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Anyone who’s paid even a little attention to popular culture in the past few years has a pretty good sense of what Lin-Manuel Miranda brings to the table. Between the filmed version of his musical triumph “Hamilton” last year and the movie adaptation of his previous work “In the Heights,” we’ve gotten a lot of Lin-Manuel.

But what if I told you you could have even more? Specifically, an animated musical about a singing kinkajou?

Yeah, I’m into it too.

“Vivo,” from Sony Animation, is currently streaming in Netflix. Directed by Kirk DeMicco and Brandon Jeffords from a screenplay by DeMicco and Quiara Alegria Hudes – not to mention original songs by Miranda – it’s a charming and heartfelt story about the lengths to which we will go to do right by the people who mean the most to us.

The animation is lovely, with some wonderful stylistic flourishes, and the narrative is sweetly simple. The film also features a strong voice cast, led by Miranda as the titular Vivo, and you only need to hear a few bars of the opening number to be VERY aware of who wrote the songs. With themes of love – both romantic and familial – and the difficulty of loss, it is a movie that offers all-ages appeal.

Published in Movies

One of the tricky aspects of being a movie critic is finding the balance between one’s personal (and idiosyncratic) tastes and a broader sensibility. You have to find that sweet spot where you’re addressing the work through your own personal lens while also acknowledging that lens’s subjectivity. You must recognize your own positive and negative biases as you judge the film on its merits.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that I’m not entirely sure how to review the new Netflix animated film “America: The Motion Picture.”

The film – directed by Matt Thompson, written by Dave Callaham and produced by, among others, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – is a reimagining of the American revolution by way of wave after wave of anachronisms and alternate history, all steeped in adult-oriented juvenile humor. It’s an effort to parody and mock a certain kind of jingoistic action fare even as it follows much the same blueprint.

Not a successful effort, mind you. But an effort.

This is a ridiculous movie, one that readily crosses the line into abject stupidity throughout. It’s the kind of film that wears its idiocy as a badge of honor, proudly pandering to the lowest common denominator with gross-out gags, sexual innuendo and dopey one-liners. Whatever relatively high-minded ideas the filmmakers may have had are quickly buried in a seemingly unending avalanche of curse word-laden scatological juvenilia.

Here’s the thing, though: I enjoyed it. I don’t feel great about the fact that I enjoyed it. And my enjoyment is separate from the relative quality of the film, which again, has a lot of problems and will likely prove off-putting to many.

Published in Movies

There are any number of reasons that one might want to heap praise on Pixar. The studio has been producing exceptional work for almost three decades now, redefining the possibilities of American animated filmmaking along the way. Many of the films they’ve made over the years have become legitimate modern classics, iconic movies beloved by audiences and critics alike. Pixar films are fun and funny, packed with jokes and references aimed at every level of the audience.

Now, this success can be a double-edged sword. Because the studio has proven itself capable of crafting these wonderful works – arguable masterpieces, in fact – they can also find their efforts being viewed as somehow disappointing if they offer up a film that is merely very good. It’s not really fair (save in the case of the two “Cars” sequels, which, by all means, be disappointed).

Some people will argue that the latest Pixar offering – “Luca,” directed by Enrico Casarosa currently available for streaming on Disney+ - is minor Pixar. And those people won’t be wrong. However, what we need to remember is that even a lower-tier Pixar film is almost certainly a legitimately good film (again, leaving aside the aforementioned “Cars” movies).

That’s definitely the case with “Luca,” which is a charming and touching coming-of-age tale about fitting in and making friends and learning to accept yourself for who you are. It doesn’t have the full depth of emotional complexity that we often see from the studio – though you’ll still have plenty of feels – and it certainly seems more directly kid-oriented than some of the more layered Pixar offerings, but so what? It’s still a delightful movie experience, one that might even prove to resonate a little more fully with younger audiences than some of the more celebrated adult-conscious fare.

Published in Movies

Living as we do in a world where superhero movies have become the primary currency of the cinematic landscape, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the comic book world reflects the relatively clear nature of the MCU.

But Marvel Comics has a LONG history, and not all of it is nearly as straightforward as the movies make it seem. There’s a lot of obscure weirdness hiding in the various nooks and crannies that come from 60 years of building and expansion.

One of the odder characters in Marveldom is M.O.D.O.K. (an acronym for Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing), created when a man named George Tarleton (born in Bangor, Maine – shout out!) undergoes experiments that turn him into a giant-headed computer-brained supervillain. M.O.D.O.K. would go on to do battle with all the names you know – Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk – as he led his superscience organization Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) toward his overarching goal of world domination.

And now he’s got his own animated TV show coming to Hulu.

“M.O.D.O.K.” – also known as “Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.” – hits the streaming service on May 21 with a 10-episode season. And it is an altogether different experience than any other Marvel property out there. Created by Patton Oswalt (who also voices the titular villain) and Jordan Blum, the show features a dynamite collection of comedic talent in the voice cast and perhaps the most advanced stop-motion animation we’ve seen yet from Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, best known for Adult Swim’s “Robot Chicken.”

