Movie review: Batman & Harley Quinn

Movie reviews

Hello!

Last summer, I branched out and reviewed a straight-to-DVD animated movie because it was an adaptation of a famous graphic novel – Batman: The Killing Joke. This summer, WB/DC has released another Batman animated film, and the reason to review it this year is Batman’s co-star – the highly popular character of Harley Quinn. The Joker’s girlfriend has definitely broken the boundaries in which she was created and become a favorite of both niche comic fans and mainstream audiences (Suicide Squad is mostly to blame/thank for that). So, let’s see what Batman & Harley Quinn have to offer!

IMDb summary: Batman and Nightwing are forced to team with the Joker’s sometimes-girlfriend Harley Quinn to stop a global threat brought about by Poison Ivy and Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man.

Writing

Batman & Harley Quinn is an original story, written by Bruce Timm (Jim Krieg helped with the script too). Timm has earned the respect of fans by co-creating Batman: The Animated Series. However, recently he lost some of the said respect by doing something ‘original’ with Batman: The Killing Joke (his producing gig resulted in the ruin of the Batgirl character), so I was preemptively concerned about where his originality will go in this film. And I was right to be worried.

The core story of Batman & Harley Quinn certainly wasn’t bad. The eco message was actually quite interesting, while some of Harley’s character development moments were neat too (seeing her ‘going straight’ and being compassionate). However, a lot (and I mean really a lot) weird choices were made with the details of the narrative and the humor. And not weird in a good kind of way, but in a way that made me wonder ‘what?’ and ‘why?’ a lot.

Let’s start with the biggest problem of the film – the sexual references (both obvious and hidden) that lacked all subtlety or sophistication. The therapy joke, the super-babes bar, the freeze frame kiss? Not only were they quite tasteless but also quite meaningless details. They were just there for some reason and didn’t contribute much to the plot.

Another elephant in the room (movie) was that implied Nightwing/Harley sex scene. It seemed really weird but at least it raised a few problems/questions. First, it allowed the film to analyze the sexualization of Harley Quinn as a character (the line about the job offers as well as the interplay of cuteness and sexiness in the portrayal of the character were two fascinating additions)). Maybe, then, that sex scene was quite fitting, knowing how the character has been perceived? Her partner of the scene – Nightwing – has also been involved in a fair share of adult themes too prior to this picture. Another, more real-world, problem that this sex brought into the forefrunt was the fact that our society still can’t comprehend romantic or sexual pairings where the woman is older than a man. In general, age gaps are a big topic even if the consent is there.

 

Speaking about the non-sexual part of the humour, it wasn’t that good either. The fart joke and ‘smells like discipline’ line were bizzare. I can’t even call them childish – that was something else. The singing in the bar scene was odd too. My favorite joke in the movie wasn’t actually part of the movie – it was the post credits scene with the Ask Dr. Harley TV show. It was a smart jab at reality TV and doctor shows and I also appreciated its meta qualities.

Directing

Sam Liu, who has directed my favorite DC animated film Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths as well as already mentioned last year’s The Killing Joke, helmed Batman & Harley Quinn. I though that he did an okay job. I really liked ‘the Pink Panther meets James Bond’ type of credits. The action was quite campy but I thought that it was an intentional omage to the 1960s Batman TV show. The animation style itself was fine too – the familair 2D of all the WB/DC animated projects.

Voice work

It was lovely to hear Kevin Conroy as Batman/Bruce Wayne as well as Loren Lester as Nightwing/Dick Grayson. These role have become synonyms to their names. The Big Bang Theory’s Melissa Rauch voiced Harley Quinn/Dr. Harleen Quinzel. It was her first time doing that and I wasn’t completely onboard with the choices she made. Frankly, she sounded quite annoying and I wasn’t sure about the southern accent (if it even was a southern accent).

In short, Batman & Harley Quinn was a uncohesive and strange mess of a movie. It’s kinda hearbreaking to write that, as all the characters involved in the picture are loved not only by me but a lot of people.

Rate: 2.75/5

Trailer: Batman & Harley Quinn trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Emoji Movie

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

Yup, I did it. Didn’t much want to but did it. Let’s just get this over it. This is the review of *sigh* The Emoji Movie!

IMDb summary: Gene, a multi-expressional emoji, sets out on a journey to become a normal emoji.

Before I sink my teeth into that trainwreck of a film, I’d like to praise the animated short that preceded the main feature. The Emoji Movie was accompanied by Puppy!, a Hotel Transylvania short directed by Genndy Tartakovsky. The short picture was cute and relatable and once again proved to me that Hotel Transylvania franchise is the only Sony Pictures Animation series that is worth something. Now, onto the main attraction.

