Incredibles 2 (Full Review)

The wait is finally over! It’s hard to believe it’s been 14 years since Brad Bird directed the Disney/Pixar classic. Most of the Pixar films are brilliant, but The Incredibles is my all time favorite. But not all Pixar sequels are created equal. So despite deep excitement, Incredibles 2 had to live up to lofty expectations of being more like Finding Dory than Cars 2.

The_Incredibles_2Super strong Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), his super stretching wife Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), his speedster son Dash (Huck Milner), his force field creating daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), and his best friend Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) jump back into action to save the city from the evil Underminor (John Ratzenberger). But their destructive heroics are unfortunately met with more government scrutiny that forces them back into hiding. Luckily for them, Elastigirl is approached by a pair of siblings (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) who want to use their Telecommunications company to prove to the world that superheroes are still necessary. While she battles a new villain called the Screenslaver, Mr. Incredible has to handle the equally arduous tasks of helping Dash with his homework, dealing with Violet’s teenage angst, and figuring out baby Jack Jack’s unhinged new powers.

The film’s plot isn’t as concise and its biggest flaw is its villain. The “twist” can be seen a mile away by any viewer who isn’t in grade school and the horde of new characters never make their mark outside of showcasing some visually appealing superpowers. Thus, Incredibles 2 never quite comes together as well as its predecessor. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t an absolute fun, family film.

The action, which is more plentiful this time around, is absolutely stellar. Elastigirl being at the forefront creates several exhilarating moments. Her powers are far more interesting than Mr. Incredible’s, so we are treated to some very creative sequences like a fantastic motorcycle chase scene. There are also plenty of laughs. Baby Jack Jack gets more screen time and absolutely steals the show. His interaction with Edna Mode (Brad Bird), the hilarious superhero fashion designer from the first film, is one of the funniest scenes in either movie.

It’s no shame not living up to a transcendent previous film, so don’t feel too disappointed if Incredibles 2 isn’t quite a homerun. Maybe a decade from now when they greenlight Incredibles 3, we’ll get a story that resonates a little more. But, if great humor and eye-popping action with endearing characters is all we get out of this long awaited sequel, we should count ourselves lucky for the experience.

FINAL GRADE: B

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Coco (Full Review)

No one brings grown men to tears like Pixar. Up, WALL-E, Inside Out, any Toy Story movie… those are just a few of the instant classic films that the Disney owned studio has created. Their newest film, Coco, is another example of their ability to create emotional, yet fun animated, family entertainment.

Coco_(2017_film)_posterCoco is the story of a young Mexican boy named Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) who loves music and has dreams of becoming a famous musician. But Miguel is forbidden to play or even listen to music due to his great great grandfather walking out on the family to pursue life as a musician. So, his great great grandmother Imelda (Alanna Ubach) instilled a generational hatred for music that keeps Miguel from following his dreams.

But on Dia De Muertos, a holiday when deceased ancestors visit their living relatives, Miguel discovers that his great great grandfather was a famous musician named Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) and decides to sneak into his grave site and steal his unique guitar to perform at a talent show. The act of thievery traps him in the land of the dead where he must travel to find Ernesto before the holiday is over or be trapped forever. Helping him on his journey, is a trickster named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) who needs Miguel’s help to preserve his memory in the living world less he cease to exist.

Coco is nothing short of a marvel of storytelling. Like many of the Pixar films, the story is a brilliantly paced adventure with the appropriate touch of heart and Disney fairy tale magic. Though as hard headed as he is brave, Miguel is a character that is easy for audiences to gravitate toward and his companion Hector is charismatic and holds a backstory that is equally heartwarming. What stands out most about the perfectly crafted script, is that it allows each of its characters to grow so that by the end, Miguel learns the value of family, and the family feels genuinely apologetic about holding him back.

One of the greatest hallmarks of Pixar isn’t just its intricate storytelling, but also its attention to detail. Coco is even more visually stunning than Pixar’s greatest creations. The animators craft the land of the dead as a marvelous spectacle of light and sound. Little details like the texture of objects, the flowing of water, and the complex movements of fingers along a guitar make the environment feel as real as a live action film.

