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Summer Movie Summary: Animated Movies

If there is one style of film that reigned supreme at the box office this summer, it’s the animated movies. It had some of the best results not just of the summer but the whole year as Finding Dory grossed more than any other movie in 2016 and The Secret Life Of Pets is also in the annual Top 10 so far. There were a wide variety of animated movies from sequels to stop-motion to even an animated movie for adults only. For my summary, I will review four animated films for the summer: Finding Dory, The Secret Life Of Pets, Sausage Party and Kubo And The Two Strings.

Finding Doryfinding-dory

It’s been thirteen years since Finding Nemo hit the big screen and captivated crowds. This time around it’s Finding Dory. The question is does it still have the same magic?

The magic of Disney/Pixar films is that it’s not only about top notch animation but also about taking the audience to new and exciting worlds of the imagination. The magic of Finding Nemo is that it captured the magic of the sea world. Finding Dory attempts to capture the magic of the sea world again but it also tries to capture another magic. This time it’s the magic of the Marine Life Institute. It does a very good job of creating a universe out of a marine life park. I’m sure that when Pixar was writing the script for this film, it had to create its own map on how the park would be for Dory to go from place to place. It even had to create the system of communication through pipes.

In addition, the story had to focus on the animals headed to quarantine. That was intertwined with Dory’s search for her parents. It gives a story with many facets. It starts with Dory’s search for her parents and leads to much more. Whatever the situation, it leads to a story that the audience will find thrilling as well as enchanting to look at.

Pixar does it again with writing out an excellent story and giving it top-notch animation. Once again I doubt if you’ll find a glitch. Andrew Stanton returns as director and co-writer with Victoria Strouse and they deliver an excellently entertaining movie. This time it’s Ellen De Generes’ time to own the show. She stole Finding Nemo and now this is her time to have the show as her own. Albert Brooks is back again and he delivers an excellent performance as Marlin too. The film features a lot of other big names as voices like Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Ed O’Neill, Bill Hader, Alison Janney, Sigourney Weaver (of course) and Idris Elba.

If there’s one glitch about Finding Dory, it’s that a lot of children may not understand the story in its entirety. For the most part, it’s us older adults who have seen Finding Nemo that understand Dory and her situation. I think that was it. Pixar was making a film that would be meant for both children who love animated movies and the grown up adults who have a special place in their heart for Finding Nemo.

Finding Dory continues on the excellence of Disney/Pixar and continues the charm we first saw in Finding Nemo and entertains crowds this summer in big numbers.

The Secret Life Of Petslife-of-pets

Ever wonder what your pets do when you go to work or school? The Secret Life Of Pets attempts to answer that question of what happens, as long as you live in modern Manhattan. And boy does it give some interesting answers.

This movie creates a humorous premise: pets that come across as your typical house pets but have a sneaky double-life when their owners aren’t home. However they find themselves in trouble and they all have to get back home in time before their owners return.

The thing about this movie is that it’s not focused too much on the story or taking the audience to another world the way Pixar movies do. Instead its focus is on creating crazy humor and funny characters. It’s obvious from the start its intention is to be a crazy goofy comedy to get us all laughing and it succeeds.

However such a movie cannot compromise on things like a solid story with the right beginning, middle and end, characters that fit the story and top quality animation. The movie does exactly that. Actually this movie is more driven on the humorous characters rather than be story-driven like Pixar films. Hey, we’re talking about the same animation studio that gave us the Minions. It works for such a movie and it wins over movie audiences young and old.

Pixar is not the only animation studio alone at the top. Illumination Entertainment has given it some rivalry especially with the Despicable Me movies and the Minions. Here Illumination brings back its main director Chris Renaud and its writer Bryan Lynch, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio to create another entertaining film. The film even includes a lot of great vocal talent from Albert Brooks, Kevin Hart, Louis C.K. and Steve Coogan just to name a few.

The Secret Life Of Pets isn’t so much about creating a mesmerizing world the way Pixar’s movies are. What it does is create a story that’s entertaining to watch and full of fun intriguing characters. No wonder it charmed crowds this year.

Sausage Partysausage-party

Sausage Party is the first wide-release animated film since South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut to earn an R-rating. And rightly so. And I’m sure the animators, directors and actors of the movie wouldn’t want it any other way.

