Review: Missing Link

The stop-motion studio powerhouse behind films such as Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls and Kubo and the Two Strings now has another animated work to be proud of in Missing Link, an animated motion-picture that is as thematically beguiling as it is beautiful to watch in its animated splendor!

Adventurer and noted mythical-beast tracker Sir Lionel Frost and the legendary sasquatch, who answers to the names Mr. Link and Susan, take a perilous trip around the world to find the fabled city of Shangri-La, the city of the Yeti for Mr. Link seeks to find a family to belong to and Sir Lionel seeks to see his name go down in history as a legendary explorer/adventurer. Missing Link is a film about finding one’s place in the world and this film certainly finds its place as one of the best to come out this year so far!

I couldn’t help but think that Missing Link is a genuine delight! Writer/director Chris Butler has crafted a truly charming film with heart, sincere storytelling, of course breathtaking stop-motion animation and craftsmanship only rivaled by LAIKA studios’ animated achievements of the past! This is funny, it’s spirited, you can connect with the theme of wanting to belong to something, it’s an adventure that sweeps you away and you can’t help but enjoy it.

I believe this movie thrives off the main characters’ parallel longing to belong to something and as the plot is driven by Sir Lionel and Mr. Link’s dynamics, its appeal just grows stronger and Butler wrote and directed a beautiful movie based off this premise and everything about this movie is an engaging and wonderful experience.

The voice talents in this movie were superb! Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana, Timothy Olyphant, Stephen Fry, Amrita Acharia, Ching Valdes-Aran, Emma Thompson, David Walliams, Matt Lucas, Adam Godley are all great lending their voices to these kooky characters.

If you’ve been a fan of LAIKA’s rich and splendid portfolio, you know that a lot of time and energy goes into the production and creation of these stop-motion animated epics and I could tell that a great amount of love and dedication went into the production of Missing Link. This is a beautiful movie to see; if anything the animation alone is spectacular and there is a sturdy story that compliments it perfectly.

Technically, this is a marvel! Carter Burwell’s music is good, Nelson Lowry’s production design is exceptionally done, Deborah Cook’s costume designs are nice, the camerawork is excellent, the editing is crisp and fluid; like I said, a lot of love, hard work and dedication goes into the making of these movies and I can feel that hard work paying off when I watch these movies.

Do not miss out on seeing Missing Link if you have the opportunity! This movie is splendid from start to finish, a spectacle to enjoy and a surefire achievement that lives up to the excellent standard LAIKA has set for itself! Missing Link does not miss a beat as far as I am concerned!

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Review: Hellboy

Now that I have officially seen it, I feel this needs to be said even if it has been said ad-nauseum since it opened in theaters on Thursday night: Neil Marshall’s reboot of Hellboy was doomed to fail and boy did it fail in every conceivable way!

Stepping into the red-skin of Mike Mignola’s celebrated Dark Horse Comic anti-hero from hell is Stranger Things star David Harbour, whose character is pitted against a centuries-old witch named Nimue, the Blood Queen, who seeks to unleash a demonic plague of biblical proportions to cleanse the Earth of mankind and usher in an Eden for all things that go bump in the night. Hellboy and his allies at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense race against the clock to bump back against the Blood Queen for mankind to see another day.

I was on the fence on seeing this reboot since I was partial towards Guillermo Del Toro’s take of the character and Ron Perlman’s portrayal of the demonic protagonist; they weren’t “great” movies but at least they were entertaining and had a degree of artistry in them. This reboot? As Hellboy would say is…”crap”!

I don’t know what Neil Marshall and screenwriter Andrew Cosby’s vision for this when the idea for this reboot was conceived but it’s end product is nothing more than a hellish descent into discomfort, depravity and utter disfunction! This movie was all over the place, I couldn’t establish a connection with these characters, the plot was discomforting and strained credulity and at times, it’s nauseating to look at and cannot be taken seriously entirely!

David Harbour was adequate as the title character at least. As I said before, I think Perlman was the better fit for this character but Harbour isn’t bad as Hellboy. I just think that he suffered because everything around him failed and took away from his take on the character.

I’m lukewarm on this cast across the board. Ian McShane is okay as Professor Broom but I’ll always see the late John Hurt in that role as Hellboy’s adoptive father, Milla Jovovich is a very flat villain, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Stephen Graham, Thomas Hayden Church, Sophie Okonedo, Mark Stanley, Brian Gleeson, altogether this is a rather meh collection of performances.

The film’s production value is irredeemable if I do say so myself! Lorenzo Senatore’s cinematography hardly leaves any lasting impressions and the editing, courtesy of Martin Bernfeld, is so choppy and sloppy, I’d hate to picture what the cutting room floor looks like when the post-production process was finished!

