Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Finding Dory Review

Finding Dory
Director: Andrew Stanton
Cast Headliners: Ellen Degeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O'Neill

Original Release Date : June 17th, 2016

 One might ponder to think, what is about the original Finding Nemo film by Pixar that warranted a sequel? It was no Toy Story level of potential or excellence; it was just a simple story about some fish. But no, Finding Dory proves to be a sequel that is definitely worthy of following on from the first. Sure it offers more of the same, but it reminds that the more of the same is the great visuals, emotion, characters, and laughs Pixar does at their best.
                The nice thing CGI animation is that a sequel can pick up very shortly after the events of the previous film. But it stands alone for the most part on its own, main heroes and a couple cameos aside. The premise is good for this film since Dory the blue tang fish (Ellen DeGeneres) had an amnesiac personality that led to then, and still does in several here, humorous moments. This film takes this implication for her to find her parents Charlie(Eugene Levy) and Jenny(Diane Keaton) who she lost long ago. She gives chase across the ocean to retrace her life, and in turn Marlin(Albert Brooks, nicely reprising his role from the first in a bit of a reduced but still central part) and son Nemo( logically, a replaced young newcomer Hayden Rolence) chase after her.
                It’s a story that’s very much the same idea as the first film. There’s a beautiful, colorful ocean with a variety of fish old and new. There are moments of feelings, jokes especially with the great chemistry between Dory and Marlin once again, there’s some slight adventure.  The film too ultimately has a place to break into in the Marine Life Institute , which offers its own challenges and great new characters.
                The specifics must been seen firsthand in this solid plotline, but Dory has a lead to a large aquarium and medical center for fish in California and must break in. This leads to the dentist office from the first film on a much larger and more exciting scale. She is assisted by a great character, Hank the octopus(Ed O’Neill).  Hank and Dory’s scenes are some of the best of the movie, with them becoming good friends as the infiltration mission goes on. Likewise Marlin and Nemo meet animals such as Fluke(Idris Elba) and Rudder(Dominic West), a pair of seals and their bird Becky, and others in more humorous bit roles such as Bailey(Ty Burrell) the beluga who can’t echolocate and Destiny(Kaitlin Olson) the near-sighted whale shark.  Old or new, large or small the characters are brimming with personality and there’s a nice sweethearted message about accepting one’s shortcomings and respecting other’s for theirs.

                The one attempt to be perhaps different from the first is through very frequent flashbacks to Dory’s past. These make sense in parts but are perhaps overused here and there when more exciting stuff is happening in the present.  But the core plot line, if familiar, is fun to watch and the emotional moments are just as impactful as ever. It picks up on a good premise, and offers a animated adventure worthy of existing within the same. 8.67 out of 10

Friday, June 10, 2016

Warcraft Review

Director: Duncan Jones
Cast Headliners: Travis Fimmel, Toby Kebbel, Paula Patton, Daniel Wu, Ben Foster

Original Release Date : June 10th, 2016

                The Warcraft franchise could be argued to be one of the most iconic video game series of all time, helping to define and popularize both the RTS and MMO genres. Its extremely dense and rich colorful world of orcs, elves, dragons, magic, and more could be said to be ripe for a film take. Finally after almost a decade of development and iterations, the movie version is here. And while it is on the upper end of the scale of video game adaptations, it falls victim to those common traits as well. However to a game fan, it’s surreally awesome to see key locations brought to life while also offering some cheesy fantasy fun to newcomers as well. It’s an ambitious undertaking to tackle this franchise, and it gets many things right and wrong.
                Perhaps what sets it apart from most game films is that the story here is largely directly cribbed from the 1994 video game Warcraft: Orcs & Humans with some fleshed out perspectives, retcons, and changes giving a modern look at the “First War” event in the game’s lore from two decades ago. While it is not the most exciting and unique heights of the saga (no cosmic space spirits or pandas here), it is a straightforward base that offers a solid starting point for a film franchise and to newcomers.  The movie, unlike some in the fantasy genre, gives the perspective of two very different factions.
                The orcs (imagine Lord of the Rings’s equivalent mixed with the Hulk from Marvel) are shown in semi-sympathetic light as they invade from their dying world to the human dimension of Azeroth.  There’s noble orcs like Chieftan Durotan(Toby Kebbel) and his wife Draka(Anna Galvin), the conflicted  and awesomely named Ogrim Doomhammer(Robert Kazinsky), and the pure vile evil of war leader Blackhand(Clancy Brown) and the primary antagonist in the warlock Gul’dan(Daniel Wu). All of the orcs are portrayed through motion capture needed for their frames, and their effects and characterization are some of the film’s best aspect. Drawn right out of the game and compelling in their own right, their scenes are intense and barbarically fun. Kebbel as Durotan is a cool sort of progratonist with a motivation that creates empathy for his rebellious reasoning. Most great from the orc side of all is Daniel Wu, who gives Gul’dan a fearsome vile demeanor right from the cd-rom and brings an orc to life to seem real. On their own, they feel like and rival the best of Blizzard Entertainment’s original video game cinematics.
                The film uses an extreme amount of CGI effects, which perhaps makes sense with the source material. But while it makes sense for orcs and other creatures, and the at times beautiful vistas/locales(created 100% right from the World of Warcraft MMO in some cases, which to a fan is the one of the film’s best aspects recreating its vibe) it can be  cheesily jarring when mixed with the film’s weaker aspect, the humans. It ranges from neat to weird to see live actors with CGI medieval armor or riding fake horses alongside real ones.
                That’s not to mention the human characters and actors are mostly lame. The “hero” of the overall film is the knight Anduin Lothar(Travis Fimmel). He gives an ok look into the film and an very slight emotional connection with his son Callen(Burkely Duffield). But he has a weird performance that ranges from extra unlikeable jerk, awkward forced romance nearly Anakin Skywalker tier with half orc Garona(Paula Patton), or lackluster “humorous” moments with mage Khadgar(Ben Schnetzer).  He is not a hero one cheers too much for, nor many of the other humans in the kingdom of Stormwind. Patton’s Garona has some unconvincing makeup clashing with her orc peers and an even worse mediocre performance. Schnetzer’s Khadgar throws a cool spell or two but does not incite laughter. King Llane(Dominic Cooper) and queen Lady Taria(Ruth Negga)  semi-lacklusterly are there to speak exposition text and move scenes along. It’s ironic that these live actors have less impact than CGI creations.  One standout human, interestingly a bit of the magical counterpart to the Orc’s Gul’dan, is the Guardian wizard Medivh, played with game perfect larger than lifeness by Ben Foster who could have used more screentime.
                The director Duncan Jones has never really quite something as visually ambitious and epic scale as this film. He trades in his previous twisting storylines from other works for a mostly straightforward tale setting up decent action. The live and CGI mix becomes more digestable in the battle sequences which is a credit to him but becomes apparent when things slow down. But the thing about game movies is they may always have cheese, coming from a arguably different source of enjoyment than movies. He did what he could and while some pacing and effects mixing are hazy , when it’s good its decent, especially for a fan. But also to his credit, the elements are used as to not be( but almost just barely) overwhelming to an outsider.
                It’s far from a perfect fantasy, game, or overall movie. But that was always going to be the case adapting this huge and varied world. For life fans it will deliver that “feeling” that’s been wanted if making some lore changes and not bringing that same goodness of orcs to all aspects. To an outsider, it’s hyper fantasy to a level even beyond Tolkein may take some effort to swallow but the action and most visuals will excite. Hopefully a potential sequel can learn some things and go to cooler places, and while its doubtful this is the one to kick off the wanted games to movies trend, for what it is Warcraft delivers on the most important aspects it should if not without some moderate missteps. 7.75 out of 10

Thursday, June 2, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse Review

X-Men: Apocalypse
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast Headliners: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Evan Peters, Tye Sheridan, Oscar Isaac, many many others.

