Review: PARANORMAN (2012)

I stated in my Inside Out review that I really don’t like to critique kids films. They tend to not strive for technical or narrative brilliance (unless it’s Pixar) so it seems silly to pick them apart. But, since I haven’t watched a newer movie in quite some time I’ll come up with some words about a kids flick.

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All in all, I dug Paranorman. It doesn’t feature the narrative arc that every other kids movie has where the kid has to discover something about him/herself in order to achieve the goal of the film. There’s a little bit of that in here but it’s not the defining arc. In this movie Norman stays virtually the same throughout the film (for the uninitiated, he can see and speak to ghosts). The film actually critiques the townspeople who don’t believe in his gift and constantly pick on Norman and think he’s a freak. So I suppose you could find an interesting connection to horror films, which this film is a derivative of. In most horror films there’s something or someone threatening to kill or destroy people or the environment or whatever the case may be, and there’s always one person who figures it out and no one believes them until the end. But usually by then all of those people are dead, but we all know they had it coming. Humorously, Norman is shown watching horror movies throughout the film and appears entranced yet unaffected by them. Such is the life of the weird kid (yours truly included).

The horror homages throughout are definitely a treat for any fan of the genre. I can’t honestly recall every tip of the hat but there is one shot that humorously parodies Halloween and Friday the 13th in the same image, which I quite enjoyed.

“Ghoul whisperer” Norman gets spooked by his zombie lamp inPARANORMAN, directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler,the new comedy thriller from LAIKA and Focus Features.

I also would like to mention the animation. I have a deep admiration for any filmmaker working in stop-motion animation, not only because of the time and effort it takes to shoot a stop motion film but because of what it adds to the story. It adds a tangible effect to the film that other types of animation can’t boast. Computer generated films are impressive because of what they can conjure up visually while coming close to realism, but because they are done entirely with a computer I find it difficult to engage fully in the animation. They’re still trying to make everything look so real, which makes me look at it in an attempt to judge the realness. I think with any kind of imagery that isn’t filmed reality you’d want the image to pull you in and not show it’s seams. Stop motion goes for an unusual look (which, for my buck, is what animation should be used for) that displays more creativity than the most realistic looking computer generated moose or elf or human.

That’s really all I have to say. It was certainly a fun flick and recommended viewing during the Halloween season.

Podcast #9: 9/25/2015 – Talking Football, Discussing HELLRAISER and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON; The Proposed Remakes of THE EXORCIST, TRUE ROMANCE, MAJOR LEAGUE; An Update on My Rickety Hip, Plus lots more….

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This pod took place over two days but it actually helped out the content since the Morgan Creek movie sell-off occurred on Thursday after I recorded the first part of the pod. So I get into that in the second half of the show, but first I talk about football a bit, some horror movie nonsense, my views on college student attitudes, especially in reference to my Feminist Philosophy class, a pop music beef that’s not really a beef, and finally an update on my hip situation. It’s two parts but still managed to come in at my usual time. Hope you enjoy!

Note: If you listen to this show I’d appreciate a comment on the site or on iTunes. Plus you can find this podcast on Soundcloud.

Podcast #8: 9/15/15 – Rambling About Football, Fantasy Sports, My Health Problems, TIFF Reactions, Trailers for “The Jungle Book”, Krampus” and “Hardcore”, Plus! The Awesome “Hells’ Club” Movie Mash-Up”

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I’m all over the place on this week’s podcast, which I found to be a generally a fun episode. I lament my horrible luck in fantasy sports while being jubilant for the return of the NFL season, then I chat about my degenerative hip problem, the Toronto International Film Festival, movie trailers for The Jungle Book, Krampus, and Hardcore, video games and movies, and finally about the “Hell’s Club” movie mash-up YouTube video (Links below!). Hope you enjoy!

P.S. If anyone is actually listening to this pod please let me know somehow. As of right now I assume I’m just talking to myself, so if you listen and enjoy feel free to comment or share the pod on Facebook and/or Twitter, or wherever you kids go to get your kicks these days. Thanks!

NEW PODCAST! Episode #7 – Talking Wes Craven, Horror Movies and My Top 10 Favorite Horror Movies to Watch During the Halloween Season

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It’s only been 5 months since I recorded one of these….but, I’m back! Not talking news or doing any movie reviews, so consider this a special pod. Today I talk about the passing of horror icon Wes Craven as well as the upcoming Halloween season, so I include my top 10 favorite horror movies to watch during the season. I ramble and stutter quite a bit but this is generally a fun subject, so bear with me. Hope you enjoy!

Red Band Trailer for DEADPOOL (2016) Comes Online!

