Tag Archives: Fantasy

Klaus

[4.5 stars]

Honestly, I wouldn’t have bothered with this if it weren’t for the fact that it won the Annies for best feature this year. I mean, seriously, a Christmas cartoon? As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong and I’m even thinking it has a good shot at the Oscar.

It has been years since anyone has produced a holiday-themed animation that has risen to an annual must-see the way some of the old stop-motion animations of the 60s/70s did. But Klaus may have just changed the tide on that. It isn’t a musical bit of treacle like Santa Claus is Coming to Town. And it is more Hogfather in its sensibility and view of life than you’d expect. But it also tackles the season of retail and human nature in a beautifully honest way and weaves it into the story you expect…in ways that you really wouldn’t have predicted even as you see them becoming inevitable. But for all the intelligence and themes, it remains a children’s tale in the best of ways: it doesn’t talk down to them.

Sergio Pablos (who has spent years in animation and who previously helped write Smallfoot and Despicable Me) chose this as his first project where he was both writing and directing, and I can see why. It is a delicate balance of satire and sweetness that would have been hard to trust to someone other than the person who conceived it. Given that it took the top prize at the Annies this year, and it’s up for an Oscar, I’d say he was spot on.

Jason Schwartzman (Golden Exits) leads the cast with just the right amount of sarcasm and genunie feeling. He’s backed up by Rashida Jones (Spies in Disguise) and JK Simmons (Veronica Mars) with Joan Cusack (Welcome to Me) in a nice bit role. While the story is certainly an overblown fable, they all keep it grounded nicely. Simmons, in particular, has a slow evolution through the art and voice that is great to watch.

Klaus isn’t perfect. It is a bit rushed and hand-wavy in some of the story details. It has some inconsistencies. And, ultimately, it wraps up in a way that is heart-warming but, I felt, a slight cheat given the rest of the story you traverse getting there; but the story is what it is, so I just had to shrug and accept it (though honestly, seeing Klaus as a mildly schizophrenic widower was really fun for a while). Those are the reasons for dinging it just a bit on the rating. However, I can see rewatching this annually (along with Hog Father and Rare Exports, which are more to my holiday sensibilities) because it has a lot of great humor and it reminds you (with a soft hammer) what friends, family, and society can be if we just let them.

Bottom line: If you’ve avoided this because you thought it was just empty kid’s fare and not worth your time…rethink that opinion sometime soon.

Klaus

Slaughterhouse Rulez

[3 stars]

Whenever Simon Pegg (Terminal) and Nick Frost (Fighting With My Family) are involved, even just as actors and producers, you know it isn’t going to be a straight-forward story. Slaughterhouse Rulez reteams them with Crispian Mills’s (A Fantastic Fear of Everything) for a coming-of-age bording school black comedy…with an eco-message and monsters and not a few oblique swipes at Harry Potter and a dash of St. Trinian’s thrown in.

That crazy salad aside, there is little to surprise in Mills’s script; it’s all about the delivery. And Mills got the talent to deliver it with for sure. Michael Sheen (Dolittle), Margot Robbie (Bombshell), Asa Butterfield (The Space Between Us), and Tom Rhys Harries (Hunky Dory) carry a good part of the story. However, like Kingsman: The Secret Service, it finds in Finn Cole (Peaky Blinders) the pleeb in us all to let us root for someone to survive, as much as you do engage on that level.

Because it isn’t riffing on a specific genre, like Shaun of the Dead, it doesn’t have quite the same underlying punch or support. That doesn’t make it unfunny, just not quite as focused and digestible. But the reality is that either you like this kind of comedy or you don’t. If you do, give this the time. If you don’t, there are better options out there to try it out.

Slaughterhouse Rulez

Dolittle

[2.75 stars]

Director/writer Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) wouldn’t seem a likely choice for this classic children’s fare. You’d be right. While he brought an interesting darkness to the tale, he and the various co-writers couldn’t quite pull it all together into a movie.

What you get, instead, is a collection of moments. Many of them are really quite fun and/or funny. Enough so, in fact, that many kids may not mind the breezy plot that blows all those bits mostly in one direction. What’s a shame was the waste of talent in the main roles that give it what life it has.

Obviously Robert Downey Jr. (Avengers) toplines the flick. He’s amusing, but it is an odd and empty performance. He’s all show and little heart despite the big machinations going on. The comic timing is fine, but there is no foundation supporting it all. Michael Sheen (Good Omens) and Anotonio Banderas (Life Itself) each have pivotal roles to play, though only Banderas has any dimensionality to him. Sheen is just bluster and exageration. He’s not scary enough for adults and probably a bit too mean for young children.

There are many throw-aways as well, like Jessie Buckley (Judy) and Jim Broadbent (Le Week-End) not to mention a slew of voice talent too long to list, but it includes a fun scene with Frances de la Tour (The Lady in the Van) worth calling out. You may have noticed how many of these names are either up for awards or have received them in the past. Like I said, a lot of wasted talent.

