Category Archives: Family

“The Man Who Invented Christmas” Movie Review

My 200th blog review!! So exciting for all the hard work that I’ve done!. Let’s celebrate it by reviewing a movie that nobody is probably going to see this weekend or even is expecting me to talk about. This Christmas drama from director Bharat Nalluri was released internationally in 500 theaters on November 22nd, 2017, only managing to gross about $600,000 within the first 3 days. Considering that it’s the Thanksgiving weekend and no one is seeing movies on Black Friday, (Except this guy) that makes sense. Based on the book of the same name by Les Standiford, the 104-minute story follows a rather fictional take on a very famous person. Charles Dickens, played by Dan Stevens, is struggling to come up with a new novel after his last 3 have flopped. With a tight deadline, he begins envisioning the story of A Christmas Carol around him and learns some of its own lessons for his life. In recent years, there has been a trend in Hollywood of telling the stories about some of the most popular stories ever crafted. In 2004, we got Finding Neverland starring Johnny Depp, telling how J.M. Barrie was inspired to create the world of Peter Pan. Earlier this year, Goodbye, Christopher Robin chronicled the dichotomy of Robin’s World War I experience with the lighthearted family-friendly story of Winnie the Pooh. And now we have The Man Who Invented Christmas, a movie I fully expected to despise because Christmas movies rarely strike a chord with me, especially ones in the modern era. But truth be told, I was actually taken aback by how enjoyable it was. Does that mean that it’s worth seeing in theaters? Eh, not really. The only reason I saw this was because 4 women in my family wanted to go see it, and I saw it as an opportunity to get away from the family for a couple of hours. The film is not without its moments, especially when we get inside the mind of Dickens in some really imaginative scenarios. But it follows the familiar story beats of almost any family Christmas movie that you’ve ever seen. At times, it felt like this film was originally set to air on the Hallmark Channel, but Bleecker Street picked it up for theatrical distribution at the last minute. To be clear, this is leaps and bounds better than the usual Hallmark schmaltz schlock put out every December. Dan Stevens has been having a wonderful year as an actor with Beauty and the Beast and the show Legion providing him some great success. Here, he divulges the best and worst elements of Charles Dickens, delivering some of the more sappy dialogue with Shakespearean authority. Christopher Plummer may be publicized for replacing Kevin Spacey later this year, but he deserves some recognition as the imaginary Ebeneezer Scrooge. He gives out some of the literary character’s most famous lines with almost deadpan delivery and provides some unique insight into the author’s dichotomous world. Other performers worth noting include Jonathan Pryce as Charles’ desperate yet warm father and newcomer Anna Murphy as the young housemaid Tara. They all do respectable jobs, but this is Stevens’ show through and through. And for what its worth, the technical production of it all is rather nice. The production and costume designs seem to capture the look and feel of the Victorian era London. Whether it was the prim and proper socialites or the dirty working class, what the characters wear adds just as much personality as the performances themselves. The cinematography by Ben Smithard contrasts between old-fashioned and musty Steadicam and modern sweeps across the setting. It also heightens certain colors particular to the holidays, such as red and green. Combined with the clever editing of Stephen O’Connell and Jamie Pearson, the camerawork makes for a whimsical take on the classic story we all know and love. Oscar-winning Life of Pi composer Mychael Danna provides the musical score for the film and it’s exactly what you’d expect. Big orchestras swelling up during some of the more emotional moments are pretty much par for the course in a Christmas movie. But it’s also some quiet melodies of the piano that come very close to hitting the audience in the feels. And then there a few moments when strings and percussion are somewhat bouncy, which serves well with the bizarre nature of Charles Dickens’ creative process. Speaking of process, this movie did speak to me, but not in the way most other people might think. For those of you who are new to this blog, I am an aspiring fiction writer, having crafted a handful of short stories. I am currently planning on my first novel, which has been in the works for a good number of years. However, I often run into that wall of writer’s block, and am currently stuck in a corner storywise. Watching this movie and seeing Dickens himself struggling with coming up with an incredible story was actually inspiring. Even the greatest of scribes have their problems, and that was more affecting than anything else in the movie. The Man Who Invented Christmas is a saccharine holiday tale fun for the family, but is not quite memorable. If you’re looking for a nice movie to watch with your loved ones over the holidays that’s not named Coco, go right ahead. Personally, the story didn’t do much for me, but I’m sure it might make you sniffle as it teaches you the tired lessons of the season.