  1. The Emoji Movie was directed by Tony Leondis (he has worked for all the big animation studios before, but only on their lesser known projects), from a script written by Leondis himself, Eric Siegel, and Mike White. The film has already been compared to Inside Out (cause of the focus on emotions), Wreck-it Ralph (cause both films revolve around technology based characters), and The Lego Movie (cause of the obvious corporate advertisement aspect). However, even though The Emoji Movie might be topically similar to these pictures, it vastly differs from them in quality.
  2. If we take the movie’s concept on its own – the emoji culture – it sort of sounds like a good idea. Nevertheless, if we just dig a tiny bit deeper, we soon realize that there is literally no inspiration for a story – an actual narrative – to be created out of the concept. That’s the main problem of this film – the narrative was simply worthless and just a collection of cliches. The conflict of the plot was super artificial too. The film attempted to have an emotional core but did not succeed at all.  Actually, when the emoji characters tried to display or withhold emotions, they seemed borderline psychotic rather than fun or relatable.
  3. The Emoji Movie seems to have been made by filmmakers (or a board of executives) that have zero understanding of their audience. It appears that they were trying to make a movie for a stereotypical millennial who doesn’t really exist. This could be obviously seen in the humor of the film. While half of the jokes were plain bad, the other half was an obvious example of the writers trying too hard and attempting to be cool and ‘in-with-the-kids’. Plus, the tongue-in-cheek jabs at social media culture didn’t really have a place in the film either. One cannot both perpetuate the culture and critique it in the same film.
  4. Despite generally hating the movie, I still found a few positive things in its script. Mostly, these were the spot-on inclusions of the phone related stuff. For example, I liked the fact that the film acknowledged the smiley emoji as being the OG emoticon and how the favorites section was turned into a VIP club.  The realization of the whole phone world wasn’t bad, actually. I liked the inclusion of the spam emails, the viruses, the cloud, Instagram, CandyCrush, Dropbox, Firewall, JustDance (even if the addition of apps was just for promotional/financial purposes) and the viral videos. The 3D animation style was good too but it always is nowadays.
  5. The voice cast of the film consisted of: Deadpool’s T. J. Miller (he was a good choice for such an ”out-there” project, I just wish that the film would have been crazy in a good way and worth his talents), James Corden (he was trying his best and his voice was instantly recognizable), Anna Faris (she was fine), and Logan’s Sir Patrick Stewart (he had like 5 lines in the film and, honestly, the only reason he was cast was so that this  film could have an honor of being the movie that turned a respectable actor into literal poop).

In short, The Emoji Movie was a mess, not even worth the ‘meh’ emoji.

Rate: 2/5

Trailer: The Emoji Movie trailer

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Movie review: Despicable Me 3 

Movie reviews

Hello!

Illumination Entertainment has replaced DreamWorks as the other ‘it’ animation studio in Hollywood (first being the Disney/Pixar conglomerate). Let’s see whether their latest offering – Despicable Me 3 – is worthy of praise.

IMDb summary: Gru meets his long-lost charming, cheerful, and more successful twin brother Dru who wants to team up with him for one last criminal heist.

I, personally, really enjoyed the first two Despicable Me films (and other recent Illumination movies, like Sing and The Secret Life of Pets) but I vastly despised the Minions spinoff. I hoped that the minions’ meme would have died down by now but is still as strong as ever. Thus, the interest in this movie is, most likely, big. Minions have been definitely used more in the marketing than when advertising the previous pictures of the main series. While their role in the movie is smaller than I expected (thankfully), two of them actually appear on the screen first, a few seconds before Gru – the supposed star of the franchise.

Writing

The writing duo Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio wrote the third film in the Despicable Me series (they also penned the original and the first sequel). Overall, the script was a mixed bag of stuff. Story-wise, a lot of things were happening and multiple plotlines were being developed (with varying amounts of attention and screentime). The biggest ones were Gru’s and his brother’s story, the Mother-Daughter bonding idea, the new villain’s Baltazar’s plotline, and the Minion shenanigans (that had little to do with anything else in the movie). The daughter characters also had their small side quests (unicorn and engagement). While I don’t really think that all these lines necessarily worked together, I would at least like to compliment the scriptwriters for trying to do something with the story and the characters.

Speaking of the characters – I loved the new villain Baltazar. I loved his 80s look (shoulder pads!) and affinity for music and dance. He really reminded me of Baby from Baby Driver – stealing into the beat of the music similarly to driving into the beat of the music. I also loved his Guardians of the Galaxy-like dance-off idea. Agnes character – the most adorable of the daughters – was also delightful to watch and I very much enjoyed her ‘hunt’ for the unicorn (definitely more than everything related to the Minions).

Thematically, Despicable Me 3 tackled adult themes and paired them with childish humor. The grown-up characters were dealing with being fired and finding a new life path, while also coming to terms with failed dreams of their youth; they were attempting to reconnect with long lost siblings and were worrying about being good parents. Things, like gambling online, sexual innuendos, and baldness were also mentioned. On the completely opposite end of the spectrum was the film’s humor – it was mostly childish. The Minions comic relief side quest could have been cut out of the movie and nothing would have changed. The Minions were actually sort of replaced by pigs. The new brother character, who failed at being a villain, got annoying really quick too.

