The Tomorrow War

Release: Friday, July 2, 2021 (Amazon Prime)

👀 Amazon Prime

Written by: Zach Dean

Directed by: Chris McKay

Starring: Chris Pratt; Sam Richardson; Yvonne Strahovski; Betty Gilpin; J.K. Simmons; Edwin Hodge

 

 

***/*****

The creatures at the center of Chris McKay’s fast-moving and action-packed sci-fi blockbuster are microcosmic of the overall experience of The Tomorrow War. You can’t take your eyes off them despite how familiar they are, an amalgam of iconic elements and concepts from bigger, more famous genre titles of years past.

It’s not looking good for us humble humans in the year 2051. The global population reduced to something in the hundreds of thousands, we’re well on our way to losing the war against the Whitespikes, a race of vicious creatures who look like some hybrid between H.R. Giger’s beloved Xenomorphs and the chaotic Mimics from Edge of Tomorrow (2014). In a last ditch effort, future people are time-traveling back to our reality to recruit citizens into the war effort because we regular Joes are literally the last line of defense. May as well cancel the sunrise at this point.

The gregarious Chris Pratt is our ticket in to experiencing this future hellscape for ourselves, charged with leading a platoon on what essentially amounts to a suicide mission into a world overrun with beasts that move with alarming agility and aggression and have this nasty tendency to shoot spikes from tentacled appendages. Pratt again proves to be a supportable hero though this time he disconnects more from his goofball persona to slip into the fatigues of career-depressed Dan Forester, a retired Green Beret now itching to retire from the grind of teaching high school biology to disinterested students.

Too ‘average’ to fit in at the Army Research Lab, Dan is handed (more like strong-armed into) an opportunity to fulfill a destiny, if not also risk his sanity. His number gets called and despite the protestations of his wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin — redeemed) whose experience as a therapist for returning survivors gives her a good idea of the best case scenario, he’s quickly on board for a one-week tour of duty in which the survival rate hovers at a miserable 30%. Those who do survive get beamed back to the present day from wherever they happen to be at the time. While a pre-jump exchange feels shortchanged between Dan and his estranged father James (a beefed-up J.K. Simmons), whose methods of dealing with his own PTSD have never sat right with his son, leaving behind his bright daughter Muri (a wonderful Ryan Kiera Armstrong) is the tear-jerking moment Zach Dean’s pedestrian screenplay flubs the most.

This brief snapshot of an average family life discarded with, we plunge headlong into the film proper, to the part everyone is anticipating. Blasting through the most hurried boot camp you’ve ever seen — mostly a loading platform where we pick up fellow goofball Sam Richardson as the nervous chatterbox Charlie and a dead-serious Edwin Hodge as Dorian, a jaded warrior on his third tour — we’re soon dumped unceremoniously onto the terrifying field, a visually stunning combo of war-ravaged metropolis, oceanic fortress and gorgeous locales both tropical and tundral. The future-world sets are the film’s best assets, a series of battlegrounds rendered both foreign and familiar and across which we rip on a death-defying mission to find the almighty toxin that can bring down these bastards once and for all.

In reaching for Interstellar-levels of wisdom director Chris McKay, in his first live-action feature film, misses the mark with only broad gestures toward its themes of redemption and familial sacrifice. After barely surviving Miami Beach and awakening in a military compound in the Dominican Republic Dan is brought face-to-face with a challenge greater than the physical ordeal. Australian actor Yvonne Strahovski ironically puts in the most emotional performance as the hardened Colonel Forester, who gives her trusted soldier plenty to think about à la Matthew McConaughey as his lonely little self slipped, preposterously, toward the singularity-cum-bookshelf.

Yes, almost by definition even the best sci fi are inherently ridiculous. Unfortunately The Tomorrow War lacks the emotional gravity and force of personality that can distract from overthinking. This is a blockbuster designed to keep your eyes busy and your analytical mind at bay. The film editors are key, masterfully sowing together the three major movements into one kinetic, fast-moving machine whose biggest malfunction is being forgettable pablum.

The Tomorrow War is likable, lively but ultimately shallow. However you could do a lot worse for an unwitting hero and for a piece of home entertainment. As yet another casualty of the COVID disruption, this two-hour wow-fest is found exclusively on Amazon Prime and is bound to rattle walls with its unrelenting energy.

“I’m court marshaling you for your Thanos-related antics. You really could have cost us, buddy.”

Moral of the Story: The living room may not be the ideal environment in which to take in a movie of such size and scale — The Tomorrow War is Amazon’s biggest film purchase ever, priced at an eye-popping $200 mil — but the convenience factor makes this derivative sci-fi yarn more attractive. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 138 mins. 

Quoted: “If there’s one thing that the world needs right now, it’s scientists. We cannot stop innovating. That’s how you solve a problem.” 

Check out the (really long) Final Trailer from Amazon Prime here!

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Release: Friday, February 8, 2019

→Theater

Written by: the Lord Philip; Christopher, a distinguished member of the Miller clan

Directed by: someone of indeterminate skill (Mike Mitchell)

Cough. It’snotasgoodasthefirst. Cough.

Excuse me. The weather lately, I’m definitely under it — while also being totally over it. It was in the 60s last Friday, mere days after a cold snap introduced single digit temps, and now here we are again dealing with snow’s annoying cousins, hail and sleet. This streak of wild weather might explain the modest crowd that I experienced The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part with on opening night. Or have audiences just moved on? Remember the first one came out five years ago, and while there was more to come it took three years before those obligatory spin-offs came about (The Lego Batman Movie, another hit, and The Lego Ninjago Movie, not so much — both released in 2017). Is Lego Movie fatigue a real thing? Are we spoilt for choice? Whatever the reason, the release of Lego 2 feels much less of an event, the kind of Big Deal I would have anticipated given the success of that first film.

