Incredibles 2 (2018)

Incredibles 2

Fighting crime is hard enough without having a baby to watch over.

It should come as very little surprise that it took fourteen years to bring the Parr family back to the big screen in Incredibles 2. Director and writer Brad Bird knew he had characters that are rivaled by few in the Disney Universe (not just Pixar), so he took his time. The result is a sequel that, while it does not live up to the original, still is passable as family fun for all ages.

The movie picks up right where we left off in the first film. The Parr family is chasing after the Underminer (Pixar voice man John Ratzenberger). After his escape, the family is under legal trouble again, and must go back into hiding. That all changes when they are approached by super hero enthusiast Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener). They tell of a plan of how Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) can wear hidden cameras to show the hero point of view, not the point of view from the politicians. The choice is eventually made that Elastigirl will be the best bet for the public since she destroys the least amount of property.

This leaves Bob alone with his kids as a stay at home dad (though Deavor has given them a new house with amazing features). This is the plot where the film adds the most laughs, as Bob is unaware at first of his kids’ individual problems. Dash (Huck Milner) needs help with homework (“Why would they change math?!”). Violet (Sarah Vowell) is upset because her crush from the first film Tony (Michael Bird, son of Brad Bird) had his memory erased of her and does not know who she is. Then of course, there is Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) who is discovering his new powers along with his family. It is so desperate that Bob even has to go to Edna (Brad Bird) for help (while in his monster form, Jack-Jack is also voiced by Nicholas Bird, the other son of Brad Bird).

Meanwhile, Elastigirl is on the hunt for a new villain named Screenslaver, who does have secrets of his own (I did guess at who the identity of the Screenslaver was, but I will still not reveal it). His powers are able technical in that he can entrance people on the TV screen. Eventually, this tech is transmitted to goggles.

There are other minor characters that don’t get as much screen time, but are fun to have around anyway. These are the super heroes who have also been in hiding, such as Voyd (Sophia Bush), Helectrix (Phil LaMarr), and others with their own unique powers.

Parents, the film may be the first time I have heard some swearing in a Disney/Pixar film (very minor ones like Hell and Crap). Aside from that, it is safe to say that any kid would be fine with this film if they saw the original.

The movie is fun, but far from the (pardon the pun) incredible first film. It does lack the originality and uniqueness from the first film, and does not nearly have as good a villain (though few can compare to Syndrome). Still, that should not stop you from having a great time with your family.

Though I would advise you to tell your kids that fighting a racoon may not be the best idea.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars ***1/2

 

Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther

The Black Panther sticks another landing for Marvel

Perhaps it is late for me to say, but Marvel Studios is starting to mirror that of Pixar, in that it is hard for them to have a flop financially or critically (it helps when you partner with Disney). A decade after the universe was launched with Iron Man, Marvel Studios is still going strong, and now delivers one of their very best in Black Panther.

Introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther takes place just after those events, where T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is being crowned King of Wakanda. Wakanda is a country steeped in poverty, but only in the eyes of the outside world. We learn it is truly flourishing with technology that is beyond anything we have yet seen in a Marvel movie (or any other). At first, I was afraid it would be too much like Asgard (the home world of Thor), but Wakanda still manages to stand out as its own environment.

Before he can take his place as king, T’Challa/Black Panther must stop Ulysses Klau (the always reliable Andy Serkis) from stealing Vibranium (the key substance to Wakanda and its economy, not to mention weapons and armor). Helping him is Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who manages to make a name for himself along the best of Marvel’s baddies.

What makes Black Panther so wonderful is the same formula that makes nearly all other Marvel films great as well. The actors take the roles seriously, but are still managing to have a lot of fun (especially Andy Serkis). Director Ryan Coogler (who also directed Jordan in Creed and Fruitvale Station) never has moments (well, maybe one or two) that drag on. We are enticed from the word go.

It also helps that, despite lack of screen time, every actor is giving all they got to the roles they play. Such actors include (but are not limited to) Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead‘s Michonne), Daniel Kaluuya (recent Oscar nominee for Get Out), Angela Bassett, and Sterling K. Brown (This is Us). When you see them on-screen, you know talent is erupting.

