Tower Review

tower4I don’t know if I love Tower more because I see a lot of movies or because it is genuinely a great movie. Either way I loved it. Here is something completely different and powerful that really got to me. It’s perhaps the best message movie I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly up there.

Tower is set in 1966 when a sniper began shooting people from the bell tower at the University of Texas. For several hours the sniper shot people at will including a pregnant woman and a little boy delivering newspapers. All of these people we hear from but in the most unique way. Like any documentary the witnesses and victims are interviewed but it is mixed in with rotoscoped animation depicting the events of the day.

tower2This wasn’t just a gimmick but a way to feel immersed in what was going on that could never be achieved through stale photos or live action reenactments. The rotoscoping felt stark and somehow made everything on a very surreal day seem even more so.

There are so many stories Tower tells but the most moving had to be a woman named Claire who is pregnant and left on the hot concrete bleeding. Most are fearful to go out in the open where the sniper will kill them to help her so she just lies on the concrete. Then a selfless act comes into play and it was very moving.

towerOne interesting aspect is the victims had never really talked about the incident or dealt with it until the making of the film. It just shows what a different society it was back then. Now they would all be writing blogs and books but back then you kept your mouth shut on all trauma you experienced in life. I can’t imagine living like that. It is so different than my life!

tower3I also liked how it wasn’t just hero fluff piece but a variety of responses. There is one woman who admits ‘I was a coward’ and then another amazing guy who basically becomes John McClane. He was incredible!

I wouldn’t be surprised if you see this on my top 10 list. It was so different and it really moved me. It’s been such a great year for documentaries but this is the one that took artistic risk and it really paid off. They do have a message about school shootings and violence today but to me it was powerful and given just the right amount of attention to not be over-bearing. It could have easily gone the propaganda route but it doesn’t.

If you get a chance to see Tower let me know what you think.

Overall Grade- A

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Sing Review

sing5One of the cool things about 2016 animation is even the middle-tier animated films haven’t been that bad. I’d say films like Storks, Secret Life of Pets and Trolls have all been base hits where the top-tier have been home runs. This stands in contrast to last year where the middle-tier films bombed like Minions and Home. Well, you can add another solid base hit to the 2016 line up with Illumination’s Sing. This isn’t a great movie and I will totally understand the inevitable critiques but I walked away having a good experience.

I got to see Sing as part of a special screening last Saturday meant as kind of a Black Friday weekend promotion. The trailers have not been great for Sing so I went in with low expectations, which may have helped it a little bit (I’m not the biggest Illumination fan). Nevertheless, it ended up being a fun morning at the movies.

sing13Sing is about a koala named Buster Moon who owns a struggling theater that he got after being inspired by a show as a child. He develops a plan to save his theater by hosting a singing competition- ala American Idol type show. This attracts a wide array of characters from a housewife pig with 25 kids named Rosita, to a cocky gambling mouse named Mike, to a gorilla who doesn’t want to be in his Dad’s gang named Johnny. All of these characters love to sing and we see their story play out within the course of the movie.

sing14There are some things Sing really does right. First of all, I liked the characters. It would have been easy to make this a story of angsty teenagers who want to be stars but this has a wide range of character types that are explored better than I expected. Rosita was my favorite. I mean how often do we get a tired, ignored housewife character in a film aimed at children? I thought her arc was really sweet.

I also liked Ash the punk-rock porcupine who has allowed her talents to be brushed aside by her pushy boyfriend. Meena, a shy elephant who knows she is talented but lacks the guts to perform, was also a really nice character. I am sure many people can relate to all 3 of these characters.

sing884The other win for me in Sing was the music. Marketing for the film boasts 85 songs in the soundtrack. I can’t even imagine how expensive the licensing for Sing was but most of those songs are extremely brief. The actual full songs with verses and a chorus I thought were pretty well done. The singing is good and as the movie is about the struggles and dreams of singers they worked to further the story- not just as filler like in movies like Trolls.