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“Coco” Movie Review

This is just what I needed right before stuffing myself with with turkey at a table full of relatives who I only see a couple times a year. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family to death, but come on… it’s Pixar. This computer-animated fantasy musical premiered in Mexico on October 20th, 2017. Following its stateside release on November 22nd, it has grossed over $62 million, becoming the most successful film of all time in that country. Directed by Toy Story 3‘s Lee Unkrich, the story was supposedly developed over the course of several years of research. This included writers taking extensive field trips down to Mexico and taking notes from the entirely Hispanic cast. The PG-rated story follows a 12-year-old boy named Miguel, whose passion for music is marred by his family’s generations old ban on it. Following a chain of events, Miguel finds that he has accidentally placed himself in the Land of the Dead. After a very unconventional family reunion, Miguel must travel across the underworld with the assistance of a hermit named Hector to find his musical idol, Ernesto de la Cruz, and return to the Land of the Living before the end of Dia de Los Muertos. It should be no surprise at this point that I’m a huge fan of Pixar Animation Studios, having produced a string of classics within a span of 15 years. And while they did stumble with the Cars franchise, they have created too many masterpieces to simply walk into a cinema with low expectations. And so I was very curious to see how they would tackle a subject like the Day of the Dead, the first time they focused on an ethnic holiday. Having seen the movie, (And suffered through an overlong Frozen short for it) I left with a big smile on my face. It’s clear that Unkrich and his co-director Adrian Molina did a lot of meticulous research for the project. I’m familiar with only a little bit of Mexican culture, but I am aware of some of the practices for Dia de Los Muertos. But the only way that the screenwriters could have done justice is if they took extensive field trips and consulted heritage experts such as Octavio Solis, who ultimately received a writing credit. And I can also tell you this movie is a leap ahead of 2014’s The Book of Life, another animated film dealing with this subject. There were concerns that this film would be too similar to that one. Not only did Coco begin pre-production before The Book of Life, it also highlights everything that the latter was missing. The respect for the Mexican culture extends to its cast, comprised almost entirely of Latin-American actors. Anthony Gonzalez may be young, but he imbues Miguel with all the naivete and wonder a child could ever possess. He represents the youth that so stubbornly believes that some family traditions are not worth keeping, a sad thing reflected in reality. By his side, Gael Garcia Bernal is excellent as Hector. His rickety movement and adventurous tone make him fun to watch. But underneath the ragged clothes and charisma lies a layered spirit fearful of being forgotten. Benjamin Bratt doesn’t appear for a large portion of the picture, but his performance as Ernesto de la Cruz is noteworthy. Without giving away much, his personality was an interesting one, seemingly bogged down by celebrity and the need to be remembered. The rest of the cast, including Renee Victor, Alanna Ulbach, Alfonso Arau, Selene Luna, Dyanna Ortelli, and Herbert Siguenza, do their parts well and contribute something interesting to the overall package. And it might seem a little cliche to say at this point with Pixar, but this movie is just absolutely gorgeous. The level of detail found in the background is astonishing, with one shot containing at least 8 and a half million lights. In particular, the film uses the colors red and orange to a great advantage, differentiating the various landscapes with a certain panache. Apparently, the skeleton characters had to be animated separately from the human ones since their bodily structure was drastically different. And that difference is seen in how the two groups move around differently. But those details really can’t be stressed enough. Every frame of the film looks as though a real photo was taken and animated characters were added over it. It’s that realistic. But it’s still imaginative in the vein of previous Pixar films. The musical score by Michael Giacchino affirms my statement about him being one of the best film composers of his generation. Beginning with a Mariachi variation on the Disney logo and containing little bits of guitar and piano throughout, it’s some beautiful stuff. It’s not his best score, but he does make the most of it. The soundtrack also has some a selection of original songs from Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the same duo behind Frozen. Of particular notion is the lullaby “Remember Me,” which perfectly encapsulates the film’s celebration of family and memory. Some other tunes are lesser in comparison, but can still admittedly initiate those man tears. And yes, this one knows exactly how to pull your heartstrings in a wholesome and natural way. It deals with some surprisingly dark themes like death and the danger of legacy. But that’s not what makes it so emotional. Rather, it’s the filmmakers’ examination of how infinitely life and death are interconnected that’s just so beautiful. The last 10 minutes of the film are particularly powerful as everything comes to a head and everything starts to make sense. I looked around in the theater and there was not a dry eye in the house. If for nothing else, kids will learn how to process death. I’d be willing to entertain arguments that this isn’t the studio’s best. It does follow familiar story beats pretty predictably. But Coco is a beautiful and respectful examination of the afterlife through another culture’s eyes. As soon as you’ve recovered from that Thanksgiving food coma, go out and head to the theater for this one. Pixar has done it again.

