Thursday, May 17, 2018

[Review] Early Man

The latest from Aardman Animations hearkens back with Early Man, a royal rumble that kicks and head-butts its way into a new dawn.

Set during prehistoric times where cavemen (and cavewomen) roam the earth alongside creatures like wooly mammoths, we follow Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne) as his valley is overtaken by a nasty fellow named Lord Booth (Tom Hiddleston), who's the ruler of the medieval Bronze City (quite the culture shock for Dug). From there, the two enemies decide to settle the land dispute by, yes -- a football match (soccer - for us Americans).

Unsurprisingly, the most striking element here is the stop-motion animation. It's so carefully crafted, so utterly charming with its meticulous claymation movements and impressively earthy color palettes. The film presents a unique juxtaposition of settings as the wacky proceedings launch into a clash between The Stone Age people and The Bronze Age people. And while not all the narrative pieces are completely fresh, it's still a fun and warm-hearted little tale of underdogs going up against the almighty (the story is actually quite reminiscent of the Bollywood classic Lagaan).

The film's brand of humor won't make you laugh your fur vest off (although the giant duck fart had me rolling), but it's clever and bone-dry enough to appreciate, especially as it taps into the wide-eyed naivety of the cavemen (and cavewomen). Everything is new to them. And let's just say they aren't the smartest folks on the planet. But no one's judging -- I mean, they haven't been around very long. Every character (even if we don't remember all their names) here is given a distinct personality and set of quirks. The most delightful surprise is a lady named Goona (Maisie Williams, "Game of Thrones"). She's a resident of the Bronze City who develops a soft spot for Dug and his tribe. She's also the best soccer (er--football) player around, despite not being allowed to try out for her hometown's team. One might wonder if the film could've had a little more oomph if the story were told from Goona's perspective instead.

Still, while Early Man won't be etched into history as one of Aardman's best, it's hard not to root for.

( 8/10 )

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

[Review] Tully

Directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody (Juno), Tully kicks around as an equally funny and somber character drama about someone who's really going through it.

Charlize Theron plays Marlo, a comically blunt mother of two who's expecting a third. She's having a rough go of it though, as she's slipped into a major mode of depression. Things don't get much better after she has the new baby, so she reluctantly decides to hire a "night nanny" to lighten the load. That night nanny is the titular character Tully (played by Mackenzie Davis). She's free-spirited, compassionate, and almost too good to be true in Marlo's eyes. After getting past the awkward stage, the two begin to form a deeply personal bond -- for better or for worse.

What unwinds is a commendably unglamorous and sometimes brutally honest look into the more stressful side of motherhood. It's also an intriguing and deftly modern take on relationships between thirty-somethings and twenty-somethings and how perceptions and outlooks on lifestyle and happiness can be so different -- even amongst the closest of generations. Charlize Theron is absolutely terrific in the leading role. She embodies this character with nuance, depth, and a genuine believability. Also great is Mackenzie Davis, popping in with an impressive supporting performance -- it's fleeting, but impactful. Diablo Cody's pensive screenplay is rich with realism and humanity, and it consistently contains bouts of affecting, thoughtful dialogue that will either make you chuckle or put you in the pits -- sometimes all at once.

Tully moves along with both subtle turning points and drastic turning points, and Jason Reitman seems more interested in exploring these characters' ins and outs, rather than presenting a clean, overarching narrative. In the end, there aren't many clear-cut revelations or major changes in the status quo, and that's okay. It's all about trying to find ways to keep pushing on.

( 8/10 )

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Thursday, May 3, 2018

[Review] Mary and the Witch's Flower

From director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Mary and the Witch's Flower is a delightfully animated fantasy adventure that bursts and flourishes with wonder and bemusement.

Mary lives in the country with her sweet great-aunt Charlotte. It's a nice life, but she's simply bored -- itching for something, anything exciting to happen. One day she follows a mysterious cat into the forest where she finds a rare plant nicknamed "The Witch's Flower" and an old broomstick with strange powers. Then, she's abruptly whisked away to a hidden school of magic.

It's a curious, intriguing, and transportive tale -- especially as Mary continues to confront her bewilderment and discover the secrets of this newfound world -- where campuses in the sky, talking mammal professors, exotic creatures, flying carpets, and magical spells and potions exist. Full of weather and wildlife, the animation style is crisp and fruitful with vivid and earthy colors -- embracing nature and relishing in everything that grows. It's all so immaculately detailed -- from the moss on trees to the fog in the atmosphere to the bricks in the buildings.

If this premise all sounds very Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter-esque, that's because it is (the film is actually based on a 1971 book by Mary Stewart called The Little Broomstick, though). And much like these aforementioned stories, Mary begins to find out that this magical place also houses some dark secrets and questionable leadership, and she must take it upon herself to get to the bottom of it.

During the last act, things get a bit convoluted and chaotic, and there isn't a huge emotional payoff that you might be hoping for. But overall, Mary and the Witch's Flower is a cool little journey.

( 7.5/10 )

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

[Review] Truth or Dare

Blumhouse's Truth or Dare is a fatal horror flick that comes off as eye-rolling and unintentionally hilarious instead of clever or scary.

A group of obnoxious and unlikable college students hit up Mexico for a Spring Break trip. During a drunken night they decide to visit an old abandoned cathedral and fire up a game of "Truth or Dare." (What a good idea!) Things get weird when everyone learns that there's a curse surrounding the game, and it follows them all the way home. Basically, if you don't carry out your given Truth or Dare -- you die.

At one point a couple of dudes get into a squabble and one of them says "How 'bout I punch you in the face?" And well, that's pretty much how I felt about the characters in this movie. Speaking of faces -- every time someone goes into Truth or Dare mode -- they get a weird, demented smile on their face that is supposed to be creepy, but it's actually hilarious. I seriously couldn't stop laughing whenever it happened. But in the long run, Truth or Dare is an absurdly cruel, haphazard movie that just doesn't make any sense, nor does it add anything new to the table despite its game-y template -- which in turn becomes predictable and boring. Like an actual game of Truth or Dare, this thing burns out the longer it goes, desperately running low on ideas. It also lacks the surprisingly clever execution of last year's other playfully-themed Blumhouse release, Happy Death Day.

Truth: This movie is awful.

( 2.5/10 )

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Monday, April 30, 2018

[Review] Avengers: Infinity War

"So this is it? It's all been leading to this."

Avengers: Infinity War is now the pinnacle of a MASSIVE MOVIE. If you looked up MASSIVE MOVIE in an encyclopedia, Infinity War would be pictured there, and it wouldn't even fit on the page. But it's also a MASSIVE amount of fun and thrilling excitement. This thing is an epic culmination of Marvel's master plan. It's a superhero extravaganza where the stakes are higher than ever.

The film sees an abundance of Marvel characters join forces, you know -- the usual Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, etc...), Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, and much much more (I mean, look at that poster). There's even a welcome return to Wakanda. Here, the valiant heros must do all they can to stop Thanos - their most powerful opponent thus far. If Thanos collects all six Infinity stones, he can virtually end the universe with the snap of a finger (a very big finger).

With so many characters and so much going on all at once, there isn't a completely coherent flow to all the scene transitions and setting hopping, but it's actually juggled better than I anticipated. And frankly, the events are so monumental and so entertaining that it's easy to roll with as we eagerly await what will pop off next. The film erupts with climactic, universe-shifting battles -- whether on Earth, in space, or in different dimensions. And it's just downright cool to see some of the characters -- that we've been watching for years -- come face-to-face and interact with each other for the first time (stubbornly prideful quips and all). This certainly adds a fresh dynamic to the festivities - an aspect that Marvel has always pulled off really well. The film's duration clocks in at a whopping 160 minutes, but to me, it didn't feel that long, because I was enjoying the spectacle so much.

And amidst all the colossal, power-clashing, super-blockbuster elements, it's truly the smaller humorous details (this movie is really funny) that stand out the most -- like Spider-Man and Star Lord's connection over pop culture references, Thor earnestly referring to Rocket Raccoon as "Rabbit", teenage Groot's grungy defiance... And then there's Drax, who's the real MVP of one-liners. The guy is an absolute hoot. Notice how I'm pretty much mentioning all the Guardians? Yeah, they're still the all-stars of the MCU.

But even though there's a lot of fun and games in Infinity War, this installment carries a slightly darker tone. Here, our superheroes are at their most vulnerable and out-matched. Thanos is damn near invincible, practically holding the keys to the universe in his fist (a very big fist). Honestly though -- as scary as he is -- it's his rippled chin that gave me nightmares. Anyway, with so much despair in the air comes some major dilemmas and drastic sacrifices for our heros, which lead to some emotionally potent moments.

So yeah, Infinity War is definitely a chaotic cluster, and it stuffers from the 'Part I' syndrome -- meaning that there isn't a solid conclusion (the cliffhanger ending might leave you feeling slightly indifferent). But up until that point, this massive movie provides most of the stuff that Marvel fans could hope for. And we'll keep coming back. My only question: Where was Korg?

* 8.5/10 *

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