Benjamin Wallfisch’s music was over the top, Paul Kirby’s production design had no aesthetic quality, Ivan Ranghelov’s art direction wasn’t to my liking, the set decoration by Allison Harvey and Valentina Mladenova was subpar, the costumes by Stephanie Collie and Zornitsa Tsvetanova were bleak, the make-up department did a fair job when it came to Harbour’s look as Hellboy and last but not least, the visual effects were God-awful!

This reboot was better off never seeing the light of day, let alone be seen by an audience! Boy, Hellboy was all kinds of cinematic hell for me!

Review: Shazam!

Zachary Levi bursts onto the scene as the super man-child of the DC Cinematic Universe in Shazam! This film centers around a youth named Billy Batson who only has to utter one word to be endowed with extraordinary powers by an ancient wizard to defeat the sinister Dr. Sivana.

Let’s face facts folks: the DC Cinematic Universe has been a failure for the most part. Outside of Wonder Woman, there hasn’t really been a great cinematic property for DC…until Shazam! dropped!

I was very impressed and pleased by what Shazam! turned out to be. It’s fresh, it has energy, it’s a naturally fun superhero adventure though it’s not perfect but that’s okay! This film should count as a win for DC and credit should first and foremost go to director David F. Sandberg and screenwriter Henry Gayden.

I liked Sandberg’s take on the supernatural aspects of the Shazam! storyline and how he incorporated his horror influence in this film and built his vision of this character and this world around it while allowing it to stay faithful to the material of the picture. The story, crafted by Gayden and Darren Lemke, is balanced in terms of depth, humor, surprise and it’s very well put-together.

In fact, my gripe with the DC Cinematic Universe is that most of these films haven’t struck the right chord in balancing visuals with narrative but Shazam! is in the ballpark of what I like to see in a superhero movie and ultimately, I enjoyed watching it!

The story has some flaws. I can’t go into detail without spoiling the story but there were some things I was hoping to see and some things I hoped would be saved until a potential sequel, but it does enough to satisfy its audience and I think they’ll be back for more of Shazam!

Zachary Levi soared in this role! He was just in his element as this boy-trapped-in-a-superhero’s body and you can’t help but love what he brought to the role of the title character.

In fact, I thought the entire cast did a great job. Jack Dylan Grazer as superhero groupie/sidekick Freddie Freeman was great, Mark Strong was comfortable playing the bad guy, Dr. Sivana, as usual, Asher Angel as Billy Batson was good, it was nice seeing Djimon Hounsou as the wizard for a short while, Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews, Grace Fulton, Faithe Herman, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, John Glover, Evan Marsh, Carson MacCormac, Caroline Palmer; this cast is pretty solid all around.

It also has something of a moderate budget tone to it when you look at the film’s overall production value. Benjamin Wallfisch’s music is middle of the road, Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography is good from time-to-time, Michel Aller’s editing is solid, Jennifer Spence’s production design is fine, the art direction under Brandt Gordon is good, Shane Vieau’s set decoration is good, the costume design of Leah Butler is very cool and very faithful to the comics, the visual effects are great; the aesthetic tone of this movie is grounded but it works.

For the first time in what seems like a very long time, I can say that a cinematic property from DC actually worked for me! Shazam! gave the DC Cinematic Universe and audiences a most welcome jolt of excitement!

Review: Us

Two years ago, Jordan Peele broke out in a big way by crafting an elegant and eerie horror flick that took the world by storm. His feature-length film debut, Get Out, earned widespread acclaim and Peele won his first Academy Award for his work and now he returns with his second feature that proves that his mind is a twisted and disturbing place to occupy. The name of this nightmare, is simply titled Us.

Peele’s latest nightmare follows a family who takes a break from their usual routine for some rest and relaxation by the beach. Their bliss is interrupted when visitors descend on them with the intent to wreak havoc and death upon them but the frightening thing is that the visitors mirror images of this family. No one knows how they came to be, but now that they walk the Earth, they seek to replace their originals by any means necessary.

Us is a sight to behold and this latest product born from the workings of Jordan Peele’s mind is elaborate, inventive, sinister, shocking and ultimately, brilliant and it is all on display in this movie! Peele takes the theme of “We are our own worst enemy” and takes such a terrifying spin on it that it excites you in the best and worst ways.

Watching this, you can tell that this feature had Peele’s fingerprints all over the writing and direction of this picture. Every detail that went into the crafting of this movie from the meaning of the rabbits, Jeremiah 11:11, the human chain, the underground subways stations, the scissors, the red jumpsuits, every facet of this story contains so much symbolism and references, and it’s a mental exercise to process everything even when you are witnessing something sick and twisted!

