Kubo and the Two Strings

Movies
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Kubo 1In case your time is short, let me start of by saying go see this movie.  Its easily one of my favorite movies of all time.  Kubo and the Two Strings tells the story of a young child who as an infant in the opening scenes is on the run with his mother and attacked by some mysterious force.  Later in life, Kubo is tending to his mother who appears to be suffering from some sort of dementia.  When Kubo is not tending to his mother’s needs, he goes to town to tell his amazing stories and use his magic to bring Origami figures to life.  Every evening, Kubo must return by Kubo 3sun down to tend to his mother who seems invigorated by the moon and yet still suffers from some mysterious illness.  When attacked again, a story of adventure and discovery is set in motion. Kubo will travel across many a mysterious land to discover his identity and in doing so, learn the greatest story of all.


Pete’s Dragon

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Let’s be honest, Pete’s Dragon wasn’t exactly a Disney classic that was crying out for a remake. Yes, many of us have some fond nostalgia for the film, but it really isn’t the best Disney movie, and certainly not one that I would have thought would be at the top of the list of potential remakes. However, Disney once again has proven their savvy by taking what is admittedly a fairly dorky film and turning it into a truly heartwarming and uplifting film. In fact, while the “classic” status of the original is rather debatable, the modern remake is easily one of Disney’s best, and is truly a modern classic.


Pete’s Dragon

Movies

Petes 3Pete’s Dragon captures the essence of old Disney movies and updates it into modern story with the latest movie magic. What is the result? A family friendly movie that easily sits in the top 5 movies released in 2016.  First, I want to clarify what I mean by the “essence” of old Disney movies.  When I think of old Disney movies (I am not talking cartoons, per se), I think of joyful movies with positive moral messages that are playful and fun.  And Pete’s Dragon has that in spades!  You have wonder filled adventure, magical moments, and an antagonist that is not really a villain and by the end of the movie finds redemption.  You don’t have any of the hatefulness that often pervades modern movies.  When the heroes interact with the antagonist, its playful and humorous.  There are plenty of positive moral elements like honor, integrity, faithfulness, and truthfulness.  I felt like I was watching a modern classic which does not happen often these days and left this reviewer pleasantly surprised.


Suicide Squad

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Suicide-Squad-2016-Task-Force-X-MovieIts been over a year since Suicide Squad was first teased and during the course of a year came the hope that the film could kick the DC franchise back into gear after a disappointing Batman V. Superman.  Mission accomplished?  Not exactly, it’s not the blockbuster it could have been, but I think most fans will enjoy the film none-the-less.  Suicide Squad walks that grey ground between good and great.  It’s an average story that falls short of its potential as do a few key scenes near the end of the movie.  However, the casting pulls this movie up from average into almost being great.  The trailers seem to focus on Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in her first big screen harleyappearance.  And Margot does an amazing Harley Quinn, I liked her a lot.  But the real scene stealer was Will Smith as Deadshot.  Will truly delivers a summer blockbuster performance and shines as the villain walking the line.  Now the question on everyone’s mind – did Jared Leto deliver the Joker?  He had some pretty big shoes to fill and unfortunately, I have to say the jury is still out.  Why?  First, Joker was not given the screen time really needed for Jared to stretch his wings and define his character.  Second, his scenes were few and far between and felt more like plot device than a strong character.  If you saw the trailers and thought, can’t wait – you will walk out satisfied.  If you were skeptical, you probably still are and if like me, you were waiting to see more, chances are you still want to see more.


Nerve

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I heard a lot of hype about Nerve being a well-timed movie for the augmented reality gaming that Pokémon Go has ushered into prime time.  However, Nerve is not an augmented reality game nor is the movie focused on the “gaming” aspect but more on the voyeurism and device based living of current times.  It’s a look at platforms such as Facebook LIVE and handheld device addiction through the lens of dare based game in which users are either players or watchers.  Are you brave enough to play, or are you a voyeur, hiding behind anonymity to watch the players compete in ever increasing risky dares?  That is one of the first questions that hits the audience, what type of person are you?  Assuming the audience members are plugged in and hooked on watching friends and strangers alike live out their lives on a device is an assumption lurking in the background that may be lost on the audience.  An assumption that shows the direction social media has taken society – to device based voyeurism.  Why do I say all this?  Small spoiler alert – the movie has a message to consider and as such tries to put a nice fancy bow on some issues that leaves this reviewer a bit unhappy with the ending.  I’d rather leave some items open for interpretation rather than spell out the agenda in the last 10 minutes.


Jason Bourne

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Jason Bourne feels like a rebuttal from director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon to the Bourne Legacy’s attempt to expand the Bourne universe without Jason Bourne. It’s as though they’re trying to say, “This is how you make a Jason Bourne movie.” And to emphasize the most important element, they even named it Jason Bourne. While it’s clear that Greengrass and Damon know exactly what it is that makes a Bourne movie work, it’s also clear that they struggled to come up with a really good reason to bring the character back in the first place. The trilogy of Identity, Supremacy, and Ultimatum had such a perfect sense of symmetry and provided such a satisfying character arc for Jason Bourne that it was hard to imagine what could possibly be added. Apparently the answer to that is “nothing,” for this new Bourne movie doesn’t add anything new to the character or his journey, but instead retreads some familiar territory while also tossing in some elements to make the film’s events seem frighteningly relevant. In the end, however, that simply leaves with a Bourne movie that while good and entertaining, it’s also one that ultimately is unsatisfying.


