Archive for the ‘Adventure’ Category

Rouge One (2016): A Star Wars Story

Posted: February 27, 2017 in Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
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With the Empire in development of a great weapon, a band of rebels wondered if there was a chance of survival against the increasing impossible threat. When the Rebel Alliance discovered Jyn Erso in captivity, they get her released in an effort to see if they could uncover the secrets of the weapon partially created by her father. She reluctantly agreed to help the Rebellion, if only to get her freedom and get away from the conflict. As they continued to pursue the Death Star plans, Jyn’s desire to see the mission through and avenge her father drove her to lead a group into the fray.

The Start of a New Hope: While this may have been a story to provide context for the start of A New Hope, it stood on its own as part of the struggle against the Empire and in the battle of the light and dark sides. Jyn Erso did not choose to be part of the Rebellion, but she served as the catalyst for how the Rebels found their opportunity to battle back the darkness that was spreading throughout the galaxy. If the films had been produced in the order of the actual story, it would have fit directly into the storyline.

The Increasing Strength of¬†Heroines:¬†While it has been an increasing trend in films over the past decade, sci-fi has taken a lead in creating roles for women to serve in position of strength and complexity. For Felicity Jones, her performance was one of great leadership and power. It reminded me of Daisy Ridley’s Rey, as a woman seeking a sense of purpose and empowering those around her to act for the greater good.

Knowing but Still Surprising: While the end result of the film was already known, the story was still full of surprises and excitement. Most of the characters were new to those who have only seen the films and the locations were as imaginative and expansive as the main trilogies. Considering that A New Hope gave away the fact that the mission was both a success and a tragedy for the lost lives, the action on Scarif remained a gripping moment in the epic struggle.

Final Verdict: This standalone feature may be part of the epic Star Wars story but also an achievement in branching out. The magic of Star Wars is something everyone can appreciate and the Rebels came out fighting.

Dan’s Rating:¬†4.0/5

As a young child, Kubo was under the protection of his mother from evil spirits. She gave her life to save him and he was left to fend for himself. He ran for his life but found himself stranded in a frozen tundra. Meeting up with a monkey and a beetle warrior, he began his search for ancient relics. While searching for the relics, they were attacked by enormous creatures and magical beasts. The magical relics make up an armor, which serves as the only protection against the havoc created by the evil gods.

Epic Love:¬†While Kubo proved to be a great hero himself, it was the love and support of his parents that supported his ability to do so. As a young child, his¬†parents guarded him against the evil gods, with his father giving his life while his mother was left drained of her strength. Kubo’s ability to support his mother in the cave helped him build the strength to go on the great journey. Monkey and Beetle had a deep connection with Kubo, which supported his ability to press on and challenge the gods.

Dealing with Loss:¬†Not since Disney’s¬†Up¬†has an animated film tackled loss the way this one did. Rather than a couple going through life together but parting before reaching the end, a young boy has to grow up in a world where he loses both parents at a young age. His father fell¬†out of the picture before they even got¬†to truly know each other, while his mother struggled to protect her son from evil. While they seemingly left him too early, their spirits lived on and supported his rise¬†as a hero.

Amazing Animation: While digital technology certainly helped to fill in the environments, animatronics and stop-motion animation brought the story to life. It takes dedication to create a film with stop-motion in an age where computer technology can animate at a quicker speed. It gave the film a grittiness that exemplified the raw emotion of its characters and the imagination of the production team.

Final Verdict: Kubo and the Two Strings was an animated feature that was missed by a number of movie-goers even though it was fantastic. The creative and imaginative story was different than most and deserves another look if you missed it the first time around.

Dan’s Rating:¬†4.5/5

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Posted: February 26, 2017 in Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
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Three years into their five year mission, Kirk is questioning his position as captain of the Enterprise. Seeing an opportunity to prevent feeling lost in the depths of space, he pursues a chance to seek out a vice admiral position at the space station, Yorktown. While in port at Yorktown, an escape pod is intercepted with a distressed passenger. Kirk takes up a mission to help her save her people by traveling through an uncharted nebula. Their mission is cut short when danger appears on the other side of the nebula and threatens the lives of the entire Enterprise crew.