It’s obvious right from the start that Sausage Party is a spoof of Disney/Pixar movies but as you watch over time, and even as you look back in retrospect, it’s obvious it’s a lot more.

Those of you who’ve seen Sausage Party will know that it’s not like most of the animated movies released today. Sometimes you may even get the feeling the movie is trying to sabotage all those family-friendly movies and the wholesome values they stand for. It sure seems that way.

I hate to bring up retro 90’s assimilations but it reminded me of a lot of 90’s entertainment that pushed envelopes and had sadistic pleasure slaughtering sacred cows and skewered values and morals we held dearly, and somehow charmed us into wanting more. Yes, such entertainment that knew we’re all gluttons for punishment. And we saw that in Sausage Party as they were definitely doing lot of tricks in the book to freak us out, whether it be the storyline or characters or images, and succeeding. We also see how it’s even skewering the wholesome values that are normally promoted in the family-friendly animated movies.

One major difference that keeps it from being 90’s-style envelope-pushers. One thing about all those envelope-pushing balls-to-the-wall entertainment of the 90’s that they not only pushed boundaries but they were also successful in making squeaky clean entertainment or entertainment with morals and a conscience look either wimpy or look like a complete joke. Yep, entertainment that broke all the rules and changed the game in the process. Can you blame me for calling them ‘The Nasty Nineties?’

I don’t think Sausage Party succeeded in doing that. Despite the ‘Dixar’ bumper sticker, it’s not as much the punch-in-the-stomach comedy or middle-finger to squeaky clean entertainment from Seth McFarlane or the South Park duo is. Yes, it does mess with wholesome entertainment but it’s more interested in having fun and pleasure making us squirm in our seat. Even though it did warp my brain, I will admit this was the most fun I had in a movie theatre this summer. It’s definitely my ‘guilty pleasure’ movie of the year.

Some people have complained that the movie is anti-religion. I don’t deny that as made obvious by the characters which include one Jewish and one Arabic and most of the lot appearing to resemble Christianity. You get the first hind right at the beginning as the groceries refer to the humans as ‘the gods’ and of the mustard coming back scared over the reality of what they’ve always called the ‘great beyond.’ I knew it would be critical of religion from the reviews I’ve read and I was expecting to get my tolerance on that subject tested. However I will state it’s not the obvious blasphemy as one would commonly see in South Park episodes or a lot of works done by Seth MacFarlane. I will also state that even atheism is also looked upon critically as it will state some common traits among many atheists like a feeling of misery or a ‘smarter than thou’ attitude.

If there is one glitch, I will have to say it’s the ending. What you first think will be the ending isn’t. Instead it will lead into what should be known as an ‘animation orgy party’ and then into a bizarre ‘reality check.’ I don’t have problems with them being in the movie or even in the ending but there are many times I feel the ending could have been done better or mapped out better.

Since I’ve been doing a lot of animation studios talk, it’s interesting to know that heading this film is a Canadian studio: Nitrogen Studios Canada Inc. The head of the studios, Greg Tiernan directs his first ever feature length film along with Conrad Vernon who has directed films like the Shrek movies, the Madagascar films and Kung Fu Panda too. You could say Vernion is spoofing his own films here. Interesting that while most animated movies of this summer have big budgets, this one only cost $20 million to make. Even though the animation was not as flawless as Pixar–and I noticed some technical glitches– its top focus was the humor and it definitely succeeded at that.

Without a doubt, Seth Rogen owned the film. It was pretty much his idea to do such a film like this for years. He not only acts in this but is co-producer and co-writer along with Kyle Hunter, Evan Goldberg and Ariel Shaffir with a story he wrote along with Goldberg and Jonah Hill. He has the delightfully evil charm of the film in his hands and knows how to deliver it well. Additional acting highlights come with Kristen Wiig and Brenda Bunson, Salma Hayek as Teresa del Taco, Bill Hader as Firewater, Nick Kroll as Douche and Edward Norton as Sammy Bagel Jr. just to name a few.

Sausage Party is a film that deserves to be hated but you can’t help but love it. Yes, it will warp your mind but it has a delightfully evil charm that will make it your guilty pleasure of the year. Just don’t bring the kiddies.

Kubo And The Two Stringskubo

After Sausage Party warped my mind, I had to watch Kubo And The Two Strings to reclaim my sanity. Good choice as it was a marvel to watch.

Normally it’s the Pixar movies that have the animation magic that mesmerize us and take us all to another world. This summer, I’d have to say it’s the world of Kubo. It was best at creating a world and an adventure that was enchanting and mesmerizing. It took a unique story that isn’t exactly one that’s best at winning big crowds and turned it into a spectacular marvel.

The thing with Finding Dory is that it does succeed in doing that but it’s a world we’ve been to before and whatever new world is in the story doesn’t differ to much from the world of Finding Nemo. In Kubo, we have a fresh new world of the imagination and that’s its advantage.

The story element of the film is just as strong. It’s about the fate of humanity and good in the world being threatened by evil and the mortality of souls and it resting in the fate of Kubo. Especially since it includes the fates of the souls of Kubo’s own parents. It’s the story of a son of a late master samurai who goes from master storyteller to the one to fight the evil forces. The very cinematic values that make the superhero movies make Kubo. In addition, it gives an alternate definition of ‘destroying the enemy’ one would come to expect. And a definition that appears to be the right thing.

While most of the films this summer were 3D computer animated films from start to finish, Kubo was a mix of both 3D computer animation and 3D stop-motion. This is a common trademark of Laika studios as seen in their past releases like Coraline, ParaNorman and The BoxTrolls. Such style of animation works to its advantage and comes off as a refreshing alternative to the 3D computerized films. It also works best in what makes this movie so captivating. I don’t think 3D computer work alone would make this film work as well.

This film is the directorial debut of Travis Knight, son of Nike CEO Phil Knight. He has actually been an animator with Laika during their first three features and now he takes the step into directing this time. He does an excellent debut job in directing. I was actually surprised to learn this is an original story. It was created by Shannon Tindle and Marc Haimes with the screenplay written by Haimes and Chris Butler. Very excellent and very true to spirit of common mythology. Vocal talents were also very good. Game Of Thrones actor Art Parkinson does a very good job in voicing Kubo and creating his personality. Charlize Theron captures the mysterious side of the Monkey excellently and Matthew McConaughey does a very good job in capturing Beetle in both his bravery and his idiocy. Dario Marianelli does a very good job with making the music fit the film. It captures the whimsy of it perfectly.

Kubo And The Two Strings is my favorite animated film of this summer. It had the best combination off all ingredients that make a great animated film from great animation to a great story to a great redeeming message. Sure, Sausage Party was fun in how it was the complete opposite of your typical family-friendly animated movie but Kubo is a reminder of why such movies win us over time after time. Also it helped me get my sanity back.

And that’s my review of animated movies of the summer. Three were strictly 3D computer animated while one mixed it with 3D stop-motion. Three were mostly family-friendly while one was obviously adults only and proud of it. Three were comedies while one was mostly a drama. Three were fresh new stories while one was a long-awaited sequel. All were entertaining in their own way and wouldn’t let you down. In addition the comedic animated movies had the box office success that eluded the live-action comedies of the summer. So yes, today’s moviegoers do have a sense of humor after all!

In conclusion, the animated movies were this summer’s top box office fare. If you’ve even seen one of the films I reviewed, you’d know why.

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Movie Review: 50/50

You’d think a story about a young person dealing with a potentially fatal form of cancer would least make for comedy material, right? 50/50 succeeds in making a comedy out of it, and a good one too.

Adam doesn’t sound like the type of person to get cancer: a 27 year-old who jogs, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t eat junk food and always plays it safe to the point where he doesn’t even own a driver’s license. But everything changes when he gets his back checked. The doctor gives him the sudden news: cancer. What’s he to do? He checks on the internet and learns his cancer has a 50/50 chance of survival. His mother is shocked, his artist girlfriend Rachael finds the news sudden but his crazy friend Kyle tries to keep his spirits high “50/50? That’s better than a Vegas game.”

Things change for Adam once he stars going for chemotherapy. On the plus side, his girlfriend decides to the one to look after him. She even buys him a dog.  During chemo treatments, he meets a pair of older men also receiving treatments and they share a lot together, including marijuana-laced macaroons. On the negative side, his mother is concerned to the point of being overbearing especially since she also has to deal with a husband with Alzheimer’s. He also sees a young therapist who’s very inexperienced. Adam is only her third client. On the in-between, his friend Kyle tries to keep his spirits high by doing and saying things that are off the wall, like hold a party for Adam on the day he leaves work and gives Adam his body shaver to shave his head.

