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The Emoji Movie (2017)
Just Swipe Left...
Hoping to see any redeeming qualities of this movie's very negative buzz, can't say I was able to when I did. The animation quality, visual setting, and adding a few real-life app names looks inviting on the outside, but upon entering its world and inner workings, it was a waste and abysmal to take seriously as a "movie." As though it poorly replicated Pixar's Inside Out concept crossed with the technological theme of Disney's Wreck-It Ralph.
I've seen plenty of animated features as both a kid and as an adult, but this is one you'd probably not want to see at a movie theater. It's pretty much a desperate, by-the-numbers cash grab done by all things Sony Animation, who had produced a few SO much better animated titles in the past.
In the city of Textopolis, an emoji called Gene (T.J. Miller) is designed to be like his parents (both "meh" icons), but for some reason he has multiple ways of expressing himself in a young teen's smartphone that it confuses those around him and his own user. Hoping to find his place, he goes on an adventure with female emoji hacker Jailbreak (Anna Faris) to have a true purpose in his user's data space.
Director Tony Leondis said he was greatly inspired by Toy Story's concept, but his approach in using that for emojis doesn't work if the story squanders it with a predictable ending and difficult-to-like, cardboard characters. Other films that used the concept like say, Wreck-It Ralph and The LEGO Movie had a premise and morals that weren't questionable or inane. No. instead, those movies emitted both the mythos and pathos in an intriguing and creative way. I don't blame the movie's voice cast at all for this mistake, it's the "story" that was unoriginal and a hodgepodge, including jokes that were too juvenile to find as funny.
Overall, this'll attract the littler ones, but this flick is best suited as direct-to-DVD, not theater worthy.
Sluggish Story, But Slowly Picks Up the Pace
Johnny Depp returns to the high seas as Captain Jack Sparrow in this fifth outing of 'Pirates of the Caribbean' titled Dead Men Tell No Tales. It was definitely a movie to watch and I have to admit that it felt pleasing to see a few familiar faces return for old time's sake and a few likable new faces thrown into the mix.
The plot centers around Captain Jack as he and his new companions Henry (Brenton Thwaites) and Carina (Maze Runner's Kaya Scodelario) venture out to search for the mystical Trident of Poseidon believing it would end the curse of Henry's father Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). But an old nemesis named Captain Salazar seeks the trident as well and holds a long-standing vengeance against Jack.
For a running time of 129 minutes (the shortest of the previous movies), I have to say the story in this latest installment felt slightly more understandable and not as dreary or dismal as its 2011 predecessor On Stranger Tides. Javier Bardem's portrayal of the nefarious Salazar is a formidable foe, but when comparing him to other villains of the previous Pirates films, it feels too routine. Nevertheless, his menacing presence proves that he will resort to any cutthroat tactics to vanquish his enemies (much like Davy Jones).
The blending of CGI with practical effects flows seamlessly well and several comedic moments balances out the swashbuckling action that made the film series well-known. To avoid spoilers, there's more to the story once the closing credits finish rolling. It's nowhere close to the ranks as the 2003 original "The Curse of the Black Pearl," but it's a movie that definitely stands out on its own. Despite a few sluggish moments in some parts, it was tolerable enough to follow.
Samurai Jack (2001)
A Harrowing Adventure Transcending From Childhood to Adulthood Ends Bittersweet
Since the show's humble beginnings in 2001 on Cartoon Network, I was drawn to the many adventures Samurai Jack had gone through to fulfill his quest of returning to his own time. Now in its final season, the show has greatly matured. It's as though the characters we've come to know many years ago as kids or young teens have grown up along with us.
An unnamed samurai takes on the immortal, shape-shifting dark wizard Aku, but before he can finish him off, he is flung to the distant future where Aku enslaves the Earth and had brought in various creatures from different worlds to inhabit our pitiable planet. Having adopted the name "Jack," he sets out to right the wrongs his old foe had inflicted upon the innocent.
After a long period since its original ending in 2004, Jack's adventures continue with more mature elements and somewhat darker moments than what many have known the show for originally as a kid. I have to say though its final season felt rushed. I know there could've been more to flesh out and a half-hour just won't cut it for the final episode. There could've been a much greater sacrifice if Jack had finally destroyed his arch-foe Aku in the distant future, at the cost of not being able to return to the past as he originally planned. Even so, he did say that for fifty years he cannot age, but theoretically destroying Aku would've likely ended this effect. He may have been finally able to return to his correct era, but it felt like an empty victory since a half-hour cannot justify that.
I know there could've been more to offer and creator Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter's Laboratory, Foster's) sure made us go on such a long ride that it left me with a tear in my eye. Never will forget such an amazing show.
Kimi no na wa. (2016)
A Compelling and Captivating Journey
I went to see 'Your Name' (Kimi no na wa) at an art house theater and when I did, I was left compelled and in awe of how such a story really grew on me. The thematic material felt remarkably similar to Hayao Miyazaki's way of storytelling that it makes director Makoto Shinkai look like he now follows in the same ranks as the renowned filmmaker (even if Shinkai himself humbly says it's an "overestimation" when being compared to Miyazaki).
The plot revolves around a teen named Taki and a girl named Mitsuha, who have never met and live in opposite sides of Japan. For some unknown circumstance, they randomly switch bodies back and forth while they sleep and live each other's daily lives. During that time, they learn more about their likes, dislikes, activities, the people they know, and places they go to up until they reach a point of understanding one another on an emotional level that they must meet in person.
Shinkai definitely unveiled such a setup with vibrant settings of both Japan's countryside and its traditional customs. Likewise for the overwhelming, yet lively urban city of Tokyo and especially the assortment of likable characters that it had a great balance of both good humor and touching moments. Although the motif of switching bodies has been done numerous times in past films or shows for years, this however provided a deeper sense of atmospheric warmth and compassion occurring between both Taki and Mitsuha. Not to mention the use of the proverbial Red String of Fate used as a metaphor to emphasize their connection. I acknowledge that Shinkai admitted in one interview that he wanted to keep expanding on the movie's mythos and pathos, but couldn't for studio-related reasons. As for me, I felt that perhaps there could've been more done as well (namely on the film's epilogue), but nevertheless it's a movie that flowed seamlessly well with an interesting blend of music done by J-rock band Radwimps that I wasn't left bored in the least.
Moral: Trust your heart by running down the uncertain path and see for yourself that you'll feel this sense of yearning you never knew you had.
I certainly did.
Get Out (2017)
Feels Like Standard Paranoia, Yet Driven Down A Different Turn
I can now see why this psychological horror is so mind-bending. After catching this movie, I have to say that this is a thrill ride that continuously toyed with my perspective up until the terrible truth is unveiled midway into the film.
Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a black man with a hobby in photography has a white girlfriend named Rose that live happily together in the city. When she then decides to finally introduce him to her parents in her hometown outside the city, they seem to welcome him in open arms. However, the townsfolk begin to show signs of odd behavior whenever Chris so much as approaches any of them or if he even speaks his mind in conversations. Chris becomes increasingly paranoid as he uncovers more to the town than meets the eye.
For comedian Jordan Peele's directorial debut in a horror film and his pairing with "Paranormal Activity" producer Jason Blum, this is something that required more thought as the story began to play out. I honestly attempted to comprehend the motives of each character, but as I started deducing their reasons, it grows unsettling each time. Instead of racism being used as a plot device, it seems this is a bizarre twist on that subject matter by making the residence not racist, yet they add insult to injury in their true nature by giving off a form of liberal ignorance. There are moments in the film that were pretty laughable to ease the tension done by the leading man's best friend TSA Officer Rod (played by comic Lil Rel Howery). And I say this doesn't ruin the ride, more like only gives depth into what his character knows what's best for himself and his friend. In the end, this isn't a movie made for cheap jumps or thrills. Instead, it kept the gears in my mind constantly turning and my curiosity growing with how the horror conventions were approached differently here. It's certainly interesting.
Star vs. the Forces of Evil (2015)
A Love Letter to Classic 90s Anime and U.S. Cartoons
With an abundance of Disney animated TV shows that have released over the years (most of which I've ignored ever since Kim Possible and Phineas & Ferb ended their run), none was more surprising than to see the studio present its take on classic "magical girl" and "fantasy" anime spun in their own way. Creator Daron Nefcy certainly presented something that feels like a throwback to the 90s cartoons I once knew (both from the East and West).
In the Kingdom of Mewni, 14-year-old Star Butterfly (voiced by The Middle's Eden Sher) is expected to take the throne next in line as ruler. But her energetic and rambunctious nature causes so much damage that her parents - the King and Queen - ultimately send her to Earth where she must live there until she can harness her magic and prove herself worthy. Upon staying as an exchange student by crashing with her Earth friend Marco Diaz by her side, they go together on many misadventures as well as understanding each other both physically and emotionally along the way.
