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Ratchet & Clank (2016)
The video game, without the video game.
Let me just say that I absolutely love the Ratchet & Clank games. I've been playing them since I first got my PlayStation 2, which the series debuted on. They were great third-person shooters that never took themselves seriously, even to the point where they got away with putting innuendos in the titles of almost every installment. As a result, the series became one of the staples of the PlayStation brand.
However, as what has been proved time and time again with movies like "Doom", "Hitman", and more infamously, "Super Mario Brothers", adapting a video game into a movie is a lot harder than it sounds, and while this movie is not as bad as those, it's something else. Lemme ask you this: Have you ever browsed YouTube and searched up all the cutscenes of a certain game you like combined in one video? Well, I have out of boredom, and I can tell you right now that that's exactly what this movie is.
The film is a re-imagining of the story told in the very first game on the PS2. In short, Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti), the head of Drek Enterprises, is destroying planet after planet in the Solana Galaxy to build the perfect planet, and two unlikely heroes, a lombax named Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor), and a defective robot named Clank (David Kaye), are the galaxy's only hope in stopping Drek and his two cohorts, robot leader Victor (Sylvester Stallone) and mad scientist Dr. Nefarious (Armin Shimerman).
People have been giving this movie a lot of hate since it came out, and after watching this film, I can understand why. It's the video game, but without the video game. Granted, the animation is decent, and the voice acting is what you'd expect if you've played the games. In fact, they brought back several of the main voice actors who played the characters in the games, so I can say that it is a major plus. Story-wise, it's the generic "I wanna be a hero" plot line that has practically become the mother of all clichés. Even though this is a family picture, you can bet that adults like myself who watch the film are going to groan for hearing this type of story for the umpteenth time. As for the jokes, there were quite a few that I chuckled at, and I love the tongue & cheek references to the PlayStation brand.
Overall, all I can sum up for this movie is, my god, did it try. It is a harmless movie for kids and fans of the games. However, if you've played the current game on the PS4, which uses this movie as cutscenes, or aren't a fan of the games, there's really no point in watching this movie. It's nowhere near the worst video game-based movie out there, but for all intents and purposes, stick with playing the game. It's actually a lot of fun.
A Study in Wet (1964)
You might be familiar with the Christmas TV special "Olive, The Other Reindeer", produced by Matt Groening. If not, you might also be familiar with Matt Groening's other project, the mildly raunchy sci-fi comedy series "Futurama". If you stuck around after the end credits of either one of these, you saw the a logo with the words "The Curiosity Company", which is Mr. Groening's production company. It also featured a rather odd image of a rippling water reflection, complete with a dripping water sound. If you wanted to know where all those weird sound effects and visuals in the logo came from, here is your answer.
"A Study in Wet" is a 1964 short experimental film by Matt's father, Homer Groening, consisting of water reflections, surfing footage, and the sound of water dripping into a bathtub, as he points out around 50 seconds in. We aren't given a rather logical reason as to why he filmed this, other than the fact that some of us "haven't really listened to water" or really observed its behavior. Regardless, what we are left with is a somewhat mesmerizing and trippy experience for a whole six minutes, and I can't help but be reminded of a David Lynch short film while watching this.
There are filmmakers who only want to tell a story or take you on a unique experience that will change the way you look at life. Then there are filmmakers who only make certain movies, simply because they can. "A Study in Wet" would most likely fall in the latter category. I'm pretty sure there's a deeper meaning behind it all (if there even is one) but I can't find it. All I can say is, it's a memorable piece with unique composition fit for an art museum.
Olive, the Other Reindeer (1999)
A holiday guilty pleasure
Even though I'm 26 years old, I can't help but have a soft spot for some Christmas specials I saw as a kid. This is one of those specials that I have said spot for, and it happens to be produced by the same man behind everyone's favorite jaundice-skinned family "The Simpsons" and the animated sci-fi comedy "Futurama".
Based on the children's book by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh, this TV special focuses on a small dog named Olive (Drew Barrymore), who hears a radio broadcast where Santa mentions he's canceling Christmas due to Blitzen hurting his leg. However, when Santa mentions "all of the other reindeer", Olive mis-hears it as "Olive, the other reindeer" (hence the title), and thus, she treks her way to the North Pole with her penguin buddy Martini (Joe Pantoliano) to take Blitzen's place for the year, all while an irate postman (Dan "Homer Simpson" Castellaneta) chases her down so he can prevent Christmas from happening.