This is a show that embraces the comic book grotesquerie largely ignored by the MCU machine. It is a gross-out comedy that also takes great pleasure in fan service, tossing out deep cut after deep cut from Marvel’s back catalog. All that, plus a family element that allows for skewering of sitcom tropes as well. It is weird and ridiculous and an absolute delight, the sort of show that might not be for you, but if you dig it, well … you will DIG IT.

Published in Buzz

I like it when a movie surprises me.

Maybe it’s a narrative surprise or an aesthetic surprise or a thematic surprise – doesn’t really matter to me. I dig it when a movie does something that is genuinely unexpected, when it becomes something different than anticipated.

And when it’s a kids’ movie? Let’s go.

“The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is the latest from the folks at Sony Pictures Animation. Directed by first-time feature director Mike Rianda and co-directed by Jeff Rowe from a script co-written by the two, it’s a CG film that manages to bring together two fairly disparate concepts together in a way that is both functional and fun.

Basically, what we have here is a movie that is a dysfunctional family road trip comedy AND a dystopian battle against the machine uprising. It really shouldn’t work, but somehow, the film manages to maintain its sense of goofball whimsy while also conveying genuine tension regarding the end of the world. It is heartfelt and hilarious animated fun that balances its seemingly incongruous parts with aplomb.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 11 March 2020 13:21

Fractured fairy tale – ‘Onward’

Obviously, I love Pixar movies. I’m a human being with feelings and a soul, so of course I dig the work of the acclaimed animation studio. That being said, I also have to accept that because they have set the bar so very high, there will be occasions in which they fail to clear it.

So it is with their latest offering “Onward,” a film that, were it to come from any other studio, would likely be hailed as great work, but because it bears the Pixar name, it feels just the slightest bit underwhelming.

Make no mistake – “underwhelming” is by no means the same as “bad” – this is actually a charming and fun film. The concept is interesting enough, the vocal performances are typically strong and the execution is quite good. Jokes are made and heartstrings are tugged. All the usual pieces are here. It just doesn’t quite ascend to the level of accomplishment that we’ve come to expect from the studio.

Published in Movies

In the world of big-time cinematic animation, we tend to think of Pixar as the big artistic achiever and Walt Disney Animation as the song-and-dance populist, while both are adept at the unabashed tugging of heartstrings. And then you have DreamWorks Animation, the goofball cousin with a looser, slightly weirder sensibility, but with no less attention to the pushing of emotional buttons.

“Abominable” is the latest animated offering from DreamWorks, one that fits right in with that perceived dynamic. It isn’t as ambitious as a Pixar film, nor as slick as a Disney; instead, it’s silly and sincere in equal measure, a sweet and well-made 97-minutes of quality kiddie fare.

There’s a message, of course. There always is – in this case, it’s a fairly simple moral about family and friendship and moving forward. But the film is also interested in giving us juvenile (in a good way) humor and a handful of impressive set pieces … and writer/director (and animation vet) Jill Culton is here to make sure we get plenty of that too.

It’s the right choice.

Published in Movies

It took all of one weekend for it to be clear that there would be a sequel to 2014’s “The Lego Movie.” It was embraced by audiences of all ages and made just an absolute crapload of money – almost $470 million all told – so making another was a no-brainer.

The danger, however, is that capturing that kind of lightning in a bottle twice isn’t easy. There were elements of the original that simply could not be replicated – would a sequel still be able to resonate with audiences?

Ultimately, “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” is able to answer that question with a “yes.” The sequel – directed by Mike Mitchell, although Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (who directed the first film) did the screenplay – shares a sensibility with the original; while it doesn’t quite manage the same degree of emotional resonance, the jokes come fast and furious and the cast is as top-notch as ever.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 28 November 2018 14:04

‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ really connects

In a cinematic landscape featuring more animated offerings than ever before, it’s tough to find ways to stand out. But even in a crowded field, Disney stands ears-and-shoulders above the competition.

Even leaving aside the fact that Pixar is a Disney concern, Walt Disney Animation has had a heck of a run over the past half-decade or so. Yes, things were a little underwhelming in the earlier part of the 21st century, but there’s no arguing the quality of the studio’s recent run – “Wreck-It Ralph” (2012), “Frozen” (2013), “Big Hero 6” (2014), “Zootopia” (2016) and “Moana” (2016) were all hugely successful both commercially and critically; “Frozen” and “Zootopia” even won Oscars.

The latest offering – the first sequel in this new wave – is “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” A sequel to “Wreck-It Ralph,” it melds the retro charm of the original’s characters with an updated, more modern setting. The combination of old and new is an undeniable success; not only are there some delightful jokes and clever pop culture nods, there’s a surprising depth to the emotions explored. Funny gags AND genuine connection – we’re talking top-tier animated fare.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 15 February 2017 12:45

The Dark Knight rebuilt

“The Lego Batman Movie” a fun romp

Published in Movies
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