Since Nefcy herself admitted that Sailor Moon became the main influence to help creating Star vs The Forces of Evil (including other anime titles), I have to say this is definitely a love letter to the fantasy-magical girl genre in Japanese anime. The show does have its moments of crazed antics commonly found in past American animated shows (which can wear thin when overused), but it compensates by maintaining a sense of staying grounded when the comedy is put aside and the more intense parts start building up the story. This is what kept my eyes and ears open for any important detail. With action, comedy, and a hint of romance thrown in overall, this is a TV show that has conjured up a spell that I've clearly fallen under.
Bizarre and Oddly Disturbing Psychological Thriller
Following from his 2015 soft comeback film 'The Visit,' director M. Night Shyamalan's next suspenseful thriller titled 'Split' was already an intrigue with the plot centering around James McAvoy's character having an unusual personality disorder. This had me jumping back to Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 classic Psycho, but unlike Anthony Perkins' unhinged Norman Bates with his one "Mother" persona, McAvoy's Kevin Crumb has twenty-three personas in his complex mind that you'd never know when his normal self is there or not (or anything that is "normal" for that matter).
A psychologist named Dr. Fletcher is trying to learn more about what makes Kevin transition from one personality to the next, but with each one that emerges, it grows even more bizarre since each one has the mindset of a nine-year-old boy, an unknown woman, or a kidnapper named "Dennis." It becomes increasingly ambiguous that Fletcher decides to investigate into what each personality had done in life with the help of one of his captives, a young girl named Casey.
For this to what could possibly be Shyamalan's next splendid follow-up, I say this is one of his long-awaited return to form. For Split, the way he tries to capture McAvoy's unpredictable notions on camera makes it feel more terrifying every time we try to comprehend each personality carefully. I did get lost in some parts of the film, but knowing McAvoy's past roles in other movies, I always pondered that a few of these personalities might as well be indirectly mirroring some of McAvoy's previous movie roles.
It became a psychological thrill ride that my mentality was put to the test and keeping up in some parts proved tricky, but careful observation. The twist ending (which I won't spoil) was uniquely different from the other plot twists Shyamalan had done in his previous projects. This one in particular would be one I found to be very jarring in my opinion (I know, since a few in the audience were quietly deducing a connection). Well played, sir.
Jarring Misconceptions and Piquing Racial Tension in Modern Day L.A.
During this time of Black History Month, racial injustice and discrimination has been much talked about when reflecting back on the Civil Rights Movement. For 'Crash' on the other hand, this is a movie that didn't focus on one race or ethnicity that was harshly ridiculed or even having to suffer at the hands of others who think they are of a higher class. No, instead it was about how racial tension is still out there even in modern times, especially during the aftermath of September 11th still reverberating heavily on some individuals of other ethnic backgrounds at the time.
The ensemble cast that features Brendan Fraser, Terrance Howard, Michael Pena, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, and Ryan Philippe provided a point of view of how each of their characters' lives crossed paths in daily life of Los Angeles. While having to deal with racial stereotypes in either the workplace or even out on some of LA's derelict streets, it becomes clear they would do anything to persevere in their own lives no matter what the consequences may be.
I found it intriguing that director Paul Haggis (Walker Texas Ranger) wanted us to view the scope of L.A.'s imperfections since he himself stated that one of his inspirations for the movie was a night when he was carjacked in those streets. Upon watching this with a group of colleagues, what I saw in the violence, anger, and hatred; it was all clouded with prejudicial misunderstandings and uncertainty, whether shocking or saddening. When confronted in a harsh scenario, the character would begin to view the context of it differently and thus leading to misconceptions. I was left fascinated that the bigotry and egotistical nature of some of these people were explored in public, when really they can be quite the contrary when in the comfort of their own homes or in the company of family or friends.
I'm aware of the debate and controversy that surrounded the Oscars when this won Best Picture back in 2005, but with its tense situations, I can see why it received its many accolades. It's not at all perfect, nor would I say this is a spectacular movie, but compelling enough for me and my colleagues to discuss the issues with one another.
The moral: While our paths may cross with one another and not all of them may get off to a good start at first (especially involving who we are or what their lives are like), there's a clear thought of what really matters and that depends on how you see it.
