Archive for the ‘Animation’ Category

isle of dogs

In the Japanese archipelago, 20 years from now, a vicious strain of the Dog Flu has broken out, in order to protect the humans from the flu, the Mayor  of the Prefecture, Mayor Kobayashi , (Kunichi Nomura) has deported all the dogs to Trash Island.  Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) a 12 year old distant relative of the mayor, flies a plane to Trash Island, in search of his dog, Spots. (Liev Schreiber)  The plane crash lands on the island.  The leader of the dogs on Trash Island, Chief (Bryan Cranston) doesn’t trust humans, but decides to rescue Atari.  Atari then sets out to find Spots.

At the prefecture, Professor Watanabe  (Akira Ito) thinks he has come up with a cure to the Dog Flu, but something happens to Watanabe after he eats some sushi.  At the same time, the Mayor finds out that Atari is alive on Trash Island, and he sends his men to find him.  Mayor Takashi easily wins re-election, but exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) suspects a rigged election.  Does Atari find Spots?  Do the Mayor’s men find Atari?  What’s happened to Professor Watanabe?  Is the election on the up and up?

It’s impossible to watch this movie and not draw parallels to the political situation in America over the past two years.  A power hungry politician deports dogs to a distant place in the name of national security.  The election of the politician is called into question, as the politician faces dissension from the populace.  At the heart of it, Isle of Dogs is a story about a boy and his dog,   it’s also story of possible redemption for a jaded dog, who doesn’t like humans very much, and has become something of a recluse.  It’s interesting to see how all the different elements of the story come together in the end of the film.

The acting is very good and it has to be because all the emotions have to be conveyed through the voice.  Kunichi Namora is very good as the corrupt politician, he wants to stay in power at all costs.  Bryan Cranston is excellent as the lead dog, tough on the outside, vulnerable on the inside, yearning for someone to love him.  Koyu Rankin is also good as Atari, vulnerable but determined.  Greta Gerwig was funny as the angry exchange student.

Wes Anderson did a great job directing and co-writing this movie.  The stop motion animation was terrific, the ha;; where Mayor Kobayashi gave the speech reminded me of the scene from Citizen Kane,  where Kane gave a speech, Trash Island was suitably grungy, and the use of symbolism, Atari wearing white, his dog being a white dog, Chief becoming a white dog after Atari gives him a bath, it was all very well done.  The pacing was fast, the performances were good, I don’t know how much of a role Anderson played in that, these are all skilled veteran actors, except for the boy who played Atari. This film and Moonrise Kingdom are his best work to date.

Isle of Dogs:  Biting satire.

 

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early-man-movie3

In the Pleistocene Era, Stone Age Man learned to play soccer when a comet falls from the sky.  By the Bronze Age, Stone Age men have forgotten their soccer skills and spend their time hunting rabbits.  A small band of Stone Age people are invaded by the Bronze Age men, and their valley is taken away from them and the Stone Age people are imprisoned.  One member of the Stone Age village is captured by the Bronze Age people, and so he sees what the Bronze Age Society looks like.  Dug, (Eddie Redmayne) the Stone Age captive, learns that the Bronze Age people are very good at soccer.  The Bronze Age Ruler, Lord Nooth  (Tom Hiddleston) is a greedy despot, only interested in collecting bronze coins from the overflow crowds at the soccer game.  Dug challenges Nooth’s team to a soccer game, but the Stone Agers have forgotten everything that they ever knew about  soccer, can Dug, and a female Bronze Age  named Goona  (Masie Williams) help the Stone Age team, beat the Bronze Age team?

Early Man is a tongue in cheek look at the history of soccer, going back to prehistoric man.  The story seems a little padded, there is not only one montage where the Stone Age team learns to play soccer but two .  The use of French accents for the Bronze age players is smart and funny, underscoring the Anglo French rivalry in Europe.  The reason why Dug goes back to the Bronze Age stadium is dumb, but the introduction of Goona is a welcome change from the mostly male cast.  There are lots of jokes, soccer jokes and non-soccer jokes, enough to sustain the film.  The climax is exciting and expected.  Early Man is slightly less enjoyable than Wallace and Grommit and Chicken Run, but I enjoy Claymation animation so I enjoyed this movie.