This song by Tori Kelly ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing’ was one of my favorites.

Scarlett Johansson gets an original song as Ash and I liked that quite a bit as well.

sing-ash-and-meenaSome people might not like the music but this is just my taste (it’s my blog after all) and I liked it. And I thought it fit within this particular story with these characters. I certainly thought all of the music was as good as Try Everything from Zootopia, which I also liked (Sing is going to suffer in comparison to Zootopia but on this one level I think it wins).

Now there are some definite problems with Sing. First of all, the base story is super contrived. We’ve seen the ‘save the farm, save the school house, save the theater’ plot device a million times and it feels a little tired here. The story is also extremely predictable but the ending still felt satisfying I guess because I liked the characters so much. It also feels a little over-stuffed with tons of characters auditioning and given songs/story time when I just wanted to focus on the characters I liked.  In addition, the humor can be very hit and miss within the film.

The animation is also nothing to write home about. It is standard generic cg animation. There is nothing like the world building or character designs we get in Zootopia or Moana. It works but it feels rather pedestrian. I’d like to see Illumination take more risk with their animation and dazzle us with something new like the hybrid animation did for Peanuts Movie.

sing15The other big problem has to do with some of their character choices. As I said a gorilla named Johnny wants to be a singer. His father runs a gang and he can’t understand why his son wants to be a singer. All of this could have been fine but given the current racial tensions I thought it was in poor taste for them to make all the gang members black. There is even a rival gang and guess what they are? Brown bears…

I wish they had followed the example of Secret Life of Pets and made the gang a variety of animals.

secret-life-of-pets-gangI know this may seem like a small thing but given the racial climate we are in it made me a little uncomfortable.

Still, none of these downsides were deal breakers for me. I walked out humming some tunes and having an over all good time. It’s not a movie I will remember in 5 years but not every movie has to be. This is just an enjoyable base hit with some sweet characters and nice music. I enjoyed it.

Overall Grade- B (just a bit lower than my youtube review)

ps. shouldn’t a koala have an Australian accent? Hmmm…

The Wild Life Review

wild life2So I just saw the new animated import from Belgium called The Wild Life and honestly I am still processing it. While I can’t really tell you it is a “good” film it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. And it makes a lot of unusual choices that at the very least make it a bit of a curiosity.

First of all, The Wild Life looks way better than I expected it to be. I did not see it in 3D because the 3D trailer looked awful and I’m glad I didn’t. The animated action sequences are pretty impressive. They are long quickly paced and intense. Going into the film I was expecting a comedy but there are actually not that many comedic moments. Most of it is shipwrecks and fights. The water was really good for this kind of budget.

wild-life3The character design all looked textured and better rendered than I was expecting. I honestly think the animation is as good if not better than anything we’ve seen from the Ice Age films in a long time.

The one exception to that rule is the cats…I pretty much hated everything about the cats. I hated their animation, characters, vocal performance, story arc, everything.

wild-life-5It’s kind of cool they do not use any celebrity voices and everybody except the cats fits very well with their parts. It’s kind of strange that all of these animals on this tiny island all have different accents but if you don’t over-think it, it works.

wild-life-4Robinson Crusoe is actually a pretty likable character and his bonding with the animals is more authentic than I thought it would be. I was thinking Crusoe would be more of the villain invading the island but actually he and the animals bond quickly and there are a lot of charming scenes with them working together. It’s not reinventing the wheel or something but I enjoyed it.

And like I said the action is a lot of fun. It’s very fast paced and imaginative and at times very tense. There is even death to a character that would never die in an American animated film.  There is also a pregnancy that felt so strange. I’ve never seen anything like it in an animated film.

Unfortunately some of the action goes on a bit too long and the story wasn’t compelling enough to carry my interest the entire film. I got bored in several sections. I’m not sure what they could do to make it better but I nodded off a couple of times.

