Tag Archives: animation

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.

The LEGO Movie – Review

24 Feb

Ever since 1949, it is safe to say that a majority percentage of children have had the wonderful opportunity to get their hands on some LEGOs and build something. LEGOs stimulated the imaginations and allowed people, sometimes not even children, to look at something they built and be proud. When I heard of The LEGO Movie, I automatically assumed this was going to be a LEGO commercial in movie form, and it certainly had advertising in it and LEGO sales will skyrocket after this, but it’s more than that. The LEGO Movie is a hilarious and kinetic ride that made me laugh harder than I expected I ever would.

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Emmett (Chris Pratt) is a nobody and blends into society without even needing to really try. He falls into step with everyone else, listens to the same song on the radio, and watches the most popular television show without fail. Life is easy for Emmett until he finds a mystical LEGO piece called the Piece of Resistance. Finding this Piece, according to Emmett’s new and rambunctious partner Wyldestyle (Elizabeth Banks), makes Emmett the “Special,” who is someone destined to be a “Master Builder” and stop the evil Mister Business (Will Ferrell) from unleashing his super weapon, the Kragle, on the entire world. Soon, the duo meets Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), the person who proclaimed the prophecy and now they are on a quest to Mister Business’ headquarters to stop him once and for all.

Something that really was great about The LEGO Movie is that all of the funny parts weren’t shown in the trailer, which I really thought was going to be the case. I also was just expecting to see a mediocre animated movie whose sole purpose it to make us all buy more LEGOs. Well, like I said, I was wrong on both accounts. This movie works really well as a superbly animated comedy with a lot of heart and jokes that come so fast a frequent that sometimes it’s hard to keep up. That was the first thing I noticed in the movie.

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When the movie first started, I found myself laughing, but I wasn’t really sure at what. It took me a few seconds to realize that everything going on was a joke. Everything. That’s how it was in the beginning and it was really strange at first because there was just a constant flow of laughter that I wasn’t expecting and wasn’t really sure what it was directed at. As the movie goes on, the amount of jokes per second slows down, but not by much. The LEGO Movie is a very funny movie that never stops, so by the end you may need to take a break from laughter for your own health. Too bad that’s going to be really hard with all of the thinking back you’re going to do. A lot of this has to do with screenwriters Phil Lord and Chris Miller (both Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs movies, 21 Jump Street) and the rest of the cast who give excellent and funny performances. My personal favorite was Liam Neeson as Bad Cop, who sounded like he was having more fun than he has ever had in his entire career.

With a movie that moves as fast as this, you wouldn’t really expect it to be too long. Unfortunately, this is really the movies only drawback: it’s runtime. I’ve complained about runtimes of some movies before, because it’s really a factor that has the potential to ruin an entire movie. In The LEGO Movie, there are scenes that shouldn’t go on for nearly as long as they do. One LEGO world in particular was completely out of place and ran pretty dry in terms of jokes. Once that part was over, the movie picked right up again, but it was an awkward slow down and one that added an extra fifteen minutes onto the movie that didn’t need to be there.

The LEGO Movie was a fun, often exciting, and kinetic movie that just went on a little to long. It’s written wonderfully by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and the voice acting really brought the movie to life. I was really surprised by this movie and when it was over had a hard time stopping my talking about it. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to get it when it comes out! It’s an unexpectedly great time at the movies.

Renaissance – Review

14 Sep

It’s important for a movie to have style. Style gives a film a unique mark that separates it from all the rest. Unfortunately, it isn’t a rare thing that a movie will become so overly stylized that it detracts from its success. Case and point: Renaissance.

 

Paris, 2054. The city has become a maze of streets, railways, and alleys that are carefully monitored by law enforcement.Ilona Tasuiev (Romola Garai), an employee for the mega-corporation, Avalon, is kidnapped for an unknown reason. Enter Barthèlèmy Karas (Daniel Craig), a street wise cop hired to track her down by any means necessary. During his investigation, begins to work with Ilona’s older sister, the mysterious Bislane (Catherine McCormack), and soon discovers the the web of corporate and moral intrigue runs deeper than he could have possibly imagined.

Everything about this film is part of a recipe for success. The stunning visuals, the interesting plot points, and just the way the story unravels is cool to watch. Just like if you were making any type of food, too much of one recipe will start to overbear the rest of the flavor. This is the main issue with Renaissance. The visuals are so stunning and overdone that I started just looking at the movie rather than watching it.

 

Other than the overwhelming visuals, the story was just not involving at all. Things moved on before I got a chance to really process what was happening, and there was little to no explanation of things. The crazy black and white effects also put characters in such ridiculous shadow, sometimes, that I had no idea who I was really looking at, and then the scene was over. Great.

I’m a little bent out of shape about this movie because I really wanted to like it. There were times where I finally got adjusted to the animation and effects and then the scene would change. Once the scene changed I would get lost in the animation again and spend more time adjusting to the surroundings. Again, the animation is absolutely fantastic and very reminiscent of Sin City and A Scanner Darkly. Unfortunately, I was more into what the film looked like and not so much the story or the characters.

 

I feel like the story is definitely there. Like I said, there were times where I was really invested in what was happening onscreen, just not as much as I really should have been. The characters do have to make some interesting moral choices and there are a few good twists that had me legitimately surprised, but by the end of the movie, I was more than ready to turn it off and go do something else.

I can’t say that I’ve ever really had this problem before. Normally I really enjoy an overabundance of style in movies. Any Guy Ritchie (except one that will go unmentioned) has a crazy amount of style that, when mixed with the plot and characters, make the films worthwhile. In Renaissance, there was too much style and not enough good characters or plot elements. I’d definitely say check it out for the visuals alone, but there really is no need to see it twice.