Blind Spot 41: ‘Brief Encounter’

I always like to have a little bit of variety on this Blind Spot project and this month we are going back to 1945 and taking a look at the romantic drama Brief Encounter.

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Starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, Brief Encounter tells a simple story of 2 strangers that meet in a train station ‘refreshment room’ and become fascinated with each other. Then they meet several more times until a relationship develops. Unfortunately with them both being married they cannot pursue their love so it is doomed to remain unrequited.

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Brief Encounter is directed by David Lean and he, with cinematographer Robert Krasker, do a stunning job crafting this film. The black and white photography is beautiful with great use of shadows and light. You feel an intimacy with the couple like you are somehow eavesdropping on their conversations instead of watching a movie. It kind of reminded me of the Before Sunrise movies in that regard. I think it also helps that we don’t have traditional movie stars in the lead roles but more ordinary looking humans. It makes their connection feel more grounded and real.

If you are worried this is a movie that justifies cheating, it doesn’t. In fact, the ending with Laura and her husband is actually quite touching. It’s just a moment between two people and that’s it. If it was made today it would probably be tawdry and tasteless but here it strikes just the right note.

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My only flaw with Brief Encounter is it is perhaps too brief. They go from strangers bumping into each other to declaring their undying love very quickly. In that sense, it feels a little hard to believe. We understand why Laura is tempted by a new and exciting love but are not entirely sure why this love with Alec fits that bill. I wish there were a few more scenes where we got to know both of them more and could understand their connection better.

That said, I definitely recommend checking out Brief Encounter. It is currently available to stream on the Criterion Channel which is a service I highly recommend. They not only have great films but tons of special features on most of the films.

(Also David Lean is such an incredible director. It’s hard to believe the person who made this also directed Lawrence of Arabia!)

Overall Grade

7 out of 10

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‘Poms’ Review

One of the interesting trends of the last few years is Hollywood taking notice of an older demographic of filmgoer. It makes sense with senior citizen discounts and other programs that older men and women are going to the movies more each year. When I go to my local theater there are a number of older patrons who I see regularly and who seem to attend the movies almost daily.

With this audience it only stands to reason films are going to be made that particularly appeal to them. Whether it is comedies (Marigold Hotel movies, The Intern, Hello My Name is Doris, Book Club) or dramas (I’ll See You in My Dreams, The Mule, Beginners), every year we get a handful of movies about senior citizens and the contributions they make. The latest entry in this genre is called Poms and it is unfortunately a bit of a mixed bag

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The best parts of Poms are the sweet parts. Diane Keaton plays a woman named Martha who with little to no family moves to Georgia to live out her final days of cancer at a plush retirement community. While there she decides to fulfill her teenage dream of becoming a cheerleader with the help of a bunch of her new friends (Jacki Weaver, Pam Grier, Rhea Perlman, and more). These ladies have lovely chemistry and seeing them work together definitely pulled at the heartstrings (my Grandma just recently passed so it was close to home). I particularly loved Jacki Weaver who I think always elevates anything she is in. The ladies also have some sweet moments with 2 teenagers who agree to help the cause (Charlie Tahan and Alisha Boe).

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The problem with Poms is most of the humor felt very sitcomy. It felt like a used Golden Girls script stretched out into a feature film. The ‘old women can have sex’ jokes got old very fast and some of the humor was flat out weird- like an implication Rhea Perlman murders her abusive husband to be on the team or a badly handled subplot with Phyllis Somerville’s abusive and controlling son that was awkward. I also got really sick of Celia Weston’s antics as a Southern Belle maiden overseeing everything at the community. There might as well have been a laugh track behind some of these bits they were so sitcomy.

