Tag Archives: animated

The LEGO Batman Movie – Review

22 Feb

Back when The LEGO Movie was released in 2014, I expected it to be one of the worst movies to hit theaters in a long time. I really thought I was about to sit through an advertisement for LEGOs that lasted over an hour and a half. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The LEGO Movie was one of the funniest movies I saw in a long time, and repeat viewings only seem to make it funnier. I will say I also had some hesitation about The LEGO Batman Movie. I thought maybe this was just going to be a watered down version of the first film, which is not something I wanted to see. I’m happy to report that The LEGO Batman Movie is another frenetic and brutally hilarious trip into this world made of LEGO bricks, even though it doesn’t quite match the energy of the first film.

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Gotham City has a lot of problems, but none of them are a match for the awesomeness of the self proclaimed best superhero ever, Batman (Will Arnett). After stopping the Joker (Zach Galifanakis) yet again, he is taken aback when the Joker says he values the ongoing hateful relationship that the two share, but Batman quickly shoots down that thought which leads the Joker to plot his greatest attack on Gotham to date. Meanwhile, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) has been announced as the new police commissioner who vows to unify the police force and make it so that Gotham doesn’t need to just rely on Batman for protection. This comes much to the chagrin of Batman, who knows the Joker is up to something devious. With his new protégé, Dick Grayson, aka Robin (Michael Cera), Batman is forced to come to the realization that he is going to need all the help he can get when the Joker unleashes an absurd amount of villains on Gotham from the mysterious Phantom Zone.

The biggest thing I have to say about The LEGO Batman Movie, which is what I said about The LEGO Movie, is that I love its relentless style of humor. When a movie has so much humor and jokes jam packed into it that I have to watch it more than once is something I consider to be a strong positive. The days since I’ve seen The LEGO Batman Movie, I still find myself laughing because I’ll remember a scene or a line that didn’t stick with me right away, but came back to me nonetheless. This movie isn’t quite as hilarious as the first film in this new franchise, but it still made me laugh harder and more often than any other movie I’ve seen recently. It’s a pretty common misconception that just because something is animated and rated PG that it is something made solely for kids. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and it’s worth noting that there’s plenty of jokes and references in this movie that are made just for all the adults in the audience.

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Beneath all the humor and over the top energy that makes this movie so great, there’s a lot of really good messages that can be thought about after the movie’s over. Again, these are messages that both kids and adults can understand and this film never panders to any specific demographic. There’s themes of friendship, family, and a very important one about self worth and knowing when to ask for help. It’s something a viewer of any age can really understand and support. Speaking of what’s hiding behind the barrage of humor, there’s an outrageous amount of Easter eggs, self referential jabs, and pop culture references. There’s enough to make your head spin, and and pop culture freak, comic book nerd, or cinephile will have a blast picking everything out.

Much like its predecessor, The LEGO Batman Movie has a very cool style and is animated very well. Things still look as if they could be done through stop motion using LEGO bricks, but it’s really just a very well done piece of computer animation. There were actually a few scenes in this where I was downright shocked by just how good looking it was. There’s one quick scene of a villain walking along the top of a plane in the beginning of the movie that got me hooked on the visuals, but the action sequences are what really sold this movie to me in terms of its animation.

Simply put, The LEGO Batman Movie is another relentlessly hilarious movie that gives me more hope for the LEGO movies to come. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the first film, but it’s a leg above a lot of the other comedies I’ve seen of recent. The jokes are non stop, the references and jabs at itself and other franchises is a lot of fun, and there’s even some good messages to take away from it all. The LEGO Batman Movie is a film that can lift anyone’s spirits and provide some much needed laughs.

Final Grade: A-

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Kubo and the Two Strings – Review

8 Sep

Since it’s foundation, animation company Laika has been behind some of the best animated movies in recent years. Their first three films, Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls, all have very unique stories and designs while also taking an alternative route to how family movies are made and the themes involved. Their latest movie, Kubo and the Two Strings, fits in very well with the rest of their filmography in that it tackles heavy subject matter and also isn’t the kind of happy go lucky animated movie you can expect from companies like DreamWorks. While it is a very alternative kind of family movie, it’s still a beautiful looking movie with great characters and is full of adventure which is what makes fantasy movies like this all about.

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Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a boy growing up secluded from most of civilization in medieval Japan. He provides for his sickly mother by going down from the mountain where he lives and performs shows with his magical origami paper and playing his shamisen. One night, after being in the town after dark, his evil aunts (both voiced by Rooney Mara) find him and attempt to bring him back to his evil grandfather, Raiden, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). Now on the run, Kubo meets his guardian, a monkey aptly named Monkey (Charlize Theron), who is tough as nails and will do anything to protect the boy. They soon meet Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a man cursed to live in the body of a beetle. Together, Monkey and Beetle aid Kubo on his quest to find the missing armor and sword of his deceased samurai father, which are the only means of defeating the Moon King and securing a safe future.

