The Secret Life of Pets (2016): Depends on the Cute Factor and the Story is Weak

The Secret Life of Pets poster

  When I review films I usually break it up into pros, cons and okay…this film there isn’t much to say on it so I’m going to write about it in a small essay form. The film isn’t bad, but it isn’t even close to good and was even boring at times, which is one thing no story should be. The idea of pets living another world when humans are away is intriguing, it just never gets all that complex the way other films of the same nature have done. The film did make me want to watch the “Despicable Me” films since I heard those were good, and they were from the same studio who did this film, so it has that going for it at least.

   The film was directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney, written by Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio and produced by Chris Meledandri and Janey Healey.

   The story involves Max (Louis C. K.) and life with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) and how it changes when she adopts Duke (Eric Stonestreet) from the pound leading to Max and Duke trying to kick each other out of the house leading to them getting lost and Max’s friends having to rescue them while Duke and Max must learn to get along.

    The story is a lot like “Toy Story,” with Max as Woody and Duke as Buzz, but unlike “Toy Story” the writing never rises that high. More often than not it depends on what we associate with animals (lazy cats, over excited dogs) to get the humor across while never rising up to deep characters like a Pixar film.

     This isn’t Pixar but I was hoping to actually care about the characters. Besides the ending when Max and Duke repair their issues with one another, I cared less about them. If there were good side characters this wouldn’t be so bad…

     There are two interesting side characters, Gidget who has a crush on Max and Snowball who is leading a rebellion against humanity with a bunch of abandoned pets. They are each interesting because they have personality traits that stand out. Gidget is obsessed with Max and extremely naive (talks to a hawk who wants to eat her) but can befriend anyone and Snowball is crazy but shows that he just wants to be cared about at the end of the day when a little girl adopts him. Seriously, these two could have carried the film and brought it up to maybe a 6 or 7, but we are left with the bland leads going through two folks learning to get along which we have seen in animation done better, and this time it isn’t even done in an interesting way.

     At the end of the day this was a predictable film that lacked in humor and and characters with depth. This is bad because if the leads can’t carry a film I need other characters who are around enough or comedic enough to keep me entertained. This film failed on this basic part and in the end wasn’t an enjoyable drama or comedy. The soundtrack like the characters didn’t stand out so I can’t really recommend that either.

    If you have kids and don’t want to see “Finding Dory” again I’d tentatively say you should see it. The kids may be entertained, but they deserve better. Take them to “Finding Dory” instead or show them one of the many amazing animated shows currently on television.

Final Score: 5.2 / 10

The Lobster (2016): A Great Concept Film on Relationships That Never Delivers

The Lobster

       “The Lobster” is a film that could have been a favorite film had it been more succinct, knew more clearly what it was trying to say and had cut some of it’s scenes down. It isn’t a bad film but the longer the film went on the less I liked it. It started out great and by the end was merely good. The whole idea of critiquing courtship, love and relationships is really cool, and there was so many ways this film could have worked. Non-spoiler thoughts, it is worth checking out, it just isn’t great, it is only good.

    The film was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos who also was one of the writers and producers. The other co-writer was Ethymis Filippou and the other producers were Ed Guiney, Ceci Dempsey and Lee Magiday.

       The film takes places in a dystopian future in which all people must be in a marriage or else they are transformed into animals. They also hunt the loners a rebel group who lives outside the hotel. The story follows David (Colin Farrell) who finds himself single when his wife leaves him for another man forcing him to find a partner in 45 days or else he’ll be transformed into the animal he chose, a lobster.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is cool and left me with questions…what lead the world to become only run so that marriage is what matters over all else? The idea that people could be transformed into animals is really cool as well and the film does a good job showing that presentation (and leaving the question open if the transformations ever really happened). So there is a lot to like about the world.

The Premise – A person having 45 days to find a partner is a fascist dsystopian world is an interesting one. There is so much you can do with it.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is a beautiful and does a great job giving the film a modern feel but also an older feel too, which is the nature of dystopia. This is the future but has reverted to a twisted version of the past.

The Characters – The characters are interesting and most of them manage to be 3 Dimensional even though their names present them as concepts.

Lisping Man – John C. Reilly is good at non-comedic roles! In this he plays the Lisping Man who is insecure because of his lisp and wants to fit in to the group. He is punished for masturbating at one point and has to put his hand in the toaster when it is turned on. It is implied he is changed into an animal as he would have been punished after David steals his stuff when he hunting David after David has become a loner.

Hotel Manager – Olivia Coleman makes a wonderful villain. She is empathetic and harsh and in the end meets her own tragic end when her husband claims to love her but shows he will shoot her if it means his survival, destroying their relationship which was the plot of the Loner’s Leader.

Heartless Woman – The Heartless Woman is a great antagonist as she kills David’s dog that belonged his brother and we see her cruel to all those around her. She is transformed at the end so is given a just end.

Loner Leader – The Loner Leader is driven to destroy all relationships (except her parents). I never got her motivation as it seems her and the Maid are together at one point, but then she kills her to keep control over the Short Sighted Woman…I liked her as a character but her lack of motivation was a con.

the Maid – I liked the Maid. She saves David from the Hotel and works with the Loners, even though their leader has the Short Sighted Woman kill her to keep control over the Short Sighted Woman. I got her motivation though, she was in an abusive relationship that society kept her in, the Loners were her out.

Short Sighted Woman – Rachel Weisz is a good actress and is pretty intense in this where she communicates in commands at first but grows to have communication through eyes and hand signals with David when they are getting around the Loner rules about no relationships. She is blinded by the Loner Leader at one point which leads David to rescuing. I hated that she had her agency taken away and never had a name as she was the one telling the story and is set up to be David’s equal.

David – Colin Farrell is a pretty fantastic actor. In this he is a bigger awkward guy who doesn’t get people but shows he will do anything to have connection and to survive…to a point. At the end we never know if he stabs his eyes with the butcher’s knife to stab his own eyes out so he and the Short Sighted Woman can be blind together.

When Commonality Leaves in Relationship – All the relationships are based on past commonality or false commonality (one person creates bloody noses on himself so he can be with a girl who actually has that problem). I think that is the need for connection and how commonality is that first step. This plays it to it’s absurdest conclusion.

The Awkwardness of Courtship – The awkward courtships show how people will work in any social environment no matter how unhealthy (the loners and the hotel) to find and be with someone and how it is awkward within the confines of communication allowed and on the dependence of commonality in order to communicate.

The Cons: The Pacing – The pacing was all over the place. Some scenes lingered way too long, at one point after the Hotel it feels like it should be over and other scenes are short like when the Short Sighted Woman and David get together. This film needed a better editor.

The Ending – Does he cut out his eyes or not? If they want to leave it ambiguous, why not when he escapes the Hotel since the Short Sighted Woman serves no purpose within her own agency.

The Narrator – The narrator interjections from the Short Sighted Woman were annoying at times. I kept looking for the character but she doesn’t actually appear for a long time.

