Are We Pre-Judging Emoji Movie Too Much?

It’s no secret I am not the biggest fan of Sony Animation and their upcoming release The Emoji Movie looks like a dubious enterprise. It has on its surface all the trappings of a cheap attempt to monetize a trend while it’s still hot instead of doing something creative. It also feels very derivative of other movies like Wreck-it Ralph, Inside Out, Lego Movie and more.

However, today they released the opening sequence and it is very pun heavy but honestly it doesn’t look that bad.

Could The Emoji Movie be good? Is that possible? Maybe? It’s hard for me to get over a literal piece of  poo as a character in a movie. That’s the biggest stumbling block for me. Plus, their initial Meh trailer was one of the worst trailers I’ve ever seen.

On the other hand, the last trailer wasn’t that bad and the idea of a world inside a phone could be clever? This is the year where I liked a movie with a character named Professor Poopypants and another movie about talking cars aging, so it could happen? They have a good voice cast and there was a bidding war over this script so somebody saw potential there. (Yes, there really was a bidding war over The Emoji Movie).

You also have this lovely image to give you nightmares:

What do you think about The Emoji Movie? Is there any hope for it or does it look like garbage? Are you planning on seeing it?  I guess at least this is the one movie where Sony product placement makes sense. I expect to see many a Sony phone throughout.

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Spider-Man Homecoming Review

Yesterday I had the chance to see the latest big budget superhero movie- Spider-Man Homecoming. This film is important as it is the 3rd reboot for the character in recent years and the first time Sony and Marvel are working together for a film. Spider-Man is now part of the MCU as many fans dreamed and over-all he makes a promising addition to that world. While Spider-Man Homecoming doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it is a solid, entertaining superhero movie aimed at teenagers. Let’s talk about the positives. First of all, the casting is uniformly strong. We all got a taste of Tom Holland as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War but here we get introduced to him as Peter Parker and he’s great. Unlike previous versions, Peter feels like a kid here. He’s learning in every aspect of life- from asking the pretty girl out to figuring out where his role in the world is. He feels real and human, which is no easy task for a character climbing walls and fighting bad guys.

The script is really well done and if I was a teenager I would love this movie to pieces. I particularly liked the dynamic between Peter and his friend Ned played by Jacob Batalon. They felt like actual friends and had terrific chemistry together. I liked how they were constantly amazed at the tech gadgets designed by Tony Stark and Vulture. It felt genuine to see them get a gun or the Spidey-suit and say ‘cool’ with excitement like a real teen boy would probably do. Both of the female characters were misses to me, but I guess they did the job they were asked to do well enough. It’s not the fault of the actresses their parts were under-written. Oh well.

I also loved Tony Stark in Spider-Man Homecoming. I know some were worried this would be the next Iron Man movie but that is not the case. He is used just enough, and I was happy to see a return to the old Tony I know and love from Iron Man 1, 2, and the Avengers. The last 3 films (Iron Man 3, Avengers Age of Ultron and Civil War) he’s been so brooding and angry. While I don’t know if his behavior makes sense given what happened in Civil War, I don’t care. I was happy to have Tony Stark back in my life!

Unfortunately there were some negatives for me in Spider-Man Homecoming. First, I had some issue with the action sequences. There are 2 big set pieces that are fun but they didn’t feel like Spider-Man action. They felt very static to me and more like an Iron Man set piece than Spider-Man. There is very little of him swinging through the city like I want to see. I get what they were going for but if I was a teen and could swing through the city I would probably take full advantage of that! There are a lot of scenes of Peter crashing into pools and backyards and that was fine but I missed the awe of real Spider-Man scenes. Also, some action uses too much shaky cam and was a little hard to tell what was happening.

There are also characters that could use more development. Donald Glover’s role turns out to basically be a cameo. The Shocker support team for Vulture were pretty bland and Zendaya was underused as Peter’s sullen friend (and a reveal from her was meh). Also, Tony Revolori as Flash was very annoying and didn’t work for me at all.

