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Multi-Layered Summer Treat for Fans and Casual Viewers Alike
I can think of at least four groups of viewers who will be entertained by "Teen Titans Go! to the Movies" (TTGttM): the actual TTG fanbase (and I am stating publicly, I am a genuine fan of TTG); fans of comic book/superhero movies, especially those who enjoy/don't mind seeing such movies skewered; the broader nerd/geek fanbase; and casual viewers (such as parents looking for a good Summer diversion for the kids) who have a good sense of humor.
If that sounds like "pretty much everybody", it's because it is my honest opinion that there is something for just about everyone in this movie.
The first ten minutes of the movie are practically a non-stop laugh-out-loud carnival ride. There are numerous in-show references for the TTG fan. The sheer number of both in- and out-of-universe gags and pop culture references throughout the movie is astounding. From the opening segment to literally the last line of dialogue, the writers have packed in tons of opportunities for laughter.
TTGttM is of course not without its flaws. There are several songs in the first act and going into the second, of which the first two are enjoyable; but by the time they get to the third or fourth one, it starts wearing thin.
Worse, it's at this point that there is a sudden and palpable drop-off of comedy. One moment, the whole audience around me was laughing heartily; the next, a virtually stunned silenced. The film really drags for a short period, and I actually asked myself in my head, "Did the movie just run out of comedy?" It does take a while for the plot to build to action from this point. Yes, there actually is a plot, and yes, it does build to action, as well as building back to comedy. It may seem to take longer than it actually does, but the pay-off is worth it.
(To be fair, there are some very interesting visuals, quite different from the show's typical animation style, during this period.)
If you've seen the trailer, you know the Titans make an extended "fart" joke at the expense of a giant "balloon monster". About halfway into the film, there is another, and worse, bathroom humor segment, which may make parents uncomfortable.
Also, there are some sequences regarding Robin's vanity - well-established in TTG - which seem a bit overdone. But, again to be fair, both of these elements could be the writers' way of acknowledging things on the show which perhaps even the most devoted TTG fans complain about, and so they might be mocking themselves by intentionally overplaying them.
It is these things which prevent me from giving TTGttM a perfect ten out of ten, which I otherwise would be quite willing to do. Upon leaving the theater, I was considering how I would rate this movie. I was thinking "8.5", but since the IMDb allows only "whole numbers" I thought an eight would imply that I enjoyed the film far less that I actually did. On the drive home from the theater, I replayed in my head some of the jokes (including a favorite one which, in terms of timing in relation to other movie releases, was not just greatly funny but also smartly relevant), and I began to chuckle again.
In the week it's been since I saw the movie, I've thought back on not just how much comedy there is in TTGttM, but also just how much, period. I have read pieces on how the writers of the various MCU movies have gone back and researched this particular issue or that particular storyline to bring richer details into their movies. Not merely for the sake of "Easter eggs", but as a nod to the devotion of the fans.
I think the same can be said for TTGttM. Whether it's a joke, a sight gag, a meta-pun, a background object or a prop, it's there not just for the viewer to laugh at, but also as an acknowledgment that the writers understand and appreciate their audience. As with the MCU, the writers of this film seem to have asked themselves, "How can we bring this superhero into the story? How can we reference that story arc? That movie franchise? Can we put this object in the background so the fans won't just see it, but actually *get* it?" One particular prop near the end of the film, set up incredibly briefly, brought several loud chuckles from the audience (one of which I'm certain came from a fellow adult). I honestly think that "Teen Titans Go! to the Movies" can be said to be, if not a Love Letter to the fans, then certainly a thoughtful Thank-you Note with this message from the writers inside: "Look, we get you guys. And it's because we get you that we're putting as much into our movie as we can for you."
Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)
The rare sequel that really satisfies
Let's start on level ground here. It's made quite clear in the original "Pacific Rim" that the Breach was closed. Yet in the trailer, we see Jaegers fighting kaiju. I was concerned about how this sequel would explain that, wondering what the new source of the conflict would be. Would the filmmakers just cheap out on the plot and basically say, "Huh? Oh, yeah, breach was never really closed. Our bad."? Thankfully, no; what we are given instead is a stunningly imaginative and well-crafted plot which intelligently explains the reappearance of kaiju, while also honoring concepts set up in the first movie.
One thing movie-goers have complained about for several years now is the too-long, too-revealing trailer, the kind which gives away the best jokes, major plot elements, etc. Did the trailer for "Pacific Rim: Uprising" (PRU) show us Jaegers? Of course it did. Did it show kaiju? Well, explanation for them aside, this is a "Pacific Rim" sequel, so that's to be expected. Did we see any familiar faces? Yes, Burn Gorman's Dr. Gottlieb clearly makes an appearance. Yet even with all these, upon reflection I can say that in my opinion the PRU trailer gave nothing away.
Gorman's performance in PRU is quiet enjoyable. And I was impressed with the range shown by John Boyega. I don't mean just the range he showed in this movie; I'm referring also to the range he's capable of from one movie to the next. This young man created a persona for PRU that is strikingly distinct from his Finn of the recent "Star Wars" sequels.
"Pacific Rim" took the concept of "kaiju vs mecha (the Jaegers)", rarely seen outside of anime, to a new level. With the bar set so high, PRU really had to deliver to be more than just a "more kaiju vs mecha" money-grab. Deliver it did. I found myself deeply engaged as I watched the plot unfold. The filmmakers clearly put thought and effort into this, and in the end this collection of twists, turns and switchbacks adds up to a richly satisfying movie. I readily give "Pacific Rim: Uprising" 10 out of 10.
Sherlock Gnomes (2018)
Surprisingly creative and entertaining!
I was hesitant about seeing "Sherlock Gnomes", as its simple wordplay title makes it easy to dismiss. I tell you honestly, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and frankly at the end I was surprised by how much I had enjoyed it. It is far funnier, and far more creative, than its throw-away pun of a title would suggest.
True, the story, which takes often broad comedic swipes at a well-established literary franchise, dares to ask its audience to accept the dual conceits that not only do we humans share our world with clay/ceramic garden gnomes which are actually living sentient creatures, but also that one of them is a hyper-intelligent investigator with a strong sense of duty. But once the story gets going (lead into by a Looney Tunes-esque news report), it does prove to have a surprisingly complex plot, in which there is in fact is a mystery in need of solving.
Performances of minor and supporting characters range from acceptable to very good. The leads are very well done. Depp's Sherlock is arrogant and socially awkward yet comically unaware of this; he's also dry almost to the point of being the "straight man". Ejiofor readily elicits sympathy for his exasperated and put-upon Watson. McAvoy's Gnomeo and Blunt's Juliet are played with a good range of emotions, although in my opinion McAvoy goes further, for comedy/action effect.
With so many full-CGI movies today, especially those ostensibly meant for children, it's easy for the viewer to get jaded and miss the details. This is unfortunate, because often the filmmakers put great detail into their films which enrich the viewing, even if those details are only seen subconsciously. "Sherlock Gnomes" is just such a movie, with often stunningly-rendered CGI. In an "over the shoulder" shot of Sherlock talking with Juliet, the side of his pointy, aquiline nose can be seen; it shows flecks and minor chips like an actual ceramic figure would have. This gives more visual weight to the scene than it would've had if that surface were rendered simply as a smooth plane. In another scene, we see that the apron strings tied around Juliet's back are not three-dimensional moving objects; they are in fact rendered to look hand-painted on, as they would be on an actual garden figure. A city scene of people walking past shops is so well-rendered, for a moment I actually thought I was seeing footage rather than animation. Along with the quality of the CGI, this film also has highly creative visuals. Sherlock's "mind palace" sequences are beautifully rendered as line-art animations.
