Animation Of The Past & Present Talk about animation from the past and the present <![CDATA[ A Wonderful Achievement In Terms of Both Story & Presentation]]>  
To begin, do try to ignore all of the negative reviews that bash products like this one and the many other motion comics on the market (easily identifiable in Marvel’s thanks to the “Marvel Knights” branding right on the package) for poor or choppy animation. This is a motion comic after all, not an animated series.  That’s like faulting a box of Kraft Mac & Cheese for not being spaghetti.
Anyway, if the idea of a motion comic means nothing to you, think the actual pages of the graphic novel on which the story is based scanned into a computer one panel at a time and Photoshop used to move limbs, turn heads, make mouth flaps match spoken dialog etc.  Never does this claim to be nor replace traditional animation practices.  
Instead (as the commentary on this particular DVD eloquently confesses), this is an entirely new entertainment medium altogether.  One that bridges the gap between the static panels of a comic and the acting/ motion of a film or cartoon.  As such, the experience of viewing is pretty unique and quite enjoyable.  Truly it captures the tone, look and feel of the comic like no other medium I’m aware of but does so with just enough energy to keep it very separate from say, reading a comic book on the Marvel app.
I personally found myself noticing its uniqueness for the first few segments of the first episode (there are 6 contained on this disc in total/ based on issues # 1-6) but by the end, had forgotten entirely that this was in fact a motion comic and not simply a TV series.  Perhaps some of this can be attributed to Joss Whedon’s engaging story-line, which, in the event that you haven’t read the graphic novels on which these Marvel Knights’ Astonishing X-Men motion comics are based, is quite impressive.
Without giving up too many spoilers, the plot introduces a "mutant cure" designed by Benetech scientist Dr. Kavita Rao, who was secretly sponsored by the gladiator alien Ord. The prospect of "real" humanity arouses the interest of a heavily mutated Beast, who visits Rao only to discover that the drug is the product of illegal human experimentation and all the while the lines drawn between society and mutant-kind are becoming venerable walls.
In short, now only is the plot intriguing and rich but the dialog is spot-on as well, with witty quips and awesome character exchanges aplenty.  Pacing is entirely too quick though for my taste as the 6 roughly 10-minute episodes are over just as the action is heating up.
Which brings me to my only complaint, to get the story in its motion comic entirety, one must purchase separate DVDs for Volume 2 (Dangerous), Volume 3 (Torn) and Volume 4 (Unstoppable).  At around $10 a pop, you’re looking at close to $50 to enjoy the tale in its entirety.  Worse still is that Marvel Knights isn’t stopping with just Joss Whedon’s take on the X franchise either as already Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk, Wolverine Vs. Sabretooth, Wolverine Origin, and Weapon X Tomorrow Dies Today have already been released.  Building up a Marvel Knights motion comic collection can add up really quickly and it’s addicting enough to warrant doing so.  It would really be nice if Shout! Factory, at the very least, would have bundled up all of the Joss Whedon arc of the franchise into a single DVD box-set rather than forcing buyers to pick up 4 separate releases to get the full story.  Note that since the time of this review’s writing, that have done exactly this for the Blu-ray edition of the material calling it Marvel Knights: Astonishing X-Men BluRay Box.
That single complaint aside, it’s very easy to recommend picking up Astonishing X-Men Gifted to dedicated comic fans and neophytes alike.  Truly the experience is entirely unique even from those as seemingly similar as the various animated incarnations of the franchise throughout the years (and certainly much more loyal to the source material than all of the live action films combined).
Gifted represents my first foray into the motion comic genre and will certainly not be my last.  I’m already quite interested in picking up InHumans and Black Panther in my next binge.  Exciting news for all, but perhaps most so to my credit card company.]]> Sun, 15 Jun 2014 09:09:05 +0000
<![CDATA[ Pixar returns to their magical ways]]>  
Wall E will always be my favorite Pixar film, and Toy Story 2 will always be my second, but fighting for third place for a long time has been Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, the original Toy Story, and Up. That is the kind of company Monsters U is keeping. It does everything right, from delivering plenty incredibly funny moments balanced with the kind of emotionally powerful and heartfelt scenes that have made Pixar a household name. This movie is so funny I chocked on my popcorn. I haven't laughed this hard in a movie since 21 Jump Street. And it wasn't that cheap appeal to the lowest denominator type humor either. There aren't any fart jokes, poop jokes, inside innuendos about sex or drugs. None of that nonsense here. This is good old fashioned honest to God comedy that's drop dead hilariousness and perfectly appropriate for all ages. When you hear kids laughing in the theaters along me, a 24 year old man, you know its comedy gold. It’s because the characters carry the story, and when you have a story driven by strong characters you have a good film. Mike and Sully aren't the only ones delivering laughs, as just about everyone gets in on the action.
Mike and Sully, much like in the original film, star as the main roles but their relationship isn't quite the same. They start the film as heated rivals: Mike is an underdog overachiever who's devoted his entire life to becoming a scarer despite the fact that he's not even remotely scary, while Sully is the son of a famous scarer who's had everything in life handed to him and makes no effort whatsoever in applying himself. Sully has all the natural skill in the world but none of the motivation or drive to apply himself. Mike on the other hand lacks any sort of natural skill. He isn't scary, he's built like a lovable beach ball, he can't roar, but his drive and motivation makes him able to compete with some of the best scarers on campus. It’s very Rudy like in that regard, and though not entirely original the way the story is told is Pixar magic at its finest. And like Rudy it teaches us a very valuable lesson that people of all ages can relate to, that despite ones physical limitations, even of those limitations preclude you from achieving something you've wanted your entire life, with enough hard work, dedication, and the right attitude you can very well succeed at what you wanted, even if it’s not quite in the way you imagined. Who can't relate to that? Who here wanted to be an athlete when they grew up but didn't have the physical capability to compete past High School? : raises hand: As adults we've all experienced this at one time or another. You wanted to be an actor, an athlete, a musician, something, but despite your hard work and dedication it was just never meant to be. So I sympathize with Mike, as I imagine most audience members will.
At the other end of the spectrum we have Sully, who presents a cool and collected face to the world but is living with the weight of high expectations. His father is a world class scarer, a legend, and so Sully has a lot to live up to. His pedigree makes him blind to his own limitations and the need for improvement while also placing a burden upon him he's terrified of not living up to. He's brash, arrogant, a know it all, but as time goes on and failures pile on top of failures he learns that pedigree is not enough, that without actual effort your natural skills won't mean much of anything. Life won't give you a pass because you are the son of so and so or because you can roar really loud. Eventually you’re going to be put to the test, and forced to compete against those of equal or greater natural ability. When that happens it’s the ones that apply themselves the most who will succeed. It was great to see Sully's development in this way from hot shot know it all to humble and hardworking individual. I'm telling you there is more depth, growth, and subtlety to these characters then all the summer action films combined. It’s not even close.
The animation in this film is the best CGI I've ever seen. For the scenes set in our world I would have to remind myself this was an animated movie. There is a scene when Mike and Sully are sitting by a lake with the moon hovering over them that looks like it could have been shot live action. It’s that amazing. If not for the cartoon monsters I might not have been able to tell the difference. This applies to the very well made short, The Blue Umbrella that kicks the movie off. Pixar has always been a pioneer for animation but this is their best, more realistic work yet.
Monsters U is nothing short of a masterpiece. If this were any other studio I'd present this film as their masterpiece, but along with Japanese Studio Ghibli I don't think any studio has such a consistent level of success with almost every film they make. It’s merely one of many dozens of fantastic movies by an amazing studio that deserves to be seen. If you've not seen it yet, make a point to do so. You will not be disappointed.
Replay value: High.]]> Tue, 16 Jul 2013 22:51:16 +0000
<![CDATA[ A Decent Prequel That Fails to Fill It's Monster Sized Shoes]]>  
Okay technically Monsters University is a prequel and not a sequel, the point of course is that we’re entering a phase where the big studios aren’t quite as concerned with developing new films from the ground up so much as revisiting their established franchises in the hopes of breathing new life into their appeal.
I, like many, felt that 2001’s Monsters Inc. wasn’t in dire need of branching out in either direction of the fictional timeline but figured it would be kind of fun to journey back into the collegiate efforts of Monsters Incorporated’s star scarers from the first time the early trailers went public depicting Sulley turning Mike into a makeshift dorm room disco ball (a scene that is, surprisingly, absent from the actual film).
What is not absent however is 103-minutes of well-paced Pixar comedy comprising the studio’s fourteenth feature film.  The plot, which even the most conservative of commercials or summaries reveals, follows the early exploits of the unlikely duo of James P Sullivan and Mike Wazowski before they were a pair of working class stiffs.
The story begins with a brief prologue of the nerdy model elementary student Mike, who, during a field trip to Monsters Inc., decides that one day he’d like to become a famous scarer.
His ambition and good grades deliver him to the hallowed halls of Monsters University (MU), touted as the best place to learn the art of scaring.  Fighting an uphill battle from the onset, the small green ball discovers he’s got the brains but not the bod to send human children into hysterics.  Before long he meets an egotistical and lazy Sulley; in many ways his inherent opposite and the two begin what could better be described as a rivalry rather than a relationship. 
Once a mishap gets the pair ejected from the Scare Program, the duo realize the school’s “Scare Games” present an opportunity to redeem their reputations and, thanks to a little slick talking by Mike, a shot at returning to their major of choice.  What results is an impromptu initiation into loser fraternity Oozma Kappa, a battle against insurmountable odds and a whole lot of humorously integrated value of teamwork.
Reprising their voice roles more than a decade after the fact, Billy Crystal and John Goodman return with all of the charm and wit that carried the first film.  Even Steve Buscemi is back to play the sneaky Randy while newcomer Helen Mirren casts a dark shadow as the genuinely intimidating Dean Hardscrabble.
The key to making the most out of Monsters University is to almost make yourself forget this is a big budget Pixar film.  If such thing were possible, the piece’s biggest flaw stems from the fact that Pixar has been spoiling us for nearly 20-years with films that come dangerously close to the definition of perfection.
In other words, these guys may actually have raised the bar so high that they themselves can’t trump their earlier efforts.  Whether we’re talking about the touching friendship established in the Toy Stories, the microcosm of society found within the world of Cars, robotic love discovered amidst endless piles of garbage in a human-less earth in Wall-E, or the simple love for the culinary arts fueling Ratatouille; you could count on Pixar to use the computer-generated medium to take you places  you’d never imagine and to do so with so much clever charm that you thought about the film for days, sometimes even years after watching it.
To that end, Monsters University is a far cry from the glory days.  Make no mistake, the film commits no crimes and is enjoyable from start to finish but simply lacks that Pixar magic that has typically put the studio head and shoulders above the competition.
Pacing is excellent, the visual charm is flawless and (as mentioned above) the vocal cast is as on point as ever.  However, kids aren’t going to understand the nuances of college (or perhaps even more specifically, fraternity or sorority) life and a majority of the situational tension relies upon the ups and downs of life in an institute of higher learning.
In conclusion, Monsters University is a prequel that plays it safe and delivers upon all of the spit and polish one would expect from a Disney/ Pixar collaboration but comes off as an unnecessary revisitation to one of their more clever concepts.  At the end of the day, you can go into this one with expectations of Pixar’s standards and come away slightly underwhelmed or imagine it as an animated film from just about anyone else and enjoy it for what it is.]]> Thu, 11 Jul 2013 08:30:01 +0000
<![CDATA[ Pretty entertaining, as long as you don't think about it too much]]> Monsters University is an enjoyable film, a riff on the college comedy, borrowing liberally from "Revenge of the Nerds."   But the more I think about it, the more problems I detect with its execution.  Which is maybe further proof that it's better just to watch movies (especially summer-release movies) and not think about them.  

To begin with, what age group is this made for?  Tonally, it's definitely pitched at kids - it lacks the kind of deeper resonance that has made Pixar films favorites among adults for the last decade.  And I'm okay with that, these days I'm feeling like we need to let Pixar off the hook a little, and let them just make decent kids' movies.  But does "Monsters U" work as a kid's movie? The premise of "Monsters, Inc." felt a little difficult for children to grasp, and it's even more so here.  You need to understand that in the monster world, children's screams are a valuable source of energy, and the monsters evoking those screams are just doing their job.  But what does a first grader understand about energy production and usage? Do they really get that the TV and dishwasher and nightlight all work because of the coal plant?  I doubt it.  The first movie hedged this bet effectively, both by explaining it to death, and by forging a paternal bond between Sully and Boo.  When watching "Monsters, Inc.," a five year old doesn't need to understand the dynamics of energy production in the monster world to understand who the good guys are; they see Sully cuddling Boo, and they get it.  But in "Monsters University,"  there's no Boo.  There's no explanation either.  The children are scarce, and when they appear, are a source of energy, and nothing else.  How does that play for a five-year-old, especially one who hasn't seen the first movie?   

Serving as a prequel to "Monsters, Inc," we get to know one-eyed, walking ping-pong ball Mike Wazowsky and intimidating-except-for-the-purple-polka-dots Jimmy Sullivan (Sully) as polar opposite students.  Mike is all book knowledge and technique; he can ace a pop quiz and demonstrate zombie drooling with profiency, but can't spook a tabby cat to save his life. Sully comes from a family of prestigious scarers, and skates on his reputation; he's got a mighty roar and intimidating physique, but not much else. 

The two are rivals until they get kicked out of scare school (for the dumbest of reasons) and must find a way to prove to the dean (Helen Mirren, onscreen as a creepy cross between a dragon and a centipede) that they have what it takes to be truly scary.  The path to victory has them enlisting a fraternity of lovable losers and competing in the scare games, which bear more than a slight resemblance to the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter. 

Surprisingly, "Monsters University" never deals with its biggest plot point: Mike loves scaring but just isn't scary.  Where does he fit?  Everyone around him says "nowhere," including the dean of the school, who relegates him to classes on can manufacturing.  Anyone who's seen (and remembers) the first film knows that Mike never manages to become scary. In "Monsters, Inc.," He's basically Sulley's handler, but in the timeline of "Monsters U," that job doesn't exist. (Until the montage at the very end, when suddenly it does.)  

What changed? Since Pixar movies generally try to play by the same rules as the real world, you would assume that the change didn't happen easily.  No corporation is going to employ two people to do the same job they used to get done with just one person. Mike and Sully would have had to fight hard, and demonstrate compellingly, that the handler position was necessary.  There would have to be some kind of sea change in the scaring industry.  This is a movie I'd like to see; it'd be a creative take on the "workplace crusader" genre.  Granted, it would be hard to make it kid-friendly, but Pixar has never before shied away from a challenge (for heaven's sake, "Wall-E" was about a lone robot stranded on a garbage suffocated planet, but they made THAT kid-friendly) but that's not the movie that got made.  

But I'll confess, willingly, that this is just me grousing, because that's what I do - I think, and I grouse. There's a lot to like about "Monsters University," but none of it is all that interesting to write about.  The animation is beautiful, as it always is.  There's a lot of fun attention to detail on the college campus.  The voice work is very good, and I'll give a special shout-out to Helen Mirren, who makes Dean Hardscrabble quietly scary.  The supporting characters are fun variations on old stereotypes. It's well-paced, and never feels like it's trying too hard.  And so forth. 

A lot of ink (or… pixels?  what-have-you) about the decline of Pixar, and "Monsters University" does nothing to reverse that trend. It's about on-par with "Brave," (not the adherence to formula in both) better than "Cars 2," and not even approaching the four films before that.  I'd say that at this point, Pixar has settled in to making perfectly adequate kids' entertainment, similar in quality and style to DreamWorks.  They're not annoying, and they're better crafted than most. They're not the uncontested champs in the animation world anymore, but they're still top tier. What's so wrong with that? 

]]> Sat, 29 Jun 2013 13:52:01 +0000
<![CDATA[ A Drag-Out Brawl That Spans Realities]]>

Borrowing elements from the classic 1964 story arc “Crisis on Earth-Three” and Grant Morrison’s “JLA: Earth Two”, this film features a heroic Lex Luthor (Chris Noth) who seeks out the aid of the Justice League. Luthor is on the run from the Crime Syndicate; an alternate reality where powerful beings very much like the Justice League have taken over the world. Turning himself over to the authorities, Luthor convinces the League to free his world from the Syndicate, save for Batman (William Baldwin) who chooses to stay behind. Once there, Superman (Mark Harmon), Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall), The Flash (Josh Keaton), The Martian Man hunter (Jonathan Adams) and Green Lantern (Nolan North) face off against beings very much like themselves, but it won’t be easy since Ultraman (Brian Bloom), Johnny Quick (James Patrick Stuart), Power Ring, Superwoman (Gina Torres) and Owlman (James Woods) have their own super-human cohorts. Plus, Owlman seems to have plans of his own for the reality called “Earth-Prime”.



The premise of the movie is pretty simple, it is all about good vs. evil or the many ‘faces‘ of the universe and the story revolves around the action. It does manage to add some nice touches that make this alternate reality different and at the same time, very much the same from the League’s universe. Admittedly, the story lacked the raw narrative strength of the Justice League animated series’ “Justice Lords” but this was a pretty decent movie that features alternate realities and all the mumbo-jumbo that goes with it. The story is pretty well-scripted and developed. It presents several surprising twists that made the plot much more intricate, albeit its development wasn’t as strong as I would’ve wished.

I appreciated the way this alternate universe was presented. It made variations on characters that are familiar, and yet different. Johnny Quick was the alternate Flash, Ultraman was alternate Superman, Owlman was Batman, Superwoman was Wonder Woman and so forth. I also enjoyed the fact that it did not forget to make variations of supporting characters such as Jimmy Olsen (looked like Blockbuster), Lobo, Model Citizen, Vibe, Elongated Man among many others. What I truly liked the most was that Slade (Deathstroke) was the president of the United States and his daughter, Rose (Freddi Rogers) gave a hint of romantic subplot. This subplot may feel a little out of place, but it served to wrap up its narrative quite nicely. Owlman was surprisingly the more well-rounded character among the Syndicate, as he presented a more dangerous and insane version of Wayne. His goals may not be as well-defined in the narrative, but it worked pretty well for the movie’s final act.



This movie is built for action sequences, and the animation work does deliver. The movements are smooth, and the battles could get pretty intense (they even had some blood). I liked the way the League fought with their respective personalities that reflect the style in the animated series. The Batman-Owlman fight may have taken much of the focus, but I liked most of the individual battles. Flash used his super-speedster style of fighting, while Wonder Woman fought like a true warrior with a grudge. Green Lantern’s use of the ring was more creative than the ones used by John Stewart in the earlier seasons of the animated series, as reflected by the Hal Jordan ring-slinger. I do have to say that none of the DCU animated films ever portrayed J’onn J’onzz as a being as strong as Superman, his style had always leaned towards intangibility, shape-shifting and telepathy. The character designs were pretty inspired by Morrison’s “Earth-Two” but I did not care too much for the Ultra-eye-liner to make Ultraman look much more imposing than the gentle Kal-El. I thought the Owlman designs were derivative of “Night Owl” from “Watchmen” but it did not bother me much. I thought the voice-acting was decent, even though the voice-cast obviously did one or two more characters to stay within its budget.