Things change for Adam: some for the better, some for the worse and some for the weirder. Kyle catches Rachael cheating on Adam. The relationship is over. Kyle encourages Adam to use his dog walking and cancer ordeal to get laid. Adam stars becoming more open with Katharine the therapist. The bond between the two men he sees during treatment grows. And Rachael moves out. Adam and Kyle celebrate by egging, cutting and burning her picture for him.

Then comes some biting realities. One of the men Adam meets during treatments dies. The doctor delivers the news that Adam’s cancer is worsening and needs a risky back operation or else he’ll die. Adam is now at the end of his emotional rope. He starts distancing himself from Kyle. However he starts opening up more to Katharine to the point there’s more than just a therapist-patient relation happening. Just before the operation, he learns that Kyle bought a book on having a friend with cancer. He also learned his mother attended a support group of parents who have children with cancer. It makes for an ending that not your typical simple happy ending but an ending that’s genuine.

There’s no question that there are a lot of comedic elements with this movie and there are the times when the movie does try to push a few buttons. One thing about the movie that’s the best quality is that it tries to be funny but real at the same time. It may poke fun at the after-effects of eating a marijuana-laced macaroon and some of but it also focuses on human relations and the feelings one goes through during cancer at such a young age. It focuses on the relationships of the patient and those around them. Despite that, it doesn’t sugar-coat things. It also shows that nasty things like a girlfriend cheating on the Adam does sometimes happen. It also reminds you that some of your friends that are going through cancer like you could die the next day. It’s a mix of some of the nasty and some of the happier things too. That’s the strongest part of the comedy is that it’s able to balance it all out. Interestingly enough is that this comedy is based upon the cancer ordeal of the scriptwriter: Will Reiser. Who would’ve thought that a plot like this would be a winning formula?

No question that the script of Will Reiser was winning. It created a good mix of humor and real life. It could qualify as autobiographical but I don’t know Will’s personal life. The acting made it work. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was the perfect fit for Adam. There couldn’t have been a better pick for Kyle than Seth Rogen. Anna Kendrick was also excellent as the inexperienced therapist who becomes the best thing for Adam. Jonathan Levine also did a good job of directing. Definitely a refreshing alternative from your usual box office fare. I will admit there was the occasional lewd and crude humor from Kyle but overall it made for an excellent movie.

50/50 was the surprise hit comedy of this fall. It has received a lot of acclaim as one of the best comedies of the year. Unfortunately it did not receive any Oscar nominations, not even for script. I’m not too worried because I’m sure with the help of DVD and Netflix this movie’s charm will last for a long time. It does seem odd to make a comedy about dealing with a life-threatening form of cancer, especially for someone so young, but it’s an example of how the younger generations are dealing with cancer. You can notice how cancer services and support groups and charities have changed over the past thirty years. Thirty years ago, the slogan was “Cancer can be beaten.” Now cancer funds and groups are using their own methods to encourage the younger generation to get involved. There are fundraising groups with the slogan “F*** cancer!” There are breast cancer funds with the slogan “I love boobies!” It may seem too in-your-face to some but it’s how the younger generation is now dealing with the fight. It’s all in the passing of the torch. Now to have a cancer survivor make a comedy about cancer that does sometimes rattle cages but is also very genuine in both the positive and negative aspects, it’s an accomplishment of its own.

They say laughter is the best medicine. 50/50 is definitely worth it. Until there’s a sure-fire cure for cancer, there’s 50/50 to laugh things off.

Movie Review: Paul

Okay, you’re probably wondering why on earth am I just posting this review now when Paul has been out for at least a month? Here’s the thing. I don’t immediately rush out to the theatres whenever a movie comes out. I see them when I see them. Often when there’s a big hit movie, I wait weeks until the crowds die down to go see it. So that explains why you get my review of Paul later than most. So after explaining all that…

Who is Paul? He’s a fugitive. He’s a celebrity. He’s a slacker. He’s a joker…He’s an alien. Paul is all those things, and the subject of a recent comedy movie. The latest concoction of the British writing/acting collaboration of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. So how does this close encounter of the funny kind end up?

Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings are two British comic book dweebs with a passion for sci-fi and alien encounters. The love it so much, they rent an RV and take it from San Diego’s Comic-Con all across the US for their own alien encounter tour. Little do they know they’d find themselves in trouble. First they come across some homophobic hunters who suspect them to be a couple. They head off, accidentally denting their truck. On the run, they get hit by a car driven by, among other things, an alien named Paul. The two bring Paul along in the RV. Little do they know that Paul is actually in pursuit by a shady government agent named Zoil who even recruits two inept FBI agents in the capture.

Later during a campfire over at a campground run by Moses, a strict Christian and his daughter Ruth, Paul tells the twosome that while captured by the government, he helped with Spielberg’s E.T. and the X-Files’ Mulder. Ever since he learned the government planned to dissect his brain, he’s been on the run since. Ruth is then kidnapped by the two. Once in the RV, she learns of Paul and refuses to trust him as it contradicts her devout beliefs. Once Paul heals her blind eye, blind since she was four, she trusts him to the point she becomes eager to sin.

Meanwhile Zoil and the two agents question Moses who says she was abducted by demons. Graeme, Ruth and Willy once again meet up with the homophobic hunters, but Paul comes to the rescue. Upon pursuit of Paul, Zoil and the agents come across him. Once Paul makes his escape, all three are after him but for their own separate pursuits each. Meanwhile Moses is chasing for Ruth.

Paul finds refuge in an old house which is owned by Tara, a young girl who saved his live back in 1947 and is all grown up, reclusive because of the ostracism she received throughout her life. Tara is relieved to find that Paul is real. After turning on the stove, a shootout ensues at her house, causing it to explode with Paul, Graeme, Clive, Ruth and Tara on the run. The three agents go on their pursuits again but only Zoil survives in meeting up with Paul, who is in a field waiting for his UFO to take him home. Instead, it’s a helicopter with ‘The Big Guy’, Zoil’s superior. Zoil reveals he was the one who helped Paul get away. Zoil disarms the men but is shot in the shoulder. Tara punches out ‘The Big Guy’. Moses shoots Clive dead. Paul heals him but his healing powers come at the risk of his own life. After Clive is revived, it appears Paul is dead but he’s just exhausted. Paul’s ship arrives, crushing ‘The Big Guy’. Heading for home, he invites Tara to come with him and finally live a life. Two years later, Clive, Graeme and Ruth return to Comic-Con. This time, they are on stage as successful comic book writers thanks to their comic book Paul.

I have to say the biggest overall glitch with this movie is that it often appears to rely on the crude and rude one-liners in many parts. It has enough humorous subject matter and comedic characters without having to resort too often to such lines. First off,  the incorporation of the subject lines of many alien shows of past, like Star Wars, Close Encounters, E.T. and the X-Files. Second off, there are already a lot of talented actors that have been able to prove of recent that they can do comedy well. Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader have proved their humor in Saturday Night Live and other movies they’ve acted in. Blythe Danner, Sigourney Weaver and Jason Bateman were also able to make their roles work in the movie. Seth Rogen, already a reputed funny man himself, did a good job in the voice over as Paul. Pegg and Frost are already known for their comedic acting as well as their writing for Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz. They don’t have to resort too often to such low brow material.

Outside of that, the movie was a good job of meshing 3D animation with live-action, an alien encounter story with comedy, and even romance with sci-fi dweebs. Pegg and Frost once again show that they’re at their best when they’re together. They also showed they can do a good job with an American story line for the first time. Also it was unique to see a comedy not just revolve around an alien encounter but also with San Diego’s Comic-Con, which has grown in popularity in recent years to the point even A-listers make appearances.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who both wrote and star in Paul, describe it as a ‘love letter to Steven Spielberg’. You could describe their two previous big-screen comedies, Shaun OIf The Dead and Hot Fuzz, as ‘love letters’ too. If you saw Shaun Of The Dead, you’d tell it was a love letter to all those zombie movies. If you saw Hot Fuzz, you’d definitely know it was a love letter to all those gunslinger action movies of the 80’s and 90’s. I don’t think Paul is so much a love letter to Spielberg as much as it is a love letter to sci-fi as a whole. Good mesh of stories but I feel this movie is more of a salute to sci-fi dweebs and comic books geeks the world over.

Paul is an enjoyable movie. Even though I felt it could be better with the humor in the script, it is a delight to watch. Pegg and Forst know how to do enjoyable movies and they do it again here.