Category Archives: Family

“The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” Movie Review

Great. First Stephen Hawking. Then Stan Lee. And now Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants. 2018 is becoming the new 2016, i.e. more and more beloved celebrities are dropping dead by the end of the year. I honestly think the best way to honor Hillenburg and his legacy would be to include this into my New Year’s resolution. This animated comedy was originally released in theaters around the world on November 19th, 2004. Although it still faced tough competition from The Incredibles, it managed to gross over $140 million at the box office against an overall budget of $30 million. Aided by generally positive responses, it also saw extensive marketing from establishments like 7-Eleven and Burger King, which outfitted various locations with huge inflatable figures of the titular character. Directed by Stephen Hillenburg, he had continuously rejected offers from Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon to make a feature-length film out of the beloved cartoon he created. After accepting in 2002, he assembled his regular show writers to come up with good ideas and storyboard in ways that were faithful to the show. By most accounts, this film was intended to be the series finale, but Nickelodeon ordered more episodes and continued on anyway, without Hillenburg’s involvement for a number of years. Set in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom, the titular frycook SpongeBob SquarePants becomes seriously upset when he doesn’t get to become the manager of the newly open Krusty Krab 2. Things get further complicated when Mr. Krabs, proprietor of the Kursty Krab, is accused and frozen in place for allegedly stealing King Neptune’s crown. Given 6 days to clear his name, SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick Star set out to the infamous Shell City to find the crown, all part of Plankton’s nefarious plan to steal the formula for the delicious and popular Krabby Patty. Full disclosure before going any further: The original SpongeBob cartoon was a defining part of my childhood. All of the early episodes from the first 3 seasons and this movie make up maybe a quarter of my memories growing up. In fact, a good number of those episodes I can quote and act out from front to back, with “Band Geeks” remaining my absolute favorite one out of all of them. Even though the newer seasons afterward were never nearly as good, I still watched them because I’m that big of a fan. All of that is a very long way of saying don’t really read this review if you’re looking for some sort of cold, objective take. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is still as fun, warm, and entertaining as an adult now as it was back when I was a kid. However, there are still parts of it that I can look at from a new perspective without getting misty-eyed or nostalgic too much. For one, the mythical hero arc that the primary story unfolds over is very traditional and well-worn. If you’re not familiar with this film and go in expecting an original, highbrow narrative with layered thematic interpretations, you’re going to severely let down. It takes everything in the manner of a fast-paced, ridiculously over-the-top comedy in the vein of the Farelly Brothers or Terry Gilliam or Abbott and Costello. If you’re a first-time viewer, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the animators (As well as fans) made or enjoyed it while high on bath salts or something. Virtually all of the cast members from the cartoon show reprise their roles here, and none of them have missed a single beat. Tom Kenny and Bill Fagerbakke are at the forefront as SpongeBob and Patrick and make one of the