Lastly, one meta idea that I immensely enjoyed about Despicable Me 3 was the fact that the movie’s villain was attempting to take down Hollywood, while the film itself was very much a product of Hollywood. Oh, the sweet irony.

Directing

Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, who directed all the previous pictures of the series, helmed Despicable Me 3 and did an okay job. The animation was good, as it always is. The pacing was also fine and I liked the fact that the movie was quite short and not too overindulgent in itself. The score (by Heitor Pereira and Pharrell Williams) was catchy too. While the film was surely my least favorite in the franchise (it went downhill as so many series do), I think that the kids would definitely enjoy it. I wonder if they will attempt to continue the franchise – is the final scene of Dru teaming up with the Minions an indication that the next film might be Dru vs. Gru. And we all know that ‘versus’ stories are popular now.

Voice work

Steve Carell performed a double duty and voiced both Gru and Dru. I liked his work here as much as in the previous films and appreciated the subtle differences in the voices of the two brothers. Kristen Wiig was also good, while the co-creator of South-Park Trey Parker was a neat choice for a villain.

In short, Despicable Me 3 is a perfectly servicable kids’ movie that doesn’t offer anything too special but is, overall, entertaining, if one can stomach the Minions.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Despicable Me 3 trailer

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Movie review: Cars 3

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest Pixar film – Cars 3 – has hit theaters. Let’s see whether the beloved studio can repeat the cinematic success for the gazillionth time.

IMDb summary: Lightning McQueen sets out to prove to a new generation of racers that he’s still the best race car in the world.

I, like the majority of cinephiles, am a huge fan of Pixar and have seen all of their films multiple times. The original Cars picture is one of my favorite Pixar films (it is just outside my top three childhood animated films – Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Monsters, Inc.). However, I can hardly remember what happened in Cars 2. Hopefully, the third film is more in line with the original rather than the sequel. One thing is for sure, Cars is more than a movie franchise – it’s a global merchandise brand (and a cultural/capitalistic phenomenon) as widespread as the Minions.

Writing

Cars 3 was written by a studio’s film developer Kiel Murray, a Pixar veteran writer Bob Peterson, and a writer of sports films Mike Rich, based on a story by the director of the picture Brian Fee, a TV producer Ben Queen, a TV actor Eyal Podell, and quite an inexperienced writer Jonathan E. Stewart (a lot of cooks in the kitchen).

I enjoyed the story of the film quite a lot: I especially liked the ideas and the message. The treatment for the characters was also interesting and worthy of discussion. Let’s star with the themes: I loved the juxtaposition between the modernity and the traditionalism, the rookies and the old-school racers. More importantly, I give props to the movie for making the ultimate message about the combination of both – it’s important to move on while also acknowledging one’s roots (plus, the idea that all seniors have once been rookies).  I also applaud the scriptwriters for including realistic aspects such as the camaraderie between the race cars as well as the bullying that happens within a sport (psychological mind frames) into the script.

The character development was also not bad. The new opponent – Jackson Storm – felt like a stereotype of a millennial (EDM music, flashing neon night club-like lights, and sarcasm). Cruz Ramirez was delightful – not only was she a female racer but a good one too. I loved how hers and McQueen’s relationship was reciprocal – they learned different things from one another and were fluctuated between being students and teachers. I also wonder whether the ending twist of the film means that Ramirez will now be at the forefront of the franchise moving forward. McQueen himself had a good arc in this film too. I liked all the jokes about him being old but I think that he should not have been as cocky as he was – he literally made the same mistake in the first film – shouldn’t he have learned by now?

The returning character of Mater (the tow truck) had barely anything to do. This might have been because he was heavily featured in Cars 2 and nobody liked that, so the filmmakers were careful about using him. However, an homage was paid to another character from the original – the mentor Doc Hudson. The character did not even appear onscreen in person (in car-son?) but the plot revolved about his role in McQueen’s life.

Directing 

Brian Fee made his directorial debut with Cars 3. He has previously worked on Pixar projects as a storyboard artist. For his first directing effort, Fee did a brilliant job. Of course, he had the help of amazing Pixar animators. The animated visuals were astounding as usual and yet I’m still surprised how much emption the animators are able to make these cars convey. The pacing was really good for the most part – the narrative was unraveling quickly – but the film did slow down before the third act (that’s a major problem for a lot of mainstream pictures).

The movie had a few distinct sequences, which I quite liked. Both of the training montages were fun, especially the car aerobics scenes. The wild racing sequence with the bull-like school bus was not something I expected from Pixar but it was, nonetheless, fun to watch. The new stylistic modifications for the cars were cool too but I can’t help but feel that they were included in order to sell more new toys.

Voice work

While I don’t think that the voice cast of the Cars franchise is super iconic, it was still nice to hear the returning actors, like Owen Wilson and the comedian Larry the Cable. The newcomers Armie Hammer and Cristela Alonzo were also great.