What really drew me into this movie was the beautiful stop motion animation, which is my absolute favorite form of the art. There something about the otherworldly, yet fluid movement of stop motion that makes it perfect for a fantasy film like this. After seeing Kubo and the Two Strings and reading a little bit about its production, I feel like it’s an absolute miracle it even exists. The patience required to make a feature length stop motion film is far greater than I can even perceive. Kubo and the Two Strings was painstakingly filmed over five years. That’s unbelievable to me, especially someone who doesn’t know the first thing about animating. The result is a beautiful world full of color and darkness, movement and breathtaking stillness. It lives and breathes in its own unique way, and is some of the best animation I’ve seen in a long time.

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While this is a gorgeous movie to look at, the story sometimes faltered for me. The main quest of Kubo and his companions traveling to find the lost armor of Kubo’s father is all well and good, and I was intrigued with it for the most part. My only problem is that the real threat doesn’t make itself known until near the end, and instead it is only talked about. I didn’t need Kubo to confront his enemy, the Moon King, right away, but it would’ve been good if he had more of a presence. On the flip side, Kubo’s ghostly aunts had some really cool scenes, and were probably my favorite part of the movie. If I’m talking about the story, I have to talk about the end. Without spoiling it, the end left me scratching my head. I’ve tried really hard to figure it all out, and I’m pretty sure I did, but I can’t say that my knowing what they were trying to do made the ending better. It all just kind of comes from left field without any warning.

While the story does have its flaws, there’s this mood that pervades throughout the entire movie that really hits you in the feels. For being a family movie, this is a very mature film that deals with mature themes and scenarios. In my opinion, there should be more families like this that don’t rely on cuteness and bright scenery to make a successful film for kids. I feel something like Kubo and the Two Strings is the movie that will provide the younger folk more about the truths of life. There’s a light side to Kubo and the Two Strings, but there’s also this pitch black darkness that sticks with the viewer all the way to the end credits. To put it in the simplest of terms, this is very mature family movie that is full of things for both adults and children to think on.

Kubo and the Two Strings is not a perfect movie, in fact I kind of wanted to like it a little more than I did, but it’s still a very strong and intelligent movie. The animation is out of this world and the content can get a lot heavier and more mature than you might expect. The only problem I can think of is a story that grew a little weak over time and a villain that didn’t make himself known nearly enough. Still, this is a movie that’s good for families of all ages to see. Who doesn’t love a good fantasy adventure?

Final Grade: B+

Anomalisa – Review

26 Jan

I’m proud to say that we are once again looking at one of Charlie Kaufman’s pieces of work. With films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindBeing John Malkovich, and Synecdoche, New York under his belt, it’s pretty safe to say that he is one of the most brilliant screenwriters alive, and quite possibly of all time. Now we have Anomalisa, a startlingly quiet film that comes at you like a sucker punch to the cerebellum. The joy of this movie comes from not only watching it and seeing what Kaufman has to say, but also the hours and days after that you will spend thinking about it.

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Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a self-help author who has traveled to Cincinnati to speak about his new book about becoming the best customer service representative you can be. While spending the night in his hotel, Stone becomes completely disassociated with reality and begins to see everyone as just one person (all voice by Tom Noonan). His night takes a hopeful turn when he hears a beautiful voice coming from down the hall. While investigating, he finds the source of the voice to be a young woman name Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is actually in town to see Stone speak. What follows is a night that may end up changing both of their lives, that is if Stone finally opens up about who he is and realizes the truths of other people.

Much like Kaufman’s other movies, part of the genius of Anomalisa is that it forces you to examine yourself and how you see the world and other people. What may turn some people off is that you may not like what you see when you actually look. This is exactly how I felt after I watched Synecdoche, New York, and even though these movies can make you feel a little bit less than spectacular, they do teach a very important lesson. Anomalisa, compared to his other work, isn’t quite as strange or complicated on the surface but once you think about it for a few days, you find many more layers that you never recognized before.

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When I first heard that Anomalisa was going to be a feature length stop motion film, I was thrilled. It seems like a such a perfect way for Kaufman to tell a story, and I honestly don’t think this movie would’ve packed the punch that it did if it wasn’t stop motion. This story was originally done as a sound play with the actors on different sides of the stage just reading the lines, and then it was conceived by both Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson as a 40 minute short film. The final run time ends up being an hour and a half, and my only gripe is that it might have worked better as a 40 minute short film. There’s a lot of scenes of Michael Stone just sort of sitting in his room, and I get that it’s supposed to show how mundane he views his life, but the movie might have progressed a little better as a short film.