Now I fondly remember watching this one time on Cartoon Network, back when I watched that channel religiously, and I remember thoroughly enjoying it. Watching it as an adult, as silly as the plot is, I can say it's rather innocent family entertainment that anyone can smile at if they're in the right mood. The 2D-on-3D animation is really not that bad for a television special, it's only an hour long, and there are a few catchy songs thrown in for good measure.
It's not the best Christmas special out there, and the art style might turn some people off, but if you give it a chance, it's rather harmless. For me, I kinda like it, and I think a lot of kids and adults today will still enjoy it around the holiday season. I say give it a watch.
Animal House (1978)
The movie that made John Belushi an immortal figure of comedy.
When people first hear the name National Lampoon, some would think of the parody magazine that existed way back when as a competitor to MAD. However, most people would think of the four Vacation movies starring comedian Chevy Chase as the clumsy family man Clark Griswold. But National Lampoon was also known for one other thing: being behind one of, if not, THE greatest frat comedy in film history. That movie is National Lampoon's Animal House, the film that would make the late John Belushi a household name next to Saturday Night Live and eventually The Blues Brothers two years later.
The plot is rather simple: it's 1962, and two college freshman, Larry and Kent (Tom Hulce and Stephen Furst respectively) are new to Faber College and want to join a fraternity. They first go to Omega house, which is full of nothing but stuck-up snobs that would make the folks of Downton Abbey blush, some of which include Doug Niedermeyer (Mark Metcalf) and Greg Marmalard (James Daughton). Then they decide to check out the most notorious fraternity on campus, which they ultimately choose, the Delta house, full of sex-crazed, fun-loving, drunk reprobates that are not afraid to sing "Louis, Louis" all night long, with Bluto (John Belushi) being the one that steals the show. However, what the folks at the Delta house don't know is that the Dean, Vernon Wormer, is desperate to expel the fraternity for all of the hi-jinks they've pulled off, even to where he secretly puts the whole house on "double secret probation". Does this stop the Deltas? Well, take a guess. What follows is some of the funniest live-action slapstick ever put to screen.
The name "Animal House" is quite fitting for this movie, as the Delta fraternity is nothing but animals that make the college their own personal playground at the expense of Wormer and the Omegas. They get more angry, while we sit and laugh at their antics, one after the other, leading up to the ultimate ending where the Delta house strikes their ultimate blow against their oppressors. It's like an early epic comedy on par with Hot Shots or any of Mel Brooks' films, only its satire is not anything based on pop culture, but on college life as a whole. When I first watched the film at the age of 13 (thanks Dad), it was probably the funniest movie I've ever seen up to that point. Some of the scenes that still manage to get a chuckle out of me include the ROTC scene where Kent is yelled at by Niedermeyer while two of the head Deltas are aiming golf balls at his horse, the girl's dorm scene with Belushi, the cafeteria/food fight scene, and yes, even the entire Toga Party segment. Today, almost 40 years after the film's release, the movie is still one of the greatest comedies ever made. What makes me love this movie even more is that it was filmed in my home state of Oregon (REPRESENT!!!), and I even got the privilege to see it in the movie theater a few days ago with a friend of mine as part of TCM's BIg Screen Classics series. A fun time at the theater was had by all.
If you want to know where famous college movies like American Pie, Old School, and Revenge of the Nerds got their sense of humor, you need not look further than this film right here. I cannot say much more on how much I love this movie without repeating myself, so all I can really say is simply this: see this movie if you haven't.
Eight Crazy Nights (2002)
Great animation cannot save this turd of a flick.
Before I decided to write this short review (in the summertime, no less), let me tell you that I have seen this movie not once, but twice. The first time was when it aired edited with commercials on Comedy Central, and at that time, I didn't like it. Then I watched it when it was available for streaming on Netflix (which it isn't anymore) in its unedited form. I still didn't like it. I think you get the gist of what I think of this holiday travesty of an animated motion picture.