Short picture

Before Cars 3, an animated short was screened (this is a usual practice). Dave Mullins’s LOU felt like a cute combo of Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. 

In short, Cars 3 might not be the best Pixar movie but it is definitely a return to form for the franchise. Their next release is the Dia De Los Muertos themed flick Coco and then, a sequel I have been waiting for a decade – The Incredibles 2.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Cars 3 trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Boss Baby

Movie reviews

Hello!

The newest DreamWorks animated picture – The Boss Baby – is currently in theaters, so, let’s talk about it!

IMDb summary: A suit-wearing briefcase-carrying baby pairs up with his seven-year-old brother to stop the dastardly plot of the CEO of Puppy Co.

  1. The Boss Baby was written by Michael McCullers, based on the picture book of the same name by Marla Frazee.  The film’s story was absolutely ridiculous but nonetheless really fun. The movie focused on the theme of family – a common and classical topic for kid’s animation. The Boss Baby also found a new inventive way to answer a question – where do babies come from? – this question seems to be popular with the animators in Hollywood, as the recent picture by Warner Animation – Storks – also tried to answer it. This picture also highlighted the sibling rivalry and the sibling relationship. Lastly, I loved how the film celebrated the children’s imagination – a crucial part of any childhood.
  2. One of the strongest parts of d The Boss Baby was the picture’s humor. The film used both more adult jokes (like business and movie references, e.g. ‘Cookies are for closers’ from the trailers) and more child-friendly gags (e.g. the insane action and the fart jokes). The picture also had some callbacks to the stereotypical horror movie scenes which felt a bit weird in a children’s movie but were appreciated by me as a grown up viewer.
  3. The Boss Baby was directed by Madagascar trilogy’s Tom McGrath.The actual 3D animation was okay – good but not groundbreaking. I think that I and a lot of movie goers just got used to usually good-looking computer animation, so it does not amaze me/us anymore. The film also had a few months of 2D animation and this one montage which felt very old school because of the accompanying music – song ‘Cheek to Cheek’ from 1935 movie musical Top Hat. The character design was also fine, although one supporting character – Stacy – reminded me a lot of Wreck-it-Ralph’s Vanellope – a beloved animated character. Lastly, the film’s visuals also were cute enough to match its narrative idea of cuteness as a threat.
  4. The titular character of the movie was voiced by Alec Baldwin. Baldwin embraced the absurdness and the hilariousness of the story and the whole movie and just nailed his performance. He has a long history of voice acting: Baldwin has narrated quite a few documentaries as well as voiced a handful of characters in animated films.
  5. Shrek’s voice actor Miles Christopher Bakshi played the child version of Tim (The Boss Baby’s brother), while Toby Maguire lent his voice to the adult Tim. Other well-known actors/TV personalities like Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, and Lisa Kudrow also had roles of varying sizes.

In short, The Boss Baby is a perfectly passable animated picture. It doesn’t have the most original story or fresh visuals, but it definitely provides a fine time at the cinema for both kids and adults who can’t grow up (me!).

Rate: 3.3/5

Trailer: The Boss Baby trailer

Movie review: The Lego Batman Movie

Movie reviews

Hi!

With the DCEU films being critical nightmares, which do not earn as much as they should do, Ben Affleck stepping out as director of the Batman solo movie and The Flash film being completely rewritten, the Warner Bros desperately needs a win concerning its DC properties. Might The Lego Batman Movie be the win? Let’s find out!

IMDb summary: Bruce Wayne must not only deal with the criminals of Gotham City but also the responsibility of raising a boy he adopted.

Writing

The Lego Batman Movie was written by Seth Grahame-Smith (who wrote Dark Shadows, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and the novel version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Chris McKenna (a TV comedy writer), Erik Sommers (Spider-Man: Homecoming writer), Jared Stern (who provided additional story material for Wreck-It Ralph), and John Whittington (a newcomer writer who doesn’t have any significant credits on his IMDb page). The duo of writers/directors behind the uber-successful The Lego Movie – the film that started The Lego franchise – Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – helped to produce this spinoff flick as well. I, personally, absolutely loved the writing for this movie.

Let’s star with the on the nose humor as it was such a huge part of the picture. The Lego Batman was basically Deadpool for kids. Like Deadpool, this film didn’t waste its credits and began mocking the studios and the executives in the first few seconds of its runtime. It then moved on to making fun of the comic book movies cliches, such as ‘the unnecessarily complicated bombs’, ‘the villains who explain their plan aloud’ and other plot conveniences.  Plus, I laughed out loud several times when the characters would start making the shooting noise – ‘pew pew’. I also loved the funny inclusion of the comic book sound effect balloons which showed the origins of Batman. Lastly, the movie also poked fun at merchandise with that merch gun scene (I’m definitely guilty of owning some items myself – I was actually wearing my batman sweatshirt at the screening).

