natalie's father, Martin (Gil Birmingham), appears in only one or two scenes, merely to scoop some more emotional distress on to the fact that his daughter has been raped and killed. The Tribal Police Chief, Ben (Graham Greene,) follows Olsen around for much of the film, doing little more than spewing nonsense to try and keep his relevance afloat. Oh yes, and he fires his gun a couple times, so he's got that going for him at least. In short, Renner and Olsen hold a duopoly on the film's supply of character development. The two are at least interesting enough to keep the film from straying towards boredom.
I'm not kidding you when I say that I did feel a chilly breeze blowing through the theater as I sat watching the film (it was just me and two other people). Maybe it was a sign that I was going to finally walk away from a Sheridan-written crime film and not just settle for saying "it's good, though I wish I liked it more" like I did with Sicario and Hell or High Water. Wind River is cold and harsh, but also mindful of its social insights. The violence only comes in small bucket loads, and it might be a little tough to stomach if you're the overly-queasy type. But aside from its violence, the film's two central characters are fleshed out enough to make the mystery worth seeing till the end. This might be one of the most underrated films of the year, which I might partially blame on the fact that Wind River was released in the back half on what has been the weakest month of the cinematic year.
Recommend? Yes. This is one of just a handful of August releases that I would recommend seeing
May the Force be with you
Star Wars is a 1977 epic space opera film written and directed by George Lucas that was later renamed Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. The film stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, and Peter Mayhew.
Before we jump right into the thick of Star Wars' historical significance, it's probably necessary to flash back to 1975, two years prior to Star Wars' initial release. The day was June 20, 1975; the release date of Steven Spielberg's Jaws, a film that paved the way for establishing one of Hollywood's prototypical business models of high concept premises being backed by heavy advertising. Jaws was responsible for lifting Hollywood out of its five year slump and causing a massive overhaul in the film industry. Without the success of Jaws, who knows when the summer blockbuster would have become a major thing in the cinema, if ever? Jaws would also go on to become the highest grossing film of all time. That is, until George Lucas gave the film industry another overhaul just two years later with the release of Star Wars, which went on to out gross Jaws. The success of Star Wars is a watershed moment in motion picture history. Not only did it spawn an ever-growing industry of spinoffs, novels, comic books, video games, and toys, but it gave studios even more inspiration to move away from more lovey-dovey, personal films to big budget, high energy blockbuster spectacles that would appeal to younger audiences nationwide. Just to be clear, I don't believe that Star Wars should be considered a kids film, although it is certainly a film that young children will love and adore. Hell, I first saw it when I was about 11 or 12 years old. I don't quite remember. On its surface, Star Wars is a simple, straightforward space adventure. In 2017, that might not sound like much. But back in 1977? Seeing something like the Imperial ship fly over space in the film's opening minutes must have been nothing short of sublime.
What Star Wars had going for it that Jaws didn't was a wide array of special effects. Whereas Jaws thrived on its suspenseful thrills and realistic terror, Star Wars wowed audiences with its neat spacecrafts, shoot-em-up blaster battles, and the first of many light saber fights. Add to that a good story and memorable characters and you have yourself the beginning of what would become a cinematic behemoth that would eventually vacuum up money by the billions. I always wonder if George Lucas sat back in his chair one day and thought to himself, "Look at what I have created. Did I really think it would turn out like this?" Honestly, could Lucas have expected Star Wars to become the franchise so loved and passionately celebrated by millions of people everywhere? You wonder if the likes of J.K. Rowling and J. R. R. Tolkien asked the same question at some point.
The story of the original Star Wars is so wedged into pop culture that I feel little need to state it here. However, I don't want to be rude to any and all of you readers who may have never seen Star Wars before. Plus, it's only fair given the way I generally structure all my reviews. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a civil war has broken out between the Rebel Alliance and The Galactic Empire. Rebel spies (A.K.A. Jyn Erso and crew from Rogue One) have stolen the plans for the Death Star, the Empire's super weapon capable of destroying entire planets. Rebel leader Princess Leia (Fisher) hides the plans within the memory bank of the small droid R2-D2 (Baker). Leia's ship is attacked and captured by Imperial forces under the command of Darth Vader. However, R2-D2 and his cyborg buddy C-3PO manage to flee in an escape pod down onto the desert planet Tatooine. While wandering Tatooine, R2 and C-3PO are captured by Jawa traders, and are later sold to the family of Luke Skywalker (Hamill). Luke accidentally triggers part of a message that Leia leaves inside R2, in which she requests the help of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Luke believes that Obi-Wan might have a connection with the old hermit Ben Kenobi (Guinness). Luke and the droids manage to find Ben Kenobi, who reveals himself to actually be Obi-Wan. From there, the two meet up with greedy smuggler Han Solo (Ford) and strike a deal in which Solo will take Obi-Wan, Luke, and the droids to Leia's home planet of Alderaan to deliver the Death Star plans in exchange for a hefty sum of money.
