Early Man Review

I always talk about Studio Ghibli as the animation company that has the perfect track record of hit movies. Yet I neglect to ever speak on Aardman Animations, who has a flawless record of unique, stop-motion movies. From humble beginnings in the 1970s, Aardman has since created the popular character Morph, Wallace and Gromit, and numerous highly praised short films and feature films.

Aardman’s newest creation Early Man takes place during the Stone Age (and unbeknownst to our heroes, the dawn of the Bronze Age) and stars the likable cave man named Dug (Eddie Redmayne). And as luck would have it, Dug and his tribes’ peaceful existence becomes endangered when Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) threatens to turn their home into a mine for precious metals. Unwilling to be conquered without a fight, Dug challenges his conquerors to a game of football, with it being winner-take-all for the valley.

Early Man was savagely unpredictable in its storytelling department, with a plot that didn’t really flow like most movies. The characters just moved from wacky scenarios to out of place sight gags (like a giant, prehistoric duck that tries to eat our protagonists) with little rhyme or reason. The random, impromptu feel of Early Man was critical in the films ability to engage the audience and make them laugh.

The funniest moments in the film involve the most absurd of situations imaginable. In one scene a hog gives a man a sensual bath massage; which goes on for so uncomfortably long that it became more comical as time wore on. In another equally amusing scene, a messenger pigeon begins to orally recite its message, while also giving dramatic gestures to the recipient. Again, so odd and unexpected that it’s comical.

Some of the verbal humor was so dated that I think the jokes actually came from the Stone Age. Most of the puns were simply dead on arrival and got a whopping zero laughs from the audience. This isn’t too surprising, since Aardman Animation’s most humorous content has always been the more physical/visual stuff. Just look at Aardman’s Shaun the Sheep Movie, one of the best kid’s films of 2015 and almost no dialogue.

Early Man was quick, unpredictable, and hilariously funny when it wasn’t attempting to use verbal jokes. Animated movies nowadays are quite foreseeable and unsurprising, so it’s nice to have Early Man come in and throw me through a loop. Aardman seamlessly maintains their creative and unique style of filmmaking with Early Man, and fans of their previous work will easily fall for the lovable characters and animation.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

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

Hostiles Review

One genre I’ve lacked in reviewing on my blog is the almighty Western flick. I blame this on the lack of widely released Western films being made. Other than The Magnificent Seven, which felt more like a comedy than a traditional Western, there haven’t been many serious mainstream Western movies in recent years. With the new release of Scott Cooper’s Hostiles, Western fans can finally quench their thirst.

Christian Bale stars as the battle-hardened Joseph J. Blocker, a U.S. Calvary officer tasked with returning a Cheyenne family to their home in Montana. Along the way, Blocker and company face deadly Comanche warriors, merciless fur traders, and other roadblocks that threaten to end their important mission. Full of great performances and visuals, Hostiles deals with themes and revelations about death and forgiveness.

I was conflicted throughout the first half of Hostiles, mostly in contemplation over what point the film was trying to get across. It dabbled in many different themes and ideas, teetering between kind of clever and been there done that. It wasn’t until about halfway through the film that it became clear to me it was saying. And it carried a message I appreciated quite a lot.

Hostiles is all about death, what it means to be a soldier (or in some cases, a killer), and what it means to forgive and be forgiven. In this sense I liken Hostiles to one of the best modern Western films around, Unforgiven.

While our protagonists first appear to be the typical machismo Western heroes, deep down their actions have left them scarred and frail. Some soldiers even claiming that they simply “don’t feel anything” anymore. They feel sorrow for their crimes, and in many ways, attempt to redeem themselves through their actions.

Also, on a more subtle note, the protagonists must face a changing world. What was once considered permissible (like the extreme maltreatment of Indian tribes) is now being condemned, forcing them to come to terms with their wrongdoings. Even the main plot of the film is something that all the soldiers object to in the beginning, due to their complex and violent history with Indian tribes.

Hostiles definitely has its dry spells. And when moments got slow, I really felt the film drag. Most of this was due to the film’s rough start, where the narrative was pretty scattershot and had no direction or purpose.

The excellent cinematography and powerful performances (particularly from Bale) made Hostiles a great throwback to a genre that doesn’t get much mainstream love anymore. The film wanders off course from time to time (especially in the first half), but eventually it comes around to a highly satisfying climax and conclusion that Western fans are sure to like.

The Verdict: B+

-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

It Review

The choice to remake a popular horror film is far from a new concept. And with Hollywood’s recent drought of creativity, the horror genre has become stale, boring, unexciting, and lacking any passion from the filmmaker’s end. Occasionally something unique will slip through the cracks (It Comes at Night comes to mind), but more often than not we get unoriginal slop (Poltergeist (2015), Rings, Annabelle, and so on).

So, when I heard we’d be getting another film of Stephen King’s It, I was fairly certain that It would fall victim to the same level of incompetence as its peers. Yet, in a surprising turn of events, just the opposite occurred. Rather than getting a boring, run-of-the-mill remake, moviegoers are being treated to a highly appealing horror flick with a terrifying antagonist and talented cast.

Set in the quaint town of Derry, Maine, an evil entity preys upon the fearful youth. Often appearing in the form of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), this entity awakens every twenty-seven years to devour the children of Derry. However, when some of the neighborhood children (labeled as the Losers’ Club) band together, their friendships and fears are put to the ultimate test. Facing off against an evil force with power unlike anything imaginable.

It was delightfully scary in the utmost creative and unexpected ways. The film went with a mix of tension building, creepy moments, as well as quick jump scares that are followed by loud spikes in the sound. The jump scares were pretty standard and didn’t get the strongest reaction from audiences. The scariest scenes of It were when the film took its time building suspense through creepy imagery, all leading up to great payoffs featuring Pennywise the clown (whose eerie demeanor completely stole the show in every sense of the word).

