The Secret Life of Pets 2

Directed By Brian Lynch

Starring – Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Harrison Ford

The Plot – Max (Oswalt) faces some major changes after his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) gets married and now has a child . On a family trip to the countryside, Max meets a farm dog named Rooster (Ford), and both attempt to overcome his fears. Meanwhile, Gidget (Jenny Slate) tries to rescue Max’s favorite toy from a cat-packed apartment, and Snowball (Hart) sets on a mission to free a white tiger named Hu from a circus.

Rated PG for some action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Improvements on all things animation. Illumination Studios has always been a distant third in detailed animation, but thanks to the tightening of illustrations that fills this film, arguably the very best artistic film that the studio has ever produced, they can start to bridge the gap of their opposition. It isn’t just one thing but rather a barrage, as the believability behind stormy weather patterns is beautifully rendered, the expressions of animals during the most extreme occasions adds more to the comedic relief, and even the 3D effects give an immersive quality to everything flowing in frame that warrants paying a little extra to see this film. With time, this studio will hopefully continue this trend, and offer so much more than colorfully vibrant backgrounds against a city skyline that offers plenty of familiar geography to place this story accordingly.

– Talented cast. Oswalt is a more-than enthusiastic fill-in for Louie C.K, but it’s really the work of Slate and Hart who take center stage in incorporating intensity to their often familiar vocal tones. As Gidget, Slate is a force to be reckoned with, juggling an infatuation for Max all the while proving to the audience the extent of her cunning intellect. As to where the first film showed off Slate as a lover, this one cements her as a fighter, and her emoting of Gidget is my very favorite of this entire franchise. Hart should stick with animated properties for a while, because the combination of eccentric deliveries and polar opposite vocal capacity in comparison to that of his furry rendering, makes him perfect for voice range capabilities, and the focus and attention given to his character practically begs for a Snowball spin-off that feels just around the corner. New additions are those from Tiffany Haddish, Dana Carvey, and a wise, weathered dog leader voiced by none other than Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford. It rounds off arguably the brightest ensemble of comedic actors in quite some time, and prove that their talents serve a much bigger purpose than just physical humor in sight gags.

– Fluffy run time. This one clocks in at a measly 77 minutes, and with sharing time between three respective story arcs does so in a way that keeps the eagerness and intensity of the storytelling firmly in grip with regards to a youthful audience that sometimes slip away during slow periods of exposition. While this does create some problems for the fluidity of the transitions, which I will get to later, the confidence donated to each vital character receiving their own conflicts in the story gives the movie a three-movie-for-one quality within its pages that practically forces movement in the casual three act structure that can sometimes omit itself invisible in family genre cinema. There was never a time when I was bored or antsy watching this movie, and much credit goes to the producers of the film for knowing just how far to stretch each story before it becomes something in depth that it rightfully shouldn’t.

– Intelligence in gags. I said this about the first film, and it’s something that continues in this movie. The way the film takes real moments of familiarity from the pets in our own lives, and adds a layer of profound poignancy to each situation is something that not only reaches for audience participation, but also does so in a way that will have you intentionally remembering the occasions from this movie once you go home. This gives the film and its material a consistency in shelf life that many films in modern day don’t attain, and speaks volumes to the levels of attention that screenwriters Chris Renaud and Jonathan Del Val engage in to contrast with their audience’s. In that respect, the material itself feels very much fleshed out from real life, and performed in an exaggerated way that works because of its small amounts of truth that derive from these very humorously humbling moments of love from our best friends.

– Pre-credits rap video. I won’t give away much here, but Kevin Hart’s dream to be a rapper comes full circle in a spoof of a familiar rap track from the previous couple years that is given new context thanks to the world surrounding his character. Not since 2006’s “Waiting…” has a post-movie performance left such a lasting impression on me, and the work of creativity in rhymes combined with the sheer lunacy of the situation in mid-day form, makes this moment the one that stands out the most for me in terms of comic lasting power, and non-surprisingly gives the original track, which I hated tremendously, a new lease on life. If this song was heard on the radio even half as much as that original song, then I would be fine with it.

– Strong positive message. As is the case with every kids movie out today, this one has a takeaway message that bonds its respective subplots together for one cohesive beat, and it’s the importance of overcoming fear. Especially with younger audiences, this message will ring true from within them, because it’s at that age where battling adversities prepares them for the war that is adolescence, and it’s something that resonates on-screen in each of the fears that the main character’s have to overcome for the sake of their developments. If an on-screen message is presented strong enough, kids will take even more away from it, and thankfully the film never feels overly preachy or even condescending in the message it sends the next generation of adventure seekers home with.

NEGATIVES

– Incoherent structure. As I mentioned earlier, there are three different subplots competing for time, and while this does wonders in keeping the attention of younger audiences, it does nothing for experienced moviegoers who know how important seamless transitions really are to the progress of a particular narrative. The outline of each story feels episodic, mainly because of unshakeable predictability and adjacent plotting, which does the film no favors in establishing its story as a group effort like the first movie. Because of this triangle of direction, the script itself forgets certain early angles established early on (See Max’s protection of little boy) that would make great films on their own, but are relegated to split screen time with other stories not half as compelling. For my money, the Snowball story could easily be stretched out for his own spin-off, leaving the branches of the other two somewhat connected plots feeling cohesive because of the way one is the effect of the other’s cause.

– Lack of weight. The conflicts from this movie are practically non-existent, thanks in part to resolutions that often come too fast, and a shoe-horned antagonist character who feels completely wrong for this world. On the former, I could’ve used more time for fear or tribulation for the character’s embattled with their respective conflicts. This is where ten or fifteen minutes of additional screen time could’ve further fleshed out the urgency and vulnerability of these small pets in a big world setting, and given way to further audience participation who have shared the struggles that each character has gone through. As for the antagonist, it’s the loudest reminder that this is a cartoon kids movie, complete with bulging eyes, black ensemble, and a hatred for animals for no other reason than the script asked for it. Quick question, how many times have you seen a villain who owns an abusive zoo, where the protagonists have to rescue said animals from his clutches? If you’ve run out of fingers, so have I.

– Plot holes. When you consider that this is virtually a “Toy Story” ripoff, you must consider the rules established within the world that make absolutely no sense when you consider a sprinkle of logic. For one, many of these pets go missing for long periods of time that make me question why no human owner is freaking out about where they’ve gone. In addition to this, there are certain instances in the film where believability is stretched further than a “Fast and Furious” lesson on gravity. Some of my favorite examples are a dog outracing a train, two dogs riding a remote controlled toy car without it tipping over or losing speed, and a psychopathic old woman character who not only commits murder, but also sees no problem with owning a Siberian tiger. Considering much of this film is set-up with real world ideals and consequences, these instances soil the authenticity of the engagement, and disappointed me for how these films are still insulting the intelligence of their youthful audience.

– Additional complaints. While this will only be a problem for people who see advanced screenings of this film, the inclusion of a behind-the-scenes introduction that plays before the film is more than just a little spoiler-filled for the gags it gives away. Why would you include something like these before the film plays? It renders the power of your laughs weak because the audience has already seen it before the movie starts, and just feels redundant once it comes around in the movie itself. The trailers for this film were actually solid, in that they didn’t give much away other than spare instances of familiarity of the pets in our own lives, but this production video did absolutely no favors in those regards, and took away from material that by its own merits was effective at garnering a laugh or two on its original run through.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

Aladdin

Directed By Guy Ritchie

Starring – Naomi Scott, Will Smith, Mena Massoud

The Plot – A street rat (Massoud) frees a genie (Smith) from a lamp, granting all of his wishes and transforming himself into a charming prince in order to marry a beautiful princess (Scott). But soon, an evil sorcerer (Marwan Kenzari) becomes hell-bent on securing the lamp for his own sinister purposes.

Rated PG for some action/peril

POSITIVES

– Vibrant production design. The essence of the Middle East is represented fruitlessly in the combination of flowing gowns and colorful set pieces that convey a Bollywood kind of production for the mainstream audience, and offer a bold presentation to bring forth through the live action transition. In fact, the sizzling flavor that continuously envelopes itself around this movie is visually unlike anything that Disney has produced to this point, and stands alone as the one chance that this film took in an otherwise calming sea of conventional renderings that sticks far too close to its animated original. In the visuals absorbing the atmosphere of the film, we get a visual translation too expressive not to indulge in, and the fiery texture of each property continuously commands attention to this fictional place, in that we wish it were real if only for one day.

– Will Smith’s Genie. Considering all of the controversy surrounding this role, it’s amazing that it turned out as well as it did. When the script isn’t trying to mold him into being Robin Williams flashy pizzazz Genie, Smith succeeds at maintaining the sharp velocity of the tongue that constantly keeps his co-stars in check, and for a brief glimpse offers something experimental to what we expected. Smith’s comic landing power hits about 50% from the field for me, and nailed about double that for my interest in the film, which only grew whenever his big screen presence invaded each frame and instilled a positive energy that kept you glued to the familiarity of it all. This definitely isn’t a paycheck film for Smith, and thanks to the excitement and prestige that he brings to the role, we get a shadow that is nearly equally imposing as Williams presence was to the 1992 original.

– Soundtrack of hits. Despite knowing everything that’s to come from Brad Kane, Bruce Adler, and Danny Troob’s original classic collection of time-cherished songs, the inclusion of hip-hop inspired beats and Bollywood dance production gave new life to these familiar audible beats of story narration, and led to infectious moments of delight when even the toughest critic could be won over. The dance choreography is sharp and boisterous with each continuous frame, and song chorus’s are stretched and bent in a way that experiments with a fresh take for the song, that I wish remakes like “Beauty and the Beast” or “Cinderella” would’ve experimented a bit more with. As to where “A Whole New World” was my favorite song from the 92 original, the slow build to a roaring kettle of “Prince Ali” takes the cake for me in this film, and especially stands out because of Smith’s cool demeanor that plays so seamlessly into the pulse of the background beat.

– Progressive with a positive P. I won’t spoil anything, but I took great merit in how this film invests further in Princess Jasmine, not only with a noticeable increase in screen time as opposed to how limited she feels in the original movie, but also in the evolution of her character, which successfully lands a surprise twist in the final minutes of the movie that I audibly commended. Disney has definitely been opening up their horizons with little girls in the audience who are looking for a character to dream themselves into, and thanks to the movie’s way of rewarding her with power both in a narrative perspective, as well as a closer split between screen time with her title co-star, the film creators bridge the gap wonderfully in priding them along, and manufacture a sense of female empowerment within the story that garners something new without it feeling like a distraction (See Captain Marvel)

NEGATIVES

– Uninspired C.G. I was less than thrilled with the artist rendering of computer generation, both for being used too much and for not being refined enough to be believable in their weight played against the live properties in the film. If we’re making a live action remake of an animation movie, why is 40% of any shot you see at all times not authentic to the live action creativity of the picture? Why not just make another animated “Aladdin”? Aside from this, the finished product not only of the Genie, but also in the facial resonation of Abu the Monkey, really took a backseat to “The Jungle Book” remake in terms of fantasy believability, and stood out as a glaring negative each time the latter’s character made a close-up presence on-screen. As well, a scene involving the Cave of Wonders left me disappointed for how the lion’s head entrance didn’t move its mouth like it did in the animated counterpart. If this is because it ruins real world believability, stay tuned for my review of the ending coming up.

– Ritchie’s tweak directing. I’ve never been a big fan of Guy Ritchie’s style of directing. His influence over 2017’s “King Arthur” turned that Medieval setting film into “The Matrix”, for how he constantly slowed and sped up time during the most inappropriate moments, and unfortunately Guy has learned nothing in taking a two year hiatus. It’s really strange that some moments during songs are visually sped up, all the while some scenes during high intensity chase are slowed down in a way contains the adrenaline of the sequence. It made the film feel like someone was sitting on the remote, and frequently rolled over during the scenes that mattered most in character conflict and singing focus. If this is intended, please stop it now. It only comes across as hokey and ridiculous during a scene when you’re supposed to be on the edge of your seat.

– Inconsistent pacing. 1992’s “Aladdin” is a 92 minute movie that never sags or stretches the boundaries of its material. The same cannot be said for this remake, as the two hour runtime, with very little impactful extras, makes for a testy sitting that is especially prominent during the film’s bloated second act. For my money, the first thirty minutes of the film were easily the most engaging, as the combination of Aladdin’s street life and his mission into the cave were cast with such entangling urgency that none of the remainder of the film can ever come close to matching. The second act spends its time between rule setting for the Genie, as well as a high class gala affair that feels like it’s being played in real time. Not only did this area of the film slow down my building interest for the movie, but it more than any other padded the run time for unnecessary stretching of resolutions. The third act improves slightly, but is a defeated effort by that time for the immense jump in logic and off-the-wall lunacy that the closing minutes become saddled with.

– Casting decisions. I knew nothing about Massoud or Scott before this movie, and their roles as the two leads won’t leave me any further interested in wanting to dive into their limited filmography. These two lack any kind of personality that can’t be expressed in spare verbs, and if the overall lack of romantic chemistry between them doesn’t establish how wrong for the parts they are, the mundane deliveries of emotionally-charged diatribes certainly will. Speaking of Will, did I mention how much the movie fumbles whenever he isn’t on camera? We’re left with what feels like two stage actors who constantly don’t believe what they’re saying, and are only passed by an antagonist performance who I couldn’t stop laughing at. Every little boy wears his father’s clothes and pretends to be him at some point. I didn’t expect to see a grown man in a major motion picture doing this, as Marwan Kenzari feels about as threatening as a game of fantasy dress-up. Considering Jafar is one of the most evil and imposing antagonists in Disney animated history, the disservice of casting someone who is not only the same size as Aladdin, but also someone so visually opposite of what I expected from his animated counterpart. I can understand going in a fresh direction with a character, but the work of this trio lacked the magic of translating such iconic figures from the Disney library, underscoring what should be the easiest of decisions.

– No respect. I can overlook company greed to remake a property and manipulating audiences into seeing it, because, hey, childhood, but to not credit the original screenwriters from the 92 original is not only a slap in the face, but a kick to the balls of everything that is right with respectful representation. The screenplay here is credited to John August and Guy Ritchie, and while there are some light changes to the film in terms of material, to not commend the work of Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio is a colossal mistake, considering 80% of the film is still from the story beats and character traits that they established from that original movie. There are even vital scenes in this film that are verbatim (Word-for-word) to the original film for how they play out, and the lack of attention given to the source material gives the closing notes of the film a grave feeling of plagiarism that shouldn’t be overlooked by even the most casual of film audiences.

– Ridiculous ending. LIGHT SPOILERS. You’ve been warned. I can understand this sort of thing in a cartoon, but during a live action movie, and even a kids one at that, the laws of travel aren’t negated because of what’s cute and appropriate for what fits into the story. With that said, a character gets transported to the ends of the Earth by their opposition, and two scenes later is back in Agrabah, like some touch of “The Dark Knight Returns” magic that I don’t care to relive any time soon. In addition to this, the final conflict basically never happens, at least not in a way that requires any of the character’s to get their hands dirty, and it all wraps up with the kind of convenient bow only necessary when you’re gift-wrapping something you know will be met with evil glares or family emancipation. Translating a cartoon to live action is a good time to take the ridiculous out of cartoons, not bring them to the real world. Yet one more reason why live action Disney remakes aren’t necessary in crafting something freshly unique to a new generation.

My Grade: 4/10 or D+

A Dog’s Journey

Directed By Gail Mancuso

Starring – Dennis Quaid, Marg Helgenberger, Kathryn Prescott

The Plot – Bailey (voiced again by Josh Gad) is living the good life on the Michigan farm of his “boy,” Ethan (Quaid) and Ethan’s wife Hannah (Helgenberger). He even has a new playmate: Ethan and Hannah’s baby granddaughter, CJ. The problem is that CJ’s mom, Gloria (Gilpin), decides to take CJ away. As Bailey’s soul prepares to leave this life for a new one, he makes a promise to Ethan to find CJ and protect her at any cost. Thus begins Bailey’s adventure through multiple lives filled with love, friendship and devotion as he, CJ  (Prescott), and CJ’s best friend Trent (Henry Lau) experience joy and heartbreak, music and laughter, and few really good belly rubs.

Rated PG for thematic content, some peril and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Canine control. These movies more than others have a tight grasp on the often times tricky art known as animal acting, but the crisp editing and grounded stunt work from these furry creatures make each of their influences on the scene feel seamless. It helps that most of these sequences are given ample time between cuts, keeping the cut-and-paste option minimal, all the while allowing the dogs to muscle out the commands they are being given. Never once in the movie did I feel the air of cinema magic for brash difficulty in attainability, and this more than anything is the biggest testament to Mancuso as a leading hand, for the way she brings extraordinary precision out of grounded requests from her four-legged co-stars, closing the gap between human and animal actors with a commitment to craft that goes a long way.

– Speaking of human performances, the work of the collective cast here is a majority solid. Quaid is back with his second film in a week, but this time it’s to showcase the sweet and sensitive side of his demeanor that outweighs the hammy nature of his dialogue. Likewise, Kathryn Prescott also carves out confidence in maintaining roughly 60% of the movie. Mancuso keeps the story firmly in-tow with her character, and throughout a series of dramatic beats and life-altering events, Prescott proves her emotional registry being years above her cinematic inexperience. Also, as Bailey the dog, Josh Gad is once again every bit as infectious as he is connected to the audience he engages with. Gad rarely has trouble emitting the energy that each scene requires, and through a healthy amount of audible narration, we are given ample time with the continued presence over the story, who takes us through all of life’s unique quips and quirks.

– Further developing of human protagonists. This is arguably the biggest difference from the first film, as the sequel sticks closer to this dog’s interaction with just the one family, as opposed to the many it came across in reuniting with its original owner. This allows the script to enhance our investment into their story-time dynamics, as well as cutting out a lot of the unnecessary padding associated with pushing the reset button every time Bailey dies, giving us a natural flow of pacing for the plot that (Lets be honest) is the main thing we care about with these movies. In doing this, I found a strong interest with CJ’s well-being, as well as the tumultuous uneasiness that her family is left with after many instances of dramatic tension formed from misunderstanding. It proves that “A Dog’s Journey” values the human protagonists every bit as much as man’s best friend, and can succeed a lot easier with an audience when it sets them on equal footing.

– Mature themes for family audiences. I value a kids movie so much more when it treats the youths with the respect associated in guiding them through meaty material without truly testing the limits of a PG rating. Likewise, the material itself doesn’t suffer a hinderance in effectiveness because of such, taking us through themes of alcoholism, abandonment, reincarnation, and even cancer that constantly keeps them on their toes. To a certain degree, you could say that each of these are used in manipulative ways that damned the first movie from receiving a passing grade from this critic, but the unraveling of events feels natural here, and not necessarily catering to a meandering cause. It’s all about educating its youths in ordinary circumstances which some of them will someday be confronted with, and it elevates the dramatic tension of the film effectively because of its upping of stakes from the first movie.

– Detailed make-up and prosthetics. While only used for one scene and two character’s in the movie, the film’s use of natural aging enhancements feels naturally convincing and reflective of the time that has passed from when we last saw them. This was one of my biggest concerns with watching the trailers, as the film’s multi-decade progression was depicted without any of the scenes of these actors after their separation, but thankfully the surprise was saved for the film itself, and it does so with a modest amount of wrinkling cream, glasses, and wigs that go a long way where computer graphics aren’t necessary. These kind of effects normally do cost more in studio productions, but the integrity of realistic visual effects is something that I commend it greatly for, and I hope it’s a healthy direction that many more films will follow with it.

– Important life lessons. This is especially, but not limited to, youthful female audiences, as the protagonist of the film becomes embattled with some internal conflicts that ages her well ahead of her years in terms of wisdom. Because of such, the film boosts and a message of resiliency and self-belief to young girls everywhere, educating them on the importance associated with entertaining the right choices in male suitors where looks certainly aren’t everything. In a perfect world, films like these would serve as strong poignancy pieces for the future females of tomorrow, but in the overabundance of intriguing details in the movie, it’s easy to see that it could easily be lost or overlooked in translation. Even still, the script takes an approach especially to adopted little girls, who have to blaze their own path after those they depended on fell off of theirs.

NEGATIVES

– Stilted dialogue. Much of the line reads and dialogue associated with still reek of hokey, obviousness, that occasionally makes this feel like a Hallmark Channel movie, instead of the big screen presentation that we’re supposed to feel. One such example is in the continuity of speech by Gad throughout a time-passing montage, that doesn’t make sense when you consider he’s in the scene he’s supposed to be talking over a passage of ample time. This makes it clearly evident that the film values audience narration over storytelling believability, and I wish I could say it’s the only problem associated with Gad’s narration. As well, it’s every bit as re-affirming as it was in the first movie, explaining to us audibly what we’ve already seen visually. It’s like being told every detail twice, and this occasionally gets irritating with the pacing and progression of scenes that should be shorter than they rightfully are.

– Formulaic redundancy. When I saw the trailer for this film, it felt very much like the first movie narratively, and with the exception of cutting down on multitudes of owners that I mentioned earlier, the film’s general outline feels very much identical to the first movie. This is the biggest argument in terms of why audiences who saw the first movie should see the sequel, and especially if you are against seeing dogs being put to death in movies, you should definitely keep your distance from this one. While only happening three times in this film, as opposed to seven in the previous installment, the death sequences themselves are very hard to engage in, and manipulative for how they focus on the face of the animal each time it’s at its weakest hour.

– Obvious foreshadowing. There’s certainly no shortage of this one, as the barrage of unnecessarily-bitchy supporting characters and out-of-nowhere details in storytelling directions, further flesh out the predictability in a story this minimal on depth. Because our central trio of character’s are such good people, it makes the bad ones feel that much more cartoonish by comparison, and because of this we can easily sniff out that relationships and karma are certainly not going to be on the sides of these miserable people. On the subject of plot foreshadowing, the film introduces a scene of cancer-sniffing dogs midway through the film that comes out of nowhere, and is given such an inordinate amount of focus rendered upon, that we know its elements will come into play at some place during the film, and re-appear they do, as a character becomes plagued in a battle with cancer that definitely benefits the convenience of this earlier inclusion.

– Outdated soundtrack. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible that teenage characters are listening to fifteen year old music at a hip high school house party, but the majority of such big numbers surely flock more to what’s current and fresh at the moment. In this regard, the inclusion of The All American Rejects, Phillip Phillips, and Matt Nathanson feel about a decade too late in marketing to the soundtrack hounds that attend these movies. In addition to this, the musical score by composer Mark Isham feels completely uninspiring and piano-repetitive throughout the length of the film. If I could watch this film on mute, I really would, but the importance of details shouldn’t suffer because the musical choices associated with the film feel like they are from a middle aged woman’s IPOD on shuffle.

My Grade: 6/10 or C-

Detective Pikachu

Directed By Rob Letterman

Starring – Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton

The Plot – The story begins when ace detective Harry Goodman (Paul Kitson) goes mysteriously missing, prompting his 21-year-old son Tim (Smith) to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Harry’s former Pokémon partner, Detective Pikachu (Reynolds): a hilariously wise-cracking, adorable super-sleuth who is a puzzlement even to himself. Finding that they are uniquely equipped to communicate with one another, Tim and Pikachu join forces on a thrilling adventure to unravel the tangled mystery. Chasing clues together through the neon-lit streets of Ryme City, a sprawling, modern metropolis where humans and Pokémon live side by side in a hyper-realistic live-action world–they encounter a diverse cast of Pokémon characters and uncover a shocking plot that could destroy this peaceful co-existence and threaten the whole Pokémon universe.

Rated PG for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements.

POSITIVES

– Easily the most accessible of the Pokemon films. In straying a bit from its conventional roots, “Detective Pikachu” is able to accommodate to a bigger audience, all the while remaining faithful to its world building and rules that have garnered legions of faithful followers for many generations. If you want to see a typical Pokemon movie, there are thousands of those, but putting its familiar furry protagonist in a noir mystery that touches on some surprisingly dark territory in material, gives the franchise new life on screen and in direction, which will inevitably make it all the more adaptable for audiences like myself, who have never been struck by the Pokemon lore. This isn’t the first Pokemon film that I’ve ever seen, but it is the first one that had me leaving the theater with an unshakably positive feeling, all the while solidifying my iron-clad views towards the importance of family, that the film takes with it throughout.

– Sparkling special effects. Pay attention Sonic, this is how you seamlessly immerse an obviously computer generated property into a live action background, without alienating the texture of color that lacks believability. Every design here is perfectly rendered and exceptionally detailed, illustrating the very fur and facial movements of the Pokemon creatures with an air of consistency that you rarely see in live action computer-generated kids movies. Likewise, the artificial destruction of some pretty intense and heavy action set pieces rumble the screen in ways that make them inescapable from what is transpiring, cementing a beautifully vibrant transition from animated movies that never leave much to the imagination in terms of what it loses in the transfer. If more live action transformations looked like this, I would gladly welcome the string of video game movies that will inevitably leave me braindead from, among other things, phony post production effects work.

– Cohesively juggling tones. What really surprised me about the movie was how it managed to evolve into this drama during pivotal scenes of emotional wrangling. Aside from the opening fifteen minutes, which feel like they set the ground wonderfully for a revenge narrative, the beginning of the film’s final act constructs a conflict within Pikachu, as well as one with Tim that is anything but the typical third act distancing we’ve come to know. Instead, it’s more about the discovery of the role that Pikachu plays in this progressing mystery, establishing a series of twists that add a fine combination of intrigue for the character’s, as well as a somber atmosphere of tension that adapts to being much more than a lazy comedy. With this film having such a resting backbone on the values of family and friendship, and how those aspects tie together perfectly sometimes, it makes this a recommend for the whole family, remembering to instill the profoundly powerful gut-punch literally moments before they walk out of the theater.

– Ryan Reynolds. Simply put, there is nothing that this man can’t do. While Ryan’s familiar vocal tones never experiment with stretching or tweeking to make them sound different, it’s Ryan’s timely delivery and enthusiastic energy in dangerous situations that made him the focus for audiences well beyond being the title character. When Pikachu is at his most vulnerable, which is roughly 80% of the movie, Ryan delivers his best stuff, emoting a cowardice side of the familiar hero, which certainly casts him in newly hilarious light than I’ve ever seen. His influence is felt so much that in the rare occasion when Pikachu isn’t on-screen, that the movie immediately loses the air of momentum that it builds each time his unshakeable sarcasm and endless wit isn’t there to enhance the interaction of his live action counterparts, and it’s one of those performances that will make it difficult to shake free from his voice, every time you watch a Pokemon movie from this point forward.

– The setting. Ryme City is about as cool a place that I’ve seen in cinema since “Blade Runner”, and it’s clear in the details how the current pays a respectable homage to the previous. The neon lights adorned on sky-scraping signs reflect beautifully on the rain-soaked concrete, and the assortment of opportunity-seeking businesses gives a lived-in feeling to capitalism that ranges even in the locations that feel planets away from our own. It juggles this strange juxtaposition, where the technology feels decades ahead of our own, but the similarities in balance for power and current business time fashions gives it a searing reality not far from where we currently stand. Overall, it gives the location a timeless feeling, which in turn will allow it to age gracefully as the years pass by.

– Easter Egg reference. This is about as unexpected as you can get for a hidden Easter Egg, but I tip my hat for a lengthy amount of time, for the way this film managed to include a reference to my favorite Christmas movie of all time. Even more incredible is that this reference within a reference was created especially for that Christmas movie, so the use of its inclusion is obviously an homage to this movie, and plays incredibly for how it plays simultaneously with the crime noir narrative that is playing out before our very eyes in Ryme City. Despite that movie and this one feeling legions apart in terms of similarities, the way it is inserted is every bit as clever as it is commanding of the attention of moviegoers for the way it practically takes over the scene right from our actors in frame.

NEGATIVES

– Exposition heavy dialogue. Sometimes the spring of knowledge feels as forced as a screenplay can make evident, and it stood as the one aspect (Especially during the first act) that weighed this movie down heavily in my final grade. When a new Pokemon comes on-screen, the film almost stops in its tracks to tell us who they are and what power they possess, and while it doesn’t conjure up the cliche of showing a visual stat-sheet like some films do, the overabundance of long-winded delivery isn’t far off either. I can understand teaching audiences about the character’s and backstories accordingly, but when a scene with an amazing actor (Ken Watanabe) is only there to serve a purpose for Tim, you have to wonder if there were easier and more believable ways to introduce this knowledge without the smell of obviousness dimming the potential of said scene, and it happened more times than I would’ve liked.

– Painful human character’s. There’s no one in “Detective Pikachu” who I related to on a personal level, and that’s a shame considering much of this story’s hidden narrative deals with you indulging and empathizing with these people and their newfound tragedies, and it rendered much of the impact of devastation that much more ambiguous because I couldn’t allow myself to fully invest in their bland personalities. Speaking of which, Smith’s Tim is a sludgy sap of moping reality, and his interaction with Newton romantically felt as cold as arctic temperatures, and about as forced as a spontaneous colonic volcano. The screenplay isn’t interested in developing them individually, so it builds them together in-tow, and as far as lead character’s go, these two aren’t nearly charming or confident in their abilities to get across the magic in their bumbling personas.

– Comedy power. While Reynolds makes miracles out of mirages, the overall landing power of the comedy in this film left slightly more to be desired, especially considering we’ve seen Reynolds at his rudest, in the R-rated duo of the “Deadpool” franchise. For this being a PG movie, it’s clear that PG restrictions were taken, and even despite Reynolds hinting at more adult material from time to time, the film’s firepower remains mostly grounded for what we expect from kids movies that demean their intelligence with sounds and flatulence humor. Aside from this, the film commits the crime of showcasing its best material in the trailer, leaving very little of surprise or payoff in the way of what remains. So if you watched this trailer and weren’t sold on the material, the movie itself won’t provide much other relief in that department.

– Problems with the mystery aspect. There are many here, and unfortunately they are made the more evident the longer the film goes on. The answer is predictable, the interrogations in dialogue and sequencing are repetitive, the plot holes in some aspects are glaring, and there’s simply not enough of a struggle for Tim and Pikachu in solving this case. Most of the latter problem deals with a 95 minute run time, which could use another ten minutes to help stretch the dynamic associated with team thinktank’s to illustrate how thick this mystery really is. The quicker they figure everything out, the more painful it is for the power of the mystery itself, and more alluding to this being a kids-first movie that will do no favors for adults in preserving anything mysterious. For my money, they could’ve targeted somewhere in between these age groups to offer something cryptic to both sides, but unfortunately the youth will get more out of these twists that are visible from a mile away.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

UglyDolls

Directed By Kelly Asbury

Starring – Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monae

The Plot – In the adorably different town of Uglyville, weird is celebrated, strange is special and beauty is embraced as more than simply meets the eye. Here, the free-spirited Moxy (Clarkson) and her UglyDoll friends live every day in a whirlwind of bliss, letting their freak flags fly in a celebration of life and its endless possibilities. In this all-new story, the UglyDolls will go on a journey beyond the comfortable borders of Uglyville. There, they will confront what it means to be different, struggle with their desire to be loved, and ultimately discover that you don’t have to be perfect to be amazing because who you truly are is what matters most.

Rated PG for thematic elements and brief action

POSITIVES

– Meaningful casting. It’s always baffled me why musical kids movies rarely cast singers in these roles, but “Ugly Dolls” takes advantage of some of pop music’s biggest names, and puts them to work, performing no fewer than ten songs in this film. Transcending the film itself, this merging offers dream collaborations for music fans of every age, and while the music itself leaves more to be desired in terms of addictive beats and catchy hooks, it’s an 80 minute concert none the less, whose infectious energy and familiar accents of the cast bring forth all of the right gifts to musical cinema. Are they the best vocal performances? Outside of Jonas, absolutely not, but in a film with an overwhelming amount of musical influence, they are the way to go in this intended direction.

– Deeper meaning? As my readers know, I love watching a movie on a conventional level, and viewing it as something so much ulterior, and I certainly found a devious one with “UglyDolls”. The villain, Lou, (Jonas) teaches perfect dolls how to be perfect for their future children. It basically establishes him as this toy Hitler that is creating a master race of perfection to rid the world of peace and acceptance. Hitler also viewed blonde hair, blue-eyed boys as the future of the human race, and that is none other than Lou’s physical features, perhaps hiding something much more sinister behind his pearly-white smile. Naturally, a child won’t make this comparison, but it establishes a demented layer of fantasy to a film that needs anything to make it that much more entertaining, and for my money, this is the best I could come up with.

– Craziness in a finale. If you see this movie for any reason, watch the final twenty minutes, which includes a robot dog and baby, a legion of zombie followers, a nightmarish darkening sky, and the world’s biggest washing machine. In a sense, this movie is throwing everything at the screen to see what sticks during this pivotal third act, but to a certain degree it’s in this carefree execution where a sequence this convoluted can present the only scene in the movie that I am sure to remember three months from now. It reminded me somewhat of 90’s Disney finales, when all rules were off, and the setting itself became almost a character of sorts for what was revolving between protagonist and antagonist. If STX were willing to take more chances like this one, then maybe “UglyDolls” could be the anti-animated film that paves its own unpredictable path to infamy, but in the end it’s just a lone kickass finale that spiked my interest from non-existent to remote.

NEGATIVES

– Rips off two different franchises. Between the animation textures and musical similarities of “Trolls”, and the plot structure of “Toy Story”, “UglyDolls” finds no shred of originality to counteract the strokes of familiarity that are all over this picture. Because of this, the film reeks of a cash grab, where a studio once again tries to capitalize on the intake of a popular kids toy line, while throwing together a series of flimsy ideas that never add weight of meaning to the purpose of its inception. Aspects like these truly bother me about kids movies, because studios will often slip in these plagiarizing points of plot because they feel that younger audiences either won’t be aware that they’ve seen this movie before, or won’t care because of the vibrant colors or boisterous noises that come with it, and it gives “UglyDolls” an unmistakable feeling of incomplete that it never manages to shake.

– Stretched screenplay. 80 minutes is the bare minimum of acceptable major motion picture run times, but when we dig deeper to the root of the material, we find that the progressing story could easily be told in a half hour special on Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network with some tweaks of edit to better pace the story. I mentioned earlier that there are at least ten songs in the film, each of which are around three minutes, so you have already wiped away thirty minutes in songs alone, leaving fifty minutes to establish character’s, build a conflict, and offer a resolution that satisfies your audience. Needless to say, it doesn’t happen, and it makes this film feel like one of the least ambitious and phoned-in movies from a big budget studio that we’ve seen in quite some time. It’s not just a bad movie, but one lacking a sprinkle of creativity to contend in an age where animated movies are doing ground-breaking things.

– Lack of finesse with the animation. I understand that STX Films is certainly no Pixar or Dreamworks with their animation budget, but the combination of computer generation and live action illustration on our title character’s conjures up a Frankenstein finished product that conveys its inability to compete, leaving us the audience limited in our ability to feel dazzled by the presentation. The backgrounds, particularly in the detail given to the Ugly town are three-dimensional, but the same dedication is never given to character movements or facial registration, which feel as lifeless and incoherent as any animated property in 2019. Mastering a visual feast is half the battle with animated films, and with counterproductive traits in animation styles that make up most of what is front-and-center at all times, STX cuts off their legs before the war of comparison has ever begun.

– Combination of cliches. As a screenwriter, Alison Peck combines enough lukewarm sentimentality and empty-handed motivations to make this the Hallmark Cards of movies, for how truly corny and unearned every inspiration felt in the execution. Themes like “Be yourself” or “Listen to your heart” are good in theory, but so obvious in a film genre that does this sort of thing almost weekly. The screenplay tries to jam in far too many, and eventually it just feels like a game of bingo, where you wait until your motivation meme is called, all the while practically slapping kids across the face with intentional clarity long before they are able to piece it together themselves. Good intentions are one thing, but when a movie uses too many of them, especially with an ending conflict that condemns one character for being true to who he was, makes it all feel like a shallow piece of propaganda that is preached, but rarely practiced in the film.

– Flat humor. It’s hard to even classify this film as a comedy, because not only did I not laugh once in the entirety of the film, but the script often goes too far between in even attempting to gain emotional expression from its youthful viewers. This will be the hardest sell to them, for how little it gets them involved in the process of the plot, as well as the complexity of personalities to grip onto. What little comic opportunity there is speaks to the weirdness of the creatures themselves, and really nothing outside of the box in that regard. I was honestly expecting juvenile laughs in the form of bodily humor, but what I got was somehow less than that, cementing one of the most difficult films that I’ve had to sit through in 2019, thanks to arid material so undercooked that it defies the laws of genre classification.

– Lack of character exposition. I mentioned earlier that this film has roughly fifty minutes to get its feet wet in distinguishing these character’s, and with the exception of a dog played by Pitbull, the rest of the UglyDolls are interchangeable if not for the color of their skin. Seriously, there is nothing between them in personalities or motivations that make them even remotely different, and thanks to the film’s lack of time devoted to bringing each of them along with their own respective conflicts, the line of division is that much more blurred because of such. In addition to this, the dialogue feels very clunky, in that it explains the bare basics of the world and conflict without digging deeper to soak in the atmosphere. This makes the character’s and UglyVille world feel like a prop to a hinted at bigger picture that never truly materializes, and scrambles for focus in a screenplay that constantly struggles with disjointment.

– The music. Not only does the musical accompanyment drop the ball on catchy jingles that parents will wear out their IPOD’S playing, but the music itself fails in progressing the story during the momentary instances where everything else stops. In a musical genre film, the music is often used as a tool to fill in the gaps of unseen backstory and inner character psychology, but the lyrics disappoint on a very topical kind of level, keeping the depth of their inclusion pointless, in that we as an audience have seen what they are further repeating. If I had to pick a favorite, it’s easily “Broken and Beautiful” by Kelly Clarkson, a power ballad about seeing the beauty in something deemed different. But by the time the film is finished, this theme is repeated endlessly in the sequences and situations, rendering the power of its message that much more ineffective because of how much it’s hammered home.

My Grade: 3/10 or F

Breakthrough

Directed By Roxann Dawson

Starring – Chrissy Metz, Topher Grace, Josh Lucas

The Plot – Based on the inspirational true story of one mother’s unfaltering love in the face of impossible odds. When Joyce Smith’s (Metz) adopted son John (Marcel Ruiz) falls through an icy Missouri lake, all hope seems lost. But as John lies lifeless, Joyce refuses to give up. Her steadfast belief inspires those around her to continue to pray for John’s recovery, even in the face of every case history and scientific prediction.

Rated PG for thematic content including peril

POSITIVES

– Mutual respect. “Breakthrough” is the rare exception in religious exploitation films, where the film states its case and its belief in a greater power, and doesn’t shun the cliche atheist character for their contradicting beliefs. The character in question is played by Luke Cage himself, Mike Coulter, and he’s depicted in a way that not only gives a strong combination of dignity and class to the character, but also never tries to change his beliefs or prove that he’s wrong. It’s a world developed that allows both sides to prosper without unnecessary confrontation, and that element alone allows the movie the kind of rare open arms treatment, where everyone is welcome, regardless of spiritual beliefs or lack there of. It’s one of the only times when a movie like this didn’t judge me or make me feel uncomfortable, and that alone brings it a step above the rest in living out God’s message.

– Soundtrack depth. When the movie begins, we are treated to pop culture toe-tappers like “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars, or “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore, and it’s enough eye-opening selections to give the film a rich sense in budget, all the while echoing the cultures of its youths. This of course eventually changes into all spiritual offerings, but the eclectic nature of the genre and composition’s inspire creativity to the conventional hymns that we’ve come to know, and instills a sense of creativity to the movie’s compositions that radiate that fresh appeal, and it allows the music to remain true to itself, all the while catering to a bigger audience based on pop culture familiarity.

– A couple of solid performances. Metz is definitely the breadwinner here, emoting Joyce with no shortage of tears or energy to the command that she has on each situation. The problem is that I detested her character, mainly because the movie hints at a transformation that never comes, but all the same, Metz harvests most of the film’s emotional registry. Likewise, Coulter has a strong on-screen presence that captures the attention in each scene that he’s in, and juggles the biggest conflict of the movie, because his own eyes and ears are failing him on everything that he believed to this point. Topher Grace was also a riot to watch, if only for the facial reactions to the movie’s events, which drew more than a few smiles out of me. In terms of likeability, Topher is the movie’s saving grace, and his hip demeanor in freshening up the old testament is something that this world could use more of.

– Iron production values. While nothing is academy award deserving, it is exceptional in terms of religious movies that sometimes diminish the power of their message with a presentation that looks like it was shot by a high school film class. That simply isn’t the case here, as the neon interiors of the hospital, combined with some breath-stealing scenery of St. Louis, conjure up a visual presentation that confirms a great amount of money was spent in post production, and the editing, while dealing with continuity issues at times, does at least keep the progression of the film smoothly running, to keep us firmly engaged. When you compare “Breakthrough” to a PureFlix movie, you see an immense difference that reminds you how strong a film can be if it has a big studio presence behind it, and it gives us a lot to look at when the film’s plot progression has kind of grinded to a violent halt.

– Big game talents. I was surprised at how much the camera work relied on the skills of the young cast to showcase their basketball skills without manipulating the shot to make them something they’re not. Long take shots offer a balance of choreographed dribbling and long range shot display that came from the hands of the cast themselves, and really impressed me for not only the confidence they display, but the confidence that Dawson has in them to get it right. These are sequences that are such a minimal use of time for the bigger picture, so it would’ve certainly been easy to cut and paste these kids in a way that would fool half of the audience into thinking these kids are something they so obviously are not, but the direction, especially with NBA star Steph Curry serving as a movie producer, commits itself to getting it right, and shows John at work with his finest skill, instead of just telling us.

NEGATIVES

– Predictable. This is the biggest obstacle that the movie faces, as aside from a trailer that gives away nearly everything about this plot, aspects as minimal as lines of dialogue were mimicked by a friend and I, who spoke them seconds before the movie did. It’s expected that the events would be told in completely honest detail, but what’s concerning is how little we learn about the character’s, which could offer some shred of intrigue during the waiting game, which is roughly 80% of this movie. It’s obviously better for people who know less about these true life events, but even then you know there’s only one certain direction that a plot and genre like this can travel, and the fact that “Breakthrough” left me with the ability to telegraph everything scenes before they happen, spoke levels to the entertainment factor of the script, that feels closer to a Wikipedia article for the covering of events.

– Pacing issues. Most of the problems that I discussed directly above this translates to the jagged pacing of the movie, which at nearly two hours feels like a stretch for how much develops during the film. For one, there’s plenty that can be removed with very little impact. Stretched sequences involving throwaway character’s outside of this family, or repetition in scenes that transpire the same way but pivot on character movements, feed into this padding for passage of time that is quite literally that. This movie’s consistency literally did feel like a hospital waiting game at times, and with some more first act exposition before the big splash, the film could ease itself from racing to a red light, which it remains parked at until the final fifteen minutes of the movie.

– Transformation issues. For this movie, there are two character transformations that inspire these character’s to become better people. First is Joyce, an overzealous control freak, whose own insecurities are exposed in the way she devalues those around her. The second is John, as he struggles with feeling the love associated with being adopted. Both of these serve a bigger purpose, but only one of them worked, and it lands in the hands of the person who stays under conscience for most of this movie. Joyce’s supposed transformation didn’t land for me because she isn’t really that different from the person she was before all of this, and even worse, her actions are justified for the sake of John’s progression. She’s a conflicted character who never cures her conflictions, and it says a lot that the kid who doesn’t speak for a huge chunk of this movie attains the things that the film’s central protagonist simply never does.

– Blunders. There were all kinds of errors in believability, continuity, and horrendous line reads that do bring forth some unintentional laughs while watching this. Some of my favorite involve a resuscitation scene where the nurse administering C.P.R is obviously not beating on the chest, nor even doing it on the correct area of the chest for it to work. Likewise during this scene, it’s fairly obvious that John is breathing, especially with the revealing camera angles used, as well as the placing of a tube on his chest, which only makes it easier to detect. This is also one of the worst hospitals in the country apparently, because doctor’s say things like “Think, Gene” to themselves during surgery, or speak negatively in the presence of the boy and mother in their hospital room. If you can get over this believability issue, a musical scene in which students from John’s school sing him to inspiration you simply cannot. The kids are not only singing at a level that would make it difficult to hear from twenty feet away, let alone three floors up on a hospital window that doesn’t open, but it’s even less believable when a piano is heard that simply isn’t there. These are just a few of my favorite things, and don’t reflect the stretches of logic necessary to understand some pretty moronic course of actions that I won’t spoil here.

– Pitiful poignancy. For my money, I could’ve used more discussion aimed at the thought-provoking of its subject matters, that the film slowly steps away from. One such discussion happens late in the film, when a character asks why miracles happen for some people and not the others. Instead of offering up some form of relief for those seeking answers for the awkwardness of the question, the scene uses it as nothing more than a brief hiccup on the way to bigger and better things. If you had no relief in the form of even opinion-based answers, then why bring it up in the first place. This movie is full of solid questions that should be coming from an atheist’s point of view, but the overall lack of energy used to support these queries makes their inclusion feel every bit as temporary as they do pointless. A cop out with no intention of supporting its believers.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

Missing Link

Directed By Chris Butler

Starring – Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana, Timothy Olyphant

The Plot – The charismatic Sir Lionel Frost (Jackman) considers himself to be the world’s foremost investigator of myths and monsters. The trouble is none of his small-minded high-society peers seems to recognize this. Sir Lionel’s last chance for acceptance by the adventuring elite rests on traveling to America’s Pacific Northwest to prove the existence of a legendary creature. A living remnant of Man’s primitive ancestry. The Missing Link (Zach Galifanakis).

Rated PG for action/peril and some mild rude humor

POSITIVES

– Flawless animation. Laika Studios continues to be my single favorite animation design company, if only for the vibrant dimensions that they add to inspirational stop-motion animation. Aside from the impeccable attention to detail that has been documented at taking hours to frame a single shot, Laika adds weight and reaction to elements of water and cold, that are often overlooked in animation properties. The liquid itself not only splashes with layers of believability, but also affects hair and make-up on character’s that seamlessly transcends this manufactured art form. Likewise, the cold locations in the screenplay thrive with rosy red cheeks and breathing clouds of exertion, that better help contrast the rapid geographical movements that are present in the film. It proves once more that nobody works even half as hard at Laika, and they deserve our money in truckloads.

– Exceptional casting. Everyone meets the mark of desired impact here, but a few in particular stand out above the rest. Jackman and Galifanakis establish in chemistry with vocal work what some duo’s don’t master side-by-side in multiple film installments, and it’s the interaction between them that helps better flesh out the personalities of their character’s that sometimes goes undeveloped. Jackman’s straight man routine and Galifanakis’ bumbling goofball vocal ranges are perfect for the illustration’s of the character’s, establishing an outline of transformation before our eyes that distances your mind from thinking that anyone else’s deliveries could work so fittingly with the combination of sight and sound that is playing out. The big steal for me however, was Timothy Olyphant, as a bounty hunter with a raspy southern drawl. There’s just enough familiarity in his delivery to identify who this is, but Timothy has the time of his life in giving raw, untapped energy to the role, that is sure to open more doors for him in animation opportunities. There isn’t a single actor who didn’t offer something compelling in the way of personality, and what’s more important is that none of the character’s ever rub together in striking similarities.

– A rare presentation. “Missing Link” was shot with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and stands as only the sixth animated film to indulge in such an expansive lens. Aside from properly capturing the depth in scale of these visually compelling territories of the globe, it also allows the character’s to play to the backdrop and never vice versa. The opposite can be said in movies where the people are usually the focus to what’s transpiring in establishing shots, but here the opposite can be said in the form of visual storytelling that better convey the distance traveled for Frost and Link, as well as the vulnerability for the latter, in being out of his comfort zone for his whole life. It’s a striking variation that will go overlooked by the casual film fan, but stands as the first thing you can take note of when you lose yourself in Laika’s visual hypnotic canvas.

– Fluid pacing. “Missing Link” clocks in at a measly 85 minutes. A piece of cake in terms of animated movies in 2019, which are known for overstaying their welcome. That never happens here, as aside from the opening ten minutes, which are used to set-up the central protagonist’s career of choice, the film progresses at a speed that constantly keeps moving without sacrificing the important themes and emotional response triggered by the journey of knowledge. There’s nothing in the film that I would cut or trim to further enhance my unflinching attention to it, and I feel it’s a testament to Butler’s dedication to the project to know just how much juice he can squeeze from a story that has peaks of familiarity as far as road trip movies are concerned.

– Positive hard-hitting message. Without spoiling anything, this is a screenplay that centers around the concepts of identity and acceptance, and it’s in these two themes where I feel that different age brackets will interpret differently, allowing plenty of conversation between generation’s looking for mutual interest. The pull of the surprisingly heavy third act was something that I didn’t fully see coming, especially with the movie’s dedication to humor, but I feel like it stands as a moral epiphany for Frost, all the while solidifying what’s important to Link, in terms of finding a place where he belongs. I always give animated movies extra points for sending youths home with a desire to make the world a better place, and I can’t credit this film enough for such a concept of reminder that digs deeper.

– Badass female lead. Saldana’s Adelina isn’t just a damsel in distress who is looking for a man, she is very much a commanding presence over the story’s movements, that one could argue develops into the strings that ties this trio together on their adventure. Further steps are taken to better flesh out her character, instill a sense of surprise with her movements playing against male counterparts, and even selling to the audience a branch-out sequel that would establish her at the helm of it all. What I found refreshing about this is the movie goes against history, especially in kids movies, where they feel routine in outlining a female character only to be rescued or serve as a love interest for the much further developed lead protagonist, and Adelina is someone who is every bit as intelligent as she is lethal, and I feel will have a bigger hand than anyone or anything else in bringing little girls in search of reflection, to the theater.

– Easter Eggs. Again, there is something for the youth, as well as something for the older audiences, that will get a kick out of connections to other properties that you might miss if you blink. The first one is in connection to Laika’s previous release “The Boxtrolls”, in which Frost has a report on the creatures of that movie. What’s cool about this is it confirms a Laika extended universe, and makes me wonder where other previous installments could play into in terms of the timeline of this story. As for the more obscure reference, 1984’s “A Passage To India” is mentioned in one scene, and even if this doesn’t make sense with the 19th century setting of this story, it is cleverly inserted in its dispersion into the dialogue.

NEGATIVES

– Forceful humor. More than the other four Laika films, there’s this overwhelming desire of comedy that rarely ever fit or connected with the intended reaction. I do think that this film can be funny, but it’s in the small doses of reactions transpiring in the background (See Monty Python), rather than lines of dialogue, which can sometimes feel far too juvenile when compared to the movie it’s playing against. I get that this is a movie that plays to a mostly younger audience, but I would be doing a disservice if I tried to convince my readers for a second that I came out of this film with an ample amount of hearty laughter. It never truly materialized, and I only hope that Laika can get back on track with investing in sight over sound, when it comes to gripping audiences.

– Too many villains. There’s little weight or attention donated to the film’s antagonist, which there are no shortage of. At one point early in the third act, we are dealing with three different antagonist’s sharing the screen at once, and it sort of feeds into the problem that none of them have been fleshed out in a way that makes any of them feel like an essential threat, nor pivotal presence to the entertaining integrity of the rapid-fire pacing. Every time they appear, they just feel like the proverbial conflict in the road to inevitability, and for my money I wish they would’ve removed two-thirds of them, and followed the other one closer, in terms of motives or connection to Frost.

– Uncomfortable stereotypes. This was one of the big problems I had with my favorite Laika film “Kubo and the Two Strings”, in which character’s of a particular geography are depicted in a way that isn’t the most complimentary. For “Missing Link”, it’s even worse, as a Himalayan family eat nothing but Yak to survive, and talk in a way that pushes the envelope to be funny rather than educational about different cultures. I’m not trying to label Laika as insensitive in their intentions, but once is an accident, twice is a shame, and three times is a pattern. If you absolutely require this direction in your movie, do it in a way that honors their traditions while making them comparible to the protagonist.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

Dumbo

Directed By Tim Burton

Starring – Colin Farrell, Eva Green, Michael Keaton

The Plot – Holt (Farrell) was once a circus star, but he went off to war and when he returned it had terribly altered him. Circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) hires him to take care of Dumbo, a newborn elephant whose oversized ears make him the laughing stock of the struggling circus troupe. But when Holt’s children discover that Dumbo can fly, silver-tongued entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Keaton), and aerial artist Colette Marchant (Green) swoop in to make the little elephant a star.

Rated PG for peril/action, some thematic elements, and brief mild adult language

POSITIVES

– Just enough deviation. For my money, there’s a strong combination between the familiarity of scenes from the original animated property, as well as a healthy helping of experimentation with the gut-punch of the source material, that allows the film enough balance to prosper without playing it safe and conventional, as Disney often does with these live actions remakes. What surprised me most is the focus and unapologetic attention rendered to animal abuse, especially under that of a business model, which allowed the script to master some of its finer dramatic elements, in turn transcending itself from the safety net of feeling like a Disney movie. Part of that is on Burton’s gritty surface level temperature, which at times does push towards a PG-13 direction of harsh realities, but swings itself back around for more of the fantastical imagery needed to transfix the youthful audience.

– The complex case of Ben Davis. As a cinematographer, Davis is a mixed bag. After the bland presentation that was “Captain Marvel”, he redeems himself here, getting lost in a Burton-esque world, complete with weathered color design and the vibrancy of the circus, which transfixes and serves as an ode to fantasy visuals. The glowing of radiant lights surround our characters, giving the setting a surreal feel of the attention they command over the army of eyes ready to be dazzled, and placing these familiar faces in cast in a place and time far from anything they’ve ever been a part of. Whether Burton opened up the mind to expand Ben’s creativity, is a question we’ll never know the answer to, but one thing remains certain: he has a visual encompass that perfectly captures the radiance and imagination that lives and breathes in this palace of outcasts, and with such an echoing ambiance, we too are delighted to be a part of it.

– Superb visual effects. While not perfect in its movements during scenes of flight for its title character, I can say that the illustrations and aesthetics associated with the film do master not only a believable quality to the color and shapes of its animals, but also a heavy one with the way its manufactured properties interact with the sets surrounding them. In my opinion, it’s the details in attention to Dumbo, complete with wrinkled skin texture and baby blue eyes as big as oceans, that take the cake, and blend synthetically with the grade in visual cinematography that I previously mentioned above. Nothing ever feels counterfeit or out of place to the integrity of each frame, and masters a visual immersion that is second only to 2016’s “The Jungle Book” in terms of spell-binding accuracy.

– Elaborate set designs. Where does one start with the single best aspect of the movie? Perhaps in the intimate atmosphere of the small-stage circus, complete with man-made posters and signs, giving it that cult-like quality of better days being behind this family troop. Or maybe it’s the collision of present and future in the devil’s nest known as “Dreamworld”, garnering no shortage of stadium lighting, ride attractions, and the promise of science to hook its curious minds. Every prop or gimmick in the film holds immense weight to the complexion between two completely different settings, and this allows us the audience to be visually seduced by the pageantry of it all, in the same way that these performers thirsty for a chance are embracing for the first time ever. Instead of telling us what makes these places so different, Burton shows us, and it’s in that immense size where we understand the disposition of being seduced by greed, regardless of who gets hurt along the way.

– Burton brings his posse. What’s unique about this film is that it not only brings forth some of Burton’s most favorite alum, but it also treats us to a reunion of one of his most legendary films: “Batman Returns”. I couldn’t get enough of seeing Danny Devito and Keaton interacting, albeit in reverse protagonist and antagonist roles from their previous engagement, but there’s definitely a winner between them. Keaton easily steals the show from the rest of the gifted ensemble, chewing up enough scenery with a hokey inconsistent accent and relish for the fame, which make this role unlike anything we’ve ever seen from the decades-old performer. If Keaton has one adversary in scene-stealing however, it’s definitely from 14-year-old Nico Parker, who herself comes from acting royalty being the daughter of Thandie Newton. Parker has the childlike innocence in facial resonation, but it’s really the sass that boils just below the surface that made her endearing to the cause, and made her so vital to Dumbo’s development as a stage act throughout the movie. In fact, the film knows this so much that it focuses repeatedly on her, and nearly forgets about her on-screen brother (Played by Finley Hobbins).

– Perfectly paced. At 104 minutes, “Dumbo” is more than double the screen time of its animated predecessor, so immediately you know that plenty is going to be added to the story and subplots associated with the film, and thankfully I can say that all of it works in a way that never dulls or sags with the movement of the material. For a movie that thrives on redundancy, in that we’re seeing a lot of these scenes repeated to perfect the act of the flying elephant, there’s a surprisingly increased interest with each passing scene because the stakes are being constantly raised, not only for our big-eared protagonist, but also for the family that have taken him in to this point. It, as well as the fact that the entire second half of this movie is new material for the Dumbo folklore, gives the film strong urgency and uncertainty for where the story is headed, and despite its desire to repeat so much of what comes and goes, there’s not a single sequence during the film that I would change to fan dwindling interest. I was glued to my seat throughout this film, and that isn’t easy to do with someone like me who doesn’t support Disney live action remakes.

NEGATIVES

– An unwanted guest. Legendary ring announcer Michael Buffer makes two surprise appearances in the film, and you can pretty much guess what his involvement is here, as well as what line he mutters that made me completely want to punch a wall for how it broke my immersion into the film. I compare it a lot to 2013’s “The Great Gatsby” when rap music is being played throughout the film, despite the fact that this is taking place in 1922, when rap genre music wasn’t even a glint in the beatboxer who developed it. Buffer’s involvement in this film is every bit as cringey as it is unnecessary to the integrity of the time period and the consistency of the movie’s tone, and it reeks of desperation in the worst way possible.

– Lack of human character development. There’s so many scattered plot threads introduced early on in the film that are never followed upon or elaborated further with for the integrity of depth needed for the people whose names aren’t in the title. Dumbo is Dumbo. He will be alright regardless of what we learn about him, but it’s really those other pivotal leads who are never given the light of day to enhance your interest into them, particularly that of Colin Farrell’s wartime hero, who goes virtually unnoticed during the climax of this movie, minus climbing a stadium sized building along the side of it with one freaking arm, and without any sweat or conflict what so ever. I wish this film wasn’t afraid to dig a little deeper with the people we spend the most time with, and as it stands we learn more about a character who doesn’t talk than people who can’t shut up.

– Ruining a solid musical score. Legendary composer Danny Elfman pens one of his most emotionally stirring scores in quite some time, bringing along compositions that impact important scenes, just not in the way I was positively hoping. The music elevates the scenes, but it’s done in such a way that is mixed far too loud in each scene of inclusion, making it stand out as more of a distraction rather than a necessary inclusion, and it takes something that should feel inspirational, and instead brings out the emphasis in meandering from the audience what they are supposed to be feeling. Elfman brings the lightning, but the deafening delve of its level of incorporation is the thunder that unnecessarily shakes.

– Disappearing antagonists. One of my favorite clichés from movies is when a bad guy character will disappear in favor of a bigger, badder character, and that’s totally the case here, as a throwaway character during the first act, who says some of the most ridiculous lines to children that I’ve ever heard, practically vanishes once Vandevere’s character is brought to the forefront. Think of it as the movie’s inability to build two of the same characters simultaneously, but I think it’s a testament to just how unnecessary this prior antagonist feels, especially when you consider that he exists in an environment where everyone else interacts so positively.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

Shazam!

Directed By David F. Sandberg

Starring – Zachary Levi, Djimon Honsou, Jack Dylan Grazer

The Plot – We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson’s (Asher Angel) case, by shouting out one word: “SHAZAM!”, this streetwise 14-year-old foster kid can turn into the adult superhero Shazam (Levi) courtesy of an ancient wizard (Honsou). Still a kid at heart: inside a ripped, godlike body, Shazam revels in this adult version of himself by doing what any teen would do with superpowers: have fun with them! Can he fly? Does he have X-ray vision? Can he shoot lightning out of his hands? Can he skip his social studies test? Shazam sets out to test the limits of his abilities with the joyful recklessness of a child. But he’ll need to master these powers quickly in order to fight the deadly forces of evil controlled by Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action, adult language, and suggestive material

POSITIVES

– A Different direction for D.C. In finding something that sticks to the wall positively, D.C has stripped everything down in order to find what is great about the comic book genre of films in the first place. Long gone are the big budgets, the extensive post-production rendering, in-the-dark cinematography, and atmosphere that makes us feel like we’re watching a movie from The Crow franchise. Instead, we are treated to an airy environment full of wonder and humor, vibrancy in color texture, and an overall presentation that looks like it was something off of a C.W Channel of shows. That’s not to say this is a bad thing, but instead reminds us that “fun” should be the first adjective mentioned when discussing comics, and with some hope in consistency to this approach, D.C will rise from the ashes to fight again.

– Imagination in action set designs. Where the budget that the movie does have goes is in the variety of backdrops and sequence pieces that stand as a love letter to the city of brotherly love. Because this is set in Philadelphia during the winter time, we are treated to a mall scene that pays homage to 1986’s “Big”, a convenience store, and a winter fair full of rides and prize booths for our characters to lose themselves in. These are settings with a purpose, and because of such we are treated to supreme improvisation when it comes to the ways these adversaries adapt and overcome one another that would otherwise make things difficult. Above all else, the setting of Philadelphia itself is an original take for comic book films, and proves that D.C is all for spreading their influence across the geographical stratosphere.

– The comedy works. One thing I was worried about heading into this film were the trailers that convinced me on everything BUT the humor, and thankfully this isn’t the case, as the film saves its best lines and sight gags for the feature presentation itself. Not everything lands as intended, but I can say that the chemistry between these actors, as well as the positive energy commitment that they give to making these lines pop from personality, is something that gave me plenty of hearty laughs, and all in a way that is good for the whole family. I also enjoyed the gags at superhero films, like long distance hearing, that otherwise usually bothers me, but is commended here for being called out by the sheer ridiculousness of it all. This is a PG-13 film, but there’s nothing here that is too extreme or testing for younger audiences, and I commend that much higher than something like “Deadpool” that can easily reach for the raunch of no restrictions whenever it needs to tickle its audience.

– Razor sharp performances all around. Aside from a little girl character, whose speech patterns were completely unbelievable, the rest of the cast here knocks it out of the park, and each receive ample attention in getting their characters over. For my money, it’s easily Levi and Grazer who steal the show, bouncing off of one another in interaction like typical bored teenagers who have just stumbled across the greatest thing in either of their lives. For Grazer, it was the slick tongue in the way he reacts to Shazam’s superpowers that I couldn’t get enough of, as well as the command he has over every scene he stands in. Mark Strong is also solid as an above average antagonist, who does carry with him a lot of torture from his past. Strong is having the time of his life playing this role, and the menace and persistence from his character design collides well with a demeanor that never shifts from serious. However, it’s definitely Levi’s show, as the complexity of harvesting the immaturity and curiosity of a teenager is something that is clearly evident in his deliveries, making it easier to see the child buried deep down in this barrage of bulging muscles that nearly protrude his seat. Levi’s charisma is feel good humor at its finest, and if his infectious powers have no effect on you what so ever, you may in fact be heartless.

– Evolution in script. There is a subplot involving Billy’s mother that until the final half hour or so I found to be faulty because of its believability, but it turns out that the film was saving the biggest impact for our hearts, and what emitted was a third act dramatic pull that I truly didn’t see coming, that even tugged at my heartstrings. This, in addition to an overall family-first narrative is something that I took great pleasure in, and proves that the film tries so much harder in conjuring up the human side of its superheroes for us the audience to see ourselves in. Because of such, it proved that this movie was doing so much more than resting on its laurels with a one-sided humorous pull, bringing with it the crossroads between past and present for our character that really serves as the catalyst for his psychological transformation.

– D.C continuity does exist. It’s funny to see a notable chapter in the D.E.C.U that does in fact take place in the same world as its most notable superheroes, but the film never feels desperate in getting that point over as anything other than table dressing. In addition, the weight of the threat from the antagonist itself, while serious, doesn’t feel big enough that the entire world is at stake, at least not yet, so it, as well as the distant setting from Gotham and Metropolis alike, makes it feel believable that all of this could be taking place somewhere out of the grasp of Batman or Superman alike. Most of all, it’s cool that because these are child characters, the film can exploit those superheroes as idols or rock stars in a way that their respective films never could, and it makes Billy’s delve into that territory feel much more attainable to the kid watching at home, from beyond the screen.

– Actual consequences. One scene in particular really stuck with me in the change of pace that we’ve come to expect from superhero films and what we’re able to see in regards to victims. While there is still some imagination to be left to shadows and colored glass, we do see character’s flying out of windows, character’s heads being eaten, and complete destruction on a basis that we’re often not privy to. Part of this is on Sandberg himself, a usual horror director, who brings his sense of sadistic saturation to the film without it ever feeling tasteless or pushing the envelope. It establishes him as the perfect director for bringing reality to the superhero genre, and as to where a film like “Batman Vs Superman” will overlook the many casualties that throwing a monster into a nitroglycerine plant will cause, “Shazam!” embraces it, and reminds us that with great power comes dangerous consequences.

– Perfect last second stinger. I felt that the film ended in a perfect place after the conflict resolution, but there’s one last scene that began to worry me for its purpose until I saw the point. I won’t spoil anything, but the final line of dialogue mumbled during this major surprise that is at least creative for what it does or rather doesn’t show, made me laugh and feel excited at the same time, and really brings to life the reality of kids becoming their heroes that I mentioned earlier on. It’s such a well filmed, finely-timed scene, that ends the film on the highest possible note that it rightfully could, and is the perfect transition into some child-like drawings of familiar faces in the universe. Also, stay for a mid credits teaser that will pay off if you were paying attention during the first act.

NEGATIVES

– C.G restrictions. Some of this can be forgiven for budget limitations, but the rendering of monster supporting antagonists brought to light some less than stellar animations when compared to a live action backdrop. Particularly for me, it’s the total lack of mouth movement from those characters that not only made the graphics feel lifeless, but also made it distracting each and every time we have to cut back to which ever one is talking because we couldn’t possibly give them moving mouths in the first place. Likewise, Shazam’s effects of transformation and teleporting is cut and edited in a way that leaves far too much to the imagination in terms of what we’re actually seeing. Think when you see Superman flying and everything feels so seamless. That isn’t quite the case here, but it’s never so compromising that it soils the integrity of the film as a whole, just a few spare scenes that shake immersion.

– Third act problems. (SPOILERS) Two things bothered me about the film’s final battle that I couldn’t get over, regardless of padded exposition for it. One involves a convenient plot device for the antagonist that allows us to stop them. Not only is the way that our protagonists figure this out far fetched at best, but it also comes out of nowhere for the time when the film finally introduces us to this aspect. My second problem was a shark jumping moment, in which Shazam! shares his powers with other kids in his group home, and I have a problem with it because it breaks the rules that we’ve come to know. Early on, the film says that only one person has the strongest heart, and that person will become Shazam! complete with all of its powers. Now we’re supposed to believe there are six people with the strongest heart. Doesn’t really make it the strongest heart, does it? For my money, I wish it would’ve just been Shazam! overcoming the odds to defeat the opposition, even if it’s to say that family fighting together is a lot stronger. It’s a bit overdone on that narrative, and threw a little too much at the screen in the closing moments.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+ and my favorite film in the modern day D.E.C.U

Wonder Park

Directed By Dylan Brown

Starring – Brianna Denski, Jennifer Garner, Kenan Thompson

The Plot – June (Denski), an optimistic, imaginative girl, discovers an incredible amusement park called Wonderland hidden in the woods. The park is full of fantastical rides and talking, funny animals , only the park is in disarray. June soon discovers the park came from her imagination and she’s the only one who can fix it, so she bands together with the animals to save this magical place and bring back the wonder in Wonderland.

Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and action

POSITIVES

– Eye fetching detail in animation. While there were some flaws with the character detailing, which left things like mouth movements and reactionary impulses feeling a bit delayed, the set designs and coloring pallet instill a vibrant sense of imagination to the product that puts the wonder in “Wonder Park”. Particularly in the dynamic between the grey undertones of the deceased park, which give it a decayed look, and the rich tapestry of it when it lives and thrives, we get a visual rendering of the atmosphere that the film has trouble translating into personal feelings. Likewise, the immense set designs and creativity behind some of the rides made it feel experimental like a Sims game brought to the big screen, all the while leaving valued minutes to devote to the mechanics of such unorthodox inventions.

– A positive message earned. As to where most kids movies these days harvest a personal message that often feels tacked on or contradictive to what is transpiring in the movie, the film’s desire to inspire and celebrate creativity is something that burns translucently throughout, and gives the film such honorable intentions that should echo with every member of the family. The film crafts the ideals of dreams as this sort of physical presence in our lives that breathe with the kind of energy that we put into them, and if those ambitions are shelved, Wonder Park represents that on a grand scale. Visual metaphors combined with heart in message, gives this story something deeper to reach for than the conventional kids movie we have come to expect.

– Filmed in 2.39:1 scope aspect ratio. This is only the fifth time that Paramount has attempted this with an animated property, but I think it pays off not only in capturing the immensity of the park itself, but also the madness associated with the mood inside. These establishing shots do so much more for the movie than the meandered script ever does, and it’s proof that camera stylings deserve consideration even in an animated setting, if only for the way it hooks the audience in to its mayhem before it breaks their trust. Read on.

NEGATIVES

– One problem ties to everything. When I look back on all of the things wrong with “Wonder Park”, the one common motive is because of a barely 78 minute run time that condenses every possible theme and subplot that the film tries to harvest. On top of it, the pacing is horrendously erratic, feeling like the movie is constantly on fast forward through skewered lines of dialogue that are constantly rushed, as well as the antsy setting that changes every thirty seconds. After a while, this film gave me a headache to even concentrate on it, and it establishes firmly the argument against easy time sits for the sake of an antsy audience.

– The dropped ball of dramatic pulse. One subplot in the film revolves around grieving, and actually intrigued me as to what the film could do with such heavy levity that develops depth for a movie like this. But it never materializes because the film and our central protagonist put it in the back of their minds to never be mentioned or touched upon again, and it wastes what could’ve been this movie’s “A Monster Calls” moment, complete with character maturity and epiphany that really allowed you to relate to the anything-but-engaging June character. Even worse than this, the film neatly tucks away this angle in the closing minutes, proving that if it did have any balls, they were left behind on one of the rides because this movie, like others, feels that kids are too stupid to grasp with loss.

– Undercooked material. The worst kind of kids movies are the ones where there are no redeeming laughs or material to at least you entertained while you sit through the rest of the movie that doesn’t measure up, and this is the case with “Wonder Park”, a movie so devoid of emotional response that it made me wonder if I was sedated. The humor not only fails in this movie, but it fails so bad that even the kids weren’t buying it in my theater. Even the cute noises and loud sounds that animated movies go to when they refuse to write anything clever weren’t working, and it just sort of makes every scene a chore to sit through when it’s reaching for something that so evidently isn’t there in the slightest.

– Zero character exposition. This is a strange one for me, because I didn’t feel like a movie could omit even its lead character from any kind of build that properly fleshes out her personality and moral character. When you think of June, you must ask yourself what you learned about her in the movie. For me, it’s that she loves theme parks, she loves her mother, and that she’s mechanically inclined. That’s it. These are things that you would probably pick up on if you spent ten minutes with the character in real life, but after spending this much time, the juice simply doesn’t warrant the squeeze. Aside from June, the other characters are just personalities instead of people. The film has so little desire to include them in anything meaningful or rendering that it just kind of reserves them to being these voices that never materialize as living, being things, and completes the underwhelming layer of character development that the script doesn’t waste time on.

– Obvious copyright ducking. The movie never says Wonder Park once in the film. Instead, it says Wonder World repeatedly. So why call it Wonder Park in the first place? Perhaps it’s because Disney owns the rights to Wonder World, and that the mention of it would cease the production of this film faster than you can say frozen Walt. Or here’s an idea, just refer to it as Wonder Park in the lines of dialogue, because ya know, IT IS THE TITLE OF THE MOVIE. This kind of sloppy execution is something that you would expect from an unknown studio, but for Nickelodeon Pictures to bring forth this cowardice, only reminds you of the bigger, better studio that is producing more meaningful pictures than this in its sleep.

– Production troubles. The movie is a chaotic mess, which may have been inevitable given its troubled production history. Paramount reportedly fired the original director in January 2018, when he was accused of “inappropriate and unwanted contact” with women. (Through his lawyer, he denied the charge.) He was replaced by a trio of filmmakers, none of whom getting directing credit. Five months later, the actor who voiced one of the park mascots, a narcoleptic bear named Boomer, also was replaced after sexual-misconduct allegations. Somewhere between those two events, the movie’s title was changed. One could write this off as a string of bad luck that occasionally catches up to film crew’s, but I call it a sign from a higher power telling them when it’s time to pack it in.

– Floundered voice work. Outside of the animated complexity of John Oliver voicing a romance riddled porcupine, the entirety of this heralded well known cast is wasted by a string of poorly directed and energetically lacking deliveries that highlight this as a paycheck only job. I probably shouldn’t say this about kid actors, but the 14-year-old Denski’s monotonous inspiration of this animated property lulls it down to a sense of dreary hypnotism that is anything but a compliment. As a protagonist, she lacks the kind of excitement associated with a character of her particular skillset, and gives us nothing to look forward to since this is where the movie spends the entirety of its time. Jennifer Garner also underwhelms again, bringing nothing of dimension or difference to her usual familiarity. Her and Thompson are probably the only two you can easily make out in the cast, and it’s a testament to the lack of experimentalism that they bring to the role that could otherwise open some new doors for the longevity of their shelf lives as stars.

My Grade: 3/10 or F+

The Princess Bride

Directed By Rob Reiner

Starring – Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright

The Plot – A kindly grandfather (Peter Falk) sits down with his ill grandson (Fred Savage) and reads him a story. The story is one that has been passed down from father to son for generations. As the grandfather reads the story, the action comes alive. The story is a classic tale of love and adventure as the beautiful Buttercup (Wright), engaged to the odious Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), is kidnapped and held against her will in order to start a war, It is up to Westley (Elwes), her childhood beau, now returned as the Dread Pirate Roberts, to save her. On the way he meets a thief and his hired helpers, an accomplished swordsman and a huge, super strong giant, both of whom become Westley’s companions in his quest.

Rated PG for adult situations and language.

POSITIVES

– Practicality all around. A refreshing aspect in watching a film that is 32 years old is the collection of set designs and special effects that speak levels about a now forgotten age of creativity. Most of the set visuals in the film authenticate that stage presence, in that everything sticks out especially, giving each prop sufficient weight in the movement and influence of each scene. Likewise, all creature special effects are done with animatronics, and while this decision looks obvious by today’s standards, there’s no substitute for time devoted to craft. It gives focus to distinct features of each creature that would easily be glossed over with computer animation, as well as gives the actor something lively to interact with during scenes of tension.

– The magic of the lens. Many of the establishing shots here are GORGEOUS and full of wide angle immensity that would make you think much of it was shot on location, but in reality pay homage to the immersion of studio filmmaking that suspends disbelief. In particular, it’s the shots on the water, with a sprinkle of moonlight used to illuminate the ships in focus that peaked my interest and outlined a layer of focus to the importance of this storybook tale that is established in each capture. None of these scenes lack believability in scale, but are made that much more impressive when you consider they were done inside of a backlot studio, instilling distance in a stage with only water and a single light to inspire believability.

– One legendary line. While everyone has a favorite line of dialogue for the movie, my personal favorite has always been Inigo’s threatening menace behind “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father. Prepare to die”, and as I’ve recently learned there’s quite a story behind it. Patankin, who played Inigo, had just recently lost his father to cancer in real life, and used the dramatic pull of the loss to channel the vengeance in delivering the line. What I love about this line is that it repeats throughout the film and manages to feel more focused the closer Inigo gets to his enemy, all the while standing out in a way tonally that feels other-worldly to the rest of the romantic comedy taking place around it.

– Stellar cast performances all around. Elwes is every little girl’s prince charming, exuberating a combination of confidence in swordplay and cool demeanor that make him irresistible as a protagonist. Patankin also commands the attention, riding this story arc of redemption that is equally as intriguing as the central plot rescuing of Robin Wright’s Buttercup. Patankin’s transformation throughout teaches us a lot about his tortured past, all the while never diminishing the intensity of Patankin’s roguish appeal. Aside from the two leading men, there are charming appearances from Billy Crystal, Andre The Giant, Peter Falk, Fred Savage, and of course Wallace Shawn, who gives my single favorite laugh of the film when laughing gets the best of him. Overall, it cements an ensemble effort that fires on every cylinder, giving ample time for each of the big names to shine with each character introduction.

– Management of dual narrative. Considering there are two stories running simultaneously throughout the film, it’s the incredible pacing and structure of each that astounded me in ways that other dual narratives today don’t equally balance out. While a majority of the film is set in the fantasy world itself, the three instances of Savage and Falk’s family characters are placed in a way that gives outline to the three act structure, and really pauses our interest in the fantasy when progression is at its peak. We, like Savage’s grandson character, can’t wait to jump right back into it, and in this regard the film transcends screen, in that we too are held at the mercy of Falk’s luring storytelling, giving us the audience a presence in this fairytale that feels like it’s being told to us exclusively.

– Stunning sword choreography. There’s much to give praise to here, but it all comes at the respect of Peter Diamond and Bob Anderson, who between them had been in the Olympics, Indiana Jones films, and eventually Lord of the Rings films. What’s so impressive is that not only is the swordplay fast between oppositions, but the foot work of the actors engaged manages to evade a barrage of branches, bricks, and rocks that we’re just waiting to see have an influence in this conflict. It never comes, and it’s a testament to the handling that was taken in preserving hand-to-hand authenticity, made even more impressive considering Elwes broke his toe on a four wheeler only hours before the scene was shot. Diamond and Anderson work magic on these big name actors, and because of such juggle enough testosterone and urgency to constantly raise the stakes.

– Constant 80’s nostalgia. One of my favorite aspects in watching a classic movie is the hints of dated pasts that could only reside in a particular decade, and there’s plenty to admire and even pause the film over here. I love the extra props like the all red and white Cheetos bag, as well as Fred Savage playing the Commodore 64 computer game “Hardball”. Each of these items add important perspective into Savage’s close-minded personality at the beginning of the film, coming off as a generation X slacker of sorts, who will eventually become more captivated into material that he condemned before it started. It’s a perk that is totally irrelevant to the film, but something that I like to mention because its objects and focuses have almost become time-stamped in the same way that the medieval age has in the story that Grandfather and Grandson are moving through.

– Meticulous in the humor. While juggling the content of romance, action, and family elements alike, this movie features plenty of hearty laughs in the form of modestly gentle and subordinate deliveries that never step on the straight story evolving around it. Similar to the structure of Mel Brooks (Who is in fact in the film) or Monty Python, the material doesn’t halt the progression of the narrative, an aspect that many modern comedy films could take a lesson from, in that improv humor is used as fluff for a two hour run time designation. Instead, “The Princess Bride” still values these moments of release, but does so in a way that never holds the story hostage, nor does it over-indulge in allowance, proving to us how comedy can work hand-in-hand with fantasy if the two can work as partners instead of adversaries over the screen.

NEGATIVES

– Horrendous sound mixing. One of the things that became obvious with this watch was the sloppy sound manipulation that the film tries to pass off onto the audience as synthetic. Several scenes throughout the film feature overheard dialogue that is said without any of the lips of characters moving, but none more prominent than that of Elwes back-riding scene of Andre The Giant. In just this scene alone, there are a few instances where the mixing takes advantage of a majority of Elwes head being shielded during long winded dialogue, but it flounders because the mouth is still as obvious as any close angle shot, and serves as one of two major problems that I had with the production of this picture.

– The other one. It’s not often that the production is the biggest hurdle for a film that I watch, but once again post-editing brings to light some disastrous decisions as to what’s left in the film. Several instances of production crew’s shadows being in a shot, boom microphones moving in and out of the tops of shots, and a landing pad during the first fight scene which is as obvious as a fart in church. I get that it’s the 80’s, so there’s some room for forgiveness in this respect, but if you’re going to ever deem a film as “A Timeless Classic”, then the production has to stand up to the forth-coming decades that it stands tall through, and sadly amateur mistakes like these keep the film from ever reaching its potential as one of the best films of the decade.

My Grade: 8/10 or A-

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Directed By Mike Mitchell

Starring – Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett

The Plot – Reunites the heroes of Bricksburg in an all new action-packed adventure to save their beloved city. It’s been five years since everything was awesome and the citizens are now facing a huge new threat: LEGO DUPLO invaders from outer space, wrecking everything faster than it can be rebuilt. The battle to defeat the invaders and restore harmony to the LEGO universe will take Emmet (Pratt), Lucy (Banks), Batman (Will Arnett) and their friends to faraway, unexplored worlds, including a strange galaxy where everything is a musical. It will test their courage, creativity and Master Building skills, and reveal just how special they really are.

Rated PG for mild action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Endless imaginative animation. Since this is a sequel, the stakes and production should be twice as strong, and thanks to a collection of immensely detailed Lego structures and a variety of ever-changing landscapes and scenery, the film’s digitalization refuses to ever grow stale, all the while raising the bar respectively between two different worlds, real life and Lego, that offer enough contrast in character movements to flesh out the rules and engagements of each atmosphere. The color scheme is vibrant in depiction, offering a cornicopia of colorful explosion to constantly hold the attention and amazement of each respective age group.

– Character cameos. The first Lego Movie brought us the introduction to one of my favorite Batman’s of all time, but it’s nothing compared to the intelligence instilled in how the sequel incorporates some familiar faces into the Lego Universe. I won’t spoil anything, but the one that steals the show easily for me is a 90’s action icon who pops up twice in extremely creative and humorous ways, that may or may not be his best performance in years. Aside from him, there are appearances with everyone from superheroes, to sports stars, to teen heartthrobs, and even an easily recognizable actress to play Will Ferrell’s wife, that is just too perfect not to capitalize on.

– A completely brand new earworm of a soundtrack. While nothing reaches the replay value or adventurous spirit of something like “Everything is Awesome”, the musical numbers in the film offer plenty of balance and eclectic instrument progression that will surely craft a favorite for everyone. For my money, it’s definitely the appropriately titled “This Song Will Get Stuck In Your Head”, a building stadium anthem that not only pokes fun at the repetition of chorus used in most modern day pop music, but also speaks volumes to the way a track will inflict pain no matter how bad we try to fight it. It’s the perfect cap on another collection of surefire favorites that won’t relent until they have been played in every family minivan cruising the world.

– The progression of the script. When the film started, the first act felt like a chore to get through, mainly because every scene during this time was given away in the overly-revealing trailer, leaving nothing but predictability in the way, but thankfully the rest of the film builds an intriguing triple-tiered narrative, all the while harvesting something truly conveying for our particular time in history for its heartfelt message. For the last hour of this film, this very much reached the level of the satire and sharp delivery of the first movie, allowing it to serve as that rare example where a movie progresses instead of regresses.

– What a cast. There is simply too much to cover here, but the double duty work of Chris Pratt, the brawn edginess of Elizabeth Banks, the sinister personality of Tiffany Haddish, and of course the dry narcissism of Will Arnett fire on all cylinders, giving us no shortage of vibrant personalities to bounce off of one another. This is an ensemble-first kind of film, in that the sum of its parts equally help boil the pot, and while no one truly loses the familiarity of their one-of-a-kind tones, the infectious energy delivered by some of the most hip actors working today is simply too enticing to ignore.

– Not afraid to get dark with its material. I love a movie that can grow with its following chapters, because this keeps things from getting stale or even far too similar to its predecessors, and in that regard we have a third act psyche-out that was every bit as terrifying for our favorite characters as it was transcendent in capturing the dire dread of the situation. Did I know what was coming during the psyche-out? Absolutely, but I commend a movie greatly for capturing the magnitude of the antagonist’s plan, even rivaling that of “Avengers: Infinity War” in terms of inescapable weight that registers hard with us the audience effectively.

– Actually feels like a sequel. Aside from the film connecting the events of Taco Tuesday to the now weathered and decay look inside of Bricksburg, the very twist associated with the ending of the first Lego Movie more than sets the ground for what we’re seeing transpire before us in this film. Because we know who and what is behind the miniature movements, we feel a need to better trace how all of this is possible, and while I do have more than a few problems with the logic design inside of the gimmick, which I will get to later, I will say that establishing this film as a compendium piece to its original chapter gives the series continuity that is sadly missing from a majority of episodic kids movies.

NEGATIVES

– The percentage of humor. The first Lego Movie was near perfect in this regard. In fact, it was so good with its comedy that the rapid fire delivery of hearty laughter forced me to miss some jokes because I was still laughing from the previous delivery. With this sequel, that sadly isn’t the case, as probably only 40% of the jokes pulled a chuckle out of me, and this is because the film so obviously caters more to a child demographic with this sequel. That is to be expected with a kids-first movie, but part of what I enjoyed so much about the first film is that it was something that kids and adults could take in and equally indulge in, as to where this film left me with a feeling that lacks the consistency or confidence of material that was literally everywhere in its previous chapter.

– Too many musical numbers. As I mentioned earlier, the musical force behind this film does remain faithful in giving audiences at least one more earworm in unlimited listens, but the pacing of the inclusions themselves could’ve used more restrain, particularly during that of the late second act, which fires off three different tracks in a matter of ten minutes. What’s even more discouraging is that not all of these songs are winners in progressing the plot, nor tickling the tummy of its audience, and instead the failures just feel like unnecessary padding in stretching this run time beyond where it needs to be.

– Twist inconsistencies. There’s many problems that I had with the twist revealed late in the first film that definitely doesn’t make sense here. SPOILERS AHEAD – For one, where do all of these character voices come from if they’re being moved and played for by children? If you don’t have a problem with this aspect, you should consider that Will Ferrell, who plays the father in this family, voices a Lego character in this universe, but apparently the other kids do not. Another problem takes place when the protagonist and antagonist have a fight under the washing machine minutes after the kids have put away their toys. The movements of these Lego characters would make us think that someone must be playing with them if they are moving during this confrontation, so I ask how this is possible in the first place?? If you think this was the only time that an inconsistency like this reared its ugly head, think again, as there were many scenes that simply don’t add up with the rules we’ve been told and run through. If this doesn’t bother you, fine, but you have to at least acknowledge that this movie doesn’t follow the rules that it has taken two movies to establish.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-