Still, this is the kind of movie that people will love to use hyperbole on and declare it the worst thing ever but it’s not in my opinion.  One review I read said “few have failed as confoundingly as The Wild Life” Now that I can get behind.  It is a strange movie. There’s no doubt about that, and I guess its watchability depends on your tolerance for the odd choices it makes.

But if you can ignore the bad stuff like the cats and focus on the good things like the animation and the action, I think it is worth watching. I personally would rather watch this film than a lazy unambitious effort like Ice Age: Collision Course but that’s just me.

If any of you see The Wild Life let me know. I am anxious to talk about some of the strange story elements with someone else who has seen it.

Overall Grade- C-

Angry Birds Movie Review

angry-birds-movie-posterSo I decided to rest over at the theater tonight and watch the new animated release The Angry Birds Movie. I have never played the game before and had mixed responses to the trailer but after being pleasantly surprised (one of the few) by Ratchet and Clank, I was hoping for the same with Angry Birds. Unfortunately I left feeling mostly disappointed.

Not that Angry Birds is a complete loss.  The animation is pretty good particularly with the texturing on the feathers.  It looked lush and they capture the fast movement of the birds very well. I also was fine with all the voice talent although the celebrity aspect of it did nothing for me.  There were a few good jokes and kids will probably have an ok time.  This is not Norm of the North bad by any means.

angrybirdsmovieUnfortunately that’s about the end of my praise.  The film centers on a bird named Red who you guessed it is angry all the time. Going into the film I figured he would learn his lesson by the end and stop being angry. Instead Angry Birds makes the strange choice of having the kind, happy birds actually be gullible and stupid.  The movie confuses confidence with anger and the stupid nice birds learn to be angry. Isn’t that a strange message for kids? It’s one thing to have a character named Anger in Inside Out as a piece of a healthy person but to have the main moral emphasis of the movie be promoting anger is very weird.

angry birds2Just like Minions last year Angry Birds uses a lot of music cues to get supposed humor. I don’t think any of the songs will be that familiar to kids (bands like Pete Townsend, Ozzy Osbourne, the Carpenters and more) and  I don’t even think these artists are that popular with young Moms and Dads so who they are trying to appeal too? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have bands from the 80s or 90s if you were appealing to the parents? Current artists if you were trying to appeal to kids?  Regardless, the music jokes were loud, forceful, stretched out and unending. I got tired of them after a while.

These pigs come to steal the eggs of the birds. All of the birds but Red are charmed by the pigs because of the great dance party they throw.  Red’s cynicism and grumpiness gets a little old after a while. It felt like certain scenes such as the hoedown party lasted a long time.  There were also uncomfortable adult jokes which I really hate in movies aimed at families or children. These weren’t just subtle but out there jokes about sex, mating and harvesting eggs. That’s unseemly in my opinion.

The-Angry-Birds-Movie-eagleRed goes to find an eagle that is going to save them but this sequence felt very drawn out and it separates the lead characters from the conflict with the pigs leaving said conflict and villains underdeveloped. The eagle potty humor and other jokes did nothing for me.

The final action scene was kind of fun and I’m told uses elements from the game in a very clever way, but that can only take you so far. I felt like the characters were shouting at me a lot and I grew tired of that.  I wanted the story to breathe more and calm down.

angrybirds3Overall, it’s harmless. Some small kids will enjoy it but the shouting, overbearing music and the strange message about anger are big problems for me. Ratchet and Clank is a silly simple space adventure where this is more caustic and frustrating. I can see why some enjoy it but it was just not for me. I’m actually a little disappointed as I am always pulling for smaller studios to make a dent in the animation scene.  Unfortunately Lego Movie this is not.

It was also frantically edited so I felt a little jerked around with everything happening on screen.

I’d be willing to forgive a lot if I wasn’t so annoyed by the characters and other choices made within the movie. Too bad!

What did you think of Angry Birds Movie?