As a children’s film, it may not be as splendid for the youngest of viewers. There are a few eerie and dark aspects to the film, like murder, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise from a studio that has never shied away from the concept of sudden death before. There also aren’t as many heavy and memorable comedic moments as you’d find in some of the Pixar classics, but holding Coco to the standard of family films rather than Pixar greats makes it a sensational creation none the less. Coco succeeds in delivering its message with near tear inducing effectiveness and also deserves the utmost credit for being true to the heritage and culture of its setting.

FINAL GRADE: A

The Lego Ninjago Movie (Full Review)

Like most, I was skeptical when a movie franchise based off of LEGOs was announced. Then I saw the Lego Movie. It wasn’t great, but it was good enough to be seen as something more than a soulless cash grab. Lego Batman came along in 2016 and set the bar even higher with a witty and fun film for all ages. Now comes Lego Ninjago, a big screen version of the popular line of toys that also happens to be a TV show.

The_Lego_Ninjago_MovieTaking place on the island of Ninjago, this story revolves around six “ninjas” who use giant robots called Mechs to defend the city from the Evil Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux). Under the tutelage of ninja master Woo (Jackie Chan), the team consists of macho earth ninja Kai (Michael Pena), humanoid ice wielding robot Zane (Zach Woods), panicky lightning ninja Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), feisty water ninja Nya (Abbi Jacobson) and her obnoxious fire ninja brother Cole (Fred Armison). Leading the team is Lloyd (Dave Franco), a teenage outcast who lives with his mother (Olivia Munn) and just happens to be the son of their arch nemesis.

In many ways, this movie is the epitome of my fears when I first heard about the LEGO movie franchise. Kids who play with LEGOs have a ton of imagination, but that imagination can concoct a ton of random, scatter brained adventures that just don’t translate to a cohesive story. The father/son dynamic between Garmadon and Lloyd that dominates most of the narrative is fine, but all of the sequences that surround them are noisily uncoordinated. From the goofy start, the action in the movie moves like it’s being made up as it goes along. And that may be fine for children, but it’s just annoying to anyone who stopped playing with LEGOs years ago.

There’s no point in most of the characters even being ninjas, as they’re more like members of Voltron or Captain Planet’s Planateers than Power Rangers. Many of the jokes are forced too, with the few comedic moments coming from the villain. By the end, if you haven’t gotten bored, you’ll just be hoping that the creators of this mess can scale it back a bit for the next installment.

FINAL GRADE: D

The Emoji Movie (Full Review)

Pixar kind of already did this before. In fact, between talking toys and cars, the animated film giant has cornered the market on turning odd concepts into critically acclaimed, box office gold. So it was only a matter of time before someone tried to replicate the formula. Enter Sony Animations’ The Emoji Movie, an obscure idea to turn phone emojis into a kid friendly comedy.

The_Emoji_Movie_film_posterT.J. Miller stars as Gene, a ‘meh’ emoticon who hopes to follow in his parents lethargic footsteps (Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge) and present the perfect ‘meh’ face when called upon via text by his teenage user. When Gene crumbles under the pressure, the ‘Smiley’ emoji (Maya Rudolph) sends a horde of robots to take him out before the entire phone is deleted. Gene’s only help is to journey with the forgotten ‘Hi-5’ emoji (James Corden) and a mysterious hacker emoji (Anna Faris) to ‘The Cloud’ where he can be reprogrammed as the perfect ‘meh’.

Filled with enough bad puns to make a 90’s action movie director cringe, The Emoji Movie is relatively short on laughs. James Corden and Patrick Stewart’s ‘Poop’ Emoji provide a few snickers here and there, but not enough to overtake a horde of eye rolls that will undoubtedly accompany most of the people old enough to understand the film’s jokes. When it isn’t failing at puns and sight gags, the movie is trying its best to make social commentary that also feels redundant.

From the start of this predictable narrative, the film’s premise is hard to get behind. The characters that aren’t bland, like Miller’s Gene who is completely void of comedic wit, are just flat out annoying like Rudolph’s insufferable villain. Even the message, “Be Yourself”, feels wholly played out in a children’s film, so Emoji Movie never manages to stand out as something more than a weak copy cat of something we’ve seen done with more originality. Director Tony Leondis deserves credit for some solid visuals and at least making an attempt to be endearing, but by the time the credits role it’s hard to feel any emotion about The Emoji Movie other than… ‘meh’.

FINAL GRADE: D

Despicable Me 3 (Full Review)

Pixar and Dreamworks aren’t the only ones who can make great animated films. When Despicable Me first arrived in 2010, it became a surprise hit thanks to its endearing family story that molded seamlessly with a brand of Looney Tunes-like slapstick humor. But after a solid 2013 follow up film, the animators at Illumination tested their luck by making a Minions spinoff that fell flat. With Despicable Me 3, there is a need to rekindle the old magic to avoid the franchise from becoming stale.

Despicable_Me_3_(2017)_Teaser_PosterDespicable Me 3 picks up where Part 2 left off. Former supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) continues to raise his three adopted girls Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Agnes (Nev Scharrel), and Edith (Dana Gaier) while serving as a secret agent with his new wife Lucy (Kristin Wiig). After failing to capture an 80’s obsessed former child star turned supervillain (Trey Parker), Gru and Lucy lose their jobs as agents and are forced to seek refuge with Gru’s long lost wannabe villain twin brother, Dru.

If Minions almost made you forget just how great the Despicable Me stories are, Despicable Me 3 thankfully has several moments that are a pleasant reminder. The family dynamic is once again wonderfully charming and the laughs are plentiful. The biggest flaw is in the addition of the wholly unnecessary and often annoying character of Dru, but by the end even he manages to fit into the dynamic without feeling out of place. As for the minions, they are thankfully back where they belong as the comedic sideshow where most of them are involved in a plot that requires them to break out of prison.

Like the villains in the previous films, Trey Parker’s Balthazar Bratt is meant to be less of an in depth character and more of just a comedic caricature. And what a caricature he is. Dancing to Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ while doing the “running man”, the character provides some good laughs even if you could care less about why he exists. Despicable Me 3, unlike the Minions spinoff, has a better understanding of what works best in the franchise and even if the story isn’t quite as memorable as parts 1 and 2, it manages to still be a wholesome and funny family adventure.

FINAL GRADE: B

MOORE REVIEWS Grading Scale:

A = Must See/Top 10 Nominee

B = Good film. Flawed, but still very entertaining

C = Not Bad, but highly flawed/Worthy of a Redbox

D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

F = I wanted to walk out/Don’t waste time or money

 

 

Cars 3 (Full Review)

Cars has always been the black sheep of the Disney Pixar family. The first film is pretty good, but its unwarranted sequel is the only purely bad film in the studio’s illustrious gallery. And yet, thanks to the magic of merchandising revenue, the sequel no one liked has begat the sequel no one asked for in Cars 3.

Cars_3_posterOwen Wilson returns to voice Lightning McQueen, the famed champion of racing in this world where vehicles replace people as living beings. When a sleeker, more dominant young racer named Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) threatens to force him into retirement, McQueen decides to work with a spunky young trainer named Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) in hopes of proving that his best days aren’t behind him. Larry the Cable Guy reprises his role as McQueen’s best friend Mater and Bonny Hunt returns as McQueen’s girlfriend Sally.

Cars 3 is as wholesome as ever, for better and worse. ‘G’ rated films have become increasingly rare, as more and more animated family films try to keep things as interesting as possible for older audiences while still remaining kid friendly. Thus, Cars 3 feels like the Nick Jr. to the rest of the animated world’s Nickelodeon. The jokes are pretty simple which makes things delightful enough to warrant a smile but never anything heavier than that. The story might also fail to interest any non-toddler as it lulls in the middle before finally becoming exciting in its final act.

While it is by no means on par with any of Pixar’s masterpieces, Cars 3 does deserve points for being far more necessary than its predecessor. It is undoubtedly a fun film for youngsters, even if their parents might dose off once or twice. And if you are a childless adult who scoffs at the idea that Pixar movies are only for kids, I suggest you pass on Cars 3.

FINAL GRADE: C

 

 

Redbox Reviews: Kubo & The Two Strings

Laika has quickly become a studio known for sensational filmmaking. Paranorman was one of my favorite films of 2012, and even though their last film, Box Trolls wasn’t as strong of a story, it still managed to dazzle with its unique animation and generally charming message. Their newest film, Kubo and the Two Strings, feels like an old bedtime story with all of the magic, mysticism, and heart that make old legends so entertaining.

kubo_and_the_two_strings_posterLike all of Laika’s films, Kubo and the Two Strings is a stop motion animated film. It tells the story of Kubo (Art Parkinson), a boy who lost his eye when his mother escaped with him after her magical father (Ralph Fiennes) and sisters kill her husband. When Kubo’s magical twin aunts (Rooney Mara) track him down, the boy must journey with his talking monkey guardian (Charlize Theron) and an amnesiac beetle samurai (Matthew McConaughey) to find the only thing that can protect him: his father’s legendary armor.

