Tag Archives: Animation

TrollHunters: Rise of the Titans

[3 stars]

When last we saw our intrepid heroes, they were….well, don’t worry about it, there is a significant recap to remind you and get you current from the final moments of Wizards. Which, to be honest, left us hanging a bit and with a need to wrap it all up.

And, yeah, that’s not entirely going to happen, but that isn’t a surprise either. Rise of the Titans breaks into new ground for the franchise, having done fantasy and science fiction and myth, we’re now into Kaiju, with obvious nods to Godzilla vs Kong and Pacific Rim. The story is big in more ways than one. It is also a bit more rushed than the series since they’ve only allowed themselves a bit less than 2 hours to cover all the ground they wanted. And it is a LOT of ground. It also means there isn’t any of the really quality voice acting and character building we’ve seen in the past…because this is a wrap up. There are revelations and epiphanies (and some logic leaps for that matter) but none of the big arcs we’ve seen in the past, unless you count this as the end of an uber-long arc for all the shows, which would be fair.

The story was written and directed by several people, which shows in the breakdown of this event movie. For all intents it’s about 4 episodes in length, and the flick is divided into some natural breaks, though completely one story. This also isn’t a segment of the franchise that you can watch out of order, as you could the many series. Without the grounding of the previous stories, it will make absolutely no sense. It’s a gift to its audience, and has a wonderful ending that I’m desperately hoping they just leave as is. Not because it isn’t good, but because it is and doesn’t require anything more.

Either way, if you loved the foundation series, as I did, then you will enjoy and must see this conclusion. If you haven’t found the shows yet, give them a shot. Yes, they’re for younger people, but there is so much in there that adults will be well hooked and entertained as well. At least some of us will be.

Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans Poster

Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness

[2 stars]

Resident Evil, the franchise that never fails to disappoint…or at least hasn’t since near the end of the second movie. There are actually two series of this adapted game, one live action and the other anime. Though they heavily overlap, they are from different sources and have different continuing storylines that run roughly in parallel.

Infinite Darkness continues the Leon thread of the anime sequence. And it continues to use the photorealistic style to mimic the game interstitials. And, aside from really bad plotting, that is its biggest weakness. While the landscapes and objects look amazing, and even the characters (when at rest), the second a character begins to move or talk, you sink rapidly into the uncanny valley. The lips don’t even mildly sync well to the voiceovers.

And why is it that all women look the same in these entries? The men are diverse in shape, size and visage. The women are all built on the same thin, lithe template only differing in hair color and slight facial distinctions. Honestly, I kept confusing the two main women in the short series and finally just had to memorize their hair color. What’s worse is that one of the character is a recurring character there to balance out Leon and I still couldn’t keep her straight.

Suffice to say that this series is for the die-hards only. Though, you may be happy to hear that I have heard rumors that the live action reboot that is on the way is somewhat credible and could revive that aspect of the franchise. So perhaps there is yet hope for the story that would not die about the virus and monsters that would not die.

RESIDENT EVIL: Infinite Darkness Poster

Space Jam: A New Legacy

[3 stars]

OK, I get it. I understand why some folks will just love this crazy and silly romp through parenthood and basketball. And, to be completely fair, LeBron James actually pulls off his role believably. And Don Cheadle (Avengers: Endgame) gets to eat some serious scenery as well.

As a story, this is about on par with a Looney Tunes cartoon. It doesn’t hold up under any scrutiny. But the Tron/Matrix send up, and totally unabashed WB advertisement for every bit of IP they still own, entertains on several levels. The more you know, the more you’ll enjoy the references and background characters. (Though I also have to admit that voices for the classic ‘toons and some of their characterizations, esp. Bugs, didn’t quite work for me.)

Helping James out as his on-screen son, Cedric Joe feels about perfect. And Sonequa Martin-Green (Star Trek: Discovery) got to show us a new side of herself as James’ partner.

But most of the kudos really have to go to director Malcolm D. Lee who found the tone and the pace to keep it all going. He’s the core reason this crazy gamble worked. A brilliant classic? No. But certainly not an embarrassment. And while it will work on the big screen, it honestly is fine on a smaller one as well.

Space Jam: A New Legacy Poster

Promised Neverland

[3.5 stars]

There are so many secrets in this series that it limits what I can comment on. So, instead, it’s really a matter of whether it’s worth your time or not. It is.

