Thursday, January 10, 2019

Pineda Phoenix's Best Movies of 2018

     If there is anything that should be said about 2018 when it comes to films, it was underwhelming, but still oddly fascinating. 2018 wasn’t the strongest year for film as a lot of disappointments appeared and there just seems to be a lot of films that just didn’t quite pack the punch compared to previous years. Even with that in mind, there was a lot to appreciate in terms of what 2018 had to offer for movies, especially when it came to animation and indie films. 2018 had a decent amount of films that were definitely worth looking back on fondly, starting with.

10. First Man
     Knowing Damien Chazelle’s work with previous masterpieces with Whiplash and La La Land, there was a lot of hype behind his next film First Man. The downside is while a solid movie, First Man does not come close to the brilliance of his previous two works. Possibly due to limitations on story with it being a biopic, Chazelle’s creativity isn’t as prevalent here as it was in his previous works. However, it doesn’t say that it is a bad movie, in fact, it is still rather refreshing to see Chazelle create something completely different compared to his other movies. Not to mention, the film is still very well crafted with a great Ryan Gosling performance, very subtle moments, a great old classic filmmaking aesthetic and ending that is pretty breath taking to say the least. It may not be as brilliance as his other works, but it still has a lot of great craftsmanship.

9. Ralph Breaks the Internet
     While mixed by many fans of the original film, Wreck-It Ralph 2 does a great job of progressing from the first movie in some neat ways. It may feel a little excessive at points and also has some contradictions to the first film, but what really makes this movie special are its characters and world building. Both have been expanded upon big time with more creative worlds and a character element that adds to the ultimate theme of the movie being about letting go, which is was told in a very smart way especially for a kids movie. This sequel also retains the fun and excitement with a lot of neat crossover moments and an outstanding musical number that parodies Disney so well that it is hands down one of the best movie moments of 2018. Ralph Breaks the Internet is a very good progression from a great first movie and is a good reassurance to Disney making decent sequels.

8. A Star Is Born
     Without a doubt the main Oscar contender here, A Star is Born is a simple but super effective movie. For a directorial debut by Bradley Cooper, the film is a very well made film with great cinematography, a decent script and also some excellent sound design. What really carry through the movie that makes it even better are the performances. Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliot and especially Lady Gaga are all phenomenal in their roles being all so incredibly believable in not just their characters but also the relationships with one another. Also ends on a note that is so powerful, it’s the moment that could give Lady Gaga an Oscar win, and as weird as that sounds, it is totally justified given how good this film is.

7. Hereditary
     One of the darkest and most disturbing films released in the entirety of 2018. Hereditary works in the same vein of other modern horror films as it’s not so much about generic horror but true real life nightmares that come to haunt people psychologically. This movie deals with the rough themes of loss and regret in the harshest of ways, but given the film is meant to be a true testament of horror, it is super effective with being a horror film. Add in some excellent craft with cinematography, editing and production design that is amazing especially for a debut film and also some all-around incredible performances, Hereditary is a terrifying horror experience that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

6. Annihilation
     This is the type of Science Fiction film that doesn’t come too often, but when it does, it becomes engraved in our memories. Annihilation is an experience to witness being both an intelligent science fiction film that doesn’t rely on spectacle and instead relies on fascinating ideas about alternate dimensions and fear. Also much like many of the moments in Hereditary, Annihilation contains one of the most intense sequences of any movie in 2018 with the bear sequence which is without a doubt a masterwork of craftsmanship in terms of great movie moments. Annihilation may have been over looked by some, but for those who did witness it; it was definitely an experience worth remembering.

5. Incredibles 2
     It may not have the sophistication of the first one nor does it excel at being a game changer in animation, but it is Incredibles 2 and it is so much fun. Incredibles 2 while had some missed opportunities in the story department, still makes up for it for having some already great characters return again and being just an all-around well-crafted animated work from legend Brad Bird. It progresses things fairly well from the first and also just manages to be exciting with great animation and a fantastic score that the first Incredibles was known for so well. Incredibles 2 isn’t quite on the level of Incredible as the first, but its entertainment factor alone makes it one of the most fun to be had in a movie all year.

4. Won’t You Be My Neighbor
     Fred Rogers was one of the most charismatic and polite people you could ever think of. This documentary showcases his love and kindness he offered to the world in a very honest and respectful way to Mr. Rogers. It discussed his life and his passion about helping children understanding the complexity of emotions in very genuine ways, just as Fred Rogers himself was. A genuinely good person who cared about everyone and didn’t discriminate, not to mention this film has one of the most powerful and subtle ending ever to be seen in a documentary. It’s a beautiful movie for this best of the year list.

3. Isle of Dogs
     Wes Anderson certainly has become an auteur within the past decade, but seeing him come back to animation after so long is glorious to witness. While Isle of Dogs isn’t as masterfully put together and as tightly written as Fantastic Mr. Fox was, it still showcases a lot of what Wes did for the animation industry in some ingenious ways. Not only is it an animated movie that isn’t afraid to be more adult and not kid oriented, but it does an incredible job justifying why stop motion animation is such a beautifully unique style and should never be ignored. Add in some good characters and an outstanding musically score, Isle of Dogs is a movie that reassures you that great original films like this exist in the animation world.