The Short Sighted Woman’s Story  and Dis-empowerment of a Lead – This character is made blind and everything she does is for David. At times it looks like she wants to escape because she has a desire to do so but that stops after she is blinded. She is someone who has been out in the wilderness a lot longer, she deserved to have more of an identity that didn’t revolve around David.

   This was a good film but the cons eventually overwhelmed everything else. A more powerful concept film could have achieved the same purpose in a lot less time. A perfect ending would have been him escaping the hotel and leaving the rest up to mystery as even the Short Sighted Woman is never given name, even though she is the narrator and seems to be set up as a main character when we see that she is a loner and can give that perspective…that never happens though because she is more concerned telling David’s story, and as great of job as Colin Farrell does, detached characters can only give so much before they become boring. His character eventually suffers from this due to pacing. I would still recommend this film though, for what it is, it is worth checking out.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10

Finding Dory (2016): A Brilliant Exploration of What it Means to be Dory

Finding Dory Poster

    For sequels that didn’t need to be made, this is a really good sequel. Pixar is one of those studios I’ve come to expect quality from and they continue this here as this is a film that will pull on your heart strings and gives our characters complete arcs and a fantastic adventure for it all to take place in. My non-spoiler thoughts are basically that you should see this film. It is no “Inside Out” or the untouchable Pixars but is is really good and is well worth your time.

   The film was directed by Andrew Stanton who also wrote the story and screenplay with Victoria Strouse also writing the screenplay with him. The producer was Lindsey Collins.

   The story involves Dory’s (Ellen DeGeneres) search for her parents when a memory is triggered that she lost them a long time ago and that they are at the Jewel of Morro Bay, California. This leads to her Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) traversing there to help her remember why she is searching and to find them again.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The World of “Finding Dory” is an amazing one! Whether it is in the reef or the Marine Life Institute Pixar’s diverse assortment of characters creates a rich world where the relationships only make it greater.

The Soundtrack – Thomas Newman once again creates gold! I have yet to be disappointed by his work and here he does a good job of capturing Dory’s terror of being lost and her joy of being reunited once again with her family.

The Animation – It’s Pixar, their animation has only gotten better with time. You can see the details on the fish, from their expressions to their scales…Pixar continues to create animation that looks so alive.

The Opening Scene – The opening scene is touching and sad as we see that Dory getting lost is what lead to her forgetting what she was looking for (her parents) that lead to her finding Marlin in the first place. Her parents help her with memory games and we see where she gets her songs and sayings from…they were to help her remember to find her way home.

Dory’s Memories – Dory’s memories are some of the strongest moments as we see her connection to characters and what they mean in those flashbacks, even if Dory doesn’t get their meaning fully…we do.

The Characters – Pixar has always been very character driven in it’s productions and this film is no different. The characters are what make this film besides the action, score and animation…and we get many more amazing characters.

Fluke and Rudder – These Sea Lions played by Idris Elba (Fluke) and Dominic West (Rudder) are hilarious and sadly also a bit of bullies. They help Marlin and Nemo get into the Marine Institute but they are also always picking on Gerald, who isn’t all there. They provide great comedic relief though as they are the one who call the birds to pick up Nemo and Marlin and witness the journey and escape at the end.

Destiny and Bailey – Destiny is a Whale Shark and Bailey is a Beluga Whale. Destiny was Pipe Pals with Dory when they were kids and is near sided so is always crashing into the tank. Bailey believes he can’t use his sonar…their arcs are coming to count on one another and have great chemistry with one another and Dory. Destiny was played by Kaitlin Olson and Bailey by Ty Burrell…both were fantastic.

Hank – Ed O’Neil plays my favorite character in the film. He is a red octopus who was traumatized by his experience in the sea so just wants to live out his life safe in a tank. It takes his adventure with Dory to realize he does care about people and to soften him up. He becomes part of her family by the end. His dark humor is great with Dory’s idealism and I’m glad we get to spend so much time with him.

Marlin and Nemo – The classics are back from the first one and much of their journey is finding Dory while Marlin learns to both respect Dory and her disability and also to let Dory be free in herself…an arc her parents also have to go through. I’m glad we didn’t spend as much time with these two as their arcs were largely in the first film.

Jenny and Charlie – These two are Dory’s parents and their arc is learning to trust their daughter and let her be herself and make her own choices. This understandably hard as they’d been waiting for her for years outside the Institute after she got lost…but she demonstrates that they raised her well and that she may not remember always but she knows how to survive, plan and to help others.

Dory – Dory is the main character of this film and her relationships are what define the film as we see her help her parents, Hank and Martin grow to accept her fully just as she learns fully to accept herself and her own power. As someone who found this for myself living with aspergers this is huge. Dory’s story is one of empowerment and shows that no matter how hard things get, going forward you can change your circumstances and find those who accept and love you.

Living With a Disability – A huge theme of the film is what it is like to live with a disability. As one who grew up with Aspergers I can relate to this, you face challenges were early on you do need help on and there are some things that never go away…even as you find ways to face those challenges and to grow from them to the point where you can be successful and stand on your own and from it live with the dignity everyone deserves.

Disabilities and Dignity – Dignity is a huge theme of the film as it is when Dory is shut down and hurt that she really goes off and gets lost…it is when the support is there that it is easier to face her memory loss and it is from dignity that she finds self respect and respect from her friends and family.

Okay: The Marine Life Institute – I think this was meant to be shown as positive sine the animals are all to be released into the wild (except those that are too sick) but it is still an antagonist I guess? The Marine Life Institute and their role in the film is ill-defined and more could have been done to explore the different animals’ relationships to it.

Cons: Drags in Places – There are some action sequences that go on a bit too long, especially at the end where Dory panics…the scene could have been shorter and still had the same impact with her finding her parents, same goes for the escape at the end. Some scenes just go on too long. If more had been cut I’d have easily given this a 9.

The Treatment of Gerald Versus the Theme – Gerald is a Sea Lion that also appears to have a mental disability but it is largely played for laughs. This struck me as off as the whole point of the film is accept people with all their quirks and that all deserve dignity. I don’t think Gerald ever got that from others.

   This was a really good Pixar film and one I’d highly recommend. It is bound to make you tear up at least once as Dory’s story is one that many people are no doubt familiar with. Dory gives a human face to what it is like to live with disability and the film is wonderful at respecting her dignity and personhood as we see just how great her family is by the end of the film. The only contradiction to this is the treatment of Gerald who is bullied and looks like he is also facing some sort of mental handicap. Gerald deserved respect just like Dory. Outside of this problem and some pacing issues this was a really good film. If you are fan of Pixar or animation you won’t be disappointed.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10

Warcraft (2016): A Few Great Characters Can’t Save This Adaptation

Warcraft Film

    The game series “Warcraft” is one I have a history with dating all the way back to Warcraft II and it’s expansions. They were my introductions to this universe even though I think Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne is the best storytelling to come out of the series. At the end of the day, all the Warcraft books I read about the First and Second War didn’t draw me in the way the Scourge, Forsaken, Illdari and Night Elves did in Warcraft III, and World of Warcraft was always something I played more casually the few times I did. What bearing does all this have on the review outside of history? Metzen was starting from one of the more weaker places in the lore (Humans were always the most boring faction) so going in it was starting out weak, I wish we’d gotten “Rise of the Horde” as far stories go, that had drama and Orcs are the strongest part of this film….and there are a lot of human characters, making the film enjoyable but weak.

    “Warcraft” was directed by Duncan Jones who was a co-writer along with Charles Leavitt with Chris Metzen and produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Charles Roven, Alex Gartner and Stuart Fenegan.

    The story involves the arrival of the Orcs on Azeroth who plan on bringing their forces through the Portal as their world is dying. Lead by the evil Orcish Warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) as Durotan (Toby Kebbell) must work with humanity when he realizes what Gul’dan’s magic did to his world and will do to this one.

The Pros: The World – The universe of Warcraft is one that is fascinating…there different planets, different fantasy races and politics between them. Sadly we don’t see much of the politics in this one, but the factions are still present and you feel the size of the world.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is just like the Warcraft cinematics. Simon Duggan really did a great job of transferring Blizzard’s style to film.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack also feels like the Warcraft games, which is a plus. The games have always had a beautiful soundtrack that captures the epic fantasy feel of the world. Ramin Djawadi did a fantastic job.

The Characters – The characters who work, work really well…those who don’t show the flaws in some of the writing that has come out of the books and games and the universe as a whole. I’ll get into what I mean later.

Blackhand – Blackhand is played by Clancy Brown with his usual large and vocal presence. He truly is perfecfr for this role and does a fantastic job as Warchief of the Horde, sadly his role underutilized (just like Ogrim) and he doesn’t survive past this film. Lothar kills him in honorable combat so the orcs let Lothar go free. Poor Felled up Blackhand goes out way too fast.

Khadgar – Khadgar goes from comedic relief to a smart magician. I like that he is humorous as he has had that aspect in some of the games he appears in. His being an outsider and being given up by his folks to be a Kirin Tor mage is really cool too, especially his rejection out of the order. He reminded me a lot of Sam from “Game of Thrones.”

Garona – Garona is a good character and the only female character who actually felt like she had agency beyond telling the guys they are doing a great job. She even got a romance with the hero and got to kill the King and be the double agent among the orcs working for peace between their races. I wish we could have got more of her backstory as we see she’s a slave and half her heritage (Draenie) was used to open the Dark Portal. Hopefully they’ll do more with her next film if they make one, she’s a hell of a lot more interesting than Lothar.

Gul’dan – Daniel Wu is awesome! It is wonderful seeing Gul’dan in all his badassery on screen. He is great here and the only competent villain as his people are so afraid of him that they follow him and he wins every fight he gets into. This guy is pumped so full of fel energy that he can take anything. He also is still living at the end (like in the games at this point in the timeline) so curious what they’ll change about him. I really want a “Rise of the Horde” story so we can see Ner’zhul (one of the best orcs and Gul’dan’s mentor).

Durotan – Toby Kebbell is the closest thing to an interesting protagonist. In him we see an honorable soldier just trying to look out for his people, and faced wit the fact that his entire race is dying out and all they have is the new world of Azeroth. He dies fighting Gul’dan in a pretty awesome fight.

Okay: King Llane – The King is kind of bland but at least he’s given something to do and notices the orcs aren’t all bad given his friendship with Garona. In the games he’s a non-presense too. I really don’t care about Stormwind in the lore and see them as a lore sink (was always a Horde player in WoW). He dies so that Garona can be accepted into the Horde as a hero.

Ogrim Doomhammer – Doomhammer is a Frostwolf in this rather than a member of the Blackhand clan. In this he betrays Durotan but leaves the Horde after he sees how the Fel is turning his people into demons and that Gul’dan has no honor. He is the one carrying on the Frostwolf legacy in this after the death of Durotan and Draka.

Medivh – Medivh is bland, he is supposed to be crazy but he doesn’t feel there. This character felt invisible and we never get any good interactions with characters except a strange scene with Garona. He dies fighting for Stormwind though after the Demon is beat.

The Ending – The orc ending isn’t bad (would have like Blackhand to survive) and I felt Garona becoming the heroic champion was really cool. The human side is just bland though. Maybe this will work as a movie series, but it felt unfinished.

The Cons: Lothar – Guy has a son who he has no chemistry with (he doesn’t have chemistry with anyone). He acts a cool and distant and it comes off as forced. He is Action Hero Man*TM and it hurts the story since he’s the main character.

Draka – She makes sure Go’el (hate that name, Thrall in the games) is freed on the river and eventually picked up by humans. She exists only as mate and not much else. The games also had this problem too. Draka deserves better.

The Queen – The Queen is just kind of there. She shows kindness to Garona and maybe befriends her but she feels like a non-entity. She is scenery…

Women as Scenery – Both Draka and the Queen, who besides Garona are the any female characters with any presence feel like non-entities. They exist as plot devices and I wish had been written as actual characters.

 The Demon/Sargares? -This guy posses Medivh to open the Dark Portal (like in the game), and in this he’s beaten like a little punk. Khadgar drops his own golem on him. At least in the books it was a more epic fight and in WoW he’s an actual raid. This is supposed to be the guy pulling everyone’s strings.

    Weak villains that aren’t orcs (that Demon who was  weak Sargares if it was him) and bland human heroes kept this from being a great B movie. The orcs were awesome as they are in lore and the film really should have been about them. The only things we get that are interesting from the humans are Khagdar as comedic relief and Garona making friends with the humans. Outside of that they are bland and uninteresting. I hope they make more of these films though, there is so much lore in Warcraft and the Rise of Illidan or Fall of Arthas would make an amazing story on the bigscreen and would work within time limit of a film. This film is still okay, but I’d only watch it for the orc scenes.

Final Score: 6.2 / 10

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – An Alright Made for Television Film

X-Men Apocalypse

  There is a comment that Jean Grey makes after her and the other X-Men leave the school to go see “Return of the Jedi.” She says, “We all can agree, the third film is always the worst.” Meant as a jab against “X-Men 3” by Bryan Singer, the same rule also applies to the new Trilogy that began with “First Class,” as this film is clearly the weakest in the new Trilogy. It isn’t a bad film, “Return of the Jedi” isn’t a bad film…but a lot of it doesn’t work and in the end it feels like an okay, made for tv movie in both production quality and filming.

       “X-Men: Apocalypse” was directed by Bryan Singer who was one of the producers and creators of the story. The screenplay was by Simon Kinberg who was also one of the producers and the other producers are Lauren Shuler Donner and Hutch Parker.

