animation

[Movie Review] ‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ is the Hilarious and Heartfelt Hero We Deserve

In 2016 we saw Batman twice in theaters and for most of us, we left those two encounters less than enthusiastic. With Warner Bros. flailing wildly in need of a hit, in steps some tiny plastic toys to save the day. Even with as good as The LEGO Batman Movie is, it also amplifies how inept Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad were at the most fundamental level–being entertaining. In a way, the latest in the Batman universe acts as a sincere apology for the aforementioned disappointments.

To be fair The LEGO Batman Movie has the benefit of irreverent humor that leans heavily in meta territory. The film exists in a world where Gotham City and its citizens are kind of tired of Batman’s shenanigans. Years of fighting bad guys and yet crime rates are as high as ever. Even Batman’s greatest enemy, Joker, has decided that he must concoct a new scheme to get the Caped Crusader in touch with his emotions. With the help of a recently adopted orphan, Dick Grayson, and the city’s new commissioner, Barbara Gordon, Batman embarks on a mission to save his tarnished reputation and the city.  (more…)

Movie Review: The Lego Movie

thelegomovie_posterThe dilemma for an aging movie lover is sometimes feeling like a creep seeing a kids movie in a theater and not having kids of your own, but also being enthralled by the very same movie intended for children. Personally, I don’t yet have that hangup because I love being transported into my own youth by these nostalgia projects and THE LEGO MOVE did nothing if not make me feel like a kid again. It’s early in the year, but if I see another film that had me grinning ear to ear from beginning to end, I’ll be shocked.

THE LEGO MOVIE brings the popular childhood figures to life with Emmett (Chris Pratt) as a plain faced conformist who wants nothing more in life but to fit in with everyone else. He meets Wild Syle (Elizabeth Banks) during a fall that lands him with a mysterious piece stuck to his back. As it turns out the piece is the key to foiling Lord Business’ plan to make every world in the LEGO universe stay the same forever- promptly putting an end to any and all building and imagination. (more…)

Movie Review: Hotel Transylvania (2012)

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From the get go I loved the concept of an animated movie about all the classic movie monsters together in a hotel and the puns/hijinx that would ensue. Read into it a little more and I saw Adam Sandler and the rest of his posse on board doing voices and my excitement dimmed considerably. If it was over a decade ago and I read some of the same names I may have been way more excited, but with the most recent filmography of those involved I had little hope. That being said, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA was far more enjoyable than my reservations painted it, even if it tends to pander to the audiences with extremely short attention spans.

As a kids film HOTEL TRANSLYVANIA has everything that keeps the kids glued to the screen- funny looking characters, slapstick comedy, fart jokes and plenty of vibrant colors. For the average adult sitting to watch it though I feel that it lacks a focused and consistent story aside from trying to pull at their parenting heartstrings.

Sandler voices Dracula who has chosen to build a hotel for all his supernatural friends to escape to while also raising his daughter to be weary of humans in the most protective ways possible. The older she gets the more curious she becomes to visit the outside world and take a chance amongst the humans. Unexpectedly, a human stumbles upon the hotel and Dracula does everything he can to disguise him as one of their own, which leads to the unintended consequence of the human falling for his daughter and vice versa.

The animation is a lot of fun and the environments have a lot of detail, though not as beautifully rendered as your typical Pixar affair. It’s the pacing and scattershot nature of all the jokes and visual gags that are to blame for a lot of the overall disconnect I personally had with the film. The script is next in line of complaints for too often using bland character jokes and rarely bringing anything really intriguing to the table- granted it works on a kids movie level, but lands more often than not on a thud when trying more adult related jokes.

I believe it should go without saying that I never expected HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA to shatter my expectations for animated features, so based on that alone it’s par for the course. The entire film is very inoffensive and in the spirit of fast moving fun entertainment it more than fits the bill. Being stamped with a label as shallow entertainment is usually less than flattering, but in the realm of movies targeted at kids HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA at least deserves to hold its head high as a piece of fluff cinema. There are no deep introspective themes to explore in any frame of this film, but that’s not always a bad thing.

Rating: B

Movie Review: Cars 2 (2011)

Pixar does not churn out films quite as frequently as other studios, but when they do they produce product that is decidedly polished and at the very least entertaining for the target audience. I also appreciate that Disney and Pixar don’t follow their sequels with ridiculous extra titles after the number unlike a certain Hasbro toy brand. CARS entered the elite list of movies that Pixar has produced for the kiddos and I have to admit I was not fully on board with it like I was with almost every other Pixar movie, but I liked it. CARS 2 follows in its footsteps by not being anything I can confidently say just about anyone can enjoy, but at the very least the kids can have fun in the continued misadventures of Mater and Lightning McQueen.

This time around Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) sort of takes a backseat to his best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). Mater mistakenly gets wrapped up with super spies Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) as they are trying to uncover a mischievous plot. The plot is a group of junky cars to derail the emergence of Miles Axlerod’s alternative fuel that threatens to make good old fashioned gas almost obsolete. The stage is a World Grand Prix that Axlerod has organized in which all the competitors are using the alternative fuel. Mater works McMissile and Shiftwell to stop the conspirators while Lightning McQueen is engaged in a competition with Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) to prove who the fastest car in the Grand Prix is.