The classic crew return in Mike Mitchell’s space opera adventure, with Chris Pratt earnest and naive as ever as hero Emmet Brickowski, Elizabeth Banks more dark and brooding as Wyldstyle/Lucy, Will Arnett even more baritone-voiced as “The Man of Bats,” Alison Brie reliably Unikitty, Charlie Day as Spaceman Benny and Nick Offerman full-metal-bearded as the . . . pirate . . . guy. Away from them we are introduced to a handful of new personalities, some of them as memorable as any of the preexisting ones. And while the specifics of the plot are entirely different the basic shape of the story is retained, the animated characters and action foregrounded against a live-action environment where those plot developments emulate what is happening in a child’s imagination. No, the set-up isn’t as fresh a second time around but I still find it to be one of the great strengths of this franchise, and even as Lego 2 returns to the surface more often it does it to great effect.

After standing up to the all-powerful Lord Business/The Man Upstairs (Will Ferrell) in the first movie, Emmet feels quite optimistic about the future, despite present-day Bricksburg (now called Apocalypseburg) looking like a Mad Max/Blade Runner wasteland where everything is far from awesome. An inter-racial war between Legos and Duplos have ravaged the land and turned the good Bricksburgians into hardened plastic cynics. Yet amidst this abyss of humanity Emmet has gone ahead and built a little house for him and Lucy to carry out their lives in, and it has everything, including a double-decker porch swing and a Toaster Room.

When General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), the leader of the Duplo invaders and hench-woman of the “not evil” Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), pays a visit to the people of Bricksburg, now confined to a fall-out shelter á la Star Wars: The Last Jedi, she abducts Lucy and a few other unfortunates, coercing them to take part in a wedding ceremony in the far-away Systar System. Emmet, with little support from his peers — not even Lucy, who is yearning for a more mature, less naive Emmet given the times in which they live — determines it is his duty to save them. Along the way he meets a badass named Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Chris Pratt), who will help Emmett not only become “more badass” but as well prevent the impending plastic nuptials that will bring about “Our-Mom-Ageddon.”

Plot and themes suffice, but that’s really all they do. They fail to wow. We deal with familiar notions of dealing with change and staying true to one’s identity in the face of societal/peer pressure. What is new, however, is the deconstruction of action hero tropes. Is being “The Badass” all that it’s cracked up to be? Emmet, ever the underdog, is challenged both by his past actions and his present conflict. It is suggested he took a disproportionate amount of credit as “The Special,” when Lucy did as much if not more of the ass-kicking. In the present the essence of who he is becomes tested — can he become this more serious, more assertive, less frequently pushed-over Lego piece Lucy wants him to be? What happens when he succeeds at that?

The answers to those questions and a few more may well lie in the egotistic Rex Dangervest, a fun new character who showcases everything that is inherently silly about icons of machismo like Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis. In fact his very existence is a parody of Chris Pratt’s own career, whether taking aim at that stupid thing he did with the raptors in Jurassic World or poking fun of his potential casting as Indiana Jones — all of which being material more geared towards the adult chaperones in attendance.  It seems unlikely kids are going to get many of those references, never mind comprehend the time traveling twist that is rather convoluted to say the least.

Beyond that, Lego 2 makes a conscientious effort to balance the perspective, making the female characters just as integral to the emotional core of the narrative, whether that be on the macro — the real-world drama depicted as a sibling squabble, with Finn (Jadon Sand) not wanting to play nice with his younger sister Bianca (Brooklynn Prince), who’s gotten into Legos herself and wants to do her own thing with them — or the micro level, Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi presenting a shape-shifting femme fatale who turns out to be more than what meets the eye — her “Not Evil” song suggesting she may well be an aspiring Masked Singer contestant. And let us not forget who it is that has inspired Emmet to change.

The release of The Lego Movie back in 2014 was a hugely nostalgic ride for this former Lego enthusiast. I was reminded not just of my obsession with the building blocks but as well the genius of Pixar’s Toy Story. It may not be the most accurate comparison given that the characters technically have less autonomy in the Lego universe. Unlike in Toy Story where the movie happens in the absence of the humans, here the characters are wholly reliant upon human interaction and manipulation — which, incidentally, is what makes Lego 2‘s grand finale so incongruous; I won’t say anything more, but suffice to say it really doesn’t make sense. Still, the very concept of a child’s play things coming to life and given such personality struck me as kind of profound.

Lego 2 clearly aspires to be a Toy Story 2 but unfortunately it is not that movie. In fairness, what sequel is? It takes a similar tact in expanding the canvas, taking the action into outer space, but ultimately it’s unable to escape the shadow of its more successful older brother. That’s most obvious in its attempt to create another ear bug in the form of “The Catchy Song,” a tune that ironically turns out to be nowhere near as catchy as “Everything is Awesome.” It’s a poppy jingle more than an actual song, and its fleetingness tends to sum up the experience as a whole.

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss.”

Recommendation: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part delivers more of what fans should have expected but it cannot overcome a sense of been-there-done-that. That the law of diminishing returns applies even to the brilliantly quick witted Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (and the guys at Animal Logic who provide the animation) just goes to show how difficult it is to improve upon an already strong foundation. Even if Lego 2 is a step down, it once again will reward older viewers while keeping the little ones busy with the hectic action and bright colors. Despite the flaws it is still worthy of being seen in a theater. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “I ain’t Selina Kyle. I ain’t no Vicki Vale. I was never into you even when you were Christian Bale.”

“I’m more of a Keaton guy myself.”

“Oh, I loved him in Beetlejuice!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Release: Friday, May 5, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: James Gunn

Directed by: James Gunn

One of the things that struck me about the sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy is how obviously the returning cast carry their swagger around. It’s as if they just got done saving the entire galaxy. But has this level of cockiness really been earned? All they needed to do was stop a villain with the personality of a toaster. Forgive me for sounding arrogant here — I haven’t saved any galaxies myself (yet) — but they made it look pretty damn easy.

