Paddington 2 Review

I would’ve never guessed that the sequel to Paddington, a cute family comedy about a talking bear, would be made with the same care and consideration as the first. Even more shocking to me is that Paddington 2 turned out to be even better than its predecessor, with more laughs and excitement to be had then before.

Having settled down with the Brown family, Paddington bear continuously spreads childlike wonder and joy throughout his community. One day he sees a pop-up book in an antique store and decides to save up his money to purchase it. Thinking that the pop-up book would be a great gift for his aunt for her 100th birthday. However, when a thief breaks in and steals the book, Paddington is framed for the robbery. As Paddington adjusts to life in prison, he brings his warmth and joy to very unlikely people. Meanwhile, the Brown family attempts to find the culprit behind the theft and free Paddington before his Aunt Lucy’s birthday.

The most surprising part about Paddington 2 was just how laugh out loud funny it was. Who knew that situations like, say, Paddington getting a ten-year prison sentence, would have such a strong comedic output. The scenes with Paddington in jail were among the best moments of the film, and I enjoyed them to a great degree. The film jumped at every opportunity to throw in a joke, whether it be slapstick or a more sophisticated and subtle humor, and just about all of them were right on the money.

Hugh Grant as the villainous Phoenix Buchanan was delightfully hilarious and fit the mood of the story just right. The rest of the cast fit the bill quite nicely too, as they all felt very authentic and kindhearted in their performances.

Paddington 2 is quite a lot of things. Exciting. Funny. Charming. Sincere. But most importantly, the film is genuine. Paddington 2 isn’t trying to manipulate children’s emotions, and neither is it a cheap, mundane piece of entertainment to be forgotten soon after viewing. It’s a film with crystal clear, straightforward messages that any parent (or person) could get behind.

Paddington Bear teaches children how one person (or bear, in this case) can positively affect the lives of everyone around them. He emphasizes manners, honesty, and kindness, and applies these to every area of his life. Because of this, in my mind Paddington is the perfect role model. I think even adults could learn a lesson from Paddington in how to treat others, more so than children.

Usually I can come up with some sort of flaw or demographic of individual who may not benefit from watching whatever film I’m reviewing. With Paddington 2, I’ve completely drawn a blank. It’s an adorable, family-friendly adventure that nobody should miss out on.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Rise of the Planet of the Apes Review

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the underwhelming introduction to the recently rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise.

The film stars James Franco as Will, a San Francisco scientist working on a drug that he hopes will cure Alzheimer’s, a disease his father (John Lithgow) suffers from. When Will’s experiments (which are conducted using apes as test subjects) are deemed a failure by his colleagues, Will is entrusted as the secret caretaker of a young ape named Caesar (Andy Serkis). Being previously exposed to Will’s drug tests, Caesar displays an unusual level of intelligence, far greater than other apes. And as his intelligence continues to grow over time, Caesar creates an insurrection among apes that threatens the existence of the human race.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes an intriguing look at the typical “don’t control nature” plot. It fuses a whole host of ethical issues and questions into the storyline for the viewer to ponder, many of which reflect on real world problems we as the human race struggle with.

The CGI effects on Caesar, as well as the rest of the apes, were pretty spectacular. This blended well with the performance of Andy Serkis (the man that brought Gollum to life in the Lord of the Rings trilogy), whose talent really shined through with the help of modern-day motion capture. Every little facial expression is finely detailed on the face of Caesar, and by the end of the film his character transcends from animated animal to more human-like than the actual humans.

The majority of the flick takes its time building up to the climax, but perhaps too much time. There are plenty of moments where I felt the film would start to drag, and not even Franco or Serkis could keep the story immersive. However, when the film picks up in the third act, it really picks up. The climactic showdown atop the Golden Gate Bridge is both fast-paced and exciting, the kind of material I was hoping to have seen throughout the entire picture.