most lovably buffoonish buddy duos in recent memory. Their chemistry is absolutely on point, and while they may not be the brightest pair in Bikini Bottom, their everlasting enthusiasm makes their delivery of many lines priceless. “A bubble-blowing, double baby doesn’t belong out here. Man’s country!” My favorite (And most relatable) character from the show is still Squidward, and while his part here isn’t as big as I might’ve liked, his scenes leave a good impression. Rodger Bumpass as is hilariously grouchy and deadpan as ever, perhaps the one resident of town with much common sense to himself. He and Kenny also voice a couple of other roles in more subtle capacity, such as the French narrator. Scarlett Johannsson and Jeffrey Tambor are gamely as Princess Mindy and her father King Neptune. He is over-worried and loud about the most minute things while she constantly tries to help the two heroes in whatever way she can. Other new players include Alec Baldwin as a tall hitman tracking the protagonists to Shell City and David Hasselhoff as himself, playing a parody of his character from the show Baywatch. In all seriousness, growing up, I thought he was just some character made up; I swear that I’m not lying. On the filmmaking side of things, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie fully embraces its weirdness and runs a marathon with it. A higher budget gives the animators more time to smooth things out in the film. While it includes show mainstays like bubbles for scene transition, the framerate and designs for characters looks a lot smoother than it usually does in the show. However, it remains traditionally animated, refusing to let computer animation take control. This works to the film’s benefit because the underwater world is extremely vibrant and colorful everywhere the characters roam. It also uses the storyboarded cinematography to its advantage, drawing out certain scenarios for comedic effect where other cartoons may just cut away. Gregory Narholz composes the instrumental film score, which is appropriate and highly reminiscent of the music from the show. Bendy guitar songs and woodwinds contribute to the huge personality found in Bikini Bottom. There are also a number of songs written specifically for the film, such “The Goofy Goober Song” (And a rock cover of it) and “Now That We’re Men.” They’re all delightful enough, but there are contributions from very weird artists, a deliberate choice by Hillenburg. The most memorable one among them is “Ocean Man” by the band Ween, which plays during the end credits. It’s surprisingly well-fitting for the story, and indeed feels like it was meant of be the end of the series. What I’m concerned about now is that now that he’s gone, what’s Nickelodeon going to do next? I’ve heard whispers that they might take the show off syndication or use the upcoming third movie as the real series finale. Whatever comes up, I agree with several other fans that it all should’ve probably just ended here. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is a gleefully zany and over-the-top comedy with nothing held back. Filled to the brim with beloved characters and callbacks to the show without ever trying to pander to any audience, this is certainly better than a lot of cartoon continuations in cinematic form. Say what you want about the recent seasons, there’s no denying the memories and devoted fans that Stephen Hillenburg created. I was overcome with nostalgia and sadness during the entirety of writing this review. Thank you for giving us the show about who lives in the pineapple under the sea, and may you rest in peace with all of the other titans we lost this month. If anyone needs me, I’ll probably be jellyfishing in my backyard for a little while.