I have been so on the fence about this movie since it came out. It’s both everything fans wanted from a sequel and not quite enough ironically for the same reason: it’s Volume 1 all over again; yet the law of diminishing returns already seem to be kicking in. You argue there’s a new villain, with new circumstances, but really what we’re talking about here is a parts exchange. The formula is very much the same. Everyone jokes around a lot — too much at times — bickers a lot, procrastinates a lot, and then, just in the nick of time, do some firing of some lasers and engage in some exciting fisticuffs just before end credits usher them off the screen like an acceptance speech on Oscar night.

Vol. 2 backtracks to the source of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt)’s heartache — his mysterious family history. Kurt Russell is in as the powerful Celestial PlanetmanbeardMacReady, a creation that dates back to the early Bronze Age of Marvel Comics. He’s got a proposition for his estranged son, whom he suddenly finds — after millions of years of scouring the Greater Universe — on a cast-off planet to which the Guardians have narrowly escaped after doing a very Guardians-y thing (well, Rocket does a very Rocket-y thing, stealing an important battery thingy from a race of people called the Sovereign, who all look like Shirley Eaton circa Goldfinger).

Russell’s Ego (but really, that’s his actual name and yes he’s also a planet — that part I wasn’t being silly about) tells Peter about his higher calling. But this attempt to rip him away from his custodial services as a Guardian of the freaking Galaxy is poorly conceived. Granted, not by Ego himself, but rather the script, which once again lay at the feet of the one-man wrecking crew James Gunn.

Guardians 3 would have been a much tougher sell should Star Lord have gone to the dark side. (And someone remind me, how did that work out for Tobey Maguire?) We’re well aware of the acrimony that has arisen amongst the crew before, but this isn’t like pondering whether or not we should be concerned about Anakin Skywalker’s hot temper. Gunn doesn’t necessarily force us to draw that exact comparison, but that’s the nature of the father-son dynamic here. It’s old-hat, the suggestion of breaking bad feels awkwardly episodic, and Russell’s utterly forgettable within it.

Elsewhere, the others are sorting through relationship issues of their own. It’s like a soapy space opera. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is confronted with her own guilt when she’s forced to spend more time with her psycho sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, wooden as she’s ever been). Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) is still the least subtle thing since Donald Trump, yet he’s actually endearing with his sledgehammer, awkward commentary. He cuts through the crap we humanoids generally like to call social etiquette like a combine harvester, especially when he strikes up a friendly rapport with Ego’s bug-eyed personal assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff).

Where Vol. 2 does manage to find separation, however, is in the exploration and comparison of Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Yondu (Michael Rooker)’s criminal pasts. As the film expands and fractures the foursome into their own little thematic camps, it’s the insight we get into the lonely life of a space-bound raccoon and Yondu’s fall from grace that really hits a nerve. There’s legitimate gravitas attached to their character arcs, something a film as outwardly flamboyant and noisy as a Guardians of the Galaxy installment kinda-sorta needs more of.

The production design remains as elaborate as anything Marvel has created before. In fact, it’s dazzling to the point of eyeball overload. But of all the problems this new and underwhelming iteration has, that’s at least a good one. The cosmic wonders of the universe work overtime to compensate for another lacking story. Overcompensatory is a fairly accurate way to describe the characters this time around as well. Baby Groot is cute, we get it. Drax doesn’t get the art of subtlety. We understood as much within the first ten minutes of his first appearance. Amusing, but one-note. Also, Gamora and Quill continue to act like magnets when you try to put the wrong ends together.

Vol. 2 is of course not a bad film. That’s ridiculous. In fact it inherits many of the qualities that made its predecessor an enjoyable and endearing farcical adventure. The characters are well-established and unique, only they’ve lost some of that novelty and a few limitations might already be on display. The cast-director chemistry is as palpable as ever. Listen, they’re all good vibes, but let’s hope the next mixtape is more inspired and has more memorable hits.

Recommendation: More of the same, for better as well as for worse, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 I believe has done just fine without my recommendation. Hasn’t it made a trillion dollars at the box office by now? 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 136 mins.

Quoted: “He may have been your father, Quill, but he wasn’t your daddy.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Passengers

passengers-movie-poster

Release: Wednesday, December 21, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Jon Spaihts

Directed by: Morten Tyldum

Morten Tyldum is a Norwegian director who has been on the fast-track to success ever since bursting on to the world stage in 2011 with his critically acclaimed Headhunters, an action thriller based upon a novel by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø and featuring a Scandinavian cast. He’s never looked back since. From there he made a movie based upon the life and achievements of British mathematician Alan Turing, the 2014 Oscar-nominated The Imitation Game in which Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed the father of what we recognize today as artificial intelligence. Two years later Tyldum finds himself collaborating with two of the world’s most box office-friendly stars in Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence on a romantic/science fiction adventure called Passengers.

With each subsequent venture behind the camera, Tyldum has increasingly found himself surrounded by luxuries filmmakers the world over could only dream of one day having for themselves, if only just for one project. He has a knack for attracting big names and turning profits. There’s little doubt Tyldum has been privileged — so much so that it’s difficult to gauge how deserving he is of his status. His big-budget blueprints are going to endure, despite them lacking personality or any sense of novelty, unlike something produced by the likes of, say, Christopher Nolan, a household name who routinely challenges his audiences to, god forbid, use their brains while rummaging through buckets of popcorn. By comparison, Tyldum’s meteoric rise feels less justified.