Not only a terrifying horror flick, It contained a clever narrative on the struggles of teenage adolescence. Each character in the film was dealing with some sort of real life dilemma, such as a hypochondriac parent, grief, and child abuse. This not only gives our unlikely heroes motivation, but makes them feel all the more genuine, resulting in the audience connecting with them more. Even the stereotypical bully, a character whose writing I was fully prepared to loathe, had a tragic backstory that gave him more depth.

The dialogue and personalities of the child actors reflected how young kids might actually behave. Incredibly foul-mouthed and crude, they felt less like Hollywood twerps and more like normal everyday children.

While a few characters here and there could’ve had a little more time devoted to them, I’m really stretching to find issues. The reality is that It is a fantastic work of fiction, with dedicated filmmakers striving to make a movie that entertains viewers. With plenty of grotesque scenes, memorable performances, and a great use of camera angles, I think there’s enough here for just about any horror fan to be completely satisfied.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Logan Lucky Review

Logan Lucky has what seems like a standard heist/comedy plot, but takes it to the nth degree. Cutting away the fluff and filler of usual heist films and giving audiences the weird scenes and exciting performances that they never knew they wanted.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Magic Mike), Logan Lucky tells the story of a Southern family man named Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), who decides to rob the famed Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. To help him, Jimmy has his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver), his hairdresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough), and an explosives expert named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig). Through an absurd turn of events, we the audience witness this group of unusual individuals attempt to steal millions during a famed NASCAR race.

Most of the cast of Logan Lucky felt more like actual backwoods goofballs than A-list actors, which makes many scenes all the more engrossing (and hilarious). And given the eccentric nature of the film, I often had no idea where it was going next, or even what purpose it served. All I really knew was that Logan Lucky didn’t feel obligated to play out like other films. The plot progression, for example, didn’t include many transition scenes to show characters getting from point A to point B. Alternatively, we are only ever shown what is absolutely necessary for the sake of understanding what’s going on, which ends up making the film all the more entertaining.

And rather than going with typical blockbuster banter, the humor in Logan Lucky is often very dry, deriving the hilarity from the bizarre personalities and interactions of the actors. Adam Driver and Daniel Craig were too of my favorite characters, playing two very weird individuals vastly different from what they’re used to. Driver goes most of the film with the same deadpan expression, and Craig has this maniacal look in his eye that I couldn’t help but frequently laugh at. Not all the humor of Logan Lucky was directly aimed at this Southern style mentality, as proven by Seth MacFarlane’s comical performance as an uptight British businessman.

Logan Lucky never tries too hard to dazzle, be funny, or impress the audience with usual Hollywood gimmicks. Instead, the film naturally comes off as impressive because of its charming actors, engaging story, and outlandish plot progression. And with the help of some clever camera work from behind the scenes, Logan Lucky transcends to what I would consider a fantastic work of art. It’s an oddly exciting, heartwarming film that I’d recommend anyone interested to give a watch.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

The Hitman’s Bodyguard Review

The idea of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson acting in a buddy comedy together sounds like a match made in heaven. The type of roles they typically play are tremendously different, which would theoretically make for a highly interesting film. I say theoretically, because The Hitman’s Bodyguard perfectly displays the sad truth that, just because you have good actors, doesn’t mean you’ll have a good movie.

The film stars Reynolds as Michael Bryce, a protection agent who’s called upon to help protect a notorious hitman named Darius Kincaid (played by Sam Jackson). With a long, complicated history between them, Bryce must now escort Kincaid across Europe so that he may testify in court against a ruthless dictator (Gary Oldman).

Ryan Reynolds and Sam Jackson are pretty funny as individual characters, but don’t work well off each other’s comedic style. Most attempts at jokes dragged on for far too long, and nobody in the theater was even laughing to begin with.

This poor comedic outcome is due to the writers going for the double act style of humor, which is what you see in most buddy comedies of this caliber. Double act works in films like Tango & Cash and Men in Black because the characters are written with complete opposite personalities. Well, herein lies part of the problem with The Hitman’s Bodyguard, as neither of our protagonists have well-defined personalities

Jackson was more severe than Reynolds, but neither ever stuck with a singular set of characteristics. Jackson would often go from being a cold-hearted killer to a more sensitive and understanding person, almost at the flick of a switch. So when the actors don’t have defined personalities, it’s hard for the audience to relate to one of those characters, which entirely defeats the purpose of double act.

The villain of the film, played by Gary Oldman, is a bland Eastern European stereotype with absolutely no depth to his character. After having just watched The Hitman’s Bodyguard, I can’t remember anything about him. Now, Gary Oldman is one of my favorite Hollywood actors, and I think he can play a very diverse range of roles. So I’m incredibly confused as to why he was given so little to do the entire film. He never says or does anything of importance, making his character one of the more forgettable villains of past months.

Some of the action scenes were energetic, while others were fairly lackluster. Take the grand boat chase seen for example. It has a mix of clever and generic moments, however what really ruins the chase sequence is that it goes on for an eternity. The best chase scenes (and action scenes as well) are short and to the point, condensing what the viewer is shown into the most exhilarating moments. The Hitman’s Bodyguard unfortunately wasn’t all that exhilarating, or exciting.

When you boil it down, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is about as standard as a buddy comedy can possibly get. It attempts to go through the same motions of other films in its genre, but because of the lopsided writing it fails to leave any lasting impression on the viewer. It had some funny, even hilarious scenes. However, even the most enjoyable moments of The Hitman’s Bodygurad are overshadowed by sloppy writing and a sense of mediocrity.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint