Review: Coco

I feel as though Disney and Pixar’s latest animated adventure was inspired by the idea of border security. Essentially Coco is about an individual who crosses over a border he shouldn’t and it is set in, and inspired by, the country south of the American border after all.

The protagonist is a youth named Miguel Rivera. His family has decided that Miguel will continue their long line of shoemakers but Miguel is a rebel in his own family. His heart beats for his love of music; singing, playing guitar, performing, aspiring to be like his hero Ernesto Del La Cruz, the greatest musician in the history of Mexico. Miguel’s family has outlawed involvement of music of any kind but he won’t deter and his family put their proverbial shoemaking feet down on the idea of Miguel pursuing his love of music.

On Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead, Miguel breaks into Del La Cruz’s tomb to “borrow” his hero’s guitar to perform in a talent competition and the moment he strums those strings, Miguel is spirited away to the Land of the Dead where he meets his ancestors who are insistent that he return home but not Miguel sees his opportunity to meet his long deceased hero and simultaneous uncover his family secret as to why the Rivera’s have forbidden music from entering their lives.

Image by Disney-Pixar

Coco is an ode to Mexican culture, an ode to the magic of music and the power of a family’s love and it is vivid in the terms of both the authentic and aesthetic. I had to look back on the reviews I wrote this year and compared to the other animated film I’ve seen this year, I can confidently express that Coco is going to run away with every single animated achievement film award it will be nominated for in the foreseeable future!

Directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, who co-wrote the screenplay Matthew Aldrich, have crafted a beautiful tale about what it means to follow your passion and seizing your moment. Only the magic created between Disney and Pixar could construct a tale about spirit guides, mariachis, flower petals, walking skeletons, guitars, shoemakers and weave it into a beautifully constructed and executed animated experience that will resonate with audiences of all ages!

The animation team behind this movie put in tireless work to breathe life into this animated work of art and the team of Unkrich, Molina, Aldrich and Jason Katz, pulled out all the stops to immerse this movie in the splendor of the music, artistry, passion and culture of Mexico.

Bravo to the voices of Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Renee Victor, Alana Ubach, Ana Ofelia Murguía, Selene Luna, Herbert Siguenza, Jamie Camil, Alfonso Arau, Sofía Espinosa, Dyana Ortelli, Gabriel Iglesias, Edward James Olmos and Luis Valdez.

Aside from the animation and how well the story is written, the visual effects of the film were profound, the score of Michael Giacchino was sublime and dripping with Mexican influence, the cinematography team of Matt Aspbury and Danielle Feinberg did a fantastic job, Steve Bloom and Lee Unkrich’s editing was very smooth, Harley Jessup’s production design and Tim Evett’s art direction were fantastic. Coco is 2017’s pinnacle of animated achievement!

Disney and Pixar should be nothing but proud of Coco. It is undoubtedly another highlight in the long list of achievements they have made over the last few decades!

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Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

To be honest, I was going into War for the Planet of the Apes with an idea of what I was in for. Based on what I’ve read, what I’ve seen and heard about the film up to that point, I thought audiences were going into a film where Caesar would be leading his species in an all out assault to preserve their survival against what is left of mankind, yet I was unprepared for what really was in store.

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Image by 20th Century Fox

Essentially, War occurs two years post-Dawn and well distant from the events that transpired in Rise but not totally disconnected. After Caesar suffers an unimaginable loss that rocks him to his core, he takes it on himself to journey across the wintery wilds to find a man called The Colonel and kill him. Caesar is aided by his most trusted simian companions, Maurice, Luca and Rocket and pick up a few stragglers along the way in the peculiar Bad Ape and a mute girl who is later dubbed Nova; this journey to find the Colonel fills Caesar with inner turmoil to hold on to the principles he held so dear to him or embrace the darkness within himself to exact his vengeance, like Koba did. This inner battle within the first super ape is the War that takes center stage in the film.

Matt Reeves, the director and co-writer of the film, impressed me in bringing Caesar grand story to a stirring finish in the fashion that he did. Reeves and Mark Bomback have crafted a story with heavy biblical references to allow their protagonist to shine in the brightest way they could and truly cement his legacy as his story comes full circle.