Parents, this is another Marvel movie, so if your kids have seen at least one (I don’t know many kids who haven’t), they are fine here. There is some swearing and violence, but no sexual content or nudity (despite some female characters wearing some revealing clothing, but nothing bad).

Is Black Panther the best Marvel movie? The vote is still out, but it is definitely in the running. It says a lot about an action/adventure movie when the action free scenes are as engrossing as the action scenes are (which are superb).

It is clear that 2018 now has its first great movie. And what a movie.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars ****1/2

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (2017)

Olafs frozen adventure

Olaf’s 21 minute quest to find a holiday tradition.

It was around the second preview before Coco that I got up to use the rest room. On my way back to the theater, I noticed a sign I must have missed the second time around. The sign read that Coco would start later than normal, because the animated short, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, was nearly 21 minutes long.

I had not really cared much to see the short in the first place (I did vastly enjoy the original Frozen, but I like it so much more when the short films before a Disney/Pixar film are original pieces). Earlier in the day, a friend’s daughter said she would see Coco only because she wanted to see Olaf. To her, I say the following: this is one move from Disney I cannot support. I have seldom been more angry at the company.

It was very tempting of me to give this short film (which is far from short) my first zero rating, but I must admit I did smile at a few moments (the only one I do remember liking a bit is about fruitcake). The premise is simple: It is Christmas time in Arendel and the sisters Ana (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) set up for a big dinner, they realize no one will come since everyone has their own Christmas traditions. This is when Olaf (Josh Gad) decides to find a tradition for his friends to have together.

The movie is harmless, but with a runtime of just over 20 minutes (including four songs (which are forgettable), Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is the best example of superfluous I can think of. I sat there, wondering why not just use this as a TV special? Sure enough, when I got home, I found out the film was supposed to be a TV special, but the execs and makers found the material “too theatrical”.

Uh huh.

If a movie theater (and, according to reports, the one I was at was not the only one) is letting you know that the main feature is going to start later than normal due to the “short” before hand, you made a grave mistake (it also does not help that it is not shown for critics).

It is bad enough that I had to be reminded that this was not the first short from the Frozen universe (Frozen Fever was played before 2015’s live action Cinderella). Olaf’s Frozen Adventure will be remembered for every wrong reason imaginable. I would not be surprised if they don’t even include it on the home release of Coco (which, unlike Olaf, is far more worth your money).

Still not convinced? Even the kid next to me was saying how glad he was the thing finally ended.

 

Overall: Half a Star 1/2 *

Coco (2017)

Coco

Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) loves music, even when his family disapproves.

 

Up the stairs and to the left.

That is where my grandma keeps the photos of her past. One picture in particular came to my mind frequently while watching Disney/Pixar’s latest triumph, Coco. It is the photo of my great-grand father as a kid. My grandma always said I had his eyes, and the more I look at it, the more I agree.

Family and music are the two obvious elements of Coco. We learn that Coco is not the main character, but the main character’s great-grandmother. The main character’s name is Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez, giving a stunning breakout performance reminiscent of Moana’s Auli’i Cravalho). He is a young boy living with his family of shoemakers. The family is loving, but is strict on having no music whatsoever. Miguel’s great-great grandfather (Coco’s father) left the family to pursue a music career, and never returned. He was therefore rejected by the family, and his picture torn away.

Still,  the love of music is in Miguel’s bones (and he is no slouch either at the guitar). He idolizes his hero, the late Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), yearning to play exactly like him. Even so, his family (especially his grandma, Coco’s daughter) strongly hate the idea, even breaking Miguel’s guitar. When he tries to steal the real Cruz’s guitar, he makes an unexpected trip to the land of the dead, trying to find out why he can’t bring his love of music into his home. On his trip, he meets (not surprisingly) a vast number of characters, including a lovable dog named Dante, many dead relatives, and a mysterious wanderer named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal).