Finding Purpose through Challenge: One of the main themes of the film pitted Kirk and Spock in a battle of purpose. While Kirk was proud to serve his crew and would risk his life for them, he felt he was always in his father’s shadow. He doubted his purpose and motivation to serve his crew to the best of his ability. Similarly, personal challenge seemed to cause Spock to become more distant and personal tragedy had him questioning whether he should stay with the crew or return to New Vulcan to support his people.

Reboot Successful: While Star Wars has experienced significant success expanding the universe over the past few years, Star Trek was believed to still be more niche. With strong actors like Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Zoe Saldana, the stories and themes feel more relatable and entertaining than the other recent attempts to bring back the series. It feels like there is a future for the Starship crew.

Tribute & Dedications: One of the saddest pieces of news prior to the release of this film was the loss of Leonard Nemoy. He had been a cultural icon in the sci-fi community and was truly loved by many, many people. In addition to Nemoy, Anton Yelchin passed suddenly, just as he was rising in the spotlight.

Final Verdict: Star Trek Beyond has all the elements that have aided in the growing support for the new series. The blend of current trends and classic elements makes for an entertaining experience.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

Moana (2016): The Ocean is Calling

Posted: November 28, 2016 in Adventure, Animated, Comedy
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Te Fiti, the island goddess, has long been missing. After having her heart stone stolen by the demigod Maui, a darkness spread over the ocean and began to engulf island after island. On a distant island many years later, Moana and her people live a secluded and safe life living off of the land and the surrounding seas. While she is destined to become the chief after her father retires, she feels a calling coming from the ocean. Even when she is about to accept her role on the island, Gramma Tala refuses to let her forget about her dreams. As the darkness creeps onto the island, she sees no other way save her people other than venturing out to find Maui and restore the heart stone to its rightful place.

Disney Scores with Song:¬†If there is something that Disney continues to do extremely well, it is putting together an amazing and emotional score. They were certainly helped by the presence of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Among the best of the songs is How Far I’ll Go. The movie version is actually better than the Alessia Cara’s version, as Auli’i Cravalho performs the song beautifully. The Hawaiian themes are strong and provide a beat that you want to get up and dance to (or at least bob your head). Even Dwayne Johnson’s¬†You’re Welcome¬†combines humor and a solid beat that truly highlights his personality.

Having Fun with Itself:¬†Disney films are certainly known themes and stereotypes in the development of their stories, but they also know how to throw easter eggs and levity to their films. One great example was the Kakamora whose faceprint was in the design of Baymax or how the entire sequence represented the villains in Mad Max. Maui has a line where he pokes at Moana for being a princess, as she wears a “dress” and is the chief’s daughter. Even as the hero, Moana has an animal sidekick and requires a male hero to assist her in staving off the darkness. The easter egg at the end with Tamatoa was a nice kick as well.

Reversing the Story of the Little Mermaid:¬†Interestingly enough, there is a fun reversal in how this movie is both similar to and the opposite of Disney’s¬†The Little Mermaid. While Ariel was a mermaid trying to find her way onto dry land, Moana wanted to escape the island to get out onto the open sea. Both fathers between the two films struggled with letting their daughters out of their homes, but one story was about searching for love while the other was about searching for life.

Final Verdict: While I spoke very little about the actual details of the film above, I want to say that it was one of the best animated features of the past few years. It has heart and positive themes for viewers to take away from the experience. If you are not singing one of the songs when you walk out of the theater, I would be surprised.

Dan’s Rating:¬†4.5/5

In the wake of the death of Superman, fear of a future metahuman attack is rising. Amanda Waller, a secret government official, has devised a plan to pull together some of the worst villains to serve under her control as a safety measure against a potential future metahuman attack. At the head of the team are Harley Quinn and Deadshot, with Captain Boomerang, El Diablo, Killer Croc, Katana, and Slipknot in tow. Rick Flag, serving as the team leader, takes the squad into Midway, which has been overrun by a strange mutant presence at the control of the Enchantress and her brother Incubus. With the world ready to fall under the magical grip of the ancient old evil spirit, the squad is thrown into the fray with only their lives as motivation to follow out Waller directive.

Introductions Incomplete:¬†This film felt like the plot was an afterthought in an attempt to get this band of villains on-screen together. The only three characters to have a real story told about them were Harley Quinn, Deadshot, and the combination of Flag and Enchantress. With Harley, the Joker was an important piece, but her devotion to him and her insanity stole the show from the entire rest of the cast (partially because Margot Robbie actually is a talented actress). For Deadshot, the motivation was very clear for his continued engagement in the fight, but it took away from the true essence of the squad with the multiple cutaways to his backstory and inner struggle. Flag and Enchantress were set up as a requirement for piecing together a rather weak story, but the rush of their storytelling pales in comparison to the rest of the team and DC’s continued attempt to do too much.

Bad Does Not Have to Equal Bad:¬†It is less common for films to focus on the villains as the protagonists (somewhat an oxymoron) but this film had real promise. The idea of forcing villains to do good presented a story where morality, redemption, and the strength of evil could all play with one another. Instead, DC churned out another haphazard combination of scenes meant to wow the viewer with special effects while minimizing the attention to the depth of the character development or foundation for an epic set of stories.¬†Independence Day was another “good” example of this, as they focused on nostalgia to sell tickets and confuse their viewers with awkward, frantic fight scenes. What was the squad even fighting in this film? What was the Enchantress turning people into? Why was the Joker even part of this film?

What is the Deal with the Joker: With all of the hype of this film, some of the biggest questions were why the Joker was even part of the story and why they hyped him up in the first place. Unfortunately, Jared Leto’s version of the joker paled in comparison even to the awkward Joker-like performance of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luther in¬†Batman v. Superman. Were they trying to make him a more mature version of the 90s cartoon version of the Joker? If so, they completely missed the mark. His scenes added little development to an already weak story, and his only real significant moment was his attempted rescue of Harley. At least his presence got Harley to say “puddin'” multiple times?

Final Verdict: DC Comics still has a long way to go to figure out how to develop a thoughtful, organized, tasteful, and balanced film. Their superheroes have so much potential, but only the original Superman series and the Dark Knight trilogy have provided promise for bringing the Justice League into existence. In the meantime, people will flock to these films (like me) to see the attempted imagining of these characters and stories hitting the big screen, but I am not holding my breath for them to figure it out anytime soon.

Dan’s Rating:¬†2.0/5

Worshipped by a cult for his supernatural powers, Alton knows little of the outside world. Sheltered and isolated, his father finally realizes that the group has little interest in Alton’s well-being.¬†He connects with a former friend¬†and they escape with his son in the middle of the night, following Alton’s visions. A chase begins to recapture the young boy, but the number of players increases as multiple government agencies begin to pursue the family as well. As they continue to travel across the country, strange occurrences increase in number and intensity, and Alton’s health¬†becomes a serious concern under the stress of their travel and pursuit.

Gritty, Dramatic¬†Performances:¬†Being shot in¬†only¬†40 days, the story relied on its strong premise and acting talent to rise to the occasion. Michael Shannon, as Alton’s father, maintained a cautious intensity over the well-being and safety of his son. Joel Edgerton, the friend, was a combination of curious, stern, and unflinching as he supported his friend regardless of their prior fallout. Jaeden Lieberher was quite a fine young actor. As the child with the supernatural abilities, he still played a child curious about the world around him. At times, the fear of his own power was palpable. At others, the confidence of his control was even slightly amusing. Besides the main cast, Kirsten Dunst was solid as the supportive mother, Adam Driver played an open and explorative investigator, and Sam Shepard promoted the uncomfortableness of a charismatic cult leader.