Mainstream filmmaking at its most indistinguishable is the best way I know how to describe his oeuvre, and Passengers all but confirms the director has no intention of suppressing the urge to pander to the masses, especially when it is to the tune of $130 million in global receipts in less than three weeks. His new film is essentially Titanic set in space, but with a moral twist (or is that, a twisted sense of morality?) — the only element that differentiates this interstellar adventure from a plethora of other doomed-vessel melodramas. Tyldum’s latest posits that people need people, that we have not been created to exist alone. It’s a theme well worth exploring, but once again I found the same generic, unexciting direction that robbed The Imitation Game of its potential similarly blunting the cutting edges of Passengers‘ would-be high-brow narrative. What could have been thought-provoking is instead estimated as “something audiences should really go for.”

The story is about a mechanical engineer named Jim Preston (Pratt) who wakes up 30 years into a 120-year voyage between Earth and a colonial planet in a distant galaxy. He is among the 5,000 passengers board the starship Avalon, blissfully sleeping away the years until they reach Homestead II, along with another some 200 crew members. A computer glitch causes Jim to awaken from suspended animation and when he realizes what has happened he sets about trying to solve the problem rationally rather than panicking or wallowing in despair, with the faintest aroma of Ridley Scott’s The Martian arising in the opening stanza. A year passes and Jim is unsuccessful in getting back to sleep, although he strikes up a “friendship” with a cyborg bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen). Unable to share an authentic human relationship with Arthur, Jim starts to slip into the despair he has spent a long time trying to avoid.

That is until he comes across a pod containing an Aurora Lane (Lawrence), whom he learns about via a digital portfolio explaining her background as a writer in New York City. He even becomes familiar with her personality from his investigations. He visits her pod frequently, reading about her and imagining what it would be like to have someone else to share in what will in all likelihood be the remainder of his life on board the Avalon. He struggles mightily with the decision to wake her up, which would necessarily and similarly doom her to a premature death.

The morality play is made fascinating because of the star power Tyldum has been afforded. The leads prove why they are paid what they’re paid as they breathe life into a robotic screenplay. The establishing first third sets the stakes high and Pratt makes it easy for us to buy that Jim really doesn’t want to use his engineering prowess to effectively murder a fellow passenger. And it’s kind of a brave new world watching Pratt embody a character who ultimately isn’t very likable. Lawrence isn’t at her best as Aurora, yet it’s something of a miracle she turns a snobby, self-aggrandizing writer who values prestige over anything else into a person we end up wanting to actually succeed. But for my money, the underrated Michael Sheen makes the most compelling argument for what makes us human, playing the part of some futuristic vision of The Overlook Hotel barkeep in whom a steadily unraveling Jack Torrence frequently confided. Arthur hasn’t been wired to keep secrets. He doesn’t know how to lie or judge. The android offers a contrast that imbues Passengers with the humanity its poorly written flesh-and-blood characters, or at least Jim’s troubling actions, do not.

Unfortunately it’s those sorts of stereotypes and broad statements that could come to define Tyldum as the most recent example of a foreign director making one too many compromises. Six films deep into a directorial career with only a third of them being English-language features, he’s already ‘gone Hollywood.’ He has no distinctive voice. No masterful, inventive way of presenting his Big Movies’ Big Themes. Nor does he frame his stories in ways we have never experienced before. Passengers only gets weaker and more familiar as it plods onward to a thoroughly disappointing action-packed finale, when the Avalon’s technical malfunctions become more frequent and more serious and as Jim and Aurora put aside their differences in order to work to find a solution together.

The destination, such as it is, is so underwhelming (and so expected) it begs the question as to whether the film needed to dive into the morality play at all. Aurora stays mad at Jim for a long time, perhaps even an appropriate amount of time, but the film seems to equate a broken tether with a broken heart. The denouement is not only lazy, it’s disingenuous. It made me long for the pure innocence and the schmaltz of Jack and Rose’s forbidden love. The melodramatics are as damaging to the intellectual constitution of the story as the asteroid is to the ship’s computers and reactors.

Debating the merits of the finale is pointless really because it’s clear Tyldum isn’t in this for the art of storytelling. The Avalon is one of the more visually pleasing spacecraft we’ve seen in some time and the thick ribbons of stars across a canvas of black has rarely looked so beautiful and yet so terrifying. I could write love letters to Passengers‘ production design. There’s a sleekness that cannot be overlooked, that only a film built on this kind of money can provide. The more cynical side of me, the part that enjoys thinking while watching, can’t help but feel Tyldum is making a bid for becoming the most Hollywood-friendly foreign-born director in history. Honestly, that’s not the worst thing in the world. There’s nothing amoral about making a lot of money doing something you love.

Recommendation: I think it says something that the most interesting ‘character’ in the film is the spaceship Avalon. The luxury space liner is a thing of beauty. Passengers is a senses-stimulating film, aggressively so when it comes to the visual elements. It’s a gorgeously rendered production, but it lacks the soul and conviction needed to carry the weight the story deserves. And while I’m not as upset about the implications of the way Jim’s actions are basically excused by film’s end as others have been, I understand where the anger is coming from. This is like Titanic set in space, with Rose suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and instead of Jack being a swell fella, he’s actually a selfish jerk. If you just read that one line and that’s all you knew about the film, then Passengers sounds pretty interesting. And maybe it will be to those who have a stronger tolerance for formulaic blockbusters.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 116 mins.

Quoted: “A drowning man will always try to drag you down with him.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Magnificent Seven

the-magnificent-seven-movie-poster

Release: Friday, September 23, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Richard Wenk; Nic Pizzolatto

Directed by: Antoine Fuqua

Try as they might, Antoine Fuqua continues falling well short of the benchmark set by his 2001 smash hit Training Day and Chris Pratt can’t quite make this the Guardians of the Galaxy of the ole wild west. Despite bear-dressing-like-people jokes he is merely one silly pawn in a story that doesn’t deserve them. Not even the all-star roster can lift this generic western crime thriller from the dust of its superiors. The title is The Magnificent Seven, but for me that really just refers to the number of scenes that are actually worth remembering in Fuqua’s new shoot-’em-up.