“Justice League Crisis on Two Earths” is a good animated direct-to-dvd feature. It was loads of fun to watch and it was always nice to see Batman’s paranoia seen from two points of reality. I also enjoyed the inclusion of other less known members such as Firestorm, Aquaman, Black Canary, Red Tornado and Black Lightning as they made significant appearances. I am not sure if I should laugh or what when I saw Batman doing a homage to Ripley in “Aliens”, but hey, it did not harm the flick. “Crisis on Two Earths” is one of the more enjoyable DCU animated features indeed. Humor, action and even the Invisible Jet, what more can a fan ask for? Recommended! [4- Out of 5 Stars]

        ]]> Sun, 23 Jun 2013 22:22:41 +0000
<![CDATA[ Mike and Sully Go to School to Learn the Art of "Scare Tactics"]]> Take note: Favorite Pixar film, NOT one of my favorite animated films) and so I wanted to see a sequel more than I wanted to see a prequel. “Monsters Inc.” did an imaginative interpretation on the creature that hides in the closet and the ones that hide under the bed. It was an endearing interpretation of what we called ‘the boogeyman’ of our childhood fears. A sequel would’ve worked such wonders about what parents can call ‘imaginary friends’....unseen beings that play with children.

                       Mike Wazowski voiced by Billy Crystal and Dean Hardscrabble voiced by Helen Mirren in "Monsters University."

But no, instead the guys at Pixar opted to go for a prequel with director Dan Scanlon at its helm with “Monsters University”. The film takes us to this alternate world where ‘scarers’ are rock stars and they all need to go to school to learn its craft. The familiar leads from “Monsters Inc.” make a return, as the film takes us to the beginnings of James “Sully” Sullivan and Mike Wizowski (Billy Crystal and John Goodman). Mike is a hard-working student whose dreams of becoming a ‘top scarer’ is all that he lives for. Sully is more of a natural, and his family name makes him a student with expectations. No one wants Mike around the “School of Scares” while Sully fumbles all opportunities that caused them to be kicked out of the program created by Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren). When their rivalry turns to friendship, they turn to a fraternity of misfits for support as the two go forward to their destiny, to work in “Monsters Inc.”…

                     Mike Wazowski voiced by Billy Crystal in "Monsters University."

                     A scene from "Monsters University."

                    James P. Sullivan "Sully" voiced by John Goodman and Mike Wazowski voiced by Billy Crystal in "Monsters University."

The screenplay starts off pretty simple and quite frankly it is pretty reliant on established formula. There are college jocks, popular chicks and then, there are the outcasts of college. The first 2 acts of the film feel like a cross between “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Scare Tactics”. The students are there to study the ‘craft of scare’; there is strategizing, theoretical studies, showmanship and then the application. The part where the ‘art of scares’ were developed were a little hazy, but it does have its share of creativity. Once the scare competition come into play, themes of hard work, brotherhood, teamwork and friendship become the film’s central focus. It was interesting to see a school where monsters go to learn their craft. The film exposes such choices in career, there is door making and then, er, there is the canister designing (which seemed to be the major mostly frowned upon). The semi-creative touches as to how the school culture worked was familiar and yet, delightful to see. It was just unfortunate that while the ‘add-ons’ worked well, it wasn’t properly expanded on, and instead, the film goes into the trappings of formula that made it very predictable.

The premise of ‘the zero to hero’ and the ‘outcast turned hero’ has been overused. And this is the film’s weakest point in the screenplay. The relationship between Sully and Mike presented devices that were all too familiar, the potential jock and the class misfit learning the roots of respect and friendship were very familiar devices and so the film became very predictable. Even the fraternity thing was something that had been used many times before. The newer characters while delightful, were all pretty generic, they presented little areas to improve but rather they serve to merely establish what had been known. As a result, the film struggled to generate the laughs when needed, and the pace of the film suffers a little from its missteps.

                        James P. Sullivan "Sully" voiced by John Goodman and Mike Wazowski voiced by Billy Crystal in "Monsters University."

                       James P. Sullivan "Sully" voiced by John Goodman and Mike Wazowski voiced by Billy Crystal in "Monsters University."

Perhaps I am over-thinking this family film, which is a Pixar-Disney collaboration and so predictability is to be expected. Despite its flaws, I could easily say that the kids (and the young at heart) will have a ball watching the film. The film still boasts of one of the best animation work in American animation. It was nothing different or ground-breaking, but it certainly was fluid, and attention to detail and texture-mapping were still impeccable. The voice cast was excellent as always, Helen Mirren was fantastic as the strict, smart Dean Hardscrabble. Much as I really did not care for the newer characters, they served their purpose in the screenplay. Peter Sohn was quite effective as “Scott” and the jokes with the tentacles were nicely delivered by Joel Murray. Crystal and Goodman made for the same dynamic chemistry that they had in the original movie, and really much of the film’s flow and processes were dictated by the comedic duo. Mike may be the better written character of the two, but without one or the other, the film would just fail.

                            Mike Wazowski voiced by Billy Crystal and James P. Sullivan "Sully" voiced by John Goodman in "Monsters University."

I know, “Monsters University’s” predictability was the film’s weakest point. The jokes seemed to lean towards the ‘young adult’ side, but really the jokes were nothing we haven’t seen before. However, there were several things that made the film work, as it was intended for young innocent minds. The lesson of aspiring for your dreams, working hard for your goals and the idea that teamwork can create wonders are valuable lessons that a child should see and a parent would have a ball discussing the film with their young ones. It is a family film with a moral lesson, and something that needs to be told to kids in this day and age. The film may be a little too predictable, but its intentions were well-conceived. The laughs weren’t the highlight, the creative touches may be a little short, but this is an endearing movie with a strong valuable lesson that it gets a Recommendation from me. The value of the film lies with the development of young, aspiring minds (stay in school, maximize your talent and to never stop pursuing your dreams) that makes it worth a watch for the entire family. It may be a little cliché, but hey, young minds need such reminders. [3+ Out of 5 Stars]

                 Mike Wazowski voiced by Billy Crystal and Professor Knight voiced by Alfred Molina in "Monsters University."

Poster art for "Monsters University." Poster art for "Monsters University."]]> Sun, 23 Jun 2013 22:01:07 +0000
<![CDATA[ Big dumb fun]]> What fun these two films are. Hulk VS Thor starts out with Odin going into a deep sleep once a year at which time the forces of evil descend upon Asgard to try to destroy it. Every year, however, their efforts are thwarted by Thor, God of Thunder, whose power is just too much for the forces of evil. Loki however decides to use the Incredible Hulk against Thor by separating Bruce Banner's conciseness from the Hulk entirely and to take control of the bruisers body. The battle that ensues between Hulk and Thor, and then later Hulk VS the rest of Asgard, is just too epic for words. This is the version of Hulk I love best, an unstoppable force capable of destroying everything in his path. Not even the assembled forces of Asgard are capable of stopping this Hulking beast. Nonstop super hero action is what you'll find here, and if you’re looking for something else pick up The Dark Night or something.
Hulk VS Wolverine is much the same, in that it’s pretty much nonstop Hulk action. Hulk is rampaging through Canada (yeah, you hear right) as so the world’s only bad ass Canadian, Wolverine, has been sent to stop him before he destroys anything else. Unbeknownst to him, s shady organization bent on turning Hulk into a super weapon is also tracking him and has sent a series of super villain, including Deadpool and Saber Tooth, to capture him. Again, nonstop Hulk action is what you'll get here. I'd give this one a slight edge over Hulk VS Thor just because Wolverines in it and Wolverine is the ultimate bad ass. Also getting to see them fight Deadpool was a lot of fun, so props for that.


I think what I like most about these films is just how powerful Hulk is. He beats Thor almost to death, and knocks out Wolverine in a matter of minutes. Even against a whole host of super villains Hulk just goes through the motions of tearing them apart as if they were nothing. It may seem a bit miss matched at times as Hulk does at times tend to be a bit TOO powerful, but again I kind of like that. Seeing these hero’s (and villains) desperately fighting for their lives against a force they just could not defeat was very fun to watch.
Overall this is a really fun two part set. In the world of animated super hero films, you could do a lot worse than this. It’s not the Batman movies, so don’t go thinking this will be that kind of quality, but if you’re a fan of the Incredible Hulk, you owe it to yourself to see these movies.]]> Sat, 20 Apr 2013 16:53:42 +0000
<![CDATA[Planet Hulk Quick Tip by A1CJonathanLane]]> Thu, 18 Apr 2013 11:37:00 +0000 <![CDATA[ Another childhood favorite that still holds up really well. 84%]]> For all of my childhood, Who Framed Roger Rabbit has been one of my favorite movies. Thankfully, it's another one of those movies that still holds up really well as an adult.

1988 was quite a year for animation. Out in Japan, Grave of the Fireflies, My Neighbor Totoro, and Akira were released in theaters and were all superbly animated films that in scales from good to masterful, delivered storylines and themes unheard of at the time. Over in America, we were treated to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which gave audiences a hybrid of live-action film and animation that to this day, is unmatched in how sublime it is, which is also helped by its other strong qualities (more on that later).


It's 1947 in Los Angeles, and cartoons (known as “Toons” in this movie) aren't mere pictures on celluloid, but rather like real actors. Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is an alcoholic private detective in LA, and after being paid by cartoonist R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern) to take pictures of Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye) playing patty cake with Jessica Rabbit (voiced by Kathleen Turner), causing Jessica's husband, Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer) to lose his mind. Eddie soon gets tangled in a murder mystery after Marvin Acme was murdered, and must uncover the truth as to who really killed Acme.


For the most part, the characters in this movie are done really well. As an adult, I really appreciate the fact that Eddie is a troubled man struggling with booze because given the tragedy he had in the past (I won't spoil it for you), gives him a layer of realism. Also, Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) is one of the creepiest villains from movies in my childhood, as he maintains a consistently menacing persona and does really cold-blooded things that can put Doom in the same league as the best horror icons. Roger and Jessica Rabbit are great at providing solid humor, along with Doom's gang of cartoon weasels. However, I wish characters like the bartender Dolores (Joanna Cassidy) had more time to develop.


The humor in this movie is really solid. The humor is a perfect homage to the masterful slapstick and exaggerated bodily distortion of the classic Tex Avery and Looney Tunes cartoons. One of the funniest things in this movie was when Eddie goes to the nightclub the night Acme gets killed, and the opening act is Daffy and Donald Duck in a piano battle. Seeing these two iconic cartoon ducks engage in slapstick antics against each other was hilarious (especially when Donald fired a cannon at Daffy). Another was when Eddie faces his fears about driving into Toontown, he dumps his glass flask of whiskey and using a cartoon gun that Yosemite Sam gave him some years back, fires a cartoon bullet that's a caricature of an American Indian, and the bullet uses a giant tomahawk to smash the flask. Another is when Dolores catches Eddie in his office with Jessica with his pants down (literally), and she says to him “Are you dabbling in water colors, Eddie?” There's plenty of other funny parts in this movie, but I think you get the picture.


The cinematography for this movie is marvelous. The set designs perfectly capture that 1940's noir feeling, and the designs of the cartoons perfectly fit the setting it takes place in. The animation of the characters is totally fluid, and is even more impressive considering that the “interactions” with the cartoons and real people was seamless. With this being made before the age of CGI, it's even more impressive to see all this and see the cartoon characters believably carry around real props like guns. I think along with John Carpenter's The Thing, Who Framed Roger Rabbit has some of the most remarkable special effects and visuals ever done in cinema.

On a sidenote, the interior of the Acme gag factory looks a bit like something out of Tim Burton's imagination.


Alan Silvestri's score for this movie is near perfect. Like the visuals, the music fits the setting of this movie like a glove, and one of my favorite pieces of music is near the end, when Eddie has a showdown with Judge Doom and his weasel minions, since it's so heart-pumping and memorable. The original song “Why Don't You Do Right” is pretty catchy and is a great fit for the style of the movie.


Even though this is a PG movie, there's some scenes that kids might not get or could scare them. Some of the adult innuendo provided by Jessica Rabbit and even the weasels at times will probably fly over some kids' heads. However, there's a really creepy scene near the beginning where Judge Doom demonstrates his brand of justice by grabbing a squeaking cartoon shoe and slowly kills it in a barrel full of a chemical cocktail made specifically to “kill” cartoons called “the dip.” This scene scared me a lot when I was a little kid and even as an adult, still get creeped out by this scene. Similarly, there's some parts near the end during Eddie's showdown with Doom that were creepy, but I won't mention these because I don't want to spoil anything big in relation to the movie's story.

On another sidenote, it's funny to think that there's plenty of bad anime titles like Elfen Lied and Gantz that abuse bloody gore and dismemberment scenes ad nauseam to seem “creepy” yet the dark scenes in WFRR actually feel intimidating without using bloodshed.


Who Framed Roger Rabbit is certainly a classic, and a really good homage to 1940's noir and of the Golden Age of Cartoons. If you love the aforementioned things, you owe it to yourself to reserve a movie night for this live-action/cartoon hybrid gem.

]]> Wed, 3 Apr 2013 19:26:35 +0000
<![CDATA[Who Framed Roger Rabbit Quick Tip by RabidChihuahua]]> Sun, 31 Mar 2013 06:17:47 +0000 <![CDATA[Batman: Mask of the Phantasm Quick Tip by RabidChihuahua]]>
Being made by the same geniuses that created Batman:  The Animated Series, all the strokes of genius in that show have carried over into this film.  Just about everything in this movie is perfect, whether it be the story, characters, art direction, and animaton.  Without spoiling anything, I'll say that the ending to this gave me a genuine feeling of sadness that wasn't at all forced.

Don't let the PG rating put an odd taste in your mouth, adult Batman fans can watch this without feeling like they're watching something made more with kids in mind (much like BTAS).

If you're a fan of Batman:  The Animated Series or of gripping animation in general, then this is a must-watch movie.]]> Wed, 6 Feb 2013 18:55:13 +0000
<![CDATA[ "Vengeance Blackens the Soul..."]]>
The movie begins with a few mobsters cutting a deal that Batman quickly breaks up.  While trying to escape from Batman, a new masked vigilante appears.  Unlike Batman, however, the Phantasm is out to take the lives of these mobsters.  A select few of them.  But thanks to the garb he wears and the mysterious nature of his ways, the cops and the press have constantly mistaken him to be Batman.  Only Commissioner Gordon is convinced that it isn't.  As he is quick to remind us, "Batman doesn't kill.  It's somebody else."  Batman needs to figure out who the Phantasm is.  But just the same, an old flame of his has come into town.  Her name is Andrea, and this is a woman who more or less meant the world to Bruce.  The film jumps between past and present as we learn how Bruce and Andrea became a fitting romance and how the mobsters are now trying to protect themselves--ultimately going to The Joker for help.  The two stories weave themselves together extremely well to form the perfect murder mystery, origin for Batman (because Bruce and Andrea's romance just happens to take place before Wayne became Batman) and how Bruce really does cope with living a double life.

At 76 minutes, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm isn't very long but it hits the ground running and never lets up.  It does a good job weaving what is actually a pretty interesting story that, overall, leads us down the road of, "This is who Bruce Wayne could've become..." and it's a damn interesting story in nearly ever facet of the word.  The movie is also a pretty fast paced one, but mainly it's one that doesn't waste anything.  There are not that many downtrodden moments.  And while it's another moment of learning about how Bruce Wayne became Batman it's woven into the narrative in a good manner, mainly because a major theme of the film in and of itself is Vengeance.  It makes for a good movie.

The dark tone adds a bit to it, but it's mostly the art stylings that make it stand out more so than anything.  A movie you can look at and take seriously in spite of some of its lighter and more humorous moments.  And there are plenty to be sure. 

There isn't much that's really wrong with the movie.  Aside from the fact that it's short.  And by that I mean, I wish there was more of it to enjoy.  But what you get is pretty enjoyable.  The voice talents are very good and so is the overall story.  The soundtrack is also a standout, being among the best recorded for the series.  It's also a complex story, but surprisingly simple to follow while still being interesting.  You're not going to feel like a genius for figuring it all out, but you won't feel dumb if you don't.  And because of how long it is you might not mind watching it a second time just for the sake of enjoyment.  I loved this movie as a kid (one of the few who sat through it in the theater) and I still enjoy it now. 

It's a shame, then, that Batman: Mask of the Phantasm never went on to much success at the box office. It was a commercial flop despite a very low budget.  The movie failed to hook an audience in theaters.  And while it grew to cult success on VHS and DVD, it's very strange that the movie in and of itself still doesn't have much of an audience.  There's a very devoted cult following to the movie, but ask anyone about theatrical Batman movies and this is the one they always forget.  For those who have seen it, however, it is commonly referred to as the best of the Batman movies out there (although some now contest it with The Dark Knight) but that's a very small minority.  Despite the Cult Following the movie is still hard to come by and still particularly unseen by a great deal of people.  But if you were a fan of Batman: The Animated Series in the mid 90's (and a great deal of you were) then this is mandatory viewing. ]]> Fri, 27 Jul 2012 07:40:01 +0000
<![CDATA[ A Worthy Continuation of the Original]]>

In my opinion DreamWorks has always played second fiddle to Pixar in the computer generated feature film genre.  Their rivalry has existed for nearly as long as there has been a computer generated feature film genre! Pixar had Toy Story, DreamWorks had Small Soldiers. Pixar had A Bug’s Life, DreamWorks Antz. Pixar Monsters Inc., DreamWorks Monsters Vs. Aliens.  Pixar with Cars and DreamWorks with Trucks.  No wait, I made that last one up.  But you get the idea. 

It seems to me like DreamWorks’ best efforts are the ones that don’t have a direct Pixar counterpart: The Shrek saga and How to Train Your Dragon to mention a few.  I am of the stance that 2008’s Kung-Fu Panda perfectly represents this phenomenon of high-quality DreamWorks originality.

What we had there was a bit of tribute to the Kung-Fu classics with a lot of unexpected character charm to cement the intense action sequences and lovely visuals.  When I heard a sequel was in the works, I naturally feared for the worst.  Generally speaking sequels in the CG film arena are hit or miss (with emphasis on miss).  Ever see Space Chimps 2, Hoodwinked 2 or Open Season 2 (or even scarier, Open Season 3)?  Sure you have your Shreks & Toy Stories but more often than not it seems to me that animation studios have a hard time recapturing the magic of the originals; especially when the original contains the ever-illusive element of heart.

That said Kung-Fu Panda 2, riding on the success of the first one, was given a budget increase to the tune of 20-mil ($150,000,000 versus 130,000,000), brought back all of the key members of the original cast (with a few new ones) and even retained the vast majority of the production & animator crew.  To summarize, DreamWorks made darn sure not to risk losing said heart of the first film.  Did they succeed? For the most part absolutely.  Viewers looking for something more grandiose may be disappointed but the good news here is that Kung-Fu Panda 2 succeeds at feeling more like a continuation of the first film than it does a genuine sequel.  And considering the first film ended in such a manner where a sequel wasn’t necessary, this is a very good thing indeed.

Jack Black reprises his role as the titular overweight martial-arts trainee panda and his entire Furious Five retinue return uninterrupted (Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross)). Series staples Dustin Hoffman as Po’s master Shifu and James Hong as Po’s noodle-peddling dad return as well. The villain is new this time; a sociopath peacock named Shen, and played to perfection by Gary Oldman.  Other noteworthy additions include casting real-life karate aficionado Jean-Claude Van Damme to play Master Croc.