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All that said, if you are looking for something to do with your Mother and Grandmother for Mother’s Day you could do worse than Poms. It’s harmless but probably best to be seen at home as a rental.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy (Barely)

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Pokémon: Detective Pikachu Review

I think like most people when I first heard of a live action Detective Pikachu movie I rolled my eyes. As an animation fan it can be very irritating when it seems like the great answer to updating a property is to abandon animation and make it live action (Disney I’m talking to you!). In addition most of the live action/animated hybrids have been terrible. With the exception of Paddington, it is usually a terrible idea to have a cg creature in the human world. Naturally we were all concerned and then the trailers came out and to my surprise the film looked pretty good. Ryan Reynolds looked funny and the world building with the pokemons looked adorable, so I went into seeing Pokémon: Detective Pikachu with pretty high expectations. Unfortunately I ended up with very mixed feelings on the film. It’s not a total loss but it could have been so much better!

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It’s movies like Pokémon: Detective Pikachu that make the binary system of rottentomatoes difficult because it does have many positives. First of all, the world-building is really strong. It kind of reminded me of Zootopia in the way the world was full of creatures and captured that crime-noir feel while still being kid-appropriate.

The design of all the pokémon was creative and adorable and will no doubt delight fans of the franchise (I have seen 2 Pokémon movies but would not consider myself a fan).

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Ryan Reynolds is great as the voice of Pikachu and Justice Smith does a serviceable job as our orphan looking into the strange death of his father. There is also a really nice heart to the film, and while inconsistent I did laugh a few times.

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The problem with Pokémon: Detective Pikachu lies with the script. At only 104 minutes it feels much longer and there are stretches where nothing seems to be happening but bland action and reveals that don’t amount to much story-wise. The mystery isn’t set up well because the villain is obvious from the start and the clues aren’t interesting to put together. Again to use Zootopia as an example, I was way more invested in the clues and mystery of that film than in Detective Pikachu.

It’s always hard for me to know what kids will like but I suspect a lot of them will get fidgety especially during the middle section of Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. I know both my friend and I were struggling a little bit to stay invested. I’ve seen it many times before where the team behind a movie gets so caught up in world-building they forget to craft a script worthy of that world. Such is the case here. (There is some action such as fighting and a car crash depicted multiple times that might scare very little kids but nothing too bad content-wise).

But it’s not a disaster by any means. I would recommend seeing Pokémon: Detective Pikachu at a discount theater if you have one in your community. It’s got enough fun moments to justify a watch but I just wish the mystery had been handled better. Perhaps if they make a sequel they can improve upon that aspect? I’d definitely be interested in them taking another swing at it!

Smile Worthy (Just barely)

✮✮.5 out of 5

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‘UglyDolls’ Review

Before I start my review I wanted to give a shameless plug for my new patreon account! If you enjoy what I do hear on the blog please consider supporting me for as little as $2 a month. We have benefits set up and would be beyond grateful for the support. Thank you in advance https://www.patreon.com/hallmarkies

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Now let’s get into reviewing the latest animated film UglyDolls. Looking like a mixture of Boss Baby and Trolls (both films I wasn’t in love with) I went into the screening of UglyDolls more than a little bit nervous. However, I should have noticed it is made by Kelly Asbury, a director I find to be very underrated. I particularly thought his Smurfs the Lost Village got way more hate than it deserved (still has some of the most beautiful CG animated backgrounds in recent memory).

Now I have seen the film and am delighted to say I enjoyed it. Of course it has its flaws but overall I liked UglyDolls. It tells the story of a world where dolls are made in a factory and chosen for a special kid to own. The dolls that don’t fit the correct specifications are rejected and sent to Uglyville, which is where we find our heroine: the plucky Moxy (Kelly Clarkson). She is dying to get out of Uglyville and find her special friend but nobody has ever left the town before and they don’t feel restless like Moxy.

Of course, this is a story arc we’ve seen many times before but Clarkson does a good job with the vocals and her character isn’t pushy like the lead troll in Trolls; Nor was she aggressive and angry like in The Angry Birds Movie. She’s pretty happy doing her own thing and if people follow that’s their choice.