On an emotional level, this film really didn’t do much for me. While I thought there was a great dynamic between Franco and Caesar, I never felt as invested as i should’ve been. There were numerous occasions where characters would share heartfelt or poignant scenes that I found hard to even pay attention to. Perhaps this was due to the poor performance of James Franco, who looked rather tired and passionless throughout the entire film, as if he might fall asleep at any given moment.

Best describable as average, Rise of the Planet of the Apes answers for us the obvious question of, “did we really need a Planet of the Apes prequel/origin story”? It has some good CGI effects, a great motion captured performance by Andy Serkis, and a third act that I found to be quite exciting. Yet the film lacked any emotional investment from its leading stars (minus Andy Serkis), creating a boring and uneventful atmosphere for most of the runtime.

The Verdict: C

 

-Zachary Flint

War for the Planet of the Apes Review

War for the Planet of the Apes is the highly anticipated conclusion to the Planet of the Apes trilogy.

The film takes place a few years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, where Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his family have been forced into a devastating war with a ruthless military Colonel. As the apes continue to suffer heavy losses, Caesar goes on a dangerous quest to avenge his kind, while wrestling with his more sinister instincts in the process.

War for the Planet of the Apes took a much different perspective than the previous two films by focusing almost entirely on the character of Caesar. This, I feel, comes with a whole host of advantages and disadvantages.

I find Caesar to be a vastly entertaining protagonist, and having the plot focused on him allowed us to delve even deeper into his character. We see that Caesar is haunted by his past, and watch him continuously seep into a darker place as everything he loves is stripped away from him.

Putting less of an emphasis on the human characters also gives way to a lot of powerful visual acting. Since most of the apes can’t talk, we are forced to rely on their facial expressions and body language to carry the story, and to great success.

The most disappointing aspect of the film (and a major disadvantage of focusing entirely on Caesar) was that it lacked a strong human-ape dynamic. In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the audience was introduced to plenty of bad apes and good apes, as well as bad humans and good humans. This made for a morally complicated situation for the viewer, with many conflicting ideologies that make it hard to know who to support.

War for the Planet of the Apes felt like a huge step down from this. The humans are bad and the apes are good, and it doesn’t get much more complicated than that. Even the evil military Colonel (played by Woody Harrelson) is your basic bad guy, with the obligatory sad backstory to get the viewer to sympathize with his position. The audience is never given anything to mull over regarding the already established, complex morals of Planet of the Apes.

Overall, War for the Planet of the Apes isn’t the most compelling title in the series, but it still stands as a pretty entertaining flick. Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar is beyond captivating, and watching his character arc come full circle at the end was wonderful. The film also utilized the wintry location well, which coupled nicely with great cinematography, camera work, and beautiful visual storytelling. There’s an abundance of very emotional scenes throughout the film that are extremely effective, even if they’re sometimes drawn-out too long.

However, the film ultimately could’ve stood for more than it did, and wasn’t as morally complex as many individuals would have you believe. Instead of taking an in-depth look at the various ideologies and morals that exist in this series, War for the Planet of the Apes went for an overly simplified and watered down plot. Leaving very little to contemplate after you exit the theater.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

The Zookeeper’s Wife Review

The Zookeeper’s Wife tells a very emotional story on a subject that needs to be handled with delicate care. And for the most part, it is very successful in capturing the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. We see the devastation brought by the Nazis, not only how it affects the Jews, but how it affects a zoo full of animals. The Zookeeper’s Wife is all-around heartbreaking, and will evoke feeling from audiences.

The story takes place in Warsaw, Poland, shortly before its invasion by Nazi Germany in 1939. Here, we see the lives of Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) Zabinski, a couple who together run the Warsaw Zoo. A sizable and prolific zoo, everything changes when the Nazis invade Poland. Antonina and Jan are forced to report to the chief German zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), a creul and intuitive man who develops intimate feelings for Antonina. With many of the zoo animals killed or taken by the Nazis, the Zabinskis begin concealing Jews in the underground animal cages, attempting to save as many lives as possible.

