Sunday, January 31, 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3 - Movie Review: Be Yourself

My four year old loved it. Shouldn’t that be enough information for the entire video?
Kung-Fu Panda 3, starring Jack Black and a host of other extremely talented actors who lend their voice to the property. The third movie in the franchise is similar to the other two. Poe finds his faith in himself somewhat lacking. He learns something and grows to overcome the villain he is facing. My thoughts on this is are, if it isn’t broke don’t fix it. The story was still entertaining, the fight sequences fantastic, and the comedy, for the most part, had me laughing throughout.
The voice acting talent for these movies is outstanding. Jack Black again does a great job as Po. Newcomers Brian Cranston and JK Simmons are fantastic as well. The rest of the crew who return all do good jobs. The only compliant I have with all three movies is that the monkey, voiced by Jackie Chan, seems to always get short end of the stick. It did seem he may have gotten a few more lines in this movie than the other two, but it still is less than any other. It also seemed that Seth Rogan got more lines this go around since his star is shining a bit brighter at the moment. Angelina Jolie is always the interesting one to me. It never quite sounds like her, but the voice fits the character perfectly. Character and animation for Tigress are perfect.
The animation overall is really well done. They mixed in some flashback 2d looking animations as they did in Kung Fu Panda 2, and they work for the movie. Everything is top notch and it is what I have come to expect out of DreamWorks Studios. The introduction and feel of the spirt realm is handled very well and I enjoyed the scenes they created for the world. DreamWorks may not be Pixar, but they come very close. They don’t try to dumb down the stories too much for kids.
There is a message to all of the Kung Fu Panda movies. Do the films hit you over the head with it a bit, yes, but that for me is where the kid’s part comes in. They want kids to feel like they can do anything, and to be comfortable with who they are just the way they are. Celebrate the things you are good at, embrace them, and work hard to do better at them. The overriding theme of the Kung Fu Panda movies is to accept yourself as you are. I like the message, and even though they have basically told slightly different stories to get the same point across I still enjoy it.  I watched the first two films leading up to this one with my four year old and he enjoyed them all. Was he more excited and enthralled by the action and the comedy?  Yes, but once he gets a few years older the message will sink in as well.
The only part of the movie which missed at times for me was some of the comedy. I get that I’m not the overall target audience for the jokes, but they just seemed to go back to the well one to many times with the same bit. There is one joke with Tigress which is way overplayed. It was cute and I chuckled the first time, but they should have left a few callbacks out. Then some of the other gags just didn’t hit for me, and most of the audience in my theatre didn’t laugh either, even the kids. That is not to say there isn’t funny parts that had me chuckling and had my son laughing hard, there is, it’s just for me the comedy was the weakest part of the movie.
The ending however was strong and touching. The main theme is drilled home here, but it is thoroughly enjoyable. Poe does do something during the end which did take me out of the movie though. At first I was thinking that they should have left it out of the movie and stayed with the same and tone up until the end, but this would have been out of character for Po. You can’t have a movie about being true to yourself, if the main character doesn’t stay this way. It did jar me while watching, but I like the choice after thinking about it, because it is how Po the Panda would react in the situation. Yes I do in fact realize I’m breaking down character decisions in an animated movie about a Panda who does Kung-Fu.
If you have children then Kung Fu Panda 3 is well worth seeing. Check it out in theatres with your kiddos and have a fun time. If you don’t have kids then it is not a film you have to rush out and see. I think most everyone will enjoy it, but it is not a movie that is going to revolutionize animation or tells a story so captivating that it demands attention.
Did you see Kung-Fu Panda yet? Did you like the other two movies? If you have kids and they have seen it, what did they think? Comment and let me know

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The End of The Tour Movie Review: This is Water

