Category Archives: Family

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” Movie Review

This is that kind of superhero movie for those who want a relative break from all of the $200+ million blowout epics. Despite what many may say, we need to have this every once in a while. This superhero comedy actioner was released worldwide on July 6th, 2018, marking the 20th (!) film in the impossibly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. Receiving positive reviews, it has so far grossed over $$450 million at the box office against a budget of around $162 million. And that is reportedly one of the franchise’s lowest budgets to date. Following the success of the first Ant-Man in 2015, director Peyton Reed was immediately excited to get involved with the sequel. According to him, including the titular female hero in the second go-around was a “no-brainer” and constantly insisted that they were equal to one another. It’s also the first Marvel film to feature a female superhero in a lead role, even if it’s shared with her male co-star. Taking place shortly before the events of Avengers: Infinity War, we once again find star/co-writer Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, a petty con man turned crime-fighting superhero with the technology to shrink or grow in size. In the last few days of his house arrest, he gets a signal that might lead to Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp and wife to Pym Particle inventor Hank Pym, who vanished into the quantum realm decades earlier. This attracts the attention of Pym and his daughter Hope, who seeks to take her mother’s mantle as the Wasp, and have to perform a few heists to get the right equipment. They are, however, being followed and sabotaged by a mysterious woman named Ghost, who possesses the ability to walk or phase through solid objects. I enjoyed the original Ant-Man, released in 2015, for what it was. It was a light, funny, breezy heist comedy with a superhero makeover. It also made for an extremely memorable viewing experience, as my theater that day experienced a power surge followed by 5 minutes of footage that were completely silent. While it was frustrating to me that Edgar Wright was bumped off of the project after years of trying to get it off the ground, the end result by Peyton Reed was surprisingly joyous. And following the game-changing events in Infinity War this April, I was curious to see how Ant-Man and the Wasp could handle following it up. Turns out, it came at a perfect time to relax from the heavy, devastating moments of that huge crossover. This provides a nice, smooth viewing experience for the summer. I really like how appropriately small the scale and stakes are in this film. Lang and Pym aren’t concerned about saving the world because there are other heroes for that- something that’s constantly referenced by them. In fact, almost all of the action takes place within the San Francisco Bay Area, keeping things tight and contained. Unfortunately, that strength also turns out to be the films biggest weakness. While I do like how much more lowkey everything is, it just feels void of any real consequence. There is a mid-credits scene that does bring things back into perspective, and it even got an audible gasp out of me and the audience. Paul Rudd is as likable and fun as ever playing Scott Lang. He perfectly balances the sensibilities of a struggling single dad with that of a costumed superhero trying to do the right thing. Since he co-wrote the screenplay, a lot of the dialogue for his character feels natural and fluid in his mouth. Michael Peña and Evangeline Lilly both return as Lang’s friend Luis and Hope, respectively. Luis and his security crew were funny, even though their improv abilities was downplayed this time around. Lilly, meanwhile, is an absolute badass as The Wasp, fitting into the costume perfectly and carrying a great burdDen of responsibility. Her determination to find her mother offers some nice context and motivation. Hannah John-Kamen takes a little bit to grow comfortable in her role as Ghost, but once she does, she ranks among some of Marvel’s better on-screen villains. Her motivations don’t make necessarily evil, and in some ways can draw some sympathy from the audience. But as always, I didn’t feel there was enough screentime for her character. As is fitting with the nature of the film, the technical aspects of Ant-Man and the Wasp are lowkey but still notable in some regards. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti, who has previous experience with some comic book adaptations, paints the story in fullscreen glory. There are a surprising amount of practical sets used, which helps some of the scenes pop. The color palette is a bland grey, which makes the colorful costumes standout more. Speaking of costumes, the designs for the titular heroes and Ghost are outstanding. They’ve been updated since the previous installment, and look great on the characters. The film is edited jointly by Marvel veterans Craig Wood and Dan Lebenthal. The most impressive sequence, as last time, is a flash montage in which Luis breaks down events as actors mouth his words. And while the dramatic and comedic moments feel rightly stitched together, the action scenes, are once again, cut to shit. Virtually all of the MCU films have this problem, and I’m starting to get sick of it. Frequent action movie collaborator Christophe Beck composes and conducts the instrumental film score for the picture, which is about exactly what you’d expect from the studio at this point. The typical fanfare for when our heroes show up, a dark and brooding theme to highlight the villains, and fast-paced tracks for when action is going down. The theme song in the end credits, however, was a fun change of pace. It included electric guitar riffs, bass walks, and drum kit fills. Interestingly, that theme felt reminiscent of theme songs from old comic book movies in the 60’s and 70’s. It also makes use of the song “It Takes Two” by Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock, which feels like the perfect fit for the story. It does take two heroes to make things right, further emphasizing the teamwork dynamic of the titular protagonists. By no means remarkable or overly important in the grand scheme of things for the franchise, Ant-Man and The Wasp is still a fun, lightweight palette cleanser for the whole family. Pretty much on par with its predecessor, you can expect another round of breezy entertainment from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s great as a breath of fresh air following the gut-punch that Infinity War was. Nothing more, nothing less.

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“Toy Story” Movie Review

In the vast world of cinema, there are game-changers and then there are THE game-changers. Consider this film, dear friends and readers, to be among the latter group. This computer-animated comedy, the first of its kind in feature length, was originally released by Disney on November 22nd, 1995. It made back over 12 times its $30 million budget at the worldwide box office and became one of the highest grossing films of the year. Later spawning a franchise, the film also garnered unanimous critical acclaim, dozens of award nominations usually not considered for animated features, and was one of only 6 films to be selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in its first year of eligibility. Directed by John Lasseter, the then-unproven company Pixar Animation Studios was offered a deal to make a full-length picture after the success of multiple shorts. Written by no less than 8 individuals, including Joss Whedon and Andrew Stanton, the original story reels for the film were so disastrous that Disney almost abandoned it on several occasions. Executive producer Steve Jobs (Yes, the creator of Apple) had such shaky faith in the production that he began thinking about selling Pixar to other rival computing companies. As most people are probably aware of, the high concept story is focused on Andy, a young boy whose various toys come to life whenever humans are not around. On the day of his birthday party, the whole team is thrown off when a new action figure comes in named Buzz Lightyear, who’s actually unaware of the fact that he’s a plastic toy. This begins a rivalry with Woody, a pull-string cowboy doll who has general leadership over the gang. After the two of them accidentally get lost, they must work together to find Andy and the rest of the toys as the family is soon moving to a new home. Hollywood, and the movie industry in general, has a certain pattern that it unintentionally adheres to. There’s a particular genre or style that most studios and filmmakers like to continue or imitate because it’s simply the norm. Any initial attempt to break away from that mold is kind of scoffed at by the larger community. And then comes along a film so original and different that it literally changes everything. I mean, EVERYTHING. Toy Story should certainly be counted among those films, for it not only showed the untapped potential of computer animation, but also revealed Pixar as a forerunner in creative storytelling. And while it may be their first, it’s still unequivocally their best. It’s truly impossible to understate just how impactful this film was at the time of traditional animation being much more acceptable. That’s not to discredit anything that came before this one. (My favorite animated film is still a classic Disney picture) But a bunch of newbies heading up a company that just started as a computing branch for Steve Jobs cut their teeth so effectively. The screenplay was the first one for an animated film to receive an Academy Award nomination, which would become almost precedent for future Pixar endeavors. Witty without being cynical, and heartwarming without being sappy. And the most amazing part is that the film is able to cram so much worldbuilding and plot into just 81 minutes, yet never feels rushed or bloated. Two of their most career-defining roles, Tim Allen and Tom Hanks were practically born to voice Buzz Lightyear and Woody, respectively. The chemistry between them is so natural and on point that you’d swear they’ve been doing this for years. Their comradery provides much of the emotional punch throughout, whether it be touching or hilarious. One of the funniest characters is Mr. Potato Head, voiced by the late great Don Rickles. Despite his mean-spirited nature, there’s just something lovable about his breakable parts that makes him endearing to audiences. Another notable player is John Ratzenberger as Hamm the piggy bank, who would go on to have a role in every single Pixar film. And while Toy Story may have aged in some parts, it’s still a wonderful piece of technical prowess. As the first full-length film of its kind, the animation was extremely revolutionary for the time. The crew use the full 24 frames per second watching it and then walking out wondering how they did it. Admittedly, some of the animations for characters or actions, particularly ones for humans and the dog Scud, look fairly aged on rewatches. But it still holds up amazingly today thanks to fantastic sound design and editing choices by Robert Gordon and Lee Unkrich, who’d go on to direct Toy Story 3 and Coco. Randy Newman composes and conducts the musical score, which perfectly matches the whimsical and childlike nature of the story. He uses conventional strings and bombastic brass during some of the more sweeping scenes for adventurous effect. He also brings his signature jazzy, seductive style to more piano-heavy tunes. Newman lends his sweet voice to a handful of original songs that are performed throughout the film. The most famous and memorable one is “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” which plays during the opening and closing credits. The lyrics are a swell ode to the core themes and motifs of the story, as well as the later two sequels, of friendship and trust regardless if you’re made of plastic or flesh. Packed with unforgettable characters, creative set pieces, excellent quotes, and plenty of heart to propel forward, Toy Story is an extraordinarily realized landmark adventure full of groundbreaking moments. Nearly every frame in this film featured what would come to be expected from a film made by Pixar, and spawned an entire generation of imitators in its wake. Not often can it be said that something has so boldly changed the ebb and flow of a cinematic tide. But Toy Story can lay such a claim, as it still shows how much other companies, including themselves, what can be accomplished in the field of animation.