Lucas was coming off his successful 1973 hit American Graffiti, but the seeds of Star Wars were planted before then. Lucas completed his first feature length film, THX 1138, in 1971, and it was shortly after the film's release that Lucas had first come up with an idea of doing some sort of space fantasy film. Initially, it was Lucas's intention to make an adaptation of the Flash Gordon space adventure comics, largely because of how much he enjoyed them in his youth. He was unable to obtain the rights, however, and this led to Lucas creating his own Flash Gordon. Writing began in January 1973, and Lucas tried to get Universal Rights to fund his idea.
They passed. Just like they did with American Graffiti. So Lucas decided to go to Universal Pictures, who picked up American Graffiti. Nope. They passed too, calling Lucas' Star Wars idea "a little strange." A lot of studio heads didn't give a damn about science fiction since it wasn't particularly popular in the mid 70's. You could point to 60's works like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes which were big on the more psychological arguments that science fiction normally addresses without intending to be entertaining spectacles (although Planet of the Apes can be appropriately regarded as an entertaining adventure). Lucas had a different vision. He wanted a science fiction world that could hearken back to the type of non-pretentious fun that Lucas' generation experienced. It wasn't a movie that stiff studio heads could discuss business over in a stuffy board room. It was a film that was loose, humble, and, above all else, fun.
- You don't need to memorize every Star Wars related Wiki page out there to find the film an enjoyable 125 minute ride. The premise is simple and easy to follow, and there's plenty of action sequences to keep you entertained. It's something so straightforward, and yet so effective. When your movie's sense of fun is a high point, you've certainly done something right.
- The pacing. Star Wars is a film in which a lot happens, and yet, it never comes off as sluggish or rushed. The film moves along at a steady pace keeping you simultaneously informed and entertained. There's not one dull moment or point where the plot feels stuck with nowhere to go. Many little moments throughout the film continue to be discussed to this day, such as the infamous "Who Shot First" scene between Han Solo and Greedo in the Mos Eisley Cantina.
- We can praise Star Wars and all its success to no end. However, there is one problem that I'm sure many fans are aware of, but simply choose to ignore. That is the fact that some of the acting is pretty bad. Mark Hamill has an awkward time speaking some of his lines, such as his robotic insult towards the Millenium Falcon ("What a piece of junk!"). Fisher suffers from largely the same problem, not acting nearly as distraught as she probably should be during certain scenes. And Harrison Ford? I can't believe I'm daring to say that he looks nervous and on edge in his early scenes, as if Ford feared that he could get fired with just one screw up. Ford actually found the dialogue to be very difficult, and he originally wasn't allowed to audition for the film because he starred in American Graffiti. Hamill, Fisher, and Ford all get better in the later films, but someone who certainly isn't bad is mister Alec Guinness, who looks perfectly comfortable playing an elderly Obi-Wan.
Let me leave you with this. It is not enough to call Star Wars a great film. There are great films that come out every year, and a lot of them come and go with little to no traction. Star Wars was not a fad that just peaked and fell back in the late 70's. It was the beginning of an eventual multi-billion dollar franchise that is still coming out with new and exciting films in the 21st century. But it doesn't end there. Star Wars is a primary example of the inherent power of the cinema and, more specifically, the visual medium. The ability to catch the attention and approval of people by the millions is a powerful thing, and Star Wars is one of those rare gems that has been able to do it for decades. A simple, fun space adventure turned into something more. Much more. It turned into a world that has only gotten better with age; a world that children and adults of all ages can love wholeheartedly.
I'd rather just....sing
Sing is Illumination Entertainment's 7th feature film and one of two Illumination films released during 2016, the other being The Secret Life of Pets. Sing is directed by Garth Jennings and stars the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth McFarlane, Scarlett Johannson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, and Tori Kelly.
There's nothing in an animated film that wins people, particularly small children, over like talking animals. But let's not stop there. Now what if all those talking animals can sing? And by sing, I mean they sing over 60 famous songs by a vast pool of artists like Lady Gaga, Elton John, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Stevie Wonder. If there's anything that Sing can boast about, it's that it knows how to appeal to audiences of all ages.
Alongside Zootopia and The Secret Life of Pets, Sing was another 2016 animated film that focused on the lives and doings of a diverse group of animals. Zootopia centered its plot on the physical and emotional characteristics of the many animals that are present, creating an intriguing story of predators vs. prey that also happened to provide an underlying commentary on issues of prejudice and stereotypes. The Secret Life of Pets sort of did a similar thing. It spinned the Toy Story premise into, "What happens with your pets when you're not home?" focusing mostly on the humorous and familiar antics of dogs and cats. Sing, however, does not make a clear effort to emphasize such animal characteristics. Even when it seems to be trying to, it's difficult to realize.
For the plot, let's start with the central figure of the film: a koala bear named Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) who does not sleep 20 hours a day (your koala bear fun fact of the day). Moon has always had an interest in show business ever since his father took him to a show at a very young age. His father worked countless hours as a car washer to help Moon one day purchase his very own theater. So it seems like Moon is living the dream, but there's one problem: Moon's theater is facing financial trouble, since basically none of his shows have been major hits. This leaves Moon with only one thing to do: hold a singing competition. Moon originally intends to give away a $1000 prize, but his eccentric iguana assistant, Miss Crawley (Garth Jennings), accidentally makes the prize $100,000. This brings auditioning animals in by the dozens, including Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a pig who is mother of 25 piglets, Johnny (Taron Egerton), a teenage gorilla who is pressured into helping his criminal father commit various crimes, Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a teenage punk rock porcupine who keeps being put down by her rock music boyfriend even though she is the more talented of the two, and Mike (Seth McFarlane), an arrogant white mouse with a voice like Frank Sinatra. There's also Meena (Tori Kelly), a teenage elephant who has an exquisite voice, but suffers from massive stage fright. Rosita, Johnny, Ash, and Mike are all casted in the singing competition along with a suave pig named Gunter (Nick Kroll). Everyone is excited about being in the singing competition, but what is Buster Moon to do since he doesn't have $100,000 waiting to be given to the winner?
If you really want to enjoy Sing, then you have to accept the fact that it is not a masterpiece of any kind. It just wants to have some fun and provide a little musical joy. There's nothing wrong with that every now and then, and it does keep up with what has been the ongoing standard of Illumination Entertainment that is, "deliver animated films that provide colorful and lighthearted entertainment without any major psychological depth."
- The music and singing are actually quite lovely. Easily the best part of the film is the singing show near the end where all of the animals like Rosita, Gunter, Johnny, Mike, and Meena all get to show off their talents to a large crowd. It gets so hard to not want to eventually sing and dance along, and I'm not one who is particularly fond of movie musicals. The film also does a good job of not blowing things out of proportion, always keeping the singing and dancing in line with what's going on plot-wise, avoiding the dreaded dance party sequence that animated films love to end with.
- The voice cast. It's a massive collection of great talent, and everyone is cast perfectly. I was particularly fond of Taron Egerton as Johnny, because Oh my Goodness can that man sing. I dare say that his cover of "I'm Still Standing" is better than Elton John's original. Seth McFarlane also continues to show that he's more than just a raunchy comedian; he's also a delicate singer. Everyone gets a moment to shine during the show at the end, and there is no weak link to speak of.
- All the great singing can't mask the fact that the plot is rather messy and cliched. Rosita is the underappreciated member of her family who tries to do something to get herself truly noticed. Johnny is the reluctant odd ball of his gorilla group, wanting to put his time and energy into singing, not committing crimes. And then you have Buster Moon, who stays on the margins of unlikable for the vast majority of the film as he tries to lie, cheat, and steal his way through his troubles until it all comes crashing down on him. Sing spends a lot of time looking into the offstage lives of these characters, but not in a very structured way. You can also easily predict a lot of what's going to happen, so pretty much nothing is going to come at you like a total surprise.
I haven't said anything about the film's humor, and that's because there really isn't a whole lot of it worth mentioning. Some of the jokes and references land, but plenty of others don't. That didn't keep the film from raking enough in at the box office to warrant a 2020 sequel. As a whole, Sing features top-notch singing and musical delight that mightily outweighs any and all flaws with plot and cliches. See it for a delightful 108 minutes of fun without having to worry about thematic depth and thought-provoking ideas.
Proving that movies and video games can go together
Wreck-it Ralph is directed by Rich Moore and stars the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, and Jane Lynch. It won the Annie Award for Best Animated Feature.
Wreck-it Ralph is not a video game movie, at least, not by the formal definition of video game movie. It's more so of an arcade game movie, which is more or less a subset of video game movies. Unlike movies strictly based on video games, Wreck-it Ralph is not constrained by the provided skills and personalities of characters from an actual video game, a liberation that grants it the ability to be as creative and ambitious as possible.
Being Disney's 52nd animated feature film (just so you're aware, we're not counting Pixar films), you would think after a while that the Disney folks would want to try something new that doesn't involve cutesy, talking animals and happily-ever-after romances. Wreck-it Ralph happily lacks both of these things, and still has the usual sugary-sweet charm and emotional resonance of most of Disney's other films.
The story focuses on the titular Wreck-it Ralph, the bad guy in his arcade game, Fix-it Felix. Ralph's job in the game involves wrecking a tall penthouse building while poor civilian characters inside cry out in terror. Coming to the rescue is Fix-it Felix, a small repair man who hops and jumps in a fashion similar to that of Mario. The arcade player earns points by having Felix repair the building with his trusty fix-it hammer. At the end of the game, Ralph is thrown from the top of the building and down into a muddy pool.
It turns out that Ralph is a social outcast in the game. His "home" consists of a tree stump and a massive pile of bricks right next to the building. He frequently has to lay there and watch while Felix is praised and adored by the other game characters. During a party on Fix-it Felix's thirtieth anniversary, Ralph announces that he's going to earn the other characters' respect by winning a gold medal. This then leads Ralph to other games in the arcade such as the first-person shooter, Hero's Duty, and the candy-themed kart racing game, Sugar Rush. where he meets other game characters like Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman).
So we have here a story of "misunderstood nobody wants to become a somebody", which is surprisingly appropriate for a setting of arcade games. You would think that a video game villain, who is always on the losing side of life, will eventually decide after endless defeats that enough is enough. Ralph is a bad guy that just happens to be the hero of the story.