The story takes us back to the visually lush Valley of Peace and finds a newfound camaraderie between Po and his Furious Five cohorts.  At just about the same time Po suddenly realizes that he bears (no pun intended, for now) no physical resemblance to his dad, the villainous Shen surfaces with a weapon of mass destruction and plans to conquer all of China.

In terms of scope, the bar has been raised slightly but it’s clear that the focus here was to expand upon the character back-stories and their interaction with one another over expanding geographically strictly for the sake of spending some of that additional 20-mil.

The plot thickens slightly once Po realizes Shen’s ambitions and the fact that he doesn’t remember his birth parents aren’t completely unrelated occurrences.  Unfortunately though, canceling out the slightly deeper plot structure of the sequel is the fact that Po’s clumsy, lighthearted enthusiasm seems somehow misplaced now that he has been revealed a psychologically scarred Kung Fu disciple.

Pacing is decent, if a bit longer feeling than the first, though all in all the 90-minute runtime does go by fairly quickly since no time need be wasted setting up backgrounds for our heroes.  Hans Zimmer nails the musical score with his trademarked near-subliminally perfect melodies and heart thumping action accompaniments.

In all Kung-Fu Panda joins a pretty slim gathering of titles that actually manage to do the concept of a sequel justice.  While it could be argued that DreamWorks played it safe by failing to stray from the path established in the first one, at least they knew not to fix what wasn’t broken.  The old phrase, “it’s not as original as the original” certainly applies as well but here’s hoping the formula continues to stay fresh as DreamWorks has stated they hope to milk this into a 6-movie franchise.  Will fans tire of Po’s antics through four more films? There’s a swamp-dwelling big green ogre who thinks not.

]]> Sat, 21 Jul 2012 06:58:52 +0000
<![CDATA[ The Awesomeness is Back!]]>
I picked up the first Kung Fu Panda on a day when I was in serious need of a good laugh. Not only did I get my laugh, but I also found one of the best animated movies of the last decade, one better than even some of Pixar's vaunted animation cannon. So I was eager to get a look at Kung Fu Panda 2, even knowing the track record of sequels. Kung Fu Panda 2 avoids making a lot of bad mistakes that sequels tend to make.

Kung Fu Panda 2 finds Po on the second part of his mastery of Kung Fu. One of the big ideas presented in this movie is the search for inner peace, which Master Shefu says Po is now ready to undertake. Po, being Po, misunderstands the whole idea at first. Upon hearing Shefu tell him about inner peace, Po remarks that his innards are already super, super peaceful, so he pretty well has that handled. In the meantime, an evil Peacock named Shen returns to his ancestral home of Gongman City, where he was promised the throne. But Shen didn't leave Gongman City to go out and find himself or anything like that. Oh, he did manage to find something while he spent 30 years in the outside world, but what he found was just a new weapon capable of rendering Kung Fu null and void. See, Shen was a son of the royal family. This royal family discovered fireworks a long time ago, but Shen, not being an inner-peace-minded thinker himself, immediately thought of a slightly more nefarious purpose for them than just celebrations. His creative different purpose for the fireworks horrified his family, and when Shen himself was told by a soothsayer that he would be defeated by a black and white warrior if he didn't change his ways, he responded the same way most of the wise kings of The Bible did: He had the Panda population exterminated. His family was even more horrified by this, and they banished him.

In the final stages of his plan, Shen needs more metal to get the job done, so he sends his henchmen out to the furthest reaches of China in order to steal the metal supply. While Shefu and Po are having their little chat about inner peace, Shen's henchmen happen to take their village, and during the ensuing fight between Shen's lackeys and the Furious Five and Dragon Warrior, Po is suddenly distracted by a vision of his mother set off by a symbol the hench leader is wearing. So now, in order to defeat Shen and restore peace to China, Po has to make his inner peace with his past and figure out just who he is and where he comes from. Big themes for a movies that doesn't even break the 90-minute mark.

Probably the thing that pleased me the most about Kung Fu Panda 2 is the fact that it doesn't try to repeat the overarching plot of the first Kung Fu Panda. Yeah, Po needs inner peace, but that's all he needs. There's no discovering the secret technique more powerful than Shen's anti-Kung Fu weapon or his trying to earn the trust of the Furious Five after some galactic screwup. The first movie set up the fact that Po finaly realized the secret of being a great Kung Fu master, and when Kung Fu Panda 2 picks up, that's exactly what he is. Even though real martial arts is a constant learning process, it was established in the first movie that Po has the mentality needed to keep learning and is a great master of Kung Fu, so there was no sense in retreading that territory. He also earned the trust of Master Shefu and the Furious Five, and they know what he's capable of and fully respect him, so there's no sense in going through that again, either.

Indeed, I was happy to see the way Tigress, Mantis, Snake, Monkey, and Crane all reacted to Po in Kung Fu Panda 2. Although Po - being, you know, Po - can still be a major klutz, none of the members of the Furious Five ever question his abilities or lose their respect for him. Even the intense and stoic Tigress always speaks to him with a genuine warmth and compassion. Tigress is still the caricature of the stern and emotionless warrior - she was, after all, the one in the first movie who objected the most to Po - so she does it in a more subtle way than the others, but her trust for Po and his abilities remains intact throughout the whole movie. Even the two masters that become minor characters in the movie, Storming Ox and Croc, don't question who Po is or his abilities. Po's reputation certainly seems to have spread pretty far and wide since he became the Dragon Warrior!

The voiceover work, even in this day of ego-checking at the front door, really outdoes itself with talent. Jack Black plays Po, Angelina Jolie is Tigress, Dustin Hoffman is Shefu, Lucy Liu is Viper, and Dennis Haysbert is Storming Ox. They even got a trio of great martial arts actors into Kung Fu Panda 2, starting with Jackie Chan as Monkey and stretching to include Michelle Yeoh as the soothsayer and Jean-Claude Van Damme as Croc. (Who even performs his trademark split at one point.) The best performance in the movie, however, is the great Gary Oldman - one of my favorite actors ever - reprising the player part that made him famous in the first place. He voices the uber-evil Shen with panache and flair, bringing to mind some of his more over-the-top villain roles.

Kung Fu Panda 2 goes into considerably darker territory than the first movie. Hell, there's even a genocide. That's what happens with Guillermo Del Toro's name in the credits. But despite the darker themes, Kung Fu Panda 2 is always upbeat and funny, and it makes several references to the first Kung Fu Panda, from a montage near the end to Po commenting on the handcuffs used to bind him at one point being the same kind of cuffs they used for the villain of the last movie.

Kung Fu Panda 2, overall, teams with awesomeness and win and is a must-see for fans of animated movies.]]> Thu, 28 Jun 2012 14:41:59 +0000
<![CDATA[Batman: The Animated Series Quick Tip by RabidChihuahua]]>
This show had it all: superb animation, tip-top voice acting (especially Mark Hamill as The Joker, you can't beat that with a police baton), gripping storylines, fantastically-developed characters, a powerful art style, and heart-pounding action.  There's so many great episodes in this series, but an episode that sticks out to me at the moment is the Season 1 episode "Heart of Ice."  That episode had a lot of emotional depth executed in that one.

If you enjoyed this show, you should also check out Batman:  Mask of the Phantasm, which is an animated film made by the same people that made this series.

Finally, it's worth noting that despite the fact that Batman:  The Animated Series was a show originally broadcast in a timeslot for kids' entertainment, it feels much more mature than so many anime titles that are marketed as "adult."]]> Sun, 27 May 2012 04:29:23 +0000
<![CDATA[ This S.H.I.E.L.D. movie needed more Thor]]>
Thor is the God of Thunder who comes from the magical and far off realm of Asgard, he and his brother Loki the God of Mischief live in royalty with they're father Odin the King.  One day, just scant minutes from having Thor poised to have him take Odin's place, intruders breach the castle walls in an attempt to steal a powerful artifact.  Enraged Thor takes it upon himself to enter the land of Jotunheim where the Frost Giants are suspected of having committed the deed.  Thor and his friends enter battle to ill effect only to be saved by Odin.  Odin displeased with Thor's rash attitude strips him of power, his armor and magical hammer and banishes him to Earth.  Thor's friends are distraught, but Loki not so much as he has taken Odin's place and will not bring Thor back.

Thor lands on Earth in the middle of New Mexico in the care of college student played by Natalie Portman (nice landing) who studies spacial phenomena but finds that the S.H.I.E.L.D. agency  has taken away her materials (but are nice enough to pay her for the theft as reimbursement).  Fearing she may have to start from scratch, Thor is cool enough after having his royal dickishness curbed to assist the student in her studies of the skies and learning of the different lands Thor has been to.  Meanwhile, back in Asgard, Loki's rule has him learn of his own past and this makes his anger turn toward defeating Thor.  In the middle of this however is the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization led by that dweeb Coulson who has appeared in almost all of these current Marvel movies to do government things in the name of national security.  They are gathered around the landing place of Thor's hammer which cannot be moved and even after Thor breaches the defenses, he cannot either as he is not deemed worthy anymore and finds he must dig down to be a man worthy of rule.

Now, if you were brought down by my opening comparison to those 80's fantasy movies, worry not as the movie is not as bad as those movies, but in a movie like this, the creators sadly had to cop out and only show us so much of the magical (and very colorful) world of Asgard and the frosty netherrealms of Jotunheim and instead focus the action in the sandy nowheres of New Mexico.  Asgard though is shown enough that we aren't cheated completely but the movie is still very much in the Judge Dredd (1995) route in that we see our hero in his role fighting evil, he is taken out of his place and must fight to get back what is his and that means we don't see Thor doing many Thor like things, and we paid to see Thor.

Instead, after they are introduced we see the computer laden S.H.I.E.L.D. hide out with it's shadowy agents, the guys up high who watch whats going on and other nonsense.  Coulson if I'm not mistaken gets as much screen time as Thor and I would have much rather see S.H.I.E.L.D. movie to see this rather then in a Thor movie where it feels intrusive.

Whats good?  Well Chris Hemsworth is a new face and great as Thor, being an arrogant ass born with a silver hammer in his mouth to see his change to a man who learns what it means to have power and to care about those around him.  The world of Asgard and in particular the Rainbow Bridge look very colorful and nice.  It's nice to see color in these kind of movies when it's just easier to make everything look black and dark.  The costumes on the Asgardians are all colorful as well with bright reds, golds and greens.  Lastly if it wasn't implied before, it's always nice to see Natalie Portman.

Other then the disjointed feel this movie ends up with, the movie has it's bad points.  It's another comic movie where knowledge of the comic is good to have.  While some things are explained well other things are not.  First off, I still have no idea what "Odin Sleep" is.  I also didn't even know that Thor could FLY.  I always just assumed that Thor hit guys with a hammer and shot lightning at bad guys and is a general badass fighter.  But other then that, things are sort of just implied as to what Thor can do.

This Thor movie in the end made me wanting more Thor.  We got to see glimpses of what he does, what he can do and what his world is like but I ended up seeing more of S.H.I.E.L.D. and New Mexico instead.]]> Sun, 6 May 2012 05:31:25 +0000
<![CDATA[ThunderCats (2011 Pilot Movie) Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> Sat, 21 Jan 2012 01:06:43 +0000 <![CDATA[Green Lantern: First Flight Quick Tip by kfontenot]]> Tue, 15 Nov 2011 20:59:25 +0000 <![CDATA[Thor (2011 movie) Quick Tip by vampire_eyez]]> Sat, 12 Nov 2011 03:23:11 +0000 <![CDATA[ Entertaining but flawed Marvel superhero origin story.]]>
Explosions, special effects, a sense of humor, and enthusiastic, dedicated leads. I'm getting tired of superhero movies; as 2011 seems to be a pretty big year for them, albeit a very mediocre one. You've got your good superhero movies and then you've got the ones that lack depth of importance. Chances are, I will forget most of the superhero movies I've seen including the ones that I simply liked. The ones that I loved shall get a much more appropriate treatment. "Thor" isn't much different from the rest of the entries in this long, exhausting wave of superhero flicks, but it's better-made than some and actually fairly entertaining. It's completely forgettable since it lacks depth and anything to truly be engaged in, sure, but it also has dazzling CGI effects, solid performances, and it knows what it wants to do. In spite of its flaws, it gets the job done and will impress some die-hard comic book/Marvel superhero fans. Those who aren't "fans" might find things to admire here as well; I just can't imagine those people loving it. But you never know.

If Hollywood can squeeze a film out of their excessive and typically up-tight assholes that manages to entertain and engage the audience in one way or another, it deserves some credit. "Thor" is goofy, silly, and whimsical in its own way; a pleasant movie-watching experience completely devoid of beauty, emotional resonance, or depth. I expected nothing more, or nothing less, so even with these flaws; I cannot say that "Thor" is problematic enough to be unwatchable or even "bad". It is what it is, and it exists in a world where, perhaps, films about Norse Gods acting as Superhero figures aren't always or almost ever great. I wouldn't even say that "Thor" is good. But it comes pretty damn close.

The film is constantly juggling two stories taking place in two separate worlds, which may have been part of the problem. For one of its stories, we are given a background and "origin story" to the film's titular character; a Norse God indeed, the son of Odin, and brother of Loki. Thor is played by Chris Hemsworth, Odin is portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, and Tom HiddlesTon plays Loki, the envious brother. Each of the three characters resides in a far-off land called Asgard; a fantastical world that is a creation of special-effects and outstanding production design, no doubt, and is thought by the rest of the universe to exist only in myth. Asgard has been at war with Jotunheim, home to the Frost Giants, for several years now. The war supposedly had ended years ago when the Asgardians defeated the Frost Giants in combat, thus taking their source-of-power, but there was always a new battle to be fought just around every corner. Thor makes the mistake of leading fellow comrades in a visit to Jotunheim in order to kill off the remaining Frost Giants; an action which gets him banished from his home-land and sent to earth.

Thor lands in New Mexico. Almost instantly upon arriving, some astrophysicists hit him with their truck. The group rescues the hero, taking him under their caring wing(s), and introduce themselves as Jane (Natalie Portman), Erik (Stellan Skarsgard), and Darcy (Kat Dennings). Thor has been separated from his signature hammer, which is reported to have landed not far from where he did. Nobody can make the thing budge from the spot in which it rests, so a research center is built around it so that the scientists working there can study the object. But we know that only Thor can move it, hold it, and use it; so when the climactic battle comes along, we know what will happen; and we anticipate it greatly.

The action sequences are thrilling and visually beautiful. One of my favorite scenes takes place somewhere near the beginning, during the origin story of the mighty Norse God, where he and his fellow Asgard warriors fend off the Frost Giants and one very large beast which they unleash. I liked the scene because it did its job very well. All it wanted to do was entertain and be "cool". I suppose that's the aim of the film, as a whole. If you're looking for substance in the way of characters or story, look elsewhere. "Thor" is nothing truly deep, but is entertainment, and amongst many of the other superhero films this year, it's pretty decent. If you remember Thor as a character that you liked more for his abilities and powers rather than his personality, then you'll have no problem with the fact that nothing has changed. Perhaps the director, Kenneth Branagh, was trying to be faithful and respectful to the source material. He does a good job at directing CGI; but there's nothing special going on as far as the more human, earth-bound scenes go. He overuses the Dutch Angle and lacks an artistic vision; as "Thor" cannot be viewed as art, but only another old creation of Hollywood that will soon be forgotten. While I thoroughly enjoyed and admired it, I took absolutely nothing out of the experience, as it lacked the element of surprise. Still, I'd say it's worth seeing for the sake of watching it, since it has an audience and I was not included in it. I would rather by superhoro movies come accompanied with emotional depth and memorability. "Thor" doesn't really have either. But its redeeming factor comes in its bright, humorous moments as well as what it DOES have. It makes use of most of the technology used and the actors involved. Why not just go with the flow and enjoy yourself?]]> Sun, 9 Oct 2011 20:39:26 +0000
<![CDATA[ Better Than I Expected But Still Not Great]]>
Odin decides that he will name Thor as his air and on the day he will make it public, some Storm Giants are able to sneak in to try to steal a casket that will give their realm great power. They are twarted and Odin wants to write if off as an isolated situation. Thor has other plans and leads his pals into the Storm Giant's kingdom. They end up ending the truce but Odin learns about what they have done and strips Thor of his powers and banishes both Thor and his hammer to Earth.

Thor is found (actually hit by the utility vehicle of Jane Foster) by Jane Foster and her associates, who are doing research in a desert. They think he is a crazy person but he wants to get his hammer back. Pretty soon the hammer is discovered but nobody can move it. SHIELD shows up and takes over (kind of like Homeland Security) and fence off the hammer and take all of Jane Foster's research.

Meanwhile back at Asgard, Odin goes into his Odin sleep (a type of coma) and Loki proclaims himself King of Asgard. Loki is up to something and it may have something to do with his arm trying to turn itself into a grey Storm Giant arm.

The movie progresses to Thor trying to convince Jane and her associates who he is and trying to get back his hammer. Thor also needs to do this by going up against SHIELD. To make matters worse, Loki has loosed The Destroyer to come to Earth to kill Thor.

I would have rated the movie higher but it is full of silly parts throughout. Also, a high intelligence agency like SHIELD gets easily fooled into believing that Thor is Don Blake, an ex-boyfriend of Jane Foster. The movie promises that Thor will return in The Avengers and does have the usual clip with Nick Fury after the credits roll.]]> Sat, 17 Sep 2011 15:06:14 +0000
<![CDATA[ Thematic, Pretty And Not For Everyone]]>

When you think of the heavy hitters in the animated feature film realm, it’s certainly understandable if the first things that come to mind are Disney, Pixar or DreamWorks.  However Nickelodeon has been hovering around the scene for a while now, hoping to earn a nice piece of the CG animated movie pie.

Rango is by far their most serious attempt and while the film’s deserved PG-13 rating may succeed at distancing it from its key demographic (a concept all studios would be wise to emulate from industry-leader Pixar).

The story follows the comical, transformative journey of Rango (Depp), a sheltered chameleon living as an ordinary family pet, while facing a major identity crisis.  After all, how high can you aim when your whole purpose in life is to blend in?  When Rango accidentally winds up in the gritty, gun-slinging town of Dirt, a lawless outpost populated by the desert’s wiliest whimsical creatures, the less-than-courageous lizard suddenly finds that he’s been preparing for this role his whole life.  Welcomed as the last hope the whole town has been awaiting, the newly appointed Sheriff Rango is forced to play his new role as if it life depended on it.  In fact, it does!  In a blaze of action-packed situations and encounters with outrageous characters, Rango starts to become the hero he’s always pretended to be.

If you didn’t already know, this piece represents Gore Verbinski’s first film since concluding his Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy in 2007 and represented an ideal opportunity for him to continue working with the oddly charismatic Johnny Depp.

Like the Pirates trilogy, Verbinski proves strangely proficient at developing properties that seem almost kid-friendly but continually flirt with adult-only ideals and references.  In fact those viewers expecting a wild-west themed variation of a typical Disney/ Pixar feature will be in for a bit of rude awakening.  Rather than craft an action-driven kids movie peppered with adult humor and pop culture references, Rango is boldly unrepentant for the various tones and complexities it explores.

Industrial Light and Magic does a spectacular job with the look of the film, with drab landscapes and gritty character textures and while the John Logan script is funny at times, appreciation of this film depends heavily on the viewer’s feeling towards old spaghetti westerns.