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Eventually Moxy ends up at the Institute of Perfection where normal dolls (not stuffed dolls like Moxy) are being trained to take on the gauntlet that proves they are ready for the human world. There is our wannabe Trump copycat leading the Institute named Lou. With his dictatorial attitude and fear of outsiders he can be a little grating but is a serviceable villain.

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What makes Ugly Dolls work is the infectious songs (All original songs except one song in the middle that is randomly a cover). They have good singers performing and the staging was energetic and joyful. Animated musicals like Strange Magic can be tough to pull off but this one worked for me.

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I also thought the overall message of acceptance and tolerance was really sweet and Moxy as a character was likable and fun to spend time with. The animation had a tactile quality to it I enjoyed and overall it will entertain and enrich particularly small children.

There are moments with Lou where things get a little too mean for very small kids and the world-building is kind of strange. Humans are present but I was a little unclear how the gauntlet worked and how long these dolls had been there waiting to be delivered to a child. Also why didn’t the UglyDolls go to be with other stuffed dolls not have human-like dolls in the same factory area. It was a little confusing.

However, that is definitely over-thinking it. UglyDolls has a sweet message with some catchy tunes and appealing animation. If you go see it with your kids they will really enjoy it and you’ll have an ok time as well. It’s a sweet, fun little movie worth checking out

6.5 out of 10

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Blind Spot 40: ‘Scott Pilgrim vs the World’

It seemed appropriate during the month of an epic comicbook movie release I should finally watch one of the most popular entries from the genre I have yet to have seen for my blind spot series: Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

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Released in 2010, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is based on a graphic novel called Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley. It tells the story of a dopey 22 year old kid named Scott (Michael Cera) who enters a video game world when he plays with his band the Sex Bob-Omb. He goes through many women, but he in particular loves a multi-haired girl named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). In order to be with her he must defeat Ramona’s 7 evil exes in the video game using music and sometimes a little action.

For the most part I enjoyed watching this film. It is very well cast with a crop of young talent that would go places including Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Brandon Routh and Jason Schwartzman. The visual effects and style of the film is unique and continually surprised me. It both feels like you are inside a video game and a comicbook at the same time. scott pilgrim5I also thought Scott Pilgrim vs the World was pretty funny. The big set up jokes like Brandon Routh having super vegan powers really paid off and made me laugh. I also really liked Kieran Culkin as Scott’s gay roommate. He was very funny.

What I didn’t like as much is Scott is kind of the worst. He’s selfish, inconsiderate and doesn’t respect women. He goes through them like candy and yet they all seem more than willing to put up with such nonsense. The main excuse the movie seemed to give is he is lovable and nerdy but that’s not a very good excuse. I got the feeling we were supposed to judge Ramona for having so many ex-boyfriends when we saw Scott go through multiple girlfriends in just a few days!

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All that said, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a pretty fun movie. The soundtrack is great and it has a ton of fresh energy to it. If you are tired of the same old story it’s definitely worth a try. I think I prefer it to the other Edgar Wright film I’ve seen Baby Driver.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

(This is my 40th Blind Spot pick! What a fun series it has proven to be!)

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Current Mini Reviews

Believe it or not there are other movies out in theaters besides Avengers: Endgame. I have already reviewed Missing Link and Breakthrough on this blog but I thought I would give you my quick reviews of 5 other films that might be worth your time to check out:

Penguin Highway

First up the anime film Penguin Highway. Directed by Hiroyasu Ishida this creative and original science fiction mystery will delight audiences of all ages and shouldn’t be missed. It reminded me a lot of the Netflix show Stranger Things with a young boy investigating the strange appearance of penguins in his town.

The relationship between the boy and a woman who comes along with the penguins is a little strange but if you like unpredictable, fresh storytelling you’ll love this film

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Penguins

I will eventually do a full review of Disneynature’s latest film Penguins for my Disneynature series on this blog but until then you should definitely check it out. The penguins are so cute especially our lead penguin Steve who is perpetually behind all the other penguins. It’s so cute!

