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

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Logan (Full Review)

I remember watching the very first X-Men film on opening day back in July of 2000. Even though several changes had been made to the source material, I came out of the theater thoroughly pleased. One of the biggest reasons for the success of that film, and why the franchise is still chugging along 17 years later, is because of Hugh Jackman. Sure, he isn’t 5’3″ like his comic book counterpart, but Jackman has embodied the scraggly persona of The Wolverine so much so that it’s hard to imagine anyone else ever playing the role. But all good things must come to an end, and after 9 films, it’s time for Jackman to wear the claws and muttonchops for the last time.

cuaiczwueaaid_w-jpg-largeLogan takes place in 2029. Most mutants have died off and the hero once known as the Wolverine is now a sickly old man who has been reduced to being a limo driver. Along with an albino mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant), Logan spends his days tending to former X-Men leader, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who is now a senile 90-year old man prone to dangerous seizures. Logan’s depressing life is thrown back into chaos when he becomes caught in the crossfire of a bounty hunting cyborg (Boyd Holbrook) searching for a young mutant girl (Dafne Keen) with similar powers to Logan’s.

For starters, this is NOT your children’s X-Men movie. Hell, this isn’t even your teenager’s X-Men movie. Filled with extreme violence, profanity in every other sentence, and even one scene of brief nudity, Logan has more in common with Deadpool than it does with any of Jackman and Stewart’s past films in the franchise. But that should only matter to anyone bold enough to ignore the ‘R’ rating. Like Deadpool, this film isn’t made for wholesome family fun. If the other X-Men films are comic books, this is a full on gritty, western graphic novel.

Logan feels like a story that has matured with audiences who grew up with the franchise and the Wolverine character. We’ve seen Wolverine deal with searching for his past and learning to be part of a team. But we’ve never seen the character experience having to outlive all of his closest friends. In that sense, Logan provides a story that makes the character feel more tangible than ever before and raises the question of what becomes of heroes when they’re down to their last leg?

The action sequences are gory, intense entertainment. But the family dynamic is undoubtedly the best part of Logan. Seeing the character being forced into a parental role brings a wonderful sense of heart to the film and the chemistry between Jackman and Dafne Keen is absolutely beautiful from start to finish. An even better dynamic perhaps, is the one shared between Jackman and Stewart’s Charles Xavier.

Professor X and Wolverine are the two most iconic characters in the franchise, so it’s fitting that they should share this last ride. This older, broken Charles Xavier is something we’ve never seen before. He has a potty mouth and has little to no control over his powers, and yet it never feels like he isn’t the same man that started the X-Men. The constant desire to nurture and teach is still there and more importantly to this film, the need to love, cherish and want the best for a friend, and pupil is what makes the dynamic between Charles and Logan incredibly emotional this time around.

Though darker and a bit more emotional than past X-Men films, there is still a healthy dose of effective humor throughout. Most of it comes from the sheer organic chemistry between the cast.  Even Boyd Holbrook’s antagonist, who is more bark than bite, manages to bring enough slick, Texas southern charm to make him an enjoyable character (He could’ve been great in the role of a certain Cajun mutant… but I digress).

Things do start to drag in the last act so the film could’ve probably shaved off about 15 minutes here and there. And try not to give yourself a headache by thinking about where this film fits in with the timeline of the others. Personally, I’ll take compelling stories and characters over continuity any day so consider these to be minor flaws. In the end, this isn’t just one of the best X-Men films. What Director James Mangold and Hugh Jackman have created is a bold, deeply earnest sendoff to an iconic character that is nothing short of a masterpiece.

FINAL GRADE: A

X-Men: Days of Future Past Review

14 years ago, Director Bryan Singer started a mini-revolution with the first X-Men movie. Once upon a time, superhero movies were just special effects laden cash cows. But with X-Men, studios realized that the superhero genre could be visually appealing while also providing strong social commentary and important messages.

ImageUnfortunately for the X-Men franchise, the series lost its way when Singer departed following 2003’s X2. While it has its moments, Brett Ratner’s poorly executed X-Men: The Last Stand is a disappointment compared to its predecessors and the less said about 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the better. But, as Professor X so eloquently states in this newest installment, just because you stumble, doesn’t mean you’re lost forever.

Bryan Singer makes his triumphant return to the franchise with its most ambitious film yet. Days of Future Past molds key cast members from the original trilogy (Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore) with the brilliant cast of the 2011 prequel X-Men: First Class (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult). Time travel can be a tricky thing in science fiction, but Singer’s script uses it masterfully. Here, the remaining X-Men are now living in a dystopian future where robot Sentinels have triggered mutant holocaust. Their last hope is to send Wolverine (Jackman) into the past to lift young Professor X (McAvoy) out of searing depression and break young Magneto (Fassbender) out of prison in order to prevent Mystique (Lawrence) from assassinating a scientist (Peter Dinklage) and triggering their bleak future.

If you’re hoping to see X-Men 4, you might be a tad disappointed here. While the original cast provides some magnificent action sequences along with a few new characters (Fan Bing Bing’s Blink is my particular favorite), this is most certainly an X-Men: First Class sequel. That, however, isn’t a bad thing in the slightest. McAvoy and Fassbender are once again awe-inspiring. Fassbender’s portrayal of Magneto is so passionate that you want to follow him even if you realize he’s a dangerous extremist. McAvoy’s performance as a broken Charles Xavier searching for a reason to hope again is arguably the best in series history. They are the glue that holds the eye popping special effects and action sequences together to form a story of faith and redemption.

There is more plot and emotion in this film than any X-Men movie before it, but it still fits in some of the best action sequences ever seen on film (Just wait til you see Evan Peters’ Quicksilver). Singer not only manages to fittingly bring closure to the original films, but also provide us with a platform to reboot and improve the series going forward. The superhero genre is super profitable, so it is here to stay whether you like it or not. In fact, this is the third one in two months. Yet, Days of Future Past still manages to remain refreshing. It’s fitting that a movie with a message of hope is exactly what the franchise needed to revitalize itself and the genre.

FINAL GRADE: A