Here’s all I really remember:

Magnificent Scene #1: The ‘badass’ that is Bartholomew. Billed as a drama, the film opens promisingly with robber baron Bartholemew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) besieging the sleepy mining town of Rose Creek circa some month in the late 1800s. The film’s dramatic thread for the most part sags like a dilapidated tent between two strong points, and the dramatic opening is one of those strong points. Tension is palpable as Sarsgaard’s cold, lifeless eyes survey the room. Haley Bennett‘s Emma Cullen becomes widowed by his murderous spree (or, to be brutally honest but more accurate, her husband’s foolish actions that do nothing but further incense Bartholomew), an act that supposedly establishes the film’s emotional foundation.

Magnificent Scene #2: The Actual Badass that is Denzel. Introducing Denzel Washington is something that needs to be done sooner rather than later and his swaggering cowboy/”dually sworn peacekeeper”/bounty hunter Sam Chisolm walks in at just the right moment (i.e immediately). A fairly typical stand-off inside Rose Creek’s saloon ensues. Everyone in the scene puts on their best ‘Not To Be Fucked With’ face. Rah-rah. Guns. Liquor. Seconds later Chisolm walks out of an empty saloon leaving everyone but a semi-impressed, semi-drunk loner for dead. That loner is none other than Peter Quill Josh Faraday. Chisolm is soon approached and persuaded by a desperate Emma Cullen to gather together some men to take a stand against Bogue and his men to avenge the death of her beloved Matthew and reclaim the town.

Magnificent Scene #3: The Avengers this ain’t . . . but this is still fun. Movies in the vein of Fuqua’s adaptation, those that spend more of their bloated running time assembling rather than focusing on the ensemble itself, are really more about that journey of coming-togetherness than they are about the destination. It’s too bad The Magnificent Seven really only offers one or two strong first impressions. One is a shared introduction between Byung-hun Lee’s knife-wielding assassin Billy Rocks — a name that somewhat confusingly belies the actor’s South Korean heritage — and Ethan Hawke’s sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux, with whom Chisolm shares some history. Billy and Goodnight come as a packaged item, apparently; one never goes anywhere without the other and they are swiftly drafted into the ranks without complaint.

Magnificent Scene #4: There’s always at least one crazy. Vincent D’Onofrio also qualifies as one of those memorable introductions. He plays a vaguely mentally unstable (or perhaps he’s just a simpleton) tracker named Jack Horne, a physically imposing presence who clearly hasn’t had much human contact in a long time. His soft, nervous line delivery initially gave the impression the actor wasn’t comfortable in the role and/or that he was about to deliver a career-low performance but the character really ended up growing on me. Of course it would have been nice if he had more to do but when there are seven actors competing on screen I suppose sacrifices must be made, especially when one of them is Denzel Washington.

Magnificent Scene #5: Preparations not reparations. Heeding the warnings of Chisolm and his band of misfits, Emma and her fellow townsfolk prepare for the return of Bogue and what is likely to be many more nasty men on horseback in an obligatory, if not genuinely fun, fix-it-up montage. Rose Creek becomes retrofitted with all kinds of booby traps and hideouts that are sure to give the enemy fits and a mixture of excitement and dread for the bloodbath that is to come starts to build in earnest. Granted, the end results are all but a foregone conclusion: some will survive the ordeal and others will not. We know almost for a certainty that the Magnificent Seven will be reduced in number after this fight. And we also know that ultimately this last battle is just another good excuse for directors who like to blow stuff up, to go ahead and blow a quaint little set right the fuck up.

Magnificent Scene #6: Say hello to my little friend! For all of the film’s lackadaisical pacing and story development from essentially the 20th minute onward, The Magnificent Seven seems to wake back up again at the very end with a rousing gunfight that will demand every rebel’s sharpest wit and shot. It even comes close to earning our empathy as numerous dead bodies hit the ground à la Fuqua’s goofy assault on the White House. The editing becomes frenetic but remains effective and while Fuqua shies away from excessive blood-splattering the violence is still pretty confronting as a gatling gun makes its way into the mix. Ultimately this is the same kind of joy I get out of watching Macauley Culkin outwit the nitwits in Home Alone every Christmas.

Magnificent Scene #7: The end credits. A movie that runs about 30 minutes too long and that fails to make any real emotional connection is finally over. (Though not for a lack of trying: Fuqua awkwardly asks us to pity the lone woman in the group because she has lost her husband — she’s not there because of her individual strengths and in fact many of the rebels can’t or refuse to take her seriously; likewise Hawk’s last-minute cowardly act feels cheap and fails to make us care deeper about him.) I enjoyed the famous faces in by-now-familiar roles and their natural gravitas cleaned up some of the script’s blotches but there is only so much goodwill I can show towards something that feels so well-trodden, so ordinary, so un-magnificent.

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Recommendation: A superb cast barely manages to keep The Magnificent Seven from being a totally and utterly forgettable and disposable movie. The people who you expect to shine, shine — those on the roster you don’t recognize as much don’t turn up as much. Simple as that. Some delicious scenery to chew on, though, and the soundtrack is hilariously overcooked. So all in all, I don’t really know what to make of this movie. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 133 mins.

Quoted: “What we lost in the fire we found in the ashes.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.esquire.com 

Jurassic World

Release: Friday, June 12, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Colin Trevorrow; Rick Jaffa; Amanda Silver; Derek Connolly

Directed by: Colin Trevorrow

This movie makes me nostalgic for the days of Jurassic Park III and The Lost World. Jurassic World has nothing new to offer, and is more comfortable hugging close to its parent than wandering off on its own and exploring the world it is a part of.