Back to the stop motion. The animation in Anomalisa is really something to behold and I’ve quite honestly never seen anything like it. My experience with stop motion films are mostly things like The Nightmare Before ChristmasThe Boxtrolls, and Coraline, which of course aren’t the only stop motion features, but they’re the ones I feel the most familiar with. The animation and puppets in this film are something completely different in that they feel so close to being real people. This kind of goes with the themes of the movie. It reinforces the question the movie is asking about what it means to be human and what separates us from just being these walking machines programmed to mindlessly go about our everyday lives without question.

Charlie Kaufman knocks it out of the park once again with Anomalisa and has shown that the most human stories can be told without humans actually being onscreen. This is a movie that forces you to look at yourself and possibly even learn a thing or two. It’s a sad film, but in some ways it’s also a happy one. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s an exhausting emotional roller coaster that won’t be easy to forget.

Inside Out – Review

26 Jun

There’s movies that come out once every so often that grab you by the head and makes it loud and clear that you are watching a work of greatness. Fortunately for Pixar, they’ve done that quite a bit with the Toy Story films, Monsters Inc., and Up.  I’m proud to say that they’ve done it again with their latest film, Inside Out. I didn’t know a lot about what the movie was about going into it other then the basic idea of it, nor was I extraordinarily excited about it, but this movie completely blew me away and will have me thinking for weeks.

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Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias) is a normal young girl with loving parents who one day has to undergo a move from her house in Minnesota, leaving her hockey team and friends behind, to San Francisco. While normally keeping things under control in her mind’s control room, Riley’s emotions begin spiraling out of control not being sure on how to handle something like this. Joy (Amy Poehler) is getting increasingly worried that Sadness (Phyllis Smith) is going to turn all of Riley’s “core memories” into sad ones, which she doesn’t need at this point in her life. This clash of interests sends Joy and Sadness on a journey through Riley’s mind, leaving Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) in charge. While Joy and Sadness work to get Riley’s life back on track, the other emotions may inadvertently cause her to do something drastic.

While Toy Story and it’s sequels appealed to kids who obviously love their toys and Monsters Inc. let kids face their fears in a humorous way, I’m not very sure that Inside Out will stay with kids as much as it will teenagers and adults. This movie deals with complex human emotions using different personifications and metaphors to explain them, that I feel only people who is of the age to wrap their head around these ideas are going to feel the overwhelming happiness and appreciation that I have for this movie. Like the emotions and processes of though that it is personifying, this is actually a pretty complex film.

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What other movie can you say actually had its characters ride the Train of Thought? That’s only one example of the fine creativity that is at work here. There’s another great scene where a few of the characters enter the realm of abstract thought, resulting in some great animation but also unusually intelligent psychological banter. Really, the whole world of Riley’s mind is a place to behold. It’s so colorful and full of movement and different mind employees that there are plenty of things to laugh at and enjoy onscreen at any one moment. It’s no surprise that this movie looked so beautiful, considering Pixar has never really made an ugly movie.

Once again, like all of the emotions of Inside Out, your own emotions will run the gauntlet. This is promise you. Remember the first 15 minutes or so of Up? The movie doesn’t quite hit you that hard, but the sadness that you feel is a kind of nostalgic sadness. There are moments in this movie where you’ll look back on your own childhood and remember feeling a way that is shown in the movie. In that same vein, however, this movie will make you laugh, and laugh a lot. How extreme the emotions act with each other is such a joy to watch along with all of the mental puns thrown throughout. Also, the fact that Anger is always reading a newspaper can’t be a coincidence. It’s a perfectly casted movie with nearly perfect writing.

Simply put, Inside Out is probably going to be one of the best films I’ll see this entire year, and definitely one that’s destined to be a classic. I don’t mean that just for animated movies, but for movies in general. While I can’t say it’s exactly for kids, I’m sure kids will really enjoy the movie, but adults are going to have the times of their lives with this movie. It’s undeniably smart, highly emotional, and just completely beautiful. It would be a sin to miss out on this film, so please don’t.

Waking Life – Review

22 Nov

Richard Linklater has an interesting way of story telling. From movies like Dazed and Confused and A Scanner Darkly, it is evident that he has a knack for setting up a film’s narrative using supposed randomness shown in a very true to life kind of way. Waking Life is much like that, except broken up in such a way as to mimic a dream. Also like A Scanner DarklyWaking Life uses real actors but is completely animated afterwards via rotoscope. The result is a very wordy philosophical journey through a man’s dream as he begins to dig deeper into themes such as existentialism, follies of society, and philosophies of art.

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An  unnamed man (Wiley Wiggins) is asleep, but what’s going on inside his head seems all too unreal for it to be his actual life. He begins wandering the dreamscape, meeting different people and hearing their thoughts on life and philosophy. This man’s dream takes a strange turn when he realizes that he is dreaming and is having a hard time waking up. As he begins dealing with his lucid dreaming, he also starts interacting more with these dream characters and learning more about what it means to dream, how it relates to life, and how to get out.