The Secret Life of Pets

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SLOP WDIf you caught the first preview for The Secret Life of Pets, showing all fun pets have while their owners are away, chances are you were looking forward to seeing this movie.  I mean, come on, who would not want to see Leonard the prize poodle head bang to System of Down?  The pretentious owners “now you be a good boy Leonard” leaves the viewer celebrating Leonard’s rebellion as he flips from  Mozart over to head banging music!  However, the second preview may have left a bit of confusion in the wake of such an enticing first preview.  Rightly so my friends, as this movie has two distinct stories which are portrayed in the previews and left me confused as to why they are both in the same movie…SLOP Toilet

First you have the pure joy as we watch the pets live out their secret lives.  Previews gave tantalizing hints at most of the secret lives but seeing them lived out in their fullness was fun and had many a belly laugh coming from the audience.  Illumination Entertainment did a wonderful job of capturing unique mannerisms and characteristics of each type of pet.  This leaves audience members familiar with the types of pets joyfully nodding and smiling at their routines.  The movie could have continued to build a strong story of how these secret lives intertwine and play out in a downtown New York apartment and I imagine set up an amazing franchise building into larger stories.  However, now enters story number two.

After introductions to each pet, a new pet shows up and suddenly the balance of power is shaken up and results in a lost pet.  This is what we are SLOP Rabbitintroduced to in subsequent previews, the world of discarded and lost pets.  Pets whose soul desire is the destruction of pet owners and human kind in general.  Again, this could be a solid movie plot, pets tossed aside for newer or better pets.  Pets lost and never found.  Pets who have a beef with humanity grouping together to seek revenge…  But this story is such an antithesis to the first part of the movie it feels schizophrenic. Memorable characters are introduced in each story but never fully cross over between the stories.  So the viewer is left with two stories which could easily stand on their own (and probably should) put in the same movie leaving each to suffer.

With the suffering stories, the viewers are still taken on a fun ride.  Throughout the movie are the mannerisms and pet mayhem that keep viewers smiling and excited for the next pet reveal.  By the end of the movie, the stories may be confusing but the characters are fun.  Unfortunately, and unlike Finding Dory the characters in Secret Life of Pets can’t keep this movie afloat.

 

3.5 out of 7 – (I am sure most kids would give this a 5, because I mean its pets and its fun!) Family friendly fun but a note of caution should be given to the pets seeking revenge on humanity, it’s a bit over the top at times…


The BFG

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Steven Spielberg often has a magical moment of childlike awe and wonderment, mixed with just a bit of fear, in most of his movies. The BFG is what happens when Spielberg decides to make an entire movie out of one of those moments. It’s a delightful, fun and admittedly fairly simple movie that leaves a smile on your face. Spielberg has said that this was one of his favorite projects to work on, and it’s not hard to see why; this is a feel-good, happy movie of such goodness and sweetness that’s all too rare today, and thus, makes it feel quite fresh.


Finding Dory

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Thirteen years later, all the nagging of Ellen DeGeneres seems to have paid off with the long awaited sequel to Finding Nemo, and this time our forgetful friend Dory takes center stage.  Finding Dory opens with one of the saddest sequences in Pixar history.  I imagine that’s why there’s such an uplifting short to start this latest Pixar installment; you need to come from an emotional high point to make it through the first scenes of Finding Dory.  Cue Nemo!  Coming to the rescue is our feel-good friendship of Nemo and Marlin to help Dory finmaxresdefaultd her long lost family.  If this feels a bit familiar; it is.  Much of Finding Dory uses similar story arcs as the original—but like Star Wars The Force Awakens, a familiar story can still be a hit if it has a good cast of characters.  That’s where Finding Dory really delivers; from the comedic trio of the seals, to the octopus who befriends Dory, the characters make this sequel far better than the admittedly unoriginal story.

In addition to great characters, we have the always impressive Pixar animation which continues to show how Pixar can take us to new worlds make them come alive and seem so real (watching Hank the octopus turn on and off camouflage as he works with Dory to find her parents is nothing short of amazing).  So the movie looks amazing and adds great new characters to the world of Nemo, but the story leapixar-introduces-two-new-finding-dory-characters-swim-the-friendly-seas-with-bailey-and-d-771999ves us with a strong feeling of déjà vu.  We do get a good backstory for Dory and of course lots of wonderful life lessons on friendship, dedication, and what it means to be a family.  Watching it with my youngest daughter, I really appreciated many of the values esteemed by Dory and her all-star cast.

Perhaps one scene that fell short in this regard is when Nemo and Marlin face a scary monster and immediately fall prey to emotions that lead them to worship and serve the scary beast.  It struck me as very odd to see Marlin worshipping the beast in order to appease its anger.  The thought of worshipping such a hideous creature rang foul to me as worship is such a central part of our relationship to God.  Foul beasts aside, this movie left both my daughter and I smiling and slapping high fives by the end of the movie.  Sometimes it really is just the characters that can make a film such a joy to experience!

5 out of 7 Dory is a family friendly movie with plenty of good life lessons and perhaps a few discussion points worth bringing up with the kids.  If your kids liked the first one, Dory will leave them thrilled to see their favorite characters return and a host of new characters light up the screen.


Warcraft

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Warcraft, like so many videogames, seems like a property tailor made for the big screen. It has a rich mythology, an abundance of characters, and a lush fantasy setting. However, time and time again we’ve seen that it’s no easy feat to translate a videogame world onto the big screen. Warcraft doesn’t exactly break the trend of awful videogame adaptations, but it doesn’t exactly continue it either. This videogame film does an admirable job of world building and character development, but ultimately, while it may thrill and satisfy longtime fans of the game, those less familiar with the world of Warcraft (see what I did there?) may be less intrigued, and ultimately, leave the film feeling relatively indifferent.

Inevitably Warcraft will be compared with the defining series for the fantasy genre; The Lord of the Rings. After all, like Tolkien’s epic fantasy, Warcraft has orcs and elves and dwarves and humans and magic and creatures and epic battles; pretty much all the basic ingredients needed for an epic fantasy adventure. However, the simple fact is Warcraft just can’t stand toe-to-toe with the one that rules them all. It tries a bit too hard to be a serious epic, and thus at times feels melodramatic. At other times, it tries too hard to be silly and witty and charming, but instead feels rather goofy and awkward. Plus, the moments don’t always flow well with each other, but feel like they’re being plugged into a pre-determined “how to make a fantasy epic for dummies” template where it says “insert comedic moment here” and then “insert romantic tension here” followed by “epic battle scene goes here.” Which isn’t to say there aren’t some genuinely funny moments or exciting action scenes, but because they felt like prerequisites for filling out the “fantasy movie template,” they’re never as engaging or funny or dramatic or epic as they want to be, nor do they always blend well with each other.

Now, just because Warcraft falls short of the best doesn’t mean it’s a failure. It’s fairly enjoyable, especially if one doesn’t worry about completely following everything shown or said on screen, much of which may thrill fans of the game, but often left me feeling a bit lost. My biggest disappointment was the fact that many of the most intriguing developments were basically set-ups for a sequel, assuming one gets greenlight. There are some fun twists to what were fairly routine and bland relationships that take place near the end, which frankly would have made for a far more interesting story this time around, had this first film not been burdened with introducing everything. The film also ends with an orc-Moses type set up that would make for a really fun story, but again, we had to get all the introductory backstory out of the way. So it’s a testament to this film’s world-building efforts that by the end I was ready to see where these stories would go, even if I didn’t feel particularly engaged with all the introductions.Z4PESHkVKAhqq2YFVEng59

Of course, one can’t discuss this movie without talking about its digital characters. We’ve come a long way from the Lord of the Rings and its one all-CG character in Gollum. With Warcraft, about half the cast is now all CG. Fortunately, these characters are fully realized and nuanced, so it’s easy to forget that they’re CG creations. Their expressions are genuinely emotive, and in a bit of irony, much of the storyline that centers on the orcs has far more heart than any of the ones focusing on the real human beings. That being said, however, there are plenty of times where I had to remind myself I wasn’t just watching one of Blizzard’s supped-up cut scenes from the games; a feeling that’s reinforced by the CG settings for the CG characters.

I only have passing familiarity with the Warcraft and World of Warcraft games, but there were some very die-hard fans in my screening, and they seemed to really love this film version. However, those lose familiar, as I said at the start, may leave the movie feeling fairly indifferent about it all. It’s never really as epic or emotional or swashbuckling or charming as it wants to be, but you can’t fault it for a lack of earnestness. There’s a strong focus on character, even if that focus is mostly spent on the CG characters and not the actual human ones. There’s decent action that really wants to be seen as very cool, and funny moments that too often feel goofy. Yet, despite all of its earnest efforts, I left Warcraft with a feeling that in just a few days’ time, I wouldn’t be able to tell anyone much about (hence I sat down and wrote this review as quick as I could). It’s a decent, but ultimately forgettable attempt to take one of the most popular MMORPGs of all-time and turn it into a blockbuster franchise. But, maybe it will get some new players to try the game (although, as one veteran player pointed out, newbies may end up being very disappointed that the game doesn’t look anywhere near as cool as the movie).

Score: 4 of 7 – Warcraft definitely lives up to the war part of its name, if not the craft. There are some pretty violent and fairly bloody action sequences. Also, there are some disturbing uses of magic. Probably not the best film for younger ones, but even The Lord of the Rings often was darker and more violent than Warcraft.