Michael Keaton has gotten a ton of positive reviews for his role as the Vulture, and he is solid as always but I can’t help but feel it is a bit over-praised. To me he seemed like the classic standard Marvel villain. They love having the ‘man in a suit’ who gives into greed and becomes the antithesis of our hero. This is the case here except a blue-collar variety. Vulture is another business man who is wronged by Tony and the Avengers and seeks revenge. This is nothing new or that compelling. Also, there is a ‘reveal’ (this is Marvel we are talking about) that I called after the last trailer. I literally wrote down ‘Vulture will be …..’ and sure enough he was. Evidently others find this a shocking moment but I did not.

Don’t get me wrong. Vulture is by no means a bad villain and Keaton gives a good performance. The MCU has had far worse but people putting him up with Loki are nuts. He is more like Yellow Jacket in Ant-Man if you ask me.

There are also some Sony trademarks that were noticeable like the rampant product placement. For example, even though Peter is only 15 they just had to find a way to have an Audi car chase scene. Oh well…

One of my friends on twitter described Spider-Man Homecoming as a ‘great slumber party movie’ and I think that is true. I can picture high school students enjoying this and relating to it quite strongly, and that’s great! All demographics should have their superhero movies and now teens have one for them. It didn’t have near the emotional resonance of Wonder Woman but I certainly liked it much better than Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2. It could have been a little bit better but I was entertained and that’s what I want out of a superhero movie. Nice job working together Sony and Marvel and I look forward to more team-ups in future Spidey films!

Everyone will want to know where I fit this in my Spider-Man movie rankings. I’d say it’s 2nd or 3rd place but I need more time for it to sink in. Where would it rank for you?

As far as content it’s pretty safe. There are penis jokes and violence but nothing out of line of a standard MCU movie. Little kids might get a little bored with the high school plot but it won’t be offensive or scary for them.

Overall Grade- B

Dreamworks 9: Madagascar

From 2003-2005 I did not see any feature films because I was on a mission for my church. There have been some films like The Incredibles (2004) that I have naturally caught up on but there are still many holes during those years. For example, the first Madagascar film I had never seen prior to this week. The only entry in the franchise I’d seen is the Penguins of Madagascar, which I enjoyed back in 2014. Unfortunately this first entry, Madagascar, isn’t as strong of a film and it left me a bit baffled at how 3 films were made.

I think what surprised me the most about this film is how horrible the animation was. Everything looked very strange and I thought it must have been released in 3D the way the heads of the characters kept flying towards the screen. I mean look at the image above. The neck on the giraffe would have to be 7 ft tall which is pushing it even for a giraffe. It looks so weird and there were many images like that.

Look at this zebra. His eyes are different sizes. His face looks strange and his mouth sticks out and is the size of his entire upper body. It looks so weird.

All of the characters are like that and the animation is also really jerky. Take a look at this clip of a birthday scene. Notice the way the characters heads jerk in front of the camera. It’s not the smooth and professional looking animation you expect from a major studio.

I also thought the story and characters were pretty pedestrian and bland. Basically Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock) is tired of the life of the zoo and he wants to break free (how many times have we seen that story?) while Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller) is fine being pampered. They eventually end up out of the zoo and have to find a way home. It’s pretty simple stuff we’ve seen a million times.

The best part of Madagascar is the voice acting which all works. It’s one of the examples where Dreamworks celebrity casting pay offs. Chris Rock is good as Marty, Ben Stiller as Alex and David Schwimmer as Melman. Most of the other characters aren’t given a ton to do but they fit well.

Also 2 groups of characters save the movie- the lemurs and penguins. The penguins are secret agent penguins that live at the zoo and are very funny. The lemurs live on the island and are ruled by King Julian voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen. They have a funny dance number and provide some unpredictability to the clunky script.

Other than that, I was pretty underwhelmed by Madagascar. The animation was bad. The story was pedestrian and boring. The characters were very predictable and bland. It certainly is shocking something so mediocre inspired 3 sequels. I’m told 2 and 3 get a lot better. Let’s hope so…

Overall Grade- C- for the lemurs and penguins

The Beguiled Review

Yesterday I had the chance to see one of the most buzz worthy films of the summer: The Beguiled, directed by Sophia Coppola. Heavily praised out of Cannes Film Festival and by many critics I went into it with some enthusiasm. I even watched the original 1971 film for Hit Me With Your Best Shot to get ready.  Coming out of the film I wasn’t all that thrilled with it. The Beguiled is ok but not as good as the original and Coppola makes a lot of weird choices I didn’t understand that made it more languid and removed much of the tension. This was a thriller without any thrills.