Have you ever watched a movie, and then after watching feel the desire to research everything you can about the movie and its topic?
The End of the Tour starring Jason Segal, Jessie Eisenberg and directed by James Ponsoldt. The movie is about an interview that David Foster Wallace gave to a journalist, David Lipsky, for Rolling Stone Magazine. The actual article was never published, but after Wallace committed suicide Lipsky published a book based on the recordings and notes he took during the days he spent with Wallace. This book is what the movie The End of the Tour is based on.
To start Jason Segal is phenomenal as David Foster Wallace. I never once saw the guy who was in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, or the The Muppets Movie. For me personally I had never heard of David Foster Wallace until this movie. When it was being promoted I learned some things about Wallace and his suicide. I was more drawn to this movie initially because I wanted to see Segal take on a non-comedic role. His amazing portrayal as Wallace in the movie made me want to find out about the actual man, and read his work.
After researching the making of the movie I learned the Wallace Literary Trust did not approve of the film. Their quote “The David Foster Wallace Literary Trust, David’s family, and David’s longtime publisher Little, Brown, and Company wish to make it clear that they have no connection with, and neither endorse nor support The End of the Tour.” This may give you pause before watching the movie. If the estate felt this strongly about the film was it even right for it to get made?
Wallace did agree to the interview, and the information obtained for the interview was Lipsky’s. He has the right to do with it as he sees fit. Would Wallace have wanted a movie to be made about him? Just from watching the film and hearing some of his speeches I don’t think so. Much of the dialogue in the film comes directly from the tapes Lipsky has. They are very much Wallace’s words. I can’t see him wanting a movie made about this small moment of his life.
The movie is very intimate. It feels like you are pulling back the curtain to an individual. There is a voyeuristic feel to the movie, which is helped along by Lipsky’s actions in the film. Some of this is uncomfortable, and it is supposed to be. This is a testament to Ponsoldt, Segal and Eisenberg. The film, for me, is just a vessel to deliver more of what Wallace had to say on life. I understand after watching the film where the Wallace estate was coming from, but it did introduced me to David Foster Wallace. I now want to read his works. I listened to a commencement speech Wallace made after watching the movie, titled: This is Water. I’ll put this link and many others in the description below. I have seen quotes from the speech before, but to hear it delivered in full was to realize how charming and brilliant the man was.
The film captures this. It captures both his struggles and his brilliance. I cannot understate how well Segal played this role. He deserved some Oscar consideration. Eisenberg, for the most part, plays the same character he does in every movie. He is supposed to be more charming in this film than he has before, but he still comes across as socially awkward. Honestly not knowing anything about Wallace going in, you would think Eisenberg would be a more logical fit for a socially awkward author. This would have been a mistake, and casting got the two actors for the roles right.
I don’t really have any negatives for the movie. There is one scene where you can tell the audio wasn’t captured well. There is also a meet up with some girls, which could have been left out, but didn’t detract from the film. I really enjoyed it immensely but it is probably not a movie for everyone. The movie is two guys talking about writing and life, about fame and the inherit troubles which comes with it. It has what Wallace thought about becoming famous, and how he was worried he would become a sellout and lose himself in his fame. If this sounds interesting to you, then this movie is well worth seeing. It’s out on video on demand now and worth the rental fee. I’m not sure how much rewatchability the movie has, but I know if I saw it on HBO or another channel I would stop and watch. I’m just not sure I would buy it on blu-ray.
Have you seen The End of the Tour? Have you read Infinite Jest? Do you have an issue with the movie being made knowing the Wallace family didn’t approve? Let me know what you think. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

