Peter Rabbit Review

When I heard Sony was making a live-action/CGI animated film of Peter Rabbit (based on the stories by Beatrix Potter), my mind immediately went to Sony Animation’s The Smurfs. A film so dull and manipulative that it practically invented the term “corporate pandering”, I was sure Peter Rabbit would suffer the same fate.

Luckily, in some ways I was wrong. Meaning that Peter Rabbit had some redeeming qualities, which are sadly overshadowed by an overall lackluster picture.

Peter Rabbit stars the adorable rabbit himself Peter (voiced by James Corden), who loves sneaking into Mr. McGregor’s (Sam Neill) vegetable garden. After Mr. McGregor’s sudden passing, his home is left to one of his distant relatives named Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson), who plans to sell the house and make a pretty penny in the process. When Thomas discovers the rabbits intruding on his newly acquired property, he decides to take “pest” control into his own hands as an epic battle ensues between the two rivaling parties: man vs. rabbits.

The most insufferable part of Peter Rabbit was of course Peter Rabbit himself, along with the rest of his CGI entourage. All the humor and high jinks surrounding their characters have been done to death, and subsequently they get very few laughs. Most jokes went on for a painful amount of time, and sometimes I had to stop watching altogether (especially when the rabbits just kept talking).

The funniest moments were the oddly dark scenes, like when Mr. McGregor has a heart attack and dies out of nowhere. Not only are the animals overjoyed by his death, they celebrate by partying and trashing his house. While I found these scenes to be rather hilarious, when taking into account the target audience of Peter Rabbit (that being young children) it’s distastefully out of place.

The messages and morals are so on the nose that it treats kids as if they haven’t the least bit of intelligence. And because these messages are so at odds with the story and the characters’ behaviors, Peter Rabbit ends up being a pretty pointless endeavor. The film gives the vague appearance that Peter and Thomas learn something at the end, but their characters make no real change. In fact, both characters seemingly learned these lessons at multiple points in the movie yet resort back to their immature selves just moments later.

As far as creative, funny content goes, Peter Rabbit has more to offer adults in the first thirty minutes than it does kids for the whole movie. Still, this isn’t to say adults will like this, as the vast majority is quite boring. Storywise, this is your typical half-hearted family comedy. Some attempts at real jokes and emotional moments are made, other times it all feels dull, disingenuous, and too cynical. Domhnall Gleeson gives his very best performance, and a lot of times his talent for acting works past the mediocrities, rising to levels of complete insanity. Other than that, everyone (including our furry stars) is bland and uninteresting. And seeing that Paddington 2 came out just a few months prior, there really is no excuse for such a boring story and bland personalities.

My disdain for a product like Peter Rabbit may sound trivial, but I strongly feel that movies should treat children with more respect. Attempting to inspire and challenge kids, as well as make them use their brains. Movies shouldn’t manipulate kids and subject them to apathetic corporate hullabaloo.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint

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

Insidious Review

For the past couple of decades or so, the genre of horror has become somewhat of a minefield. With the film industry so over saturated with overdone plots and jump scares, the clever and inventive movies often slip through the cracks in the form of independent productions. Films like It Follows and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil received little attention upon their initial release, while films like Paranormal Activity maintain constant popularity.

Nonetheless, occasionally moviegoers get a widely released horror flick that manages to bring something new to the table, even if that ‘something new’ is minute. A fine example of this being Insidious.

Directed by James Wan (maker of such films as The Conjuring and Saw), Insidious didn’t revolutionize the genre or shy away from the mainstream. What it did do was put a new twist on the now conventional horror formula, making it a film that appeals to many different audience tastes without being polarizing.

Insidious stars Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne as Josh and Renai, a couple who move into a new home in the suburbs. Soon after moving in their child Dalton (Ty Simpkins) tragically slips into a coma, and strange things begin to happen around the house. They quickly realize something supernatural is afoot, and enlist in the help of a parapsychologist named Elise (Lin Shaye). Elise informs them that their child isn’t actually in a coma. Rather, Dalton had an out of body experience that left his spirit trapped in a ghostly place she refers to as The Further. It is now up to them to save Dalton’s spirit from The Further before he is stuck there for good, and something more sinister takes his place.

A good horror flick doesn’t only lie within the bounds of its actors capabilities, but having performers that can convey the fright is always a plus. Wilson and Byrne lead the cast wonderfully here, perfectly portraying a distraught couple worried sick over the wellbeing of their child.

Their performances are complemented well by the addition of Lin Shaye about halfway through. What’s great about Shaye’s acting is that she seamlessly convinces the audience that the far-fetched sci-fi jargon is in fact genuine. Even those who are skeptical of science fiction in films will buy into the absurd rationale this movie relies on. Rather than jump the shark, Insidious somehow managed to slide under the shark.

The frightening sequences in the film are quite tactfully employed, mixing inventive and clever ideas with more conventional methods. We get the quick, one and done jump scares that many moviegoers love, but also see plenty of built up moments that get big payoffs. There are even scenes that don’t have any sort of payoff, but are authentically creepy because of the eerie atmosphere that’s created.

The eerie atmosphere is mostly due to the aesthetics of the Further, which are distinct and artistic without looking too forced to be that way. This creepy imagery is accompanied with a truly fantastic musical score that managed to intensify a lot of the more suspenseful scenes.

Again, Insidious didn’t subvert the genre or change the game completely, as we still get plenty of terrible horror films today (like the fourth installment of this franchise). What I believe Insidious (and its creative contemporaries) did accomplish was to pave the way for other mainstream horror flicks to get imaginative, so to speak. Films like Lights Out and The Conjuring have received critical and box office success since the release of Insidious, and both ride the line of conventionality too.

I hope to see more inventive and fun horror films in the future, especially from the Insidious director James Wan.

The Verdict: A-

-Zachary Flint

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Rarely do films have the capacity to tackle social issues with such intelligence and insight as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Set in a small, quaint country town, a local woman (Frances McDormand) rents out three decaying billboards along a deserted road. With these billboards, she creates a controversial message directed at the revered police chief of Ebbing, Missouri, William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). What follows is a moving drama about both hate and forgiveness, all while balancing a dark sense of humor.

Led by the incredible talents of Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell, the acting felt as human as a film could get. With a script as powerful, down-to-earth, and moving as the performers, Three Billboards manages to impress on both a practical and emotional level.

Three Billboards hits all the right beats at precisely the right moments, with plenty of dramatic and heart wrenching moments to keep the audience engrossed in the story. Any lesser film would’ve created a black and white scenario for itself, with the police portrayed solely as incompetent racists and our female protagonist as a virtuous everyman.

And while at first glance that seems to be the case, Three Billboards instead prefers to operate in various shades of grey. Each and every character has their ups and downs, moments when they act irrationally and selfish, racist and sexist, but also sensible and just, compassionate and forgiving. As the story evolves, we the viewer are given insight into each character, and come to understand them all a little more deeply.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is one of my favorite kind of films to see.  It leaves the viewer to contemplate the morals and meanings, as well as fill in the blanks, but not in a way that makes you feel gypped or cheated. I believe there’s a lot to be learned from films like Three Billboards. And given the opportunity, I’d watch it again in a heartbeat.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

A Clockwork Orange Review

Today I’ve decided to pick apart and review the 1971 Stanley Kubrick masterpiece A Clockwork Orange. Based on the dystopian novel by Anthony Burgess, the film depicts recurring disturbing images to comment on society and our many differing views of human nature.

We are first introduced to the young, unhinged character of Alex DeLarge, excellently played by Malcolm McDowell. Alex, with the help of his trusty “Droogs”, commits acts of rape and ultra-violence for the thrill of it. One day, after allowing his ego and his brutal acts to escalate too far, Alex is caught and imprisoned for his crimes. There, he is selected to participate in an accelerated program that cures prisoners of their incorrect behaviors via aversion therapy. What ensues is a film that shocks, unsettles, and perplexes the viewer until the fatalistic conclusion.

The presentation of society, people, and fashion is all designed with an avant-garde perfectionism seen in the vast majority of Stanley Kubrick films. Every scene, prop, and line of dialogue was meticulously placed by an idealistic filmmaker on the threshold of insanity. You can take any scene in the film, break it down into every nitty-gritty detail, and know with certainty that everything was placed where it was with a purpose. Seemingly simple scenes, like one where Alex is spat on by a another, took over thirty takes to get correct. Another famous scene, where the Droogs rape a woman as Alex dances to the tune of “Singin’ in the Rain”, took around five days to shoot.

This disturbing, ultra-violent content woven into the story highlights the frequent themes of the nature of evil. With these powerful visuals, Kubrick successfully leaves the audience feeling completely vulnerable and defenseless to its imagery. Even after repeated viewings, I still succumb to feelings of horror every time I watch it.

The blatant, stony-hearted depiction of rape and violence is shockingly exploitative, yet somehow satirical and entrancing. This is mostly attributable to the remarkable directing style and the orchestral soundtrack, which fit the tone of A Clockwork Orange like bread and butter.

From the eerie, synthetic vibrato soundtrack that begins the film, to the sex indulgent fantasy that closes it, most viewers will either be left disgusted by the resolve or left pondering the deeper meaning of it all. Analysis after analysis after breakdown have attempted to comprehend the true nature of A Clockwork Orange, which further demonstrates the artistic significance of the film.