The Founder (2016)
How One Small Burger Shop Became Captivatingly Lucrative
Director John Lee Hancock has made some wonderful film dramas from The Rookie, The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks, so for his follow-up titled The Founder. I found it to be quite intriguing as to see how the fast food restaurant McDonald's came to be when one traveling salesman came up with the most lucrative way to make such a small burger shop in San Bernardino become a huge franchise. Whether it be Batman, Beetlejuice, Birdman, this has to be such a transition into him channeling of all his notable roles, Mr. Ray Kroc.
In 1954, Ray Kroc (Keaton) was just an average salesman traveling the U.S. selling milkshake mixers to potential diners but to little success. However, upon receiving a call from two brothers by the names Richard "Dick" and Maurice "Mac" McDonald requesting to buy mixers from him, he sees more to the brothers' shop than just being systematic and timely in prepping and serving hamburgers to customers.
What I found baffling and intriguing at the same time is the way Kroc went through many cut-throat and costly tactics to get the restaurant going from just three to four distant locations to an expansive set of locations nationwide. Michael Keaton delivered such a performance to the point of being loathsome, spiteful, yet strategizing as Kroc himself. Whereas Nick Offerman (Parks & Recreation, 21 Jump Street) and John Carroll Lynch (Paul, Jackie) were also great portraying the original pioneers of their namesake shop. I had no idea that these brothers had the blueprints and system into making the workflow become as steadfast as shown on screen. In short, it was what they called a "burger symphony." Also, the conflicts they've had with Kroc felt discerning and dubious at first due to Dick's reluctance in getting the restaurant he started with his brother going farther than he envisioned. I cannot say which side I rooted for most, but "pride" seems to be the one thing that fueled both sides. Dick wanted to protect the inner sanctity of his shop as a family-owned restaurant, but to Kroc it was so much more that he wanted to share it with the world.
In the end, I was left speechless and with so much thought into how this one fast food chain I've come to know in life made such an impression not just within old Americana, but to many countries that spawned their own locations as well in later years, thus changing culture on its own accord. These days, I know its many restaurants have undergone a drastic change to appeal to an older crowd as well, but seeing the classic design of the first original McDonald's location visited by families was pretty uncanny, nifty, and nostalgic at the same time too. And Kroc found an opportunity by rolling with it by any means necessary despite how harsh and cunning it looked. Not bad. Check it out and see what you think.
Hidden Figures (2016)
Exceptional, Jarring, and Thought-Provoking Unsung Heroes
Not knowing what to expect, I checked out to see how the story of three female individuals made a difference at NASA back in 1961. I've witnessed in past historical dramas of where racism included violence, but that is not the case regarding Hidden Figures. Rather it focused more on how it was overcome in casual, everyday life (especially the workplace).
The story revolves around three brilliant African-American women by the names of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson as they live their lives working at NASA among a nearly all-white staff. Despite segregation still circulating at the time, each of them proved that no matter what color they were, it's their intellect and willpower that got them through each obstacle of the day and also helped make history for astronaut John Glenn to be the first American astronaut to completely orbit the Earth.
With an interesting balance of wit and drama, I found its tribulations to be the main focus. Since the movie was based on true events, to me it felt like a wonderful tie-in to the 2014 drama "Selma" since that too revolved around a time when people marched to spread the word of ending segregation. But unlike Selma where black people and Dr. Martin Luther King fought for the right to vote, Hidden Figures tackled both the obstacles of racism and even sexism in of all places NASA. It was very jarring to see that despite the characters' extensive knowledge in their work and upon receiving their own respective degrees in their studies, it's still looked down upon by the self- righteous higher-ups. Taraji P. Henson (Empire) sure brought out a splendid performance as mathematician Katherine Johnson. Likewise for her costars Octavia Spencer (The Help) and Janelle Monae as they helped balance the drama, including sass to boot. Kevin Costner and 'Big Bang Theory' star Jim Parsons also helped give some depth (though I wouldn't call them antagonists) in these women's lives.
Personally, I enjoyed the events that unfolded overall. When it came to the racial undertones and confrontations in a few scenes, myself and a few others in the theater old or young were left curious and appalled at the same time by how this was a thing in the 1960s compared to the present. It's sure to go far with various accolades.
The moral: If you put your mind to it, things can be accomplished no matter how many would say otherwise.