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“Beauty and the Beast” Movie Review

It’s a tale as old as time with songs as old as rhyme. Meaning this is probably not the last interpretation of the story we’re getting in the next century or so. This is just a warmup. The latest live-action Disney remake, this romantic musical fantasy was released around the world on March 17th, 2017, going on to gross over $1.2 billion at the box office. It likely would have made more had it not been for a certain controversy that we’ll discuss in a little bit. Initially, the studio had planned an adaptation of the Broadway musical from 1994, which never made it past development hell. However, in the wake of other successful remakes such as Cinderella and The Jungle Book, a plan was put together. Twilight: Breaking Dawn director Bill Condon signed on and the whole cast was announced, making this dream become a reality. Emma Watson stars as Belle, a beautiful young woman who is ridiculed in her small French village for reading. After rejecting the egotistical hunter Gaston, she discovers that her father has been captured in a decrepit castle, hosted by a mysterious Beast. She offers to take her father’s place and begins a strange and unexpected relationship with the Beast. The word that has been tossed around the most in regards to this movie is “unnecessary.” An unnecessary remake, an unnecessary movie, an unnecessary cash grab by Disney. I don’t entirely disagree with this sentiment, as it is extremely (almost detrimentally) faithful to the 1991 animation classic. But last year’s remake of The Magnificent Seven wasn’t really necessary, and yet I still really enjoyed that one. And it’s the same case here. Did Disney have to do a live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast? Absolutely not. But even so, Bill Condon did a fine job of reimagining this timeless story for a new generation. Like I said, this movie caused some pre-release controversy, but not because of its existence. It was because LeFou, Gaston’s plump sidekick played wonderfully by Josh Gad, was revealed to be gay. This was a landmark for Disney as their first homosexual character, but caused quite a stir in certain countries and theaters. The film was banned in Kuwait and Malaysia, was refused by a theater in Alabama, and received a very strict rating in Russia. Here was my reaction to the revelation: How could we have ever assumed that LeFou was straight in the animation? His mere behavior and the “gay moment” talked about by many pundits were very natural to the story. Emma Watson plays Belle very nicely but is nothing worth putting in the record books as an all-time great performance. Her beauty matches her character (whose name literally translates in French as “beautiful”) and her compassion is very much present. Dan Stevens, who has proven himself in the excellent thriller The Guest and Marvel’s Legion, is especially good as the Beast. He gives off a charm and wit that seemed missing the first time around. The supporting cast is filled out by a mass of big names, some of whom sing better than others. Kevin Kline plays Belle’s eccentric father, Ewan McGregor is delightful as a dancing candlelight Luminere, Sir Ian McKellen sounds Gandalf as the clock Cogsworth, Emma Thompson is warm as the teapot Mrs. Pots, while Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nathan Mack, and Audra McDonald play the rest of the lively house utensils. But the obvious show-stealer here is Luke Evans as Gaston, the handsome and cocky villain of the town. Seemingly born to play the role, he is so delightful and fun to watch, despite his character’s despicable nature. He absolutely looks like he is having the time of his life playing this guy up, and that energy really seeps off the screen. Whenever he was singing or riling the villagers up, I wanted to get up and dance with him at his side. Meanwhile, on the technical side of things, Disney spared not a dime of its $160 million budget. Beautiful, wide shots of the setting by Tobias A. Schliessler give it this certain feeling of being whimsical, as the story should be. It also brings out the amazing use of bright colors in otherwise drab-looking environments. Costume and production design is also gorgeous. Even when some of the CGI for the Beast or his servants isn’t very convincing, the sets and clothes of our characters are a joy to look at. The famous dance scene between Belle and the Beast was recreated to perfection here, and the design of her dress and his suit made it even more appealing to see. Alan Menken returns to compose the musical score not just for this movie but for his 11th collaboration with the studio. Virtually all of the songs from the original are present, but a few new ones have been added. Of particular note is the number “Evermore” sung by Stevens. I felt it added more depth to the Beast’s feelings for Belle and his struggles with accepting those in his hollow life. It’s possibly a contender for Best Original Song this February. Aside from that, most of the new songs are kind of flat. Even though it ultimately falls too far back on the original film, Beauty and the Beast is a lovely adventure for all ages to appreciate. Its lessons are conveyed the only way a Disney film can do it, with great characters and music to boot. If you just want a movie to watch with your whole family on a night in that’s relatively lightweight, it’s available on Netflix right now. Give it a chance.