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“Incredibles 2” Movie Review

What we have to take away from this sequel isn’t that superheroes are an overly saturated form of escapism that gradually makes human beings weaker and more vulnerable. No, what we take away is that 14 years after the original film, Brad Bird is STILL able to school young filmmakers and producers on how to make a truly playful blockbuster. This computer-animated superhero adventure marks the 20th overall feature film from Pixar Animation Studios. Released worldwide on June 15th, 2018, the film has unsurprisingly been able to swallow up over $793 million at the box office, boosted up by strong reviews and high anticipation. Following some pessimism at the summer box office, it managed to set a new record for the biggest opening weekend of all time for an animated film, finally surpassing the 3rd Ice Age film after 9 years. Once again written and directed by Brad Bird, the idea for a sequel to The Incredibles gestated with the filmmaker for many years but promised he would only make one when he felt he had a worthy story. Reportedly, he took some story thread ideas that never made it into the first installment and tried to expand on them. It wasn’t until after the premiere of 2015’s Tomorrowland that he officially committed to making the sequel a reality. When Pixar swapped the release date with Toy Story 4, he had to rush through and try and complete everything in time. Picking up immediately where the original film left off, the superpowered Parr family yet again comes under political and public scrutiny after an attempt to save the city goes awry. When all hope seems lost, they are approached by Winston and Evelyn Deavor, a brother and sister in charge of a powerful telecommunications corporation. Winston is a big fan of superheroes and offers them a chance to regain favor and legislation that would allow them to relive the “glory days.” Bob/Mr. Incredible agrees to stay at home with the kids while Elastigirl takes part in the publicity stunt, only to go head-to-head with a mysterious new villain known as the Screenslaver. This is a sequel that I have been anxiously waiting to see in theaters for over a decade now. (Just saying that makes me feel so old) The Incredibles isn’t just one of my favorite Pixar movies, but also easily in my top 5 favorite superhero films ever. And I have also really enjoyed Bird’s Ratatouille as well as his transition to live-action with the superbly directed actioner Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol. So imagine the surprise on my face when he FINALLY announced that a sequel to his animated masterpiece was already on the way. I felt that more so when the release date was pushed up. Even so, I tried to be cautious because, with the exception of Toy Story 3, Pixar doesn’t have a great track record with animated sequels. Thankfully, I wasn’t let down because this movie was so much fun, I loved Incredibles 2 almost as much as the first. As with last time, one of the best things about this film is that Brad Bird understands the tropes of the superhero genre so well. The world has seen a lot of change since the year 2004, not the least of which is the unbelievably lucrative genre of superhero movies. The filmmakers seem to understand that and go beyond the traditional definition of what a hero really is. It’s not just what Elastigirl is doing in public, but Bob singlehandedly trying to keep all 3 of his wildly different children in line. As the costume designer Edna puts it, “Parenting, when done properly, is a heroic act.” On the other end of the spectrum, the good public work that the family is putting proves an inspiration to other “supers.” One such moment came in the introduction of Voyd, a