The pacing is deliberately drawn out and littered with crusty townsfolk, children will likely find the prose a bit too dull to hold their interest even before the objectionable language and references have a chance to upset them.  In fact, a strong argument could be made that this is very nearly like watching a genuine old western film with personified animals transplanted over black and white live action sequences.  Further contributing to the sensation is an extended version release on the DVD & Blu-Ray that comes in at just under two-hours.

I personally enjoyed the idea of a desert down finding so much value in water that it has literally become currency and there’s no denying that, while a bit hideous, there is some serious brilliance in the character design models.

Of course despite the film’s rambling philosophies and lackluster supporting characters, Rango has its moments thanks in no small part to solid vocal deliveries from Depp, Ned Beatty, and Wedding Crashers’ Isla Fisher.

There are some slapstick moments to keep the kiddies in their seats even if the western puns and clichés will be lost upon them.  Adults may get a kick out of a few of the exchanges although truthfully, they can be a bit over the top, eliciting some “ewwws” even out of teens at times.

In conclusion some of the finest computer generated visuals to date (there is a segment depicting a human that is nearly photo-realistic), Rango lacks the type of cleverness that makes many of Pixar and DreamWorks’ pieces so timeless.  Adults who appreciate modern animation (especially those with a fondness for western classics) will find much to enjoy here but contrary to the Nickelodeon backing, kids aren’t the target audience for this one.

]]> Wed, 31 Aug 2011 07:21:01 +0000
<![CDATA[ Not Up to DCAU's Standards]]>

Allow me, for the sake of justifying my complaints about this piece from the onset, to say that I am a subscriber to the theory that the DCAU crew is responsible for the absolute best incarnations of the DC comic characters of all time.  Whenever I begin to burn out on the whole animated comic hero industry, a trip to my Batman the Animated Series collection or through a few Justice League Unlimited episodes are all it takes to remind me of everything that is right about the concept of turning static comic panels into animated life.

That said, I’ve noticed many of the crew responsible for the aforementioned properties (Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, the late Dwayne McDuffie and company) have since shifted gears from weekly serial production to animated feature film work exclusively.  While a few of these features have been pretty darn impressive (I enjoyed Batman: Under the Red Hood, Superman/ Batman Public Enemies and Justice League Crisis on Two Earths to mention a few) but All Star Superman is one of the oddest animated films I’ve encountered, DCAU or otherwise, in quite some time.

All-Star Superman, on which this picture is based, is a twelve-issue comic book series featuring Superman that ran from November 2005 to October 2008. The series was written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely, digitally inked by Jamie Grant and published by DC Comics.

The film incarnation is actually the tenth in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line released by Warner Premiere and the first in the line that is rated PG (as opposed to the usual PG-13 rating).

The plot goes like this: Dr. Leo Quintum and his P.R.O.J.E.C.T. Team are exploring the Sun when they are sabotaged by a booby-trapped, genetically enhanced Lex Luthor clone. Superman saves the doomed crew, but it turns out that in the process has been overdosed with radiation that, while responsible for increasing his power initially, is actually slowly killing him. Luthor, having orchestrated the death of Superman while under the employment of General Sam Lane, is arrested thanks to Clark Kent's article and sentenced to death.

Playing off the unique angle of the arch nemeses responsible for the inevitable death of the other, there is a lot of potential in this plot structure.  Sadly, I felt as though the delivery of these ideals never manages to live up to the possibilities.

For starters, this 76-minute film suffers from the undeniable feeling of trying to fit entirely too many key moments from the 12-issue book run into a little over an hour’s worth of narrative.  As expected, this mash of plot threads often comes off as completely disconnected from one another.  Characters appear frequently, do something completely contrived, then vanish for the duration of the film.  Detours like Superman’s encounter with Samson and Atlas and even the Kryptonian scientists will leave even the most diehard fans of the franchise scratching their heads in “what in the world was that?” theatrics.

These threads work out in the books on which this film is based simply because they are given due time to develop.  Perhaps had they been integrated here more subtly earlier on and allowed to play out in the background to the seriousness of the larger issues at hand, they may have worked out here as well.  Instead they come off as unnecessary plot devices.

However, in all fairness there are a few qualities here that prevent this one from sinking like a cinder block.  Among these are the opportunity to witness Frank Quitely’s bright crisp art work come to animated life and a modern take on the Lois Lane character.

In all though the end result here is quite a muddled mess.  The story itself is interesting and arguably tragic enough to warrant looking into the mini-series but the film will most certainly under-whelm both fans of the books and of past DCAU efforts alike.

]]> Mon, 29 Aug 2011 01:28:24 +0000
<![CDATA[Rango Quick Tip by Butterfly1961]]>
I'm not familiar with how actors portray their characters as far as doing the voice-overs in an animated movie, but I thought Rango seemed unique after seeing the following behind the scenes video; they actually "acted" together on stage while doing the voices to make it more realistic - Depp called it "emotion" acting.  They all seemed to be having a great time at it too!


Seems the video keeps disappearing; here is the link:

]]> Mon, 22 Aug 2011 12:20:12 +0000
<![CDATA[ Essentially Supergirl's First Feature Film]]>

Talk about high expectations going in, ever since the release of Superman/ Batman Public Enemies, I have been terribly excited about this piece.  Going through absolute withdrawal of the animated Justice League series, about the closest I can get to fulfilling that void comes in the form of these DCAU feature films starring some of the League’s most influential members.

And in theory this one should have delivered there! After all, it features Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Supergirl (heck even Superman’s dog Krypto makes a cameo) and pits them against the hordes of darkness on Apokolips.  However, in execution, I found the finished product to be a bit too ambitious for its own good but more on that in a moment, first let’s take a look at the facts.

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is a 2010 direct-to-video animated film based on the Superman/Batman comic storyline "The Supergirl from Krypton" and serves as an unofficial sequel to Superman/Batman: Public Enemies.

The story basically opens by making reference of the timeframe through blurbs on Gotham City radio suggesting it is within the weeks after the events that led to Lex Luthor's arrest, the impeachment of his presidency, and Batman's success in saving the world from the impact of an approaching meteor.

A spacecraft crash-lands in Gotham City Harbor apparently containing a naked young girl without knowledge of English or Earth or really much of anything. Without giving much away, the girl in question is of course the future Supergirl (Kara Zor-El) and while Superman welcomes his fellow Kryptonian refugee with open arms and works to teach her English and Earthen culture, Batman remains suspicious.

By the time the film is over, the viewer will have visited Gotham City, Metropolis, Themyscira, Apokolips, and Smallville.  Considering its 78-minute runtime, there’s a lot of ground to cover here!

I mentioned earlier that my biggest criticism of the film is that it may be a bit too ambitious for its own good and that statement certainly deserves elaboration.  While the look of the film is spot on (with a unique, angled look to the character models), the vocal cast impeccable (opting to use the talent of the Justice League actors; in fact this was the noted as the first project Kevin Conroy and Susan Eisenberg (Batman and Wonder Woman) have worked on together since the end of the Justice League series) but the plot is a bit scattered and the pacing inconsistent.

I guess this is to be expected given the incredible number of characters and locations involved to be crammed within a film that runs only a bit over an hour in length.  Call it wishful thinking if you must, but this whole thread would have been far better served had it been introduced as a multi-episode thread in the Justice League animated series.  Maybe I’m still not over my adoration of that show, but I can’t help but feel like a lot of these DCAU feature films coming from Warner Brothers of late would have made for awesome season-long threads for JL not unlike the Project Cadmus angle.

Back to reality though, the fight segments contained here are pretty impressive, and do a nice job capturing the inhuman power of the combatants involved.  The inconsistent pacing and rushed ending can probably be overlooked by action-junkies on account of these awesome battles.  The rest of us who have come to expect absolute perfection from Bruce Timm and company will likely come away from this film feeling as though the potential outweighs the finished product.

]]> Wed, 17 Aug 2011 05:05:44 +0000
<![CDATA[ Finally, A Worthy Marvel Animated Film]]>

I have to admit that while I’ve loved almost everything that Bruce Timm and company have done with the DC Universe in animation throughout the years, I have always felt that with a few exceptions, Marvel has never been successful at making the transition of the depth and richness of their books into animated form.  I toured their entire MLG (Marvel & Lion’s Gate) library and came away feeling like while the animation was nice and the vocal talent pretty deep, the whole experience just felt shallow and dull.  However, being never one to give up on a solid idea, when I saw the preview for Planet Hulk on one of the DVDs, I decided I would have to give that one a go before writing off the whole MLG experience and truthfully, I’m really glad I did.

Based on Greg Pak’s fantastic Incredible Hulk: Planet Hulk book, the film tells of Hulk’s destructive nature to the planet finally reaching a point of unacceptability and The New Avengers: Illuminati’s reluctant decision to jettison Hulk into space.  The original plan was to have his spacecraft crash onto a peaceful lush planet of greenery and livestock for which the Hulk could live out his remaining years alone but the plan is derailed when an enraged Hulk starts thrashing around in the capsule and causes it to crash land on an alien world somewhere between earth and his original destination.

Subdued by a restraining chip and sold into slavery, Hulk quickly finds himself in the role of Russell Crowe’s character from the movie “Gladiator”.  It turns out that the world he crashed upon (Sakaar) finds itself locked in a political dictatorship that has the people putting hope in the arrival of a savior to restore freedom to the land.

Without giving up any spoilers, the Hulk’s incredible feats of strength in the coliseum aren’t unnoticed by the populous and before long rumor begins to spread that perhaps his arrival was foretold in prophecy.  In an act of utter irony, Hulk’s destructive nature is suddenly viewed as the catalyst for lasting peace.

The action begins in this one nearly immediately; wasting very little time with setup.  Hulk’s crash sequence is complete by the opening credits and the alien world is presented with some pretty cool life forms and concepts.  Especially note worthy is that due to Sakaar’s proximity to a wormhole, species of countless races crash land on the planet’s surface and, because they are unable to leave, become the property of the Empire (in other words slavery is alive and well on Sakaar and involves far more than just the indigenous species).

The Hulk we’re given here is surprisingly intelligent as well with his sheer uncontrollable rage offered as a sort of brooding determination.  We actually get some character evolution as well, with Hulk’s gradual change from a sulking, primitive monster in the beginning to a beast with a sense of pride and honor by the end.  Bruce Banner makes not a single appearance here and while that may seem suspect to some die-hard Hulk fans, truthfully the slant toward a more intelligent Hulk blended with the fact that the alien world would have killed Banner instantly, makes this fact not only justifiable but plausible in the mythos as well.

Pacing is pretty quick (as is expected when stuffing some 400 pages of material into 72-minutes of film) and the action heavy gladiator sequences are offset with some nice splashes of back-story & character development.

With an ending that certainly hints to a “what-if” vibe, the whole story can technically be viewed as a sort of offshoot to the time-honored Hulk material but this is certainly not a bad thing.  Quite honestly Hulk’s out of control nature here on earth lends beautifully to this exact scenario and it’s really interesting to witness the green man pitted against enemies truly deserving of the beating he is capable of administrating.

In all, even if you’ve gone through the other MLG pieces and came away disappointed, Planet Hulk is certainly worth giving a go.  I’m truly hoping this piece has elevated the bar for all future Marvel animated features to follow.

]]> Sun, 14 Aug 2011 03:50:15 +0000
<![CDATA[Batman: Mask of the Phantasm Quick Tip by Count_Orlok_22]]> Batman: The Animated Series, but it also has some clever references and allusions to the first two Tim Burton films as well as some of the Batman comics (most notably Batman: Year One).
The tone is pretty dark and there's a bit more action and violence than one might expect to find in a PG film, but I think that for most fans, myself included, that this is part of what made the film so great. It's the Batman film that hadn't been done up until that point. Unlike previous films which just took Batman characters and stuck them awkwardly on the screen with little reverence or knowledge to the comics or the stories, this film is full of little moments that fans will cherish (note the multiple references to Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams).

I also particularly like that they made Gotham so atmospheric and anachronistic. The vehicles and buildings all look like those found in New York and Chicago during the 1930s and 1940s, but the technology seems to be much more modern in most regards.

The voice cast is super and I still hold that Tim Conway and Mark Hamill are easily two of the best actors to have portrayed the iconic hero/villain dichotomy of Batman and The Joker.
Directed by Bruce (W.) Timm and Eric Radomski, both of who are mainly responsible for the great surge of animated series based on the DC Universe, the film manages to have both action and suspense, but also more characterization than some of the Batman's televised animated adventures... and thankfully Robin and Batgirl are nowhere to be found. While the love story seems to be a bit more melodramatic than necessary, I do like the Andrea character and the concept of the Phantasm. It gives the whole story an urban Gothic romance style that was very nice.
]]> Sat, 13 Aug 2011 16:31:06 +0000
<![CDATA[ Introducing the Green Lantern Corp]]>
The animation in GREEN LANTERN: EMERALD KNIGHTS is pretty good. The quality is above average and even though the separate stories were produced by different divisions, the stories fit together seamlessly.

I enjoyed GREEN LANTERN: EMERALD KNIGHTS and found it highly entertaining. My only issue with it is that is rather short (less than 90 minutes). I think it would have been even more enjoyable if there were one or two more tales of the Emerald Knights told.

Overall, GREEN LANTERN: EMERALD KNIGHTS is an enjoyable DVD. It has appeal to fans of the Green Lantern Corp and Hal Jordan as well as serving as a great primer for those unfamiliar to the world of Green Lantern.]]> Sat, 13 Aug 2011 03:15:16 +0000
<![CDATA[ A Solid Entry to the GL Mythos]]>

Ah Green Lantern (or “GL” to those familiar with the Justice League’s incarnation of the beloved superhero); has there ever been so solid a character with so sketchy a mainstream persona?  Rhetorical question, sure, but I dare go as far as to say this animated feature film may in fact be the definitive entry into the rich universe of the titular character and the Lantern Corps to which he belongs.  Such a praiseful declaration may not seem like a big deal until you realize that Green Lantern himself, in this case the Hal Jordan version, serves merely as a narrative hub that strings together a multitude of story threads concerning many of the lesser known members of the Corps here.

For those seeking origin story, there is certainly no shortage of sources to turn to that have been released in recent years.  Among the notables, the DC Universe animated feature titled Green Lantern First Flight, the 2011 live-action film starring Ryan Reynolds, the DC Universe animated feature Justice League: The New Frontier, it’s even given a severely simplified once-over in an episode of the early 1980s Hanna-Barbara show Superfriends.  As such, this film is free of the burden of rehashing the fateful events leading to test-pilot Hal Jordan’s inheriting the ring from a mortally wounded Abin Sur, and with that freedom came a pretty clever concept.

I had heard rumor going in that Emerald Knights consists of a collection of tales but what I didn’t expect was for the tales to have been weaved a single motion picture; literally held together by an action-driven plot.  In this case five-tales are spawned from that central story of Hal Jordan’s recounting of Lantern Corps legend to new recruit Arisia.

Among the stories visited The First Lantern (a telling of the origin of the Lantern Corps), Kilowag (the history of the Corps’ lovable drill sergeant’s own time in boot camp), Laira (a princess’ homecoming after having become a Green Lantern), Mogo Doesn’t Socialize (a tale that proves once and for all that the Lantern Corps does not discriminate) and finally Abin Sur (prior to Hal Jordan entering the picture, Abin Sir receives a crypic prediction from an alien terrorist).

Of course all of these short tales are held together by the Emerald Knights angle; whereby the Corps members unite to face the threat of the antimatter creature Krona, who is poised to arrive through the Oan sun.

Looking back on the project, it’s interesting to note that with the most relatable character (Jordan/ GL) serving as merely a narrator, the science fiction heavy brilliance of the Lantern Corps mythos comes into very clear focus.  In fact, a very strong argument could be made that Emerald Knights comes off like a small-scale animated variation of the Star Wars saga; complete with intergalactic conflict, massive space battles, a dose of politics and a strong thread of fantasy woven amidst the technological slant.

Another unexpected bonus (not to mention deeper tie to my Star Wars comparison) is the fleshing out of the rather complex character of Sinestro here.  While his fall from glory is chronicled within the aforementioned Green Lantern First Flight feature, the depth of his empathy and true tragedy of the character’s descent into darkness is far better realized here.  All of this is perhaps even more impressive once you realize that not unlike Batman: Gotham Knight, Warner Brothers makes use of the technique of breaking up up the individual stories among various production teams.  While going as far as to the call the transitions between the segments “seamless” may be stretching it a bit, it is truthful to say that the format works successfully here and absolute decimates everything about the substandard presentation that is Gotham Knight.

Of course the only disadvantage to be found in all of this is that some story threads simply resonate better with a given viewer than others and because the 84-minute runtime has to be divided among six separate stories, there’s only a taste of each account to savor.  It could stand to reason that each tale contained within is certainly strong enough to warrant an animated feature release in and of themselves (if only a market existed for such obscure characters).

In all Green Lantern Emerald Knights is a highly enjoyable experience throughout and will certainly appeal to fans of the source material for its attention to detail and non-fans alike (as the stories are self-explanatory and loaded with action).  Many reviewers feel the need to pit this release against the generally-considered inferior Green Lantern First Flight animated feature but it really stands to mention that without GL’s own story presented here, the two projects don’t compete against so much as compliment one another.  The fact of the matter is that Hal Jordan or Alan Scott, or Guy Gardner, John Stewart, or Jade, or Kyle Rayner’s earthen ties to all that is the Green Lantern mythos are surprisingly narrow-scoped.  Such a massive and interesting universe just begs for deeper examination and that is precisely what Green Lantern Emerald Knights delivers.

]]> Mon, 8 Aug 2011 04:15:03 +0000
<![CDATA[ Probably the best film Johnny Depp has been involved with since Sweeney Todd.]]>
When I first discovered that director Gore Verbinski was not going to continue his "Pirates of the Caribbean" saga to work on a new animated film called "Rango", I was a bit of a skeptic. And then, the film released, and I started hearing some good things about it; so I saw it. You can't tell much from trailers, but if you take a good luck as the ones for "Rango"; you'll notice that the animation alone may be enough reason for you to see it, especially if you're like me, and you absolutely love animated filmmaking.

I applaud the great minds involved in this film. They have made a great animated feature; braver, smarter, and far different from most animated films all-around. In my opinion, this is a classic; and I don't get to say that often. Heck, the last time I did was when I watched "The Illusionist", Sylvain Chomet's melancholy French animation about a fading magician in an evolving world. That was a wonderful film; although even as animation, it is much different than "Rango". This film doesn't have the emotional kick of Chomet's film, but it doesn't want to; it's a satire of Westerns. And as far as that goes, it's kind of brilliant.

This is the story of Rango (Johnny Depp); a house-pet/lizard who is some sort of dreamer. When we first meet him, he's setting up a cinematic-like scenario with a couple items. We learn that he is inside a tank; probably waiting for a "miracle" to happen. And one does. An armadillo (Alfred Molina) is hit by the car he is in; sending Rango flying into the air, into the road, and onto the windshield of Dr. Gonzo and Raoul Duke (in one of the best scenes EVER, as a reference to "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", which also starred Depp).