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“Logan Lucky” Movie Review

Never thought I’d see the day that NASCAR would actually become fun. I mean, I knew it was patriotic and all, but I had no idea that I would actually be enjoying a movie that centered entirely on it. I guess the world can still surprise me. Produced on a budget of $29 million, this heist comedy from director Steven Soderbergh was released on August 18th, 2017. But due to the official end of the summer movie season, it only made $7 million in its opening weekend, although producers said that they don’t need it to be a huge success. After his 2013 film Behind the Candelabra, Soderbergh swore that he was going to retire from filmmaking. But he apparently enjoyed reading Rebecca Blunt’s script so much (more on that later) that he decided to take on the project personally. Channing Tatum produces and stars as Jimmy Logan, a recently laid-off construction worker in the Appalachian country. Wanting to spend more time with his daughter, he recruits his two siblings, played by Riley Keough and Adam Driver, to help him rob the upcoming Coca-Cola 600. Along the way, he also gets the help of some petty criminals. Now many people have been calling this film one of two alternative titles: Ocean’s 7-11 or The Redneck’s Ocean’s Eleven. Being a big fan of the George Clooney-led ensemble heist film, I was very interested to see if Soderbergh would be retreading old ground with this film or come out with something completely fresh. We can discuss the semantics of that later on, but first and foremost, for what it is, is Logan Lucky a good movie? Well, yes. I can say without any doubt that this is the most “commercial” film out of Soderbergh’s versatile career. I mean aside from the obvious product placement for NASCAR and the overall patriotic feeling to the story, it also features a large ensemble cast filled with some big names. Tatum has proven his comedic worth in the Jump Street series and the slightly somber Magic Mike. Here, his timing and chemistry with a dimwitted Adam Driver is downright masterful at times. His daughter also deserves some mention. A young girl named Farrah Mackenzie plays her and is just really plucky and adorable. She is nowhere near as annoying as most child actors tend to be, and a talent show performance late in the movie had me going “Aww.” But the fact is that none of them steal the show; Daniel Craig does. Even in a film that features small parts from *deep breath* Hilary Swank, Macon Blair, Dwight Yoakam, Seth MacFarlane, Sebastian Stan, Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterson, Joey Lagano, Brian Gleeson, Jack Quaid, David Denman, and Jim O’Heir, Craig is the real star of the movie. A complete departure from his brooding in the James Bond franchise, the English man dons a bleach-blonde haircut and a thick Appalachian accent to become Joe Bang. The most obvious name for a demolitions expert this side of Explosive Bobby, he has a razor sharp comedic timing and delivers some of the best lines in the movie. I hope he considers more comedic roles after this one. Speaking of dialogue and writing, there’s been much debate about who actually wrote the screenplay for Logan Lucky. It’s credited as Rebecca Blunt, whom Steven Soderbergh swears is a real person. But this person has no other writing credits to their name, and none of the cast members have ever actually met them. In other words, until proven otherwise, “Rebecca Blunt” probably doesn’t exist. Some believe that it could have been his wife, who has screenwriting experience. Odds are, though, Soderbergh pulled a Soderbergh and just wrote the screenplay under a pseudonym. He has done it before when he frames the cinematography under the pseudonym Pete Andrews, which he continues in this film. The camera work is really well-done and there are often long, static takes of the characters’ conversations. It allows these shots to be drawn out and sometimes highlights the protagonist’s real stupidity. And from what I could tell, they used at least some natural lighting in the scenes, which gave it this grainy beauty of the Carolinas that was nice. But ultimately, I feel that there was not enough done here to completely distinguish it from Ocean’s Eleven. For every scene of a prison riot where the prisoners demand the newest Game of Thrones book from George R.R. Martin, (Easily the funniest scene in the entire movie) we cut back to a familiar setup of crooks funneling money from a corporation. Like I said in my intro, it does surprisingly make NASCAR fun to watch; I’ve always been in the minority who might watch it just for the car crashes. But, there’s also not a lot of emotional involvement with the protagonists. Sure, Jimmy lost his job and wants to spend more time with his daughter, but other than that everyone else in his crew I could care less about. Still, Logan Lucky is a formulaic but hilarious heist film with lots of energy and confidence. If you like a good old-fashioned crime movie, or just want some good laughs, look no further. It doesn’t try to be anything more or less than it needs to be: fun escapism.

