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Monday, 20 December 2021 15:47

Not ready to ‘Rumble’

Sometimes, the elevator pitch is enough. You hear the basic description of the movie and you’re in. This isn’t to say that you know this movie will be great or even good, just that the boiled-down fundamental concept is enough to intrigue.

So it is with “Rumble,” the new animated film streaming exclusively on Paramount+. In essence, this film is basically “Professional wrestling, only with massive kaiju-style monsters.” It’s an idea that certainly appeals to the 14-year-old boy in me.

The film was initially intended for a theatrical release, but the powers that be ultimately decided (after pushing the date a couple of times) to send it straight to the streamer. It is a decision that, upon watching the movie, makes one wonder why that wasn’t the plan all along.

It’s not that “Rumble” is bad so much as that it is … boring. One can squint and see the pieces of a better movie scattered here and there, but the truth is that the film never quite manages to take advantage of the various and sundry cartoonish elements – figurative and literal alike – that the conceit invites. Instead, we get a film that offers up watered-down versions of familiar themes – underdog sports story, familial legacy, etc. – and never really manages to go anywhere with them.

Look – if I’m dozing off during a movie about wrestling kaiju, someone somewhere has made some pretty significant errors.

Published in Movies
Monday, 29 November 2021 15:44

‘Encanto’ offers magical family fun

Sixty films.

That’s the number reached by Disney Animation Studios with the release of their latest film “Encanto.” It’s a staggering figure, even when you take into consideration how long they’ve been in the business of making movies. From 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” until now, Disney has been creating animated wonder.

It’s literally generational – for over eight decades, families have been coming together to experience the magic of Disney animation. Kids who grew up on these movies have in turn shared them with their kids, who in turn would grow up to share them with their kids.

And so it’s appropriate that this latest entry would focus so thoroughly on those notions. Magic and family and the magic of family. That’s “Encanto.”

The film – directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard from a screenplay co-written by Bush and Charise Castro Smith, with original songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda – is a captivating exploration of what it means to be a family and the importance of maintaining those connections no matter what obstacles might arise, all refracted through a lens of magical realism.

It is charming and sweet; warm, feel-good family fun of the sort that we’ve come to expect from Disney. And while it might be on the slighter side, there’s no denying that viewers young and old will be swept up into this wondrous world – there will be plenty of laughs and yes, perhaps a few tears as well.

Published in Movies

The relationship we as a society have with technology is a fraught one. Striking the balance between the digital and analog worlds is difficult – particularly for young people, whose relationship with tech and social media and all that those things entail is especially complex.

Complex enough that perhaps a well-meaning animated family film isn’t the best method of exploring it, perhaps?

Still, that’s what we get with “Ron’s Gone Wrong,” the new computer-animated film from 20th Century Studios. The story of a young man and his burgeoning friendship with a ubiquitous piece of technology, tech whose malfunctions and idiosyncrasies make it more capable of meaningful engagement than any amount of careful planning.

In essence, the bugs become features.

With an excellent voice cast led by Jack Dylan Grazer, Zach Galifinakis and others, “Ron’s Gone Wrong” is a pleasant enough diversion, though it never delves as deep into the issues it purports to explore as you might like. It wants to be thoughtful and entertaining, but it ultimately proves more successful at the latter than the former.

Published in Movies
Friday, 01 October 2021 15:40

‘The Addams Family 2’ hits the road

You never know what will have pop cultural staying power. For every bit of creative content that maintains a place in the consciousness, hundreds upon hundreds more disappear into the scrap heap of zeitgeist detritus.

It seems unlikely that Charles Addams knew what he had birthed when the first images of his macabre “Addams Family” graced the pages of The New Yorker back in 1938. But those darkly humorous pieces led to a popular television show, which in turn led to a popular series of films, then to another TV show and a Broadway musical and now an animated film franchise.

The latest iteration of the creepy, kooky titular family is “The Addams Family 2,” a sequel to 2019’s “The Addams Family.” These animated films aim to strike the balance between kid-friendliness and staying true to the spirit of the source material. As to how successful they are, well … your mileage may vary.

There’s a lot to like here – the voice cast is outstanding and the character design nicely evokes the original cartoons without being derivative. That said, the script leaves something to be desired, with a relative dearth of narrative action padded by musical numbers that, while cute enough, feel kind of incongruous. Still, it has its charms – enough to make it worth your time.

Published in Movies

Long gone are the days where there was a sharp and specific line of demarcation between the realms of television and movies. It wasn’t so long ago that TV stars were TV stars and movie stars were movie stars and there was little movement between the two, with the occasional ascendent TV actor making the leap to the big screen and the odd fading movie star moving heading into our living rooms. Movies were important and TV wasn’t. Simple.

Obviously, that isn’t the case anymore, with actors moving easily between the two mediums and prestige television achieving feats of storytelling the equal of any cinematic experience. And the lines blur further with the original offerings of the streaming services landing in both camps.

So if you’re going to tell me that Netflix’s latest animated film is also the pilot episode of an upcoming series – sure. That’s the way the world works now.