SPOILERS ahead

    The story involves the awakening of the first mutant, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaacs) after he is trapped underneath a pyramid when his people rebel against him. From here it is up to the X-Men to stop him after Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) is kidnapped by Apocalypse and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is made into one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The Pros: The World – The world of X-Men is a wonderful world. There are so many factions and characters. This is a world that is always in flux and that a single X-Men can often change the shape of that world.

The Characters – The characters are fantastic and the strongest part of this series. Each of them is flawed and an outcast and it helps define their struggle, making them compelling.

Cyclops – Cyclops demonstrates why he will later become group leader in this, as we see him demonstrate courage after he makes friends with Nightcrawler and Jean Grey and mounts a rescue with them to save Mystique, Beast and Quicksilver from Striker.

Beast – Beast is back and is the adviser and friend to Xavier. His arc is making peace with how he looks and through it he helps Mystique do the same.

Nightcrawler – Nightcrawler is one of my favorite X-Men and it is awesome to see him here again! We are introduced to him in the Mutant Fighting Pits that Human supremacists run and later at Professor X’s school after Mystique rescues him. He shows courage on countless occasions.

Quicksilver – Evan Peters is a great Quicksilver and he is one of the best parts of this film. His relationship to Mystique and Magneto are fascinating and we see that he admires his dad but is ashamed of him too as he chooses not to tell him that he is Magneto’s son…He knows his dad turning on the villain at the end doesn’t rewrite all his past murders.

Mystique – Jennifer Lawrence is good as Mystique and her arc is making peace with herself again as we see her embrace her natural look by the end and become a member of the X-Men, helping to found the newest generation of them. She is a Mutant revolutionary in this as after the events of last film she represents mutant power to others and she continues to be the one who rescues them from harm.

Magneto – Fassbender is awesome as Magneto! In this we see him have a family in Poland only to lose it all when the locals panic, causing him to be manipulated by Apocalypse into one of his Horsemen. His arc is realizing that his friends are his family and that he isn’t alone. He still doesn’t trust people, and he has a lot of bad stuff he’s done…but by the end there is the man who will act for good for Mutants and all.

Professor X – Professor X’s arc involves him realizing how he is like Apocalypse (Apocalypse influences people to do his will) which leads to Xavier giving Moira back her memories as she is an ally (she sadly is just kind of there in regards to the script though…). Apocalypse captures him and wants to use his body as his next vessel so he can control everyone’s mind and see into everyone’s mind. Professor X fights it and with Jean Grey’s help is able to get Apocalypse out of his mind.

Jean Grey – Sophie Turner is a great Jean Grey and she actually has a decent arc! Her arc is releasing her full powers and in the process defeating Apocalypse. We see her afraid of what she sees and it mirrors Professor X’s journey. She is the best hero in this. Only complain is her American accent doesn’t always work.

Okay: Wolverine – Wolverine has a Cameo at Striker’s base and we see that he just got his claws. He reeks tons of havoc upon Striker’s forces and is only brought out of his feral state by Jean Grey, establishing why he’ll be attracted to her later. It wasn’t needed, but it wasn’t bad. Jackman continues to dominate this role.

The Other Horsemen – The other Horsemen are just kind of there and aren’t given much to do. Storm is a thief who later joins the X-Men, Angel is a fighter in a mutant fighter arena . Psylocke is an enforcer who turns against Apocalypse with Storm and Magneto at the end too. Though she might be possessed by Apocalypse’s spirit at the end, so I guess that is something that was done with her character at least.

Okay/Con: Apocalypse – Apocalypse seems bored most of the time.

The Cons: Direction and Cinematography – The direction looks like television…whether is the cheaper looking costumes or the cinematography that makes me appreciate the cinematography in “The Flash” more. When you are less than the CW, you are television level directing.

Stan Lee Cameo – The cameo happens when Apocalypse gets rid of the World’s nukes. It makes the scene funny when it should have been dramatic and serious.

Unfocused Narrative – The narrative felt unfocused at times, especially after we visit Striker’s base…

Costumes – The costumers look bad. The leather makes everything look big and it has none of the realism from the Marvel films or even the decent looking costumers the DC films.

Striker and his Base –  This whole side quest felt like a callback to X-2 as we are back at Striker’s base with a young Striker (didn’t Mystique replace him last film?) and he’s just there so we can have a human baddie to counter Apocalypse. More time could have been spent to develop Apocalypse and his motivations rather than this crap. Good action but pointless.

   As stated at the beginning this is the weakest in the New X-Men Trilogy that began with “First Class.” The production value doesn’t help, though the actors and characters add a lot to it and help elevate it beyond the cons making it a flawed but fun film that I wouldn’t watch again, but enjoyed while watching. This film is okay. If you are a fan of X-Men you will probably like it. Apocalypse could have been a much more interesting character and threat and his presentation just doesn’t work. The drama that works is when we are with the characters and their individual relationships trying to make their way in the world…and that is what made the film worth seeing.

Final Score: 6.4 / 10

Captain America: Civil War (2016) – Amazing Characters in a Story That Explores War and Responsibility

Captain America Civil War

        “Captain America: Civil War” is easily one of the best films of Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is the film that deals with the fall out of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and the past Marvel Films. At the core this is a film that tackles the nature of responsibility to self and to the larger world and what that means in regards to the Avengers. In some ways it could have been handled better (especially if they’d gone with the “Registration Act” of the comics and had X-Men in this Universe) but for what they have and the conflict at the core of the film, it is handled really well. I also wanted more loss, but that is just me.

      The film was directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and produced by Kevin Feige.

   SPOILERS ahead

    The story involves the United Nations forming the Sokovia Accords so that the Avengers have oversight after a mission leads to a lot of civilian deaths. The Avengers soon find themselves divided on the issue as things escalate when the King of Wakanda is assassinate and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is believed responsible leading Captain America (Chris Evans) and his group going rogue while Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and his team become enforces of the Accords.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and actually manages to be distinct for a Marvel film, which really shows how great the Russo’s are at expressing their vision of these stories. Trent Opaloch did a great job on this.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack feels epic and allows you to feel more fully the events on the screen. It isn’t the greatest of these soundtracks but it still a plus and compliments the film beautifully as it carries elements of “The Avengers” and the past “Captain America” films within the sound. Henry Jackman did good work on this.

The Action – This film has the best action sequences out of all the Marvel films besides “The Winter Soldier.” Part of this is due to the fight having actual meaning and us caring about the players because we’ve got to spend so much time with these characters and have come to care about them.

The Writing – For a movie that has a lot of ground to cover (introducing Spider-Man and the Black Panther) as well as the Civil War storyline and within that both Iron Man and Captain America’s arc…it does it seamlessly. Where “Age of Ultron” and “Batman v. Superman” were cluttered, this one manages to weave together all the elements in this fascinating character drama.

The Characters – The characters are why we keep coming back to these films and here they each have their moments where we get to know them and see how the last films have changed them. The only one who feels tacked on it Sharon Carter.

Thaddeus Ross – We haven’t seen this guy since “The Incredible Hulk” and how he’s running the United Nations…I really like that they did this as he more than anyone knows what the consequences are of letting those with power run around unchecked. For this reason his going to extremes and locking up all those who joined with Captain America makes sense. This is a guy ruled by fear in a Universe full of creatures that could destroy Earth easily.

Crossbones – SPOILERS, I wish he’d killed Captain America like in the comics. He has a small role in this where he is trying to get a bioweapon, and in doing so shows us that HYDRA is still active, and he puts up an awesome fight against Captain America too and nearly kills him when he tries to blow up himself. Disney, this is a character I’d like to see come back, your films don’t have enough good villains and he was a great one.

Zemo – Zemo is the one manipulating everything and turns the Avengers against each other to avenge his dead wife and child. I got his sadness and I’m glad they didn’t kill him off. He’s shown he can be a great villain as his plans succeed, he just needs someone to give him direction for future films.

Peter Parker / Spider-Man – Tom Holland might end up being my favorite Spider-Man. He’s awkward, nerdy and has great quips and conversation during his fight sequence. I’m looking forward to “Homecoming” as I’ve missed seeing Peter Parker and Spider-Man captured so well…he hasn’t been this real since the Rami ones. I like that Tony Stark is his mentor and that he is someone who is poor and does whatever he can to live. Spider-Man is about facing adversity and standing up to those who do too.

Scott Lang / Ant-Man – Paul Rudd gets to stretch his comedic chops in this and is great as the Captain America fanboy who manages to be the best weapon on the battlefield as he makes himself both large and small and wins most of the fights he gets in. Seeing him again reminded me of why I enjoyed his film.

Vision – Vision is really a fantastic character. He is very much the alien and Spock of the crew who doesn’t fully understand humans so looks at things from an empirical and logical point of view. I really liked him and Bettany does a wonderful job in the role.

Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch – Scarlet Witch like Ant-Man is one of the powerhouses in this as once she finds her confidence she saves most of the characters in the battle. She is also the one everyone fears because of how powerful she is and for her being front and center in the fight against Crossbones and her stopping him lead to the bomb he became killing civilians in a building. Her arc is embracing herself and no longer caring what the others think of her.

Clint Barton / Hawkeye – He’s back and he’s alright. I mostly like him for calling Tony Stark out (though he rightfully gets called out too). He’s sarcastic and quippy and you get that retirement didn’t really work out all that well for him.

Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow – Black Widow is the double agent in this as she believes in the Accords and oversight but believes in Captain America more as she helps Bucky and Steve escape in the large battle at the airport. I would have liked to hear more of her thoughts. Scarlett Johansson is once again amazing.

James Rhodes / War Machine – War Machine believes in the Accords and you get why as he military and military is all about oversight and he’s also seen the danger of Hulk and even the villains they’ve fought (and of course Ultron). He gets injured in the escape of Steve Rodgers and has to learn how to walk again. Cheadle is great as usual.

Sam Wilson / Falcon – Anthony Mackie plays one of my favorite characters in this universe and it is wonderful to see the reasons why he follows Captain America as like the Captain he believes in individuals and doesn’t trust organizations (after his experience with HYDRA and SHIELD makes sense). He is captured in the end but broken out by Captain America to end the film.

T’Challa / Black Panther – Boseman has me excited for the “Black Panther” film. In this we get his motivation as he believes Bucky killed his father the King and in turn he dawns the Black Panther armor to avenge his death. This leads him all over the world until he sees how revenge has consumed Zemo so he chooses not too and instead ops to turn Zemo in as he has let go of his rage.

Steve Rodgers / Captain America – Steve is both smart and stupid in this. Smart because the Avengers do need some sort of oversight (you have Gods running around who can do massive damage if something takes control of one of them or they lose control) and his trust of Bucky is dangerous as Bucky nearly kills his friends multiple times in this. I get why he fights this though as Thaddeus locks up the Avengers who joined him in a high security prison showing that he doesn’t care about balance or even using the Avengers to protect, which is the point of them. Chris Evans owns this role and his scenes with everyone are gold as well as what he represents in the fight against Liberty and Security, which in turn is the continuation of the debate started in “The Winter Soldier.”

Tony Stark / Iron Man – Tony is a man consumed by demons (Pepper left him, missing his parents, regret over his wrongs) who realizes that most of the problems the Avengers have had have been caused by the Avengers (creating Ultron, etc.). This leads to him getting behind the Accords and fighting Steve over it. In the end he is able to make peace though as he lets Captain America break out the Avengers Thaddeus had put away as we get the idea he wants the balance that is at the core of the Accords and that he forgives Steve to some degree for all that went down.

Responsibility and Oversight – This also relates to the Social Contract and Liberty v. Security. This is the core issue going on this film and why the Civil War exists in the first place between the Avengers. Oversight makes sense and the dangers of oversight are illustrated too. Who watches the watchers? The film is good at leaving this open too.

War and Consequences – Zemo and the Accords arose from the consequences of the war and the power of weapons. The Avengers are weapons and the collateral damage they cause to save lives goes addressed here. There is no going back from the trauma war brings and in the end you can end up like Zemo seeking revenge or T’Challa finding peace.

Okay: Sharon Carter – She felt shoe-horned in because of her relation to Agent Carter. I liked some of her scenes but her romance with Steve that was thrown in at the end felt tacked on. Her character wasn’t needed and wasn’t as fun as Spider-Man or Ant-Man (on the same subject of characters who weren’t needed to tell the story). It never really shows when they hooked up either.

 The Cons: Scarlet Witch and Vision Romance – Romance is once again this issue and it again feels tacked on! We never get when this love blossomed and they felt more like friends than lovers.

Lack of Loss – I wanted someone to die. We are getting close to the “Infinity War” and the lack of main character death that is permanent is annoying me. This of all films was perfect as Captain America is killed in the comics during this arc, so why not in the film too?

   For me the one thing that really brings it down is that Marvel has not been able to kill off any character for good. I was rooting for Bucky or Steve to die in this one so that Tony would fully feel the cost of what he was doing and so we’d fully feel the hit before the “Infinity War.” So often in these films characters die but not for good, unless they are a villain. This is a Marvel Problem but it is one that doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the film, and this is really the sequel that “Age of Ulton” should have been as it captures the spirit of the first “Avengers” film. “Civil War” is well worth your time and I’m super excited for the “Black Panther” and “Spider-Man” film. I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

Justice League vs. Teen Titans (2016): Honoring the Old “Teen Titans” Show and Creating a Great Original Story

Justice League vs Teen Titans poster

    “Justice League vs. Teen Titans” is a lot of fun. As someone who grew up on Bruce Timm’s justice league and the old original animesque “Teen Titans,” this is the first time with these films I’ve felt the spirit of both really captured, while still remaining true to “The New 52” tone they’ve had going on in all these films. The Teen Titans are really who carry the film and this is there story and it is their development and actions that end up making this a favorite film for me.