I feel the worst for the two child actors, Harry Collett (Casualty) and Carmel Laniado (A Christmas Carol) who should have had this as a strong springboard for their careers, and instead are stuck with some nice reel footage and being associated with a financial bomb.

All that said, I did laugh a lot and enjoyed myself, but that was because I had set the bar very low going in. I recognized how weak the story was going to be and just went with it. Kids will find plenty to enjoy. Parents will probably split on the experience from beign slightly diverting to really disappointing. While it’s definitely filmed for the big screen, you can probably wait on this one if you’d rather not spend the time or dollars at the theater.

Dolittle

The Angry Birds Movie 2

[3 stars]

OK, let’s be honest, the first Angry Birds movie was awful. I only came back for the sequel because there was something about the trailer that gave me some hope. And it wasn’t unwarranted, though it wasn’t fully rewarded either.

The first movie tried to leverage the game that spawned the characters far too much. It was a confrontational movie between birds and pigs, and creepy and unsatisfying on many levels (not to mention a really bad script). But they learned from those errors.

This sequel is more about “pranks” between the birds and pigs (rather than omnivorous emnity). The plot requires them to work together. The humor has a lot of levels, from the slapstick to the more subtle. And the main characters have some arc to them.

Don’t misunderstand, this is still children’s fare to be ingested with lots of sweets or popcorn, but it isn’t a painful affair to spend time with. It’s simply a silly distraction stacked with an impressive voice cast list (though nothing worth calling out). Up to you if you want to spend time with it or simply need to distract some youngsters while you do something else. Either way, it was nice to see that they learned from their errors and put more creativity into this sequel.

Mysterious Witchers Lost in Space

Each of these streamers deserves to be seen and to have their own write up. But that felt like overkill and, I suspect, many folks will have been ahead of me already. However, all are enjoyable, intelligent, and all are very different.

Witcher

Henry Cavill (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) was a perfect choice for the lead in this entertaining, if not brilliant, series. He captures the sarcasm and dry wit of the game character, not to mention he is the physical emodiment of Geralt of Rivia. He’s backed up nicely by Joey Batey and Anya Chalotra. There are other, more recognizable faces, such as MyAnna Buring (In the Dark) and Anna-Louise Plowman, but it is generally a lot of semi-familiar and unknown faces.

The series is challenging thanks to its narrative form (which is part of the secret of the first season, so I really can’t discuss it here). I think it could have been handled more clearly, but it ultimatley comes together in interesting ways and I appreciate that they didn’t treat their audience like idiots. Much like Watchmen, it lends itself to rewatching once you understand it all. I’m definitely on board for the next season, but that isn’t coming till 2021, so you’ve plenty of time to watch the series and/or play the games if you want beforehand.

Lost in Space 2

The first season reboot of this show surprised me completely. Netflix transformed the silly Saturday morning show into something richer and darker, if still with a child’s sensibility of adventure. And if you thought Dr. Smith was complex and dark in the first series, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Parker Posey (Cafe Society) has definitely found a role she’ll be remembered for.

This season is incredibly well constructed, even if some of the writing still takes too many character and plot short-cuts. Still, I admire the risks they were willing to take even if getting there has some flaws. And every major character gets their moment to grow and expand in some very nice ways. The new season pulls you along with barely a chance to breathe, making it a great binge show, but also means it is over too soon. Series 3 isn’t officially confirmed, but expect it to take another year, if for no other reason to complete all the f/x needed for the show.

Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated

This wonderfully self-aware reconception of the cartoon classic is more Buffy than kid’s show. Conceived as a complete 2-season arc, and loaded with adult nods and layers of mystery, it is both wonderful nostaligia and entertaining distraction in 20-minute bites. It’s also loaded with surprise voice talent in major roles and guest roles. Give it a shot, you’ll know in a few minutes if it is for you or not.

Toy Story 4

[4 stars]

The first Toy Story had surprise going for it, both technologically and in the script. But I never found the series all that gripping or effective. However, this installment and (one hopes) resolution to the tale of motley toys is the best all around. Like the previous movies, it takes on adult themes beneath the surface of the silliness, but this script is richer and more subtle as it tackles growing up on several fronts.

It’s an even more impressive feat when you realize that it’s director Josh Cooley’s first feature and that the script and story had 9 different sets of hands stirring the pot. For a cohesive and interesting story to come out of that stew of sensibilities is pretty amazing, even if several had been involved in the series over the years.

There is also a huge list of voice talent involved. Many retuning voices will be familiar, as well as some new ones as guests. I’m not going to laundry list them all and, frankly, no one really stood out as brilliant. They all serve their purpose, which is the most important point.