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“Spider-Man Homecoming” Movie Review

*Insert some witty/stupid quip about being “your friendly neighborhood movie critic” just to regret it immediately afterward* Let’s just get this thing started. This coming-of-age superhero adventure from director Jon Watts is the sixteenth overall installment in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. It has since nearly doubled its $175 million budget worldwide. The second reboot of the titular character within 10 years, Marvel Studios and Sony finally worked out a deal in 2015 that allowed Spider-Man to appear in the MCU. Sony still has the distribution rights and handles the marketing but Marvel Studios is given complete artistic freedom to do with the character as they please. A couple months after the events of Civil War, Tom Holland returns as our friendly neighborhood web-slinger struggling to juggle his superhero passion with high school. When a new villain named the Vulture rolls into Queens and what’s left of the fractured Avengers team is nowhere in sight, only Spider-Man can take him down. I loved the Sam Raimi Spider-Man Trilogy so much as a child and still do today. (Yes, I even enjoy Spider-Man 3) They inspired me to want to be a superhero at a young age. And while Marc Webb’s 2012 reboot was an enjoyable and more realistic take on the iconic character, I didn’t feel like it was necessary. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, meanwhile was a disappointing, wholly underwhelming and rushed sequel that desperately tried to cram in as much world-building as possible. With that background in mind, I walked into Jon Watt’s new version of this character, my favorite comic book superhero of all time, with some trepidation. He may have been the best thing about Captain America: Civil War, but I was not sure how they could possibly reboot him with ANOTHER origin story in only 10 years. But the fact that the single most successful film franchise of all time had commandeered control gave me a bit of hope, and I was glad I had it. Although his actual breakout role was in J.A. Bayona’s The Impossible from 2012, this role was the one that landed Tom Holland on the map of American cinema. At 20 years old, he is the youngest actor to ever portray Peter Parker/Spider-Man but he also may just be the best, even beating out Toby Maguire and the 90’s animation. His portrayal captures everything that Stan Lee had envisioned for the character when he was first sketched in the comic books decades ago. His introduction consists of a clever home video he made of the airport battle scene from Civil War, which establishes his innocence and wants to fight alongside the heroes he grew up loving. While Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori, and Zendaya do great work as his best friend, high school rival, and classmate, respectively, Marisa Tomei wasn’t given nearly enough to say and do as his guardian Aunt May. While she is more attractive and naturally younger than her counterpart in the comic book, she just felt kind of wasted. But Michael Keaton totally owned it as the supervillain Vulture. The 5-minute cold open is dedicated to building his character, bordering the line between evil and misunderstood. You understand why he’s doing the things he’s doing, becoming the second-best villain in the MCU behind only Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, and proves that some of the best antagonists are the ones with real and clear motivations. But be warned; his suit is all black, and some of the nighttime scenes involving him are hard to follow. Michael Giacchino returns to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the 2nd time after 2016′ Doctor Strange to give the musical score. Opening with an orchestrated version of the classic Spider-Man theme song from the cartoons, it builds some large sweeps of strings and horns, reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s theme 15 years ago. Since it’s centered on a teenager, the soundtrack also had some fun selections of millennial and 2010’s music that matched well with most scenes. At the very end of the movie, it goes from a surprising last line of dialogue to a smash cut to the end credits sequence with a crazy playing. It was downright awesome and got a big laugh out of me. But what I love most is that it apparently doubles as both a superhero adventure and a high school teen drama. Peter Parker is struggling to fit in at his small school in Queens and simultaneously take care of his single aunt. Yes, it’s just Aunt May. This skips the traditional origin story because let’s face it: we all know how it happens at this point and we don’t want to see Uncle Ben getting murdered again. At the same time, Spider-Man is the new kid on the block trying to prove himself to Iron Man and other Avengers. Unfortunately, he’s so young and naive that no one really takes him seriously, with Tony Stark being his only mentor. At one point, he tells the web-slinger, “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you don’t deserve to have it.” Even though it can’t reach the heights of the original Sam Raimi trilogy, Spider-Man Homecoming is a hilarious, briskly-paced adventure featuring a faithful representation of one of Marvel’s best heroes. I had middling expectations to start off and walked out with a great big smile on my face. Especially because the obligatory after-credits scenes were amusing and cleverly set up future installments. And now, I genuinely look forward to what they’ll do with Tom Holland.