Thus we have “Arlo the Alligator Boy,” an animated musical film from director Ryan Crego (who also co-wrote both the script and the movie’s numerous original songs). It’s a sweet, tuneful story of a young boy (who happens to also be an alligator) searching for where in the world he fits in. It’s a search that leads him from the swamps of his adolescence to the bright lights of New York City as he undertakes a quest to find the man he believes to be his father.

The subsequent TV series designs could not be more clear – the film plays much like an extended pilot, introducing the characters who will undoubtedly populate the 20-episode season to come. But there’s no disputing that the characters are charming, the visual style is memorable and the music straight up slaps. Not a bad payoff for investing your 90 minutes.

Published in Movies
Monday, 28 December 2020 14:57

‘Soul’ has heart

Hey there! Would you like to watch a beautifully animated film rife with cute characters and silly gags that also causes you to contemplate the deeper meaning of life? Are you interested in a cartoon that may trigger something of an existential crisis? Do you want to laugh and cry in equal measure?

If your answer to these questions is yes, well … you probably already watch Pixar movies.

The studio’s latest offering is “Soul,” another masterful piece of work that is currently streaming on Disney+. Directed by Pete Doctor – the animation auteur who previously helmed Pixar heartbreakers “Inside Out” and “Up” – with co-direction from Kemp Powers, it’s a film that takes a look at what makes us us, an emotional and cleverly rendered look at where we go after we die and where we are before we are born.

It’s smart, of course, and absolutely stunning to look at. This being Pixar, it also takes the opportunity to emotionally eviscerate us, showing us the power of self and of sacrifice while offering up some thoughts on just what it’s all about. Another triumph from a studio that simply doesn’t miss.

Published in Style

When you hear that a movie has been on the shelf for an extended period, you’d be forgiven for having some doubts regarding its quality.

“Animal Crackers,” an animated film from Blue Dream Studios, might raise some of those questions. The movie – adapted from a graphic novel by Scott Christian Sava – was a collaborative effort between American and Chinese companies and was actually released in China a couple of years ago. However, numerous attempts at domestic distribution fell through in the subsequent years, with Netflix finally taking the reins and releasing it on their service.

It’s too bad, because this film doesn’t deserve the stigma that comes with its lengthy remove. It might not be great, but it’s plenty good enough to have received a theatrical release here. There are a lot of quality pieces here – an exceptional cast, some great music – and while the animation is a bit low-rent and the story is meh, I’ve sat through much worse films that received far more attention.

Published in Movies

When we think about movies for kids, we tend to have fairly specific ideas about them in terms of their style. You hear “kids’ movie,” you probably think about bright colors and simple narratives and a general levity with regards to tone. And a lot of child-oriented stories hew closely to those criteria.

A lot, but by no means all. There’s plenty of darkness to be found in children’s stories. From the bleakness prevalent in the tales of the Brothers Grimm, there have been shadows mixed in with the sunshine.

Because here’s the thing: kids LIKE some darkness alongside the light.

The new Netflix animated film “The Willoughbys,” based on the book of the same name by Lois Lowry, very much embraces that dichotomy. While it is rife with candy-colored goofiness and silly set pieces, there are some underlying themes that are legitimately dark. The balance between the two is what makes the movie work – too much of one or the other would undermine the whole thing.

It’s a story of what it truly means to be a family, as well as of the sacrifices that can be required to do right by the people we love. It also explores the consequences that can come from thoughtless decisions regarding those loved ones. Plus, it’s a great-looking film based on strong source material and featuring an absolutely killer voice cast.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 25 June 2019 17:00

‘Toy Story 4’ plays well with others

I didn’t want “Toy Story 4.”

Yes, I understand that sequels are valuable currency in the cinematic realm these days. And no, it’s nothing against Pixar – my admiration for their work is significant and well-documented. I just remember being so innately, fundamentally satisfied with how the trilogy wrapped up that the idea of another movie felt somehow … wrong.

So it was with some trepidation that I stepped into “Toy Story 4,” trying to give the studio the benefit of the doubt while still expecting to be vaguely disappointed.

Instead, what I got was a shockingly worthwhile addition to the series, a film that moves the saga forward in a way that is both respectful of what has come before and enthusiastic about exploring new directions. It is consistently hilarious, of course, with performers old and new delivering big-time. And while it is undeniably heartfelt – prepare for things to get dusty a couple of times; you know, standard operating procedure with Pixar – it also pulls its punches just a bit, largely avoiding the grown-up-targeted emotional haymaker.

Honestly, it’s just about the best possible follow-up to a movie that seemingly needed no follow-up.

Published in Movies

We’ve all heard the adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” While it might not be true in all cases, it is certainly true in the case of “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” the latest offering from animation stalwart Illumination.

And you know? That’s OK.

Sure, one can look at “The Secret Life of Pets 2” as a tossed-off and somewhat cynical attempt to cash in on the surprisingly significant success of the first film (seriously – the first “TSLOP” did over $875 million at the global box office). You wouldn’t even necessarily be wrong to do so. But if there’s one thing that Illumination knows how to do, it’s to make you feel all right about handing over your cash.

This isn’t a great movie by any stretch – what story it has feels stitched together from a handful of discarded ideas and deemed good enough, all of it serving as a framework on which to hang the same kid-friendly pet-themed jokes and sight gags that we saw in the first film. However, that can often be enough – the kids in my screening certainly enjoyed it well enough.

Published in Music
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