Tom Hiddleston is a very funny guy, and anyone who’s seen his film probably wouldn’t know that, but in this movie he exploits his comedic timing and voice.  He is a large reason why I like this movie.  Hiddleston should make more comedies.  Eddie Redmayne is ok, as Dug, he’s really a straight man, allowing Hiddleston to go over the top with his character.  Masie Williams is good as the soccer enthusiast who wants to be part of a team, but can’t make the Bronze Age team.  She pairs well with Redmayne.

The direction is ok.  It is difficult to animate clay, so bonus points for that, the pacing is slow and disjointed to begin with, but it gathers steam and builds to a nice climax.  The climactic soccer game is filmed well.

Early Man:  Make it a gooooooal to see it.

 

 

Classic Movie Review: Piper (2016)

Posted: October 7, 2017 in Animation

piper

A baby sandpiper wants to be fed by its mother.  Its mother refuses to feed it, insisting that the piper learn to feed itself, but the baby piper is afraid of the water, what does it do?

The challenge for any animated film is to have animation distinctive enough to make the viewer sit up and take notice.  This movie does that for sure, the animation is so true to life, that in the first few frames of the film, the sandpipers look like real birds.

The challenge for an animated short is to get the moral of the story across in as short a time as possible.  Piper does that, in an economical 6 minutes, and it does so joyfully, and not heavy-handedly.  And it gets its message across without saying a word.  This is a wonderful little film, that everyone should take the time to enjoy and appreciate, how many people can say they’ve experienced a life affirming message in only 6 minutes?  That’s what this film offers.

Piper won the Academy Award for best animated short of 2017, and I can see why.  Written and directed by Tom Barillero, who worked as an animator for many Pixar movies including Monster’s Inc  WALL-E and Finding Nemo.

Piper:  Pipe down and watch this film.

 

lego batman movie

Fresh from vanquishing all the villains in Gotham City, including his arch rival The Joker (Zach Galafiinakis)  Batman (Will Arnett) takes a victory lap to Gotham’s orphanage, where he mistakenly adopts Dick Grayson. (Michael Cera)  Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) suggests that Batman take care of his young ward, so Batman hatches a plot to steal Superman’s Phantom Zone Projector, a device that will send the Joker to an alternate dimension, called the Phantom Zone. Only Dick Grayson is small and agile enough to take the Phantom Zone Projector, and he succeeds from taking it from Superman’s Fortress  of Solitude.  Does Batman use the Projector on The Joker and send him to The Phantom Zone?  Does Dick Grayson get the love and support he craves from his adoptive father?  Does Batman learn to work with Dick Grayson and other allies, or does he continue to be a loner?

The Lego Batman movie is oddly disappointing.   Batman was a very funny part of the Lego Movie, so it seemed natural that Batman had a Lego movie of its own.  But the Lego Batman Movie lacks the humor and charm of the Lego movie.  In fact it’s not very funny at all, and instead choses to be another re-telling of the Batman mythology.  The writers had the perfect physical representation of a man cave, namely the Bat Cave and didn’t use it. The writers instead try to push a romance, and a phony father son relationship with cloyingly bad results. The writers return time and time to a theme, that doesn’t gain credence with repetition.

Will Arnett hams it up relentlessly, which is alright for a supporting character, but it is redundant and rather unfunny. Michael Cera plays Robin as an infantile boy begging for love.  There is something annoying about every character that Cera plays, and he brings that annoyance factor to a likeable character. Rosario Dawson plays Barbara Gordon as an uninteresting daughter of a commissioner who becomes commissioner. Dawson is also a love interest for the egomaniacal Batman, which is neither interesting or carries much chemistry along with it.

The direction is not noteworthy.  The pacing is slow, the performances are weak, and there is nothing eye-catching about the animation either.

