Friday, December 30, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016)

Plot: Set roughly 70 +/- years before the events of the Harry Potter films, Newt Scamander is a British wizard and magizoologistwho travels to America in hopes to find a new home for one of his magical beasts he has in his magical suitcase. But when one of his creatures escapes which leads to a non magical man (or No-Maj) named Jacob to accidentally release a lot of his other beasts, it's up to the two of them along with two witches named Tina and Quennie to find and recapture them.  

When I went to see this movie, I mostly expected to see a decent film that set in the Harry Potter world with a few interesting creatures and an enjoyable enough story, and for the most part that's exactly what I got. It's hardly one of the most intriguing things I seen from the world of Harry Potter, but for a decent flick that expands more of the Wizarding World I had a nice time.

The story itself was interesting enough. It's very basic story about looking for beasts, trying to capture them and try to prove that there's more to them than all the people in the Wizarding World think and has a comedic sidekick to help him. Newt is exactly what you expected him to be if you have seen any of the trailers, bubbling, strange but has a good heart and very knowledgeable in what he does in a way that's kind of similar to The Doctor in Doctor Who. His non-magical best friend Jacob while not one of the most interesting characters has a likeable charm all by himself. He's bumbling, he's curious and is amazed with the Magical World, but he has this innocence and charm that makes him chamring. In fact the most interesting part of the movie surprisingly was his romance with Tina's sister Quennie The concept between them is generic, but the chemistry between them is so cute that you want to see them get together despite their differences. Tina I hate to say was not the most interesting character in the film. I would not say she was bad, but I feel like I didn't get to know her as much as I did with Queenie, Newt or Jacob.

The beasts and the concept of The Wizarding World in America were the most interesting aspects of this film for me. There are quite a few parts of the film I thought were really imaginative and really cool to look at, and I like how in the very beginning of the film makes it clear how different life in the Wizarding World is in America. They have a different name for non-magical people, you need a permit for your wand if you're a foreigner, and apparently around this time in magical history there is a possibility of a war between magical people and non-magical people. I feel like there could have been more to that, but it was still pretty interesting to see how magic is perceived in America that I found myself wanting to know a little more. The graphics are also surprisingly pretty enjoyable. Yeah there's a couple of moments where you can tell that it's CGI, but like I said before the magical creatures themselves we're still interesting to look at and some of the other effects for whenever people are using magic were surprisingly very neeat to watch. There's even a scene where Queenie is making a strudel just from a wave of her wand in the way that is created was so good I surprisingly found myself saying "wow you know that was actually pretty cool watch." I did not expect to say anything like that with this release so this automatically gets points for that.

I do however have a couple of problems with this movie. First and foremost there are a few things that weren't explained particularly well. Most things are explained in a way that is clear to understand, but they're a couple of moments where it feels like they left out a few details. Like they're a couple of moments where I found myself wondering how much did JK Rowling put into her screenplay and how much did David Yates decide to put in from the original screenplay. I say this because with the last four Harry Potter films, David Yates had a knack for being vague on certain details there are actually important to the Harry Potter lore and the story, but where his decisions where mostly forgivable if not understandable in the last four Harry Potter films was that he was adapting from three considerably long books and he had to pick and choose to tell the bigger picture while still telling the story in a way that both readers and non-readers of the Harry Potter books can follow. So for the last Harry Potter films it was relatively forgivable how he would be vague in specific details such as Dumbledore's childhood or how Dumbledore came across the owner of the Elder Wand or why he had a shriveled black hand in Half-Blood Prince just to name a few examples. But here the things that he decides to be vague on where so vague that I found myself confused on what is happening. For example, there's a scene where newt and Tina are in trouble. They're sent to this mysterious room that Tina in particular is very scared of but they don't explain why. We witness these visuals that seem to imply that these people are trying to kill them, but we don't know how specifically and it wasn't until I was reading the synopsis for this film on Wikipedia that I fully understood that the people who captured them were trying to execute Newt and Tina. I was guessing that that's what was happening based on Tina's emotional reaction to the scene, but the problem is I was only thinking what was going on as opposed to being positive on what was happening. It's like that tentacle ability in Suicide Squad where there's little explanation to what the danger is and therefore I have no reason to connect to what is emotionally happening to the characters. There's also another scene during the very end where somehow one of the beasts are trying to solve a problem for the Wizarding community but it's never explained what the beasts is specifically doing until after spending several minutes showing the beast do it with no clear action apart from just flying all over the city. Finally there's two brief scenes that imply that Newt is looking for some lost girl or something or other that is briefly explained but never showed. You feel like you should be feeling sorry for him, but the explanation is not told clear enough. 

And that's my review for Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. It's sadly vague in certain parts of the story that might leave you confused in what is happening, but it otherwise is a nice magical adventure with creative creatures, new Harry Potter lore and likeable characters. It's not the greatest thing I've seen from the world of Harry Potter but I came in wanting to see a decent flick and that's exactly what I got. If you're a fan of Harry Potter, this is a nice movie to check out.

Rating: 70%

Sausage Party (2016)

Plot: A supermarket called Shopwell's is filled with anthropomorphic grocery items and the human shoppers are worshiped as gods who take groceries to the "Great Beyond" when they are purchased. Among the groceries in the store is a sausage named Frank, who has dreams of living with his hot dog bun girlfriend, Brenda, in the Great Beyond, where they can finally consummate their relationship. Frank and Brenda's packages are chosen by a grocery shopper but when a returned jar of honey mustard warns Frank that the Great Beyond is a lie and creates an accidental cart collision that causes Frank, Brenda, and several groceries to fall out, Frank goes searching for answers while the rest of the groceries discover a horrible truth about the Great Beyond.

Good Jamison Issac Crocodile this was so wrong. I may have gone to see this movie with my brother, Johnathan knowing that it was going to have very raunchy moments, but it still is pretty unpleasant in so many areas.

I'll start off with the good stuff first. The concept itself is funny. It's a perspective that does demand a lot of over the top humor that we haven't seen before and the animation as you would expect is pretty good. Some of the designs of the characters were a little creative and even the "gory" moments with the food were surprisingly a little funny. In fact, my personal favorite scene is when they did a spoof of the Omaha Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan. I also thought there were some twists to the story that were clever.

My biggest gripe with this movie however is how offensive it is. To be clear, I know that this movie is meant to be offensive to its audience and I went in knowing that, but when Johnathan and I left the movie theater and he told me how he read a review that said that "everyone gets offended in this movie" and later I watched Jeremy Jahns' review for the movie where he says the same thing, we both found ourselves saying "no it doesn't." Granted, I do recollect a couple of moments where the movie makes satirical looks at politics and warring countries, but from our perspectives they were very dumb downed to focus souly on attacking the belief in God. So much of the dialogue from Frank and Brenda in particular were debates over their rules and beliefs and what happens if you don't follow them. By the end, they reach a decision that (in our point of view) was pretty nihilistic which leads to the second to last scene with all of the food that was really hard to watch. Even if for the sake of the argument I say that maybe Johnathan and I read to much into and we only saw the movie like that because it attacks our beliefs that we both really care about, I still say declaring that everyone gets offended in this movie is not entirely accurate. It attacks some people but appears to favor attacking others. I know it's a comedy and comedies are meant to offend people in order to get a laugh, but from our perspective it doesn't work as well as most people think it does.

And that's my review for Sausage Party. There are moments where I did find myself laughing and it has a number of creative aspects to it, but while it does offend other aspects of society, it feels like it's more focused on offending people with religious beliefs and is executed in a way where the message feels nihilistic. I realize that my brother and I might be taking this more seriously than the film probably wanted us to be, but we really cant look at this any other way. If you're just after cartoon gore and dark humor and want to see a film that sort of offends everyone, I guess you'll like this film fine given its reception. But if you don't want to see a film that has cartoon gore or offends your beliefs in a way that may come off as too insulting, then this is a movie I would skip.

Rating: 50%

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)

Plot: The Killing Joke is two different stories that don't tie up together. The first is a story about Batman and Batgirl chasing down a gangster while the second is the actual story of Alan Moore's The Killing Joke. In The Killing Joke the Joker shoots Barbra Gordon and captures Jim Gordon in attempt to prove that anyone can go crazy from a bad day, so it's up to Batman to save Jim Gordon and stop the Joker.

This movie has been out for a while but because of focusing on a few other things I haven't had time to take a look at it yet. But after checking a paper for class I decided to go on Amazon, rent the movie and take a look for myself. And after all this waiting how does the animated version of the ever so classic Batman comic Batman The Killing Joke hold out? Honestly I'm going to say roughly the same thing that everyone has said already; first 28 ish minutes or so the movie is completely useless while the rest of it is virtually everything you'd expect the film adaption of the graphic novel.

Let's start with the good stuff because there isn't a whole lot to say. Now I don't mean that in that it's bad at all. On the contrary, it delivers exactly what fans have been waiting for, for so long. When we get to the actual story of The Killing Joke it's essentially everything people have been waiting for. It's the entire infamous story told almost exactly the way its portrayed in the novel panel by panel. The only real differences between the novel and the movie is different locations for some of the last lines of dialogue between Batman and Joker and that it includes Joker doing a musical number while he tortures Jim Gordon, but none of these things are big changes to whine and complain about. Both Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their roles as Batman and The Joker and no one would want it any other way. These guys are the definitive Batman and Joker in many people's eyes and for a film adaptation of The Killing Joke most people wouldn't want these characters to be performed by anyone else. I've heard that Hamill in particular wanted this to finally happen and thinking back to when I was watching the film it shows. From the musical number alone you can probably tell he's having a ton of fun finally playing the character in such an iconic batman story. The animation was great (thought Batman's ears were a little over-the-top in hindsight), the story telling was great, it's ultimately everything most people wanted for a film adaption of the infamous graphic novel.

Not let's talk about the first half hour of the movie. People are complaining how this is completely useless because all it really is it is just a story of Batgirl and Batman chasing down a gangster and have a brief sexual relationship. Long story cut short, they're right. While the animation is as good as you'd expect from the studio and there are some good action scenes, it doesn't hold any purpose to the main story. As far as anyone's concerned, it's just a short episode of Batman the Animated Series that's just pushed in, so they could have gotten rid of the first 28 or so minutes of the movie and you would have lost absolutely nothing. On top of that, like I said, it also has Batman and Batgirl in a sexual relationship which most people are highly against. Jeremy Jahns argued that this is not too big of a deal as people are making it given that there have been adaptions were something like this has happened before, and granted both DC and Marvel have given us different adaptions were there different relationships between the characters (i.e. Black Widow and Hulk in Age of Ultron.) But I think at this point in the comic book world, people are starting to become more associated with  Batman and Batgirl's relationship depicted as more of a niece and uncle relationship as Doug Walker puts it in his own review for the film. Plus I'm going to be bluntly honest, Batman having sex with college girl Barbara Gordon is kind of creepy to me. Anyway, people are talking about the first 28 minutes more than the main story which is unfair but at the same time it's well deserved. We know they were trying to make it so that it ties into The Killing Joke, but it's an attempt that wasn't needed. All we really wanted was just the 40+ minutes of The Killing Joke brought into film and nothing else. I think another reason why people feel so distanced from the last 40 minutes of the film is because the tones between both stories are completely different. The Killing Joke is dark, brooding and has a timeless feel to it whereas the first 28 minutes has a relatively lighter story and dialogue that feels more modern. They just don't match up. So I think people are especially pissed because the first 28 minutes did virtually nothing to even set the mood for the story we were waiting for and it ultimately compromises the entire experience.

Does this mean there's nothing worth seeing in the first 28 minutes? Well personally I wouldn't go that far. As I said before, the animation & action are still great and as far as a short of Batman and Batgirl capturing a gangster goes it's not the most boring story I've ever heard. There's even scenes where Batman and Batgirl talk about what it means to be on the edge when they're doing what they do that I think it's worth remembering. I guess if you just want to see Batman and Batgirl hunting down gangsters, kicking butt and all around giving us the standard action that you expect in the world of Batman, you'll get your fill. But as far as a part of Batman: The Killing Joke goes, this would have made much more sense if they replaced chasing the gangster with chasing the Joker prior to the events of the Killing Joke comic.

If there's anything else I feel I should talk about, it would have to be the film's R rating. At first I thought this was going to be a movie that well deserved that rating given the content of the graphic novel, but what I saw instead was more warranting a PG-13 rating. It seems like they just gave the film the rating to make it look like they're really edgy when really it's nothing particularly special. Granted, film is subjective and thus the rating system is subjective too, but when I think of films that deserve and R rating, I think of films like Deadpool, The Godfather, Saving Private Ryan, Gamer - films where there's a considerable amount of blood/gore and the sexual content is showing people having sex and seeing the nipples of women's breasts or something like that. Here, you have Batgirl beating a guy until blood is coming from his mouth, two guys killed off from clean shots in the head, a sex scene that's cut off before it gets graphic and while Barbra Gordon is stripped naked in the main story, we don't see so much of her body that's particularly risque, at least none that I saw. I guess it really depends on what is considered too much for you, but to me most of this was standard PG-13 content.

And that's my review for Batman: The Killing Joke. The first 28 minutes have some good things in it, but it's completely pointless in the long run, while the rest of the film is more than likely everything you wanted out of a film adaption of the graphic novel. If you're a fan of the book but haven't seen the movie, I do recommend just skipping past the first 28 minutes in order to have a solid good time, but as a whole movie it's a mixed bag. Take it for what it's worth and see for yourself.

Rating: 65%    

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Hunchback of Notre Dame II (2002)

Plot: Set six years after the events of the first film, Quasimodo is happily accepted into Parisian society and Esmeralda and Pheobus are married and have a son named Zepher. A festival called Le Jour d'Amour is coming where people in Paris celebrate love by having the people declare their love for their love ones while Quasimodo rings a valuable bell called La Fidèle. But an evil magician named Sarousch wants to steal La Fidèle so that he can become rich, so he forces his assistant Madellaine to to discover its whereabouts. She tries to trick Quasimodo into showing her the bell, but a romance begins to bloom between them.

For all its obvious cash-in problems that a lot of Disney sequels suffer for, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II is probably one of the few Disney sequels that I wanted to see as a kid and watching it again, I sort of have a slight soft spot for it. Now don't get me wrong, the film itself is terrible. The story is generic, some of the dialogue is really bad and most of the songs are just awful, but at the same time The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of my personal favorites Disney films and I can't help but sort of like that this film exists if for no other reason than for the fact that we get to see Quasimodo fall in love and live happily ever after with a nice girl. (Yeah that's kind of a spoiler, but you probably can figure out what happens on your own.)

Let's go ahead and dive into the biggest problem with the Hunchback of Notre Dame 2: the story. The story by itself is nothing short of cheesy. It's a basic villain who wants to be rich and uses an innocent person to get that they want that leads to a romance with the main protagonist that eventually leads to redemption. I know that might be revealing a lot, but let's be honest you can probably tell from the first ten or so minutes what's going to happen almost step by step. Personally I think it had potential to be stronger, but I'll get to that later.

Most of the main characters feel almost pointless to appear in this film. Even when I saw this as a kid I felt like I didn't have as much of a connection with characters like Esmeralda or Phoebus as I did with the first film. Sarousch is a complete downgrade from Frollo as far as villains go. I know that's to be expected given that this is a Disney sequel, but given that Frollo is arguably the most complex and interesting Disney villain out there, it kind of a shame that we go from a corrupted judge to a circus magician who just wants to steal this valuable bell for fame and money. Even when I was a kid there were times where I was more interested in wondering what it would have been like if Frollo was somehow still alive during all of this or how we would react if he was a ghost witnessing the events of this film. I know that sounds silly, but it's still more interesting than Sarousch as a character despite Michael McKean giving him a neat evil voice.

The music is a mixed bag to me personally. When Doug Walker did his Disneycember review for this movie, he thought the songs were crap, and watching it with that in mind I actually found myself liking a couple of the songs. The first one Le Jour D'Amour has a catchy melody that hasn't left my head since the first time I saw this film as a kid, and while Jennifer Love Hewitt's song I'm Gonna Love You is cheesy, it's still an enjoyable song for what it is. Aside from that, all the other ones are crap. I think my personal least favorite is the song I'd Stick With You. Doug Walker also personally enjoyed the instrumental score for this movie and hearing the music for myself I have to agree. It's obviously not as good as the first movie, but there were a couple of moments where I thought the music really fit into the moment that it was playing such as when Quasimodo and Madellaine first meet.

Finally let's talk about what I consider to be the main subject about The Hunchback of Notre Dame II: the romance between Quasimodo and Madellaine. On the one hand it is cheesy and predictable - in fact looking back the romance is almost similar to Hercules and Meg in Hercules. In both cases the villain in some way or another has control over the girl and plans to use her against the hero but she and the hero fall in love which leads to the liar reveal story line and all that stuff. However as far as a story of Quasimodo finding love, I thought the romance between them is cute, but needed a lot of work. The scene where they meet is probably the strongest moment in the movie. Quasimodo is very nervous, he and Madellaine strike a nice conversation and have a few laughs, but when his face is revealed she is scared and runs away. That was great. However I feel like they could've dived more into that somehow or at least make it more believable when Quasimodo falls for her. When she's frightened away, Quasimodo is very sad about it and feels like there's no hope because of his looks, but then he suddenly talks about miracles and sings about falling in love. How did he go from getting depressed to deciding he's starting to fall for this girl? With Madellaine it kind of makes sense how she later starts to see past his looks when she watches Quasimodo fondly playing with Zephyr, but him looking past the fact that his face scared her away came out of nowhere. I feel like there's more they could've done with the fact that she was afraid of him at first before they start to fall in love. Also, I would have liked it if they did more with Madellaine herself. She has a likable personality and she is drawn pretty for the animation budget that they had, but her background is rushed. All we get is that she tried to steal from Sarousch when she was little and now she owes him for not throwing her into the streets or something which is not particularly interesting. Personally I think it would have been much more compelling if they focused more on Sarousch tricking Madellaine into thinking the world is a dark cruel place. He does say that to her early on the film and I couldn't help but think they could've dove more into that. Like maybe she could relate to Quasimodo in how they both were tricked into how the world works. That would have made so much more sense and would have made Quasimodo and Madeline's relationship stronger. Wouldn't that have been more interesting?

And that's my review for The Hunchback of Notre Dame II. I liked the romance okay for what it was and some of the songs were okay, but the story is cheesy, the villain is uninteresting, most of the moments with characters like Pheobus and Esmeralda were forgettable, and the music and animation just isn't as good as in the first film. It's not a movie that I would own, but I am sort of glad it exists just for the sake of knowing that it's Disney canon that Quasimodo does find a certain special someone. It's not the worst Disney sequel out there, but it's still pretty bad.

Rating: 35%

Monday, December 5, 2016

Dr. Strange (2016)

Plot: Dr. Strange is a skilled neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands in a car accident. He uses all of his resources to try to fix them, but nothing seems to work. Eventually he hears about a place called Kamar-Taj where he is taken in by two sorcerer; the Ancient One, and Mordo. The Ancient One shows Strange her power and eventually agrees to teach him the ways of conjuring magic. But a former apprentice of the Ancient One called Kaecilius is threatening the way of life as he intends to open a portal that will summon the dark being Dormammu of the Dark Dimension and it's up to Dr. Strange and his new magical allies to stop him.

Sorry that this is late but I've had a lot of stuff going on around both times that I went to see this movie. Anyway as I'm sure a lot of you have heard by now, this movie once again has a lot of praises just like so many of the other Marvel movies and for the most part I agree with him. Do I think it's one of the best? I think there are a couple of considerable problems, but for the most part it succeeds in giving us a good origin story of another likeable Marvel superhero.

Let's start off with probably the most obvious positive thing about this movie; Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange. There is no debate that he makes this movie in the same way that Robert Downey jr. makes all of the Iron Man films. At times it's a little distracting knowing that he's also Sherlock and Smaug and Kahn before he was this character unlike with a lot of other superheroes in Marvel, but as far as bringing Dr. Strange into the MCU he delivers in bringing the character to life. I also really enjoy the journey that he goes through. Now to be clear, I will say one of the main problems with the movie for me personally is that we are experiencing a bit of repeats within Dr. Strange's origin story. A lot of people have pointed out by now how it's a lot like Tony Stark's journey to becoming Iron Man in how he's so cocky and self-absorbed before he experiences a tragedy that ultimately leads him to become this hero, and for the most part they're right. But at the same time you look past it because 1) Stephen Strange did start out as a very cocky and self-absorbed guy in the comics before his accident, so there's no way around that in making a movie out of his origin story, and 2) the journey that he goes through really works. What makes him stand out from Iron Man is that he isn't as quick to being fully willing to lay down his life for others. Now don't get me wrong I love how Tony Stark is quick to show that despite being this rich arrogant jerk he also has a kind heart in the first Iron Man movie, but what makes Dr. Strange's journey better in terms of giving us a growing character is that he has to overcome his arrogance, he has to overcome his selfishness and all the while his morals are challenged. In fact one of the most memorable scenes in the movie for me personally is a conversation he has with Kaecilius who sadly is not very memorable like a lot of other Marvel villains. They have a discussion on what is morally right and wrong and how there may be more to the Ancient One than she implies. The ideas that have been done before, but once again like many other cliches used in Marvel films it really works. I can see the conflict that Doctor Strange is going through and it's great to see how he's growing to become a better person which really pays off with what he does at the end of the movie.

The supporting characters are also pretty good. While you may not remember the names of the other sorcerers, you still like them. Tilda Swinton does a decent job as the Ancient One, and while the villain like I said it's not very memorable I do like some moments with him. He even has one moment with Strange before they have their serious discussion that was funny. Rachel McAdams I'm kind of back and forth with on her importance in the role. On the one hand she is rarely there and while there is a decent chemistry between her and Cumberbatch, it does feel like they could have gotten rid of her from the movie and you would have lost almost nothing. But at the same time I agree with Jeremy Jahns with his review of the movie where he points out that they use her sparingly and only in moments where it's important to the plot. So as forgettable as her character was, I'll admit that they were smart to put her in the film only when it's necessary.

The visuals in this movie are unbelievable. This movie contains some of the most surreal imagery that I have ever seen. I think Doug Walker put it best when he said that this is the kind of movie where it needs CGI. All these creative visuals that this film comes up with really gives this film a unique style as a superhero film and leads to a lot of creative action scenes. The comedy is pretty good too. They have a couple of jokes that miss, but there are still plenty other jokes that made me and the rest of the audience laugh just the way you'd expect a Marvel movie to do.

If I had any other real problems that I reluctantly have to agree with my dad when we talked about the movie, it would be that there are pacing problems with the film. It feels like with explaining the world of magic, there are some explanations that are rushed and you get the feeling that you haven't learned anything really special. At the same time however, you could make the argument that that's kind of the point and what they're trying to do with Dr. Strange's journey. He is learning how to conjure up all these different spells and weapons and gadgets and such, but the fact is he still has so much to learn it in the end so that just leaves us with hoping he will get a lot more in the sequel. Plus I still like what will they do tell us about magic; I really like how the Ancient One explains how they specifically conjure up magic or how in terms of using magic to fight the kind of grounded to mostly conjuring specific weapons and use specific gadgets to help you out of the situation. I think that's kind of a smart move given that - as far as I know from what few comics I've read containing Dr. Strange and other sorcerers, most of the action in the comics are more Harry potter-like, meaning it's mostly shooting beans out of their hands and things like that. So it's good that they grounded it so that magic is still something that we can understand in a world that has more science fiction than fantasy elements, but at the same time I hope that they can think of more creative things to do with Dr. Strange in future projects.

And that's my review for Dr. Strange. Benedict Cumberbatch give us a great performance as Stephen Strange, the supporting characters are good, the villain this weak but he has some good moments, the visuals are great, the action is a marvel to watch (no pun intended), and while there's some things that are rushed, it still gives us an interesting aspect of this particular part of the world of Marvel. Would I say that it's one of the greats Marvel films? Well... I wouldn't go that far. Like I said it has a sense repeating elements from past films and some of the world building is rushed, but it still is a good film It may not be as big as Captain America: Civil War, but hey how could you top off a film like that with another origin story? If you want a movie where Marvel really outdoes themselves, I can't say that they really did much of that apart from it's unique and surreal visual style. But if you just want to see you another good Marvel movie with all the likable characters, action and comedy that goes with it, Dr. Strange is definitely another enjoyable part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to check out.

Rating: 75%