- Wreck-it Ralph boasts a lot of creativity within its arcade world. All of the arcade games are connected to a place called Game Central Station, and we find out from Sonic the Hedgehog early on that if a character dies in a game different from their own, they will not regenerate (basically, they die/get deleted). The movie is like an all-star gathering of some of the world's most famous video game characters. There are various retro references for those old enough to remember playing on an old Atari 2600 or NES console. That being said, if video games aren't your thing, you will certainly not get a lot of the little Easter eggs placed throughout the film. But anyway, Wreck-it Ralph makes wonderful use of its large variety of places and characters to draw out humor and heart. The arcade world of the movie will leave you wanting more when the end credits begin to roll.
- The voice cast is basically perfect for the characters that the film has. The characters almost look like a video game version of the person who is voicing them. Ralph is goofy and has a ruffled brown hairstyle that compares favorably to John C. Reilly. Sergeant Calhoun? You tell me how she doesn't look almost exactly like Jane Lynch. It's hard to try and put this high point into words. You just have to see which actor is voicing who, and you would say, "Yeah. That was the perfect casting choice."
- For the most part, Wreck-it Ralph hits the mark with its humor. Some of it, though, isn't particularly clever. Vanellope makes several poop jokes when Ralph tells her about him being in Hero's Duty (Do you get it? Duty sounds like Doody?), and she even goes so far as to call him a hobo (which is more cruel than funny). If I haven't said it enough in other reviews, then let me just say it again now: any sort of jokes or moments involving poop, farts, and piss are, about 98 percent of the time, not funny. Not everyone can make them funny in the magical way that Captain Underpants can. Thankfully, these few lowbrow humor moments are vastly offset by the film's better jokes and humorous moments.
Any and all flaws in Wreck-it Ralph are heavily outweighed by the film's colorful and creative arcade game world, as well as its undeniable heartfelt charm. It's even got a great plot twist, which I think is a rarity for Disney. And on top of all this, maybe, just maybe, Wreck-it Ralph is proof that video games can work in movies. You just have to know how to do them right.
You wouldn't like them when they're angry
The Angry Birds Movie is directed by Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly and stars the voices of Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Kate McKinnon, Sean Penn, Keegan-Michael Key, Bill Hader, and Peter Dinklage. The film is based on the app game of the same name.
We truly live in a fascinating point in history, where anything that remotely engages the eyes or ears and gains enough popularity is looked upon by some standby movie executive who says, "You know what? I can make a movie out of this." It begs the question: are movies really that powerful of a visual medium that anything and everything that is thrown at the wall and sticks must be given a cinematic treatment? I can't decide if this is meant to enhance the cinema or drive it down further into the dirt. Actually, I take that back. I know exactly what this means. It simply means that those dunderheads sitting in the fancy Hollywood chairs have exhausted their brains so much to the point where fresh and original ideas are practically extinct, and now they are willing to use anything and everything to keep asses in the theater seats and somehow keep the box office dough flowing.
The ever-growing, trashy stock room that is Movie Ideas of the 2000s includes a massive pile of video games. Hollywood keeps insisting on giving us video-game based movies, and, every time so far, they have struck out. To this day, I believe there is still yet to be a "good video game movie", that is, one that was both a critical and commercial success. So with the video game movie history book being more miserable than a German history book between 1914 and 1945, you can easily guess that hearing the phrase, "based on the best-selling video game...." is shortly followed by a choir of groans and the synchronized gag reflexes of cinephiles everywhere. 2016 was quite a popular year for video game movies, and The Angry Birds Movie just happened to be one of them.
The "plot" of the film is pretty much the general Angry Birds premise stretched out to 90 minutes. But given that the premise boils down to, "Green pigs have stolen bird eggs. Angry birds fire themselves on slingshots to get the eggs back" you will quickly realize how thinly stretched out that the story is. So screenwriter Jon Vitti decided that the movie needed to be more than just an endless marathon of birds killing pigs, and he presents a script that acts like a prequel to the app's gameplay. On an island of flightless, happy-go-lucky birds is Red (Jason Sudeikis), an obvious representation of the app's central red bird icon. Red is a cynical and angry-tempered bird who gets caught up in a mishap involving the delivery of a birthday cake and the premature hatching of an egg. The island's bird judge, Judge Peckinpah (Keegan Michael-Key), sentences Red to anger management class. Red's anger management classmates are the speedy charger bird, Chuck (Josh Gad), the explosive Bomb (Danny McBride), and the silent but scary Terence (Sean Penn).
Red avoids making an effort in class, and he refuses to get to know his fellow classmates. One day, a boat docks on the island and out comes Leonard (Bill Hader), a green pig who claims to have arrived in peace. Other green pigs are revealed to be on the boat, and they slowly begin to integrate their way into the bird's society, as the birds believe that the pigs are indeed friendly explorers. Red is suspicious of the pig's motives, and his suspicion turns out to be right when the pigs steal all of the eggs one night. The birds then turn to Red to lead them in an effort to unleash their anger and rescue the eggs.
You pretty much know the entire plot from the get-go, which is why The Angry Birds Movie struggles to find any merit from a storytelling standpoint. Red is the only bird that shows any form of anger until near the hour mark when the eggs get stolen. The first half hour of the film is little more than the film telling us why Red is angry and how his anger makes him an outcast on the island. That's not a good sign when it takes almost a half hour into a 90 minute flick for the plot to fully set in.
- One nice thing that you can definitely say about The Angry Birds Movie is that the animation is top-notch. Birds and their feathers are incredibly detailed and textured in a state-of-the-art fashion, though there aren't too many close-ups of the birds for us to really marvel at how expertly outlined that they look.
- The humor in The Angry Birds Movie doesn't add up to the excellent animation at all. Most of the jokes are surface-level and fall flat with barely an ounce of cleverness. I was quite surprised to see how many sexual references that there were throughout the film. We get several moments of characters flashing their buttocks (no fart jokes, thankfully), and even a scene where a pig gets two plungers attached to his chest, with the pig proceeding to do a stripper dance in which he flashes the plungers like a bra. The worst moment is right after the eggs get stolen, where the birds all meet to discuss what to do next. Chuck suggests that they make more eggs and suggests that all of the lady birds should "get busy" tonight. The movie must think that children are very simple-minded, because "get busy" is one of the least difficult euphemisms to decipher for "having sex."
So the humor doesn't fly, but when you consider everything else, The Angry Birds Movie is acceptable kids fare that parents shouldn't hate entirely. It's not great, but there are worse animated movies out there as well as much worse video game adaptations. Since the movie was large enough of a draw, there is a sequel planned for 2019. Not sure how that's going to be since this one came out well after the Angry Birds fad had come and gone.
Recommend? If you liked playing the app enough, I'd say it's worth a look.
Be Batman, because Iron Man sucks
The Lego Batman Movie is directed by Chris McKay and stars the voices of Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, and Ralph Fiennes. It is meant to be a spin-off, not a direct sequel, of The Lego Movie.
The weekend of February 10, 2017 may very well have been the most competitive weekend for new releases this year, in which there was not one, not two, but three different sequels released on the same day. Kid-friendly Lego Batman was released alongside the more mature action thriller, John Wick: Chapter 2, and the sexually-charged, Valentine-killing Fifty Shades Darker. But like I just said above, Lego Batman is not necessarily a sequel. So the best way to say it is this way: The weekend of February 10, 2017 saw the release of three different works that spawned from some previous work. Now Lego Batman applies, right? It turns out that Batman was the box office victor of that opening weekend, and how could he not be? A timeless superhero up against a fairly new action hero and a follow-up to one of the most controversial and detested book adaptations of the 21st century? Now, mind you, I did enjoy John Wick 2 quite a bit, and I still have yet to find the time to be all alone and waste away two precious hours of my life in watching Fifty Shades Darker. But between the trio of these February releases, Lego Batman has the most appealing package to offer, being both a Lego movie and a Batman movie. And as you can imagine, the movie aims to be as silly as can be by poking fun at the Caped Crusader and his decades-long history.
The version of Batman seen in this film is quite unlike any of the previous cinematic depictions of Batman. That's because it turns out that Lego Batman is a narcissistic and domestically reclusive vigilante that loves to soak up the Gotham spotlight, as opposed to avoiding it altogether like pretty much all of the past Batmans. Batman is so convinced of his own awesomeness, that he purposefully avoids partnering with others. Batman's selfish nature also owes in part to the death of his parents, which led to Batman's greatest fear: being part of a family again. The film opens with Batman going on a mission to stop a bomb that was planted by the Joker, facing off against every major villain in Gotham. During the mission, Batman confronts Joker and tells him that their hero-villain relationship means basically nothing to him. The Joker is hurt by this statement, and he sets out to take the ultimate revenge on Batman.
This is not the gothic, earnest return-to-form Batman that Tim Burton brought to us in 1989, which was then re-reinvented by Christopher Nolan in 2005. In all honesty, Lego Batman highly resembles the more cartoony, humor-centered Batman of the Joel Schumacher days. The skeleton of the plot actually compares quite a bit to that of the campy, "we can do this together!" storyline of Batman & Robin. But Batman & Robin sucks ass, so let's not dare use it as a criteria for evaluating Lego Batman, which definitely does not suck ass. It's a film that never attempts to get overly sappy and is always mindful of dishing out well-timed jokes and Batman teases.
- The various references to previous Batman films. First off, if you haven't seen any of the previous Batman films or aren't at least aware of their major beats, you will not find this movie as funny as you could find it to be. The film goes as far back as the Adam West TV show, with a scene where Batman and Robin fight some baddies with fight words like Kapow! and Bam! in the background. It is a dream come true for any Batman buff, and for all those who may not be so Batman crazy, there's plenty of other laugh-out-loud moments on top of all of the Batman in-jokes. There's even a moment where Batman insults one of DC's recent releases, Suicide Squad. Batman says, "Using supervillains to fight other supervillains? What a stupid idea!"
- Batman is his own worst enemy during the film. So much so, that the Joker acts as a catalyst to help Batman go from selfish loner to Gotham's family man. In fact, this is about as vanilla as the Joker has ever been, not resembling anything like what Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger represented. Zach Galifianakis is....acceptable as the voice of the Lego Joker, even though Galifianakis lacks the ability to convey the dual characteristics of maniacal evildoer and laughing, sadistic prankster that are essential to the Joker's overall personality. The Joker has no moments of "evil bad guy laugh", and the best he does is give some big, evil smiles. Galiafinakis also doesn't provide any memorable lines; a disappointment for one of the most famous supervillains ever.
You will either love or hate the self-obsessed personality that Batman attempts to overcome during the film. But even if you haven't seen all of the previous Batman movies, I would be shocked if you got through this entire movie without laughing at least once. Lego Batman never tries to be melodramatic or sappy with romance or non-cartoonish drama, always maintaining a silly, fun attitude that never takes itself that seriously. It is a wacky superhero comedy that is Lego fun for all ages and a film worth re-watching several times.
Recommend? Yes, and you don't have to see The Lego Movie to enjoy it.
Let's get nuts, if we don't fall asleep first.
The Nut Job is directed by Peter Lepeniotis and stars the voices of Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Jeff Dunham, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl, Stephen Lang, and Maya Rudolph.
Some how, some way, an animated film about a selfish purple squirrel was able to score a profit large enough to warrant a sequel that will be hitting theaters next weekend.
It's not hard to notice that the gravel-voiced Will Arnett has an ongoing track record of voicing animated characters who all happen to be conceited troublemakers, from the Lego version of Batman, to BoJack Horseman, and to The Nut Job's central squirrel, Surly. I'm not sure if Arnett has a secret fascination for characters who start out selfish and cruel and eventually evolve to be more caring and sympathetic. But unlike Lego Batman and BoJack Horseman, Surly is not a character that deserves to be praised or remembered in any way. Surly the Squirrel, and The Nut Job, began life in Peter Lepeniotis' 2005 animated short film, Surly Squirrel. in which Surly and his rat friend, Buddy, go head to head with Raccoon and his followers. Raccoon's side is meant to be "good" in the short, but The Nut Job decides to do a role reversal.
In The Nut Job, Raccoon is the leader of a pack of urban wildlife in Liberty Park. Food is short, and winter is coming (*cue the Game of Thrones theme song*), so Raccoon decides to send out red squirrel, Andy (Katherine Heigl), and the dim-witted gray squirrel, Grayson (Brendan Fraser), to go out into the city and scavenge some food. Also scouting for food are the Liberty Park outcasts: purple squirrel Surly and the mute rat Buddy. Surly and Andy come across a peanut cart and try to scavenge some peanuts, but the end result is a runaway cart that makes its way into Liberty Park and destroys the giant tree where the animals store their food. As a result, Surly is banished from the park. Shortly afterwards, Surly comes across a nut shop which luckily holds more than enough food for the park animals to get through the winter. Surly plots a heist to get his nut fill, but it turns out that the nut shop is a hideout for a group of criminals who wish to rob the bank that just so happens to be adjacent to the shop.
As I mentioned, The Nut Job does a role reversal with Surly and Raccoon, even though The Nut Job's version of Surly doesn't represent anything close to an admirable central character. The film makes a blatant effort to make Surly as stubborn and self-centered as possible, with barely anything happening for us to say at the end of the day, "Surly was a hero." There isn't even a sense of beginning, middle, and end for Surly. He starts the film as an outcast and is pretty much despised by every Liberty Park animal. He gets banished when his standing as Liberty Park animal resident would declare that he is everything but banished. Surly then spends much of the remaining run time either trying to help himself get the nuts or help the others who find out about the nut shop. The movie just sort of makes up what it wants Surly to do, and it tries to give him closure at the end by throwing in some half-hearted lines about sharing and caring.
But enough about Surly. What else does the film do wrong? One thing that the film definitely can't get right is the plot, which runs out of ideas rather quickly in between necessary scenes. The script tries to mask these disparities with lackluster plot twists and lousy jokes.
- There's basically nothing that I could understandably categorize as a high point. Katherine Heigl gives the most spirited effort out of the voice cast, and her character, Andy, is the most tolerable out of a slew of annoying nutcrackers. Wil Arnett and Liam Neeson are on autopilot, but Maya Rudolph, who voices a pug named Precious, also sounds like she's at least trying. There's a decent collection of voices at work here, and it's a shame that it largely went to waste.
- The writing, which is lazy and missing any sort of sophisticated wit. The jokes amount to little more than farts, burps, and unfunny nut puns, the sort of stuff that mostly comes out of somewhere like Happy Madison Productions. There's no effort here to be clever or smart, and it's nothing more than half-baked, comedy trash.
The fact that The Nut Job was commercially successful enough to land a sequel just drives me nuts. You really can't do any kind of in-depth discussion on it because of its uninspiring plot and its bad habit of settling for the lowest forms of humor that any little toddler just might happen to find funny. The animation isn't up to whatever standards that an animated film would have in 2014, and it's you'll likely forget most of it all by the time you finish the bag of peanuts you might be eating while watching. It's an insipid nut of a movie that should be thrown away instead of being cracked open and enjoyed.