I'm not an Adam Sandler fan by any means, though I will admit he's had some good films earlier in his career. I know a good movie when I see it. This movie, on the other hand, was made at the time when Sandler started to throw farting and "number two" jokes at the audience. That, and the case of this film, our main protagonist is probably one of the most unlikable movie characters ever conceived for cinema (but not as much as Jar Jar Binks, let's just say that). In "Eight Crazy Nights", Sandler plays a character named Davey, a public drunk who pretty much hates everybody and has constantly gotten himself into a lot of trouble, to the point where he has a criminal record longer than Santa's naughty list. In other words, he's a total jerk. He's then put on probation under the supervision of a retired basketball referee named Whitey (unfortunately, also played by Sandler), who has a voice that'll make you envy the deaf. There's more to why Davey is like this, because later in the film, Whitey explains how Davey's life went spiraling downhill, but the question is, would you care after seeing what kind of crap (literally and metaphorically) Davey pulls off on him?
I'll give credit where credit is due. The animation is indeed well-done, as it was done by those who used to work at Warner Brothers' animation department on films made in the late '90s like "Cats Don't Dance" and "The Iron Giant", but all of the good animation that was used in those movies has all gone to waste on a Happy Madison production that is not funny, disgusting at times, and is just downright mean-spirited all around. I know what you're thinking: What about "Bad Santa"? Well, here's the thing, "Bad Santa" was funny, and even though the main character was also an jerk, he wasn't insulting or unlikable, and you can sympathize with him.
If you're an Adam Sandler fan and still believe that this movie is funny, more power to you. The film is available on DVD cheap as chips if you don't have it, but as for me, this film has no welcome place on my DVD shelf.
Far from historically accurate, but still a good family flick.
In the late 1990s, we had two animated movies that were based on a certain event in a country's history. In 1995, Disney gave us an American "history lesson" (and I use that term loosely) with Pocahontas, but in 1997, 20th Century Fox did exactly what Disney did, except give us a look at a bit of Russian history (again, using the term "history" loosely) about the daughter of Czar Nicholas II, Anastasia Romanov, simply called...well...Anastasia. However, one thing to consider when going into this film is that this is a family picture ("kids movie" for short), so if you're looking for a true-to-life history lesson a la a PBS or History Channel documentary, you might as well throw that out the nearest airlock.
In this film, Anastasia, voiced by Meg Ryan, is a princess that went missing for several years after the attack on the Romanov family during a party, which was led by the Romanov's former confidant Rasputin, voiced by Christopher Lloyd of Back to the Future fame, who is an undead, evil sorcerer in this movie. Anastasia, now with a case of amnesia and dubbed Anya, eventually joins two con men, Dimitri (John Cusack) and Vladimir (Fraiser's Kelsey Grammar), who are convinced that she really is the missing Romanov princess, and travel to Paris, France, where her grandmother, the Dowager Empress, resides, to hopefully reunite them, all while Rasputin is seeking her unfortunate demise.
I won't judge this movie on historical accuracy, as all (or most) of us can tell that the general audience for this film is younger children, though adult audiences will also be entertained, since there was a lot of effort put into the creation of this film. That, and I wouldn't dismiss it as a "Disney knockoff" right away, because the directors of the film, Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, were former Disney animators, so it's easy to confuse this for a Disney picture like Beauty and the Beast. As a family film alone, it is pretty damn good. The artwork and animation is great, the songs are enjoyable, and the voice acting is pretty decent.
The film was such a success that it became co-director Don Bluth's comeback after a slew of mediocre to bad animated films he directed throughout most of the decade, and his highest grossing film to date. Not only that, but it warranted a direct-to-video follow up film starring the villain's sidekick, Bartok the Bat (voiced by The Simpsons' Hank Azaria in both films).
Overall, the film serves as a great choice to have playing during a family movie night, unless you're extremely picky on historical accuracy, in which case, go do something else for 97 minutes.
Hollywood Canteen (1944)
Variety show meets WWII
In 1941, America took a turn for the worse when the naval base known as Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, and was issued a declaration of war from Nazi Germany, thus pulling the country into the second World War. While our military forces were combating the enemy overseas, at home, we also contributed to their effort by buying war bonds, recycling important materials such as metal and rubber, among other things. Hollywood, especially, had a big part in this, with every major studio producing propaganda and war-themed shorts (both animated and live- action) and feature films that encouraged our troops overseas as well as took our minds off the mayhem. Why did I give you this little history lesson, you ask? Well, when I said that Hollywood had a big part in supporting our own troops and allied forces, they did more than just make films.