The Batman Lego Movie:  A Batastrophe.

th secret life of pets

Max (Louis CK) is a pampered pet living in New York City.  His owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper) raised him from a pup, and Max misses Katie terribly when she goes to work, but she hangs out with the neighborhood pets when she’s gone, he hangs around with other pets, a cat with a voracious appetite, named Chloe, (Lake Bell) a pug, Mel, (Bobby Moynihan) a dachshund ,Buddy (Hannibal Burress)  and a Pomeranian named Gidget  (Jenny Slate) with a secret crush on Max.  Max’s cushy life ends abruptly when  Kate brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet) from the pound.

Max and Duke don’t like each other, and Duke drags Max way out of his neighborhood where they are attacked by cats, who forcibly remove their collars.  Max and Duke are then dragged into a van by animal control and are on their way to the pound.  Max and Duke are “rescued” by Flushed Pets a militant group of former pets who want to lead a revolution against their human masters.  They are led by a deranged bunny named Snowball, (Kevin Hart) and have their headquarters in the New York City sewer system.  Snowball holds Max and Duke hostage after they refuse to go along with Snowball’s revolution.  Can Gidget and Max’s other friends save him from Snowball?

This movie misses the mark almost completely, there are a few funny moments, but not nearly enough to sustain a whole movie.  I’ve seen a lot of animated films, and The Secret Life of Pets doesn’t even come close to Pixar films in terms of plot and theme. There are animated movies for kids and animated movies for adults and this one is definitely aimed towards kids.  Here’s the ironic part, the Flushed Pets are definitely not for kids, they espouse kidnapping and violence, so the theme of two dogs from different backgrounds trying  to get along is completely overshadowed by this strange subplot.  There are good characters, Chloe, the cat, Gidget the Pomeranian, but they are woefully underdeveloped.  The writers ran out of material, about 15 minutes before the ending and so they just repeat a plot point from earlier in the movie.

The voice acting is not great.  Louis CK is way too mellow as Max, I expected some sharper, funnier lines from him, the director should have let him ad lib a little. Eric Stonestreet at least tries to inject some personality into Duke.  Kevin Hart goes far overboard on Snowball, someone needs to give Snowball some kitty Xanex.  All kidding aside, again it’s the director’s job to reign in such prodigious overacting, and he did not.  Jenny Slate has a likeable quality to her voice, they should have developed her character more fully, but there were so many characters that the writers didn’t or couldn’t focus on a few.  Lake Bell does a good job also playing a cat who all the dogs are slightly wary of. She should have had more lines.

The direction is not that great.  The directors just seemed to let the actors do whatever they felt like doing, and sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t.  One of the directors directed Despicable Me which I really liked, but I didn’t like this movie at all.   The animation was not great other than a few scenes of the New York City skyline.

The Secret Life of Pets:  For the dogs.

moana

One thousand years ago, the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) steals the heart from island goddess Te Fiti.  One thousand years later, Moana (Louise Bush, Auli’I Cravalho) is born.  She is drawn to the ocean, but her father, Tui, (Temuera Morrison) the Chief of the village, repeatedly tells Moana not to go beyond the reef.  But Moana’s grandmother, Tala (Rachel House) urges Moana to find out more about her ancestors, and she finds out she comes from a family of explorers.  Moana tries to sail out beyond the reef, but gets tossed around and goes back to her home island.  But then tragedy strikes, the fish near the reef begin to die and Tala becomes bedridden. As she is dying, Tala implores Moana to sail again, and gives her the heart of Te Fiti, in the form of an emerald like stone and tells her to find Maui, and return the stone to Te Fiti.  Moana finds Maui on a deserted island,  Maui is a boastful demigod, but he is also frightened of Te Ka the volcanic God who stands in the way of bringing the heart stone back to Te Fiti.  So he traps Moana on the deserted island and has no intention of giving the stone heart back to Te Fiti.  Does Moana get off the island?  Do she and Maui return the heart stone to Te Fiti.?

Moana dies a good job of synthesizing a Polynesian myth with a modern story of a girl seeking her independence from her overprotective parents.  However, he writers undercut the message of independence for women by having Maui tag along and talk down to Moana through a large part of the film.  In addition the animal characters are wasted, they should have anthropromorphized the animals and given them the power to speak only to Moana, but instead they end up with a brainless google-eyed chicken.  The ending has a nice twist, which reinforces why Moana was chosen for the journey.

The voice acting is excellent.  Auli’I Cravalho is a natural as the young, impetuous, Moana.  Her bubbly personality imbues the film with positivity, and the audience cannot help but root for her.  Dwayne Johnson was surprisingly funny in this movie, I was surprised how good his comic timing was.  Rachel House is very endearing as Moana’s granny.  The scenes between House and Cravalho are very touching,

An hour and 47 minutes is a little long for an animated feature, but the four directors keep the pace going briskly.  The animation is eye-popping.  If there are beaches that pristine in the world, I would like to visit them.  The performances from the main actors are very good, although the music was slightly underwhelming.  I expected more from Lyn Manuel Miranda.

There is an entertaining short before Moana, called Inner Workings, be sure and watch it, it is funny and lighthearted.

Moana: Maui Wowie!

 

kubo-and-the-two-strings

Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a Japanese boy who lives in a cave near a small village in Japan with his sickly and forlorn mother, his father has passed on to the next world.  Kubo makes what little money they have by telling stories of the exploits of a great warrior, Hanzo, who fought the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) with his armor made up of The Sword Unbreakable, The Breastplate Impenetrable and the Helmet Invulnerable. The villagers all enjoy Kubo’s tales.

One day, while at the Obon Festival, Kubo tries to summon the spirit of his dead father, but he stays after sunset, and he is attacked by his evil aunts, known as The Sisters. (Rooney Mara) Kubo’s mother holds off her sisters with a powerful spell that knocks Kubo unconscious.  By the time Kubo wakes up his mother is gone, and his monkey charm has come to life. Monkey (Charlize Theron) Kubo, and Little Hanzo, the origami figure that came to life in Kubo’s tales, find Beetle, (Matthew McConaughey ) a samurai warrior who fought with Hanzo, and was turned into a beetle as a curse for his bravery. Kubo must now find the Sword Unbreakable, the Breastplate Impenetrable, and the Helmet Invulnerable with the help of Monkey, Beetle and Little Hanzo, before The Sisters find him and turn him over to the Moon King. Will he find the armor and be prepared to fight the Moon King?

I love this movie, not only is it an epic adventure in the spirit of the Iliad and the Odyssey, but it is also a love story, and a family reunification story.  It blends these three complex storylines with humor, heartache, some scares and some Eastern religious teachings about life and death.  To top it off, the animation is spellbinding, beautiful artistic scenery, and flights of fancy, like Fantasia, Words do this film no justice, it must be viewed to be enjoyed. This is the same studio that did Coroline and The Boxtrolls, if you liked those movies, you will love this one.

The acting is superb.  Charlize Theron is as good as I’ve seen her in anything.  She expresses her love for Kubo by being a protective shield over him, and her love for him is as intense and heartfelt as anything I’ve seen on film.  She also expresses her love for Kubo’s father in a pure, uncomplicated way.  Matthew McConaughey also gives an amazing performance as a simpleton Beetle who must protect Kubo above all, he infuses Beetle with a kind of down-home Texas delivery, that is charming and disarming.  Rooney Mara is intriguingly creepy as The Sisters,  I wish there were more Asian people in lead roles to give the story more authenticity, the Asian actors seem like bystanders in their own story.  Having said that, the acting could not have been better, there was a real emotional connection made between the viewers and these actors.

I know nothing about how to direct an animated film, but however it’s done, the director did what he needed to do, the pacing is good, the performances are very good, and the visuals are good. This is Travis Knight’s first directorial job, but he’s had jobs as an animator in movies like ParaNorman, Coraline, and The Boxtrolls.  He also did animation for Kubo.  The results of his work are beautiful.

Kubo and The Two Strings:  Zing Went The Strings of My Heart