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Movies Review

Movie Review – Sing

Illumination’s latest movie, Sing, is a song and dance you’ve seen before.  Heck, the Muppets have done it twice at least.  Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey as a Koala) grew up loving the theater, and eventually (with financial help from his blue-collar dad) he buys a theater.  Buster’s not very good at running it, though, so it’s in pretty dire straits with the koala dodging the bank and having trouble paying his employees.  He’s got one last chance to save the theater, with an American Idol-ish singing competition.  Hijinks, of course, ensue.

The animation is fine, with some decent visual gags, and of course, the music works fine (it better, considering).  The one thing they needed to do is trim the cast.  There’s too many characters we are supposed to care about packed into too little movie to actually build them up.  They could easily drop the wannabe gangster mouse so we could flesh out the other characters a bit more.  This is fine for kids, probably, but adults will see through it as they rely on the fact we’ve seen these stories before to fill in the blanks.  At least the music is entertaining.  The voice cast does a perfectly fine job but nobody leaps out, except maybe Taron Egerton as the young gorilla Johnny.  Uh, no pun intended.

Sing is worth a matinee showing if your kids are clamoring to see it.  It’s cute.  Exactly what you expect happens right when it should.  Just don’t expect to think about it or remember much about it a few days later.  I’m still thinking about Kubo.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Kubo and the Two Strings

We saw Kubo and the Two Strings a while ago, but I’m just gathering my thoughts on it now.  It’s quite possibly my favorite Laika movie, and that’s saying something as Coraline gets a ton of play, especially this time of year.  Kubo deals with complex feelings with mind-numbingly gorgeous visuals.  It’s the sort of movie (like When Marnie Was There) where you are tearing up at the end and you’re not sure if you are happy or sad or both.

It’s funny, if I try to explain the plot, it sounds really convoluted.  I think my wife (who didn’t go see it with us) is still confused.  Watching the movie, though, everything is crystal clear, and it kept me so emotionally invested that I never saw the twists coming, even if I should have.  That’s a sign to me of a great movie.  Travis Knight is the director, having been a lead animator on many of Laika’s previous works, and does a fantastic job.  While you may scratch your head a bit at Matthew McConaughey as a beetle-Samurai, the voice cast does great work, with Art Parkinson (GoT’s Rickon Stark), Rooney Mara, George Takei, and Ralph Fiennes all pulling their weight.  There are scary parts, and creepy parts, so keep your younger/more sensitive kids close.

Really, just go see this movie.  You complain about everything being a sequel or franchise movie, nothing original?  SEE THIS.  On the biggest screen you can.  Bring a few tissues, and a child young enough that they’ll let you hug them afterwards.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Storks

We saw Storks at a preview screening, and it had some really cute parts and fun actiony bits.  However, I think they just had no idea how to start the movie to get to those bits and just decided to use the “I’m giving you the company as long as you don’t screw up this one final task” trope.  Throughout the movie characters keep asking Junior (the star that’s a stork, voiced by Andy Samberg) why he wants to be the boss, and he doesn’t know.  I don’t think the filmmakers did either.

Once they get past that part, the movie is fun.  Basically, storks used to deliver babies made in a magical device, but now people get their babies some other way.  Yeah, it’s strange.  Now storks deliver packages for an Amazon clone.  Tulip is the one human on Stork Mountain, a failed delivery after the stork assigned to her ‘fell in love’ with the cute little baby and refused to fulfill his duty.  She’s a free spirit, but doesn’t fit in despite her best efforts.  Tulip accidentally makes a new baby after getting a letter from a kid who really wants a baby brother (who has a whole subplot about busy parents reconnecting with him), and Junior and Tulip go on an adventure to get the baby to her family.

I normally wouldn’t have been that detailed about the plot but I feel like the commercials and early trailers didn’t really give you any idea what the movie was about.  I enjoyed it, all of the principal cast did a solid job with the voices, including Key and Peele as a pair of wolves that want to take the baby to raise as their own.  But there is one character so bad that it came way too close to ruining the movie – Stephen Glickman’s “Pigeon Toady”.  He speaks with an extremely annoying ‘Dude, braaaaah’ affectation that I don’t think one person found funny.  I never understand how a character that poorly made gets past everyone that sees the movie before release.

Storks has some funny bits and some heartwarming bits, but wasn’t a home run.  If your kids want to see it, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon, but it’s not required viewing.  If you do go, plug your ears whenever the pigeon is talking.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Kung Fu Panda 3

I previously held up Kung Fu Panda 2 as an example of how a sequel should be done.  I don’t think Kung Fu Panda 3 reaches those same heights but it’s still a fun ride.