Special Powers¬†as Odd as Night and Day:¬†Alton’s special powers were both unpredictable and intense. Some were mostly harmless, particularly his ability to absorb tech waves and intercept radio signals. The scene where he repeated a Spanish feed with the car radio not even tuned into the station highlighted his ability well. Other powers were significantly dangerous. When worried about being tracked or watched by satellites, he discovered he had an ability to take control of their movement and force them to crash as fireballs from above. At least through the beginning of the film, he was hidden from daylight, as there appeared to be a weakness to the sun.

The Chase is On:¬†Though Alton, Roy, and Lucas were driven by Alton’s visions, their pursuers had little interest in allowing them to succeed. The cult where Alton grew up abused his abilities to develop a religion around the messages he intercepted. Seeing him as some sort of messiah, Calvin Meyer sent his men to kidnap the boy and return him to the compound. As for Agent Sevier, he was bound to his duty as a government agent but intrigued by the mystery surrounding the events that followed the trio on the run. He was supportive of their mission but could not allow his coworkers to know the truth.

Final Verdict: While this movie failed to capture a lot of attention, it was truly a gem of the Spring film releases. While there are some fantastical experiences woven throughout the story, it was the character development and mystery of where the adventure would lead that drove the engagement of this film.

Dan’s Rating:¬†4.0/5

Judy Hopps aspires to do more than work with her family’s carrot farm. Graduating at the top of her class, she sets off for Zootopia, a¬†metropolis where animals of all backgrounds live together in harmony outside of the traditional predator-prey relationship. As the first rabbit police officer, she believes she will be treated as an equal. Instead, she is reduced to the role of a meter maid. Though she gets caught up with a mischievous fox, it is a series of reports of feral animals that present an opportunity to rise to something more. The only problem is that the case may lead her to the awful truth about predators and prey.

Disney Wins Again: While it was not one of the Pixar features, the proven formula for Disney films continues to breed successful additions to their library. Anthropomorphic animals tend to be hits with all audiences, but the thought and care into the environments was just as important as the characters themselves. Creating a metropolis that engages animals from all walks of life took some true planning and thoughtfulness. All of the themed animal puns and connections did not hurt either.

Social Justice on a Different Level:¬†This film tackled some interesting social justice themes. The elimination of predator-prey relationships was meant to be a move toward social equality, but fear of the predators falling back into their violent ways could have been interpreted in several different ways. It could have been a representation of hidden bigotry being ingrained and something that has to be overcome. It could have been related to a sense of being unable to fight one’s primitive ways, though this is overcome in the end. Judy’s and Nick’s stories challenged those perceptions as both worked through their ingrained fears. The odd twist in this case was that the story focused on the prey holding prejudice against the predators, distrusting the predators’ ability to overcome base instincts.

Cartoon Buddy Cop Comedy: While there are plenty of buddy cop comedies out there, few star a rabbit and a fox. Their personalities could not be anymore different from each other. Judy represented a someone focused and determined to achieve great things. She focused on honesty and hard work. Nick was more like his animal namesake. Sly and shifty, he was focused on skirting the law to earn money and cheat the system. They only found themselves stuck together when Judy realized that she needed someone who could help her solve the disappearing citizens case and she could exploit his many misdeeds to lock him in as a partner. Their understanding and respect for each other grew over time, as one would expect from a Disney film.

Final Verdict: Rich with content, story, and atmosphere, Zootopia is another strong showing from Disney. While it may have not surpassed the phenomenon of Frozen, its deeper story and thought-provoking themes make for a stronger overall film. This may be a dark horse to sneak its way into Oscar status, even with other major releases like Finding Dory and Secret Life of Pets in the mix.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5