Generally, Promised Neverland is a fascinating, if somewhat genre-standard, tale of children in an orphanage who discover nefarious plans. There are lots of narrow escapes and “big moments.” But it is also infused with that kids anime silliness in the characters that I find challenging to watch. At least when it is a constant stream of it. And it means most of the voice work is serviceable, but not brilliant. I did stick with the dub version on this one after trying both sub and dub. Honestly, the original voice work was no better, so I gave my eyes a break to concentrate on the gorgeous art and tale in front of me.

The story will carry you along. The second season already out and I can’t imagine that you could watch the first and walk away. The second season builds on the revelations of the first, and introduces some intriguing new levels to the story overall. I loved that the world kept expanding, but it also got a little unwieldy and just a bit illogical. Choices didn’t always flow naturally (on either side) and some of the character changes felt a bit forced. Had they split the action into two seasons to build up the background info, it may have felt less manipulated.

However, it does, for all intents, completely wrap up by the end of season two thanks to some very rapid fast-forwarding. In this case (unlike Trese), that approach worked as it was all lined up and it was really just watching the dominos fall rather than filling in gaps. It could have been pushed into a third season, but that isn’t the story they wanted to tell, so I felt comfortable with the choice.

The resulting story is definitely worth your time and will likely manage to surprise you. It has even inspired a live-action version that is in the works. So, clearly, it also has a following and I count myself among them now.

The Promised Neverland Poster

Boss Baby: Family Business

[3 stars]

Wow there’s a lot going on in this movie. It’s not only frenetic in the extreme through the first two thirds, it’s packed with comments and commentary. Logic?? Well, not so much of that, but it is certainly (and surprisingly) entertaining. I have to admit, I have almost no memory of the original Boss Baby. Fortunately, that didn’t matter too much as they recap what’s necessary…at least enough to jog your memory.

There is a lot of great voice talent throughout the movie, but the highlight is Alec Baldwin (Motherless Brooklyn) and Jeff Goldblum (Hotel Artemis) trying to outdo one another as oily characters with nothing but disdain for the world. That, of course, shorts the plot considerably, but it isn’t like the plot makes tons of sense. And the satirical edge of it all is nicely played; the kids pageant is particularly scathing if you really listen to it.

Writer/director Tom McGrath (Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted) delivered again one of those movies you come to in order to turn off your brain and take a funny, pretty ride with some laughs. I suspect it will live in my memory only slightly longer than the first film, but will remain roughly as ephemeral. It certainly aims at all ages for its entertainment.

The Boss Baby: Family Business Poster

Luca

[3.5 stars]

After the amazing journey of Soul, Luca had some fairly high expectations to meet. And it didn’t, at least for me. While this latest Pixar does pay off by the end, it is a slightly mixed path to get there. Mixed messages. Mixed accents. Mixed clichés. It was just unable to commit to being Italian or American’s ideas of Italian. I also found myself more than a little uncomfortable at times with the choices, even as other aspects were hilarious. Ultimately, I found myself enjoying the idea of Luca more than the movie itself.

Part of the problem is that the logic of the world is mutable. The rules keep changing to meet the convenience of the plot. Another issue that the characters are all pushed to such extremes as to break their credibility. The trick is to dance up to that line and then pull back…get the laugh but ground the character. Instead this all came off as a grand cartoon rather than a wonderful film.

The voice talent is, overall, sufficient. The drifting accents didn’t help, and the silly situations made some of the choices forced. Jacob Tremblay (Doctor Sleep) didn’t really get to explore his character. And Jack Dylan Grazer (Shazam!) tried, but didn’t really capture the nuance that might have been there in Alberto. Even Maya Rudolph (The Mitchells vs The Machines), who had some real fun, didn’t manage many levels. And the less said about Saverio Raimondo’s over the top villain, the better. The best performances were the small cameos: Sacha Baron Cohen (Trial of the Chicago 7), Sandy Martin, and Marco Barricelli. Interestingly, all three older characters in the cast.

I do have to say, though, that the animation did capture the quality of the Italian sun beautifully. And some of the aspects of family and growing up were depicted quite well too.

Luca is a fun distraction with a lot of poor choices. And, perhaps director Enrico Casarosa will get to try again as it certainly was impressive for a first time in the chair, despite my misgivings. What it comes down to is, sure, see it if you’ve got D+. But, honestly, this could have been so much more.

Luca Poster

 

Wish Dragon

[4 stars]

When Wish Dragon starts, you’re sure you’ve got it sussed. I mean, c’mon, a wish granting dragon stuck in a teapot…shades of Aladdin, right? Well, yes and no. Certainly there are commonalities, but writer/director Chris Appelhans not only steeped the tale in Chinese culture, he also told it simply and with unexpected honesty. And while aimed at and safe for kids, adults will find plenty in it to be entertained by. Impressive for a first-time effort in the driver’s seat.