Last year we got the test footage that made this movie possible at all, then a few days ago we got the humorous teaser for the actual trailer, and in between we’ve been inundated with stills and such from Ryan Reynolds via his Instagram account. All in all, a lot of promotional material has been shot for this film. I expect we’ll all get Deadpool Christmas cards this year.

Anyway, here’s the trailer. It looks fun as hell. Enjoy. In a NSFW way, of course.

Review: TRAINWRECK (2015)

Trainwreck is the Amy Schumer show masquerading (pretty successfully) as an R-rated romantic comedy. If every film is essentially a series of ingredients mixed up in a bowl and served as the sum of all those ingredients you could say this recipe is 60% Amy Schumer and 60% Judd Apatow. That is to say, there’s just a little too much of each.

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Schumer has made a healthy career as a smart, crude, misandrist-like comedian whose stand-up routines could make Andrew Dice Clay feel awkward. She’s a strong woman who daftly points out irregularities in gender, sex and sexuality and does so with wit and intelligence. She says things about men that male comedians have been saying about women for years. As if to say “the world is stupid and here I am to tell you all how stupid you are.” I have a feeling it comes easy to her, and in a perfect world she would be the norm.

But, as with most comedians, this is a visage. She makes a living saying the one thing A) she isn’t supposed to say because she is a woman, B) that a man might typically say, and/or C) that would be the most shocking. And she’s terrific at her day job. That visage is how she wrote the character in the film, which is simply her stage persona on the big screen. And thankfully she’s so smart she’s able to pull it off.

Considering this is Schumer’s introduction to the world, for the most part, she has to display her persona in full force, for better or for worse. She plays a wise-ass with commitment issues who likes to drink and smoke weed. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s the male part of every R-rated romantic comedy, especially Apatow comedies. She likes to sleep around and has trouble with intimacy. Hell, there’s a whole sub-genre of sit-com characters based on those same traits (“Two and a Half Men” and “How I Met Your Mother” for instance). This gender-swapping definitely adds an unfamiliar and welcomed element to the picture. But while it’s fresh and different that the character is played by a female in this movie, it’s still a character we’ve seen 1000 times before. This one is just a little funnier. Sadly, this means you can’t predict what she’ll say next but you can certainly figure out what she’ll do next.

Now, what I’ve just described is Schumer’s 60% of this film. She wrote the screenplay and is the lead actor. The character’s name is “Amy”. There is no separation of actor and character. There are definitely scenes that play out like comedy sketches (as might be featured on her show “Inside Amy Schumer”) and bits from her stand-up routine. Most of these scenes are funny but the problem is they feel like sketches and stand-up bits. They are pure set-up for her to make an outrageous or offensive remark, and because of this it doesn’t feel like organic comedy. In other words, it’s written so the narrative sets up the comedy instead of the comedy moving the narrative forward.

Unfortunately, this is where the 60% of Judd Apatow comes into play. He’s made a living making tangential films with paper-thin, clichéd stories that are mere window dressings for his troupe of improvisational actors (Seth Rogan, Bill Hader, Jonah Hill, etc). This film isn’t paper-thin, but it is littered with more than enough tangents and clichés. Bits like the “You know how I know you’re gay….” scene from The 40 Year-Old Virgin are everywhere in this movie, but most of them are quite funny. The scenes with LeBron James, in particular, standout as funny if not completely unnecessary scenes. And for a movie that runs over 2 hours they can drag the story down. The John Cena plotline at the beginning of the film is a perfect example of a useless, largely unfunny tangent with no payoff. I have a feeling they knew they had a clichéd story and tried to be funny enough to cover it up.  Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t, like most Apatow productions.

The bottom line is Amy Schumer is a really funny and really smart comedian who has established her brand. Judd Apatow is a funny and smart filmmaker who has also established a brand. While the two brands often times meld in the right places, there are enough times that the marriage is too much. Where the film at its best is when it is subverting gender roles, and that is 100% Schumer’s writing and comedic talents. Thankfully, Schumer and Bill Hader are charming and funny enough that the outcome is largely positive.

Hope you enjoy!

Review: INSIDE OUT (2015)

Pixar’s recent critical cold streak (Cars 2, Brave, Monsters University) has seemingly come to an end with the high concept, internal conflict film, Inside Out.

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Kids’ movies are usually critic-proof in terms of critical content, but I feel like Inside Out straddles the line between adult and kid friendly and offers something extra to think about.

The framework of the narrative is built around the personification of a little girl’s emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. The majority of the screentime is focused on these five as the young girl is faced with the transition of moving with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco. After the move we spend most of the time with Joy and Sadness, who become separated from the rest of the emotions. Do you see where this is headed? Because it’s very easy to spot early on. And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with a simplistic theme because, again, this is a kid’s film.