Essentially, the Planet of the Apes franchise in its entirety is a story about hubris; how living creatures create their own undoing and there is a success in how this story, Caesar’s story, was told. In War, Caesar wrestles with his darkness brought on by immense grief, he suffers like Christ suffers, he led his species to freedom as Moses did, every action he takes in this movie, shapes the course of his future and the future of his apes and this story leaves a profound and thought-provoking experience with audiences and it resonates when they leave the theater.

I especially took pleasure in how the film handled Caesar’s relationship with Nova. Before the two meet, Caesar dives right into his inner demons to the point where he is almost apathetic, remorseless and bloodthirsty but Nova reminds him of the humanity inside him and how that humanity has kept him from becoming Koba; in a way that theme of humanity and hubris tied all of the films together.

Andy Serkis’ performance is once again, high caliber! The CGI visual effects are just a costume but he breathes life into his characters and audiences are taken for an emotional ride with his performance as Caesar. From the moment, Caesar makes his presence known in the picture, everyone becomes invested; Serkis commands the screen as this character and doesn’t let up for an instant!

Woody Harrelson is as good as I’ve ever seen him as the vicious and bloodthirsty Colonel. Steve Zahn is a hoot as Bad Ape, Amiah Miller is terrific as Nova, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Michael Adamthwaite, Gabriel Chavarria, Judy Greer, Ty Olsson, Sara Canning, Aleks Paunovic, Devyn Dalton, Max Lloyd-Jones, Alessandro Juiliani and Toby Kebbell were all outstanding in the roles they played.

Michael Giacchino’s score, Michael Seresin’s cinematography, James Chinlund’s production design, William Hoy and Stan Salfas’ editing were all very satisfying. The visual effects were as elite as you might see all year.

I went into War for the Planet of the Apes expecting something totally different but I was completely washed away by how emotionally resonating, thought-provoking and creatively assembled this movie was. You won’t be flat out excited by it, but you will be immersed in how Caesar cements his legacy and how his tale comes to a close.

The Planet of the Apes franchise finishes on a very strong note.

Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

I went into Spider-Man: Homecoming similar to how I approached Guardians of the Galaxy years ago. With this character getting a third cinematic reboot, with another actor portraying him, I felt that this was getting exhausting; Spidey needed a break from movies and I felt that audiences needed a break from Spider-Man movies but when Kevin Feige seized a chance to integrate the character into the highly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe-the Avengers Initiative-I thought “what the hell?”

And so, Tom Holland made his web-slinging debut in Captain America: Civil War and did a great job I might add, which led him to Homecoming, a film by Jon Watts chronicling Peter Parker’s efforts to prove himself to his mentor/benefactor Tony Stark that he is hero enough to stand with Earth Mightiest. This teenager, takes it upon himself to thwart a string of robberies orchestrated by a disgruntled and disillusioned superhero-mess cleaner named Adrian Toomes, armed with advanced weaponry derived from the Battle of New York from so many years ago.

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Image by Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures

For the weeks leading up to this, I tempered my expectations for this movie because every live-action Spider-Man movie from the woefully executed Spider-Man 3 to the underwhelming failure that was The Amazing Spider-Man franchise highlighted that the wall-crawler has indeed hit a wall when it comes to movies. Coming out of the theater, I acknowledged that I truly underestimated this movie and the players involved in shaping it; Tom Holland, Jon Watts and the screenwriting team including Watts, Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers won me over; this movie made Spider-Man great again!

The approach to actually have a teenager portray a teenage superhero paid off; the influence of classic 1980s cinema like Ferris Bueler’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club was felt; the fact that this film knew its place within the grand scheme of the Avengers Initiative was very playful and overall, the writing and execution of Spider-Man: Homecoming was authentic, fresh, relatable and fun!

Tom Holland made a believer of me when he swung into Captain America: Civil War in the red and blue suit and when the spotlight shined on him, he didn’t shrink away; he embraced this role and delivered as Peter Parker. The supporting cast of Michael Keaton, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori, Marissa Tomei, Abraham Attah, Laura Harrier, Donald Glover, Hannibal Burress, Michael Churness, Logan Marshall-Green, Bokeem Woodbine and familiar faces such as Robert Downey Jr., Jon Favreau, Chris Evans and Gwyneth Paltrow all got in on the fun in this movie.

Michael Giacchino’s score was thrilling, Salvatore Totino’s cinematography was crisp and savvy, Debbie Berman and Dan Lebental’s editing was very good, Oliver Scholl’s production design was rock-solid, Louise Frogley’s costume design was excellent, the visual effects were amazing and convincing, the story and script was sharp and smart and overall, I loved how this movie was shaped and constructed.

Spider-Man: Homecoming was funny, thrilling, creative, relevant and relatable to audiences and I thought that this movie really did justice by its title character in a way the previous films could not. Spidey set out to prove himself that he could hang with the Avengers and establish himself as a true hero and in this movie, credited to writer/director Jon Watts and star Tom Holland, he accomplished just that. Very well done and very well recommended!

Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Remember these names: Jyn Erso, Galen Erso, Captain Cassian Andor, Saw Gerrera, Bodhi Rook, Chirrut Îmwe, Baze Malbus and K-2SO. These names must be remembered because without these courageous and tenacious individuals who banded together to become a formidable team in the face of great danger, the Star Wars universe as we know it may be what it is now.

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Image by LucasFilm and 20th Century Fox

The Rebel Alliance has caught word that the Galactic Empire is in development of a super weapon capable of destroying an entire planet and they recruit Jyn Erso, a rebel fighting her own fight, to gather intel on this super weapon because they have reason to believe that her father, Galen, is the architect of this weapon. Jyn aligns herself with Captain Andor and his droid companion K-2SO to find answers and perhaps a weakness to this super weapon before the Empire unleashes it and wreaks havoc upon the galaxy.

In order to give the Rebel Alliance a fighting chance against this devastating terror, Jyn, Andor and a small band of rebels embark on a dangerous recon mission to steal the battle plans of the Empire’s Death Star and deliver them to the Rebels in the hopes of finding a weakness to exploit. This is the plot of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

My love and admiration for the Star Wars franchise goes back to my childhood and that love and admiration still goes strong to this day. I’ve been anticipating Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ever since I’ve heard that it was in development because I found this concept of this story fascinating because it’s so pivotal to the original canon and I could not be more satisfied with the finished product; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is definitely the real deal!

My hat’s off to director Gareth Edwards and the screenwriting tandem of Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy for not only introducing new characters in a story that positions itself to well to the iconic first film but for tying in so many memorable faces and moments that are so key to A New Hope; Rogue One is fun, it’s smart, it genuinely gets into the heart of what the Star Wars franchise truly is: a war drama/underdog story where it sends a message that even a small force with enough fight in them can overpower a bully and as a fan of the Star Wars franchise, I can say that Rogue One sets the stage beautifully for the original trilogy while tying in a few aspects from the prequel series as well as borrow from other branches such as the animated television series.

If you are a fan of a diverse cast, than Rogue One definitely comes through in a big way with rock-solid performances across the board! Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Alan Tudyk, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Ben Mendelsohn, Jimmy Smits, Alistair Petrie, Genevieve O’Reilly, all very good. I was also pleased that the film brought back James Earl Jones to lend his voice once again to the greatest film villain of all time but I was awestruck that Rogue One took the liberty to digitally resurrect Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin and restore another character to surprise audiences at the end of the film-I won’t say whom!

Michael Giacchino came in at the last minute to score this movie and he did a fine job in my opinion. I think John Williams would be proud for what he managed to accomplish in such a short amount of time. Greig Fraser’s cinematography was up to par for what you could expect in a Star Wars flick, John Gilroy, Colin Goudie and Jabez Olssen’s editing was clean and transitioned seamlessly from frame to frame, Doug Chiang and Neil Lamont’s production design was fine, the makeup and costumes were eye-catching, the visual effects were top marks, this was technically well-assembled and the execution demonstrated that.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a movie that is probably destined to be the highest grossing film of 2016 and it is definitely a movie that is not to be missed. Take my word for it when I say that the Force is assuredly with this movie!