Original Release Date : May 27th, 2016

 By the ninth installment of a franchise, one might be suspect of its quality. But in the case of X-Men: Apocalypse there still manages to be some mutant surprise. This film follows the “past” timeline first started in 2011 with X-Men: First Class, taking the fight to the 1980s and introducing a powerful new foe from the classic comics. Sounds like a lot to process, and well it attempts to do it mostly with grace however for every greatness there are perhaps a slight thud or fault as well.
The film begins with an exhilarating action opening in ancient Egypt, a fresh tonal departure for this series, as the titular ancient mutant enemy En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) transfers his essence into a new host. He is sealed deep underneath Cairo and the film fast forwards to the 80s after the events of the new timeline seen in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
In the time since we last saw them the mutant heroes and less so heroic ones are scattered across the globe in different places in their lives. Magneto/Erik(Michael Fassbender) leads a new peaceful life under an assumed name with his new family in Poland. Professor X/Charles(James McAvoy) leads his mutant academy with Beast/Hank(Nicholas Hoult). Mystique/Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) roams the world in search of mutants to help after becoming a matyr in the events of DOFP.  This only begins to cover the tip of the iceberg of characters, like with many films in this franchise.
But while something like the recent Captain America: Civil War shows how to balance a large cast well, this film suffers in part due to a tremendously long buildup time. Layers upon layers of sideplots reach towards a far too simple conclusion. Diversions to include characters such as Stryker(Josh Helman) and Wolverine/Logan(An awesomely brief Hugh Jackman) are ultimately questionable to increase the runtime and cast count. 
Director Bryan Singer does a mostly solid job from a visual cinematic if not pacing standpoint, and handles the 1980s ambience well with musical, costume, and pop culture points that align with the fun inflections seen in First Class and DOFP’s respective decades.  The action can be at times sweet, if perhaps a bit too sparse, and the visual effects have moments of occasional cheese.
                There are the standout elements that are quite amazing. There’s Fassbender’s Magneto. As always, his arc is filled with emotional conflict and intense drama. It’s great to see how this character has evolved over the loose trilogy of this time period. Quicksilver/Peter(Evan Peters) once again has an absolutely amazing hilarious scene(the film has perhaps an increased amount of humor than usual, often through this character and McAvoy’s Professor) that almost makes the price of admission worth alone with his high speed craziness.
 Lawrence gives a surprisingly fresh turn as Mystique if not the best of her career, offering a moral center of the deeper themes . Nightcrawler/Kurt(Kodi Smit-McPhee) is back as a young version of the blue teleporting demon, offering humorous exchanges with his young squad of a re-introduced Jean Grey(a alright Sophie Turner, very much like Sansa Stark and little more) and  Cyclops/Scott(Tye Sheridan, sort of the lead young person).  As mentioned there are so many characters, and people like Storm/Ororo(Alexandra Shipp), Jubilee(Lana Condor), Angel(Ben Hardy), and Psylocke(Olivia Munn) do little for the plot aside from fan service mention/minion work.

For having the film named after him, Isaac’s Apocalypse is…alright. His makeup is slightgly cheesy, and his booming monster voice ranges from menacing and monstrous to laughable. But when it comes time to be powerful and menacing, there are some cool parts and it is interesting to see a larger threat bringing together mutants. For once, a threat worthy of the name in power abilities. However the use of Isaac is questionable, having none of the charisma of his turns in Ex-Machina or Star Wars though continuing their trend of being an acting chameleon.
                It takes a long time to buildup and has little action on the way but its finale is action packed. It offers a lot of X-men comics lore and shoutouts but loses some characters in its journey. However, while it is not the best film in the franchise, it still offers good turns in Magneto, Professor X, Quicksilver and the like and does a solid job at the 1980s to make it worth going through for a fan if not with some slight reservations beforehand. But it is reccomendable to previous fans fsho and far from a  major disaster, make sure to catch up however!  7.9 out of 10

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising Review

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
Director: Nicolas Stoller
Cast Headliners : Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Chloe Grace Moretz
Original Release Date : May 20th, 2016
                Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is a movie that sets about to do what it appears to be and little else. In this sequel to the first Neighbors film from 2014, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) Radner find themselves needing to keep their act together with a house sale and new baby on the way. They find themselves in a loose alliance with their old rival fratboy Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) after his life goes through some flips to confront the wild new sorority Kappa Nu led by Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons), and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) who have moved next door. Cue thin plot premise for ranging amount of gags and jokes ahead.
                Like the first film, and much of the other work Rogen gets himself involved in, the movie leans towards extreme, crude , edgy, and grossout oftentimes. This can lead to some very funny scenes, especially when involving Rogen’s Mac, Byrne’s Kelly, or the multiple allegiances (it gets a bit messy) of Efron’s Teddy.  Another decently standout member is Ike Barinholtz as their friend Jimmy, seen most memorably in a clown outfit when they attempt to go undercover at a tailgate.   The rest of the supporting cast goes through only brief, sometimes humorous sometimes dumb appearances, such as the original frat boys of Pete(Dave Franco), Scoonie(Christopher Mintz Plasse) and Garf(Jerrod Carmichael) or Officer Watkins(Hannibal Buress) who amount to momentary cameos for fans, that being a loose word for this “franchise.” 
                A large emphasis and perspective is of course placed on the titular sorority  and Shelb/Beth/Nora. Moretz is a ok lead, attempting perhaps to cash in on the shock of seeing her innocent appearance do edgy things from her time in the Kick-Ass movies but it can only go so far before coming off as slightly annoying. Likewise with Clemons and Feldstein (younger sister of actor Jonah Hill, obviously inspired by his past work), who don’t have the best material to work with.  But there are some occasions in the insanity where they are alright.

                The movie moves at a perhaps too fast inane pace, like the first, and also like that goes for a lot of physical gags including some variations on the airbags. But perhaps it’s a stronger plotline here tying it all together that makes for an improved sequel.  There are even specks of deeper  slightly dramatic stuff going on here handled better than the first film. The movie offers lots of edgy “boys vs girls, young vs old” comedic warfare with some crude writing and dumb ideas at times but its target audience should get just about what they want through a alright way to kill some hours and laugh.  7.3 out of 10