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“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” Movie Review

I write this review with the full knowledge that not many of my readers will actually care about Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. I can live with that. This 3D computer-animated family comedy was released on June 2nd, 2017, where it grossed over $77 million against a $38 million budget. This makes this film the lowest budget animation from Dreamworks in the studio’s history. It also marks the second directorial effort of animator David Soren. Based on the long-running and recently-ended series of children’s novels by Dav Pilkey, best friends George and Harold, voiced by Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch, are a pair of prankster elementary school students who love writing comic books and stories. One day, they accidentally hypnotize their mean-spirited principal Mr. Krupp, voiced by Ed Helms. They then convince him that he is Captain Underpants, the hero of their comic books, and things don’t quite go as expected for them. I remember reading some of the books in this series when I was younger and enjoying them. I wasn’t immensely impressed, but it was still fun reading. And when I heard that they were adapting it into an 89-minute feature film, my reaction was something of passable trepidation. But then, I saw on Rotten Tomatoes (A website that isn’t always accurate) the film got moderately positive reviews, and so I actually spent $11 to see this in my nearby theater. And I walked out feeling the same way as I did with the books: not particularly impressed, but still rather pleased and entertained. Kevin Hart continues his streak of family-friendly animation from last year’s The Secret Life of Pets here, which is actually surprising considering how adult-oriented his stand-up routines usually are. He and Thomas Middleditch share some nice chemistry, as their youthful voices sell the ideas that these two have been best friends since the 5th grade. Some of the pranks they pulled had me in stitches, while others felt like they were trying a bit too hard. Ed Helms more or less plays an animated version of his character Andy Bernard from The Office, as both Captian Underpants and Principal Krupp are total idiots. Thankfully, he’s able to switch between the two of them relatively easily. One’s an angry but misunderstood school supervisor, the other’s a fictional superhero who introduces himself by singing, “Tra-la-laaa!!” In the world where superheroes have brooding catchphrases like “I’m Batman” or “In brightest day, in blackest night,” it is nice to listen to something a little more lighthearted. Nick Kroll and Jordan Peele both voice the respective bad guys in the film, albeit very different ones. Peele voices the arch-nemesis of George and Harold, a child prodigy obsessed with grades. Kroll shines as a German, humor-hating science professor with a very embarrassing last name. Both are good and play fair to the stereotypes they’re with. That being said, the sense of humor found in Captain Underpants is very juvenile. Similar to the source material, several of the jokes are specifically centered around toilets and farting kids. But the main characters frequently break the fourth wall to address this to the audience, adding a great feeling of self-awareness to the overall package. Potty humor is the lowest form of wit on this Earth, and they’ll either fully embrace it or poke fun at it. Occasionally they do both at the same time. In fact, the final act of the rather short 89-minute picture is centered around the idea that the antagonist is trying to rid the world of humor and laughter from children. The way he does it? A scanning laser from atop a massively enlargened, toxic toilet. Obviously, this isn’t going to be competing with any of Pixar Animation’s finest achievements over the years in terms of visual storytelling. But when it comes to the visuals alone, Captain Underpants is pretty damn impressive. The character models are shaped and animated just as they were in the books, faithful in at least its visual adaptation. All of the animation, in general, is smooth and crisp at 24 frames-per-second. Similar to 2015’s The Peanuts Movie, the creators managed to inventively bring a two-dimensional cartoon strip series into glorious 3D computer animation with imaginative flair. So if for nothing else, give them props for that. Ultimately, though, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie doesn’t do quite enough to completely justify its cinematic existence. The humor is mostly low-brow, the voice acting is good but not award-worthy, and the storyline is as predictable as a kids movie can get. But the still gets in some good laughs in amidst nice animation. It’s great that it remains aware of what it is. If it tried to have some sort of higher meaning then it would just be too awkward. But thankfully, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is a fittingly absurd round of family-friendly fun that never really impresses.