Kung Fu Panda 3 picks up not long after 2 – Po is living his ideal life as the Dragon Warrior.  He gets to kick the butts of bandits and protect the valley, alongside his best friends, the Furious Five…until Master Shifu steps away from teaching and puts Po in charge.  His first attempts at teaching go poorly, and his life gets spun completely around when his father comes to town to bring him home (you’ll recall he learned Po was alive at the end of KFP 2).

What follows from here is basically a love letter to the Kung Fu movie genre, right down to the unconventional training techniques, montages, and “your chi is no match for mine!” moments.  You also get the expected drama from the goose that raised Po, Ping, who must learn to be happy for his son and support him in his new journey.

One of my favorite actors, JK Simmons voiced the villain, Kai, and Bryan Cranston was Li, Po’s father.  Both excellent additions.  One thing that bugged me throughout the movie was, I’m fairly certain they cut some scenes with Po and Tigress, possibly even more with Mei Mei (lady panda voiced by Kate Hudson).  After KFP 2 seemed to indicate Tigress developing feelings for Po, and Mei Mei basically built up as a complication to that, it seemed like it was dropped and everybody is just friends.  Oh, and while I thought the animation was great, it seemed like a few times they didn’t show something that would’ve been awesome – like Crane and Mantis fighting Kai.  Having more good moments for the Five keep them from sidekick status, and considering they were masters before Po, that’s a good thing.

Kung Fu Panda 3 was a fitting end to the trilogy, with Po maturing and coming full circle.  Like Toy Story 3, I’d be happy if this was the end but I believe they have another trilogy planned.  Considering the quality of the three movies so far, I’m good with that.

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Movies Review

Lightning Movie Reviews – Ant-Man, Ultron, Minions

I have some catching up to do, so you get some quick thoughts on some recent flicks.

Avengers: Age of Ultron – The first movie was so successful, so it would’ve been difficult to meet expectations here. Ultron definitely was a half-step down but still had some great action and humor. Ultron himself could’ve used a bit more menace – something Spader would’ve been capable of, and in the end Ultron comes off a bit odd. I loved the Vision though, and for all the worry about Quicksilver and the comparison to the X-Men movie version, he and Wanda were great in their limited role. Special shout-out to Hawkeye who filled the ‘heart of the team’ role admirably, and was probably the funniest of the Avengers.

Ant-Man – Okay, I really enjoyed Ant-Man. Thought of as the riskiest project in the MCU after Guardians of the Galaxy, especially with all the turmoil surrounding Edgar Wright’s departure. It didn’t catch fire like Guardians but has performed solidly, tracking to match or exceed Captain America: The First Avenger. The visuals were a ton of fun and seemed to keep some of the Edgar Wright weirdness around. I wish Hope could’ve been Wasp here but I’ll deal as long as they get her in for future MCU movies. I also hope we get to see more Hank Pym – I’d love to see Michael Douglas as Hank going toe to toe with Tony Stark.

Minions – Minions is the classic example of something that is funny in small bursts but drags when expanded out to feature-length. Like how Pinky and the Brain were funny on Animaniacs but significantly less so with their own 30 minute show. There were a few chuckles and it certainly wasn’t so bad as to be painful, but it’s telling that the biggest smile for me came from when (spoiler alert) young Gru appeared at the end. Catch it when it’s on FX or whatever.

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Movies Review

Inside Out and When Marnie Was There

I’m late posting this, but I saw both Inside Out and When Marnie Was There with the kids, and boy was THAT an emotional wringer.  But in the best way. Seeing them both that close together makes for an interesting comparison – both movies focus on a girl dealing with the emotions of adolescence.

Riley in Inside Out starts out with a great life – attentive parents, friends, her hockey team, but it all gets turned upside down when her Dad’s new job takes her away. Anna, in When Marnie Was There, starts out in that same dark place. She’s in foster care, sent to the country for the summer to help with her breathing. She feels cut off from everyone, with the final straw being when she find out Yoriko, her foster mother, gets a stipend for taking care of her and Anna believes that means no one would care for her without external benefits.

In both cases, we experience their journeys to maturity though in vastly different ways. For Riley, we see how she’s leaned on “Joy” her whole life, and how “Sadness” helps her by letting those around her know she needs support. Anna, by contrast, makes a surprising family connection from her early childhood, and makes some friends in the process. Both movies can bring the tears though Inside Out counters it with humor (hey, it’s Pixar!) whereas When Marnie Was There will leave you with a melancholy smile, if that make sense.