I recognize that I may be one of an endangered few who appreciated the sequels, but at this point I don’t really care. As the story expanded to other islands, sure, the law of diminishing returns certainly applied but I always had time for that weird Spinosaurus, dueling T-Rexes, and William H. Macy’s mustachioed, panic-stricken face as he watched members of his group being torn apart by hungry dinos. What I don’t have time for is a carbon copy of a vastly superior thriller, and Chris Pratt’s irritating ubiquitousness.

I was originally going to make a point about how surprising it is that nary a trace of Colin Trevorrow’s style can be found here, but then I had to remind myself this project is the antithesis of his 2012 feature film debut. Blockbusters rarely allow a director the time or space or whatever you want to call it to inject their personality. Or maybe Joss Whedon should’ve been called upon to helm this creature feature. Somehow he’s had to handle a baker’s dozen of key characters across two different superhero movies and still managed to breathe some of his comic relief into them. Then again, there are costs to making such decisions.

In the case of Jurassic World, Trevorrow is afraid to try. There’s a genetically modified dinosaur (because bringing a species back to life after 60+ million years of extinction isn’t spectacle enough) called the I-don’t-give-a-shit-asaurus because the story takes place at some point well after the titular amusement park has been established à la John Hammond’s vision. Park attendance has stagnated in recent years and corporate policy demands a new gimmick. Apparently raptors are now passé. To put my childish cynicism aside for a second, the Indominus rex is a pretty wicked creation, but it represents the only true distinguishable element this fourth prehistoric picture has on offer.

Park operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is the new John Hammond. Pratt’s Owen Grady is a more grizzled, affable Alan Grant minus the degree in paleontology. He may not be good at identifying fossils but he’s got a way with raptors. It’s unnerving and weird and puts raptors just that much lower on the food chain. Unlike what Jurassic Park exhorted, humans can in fact control everything they create in Jurassic World. Claire has two nephews coming to visit her. Zach (Nick Robinson) is the new Lex. He’s got less personality than Alan Grant has tolerance for children. The younger nephew is Gray (Ty Simpkins) and is very excited to be in the park. We are as well, but the script feels the need to beat the concept over our heads at the same time. Jurassic World mimics the same miserable parenting roles, with Claire unable to devote time to her nephews and choosing to name a useless nobody as their temporary guardian.

Similarities extend even to grander themes of corporate greed and excess. Trevorrow claims the Indominus rex personifies (dinosaurifies?) our demand for entertainment on bigger scales with more extravagant budgets. It’s not a point I can argue against. This dinosaur, the catalyst for chaos, lives, eats and breathes humanity’s “worst tendencies.” It’s a killing machine, a vastly more intelligent reptile than anything else in the park; hell, it can apparently evade thermal detection and fake its own escape. We’ve been here before, though. If corporate greed and excess is some new concept, what was the purpose of setting up (and later destroying in spectacular fashion) all that Hammond had dreamt up all those years ago on Isla Nublar? What did that test site represent, merely a wealthy senior citizen’s benevolent fascination with the Jurassic era? Hardly. Hammond said it himself: spare no expense.

Jurassic World plays out on its own terms every now and then. The park looks fantastic and the fact that it has actually been realized is a feat of CGI and great location scouting falling into perfect sync. I’d pay to go to this place and get the crap scared out of me by a feeding Mosasaurus, a lizard that makes a great white shark look like a minnow. And that’s another thing Trevorrow’s work has going for it — size. Everything is bigger but not necessarily more bombastic. In a particularly engaging showdown at the end — the only time where Jurassic World cuts loose, delivering on its promise of offering pure, unadulterated summer fun — we’re treated to a battle wherein a kind of sizing chart of some of the largest creatures to ever roam the earth is put on display. The climactic fight puts even the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex in perspective.

This long-anticipated sequel is difficult to endure for many reasons, but chief among them has to be just how closely it hews to the formula that made a power outage more than just an inconvenience. Jurassic World is of course allowed to revere what has come before; it should. But it does it so much it becomes the overexcited freshman at the mixer who feels it’s an obligation to drink the seniors under the table, only to end up consuming too much and causing a scene. Your older peers may admire your spirit but they also can’t ignore the fact you now smell of vomit. You’re trying too hard to impress. Just be yourself damn it.

Recommendation: As someone who decidedly hated this film, I don’t think I can give an accurate recommendation here. I suspect I’m in the overwhelming minority by saying this film is my least favorite of the series. It has no new ideas and no distinctive personality. I didn’t buy tickets for an award-winning piece of high brow cinema here but I expected Jurassic World to have some life. Fans of the series, no matter how devoted or casual, are seeing this no matter what I say. Good riddance to this one.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 124 mins.

Quoted: “‘Monster’ is a relative term. To a canary, a cat is a monster. We’re just used to being the cat.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Guardians of the Galaxy

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Release: Friday, August 1, 2014

[Theater]

I wish I could say I am hooked on this feeling, but I’m not high on believing that indifference is what I should be feeling right now. Especially for a movie that hasn’t even made it through opening weekend, yet is already being touted as Marvel’s masterpiece.

At the very least, such lofty praise seems just a little capricious given the source material wasn’t widely accepted as anything close to ‘cool’ until about. . .oh, I don’t know what an accurate estimate is — say, two or three weeks ago? Listen, I’m no hipster; I won’t not like Guardians of the Galaxy just for that very particular thrill of not liking something most everyone else, in our universe anyway, does. Sitting in a sold-out showing at 11:45 on a Friday night kind of proves that enough people have invested interest in this, and it’s reached the point where I no longer need to worry about me shouting into the wind with this review. Indeed, it’s more like a hurricane and really, I’m just whispering.

Maybe my fate had been sealed long ago, before this project was even announced. I, like millions, hadn’t known a thing about the Guardians of the Galaxy aside from that one teaser attached to that one Marvel movie. Yours truly was never moved enough to give their comic book roots an exploration. Obscure Marvel to me is not lesser in quality, its just more obscure and interests me, personally, less.