Overall Grade- C

My youtube review

Ratchet and Clank Review

There are some movies that are saved by low expectations (and others like Hail Cesar that are hurt by  high). Ratchet and Clank is one of the former. I had very little hopes it would be a good film. Video game movies are usually terrible and the first trailer was pretty mediocre.

So, I went to the theater this morning hoping it would be bearable and you know what? It turned out to be a cute little movie. Is it a masterpiece? No, but I was entertained throughout and in the world of video game movies it is head and shoulders above the rest (I know not saying much but it is true).

Ratchet and Clank is based on the video game of the same name which evidently had a reboot this week to coincide with the movie. I’m not sure what fans of the game will think of the film but I thought it was a cute little movie for kids.

ratchet4It kind of reminded me of Jimmy Neutron or the Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger shorts. It is about a lombax named Ratchet who dreams of joining the Galactic Rangers- a group kind of like the Furious 5 of KFP movies that protect the galaxy from invaders.

ratchetclank.0.0While auditioning he meets a robot named Clank and they end up battling an evil alien named Chairman Drek who is overseen by Doctor Nefarious.

ratchet6The humor is actually kind of self-aware and subtle. I was expecting a lot of bathroom humor like we got in last years Home but this was better than that.

galactic rangersYou also get to know the team of Galactic Rangers particularly an arrogant one named Captain Qwark who had some decent laughs.

ratchet3There’ s a nice heart to the film without it feeling forced and it clips along pretty well. I wasn’t bored and found the animation to be impressive for the small budget.

ratchet5I am sure some you wouldn’t see this unless you were dragged screaming and I get that but I honestly liked it much more than I was expecting too. It’s more made for kids and what I mean by that is there is none of the deep themes or emotions you get in a Pixar movie.  This is just a fun little space adventure for kids. Nothing wrong with that.

The vocal performances  worked with some of the voices from the game including James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye reprising their roles of Ratchet and Clank. They also have Sylvester Stallone, Paul Giamatti, John Goodman and Bella Thorne. I also liked the music by Evan Wise.

Overall it just felt like all involved were really trying to make something good and that they were having a lot of fun. I appreciate that.

I don’t know how the critics will treat Ratchet and Clank. Like I said it’s not a masterpiece but for what it is, I thought it was entertaining. I think your kids will enjoy it and I’ve heard some game fans are liking it as well. It’s definitely nothing to be embarrassed by or miserable watching like Norm of the North.

If any of you see it let me know what you think.

Overall Grade- B-

Little Prince Review

little princeFor a while watching The Little Prince I was ready to come on here and be pretty harsh on it.  Until the first hour mark, the movie was honestly driving me crazy but then it somehow turned itself around and became a decent flick.  Usually the ending of films is where they really tank but not in this case.  I kind of wish it had been a short 45 minute special because really the first hour is just two characters talking a lot and telling you why what they are saying is so important.

SOME SPOILERS AHEAD!  (I couldn’t talk about some of my issues without spoiling because it lay within the story).

So let’s talk about that first hour. My big problem was way too much exposition.  At times it felt like a Shyamalan film there was so much talking and not showing!

The plot of the movie is a Little Girl is trained by her mother to keep a tightly planned study schedule.  Truly it seemed a little over-the-top it was so micromanaged.  I mean what kid would want to plan a play date for the next summer?  It strained credulity and made the Mother look really mean.

little prince 4The goal of the Mother is for Little Girl (that’s her name) to make it into a prestigious school called Werth Academy.  They even move just to be in the school boundaries.

little prince8However, Little Girl wants to explore and is drawn to an elderly neighbor known as The Aviator. He tells her about the Little Prince who had a rose that he loves and tries to protect.  As he tells the story we see it played out in beautiful animation that looks like stop motion.

little prince111The problem is not enough happens in the story to be compelling on its own so it becomes a lot of talking about dreams and bold living.  As pretty as it was I grew weary of it.