The narrative wise, The Lego Batman Movie didn’t bother with neither the setup nor the basic development and origins of the character and I’m actually really glad that they skipped all of that, cause everybody already knows Batman’s background. Nevertheless, the film still did some cool stuff with its main character, for example, portraying him more as an anti-hero and raising the questions of accountability and legitimacy (basically, Captain America: Civil War storyline). The movie also teased and parodied the Batman’s Rogues Gallery and also mocked his gadgets (while at the same time, showing them on screen just so that they could turn them into toys and merch, which they have also made fun of already).

In addition, this film attempted to do something with the Batman and Batgirl relationship, which was very similar to what The Killing Joke movie did. That development really angered the fans and The Killing Joke really suffered from that addition, so I was worried that this idea might damage The Lego Batman too. However, this film dragged the ship more than pushed it, so everything turned out fine in the end. On the other hand, I really liked the relationship that was created for Batman and The Joker. The were literally like an old married couple. The other little details, like Batman’s password (‘Iron Man sucks), the Hugh Hefner-like dressing gown, and his obsessions with romcoms (shout out to Jerry Maguire) were just amazing. I also loved the fact that they managed to include a Nightwing easter egg and actually used the fact that lego figurines can join together as a plot point in the film.

From the thematical standpoint, the movie explored relationships within a family and between friends as well as narcissism. It looked at the fear of human connection which arose from the possibility of being left alone. The final message of the film – that one has to let people in even if they might hurt you by leaving and disappearing – was a neat one.

Directing

Chris McKay, who worked as an animator and editor on The Lego Movie, directed The Lego Batman and did a spectacular job. I just loved the fact that he took the grimmest property from the dark and sophisticated DC and made it work as a comedy. The Lego Batman Movie was, truly, one of the best action comedies I’ve seen. It had the non-stop jokes and the fast action (the film was unbelievably energetic) but it still found time for quieter, more heartfelt moments (every animated movie needs ‘the feels’). The only few moments in the picture, which annoyed me a bit, were all the singing and rapping scenes. They juts seemed of a lower level of humor than all the wonderful meta-references and jokes.

Additionally, the animation was just striking. Every shot looked so densely animated and complex – you could just see how much work it has taken to bring this story to life in this format. The Lego Batman Movie was definitely a perfect match between the material and the format, cause I doubt that this narrative could have worked in live action. It would have just come across as stupid (mostly because of all the rapping), but now it blended the right amount of stupidity and cleverness and was, overall,  extremely fun and very enjoyable.

Speaking more about the visuals of the film, I loved seeing the recreations of all the previous Batman films in the lego form. I also really appreciated the lego versions of all the other DC and non-DC villains that cameoed in the film – crossover all the way! We got to see Voldemort, Sauron, King-Kong, The Wicked Witch, and Doctor Who’s Daleks – basically all properties that belong to WB.

I have also noticed, that the majority of DC films (both live-action and animated) are now team-ups. It also seems that one cannot have a Batman movie without Superman or the other Justice League members (that short scene was a neat surprise and maybe it was there to set-up a sort of solo Lego movies for other DC characters?).

Music

Lorne Balfe was responsible for the soundtrack and he picked some very appropriate, witty, and catchy songs for the film. While I didn’t really like the actual Batman song, I loved the updated version of ‘Man in the Mirror’ and felt that it was a more clever jab at Batman rather than the on the nose Batman song.

Voice Cast

The film had an amazing voice cast. Will Arnett (a long time voice actor and narrator) just killed it as Bruce Wayne / Batman, while Zach Galifianakis (who has also had some experience with voicing) was an equally amazing JokerMichael Cera (Sausage Party) brought a sense of innocence to Dick Grayson / Robin, while Rosario Dawson’s (who voices Wonder Woman in most of the direct to video JL films) voice really fit Barbara Gordon / Batgirl – she sounded as and actually was an efficient go-getter. Ralph Fiennes (Kubo and the Two Strings) oozed class as Alfred PennyworthJenny Slate (Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets) was the voice of Harley Quinn. It might be the Margot Robbie effect, but I wanted Harley to sound sassier.  The filmmakers also managed to get the big name talent – Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill –  to record a few lines as Superman and Green Lantern, respectively (they voiced these characters in The Lego Movie), while Adam DeVine joined them as The Flash.

In short, The Lego Batman Movie was both a successful spin-off of The Lego Movie as well as a great parody of all the comic book movies. Extremely funny and highly enjoyable!

Rate: 4.7/5

Trailer: The Lego Batman trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Kubo and The Two Strings

Movie reviews

Hello!

Let’s review a possible Best Animated Feature nominee that came out a few months ago – Kubo and The Two Strings.

IMDb summary: A young boy named Kubo must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past.