13 Hours - Movie Review: How Many Different Ways Can Michael Bay Use His...

If there is one overriding theme director Michael Bay wants you to take away from 13 hours it is that the military is good, and bureaucrats are bad.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, directed by Michael Bay and starring John Krasinski, and James Dale, is the story of 6 contracted CIA ex-special forces operatives during the 2012 Benghazi attack on both an American Diplomatic and CIA compound. The movie explains how the men tried to save the American Ambassador and then defend their compound throughout the night of the attacks. 13 hours has gripping action showcased throughout the entire film.
The action sequences are intense and I was on the edge of my seat each time the tension was ratcheted up. Bay can direct action, and for the most part you could always follow what was going in each action scene. There was some shaky cam sequences, which I personally don’t care for, but they didn’t take too much away from the movie. Each time the action did pick up you never truly felt like you knew what was going to happen or who was going to survive. Bay did a great job of capturing the confusion and fluidness of what it must have been like during the attacks.
The performances for the most part are well done. John Krasinski, of The Office fame, is good in the role. I don’t know if I buy him as an ex-navy seal, but I did buy into him being a father who deeply cared about getting back to his family. James Dale plays the commander of the group and does a good job as well. His family story was a little contrived to me and seemed forced into the movie. The same with the other backstories of the other solders. I know each truly had a backstory and family, they just didn’t fit well into the framework of the movie. Each of their family scenes is introduced right before the action starts, and it just screamed, CARE ABOUT ME PLEASE!
Then we have the CIA section chief of the compound Bob, played by David Costabile. He is complete one note bureaucratic non-understanding boss, who won’t let the soldiers just do their jobs. Are their people like this in the world, yes there are, but not to this degree. I would prefer to have more nuance from a role like this, rather than someone for the audience to just hate. He does have one good sequence during the middle of the movie, which I hoped was going to showcase a redemption for the character, but he ends in the same place he began. I really did not like the last two scenes he had in the movie. This being said I’m going to try and stay away from the political message the movie is trying to hammer home and just focus on the characters and their actions in the film.
The action, again, is amazing in the movie. It does get tedious by the end though. As an audience you are exhausted after watching every scene of action. This may have been the point to showcase just how tough these individuals truly are.  The movie is two hours and twenty four minutes and it seemed to drag in places as well. Twenty to thirty minutes of the movie could have been cut out and trimmed down to pick up the pace a bit. There are scenes in-between the action which are good character development, and I liked.  Then there are cut scenes back to Washington and briefing rooms that are not needed. They don’t add to the story being told and nothing is followed up on during the course of the film. We at one point see fighters getting prepped and army personal on a plane, but after one shot they are never shown again. There was no reason to put it in the movie if the narrative doesn’t go anywhere.
Confusion is both a blessing and a curse of the movie. Bay does a good job of confronting the confusion of what is happening on the ground and how it is affecting the soldiers. They don’t know who they can trust locally to either help them or kill them. This same confusion is applied to the overall government and military. This is probably an accurate assessment of what was going on during the course of the events, but it isn’t needed for this story. It sidetracks and pulls you out of what the main focus of the movie should be; what was in fact happening to the people on the ground in Benghazi. A few cutaways of when the CIA compound called for help would have been enough to show how confused the overall government was at the time. There was too much shifting of focus in the last part of the movie, and it lost some of its overall impact
I still enjoyed watching this movie, but I think depending on where you fall on the political spectrum might affect your overall enjoyment. I would say this movie is Worth Seeing. If you lean to the left politically go see it in theaters at a matinee price, or wait to rent. Still worth watching though. If you lean to the right politically I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in paying full price to see it in theaters.  Just my personal perception though. 
Are you planning on seeing 13 Hours this weekend? If you have seen it let me know what you thought. Let me know your favorite and least favorite Michael Bay films.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Revenant - Movie Review: Baby It's Cold Outside (Not if You Have a Horse)

Well for the people who say the best way to survive a bear attack is to play dead.  That is probably way easier said than done.
The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, and Will Poulter. Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu. DiCaprio’s character is a scout named Hugh Glass, who is attacked and mauled by a bear. The bear attack is intense and vicious. It’s an impressive sequence and even more so since the bear was completely CG. He certainly didn’t seem fake on the screen. After the bear attack Glass is betrayed and left for dead by Tom Hardy’s character John Fitzgerald. The rest of the movie is Glass trying to catch Fitzgerald and have his vengeance.
This movie is probably the definition of Oscar Bait. When the performances, story, and direction are all excellent then that title shouldn’t be a negative. DiCaprio again is deserving of an Oscar and I’m sure he will at least get another nomination. Will he finally get the golden statue for this performance? I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. Is this his best? I think he might have done a better job in Wolf of Wall Street, but not by much. He loses himself in this role and there is a point where you no longer see Leo and only the character portrayed on the screen. Which is the mark of a great actor. Tom Hardy should also get a supporting actor nod, even though his accent and dialogue are probably a deterrent for some in the film. I thought they added to the overall performance, but if you can’t understand what someone is saying I can see why it is also a negative. You never sympathize with Hardy’s character, but you also can understand his motivations.
An actor who hasn’t been talked about much is this movie is Will Poulter. He plays another young trapper, and I was really impressed with his handling of the role. He mainly played opposite of Hardy and held the screen well with the other actor. The terror, indecision, and struggle he portrayed with his character was fantastic. DiCaprio and Hardy are getting a ton of love for their performances, and I wanted to bring up Poulter as well. Domhnall Gleeson is also great in his role, but to tie this back to Star Wars, because, well look behind me. This performances made me wish his character was written differently in The Force Awakens. Gleeson can play complex and nuanced characters, even in smaller roles, like this one. I wish he was allowed too in Star Wars. Inarritu gave him a bit more to work with in this role.
Inarritu is truly an artist with his direction. Lubezki as cinematographer captures countless breathtaking images. If you enjoyed how Birdman was shot, then parts of this movie are done in the same fashion. The opening battle against Indians is shot in what seems like one long take. It is frenetic, but in a controlled way. It focuses on one person and you follow them until someone else comes in frame and then the camera will follow their action. The movie was also shot in sequence and only with natural light. Which forced the filmmakers into very limited windows during the day to capture the scenes. Did the movie have to be done in this way? No, but it made for something breathtaking to look at.
The Revenant was made to push the technology of digital filmmaking in an interesting way. Lubezki did plan to try and shoot on film at first, but needed a digital camera for dawn and dusk shots. Inarritu had a clear vision of how he wanted this film to look and feel. He draws you into the world with the stunning visuals and pulls you along with the interesting story.  You feel like you are in the frames with the characters. I felt cold and shivered when DiCaprio submerged himself in an icy river. Contrast this film with another movie recently that pushed boundaries in another way.
The Hateful Eight, Tarantino’s movie, is shot only on film and is a love letter to the past. It also looks spectacular. The Hateful Eight is a fantastic film with a compelling story. Inarritu pushed the boundaries of current technology and braved insane conditions to capture and equally captivating story in the Revenant. The environment is a character in each film and is used in different ways to allow the story to develop.  Is there a right or wrong way in either approach to filmmaking? Nope not from my perspective, because I’m glad I live in a world where both visionaries can create works with the tools they see fit to use.
The Revenant is still a movie not for everyone. It takes a very artistic approach and if you don’t like a slower paced movie then I would probably stay away. I thought the pacing was perfect, and wasn’t bored at any moment through the movie. The person sitting next to me in the theater probably would disagree, because he gave a huge sigh every ten to fifteen minutes once the movie got past the first hour. The film also has some lucid dream sequences that could turn some off. I enjoyed them, because as sick and injured as Hugh Glass was throughout the course of the story he would have some crazy fever dreams. I could also nitpick about some of the choices the character’s make when consuming food, but they didn’t take away from the story for me.
This is another film made to be seen on the big screen. If you enjoy a slower pace burn of a movie which has a more artistic feel to it, then this is well Worth Seeing. Even though the movie is a slow burn, when the action hits it is brutal, intense, and really grips you. I will probably end up buying this movie on blu-ray. It’s not one I can pop in and re-watch a bunch of times, but it is something I can watch again and share with my son’s when they get older. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Shannara Chronicles S1E1 & E2 Chosen Review (Spoiler Free): A Solid Start