     The film was directed by Sam Liu, written by Bryan Q. Miller and Alan Burnett and produced by James Tucker.

SPOILERS ahead

     The story involves Trigon’s (Jon Burnthal) attempt to return to Earth to destroy it and to use his daughter Raven (Taissa Farmiga) as the way to do so. When the Justice League investigates he takes control of a few members leaving the Teen Titans to team to together to stop him and save the Justice League.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack at moments reminded me of Bear McCreary which added a lot to the haunting nature of Trigon and the pasts of Raven and Damian. Frederik Wiedmann once again did a fantastic job.

The Animation – WB and DC continue to put out great animated films and this one is no different. The world is dark but beautiful and feels epic in feel.

The World – The world is rich as we get an appearance of Trigon, the Legion of Doom, the Justice League and Teen Titans. This world is huge and still gives room to explore many of the characters within it.

The Characters – The characters are what carry this film and the reason to see it. Whether it is certain Justice League members or the Teen Titans as a whole, these are the folks who make this film fun.

Batman / Bruce Wayne – Batman is the only Justice League member not to get possessed and it is thanks to him that Cyborg is saved and later the rest of the Justice League. He risks himself in the process though and is out of it until the end.

Barry Allen / The Flash – Flash appears briefly but his comedic antics and comedic villains are both on display, even at the end. I like the Flash a lot now as he adds much needed levity to the super seriousness of “The New 52.”

Oliver Stone / Cyborg – Cyborg gets to be both Justice League and Teen Titans and brings pizza at the end as a callback to the show! He is great and we see that he is the leader when Batman is out of commission. He is pretty much a Teen Titans member and co-leader with Starfire over the course of saving Raven and getting to the final fight.

Dick Grayson / Nightwing – Grayson should have been in the final fight. I don’t know why he wasn’t as he’s pretty much Damian’s babysitter until Damian is dropped off at the Justice League. Maher is once again wonderful and brings charm to the awkward flirting that Starfire and He do with one another. We needed more of this character.

Trigon – Jon Bernthal is fantastic as the monster and power that is Trigon. I wanted to see more of this character and his influence on the world beyond just trying to enter it and sending his sons out. He still felt like a threat though, even though the final battle with him was kind of stupid.

Teen Titans – The Teen Titans are the best part of this film and really the main reason to watch this. I didn’t see “Teen Titans Go” and don’t plan on it, so this is the best version of them since that past 2003 show.

Koriand’r / Starfire – Starfire is the leader and she feels like an alien in this but also the idealist we saw from when she was in the show. Her dynamic with everyone is great as she is the glue and the one who helps Damian open up.

Jaime Reyes / Blue Beetle – Blue Beetle is cool and doesn’t put up with Damian’s crap. He is very much the Cyborg of the group (and not just because he is pretty much a cyborg from the alien tech melded to his body) as his personality is big, leading him to fight with Damian. I like how he doesn’t know the suit’s power…he reminds me of some of Venom’s hosts that way.

Damian Wayne / Robin – Finally Robin isn’t perfect (sort of)! We see his anger come out and how he was raised by sociopaths and it does make an impact on how he interacts with others when he invades the Teen Titans security, eggs Blue Beetle on and nearly dies because of it and confronts a demon taking the form of Ra’s Al Ghul, giving him the chance to face his past trauma and see how alike he and Raven are. Both having fathers out to destroy the world. His friendship with Raven is one of the best parts of the film. Loved that he neutralized Superman with kryptonite and later puts it back in his pouch as Superman frowns.

Garfield Logan / Beast Boy – Brandon Soo Hoo’s performance reminded me of classic Beast Boy from the 2003 “Teen Titans” show. He’s funny and his wit and humor make him gold in every scene. I love how he fights too and moves between small and large creatures to have the largest impact in a fight, and he does it a comedic way.

Okay: Wonder Woman – She like Superman feels a little too alien and even though she’s played by Rosario Dawson, I never got her character fully. I’m also biased against her design and miss the classic design, but that would be made up if she had a bit more development and motivations…she isn’t as bad as Superman at least.

Okay / Con – Justice League Development – We see them fight Lex Luthor and some folks at the beginning in the Legion of Doom but it never goes anywhere and the villains never feel like a threat. It’s cool to see Lex Luthor at least.

The Teams Working Together in the Final Fight – The fight in Trigon’s realm is cool, Superman’s fight against the Justice League and Flash, Wonder Woman and Superman against Trigon is just weak…so it ends up being an okay/con.

The Cons: Superman – This guy is alien, distant a jerk and has zero chemistry with any of the characters, and he’s supposed to be in love and dating Wonder Woman. I never got that and his presentation in this new 52 Universe feels off. I miss the Bruce Timm Superman, he felt like a real character at least.

Superman Stops Evil Justice League Alone – Cyborg and the Teen Titans are trying to get the crystal for Raven to trap Trigon in it again but they feel useless as Superman stops both the Flash and Wonder Woman who are also possessed before they even reach the portal. Seriously, the Teen Titans and Cyborg weren’t even needed, it’s implied through how easy he saved the other two Justice League members that Superman could have done it all himself.

     The only real downside to this was lack of development for the Justice League, which made sense given this was about the Teen Titans, and Superman being so overpowered everyone being there felt unnecessary. I hate this version of Superman, he’s distant and treats everyone around him like crap besides Diana and even their relationship doesn’t really work because we never see it develop so I didn’t feel chemistry in that relationship. Seriously, I look forward to when one of these films eventually kills Superman off. Besides that, the Teen Titans are awesome and the best I’ve seen the characters since the show that aired in 2003. This managed to capture that same spirit and be it’s own thing, which is the best that could have been hoped for.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10. A favorite and worth checking out.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) – A Good Batman Story Trapped in a Terrible Film

Batman v Superman

      “Batman v Superman” is a terrible film. There is a good film in here (“The Dark Knight Returns” and what could have more fully come with that) but all that is drowned out in the baggage of Lois and Clark and anything involving some of the worst villains I have seen on screen. Lex Luthor and Doomsday are absolutely terrible characters and I never felt threatened or interested in them due to how they were written and portrayed. This is a film that tried to do so much and ended up completely failing because of it.

     The film was directed by Zack Snyder and wrote by David Goyer with Chris Terrio. The film was produced by Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven.

     The story starts with “Man of Steel” leaves off with Bruce Wayne witnessing the destruction of a Wayne Tower by Superman in the “Battle for Metropolis,” after saving people he is filled with hate towards Superman and thinks he is a threat that must be dealt with. Elsewhere Lex Luthor plots Superman’s destruction as well.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Visually, this film like “Man of Steel” is beautiful. The dark color pallet creates a visually stunning film that Larry Fong truly did a masterful job portraying. It looks like comics turned film, which is one of the few things this film has going in it’s favor.

The Soundtrack – Hans Zimmer once again creates a beautiful score and with Junkie XL we actually get some pretty rocking pieces…for example Wonder Woman has a fantastic theme that really captures the power of her character.