CARS 2 sees the disappearance of the charm that elevated the original to being as enjoyable as I thought it was and replaced it with a very generic tale of friendship with the inner workings of a spy action movie. The good news is that I actually really liked everything involving Michael Caine’s McMissile character which was all the spy action, but the reliance of Mater this time around gets a little old. I know the kids seem to really enjoy the rusty tow truck, but past a few chuckles I get from the character I have a hard time grappling him as the main character. Everything between Mater and McQueen seemed fit more for a CARS TV show or one of the shorts than a full length feature. Even Owen Wilson seemed to phoning this one in as his voice work left a little something to be desired.

The original CARS ranks at the bottom of my favorite Pixar movies, even though I still liked it, but CARS 2 is going to take over that parking space. Don’t get me wrong though, I didn’t completely hate CARS 2, I just don’t think that it comes close to deserving the Pixar logo in the credits. The animation is great as always; the backdrops, explosions and little details all look fantastic. One nice touch that was very minor but got a chuckle out of me was a quick shot of cars gambling at a craps table and the player throws a set of the rear view mirror hanging dice; a minor detail that was very clever and funny. CARS 2 is full of small details that I found clever, it’s just a shame that I didn’t feel the same about the rest of the film.

While Pixar movies shy away from the tacked on extended titles, there never a missed opportunity to do a play on words with cars and the names of the characters and that tradition is extended in CARS 2. We have characters like Finn McMissile, Holley Shiftwell, Brent Mustangburger, Miles Axlerod and Mel Dorado. There are no additions to the cast that stand out that well aside from Michael Caine and John Turturro, but George Carlin and Paul Newman are quite missed as the voices of Doc and Fillmore (Doc Hudson is missing completely as a matter of fact). Aside from some of the lazy voice acting there are other suspect omissions; one being that through most of the film the Sheriff is not shown, maybe I missed him, but I only saw him come seemingly out of nowhere in the final minutes.

CARS 2 is also without any memorable music number; the first at least had a rendition of “Life is a Highway” to remember at the end. After walking out of CARS 2 I cannot pick out anything in the score or soundtrack that made any type of impression.

It’s not all doom and gloom in the frames of CARS 2 though. Pixar’s animation never disappoints and I am an admirer of just about any and all computer animated features. A Pixar movie never skimp on the small seemingly unimportant details, most that some children probably wouldn’t give a second thought but knows there is an audience that will catch on and enjoy them. There are some funny moments to break up the dull stretches. Towards the end while the message the film pushes forward regarding accepting yourself rather than trying to hide who you are is universal and relatable, I can’t help but feel like it is slightly heavy handed. It seems a little watered down, as if the filmmakers don’t think kids could grasp it any other way and since they have characters that kids fell in love with it feels like they didn’t put much work into the story. Animation is the crutch that the filmmakers lean on to tell the story and the animation contains nearly everything clever about the film.

With the Pixar brand attached to CARS 2 it’s safe to say that I had expected a much better end result than what was delivered. However, even a subpar Pixar movie has entertainment value, even if it’s more disappointing than endearing. Given the quality of films from the studio over recent years, even Pixar gets the benefit of the doubt. CARS 2 at times feels like a blatant cash grab that fails to be as clever as it thinks it is with its script and more impressive and funny on a visual level. I can say without a doubt that I do not need another CARS film just as I didn’t need this sequel, but now that it’s here I siphoned as much entertainment out of it as I could. CARS 2 is an example of filmmakers doing very little at the wheel than setting the cruise control and periodically weaving around obstacles. When the film does take a turn it has its moments, but does very little but eat miles and doesn’t fully justify the trip.

Movie Review: UP

I can’t recall watching a Disney/Pixar movie that I have not enjoyed or just outright loved. UP is no exception and will go down as possibly one of my favorites if not my absolute favorite Pixar film.

It begins as we meet Carl, as a young boy at an old movie theater watching a documentary about his favorite explorer. On his wasy home he meets a loud young girl Elle, using a house as a blimp, most likely, and the two hit it off and fall in love. We proceed through a montage of their life that’s both touching and heartbreaking as disney loves to put us through a gammit of emotion.

After the montage we are in present day as Carl wakes in his house surrounded by city construction. As we learn more about his situation he meets a young wilderness explorer looking to claim his last badge by assisting the elderly. Carl sends him off in search of a bird he makes up and runs into trouble through an altercation with a construction worker and then through court order must pack his belongings to prepare to live in a retirement center.

Carl then decides the only thing to do is float his house to Paradise Falls as a last tribute to his late wife but unknowingly at first brings the young wilderness explorer along with  him throughout the adventure.

The Film is as touching, funny, charming, and emotional as any work Pixar has produced. The characters are endearing with the exception of the villain in the story, who is at first likeable then just takes a hard nosedive to heartless and loathesome. Aside from the two main characters we are introduced to two animal companions you grow to love as much if not more than Carl and his young friend.

I found myself laughing more often than not during the duration of the film, especially the moments involving the talking dogs as those scenes seem to be the ones that stand out for me and the more obvious comedic centerpiece of the film

In the end I was very moved by the film, and found myself very tied to the outcome of the adventure the characters were involved in. It would be very hard to not love what Pixar put on to the screen here.

Rating: 9/10