  1. 2016 has been a strong year for animation, especially financially: Zootopia and Finding Dory both earned over a million dollars, while The Secret Life of Pets came super close. Kubo might not have been as big of a financial hit as the other animated pictures but it definitely appealed to the critics and the cinephiles.
  2. Kubo and The Two Strings is the latest stop-motion picture from Laika. I’ve always been a fan of this type of animation and of this particular studio and their product. Coraline is still one of my favorite animated films of all time and I also enjoyed 2014’s The Boxtrolls. Kubo is their least financially successful but the best (quality-wise) film. It differs from the other pictures with its Japanese setting. Kubo feels like a blend of Western and Eastern animation – the anime of the West.
  3. Kubo was written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler. I loved the adventure story that they crafted for the film. The feeling of the deeper underlying mythology was present and enriched the narrative nicely. The themes discussed were serious and universal, like family, love, and memories. I also loved the writing for the main character (his powers were so cool and unique) and the writing for the supporting cast (the choice of animals for the secondary roles was really extraordinary- haven’t seen many beetle and monkey team-ups before). The dialogue was good too: the heartfelt emotional moments mixed well with the funny bickering (and flirting). The super positive ending was also lovely.
  4. The film was directed by Travis Knight, who has worked as an animator on a bunch of stop-motion animated pictures. I loved the atmosphere and the overall look of Kubo: it was eerie and scary but also adorable and really beautiful. The character design was magnificent too:  I loved that the main character appeared to be of ambiguous gender and that the character’s look corresponded with the character’s traits (e.g. the ability to fly came from the kimono top). Kubo actually reminded me a lot of Mulan (and yes, I know one comes from Japan and the other from China). Lastly, touching more on the animation – I loved how origami (the next level origami, while I don’t even remember how to make a swan) – a distinctly Japanese art of folding that is popular globally – was used in a stop-motion animation setting. It was truly a great combination of tecniques and ideas.
  5. The film featured great performances from the A-list voice cast, which included Charlize TheronMatthew McConaughey (Sing), Ralph Fiennes (will voice Alfred in The Lego Batman), and Rooney MaraArt Parkinson (GOT’s Rickon) was great as the titular lead character as well. The movie’s soundtrack by Dario Marianelli was spectacular too.

In short, Kubo and The Two Strings is another great animation of 2016. However, this one is the most unique because of its style, setting, and characters.

Rate: 4,5/5

Trailer: Kubo and The Two Strings trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Sing

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to one of the last reviews of this year. Without further ado, let’s start discussing Illumination Entertainment’s latest feature – SING!

IMDb summary: A koala named Buster Moon has one final chance to restore his theater to its former glory by producing the world’s greatest singing competition.

  1. Sing was written and directed by Gareth Jenkins. This was his first solo project after working with Nick Goldsmith on a number of films and music videos. Jenkins made this movie for Illumination Entertainment – a relative newcomer to the animation scene. However, this company has already established itself: they made the successful Despicable Me films and the crazy lucrative Minions movie. Just this summer, they had another huge hit – The Secret Life of Pets. So, Sing has to meet fairly high expectations, both financial and critical ones.
  2. Sing was advertised as an animated musical. We already had a couple of those this year, like Trolls and Moana. Since it focused on singing animals, Sing also made an impression of being Zootopia: The Musical. However, the film surprised me because it had a strong story with organic music number rather than being a straight-up musical that a story had to accommodate.
  3. Thus, the writing for Sing was actually quite good. The story itself wasn’t the most original but it was executed well. It had the emotional appeal (the ‘feels) and was also interesting intellectually because of a varied bunch of great characters. All of them were underdogs but in a unique and different way. I really liked the opening sequence which set up all of their individual plots. In general, the picture both celebrated the love for music and performance but also showed the hardships of show-biz. The film was not as light or childish as I expected it to be.
  4. The musical numbers and the audition ideas of the film obviously tried to capitalize on the success of music competitions, such as The X Factor and The Voice. Nevertheless, the audition montage was still funny and entertaining. The twerking bunnies, as well as the K-Pop group, were my favorite. I also fell in love with Gunter. I want him to be my spirit animal or my best friend. The other funny scene that I’d like to spotlight was the car wash sequence. The final performances were also cute. The short snippet of George Michael’s ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ also made me tear up a bit.
  5. The original voice cast was full of Hollywood A-listers. I was only able to hear their voices during the singing performances, as the rest of dialogue was dubbed (the joys of spending the holidays in a non-English speaking country). Nonetheless, I enjoyed listening to the singing performances by Reese WitherspoonSeth MacFarlaneScarlett JohanssonTori KellyTaron Egerton, and Nick Kroll. I would have loved to hear what Matthew McConaughey did with the leading role as well, but as his voice is so distinct, I think I still imagined him speaking in my head. 

In short, Sing was a great animated film, perfect for the holiday season. It had a lovely narrative at its center, while the equally nice musical numbers occupied a secondary role.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Sing trailer

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Movie review: Moana

Movie reviews

Hello!

The long awaited and newest Disney Princess movie – Moana – has reached theaters, so, let’s talk about it!

IMDb summary: In Ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by Maui reaches an impetuous Chieftain’s daughter’s island, she answers the Ocean’s call to seek out the demigod to set things right.