Perry White – Fishburne is finally allowed to do something! I really enjoyed the small role he played in this as the cynical editor of “The Daily Planet” who knows he is in a dying industry so is making the most out of what is profitable.

Alfred – Jeremy Irons is a great Alfred. His wit is dry and sharp and you can tell that he’s given up on helping Bruce Wayne move on so simply does what he can to protect him and help him realize the bigger picture. He really is an awesome character and I wish we’d gotten more time with him.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Ben Affleck is a fantastic Batman and I can’t wait to see his solo outing. He potrays Batman who has lost all sense of grounding and has gone full Punisher so well…this is the Batman of “The Dark Returns.” He’s lost everything and is ready to do anything to protect his city and people, even if it means killing an unknown quantity like Superman. From his branding of criminals, to his shooting of minions…this Batman has lost all hope and really doesn’t reclaim any sense of self until the very end.

Against Authority and the Corruption of Power – A running theme is one of anti-authority and a critique of power, especially that which is absolute. We see the government hearings, Batman and Lex attempt to hold Superman’s power in check, while in the case of Lex and Batman they were already a corrupt power already out for themselves…in this way there really aren’t any heroes. No one is there to protect the innocent and reel unchecked power in, and that is the true tragedy of the film as this should have been what the film was about with a moral Superman and vigilante Batman.

Okay: Wonder Woman / Diane Prince – We don’t get to know Wonder Woman all that well except to learn she was around in World War 1 and is a Meta-human. She has an awesome theme song though and the scenes we have with her are alright. I’m interested in her solo film at least.

The Cons: Lois Lane – Lois continues to be a cipher and plot device and I couldn’t stand her character. She never brings up Jimmy Olsen or his death or asks Superman why he isn’t looking at the bigger picture beyond her, she’s part of the problem with Superman and that never gets called out. She is a core reason why he’s so selfish.

Martha Wayne – Martha is just kind of there and also enabling Superman’s lack of growth as she tells him that he owes humanity nothing (um, Earth is his adopted world so he owes it by being a part of it) and she like Lois just needs to be saved and focuses as a cliched plot device.

Superman / Clark Kent – This guy is a cipher who can only see Lois and random people on television tops. I thought he’d seek to write the wrongs of the battle of Metropolis but instead he spends all his time being selfish and not taking those who may die in his fights into account. He has no moral high ground over Batman and is just as bad. If Lex had actually been a well written character I would have been rooting for him to kill this guy.

Doomsday – Boring villain who looks like a giant Cave Troll and gets more powerful when he is hit with energy. Seriously, he only exists to kill Superman. He wasn’t even needed in this as Batman could have killed Superman and realized his mistake…instead we get a villain that is poorly rendered CGI and has zero character.

Let Luthor – Where Doomsday has zero character Lex lacks a consistent character. I didn’t know why he wanted to kill Superman as him being anti-alien and super hero made no sense when he created Doomsday, his plots were also pointless too as Batman was already trying to kill Superman. Jessie Eisenberg is just awful. Seriously, this guy annoyed me more than Sandman and Venom in “Spider-Man 3” and Doctor Doom in the “Fantastic Four” films. One theory is he is Lex Jr. and the real Lex Luthor is still in the wings, I hope so because this guy is an inconsistent joke who comes off as a really poor rendition of the Joker.

Lack of Focus – There are three films in this. The Batman film, which is good. The Justice League film which goes from okay to bad, and the Superman film which is just terrible. Either one of these films on their own could have been a favorite, or at least enjoyable yet flawed like “Man of Steel.” Instead it all feels rushed and I found myself face palming and sighing multiple times during this film. I didn’t care about the characters because we were never given time to, or in the case of Superman and his villains…they were so poorly written no amount of time could have fixed it.

The Ending – Superman dies but maybe isn’t dead, he sent Lois a ring proposing to her, Lex says a bigger bad is coming from beyond the stars and Wonder Woman and Batman work on forming the Justice League to honor Superman…None of this worked.

  This is a film that could have been great. Had we gotten a story that only involved “Batman v Superman” and was Snyder’s “Dark Knight Returns,” it would have been amazing! There would have been focus, there wouldn’t have been the baggage and clutter and the larger themes wouldn’t have become lost within this mess of a plot. I don’t recommend this film at all, Affleck is not reason enough to see this film, just wait until the stand alone “Batman” film is released. This film is loud, pointless and the good of Batman is not enough to offset the cluttered story, terrible villains and bland Superman. I seriously don’t recommend this film. Not worth your money or time. Zack Snyder should have just done his version of “The Dark Knight Returns” or done another solo Superman movie.

Final Score: 5 / 10 For the good Batman story in the mess.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016): A Nearly Perfect Thriller That Chokes at the End

10 Cloverfield Lane

   “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a nearly perfect “Twilight Zone” or “Black Mirror” type movie as so much of what makes it work is subverting expectations of a reality and telling a personal story through the eyes of a single person. This story would have been a 10 / 10 if not for what it does at the very end. Also, this is not a sequel to “Cloverfield.” This is a story that stands individually and isn’t connected to the other film at all, “Cloverfield” is more of a marketing way of connecting an anthology of these type of films from what I understand…though if they choose to do a sequel they could keep going the anthology route or make them all connected within the universe as a whole. Non-spoiler thoughts before my review. You should see this film, even though the problem I have in the 3rd act brought it down from perfect to merely great.

   The film was directed by Dan Trachtenberg and written by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle and produced by J.J. Abrams and Lindsey Weber.

      The story involves Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is running away from her fiance when she is ran off the road and wakes up chained in a bunker. From here she must figure out what happened to the outside world and why Howard (John Goodman), the owner of the bunker and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), someone who fought to enter the bunker that he helped make.

SPOILERS Ahead

The Pros: Tone and Tension – The tone is dark and there is an aura of threat throughout the film, from the cramped nature of the bunker…to the threat of Howard and his constant entitlement on those around him as he sees them as only existing for him. You never feel safe with the character and the outside world is threat too…making it a lose lose situation for the characters we follow.

Cinematography – Jeff Cutter is great at cinematography…this is a film that focuses on the individual and personal, the trapped and wanting to be free from that cramped space. The use of dark and light capture that wonderfully and the bunker and outside world never stop feeling like a cage until the very end.

Soundtrack – Bear McCreary is one of my favorite directors and he is a master at using music to create tension. From his work in “The Walking Dead,” and “Battlestar Galactica,” this is a guy who owns the darker soundtrack, and this film captures that brilliantly.

The Bunker – The bunker is awesome. It shows us Howard’s humanity and the threat of this person too, as we see his collection of DVDs and VHSs and how the family room looks like a family room. We also see how it is a prison too as Michelle’s room looks like an actual prison and Emmett doesn’t even have a room. This is Howard’s playground and he is the Warden of their prison.