There is a fairly meticulous construct that makes up the film’s idea of the brain, whose elements include core and normal memories, small islands erected to show interests and personality traits, a literal train of thought, a dream set that resembles a movie set, a memory dump where old memories fade away, and so on and so forth. And these areas are generally populated with cute little animated beings for the kids to enjoy.

This depiction of the brain is fairly accurate to how a physical construction of a brain might work if you combined an adult’s knowledge with a child’s imagination. Only, I wonder if populating this world with cute, colorful entities is enough for kids to make any sense of it. The part most kids will relate to is the part of the narrative where Joy and Sadness get lost and have to find their way back. It provides the “adventure home” narrative tension that appeals to a child’s cinematic tastes. However, I wonder if a child understands the metaphor attached to that struggle. You never lose those emotions, but sometimes they fall into the background during times of turmoil, which is the scenario this movie depicts. The film provides a scenario where Joy and Sadness are in danger of being lost forever, seemingly in order to keep the kids interested, but adults know this is an impossible outcome.

They present a colorful world with a very binary depiction of emotions. When things go wrong characters get sad, and when they don’t know how to deal with that they get angry. As an adult you know things rarely work that way. Emotions are complicated and often overlap with several other emotions at one time. I suppose this is where I take issue with the film, from an adult’s perspective.

The ideas presented in this film are dumbed down to make sense to a child, but I feel like if you asked a child to explain the inner workings of the mind based on the landscape they create in this film you’d get a very one-dimensional answer and not a complete understanding. Which is fine except why go through all the time and effort to create this rich world? Adults know it’s silly, and kids just enjoy the colors and humor.

So who is this movie for? Most adults will know there’s more to emotion and brain activity than this and kids will only attach themselves to the cute emotions and the various little beings that live in this girl’s mind.

This isn’t to say it’s a bad movie, I just don’t think it’s enough. It’s a high concept with a low return. Go see it with adults, or kids, because the conversation you have afterward is worth it.

Review: ANT-MAN (2015)

This film is first and foremost a product of the Marvel machine, which means it’s entertaining and fun but nothing more than set-up for future Ant-Man tales.

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The story is smaller than those of Thor and The Avengers based simply on character recognition, but rest assured we’ll see this diminutive character alongside the likes of Captain Rogers and Tony Stark soon enough. First we need to see an origin story, just as we saw with every other major Marvel character. And if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Let’s check off the boxes: a reluctant or unknowing character gains a power or is chosen to be wield a power, the character fumbles around during training sequences, a paper-thin villain is introduced, in the last 30 minutes the hero has a dramatic character moment that alters their arc, and finally they gear up for battle and save the day. On a small scale. Let’s not forget, it takes at least 2 movies before we get to see any actual stakes or a formidable villain.

But again, the purpose of this film is to build towards a larger future. Marvel can’t introduce Ant-Man into their future Avengers movies without setting him up within the universe they’ve created. And they certainly do that in this film, going so far as to have a mini-fight with a lesser Avenger right in the middle of the movie, which turns out to be one of the cooler sequences in the film. I personally enjoy when characters and storylines cross over, and maybe that’s just the inner comic book fan in me saying that. The Avengers films have firmly been ingrained in our culture at this point, and a reference to the super team is made very early in this film so we’re aware that they have similarly affected the world within their cinematic world.

The issue with all these movies is stakes, or lack there of. Every audience member is aware that Scott Lang will accomplish the mission and survive the film, so it must be the job of the director to make sure it’s fun and captivating despite the lack of tension. I would say this film has less tension than most superhero films solely because the villain is so one-dimensional and really poorly written, which is tragic considering the run-time is almost a robust 2 hours. I think writers and directors forget sometimes that the strength of a hero is directly affected by the strength of their adversary. In this case the adversary is, essentially, a douchebag. There are some pretty long stretches of time where he leaves the film as we see the family tensions between the film’s two real stars, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly (taking nothing away from Paul Rudd’s “Scott Lang”, but neither Rudd nor Lang are allowed to be anything more than pawn pieces). The villain pops up sporadically just to remind us who Scott will have to defeat later and to add any layer of tension other than familial drama. You could almost say the film only has a villain because it needs one to function as a comic narrative, not because the story dictates it. The villain doesn’t teach our hero anything, he learns everything his character needs to satisfy his arc from his friends and, sadly, that strips the villain of any narrative resonance. Think of what the Joker means to Batman and how he affects him in The Dark Knight. That doesn’t happen in this film.

Where the film succeeds is in Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) backstory as the first Ant-Man, the tension with his daughter, any time Scott puts on the suit, and any time Scott’s trio of cohorts (Michael Peña, T.I., David Dastmalchian) are on-screen. There is ample humor spread over the last hour or so of the film, mostly provided by his three amigos, to go along with the action and the final showdown is cool and fun, even going so far as to poke fun at its own size in a pretty funny Thomas the Tank Engine sequence. Sounds silly, but it’s good stuff.