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Let’s start with the positives. First of all, The Beguiled is a gorgeous film and it is worth seeing for the stunning cinematography, lighting, production design and costumes alone. All of these aspects are significant improvements upon the original. I love how it felt like candlelight and it reminded me of The Others (a favorite of mine) in the way it used light and shadow to create mood.  If it isn’t nominated for best costumes at the Oscars that will be a real travesty.

I also think the acting is all good. It’s what Coppola does with the performances that is the problem. All of the ladies do a decent job with what they are given. I have issues with Colin Farrell’s character but it isn’t really his fault. Again, he does a good job with what he is given.

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Now to talk about the problems…and unfortunately that begins with the way Farrell’s character is written. In the 1971 film Corporal John McBurney is an obvious predator that fixates quickly on the most plain girl in the house, Edwina (more on her in a minute). He does this at the same time the more striking Alicia is throwing herself at him. This builds tension so much more than the over-all nice guy this version shows. I didn’t really buy most of the decisions he makes here as they seemingly came out of nowhere.

For example, one scene that is missing from the original is where McBurney tries to seduce the house slave. She is the only one who is in on his game and will have nothing to do with him. It makes it clear this is not a nice man, which makes the tone feel scary as you worry about the women of the house. In this version, Coppola decided to eliminate the slave character completely. I understand why she did it for PC reasons, but I think it hurt McBurney’s character development and made all the girls feel similar since there was no contrasting presence.

beguiled3Now getting to the girls. The character development for them is sadly also lacking. Edwina is supposed to be very plain and Kirsten Dunst is far too pretty to play this part. The plain appearance is important because like I said it makes McBurney’s advances more creepy and his seductions more alluring to the homely Edwina. Here her decisions don’t seem to match with the rest of her character or personality and her stunning dresses don’t help in making her feel mousy either!

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It goes the same with the other women. Alicia is not developed at all when in the original she is a real vixen tempting McBurney. The school matron Martha played by Nicole Kidman is also written very flatly. In the original she is a sexual deviant with a strange twisted past. Here she is a nice Southern lady trying to protect her girls. It just doesn’t have the same tension or thrills because their choices are way more predictable and obvious.

I appreciate that Coppola wanted to make a story about women but why not write them as complex characters with interesting backstories and motivations? Or if you aren’t going that route make the situations the stock characters are in scary and fun. Neither is the case here. I wonder if she felt afraid to make her characters more flawed, as the original does, for fear of it not being seen as empowering or a feminist film? Who knows but I don’t get it?

It’s hard without spoilers but there is also a scene where Martha is forced to make a decision and in the original film it is clear she does not need to make that choice. However, here it is the opposite. It is portrayed that if she does not make the choice McBurney will die. This does not work because McBurney’s anger at these ‘crazy women’ seems unjustified when in the original it is definitely not. According to this film they’ve just saved his life but he turns into an insane person. It’s a scene (and final 3rd of the film) that should have been full of tension but it’s not  because all the ambiguity has been lost.

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This will sound weird but this version is oddly more pg13ish than the original. More often than not, it plays it safe and doesn’t explore darker themes or twisted character motivations like it could have. It makes it kind of boring and predictable.

All that said, it’s not an awful movie. It is pretty and worth watching for the visuals alone but I just can’t figure out why Coppola made choices that seemed to neuter her gothic thriller? Watch this film and then watch the original, and I think you will see what I mean. This is a nice looking film but a thriller it is not.

Overall Grade- C+


As far as content there is a little bit of blood and brief sensuality but I’m not even sure why it is rated R to be honest. It seemed about the same as My Cousin Rachel and that is a pg-13. The original is way more R rated.

Despicable Me 3 Review

If you have followed my blog you know my feelings about the minions. Those little yellow gobbledegook speakers have been the bane of my existence the last few years. I hated Minions and have been meh about the other movies. So you can imagine my trepidation going into Despicable Me 3 but I still try to go in with as much of an open mind as possible. And what did I think of this latest entry from Illumination? It’s a mixed bag but I didn’t hate it like Minions so that’s a plus.

Let’s talk about the positives first. The film divides its characters up into smaller subplots. If you read my Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 review you know I don’t always love this approach but in that film I love the group dynamic. Not so much here.