The Mystery – The mystery is two-fold. Who is Howard and why did he knock Michelle off the road? What happened to the outside world? What was the event? Over the course of the film we learn Howard is most likely a pedophile murder, definitely a murder as he kills Emmett when Emmett says he tried to steal his gun to impress Michelle and aliens are invading the outside world, proving one of Howard’s conspiracy theories true. The reveals are handled so well and it built slowly over time.

Emmett – Emmett built the bunker and had to fight to get into it as he built it for Howard. This was a free living guy and we learn that he is full of regrets but is capable of being present with  people and living for more than himself. He is the one who tries to help Michelle escape and gives his life to help her escape. John Gallagher Jr. really did a great job.

Howard – Howard is the antagonist and is creepy and human. He is most likely a pedophile murder as Michelle discovers “HELP” written from the inside of one of the escape hatches and he sees Emmett and Michelle as entitled to him. He is toxic, even though he is given human moments too as we see him connect to Michelle at a few points as he describes her as his daughter, though we never know if he’s telling the truth and that works. This is a character who is broken and it is hard to pin down the full reasons why. Him creating the Bunker makes complete sense, and it takes a lot for Michelle to beat him and escape. John Goodman better get a nomination for this. He deserves it.

Michelle – Michelle is our hero and who begins the story running away from her relationship but over the course of the film chooses to stop running and stand…from making a gas mask and suit to protect from radiation on the outside and her fighting Howard and using all her skills to get out and finally making the choice to join the human Resistance in rebellion against the aliens. Mary Elizabeth Winstead does an amazing job. I felt for everything she was going through and seeing her growth through the film is handled so well.

The Cons: The Alien Fight – This was stupid. The aliens have a boring look, where they are a mouth and that is it and they have bioships. The fight goes on way too long and happens right after she escapes the house. Seriously, there was no reason for this fight to happen. Michelle had gained control of her life already when she rebelled against Howard’s control and made her own escape. The fight serves no purpose, she already fought Howard, let her reward be that she chooses to fight on without having to deal with the aliens the moment she escapes the Bunker.

 This was a film that would have made the Top 5 I think, if not for that alien fight at the end. She was out of the house. Her being free should have been the point, as she could have learned about the Resistance in the Bunker and it would have set things up better so she still drives to Houston. Instead we get a pointless fight versus the fight against Howard, which was the one that mattered. I would still recommend this film, it truly is great…but it chokes at the end and that is why I will only score it as a solid great. This is a film that could have been perfect, but falls merely to great.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Zootopia (2016): A Masterpiece Exploring Prejudice and Communities

Zootopia Poster

   “Disney Animated Stuios” is pretty much the new Pixar in regards to quality animated storytelling. “Pixar” is now where old Disney used to be as they are releasing tons of sequels and it isn’t ‘garutneed they’ll make a hit (unlike “Disney Studios”). Seriously, “Big Hero 6,” “Frozen,” “Wreck-it-Ralph.” These are films this studio has put out and now “Zootopia” is up there among them as one of the best animated films I have ever watched. Much like those this film is intelligent with characters, comedy and themes and gives us a lived in world without a powerful story we can relate to our own world and ourselves. Before I get further and into spoiler territory, go see this film.

    “Zootopia” was directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore while being written by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston and was produced by Clark Spencer.

SPOILERS ahead

    The story involves Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) moving to Zootopia to become a cop and finding out that the ideal world of animals that were once Predators and Prey isn’t the peaceful utopia she believed it to be. Together she must work with a hustler named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to solve the case on why certain predators are going feral and help save the city.

The Pros: The World – The world is awesome! It has a bunch of anthropomorphic animals and unlike a lot of “Dreamworks” films they don’t exist as jokes. There are fully fleshed out cultures and societies (of the the carnivore and herbivore variety) made to reflect our own, rather than satire pop culture…but that is the quality I’ve come to expect from Disney Studios.

The Animation – The animation is beautiful as Zootopia is split into different regions…from the Metropolis at the center, desert, rain forest, etc. It all flows together beautifully and I love how they show when animals go feral with the red eyes.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of the film as their histories are what inform the film, especially between Hopps and Wilde, who really carry the film. This is a film that is honest about it’s characters and in turn honest about our own basic humanity, with all of the pros and cons that come with it.

Mr. Big – Mr. Big is the gang lord of the Arctic region. He is an Arctic shrew who is pretty amazing as he helps our heroes once he learns that Hopps saved his daughter and in turn he makes her family and forgives Wilde for conning him.

Chief Bogo – Idris Elba is awesome in this! He plays a giant Water Buffalo who is the police chief of Zootopia. He has his own issues to work through as he doesn’t take Hopps seriously until Wilde calls him out for his prejudice against smaller animals and his belief they can’t be cops. He grows a lot and becomes of the few characters who remains a hero throughout the film.

Nick Wilde – Jason Bateman is fantastic as Nick, who is a tragic figure who had gotten beaten up by some herbivores as a kid because he was a carnivore, as they beat him up and muzzled him. From this we get why he doesn’t trust people and why he lives the sly fox stereotype. His friendship with Hopps is awesome as he helps her grow and she helps him grow as he becomes someone serious and stops conning others.

Judy Hopps – Hopps was beat up by a fox when she was little and her family hates foxes due to their experience in the countryside. That all changes when she goes to the city and befriends Nick. It is from there that she has to face herself when she helps the Assistant Mayor target predators when she blames their going feral on their DNA. From here there is one of the most touching scenes when she apologizes to Nick for all she’s done and they go to takeout the Assistant Mayor.

Prejudice and Communities – The main prejudices explored here are those based on body (Hopps ignored by the Police Chief and force) and carnivore vs. herbivore as the herbivores fear the Predators and vice versa due to times fear and hatred have been acted upon characters. We see this in how the Assistant Mayor uses the fear to limit predator opportunities and making Hopps a hero. It is when Nick and Judy get past their prejudices and Chief Bogo does too that they are able to take out the Assistant Mayor and her sheep who want revenge for being used and oppressed and wants to end the existent of carnivores.

The Cons: The Mayor and Assistant Mayor – I felt that these two were never fully explored. The Mayor was just someone taking advantage of the media to be better liked while the Assistant Mayor preyed on fear. There was so much more that could have been done with all of them. The mayor being a bully didn’t seem like a logical reason to target all carnivores.

Too Much Shakira – She is in this as Gazelle and she is everywhere. Seriously, at times this film feels like a Shakira commercial. I hated it as this city should listen to more people both in the news and music. This was the one thing that really took me out of the film.

  This was an amazing movie even if the Mayor and Assistant Mayor didn’t feel fully developed as characters, and there was way too much Shakira (and I like Shakira) as at times it felt like one giant music video selling her, especially at the end. These cons are overwhelmed by the positive though as the world is amazing and the core characters all go through character arcs that humanizes them and gives them depth. There is a lot to like about this film and I would not be surprised if it ends up making my Top 5 Films this year.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10