Review: Doctor Strange

If the final superhero feature of 2016 had a mission to enchant audiences with its star-studded cast and dazzling psychedelic kaleidoscope visual effects, then Doctor Strange succeeded in its intent.

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Image by Marvel Studios

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as a smug neurosurgeon named Stephen Strange who thinks he has all the answers until a car wreck shatters his livelihood. He discovers a way to restore the use of his hands not through medicine, but through the mystic arts when he travels to Tibet and meets a sect of sorcerers led by a mysterious being called The Ancient One, who expands the concepts of his reality by introducing him to other realities beyond his wildest dreams.

I was excited about the cast of this movie because Doctor Strange is perhaps one of the most talented cast of actors Marvel has ever put together. Unfortunately these actors, I felt were way too big for these roles and the performances of Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong and Rachel McAdams, are adequate, the actors themselves were way too big for these characters, who barely scratch the surface of their comic counterparts.

Director Scott Derrickson with screenwriters Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill did what they could to make Doctor Strange as much of an enjoyable Marvel Studios experience as possible and as far as the film goes visually, it is worthwhile however the writing of Doctor Strange feels forced; the characters are rendered weak and one-dimensional because they are part of a plot that doesn’t elevate them, that tries too hard to be funny in some places and the action itself is fleeting.

I will say though that the plot, though shallow, does enough to establish the title character is this ever expanding Marvel Universe but ultimately, I was uncomfortable watching Doctor Strange; maybe it was the seat I selected due to this stupid “select-a-seat” option when I bought my ticket but Doctor Strange just felt awkward to me while I was watching it.

Visually and technically, I think Doctor Strange was aces. Ben Davis’ cinematography and Sabrina Pilsco and Wyatt Smith’s editing worked very well in this film, I particularly liked the time loop sequences with the apple and Dormmamu, those were very clever. The kaleidoscope visual effects were dazzling; watching the mirror dimensions distort and bend the streets of New York almost induced a vertigo episode in me; I’d recommend seeing this film in 3D.

I also liked the costumes of Alexandra Byrne and the makeup for making the characters look as close to their comic counterparts as possible. Michael Giacchino’s music did what it could to give this picture as much dimension as possible but it somehow faded to the background because the visuals took the appeal of this movie more than anything else.

I wanted Doctor Strange to wow me and the formula to do so was there and yet I wasn’t practically impressed. Looking back, I think Doctor Strange was all smoke and mirrors and no substance.

What’s disappointing is that this is the last superhero spectacle of 2016 and in my summation, the superhero features of 2016 were all bombs, except one and that one reached heights only a select few in its genre could. Doctor Strange is supposed to be a sorcerer, a master of magic but in order for magic to work, a degree of deception is necessary and I could read the spells of Doctor Strange as easily as I could read a traffic sign.

There was no deceptions or secrets or surprises that Doctor Strange had to offer me and I think that this is a cinematic equivalent to a parlor trick. There was nothing even remotely supreme about this sorcerer or how this film was put together and while it is fun to look at, the results leave me resolute in the idea that Doctor Strange could have been a lot better considering the parties involved in the production and the audience as well.

Review: Jurassic World

I’m not exactly sure I would say that I’m a fan of Jurassic Park, in the same sense that I am a fan of Star Wars and superhero mythology. I show appreciation for the technical prowess and ingenuity the original Jurassic Park feature managed to accomplish 22 years ago, but when Spielberg’s epic creature feature was released then, I was probably four or five years old when I first saw it so I didn’t know any better.

Image by Universal

Anyway, flash-forward to today and we have Jurassic World, director/screenwriter Colin Trevorrow’s attempt to build a new world atop the bones of the original, in many ways metaphorical and literal. Still, the song remains the same: humans try to play God and they inadvertently let the devil out of the box. The devil in this case being a genetically engineered T-Rex-raptor hybrid code-name: Indominous Rex; a 50 ft long, pale, thick-skinned and intelligent predator raised in captivity with no social skills whatsoever. She ate her own sibling!