In fact, when I was coming home from Us, I was thinking about certain scenes, certain moments in this picture and I could trace a heavy influence of the original Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock and I think Peele learned well to channel Hitchcock’s influence, put his own spin on it and really make his mark on the horror/suspense genre. Jordan Peele is well in his comfort zone and we’ve only witnessed the beginning of what he can do as a filmmaker.

Lupita Nyong’o is at her absolute best! She is compelling in the role of Adelaide Wilson and she is downright phenomenal in the role of her sinister duplicate Red; I’ve been a fan of Nyong’o ever since 12 Years a Slave and I think she delivers a performance that rivals that of her Oscar-winning role.

The entire cast including Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop, Cali Sheldon, Noel Sheldon, Madison Curry, Ashley McKoy, Alan Frasier, every single one was practically aces!

The techinal make-up of this film was truly excellent from start to finish. Michael Abels’ music was haunting, Mike Gioulakis’ cinematography was outstanding and flowed seamlessly with the pacing of the film, Nicholas Monseur’s editing was precise, Ruth De Jong’s production design was clean and meticulously crafted, Cara Brower’s art direction was the right mix of elegant and dark, Florencia Martin’s set decoration was thorough, the make-up department did a fantastic job and Kym Barrett’s costumes were excellent!

Us is macabre, Us is creative, Us is relentless and it will leave you with a twist to wrap your head around when you get home from seeing it and I think it will have serious staying power, like Jordan Peele’s previous hit, Get Out! I heavily encourage you to see it, if you have a strong stomach and hunger for something twisted.

Review: Captain Marvel

In a time before the Avengers assembled, specifically the mid-1990s, Earth was unintentionally in the middle of a war between two alien races and needed someone to rise up and quash it. Earth needed a new kind of hero and when the time came, Earth’s Mightiest flew into the fray. Brie Larson flies into action in the newest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel.

Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck definitely do not disappoint with their take on perhaps the strongest hero the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever seen. They, along with Geneva Robertson-Dworet, wrote a story that is loaded with twists, humor, heart and enough clout to elevate Marvel’s first female-led superhero adventure into the stratosphere! I’m not going to say it’s a perfect movie but all-in-all, when the post-credits scenes were finished, I’m came away very satisfied and very excited about what is going to happen next!

Going in, I had a fair understanding of the title character’s origin story but the initiative they took in adapting the story so that it can stand apart from other heroes in and out of Marvel’s canon but also stand on its own while also allowing the audience to take part in, and invest in, Carol uncovering the mysteries of her past and coming into her own as a hero.

The plot has a lot of material to unravel, from how the Kree and the Skrulls play a part in this film, to how characters like Nick Fury and Phil Coulson fit in, to how she essentially is the inspiration behind the Avengers’ Initiative in the first place but all of it is not lost on the audience. Truthfully, I enjoyed the ride Captain Marvel had to offer and it was a very smooth ride entirely.

Brie Larson stepped into this role and took off with her toughness, wit, charm, humor and the rapport she had with a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson was really fun to watch. The rest of the cast were very good, including Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Annette Benning, Clark Gregg, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Akira Akbar, Gemma Chan, Rune Temte, Algenis Perez Soto, Chuku Modu, Matthew Maher, Mark Daugherty and McKenna Grace.

The music under Pinar Toprak was eclectic and fun, Ben Davis’ cinematography is great, Debbie Berman and Elliot Graham’s editing is solid, Andy Nicholson’s production design is good, the art direction under Andrew Max Cahn is well done, Lauri Gaffin’s set decoration is good, Sanja Milkovic Hays’ costumes were very cool and the visual effects live up to the standards of a Marvel movie.

Suffice to say, I think Captain Marvel introduced Marvel’s strongest hero in the smoothest way possible at the very best time. Now that we know who Captain Marvel is and what she is capable of, I go into the next installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe satisfied and more anticipatory than ever because now Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are getting big time reinforcements for their next bout with the Mad Titan.

Review: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

The word “bittersweet” has been associated with the description of this feature and rightly so because this is the final chapter of a beautifully done franchise. Hiccup and his trusty Night Fury Toothless soar and roar one last time in the stunning animated spectacle, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.

A year after Hiccup takes up his late father’s mantle as chief of Berk, he and his fellow dragon riders set out to create a peaceful dragon-human utopia on their home, but the notorious Grimmel, a brilliant and methodical dragon hunter, renowned for killing Night Furies, threatens to upend everything Hiccup and Toothless have fought so hard to create and protect. A solution to their dilemma may lie in a female dragon called a Light Fury, who Toothless is instantly drawn to, who may hold the key to the Hidden World, a hidden realm that is home to all dragons.