In 1942, actors John Garfield and Bette Davis, along with the former president of the Music Corporation of America, Dr. Jules Stein, opened up an exclusive club reserved only for servicemen called the Hollywood Canteen. There, men who were on leave from military service, whether local or from one of the allied countries, got to relax and enjoy food, drink, dancing, and entertainment from some of Hollywood's greatest performers until they were ordered to return to active duty. Many of the performers also served as waiters, dishwashers, and cooks, believe it or not. The canteen would stay open up until the end of the war in 1945. In 1944, however, the place was so popular amongst the public that Warner Brothers Pictures decided to make a musical motion picture based around the establishment.
This two-hour picture, filmed entirely in black-and-white, had one of the biggest star rosters in film history at the time, with most of the stars playing themselves, including founders Bette Davis and John Garfield, as well as Peter Lorre, Joan Crawford, Joe E. Brown, The Andrews Sisters, Jack Carson, Roy Rogers (along with Trigger, "the smartest horse in the movies"), among others. There is a story underlying this, though. It's about two Army soldiers who served in the South Pacific, with one of them, named Slim, falling in love with film actress Joan Leslie, who reminds him of his past fiancée. On the third night, Slim becomes the millionth customer, and wins a date with Joan. It then becomes a romantic drama between the two, as they both have feelings for one another. Thus, Joan makes it her goal to give Slim the best night he's ever had before he goes back to active duty.
Aside from the story, the film is mainly a variety show, featuring several musical numbers and skits performed by the stars. A musical, it may be, but it's not the kind of musical where a character sporadically breaks into song a la Rodgers & Hammerstein in order to move the plot along. Even though the underlying storyline is put aside throughout a good portion of the picture, the film does not stray from its main attraction: the canteen itself and what it accomplished for our troops. The film got mixed reception from critics upon release, but audiences were all over it, with 40% of the ticket sales going to the real canteen.
The film was enjoyable to watch, and serves as a time capsule of a bright moment in U.S. history during a dark time. Warner Bros. even made a parody/tribute of this film two years later via an animated Merrie Melodies short entitled "Hollywood Canine Canteen", which featured dogs that were reminiscent of Hollywood stars. This short can be seen as a bonus feature on the DVD. As for the film, an entertaining, yet informative watch for history and WWII buffs.
The Old Mill (1937)
One of the greatest animated shorts ever made.
Before the release of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", the animators at the Disney studios had to run tests to see if the special effects they could use at the time would even be possible. "The Old Mill" was one of those tests, and did it pay off in the end? You bet it did. Released in 1937, the same year that saw the release of the aforementioned "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", "The Old Mill" would in itself be a milestone in Walt Disney's Silly Symphony series. It was unlike any other animated short released at the time, in that it was the first picture to use the "Multi-plane camera", which allowed the 2D animation to look more 3D. The use of realism and experimentations with light, color, and rotoscoping (animating by drawing over real-life images) also gave the film a distinct look amongst all of the other animated shorts released at the time, making it more like a moving painting as opposed to a moving cartoon strip.
There isn't really that much of a story, except that we see the different animals occupy an old, beat-up windmill, such as birds, frogs, insects, mice, bats, etc. Suddenly, a storm sweeps over the land, causing the windmill to spin, and various parts of it becoming more and more loose as the storm intensifies, thus threatening all life within. As it goes on, you see the mill come apart, piece by piece, the wind flowing into the holes of a tree, making it sound like a haunting choir, and the animals trying to keep safe from the harsh weather, until finally, a flash of thunder strikes the mill, nearly demolishing it as the storm dies down. In the end, all of the animals survive the endeavor and begin anew as a new dawn approaches over the remains of the old mill.
Imagine for a moment that you were an average joe in 1937, stepping into what was then called a movie-house, and seeing something like this for the first time before the feature begins. For many an audience, it was unlike anything that they have seen before, even by Disney standards. But it was simply a taste from what's to come from the studio later that year. Today, the film still holds up as it did back then. The animation itself is worth noting, as it's so smooth and true to life. The music, which helps move the film along, completely sets the mood, from its happiest moments to the most grim.
The film, along with the release of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", would show that animation has a place in the industry and can be just as respected as any other motion picture. It has the power to tell unique stories that live-action films could not, and can make moviegoers emote. They began to feel uneasy when the storm came. They shook with fear and worried when the mother bird protecting her eggs as the mill wheel turned, and they sighed with relief that nothing bad happened in the end. This was what going to the movies was going to be like from there on, and as a result of that effort, Walt's team won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Subject.