The film has at least two plot twists, neither of which I will spoil, except that one of them was kind of a given and the other I was not expecting. What I can say of the movie is that it is, of course, visual eye candy. Before the film even began, there was a short two-minute intro by the makers of the film (which seemed odd to me), saying how thankful they were to the countless people who worked on the film. Just watching the film is proof enough that the film took a lot of time and care to make. The land of the dead never seemed so vibrant.

Parents, the movie is Disney/Pixar, so the kids will be fine. Yes, there are some thematic moments, but nothing too bad for a child.

Is Coco the best of Disney/Pixar? Probably not, but it is surely a great movie. It does have some plot points that seem easily covered up, and the villain is bad, but sub par. Still, the visuals are amazing, the music (by frequent Disney/Pixar composer Michael Giacchino) adds to the film’s love for music, and the ending emotional punch is one of the best the studio has ever offered (my eyes got a little wet).

Coco is a film that is not just one you will always remember, but one worth it as well.

Es Muy Excellente.

Overall: Four Stars ****

Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away

Every frame of Spirited Away is a jewel, but this one of Chihiro is the most poetic…

Even though I have seen Hayao Miyazaki’s uncanny masterpiece Spirited Away countless times (there are only two or three other movies I think I have seen more), I only just recently finally saw it on the big screen, as well as in its original language. Still, it lost not one ounce of its magical effect: The experience only added to it.

As the first anime movie I ever saw, I can safely say that Spirited Away is the one anime movie for people who don’t think they like anime movies. Miyazaki has made countless classics, but this has to be his number one film (though My Neighbor Totoro is a close second).

The story of Spirited Away is like that of Alice in Wonderland. A ten year old girl named Chihiro (Daveigh Chase, who was also Lilo in Lilo & Stitch) is on her way to her new home when her parents stumble upon what looks to be an abandoned theme park. They see food that does not seem to be for anyone, so they eat it (well, chow down). Chihiro eventually realizes that the park is a place of unimaginable creatures and spirits. Her quest has her meet unforgettable characters including the tyrannical boss Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette), the boiler man Kamachi (David Odgen Stiers), the blunt yet kind Lin (Susan Egan), and the helpful friend Haku (Jason Marsden).

I will leave it at that, because this a movie that is not to be seen or heard, but experienced. Any artist out there would benefit to pause every frame, and spend five minutes looking at it. Miyazaki (who also wrote the script) gives such pin point detail to each inch of our screens that we are stunned. Even the animators at Disney and Pixar will tell you how much of a master this man is.

Upon watching the movie again, I also realized how much of a hero Chihiro really is. It is not just that she puts herself in harm’s way (the scene where she runs on a pipe is beyond bold for any person), but it is why she does it. Despite her puny appearance (she looks like she weighs no more than 50-60 pounds), she has a heart of purity and soundness, and it is perfectly reflected in the film’s closing line (which is very underrated).

Parents, this is a movie for any child. There are some scares, but nothing too bad. More so, it is one which you can sit down and watch with them (and even enjoy).

 

Recently, I did a poll on Instagram about whether Disney should keep making live action remakes of their films (most were for the idea). I am personally growing tired of it: Some of them did work, but now they are just overshadowing the far better originals. Spirited Away is one movie that, no matter how much money Disney (or any studio) has will ever be done well in live action. Heck, bring in James Cameron, and a live action version would still be terrible. Some movies are meant to stay the way they are.

I could go on and on about my love for Spirited Away, but it is better to experience for yourself if you haven’t already done so. It is impossible not to be moved by this film.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Finding Dory (2016)

Finding Dory

Dory, Nemo, and (nearly) all from the first film are back, with sensational new characters…

Perhaps the greatest irony in the Disney/Pixar universe is how unforgettable Dory really is.

Immortalized by Ellen DeGeneres, she charmed every heart on earth back in 2003’s Finding Nemo. You would be seldom to find anyone who had a different character named their favorite from the film. Now she gets her own lead role in Finding Dory, set one year after the original (though thirteen years later in real life).