Jimmy Wong (Mulan) plays the guileless and true-hearted master of the teapot trying to reconnect with his friend Natasha Liu Bordizzo. Their path and relationship are the heart of the tale while Constance Wu (Solos) and Will Yun Lee (San Andreas) voice the parents of the respective kids. And none of it would work without the vocal acrobatics of John Cho (Mirai) as the dragon, Long.

I can’t pretend this isn’t a movie for children, but I found myself utterly drawn in and entertained. Maybe that says more about me or my current state of mind, but I recommend this one and even plan on watching it again. It has wonderful messages and reminders of life. And, most importantly, manages to get there in some surprising ways, even if other aspects choose tried and true paths. Could it have been more realistic or included more of the real world? Sure, but it doesn’t feel lacking for its efforts. And, sure, it has to wrap it up on a high note, but the successes are all through human toil and effort, not through wishes granted, which is a more powerful message than you typically get in these stories.

Wish Dragon Poster

Raya and the Last Dragon

[3 stars]

There is something wonderful about Raya and it’s message. It’s timely and important. Sanitized and simplified to be sure, but a message that is needed right now in a way that it hasn’t in decades. However, with 8 writers and 4 directors it is hard to provide credit for the results to any individuals (at least while looking from the outside). I do wonder just how much more focused it might have been had there been fewer cooks in the kitchen.

Kelly Marie Tran (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) gives voice to our hero with a fierce energy, despite some of the less-than-mature choices in the script. She is surrounded by great talent as well. Daniel Dae Kim (Stowaway), Gemma Chan (Captain Marvel), Awkwafina (Paradise Hills), and Benedict Wong (Gemini Man) rise to the top in that group. Every one of these characters hints at depths that never really get plumbed, but it does help provide some weight and tension to the story.

Of course the animation is often gorgeous, but it is also odd. I was often dropped into the uncanny valley, not because of human characters, but because the water effects have gotten so photo-realistic that the choice to keep human and animal characters clearly nonrealistic was often jarring.

The movie itself is definitely worth checking out, at least once. Had the story had been a bit more brave and bit less managed, it could have been a classic. But by focusing on the cute too much, and avoiding real cost and pain, it ends up as more typical Disney fare regardless of the non-typical character design and casting.

Raya and the Last Dragon Poster

Castlevania

[3.5 stars]

Honestly, I thought I’d written about this series in the past; I’ve certainly talked about it to folks. Now that it’s wrapped up, I guess I can tackle it all at once.

Based on the video game by the same name, there is little doubt as to what you’re jumping into here: Vampires. Lots of them…and magic, demons, armies, religion, well, you get the idea. A revisionist medieval tale that features Dracula. The target audience here is decidedly adult. It’s not even a little bit kid-friendly and honestly a bit over the heads of most teens to boot. And it’s frankly jaw-droppingly good at times, and just shocking at others. The voice talent corralled for the series is top notch as well.

The journey of the four seasons is more complex than you might expect. It grows from a single, tragic event and then unspools in multiple directions. All of it comes back together. The final season is a slightly rushed as it wraps up all the various threads, but how the pieces come together is really a thing of beauty. And all the bitter-sweet conclusions leave it all feeling fully satisfying and complete, if a tad manipulated at points.

If you’re looking for something different and really intriguing, this is a nice ride with a lot of meat to it, and not a little bit of blood.

Castlevania Poster

Love, Death, and Robots 2.0

[4 stars]

At less than half the number of episodes of the original series, this follow-on anthology is more focused and better crafted in many ways than its progenitor. The new 8 episode collection focuses more on story than on flesh. The testosterone and violence have also considerably dropped, though they are far from entirely gone; it’s even whimsical at times. But the visual range of style and perspective are still very much present.

Several of the stories are adaptations from well-known authors in the science-fiction and fantasy genre. But whether you know the original material or not, or even the authors or not, the interpretations are faithful and entertaining…even thoughtful at times. There is no overall theme or structure to the episodes, other than their relation to the title (they each take on one more of the love, death, and/or robots themes). As an anthology series that’s fine, but it does make some of the shifts from story to story a bit abrupt. I found watching each one wholly separately, as opposed to binging, as a small treat worked best to combat the style-whiplash.

This is a series for anyone that enjoys adult anime. And it is a huge leap in overall quality from the first round, which got repetitive and, frankly, very non-representative. I’d love to see a third installment take on a wider range of characters now, as well as genre. Especially as they’re getting better at setting their guideposts with each release.

Love, Death & Robots Poster