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“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” Movie Review

Now I know for a fact that I need to own a walkman. In fact, if anyone would be so kind as to send me one for Christmas this year, I will be the happiest man on Earth. This science-fiction comic book superhero movie was released worldwide on May 5th, 2017, officially becoming the 15th installment of the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Following in the footsteps of its predecessors getting released on the first week of May, the film opened to about $440 million worldwide at the box office. Taking just a few months after the vents of the first installment, the titular team have become a renowned intergalactic mercenary group. The leader of the group, Peter “Starlord” Quill, unearths some new discoveries about his ancestry and sets out to find his father, Ego. All the while, the company of mercenaries called the Ravagers, led by Yondu, are hot on their trail for glory and gold. Now way back in 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy was one of the very first movies I ever did a review of on my blog. It was hilarious, heartfelt, and perhaps the most ambitious production ever taken up by Marvel Studios, as these were previously characters whom very few people were familiar with. And now we get to see a sequel written and directed by James Gunn, and how is it? To be honest, it was a bit of a letdown in some regards, but still really enjoyable and entertaining. Right off the bat, Chris Pratt leads the big ensemble cast with his traditional likability and overall sense of humor. Previously a “nobody” just a few years ago, this man has been taking over Hollywood one blockbuster after another. Zoe Saldana returns as his green-skinned love interest Gamora, who is kicks a lot of ass and looks sexy while doing it. Former wrestler Dave Bautista may not be given much to say or do for a majority of the 136 minute-long film, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t make me laugh a lot. His great sense of timing and wicked physical comedy makes him probably the funniest member of the titular group of misfits. Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel reprise their voice roles as the genetically modified Rocket Raccoon and Baby Groot, both of whom were just adorable in their own twisted ways. Big names like Kurt Russell, Karen Gillan, Sylvester Stallone, Chris Sullivan, Elizabeth Debicki, and Michael Rooker round out the impressive supporting cast. Rooker and Russell were both particularly noteworthy in their roles as Yondu and Ego, respectively, bringing a sort of human element to this otherwise otherworldly tale. Most everyone else seems like they were there just to say that they were part of the Marvel franchise. One of the distinguishing factors of the first movie was the astonishing, if somewhat overused visual effects. These effects continue to dazzle in the second installment, with a beautiful use of bright and vibrant colors for the ships, planets, and even the characters. The makeup design of several aliens is pretty impressive, especially of the gold-skinned Sovereign race, an arrogant people whose stoicism makes for some unexpected laughs. Though by the second half, it becomes pretty easy to tell when there’s a green screen in the background because some locations just look too fantastical to build with real sets or shoot on-location. And yeah, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is really funny just like the last one, albeit not quite as much. Often, the humor comes out from the awkward dialogue among the characters, such as Starlord referring to his semi-romantic relationship with Gamora as “this unspoken thing.” One notable standout is when the Sovereign race tries to attack the Guardians after screwing them over on a deal, and send spaceships out to fight. But all of these ships are remotely controlled from their home planet and emulate something of a video game. One has to wonder how long it will be before any real-life military will start using this system to virtually train its soldiers for combat. Tyler Bates returns from the first film to provide the original score. But like many other Marvel productions, the main theme and other tracks are forgettable and sub-par, only standing out in moments where it all intensifies. However, Gunn attempts to make up for this with yet another soundtrack of old tunes. Mostly consisting of pop songs from the late 70’s and the early 80’s, my personal favorite was “Father and Son” by the controversial Cat Stevens. It evoked the right amount of emotion for the overall theme of the lost bond between father and son found in the relationship Starlord and his mysterious patriarch. Aside from this, and a brilliant addition of “Lake Shore Drive” by Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah in the opening sequence- which was all shown on a single, uninterrupted shot -this soundtrack, I feel, is not worth buying as a whole. Most of them did fit in with the story, but others felt somewhat gratuitous. In the end, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a solid, if a little disappointing, space romp that just doesn’t quite hit the heights of the original. Excellent visuals and a bevy of characters that we love keep this superhero story aloft in memory and enjoyment.

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