I won’t go into the Edgar Wright controversy, I’ll just say Peyton Reed made a simply told, entertaining film. The fact that two separate writing and directing crews worked on this at various times surely affected the final product. For what it’s worth, if you see Ant-Man you’ll have a good time.

Mini-Review: THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)

I just got out of the 27-hour Marvel movie marathon (11 movies straight), which concluded with The Avengers: Age of Ultron. I’m not sure it’s necessarily the Age of Ultron as the title says, but the villain serves as a decent backdrop to a more serious narrative about the team of superheroes. Unfortunately, most of these franchises have failed to come up with a great villain (only Loki and maybe The Winter Soldier are exceptions), and while James Spader lends an interesting persona to the character, it still is merely another robot the team has to fight.

But fight they do, and spectacularly at that. The action sequences are lengthy and brutal, highlighted by a “chaos cinema” style of camera work and action framing. Having watched all the Marvel movies in a row lends an interesting perspective on the style of the films, seeing as how many of the action beats are nearly identical to each other as the films methodically follow a pattern which has worked for Marvel so far.

I’m a little loopy from my experience and I’ll have more to say at a later date, but suffice to say the film is very satisfying from an entertainment perspective and builds upon the ideologies set forth in each of the franchises.

My 5 Predictions for THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

I’ve mentioned this on the podcast recently, but for those of you that don’t know I’ll be out of town for the rest of the week, partly due to my girlfriend and I attending the Ultimate Marvel Marathon. This event is composed of every single Phase 1 and 2 Marvel movie played in chronological order, starting with Iron Man and culminating with The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

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That’s right, folks, all the flicks. It will be a grueling 27 hour stretch of back-to-back films and we’re psyched for it. Of course, the ultimate excitement comes from seeing Age of Ultron, which has been building in momentum over the last month or so as the big premier weekend approaches. Considering all the news and rumors popping up around superhero movies these days it’s pretty difficult to keep anything about these films under wraps for very long. I, myself, have avoided all trailers and online featurettes from the film in an attempt to see it without any pre-conceptions.

All I have is my knowledge of the previous films and a smattering of facts about the Phase 3 films and where the MCU arc is headed. So, I figured I’d come up with 5 predictions before Thursday night and see how close I came to seeing any of them happen in the film. Here goes:

1. No major character, aside from Ultron, will die

Most of these actors and their characters are scheduled (re: contracted) to appear in more films, and considering Marvel has already announced a 2-part sequel to this film plus several stand-alone films and cross-over stories I would have to imagine the entire cast would return, though I would say all bets are off for The Avengers: Infinity War.

2. Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Tony Stark (Iron Man) will not see eye-to-eye.

This film will likely see the beginning of the government regulations that lead to Tony and Cap feuding, which serves as the plot to Cap’s next sequel, Captain America: Civil War. They bickered a bit in the first Avengers flick, mostly about Cap’s naivety concerning S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secrecy and Tony’s arrogance/selfishness, but it’s likely that the tables will turn and those ideologies will reverse as the two find an important government matter to disagree upon for their own reasons.

3. Black Widow will be involved in a love triangle.

The first Avengers film hinted at a back-story between Black Widow and Hawkeye and an emotional connection between the two. However, that seemed to be a distant memory a mere 2 movies later considering the presence of sexual and romantic tension in Captain America: The Winter Soldier between Agent Romanoff and Captain Rogers. It seems likely that, with the entire team assembled, there will be some mixed emotions and jealousy between the two men at some point, though I would put my money on Hawkeye being the jealous one.

4. Dr. Banner (Hulk) will go into hiding or be missing at the end.

This film has an Empire Strikes Back vibe going for it as we head towards the opening. It just seems like things are going to go wrong and some characters are going to turn away from the team in the end, unlike the first one. My guess would be Dr. Banner, who was the least inclined to join the team as a fighting member originally, so I think it would be suffice to say that if anything goes horribly wrong (and I’m sure something will) he may turn his back on the whole thing. Or…..he gets physically removed from the team in some way.

5. Ultron will not fulfill his goal of world domination….but he will do enough damage to change it significantly.

Again, things are going to go wrong, but what have we learned from these movies? They’re serials and the most important element isn’t necessarily the actual villain our heroes have to fight, but what kind of damage the villain does to them and the world on an ideological, psychological, and political level going forward. That is what pushes the universe forward. The villain has to die so it doesn’t become too stale, but there has to be an after-effect that sends a ripple through the rest of the cinematic universe and starts another chain of events. My guess is the government becomes more involved in superhero doings as a result of the creation and destruction of Ultron, and there is a fall-out from that.

So, those are my 5 predictions. We’ll see how they play out later in the week. Feel free to comment your own predictions at the bottom!