Kristen Stewart-like super with the ability to create portals that looks up to Elastigirl as a childhood hero. Most of the original cast members, save for Dash, return for the second go-around and haven’t lost an ounce of their touch. In a truly smart move, Holly Hunter is pushed to the forefront in a chance to shine as Elastigirl, with all the toughness of a badass and the warmth of a truly caring mother. Craig T. Nelson, in a fantastic role switch, is hilarious as he struggles with taking charge of the kids, each with their own set of challenges. Newcomers Catherine Keener and Bob Odenkirk both do great work as the Deavor siblings. Keener’s world-weary cynicism feels perfectly parallel to Odenkirk’s wide-eyed optimism for the return of superheroes. But let’s be honest: The real scene-stealer was Jack-Jack the Parr’s infant son who’s just discovering his own powers. In normal hands, these scenes with Jack-Jack and his family’s dealing with them could come off as unappealing and be pandering. But Bird, well-aware of the excitement and terrors of parenthood, explores it with wondrous possibilities and uses brilliant timing to his advantage. As one can always expect from Pixar, the behind-the-scenes technical aspects for Incredibles 2 are absolutely to die for. The thing I love most about Brad Bird’s animation is that he’s able to make it feel so cinematic and playful. The action is framed and shown almost entirely in rotoscope, allowing us to really seem like it’s a live-action film. This goes for the fantastic lighting effects, which illuminate every single scene perfectly. However, there is one particular moment with rapidly flashing strobes that could prove too much for certain viewers. And of course, the animation is absolutely gorgeous. The differences between this film and its predecessor are almost night and day, with character movements and emotions being captured so flawlessly. It also helps that the use of bright colors and tones make it a joy to look at, and one of the more visually distinctive films of the genre in recent years. Michael Giacchino returns to provide the instrumental score for this sequel, and it’s just as fun as last time. The soundtrack uses similar sounds and leitmotifs from the previous installment, such as piercing trumpet lines and jazzy saxophones. Once again, along with old-school percussion equipment, it feels like an espionage thriller from the 60’s or 70’s. New tracks include ones that rely on low strings or plucked harps, typically during moments of mystery. While not as intense as the original, it still feels right for what they went for. There are also some interesting vocal tracks recorded by Disney’s a capella group, meant to be old-fashioned theme songs for the adult heroes. Not only was this really inspired but also gave more characterization to the world that they inhabit. My main issue with the film, as I’m sure other reviewers probably pointed out, was the villain Screenslaver. As the plot progresses and we learn more about their motivations and plans, there is an element that makes sense to their logic. In fact, in some ways, they’re actually right and justified in what happens. But the way in which they were revealed felt kind of underwhelming and a lesser version of Syndrome in the first film. By the time the final showdown came, it felt as though there was an emotional connection or tension that was missing. Aside from that, Incredibles 2 is a rollicking family adventure worthy of the titular heroes. I’m genuinely surprised and pleased with how much effort Brad Bird put into making this sequel over the years. One can only imagine where a third installment could go, but hopefully, we won’t have to wait another 14 years to see it. In any case, this one was worth the wait.

 

 

“Paddington 2” Movie Review

I feel like I’m a little late on this one, but I’m glad I got to check it out. Because, quite frankly, I really needed this movie today. And hopefully, everyone else feels the exact same way. This family adventure film was released in the U.K. on November 10th, 2017, before hitting the United States on January 12th, 2018. It grossed over $226 million, only slightly less than its predecessor, but went on to become the highest-rated film of all time on Rotten Tomatoes. (I’m not even making that up) Following the massive success of the first film in 2015, the sequel was set up for release at the Weinstein Company. Following the sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, however, both producer David Heyman and British distributor Studio Canal looked for another American studio to handle a movie intended for children and families. Thankfully, Warner Bros. Pictures picked it up for $32 million and the film was officially saved. About a year after the previous installment, Paddington Bear, a kind-hearted anthropomorphic bear from Darkest Peru, has settled with the human Brown family in London. Approaching his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, he desires to get her an old and expensive pop-up book of London. However, the book is stolen by Phoenix Buchanan, a washed-up actor, and Paddington is subsequently framed and wrongfully thrown in prison for it. Now the Browns, Paddington, and his fellow inmates must find the book and clear the bear’s name in time for Aunt Lucy’s birthday. I only watched the first Paddington movie back in December, and I loved it. It was not only one of the biggest cinematic surprises I had in a long while but I genuine regretted missing it in theaters. Even though I wasn’t entirely familiar with the late Michael Bond’s hand-drawn children’s books, it wasn’t hard at all for me to connect with the raincoat-wearing bear who loves his marmalade. Yet again, I missed the opportunity to catch the sequel in January, only getting the opportunity to finally watch it on an international plane. And, hand to God, I totally feel bad about it. Because Paddington 2 is one of the best family films I have ever seen in my life. I’m being completely serious here. And maybe a lot of that has to do with the fantastic timing of this movie’s release. Under normal circumstances, a studio movie about a talking bear acting extremely British would have been simply seen as “cute” and “fun” before being indefinitely put to the cinematic sidelines. But because the last 18 months under a new leader of the free world have made so many ordinary people feel so miserable on the daily, (This critic included) director and co-writer Paul King could not have put this out into the world at a better point in time. We needed a piece of accessible media, cinema, to remind everyone that “If you’re kind and polite, the world will be right.” Granted, they couldn’t have known all of the horrible things that would have been done or said under the Trump administration, but that’s beside the point. It acts as a superpowered antidote to actions such as Brexit and the travel ban, as well as the xenophobia that inspired both. Administering said antidote is Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington Bear, whose charm will immediately win viewers over. Think of him like a British version of Mr. Rogers; he’s kind, well-behaved, gives everyone compliments, and never forgets to use his manners. While the two children of the Brown family aren’t particularly memorable, Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville do great work as the parents. Both have their own insecurities but are still caring and try to help guide Paddington through the real world at every turn. Peter Capaldi, Julia Walters, and Jim Broadbent all turn in fun supporting roles that give more perspective to the silly plot. But to me, the true scene-stealers are both Brendan Gleeson as Knuckles McGinty and Hugh Grant as Phoenix Buchanan, respectively. While Gleeson is a rough prison cook with a heart of gold, Grant gives arguably the best performance of his career as a selfish, washed up actor trying to respark his fame. You can tell he’s having an absolute blast hamming it up as the villain, and there’s chatter that he could break into Best Supporting Actor. That’s no joke. And from a pure filmmaking point of view, Paul King is inspired with the way he tells this story. The steady, fluid camerawork by Erik Wilson does excellent work following the ever-moving plot. In fact, some scenes are planted with unique symmetry to highlight what’s important for the moment. Combined with the vibrant and dynamic color scheme, and you’d easily be forgiven for thinking that Wes Anderson made this movie instead. It sure feels like one of his more tame, fast-paced comedies except much more family-friendly. Plus the editing by Mark Everson and Edgar Wright collaborator Jonathan Amos is frenetic but never disorienting. Each cut feels appropriately planned and some shots are even cut together to create a sort of long-take montage. It also helps that the CGI work brings Paddington to life so convincingly. Having been highly prolific yet underrated the last few years, Dario Marinelli comes in as the replacement for composing the musical score. His score is a diverse one, with several tracks that contrast each other nicely yet still retain the innocence of the tone. Case in point, the opening track, when we’re introduced to Windsor Garden, is jolly and filled with life. The composition has upbeat percussion such as xylophones and high-hats running well alongside the strings. Then, another theme is a more serene piano melody that’s calming and nice to listen to but feels less fun or jovial than other tracks. In keeping with the happy spirits of the film, the filmmakers decide to end the film creatively. While a wonderful hand-drawn animation plays over onscreen, Harry Belafonte’s song “Jump in the Line” can be heard and acts as a cute dance number. So yeah, all of that is one long way of saying that we needed this movie now more than ever. In a world where so many awful things are seen happening on the national news on a regular basis, here’s a little bubble of escapism and happiness that reminds everyone to look for the goodness in them. And somehow, it encourages us to find it. Knowing exactly what it needs to do and how to do it, Paddington 2 is a warm slice of feel-good, life-affirming cinema that all families must watch. In essence, this movie is a ginormous bear hug both for our bodies and our souls. We may not deserve it, but it’s what we all require right now, to let us know that it’s not the end of the world.

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“The Incredibles” Movie Review