Moana is, technically, a 13th Disney Princess film. It has been truly amazing to see how this brand evolved in the past 80 years. I feel that the biggest changes started with 2010’s Tangled and all the films following it have been adapting their stories and characters to fit the contemporary world and I’m excited to see what will Disney do next.

Moana is also Disney’s return to musicals, since Frozen 3 years ago. Can Moana’s soundtrack replicate the success of Frozen’s soundtrack? It is gonna be a bit harder for Moana, as this year, we already had one fairly successful animated musical – Trolls – and we also have another one coming up – Sing.

Lastly, Moana is Disney’s attempt at presenting an indigenous – Polynesian culture – to the global market. Thier last attempt at this with Pocahontas wasn’t the most successful, but I think that Disney learned from their mistakes. They went an extra mile to cast voice actors from appropriate backgrounds and also employed anthropologists to help portray Polynesian culture as accurately as possible. As a student of anthropology and a lover of films, I found that fascinating – maybe this can be my job in the future?

Moana’s story also appealed to me on two personal levels. First of all, I, as a longtime professional(-ish) swimmer, sometimes do feel better in the water than on land, so I loved seeing Moana’s connection to the ocean. Secondly, Moana reminded me of two different books that I read as a kid that both revolved around islands and island culture. One of them was Whale Rider (1987) by Witi Ihimaera about a Maori girl and her journey to becoming her clan’s chief. The other was called Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960) by Scott O’Dell about a Native American girl who gets stranded on an island near California. Both books have been turned into movies, in 2002 and 1964 respectively.

Writing and Story

Jared Bush, who has previously worked on Big Hero 6 and also co-wrote and co-directed Zootopia, wrote the screenplay of Moana but a lot of people got the credits for the story, including the directors of this film Ron Clements and John MuskerBig Hero 6’s directors Chris Williams and Don HallWreck-It Ralph 2’s writer Pamela Ribon, and twin Hawaiian screenwriters Aaron and Jordan Kandell.

For the most part, I really enjoyed the writing for Moana. I loved that the movie opened with a lesson in Polynesian mythology. In general, I thought that this specific culture was represented with respect but it was still made fun. The writing for the two main characters was also great. Where the movie’s magic kinda broke down was in the actual narrative of the film. The first act felt a bit drawn out – I wanted to get onto the adventure part quicker. I felt that the movie was just basically checking things off a list in during the set-up: Moana had Disney staples such as the dead relative/teacher, the overprotective parents, and the idea that everyone should stay in their place. The ending was also a bit predictable and I wish they would have done without the cliches like failing at first try and leaving and coming back in the heat of the battle. Nevertheless, a few narrative ideas that I thought were great was the fact that Moana didn’t have or need a love interest. Also, the final confrontation was female-centric, similarly to Frozen, and I would have had a problem with that if Moana didn’t have strong and cool male character – Maui – as well.

Directing and Animation

Ron Clements and John Musker, who have made such Disney classic as The Little MermaidAlladinHercules, and Princess and the Frog, directed the film and did a wonderful job. The pacing of the film could have been better but I absolutely adored the visuals and the animation. All the environment, especially the ocean, were brought to life just magnificently – the water looked both realistic and magical – so much better than another recent water based animation Finding Dory. The character design was also super cool. Moana actually looked like a real person, with realistic body proportions! Maui looked super cool too – I liked that his tattoos were not only a visual prop but a part of the plot. Moana’s sidekicks were good too. The chicken was mostly used for comic relief which was neither a hit or a miss for me. I wish, however, that they would have brought the piggy along for the ride, as he was super cute. The baby Moana was also so adorable. You couldn’t not fall in love with her. Lastly, one of my favorite parts of the film was the good old training montage for both Moana and Maui.

Music

Tarzan’s composer Mark MancinaHamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a member of Oceanic music group Te Vaka – Opetaia Foa’i – all worked on the soundtrack and did an amazing job. To being with, I loved hearing some of the songs in Tokelauan language – it added more authenticity to the film’s atmosphere. The more mainstream pop-songy numbers were also great. I see a lot of potential in one song especially in finally making the world let go of Let it Go – I’m talking about the main song of MoanaHow Far I’ll Go. I liked the version sung by Cravalho much more than Alessia Cara’s credits version. Even though I love Cara and her lyrics, I felt that Cravalho voice just had more emotion and fit the song better. But I can see why Disney wanted a more well-known singer to record a version of the song. Let it Go was also recorded by Idina Menzel and a more mainstream choice Demi Lovato.

Other two songs that I’d like to name are You’re Welcome by Dwayne Johnson. I was super impressed with Johnson’s voice – is there anything he can’t do? The song itself kinda reminded me of another Disney tune whose name I don’t remember, but it just sounded so familiar. The last song I’m gonna mention was the one sung by the crab – that was the only part of the score that I didn’t feel on board with.

Voice cast

  • Auli’i Cravalho was amazing as Moana. Her voice just had so much emotion and fit the character perfectly. I think she has a long career ahead of her, at least I hope so.
  • Dwayne Johnson as Maui was great too. He just had so much charisma in his voice alone. This was only his second voice role. Next year, he has 3 big movies coming up – Fast 8Baywatch, and Jumanji.