Well because Indominous is such a “clever girl” she manages to take her own tour of Isla Nublar, indifferent to the tens of thousands of human inhabitants who wanted to enjoy the park’s attractions and if she’s hungry, she has no issue eating anything or anyone.

I had reservations going into Jurassic World, I wasn’t even 100% certain that I was actually on board with seeing it because I was thinking: “have they learned nothing from the first movie?! Why are they still playing God?!” I guess after two decades of hibernation, producers Steven Spielberg, Thomas Tull and company thought that they could reinvigorate the park franchise with something bigger, scarier and more “wow-factor” when in reality, they were just beating an extinct horse.

Could you say that Indominous is the top attraction to Jurassic World? Sure, but thing is, watching her hunt is like-oh good Lord, I’m about to quote American Dad (SMH)-“like watching a shark in an aquarium. It’s intimidating, menacing even but scary? No.” Amy Elliot Dunn from Gone Girl, she was a scary b****! Indominous made me flinch a time or two but whatever.

I get that Trevorrow wanted to pay homage to the film that started it all, but could he have come off as such a big fanboy?! He, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Derek Connelly, the four of them wrote this movie’s screenplay and that is the best they could come up with? There is a thrill here and there but there are some scenes that are just bogged down with bad puns, lame jokes and moments where you just go “really?”

By Mingle Media TV, via Wikimedia Commons

I felt that there was only one organically grown moment in Jurassic World, a movie that feels so genetically modified from start to finish. The scene with Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are comforting a dying Brontosaurus; that was a moment that truly hearkened back to the original film and it was sure pure to witness even though it was brief.

Well since I started talking about the human characters let’s go into detail about Chris Pratt’s slightly chauvinist raptor-training Owen. This leading male character is the voice of reason throughout this entire film and he’s probably the other reason, besides Indominous, people will want to see this because he finally has a superpower: the ability to train those ancient killing machines called raptors. It feels as though the role of Owen was tailored for Pratt but he’s difficult to assess, yes he can be a badass at times but there is nothing appealing about his character to be honest.

By aphrodite-in-nyc from new york city (P1050817), via Wikimedia Commons

Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, Claire, just drops the ball in so many ways. She comes off as this pent-up, workaholic, irresponsible guardian to her nephews, played by Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson, in this crisis, (I’m not exactly the world’s best uncle myself) who puts business ahead of everything else and throughout the entire movie she is so subservient to Owen’s masculine presence, it’s trifling, disappointing and hollow.

The rest of the cast including Vincent D’Onoforio, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Irrfan Khan, Judy Greer either contribute so little to the narrative or are basically reduced to props. The entire human cast takes a backseat to the CGI animals in a way that seems inferior to how the human cast took a backseat to last year’s Godzilla remake.

Technically Jurassic World is quite safe when it should be edgy and thrilling. Even the CGI dinosaurs are mechanical at best. The production design by Ed Verraux, the editing by Kevin Stitt, Michael Giacchino’s score for instance are all very tame because I felt that the director spent so much time trying to honor the original material and recapture something past, that there is nothing current or modern about it.

With how this movie was written, it couldn’t be anymore obvious that a sequel is in the works. Even the fossils could tell that a sequel is planned out!

I think Colin Trevorrow should shoulder the brunt of responsibility for how tacky this movie was. Some parts of the film were reduced to a colossal cliche, like with Khan’s character made it clear that he was the only suitable helicopter pilot on hand and the camera had to zoom in to make that clear, WTF! Also the final showdown between Indominous and Tyrannosaurus to determine who is Rex of Jurassic World, most of the time, the camera is on Pratt, Howard, Simpkins and Robinson, I did not pay $14 to have the camera on the insignificant humans of Jurassic World! Mr. Trevorrow or John Schwartzman, director of photography, keep the camera’s on the dinosaurs for crying out loud!

I had reservations going into Jurassic World. I wasn’t even sure if I absolutely wanted to see it. Turns out, I wasn’t missing anything if I skipped it.