As mentioned, all of Laika’s film are gorgeously animated. Knowing the meticulous nature with which these films are made only adds to the splendor. But even if it didn’t look incredible to the eyes this film would still be a triumph. The story is filled with wondrous adventure and incredible action sequences that never slow. And at the heart of it all are some of the most endearing characters in any animated film. Monkey is a harsh, but caring mother figure and Beetle is a bumbling but brave sidekick. Even a mute, magical origami samurai that guides Kubo provides a touch of comic relief and a dash of nobility.

With memorable characters, great animation, soothing music, and a captivating story that is great for all ages (although perhaps a bit frightening for the youngest viewers), there is nothing to dislike about Kubo and the Two Strings. It is undoubtedly one of the best films of 2016, and if you failed to catch it in theaters as I did, then you should rush to your nearest redbox if you’re a fan of any period adventure film.

FINAL GRADE: A

The Lego Batman Movie (Full Review)

In case you were unaware, I love Batman. And like most Batman purists, I find enjoyment with every iteration of the character, from the campiness of Adam West’s 1960’s version and the 90’s Joel Schumacher films to the darker Christopher Nolan trilogy and the critically acclaimed animated series. A spinoff of the Lego Movie, Lego Batman combines all of the different incarnations into a fun, family friendly story about a brash, brooding hero whose greatest fear is being part of a family again.

the_lego_batman_movie_promotionalposterWill Arnett returns as the voice of Lego Batman/Bruce Wayne, a talented but arrogant hero whose prideful life as a loner is turned on its head when new Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) starts to steal his thunder. While the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) plans a scheme to take over Gotham City and prove to Batman that he is his one true arch nemesis, the Dark Knight struggles to share his mansion and crime fighting lifestyle with his butler, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) and his adopted son Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) who is both skilled and overtly dorky.

Like The Lego Movie, this film is filled with sight gags and enough puns to play a drinking game to if you’re my age. Hilarious easter eggs that hearken back to all of the different incarnations of Batman are enough to please fans while the goofy tone and wholesome message are perfect for families with young children. Each character plays a fun role and the growth experienced by the titular character is arguably the most nuanced of any Batman character on film to date.

The animated film genre has long been one that works best when a film can entertain children and adults alike. Lego Batman manages to encapsulate old fans and young ones with a film that mixes the quirkiness of legos and the action of a comic book film. With loads of cameos and jokes for all ages, Lego Batman is proof that the Dark Knight doesn’t always have to be dark to be entertaining.

FINAL GRADE: A

Sing (Full Review)

It’s been quite the year for animated movies. Disney set the bar high with three fantastic films in Zootopia, Finding Dory, and Moana. But Illumination (the folks behind the Despicable Me franchise) showed that they could create a fun film without minions with this summer’s Secret Life of Pets. Now they close out the year with Sing, an exciting concept aided by a stellar voice cast.

sing_2016_film_posterSing is the simple story of Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), a down on his luck koala bear whose rundown theater is about to be taken due to bankruptcy. His last ditch effort is to have a singing competition with a collection of vocally talented locals. There’s Johnny (Taron Egerton), the gorilla son of an unsupportive gangster father, Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) a stressed pig housewife with 25 kids, Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a teenage porcupine who is chosen for the competition over her jealous guitar playing boyfriend, Mike (Seth McFarlane) a rude crooning street rat, Meena (Tori Kelly), an elephant with a massive case of stage fright, and a confidently flamboyant German pig named Gunter (Nick Kroll). With a talented group, Buster is poised to prove his sheep best friend (John C. Reilly) wrong, if only his elderly iguana secretary (Garth Jennings) hadn’t accidentally put a $100,000 reward on the audition flyers.