2. Sorry to Bother You
     More movies need to be like Sorry to Bother You. There has not been a movie quite as weirdly unique as this one right here and its all the more reason to praise it as such. Sorry to Bother You is such a well-crafted work from Boots Reilly but is also elevated by being unlike anything else out right now. It’s so visually refreshing and stylized and has one of the most off guard yet actually fitting and distinctive plot twists to ever be seen in recent memory. The movie is funny, creative and just a breath of fresh air to see, and definitely will be remember as one of the finest movies of 2018.

1. Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse
     This is the kind of movie that everyone needs to look out for every year, one that not only excels at what it does so incredibly well but is a game changer in film in general. Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse is a love letter not just Spider-Man but to almost anything worthwhile when it comes to the medium of film. It is a love letter to comic books, diversity, creativity and most importantly, animation. This movie is cold hard proof that animation is a medium that deserves to be respected and can be utilize to make something that has all the emotions and character that not even half of most live action films can do. In a world where Disney Remakes and movies like Venom are perceived as more adult and mature because of them being live action despite not being that at all, here’s a movie that truly is mature in its story and themes and should be noted as that despite being animated. Into The Spider-Verse is funny, heartfelt, imaginative and just about everything people should want in a movie in general. If you haven’t witness the mastery of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, you are missing out on something special. It is a film that you should not have a problem with, especially because “it’s a cartoon”.

Honorable Mentions: Tully, Avengers Infinity War, Upgrade, Searching, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Mandy

Saturday, December 29, 2018

‘Mary Poppins Returns’: Practically Unnecessary in Almost Every Way

     Creating a sequel to an iconic classic film is no easy task and is one that will be met with ridicule from the second it is attempted. When done right however, it could lead into a movie that not only brings back the original into the public consciousness, but also find a way to bring new depth and life into the original film. When done wrong, it just proves the point of the people against the idea of creating a follow-up that some films should just be a standalone movie and nothing more. Unfortunately, Disney’s attempt at a follow-up to a classic falls into the ladder category as Mary Poppins Returns feels completely unnecessary. It is a movie that does have some talent behind it and fortunately showcased, but efforts feel wasted with a script that couldn’t be saved with the amount of decent talent brought on to this film.
Maybe a Sequel, But Feels like a Remake

     Mary Poppins Returns take place many years after the original with Michael Banks grown up and struggling to keep his house and have his children live a happy life. Due to this, his childhood magical nanny Mary Poppins comes back to help give a little magical adventure to his children along with helping himself discover the childlike wonder he has forgotten about. Now the set-up for Mary Poppins Returns does sound fairly similar to the first movie, just with certain roles being rather reverse, and it does which tends to be a huge issue with many sequels out there. Rather than expanding upon the idea and continuing the story with the same characters to where they develop further as characters, the film unfortunately just feels like a rehash of the original Mary Poppins. It plays nearly all the same beats the original movie made making it feel too familiar and safe. Parallels to the original are fine at points and luckily there are some parallels between this film and its predecessor that do work including a very nice song by Michael Banks, in the beginning. However the film never once adds anymore depth to the original movie in subtle and unique ways that the original already did. The writing of this movie just makes it feel like they didn’t have any original ideas to add on to Mary Poppins and what they do add are some of the most cliché and uninspired things seen in a film in quite some time. Most notably a third act chase scene that feels so forced and unlike anything in a movie as timeless as Mary Poppins that it nearly kills any charming element this movie attempted to have. Even taking the new elements that fail miserably out of it, this film’s use of recreating the story of Mary Poppins feels so desperately like it wants to create that same magic the original gave us, but just fails because we have the original. The original could never be recreated even if you tried, and this just proves that point entirely.
Good Cast Makes Best of Weak Script

     Considering how long ago Mary Poppins was made, of course a new cast had to fulfill a good majority of the roles that were so iconic in the original. Thankfully the film does have a decent cast that is doing their best with the material, with the real issue being that they’re trying to live up to what the performances of the original film was. Emily Blunt is a talented actress and also a very talented singer, and she does a decent job of recreating the performance that Julie Andrews did as the iconic character. She has personality and as mentioned earlier, her singing voice does sound absolutely lovely during the musical numbers. The downside though, even though Blunt gives a decent performance, it’s sort of plague by her not having the same amount of energy and emotional Andrews did, especially prevalent in the musical numbers. Something about Blunt’s performance doesn’t feel as alive and she doesn’t seem like she’s having nearly as much fun with the role as Julie Andrews did in the original film. Lin Manuel Miranda also serves in the film as the Bert character Dick Van Dyke was in the original. His role is rather confusing as the film never expands upon how he is connected to Poppins herself that well, but Miranda does give a lot of charisma to the role, and you can’t help but smile every time he appears on screen. Ben Winshaw and Emily Mortimer are also very charming in their roles as Jane and Michael Banks, but the writing failed to make them really expand on their characters outside of them mostly learning the lessons their parents learned in the original film. Legendary actors Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury make an appearance in this film and it is great to see such iconic legends appear in a movie like this again, but again the writing makes it weaker. Dick Van Dyke’s appearance is mostly there as a Deus Ex Machina for the film’s plot and Lansbury’s role was so obviously written for a different actress; you can’t help but have that thought in your head when watching it. However, nowhere in the film has the writing failed as much as it had than it is with Colin Firth’s character in this sequel. Colin Firth is a fine actor and does his best, but the character is one of the most uninspired cliché villains to ever appear in a film in recent memory. There’s no development, arch or any sense of an actual person that Firth plays in this movie outside than a cliché one dimensional villain. It is a shame because there could have been some subtly to it, and the original Mary Poppins never had a real antagonistic force, so adding in a character as stock and cliché as Firth’s Banker character is pitiful and lazy. It is a shame because the actors in this movie try their very best to give life to these characters but the writing just kills them unceremoniously.
Production Does Show Some Love At Least