A plot that is layered and ripe with coming-of-age tropes and animation that is gorgeous as you can imagine, how can How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World not be a complete winner? Dean DeBlois sent this excellent franchise out of one hell of a high note and I could not be more satisfied with how this movie was executed and how well this franchise came full circle!

Back in 2010, I went into the original How to Train Your Dragon with low expectations, only to come out blown away. How to Train Your Dragon 2 was a worthy successor that did not let me down and now The Hidden World lived up to both films and the culmination of all three movies weaves a flowing and impeccably crafted story about a friendship that changed a world and I believe Cressida Cowell and DreamWorks should be very proud of the success of this franchise.

The greatest aspect about this movie is that ultimately, you know where and what it leads up to but you can’t help but enjoy the ride and watch the two central characters continue to come into their own and just take in the splendor of the world around them and it is bittersweet but also a satisfying experience that fans of this franchise will never forget! DeBlois truly wrote and directed a stunning final conclusion to a very special franchise that he and executive producer Chris Sanders started.

I love the cast of actors who lent their voices to this movie and the movies that came before. Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, Justin Ruppel, Craig Ferguson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Cate Blanchett, Kit Harrington, F. Murray Abraham, I love the dimension these actors brought to these characters.

The technical skill that went into this movie is nothing short of excellent. The animation is phenomenal, John Powell’s music is superb, Gil Zimmerman’s cinematography is invigorating, John Karr’s editing is top-notch, Pierre-Oliver Vincent’s production design is incredible, the artwork, the visual effects, the sound are all breathtaking, everything that went into this movie was not wasted in the slightest!

It’s tough saying goodbye to a franchise that has delivered every single time a new chapter was released and characters who you can’t help but love but all great things come to an end. Hiccup, Toothless, the training was worth it! How to Train Your Dragon was an exhilarating ride and The Hidden World was an outstanding way to bring this trilogy to a close. Well done!

Review: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

First review of 2019! I repeat, first review of 2019! It’s a review about a good follow-up to an animated hit from five years ago! Building off the success of The Lego Movie and the spinoffs, The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie, we’ve returned to the world where everything is a different flavor of awesome in The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part!

That’s right! Emmett, WyldStyle (Lucy), Batman, Unikitty and the crew are back for more adventures, existential observations, singing and dancing and hijinks to build on from the first movie. When his friends are abducted by aliens from a hostile system, Emmett Brickowski partners up with a radical space adventurer named Rex Dangervest to save them from Queen Whatevra Wa’Nabi before she triggers a doomsday scenario called “Arm-mom-ogeddon”.

I honestly think that this was a rather cute way to start the new year at the movies. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is entertaining from start to finish, it’s whip-smart, funny, it’s self-aware; I think there was just enough magic from the original Lego Movie to build a new adventure for these characters and director Mike Mitchell and writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller did a fine job at expanding this animated franchise with a true sequel.

The drawback? I felt that this movie somewhat suffered in the fact that the original Lego Movie was released five years ago and it’s target audience may have outgrown it, despite the spinoffs that have been made in its wake, and The Second Part, while very effective, may be overlooked. Some sequels, such as Toy Story 3 or Incredibles 2, handle the time-difference rather effectively and make it a strength but I don’t think The Lego Movie 2, handled it as effectively as other movies have done before.

Also, while watching The Lego Movie 2, I felt that this movie somewhat played down to it’s target audience, children, rather than a widespread audience. I was amused by this but at the same time, I just felt that I outgrew this as a film goer. I remember The Lego Movie being hailed as a groundbreaking achievement in animation and when I caught up with it, I was impressed by what Phil Lord and Christopher Miller had achieved but now? I liked going back to this franchise but I didn’t feel that same groundbreaking appeal, if you catch my drift.

Mark Miller made a very decent and fun sequel and I appreciate him for retaining Lord and Miller’s talents as storytellers as well as Matthew Fogel’s contributions.

The animation was savvy and the technical expertise that went into this was very good! Mark Mothersbaugh’s music was good, Claire Knight’s editing was sharp, Patrick Marc Hanenberger’s production design was rather pleasant, the art direction by Kristen Anderson, Nick Dudar and Yeva McCloskey was impeccable; this was a very detailed animated movie with a lot of eye-candy.

Let’s not forget the actors who lent their vocal talents to this feature! Great work all around from Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Hadish, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Stephanie Beatriz, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayode, Colbie Smulders, Ike Barinholtz, Will Farrell, Maya Rudolph, Jason Sand, Brooklynn Kimberly Prince, Noel Fielding, Ben Schwartz, Jason Momoa, Ralph Fiennes, Will Forte and Bruce Willis, and so many surprising cameos to name!

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is not the exact brand of awesome as the first movie but it’s respectably decent and well-assembled to appreciate for what it happens to be. In summary: it’s fun enough to like!