The performances of the cast are as emotional as they are convincing. For me, the line was blurred between watching actors on a screen and seeing real people with real life dilemmas. Through these actors, the audience is treated to a poignant, heart-rending story. There were a few characters, like Antonina Zabinski, that could’ve been written stronger and more confident, but generally everything fell right into place.

I think the most respectable aspect of the entire film is that, almost everything portrayed on screen actually happened. Often these “based on a true story” type of films are horribly inaccurate, which in hindsight can taint how enjoyable I find the movie. But here, the filmmakers did everything in their power to keep the events in the movie historically accurate, which is a decision I find highly admirable.

The third act of the film unfortunately felt a little unfocused, when compared to the rest of the story. The plot started centering in on aspects that had no significance or consequence to the overall story that was being developed. We began to rapidly see great leaps in time, ranging from just a couple months to even years. I understand that the film was attempting to give us the complete story of the Zabinski’s and The Warsaw Zoo, and some skipping around was necessary. I just feel that this could’ve been implemented into the story in a much more effective way, so that it didn’t come off as jumbled.

After viewing the Zookeeper’s Wife, I really feel like I got my money’s worth. This wasn’t a cheap product quickly thrown together to make a buck, this was a film treated with precision and care. I love how much dedication went into making this heart-wrenching and beautiful story come to life, in a way that respects its source material. The Zookeeper’s Wife was well directed and acted, and while the film could’ve been a little better constructed, I definitely think it’s worth watching.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint

Born in China Review

This most recent installment of the Disneynature documentary series, titled Born in China, was directed by Lu Chuan and narrated by John Krasinski (The Office).

Born in China follows the interesting lives of various animals native to China. These animals include a Panda named Ya Ya, a Snow Leopard named Dawa, and a Monkey named Tao Tao. We the audience get taken on an adventure to see these animals at their highest, and lowest moments in life.

I was surprised at how well Born in China was able to tell a cohesive narrative with these animals. It seems that all the cards fell perfectly into place for the filmmakers, as these animals all live incredibly fascinating lives. They dealt with matters pertaining to family, growing up, death, and the struggle for survival. Overall, everything in the film flowed very well, and kept my attention easily.

Dealing with animals that live in remote parts of China, Born in China served as a good learning tool for the audience. We learn about the vast open landscapes of China, as well as the harsh realities that nature has in store. Having limited knowledge about these animals, I really enjoyed the educational aspect of the documentary.

There were occasional line deliveries from the narrator that came off as awkward and completely unnecessary. At times where we should’ve been just observing the animals interacting with one another, we had to listen to ignorant comments made by the narrator. These comments were cute once in a while, but for the most part just annoying.

Despite the issues in the narration, Born in China remains an atmospheric and educational little documentary. Just like the other Disneynature films, it was entrancing to watch and delightful to experience.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

The Fox and the Hound Review

You know, for a film that is titled the Fox and the Hound, over half the film features neither a fox, nor a hound. Instead, it’s filled with unnecessary side characters that leave little to no impact on the viewer whatsoever.

The story revolves around a Fox named Tod (Mickey Rooney), whose taken in by a kind widow after his mother, like in so many Disney films, was killed. Eventually Tod befriends the neighbor’s new hunting pup named Copper (Kurt Russell), and the two become the best of friends. Sadly, the friendship between the two is hindered by Copper’s owner Amos Slade (Jack Albertson), who wishes to turn him into a hunting dog. Over time, Tod and Copper grow older and more distant from each other, and it seems they will have to overcome their differences in order to save their friendship.

I think the greatest downfall of the Fox and the Hound is how underwhelming the overall story is. Nothing about the film really left an impression on me, and I find myself not really remembering many specific details. Even the songs, which are almost always memorable in Disney flicks, were very forgettable.

The plot felt all over the place, as there were so many characters shoved into this eighty minute movie that the film lost its focus. The film is supposed to be about the struggling relationship between a fox and a hound, very simple and entertaining. Yet the Fox and the Hound felt the need to throw in as many uninteresting side characters as possible. There is even a part where the audience is introduced to three new characters with only twenty minutes left in the film, how sloppy.