Zootopia was one of Disney Animation's two major releases of 2016, the other being Moana. It was the first time ever that Disney Animation had two major releases in one year. Zootopia is directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore and features voice work from Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, and J.K. Simmons. The film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
If time has taught us anything , it's that there's nothing that can charm little children like cute, furry animals that talk. Disney has assembled a massive and still-growing Hall of Fame of anthropomorphic animal characters over the years, spearheaded by the Disney mascot, Mickey Mouse. Now, of course, there is absolutely nothing new about Disney putting an animal character at the forefront of one of their animated features. We can go back to the likes of Bambi and Dumbo in a heartbeat for your earliest such examples. The thing is, I don't think any of Disney's prior animal centered features have been able to find such layered storytelling and effective thematic presentation as Zootopia is so successfully able to find. Zootopia is part comedy, part buddy film, and also part mystery, and it has enough animal entertainment to keep the younglings amused. Parents will appreciate the film's timely messages of prejudice and stereotypes, but it does make me think if kids seeing Zootopia will be able to see through the lines of what characters are saying and doing and realize that they too are being sent a message about accepting others, no matter how different their culture and/or lifestyle is from your own.
The title refers to the name of the metropolitan, animal-populated city where the majority of the film takes place. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is an ambitious young bunny from the rural Bunnyburrow, and she hopes to fulfill her dream of one day becoming a police officer. This is met with severe admonishment from Judy's parents and friends, since there has never been a bunny cop before in the history of Zootopia. Most of the cops in Zootopia consist of larger, more intimidating animals like elephants, rhinos, and polar bears. Despite others' attempts at crushing her dreams, Judy perseveres and graduates from the Police Academy as valedictorian and moves away from home to become a member of the Zootopia Police Department (or just ZPD). Things get off to a rough start for Judy when she is assigned to parking duty by the ZPD's unfriendly African buffalo police chief, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba). During parking duty, Judy meets the red fox con artist Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), who hustles Judy after she tries to stop and arrest him for one of his confidence tricks. The next day, Judy abandons her duty to stop and arrest a thieving weasel. Just when Judy is about to get fired for abandoning her post, an otter named Mrs. Otterton comes and pleads for someone to find her husband who went missing. Judy agrees to find the missing otter, who is actually one of fourteen different predator animals that are missing in Zootopia.
The central song that plays near the beginning and at the very end of the film is Shakira's "Try Everything." It's easy to see that the song is meant to go along with one of the film's most central messages: you can dream big and do anything that you put your mind to, no matter what anyone tells you. I also find it interesting how the song can describe what Zootopia accomplishes as a Disney film. It successfully blends all of the various genres that are appropriate for Disney, all while effectively communicating a worthwhile message that is important to both kids and adults. In other words, Disney "tried everything" (okay, not literally EVERYTHING, but you get my point).
- A young Judy Hopps explains in the film's opening minutes of how predator animals were once savage creatures that hunted on innocent prey. Over time, predators and prey learned to live in harmony together as predators grew past their aggressive nature. The idea of predator vs. prey is central to the mystery component of the film, as well as the most important cog of the film's themes of prejudice and stereotypes. Zootopia presents its messages in a non-preachy manner, and the story never slows to a halt for pretentious shove-it-down-your-throat talk.
- Zootopia is one of the most well-balanced animated films that I've seen in a long time when it comes to humor and references for both kids and adults. While kids will most likely get caught up with all of the cute animals, parents are most likely to get a laugh from moments such as Judy and Nick visiting the DMV, where all of the workers just so happen to be sloths (what other animal could possibly work at the DMV?). Nick and Judy also meet with a crime boss named Mr. Big whose Vito Corleone impression is spot on. There's even a Breaking Bad reference in there. Now that I think about it, what if Zootopia is secretly meant for adults?
- There aren't any major low points to speak of in Zootopia. It's a tightly coiled mystery buddy comedy that moves along at a fast pace, all while informing us on the messages and themes that it wants to tell.
There's really nothing else for me to say that hasn't been said already. Zootopia is memorable fun for people of all ages, and rightfully deserves to be up there with some of Disney's other animated classics. This film will be remembered for years to come for its gorgeous animation, fun characters, and timely themes. Keep being you, Disney.
I couldn't bear it
Norm of the North is directed by Trevor Wall and features voice work from Rob Schneider, Heather Graham, and Ken Jeong.
You don't need to watch Norm of the North for longer than two minutes to realize what a vile animated atrocity that it truly is. It is a kids film that holds the dubious distinction of being offensive to both kids and parents, settling for the laziest, lowest common denominator when it comes to family-friendly humor. I should be ashamed to admit that I sat through this abomination not once, but twice, because I did not trust myself enough to do a proper review around six-seven months after my first viewing. The first time around, I was aghast at the film's many sorry attempts at evoking the smallest chuckle out of you. The second time, now fully aware of most of the "jokes", I sat there contemplating my decision to give the film a second watch, knowing that I was doing nothing but throwing a good hour and a half of my life away. And now that I have spent three hours of my life time thus far watching the antics and twerking of good ol' Mr. Norm of the North, I pray to God that I will not ever have to spend one minute on an unthinkable third viewing.