Today, it's a historic piece of animated art, still enjoyed by both kids and adults alike, and as of 2015, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry division of the U.S. Library of Congress. The film can be found on the first volume of the Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphony sets, or the Diamond Edition of the 1942 film "Bambi". If you have either one of these, by all means, definitely give it a watch.
A Car-Tune Portrait (1937)
Proof that cartoon animals will always be the screen's clowns
"A Car-Tune Portrait" is a cartoon short directed by Dave Fleischer that proves one and all that no matter what you do to make yourself look different, your true nature is going to come out one way or another, and it is especially the case when it comes to the various cartoon animal characters that many moviegoers around this time period are immediately exposed to before the feature film begins.
Right as the picture begins, we are shown some of the characters being drawn by an "animated" hand (it's really a photograph of one moving frame-by-frame) and we transition to a concert hall where a lion conductor informs us that for the first time, we will be shown that the cartoon animals we often see can be more dignified and self-contained by performing classical music. The song the animals play: none other than Franz Liszt's Hungarian Symphony No. 2 (or simply "Number Two"). Everything's all fine and dandy as the tune begins, but as the picture goes on, the characters' true nature begins comes out and becomes a musical frenzy.
While not the first animated short to use Franz Liszt's "Number Two", this is the animated cartoon that practically started the trend of using it as a musical joke throughout the entire picture as opposed to just a small section of it. I'm pretty sure that's what went through the mind of director Dave Fleischer. Several other shorts from different studios would soon follow years later with this concept, including the 1946 Oscar-winning short "The Cat Concerto", directed by Bill Hanna and Joseph Barbera. As for this short, it's well done. The animation is smooth and precise, as usual with cartoons made by the Fleischer brothers, and the build-up to the slapstick was genius at the time. Nowadays, it's seen as another short that happens to use "Number Two" as a primary basis of comedy, but let's be honest, it never gets old when done right.
The film is in the public domain and not under any form of copyright, therefore it is freely available to watch on the internet, specifically YouTube, and in my opinion, it's worth a watch, especially if you're interested in finding out where "Number Two" as a joke got its roots in animation history.
Rock: It's Your Decision (1982)
Religious propaganda at its worst.
It's time for a bit of really bad Christian propaganda, and ladies and gentlemen, this is a doozie, as in this is probably one of the worst, because everyone that was involved in it had absolutely no idea what the hell they were talking about, nor does it represent the majority of the Christian religion.
"Rock: It's Your Decision" is a movie about a young teen who once loved listening to rock music, but his parents urged him to see his pastor, who convinces him that "all rock music is evil", and gets him to preach to those around him that they shouldn't be listening to it, because it promotes satanism and the occult, which causes all of his friends to turn on him and, let's be real here, destroy his entire social life. In the end, he begins to preach to his fellow churchgoers about his discoveries and how everything that we do should worship Jesus Christ.
Where do I begin with this? First of all, I'm quite the audiophile, meaning I listen to a lot of music everyday, primarily rock, metal, blues, and jazz, all four of which have been prior targets from religious zealots that believe that it's the "devil's music" (Jerry Lee Lewis' childhood and career in a nutshell), and I'm a non-practicing Catholic who still adheres to my religion's beliefs, just not too seriously. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY is going to convince me that listening to these genres of music will turn me into a satanist. Secondly, this movie was made at a time when the '80s New Age movement was just getting off the ground, and metal bands like Twisted Sister, Scorpions, and Judas Priest were some of the most popular groups of the decade. Third, and finally, the audience for this was relatively small, and when I mean small, I mean a few hundred out of hundreds of thousands of individuals in the United States alone. The only people that are going to see this are children and teens who go to Sunday School taught by a strict, closed-minded instructor who believes in the old-fashioned ways of teaching, including whipping children with a paddle or a belt.
I respect other peoples beliefs, and I find learning about other religions is a fascinating and educational experience, but one thing I've learned from being informed about other religious practices is that there are those that take their beliefs to a whole new level, as in, they force it on others regardless. With this film, unless you want to watch it with a few friends just to riff on it (a la MST3K) and laugh at how extremely stupid it is, don't even bother.