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“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” Movie Review

When I was younger, I legitimately wanted to become either a pirate or a superhero when I grew up. I didn’t care if it meant I would end up with a noose at my neck, this movie just made it look so cool. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, this historical fantasy adventure film was released around the world on July 9th, 2003, following a buzzy premiere at the Disneyland Resort. Against many odds, it went on to gross over $654 million at the worldwide box office, along with a number of positive reviews from critics and general audiences- many of whom were shocked at its quality. It went on to stay at the top of overseas markets for 7 weeks in a row and spawned one of Disney’s most popular and lucrative franchises in recent years. Directed by Gore Verbinski, the film was originally based off of the titular theme park ride in Disneyland. Screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot took inspiration from pirate films made during the Golden Age of Hollywood, and constantly clashed heads with then-CEO Michael Eisner, who questioned whether the film would be better off in theaters or direct-to home video. Despite a relatively quick shooting schedule, the complicated motion capture technology and conflict between Verbinski and Industrial Lights and Magic led to grueling 18-hour days in post-production. It is also notable for being Disney’s first film production ever to receive a PG-13 rating. Orlando Bloom stars as Will Turner, a blacksmith and skilled swordsman with a huge heart of gold. Following a massive ceremony, his betrothed childhood love Elizabeth Swan, played by Keira Knightley, is kidnapped by a band of pirates with a mysterious condition. Without many options and virtually no help from the British Navy, he relies on the help of a free-spirited, hard-drinking, disgraced pirate named Captain Jack Sparrow, played by Johnny Depp. The two set off on the Seven Seas searching for the infamous ship The Black Pearl, all the while steering clear of the pursuing British Armada and dreading the ship’s haunted captain, Hector Barbossa. With this month in my New Year’s resolution, I just decided to go ahead and revisit a couple of movies I adored when I was younger, rather than something I had never seen before. (Trust me, I have plans for that in December) It’s always a fun process because then I can watch the film with new, older eyes that can help me appreciate aspects I had never really noticed before. Make no mistake, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise got consistently worse as it went on, but the first 3 movies were extremely entertaining for what they were. And no matter what, The Curse of the Pearl remains the best of them all, launching a mighty career for its star and redefining what its studio could do. But for all intents and purposes, this film should not have any right to work nearly as well as it does. A PG-13-rated adventure based off of a fairly popular theme park ride from the same studio that gave us Mary Poppins and Pinnochio? Taken at face value, that whole idea just sounds like a Hollywood recipe for disaster, and many people in the industry were extremely pessimistic on its chances. And now, it has become one of the most iconic and defining film franchises of the early 21st Century. If you look at the landscape of blockbuster movies in the years since its release, especially those produced by Disney, the structure has become something of a template- for better or for worse. In all honesty, Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom aren’t very memorable in their roles. Both are meant to be odes to characters in an Errol Flynn epic, but aren’t really able to break out of those molds. For what it’s worth, though, they are able to adapt to the comedic timing and wit found throughout. Geoffrey Rush is excellent and having a wonderful time as Captain Hector Barbossa, a pirate with a bitterness and love of apples. He chews the scenery as we gradually learn what’s going on with him and his crew on the titular ship, something that’s both slightly tragic and absurd. And yeah, you’ve got a supporting cast of Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Kevin McNally, Lee Arenberg, and Mackenzie Cook, but they all completely pale in comparison to Johnny Depp’s star-making performance as Captain Jack Sparrow. This is the second time this year where I find myself praising Depp in spite of his deeply troubling public issues, but it would be a lie to say that I wasn’t entranced by his iconic turn. Inspired in part by Keith Richards, (Who makes a delightful cameo in the third movie) he completely loses himself as a stumbling, alcoholic, yet unexpectedly cunning pirate who’s not devoid of a moral compass. His unusual movement and speech make for some very funny moments throughout the film. The first film also earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, a very impressive feat considering everything else. Elsewhere, the technical side of The Curse of the Black Pearl show a surprisingly sufficient film with tons of bite. Shot by Dariusz Wolski, loves to use a number of sweeping wides and tracking shots during action scenes, really bringing out a sense of grand adventure in the viewer. It also helps that the film used real sail ships, costumes and weapons, meaning a lot of things were actually captured in-camera. The editing is a triple-job done by Craig Wood, Stephen Rivkin, and Arthur Schmidt, all of whom do good work on bringing the whole thing together. They cut together the action scenes and visual effects in gloriously satisfying manners, never skimping on any good details. It also knows how to drag out a good shot for comedic effect, as there are a lot of physical gags found in the movie. However, they could’ve definitely trimmed some fat off, as its runtime of 2 hours and 23 minutes feels bloated. Klaus Badelt, with a bit of help from Hans Zimmer, composes and conducts the instrumental film score. It remains one of the most memorable scores of any feature film in the last 20 years, with an iconic sound on par with any adventure flick you’ve seen from the 20th Century. The famous main theme, “He’s a Pirate,” serves as the backbone for the entire soundtrack, a booming anthem of brass, percussion, and orchestral strings. Other tracks are equally foreboding and jovial, trading something as dynamic as cello jigs for percussive, choral suspense. It’s a soundtrack I have listened to for many years, and will continue to do so. With memorable characters, impressive set pieces, and an immortal soundtrack, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is a fun adventure with loads of swashbuckling charm and personality. You’d be hard-pressed to find a film in recent memory that defied more expectations than this one. Yes, it’s very indulgent and a little too long, but it still delivers after multiple rewatches and never loses sight of what it is.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” Movie Review