The first place to inspect when trying to understand Norm of the North is its production history. Production of Norm of the North took a whopping 6 years with several delays and rewrites, and the film was originally intended for a straight-to-DVD release. Had that been the case, this film would've faded from our memory banks in no time. But instead, the studio execs decided at the last minute that, "You know what? We have decided that we are confident enough to give Norm of the North a wide theatrical release" and so, Norm of the North was released in over 2000 theaters across the U.S. So you have an indecent kids film that was supposed to be straight-to-DVD now trying to make it big in theaters, and it tried to do so in the unforgiving snowstorm that is the month of January. How could you possibly expect anything worthwhile from this film?
If the horrid animation wasn't enough to drive you away, the film's confusing and nonsensical story definitely will. Rob Schneider voices Norm, an Arctic polar bear who isn't like any normal polar bear because he can't hunt. However, Norm has been blessed with the ability to speak with humans, even though all of the polar bears in the Arctic can speak normal English. One day, Norm discovers a massive condo in the Arctic, where a film crew is trying to film a commercial for further development of Arctic condos. The commercial is promoting Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong), a land developer who suffers from some sort of restless body syndrome, because he flails his arms and bounces around whenever he speaks. Mr. Greene wants one of his representatives, Vera (Heather Graham), to find an actor to play a polar bear for his Arctic campaign. Knowing that his home is threatened, Norm stows away on a ship to New York City. From there, Norm pretends to be an actor playing a polar bear, and he eventually becomes the "actor" for Mr. Greene's campaign. As Norm puts it, he is going to, "Use the Arctic to save the Arctic."
Luxury condos in the Arctic? I mean.....what? What exactly is the incentive for someone to move to the Arctic anyway? I think the appeal of watching the Northern lights and stars is vastly offset by the risk of dealing with killer polar bears in your backyard. Add on the fact that there is really nothing to do in the Arctic besides admire the scenery, and, well, let's just say that moving to the frozen Arctic is probably one of the last things that anyone would want to do. So not only does that part of the story make no sense, but so does pretty much everything else involving Norm in the Big Apple. The plot is heavily dependent on the human characters acting as stupid as possible, mostly in how almost no one in New York has an issue with a fully grown polar bear wandering around the streets. No, they all think that Norm is an actor who is incredibly invested in his commitment to being a polar bear. But if that wasn't bad enough, the movie decides to turn Norm into a celebrity because he can.....twerk......very well.
- High points? What high points? Norm of the North comes at you with an onslaught of lazy jokes, particularly in its reliance on trying to make you laugh with farting and pissing. There is a solid 15 or so seconds in which we watch Norm's lemming buddies pee into a fish tank. Oh yes, those God damn lemmings that I haven't brought up yet. Norm brings along three lemmings who are pals with him for some God-knows-what reason, and they oh-so desperately attempt to be Minions. They don't succeed at this, of course, because even the Minions are above peeing in a fish tank and dishing out farts whenever the opportunity presents itself. There's no wit or subtlety in anything that the film tries to conceive as humor. It is a joyless monstrosity that offers no form of pleasure to anyone who bothers to watch it. At least it doesn't do the Batman & Robin thing and rely on ice/snow/cold puns.
- The animation is nothing short of dreadful, looking more suitable for an early 90's Saturday morning show on Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network. Characters and backgrounds look as if they were constructed with the most basic building blocks that are provided free of charge with any animation software. The most detailed that the animation ever gets is Norm having his fur ruffled by the wind when a helicopter flies by him. The animation gives me a grim reminder of Foodfight!, although compared to Foodfight!, Norm of the North's animation is almost Pixar quality. Most of the characters are robotic in their basic movements, as if they needed to be programmed beforehand. Nothing about the animation is organic or smooth and very much so matches something you'd expect from straight-to-DVD.
- I suppose I still need to address the one thing that really makes Norm of the North as cringe worthy as it is. That of course is the twerking dance routine that Norm frequently displays. He calls it The Arctic Shake, clearly inspired by Miley Cyrus. And in case you might be wondering, Norm does actually say the word twerking early on in the film. I'm aware that twerking has been in existence way before Miley Cyrus' twerking scarred her public image back in 2013, but to think that the screenwriters found it acceptable to include something sexually suggestive like twerking in a kids film, it scares me to think what other sort of dangerous risks that people want to take with kids films nowadays.
Another thing you will definitely notice is the film's extensive use of cross dissolves to transition between scenes. I lost count as to how many cross dissolves I saw. But that's just one tiny annoyance in a film whose most glaring missteps are its horrible animation and its brainless humor. The plot doesn't make any sense, and nearly every character is a complete idiot. Unless you are a cinema-masochist like I am, stay as far away as you can from Norm of the North. It is not worth 90 precious minutes of your life.
Recommend? Oh, hell no
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: