Sunday, February 18, 2018

Early Man review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: *** out of 4
Dug and his pet wild boar, Hognob in Early Man

            From Aardman Animations, the studio behind Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run, and Shaun the Sheep return with their latest stop-motion animated film, Early Man. Directed by Wallace & Gromit creator, Nick Park (Creature Comforts, Chicken Run, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit) and produced by long-time collaborator, Peter Lord (Chicken Run, Flushed Away, The Pirates! Band of Misfits), this film marks Nick Park’s first film as a solo director and first directing credit in over ten years since Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit in 2005.
            On paper Early Man sounds like the dumbest, most ridiculous thing ever conceived, a football game (No, not the American kind) being played by cavemen and Bronze Age soldiers. Fortunately, the film is self-aware of how absurd its concept is and has fun with it through witty jokes, a colorful cast of characters, and outrageous visual gags, and the majority of them hit bulls-eye.
            The film follows a tribe of primitive hunters being displaced from their home in a valley by emissaries from a distant empire that has mastered the art of bronze making led by the sinister, Lord Nooth (voiced by Tom Hiddleston-Marvel Cinematic Universe, War Horse, Kong: Skull Island). A tribesman named Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne-The Theory of Everything, The Danish Girl, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) rebels against the Bronze Age City and challenges them to a game of soccer to win their valley back.
            Why soccer you may ask? Well, because their ancestors have played the game for centuries through an origin that only an animated film can make up and had a long history of games. Until the cavemen unknowingly gave up on soccer and transitioned to rabbit hunting, and Dug, with the help of a soccer enthusiast from the Bronze City named Goona (voiced by Maisie Williams-Game of Thrones, Mary Shelley, The New Mutants) must whip his tribe into shape and win the game for their land.
            The film also features the voices of Timothy Spall (Harry Potter franchise, The King’s Speech, Mr. Turner) as Chief Bobnar, Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd, Submarine, The Boxtrolls) as Treebor, Selina Griffiths (Jonathan Creek, Midsomer Murders, Not Going Out) as Magma, Johnny Vegas (QI, Benidorm, The Brothers Grimsby) as Asbo, Mark Williams (Harry Potter franchise, Stardust, Albert Nobbs) as Barry, Gina Yashere (The Jay Leno Show, Married Single Other, The Daily Show) as Gravelle, Simon Greenall (People Like Us, Alas Smith and Jones, Trapped!) as Eemak, Miriam Margolyes (Balto, Babe, Harry Potter franchise) as Queen Oofeefa, Rob Brydon (Shaun of the Dead, MirrorMask, The Trip trilogy) as Message Bird, Kayvan Novak (Syriana, Facejacker, Paddington) as Dino (No, not the dinosaur from The Flintstones), and Park as Hognob.
            Overall, Early Man is a funny movie whether you’re a kid or an adult, and especially if you’re an animation enthusiast (like myself). I don’t think it’s on the same level of quality as Chicken Run or the Wallace & Gromit shorts, but this is a movie that encompasses everything I love about Aardman’s films.
            There are jokes flying at you constantly, many of which you’ll miss the first time around while you’re too busy laughing at another joke. It’s a movie that requires multiple viewings to get all the jokes, and I have no problem with that because I’ve already decided that I’m getting the Blu-Ray once it comes out.
            The animation and set pieces are beautiful like most of Aardman’s films and the sets are obviously miniatures but once you put a camera in those little sets they’ve built, they feel larger than life and full of imagination. It’s also fascinating that the movie was filmed on green-screens for CG such as fire and weather effects, but they’re kept to a minimum and most of what you’re watching is really there.
            From a visual perspective, nothing feels lazy or cheap and everything is well-detailed and appealing to the eyes. Right down to the simple-looking clay puppets of the characters, if you look closely on the characters in an Aardman film, you’ll notice fingerprints by the animators to maintain a homemade-looking appearance, a simple detail like that on top of all the time spent to animate them is truly something to be admired.
            I also really like how this doesn’t feel like an animated film that was made for marketing purposes which is what a lot of Aardman projects were like when DreamWorks and Sony were distributing their films. Early Man isn’t distributed by a major film studio and it reminds audiences that a good animated movie comes from its story and characters, not because of toy selling.

            Early Man brings the laughs and heart to make for a satisfying family outing, a delightfully absurd but consistently funny animated film that’s ironically a better Flintstones movie than the actual Flintstones movie. Don’t expect a Chicken Run or Wallace & Gromit, but a well-made animated movie nonetheless.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Black Panther review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: **** out of 4
Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther

            Chadwick Boseman (42, Get on Up, Marshall) reprises his role from Captain America: Civil War as T’Challa, better known as the Black Panther in the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther. In the director’s chair is Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) and co-starring Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle, The Boondocks, Creed), who previously worked with Coogler on the 2015 Rocky spin-off, Creed, these three have brought the world of Wakanda to life.
            I’m convinced Marvel got me hyped for the wrong movie this year, despite being excited for the Black Panther movie, my eyes kept getting drawn towards their next major release, Avengers: Infinity War. Not only is this a solid installment of the MCU but it’s quite possibly one of the best in the entire series.
            Black Panther not only works as a Marvel movie but as a film in general, you can come into it completely blind and still walk out with a smile. The movie is filled with all the Marvel tropes, flashy action, one-liners, and lots of special effects, but add well-developed characters, an engaging story, and some effective drama.
            The film follows T’Challa (Boseman) returning to his isolated, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda, after the events of Captain America: Civil War, to take his place as King. However, an enemy from his past resurfaces known as Killmonger (B. Jordan) with a plan to dethrone him and take over Wakanda, T’Challa’s roles as a king and the Black Panther are put to the ultimate test as he is drawn into a conflict that could put Wakanda and the entire world at risk.
            The film also stars Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Star Wars franchise, The Jungle Book (2016)) as Nakia, Danai Gurira (The Visitor, The Walking Dead, Mother of George) as Okoye, Martin Freeman (The Hobbit trilogy, The World’s End, Whisky Tango Foxtrot) reprising his role from Captain America: Civil War as Everett K. Ross, Daniel Kaluuya (Kick-Ass 2, Sicario, Get Out) as W’Kabi, Letitia Wright (Humans, The Commuter, Ready Player One) as Shuri, Winston Duke (Person of Interest, The Messengers, Modern Family) as M’Baku, Angela Bassett (Boyz n the Hood, Malcolm X, Chi-Raq) as Ramonda, Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, Arrival, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Zuri, and Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Planet of the Apes (2011) trilogy, Star Wars franchise) reprising his role from Avengers: Age of Ultron as Ulysses Klaue.
            Overall, Black Panther is an exhilarating thrill-ride with some thought-provoking storytelling, strong characters, and intelligent and subtle themes of culture and race that aren’t shoved in your face. Themes like racism, power, and identity are addressed in the film, as well as plenty of time to establish the lifestyle and culture of Wakanda that somehow feels plausible.
            Chadwick Boseman nails it as Black Panther and, in my opinion, he’s one of the most fascinating heroes I’ve seen in any Marvel property. He’s not just a guy wearing spandex and fighting crime but a man who blurs the line between ruling his country and doing what’s right, he’s quite possibly the most human out of these heroes and I would gladly follow him.
            If there’s anyone in this movie who upstages Boseman, it’s Michael B. Jordan as the villain, Killmonger, which is a huge improvement over his performance in the 2015 Fantastic Four. This is Marvel’s best villain character since Loki and he doesn’t fall victim to the “I am evil just for the sake of being evil” cliché, but rather a lost soul who had a tragic backstory that made him turn to evil (Yeah, get in line Thanos!).
            The visuals and designs of the film are absolutely gorgeous and when watching it in IMAX you feel immersed in the world of Wakanda. The colors are vibrant and the everything in Wakanda is filled with imagination that leaps off the screen, kind of like Thor’s Asgard mixed with Avatar’s Pandora and spices of Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy.

            Black Panther delivers both as a Marvel movie and a film in general, the Marvel tropes are subtle, balanced with good story and characters, drama, and a perfect midpoint between style and substance. The king reigns supreme and is certainly worth several more visits to Wakanda, I know I’m not done watching it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Peter Rabbit review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: ** ½ out of 4
The world of Beatrix Potter comes to life in Peter Rabbit

            Is a bad marketing campaign in Sony’s contract or something? First the 2016 Ghostbusters movie, then Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and now this, a film adaptation of the beloved children’s book character, Peter Rabbit.
            I was ready to despise the latest cash-cow from Sony when I first saw the trailer, and the marketing itself looked like their Smurfs movies but with CG rabbits. However, I was still optimistic about Peter Rabbit and decided to give the movie a chance, after all it wouldn’t be the first time Sony gave us a good movie with bad publicity.
            Thankfully the movie doesn’t quite live up to the dreaded trailers, but was the movie “Good”? Eh, I wouldn’t go that far. It’s a harmless kids’ movie with nice animation, fast slapstick-filled humor, and cute little animals running around and causing trouble, but with a few self-aware jokes that poke fun at several kids’ movie tropes and clichés thrown in that get a good laugh.
            Unfortunately, the plot is recycled and outside of those cliché jabs, it doesn’t do much to differentiate from other family movies, a lot of jokes fall flat and are repeated, and the soundtrack is distracting and doesn’t fit a Beatrix Potter environment. I’m not talking about the score here, I’m talking about the inevitable pop songs that play in the background.
            The film follows Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden-Gavin & Stacey, Begin Again, Into the Woods), his cousin, Benjamin (voiced by Colin Moody), and his triplet sisters, Flopsy (voiced by Margot Robbie-The Wolf of Wall Street, Suicide Squad, I, Tonya), Mopsy (voiced by Elizabeth Debicki-The Great Gatsby (2013), The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2), and Cottontail (voiced by Daisy Ridley-Star Wars franchise, Only Yesterday, Murder on the Orient Express (2017)) spending most of their days picking on their neighbor, Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill-The Piano, Jurassic Park, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) and stealing vegetables from his garden. The rabbits are friends with a free-spirited woman named Bea (Rose Byrne-Neighbors, X-Men franchise, Spy) who has a passion for painting and being surrounded by nature and is a motherly figure for the rabbits.
            After Mr. McGregor’s sudden death, the rabbits think their human neighbor problems are over and they can get all the vegetables they need. Until, his nephew from London named Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson-Harry Potter franchise, Ex-Machina, Star Wars franchise), who has an unhealthy hatred of rabbits, inherits his home and does everything he can to keep them out.
            Eventually Thomas grows a liking to Bea which sets off a feud for attention between Peter and Thomas. They clash, and all sorts of hilarity ensues as the rabbits turn Thomas’ life upside-down.
            The film also features the voices of Byrne as Jemima Puddle-Duck, Neill as Tommy Brock, Gleeson as Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Sia (My Little Pony: The Movie) as Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Ewen Leslie (Dead Europe, The Daughter, The Butterfly Tree) as Pigling Bland, Rachel Ward (Night School, The Umbrella Woman, Blackbeard) as Josephine Rabbit, Bryan Brown (Stir, Rebel, The Thorn Birds) as Mr. Rabbit, and David Wenham (Dark City, The Lord of the Rings 2 and 3, Lion) as Johnny Town-Mouse.
            Overall, Peter Rabbit is a fine family movie, it isn’t high quality entertainment like Coco or Paddington 2, but it’s definitely an improvement over the much-despised Emoji Movie. The animation is colorful and lively, the humor when done right without repeats are funny, and it has a good heart.
            The animation is colorful and despite the animated characters resembling real-life animals, the animators added a lot of personality in the movements and facial features of the characters, not to mention fast slapstick. They even have hand-drawn animated scenes that look like the illustrations to Beatrix Potter’s books, and they’re absolutely beautiful to look at and done in a very clever way.
            Peter is mischievous, arrogant, and cracking jokes, but still remains a likable character, though his attitude can get a little annoying at times. Domhnall Gleeson’s performance as Thomas is the highlight of the film, he’s over-the-top, hamming it up, and it looks like he’s having a great time on-screen, and I have to give the movie props for not making him a straight-up villain, despite him being an antagonist to the rabbits.
            The humor, to me, was very hit or miss, I dug the jokes that made fun of all the common tropes and clichés found in most children’s movies, but a lot of the physical gags didn’t leave much of an impression nor did the humor that only catered to the kids in the audience, and especially when an unfunny joke gets repeated several times as the movie progresses. At least I got some laughs out of this movie, which is more than what I could say about a bad Happy Madison project or a Friedberg and Seltzer spoof movie.
            I felt this movie needed to be put in the hands of the crew behind Paddington in terms of its humor and execution. I don’t remember butt jokes in the books nor would I imagine a song like 500 Miles playing in the background of a Peter Rabbit story.

            Oh well, it’s too innocent to nitpick it like mad, kids and families will probably find something to appreciate about Peter Rabbit. It doesn’t quite do the books justice, but I’d say it’s worth at least a viewing.