I’m seriously considering extending this New Year’s resolution over to next year because it lets me rewatch movies I love and then gives me an excuse to review them. Well, that and the long-awaited sequel is finally out in theaters so there’s little point in resisting the urge any longer. This computer-animated superhero film, the 6th overall feature produced by Pixar Animation Studios, was the closing night selection for the 2004 BFI London Film Festival before releasing in theaters on November 5th of that year. It proved a massive critical and commercial success, grossing nearly 7 times its $92 million budget worldwide along with 2 Academy Awards and 2 further nominations. This makes it the studio’s first animated feature to win 2 awards for one movie, soon to be followed in the years afterward. Written and directed by Brad Bird, the concept for the film first came up in the mid-90’s when he was struggling to break into the business after the commercial failure of his underrated The Iron Giant. The filmmaker was the first one not in Pixar’s initial core creative group to break into making an animated movie, only getting by on an old college friend named John Lasseter. This meant he had to hire his own team from scratch, which arguably gave him more artistic freedom. During the animation process, Studio Ghibli legend Hayao Miyazaki made a visit and voiced his support, as it was something he had never seen in an American animated film. Taking place in an alternate 1962, the story centers on a dysfunctional family of superpowered individuals named the Parrs. Following a number of lawsuits resulting from the collateral damage caused by their work, all of the living “supers” in the world are forced into retirement or hiding. The patriarch of the Parr family, Bob, formally the incredibly strong Mr. Incredible, is bored by his new life as an insurance adjuster and becomes excited when a mysterious woman named Mirage comes to him with an offer to use his powers again. But something doesn’t sit right with his housewife Helen, formerly the wide-stretching Elastigirl, and soon both she and her children are drawn into the job. If there are just 2 things I love watching consistently, it’s superheroes and Pixar. Put the both of them together, and you already have a recipe to make me at least moderately interested or entertained. I have seen The Incredibles more times than I can count over the years. In fact, I’m fairly positive that it was the first movie I ever saw in a theater. Depending on my mood, this usually switches places with the first Toy Story as my all-time favorite Pixar movie. And now that long-awaited and demanded sequel is FINALLY coming out, it seemed like a prime opportunity to give this modern classic a proper review. And once again, doing so has reaffirmed my love for it. Perhaps the thing I appreciate most about this film, more so than the extravagant action scenes, is the loving homages. Whilst the film was released right before the big boom of superhero movies, it functions more like a combination of old 1960’s spy thrillers and serial comic book adaptations from the 1940’s. Case in point, the heroes can only be recognized if they wear their secretive masks, not just their costumes. The fascinating thing is just how prescient Brad Bird was about superhero movie tropes, and how they would go on  in future genre films. Edna, the Incredibles’ main costume designer, constantly berates them on why it’s terrible to swear capes on the job. And the villain mocks his adversary, “You sly dog! You got me monologuing!” Bird may not have made a genre film before, but he understands it so well, giving him n edge over most live-action superhero operas. Let’s talk about the voice acting; everyone involved gives it their A-game and feels natural in their roles. Without Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter, it’s hard to imagine Mr. Incredible or Elastigirl being as relatable as they are. Their chemistry is on point, from the overt sexual attraction they share to the nasty parental fights that their children are witnesses to. Speaking of children, Sarah Vowell and Spencer Fox do great work as Dash and Violet, respectively. One is an insecure teenage girl with the ability to turn invisible and create force fields while the other is a young boy with the gift of super-speed. My favorite of the bunch might be Samuel L. Jackson as the ice-powered Lucius Best/Frozone. A far cry from his more vulgar live-action roles, the actor still gets to show off his effortless charisma through expert delivery of the fantastic dialogue. And then, there’s Jason Lee as the main villain Syndrome. We learn his motivations early on, and are able to inkle the slightest bit of sympathy for his ultimate game plan. And as far as the technical aspects go, The Incredibles is just such delightful pleasure to the eyes. This was the first Pixar film where all of the primary characters were human beings, as opposed to toys or underwater fish or extra-dimensional monsters. So there was a bit of challenge to adapting the computer-animated elements to something more tangible. Thankfully, the new technology they developed worked with flying colors, capturing the subtle dynamics in facial expressions and hair movements. The animation is also able to capture the diverse environments that the story takes us to. Whether it’s the dull color palette of the suburbs or the lush forest and shoreline of a mysterious island, nothing looks out of place. The way camera is able to fluidly follow moving bodies during the exciting action scenes is really marvelous. Capping it all off is Michael Giacchino’s amazing musical score, one of the best from cinema in the 2000’s. His first of 7 collaborations with the studio, the film was mostly recorded using old-fashioned analogue tapes, the same used back in the 1960’s. Utilizing a full symphonic orchestra, the brass section, especially the trumpet, is given main priority on the title tracks. The way they pierce sounds like an improvisational riff, made up as the adventure goes along. As chaotic as that may sound, it actually fits perfectly into the dynamic, near-unpredictable story that has been constructed. Also accompanying it is jazzy saxophones, which allow the two to feed off each other’s energy like the title superhero team. With an actual family at the heart and center of the film, there’s plenty to enjoy on both ends of the genetic spectrum. Kids will be entertained by all of the action and visuals, while adults will find appeal in its clever jokes and jabs at genre conventions. The Incredibles is matched in gorgeous animation only by its blazing originality. The more times I watch this movie, the more I’m convinced that it might be Pixar’s magnum opus. It’s so complete and breezily lightfooted that one can’t help but fall in love with the world that Brad Bird has created. 14 years onward and very few superhero movies I can think of have even come close to touching it. And it’s not even based on a comic book.