It is this rich detail which makes the film's one down point stand out so poorly. While the movie's soundtrack features much music by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, this is not a musical. For me, the inclusion of what was in essence a music video in the middle of the story was very jarring. The song is performed by a doll voiced by Mary J. Blige. Her character is well-rendered, and her dialogue is nicely delivered; however her singing style combined with the over-produced music made the lyrics almost entirely unintelligible. I found myself wandering off, which was regrettable because I realized I had been missing more great visuals. In the background are very impressive "dance troupe" animations which clearly have Ziegfeld/Berkeley/Esther Williams-esque choreography. These are easy to miss but definitely deserve to be noticed.
Some weak gags in the trailer are not used in the film, to the film's improvement; one that does remain leads to a "Hound of the Baskervilles" reference which works well.
Finally, the film's well-placed tribute to Ray Harryhausen is to be greatly appreciated.
Overall, "Sherlock Gnomes" is a surprisingly well-executed and enjoyable comedy. Only that misplaced song keeps me from scoring it higher. This is a great movie for kids, and a creative treat for adults, especially parents. 9 out of 10.
Post-Irma fluff better than expected
First, let me make it completely clear that the only reason I went to see "Leap!" is that I desperately needed a post-Irma diversion. I had recently gotten back home after booking out for a relative's place ahead of Hurricane Irma, and I needed some light, fluffy nonsense which had nothing to do with wind speeds, power outages or the like.
Despite that heavy introduction, I have to say that I got more out of the movie than I expected. Yes, it filled the need for fluffy nonsense. But it also proved to be far more entertaining than I thought it could be, and in the end I'm glad I saw it.
That's not to say that "Leap!" is not without its faults. The movie is very problematic. Some negatives: 1) The plot is literally fairy-tale simple; some plot points are obvious well ahead of their actual occurrence, although a few seemed forced. 2) Character animation seems jerky and stiff. Perhaps this is because the animators attempt to portray a more realistic dance physicality, implying that their characters actually have internal skeletons. It just seems a bit "off"; but then maybe I've become too accustomed to the cartoony fluidity of Pixar-style animation. Facial movements in relation to dialogue, especially in the first act, really seem weak. 3) Jarringly out-of-place pop songs. The story takes place in 1880s France; the very modern dance-pop tunes are grating compared to plot-appropriate classics such as Swan Lake; 4) While Felicie and Camille are both pretty, Nora, who is more or less Felicie's best friend at the dance school, has a face which -- I do not want to sound cruel here -- is, let's say, awkward-looking. This bothers me because it's unnecessary. Felicie is redhead. Camille, her antagonist, is blonde. Nora is brunette. One would think that would be enough to distinguish the characters. But the designers inexplicably chose to make Nora "less pretty than". 5) A chase scene which leads into the final act is shockingly scary, with a character's viciousness and the threat of child endangerment grossly inappropriate to the film's overall cotton-candy sweetness.
Now, as I said, aside from my goal for distraction, I got more out of "Leap!" than I expected. I will gladly list some positives: 1) Absolutely stunning visuals. The initial "fly-over" sequence of the French countryside is genuinely jaw-dropping. This level of detail is pretty much maintained throughout the film. After years of the rich, colorful vibrancy of Pixar, the soft, near-photo realistic scenery of "Leap!" is delightfully refreshing. 2) The story does have a positive "never give up on your dreams" message. It's not really brought out until the last third of the film, but the plot does steadily work towards it, and it all fits together well for any children in the audience. 3) Mel Brooks. His characterization for the voice of Luteau is incredibly natural. I had no idea it was him until the closing credits. 4) Lots of great comedy, especially from the male lead, Victor, who also proves to be the primary comic relief (Nora is a secondary comic relief). The best comedy sequence in my opinion happens near the middle of the film, when Victor relates his adventures to Felicie in what I can only describe as a series of panning stills. The relationship between the images and his descriptions provides really enjoyable humor.
My only reason for not rating this movie higher is that overly-scary chase. Were it not for that, I could give "Leap!" an 8 out of 10.