As such, I hadn’t received the proper introduction to any of these characters. Forgive me, but Chris Pratt’s recent success in The Lego Movie isn’t quite enough to make me want to go shouting the fact his next character’s name will be Peter Quill/Star-Lord from the rooftops. Nor is Vin Diesel’s muscular physique as ironic as it maybe could have been if I knew Groot before. This kind of unusual casting certainly pops the characters up off the page from one-dimensional drawings and into three-dimensional bodies, but I’m emotionally invested in their plights insofar as the music is shoehorning my feelings in, one classic ’70s track at a time. In other words, the story structure is pretty manipulative.

The picture begins inauspicious and in a Missouri hospital room as Peter’s mother lies on her deathbed, making her last wishes known to a small group of family and close friends. Peter, unable to deal with everything, runs outside where he is quickly abducted by — and get this — a band of space pirates known as the Ravagers and who are led by a very blue dude named Yondu (Michael Rooker, hamming it up nicely). The Ravagers “raise” Peter, though Peter doesn’t allow much of the miscreant creatures’ general shittiness to rub off on him, though early on in the movie he’s a far cry from what he will become. Peter indeed has an arc and he does improve as time goes on, never stooping to the level of the likes of Yondu and his redneck friends. (Yes, there are even redneck aliens on display.) He spends his time roaming the galaxies, bedding multi-colored women and stealing. .  .things. Hardly a noble life. His journey becomes slightly more interesting when he discovers a small round object, whose power he clearly is ignorant to.

This, the infinity stone, will be responsible for magnetizing the film’s meandering plot from one corner of the galaxy to the next, as Quill and a ragtag group of other equally curious individuals attempt to avoid the wrath of the mighty Ronan (Lee Pace), the murderer responsible for the slayings of millions of families throughout the universe. (When I put it like that. .  . . . damn, that’s pretty heavy.) We ought not think too highly of Ronan, though, nor his crazy anger nor his impressive army of ships and bald-and-blue Karen Gillans (still not as sexy as Jennifer Lawrence). Nor the super-jaw of Josh Brolin in his fittingly hammy turn as Thanos, a supervillain with skin the color of Welsch’s Grape Soda. These jerks are just mere bumps in the road in what’s mostly a thoroughly enjoyable, if too casually diverting, journey throughout the cosmos.

Director James Gunn and Marvel studios together go for broke in this spectacularly colorful and silly affair. On more than one occasion the film manages to strike a precarious balance of being simultaneously jaw-droppingly gorgeous and hilarious. Rare are the films that find both pleasures combining against such a dramatic backdrop. Still, it’s hard not to become distracted from much of the epicness. The goofiness becomes a plot unto itself. Between Star-Lord’s nobility post-narrow escape from death, or Ronan’s confusion at seeing said character bust out a few dance moves mid-battle, the film treads an awfully thin line between being taken seriously and being dismissed as comedy.

Maybe it’s late-stage MCU Phase 2 burn-out I’m navigating through at the moment. Perhaps I’m simply lost in Knowhere, scrambling for something that could possibly appeal to my sensibilities in this landscape of comic lore. I guess, shouldn’t the entire movie, because after all it’s all one big inside-joke, anyway. Guardians of the Galaxy was once obscure and now it no longer isn’t. Seems there really ain’t no mountain high enough for Marvel Studios to get over.

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3-5Recommendation: I am probably going to be alone on this. May I recommend this one less to devoted fans of the comic than to fans who loved the atmospheres of The Avengers and Thor. Although Guardians does appear to be upping the ante on every front. It’s bigger, sillier and louder than both those films and its far more obscure. I’m not sure where this lands the film in terms of placing it on a scale from Marvel’s least successful to it’s most heralded. I actually do not care. This was such an odd experience, even beyond the source material that it’s hard to really define who this really is geared towards. This is just one to go to if you find yourself curious about what the big deal is all about.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 121 mins.

Quoted: “I’m pretty sure that the answer is ‘I am Groot’. . .”

“I’m gonna die, surrounded by the biggest idiots in the galaxy.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Lego Movie

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Release: Friday, February 7, 2014

[Theater]

The 7-year-old in me nearly wet his bedsheets in anticipation of the first ever full-length feature film involving his favorite toys from childhood. The essential. . . . . . . . . .e-hem. . .building blocks of my youth have come to life on the big screen in 2014 in ways I never could have imagined.

In light of this special occasion, let’s make things a little more fun in this review. I am going to style this piece in an interview format, with my 7-year-old self asking my future self what a film would be like if it were ever made, and me in the present now being able to answer all (or at least most) of his questions. In the process, I’ll let him know that the many hours he spent on the carpets building up and destroying Lego villages and whatnot were not spent in vain. (Not that they were without this film, but the arrival of The Lego Movie proves that grown-ups can have just as much fun with the stuff as kids have had for years.)

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Do you think they will ever make a movie with my Legos? I really like them, and I hope that they do that. I think it would be so cool!

 

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Hey buddy, you know what? That is a really great question. And I am here to tell you that yes, yes they will. You are going to someday be watching a movie with all of your toys and characters — and a bunch of new ones you never even thought about — brought to life.

 

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Really? Do they have any of my favorite characters in it?

 

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Well, who were your favorite characters? I seriously can’t remember who those were! Haha. If you mean things like Spaceman Benny, the little put-together shark and maybe an alligator piece, then yes. You’ll recognize a few guys. But the rest is a bunch of insanely imaginative characters that you are just going to have to wait to grow up a little more to fully appreciate. That’s a good thing, though pal.

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What happens in the movie?