From there, Rango comes across an old Western town, which is being deprived of all its water. It is somewhat run by the mayor (Ned Beatty), who appoints Rango the sheriff position soon after he arrives in the town and shares his absurdly false stories. But as with all dreamers, Rango does indeed believe that he can be the person that he describes in each of his tales. Perhaps he can be. When the casual trouble-makers make their way to town, Rango puts it upon himself to drive them right back out. And when the water's source of disappearance, a family of moles somewhere far from home, is discovered; Rango is determined to get the town's aquatic beverage back.

Then comes the film's central villain; Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy), a mean, slender bastard whose relations with some of the townsfolk may be more sinister than initially thought. Rango must also defeat him, even if he has other things on his mind. I also forgot to mention the love interest of the character: Beans (Isla Fisher).

Verbinski's film loves Westerns as much as it loves cinema in general. I was consistently amused by the references to "Fear and Loathing", "Apocalypse Now", and the films of Sergio Leon, while I was watching the flick. These references, and the narrative style of "Rango", set it apart from most of the animated films of this year, or any other year. In the end, the film's nearly surrealistic qualities, and its absolutely stunning attention to detail in its animation, make it sort of beautiful. This is one of the best films of 2011, and yes, I know how alone I might be when I say that.

Johnny Depp brings a lot of his expected-quirkiness to the role of the titular character. The lizard himself reminds me a bit of Raoul Duke...without the cigarette always hanging from his mouth, without the same sort of hat on his bald head, and without his crazy addiction to mind-altering, potentially dangerous psychedelic drugs. If you can draw such connections, then you will know that "Rango" is not an animated feature for children. They may enjoy some of the jokes; but how many kids have seen half the movies the film is referencing? Some of the brighter ones, at best, might actually appreciate the film; as I did. This film is more than pure fun. It has characters worth caring about, direction (from Verbinski) that counts as some of his best in recent years, and I fell in love with the final product. The film is as hilarious as it is satirical; and as non-kid-friendly (sort of) as it is dark, witty, and appealing for cinephiles of all ages. This is a movie for movie-goers who want to think, and who want to appreciate. "Rango" is genius.]]> Mon, 1 Aug 2011 20:14:45 +0000
<![CDATA[ThunderCats (2011 Pilot Movie) Quick Tip by woopak_the_thrill]]>

This new ThunderCats reboot seemed more ambitious in developing complexities than the original series. I liked the way the TV pilot introduced and added twists to each character and the way Third Earth was fleshed out for the viewer. Making some intelligent changes and additions to make the characters connect with older viewers (makes sense since its original fanbase from before has also aged to maturity). The animation dispenses of the bright vibrant colors the original series had and instead goes dark to match the mood and tone of the storyline. Japanese animators take the stage for the fights, so expect something with the anime influence.

Not a bad beginning, and I may just follow the series now since the pilot movie (actually 2 episodes merged into one: “Sword of Omens” and “Spirits of Evil”) was interesting.

See Full Review Here.

]]> Sat, 30 Jul 2011 16:00:24 +0000
<![CDATA[ A Bit Curiously Thematic But Well Presented]]>

When one thinks about Pixar, the term failure is typically no part of the equation and indeed what the powerhouse pixel-pushing studio might consider a disappointment would have its hordes of imitators doing cartwheels in the streets.  Keeping that in mind, Cars 2 could very well be the first Pixar film to put such theories to the test.

Generally speaking the first Cars never fully overcame criticisms that individuals outside of car culture (a group that naturally includes the children for whom the film targeted) were oblivious to much of the film’s charm.  In that line of thinking, the sequel further isolates itself from mainstream animation audiences by continuing the tradition of references only a mechanic could fully appreciate but this time combining them with the international spy/ thriller genre.

This fact is no coincidence as the script was written by Ben Queen (the creator of Fox TV's "Drive") from an outline dreamed up by John Lasseter and Brad Lewis.  The scope of this one is immediately much larger; ditching the backwater-feel of Radiator Springs for International flavor and manages to poke fun of a whole lot of cultural stereotypes in the process.

The plot actually breaks down into two parallel story-threads, a spy drama and auto racing action.  The spy portion, believe it or not, centers on Tow Mater (again played flawlessly by Larry the Cable Guy) and involves the simple-minded tow truck’s clueless meandering leading to all sorts of secret agent misunderstandings.  In the mean time our hero Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) agrees to partake in a grueling championship, The World Grand Prix, in effort to silence boisterous Italian Formula One car Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro).

Like all Pixar efforts, there is some brilliance scattered throughout but it’s highly unlikely the intended audience is going to pick up on much of it.  For starters some of the spy angles reference spy films from the 1960s (spoofed to death by the likes of Mike Myers and the Austin Powers Franchise).  Adults old enough to recognize such bits will likely get a chuckle but expect these nuances to go largely unnoticed by the kids.  Additionally, some of the better dialog exchanges once again involve internal combustion engine references that, although accurate and quite clever to boot, will likely be lost upon the hordes of soccer moms forced to watch to placate the children.

Interestingly, the character roles have reversed this time around with Mater getting the lion’s share of the screen-time and McQueen serving as supporting cast.  For fans of Mater (a group that includes your author), this is a good thing.  However, proponents of the rusty truck may find themselves cringing at the overexposure and oftentimes annoying behavior.  McQueen actually becomes a bit more difficult to like as a result of this setup as he’s really presented as more someone who endures Mater’s presence rather than enjoys his friendship.

A few new characters are entered into the fold (aside from the aforementioned Italian F-1 car) including Finn McMissile; a British agent voiced by Michael Caine, Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer​) as Mater’s love interest and a new villain by the name of Professor Zündapp (Thomas Kretschmann​).

While Disney is typically cautious not to integrate political views into their pieces, there is a bit of fossil fuel reliance danger/ Big Oil propaganda to be found here.  Of course it could be argued that these are simply current global issues and hence integrated as a sign of the times.

The visuals are charming as ever with massive explosions, water effects, rich textures and so on.  Sounds are spectacular, on down to accurate engine roars amidst a pack of wide-open competition automobiles.  Pixar’s attention to detail is as impressive as ever and as expected, Michael Giacchino’s score is executed so perfectly as to be subliminal.

In all Cars 2 will likely manage to hold the attention of its intended audience as kids will clamor at the intense onscreen action and the sheer satisfaction of seeing their favorite personified automobiles in action again.  Fans of the first film will likely find more to appreciate including a global setting and anything but a rehash of the same plotline but it’s safe to say those moviegoers who were never quite enamored with the first film’s niche-laced charms should probably avoid looking to the sequel to change their opinion.

]]> Sat, 30 Jul 2011 09:05:26 +0000
<![CDATA[ The Quest For The Book of Omens is On!]]> Studio 4°C. This reboot promises new life to the 80’s characters as it introduces new twists and turns to the world of Third Earth and the Kingdom of Thundera. Premiering in a 60 minute pilot movie on Cartoon Network, my curiosity has been rewarded…

The citizens of Third Earth is being protected and ruled by the kingdom of Thundera with Claudius (voiced by Larry Kenney who used to voice Lion-O in the original series) as its king. Brothers Lion-O (Will Friedle) and Tygra (Matthew Mercer) are very close, and with Jaga (Corey Burton) advising them, the two manage to stand by each other even through their rivalries. But when Third Earth is attacked anew by the Lizard army and Thundera betrayed, the evil sorcerer Mumm-Ra (Robin Atkin Downes) once again risen to power, Lion-O is forced to flee with Cheetara (Emmanuel Chiriqui) and Tygra to recover the book of Omens that may lead them to victory…

My expectations for this pilot movie is extra low, as a debut in Cartoon Network usually means a series meant for kids and young adults. However, I did like the “Masters of the Universe” reboot and Cartoon Network was the home for the impressive Justice League animated series, so I was pleased to see that “ThunderCats” actually had ambition to improve on its established premise in the 80’s. The writing in the pilot took time to develop the mutant world of Thundera and to allow the viewer to really get into the depths of our characters.

I liked the way the script made Lion-O and Tygra brothers, this made their relationship much more stronger than in the TV series. Tygra is seen as the more smarter of the two when it came to skill and battle savvy, while Lion-O is the kind who looks for the best in anyone. Some may see him as a cock-eyed optimist, and this may be why he has been chosen to be the new heir to the kingdom. Jaga is the Yoda-like presence who leads the clerics; a group of speedsters with incredible skill in battle. Cheetara is sexier than ever and looks more warrior-like. Mumm-Ra is arguably more creepy than in the original series, the lizards led by Slythe (Dee Bradley Baker) looked considerably the same to their original incarnations. For a TV pilot, it takes a lot of time introducing characters as with Wily Kit and Wily Kat, thieves in the market places of Thundera. It also presents several welcome changes and surprises to the now-classic characters created by Tobin Wolf. (yeah, Snarff is still here)

ThunderCats Cheetara

What I also liked was the attempt of the writing to establish differences between the reptiles and the cats. The Cats rely more on magic, tradition and mysticism with the use of some medieval weapons, while the reptiles seemed to have adapted the use of science and technology. It was wise to inject a certain parallelism as well as differences to the way the two races go about their existences. One may say that despite the use of science, the reptiles have the hand of evil sorcery behind its power and gives the idea that magic is a science merely misunderstood, and the way to victory may well be to understand your enemy. I also liked the added developments given the sword of omens, it makes that mystical sword much more interesting than merely something that calls everyone to battle.

The animation is very nice and fluid; it carries strong influences of anime around it. The battles serves up enough PG violence as it could muster and I was happy to see that even for a Cartoon Network feature, it wasn’t afraid to go a little dark. Deaths and betrayal are rich in the world of Third Earth; I rather thought that it gave the premiere a little of the adult mood and tone. The pilot also has several invaluable moral messages to the young, as it sets a tone for understanding, to be open to new ideas and the commitment to peace.

“ThunderCats” may not be a perfect premiere movie and it is too soon to tell if the entirety of the series will be a success; but this pilot movie was enough to make me interested for the next episodes. I really am uncertain if I’ll follow the series, but I am sure that I’ll probably watch it when I am relaxing and there’s nothing else on. The new reboot had enough action and potential depths to its story, and I am interested as to how it will all turn out.

Recommended! [3 Out of 5 Stars]

]]> Sat, 30 Jul 2011 04:51:45 +0000
<![CDATA[Spider-Woman (1979 Cartoon Series) Quick Tip by woopak_the_thrill]]>  
Not quite a great series and has variations from the comic but easily enjoyed by a kid at the time. I’ve always seen Jessica as one of the sexiest super-heroines and I would like to see her portrayed in a big-budget live-action movie, but with H-wood’s track record lately, I do have reservations about it.
A series filled with more cheese and silliness, but sure is part of its charm.

]]> Thu, 28 Jul 2011 16:35:25 +0000
<![CDATA[ Reviewed: Cars 2 [2011]]]>  
Cars 2 picks up several years after the first with Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) ruling the Piston Cup. This leads him to be invited to the first World Grand Prix where he can pit himself against the best of the rest and in particular Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) the cocky Italian stallion F1 car. McQueen's crew led by Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) gather together and set out on the trip of a lifetime to Japan, Italy and England to fight for the right to be named the best in the world. While McQueen is off racing, Mater finds himself caught up in the secret world of government spies and espionage.

First off the graphics and world in which Pixar create is stunning with no little detail overlooked. Bringing some of the scenes into real world venues also helped to show off the talent of the people at Pixar. It was also interesting to see how cars go about your average human tasks such as flying on a plane and even going to the toilet with the phenomenal background detail dragging you into the film- plane pigeons were one of many nice touches. It sounds strange to say but at some points you almost forget you are watching cars.

The comedy level was good throughout and with a good (although somewhat predictable and disjointed) plot that hugged the Bond style template closely this has many things going for it. I don't think it's an out and out kids movie and would probably stick it in the young adult section but as with most Pixar, it transcends all the age boundaries.

The real problem I found with the film is that although the environment is great, it's quite hard for the graphics team to be overly expressive with the cars themselves which lead me to not connect with the characters as much as I would have liked. If you don't feel for the characters then the rest of the film starts to fall away beneath you. Also the plot is split into two separate stories so that at some points it feels like you are watching two movies rather than one.

Mater, while he worked well as a bit character in the original seems to be the main character for this which is a role less suited to him. He is a simple minded car who gets most of his laughs through slapstick which works well in small doses but not so much for the entire film. The lack of progression in character development from the first to this one also lets the film down with the lessons merely being relearned by the same characters again.
Out of all of Pixar's creations, I have always felt that the Cars franchise was the weakest of the group and Cars 2 has failed change my opinion. Yes the graphics are some of the best yet and the world is very immersive but as characters go something was lacking and the whole idea of the film didn't gel. Considering this is their 25th anniversary, I would have expected the cream of the crop but instead was only treated to a just above average performance. The graphics drag it into a higher rating.
Rating: B-

For further reviews feel free to check out: or follow this site on Twitter @ FAbFilms]]> Tue, 19 Jul 2011 12:54:38 +0000
<![CDATA[ Dizzying Action]]>
Basically, a bunch of lemons take ownership of a secret oil reserves in the ocean--and they want revenge on the "pretty" cars that never break down.

It's a weak premise, and lacks the heart of the original Cars.

I didn't care about any of the new characters, which are basically James Bond-type spies. Sure, there's some amusing moments and brief visits with the original cast members (Lizzie, Sarge, Red, Fillmore, etc.), but they are VERY small portions of the movie.

There is TONS of action in Cars 2--too much, really. It made me dizzy. Lots of gunfire and explosions, which is why it's rated PG. It felt like a movie made for young boys...and the Dads that would take them to see it.

My son enjoyed it, but he loves all Pixar movies. My husband and I weren't very impressed with this one. Even the "short" at the begining (a Toy Story short I can't even remember) was...well, forgettable.

If you like car chases, spy stuff and tons of explosions, you may like this movie. If you're expecting the relaxed pace and heart of the first Cars, you'll be very disappointed.

You're better off waiting for this movie to come out on DVD as a renter, rather than spend the $ seeing in the theaters or buying the DVD without first viewing Cars 2.

-- Janet Boyer, author of Back in Time Tarot]]> Wed, 6 Jul 2011 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Not Everything is Right Under the Hood]]>
Imagine, if you will, that an Indiana Jones movie came out and the sidekick in said film was the most important character within the film.  This is essentially what you get from Cars 2.  A film in which the sidekick character takes over the spotlight.  The first film was largely about Lightning McQueen as he finds himself in unfamiliar territory.  That is, Radiator Springs where he has to adapt to life there and come to care about others besides himself.  It made the film's story simple, yet fun.  Something that the audience was very easily able to connect with.  Story was the name of the game with the original Cars.  And it was brought to life with great characters.

Cars 2, however, sees Lightning McQueen as a background character whose only real job in the movie is to exist and remind us that the story was once about him.  The character who becomes the main guy here?  Mater.  And while Mater is not the worst of characters, he is not by any means interesting enough to carry an entire film.  The decision seems to be from the fact that Mater was one of the most popular characters from the original film.  Sure enough, he was funny there, but he was mostly used as comic relief.  Here, Mater is out of place as the main guy because he was only good for comic relief.  It's hard to watch a movie about the bumbling idiot sidekick.  The other characters?  Largely pushed into the background just like McQueen.  The denizens of Radiator Springs show up (at some point) but they all feel like afterthoughts.  The film is almost devoid of character as Mater is the only one who seems to be of any importance.

The main plot of the film is arguably just as shallow.  Mater gets involved with a secret agent named Finn McMissile and his partner Holly Shiftwell who are trying their hardest to stop a bunch of lemon cars from sabotaging the Grand Prix by using a camera that causes cars to wreck (and can outright blow them up at full blast).  This goes in a very far direction from the previous film which was much more about the characters.  The plot here seems interesting from first glance as it takes on the espionage role to get things going, but before long it's unamusing because Mater is the absolute wrong character for the job.  

There is a Simpson's episode out there called "Homer Defined."  In the episode there is a running joke about how Homer thinks that when they look up a certain word in the dictionary there will be a picture of him.  He saves the day by stopping a meltdown at the Nuclear Power Plant.  He is hailed as a hero for his deeds until they all discover that Homer is just a moron who succeeded by pure luck alone.  The episode ends with several characters saying, "Looks like I pulled a Homer."  We are then shown that the definition of pulling a Homer is "To succeed despite idiocy."  Mater does this constantly throughout the film.  The problem is, no other character seems to play any integral role to Mater's success.  Part of what made Lightning McQueen's transformation as a character so amusing was that it wasn't JUST Lightning McQueen you were supposed to be paying attention to.  While Finn McMissile and Holly Shiftwell get some attention, the movie is very forward about letting you know it's Mater's show.  Lightning McQueen in particular is heavily downgraded.  We get bits and flashes of him in the races and interacting with a character named Francesco, but for the most part nothing Lightning McQueen does is of any real importance.  He is the character that plows through the plot completely oblivious to the danger he is in... and when he finally does come to the realization of the danger he's in he becomes a tacked on character to Mater.  The final moments in particular are a little too bizarre.  Mater running amok in England with Lightning McQueen mostly attached to him feels like Cars 2 is trying way too hard to be exciting.

There is little here for adults to really grasp onto.  In the past Pixar films have been a family affair where there are usually characters charming and likable enough to appeal to the adults as well.  Characters such as Woody and Buzz or Wall-E, or Remmy were amusing in and of themselves.  Cars 2 abandons all semblance of charm here.  It's hard to connect with the characters but it's even harder for adults to be given much of a reason to be sitting in the theater watching as a result.  And even then there are moments that are a little dark for a G-Rated film.  There are moments where characters are beaten senseless (with dents serving as bruises) and other moments where characters are cornered only for them to draw guns and get into fire fights.  There is even a moment where car explodes... through being tortured. 

Throughout all these moments there is nothing heartwarming about it.  And the sad part is that heartwarming moments is usually what Pixar does best.  Weren't we all a little hurt when hearing how Jessie was abandoned in Toy Story 2?  Didn't we all think Wall-E emoted a lot of cute innocence?  And how about the first ten minutes of Up?  Or even the whole second half of Toy Story 3?  If there is one thing Pixar has been consistently good at it is getting our emotions going.  Whether it's sadness (Toy Story 2) a strange sense of joy (Wall-E) or delight (Ratatouille), Pixar has always been able to do SOMETHING to get our emotions going.  Cars 2 is completely devoid of this.  There just isn't any heart.  When we see racers wiping out or even the one car that is literally tortured to death we've never been given much of a reason to care in the first place. 

That's not to say everything about Cars 2 is bad.  It's just to say that Pixar goes way too far in the opposite direction.  There are some fun moments such as watching Finn McMissle infiltrate the hideout of the bad guys at the beginning of the film (and watching his escape moments later) as well as watching Mater at the start where he provides some comedic antics.  It is the second half mostly where the majority of these problems comes to fruition.  Mater can't carry a movie all on his own, and it was certainly a mistake to make him the soul carrier of the comedy as well.  Most any moment without Mater features no particular comedic moments that really stand out.  Although Mater provides some comedic essence, the humor from him comes a little too heavy handed that his jokes get rather boring.  We already understand that Mater isn't the smartest guy out there.  There is no reason why some of the comedic love could be shared among the films other characters.  The other moments of comedy outside Mater are mostly concerning Lightning McQueen's rival, Francesco, but the joke becomes repetitive and drawn out after a time.