She suddenly starts getting images back to her mind, which become memories of her parents (voiced by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton). She is (nearly) one step ahead of Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Haden Rolence). Eventually, they are lead to an aquarium that Dory was born in.

As any Disney/Pixar flick, we are introduced to a collage of new characters, from a near-sighted whale Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and her friend Baily (Ty Burrell) to a bunch of lazy, lovable sea lions. Still, everyone has a favorite, and mine has to be the squid named Hank, who is voiced by the wonderful Ed O’Neill. I can only imagine the writers saying that only he could play that role.

Is it better than the first film? No, not at all. The first one was one of Disney/Pixar’s very best films. At the time, the studio really out did themselves with something that has nearly revolutionized the way we see things underwater to this day, while being both visually breathtaking and giving us a heart rendering story. The second film spends a little too much time out of the water, leaving us with a little less wonder than the first one did. It also leaves us with a lack of a real villain, unless you count the fact that humans are the real villian (which was told to perfection a long time ago in Bambi).

Parents: As long as your kids have seen the original (which I hope they have), they are ok seeing this film.

In the end, the film makers do justice to the characters (as in the Toy Story Trilogy). It also gives us a fitting end to the story line (at least for now) of Dory. She is forgetful, but she is loyal. She acts on instinct. She is kind to everyone.

We should all do what Dory does more often.

Note: I missed what happens after the credits, and I regret it horribly. Don’t make my mistake.

 

Overall: 3 and a half stars *** 1/2

Inside Out (2015)

Fear, Joy, and Disgust are just three of Riley's voices in

Fear, Joy, and Disgust are just three of Riley’s voices in “Inside Out”

After Toy Story 3, I have felt that Disney/Pixar has been on a tad bit of a slump. I was not a fan of Brave, and the sequels (plus one prequel) were all sub par, especially to the early works of Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up.

Now comes Inside Out, and Disney/Pixar is back with a big bang. It is one of their top four or five films they have made. I left the theater thinking of one word: Spectacular.

The film tells the story of a young girl, Riley Anderson (Kaityn Dias). Well, it is really about the voices in her head. The film gives us the perfect cast for each voice. The main one is Joy, voiced by the always upbeat Amy Poehler. There is Sadness, played by Phyllis Smith (who played Phyllis on the US TV series “The Office”.) There is Disgust, played by another actor from “The Office”, Mindy Kaling. Then there is fear, played with comic brilliance by the always great Bill Hader. Finally, possibly the best cast of them all is Anger played by the only person it could be, Lewis Black.

One of the best things about the characters is how much they care for Riley. None of them are bad (despite Anger learning a curse word he wants to use), but deeply care for Riley (especially Joy).

The film starts with Riley’s childhood, showing (mostly) thoughts of Joy (which are spheres that reminded me of Minority Report). One day, however, she is told by her Mom (Diane Lane) and Dad (Kyle MacLachlan) that they are moving from Minnesota to San Francisco. Eventually, in this time, Sadness and Joy will have left the main control room and go to long-term memory, leaving Disgust, Anger, and Fear to control Riley.

I will leave it at that, because I would hate to give away any key moments that you deserve to see cold. I will say that the film brought me moments I did not expect, such as seeing some of the voices in the parents’ heads (with laugh out loud results), how our dreams are made, and a forgotten imaginary friend named Bing Bong (Richard Kind) who will tug at the heart-strings.

Parents, if your child can sit through a movie, then they can see this one. There is nothing wrong with it.

I must urge all the children out there: don’t just let your parents doze off during this film. It truly is a film for all ages. At my screening, there was a lot of laughter, and most of that came from the adults (although plenty from the kids as well). This is clearly the best film of the year so far, and will easily be on my top ten list of 2015. I plan on seeing it many more times.

Here is to hoping the Oscars are finally ok with giving an animated film Best Original Screenplay.

Note: The movie is preceded by another winning short animated film. The one this time around is Lava, with a very nice catchy song.

Overall: 5 Stars *****