Ed Helms does a good job as the narrator and kids will love seeing this little penguin romance. Some of the music cues were a little much for me but that’s a minor flaw in a very adorable nature film.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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The Perfect Date

Netflix continues in its attempt to take over the romantic comedy world particularly for teenagers with The Perfect Date. Noah Centineo is super charming, and I’d be in love with him if I was 16. That’s really who this movie is made for, teenagers who want to swoon over Noah Centineo. There’s nothing wrong with that but the script needed work.

He’s charming but the story is so strained and there is no chemistry between him and either of the leading ladies. It also feels like a cheap copy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off without any of that movies emotional heft. If you’re not a 16 year old I’d say pass.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Okko’s Inn

Penguin Highway isn’t the only new anime we’ve gotten this month. We’ve also gotten the sweet ghost story Okko’s Inn. Based on a series of mangas, Okko’s Inn tells the story of a little girl who goes to live with her Grandma at an Inn after her parents die. She soon learns the Inn is inhabited by a series of mischievous ghosts who want to get her into trouble.

Okko’s Inn feels very episodic and is definitely made for very small children. Adults may find it a little cloying but its heart was in the right place so I enjoyed it. If you want to talk to your kids about grief and how to set goals (Okko decides to become a junior Innkeeper) than this would be a fun one to show them.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Long Shot

About 30 minutes into the new romantic comedy Long Shot I was groaning pretty loudly inside. The characters were annoying me and it seemed like the most tired of tropes to have the gorgeous blonde bombshell fall for the schlep who can’t seem to understand you don’t wear a hideous windbreaker to a swanky party. Ugh.

BUT…then something happened and it started to win me over. I think the key point is when they actually start a relationship is where it begins to work. The build up I was irritated but the actual balance of a liberal writer dating the secretary of state started to entertain me. Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron have decent enough chemistry but it’s the script that makes it all work. The commentary on feminism, work, politics and dating feels believable and is very funny. I particularly thought the ending in all its romcom glory is earned.

O’Shea Jackson as Rogen’s best friend stole the show. Hilarious.

This is an R rated film with lots of language and some sexuality so be forewarned.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

‘Avengers: Endgame’ Review

While I have not loved every entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (see my Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 review), I have loved the franchise as a cinematic endeavor and when others have grown weary of it I have been one of its biggest champions. I unabashedly love the tone of the universe and its emphasis on heroes who fight for all that is good and right in the world.

I also know that endings matter and a rotten ending to a 22 movie arc would be a serious bummer. This knowledge and my less than pumped response to Infinity War had me full of nerves going into the epic final chapter of the Avengers saga that is Avengers: Endgame. Could they pull it off? Could they end this mammoth undertaking of 22 movies in a satisfactorily way?

Well, I’m delighted to tell you that they did end it well. In fact, it may be my favorite MCU film to date! I LOVED Avengers: Endgame!

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There are two aspects that make Avengers: Endgame so strong. First and most importantly, the story takes care of our characters. I felt satisfied in every arc. Unlike say The Last Jedi or How I Met Your Mother where I felt great disappointment at the treatment of our characters, Marvel gave them arcs that felt earned and treated them with respect. There were things I was sure would annoy me after the carnage of Infinity War but it worked. In particular our original six of Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Hulk and Thor were given stories that felt authentic for the characters and gave the closure I needed.

I don’t think it is over-stating to say there is time travel element to the story. This allowed viewers to remember the fun we’ve had along the way but also gave the characters moments of retrospection on how far they had come and the choices they’ve made. Plus, it’s just fun. Time travel stories are a blast! I know some call this fan service but with each reveal my grin got bigger and wider. It was fantastic!

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Another strength of Avengers: Endgame is the pacing. I know that might sound nuts in a 3 hour movie but I found the film clipped right along. Infinity War dragged in its repetitive action where this was constantly changing who we are following and what type of situation they are facing. I was a little nervous going into the film that Captain Marvel would be over-used but she’s not. All the side characters are given their moments and then we move back to focusing on our main 5, which was brilliant.

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I am sure some people will talk about plotholes but so is the nature of time travel stories. I kind of treat this like watching Doctor Who. Sure the Doctor messes with the space time continuum in each episode but for the most part we let this go in the favor of who he saves and what the overall narrative needs to be. It will be fun to pick apart the many little moments of the film but the story won’t be any less effective by any imperfections I might uncover.

Those looking for big spectacle entertainment may find the first hour of Avengers: Endgame to be a little lacking, but I loved it! If you are one of those people, wait until the third act when the film delivers big time on spectacle! There were moments I had my mouth completely agape and a theater full of critics couldn’t help but cheer! It was infectious to see the ultimate heroes defeating the tar out of the villain Thanos!

In the end, Avengers: Endgame had it all. It was funny, moving, epic and everything else you could want. It is big spectacle entertainment topping off a cinematic achievement that many have attempted to mimic and failed. What the MCU has done is phenomenal, and I’m so happy they ended it well.

It is the perfect ending to our story.

Go see it! It’s great!

9.5/10

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‘Breakthrough’ Review

As a person of faith but not a traditional Christian the faith-based film market can be an interesting experience for me. In some ways I connect with the films but in other ways I don’t. Pureflix films in particular seem to always make films that are high on the preaching and low on the nuanced character development. However, there are some exceptions to the rule like All Saints, Freetown, and I Can Only Imagine. These films tell a story of individuals with faith that are flawed and struggle in ways we can relate with. This makes their conversion or deeper commitment to God understandable and inspiring. The new film Breakthrough can be added to the list of faith-based films that get the balance of message with a good moving story right. It’s one of the good ones!

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Breakthrough tells the true story of Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz) who’s son John gets caught in ice water for 45 minutes. Everything from his rescue to his Mom praying for his pulse to start again, to his near-perfect recovery seems to be a miracle. Whether it is or not is up for you and your faith to decide but the characters in the story certainly believe it is to varying degrees.

The reason why Breakthrough works is because the screenplay isn’t afraid to make their faithful characters, chief of all Joyce, flawed characters. She’s rude, bossy and the script calls her out on it. She learns and grows as a person. This makes the movie interesting if you believe in the miracle or not. Her husband Brian (Josh Lucas) struggles with his faith and doesn’t even want to enter the room with his ailing son. The screenplay allows him to feel this way without judgement. In fact, the person in the film judged the most harshly is probably the most faithful, Joyce. That’s unusual for these films and I admire that.

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There is also a very strong supporting cast in Breakthrough. Topher Grace is terrific as Joyce’s modern but sweet pastor. Mike Colter is quietly effective as the firefighter who saves John. And Dennis Haysbert is convincing as the doctor who oversees John’s care and can’t believe what he is witnessing. I also enjoyed seeing a bunch of Hallmark actors including Lisa Durupt (who I am interviewing this week!), Rebecca Staab, Victor Zinck Jr, and Ali Skovby.

The downsides to Breakthrough is there are a few cringe-worthy moments and those without faith might find it a little slow. Also there is an addendum where John returns to school that felt completely false (the local bully taunts him ‘hey miracle boy’, which made my eyes roll). It was not necessary and they should have just ended it with him leaving the hospital healthy or perhaps the scene of gratitude at the church.

Also they perhaps went too far at the beginning making John an annoying teen who is belligerent and bitter for no good reasons. I leaned over to my friend and said ”I can’t wait for him to get frozen”. I know teens are irritating but a little of that goes a long way. In order for us to want him to be saved he needs to be easier to root for. Luckily the movie is more about Joyce and with Chrissy Metz’s good performance she’s easy to empathize with.