I highly recommend both movies, as both are gorgeous in their own ways, and emotionally affecting. We watched Marnie in Japanese with subtitles, but the English cast is superb (Hailee Steinfeld, Geena Davis, John C. Reilly, Grey DeLisle) and I can’t wait to hear their dub. Pre-order Inside Out and When Marnie Was There.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Big Hero 6

Took the kids to see this at an advanced screening, and had a blast.  It is technically a Marvel movie, though the book is not exactly well-known.  Consider this in the vein of How to Train Your Dragon, in that a lot of the same parts are there, but plenty was changed to work better in a movie.  Some light spoilers from here.

The movie focuses on Hiro Hamada, a 14 year old genius inventor living with his older brother and Aunt after the death of their parents (Disney, I know, right?).  He spends his time building fighting robots and hustling in the underground bot-fighting subculture in “San Fransokyo”.  That is, until he gets inspired by visiting his brother’s lab at college, where Tadashi and his nerdy friends are building all sorts of cool inventions.  He decides to finally stop brooding and go to college, and just needs to prove himself at a high-tech science fair.  However, tragedy strikes, and Hiro is again dealing with great loss.

That’s where Baymax (the soft, inflatable robot) comes in.  Tadashi built Baymax to be a healthcare bot (based on real-world research into making robots friendlier) and picking up on Hiro’s distress, Baymax does whatever he can to help Hiro.  He get’s Hiro and Tadashi’s school friends involved and allows the ‘upgrades’ so Hiro can look for the culprit behind the fire that killed his brother.

The movie is beautiful – the stylized San Francisco/Tokyo hybrid city is super-cool.  The bit where Hiro and Baymax fly for the first time takes me right back to the pure joy of Tony Stark’s first outing in the Mark II suit.  The movie slows down a bit in the middle but my kids had no problems staying with it.  There is one twist in the plot as far as who the villain is – genre savvy parents might figure it out, but the smaller ones will be surprised.  The movie definitely plays with the concept of a sympathetic villain.

We had a great time, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again (and if my kids have their way, again and again and again).  It won’t capture the world the way Frozen did, but that’s a tough act to follow.  Definitely on par with Wreck-It Ralph.  See it.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Ender’s Game

Note:  my love of the book predates any knowledge of OSC’s deplorable politics and views on gays.  Not discussing that here.

I have a long history with the book Ender’s Game.  My brother gave it to me to read after he read it and loved it, I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old.  It blew my mind, and it, along with my family’s love of Star Trek, kicked off my life-long love of science fiction.  So yeah, my brother and I have been waiting for a decent big-screen adaptation for 25 years.  Is this it?  Let’s take a look.

The first thing you have to remember is, no book or TV show or whatever survives it’s trip to the Hollywood blockbuster zone unscathed.  There are several aspects of the book that would make a movie unfilmable – especially the fact that the main character would have to age from 6 to 12.  The timeline is changed, so kid actors that can actually act can be used.  Sub-plots are minimized or left out.  It’s Ender’s story, so the Locke/Demosthenes stuff is left out.  It wouldn’t be very exciting, to be honest, though it leaves Peter as a common bully and not a flawed genius, like his brother and sister.

Visually, the thing that has to work is Battle School.  I love what they did with it here, having the Battle room glassed in looks fantastic, and the suits are sweet.  It’s telling that the main complaint many people have with the movie is that it moved too quickly.  But it’s already 2 hours, and more time would’ve been a lot to ask of a YA movie.

I was impressed when the casting announcements were made, and for the most part, it’s great.  Harrison Ford as Graff is great, especially the scenes where he’s bouncing off Viola Davis’s Major Anderson.  Asa Butterfield does Ender right, somehow making you believe in this kid and root for him, despite his obvious capability for violence and war.  Abigail Breslin’s Valentine doesn’t get much to do, again, her main plot wasn’t in the movie.  Hailee Steinfeld as Petra did a solid job, I loved the scene where she’s teaching him to shoot.  Gavin Hood et al resisted the love interest angle with just a few lingering looks that were suitably understated.  The rest of the kids were fine, with a mix of ex-Disney channel alums and other young stars.  Moises Arias had it tough as Bonzo, though.  He’s pretty short, and I remember the book having that as a fairly even matchup between he and Ender.  There wasn’t enough development for Bonzo to give him any hints of a Napoleon complex, or to establish him as some hand to hand master, so the fight in the shower just seemed like a mis-match.

Other problems?  Other than rushing a lot of things, we don’t get much of Command school.  I know montages get made fun of, but one or two would’ve served this movie.  They mis-use “The enemy’s gate is down” at the end, but the aftermath of that battle works pretty well, so I’ve forgiven them.  It’s also odd to think that the cocoon was sitting walking distance from them this whole time, exacerbated by the fact of a LIVE FORMIC QUEEN just hanging out in there.  The queen is able to speak into Ender’s mind in the books, even when in the cocoon, so while the live queen makes sense for non-fans, it’s tough to believe here.