There is some fun to be had with Cars 2 but from Pixar one expects a bit more in the storytelling department..  It just doesn't have much of the charm of the first one.  It abandons the storytelling of the original film (there is a fine line between story and plot--most Pixar aren't exactly that plot centric as they are story centric) in favor of a bizarre espionage adventure.  The action sequences are fun and entertaining.  It's when you get down to the real substance of the matter that Cars 2 isn't as fun as the first.  The characters are empty this time around and Lightning McQueen was pushed aside in favor of Mater who, while good at providing some comic relief, just isn't a strong enough or interesting enough character to carry a movie on his own. 

Cars 2 is an okay movie.  If it had a little more heart and focus on the characters then it would be easy to sit back and enjoy it.  Instead it pushes much of it's cast into the background and puts Mater front and center.  Mater being the main character might've been fine if Cars 2 wasn't so persistent in trying to downlplay every other character.  For those who enjoyed the first Cars movie, it's going to be hard to recommend.  A lot of the familiarity that made the first one so much fun isn't there.  The movie has got a good coat of paint, but unfortunately something isn't right with the engine.]]> Tue, 28 Jun 2011 08:26:36 +0000
<![CDATA[ A Cynical Clunker]]>
The hero of the first “Cars” film, a race car voiced by Owen Wilson, returns to Radiator Springs to spend some time with his best friend Mater, aka Larry the Cable Guy. If there’s any time left over, he might take his sweetheart out to dinner. But before he’s in town for a day, an Italian race car challenges him, and Cable Guy signs him up for a series of races that take place in various exotic locations around the world. So we’re off to the races, where Cable Guy(seriously, doesn’t this guy have a real last name?) can engage in a series of fish-out-of-water comedy gags, mess things up for Wilson, and get himself embroiled with a couple of James Bond-ish spies (Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer) who are chasing a ring of Hugos and Gremlins who are trying to take over the world or something.

So basically, “Cars 2″ is a mashup of “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo” and “The Man Who Knew Too Little.” The plot devices at work here are rustier than Mater’s fenders. The mistaken identity spy plot is particularly tiresome; Cable Guy (ok, I just looked up his real name; it’s Daniel Lawrence Whitney. From here on out, I’ll refer to Larry the Cable Guy as Whitney) manages to accidentally hear just the right things to believe he’s getting involved in something quite innocent, then, once he’s in too deep, say just the right things to convince Caine and Mortimer that he’s acutally a spy cleverly disguised as an idiot tow truck. The fish-out-of-water stuff occasionally plays better. For every lame joke that has Whitney mistaking wasabi for pistachio ice cream (and by the way, how is it that a tow truck can even eat wasabi or pistachio ice cream? So much of this movie concerns itself with engine models, spare parts and fuel types, where does the ice cream fit, exactly?) there’s a clever joke about Whitney trying to use a Japanese bathroom.

Read the full review here. ]]> Sun, 26 Jun 2011 17:09:57 +0000
<![CDATA[ It's No Lemon, but it Could Use a Tune-Up]]> Star Rating:

It seems inconceivable, but for the first time, the Disney/Pixar team has made a movie that misses the mark. I never thought I’d be writing these words. For sixteen years now, they’ve produced nothing but quality entertainment, and that’s not the kind of track record you come across every day. The Toy Story films were bright, imaginative, and fun. A Bug’s Life was cute and colorful. The Incredibles was energetic and engaging. Finding Nemo was heartfelt and beautifully rendered. WALL-E and Up were masterpieces that redefined the standard for animated films. Now we have Cars 2, which is serviceable at best as a generic 3D cartoon comedy. It’s saturated with vivid colors, it tells a lot of family-friendly jokes, and the action sequences are plentiful, but it’s all superficial. Unlike the previous films, this one lacks heart.
The original Cars was a charming film, mostly in the way it anthropomorphized automobiles and other vehicles. In this alternate universe, human beings didn’t exist. Neither did insects; one of my favorite shots in the first film revealed them to be tiny Volkswagen Beetles with wings. That same sense of playfulness is present in Cars 2. The issue is that it’s at the mercy of a plot which is little more than James Bond movie crossed with an extended installment of Mater’s Tall Tales, a series of shorts you could sometimes see in theaters and on The Disney Channel. Since the events of the first film, sports car Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) has won the coveted Piston Cup, a racing award, four times in a row. Upon returning to the quaint desert community of Radiator Springs, he reunites with his best friend, the tow truck Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy).

An announcement is made for the first ever World Grand Prix. The favorite to win is an Italian F1 racecar named Francesco Bernoulli (voiced by John Turturro), who boasts nonstop about how much faster he is than McQueen. This, coupled with Mater’s enthusiasm, prompts McQueen to take part in the Grand Prix; in no time, they’re both cruising down the neon-drenched streets of Tokyo, where the first of the races will take place. It’s here that McQueen begins to feel embarrassed by Mater, who’s just too ... American. It’s also here that Mater is mistaken as a spy and drawn into a covert mission. Here enters Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (voiced by Emily Mortimer), British secret agents; they’re tracking the whereabouts of the evil Professor Zündapp (voiced by Thomas Kretschmann), who’s taking orders from an unknown operative hell bent on automotive duds such as Gremlins and Yugos reigning supreme.
Somehow connected to this dastardly plot is an oil tycoon named Miles Axlerod (voiced by Eddie Izzard), who’s not only sponsoring the World Grand Prix but is also promoting a new form of renewable fuel. The potential for topical humor was not taken as far as it could have gone, which is puzzling given how successful WALL-E was at sending a message about waste management, recycling, and a healthy lifestyle. The only real message one can derive from Cars 2 is that of friendship, which is nice, if monumentally derivative. All that’s left are spectacularly renders views of Tokyo, Italy, and London, and frenetic action sequences involving either racing or fantasy spy gadgets. The action is competent, although it’s hard to really appreciate it since car chases can so easily be created in a computer. Can you say the same thing about a live action car chase?

To be fair, there are many individual moments that are pleasant and funny. There’s a hilarious moment, for example, in which Mater finds himself in a Tokyo bathroom and is gob smacked by the sophisticated Japanese toilets (or, more accurately, the automotive equivalent of toilets, which are really just mechanics’ garages crossed with car washes); he watches a puffy-eyed cartoon on a TV monitor giggle with glee as it demonstrates the use of a bidet. And there are loving references to James Bond with the design of McMissile, inspired by the Aston Martin DB5; he’s equipped with all manner of spy gear, from missiles in his exhaust pipe to bombs in his hubcaps to tether lines in his undercarriage. He can even morph himself into a boat and a submarine.
What’s disappointing is that all the technical efforts were applied to a story that anyone can tell. This film could have been an animated spy comedy with human characters, and it would have had more or less the same effect – minus, of course, the tiresome practice of turning names into automotive puns. It might have even worked as a live action film, although the 3D would have been less effective. Not that it was all that effective in this case. A dream sequence is the only instance in which the process added something extra; the action scenes were a series of quick cuts, so when any close images zooms through the shot, all we see is a blur of motion. Because of Pixar’s track record, I’m confident that Cars 2 is not the beginning of a trend but merely a slight misstep. I anxiously await their next release.

                                               ]]> Sat, 25 Jun 2011 06:23:08 +0000
<![CDATA[ Ka-Chao!!!!! (Cue James Bond Music...And Turn On "Blinkers"!)]]> Toy Story 3” when “The Incredibles” (my second favorite Pixar movie next to “Ratatouille”) was just screaming for an expansion-sequel of its premise. I guess Pixar wanted to add more ‘zest’ on “Cars’” fanciful formula and while I wasn’t expecting much from its sequel, I thought “Cars 2” was just another formula movie built around a spy-buddy comedy. While it doesn’t have the ’heart’ of other Pixar offerings, I thought it was entertaining in its own right. Sometimes, we need a movie that we don’t need to think too much about, and “Cars 2” is a fulfillment of this need.

Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is now the grand winner of 4 Piston Cup trophies, and things are right in his world. His mentor the Hudson Hornet may not be around anymore, but he is dating Sally (Bonnie Hunt), and has a great relationship with his best friend, Mater (Larry the cable guy). After Lightning gets challenged to compete in the first Grand Prix race, a race that extends from Tokyo to Italy and then London, by Francesco (John Turturro), he brings Mater along to witness the racing circuit. But things are happening behind the sidelines as Mater gets sucked into international espionage by Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine) and Holly (Emily Mortimer) who are investigating the schemes and plans of defective automobiles to manipulate global interests that can affect the world they live in. Mater must do what he can to help foil the plans linked to the plans for alternative fuel by Sir Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard)…

                              Finn McMissile in ``Cars 2.''

                             Finn McMissile voiced by Michael Caine and Crabby voiced by Sig Hansen in "Cars 2."

                             Acer voiced by Peter Jacobson and Grem voiced by Joe Mantegna in "Cars 2."

                             Grem and Professor Z in ``Cars 2.''

“Cars 2” is a buddy movie at heart (man, seems like most comedies are buddy flicks these days). Much of the film deals with the relationship between McQueen and Mater, with Mater taking the spotlight this time around. The film has several invaluable kid friendly lessons about friendship and how one needs to be respected for whatever they are. One may have some issues in personality, but everyone needs to be respected for who they are. Friends need to accept and love each other for what they are, and the morale messages are all a little more subtle as the film focuses more on slapstick comedy and action to keep its pace moving. The film is louder and more violent than other Pixar movies, and it has a different approach to the way it plays out its screenplay.

I am not complaining, I liked what I saw with “Cars 2” but I have to admit it loses a lot of the spirit that we have all been familiar with this type of movies from Pixar. I thought the film was pretty creative, I loved the way it incorporated real world practices and habits into the scenes of Tokyo, Italy and London. I loved the sumo wrestlers, the siesta machines and the way cars have bar fights. The visuals and background designs are just imaginative and looked real impressive in the film; Pixar is one of the leaders in CGI animation and this movie is another such proof why they are one of the leaders of such technology. The world of “Cars” is made into a character in the film as we take a look into international espionage; there are good guys and there are bad guys and “Cars 2” sidesteps all the groundwork established in the first movie. Sure, there is the usual racing theme here, but this film is more about Mater and how he finds himself.

                         Holley Shiftwell in ``Cars 2.''

                         A scene from "Cars 2"

                         Lightning McQueen in ``Cars 2.''

I guess while I enjoyed this film, the direction by John Lasseter and Brad Lewis was a little clamorous this time around in an attempt to liven up its premise. It focuses more on slapstick and comedic dialogue to keep the film moving. The film takes more of an action movie angle and we all know how those always play out. “Cars 2” is noisy and a little louder in mood and tone; I liked it, but the film already has such a cartoonish premise so I wondered why it would abandon the drama and human qualities that made the original unique? Again, I was entertained with “Cars 2” but I think in focusing on references and the staplings of a spy comedy, the film becomes another one of those movies that uses homage and tributes to make itself smart and entertaining. Nods to several James Bond movies are rich in the film; from “Dr. No“, to “Goldfinger” to “Spy who Loved Me”, even Finn McMissile is a homage to a certain 007 spy car. The Nascar vs. Formula One driver seemed to have been inspired by "Talladega Nights: Ballad of Ricky Bobby". Not really sure how everyone feels about this, but I thought in making it accessible and easy to watch, "Cars 2" lost a lot of ambition in its storytelling.

As with other Pixar movies, something comes in the way of a friendship and Mater and McQueen have a little falling out and then they re-connect much stronger later on. Pretty standard fare and I guess it couldn’t feel any more clichéd than this. It feels rather too mechanical the way things happened and the film loses some of its heart halfway into the movie. There is also some commentary about the environment as the fight between big oil companies and of alternative fuel are touched upon, but they were a little too rushed and seemed lethargic with its execution into the screenplay. The emotional points of the film failed to be convincing as the devices used to express the drama felt a little stereotypical. While I liked Mater, he is just too simple a character to be allowed to carry much of the heavy-lifting and given the central stage. New characters are given low development and older ones are taken to the side, it is a simple interaction and reward kind of scripting here in the film, it does work in several areas and it is funny, but I think the Mater "idea" was a little overplayed in “Cars 2”.

                           Siddeley voiced by Jason Isaacs in "Cars 2."

                          A scene from "Cars 2."

                          Miguel Camino and Raoul CaRoule in "Cars 2."

                          The Queen and Prince Wheeliam in "Cars 2."

Not to say that the film wasn’t fun to watch, because it certain was. It did fell too much into the jaws of formula filmmaking, but I cannot say that “Cars 2” wasn’t entertaining. It is a kid-flick after all, and sometimes these little youngsters need something more upbeat and little to think about. The original “Cars” wasn’t that deep nor was it that inventive in terms of story, but it never failed to have a heart and had the right mindset and style to incorporate the morale messages through its cartoonish visuals. “Cars 2” is a formula film built on an actioner and a buddy flick; not necessarily a bad thing since it is very entertaining, but it certainly didn’t do anything special in terms of screen writing.

Funny how people are almost always saying that “Dreamworks” animation studios is the 'poor man's Pixar" and that they are trying to be like Pixar with “How To Train Your Dragon” and “Kung Fu Panda 2”; but with “Cars 2”, it feels more like something Dreamworks would do. It isn’t a bad thing, since this type of movies are very accessible and easy to like; it all depends on what you are looking for in an animated movie.

Recommended! [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
Note: No Need to See This in 3D.

Poster art for "Cars 2."  Poster art for "Cars 2"

 ]]> Fri, 24 Jun 2011 21:57:15 +0000
<![CDATA[ Vroom Vroom!]]> Written by Ben Queen
Directed by John Lasseter
Voices by Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Emily Mortimer and Michael Caine
Luigi: No fight more important than friendship.
CARS 2 marks the first time where I could not care less about a Pixar release. I didn’t buy the world made up entirely of cars in the first instalment and thought the idea of a race-car learning to slow down in life to be pretty dull. Getting behind the wheel again was the last thing I wanted to do but I’m sure glad I did. CARS 2 is a ton more fun than its predecessor, as it follows the best thing about the first film, tow-truck, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), through a mistaken identity spy caper. It never reaches the true greatness that most Pixar pictures achieve but by sp,eeding up the action, Pixar revs up for some much-needed excitement for these former clunkers.
Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is once again racing to prove something in CARS 2, in this case to prove his virility and quiet the taunts of another racer, Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro). In a bold move on Pixar’s part though, McQueen’s brilliantly animated race around the world is downgraded to a secondary plot for the sequel. This allows us to tag along with Mater as he joins forces with Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) to take down a bunch of lemon cars determined to dissuade the world from using new forms of fuel. The lemons are in possession of an untapped oil reserve so alternative energy is their nemesis.  All the while, Mater and McQueen’s friendship is tested when McQueen is embarrassed by Mater’s naïve antics. This in turn forces Mater to pop his own hood and look inside so that he can learn to love his own make and model. Good thing too because nobody likes an insecure car.
In many ways, director, John Lasseter (who directed the first CARS and the first two TOY STORY films) has dumbed down the CARS 2 to make it even more accessible. It is completely ludicrous when you piece the plot together but its simplicity allows for a more enjoyable time that I’m certain will get little boys everywhere clamouring for more car toys, especially now that the cars come with guns and missiles attached to them. That said, this is a movie populated with talking machinery so I’m not sure whether ridiculousness should even be a consideration here. As gimmicky and forced as the spy adventure spin is, it adds some serious traction to this budding franchise that should surely carry it safely over the finish line in first place.]]> Fri, 24 Jun 2011 12:32:58 +0000
<![CDATA[ 'Cars 2' 'Two Jews On Film' Celebrate Their 100th Review With Pixar's Newest (Video)]]>

'Cars 2 is the new 3D wonder from director John Lasseter.  John and his crew at Pixar have once again proven why they are the best at what they do.

To really enjoy this film, you have to put aside any ideas that cars can't talk, can't have friends and girlfriends, can't experience human emotions and can't be killer spies.  (Something the other half of Two Jews On Film, John my husband, wasn't able to do).

Anyway, the story goes like this...Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is the snazzy, red, highly acclaimed racing car.  After winning four Piston cups, Lightning is finally back home in Radiator Springs and all he wants to do is spend time with his girlfriend Sally, (Bonnie Hunt) a super hot, baby-blue, Porsche 911 Carrera and hang with his best friend Mater (Larry The Cable Guy).

For those of you who haven't seen the first 'Cars', Mater is a rusted, dented, buck tooth, Tow Truck and owner of Tow Mater Towing and Salvage.  Mater is down home country...naive, sweet and totally unassuming.  He would do anything for Lightning...and he does.

Lightning's vacation is shortlived, when the cocky, lime green, Italian Racing Champ, Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) challenges him to a compete in the first-ever World Grand Prix...a race created to determine the world's fastest car and one that takes place in several countries...Tokyo, Paris, the Italian Riviera and London.

Mater tags along, gets mistaken for an undercover American agent by two British spies working in the field...Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell, (Emily Mortimer). And that's when the fun really kicks into high gear. 

Former oil baron, turned electric car (Eddie Izzard) has created an organic fuel.  Unfortunately, the cars that use this fuel, are exploding.  Not a good thing.  Is there some sinister force behind all this? Well, you're just going to have to see 'Cars 2' to find out.

Besides having great action, beautiful scenery, and adrenalin charged chase sequences, Pixar's design team has come up with brilliant, innovative ideas.  They've managed the car-ification of some of Europe's most familiar landmarks...

For example...London's Big Ben is now called Big Bentley...St. Paul's Cathedral is shaped like a car's differential gear casing and the top of the Eiffel Tower, is in the shape of a 1930's European spark plug.  There are even Geisha cars in Tokyo as well as talking airplanes and ships. 

The film also has great messages for kids...the value of friendship, overcoming your fears and being comfortable in your own skin.

The actors that provide the voices for the cars, boats, and planes are absolutely wonderful. Some of the standouts are... Thomas Kretschmann, Joe Mantegna, Eddie Izzard, Jeff Garlin, Tony Shaloub, Cheech Marin, and Vanessa Redgrave as the Queen of England.

This is our 100th review and I'm so happy that I get to review a film that is more than worthy of my 5 bagel rating. 'Cars 2' opens in theaters Friday, June 24, 2011. 

By Joan Alperin Schwartz]]> Thu, 23 Jun 2011 01:49:28 +0000
<![CDATA[ Reviewed: Kung Fu Panda 2 [2011]]]>
PG - 90mins - Animation/Action/Adventure - 10th June 2011

Po (Jack Black) returns in another kung fu animation adventure which sees our ever hungry panda face up to a new and devastating threat in the form of angry albino peacock (Gary Oldman) Lord Shen. Having been cast out by his parents years before for his atrocities, Shen has been biding his time returning with a new technology that threatens to enable him to conquer China.

Po is joined once again with the Furious Five as well as a few new characters to try and save not only the local people but also the very fabric of kung fu and all that it stands for. Aside all of this, we also learn about the childhood of Po and how he came to be at the doorstep of Mr. Ping (James Hong) and his noodle restaurant.
This film definitely takes on a darker feel when compared to the first and will surely give the younger kids in the audience something to keep them awake at night. It also has more packed into its story with extra depth and variety than the first did not necessarily have ie. lineage and upbringing and the effect that has on us as adults.
The animation is fantastic and despite not hitting the heights of a Pixar movie is up there with some of the best that I have seen to date. My favourite scenes are the fighting scenes in particular one where they are assaulting Shen's stronghold. The combination of action with the impressive visuals drags you right into the fight alongside the characters.

