Sunday, March 29, 2015

Big Hero 6


Walt Disney Animation is kind of in a state of bipolar right now. It seems to be unsure if it wants to do the fairy-tale stories of old, or if it wants to do the much more wider appeal creative films. We had Bolt back in 2008, which was a classic in animation, that blurred the line between Pixar and Disney to nearly unrecognizable. Then we had The Princess and the Frog, which I admittedly still haven't seen yet. Then we had Tangled, which was not without flaws but better than I expected. Then we had the extremely clever Wreck-It Ralph, followed by Frozen, which was a fairy tale updated and butchered to fit today's societal standards, which left me weeping... for humanity. 

And now we have Big Hero 6, which oddly enough, actually originated from Marvel comics--much like Guardians of the Galaxy, they're a group pretty much no one had heard of until their movies came out.

Taking place in a fictional blend between Tokyo and San Francisco called San Fransokyo, the story focuses on a robotics nerd named Hiro Hamada who creates a group of microbots, which are near invincible and can take any shape. When they end up in the wrong hands by accident, he uses his older brother's creation named Baymax--who is a friendly medical assistant robot--and also gets some help from his brother's also-nerd friends to get the guy who has the microbots taken down.

Big Hero 6 was arguably some of the most fun I've had watching a movie in quite some time. Hiro plays the role of a somewhat mentally damaged character after tragedy strikes him, which is where Baymax comes in. Baymax steals the show. His lack of knowledge of human expressions results in some awkward or funny moments. Most memorable is when Hiro teaches him the fist bump--with hilarious results. And oddly enough, Hiro's buddies in his group are often very entertaining themselves.

There is a lot of emotional depth in this film as well as humor, much in the vein of Bolt. The main character is dealing with grief, and Baymax spends much of the film trying to help him snap out of it. There is one particular scene in which we see memories of the deceased person (whom I won't give away), which is deceptively simple but still packs a heck of a lot of punch.

Big Hero 6 is an excellent success for Disney and animation. In some ways, some people might see some similarities to The Incredibles, but this is a whole different deal entirely. It's a very good film on its own, and is a good stand-in for a Pixar-less 2014. It's not hard to see why this was considered the best animated feature of 2014.

Friday, March 27, 2015

X-Men Origins: Wolverine


After the controversial Last Stand, the X-Men franchise was kind of in a state of limbo. It would've been nice to see them go in a different direction from what they did--and follow-up from the Last Stand storyline instead of going with Days of Future Past--but then again, I am in the minority who really enjoyed The Last Stand. 

Unfortunately X-Men Origins: Wolverine was an even more infamous step, which *really* sent the series into limbo. And ultimately led to First Class. And Days of Future Past. So fans of those films can thank this film's failure with just about everyone for that. 

This film, as the title suggests, focuses on Wolverine's origin story. The first three films didn't give us very much about his past, save for the fact that that he was fitted with an adamanatium skeleton by William Stryker. And we do get just that, and the material certainly is very interesting as we find out about Stryker's experimentation on mutants, which includes Wolverine's transformation from normal mutant... to ultimate mutant. 

In some ways, what you expect is what you get. You get to see a lot of Wolverine destroying stuff and he admittedly gets into a couple of really cool fights with various characters and villains, and there's a couple of other really cool scenes as well. 

There is, however, a huge major canonical problem with the movie that results in it being virtually non-canonical with even the first three movies--and it centers around Sabretooth. Sabretooth is a welcome character here, but there's a problem: he and Wolverine are brothers. Problem? This is never even mentioned in the first film (the only one where Sabretooth is present). You can argue that Wolverine didn't remember anything all you want, but Sabretooth doesn't acknowledge anything either--and his memory's just fine. 

So yeah. Ultimately that invalidates just about this entire movie. And there are some other things that make no sense as well (occasionally the rules of regeneration that apply to Wolverine, Sabretooth and newcomer Deadpool are forgotten somewhat). 

There are some enjoyable things for sure. We are introduced to some new mutants--most notably Gambit (severely underused), Deadpool, and Kestrel (though the latter's mutant name is not used). Stryker is still a very good villain. Wolverine is still Wolverine, and is still played by Hugh Jackman who gives his all. 

It's really not that bad. But it's not very good either, and that huge canonical error with the rest of the movies sure does hang over it. Ultimately, it's passable entertainment, and probably is worth watching once if you're a huge Wolverine fan. You still have to think this at times though: "What were they thinking?" 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Mr. Peabody & Sherman


DreamWorks Animation has always been a studio that it's hard to know what to expect from sometimes. They have some fantastic movies like the Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon movies, as well as the hilarious Over the Hedge and Flushed Away, but sometimes they make some more middle-ground films like Rise of the Guardians or Bee Movie. And then there were some just plain lame films, like Turbo or the Madagascar films (although I do love the penguins). 

Mr. Peabody & Sherman was one I had somewhat high expectations for, being a fan of the source material and also the fact that the film had some good marketing. Of course, time travel is always a difficult subject for me sometimes. But even time travel enthusiasts are going to find themselves disappointed here. 

For those who aren't familiar with the source material (especially the younger generation), Peabody &  Sherman was a segment in the Rocky & Bullwinkle series that featured the title characters going on various journeys back in time to make sure that certain history events *did* happen the way they were supposed to. 

The film actually gets off to a pretty decent start. Peabody opens up with a monologue--and we meet Sherman as well--in an opening surprisingly reminiscent of the original cartoon. Then things escalate quickly from there. 

Fans of the original cartoon will probably be disappointed with how their favorite characters are often butchered. People who are new to the characters will be disappointed to see just how unlikable they often are. 

Sherman's character isn't anything like the original cartoon at all, and he is awfully inconsistent here as well. He goes from good-natured kid to somewhat rebellious to hooligan to good-natured again to sudden genius to save the world via some concept that makes no sense at all and will leave the children horribly confused. Peabody is mostly faithful to his original character, thankfully--but also makes a couple *incredibly* uncharacteristic moves that quite frankly left me stunned. The brand-new character, Penny, isn't very likable either. She starts off as this conceited little brat who torments Sherman and then about two-thirds through, she just makes this transformation into a nicer person. Because of what? No one knows. 

As far as time travel films go, this one isn't that confusing--save for the last ten or so minutes. Like I mentioned earlier, the world is saved through an idea that absolutely makes no sense.
And what's all the worse is that we see at the very end of the film that the world wasn't really saved in a sense--that time is still screwed up, and the space-time continuum isn't freaking out. Why? Considering that time is perhaps in even worse shape than it was before, it makes no sense. And what makes even less sense is how the present day isn't affected by all the huge changes. 

Although the film is quite flawed, there are still some laughs to be had. The puns, just like in the original cartoon, are rampant and to be found just about everywhere (a couple of them go overboard, though). There are some quick funny gags as well. It's clear to see that this film is geared more towards the young kids, since the film is a bit too ridiculous for adults fairly often. 

It's certainly not horrible, but it is quite disappointing, especially for those who were hoping for something good after the marketing and if they were a fan of the source material. Ultimately, I find it hard to recommend this film unless you're a pun fanatic, in which case this might be a romp even if you're frustrated by the end. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Kung Fu Panda


A kung fu panda. Doesn't that seem like kind of an oxymoron? Especially when you're looking at this particular panda on the poster. It shows from the beginning that this film is not into taking itself particularly seriously. 

One could argue that it's essentially the Matrix for kids. It features similar fighting styles--even in slow-motion shots. Some of the slam-downs into the ground shown near the end are straight out of the Matrix Revolutions Neo vs. Smith fight. The characters aren't quite as similar--though the teacher figure Shifu could almost be Morpheus--but the fights are straight out of it fairly often. 

This film centers around a fat panda named Po who is obsessed with kung fu. And when it's found out he's a legendary warrior--the very kung fu masters he idolizes--the Furious Five and Master Shifu--reject him, with Tigress even calling him "a disgrace to kung fu," at one point. Po has to become a kung fu master pretty quick, since an angry snow leopard named Tai Lung looking to bring destruction on the valley is on the way. 

When this film isn't mimicking the Matrix, it's playing the comedy card. And it does pretty good at it--we get a fair amount of slapstick violence as well as some wit. And again, it often doesn't takes itself that seriously. The means through which Po becomes a kung fu "master" of sorts is certainly unorthodox, although it works. 

However, besides doing all the things I've mentioned already, this film also has a very good plot to it and some emotional depth as well. Without giving too much away, let's just say that Shifu has a certain connection with the villainous Tai Lung. 

Thus, what do we end up with? A Matrix rip-off kung fu comedy action animated flick with a surprisingly good plot. This film certainly does a lot of good things for one with its lack of ambition. I mean, I find it hard hard to call a premise of a kung fu panda particularly ambitious. 

Also worth mentioning is the all-star cast. We have Jack Black as the main character, Dustin Hoffman as the master Shifu, and Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, David Cross, and Seth Rogen playing different members of the enjoyable Furious Five characters (Mantis is probably the best because of his hilarity), Ian McShane as the villain Tai Lung, and also Michael Clarke Duncan in a minor role. 

Overall, this film is a rollicking ball of fun, with something for everyone. The fights are surprisingly good for even the adults to enjoy, the comedy is hilarious for everyone, and adults won't find themselves agonized when their kids are forcing them to watch it. It's a film that everybody should give a chance, as ridiculous as it may seem to some. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Matrix Revolutions


Seems like the final film in trilogies--or just films that are "threequels" in general--have stuff going against them. The first film, you create something awesome; the second film, you expand on the universe you created in the first one and create a new and interesting plot; and the third film? Uhh... crap happens. Mostly a bunch of battles. Sometimes everyone dies. And you try to wrap up the series in a fashion that will be satisfying for fans--which is a tall order. 

The Matrix trilogy follows this formula almost perfectly. The first movie was one of the most groundbreaking films ever; the second one expanded on it, and in this one? Well, you won't have to worry about much in the way of philosophy if you find that stuff in the first two films boring. Well, save for maybe the first 30 minutes. But after that? Yeah. Basically an hour and a half *straight* of wars and fights. 

In this film, Neo is *still* trying to figure out what he's supposed to do. Especially after the revelation about his supposed purpose as "the One" in Reloaded. Trinity is still fighting alongside him. Morpheus, after the revelations about "the One," seems to be pretty shaken up in this film, and is mostly still in it for the sake of being in it. The army of Agent Smiths is still spreading across the Matrix. And the machines are still digging down into Zion. 

It's hard to write how I feel about this conclusion without giving away spoilers. So, I have to tread lightly here. There were some things I liked and some things I was disappointed by, and other things I was just "meh" about. 

There is some pretty freaking awesome stuff in this film still. The final fight between Neo and Agent Smith isn't quite as amazing as the one in the first film, but it's still pretty darn good. And the machine invasion of Zion, and the apocalyptic-like battle that ensues, is incredibly enthralling. 

There are still some issues to deal with though. We keep hearing stuff about the "Source," and how Neo is connected to it--and apparently Smith is as well--and how important it is--but we never really find out what it is. There is lots of stuff that is more implied than confirmed (can't really say what without giving away spoilers), so again, you *really* have to be paying attention in order to understand this film and the overall Matrix universe, which will otherwise make next to no sense. 

The Matrix Revolutions is about as wild a ride as it gets when it comes to threequels, and can make you go through multiple emotions--such as "Whoa! This is awesome!" and "Why?!" and "What?" As far as trilogy endings go, it's a pretty decent one. Perhaps its greatest flaw is its subtlety--it's pretty darn hard to understand, and is unfortunately sure to leave a lot of people confused. But for me, it is a decent, if not satisfying ending to one heck of a trilogy--even if it is a flawed one. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Matrix Reloaded


Ah, the Matrix sequels. You probably either loved 'em or hated 'em--or perhaps that's a better descriptor for strictly the third one, which polarized the crap out of fans. 

In this sequel to the amazing groundbreaking film the Matrix, Neo is still trying to figure out his role as the One and also dealing with visions of Trinity's death. Meanwhile, the rest of the free humans--residing in the last human city, Zion--are dealing with a big problem--the machines have finally discovered Zion and are digging towards it. Oh yeah, and as if that wasn't enough, Agent Smith somehow survived getting torn to bits in the last movie and now has figured out how to copy himself. A lot of times. 

This movie expands on the Matrix universe *a lot.* The first movie was admittedly pretty restricted to the Matrix itself, and Morpheus's ship the Nebuchadnezzer. In this film, we meet many, many more characters and actually see Zion. We also start meeting more of the Matrix programs that reside within it--namely the French-speaking Merovingian, and his Agent-like guards with ghosting powers. 

This one is also a lot more complex. During the first third of the movie or so, we see a lot more scenes with people being philosophical. There's a couple interesting scenes here, but some may easily get bored by this, especially if they're watching the Matrix strictly for all the awesome fight scenes. Don't worry, there's plenty of those too. But what gets *really* complex is when we meet The Architect--you pretty much have to be paying absolute full attention to the dialogue and also understand the Matrix universe to some degree in order to understand, since the guy speaks with a *lot* of big words. 

One could argue that this one is even more philosophical than the first. Is that a good thing? A bad thing? That's up for debate. Sometimes it occasionally does feel like they spend too much time with a couple of fairly meaningless philosophical scenes. It may just depends on if you tolerate this sort of thing well. 

Once we get to the fight scenes the Matrix is famous for, some controversy arises. This movie has been criticized for featuring a lot of meaningless fights--for example, Neo fighting a bunch of Agent Smiths certainly features no tension, since he can kick their butts easily now. It's still a *lot* of fun to watch him do so. (We even hear the sound effect of bowling pins rolling at one point.) The fight scenes in this movie still are a *lot* of fun, even if they don't have you worrying much for our heroes. 

Overall, this is a brilliant sequel that expands upon the first film the way a sequel should. It may not quite reach the heights of the first one, and you admittedly won't see anything as cool as "Bullet Time" in this film (well, the freeway scene does make a good run for it). But that doesn't mean it should be dismissed--far from it. And it does end on a cliffhanger--a rather odd one, to say the least. Again, you'll have to be paying attention to get it. So perhaps, we should end this review with a warning: simply casual viewers just watching for the fight scenes and literally nothing else may want to think twice. Everyone else should be in a treat, just as they were with the first one.