In the end, if you are someone who enjoys faith-based films you should definitely see Breakthrough. If you are touch and go with them than this is one of the good ones. If you hate them than it probably won’t win you over but my friend Larry isn’t religious and he admired it more than anticipated. Give it a shot!

7.5 out of 10

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Missing Link Review

Everyone who reads this blog knows animation is my first love. I adore the medium in all its formats- 2D, CGI, anime, stop motion, motion capture, whatever. I particularly love stop motion with its attention to detail and unique world-building. Aside from a rare Wes Anderson or Tim Burton project, most stop motion over the last 10 years has come from either Aardman or Laika studios.

I love both of these studios and admire so much the work these talented artists are doing. That said, I do not always love the movies the studios produce. Last year I found Early Man, with its soccer themes, to be underwhelming from Aardman and this year I found Laika’s latest Missing Link to be a disappointment.

Missing Link tells the story of adventurer Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) who finds a sasquatch named Susan (Zach Galifianakis) and agrees to take the friendly beast to meet his family of yetis in Siberia. Along the way they meet Adelina (Zoe Saldana) who has a rocky past with Frost. It’s then mostly a road trip movie with these 3 on a series of adventures across the globe.

Let’s start with the positives. The animation in Missing Link is outstanding. They use a lot of CGI for a stop motion film but the amount of world building and action set pieces they designed is second to none. I can’t even fathom the amount of time spent on one short sequence in India or getting the action right in an old Western bar brawl scene. That would be incredibly difficult and I admire the animators for their great skill.

I also thought the sound design was really good. As they go exploring everything feels tactile and real, which helps immerse you in the experience. I particularly liked scenes on an ice bridge where the sound of the ice crackling and characters sliding upon it felt just right.

I think kids will have fun with the adventure aspect of the film. The kids around me seemed moderately engaged. I doubt it will be a favorite but it has fun moments and the message of self-confidence and friendship is lovely so you could do worse than taking your kids to see it.

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And now let’s talk about some of the issues I had with Missing Link…The biggest problem I had (and I had felt this in the trailers but was hoping the movie would win me over) is the strange character designs. I guess I can understand designing a sasquatch any way they want but the bright red pig-like nose was so off-putting. But even stranger is designing adventurer Frost with a bright red triangle nose. It looks like he is in a perpetual state of having just sneezed, and I don’t get it. He’s supposed to be human. Why would you design his nose like that?

While I think Jackman is fine as Frost, I also didn’t love the voice casting. I especially didn’t like Zach Galifianakis as Susan. It didn’t fit for me, and I felt it missed out on huge comic potential. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the big beast with a big booming voice was actually really sweet and named Susan? Occasionally they’d have him roar and that was funny. The juxtaposition was humorous and could have been much more so if they had gotten someone like Brad Garrett with a lower voice.

Speaking of comedy, that’s my other major problem with Missing Link. I maybe chuckled twice in the film. The humor is a weird mixture of the adult and juvenile variety and it almost all lands flat. It felt kind of like Laika trying to do Aardman and failing. In particular, a whole sequence with the Emma Thompson yetti was long, drawn out and kind of dull. There’s lots of humor that revolves around fighting hijinks. Fighting at a bar, fighting on a train, fighting in the jungle, fighting at the yetis and while the animation in these sequences is impressive they didn’t make me laugh. Is this stuff kids think is funny? It felt very weird to me. Do kids like bar-room brawls and petty fighting between British elites? (I think the film is going to be a very tough sell. I don’t see it appealing to many families and kids unless they happen to like Westerns).

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I feel bad for being so harsh on a Laika film because I really value what the studio is doing. However,  I have to be honest with my response to a film like Missing Link. It just didn’t do it for me despite the incredible animation. My friend Jen had the same reaction but then my friend Larry loved it so it will be interesting to see what others think.

If you get a chance to see Missing Link let me know what you think. Do the character designs turn you off in the trailer or are you excited for the adventure?

Final Score 4 out of 10

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