Then The Prince in the story dies for The Rose at the hour mark.  This causes Little Girl to become angry at The Aviator for the story and it ending so sadly.  She stays away but then he gets sick and she must fly The Aviator’s plane and find the Little Prince on his asteroid.  This is when the story starts going.  We actually see things happen to our lead character!

little prince123When the Little Girl gets to the asteroid, she finds a world where everyone has grown up- kind of an opposite Neverland.  The Little Prince has forgotten his past and has been turned into a workaholic adult.  He is ruled by a man called The Businessman who is hoarding all the stars to steal all the light and happiness from the world. Now this is a story!

little prince14Little Girl then must bring the Little Prince back to his planet and he gets some closure on his lost rose. Little Girl gets a reminder that she cannot grow up too soon.

little prince15When she reunites with her Mother they have a new understanding and she is allowed to be a child a little bit longer while still going to the prestigious school.

Once the action in the story started going I was entertained by the Little Prince, but almost like a fable, the metaphors are very heavy-handed. The Businessman clearly is meant to symbolize the Mother and her routine for Little Girl (they even have a similar chalkboard with tasks listed out), but I didn’t mind it.  I kind of wish the entire movie had started at that point because I really didn’t need the background on the Prince, The Rose, The Girl and The Mother.

Even in the boring sections there is a nice heart to the film, and I did feel attached to Little Girl and her struggles to be understood by her Mother. I just needed something more concrete to happen sooner to get the plot going. The first hour felt a little like reading a greeting card. Sure it looks nice and has a nice message but I needed more story!

The vocal performances are all wonderful, providing a real warmth to the sometimes one-note characters.  Mackenzie Foy (Little Girl), Jeff Bridges (The Aviator), Rachel McAdams (The Mother), Paul Rudd (Mr Prince) are great.  Marion Cotillard is heavily billed and I thought would have a big part but she is The Rose and only has a few lines.

little prince3The animation is stunning throughout The Little Prince and it is worth seeing for that reason alone.  And it does end with real heart that made me tear up a few times.  I just wish I could condense the first hour into 15 minutes! In some ways after that reminded me of Neverending Story in its messaging and tone.  Still, I can’t ignore an hour of tedious exposition.

Overall Grade- C+

Also why this movie took forever and a day to get to a US release is beyond me.  It was written in English originally so it didn’t need dubbing or subtitles.  Why the delay?  That was very annoying.

Talking 2016 Animation Calendar

Hey guys!  My friend and fellow animation addict AJ Howell did a fun podcast where we went over the upcoming 2016 animation calendar.  We tried to give our insight into 18 films and what we are looking forward too and not so much.  I would love your feedback.  What about you?  What excites you the most in the calendar?

Kung fu Panda 3 Review

kung fu 3Get ready for a surprise!  You guys know I will always be honest with how I feel about a film.  I went into Kung fu Panda 3 with extremely low expectations.  I hated all the trailers and the character designs didn’t look great.  I liked the first one, really enjoyed the second and 3 seemed like a step back.  Well, I’m thrilled to tell you I was wrong!  Kung fu Panda 3 is not a step back. In fact, it is solidly the best of the 3 and is in the running for the best CG film Dreamworks has ever made.  Yep, you read right!  That’s how I really feel.

There are so many reasons I loved this movie.  First of all, it combined the strengths of 1 and 2 perfectly.  It had the first film’s humor and sweet message with the sequels action and authentic martial arts movie feel.  But that’s not all.  It had a good story, sweet messaging and beautiful animation.

I was so impressed with the way the film combined 2D, hybrid and CG elements seamlessly.  That has always been a part of the series but here it wasn’t just a dream sequence that was 2D, it was intermixed into the entire story which was beautiful. The colors were also bright and full of life.  Kung fu Panda 3 gets serious points just for being so great to look at.  The trailers did not do it justice at all!