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“Isle of Dogs” Movie Review

Those dogs did NOT deserve the treatment they received. As the owner of a boxer, seeing anything like that portrayed on the big screen makes me uncomfortable. Acclaimed writer-director Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated picture first premiered at the 2018 Berlinale in mid-February, where Anderson won a Silver Bear award for directing. After closing out the 2018 South by Southwest Film Festival, the film entered a limited American release on March 23rd, 2018. It has done rather well in its run thus far, grossing over $39.6 million at the box office and should perform even better once it releases widely on April 20th. Anderson’s ninth overall feature and his second using stop-motion animation, the story apparently was born out of the auteur’s obsessive love of the films from legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. It’s also said that he was heavily influenced by holiday specials by Rankin/Bass Productions as well as the exploits of Mecha-Godzilla. Set in a dystopian future, canines have not only grown to epidemic levels but have also contracted a new flu virus. Fearing transition to humans, Mayor Kobayashi of Megasaki City, Japan, banishes all dogs to Trash Island, where several of them form tight-knit packs. The mayor’s young ward and nephew Atari travels to the island in an effort to find his lost dog Spot, all the while civil unrest is becoming more apparent in the city. I’m a big fan of Wes Anderson and his works, some better than others. His previous film, 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, was one of the earliest reviews on my Blog and is perhaps one of my favorite comedies of the decades. So the prospect of him writing and directing another stop-motion picture 9 years after the wonderful Fantastic Mr. Fox? I’m already signed up before I read the plot synopsis. Well, I’ll say that Isle of Dogs is a lower-tier film coming from the American auteur, and certainly is no modern masterpiece. But still, that shouldn’t necessarily deter you from watching it because I had a fun time watching it. However, I’m unfortunately inclined to agree with a recent controversy that has arisen regarding this film. Specifically, Anderson and studio Fox Searchlight have been accused by a number of critics for misappropriating Japanese people and their culture. While there are a number of things that it does get right, it ultimately does succumb to certain Hollywood stereotypes. Moreover, some of them were played for laughs, a large amount of which I actually partook in. Among these was the language barrier between the Japanese, the dogs, and the Americans. While dog barks have been happily translated into English for us, the Japanese characters are often speaking without any subtitles, only aided by a running gag of a television translator. The concept was initially amusing but definitely stretched to the max. The hugely stacked ensemble voice cast does extremely well at almost every turn, especially some of Anderson’s regular collaborators. Including *deep breath* Edward Norton, Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Yoko Ono, Courtney B. Vance, Liev Schrieber, Akira Ito, Harvey Keitel, Ken Watanabe, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Fisher Stevens, Akira Takayama, Greta Gerwig, Anjelica Huston, and co-writer Kunichi Nomura. With the possible exception of Gerwig, all of their characters feel like a worthy addition to the tight, almost flight-footed plot. Most of the dialogue is delivered in an extremely deadpan way, almost as if they’re all aware of the fact they’re in a movie. While there is an apparent melancholy to what everyone’s saying, the manner in which it’s said is nothing short of hilarious. And from a purely technical standpoint, Isle of Dogs is a Wes Anderson movie through and through. All of his distinct trademarks are in place, not the least of which includes the cinematography by Tristan Oliver. Capturing a certain color palette between gray and red, there are a number of static wide shots and close-ups. We also get to see his perfect symmetry where literally everything onscreen is shown in an exact order, from character arrangements to everyday items in the background. The differences in animation between this picture and Fantastic Mr. Fox are astounding with the improvements. Freezing just a single frame would be worth extensive analysis on its own with all the details on the figures and environments. What’s more impressive is that even something like explosions or fight scenes are put together with puffy clouds of cotton, not CG. Plus the editing by Ralph Foster and Edward Bursch is frenetic. Often, something serious or drawn out will be punctuated by an abrupt cut, eliciting real laughter out of my audience. In his 4th collaboration with the director, and the umpteenth in his seemingly endless cinematic hot streak, Alexandre Desplat composes the musical score. One of the most obvious instruments heard here is traditional taiko drums with deep impacts and pulsating rhythms. It is frequently accompanied by ferocious work from auxiliary equipment such as steel pipes and cowbells, which maintain the craziness of this story. Meanwhile, Desplat also manages to incorporate a set of bamboo whistles into perfectly idiosyncratic melodies. In all of this effort, he totally succeeds in making a Western film sound as foreign as possible to audiences while still making it not sound too alien to enjoy. With some truly stunning stop-motion animation, an appropriately self-aware cast, and a compelling story that flies by through its 101 minute-long runtime, Isle of Dogs is a whimsical adventure that occasionally gets bogged down in politics. Fans of Wes Anderson will certainly have a lot to chow down on repeat viewings, even though this definitely isn’t measured up to his finest work. One last thing: If you say the title fast enough, you’ll begin saying, “I love dogs.” And this movie might just convert you to a lover, if you aren’t one already.

