Tag Archives: Fantasy

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

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

Loki

[4 stars]

The third of the D+ MCU series is, again, unique in design and storytelling, playing into it’s main character to inform the style. I give them great credit for that. Like each of the original comics the series are based on, they are allowing creators the freedom to tell the character stories in the most appropriate ways.

However that means that each time, each show has to level-set for the audience. Because of that the initial pacing of this short series, much like WandaVision, was slow, but it had an ever-increasing cadence that came together by the end. Interestingly, the light-hearted feeling of it all made the entire season feel like a close cousin of Doctor Who, especially given one of the bigger reveals. For those who don’t watch both shows, they would have had no dissonance while watching. But, for those of us who are broader omnivores in the genre, the tone and pace were unmistakable. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was occasionally distracting for me.

Also, much like WandaVision, I feel like this is a show that is going to be more enjoyable on rewatch…once it all makes sense. I didn’t have  suspense pulling me along so much as curiosity while all the parts were spinning in the air. Some of that is the Owen Wilson (bliss) interplay with Tom Hiddleston (Thor: Ragnarok), which was amusing, but not quite intense enough to pull me in.

On the other hand, Sophia Di Martino, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Motherless Brooklyn), and Wunmi Mosaku (Lovecraft Country) really brought the energy and impact throughout the story. There are several shorter-lasting roles of note too, but to list them would be to spoil. Suffice to say that the cast embraced the absurdity of it all and ran with it in earnest. (Also not unlike Doctor Who.) And they sold it well. It certainly helped to have a single director, Kate Herron, to guide the entire ship into its final port. Herron’s complete guidance was especially needed so that the delightful physical metaphor in play could be handled well from beginning to end.

My biggest gripe: I only wish it had more than six episodes for the season. Even though it didn’t feel rushed, and I got ahead of several aspects, I’d love to see what more they could have explored. Fortunately, there is a second season already planned.

As a total sidebar, what is happening now in the MCU as Phase 4 is getting spun up is exactly what Ron Howard had hoped to do with Dark Tower (jumping between movies and TV series). The idea was thwarted by the studios. You gotta believe Howard is watching with a certain amount of evil glee at the success of the MCU. You’d also hope that the studios are kicking themselves at this point having missed the chance to blaze that ground and build an empire. But studios don’t have a soul…or long memory…so I suspect they’ve not even acknowledged the miss.

Loki 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

Shadow in the Cloud

[4 stars]

Talk about an unexpected thrill-ride from beginning to end. Roseanne Liang directed and co-wrote this, with Max Landis (Bright), as her Sophomore offering. And it is damned impressive.

Chloë Grace Moretz (Tom and Jerry) dominates this film. From the opening credits she embodies her strongest female role since her Kick-Ass days. The story is tightly focused on Moretz, her actions and her reactions. As her character is slowly revealed, we are constantly re- evaluating what we think we know. There are several male characters, but who cares? They exist solely as fodder to Moretz’s tale.

In the center of it all, acting as engine to the machine, is one of the biggest McGuffins I’ve seen in a while…simply because it is so iconic. The movie opens with a war-time cartoon that sets up this horror piece of the story. If you’ve ever seen Nightmare at 20000 Feet you have a sense of what’s coming (or think you do anyway).

The rest is an unbelievably tense ride. Like Pitch Black, once this one starts downhill, it goes at breakneck speed and never relents. And it ends on a hugely satisfying tableau.

Make time for this one. It is ostensibly a horror film, but it is so much more than that as well, even managing to pay homage to the WACs and WASPs of WWII. I can’t wait to see what Liang offers up next if this was any indication of her ability and eye.

Shadow in the Cloud 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

 

Trese

[3.5 stars]

Tired of the same old monsters and myths? Been looking for something dark and different? Trese may be it. While anyone who’s been into anime has learned all manner of mythology, folklore, and monsters in the Japanese and Chinese mythos, Trese takes on the Philippine book of creatures and spirits. Admittedly, it is all a bit self-conscious with a monster-of-the-week feel to it as the world is unveiled (and they’ve not even gotten to some of my favorites yet). But they only have six half-hour episodes to play in and a larger arc knitting it all together to cover, so there is some cramming-in going on.

And, because of that short season, the ending is also a bit rushed. It needed 8 – 10 episodes to build up the finale naturally. Instead we get a mountain of exposition explaining the connections and plans to the ending. This story really deserved better. Fortunately, it is open-ended. If it does well enough, perhaps they’ll give it a bit more room to breathe in a follow-on season. But with or without additional episodes, if you’re a fan of supernatural anime, this one should be on your list. It is different, well acted, and most definitely not for kids.

Trese Poster

Lucifer (The end, sort of…)

[3.5 stars]

This has been a delayed post because there just wasn’t any rush to get it out there. It isn’t like it was the end of the series or anything. In fact, it’s become a bit of a joy and a joke that Lucifer keeps getting a series finale reprieve. First on broadcast, and now multiple times on Netflix. This latest series (#5, part 2), was originally intended to bring a final close to our anti-hero’s story…before, again, it was granted a final 10 episodes coming later this year. And you can see the shape of the season shift a little as they realize they’ve more to say and are going to be allowed to say it. At least if you know what you’re looking for.

All that said, Lucifer continues to find its real venue on Netflix. Had it started there, rather than languishing on broadcast for a few seasons, it may have found a larger audience as they could have explored more and been truer to the original characters and situations. This second half of the season barrels to a clear ending that still manages to surprise in both delightful and shocking ways. While some characters are seeing their stories finally explored, like Kevin Alejandro, others are being slightly rewritten to meet the new goals, particularly Aimee Garcia, but nothing that doesn’t seem to work.

Overall, the wrap-up to the season is a great ride and with an interesting (if inevitable) springboard for the (maybe) series finale coming soon.

Lucifer Poster

Monster Hunter

[2.5 stars]

Wow, this is as bad as you probably think it is. There are plenty of fights and lots ‘o monsters, but plot? Not so much, just a lot of pretty pictures and indications of character, but no depth. Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil) isn’t exactly the top genre writer out there, or director for that matter. But he keeps trying to recreate his Resident Evil success with ever diminishing returns, even as Milla Jovovich (Paradise Hills) has improved over the years.

In this case she gets to partner up, after much shedding of extraneous characters, with Tony Jaa (xXx: Return of Xander Cage). Jaa turns in a fairly solid performance with what he’s got, though his fight scenes aren’t quite to his typical standards. Throw in a bit of Ron Perlman (Moonwalkers) for spice and you’ve got all you need for mindless fun. Which is good, because it is.

If you enjoy Jovovich enough to just watch her kick some butt (and get her own butt kicked plenty), this gives you plenty of that. If you are hoping for or looking for a complete story, move along, this isn’t the movie you’re looking for. And try as he might, and even with the help of Toho Studios, this just doesn’t have the making of a new franchise for Anderson. He’ll have to find another game property to mine for Capcom and try again.

Monster Hunter Poster