Po can get a bit annoying/repetitive at some points as the Jack Black from within is released and a torrent of 'awesome' and similar such catchphrases are rattled off one after the other but this did seem to be toned down slightly from his usual self so I began to think of Po as Po rather than Black in a panda costume.

I think this is a case of the sequel running the original very close and I would be hard pushed to say which one I preferred. Whereas the first was original and purely a kids flick this builds strongly on the first opening it to a wider audience with more of a slapstick feel to it which has me just siding with this one as the better of the two. Why don't you make up your own minds as it's definitely worth a watch on the big screen.
Rating: 7.2/10
For further reviews feel free to check out: or follow this site on Twitter @ FAbFilms
]]> Tue, 14 Jun 2011 11:44:35 +0000
<![CDATA[ A Tale of The Green Lantern Corps Before the Coming Big Budget Film...HYPE ON!!]]> Green Lantern” film that is to be released in theaters this month, it is to be expected that Warner would release an animated film to give fans and potential new fans something to keep them occupied until its nationwide release. “Green Lantern Emerald Knights” is an anthology of sorts that takes the spotlight away from Hal Jordan and instead gives some background to the “Green Lantern Corps” which was formed by the Guardians of the Universe. The film explores some of the Corps’ history and carries references to certain “Green Lantern” comic book continuity and even a small reference to the 80‘s “Crisis On Infinite Earths“. This film does not seem related to “Green Lantern First Flight” at all. (if it was, then there would be a serious continuity issue)

The film is made up of 5 stories total and with a sixth making up its core premise. Krona is the renegade guardian who has been obsessed in finding the secret of the universe. In this goal, he has amassed the destructive force of anti-matter and of the shadow beings through the sun of the planet Oa, that can annihilate living beings. Responding to this emergency, Sinestro (Jason Isaacs), Kilowog (Henry Rollins), Laira (Kelly Hu) and the first human to become a Green Lantern, Hal Jordan (Nathan Fillion) along with a trainee, Arisia (Elizabeth Moss) joins the entire GL Corp to prepare a counter attack. During the preparations for final battle, Hal and Sinestro share the history of the Corp and what it means to be a “green Lantern” to Arisia….but is this the final battle for the emerald warriors?


Honestly, I wasn’t very enthusiastic with this new film directed by Lauren Montgomery given that I wasn’t exactly impressed with “Green Lantern First Flight” and I do feel that often ‘anthologies’ usually never work and they seem like a money grab. But hey, I have to say, I liked what I saw with “Emerald Knights”; it had enough comic book references to satisfy the comic fan and the focused execution of the direction made “Emerald Knights” an entertaining watch. The set designs and the sinister-looking villains made it stand out from other DCU animated films, as they incorporated a certain ‘characteristic’ and personality that made them unique. The film also keeps a balance between fast-paced action and its plot developments (however it feels a little shaky at times). Montgomery gets our attention by showing a corps member struggle with the shadow beings, then we get to see the tales of the Green Lantern Corps.

In a way, this is a film that may prove to be a good companion piece to 2011’s “Green Lantern” (as it was also produced by the upcoming live-action film), it makes a connection to fans and a credible introduction to new fans. I’ve read so many Green Lantern comics that it is always nice to see familiar faces such as Tomar-Re, Laira, Sinestro, Laira and Kilowog take center stage in the film. Comic book references are made with the “Book of Oa”, the mention of the coming “Blackest Night” and the “Sinestro Corps“, the dominators and the khunds, and Atrocitus who also makes an appearance. The stories about the history of the corps are made up of themes that define the meaning of being a corp member and they may also define the origin of the oath the corps say when they charge their rings.


Laira’s tale has a strong theme of justice over family, the story “Mogo doesn’t socialize” is a story about the power of diversity, the tale with Abin Sur called “Tygers” is all about destiny, “New Blood” with Kilowog has a theme of life as a corp member and the “First Lantern” is the tale that defines the meaning of creativity and the limits of willpower. There are a lot to be taken in as the film is rich with morale messages that somehow defines the Green Lantern oath in a subtle yet powerful way. I liked the way that the direction gave each central character their moment to shine and how none of the major ones got lost in the shuffle. True, with different thematic stories, the risk of one overshadowing the other is great, and it is still true to “Emerald Knights”. While I liked the stories, they really didn’t offer that many surprises and the quality of the tales vary from each. I feel that the story of Mogo was too predictable and Abin Sur’s felt rather incomplete; not that they’re lacking, but Kilowog as a poozer and Laira’s struggle with her father were just more compelling. I also loved the way the first lantern story took shape as it also reminded me of Kyle Rayner. (Hal may be hot stuff but Kyle also made his mark as one of the best corp members)




As for the ring-slinging battles, they were a lot more creative than in “First Flight”. The direction took advantage of the fact that this is a cosmos-spanning adventure by displaying a lot of ring-slinging huge battles. The way the rings were utilized were more creative this time around. I mean, the rings meant willpower and the script did define the power of will. In “First Flight” most of the battles were power blasts and energy manipulation. This time, they had the use of creative constructs that define the user’s creative will. I do have also have one other complaint, the animation work feels a little uneven; the Laira and Kilowog stories looks a little like anime, while the other stories are a little shaky in the fluidity of the animated movements. Much as I liked the stories, some scenes also felt like minor ‘fillers’ and they rendered the pacing a tad uneven. I also felt like while the pseudo-religious and philosophical themes were there, they didn’t help in defining its main premise.


Yes, I did like “Emerald Knights” though I didn‘t feel completely invested in it. I thought it was quite a satisfying “Green Lantern Corp” tale that gave fans things to be happy about and makes it accessible for casual fans. Admittedly, the film would easily be appreciated by the comic book fan like myself and even those who think they are comic book fans. True, some elements may make the Green Lantern greenhorn a little lost, but there is enough fantastical elements to keep everyone occupied. “Emerald Knights” may not be the definitive Green Lantern animated flick but it does help whet the appetite for Ryan Reynolds (I easily saw that he is miscast, but this opinion is based on the trailers for now ) portrayal as the metro-sexual looking Green Lantern.

Recommended! [4- Out of 5 Stars]


 ]]> Thu, 9 Jun 2011 03:11:56 +0000
<![CDATA[ A Tale of The Green Lantern Corps Before the Coming Big Budget Film...HYPE ON!!]]> Green Lantern” film that is to be released in theaters this month, it is to be expected that Warner would release an animated film to give fans and potential new fans something to keep them occupied until its nationwide release. “Green Lantern Emerald Knights” is an anthology of sorts that takes the spotlight away from Hal Jordan and instead gives some background to the “Green Lantern Corps” which was formed by the Guardians of the Universe. The film explores some of the Corps’ history and carries references to certain “Green Lantern” comic book continuity and even a small reference to the 80‘s “Crisis On Infinite Earths“. This film does not seem related to “Green Lantern First Flight” at all. (if it was, then there would be a serious continuity issue)

The film is made up of 5 stories total and with a sixth making up its core premise. Krona is the renegade guardian who has been obsessed in finding the secret of the universe. In this goal, he has amassed the destructive force of anti-matter and of the shadow beings through the sun of the planet Oa, that can annihilate living beings. Responding to this emergency, Sinestro (Jason Isaacs), Kilowog (Henry Rollins), Laira (Kelly Hu) and the first human to become a Green Lantern, Hal Jordan (Nathan Fillion) along with a trainee, Arisia (Elizabeth Moss) joins the entire GL Corp to prepare a counter attack. During the preparations for final battle, Hal and Sinestro share the history of the Corp and what it means to be a “green Lantern” to Arisia….but is this the final battle for the emerald warriors?


Honestly, I wasn’t very enthusiastic with this new film directed by Lauren Montgomery given that I wasn’t exactly impressed with “Green Lantern First Flight” and I do feel that often ‘anthologies’ usually never work and they seem like a money grab. But hey, I have to say, I liked what I saw with “Emerald Knights”; it had enough comic book references to satisfy the comic fan and the focused execution of the direction made “Emerald Knights” an entertaining watch. The set designs and the sinister-looking villains made it stand out from other DCU animated films, as they incorporated a certain ‘characteristic’ and personality that made them unique. The film also keeps a balance between fast-paced action and its plot developments (however it feels a little shaky at times). Montgomery gets our attention by showing a corps member struggle with the shadow beings, then we get to see the tales of the Green Lantern Corps.

In a way, this is a film that may prove to be a good companion piece to 2011’s “Green Lantern” (as it was also produced by the upcoming live-action film), it makes a connection to fans and a credible introduction to new fans. I’ve read so many Green Lantern comics that it is always nice to see familiar faces such as Tomar-Re, Laira, Sinestro, Laira and Kilowog take center stage in the film. Comic book references are made with the “Book of Oa”, the mention of the coming “Blackest Night” and the “Sinestro Corps“, the dominators and the khunds, and Atrocitus who also makes an appearance. The stories about the history of the corps are made up of themes that define the meaning of being a corp member and they may also define the origin of the oath the corps say when they charge their rings.


Laira’s tale has a strong theme of justice over family, the story “Mogo doesn’t socialize” is a story about the power of diversity, the tale with Abin Sur called “Tygers” is all about destiny, “New Blood” with Kilowog has a theme of life as a corp member and the “First Lantern” is the tale that defines the meaning of creativity and the limits of willpower. There are a lot to be taken in as the film is rich with morale messages that somehow defines the Green Lantern oath in a subtle yet powerful way. I liked the way that the direction gave each central character their moment to shine and how none of the major ones got lost in the shuffle. True, with different thematic stories, the risk of one overshadowing the other is great, and it is still true to “Emerald Knights”. While I liked the stories, they really didn’t offer that many surprises and the quality of the tales vary from each. I feel that the story of Mogo was too predictable and Abin Sur’s felt rather incomplete; not that they’re lacking, but Kilowog as a poozer and Laira’s struggle with her father were just more compelling. I also loved the way the first lantern story took shape as it also reminded me of Kyle Rayner. (Hal may be hot stuff but Kyle also made his mark as one of the best corp members)




As for the ring-slinging battles, they were a lot more creative than in “First Flight”. The direction took advantage of the fact that this is a cosmos-spanning adventure by displaying a lot of ring-slinging huge battles. The way the rings were utilized were more creative this time around. I mean, the rings meant willpower and the script did define the power of will. In “First Flight” most of the battles were power blasts and energy manipulation. This time, they had the use of creative constructs that define the user’s creative will. I do have also have one other complaint, the animation work feels a little uneven; the Laira and Kilowog stories looks a little like anime, while the other stories are a little shaky in the fluidity of the animated movements. Much as I liked the stories, some scenes also felt like minor ‘fillers’ and they rendered the pacing a tad uneven. I also felt like while the pseudo-religious and philosophical themes were there, they didn’t help in defining its main premise.


Yes, I did like “Emerald Knights” though I didn‘t feel completely invested in it. I thought it was quite a satisfying “Green Lantern Corp” tale that gave fans things to be happy about and makes it accessible for casual fans. Admittedly, the film would easily be appreciated by the comic book fan like myself and even those who think they are comic book fans. True, some elements may make the Green Lantern greenhorn a little lost, but there is enough fantastical elements to keep everyone occupied. “Emerald Knights” may not be the definitive Green Lantern animated flick but it does help whet the appetite for Ryan Reynolds (I easily saw that he is miscast, but this opinion is based on the trailers for now ) portrayal as the metro-sexual looking Green Lantern.

Recommended! [4- Out of 5 Stars]


 ]]> Thu, 9 Jun 2011 03:11:56 +0000
<![CDATA[ A good sequel with charm, humor, wit, and a surprisingly touching back-story.]]>
When all is said and done, I suppose that I must applaud "Kung Fu Panda 2" for being a better sequel than it really needs to be. Many sequels both animated and not release each year; most of them failing to deliver. "Kung Fu Panda 2" may not be great, but as animated entertainment, it serves its purpose rather superbly. It's definitely a recommendation for those who appreciate animated films, and those who enjoyed the first film will probably find plenty to admire here as well.

I liked "Kung Fu Panda" for its sense of humor, its beautiful animation, and its references to the influence of Chinese folklore and culture. Just like its predecessor, "Kung Fu Panda 2" is lush, colorful; funny and completely entertaining. I like the sequel for all the same reasons that I liked the first film, although this time, more of an emphasis has been put on the plot.

Leaving off from the first film, we still have one big question regarding Po the Panda (Jack Black) and his history. His father is clearly a goose, although until he has a premonition (whilst fighting an evil wolf), Po has never questioned his father and his origins. He learns that he was adopted, but must worry about other matters when Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), an evil homicidal peacock, makes plans to take over all of China.

Po and the Furious Five, consisting of: Tigris (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), Crane (David Cross), and Monkey (Jackie Chan), go on a journey to stop Shen and his evil plan. Carrying with him the knowledge of his master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) as well as the love of his father, Po confronts his past and stares it in the face.

The reason I see this sequel as a superior effort, in plot, is because the back-story of Po is a surprisingly dark and somewhat deep one. That's not to say that it makes for a great story, but it does make for a worth-while one. The film does its job because when it's not telling its story, "Kung Fu Panda 2" is being a fun little action movie, quite like the first one.

That being said, the animation also looks pretty magnificent, the voice work is nice (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Danny McBride, and Dennis Haysbert all lend significantly interesting and amusing vocal work). Overall, this panda is a worthy one. It was fun to watch, it felt good, and I can't really say it has flaws except for the story, which as I said, is good, but not good enough to be memorable. Of course, you could just say the same for the movie and then dismiss it forever, but I'm not the kind of person to shun good entertainment, because that is what "Kung Fu Panda 2" is.

Look. "Kung Fu Panda 2" is what it is. It guarantees a good time to those with open hearts, open minds, and open imaginations for works such as these (in animated filmmaking). It's not a genre classic, but it doesn't need to be, and while Po's latest journey is a flawed one, it's still one worth a solid recommendation. I won't say it's a definite "improvement" on the first film, but I admire the effort that was put into making the film as effective and funny as it is.

As always, it's a pleasure to watch Jack Black in this voice role. He fits his character perfectly; and he plays him flawlessly. When this kind of thing happens, then you know that you have a fairly good movie on your hands, if not a great one. "Kung Fu Panda 2" is like most sequels; it ends on a note that could lead to a third film. However, unlike most sequels, this third "Kung Fu Panda" film is one that I'm fairly excited to see, and I shall leave it at that.]]> Tue, 7 Jun 2011 21:34:22 +0000
<![CDATA[ Prepare for AWESOMENESS!]]>
artial arts cinema is nearly dead. It dies slowly. And it will die for some time now. I know why the world is so cruel to the genre. In order to satisfy the audience built for a martial arts film, you must be a master at directing such things. You cannot entertain merely with fights generated through CGI animation. This is because people want to be involved. People want a movie that expresses the troubles as well as the strengths of a warrior. This kind of movie is- as I said- quite difficult to pull off.

"Kung Fu Panda", Dreamwork's 2008 contribution, is entertaining in the sense that films like "The Karate Kid" are entertaining, fun to watch, and engaging. It involves a trainer and his trainee; bonding in the most unexpected ways, both coming from an unexpected back-ground. This realization that I had about "Kung Fu Panda" does not make it a great animated film, but it does make it a rather impressive one.

Dreamworks is losing their head these days. They've made stuff like "Shrek", and then stuff like "Shark Tale". Somewhere in-between lies movies like "Kung Fu Panda"; which are good, not great, and at the same time, far from bad. "Kung Fu Panda" has enough charm, humor, and wit to overcome its flaws, and I must say; it both honors and satirizes Kung Fu/martial arts cinema. And it also does both of those things in a stylish, colorful fashion.

So let's get down to it. China is currently at peace, and has been ever since a fearsome warrior-turned-vicious killing machine named Tai Lung (Ian McShane) was silenced and imprisoned by his own master and creator, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). Ever since, Shifu, a Red Panda, has trained five warriors, making up the "Furious Five". The "five" consists of Tigris (Angelina Jolie), Viper (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Crane (David Cross), and Master Monkey (Jackie Chan). Each warrior is trained, powerful, and possesses unending will.

Every thousand years, however, a new "Dragon Warrior" is chosen by the highest master, who is Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim). An ambitious, Kung-Fu loving Panda named Po (Jack Black), son of a noodle-shop owner (who is, somehow, a goose, and yet remains Po's father), heads up to the ceremony to watch the warrior get picked, ends up screwing 'round with some fire-works, and falls out of the sky and onto the figurative "stage".

And then he is chosen as the warrior. Oogway believes it is fate, although Shifu and the Five doubt that Po can be the Dragon Warrior. He's a fate, flabby, lazy Panda who has only had dreams of warriors and Kung Fu. He's the kind of character that does not come from a back-ground suited for such ambitions, although with films like these, there is a teacher, and he is determined to, well, teach.

Po is trained by Shifu, and in time, he is combatant, intelligent, and worthy of being a true warrior. He has been trained to stop Tai Lung, who has escaped from prison, and now intends on wreaking havoc on all of China. Tai Lung also seems to want vengeance on Shifu for his child-hood, as well as Oogway's denial (that he was the Dragon Warrior). What do you get out of a story like this? Well, not so much a story, but more-so a movie.

I loved the look of the film, which gets a lot of influence from Chinese folklore and geography. Of course, it's fun to look at, and sometimes even looks beautiful. In terms of animation, this is Dreamwork's most complex work to date. In terms of story, well, it lacks the emotional punch of "Shrek", but I liked what was on display here. Also, Hans Zimmer's inspired score is interesting and sometimes magical; whimsical, and definitely enjoyable to listen to. Just take my word for it.

"Kung Fu Panda" is wonderfully animated, beautifully conceived, funny, and smarter than you may think. The title pretty much explains it all, and this movie has ambitions to be "awesome". It is, perhaps, "awesome" on its own right. It's appealing, fresh entertainment for the entire family; short enough to entertain kids, sly enough to attract adults, and pretty enough (to look at) for anyone to admire, really. It's not animated gold, but I give it a recommendation, for Jack Black's wonderful vocal performance as Po, the energetic and exciting action sequences, and the admirable influence that is within the film, rather than written all over the exterior.]]> Tue, 7 Jun 2011 21:31:51 +0000
<![CDATA[ Thor is pure quality entertainment but has enough flaws to dismiss it as a piece of filmmaking.]]>
Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the God of Thunder, is the son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), the ruler of the nine realms of the Universe. Thor possesses a hammer that gives him an unmatched power. Odin sees in him a worthy successor to the throne. Wow... what a sharp and weird beginning for this review... Should I?... Nope. Let's continue...

His brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) grows up and develops great envy towards him and finds himself in an ongoing search for a method or reason to make Thor unworthy of being a King. He therefore creates a little spark between one of the most ancient rivalries that existed between his people, the Ansgardians, and the Frost Giants of Jotunheim. Thor is betrayed by his own character: an ignorant and arrogant warrior that sees nothing else on the horizon but revenge or punishment. He decides to travel to Jotunheim with some of his friends and defeat the Frost Giants in the name of his father. We witness a great action scene, we witness the power of Thor but all that gets interrupted by Odin which found out about this heresy and enraged by Thor's childish actions and "douchey" behavior he decides to banish him to Earth forcing him to live between humans as a human. He also sends the hammer to Earth but not before dismantling any connection between Thor and the hammer. Nice turn of things.