I never ever imagined that I would start to grow tired of Rowling’s Wizarding World, but here we are in 2018. God damn it. This fantasy film from director David Yates marks the 10th overall cinematic installment of the Harry Potter Universe. Released worldwide on November 16th, 2018, the film has thus far grossed over $440 million at the box office, primarily from international markets. Domestically, it has earned less money than its predecessor, having the worst opening weekend for a Harry Potter movie, which could temper the franchise’s future for the studio. It also doesn’t help that this became the first film in the series to receive mostly negative reviews from both critics and fans. Once again written by J.K. Rowling, author of the insanely popular and beloved Harry Potter books, the second installment in the Fantastic Beasts saga is meant to set up at least three more films that are being planned. The project courted some (admittedly well-earned) controversy during its casting and marketing phase, mainly around the main antagonist and two of the side characters. Taking place about a year after the events from last time, we once again follow the magical zoologist Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne. While he’s away finding and studying various magical creatures, the infamous dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, played by Johnny Depp, breaks out of prison and goes on a crusade encouraging wizards, particularly “pure bloods,” to rise up against non-magic humans. Scamander receives orders from Hogwarts professor Albus Dumbledore, played by Jude Law, to track down someone who is of great interest to Grindewald in Paris. While I’ve cooled a bit on the first one since seeing it in theaters, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a film I found to be quite enjoyable and fun. I liked the way that it expanded the Wizarding World into an American context, something I had always been curious about as a huge Harry Potter fan. As more news came out about the inevitable sequel, some things deterred my excitement while others heightened it. Sadly, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is easily the worst film in the whole saga thus far and the first bad film to come out of it. There are so many elements to this film that I’m still conflicted about. Whether it’s just a casting choice or a particular story path, I was left cold, disappointed, intrigued, and tortured at every turn. Is it okay to watch an alleged spousal abuser in a movie as long as he’s relegated to the role of a villain? How much control should J.K. Rowling still be give over the movies at this point? These are just a handful of questions to wrestle with through the 2 hours and 14 minutes it takes to get through the journey, which seems more interested in setting up future movies than finishing its own narrative. Eddie Redmayne returns as Newt Scamander, whose continued relevance to this series is starting to come into question. He nails the socially awkward aspects of his character really well, always soft-spoken but never hesitant to stand up for what he believes. His forgettable side characters come back for another outing but they’re overshadowed by new arrivals, such as Jude Law as a young Albus Dumbledore. He has all the charisma and subtle intellect we’ve come to know and love from this character, whose dialogue sounds incredibly natural during his scenes. You get the feeling that there’s a lost, deeply tragic connection he has with the antagonist, which conflicts with his desire to stop his radical uprising. Meanwhile, Johnny Depp’s performance as Gellert Grindelwald has me conflicted in ways that are hard to describe. What he did to his ex-wife in real life is completely inexcusable and the fact that he isn’t recast is infuriating. Plus, with all of the Tim Burton-esque roles the actor has been taking on in recent years, you get the feeling that this part could have gone to anyone and no one would have been the wiser. Yet, it’s hard for me not to say that he was good as the main villain, who operates more as a political terrorist or cult leader than a world-class dictator. “We only want freedom. Freedom to be ourselves,” he says to his followers early on, and indeed he spends much of the film acting like a magical version of David Duke. His rugged charisma is a strong seducer of lost souls. And as far as the technical aspects go, The Crimes of Grindelwald seems like it was practically filmed while the cast and crew were sleepwalking. Being set in France, there are a handful of production workers behind the scenes, which is somewhat appreciated. Philippe Rousselot’s cinematography looks washed out and lacking in colorful distinction between the heavy CGI and the really cool sets. The vast majority of the film uses roving shots in scenes as if to keep the momentum up, especially when something exciting might be happening. The editing done by Mark Day, who has cut together the last 6 Harry Potter films, is very drab. It doesn’t feel like enough of an oomph is given to the dramatic scenes while it drags out shots for more comedic moments. James Newton Howard returns to provide the musical score for this film, and it’s very similar to last time. You can hear little ghostly bits of the classic franchise themes by John Williams in certain tracks, especially when relating someone like Dumbledore. Some of the quieter, more warmhearted moments are given appropriate sounds, such as soft woodwinds and brass. However, it’s the more dramatic stuff where it comes into form, especially in the back half. More ominous hits of percussion, vocal chorus, and sustained string melodies make up the background for the conflict. All in all, perhaps the kindest thing one could really say about this film is that it proves the Wizarding World is indeed filled with different stories and tales worthy of the cinematic treatment. It’s a bummer, too, because the story J.K. Rowling is trying to tell here is undeniably worth being told, a part of wizard history I had always wanted to see visually. Sadly, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is an underwhelming, needlessly convoluted exercise in stretching out a franchise longer than it should be. As a longtime and devoted fan of the saga, both in book and movie form, I was left disenchanted by the final product. Some good performances and music, and a handful of interesting ideas presented in the film save it from awfulness. I do want to see how the rest of this story unfolds and can honestly see where Rowling and Yates are going with it. It’s just the manner in which they’re telling it is both problematic and greatly disappointing.