The story revolves around a spirit named Kai who has a score to settle with Master Oogway from the first film.  In revenge he has conquered all of the spirits of the great masters and absorbed their chi into himself.  He finally absorbs Master Oogway and that allows him back into the human world.  Still out for revenge he seeks to take all the mortal masters including the great Dragon Warrior.

As he absorbs the characters it creates kind of a jade zombie and with each one he becomes stronger and bigger. Meanwhile, Po is learning from Master Shifu to become a teacher instead of the student.  He also meets his biological father and learns about a secret community of Pandas which is strong in chi and defeated Kai before.

There are a lot of interesting things about this story.  I particularly liked the struggles Po’s adoptive father has when he meets his biological father.  As an adoption advocate, I thought that was handled very well.  Also learning how to teach as the final step in becoming the Dragon Warrior is a very insightful plot thread for the film.

Like I said, the humor is used just enough to break up the villainy but not so much as to feel annoying or crass.  I laughed quite a bit.  The action is a lot of fun but never too drab or scary for little kids.  I think people who felt Kung fu Panda 2 was boring will like this entry much better.

The voice cast works very well with some new talent in JK Simmons, Kate Hudson, and Bryan Cranston.  I still wish to begin with they hadn’t had such modern voice talent but I prefer this cast too the dragon cast any day of the week.

The film just works.  It’s beautiful to look at.  It’s exciting, funny, sweet and I was consistently entertained.  I want to give a special congrats to director Jennifer Yuh Nelson.  There aren’t that many female directors in animation and I really admire what she has done here.

I honestly don’t have anything negative to say about the film.  Maybe I will when I watch on repeated viewings.  Like the Lego Movie, it will probably be skipped for nominations because of its early release but it is certainly worthy.  I loved it.

You’all might think I’m crazy but I don’t care:

Overall Grade- A+

Here is my youtube review:

Norm of the North Review

All right 2016 I issue you a challenge- I dare you to produce a movie worse than Norm of the North.  Yes my friends, the new animated film Norm of the North is one of the worst animated (or otherwise) films I’ve ever seen.  Please do not waste time and money seeing this total and complete garbage.  Literally the best thing in the movie is Rob Schneider and when you can utter that statement about a film you know you are in trouble…

norm8Schneider voices a bear who can talk to humans (a gift never explained).  He’s a prince of the iceberg and they like to put on shows for the tourists who take cruises to the arctic (I know they go to Alaska but aortic I don’t think is a thing for cruises?).

Of course, Norm doesn’t fit in with everyone else and misses his Grandfather bear who disappeared years ago.  But things are thrown into chaos when a model home lands on the iceberg (you read right).  Evidently a developer has decided to build a housing development on the glacier (because that makes so much sense…).

norm3Of course that means heading off to New York City where we get the evil corporate executive who is swindling the Arctic Conservation Board and shipping out the homes.

norm-of-the-north-trailer-Norm also has these little lemmings that are obvious minions copy-cats.

norm5Movies like this make you appreciate more movies like Elf and Enchanted that get this type of story right.  In Norm of the North they settle for potty humor and pratfalls.  Norm’s character is also kind of inconsistent.  One moment he is nerdy.  Another moment he is the coolest guy in town appearing on talk shows and the like.

The animation looks like something made 15 years ago not today and it’s not even so bad it’s good.  I actually nodded off for a few minutes it was all so dull and stupid.

I’m normally not a harsh person but this movie is awful.  I really don’t have anything good to say about it.  I guess congrats for getting a movie made.  I know how hard that is but please work on the script a little bit more next time.  I know they had a small budget but a lot is forgiven if the story and script are decent and there’s nothing expensive about writing a good script!

It’s disheartening when this type of film gets a wide release because I think it adds to the stereotype that animation is only for kids and that the medium is on the decline.  In my eyes it is just a momentary glitch and every medium has those.  Let’s just smile and move on.

At least I think the bar has been set very low for me to enjoy Kung fu Panda 3 this month!  That’s for sure!

Overall Grade- F