The movie breaks no new narrative ground, but that isn’t the purpose of Sing. Instead, it’s a thoroughly wonderful experience because of the different characters and their arcs. They are all interesting, funny, and loveable. And the music is sensational. If you aren’t familiar with the vocal splendor of Tori Kelly, then you’ll be in for a marvelous surprise. Her voice is angelic and her shy, wholesome character is the heart and soul of a film filled with soulful characters.

The holidays should be about family and fun, and for that reason Sing manages to be a triumph without any fresh twists or turns. It delivers what it promises and gives some hefty laughs and heartwarming moments along the way. So while it might not be Academy award worthy, anyone who comes out of Sing without a smile on their face went in for the wrong reasons.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Holiday Quick Reviews

trolls_film_logoTROLLS One of the most popular children’s toys of the 90’s becomes a kids movie, ‘cause why not? Anna Kendrick stars as Poppie, princess of the happy-go lucky singing trolls who must team up with surly troll Branch (Justin Timberlake) to rescue her friends from big goblins who believe that eating the trolls are the only way to be happy. The movie is filled with covers of popular songs and a message about true happiness being something that comes from within not from what you put into your body or what you materially gain.

Filled with bright colors and enough pep to make even the most whimsical person gag a little, Trolls can be a bit much to any viewer over the age of five. Most of it I found downright annoying (the Trolls literally hug every hour). The plot, which feels almost exactly like the Smurfs, doesn’t take very many risks and none of the supporting characters do anything of significance. So while it may be a movie to take your kids to, if you don’t have any little ones, you might want to pass. FINAL GRADE: C

allied_filmALLIED Brad Pitt stars as Max, a Canadian spy who infiltrates Casablanca with a French spy (Marian Cotillard) named Marianne on a mission to assassinate a Nazi general. While posing as husband and wife, the two fall in love and once their mission is over, they marry in London and give birth to a baby girl in the midst of World War II. A year later, Max’s superiors suspect that his wife is actually a German spy and give him orders to kill her if their suspicions turn out to be true.

The film is intriguing throughout and carries a mysterious tone that makes it a worthy thriller. The problems stem from the relationship between Pitt and Cotillard’s characters. The two are great actors with solid chemistry, but the romance never truly has time to develop. Everything seems rushed in the beginning so it takes Pitt’s amicably desperate performance to even make us care whether Marianne lives or dies. Things wrap up well in the climax, but a better conceived construction of the romance would’ve made the film stand out much more. FINAL GRADE: B

nocturnal_animals_posterNOCTURNAL ANIMALS This dark and gritty film stars Amy Adams as Susan Morrow, an art gallery owner who’s marriage to a wealthy businessman (Armie Hammer) is slowly fading. One day, Susan receives an early copy of her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal)’s novel, Nocturnal Animals. In the story within a story, a husband (Gyllenhaal) on a road trip encounters thugs (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who kidnap his wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter, forcing him to get the help of a local sheriff (Michael Shannon) to find them. As Susan reads the violently grim story, she begins to notice the undertones that hearken to her past relationship.

There’s a way to be poignant and powerful without being overtly graphic. And here, director Tom Ford (yes the fashion designer) doesn’t seem to know whether he’s making a drama, a thriller, or a horror film. The overall narrative is void of subtlety and he seems hell bent on beating you over the head with blunt imagery that horrifies more than intrigues culminating in an equally depressing, albeit fitting, climax. The performances are strong, and sure, not all movie need to have a happy message, but watching a film should never feel as uncomfortable as it does here. FINAL GRADE: C-

office_christmas_partyOFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY It isn’t the holidays without a Rated-R holiday comedy. This year’s designated film in the genre unites an all-star cast  (Jenifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, Kate McKinnon, T.J. Miller, and Courtney B. Vance) in an outrageous twist on a holiday tradition. In the film, a failing software company seeks to avoid the closing of their branch by wooing a high end client with a Project X style party in their New York office building.

But, this isn’t remotely as charismatic or fun as Project X. None of the characters seem to have chemistry and most of them aren’t effective in this style of comedy. The ones that are (specifically Miller and McKinnon) seem bogged down by a script that doesn’t know how to flesh out characters. Even the party scenes that are supposed to be hilarious, seem recycled or forced. Last year’s The Night Before was a goofy, but fun romp that gave each of it’s leads time to be funny in their own way, but Office Christmas Party seems to inefficiently operate with the idea that loud and outrageous always equals funny. It doesn’t. FINAL GRADE: D