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“Phantom Thread” Movie Review

A feature-length advertisement for joining (Or not joining, depending on your interpretation) the fashion industry. That’s what this is essentially. The latest historical romantic drama from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson saw a sneaky limited release in the United States on Christmas Day of 2017. It has received largely positive critical response, but has yet to recoup its $35 million budget at the box office, a common problem for Anderson’s films. Though many assumed that it was coming in too late to qualify for awards season, the film surprised the industry when it gained nominations for 6 Academy Awards. According to the director, the idea for the story came to him while he was incredibly sick in bed and became convinced his wife was trying to poison him. It’s also gained even more press in the last few months because Daniel Day-Lewis announced his retirement from acting and this would be his last performance. Set in post-World War II London circa the 1950’s, the story follows Reynolds Woodcock, played by Day-Lewis, an obsessive fashion designer for members of high society. Along with his sister Cyril, played by Lesley Manville, he spends all his time crafting beautiful haute couture dresses while managing his controlling personality. Then, he meets a young waitress named Alma, played by Vicky Krieps, whom he instantly falls in love with. Over the course of the next few months, their toxic relationship oscillates between hatred, forgiveness, distance, and passion. Okay, let’s make this clear from the get-go: Phantom Thread is an arthouse film through and through. That niche genre already has its own built-in audience that love challenging, “serious” cinema. They will be called “pretentious” by fans of more mainstream fare, who in turn will be accused of just wanting mindless consumption. Like it or not, that’s the situation and we have to deal with it. As a fan of some of Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous works, especially There Will Be Blood, I tried to approach his newest picture objectively. And while I’m pretty sure that I didn’t “get” it all, there’s still some elements of the movie that I do appreciate. Among the strongest elements is the surprising dose of dark humor present. One of the prevailing problems in some of PTA’s past films is that he spends so much time building an intricate, introspective plot that the rest of the movie suffocates in its emotion. Make no mistake, this film doesn’t have much room too breathe (Although it is noticeably shorter than PTA’s previous epics) and could leave a lot of audiences feeling cold. But this is the first time I think I’ve ever laughed out loud during one of his films, with the main trio dolling out wry wit in several instances. Sometimes, it was caused by a random outburst by the artist himself, others it was someone delivering a line of dialogue in an understated manner. Daniel Day-Lewis has given us many transcendent performances over his career and while his turn as Reynolds Woodcock isn’t his best, it’s clear to see why he chose it as his last. He plays an artist who takes his work extremely seriously, and his obsession with it fractures his relationship with everyone else around him. He’s a man who likes to have certain things in his life in exact spots like a chess board and loses it when something gets out of line. Vicky Krieps, meanwhile, does fine work as Alma. A lot of people will probably take issue with the fact that she stays with Reynolds even though he constantly either ignores or verbally abuses her. But I (At least try to) see her as a strong woman who is tired of being invisible to everyone in the world. The best performer, though, is Lesley Manville as the Woodcock sister Cyril. Aside from Alma, she is the only one to be able to get through to Reynolds and actually holds the power in all of her relationships. She is a force to be reckoned with, but she is still very fond of Alma and even sympathizes with her. From a pure filmmaking perspective, Paul Thomas Anderson sings his own voice with this film. Without his regular collaborator Robert Elswitt, he essentially served as his own cinematographer but denies credit for it. Shot on actual celluloid, the film expertly captures 1950’s London with a grainy precision. Many scenes consist of lingering still shots that rarely move around, somehow creating the feeling of a classic film production. There’s even cross-dissolves for various scenes. The grainy effect brings out saturation in the beautiful costumes by Mark Bridges. Each dress and outfit, whether worn by the characters or put in just for show, looked as though a tailor as obsessive as Reynolds himself made them in real life. Former Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood returns to score his 4th film with PTA, which drives home the classical feeling. The soundtrack largely consists of seemingly neverending piano melodies, adding a near-seductive quality to the film. In some instances, Greenwood stretches his muscles as a multi-instrumentalist for ambient percussion and harsh strings. While this would normally be a relaxing composition, it actually gives a dark and surreal feeling to what is otherwise a mundane story. Most of the time, though, the score is relegated to the background in order for this to be more of a “performance-driven” film. How you react to the film as a whole and interpret its themes depends almost entirely on your capacity for patience. It has a deliberately slow pace and virtually none of the characters have any arc changes or even redeeming qualities. Phantom Thread is a showy exercise in art and acting. Overall, I didn’t particularly care for this movie and certainly isn’t one I will be clamoring to watch again immediately. But I do appreciate some of the things that Paul Thomas Anderson was trying to say here. Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the most brilliant actors ever to grace us, and seeing him retire is an end to an era.