Review: Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland promises the idea of a movie filled with wonder, innovation, brilliance and optimism for a bright future, but when Academy Award winner George Clooney, Britt Robertson and Raffey Cassidy finally arrive to Tomorrowland in the movie, Tomorrowland is revealed for what it really is: hollow, run-down, desolate and empty.

The new film from Brad Bird and writer Damon Lindelof is the story about two intelligent figures on opposite sides of a spectrum; Clooney is the jaded and cynical Frank Walker and Robertson is the naive and bright-eyed optimist Casey Newton. Both characters have different ideas of what the future holds in a movie that plays with the idea of “the world of tomorrow” from the 1960s and presumably Walt Disney’s imagination and philosophy.

Image by Disney

Newton is in awe of what the idea of Tomorrowland possesses: the means to heal the world’s ills while Walker knows first hand what Tomorrowland is capable of: builds your hopes up then let’s you down in the most cruel way possible (courtesy of childhood heartbreak).

I want to try and be nice regarding Tomorrowland but I can’t. I found the film tedious, loaded with bloated Walt Disney optimism and shallow no matter how many bells and whistles it tries to dazzle audiences with.

The overall problem with Tomorrowland may lie with the overall editing and how the film visually allowed itself to tell its story. The use of flashback to when Frank was a child, played by Thomas Robinson, is erratic though it serves a purpose, the magic “pin” that is given to Casey to take her to the “magical place” from the colorless world that is reality is pretty and it reminds of The Wizard of Oz, but the story telling style never really settles. There is no magic and visual appeal to this film.

I may not have seen all of Brad Bird’s work as a director but he certainly looked qualified to direct this movie. The problem is that Bird’s talent as a director is just lost in this movie filled with geniuses, ideal futuristic societies, other dimensions, and killer robots. The imagination is there but the problem is that the imagination is stretched and I mean stretch.

Seriously, the idea of the Eiffel Tower as a launch site for a rocket to go to Tomorrowland‘s dimension was done with a lot of imagination and wretched execution. I think that is when Tomorrowland “jumped the shark” as they say.

The acting is meh. Tomorrowland is designed to carry itself on George Clooney’s star-power but he just phones this in and that is a tragic disappointment considering his talent. He is an A-list actor, writer, director and producer but why is he doing this movie? Boredom? Needed a paycheck? He lowered himself with this movie. Shameful.

Britt Robertson was annoying to watch to be honest. The film needed a balance to Clooney’s jaded character and this doughy-eyed, hopeful, blonde girl who thinks the world’s problems can be fixed simply soured the movie; I can relate to her, I believe that humanity can undo the problems of the world but I couldn’t wait to see her get a serious dose of reality and when she did, it was fleeting.

Raffey Cassidy gave a robotic performance-look I made a pun-as Athena. She was probably the film’s cool factor, she was given a lot of butt-kicking scenes but there was nothing really cool about her character. In fact, when she reveals herself as a robot, the shock-value is minimal at best.

Image by By Kristin Dos Santos (Hugh Laurie), via Wikimedia Commons

I think the only saving grace of Tomorrowland was Hugh Laurie. I loved Hugh Laurie play the title character in the Fox drama House and he brought that charisma to the villain role of David Nix.

Claudio Miranda’s cinematography, Michael Giacchino’s music, Scott Chambliss’ production design, Ramsey Avery’s art direction team all contributed to the visual appeal of this movie but it was all average in my opinion. The editing of Walter Murch and Craig Wood are probably at fault for this movie’s undoing.

I wish I could say that I was disappointed in this movie but I cannot because I went into this movie with a low-ceiling, no expectations whatsoever. It’s just, it’s not everyday that I went into a movie such as that and still came away with nothing.

Tomorrowland has bells and whistles, promises and looks at the world with hope but those bells and whistles have a low-resonance, those promises are empty and it is easy to look at something at hope and offer little to no solution. I won’t go as far as say this is the worst movie I’ve seen this year, but there is no excuse for a movie with a total lack of execution.