 

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Welp. It mostly focuses on this regular, average-Joe Lego man named Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt. . .I don’t know why I just told you that, you don’t know him). He’s an obedient little construction worker who stumbles into a most unusual situation. After a typical day at work, Emmet discovers a secret power that has been lost through the ages. He comes across this thing called the Kragle, which is a huge, enormous super-weapon that, if in the wrong hands, could destroy the entire world. When he finds it, he becomes the target of the evil Lord/President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell — don’t worry, you’ll know him later), who sends his good cop/bad cop henchman out to get him and inadvertently sets the guy on a date with destiny.

 

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. . .I’m confused.

 

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Tee-hee. It is pretty complex. But just wait until you see this thing, and learn how many different people this ordinary guy meets! He may seem like a boring old fart (like your older self is going to inevitably become) but he’s really pretty exciting to watch. Don’t be put off by the complicated situation. Little Tom, it’s actually even better because I enjoyed the film as much as you would. . .maybe even more. And I often can’t get out of my mind sometimes and think in terms of innocent things like Legoland anymore. Although, that place is pretty awesome. . .Granddad is going to take you there sometime.

 

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Is there a really bad guy in the movie? Am I going to be scared of him?

 

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There is a pretty nasty villain in the movie, yes. Scared? Hmm. . .I don’t think so. He has some funny parts and yes, he’s a real mean guy but he’s not that scary. That’s what’s so good about this movie, bud. It’s really, really clever. You’ll know who’s evil and who’s nice but there’s never a point where you get really scared. It’s just good old-fashioned fun. I swear, I didn’t think they’d be making kids films like this ever since Toy Story, but I was wrong.

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Toy Story, I don’t know what that is. . .

 

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Damn it! Nevermind. . .I had a really awesome follow-up reference there but. . .apparently YOU’RE TOO YOUNG!!!

 

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I guess. So, would mommy and daddy like this movie? To me, if they make a movie on my Legos, I don’t know how they would be interested. . .

 

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Oh man. How they would be! The Lego Movie is going to be just as much fun for them as it’s going to be for you. In fact, I’d even argue that there’s more material here for them to think on and laugh about than little kids. There’s a lot of stuff here that could go right over you youngsters’ heads. Themes like corporate greed and monopolization (big word, right?) are just as clear as the themes of believing in yourself, and not giving up on dreams and living your life as you want to. This is a classic film for all ages, in my snobby opinion. Tee-hee.

 

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Who’s the best character in the movie?

 

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Wow buddy, you’re just firing out all sorts of good questions, aren’t you? That’s a tough one to answer since there are so many people to like here. But. If I just had to make a choice, it would be the Batman character, who is voiced by Will Arn. . .you know what, it’s just someone you don’t know yet. And maybe won’t ever know. But he’s awesome because he makes fun of the Batman legend so much. It’s great!

 

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Does anyone die? I hope not.

 

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Now that is one I can’t answer man. There’s a little thing in the movie reviewing  business that we call ‘spoilers,’ information that can possibly reveal too much information about a movie so as to ruin the fun of the whole thing. So I won’t answer that one. Sorry buddy.

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What was your favorite part about the movie, and do you think I would think the same thing? Do you still like Legos twenty years later?

 

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Wow. Gosh. You know, my favorite thing about The Lego Movie was something so very simple. And so I guess I’ll answer the third part of that first: I loved, loved, loved Legos then, and I still love them to this day. The creators of that product are simply geniuses. I don’t think I have any laying around anymore, which is kind of a bummer, but I tell you, this film made me want to break out any boxes that I might still have stored at the ‘rents house. My favorite part of this movie was the way the simple shapes were realized. Those awkward, cup-shaped hands; the basic facial expressions. . .actually, some of those become more complicated in the movie, which is even better. And the fact that everything, and I do mean everything in this film is either made out of pieces of Legos or is edited using stop-motion to make the non-Lego elements move realistically (or like Lego pieces would). I’m pretty sure this is the biggest appeal for kids your age, is the Lego men. Their faces, their movements and their actions. The dialogue and story is almost more appropriate for us grown-ups.

 

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Was there anything about it you didn’t like?

 

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In all honesty, this was a pretty perfect little diddy. Actually, I shouldn’t call it ‘little.’ It is very much large-scale. It’s epic, and the marketing for it is a little unclear. Is it for kids of the now generation, or for the 80s? My guess is, given the amount of stuff covered here it’s meant for both. But sometimes it gets overwhelming. That’s not really a bad thing, but it’s definitely at times too much for a little kid like you to handle! Sorry buddy! Wait until that brain of yours develops a little bit more and maybe when you grow up you’ll understand it more. Oh wait. Too late.

 

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 11.14.21 PMIf I were with you right now, if I was your kid, would you take me to see this Tom?

 

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 11.14.20 PM What a precocious little dude you are! Aw, and that really kind of breaks my heart, because I know this isn’t possible. But yes, I absolutely would take “you” with “me” to this movie. I guess, in a way I have. Watching this movie was one of the most nostalgic film experiences I have ever had. It was remarkable what these guys have accomplished. I so badly want to be back where you are. You may not like where you are now because you have to go to bed early, but trust me. Things get a little harder later on. This movie is a nice reminder that things don’t always have to be so serious.

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4-5Recommendation: The Lego Movie is a jolt of energetic vibrance the film industry has needed for awhile. On several levels. First of all, it’s only February, so to have a movie released that is of this kind of quality seems like a rarity; secondly, it’s probably the best animated film I have seen since Toy Story, almost without question. And third, there were so many red flags I saw before this movie was coming out. My main concerns were: how could they possibly animate such limited figurines in a full-length movie? How could they maintain interest for that length of time? And even if they did that, would they just submit to being a silly, childish story that doesn’t really appeal to general audiences (which, of the three concerns I had, was the least problematic. . .sometimes dumb kid fun is what you need from a film). But Warner Brothers struck gold with this. Good for them. This is a must-see.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 101 mins.

Quoted: “A house divided against itself. . .would be better than this.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com