“The Avengers” Movie Review

Oh boy. We now live in a world where Stan Lee, the creative man behind countless iconic superheroes in Marvel Comics, is gone. He died at the age of 95. I was originally going to write a straightforward obituary, but I instead decided that it was more cathartic for me to review a film inspired by the comic book pages he created. I could have easily chosen any of the MCU installments or beyond that, but this one seemed the most fitting. This ensemble superhero action film was released on May 4th, 2012, to incredibly high anticipation from industry insiders, fans, and critics. It broke numerous box office records at the time, including the highest-grossing opening weekend to that point, and the third highest-grossing film of all time. It also helps that critical reviewers and general audiences ate it up like a healthy breakfast. Written and directed by Joss Whedon, the crossover film was a cinematic event many years in the making, with ideas planned as early as 2003. Following the huge and unexpected success of Iron Man in 2008, as well as Disney’s acquisition of Marvel Studios in 2010, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was moving ever closer to its first culmination. Interestingly, the original cut was rated R, forcing Whedon to whittle down the film even further because of one trivial scene. The film is set in the aftermath of the trickster god Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, being given another chance by an otherworldly army called the Chitauri. When he comes down to Earth, he sets out to steal the Tesseract, a cube containing astral power, and manages to brainwash a number of humans into doing his bidding. Desperate, S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, quickly assembles a group of superpowered individuals- The Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and a resurrected Captain America -to stop Loki and prevent the Chitauri’s invasion of Earth. Can you honestly imagine what it was like for someone like me, a lifelong comic book fan, to see a superhero team like the Avengers get together onscreen for the first time? It was already a miracle that the previous MCU films had (For the most part) been as great and entertaining as they were. But the idea of seeing so many beloved comic book superheroes on-screen together for one movie event for the first time ever was likely to be either lightning in a bottle or career-ending for all involved. Thankfully, The Avengers so brilliantly brought Stan Lee’s creations to life that it set an entirely new standard for the genre. Joss Whedon really was the perfect writer and director to bring this project about. As a big fan of both Firefly and it’s big-screen continuation Serenity, his ability to juggle multiple characters in an ensemble at once and still make them all relevant is no small feat. Not to mention the brilliantly written dialogue, which sounds natural and fluid in each character’s mouth. He also shows a willingness to compromise with producer and franchise architect Kevin Feige, and it’s clear that the two of them have a deep love for the rich source material. I remember sneaking out of school on opening day to see this movie and seeing all of my comic book idols realized in such a resonant manner was so amazing, as I’m sure it was to many other fans. Speaking of ensembles, the original core team of titular heroes are all perfect in their now-iconic roles. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, and Jeremy Renner all do splendid work as Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, respectively. Ruffalo and Evans are particularly well-matched for their characters in this outing. One is a brilliant mind struggling to control his inner rage for the sake of others, the other is a soldier of yesteryear confused and disillusioned by the modern world. Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, and Colbie Smoulders are great in their supporting roles as eager members of S.H.I.E.L.D. while now-deceased people like Powers Boothe, Harry Dean Stanton and, of course, Stan Lee make memorable one-note cameo appearances. Meanwhile, Tom Hiddleston is a joyful bit of character acting as Loki, the main antagonist. It’s clear that the man is having a blast playing this character, which in turn makes him a blast to watch on-screen, in spite of his actions. Yet, there’s a certain element of tragedy to the trickster god, who feels completely homeless and devoid of a welcoming family. It makes his alliance with the Chitauri- who are connected to another major MCU villain -even more understandable and even desperate. As a piece of technical filmmaking, alone, The Avengers is a major achievement that- for better or worse -set a precedent for other MCU films to follow. Whedon uses a lot of his regular collaborators, including Seamus McGarvey as the cinematographer, which was his first foray into digital camerawork. For the most part, he’s able to transition really well, capturing the action and its subjects in a large aspect ratio. This comes for both steady shots in massive set pieces and more shaky, handheld work for ground level action in the streets of New York City. It goes well with the editing job by Lisa Lassek and Jeffrey Ford, who cut the camera in ways that don’t feel too choppy or overlong. For some of the more comedic moments, it knows exactly how long to linger on a person or when to put in a pause. Two shots that stand out are the famous spider-cam rotation around the team as they form a circle and a fantastic shot designed to look like a “oner” that traces the group’s actions throughout the battle. Alan Silvestri, who would go on to write music for other superhero blockbusters, is responsible for composing and conducting the instrumental film score. With some supervision by Danny Elfman and help from the London Symphony Orchestra, he successfully manages to create an old-school sound of action movie soundtracks. The main theme serves as the backbone for the entire soundtrack and it’s, thankfully, a memorable one. With consistent strings, a heroic brass melody, and buoyant percussion sounds. If not for the Marvel logo, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was a lost John Williams score written for a Steven Spielberg picture that was never released. And that’s all there really is to it, honestly. It’s pretty tragic that these circumstances are what made me finally review it in the first place, but still. Without that man’s immortal contributions to literature (I will fight Bill Maher on that) and media, this film wouldn’t exist in the first place. Always aware of what it is and running with it, The Avengers is a glorious epitome of all the ingredients of a great blockbuster. If there were any film of the decade to serve as a definitive example of how the industry has changed, this certainly would be it. Stan Lee’s creation has inspired a generation of fans who never felt like they fit in anywhere- including me. Nobody lives forever but the characters and stories he crafted will endure for an eternity. Rest in peace. Or as the man himself would say, Excelsior.

“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.

Image result for ant man and the wasp poster

“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.