This is a very bizarre film, which is a very high compliment. There is almost no narrative at all, with the exception of the later conflict of the main character trying to get out of his dream. All up until that point, all we get is a series of random meetings between the main character and other people, or between two completely unknown characters without having Wiggins present at all. This makes it a very difficult movie to watch if you aren’t interested in the subject matter, but luckily if you aren’t quite into philosophy, you can at least look at the beautiful rotoscope animation that, at the time (in terms of live action films), was very new and still equally as remarkable.

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Bob Sabiston, a computer scientist and animator at the MIT media lab, came up with a computer assisted rotoscoping process that was used for this film. In fact, Waking Life, is the first feature film to use this rotoscoping technique, and the result is mind blowing. The scene of this movie is a dreamscape, which is perfect for this psychedelic rotoscoping. While the different philosophers and other characters are talking, there are occasional triply animated effects that happen that match their words or ideas. Also their distorting facial features and bodies look really weird and cool. I absolutely love it and worship the grounds these animators walk on after spending three years alone rotoscoping this film.

Everything else about this movie is pretty debatable. The ideas and topics brought up are of a wide variety and some are really interesting, while others are of no interest to me whatsoever. Scenes about existentialism and film theory are all really cool, but then there are topics about social change and how the government is an evil tyranny that we need to rise against comes off as sophomoric and reminds me of discussion I had in high school.

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Waking Life is an odd film that is not for people who are expecting mindless entertainment. It’s a lot of talking and sitting and thinking, not a lot of action. The whole movie was made for us to tap into a deeper part of our brains and accept different ideas from many different people who are very passionate for what they believe in. Their passion helps drive this movie. The rotoscoping is beautiful and the discussions are thought provoking, but it’s certainly not an easy ride.

Rango – Review

30 Aug

I just want to start this review by pointing something out. Just because a movie is animated does not make it a kid’s movie. Look at Rango, for example. It was marketed as a movie that was great for the family. Hell, it was released by Nickelodeon Studios. I will admit that kids might get some enjoyment out of it, but Rango is a strange animated western that is spot on entertainment for teenagers and adults.

 

Rango (Johnny Depp) is a lonely chameleon who, after a strange highway mishap, is flung from his owner’s vehicle and let to fend for himself in the Mojave Desert. After happening across the small town of Dirt, Rango inadvertently becomes the sheriff of this hopeless town. After the town’s water supply is stolen, Rango and a posse set out on a mission to find it , but he soon discovers that there is a bigger scheme going on in Dirt, and it involves one of the heinous gunslinger, Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy).

If someone were to ask me what Rango was like in the simplest and quickest way possible, I’d reply, “It’s Pixar on LSD.” This is not your average, run of the mill family animated feature. This is a strange take on traditional westerns that is both interesting in its existential themes and humor, but also a plain old good time. It’s in jokes are hysterical and its snappy dialogue is so quick that you won’t pick up on every joke the first time through.

 

There are a lot of points in this movie where I kept thinking, “Kids aren’t gonna find this funny…at all.” There’s a lot of talking and walking around in between the action set pieces that are actually really fun and genuinely exciting. There isn’t a whole lot of silly slap stick humor, but there are great references that are great shout outs to the older generations of readers and movie goers.

If this is the type of animated material that Industrial Light and Magic is going to be putting out, then I’m confident in saying that Pixar might be in a bit of trouble. Rango has some of the best computer animation that I have ever seen. There’s an excellent scene in the beginning where the sun is glistening through water, and it looks stunning. The shadow effects add a whole new layer of intricate light design that is either missing or lacking in Pixar films. This sets the bar higher than you may think.

 

Rango has kind of a weird style that films like this generally don’t have (are you seeing a theme in this review?). The desert creatures who we have to follow throughout the entire movie are neither cute nor cuddly. In fact, they can be pretty grotesque. The same can be said about the town of Dirt and even some of the strange looking humans we briefly see. Everything appears to be warped in a very twisted and ugly way that is just so cool.

Besides the fantastic humor and the oxymoronic beautiful/disgusting look of the movie, the plot suffers from a bad case of the scatters. What I mean is that it is all over the place. The movie starts at a weird spot and doesn’t seem to have a true conflict until we get to the third act. You can break the movie up into three short segments. The first, second, and climactic third conflict. There was just a little bit too much going on and I didn’t get the feeling Verbinski decided on a definite plot, just a lot of little ones.

Rango is one of the best, funniest, and strange animated movie I have ever watched. It’s Hunter Thompson mixed with Sergio Leone with a sprinkle of the Coen Brothers on top that’s neatly wrapped into a bizarre package by Gore Verbinski. Don’t show it to your kids, but get your closest friends and enjoy Rango.