This is the first of the series I actually recommend whole heartedly. It is certainly in contention for awards this year, including the yet to be announced Oscars. And, for a change, I agree it should be.

Abominable

[3.5 stars]

While I fully admit this is a children’s animation, it’s a cut above most of those I’ve seen this past year for a number of reasons that let me recommend it.

First, it is set in China without explanation or apology. It simply is, and allows (generally) the story to be driven culturally from there. It is certainly Westernized, but it is also suprising and unique for that, and remains so despite echoing Missing Link in few places. Second, it has humor that isn’t entirely juvenile…at least not without purpose. It manages to surprise, even amidst the predictable. And, finally, because it’s production design is clever and well thought through.

Jill Culton co-directed with her Open Season co-directorTodd Wilderman. She also wrote the script, no doubt leveraging her story experience from Monsters, Inc. to create relatable characters and a child’s sense of wonder and adventure. The result is pretty to watch and entertaining. Brilliant? No, not really, but it feels different and certainly was better than I anticipated. Give it shot if you’ve got a youngster to share it with. It isn’t really for most adults without that incentive.

Spies in Disguise

[3.5 stars]

OK, this isn’t a Pixar masterpiece…it’s simply a Blue Sky (Ice Age) silly tale filled with humor and a relatively tight script (with more than a few shortcuts to be sure). The point is, it is entertaining for adults and kids, even while being as subtle as a sledgehammer in its message.

Will Smith (Aladdin) and Tom Holland (The Current War) play well together as the brawn and brains for the good guys. The two work through their own individual issues as well as those between them while being pursued on two fronts.

Rashida Jones and her team, which includes an amusing Karen Gillan (Jumanji: The Next Chapter) among others, are one of the teams. In their various altercations, you’ll recognize several James Bond films in nice light touches as well a few other action movies.

My only real gripe with this silly jaunt was Ben Mendelsohn’s (Captain Marvel) voice for the villain on the other team. It just didn’t work for me. Part of that was that it didn’t match the visual, but it also was just a bit too flat and forced, not to mention inconsistently executed by Mendelsohn. Fortunately, he doesn’t talk much.

For a first directing job by Nick Bruno and Troy Quane, both of whom are normally behind the camera in the animation shop, it’s a very credible result. Kids are sure to like it, while the adults in the audience will not get bored as they pick up jokes intended just for them. Assuming this does as well as it has started, you can also be sure to see this expand as a francise in future.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

[3 stars]

Thank god it’s finally over.

 

Seriously, there is no point in discussing the issues…like lousy editing, weak story, empy music, or the lack of an emotional release after a 42 year committment. You’re either on board for this or you’re not. Nothing I say is going to matter.

Jumanji: The Next Chapter

[3.5 stars]

Is it ever really possbile to match the excitement and surprise of first movie with a sequel? Admittedly, rarely, though this manages to come close.

The previous installment in this series was itself a sequel, though so far removed from the original that it’s hard to think of them as part of the same series. This latest installment is a direct follow-on of the previous and is, indeed, a solid, new story, but a lot of the surprise is gone. It’s in the title “The Next Chapter.” While this stands mostly alone, it is very much a continuation. To the movie’s creidt, the characters we knew got older and were affected by their previous experience, as well as having acquired some new aspects to their personalities and lives.

In fact our intrepid foursome, Alex Wolff (A Birder’s Guide to Everything), Madison Iseman (Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween), Morgan Turner (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), and  Ser’Darius Blain (Charmed) have not only grown up, but got better at their craft. Even the core avatars are even better at making it clear they are inhabited by the players in this new story. Kevin Hart (The Upside) in particular does much better this round than he did the first. But Dwayne Johnson (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw), Karen Gillan (Avengers: Endgame), and Jack Black (Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween) also have improved this subtle part of the challenge, helping to sell both the story and the humor.

The additions of Danny Devito (Dumbo), Danny Glover (The Last Black Man in San Francisco ), and Awkwafina (The Farewell) were a good choice for the expansion, and Awkawafina just adds to her growing  cv of fun performances over the past year. And then there is the gift of Rory McCann (xXx: Return of Xander Cage) who does nothing new in this very stock character, but who is always imposing on screen, little or large.

Basically, this is a simple, fun flick that is safe for families while having enough for adults to chew on. It has a lot of humor and, even when it is predictable, it’s executed in a way that makes you smile for the success rather than be disappointed with getting ahead of it all.  A lot of the credit for that goes to returning director Jake Kasdan and his work with returning writing duo Jeff Pinker and Scott Rosenberg. That they couldn’t resist setting up the next film, well, I can’t say I was surprised nor was I disappointed. And it looks like the third, which I’m fairly confident will get made, takes it full circle to the original movie that started it all. For some popcorn and holiday distraction that doesn’t come from the Mouse House, you won’t go wrong seeing this one.