The philosophy of A Clockwork Orange remains one of my favorite films to discuss, and I consider it to be one of the greatest films ever directed. It’s a sadistic satire that serves as the ultimate antithesis to the behaviorism branch of psychology. It clashes with the idea of conditioning an individual to the rules of society, robbing them of the freedom of choice that makes a human a human. You can try to make something natural (like a human, or perhaps an orange) work like clockwork, but ultimately some (like Alex) are just evil by nature.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Wonder Woman Review

Gal Gadot wholeheartedly rose to the challenge put forth by DC Films, delivering a strong performance in their first film to be coherently structured. With a strong story, good characters, and a surprisingly well crafted message, Wonder Woman has the marks of a well-made, quality film.

The film starts out with the back story to our main protagonist, Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot). Before going by the name of Wonder Woman, she was known as Diana, princess of the Amazons. The Amazons being a race made up of only women who live on a remote island. As princess of the Amazons, Diana lives a rather peaceful and sheltered life, well-trained in combat but free of any conflict. Everything changes when an American pilot named Steve (Chris Pine) crash lands on the island, who tells Diana about the escalating war going on in the outside world. Very concerned with the well-being of others, Diana then decides to leave her home for the first time. And with the help of her new friend, Diana thrusts herself into the heart of World War I, determined that she can help end the fighting.

The character of Wonder Woman isn’t how she appeared in Batman v. Superman, where she came off as unnecessary, weak, and relatively boring. In this picture, everything is actually reversed. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman gives young girls the opportunity to have a good film role model, someone with robust morals and the will to always do good. Wonder Woman also knows how to fight, and takes part in some fast-paced and engaging action sequences.

The action, taking place mostly in a WWI trench warfare setting, remained as gritty as a PG-13 rating could allow. We see some of the real life repercussions of war, including amputee soldiers and homeless civilians. This was a neat addition that I didn’t expect to see, one that works fittingly with the message Wonder Woman has to offer.

Wonder Woman isn’t without its flaws, just like all superhero films. Now and then I’d come across a character with little to no point, other than to serve as some unneeded comic relief or to supply some obvious plot information. These few characters felt unnecessary to the overall story, and were more of a hindrance or distraction than anything.

One little touch that I really enjoyed about this film is that it has very little to do with the rest of the DC Universe, and makes no attempt to connect with future installments. In doing this, Wonder Woman stands much better on its own as an independent piece to the series. This is an area that, unfortunately, Marvel Studios often lacks in with its films.

Wonder Woman isn’t a masterpiece of cinema, as some people would have you believe. And few superhero films are! What Wonder Woman really is, is a step in the right direction for future DC projects. It’s a fun, well-shot, and structurally sound movie, with a truly admirable protagonist.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Review

It’s become a recent trend for online critics to go back to beloved films like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and label them as overrated or lackluster. Perhaps in some feeble attempt at sounding more intelligent than the rest of us blokes. I am not, for the most part, that critic.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory remains, after almost fifty years, a funny and entertaining film. One that I can continue to re-watch with the same level of enjoyment every time.

The film centers on a young boy named Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum), whose impoverished English family lives near a world famous chocolate factory. This factory, owned by the reclusive Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder), sends out five golden tickets hidden inside its chocolate bars. These golden tickets give five lucky people the chance to see the inside of the factory. Charlie’s life changes forever when he obtains one of these coveted tickets, winning him and his grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) a tour of one of the strangest places in the world.

All the characters in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory are performed very well. I particularly liked how the main protagonist of Charlie was written and played like a normal boy. However, Gene Wilder really steals the show, as his terrific portrayal of Willy Wonka is by far the best aspect of the film.

Over time, I’ve come to highly respect the acting talent of Gene Wilder (from such films as Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein), as I feel he brings a lot to every character he plays.  He’s overall a very mysterious character, as you really never understand his motives. Even in his introduction to the film, Wonka deceives the audience into thinking he is handicapped. Wonka is rude, but also polite. He likes to give the impression that he’s careless about the well-being of others, but ends up showing a much softer side to his personality.

The interior of the chocolate factory is truly a place of pure imagination. Everything about this place is fascinating, and in need of more exploration. From the wacky, nonsensical inventions, to the strange chocolate river flowing through the middle of the factory, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a visual wonder.

Since the first time I saw Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory as a teen, it has increasingly grown on me with each viewing. It’s pure family-fun entertainment that I’m sure just about anyone could enjoy. Gene Wilder’s sarcastic (yet lovable) performance as Willy Wonka remains one of my favorite film characters to date. Despite a few dated aspects (most notably, the music), this is a film I’m sure I will continue to revisit time and time again.

The Verdict: A-

-Zachary Flint