     For all the faults the script has, it is clear that in all of the other departments of Mary Poppins Returns there is some love to be have for the original. The filmmakers hired many talented dance choreographers, composers, production designers and even animators to create a world that does have a bit of passion to it. Every musical set-piece while far from the magic of the original and maybe feel a bit too grand early on, are very well made and impressive to watch. The dancing is well done and the musical score sounds lovely with both some motifs from the original film and the new one as well. It gives off a feeling of watching a Broadway musical and for that it succeeds. The highlight of the film production wise is the moment where Poppins and friends go into this 2-D Animated World that looks absolutely fantastic. Not only is it amazing that they opted for some expressive 2-D Animation instead of some realistic and bland looking CGI, but the sequence itself is made to look like a painting and it looks beautiful to see so many expressive and fun animated characters in this world. Unfortunately, the sequence does have to painfully tie back into the villain and ends on a weak note despite being so good, but it is glad that 2-D Animation is being used again for a feature film like this. As for the songs, they are rather decent in this follow-up but nothing too extraordinary. It is refreshing that there is a musical with mostly original songs for a change, especially being a sequel to such an iconic musical; you would think they would rely on just the original songs mostly. The downside is these songs are trying to live up to the masterful craft that were the songs in the original and nothing comes close to being as good or memorable as Feed the Birds, Chim Chim Chiree or A Spoonful of Sugar. In fact the weakest songs in the movie are the ones that so painfully want to be those iconic moments of the original film. But for what they are worth, the songs do have a nice melody to them and they are at the very least hummable to where elements of them can get stuck in your head in a good way. Although for as good and talented as the people behind the production of the film are, it does feel their talents were kind of wasted on a film with a weak script that didn’t need to be made. Hopefully the team behind this sequel will go on to create something much more original and creative script wise because there is some talent here that was brought down by weak writing.

Not a Poorly Made Film, But a Poorly Written One
     It is a shame that a follow-up to one of Disney’s crowning achievement is just a mediocre at best movie with the lack of sophistication the original had. Mary Poppins Returns could have been a sequel that adds to what was already a phenomenal movie with a good amount of talent and love for the original, but instead just ended up being a sequel that felt nothing more than a cash grab thanks to an incredibly poor script. It does serve as a movie with more heart than most of the other Live Action Disney Fairy Tale movies they have been putting out lately, but much like those other movies, it lacks all the subtly and intelligence that the original movies have. It could be worth seeing for curiosity sake as again, a lot of elements are fairly well done. But seeing this as a follow up to the original, if you’re any bit skeptical about it, just stick to watching the original movie that is absolutely timeless. In a world when said that Disney Remakes and a Mary Poppins sequel are a good way of introducing a new generation to children, it feels like a rather pointless sentiment given the quality of the new versions and the originals still being there to show to new generations instead.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

‘BumbleBee’: A Solid Change for the Transformers Franchise

     If there was any movie property that has been beaten to death with awful installment after awful installment, the Transformers movie series is the perfect definition of that. What started out as a potentially good franchise with a decent first movie from 2007, just crumbled into an abyss of terrible writing, effects that got worse with every installment, and an ego fest made by someone who didn’t care for the original Transformers series and had no intention on improving their craft. Things are changing however, as Bumblebee is the first film in the Transformers movie series not directed by Michael Bay and is serving as a reboot of the franchise. Thankfully, the truth of Michael Bay being wrong for this series has been proven as Bumblebee while derivative and flawed in some areas is the Transformers movie fans need in their lives.

A Simple Familiar Story
     The plot of Bumblebee centers on the famous Autobot coming to Earth from Cybertron to escape the wrath of the Decepticons. Unfortunately, the character gets amnesia and ends up becoming friends with a girl named Charlie Watson and they have to figure out what’s Bumblebee’s purpose is along with hopefully saving the world from the threat of the Decepticons. On the surface this story does not sound anything particularly new, and when watching the film, it really isn’t. The film is the typical, alien creature comes from another planet and becomes friends with a kid/teenager and that kid hides him as a pet while trying to also protect the creature in question from a treat whether it be the government, the treat from their own planet or in this case both. It very much is the formula of films like E.T., Lilo and Stitch and most obviously, The Iron Giant. To the film’s credit however, even though it is a story told a million times in films before, it is a movie that tells this story much better than any of the major knock-off of E.T. out there. This is mostly due to the film’s tone of being a simplistic adventure with some fun action sequences and a surprising amount of heart. The writing in this film does a better job representing the true touch the Transformers had with it not being too over the top and having moments that feel genuine. There’s not stupid dog humping jokes or anything ridiculously convoluted like in Transformers the Last Knight, it is just a simple story about a girl with her robot friend and that’s all you need. After witnessing so many movies that just do not care about making it feel genuine and emotional and just being an onslaught of visuals with no substance, Bumblebee is incredibly refreshing for a movie in a series like Transformers to be like this.

A Human lead that’s…Actually Likable?!
     One issue that the Transformers movies have painfully suffered from are the leads in their movies, as they have been nothing more than obnoxious awful characters with no development and soul to them and take away the main focus that are the Transformers themselves. Bumblebee accomplishes something revolutionary for these movies as, this is a Transformers movie where the main leading human is actually a character for once. Charlie Watson manages to be the best human character in these movies easily and it’s due to the character actually having a bit of a backstory and arch that makes her have much more depth than she had any right to be, but also due Hailee Steinfeld doing an incredible job with the material she is given. Steinfeld gives it her all during every emotional sequence she is given making this character feel real and not an obnoxious tool like Shia Labeouf was in the previous movies. The other human characters are serviceable, as they don’t really have a whole lot to them and they don’t have a whole lot of depth outside of what their role in the film is. Everyone from the parents, the boyfriend and the main general army dude played by John Cena don’t feel that much different compared to other characters in these type of movies are, however there was never a moment where they felt unbearable by being completely useless and spouting cringe-worthy moments of humor like in Bay’s efforts. They are all served their purpose in a standard way which works well for this film. Though what is a Transformers movie without the Transformers and in this film they tend to be the highlight easily outside of Charlie Watson. Bumblebee himself is given a lot of personality with many humorous moments and also just an expressive character all around despite not having a whole lot of dialogue. He serves the purpose of being the lovable creature from another world perfectly but also given some more action packed moments to add to the Transformers feel. Speaking of which, some of the other Transformers show up in this movie and while there is not a whole lot of time dedicated to them, every single sequence with them is a treat to behold. Optimus Prime in particular is just as awesome and heroic as fans wanted to see him and unlike the later Bay films where he comes across as needlessly cruel, Prime is still the amazing leader we all know and love. The film also doesn’t forget to showcase Optimus’ awesome moves during the fights sequence showing how cool of a character he can be. The only downside is that there isn’t a whole lot of Transformer action in this movie, however it’s still more faithful to the series than the Bay films ever was, and is an incredible glimpse of what this franchise could become soon in terms of staying true to these characters.

Visually Well Done Despite the Lack of Innovation
     One element of the first Transformers from Michael Bay that actually was pretty impressive and still is today is the special effects. The film did a fairly good job adapting the Autobots and Decepticons into live action, giving them a neat polish look and also a good sense of scale in terms of how big they are. The future movies failed with that by having the CGI look lackluster in comparison to how the first movie looked. Bumblebee is a visually more impressive movie than the last couple of Transformers movies, but doesn’t quite look as polished as the first film. It might be due to the fact that the first film was over a decade ago now and more effects driven film have impressed much more than the Transformers, but even with that in mind, Bumblebee doesn’t look quite as polished. While the robots do exist fairly okay in this movie, there isn’t quite as much weight and scale to them in this movie which make them look not as convincing as previous efforts. Yet, there is an element that makes this movie look better than all of the Bay movies and that is how the Transformers themselves are designed. Asides from Bumblebee who looks fairly similarly to his Bay movie design, the Transformers in this movie look more like how they have in the original show with their classic designs. Instead of looking like a bunch of cluttered parts of a car in robot form like how the Bay films designed them, they look more like an actual car in robot form, and it’s all translated into some pretty solid CGI. The CGI itself may not be the best for a live action movie, but during the parts where it’s in space and on Cybertron, the film might be the best CGI Animated Transformers movie we never got. Not to mentioned the action in this film is much better shot to where more of it can be seen clearly and have a decent more variety of set pieces where the Bay movies just were set in bland boring cities. This is a Transformers movie that actually has space battles and it’s every bit as awesome as you would hope a movie with the Transformers on Cybertron would be. Again as mentioned earlier, there’s a whole lot of it, but it is still a great glimpse of what Transformers should be and makes for a better constructed movie visually despite the weaker CGI.

Now Lets Never Have Michael Bay Direct this Series Again
     Bumblebee is a fun time that although derivative and flawed in some areas, its techniques of making the Transformers in a live action film into less of a mockery is remarkable. It is a great redemption of Transformers and leaves you wanting a bit more, but not in a “Michael Bay barely gave us what we wanted” kind of way but a” that was a great start, I want more of it and done even better” way. Bumblebee is a must see for Transformers fan and if this is a lead up to what could possibly be the perfect Transformers movie, then this is an excellent new beginning for the franchise.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

‘Aquaman’ A Standard but Enjoyable Ride

With every single superhero now a days getting their own movie, it was only a matter of time that famous DC hero Aquaman gets a big blockbuster screen debut. In the wake of everything the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to offer and even compared to some of DC’s offerings, Aquaman just serves as a standard movie that doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. However, with the help of a bit of a campy tone, some enjoyable action sequences and some decent set designs and performances, Aquaman  is at least an entertaining film from the DC Cinematic Universe.

   Aquaman centers on Arthur Curry, a man who has the powers of the under-water beings known as Atlanteans due to his mother being one herself. When an evil threat comes to take over both the dry surface and underwater utopia of Atlantis, it is up to Arthur to be the savor of the world at hand. From the perspective of so many comic book movies that come out, it does seem very basic and barebones from hearing the plot synopsis and it is. This could easily be an issue as Aquaman narratively wise, doesn’t really do anything spectacular or unique that truly makes itself different from every other comic book movie out there. This could be a major fault for some DC Fans as one of the appeals of DC is how their films manage to tackle the more in depth and philosophical elements of their superhero, even within their weaker movies, there is an element of depth to be told here and unfortunately Aquaman rarely has any of that. Though that doesn’t quite matter in terms of what the plot is, but more so in terms of execution, and Aquaman does get a pass for that. It doesn’t do anything new but James Waan directed a film that is somewhat aware of that, and instead makes a movie that is over the top and has some fun with it. Aquaman is a movie that is filled with a lot of ridiculous things, a lot of cheesy dialogue, and with not much depth to it, it can easily be seen as lacking in some regards, yet the film makes up for it by making as over the top in the same way a lot of older 80s action movies have in the past. It’s a macho man action fest that could be seen as either too dumb or likeably dumb and it mostly stays on likeably dumb with set pieces and characters that will make the average DC and Aquaman fan grin in the same way someone would enjoy an over the top movie like Commando. Waan’s experience as a director with over the top action films like The Fast and Furious movies served well as Aquaman goal was to ultimately be entertaining and it did that for the most part.

     Going back to previous efforts of the DC, Aquaman’s first solo outing turns out much better for him as a character than his first appearance in Justice League. Jason Moamoa was possibly the weakest element in Justice League and that might be more so due to the fact that film did not quite do him justice and his portrayal of the character was just someone who was there just to look cool. While it’s not too much different in his own film as Aquaman was made just to look cool in a good majority of this movie, the film sort of relishes in that aspect much more. The character not only does a lot more in this film to make him look cool, but Jason Moamoa does has some charisma to his performance, making the character looking like he’s having a lot of fun with the material for how cheesy it is. There isn’t as much to mention with the rest of the cast though as they serve basic yet serviceable roles in Aquaman, Amber Heard plays the pretty love interest who’s badass, William Dafoe plays a decent trainer to Aquaman and Patrick Wilson plays a standard villain, nothing too deep to these characters script wise but the actors again do a decent job with the material. The only real character to take note is Aquaman’s main adversary Black Manta being in the film. The character starts out pretty well with a decent backstory set for him giving him some good motivation to be after Aquaman and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II giving an all-out good performance. However, the film doesn’t utilize him to a good degree as the character is established in the beginning and then returns for a fun action sequence near the end of the second act with a cool costume and that’s it. The character is unfortunately overshadowed by Patrick Wilson who just plays a standard villain in this. It doesn’t serve as a strong character piece, but it showcases these characters being “cool” in some enjoyable ways.
   The true big element that could make or break Aquaman for a lot of people is how the film is aesthetically. On the one hand, from an art direction perspective, the film does look impressive with set pieces that look pretty amazing with bright colors and unique designs as the artists do an excellent job making the world of Atlantis alive and well. Many other things whether they look cool or visually unique design wise such as how the armor and creatures look are all created in a way that showcases the film’s creativity. As far as action sequences go, it is also impressive with the fight choreography and cinematography all being well down and shown very clearly in some very entertaining ways. It does make for a visually interesting movie, however, there is one major aspect that could ruin Aquaman for some. The film is heavily reliant on CGI, and much like many other comic book movies, it definitely feels like its overkill at many points. With a film with CGI so much, there are certainly points where you can tell some of it doesn’t look all that rendered and looks unconvincing, but then again you’re dealing with a movie with giant sharks and seahorses with armor and lasers attached to them therefore it’s hard to fully make it look real. Then again, it is amusing and creative to see visuals like sharks and seahorses having armor and lasers attached to them, making Aquaman not an amazing or groundbreaking visual spectacle but one that is at least amusing to look at.
    Aquaman is a serviceable movie for the type of film it is aiming to be. It is an over the top action B movie, that is just there for a fun ride. It would have been nice for it to aim a little higher than what it was aiming for, but the product in question does manage to be a decent definition of a popcorn flick. It’ll be a movie that fans could get a kick out for being mindless fun but also one that could be seen as just mindless. Either way, Aquaman serves as an entertaining style over substance movie that has an audience and succeeds at it in the most average way.

Monday, December 17, 2018

'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse': Definitive Proof that Animation is Extraordinary

     There’s has usually been a mentality between Animation and live-action filmmaking where Animated movies are more seen as the type of movies made for kids where live action over the years have been seen as more mature and for adults. However, with the many blockbusters live actions films being more childish and ridiculous than some of the major animated movies out there that get unnoticed, animation fans feel left out due to such an artistic medium being so undermined. Now though, people should be looking at animation in a different light with Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse not only being a fantastic film in its own right, but also a movie that truly respects animation and is one that is definite proof that animation is a beautiful medium that can create more emotion, has more character and over-all creativity than 75% of modern day live action blockbusters.

   Spider-Verse’s story deals with Miles Morales, a teenager who ends up getting the exact same powers of famous superhero Spider-Man. But when a inter-dimensional threat comes to his universe, Miles has to team up with different versions of Spider-Man to learn how to become his own version of the web slinging hero along with saving his and many other universes. Being a Spider-Man movie that is a bit of a reboot for the hero, it’s easy to see it thread on familiar territory with having all of the elements from previous Spider-Man movies in the mixed here, however what makes this better than something like The Amazing Spider-Man, Into the Spider-Verse sets its focus on a newer character with Miles Morales and gets the basic facts known about Spider-Man out of the way since the film knows that the audience is smart enough to have an understanding of the character due to his influence in pop-culture for years. Not only that, the film explores elements of the character that haven’t been seen on film mainly the obvious alternate dimension Spider people that exist which gives a lot of variety for this film for sure. However, what really makes this film excel on a story level is how it handles the film’s overall tone. Spider-Verse isn’t like most animated movies, so don’t let the PG rating trick you into thinking this will be a funny comedy Spider-Man movie, because in terms of over-all story, it takes itself much more seriously than anyone would ever expect it. Though it doesn’t go overboard because this film uses its likable characters to enhance the tone, as there is a lot of time dedicated to making these characters likable so when a serious threat and drama happens to them, it feels authentic. The film is also wise enough to not be a totally downer as it also has a great sense of humor, given it’s a Lord/Miller Production, there are jokes and references all throughout the film making it a very detailed oriented comedy. Yet none of the comedy feels forced as it knows exactly when to tell a joke and also to make as funny as possible, even when the film uses actual cartoon effects, it doesn’t do it right as the film is about to have a more serious moment as it spaces these moments out beautifully. Though what also makes Spider-Verse work as an animated movie is also its overall message. It uses the alternate reality concept to enhance their message as it is a “Be Happy with What You Have Moral” but it’s done in a way that feels new and deep with the characters more so learning about themselves through this crazy journey. It’s such a deep and emotional Spider-Man movie, it’s amazing that 75% of comic book movies now a days can’t have a tone as authentic as this despite them being live action.

     As mentioned earlier, what really makes Spider-Verse feel real as a movie is how it uses its characters. Using Miles Morales as a lead for this film was a brilliant choice, not only him being a more unique character from Peter Parker that not many have seen, but also manages to be an incredibly likable protagonist. There’s a teen angst to him but it doesn’t come across as trying to be hip or cool but instead makes him feel like a real teen and throughout the film we see this character grow and develop, not only as a Spider-Man but also as a teen who wants to fit in and get along with his family. Peter Parker in this is much older compared to previous incarnations on film, but it works since we don’t have to witness the same type of story we always have with him and instead gives us a Spider-Man different but still maintains the heroic nature of Spider-Man fans know. Though of all the characters, Parker is the one with the biggest arch, being a more depressed Spider-Man who has to learn about the film’s message about making adjustments to your life and being happy with what you got, making this more bitter Peter Parker feel more real having him develop from when we first see him in the film. Gwen Stacy is another great highlight of a film, being the smart and spunky Spider-Woman character that fans are used to in the comics and plays off beautifully with both Peter Parker and Miles Morales. The other Alternate dimension Spider-People in the film serve more as the comedic relief however they all work effectively with Spider-Noir, Peni Parker and Spider-Hamm all being funny due to how expressive and unique they are from one another, how they parody the genres they’re meant to represent and also given some fantastic performances by their provided voice actors. Miles’ family also serves a big part of the film, being there more for the emotional support, with both his Uncle and Father being major characters in the film. Both characters not only serve to help Miles’ story but also add to the films’ more dramatic moments with crucial moments in this film happening that affect both characters. With the help of the animation being so expressive and the voice acting feeling so authentic and real for these characters, they serve also a great element of the film that no one quite expected them to be as impactful to the story as they are. As for the film’s antagonist, Kingpin, he does have an excellent design with a gigantic square body making him look unique and a decent backstory to why his character has such a vendetta against Spider-Man, the character isn’t quite as fleshed out as the others. Given that the film has more of a focus on its heroes, there isn’t much time to make him completely compelling but the development that was given to him does make him an effective villain for the story. It’s a movie filled with so much character and personality to it that it’s hard not to appreciate every subtle element these characters have to offer.

     When it comes to this film and personality however, nothing makes it so clear that Into the Spider-Verse is an expressive film through its visually stunning animation! Rather than looking like a typical CGI Animated film in the vain of something like Pixar, Sony Animation did something far more original. Spider-Verse’s art while CG has a very 2D Animated Aesthetic with the facial features, character animation and overall design looking more like a comic book brought to life. It does have a slower framerate than the average animated film, but it isn’t bothersome when the film manages to do so much with it with characters that move so smoothly and stylistically during the amazing action sequences. The film uses bright colorful visuals that aren’t only trippy but also add to the unique comic book world that is unlike anything that has ever been seen in a comic book movie. The films truly respects animation with its look having characters and backgrounds that tribute and parody many styles from comic book, film noir, anime and classic cartoons, making it one of the most alive and brilliant animated movies from a visual perspective. Despite its only visual flaw being a few blurry shots in some sequences, It is easily the most distinctive mainstream animated movie seen in years and it works all the better for it. Even with the trippy visuals and many art styles, the film doesn’t hold back on being more dramatic and not just a simple kid’s film. It’s a movie that honestly feels more adult than most live action blockbusters and in a world where Disney remakes are seen as more mature than their original counterpart, it’s refreshing to see an animated movie that is definitive proof that the mentality of “Animation is for kids” is a lie. A film like Into the Spider-Verse is the kind of movie that animation fans need both in terms of it being a visually stunning masterpiece and also it being a more mature film than the average animated kids’ film.
     Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse is one of those rare movies that have to be seen by everyone. This is not just because it’s an exceptional movie that proves the legitimacy of animation and how powerful and beautiful it can be, but taken out of it, it’s a film that has something for everyone. It has dark moments, funny moments, moments that make you think, and moments that will make you tear up. It is refreshingly original and respects Marvel and Animation unlike any other movie this year, and it is one that will be remembered as a classic, animated or not. If this continues a new age of animation where mature and stylistically films exist amongst the dozen of bland comic book movies and live action remakes out there, then things are looking up big time for the animation industry as a whole.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Ralph Breaks the Internet: A Trend-Worthy Follow-Up

     Disney has been a powerhouse game in Animation creating some of the best Animated Features of all time, however when it comes to sequels, it tends to be a bit of a mixed bag. Despite their partner company Pixar making some pretty stellar sequels most of the time, the sequels associated with Disney Animation are viewed in a lesser light, often seen as the mostly mediocre to bad direct to video sequels made over the years not made by them. In regards to the sequels actually made by Walt Disney Animation Studios, it is too few and far between to really dictate how good they are with sequels despite these sequels being decent in their own right. In this new age of fantastic Disney movies from Princess and the Frog to Moana, Disney is giving another attempt at a sequel with one of their most well received movies in recent memory with Wreck-It Ralph. The first Wreck-It Ralph was primed for a sequel with so much to do with the idea of a video game world and thankfully this sequel continues Disney’s excellent track record on quality films. Ralph Breaks the Internet even with some missed opportunities and some over-crowdedness, the sequel to Wreck-It Ralph is a well-deserved followed up that expands on what made the first movie so good like any good movie sequel should do.
     Ralph 2’s story takes place a few years after the first movie with Ralph and Vanellope being very contempt with their current situation in their games; however until tragedy strikes for Sugar Rush, Ralph and Vanellope need to go to the internet to help find a solution to make sure their home won’t be completely gone. The story is pretty straight forward on the surface, with the characters trying to find the object that is said to make their lives back to normal, however in the case of Wreck It Ralph 2, there does seem to be a lot happening that might make it feel a bit over crowded. Every time a character has an obstacle to face, once they overcome it, they’re faced with a new thing that immediately gets them into a new situation. It does create some tension sure; however, it also feels like it happens too often to the point where the movie might feel like it gets a little too carried away with conflict. Although the biggest issue in terms of story is despite there being so much conflict portrayed through-out the film, the film doesn’t have a sense of urgency when it comes to Ralph and Vanellope returning to their home, which contradicts the first Wreck-It Ralph considering that was one of the main goals for that film. It’s not enough to break the film, but there will definitely be a thought going through your head when seeing Ralph not as concerned with returning to his game. Even with that, it might feel overcrowded at points; the film does a great job of being a lot of fun as this movie definitely gives you a ton of variety as there are so many different set pieces and characters to watch that it never really becomes boring. Also helping is the fact that the writing is consistently clever with a lot of pop-culture references done right and some fun internet commentary that feels very true and reflective of internet culture. Being a film about the internet is a risk because it has an easy chance of being incredibly dated, and while there can be some argument for it being dated instantly, it won’t be dated in the same way films like The Emoji Movie is where it is easy to mock how out of touch it is. Instead, it feels dated in the same way A Goofy Movie is with the 90s in terms of how it’s laughing with the audience in terms of how it interacts with the times.  It makes for a much cleverer movie than one would initially think it would be.

     Clever writing is an element that both the first and second Wreck-It Ralph has, but one clear improvement the sequel to Wreck-It Ralph has is the world building. The first Wreck-It Ralph had an amazing concept of being a world of the arcade giving so many opportunities to go to so many video games world, but the biggest issue with the first film is that most of the runtime was dedicated to Sugar Rush. While Sugar Rush was an appealing looking world in its own right, it felt a little cheated that for a movie about video gaming, there was only one world witnessed and it was a racing game for a good 75% of the movie. The sequel doesn’t have that issue at all as not only we have the great worlds of the first film, but as mentioned earlier, the internet makes for a lot of variety of different set pieces for Ralph and Vanellope to come across. Every set piece is unique from one another giving a lot of insight to how the internet could work as an animated world in the same vein of Toy Story or even the first Wreck-It Ralph with a lot of jokes commentating on daily struggles or finds that the internet provides us. Though considering the first film was a video game themed movie, there’s some fear that the sequel could ignore all of that in favor for the internet and while it is more internet focused yes, the film doesn’t betray its video game roots as there are still plenty of jokes in relation to playing video games. It still understands the world of video games quite well, especially in the set piece of Slaughter Race which ends up easily being one of the highlights with some excellent jokes told regarding the gaming world. It also benefits the film big time when each world and character look absolutely amazing, even only being a slight upgrade to the first film, the Disney Animators created a world with tons of visual flare and spectacle. It is a visually amazing movie with so many stunning set pieces from beginning to end thanks to some talented artists.
     Nevertheless, what is a pretty animated movie without a good world without some characters to be set in it? One of the biggest strengths of the first Wreck-It Ralph was how it created so many great characters in that one film who are so memorable. The sequel continues that trend quite well but has a few missed opportunities in the character department. The first film had a decent amount of cameos of famous video game characters to add to the world of Wreck-It Ralph being a gaming world, and while you would expect more of them here, it does come across as a little disappointing when there isn’t a whole lot more cameos in this sequel compared to the first. However, more disappointing than that is that two of the first film’s most memorable characters, Fix-It Felix and Calhoun are given a back seat as there is very little time for these characters to shine in this new movie. Granted though, to the film’s defense, this movie is less about the two side characters and video game character cameos and shifts it’s focused more on the previous films’ central characters and thankfully a good portion of the scenes with Felix, Calhoun and the video game characters are still hysterical and arguably funnier than they were in the first. Instead of Video Game characters, the film has been marketing itself as more of a Disney showcase for the Oh My Disney set piece with Vanellope, which also sounds like it would be a lot of fun. Though again, there are not a whole lot of cameos and appearances by Disney properties and while we get a few that are definitely gratifying to watch, a lot of it is regulated to background stuff which is neat for those Easter egg hunters, but does leave you wanting to have more extensive cameos of these characters. Though the sole exception in terms of extensive cameos really belong the Disney Princesses, which even they don’t have a whole lot of screen time, their sequences are absolutely phenomenal, with all these characters being voiced and animated excellently  as their expressive selves from the original movies. Not to mentioned a ton of hilarious jokes regarding these characters and even some downright epic moments showcasing how awesome Disney Princesses can be.

     Outside of the cameos and Princesses though, Ralph 2 does have some new characters to be included, mainly being Yess, a business type character showcasing what’s trending on the internet and Shank, one of the main characters of Slaughter Race. Both characters serve the plot very well as they become very supportive and unique in the world of Wreck-It Ralph and not quite falling into the trappings that many would argue other Disney films have come across in the past few years. Even with all of that in mind, the main highlight that makes this sequel great is how it expands upon its two main characters of Ralph and Vanellope. The main reason this film ends up being more timeless and less dated is that it is first and foremost a character driven story that end up developing Ralph and Vanellope as more complex and three dimensional characters. Their friendship is the key factor that makes this movie go to places that were honestly unexpected and without giving away too much, this film ends up having one of the most powerful messages about friendships told on screen. It may seem weird given how many films about friendship have been made, but this movie has a theme of friendship and dreams that not only makes it more relevant to today’s time with the advent of social media and the internet, but also showcase how a true friendship can be and how sacrifices may have to be make for different people’s goals in life but should never be a factor in destroying a true friendship. It comes across as a very mature theme that should be seen and helps elevate this film to a whole new level in regards to it being a character piece for characters as well loved as Vanellope and Ralph.
     Ralph Breaks the Internet is at the end of the day, an excellent follow up to a phenomenal animated film. Even with some characters having less screen time, some over crowdedness at parts and some odd contradictions to the first movie, Wreck-It Ralph 2 still accomplishes more of what should be done in a sequel than most average sequels often do. Its humor is funny, its world building is excellent, its characters enjoyable and its themes of friendship are surprisingly deep and more profound than one would initially expect from a simple sequel like this. It does nearly everything a good sequel should strive to be and while not quite a masterpiece sequel, even compared to other animated sequels out there, Wreck-It Ralph 2 deserves to be seen for its charm. It is a movie that is definitely easy to like, especially for Disney and Animation fans, and it most definitely worth a recommendation. For everyone thinking about how bad a sequel Wreck-It Ralph could have been, it exceeds those expectations and is not bad at all and a good step for Disney to create more worthwhile sequels in the future.