One aspect I genuinely enjoyed was the classic hand drawn animation, which reminded me of other Disney films like Pinocchio or Dumbo. All the backgrounds are nicely colored and detailed, and the characters all have fluent movements. I took no issue whatsoever with how the Fox and the Hound was animated, as I found its style to be a delight.

There is also a pretty good message thrown in about friendship and how people tend to change over time. Again, it’s not really a new message, but the Fox and the Hound does enough with it for the message to be powerful. Kids will surely get a lot out of it, and adults will find it heartwarming enough to remain entertained.

If you’ve never seen the Fox and the Hound and are interested in seeing it, I’d go ahead and give it a watch. It has a pretty good message for children and features the signature Disney hand drawn style that never seems to get old. However, the plot and characters aren’t written that well, which ultimately gives the audience a very lackluster experience. And a lackluster experience is the last thing I want when I watch a Disney film. Personally, I feel there are plenty of other, more memorable, Disney films to spend your time watching.

The Verdict: C

-Zachary Flint

Zootopia Review

Zootopia is a one of a kind spectacle that will leave everyone in the theater satisfied. It is filled with fun and well developed characters, stunning animation, and a thoroughly thought out message.

Ginnifer Goodwin stars as Judy Hopps, a small rabbit who through hard work and determination becomes the first rabbit police officer. She moves to the lively city of Zootopia in the hopes of making a difference in the community, but faces many obstacles. Being a rabbit, she experiences discrimination from the Police Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) who puts her on parking duty because he feels she cannot handle the work of a real cop. While on parking duty Judy meets a sly, scheming fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), who is a con artist. Judy continues to seek making a name for herself and eventually she is given the opportunity to solve the mysterious disappearances of citizens that have been going on in Zootopia. As well as the strange and violent behaviors that certain predatory animals have been exhibiting. Raising the question that perhaps these predatory animals are returning back to a predatory state. Judy is given 48 hours to solve the mystery before she is forced to resign from the police force. She must enlist in the help of the fox Nick before it is too late.

The city of Zootopia is vibrantly animated and visually stimulating. When Judy Hopps first arrives to the city of Zootopia, the audience is subjected to some of the most stunning visuals I`ve seen in any animated film. We get an overview of the entire city and delve into all the environments where the various species of animals live. One of the strongest points in the film is just how in depth we see the inner workings of the city. There is an entire section within the city that rodents live in. Where all the homes, streets, and stores are scale sized for them. Along with other distinct districts as the arctic tundra and the tropical rainforest. Very little about the city is left for the viewer to have to imagine because so much is shown. I actually found all the visuals of Zootopia to even be overwhelming in a pleasant way.

All the jokes have been hits with viewers young and old. While in the theater I heard more adults laughing at Zootopia`s great sense of humor then I did children. In the film Judy and Nick must question an elephant who is a member of a nudist enclosure. As Judy interrogates the naked the elephant the elephant goes into different yoga positions, causing much discomfort at the discretion of Judy. Nick finding the whole situation amusing. Here is the moment where an individual viewer as myself could see the theater light up with happy families and couples, as everyone was laughing hysterically.

Zootopia`s anti prejudice and stereotype message is not a new subject to tackle, but the way in which it discusses prejudice is both intelligent and clever. This intelligent message of prejudice being ever increasing important and relevant to today. It places the fault of prejudice on no particular characters and does not gives some rather obvious parallels to certain groups. Rather, Zootopia brings attention to the prejudice that can exist inside everyone. Furthermore Zootopia discusses what fear and prejudice can do to people if they let it embody them. As we see in the final third of the film, prejudice can tear a city apart and cause the divide of a people once united. Saying Zootopia is an intelligent and creative film is an enormous understatement. Doing Zootopia the best justice would be for me to recommend people of all ages to go and experience its beauty for themselves.

Zachary Flint