Anyway, I thought a couple of the subplots worked. I liked seeing Lucy trying to figure out how to be a Mom to the girls. As someone who champions adoption this was a nice element to share and I wish they had devoted more time to it. Kristen Wiig in the vocal performance is also great as Lucy.

I also liked getting to spend more time with the girls as I’ve always found them more enjoyable than the minions. Here Agnes is looking for a unicorn in the forest. It doesn’t have anything to do with rest of story but it was cute.

There was also a few laughs in the movie unlike Minions. 80s loving villain Balthazar Bratt had a couple of good jokes and I admit the minions even made me laugh. There is a gag where they sing Modern Major General from The Pirates of Penzance that made me laugh.

But that is where my praises end. While some subplots worked, the major plot of Gru meeting his twin brother Dru really didn’t at all. The two of them interacting weren’t funny or engaging in any way. Dru was kind of annoying and didn’t grow much as a character. They kept trying to make it emotional between the two brothers and I wasn’t feeling it at all.

Also, as much as I enjoyed some of the subplots they don’t tie into together well. Particularly the minions feel like they are in an entirely different movie. In fact, sometimes the story would be chirping along and out of nowhere we’d move over to a minions segment. It was really odd considering the popularity of the characters. It almost felt like they had made a movie and then afterwards added the minions in but that can’t be the case?

And even though I did laugh a few times there were a lot of gags that fell flat and felt very tired. I also do not appreciate Illumination’s love for butt and boob jokes. Enough already!

In the end, Despicable Me 3 feels like average passable entertainment but nothing you will remember in a few months. It’s on the same level as The Angry Birds Movie last year but that movie at least had better animation. There’s nothing that stands out or is special. There’s no great message you will be talking about or animation that tries something new.

I’ve often said Illumination is the fast food of animation and Despicable Me 3 is no different. It’s a passable, average, forgettable film that will probably make a lot more money than it deserves. At least I enjoyed it a little bit.

Overall Grade- C

Baby Driver Review

So yesterday I went to my first Edgar Wright film. I’d always heard great praise for his films but the hard R content turned me off. With Baby Driver I heard from multiple sources it was a pretty mild R and that it was great so I decided to give it a shot and I’m glad I did. While it does require some suspension of disbelief to enjoy, Baby Driver is a very entertaining, kinetic film.

Baby Driver is about a boy named Baby (Ansel Elgort) that is an amazing get-away driver for a crime boss played by Kevin Spacey. Baby is indebted to the boss so he does what he is told. However, because of tendonitis in his ears he requires constant music to be played to drown out the pinging.

The key to making this film work is the visceral engaging action sequences that are so well edited with the music. It draws you in and is entertaining to watch. I hate the phrase turn off your brain but this is a movie that might be easy to over-think, so you ruin the experience. This is not a gritty realistic crime story. If you try to break down the heist and plot elements there are problems but it doesn’t matter because you are quickly on to the next engaging sequence. The only way I can think to describe it is a Fast and the Furious movie but with way more skill than even the best of those films. Those are more guilty pleasure films where this more naturally works at being what it is trying to be.

It’s a very bro-tastic movie with the two women being a sexy assassin or an innocent waitress. Both require saving and are more tools to demonstrate the male character’s story arc then anything on their own. For example, Debora played by Lilly James, exists not to tell her own story, but to provide conflict and tension for Baby. This isn’t a big problem but I do think they could have added a few moments to flesh out her character more- especially to justify some of the decisions she makes.

But that is a small criticism. Like I said, I found it very entertaining and engaging. The acting across the boards is good even if a few parts are underwritten. Nothing ever detracts from having a great time at the theater.

The sound design and editing is near flawless, which helps you get engaged in the heists and chase sequences. The soundtrack is really great because it’s not obvious. One of my complaints about the recent Guardians vol 2 soundtrack is the songs were so on the nose with what was happening. Here it is a little more creative and leaves you often wondering why Baby chose that song for that moment.

Baby Driver is an R rated film and does have some strong violence and profanity but I didn’t think it was too bad or offensive.

So what did you think of Baby Driver? Did you find it entertaining? If you can stomach the R rating then I would encourage you to see it on the big screen as it is such a fun time at the movies. Enjoy!

Overall Grade- B