Now on Earth, in New Mexico, we get to meet a lovely scientist named Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) which was pretty much obsessed with her work. By trying to analyze and discover the secrets behind some meteorological anomalies she finds herself in the middle of Thor's "teleportation" (banishment) to Earth. From that moment on Thor gets in contact with the human race. He is fragile at the beginning, vulnerable yet still powerful but not in a "magical" way. He becomes a charming character and starts to depart himself from the actual "douche" he was in the first 15 minutes of the film. At one point, Thor finds out about the hammer that fell somewhere near their location from some local citizens who, I don't know how, confused a god damn hammer with a satellite. Either they were stupid or they were stupid. You tell me. In the same time, SHIELD, the secret government organization found out about the strange things that happened and already started to interfere and takeover the place. They "borrowed" Jane's lifetime work and already surrounded the area where the hammer was located. Having nothing to lose, Jane decides to help Thor get to the hammer. Now, Thor was a human. How he succeeded to enter that "secure" area and dispose of all those agents is beyond me but let's say we'll accept it because it's a comic-book/superhero movie. He reaches the hammer tries to lift it but fails. He gets captured, interrogated and even get a close conversation with his brother Loki which, surprise-surprise, tells him Odin is dead and that he is the new king of Asgard. In that time, Loki found out a big secret that Odin kept hidden for years. He models a plan that will make him look like the savior of Asgard and conspires with King Laufey of Jotunheim. With all this, we get a glimpse at a very interesting character named Heimdall (Idris Elba) which is a gate-keeper or gate-protector. This character is such a stand-out presence and it's a real shame they didn't gave him more minutes on the screen.

Behind to our story though, Thor tries to redeem himself and actually grows up while staying on Earth thanks to the relationship developed between him and Jane. We get another piece of action on earth due to Loki's rage and desire to kill Thor once he realizes his brother found out the truth. The problem with the second action scene is that it is a big step down from the first one which breaks a rule that exists since beginning of cinema. You always build anticipation through the movie by upgrading fight by fight till the last epic one. This is not the case here. We also get a reference on Tony Stark and this is where I stood like "Okay... so... what's the point?". I'll tell you why. Stark had every bit of information about ANYTHING wrong or weird that might happen on earth. We get these strange weather anomalies, we get this immovable hammer in the middle of the desert, we get a fight scene, we get pretty much big attention for at least two days in that area and all we get about Stark is a REFERENCE? Oh really? So where was Stark in these incredible moments? Everyone was there besides him... Where he was? C*cktail party? Drunk on the sofa? Drugged? He thought it was all some joke? Let's be realistic for a moment. If they want to intersect these movies and these superheroes than why just mention Stark when we already know in cases like he would have been THERE. Besides this error of logic, we get a lot of funny moments and tricky little jokes thrown in but we still can't make a real connection between Earth and Asgard since the story on Earth feels so undeveloped and unimportant. The difference between these two "narrative realms" is pretty big and that harms this movie. However, somehow, we get to the final act where Thor gets back to Asgard and defeats Loki easily which gets left struggling through the infinite space. Thor becomes King of Asgard and we're left with a small teaser for the Avengers. That's pretty interesting but you guys missed the point. You missed the point where I hurried up my review exactly when I should have talked about the last act of the film... Yep! It was rushed. The last fight felt so easy for Thor it all became pointless to me and all I can understand about this movie is one thing: this was a teaser to the Avengers and an introduction for the villain. The Thor story was barely mediocre. The same old search for redemption and maturity... We are tired of that.

Anyway, the great aspect about this film is that besides Hopkins's delivery as Odin and Hiddleston's portrayal of Loki, Chris Hemsworth actually carried his character. He made it memorable and alive. I honestly loved Chris in this even in the small romantic scenes with Natalie which was to me not credible as a scientist. She didn't played well the scientist part she just played the shy and sweet Natalie we already know. And her friend? Darcy (Kat Dennings)? What the hell was that? She had few jokes from which two were more than atrocious and so clicheic and served no point to the story at all. She is the definition of a movie filler. God she was annoying at times...

Technically the movie sits pretty well. The 3D was messed up in most of the scenes, depth of field being the major problem but the travel-through-spaces sequences were gorgeous. The visual effects were impressive, the costumes were better than I expected but Asgard looked so... "plastic" at times. It just didn't look convincing. It was surreal but not convincing. There were also some problems with the contrast and the chosen angles for some fight scenes but overall it was decent enough but definitely it could have looked much much better. The music served well the movie's identity but I saw no point in getting melodramatic at the end... It's a Thor movie for Odin's sake.

Overall, Thor is pure quality entertainment but has enough flaws to dismiss it as a piece of filmmaking. It's not well structured, the characters are not all balanced, the fight scenes are not getting better but simpler and pointless, the technical minuses exist and the story is fragile for a Thor movie. Ultimately, as a comic-book/superhero film... it is there amongst the decent movies in the same genre of the last decade but as an overall film... it feels flat.

Storyline/Dialogue: 7/10.
Acting: 7,5/10.
Technical Execution: 7.7/10.
Replay Value: 6,5/10.
Overall: 7,2 ]]> Tue, 7 Jun 2011 20:53:34 +0000
<![CDATA[ Rarely Has a Film Embodied the Spirit of Awesomeness Better]]> When an animated movie hits the right note for me, it really knocks it out of the park. I’ve sat through my fair share of awful animated movies, and when one screws up the formula, it’s really hard to sit through. You can see the resolution coming a mile away, and the jokes that fail to hit the golden balance between kids and adults makes you want to jump out of a window. Thankfully, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a classic benchmark for efficiently mixing humor, action, and a hybrid sort of story into a single awesome movie that’ll give any age group an unshakable smirk, and it might just teach you something. Kung Fu Panda 2 picks up a few years after Kung Fu Panda 1, where Po the Dragon Warrior Panda (Jack Black) has become a hero of China but is still the bumbling, “ska-doosh”-ing hero we love leading the Furious Five that includes Mantis (Seth Rogen), Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross). The movie focuses on Po and the gang’s attempt to overthrow the evil Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), a vengeful peacock that with the help of a baffling new weapon plans on bring China and kung-fu itself to its knees. I’m usually not a fan of all-star casts like DreamWorks uses a lot of times, but the Kung Fu Panda series is one of those exceptions. Jack Black is practically the Picasso of the voice work art form. The guy clearly has a lot of fun in the voice booth getting to become Po, and it helps that they both have a lot in common personality wise. It’s just refreshing to have an actor bring so much fun, physicality, and innocence to what could have been a bland character. I like that certain characters like Seth Rogen as Mantis and Jackie Chan as Monkey get more time on screen, and I even liked what new-comer Danny McBride brought in as the leader of Lord Shen’s wolf pack. While he’s not really gotten a huge break, he has a very clear shtick in a lot of his films that for some reason was really funny to see animated. I’m pretty sure they even let him improvise on a few lines of the dialogue, which is pretty unheard of, but a perfect opportunity for the hysterical McBride to stretch his legs. James Hong, just as he was in the first film, is a hilarious addition to the movie as Po’s “father goose”/noodle storeowner. Gary Oldman though as the nefarious Lord Shen is almost unrecognizable. It’s a running joke on Internet message boards that Gary Oldman is in almost every movie that comes out, yet it was a huge surprise to me that he was in this. Surprise or not, Oldman’s incarnation of Shen is commendable, as he gives it just the right pause of words here, the right menacing flourish to make Lord Shen really intimidating. He clearly gives it his all, and easily becomes the best villain this series has and probably ever will see. The look of all these characters has also improved dramatically. Re-watching parts of the original Kung Fu Panda just the other day, the older models by no means look dated, but the increased quality in small things like shading and detail on the characters looks phenomenal. Take a moment to look at just the fur on Po or Tigress in the snowy mountain or harbor scenes, just to admire that painstaking detail. Also just on an artistic level these characters are a huge animation milestone. I really dug the aesthetic of the wolves and gorillas as sort of Shen’s “brute force”, and while we’re on the topic of Lord Shen, that character in and of itself is a wonder to behold. DreamWorks deserves a standing ovation for making a laughable conceit like a peacock as a villain one of the fiercest villains to ever be animated. Lord Shen must have been a pain in the rear to animate but is almost like a Swiss army knife, being as there are about 17 different things he can do with his unique body structure, including using his wreath of feathers as a shield AND projectile stash, using metal claws to gain traction and as a landing support, and oh yeah, he also has a sweet sword. This world that the characters inhabit is also gorgeous, the animators once again going out of their way to create a faithful but still creatively complimentary portrayal of ancient China. Each shot seems to incorporate a temple, mountain ridge, or just a peaceful but artistically vibrant Chinese marketplace, and it’s like some kind of amazing mosaic. While this is a small detail, I also really dug the idea of making everything around Shen a deep red and black any time he goes into a rant or is up to another nefarious deed, giving us as an audience an immediate feel that he’s got to be up to something. I might also make a point of picking up the movie’s score by Hans Zimmer, a very traditional but effective track that gave off a really old school kung-fu movie vibe. Would you think that’s the end of this movie’s artistic luster? Of course not, there are a handful of flashback scenes that use a really magnificent hand-drawn, 2D style to signify the shift in time. It reminded me a lot of the same historical Chinese style the film harkened back to in so many other aspects. It’ll go unappreciated by kids, but to a film nerd it’s an amazing touch. Kung Fu Panda 2 really is a remarkable feat in how it has a really great attitude about itself. A little too often we get these animated films that are a little too snarky, they’ve always got this smart-allecky smirk underneath all of its jokes and tender moments, but that never felt like the case to me with Kung Fu Panda 2. Everything it’s doing on screen always felt really genuine and sweet to me. I’ve discovered that I’m addicted to the recurring idea of normal people (and in a lot of cases people we’d normally associate as geeky, out of shape, or just a loser) doing amazing things. I mean I’m a huge fan of the show “Chuck” on NBC, and so many other pieces of work much like how Kung Fu Panda 2 with Po the very unfit Panda, probably because I can find a lot to relate to there. Once that hero gets to accomplish his goal at the end it means all that much more because he had a lot more to overcome, including other’s expectations. No one’s really surprised when James Bond saves the world for the umpteenth time, but when a down-on-his-luck nerdy guy with a heart of gold gets the girl or stops the bad guy, you just want to cheer. Much like Po from start to finish the movie does have a very innocent soul, and that helps the action and comedic moments hit so much better, mainly because the characters are just as astonished as you are that they just saved the day.

From a more creative standpoint, the filmmakers really did do a great job at stepping up their game on a lot of the fantastic aspects of the first film and telling the unique story they tell here. Kung Fu Panda 2 is very much an origin story, but some how it manages to not fall into the predictability of that or even make that the only focus of the film. They use Po’s origins that are touched on throughout to make the new story make more sense and to even advance that story farther, mainly because Lord Shen has a much stronger connection Po’s past than you’re initially led to believe. We get to learn who Po’s real parents were, what happened to them, and who Po really is in these 2D cell-shaded animated sequences that often go to some dark, scary places (thanks mostly to Executive Producer Guillermo Del Toro) without being too daunting for kids. I didn’t expect Kung Fu Panda 2 to match or even top Kung Fu Panda 1’s action or comedy, but somehow it managed to top it. Who knows, maybe I was in an awesome mood going into the theater, but I was floored by how funny Kung Fu Panda 2 was. Of course there’s your fat joke here and there, Po’s hysterical habit of shouting out plan names for completely unpredicted battle scenarios as if he had planned them months in advance, and several other kid-aimed bits of humor, I was laughing a good 15 minutes after some of the hilarious scenes I won’t even spoil here. The action sequences also aren’t just beautiful, they’re much more creative this time around, and often times really take advantage of the animation medium, creating some gorgeous scenes you just couldn’t ever do with live action. The set piece from the trailer where the Furious Five have to scale Shen’s palace is remarkable, and manages to be as hilarious as some the movie’s best jokes at the same time. Along with a chase scene in a Chinese marketplace between Po and the Wolf Pack Leader, of course the final battle between Po and Lord Shen, and a handful of other action pieces here and there throughout the film are just awesome. From start to finish I was never bored with the movie, I never had any idea where the story was going to go next, and I was constantly entertained in the best way by this absorbing story, engaging action and great moments of hilarity. I can only imagine what it would be like to see this as a kid. I’ll admit, I didn’t see the film in 3D but I cheaped out and went with the 2D print of the movie, and while I’ve heard the 3D print is actually worth it, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything without the glasses. Much like a lot of other cases I didn’t miss the glasses. If there’s anything I could really complain about here, it’s that I felt the movie was a little too short for me. While that’s a pretty good compliment of your film that I wanted to spend more time in the world you created, at about 90 minutes it felt just a little rushed in places like we were moving from plot point to plot point pretty quickly. Also, while I did love the fantastic cliffhanger ending to this movie, the concept that they’re setting up has set a few other animated series astray. I have the utmost faith in this crew, and hopefully we’ll see a Kung Fu Panda 3 in the next few years, but they’ll really have to knock it out of the park. All in all, I had an amazing time watching Kung Fu Panda 2; it’s a film I feel like I could recommend to any age group, knowing they’ll leave the theater satisfied. Not just in terms of improving and innovating the animation game, but when you’re trying to find a hilarious, sweet, good-natured animated movie with a sincerely great message, there are few animated movies this summer that’ll come close to topping Kung Fu Panda 2’s mastery of kung-fu. As I wrap up, let me make something clear, I am a firm believer in the lifestyle of being awesome. Be awesome to others, treat yourself awesome, do awesome things, live an awesome life, and it's rare that a film embodies the spirit of awesome quite like Kung Fu Panda 2 does. It'll be a film I re-watch over and over in a couple of months just to remind myself what "awesome" really is. It's almost like a poster child for awesomeness, and I feel as if that's one of the best compliments and best descriptions I can give it. 

5 out of 5

5 out of 5

]]> Fri, 3 Jun 2011 21:09:19 +0000
<![CDATA[ Call Down Thunder!]]> Thor hit the big screen.  I've always been a fan of Marvel's version of the God of Thunder, and I'm even a bigger fan of the Thor of Norse mythology.  When I heard that Kenneth Branagh would be at the helm of this project, I knew immediately that Marvel was doing something really special with the story, and I was right.

Thor opens with a description of the great battle between the Asgardians and the Frost Giants in which the Frost Giants fail in their attempt to take control of the Nine Realms (one of which includes Earth).   Bitter and stripped of their power, the Frost Giants retreat to their home of Jotunheim hungry for revenge but maintain an unsteady peace treaty with the Asgardians until they make an attempt to steal the source of their power, the Casket of Ancient Winters during our own time.

While the Frost Giants are trying to steal the Casket, a ceremony is taking place in which Thor would be crowned king of Asgard.  When Thor's father, Odin, is alarmed to the attempt on the Casket, the ceremony is interrupted and angers the arrogant Thor.

Wanting both revenge against the Frost Giants for interrupting his ascendency to the throne and hoping to nail the coffin shut on the Giants forever, Thor goes to Jotunheim.  Tagging along with the God of Thunder is his brother, Loki, the Warriors Three (Valstagg, Hogun, and Fandral), and the Lady Sif.  Their actions lead to an end of the truce between the two realms, and plans go into motion that will help the Frost Giants overtake Asgard and once again attempt to capture the Nine Realms.

As punishment for his actions, Odin takes away Thor's powers and banishes him to Earth, never to return to Asgard.  Thor's hammer, Mjolnir, is also sent to Earth as well, but can only be removed from its sandy home in the desert by a person who is worthy to wield its power.

On Earth, Thor falls into the hands of scientist Jane Foster, Professor Selvig, and their student assistant, Darcy.  As the three attempt to find out who Thor really is, S.H.I.E.L.D. intervenes, taking into custody both Thor and all of Foster's research on anomalies in the deserts of New Mexico.

Back in Asgard, Odin falls ill after a dark secret is revealed about Loki.  With Thor banished and Odin near death, Loki seizes power and a new age begins in Asgard. 

The Warriors Three and Sif decide to sneak down to Earth to retrieve Thor and hopefully restore honor to the throne of Asgard, but can they do it?  You'll have to see Thor if you want to find out.

Overall, Thor came out much better than I expected.  Like many other reviewers, I noticed that this film is really two films in one.  While on Asgard, the film takes on a much more dramatic tone and plays out quite well.  When the action moves down to Earth, humor takes precedence. 

Chris Hemsworth perfectly captures the arrogance of the God of Thunder, particularly early on in the film.  Thor's swagger and egotistical manner make him a joy to see on the screen.  I especially enjoyed his interaction with the humans in the film.  His feelings of entitlement made for humorous sequences in the desert when he first meets Foster (Natalie Portman), Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), and Darcy (Kat Dennings).

Anthony Hopkins was quite regal as Odin.  He truly was the ruler of Asgard while he was on the screen. 

Idris Elba portrayed Heimdall, the keeper of the bridge between the realm of Asgard and the other realms.  While his role is limited somewhat (he does have to stay with that bridge, ya know), Elba does a very good job.

Portman and Skarsgard do fine jobs with their respective roles, but I think that the writing and not their acting skills hindered their overall performance.  Kat Dennings stole everyone's thunder (no pun intended) with Darcy, a character I grew to enjoy more as the film rolled along.  She had a number of funny sequences in the film that made her some of the best comic relief in a comic book film to come along in a long time.

Sif, portrayed by Jaime Alexander, and the Warriors Three (Hogun-Tadanobu Asano, Valstagg-Ray Stevenson, and Fandral-Joshua Dallas) were all given solid supporting roles.  Stevenson supplied the comedic relief on the Asgardian side of things with his words and his constant eating.  When the four arrive on Earth, their fight sequences play out like old 1980's action shows like The A-Team and Knight Rider

Colm Feore plays Laufey, king of the Frost Giants, but his role his rather small and limited, used only as a catalyst for Loki, the true villain of the film.

Ah, yes, Loki.  Tom Hiddleston made one of my favorite Marvel villains look wonderful on the big screen.  Loki, the God of Mischief, twists words, sways attitudes, pampers egos, and rips great divides between characters in the film.  His performance was the best of the film in my opinion.  I haven't seen so much manipulation of characters by a villain in quite some time.

Rene Russo has a small role as Frigga, Odin's wife and queen, and Clark Gregg reprises and expands his recurring role of Agent Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D., who has also appeared in Iron Man and Iron Man 2.

Stan Lee gets a small but funny cameo as Stan the Man and is joined by J. Michael Straczynski as the pair attempt to remove Mjolnir from the sand in a fun moment during the film.

As expected, hints about the upcoming Avengers film are given at the end of the credits, as well as a nod to another Avenger member during the film.  I'm not ruining anything by saying that Samuel L. Jackson is involved in the post-credits sequence, but I'm not going to name the Avenger who makes a brief appearance during the film.  True Avengers fans will catch on to who he or she is with just one weapon choice.

I must say that I was very satisfied with Thor.  It was deadly serious when drama ensued and laugh-out-loud funny when humor took the lead.  While I thought that Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Superman, and third installment of Spider-Man were all good movies (in the case of the Batflicks, great movies), they focused so much on the dramatic aspects of the characters that they seemingly forgot that they were based on comic books.  With Thor, you get the drama nicely coupled with great humor and plenty of gee-whiz fantasy fun to make for an excellent film.

Highly recommended to anyone who wants to watch a truly fun comic book film adaptation.]]> Wed, 1 Jun 2011 16:15:45 +0000