In short, Moana was another great picture from Disney. It had spectacular characters, nice thematical ideas and gorgeous animated visuals. I only wish they would have made the story a bit more original.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Moana trailer

P.S. Before Moana, a new Disney short called, Inner Workings, was screened. It was kinda the Inside Out of the body rather than the mind. It was both funny and cute as well as sad and depressing (like Pixar levels sad). Loved the main message – treat yourself, escape the routine and enjoy life!

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Movie review: Trolls

Movie reviews

Hello, everyone!

Usually, I go to the cinema on a Friday or during the weekend. However, I made an exception this week and went to see a film on a Monday afternoon as a reward for finishing a very depressing anthropology essay (I wrote about race and racism). As a result, I chose a movie that I hoped would make me smile and would lift my spirits – Trolls. So, let’s see if the film succeeded in that regard!!

IMDb summary: Enter a colorful, wondrous world populated by hilariously unforgettable characters and discover the story of the overly optimistic Trolls, with a constant song on their lips, and the comically pessimistic Bergens, who are only happy when they have trolls in their stomach

Writing

Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, writers of the Kung Fu Panda series and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, penned the script for Trolls and did a good job. The narrative was not the most original – it had the basic rescue plot, a storyline of hero’s growth, a dead relative (a Disney/Pixar staple in a DreamWorks film?) and even a Cinderella-esque plot-line on a side. However, it was executed effectively. Trolls was cheesy and had heart: it was pleasing to the eye, the mind, and the soul. It portrayed universal topics of friendship and family and looked for the balance between positivity and negativity. It overcame the problematic and a tiny bit cruel premise that one can only be happy by hurting others with a concluding notion that happiness is inside all of us, but sometimes we need others to bring it out. The film’s jokes were mostly aimed at children, but a few more adult lines were also slipped in, including ‘Little slappy, make daddy happy’ moment. I also appreciated ‘the happiness equals pizza’ scene.

Directing

Mike Mitchel (worked on the Shrek movies and the new SpongeBob film) and Walt Dohrn (co-wrote the Shrek series, the Madagascar series and Rise of the Guardians) directed the film and did a nice job. I loved the fact that they and the DreamWorks animators just went all out with the colors. Trolls was an absolute explosion of the rainbow – all big and bright. I loved the troll’s hair and the way they used it as a tool or a weapon. Both the hair and all other surrounding textures appeared to be very furry and soft – I really wanted to physically touch that world. The structure/appearance of the trolls’ bodies reminded me a bit of smurfs, although it was actually based on the Danish woodcutter’s Thomas Dam’s designs. Because of the way trolls acted, they also had some similarities to minions. I wish that Trolls would become the new Minions because I am so tired of those yellow fire-hindrents – they are literarly everywhere. Trolls’ movements (or singing, dancing, hugging, and scrapbooking) were realized nicely as well: they moved realistic enough but also had the right amount of fantasy’s fluidity. Lastly, the movie had a mid-credits scene, so make sure you stay through the first part of the credits to watch it.

Music and Voice Work

Christophe Beck was responsible for the music and he did a fairly good job. The film had a good mixture of well-known pop songs and, since I enjoy pop music and different covers of it, I liked the overall soundtrack. My favorite performances were the sadly happy ‘True Colors’ scene and the unapologetically bright and explosive finale with ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’. That song was literally everywhere this past summer (and will probably re-appear after the release of this picture) and was the best marketing for the film. However, I wish they would have released the movie’s version with both Kendrick’s and Timberlake’s vocals, instead of it just being sung by Timberlake. Both of them did a good job with their songs and dialogue, though. Kendrick (Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, Pitch Perfect and upcoming The Accountant) was bubbly and sweet as Poppy and Timberlake (Friends with Benefits, In Time, upcoming Woody Allen project) was moody and whiny enough to be Branch. Branch’s character was probably the one that I related the most to. I also liked the meta-moment when Branch said ‘I don’t sing’ even though the person behind his voice is literally one of the greatest singers/entertainers of out generation.

The supporting voice cast included a few actors, a few comedians, a few singers and even a few YouTubers: Zooey DeschanelRussell BrandJames CordenGwen Stefani, and Icona Pop all had characters to bring to life. Youtube was represented by Ricky Dillon, Kandee JohnsonGloZell GreenCarrie Hope Fletcher, and Connie Glynn (Noodlerella). All of them were supposed to have voice cameos in the film, although I’m not sure in which versions. I definitely know that Carrie and Connie aurally appeared in the UK version – the one I saw.

Rate: 3.75/5

In short, Trolls was a delightful little film. It had superb animation, some nice songs, and good performances from the voice cast. The story lacked originality but entertained me in that familiar kinda way. Next similar film – an animated musical comedy SING will be coming out in December/January!

Trailer: Trolls trailer

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