On the whole, I really enjoyed the movie.  I kind of wish they could’ve made two movies, or a mini-series with this budget though, so everything could be juuuust right, but after 25 years, it wasn’t happening.  It’s better than I hoped.  Fans of the book probably already saw it, non-fans, it’s worth a matinee showing for you.

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Featured Movies Review

Movie Review – The Croods

533_fullwidthI almost didn’t go see The Croods.  When I was just seeing the stand-ups and posters in the theaters, it didn’t appeal to me.  Cavemen really do little for me – how many jokes can you make about them, anyway?  Early clips and trailers did little to disuade me from that notion.  What actually got me interested was seeing that Chris Sanders was behind it.  Lilo and Stitch and How to Train your Dragon are big hits around here, and enjoyable for all ages, so I took the two oldest kids to check it out.  Everybody loved it.  Sure, it had some old jokes, but old jokes are still funny if well executed.  There’s more heart here than you realize – it kind of sneaks up on you in classic Chris Sanders fashion.

If you’re looking for a good family movie to see while you’re waiting for Despicable Me 2 or Monsters University, this is it.  Bring a few tissues, and prepare to ooh and aah at the visuals.

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Featured Movies

Best Animated Film 2011 – Which Should Be Nominated?

As seen at Slashfilm, there will be at least 18 eligible animated movies to get Oscar nominations this year, which means there could be 5 nominees in the category.  I’ve actually seen most of them, aside from the four foreign ones and the ones releasing in the next few weeks.  With Pixar’s only entry the underwhelming Cars 2, chances are you could be seeing an underdog take the award this year.  Mark your nominees in this poll:

Oscars: Best Animated Feature Nominees

  • Kung Fu Panda 2 (40%, 2 Votes)
  • Rango (20%, 1 Votes)
  • The Adventures of Tintin (20%, 1 Votes)
  • Rio (20%, 1 Votes)
  • Cars 2 (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Chico & Rita (0%, 0 Votes)
  • A Cat in Paris (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Alois Nebel (0%, 0 Votes)
  • The Smurfs (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Happy Feet Too (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Arthur Christmas (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Puss in Boots (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Winnie the Pooh (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Mars Needs Moms (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Gnomeo & Juliet (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Hoodwinked Two! (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Wrinkles (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 3

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You can pick up to five movies.  For reference, I’ve seen Rango, Kung Fu Panda 2, Rio, Gnomeo & Juliet, Mars Needs Moms, and plan to see Puss in Boots and The Adventures of Tintin.  May see Cars 2 at some point soon also.  My daughter saw Winnie the Pooh without me.  For me, Rango, Kung Fu Panda 2 (which I said was just about the perfect sequel), and Rio should all be nominees.  I’m thinking Tintin gets one with the Spielberg/Jackson connection, and the fact that it sounds like a pretty darn good movie.  I wouldn’t be surprised (as mentioned in the Slashfilm article) if one of the foreign movies gets in as the fifth nominee.

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Featured Movies Review

Kid Movie Reviews – Coraline

I finally got to see Coraline last night, on TV even though I have a DVD copy, and enjoyed it immensely.  If you are not familiar with it (or the Neil Gaiman book it is based on), Coraline Jones is an 11 year old girl who craves her parents’ attention.  Especially since they just moved away from where she grew up and her friends.  Unfortunately, they are busy with a garden catalog they are writing on a deadline and don’t have time for her.

Coraline explores the house (subdivided into apartments) and meets the eccentric neighbors before discovering a small door that was wallpapered over.  It seems to lead nowhere until she explores it at night, and discovers a magical ‘Other’ world just like her normal one…except everyone there caters to her, and has buttons sewn over their eyes.  There’s an Other Mother who cooks wonderful meals and plays games, and Other versions of everyone (except the stray cat).  Coraline loves every minute in the Other world, though she always wakes up back in her own bed.

As you can imagine, all is not as it appears.  I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen/read it, but it is well worth your time.  Coraline is animated in the stop-motion stylings of Henry Selick, the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach.  It’s exactly right for this movie as it captures the beauty and creepiness equally well.  It can be a little scary for younger (or sensitive) kids, as my daughter did bury her head in my shoulder a few times…but she wanted to see it through to the end.

If you are looking for something different to watch – especially something that fits in with Halloween – Coraline is an excellent choice.  It also works for those of you with daughters who’d like a movie with a female protagonist who isn’t a princess.