The Sword of Shannara was my gateway into the world of fantasy. I read the book in 8th grade and fell in love with the world and the characters in the book. After I read it I tore through the next two books of the trilogy and then consumed all of the other books written in the universe. Since then, I have escaped into the countless novels author Terry Brooks has written in the series. He is one of my favorite authors and I have long waited for one of his books to be adapted into live action form. I remember seeing the initial teaser trailer for Lord of the Rings and thinking it could actually be for Sword of Shannara instead. This is the fantasy world I was lost in growing up. I never really got into Lord of the Rings. I have been following all the development from day one about this series. From its initial announcement about coming to MTV and directed by John Favreau (now just producing) to the premier last night. I really want this show to be good. I want it to be a Game of Thrones PG-13 version. The first two episodes didn’t quite live up to that, but they also weren’t horrible.
Manu Bennet is fantastic as Allanon, but he is about the only bright spot on the acting front. I’m willing to hope the acting and dialogue get better as the show goes along. I’m going to give this show every chance to succeed. I’m in for the long haul, regardless if the dialogue and acting don’t improve. The show does seem to try and appeal to a very teen crowd with extremely beautiful people and adding romance at every corner. Bennet does a great job of anchoring all of this with his role as the mysterious druid. Bennet was a fantastic casting choice for the role and he does not disappoint. Some of his dialogue is still rough, but he has the chops to at least pull it off.
The rest of the cast will have to grow in their roles. I do like the three actors who play the main roles. Austin Butler as Wil Ohmsford does a good job of playing the awe shucks everyday man. Poppy Drayton is a believable Elven queen, and Ivana Baquero is good as the typical bad girl. As the story gets past these first couple of episodes and starts on the overall journey I think the chemistry of the main group will grow. This is my hope at least.
The world shown on the screen is expansive and engaging. New Zealand, where this was shot, is breathtaking and adds to the scope of the world. What always fascinated me about Shannara was the fact it is set thousands of years in the future. It is set after a great war and magic took over from science. Magic is again starting to recede, but it still holds sway. They began to tap into this element in the first two episodes, and it should continue to play a big role in the show overall.  The scope of the world and history shown in the first two episodes is impressive. It feels like the world displayed is thousands of years in the future.
While the scope of the world is majestic the first two episodes focused too heavily on exposition. There was a plethora of information to explain in the first two hours and they jammed packed it with dialogue about the Ellcrys, demons, previous wars, and druid magic.  I’m not sure there would have been another way to get around the expositional dialogue, but hopefully now that the stage is set the writing will advance.
If you enjoy the fantasy genre I would recommend giving Chronicles of Shannara a chance. I personally wanted a PG-13 level Game of Thrones. We got this in story, scope and world. Where the show falls short is in the acting and writing. This has a chance to improve and I think it will. Too much as gone into making this show happen for it not to be good. That is, at least, my hope. I was always a little worried about it being on MTV, but that was countered with Terry Brooks heavy involvement and Jon Favreau producing.
Is the show everything I wanted from the start? No it wasn’t, but it is still a live action Shannara, something I thought I would never see. I’m still in awe that I was even able to watch a show based on some of my all-time favorite books. If the show picks up steam and is well received I hope it can grow into and rival Game of Thrones for a different audience. It has a way to go, but it didn’t get off to a horrible start.

Let me know if you watched Shannara last night and what you thought. Do you plan on keeping watching or did it turn you off? If you haven’t watched will you give it a chance? There is so much good television on right now if a show doesn’t open up well does it doom the show? Let me know your thoughts. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

When Should I Let My Kid Watch.. Casablanca?? - Movie Review

Ah classic movies. When you were a kid did you loath when a black and white movie came on the television? Did you immediately change the channel and find something exploding on the screen? Did you have parents that tried to school you on classic cinema or did you find it on your own after you grew up? When is the right age to introduce children to classic movies? Here’s looking at you kid.
The timeless classic Casablanca. Starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman When should someone be introduced to it? The movie was released in 1942, and the overriding themes of loved lost and apathy still holds true today. Common sense media has an age rating of 10+ for Casablanca. I’ll put a link to their review in the description below. If we are just going off the violence, sex and other adult themes shown on screen then ten is still high for me. If we are going off kids being able to understand everything happening in the film then my thoughts on when someone should be introduced are higher.
There is no barrier for me as far as violence, language or alcohol use that would prevent me from letting my eleven year old watch this movie. I would even let my four year old watch Casablanca as far as adult content goes. I highly doubt the four year old would even make it through the opening credits though. I think my eleven year old can handle the content and the story, but his limited life experience could hinder his understanding and enjoyment.
I can explain to my son about when this movie was made. Explain that it was made a year after Pearl Harbor was bombed. Many Americans even at this time didn’t see the need for focusing on the war in Europe. A prevailing thought was we should focus on the war with Japan since they were the ones who attacked us. Some even still favored a policy of isolationism. Casablanca tried to drum up support for the war in Europe. It was even backed by the war department.  They wanted a movie to help promote the evils of fascism, and the dangers of remaining indifferent. Which the movie does in a fantastic way that doesn’t beat you over the head with the message. Casablanca is a fantastic love story first with war support on the next level.
This is a lot of backstory to take in when trying to enjoy a movie. Then there is the actual plot of the film. Two German soldiers are killed, who are never shown on screen, and travel documents are stolen from them.  These documents allow a person to freely travel to the United States, it’s actually more complicated than that, but will leave it at this. The person who steals the letters is found out and leaves the documents with Rick at his bar. Rick then has to decide to use the papers to get himself out of Casablanca with Ilsa or let her go with Victor Laszlo.
Laszlo is a Jew who has escaped from a concentration camp. He is an inspirational figure who the Nazi’s want to recapture and bring back to Germany. What’s interesting to think about is how little the world actually knew what the Nazi’s were up to at this time. We knew something was wrong with what was going on in Germany, but not to what extent. In real life Laszlo would have been transported back to Germany no questions asked. How does a younger kid understand all of the concepts and themes going on during this film? I’m not sure they can. Once someone has studied history, they then can begin to grasp the desperation during this time.
Then there is the fantastic love story between Rick and Ilsa. Which is extremely powerful. My thoughts are, if you haven’t had your heart broken then you might not understand Casablanca. Everyone by a certain age has gone through a breakup, and has had their heart ripped out. Once you can empathize with the way Rick feels at the train station leaving Paris is when Casablanca will hit home for you, or it did for me.
So with all of this, when should I let my kid watch Casablanca? I think the appropriate age to understand the full weight is around 13-16 depending on the individual. I still think the love story might not have as much effect, but if they have a good grasp of history and are interested in it then I think they would enjoy the story.
Do you remember the first time you saw Casablanca? Do you even like classic movies? Still find them boring? If you have children when do you think you would introduce them to classic movies? Comment and let me know.