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

Black Panther Review

The latest Marvel flick to be deemed the “best Marvel movie ever” is none other than the prince (and now king) of Wakanda himself, the Black Panther.

Taking place after the events of Captain America: Civil War, prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to the African nation of Wakanda so that he may rule as the rightful king. However, when a new enemy with royal blood steps forth and threatens world domination, T’Challa’s ability to be the king and Black Panther will be tested. Going to great lengths to maintain the throne and keep his people safe.

Hands down the best aspect of Black Panther was the awe-inspiring aesthetic appeal. The imagery was rich in African heritage and mystique, with a fascinating representation of tradition and tribalism around every corner. It isn’t often you see this kind of African style in film, and it’s worked in very well in Black Panther. Every scene involving some sort of ritual or custom fully engrossed me into the film, more so than I could’ve ever imagined.

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa (and the Black Panther) was incredibly charismatic without ever trying to do so. His character was so fleshed out and three-dimensional that the audience understood his tribulations and internal conflicts. And these features were only elevated by Boseman’s emotional and memorable performance, which I would put right up there with the other great Marvel actors/actresses.

Unfortunately, all the messages about race and discrimination were so half-baked and paper-thin that I’m confused as to what the fuss is about. It felt to me like a typical Hollywood move, to not even scratch the surface of a serious issue then run around screaming how they’ve helped to change the course of history. There are plenty of films and television shows today diving deeper into topics of race relations than Black Panther ever tread, and in much more clever and insightful ways. This was more like a studio bigwig went through a social justice checklist and less like an earnest, genuine look at complex issues. I’m not blind to the fact that Black Panther is the first of its kind in many unique ways and should be respected as such. But again, I’m frankly surprised that its being heralded as if it were Do the Right Thing, when a lot of the content begs to differ.

When the focus was on Africa, Wakanda, and Boseman, the film thrives in its own unique environment it builds. But when Black Panther remembers it needs to be a superhero movie and mass-appealing blockbuster first, that is when its charm weakens.

Most characters were developed and well-integrated, a few (mostly the villains) were predictable and had muddled motives. Many action scenes were fun and intense, but at the same time completely pointless for the story they were telling (like the obligatory gigantic battle at the climax).

Judging by the overwhelming praise the film has received, I’m currently one of the few not so satisfied moviegoers, even though I sincerely enjoyed many parts of Black Panther. Ultimately for me the weaknesses in the storytelling overtook some of the better aesthetic moments.

The Verdict: C+

-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

The Post Review

What I assume will be my last belated review from 2017, The Post was one of the more politically motivated (and dividing) films of the year.

Directed by Steven Spielberg, The Post focuses on American newspaper publisher Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep), who recently inherited ownership of the Washington Post. Graham works feverishly with editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) in an attempt to play catch-up with The New York Times, who just exposed a massive government secret spanning decades.  This secret, known today as the Pentagon Papers, detailed the United States’ military interests in Vietnam, even years before military action took place. This included major lies from four U.S. presidents, government deception of the public, and even the acknowledgement that we might not win the war if the U.S. decided to fight.

So, when the Nixon administration tried to silence the news media by making the papers illegal to publish, The Washington Post throws it all on the line for their right to bring this information to the public eye.

When it comes to The Posts storytelling capabilities, they happened to be both powerful and conventional. Spielberg has this natural style of filmmaking that’s always so engaging, with the ability to suck viewers into the most mundane of scenes. That ability translates over nicely in The Post, which stays interesting, topical, and compelled. Scenes are shot with some variety, and the actors were motivated to give their all.

That being said, The Post doesn’t really throw anything new into the mix. We’ve seen biographical dramas on journalism before, and The Post didn’t really stand out as being revolutionary (as many critics would have you believe). How The Post stands the test of time has of course yet to be seen. It’s messages and themes about the government attempting to censor and control the media are undeniably topical, for the moment. But its methods are so similar to films like Spotlight that I’m skeptical how well it will age. A lot of The Post’s critical praise has come from its relevancy to the current U.S. administration, but without that context I’m afraid that it won’t stand as strong.

At the very least, The Post is a well-directed and intriguing drama, with passionate performances from Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. Beyond this, I’m not sure if The Post is  award-winning material.

The Verdict: B-

-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